By 11:59 p.m. today (hopefully sooner), the Pirates will add minor league players to their 40-man roster to protect them from the Dec. 6 Rule 5 draft. On Monday, Bill published a list of players eligible for the Rule 5 draft. Today, we will take a look at some of the more likely scenarios facing the team.
Entering today, the Pirates had 34 players on its 40-man roster. That means they could add as many as six players without having to make a corresponding roster move.
These players, I believe, are the most likely to be added to the 40-man roster today.
Tony Sanchez - The Pirates top draft pick in 2009, Sanchez is an above average defensive catcher who has made his way through the minor league system slower than most anticipated. Still, he is a significant investment for this team and worthy of protection.
Ramon Cabrera - Younger than Sanchez, Cabrera has proven himself a more consistent offensive player. And with Rod Barajas and Eric Fryer gone, the Pirates will look to add depth at catcher heading into 2013.
Victor Black - Black is one of a few pitchers in the Pirates' system who projects to be a late-innings reliever. He has a strong arm, and Neal Huntington has shown a favorability toward those big arms when it comes to Rule 5 protection.
The following players, I believe, have a good chance to be added to the 40-man roster today.
Phil Irwin - The right-handed pitcher has not been as consistent as Black, but his 2012 numbers are better. He earned a late-season promotion to Indianapolis and made the most of it with four strong starts.
Nathan Baker - A left-handed pitcher, Baker projects to be an above-average reliever. With uncertainty in the bullpen heading into next season, the Pirates could protect more arms than usual. That said, Baker is not necessarily rocketing up the organizational depth chart.
Kyle Kaminska - Viewed as a throw-in player by many at the time of his deadline acquisition, Kaminska might have earned his way onto the 40-man roster with a strong performance in the Arizona Fall League. The Pirates front office has long cautioned about the ills of a small sample size, but he would likely be vulnerable in the Rule 5 draft if left unprotected.
The following players, I believe, have an outside chance of being added to the 40-man roster today.
Gift Ngoepe - His story has drawn national attention, but his offensive game is still unrefined. But he's versatile, which makes him valuable.
Jarek Cunningham - The front office believes in his talent, having sent him to the Fall League in 2011. But he has not been able to turn talent into production.
All that said, I would not be the least surprised if the Pirates add a player who is not on this list. Last season, they surprised me by adding Duke Welker to the 40-man roster. Welker responded with a strong season.
So, where does that leave us with roster math? The Pirates have up to six holes they can fill. Here are the likely scenarios...
Scenario 1: The Pirates add six players or less and do not move any current player off the 40-man roster. I view this as the most likely scenario, considering there aren't as many slam dunks in this crop of minor leaguers as in years past. There is a lot of unrefined talent, which will likely change in a year or two. But the 2009 draft class was not as strong as the 2008 crop (in terms of where they are after four seasons of minor league ball). The Pirates also will hesitate before making any irreversible decisions as it pertains to parting with players currently on the 40-man roster.
Scenario 2: The Pirates add more than six players to the 40-man roster. In order to do so, obviously, they would need to make corresponding roster moves. These players, I believe, are the most likely candidates for designation (in order): Rick van den Hurk, Chad Beck, Yamaico Navarro, Chris Leroux, Matt Hague.
A lot of questions for this team, but many will be answered within the next 24 hours.
The Felix Pie signing is certainly one of the more intriguing minor league deals the Pirates have had. Pie, who will be 28 on Opening Day, is a former blue chip prospect who projected to be a five-tool outfielder.
Those talents never materialized for the Chicago Cubs or the Baltimore Orioles. But what's most intriguing about Pie is the way he finished the 2012 season with Class AAA Gwinnett, an Atlanta Braves farm team. There, he hit .285/.338/.459 in 333 at-bats. Those are encouraging numbers, especially compared to his brief 2011 production.
I've often described these minor league contracts as low risk deals with the potential for upside. There is the potential for a lot of upside with Pie. It is unlikely he will realize that potential with the Pirates, but it is an intriguing opportunity, to say the least.
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