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CLEANED OUT: Pirates Raided in Rule 5 Draft, Add Lefty

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SAN DIEGO – The Pittsburgh Pirates often talk about the depth of their farm system.

Perhaps what happened in the Rule 5 Draft on Wednesday is proof of that depth. The Pirates had 12 players drafted at baseball’s Winter Meetings at the Manchester Grand Hyatt.

The losses overshadowed the Pirates’ pick of left-handed reliever Jose Hernandez from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the major league phase of the draft. Hernandez officially becomes the only lefty on the 40-man roster, though the Pirates have come to terms on a contract with reliever Jarlin Garcia that is pending a physical.

The 24-year-old Hernandez pitched for Double-A Tulsa and High-A Great Lakes this year and had a 4-4 record, 3.32 ERA, and 1.20 WHIP in 51 games (two starts). He struck out 69 and walked 25 in 59.2 innings.

As part of the Rule 5 process, Hernandez must stay on the major league roster all year or else be offered back to the Dodgers for half the $50,000 draft fee.

General manager Ben Cherington said the Pirates are impressed by the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Hernandez’s athleticism. Hernandez primarily throws a fastball and a curveball, though he mixes in an occasional changeup.

“Really good athlete who we have seen progress from over the last several years, then even this year, the second half of the season he saw an uptick in velocity as he got into August and September, getting up to 100 mph,” Cherington said. “It’s a big fastball and good slider from the left side. Enough strikes that we feel give him a chance to compete for a job in the bullpen in spring training. We’ll get to know him better then.”

There was a possibility that the Pirates would lose multiple players in the major league phase of the draft. However, the only player selected was outfielder/catcher Blake Sabol by the Cincinnati Reds.

Sabol, 24, hit .284/.363/.497 combined with 19 home runs and 10 stolen bases in 123 games with Triple-A Indianapolis and Double-A Altoona last season.

However, in the minor league phase, the Pirates lost 11 players, including nine pitchers. The most familiar name was outfielder Jared Oliva, who played in 26 games for the Pirates during the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

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“Minor league Rule 5, it’s an easy way to pick guys off,” Cherington said. “Guys with interesting arms and interesting stuff. I guess my quick reaction is that it’s a combination of all those things. We knew we were going to lose some guys. Didn’t anticipate 11. I’m sure we’ll have time to look back again and think about that and what it means going forward.”

The Pirates drafted an outfielder with major league experience, selecting Josh Palacios from the Washington Nationals. He has played in 42 games – 13 with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2021 and 29 with the Nationals in 2022 – and hit .207/.267/.232 with one stolen base.

A 27-year-old right-handed hitter, Palacios had a .294/.379/.439 slash line with nine homers and 21 steals in 82 games at the Triple-A level last season.

The Pirates also drafted right-hander Kai-Wei Teng from the San Francisco Giants. He went 6-12 with a 5.22 ERA in 28 starts with Double-A Richmond last season and had 169 strikeouts and 85 walks in 136.1 innings.

“We had circled those guys as guys we think fit in as good Triple-A depth likely going into next season,” Cherington said. “We saw opportunity there to add depth and glad we did because we lost some guys.”

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