There are three phases to the draft each year: a major league phase, a Triple-A phase and a Double-A phase. That part hasn't changed. There are, however, some minor changes to other parts of the draft this year as a result of baseball's new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
In years past, players that were 18 years of age or younger on or before June 5 and had signed their first professional contract could become Rule Five eligible after four years of minor league service. Players 19 or older would become eligible after three years of minor league service.
With the new agreement in place, an extra year was added to the eligibility process for both sets of players. Teams can protect players from being drafted by placing them on their 40-man rosters.
In the major league phase of the draft, a player selected must remain on his new club's 25-man roster throughout the entire season that follows or be offered back to his original club for $25,000.
Selecting a player in the major league portion of the draft will cost a team $50,000. For players selected in the Triple-A and Double-A phases, that price is $12,000 and $4,000, respectively. Players placed on their club's Triple-A reserve list are protected from being drafted in the minor league phase of the draft.
Over the years, the Cubs have had a fair amount of players (mostly pitchers) selected in the major league portion of the draft. Several recent examples are right-handed pitchers Juan Mateo and Jason Szuminski, and left-handers Luke Hagerty and Andy Sisco.
In most cases, those players were all returned to the Cubs without having completed a full year with the team that drafted them. Sisco proved the exception to the rule in large part because he was drafted by a club with little to no expectation of competing for a playoff spot the following year.
Of the Cubs' players eligible for Rule Five consideration this year, all were drafted no later than 2003. And while players that recently signed with the organization as minor league free agents and were invited to big league camp (such as INF Jason Smith) next spring are eligible for the draft, any would-be teams interested in their services perceivably would have signed that player via minor league free agency when the opportunity arose.
Additionally, players who signed minor league contracts with the Cubs during this past season (such as right-hander Ryan Bicondoa) are also eligible for the draft, as are players that signed on through 2007 that otherwise would have become six-year minor league free agents at the end of this past season (Carmen Pignatiello, for example).
As noted, roughly 48 Cubs minor leaguers are exposed to this year's Rule Five Draft. One of the men responsible for overseeing which players were protected from exposure was Cubs Scouting Director Tim Wilken.
Wilken spent time at every level of the Cubs' farm system this past season, often scouting which players to protect and which to risk losing. Last month, the Cubs made a decision on two such players to protect when they added pitchers Rocky Cherry and Clay Rapada to the 40-man roster.
That still left dozens of players exposed to other clubs who might be interested in obtaining the services of several Cubs minor leaguers.
Asked which player Wilken thought might stand the strongest chance of being taken this year, one name in particular rose up.
"I think he's going to be a pretty good big leaguer and I think he goes a little unnoticed because of the depth we have at his position," Wilken said of the player. "I don't think it will hurt us [if we lose him] because of that depth."
The player Wilken was referring to was second baseman Mike Fontenot, acquired by the Cubs in the trade that sent Sammy Sosa to Baltimore in February, 2005. The 26-year-old Fontenot has hit .272 and .296 the past two seasons at Triple-A Iowa and was the O's first-round draft pick in 2001.
In large part because of the players surrounding him at his position (most of which were originally drafted and signed by the Cubs incidentally), Fontenot has received only one call-up to the major league team since arriving from the Orioles in spite of his otherwise solid numbers at Triple-A.
"He's a steady, blue-collared player that puts the ball in play," Wilken said when describing Fontenot. "He's a solid defensive player and I think all that plays out well for someone, somewhere. Is he going to be a front line offensive player? Maybe not, but he's going to be a steady one. I can see the guy hitting .280 anywhere he plays and hitting 35 or 40 doubles a year."
In five minor league seasons, Fontenot is a career .287 hitter in 606 games.
Fontenot isn't the only first-round pick on the list of Cubs minor leaguers exposed to the draft. Joining him are three first-round selections from the 2002 draft: pitchers Bobby Brownlie, Chadd Blasko and Luke Hagerty.
All three had promising starts to their professional careers. But Blasko hasn't thrown a single pitch in an actual minor league contest since June, 2004, the result of multiple shoulder setbacks. Hagerty underwent Tommy John Surgery in early 2003, then later sustained an injury to his pitching finger and has since suffered through alarming control problems.
As for Brownlie, the 26-year-old Rutgers alum suffered through the worst season of his career both professionally and otherwise this past season. He began the year at Triple-A for the second straight year, but was demoted to Double-A a month into the season and was set for another demotion, this one to Class-A Daytona, before a last second change of plans by the Cubs.
Of those three players in particular, Brownlie would still figure to have the best chance of being picked up.
"I really don't think his stuff is anywhere toward what it was when he was a sophomore at Rutgers," Wilken said of Brownlie. "Maybe it's a quirk in his delivery or other things that he needs to tweak around and get right."
Wilken said he believes Brownlie can still be a major league pitcher, but added that he believes opposing hitters have simply caught on to the once-promising top-round pick.
"He's got to find a happy medium inside that delivery to where he can still get full production but not be as visible to hitters," said Wilken. "Like I said, the stuff's not as dominant as it was at Rutgers. The velocities aren't there and neither is the sharpness of the breaking ball. It's not something he can't get back, so it's tweaking around in his delivery and seeing what we can salvage."
The Rule Five Draft is scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 7.
Tentative Cubs Minor Leaguers Exposed to Rule Five Draft: