TCN's 2013 Cardinals Rule 5 protection picks

Oscar Taveras with coach Derrick May last month

Minor leaguers who may be under serious consideration to be added to the St. Louis Cardinals' 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft.

With the deadline to file reserve lists for the Rule 5 Draft coming on November 20, it is once again time for my annual protection predictions for the St. Louis Cardinals.

While the list of Rule 5 susceptible players is long, 45 players compared to 39 a year before, there are relatively few must-protect players, in my opinion.

I consider that a direct by-product of the fact that the Cardinals played 20 Major League rookies this past season. In other words, most of the younger players that would need protection have already been added.

20 of the 45 were eligible for prior Rule 5 drafts but were not taken.

St. Louis Cardinals Rule 5 susceptible list

Player Position 2013 1st R5
Almarante, Jose RHR Mem no
Blair, Seth RHS Spr  
Castillo, Juan C retired no
Corrigan, Chris RHS PB no
Ferrara, Anthony LHS Spr no
Garcia,  Greg IF Mem  
Garcia, Anthony OF PB  
Gil, Ronny IF PB no
Greenwood, Nick LHR Mem no
Harris, Mitch RHR SC  
Hernandez, Hector LHS PB  
Kiekhefer, Dean LHR Spr  
Lemmerman, Jake IF Spr  
Longmire, Nick OF PB  
Lopez, Stalyn LHR GCL  
Lucas, Josh RHS SC  
Lucas, Aidan RHR PB  
Mateo, Luis IF Spr no
McGregor, Scott RHS Mem no
Melker, Adam OF Spr  
Montero, Jesus C PB no
Nazario, Iden LHR PB  
O'Neill, Mike OF Mem  
Paulino, Willy RHS SC  
Perez, Luis OF SC no
Pham, Tommy OF Mem no
Polanco, Jhonny RHR SC  
Ramos, Steven OF SC  
Rodriguez, Jonathan 1B PB no
Rodriguez, Starlin OF Spr  
Scruggs, Xavier 1B Spr no
Stanley, Cody C Spr  
Stock, Robert RHR PB no
Swagerty, Jordan RHS PB  
Swauger, Chris OF Mem no
Tartamella, Travis C Mem no
Taveras, Oscar OF Mem  
Thomas, Kevin  RHR Mem no
Valera, Cesar IF SC no
Vargas, Ildemaro IF Peo no
Velazco, Gerwuins C Peo no
Walsh, Colin IF Spr  
Washington, David 1B SC  
Whiting, Boone RHS Mem  
Wright, Justin LHR Spr  

40-man roster considerations

Next, let's look at the Cardinals' 40-man roster to determine how many spots may be used for protection of prospects. With the removal of three players last week and after departing free agents, the organization currently has 36 players on its 40-man.

The club could also choose to take several other players off its 40-man whose status may be considered tenuous. For example, 40-man players not called up to St. Louis in September include relievers Keith Butler, Eric Fornataro and Jorge Rondon plus infielder Jermaine Curtis.

Not assuming further changes, however, means the Cardinals could protect as many as four players. That is not optimal because they would then not have any room to add an available player from another organization in the Rule 5 draft.

The Cards may also want to ensure they have enough roster space to sign one or more major league free agents during this off-season, but to accommodate that, they could always drop another 40-man player when needed.

Another alternative that would create space would be to non-tender, or not offer a 2014 contract, to one or more arbitration-eligible players already on the 40-man. As a reminder, those players are highlighted here.

My projections

Following are my four candidates for addition to the 40-man in priority order. All are first-time Rule 5-eligible players. My thought process is intertwined with another project I am working on behind the scenes – The Cardinal Nation top prospect list for 2014.

Oscar Taveras
Greg Garcia
Boone Whiting
Mike O'Neill

Garcia
Much has already been written about outfielder Oscar Taveras. Suffice it to say that only reason the 21-year-old is not already on the 40-man and has not made his Major League debut is his ankle injury last summer. His addition is as sure of a thing as anything could be.

Infielder Greg Garcia, 24, had an impressive spring camp, when he was one of the Cardinals' final cuts. Around a May disabled list stint, the left-handed hitter had a rough start to the season with Memphis, batting just .235 in the first half.

Post-break, Garcia was impressive, with a line of .331/.429/.451/.881 over his final 42 games for the Redbirds. Able to play second, shortstop and third base, Garcia could be well-positioned to play the Daniel Descalso role with St. Louis or return to Memphis for more seasoning in 2014.

Whiting
Boone Whiting has been overlooked by some in the shuffle of higher-profile arms in the Cardinals system. The 24-year-old right-hander played in the Arizona Fall League in 2012 and then was named our number 25 prospect in the system last winter.

Whiting began 2013 with Springfield, then joined Memphis in May. In 27 starts across the two levels, he logged a 3.83 ERA, 133 strikeouts and 47 walks in 136 1/3 innings pitched. Whiting should be back in 2014 to anchor a Triple-A rotation that lost veterans Nick Additon and Richard Castillo to minor league free agency.

Outfielder Mike O'Neill is an on-base machine. After the left-handed hitter posted a .431 mark with Springfield, the organization promoted him to Memphis for the final month. There, the 25-year-old reached base at "only" a .402 rate. Though O'Neill ranks behind Stephen Piscotty and James Ramsey in our Cardinals outfield prospect pecking order, an MLB future seems to be ahead.

Other eligibles

A number of others could build a decent case for 40-man consideration, but I cannot forecast protect moves being made for them at this time. In addition, they face a crowded field and an uncertain future in trying to reach St. Louis. Yet the recent success of the Cardinals system is such that some other organization might take a chance on one or more of the unprotected players.

The man who heads this group for the second consecutive year is Tommy Pham. If healthy, the outfielder would generate a definite protect move, but given his injury history, I can't see the Cardinals putting him on the 40-man just yet. Further, I can't see another organization taking a chance on the 25-year-old now.

It might not be entirely fair to characterize Jordan Swagerty as a pitching Pham, but the reality is that the former second-rounder hasn't thrown meaningful innings since 2011. Recovery from Tommy John surgery and subsequent bone chips has consumed the last two seasons, making a gamble that the 24-year-old right-hander would be major league ready in the spring very, very risky.

Right-hander Seth Blair pitched in the Arizona Fall League in 2012, but the former first-rounder has not turned the corner consistency-wise. At Springfield the entire season, the 24-year-old logged a 5.07 ERA and walked 48 in 129 2/3 innings.

Two other Springfield Cardinals, second-baseman-turned-outfielder Starlin Rodriguez and catcher Cody Stanley, did not progress as hoped in 2013. As such, they should not be taken if left unprotected.

One final note. It is important to remember that the best players are not always the ones protected. One also has to take into account the chances of a player being able to hold down a major league 25-man roster spot for an entire season. If he could not do that, he would be returned to the Cardinals, even though selected in the Rule 5.

Coming soon

I will be back around the 20th with the Cardinals' Rule 5 protected lists by level. This is an important factor not usually covered elsewhere, but dictates whether players are eligible in the Major League or Minor League phases of the Rule 5 draft.

In future installments, we will look potential targets of the Cardinals in this Rule 5 Draft, plus the organization's past history in Rule 5 drafts in the major and minor league phases, both as a supplier and selector of players.

Of course, on draft day, we will break down any Rule 5 activity that affects the Cardinals.



Remember that to see the entire Cardinals system in one graphical view, check out the Roster Matrix, kept updated at The Cardinal Nation Blog.



Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.

© 2013 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com and stlcardinals.scout.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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