This week the Pirates protected four players from the upcoming Rule 5 draft, adding Endy Rodriguez, Mike Burrows, Jared Triolo, and Colin Selby to the 40-man roster.
Those additions meant that upper level performers like Blake Sabol, Matt Gorski, and Malcom Nunez are all available to be taken by any team in next month’s draft. The catch is that the other team would need to roster that player in the majors for the entire 2023 season in order for the Pirates to lose said player.
This is a difficult task, and it’s rare that the team loses anyone. For that reason, we have a bit of a catch for this week’s Roundtable. I asked everyone to pick the player they were surprised was not protected. This doubled as the player they thought was at most risk of being selected in the draft. The catch? I gave everyone the option of selecting no one at all.
Who are you surprised the Pirates didn’t protect? Who do you think they are at-risk of losing, if anyone at all? Check out the list of eligible players from Ethan Hullihen’s article on Sunday, and leave your thoughts in the comments below.
JOHN DREKER: Blake Sabol
While I wouldn’t call it a big surprise, the player who I thought would be fourth on the list for the Pirates to protect was Blake Sabol. I had them protecting the two obvious choices (Endy Rodriguez and Mike Burrows) and Jared Triolo ahead of him.
The reason I believed Sabol would be protected is the same reason I believe he could be picked. He had success at Triple-A over more than a small sample size this year, and he has the versatility to play multiple positions, which makes him an easier player to hide for a team selecting him.
I believed that versatility would make him a option at some point early during the 2023 season for the Pirates. I still don’t think full-time catching is in his future, and there are still some things to clean up with his swing, plus he’s not a young prospect. Despite the success in 2022, he struck out a lot and he’s susceptible to chase breaking balls down and in. Pitchers at the MLB level will eat him alive until he corrects/manages his flaw. That being said, he’s still someone who should be able to stick with a team as a Rule 5 pick.
Sabol is a built-in third catcher, who can play solid outfield and be a lefty bat off of the bench. It’s possible that the Pirates think his poor showing in the Arizona Fall League will help him sneak through the draft, but that league was a smaller sample than his stint with Indianapolis, where he put up a .969 OPS.
ETHAN HULLIHEN: Blake Sabol
In my manifesto from Sunday, I ended up batting 50% of players I guessed would be protected, with Malcom Nuñez and Blake Sabol as my two misses. I listed them three and four as far as order, which would technically mean I was most surprised by Nuñez’s exclusion, but I don’t think that’s the case. I’m going with Sabol here.
Now, am I surprised neither was protected? No, not really. I went back and forth on each right up until the deadline, and as it turns out I should have stuck to the courage of my convictions instead of letting myself be swayed by what everyone else was suggesting. I think my first instinct was correct—Nuñez is a corner/DH power bat who is far from a sure thing with development still remaining, and that’s just not the typical profile of a player who’s at risk of being selected.
Sabol, on the other hand, is older, can move around the field, and is a bit more of a finished product. Coupled with the fact there are whispers in the industry that he’ll be selected, and I think he’s the prospect most likely to be gone come December 7th.
WILBUR MILLER: Blake Sabol
This is the biggest surprise, because Sabol is a catcher who can hit. He’s a bigger surprise than Malcom Nunez, even though Nunez fits the Pirates’ desperate need for a right-handed hitter who can hit . . . anything at all. The Pirates no doubt are relying on the long-standing disinterest in first base types in the Rule 5 draft.
Sabol probably won’t be that strong defensively, but considering the excruciatingly bad offense the Pirates got from their catchers this year, keeping Sabol would have made sense — even with Endy Rodriguez and Henry Davis on the horizon. There’s also Sabol’s ability to play the outfield. Offense is a problem for a lot of teams right now, even if it’s not the disaster that it’s been for the Pirates since Ben Cherington took over, so Sabol has value.
Sabol adjusted well to Triple-A this year, so there’s no reason to doubt he can’t stick if he’s selected, making him also the most likely player the Pirates could lose.
ANTHONY MURPHY: None
I think that the four prospects that were selected were more or less the perfect ones to be protected, as they would have had a higher chance of being selected. Remember, this isn’t always an exact one-for-one exchange, and that this early in the offseason you want to leave yourself with some roster flexibility.
While there is always a chance a team takes a chance on someone left unprotected, odds are the Pirates aren’t in any immediate danger of losing anyone.
The bigger names that at first glance have a good possibility of getting selected, Malcom Nunez, Matt Gorski and Blake Sabol all have question marks that could keep them off other team’s radars when it comes to being selected in the Rule 5.
Nunez and Sabol are likely limited enough defensively for teams to not use one of their limited roster spots on them. For Nunez, he’s a first base only prospect, not something usually in high demand in the Rule 5. For that matter, his numbers in the minors play towards a platoon player. Using a roster spot on a first base only player that will only hit lefties well doesn’t sound ideal to committing to for an entire season.
Sabol was among the system’s leaders in playing time behind the plate, but that isn’t his long-term spot. He’s a left-handed left fielder that had a breakout season this year, and while he is probably the player that is most likely to get taken, his defensive limitations could be what keeps teams away.
Gorski has some of the more interesting tools out of the players available in the Rule 5, and I did notice some people on Twitter that follow other teams bring him up as an option. He plays a very good center field and has experience at first, but he still struck out nearly 30% of the time and his swing and miss rate was among the highest in the system.
Each of these players could very well end up contributing at the major league level at some point, but none of it is guaranteed enough for a team to dedicate a roster spot to.
JEFF REED: None
The obvious answer most would expect from me is Blake Sabol. A selection within reason would be Matt Gorski. My honest answer is there isn’t anyone I’m surprised that wasn’t protected.
Jared Triolo makes sense. He can play any position – short of pitcher and catcher – and play them all well. Triolo hit for average in Double-A. He got on base at a .376 clip, with a .360 career average. He stole 24 bases. Jared Triolo does so many things well, that he could contribute to a major league roster in some form.
I just don’t see that with any of the non-selected players.
In the MLB’s Toughest Decisions article, it noted “but Rule 5-picking teams often search for players with multiple tools that could help them in the bigs.” Ask yourself, “Who has enough ready-now tools to contribute this season?”
Malcom Nunez has plate discipline, but is defensively limited and we can’t be sure the power surge will immediately translate. Blake Sabol probably has the most big-league ready bat and plays catcher along with outfield, but does he play either of those positions well enough if the bat doesn’t translate? Matt Gorski has some of the loudest tools across the board, but the track record is one strong season that was cut short due to a re-aggravated hamstring. Dariel Lopez and Carlos Jimenez are so raw, would an organization burn a crucial developmental year? Jimenez would make some sense, because you could at least toss him in a blow out and tell him to just throw. Lopez would need at-bats, and when would he get them?
The collection of available arms? I’ll keep it short and say they’re just that, a collection of arms.
Furthermore, if you look at a list with some of the names unprotected, can you really say there aren’t a handful of other names that jump off the page first for you? Outside of another organization having a scout that is personally fascinated with a Pirates prospect, I can’t see anyone being selected.
TIM WILLIAMS: None
Earlier this week, I featured Dariel Lopez as a guy that I would protect. I like the upside of Lopez, but conceded that the odds of losing him would be low. I think that’s especially the case with so many talented prospects left unprotected this year around the league. The odds of a team going for a Lopez type isn’t out of the question. The odds of a team settling in on Lopez among all the options seems extremely unlikely. The other player who I expected to be added was Blake Sabol.
Sabol spent the 2022 season in the upper levels, hitting .281/.347/.486 in 412 plate appearances for Altoona. He hit 23 doubles and 14 home runs during this stretch. The Pirates promoted him at the end of the year to Indianapolis, where he batted .296/.426/.543 with five more homers in 101 plate appearances.
The argument against Sabol is that he’s a bat-first corner guy. He spent the season behind the plate, and carried that work over to the AFL. His receiving needs a lot of work to be an MLB option. At best, I think the Pirates can hope he develops into a luxury third catcher one day. His value will ultimately come from the bat at a corner spot. He’s played mostly left field, and has taken grounders at first base.
The argument in favor of Sabol is that his bat looks MLB ready right now. He’s got a good approach toward contact, and has been adding power to his game the last two years. There might be a lot of talent available, but any team that wants a cheap, left-handed hitting outfield prospect with the bonus ability to catch can turn to Sabol.
Then again, every team might have a soon-to-be-25-year-old Blake Sabol available in the draft. That doesn’t diminish the fact that Sabol looks ready right now. It just concedes that minor league results don’t translate to MLB results. Sabol will be a great option for the Pirates at some point in 2023. Whether he carries his numbers over to the majors remains to be seen. Will a team take a risk on him? I think if anyone is at risk of being taken, it’s him. But I have a feeling that Sabol will still be in the system after the Rule 5 draft — along with Lopez and every other prospect you’d fear losing. Sabol is the only player I see them at risk of losing, but I’m leaning towards the Pirates won’t lose anyone in the MLB Rule 5 draft.
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.