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Cards Lose Two and Pick Three in Minor League Portion of the Rule 5 Draft

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MLB: Colorado Rockies at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Today being the last day of the Winter Meetings, the Rule 5 draft was the last order of business. Most of you know what the Rule 5 draft is, but in case there are some that are fuzzy on the details, there is currently a Major League phase of the draft and a “AAA” or Minor League phase. There used to be a “AA” phase, but that was abolished a couple of years ago. In general, to be eligible for selection in the Rule 5 draft, the current draft must be the 4th Rule 5 draft from the date of the player’s signing if the player was 19 years of age or over when he signed, and the 5th Rule 5 draft from the date of the player’s signing if the player was under 19 when he signed. The Rules are a little more complex than that, but it covers the overwhelming majority of cases.

In the Major League phase, clubs may draft players from the AAA reserve lists of other clubs for $100,000. Well, actually a club could theoretically draft a player from a lower classification reserve list in this phase, but it would be monumentally stupid, because such players could be drafted in the Minor League phase without all the restrictions and for much cheaper. Teams drafting such a player in the Major League phase must keep that player on their 25-man (soon-to-be 26-man) active roster for the entire upcoming season. They may not option that player to the minor leagues without first putting the player on outright assignment waivers, and then offering to sell the player to the club from which he was drafted for $50,000 (half the Rule 5 draft price). Such a player may be placed on the injured list, but if his injuries result in him not being on the active roster for at least 90 days, the Rule 5 restrictions carry forward to the next season until he has spent 90 days on the active roster.

Going into today’s draft, the Cards had a full 40-man roster, which means they were not allowed to make a selection in the Major League phase, and did not therefore make such a selection. The Cardinals did not lose any players in this phase either.

In the minor league phase, clubs may draft players from a reserve list of a classification of AA or lower for $24,000. There are no restrictions for these picks. Clubs must add the player to their 38-man AAA reserve list, but there is no restriction on what level of the minor leagues the player can ultimately play in. What we know for sure is that if a player was taken in the minor league portion of the draft, the club did not see fit to put that player on its 38-man AAA reserve list. Because if the player was on that list, he could only have been drafted in the Major League phase.

The Losses

In this article here, I set forth the list of 48 players across the Cardinal organization that were at risk of being drafted. As it turns out, the Cards only lost 2 of these players, and both in the minor league portion to the AAA Tacoma Rainiers of the Seattle Mariners’ organization.

C Brian O’Keefe

The Cards drafted O’Keefe in the 7th round of the 2014 draft out of St. Joseph’s University. He started to show some pop as a 22-year old playing for A Peoria (13 home runs), but did not see significant time above that level until 2018 where he spent the entire year with Class A-Advanced Palm Beach. His power in the Florida State League went down as expected (6 home runs), but in 288 PA, slashed .243/.358/.412 with a very fine 124 wRC+ and walked 40 times to only 49 strikeouts. Still, he was 24 years old, and it was nothing to get overly excited about.

After being invited to the Cards spring training camp in 2019 as a NRI, O’Keefe played the entire 2019 season as the primary starter for AA Springfield, where his offensive numbers got worse across the board (hitting only league average this time), with the exception of his home run total, which popped back up to 13. Defense, however, is what matters for minor league catchers in the Cardinal organization. Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs flat out calls O’Keefe bad in this piece. In his minor league career, he caught 110 runners out of 377 trying to steal, for a 29.2% CS percentage. This is not considered super strong, but it’s by far the end-all, be-all metric for catcher performance. Clay Davenport also rated O’Keefe as a negative defender at catcher.

With the 26-year old O’Keefe now drafted and Joe Hudson declaring minor-league free agency, the Cardinals’ depth chart at catcher behind Andrew Knizner includes Jose Godoy, Julio Rodriguez, Dennis Ortega and Alexis Wilson. Ivan Herrera is still most likely a couple of years away at the earliest. Godoy was eligible to be declared an automatic minor league free agent at the end of the 2019 season, but the Cards signed him to a successor minor league contract for 2020. Of these catchers, only the 25-year old Godoy has experience above the AA level, and that was only 19 starts for Memphis. Godoy, Ortega and Wilson were all Rule 5-eligible. It stands to reason that if the Cards don’t re-sign Matt Wieters, they will, at a minimum, sign a catcher with major league experience to a minor league deal with an invite to major league spring training.

1B Dariel Gomez

The Cards signed the 6’4” 190 pound Gomez as a 17-year old undrafted free agent out of the Dominican Republic in early December of 2013. He was injured for the entire 2014 season, and didn’t begin play until 2015 for the DSL Cardinals, where he spent 2 seasons. He then spent 2017 with the GCL Cardinals, 2018 with Rookie Johnson City and last season with the Short-Season A State College Spikes.

By wrC+, the 23-year old Gomez has never had a below-average season offensively, and has always been well above average. He has, however, spent 5 straight years in short-season ball. He’s had a smattering of starts in LF in his minor league career, but has played 1B almost exclusively. He doesn’t strike out a ton, and has a good 13.5% career walk percentage. From a power perspective, the best season he had was in 2018 with Johnson City, where he had 6 HR in 185 PA and posted a .454 SLG, along with a .184 ISO. All those numbers went down in 2019 with State College.

It is likely too early to tell whether Gomez will turn out to be a loss of anything significant, although I can’t recall a player the Cards lost in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft in recent years that turned out to be a significant contributor in the majors. In this case, the Cards had too many players who played his positions that needed to be added to the AAA reserve list, that they didn’t feel like they could afford to include him.

The Gains

RHP Jordan Brink (from AZL Brewers Gold of the Milwaukee Brewers)

Brink was actually drafted in the 11th round of the 2014 draft by the Chicago Cubs out of Fresno State. Almost nothing is known about him, because he pitched only 3 games in 2014, 4 games in 2015 and 12 games in 2016. The Cubs organization released Brink during spring training of 2017, and he didn’t reappear in organized baseball until the 2019 season, where he pitched only 3 games for the AZL Gold Brewers in the Rookie Level Arizona League (the west coast counterpart to the Rookie Gulf Coast League).

In total, Brink has pitched only 22 games with 6 starts and 35 innings pitched across 5 minor league seasons in organized baseball. And he will turn 27 in March. In organized baseball, he never made it past Short-Season A Eugene with the Cubs, and that was back in 2016. He spent all of 2017 and 2018 in Independent Ball—2017 with the Pittsburgh Diamonds and River City Rascals and 2018 with the Southern Illinois Miners. He then pitched another 31 games for the Miners in 2019 before the Milwaukee Brewers signed him to a minor league deal just this past August 15th and sent him to the Arizona League for 3 games.

Just one look at his matrix of statistics here, courtesy of baseball-reference.com (which includes his time in independent ball) can tell you that his problem was always control. His time with the 2019 Southern Illinois Miners was the first time in years that he didn’t walk over 5 men per 9 innings (only 3.3 men per 9 this time). The corollary is that he’s always been a high strikeout guy. When he has been able to pitch, he’s almost always posted a K/9 of 10 men or more per 9. According to Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch here, the Cards clocked Brink at throwing 97-99 mph, which is great, assuming he can get the ball over the plate. That must have been the primary draw, because the Cards didn’t have much else to go on, as far as him pitching against minor leaguers.

RHP Enrique Saldana (from DSL Rockies of the Colorado Rockies)

Saldana was originally signed by the Rockies as a 16-year old shortstop and undrafted free agent out of Panama in July of 2015. The Rockies have two teams in the Dominican Summer League, and the 20-year old Saldana has bounced back and forth between the two teams for 4 straight seasons.

After 2 seasons of decent offensive performance, the Rockies organization converted Saldana into a pitcher in 2018, initially putting him in the bullpen. In that season, he had massive control problems, walking 11 to only 12 strikeouts in 10.2 IP over 11 games. But in 2019, they put him into the starting rotation. His strikeout percentage went down a bit, but remarkably, his control came around, this time posting only a 5.7% BB percentage and a 3.5:1 K/BB ratio over 12 starts and 51.1 IP. Even after his conversion to the mound, Saldana has seen a smattering of innings at SS, 3B and 2B over the years.

All of the available sites have Saldana listed at 5’11” and 155 pounds, which is not the typical frame for a starter. According to Goold, he throws about 91 mph, so you’re not looking at an Eduardo Sanchez type of fireballer, either.

RHP Jacob Bosiokovic (from A Asheville of the Colorado Rockies)

Bosiokovic is another converted fielder. The Rockies signed him in the 19th round of the 2016 draft out of Ohio State, where according to this piece by Eric Longenhagen, he played only outfield and had Tommy John surgery after his sophomore year. He spent 2016 in Short-Season A Boise, mostly playing 1B. He moved up to A Asheville in 2017 and split time equally among 1B and the outfield, but he had a “2019 Adolis Garcia season” with less home runs. He walked only 3.2% of the time, while striking out 39% of the time with 15 HR, but still somehow managed to log a 117 wRC+. The Rockies promoted Bosiokovic to Class A-Advanced Lancaster for 2018, but in the 3 months or so that he was able to play, his offense went into the tank. It was only 171 PA, but he slashed .159/.247/.245, his wrC+ cratered to 37 and his ISO dropped from .220 to .086. He also still struck out over 38% of the time. He was only able to play a total of 42 games between May 4th and July 20th in 2018.

Last season, the Rockies decided to move Bosiokovic to the mound and put him in the bullpen for 33 games back with A Asheville. Over 41.2 IP, he only allowed 3 HR with 16 BB and 42 SO, relying on a sinker/slider combination. He’s 6’5” and 240 pounds and will turn 26 years old in about a week. 2019 was the first season Bosiokovic pitched since high school.

Conclusion

Like many Rule 5 drafts, this one was fairly uneventful for the Cardinals. They neither claimed nor lost anyone in the Major League phase. The 40-man roster remains full and was unchanged by the draft. The Cards’ losses in the minor league phase were nothing too concerning—a 26 year old catcher not known for his defense and a 23-year old 1B/OF that is not on the prospect radar and has spent 5 years in a row in short-season ball.

The Cards took some shots in the dark as far as their minor-league gains, taking chances on 3 right-handed pitchers, one of whom has been out of organized baseball for the better part of 3 years but throws real hard and two of whom are converted fielders. Will the Cards find their next John Brebbia out of this lot? Unlikely, but too early to tell. If nothing comes of these guys, there’s no risk, as it only cost the club $24,000 per man, and each can play anywhere in the organization without restrictions.