Archive for the ‘Minor League’ Category

Are the Cubs’ Pitching Prospects Underrated?

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

If you mentioned the phrase “Cubs prospects” to most who follow baseball prospects, the first players you’d hear in response would be the Cubs’ high tier offensive talents: Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, Arismendy Alcantara. Sure, you have C.J. Edwards and Pierce Johnson there, but you have to get past the Jeimer Candelarios, Dan Vogelbachs and Christian Villanuevas of the system before you see other starting pitching prospects in the rankings. But is the Cubs’ system really that devoid of pitching talent?

The Best Cubs’ Pitching Prospects

The Cubs lack one very big item among their pitching prospects: the clear top of the rotation arm. The guy who something doesn’t have to really break right for to be a number 1 or number 2 in a good rotation, but just needs to stay healthy. The Cubs’ most talented starting pitching prospect is C.J. Edwards, who has excelled in three Double A starts this season (2.45 ERA, striking out more than 1 per inning) after dominating both full season Single A levels in 2013.  But the caveat on Edwards is, and has always been, his size. He is a rail at 6’2″ and about 160 pounds, and there are legitimate questions regarding if someone like him can hold him to the rigors required of a MLB starting pitcher. With that said, to this point Edwards has a clean injury history.

Pierce Johnson is more a solid mid-rotation type with number 2 ceiling if everything breaks right. Johnson has yet to pitch this season due to a minor injury in spring training, but should make his first starts in Double A soon.

Arodys Vizcaino is in a similar boat as Edwards, but a couple years older and after having dealt with injuries, including Tommy John Surgery. Vizcaino’s stuff is electric, top of the rotation stuff, but his arm may only survive being a late innings reliever. The Cubs sent the right hander, who they received in a trade for Paul Maholm in July 2012, to Daytona to start the season in better weather, but he will be up in Triple A once the weather warms up in Iowa. Vizcaino will only be considered in a relievers role this year, and likely next as well. If his arm holds up, the Cubs may reevaluate whether to try to convert him back to a starter at that point.

Other Interesting Arms

I wrote about Kyle Hendricks during spring training, and he remains what we thought he was (that is a phrase I will never grow tired of hearing, by the way): a potentially solid back end of the rotation arm.

The Cubs’ Double A affiliate, the Tennessee Smokies, has three additional interesting pitching prospects. Corey Black and Ivan Pineyro, who the Cubs received in the Alfonso Soriano and Scott Hairston trades, have pretty good stuff, but their repertoire and health may hold up much better in the bullpen in the long run. Armanda Rivero, a Cuban right hander, is also an interesting bullpen option with late innings potential. For those of you waiting for a mention of Tony Zych, however, he has not continued to impress as he moved up the system, has somewhat stalled out at Double A, and is now viewed as nothing more than a potential middle reliever.

The Cubs drafted a host of arms from the second through tenth rounds in 2013, highlighted by second round pick Rob Zastryzny, a left handed pitcher out of the University of Missouri. His likely track and projection reminds me of Pierce Johnson.

The Cubs also drafted a few of high ceiling lottery tickets in 2011 and 2012, highlighted by Dillon Maples, Paul Blackburn, and Duane Underwood. Maples has struggled in his limited time on the mound, also dealing with injuries, while Blackburn and Underwood are in the midst of their first tastes of full season ball in Kane County.

The Top of the Rotation Prospect Is (Likely) Coming

The strength of this year’s coming draft? College starting pitching, and the Cubs are highly likely to add an elite college arm with the fourth pick in the draft. Next time, we’ll look at the most likely players the Cubs could take in the first round.

In short, while the strength of the Cubs’ system is definitely its bats, its pitching is not as devoid of talent as some believe.

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The Myth of Greg Maddux, the Soft Tosser

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

Since Andrew Cashner, no high ceiling starting pitching prospects both succeeded in the upper minors and eventually debuted with the Cubs. They have, however, had a variety of pitching prospects with mediocre fastball velocity, but good control, or at least reported good control. From Nick Struck to Chris Rusin, this tradition is now being held up by Kyle Hendricks. With Jake Arrieta likely not ready for the start of the season, some call for Hendricks to get a shot at a spot in the rotation to start the season, despite Hendricks only starting six Triple A games.

The back end of this tradition, however, always involves the proponents of the soft tossing prospects arguing, “but Greg Maddux didn’t throw hard!”

In some ways that statement is correct. Maddux never threw 95, and spent the last 6 or 7 years of his career with his fastball velocity slowly creeping from the high 80s to the mid 80s. But prior to his decline, Maddux threw a 92 mile per hour fastball. A 92 mile per hour fastball with fantastic movement and pinpoint control and command.

The four elements of a fastball are velocity, movement, control and command. On the 20-80 scouting scale, Maddux’s velocity through his prime was a 55-60, solidly above average, and the movement, command and control were all 70s to 80s.

So, first of all, comparing guys who throw 89-90 to in prime Maddux is inaccurate. There’s a big difference between 89 and 92.

Second, comparing a guy who has above average to good control in the minors to the pitcher with the greatest combination of pitch movement and control in the history of baseball is a disservice to the young pitcher.

I’m rooting for Hendricks. He could be a solid, cost controlled back end of the rotation piece. But let’s allow him to be that before we start comparing him to one of the greatest pitchers, if not the greatest pitcher, of most of our lifetimes.

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The Fallen: Brett Jackson Edition

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

In some ways, Brett Jackson is the most disappointing prospect of the four in this series. He never had quite Josh Vitters’ pedigree, as Jackson was a very late first round pick (31st overall). It just seemed like he was so darn close to at least being an average MLB regular, providing speed, a solid on base percentage, 15 to 20 home run power, and above average defense in center field, and it came crashing down so quickly. Can Jackson approach his promise again?

The Heights: After speeding through the minors in his first 24 months as a professional baseball player, Jackson put up a fantastic, even for the Pacific Coast League .297/.388/.551 in his first 48 Triple A games, despite striking out in 29.8% of his plate appearances.

The Depths: Jackson’s return to Triple A for the 2012 season resulted in a solid, but unspectacular .256/.338/.479, although the strikeouts only got worse, increasing to 33.8%. The wheels really came off with a call up to the Cubs in early August 2012, when he struck out in more than 40% of his plate appearances and batted just .175. No amount of walking can make up for a batting average and strikeout rate like that. The Cubs tried reworking Jackson’s swing, and it did not take, at least for 2013. Jackson was terrible in both Double A and Triple A, when he was not struggling through injuries.

Best Case Scenario: Jackson somehow is able to get the strikeout rate below 25%, and is able to tap into the power enough to become a rich man’s David DeJesus. Odds are he is a player you’d rather not start regularly against left handed pitching, but he could be one of the better platoon players in baseball, and a starter on a second tier team.

Worst Case Scenario: Jackson keeps striking out in 30% percent of his plate appearances and never sniffs the Majors again. Or, ever worse, he never sniffs the Majors again for the Cubs, gets DFA’d, the Cardinals pick him up, and then they magically fix him with that human sacrifice altar they have under Busch Stadium. Oh yes Cardinals fans, we have discovered your secret.

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The Fallen: Josh Vitters Edition

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

In the long run, the failure of one Cubs prospect most hampered the Cubs ability to rebuild quickly, and may have doomed the Jim Hendry regime as much as any poor free agent signing: Josh Vitters. The third pick in the 2007 Rule 4 Draft, even as a prep star he gained renown for having one of the prettiest swings in baseball. Unfortunately, a combination of an injuries, poor approach at the plate, and a failure to improve defensively at third base leave him as all but a non-prospect at this point.

The Heights: After being drafted with the third pick in the 2007 draft, Vitters performed very well through his first significant stretch in full season ball: the first 70 games of 2009, where he put up a .316/.351/.535 line in the Low A Midwest League.

The Depths: Vitters’ fall was not as precipitous as some, but more a long, slow march towards irrelevance. A part of this was related to injuries. Vitters missed significant time in 2010 and 2013, which delays any prospect’s progress. Vitters also entered a pattern where he struggled in his first run at each new level, before having moderate success in the second run. This, however, is not that uncommon. More significantly, Vitters showed himself to not be equipped to handle third base defensively, limiting him to an outfield corner at this point. Worst, however, Vitters has not shown significant improvement in his approach at the plate. This is the downside to Vitters’ pretty swing. He can make contact with a pitches he should not swing at, at least in the minors.

The worst came with a promotion to the Majors in 2012, where he put up a miserable .395 OPS in just over 100 plate appearances, and then only played in 28 games in Triple A in 2013 due to myriad injuries. On the good news front, he was effective in his limited playing time, posting a strong .295/.380/.511 line, including an 11% walk rate, by far the best of his career.

Best Case Scenario: Still only 24 years old, Vitters still has a bit of time to prove that he can be a productive big leaguer, but he needs to stay healthy and hit now. I’m not a Junior Lake fan, and think that a BABIP regression on Lake’s front will lead to him losing the starting left fielder job early in the season. Best case scenario is that Vitters takes it, shows he can hit in the Majors, and at least becomes an average Major League starter. Not quite what you would be looking for in a third pick in the draft, but it would be considered a success at this point.

Worst Case Scenario: Excluding injuries, the worst case scenario for Vitters is that he fails when given his next shot at the Major League level, firmly establishing his status as one of the biggest draft busts in recent memory.

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The Fallen: Former Highly Ranked Prospects, Arodys Vizcaino Edition

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

Over the past two seasons, the Cubs acquired two former top fifty prospects in a trade for a veteran starting pitcher. One is third baseman Mike Olt, who we discussed last week, and the Cubs received in the Matt Garza trade. The other is right handed pitcher Arodys Vizcaino, who the Cubs received in return for Paul Maholm in mid-2012.

The Heights: As a 20 year old in 2011, Vizcaino pitched across three levels of the minors, High A through Triple A, and had a cup of coffee in the Majors. At every level but High A, he was very young compared to his competition. He excelled in the minors, pitching for a 3.06 ERA over 97 minor league innings in 26 appearances, 17 of which were starts. He also made 17 relief appearances in the Majors, and at least did not embarrass himself with a 4.67 ERA. Prior to the 2012 season, he was Baseball America’s number 40 prospect in baseball. The highest ranking he achieved was the 14th best prospect in baseball, which came from Keith Law. With three solid or better offerings, headlined by a 92-96 mph fastball and including a solid curveball and change up, Vizcaino has the stuff to be a top of the rotation starter.

The Depths: Vizcaino’s depths are a bit different than the other Cubs’ fallen prospects because he has not played since 2011, and his issues solely relate to injuries. Many in baseball were always concerned about Vizcaino’s durability, even at the height of his minor league success, and Vizcaino injured his elbow and underwent Tommy John surgery during spring training in 2012. Rehab setbacks kept him from pitching in 2013, although he participated in the instructional league over the fall, and reportedly is healthy and looks good. It is worth noting, though, that barring a significant injury that kept Vizcaino off the mound, it is unlikely that the team would say anything else.

Best Case Scenario: Vizcaino goes to Iowa to start the season and pitches well, likely out of the bullpen at the beginning of the season, but potentially getting some opportunities to start with some strict pitch counts later in the season. Either way, he pitches well, stays healthy, and moves up to the Majors at the end of the season, pitching well out of the bullpen. At that point, the Cubs must decide whether to try to stretch Vizcaino back out into a starter, or if they’ll try him in a late innings bullpen role.

Worst Case Scenario: Vizcaino hurts himself again and barely pitches, or doesn’t pitch at all. The next worst case scenario is that Vizcaino’s control suffers as he returns from elbow problems.

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The Fallen: The Former Highly Ranked Prospects, Mike Olt Edition

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

While four top current talents buoy the strongest Cubs’ system, the system also contains several formerly high ranked prospects who fell down the prospect rankings to some extent or another. Mike Olt, Arodys Vizcaino, Josh Vitters and Brett Jackson are the prime members of this group. Prior to the start of spring training games, we’ll look at the best case and worst case scenarios for the prospects, starting with third base prospect Mike Olt.

The Heights: Olt improved from back end of Top 100 prospect lists to a plus power, solid on base, plus defensive third baseman in 2012 when he hit .288/.398/.579, including 28 home runs, for the Frisco RoughRiders, the Texas Rangers’ Double A Affiliate. Following the 2012 season, a significant majority of prospect analysts viewed him as a Top 50 in baseball prospect, with Baseball America naming him the twenty-second best prospect in baseball. 

The Depths: Olt was beaned in the head while playing winter ball last offseason, and had some significant vision problems. He was also terrible, posting a .684 OPS during a season split between the Rangers’ and Cubs’ Triple A affiliates. Less than a year after the Rangers said he was nearly untouchable, they traded him to the Cubs as, at best, the second best prospect the Cubs received for Matt Garza.

Best Case Scenario: The vision issue was the sole significant cause of Olt’s 2013 struggles, and offseason surgery corrected that problem. With the vision issues behind him, he hits like he did in 2012, claims the Cubs’ starting third base spot at the start of the season, at least holding the position until Javier Baez or Kris Bryant are ready, and potentially causing some discussions regarding a logjam of very good players on the left side of the infield if he approaches the promise of his Double A campaign.

Worst Case Scenario: Olt has two potential worst case scenarios. The first is that the bad vision did not cause his problems in 2013, but instead because Triple A pitchers could take advantage of Olt’s swing and miss tendencies, or were caused by his vision problems and those problems aren’t fixed. He gets a shot at the Cubs’ third base spot to start the season, but fails miserably, completely destroying any trade value he still possesses.

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Putting the Cubs’ Farm System in Context

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

This is not a controversial statement: over the past two seasons, the Cubs have not been good. Wholly uncompetitive might be a better description, and, based upon their current roster and the strength at the top of the NL Central, the Cubs appear likely to remain uncompetitive for at least one more season. The farm system, however, is the one source that consistently provides positive news.

Quantifying the progress the farm system made, however, is somewhat difficult. We’ve heard about promising Cubs’ prospects before. From Felix Pie to Josh Vitters to Brett Jackson, we’ve been disappointed by players we’ve heard are top  prospects.

Minorleaguebaseball.com’s John Sickels provided support for just how promising these prospects are, however, when he posted his list of the Cubs’ to 21 prospects last week. Usually, these lists do not provide much context for how good a system is. Every team has 21 top prospects. With most of the prospect information sources, there is not a direct indicator of how one team’s top prospects stack up against another team’s until the top 100 prospects in baseball lists hit later in the postseason.

Sickels, however, grades the prospects in the organizational list. This year, Sickels gave two Cubs prospects A grades (Javier Baez and Kris Bryant), one an A- (Albert Almora), two B+ grades (Jorge Soler and C.J. Edwards) and four B grades (Arismendy Alcantara, Pierce Johnson, Jeimer Candelario and Dan Vogelbach).

So what does this mean? Well, my search shows John Sickels’ lists going back to 2005. Prior to Baez gaining an A- rating prior to last season, Sickels never rated a Cubs prospect higher than a B+. Felix Pie never received an A or A- grade. Neither did Vitters or Jackson. Baez, Bryant and Almora, at the least, are a different class of prospect than the players we’ve called “top prospects” over the last decade.

And it is not just that the Cubs are strong at the top of their system, but they are also very deep. From 2008 to 2011, the Cubs had three players who rated above a B- per season. This season the Cubs have nine. And the C+ type prospects, who are still legitimate prospects, go well into the 20s, if not further, for the Cubs.

Also, while Joe noted that the Cubs’ farm system lacks top of the rotation talent, it is as much that the Cubs’ hitting prospects are so good that the average pitching group of prospects looks worse than it is. This is the strongest group of pitching prospects the Cubs have had since 2006, when the system included 2005 first round draft pick Mark Pawelek before he became a bust, along with a host of B and B- prospects including Rich Hill (who was quite good in 2007, despite what happened after), Carlos Marmol, Sean Marshall and Sean Gallagher (who the A’s thought of highly enough for him to be the centerpiece of the Rich Harden deal in 2008). It’s not a great group of pitchers, but there are prospects who could solidly fill the 3-5 spots in a rotation and all the bullpen spots. The ace, however, will likely have to come from elsewhere, unless the Cubs are able to draft one in June.

A great farm system is no guarantee of eventual Major League success, but this is a strong, deep farm system, that could provide several pillars for the lineup for many years, along with pitching prospects that could at least fill some holes. The last time the Cubs had this much firepower in the farm system, Dallas Green was the GM. So while it may be a frustrating time to actually watch the Cubs on television, it is also an exciting time to be a fan of the organization.

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Talking Cubs Prospects With John Sickels of Minorleagueball.com

Monday, September 2nd, 2013

I think we’re all a little weary of the Cubs and their play recently and we’re all excited about the future so here’s another prospect interview with one of the hardest working guys covering baseball, John Sickels. As you’ll notice I recycled a couple questions to get a comparison with the recent Jim Callis interview as well as interviews coming in the near future.

John Sickels is a baseball writer and analyst at SB Nation. He is the author of the annual Baseball Prospect Book and is the Senior Editor at MinorLeagueBall.com.  You can also follow him on twitter @MinorLeagueBall.


Q: What do you look for when you are scouting a prospect [pitching & position]?

Sickels: I try to take a comprehensive approach. For pitchers, I look first at size, arm strength, mechanics, and consistency of mechanics. A guy with unusual mechanics doesn’t bother me that much as long as he repeats them well and his body is used to it. I look at his fastball, of course, how fast it is, but also how fast it plays. Oftentimes I don’t look at radar readings until after he’s thrown several pitches; I try to rate his fastball quality without looking at the gun or being prejudiced by the readings. My idea here is to get a read on how deceptive the fastball is, or how well it moves, and how well he locates it, before knowing what the radar says. All the standard questions apply from here of course: what kind of breaking stuff? Can he change speeds? Does his delivery change when he uses a different pitch? How fast does he work? Does he appear confident? How does he handle tough situations?

Statistically I look at all the normal things: K/IP, K/BB ratios, considered within league context, batting average against, statistical splits, ground ball and home run rates, etc.

For hitters, again, I try to look at everything: overall athleticism, arm strength, running speed, etc. Batting eye, plate discipline, etc…type of swing…does he go for line drives or is he an uppercut power type? Is he a fastball hitter or does he handle breaking stuff well? Is he too aggressive? Too passive? If he’s fast, how well does he USE that speed? And statistically I look at all the stuff you normally look at, the standard numbers, BB/K/PA ratios, home/road splits, line drive rates, etc.

Basically I look at everything I can.

Q:   Who are the top 5 Cubs prospects and in what order do you rank them? Which Cubs prospects are in the mix for next year’s top 100 [or 150 if you go that high again]?

Sickels: Well I won’t be doing an exact ranking for a few months yet. Once the season ends, I have a very specific process that I go through for every organization, examining and ranking each prospect, and skipping steps in the process tends to trip me up. I would say off the top of my head that the top 5 are Javier Baez, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, and Kris Bryant in some order, Baez first but after that I’m not certain yet. I’d be looking at CJ Edwards and Pierce Johnson and Arismendy Alcantara to round that out. The big international guys that were signed I need to study more before knowing where they will slot.

Q:  You are higher than most on Dan Vogelbach, what do you see in him to rank him that high?

Sickels:  The thing for me that stands out for DV is that he isn’t just some slugging masher. He has pure hitting skills, too, good plate discipline and feel for hitting to go with the strength. Obviously he has to keep his weight under control, but the guy can really hit.

Q:  For good and bad, which Cubs prospects have surprised you the most this year?

Sickels:  I thought Christian Villanueva and Gioskar Amaya would have better years. They haven’t been bad, but I thought they would be breakout guys and they weren’t. Alcantara ended up being the breakout guy.

Q:  CJ Edwards is off to a great start in the Cubs system. Do you think his frame (6’2”/155), even if he fills out a little, can sustain the rigors of a 162 game schedule based on his power approach?

Sickels:  It could be an issue but he’s a really good athlete and that gives him a chance to pull it off. As long as his workload is managed reasonably, I don’t think his injury risk is any higher than it would be for any other pitcher his age. Which is still pretty high, of course…young pitchers get hurt a lot even if they are handled wisely and even if they are good athletes. But I don’t think his risk is abnormally high.

Q:  The Cubs are still pretty weak in pitching within their system but there are some interesting names and potential rotation pieces in the farm. What are your thoughts on some of the other Cubs top pitching prospects and when should we start seeing them? Is there any pitching help for next season?

Sickels:  Pitching is still the weakness in the system but they are addressing it. Johnson has performed well, the trade for Edwards helps a lot, and they have been aggressive with international arms though of course we don’t know how those guys will pan out yet. I don’t see any super impact arms ready to help in 2014. Kyle Hendricks will get a shot but he is more of a control type. You could also see Alberto Cabrera make a return engagement. Eric Jokisch could get there, but like Hendricks he is more of a complementary arm than a future anchor. There should be more available in 2015 than 14.

Q: The knock on Christian Villanueva before the 2012 season was that he added a few pounds and lost a step in the process. Was that premeditated in order to boost strength and power numbers? His SB numbers have dropped significantly this season. As he progresses, could he regain the speed and possibly project to a 20/20 type guy?

Sickels:  I don’t know if it was premeditated or not. It could just be the natural maturing process but at this stage either way he’s not likely a 20 steal guy at the major league level now. I’d be more concerned about his strike zone judgment than his speed frankly.

Q: I recently wrote about Baez; his contact problems and plate approach are very worrisome for me and I have him ranked 4th behind Soler, Bryant, and Almora because of that. I think he’s either going to figure it all out and be a superstar or be a huge bust with no chance of anything in the middle. Since I wrote about him, he’s been crushing it. How do you feel about him? Can he succeed at the majors with his ultra aggressive approach that has worked thus far or will something have to give if he is going to become a major leaguer?

Sickels:  Baez is tough. He is very aggressive as you point out and yes, I do have some concerns about his approach. But his bat speed is so good that Double-A pitchers have been unable to expose this weakness. My guess is that Triple-A will be more of a challenge, though of course the environment in Iowa and the Pacific Coast League will play to his strengths. If I had to draw a scenario for next year, I’d say that he gets off to a slow start at first in Triple-A, but that after a couple of weeks he starts blasting the ball as the weather warms up, and by late June it is clear that the PCL won’t challenge him further. He’ll get to the point where only major league pitchers will teach him what he needs to know. That’s probably 11 months from now, although who knows…if he has a great spring, maybe they will accelerate that.

Q:  Arismendy Alcantara was in the middle of a breakout year last season before injury. He’s been even better this year. What kind of future do you see for Alcantara at the majors?

Sickels: I think he has a 14 year career and some years as a regular, never quite an all star but solid and productive.

Q:   The organization is very strong on the left side of the infield. What position do you think the following players will end up at and what kind of defensive ability will they have there.

Sickels:

  • Starlin Castro -some other team
  • Javier Baez -I think he sticks at SS for 5 years but is 3B by the time he’s 30.
  • Arismendy Alcantara – second base, slightly above average
  • Kris Bryant – decent enough to stick at 3B until he gets old, above average if moved to 1B
  • Mike Olt - All facets of his game slipped this year, including his defense which was previously rated potential Gold Glove caliber. I don’t know what is wrong with him but something is. It isn’t just the strikeouts eating him up. The glove had declined too
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The 40 Man Roster Crunch

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

Coming in to the offseason every year, one issue every team faces is who to keep on the 40 man roster prior to the Rule 5 draft? Many appear to think the Cubs are going to face a pretty rough roster crunch this winter for two reasons: (1) the Cubs have a large number of positions they platoon, increasing the number of fringe right handed hitters who can only hit left handed pitching on the active and 40 man rosters; and (2) the Cubs have a few formerly highly touted prospects in the high minors who haven’t shown they can make the jump to the Majors yet, but have 40 man roster spots. But a quick look at the roster shows that the Cubs will turn over at least a quarter of the 48 players currently on the 40 man roster and 60 day DL. Combine that with the lack of quality prospects who need protection from the Rule 5 draft in the upper minors, and the Cubs really shouldn’t have to work hard to protect anyone marginally important.

How the Rule 5 Draft Works

Arizona Phil at the Cubbie Reporter is the master of the Rule 5 draft in the Cubs’ blogosphere, so up front I have to credit him for compiling a lot of this info. For the complete list of all Cubs’ farmhands eligible for the Rule 5 draft and a detailed breakdown of all related rules, you should check out Arizona Phil’s Corner over there. He’s also a great resource during extended spring training.

Here’s how the eligibility for the Rule 5 draft is determined: A minor league player who was 18 or younger on the June 5th immediately prior to signing his first contract is eligible for selection starting with the 5th Rule 5 Draft after he signs, and a minor league player who was 19 years or older on the June 5th immediately prior to signing his first contract becomes eligible for selection starting with the 4th Rule 5 Draft that followed his signing. As a note, this means that most high ranking international prospects only get four years of minor league experience prior to being eligible for the Rule 5 draft, since they don’t play until the season after they sign.

The Current 40 Man Roster

The Cubs currently have 48 players on either the 40 man roster or the 60 day DL. Once the season ends, the 60 day DL ends until the start of the next season, so you cannot stash injured players there for the Rule 5 draft. I’m not going to run through every player, but you can see the complete list on the Cubs’ website. The following, though, are the players who are unlikely to be on the 40 man roster at the time of the Rule 5 draft and why.

Free Agents: Scott Baker (RHP), Kevin Gregg (RHP), Matt Guerrier (RHP), Dioner Navarro (C), Ryan Sweeney (OF)

Near Certain Non-TendersJ.C. Boscan (C), Donnie Murphy (IF), Cody Random (IF), Brian Bogusevic (OF), Cole Gillespie (OF), Darnell McDonald (OF), Thomas Neal (OF)

So before the Cubs will even need to make anything approaching a tough decision, they will be down to 36 players on the 40 man roster. If a few others do get non-tendered, look towards fringy relief pitchers, with Michael Bowden, Zach Putnam and Eduardo Sanchez as the most likely candidates.

Players Who May Need to Be Protected:

Back in the day, players used to be eligible for the Rule 5 draft a year earlier. This would result in some really talented players being occasionally available in the Rule 5 draft. These days, it’s rare that anyone that will make much of a difference will be picked in the Rule 5 draft. For example, the Cubs lost two players fans were a bit annoyed about in the Rule 5 draft prior to the 2012 season in infielder Marwin Gonzalez and utility man Ryan Flaherty. Gonzalez’s career OPS is .591, and Flaherty’s is .633. So if someone is left unprotected, particularly when they played in Double A or Triple A the year before, the odds of them being much of a Major Leaguer are slim.

Player the Cubs Need to Protect: Arismendy Alcantara is the sole member of the “needs to be protected” list. The switch hitting middle infielder has emerged as the fifth best prospect in the system and the Cubs’ likely next second baseman of the future, potentially as early as July 2014. If he wasn’t protected, the Astros would pick him up with the first pick in the Rule 5 draft and be more than happy to keep him on the MLB roster all year. 

Others that Would be at Risk of Being Drafted: Outfielder Jae-Hoon Ha posted solid numbers at Double A this season before struggling upon a promotion to Iowa. He will never hit for power, but is reportedly a very good defender and could be a solid 4th or 5th outfielder type. A team could stash him as a defensive replacement for a year. Left handed pitcher Eric Jokisch just threw a no hitter in Tennessee. As a command and control lefty, he’s never going to be a top prospect, but should be a Major Leaguer with a ceiling as a 4/5 starter. Joksich actually is likely the second highest priority for the Cubs to protect after Alcantara. Dallas Beeler and Dae Eun Rhee could both be drafted as Double A pitchers who have had some success, but neither have had good strikeout numbers in the Southern League. The command and control guys who typically have shots at MLB success still tend to put up at least solid strikeout rates throughout the minors (see Kyle Hendricks). They have also both dealt with injuries over the past year or two. While both are at risk of being taken, I wouldn’t shed any tears over either of them being picked.

Players Whose Names You Will Hear but are too Far Away to be Drafted: You’ll hear a lot about second baseman Gioskar Amaya leading up to the Rule 5 draft, and for a decent reason. He’s arguably one of the Cubs’ top ten prospects, and definitively one of their top fifteen. However, he hasn’t played above low A, and it’s really hard to keep a position player who can’t at least kind of fake it on the active roster all year. On top of that, there’s no reason for the Cubs to think Amaya will be anything more than a level a year type of prospect. That means that if the Cubs add Amaya to the 40 man now, he’ll get one year at Daytona, one year at Tennessee, and one year at Iowa, then be out of options. There’s a very small chance someone might take a flyer on Amaya in the Rule 5 draft, but the odds of them not returning him to the Cubs in spring training are even slimmer.

Shortstop Marco Hernandez falls into the same boat, and isn’t much of a prospect anymore anyways. Right handed pitcher Juan Carlos Paniagua has barely played professional ball as he’s dealt with identity and contract issues.

In short, the Cubs should have no problems protecting their vital prospects without having to DFA anyone of significance currently on their 40 man roster.

Tuesday Night’s Game

I’m going to be honest here: the game is on the west coast and won’t end until well past my bedtime. With that said, I’m going to make an educated guess: Clayton Kershaw dominates the Cubs, Travis Wood pitches well, but either he lets a couple of runs through or the pen does. The Cubs score 1 run or less, the Dodgers score 3 to 4 runs. As of bedtime, though, Travis Wood has shut out the Dodgers through 3 innings while the Cubs pushed across an unearned run against Kershaw.

In other news, former Cub Marlon Byrd was traded along with catcher John Buck to the Pirates for prospects. Early reports have it as an overpay for the Pirates in terms of the prospects going back to the Mets, but the Pirates have been terrible in right field and are desperate to make the postseason this year. They’d have to blow a 9 game lead to not make the playoffs, but a deep playoff run could reinvigorate baseball in a town that is still attending games at only a mediocre rate. As strange as it sounds, in a tight race Marlon Byrd could be the difference between winning the NL Central or facing a play in game.

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