The St. Louis Cardinals selected a player in the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft and four others in the minor league phase. Here's what to know about them.
For the first time since they took Matt Bowman in 2015, the St. Louis Cardinals dipped their toes into the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft, grabbing right-handed pitcher Wilking Rodriguez with the 14th pick out of 15 teams participating in the major league rounds. Per the guidelines, the Cardinals need to keep Rodriguez on the active roster the entire season or place him on waivers.
Fans can't call Rodriguez a prospect — he'll be 33 years old when the season starts — but his dangerous triple-digit heat could make him a solid piece out of the bullpen next season. He flashes a biting cutter as well, and he used that arsenal to produce a career-best season, owning a 1.97 ERA and whiffing 73 batters in 45.2 innings for the highest strikeout rate of his career, with all but one of those innings coming in the Mexican League. He also cut down on the walks, issuing 2.6 per nine innings after walking 4.1 batters per nine innings last year.
Rodriguez last pitched with a major league affiliate in 2015 with the New York Yankees' Triple-A club, and he signed a minor league contract with the Yankees in August before the Cardinals scooped him up. The Cardinals will hope for Rodriguez to take another step forward from his standout season in Mexico.
While Rodriguez received most of the attention in the Rule 5 draft from Cardinals fans, the team threw darts at four other players in the minor league portion: Jose Alvarez, Brandon Komar, Jose Martinez and Ryan Shreve.
Alvarez was primarily a catcher during his time in the Houston Astros' system, although he played a significant number of games in the outfield and a few at first base as well. Although he has a career minor league average of .278, with only four home runs in 856 plate appearances, he will likely have to stick at catcher if the Cardinals follow traditional batting expectations for corner outfielders and first basemen. Alvarez will likely play most of the season in Double-A, replacing the departed Julio Rodriguez.
Komar is a command- and spin-oriented right-handed pitcher who was drafted by the San Diego Padres in 2019, and after an unsightly 6.29 ERA that year, he came back after missing 2020 because of COVID-19 to an improved 3.60 ERA in High-A, but upon a promotion to Double-A, he struggled with his control. In 2022, he made strides at reducing the walks, and while his ceiling isn't high, further improvement could lead him to be a valuable piece in Double-A.
Right-handed pitcher Martinez relies almost completely on his fastball, which can tick up to 98 mph. He needs another pitch to survive at the upper levels, as a brief taste of Triple-A led to four earned runs and three walks in three innings. He doesn't strike out as many batters as one might think given his heat, with only 6.6 strikeouts per nine innings last year. An adequate secondary offering and better fastball placement would go far in helping Martinez rack up more strikeouts.
Shreve is a hulking 6-foot, 6-inch right-handed pitcher with a stellar slider and changeup whom the Minnesota Twins gave a spot in the Arizona Fall League this year but curiously left exposed to the Rule 5 draft. He had a 1.84 ERA in the AFL but walked eight hitters in 14.2 innings, signifying a need for him to tighten his control. In 2022, his ERA was 3.08 in High-A, and he fanned a strong 39 batters in 38 innings. Shreve could begin the season in Double-A and has potential to ascend further.
The only player the Cardinals lost in the draft was Evan Mendoza, a 26-year-old infielder whom the San Diego Padres picked up. He hit .247 in his last go-around in Triple-A.
While Ramirez has a chance to boost the Cardinals' bullpen, it's extremely unlikely that any of the minor league players the team picked will sniff the majors this year. Still, the Cardinals could later unearth a diamond from that group, much as they did with John Brebbia in 2015.