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Early Rule 5 draft preview: Pirates have a lot of decisions to make

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Eligible for Minor League Free Agency

These aren’t really Rule 5 decisions, as the players will simply become free agents if they’re not added to the roster.

Edwin Espinal: This is Jose Osuna all over again, except the Pirates already have one Osuna. Espinal is remarkably similar: he makes contact, has decent but not good power (probably somewhat less power than Osuna), can’t run, rarely walks, and is limited to first base. Unlike Osuna, who fakes it in the outfield, Espinal can fake it at third. I can’t see the Pirates adding a second player with such significant limitations to the roster, especially not when Osuna is probably the better of the two.

Luis Heredia: The end of an unhappy saga.

Casey Sadler: Sadler has recovered pretty well from Tommy John surgery, although he’s struggled since he got to AAA. This may depend on how well Sadler does the rest of the minor league season, but the Pirates have a lot of pitching depth in the upper minors. I think Sadler will be too far down the list.

Angel Sanchez: Another pitcher recovering from TJ, Sanchez came back throwing harder than ever at 97 mph. He was ready to go at the start of the season and has gradually improved, with a 1.18 WHIP and 10.9 K/9. This also may depend on performance over the season’s last few weeks, but Sanchez has some upside as a reliever and maybe has a better case than Sadler. If the Pirates see him as a longer term option, he’d be a logical candidate for a September callup.

Rule 5 Eligibles

The Easy Ones

Austin Meadows

Luis Escobar: Escobar has had issues with walks and high pitch counts at West Virginia, but he has a fastball that gets up to 97 and swing-and-miss secondary stuff. An 11.4 K/9 as a starting pitcher makes up for a lot of flaws. He’d be easy for some team to hide in the back of the bullpen. I can’t see the Pirates risking that.

It gets a lot harder after this.

The Tougher Decisions

Hitters

Eric Wood: I don’t see any change in the situation here. Wood’s had about the same season he did last year, except with weaker plate discipline, and he wasn’t selected then.

Wyatt Mathisen: Mathisen got into better shape and is having his best pro season, hitting for average with very good strike zone judgment. He hasn’t hit for much power, though, and is probably just solid defensively. As a corner player, I think he’d have to show more than that to get selected.

Barrett Barnes: Another lost season.

Pablo Reyes: Reyes is a very good utility player and lately has been hitting for surprising power. A 272/351/405 line with strong plate discipline isn’t bad for a guy who can play second and center, and fake it a bit at short. I could see him reaching the majors at some point, but he seems to have gotten pegged as a utility player and I can’t see him getting selected in the draft.

Elvis Escobar: Escobar can play all three outfield positions and, at 22, is a good age for AA, but a .671 OPS won’t get him selected in the draft.

Jin-De Jhang: Jhang has had a tough season, missing a lot of time due to an oblique injury and taking an extended period to get his timing back at the plate. His numbers are much weaker than last year’s and he wasn’t selected then.

Erich Weiss: Weiss has always been interesting as a good defensive second baseman who can also play third, with a left-handed bat with some power. He’s hit well this year since a weak start when he wasn’t playing much, but not enough to make him a roster candidate.

Adrian Valerio: This should be an easy one, but I suppose the Pirates could take a chance considering that Valerio (pictured) is just in low A. Still, he’s a legit shortstop who’s showing surprising pop, albeit with almost no walks. I can’t see exposing him to the draft.

Kevin Krause: After missing over a year due to Tommy John surgery, Krause is hitting well in high A, although he’s old for the level. Even so, the Pirates haven’t handled him as if they consider him a prospect and he rarely catches any more. I’m puzzled about him, but I’m confident he won’t be added to the roster.

Edison Lantigua: Lantigua is finally having a good year at Bristol, even showing some power for the first time. That’s such a low level, though, that it wouldn’t make sense to start using options on him.

Jerrick Suiter: In his first three pro seasons, Suiter didn’t look at all like a prospect. This year he changed his swing radically and suddenly started hitting for power. He has a 295/381/473 line at Altoona. He’s cooled off lately, so you can’t completely dismiss the possibility that it was just a couple hot months. Also, as a first baseman he faces a higher bar offensively. He presents one of the tougher choices in the system.

Jeremias Portorreal: Portorreal changed his stance partway through last season — his third in the DSL — and started hitting well. He’s continued doing fairly well in the GCL this year, hitting for power for the first time, but his K rate is still off the charts. In any event, he’s only in rookie ball, so he’s not a candidate for the roster.

Pitchers

Nearly all of these pitchers present tough decisions.

Tyler Eppler: The Pirates are very high on Eppler; they’ve pushed him aggressively despite lackluster numbers for the most part. He’s 6’6” and throws in the mid-90s, but beyond that he doesn’t really fit their preferred profile. He’s a flyball pitcher and doesn’t miss a lot of bats, with the result being some significant gopher ball problems this year. After a good start to this season he’s struggled badly. I can’t see putting him on the roster, but the Pirates might be afraid of losing him to a team that sees him as a reliever.

Dario Agrazal: Another tough call, complicated by the fact that Agrazal immediately got hurt when he was promoted to Altoona at mid-season and hasn’t returned. He’s another pitcher the Pirates have pushed aggressively despite mediocre numbers until this year. He throws in the mid-90s and throws strikes but, unlike Eppler, he’s a groundball pitcher. His K rates isn’t high but has improved this year. I’m guessing he’s less likely to be added to the roster than Eppler.

Angel German: It’d be a little odd to trade for a guy and then leave him exposed to the Rule 5 draft just a few months later. German, though, is still basically a guy who throws hard and he’s only reached low A. And he’s a reliever. He’d have to advance through three levels of the minors with only three options. I’d be surprised if he got added to the roster.

Eduardo Vera: Until this year, Vera was a pretty nondescript, rookie-level reliever and, on top of that, he missed 2015 and most of 2016 due to Tommy John surgery. This year, though, he came to camp suddenly throwing harder (93-94) and with a greatly improved curve, and lately has gotten up as high as 96-97. The Pirates put him in the West Virginia rotation and he’s done very well without dominating. I doubt they’ll put him on the roster.

Jake Brentz: Brentz suddenly started hitting 100 mph in camp this year and has continued doing so during the season . . . and he’s a lefty. His control problems came to the fore after a promotion to Altoona, but he’s pitched much better his last couple times out. High-velocity relievers are a frequent Rule 5 target. It’d be a little surprising if the Pirates risked letting an arm like this get away.

Alex McRae: McRae has been a solid starter for Altoona this year, with improved velocity among other things. He’s still pretty hittable, though, with a very low K rate. I doubt he’ll be added to the roster.

Miguel Rosario: Rosario has had very good ERAs the last several years, but they’ve resulted mainly from either a very low BABIP or a very high strand rate. He’s been walking batters in droves lately and was just demoted to Bradenton, which probably tells us what the roster decision is going to be.

Yeudy Garcia: The upper-90s velocity that Garcia once had is nearly two years in the past and he’s struggled all year. It’s hard even to consider him a prospect now.

Austin Coley: Another pitcher who’s taken a step forward at Altoona this year, Coley has seen improvements in most of his numbers. Like McRae, though, I doubt he’s got enough of a ceiling to be attractive in the Rule 5 draft.

Montana DuRapau: The Eastern League seemed to start catching up to DuRapau late last year, but he was outstanding there this year and has been just as good since he moved up to AAA. Despite not having overwhelming stuff, his K rate is in double digits. He’s had problems in the past with leaving pitches up, but he’s allowed only one longball this year. This will depend on whether the Pirates believe his stuff will translate to the majors. One tipoff will be whether he gets a September callup.

Summary

Easy Cases

Meadows, Escobar, arguably Valerio and Brentz

On the Bubble

Eppler, German, DuRapau, Sanchez

So that’s four to eight roster spots the Pirates will probably need, because . . .

That’ll be the next installment.