JJ Cooper from Baseball America posted a list of the top Rule 5 candidates, along with players who fit the mold of the type who get selected in the Rule 5 draft. The Pittsburgh Pirates added Austin Meadows, Luis Escobar and Dario Agrazal to their 40-man roster this off-season. That was to protect them from the Rule 5 draft, which takes place next Thursday morning. Last month, Tim Williams commented on the prospects for the Pirates who are available in the draft.
I’ll start with the names included on the BA list, which also offers potential names for the Pirates, who have three open spots on their 40-man roster. There weren’t any among the top choices available, but Cooper still included three Pirates on his long list of 70+ names. He has Montana DuRapau, Eric Wood and Pablo Reyes on his list. That’s an interesting group, but wouldn’t be names to worry about losing for the $100,000 price tag attached to Rule 5 picks.
DuRapau has minimal Triple-A experience and doesn’t have overpowering stuff or strong command of his pitches, so his upside is middle reliever and he will be 26 in March. Reyes has no Triple-A experience, and while he has tools and versatility, his upside is a bench player and he’s not ready for the majors.
Wood has power and some defense, but he didn’t have a great first run at Triple-A this year. Third basemen usually aren’t selected in the Rule 5 draft, which was one of the reasons that leaving him unprotected last year wasn’t a huge gamble. While he now has a full season of Triple-A, his stock took a hit this year. The strikeouts went up, the defense wasn’t as good as 2016, although I think that last part has more to do with him learning new positions and not putting in as much time at third base.
They all fit the mold of players who could be selected, but none of them offer the upside or immediate help that teams look for in the draft. If you’re going to keep someone on your 25-man roster all season, you either want to be able to use them, or the risk should be worth the future reward.
The BA list didn’t have Tyler Eppler, who was ranked as one of the top ten available players by MLB Pipeline recently. If I had to guess, I’d say Eppler is the most likely player to be selected from the Pirates. He has a workhorse frame and can get his fastball up to 96 MPH as a starter, plus he throws strikes. His 2017 season was not a strong one, but the potential is there for him to be better.
His biggest flaw is learning how to pitch. When our live coverage from Altoona or Indianapolis covered some of his worst outings, he said the same thing over and over. He would try to get ahead in the count with his fastball and he went to the pitch too often. The other team would know an 0-0 fastball is coming and Eppler is going to be in the strike zone. It doesn’t matter if you’re a 6’6″ pitcher sitting 92-95 MPH with your fastball, a Triple-A hitter is going to hit that pitch if he knows it’s coming. Seems like an easy fix, but it’s been an issue he has know about for two years. Throwing too many strikes isn’t the worst flaw to have though, and if he learns to pitch to hitters better, then he has the stuff be a better prospect.
Eppler’s tools fit the profile of a Rule 5 pick. He might only offer a team an innings eater out of the bullpen this year, but he’s a big arm with a potential velocity increase in shorter outings.
Eduardo Vera and Adrian Valerio fit the upside mold better than anyone else available for the Pirates. Their flaws are experience-related, which is what the Pirates hope will keep them from being selected. Vera’s top level of experience at this time last year was the GCL, and Valerio had a season in Bristol to his credit.
Both of them played for West Virginia this year, with Valerio playing just 81 games due to three separate injuries. Two of the injuries were from thrown balls and the third was a minor one on a play at second base, so durability isn’t the concern. A team selecting him would be advancing a young player over three levels, where he would be seeing pitching far advanced over what he has faced to this point. He doesn’t have the best plate patience, which would be an issue against pitchers able to expose that flaw. His defense at shortstop could be intriguing, but his bench value this upcoming season in the majors would be strictly as a defensive replacement, who has decent speed.
Vera would be closer to the majors at this point, though it’s still a huge jump. He has above average control over three pitches that all improved this year. His fastball got up to 97 MPH this season as a starter and his curve showed signs of being a strikeout pitch. A pitcher with control over three pitches with that type of velocity offers upside down the road and the potential to not be an unusable bullpen piece in the majors. I wouldn’t predict success, but I also don’t think he would be like Wei-Chung Wang, who the Pirates lost to the Brewers in 2014. He was making the jump from the GCL and was a disaster for the Brewers, who used him just 14 times all season, which included numerous one-sided losses.
As far as the BA list, those aren’t players you should worry about losing. As with any Rule 5 pick, there is a slim chance they get selected. The average draft has between 12-20 players total selected and then not all of them stick with their new team. You worry more about losing potential upside down the line, rather than a middle reliever or a bench piece. Tyler Eppler still seems like the most likely to be selected, while Adrian Valerio and Eduardo Vera look to have the biggest potential down the line, but their lack of experience could keep them from being chosen.