Should Tony Watson Be Protected?

There are several Pittsburgh Pirates prospects who are eligible for the upcoming Rule 5 draft.  The following players are eligible for the Rule 5 draft for the first time this December:

Nathan Adcock
Gabriel Alvarado
Maurice Bankston
Tom Boleska
Jesus Brito
Brian Friday
Eric Fryer
Brandon Holden
Erik Huber
Ryan Kelly
Noah Krol
Jeff Locke
Jairo Marquez
Starling Marte
Austin McClune
Kyle McPherson
Miguel Mendez
Diego Moreno
Danny Moskos
Eliecer Navarro
Anthony Norman
Rudy Owens
Gerlis Rodriguez
Andy Vasquez
Andrew Walker
Tony Watson
Duke Welker

Add to that list these players who have been eligible for previous Rule 5 drafts:

Michael Crotta
Michael Dubee
Jared Hughes

That leaves several players who are at risk of being selected in the draft if they aren’t protected by November 20th.  In order to protect a player from being drafted, the Pirates would have to add that player to their 40-man roster by the November 20th deadline.  There are several guys who are locks to be protected.  Nathan Adcock, Jeff Locke, Starling Marte, Diego Moreno, Daniel Moskos, and Rudy Owens are all top prospects, and guys who would be drafted if they weren’t protected.  That’s six spots that need to be opened.

Would you protect Watson this off-season?

That list doesn’t include Brian Friday, Eric Fryer, Kyle McPherson, Eliecer Navarro, Michael Crotta, Michael Dubee, Jared Hughes, and Tony Watson, who all had strong 2010 seasons to improve their prospect status.  Watson shouldn’t be in the “guaranteed” list, but his performance in the championship game of the Eastern League finals has some putting him in the same category with other Altoona players like Owens and Locke.

Watson did have a nice season this year.  He finished with a 2.67 ERA in 111.1 innings, along with an 8.5 K/9 and a 1.9 BB/9 ratio.  However, most of that was in the bullpen.  Watson had a 3.78 ERA in 47.2 innings as a starter, with a 7.4 K/9 and a 2.3 BB/9 ratio.  In the bullpen he had a 1.84 ERA in 63.2 innings, with a 9.3 K/9 and a 1.7 BB/9 ratio.

One major issue with Watson is his age.  Watson is 25 years old, and was drafted out of the college ranks in 2007.  He did make it to AA last year, but only pitched 15.1 innings due to an injury that kept him out most of the season.  Prior to that, Watson had one of the best pitching performances in Lynchburg in 2008, with a 3.56 ERA in 151.2 innings, along with a 6.2 K/9 and a 2.1 BB/9 ratio, all as a starter.  Watson did work in the Arizona Fall League during the 2009 off-season, and his performance was definitely strong this season.  But how much of that was due to his age?

The question with any prospect is how they project going forward.  Too often, prospect grades are based on “what have you done for me lately”, and not so much on “what will you do going forward”.  Watson has an 88-91 MPH fastball, an above-average changeup, but a below average curveball.  As a starter he allows too many homers, with eight homers in his 47.2 innings as a starter in 2010, and just three homers in 63.2 innings as a reliever in 2010.  To me, Watson looks like a Brian Burres type pitcher.  He can start, but he’s probably no better than rotation depth going forward, and probably better off in the bullpen.

Watson doesn’t strike me as a guy like Owens or Locke, who can be 2-4 starters easily.  Watson’s numbers look good as a starter this year, but his FIP is 5.03, mostly due to the high home run totals.  As a future reliever, Watson doesn’t look to be head and shoulders above the second group of players that need to be protected.  He might not even be at risk of being selected and retained.

A big issue with the Rule 5 draft isn’t so much who could be drafted, but who could be lost.  From 2006-2009, only 16 left handed pitchers have been drafted in the Rule 5 draft.  Of those 16 pitchers, only three have been protected the entire season.  That means, historically, there’s a 19% chance that Watson would be protected.  Now that doesn’t mean that left handers like Owens or Locke would have the same odds.  Another team might go to greater lengths to protect one of those guys, similar to what the Pirates did with Donald Veal in 2009 (one of the three left handers protected).  The question you have to ask with Watson is: do you think a team will be able to afford to protect a guy like Watson, who hasn’t pitched an inning above the AA level, and turns 26 in May?  The Pirates went through that effort with Veal, but Veal is a much better pitching prospect than Watson.

A lot of the guys, outside of the locks to be protected, either won’t be drafted, or won’t have a chance of sticking the entire season with another team.  Outside of Owens, Locke, Marte, Moreno, Moskos, and Adcock, most of the guys on the above lists haven’t reached AAA, some haven’t reached AA, and very few stand a chance of being protected all season.  That’s not to say there aren’t interesting prospects.  Watson is definitely an interesting guy.  Kyle McPherson is an interesting guy.  Eliecer Navarro is an interesting guy.  The question you have to ask is, are they worth a 40-man roster spot?

In the short term, you could probably make room for guys like Watson.  But what about keeping them the whole year?  If you add a guy to the 40-man roster, the only way to remove him is putting him through waivers.  That allows any team to claim the player and option him to the minors, which is much more convenient than taking the guy as a Rule 5 pick.  Plus, what are the odds that guys like Watson stay on the 40-man following the 2011 season?  The Pirates have another roster crunch following the 2011 season.  The following guys are just some of the guys who are eligible for the Rule 5 draft following the 2011 season:

Tim Alderson
Calvin Anderson
Ramon Cabrera
Chase d’Arnaud
Jeremy Farrell
Matt Hague
Josh Harrison
Andrew Lambo
Quincy Latimore
Brian Leach
Brett Lorin
Jordy Mercer
Rogelios Noris
Aaron Pribanic
Hunter Strickland
Justin Wilson

Some of these guys might even make the majors during the 2011 season, bringing up the issue of keeping guys like Watson on the roster all year.  Personally, I think the best chance of keeping a guy like Watson, and any other future relief pitching options, is to keep them off the 40-man roster this off-season.  The odds of them getting selected are small, and the odds of them being protected all year are even worse.  I’d take those odds over protecting the players and potentially risking them to a much more convenient waiver claim at some point during the 2011 season.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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