The Rule 5 draft is a big topic every year. In the past, the draft has led to some big finds, such as Johan Santana, Dan Uggla, and of course Roberto Clemente. In recent years, the draft has been less likely to see impact guys get taken. This is a result of MLB allowing teams an extra year before players were eligible for the draft, which happened back in 2006.
It’s pretty easy to fit eligible Rule 5 guys on a roster these days. You might leave off a potential bench or bullpen guy, or someone better if a team is willing to take a risk. This past year the Milwaukee Brewers took such a risk, drafting Wei-Chung Wang from the GCL Pirates, and sending him to the majors. Wang is going to stick in Milwaukee, giving them three years to develop him in the minors before he has to be in the majors for good. That’s an all-around rare situation, starting with Wang being eligible due to a technicality, along with Wang successfully making the jump from rookie ball to the majors, and sticking all year (with the help of the disabled list). In most cases, you will only lose a marginal prospect.
The purpose of following the Rule 5 draft now is to track the progress of certain players. We don’t need the Rule 5 draft to tell us that guys like Jameson Taillon and Nick Kingham are worthy of being protected, and are top prospects in baseball. But what about guys like Elias Diaz and Mel Rojas? The Rule 5 draft forces a decision to be made on these types of players. Are they worthy of being added to the 40-man roster, signaling that they would otherwise be good enough to be added to some other team’s MLB squad? Is their long-term upside worth the risk of adding a guy to the active roster in the short-term, despite the fact that this player might not be ready for the majors at all?
It’s the borderline decisions that make the Rule 5 draft interesting, if only to give us the chance to evaluate guys who aren’t considered elite prospects, but who do have the potential to reach the majors. Here is a list of all of the players who are eligible for the Rule 5 draft in December, along with my thoughts on each group. The players in bold are the highlights of each group.
Eligible For Minor League Free Agency
Emmanuel De Leon
This group will be eligible to leave as minor league free agents following the season, unless they’re added to the 40-man roster before the season ends. Most of the guys on this list are guys who could easily be replaced by minor league free agents the following season. In fact, you might be able to make the case for all of the guys on this list fitting into that category, including the bolded players. I don’t think any of these guys will go on to get major league deals next year, which means the Pirates could just sign them back as minor league free agents, or get someone similar.
The four players I highlighted could provide help to the Pirates this year as bullpen depth. Pirates fans know the story with Vin Mazzaro. Surprisingly, he has cleared waivers twice this year, despite having decent numbers out of the bullpen the last two years. He’s a replacement level guy, but could provide a nice arm to fill out the bullpen in September.
Andy Oliver has always dealt with control issues, but has shown improvements in that regard this year, while also putting up an impressive strikeout rate. Since the start of June he has a 29:13 K/BB ratio in 26.1 innings, with a 1.71 ERA during that span. The control is still bad, but not horrible. He could be a third lefty option in September.
A.J. Morris had a strong season as a starter in the upper levels prior to his injury. He’s on his way back, rehabbing in the GCL, and it will be interesting to see if he gets a look in the majors, or continues to fill out the Triple-A rotation.
The most interesting of the group might be John Holdzkom, who has a 2.45 ERA in 18.1 innings between Altoona and Indianapolis, with a 26:7 K/BB ratio. The Pirates signed him this season as a minor league free agent out of indy ball, and he has been sitting upper 90s with his fastball out of the bullpen.
None of these guys are players who need to be protected for Rule 5 purposes. They could provide some help in the short-term in September, followed by getting non-tendered in the off-season, then possibly re-signed to a new minor league deal. The Pirates could also try to keep them around by offering an early minor league extension, which is something they’ve done in the past with other pending minor league free agents like Kris Johnson.
Previously Rule 5 Eligible
Christopher De Leon
Zack Von Rosenberg
The guys on this list have been eligible in previous years, but were never selected in the Rule 5 draft. To be selected going forward, they would need to show some sort of big improvement, making it more likely that they’ll be taken this year. The guys I highlighted are the guys who have taken that step forward.
Elias Diaz is the must-protect from this group. He has always been a strong defensive catcher, but his hitting this year in Altoona leaves the slight possibility that he could be more than a defensive backup. I’d rate him as the top catcher in the upper levels, and would place him ahead of Tony Sanchez in terms of a future backup n the majors. He went un-drafted in the Rule 5 draft last year, but I don’t see that happening again this year.
Mel Rojas is another guy making a strong case to be added to the roster. He’s in a similar situation to Diaz, in that he has had a strong defensive profile, but has never put things together with the bat. That happened this year, with an .825 OPS in Altoona, and a .750 OPS with Indianapolis. He’s got the upside of a fourth outfielder who can play all three positions.
Stetson Allie is a borderline case to protect. As far as raw power, he’s got the best in the system, and is showing some of that with 16 homers and 15 doubles in Altoona this year. However, he strikes out too much and doesn’t hit for average. He’s also limited defensively to first base. Teams don’t usually draft first basemen in the Rule 5 draft, since it’s hard to protect a first baseman on the active roster all year. I’d say the Pirates could leave Allie unprotected, and still keep him.
Yhonathan Barrios is an interesting case. He was originally signed as a middle infielder out of Colombia, with the chance to hit for power. That never happened, and now he’s a reliever with an upper 90s fastball, and a decent slider. He does have some control problems, and has only pitched in A-ball. A team might want to take a chance on his arm, although you can get a minor league free agent who throws hard and has control issues, and you don’t have to use an active roster spot all year to get such a player. For that reason, I think Barrios could stick around in the Pirates’ system, even if he’s left off the 40-man roster.
Drew Maggi is having a nice year, hitting for average and getting on base, while also stealing a lot of bases. He can play all over the field, profiling as a possible utility player in the future. He doesn’t hit for power, which limits his upside. This is the type of player that doesn’t get selected in the Rule 5 draft, so the Pirates are probably safe leaving him unprotected.
The last borderline case would be Gift Ngoepe. He’s the best defensive shortstop in the US portion of the Pirates’ system. Based on the reports I’ve received, only the DSL’s Adrian Valerio is better. Ngoepe has been hitting better this year in Altoona, with a .739 OPS. He does have a high strikeout rate, at 26.1%, although that is down from 31.7% in Double-A last year. The defense will one day put Ngoepe on a major league roster as a defense-only backup middle infielder. The question is whether someone would use a Rule 5 pick on this type of player, who still has concerns with the bat. I’d lean on the side of Ngoepe not getting picked, as I don’t think his bat has improved enough to make him a major league option immediately.
The two guys I’d protect from this group would be Diaz and Rojas, with Ngoepe being borderline.
UPDATE: I forgot to include Jose Tabata, who is eligible. However, there’s no chance of him being selected. Teams could have had him for free when he was on waivers earlier in the year. The Rule 5 process is basically the same situation.
First Time Rule 5 Eligible
Melvin Del Rosario
I don’t think I need to go into detail on why Jameson Taillon and Nick Kingham need to be protected.
Willy Garcia is having a breakout year in Altoona, with a .273/.305/.500 line in 366 at-bats. He’s got a similar problem to Stetson Allie in that he strikes out too much. However, Garcia provides value in other areas. He’s a better athlete, can play right field, and has one of the best outfield arms in the minors. He’s also doing a better job of hitting for power than Allie, even though he’s a year and a half younger. Garcia is a guy I’d protect. I don’t know if he’ll ever crack the Pirates’ starting lineup as an outfielder, but he’s got value as a trade chip down the line, and he’d almost certainly be selected in the Rule 5 draft this off-season.
The 2011 draft is known for Gerrit Cole, Tyler Glasnow, Josh Bell, and the injured Clay Holmes. However, Jason Creasy was part of that draft class, and is putting up impressive numbers in Bradenton. He’s got a 3.72 ERA in 118.2 innings, with a 76:15 K/BB ratio. He rarely issues walks, with just seven walks in 93 innings since the start of May (0.7 BB/9 ratio). Creasy also has a good fastball, hitting 95 with his four-seam fastball, and using his two-seamer as a situational pitch to get a decent ground ball rate. He’s got the upside of a back of the rotation starter, and should be protected. Creasy is actually eligible to be drafted a year earlier than other 2011 prep guys like Glasnow and Holmes, as he was 19 when drafted and signed.
There are other interesting names on this list, like Jose Osuna and Ryan Hafner, although I don’t think they’re at risk of being selected this year.
I will mention Luis Heredia’s situation. He was signed at the age of 16 in 2010, which would normally make him eligible for his fifth Rule 5 draft. That would be the 2014 draft, if we’re starting with the 2010 draft. However, Heredia’s official signing date was August 24th. The DSL season for the Pirates ended on August 20th. Because Heredia signed at the end of the DSL season, his Rule 5 draft count didn’t start until the 2011 draft, which means he won’t be eligible until 2015. Had the Pirates finalized the signing a week earlier, he would be eligible this year. I don’t know if that was intentional, but the difference in a few days means the Pirates have an extra year before they need to put Heredia on the 40-man and start using his options. Based on how his 2014 season is going, that extra year could be huge.
Who Should Be Protected in 2014?
The guys I’ve got protected from the list above are Jameson Taillon, Nick Kingham, Elias Diaz, Mel Rojas, Willy Garcia, and Jason Creasy. Gift Ngoepe would be borderline, but I’d lean to him going un-drafted in December, and staying in the Pirates’ organization. Six players represents a pretty big Rule 5 group. This past year the Pirates only added four players. They added five players in 2012. The last time they added six players was in 2011, and that was when they had much more roster flexibility. The players they added that season were Matt Hague, Starling Marte, Jordy Mercer, Rudy Owens, Duke Welker, and Justin Wilson.
If they do add six players this year, there won’t be an issue of finding space on the 40-man roster. Russell Martin, Francisco Liriano, Edinson Volquez, and Clint Barmes are all free agents at the end of the year, opening four roster spots. You’d hope that the Pirates bring at least one of those guys back, with that one guy being Martin. From there, the 40-man roster has a few non-tender candidates, such as Michael Martinez, Matt Hague, Brent Morel, Wirfin Obispo, and Chris McGuiness, Angel Sanchez, and Jayson Nix. The Pirates will need space on the 40-man roster to add players to the MLB squad in the off-season, but that’s 11 spaces they’ve got already, and it doesn’t include any potential trades that could create additional spots. They would have more than enough to protect the six players above.