There was a considerable bit of angst among many Cubs fans this offseason because the Cubs had quite a few prospects who might have been protected from the Rule 5 Draft by placing them on the 40-man roster.
While the Cubs did protect Kevin Alcántara, Ryan Jensen, Brennen Davis and Ben Brown by placing them on the 40-man, they left others such as Cam Sanders, Darius Hill, Kohl Franklin, Danis Correa, Chase Strumpf and Luis Devers unprotected.
Those fans can take a sigh of relief today because none of those players was chosen in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft, held late Wednesday in San Diego.
The only player the Cubs lost was righthanded pitcher Chris Clarke, who was selected by the Mariners.
Clarke was the Cubs’ fourth-round pick in 2019 out of USC. His results in pro ball have been mixed. He got set back by — as did all minor leaguers — missing the 2020 season. In 2022 he split time between High-A South Bend and Double-A Tennessee, and posted a 4.64 ERA and 1.429 WHIP in 26 appearances (21 starts). He appears to have decent control, as he walked just 25 in 120⅓ innings.
Overall, though, I don’t think this is a big loss for the Cubs.
Further, the Cubs did not select any players in either round of the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft this year.
In the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 Draft (the Double-A phase has now been eliminated, in the new CBA), the Cubs selected Jose Aquino, a 20-year-old lefthanded pitcher who had been in the Mariners organization. He pitched in 2022 for the Mariners’ Arizona Complex League team and their Low-A franchise in Modesto in the California League, one game for each. In 2021, our SB Nation Mariners site Lookout Landing wrote this about him:
Aquino signed with Seattle as an international free agent in 2018 alongside Noelvi Marte. 18 years old for most of 2021, Aquino really impressed both in terms of stuff and performance. Over 8 starts and 39.1 innings, Aquino posted a 3.02 xFIP with 58 strikeouts.
At 6-foot-3, 184 pounds, Aquino is starting to grow into his adult body and athletic markers are tantalizing. He’s got long levers and really works down the mound well. The lanky lefty touched 97 this season and worked 91-94, generating the fifth-best whiff rate in the organization at 40.5 percent. Aquino has good spin metrics and throws enough strikes as a 19-year-old to project a starting-caliber arm in the future. Seattle could potentially be aggressive with Aquino in 2022 and start him in Modesto.
At 20, the Cubs can stash Aquino somewhere in the organization — likely Myrtle Beach — and give him some time to develop. Here he is at age 17:
José Aquino putting in the work. 2.45 ERA as a 17-year-old in 2019. pic.twitter.com/KlTutSd4pb— Mariners Minors (@MiLBMariners) October 16, 2020
The Cubs also selected Nick Burdi, a righthanded pitcher from the Padres, in the second round of the Triple-A phase.
This is a really interesting pick. Burdi is a Chicago-area native (Downers Grove South HS) and was the Twins’ second-round pick in 2014 and went to the Pirates in the Rule 5 Draft in 2017. He’s pitched in the major leagues, in case his name sounded familiar to you — 16 games for the Pirates between 2018 and 2020, and with not good results: 9.49 ERA, 1.865 WHIP. He’s been in the Padres organization the last two years, although he has not pitched since 2020, as he had Tommy John surgery after the 2020 season.
Burdi turns 30 in January, so he’s a reclamation project. I imagine he’ll get a non-roster invitation to Spring Training.
Here are some pitching highlights from Burdi’s 2019 season with the Pirates:
The Cubs also lost righthander Bryan King to the Astros. He was the Cubs’ 30th-round pick in 2019 from McNeese State and split the 2022 season between Myrtle Beach and Tennessee, posting a 1.61 ERA and 1.299 WHIP in 14 games.
The Cubs then selected outfielder Jefferson Encarnacion from the Phillies organization. Encarnacion is 21 and has not yet played stateside, only playing for a Phillies club in the Dominican Summer League (and not there since 2019).
Lastly, the Cubs lost a 23-year-old righthander named Luis Rodriguez to the Astros. He pitched last year at Myrtle Beach and posted a 4.43 ERA and 1.478 WHIP in 23 appearances (five starts).
The Rule 5 Draft traditionally completes baseball’s Winter Meetings. Now it’s up to the Cubs to continue signing major league players to improve the roster for 2023.