The Rule 5 draft is always a big topic for Pittsburgh Pirates fans. Ever since the team lost five players in the first six picks of the 2003 draft, fans have focused on who the Pirates need to protect. The 2011 draft will be the first draft where college players taken in the 2008 draft will be eligible. The Pirates’ approach over the last few years, with their focus on the 2008 draft, and the trades they have made, has created what many have referred to as a roster crunch.
I talked earlier in the season about keeping the roster crunch in perspective. The Pirates aren’t exactly at risk of losing anyone important. Guys like Starling Marte, Justin Wilson, and Rudy Owens will be protected with ease. It’s the guys on the bottom half of the list that raise questions. Guys like Brett Lorin, who posted a 2.84 ERA in high-A this year, might not be candidates to be protected. That’s not horrible. We saw that last year with Nathan Adcock, who was selected by the Kansas City Royals, and stuck on their team all year. The loss of Adcock isn’t a major loss, as he posted a 4.55 ERA in 57.1 innings this year, with a 35:25 K/BB ratio. At best he’s a number five starter, and it’s more likely that he’s a bullpen arm.
Those are the types of guys that are going to be at risk for selection in the 2011 draft, at least out of the Pirates’ system. Some might get selected, such as Adcock last year, and some might get passed over, such as Eric Fryer and Jared Hughes, who are each on the 40-man roster and have each played in Pittsburgh this year.
The following is the complete list of Pittsburgh Pirates players who are eligible for the Rule 5 draft. The first group of players are first time eligible for the Rule 5 draft in 2011.
Emmanuel De Leon
The following players have previously been eligible for the Rule 5 draft, and are eligible again this year. Players in bold are eligible for minor league free agency. If the Pirates re-sign those players, the players will still be eligible for the Rule 5 draft, unless they are signed to a major league deal.
The only significant guys from the second list are Duke Welker and Michael Crotta, although the Pirates have a lot of bullpen depth, and neither guy would be missed that much. Welker’s control was better this year, but he wasn’t throwing in the upper 90s when I saw him at the end of the year, unlike last year. He also didn’t really look like a guy who screamed “future closer”. Crotta has a good sinker ball, but the Pirates have a ton of pitchers like him, and a few of those pitchers are first time eligible this year.
Out of the guys who are eligible, the following are the guys who stand out:
Must Protect – Starling Marte, Jordy Mercer, Rudy Owens, Justin Wilson
Marte is an obvious choice. There might be some debate on the next three. Mercer led the organization in home runs, and he did it from the shortstop position. Shortstop prospects are rare, and shortstop prospects with power aren’t the type of guys you leave unprotected. Owens had a down year this past year, but you can’t ignore what he did the previous two seasons. Wilson was hitting 99 MPH out of the bullpen in the final months of the season. That’s extremely rare for a left hander.
Good Candidates – Matt Hague, Andrew Lambo, Aaron Pribanic
Hague did well hitting in AAA this year, although he wasn’t exactly in the plans for the 2011 season, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Pirates left him unprotected. Lambo has a lot of talent, and is still young, but struggled in his jump to AAA this year, and didn’t rebound in Altoona until the final month of the season. Pribanic had a strong season out of the Altoona rotation, and is almost this year’s version of Michael Crotta – a sinker ball pitcher who profiles as a middle reliever.
On the Fence – Michael Colla, Quincy Latimore, Brett Lorin, Diego Moreno, Tim Alderson, Duke Welker
Colla and Lorin both had good numbers in the AA and high-A rotations, respectively. However, they both profile more as relievers. Latimore probably has the best power in the organization, or at the least, in the upper levels, but doesn’t hit for average and has poor plate patience. Moreno can throw in the upper 90s, but has struggled to make the jump past high-A the last two years. As mentioned earlier, Welker improved his control, but doesn’t stand out as a slam dunk choice. Alderson isn’t really a risk to be claimed after throwing in the mid-80s at the end of the 2011 season. In all of these cases, I wouldn’t be surprised by any decision, whether that was the Pirates protecting some of these players, or exposing them to the Rule 5 draft. If the Pirates have someone selected, this is probably where they will come from.