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New No. 1 Keller leads Pirates Top 30 Prospects list

MLB.com

There was always the chance the window might close on the Pirates' run of success. That it happened in 2017 might have caught some by surprise.

Pirates Top 30 Prospects list

There was always the chance the window might close on the Pirates' run of success. That it happened in 2017 might have caught some by surprise.

Pirates Top 30 Prospects list

After back-to-back losing seasons, the Pirates' front office decided it was time to hit the reset button and they did it by trading the two biggest names on the big league roster: Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen. While Pirates fans may have lamented their departure, particularly McCutchen's, the deals did bring in four new members of the Top 30 and two other young big leaguers.

:: Team Top 30 Prospects lists ::

There's a distinct possibility that the team's starting third baseman (Colin Moran), a member of the rotation (Joe Musgrove) and a pair of hard-throwing relievers (Kyle Crick and Michael Feliz) will all come from those two trades.

For the Pirates to turn things around, they will once again have to rely on a farm system that helped them get where they were in the first place. It's not quite as robust as it was, but there are signs that things are headed in the right direction. A healthy 2018 from Austin Meadows would be a huge gain, especially with the Cutch-sized hole in PNC Park's outfield.

New No. 1 prospect Mitch Keller has established himself as one of the best right-handed pitching prospects in baseball and after reaching Double-A in 2017, dominating in the playoffs there and then in the Arizona Fall League, he may not be too far from joining a young rotation in Pittsburgh. There are others ready to contribute if called upon this season, although with slightly less ceiling and potential impact, but this could be an all hands on deck kind of year.

The real optimism lies just a step beyond those at the highest level, even though Altoona did win the Double-A Eastern League title in 2017. Former first-rounders Cole Tucker and Ke'Bryan Hayes should help form a nucleus to make Altoona a very strong contender again, with an eye on Pittsburgh in 2019.

And there's some good stuff brewing at the lower levels. The Pirates had done some of their best drafting going after high-end high school talent, but got away from that with college-heavy Drafts, at least at the top, in 2015 and '16. The organization went back to the prep ranks in 2017 in a big way, taking very interesting high school players -- two pitchers and two hitters -- all of whom landed in the new top 20.

Biggest jump/fall
Here are the players whose ranks changed the most from the 2017 preseason list to the 2018 preseason list.

Jump: Lolo Sanchez, OF (2017: NR | 2018: 10)
Fall: Yeudy Garcia, RHP (2017: 14 | 2018: NR)

Best tools
Players are graded on a 20-80 scouting scale for future tools -- 20-30 is well below average, 40 is below average, 50 is average, 60 is above average and 70-80 is well above average. Players in parentheses have the same grade.

Hit: 60 - Austin Meadows
Power: 55 - Oneil Cruz (Conner Uselton)
Run: 60 - Cole Tucker (Meadows, Lolo Sanchez)
Arm: 65 - Uselton
Defense: 60 - Ke'Bryan Hayes
Fastball: 80 - Nick Burdi
Curveball: 55 - Mitch Keller (Shane Baz, Luis Escobar)
Slider: 65 - Burdi
Changeup: 55 - Nick Kingham (Taylor Hearn)
Control: 60 - Keller

How they were built
Draft: 20
International: 3
Trade: 6
Rule 5: 1

Breakdown by ETA
2018: 11
2019: 8
2020: 3
2021: 8

Breakdown by position
1B: 2
2B: 1
3B: 3
SS: 3
OF: 7
RHP: 11
LHP: 3

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Keller leads Pirates' trio in Pipeline's Top 100

MLB.com

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates' top three prospects remained on MLB Pipeline's list of baseball's Top 100 Prospects, which was unveiled Saturday night.

Right-hander Mitch Keller moved up to No. 16, while outfielder Austin Meadows fell to No. 45 and righty Shane Baz climbed to No. 67. Meadows could join the Pirates later this year, filling the outfield void left by the trade of Andrew McCutchen, while Keller may not be far behind.

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates' top three prospects remained on MLB Pipeline's list of baseball's Top 100 Prospects, which was unveiled Saturday night.

Right-hander Mitch Keller moved up to No. 16, while outfielder Austin Meadows fell to No. 45 and righty Shane Baz climbed to No. 67. Meadows could join the Pirates later this year, filling the outfield void left by the trade of Andrew McCutchen, while Keller may not be far behind.

• MLB Pipeline's 2018 Top 100 Prospects list

The annual ranking of MLB's Top 100 prospects is assembled by MLB Pipeline Draft and prospect experts Jonathan Mayo, Jim Callis and Mike Rosenbaum, who compile input from industry sources, including scouts and scouting directors. It is based on analysis of players' skill sets, upsides, proximity to the Majors and potential immediate impact to their teams. Only players with rookie status entering the 2018 season are eligible for the list. Players who were at least 25 years old when they signed and played in leagues deemed to be professional (Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Cuba) are not eligible.

:: Complete 2018 Top Prospects coverage ::

All three Pittsburgh prospects were previously ranked in the top 100. Keller moved up three spots from No. 19. Meadows tumbled down from No. 17. Baz jumped nine spots from No. 76. The Bucs did not have anyone join or leave the list. Their fourth- and fifth-ranked prospects, according to MLB Pipeline, were both acquired in recent trades: outfielder Bryan Reynolds (for McCutchen) and third baseman Colin Moran (part of the Pirates' return for Gerrit Cole).

Keller, 21, reached Double-A Altoona last season after a strong showing for Class A Advanced Bradenton. Keller should begin the year in Double-A after starting six regular-season games for Altoona last season. He started two postseason games and won both for the Eastern League-champion Curve, allowing two runs on five hits in 16 1/3 innings.

Keller, MLB Pipeline's No. 6 right-handed pitching prospect, has the potential to be a frontline starter. He throws an above-average fastball and curveball, and his changeup has improved over time. If all goes well, he should reach Triple-A Indianapolis later this year, with a realistic chance to pitch in Pittsburgh in 2019.

Meadows' stock fell after another injury-plagued season, but he still has the talent to become an impact player when he's healthy. The 22-year-old outfielder missed time due to hamstring and oblique strains and slashed just .250/.311/.359 in 72 games for Indianapolis. The Pirates added Meadows to their 40-man roster this offseason, but he should begin the season in Triple-A before receiving his first call to the Majors.

Video: Top Prospects: Austin Meadows, OF, Pirates

Baz, 18, was the Pirates' first pick in last year's Draft. The right-hander from Concordia-Lutheran (Texas) High School made his professional debut in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, posting a 3.80 ERA in 23 2/3 innings over 10 starts. He has a massive pitch arsenal, especially for his age, featuring a high-spin fastball that works well with his cutter and handful of offspeed offerings.

Video: Top Prospects: Shane Baz, RHP, Pirates

The Pirates were particularly impressed with the 6-foot-3 Baz's athleticism and makeup, two reasons they selected him 12th overall. He is years away from making an impact in the Majors, but scouts believe he could develop into a top-of-the-rotation starter.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Austin Meadows

Newcomers, prospects among Bucs' NRIs

MLB.com

PITTSBURGH -- Two new outfielders and a trio of highly regarded infield prospects highlight the Pirates' list of non-roster players invited to Spring Training, which the club announced Monday morning.

Outfielders Bryan Reynolds, acquired in the Andrew McCutchen trade, and Jason Martin, part of their return for Gerrit Cole, will be in big league camp next month when the Bucs report to Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla. So, too, will infielders Kevin Newman, Kevin Kramer and Cole Tucker, three of the club's top prospects.

PITTSBURGH -- Two new outfielders and a trio of highly regarded infield prospects highlight the Pirates' list of non-roster players invited to Spring Training, which the club announced Monday morning.

Outfielders Bryan Reynolds, acquired in the Andrew McCutchen trade, and Jason Martin, part of their return for Gerrit Cole, will be in big league camp next month when the Bucs report to Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla. So, too, will infielders Kevin Newman, Kevin Kramer and Cole Tucker, three of the club's top prospects.

Kramer rounds out Top 10 on 2B prospect list

Reynolds is the club's No. 4 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. Tucker ranks seventh, Newman eighth, Kramer 11th and Martin 19th. Right-hander Yeudy Garcia, Pittsburgh's No. 22 prospect, was also on the list of 23 players invited to Major League camp.

The Pirates invited 10 non-roster pitchers to camp, a mix of prospects and Minor League free agents: right-handers Tyler Eppler, Garcia, Tyler Jones, Damien Magnifico (selected in the Minor League phase of the Rule 5 Draft), Brett McKinney, Alex McRae, Richard Rodriguez (a previously announced Minor League free-agent signing), Casey Sadler, Bo Schultz and John Stilson.

Catchers Jin-De Jhang, Christian Kelley and Jackson Williams will return to provide depth in big league camp, as they did a year ago. Joining them will be catcher Ryan Lavarnway, a Minor League free agent who has played in the Majors for the Red Sox, Orioles, Braves and A's. Lavarnway, 30, could fit into the Pirates' plans behind catcher Jacob Stallings in Triple-A Indianapolis.

Newman and Kramer, two of the Pirates' top three Draft picks in 2015, figure to form the double-play combination in Triple-A this season. Newman was in Major League camp last season and made it to Triple-A, and he could be ready for Pittsburgh later this year. Kramer, a first-time invitee and MLB Pipeline's No. 10 second-base prospect, took a big step forward in Double-A before a fractured hand interrupted his season.

Video: Top Prospects: Kevin Kramer, 2B, Pirates

Tucker, the Pirates' first-round pick in 2014, was promoted to Double-A Altoona last season after a strong start for Class A Advanced Bradenton. The switch-hitting 21-year-old slashed .275/.358/.408 between the two levels last year.

Infielders Eric Wood and Erich Weiss, both likely bound for Triple-A, will be back in big league camp along with the versatile Pablo Reyes, who played second base, shortstop and center field last season in Altoona.

The Pirates' non-roster outfielders are Reynolds, Martin and Todd Cunningham, a previously announced Minor League signing. Reynolds should begin the season in Double-A, while Martin could start in Double-A or Triple-A.

Reynolds, 22, slashed .312/.364/.462 with 10 homers for Class A Advanced San Jose in the Giants' system last season. Martin, 22, hit .278 with an .819 OPS between two levels. The other four players acquired in the McCutchen and Cole trades -- third baseman Colin Moran and right-handers Joe Musgrove, Michael Feliz and Kyle Crick -- will be in big league camp as members of the 40-man roster.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Kramer rounds out Top 10 on 2B prospect list

MLB.com

PITTSBURGH -- Since the day he was drafted in 2015, Kevin Kramer consistently hit for average and constantly got on base. The only thing missing, it seemed, was power.

It showed up last year. Kramer slashed .297/.380/.500 with six homers and 17 doubles over 53 games for Double-A Altoona in an injury-shortened age-23 season. That promising performance, combined with his pedigree as a second-round pick, was enough to earn Kramer the final spot on MLB Pipeline's list of Top 10 Second Base Prospects, which was announced Monday.

PITTSBURGH -- Since the day he was drafted in 2015, Kevin Kramer consistently hit for average and constantly got on base. The only thing missing, it seemed, was power.

It showed up last year. Kramer slashed .297/.380/.500 with six homers and 17 doubles over 53 games for Double-A Altoona in an injury-shortened age-23 season. That promising performance, combined with his pedigree as a second-round pick, was enough to earn Kramer the final spot on MLB Pipeline's list of Top 10 Second Base Prospects, which was announced Monday.

Kramer was the Pirates' third pick in 2015, behind shortstop Kevin Newman and third baseman Ke'Bryan Hayes. The Bucs selected him as a shortstop out of UCLA, but since he has spent most of his Minor League career playing alongside Newman, Kramer shifted over to second base.

:: Top 10 Prospects by Position ::

Kramer hit .291 with a .375 on-base percentage in his professional debut in 2015, but slugged just .366. His '16 output was similar, as he slashed .277/.352/.378 with Class A Advanced Bradenton during his first full season. Then he moved up to Double-A last year and slugged .500 in 234 plate appearances.

Kramer's power surge came at the cost of an increased strikeout rate. He whiffed in 21.4 percent of his plate appearances for Altoona, compared to just 12.3 percent in Bradenton and 13.6 percent in 2015. Still, he didn't sacrifice his high average and OBP just to hit for more power.

He didn't hit a home run in his pro debut. He hit four in 118 games for Bradenton. Then he went deep six times in 53 games for Altoona and twice more in the Arizona Fall League. Where did the power come from?

"My mentality switch from last year was more about driving the ball and being able to do a little bit more damage with pitches in certain counts and be more willing to risk that," Kramer told MLB.com during the Fall League. "As far as that's concerned, it's about getting a good pitch to hit first and foremost, because you're not going to be able to do damage with bad pitches. So getting a good pitch to hit and trying to drive it -- not necessarily trying to hit home runs or hit doubles, just drive it into gaps. And sometimes they go out."

Kramer's season was interrupted by a fractured right hand, however, an injury that effectively ended his season on June 10. He returned for a handful of rehab games in early September and made up for some of the time he lost by participating in the Fall League.

The left-handed hitter didn't put up great numbers in the Fall League, slashing .200/.296/.317 in 60 at-bats over 16 games while spending some time at shortstop, his old position.

Kramer will be in Major League Spring Training camp with the Pirates, giving him a chance to work with the big league coaching staff. Despite his limited time in Double-A, they could push him to Triple-A Indianapolis, where he would rejoin Newman in the middle of the infield. That would put Kramer on pace to make his Major League debut later this year or, more likely, at some point in 2019.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Keller lands on Top 10 RHP Prospects list

Pirates prospect listed at No. 6
MLB.com

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates spent the long weekend reshaping their roster, trading a pair of cornerstone players for a haul of young talent. But the Bucs' next young ace may have been in their system all along.

MLB Pipeline on Tuesday released its list of baseball's top 10 right-handed pitching prospects, and Mitch Keller was right in the middle of the pack at No. 6. The 21-year-old is Pittsburgh's second-ranked prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, currently behind only outfielder Austin Meadows.

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates spent the long weekend reshaping their roster, trading a pair of cornerstone players for a haul of young talent. But the Bucs' next young ace may have been in their system all along.

MLB Pipeline on Tuesday released its list of baseball's top 10 right-handed pitching prospects, and Mitch Keller was right in the middle of the pack at No. 6. The 21-year-old is Pittsburgh's second-ranked prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, currently behind only outfielder Austin Meadows.

:: Top 10 Prospects by Position ::

Keller is in good company on MLB Pipeline's list. Angels dual threat Shohei Ohtani, MLB Pipeline's top overall prospect, also leads this group. He is followed by Houston's Forrest Whitley, White Sox flame-thrower Michael Kopech, Tampa Bay's Brent Honeywell and the Dodgers' Walker Buehler. Following Keller are two future division rivals: the Cardinals' Alex Reyes (No. 7) and the Reds' Hunter Greene (No. 8).

Keller, a second-round Draft pick in 2014, continued his ascent through the Pirates' Minor League system last year by posting an 8-5 record and a 3.03 ERA between Class A Advanced Bradenton and Double-A Altoona, with a brief stop in Class A West Virginia for a pair of rehab starts. He struck out 116 batters in as many innings, walked 32, allowed only seven home runs and posted a 1.00 WHIP.

Keller's season ended with a strong performance in the prospect-loaded Arizona Fall League. In six starts, he went 4-0 with a 1.52 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP in 23 2/3 innings.

"It's been really positive from all aspects," Keller said during his Fall League stint. "Just meeting new guys and learning how to pitch, and pitching against all these really good guys on the other end makes you have to put everything together to be successful. I think that will help me later on in the Minors, and hopefully one day in the big leagues."

The only thing that slowed down Keller last year was a back strain, which cost him a month from mid-May to mid-June. He finished strong with a late-season promotion to Double-A Altoona, however, and helped the Curve win the Eastern League championship.

"The stuff is there. The strikes are there. The quality of the pitches is there," Bucs director of Minor League operations Larry Broadway said near the end of the Minor League season. "Got to keep him on the field and continue to refine his approach and the quality of the strikes, the quality of the command."

Keller should begin next season back in Double-A, with a midseason callup to Triple-A seemingly within reach. That would put him on track for either a late 2018 or, more likely, early to mid-2019 debut in Pittsburgh. At that point, Keller could join a mostly homegrown starting staff that will also include Jameson Taillon atop the rotation.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Young talent keeps Bucs in position to compete

Pirates 'ready to defy odds' after acquiring multiple prospects for Cole, Cutch
MLB.com

PITTSBURGH -- Over the last three days, the Pirates traded Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole, the star player and pitcher for Pittsburgh's postseason teams from 2013-15. In return came a bundle of young talent the Bucs hope will lead them back to the playoffs in the near future.

The Pirates have shied away from the term "rebuild," even after trading Cole to the Astros and McCutchen to the Giants. They prefer to say they're "retooling" their roster, adding young players with an eye on competing this year and seriously contending as soon as 2019.

PITTSBURGH -- Over the last three days, the Pirates traded Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole, the star player and pitcher for Pittsburgh's postseason teams from 2013-15. In return came a bundle of young talent the Bucs hope will lead them back to the playoffs in the near future.

The Pirates have shied away from the term "rebuild," even after trading Cole to the Astros and McCutchen to the Giants. They prefer to say they're "retooling" their roster, adding young players with an eye on competing this year and seriously contending as soon as 2019.

"In our minds, a rebuild implies you're looking five years down the road," general manager Neal Huntington said. "This team is going to show up ready to go in Spring Training, ready to compete, ready to defy odds, just like that 2013 Pirates team did."

To that end, Pittsburgh parted ways with McCutchen on Monday -- and covered $2.5 million of his $14.5 million salary -- and received 25-year-old reliever Kyle Crick, outfield prospect Bryan Reynolds and $500,000 in international bonus pool space from San Francisco.

Video: Callis on Pirates' top prospects from Cutch trade

Crick and Reynolds join a growing group of new, young Pirates that also includes their four-player return for Cole: third baseman Colin Moran, outfield prospect Jason Martin and right-handers Joe Musgrove and Michael Feliz. That base of young talent could continue to expand as the Pirates consider more trades involving other veterans, likely including super-utility man Josh Harrison.

Video: Callis discusses the return in the Gerrit Cole trade

"At the end of the day, we needed to come back to, 'How do we bring talent in for the long haul in this organization?'" Pirates chairman Bob Nutting said on Monday. "How do we make sure that we're building a sustainable winner? How do we do the right thing for this franchise over time?"

Reynolds is now the Pirates' No. 4 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, and should begin next season in Double-A. Moran, their No. 5 prospect, will be their regular third baseman. Martin, No. 19, could begin the season in Double-A or Triple-A. Crick, No. 25, should crack their Opening Day bullpen. Musgrove and Feliz, young but no longer prospects, will be on the big league staff.

"There's a lot of young, talented players that are going to be entertaining," Huntington said. "This is going to be a fun group to grab a hold of. We have talented players that are also really good people."

The Pirates acquired a potential everyday outfielder in Reynolds, 22, the Giants' second-round Draft pick out of Vanderbilt University in 2016. The switch-hitting center fielder slashed .312/.364/.462 in 121 games for Class A Advanced San Jose last season.

"Bryan Reynolds is an intelligent athlete that has a really intriguing combination of tools and skills," Huntington said. "We like his bat-power combination projection. We like what he does on the bases. We like what he does on defense."

Crick, 25, was the 49th overall pick in the 2011 Draft. Command issues in the Minors forced him to the bullpen, where he made his big league debut for the Giants last season. The hard-throwing right-hander posted a 3.06 ERA and 3.90 FIP, striking out 28 batters and walking 17 in 32 1/3 innings over 30 appearances.

"Kyle Crick is a power-armed former premium prospect, Major League-ready player that's ready to step in and help this team win games," Huntington said. "It's a power fastball. It's a good breaking ball. It's the ability to get swing-and-misses, induce soft contact."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Health goes beyond luck for Bucs' Meadows

Top prospect puts injuries in rearview mirror while working with new trainer
MLB.com

PITTSBURGH -- Austin Meadows wore No. 13 with Triple-A Indianapolis last season. He won't wear it again this year.

"I had a lot of injuries, so I'm not going back to that one," Meadows said. "That's an unlucky number in general, anyway."

PITTSBURGH -- Austin Meadows wore No. 13 with Triple-A Indianapolis last season. He won't wear it again this year.

"I had a lot of injuries, so I'm not going back to that one," Meadows said. "That's an unlucky number in general, anyway."

But Meadows, the Pirates' top prospect according to MLB Pipeline, has changed more than just his number in an effort to avoid the injuries that have plagued him throughout his climb up Pittsburgh's Minor League system. The 22-year-old outfielder employed a new trainer this offseason as he worked to prevent more troublesome oblique and hamstring injuries.

"It's been a tough road, but I feel like that's behind me now," Meadows told MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo at the Rookie Career Development Program. "I've really learned a lot. I've ventured out, learned a lot about myself and my body."

At the end of November, Meadows proposed to his longtime girlfriend. He spent this week at the Pirates' voluntary minicamp in Bradenton, Fla., after taking part in the Rookie Career Development Program in Leesburg, Va. The rest of the offseason, Meadows has been working out with a renewed focus on his form during one-on-one training sessions.

"Really had to take care of myself and be more strict on my body -- whether it's been my diet or anything off the field, just really taking care of it and putting my career first," Meadows said. "Not that I haven't done that in the past, but just being a lot more nailed down in that sense. I'm definitely looking forward to the opportunity this year, looking forward to staying on the field.

"When I stay on the field, I'm definitely capable of doing a lot on the field, as I have done in the past. I think there's more to come there."

Video: DET@PIT: Meadows puts Bucs ahead with a solo smash

Indeed, Meadows' performance has not been the issue. Over parts of five Minor League seasons, he has hit .292/.359/.459 while playing all three outfield positions. Meadows is ranked by MLB Pipeline as the No. 17 overall prospect in baseball. But he has lost valuable development time to hamstring and oblique injuries each of the past two years.

Despite the frequent setbacks, Meadows has moved within a phone call of the Majors. He began last season with Triple-A Indianapolis, where injuries limited him to 72 games, and at the end of the year, he earned a spot on Pittsburgh's 40-man roster. Meadows probably won't be ready for the big leagues when Spring Training camp breaks, but he may not be far away from that call.

First, Meadows must prove he can stay healthy and acquit himself well in Triple-A. After dominating in Double-A, he owns a .239/.306/.390 slash line over 109 Triple-A games in 2016-17. But Meadows believes he'll be healthy and ready to play up to his ability this season.

"The confidence is always going to be there. Whether it's an injury or not, I'm always going to give my best on the field," Meadows said. "I'm not the guy to say injuries have altered my performance in the past. The injuries are going to be there. Injuries are what they are. But I'm going to go on the field, when I have the opportunity, each and every day hopefully this upcoming year, to go out there and perform and be as consistent as I can."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Austin Meadows

Bucs pick RHPs Burdi, Milbrath in Rule 5 Draft

MLB.com

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Pirates added a pair of high-upside right-handers on the final day of the Winter Meetings, selecting reliever Jordan Milbrath and acquiring rehabbing reliever Nick Burdi shortly after the Rule 5 Draft ended.

Pittsburgh took Milbrath from the Indians' system with the eighth pick in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday morning. The Bucs then sent $500,000 in international bonus pool money to the Phillies in exchange for Burdi, who was Philadelphia's Rule 5 Draft pick.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Pirates added a pair of high-upside right-handers on the final day of the Winter Meetings, selecting reliever Jordan Milbrath and acquiring rehabbing reliever Nick Burdi shortly after the Rule 5 Draft ended.

Pittsburgh took Milbrath from the Indians' system with the eighth pick in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday morning. The Bucs then sent $500,000 in international bonus pool money to the Phillies in exchange for Burdi, who was Philadelphia's Rule 5 Draft pick.

Players selected in the Rule 5 Draft must remain on the club's active roster or disabled list for the entire season or 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.

:: Rule 5 Draft coverage ::

Burdi, a hard-throwing 24-year-old, is a unique case. The former second-round pick is recovering from Tommy John surgery, which he underwent in late May, and he likely won't be ready for a full return until the second half of 2018. He must spend 90 days on the Pirates' active roster between next season and '19 before his Rule 5 restrictions are removed.

"We fully expect that he will not be able to compete to make our club in Spring Training, but we do like the arm, we like the upside and are willing to carry him on the DL for a while if need be," general manager Neal Huntington said. "The challenge is we've just selected an injured pitcher. We know the risk that goes along with that. We're optimistic that, like a good handful of Tommy John surgeries, he'll bounce back from it."

Burdi, drafted 46th overall by the Twins in 2014, owns a career 3.20 ERA with 142 strikeouts in 104 innings over 80 appearances in the Minors. The 6-foot-5 righty, who reached Double-A in 2016 and returned there this year, entered this season as the No. 18 prospect in the Twins' system, according to MLBPipeline.com.

"We'll be patient with him. We need to gather a lot of information as we go through this process with him, but we feel like it's a good arm," Huntington said. "It's a good arm to add that has short-term, moderate-term and potentially long-term value."

Milbrath, 26, is a more traditional Rule 5 Draft pick. The 6-foot-6 right-hander recorded a 3.02 ERA and 1.29 WHIP with 63 strikeouts in 56 2/3 innings over 30 appearances between Class A Advanced Lynchburg and Double-A Akron in Cleveland's system.

A 35th-round Draft pick in 2013, Milbrath reportedly changed his arm slot this year and saw his velocity tick up significantly. He also recorded a 4.72 ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio, showing the kind of ground-ball tendencies the Pirates frequently seek.

"It's heavy, heavy sink. A very high ground-ball rate," Huntington said. "We like the slider, and we're intrigued by what he might become. He will come to camp with a legitimate chance to make our club."

The Pirates did not lose any of their eligible prospects in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft. In the Minor League portion, they selected right-hander Damien Magnifico from the Angels and catcher Rafelin Lorenzo from the Rays.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Bucs add top prospect Meadows, trade Gift

Escobar, Agrazal also placed on club's 40-man roster
MLB.com

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates added three Minor Leaguers, including top prospect Austin Meadows, to their 40-man roster on Monday, protecting them from being selected in the upcoming Rule 5 Draft. Pittsburgh also cut ties with shortstop Gift Ngoepe.

Facing an 8 p.m. ET deadline to set their roster, the Bucs traded Ngoepe -- the first African-born player to reach the Majors and a longtime favorite within the organization -- to the Blue Jays for cash or a player to be named. They also put right-handers Luis Escobar and Dario Agrazal on their 40-man roster. Now, the 29 other clubs can't select those three prospects in the Rule 5 Draft on Dec. 14, the final day of the Winter Meetings.

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates added three Minor Leaguers, including top prospect Austin Meadows, to their 40-man roster on Monday, protecting them from being selected in the upcoming Rule 5 Draft. Pittsburgh also cut ties with shortstop Gift Ngoepe.

Facing an 8 p.m. ET deadline to set their roster, the Bucs traded Ngoepe -- the first African-born player to reach the Majors and a longtime favorite within the organization -- to the Blue Jays for cash or a player to be named. They also put right-handers Luis Escobar and Dario Agrazal on their 40-man roster. Now, the 29 other clubs can't select those three prospects in the Rule 5 Draft on Dec. 14, the final day of the Winter Meetings.

"An amazing story," general manager Neal Huntington said of Ngoepe. "It was the longest of long shots to get to the big leagues, and it will not surprise us at all if he finds his way back there. We wish him nothing but the best going forward."

Video: PIT@MIA: Ngoepe discusses his callup to the bigs

The Pirates left a handful of interesting prospects unprotected, though it's difficult to forecast how likely they are to be selected. 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.

"We've talked about it internally and said we could protect two and lose nobody, or we could lose four or five. We could protect four or five and lose nobody, or still lose two or three," Huntington said last week. "We've got a lot of guys that are interesting enough to select. Carrying them for the season is a whole separate part of the process."

Anyone selected in the Rule 5 Draft must spend the entire 2018 season on the selecting club's roster. If the player is removed from the roster, he will be offered back to the original club.

The Pirates now have 38 players on their 40-man roster. They left a handful of interesting Minor League players unprotected, including Top 30 prospects Yeudy Garcia (No. 19), Tyler Eppler (No. 26) and Adrian Valerio (No. 30), but it's difficult to forecast how likely they are to be selected.

Adding Meadows was an easy decision for the Pirates. Meadows is the No. 16 overall prospect, according to MLBPipeline.com, and he will begin next season in Triple-A Indianapolis. He is not necessarily ready for the Majors, however, after struggling through an injury-riddled 2017 season. Meadows missed time due to a strained hamstring and an oblique strain, slashing .250/.311/.359 with four homers and 11 steals in 72 games for Indianapolis.

Video: Top Prospects: Austin Meadows, OF, Pirates

Escobar, 21, pitched in the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game and posted a 3.83 ERA with 168 strikeouts in 131 2/3 innings for Class A West Virginia this year.

"A really intriguing young arm with the combination of power to the fastball and quality action to the breaking ball. Pitched on a big stage this summer," Huntington said. "Out of the bullpen, he probably has enough stuff and enough strikes that he could be held an entire season at the Major League level. We wanted to lengthen his clock to give us more opportunity for us to see him develop and grow."

Agrazal, 22, saw his stuff improve during a breakout first half for Class A Advanced Bradenton, where he recorded a 2.91 ERA and 1.03 WHIP. His promotion to Double-A Altoona lasted only one start, however, as he went on the disabled list with a pectoral strain and sat out the rest of the season.

"He was on track to be a no-doubt protect guy until he got injured," Huntington said. "He came back in the instructional league and showed us that he was back. He gave us confidence that if we didn't protect him, we would lose him, and if we did protect him, he would be able to take the next steps in his career."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Gift Ngoepe

Bucs deciding who to protect from Rule 5 Draft

Top prospect Meadows will be added to 40-man roster by Monday's deadline
MLB.com

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.

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.

Video: ATL@PIT: Meadows hits a two-run homer

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 Gift 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.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Austin Meadows

Bucs' Keller continues to dominate in Fall League

MLB.com

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- With the Arizona Fall League winding down, Mitch Keller is doing his part to end his time in the desert on a high note.

Keller, Pittsburgh's No. 2 prospect, turned in one of his better Fall League outings on Friday, as he allowed two hits, walked one and struck out a pair over four scoreless innings to help pace Glendale to a 3-1 victory over Scottsdale at Camelback Ranch.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- With the Arizona Fall League winding down, Mitch Keller is doing his part to end his time in the desert on a high note.

Keller, Pittsburgh's No. 2 prospect, turned in one of his better Fall League outings on Friday, as he allowed two hits, walked one and struck out a pair over four scoreless innings to help pace Glendale to a 3-1 victory over Scottsdale at Camelback Ranch.

"I felt really good," said Keller, MLBPipeline.com's No. 18 overall prospect, after his start. "Me and [catcher Seby Zavala] had a real good plan and good connection with what he was calling. I felt really comfortable out there."

Box score

Keller struggled to command his fastball when he started for the West in last week's Fall Stars Game. Working two innings, he allowed one run on one hit and two walks without registering a strikeout.

The 21-year-old right-hander certainly didn't have trouble doing so on Friday, as he showed feel for locating the pitch on both sides of the plate and effectively challenged hitters up in the zone, all while sitting 93-97 with late life.

"I think in the Fall Stars Game I was too quick -- just had adrenaline and didn't control it as well as I should have," Keller said.

Tweet from @GoldenSombrero: Mitch Keller (#Pirates) with two swinging strikeouts through three innings. Here���s the second: pic.twitter.com/cIleAl9a18

Keller's curveball was equally impressive in the outing, registering in the low-80s with late, downer action, and he showed the ability to throw it for a strike in various counts before burying it down in the zone when vying for a whiff. He also selectively mixed in some changeups in the upper 80s that featured late sinking action and fade.

Altogether, Keller threw 41 of his 55 pitches for strikes and induced six ground-ball outs en route to recording his third scoreless performance in five starts for Glendale this fall. The 6-foot-3, 195-pounder lowered his Fall League ERA to 1.37 with Friday's stellar outing, and he's now allowed just 11 hits in 19 2/3 innings.

"It's been really positive from all aspects," said Keller about his time in this year's Fall League. "Just meeting new guys and learning how to pitch, and pitching against all these really good guys on the other end makes you have to put everything together to be successful. I think that will help me later on in the Minors, and hopefully one day in the big leagues."

The Desert Dogs loaded the bases in the first inning but ultimately failed to push across a run. They fared better in the second inning, though, scoring two runs on three hits to stake Keller to an early lead.

Dodgers No. 5 prospect Yusniel Diaz (No. 76 overall) led off the frame with a triple to left-center field and then came in to score when the next batter for Glendale, Edgar Cabral, singled in Diaz. Charlie Tilson (White Sox No. 19 prospect) laced an RBI single back up the middle for his second hit in as many innings to drive Cabral home.

Tweet from @GoldenSombrero: Charlie Tilson���s (#WhiteSox) second hit in as many innings is a two-out RBI single pic.twitter.com/LTPUBirpID

Glendale would add to its lead in the fifth inning when Diaz singled through the left side of the infield to plate fellow Dodgers prospect Matt Beaty (No. 30), who had doubled to open the frame.

Scottsdale responded with its first and only run of the game in the top of the sixth inning courtesy of Steven Duggar's (Giants' No. 7) second Fall League homer, a one-out solo shot down the right-field line.

Tilson finished the game 2-for-4 with an RBI, giving him hits in three straight games for Glendale after going 0-for-14 to begin his Fall League campaign, while Diaz improved his average to .281 with a 2-for-4 effort.

Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Pirates' Arizona Fall League overview

Pittsburgh's top pitching prospect also represents top hurler in AFL
MLB.com

There is a balance teams try to find when dealing with players in the Minor Leagues, one between developing a player's individual tools and winning. Most teams these days try to incorporate one with the other, the idea being that teaching winning down on the farm will produce a player who expects to win once he gets to the big leagues.

The Pirates certainly have seemed to find the right recipe with top pitching prospect Mitch Keller. The No. 18 overall prospect on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 list (and No. 2 on the Pirates' Top 30) has been good pretty much wherever he's been since being drafted by Pittsburgh in the second round of the 2014 Draft, but he's developing a knack for turning it up a notch once the regular season is over.

There is a balance teams try to find when dealing with players in the Minor Leagues, one between developing a player's individual tools and winning. Most teams these days try to incorporate one with the other, the idea being that teaching winning down on the farm will produce a player who expects to win once he gets to the big leagues.

The Pirates certainly have seemed to find the right recipe with top pitching prospect Mitch Keller. The No. 18 overall prospect on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 list (and No. 2 on the Pirates' Top 30) has been good pretty much wherever he's been since being drafted by Pittsburgh in the second round of the 2014 Draft, but he's developing a knack for turning it up a notch once the regular season is over.

"I don't know what it is," Keller said as he gets extra work in with the Glendale Desert Dogs in the Arizona Fall League. "It's just something about the atmosphere and everything, every game matters, you're playing for it all. The playoffs are just a different feeling, it's a lot more fun, I guess. I enjoy playing in the playoffs."

There's a pattern forming in the 21-year-old's development path over the past two years: earn a promotion very late in the season and then dominate in that new level's playoffs. In 2016 in the Florida State League and again this season up in the Double-A Eastern League, Keller has gone a combined 4-0 with a 1.52 ERA in the postseason. Not surprisingly, he now has two championships on his resume.

Arizona Fall League roster & stats

Keller makes quick adjustments to his new surroundings, even when making the leap to Double-A. He understood the difference in the Eastern League's talent level and was able to post a lower batting average against (.197 vs .207 in the FSL) and better strikeout rate (11.7/9 vs. 7.4), albeit in just six starts. He's taken those lessons with him to shape his plan in the AFL.

"Definitely at the lower levels, you can get by with a lot of different things," Keller said. "Once you hit Double-A, they're really good hitters and they have really good approaches, so you really do find out what you need to work on. I think what I'm working on here in this league will eventually help me get to where I need to be."

Keller didn't have to wait around to be challenged in Arizona. In his first outing, the very first batter he faced was Braves phenom Ronald Acuna, the teenaged Futures Gamer who has one of the most exciting all-around tool packages in baseball. Getting the No. 5 prospect in baseball to wave at a fastball made the butterflies subside.

"It was fun," Keller said. "I knew he was up, I knew he was going to lead off, I saw the lineup earlier in the day and I was excited for it. I was a little nervous, those pregame and in-game nerves a little bit because you care about it and you want to do well. Once I struck him out, I relaxed a little bit."

Pirates hitters in the Fall League

Kevin Kramer, 2B/SS -- Kramer was off to a solid start in Double-A when a fractured hand sent him to the disabled list in June. The Pirates No. 9 prospect returned, albeit with considerable rust, in time for the second round of the playoffs and is now making up for lost at-bats, while also getting time at shortstop for the first time since college, in the Fall League.

Video: Kevin Kramer on representing Pirates in Fall League

Mitchell Tolman, 2B -- A seventh-round pick in 2015 out of Oregon, Tolman spent nearly all of the 2017 season in the Florida State League, though he earned a bump up to Double-A at the very end of the season. He capped off a season that saw him reach double digits in home runs (10) and stolen bases (24) by going 8-for-24 as Altoona won the Eastern League title.

Logan Hill, OF -- A broken hand ended Hill's regular season in late July, 22 games into his promotion to Double-A, so he had to watch that playoff run from the sidelines. Still, the 2015 25th-round pick out of Troy managed to hit 18 homers in just 93 games, and while he still has some swing and miss, his strikeout rate went down while his walk rate went up.

Pirates pitchers in the Fall League

J.T. Brubaker, RHP -- A three-year starter at Akron, Brubaker has moved quickly since the Pirates took him in the sixth round of the 2015 Draft, pitching all of 2017 in Double-A. After nearly 130 regular-season innings and a strong playoff start, the right-hander is pitching in relief in the AFL.

Taylor Hearn, LHP -- While Hearn, acquired from the Nationals in 2016 in the Mark Melancon deal, missed more than a month and a half of the Florida State League season because of an oblique injury, the lefty did show his power stuff worked just fine at that level. The Pirates' No. 11 prospect struck out 10.9 per nine in 87 1/3 innings with Bradenton. He's pitching in relief and continuing to work on his command in Arizona.

Brandon Waddell, LHP -- A forearm strain limited Waddell to just 78 innings during the regular season with Double-A Altoona, though he did return to have a strong August and toss six innings of shutout ball in a playoff win. The Pirates' No. 23 prospect has also been pitching out of the Glendale bullpen.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Brault, Luplow named Pirates Prospects of the Year

MLB.com

PITTSBURGH -- Steven Brault probably expected to spend more time with the Pirates this year. Jordan Luplow didn't expect nearly as much big league time as he wound up with.

The two rookies took different paths, but both led to Minor League success, recognition as MLBPipeline.com's Pirates Prospects of the Year and potentially bigger roles for the Pirates in 2018.

PITTSBURGH -- Steven Brault probably expected to spend more time with the Pirates this year. Jordan Luplow didn't expect nearly as much big league time as he wound up with.

The two rookies took different paths, but both led to Minor League success, recognition as MLBPipeline.com's Pirates Prospects of the Year and potentially bigger roles for the Pirates in 2018.

Pirates' Prospects of the Year

Each team's Prospects of the Year were chosen by the MLBPipeline.com staff. To receive consideration, players must have spent at least half the year in the Minors, appeared on the team's Top 30 Prospects list and played the entire year in the organization.

Brault began the season competing for a spot in the Opening Day rotation, but wound up starting for Triple-A Indianapolis. After a couple rough outings, he had an honest conversation with Indianapolis manager Andy Barkett. Brault cites that moment as a turning point, the genesis of the aggressive mindset that helped him pitch well for the Pirates in September.

What did he say?

"One day, I asked him: 'You've got tattoos and frosted blonde hair at the time, but you're trying to pitch like Tom Glavine?' It just doesn't match up," Barkett said recently. "You look like you should be Charlie Sheen driving a Harley and throwing the crap out of it.

"I just didn't see why he was trying to be somebody else. I just pointed it out to him."

Barkett took it a step further, asking Brault if he knew who Kenny Rogers was. "The singer?" Brault, 25, responded. No, the lefty. Barkett sat down with Brault to watch footage of Rogers during his dominant 2006 postseason.

"This is you one day at your best," Barkett told Brault. "It just changed his whole thought process about how to go about things."

The point hit home for Brault, who started filling the strike zone with fastballs. He finished 10-5 with a 1.94 ERA, a 1.07 WHIP and 109 strikeouts in 120 1/3 innings for Indianapolis. He will enter next season competing for a spot on the Major League staff.

"Having that mindset has helped me be a lot more consistent than I've ever been in my entire life," Brault said. "The biggest thing I've learned is that it works."

Luplow, who just turned 24, spent Spring Training in Minor League camp, hoping to earn a spot on the 40-man roster before the Rule 5 Draft in December. He got much more than that.

Video: CIN@PIT: Luplow cranks a three-run shot in the 8th

"It's funny, every morning I wake up, and I'm like, 'I'm in the big leagues,'" Luplow said. "I get to look in the mirror and say that. I'm thankful for that every day."

Luplow hit .302/.381/.527 with 23 home runs in 117 games for Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis. He earned a big league callup in July and a permanent roster spot in late August and may factor into the Pirates' fourth-outfielder mix next season.

"It was a different guy than we saw last year," Barkett said. "I saw a young man this year that had the makings to be a really productive Major League player. I didn't think it was going to happen this fast -- I don't think he did either -- but baseball changes every 24 hours. He was playing well, there was an opportunity, and he's made the most of it."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates