In a couple of weeks the Rule Five Draft will take place. This has technically been a big day in the minor leagues because the Cubs usually pick up three or four players to add to the system from other clubs. Most of them tend to fill a role or hole in the system.
But when it comes to the Major League portion of the day, the Cubs really haven’t used it much of late. The best known pick of recent years was reliever Héctor Rondon who played a key role in the Cubs’ championship run in 2015 and 2016. They also took Caleb Smith from the Yankees before returning him. Smith is now in the majors with Arizona.
But this year is going to be quite different.
There was no Rule Five Draft last year and teams across the majors now have an abundance of talent in their system that they cannot all protect on the 40-man roster. While the Cubs have position player needs, it’s very hard for a Rule Five pick to get the kind of ABs needed to develop in the majors. Part of the reason the Cubs stayed away in recent years from the Rule Five Draft was because they were in contention every year and they needed somebody that could produce at the MLB level or someone with MLB experience.
The Cubs look to get back into contention in 2023 and they have several needs in the outfield, back up infielders, and back up catchers.
But that’s not the strength of this year’s Rule 5 class. There are going to be plenty of arms available that could help a bullpen. But none of these guys have any major league experience if it all. They are all at Double-A or Triple-A.
Let’s take a look at six guys who could be worthy of a bullpen slot for the Cubs.
Victor Vodnik – RHP – Atlanta
With a name straight out of the Stan Lee School of Alliteration (and no relation to Victor von Doom), Vodnik had great 21 and 22 seasons. He finished this year at Triple-A Gwinnett and already fits all the requirements needed for a Cubs reliever. He can throw in the upper 90s, his best pitch is a changeup and he strikes out a lot of guys. His only issue is the slider, which I hear the Cubs know a little something about developing those in their system. He is not big at 6-foot, but he does throw hard. He would be my first choice.
Jayden Murray – RHP – Houston
He’s already bounced around between organizations but this kid produces. Murray has quickly moved through the Rays and Astros system at light speed. Here’s what MLB Pipeline had to say on him:
Signed for $3,000 in the 23rd round that June by the Rays, he led the Minors with a 0.71 WHIP and ranked third with a 2.16 ERA in 2021 while reaching Double-A in his first full pro season. He continued to thrive this year before heading to the Astros in August as part of a three-team deal that also brought Trey Mancini to Houston via the Orioles.
Erik Miller – Philadelphia – 6’5” 240 – LHP
I really liked him coming out of Stanford a few years ago. He’s big, he’s physical, and his stuff ticks up out of the pen. It might be worth it just to pay $50,000 just to see if you can tweak a couple things to make him a vicious part of your staff. Here’s what MLB Pipeline had to say:
A legitimate three-pitch mix gives Miller the chance to start, though he spent most of 2022, and reached Triple-A, pitching out of the bullpen. He tends to sit in the low-90s with the fastball, though he’s up to 97 mph, especially in shorter stints. He’s always had a very good changeup, killing spin with it effectively, and he’s worked to tighten up his breaking ball, a low-80s slider that can miss bats.
Austin Bergner – RHP – Detroit 6’5″
I remember him more for how he pitched at North Carolina in 2018 and 2019. He’s a big, lanky guy but what also sets him apart from other prospects in the Rule Five Draft is he fits the Cubs model of a modern pitcher. He is very much into data, pitch design, and all the new wave tech used to enhance a pitch’s ability to move or not move in the air.
Thad Ward RHP Boston 6’3” 192
Coming off of reconstructive elbow surgery, Ward was one of the hottest prospects heading into the Rule Five Draft last year. He probably would’ve been taken if not for the lockout. The issue with Ward is that he is not a reliever but a pretty good starter that would fit at the back end of any rotation. He’s yet to pitch above the minors but he could be a guy who can give you 2 to 3 innings, maybe 4, in a blowout which would allow him to develop and work on a becoming a MLB starting pitcher. It’s a tough choice as his profile screams starter.
MD Johnson Miami 6’5 RHP
I’ve gotten to see him pitch a couple times the last year plus up in Beloit. I really like how he threw the ball. He’s a big strong kid who can maintain velocity into the sixth or seventh inning. He does need help against left-handers and I’m sure the Cubs could work with him on that. But he can throw hard and his 6-foot-5 frame makes it difficult to pick up the ball. The biggest detraction for picking him is that he’s never pitched above High-A. It would be a huge jump. It might just be worth the $50,000 to see if you can get him to throw a slider to match with a mid 90s fastball in a deceptive delivery. That would be a deadly combination.
I don’t know if Vodner will make it to the Cubs, but he’s easily one of the top players eligible for the Rule Five Draft. Murray could probably go quick and if the Cubs get Miller, I think he’s a steal. Any of the other three you would probably have to hide a little bit and I don’t know if the Cubs have that kind of patience for a player take up a spot for the entire season. But if it’s Vodner, Murray, or Miller, you make room