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 8 as part of Baseball’s Winter Meetings. 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 2013 and high school players and Latin American teenagers first signed in 2012 are Rule 5 eligible (or susceptible) 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 in mid-November (I think the exact date is Friday, November 18) for this year’s Rule 5 consideration.
Additional room can be created by dropping others from the 40-man - as we saw with the recent moves of Mitch Harris, Alberto Rosario and Michael Ohlman off the roster.
Of course, there is not room on the roster for everyone who may seem worthy of protecting, 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 2017 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.
So it was this past year. The Cardinals were 1-1 in his category in 2016. They lost pitcher Luis Perdomo, who began the season in a rocky manner after making the jump from high-A, but finished the year in San Diego’s rotation. On the other side of the coin, St. Louis’ Rule 5 addition from the Mets, Matt Bowman, not only survived the entire season, he thrived in the bullpen.
Who is eligible?
Based on my analysis, 54 players in the Cardinals organization are currently in the Rule 5 mix. That is comparable to the 59 eligibles one year ago.
25 are repeaters from the 2015 Rule 5-eligible population. First-timers include 11 collegians taken in the 2013 draft, one 2013 undrafted player, one previously outrighted player and one high schooler from the 2012 draft. Finally, 14 international players first signed in 2011 and 2012 also make the list for the first time.
Another group of players would be eligible except that their impending free agency takes precedence. Among the players in this category are Breyvic Valera, David Washington, Tyler Waldron, Silfredo Garcia, Gerwuins Velazco and Jonathan Escudero.
If any of the free agent group re-sign with the Cardinals for 2017, they would join external minor league free agents yet to be signed before the November deadline among the ranks of the Rule 5-eligible.
Who is most at-risk?
You will note that I highlighted eight names in the tables below. Those are the most prominent players, in my opinion. Seven of them are among The Cardinal Nation’s top 50 prospects in the organization as of August.
Three are competing currently in the Arizona Fall League, all relievers, likely to help guide the organization on the decision whether or not to protect. They include the only non-top 50 member of the eight, lefty Ryan Sherriff.
The tables below list the eligible players in each grouping based on how they qualify for Rule 5, with their primary position and 2016 season-ending club noted.
Repeaters from 2015
Starting with the largest group, the repeaters not taken in last year's Rule 5, I am highlighting three individuals, Eliezer Alvarez, Sherriff and Rowan Wick. All three made big steps forward in 2016, which is why I consider them at-risk.
|Repeaters from 2015 (25)||Position||2016||TCN top 50|
|Lee, Thomas||RHS||Mem DL|
|McElroy, C.J.||OF||Spr DL|
|Perry, Chris||RHR||Spr DL|
|Thomas, Chris||RHR||Spr DL|
Alvarez is the hardest to gauge. He truly excelled this season, to the extent the recently-turned 22-year-old was The Cardinal Nation’s system-wide Player of the Year for 2016. Normally, that would be a shoo-in, however, Alvarez’ success was at Class-A Peoria, three levels away from the majors. Could he really stick on an MLB roster all next season as a second baseman? The Cardinals could be willing to take that risk.
Wick is just two years into relieving and his power arm offers promise. If left unprotected, I think he would be lost and may or may not return. I feel less strongly about Sherriff, who is more of a pitchability guy. Then again, in a very similar situation last year, Dean Kiekhefer was protected when I thought he would not.
There plenty of other good players among the 25, but not with a high risk of major league success in 2017.
2013 draft - college
As one would expect, all 11 of the 2013 college draftees remaining have reached full-season ball. Yet, only two have considerable experience at Triple-A, starter Arturo Reyes and reliever Corey Littrell. (It should be noted the latter was a Boston draft pick in 2013.)
|2013 draft college (11)||Position||2016||TCN top 50|
|Anderson, Will||RHS||PB DL|
|Reed, Jimmy||LHS||Spr DL|
Reyes, a former 40th-rounder has been a solid performer, but did not make my finalist list. Littrell, moved to the bullpen in 2016, is perhaps the pitcher closest to helping St. Louis, an important consideration.
Among the Double-A players are standout starting pitcher Trey Nielsen and first baseman Luke Voit. Similar to Wick, Nielsen is relatively new to pitching. Of small concern is the fact the 25-year-old was shifted to relief for the final month of the season amid word of fatigue.
It is also worth remembering that both Nielsen and Littrell were non-roster invitees to MLB camp last spring. Wick was not yet ready.
Voit has an intriguing power bat, but was passed over for the Arizona Fall League and is a first base-only player yet to debut at Triple-A.
2013 free agent - college
Right-hander Kyle Grana has been a valuable reliever at Peoria in 2015 and for Palm Beach in 2016, but is clearly behind the others in the bullpen pecking order.
|2013 free agent college (1)||Position||2016||TCN top 50|
Still too far away from the majors, Grana is not among my top eight.
The story of Mitch Harris is oft-repeated, so I will not do it again here. Suffice it to say that Harris could be Rule 5 eligible in two ways. One is because the reliever was drafted out of college way back in 2008.
|Previously outrighted (1)||Position||2016||TCN top 50|
|Harris, Mitch||RHR||StL DL|
The other reason, the one that is most important now, is that he was removed from the 40-man roster, automatically making him Rule 5 eligible. There seems no reason for the Cardinals to reverse their very recent decision and protect Harris, especially with the right-hander coming off a season lost to injury.
2012 draft – high school
Moving to the high-schoolers from the 2012 draft who are first-time eligible, Carson Kelly was already added to the 40-man in September, leaving only fellow catcher Steve Bean.
|2012 draft high school (1)||Position||2016||TCN top 50|
Unfortunately, Bean’s hitting has not been good enough to create any Rule 5 risk.
2011-2012 international signees
Only four of the 14 first-time eligible international players have even reached full-season ball. Two of them are top 10 prospects in the system who play at premium defensive positions. They present a huge dilemma for the Cardinals as they are both still in A-ball.
|1st time eligible international (14)||Position||2016||TCN top 50|
|Medrano, Ronald||RHS||GCL DL|
A number of scouting sources have indicated that the defense of center fielder Magneuris Sierra is MLB-ready. Of course, the implication is that the bat of the former organizational Player of the Year is not.
Unlike Sierra, shortstop Edmundo Sosa was promoted from Peoria to Palm Beach during the summer, though his season was shortened by injury.
The key question is whether or not a rebuilding club would find room for either player as their 25th man and keep him all year as a pinch-runner/defensive replacement. I think the risk is too great to take a chance and would protect both.
A downside is using 40-man roster spots on players several years away from the majors. Another, though less important concern, is starting to burn their three option years in 2017. That is why these decisions are difficult and not a slam dunk either way.
Peoria’s Dailyn Martinez and Jorge Rodriguez are interesting pitchers, but I don’t think they are as advanced as last year’s major Rule 5 loss, Perdomo. Therefore, I would not protect them.
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 2017 if taken.
However, not all will fit on the Memphis roster. Any of the 55 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.
Last December, the Cardinals said goodbye to seven minor leaguers taken in the minor league phases of Rule 5.
Because I have not yet completed my 40-man roster analysis, I am going to first group the eight by high-medium-low odds of being protected – without drawing a firm cutoff line.
|Odds||My Top 8 Protection List||Position||2016||TCN top 50|
I think the top four will be protected with the next two likely, depending on how the 40-man roster analysis comes out.
There is an additional player who should be on the repeaters list, Johnson City shortstop Allen Cordoba. Had his current contract, signed in April 2013 when he was still just 16 years of age, been his first, he would not be eligible until following the 2017 season.
However, there is a rub. Cordoba’s first professional contract, inked in January 2013, was voided due to an injury concern. After receiving medical clearance, he re-signed four months later. But, the rules are the rules. Once any player signs a second contract, which usually happens after a release and a re-signing, his Rule 5 clock starts.
For that reason, Cordoba has actually been Rule 5-susceptible every December since 2013.
Despite his success in the Gulf Coast and Appalachian Leagues, Cordoba is still too far away from the majors to justify 40-man roster consideration. So, the bottom line here is the same.
All players who have signed minor league contracts with St. Louis his fall are also Rule 5 eligible. That includes four re-signees and five external signs. The internal players are pitcher Josh Lucas (incorrectly listed above among Repeaters), Robby Rowland and Bob Wheatley plus catcher Alberto Rosario. The newest Cardinals are outfielder/first baseman Chad Huffman, outfielder Todd Cunningham, shortstop Wilfredo Tovar and pitchers Kendry Flores and Zach Phillips.
What is next
In Part 2 of this article, I will look at the current 40-man and firm up how many of these eight I think the Cardinals will make room for.
The Cardinals currently have 42 players on their 40-man roster (including those on the 60-day disabled list), but many changes are coming next week as free agency is granted and option decisions are made. Non-tender decisions on arbitration-eligible players could also be made early, freeing up additional spots.
In addition to the expected departures from the Major League roster, there needs to be room for Major League free agents to be added as well as space if the Cardinals want to make their own Rule 5 addition(s).
The 2016 Rule 5 Draft concludes Baseball’s Winter Meetings and will be held on Thursday, December 8 in Washington, D.C.
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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