Today is the deadline for teams to add players and protect them from the Rule 5 draft.
This is an overblown event that amounts to a glorified waiver claim. The decisions on who to protect are obvious. The ones that aren’t obvious are discussions based on fear of missing out on a player who has a magical breakthrough with another organization. In reality, no one wants to see the Pirates lose talent for nothing when they’re on a mission to gain talent as efficiently as possible.
Just because we can speak the idea into existence, doesn’t mean it’s a real concern.
Last year’s Rule 5 draft was cancelled, so we don’t know what might have happened with Mason Martin or Cal Mitchell getting left unprotected. I’m not sure it would have mattered. Martin didn’t have a great season in Triple-A, and didn’t make the majors. Mitchell put up solid numbers, and did make the majors.
Yerry De Los Santos is another case of a player who went unprotected and made the majors. It’s not like De Los Santos had bad numbers in 2021, or that he wasn’t known as a potential MLB reliever. The Rule 5 draft adds a unique distinction to prospect development.
De Los Santos and Mitchell were both talented enough to make the majors one day. The same is true of Martin. The former two did play in the majors in 2022. Both held their own, but neither did well enough to lock down a 2023 roster spot. Had another team selected either, they would have committed a full season in 2022 toward getting one of two forms of value:
- Cheap bonus production in the upcoming season
- Upside to dream about in a future season
The fear is that teams will lose players who fit the second description. I wrote about Dariel Lopez being a possibility to be protected. Carlos Jimenez is another lower level prospect the Pirates have who is an interesting case. In both of these cases, you could argue against the player by saying that their numbers don’t make them ready for the majors now. You could also argue that their numbers don’t indicate future MLB success yet. That’s true. Both would be drafted, hypothetically, based on their long-term upside.
That’s all hypothetical because it assumes there’s a team who would burn a 2023 roster spot on a future upside play — and that Lopez or Jimenez would be the best 19-20 year old upside play available from all 30 teams. Thinking about it from that scope, it’s less likely that an upside guy from the lower levels gets drafted. The Pirates did protect Liover Peguero last year. If they protect a lower level guy like Lopez or Jimenez, it will say a lot about how they see that player.
The more likely scenario is that teams add someone who can provide cheap bench or bullpen depth, with the small chance of developing into more. Those are largely the players the Pirates have protected.
Heading into the 2020 Rule 5 draft, Ben Cherington protected Rodolfo Castro and Max Kranick. Both players spent time in the majors in 2021 as depth options, and Castro is looking like a possible starting second base option heading into 2023. Would either have been selected as cheap depth had they been left unprotected? We’ll never know if their outcomes might have been different.
Aside from Peguero, the Pirates protected a trio of outfielders last year — Travis Swaggerty, Canaan Smith-Njigba, and Jack Suwinski. All three spent time in the majors, with Suwinski having the most success and coming as the biggest surprise for his MLB production. I was surprised that the Pirates added Suwinski last year, since his bat-first profile didn’t provide a lot of chances for starter upside. We ended up seeing him walk the path needed to end up a starter. Whether he can stay on that path going forward is something that time will reveal. What we know in hindsight is that losing Suwinski last year (if they had a draft) would have been costly. We also know that the Pirates liked Suwinski enough to consider him an early-season option.
Smith-Njigba missed most of the year with an injury, and Swaggerty never really had the numbers to be an option. The Pirates didn’t lose anything by using a roster spot on either player.
I think what we can expect to see today is a guaranteed protection for Endy Rodriguez and Mike Burrows. I also think that Blake Sabol will be a guarantee to be protected. From there, you have two scenarios.
The first is that the Pirates could lose a higher upside guy like Lopez or Jimenez. To be honest, this is the time when I get to point out how much upside those guys have. Is it enough for a team to dedicate an MLB roster spot all season? Probably not. Would the Pirates be decimated if they lost either player? Probably not.
The second scenario is that the Pirates lose a guy who could help in the majors immediately, without the starter upside. This would be like losing a productive role player on waivers. It’s not going to sink the organization either. That said, I think this is more likely, since teams would be more likely to use the Rule 5 like a cheap waiver claim.
As a result, I’d focus on guys like Jared Triolo, Malcom Nunez, and Matt Gorski today (I’d protect them in that order). If the Pirates protect anyone like this (in that age 24-25 range), I think it would be a sign that they see the player as an early-season MLB option.
If one of those players doesn’t get taken, it doesn’t mean they aren’t future MLB guys. It might just mean they aren’t seen as immediate MLB options, or aren’t seen as guys who can stick, much like Mitchell and De Los Santos.
In any case, the Rule 5 draft gets followed out of fear of losing value, or the small hope of gaining free value.
To me, the real value is getting a glimpse at how the organization values their players — along with an idea of how they plan to use those players.
Highlight of the Day
If there’s an argument for Jimenez sticking now, it’s his changeup. His command and control wouldn’t be good for the majors right now, but he’s got stuff to develop and an advanced secondary pitch that makes him stand out amongst right-handers. There are a lot of right-handers, which probably diminishes his chances. I wanted to preview him today, as I temporarily steal away control of the daily highlight from Anthony Murphy.
Pirates Prospects Daily
Our P2Weekly concept saw its first week last week. I’ll have more on this below, but you can check out the link here to see the new First Pitch.
There was a lot of winter action to recap from the weekend. Anthony Murphy also looked at the early results from the 2022 draft class. Check Tuesday’s article drop for more draft-related recaps.
Song of the Day
Pirates Prospects Weekly
First Pitch has been a lot of things over the years, and now it’s the lead article to Pirates Prospects Weekly. This article will allow me to recap the previous week, look ahead to the current week, and add some thoughts to the content we’ve posted. This week was the first week where I had a P2Weekly to recap, which means this week’s First Pitch is the preview of how the article will look going forward.
Check back Tuesday at noon for the latest Pirates Prospects article drop.
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.