Pittsburgh Pirates 2011 Rule 5 Draft Preview

The 2011 Rule 5 draft takes place tomorrow morning at 10:00 AM EST. The Pittsburgh Pirates have made a pick in each of the last four drafts under Neal Huntington. In order to continue that trend, they will need to clear a spot on the 40-man roster before tomorrow’s draft.

We’ve talked a lot about the Rule 5 draft on this site, mostly from the perspective of who the Pirates need to protect from the draft, and who they could lose. Normally I do an extensive preview of the available players, looking at some of the top options around the league.  I didn’t do that this year for two reasons. The first reason was the 2012 Prospect Guide, which took up most of my time, leaving me with very little time to look at the list of available players. In fact, I didn’t look at any players until I started writing this post. I guess what I’m saying is: buy the Prospect Guide.

I also didn’t do a preview this year (until now) because the Rule 5 draft has gotten to be over-blown. That might sound hypocritical from someone who writes so much about who needs to be protected from the draft. As I’ve mentioned throughout the year, the Pirates are in a situation this year where they could lose a prospect or two. Maybe someone takes a flier on Andrew Lambo, or perhaps someone makes Brett Lorin the next Nathan Adcock. You never want to lose talent, especially a team like the Pirates. But how bad could it be?

Pirates fans saw the bad side of the Rule 5 draft this past year. Nathan Adcock was taken out of high-A and sent to the majors. He stuck in Kansas City all year, and a lot of people were up in arms about the loss after he got off to a great start with the Royals. Adcock was one of five players protected this past year. What did the Pirates lose? They lost a guy who had a 4.62 ERA in 60.1 innings, along with a 36:26 K/BB ratio. There’s a chance Adcock could get better after some additional time in the minors, but best case scenario is that he ends up a strong middle reliever. That’s similar to the upside of the guys the Pirates have available this year.  Again, you hate to lose any prospect, but how bad is that loss?

Then look at the flip side of the equation. If the upside is potentially getting a marginal valued player, then how important is it for the Pirates to actually make a pick? Of the available guys there’s probably a few who can throw 96 MPH. So can Diego Moreno. There’s probably a few who put up great numbers in the AA rotation and profile as a middle reliever. That’s Michael Colla. There might be a few who were former top prospects, fell out of favor, but are young enough to make you ask “what if”? That’s Andrew Lambo.

The Pirates probably aren’t going to see anyone who is significantly better than the guys they passed on protecting. The days were you could get a star like Dan Uggla or Shane Victorino are gone. The rules changed in 2006, limiting the draft field, and ever since the draft has been pretty barren of talent. Adam Foster of Project Prospect did a great job of pointing that out last night on Twitter.

Foster crunched the numbers, and pointed out that since 2007, 83% of the players selected in the draft have had zero MLB value. Foster was basing his results off of WAR, and looking at everyone drafted, rather than just the guys who were protected. He also had another note that the player with the sixth highest WAR in the last four years has been Evan Meek. Meek has a combined 2.8 WAR, according to Baseball Reference.

To put those numbers in perspective, if the Pirates make a pick, there’s an 83% historical chance that the player they pick will have zero value. Even if they get that 17%, the upside isn’t that big. This raises the debate on whether the Pirates should even make a pick. They could drop someone like Jeremy Hefner to make a selection, but is it worth it? Would the Rule 5 pick have any more upside than Hefner, who the Pirates can stash in AAA and hope he becomes the next Chris Leroux?

I’ve always believed that you try and get talent in any way that you can. That said, if all of the avenues of finding talent are like games in a casino, then the Rule 5 draft would be a game of Keno. The chances of winning big are extremely small, and you’re probably only playing the game because you have no money for the other games in the casino.

Of course it doesn’t cost anything to make a pick in the Rule 5 draft (well, outside of the $50,000 fee to make a pick), so it could be viewed as a free lottery ticket. Assuming the Pirates play the lottery, here are the players I like after taking a look at some of the available options.

Rule 5 Eligible Players

Caleb Brewer, RHP – I like Brewer because of his low 90s fastball which touches 95, and his slider, which grades as a plus pitch at times. I also like him because he will be 23 next year. That means there’s still time for him to develop and try to become a starting prospect. And pitching out of the bullpen with a 95 MPH fastball and a plus slider gives him a shot of sticking around all year in a mop up role.

Jordan Danks, OF – I saw Danks a few times in 2009 in the Carolina Leagues. He tore up the league that year, and was eventually promoted to AA. He hasn’t had as much success in the higher levels, but he’s got plus speed, can provide good defense in center field, and he hits for a bit of power.

Ryan Flaherty, IF/OF – He’d have a good shot at sticking on the roster because he plays all four infield spots, plus the corner outfield spots. He had strong numbers in AA this year, but not so much in his jump to AAA. He’s a left handed hitter with power, having 20 home run potential. Interesting side note: he hit cleanup behind Pedro Alvarez at Vanderbilt.

Jiwan James, OF – He hasn’t played above high-A, and didn’t have the best numbers there, but James is a very toolsy player. He’s got plus-plus speed and plays great defense in center field. He turns 23 in April, and he’s a switch hitter. He’d be a huge project, but I can’t imagine he’d be any harder to hold on to than Xavier Paul, who was favored for his speed and defense in the outfield.

Philippe Valiquette, LHP – He has hit 99 MPH in the past, and was in the mid-90s this off-season after missing the entire 2011 season with a torn pectoral muscle. He’s had some control issues, and is strictly a reliever, but it’s hard to ignore that fastball velocity from a left hander.

Josh Smoker, LHP – He’s similar to Valiquette in that he’s a left hander who can throw 98 MPH. However, he has major control issues and he hasn’t pitched above high-A. Great name for a pitcher, though.

Andrew Lambo could be picked tomorrow by a team hoping he bounces back to top prospect status.

Pirates Eligible Players

The full list of eligible Pirates prospects can be found in my post from a few weeks ago. Anyone signed to a minor league deal, such as Nick Evans or Jose Morales, is also eligible to be selected. Here are the guys who are at the biggest risk of being drafted.

Tim Alderson – Alderson makes this list for name recognition purposes, due to being a former top prospect.  His move to the bullpen in 2011, and his mid-80s fastball by the end of the season makes it unlikely that he will be selected.  All it takes is one team to be interested enough to draft him, but even then I don’t see him bouncing back to his pre-2009 performances.

Michael Colla – After pitching in the AA rotation for most of the year, and putting up some impressive numbers, the Pirates left Colla unprotected for the Rule 5 draft.  Despite the success, Colla profiles more as a middle reliever in the majors.  He throws his fastball in the low 90s, sitting 90-92 in the Arizona Fall League, but does have a decent changeup which could give him a shot to be a long reliever or a spot starter candidate.

Andrew Lambo – He might be an attractive option for a team that wants to take a risk on a guy who was considered one of the top 50 prospects in baseball just two years ago.  Lambo is fairly young, but I think his chances of sticking in the majors all year would be slim if he is drafted.  He hasn’t hit well above the AA level, and he doesn’t have the speed or defense to make up for his lack of hitting off the bench.

Quincy Latimore – He’s got some of the best power in the system, although his strikeout and walk ratios, combined with his low average, negate any value his power gives him.  Latimore is capable on defense at a corner outfield spot, but ultimately he’s a one tool guy.  He’s young, so another team could take a chance on that power tool, although I don’t see him sticking in the majors all year on the off-chance that he is selected.

Brett Lorin – He had some impressive numbers in high-A this past season, but he also turns 25 in March and hasn’t pitched above high-A ball.  He’s similar to Nathan Adcock in that they both had good seasons in high-A and both went unprotected, although Adcock was two years younger.  Despite Adcock being protected last year, I think the odds of a pitcher making the jump from high-A to the majors all year are still pretty slim.

Diego Moreno – I could see a team taking a shot on Moreno due to his plus fastball.  Best case scenario is that he ends up a late inning reliever, and with the eligibility rules leaving mostly bench and bullpen arms, Moreno’s upside could look attractive to other teams.  He’s far from a guarantee, as he hasn’t had good results above high-A, but the tools are there.

Aaron Pribanic – The Pirates seem to favor sinker ball pitchers, protecting Michael Crotta last year, and currently holding Jared Hughes on the 40-man roster.  Perhaps Hughes being on the 40-man and Crotta being in the minors is why they left Pribanic unprotected.  Ultimately he profiles as a reliever, although he gets a ton of ground balls with his sinker, and in shorter outings he has been known to get his fastball up to 96 MPH, making him very similar to Hughes.

Rule 5 Trends

The Rule 5 draft changed in 2006, adding an extra year before players would become eligible, which really cut down the talent field.  In the last five drafts, there have been 93 players selected, with 23 players successfully protected.  Here is a breakdown of each year:

  • Stay away from Smoker.  His fastball may hit mid-90s on occasion.  More often though it was in the md-80s.  Control is also an issue, a big one.  There are also other issues the Pirates won’t want to deal with.

  • The Pirates traded for Yamaico Navarro, an infielder, from the Royals this evening. Given their various signings this week, I doubt they make a Rule 5 selection this year.

    They traded Brooks Pounders and a DSL player so maybe they think Navarro  has something to offer.

  • Ill have you know, Keno on a machine at the Casino (especially the Rivers) can get very expensive to play and take your money in a second. I wouldn’t know, just saying.