Today, in fact beginning right about the time this post publishes, is the Rule 5 draft, where teams get to pick players off the roster of other teams and keep them, as long as they keep them on the major league roster the entire next season. From the Official Winter Meetings Media Guide (note, it should have said 2017 season, not 2016):
So is that clear? A player is eligible to be selected in the Rule 5 draft if they have been in a team’s minor league system for five years if they first signed when they were 18 or younger (so basically international players and high school draftees) or four years if they were 19 years old or older. (Basically college draftees) Players on the team’s major league 40-man roster are not eligible to be selected.
Yes, there are a whole bunch of technical rules that can also make players eligible for Rule 5. Let’s not worry about those.
After the major league Rule 5 draft, there are ones for Triple-A and Double-A, with each team getting to protect even more players. There are no requirements to keep those players on a major league roster—if you take a player in that phase, he’s yours for keeps. Normally I’d tell you to ignore this phase as few players taken here have more than a cup of coffee in the majors. However, this is how the Cubs lost Justin Bour and he was an All-Star last season. However, that’s the only time that’s ever happened, as far as I can tell.
The Cubs select 24th in the Rule 5 draft and to be honest, I’d be pretty surprised if they took anyone, although Theo Epstein hinted they might:
Rule 5 Draft is Thursday at Winter Meetings. #Cubs Theo: "It's a pretty strong class this year overall. We may or may not take somebody. It depends on how realistic it fits"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) December 13, 2017
They do have room on the 40-man roster to make a selection and maybe they’ll pick someone just to get a look at them in Spring Training. But it’s hard to see a pennant contender like the Cubs carrying one of these players on the major league roster all season. Also, all the “good” (good being a relative term here) prospects available will be taken long before the Cubs get around to selecting. If the Cubs do make a selection, there’s a good chance it will be for another team in a pre-arranged trade.
Two of the first names likely to go off the board in the Rule 5 draft are pitchers with Tommy John surgery. The Rays‘ Burch Smith made it to the majors with the Padres in 2013, but he missed much of 2014 and all of 2015 and 2016 after the elbow surgery. Still, he looked good in 12 starts down the stretch last season in his return in the Rays minor-league system.
The Twins‘ Nick Burdi was a former second-round pick who was in line to make his major league debut in 2017 before he underwent Tommy John surgery. A team could select him and keep him on the disabled list until mid-season.
Anyway, both of those guys will be taken before the Cubs pick.
The bigger issue for the Cubs is who the team might lose. I’ll point you to Arizona Phil’s list of Cubs’ minor leaguers eligible for Rule 5 over at The Cub Reporter. He keeps track of these things so we don’t have to.
Baseball America, in their Rule 5 preview, list two Cubs players as most likely to be taken in the Rule 5 draft. The first is right-handed pitcher Trevor Clifton. Clifton had an excellent 2016 and ended up on a lot of Cubs top ten prospects lists, including Baseball America’s and my own. But in jumping from High-A to Double-A in 2017, Clifton had a miserable season. Not only were his results poor, but his slider lost it’s bite and he had trouble throwing his cutter for strikes. But a non-contending team might gamble that they can stash him in the bullpen for a season and hope that he finds the form that he had in 2016.
The other player that BA speculated that the Cubs might lose is outfielder Charcer Burks. Burks actually had a solid season in Double-A last year, hitting .270/.370/.395 for the Smokies. He hit 10 home runs and stole 16 bases, although since that was in 28 attempts it wasn’t all that impressive. Although he’s better as a corner outfielder, he won’t kill a team in center field. Without much power he profiles as no more than a fourth outfielder, but a team looking for a guy who can play all three outfield positions and can get on base might take a chance on Charcer.
Two other players I can see a team taking a chance on are starting pitchers Erling Moreno and Jose Paulino. Righthander Moreno is also a Tommy John surgery veteran and because of that, he’s only thrown 142 innings in the minors despite being in the Cubs system since 2013. But he’s got a good heavy fastball and a promising changeup. However, he didn’t exactly light the Midwest League on fire last year and he struggled with control. Maybe a team will draft him, but it seems a stretch to think he could stick on a major league roster all of next season.
Paulino has the advantage of being left-handed and healthier. He also throws hard, reaching 95 at times, and has the makings of a good slider and change. He does, however, struggle with control. He’s spent the last two seasons in South Bend and didn’t give anyone much reason to think he was ready for the majors, even in a mop-up bullpen role.
In all, there’s a good chance that the Cubs will neither take nor lose anyone in the major league section of the Rule 5 draft. Someone will probably go in the minor league phase, but let’s hope the front office doesn’t make a mistake like they did with Justin Bour a few seasons ago.
You can listen live to the Rule 5 selections at this MLB.com link. The scheduled time for it to get underway was 8 a.m. CT. It’s the last scheduled event of the 2017 Winter Meetings.