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.
Jose Hernandez was hitting 99 consistently with his fastball in his 1.1 scoreless innings for Tulsa. Hernandez has gone scoreless in 7 of his last 8 outings and 12 of his last 14. Since the beginning of July, he has 28 Ks in 16.2 innings. #dodgers pic.twitter.com/z02P7Yulys
— Dodgers Daily (@dodger_daily) September 17, 2022
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.
Blake Sabol crushed a grand slam last night! pic.twitter.com/Uktv3IdzBD
— Young Bucs (@YoungBucsPIT) October 20, 2022
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.
Here's a look at some of the highlights from Joelvis Del Rosario's latest start this past Sunday. He struck out 6 in 5 innings pitched, allowing just two runs. That's back to back outings of 5 innings now for the 21 year old. #LetsGoBucs pic.twitter.com/V1QtH1Lgnw
— Anthony Murphy (@__Murphy88) May 10, 2022
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.
BESTIAL ‼️🔥 Enorme cuadrangular para Oneil Cruz por todo el CF del Estadio Cibao.
— Banda_azul_Liceista (@BandaAzulTL) December 8, 2022
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.
With no Garcia/Velasquez officially around, I have a DRL of 167, with an offseason max of 190.
40-man is at 39, with two additions pending
— Ethan Hullihen (@EthanHullihen) December 8, 2022
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.
**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.
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.
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.