Williams: Early Look at the Pirates’ 2017 Rule 5 Class Shows Some Potential Trade Depth

Every year in July, I do an early preview of the Rule 5 eligible players for the Pittsburgh Pirates. It might seem weird to look at this topic five months before the draft takes place, but there’s a good reason to take a look at this list in July. (Also, every year I add this same disclaimer, and maybe by 2019 I’ll just write it normal and everyone will be like “Oh, the annual July Rule 5 look is here!”)

The reason we take a look at this list early is because the Pirates tend to make a lot of their trades from this group. They did that in 2016 when they sent out Stephen Tarpley and Tito Polo in exchange for Ivan Nova. They did the same in 2015 when they traded Adrian Sampson for J.A. Happ, and Yhonathan Barrios for Aramis Ramirez. They even did this back in 2012 when they traded Robbie Grossman and Colton Cain as part of the Wandy Rodriguez trade.

The Rule 5 draft doesn’t create a situation where teams are at risk of losing top prospects. Typically, you can protect everyone who needs to be protected, and the guys you will lose will be bullpen guys or bench options who can be easily replaced. But teams generally prefer to get some value from their players, which means if a guy is on the fringe, they might as well try and get a trade return for him, rather than potentially losing him for nothing.

And thus, we take a look prior to the deadline each year at the upcoming Rule 5 guys, trying to get an idea of the type of trade depth the Pirates have for some minor deals. Here are the list of eligible players, with my notes at the bottom of each section.

Previously Eligible

In Our Mid-Season Top 50

Eric Wood

Eduardo Vera

Wyatt Mathisen

Barrett Barnes


Luis Benitez

Johan De Jesus

Cody Dickson

Jhoan Herrera

Justin Maffei

Brett McKinney

Luis Perez

Pablo Reyes

Miguel Rosario

Edwin Espinal*

Elvis Escobar

Luis Heredia*

Jin-De Jhang

Yunior Montero

Tomas Morales*

Carlos Munoz*

Alfredo Reyes

Henrry Rosario

Casey Sadler*

Angel Sanchez*

Sandy Santos

Jon Schwind*

Erich Weiss

* = Eligible for minor league free agency at the end of the year.

Notes: Eric Wood and Eduardo Vera both made our top 30 in the recent top 50 update, but I’m not sure if either would be a guy to protect in the Rule 5 draft. Wood was ranked high more for his floor than ceiling, and wasn’t protected or drafted last year after a big year and an even bigger offseason. That could change as he continues putting up good numbers in Triple-A, although I could see him just getting added as depth at the end of the year. Vera is too low in the system right now, and while he has been throwing with a lot of velocity, he’s right-handed, which makes it unlikely he would be selected this offseason without success in higher levels.

Wyatt Mathisen has trimmed down this year, and is performing better, but I don’t see him being a risk of being selected. The same goes for Barrett Barnes, who continues having hamstring issues, and wasn’t selected in either of the previous two years.

Casey Sadler and Angel Sanchez are on the list, although both are eligible for free agency at the end of the year. I actually left this sentence in from last year, but it’s still true.

First Time Eligible in 2017

In Our Mid-Season Top 50

Austin Meadows

Jordan Luplow

Luis Escobar

Adrian Valerio

Tyler Eppler

Dario Agrazal

Connor Joe

Jake Brentz

Alex McRae

Jeremias Portorreal

Yeudy Garcia


Jess Amedee

Trae Arbet

Alexis Bastardo

Austin Coley

Julio De La Cruz

Michael De La Cruz

Montana DuRapau

Julio Eusebio

Victor Fernandez

Huascar Fuentes

Hector Garcia

Yoel Gonzalez

Kevin Krause

Edison Lantigua

Junior Lopez

Raul Siri

Sam Street

Michael Suchy

Jerrick Suiter

Felix Vinicio

Notes: This is where most of the protected players will come from, and where most of the trades have come from in previous years. Austin Meadows will obviously be protected. Jordan Luplow is reportedly about to be called up, which would also protect him. The Pirates have also already protected Edgar Santana. From that point forward, the list gets questionable.

Luis Escobar has a lot of upside, and was showcased in the Future’s Game. However, he’s a long way from the majors, and I’m not sure if he would be considered for the draft when you look at his inconsistent performances in the low levels. He’s still young, so that’s not as big of an issue for his prospect status. It does create a challenge in terms of adding him to the 40-man or drafting him to play in the majors all year.

Adrian Valerio is another talented player who is unlikely to be drafted, simply due to age and inexperience. He ranks high due to his skills and age relative to his level, but again, that doesn’t translate to a good player to put on the 40-man.

The Pirates then have some pitching depth options, such as Tyler Eppler, Dario Agrazal, Jake Brentz, Alex McRae, and Yeudy Garcia. All of these guys profile as relievers, with a few of them having a chance to be back of the rotation starters, or depth options out of Triple-A. However, the depth here means the Pirates don’t have to protect any of these guys, as they’ll still have plenty of options (and the list goes beyond these five) if they lose one or trade one away.

I’m not sure that Connor Joe would be selected at this point, since corner players don’t typically get drafted, even if they’re putting up strong numbers, which Joe isn’t doing. Jeremias Portorreal is another international guy who is probably too low to be selected.

The Top Prospects and How to Handle Them

When I did this article in 2015, one of the guys I suggested would be worthy of being protected was Adrian Sampson. He was traded that month for J.A. Happ. I also had Tyler Glasnow, Josh Bell, Harold Ramirez, and Max Moroff as guys who should be protected, and they were all protected that offseason. The Pirates also traded Rule 5 eligible pitcher Yhonathan Barrios to get Aramis Ramirez.

Last year my list of “Must Protect” guys were Steven Brault, Trevor Williams, Stephen Tarpley, Tito Polo, and Clay Holmes, with Dovydas Neverauskas and Jose Osuna on the fringe at the time. They ended up promoting Brault and Williams during the season, traded Tarpley and Polo for Ivan Nova, and protected Neverauskas and Osuna after the season to keep them around.

It’s difficult to come up with a “Must Protect” list this year. Austin Meadows is obviously on that list. Edgar Santana and Jordan Luplow would have otherwise been on the list, but both have been or will be added to the 40-man.

Beyond those three, there are a lot of talented players who are very low in the system, and not yet putting it all together. Luis Escobar, Adrian Valerio, and Eduardo Vera would be the top guys on my list as fringe guys to protect. Eric Wood and Tyler Eppler would be guys to protect in the upper levels when looking at a high floor, and I could see both being added by the end of the season as depth. But the Pirates can’t keep that many players on their 40-man roster, especially when Escobar/Valerio/Vera would need at least 2-3 more years in the minors.

I could see the Pirates making some trades from the Rule 5 group, trading from the fringe guys in the lower levels, and the pitching depth in the upper levels. You’re not getting Sonny Gray with that type of return, but as we’ve seen the last two years, guys like Happ and Nova can be just as good, and accessible for these types of prospects.


  • Just a reminder, if the Bucs add a guy to the 40 man, that means that player is only 3-4 years away from being out of options. You need to make sure a guy is on a good path if you protect him while he’s still in A ball. I don’t think you’ll see anyone that’s currently playing below triple A protected, nor do I think they should.

  • Wouldn’t be surprised if they protected Brentz just because he’s a lefty that throws hard. That type of guy seems like the type for a team to take a Rule 5 flier on, control problems notwithstanding.

  • Pitching:
    The Pirates will:
    – Keep 10 from the MLB club
    – Keep Glasnow, Brault, Santana, and Neverauskas (either be on the MLB or AAA club)
    – Keep Holmes in AAA
    – Lose Watson and Nicasio to free agency
    – Cut Hutch and Barbato
    – Lose Kingham on waivers
    That leaves about 5 roster spots for: Eppler, 2 free agent/trade late inning relievers, and 2 new AAAA relievers (as usual),

    The Pirates will:
    – Keep 11 guys from their roster
    – Add Diaz to the MLB club
    – Add Meadows to the 40-man
    – Keep Luplow, Stallings, Moroff, and Bostick
    – Lose Stewart and Jaso to free agency
    – Cut Ortiz, Ngoepe, and SS
    That leaves about 3 roster spots for Wood, a free agent/trade deadline pick up, and maybe Mathisen

  • In Barnes case, his injuries could help him as they would burn up his MLB commitment time if he were chosen asa rule V pick.

  • First six on the 2017 list should be protected.

    • I don’t think you can afford to protect a player in low A. You can only keep him on the 40-man for three years before he has to remain in the majors. So they would all Escobar and maybe even Valerio and Agrazal would end up like Hanson.

  • Michael Sanders
    July 27, 2017 5:44 pm

    If someone picks Connor Joe they could legitimately keep him on the DL all next year.

  • Do Rule 5 eligible players traded by the Pirates remain Rule 5 eligible players for the receiving team?

  • dangreen1984
    July 27, 2017 4:39 pm

    How is Portorreal rule 5 eligible? He’s only been in the US since last year.

    • John Dreker
      July 27, 2017 5:21 pm

      Takes four full seasons for International and HS players, with the year they sign not counting. So 2013 draft picks and July 2nd class signings are eligible this year. College it takes three full years, meaning 2014 draft picks. Portorreal spent three years in the DSL, this is his fourth season.

      • dangreen1984
        July 28, 2017 9:49 am

        Thanks John. For some reason, I thought the clock didn’t start ticking until they came to the U.S.

  • Does Kang have to go back on the 40 man roster at the end of the year? Or stay on the restricted list?

    • John Dreker
      July 27, 2017 5:26 pm

      No, you can keep a player on the restricted list for up to two years without removing him.

  • buccobrach2
    July 27, 2017 2:54 pm

    In your opinion, what do we need to give up for Sonny Gray?

  • Wood, Espinal, Sanchez, Meadows, Eppler, Agrazal and Escobar all look like must protects at this juncture. This is when you consider the likelihood of these players being picked in the draft and their potential value to the team in the long run. Meadows is the no-brainer of the group. The rest minus Escobar are potentially ready now for at least bullpen or bench roles. Would like to see Sanchez get a call up in September to see if he can hold his own with his plus fastball. I think Escobar could be a potential steal with a super aggressive move up to a MLB bullpen. His stuff plays but apparently his mental side is a work in progress. But letting it out for one inning as opposed to starting would probably solve that problem.

    • Wood no (no last year and has not done anything that would make him a yes this year), Espinal no (first basemen do not get selected), Eppler no, (just no), same with Agrazel, Escobar no (no one is taking a low A pitcher). Remember that these guys have to remain on the 25 man.

      • escobar would be taken, could be a mop up guy and than back to a starter the next yr.

      • Bill Harvey
        July 27, 2017 9:42 pm

        White Sox would definitely take a shot on Escolar, they have nothing to lose, and have the opportunity to work with him.

      • Wood is putting on solid numbers this year and plays good defense at third. If the Pirates don’t give him a shot in the majors someone else will. Espinal will be a free agent if not added. If Osuna was worth adding last year, which turned out to be the right move, then Espinal should be added this year. Eppler moved through the system quickly and is a good rotation depth piece and potentially a good bullpen arm. Agrazal broke out this year in High-A and like Escobar could probably hold his own right now in a MLB pen. These guys don’t need to make the 25 man roster, just stay on the 40. And right now there is plenty of room when you subtract pending free agents and guys who are easily replaceable like Ortiz and Barbato.

  • Here’s an idea-maybe NH can use a few guys on this list to actually target a reliever who will help this dumpster fire of a bullpen after Rivero.

    • Their bullpen next year right now consists of Rivero, Hudson, Schugel, Santana? They’re scary thin back there in 2018. At some point they have to make decisions on Brault, Glasnow and Kingham but flipping a guy on the list above for a potential 7th inning or 6th inning guy wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world. I’d like to see Brault get a shot in the rotation and move Kuhl to the pen next year. But that’s more or less because Kuhl throws really hard and that’s not a great idea to move someone to the pen. Kingham will probably find his way into that long relief role and hopefully take someone’s spot. But I’m not sure Williams translates to the pen. Bottom line they need help in the bullpen next year. Converting the starting depth to the relief role and hoping they all add 2 or 3 MPH probably isn’t the best solution.

      • Could not agree more Deacs. and I really don’t know how much they should even assume from Hudson, Schugel, Santana. Since he went back down Santana has some ugly #s and a FIP over 5. Woof.

  • i’ve been waiting for an analysis like this.

    it’s interesting. The Rule 5 Draft truly makes it so that there are diminishing returns when you start to have too many good prospects.

    You can’t keep everybody. You have to make “buy” trades sometimes if you have a deep system because you’ll end up losing guys for free if you don’t.

  • has kingham regressed to the point that???