Friday is the deadline for teams to add players to the 40-man roster to protect them from this year’s Rule 5 Draft. The Cubs have several hard choices to make as to which players they need to protect and which they will need to be left exposed to be chosen by other teams.
A quick primer for those who are unfamiliar with the rather intricate rules of the Rule 5 draft. The Rule 5 draft was added in 1950 as a way of dealing with the expanding minor league systems. It was a way to prevent teams from stockpiling talent in the minors. The Yankees, especially, had been signing players and sending them to the minors with the sole purpose of keeping them from playing against the Yankees on other teams. Other richer teams were doing this as well. This rule prevented that and allowed talented ballplayers to join lesser teams where they might play regularly in the majors.
The rules for the Rule 5 draft have changed extensively since then. Nowadays, a player becomes eligible to be taken in the Rule 5 draft in after four seasons if he signed his first contract when he was 19 years old or older. A player younger than that becomes eligible after five years. So basically, any college player taken in the 2013 draft is eligible or any high school player drafted in 2012 or any international signing from 2012 or earlier.
Any player selected in the Rule 5 Draft has to spend the entire next season in the major leagues or be offered back to their original team. They must also be active for at least 90 days, which prevents a team from selecting someone and stashing them on the disabled list for the entire year.
There’s also a minor league version of the Rule 5 draft, but there’s no need to concern ourselves with that at the moment. Players selected there rarely become major leaguers.
Players currently on the club’s 40-man roster are not eligible to be selected, so the Cubs have to add any player they want to keep and fear will be taken to that roster by tomorrow. The Cubs 40-man roster currently stands at 35, so they can add up to five players. I don’t think the Cubs will select anyone in the draft as they don’t have room on their major league roster, but they may leave a roster spot open in case they want to claim someone off of waivers. But that would mean exposing one more player to the draft.
The Cubs have already added pitcher Jose Rosario to the 40-man roster, although he was actually would have been a minor league free agent if he hadn’t been added.
Working off this list of draft-eligible Cubs minor leaguers by Arizona Phil over at the Cub Reporter, here’s who I think the Cubs should add to the 40-man roster tomorrow and who they should leave exposed.
- Outfielder John Andreoli: Andreoli was a 17th round pick in 2011 and is a terrific organizational outfielder in Iowa over the past two seasons. But he wasn’t picked last year and his 2016 season was pretty much identical to his 2015 season, and he’s now a year older. I expect to see him playing his third season in Des Moines this summer. Verdict: Pass
- Right-handed reliever Pedro Araujo: The 23-year-old Araujo strikes out a lot of batters, but he also walks a lot too. He’s the type of arm teams take a flier on, but with only 19 innings in High-A, he’s unlikely to stick on a major league roster. Verdict: Pass.
- Right-handed reliever Corey Black: The 25-year-old Black was the Cubs’ return for Alfonso Soriano. He throws hard, but has had control issues throughout his career. Verdict: Pass (and he could be gone)
- Catcher Victor Caratini: Caratini is still raw behind the plate, but he’s made progress and he looks like a future major league backup catcher with good catching skills and a high OBP, albeit little power. The Cubs will need a backup catcher soon. So do other teams. Verdict: Add.
- Outfielder Jacob Hannemann: Hannemann is a terrific athlete and a fan favorite. But he’s 25 years old and he has struggled the past year and a half at Double-A Tennessee. If someone wants him as a pinch-runner, then the Cubs will lose him. I think that’s highly unlikely. Verdict: Pass.
- Right-handed pitcher Erick Leal: Leal is still only 21 and he had some success in Myrtle Beach last summer. But he doesn’t throw hard and has been mostly used as a starter. I don’t think any team would use a roster spot on a guy who is still pretty far away from contributing to a major league roster. Verdict: Pass. (But he may need to be protected next year.)
- Left-handed pitcher Jack Leathersich: If you haven’t heard much about Leathersich, it’s because he had been a top 30 prospect in the Mets organization until last season when the Cubs claimed him on waivers. The Cubs limited his innings last year as he was still working his way back from Tommy John surgery. He strikes out a ton of batters and he’s left-handed. The Cubs just re-signed him to a minor league contract for 2017, which they wouldn’t have done if they didn’t want him around. Verdict: Add.
- Right-handed pitcher Ryan McNeil: McNeil was a third-round pick in 2012, but he missed all of 2013 and most of 2014 after Tommy John surgery. The Cubs moved him to the closer role in Myrtle Beach this summer and he was outstanding, using his 91-94 mph fastball with good movement to strike out 61 batters in 54 innings. Although he’s struggled in the Arizona Fall League, he’s exactly the type of player that a team would take a chance on in the Rule 5 draft. Verdict: Add.
- Left-handed pitcher Jose Paulino: Paulino is one of the hardest calls. On the one hand, he’s never pitched above low-A South Bend. On the other, he’s had a breakout season and he has the size and repertoire that you’re looking for in a left-handed major league starter. His fastball is also in the mid-90s and he’s only 21. Some team would take a chance on him. Verdict: Add.
- Outfielder Bijan Rademacher: Rademacher is one of my personal favorites, as he’s shown good pitch recognition skills and he teases you with the idea that he’ll add more power. But that power remains a chimera and without it, he’s a fourth outfielder without speed and who can’t play center field. Verdict: Pass.
- Right-handed pitcher Armando Rivero: The 28-year-old Cuban struck out 105 batters in 67.2 innings last year at Iowa. He’s got a mid-90s fastball and a good slider. He’s an ideal set-up man. Even with some of his control issues, I think the Cubs still believe in his future. Verdict: Add.
- Right-handed pitcher Daury Torrez: The 23-year-old right-handed Torrez had a pretty good season in Myrtle Beach, but his upside is limited and the Cubs can’t protect everyone. Verdict: Pass.
- Right-handed pitcher Duane Underwood Jr.: Here’s the toughest call. The talented Underwood has been hurt the past two seasons and he pitched poorly in Double-A Tennessee before his injury. He’s never produced the strikeout numbers that his raw stuff indicates that he should be getting. But there’s still a lot of upside there and he was a top 10 prospect in the system just last year. Verdict: Umm, I’ve already protected five players, haven’t I?
I don’t know what the Cubs will do with Underwood. He’s certainly been disappointing but the upside is still there. The Cubs will definitely protect Caratini and Leathersich, so it’s going to be a decision between risking losing Rivero, McNeil or Paulino instead of Underwood.
Personally, I’d protect McNeil and leave Underwood exposed, hoping that he either won’t get picked or can’t stick on a major league roster. Most of his value comes from being a starter and if a team lets him rot at the end of the bullpen for a whole season, that’s another year of lost development that Underwood can’t afford.
Another option would be to open up another 40-man spot by waiving Zac Rosscup or Pierce Johnson.
What the Cubs will do? I suspect they’ll protect Underwood and leave McNeil or Paulino unprotected. But we’ll all find out tomorrow.