Before the end of Tuesday, the Cardinals and the other 29 teams will make a commitment to prospects and other minor-leaguers they believe are worth protecting from the annual Rule 5 draft.
The Cardinals must submit a revised 40-man roster that will include a sprinkling of new names; names of prospects they don't want the other 29 teams to have a shot at taking for the 2013 season.
After the release of Kyle McClellan last week, the Cardinals reduced the number of players on the 40-man roster to 36. Pitcher Brandon Dickson is also expected to be removed before the roster is submitted, giving the Cardinals at least five open spots. (Updated late Monday: Dickson has been released by the Cardinals, according to MLB transactions. Dickson is going to the Orix Buffaloes of Japan's major league.) There could be other tidy-up moves made to clear more room. Lefty Barret Browning and righty Eduardo Sanchez, both of whom appeared in the majors in 2012, have been discussed.
There is a long list of minor-league players who will be available in the Rule 5 draft -- including the minor-league phase of the draft -- if the Cardinals elect not to protect them.
There are a few obvious prospects who will be added: righty Jorge Rondon, the power-arm reliever, has already been placed on the 40-man roster to keep him from reaching free agency. Lefty Kevin Siegrist is a no-brainer after his strong turn in the Arizona Fall League and considering the Cardinals' depth on the left side of the staff. Eric Fornataro, who had an impressive stint as a reliever in Class AA, is a favorite to be added because of his power and new role. ***UPDATE: Starlin Rodriguez does not have to be protected. This information was wrong when the entry was originally posted this morning. Rodriguez's original contract (with Tampa Bay) was voided and thus the Cardinals have another year before he has to be protected. Rodriguez would have been an interesting decision this fall after batting .300/.373/.442 in 114 games for High-A Palm Beach.
The rules regarding protection are simple:
- Players who were 19 or older when they signed and have been in the organization for four years.
- Players who were 18 or younger when they signed and have been in the organization for five years.
Here is a selection of the minor leaguers who are Rule 5 eligible this season, per the rules above, and may have recognizable names for the folks who follow the Cardinals' farm system closely. I also added some notes to a few of them.
3B Roberto De La Cruz -- The first of this recent way of high-bonus players signed from international markets. He signed for $1.1 million. De La Cruz got to a full-season club for the first time this season. He hit .207/.224/.306 with five homers in 62 games at Low-A Quad Cities. He has been lapped by many of the international signings that got less than him and came after him.
OF Tommy Pham -- Injuries have really hampered the outfielders ability to get traction in the organization and move up its ranks. He started as a shortstop before a move to the outfield made him one of the better fielders at his position.
... Zach Russell ... John Gaub ... Brock Peterson ... Jonathan Rodriguez ... David Medina ... Luis Mateo ... Ildemaro Vargas ... and shortstop Cesar Valera, who was ranked as high as No. 30 in Baseball America's top 30 for the organization back in 2010.
RHP Adam Reifer -- He was one of three players removed from the 40-man roster earlier this month, joining Steven Hill and Bryan Anderson. Reifer passed through waivers and the other teams didn't claim him. That's often a sign that he's going to get through the Rule 5 draft, because teams already had a crack at him when the price wasn't as high.
RHP Yunior Castillo and RHP Robert Stock -- Now these are two interesting players who are up for protection. Both have been converted from position players to pitchers, and both were considered prospects as position players, though their arm strength was definitely a factor in those rankings. Check out their stats as pitchers this season:
Castillo at Batavia, Quad Cities -- 3-3, 3.57 ERA, 25 games (all in relief), 35 1/3 IP, 36 hits allowed, seven walks, 36 strikeouts, six homers allowed.
Stock at Quad Cities -- 5-2, 4.56 ERA, 38 games (two starts), 71 IP, 61 hits allowed, 48 walks, 66 strikeouts, nine homers allowed.
This was Stock's first extended look on the mound since college, and the decision to move him to pitching was presented to him during spring training by manager Mike Matheny. He has good stuff and the Cardinals did make an investment in him -- a second-round pick and a $525,000 bonus to go with a promise of giving him every chance to advance as a catcher -- so there's reason to stick with him. One thing to keep in mind about Stock is he's eligible for the minor-league portions of the draft, too, and the roster requirement isn't as restrictive as it is with the major-league portion of the Rule 5.
... Richard Castillo, who was a highly-regarded prospect as a teen pitcher in High-A. ... Michael Swinson ... Virgil Hill ... Alan Ahmady ... lefty Nick Additon ... Deryk Hooker ... Michael Blazek ... Kevin Thomas ... Jermaine Curtis ... lefty Anthony Ferrara ... and Xavier Scruggs, a power source at Class AA who fits on the Cardinals' depth chart at first base.
RHP Scott Gorgen -- Had a solid return from surgery and missing all of 2011. In eight starts for Class AAA Memphis, Gorgen was 1-2, 4.14 ERA. Overall, he had 119 strikeouts and 119 hits allowed in 129 1/3 innings split between Class AA and Memphis.
RHP Eric Fornataro -- Wrote about him and the likelihood of protecting him back in September when it was time to rank the Bird Land 7. I'll just copy/paste that entry here:
7. Eric Fornatero, RHP (drafted 185th overall, 2008) • The burly righty doesn't arrive as a prospect with the usual trappings — high draft pick, big bonus, instant success — but does bring the heat. Repurposed as a reliever, He has blossomed with a 97-98 mph fastball and a hard breaking ball. His fastball and his focus are a better fit for short-bursts of success, rather than the sustained effectiveness required of a starter. He'll come to spring with a crack at being in the mix for the majors' inevitable relief opening.
LHP Kevin Siegrist -- He's been mentioned a lot around here this season. He's a lefty. He's been a starter. Injuries, most of them of the nagging variety, have kept him from complete seasons. He has the stuff and the frame and other goodies of a prospect. Could see a move to the bullpen. It would not be unreasonable to expect him to appear in the majors at some point in 2013.
... Lefty Nick Greenwood, who was part of the Cardinals' three-team trade with San Diego and Cleveland that sent Ryan Ludwick west and brought Jake Westbrook in from the Indians ... Catcher Audry Perez ... Jose Garcia ... toolsy outfielder Michael Swinson ... Chris Swauger.
RHP Keith Butler -- He's pitching in the Dominican Winter League after a breakthrough season that makes him an interesting call, similar to the one the Cardinals almost had with Luke Gregerson several years ago. Take careful note with that comparison: The timing is the same. The stuff isn't. Butler took over the closer's job in Class AA Springfield and finished the season with 25 regular-season saves and a 5-1, 2.76 ERA line. In 53 games, he pitched 58 2/3 innings, struck out 59, and walked 23. His fastball goes at about 92 mph, and he makes that more effective with a slider that goes 82-83 mph. He goes slider, slider, slider as a closer and the breaking pitch was very effective for him.
That's the group. Again, there are other players who are eligible for the Rule 5. I gave you a pretty good sampling of the familiar names within the Cardinals system.
Any player taken in the Rule 5 draft must be kept on the major-league roster for the entire 2013 season for the selecting team to gain control of that player's rights. Remember how the Cardinals selected outfielder Erik Komatsu last December from Washington and he broke camp with the team. When there wasn't room for him on the roster anymore, the Cardinals then had to pass him through waivers before offering him back to Washington. Minnesota grabbed him at that point.
Sometimes teams will gamble that a player might be taken in the Rule 5 draft, but likely won't stick with the picking team. The Cardinals did that with lefty Tyler Johnson several years ago and got him back.
The Cardinals also in the past have not submitted a full 40-man roster so that they have at least one spot open for a Rule 5 pick of their own. That will allow them to look, for example, through the other teams' available players for a lefty reliever.