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Monday, December 5, 2022

First Pitch: Should the Pirates Protect Dariel Lopez From the Rule 5 Draft?

This past week was the first week of the Pirates Prospects Weekly concept. I explained that last week in First Pitch, but it’s easier to see it in action.

Every day around noon, we release a new article as part of the P2Weekly schedule. First Pitch leads off the week every Monday, giving you a recap of the previous week, and a look ahead to the current week.

Since we just finished the first week of P2Weekly, this will be the first version of what you can expect from First Pitch each week. I normally will have more to say in the lead area. This week, I’ve buried that at the bottom of this article. If you really want to skip past everything, jump to the Pirates Business section for my thoughts on Lopez.

I will add the shameless plug that everything on this site is now free*, with the disclaimer that this site is user-funded. This is all possible over the years due to contributions from our readers. If you enjoy the content we provide each day or week, then please consider contributing to our efforts.

LAST WEEK ON PIRATES PROSPECTS

Our article drops returned last week with the Pirates Prospects 2022 awards. Endy Rodriguez was our Minor League Player of the Year. Quinn Priester was named the Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Matt Gorski was named the Breakout Prospect.

The Pirates announced their awards last week, naming Rodriguez and Priester their Player and Pitcher of the Year. Here was the recap of the Pirates awards:

Honus Wagner Player of the Year: Endy Rodriguez, C

Bob Friend Pitcher of the Year: Quinn Priester, RHP

Manny Sanguillen Teammates of the Year: Jacob Gonzalez, 1B; Luis Ortiz, RHP

Danny Murtaugh Coach of the Year: Jonathan Prieto, FCL Hitting Coach

Willie Stargell Slugger of the Year: Matt Gorski, OF

Kent Tekulve Reliever of the Year: Tyler Samaniego, LHP

Bill Mazeroski Defender of the Year: Jared Triolo, 3B

Omar Moreno Baserunner of the Year: Tsung-Che Cheng, SS

I really like that the Pirates are expanding the focus on their minor league system in this way. In the past, they had a Player and Pitcher of the Year. The new awards add a homage to the history of the Pirates organization, while also expanding the focus to recognize six additional players, as well as a coach.

**Anthony Murphy had a look at the system FIP leaders this year, highlighting pitchers whose performances didn’t match their ERA.

Pittsburgh Pirates System FIP Leaders: A Second Look At Pitching Performances

**Anthony Murphy looked at the rookie season from Roansy Contreras from an analytical point.

**Our Indianapolis writer, Ryan Palencer, talked with Beau Sulser right before he was claimed by the Orioles this year. We never got to run the feature about how he was doing in the bullpen. Sulser returned to the Pirates this offseason, and Ryan finally got a chance to write that story.

Check back every Tuesday for our latest Article Drop.

OPINIONS

Wilbur Miller projected out the possible rotations for the two Pirates A-ball affiliates next year. Those teams will feature a lot of young pitching talent, led by the prep guys from the 2021 draft. I’m really looking forward to seeing how that Greensboro rotation combats the home park.

WTM: Possible Rotations for Greensboro and Bradenton in 2023

ROUNDTABLE: SLEEPERS

One of my favorite new features on the site this year is Roundtable, which allows everyone on the site to weigh in each week on a different Pirates topic. Last week, we picked our sleepers for the 2023 season, based on what we saw in 2022. Carlos Jimenez was featured, with Ricky DeVito, Sean Sullivan, and Jauri Custodio also getting a mention. Check out what we like about those players in the article below.

Prospect Roundtable: Sleepers in the Pirates Minor League System

If you liked this week’s topic, we’ve got a similar theme coming up for a future Roundtable. I love the versions that give you multiple players to read about.

WEEKLY PIRATES DISCUSSION

Every Friday, Jeff Reed leads the weekly discussion, giving a few thoughts to kick things off. This week he looked at some free agent targets for the 2023 rotation.

Weekly Pirates Discussion: Free Agent Targets For the 2023 Rotation

My thought is that the Pirates would benefit from adding two starters this offseason. I’d really like to see them return to the bargain bin and try to repeat the success they found with Tyler Anderson and Jose Quintana. Both of those pitchers signed for $2-2.5 million. The Pirates got each at a low point in value, and benefitted from their rise, landing prospects in return for each player.

Ideally, they surprise everyone and find a reason to keep the next reclamation pitcher for their own contending purposes.

PIRATES WINTER REPORT

John Dreker has updates on the Pirates in winter ball each day. Every week, he profiles a different player in winter ball, along with a recap of the recent week’s events.

This week’s Pirates Winter Report features a very interesting lower level guy. Jesus Castillo just won the batting title in the Florida Complex League, and is following that by playing in winter ball in Australia. Read more about him, and all of the other winter performances:

Pirates Winter Report: Jesus Castillo is Getting Great Experience at a Young Age

PIRATES BUSINESS

Tomorrow is the day that teams need to protect players for this year’s Rule 5 draft. Ethan Hullihen broke down which players need to be protected, and gave his predictions.

Pirates Business: Who Do The Pirates Need to Protect From the Rule 5 Draft?

The easy picks for me are Endy Rodriguez, Mike Burrows, and Blake Sabol. The latter would be easy to stash on an MLB roster all season. Sabol can catch, play outfield, and he’s got a swing geared toward contact — developing more power over the last year. I think all three of these players are in the majors by the middle of the year.

I think the Pirates will have interesting decisions to make with Malcom Nunez and Matt Gorski. I could see both getting protected. I think Gorski would be more at-risk, due to his defensive abilities in the outfield. Nunez can play third base, but that’s more a secondary position, which doesn’t add much value. It’s difficult to protect a first base/DH guy, and that’s what he is in the majors. If Nunez gets protected, it’s a sign the Pirates think his bat is close to MLB-ready.

Jared Triolo is another fringe guy, though his defensive abilities at third base could add value to a team that might want to use him as a super-utility guy. The potential with his bat, combined with the defense, almost makes him a poor man’s Ke’Bryan Hayes. A key thing to remember here is that Triolo and Gorski are both going to be 25 next year. I can’t make the argument that the Pirates should commit to either on Opening Day. I could see both players arriving at some point in 2023, and the hope would be that they develop into a starter. After the Rule 5 year, you’re getting them from age 26 forward.

In a way, Nunez might be more valuable to a rebuilding team. He’s going into his age 22 season. If you protect him for a year, you’ve got him in your system with no restrictions heading into his age 23 season. That gives two years to develop him until he’s the age that Triolo and Gorski are right now.

That’s the decision teams need to make. Do you draft a guy like Triolo or Gorski, knowing that the Rule 5 process will probably quash their chances of an upside over a 40-grade? Or, do you draft a guy like Nunez, banking on the idea that you can develop him long-term into a 50-grade guy by the time he’s the age of Triolo/Gorski?

And that brings me to the most interesting player for tomorrow’s decisions: Dariel Lopez.

Lopez just completed his age-20 season in High-A, hitting for a .286/.329/.476 line in 420 plate appearances. He hit 19 home runs, and limited his strikeouts to 25.5%. His walk rate was at an even 5%. He can play second, third, and short, and profiles well defensively. As far as upside, Endy Rodriguez might be the only player in this group who has more than Dariel Lopez.

If I’m a rebuilding team, I take Lopez, let him back up shortstop, second, and third, and bite the bullet on his bat. You could develop him for three years after that in the upper levels, at which point he would need to be in the majors for that magic age-25 season.

The Rule 5 draft is largely role players at this point. Gone are the days where you could find a future star. Lopez might be the easiest path to that outcome. That path isn’t so easy. You need to take a guy who isn’t ready for the majors, stash him away for a year, and hope that you can develop him into an MLB player in the following three years. From there, he needs to be a starter to make the experiment worthwhile.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Pirates protect Lopez. The downside is they would need Lopez to be in the majors by his age 24 season, at which point he would be out of options. The upside is they could maintain his development in Altoona in 2023, rather than seeing a year sacrificed to the Rule 5 process. That’s only a concern if there’s a team out there willing to sacrifice a roster spot for a year on the long-term potential of Lopez.

That’s really the decision being made with Nunez. It’s the decision being made with Gorski and Triolo, only with the expectation that they might have a better chance of providing immediate value.

Since Lopez has more upside than any of those players, I’d protect him to maintain his development. I don’t think the other three would be selected or lost long-term.

Who I’d Protect: Endy Rodriguez, Mike Burrows, Blake Sabol, Dariel Lopez

THIS WEEK ON PIRATES PROSPECTS

John Dreker will have the Arizona Fall League season recap in tomorrow’s article drop. We will have our Rule 5 coverage and analysis throughout the week.

FUQUAY VINYL PLAYLIST

As far as new music, I spent a lot of time this past week listening to the new Danger Mouse album, which I wrote about last week. After listening to some Gary Clark Jr., Johnny Cash, and John Mayer this weekend, this week’s playlist is very electric blues heavy.

WEEKLY PIRATEZ QUIZ

How many did you get? Leave your answer in the comments below.

SUPPORT

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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.

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ravidesai1984

Due to no rule 5 last off-season and the lost year for everyone from covid it’s pretty safe to say most teams will have more guys to protect than a normal year. Making it less likely any single prospect gets picked.

Anthony

Agreed. Most teams, if not all, will be in the same boat having a backlog of players to protect from the last Rule 5. In theory, this would reduce the likelihood of losing a player in the draft. It will be interesting to see how teams strategize and if any deviate from the herd.

NMR

Guy really struggled in the AFL, but color me surprised that nobody is buying into Tahnaj’s second half.

Bucs'N'Pucks (Jeff Reed)

He just feels so consistently inconsistent for me. That being everything included. It feels like the delivery is always changing. Sometimes he’s high 90’s, sometimes he’s mid 90’s, sometimes he’s low 90’s.

Some of it seems he’s just really focusing on mechanics more than anything, not worrying about velocity, but you just can’t pinpoint which Tahnaj Thomas is the real Tahnaj.

NMR

No argument there, I’ve been off him for a minute. I just sometimes get caught off guard when an outlet pens a number of positive pieces on a guy and then doesn’t back it with as much as a suggested spot on the 40-man.

Scam likely

Yes

Catch_22

Fellas, we’re talking about protecting Dariel Lopez. 26% k-rate in A-ball does not translate to a guy you can put on an MLB 26-man roster.

Dude would get eaten alive by MLB arms.

Catch_22

Just my opinion, but nobody is going to select him in the Rule 5. Making this moot.

If he gets put on the 40 or is selected in the Rule 5, I’ll contribute $50.

Peguero is a much better all-around prospect. I mean, Lopez isn’t even close to sniffing top 100 list.

steve_zielinski

Endy Rodriguez was not a top 100 prospect at the beginning of the 2022 season. Now? Lopez might not be a great fielder at any position but he’s a breakout candidate. He could help himself by cutting down on his Ks.

jeffw3000

I do not disagree, that he could possibly develop into a top 100 prospect, but I also feel that a position player that is far from Major League ready, and could develop into a top 100 prospect is not the type of players that get picked in the rule 5, and even if they do, they rarely can make it thru the entire year on the active roster. That is why I do not think the Pirates will protect him. I would be more fearful of losing someone like Nunez or Triolo.

Catch_22

Very well said.

jaygray007

*tip of the cap*

TNBucs

To borrow a phrase you used, I think of Lopez somewhat as a “poor man’s” Peguero, and there’s some evidence that the Pirates see the two similarly with the Winter League assignment. Since Peguero was a no-doubt addition last year, I think Lopez will (and should) be added this year.

I also expect them to add Nunez. For one, he’s in a similar situation as Suwinski was last year and they added Suwinski. For two, if a Nunez-type was available in the draft, I’d want the Pirates to draft him as a platoon partner with Choi, as jaygray suggests below.

jaygray007

RE Peguero vs Lopez, there’s not a single prospect site that has Lopez rated as highly as Peguero was a year ago. maybe their hitting stats are pretty similar, but it sure seems like the defensive value is in a different stratusphere for Peguero.

Thanks for the shoutout on the Nunez logic 🙂

I only recently started thinking about this problem in those terms – “if player X was unprotected by another team, would i want the pirates to grab him?”

really helpful IMO

And even if the answer is “yes”, thats not *necessarily* enough to say that they should be protected. but it’s a good start.

jaygray007

right. i think i’m saying that those differentiations are the difference between needing to keep the guy and not keeping the guy. I guess we’ll see what the team thinks pretty soon!

TNBucs

Lopez is a fast riser, though. For example, a year ago (2021 updated list) Fangraphs didn’t have Lopez in our top 60 and now they have him at 16 and he may rise higher when Logenhagen has a chance to do his offseason work.

jaygray007

okay, so let’s apply the question, just to be sure here.

If lopez was on a different team, you’d want the pirates to take him?

and also, 16 still isnt close to what Peguero was a yr ago.

Last edited 20 days ago by jaygray007
TNBucs

To add one more level, though, whether I’d want my team to take a player like Lopez would depend on the quality of my team’s prospects. I couldn’t make a case for drafting a Lopez-type for the Pirates given the depth we already have but maybe for a team like the Royals or A’s who are ranked in the bottom 10 in farm systems and have little to no hope of contending this year.

roberto

The Royals will only be looking at pitchers (maybe an outfielder). Their system is low-rated because they just graduated four very talented players. I think the A’s are into a rebuild, but am not sure. I’m a Royals season ticket holder BTW.

AdministrativeSky236

very cool! Wheres the line between royals and pirates allegiance? Lol

jaygray007

Infielders taken in the Rule 5 draft since 2015:

Ji Man Choi(!!)
Colin Walsh
Allen Cordoba
Josh Rutledge
Mike Ford
Richie Martin
Connor Joe
Drew Jackson
Vimael Machin
Jon Arauz
Kyle Holder

IDK if any of these guys are Dariel Lopez’s profile, but i really doubt we have to think twice about it even if he *is* plucked.

Then again, maybe Lopez is truly better than all these guys. Maybe all of the lopez types get protected and then become good major leaguers!

Last edited 20 days ago by jaygray007
roberto

I saw Martin as a first-year pro. I thought he would be a star. He has not. Discount all of my comments based on this.

NMR

I liked him over Newman in the, shit, whatever year that draft was. *shrugs

PirateRican21

I’m a Lopez fan and this is a good argument, but his poor defense counters that argument.

Catch_22

There’s no chance in my opinion that he can be rostered all year. None

jeffw3000

I personally agree. I do not see much chance he is selected, and even if he was, he would not be rostered all year. The way teams treat the rule 5 these days, they do not like to select position players that are not near Major league ready. They find it too difficult to hide a position player, and also do not like wasting a season of development.

jaygray007

Really dont think it’s worth worrying about a guy who struck out 25% in A ball, but i dont really know anything.

put this way, if Lopez was on a different team and went unprotected, i dont think i’d particularly want the pirates to bother taking him.

John Dreker

I think the Pirates are in a good Rule 5 place right now, which isn’t a great place for the 2023 season. I could easily pick ten names on their current 40-man roster and never miss them. So that leaves plenty of room to add players. If you add someone like Matt Gorski and he doesn’t continue to develop, what do you actually lose? You opened a spot for him with a nobody and you can drop him at any point. Same goes for Nunez, Sabol, Triolo, Bolton. You’re not really risking anything by adding them because there’s no one of note blocking them. If they’re no good, replace them next year. Basically, they are in a spot right now where they don’t have to risk leaving anyone unprotected.

As I said in the roundtable article, the risk of leaving a player unprotected for me is Carlos Jimenez. He’s clearly not MLB ready and might never be if 2022 was his peak. Pitchers are volatile. Eduardo Vera one year was sitting 93-95, hitting 97, with command and four pitches he threw for strikes. Eduardo Vera two years later was topping out at 91, sometimes not even hitting 90, and he had zero command, he was often right in the middle of the plate with everything. He was healthy the entire time. How did it happen? Who knows, but I know he worked his butt off in the off-season each year.

Jimenez has more upside than anyone who they will protect outside of Endy and Burrows. I wouldn’t risk losing that to some team that realizes he can just pitch mopup for a year and then go back to developing as a starter at 21 years old. And I say that fully aware of the “risk” they are taking. There’s about a 5% chance he even gets selected because of where he is, and then from there, it’s about a 50% chance he sticks if he did get selected.Pirates aren’t in a position right now where they should take that tiny chance because they have so many easily replaceable players on their current roster.

skliesen

Correct, they have lots of guys on 40-man who could be easily replaced with the fringe Rule 5 guys, but are these guys truly depth for the 26-man roster? Every organization has to role the dice on “decent” players who aren’t quite ready, but could have value in years to come. I’m not getting upset if Pirates lose any of these fringe Rule 5 guys, except maybe Gorski. And I’m probably overvaluing him because of his power production last year.

melkel

I totally agree, I would even potentially leave a spot open on the 40 man for a rule 5 pick. Not saying they should use it but if a player like Carlos Duran from the dodgers is available they should jump at the chance.

jaygray007

i can understand your strategy and way of thinking about it. But part of this is also about predicting what *they’ll* *actually* do. We can all do the thought experiment of wondering how the Jon Dreker method would work out and even agree with your mindset, but we also dont really have any track record of the pirates protecting Jimenez types, do we?

I do think you lose something when you protect a guy. I think there’s value in not protecting a guy, having him remain in the system, and having that roster spot free for other pickups. I also think there’s value in having that guy off the roster, and not having to DFA him in order to re-gain that 40 man spot. I also think there’s value in not starting his countdown of option years. That last one is especially important when thinking about 20 yr olds in A ball. When you add Jimenez or Dariel Lopez, you’re committing to having him in a MLB role within 3 yrs. Which, okay, fine, maybe that’s okay for the right players! but that’s what youre doing.

To be honest i think most teams probably have Carlos Jimenezes running around low A ball already. Also, live arms that are more MLB-ready are DFA’d and freely available seemingly all the time.

But one final aspect here is that you do have sources, and it’s entirely possible that you’ve “heard something” regarding Jimenez, which would obviously render my thoughts moot.

Last edited 20 days ago by jaygray007
John Dreker

I do have sources, but my guess based on what they say is that Jimenez isn’t being considered. If I had to put a name out there that isn’t getting mentioned enough, it’s Triolo. Pirates are high on him and he finished strong before getting hurt.

I do agree with some things you say and would have expanded more if the comment wasn’t already getting long enough, I will say that giving him three years to be MLB ready from Low-A isn’t as bad as it sounds. If he isn’t moving one level at a time to the point that he can’t even be used as a middle reliever by the fourth year, what are the chances he’s worth keeping anyway?

There is a big difference with Lopez and Jimenez in these scenarios, and that’s the potential value to the 2023 season. Lopez has nothing really. His walk/SO rate suggests he would have huge issues in a part-time big league role, and his power showed up a lot more at home in a friendly park. Right-handed hitters grow on trees. You couldn’t use him as a defensive replacement and he’s not a good runner. He has no bench value at all, so you would really be hiding him all season. A pitcher is always going to have mop up work, and a live arm like Jimenez could possibly do well in a limited role now. He’s extremely focused on the mound and his pitch mix in short situations would be tough on hitters if he’s throwing strikes. But even without attempting to put him in bigger spots, he would still have work.

My protection list would be big because of where the Pirates are at now. Burrows and Endy are obvious. Sabol, Nunez, Gorski, Triolo should all be protected. I’d have Jimenez. That’s seven names. That’s probably more than I’ve ever said, but I don’t see any point in risking any losses for guys who are a dime a dozen on the current roster. With where the Pirates are with their top prospects, my focus is mid-2023 and beyond, not Opening Day 2023. I don’t care if they fill holes now. All Choi is to me is a potential trade deadline piece who makes the first three months slightly more tolerable. I care where they are in the second half and beyond. Indianapolis is by far the most important team in the system in April/May/June.

jaygray007

I personally have the same list, except for Gorski and Jimenez, so we are pretty close! I agree that it’s surprising that Triolo isn’t being more widely considered. He’s basically mlb-ready, is good at hitting, and good at defense. that’s a pretty nice piece!

i personally weigh K rate a lot in my prospect evaluations, so of course i favor Triolo over Gorski and am not too worried about protecting Gorski.

If you really love Jimenez (or if someone else loves Lopez), i guess i wont die on the hill that that’s a bad idea. I just wouldnt do it. Dont think it’s necessary.

I think making 2023 tolerable is important and shouldnt be limited to just adding Choi. i think you could put a really interesting team on the field with, say, a $10 million RF, a $10 million DH, finding “the next Anderson/Quintana” for < $5 million, and being aggressive with Endy.

jaygray007

A Triolo or Nunez could probably help some teams right now. I’m not a Gorski guy but i can see why someone would be.

Steamer isn’t the end all be all, but when extrapolated to 600 PA, both Triolo and Gorski project as 2 WAR players *right now*. Nunez is at 1 but he deserves a little credit due to how young he is.

I’d protect them over Dariel Lopez for sure.

jaygray007

i think i also agree that Triolo is more valuable and more keep-worthy. i’m putting my money on them protecting both.

i’d probably just keep Nunez with the plan of making him part of the 1b/DH rotation. They need to use a 40 man spot on a platoon partner for Choi anway. Might as well be Nunez. I can’t imagine that most projection systems wouldnt have him as being a good hitter vs lefties right away, and thats ultimately what they need after getting Choi. His hitting profile is way way way more healthy than Mason Martin’s was at this time last yr.

jaygray007

final thought.

One factor with Nunez is…. there’s an obvious need on this team for a RH complement to Choi. The pirates have the choice of spending 4 million and a 40 man spot on a Wil Myers type to accomplish this. Or they could simply go with Nunez.

The fact that there needs to be a 40 man spot used on this role *anyway* adds to the probability that Nunez gets added, IMO.

I’d have verry little issue with giving him the RH Platoon 1b role while giving him some starts vs righties this yr, especially if going cheap on the RH 1b would let them get a more legitimate RF and DH.

roberto

Reasonable. But right now the Bucs need starters and a RH outfielder.

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