Cherington’s Possible Targets In The Rule 5 Draft

For me the Rule 5 Draft is such an unpredictable process, that rarely produces anything beyond a roster filler or depth piece for the upcoming year, so I almost avoided writing a prediction piece as to who the Pirates will pick entirely; after all, I already wrote a breakdown of how I thought it would ultimately go. However, I saw all the cool kids were doing it, which made me think I should put in my two cents as well.

Although, I am still cautioning fans from being too optimistic because as Dejan Kovacevic said on the DK Sports Radio daily Pirates podcast the other day, the last time Pittsburgh had a successful pick in the Rule 5 Draft was in 2007 when they selected Evan Meek and to please stop saying they should pick a catcher in the Major League Portion. The purpose of the Rule 5 Draft is not to build up your farm system, which is General Manager Ben Cherington’s stated goal. If anything they could sign someone like recently non-tendered catcher Curt Casali from the Cincinnati Reds and be much better off.

Once the actual function of the Rule 5 Draft is understood and expectations have been tempered, it is easy to see that the most likely outcome is an additional arm for the Pirates Pitching Staff; and one that can contribute immediately. When Jason Mackey spoke with Cherington the other day he talked about compiling pitching prospects in order to have depth at the position, so instead of relying on only the 13 arms on the 26-man roster, they can expand that number to around 18. An MLB ready pitcher is what you should expect and I believe it is exactly what they will pick. To me there are three options in this arena, who have some upside with not a lot of risk involved.

Zach Jackson

The 6’4” 230 pound right hander has progressed through the Toronto Blue Jays system since he was drafted in the 3rd Round (102 overall) in 2016 out of the University of Arkansas, spending his last season at AAA-Buffalo during the 2019 season. A full-time reliever since joining the Jays and for the majority of his college career, Jackson has earned a 3.07 ERA and accumulated 234 Ks in 199.2 innings of work in the minors. Control has been an issue at times, however, he cut his BB/9 almost three full batters between AA and AAA. With an average to above average fastball (50/55 grade) and a plus slider (55/60 grade), Jackson has the ability to provide deep in the bullpen for 2021.

Luke Barker

After becoming the all-time save leader for the Chico State (Division II) Wildcats, he was passed over in the draft. For many this would signal the end of their big league dreams, however, Barker saw this as opportunity; taking the time to further hone his craft with the Traverse City Beach Bums of the independent Frontier League. The Milwaukee Brewers would eventually come calling before the 2017 season and from then on things were looking up. Over the last three seasons across four levels Barker has seen his WHIP shrink from 1.364 at its highest in High A to .667 in the hitter friendly PCL, while his K/9 leveled off around 10 and he has never allowed more than .82 HR/9 back in 2017. Aggressively attacking batters with a mix of a four seamer, a splitter and a curve, he was surprisingly was not added to the Brewers 40-man to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft; especially since he was so close to the majors, had performed well at AAA and because they eventually traded reliever Corey Knebel to the Dodgers.

Phoenix Sanders

Sanders was drafted in the 10th Round of the 2017 MLB June Amateur Draft from the University of South Florida by way of Daytona State College. Prior to being selected by the Rays he had also been named as the Top Player in the Northwood’s Collegiate League after his freshman year. Since joining Tampa’s system he has improved at almost every level; ending 2019 with a 1.92 ERA, 1.148 WHIP and 68 Ks in 61 innings between AA-Montgomery and AAA-Durham. Sanders has a repertoire of four pitches including a fastball, curve, slider and change; the later three being his strongest swing and miss pitches.

Now I know that none of these guys are flashy and most of you have probably never heard of any of them, but they are all more than capable of providing depth in the Pirates Bullpen; plus they all deserve a shot, so why not in Pittsburgh?

Published by Craig W. Toth

Former Contributing Author at, Co-Host of the Bucs in the Basement Podcast and life-long/diehard Pittsburgh Pirates Fan!

3 thoughts on “Cherington’s Possible Targets In The Rule 5 Draft

  1. I also along the same lines thought about Zack Brown whom the brewers left unprotected for a 2nd time – I think his ## are right in line with those you mentioned plus he ‘s major league ready – pitched @ AAA

    6’ 1″
    2016, 5th (141) – MIL
    Scouting Grades/Report (20-80 grading scale)
    Though Brown pitched to mixed results during his three years at Kentucky while working as both a starter and reliever, Brewers scouts identified him as someone with untapped potential who could start in pro ball. Sure enough, Brown made steady progress in the role early in his career before breaking out in earnest in 2018 at Double-A Biloxi, where he garnered Most Outstanding Pitcher honors in the Southern League after he led the circuit in ERA (2.44) and ranked second in WHIP (1.06) and BAA (.210). All signs pointed to Brown contributing in the big leagues going into the 2019 season, but instead the right-hander regressed on all fronts in Triple-A, posting a 5.79 ERA and 1.73 WHIP over 116 2/3 innings. The Brewers chose to not add Brown to their 40-man roster after the season, and he went unselected in the Rule 5 Draft in December.

    The confidence Brown exhibited during his impressive 2018 campaign just wasn’t there in Triple-A, as he struggled to both get ahead of and put away hitters. Rather than attacking hitters as he had done in the past, Brown spent the year nibbling at the zone with non-competitive pitches as he tried to avoid getting hit hard. The Brewers even took Brown offline for part of July, hoping that a brief hiatus might help him right the ship, but he didn’t fare any better when he returned, with his strikeout and walk rates continuing to trend in the wrong direction.

    The good news is that Brown’s stuff was largely the same, as the right-hander sat 92-95 mph with his fastball, flashed plus with his curveball and mixed in his changeup effectively. He stayed healthy, too, accruing at least 110 innings for a third straight year, and generated ground balls at a 54.2 percent clip that was only slightly behind his 2018 mark (56.5 percent). The Brewers are optimistic about Brown’s chances of rebounding in 2020 and will continue to develop him as starter, knowing that they could try him in a full-time bullpen role if that doesn’t work out.

    thoughts on this addition ?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. He was definitely someone I considered and fits with the near MLB ready pitcher. The regression concerned me a little bit, but a change of scenery can potentially have a positive outcome.

      Liked by 1 person

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