The Coming Rule 5 Crunch, or, How Many Prospects Can Dance on the Head of a Pin?

I mentioned the other day that the Pirates badly need something at least approaching a normal minor league season.  They’re staking everything on collecting and developing young talent.  It won’t be easy to develop anybody if they’re quarantined at home.

There’s an even more practical problem, though:  the Rule 5 draft.  No doubt the Pirates will be eager to protect their prospects — Dave Littlefield is long gone — but there’s only so much space.  You can’t have 20 guys on the 40-man roster who aren’t major-league-ready.  Even ten is too many.

Apart from pushing lower-level players through the system, the Pirates need a bunch of upper-level prospects to get ready in the near term.  Players like Cody Bolton, Max Kranick, Oneil Cruz, Travis Swaggerty, Rodolfo Castro, and Jared Oliva need to play their way to the majors by 2022.  At least some of them need to be ready to start the season there.

I have to think MLB will be very determined to avoid a second cancellation of the minor league season.  Baseball relies on getting a steady supply of players coming up through the minors.  The teams also have a lot invested in their prospects.  At worst, they might try to operate a minor league season out of their training facilities, something the Pirates would be well situated for.

Anyway, what follows is a list of players who’ll be eligible for the draft next fall.  I’m omitting players who don’t strike me as having a realistic chance of being added to the roster, although I supposed one or two of them could suddenly figure it all out.  An * marks players who are no-brainers, absent something bad happening in the next year, health- or performance-wise.  I used Roster Resource for the list.  That doesn’t guarantee accuracy, so if there’s somebody missing, or somebody who shouldn’t be there, point it out in the comments.

Previously Eligible

Robbie Glendinning, IF
Lolo Sanchez, OF
Osvaldo Bido, RHP
Travis MacGregor, RHP
Santiago Florez, RHP
Noe Toribio, RHP
Blake Weiman, LHP
Braeden Ogle, LHP

First-Time Eligible

Mason Martin, IF*
Liover Peguero, IF*
Travis Swaggerty, OF*
Cal Mitchell, OF*
Jonah Davis, OF
Canaan Smith, OF*
Cody Bolton, RHP*
Aaron Shortridge, RHP
Brad Case, RHP
Steven Jennings, RHP
Omar Cruz, LHP
Colin Selby, RHP
Will Kobos, RHP
Tahnaj Thomas, RHP*
Eddy Yean, RHP*

(Roster Resource lists RHP Michael Burrows as eligible in 2021, but that doesn’t make sense.  He was drafted in 2018 at age 18 out of high school.  Next fall he’ll have been a pro for four seasons, not five.  Oddly, Braxton Ashcraft, who was selected in the same draft and is one month older than Burrows, is listed as eligible in 2022.)

Obviously, some of these players probably won’t play their way off the bubble, but some probably will.  Regardless, the Pirates are going to have to make a lot of decisions.  There isn’t a single player on the roster who’ll be eligible for free agency after the next season, although they’ll undoubtedly decline Gregory Polanco’s option unless something remarkable happens.  It’s going to take trades or just releasing players to open up spots.