Four prospects added to fill out 40-man roster
PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates added four upper-level prospects to their 40-man roster before Tuesday night's deadline, protecting them from the Rule 5 Draft and pushing them a step closer to their future in the big leagues.
Pittsburgh selected the contracts of right-hander Mitch Keller -- the club's top prospect, according to MLB Pipeline -- along with shortstop Cole Tucker, outfielder Jason Martin and right-hander J.T. Brubaker. The Pirates created one spot on their roster. which is again full, by trading right-hander Tanner Anderson to the A's for a player to be named or cash.
Tuesday was the deadline for clubs to protect Minor League players from being selected in the Rule 5 Draft, which will take place on Dec. 13 at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas. Each pick in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft costs $100,000. If the selected player doesn't remain on the 25-man roster for the entire season, he must be offered back to his former team for $50,000. Among the top prospects left unprotected by the Pirates are Gage Hinsz, Brandon Waddell and Domingo Robles.
There was no doubt the Pirates would add Keller and Tucker, two of their first three picks in the 2014 Draft, to their roster before Tuesday's deadline. Nor is it particularly surprising that the Bucs protected Martin, one of four players they received from the Astros for Gerrit Cole. Brubaker has quickly advanced through the system. None of them are far away from making an impact in Pittsburgh.
Keller, MLB Pipeline's No. 16 overall prospect, should make his Major League debut at some point next season. The 22-year-old cruised through the Minors before struggling for the first time after a midseason promotion to Triple-A Indianapolis. Still, Keller bounced back to post a 3.09 ERA with 44 strikeouts in 43 2/3 innings over his final eight starts.
Tucker, the 24th overall pick in 2014, looks like the Pirates' shortstop of the future after a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League. Highly regarded for his leadership and intangibles, the switch-hitting 22-year-old hit .370 with an .899 OPS in the Fall League. Tucker struggled through a brutal slump in May then hit .281/.370/.407 with 15 steals over 53 games in the second half for Double-A Altoona. Pittsburgh's No. 5 prospect will begin next season in Triple-A.
Martin, 23, was left unprotected by the Astros in last year's Rule 5 Draft, but won't be up for grabs this year. The lefty-hitting outfielder put up a .913 OPS in Double-A, but struggled in his first taste of Triple-A, batting .211 with a .589 OPS. Martin will begin the season in Triple-A as upper-level outfield depth, which the club otherwise lacks behind its top three of Corey Dickerson, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco. Martin is the Pirates' No. 13 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.
Brubaker, who turned 25 on Saturday, was the Pirates' Minor League Pitcher of the Year last season. A sixth-round pick in the 2015 Draft, Brubaker posted a 3.10 ERA in 22 starts for Indianapolis this year after six dominant starts in Double-A. That success could make Brubaker an option for Pittsburgh's bullpen, but it more likely puts him in position to serve as necessary rotation depth if the Bucs shift out-of-options right-hander Nick Kingham to the bullpen on Opening Day.
Anderson, 25, made his big league debut this season and put up a 6.35 ERA in 11 1/3 innings over six relief appearances. A 20th-round pick out of Harvard in 2015, Anderson put together a 2.64 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in Triple-A last season.