Cubs Prospects Could Escape Rule 5 Draft List for Only So Long: Two Pitchers Called Out This Time

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Cubs Prospects Could Escape Rule 5 Draft List for Only So Long: Two Pitchers Called Out This Time

Chicago Cubs

Today, Baseball America dropped its fourth updated Rule 5 Draft prospect list and, alas, at last, two Chicago Cubs prospects are included.

The list is up to 45 names, so having two Cubs prospects on their as potential draft targets for other teams isn’t exactly horrible, but it was kinda fun to think about the Cubs being able to keep all of their exposed prospects. That still might wind up the case – these lists are outsider perspectives, and are not a perfect proxy for the players a team might actually draft – but I don’t even like Cubs prospects getting pub in advance of Wednesday’s draft.

The duo included this time are hard-throwing righties Yovanny Cruz and Danis Correa:

Yovanny Cruz, RHP, Cubs

It’s fairly accurate to say that Cruz is a far out pick, with just 8.1 innings above the now defunct short-season level. He’s older at 23 for a player with so little experience due to the pandemic and having Tommy John surgery in the spring of 2021. Cruz returned this season, making 10 appearances between the Arizona Complex League and High-A. While we have just 13.2 innings to go off of, Cruz flashed plus stuff, sitting 98-99 mph and touching 101 mph per Trackman. He pairs his fastball with a tight mid-80s slider that was dominant in his limited time on the mound in 2022. With one of the highest average fastball velocities of any Rule 5-eligible pitcher, Cruz is worthy of mention, but his lack of full-season experience makes this an extremely risky pick.

Danis Correa, RHP, Cubs

Correa is a hard-throwing undersized righthanded reliever with two bat-missing secondaries and some command woes. Correa’s four-seam fastball sits 96-98 mph, touching 100 with average command. However, it’s Correa’s pair of bat-missing secondaries in his upper-80s changeup and his low-80s two-plane curveball with raw spin rates in the 2,600-2,700 rpm range on average that stand out. Each of Correa’s secondaries generated whiff rates above 50% and contributed to his 52.4% groundball rate in 2022. While his command and walk rate leave something to be desired he offsets many of his walk issues with whiffs and bad contact. Correa should be an attractive option to clubs as he’ll be just 23 years old for a majority of 2023 and has a season’s worth of upper-minors experience. Factor in his plus fastball velocity, two bat-missing secondaries and ability to generate ground balls and you can easily see Correa selected.

Cruz, because he’s so far away from the big leagues and has missed so much time with injury, was never a serious consideration to be protected on the 40-man roster. That doesn’t mean a team might not try to poach him, given the considerable upside *IF* he can stay healthy and *IF* he could put it all together. But I think it’s more likely he stays safe, and keeps developing in the Cubs’ system. If the Cubs convert him permanently to the bullpen next year, he has the stuff potential to fly right up to the big leagues a la Jeremiah Estrada … oh, but I guess that’s precisely what could make him draftable in the Rule 5 by a team that is willing to try him out in their bullpen right now.

Correa, a much more traditional close call at the rostering deadline, is a power reliever who has reached Triple-A, and could slot into a big league team’s bullpen right now. But is he better than their internal options, given the Rule 5 restrictions he’d come with (because of the Rule 5 restrictions, you can’t option him up and down, for example)? And selecting him isn’t free – there’s a $100,000 fee to make a pick. So I would still think a team would have to really believe in Correa’s upside in their system to actually snag him.

Still, I would call Correa – like bullpen-mate Cam Sanders – a real possibility of being selected. That would suck.

Ultimately, though, I think a broad issue that is going to come into play with all these risky reliever types in the Rule 5 Draft is the new limit on pitchers on the big league roster. You can, effectively, have only eight relievers total on your roster at any given time. And if one of them is a total flier from the Rule 5 that you cannot even option up and down? You’ve really crunched your bullpen. I just think it’s going to be tough to take these types unless you REALLY think they can contribute right away. (And then I guess you could say they got “injured” at some point, and stash them on the IL for a while – of course, you have to be careful about that, because the league can punish you, as it did a decade ago when the Cubs did it with relief prospect Lendy Castillo. Cost them their next Rule 5 pick, but the league could make the punishment harsher.)

Frankly, I’d be slightly more concerned about the Cubs surprisingly losing a positional prospect like Chase Strumpf or Darius Hill or Yonathan Perlaza, who might be more “stashable” on a big league bench.

Also, LOTS of organizations have A NUMBER of pitching prospects LIKE Cruz and Correa available that they wanted to protect from the Rule 5, themselves, but could not. The pandemic season and the lost development time, plus the lost Rule 5 Draft last year because of the lockout, have really created a mess for a lot of organizations. The 40-man roster crunches were more real this year than most in recent memory. Even if a prospect like Cruz or Correa looks draftable, that doesn’t mean there’s a team out there that actually has a realistic spot.

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Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.