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Pirates Rule 5 wrapup

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Minnesota Twins Photo Day Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

I thought I’d try to provide a somewhat coherent summary of the Pirates’ Rule 5 doings. Plus, it gives me something else to post about to keep the numbers up, an endeavor in which the Pirates haven’t been terribly helpful.

Major League Phase

RHP Jordan Milbrath, selected from Cleveland
RHP Nick Burdi, selected from Minnesota by Philadelphia and traded to Pirates for $500,000 in international slot money

Minor League Phase

RHP Damien Magnifico, selected from the Los Angeles Angels
C Rafelin Lorenzo, selected from Tampa Bay

The Pirates lost nobody, which is a bit odd. I think one reason for that is their practice of moving prospects up pretty quickly until the AA level. Their minor league teams mostly are young in comparison to their leagues, so there aren’t a lot of guys hanging around until they become Rule 5 eligible. Another reason is probably that other teams don’t think Jake Brentz will throw enough strikes to stay in the majors all year.

Anyway, to take them one at a time:

— Milbrath reminds me of Evan Meek. His minor league track record was remarkably similar to Milbrath’s: he struggled as a starter, moved to the bullpen and did just OK in AA the year the Pirates took him. They specifically selected him because he missed a lot of bats and got a lot of ground balls, both of which are true of Milbrath. On the other hand, Meek was in no way ready to pitch in the majors; the Pirates were only able to hang onto him by making a deal with the Rays. After he got some more time in the minors, he had a great 2010 season, but was ultimately undone by arm problems.

Beyond the Meek comparison, there’s also possibly a (pre-Astros) Charlie Morton comparison. Milbrath lowered his arm slot in 2017, which resulted in an off-the-charts groundball rate, along with velocity in the 95-99 mph range. And in keeping with that comparison, Milbrath was much more effective against right-handed hitters, holding them to a .607 OPS while lefties had a .751 figure.

— Burdi, of course, is the real prize, a potential late-inning reliever who throws in the mid- to upper-90s with a nasty slider and an ability to miss a lot of bats. I’m surprised it only cost the Pirates $500,000 of their pool money. There are big health questions, of course, both due to the Tommy John surgery and the fact that teams can’t see the medicals of Rule 5 candidates. It’s a gamble, but a worthwhile one and a better use for the pool than a 16-year-old. Burdi has already dominated AA (briefly).

The other nice thing about getting Burdi is that the Pirates can give him plenty of time in extended spring training and then send him on a 30-day minor league rehab. By the time he’s ready to move up to the majors, Milbrath will probably be suffering from Rule 5 discomfort and ready for his own rehab. Burdi has to spend 90 days on the active roster, but that time can extend into the next season. If the Pirates call him up on August 1, he’ll just have to spend April 2019 in the majors.

— Magnifico, aside from setting up a bataille royale des noms with Montana DuRapau, isn’t just minor league roster filler like most minor league phase picks. Of course, he’s an extreme long shot. He came out of college throwing 100 mph, just long enough ago that it was still rare, with no secondary pitch or command. He’s dialed it back to the 95-97 mph range and has something of a slider, but he had a really rough 2017 season. In a matter of months, he went from getting brief callups in 2016 and 2017 to being left off not only the 40-man roster but the AAA roster. Still, it’s worth a try, assuming there are some upper-level innings floating around.

— Lorenzo won’t even turn 21 until January. He’s supposed to have good defensive skills, although he’s had a lot of passed balls. He actually showed decent power in his first and fourth pro seasons, but hit very little in between. The Pirates are a little short on lower level depth, so Lorenzo will probably end up some place like West Virginia in the New York-Penn League.