Tomorrow is the deadline for teams to protect players from the 2014 Rule 5 draft. If you’re unfamiliar with the process, the basic rundown is that players are eligible to be selected by another team in their fourth or fifth Rule 5 draft (depending on when they signed), unless they are added to the 40-man roster. If a player was 18 or younger in his signing year, he is eligible for his fifth Rule 5 draft. A player who is 19 and older during his signing year becomes eligible for his fourth Rule 5 draft. In most cases, this means high schoolers drafted in 2010 and college players drafted in 2011 are first time eligible this year. Also, international prospects who were signed in 2010, during the DSL season*, are eligible for the first time this year. (*Luis Heredia was officially signed a few days after the DSL season, which is why he isn’t eligible this year, despite signing in 2010. He will be eligible next off-season.)
The Rule 5 draft isn’t until December, taking place on the final day of the Winter Meetings. This year, that date is December 11th. However, tomorrow is the final day for teams to protect players for that draft. For example, if they don’t protect Elias Diaz due to a lack of roster spots (and I think there’s a zero percent chance of that happening), they can’t add him later if a spot opens up.
If a player is drafted in the Rule 5 draft, the team that selected him has to put him on the active roster, and keep him there all year in 2015. If they can’t keep him in the majors, they have to put him on waivers and, if he clears, offer him back to his signing team. The Pirates lost Wei-Chung Wang last year to the Milwaukee Brewers due to this process.
Here are the players who are eligible for the draft this year. The players in bold aren’t necessarily the guys I’d protect. They’re just guys I thought were notable, with those notes below each section. My list of players to protect is at the bottom of the article.
Previously Rule 5 Eligible
Christopher De Leon
Zack Von Rosenberg
Out of this list, I’d expect the Pirates to protect up to two players. The thing about this list is that these players have been eligible in previous Rule 5 drafts, and teams have opted against taking them. Some of these players have also been outrighted off the 40-man roster, meaning every team had a chance to claim them at some point in time. Therefore, it would take a massive improvement in value for their market to change. The list also includes recently signed minor league free agents. Another team could add them as a Rule 5 pick, and it has happened before (this happened with Josh Phelps in 2006), but it raises the question as to why that team didn’t offer a Major League deal in the first place.
The player who improved his stock the most on this list was Elias Diaz. He’s certain to be protected. He always had strong defense, being rated as the best defensive catcher in his league in each of the last two years. This year he finally saw things click on the offensive side. That propelled him from a guy who had a chance to be a MLB backup due to his defense, to a guy who will be at least a MLB backup, and might have a chance to be a starter due to his offense. With Russell Martin gone, and with Tony Sanchez looking like no sure thing due to his defense, Diaz looks like the best chance the Pirates have at an internal starter until Reese McGuire arrives.
Mel Rojas also improved his stock on a smaller scale. Like Diaz, he had the defense, and had some good hitting tools, but never put things together. He did just that during the 2014 season in Altoona, then posted decent offensive numbers with Indianapolis. Rojas profiles as a fourth outfielder, with a chance to be an average starter. The Pirates don’t need that, although his value to them could be outfield depth, with speed on the bases and the ability to play all three spots. He’s the second player I could see them protecting.
Stetson Allie has a ton of power, but doesn’t hit for average and hasn’t played above Double-A. First basemen don’t usually get selected, since they’re much harder to protect. Therefore, I don’t see Allie getting protected at this point.
Yhonathan Barrios is a hard thrower with a decent slider. He works in the mid-90s, and routinely hits upper 90s. However, he’s raw due to the fact that he has only been pitching in each of the last two seasons. He also hasn’t played above A-ball. Someone could take the chance on the arm, but that seems unlikely due to his experience.
Keon Broxton showed the same kind of improvements that Mel Rojas showed. However, the Pirates prioritized Rojas, giving him the promotion to Triple-A, while Broxton stayed in Altoona. I’m not sure that Rojas will be protected, which means the chances are much smaller for Broxton.
Gift Ngoepe is a strong defensive shortstop, but that’s about the limit of his upside. The Pirates could add him to the 40-man roster and go with him as a strong defensive backup in the middle infield. However, they just signed Gustavo Nunez to a minor league deal, and he’s basically the same player. Thus, no need to protect Ngoepe.
Finally, there’s Andy Oliver, who put up some strong numbers with Indianapolis as their closer this year. Oliver is a lefty, and the Pirates have a need for lefty relievers. However, he went unclaimed when he was on waivers earlier in the year, making it unlikely that he will be picked up by another team this off-season. I also don’t see the Pirates committing a spot to him, due to the fact that they didn’t use him as a September call-up, and instead went with Bobby LaFromboise. If he goes undrafted, he could be an option for the bullpen in Spring Training.
First Time Rule 5 Eligible
Melvin Del Rosario
The obvious names on this list are Jameson Taillon and Nick Kingham, who will both be protected. Beyond those two, I’d personally protect Willy Garcia and Jason Creasy.
Garcia has had some serious strikeout issues in Altoona. However, he has a ton of raw power and great defense in right field, with an outstanding arm. Garcia could represent a shift in the game. Strikeouts are becoming much more common, and power is becoming more rare. A guy with his raw power and defense could have more value today than a few years ago, even with his strikeouts and lack of average. Depending on how good the power is, he could be a starting right fielder in the majors. For the Pirates, his upside would be more likely as a fourth outfielder with strong defense and power off the bench.
Creasy put up strong numbers in the rotation in Bradenton this year, displaying some of the best control in the entire system. He can hit mid-90s with his fastball, and has the chance to be a back of the rotation starter in the majors, or a strong relief option. I could see the Pirates protecting him, just because starting pitching prospects who might have a shot at being starters in the majors come at a premium.
The one player from this list that I bolded, but don’t see getting protected is Jose Osuna. He showed good numbers in Bradenton this year, and has a lot of power potential at first base. However, the fact that he’s limited to first base, plus his lack of upper level experience will likely make it where he won’t be a risk to be drafted. He should move up to Altoona next year, and could improve his stock with a good season, just like Diaz did this year.
Who Should Be Protected in 2014?
Taillon, Kingham, and Diaz are the obvious guys to protect. I would also protect Garcia and Creasy. Rojas is up in the air, simply because I think his upside is a fourth outfielder. The Pirates would have to clear someone off the 40-man roster like Jaff Decker, who has the same upside. So it becomes a matter of personal preference. I would go with Rojas as the outfielder out of Triple-A, rather than Decker.
The Pirates currently have two open spots on the 40-man roster. They could easily remove a few other players. Brent Morel and Chaz Roe are both out of options, and both unlikely to make the team out of Spring Training. That means eventually they will be waived off the 40-man roster. Decker and Ramon Cabrera are two other players who could probably clear waivers. Cabrera cleared every team in the AL, and most of the NL teams before the Pirates claimed him. They could probably get him through waivers. I’m less optimistic that Decker could clear waivers, although I’d rather see Rojas on the 40-man than Decker.
Other candidates to be removed would be Preston Guilmet, Jake Elmore, and possibly even Bobby LaFromboise. The Pirates will eventually have to remove a lot of these guys, even after protecting players from the Rule 5 draft, just to make space for free agent additions. They’ll also likely get a spot from potential non-tenders to people like Ike Davis or Gaby Sanchez, although I don’t think that’s likely to happen tomorrow. They have other players they can remove from the roster first, giving them more time to consider what to do at first base.
This is one of the better years for the Pirates in terms of Rule 5 eligible talent. I’d expect them to add at least four guys, and possibly six total.