The Pittsburgh Pirates set their 40-man roster today, adding four players and protecting those players from the upcoming Rule 5 draft on December 10th. The players on the lists below are eligible for the Rule 5 draft.
When a player is eligible for the Rule 5 draft, that means any team can select him in the draft, paying $50,000 to the former team. The drafting team has to protect that player by placing him on the 25-man roster for the entire 2015 season. If a team can’t keep the player on the 25-man roster, they must place the player on waivers. If the player is claimed, the new team has to keep the player on the 25-man roster or waive him. If the player clears waivers, they have to be offered back to their original team for $25,000. Rule 5 picks can be placed on the disabled list, but they must spend at least 90 days on the active roster. Otherwise their Rule 5 restrictions carry over to the 2016 season until they’ve reached 90 days total on the active roster.
A player getting picked doesn’t mean that player will be totally lost. The odds of players sticking in the majors for the entire season are very slim. It’s not impossible, as we saw in 2013 with Wei-Chung Wang going to the Milwaukee Brewers. But most players exposed to the Rule 5 draft these days amount to waiver claims. You’re not really risking a potential impact player, and the worst that usually happens is that you lose a good middle reliever or a bench player.
The Pirates do have two guys who were left unprotected and have upsides bigger than relievers or bench players — Clay Holmes and Barrett Barnes. I’ll go over them specifically below, along with the other notable players who were left unprotected. The full list of unprotected players is at the bottom of the article. I want to add the disclaimer that I don’t think all of the following guys are at risk of being drafted in a few weeks. In fact, I think the strongest candidates are Barrett Barnes and Clay Holmes. Others are just mentioned for their chance to make the majors one day, their former prospect status, or because they had a noteworthy season this year. Here is the breakdown:
Clay Holmes – The Pirates have had their fair share of Tommy John surgeries the last few years, and Holmes was one of the big ones. He’s a tall right-hander who can work in the low-to-mid 90s with his fastball, and has a promising curveball. After missing the 2014 season with Tommy John, Holmes returned in 2015, and looked good in his limited time in Bradenton. He fixed some of his control problems at the end of the 2013 season in West Virginia, and that looked to carry over to the next level, even after the injury. Holmes has the upside of a middle of the rotation starter, and could make the jump to Altoona at the start of the 2016 season. If another team takes him, he could stick in the majors as a reliever, with his fastball playing up out of the bullpen, and his curveball working as an out pitch.
Barrett Barnes – Most of his career has been plagued by injuries, which really hurt the chances for Barnes to develop his bat. He’s a very toolsy outfielder with above average raw power, and some of that started to show up this year in his first healthy season. He’s lower on the Pirates’ strong outfield depth list, behind Meadows and Ramirez from a prospect standpoint, and with seemingly little chance of being a starter one day in Pittsburgh. However, it makes sense to protect him, as he could be a starter one day in the majors, and has value to the organization as a trade chip. Furthermore, he would be an easy guy to protect for another team, as he can play all three outfield spots, with good defense in center field, and can provide speed on the bases. The move to leave him unprotected might be related to his injury history, but there’s a chance the Pirates could lose a good prospect here.
John Kuchno – He’s got the potential to be a Jared Hughes type reliever, although I don’t see him getting selected in the Rule 5 draft. He’s got the biggest ground ball tendency in the system, but that’s about the extent of what he can do for now. He should pitch in the majors one day, but he’ll be safe from the Rule 5.
Jin-De Jhang – Jhang is a great pure hitter who has some good defensive skills behind the plate that allow him to stick there, despite his size. He’s also surprisingly agile for his size. He’s behind Reese McGuire right now, and will probably stay behind him if the two move up to Altoona next year. I don’t see him getting selected, as I don’t think he’s ready to be a backup catcher in the majors right now.
Carlos Munoz – He has no risk of being selected, since he’s extremely far from the majors. The same was true for Wei-Chung Wang, although it’s a bit easier to stash a lefty who can hit 95 frequently than it is to stash a first base only option who hasn’t played much above rookie ball. The 2016 season will be an interesting one for Munoz. If he can repeat his success at the plate in West Virginia or higher, then he could put himself in the conversation to be protected next year.
Jacob Stallings – He’s got the upside of a backup catcher, with strong defensive skills and great work with his pitchers, quickly learning their tendencies. He doesn’t hit much, and is limited to being a singles hitter in the future. From the strong defense/lack of a bat to his tall, skinny frame, he’s almost a clone of Chris Stewart. I could see him getting selected by a team that wants a cheap backup catcher. It wouldn’t be a massive loss for the Pirates, since he’s currently crammed between Elias Diaz in Triple-A, and Reese McGuire/Jin-De Jhang in Double-A. But you’d like to see them maintain their catching depth by keeping him around.
Dan Gamache – He’s got the chance to play in the majors as a utility infielder, and should start the 2016 season in Triple-A. Gamache probably isn’t a big risk to be taken, since he doesn’t provide a lot of defensive value at second base, and doesn’t have the bat to provide value at third. If he is taken, it would hurt the Pirates’ bench depth in 2016, but wouldn’t be a huge long-term loss, since they’ve got a lot of strong options slated for Triple-A.
Luis Heredia – At this point, Heredia is more of a name than a prospect. He’s been a project for years, and while it’s still too early to write him off, at this point he’s not really a guy you worry about losing. He’s not at risk of being taken in the MLB portion of the Rule 5 draft, and considering the current state of the system, he’s a guy who might end up moving to relief in the minors in 2016. We don’t even have him in our upcoming Top 50, and there wasn’t any consideration given there.
Tyler Gaffney – Here’s an interesting name. Some of you may remember Gaffney, who was drafted in 2012, had a big year with State College, then retired to play football at Stanford. He went on to be an NFL running back, but has spent the last two years on the injured reserve list with the New England Patriots. The Pirates still control his baseball rights, if he ever decides to return. As a college player drafted in 2012, Gaffney is eligible for the Rule 5 draft this year. He’s no risk at all to be taken in the MLB portion. However, it’s very possible that a team could gamble on the athleticism and the chance he might return to baseball, and draft him in the minor league portion. They’d basically get to keep his rights at a very minimal fee. The same thing happened with Russell Wilson a few years ago in the minor league portion of the draft.
First time Eligibles
Christopher De Leon
Mel Rojas Jr.
As an addition to the above list, any minor league free agents who are signed before the Rule 5 draft are eligible to be drafted by other teams.