Rule 5 time is here and as the Cubs roster gets deeper it'll be tougher to protect players. This year they only needed to protect two: Arismendy Alcantara and Dallas Beeler, but the Cubs had to leave Marcus Hatley, Zach Cates, Gioskar Amaya, Marco Hernandez, and a few other young talents eligible. I think Hatley and Cates. Hatley's FB can reach the mid 90s and adds a solid breaking ball. Last year he finally started throwing strikes and missing bats. He's MLB ready. Cates has a 96 mph fastball and solid change but would be more of a gamble. He also stayed healthy and got starters innings last year at Daytona, so he was able to rack up some experience and showed some development toward the end of the year.
The Rule 5 isn't quite what it used to be. The restrictions are tighter -- and some think they should be restricted even more for international players. The rule states that any player under the age of 19 has 5 years to be added to the 40 man roster. That works pretty well with U.S. high school prospects, who are often drafted at age 18, but what about those international players who sign at 16 years old? It's asking a lot for any prospect to be roster-worth by the age of 21.
The Cubs have seen both ends of that equation, selecting Lendy Castillo 2 years ago and having Starlin Peralta selected last year. Both pitchers were just coming into their own and were starting to develop, but had only reached the A ball level. Still, the arms were too good to pass up. Could things have worked out differently for Castillo if he had more time to develop? Did Peralta's struggles in big league spring training get him slightly out of whack? It's hard to say.
Now I'm worried that teams may pluck Gioskar Amaya even though he's not ready, stash him, and hurt his development. One scout I talked to last year quickly picked out Amaya as one of his favorites on a loaded Kane County roster. To a lesser extent, the same worries go with Marco Hernandez, who is even less ready but is a better athlete, runs well, is a switch-hitter and may provide better utility off the bench in the short term.
I wonder if a 3rd age delineation is needed for the sake of some of the younger talents in the game.
Anyway, I'll get off my soap box now and we'll take a look at some of the intriguing unprotected players --- whether they're ready or not. You will find that the two areas which really stick out here are power bats and power arms.
The information is mine and I listed them in no particular order, but longtime readers can probably easily figure out the guys I'm most excited about. I also added takes on a few players from a scout...
UPDATE: It appears that Domingo Santana and Ashter Wojciechowski were added to the Astros roster since the time I originally compiled my list. Apologies.
Alex Sogard, LHP, Astros
Can bring it up to 92-94 with a decent breaking ball but struggles with control, as his frightening 7.43/9 IP walk rate would attest. The Cubs are likely to avoid pitchers who walk hitters, even though LHP is a need and there is some upside here.
Scouts take: Possible change of pace lefty out of the bullpen.
Kolbrin Vitek, 3B/OF, Red Sox
A former first round pick under the watch of one Theo Epstein, Vitek has struggled. He's made it to AA the past two years but injuries have derailed his career. His bat hasn't developed as hoped and 2013 was a lost year for him.
Scouts take: Maybe, but tough to see him sticking.
Miles Head, 3B/1B, Athletics
Head was part of the last draft that Epstein, Hoyer, and McLeod conducted together as members of the Red Sox front office. Has since moved on to Oakland as part of the Andrew Bailey trade. The Cubs could throw him into the 3B mix and he'd offer a backup to Anthony Rizzo at 1B. He has the kind of approach that the Cubs like -- good plate discipline, shortens swing with 2 strikes, but he's not a good athlete and not a good defender at 1B, much less 3B. He's a bat only type player. Maybe he's someone the Cubs front office feels they know well enough and someone they can fix. There is no way you can carry both Head and Matt Gamel on the same roster, though, so Cubs may choose to keep the more advanced Gamel.
Scouts take: Good raw power, but his swing is a mess right now.
Luis Parra, LHP, Rangers
Another Latin player who is still a bit raw but eligible, Parra put up some pretty good numbers -- at the A ball level. He's a rare power lefty with decent size (6'2") and still some room to fill out. He went 5-4 with a 2.34 ERA (3.18 FIP) for the Rangers Class A team with a strikeout rate of 7.25/9 IP and a BB rate of 3.57/9 IP. He got a late season promotion to advanced A and held his own there as well, putting up a 3.71 ERA (3.95 FIP) in 26.2 innings
Scout's take: Could be had, good talent, just raw game and still a thrower, but has the upside.
Yangervis Solarte, 2B/SS, Rangers
Originally signed by the Minnesota Twins. Solarte is not a household name but he put up good numbers for the Rangers in AAA (.276/.323/.403 with 12 HRs). He's a middle infield prospect who gets lost in the shuffle because of the Rangers depth in that area (Andrus, Profar, Sardinas, Odor, and the recently dealt Leurys Garcia). You can't keep everybody but Solarte may turn out to be a nice find and he's MLB ready. He can play all infield positions, switch-hits, has some pop, and is a capable defender. There is some obvious utility in all that to many teams. You have to think with all the scouting the Cubs have done of the Rangers organization the past two years (Dempster, Garza, Soto trades), they have to be well-acquainted with Solarte by now.
Scouts Take: Probably won't stick, more of a AAAA type.
Seth Blair, RHP, Cardinals
A former Cardinals first round pick and a power arm -- that alone should perk up the ears of some Cubs fans who have seen firsthand how the Cardinals quickly develop power arms. Blair, however, has been one of the exceptions. He slips through the cracks in part because of a tumor in his knuckle that caused a microfracture, costing him early development time. He hasn't been terrible by any means but he was rather mediocre at AA, going 3-9 with a 5.07 ERA (4.52 FIP). He did miss some bats, however (8.12 Ks/9 IP) and showed solid control walking 3.33/9 IP. He could be a sleeper. The Cardinals have so many power arms that they simply can't protect them all. Blair throws in the 92-94 mph range with the makings of a plus curve.
Scouts Take: A nice bullpen transition arm, which is one I would consider.
Jordan Swagerty, RHP, Cardinals
Let's raid the Cardinals power arm supply! Taken after Blair in the 2010 draft, he actually got off to the better start. He was once the Cardinals 9th rated prospect on the strength of a fastball that touched 96 mph and a plus curve, which was rated among the best in that draft. Soon after he was sidelined with elbow issues that required Tommy John surgery. There is talent and the usual concerns with TJS. Development would also be a concern. He's also a blogger, so he has that going for him.
Scouts Take: Talented, but might not stick. Needs time in the minors to bounce back.
Junior Arias, OF, Reds
The Reds seem to sign/draft a lot of athletic outfielders and you can count Arias in that group. Arias was signed as a SS, then moved to 3B, and now has moved to the OF which kind of reminds you of another Junior who currently plays for the Cubs. There are a lot of other things they have in common. Arias is an aggressive swinger who doesn't take a lot of walks (2.2% in 230 PAs at advanced A level last year) Arias is also a good athlete but an injury has robbed him of some arm strength and he has outgrown what was once above average speed. His calling card is his raw power, but it has yet to show up in games, though he did show some at the low A ball level last year (.284/.323/.469 with 10 HRs and .185 ISO). Interesting toolsy player, but I don't see the Cubs taking a chance here.
Scouts Take: good athlete, but the bat just may never catch up.
Brody Colvin, RHP, Phillies
One of those recognizable names that makes you look twice and wonder what the Phillies were thinking -- but then you look up and see what he's up to lately and you say, "Ahh, I get it.". Colvin put up some hideous numbers at the AA level last year, finishing with a 6.40 ERA (6.19 FIP), didn't miss bats (4.19 Ks per 9 IP) and actually walked more than he struck out (54 BBs vs. 36 Ks). He has not been able to develop a change-up, so starting is pretty much out of the question. Still Colvin is a power arm (90-94 mph, power curve) with athleticism and good size, the kind of starter kit scouts look for. But he has some mechanical issues in his delivery and his makeup may be better suited in relief. If you ask me, the Cubs have a better, non-rule 5 eligible version of the same kind of profile in Dillon Maples, but if the Cubs think they can fix Colvin's mechanical issues, there's nothing wrong with bringing in another power arm. The problem may be that he will need innings to fix those issues and he's not ready to be used regularly at the MLB level.
Scouts take: Might be a guy to pick as bullpen power arm
A few others to keep an eye on...
The Cubs are very familiar the Padres system and two names to look at there are Matt Lollis (RHP) and Rico Noel (CF). Lollis is 6'9" and can hit 97 mph with his fastball but his big frame makes it hard to get all his parts to work together well, so he struggles with timing in his delivery. He's still just 23 years old, so there is time but he is more of a project and not anywhere near being able to contribute out of the bullpen. Rico Noel is an athletic player who should provide speed and defense. He's a 5th OF'er type but the Cubs have plenty of those at the upper levels of their system. Neifi Ogando is a raw power arm in the Phillies system. Yankees prospects Tommy Kahnle, RHP; Freddy Lewis, LHP, and Daniel Burawa, RHP all have some talent but one scout told me to stay away from all of them (and not in a good way). So I will.
Ben Badler of Baseball America lists a few other names to consider -- including 4 Cubs who may get taken: Hatley, Hernandez, Matt Loosen, and Jae-Hoon Ha. As I said earlier, I would also keep an eye on Cates and Amaya.
The Cubs may actually take a bit of a hit in this draft, but these kinds of things happen you build a strong, deep organization.
Filed under: Rule 5 Draft