Charlie Cutler: The Most Astute Minor League Rule 5 Pickup

As much of a crapshoot as the major league Rule 5 Draft is, the minor league phase is even less rewarding. Generally, the players eligible in the minor league Rule 5 are some of the least important players in every organization; many don’t even last a full year with their new organization before leaving organized baseball. 2011’s Rule 5 appears to be a typical crop, with mostly no-name players and the occasional former prospect gone awry (Aaron Poreda and Shooter Hunt). However, one player that stands out from the crop somewhat is catcher Charlie Cutler, a former Cardinals farmhand selected toward the end of the Triple-A phase by the Pirates.

Cutler is a career .305/.385/.412 hitter, which is pretty nifty for a catcher. And further, he’s coming off a season in which he hit .333/.398/.475 in Double-A. And, heck, he’s a lefty-hitting catcher, and those are always coveted by teams.

So what gives? Well, he’s 25 already, for one. The Cardinals never seemed to have great confidence in his ability to play every day, as he only got into 62 games in 2011 and 79 the year before. Clearly, they saw him as more of an organizational soldier than legitimate prospect.

Still, though, you can’t wave away 291 games of hitting of this quality. There’s not much fluky about Cutler’s performance, either–he controls the strike zone very well, with 125 career strikeouts against 112 walks. He’s never struck out more than 12.2% at any stop and walked at at least an 8.6% clip every stop since 2009. His Isolated Power marks have consistently been over .100, so while he’s not likely to be a 15-HR threat, he doesn’t get the bat knocked out of his hands. Overall, he’s never posted a wRC+ below 125 at any stop at which he played 40 or more games, which is extremely impressive for a catcher.

Cutler should open 2012 in Triple-A, and if he can maintain his past performance there, he could end up as a lefthanded-hitting Ryan Hanigan. When Hanigan was 25, he slugged .262 in Double-A and was an afterthought himself, after all. And Hanigan has turned out to be a pretty useful backup catcher at the MLB level.

While you probably don’t need to waste much of your time perusing the minor league Rule 5 picks this or any year, definitely keep an eye on Cutler, as he could be a surprisingly solid contributor for the Pirates in the near future.

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