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Rule 5 Draft protection candidates

SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

While many are anxious to see who Ben Cherington will hire to be the next manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, his first order of business will come today by 5 p.m. when he will decide which prospects to protect from the Rule 5 draft by adding them to the 40-man roster. While this is a relatively minor set of transactions in the grand scheme of Cherington’s (hopefully) long-tenured career with the Bucs, it will shed some light on which prospects the club thinks highly of enough to protect.

While assistant general manager Kevan Graves and director of minor league operations Larry Broadway will exact heavy influence on the decisions of who to protect, Cherington will get the final say on who stays and who goes. Because the Pirates have so many prospects that have similar talent levels, these decisions have the chance to become a little more nuanced than expected.

That being said, The Athletic’s Rob Biertempfel writes that the five most likely candidates to be added to the 40-man roster are third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes (a no-brainer), shortstop Oneil Cruz (obvious as well), first baseman Will Craig, right-handed pitcher Blake Cederlind, and right-handed pitcher Cody Ponce.

While Hayes and Cruz are obvious locks, I believe that there could be some juggling with the likes of those final three names. While I’m a firm member of the Craig fan club, his age, strikeout numbers and the lack of appeal in selecting corner infielders in the draft could make him a likely candidate to leave unprotected. Cederlind’s rise from High-A all the way to Triple A this past summer gives him the upside over Craig to be protected, and similarly Ponce’s performance and the Pirates lack of pitching depth in the majors makes him a worthy candidate as well.

My dark horses for protection are outfielder Lolo Sanchez and right-handed pitcher Yerry De Los Santos (a pick I share with Pirates Prospects’ Tim Williams). Sanchez’s upside and steadily-increasing floor make him a prime candidate in the Rule 5 draft but being so far away from the majors makes him a difficult choice to protect. De Los Santos has the velocity to make him an exciting projectable arm, but a colorful injury history and his distance from the majors also makes him a question mark. With Tommy John surgery already checked off his injury ballot, he would be a surprising pick to be protected.

I believe Biertempfel’s list will prove correct but could also see Cherington mixing it up a bit as he gets up to speed with the organization’s minor league system. Only time will tell, and there’s only a few hours left.