Chicago Cubs Minors: The importance of the Rule 5 Draft in a time of rebuilding

(Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images) /

Every December, the Rule 5 draft helps to hamper the offseason blues by allowing teams to select prospects left unprotected to bolster their depth and widen their talent pool. In addition, clubs – including the Chicago Cubs – without a full 40-man roster can select non-40 man roster players from other teams.

There is a $100,000 payment required in choosing a player, and a player selected must remain on the 26-man for the season. Failure to keep a player up will lead the selecting team to offer the player back at a discounted rate of $50,000.

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The Cubs selected right-hander Grey Fenter in the first round of last year’s draft. However, they returned the reliever as he was not going to be a long-term solution. On the Cubs’ side, they did lose their righty in reliever-turned-starter Jeffrey Passantino to the Pittsburgh Pirates, and right now, that is looking like a mistake. Passantino was the final pick of the 2017 MLB Draft and showed to be an underrated talent for the Cubs leading to questions surrounding their decision-making process.

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Passantino posted back-to-back strong seasons at Lipscomb University, playing under his age curve and notching ERA’s of 2.69 and 3.40, respectively. In a relief role in his first year in the AZL, Passantino finished with a 3.10 ERA across 20 1/3 innings. He then spent 72 2/3 innings between Low-A Eugene and formerly Class-A South Bend and finished with a 3.34 ERA, with 16 games and eight starts.

And then, in 2019, Passantino moved between High-A and Triple-A. Compiling 89 innings of work, Passantino finished with a 6-2 record and a 3.03 ERA. Across two starts in Iowa, he gave up just two earned runs in nine innings and played nearly four years below the average age. At 23 years old, he was striking hitters out at a 33.3 percent clip while walking hitters at a three percent rate.

It goes to think that Chicago left him unprotected because of his home run rate and lack of ground balls. At least, that would be my hope. Passantino is currently with the Altoona Curve, the Pirates’ Double-A squad and this season is carrying a respectable 3.41 ERA over nine games and seven starts. He has a 2.49 FIP and has allowed a one home run in 37 innings.

The Cubs are at the crux of a “rebuild” right now. Don’t ask Jed Hoyer about that choice of wording as his recent opinion would say otherwise. Cubs fans know the direction better than ownership, it appears. As such, it begs the question regarding a guy like Passantino as to whether or not he would have been protected before last season.

In the depths of the system, there are a ton of names who will more than likely be unprotected, and that is a harsh reality. Guys like righty Cam Sanders, shortstop Yeison Santana and outfielder Nelson Velazquez are examples of prospects who should, by all accounts, be protected.

Unfortunately, however, stranger things have happened, and it would seem the modus operandi that the Cubs may lose one of those three.

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If the Cubs trade any of the ‘Big 3’, this year’s Rule 5 draft should be a serious event and one where Chicago can add other young talents for the correct value. The loss of Passantino stings because of the current trajectory, but it is not to say they can’t find more value in 2021.