The list of Rule 5 susceptible players is a bit surprising to me, as I expected more difficult decisions to be facing the organization. Then again, perhaps it is a reasonable representation of the Cardinals system as a whole. There are a number of good players in the pool, dominated by pitchers. Yet there are none whom future greatness as a major leaguer seems assured.
I whittled the list down to a top 10 of whom I feel deserve serious consideration. It should also be noted that reliever Jorge Rondon was added to the 40-man roster earlier to head off his potential free agency.
Before we proceed, we need to look at the Cardinals' 40-man roster to determine how many spots may be used for protection of these prospects. With the expected removal of pitcher Brandon Dickson, the organization will have 35 players on their 40-man.
Technically, that means they could protect as many as five players. That seems unlikely however, because they would then not have any room to add an available player from another organization in the Rule 5 draft.
The Cards may also want to ensure they have enough roster space to sign major league free agents during this off-season. My expectation is that they will add at least one additional major leaguer this winter – a left-handed reliever to work alongside Marc Rzepczynski. They may also look to Rule 5 to help address this need.
The 2013 Cardinals could bring in at least one veteran infielder and one veteran outfielder to major league camp to compete for openings. Though perhaps higher quality players might be desired, one or both could be signed on minor league, make-good contracts, without immediately impacting the 40-man.
Another action that could help the organization relieve a bit of 40-man roster pressure would be a trade of multiple players for one, such as a reliever and a middle infielder for a better middle infielder, for example.
Yet another practical alternative would be to drop another marginal player or two from the 40-man after the Rule 5 draft, if needed. One such option could be lefty Barret Browning.
Therefore, I am going to assume that one or more of the above examples to further reduce the roster will come to pass over the winter if additional spots are needed. For the Rule 5, I will assume the Cardinals would consider protecting just four and keep the last one of the five for a potential addition via Rule 5 or other use down the road.
The candidates and projections
Following are my top 10 candidates, broken down by position. My thought process is intertwined with another project I am working on behind the scenes – my Cardinals top prospect list for 2013.
|Top 10 Rule 5 eligibles||Pos||2012||Protect|
|Tommy Pham||OF||Springfield (inj)|
Perez, 23, may be the best catching prospect in the system. For sure, he is the one closest to the majors. With Bryan Anderson gone and Perez having 1 ½ seasons at Double-A, the right-handed hitter seems poised to move up to Memphis for 2013.
Three other pitchers all have a decent case and could be added, but I didn't see enough from them to be able to forecast a protect move. In addition, they face a crowded field and a cloudy future in trying to reach St. Louis.
Richard Castillo altered his delivery and improved his results at Springfield. Despite seemingly having been around forever, the right-hander just turned 23 last month.
Scott Gorgen missed all of 2011 due to Tommy John surgery and is in the process of rebuilding his top prospect status. However, he turns 26 in January.
Keith Butler impressed as Springfield's closer, but movement and usage patterns indicated he took a back seat to Rondon in terms of prospect grooming. The righty lacks the mid-to-upper 90's heat of many of his bullpen competitors.
My last bubble player is the only other one of the 10 (in addition to the three projected additions) to contend for a spot among my top 46 prospects – Tommy Pham. If healthy, the outfielder would be a definite protect move, but given his injury history, I can't see the Cardinals putting him on the 40-man just yet. Further, I can't see another organization taking a chance on him now.
The other names among the 10 include a pitcher to have contributed in Memphis' rotation - lefty Nick Additon. Currently pitching in winter ball in Mexico, his name does not come up when left-handed options for St. Louis are considered.
Infielders Jermaine Curtis and Xavier Scruggs also made my short list. Curtis is versatile defensively and had a standout 2011 season offensively, but hasn't stuck at Memphis yet. His Springfield teammate Scruggs remains an intriguing power bat, but also endures long stretches of strikeouts.
One final note. It is important to remember that the best players are not always the ones protected. One also has to take into account the chances of a player being able to hold down a major league 25-man roster spot for an entire season. If he could not do that, he would be returned to the Cardinals, anyway.
Coming soon. I will be back with the Cardinals' Rule 5 protected lists by level. In future installments, we will look potential targets of the Cardinals in this Rule 5 Draft, plus the organization's past history in Rule 5 Drafts, in the major and minor league phases, both as a supplier and selector of players. Of course, on draft day, we will then break down any Rule 5 activity that affects the Cardinals.
Remember that to see the entire Cardinals system in one graphical view, check out the Roster Matrix, kept updated at The Cardinal Nation Blog.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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