Every year we take a sneak preview at the Rule 5 Draft and we start with the players the Cubs need to protect on their 40 man roster. For those unfamiliar with the process, we'll explain as briefly as possible how it works...
Not every minor league prospect needs to be protected because not every player is eligible for the Rule 5 draft. In order to become eligible, a player must meet one of the following requirements:
- Any player who was 18 or younger on the June 5th immediately prior to signing his first contract is eligible and have been in professional baseball for 5 years
- Any player who was 19 or older on the June 5th immediately prior to signing his first contract is eligible and have been in professional baseball for 4 years.
That is the quick version. There are other details which may affect eligibility, but I'll refer you to The Cub Reporter for those rules here, but for all intents and purposes the criteria above is the most important to remember.
The above rules mean guys like Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Albert Almora, C.J. Edwards, Pierce Johnson, Dan Vogelbach, and many other top prospects don't need to be protected, so they will not be part of this particular discussion.
The other part of the equation is deciding who needs to be protected. This isn't as cut and dry because you cannot predict what other teams will do ,but there are patterns.
- Top prospects are always protected.
- Good prospects who have MLB ability and are MLB ready are also protected.
But there are always gray areas. What about a mid-level prospect who is still in A ball? What about rare commodities such as LHP or middle of the field players? MLB ready prospects who are lower ceiling types such as 4th or 5th starters or utility players also get consideration. Many organizations have these types of players in house, but not all of them. The Rule 5 Draft is a good, cheap way to get a utility infielder or 5th starter if you're rebuilding and don't want to spend -- or want to give your own prospects more time in the minors.
With this kind of criteria in mind, there really is only one player the Cubs absolutely must protect, and that is Arismendy Alcantara. He's a top 5-10 prospect who has had a full season at AA ball and can contribute at the MLB level at least as a utility guy. His switch-hitting, speed, and defensive versatility makes him and absolute certainty to be taken. He can be useful in the short term and then projects as a long-term starter.
There are however, plenty of players in that gray area. Here are the guys to watch:
- Gioskar Amaya, 2B, Kane County: Amaya is a top 20, mid-level type prospect but he's only progressed as far as A ball. It's likely he isn't ready for the major leagues and his lack of defensive versatility or top speed don't offer much utility. Still, that bat plays well at 2B and a rebuilding team could take him and take their lumps for a year, then return him to the minors. He has strong mental makeup and a team could gamble he can hold his own and then pick up right where he left off.
- Dallas Beeler, RHP, Tennessee: Beeler falls into that bottom of the rotation type profile but with the possibility he could contribute in that role or in a relief role for 2014. He has an interesting combination of athleticism, size, and approach. He pitches with good plane and pounds the lower part of the strike zone with a 92-93 mph 2-seamer, making him enticing to a team that is looking for a ground ball pitcher.
- Zach Cates, RHP, Daytona: Cates has a 96 mph fastball out of the bullpen, an advanced change, and an average slider. He's athletic and has a chance to contribute as a middle reliever.
- Hunter Cervenka, LHP, Tennessee: He's a rare power lefty, attacking hitters with a FB in the 91-93 range and an upper 80s cutter with very good movement. Command is iffy but could possibly survive as a lefty specialist for a year.
- Jae-Hoon Ha, CF, Iowa: I look at him much the same way as I did the Marwyn Gonzalez situation. Both are utility players at best at the MLB level but both can provide good defense at multiple positions. Ha is close to being MLB ready and it wouldn't be hard to carry him as a 5th outfielder, but the question is whether there is enough upside to protect him when the Cubs have other extra outfielder types such as Rubi Silva, Matt Szczur, John Andreoli, and Brett Jackson who can also provide good defense and perhaps more upside on offense. I can see Ha being left unprotected -- and I can see him being taken by some team.
- Eric Jokisch, LHP, Tennessee: He's not the power pitcher Cervenka is but he's more polished and he could contribute as a lefty specialist in 2014 for some team with long term potential as a starter. The Cubs have protected similar pitchers in Chris Rusin and Brooks Raley in the past, but the team is deeper now. If Jokisch is protected, it'll be because the Cubs feel he has more upside than the other lefties.
- Matt Loosen, RHP, Tennessee: Like Beeler, the Cubs are getting an extended look in the AFL. Loosen can be dominant when he pitches with command, boasting a good FB that can reach the mid 90s, good breaking stuff, and an average change. If scouts see Loosen on the right day, he could look like he's very much worth the gamble. So far he's looked very good in the AFL out of the bullpen. Both Loosen and Beeler have higher upside than last year's AFL entry, Nick Struck while Jokisch has a similar profile but the advantage of being lefty. Tough call on the 3 Smokies pitchers this year.
- Trey McNutt, RHP, Tennessee: One of the higher upside pitchers on this list because of a mid 90s fastball and a power curve/slider hybrid, McNutt's injury issues make him a major risk at this point but some team can snatch him up and stash him on the DL for a year, but it's a serious question as to whether McNutt will be healthy enough to even spend the required 90 days on an active MLB roster for a team to be able to retain him. The guess is he won't.
- Juan Paniagua, RHP, Boise: His eligibility has yet to be determined because of his past history, but if he does become eligible, he's a high upside arm who can reach the high 90s and may be worth stashing in the bullpen for teams that covet power arms.
- Not included on this list are C Willson Contreras and SS Marco Hernandez who have great natural ability but are nowhere near being MLB ready from any perspective. Wes Darvill is an intriguing omission but his upside appears to be a utility infielder who has yet to reach AA ball. Probably not a worthwhile gamble and a roster spot for a team at this point. Frank Batista has been a successful closer at AA but projects as a middle reliever at best at the MLB level, so it's doubtful the Cubs would protect him.
The last part of the equation is how many spots are available. That is yet to be determined by the Cubs. There are free agents-to-be such as Dionner Navarro and Matt Guerrier that will create openings -- but there are also players that need to be activated from the 60 Day DL like Arodys Vizcaino and Kyuji Fujikawa who may need to be reinstated. Matt Gamel is also on the 60 Day DL.
As I mentioned, Alcantara is the only lock right now, but I think Beeler, Loosen and Paniagua (if deemed eligible) will get strong consideration. I have to to think Zach Cates could be intriguing to some teams as well. Jokisch and Cervenka will also be borderline decisions. Other candidates may not be close enough to being MLB ready (i.e. Amaya) or don't have enough upside (i.e. Ha) to be merit protection at this time, but there's some risk there too.
Earlier today, we mentioned the loss of McLeod as a potential drawback of the Cubs building a top farm system, but the Cubs may lose some talent as well as their depth exceeds their ability to protect all their players.
All told, it's a nice problem to have for a change -- and it's only going to get tougher over the next few years.
Filed under: Uncategorized