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[An annual piece of the Winter Meetings pie, the Rule 5 Draft takes place tomorrow, the last day of the Meetings. The Cubs have the second pick, behind the Astros.]

I love the Rule 5 Draft, and I hate it. I love that it is the one time of year when everyone is talking about the lesser known, fringy prospects that usually lurk outside the spotlight, but hate that it is the one column I write in which I will not make a single correct prediction. Players who are eligible for the Rule 5 are a sort of a baseball version of a Rorschach test. Every team looks at the same players, appears to see something completely different, and those of us on the sidelines are left scratching our heads.

And this might be the most confusing year I’ve seen in a long time. The Cubs could do almost anything, and there are a lot of very interesting players available that they could grab. Last year, remember, they reached back and snagged Lendy Castillo… a guy with little pitching experience… out of A ball. That was a bit of a surprise. This year?

We’ll find out on Thursday.

In the meantime, lets’ break down the possibilities.

Trade – The Cubs could trade the pick, likely to a contender needing one cheap bench or bullpen piece, and take back a fringy prospect who would not have to be kept on the 25 man roster in exchange. This would be the safe play for the Cubs. It nets them talent, buys them time to develop that talent, and does not burn a roster slot. If the Cubs do trade the pick, we may not know for half an hour or so after the draft is over.

Pass – The Cubs could simply pass when their turn comes up (the second overall pick) and choose no one. This would surprise me. The Rule 5 draft is the closest thing to a free prospect a team is likely to find, and the Cubs should have the roster flexibility to carry that prospect just like they did Lendy Castillo. I can’t see the Cubs walking away on Thursday having made no moves at all.

Catcher – Drafting a catcher would be a complete shocker. The Cubs already have three catchers on the 40 man roster; I sincerely doubt they would snag a fourth who has to be kept on the 25 man roster. I think we can rule this possibility out.

Infielder – The Cubs have a lot of infield depth in the farm system, but they are a little thin at the highest levels. Believe it or not, the Cubs do not currently have a backup infielder on the likely 25 man roster. Assuming Valbuena is the current third baseman and Vitters is ticketed for Iowa, the Cubs are only carrying four infielders on the 40 man who are likely to break camp with the Cubs in the spring. If the Cubs find a third baseman, Valbuena may become that backup guy, but for now the position is vacant. Add it all up and I think we have to concede that drafting an infielder is a real possibility. Just don’t expect the Cubs to land a starting third baseman.

Outfielder – This is a deep class of eligible outfielders. If the Cubs want to maximize their value, this might be the place to do it. Given the number of outfield holes they need to fill and their lack of depth in Iowa, the stars might be aligning for the Cubs to snag a good defensive outfielder with some offensive upside. Provided they can find one, of course.

Pitcher – Regardless of whether his long term future is in the rotation or the pen, any Rule 5’d pitcher is almost certain to work out of the pen next season. This is probably the safest place for a team to grab some talent, but it is not always the position where the highest upside can be found. Since the Cubs do have the second pick this year, I would not be surprised to see them pass on pitching if they see some higher upside hitters still on the board. The Cubs have a ton of back of the rotation and bullpen arms in the high minors already, and they are not likely to find a future ace in the Rule 5 listings (although it has happened before). Still, the best place to stash a pick is in the bullpen, and that is a factor that cannot be ignored.

If I had to rank these option in order likelihood, I think it would be: Outfielder, Trade, Pitcher, Infielder, Pass, Catcher. Those first three are separated by razor thin margins, though.

So, who might the Cubs take? MLB.com has complied a nice list of twenty names worth knowing, but many of those are not guys I think would interest the Cubs. Brett and I have complied a few names of our own (including some who also appear on the MLB list) who are more likely to be on the Cubs’ radar. Odds are good that the Cubs will wind up picking someone else entirely, but this is not a bad list to have handy when the draft rolls around.

Tim Crabbe – RHP – Reds: Baseball America said he had the best slider in the Reds farm system prior to the 2012 season, and his minor league K/9 bears that out. The walks got away from him when he went to Double A this year, but I think his slider might be good enough to keep him alive in a bullpen role for a season. Long term, he has a shot at becoming a reliable starter.

Kenny Wilson – OF – Blue Jays: Imagine Tony Campana with defense and you have an idea what Wilson might bring to the Cubs. I don’t think he is quite as fast as Campana (few are), but he should have more value in the field. He would essentially replace Campana as the fifth outfielder.

Jeremy Hazelbaker – OF – Red Sox: If you feel like gambling for the breakout star, this is your guy. He hit 19 home runs and stole 33 bases in Double A last year, on his way to a .273/.338/.479 line. In eight winter ball games he has posted an OPS of .911. There is a lot of potential here, but he likely needs to tight up his swing to really take advantage of it.

J.C. Sulbaran – RHP – Royals: Another high strike out guy, Sulbaran is coming off a rough season. In fact, I think his season was so rough, his BB/9 in particular, that is suggests some mechanical issues. If the Cubs staff think they can work with his form, he could be a gamble worth taking.

Odubel Herrera – INF – Rangers: Herrera ranked No. 27 on the Rangers pre-season Top Prospects list for Baseball America. He is described as having a short, compact swing that is the fastest in the Texas system. Intrigued? I am. He bats left handed, can handle second or short, and shows some good speed on the bases. The jump from High-A would be rough, but as a defensive replacement/pinch runner, it might work.

Josh Fields – RHP – Red Sox: I am honestly not sure why this guy was left unprotected. He’s on the old side, but he’s never pitched below Double A, and in two seasons of Triple A has posted a 10.8 K/9 to go with a 1.275 WHIP. His BB/9 is high (5.1), but the rest of his numbers are just good. If the Astros don’t grab him, the Cubs should be very tempted. Unless there is something I am missing here, he looks like he could legitimately compete for the 7th inning job right now. If the Cubs do trade their pick, this is probably the most likely guy to be taken as part of that trade.

If Theo and Jed wanted my advice, I’d probably shoot for some offensive upside and recommend Hazelbaker. Fields is probably the safest pick and Herrera might have the best swing among the available hitters, but I can’t pass on the chance to land a quality lefty bat with 20 HR / 30 SB potential.

When Thursday rolls around, though, I expect the Cubs will do something completely unexpected.

Oh, and they might lose a player or two, too. Last year, it was Marwin Gonzalez and Ryan Flaherty. Once again: anything can happen.

  • Ryno G

    I’d love to grab Hazelbaker tomorrow

    • CubFan Paul

      put me down for hazelbaker too

      plus Theo drafted him. cheap way to find a 5th OF/platoon mate for Mighty Mouse.

      • Kong2287

        Hazelbaker MAC college career line .316/.419/.509 averaged 6HR/12dbls per season

        Struggled for about his first 500 pro plate appearances, Red Sox stuck
        behind him and let him develop and adjust and he found some success.

        Another MAC college hitters line was .350/.429/.584 averaged 10HR/20dbls per season and was allowed a whopping total of 229 pro at bats and was sent to the scrap heap(by Epstein after joining the Cubs).

        No takers forced player to convert to bump with effortless 94-95mph arm and can hit 98mph if needed. Player will now be developed by Theo-less Boston Red Sox organization. The Cubs great scouting system never bothered to read the reports
        that said 70 plus arm.(out of RF)

  • Frank

    My is Ryan Chaffee. He’s similar to Fields, but 3 years younger. Tim Crabbe is a 24 year old starter from Cincy, but a reliever is a lot easier to hide than a starter, and if they’re looking for a guy to help the team now, Chaffee and Fields are better bets. Besides no reason to think that Crabbe I any better than Struck, Raley, or Rusin, none of whom we’d have to keep on the roster all season long.

    As for our guys, I think that Dae Eun Rhee could be a surprise pick by someone. He was available last season, and was coming off a much better season, but I could see someone picking him and stashing him at the end of the pen for the season, or at least until he “developes an injury.” There’s of course Struck, who’s 2 years younger than Crabbe, and similar peripherals, argueably better, but Crabbe has better K numbers, and that alone might be enough to put him over the top. Not that they both can’t be taken. Personally, if I were a GM I’d take Rhee, who has a much higher ceilign than ether of the others who are safer bets to be decent 5 starters.

  • BD

    I like a couple of LHP- Lara and Perez. Especially Perez, since he is 21 and from Atlanta’s system (not that they all have to be good). I think either could be stashed in the pen until they come down with an “injury”…

  • North Side Irish

    I’m intrigued by Braulio Lara (TB)…young, power LHP with good movement on his FB. Might be too far away, but I could see him doing the Lendy DL dance next year and work on refining his slurve.

  • Austin

    Are the teams allowed only 1 pick? Or if they have room can they take more that 1 player?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Can pick more than one, but have to wait for everyone else to pick before getting second crack (not everyone will make a selection, though).

      • http://wavesoftalent.webs.com tim

        I’m fairly certain there is only one time through the deck. If you want a second option, you have to trade for it.

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          I don’t think so (looking back at past results) – I think it’s just that it’s extremely rare for a team to take two players.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rule_5_draft_results

        • Kyle

          Teams have taken two players as recently as 2010, iirc.

      • Austin

        Alright thank.

        If possible I would hope that 1 of those guys falls to the Cub’s 2nd pick and try and take two guys. Hopefully 1 pitcher and 1 hitter. They have the ability to stash two players IMO.

        • http://wavesoftalent.webs.com tim

          The 40 Man will be at 38 when Fujikawa signs.

      • college_of_coaches

        I believe that last year Houston carried two rule 5 picks on their roster. They had the first pick and took a pitcher (I think from the Mets). They then traded their no. 1 pick in the AAA round to the Red Sox for Marwin Gonzalez, who was selected from the Cubs.

  • Justin

    I could see Theo going after some of the talent he brought in when he was in Boston.

  • MightyBear

    Sweet Jesus take Fields if he’s available. Pitching folks. Pitching.

    • ssckelley

      I agree, Fields is the safest one to take that is closest to being MLB ready. I am also shocked that the Red Sox did not protect him, but I would also be shocked if the Astros passed on him.

    • FFP

      Sweet Jesus

      Mighty Bear, I’ve never seen you bait anyone on this site before. Would this qualify as “bear baiting”?
      –and what MB said about pitching.

      • beerhelps

        lol

  • daveyrosello

    Another Rule 5 possibility is that the Cubs need to fill a reserve’s ML roster spot that can sub at 1B and corner OF. With LaHair gone, the Cubs have no one in Chicago or Iowa that can fill that job.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Marc Krauss, perhaps?

  • Myles

    I’m thinking of driving to Nashville, going to this draft, and just holding a sign that says

    JED: DRAFT JONATHAN GALVEZ

    • Myles

      Here http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=galvez001jon is the link for Galvez

      Pros:
      21 at AA, he hit .292/.364/.426
      Been promoted each year, has always gotten on base
      Great speed with moderate pop for a MINF
      He finally improved his K/BB ratio
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=otiMVsNGuO0

      Cons:
      Improving defensively, but still below average
      Never played 3B (does he have an arm for it?)
      If he grows into his frame, will be still be able to play MINF?

      He’s a true 2B at this point, and the Cubs don’t have a backup 2B with Cardenas gone. He has great plate discipline and is still developing. I think he’d be a great pickup.

  • cubchymyst

    I think the Cubs wait until the start of the season to pick the back-up IF (unless the grab it in the rule 5). There are already 1 or 2 players on the 40 man roster than might start the season on the DL so why waste the roster spot on a guy is not going to be starting often anyways.

  • Tim

    White sox get keppinger

  • Melrosepad

    Any chance we look at Jefry Marte? Defense isn’t the best at 3rd, but it sounds like he hits well against lefties.

    Also, Nate Freiman is normally a first baseman, but he hits for power and has a good OBP, so why not see if Dave McKay can whack him with his OF mojo and get him to play passable RF. That way he takes the role of Lahair, bat off the bench and back up for OF and 1st.

    • Chris

      I was thinking why not take a chance on Marte too. Valbuena can be the starter, but could slide over to give Barney or Castro a breather every now and then and let this kid get into the lineup occasionally. I’m sure he’s not any more ready than Vitters or Lake, but if we keep stockpiling guys to play 3rd, maybe one of them will figure something out quickly. I don’t see the name of the other guy I was thinking, but there is a pitcher who throws close to 100mph that would be intriguing for the pen. He’s raw and wild, but he couldn’t be any worse than Castillo last season.

  • carmelo

    Draft Silverio, outfielder from the Dodgers.

  • ssckelley

    We need to temper our excitement just a tad and wipe some of the drool off our chins from looking at these Rule 5 “prospects”. It is extremely rare to find someone serviceable let a lone a super star in the Rule 5 draft. Go look at the past Rule 5 drafts and you will see the Dan Ugglas and Johan Santanas are few and far in between.

    I remember one year the Cubs drafted a guy from the Cardinals, the Cubs decided they did not want to keep him on the 25 man roster, offered him back to the Cardinals, and the Cardinals refused to take him back.

  • Fastball

    I wouldn’t be surprised if we traded our pick for a player who doesn’t have to go on the 25 man roster. We already have too many players on the 40 man that aren’t major league ready.

  • Carew

    I think they should go after Hazelbaker or Wilson. For wWilson, is he campana-like meaning fast but doesnt get on base?

  • #1lahairfan

    Jonathan Galvez or Hazelbaker.

  • Segal27

    I want Galvez or Hazelbaker, not really interested in a 27 year old pitcher

  • Jackalope

    “he likely needs to tight up his swing to really take advantage of it.”

    I’m sure that Brett Jackson would be willing to share his wrench.

  • gutshot5820

    This is supposed to be one of the deepest Rule 5 drafts ever. Hopefully, they do a better job than they did last year. That being said, there have been some impact players picked in the past I believe.

    • daveyrosello

      Jody Davis, David Ortiz, Johan Santana, Joakim Soria………

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I’m not ready to say they whiffed last year – Castillo wasn’t selected to do anything other than what he did last year (barely survive on the roster). The real judgment on his selection is 2013.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

        He should spend all of 2013 in the minors, and given that he did not pitch much in 2012, I’m not sure how much we can expect in the first part of the year. Hopefully he’ll be in Tennessee in the second half of 2013; that should give us a pretty good indicator what the Cubs have.

  • nkniacc13

    I kinda hope if the cubs trade their pick they take players in AAA and AA portion. Even if they take a player I hope they use these almost free selections of talent to upgrade the talent

  • BWA

    This is very off topic, but it at least has to do with a draft haha… If the Cubs select a college pitcher (which they better) such as Appel or Stanek, what is the general timeline for a guy like that to make it to the pros? Would they be coming up right along with the likes of Baez, Soler, and Almora?

    • nkniacc13

      Depending on who they draft but yes 15′ would be a good guess

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      First of all, I’m not convinced the Cubs have to select a college pitcher. It is too early to say for sure how the top of the draft is going to look, and it is no certainty that the best player on the board will be a college pitcher.

      If the Cubs to take one, though, I wouldn’t expect him to be up to stay until 2015 at the earliest. Look at Gerrit Cole, for example.

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