For the second straight year, the Yankees have a pair of Rule 5 Draft picks in camp this spring. Right-hander Brad Meyers hurt his shoulder working out over the winter and is behind the other pitchers at the moment, so chances are he will eventually be jettisoned like Dan Turpen and Robert Fish last season. Left-hander Cesar Cabral has a legitimate opportunity to make the team though, plus there’s a chance the Yankees may be able to keep him even without placing him on the Opening Day roster.
Cabral, 23, has already appeared in five exhibition games this spring, the most of anyone on the team. He’s allowed two runs on eight hits in 5.1 IP, striking out three and walking zero. The problem is that he’s given up hits to six of the 14 left-handed hitters he’s faced, including one homer. Obviously a small sample, but he’s got to win a job with that small sample and he’s not getting it done at the moment. I ranked Cabral as the team’s 29th best prospect last month because I like his size (check the photo), performance (2.65 FIP in 194.2 IP last three years), and stuff (low-90s fastball, changeup, slurvy breaking ball). The Yankees obviously like him as well, otherwise they wouldn’t have worked out a pre-Rule 5 Draft trade with the Royals to get him (for an undisclosed amount of cash).
Because he’s a Rule 5 guy for the second time — the Rays took him last year — the rules apply a little differently to Cabral. Rather than be offered back to his original team (the Red Sox) if he fails to make the club, he can instead elect free agency and leverage that into remaining with the Yankees as non-Rule 5 Draft player. The Diamondbacks turned this exact same trick with former Yankees farmhand and two-time Rule 5er Zach Kroenke in 2010, as Nick Piecoro explains…
After the Diamondbacks decided they were not going to put Kroenke on their 25-man roster, they placed him on waivers. Kroenke cleared, which then meant, as a Rule 5 pick, he had to be offered back to the Yankees before he could be outrighted to the minor leagues.
But as a second-time Rule 5 player, Kroenke had the option to elect free agency rather than accept the outright back to the Yankees. He said he would have elected free agency, prompting the Yankees not to request him back.
At that point, he no longer had the rights of a typical Rule 5 player and instead became the equivalent of a normal 40-man guy on the Diamondbacks roster. The Diamondbacks then optioned him to (Triple-A) Reno.
Cabral and the Yankees have the ability to do the same thing Kroenke and the D’Backs did two years ago. The player benefits by remaining on the 40-man roster (going unclaimed on waivers is a pretty strong indicator that no other team would give him a big league contract as a free agent) while the team gets to keep him without restrictions. Cabral has all three minor league options remaining, so if nothing else the Yankees would be securing an up-and-down second lefty reliever for the league minimum through 2014. Not a star, but a potentially useful piece.
As I wrote this morning, there is some merit to carrying a second left-handed reliever early in the season because of the schedule. Some regular Triple-A innings wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for Cabral, who has yet pitch above Double-A and could use more time to figure out a breaking ball against same-side hitters. Clay Rapada or even Mike O’Connor probably makes more sense if the team decides to go with the second southpaw in April. Cabral has a nice, intriguing arm and is the kind of guy the Yankees should look into keeping beyond Spring Training. Clearing waivers is not a given, but otherwise the system works in their favor.