Which Pirates Prospects Need to be Protected From the 2014 Rule 5 Draft?

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

Robert Andino
Francisco Aponte
Nevin Ashley
Collin Balester
Jake Brigham
Keon Broxton
Jarek Cunningham
Chase d’Arnaud
Blake Davis
Emmanuel De Leon
Francisco Diaz
Felipe Gonzalez
Matt Hague
Ralph Henriquez
John Holdzkom
Kenn Kasparek
Josh Kinney
Vin Mazzaro
Kyle McPherson
Quinton Miller
A.J. Morris
Andy Oliver
Carlos Paulino
Rafael Perez
Aaron Pribanic
Jhonatan Ramos
Tyler Sample
Omir Santos
Junior Sosa
Andy Vasquez
Adam Wilk

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

Stetson Allie
Nathan Baker
Yhonathan Barrios
Ryan Beckman
Kelson Brown
Matt Curry
Christopher De Leon
Elias Diaz
Zack Dodson
Kawika Emsley-Pai
Raul Fortunato
Walker Gourley
Justin Howard
Jeffrey Inman
Drew Maggi
Joan Montero
Yunior Montero
Dovydas Neverauskas
Gift Ngoepe
Clario Perez
Ashley Ponce
Mel Rojas
Rinku Singh
Jose Tabata
Zack Von Rosenberg
Tyler Waldron

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

Matt Benedict
Orlando Castro
Jason Creasy
Melvin Del Rosario
Miguel Ferreras
Dan Gamache
Willy Garcia
Deybi Garcia
Ryan Hafner
Christian Henriquez
Nick Kingham
Jared LaKind
Taylor Lewis
Carlos Marquez
Jhondaniel Medina
Marek Minarik
Ulises Montilla
Edgardo Munoz
Jose Osuna
Jose Regalado
Maximo Rivera
Oderman Rocha
Carlos Ruiz
Isaac Sanchez
Jonathan Schwind
Jameson Taillon
Bryton Trepagnier
Luis Urena

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.

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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  • bucsws2014

    You read my mind. I was going to ask for a post like this after reading about the need to protect Diaz this morning.

    We still have Aaron Pribanic? Does he have a bet with Kyle McPherson on who will pitch again first or something?

  • leadoff

    IMO, Volquez and Liriano will be targets for the Pirates over the off-season, they can probably get Barmes at a bargain price if he still wants to play. I would be shocked if Martin is with this team next year. I agree with the keep list, but I would have put Allie on the list, power hitters are valuable to me.

    • johnj618

      Yes, it is pretty important to keep Allie in the system since he has the most power potential. But in order for someone else to get him they have to keep him in the majors for the whole year. Thats a long time to have a guy with his strikeout problems, limited defense, and whose power won’t matter much since he hasn’t seen any pitching above AA.

      • http://batman-news.com NMR

        All true, but as we’ve seen with the Brewers and Wang this season, “all year” isn’t really all year. I don’t think it would be all that difficult to stash him as a bench bat/short-side platoon 1B, and he might even be able to run into a few.

  • Jg941

    Two questions: Luis Heredia’s player page shows him being Rule 5 eligible this year as a well. Has that now been bumped to 2015?

    Also, when Taillon is added to the 40-man, would he then also be immediately placed on the 60-day DL, temporarily freeing up one more 40-man spot to use until he is ready to pitch again?

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com/ Tim Williams

      Just hadn’t updated that for Heredia. His profile in the 2014 Prospect Guide said 2015.

      There is no 60-day DL in the off-season. He should be ready to pitch at the start of the season. Also, if he’s on the 60-day DL, he burns service time.

  • Jg941

    I have a feeling they’ll throw enough $$ at Martin to extend him, which could mean further non-tenders to save some additional money, In particular Frieri, Snider, Gomez and maybe even 1 of the first basemen platooners (Ike, if they have enough faith in Lambo again, or Gaby if they find a cheaper RH 1B to replace him).

    It will be interesting to see if they go even further to protect the kind of guys they will always need to have around anyway (whether retaining them or going after different one son the MiL FA market), which might lead them to hold onto a few like Oliver, Anna, Obispo, maybe a (resurgent?) d’Arnaud.

  • R Edwards

    From the list above, the only ones I would be upset if we did not protect and we lost them include (beyond the obvious ones Taillon and Kingham) – Garcia, Oliver, Diaz, Rojas, Osuna, Rivera, and Medina. Creasy is borderline. Realistically, could we protect all of the ones on my list?

  • http://battlingbucs.wordpress.com battlingbucs

    I know it won’t matter as no one would select him but is Jose Tabata officially eligible for the Rule V draft?

    • S Brooks

      I don’t believe so. Tabata is under contract for 2015, so he doesn’t qualify.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com/ Tim Williams

      Yes, he would. I didn’t have him in my database because he was previously on the 40-man.

      • S Brooks

        OK looks like I was mostly wrong about that, except for one wrinkle – Tabata still has the right to declare free agency at the end of the season under Article XX-D (player with 3+ years of service outrighted to minors). He would be forgoing $8.5M in salary, so it’s unlikely he would do so, in which case he would be subject to Rule 5.

        “Per Article XX-D of the CBA, a player on an MLB 40-man roster who has been outrighted previously in his career and/or who has accrued at least three years of MLB Service Time can elect to be a free-agent if he is sent outright to the minors. The outrighted Article XX-D player can elect to be a free-agent immediately upon being outrighted, or he can accept the Outright Assignment and defer his option to elect free-agency until after the conclusion of the MLB regular season. However, a player eligible to be a free-agent if outrighted who accepts an Outright Assignment and defers his option to elect free-agency until after the conclusion of the MLB regular season forfeits his right to elect free-agency if he is added back to an MLB 40-man roster prior to the conclusion of the MLB regular season.”

        Thanks for the correction, Tim.

  • Matt Beam

    Gomez also comes to mind as a non-tender candidate this off-season as he’s arbitration eligible for the 1st time and I doubt the FO will pay him $1M/yr to be the long guy out of the bullpen. While the likelihood of each varies and they would need to be replaced, you could also add (probably in this order) Frieri, Gaby, and Ike to the list of potential of non-tenders for the same reasons.

  • lonleylibertarian

    Do not think that finding roster spots to retain prospects will be much of a challenge – lots of guys already mentioned that could easily be let go…

    I have become convinced that Lambo is in someone’s doghouse big time – must have shown some attitude in the spring or something. Otherwise you slot him in as the first base alternative to Davis going into Spring Training – and don’t tell me he did not hit last spring – he has a VERY low hurdle to clear if you use Davis as a standard.

    But Hurdle or someone has black-balled him so I would guess they will try and move him in a trade or if that fails he gets exposed and drafted – after which he will proceed to hit 30+ HRs for some other team for 5 to 10 years.

    • bucsws2014

      Ishikawa best out Lambo. Why is that so hard to accept? We’re beyond scholarships at this point.

      • lonleylibertarian

        Should probably have kept Travis – he could at least field the position

    • leowalter

      You had to see at least some of his ABs in Florida to understand. I didn’t see him hit a ball ouy of the infield in 4 games. Not only that,they were all weak groundballs or infield popups. I felt bad for him, because it wasn’t for lack of effort.

      • lonleylibertarian

        You guys crack me up – yes Lambo had a horrible spring – yes he had a bad winter ball season. But he seems to have fixed whatever was wrong and is back on track at Indy.

        Meanwhile Sanchez and Davis continue to stink up the joint game in and game out and you don’t want to give Lambo 100 at bats to see if he can provide some offense.

        I can’t imagine how he would be worse – the two guys now sharing first are below Replacement Value

        • lonleylibertarian

          But as I said – something else is going on – he got in the doghouse and is not getting out – he will be the next Brian Moss

        • leowalter

          Why does that ” crack you up “? All I did was point out to you what put him in the organizational doghouse. As for him being the ” next Brandon Moss “, time will tell, but Moss got plenty of opportunity in Pittsburgh, and he didn’t deliver. That is just the way MLB works. When you get your chances, you must produce or they move on. Actually,the Phillies are the organization who missed the boat on Moss. They had him and never even gave him a chance at all, unlike the Pirates. To me, late bloomers like Moss are great to see. The only problem with them is time has already been wasted, and they end up having a short shelf life.

          • Andrew

            If Lambo wants to pull a Brandon Moss he needs to hit .229/.295/.374 in about 600 PAs over parts of three seasons. And how are we sure that Ike Davis wouldn’t be the Brandon Moss in this scenario and Lambo would play the role of Jeff Clement, former top #50 overall prospect, who was brought in to replace Moss’s at bats?

            • leowalter

              There is a much better chance of your scenario being correct than those of several others commenting here.

          • Bryan Graham

            Yeah, let’s not give a guy 100 AB’s when we have proven studs like Gabby & Ike manning 1B. Why take a chance on possibly improving your playoff chances by increasing your offensive productivity. There really isn’t anything to lose in this situation, especially when you consider our offense is somewhat crippled with Nix and Martinez getting AB’s.

            • leowalter

              ” There isn’t anything to lose ” ? You are in dream land, this isn’t a Fantasy League you are talking about..

  • BD_Vlad

    I would expect Ngoepe to be picked if he isn’t protected. His credentials are equal to (if not better than) those of Gustavo Nunez in the year we picked Nunez, for example. It’s also easier to hide a glove on the bench than a bat, particularly at an up-the-middle position – who wouldn’t prefer a young guy with athleticism and maybe some upside over someone like Michael Martinez?