Finding major league talent in the Rule 5 draft could be compared to finding a needle in the haystack, and yet year after year teams emerge from the draft with useful players they are convinced can contribute in the coming year.
The Cubs have a long shopping list, little off season activity so far, and lots of room on the roster to add a few players from the Rule 5 draft. The Cubs will almost certainly add one player. Two or three would not surprise me at all.
There are just too many possible players to predict with any sort of accuracy what the Cubs could do, but I think there are some names worth remembering as we wait for the big event to start. The Cubs may not target any of these players, but any of them could be Cubs before the day is out.
Matt Clark, 1B
Clark is in the Padres organization, and he has put up some solid numbers in the upper minors. I particularly like that he cut back on his strike outs between Double A and Triple A. He’s a big guy with a left handed swing, reasonably patient at the plate, and is only 24. It is not often you see everyday position players emerge from the Rule 5 draft, but Clark could be one of the special ones. Jed Hoyer is certainly familiar with Clark. It remains to be seen if he believes in him enough to draft him for the Cubs.
Cesar Cabral, LHP
Carbral is one of the more talked about names in this draft. The lefty reliever has promising stuff and should have little trouble sticking around a major league bullpen for a season. Because he is so well thought and because he is a left handed reliever, I tend to think he will be off the board before the Cubs get a chance to make their selection. If he is around, do not be surprised if the Cubs opt to add to their already deep bullpen.
Jiwan James, OF
This Phillie prospect is standing in for a number of similar players, including the White Sox’ Jordan Danks and the Cardinals Thomas Pham. There are a number of fairly fast, athletic outfielders with good to great speed available in this draft. In many cases, their upside is tremendous. If the Cubs opted to move in this direction, they would be taking a player with a lot of future potential that would spend 2012 as a defensive replacement and pinch runner. Basically, the Cubs would be replacing Tony Campana with a player who can do everything Campana does, but has the potential to become much, much better. It would be a risky gamble, but given the right player it is a gamble the Cubs are in a position to take.
T.J. McFarland, LHP
Starting pitchers are very hard to find in the Rule 5, but in McFarland we might not only have a potential starter, but a left handed one at that. McFarland has the size that scouts like to see in a starter, and since he just put up 130 innings at Double A I feel fairly confident he could pitch about 180 in the majors next season. His numbers say he could stand to improve his control, but he does avoid the long ball. I think he would be more likely to stick with the Cubs out of the pen than in the starting rotation, but his potential as a back of the rotation guy cannot be ignored.
Odds are none of these guys will be taken by the Cubs, but you never know. I like the idea of Matt Clark in particular. Regardless, there will be someone new to talk about before the draft ends on Thursday; the only question is who it will be.