PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates acquired two interesting, potentially high-upside arms in the annual Rule 5 Draft on Thursday.
Pittsburgh used the first overall pick to select right-hander Jose Soriano from the Angels' farm system. Soriano, 22, was the Halos' No. 13 prospect according to MLB Pipeline and might have ranked higher if he hadn’t undergone Tommy John surgery in February. The Pirates also acquired right-hander Luis Oviedo, a 6-foot-4 right-hander from the Indians' system, after he was selected ninth overall by the Mets. Pittsburgh sent New York cash considerations for Oviedo.
Soriano and Oviedo filled the two open spots on the Pirates’ 40-man roster. Whether they pan out or not, those two selections align well with the Pirates’ pursuit of high-upside young talent -- especially pitching -- under general manager Ben Cherington. This year, Cherington has acquired six pitchers who currently rank among the club’s Top 30 prospects: Brennan Malone (No. 7) in the Starling Marte trade; Carmen Mlodzinski (No. 8), Jared Jones (No. 13) and Nick Garcia (No. 17) in the Draft; and now Oviedo (No. 20) and Soriano (No. 21) in the Rule 5 Draft.
“Coming into the Rule 5, we wanted to be active with the first pick. We wanted to take advantage of that,” Cherington said on Thursday afternoon. “It just ended up where we had pitchers at the top of our list. So I don't think there's a specific run toward pitching. I think it's more that we're looking to add the best talent any way we can.”
Soriano’s stock was trending up in 2019 after he posted a 2.51 ERA with 92 strikeouts and 51 walks in 82 1/3 innings over 20 games, including 18 starts, between Class A Burlington and the Angels’ Rookie-level Arizona League team. Soriano likely won’t be ready to start next season on the Major League roster, which will give him time to work with the training staff and pitching coaches as he finishes the rehab process. Cherington noted that young pitchers typically take 14 to 16 months to recover, which would put his finish line anywhere between April and June.
Soriano wasn’t expected to be ready for the Majors in 2021 even if he had been healthy this past year, but the Bucs figured his upside was worth the relatively low risk of a Rule 5 Draft selection.
The Angels signed Soriano for just $70,000 in 2016, and scouts believe he offers a high ceiling with his 6-foot-3 frame. His fastball can touch 97-98 mph, and his breaking ball is becoming a plus pitch. He also showed better feel for his changeup after the Angels pushed him to throw it more often.
“All reports are positive. This is an exciting guy,” Cherington said. “Physical, really fast arm, high velocity, power breaking ball. He performed well in the Midwest League as a pretty young guy. Like with every young pitcher, there's improvement to be made working on control and command and that kind of thing. First thing is just to make sure he's back in a good spot, health-wise.”
The 21-year-old Oviedo was Cleveland’s 25th-ranked prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. He signed out of Venezuela for $375,000 in 2015, posted excellent strikeout numbers during his U.S. debut in 2017 and put together 11 excellent starts in '18. He recorded a 2.05 ERA and 0.98 WHIP with 67 strikeouts and only 17 walks in 57 innings between Short-Season Class A Mahoning Valley and Class A Lake County in ’18.
He struggled in 2019, however, posting a 5.38 ERA in 19 starts before a lower back injury ended his season. His fastball sits between 92-96 mph and can touch 98 with sinking action. He also throws a hard slider, an improving curveball and a changeup that was previously considered his best secondary offering.
“He’s been pitching well against older players in Venezuela. He's a guy [who] we feel could come in and compete for a job on our Major League staff,” Cherington said. “We see him as a guy who has a chance to start, long term. In terms of 2021 on our Major League team, probably more than likely it's a bullpen role, but we'll see.”
Players selected in the Rule 5 Draft must remain on the club's active roster or injured list for the entire season or be placed on outright waivers. If they clear waivers, they are offered back to their original team. Clubs occasionally work out trades that allow Rule 5 picks to remain in the selecting team's organization without staying on the active roster. As the Pirates experienced with 2017 Rule 5 pick Nick Burdi, an injured player must spend 90 days on the active roster between next season and '22 before his Rule 5 restrictions are removed.
Where might these two pitchers fit in the short and long term?
“In Oviedo’s case, he has the pitches to be a starter. He certainly has the pitches to be a multi-inning reliever. If he’s doing what he’s capable of doing, we think he has a case to do that in the Major Leagues in 2021,” Cherington said. “We’ll certainly give him every opportunity to do that. Again, longer term, we still think this guy has a chance to start in the long run. In Soriano’s case, it’s similar, yet we’ve got to help him get fully past the rehab and back into competitive action first. That will be the first priority.”
The Pirates also made three selections in the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 Draft: Dodgers right-hander Shea Spitzbarth, Reds shortstop Claudio Finol and Cubs right-hander Jeffrey Passantino. The only player they lost was right-hander Samuel Reyes, brother of Pablo, to the Cubs in the Triple-A phase.