Pirates Prospects Daily: The Rule 5 Draft and Roster Management

The Pittsburgh Pirates entered this Winter Meetings with zero left-handed pitchers on their 40-man roster. Now as they wrap up the meetings with the Rule 5 draft, Ben Cherington and crew will leave with two.

Jarlín García started things off, with the Pirates agreeing to a deal with the free agent that included a team option for the following season. He’s a veteran of nearly 300 games, and has experience in pitching in high-leverage situations. 

That’ll allow the Pirates to use their Rule 5 pick, Jose Hernandez, in less pressure situations, easing him into the jump he will make from Double-A to the Majors.

Hernandez pitched 38.2 innings in Double-A for the Dodgers last year, striking out 47 batters, and considering the Pirates don’t have any problems with players skipping Triple-A, this pick makes more sense.

Walks have been an issue, but that minor league strikeout rate of 26.3%, including 29.7% in Double-A, is worth the shot.

Pirates Lose Blake Sabol

Looking at the bigger picture, history says that the odds of a player taken in the Rule 5 draft won’t make much of an impact, so it’s generally not worth getting worked up one way or another. 

With so many prospects coming up through the system, there are always going to be tough choices to make, but losing Blake Sabol after the season he had will be something to watch.

The jury is still out on how much of a future he has behind the plate, although he got some positive notes while catching in the Arizona Fall League. He was also fielding ground balls at first base there, and can play the outfield, his profile is pretty straight forward. 

It really came down to a numbers game, as the Pirates have a surplus of left-handed hitting outfielders already on the 40-man and the fact that they didn’t protect him reflected where he fell on their depth chart.

Minor League System Gets Raided

One of the biggest shocks was the fact that the Pirates lost 11 players to the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft.

At some point, with how much of an emphasis the Pirates put on adding to the minors, things were bound to get cluttered. With the exception of Wilkin Ramos and Joelvis Del Rosario (and maybe Cristian Charle), everyone selected was more than likely starting the year with Altoona or Indianapolis.

This frees up a lot of space at those two levels now.

Domingo Gonzalez may have been one of the more interesting names there outside of 21-year-old Del Rosario. I actually had an article prepared for Tuesday’s article drop, with a video breakdown of Gonzalez, who really seemed to have things click when he made the move to the bullpen full-time.

The sheer amount of players taken provides shock value, but that’s about it.

Highlight of the Day

Oneil Cruz with a massive home run tonight in the Dominican. Be sure to check out John Dreker’s Winter League report tomorrow at 8 AM.

Pirates Prospects Daily

By Tim Williams

I was shocked to see the Pirates lose so many players in the minor league phase.

The biggest surprise was that they ended up only taking two players, despite having seven spots open on the Triple-A reserve list. The Pirates had some confusion involved with a possible third selection, before passing for the remainder of the draft.

They could have protected a few extra players who were lost. So, why didn’t they?

First, it’s important to note that teams are limited to carrying 190 players on the Domestic Reserve List during the offseason. According to Ethan Hullihen, they are currently at 167 players.

When the additions of Jarlin Garcia and Vince Velasquez become official, the Pirates will clear someone off their 40-man, and if that player clears waivers, they would join the DRL.

This would still leave 22 spots open.

Over on the Pirates Prospects Depth Chart, Wilbur Miller has highlighted the players who were lost. The strong depth of the Pirates is mentioned a lot, and this is what that strong depth looks like.

Jared Oliva might be the best example of this, and how the Rule 5 draft is a balance between evaluating players in a vacuum and evaluating them in a system with limited space.

Oliva has a .435 OPS in 59 plate appearances in the majors, and will be in his age 27 season next year. He did finish strong over the final two months of the season with Indianapolis, hitting for a .350/.409/.537 line in 137 plate appearances. He has since hone to the Mexican League, where he was hitting for a .787 OPS in 116 plate appearances for Monterrey. Oliva is trending in the right direction.

However, the Pirates have Matt Gorski and Connor Scott as center field candidates for Indianapolis. They have Canaan Smith-Njigba and Brendt Citta at the corners. As the Pirates fill out their MLB roster, guys like Cal Mitchell, Travis Swaggerty, and Tucupita Marcano will join the Triple-A squad to get work. The Pirates protected all of these players over Oliva in one way or another.

That’s the common trend with the players lost in the minor league phase. Two upper level left-handed relievers were lost in Trey McGough and Joe Jacques. They would have been competing for upper level time with Tyler Samaniego, Nick Dombkowski, Cam Alldred, and Omar Cruz. This assumes the Pirates don’t add a few veterans for MLB depth, rather than relying on Samaniego and Dombkowski — both good development stories in the last year, but still prospects who need work.

The Pirates lost some right-handed relievers who were projected for Altoona’s pitching staff. I would expect the Pirates to add MLB depth, which will push that group from Triple-A down, which would have made it difficult to get any of these guys significant time.

The player who I was the most surprised to see unprotected was Joelvis Del Rosario. The Pirates gave the right-hander a lot of work in the Bradenton rotation this year. You would think that they would want to protect all of their minor league starters.

It’s possible that Del Rosario wouldn’t have been a starter much longer. He would have been moving up to Greensboro with the likes of Bubba Chandler, Anthony Solometo, Carlos Jimenez, Po-Yu Chen, Valentin Linarez, and Luis Peralta. Del Rosario is an interesting arm, but the Pirates have other interesting arms at the level, including the returning Braxton Ashcraft.

Ultimately, losing a guy who was about to transition to a High-A reliever isn’t the biggest loss. Del Rosario will probably have a better shot at starting elsewhere.

My critique here would be that the Pirates aren’t maximizing their value. You’d like to see them get something for someone like Del Rosario. My thought is that his trade value would only allow them to jump the waiver wire line to get a fringe guy in the majors they like. The Pirates aren’t missing out on a lot of value here, even if they are leaving value on the table.

The big question is how will they follow this?

I would guess the Pirates fill out their system by adding to the MLB level, pushing depth guys down from the big leagues into the upper levels of the minors. I could also see them adding minor league free agents to fill out areas where they don’t have stronger depth throughout the system, even in the lower levels.

By the time the season begins, I would expect the Pirates to have replaced any system value they lost today.

I also have a growing concern with the quality control of the process with this organization. We’ve seen them make some roster mistakes that reflect that might be a weakness for this organization. Remember last year when they were forced to call up Roansy Contreras early  at the start of the season, because he was the only option?

These innocent roster mistakes are only innocent when they happen to tanking teams and in minor talent transactions. We’ve yet to see this group tasked with needing to make important roster decisions. The simple errors do raise some concern about how things will run smooth in the future when there is more pressure involved.

**Want to know more about the players the Pirates added and lost in the Rule 5 draft? John Dreker and I provided reports on everyone on the move today.

**The Pirates won the first pick in the 2023 MLB Draft on Tuesday. John Dreker gave an early look at who the Pirates could take with their first pick.

**Wilbur Miller looked at the left-handed pitching depth that is collecting in the lower levels of the system.

**I wrote about the present-day importance of the Rule 5 draft.

**John Dreker has the latest Pirates winter league report, where Andres Alvarez and Rodolfo Castro had big days at the plate.

**Missed yesterday? We reacted to the Pirates winning the first pick and agreeing to deals with two pitchers.

Song of the Day

Pirates Prospects Weekly

Continuing with the left-hander theme from the start of this article, Wilbur Miller looks at how the team is building some left-handed pitching depth in the lower levels of the system. I’ll note that none of these lefties have been taken in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft.

WTM: Could the Pirates Have Some Left-Handed Pitching Depth in the System?

I wrote about how the Rule 5 draft allows us to dive into the nuances of player development, evaluation, and roster decisions — which seems to be to the extreme this year.

Williams: What is the Importance of the Rule 5 Draft These Days?

Our latest Prospect Roundtable will hit the site at noon on Thursday, where we each pick the player from the minor league phase that we would have protected.

Anthony began writing over 10 years ago, starting a personal blog to cover the 2011 MLB draft, where the Pirates selected first overall. After bouncing around many websites covering hockey, he refocused his attention to baseball, his first love when it comes to sports. He eventually found himself here at Pirates Prospects in late 2021, where he covers the team’s four full season minor league affiliates.

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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john.benedict

I assume the logistics stay the same for R5 player thats traded (sabol)
Giants now need to keep him active all year, correct?

1979andCounting

P2 yearbook going back to printers for updated edition. Christmas delivery in doubt. Thanks Rule 5.

leefieux

I expect us to be signing a lot of MiLB roster filler?

TNBucs

Altoona and Greensboro have become lands of opportunity for minor league free agents.

PirateRican21

So many need to come off the roster, just one? If one I’m guessing is either Vilade or Mears.

leefieux

Castillo or Tucu.

john.benedict

Max

PirateRican21

I will keep those two any day over Mears and Vilade!

leefieux

I don’t like Vilade. I like Mears.

Wilbur Miller

Agree. Mears needs to get healthy.

SBRO

Cherington might be the guy this franchise needs to manage development, but these roster bungles do make one miss that part of the Huntington regime. His front office were savants when it came to keeping as many “assets” in play as possible.

Is there a reason why we can’t have both good roster management AND good development?

steve_zielinski

If the Pirates were to have its players taken in the Minor League, to the extent that had happened this year, the first question to answer is: Could Cherrington protect all of those players while also keeping those players he did protect? The answer is likely a ‘no’. If the Pirates have a need to protect 60 players and can protect only 50 of them, then the team is at risk for losing some of them if the selecting teams desire some of those players.

TNBucs

The concern is that they could have protected 7 (I think) more players by filling the AAA roster. They wouldn’t have wanted to use all those spots because they planned to make some claims and minor league free agent signings, but it seems like a mistake (again, one that isn’t likely to hurt us long-term but a mistake nonetheless) to leave so many spots open–did they really expect to fill 7 spots through minor league free agents and Rule 5 claims? Nobody would be concerned if they had, say, left 3-4 spots open and still lost that many players. Ben seemed to acknowledge that they miscalculated and I’ll not have a problem with a GM who can acknowledge when maybe they didn’t get something right–I want to know that our front office has the same growth mindset that they expect of our players.

Catch_22

Kevan Graves is the assistant to the general manager. He’s Cherington’s #1 delegate and he was also Huntington’s #1 delegate. I would imagine that he would be heavily involved in Rule V drafts.

At the end of the day, I think you guys are worried about nothing. Who do you really think will have a productive MLB career? They lost a slew of minor leaguers…these guys are dime a dozen types.

1979andCounting

The Endowment Effect is alive and well! But definitely Graves and Sanders did not show well yesterday.

SBRO

90% of the moves any team makes aren’t going to matter. That doesn’t make it good practice to treat roster optimization casually. The worry here isn’t that they lost great value, or they protected the “wrong” guys, it’s that they didn’t have to lose 5 of the guys they did. In particular the A-ball pitchers who actually pitched pretty well (del Rosario, Charle, Gonzalez). Would have cost them nothing at all to protect them. It’s an unforced error, and you’d hope we’re beyond that.

Catch_22

Scouting report on Sabol…

“While he has big all-fields pop, the big league performance of former prospects who strike out as often as Sabol has in the minors isn’t great, and a 26% K% as a 24-year-old in Double-A is pretty scary. Sabol has a vulnerability to fastballs up and away from him — it just takes his barrel too long to arrive and he tends to be late on heaters out there. If he can catch part-time, the amount of power he’ll provide makes Sabol an interesting bench piece.”

1979andCounting

Longenhagen must not have seen the AFL Championship game. Sabol had a poor game defensively. I don’t think catcher is going to be his primary position.

leefieux

Hmmm….Nick Gonzalez had a higher K rate. So is that red flag for him, too? If not, why not? Because he was a #1 pick?

AdministrativeSky236

Definitely a red flag

NMR

gonna be the annoying dude who asks to post source…

Wilbur Miller

The reports on his C defense also aren’t good.
I still prefer not to lose him, but I’d probably trade Sabol for Hernandez.

Catch_22

Longenhagen

leefieux

In three years, it will be fun to read an article by John or Anthony or Wilbur or Tim about how little an impact ANY of the MiLB losses had.

Bucs'N'Pucks (Jeff Reed)

The impact goes further than just, “Did they even make the MLB?”

We’ve specifically seen it the last two seasons where Indy and Altoona have gotten to points that they don’t have bodies. There’s been games where they maybe had two bench players.

I’m less worried about Indy, as there was already a glut of bodies, but Altoona might be a wasteland. It was going to be difficult initially as there were probably few players that should be promoted from Greensboro to Altoona.

It’s just the overall perception of it all doesn’t look good. Especially from a FO that has been BEATING the table about depth and filling out the minors. Only to come out of this being like, “Oops. Didn’t expect that”.

That’s what worries me the most. This org has spent so many years behind the 8-ball, thinking their catching up, only to be caught off-guard?

leefieux

Sign a bunch of JVMs and pa them to be fill ins where needed.🤓🤓🤓

leefieux

*have them*….

bianco599

I didn’t realize that some of those teams had so few people available. Do the old borrow some one from the opposing team.
I agree with what was said in the article about at least trying to get some value for players.

Bucs'N'Pucks (Jeff Reed)

I’m wondering if they wanted to select Johan Lopez to become Claudio Finol 2.0, then decided forget it when they knew he wouldn’t be available the first half of the season.

bianco599

Who knows. I wonder how much time Ben spends a day actually doing baseball related stuff vs playing Solitaire or Wordle.
Would be funny if at an Altoona game the announcer called out “Has anyone in the stands ever played middle infield? If so report to gate A2”.

Bucs'N'Pucks (Jeff Reed)

I think they may have actually gotten very close to that point last year lol

leefieux

Meh. Just play with LF out vs LHBs and RF out vs RHBs. Problem solved.

roberto

Did that, but it’s a problem for a RHB whose hero was Roberto.

bianco599

You couldn’t pay me to play even with third base or charge anything these days. If asked to play the hot corner my feet would be in the grass. Or standing next to the LF telling him to play a little shallower.

Danatural08

TNBucs

I was encouraged that Cherington acknowledged that they may need to re-evaluate how they handled the minor league roster/draft. As you wrote, we’re in a period when mistakes don’t matter as much, we just need to learn from them. If nothing else, botching the minor league portion of the draft means they’ll need to spend more time figuring out how to complete minor league rosters. That’s not nothing because there is only so much time. But it will also provide a good opportunity to improve the organization.

leefieux

Technically, he could’ve protected more MiLB players, but wasn’t too concerned over the losses. Just goes to show that most MiLB players are there to fill out rosters so the REAL prospects can play games.

I’m just surprised that he didn’t feel the need to poach other team’s depth. He must feel that he has enough.

emjayinTN

The only one we may regret losing is Joelvis Del Rosario, 21, 7-4, 3.68 ERA pitching at A. There are also a few who came from the upper levels we may see as RP’s in the future, but overall this R5 did not hurt as much as I was afraid it would hurt.

Definitely surprised and happy we still have Malcom Nunez

emjayinTN

That’s possible, but I was just scribbling some possible future lineup to start the season at AAA –

C – Endy Rodriguez, Henry Davis
1B-Malcom Nunez, Mason Martin
2B-Ji-Hwan Bae
SS-Liover Peguero
3B-Jared Triolo
LF-Tucupita Marcano
CF-Travis Swaggerty/Matt Gorski
RF-Canaan Smith-Njigba
DH-Davis, Martin

Rotation

Mike Burrows
Luis Ortiz
Quinn Priester
Max Kranick
Cody Bolton
Omar Cruz*

We lost a lot of people, but nobody who could have dented this lineup or Rotation. That IF is as good with the gloves as anything we put on the field at PNC.

AdministrativeSky236

That’s a lot of names we are hoping to be future successful big leaguers. Even if just a few are above average in the next year or two, we could be cooking

bianco599

That dang song of the day from the Carlos Santana signing has been stuck in my head. Hey now, all you sinners put the lights on. Maybe now it will be stuck in some one else’s. Your welcome.

JimEastTennessee

Gosh golly, Batman…I guess we better draft some pitching…

Anthony

Questions about the DRL:

1) I would assume no just by the name alone but want to confirm. Do the players on the DSL rosters count?

2) Do the players on the FCL roster count?

3) And lastly, do the players on the DL during the season count?

Ethan Hullihen

No, DSL players don’t count
Yes, FCL players count (any domestic affiliate does)
Players on the 60-day IL don’t count, but 7-day IL do

PirateRican21

DSL does not count.

roberto

Sure they do: uno, dos, tres, . . .

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