The Rule 5 Draft has long been about equalizing talent. Teams with little to lose are unlikely to lose much. If they do, it's over poor assessment or development skills. The teams with over 40 players worthy of protection are most likely to have a player of value being hidden in plain sight. As the December Rule 5 Draft is mutually about talent assessment and delayed gratification, fans uninterested in either baseball pursuit are inclined to dismiss the entire process. If the Cubs do try to pursue talent on a December Thursday morning, which players make the most sense?
I trust three teams’ player development processes over the other 27. The Rays, Dodgers, and Indians have shown the ability to turn middle-round picks to useful better than most, and that's the information I crave. Instead of buying radar gun readings, which disregard the lack of value in pitches that are far from tempting to the hitter, I buy organizations. While no development situation guarantees success, a well-prioritized background seems a useful starting point. Here’s a MLB.com article listing each team’s “most intriguing” Rule prospect, and here are five I think could be useful for the Cubs.
Paul Campbell, righthanded pitcher, Rays
Campbell is rated in the Rays prospect pipeline, and has a four-pitch mix. He has starter in his blood. Use him once or twice a week during the 2021 season before returning him to Des Moines if that's still a viable option, and the Cubs should have improved their pipeline for a low six-figure fee.
Akil Baddoo, center field, Twins
Rob Manfred has been negligent in his duties. As I write this, we have no idea if the National League will use the designated hitter in 2021. My guess, apropos of nothing, is yes, grabbing players who seem useful at one or two things would be that much easier to keep. Baddoo, who has a fantastic name, also sounds usable in center field today. He's raw, but the Cubs aren't likely to be contemplating using him in the NLCS, anyway. Grab the guy with current skills, think about long-term upside enough to risk the acquisition, and try to poach value.
Sterling Sharp, righthanded pitcher, Marlins
If Sharp is selected, and clears waivers after being returned, he becomes a free agent, after being a December choice last year. His video looks reasonable enough. Unless you're buying the Cubs as a high-end October contender, adding a player like Sharp could pay off in one of two ways. If he's good enough to retain, or if the Cubs are a desirable landing spot after release. Anything that increases the payout percentage is worth assessing.
Julio E. Rodriguez, catcher, Cardinals
No, catcher isn't a screaming need for the 2020 Cubs, as currently comprised. Miguel Amaya being on the fringe likely limits that. However, this is a scouting assessment. If Rodriguez represents a usable catcher with the "background" stuff seeming solid, he could make for a third option behind the dish, with Willson Contreras getting extra non-catching tries.
Brett de Geus, righthanded pitcher, Dodgers
I'm guessing the 27th-best Dodgers prospect would be an adequate addition. The Cubs ought to find some use for him, once or twice a week, whether in leverage spots, or not. 93-98 with a three-pitch mix sounds more impressive than some of the Cubs more ballyhooed names. Probably atop my list, here:
Some of my top Rule 5 eligible players left unprotected:— Aram Leighton (@AramLeighton8) November 24, 2020
Paul Campbell - RHP - TBR
Pedro Avila - RHP - SDP
Lake Bachar - RHP - SDP
Kevin Smith - SS - TOR
Enyel De Los Santos - RHP - PHI
David Parkinson - LHP - PHI
Brett de Geus - RHP - LAD
Jose Soriano - RHP - LAA https://t.co/ggKsk1C1t5
This tweet hit my radar before the MLB.com article did. A few of the names are the same. I'll drop in the name of Padres pitcher Pedro Avila to add to the other five above. He's already pitched well in an MLB start. As such, it's less "can he?" than "will he?" The Cubs have several roster spots available and could have more after the non-tender deadline. Avila could likely provide multiple innings of relief, since he's already done so.
I'm good with the Cubs adding any of the above names. Whether they do or not, I encourage you to take the opportunity of a new player (on either team, frankly) as a chance to learn more about the unknowns of baseball, as opposed to criticism for criticism's sake.