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Brief Notes on the 2020 Rule 5 Draft: Cards Lose 2 Pitchers and Gain 1 in the Minor League Phase

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San Francisco Giants Photo Day Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

The Rule 5 draft took place on Thursday, and while it was fairly uneventful for the Cardinals, clubs in the aggregate across the major and minor league phases made 74 picks, which was the most since the 2004 draft. Clubs made 18 choices in the major league portion, which, along with 2016 and 2017, was the most since the 2010 draft.

As I expected they would, the Cards passed in the major league phase. A pick in that phase would require the club to not only add the player to the 40-man roster, but keep the player on the active roster (we expect the size of that roster this year to be 26) all season. If a club wants to send drafted player in the major league phase to the minors, it must first place the player on outright assignment waivers, and then offer the player back to the club from which he was drafted for $50,000, half the draft price. Fifteen out of the total choices were right-handed pitchers, as it is most likely for a reliever to stick under this scheme.

If one assumes that the roster rules will allow 26 players with a maximum of 13 pitchers, that leaves the club with 8 relievers. Andrew Miller, John Gant and Tyler Webb can’t be optioned. You would think that Jordan Hicks, Giovanny Gallegos, Alex Reyes, Ryan Helsley and Genesis Cabrera are locks. That leaves no jobs for either Daniel Ponce de Leon or Carlos Martinez, neither of whom can be optioned. Maybe Martinez wins a rotation job, but if he doesn’t, you would figure him to be in the bullpen if he’s not traded. So the club would have to either option someone like Cabrera or DFA Webb to accommodate him. This of course, also assumes that Austin Gomber wins a rotation job. If they made a move to accommodate one of those two guys, there are still no active roster spots to be had for someone that can’t be optioned to the minor leagues. And we haven’t even talked about Seth Elledge, Junior Fernandez, Johan Oviedo, Jake Woodford, Angel Rondon or Kodi Whitley. At some point soon, you can expect the club to trim relievers, not add them without a corresponding cut.

The minor league phase, however, is a different story. The draft eligibility of players in either the major league portion or minor league portion is the same, with one important difference. If a player is listed on a club’s AAA roster, he may only be drafted in the major league phase, which, as I said above, requires carrying that player on the drafting club’s active roster all year. A player may be drafted in the minor league portion, however, if he was placed on a reserve list at the AA level or below. There actually used to be separate minor league phases that went all the way down the minor league scale, with the draft prices dropping at each rung. This structure has been in place since the December 2016 draft when the “AA phase” was eliminated. Players drafted in the minor league phase only cost $24,000 and have absolutely no restrictions on them. They can be drafted, placed on the AAA reserve list, and then sent to play in Rookie ball if the club wants, and the old club has no right to get him back.

The Cards neither drafted nor lost any player in the major league phase. In the minor league phase, the Cards drafted one player and lost two.

CARDINAL LOSSES

*RHP Jordan Brink, taken by the Tampa Bay Rays.

I actually didn’t think Brink was eligible to be drafted in the minor league phase. Although he met the other eligibility requirements, I thought the Cards had placed him on the AAA Memphis reserve list when reserve lists were filed on November 20th. On the night of the deadline, the Memphis Redbirds had an updated roster of 33 players on their web page, and among that list were players who had not been there before. Brink was on that list, which I thought meant that he was on the AAA reserve list and thus could only have been taken in the major league phase. Since Brink was taken in the minor league portion, what I saw on the web must not have been the official list that was sent in to the Commissioner’s Office at the deadline on November 20th.

Who was Brink? Well, the Cards actually selected Brink in last year’s Rule 5 draft from the Milwaukee Brewers organization, also in the minor league portion. I wrote him up at the time in this piece. Milwaukee had plucked him out of indy ball after he had apparently washed out of the Cubs organization with injuries and control problems. He has never made it past the Short-Season A level and will turn 28 in March. But he throws close to 100 mph. He never got to pitch in the Cardinal organization because the minor league season was cancelled and he was not part of the Alternate Training Site. He’s only pitched in 22 minor league games, so I suppose all we lost was the interest on $24,000.

*RHP Ronnie Williams, taken by the San Francisco Giants

Because 2020 counted as a minor league season for the purpose of Rule 55, Williams was eligible for automatic minor league free agency on November 2nd. The Cardinals stopped that from happening by signing Williams to a successor minor league deal for the 2021 season. The club did not see fit, however, to put him on the AAA Memphis reserve list to stop him from being taken in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft.

The Cards took Williams in the 2nd round of the 2014 draft out of a high school in the Miami-Date metro area in Florida. After missing most of the 2018 season with an elbow injury and offseason surgery for a primary repair in lieu of Tommy John, he pitched 44 games out of the bullpen across High-A Palm Beach and AA Springfield. When he got up to AA, his walk and home run rates spiked, and he had the worst K/BB ratio he had seen in extended action in his career.

YOUR NEW CARDINAL MINOR LEAGUER

*LHP Garrett Williams, taken from the Los Angeles Angels

This Williams, no relation to Ronnie, was drafted by the Padres in the 33rd round of the 2013 draft, but didn’t sign, instead taking a scholarship to Oklahoma State. He was a highly touted recruit, but struggled to throw strikes, and only threw 73.1 IP in college, with 66 walks. But along with that came 95 strikeouts and a plus curveball, so the Giants took a flyer on the lefthander in the 7th round of the 2016 draft.

While Williams was used mostly out of the bullpen in college, the Giants put him in the rotation, and for his first two minor league seasons, it appeared that his control had come around. But when he was promoted to AA Richmond in the Eastern League in 2018, he took a step backward, with an ERA over 6.00 and a 15% walk rate (6.72/9) against only a 17% strikeout rate. He did have an abnormally high .353 BABIP, but his atrocious walk rate was the major factor in his 5.22 FIP. The Giants sent him to the Arizona Fall League and had him repeat the AA level in 2019. His numbers were better across the board, but he still walked about 5 men per 9 innings. After the 2019 season, the Giants named him as the player to be named later in the Zack Cozart and Will Wilson trade. The Angels did not put Williams in their 60-man Club Player Pool for 2020 and left him on their AA roster.

Williams keeps the ball in the park and on the ground, and has never had a groundball rate less than 53.6% in his minor league career. He’s going to have to develop a more consistent 3rd pitch to stick as a starter, and if he’s going to make the big leagues in any capacity, he’ll have to get his control in order. If he can do that, his low-to-mid 90s fastball and plus curve could play.