By Garett Mansfield
The annual deadline to protect prospects from the Rule 5 draft with a promotion to the 40-man roster was on Friday, November 20. While this is a yearly practice for Major League teams to secure young talent they’ve invested in, it is all but ordinary in 2020.
Usually, the Curve see recent players that played in Altoona added to the 40-man roster. This year, however, a pair from the summer taxi squad had their contracts selected to the Pirates 40-man roster: right-handed pitcher Max Kranick and infielder Rodolfo Castro.
Kranick, a native of Scranton, Pa., is the Bucs’ No. 24 prospect according to MLB.com and ranks No. 26 on Baseball America’s list. The 23-year-old opened eyes at the Alternate Training Site in Altoona this summer. In 51 minor league outings, Kranick owns a 3.34 ERA and has 194 strikeouts in 245 innings. The Pirates drafted Kranick in the 11th round of the 2016 draft out of Valley View High School in Archbald, Pa.
Castro, 21, is a switch-hitting infielder capable of playing second, third and short. With Greensboro and Bradenton in 2019, he swatted 19 homers and drove in 73 RBIs, the fourth-most among Pirates minor leaguers. The Pirates inked Castro as an international free agent on October 30, 2015 and is currently the No. 26 Pirates prospect according to MLB.com.
To clear room for Kranick and Castro, the Pirates designated right-handed pitcher Trevor Williams and utility man Jose Osuna.
Last year, the Bucs added Ke’Bryan Hayes, Will Craig, Blake Cederlind, Cody Ponce and Oneil Cruz. Four of the five played in the Majors this past season and each one spent time in Altoona this summer at the Alternate Training Site.
Jared Oliva would’ve been Pittsburgh’s easiest decision to protect this year, but a battered Bucs outfield late in the season moved his promotion up a few months.
The Rule 5 Draft will be held on December 10, which is normally on the final day of the Baseball Winter Meetings. All of the proceedings will be held virtually this year.
Due to the requirement for players selected in the MLB phase of the Rule 5 Draft to remain in the big leagues the following year, usually only upper-level talent is ripe for the picking. However without a minor league season in 2020, some of that valuable scouting during the season did not take place nor did players get to perform in a way to force the hand of their organization.
Remaining Players Rule 5 Eligible
Catchers: Jason Delay, Deon Stafford, Arden Pabst
Infielders: Hunter Owen, Dylan Busby, Robbie Glendinning, Stephen Alemais
Outfielders: Chris Sharpe, Bligh Madris, Lolo Sanchez
Pitchers: Cam Vieaux, Osvaldo Bido, Alex Manasa, Travis MacGregor, Santiago Florez, Noe Toribio, Blake Weiman, Beau Sulser, Matt Eckelman, Braeden Ogle, Samuel Reyes, Yerry De Los Santos
This process is a huge benefit for young players. Getting added to the 40-man roster involves a sizable bump in pay along with other benefits, including representation by the Players Association.
For players that signed at age 18 or younger with five years of experience or signees at age 19 or older and four years of experience, clubs are forced to make a decision on the medium-to-long-term future of that player within the organization or risk losing them to another team through the Rule 5 draft. If a player is blocked by someone on the MLB roster, it offers the player an alternate route to the big leagues.
Choosing a player in the Rule 5 Draft is not a small decision on MLB clubs. Selections cost $100,000 and the player selected must remain on the MLB roster for the entire season that follows. If not, that player will be placed on waivers and another club can claim him.
The possible scenarios include going to another team on a waiver claim, returing to his original team for $50,000 fee if unclaimed, or be outrighted to the minors only if his original team does not take the player back. This keeps teams from swiping talent and stashing them in their own farm system, which the Rule 5 Draft is supposed to prevent in the first place.
The Triple-A and Double-A phases of the Rule 5 Draft have similar rules to the MLB phase, but the fee is smaller and there is no return policy on players selected. In recent years, the Pirates have lost Jerrick Suiter to the Cubs in 2019 and Jordan George by the White Sox in 2018 during the minor league phase.
The Pirates haven’t made a selection during the MLB phase of the Rule 5 Draft since 2018 when they chose RHP Jordan Milbrath from the Indians. Milbrath was returned to Cleveland before the 2018 season began. The Bucs also acquired RHP Nick Burdi during that Rule 5 Draft through a trade from the Phillies, who chose Burdi from the Twins system.
One of the most facsinating Rule 5 Drafts during the Curve’s existence was in 2003. Hands down. Five of the first six selections were taken from the Pirates’ farm system. Chris Shelton was taken by the Tigers, San Diego took Rich Thompson, Frank Brooks went to the Mets, Milwaukee chose Jeff Bennett and Jose Bautista was picked by Baltimore. Shelton, Brooks and Bennett all played for the Curve in 2003 while Thompson and Bautista’s days with the Curve came in years to come.
Bautista is easily the most famous case by any Curve player. He was drafted by the Pirates in the 20th round in 2000 and played for Williamsport in 2001, Hickory in 2002 and Lynchburg in 2003. He was bound for Altoona in 2004. However, he bounced around the big leagues instead. He only appeared in 16 games for the O’s but showed some promise, going 3-for-11, and Tampa Bay claimed Bautista on waivers when the Orioles moved on from him on June 3. He played 12 games for Tampa before the Royals purchased his rights on June 28. He hit .200 with Kansas City and played in 13 games over his month with the club that led to a July 30 trade to the Mets and was flipped back to the Pirates on the same day. He closed that season with 23 more games in Pittsburgh and hit .200 to finish at .205 for the year. The Pirates sent the then-24-year-old to Altoona the following spring and he broke out for 23 homers and 90 RBIs while batting .283 and he was back in the Majors to stay in September.
While Bautista’s Rule 5 story is memorable, the great Roberto Clemente is the greatest Rule 5 draftee ever. Signed by the Dodgers in 1954, Pirates GM Branch Rickey raided his former team by making Clemente the first pick in the 1954 Rule 5 Draft. Clemente is the only Rule 5 selection in baseball’s Hall of Fame.
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