TCN’s 2014 Cardinals Rule 5 Protection Picks

Our annual view of which St. Louis Cardinals minor leaguers are Rule 5 eligible and which may be protected on the 40-man roster.

Rule 5 background

Before minor leaguers reach free agency after their seventh professional season, they will become eligible for the annual December Rule 5 draft. It is a vehicle which enables a select few to receive a new chance with another organization earlier than otherwise possible.

The exact qualification depends on age when signed, but generally speaking, college players drafted in 2011 and high school players and Latin American teenagers first signed in 2010 are Rule 5 eligible for the first time this year.

Organizations can move to protect otherwise eligible players by adding them to their 40-man roster, with those decisions due this week, by Thursday, November 20. Additional room can be created by dropping others from the 40-man.

Of course, there is not room for everyone, but that is the same for the other 29 organizations, too. As a result, clubs can and do take calculated risks with whom they do not protect. Major league readiness is a major consideration.

For purposes of the Rule 5 draft, key eligible players are protected on the Triple-A roster. That means the claiming organization must keep a Rule 5-selected player on their major league 25-man roster for the entire following season or the player must be returned.

Generally speaking, the size of a major league bullpen means that pitchers can be eased in more slowly, and as such, hurlers are slightly more likely to be selected in the Rule 5 draft.

Who is eligible?

The bottom line is that based on my analysis, 55 players in the Cardinals organization are currently in the Rule 5 mix.

22 of them are repeaters from the 2013 Rule 5 class. Two more are minor league free agents signed by the Cardinals this past week. 10 collegians taken in the 2011 draft, one 2011 undrafted player and one high schooler from the 2010 draft are first-time eligible. Finally, there are 19 international players first signed in 2009 and 2010.

The table below groups the players in the above manner, with their primary position and 2014 season-ending club noted.

Repeaters from 2013 Position 2014
Blair, Seth RHR Spr
Garcia, Anthony OF PB
Gast, John LHS Mem
Harris, Mitch RHR Mem
Kiekhefer, Dean LHR Mem
Lucas, Josh RHR SC
Nazario, Iden LHR PB
O'Neill, Mike OF Mem
Perez, Luis OF Peo
Polanco, Jhonny RHR PB
Rodriguez, Jonathan 1B Mem
Rodriguez, Starlin OF Spr
Stanley, Cody C Spr
Stock, Robert RHR Peo
Swagerty, Jordan RHS Spr
Tartamella, Travis C Spr
Ustariz, Jesus 1B JC
Valera, Cesar IF PB
Velazco, Gerwuins C PB
Washington, David 1B PB
Whiting, Boone RHS Mem
Wright, Justin LHR Mem
     
Free agent signees Position 2014
Socolovich, Miguel RHR AAA NYM
Hatley, Marcus RHR AAA CHC
     
2010 draft high school Position 2014
Jenkins, Tyrell RHS PB
     
2011 draft college Position 2014
Gaviglio, Sam RHS Spr
Martini, Nick OF Spr
Stienstra, Danny IF PB
Williams, Matt IF Spr
Hald, Kyle LHS Spr
Cornelius, Jonathan LHS Spr
Sherriff, Ryan LHR Spr
Wyatt, Heath RHR Mem
Melling, Tyler LHS PB
Baker, Corey RHR Spr
     
2011 free agent college Position 2014
Billbrough, Logan RHR Spr
     
2009-2010 international Position 2014
Acevedo, Jhohan OF SC
Baez, Fernando RHS SC
Bautista, Juan RHR SC
Brito, Ismael LHR JC
Castillo, Ronald OF Peo
Cruz, Luis C SC
Escudero, Jonathan RHR JC
Garcia, Ronnierd 3B Peo
Garcia, Silfredo RHS PB
Gerdel, Anderson RHR JC
Gomez, Jose C JC
Herrera, Juan  SS PB
Medina, Rafael IF Peo
Perdomo, Luis RHS Peo
Pina, Leobaldo SS SC
Reyes, Robelys 2B SC
Torres, Carlos OF JC
Valera, Breyvic 2B Spr
Villegas, Kender RHR JC

Who is most at-risk?

You may have noticed that I highlighted 10 names in the above table. Those are the most interesting players, in my opinion. Many of them are among The Cardinal Nation’s top 40 prospects in the organization.

Starting at the bottom of the table with the international players, infielder Breyvic Valera is almost certain to be protected. Unfairly labeled by some as a singles hitter, the 22-year-old finished in the top 10 of the entire Cardinals system in batting average, runs batted in, runs scored, triples and stolen bases this season and then impressed in the Arizona Fall League.

As a catcher-turned-pitcher, hard-throwing Fernando Baez has an interesting back story, but the reality of still learning to pitch in short-season ball should make him a non-factor in the Rule 5.

Teammates for a majority of the 2014 season with Class-A Peoria, outfielder Ronald Castillo and shortstop Juan Herrera were both Midwest League All-Stars. Castillo has a very promising bat, but cannot seem to remain healthy for an entire season. Herrera, the Cards’ take in the Marc Rzepczynski trade in 2013, profiles similar to Valera in that he ranked in the system’s top 10 in RBI, doubles and stolen bases (second with 28) this season but is better defensively.

Herrera was promoted to Palm Beach late in the summer, but still seems too far away from the bigs for anyone to take a chance on him in as a major leaguer Rule 5er.

Most of the 11 who signed with the Cardinals following the 2011 draft are contributing in the upper levels of the minors, but seem to fall short of MLB readiness.

One name, Sam Gaviglio, does stand out. The former fifth-rounder was sent to the Arizona Fall League in 2013 and came to major league camp this spring as a non-roster invitee. The 24-year-old had a rough beginning with Springfield, but was TCN’s July Pitcher of the Month and finished decently in August as well.

I don’t see Gaviglio protected, but do consider him somewhat at risk of being taken.

Moving to the lone high-schooler from the 2010 draft who is first-time eligible, Tyrell Jenkins seems a lock to be protected. Apparently, his shoulder problems are behind him and he seems ready to finally accelerate his career in 2015.

The final five among my finalists were all eligible for last December’s Rule 5, but were not taken. This time around, several could be lost if not protected.

Catcher Cody Stanley had a strong season with Springfield, as a leader, hitter and handler of pitchers. I think the 25-year-old, who continued to play well in the Arizona Fall League and is learning first base as well, will score a 40-man spot.

I predict starting pitchers Boone Whiting and Jordan Swagerty will remain unprotected. Swagerty remains a major injury question while Whiting struggled down the stretch for Memphis. In another organization, I could see him in an MLB relief role, at least. With St. Louis, he would need to bide his time.

Like Gaviglio, lefty Dean Kiekhefer pitched in the 2013 AFL. The reliever had the top strikeout to walk ratio in the entire system in 2014 because he walks so few batters (0.8 per nine innings). Again, in a system with less pitching strength, I could see Kiekhefer protected, but I think he will be a victim of numbers.

Mitch Harris is my toughest call. Given the improvement in his fastball velocity and in command and control of his other pitches, I think the Cardinals want to make sure they can give it one more year to see if the just-turned 29-year-old can latch onto an MLB pen job. Harris’ interesting Navy back story is a bonus.

Minor league Rule 5

Any of the 55 eligibles that the Cardinals protect on the Springfield roster or lower could be lost in the minor league phases of the Rule 5 Draft. In essence, those players would be gone forever, as the selecting organization could place them wherever they want.

In summary

So there you have it. Of the 55 eligible, I see four being protected – Valera, Jenkins, Stanley and Harris. Not surprisingly, all four competed in the 2014 Arizona Fall League. The Cardinals currently have 36 players on their 40-man roster, so all four could be accommodated with no other changes. Once players are on the 40-man roster, a new clock begins, their three minor league option years.

I have Whiting, Kiekhefer and Gaviglio in the next tier - most at-risk to be selected by another organization in the Rule 5 Draft if left unprotected. Most of the other interesting players are too far away from the majors to be a factor unless in the unlikely event they are placed at Springfield and exposed in the minor league phase of Rule 5.

40-man implications

The Cardinals freed up two 40-man spots recently when relievers Eric Fornataro and Jorge Rondon were placed on waivers and claimed by other organizations. One was used in the signing of free agent infielder Dean Anna.

However, with a full 40-man as this scenario indicates, the Cardinals could neither pick up someone in the major league phase of the Rule 5 Draft nor sign any free agents this winter.

Though they could drop a borderline player like Nick Greenwood or Keith Butler, it may not be necessary. If one or both of arbitration-eligible players Daniel Descalso and Shane Robinson are non-tendered (not offered a 2015 contract) by the December 2nd deadline, their roster spots would be made available, giving the Cards additional flexibility. Of course, this will become clearer in the upcoming days.

The 2014 Rule 5 Draft concludes Baseball’s Winter Meetings and will be held on Thursday, December 11 in San Diego.

Monday afternoon update

With the trade of Jenkins to Atlanta in the Jason Heyward deal, he no longer has to be protected by St. Louis. However, the Cards net down one 40-man spot in the four-way trade, anyway, picking up two major leaguers with only one departing. So the potential 40-man roster impacts noted above remain the same.

Tuesday evening update

The first protect move occurred Tuesday as Stanley was added to the 40-man. An additional spot was not needed as the organization also removed Butler. One more place was secured when Shane Robinson was released. All of these moves were discussed above as viable possibilities.

At this point, the Cardinals have 36 players on the 40-man. Link to related article.

Further changes

Late additions along with Butler on the Rule 5 eligible list are two minor league free agent pitching signees, Miguel Socolovich and Marcus Hatley, along with infielder Ty Kelly, acquired from Seattle in trade for Gaviglio. Butler and Hatley may be most interesting to other organizations, but probably not enough to use a 40-man roster spot.

For more names

Remember that to see the entire Cardinals system in one graphical view with all transactions, free agents and more, check out the Roster Matrix, kept updated at The Cardinal Nation Blog.

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Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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