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Demilio: Which Prospects Would I Protect From the Rule 5 Draft?

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The Pirates, like the other 29 teams across Major League Baseball, face the difficult decisions on which prospects to protect from the Rule 5 Draft by adding them to their 40-man roster by Friday’s deadline. For the Pirates especially, those decisions may be a bit tougher than most teams as quite a few of the team’s higher-regarded prospects are eligible for the draft this winter. Pittsburgh began this process already when they added infielder Diego Castillo to the roster last weekend.

From pitching prospects, to power bats, to a former first-rounder, an argument could be made for a a dozen or so prospects to be added to the 40-man roster, though the final amount will be around half that – or less. The front office needs to balance which players would surely get selected if they go unprotected, and which players have a better chance of sneaking through and going unselected.

So, who are the players that I would choose to protect of I was in Ben Cherington’s shoes? Let’s dive in.

The Locks

There are two prospects that I would protect without even giving them a second thought. In my mind, both Travis Swaggerty and Liover Peguero would be among the earliest picks comes December’s (CBA expiration pending) Rule 5 draft. In Swaggerty’s case, not only do I anticipate that he will be wearing a Pirates’ uniform at some point in 2022, potentially fairly early on, but he is among the players who have seen action at the Triple-A level. Though an injury ended his season prematurely, the skillset combined with the upside he showed when the Pirates made him the 10th selection in the 2018 draft, make him an attractive option for other GMs,

Though Peguero does not have experience yet in the higher levels of the minor leagues, that does not mean he would not get selected – see Luis Oviedo last year. Peguero is a borderline Top 100 prospect, and the potential he shows in all three facets of the game could attract the eye of front offices around the league. With the universal DH likely coming to the National League, it would become easier for each of the 29 other teams to more or less stash him on their bench for the season.

Not Quite a Lock, But Likely 

Three guys for me fall under this category and those players are left-hander Omar Cruz, outfielder Canaan Smith-Njigba and right-handed pitcher Tahnaj Thomas.

Cruz and Smith-Njigba are in fairly similar situations in my mind. Neither one of these players may wow you in any one particular area – but they both are solid across the board. Cruz had a solid season in 2021 between High-A and Double-A, and since the Pirates are fairly thin on left-handed pitching in the minor league system, protecting him makes sense. Smith-Njigba has a professional approach at the plate and had an .805 OPS in Double-A before a late season promotion to Indianapolis. He currently has an OPS just shy of .900 in the Arizona Fall League.

In the case for Thomas, protecting him is more about upside and his pitching arsenal than track record. The numbers on Thomas’ 2021 don’t look great, but he is one of the hardest throwing pitchers in the farm system with a fastball that can hit triple digits. He could pitch out of a rebuilding team’s Major League bullpen similarly to what the Pirates did this year with Oviedo.

Just Made It

One more guy for me should be protected and that is right-handed reliever Yerry De Los Santos. Not only did he have a good season between Double-A and Triple-A this season, but in my opinion, he will be pitching out of Pittsburgh’s bullpen in 2022 and has a chance to crack the Opening Day roster.

Just Missed the Cut

There were two players that I had a tough time leaving off, and they are Mason Martin and Cal Mitchell. The cases could easily be made for both to be protected, but I think that ultimately both will go unselected if unprotected. There is risk for leaving both exposed, but more of what would be considered a calculated risk.

Others Considered 

The other names that I had to mull over with varying degrees of internal debate include: pitchers Cody Bolton, Eddy Yean and Santiago Florez, outfielders Lolo Sanchez and Jack Suwinksi and catcher Abrahan Gutierrez.

The Pirates 40-man roster currently sits at 38, so there are likely some moves coming to clear extra spots on the roster.

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