A week from today, the Pirates and every other MLB team will make some important moves to set their 40-man rosters for the offseason. The 40-man rosters all across baseball will change on a daily basis, but November 20th marks the final day to add players in order to protect them from the Rule 5 draft.
Any player who is eligible for the 2017 Rule 5 draft, and not added to the 40-man roster by next week, would be eligible to be selected in the draft. The players who are eligible for the first time this year are players who signed their first pro contract at the age of 19 or older in 2014, and players who signed at 18 or younger in 2013. That means college draftees and older international signings from 2014 or earlier, and high school draftees and younger international signings from 2013 or earlier are eligible.
I posted this list in July, and the Pirates have already made a few moves. They added Angel Sanchez and Jordan Luplow to the 40-man roster by the end of the season, with both players getting a call to the big leagues. They also traded Connor Joe for Sean Rodriguez in August.
The rest of the list provides some easy decisions, although the Pirates might have one somewhat tough call to make, as they have four roster spots open and five players who could warrant a spot. Here are the lists, with analysis to follow.
In Our Mid-Season Top 50
Johan De Jesus
Notes: The only name on this list who would warrant protection is Eduardo Vera. He had a small breakout season in West Virginia this year, seeing his velocity jump to the mid-to-upper 90s, and hitting 97 on several occasions. Vera pairs that with some promising off-speed stuff, and has become an arm to watch in the lower levels. The only issue is that he hasn’t pitched higher than Low-A, meaning he would have to speed through the system once he’s on the 40-man. I’ll get to that more later.
Casey Sadler and Jin-De Jhang were re-signed as minor league free agents, but can still be drafted by another team. That also applies to any other minor league free agents signed by the Pirates before the Rule 5 draft.
First Time Eligible in 2017
In Our Mid-Season Top 50
Michael De La Cruz
Notes: The obvious guy to protect here is Austin Meadows. The other three guys who would warrant protection are Luis Escobar, Adrian Valerio, and Tyler Eppler.
I think Escobar will be protected due to his upside and the fact that he’s been on the radar as a prospect (pitching in the MLB Future’s Game helps). Valerio made some great strides this year with his consistency, showing off some hitting ability along with good defense at shortstop. He’s not big league ready at all, but it wouldn’t take much to protect a strong defensive shortstop in the majors. Eppler is a hard thrower who could serve as rotation depth right now, or a bullpen option in the majors. Adding him would be an easy decision for any team without good pitching depth. The Pirates do have good depth, with a lot of similar options, but they also shouldn’t be in the business of giving pitchers away for free.
Who Should Be Protected?
Austin Meadows is the first clear answer for who should be protected next week. Beyond Meadows, there are four other strong candidates who would all warrant protection. I’d separate Eppler from the other three and say that he should be protected.
As individual choices in a vacuum, there are arguments for protecting Escobar, Valerio, and Vera. The problem is that it might be difficult for the Pirates to add all three players to the 40-man roster at the same time. They would be protecting three players who haven’t spent time above Low-A ball, and who all have things to work on. Vera might be the only one who could be on a fast track from the group.
Even if Valerio plays well, he still has other shortstop prospects blocking him in the upper levels, with Kevin Newman and Cole Tucker holding him back, and Stephen Alemais also providing competition.
Escobar is the best prospect of the group, and while he has some control issues, he also has impressive stuff, with some of the best strikeout ability in the system. If he can get the control figured out, he could be on a faster track, although that isn’t guaranteed.
One thing that could help the Pirates protect all three low-level players is that they aren’t currently protecting any lower level guys. The prospects on the 40-man roster are all in the upper-levels. Those prospects also provide the depth that the Pirates would need, meaning they wouldn’t need a lot of roster spots this offseason, outside of MLB additions. So having three lower level prospects on the 40-man at the same time wouldn’t be a roster issue, but a personal development issue.
I think Meadows and Eppler should be protected, and will be protected. Individually, you can make a case for Escobar, Valerio, and Vera. The only issue is whether the Pirates protect that many players from the lower levels, and whether each of those players would still be able to handle normal development once on the 40-man.