First Pitch: What Will the Pirates Do in the Rule 5 Draft?

It almost seems like a waste of time to discuss the Rule 5 draft.

The Pirates haven’t made a pick since 2017, when they selected Jordan Milbrath and traded for Nick Burdi. Yes, the Nick Burdi journey started three years ago.

The only notable player they’ve lost in recent years was Wei-Chung Wang, who was taken by the Brewers out of rookie ball in the 2013 draft, and retained all season. The main loss here is wondering what Wang would have done with a normal development schedule. Their losses of Deolis Guerra and Andy Oliver were more akin to waiver claims.

The Pirates aren’t likely to lose anyone tomorrow. They’re a last place team with a very young roster. The guys they need to protect have been protected. There are no veteran players clogging up the 40-man, restricting how many young players the Pirates can retain.

If they take someone, it will be Ben Cherington’s first selection in the draft with the organization, and hopefully it will turn out better than literally any of the selections the Pirates have made since the days of Evan Meek and Donald Veal.

The Pirates have the first overall pick, which is typically where guys have the best chance of being protected. I’m not sure if that’s more because of the weakness of the team with the first overall pick, or the strength of the player who would go first overall.

In this case, the Pirates need depth. They need pitching depth, catching depth, outfield depth, and we could go on. With the exception of a starting third baseman, I don’t think there’s a single area on this team that doesn’t come with a lot of uncertainty.

The Pirates aren’t going to land a starter with their Rule 5 pick. They’re more likely to end up with someone who can be a cheap bench or bullpen option for a few years. Even if Cherington makes a great selection, a great selection in terms of Rule 5 first overall picks means guys like Josh Fields or Victor Reyes.

The key variable this year is that we’ve gone a year without minor league baseball, leaving the field of play wide open for unrecognized development. When I say “unrecognized development”, I mean development that we haven’t fully seen, because we haven’t seen the results from the player in actual games. It’s easy to say that a player has developed when you can point to the numbers that back you up. Most of the players who are Rule 5 eligible have not played games in the last year, giving them no statistical results. They have still developed considerably since the end of the 2019 minor league season.

The Pirates have one of those examples protected from this draft. In my latest feature for Baseball America, I broke down what led to the Pirates protecting infielder Rodolfo Castro. If you just looked at his 2019 numbers, Castro wouldn’t have been a candidate to be protected. But Castro developed when there were no games, and that’s the most common form of development there is.

The Pirates protected Castro. You hope they identified every other case of a player who might have been at risk of being selected due to “unrecognized development.” You also hope that other teams weren’t as fortunate, which would help the Pirates get a good player.

At best, I think that just improves the chances for the Pirates of landing a bench or bullpen player, but does nothing for their chances of adding a starter.

What do you think the Pirates will do with the first pick tomorrow? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

I say take one of the triple-digit flame throwers. Yeah, 100 MPH with poor control is nothing these days. Those are dime-a-dozen prospects in today’s hard-throwing era. But isn’t the Rule 5 draft one of the times to take those types of players?

Here are the links to all of our Rule 5 coverage:

Baseball America Adds More Names to Watch in the Rule 5 Draft

Rule 5 Draft Options from Baseball America

Some Unprotected Prospects the Pirates Could Consider Under Rule 5

Some More Rule 5 Possibilities for the Pirates

MLB Pipeline Posts Ten Names to Watch in Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft

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First Pitch