For the third consecutive year, the St. Louis Cardinals came into the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft with significant roster flexibility. Despite a steady pipeline of prospects at or close to the majors, the club had just 35 players on its 40-man roster.
That meant they could conceivably add as many as five Major Leaguers, but realisitically, especially selecting so late in the draft (30th due to their 100-win 2015 season), the pickings would likely be slim.
In the Major League phase of the 2015 Rule 5 Draft, held Thursday morning at Baseball’s Winter Meetings in Nashville, the Cardinals treaded water at best, losing one promising right-handed pitcher and selecting another.
However, their farm depth took a definite hit in the Minor League phases, during which St. Louis lost seven more players, including five hurlers, and added two, both pitchers.
Perdomo out, Bowman in – at least for now
Though Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak told MLB.com this week that he expected none of his organization’s eligible players would be taken in the MLB phase, that was quickly proven otherwise. With the fourth overall pick, the Colorado Rockies selected right-handed pitcher Luis Perdomo, St. Louis‘ representative in the 2015 MLB Futures Game. An hour later, Colorado traded Perdomo to San Diego.
For the transaction to become permanent, Perdomo must remain in the Majors for the entire 2016 season. That could be a tall order for a pitcher with plenty of talent, but no experience beyond Class A-Advanced. Likely, Perdomo, a starter to date, will be tried as a reliever in the back of the Padres‘ pen.
St. Louis then selected another right-handed pitcher, Matt Bowman from the New York Mets, with their first-round pick. They passed afterward. Just as with the departing Perdomo, Bowman must stick on St. Louis‘ 25-man active major league for the entire season or be returned to the Mets.
No other Cardinals from the Memphis roster were among the 16 players changing homes across MLB in the Major League phase. Players who seemed to be in the mix ahead of the draft but will remain with the organization include third baseman Patrick Wisdom and second baseman Jacob Wilson. (To see the entire roster of Rule 5-eligible Cardinals organization players, check this earlier article, exclusive to members of The Cardinal Nation.)
A former Cardinals farmhand, infielder Colin Walsh, was the next pick after Perdomo, moving from Oakland to Milwaukee.
That total of 16 players taken is up from 14 a year ago, when the Cardinals were not involved, either as a supplier or buyer.
In fact, Bowman and Perdomo are the first Cardinals to be taken and lost, respectively, in the Major League phase for at least the last four years. In 2011, outfielder Erik Komatsu was added, the year after pitcher Brian Broderick was selected by Washington. Both were eventually returned to their original clubs.
In an odd bit of trivia, this is the second Luis Perdomo lost by the Cardinals in the Major League Phase of the Rule 5 Draft. The first, also a pitcher and a cousin of the younger, was taken by San Francisco in 2008 and did not return.
Minor league phases
In the minor league phases of the 2015 Rule 5 Draft, the Cardinals were far busier than last year, when they added just one player, pitcher Tyler Waldron from Pittsburgh, and lost none in the Triple-A phase, and then sat out the Double-A phase.
On Thursday, St. Louis added two but lost a whopping six players in the Triple-A phase and had the only player taken in the Double-A phase, as well.
A year after the Cardinals lost no players in either the Major or Minor League phases of the draft, they said permanent goodbyes to the seven minor leaguers taken in the Triple-A and Double-A phases. It is important to understand that these players will not be returning to the Cardinals.
The quantity of losses could be perceived as an indication that the overall level of talent in the Cardinals system as viewed by their peers is up, as every organization can protect the same number of players by level.
In the first round, right-handed pitchers Jhonny Polanco and Cory Jones were snapped up by Boston and Baltimore, respectively. St. Louis finished the round by adding right-handed pitcher John Brebbia from the Arizona organization.
St. Louis lost three more players in the second round as right-handed pitcher Kender Villegas, shortstop Robelys Reyes and outfielder Mike O’Neill were taken. The Cardinals closed the round by picking left-handed pitcher Michael Heesch from the Cubs.
In the third round, Cardinals right-hander Fernando Baez was selected by Tampa Bay. St. Louis passed.
Palm Beach starter Jones, St. Louis‘ fifth-rounder in 2012, and Peoria’s hard-throwing Baez are perhaps the biggest losses of this group, despite injuries in 2015.
Jones, 24, was The Cardinal Nation’s Peoria Starting Pitcher of the Year in 2013 and ranked 14th in our top 40 prospect list the following winter. However, injuries then took over, as he pitched only 18 innings in 2014 and none this season. Baez, 23, a former catcher, was The Cardinal Nation’s 38th-ranked prospect in each of the last two winters, but his 2015 season ended by Memorial Day.
Polanco, 23, joined the Cardinals in 2009 from Nicaragua. The right-hander first reached the Midwest League briefly in 2012 and pitched most of this season at that same level with brief relief stints at Palm Beach and Springfield. Villegas, a 22-year-old right-hander, pitched out of the State College bullpen in 2015 and appeared briefly with Peoria and Palm Beach.
Reyes is said by Baseball America to have the best infield arm in the Cardinals system, but is 25 and still in high-A. O’Neill, 27, who had reached Memphis and was once on the 40-man roster before spending most of 2015 back in Double-A, is known primarily for his ability to draw walks.
Former St. Louis first-round pick, third baseman Zack Cox, moved from Miami to Washington in the first round.
As noted above, the Cardinals lost the only player to move in the Double-A phase of the draft over the last two years.
Reliever Juan Caballero, 23, was taken by the Miami Marlins. First signed by the Cardinals in 2012, the right-hander worked out of the Johnson City bullpen in 2015.
This year, a record total of 65 players were taken in the Rule 5 Draft – 16 in the MLB phase, 48 in the Triple-A phase and one in the Double-A phase. That is up from 44 in total - 14, 30 and zero, repsectively, the year before.
Of those 65 players moving across MLB, a whopping 11 either left the Cardinals (eight) or joined them (three). The seven Cardinals departing in the Minor League phase compares to a total of just nine lost over the entire last decade of 2005-14.
With the addition of Bowman, the Cardinals now have 36 players on their 40-man roster.
The New Cardinals – Matt Bowman
Bowman, 24, was the Mets‘ 13th-round selection in the 2012 draft. The 6-foot, 165-pounder is said to be a command-type starter with a degree in economics from Princeton. Ranked 18th among Mets prospects by Baseball America before the 2015 season and 19th by MLB.com currently, Bowman is said to have four pitches – a low-to-mid 90’s sinker, curveball, slider and a changeup, with the latter his best secondary offering. He has plus control and a deceptive motion.
For Triple-A Las Vegas in 2015, Bowman pitched 140 innings, but logged an unimpressive 5.53 ERA. He struck out just 77, but walked 51 while Pacific Coast League hitters batted a collective .319 against him.
It will be interesting to see if by focusing on his two best pitches, Bowman could make the 2016 Cardinals as a reliever. It seems a major stretch for him to come to spring training to compete for a spot in St. Louis‘ rotation and Memphis is not an option.
While Bowman is clearly closer to the Majors than the pitcher the Cardinals lost in Perdomo, the latter is believed by most to have a higher potential ceiling.
The New Cardinals – John Brebbia
Brebbia, 25, has an interesting resume. The Yankees‘ 30th-rounder in 2011 reached high-A before pitching in independent ball the last two seasons. The Elon University product drew attention as the successful closer for Laredo of the American Association this season. Said by BA to have a 92-95 mph fastball that can tough 97 and power sinker that led to 79 strikeouts in 64 innings this season, Brebbia can also pitch multiple innings effectively.
The 6-foot-1, 185 pound right-hander was named by BA as their second-ranked prospect in the independent leagues following the season. Brebbia then signed a 2016 contract with Arizona this fall, but became Rule 5 eligible in the process. He is now a Cardinal, with a second chance to eventually fulfill a Major League dream.
The New Cardinals – Michael Heesch
After the Cubs took O’Neill from them, the Cards came back and plucked the left-handed Heesch from the Northsiders. The big man, at 6-foot-5, 265 pounds, was originally taken by Chicago in 2012’s eighth round from South Carolina-Beaufort.
At high-A in 2015, Heesch tossed 64 1/3 innings, with 49 strikeouts and 24 walks. He logged a 2.24 ERA while holding opponents to a collective .238 batting average against and throws "some heat," says BA’s John Manuel.
According to ChicagoNow.com, Heesch "possesses a high 80s (T91) heavy FB that he throws with good plane and occasional run. He can break some bats when he runs that heavy FB in on LHs and has a solid slider that he can use as a chase pitch. A LOOGY role is not out of the question for him at the MLB level."
Based on their prior assignments, I will temporarily place Brebbia and Heesch on the Palm Beach roster here at TCN, but I expect that both should compete for spots in the Springfield pen for 2016.
To see the entire Cardinals system by level and position, along with free agents and every transaction all year long, check out the Roster Matrix at The Cardinal Nation blog.
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