Every year, our attention to and interest in the Rule 5 Draft dramatically outstrips its actual big league utility. I know this. We all know this. Only a handful of teams even select a player in the big league Rule 5 Draft, and among those chosen, an even smaller handful actually appear in the big leagues the next year. And an even smaller handful – the hand is not full at this point – make a meaningful contribution.
But dang it, the Rule 5 Draft is a weirdo roster thing that takes place a half-year after the regular draft, and comes a few weeks after a rostering deadline tied to its arrival, all of which means it is absolutely optimized to draw out our interest.
All of which makes it suck that the big league Rule 5 Draft won’t be happening this week, as previously scheduled, due to the MLB lockout. I was ready to dream on the Cubs finding a shutdown reliever out of nowhere, or a sterling defensive utility infielder.
That said, there is *A PORTION* of the Rule 5 Draft happening this week, as confirmed by Baseball America today. The MINOR LEAGUE phase of the Rule 5 Draft is coming Wednesday afternoon:
This week there will be a Rule 5 draft the likes of which none of us has ever seen.
So naturally, we're all in. https://t.co/MQOxigMcCS
— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) December 6, 2021
For those unfamiliar, the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft happens every year, just after the Major League phase. Not unlike the big league phase, the minor league phase allows clubs to select unprotected players – players who are eligible for selection based on years in the minors, but who were not placed on their organization’s 38-man reserve list at Triple-A – for a fee. Unlike the big league phase, there are no roster requirements thereafter. Once you pick a player in the minor league phase and pay your $24,500 fee to the former team, the player is yours on a minor league deal.
It’s exceedingly rare to snag a future big leaguer in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft, though it does happen. Just last year, minor league Rule 5’er Tyler Gilbert wound up reaching the big leagues and throwing a no-hitter for the Diamondbacks.
The BA preview lists 11 names to watch, none of whom are in the Cubs’ system (um, well, sometimes being less prospect-dense in the upper levels is an advantage?). The Cubs will select 7th in the Rule 5 Draft, just like the Rule 4 Draft (that’s the draft-draft) next year. So long as they have open space on their 38-man list, I fully expect them to take a no-risk chance on catching depth – they need it badly – or an upside arm.
Of note? Two of BA’s 11 players to watch in the draft are Cleveland Guardians prospects, where Cubs GM Carter Hawkins would have particular familiarity:
Kyle Marman, RHP, Guardians
Cleveland has a type, and to an extent Marman fits that. A 13th-round pick out of Florida Atlantic in 2018, Marman is a higher-slot righthander. He likes to work up and down in the strike zone with his fastball and curve. Marman’s overhand slot allows his fastball to generate elite ride (greater than 19 inches of induced vertical break) and his curveball to generate great depth and drop (over -15 inches of induced vertical break). He pairs those with a mid-80s slider with cutter shape that he uses interchangeably with his curveball. The results were poor for Marman this season (4-0, 5.85 with a 1.65 WHIP in 20 innings with Double-A Akron), but he has intriguing fastball shape and velocity (sits 93-94 mph) with two secondaries that miss bats.
Skylar Arias, LHP, Guardians
A 24th-round pick out of Tallahassee (Fla.) JC in 2016, Arias was an extremely effective reliever in 2019 in stops at Low-A Lake County and High-A Lynchburg. His control took a big step back in 2021, as he walked 35 in 40.1 innings with Double-A Akron, but the quality of his stuff remains intriguing. Arias deploys a trio of pitches in his low-90s fastball, low-80s slider and low-to-mid-80s changeup. He has an unusual four-seam fastball that’s heavy with side spin, but lacks hop, moving almost like a sinker from a flat vertical approach angle. This allows the pitch to play above his below-average velocity. His slider is far and away his go-to swing-and-miss offering, with a whiff rate above 50% despite accounting for a quarter of his usage. From a shape perspective his changeup may be his most intriguing pitch. It sits 82 mph with average velocity separation from his fastball. He does an excellent job of killing the lift on the pitch, which gives it plenty of tumble. It also has hellacious run. Arias has an unusual pitch mix for a lefty with a trio of unique pitch shapes.
As for the big league phase of the Rule 5 Draft, it is expected to take place at some point after the lockout is resolved. It’ll be weird to have that one happening after the minor league phase.