Not all Rule 5 pickups are created equal.
As people struggle to justify or explain why Ka’ai Tom keeps getting playing time or keeps his job for that matter, his Rule 5 status often comes up. I think that defense is crap quite frankly, and has no bearing on this decision.
Luis Oviedo is a Rule 5 pickup, and while he’s on the IL currently, it’s clear why the Pirates would want to limp through this season with his rights fully secured for the franchise. He’s 22 years old, has some tools that just aren’t cheap, needs refined. They can limp through 2021 with him being tucked away in the bullpen largely and next season start him off in the minors where they can really help him turn into what they see him being.
That is not the Ka’ai Tom story.
Tom is a 27 year old, who had one really nice season in AAA. At 27, this isn’t a guy who you hope to tuck away and then send down to help him find his mojo, there simply isn’t time for that in his career. The Bucs have given him over 100 plate appearances to show what he can do, a worthy effort I’d say, and what they’ve found is a guy who in all situations will hunt a walk. He’s batting .145, his OPS is sitting at a subpar .561.
More than numbers, there isn’t one thing about him that’s remarkable. That’s kind of a prerequisite for Rule 5 guys. There has to be one tool you thought was underused, or poorly coached, you could even think there is one that was undiscovered with a tweak or two. What we’ve discovered is Tom will take a professional at bat. Now let’s define that and make sure we understand the difference with him or say Bryan Reynolds.
Both players will take pitches and have a good eye for the strike zone. Both players will take a walk if it’s given to them. Only one will swing the bat when they get a pitch they’re looking for, and his name isn’t Ka’ai.
That’s really the crux here. What was intriguing about Ka’ai was that he hit 23 homeruns in 2019 splitting time between AAA Columbus and AA Akron in the Cleveland Indians system. That’s intriguing, but if you really look at it, a 25 year old should be doing things like that to AAA and AA players. It’s why I don’t get excited when Anthony Alford hits a few bombs in a week of work for Indianapolis.
So no, being a Rule 5 pickup isn’t justification alone as to why he’s still here.
The Pirates went through a period of having almost nobody to patrol the outfield earlier this year. Playing all kind of configurations and looking like a circus act, so at the beginning I understood the need to take a stab on a guy like this. But right now they have Reynolds, Polanco, Evans, Gamel, and Tom. I’d start Reynolds, Evans and Gamel most nights and spell people with Polanco, so again I can’t find a reason there for Tom to be on the club.
Travis Swaggerty and Jared Oliva both have been on IL most of the season, Swaggerty will likely miss the entire campaign, but at this point, why not just drag Alford or Fowler back up here and cut the cord on Tom?
I’m not here to tell you those two will be better, but my god at the very least, Alford would be a sorely needed right handed bat off the bench. If he sucks, and he likely would, so what?
At some point doing nothing is better than watching a guy try and fail night after night. This isn’t anything personal against Tom, I’m sure he’s a nice guy, I’m sure he works hard, I’m just not sure he has any one skill I’d want to see expanded on. I can’t even combo a proclivity for drawing walks and stealing bases, he doesn’t live up to his birth moniker of Blaze there either.
It’s just enough.
This isn’t a guy you’re going to trade for anything worthwhile, in fact the way I see it, it’s not likely he’d be taken back by his original team if the Pirates chose to DFA him. So if there is something they truly think is in there, after I ask for them to review their vision prescription, I’d say, go for it, I think you’re safe and could keep him. Now, I’d rather you didn’t, but if you must I think it’ll be on the table.
Bottom line, Ka’ai Tom, even if he works out is 27 and not likely to be more than a bit role player on an MLB team. On a good MLB team he doesn’t even get to take BP. Let’s move on already.