Cardinals in the 2011 Rule 5 Draft: Part Two

Projecting which St. Louis Cardinals minor league players are most at risk in the upcoming Rule 5 Draft.

In Part One of this series, we looked at the recent Rule 5 Draft history of the St. Louis Cardinals and introduced the 51 players currently susceptible to be taken in the 2011 Draft – unless protected before then.

Now, let's get into my projections and what steps may be ahead.

Who might be protected or lost and why?

I will note than none of the 51 listed in Part One are obvious cases that must be protected or they would surely be lost. The organization added those players as needed throughout the year.

Another reason is that the draft with the most new players added to the Rule 5 eligibility community for the first time this year, the 2008 class, has not had many hits for the Cardinals. Major leaguer Lance Lynn is the exception, while Brett Wallace, Shane Peterson and Alex Castellanos were traded. Niko Vasquez and Jermaine Curtis lagged and Scott Gorgen has been injured.

I distilled down that list of 51 to eight who I feel deserve serious consideration to either add to the 40-man roster or risk losing in the draft. They are listed in my order of protection priority.

Top eight Rule 5 eligibles Pos'n Acquired Age Level
Adam Ottavino RHS 2006 1st 26 Memphis
David Kopp RHR 2007 2nd 26 Memphis
Tommy Pham OF 2006 16th 23 Springfield
Jose Garcia 2B 2006 FA 23 Springfield
Aaron Luna OF 2008 9th 24 Springfield
Eric Fornataro RHS 2008 6th 23 Palm Beach
Rainel Rosario OF 2006 FA 22 Palm Beach
Sam Freeman LHR 2008 32nd 24 Springfield

Based on past Rule 5 behavior, clubs seem slightly more likely to take a shot on using a major league spot for a promising pitcher that can be hidden in the back of a bullpen than on a position player. Performance, skills and age equal, one who has appeared at higher levels, closer to the majors, would seem preferable.

Considering that, among the three starting pitchers, Eric Fornataro seems least vulnerable. The right-hander can throw hard, but has yet to reach Double-A. If Fornataro is put on the Memphis roster, he should be safe. A risk is that he is 23, compared to Adam Ottavino and David Kopp, each 26 years of age at the time of the Rule 5 Draft.

Kopp is still in the early stages of his recent move to relieving. His Arizona Fall League results have not been good (9.31 ERA and almost a walk per inning, but a reliever that can hit upper 90's with sink has value as a gamble play.

Ottavino went unclaimed last year in the Rule 5 likely because of concerns over his shoulder. Despite some believing his future would be brighter as a late-inning man, the Cardinals kept Ottavino in Memphis' rotation, where his ERA was 4.85 and he walked 4.5 batters per nine innings.

Still, he could prove to be too tempting for some organization to pass up. There are mixed signals as to the Cardinals' interest in keeping Ottavino, but giving him away in Rule 5 seems a waste of a former first-round pick. Kopp was a second-rounder.

Lefty Sam Freeman is an intriguing arm, though walks have always been high. After a lost 2010 due to Tommy John surgery, the 24-year-old returned to Springfield in 2011 and is now pitching in Venezuela. Some club might take a shot, but his odds of sticking at this point seem low.

Among the position players, Jose Garcia and Aaron Luna have shown flashes, but each ended the season back in Double-A after stints with Memphis. Garcia performed well with the Redbirds, but was a short-term fill-in. Luna has had two ineffective Triple-A auditions, in 2010 and 2011. While his OBP is decent, he lacks pop for a corner outfielder.

I think Garcia and Luna both are far enough away from the majors that they wouldn't be taken in the major league phase if put on the Memphis roster. If I could only protect one, Garcia would have my edge as his middle infield skills increase his value over Luna. Similar logic applies to outfielder Rainel Rosario, still yet to appear in Springfield.

Tommy Pham is the hitter most at risk of being lost if not protected, in my opinion. Though his career has been slowed by injuries, when healthy in 2011, the 23-year-old posted an .889 Texas League OPS. That should be tempered by his .367 BABIP, however. Pham's ability to play centerfield is a plus and he is considered by some to be among the top outfield defenders in the organization. Ultimately, his injury history may be enough to scare off prospective selectors.

If the Cards protect as many as three, I could see them being Ottavino, Kopp and Pham. If they add a fourth, my prediction is Garcia.

Making room

With 33 players currently on the 40-man roster, as many as seven spots may be used for protection of these prospects.

That is unrealistic however, because the Cardinals would then not have any room to add an available player from another organization in the Rule 5 draft, nor would they have roster space to sign needed major league free agents. Then there is the future of Albert Pujols, Rafael Furcal and others from the 2011 champions to consider.

One alternative would be to drop a marginal player or two from the 40-man to create additional room. The problem is that there are few viable candidates remaining.

Shane Robinson, considered by some to be the best outfield defender in the system, is one. Because he has been outrighted once already, Robinson could immediately declare free agency and be lost to the Cardinals.

Others, less-likely, might include pitcher Brandon Dickson, catcher Bryan Anderson and shortstop Pete Kozma. The risk is that any one of them could easily be claimed by another organization and if so, would be permanently lost.

Outrighting of players, removing them from the 40-man, can occur until December 5. This year's draft is on December 8.

More decisions coming

After November 18th, I will share the actual protected lists by level. Not understood by many, this is an important factor which can determine which of these players might be most advantageously selected by another organization during the draft.

Only the players assigned to the 38-man Triple-A Memphis reserve list for protection will be eligible for the major league phase of the Rule 5 Draft. They can be taken at a cost of $50,000. If selected, those players would have to remain on the new club's 25-man major league roster the entire 2012 season or be offered back to the Cardinals at half the purchase price.

The Cardinals cannot place all 51 Rule 5 eligible players on the 38-man Memphis roster. Therefore, some of those players will be eligible to be taken in the minor league phases of the Rule 5. Due to less-restrictive rules below Triple-A, they would likely not return in 2012.

Specifically, those stationed on the Double-A Springfield roster or lower would cost less for another organization to select, $12,000 and $4,000 respectively. Most importantly, these players do not have to be added to the major league roster if taken in the Rule 5, nor would they be required to be returned to the Cardinals regardless of the level at which they are assigned in 2012.

Do you agree or disagree with this list? Join the Cardinals Rule 5 discussion on our subscriber-only message board today.

Remember that to see the entire Cardinals system in one graphical view, check out the Roster Matrix, kept updated at The Cardinal Nation Blog.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Look for his weekly minor league column during the season at Follow Brian on Twitter.

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