Michael Heesch Picked in Rule 5, Exposes Some Lefty Depth Issues for Cubs

There were a few surprises today as Major League Baseball held its annual Rule 5 Draft for both the major and minor leagues. No Cubs prospects were selected in the major-league portion, while four were taken in the minor-league portion. In addition, the Cubs selected three players from other teams in the minor-league portion.

Cubs Selected: Pin-Chieh Chen (OF); Ariel Ovando (LHP); Julian Aybar (RHP); and Michael Heesch (LHP). The selection of Chen, Ovando, and especially Aybar were surprises, but the selection of Heesch was not. In fact, it was rather expected, as we wrote about almost two weeks ago.

Cubs Selections: David Freitas (C); Mike O’Neill (OF); and Jesus Loya (OF) – All are expected to provide depth in the upper minors, especially at Iowa.

Heesch’s selection by the Cardinals exposes a weakness in the Cubs’ upper minors. The Cubs don’t have a lot of lefty relievers assigned to AAA Iowa, AA Tennessee, and high-A Myrtle Beach. Heesch, who we profiled this summer as part of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans’ bullpen, is a great big lefty who can throw inside and get batters out. He had a great first half in 2015 (1.73 ERA) and a good second half (2.58 ERA). He has now been assigned to AAA Memphis.

The Cubs tried to sneak LHP Edgar Olmos through waivers Thursday afternoon, but he was snagged by the Orioles.

The concern for me now becomes the lack of quality lefties in the bullpen for the Cubs in the upper minors (high-A, AA, and AA). They do have time to develop lefties and no one said they cannot go out and acquire some via the draft, a trade, or free agency. Nevertheless, the pickings are slim if an injury in 2016 forces them to find a replacement beyond the 40-man roster.

Here are the current left-handed relievers in the bullpen in the Cubs organization:

Chicago: Travis Wood, Clayton Richard, Erick Jokisch, Zac Rosscup, and Rex Brothers
Iowa: Gerardo Concepcion, Luis Parra (just signed this offseason)
Tennessee: Tyler Ihrig
Myrtle Beach: Jordan Minch
South Bend: Jose Paulino, Andin Diaz, and Tyler Peitzmeier

It is more than likely that Rosscup and Jokisch will be at AAA for depth and the possible injury relief I spoke of earlier. On the other hand, those two are almost out of options, which is why you really lament the huge gap of lefties at Tennessee and Myrtle Beach.

Ultimately, you would like to see much more depth than what the Cubs have. If we throw in left-handed starters, only Rob Zastryzny and Jeffrey Antigua are at AAA, no one is at AA, and Tommy Thorpe will be at high-A Myrtle Beach. That doesn’t spring much hope either. The Cubs are going to have to develop lefties from lower in the minors, where they may indeed have a burgeoning wave.

At South Bend in 2016, you will find lefties Carson Sands, Justin Steele, Kyle Twomey, and Ryan Kellogg duking it out with reliever Jose Paulino and several right-handers to start in the rotation. Not all five will start and those that don’t will go to the bullpen for awhile. On the other hand, most of these pitchers are 3-4 years away.

The Cubs’ third-round pick in 2015, the 6’8 Bryan Hudson, will more than likely be at short-season Eugene in 2016 where he is going to focus on developing a changeup.

The Cubs have the lefties coming, they are just several years away. Until and unless they acquire some more southpaws, it’s just going to be a little thin for a while here.

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