Who Should the Pirates Take in the Rule 5 Draft?
The 2010 Rule 5 draft will be held on December 9th, on the final day of the Winter Meetings. The Pittsburgh Pirates have the first pick in the draft, and are almost certain to make a selection. There is currently no space on the 40-man roster, although teams don’t have to outright a player off the roster until December 6th, giving the Pirates plenty of time to clear a space.
I took a look at some of the most intriguing options for the upcoming Rule 5 draft in my previews of the position players and the pitchers. The question to be asked now is “who should the Pirates take”? There are many different approaches for the Rule 5 draft, whether it’s drafting a project player with upside, a player who can step in to the majors right away, or selecting someone with the hopes of retaining them through a trade down the line. To get an idea of what the Pirates might do, let’s take a look at their last three Rule 5 selections.
2008, Evan Meek - Meek wasn’t the same pitcher prior to the 2008 draft. He was coming off a season in which he pitched 67 innings in relief at the AA level, with a 4.30 ERA, a 9.3 K/9, and a 4.6 BB/9. His big problem was a lack of control, which the Pirates also saw at the major league level in 2008, when he walked 12 batters in 13 innings. Meek was retained by the Pirates from the Rays for cash, and went on to see some major improvements, leading to his excellent 2010 season.
2009, Donald Veal - Veal was one of the top pitching prospects in the game a few years ago, but control problems derailed his career, leading to him being exposed in the Rule 5 draft. The Pirates drafted Veal, and thanks to several questionable injuries, were able to stash him on the disabled list for most of the season. Veal started the 2010 season in Indianapolis, and saw some improvements with his control, although he went down early in the season with Tommy John surgery, and won’t return until mid-season 2011.
2010, John Raynor - Raynor was one of the top prospects in the Florida Marlins’ system heading in to the 2009 season, but saw his stock drop with a .257/.327/.360 line in AAA during the 2009 season. The Pirates drafted him and put him in the majors to start the 2010 season, although didn’t use him much, and ended up returning him to the Marlins. They tried working out a deal to retain him, but the Marlins refused, and Raynor went on to hit for a .284/.349/.373 line in AAA during an injury filled 2010 season.
All three years the Pirates have focused on former top prospects who have a chance to rebound. Meek obviously has rebounded, the jury is still out on Veal, and they weren’t able to retain Raynor. They went to great lengths to protect Veal, although they didn’t take the same approach with Meek and Raynor, returning them to their former teams. The 2010 season saw a different approach, as Raynor was a guy who was somewhat close to stepping in to the majors. Granted he was coming off a down year at the AAA level, but he was at AAA, rather than Meek and Veal, who were each making the jump from a down year at the AA level.
The Pirates have been aggressive in the free agent market so far this year. There’s no guarantee that this could lead to a big signing, but the early indication is that the Pirates are ready to start focusing on the present, which means they probably won’t be as likely to take a project like Veal or Meek. Also, in looking at the makeup of the roster, it seems the Pirates would be more likely to select a pitcher than a position player. The Pirates have a lot of “Rule 5″ position players already. John Bowker, Argenis Diaz, and Lastings Milledge are all out of options, and will either need to be on the 25-man roster, or placed on waivers. The Pirates also have to make decisions on guys like Steve Pearce and Alex Presley, although both players have options remaining.
On the other hand, the Pirates don’t have a lot of open spots in the bullpen. Joel Hanrahan, Evan Meek, and Chris Resop are guaranteed to make the team. Wilfredo Ledezma has been re-signed, and all indications are that Jeff Karstens will be tendered an offer. That leaves two spots, with Kevin Hart and Jose Ascanio both out of options, although one of those two players could start the 2011 season on the disabled list. In short, the Pirates have a lot of decisions to make with their final roster spots, and any Rule 5 pick is likely going to have to be another Raynor-like selection, who can compete for a spot on the team, rather than another Veal-like selection, where the Pirates basically have a 24-man roster.
There are a few pitchers available who, if they were in the Pirates’ system, would be in the conversation to start the 2011 season on the Opening Day roster. Two of those options come from Kansas City. The Royals have Louis Coleman and Tim Collins available. Coleman, a right hander, throws 92-93 MPH, touching 95, and put up a 2.23 ERA, a 10.7 K/9, and a 2.5 BB/9 in 40.1 innings at AAA last year, after having similar success at the AA level earlier in the season. Collins, a left hander, has a fastball that tops out at 93 MPH, with a big breaking curveball. He’s a small pitcher, at 5′ 7″, 155 pounds, but that didn’t stop him from putting up a 1.33 ERA in 20.1 innings in AAA, with a 9.3 K/9 and a 3.5 BB/9. Update: Collins and Coleman aren’t eligible.
Adam Ottavino is another option that could jump right to the majors, as he spent time in the majors in 2010, with poor results. Ottavino had a 3.97 ERA in 47.2 innings as a starter in AAA last year, with an 8.1 K/9 and a 2.3 BB/9. He struggled in the majors as a starter, but could have success out of the bullpen. Ottavino was the 11th best prospect for the Cardinals heading in to the 2010 season, and with a fastball that touches 96 MPH, he could still have some value. Ottavino and Coleman will be 25 next season, while Collins will be 21.
On the position player side there are two interesting options. Daryl Jones, another Cardinals prospect, is similar to John Raynor last year. Jones was the fourth best prospect for the Cardinals heading in to the 2009 season, but struggled in AA, with a .244/.335/.361 line. He’s an interesting option, although he’s coming off a down year, and would be making the jump from the AA level, making it likely that the Pirates wouldn’t be able to conveniently protect him.
Brad Emaus might be the best option out of the position players. Emaus hit for a .298/.395/.495 line in 309 at-bats in AAA last year. He plays second and third base, although he might be best long term at second base, due to his 10-15 home run power. There’s no guarantee that Emaus could jump in as a starter in the majors, but if he did become a starter, the Pirates could entertain the popular idea going around of moving Neil Walker to third, Pedro Alvarez to first, and putting Emaus at second.
Even though the Pirates might not be able to go the Donald Veal route, there are a few interesting projects, mostly on the pitching side. The most popular name is Adam Miller. Miller, who was one of the top pitching prospects in the game for several years, missed the last two seasons due to several finger surgeries. He used to throw 98 MPH, touching 100, although he was only at 93-94 MPH in instructs, which isn’t bad considering he’s been out of action since early 2008. The Neal Huntington/Cleveland connection will be brought up here, although that connection gets brought up every year, and so far the Pirates haven’t taken a guy from Cleveland in the Rule 5 draft.
Miller might be the best option out of Cleveland, and brings up an interesting scenario. The Pirates could stash him on the disabled list early in the season, which would buy him a month of rehab work at the AAA level. Miller would need to be active for at least 90 days in order to be protected, which means he’d have to return by early July and stay healthy for the remainder of the season. Otherwise, the Rule 5 restrictions would be in place for the 2012 season, until Miller reached 90 days. Miller might be a good gamble to take, as he’s only 26, wouldn’t have to start the season on the 25-man roster, and could be a huge addition if he returns to his former self.
Aneury Rodriguez and Jake Brigham are also two interesting projects. Rodriguez saw a decline in value when his fastball dropped from the 92-94 MPH range to the high-80s. He might be worth a risk to see if his fastball can regain velocity, although I’d much rather take a risk on Miller, or go with one of the sure things. Brigham has two excellent pitches, with a 97 MPH fastball, and a power curveball that is a plus pitch. However, he’d be making the jump from high-A, and has struggled with his control. I’d rather take a chance on Miller.
Wynn Pelzer isn’t exactly a guy who is ready to step in to the majors, but he’s not really a long shot like Miller. Pelzer throws a 91-94 MPH fastball, touching 97, with a slider that is Major League average and the potential to be a plus pitch. Pelzer pitched in AA in 2010, mostly as a starter. He put up a 4.25 ERA in 114.1 innings, with an 8.1 K/9 and a 5.0 BB/9, although he was traded to Baltimore in July, and did much better in relief after going to the Baltimore system, with a 9.0 K/9 and a 3.2 BB/9 in 20 innings, making only one start in ten appearances.
My favorites would be Louis Coleman, Tim Collins, Adam Ottavino, Adam Miller, Wynn Pelzer, and Brad Emaus, in no particular order. The Rule 5 draft is a little over two weeks away, and during that time I’ll be taking a detailed look at each of these prospects, hoping to narrow the group down to one favorite prior to the draft.