Teams have to decide by 8 PM tonight who they are protecting from the Rule 5 Draft next month. The Pittsburgh Pirates have some easy decisions to make, while there are others who are slight risks to be selected by another team if they are left unprotected.

Back in late August, we posted an article looking at the eligible players. Here’s a list of those names:

Saul de la Cruz

Yerry De Los Santos

Nicholas Economos

Elys Escobar

Yeudy Garcia

Raul Hernandez

Logan Hill

Gage Hinsz

Christian Kelley

Sean Keselica

Tom Koehler

James Marvel

Cristofer Melendez

Winston Nicacio

Cody Ponce

Domingo Robles

Raul Siri

Jerrick Suiter

Mitchell Tolman

Nik Turley

Adrian Valerio

Brandon Waddell

Stephen Alemais

Blake Cederlind

Joel Cesar

Will Craig

Oneil Cruz

Matt Eckelman

Ke’Bryan Hayes

Samuel Inoa

Oddy Nunez

Hunter Owen

Arden Pabst

Samuel Reyes

Lolo Sanchez

Ike Schlabach

Pedro Vasquez

Cam Vieaux

The list is pretty much the same right now, other than Yeudy Garcia and Raul Siri being released last week, while Alex McRae was added to that list because he was dropped from the 40-man roster earlier this month. James Marvel was temporarily off this list, but he was sent outright to Indianapolis this month, putting him back on.

The Pirates will add Ke’Bryan Hayes, Will Craig and Oneil Cruz to their roster and they will need to make room for those players. Craig wasn’t an easy call to be added according to Baseball America, but he was leading the International League in homers about 1/3 of the way through the season and the Pirates don’t exactly have an abundance of power in their system, or talent for that matter. They shouldn’t risk losing their top Triple-A slugger without giving him another shot in Triple-A to see if he can put together a strong full season. In addition to these players, some of the roster spots opened up today could be players who will become Rule 5 eligible.

Here’s the current list without the obvious players they will be protecting, along with the changes made since late August, so we can see the tougher choices they have to make today. I’ve left a comment after each one:

Saul de la Cruz, RHP – Won’t be protected, but he’s a player to watch next year because he really came on late at Bristol this year. He’s dealt with some injuries up until 2019. Could very well be the 2020 version of the next guy…

Yerry De Los Santos, RHP – Interesting decision here right away for the new GM. De Los Santos hits 97-98 MPH regularly, with a strong breaking ball, which led to dominating stats in Low-A. He’s the type that could be picked and kept, but he’s also far away from the majors. The 26-man roster would help a team keep him. With where the Pirates are now, I’d keep him.

Nicholas Economos, RHP – Had strong results in 2019, but he’s a soft-tossing righty who doesn’t have great command, so there’s no risk of him being taken.

Elys Escobar, C – Solid defender, but he’s a lower level backup, so no risk.

Raul Hernandez, C – Strong defender behind the plate and has hit a little in High-A, but he’s behind plenty of other catchers. Won’t be protected.

Logan Hill, IF/1B – Has played three years in Altoona, where he has been a solid player, but at 26 years old, he hasn’t developed into a big league bat, so there’s no chance he gets protected.

Gage Hinsz, RHP – Hasn’t pitched the last two years in a regular season game and he’s questionable for 2020. Won’t be protected, despite solid upside.

Christian Kelley, C – Strong defensive catcher with Triple-A experience, but his bat was awful in 2019. Won’t be protected, but still could end up being a big league backup.

Sean Keselica, LHP – 26-year-old lefty reliever, might pitch in the majors one day, as he has shown that upside at times, but won’t be protected.

Tom Koehler, RHP – We believe he’s still with the Pirates on a minor league deal, but it’s possible that he’s added to the 40-man, depending on their plans. New people in charge might have different ideas about him than the old regime.

James Marvel, RHP – I would have said that he would be added if he wasn’t already dropped. Marvel showed a slight drop in velocity during his big league stint, which could have been fatigue, but didn’t help his case to stay. He’s a depth starter option, who will more likely end up in middle relief. Not a valuable commodity, but he’s big league ready and showed a lot of improvements in 2019, so it’s quite possible that he gets picked. He did just clear waivers, but it was during a hectic period of transactions and teams have more time to go through these names, plus an extra roster spot in 2020 to work with, so he’s not safe. I would have him on this current roster because he’s better than many of the guys who will be coming off today, but it’s not the type of player you worry about losing.

Alex McRae, RHP – Won’t be protected, but his big league experience at least gives him a chance to land elsewhere. He’s a depth option behind others, so it wouldn’t hurt losing him.

Cristofer Melendez, RHP – Mediocre results at Greensboro this year, but with a great strikeout rate (76 in 47.1 IP), but he won’t be protected and it’s highly unlikely he would be picked.

Winston Nicacio, RHP – He’s basically in the same boat as Melendez, with few strikeouts, but longer outings to his credit. He won’t be protected and it’s highly unlikely he’s considered by some team.

Cody Ponce, RHP – Ponce is a fringe player similar to Marvel, without the big league experience. If you like a little more velocity, than he is your man. This is one of those players who will tell you a little about what direction they are going by whether or not he is protected. He turns 26 shortly after Opening Day and has no success in Triple-A. I wouldn’t protect him, but wouldn’t be surprised if they did.

Domingo Robles, LHP – Soft-tossing young lefty, who could make the big leagues one day and has shown slightly better velocity in the past. Shouldn’t be protected and there is almost no risk of losing him.

Jerrick Suiter, 1B/OF – Had a nice 2017 season in Altoona and he’s shown strong defense at first base, but zero chance he’s protected or selected.

Mitchell Tolman, 2B – Had a solid 2019 and ended up in Indianapolis, but won’t be protected or selected.

Nik Turley, LHP – Been injured since last June, which happened while he was serving an MLB suspension. Won’t be protected or selected.

Adrian Valerio, SS – Strong middle infield defense, but his bat hasn’t progressed since 2017. Won’t be protected or selected.

Brandon Waddell, LHP – Had a rough 2019 in Indianapolis despite strong strikeout rates and improved velocity as a reliever. Not a chance he’s protected or selected.

Stephen Alemais, SS/2B – Shoulder surgery ended his 2019 early in the season, so it’s unlikely any team risks taking him. The defense, when healthy, is big league quality. Won’t be protected.

Blake Cederlind, RHP – Another interesting choice. Hits triple digits frequently, but he isn’t putting up huge K numbers and his control has been spotty in the past. Doesn’t have great secondary stuff either. It’s interesting to note that while we saw/heard triple digit readings often the last two years, he topped out at 98.0 MPH in his one game where velocity was available in the AFL, but his fastball low point in that inning was 93.6 MPH. That’s strong velocity, but not elite for relievers. If he isn’t protected, some team could take a chance on the velocity, but that doesn’t mean he will stick. BA seems to think that he’s an easy choice (see article linked above). I don’t, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him added because there should be room.

Joel Cesar, RHP – Had average results at Altoona this year and he sits mid-90s with a solid breaking ball, but he doesn’t have the control to call him a sure future MLB player at this point. Big arm, not a big player though at 5’11”. Won’t be protected, highly unlikely to be selected.

Matt Eckelman, RHP – Solid Double-A reliever with closer experience, but he lacks big league upside. Won’t be protected or selected.

Samuel Inoa, C/1B – Injuries have sidetracked him and limited his playing time, causing him to play some first base instead of sticking at catcher. Won’t be protected or selected.

Oddy Nunez, LHP – Back injury kept him out for most of 2019 and he struggled when he did pitch. He was regaining his 2017 velocity when that happened. Won’t be protected or selected.

Hunter Owen, 3B/1B – Put up strong stats in Altoona and looked better defensively at third base, then struggled against Triple-A pitching and didn’t see much time at third base. He’s 26 years old. Won’t be protected or selected.

Arden Pabst, C – Has big league upside as a backup if he hits like he did in the first half of 2018. Defense (especially his arm) is outstanding. Won’t be protected or selected.

Samuel Reyes, RHP – He has big league upside due to a mid-90s fastball, control, and an excellent curve, but it’s unlikely that he would be selected. Might have a better case next year.

Lolo Sanchez, OF – Sanchez is the type of player teams look for in the Rule 5. He has plus speed, solid defense, ability to drive the ball and he turns 21 after the 2020 season starts. The fact that he has no success above Low-A makes him a risk to stick with a team, but that added roster spot gives teams a better chance to hide him for the year, possibly just using his speed as a weapon, then letting him go back to the minors to develop more in 2021. The Pirates will have to decide if he’s too raw to protect this year.

Ike Schlabach, LHP – Getting work in Puerto Rico now, after spending 2019 in Bradenton, where he had solid results. He’s still far from the majors though and needs to start tapping into more velocity because there aren’t other plus pitches. Won’t be protected or selected.

Pedro Vasquez, RHP – Has a nice three-pitch mix, along with solid control. He has big league upside, but isn’t there yet and doesn’t offer the tools that teams are looking for with a Rule 5 pick. Won’t be protected and it’s highly unlikely he is selected.

Cam Vieaux, LHP – Looked strong in Altoona, but he doesn’t throw hard and is a fly ball pitcher, which isn’t a strong combo for the upper levels with the baseballs that travel better. Won’t be protected or selected.

After the three obvious choices, I don’t see any players that need to be protected. Sanchez has the highest upside and he’s young, but he’s so far from the majors right now that I’d risk him for another year. Marvel, Ponce, Cederlind are all big league arms, and the Pirates aren’t exactly strong on the pitching side in the majors, so they all have a place in 2020 as depth. That doesn’t mean that you need to protect them though, because you could probably pick up a similarly valued player as a minor league free agent. De Los Santos is my dark horse for being protected.

I could see any of those five players being protected, even Marvel since someone new is in charge, but there is zero chance that you protect them all and very little chance of losing any of them. Teams lose (meaning they stick with the team all year) on average one player every three years and those players don’t always excel in the majors. The 26-man roster makes things a little different, and a new GM makes things a lot different, so we will see how they handle today.

As a side note, the Pirates will be picking high up this year (goes by 2019 record), so we could see a Rule 5 selection this year who is better than anyone they might lose.




By John Dreker

Just three former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, including a very recent one. We also have a significant trade of note.

On this date in 1962, the Boston Red Sox traded catcher Jim Pagliaroni and pitcher Don Schwall to the Pittsburgh Pirates for pitcher Jack Lamabe and first baseman Dick Stuart. In two seasons in Boston, Stuart hit 75 homers and drove in 232 runs, though his defense was so poor that he posted a 2.3 WAR during those two years combined. The Pirates did well in the deal, as Pagliaroni posted a 10.3 WAR during his time in Pittsburgh, while Schwall performed much better than Lamabe during their time with their new clubs.

Jeff Locke, pitcher for the 2011-16 Pirates. In 110 starts and 13 relief appearances, he went 35-38, 4.41 in 644.1 innings. Locke was an All-Star during his best season, going 10-7, 3.52 in 166.1 innings in 2013.

John Scheneberg, starting pitcher for the 1913 Pirates. On September 23, 1913, he made his big league debut and went six innings, allowing four earned runs. His only other big league experience was two innings for the 1920 St Louis Browns.

George McBride, shortstop for the 1905 Pirates. The Pirates didn’t have much need for a young shortstop in 1905, especially one who didn’t hit much. McBride hit .218 in 27 games for the Pirates, then was traded to the St Louis Cardinals. He went on to play 16 seasons in the majors and is considered one of the best defensive shortstops in the game. He has a 23.3 dWAR in 1,627 games, four times leading the league in defensive WAR and eight times he finished among the top four in the league.

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