The Winter Meetings traditionally end with the Rule 5 draft. In that draft Thursday morning, the Cubs lost left-handed relief pitcher Andrew McKirahan to the Marlins. Additionally, the Cubs selected infielder Taylor Featherston from the Rockies, but he was immediately traded to the Angels for cash considerations. Both players must stay on the major league roster (and be active at least 90 days) for all of 2015 or they must be returned to their original team.
The left-handed McKirahan was a 21st-round pick of the Cubs in 2011. He started the 2012 season with the Peoria Chiefs, but his season ended after only nine games when he needed Tommy John surgery. He returned to the mound in June of 2013, working his way back up to Kane County. This past season, he pitched for Daytona and Tennessee and posted a combined record of 2-4 with a 2.08 ERA. In 65 innings, he struck out 57 batters and walked 14. As you might expect, McKirahan was much better in Daytona, where he had a 0.99 ERA and he was merely mortal with a 3.45 ERA.
McKirahan is a hard-throwing left-hander whose fastball has been clocked at 94-96 mph since his return from surgery. However, his breaking pitch is considered below average and he doesn't have a third pitch. His value as a LOOGY is limited by the fact that he has traditionally had a reverse-platoon split.
McKirahan will now have a chance to make the Marlins roster, and they certainly have room at the back of the bullpen to stash him. But it will be hard for a player who has only thrown 28⅔ innings above High-A ball to stick in the major leagues. There is a solid chance that the Marlins will return McKirahan to the Cubs.
Featherston is an infielder with good power, a strong arm and good speed. He was the Rockies number 18 prospect coming into this season according to Baseball America. However, there is a lot of swing-and-miss in his game and last season in Tulsa, he struck out 113 times and walked 38 times in 493 plate appearances. He also played in the Arizona Fall League this past season. He's now property of the Angels, where he will no doubt win an MVP Award and be the object of much grumbling around here for years.
In the Triple-A phase of the draft, the Cubs took outfielder Ariel Ovando from the Astros. Ovando was a huge international free agent signing out of Venezuela in 2011, with the Astros giving him a $2.6 million bonus. He was considered a top ten prospect in the Astros system for a couple seasons, but he has been completely unable to hit in the minors. He has never made it above the Midwest League, where he hit .172 with one home run in 49 games in 2013. He spent all of last season in short-season Tri-City, where he only hit .237 with one home run and a .287 on-base percentage in 58 games. However, he's just turned 21 in September and the Cubs are going to take a no-risk look at him. He does not have to be on any roster.
The Astros go the Cubs back, selecting catcher Luis Flores in the Triple-A phase. Flores split time between Iowa and Tennessee last year, where he hit .253/.388/.371. However, he is already 28 years old. He was a 7th-round pick of the Cubs in 2008.
In sad news, the Cubs lost their best name in the minors when the Rangers selected Rock Shoulders in the Triple-A phase of the draft. Shoulders has been a fan favorite for his name and his smile, but he struggled for Daytona last season, hitting only .223/.341/.397 in 91 games as he has struggled to get playing time. Although he has played some left field to get his bat into the lineup, he's strictly a 1B/DH-type at higher levels. He's a fun guy to cheer for, but his chances of even making the majors are slim and his chances of making an impact in the majors is even less than that.
Also of interest to many of you, the Giants selected Brett Jackson in the Triple-A phase of the draft from the Diamondbacks. Certainly a big fall for a former top Cubs prospect and first-round draft pick.
Not selected were infielders Gioskar Amaya and Marco Hernandez. Both were promising players who had bounce-back seasons in Daytona this year after both struggled at the plate in 2013. However, carrying a middle-infielder on the major league roster who hasn't played above High-A is a dubious move in today's game, and no team selected either player. They will remain in the Cubs system.
With the Rule 5 draft now over, the players to be named later that the Cubs owe the Red Sox for Felix Doubront and the player to be named later that Oakland owes the Cubs in the Jeff Samardzija deal can now be given names. Neither player is expected to be significant.