Among the many offseason dates and deadlines, the one that seems to sneak up on folks the most – despite being critically important – is the deadline to add players in the organization to the 40-man roster in order to protect them from the upcoming Rule 5 Draft.
Obligatory Rule 5 Draft detour: that draft, which takes place on the final day of the Winter Meetings (December 8 this year), is designed to prevent teams from keeping too many players stashed away in their minor leagues for far too long, even if they might otherwise be a big-league-caliber player.
So, once a player becomes eligible* for the Rule 5 Draft after a number of years in the farm system, his club must make a decision: add him to the 40-man roster (which increases his pay significantly, starts the use of an option year, and, most importantly, takes up a spot on that limited roster), or leave him exposed to the draft.
If that player is selected in the draft, the team will receive only a small payment; the new team will then have a chance to keep that player for good if it keeps him on the 25-man roster for most of the following season. It is primarily that restriction that leads to quality prospects exposed and unselected in the Rule 5 Draft; it’s worth taking a player only if you think there’s at least a small shot he could stick on your 25-man roster all year. That’s a tall task for even a studly prospect if he has no experience above, for example, A-ball.
Circling back, then, to the deadline issue: tomorrow is the deadline by which teams must add prospects to their 40-man roster in order to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft. If you don’t add an eligible guy by tomorrow, then it’s too late: he can be selected in next month’s draft.
For the Cubs, you can study the full list of eligible prospects here at The Cub Reporter, where Arizona Phil does an impeccable job keeping up to date on these things. Keep in mind: every single team has interesting prospects that are eligible for the draft, and roster limitations are such that they cannot possibly protect them all. Like the 25-man roster rule for keeping a player after a selection, this serves as a limitation on how many players are actually selected. Every year I get the feeling folks are surprised that this guy or that guy wasn’t selected. It’ll happen again this year.
Who actually gets added to the 40-man roster by the Cubs? Well, they already took care of a big one, in righty reliever Jose Rosario (the type of flame-throwing, AAA-level prospect who is often selected). He was added to the 40-man roster earlier this month. The other big names that you know include righty Duane Underwood Jr. (really tough year for him, and in 2015, too, but there’s a ton of potential), catcher Victor Caratini (probably not ready for the big leagues, but a good switch-hitting bat at the plate and the potential to be a decent receiver behind it could be too enticing for a rebuilding team to pass up), outfielder Jacob Hannemann (stud defender, unrealized offensive potential), outfielder John Andreoli (could be a solid 5th outfielder type in the big leagues already), lefty Jack Leathersich (was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery last year, but could be a brilliant reliever), and righty Armando Rivero (ever tantalizing as a relief prospect, but still battling command issues).
I could go on.
There are other guys who could be protected, too, especially given how relatively few needs the Cubs have this offseason at the big league level, and how much space they have on the 40-man roster (currently at 35, but with several guys who could be removed if necessary).
You can be surprised by who gets plucked, too. Hector Rondon was a former solid starting pitching prospect who was dealing with multiple years of injuries when the Cubs took him a few years ago. A guy like Pedro Araujo, for a stray example, has not pitched above High-A (and poorly at that), but he’s a pure relief prospect who is already 23 and has upside. Or 21-year-old lefty Jose Paulino, who finally broke out last year, but only just reached full-season Low-A. Maybe a rebuilding team says what the heck on guys like that.
Tomorrow’s deadline is among the reasons you really, really, really have to be excellent at scouting your own system, in addition to everyone else’s.
We’ll see what happens tomorrow with the Cubs, and around baseball. The deadline is sometimes a trigger for minor activity around the game, as teams re-sort their 40-man rosters to accommodate players.
If you want to dig deep and check out some of the prospects in other organizations who need to be protected, Jonathan Mayo compiled a list of all the prospects who are Rule 5 eligible this year and also appear on an organization’s top 30 prospect list.
*(Quick and dirty eligibility rules for the Rule 5 Draft: players who were 18 or younger on the June 5 preceding their signing, and this is the fifth Rule 5 draft since their signing; or players who were 19 or older on the June 5 preceding their signing, and this is fourth Rule 5 draft upcoming.)