Rule 5 background
Several years before minor leaguers reach free agency - the latter after their seventh professional season - they will become eligible for the annual December Rule 5 Draft, to be held this year on December 10. 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 2012 and high school players and Latin American teenagers first signed in 2011 are Rule 5 eligible (or susceptible) for the first time this year.
Organizations can protect otherwise eligible players by adding them to their 40-man roster, with those decisions due by Friday, November 20 for this year’s Rule 5 consideration. One such move was announced on Thursday, November 5 with Memphis outfielder Anthony Garcia, which also kept him from minor league free agency.
Of course, there is not room on the roster 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.
The intent is not to protect every valuable prospect, but to protect as few as possible – just those who it would really hurt to lose and would have the highest chance of not being returned later. If a player is selected in the major league phase of the December Rule 5 draft, he must stay on the new team’s 25-man major league roster for the entire 2016 season before becoming the new team’s property.
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?
Based on my analysis, 59 players in the Cardinals organization would currently be in the Rule 5 mix. That is up slightly from the 55 eligibles one year ago.
33 of them are repeaters from the 2014 Rule 5 class. This off-season, the Cardinals have not yet signed any external minor league free agents to add to these ranks. First-time eligibles include 15 collegians taken in the 2012 draft, one 2012 undrafted player, one previously outrighted player and three high schoolers from the 2011 draft. Finally, six international players first signed in 2010 and 2011 also make the list for the first time.
The table below groups the players in the above manner, with their primary position and 2015 season-ending club noted.
|Repeaters from 2014 (33)||Position||2015||1st R5|
|Free agent signees (0)|
|2012 draft college (15)||Position||2015|
|2012 free agent college (1)||Position||2015|
|Previously outrighted (1)||Position||2015|
|2011 draft high school (3)||Position||2015|
|2010-2011 international (6)||Position||2015|
Who is most at-risk?
You may have noticed that I highlighted six names in the above tables. Those are the most prominent players, in my opinion. Many of them are among The Cardinal Nation’s top 40 prospects in the organization. Several are competing currently in the Arizona Fall League. One common thread is that they are all relatively close to the Major Leagues in experience level.
When all is said and done, I predict four more players will be protected.
Repeaters from 2014
Starting with the largest group, the repeaters, I am highlighting two individuals, though I do not think either will be added to the 40-man at this time.
Left handed reliever Dean Kiekhefer, he of the three-quarters delivery and very low walk totals, may be on the cusp of reaching St. Louis. On the other hand, he is 26 years old and would seem to be competing - at least indirectly - with three 40-man roster lefties in Tyler Lyons, Tim Cooney and Marco Gonzales.
Though Kiekhefer continues to do his thing in the AFL, my prediction is that he is not protected for the second straight year.
Palm Beach right-hander Luis Perdomo is a tough call. Named to represent the Cardinals at the MLB All-Star Futures Game when Alex Reyes was injured, the 22-year-old raised his visibility considerably in 2015.
After a strong start at Peoria, including an All-Star berth, Perdomo’s progress slowed after his promotion to A-Advanced Palm Beach in early August. In the final month in the Florida State League, he posted a 5.13 ERA on the heels of his 3.68 mark at Peoria.
When all is said and done, I think Perdomo is still too far away from St. Louis in level and performance to warrant the use of a 40-man roster spot. Though some club might take a chance on the Dominican native, I question his ability to stick.
Other interesting names on this list who I also consider are still too deep in the system to be chosen include pitcher Fernando Baez plus shortstops Juan Herrera and Leobaldo Pina. The first two missed much of 2015 due to injury, while the latter is still in short-season ball, other factors against their possible selection if/when left unprotected.
Update: Boone Whiting was released in May.
2012 draft - college
Three of the 15 2012 draftees finished the regular season with Memphis and six others at Springfield, with several of the latter group having also seen some Triple-A time. Still, when all is considered, I see just two real protection candidates, second baseman Jacob Wilson and third baseman Patrick Wisdom.
Even with a slower than expected second half, Wilson led the entire system this season with 18 home runs and tied for tops in RBI with 77. Though fellow middle infielders Dean Anna and Greg Garcia remain on the 40-man, Pete Kozma has left the organization, perhaps helping Wilson’s chances.
Wisdom had a roller-coaster season offensively in his second shot at Double-A. It began slowly, led to a reboot in minor league camp in May, the organization Player of the Month award in June and a drop off afterward. The 24-year-old was the lone Cardinals position player who was named to the Arizona Fall League Fall Stars Game and is the only true third baseman in the system anywhere near St. Louis.
Considering everything, I think both receive the 40-man bid.
2012 free agent - college
Right hander Thomas Lee proved valuable as a swingman, moving between relief and starting, but his stuff may not stand out enough to secure him a 40-man spot.
The story of Aledmys Diaz is oft-repeated, but still interesting. Signed to a four-year Major League contract in March 2014, the Cuban shortstop struggled with a shoulder problem and ineffectiveness until late in his second season.
Shortly after his removal from the 40-man roster in July, the 25-year-old had a strong month at Springfield, followed by a solid, though brief introduction at Memphis. He is having a good AFL campaign currently.
Yet until very recently, I was wavering on whether I thought Diaz would be protected, given the money owed and the two-year commitment remaining. My logic was that he hadn’t shown enough consistency to get back on the 40-man and that his appeal to other organizations was limited. After all, they all passed on him as recently as July.
More than his 2015 late-season progress with the bat, what caused me to change my mind was the fact that Diaz has made his defensive debuts at both second base and third base in Arizona. That tells me that the Cardinals are finally looking at Diaz as an infield utilityman, a step that would be almost required for him to have a shot at St. Louis.
All told, I think Diaz has now demonstrated just enough to be restored to the 40-man. However, this process could not happen again. A second outright would lead to free agency.
2011 draft - high school
Moving to the three high-schoolers from the 2011 draft who are first-time eligible, all outfilelders, Charlie Tilson seems by far to be the most likely to be protected. Ready to take on Triple-A after leading the system in hits and coming in second in steals, the 22-year-old, a former second-rounder, is currently competing in the AFL.
C.J. McElroy has been working on his switch hitting in A-ball but has yet to hit enough to make a strong impression. Former shortstop Kenny Peoples-Walls is still looking to register on the prospect radar.
2010-2011 international players
Second baseman Eliezer Alvarez had a nice 2015 season, but it was at Johnson City. Catcher Jose Godoy has his organization supporters. Pitchers Dailyn Martinez, Dewin Perez and Juan Perez have impressed at times, but as a group, these six players are just too distant from the bigs.
Correction: Pitcher Juan Caballero from the 2011-2012 class should have been noted as eligible. He was 19 when signed and had just four years before becoming eligible. This was a mistake on my part.
Minor league Rule 5
Roster placement is important, but a not well-understood factor. For purposes of the Rule 5 Draft, the Cardinals could choose to put a number of the most desirable players on the Memphis roster. That would require an MLB 25-man position for them on their new club in 2016 if taken.
However, any of the 59 eligibles that the Cardinals protect on the Springfield roster or lower could be lost in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft. In essence, those players would be gone forever, as the selecting organization could place them wherever they want.
So there you have it. Of those eligible, I see four being protected – Wilson, Wisdom, Diaz and Tilson (in addition to Anthony Garcia, already done). Not surprisingly, all four competed in the Arizona Fall League – Wilson in 2014 and the other three here in 2015.
The Cardinals currently have 33 players on their 40-man roster, so all four could be accommodated with no other changes. However, there also needs to be room for Major League free agents to be added as well as if the Cardinals want to make their own Rule 5 addition(s).
As an aside, once minor league players reach the 40-man roster for the first time, a new clock begins, their three minor league option years.
I see Perdomo and Kiekhefer in the next tier - at-risk to be selected by another organization in the Rule 5 Draft if left unprotected, but not enough of a sure thing to protect.
Most of the other interesting players are too far away from the majors to be a factor unless they are left at Springfield and exposed in the minor league phase of Rule 5.
As noted above, the Cardinals freed up three 40-man spots recently. They could also make more available by non-tendering (not offering a 2016 contract to) several arbitration-eligible players, such as Steve Cishek and Peter Bourjos, if not traded first. Of course, this will become clearer in the upcoming days, with the non-tender deadline coming on Wednesday, December 2.
The 2015 Rule 5 Draft concludes Baseball’s Winter Meetings and will be held on Thursday, December 10 in Nashville, Tennessee.
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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