Cubs Player Pool in South Bend Has Big 40-Man Roster, Rule 5 Draft Implications

The cancellation of the minor league season moves up the discussion of several events taking place in the offseason. We’d normally review the 40-man roster and the Rule 5 Draft at some point in August, but the pandemic will impact how teams will go about protecting their prospects this winter. The threat, either real or imagined of economic uncertainty could have teams looking more seriously at acquiring young talent at low cost.

The Cubs will have some decisions ahead of them come November, many of which will be informed by the events of the next several weeks. Six or seven players from the current 40-man roster won’t have contracts for next year, though not all of those can be filled by one of the 56 prospects who will be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft.

In a normal season, there will always players who develop rapidly to force their way onto the roster. That can’t really happen this year because there’s no season to speak of for most or all of these guys. Then again, the Cubs will have seven possible Rule 5 picks developing in South Bend for the next two months.

While it is too early to dive deep into each possible prospect’s resume, we can still take a sneak peek into the future to see who is in the conversation.

If the Cubs had to narrow the list down today, the most likely candidates from the 60-man player pool are Cory Abbott, Brailyn Marquez, Chris Morel, Keegan Thompson, Dakota Mekkes, and Michael Rucker (who the Orioles took last year and returned). Catcher/infielder PJ Higgins has played himself into the conversation and is still in Chicago, but he should be in South Bend when the regular season begins.

The biggest surprise here is Morel, who would be a big risk for any team that selects him, considering he has not played above low-A. Then again, he absolutely oozes talent and is still just 21 years old. Teams would find a place for that kind of power bat and power arm.

As noted above, though, the Cubs are not going to be able to protect all the aforementioned players and are almost certain to lose some to the Rule 5 Draft no matter what.

Relievers Bailey Clark and Wyatt Short are two possible bullpen arms other teams could find attractive. Starting pitchers Duncan Robinson, who is coming off of a season lost to Tommy John surgery, and Erich Uelmen could be plucked away as well. Robinson dominated at every level in the minors but blew out his elbow last April in Iowa. Uelmen was coming off a brilliant trip to the Arizona Fall League last year but the pandemic shut down that momentum. 

Teams looking for bench depth could find Donnie Dewees and Trent Giambrone, who was having an impressive spring, attractive.

Again, it’s way too early to be looking at anything as definitive at this point. That said, we can take some clues from the player pool as far as the Cubs’ priorities when it comes to developing and protecting some of the large group of Rule 5-eligible players.

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