Next month, the Rule 5 Draft gives teams the opportunity to protect minor league players by adding them to the 40-man roster. Currently, the Cubs have quite a few players who are eligible to be taken in the Rule 5 Draft. And as things stand now, they have 34 players on their 40-man roster, so there is ample room to protect guys in the farm system.
Here are a few of the more notable names:
Chesny Young - IF
Young is likely to spend 2018 in Iowa, where he spent the entirety of his 2017 season. Until he hit the Pacific Coast League, Young had hit consistently above .300 and for extra bases, and despite a down year in Des Moines last season, Young might be worth adding to the 40-man. He plays second, short, and third most often, but he also spent bits of time in all three outfield spots last year.
Bijan Rademacher - OF
Rademacher also spent all of last season with Iowa, and despite losing some time to injury in July, he put together an .811 OPS season. The outfield for the Cubs is currently rather crowded, but Rademacher is also worth keeping in the system. He might still spend the majority of 2018 in Triple-A, but should injuries befall the Cubs outfield staff, Rademacher would be an easy choice to call up to Chicago.
Charcer Burks - OF
Burks is an intriguing talent. He completed just his third full season of professional ball in 2017, and he spent the whole of it with Double-A Tennessee, where he slashed .270/.370/.395. Burks showed pretty marked improvement last season, but I think the Cubs can afford the risk of keeping him off of the 40-man roster and leaving him unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft. He would be an asset to any organization that took him, but there's also a chance that Burks slips through unclaimed and the Cubs can keep him for another year to see how he develops.
Adbert Alzolay - P
It would be foolish to let a pitcher like Alzolay slip away. He reached Double-A Tennessee in early July, and it is reasonable to expect that he could be in Iowa by about the same time in 2018. Though he is not likely to pitch at Wrigley until 2019, Alzolay is one of the best arms in the Cubs' system. Don't let him go. The blessing here is that Alzolay is not ready to pitch in the majors in 2018, so no team is going to want to run the risk of carrying him on the 25-man next year.
Trevor Clifton - P
Clifton's 2017 season left something to be desired, but prior to that, he was among the consensus best arms in the Cubs' farm system. His ERA jumped from 2.72 in 2016 to 5.20 last season, and Clifton's strikeout rate dropped dramatically. He's a safe bet to keep off of the 40-man roster, however, because it's not likely that any major league team is ready to hold him on its 25-man roster for the entirety of the 2018 season.
Oscar De La Cruz - P
Thankfully, De La Cruz is still low enough in the minor league system that there is little danger that a team would pick him up and keep him in the majors for all of the 2018 season. De La Cruz pitched 56 innings for Myrtle Beach last season, so he's not likely to crack the majors until 2020. The scary thing about De La Cruz is that he's talented enough that a team might think him worth the gamble, and he's not an arm I would feel at all good about the Cubs losing. They would be wise to giving some serious thought to protecting De La Cruz.
Jake Stinnett - P
This is a tough one. Stinnett was outstanding in his nine appearances with Double-A Tennessee last season, but his injury-delayed start to the year meant that he wasn't active until July. In 14.2 innings with the Smokies, Stinnett allowed only one earned run and struck out 14, so there's plenty of reason to be bullish about him if he is healthy. But given that Stinnett has only thrown 100+ innings in 2015 and 2016 and only pitched above High-A in the latter half of 2017, I think the Cubs are safe to leave Stinnett off of their 40-man roster.
Outside of these players, the only other names of possible note are Corey Black, who missed all of 2017, David Bote, who spent all of last season in Tennessee, and Jason Vosler, who flashed some power for the first time last season, but he also has not yet played above Double-A.
Of these players, I think the Cubs would be wise to protect Rademacher, Young, and even De La Cruz.