The Rule 5 draft saw a major change in 2006. Before 2006, players were eligible for their third Rule 5 draft if they were signed at age 19 or higher, or their fourth Rule 5 draft if they were signed at age 18 or lower. In 2006, MLB changed that rule to add an extra year in both cases, giving teams an extra year to develop their prospects without being forced to add them to the 40-man roster, or risk losing them in the Rule 5 draft.
The 2009 Rule 5 draft will mark the fourth draft since this rule change. Here is a recap of the past three Rule 5 drafts, and the trends that emerged in each draft, which will help give a better idea of what we can expect on Thursday.
If there is one trend that is certain, it’s that the Rule 5 draft is all about pitchers. Of the 58 players drafted in the last three years, 41 have been pitchers. 31 have been right handed pitchers. Only two corner infielders have been selected in this time span, and no more than five players have been selected from any other single group.
As for protection, I was looking for cases where a player remained on the 25-man roster all season, without any deals worked out with the original team, or without clearing waivers. I did include cases where a player was traded, or added with another team, and remained with the new team the remainder of the season. That scenario wouldn’t help the Pirates keep the player they draft, but it would be relevant if they were to lose a player in the upcoming draft.
The Pirates have gone the pitcher route the last two years, most likely because there is more of a selection to work with in that area. It’s rare for a team to leave a talented position player unprotected. The same can’t be said for pitchers, simply because there are too many to protect. Even a team like the Pirates, who don’t have much pitching depth in the upper levels of the minors, can’t find a spot for a guy like Kyle Bloom, a lefty who posted a .186 BAA versus left handers in 2009 at the AA level.
San Diego had success with Everth Cabrera, but that was the first instance out of five middle infielders selected where a player remained on his new team the whole season. The Pirates need middle infield depth, but the odds are against them retaining a middle infielder all season. That makes the decision to leave Shelby Ford unprotected look smart. Even if a team takes the chance that he will bounce back from his down season in 2009, they’ll have trouble hiding him on the bench all season. The safe route would be to take another pitcher, and there are certainly some talented options worthy of the second pick in the upcoming draft.
As for the players the Pirates have available, the guys who could be the most at risk of being selected are Kyle Bloom, Erik Kratz, Dustin Molleken, Shelby Ford, and to a lesser extent, Casey Erickson, Michael Dubee, Matt McSwain, and Miles Durham. The only player who could be at risk of being lost for good would be Bloom, assuming a team would be willing to use him as a LOOGY. Bloom was drafted last year by Detroit, but returned to the Pirates before the season. Then again, several players have been drafted twice, only to stick with their new team the second time around, so nothing is guaranteed with Bloom.