McGraw: Cubs need to use caution before calling up more prospects

Willson Contreras gave a shout out to the Cubs' young minor-league prospects after hitting a home run in his Wrigley Field return. So he's hoping to be part of the team's theoretical brighter future.

It's easy to think now that the Cubs have moved past the trade deadline, it's time to bring up some of the better prospects and let them get a taste of the big leagues, right?

Well, it's not that simple.

A team like the Cubs with a growing number of top prospects also has a high number of players eligible for the Rule 5 draft this winter. That's the long-standing MLB December tradition where players with a certain number of years in the minor leagues are eligible to be selected by other teams. It's designed to prevent teams from stashing players in the minors indefinitely.

If chosen, a player needs to stay on his new team's 26-man roster for the entire subsequent season. So that limits the possibility of a team plucking a player out of Single A and adding him to a major-league roster. But do the Cubs want to take a chance with Top-100 prospect Kevin Alcantara, who is still at Low A Myrtle Beach?

To prevent a player from being taken in the Rule 5 draft, he needs to be added to the Cubs' 40-man roster. Teams hitting home runs in the Rule 5 draft are rare, but it does happen. The Pirates used that method to land Roberto Clemente off the Brooklyn Dodgers roster in 1954.

The Cubs will definitely have some tough roster decisions to make. There are probably around 24 players currently on the 40-man roster who figure to stay there. Some of them are minor-leaguers like pitcher Caleb Kilian, outfielder Alexander Canario and catcher Miguel Amaya.

They will certainly add top prospect Brennen Davis and the two recently-acquired pitchers, Hayden Wesneski and Ben Brown. Wesneski is expected to make his Iowa Cubs debut on Sunday.

Alcantara is a good bet to be added. So are relievers Jeremiah Estrada and Cam Sanders. Some believe Estrada, who was promoted to Iowa this week, is the best relief pitcher in the system, with a 1.49 ERA and 14 strikeouts per nine innings between South Bend and Tennessee.

Because those 40-man slots will be valuable this winter, the Cubs might hesitate to call up players who have been in the system less than four years and not yet eligible for the Rule 5 draft, like reliever Ben Leeper or first baseman Matt Mervis, who both joined the Cubs in 2020.

Five pitchers on the 40-man roster have not taken the mound yet this season due to injuries - Adbert Alzolay, Codi Heuer, Brailyn Marquez, Manuel Rodriguez and Brad Wieck. The first four will probably stick around, Wieck is less certain.

The Cubs have an option to bring back Smyly in 2023, and have a few more years of control on guys like Alec Mills, Adrian Sampson and Frank Schwindel. Will they eat the remaining years on contracts for Jason Heyward and David Bote or bring them back?

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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