Ever since the deadline passed to protect players from the Rule 5 Draft, Pirates Fans and media members alike have taken to social media, as well as their own sites and publications, to inform the masses of potential targets that other teams around Major League Baseball chose not to add to their 40-man rosters. These are the untapped gems that their own organization, who knows them better than anyone else, has cast aside in order for General Manager Ben Cherington to unearth them from ashes. There is the pitcher that will resurrect himself into the front line starter he had always projected to be, the catcher that can finally solve the Pirates issues of depth at the position or the multi-tool position player that will thrust himself in lineup everyday and straight into the hearts of anyone who walks into PNC Park.
Now I know that I am being a little bit over dramatic, but I am just trying to drive home the point. In all of the years the Rule 5 Draft has been around, there have only been a handful of players selected that went on to become anything more than a replacement level and even fewer that rose to greatness. Is this an argument for Cherington sitting out the process and not making a pick? Absolutely not! Is this an an attempt to temper expectations and punctuate a more realistic outcome for what will take place on December 10th? Absolutely!
This past year, during the Major League Portion of the Rule 5 Draft, there were eleven total players players selected; two of whom where taken by the Baltimore Orioles. Of these eleven players nine of them actually saw big league action in 2020, while the other two players were returned to their original ball club prior to the start of the season; putting to rest the belief that if you select a player in the Rule 5 Draft you will just hide him on your roster or help him develop for the future. If you pick someone, and keep them, you are going to play them. As the regulations state, Rule 5 Draft picks are assigned directly to the 26-man roster of the team that had selected them and must be placed on outright waivers in order to be removed from the 26-man roster in the upcoming season; and even if the player does clear waivers he must be offered back to his previous team for $50,000. Then at that point if his original ball club doesn’t want him back, he can finally be sent to your team’s Minor League System.
So for all of you advocating that the Pirates should pick up a third catcher, think about the fact that this player could be on your roster for the entirety of the season and actually have to sit behind the dish at some point as well. Out of the four catchers I have seen mentioned, only one of them has any experience above High A; 14 games of experience to be exact. If you want to see someone who is lost behind the plate, waving at breaking balls, letting pitches bounce right past them and mixing up signals while frustrating pitchers, you would get your fill.
Additionally if you are expecting immediate high level production for a player the Pirates select, chances are you are going to be disappointed as well. In 2020 the Rule 5 Draft Pick with the highest WAR was Yohan Rameriz for the Seattle Mariners, with a .5. He appeared in 16 games and pitched 20.1 innings, while posting a 2.61 ERA, a 6.05 FIP and a 1.403 WHIP. In those 20.1 innings he struck out 26 batters, but also walked 20 in the process. Brandon Bailey of the Houston Astros was the only other player in the black, as earned a .1 WAR in 5 games and 7.1 innings. Every other player had a WAR of 0.0 or below; two of whom had a WAR as low as -.5; including the highest ranked prospect Sterling Sharp.
I also see many people just rattling off names from other team’s top 30 prospect lists from MLB Pipeline, thinking this is the way that it works. Only two players selected last year were the top 30 prospects of their respective organizations, RHP Sterling Sharp (Washington National’s #13) and SS (Houston Astros #25). That is two out of eleven players selected. In other years it has been higher, however in other years there have been none. Chances are the guy the Pirates select, if they choose to do so, will be one you probably have never heard before and that you won’t be able to find by just opening up a top prospects list.
As an example, the last time the Pirates picked a player in the Major League Portion of the Rule 5 Draft, they selected right handed pitcher Jordan Milbrath from the Cleveland Indians with the 8th overall pick in December of 2017. Ever heard of him? I am guessing not. He was returned to Indians by the Pirates prior to the start of the 2018 season and was released from a third team, the Arizona Diamondbacks’ system in May of 2020; making him a Minor League Free Agent at the moment.
Once again this is not a deterrent to selecting a player, if the Pirates and Cherington believe one of the available guys is better than what exists on the team, as well as within the organization as it stands pertaining to Major League ready talent. It is always a possibility that this type of player exists and is ripe for the picking. However, for me this entire process is more about the players in the organization that the General Manager, in this case Ben Cherington, chose to protect. This shows me more about his vision for the future; much more than any Rule 5 Draft Pick could.