Major League Baseball holds their Rule 5 draft on the last day of the Winter Meetings every year. It doesn’t get a lot of notice because not much usually happens. Today at 10am, the Philadelphia Phillies will make the first pick of the draft and industry sources are saying they will go after the Tampa Bay Rays’ Tyler Goeddel. After that, 27 other teams will be called before the Pittsburgh Pirates have a chance to make a pick. According to those covering the draft, it appears it will be a quiet Rule 5 draft for the Pirates.
Ben Badler from Baseball America put out the biggest list of possible picks in the draft and not one Pirate made his list, which turned out to be 50 total names. With him adding some players based on rumors, and only 10-15 players likely to get picked, that seems like good news for the Pirates. Multiple other sources have put out smaller lists and no one from the Pirates’ organization has been listed there either.
It’s important to remember that not only will there not be many picks, but those picks aren’t likely to stick with their new team. More than half of the players picked are returned to their original team in an average year. Of course, after saying all that, then Pirates could end up losing multiple players just because they are available and one team might like what they see enough to put out a meager amount of money(in baseball terms) to see the player up close during Spring Training.
The Pirates lost Andy Oliver last year, which really can’t be considered a loss based on the fact that he not only cleared waivers, the Pirates didn’t want him back for $25,000(half what they received) and he played in AAA for two different teams last year after leaving the team that picked him(Phillies). The year before, they lost Wei-Chung Wang, which was another surprising pick that didn’t work out. He was kept by the Brewers, who barely used him because he was far from Big League ready and hadn’t pitched above the Gulf Coast League, which is the lowest level outside of the foreign summer leagues. Wang pitched all of 2015 in the minors, then was dropped from the 40-man roster after the season. He is Rule 5 eligible this year, though unlikely to be picked.
In 2012, the Pirates didn’t lose anyone and in 2011, they sort of lost Brett Lorin, who was traded away so that the Diamondbacks could instead send him to the minors. He retired two years later without making the majors. As you can see, there is a reason why the Rule 5 draft is more worrying than it is worth in most cases, which goes for most teams. The Pirates themselves haven’t taken a pick in three years and as a team picking late, and one that is expected to contend, it’s unlikely they will take one this year either.
For a full recap of the players who are available, you can check this link we posted earlier. I’ll give a quick refresher course and note that any minor league free agent the Pirates signed this off-season, who isn’t on the 40-man roster, is eligible for the draft. Those players rarely get selected because if teams wanted them in the first place, they could have signed them and not had to keep them on the 25-man roster all season.
Before starting, it should be noted that over the years, almost 75% of picks made are pitchers. After that, catchers and outfielders are the most likely picks, but even then, you’ll only see 1-2 each year. Infielders make up a very small portion of the players picked over the years.
The top name among prospects for the Pirates is Clay Holmes and he has pitched 36.1 innings over the last two years due to Tommy John surgery last March. At 22 years old, he has huge upside, but hasn’t pitched above A-ball. He’s the top prospect in this group, but probably not the most likely to be picked due to inexperience.
Barrett Barnes is a toolsy outfielder, who has had a lot of trouble staying healthy. That has limited the 24-year-old to 196 games over four seasons. A team could be intrigued by the upside, as he has some power, speed, defense and a nice approach at the plate. He has only played a half year of AA though, so between the injury past and lack of upper level experience, he seems safe at this point.
Since pitchers are the most likely to be taken, the top names available after Holmes are John Kuchno, Jason Creasy and Luis Heredia. I’ll note that Brandon Cumpton and Casey Sadler are also available, but neither will pitch in 2016. That means a team would have to pay them for an entire year in which they would also pick up a full year of service time, then in 2017 the Rule 5 rules would still apply, meaning they would need to stick on the roster all season. That would be a big investment for pitchers who likely have futures in the bullpen at the Major League level. Both pitchers could have been picked up off waivers after the season.
Kuchno is a ground ball machine, who pitches to contact, resulting in low strikeout numbers. He pitched out of the bullpen in AA this year with mixed results, so that limits his upside and the chances some team will take him. After all, if you’re using a roster spot all year for someone who isn’t Major League ready, you’re doing it because you think they have upside down the line. Kuchno could make it as a middle reliever down the line, but this draft class is loaded with hard throwers that have back of the bullpen upside.
Creasy had a tough season in AA, but the Pirates stuck with him in the rotation. He hits 94-95 mph, so there is upside, but he had some control issues this season. Add in that both his strikeout rate and ground ball rate were low, and you have another unlikely pick.
Heredia is the most familiar name, as a player the Pirates paid $3M to sign as a 16-year-old back in 2010. If you’ve followed this site for awhile, he is someone we have covered extensively and he has been on a steady decline over the years. He is still 21 years old, 6’6″ and hits 93-94 mph, so there is a reason to not totally write him off. That being said, he went from a top prospect in 2012(who scouts loved) to someone who had trouble with control and high pitch counts in High-A, limiting him to 86 innings in 21 starts this year. On name alone, he might draw interest, but his chances of sticking with a team are extremely small.
The Pirates have two catchers available in Jacob Stallings and Jin-De Jhang. Stallings will probably make the majors as a backup someday, though that is his upside as his defense is stronger than the bat. Jhang has more upside with the bat, but he was in High-A this year, so that would be quite a jump. Neither seems likely to be picked, but they are also players who the Pirates could easily afford to lose with Reese McGuire and Elias Diaz in the system.
In the outfield, you have Mel Rojas Jr. and Jose Osuna. Rojas has always had the toolsy outfielder label, but other than defense, we haven’t seen him really breakout. He has AAA experience and a team might see a player who could play defense and run the bases, so he could be of some use to a team with a strong outfield already since he wouldn’t be an option to start.
Osuna has been making waves this off-season in winter ball as one of the best hitters in the Venezuelan league. He has some power, a strong arm, and he also plays first base. His drawback for a team would be that he only has half a season in at AA and he doesn’t draw many walks, plus his defense is average at best in the outfield and at first base. Neither Rojas nor Osuna have huge upside at this point and playing first base won’t help Osuna much, as 2% of Rule 5 picks have been first baseman over the years. There are also a couple better options available there.
You could also add Carlos Munoz and Dan Gamache as outside chances. Munoz has a tremendous approach at the plate, plus he rarely strikes out, so his advanced approach could tempt someone. He has a lot of downside though, with no experience in full-season ball and a career filled with conditioning issues and second half slumps. If you’ve been following winter ball here, you know it’s happening again with him right now as he’s currently in a 7-for-49 slump and hasn’t had an extra-base hit in three weeks. Gamache has some AAA experience, can play multiple positions and he hit well in AA this year, but he’s another case of a player with MLB bench upside, so the chances of a team taking him are very slim. He also doesn’t have any plus tools, so he doesn’t offer much value off the bench in a limited role right now.
This article is a lot of words to say that it’s more likely that the Pirates gain/lose players in the minor league portion of the draft than they do in the Major League part. Those players have a much smaller chance of amounting to anything for the organization, as they have been left off the AAA roster as well, or in some cases, the AAA and AA rosters. The Pirates usually lose and pick up 1-2 players on the minor league side, though they haven’t amounted to anything recently. We will have live updates this morning as the picks are being made…unless nothing happens.
Update 9:10am: Jim Callis added the draft order, pointing out the rosters for each team. Seven of the teams currently have full 40-man rosters, meaning that they can’t make a pick unless they drop a player this morning. As I mentioned up top, it’s likely only 10-15 picks will be made, as many teams will just choose to pass on their pick.
9:39am: Yankees’ outfielder Jake Cave is going with the second pick to the Reds according to J.J. Cooper. I’d expect a run on pitchers after that and Cooper mentions Zack Jones and Luis Perdomo should go shortly after the Reds pick. Jones and Perdomo are among the names mentioned most often, so no surprise there.
Scratch that previous tweet. Yankees OF Jake Cave going no. 2 to Reds.
— JJ Cooper (@jjcoop36) December 10, 2015