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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Id be interested in Ronny Simon(TB). He’s a switch-hitting, middle infielder.

Pirates really don’t have a legit backup SS after trading Newman. If anything happens to Cruz, you’re gonna see Bae, Castro, Castillo at SS again. Which isn’t good.

You can stash Ronny Simon on your 26 man roster as a utility player and backup 2B/SS/3B. He can pitch hit against both lefties and righties and has speed to be a good pinch runner as well. Plus look at his MiLB stats. He’s hit at every level.

He’s just 22 years old too but he’s never played above AA. The Pirates can bite the bullet with him facing major league pitching this season and next season, at age 23, continue his development in AAA.

The only other player that would interest me is Grant Lavigne(Col). But he too hasn’t played above AA; and is a year older at 23 years old. But his contact bat should fair better against major league pitching. It’s just harder to stash a backup 1B/DH for a whole season. Especially with Santana and Choi now.

Last edited 1 month ago by pittsburghbob69

Just NO…


Awesome topic idea, thanks John.


They shouldn’t take anyone in the R5 draft, that spot on the 26 should be taken by an actual prospect in our 40 and let’s not forget the way Shelton used Oviedo two seasons ago when the team had not shot at even being entertaining.


This prospect nativism shall not stand.


You just made me learn what nativism means, is almost self explanatory, but I had to look it up to make sure.


I thought the roster was at 40. Who could they possible drop to claim a player? Instead of claiming they should have protected Bolton and Gorski. The rule 5 is a crap shoot. No real superstars to be had.


I wouldn’t be surprised if they passed on the Rule 5. I think if they DO pick someone it’d be a reliever with more upside than Nick Mears or Stephenson.

You’re right, they don’t have any room AND they want to add a couple pitchers and a catcher.


Okay, now I am confoozed (normal state). I thought that our roster was full and we couldn’t take anybody? However, if that IS the case, can we work a deal with a team not planning to take anybody? Because, I’d like to take two of those lefties and pray one works out.


I would be pleased if the Pirates took Benitez. He strikes me as the type of guy who can get you out of a jam with a groundball or K and not make a bad situation worse by walking guys or giving up a longball- a left-handed Jarred Hughes. These are the most underrated players in baseball, with everyone focused on the “electric stuff” relievers like Hader et al. Of course, this all requires that you have your Benitez-Hughes type warmed up in anticipation of a jam situation.. i.e. 6th inning, top of the lineup coming up, starter starting to fatigue a little, hitters making adjustments… etc… . The Pirates have not shown the ability to excel at such foresight.


We can still drop non rule 5 eligible players from the 40 i believe


I thought that too, but thought someone mentioned a deadline.


Both Antoine Kelly and Jorge Benitez are legitimate prospects. Kelly’s fastball as well as his slider has the potential to be elite. Kelly has major control issues, however (which would allow him to fit right in on the Pirates who seem to believe perpetually that every pitcher with control issues will somehow correct this eventually through osmosis). Benitez, while he does not have elite stuff, is probably better poised to make the leap to the majors and would be a soIid rule 5 pick. I don’t know anything about Sikemma and Miller.


After a really good season in 2021 as a 21 year old completely in low A Reds made catcher Daniel Vellojin start 2022 back in low A to start 22. (smells fishy). After 20 games he was promoted to high A and just started raking to the tune of a 900 OPS. After 20 games there they sent him to AA. He only played 29 games so I wonder if he was injured. Fangraphs has him as the Reds #7 prospect.


John, please help me understand the rule 5 draft.
1. Can a team pull back a player when one is lost, 2 how many players can one team lose?
Thank you

Tim Williams

Teams can lose as many players as they’ve left unprotected. They can’t pull anyone back. I think you’re thinking of expansion draft rules.


Thanks, Tim

Wilbur Miller

At least somebody out there seems to realize it’s not 2018 any more . . .

I hate to discourage the Pirates from spending money, but spending money on a one-year contract for Carlos Santana is worse than not spending it at all. We want ownership to invest in the Pirates, not simply spend on the biggest, cheapest name-brand veteran available in an attempt to quell some of the franchise’s most vocal fans. If you want to spend $6.7 million on the team, great! Stick that in an index fund to be used on a player who matters at a time that matters. Santana’s been lousy for three years now and he’ll be 37 in April. He doesn’t help the Pirates win now and signing him only hurts them in winning later; plate appearances are a resource just like money, and playing Santana instead of someone else who could possibly have a future with the team is wasteful.


I like Carlos Santana probably much more than most fans because he was the championship series MVP on my Diamond Mind baseball team a few years back and definitely my favorite player on that team (outperforming his stat-line, which players will sometimes do with that game engine). That being said, I agree with everything you say about the acquisitions of Choi and Santana. $11 million goes a long way to signing an impact player capable of providing several years of quality play at the major-league level.

Tim Williams

I disagreed with this. I’ve had that same thinking in the past, but what Dan is suggesting is idealism, and not reality.

It’s idealism to say that you can give whatever plate appearances Santana gets to a young player and the only difference with the entire team is that one extra young player gets experience. This ignores the impact Santana can have on other players, which I think is a very real thing that we can’t quantify, thus, we ignore.

Wilbur Miller

This ignores the impact Santana can have on other players, which I think is a very real thing that we can’t quantify

Sure we can. The Pirates have been bringing guys like that in since forever. That included Vogelbach and Quintana this year. That was also the rationalization for VanMeter. Yet they lost 100 games. Funny how wins and losses, or in the Pirates’ case losses and more losses and more losses, is never “quantification.”

When NH was bringing in veteran presences like Eric Hinske, Ryan Church, Lyle Overbay, Rod Barajas and Casey McGehee, the Pirates kept losing. When he brought in Russell Martin, AJ Burnett and Francisco Liriano, they started winning. So was the difference veteranosity, or the fact that the later guys were good and the others sucked?

Veteran presences help, if at all, with what they do on the field. If they suck, they’re just players who suck. And players who suck hurt the team.

Tim Williams

My point is what lasting veteran impact did Vogelbach, Quintana, and even VanMeter have on other players? That is what we can’t quantify.

You’re focusing on the end result of W/L records, but I’m guessing that without Quintana and Vogelbach last year, players on today’s team would be worse off in what they know about the game — compared to giving their time to young players. VanMeter may have even taught someone an important tip that will lead to wins later.

The same with Santana. He’s going to have an impact on a lot of players, long-term. It’s impossible to quantify that impact. We can say he’s a bad signing because they will lose in 2023, but that ignores the individual impact he makes.

Scam likely

Just win baby, that’s the only way to keep track, and the only thing that matters.


I get the leading by example and sharing experience thing. But I do have a problem with questioning someone “focusing on the end result of W/L records.”

The example and experience should be passed on by legitimate (GOOD) players to rookies trying to make the team because the main issue of the franchise is the result of W/L records. As long as that is not the main issue for the team, there is no “window.”

Tim Williams

I view W/L records as a byproduct of a collection of smaller contributors. You can’t just focus on W/L. You have to focus on the many functions that lead to that.

You can point to a 62-100 record and say that everything is wrong because of that. The truth is that the Pirates have a lot of functions not working on their team. One of those is the lack of experience.

Thus, by improving their experience, they are improving the W/L record. Just the same as adding 50 home runs improves the W/L record. Experience shows up throughout the year, but you never notice it. You also don’t notice that you’re no longer watching horrible baseball anymore. It’s a subtle shift.


I get what you’re saying but I see this more as the difference between varsity sports and other teams at the high school level. You develop and give experience and develop a strong system for all the teams but the varsity team is where you look at the results.

At the lower levels, everyone gets training but at the varsity level, role players start on the bench until needed and other players end up staying on the bench. It is results-driven.

My problem with the BC era has not been with the development of the minor league system but has been with ignoring the Major League results. Every year that ignores the varsity results is another year of delaying “good” results. Every year that ignores those results is another year where the players on the “varsity” have no winning experience which includes the ability to thrive on the winning atmosphere as well as the accountability and stress of having to perform in order to be on the field.


You’re essentially explaining the concept of “resulting”; I encourage you to look into it. This is BASIC first order thinking.


Ooh! Nice to slam my intelligence level – BASIC – sounds like antiquated computer programming!

Is it so wrong to simply want to root for a winning team? I’m getting old and tired of the 3 years out of every twenty that there is a decent team in Pittsburgh. I unashamedly long for (unrealistically dream about more likely) the bottom line to consistently be over .500. If that’s your “first order thinking” of “resulting,” so be it.

If you think I’m an idiot, just ignore me.


I don’t think your an idiot and that wasn’t an intended slam. I’m simply stating that making a “good” decision is not ultimately determined by the result but rather using all available information to choose your highest probability outcome. This is the framework of making “good” decisions and needs to be done independent of MLB’s lopsided economic structure.

I get your fan frustration, but I don’t think the Pirates will ever make decisions based solely on wins-losses. The last time they attempted this it blew up in their face, and my guess is that it came from the top in an attempt to appease the fan base. Losing those three players significantly altered the Pirates immediate future and is a reminder of what can happen when chasing wins; they just don’t have the risk tolerance for it.

I like the decisions this group has been making. They are slowing turning the roster over, and it is much stronger on paper with some young guys on the doorstep. I expect them to continue to add while cutting dead weight. Wins will likely come incrementally, then all at once.


I don’t want to belabor this. We’re talking past each other, although I tend to think you are talking down to me rather than hearing me.

When it comes to the Archer trade – that simply wasn’t a good baseball trade. It wasn’t results driven, it was an attempt to save face with fans and media.

I simply disagree with the concept that it has been necessary to completely ignore the MLB roster while trying to change the franchise. Let’s face it, we may disagree but I see no reason to have totally decimated the size of the payroll during these “building” years. I get trading players to try to get value back. I get the idea of rebuilding and having a smaller payroll. But I don’t get calling it “building” and completely ignoring one of the prime avenues for building by refusing to hire MLB talent (even replacement level talent the past two years) in the free agent market.

Regardless of what you think about the small market and economics and such, the reality is that the Pittsburgh franchise is supposed to be a MLB team. The success of a franchise in professional sports is generally measured by wins and losses (and championships). I don’t think sinking the MLB roster (they didn’t give actual prospects the experience you write about but have consistently given it to washed up nobodies) is necessary in the fashion that they have done it, and may threaten to do it again in 2023, is necessary to get the “2nd order thinking” value or “quantifiable impact” value.

I also think that results themselves (i.e. winning and losing) also have an impact not only on fans like me but on the players and coaches themselves. Accountability is a vital component to a team that is results-driven. If you don’t get results in a competitive, professional sports environment, then you should change what you’re doing. Has it been really necessary to throw away three seasons at the top to rebuild the bottom? Trading is one thing but refusing to add via the available labor market is another.


We fundamentally disagree on just about everything, and I’m okay with that. Wins are a byproduct, not the product, of making good decisions, especially if you want sustained success.

BTW, the Archer trade by construct was a win-now trade, it had absolutely nothing to do with saving face. And, you’re completely discounting the COVID-impact on payroll in the 2020/2021 seasons.

Wilbur Miller

What you’re effectively saying is that because we can’t quantify it, it must exist.
My point is that they’ve done this over and over, and they keep losing until they add players who are actually good. It’s not just 100 losses in 2022. It’s an experiment they’ve run repeatedly that never works.

Tim Williams

I’m saying it exists, but we can’t quantify it.

It does exist. There is a value to Santana’s veteran presence, and his becomes more valuable because he can contribute on the field — leading by expression and example. He’s not just a guy a younger player can go to for advice between games. He’s also a guy who can take charge of the field in the game. None of this can be quantified.

I’ve talked with too many players over the years who have talked about how small conversations with a player led to a big change. Or, how the presence of a veteran helped them to be more comfortable. It’s not always the players who have value on the field.

I don’t think what they’re doing right now is the same as what they’ve done before. You listed moves above that preceded the winning. I see Santana as more in line with the shift to Burnett/Martin/Liriano than I see him as a Lyle Overbay. Both in performance, and in the attitude shift he can bring to the clubhouse.

b mcferren

Russell Martin, AJ Burnett and Francisco Liriano definitely sucked before we acquired them

didnt Liriano twice win the comeback player of the year award?

he also fractured his arm moments after he signed his first contract with us

Last edited 1 month ago by b mcferren
Wilbur Miller

Yeah, they should’ve dropped him.


They what??


I can see it both ways. The ~2 fWAR we can roughly expect from Santana/Choi/Whoever is +5 on the -3 we got last year and having a spanish speaking vet in the clubhouse won’t hurt for guys like Castro/Cruz/Contrares/Ortiz, etc.


I’m kinda glad someone else was as “meh” as I was on the Carlos Santana signing.


I was and still am meh on that signing and I cited some of the same reason FG gave, but I think it could easily be fix by trading Choi and using that $5-6 million somewhere else.


My guess is that mos


most of the P2 posters have really never watched 100 of Carlos’s games. I have. He’s a good first baseman and a good dude. The rules changes may help him a lot. If not, it’s just a year and it’s not my money.


My issue is the belief that Choi and Santana are essential the same player, this is why I wrote that perhaps Choi will get traded. But I had the same reaction with Tsusugo (sp) and Volgy last off season. Volgy was surprisingly useful even thou he is useless against lefties and with the glove and on the base path…..


Sure would be nice if it WAS your money. I bet you’d have spent it on something else, like maybe a private Carlos Santana concert (if he has anything left)?😇😇😇

Scam likely

Need lefties, all of them sound good too take a look at. But you are going to have to make some room on the 40. Maybe pick 2 and send them up the flag pool and see what you have.


Two was my take.

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