The Pirates’ 40-man roster stood at 39 entering Wednesday’s 8 p.m. deadline and they protected five players from the Rule 5 Draft. Infielders Ke’Bryan Hayes, Will Craig and Oneil Cruz along with right-handed pitcher Blake Cederlind and Cody Ponce had their contracts selected. Ponce is the only player not on the Bucs’ current Top 30 prospect rankings, according to MLB.com, but he was regarded as one of Milwaukee’s top pitching prospects before he was traded to Pittsburgh this summer for Jordan Lyles.
All five players played for Altoona in either 2018 or 2019. Hayes and Craig manned the corner infield spots through the entire 2018 campaign. The Curve were the second of three teams in 2019 for Cederlind (Bradenton, Altoona and Indianapolis) and Ponce (Biloxi, Altoona and Indianapolis). Cruz turned 21 at the beginning of October and could return to Altoona for more seasoning in 2020.
The 40-man roster promotion is always an important step for a player’s Major League dreams.
To make room on the 40-man, the Pirates designated pitchers Dario Agrazal, Montana DuRapau, Luis Escobar and Williams Jerez.
The work done on Wednesday evening were the first official moves made by new Pirates general manager Ben Cherington.
It is important to note which players are being locked up by the big league club. However, there are many more that are now vulnerable to being plucked away by other MLB teams.
The lone Top 30 prospect that is Rule 5 eligible and not added to the 40-man roster is outfielder Lolo Sanchez. He split the 2019 season with Class A Greensboro and A-Adv. Bradenton.
A few recent Curve players are also Rule 5 eligible for the first time: infielders Hunter Owen and Stephen Alemais, catcher Arden Pabst and pitchers Cam Vieaux, Matt Eckelman, Joel Cesar and Pedro Vasquez. Logan Hill, Brandon Waddell and Christian Kelley are among players eligible for the second straight year.
Owen, Alemais and Vieaux could be interesting cases to keep an eye on in the Triple-A phase.
Owen was Altoona’s MVP in the First Half and his early power surge earned him a mid-season promotion to Triple-A. However, that progress was halted with Indianapolis due to a couple of injuries. Owen’s 50 homers since 2017 are second-most in Pittsburgh’s system.
As for Vieaux, he is one of the organization’s few left-handed starters at the upper levels (along with Waddell) and was a sixth-round selection from Michigan State. He had a bit of a setback at Triple-A but he dominated the Eastern League with a 2.23 ERA in 13 starts. In 28 Double-A starts, the Michigan native is 13-9 with a 2.96 ERA and has held opponents to a .223 batting average.
Alemais missed most of the 2019 season due to injury and used to be a Top 30 prospect. As a former third-round pick, his talent should be appealing to other teams that need help in the middle infield.
Players that are chosen in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft essentially have their rights purchased. The team that chooses them does not face the risk of losing that player like the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft.
Last year, Jordan George (2017-18) was the only then-current Pirates minor leaguer scooped up in the Rule 5 Draft. He was taken in the Triple-A phase by the White Sox along with former Curve pitcher Jason Creasy (2015-16) by the Braves. Connor Joe (2017) was picked in the Major League phase by the Reds. Joe was later traded to the Giants and broke camp with San Francisco for his MLB debut before he was returned to the Dodgers.