PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates added three Minor Leaguers, including top prospect Austin Meadows, to their 40-man roster on Monday, protecting them from being selected in the upcoming Rule 5 Draft. Pittsburgh also cut ties with shortstop Mpho' Ngoepe.Facing an 8 p.m. ET deadline to set their roster, the Bucs traded
PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates added three Minor Leaguers, including top prospect Austin Meadows, to their 40-man roster on Monday, protecting them from being selected in the upcoming Rule 5 Draft. Pittsburgh also cut ties with shortstop Mpho' Ngoepe.
Facing an 8 p.m. ET deadline to set their roster, the Bucs traded Ngoepe -- the first African-born player to reach the Majors and a longtime favorite within the organization -- to the Blue Jays for cash or a player to be named. They also put right-handers Luis Escobar and Dario Agrazal on their 40-man roster. Now, the 29 other clubs can't select those three prospects in the Rule 5 Draft on Dec. 14, the final day of the Winter Meetings.
"An amazing story," general manager Neal Huntington said of Ngoepe. "It was the longest of long shots to get to the big leagues, and it will not surprise us at all if he finds his way back there. We wish him nothing but the best going forward."
The Pirates left a handful of interesting prospects unprotected, though it's difficult to forecast how likely they are to be selected. Players who were signed at age 18 must be added to the 40-man roster within five seasons or they become eligible for selection in the Rule 5 Draft. Players signed at age 19 or older have to be protected within four seasons or else they become eligible.
"We've talked about it internally and said we could protect two and lose nobody, or we could lose four or five. We could protect four or five and lose nobody, or still lose two or three," Huntington said last week. "We've got a lot of guys that are interesting enough to select. Carrying them for the season is a whole separate part of the process."
Anyone selected in the Rule 5 Draft must spend the entire 2018 season on the selecting club's roster. If the player is removed from the roster, he will be offered back to the original club.
The Pirates now have 38 players on their 40-man roster. They left a handful of interesting Minor League players unprotected, including Top 30 prospects Yeudy Garcia (No. 19), Tyler Eppler (No. 26) and Adrian Valerio (No. 30), but it's difficult to forecast how likely they are to be selected.
Adding Meadows was an easy decision for the Pirates. Meadows is the No. 16 overall prospect, according to MLBPipeline.com, and he will begin next season in Triple-A Indianapolis. He is not necessarily ready for the Majors, however, after struggling through an injury-riddled 2017 season. Meadows missed time due to a strained hamstring and an oblique strain, slashing .250/.311/.359 with four homers and 11 steals in 72 games for Indianapolis.
Escobar, 21, pitched in the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game and posted a 3.83 ERA with 168 strikeouts in 131 2/3 innings for Class A West Virginia this year.
"A really intriguing young arm with the combination of power to the fastball and quality action to the breaking ball. Pitched on a big stage this summer," Huntington said. "Out of the bullpen, he probably has enough stuff and enough strikes that he could be held an entire season at the Major League level. We wanted to lengthen his clock to give us more opportunity for us to see him develop and grow."
Agrazal, 22, saw his stuff improve during a breakout first half for Class A Advanced Bradenton, where he recorded a 2.91 ERA and 1.03 WHIP. His promotion to Double-A Altoona lasted only one start, however, as he went on the disabled list with a pectoral strain and sat out the rest of the season.
"He was on track to be a no-doubt protect guy until he got injured," Huntington said. "He came back in the instructional league and showed us that he was back. He gave us confidence that if we didn't protect him, we would lose him, and if we did protect him, he would be able to take the next steps in his career."
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.