The Pittsburgh Pirates set their 40-man roster today, adding Mitch Keller, Cole Tucker, JT Brubaker, and Jason Martin, while trading Tanner Anderson. Keller, Tucker, Brubaker, and Martin were protected from the upcoming Rule 5 draft on December 14th. 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 $100,000 to the former team. The drafting team has to protect that player by placing him on the 25-man roster for the entire 2019 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 $50,000. 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 following season until they’ve reached 90 days total on the active roster.
This happened in 2018 with the Pirates and Nick Burdi, meaning he’s still required to be in the majors for about two months in 2019 before the Pirates can send him down and keep him with no restrictions.
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 don’t seem like they’re at risk of losing anyone. Every year for this article I highlight the most interesting prospects left unprotected. Three of them this year were on the list last year, and none of them were drafted last year. Those players are Tyler Eppler, Eduardo Vera, and Adrian Valerio.
Eppler improved his stock this year, and could be selected by a team looking for a cheap middle relief option. He showed better results this year with his cutter, and could be a depth option for the Pirates in 2019 if he sticks around. However, he’s behind a few guys on the depth chart, including JT Brubaker.
Vera was recently re-signed as a minor league free agent, getting an invite to MLB Spring Training. He didn’t actually hit the open market, and wanted to return to the Pirates. That combination means that other teams didn’t get much of a chance to add him. That said, I don’t see him getting added as a Rule 5 pick, since there are typically good MLB relief options who are closer to the majors. That said, Vera might be the best prospect that they left unprotected.
Adrian Valerio isn’t at risk of being taken. He is coming off a year where his offense struggled, separate from the impact of the Florida State League. He’s a strong defensive shortstop, and should make the majors one day due to that skill alone. That makes him a notable prospect, but not a guy who is at risk of being taken.
In the group of first-time eligible guys, there are a few people who stand out as MLB depth options. Christian Kelley might be the most interesting for Rule 5 purposes. His offense struggled in Altoona this year, but he’s got good enough defense that he could serve as a cheap defensive backup for a team with a poor catching situation. I’d assume he will remain with the Pirates, and could be a depth option for them if they have another 2012/2016 type season where they go through half a dozen catchers or more.
Brandon Waddell and James Marvel are guys who could be middle relievers in the majors one day. I think Waddell is more at risk of being selected as a lefty with good command of four pitches. Marvel could be a ground ball specialist, but is further from the majors. In either case, I think the Rule 5 chances are low.
Here are all of the Pirates prospects who are eligible for the Rule 5 draft:
First Time Eligible in 2018
In Our Mid-Season Top 50
Yerry De Los Santos
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.