GM breaks down Pirates' Rule 5 Draft prep

November 19th, 2022

Along with discussing the Pirates’ trading of Kevin Newman to the Reds for right-handed pitcher Dauri Moreta, general manager Ben Cherington also spoke to reporters on Saturday regarding the players the Pirates did -- and didn’t -- protect ahead of the Rule 5 Draft.

On Tuesday, Pittsburgh elected to add catcher Endy Rodriguez, right-handed pitchers Mike Burrows and Colin Selby, and infielder/outfielder Jared Triolo to the team’s 40-man roster, protecting them from the upcoming Rule 5 Draft.

"I think in those cases -- all four of those cases -- there was some viable path to contributing at the Major League level in 2023 at some point,” Cherington said. “When we feel that, it's likely other teams feel that way, too. Very strong likelihood in those cases that they would have been selected [in the Rule 5 Draft] had we not selected them. Combination of near-term Major League opportunity in those cases with a desire to keep them in the organization. Guys that we think have a chance to help us in Pittsburgh.”

Rodriguez and Burrows, the Pirates’ Nos. 6 and 8 prospects, per MLB Pipeline, were both virtually locks to be added to the 40-man roster. Rodriguez, 22, posted a .997 OPS with 25 home runs across three levels, earning a laundry list of accolades in the process. Burrows, 23, struck out 111 batters across 94 1/3 innings with Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis, his 4.01 ERA was inflated by an outlier outing after returning from injury.

Selby and Triolo, the Pirates’ No. 24 prospect, were more on the fence, but each had their own compelling cases to make the 40-man roster. Triolo, 24, was named the organization’s Bill Mazeroski Defender of the Year, and he had a .795 OPS with 24 steals for Altoona. Selby, 25, finished his second full season as a reliever with a 2.27 ERA and 43 strikeouts across 35 2/3 innings for Altoona and Indianapolis, then he had a 2.00 ERA in the Arizona Fall League.

As noteworthy as the players who were added to the 40-man roster were the players who were left unprotected and can be selected by other clubs in next month's Rule 5 Draft. That list includes first baseman Malcom Nunez, catcher/outfielder Blake Sabol, outfielder Matt Gorski and right-handed pitcher Tahnaj Thomas, among others.

Of that bunch, Nunez appeared to have the strongest case to be added to the 40-man roster. Nunez, the Pirates’ No. 12 prospect, was acquired by the Pirates along with right-handed pitcher Johan Oviedo at the Trade Deadline in exchange for left-handed pitcher José Quintana. The 21-year-old had his best season yet, hitting .262/.367/.466 with 23 home runs and 88 RBIs, splitting time between Springfield (the Cardinals’ Double-A affiliate), Altoona and Indianapolis. As things stand, Nunez is the best first-base prospect in the Pirates’ system.

“We expect that we’re going to be adding more players to the 40-man over the course of the offseason and we need spots to do that,” Cherington said. “So, you try to account for how many spots you’ll need and predict that the best you can and work backwards from that.

“We’re also making an assessment on what gives us the best chance to retain as much possible talent in the organization that we can. Every team is doing that and making a bet on the best way to do that. We understand that with that comes some risk. At some point, we could lose a player in the Rule 5. At some point, it’s more likely than not to happen as our players get more towards the upper levels of the organization.”

Now, the Pirates will have to wait and see how their calculated risks play out. Nunez, Sabol, Gorski and Thomas might still be part of the organization after the Rule 5 Draft. Or, any one of that quartet, among potential others, could be donning different threads in the not-so-distant future.