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A look at the Rule 5-minor league additions by the Cardinals

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Are any of these players going to pull a John Brebbia and actually make a contribution to the big league club?

St Louis Cardinals v Chicago White Sox
Remember this guy? He was a minor league Rule 5 pick by the Cardinals
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

I hate to delay the extremely anticipated part two of my worst single season performances in Cardinals history, but yesterday we got actual, legitimate baseball news that I can write about. So despite how timely talking about poor performances in the past is, it’s going to have to wait just a bit longer.

In the meantime, that actual baseball news is that the Cardinals selected four players from the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft. That is what passes for exciting news and usually I wouldn’t write a whole article about it, but the Cardinals were more active than usual in yesterday’s draft, selecting four players and losing just one.

Ben DeLuzio, OF

DeLuzio was a highly attractive prospect coming out of high school, with blazing foot speed, a good glove, good bat speed, and a strong arm. He was a shortstop/outfield prospect at the time and was well regarded enough to be drafted 80th overall by the Marlins in the 2013 draft. He did not sign. He was very bad in college. So bad that no team drafted him when the 2016 MLB draft came around. He signed as an undrafted free agent with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

DeLuzio dominated the lower level minors after being drafted, and the Diamondbacks were fairly aggressive for an undrafted guy. They only made him play 4 games in rookie ball before sending him to short season A ball, where he finished his 2016 season with a 137 wRC+. While he was an infield/outfield prospect out of high school, he only played outfield with the Diamondbacks.

His 2017 season ended early, but the Dbacks remained aggressive with him. He had a 125 wRC+ in Low A after 46 games, and then a 116 wRC+ in High A. He only ended up playing 30 games in High A before his season ended. He also had a .423 BABIP in High A. The BABIP to wRC+ ratio is way off. You expect high BABIPS in the minors for players too good for the level, but more like .360. And if it is .423, you hope for a better wRC+ than 116.

Nonetheless, he also missed the beginning of 2018 with whatever undisclosed injury he had, and he was out long enough to where he was able to make a rehab appearance in rookie ball before joining the AA squad. He finished 2018 with just 68 games, and posted a respectable 99 wRC+. But he had a .091 ISO and a .351 BABIP, and even though he was just 23, absolutely not one single thing about his line that year suggests an MLB player.

At 24-years-old in 2019, he repeated AA. He had a higher wRC+ and lower BABIP, but still no power. He got promoted to AAA and... power came. He had a 139 wRC+ with a .206 ISO, but also a .483 BABIP. That’s because, in 145 PAs, he hit just two homers. He hit 12 doubles and 4 triples. His momentum was completely halted from the pandemic, and he appeared to be used as a bench player at this point, because he got just 265 PAs splitting time between AA and AAA in 2021, and near as I can tell, spent zero time on the injured list.

That’s probably where he’ll be as a Cardinal minor leaguer. For whatever it’s worth though, DeLuzio very much fits in with the major league Cardinal brand, being very fast and presumably great at defense. Here is a short highlight video of DeLuzio in AAA back in 2019, presumably made by his family. Optimistically, he seems like a better version of Scott Hurst. Like I don’t know what they’re planning to do with him or Hurst, but the two are redundant on the same roster.

Carlos Guarate, RHP

If OOTP offered the minor league Rule 5 draft, which I have always wanted them to do, but is probably way too complicated to even bother, this is the kind of player I would draft. I always need High A pitching arms for some reason, and this is a guy who will end up repeating High A as a 21-year-old. This player does not exist in free agency. It doesn’t even matter if his numbers were bad, he’s just so young at a relatively high level.

It does not hurt that he was a legitimate prospect even as recently as the beginning of the 2021 season. He was the #17 Padres prospect according to Fangraphs. I think nearly all of that was his age and what level he was at, but still. I admittedly know very little about how the minor league portion works, but it sure seems like Guarate should have been protected.

Signed out of Venezuela in 2017, Guarate made it to High A as fast as he did, mostly because he was very young when he started. He was fairly good at just 17-years-old in the Dominican Summer League, and he posted respectable stats at 18-year-sold in the AZL. He even got a start in Low A in 2019. It was a good start too! 4 IP, 5 Ks, BB, one earned run.

So two years later, he started 2021 in Low A. He was not especially good to be honest, but he struck out 21.5% of hitters and walked just 4.1%. I’m actually not entirely sure why his line is as bad as it is, because a 42.8 GB% isn’t even bad. But the overall line of 4.94 ERA, 4.59 FIP, 4.58 xFIP just isn’t going to turn many heads. He did get promoted after 58.1 IP though. His numbers in High A are quite bad though. He wasn’t ready. 12.6 K%, 7.4 BB%, 39 GB% and 5.37 FIP with a 7.30 ERA.

I mean honestly, not only is this exactly who I’d like to draft in OOTP, this is exactly who I think you should be drafting in real life. It’s a perfect pick, even if he doesn’t amount to anything.

Jonah Davis, OF

Okay, this is not who I’d draft. Davis was a 15th round pick by the Pirates in 2018 and if drafted by the Cardinals would be pretty on brand. Because he was just 20-years-old despite coming out of college. Cards love the young even for their class prospects, with Dylan Carlson being the easiest example. He demolished the Appy league, hitting for a 156 wRC+ with nothing too discouraging in his line either.

Only when he came to Low A in 2019 did something alarming come up. Because despite a 135 wRC+, he had a 36.2 K%. He coupled that with immense power, slugging 19 homers in 359 PAs. His BABIP of .351 wasn’t even concerningly high. But someone who strikes out that much in the lower level is going to have to improve or will not make the majors.

He got worse. After the pandemic removed his age 22 season, he struck out 43.9% of the time in High A and upon promotion, 43% of the time in AA. He somehow had above average lines at both levels with those strikeouts rates. In just a little over 350 combined PAs, he hit 15 homers. This is as clear as a “one tweak away” player as you’ll ever see. He has a good eye, posting above a 10%+ BB rates at both High A and AA this year. But the Cardinals are drafting him in the hopes they can cut his K rate to merely bad levels instead of “so is he just coming to the plate without a bat some of the time?” levels.

And I can’t speak to his defense, but he appears to primarily have played CF for the Pirates. I have no idea how fast he is, but he’s godawful at stealing bases, stealing 17 career bases against 23 caught stealing! Someone tell him to never attempt to steal again. But if he legitimately can play CF, he’s got everything except those pesky strikeouts. Honestly, upon further reflection, this is a good pick. Going to be 24 in AA next year. He’s probably good if they can cut his K rate to 30%. But they probably can’t. It costs nothing to see if they can.

Nelfri Contreras, LHP

This must be a pure scouting thing. The other three have pretty good stories. A momentum halted (due to pandemic) older outfielder, a very young starter at a high level, and an age appropriate outfielder who simply needs to cut his Ks. This guy is not young for his level and he was not good at the level he was at. At 22-years-old, he posted a 5.88 FIP in Low A. He was a reliever too.

He has one thing going for him though, and that’s that he gets a lot of groundballs. Which isn’t much help when a fourth of all flyballs hit against him leave the park. I hate to seem too down on the guy, but I can at least see an optimistic angle for the other three, and I got nothing here. He seems to be pure depth. Of course knowing how baseball works, this is the one guy who will actually make the majors. Which isn’t crazy because relievers are stupid unpredictable. But yeah for now, nothing exciting here.

And to finish off my article, let’s look at the guy the Cardinals lost

Moises Castillo, SS

Kind of a fascinating player to leave off the protected list. I think it may due to him being eligible for minor league free agency after 2022 and the Cardinals just not seeing a route where they actually add him to the 40 man roster. Because I’m not too down on Castillo actually, but it just seems extremely unlikely he’s worth adding to a 40 man after 2022.

Signed at just 16-years-old out of the Dominican Republic, Castillo has had a very slow ascent through the minors. 108 wRC+ at the DSL, then promotion. 101 wRC+ at the GCL, then promotion. 99 wRC+ at short season A ball then promotion. 2020 would have been his Low A season. Instead he skipped straight to High A. I suspect Palm Beach going to Low A motivated this, but he kind of justified the move by holding his own. He wasn’t good, with an 89 wRC+, but that’s not awful either.

He maybe got an audition in AA to see if he was worth protecting in this particular draft, and if that’s the case, he failed. He was very bad in AA. In 61 PAs, he didn’t have a single extra base hit. His final wRC+ ended up being a 14. So that’s my best guess. Cardinals were fine losing him because they suspected they’d lose him soon anyway, despite him only being 22-years-old going into 22.

Definitely an interesting list of players, with reasons to not trust any of them, and a relatively optimistic reason to believe in them as well. Here’s to the next baseball news please dear god being earlier than March.