Lots and lots of digital ink has been spilt regarding the Rule 5 Draft around here lately, but I figured I’d give one last look at the subject before we can finally digest the outcome.
Given all the consternation—as comments second guessing the decisions of who was and wasn’t protected continue to fly and Baseball America suggests as many as three Pittsburgh Pirates with a chance to be selected on Wednesday—I thought a retrospective would be useful to try and bring some history and perspective into the discussion.
I decided to look back at the last ten years of Rule 5 Drafts—don’t worry, I have a spreadsheet, it didn’t take that long—and see all the players the Pirates both selected and lost, not just in the major league phase but the minor league phase as well.
I use “selected” intentionally, as I didn’t include trades and players like Nick Burdi or Luis Oviedo—not that they would have changed the outcome all that much.
I’ll save a breakdown of the results for the end, but as you’re about to see, they aren’t very pretty.
Pirates Major League Rule 5 Picks
José Soriano (2020)
Picked first overall despite recovering from Tommy John surgery, Soriano eventually had to go under the knife again for a revision to his initial surgery. Soriano was designated for assignment after the season and subsequently was returned to the Los Angeles Angels. Soriano was back on the mound at the end of this past July, 13 months after his surgery. This time around, the Angels decided to protect Soriano from the Rule 5 Draft.
Jordan Milbrath (2017)
Milbrath was returned to the Cleveland organization before the season even started, who eventually turned around and traded him to the Miami Marlins in 2019. He would bounce around a few more organizations, making it as high as Triple-A before being released and subsequently out of affiliated ball in 2021.
Tyler Webb (2016)
Also returned to his original team—the New York Yankees—before the season could even start, Webb eventually found success in the majors, just not with Pittsburgh. Webb made the show with the Yankees that year, before being traded to the Milwaukee Brewers. He was claimed on waivers by the San Diego Padres in April 2018, then by the St. Louis Cardinals in June 2018, where he would be up and down until 2021, when he was outrighted and elected free agency after the season. Webb did not play in affiliated ball in 2022.
In all, he was worth -1.0 rWAR in 139 games over 5 seasons.
Deolis Guerra (2015)
Guerra did not make the roster to start the season with the Los Angeles Angels in 2016, but he cleared waivers, the Pirates declined to take him back, and he was subsequently outrighted. He would go on to be outrighted six more times between 2016 and 2020, while being claimed on waivers once in the interim.
Outside of a somewhat successful initial season after being lost (0.4 rWAR in 2016), he has struggled to find his footing since. He has appeared in 136 games in his career and been worse than replacement level (-0.3 rWAR), and he was just nontendered by the Oakland A’s in November after being injured all season.
Andy Oliver (2014)
Like Guerra, Oliver didn’t make the team that drafted him the next season, but elected free agency after clearing waivers. He ended up signing with the Tampa Bay Rays and also played in the Baltimore and Milwaukee organizations, sandwiched amidst a few other releases and free agency elections between 2015 and 2017. After failing to make the majors at any point after his selection, he was released midway through 2017 and never pitched professionally again.
Wei-Chung Wang (2013)
Mostly memorable due to his selection out of the GCL, Wang ended up carving out an interesting career. The Milwaukee Brewers were able to retain Wang after the 2014 season, even though they ended up designating him for assignment in June 2015. He was outrighted and stuck around the organization before making it back to the majors in 2017. He played in the KBO in 2018, before signing a minor league deal with the Oakland A’s for 2019. He made his way back to the majors, and everything came full circle when he was claimed off waivers by the Pirates in August of that season. He was outrighted after the season, hit free agency, and hasn’t played professionally since.
He ended up being worth -0.4 bWAR over 47 career games.
Pirates Minor League Rule 5 Picks
Zach Matson (2021)
Pitched in Altoona and Indianapolis this past season before reaching minor league free agency.
Nic Laio (2021)
Was released this past season before ever even being assigned to an affiliate.
Jacob Gonzales (2021)
Had a strong showing between two levels of A-Ball this season, but was definitely on the older side. Went to the AFL after the season. It will be interesting to see how he performs in Altoona next season, assuming that’s where he ends up.
Shea Spitzbarth (2020)
Made the majors in 2021 as an up and down reliever, but only pitched in 5 games. Was outrighted after the season and ended up hitting minor league free agency. Pitched well in the Detroit organization between Double and Triple-A, but never made the majors and ended up a minor league free agent again.
Claudio Finol (2020)
Has kicked around seemingly every level of the minors the last two seasons as a clear organizational player.
Jeffrey Passantino (2020)
Pitched in 37 games for Altoona the last two seasons, including 18 starts.
Alex Aquino (2019)
Injured most of 2021, appearing in only four games at Bradenton before reaching minor league free agency and not playing anywhere in 2022.
Winston Nicacio (2018)
Pitched fine in short season and Low-A ball in 2019, but hasn’t pitched anywhere since after being released in early 2021.
Randolf Gassaway (2018)
Amassed 53 plate appearances in High-A before being released in 2019 and not showing up anywhere in affiliated ball since.
Damien Magnifico (2017)
Pitched in 42 games in Triple-A in 2018 but did not appear in the majors. Last pitched in the Arizona organization in 2019 before being released in 2020.
Rafelin Lorenzo (2017)
Appeared in 33 games in the low minors before being lost in the minor league phase of the 2018 Rule 5 Draft. Seeing the epic conclusion below!
Alfredo Reyes (2015)
Kicked around the system for four seasons before hitting minor league free agency in 2019 and not appearing in affiliated ball since.
Tyler Sample (2013)
Pitched for one plus seasons in the organization before being released in 2015 and not throwing again professionally.
A.J. Morris (2013)
Pitched in Altoona and Indianapolis over two seasons before hitting free agency. Was picked up by the Cincinnati Reds and actually made the majors in 2016, appearing in 7 games before being outrighted. Has not pitched professionally since.
Felipe Gonzalez (2013)
Appeared in the organization for two seasons before hitting minor league free agency. Was immediately signed by the Miami Marlins but was poached by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2015 Rule 5 Draft a few months later. Signed again by the Marlins after the 2016 season, but elected free agency after 2017. Has been out of affiliated ball since, but appears to have found a career pitching internationally.
Ethan Hollingsworth (2012)
Pitched one season between Altoona and Indianapolis before being released in 2014 and not pitching professionally again.
Steven Jennings (2021, NYY)
Despite reaching Double-A in 2021, Jennings pitched all of 2022 there. Some solid numbers (24.8 K%, 5.2 BB%, 3.53 FIP) at least bode well for next season, when he should see Triple-A.
Jonah Davis (2021, STL)
Davis spent all of 2022 in Double-A, where his strikeout issues (an astronomical 45.8 K%) continued to plague him.
Samuel Reyes (2020, CHC)
Progressing normally (High-A, AA in 2021, AA/AAA in 2022), but was bombed in the one lone Triple-A appearance.
Jerrick Suiter (2019, CHC)
Never played in the Chicago organization after being injured/released in 2021. Has not appeared in affiliated ball since.
Jordan George (2018, CHW)
Played in A-Ball for the Chicago White Sox before being released midway through the season. Was picked up by the Kansas City Royals, where he played in Double-A, but has been out of affiliated ball since that 2019 season.
Rafelin Lorenzo (2018, CHC)
Played one season in A-Ball before being released before 2020, and has been out of affiliated ball since (was that worth the wait?).
Cesilio Pimentel (2016, ATL)
Released before the season even started, Arizona signed him in August, and he hit minor league free agency after the season. Did not play in affiliated ball after that.
Colten Brewer (2016, NYY)
Reached minor league free agency after one season with the Yankees, but reached the majors in 2018 with the San Diego Padres. Pitched in the majors every season from 2018 to 2021, appearing in 81 games and accruing 0.4 rWAR.
Josh D. Smith (2016, BOS)
Pitched two seasons in the upper levels for Boston before reaching minor league free agency. He signed with Cleveland and made the majors in 2019. Was claimed off waivers by the Miami Marlins in 2019 and pitched for them in 2020 before being released and not pitching in affiliated ball since. Amassed -0.2 rWAR over 16 games.
Patrick Johnson (2015, MIA)
Johnson was in the Miami organization for a season and a half before being released in 2017, never playing in affiliated ball again.
Isaac Sanchez (2015, SEA)
Played one season before, yet again, finding himself out of affiliated ball permanently.
Luis Urena (2014, TBR)
See Sanchez, Isaac
Tyler Waldron (2014, STL)
See Urena, Luis and Sanchez, Isaac
Charlie Cutler (2013, CHC)
Cutler played two seasons of affiliated ball before being released in 2015 and never making it back.
Roberto Espinosa (2013, TOR)
Also lasted only one season before finding his way out of affiliated baseball.
Elevys Gonzalez (2012, LAD)
Have you made it this far? If so, can you guess what happened to Gonzalez? That’s right, he spent one season in his new organization before never playing affiliated ball again.
Oh how cliché
In total, the team has lost 19 players between two phases of the draft (3 major league and 16 minor league) in 10 years, while selecting 19 (3 major league and 16 minor league) of their own—a perfect wash. Out of the 37 players, 27 were pitchers, which illustrates the group of players largely to focus on here.
None of the players the team has selected left a mark, and unless you’re a big Jacob Gonzales fan, none that are still around stand to leave one either.
As for players lost, four (all pitchers) out of nineteen players account for -.5 rWAR over 280 games. Sure, José Soriano, Steven Jennings and Samuel Reyes stand to change these figures in the future, but history clearly isn’t on their side.
I tried to make this clear already, but if I didn’t convince you before maybe this exercise will help sway you—the Rule 5 Draft, while fun to think and talk about, just isn’t that important when it comes to gaining or losing value and production on the field.
Happy Rule 5 season!
Offseason Calendar Update
—As I covered last week, the inaugural Draft Lottery will take place Tuesday, December 6th at 8:30 pm on MLB Network.
The Pirates have a 16.5% chance at drawing the first pick in the draft.
—To close out the Winter Meetings, the Rule 5 Draft will take place on Wednesday, December 7th.
Even though it’s the following day, the order is still determined by record, meaning the Pirates will have the third pick in the draft, if they keep an open roster spot that is.
Pirates Payroll Updates
—As I predicted last week, Lewin Diaz was claimed off waivers Friday, meaning no change to payroll needs made since I made it last week.
Lots of confusion abounded after the announcements, as no one knew either player was on waivers; however, that is by design.
Players don’t need designated for assignment in order to be placed on waivers, and waiver placements are intended to be secret out of respect to the players, as they don’t know when they are placed on waivers. Teams don’t even know the outcome of a waiver placement until the waiver period passes. Therefore, it’s not as if we are the only ones in the dark—it’s a feature, not a bug.
The following payroll adjustments aren’t super important, as I kept the projection at 38 with zero catchers in the majors—neither of which makes total sense—but I’ll update you anyway.
I replaced Sanchez with Canaan Smith-Njigba, resulting in a drop of $231,682 (the amount of Smith-Njigba’s minor league split).
As for Yajure, I had him optioned, so payroll goes down the amount of his split as well—$157,698.
—For 2023, the payroll estimate stands at $51,602,257 for the Labor Relations Department, while it’s $68,018,924 for CBT purposes.
A longtime Pirates Prospects reader, Ethan has been covering payroll, transactions, and rules in-depth since 2018 and dabbling in these topics for as long as he can remember. He started writing about the Pirates at The Point of Pittsburgh before moving over to Pirates Prospects at the start of the 2019 season.
Always a lover of numbers and finding an answer, Ethan much prefers diving into these topics over what’s actually happening on the field. These under and often incorrectly covered topics are truly his passion, and he does his best to educate fans on subjects they may not always understand, but are important nonetheless.
When he’s not updating his beloved spreadsheets, Ethan works full-time as an accountant, while being a dad to two young daughters and watching too many movies and TV shows at night.