2 players the Cardinals should protect from the Rule 5 draft and 2 they should expose

With the Rule 5 draft approaching, the St. Louis Cardinals have some decisions to make on which players to protect on the 40-man roster and which players to leave available for other teams to claim.

USA Baseball 18U National Team Trials
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Protect: Adam Kloffenstein, RHP

Adam Kloffenstein was one of the players the Cardinals acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for Jordan Hicks. (The other player was Sem Robberse.) The Blue Jays drafted Kloffenstein in the third round of the 2018 draft, but he struggled to find consistent success in the minor leagues. In 2022, Kloffenstein had a 5.54 ERA across High-A and Double-A. He improved in 2023 with Toronto and received his first taste of Triple-A after the trade to St. Louis.

Kloffenstein improved to an exceptional 10.62 strikeouts per nine innings in Double-A last season with Toronto, and while he appears to have benefited from some luck in Triple-A Memphis — a strand rate of 90.1% will inflate anyone's stats — he showed some definite potential last season.

Kloffenstein has a sinker and an above-average slider, but it was his newly implemented cut fastball that allowed him to elevate his game in 2023. If Kloffenstein's progress with his new weapon holds up, he could find himself as a back-of-the-rotation starter in St. Louis. The Cardinals should clear a spot on their 40-man roster to keep the 23-year-old Kloffenstein from getting plucked in the Rule 5 draft.

Expose: Kyle Leahy, RHP

Kyle Leahy received a cup of coffee with the Cardinals in 2023 and spilled that coffee all over himself en route to four runs on four hits and five walks in 1.2 innings of work across three appearances. He hadn't shown much success in Triple-A before that, as he had a 6.26 ERA and 11.2 hits per nine innings in Memphis in 2023.

It's fair to question what has made the organization so keen on Leahy to continue promoting him given that his only strong season was in 2019, where a 3.73 ERA propelled him across three levels of the minor leagues. But after batters hammered Leahy to the tune of a .301 average in Memphis last season, it's becoming more apparent that Leahy doesn't have what is required to excel at the upper levels.

There's no reason for the Cardinals to continue trying to make Leahy into major league-caliber pitcher, so he wouldn't be a big loss if a team were to claim him, although it's hard to imagine any team willing to use a Rule 5 pick on Leahy given his poor track record.