The Pirates Have Left-Handed Pitchers to Choose From in the Rule 5 Draft

Baseball America posted their first list of the top names available in the upcoming Rule 5 draft on Tuesday morning. They added to that list on Wednesday, including Pirates prospect Blake Sabol in the second group. Their Thursday morning update didn’t include any Pirates, but there are some interesting additions.

MLB Pipeline posted a list of the top prospects available for each team. While our two articles on the BA list focused on the top Pittsburgh Pirates available, I wanted to use the Pipeline article and the third BA article to look at some names that might intrigue the Pirates, who have the third overall pick in the draft.

The Pirates clearly have a lot of needs. No one will argue that point. The Rule 5 draft also usually isn’t a good way to fill needs. A small group of players are selected each year, many of them don’t stick, and the group of players who do stick, provide very few players of value, both short-term and long-term.

The Pirates biggest need right now is catcher. They don’t have a good Opening Day roster option on the 40-man roster. You have Ali Sanchez, who spent all of 2022 in the minors, and Endy Rodriguez, who spent the large majority of 2022 in A-Ball.

There are two catchers on the Pipeline list and none so far on the BA list (unless you count Sabol), showing that it’s not a great year for the position. As for the Pipeline list, Antonio Gomez is the top ranked available prospect for the New York Yankees (16th in their system) and Drew Millas is the top ranked available prospect for the Washington Nationals (30th in their system). Neither is a great fit, but one seems much better than the other.

You would assume from those rankings that Gomez is probably better, but Millas seems like the better choice, and an actual possibility to be picked. Gomez put up average hitting stats in Low-A this year, though the strikeout rate was a bit high. He’s more known for his defense right now. If a guy isn’t doing anything special in Low-A, he’s probably going to have an impossible time at the big league level, especially in a bench role. He also just turned 21 years old. The defense is solid, but it’s a big jump from handling Low-A pitching, to handling a big league staff.

Millas will be 25 on Opening Day. His advantage (besides age) is that he has upper level experience, with a half season of Double-A. Not only that, he has played in the Arizona Fall League each of the last two seasons. His Double-A stats were not much to look at, but he put up an .825 OPS in 63 plate appearances this year in the AFL. He’s a switch-hitter with strong defensive skills. At worst he provides a good glove.

The Pirates still need to add a legit MLB catcher, but Millas would give them a guy who should at least be able to handle the defensive side of the game at the big league level.

The other position of need I wanted to look at his left-handed pitching. The Pirates have 21 pitchers on their 40-man roster and 21 of those pitchers throw right-handed. Having zero southpaws means there is need for more than one.

The top available prospects for the Kansas City Royals, Texas Rangers and Philadelphia Phillies on the Pipeline list are all left-handed pitchers. Here’s a quick look at each of them, along with their ranking in their respective systems.

Erik Miller (Phillies #7) will be 25 on Opening Day, and he has both Triple-A and AFL experience. He sounds very intriguing, with three quality pitches, including a 97 MPH fastball and a slider that misses bats according to Pipeline. He had 62 strikeouts in 48.1 innings this season. He had a rough partial season in Triple-A this year, but the upper level experience still comes in handy in these spots.

Antoine Kelly (Rangers #13) has a lot of traits similar to Miller, just younger and less upper level experience. Their velocity and slider both get praise. Kelly is two years younger and his struggles during part of 2022 came in Double-A, not Triple-A. He also doesn’t have AFL experience. If one of them is more likely to hold their own in 2023, Miller definitely seems to have the advantage due to his age, experience and a solid third pitch (changeup).

T.J. Sikkema (Royals #16) is 24 years old, and he was a first round pick. He has two fastballs and a slider according to Pipeline. He has similar poor Double-A results as Kelly this year, but he was sent to the AFL and pitched well. His misses bats and throws strikes, so there’s a chance he could do just enough to stick with a team.

It would seem that Miller is the best choice here. Overall, he seems like a solid prospect to add. A lefty with a nice three-pitch mix would be an intriguing prospect to add for a very small price. He has the combo of being somewhat close to big league ready, as well as the potential upside you want from one of these picks.

The BA update includes all three of those pitchers, along with two additional names. Those are 23-year-old Jose Lopez from the Tampa Bay Rays, and 23-year-old Jorge Benitez from the Seattle Mariners.

Benitez has an interesting line from the BA article:

Among Rule 5-eligible pitchers Benitez is the only pitcher to throw 40 or more innings with a strikeout rate above 30%, a walk rate below 10% and a groundball rate of 55% or higher.

His main issue seems to be experience. He was 23 years old in Low-A for most of this year, with 12.2 innings above Low-A. However, those numbers are a bit deceiving. He has pitched winter ball in Puerto Rico four times and he played in the Arizona Fall League this season. In fact, his winter/fall split this year shows three runs and 11 hits allowed in 20 innings total. That experience is just as good as playing in the upper levels, as he’s facing much better hitters than he saw in Low-A this year. He throws a mid-90s fastball and a changeup, getting great results from both pitches according to BA

Lopez basically spent the entire 2022 season in Double-A. He played one game in High-A and two games in Triple-A. He has also played winter ball in the Dominican, so compared to Benitez, he has much more upper level experience. Lopez had a huge strikeout rate this season, collecting 95 in 59.1 innings. While he’s been a guy who gets strikeouts in the past, this was a huge bump in his rate. He has three pitches, and showed solid improvements on both his fastball and slider this year, adding speed/movement to each pitch.

John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.

When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.

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