First Pitch: Previewing the Pirates Rule 5 Candidates

Friday is the deadline for teams to protect players from the 2021 Rule 5 draft. The Pittsburgh Pirates have a lot of prospects who are eligible, with a chance they could see at least one of the unprotected players selected in the draft.

That could be true even if they protect 5-6 players. If they protect that many players, it would be an early sign that the 2022 season will be a younger rebuilding year, with so much of the 40-man roster dedicated to prospects. If they protected fewer players, they’d be more likely to lose someone in the draft.

Ethan Hullihen has the full list of players who are eligible. My thoughts on the top candidates to get drafted are below.


Here are the highlights from the list:

Liover Peguero – He’s the safest bet to get protected. As in, he will be protected.

Travis Swaggerty – Swaggerty is coming off a season lost to injury, but his status as the top outfield prospect in the system, along with one of the few starting candidates in the system makes him a lock to be protected.

Tahnaj Thomas – Thomas didn’t have the best season as a starter, but his stuff would shine in relief. I’d expect him to get protected, although from this point down I’m less certain on any individual player.

Canaan Smith-Njigba – The Pirates have a few outfielders beyond Swaggerty who need to be protected, and they’re unlikely to protect them all, due to space. I’d expect Smith-Njigba to get the edge over the other guys.

Cal Mitchell – Mitchell has a lot of power, and makes good contact. The question is whether he’d be good enough to stick in the majors right now. He doesn’t have a center field profile, so he’d be harder to stash as a bench guy. From this point down, I think the remaining guys are unlikely to be protected, though I wouldn’t be surprised by any of them.

Eddy Yean – Yean has great stuff, and while he struggled as a starter, he could excel as a reliever. I doubt they would protect two similar cases, and Thomas profiles as the better prospect.

Cody Bolton – Bolton is coming off a season lost to injury, and has missed a lot of time the last few years. I’ve still got him as a future MLB pitcher, possibly a starter, but I don’t think he’d have that kind of value in the Rule 5 draft coming off an injury.

Mason Martin – First basemen usually don’t get selected, and Martin still has shown a three-outcomes profile. He’s got the upside of an average starter in the majors, but that future upside won’t make him a risk in the Rule 5 draft.

Lolo Sanchez – With most prior-eligible players, I’d say it’s unlikely they get selected unless they showed a big improvement. Sanchez was previously eligible for the draft and went unselected. He did have a strong season in A-ball this year, and has a speed/defense profile with a bit of power potential. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him as a sleeper to get protected or selected.

Santiago Florez – Florez has a starter profile, but could excel as a reliever. He’d be the best bet of the remaining guys to get protected, although I don’t think any of them are at risk of being lost.

Steven Jennings – Jennings has an upside of a reliever, and would be unlikely to be selected in the draft.

Jack Suwinski – He’s the least likely of the outfielders to get selected, though he does have the upside to challenge for a starting role in the majors one day.

Yerry De Los Santos – I’d have to think that De Los Santos would have signed an MLB deal with any team willing to draft him. It’s happened before where the Pirates sign a guy to a minor league deal and lose him. I could see De Los Santos helping the MLB bullpen next year, so getting selected wouldn’t be a surprise. The same write-up could apply to Cristofer Melendez.

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