Held annually on the Thursday of Winter Meetings week, the Rule 5 Draft gives teams the opportunity to select other organizations’ players who are eligible for the draft by virtue of a certain number of years experience in the minors, and were not protected by being placed on certain reserve lists (i.e., the 40-man roster at the big league level, and various minor league rosters from there).
This year’s edition kicks off at 8am CT, and you can follow along live at MLB.com.
No, you’re not going to see household names going today in the draft, though useful players are often plucked. Last year’s edition was actually among the weaker outcomes in recent memory, but the years preceding it, going back to 2012, when the Cubs took an oft-injured starting pitching prospect from the Indians, there have been a number of big leaguers coming out of the draft. That prospect, by the way, was Hector Rondon.
Once a player is drafted today, the team that takes him must keep the player on the 25-man roster for most of the 2017 season (subject to some gamesmanship with the disabled list), or else they have to offer the player back to the original team. That’s why you see so many legitimately good prospects exposed to the Rule 5 Draft but not selected. Sometimes you’ve got to roll the dice that another team will not be able to actually keep such a young or raw player on the big league roster all year.
Willson Contreras was famously eligible for the Rule 5 Draft just two years ago, but he’d just finished up a .242/.320/.359 campaign at High-A, and was a recent catching convert. He broke out in a huge way at AA the next year, as we know, but if a team had tried to stash him on a big league roster in 2015? It may have been disastrous for his development, even as talented as he obviously is.
There’s also a minor league phase of the draft, whereby teams can pluck lower-level players who were unprotected on minor league rosters, and then they just get to keep the player. For example, the Cubs lost Justin Bour this way a few years ago, and then he wound up being a nice bat for the Marlins. Good for him, as it wouldn’t have happened with the Cubs, and that’s basically the whole point of this process.
As for the Cubs today, it’s possible they’ll take a flyer on a bullpen arm or a depth starter, but given the obvious playoff aspirations, it’s so difficult to actually keep a guy on the big league roster all year if he’s not a genuine contributor. A pick today would be a surprise, though the Cubs do have plenty of space on the 40-man roster to accommodate someone; and, hey, they could give him a look in Spring Training and simply return the guy if it doesn’t look like it’ll work. Even if the Cubs do select someone in the Major League phase, keep in mind that it might just be as part of a pre-arranged deal to trade that player to another team for a little bit of extra cash. The Cubs select so low (30th) that even that is unlikely. In the minor league phase, however, the Cubs might pick up a couple hail mary players.
One thing I’d like to see? The Cubs plucking a defensively-minded upper-level catcher in the minor league phase of the draft. There’s a serious organizational need there for depth, and this could be a handy way to snag a bit.
The slightly more plausible issue for today is whether the Cubs might lose any players in the big league phase of the draft. There are some youngsters who project reasonably well for the future, and some rebuilding clubs might take a shot.
Among the notable Cubs players eligible for selection today in the Major League phase:
Andury Acevedo, RHP
John Andreoli, OF
Pedro Araujo, RHP
Jeffrey Baez, OF
Yasiel Balaguert, 1B-OF
Dallas Beeler, RHP
Corey Black, RHP
Cael Brockmeyer, C
Stephen Bruno, INF
Josh Conway, RHP
Taylor Davis, C-1B
David Garner, RHP
Erick Leal, RHP
Trey Martin, OF
Jonathan Martinez, RHP
Ryan McNeil, RHP
Jose Paulino, LHP
Carlos Penalver, INF
Steve Perakslis, RHP
Jordan Pries, RHP
James Pugliese, RHP
Bijan Rademacher, OF
Armando Rivero, RHP
Tyler Skulina, RHP
Daury Torrez, RHP
At least in comparison to years past, the list there should inspire a little less nervousness. There are absolutely some draftable players that you’d hate to see the Cubs lose – Andreoli, Black, McNeil, Paulino, Rademacher, and Rivero seem to be the most plausible/nerve-inducing – but it’s not as stark as it’s been in recent years. And, even then, the Cubs always seemed to lose fewer guys than we were fearing. The reality is, most organizations have a list like this, with guys they hate to see exposed to this draft, but whom they simply couldn’t protect … which means there are very few spots available on rosters to actually take a crack on these guys.
The Cubs might lose a player or two, and you might be annoyed that the player wasn’t protected when there’s so much space on the 40-man roster (Andreoli and Rivero, in particular, boy … I’m going to understand the angst if they’re taken; if a rebuilding club takes an extreme flyer on Paulino, I’ll be pissed because of the talent, but it would have been imprudent of the Cubs to add a 21-year-old with only 40.0 innings of experience in full-season ball to the 40-man roster). The Cubs have done their internal evaluations, and have determined that the risk is justified. I can’t say for sure that they’re right or wrong, but I can say for sure that they’ve spent a lot more time and resources scouting these guys than I have.
Baseball America has a couple draft preview pieces here and here, and the Cubs’ set of youngsters do not come in for too much mention. Of the 80+ prospects who are discussed as possible selections, only two are Cubs: Acevedo (who missed most of 2016 with an ACL injury) and Rademacher (a 25-year-old corner outfielder who raked at AA last year, but was league average with the bat after a midseason promotion to AAA). Once again, neither is a player you want to see the Cubs lose, but if there’s a team out there that wants to give them a big league shot, go get yours, boys.
The Draft starts at 8am CT.