With the Rule 5 Draft happening on December 10th, we at Diamond Digest have decided to highlight some of the most interesting prospects eligible for the Rule 5 Draft. Today, Mick Callahan looks at the prospects available from NL Central teams.
Note: all organizational rankings and scouting grades are according to MLB.com
LHP – Brendon Little – #30 Cubs Prospect
The 24-year-old lefty was the only prospect left unprotected by the Cubs this winter, and it’s unlikely he’ll be leaving the club through this draft. While Little has shown promise through his time in the minors, it’d be a stretch to consider it worth a selection in the Rule 5 Draft, as it’s unlikely he’s MLB-ready. In 2019, he progressed from Rookie ball to Advanced Class A and demonstrated the capability to reliably retire hitters, with a 3.58 ERA in 55.1 IP over 12 starts and a 57/26 K/BB. Little’s a solid player, but it’s hard to justify a guaranteed roster spot for him.
LHP – Jacob Heatherly – #17 Reds Prospect
Heatherly is still early in his progression and needs more time before being ready for the majors. His 2019 season saw little success in his limited exposure (8.2IP) in Class A ball. The Reds felt little pressure to protect Heatherly, as it’s unlikely anyone will select him.
SS – Alfredo Rodriguez – #18 Reds Prospect
Rodriguez is the first prospect on our list who may be selected in Thursday’s draft. In 2019, Rodriguez played a solid 104 games at Double-A Chattanooga and an additional 23 for Louisville (Triple-A). In Chattanooga, Rodriguez slashed .286/.325/.347 and stole 13 bases. Known to be a defense-first shortstop (60 arm/60 field) and capable of pinch-running (50 run; average speed, high intelligence), Rodriguez is ready to fill a depth role as a utility infielder as the team’s twelfth or thirteenth hitter on the roster — even for teams that are looking to compete for the playoffs this year.
OF – TJ Friedl – #19 Reds Prospect
After being left alone in the 2019 Rule 5 Draft, the Reds will once again allow Friedl to be exposed for the other 29 teams to select. Friedl’s 2019 campaign saw a .235/.347/.385 slash with five homers and 13 swipes. Friedl, unlike Rodriguez, is likely only going to be an attractive pick for a team lacking depth in the outfield, where he would likely take the fifth-outfielder role, with 13 hitters now being rostered by each team under the 26-player rosters.
RHP – Joel Kuhnel – #22 Reds Prospect
Evidently, the Reds do not feel they have a place for Kuhnel to step into their bullpen at the moment, though the 25-year-old appears to be Major League ready after a solid 2019 and being called on for a few appearances in both 2019 and 2020. In 41 appearances in AA and AAA in 2019, Kuhnel posted a 2.18 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP with 50 K over 53.2 IP. His time in the majors has been nothing of note with a 4.97 ERA and a 12/5 K/BB in 12.2 innings. Kuhnel’s fastball is near-elite (70) and he possesses a 50-grade slider to complement; he would be prudent to improve on his changeup, his 40-grade tertiary pitch. It would not be surprising to see a team in need of bullpen help select Kuhnel to fill that role.
OF – Mariel Bautista – #23 Reds Prospect
Aged 23 and out of the Dominican Republic, Bautista has a lot of raw talent on the bases and is a solid outfielder, but his bat still has a long way to go. He barely cleared the .300 OBP mark with the Class-A Dayton Dragons in 2019, and likely needs another year or two of development in the minors. Bautista will likely remain in the Reds system for the 2021 season, and start the year in Advanced-A or possibly with Chattanooga.
RHP – Zack Brown – #14 Brewers Prospect
Brown made 25 appearances (23 starts) in his 2019 campaign at Triple-A San Antonio, to the tune of a meager 5.79 ERA with just 98 Ks in 116.2 IP, compared to 64 walks, and got hit around much like the rest of Triple-A pitchers in 2019. Barring a big improvement behind the scenes in a year without competitive play, it’s doubtful any teams wish to have them on their 2021 rosters with plenty of other options available here and in Free Agency.
C – Payton Henry – #15 Brewers Prospect
A catcher considered defensively-solid with a bit of pop, Henry spent 2019 in A-Advanced Carolina where he posted a .315 OBP and hit 14 bombs. While a promising player, Henry is unlikely to be touched in the draft.
3B/1B – Lucas Erceg – #28 Brewers Prospect
Erceg may find himself a new home in this draft, as he was a serviceable regular with San Antonio in 2019. Through 116 games, he slashed .218/.305/.398 and slugged 15 home runs. While that doesn’t sound “MLB-ready,” it’s likely he’s made strides forward during the absence of play for Minor Leaguers.
OF – Pablo Abreu – #29 Brewers Prospect
The 21-year-old Outfielder played just 27 games at Class-A before the end of the 2019 season and the suspension of the Minors. Abreu is still a long way from making any MLB roster and is one of the least-likely selections so far.
RHP – Santiago Florez – #19 Pirates Prospect
The Colombian right-hander spent the 2019 season at Rookie-league Bristol where his ten starts amounted to 41.2 innings with 36 K’s and a 3.46 ERA, but he’s not going to be ready for the Bigs until at least the beginning of 2023, leaving him off the draft list of the other 29 teams.
2B – Kevin Kramer – #21 Pirates Prospect
Kramer’s 43 games in Pittsburgh over 2018 and 2019 were underwhelming, to say the least, which left him inactive for the entirety of 2020, and now staring down the barrel of a Rule 5 Draft as he’s still been left off the Bucs’ 40-man roster. A team in need of a depth infielder may be interested in taking a risk on Kramer, but there will not be a spot on any playoff-contending roster for him.
OF – Lolo Sanchez – #23 Pirates Prospect
With a projected ceiling of just a fourth-outfielder role, the age-21 speedster split 2019 between Class A and A-Advanced, where he totaled 33 steals over the course of the season and a .345 OBP to give the Pirates some hope for Sanchez’s future. Barring a major improvement since the end of the 2019 season, however, Sanchez is going to be off-the-radar for the purposes of this draft.
RHP – Travis MacGregor – #30 Pirates Prospect
After missing 2019 with Tommy John, and the absence of a 2020 season, MacGregor’s status is beyond “unknown”. The righty dominated Rookie League and Class-A in 2018 over 17 starts, striking out 80 hitters to just 22 walks in 70.2 innings of work. Any team considering selecting MacGregor in the Rule 5 would be taking a major risk.
St. Louis Cardinals
C – Julio Rodriguez – #15 Cardinals Prospect
The most-likely selection of any of the Cardinals’ exposed prospects, Rodriguez is a solid defensive catcher whose hitting capabilities are still in doubt. Graded at 45 contact and 40 power, Rodriguez slashed .268/.311/.393 at A-Advanced Palm Beach and Double-A Springfield with eight homers. Given the current situation in St. Louis, Rodriguez is the leading candidate for the backup-catcher role come Opening Day 2022, unless one of the other 29 teams feel the Dominican backstop is ready for a spot on their roster; though even Rodriguez’s current employers do not feel he is ready to fill the empty slot behind Andrew Knizner.
UTIL – Juan Yepez – #24 Cardinals Prospect
Yepez, playing primarily at first, third, and the outfield, has been slated by the Cardinals to probably start the 2021 season with their Triple-A affiliates, the Memphis Redbirds. Yepez could join a growing line of other Redbird utility prospects who’ve made contributions at Busch Stadium like Skip Schumaker, Daniel Descalso, and Edmundo Sosa…..except he might turn out to be a better hitter. Yepez posted a .343 on-base and a .446 slugging percentage over Class-A, A-Advanced, and Double-A, along with ten homers and thirteen doubles. Though there’s no room on the Cardinals’ roster for Yepez at the time, a team needing a corner infielder and/or outfielder may feel differently.
RHP – Roel Ramirez – #27 Cardinals Prospect
Acquired in the Tommy Pham trade, Ramirez’s two-thirds of an inning he played wearing the birds on the bat in 2020 were less than stellar. In reality, Ramirez likely needs another full season in AA/AAA, but may fill in the St. Louis bullpen if injuries become an issue in 2021, only if a team desperate for bullpen help doesn’t take him on Thursday.
RHP – Alvaro Seijas – #30 Cardinals Prospect
The final prospect we’ll explore from the NL Central is the 6’1″ righty, Alvaro Seijas. His 24 starts across Class-A and A-Advanced in 2019 were impressive, as he totaled 114 strikeouts to 54 walks over 134.1 innings and a 2.81 ERA. Seijas is certainly a prospect with a lot of promise, but he’s not ready for a roster spot in the Majors, and, thus, will likely not be selected in the Rule 5 Draft.