Which Pirates Prospects Need Protected in the Upcoming Rule 5 Draft?

Matt Freed/Post-Gazette

Major League Baseball's Rule 5 Draft is one of those strange little quirks that make being an MLB General Manager truly the hardest job in sports.  So what is the Rule 5 Draft?  The Rule 5 Draft was basically established so teams could not just stockpile and hide away their prospects in the minor leagues for many years without ever giving them a shot at being on the Active Roster.  For this article, Active roster and 40-man roster will be used interchangeably.

For players to be protected from Rule 5 eligibility, they must be added to their teams' 40-man roster within a certain amount of time after signing.  For those players 18 years and younger, they must be added within five years of signing, and for those players 19 years of age and older, it is within four years.  Any players not added to their club’s 40-man roster within these parameters are eligible to be taken.  

However, to select players in the Rule 5 draft, teams must have less than 40 players assigned to their active roster at the time of the draft. The draft this year takes place on December 8th and teams are required to finalize their active roster by November 19th, which is Friday of this week.

Plenty At Risk

Typically, the Pittsburgh Pirates are in a position to pick up some prospects in the Rule 5 Draft.  However, this year, they have too many prospects to protect, and several top prospects are at-risk to be selected by other teams.  GM Ben Cherington has spent his entire Pirates tenure so far stock piling prospects.  While that will surely help the future of the Pirates, it has left the team with many decisions from now until the Friday deadline.  

Several recent moves made were the Pirates releasing catcher Taylor Davis, pitcher Tanner Andersen, and utility player Phillip Evans.  These in addition to assigning infield prospect Diego Castillo to the 40-man roster leaves the Pirates at a current total of 37 players.

The Pirates Top Prospects that are currently unprotected and Rule 5 eligible are:

No. 5     Liover Peguero - SS

No. 13   Tahnaj Thomas - SP

No. 16   Travis Swaggerty – OF

No. 17   Mason Martin – 1B

No. 18   Cal Mitchell – OF

No. 26   Omar Cruz – SP

No. 27   Canaan Smith-Njigba

No. 28   Cody Bolton – SP

No. 29   Jack Suwinski – OF

No. 30   Eddy Yean – SP

These rankings are per MLB.com.

It is not ideal to have 10% of your Top 30 prospects at risk for the Rule 5 draft, and it is seemingly impossible to protect them all.  However, with three spots remaining on the 40-man already, there are several moves the Pirates should make to protect more of these top youngsters. 

Non-Tenders

In order for teams to express their interest in keeping arbitration eligible players they must tender a contract offer to them.  If offers are not made to arbitration eligible players, they are considered “non-tendered” and can explore free agency.  The Pirates already designated arbitration eligible Wilmer Difo to the minor leagues, and I believe there are other active players who should be non-tendered as well.

Backup catcher Michael Perez is the easiest non-tender as he had a truly terrible 2021 season.  Any free agent catcher would be a more suitable major leaguer than Perez, who should not be filling a valuable spot on the 40-man roster.  

Additionally, I think the Kevin Newman experiment should finally come to an end.  If the Pirates are truly committed to Oneil Cruz at shortstop, that pushes Cole Tucker to second base or outfield.  I would much rather Tucker get a final chance to prove himself than Newman.  I also believe outfielder Ben Gamel could be pushed out as well with Tucker getting some time in the outfield.  Gamel, due to his age, is among those I hope to see non-tendered as well.  

Also, veteran Chad Kuhl continues to struggle on the mound and at 29 years old, it is time for the Pirates to move on.  The front office showed they will ditch struggling veteran starters when they released Trevor Williams last offseason and I believe that time has come for Kuhl.  These four very valuable spots should be used to protect future Pirates’ assets and not declining and aging vets.

Trades

One name I would like to see get moved this offseason is reliver Chris Stratton.  Stratton had an above average 2021 season and showed the ability to close out games.  Bullpens across baseball appear to get worse and worse so talented bullpen arms are more valuable than ever.  Fellow reliever David Bednar is equally as talented, but at 27 years old and being from Mars, PA, I like keeping Bednar over Stratton if I have my pick.  I’m not sure they can get it done by Friday, but I’d like to see that spot open up if Cherington can swing a deal.

I also believe that instead of leaving certain prospects at risk of being selected, it would behoove the Pirates instead to trade them.  Although still in the Top 30 of Pirates prospects, I believe that right-handed pitcher Cody Bolton and outfielder Jack Suwinski are disposable. 

You can never have enough great youngsters but Bolton and Suwinski are both on the older side of the top prospects and lower on the list.  Some might consider Bolton equally or more valuable than Omar Cruz because Bolton is closer to the majors, but I like Cruz as a left-handed pitcher more.  Consider me old school but I still think that matters.

Also, with Suwinski being 23 years old and an outfielder, I think by the time he could make an impact with the big club there will be too much of a log jam to make a legitimate impact.  This is assuming (and praying) the Pirates extend superstar outfielder Bryan Reynolds long-term, thus taking up a spot for many years to come.  I think there are just too many highly touted outfield prospects in front of Suwinski to not try and get something for him instead of risking him to the Rule 5 and getting nothing in return.

Concluding Thoughts

I believe all or some of these moves should be made so most of the Pirates top prospects can be protected.  If you are not going to protect them all, at least move them and gain some value from them.  Also, these aging and declining veterans are not going to provide production into the 2023, 2024, and 2025 seasons when I believe the Pirates will be very good again so let them explore free agency.  There are only two days left, so GM Ben Cherington has a lot of work to do.

Comments

  1. Good analysis. I would hate to see Stratton go, but you make a good point. It is time to go all in on the future and let quasi productive vets go. What type of trade could you get for Moran?

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  2. Certainly some challenges ahead over the next few days, but these are good problems to have.

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