Rule 5 Draft
Both Baseball America (sub. req’d) and MLB Pipeline have previews out for the Rule 5 draft. That draft comes at the end of the winter meetings, next Thursday. The Pirates currently have three spaces open on their 40-man roster, so they’ll be eligible to select one or more players without making any more roster moves.
MLB Pipeline simply has a list of ten eligible prospects whom they find intriguing. It’s headed by Mark Appel, whom I don’t find especially intriguing. The second name on the list is Rays catcher Nick Ciuffo, a former first round prep pick with strong defensive skills. Ciuffo had his first passable offensive year in AA this year, batting 245/319/385. He won’t turn 23 until March, so he’s a perfectly acceptable age for his level. Catchers are a difficult Rule 5 proposition, but with Elias Diaz coming off an unimpressive season (and over four years older than Ciuffo), it’s not insane to think the Pirates could select Ciuffo and at least take a look at him in camp.
BA also includes Ciuffo in its top five, which you can read without a subscription. After that is a very long list of possibilities. Logically, the most interesting possibilities to the Pirates would be hard-throwing relievers. There are two at the top, both righties, in Arizona’s Mason McCullough and the Yankees’ Cale Cashow. Both throw in the upper-90s, with Cashow reaching 100 mph. McCullough has control issues but has been very hard to hit. Cashow’s control is a bit better but he’s been stuck in AA for three years.
Possibly the best prospect available is Rays’ righty Burch Smith. He’s 27 now, having lost most or all of 2014-16 to Tommy John surgery. According to BA, he’s back throwing in the mid-90s now with a good curve and change. He’s been a starter, but could be an interesting option as a reliever if he lasts until the Pirates’ pick at #10.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Pirates try a lefty reliever, as they did last year. One possibility would be Stephen Tarpley, whom the Pirates sent to the Yankees for Ivan Nova. He allowed just eight hits in 30.2 IP this year in high A.
There are four current Pirates listed between these two previews. BA includes right reliever Montana DuRapau, third baseman Eric Wood and utility player Pablo Reyes. DuRapau doesn’t have the power stuff teams usually like, but he got great results this year, mainly from a cutter. Wood was eligible last year — in fact, BA had him in its preview then, too — and did nothing to enhance his standing since then, so it’s hard to see him being taken. It’s nice to see Reyes get some sort of recognition, because he does almost everything at least decently and can play second, center and sort-of short.
Righty starter Tyler Eppler isn’t on BA’s list, but MLB Pipeline has him on its list of ten eligible prospects. Eppler has three things going for him: he’s 6’6”, he throws in the mid-90s and reaches the upper-90s, and his control is very good. But he lacks a swing-and-miss pitch, is a flyball pitcher, and got hit very hard this year. Left-handed hitters absolutely pulverized him.
Rule 4 Draft
MLB Pipeline also has a preview of next year’s Rule 4 draft, more commonly known as “the draft.” It’s a mock draft covering the first ten picks, which conveniently is just enough to include the Pirates. It’s obviously not going to be anywhere close to the actual selections, but it provides an early look at the sort of talent that might be available. Jim Callis has the Pirates taking Ryan Rolison out of the University of Mississippi. Rolison is a very polished lefty who’s eligible as a sophomore. Jonathan Mayo’s pick for the Pirates is prep outfielder Jarred Kelenic, whom Mayo characterizes as the best pure bat in the prep class or possibly the entire draft class. Another player who sounds like he’d be a great pick for the Pirates (of course, they all do at this stage) is prep third baseman Nick Gorman, who’s considered the best power bat in the class. Callis currently has him going seventh and Mayo ninth.
Maybe the most interesting draft item, though, is a tweet from Callis that’s gotten some attention on the web:
At this stage, this @MLBDraft crop appears at be the best since 2011. Not as good as that deep group, but best since then. https://t.co/qYKga0vjIN— Jim Callis (@jimcallisMLB) December 5, 2017
Depending on free agent signings, the Pirates will have three picks somewhere around the first 50. It’d be nice if they’d take advantage of them.