For the second consecutive year, the St. Louis Cardinals gambled on leaving a prospect unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft whom The Cardinal Nation had ranked within the system’s top 25 players.
And for the second consecutive year, the rebuilding San Diego Padres picked off that player.
In 2015, St. Louis‘ loss was right-handed pitcher Luis Perdomo, who successfully made the jump from St. Louis‘ high-A affiliate in Palm Beach into the Padres bullpen. By the end of the season, the 23-year-old was a member of San Diego’s rotation.
On Thursday morning, the Padres made Johnson City shortstop Allen Cordoba the third overall selection in the Major League Phase of the Rule 5 Draft, to close Baseball’s Winter Meetings in Washington, D.C.
With just 33 players on their 40-man roster coming into the draft, the rebuilding Padres decided to take a shot on a player who is five levels of play away from the bigs, an unusual move. On one hand, because of Cordoba’s relative inexperience, it is a gamble, yet the entry price was relatively low - $100,000 and a 25-man roster spot.
The decision is not binding, eliminating most of the risk. The only question is whether the club will be willing use Cordoba primarily as a pinch-runner and late-game defensive substitution over 162 games. If San Diego was a playoff contender, I would give his chances of sticking lower odds. Further, it is not as if the Padres did not come into the draft with a full understanding of Cordoba's background.
If Cordoba does not remain on San Diego’s roster for the entire 2017 season, he would be placed on waivers and if not claimed by another organization, would be returned to the Cardinals.
In addition, in an unprecedented move, immediately following the draft, the Padres acquired via trade the first two selections made in the Rule 5, taken just ahead of Cordoba.
Interestingly, despite pitchers being an often-chosen commodity in Rule 5, it is worth noting that none of the three most-prominent pitchers left unprotected by St. Louis in the MLB phase were taken on Thursday – lefties Corey Littrell and Ryan Sherriff and right-hander Trey Nielsen. All remain Cardinals property.
Cardinals make no MLB selections
Unlike the last three years, the Cardinals came into the Major League phase of the 2016 Rule 5 Draft with limited roster flexibility. With a steady pipeline of prospects at or close to the majors, this time, the club had 39 players on its 40-man roster.
That meant they could conceivably add just one Major Leaguer, but realisitically, especially selecting relatively late in the draft (19th based on games won last season), the pickings would likely be slim, anyway.
The Cardinals ended up passing in the MLB phase.
Last year’s picks, Perdomo (going out) and Matt Bowman (coming in), were the first Cardinals to be lost and taken, respectively, in the Major League phase since 2011, and both stuck.
Some pundits expected the increased price of $100,000, up from $50,000 in prior years, would tamp down Rule 5 interest this year, but that did not turn out to be the case.
The overall total of 18 players taken in the MLB phase is up from 16 a year ago and 14 the year prior, when the Cardinals were not involved, either as a supplier or buyer.
For the Cardinals, 2017 was a very different Rule 5 Draft from the year before, when the club selected three pitchers and lost a total of eight players.
This time, St. Louis lost three players and added just one. Along with Cordoba in the Major League phase, infielder Matt Williams and reliever Kyle Grana were taken off St. Louis‘ rosters in the Triple-A phase. In the latter segment, the Cardinals picked up outfielder Austin Wilson.
In the Triple-A phase of the 2016 Rule 5 Draft - the only minor league designation this year - the Cardinals were less busy than last year, when they lost a whopping eight minor league players. The year before, St. Louis had no players selected.
Cost per pick at this level was increased to $24,000 this year, up from $12,000 in prior Rule 5 drafts. 39 players were taken overall, with St. Louis losing two and adding one.
In the first round, infielder Williams was snapped up by the Angels before St. Louis selected outfielder Wilson from Seattle. Reliever Grana was taken by the other Los Angeles team, the Dodgers, in the second round. That closed out the Cardinals‘ activity for the day.
It is important to understand that the minor league players selected in the Triple-A phase – Williams and Grana - will not be returning to the Cardinals. In the same vein, Wilson will not have to be offered back to Seattle, no matter where he is assigned in 2017.
The players - Cordoba
The loss of Cordoba, at least temporarily, is the big story for the Cardinals in this draft. The 21-year-old Panamanian native was a repeat Rule 5 eligible player due to his first minor league contact having been voided due to an issue with his medicals that was later resolved.
In 2015, the shortstop was the Gulf Coast League’s Most Valuable Player and he was The Cardinal Nation’s choice as system-wide Player of the Year. Moving up to the Appalachian League in 2016, Cordoba earned his second consecutive batting title. He was TCN’s Johnson City Player of the Year.
Yet, his relative inexperience, having never played above rookie ball, is likely the reason the Cardinals gambled by not placing him on the 40-man roster this fall. Sometimes, organizations are willing to take that risk, expecting that the player has a low chance of being able to remain on a major league roster for the entire following season.
That seems the case with Cordoba. Had MLB rosters expanded to 26 players, as was on the table in the recent CBA negotiations, it would have helped the Padres. As it is, San Diego has to be willing to use one of its five bench spots all next season on a player who has never seen a pitch at even the Class-A level.
Already, I have been asked a number of times to assess Cordoba’s odds of remaining with San Diego. My answer is that we still plan to include him in our current Cardinals Top 50 Prospect List countdown for 2017, albeit with a big asterisk attached.
Wilson has familiar name
Cardinals minor league fans may remember Wilson, a California prep star (who attended the same high school as pitching prospect Jack Flaherty) wooed by the club prior to the 2010 Draft. Despite Wilson’s decision to attend Stanford University, the Cardinals selected him in the 12th round that June.
Three years later, the Mariners made the now-24-year-old their second-round pick. This time, Wilson signed. After short-season ball in 2013, the right-handed hitter had a standout 2014 at the Class-A level, with a slash line of .291/.376/.517/.893. He hit 12 home runs and plated 54 in 72 games with Clinton of the Midwest League.
His progress stopped the last two years, both spent at the high-A level, as the strapping 6-foot-4, 250-pounder batted a combined .233 over 213 games. Of particular concern to me is his 31 percent strikeout rate in the California League.
One would think Wilson will get a shot with Double-A Springfield this coming spring, though for now, based on where he ended the 2016, I am placing him on our Palm Beach roster.
Speaking of Double-A, that is where the 27-year-old Williams had spent parts of each of the prior three seasons before sticking with Triple-A Memphis for all of 2016. St. Louis‘ 15th-rounder in the 2011 draft has been a versitile infielder but lacks the hit tool likely needed to stick in the bigs.
With the Redbirds last season, the right-handed hitter put up a slash line of .263/.355/.346/.701, showing good on-base skills, but little pop. Defensively, Williams is primarily a shortstop, but can play just about anywhere - with first base and catcher being the only spots on the diamond at which he has yet to appear as a professional.
Grana getting another chance
Grana has been a solid, but slow-moving reliever in the Cardinals system. The non-drafted free agent signed in 2013 who hails from Wildwood, MO spent each of the last three seasons at one level each, with no in-season promotions.
The 25-year-old right-hander closed for State College in 2014, at Peoria in 2015 and eventually for Palm Beach in 2016, after Kevin Herget and Rowan Wick were promoted to Springfield.
Grana has a stellar career ERA of 1.66 and 42 saves in 48 opportunities with an opponents‘ batting average against of just .192. His bugaboo is free passes, with a career rate of 4.1 walks per nine innings. This winter, Grana pitched briefly in Mexico, where the walk problems continued.
This year, a total of 57 players were taken in the Rule 5 Draft – 18 in the MLB phase and 39 in the Triple-A phase. That is down slightly from the total of 65 in 2015.
Of those 57 players moving across MLB, only four impacted St. Louis after a whopping 11 either left the Cardinals (eight) or joined them (three) the year before.
Since the addition of Wilson does not affect the 40-man roster, the Cardinals continue to sit at 39 players.
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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