Baseball America posted their initial list of the top players available in this year’s Rule 5 draft, which will take place next week. There are 15 names on this list now. In the past, they have expanded this list multiple times to include players getting mentioned as possibilities, with 70+ players on some prior lists. This first list includes two players from the Pittsburgh Pirates. BA has first baseman Malcom Nunez and outfielder Matt Gorski among the top 15 players.
Nunez plays first base, which is rarely a position that gets picked in the Rule 5 draft, making him less of a risk to be taken. Four first baseman have been taken in the last 20 years and two were returned to their original team right away. The other two were Nate Freiman, who put up 0.0 WAR in 116 big league games, and Ji-Man Choi, who is currently on the Pirates. He put up -0.6 WAR during his draft year and was released shortly after the end of the season. So no one has had any success taking a first baseman in the Rule 5 draft in the last two decades.
Nunez is helped out by the fact that he’s 22 years old for the entire 2023 season, and he showed a solid approach at the plate, with nice power/walk numbers, along with an acceptable strikeout rate. As noted in the BA article, he rates well among exit velocity.
Gorski showed impressive power this year, but he doesn’t have the walk/strikeout rates of Nunez. He has defense and speed going for him, though the latter category is to be seen how two significant hamstring injuries during the second half of the season affect him. Those could also work against him in the Rule 5 draft because he has limited upper level experience (39 games total) and teams won’t have a good read on the injury risk factor.
My personal thought is that Blake Sabol has the best chance of being selected among any available Pirates. He has more Triple-A time than the other two players, and had success during that time. He also put in extra work in the Arizona Fall League. The fact that he can be a built-in third-string catcher for the team selecting him, means he will have an added versatility factor to his game. Being a left-handed hitter doesn’t hurt his resume either.
Teams average a player taken every two years and they average a lost player every three years (meaning someone who sticks with the team selecting them). Those odds work in the favor of the Pirates and their choices of who to protect. The flip side to this list by BA is that the Pirates have the third overall pick, so even if they lose someone, they could pick someone better than the player they lost and use that player to better fill a need.
John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.
When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.