With Tuesday the Rule 5 protection deadline, the Cubs also have to decide which prospects are worth protecting at the Triple-A level. With my presumption of Jason Vosler, Trevor Clifton, and Justin Steele for 40-man roster spots, this is a look at what would be my priorities for the Triple-A phase.
My preliminary look ran up 39 names on the list. It’s likely the Cubs will limit their list to 36 or 37, which would permit them one or two selections in the minor league-phase. The question ends up being, which of the players on “the list” are worth the $24,000 fee? if (insert player name here) is worth less to the organization than $24,000, leaving him unprotected might garner the team more than he’s otherwise worth.
As such, here is my list of priorities. From one through thirty, the priority doesn’t really matter very much.
PJ Higgins gets the top spot. A two-way catcher, Higgins is a fantastically safe player to top the list
Jhonny Pereda was also on the Mesa Solar Sox this cycle. He’s about equal to Higgins, and developing catching ought to be a priority.
Erick Leal gets a protect here. Obviously, if protected on the 40, he isn’t protected here.
Manuel Rondon showed some chops in Mesa, as well. Lefty relievers are worth giving the extra look to.
Jordan Minch is another lefty, with more giddy-up than Rondon’s fastball. Minch, a Cubs fan growing up, is a rather obvious keep, as well.
Craig Brooks numbers fell apart a bit as the 2018 season wore on. However, he has enough velocity to be a rather basic retention.
Ian Rice is a bat-first catcher, a bit similar to Taylor Davis. As “having replacements for familiar players” ought to be a thing, Rice belongs atop this list.
Danny Hultzen was the second pick in the 2011 MLB Draft. His arm stopped working, and he retired. He’s back, and is worth a slot to protect.
Jesse Hodges is an entirely valid minor league third baseman. He comes next. He struggled hitting in Tennessee, but his glove is worth retaining, anyway.
Eric Castillo is a defense-first catcher. The defense-first catcher is worth retaining.
Wladimir Galindo is a third-baseman with some pop. You’ll keep that.
Jacob Hannemann is a defense-first outfielder who had been on the 40-man roster and had brief time in the big leagues with the Mariners. Again, he’s worth more than $24,000.
Erling Moreno is a starting pitching option. He scuffled a bit in South Bend, but had a degree of length in his starts.
Tyler Alamo is more of a first baseman than a catcher now, but has some pop.
Charcer Burks has been useful in major league spring training games. He’s a three-spot outfielder. If the bat ever develops...
Roberto Caro was an option in my mind for the Mesa roster. He’s enough of a two-way outfielder to retain.
Vimael Machin had a .658 OPS in Tennessee in 2018. He’s a versatile infielder. That is worth retaining.
Zach Hedges has pitched as a starter and reliever in the upper-minors the last two seasons. Over 85 innings last year should be a justification for retention.
Ryan Kellogg is a lefty-reliever now, after being a starter before. He has been in Myrtle Beach the last two seasons. His splits are a bit strong, in the expected way.
Rob Zastryzny has been on the 40 Man roster. He’s of more value than $24,000.
Chesny Young hasn’t hit as well at Triple-A as hoped. Nonetheless, he figures to be with the I-Cubs in April.
Jake Stinnett was a Solar Sox performer in 2017. 2018 didn’t work out very well.
Kevonte Mitchell is an outfielder with some pop. He’s worth retaining.
Scott Effross is a reliever who had 60 strikeouts in 63⅓ innings in Tennessee in 2018.
Rafael Narea is a middle-infielder who started in South Bend in 2018. Might as well retain him for 2019.
Yeiler Pegueuro has had some injury difficulties recently. He was with South Bend and Myrtle Beach in 2018.
Riger Fernandez pitched well in the Arizona League in 2018. Dominican League players can advance rather slowly on occasion.
Brad Markey had a rather horrific 2018. There’s no arguing that. I doubt it gets him bounced from the Triple-A list.
Chris Pieters began as a pitcher. After that didn’t work, he was moved to the outfield. He missed time due to injury in 2018.
Preston Morrison is a live arm who can take up upper-level innings. He’s worth the $24,000.
Andry Rondon hasn’t reached full-season ball. He pitched in Eugene in 2017.
Eugenio Palma pitched as a lefty-reliever for the Northwest League champs, fanning over a hitter an inning.
Tyler Payne is a useful reserve catcher. We’re getting near the deadline, but Payne is worth keeping.
Yasiel Balaguert is a very popular player in the pipeline. Whether the numbers add up, he likely stays.
James Buckelew was signed after being released by the Marlins. He took up some innings between Myrtle Beach and Tennessee.
Casey Bloomquist is a name I missed on my first time through the list. He belongs higher up.
Robel Garcia is a recently-signed infielder that was playing well in an overseas tournament. He’s a bit older, but pencils in at Iowa, or so.
David Garner is coming off of suspension.
Yapson Gomez is a lefty-reliever that was in Myrtle Beach in 2018.
Ryan Lawlor was an independent league signing.
That makes 40 players which is two over the limit. Purge a few to get into the 36 range to allow two selections, and you should be about right. A few other names of a degree of mild interest are Emilio Ferrebus, Alfredo Colorado, Yan De La Cruz, Eury Ramos, Dalton Geekie, and Luis Ayala.
Other teams will have the same struggle. The Padres, Rays, and Astros are looking at a roster crunch regarding their big league clubs, and might need to make trades to accommodate the situation. Ideally, every team will have a roster crunch every season. That means talent is developing. And, with that development comes a few harder choices than might be preferred.
The $24,000 figure gets practically rather important. Once you figure the “value of $24,000,” you can know who won’t likely provide that value. If those players are left unprotected, your squad has room for added talent, whether other players get added or not. Talent acquisition, for merely cash, is a nice way o bolster a system’s depth.
Last cycle, Arizona Phil had a “more complete/speculative” list than usual. Sometimes, he’s simply very perceptive. Sometimes, he’s told things. The Cubs will lose talent this season. Knowing which players are going to be in the middle of “the list” is a really useful tool for determining who makes “the most sense” for the July and August trade deadlines.
With Baltimore and Cincinnati taking off-season steps toward a better front office this cycle, look for almost all organizations to have tougher choices in about three years. It doesn’t take long to add quality talent.
Much will be made until early December about the Rule 5 Draft. I doubt the Cubs will take anyone, with a gorged and experienced roster one through 28 or 32. That said, the Rule 5 Draft is about scouting and availability. Would you like the Cubs to have Odubel Herrera in center field? He’s among a list of players who were recently Rule 5’d. The Cubs won’t likely go there, but it’s about talent assessment more than timelines. Hopefully, they don’t lose too much important in either half.