PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates have until 8 p.m. ET on Monday to protect eligible players from the Rule 5 Draft, forcing the front office to evaluate their farm system and 40-man roster.That is the deadline for every Major League club to decide who is worthy of a spot on the
PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates have until 8 p.m. ET on Monday to protect eligible players from the Rule 5 Draft, forcing the front office to evaluate their farm system and 40-man roster.
That is the deadline for every Major League club to decide who is worthy of a spot on the 40-man roster and who will be left unprotected. Eligible players in the latter group can be selected by the other 29 teams in the annual Rule 5 Draft on Dec. 14 at the Winter Meetings.
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.
The Pirates have 36 players on their 40-man roster, so they have some room with which to work. That doesn't mean they must or will fill their roster, though, because they could keep spots open to make other acquisitions.
When making these decisions, the Bucs must project the short- and long-term impact of each eligible player. They have to consider prospects' proximity to the Majors, their ceilings and, since they would have to last a full season in the Majors if selected, their immediate appeal to other clubs.
However well the Pirates plan, there are occasional surprises in the Rule 5 Draft. Two years ago, they signed Minor League free agent Deolis Guerra and saw the Angels select the reliever later that week. Shortstop Allen Cordoba had never played above Rookie ball, but he stuck with the rebuilding Padres this year.
"That's always the interesting dilemma. What are the traits you're looking for, exactly?" general manager Neal Huntington said. "We'll have some interesting decisions. The challenge is you want to maximize your 40-man roster, but you also want to make sure you protect the right guys."
Start with the most obvious candidate: Austin Meadows. The Pirates absolutely will add their top prospect before Monday's deadline. Meadows won't be ready for the Majors on Opening Day after a disappointing, injury-riddled season, but he is not far away -- and no position player in their system can match the outfielder's potential.
Here's a look at the other eligible players on the Pirates' Top 30 Prospects list:
RHP Luis Escobar (No. 16): Escobar, 21, has somewhat of a high profile if only because he pitched in this past summer's SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game. He is a long way from the Majors after playing this season for Class A West Virginia, but he has enticing stuff. Pittsburgh might be inclined to protect a prospect with his upside.
RHP Yeudy Garcia (No. 19): The 25-year-old's numbers ticked up this year after a midseason move to the bullpen -- 2.81 ERA, 25 strikeouts in 25 2/3 innings over 17 appearances after July 4 for Double-A Altoona -- but he struggled as a starter and his walk rate ticked up.
RHP Tyler Eppler (No. 26): Statistics aside, Eppler is an interesting case. He might be ninth on the Bucs' rotation depth chart, with another wave of starters coming behind him, making it less likely he sees the Majors as a starter next year. However, they value that kind of depth and could transition some of it to bolster their bullpen. Considering that situation and his MLB readiness, it makes sense to protect the 24-year-old righty.
RHP Dario Agrazal (No. 29): Agrazal, 22, pitched well enough for Class A Advanced Bradenton to earn a promotion, but an injury ended his season after one Double-A start. He doesn't allow many walks or homers, induces grounders and saw his strikeout rate spike this year. He could develop into a back-end starter or work out of the bullpen, but with so little experience above Class A, perhaps not yet.
SS Adrian Valerio (No. 30): A well-regarded defender, Valerio took a step forward offensively this season for Class A West Virginia as he hit .273 with a .743 OPS. It's hard to see the Pirates carrying him if only because of their other shortstops -- Jordy Mercer, Kevin Newman, Cole Tucker and Stephen Alemais, not to mention defensive whiz Mpho' Ngoepe -- but he's an intriguing prospect.
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.