The Pittsburgh Pirates added six players to the 40-man roster today, filling out their reserve list to protect those players from the upcoming Rule 5 draft. The Pirates protected Matt Hague, Starling Marte, Jordy Mercer, Rudy Owens, Duke Welker, and Justin Wilson. To make room the Pirates have designated outfielder Xavier Paul and catcher Eric Fryer for assignment. Here is a rundown of each player that was added to the roster.
Matt Hague – He was drafted in the ninth round of the 2008 draft as a college senior, and signed to a $25 K bonus. Hague has done nothing but hit throughout his minor league career, although there are some questions as to how effective his bat will be in the majors. If the Pirates can’t bring back Derrek Lee, and can’t sign Carlos Pena, Hague could become an option as the starting first baseman for the 2012 season. He’s played some third base in the past, including at the AAA level in 2011, so he could also serve as a bench bat.
Starling Marte – Marte is one of the best international prospects the Pirates have developed in some time. He’s a great defensive center fielder with a great arm, although he made a lot of noise this past season with his bat. Marte hit for a .332 average, winning the Eastern League batting title, while also putting up an .870 OPS and 12 homers in 536 at-bats. There was never any question that Marte would be protected.
Jordy Mercer – When Mercer was drafted in 2008, he was touted as an offensive shortstop who could stick at the position. We didn’t see the offense until this year, when he combined for 19 homers in 491 at-bats between AA and AAA. He needs some time in AAA, as he struggled some at the level with a .689 OPS, although the Pirates lack a long term shortstop so there should be no question why Mercer was protected.
Rudy Owens – After winning the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year award in 2009 and 2010, Owens struggled in 2011. He gave up a 5.05 ERA in 112.1 innings, and didn’t feature the pinpoint control he was known for in his previous two seasons. On top of that, he ended the season on the disabled list with a shoulder injury. It wouldn’t be out of the question to see him in the majors in 2012, especially if he rebounds quickly in AAA at the start of the season.
Duke Welker – I listed him as a dark horse candidate yesterday, and don’t really find his inclusion to be a surprise (so much that I included his name when I wrote this last night, well before the Pirates announced the names). Welker saw a drastic improvement to his control this year, and has hit 98 MPH in the past year, with a good slider. He’s a potential late inning reliever with a major league fastball, which would have put him at risk of being selected, despite only ten innings above high-A.
Justin Wilson – He was drafted in the 5th round of the 2008 draft, and has put up some impressive numbers the last three years, although he’s struggled with his control. The control issues are due to a lot of late movement on his pitches, which make them hard to locate. Perhaps his most impressive accomplishment was hitting 99 MPH out of the bullpen at the end of the 2011 season. As a left handed pitcher, Wilson has huge value as a potential late inning reliever, but don’t count him out of the rotation just yet, as he probably has the best stuff of any starter in the top two levels of the Pirates’ minor league system.