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Pirates face decisions on protecting prospects

Taillon, Kingham, Diaz among those who could be exposed to Rule 5 Draft
MLB.com @Tom_Singer

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Pirates have been one of the busier teams this young offseason as the 38 men on their 40-man roster already include seven new faces, an 18 percent tremor. But the big quake will come by Thursday night, when the roster will need to be reconstructed to protect eligible players from next month's Rule 5 Draft.

If left unprotected, exposed players would include top pitching prospects Jameson Taillon and Nick Kingham; Elias Diaz, considered the club's prime catching prospect; Stetson Allie, the former pitcher who has reinvented himself into a slugging corner infielder; and even veteran Jose Tabata.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Pirates have been one of the busier teams this young offseason as the 38 men on their 40-man roster already include seven new faces, an 18 percent tremor. But the big quake will come by Thursday night, when the roster will need to be reconstructed to protect eligible players from next month's Rule 5 Draft.

If left unprotected, exposed players would include top pitching prospects Jameson Taillon and Nick Kingham; Elias Diaz, considered the club's prime catching prospect; Stetson Allie, the former pitcher who has reinvented himself into a slugging corner infielder; and even veteran Jose Tabata.

Right there, that's five, and there could be more players the Pirates consider to be on the bubble. Given only two current open spots on the roster, obviously some shuffling is in order.

The Rule 5 Draft, on Dec. 11 on the final day of the Winter Meetings in San Diego, involves unprotected players signed at 19 or older with four years of professional experience, and players who were signed at 18 and have been pros for five years.

Professional tenure, not play, is the determining factor, thus Taillon is eligible. The right-hander, the Bucs' top pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, was the organization's No. 1 rated prospect before sitting out the 2014 season following Tommy John surgery. Taillon's rehab has gone extremely well and he is expected to make a full recovery.

Diaz was also Rule 5 eligible last year and went undrafted, but since has grown dramatically in the estimation of the Pirates and other clubs. Packing a gun behind the plate, the 24-year-old from Venezuela matured into a .328 hitter this season with Double-A Altoona.

Video: Top Prospects: Elias Diaz, C, Pirates

Allie was a second-round choice in the 2010 Draft as a hard-throwing prep pitcher, but he chose to forsake the mound very early in the 2012 season. The 6-foot-2, 238-pound right-handed hitter has hit 21 homers in each of the last two seasons.

Pirates general manager Neal Huntington, chiefly responsible for putting together the jigsaw pieces of the roster puzzle, is one of those fascinated by Allie, who still won't turn 24 until March.

"He's done a very nice job, driving the ball to both left and center," Huntington said. "He has a short, clean swing for a big man, which is very encouraging. He's not easily pitched; he's doing what he needs to do to move to the next level."

Teams ordinarily do not given Arizona Fall League assignments to players they do not value, and the Bucs' Rule 5 eligibles include an infielder who had been included on Scottsdale's roster: Dan Gamache.

Other players of interest in the Rule 5 scenario are Gift Ngoepe, a fleet middle infielder whose bat hasn't caught up in six years in the system; outfielder Mel Rojas, a third-round pick in 2010 who combined to hit a career-best .288 while splitting this season between Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis; and Rinku Singh of "Million Dollar Arm" fame, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer.

Pittsburgh Pirates