The Rule 5 draft was even more unusual than I expected. The Cubs got so pillaged by the rest of the league that I decided to suspend the regular Prospects’ Progress to talk a bit about the players the Cubs lost.
First, a refresher on the good news. The Cubs took Hector Rondon, and there is a lot to like about this pick. Even though he wasn’t one of the players I had profiled, I do like this move. Rondon has a real chance to not only stick all season, but to actually contribute in a positive way. You can’t compliment a Rule 5 pick more highly than that.
Now for the bad news.
Losing Starlin Peralta was not a pleasant surprise. He has good stuff, but he also has a long way to go before can fully take advantage of it. While he did have a K/9 of 7.8 this year, he did it Peoria, and it was partially offset by a BB/9 of 3.8. And that raises a very important question: if he is walking 3.8 per nine innings in Low-A Peoria, how is he going to get major league hitters out? They’ll camp on his fastball waiting for a strike, and his fastball is not good enough to get away with that. I am extremely skeptical that Arizona can keep him a full season.
The Diamondbacks are run by some smart people. They know the value of a prospect, but they also know how to set up a roster. I’m sure they have some scouting data on Peralta that makes them genuinely interested, but they have to know that he is not going to be able to easily stay in the majors all season… and maybe not for the required non-injury 90 days. Arizona is trying to win a tough division; they can’t afford to carry a liability in their bullpen. And they have to know that. That makes me suspect they aren’t after Peralta at all. Or, to say it differently, that Peralta is not their primary target.
I see two possibilities here, and both involve trades. First off, Arizona is in the middle of some epic four team trade negotiations, and those negotiations are not coming together yet. One possibility is that the Diamondbacks grabbed Peralta because they knew another team (Miami? Cleveland?) that would be in a better position to roster him all year and absorb the damage wanted him. In that scenario, Peralta would become a sweetener for that team in a larger trade. In a lesser farm system, Peralta could easily be a 20-30 ranked prospect. That’s not a bad player to toss into a deal.
The other possibility is that the Diamondbacks are interested in a different trade with the Cubs, and that they are taking Peralta as a piece to play in that trade. One way Arizona could keep Peralta regardless of roster status is if they conclude a trade with the Cubs that grants Arizona his rights, unrestricted. That deal could be part of a larger trade. I also think, although I’m not certain of the exact rules here, that Arizona could offer Peralta back to the Cubs as part of another trade. Who would the Diamondbacks be targeting on the Cubs? I have no idea, but it probably would not be any of the big names. Because I don’t see how the Cubs and Diamondbacks match up, if Arizona is thinking of Peralta as a trade chip, I think the first possibility is the more likely one.
If Arizona is intending to the young pitcher, though, I think they are making a mistake. I do not see how they can make that work. If no trade is made, I strongly suspect Peralta will be back with the Cubs by the end of the season.
Matt Cerda, on the other hand, is likely gone for good. Players taken in the minor league phase are almost never returned.
Cerda has one of the purest swings I have ever seen. He is not very big and does not have much power, but the ball jumps off his bat to all fields. Lacking the power to play at third and the lateral quickness to stick at second full time, he projects as a utility player in the majors more than a starter. As a utility player, though, he will have some value. I don’t know where the Cubs would have found at bats for Cerda in 2013 (Iowa and Tennessee will both be crowded on the infield), but I wish they could have kept this guy. I like having players in the system who work and play as hard as they can and push the limits of their abilities, and Cerda is absolutely one of those guys. St. Louis fans are going to love him.
Michael Burgess is also gone. Burgess advanced to Double A for the first time this season, and responded by having one of his best ever years. In particular, especially for a guy who had a history of swinging too aggressively, he was able to cut his strikeout rate all the way down to 16.1%. That new approach probably cost him some power (only ten home runs last year), but I think the power will return. Burgess has a good arm and plays solid defense in right, easily good enough to hold down the position in the majors. If he continues to make progress with his bat, he could be a regular right fielder one day. A fourth outfielder / platoon role may be more likely, but regardless, he has a real chance to make the majors.
Alvido Jimenez was also taken. You can be forgiven if you’ve never heard that name before. Jimenez is one of a legion of interesting but unspectacular pitchers the Cubs have signed out of the Caribbean in recent years. This particular pitcher was still in the Arizona Rookie League at the age of 20 despite coming to the United States at 18. His numbers were impressive (0.848 WHIP, 4.29 K/BB), but not so impressive that I think his loss is any kind of a blow to the Cubs.
At the end of the day, Cerda is probably the guy I think the Cubs will miss the most. Barring a transaction, I think Peralta is coming back. Burgess lessens the pool of legitimate outfield talent in the farm system, and that’s not good. But Cerda… Cerda is in a class of his own. He combined a terrific swing with an uncanny batting eye and a very advanced understanding of how a pitcher would attack him. He was always a tough out, and that is a skill that tends to translate up the system. If he were 6’2″ with weight and muscle to match he would be one of the best corner infield prospects in baseball. At 5’9″ he is still one of the best pure hitters I have seen in quite some time. Keep an eye on this guy; he’s got a bright future ahead of him.