We’ve reviewed the upcoming Rule 5 roster crunch before, noting that the Pittsburgh Pirates will have a lot of players eligible for the upcoming draft in December. With about half a season in the books, let’s review the best of the first time eligible players, broken down by category. The categories will be:
Must Protect – The obvious choices
Good Talent – Guys with the talent, but lacking the results
Depth – Guys who are putting up good numbers, but ultimately fill a depth role, like a backup catcher or a bullpen arm
Fringe – Fringe prospects who have a good tool, but stand little chance of being protected, and probably won’t be more than a bench player in the majors
Chase d’Arnaud – There’s a good chance that d’Arnaud won’t be on this list by this time next week, as he might be getting the call to the majors. At any rate, he deserves to be added to the 40-man roster, and the 25-man roster, well before November, when the roster decisions need to be made.
Starling Marte – He’s living up to the hype that made him our #2 overall prospect heading in to the year. Marte has a .335/.368/.464 line in 239 at-bats at the AA level. On top of that, his defense is very strong in center field, with a great arm.
Jordy Mercer – He started off slow, but has been on fire in May and June, hitting over .300 each month, with an .858 OPS in May, and a 1.017 OPS so far in June. He has 11 homers in 230 at-bats this year, and you can never dismiss a middle infielder with those power numbers and the defensive abilities to play shortstop.
Rudy Owens – He hasn’t had the best numbers in AAA, with a 4.70 ERA in 67 innings, along with a 4.6 K/9 and a 2.1 BB/9. I would still protect him, as you can’t dismiss what he’s done the previous two seasons.
Aaron Pribanic – He might be the sleeper on this list, but the sinkerball pitcher has a 2.86 ERA in 66 innings at the AA level. He doesn’t get a lot of strikeouts, with a 3.7 K/9 ratio, but he also limits walks, with seven walks in his 66 innings this year.
Justin Wilson – His primary concern is a control issue, with a 4.2 BB/9. However, his control issues come from a lot of late movement on his pitches, which makes him hard to hit, with 67 hits in 73 innings. He’s got good overall numbers, with a 3.45 ERA, and his stuff is great. He could be a special pitcher if he could learn to control the movement on his pitches.
Andrew Lambo – He’s young, only 22 this year, and he’s got talent, but his numbers have been horrible in AAA. So far he’s hitting for a .194/.270/.309 line. That might call for a move back to the AA level to fix whatever isn’t working. At this point I couldn’t see him getting protected by another team.
Brian Leach – Leach has great stuff, with a 94-96 MPH fastball, but his control has been horrible, with an 8.4 BB/9 ratio, and he’s just not getting results. He was demoted back to high-A, and doesn’t seem like a risk to be taken.
Diego Moreno – Moreno might have the best stuff of any relief prospect in the system, but like Leach, he’s not getting results. He’s got a 5.33 ERA in 25.1 innings between high-A and AA. His strikeout ratio of 10.3 K/9 is great, but his 3.9 BB/9 ratio, and his one hit per inning ratio are both a concern, considering he’s a guy who can hit the upper 90s with his fastball.
Tim Alderson – He’s having a great season, although it’s coming from the bullpen. He has a 2.78 ERA in 35.2 innings, with a 27:13 K/BB ratio. The results are good to see considering his struggles last year, and he’s been in the upper 80s when I’ve seen him, compared to the mid-80s last year. I still don’t see him as more than a #5 starter or bullpen guy in the majors.
Ramon Cabrera – The 21 year old catcher out of Venezuela is putting up good numbers in high-A, with a .331/.398/.428 line in 145 at-bats. The big drawback here is his size. Cabrera is 5′ 7″, which raises concerns about his durability behind the plate. He does have a thick frame, but 5′ 7″ is still pretty small.
Michael Colla – He might be this year’s Michael Crotta, which only makes sense, as I already get them confused. Colla has a 2.84 ERA in 57 innings, with a 49:13 K/BB ratio. Even more impressive, his success has come from the rotation, where he capitalized on a Bryan Morris injury, and performed so well that he bumped Aaron Thompson from the rotation when Morris returned. Colla has a 2.63 ERA in nine starts, spanning 48 innings, with a 39:10 K/BB ratio.
Eric Fryer – He’s arguably the number two catching prospect in the organization, behind Tony Sanchez, and is currently the closest to the majors. He’s got a .327/.416/.535 line in 159 at-bats between AA and AAA, including a .283/.389/.500 line in his first 46 at-bats at the AAA level. Fryer needs time behind the plate, which he is getting with Indianapolis, with 13 starts at catcher since being promoted. I argued to protect him last year, and I’d definitely protect him this year.
Brett Lorin – He might be this year’s Nathan Adcock, as in a guy who is putting up good numbers in high-A, but might not make the cut due to questions about his stuff at the upper levels. The Pirates can’t make the same mistake they made with Adcock. That mistake wasn’t leaving him unprotected. It was leaving him in high-A all year. Lorin currently has a 2.82 ERA in 54.1 innings, with a 53:10 K/BB ratio. He’s also 24 years old, so there’s no reason to keep him down in Bradenton. Ultimately he profiles as a back of the rotation starter, or a strong bullpen option.
Jeremy Farrell – He’s putting up good numbers in Altoona, with a .292/.369/.445 line in 209 at-bats. The downside is that he lacks the defensive skills to be a regular at third base in the majors, and he’s too injury prone. This is his third full season as a pro, and his career high in at-bats was 289, last year.
Matt Hague – He’s always put up good numbers, no matter what level, but has lacked the power you want from a first baseman. Hague has a .293/.346/.401 line in 242 at-bats this year. He also has strong defense at first. Ultimately he could be a platoon player, with a .327 average and an .812 OPS against right handers, compared to a .229 average and a .614 OPS against left handers.
Quincy Latimore – He’s got a lot of power, but that’s about it. Latimore currently has a .220/.275/.350 line in 223 at-bats in Altoona. He’s got six homers and 11 doubles, with his 71 strikeouts are very alarming, and currently lead the minor league organization. He’s pretty much a one tool player, and at this point only profiles as a John Bowker type if he makes the majors.
As it stands right now, the 40-man roster is full, with three players on the 60-day disabled list. Those players are Ross Ohlendorf, Chris Snyder, and Kevin Hart. The only one of those three that I think is assured of a spot is Ohlendorf. The Pirates will be losing Lyle Overbay and Joe Beimel for sure after the season, as they’re only on one year deals. Ryan Doumit is also likely to be gone, freeing up a third spot. They also have three other catchers on the 40-man: Dusty Brown, Jason Jaramillo, and Michael McKenry. I wouldn’t be surprised if only one of those options returns. That would create five spots, with at least one of those going to the guys on the 60-day disabled list.
Obviously the Pirates need more spots, and we could see those spots come from bullpen/bench guys like Steve Pearce, Brandon Wood, Pedro Ciriaco, Chris Leroux, and Aaron Thompson. Xavier Paul, Daniel McCutchen, and Gorkys Hernandez could also be candidates, depending on how they perform the rest of the year.
On the surface, there would seem to be enough spots to protect the top players. However, a few spots will be needed to add pieces to the major league roster over the off-season, and we also can’t rule out players who could be acquired via trade (although generally those players would just take the spot of the player who was traded to acquire them). The crunch will affect guys like Colla, Fryer, and Lorin, or might leave guys like Lambo and Moreno exposed due to their struggles this year.
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.