The 2022 MLB Rule 5 draft is in the books, and it was a busy one for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Pirates added one player and lost one player in the MLB phase of the draft. They added left-handed pitcher Jose Hernandez, and lost outfielder/catcher Blake Sabol.
The minor league phase was more eventful, with the Pirates adding two players and losing eleven. John Dreker and I broke down all of the players added and lost below.
Pirates Add LHP Jose Hernandez
We highlighted several left-handed pitching options who were available, noting that this position seemed to make the most sense for the Pirates. Until the agreement to sign Jarlín García, the Pirates didn’t have a left-handed option in the majors. Garcia gives them one option.
They drafted left-handed pitcher Jose Hernandez with the third pick in the Rule 5 draft to give them another.
Hernandez brings a lot of velocity, with a mid-to-upper 90s fastball and a slider that generates strikeouts. He split the 2022 season between High-A and Double-A, putting up a 3.96 ERA in 38.2 innings in the higher level. He struck out 47, but walked 18, and had issues with the long ball.
The Pirates would need to keep Hernandez on the MLB roster all season in order to keep him in the system. Considering their left-handed pitching situation, he could have a good opportunity to stick around, and in a favorable spot pitching in PNC Park.
But They Lose OF/C Blake Sabol
A few weeks ago, we did a Roundtable to predict who the Pirates could lose in the Rule 5 draft. Three of us predicted that the Pirates could lose Blake Sabol, while three others predicted they wouldn’t lose anyone.
I was one of the people who predicted they wouldn’t lose anyone, while noting that I was very heavily leaning toward Sabol. The Reds ended up drafting him with the 4th pick, one spot after the Pirates. Not long after the draft, they traded him to the Giants for cash considerations and a PTBNL.
In my writeup, I wrote this about Sabol’s chances of getting picked:
“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.”
The Reds seemed like the perfect fit for Sabol, though San Francisco won’t be a bad spot for the lefty slugger who has been tapping into his power more often over the last year.
The exclusion of Sabol was questionable after the Pirates showcased him so much at the end of the year. They promoted him to Indianapolis, where he performed well. Then, they sent him to the Arizona Fall League, where he did struggle, but spent time behind the plate.
My guess is the Pirates thought Sabol, as a bat-first corner guy, wouldn’t get picked. He certainly did enough this year to earn the pick, and he now finds himself in a favorable situation.
He would have to stick in the majors all year, with at least 90 days on the active roster, to be lost for good. In order to return to the Pirates, Sabol would first need to clear waivers. Any team that picks him up or trades for him at this point assumes the same Rule 5 roster requirements.
Almost Three Minor League Picks
On the minor league side, the Pirates had 31 players protected for 38 spots, indicating they could take up to seven players. They ended up taking two, with some confusion on a third.
The first pick was Wei-Chieh Huang, a right-handed pitcher from the Giants system who leads the way with a plus changeup. Huang has pitched briefly in the majors, and spent the 2022 season in Triple-A as a starter. He’s a veteran minor leaguer, entering his age-29 season, and should serve as upper level pitching depth.
With their second pick, the Pirates took Josh Palacios, an outfielder from the Washington Nationals. Palacios is another veteran minor leaguer, playing in his age 27 season next year. He’s had 91 plate appearances in the majors, with a .207/.267/.232 line, a 28.6% strikeout rate, and a 4.4% walk rate. Palacios spent most of the 2022 season in Triple-A, where he hit .298/.382/.433 in 319 plate appearances, while stealing 19 bases.
In both of these cases, the Pirates added older players with MLB experience.
With their third pick, the Pirates tried to take Johan Lopez, a 22-year-old shortstop from the Rays. There was some confusion after that pick, and after a few minutes, the Pirates passed, ending their day selecting players.
That wouldn’t be the end of their day losing players, though.
Pirates Lose Eleven Players in the Minor League Phase
By John Dreker
Two weeks ago, Ethan Hullihen posted an article looking at the potential players protected from the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft. While I disagreed with some of the names on that list, the overall feeling from the list of eligible players was that the Pittsburgh Pirates were going to lose some players — even if they protect 38 players, which would have prevented them from making a pick.
The Pirates had just 31 players protected on their Triple-A roster. What happened next was predictable under those circumstances. The Pirates had 11 players taken in the minor league phase of the draft, and they only used two of those seven open spots to make picks. Their minor league pitching depth took a major hit, as nine of the players selected were pitchers. In essence, they lost a good portion of a single minor league pitching staff in one 20-minute stretch of the Winter Meetings.
Here’s a look at the players they lost, with a little about each player:
Joelvis Del Rosario, RHP – I have no idea why he wasn’t protected. Not even a “maybe it’s because…” reason. I watched almost every single one of his home starts this year and he was quite impressive. The 21-year-old had a 3.68 ERA in 93 innings, with 76 strikeouts and a 1.29 WHIP. He had a fastball that sat 94-96 MPH early in games, a low-90s sinker, a mid-high 80s changeup, and a low 80s slider — showing solid control of his four-pitch mix. There’s a good reason why he was the first overall pick.
Domingo Gonzalez, RHP – Gonzalez has shown some stuff in the past that makes you think he could reach the majors. His stats this year didn’t impress, until you look at the split. From July 1st on at Greensboro, he had a 2.44 ERA, a .208 BAA and 41 strikeouts in 44.1 innings. He finished up with one run over three innings with Altoona. He just turned 23 years old a month ago. He has solid velocity that gets into the mid-90s and good secondary pitches.
Joe Jacques, LHP – Jacques was injured for part of this season, but he did well when healthy, spending most of the season in Indianapolis. He had a 3.12 ERA, a 1.18 WHIP and 35 strikeouts in 43.1 innings. He’s a fringe MLB player, helped out by being a lefty with deception. He will be 28 by Opening Day.
Cristian Charle, RHP – Charle is pitching down in Colombia now, after putting up strong results at 22 years old splitting his season between Single-A Bradenton and High-A Greensboro. It was a bit surprising hearing his name as a player who was available. He had a combined 2.52 ERA in 53.2 innings, with a 1.10 WHIP and 57 strikeouts.
Enmanuel Mejia, RHP – This is another name I didn’t expect to hear available, but it’s not a total shock because he had some rough moments in Altoona this year. He throws mid-90s, with a good breaking ball and occasional control issues. He had a 5.80 ERA in 49.1 innings, with 51 strikeouts and a 1.63 WHIP for Altoona. One late season outing added nearly a full run to his ERA. He’s about to turn 24 years old.
Austin Roberts, RHP – Some people have been very high on Roberts over the years. He had a 4.28 ERA in 48.1 innings with Altoona this season, putting up a 1.47 WHIP and 56 strikeouts. He turned 24 years old mid-season in 2022.
Wilkin Ramos, RHP – He was a high dollar signing who the Pirates acquired from the Oakland A’s for Tanner Anderson. He’s 22 years old now and he pitched for Bradenton, where he had a 3.88 ERA in 51 innings, with 58 strikeouts and a high 1.61 WHIP. There’s upside in his 6’5″ frame, but he’s still a work in progress.
Trey McGough, LHP – McGough had Tommy John surgery mid-season, so he’s going to be out for most of 2023. He was pitching well in 2022 before the injury. He’s more of a finesse/control lefty, who throws strikes and mixes well. He will be 25 years old this upcoming season.
Peter Solomon, RHP – He was on the 40-man roster for a time, and he pitched well in the majors for a brief time in 2021. The 26-year-old struggled in his brief time in Indianapolis in 2022, and didn’t do well in his second run through the Pacific Coast League earlier in the year either. He had no big league time in 2022.
Jared Oliva, OF – Oliva is well known here from his time with the Pirates, but what slipped by a lot of people is that he was one of the Pirates top minor league hitters over the final two months of the 2022 season. He’s been doing well in Mexico too, giving him about a half season of success against Triple-A pitching. His speed/defense tools gives him a chance to return to the majors in a backup role.
Yoyner Fajardo, INF – Fajardo is one of the best pure hitters in the system, as he has hit for average everywhere he goes. He’s a career .291 hitter, with low strikeout numbers and good speed. He plays a lot of positions, but that is more about trying to find a spot for him, rather than versatility. Given a chance to play regularly, there’s a shot at him reaching the majors as a bench player.