The deadline to protect prospects who are eligible for the Rule 5 Draft is on Tuesday, and the Pittsburgh Pirates have some decisions to make.
With 37 players currently on their 40-man roster, the Pirates could add as many as three prospects without having to make any corresponding moves.
There are a handful of prospects eligible for this year’s Rule 5 Draft and the Pirates will likely protect at least two of their farmhands from being selected.
During the major league phase of the Rule 5 Draft last winter, the Pirates selected left-hander Jose Hernandez from the Dodgers. They lost catcher/outfielder Blake Sabol, who ended up with the Giants.
Who will the Pirates consider protecting this offseason? Here are some names to keep in mind.
RHP Braxton Ashcraft
In his return from Tommy John surgery, Ashcraft impressed between three levels in 2023. Between Bradenton. Greensboro and Altoona, the right-hander combined for a 2.39 ERA across 19 starts. In 52.2 innings, Ashcraft struck out 63 batters.
INF Tsung-Che Cheng
Cheng’s season started off strong with High-A Greensboro. In 57 games with the Grasshoppers, Cheng hit .308 with a .980 OPS and 30 extra-base hits. He scuffled after a promotion to Double-A Altoona, where he posted a .656 OPS. Maybe the Pirates feel the poor showing with Altoona is enough to leave him unprotected.
OF Jase Bowen
Bowen spent the majority of his 2023 season with Greensboro, where he slashed .258/.333/.469 with 23 home runs, 88 RBIs and 24 steals. The power/speed combination makes Bowen an interesting case. The 23-year-old has performed well in the Arizona Fall League, too. He has a .290 batting average with an .855 OPS in 25 AFL games.
OF/INF Matt Gorski
Of any of the players listed to this point, Gorski is the most advanced. He appeared in 15 games with Triple-A Indianapolis this season. Gorski has big time power — he hit 20 home runs in 108 games this season. Combined with his experience, the Pirates will at least discuss protecting him.
INF Dariel Lopez
Had it not been for a season-ending injury in March, Lopez could have been guaranteed a spot on the Pirates’ 40-man roster this offseason. Last year in Greensboro, the now 21-year-old hit .286 with 19 home runs and 58 RBIs.
1B/DH Malcom Nuñez
Nuñez battled injuries and poor performance this season. Last year, however, he combined for an .833 OPS, 23 home runs and 88 RBIs between his time with the Cardinals and Pirates organizations.
The Pirates should make protecting Ashcraft a priority. Down a notch on the ladder, Cheng probably gets protected, too. Bowen is a tougher call. He has the tools and performed well in the regular season and in the AFL this year. However, his profile doesn’t fit the typical picks in the Rule 5 Draft. It does not appear likely any of the other players mentioned will be protected.
- Final verdict: The Pirates protect Ashcraft and Cheng and roll the dice with Bowen and the others mentioned.