Today was the deadline to protect players for the upcoming Rule 5 draft in December. The Pittsburgh Pirates added five players to the 40-man roster today. The new additions were Vic Black, Tony Sanchez, Phil Irwin, Ramon Cabrera, and Hunter Strickland.
Sanchez and Black were the two obvious names from the list. Sanchez was the first round pick for the Pirates in 2009. His hitting hasn’t been that good in the upper levels, but his defense is enough that he could play in the majors next year as a backup catcher. He could even be an option for the Pirates to pair with Michael McKenry if they can’t find a catcher through free agency or a trade this off-season.
Black was drafted in the compensation round of the 2009 draft. For the first few years of his career he dealt with injury issues, which limited his playing time. Last year he was moved up to Altoona and placed in the bullpen. The right-hander had a lot of success, sitting in the upper 90s with his fastball and touching 99, while pairing that pitch with a hard slider that got plenty of strikeouts. Black had a 1.65 ERA in 60 innings, with an 85:29 K/BB ratio.
Irwin really stepped up this year in Altoona and Indianapolis. In 104.1 innings with Altoona he put up a 2.93 ERA, a 7.2 K/9 and a 1.5 BB/9 ratio. He moved up to Triple-A at the end of the year and had a 2.57 ERA in 21 innings, with a 28:7 K/BB ratio. Irwin should start off in Triple-A next year, and could provide the Pirates with rotation depth by the middle of the season.
Cabrera has been a good hitter the last two years, and drew praise from his coaches in Altoona this year for his defensive work behind the plate. The catcher won the Florida State League batting title in 2011 with Bradenton, hitting for a .343 average. He started off slow with Altoona, but turned it on the final two months, with a .301/.361/.425 line in July, and a .340/.414/.456 line in August. Cabrera ranks behind Sanchez on the catching depth chart, but still has the upside to reach the majors.
Strickland was moved up to Altoona around mid-season and converted to a reliever. The right-hander had a 4.46 ERA in 42.1 innings and a 33:15 K/BB ratio in his time with Altoona. His stuff is most likely what got him added to the list, as he throws a 90-94 MPH fastball, touching 96, with an 85-87 MPH slider.