Pirates Rule 5 Decisions Have Moved To The Forefront

During the Pittsburgh Pirates most recent season, more eyes and ears were directed towards the Farm System than I can really remember, at least in my recent memory. Part of this obviously was due to the fact of the product that was on the field at PNC Park, but the more obvious reason was the sheer number of prospects that General Manager Ben Cherington has accumulated in the course of his current rebuild of the organization; through both trade and the draft.

Cherington’s process, which I am in favor of, has brought in 19 of the Pirates Top 30 Prospects according to MLB Pipeline, including 8 of the Top 10; several of whom, along with some holdovers from the Neil Huntington Era, that now find themselves eligible for the December Rule 5 Draft. Expand your search just a little bit further-including within the top prospect lists of other sites, and the number continues to grows; topping out at around as high as 70 if you count everyone that could be exposed in the Major and Minor League Phases of the Rule 5. However, the number I have seen tossed around pretty regularly at this point, as players who should reasonably be considered as potential new additions to the 40-Man sits somewhere between 8 to 12; with the key words being considered and potential.

In Cherington’s short time with the Pirates he has only had two opportunities to participate in this process. Within days of being hired in November 2019, he added five prospects (#2 Ke’Bryan Hayes, #3 Oneil Cruz, #10 Will Craig and the unranked Blake Cederlind and Cody Ponce), while last year he protected only two (#29 Max Kranick and the previously/currently ranked #25 prospect Rodolfo Castro). Obviously it’s a numbers game, and there could always be more or less prospects or spaces available, so it becomes more about the selections themselves.

Now, the majority of discussions I have seen between Pirates Fans thus far in the off-season have zeroed in on a particular group of prospects that they see as part of the future; most with the better numbers next to their names. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a start, in that those are some of the guys I would like to see protected too. Still, I am sure that there are others that the Pirates would like to keep around as well. But, before getting to those it only makes sense to take a look at mine first, as the article that myself and Gary Wrote just this past week really brought some fans’ strong feelings/opinions to my attention.

This is mostly a brainstorming process, with my immediate reaction(s) to particular prospects on display. Also, it is no particular order, so there is no need to get upset if I don’t have your favorite prospect listed towards the top. Furthermore, please remember the last time a Pirates player was selected in the Major League Phase of the Rule 5 Draft was 2015 (try to name him without looking), and the 2003 Dave Littlefield Catastrophe was a long time ago.

My 40 Man Additions

  • Diego Castillo
  • Hunter Stratton
  • Canaan Smith-Njigba
  • Yerry De Los Santos
  • Cal Mitchell
  • Liover Peguero
  • Omar Cruz

The Pirates/Cheringtons Additions

  • Diego Castillo
  • Liover Peguero
  • Canaan Smith-Njigba
  • Travis Swaggerty
  • Hunter Stratton

Noticeably absent from my list is Travis Swaggerty, while I left Mason Martin and Tahnaj Thomas off of both. And I know, some may even mention the omissions of Jack Suwinski, Cody Bolton, Abrahan Gutierrez and Eddy Yean, among others. The simple truth is you can’t protect everyone; and as much as we would like to ignore it at times, the Major League product still matters.

Choosing to protect as many as 12 to 15 prospects, as I have seen mentioned, isn’t realistic; especially since that would only leave 25 to 28 players as regular contributors on the 26-Man Active Roster, with a limited number of Rule 5 Eligible Prospects guaranteed to play a role at the Major League Level at any point during the 2022 season. That’s why I capped my list at seven, but more practically at five or less; similar to the Cherington Additions.

If you want to maybe add say Tahnaj Thomas to either list, then you are clearly making a move to the bullpen for the young flamethrower. Thomas took a pretty straightforward step back in his development this past season. In 16 starts for the High-A Greensboro Grasshoppers this year, Thomas posted a 5.39 ERA, a 1.582 WHIP and 5.19 walks per 9 innings. Did, I also mention that he still only has two defined pitches?

Then you have Travis Swaggerty, who was. obviously on the cusp of a promotion with his aggressive Triple-A assignment to begin the year. Unfortunately, this came to an abrupt end with a season ending injury to his non-throwing shoulder, so we can stop with the Gregory Polanco comparisons. My concerns are, and have always been more rooted in his ability with the bat. Could I see him being protected? Absolutely. Would I rather protect Smith-Njigba and Mitchell if those are the options? Once again, absolutely.

Or possibly fans are thinking about Mason Martin because of his pronounced power potential, which is lacking for the most part throughout the Pirates Minor League System. Regrettably, in my estimation it always comes back to the K rate, that leveled out at around 35% for season; as well as a walk rate that never got close enough to 10%.

Next up in my opinion is pitching, hence wanting to protect Stratton, De Los Santos and Cruz if possible. It is a an overwhelming pattern within the Rule 5 Draft for teams to select pitchers. They are simply easier to hide on the roster for a full season. Plus, I see these three as being more likely to stick on a Major League Roster.

For me, Diego Castillo is the first, and most undeniable addition to the 40-Man; not only because he is Rule 5 eligible yet again, but more importantly due to his looming Rule 9 (formerly Rule 55) status. As a Minor Leaguer with 7 years of service time, Castillo is able to become a free agent 5 days after the World Series ends. Add in the fact that he had a breakout season in Double-A, and not only seamlessly transitioned between organizations , but also did so with his promotion to Indianapolis.

Throw in Peguero if you must, although it is still a point of contention in my own head that his bat and defense may not be good enough to maintain a 26-Man roster spot. On the season Peguero batted .271, with 14 homers (10 in the bandbox in Greensboro) and a 108 wRC+. But I get it, no reason to risk it.

After that, and in the upcoming seasons of 2023 and 2024 with just as many or more Top Pirates Prospects becoming Rule 5 Eligible, it’s not like the decisions and/or possible repercussions are going to be any easier to make and take.

So, at least for now my mind will turn the proverbial page to arbitration analysis; albeit, there is no denying or escaping this aspect of the upcoming 40-Man Roster Crunch completely.

Published by Craig W. Toth

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

2 thoughts on “Pirates Rule 5 Decisions Have Moved To The Forefront

  1. Deolis Guerra actually had a decent season this year with the A’s. And not bad career stats either. Seeing as 70% of his 168IP were in his 2 best seasons.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hasn’t been a bad Major Leaguer. Was more pointing out that it isn’t something that happens to the Pirates very often.


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