Cubs protect Davis, Alcantara, Brown from Rule 5 draft originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
So much for the Cubs’ Great Roster Crunch of 2022.
After a flurry of waiver moves last week cleared several 40-man roster spots, the Cubs at Tuesday’s roster deadline added four highly regarded prospects to the 40-man roster to shield them from next month’s Rule 5 draft — leaving seven of Baseball America’s top 30 Cubs prospects unprotected, including hard-throwing right-hander Cam Sanders, son of former Cubs pitcher Scott Sanders.
The Cubs still have two spots open on the roster, leaving space (and the door) open for possible trades or signings.
Team president Jed Hoyer said last week at the GM Meetings he expected to have “probably some small trade discussions” and, in fact, added a lefty-hitting utility man Tuesday in a trade with the Rays for an A-ball pitcher, adding him to the roster ahead of the four minor leaguers from the system.
The four prospects added Tuesday included included their No. 2 ranked prospect, outfielder Brennen Davis; 2019 first-round pick Ryan Jensen (No. 25); and, significantly, two players acquired in deadline deals the past two seasons: outfielder Kevin Alcantara (from the Yankees for Anthony Rizzo last year) and right-hander Ben Brown (from the Phillies for David Robertson this year).
Alcantara, the fifth-ranked prospect in the system, hit .273 at low-A Myrtle Beach as a 19-year-old, with 15 homers, an .811 OPS and a 24.8-percent strikeout rate in 112 games.
“Kevin obviously has an incredibly high upside, can be a dynamic player on both sides of the ball, has legitimate plus raw power,” Cubs general manager Carter Hawkins said. “And his continued ability to refine his approach as pitchers start to expose some areas that he has weaknesses in, his ability to make those adjustments is really going to dictate his ability to reach his ceiling, which is really high.”
Brown, a 6-foot-6 power pitcher, joined Double-A Tennessee after the trade, making seven starts in his first stretch at that level — including a 2.57 ERA with 41 strikeouts and only eight walks over 28 innings in all but the six-run clunker in his second start for the Smokies.
Brown, 23, made 22 starts at two levels overall in 2022, producing a 3.38 ERA in 104 innings with 149 strikeouts and 36 walks.
He’s one of two prospects acquired at this year’s deadline the Cubs feel are future candidates for their rotation, including Hayden Wesneski, who impressed in a six-game, September debut that included four starts.
Brown’s development was derailed by 2019 Tommy John surgery, followed by the canceled pandemic season of 2020.
“He has power stuff and looks the part of a starter — has the multi-pitch mix to be able to do that,” Hawkins said of the righty whose fastball is back in the mid- to upper 90s. “Amongst all of our starting pitcher prospects, he’s certainly up there as a guy that’s expected to impact our club in the near future.”
Among other prospects left unprotected from the Rule 5 draft is No. 24 Kohl Franklin, once considered a fast-rising pitching prospect who has struggled with injuries and underperformance the last two years.
Double-A first baseman Bryce Ball (No. 27), acquired from Atlanta for Joc Pederson in 2021, also was left off the roster despite a .447 career slugging percentage and .810 OPS from the left side in the minors.
Younger players, such as outfielder Pete Crow-Armstrong — the Cubs’ top-ranked prospect — and breakout prospect Matt Mervis aren’t eligible for the Rule 5 draft, so they don’t require 40-man protection.