The Rule 5 Draft takes place today at 12 PM EST (9 AM local time in San Diego) at the Winter Meetings. The Pittsburgh Pirates look like they’re in a position not to lose any prospects, though the 26-man rosters that go into effect next year could change how teams are willing to use that extra space in regard to the Rule 5 Draft.
This year is clearly different than in the past with the extra roster spot. Records over the last 20 years or so show that teams have a player selected on average once every other year and they lose a player for good once every three years. Every Rule 5 Draft, there are players who are selected and returned to their original team, so even if someone gets selected today, that doesn’t mean that they are gone for good.
Whether those odds of losing a player continues to hold up with the extra roster spot is something that we will figure out in the coming years.
We recently released our 2020 Prospect Guide. Five of our top 50 prospects are unprotected from the draft. One of them is Gage Hinsz, who seems extremely unlikely to be picked. He has shown a ton of upside, including last winter in Puerto Rico and this spring, but he hasn’t pitched a regular season game in two years and his 2020 Opening Day status is up in the air. He wasn’t selected last year when he was pitching well in winter ball during the Rule 5 Draft process, so I can’t imagine that a team would be interested now.
The other four players are all possibilities, though there are good reasons not to worry about losing any of them.
Before I get into them, I’ll also mention that Hector Noesi, assuming his contract is official already, will be Rule 5 eligible. You don’t often see minor league free agent signings get selected, but it has happened before. The obvious reason you don’t see it often is that the player just accepted a minor league deal, which means they got no big league offers. You wouldn’t expect a team days or weeks later to now guarantee that player a 26-man roster spot and pay extra to get him. Williams Jerez is also available and put in some decent MLB time in 2019, but he falls in the same category, seeing as he just cleared waivers.
Here are the four prospects of note available:
Luis Escobar, RHP – I didn’t expect him to clear waivers, but he just did last week. Since that happened, it’s hard to see some team decide now that they like him better for more money (Rule 5 picks cost $100,000, which is more than 5x waiver fees) and a guaranteed spot, as opposed to being able to send him to the minors if he didn’t make the team. He has what teams look for with his three-pitch mix, plus he has big league experience, but you would assume there is no interest now.
James Marvel, RHP – Basically the same situation as Escobar, though they are very different on the mound. Marvel cleared waivers recently, and he also has big league experience. While Escobar can get up to 98 MPH, Marvel has topped out at 95 MPH and sits 90-92 MPH. Any team that scouted him in the majors saw him lose a little off his fastball, which may have been from being late in the year when he surpassed his previous high for innings. Marvel has a nice three-pitch mix just like Escobar and they have two of the best changeups in the system. What Marvel lacks in velocity, he makes up for with better control than Escobar and he doesn’t get off his game, which can occasionally happen with Escobar. Marvel is a lower upside, but a safer choice. Teams don’t really look for safe though, you can get that from a group of minor league veteran signings, so Marvel also seems safe.
Lolo Sanchez, OF – Here’s where the extra roster spot might cost the Pirates a player. Sanchez is not big league ready, or close to it like the previous two players. They could both hold their own in the majors right now, even if they aren’t finished minor league products. If a team takes Sanchez, he would have a role off the bench as a pinch-runner and could replace below average defenders in the outfield late. He still needs a few years before he’s a big league option. Will a team put him in that 26th man role for a year, then let him get the minor league experience he needs? We will find out today. He’s a player who I wouldn’t be surprised if he is picked, but I’d only give him a 50% chance of actually sticking with his new team.
Yerry De Los Santos, RHP – He only has Low-A experience and his name hasn’t come up yet in Rule 5 rumors, but De Los Santos has outstanding stuff. His fastball hits upper-90s, his slider is extremely effective and he throws strikes. He dominated hitters in 2019 and looked better as the season went along. Teams look for upside and he’s an upside arm that could be taken. I wouldn’t doubt that he sticks either, though clearly we are talking about someone who isn’t big league ready yet.
One added note is that Pedro Vasquez is available and he was just mentioned in our article about players who just missed our top 50.
Below is the full list of available players. I added Noesi, though we aren’t 100% sure his contract is official yet, so he’s there just in case. The Pirates have one open spot. Baseball America and MLB Pipeline have some possible options for them here and here if you’re interested in looking through names. Pirates have the seventh pick and they’re limited to selecting one player right now because the pick goes right on the 40-man roster.
Saul de la Cruz
Yerry De Los Santos
One final note and that is the minor league portion of the draft. Assuming all of these players make it through the Major League portion of the draft, then there could be players lost on the minor league side. Teams can protect up to 38 players on the Triple-A roster, which makes them not eligible for the minor league draft. With only 36 players on this list (including Noesi who still hasn’t been announced as signed so it might be 35), the Pirates don’t need to lose anyone on the minor league, and they could still pick up 2-3 players. Last year they only protected 32 players and left a group of 16 available for the draft.
We will see how that plays out this year, but just know that there is no good reason that they should lose anyone on this list in the minor league draft.
SONG OF THE DAY
THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY
By John Dreker
Five former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, plus a few major trades of note. Before I get into that, current OF/1B Jose Osuna turns 27 today.
On this date in 1941 the Pirates traded away superstar shortstop Arky Vaughan to the Brooklyn Dodgers in exchange for catcher Babe Phelps, pitcher Luke Hamlin, infielder Pete Coscarart and outfielder Jimmy Wasdell. The only reason this trade didn’t look so bad was that Vaughan retired for three years (1944-46) before coming back to play two more seasons as a part-time player. The best value they got (by far) in return for one of the greatest shortstops in baseball history was Coscarart, who hit .245 with 262 runs scored in 531 games for Pittsburgh.
On this date in 1913 the Pirates traded pitcher Hank Robinson, outfielders Chief Wilson and Cozy Dolan and infielders Art Butler and Dots Miller to the St Louis Cardinals in exchange for pitcher Bob Harmon, first baseman Ed Konetchy and third baseman Mike Mowrey. Owner Barney Dreyfuss had a long-time man-crush on Konetchy and he gave up way too much to get him. In fact, Dots Miller alone outperformed that combined value of the three players Pittsburgh got in return. Chief Wilson easily outplayed all three, and the other three players in the deal all were regulars with the Cardinals, while the Pirates went through a down stretch until the early 1920s.
On this date in 1932 the Pirates traded pitcher Glenn Spencer and outfielder Gus Dugas in exchange for future Hall of Famer, Freddie Lindstrom. It was a three-team trade that also involved the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Phillies. This trade worked out for the Pirates, as neither player they gave up amounted to much after the deal, while Lindstrom put in two solid seasons before he was traded to the Cubs in a deal that also worked out well.
John Gammon, pitcher for the Pittsburgh Alleghenys in 1884 when they were in the American Association and then again when they were in the NL in 1890. His birth name was John Gammon but he is better known as Phenomenal Smith. He got the nickname from a reporter after an amazing 16 strikeout performance while in the minors in 1885 and the name stuck despite the fact he posted just a 54-74 record over eight major league seasons. During his first stint with Pittsburgh he lost his only game 10-5 to the Richmond Virginias, a franchise that won just 12 games total in their history. Smith returned to the Alleghenys in mid-September 1890 near the end of the worst season in franchise history. He pitched five games, lost three, one ended in a tie and in game 136 of the year for the team, he beat the Phillies 10-1 for Pittsburgh’s 23rd win of the year.
Bill Howerton, outfielder for the 1951-52 Pirates. Howerton was part of a big seven-player deal between the St Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates in mid-1951 that sent five players to Pittsburgh, while Cliff Chambers and Wally Westlake headed to the Cardinals. With Pittsburgh, Howerton hit .279 with 11 homers and 41 RBIs in 79 games. He saw time at all three outfielder positions and third base. During the 1952 season, he was put on waivers and picked up by the New York Giants. He played only 11 games in New York and never played in the majors again. He played a total of 11 seasons in the minors, finishing out his career in 1955.
Clyde Kluttz, catcher for the 1947-48 Pirates. The Pirates purchased Kluttz from the Cardinals in December of 1946, after he hit .271 with no homers and 15 RBIs in 57 games that season. He ended up having the best season of his nine-year career in 1947, hitting .302 with six homers and 42 RBIs in 73 games. He also threw out 56.1% of stolen base attempts. In 1948, his batting dropped off significantly, as he played 94 games that year. Kluttz ended up spending the entire 1949 season in the minors and was dealt to the St Louis Browns prior to the 1950 season. He was a .268 hitter in 656 career games.
Joe Rickert, left fielder for the 1898 Pirates. He played just two games for Pittsburgh, at the end of the season, going 1-for-6 at the plate. Three years later, he got his only other chance in the majors, playing 13 games for the Boston Beaneaters. He went 10-for-60 at the plate with them, giving him a .167 average in both of his big league stints. He played over 1,800 minor league games from 1898 until he retired in 1915. Rickert was lucky to get into a game when he did for Pittsburgh. The Pirates had three of their last four games rained out, so when he was used during a doubleheader on October 12th, it ended up being the only day he played for the team. He was said to be weak at the plate, but he performed well in the field, catching all ten balls hit his way. He first career hit came off of Cy Young.
Tully Sparks, pitcher for the 1899 Pirates. He made his major league debut with the 1897 Phillies, getting hit hard in his only game. He spent the 1898 season in the minors before being picked up by the Pirates for the 1899 season. He would make 17 starts and 11 relief appearances for the Pirates that season, going 8-6, 3.86 in 170 innings. Prior to the 1900 season, the Pirates sold him to their former catcher/manager Connie Mack, who managed the Milwaukee Brewers of the American League. Sparks spent all of 1900 in the minors, then pitched with the Brewers in the first season that the American League was considered a major league in 1901. He eventually ended up with the Phillies for a second time, and this time he stuck with them for eight seasons and 95 wins. Sparks won 121 games total over his 12-year career, including 22 wins in 1907 for the Phillies. He posted a 2.82 ERA over 2,343.2 innings, yet still finished 16 games under .500 with 137 losses.