2022 Cubs Rule 5 Protection Decisions: Ten More Cubs Prospects To Think About

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2022 Cubs Rule 5 Protection Decisions: Ten More Cubs Prospects To Think About

Chicago Cubs

The Chicago Cubs have cleared the 40-man roster space and tomorrow, will announce who they protect from the 2022 Rule 5 Draft. Tomorrow evening will be a very big moment for the organization, as any draft-eligible prospects who aren’t placed on the 40-man roster by tomorrow can be poached come the December 8 Rule 5 Draft.

We talked last time about the three names who will definitely be included (Brennen Davis, Ben Brown, and Kevin Alcántara), and have also gone into the cases for Luis Devers, Jake Reindl and Luis Verdugo. I want to finish this series by talking about ten more players that I think the Cubs have discussed a lot internally, and guys they fear will be on other teams’ radars as well.

RHP Ryan Jensen

I think Jensen gets in. After a lackluster start to the year, the Cubs tried something with Jensen that they hope becomes a new normal for prospects in their system: they called him back to Arizona for a month. While there, Jensen’s long arm action was demonstrably shortened, and the team worked with him on adding a cutter.

Jensen’s numbers after returning from Arizona: 43 IP, 31 H, 3.77 ERA, 25 BB, 42 K, 2 HR-A. Obviously the arm action change was not a cure-all for the issue Jensen occasionally faces in throwing consistent strikes, which is the only thing holding him back from being a 40-man lock and guy discussed in 2023 plans. But, it was better in most outings, and the slight increase in stuff quality should earn him the benefit of the doubt.

2023 might be the year that Jensen makes the move to relief that has been openly discussed as a possibility since the day he was drafted late in the first round in 2019. While this hypothetical would surely be met with some disappointment, given the slot he was selected, there’s a feeling that the success he could have in that role will leave people satisfied in the end. You can’t let arm talents like this slip through in the Rule 5.

RHP Danis Correa and RHP Cam Sanders

I wanted to put these two next because I think they are the likeliest players for the Cubs to have plucked from them in the Rule 5. Jensen’s likely “in” status probably leaves Correa and Sanders off, probably marking the first time the Cubs have ever left multiple arms capable of triple-digit velocities off the 40-man roster in an offseason.

Correa has been there in the triple digits for years, but in 2022 showed he could stay healthy for the whole season. It’s a lightning quick arm, up to 101 mph and I think capable of another tick, and two pretty solid breaking balls. Sanders reached 100 in September, and overall pitched fantastic in relief (neither of those things was much of a surprise). With big spin rates, a Major League pedigree, and a multitude of pitches to play with, I tend to think he has everything that a usual Rule 5 pick possesses.

Each pitcher is a risk to be selected, especially because of their theoretical ability to contribute right away, even in the now-reduced bullpen sizes in MLB.

INF Chase Strumpf

I don’t think he makes it, and have felt that way since Esteban Quiroz was chosen for a late-season cup of coffee over him (i.e., the Cubs weren’t yet convinced they wanted to use a 40-man spot on Strumpf late in the season).

But three big skill developments happened for the 2019 second rounder in 2022 that, for me, would be enough for a 40-man spot:

  1. A rise in HR/FB% from 8.2% in 2021 to 21% in 2022. A 168% year-over-year increase!
  2. Winning the Southern League’s “Best Defensive 2B” in Baseball America’s Best Tools Issue (voted on by SL managers).
  3. Posting the fourth-best walk rate (15%) in the Southern League.

Holding Strumpf’s candidacy back is a 33.3% strikeout rate at Double-A that I think rings a little too close to Patrick Wisdom for the front office’s liking. There may be a feeling that the quality of big league breaking balls will be too difficult of a hill to climb, or that the improvements in the field are overstated. But man, I’d be nervous about losing a high-floor slugger with above-average MLB 2B upside.

OF Darius Hill

The Cubs love unique skillsets, and Hill is on the extreme end of the spectrum in two really good areas: day-to-day plate approach consistency and contact ability.

Hill is a menace to opposing pitchers, extremely hard to beat, and possessing the requisite hand-eye coordination to have consistently good BABIP numbers by “hitting it where they ain’t.” Hill led the minor leagues — at least among guys with 500+ PA — in Oppo% at 44.5%. You’d get a pretty good Rafael Ortega impersonation from Hill, but it’s the lack of upside in that profile that likely holds him back.

RHP Kohl Franklin

It wasn’t the year anyone had in mind after Franklin was the talk of the Cactus League backfields, but it was a healthy year. Franklin’s jump in fastball velocity wasn’t enough to offset the step back in command, and when combined with the worst batted ball luck in the organization, results were mostly a mess for Kohl in High-A.

The good news is there should be some low-hanging fruit that leaves Franklin as the most notable “post-hype sleeper” in the organization. A long-rumored slider will likely back its debut in 2023, along with some mechanical changes to shorten his arm path and perhaps an alteration in fastball shape. The length of that list is probably too long for anyone’s big league roster, but that he’s still even able to garner Rule 5 consideration at all is an affirmation of his talents.

MLB Pipeline had him as the Cubs’ toughest protection decision:

“The Cubs have had high hopes for Franklin, the nephew of former All-Star closer Ryan Franklin, since signing him for an over-slot $450,000 as a 2018 sixth-rounder from an Oklahoma high school. He can touch 99 mph with his fastball and has the makings of at least a solid changeup and curveball. But after losing two seasons to the pandemic (2020) and oblique and shoulder issues (2021), he returned to the mound this year and posted a 6.88 ERA with 76 strikeouts in 69 1/3 innings in High-A.”

RHP Riley Thompson

He’ll be an interesting test-case to how much age matters in this process, as Thompson is now 26 years old with just 57 career innings above Low-A. If just stuff and results were in play, I’d think Thompson would have to be protected given what he did after his own stint in Arizona on the Developmental List. Thompson, who was throwing mostly just fastball-curveball before going on the List, came back with a really good four-pitch mix that included his old changeup and (I believe) a newer slider. Teams will have noticed the results in his last 11 Double-A starts: 40.2 IP, 30 H, 2.43 ERA, 20 BB, 42 K. I think he’s pretty close to big league ready, and a real threat to get drafted in December.

INF Jake Slaughter

The system had a number of breakouts this year, and while Matt Mervis was the most organizationally significant, I think Jake Slaughter’s was the most surprising. This is a bulky, 230-pound guy who posted a .075 ISO in 2021, and then somehow, followed it up with a 23 HR – 36 SB season … after not even making a minor league affiliate roster out of Spring Training!

It seemed to be one of those breakouts fueled by Launch Angle improvements, but the rare one that’s not accompanied by an increase in strikeouts. How different teams rate him defensively — from playable across the diamond to below-average — will really matter in Rule 5 considerations. But no matter what, an incredible job by Slaughter to re-position himself in the organization’s hierarchy and be a part of this discussion.

RHP Yovanny Cruz and RHP Cayne Ueckert

Two guys to whom you can’t give serious 40-man consideration at this time, but if another organization has a scout (or R&D guy) make an impassioned plea, you shouldn’t be shocked if they get plucked.

Cruz has thrown just 28 innings above Complex ball in his career, and just 13.2 innings since the end of the 2019 season. But during that time he added a little height, a lot of weight, and can now run it up close to 100 mph.

Ueckert couldn’t continue his 2021 breakout in a full season at Triple-A, where control problems reigned supreme, with pitching from behind also causing a huge rise in home run rate. It was pretty shocking, as Ueckert had some outings with the big league team in Spring Training that made me think he was a lock to contribute in 2022. But relievers are weird, and just as quickly as things can flip from great (2021) to awful (2022), they can flip back to good (2023?), too.


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Author: Bryan Smith

Bryan Smith is a Minor League Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @cubprospects.