Today was the deadline for the teams to set their 40-man lineups before the Rule 5 draft at the Winter Meetings and so the Cubs moved to protect three players. Right-handed pitchers Adbert Alzolay and Oscar De La Cruz, two of the Cubs top prospects, and infielder David Bote were all added to the 40-man roster.
Additionally, outfielder Jacob Hannemann, who was re-claimed by the Cubs when the Mariners placed him on waivers, has cleared waivers for the Cubs and has been assigned to Iowa.
This puts the Cubs 40-man roster at 36 players, meaning they have four open spots to make trades, sign free agents, make a Rule 5 selection or claim players who were placed on waivers from other teams.
Alzolay is, by my estimation and that of some others, the top prospect in the Cubs system after going 7-4 with a 2.99 ERA between High-A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Tennessee. He also played in the Arizona Fall League and was named a Fall Star there. Alzolay could be in the Cubs rotation or bullpen as soon as this upcoming season.
De La Cruz is a pitcher with an even higher upside than Alzolay, but he has never been able to stay healthy for an entire season. He was supposed to pitch in the AFL with Alzolay, but he was hurt instead. He’s never suffered a big injury like Tommy John surgery or anything, but has dealt with soreness and other minor injuries his whole career. In 12 starts in Myrtle Beach this summer, De La Cruz was 4-3 with a 3.46 ERA. He missed about ten weeks of the season from around Memorial Day to mid-August. But the Cubs must feel that the upside that De La Cruz provides (probably a #2 starter), is worth hoping that his health turns around.
Bote was also an AFL Fall Star this year as well as a mid-season and postseason Southern League All-Star after his 2017 campaign with the Tennessee Smokies. In Double-A this year, Bote hit .272/.353/.438 with 14 home runs over 127 games. He’s often been compared to current Cubs infielder Tommy La Stella, and the two players do have a similar skill set.
The Cubs placed Hannemann on waivers in early September to make room on the 40-man roster for Taylor Davis. Hannemann was claimed by the Mariners, where he made his major league debut. In 15 games in the majors, Hannemann went 3 for 20 with a home run. The Mariners placed him on waivers after the season and the Cubs claimed him back. Now that he has cleared waivers, he will stay in the Cubs system for now.
Three players who played in the AFL who are Rule 5 eligible are pitcher Jake Stinnett, infielder Jason Vosler and outfielder Charcer Burks. Stinnett played well in the AFL, but he only threw 22.2 innings in the 2017 regular season because of injuries. Vosler and Burks both struggled in the AFL and neither were more than “just OK” in the regular season. Both would seem to be unlikely picks in the Rule 5 draft and were left unprotected.
Two other former Cubs top prospects who are Rule 5 eligible, RHP Trevor Clifton and INF Chesny Young, were also left unprotected. Both had disappointing 2017 seasons and will fall down the prospect rankings in 2018. But either could be selected in the Rule 5 draft if a team thinks they can regain their 2016 form.
The big news of the day was that the Phillies designated for assignment former first pick in the draft, Mark Appel. Appel will forever be known as the player chosen before Kris Bryant (and also Jon Gray) in the 2013 draft. Some team will give him another chance.
The Rule 5 draft will take place on December 14, the final day of the Winter Meetings.