Since the beginning of the 2021 season, the words Rule 5 Draft, have become as commonplace as Spend Nutting, Win Nutting amongst Pirates Fans. Obviously, I am kidding to a certain extent, but they have been used often enough that I believe many are beginning to understand the intricacies as to why a player could be selected and what could happen if he is ultimately designated for assignment.
Currently the Pirates have two players on their Major League Roster in Ka’ai Tom and Luis Oviedo, although Oviedo was just recently placed on the 10-Day IL with a left quad strain; which in all honesty could be a phantom injury to protect his usage, while still adhering to the 90 day/26-Man roster requirement for the season. Another pitcher, Jose Soriano-who the Pirates selected with the first overall pick-has been shut down due to new damage to his reconstructed elbow after only 3.2 innings of a rehab assignment with the Bradenton Marauders.
These are the guys that Pirates Fans are more familiar with due to the fact that they fall, or could fall into the previously mentioned intricacies. However, they weren’t the only players selected on that day. Claudio Finol, a shortstop from the Reds, that is currently batting .125 for the Greensboro Grasshoppers, pitcher Jeffrey Passantino from the Cubs, who has 2.70 ERA, a .94 WHIP and 27 Ks in 23.2 innings for the Curve and a guy that have mentioned on several episodes of Bucs In The Basement and at least one episode of Gary Morgan’s Fan Forum on DK Pittsburgh Sports Podcasts, also became Pirates on December 10th.
During the Minor League Portion of the Rule 5 Draft, Pittsburgh kicked off the first round by selecting right handed reliever Shea Spitzbarth from the Dodgers organization. Back in 2019 Spitzbarth had reached the AAA level, but initially struggled to adjust. After starting the year in AA-Tulsa with a 2.05 ERA, a 1.023 WHIP and 60 strike outs in 44 innings for the Drillers, he saw his ERA rise to 8.18 and his WHIP balloon to 1.727, but his K/9 only fall from 12.3 to 11.9. However, Spitzbarth didn’t let this or even the shutdown stop his drive for the majors as he spent the summer pitching for Butchy’s Heat in the Mid-Island Men’s League, located close to home in Staten Island, New York.
When Spring Training finally rolled around, Spitzbarth got some limited work in as he pitched in 3.2 innings, striking out 4 batters along the way; finding his way to the Alternate Site, and eventually the AAA Indianapolis Indians. Since arriving in Indy he has posted a 1.32 ERA, a 1.24 WHIP and 11 strikeouts in 13.2 innings, with his above average change up leading the way.
In his career, Spitzbarth has not had a K/9 below 11.86, so the 7.24 this season could be a little concerning; however, most runners that do get on base don’t end up scoring due to his career high 96.2% left on base rate. Sure it is possible that this percentage cannot stay as high as it is, but the same could be said about his low K rate; so in the end it feels like things would ultimately even out.
As it stands currently the only roadblock to a Spitzbarth promotion would be the need to open up a spot on the 40-man, which could easily occur if any of the current trade rumors come to fruition, or another long term injury occurs.
In any case, I would still be looking for another Rule 5 Pick-this time from the Minor League side-to make his MLB debut at some point during this year as depth, and options, continue to be a focus of General Manager Ben Cherington.