Michael Arias – Picture by Todd Johnson

At some point in the very near future, the Cubs will be announcing that they added either a player or players to the 40-man roster to avoid losing them in the upcoming Rule 5 Draft, which is scheduled to take place next month. This is never an easy decision and a team can look at their picks one of two ways. Do the Cubs select guys who they think are going to be a major league asset in the coming years? Or, do they protect guys who they think other teens might poach? In the big scheme of things, the hardest thing to project is who other teams value.

Here is the Cubs’ current full list of players eligible for the Rule 5 draft.

With the 40-man roster currently at 37, the Cubs could add up to three players today or they could add more if they make more roster changes. Odds are the Cubs are only going to add a couple of players at most. 

Part of the problem of having a successful minor league system is that you can’t protect everybody from the Rule 5 draft. Any solid system is going to have to roll the dice on some guys they think teams would never add. For example, a pitcher who has not thrown an inning past High-A stands a good chance that no teams would add that guy to their 40-man roster and then keep him on the 26-man for most of the season. That would be one hell of a risk to take. But I would not be surprised to see a team grab a guy that they think they can stash in the bullpen who does have that experience at Double-A or higher.

Still, we’ve seen the Cubs in past years protect players like Manny Rodriguez when he was coming on strong at Myrtle Beach.

It will be interesting to see if the Cubs go with more than two guys.

Most of you are probably thinking that Bailey Horn is going to be a no-brainer. He’s left-handed, he had a semi successful year in 2023 where he dominated at Tennessee and then had some moments at Iowa and then he had times when he struggled. Still, he is a lefty in a system low on left-handed relievers. I would not be shocked if the Cubs picked him today. Still, Horn’s not the most talented pitcher that the Cubs could protect. Thean again, the Cubs are going to need lefties and the risk of not protecting him might be too great.

One name who seemed like a shoe-in to make the 40-man last May was Kohl Franklin. He was coming off of a dominating stint at South Bend and was just promoted to Tennessee. Double-A was a bit of a bumpy road for Kohl. He appeared in 21 games and had a 5.99 ERA and struck out a little over a batter an inning but he also walked about 4.5 guys per nine innings as opponents hit .271 against him. Whether another team is betting that they can take a risk with Kohl and add him in the bullpen is not out of the question. He does have excellent stuff. With Craig Breslow in Boston, I would not be surprised to see Kohl get picked if he is not protected.

But does that mean the Cubs are going to protect Kohl? It’s not a done deal.

There are several other names on the available list I could see other teams taking including David Bote, Cam Sanders, and Darius Hill who probably has earned a shot at the majors, but there’s just not a spot for him in Chicago. Despite those odds, the Cubs will probably roll those dice and not protect the trio.

So who else does that leave?

The Cubs currently have just two catchers on their 40-man roster. Miguel Amaya and Yan Gomes are well thought of as great defenders behind the plate. The Cubs have another one of those guys at Iowa in Bryce Wyndham, who had an outstanding 2023. And they also have Pablo Aliendo, who had a fantastic year in 2023 at Tennessee and was a key leader in their championship run.

In a perfect world, I’d pick both. But it’s not a perfect world. There would be nothing cooler for me than to see Bryce Windham walk out on the Wrigley Field with some shin guards on. However, the Cubs are more than likely going to lean towards protecting Pablo Aliendo, who is just 22 and is a mountain of a personality to whom pitchers love throwing.  As well, his bat is catching up to his defensive profile. Exhibit A for perusal…

My last possible pick is pitcher Michael Arias. 

Arias is just electric on the mound. He’s got an upper 90s fastball with some serious movement. He’s got a nice slider and I could see a team just taking him and getting one or two strikeouts and then running him off the field. It’s unclear what his future is going to be as a pitcher. He could end up being a reliever and this year‘s version of Luke Little. Or, he could add 15 to 20 pounds and end up as a starter. Considering that 2023 was his first full season as a starting pitcher in Class A, he held his own at two levels but did run out of gas often at South Bend the second time through the order. However, the magic in that arm of his is quite special.

In the big scheme of things, Arias’ stuff is just so nasty! 

I don’t know how the Cubs don’t protect him.

We will be back with the eventual choices later!