For me the Rule 5 Draft is such an unpredictable process, that rarely produces anything beyond a roster filler or depth piece for the upcoming year, so I almost avoided writing a prediction piece as to who the Pirates will pick entirely; after all, I already wrote a breakdown of how I thought it would ultimately go. However, I saw all the cool kids were doing it, which made me think I should put in my two cents as well.
Although, I am still cautioning fans from being too optimistic because as Dejan Kovacevic said on the DK Sports Radio daily Pirates podcast the other day, the last time Pittsburgh had a successful pick in the Rule 5 Draft was in 2007 when they selected Evan Meek and to please stop saying they should pick a catcher in the Major League Portion. The purpose of the Rule 5 Draft is not to build up your farm system, which is General Manager Ben Cherington’s stated goal. If anything they could sign someone like recently non-tendered catcher Curt Casali from the Cincinnati Reds and be much better off.
Once the actual function of the Rule 5 Draft is understood and expectations have been tempered, it is easy to see that the most likely outcome is an additional arm for the Pirates Pitching Staff; and one that can contribute immediately. When Jason Mackey spoke with Cherington the other day he talked about compiling pitching prospects in order to have depth at the position, so instead of relying on only the 13 arms on the 26-man roster, they can expand that number to around 18. An MLB ready pitcher is what you should expect and I believe it is exactly what they will pick. To me there are three options in this arena, who have some upside with not a lot of risk involved.
The 6’4” 230 pound right hander has progressed through the Toronto Blue Jays system since he was drafted in the 3rd Round (102 overall) in 2016 out of the University of Arkansas, spending his last season at AAA-Buffalo during the 2019 season. A full-time reliever since joining the Jays and for the majority of his college career, Jackson has earned a 3.07 ERA and accumulated 234 Ks in 199.2 innings of work in the minors. Control has been an issue at times, however, he cut his BB/9 almost three full batters between AA and AAA. With an average to above average fastball (50/55 grade) and a plus slider (55/60 grade), Jackson has the ability to provide deep in the bullpen for 2021.
After becoming the all-time save leader for the Chico State (Division II) Wildcats, he was passed over in the draft. For many this would signal the end of their big league dreams, however, Barker saw this as opportunity; taking the time to further hone his craft with the Traverse City Beach Bums of the independent Frontier League. The Milwaukee Brewers would eventually come calling before the 2017 season and from then on things were looking up. Over the last three seasons across four levels Barker has seen his WHIP shrink from 1.364 at its highest in High A to .667 in the hitter friendly PCL, while his K/9 leveled off around 10 and he has never allowed more than .82 HR/9 back in 2017. Aggressively attacking batters with a mix of a four seamer, a splitter and a curve, he was surprisingly was not added to the Brewers 40-man to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft; especially since he was so close to the majors, had performed well at AAA and because they eventually traded reliever Corey Knebel to the Dodgers.
Sanders was drafted in the 10th Round of the 2017 MLB June Amateur Draft from the University of South Florida by way of Daytona State College. Prior to being selected by the Rays he had also been named as the Top Player in the Northwood’s Collegiate League after his freshman year. Since joining Tampa’s system he has improved at almost every level; ending 2019 with a 1.92 ERA, 1.148 WHIP and 68 Ks in 61 innings between AA-Montgomery and AAA-Durham. Sanders has a repertoire of four pitches including a fastball, curve, slider and change; the later three being his strongest swing and miss pitches.
Now I know that none of these guys are flashy and most of you have probably never heard of any of them, but they are all more than capable of providing depth in the Pirates Bullpen; plus they all deserve a shot, so why not in Pittsburgh?