Whenever the Rule 5 Draft is brought up to Pirates Fans it’s almost a guarantee that you will hear about how Pittsburgh acquired “The Great One” Roberto Clemente in 1954, even though the Dodgers tried, unsuccessfully” to hide him in Montreal. Now we all know that a move like this one is extremely unlikely; especially since the guidelines have changed over time. In the 65 years since the Pirates were luckily enough to find themselves in the #1 spot, you can pretty much count on one hand, the number of times a Rule 5 selection has gone onto find success in the Majors. So, most of the time when I focus on the Rule 5 Draft, it is mainly about seeing who the Pirates choose to protect, rather than any player they might select because it could be a sign of plans for the future.
Prior to participating in his first Rule 5 Draft as Pirates General Manager, Ben Cherington added Ke’Bryan Hayes, Will Craig, Oneil Cruz, Blake Cederlind and Cody Ponce to Pittsburgh’s 40-Man Roster in order to protect them from being picked up by another ball club. Obviously these were important, first moves, by Cherington as four out of five made their Major League Debuts in the 2020 season and a few could find themselves on the Opening Day Roster come 2021.
So. that leads me to question, who will be the players that Ben Cherington dubs as potential contributors for the future? In my eyes there are a few obvious selections, with a pair of them among the Pirates Top Prospects and on top of that all three just got done participating at the Alternate Site in Altoona.
First is right-handed starting pitcher Max Kranick, who slots in at #24 on MLB Pipeline. Selected in the 11th Round (340 overall) of the 2016 MLB June Amateur Draft out of Valley View High School in Archbald, PA, a small suburb outside Scranton, he signed for 300,000; triple the slot value at the time to keep him from going to the University of Virginia.
During his last full season of work in 2019, Kranick was able to add velocity to his fastball (55 grade); topping out at 97 mph. His slider (50 grade) also worked well, but as of right now he does not have a consistent third pitch. Control (55 grade) is his forte as he looks to limit walks and create weak contact. Kranick ended the year at High A Bradenton, sporting a 3.79 ERA and a 1.189 WHIP, but his strike out rate dropped a full 2.5 batters per nine innings to 6.4.
Next up is infielder Rodolfo Castro; currently the #26 Prospect on MLB Pipeline and #12 on FanGraphs. Signed on October 30, 2015 from the Dominican Republic as a 16-year-old shortstop, Castro smashed 14 homers and collected 29 total extra base hits in the first half of the season in Low A Greensboro last year. This resulted in a mid-season promotion to the High A Bradenton Marauders where he struggled at first; slashing 132/.192/.206 in the month of July with only a single home run. Luckily for Castro he quickly adjusted and things did get better, a lot better. For the month of August he hit .299/.346/.443, with 2 homers and 10 extra base hits in only 26 games.
Ben Cherington and Derek Shelton have shown that they like players who provide versatility in the field and Castro fits that bill perfectly. More comfortable at second base, he can slide to shortstop and even third base with ease; doing so at every level. Somewhat of a surprise addition at the Alternate Site in Altoona, Castro regularly caught the eye of Curve Broadcaster, Garett Mansfield, both at the plate and in the field.
And finally you have lefty reliever Braeden Ogle. Ogle was drafted by Pittsburgh in the 4th Round of the 2016 MLB June Amateur Draft from Jensen Beach High School in Florida. Once considered a starting option, he fully transitioned to the bullpen in 2019; finding success at both Low and High A, especially the final seven games of the season. In 11 innings, which is a small sample size, he reduced his WHIP from 1.200 to .971, his ERA from 3.69 to 3.18 and continued his decline in BB/9, landing at 2.4.
With a plus fastball (grade 55/60) and an average to above average curve (grade 50/55), the former #24 Prospect on FanGraphs has the ability to make a push for a spot in the bullpen at PNC Park within the next couple of years.
After these three the decisions become a lot tougher to make as a slew of pitchers come to mind; including Blake Weiman, Noe Toribio, Santiago Florez and Travis MacGregor. Then you have position players like Chris Sharpe, Robbie Glendinning, Francisco Acuna and Bligh Madris; along with catcher Deon Stafford. Plus you have to remember that everyone listed just became eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this year, so there are even more guys that have held this status for at least one year or more.
Unfortunately for all of these guys 2020 was an extreme disappointment as they were left to their own devices once the shutdown occurred in the beginning of March and the Minor League Baseball Season was eventually cancelled. However, the good news is that the scouts from the 29 other organizations haven’t been able to get a good look at these guys for over a year, and in MacGregor’s case two due to missing all of 2019 with Tommy John Surgery, which could lead to them being able to fall through the cracks without having to be officially protected. Although, if I was forced to choose any in addition to the first three; Florez, MacGregor, Acuna, Sharpe and Glendinning would be my top options, in that order.
In the end I feel like Cherington might not move beyond the top three due to a lot of other roster decisions that will need to be made, with minimal spaces left to fill. Also I am not sure how active this Rule 5 Draft is going to be in general since there wasn’t a Minor League Season to evaluate talent, as well as the fact that teams have already reported they will be taking cost cutting measures during the off-season. However, as it is with everything coming up, we will just have to wait and see because the MLB season is not finished yet; and nothing can begin for the Pirates until that happens.