With the winter meetings starting on Monday, I'm going to use a couple posts to preview what we can probably expect from the Pirates during the week in Indianapolis. Because the Rule 5 Draft is one place I'm almost certain the Pirates will be active, let's start there.
I've reviewed a lot of stuff about this draft, but as it pertains to the Pirates the two most helpful were definitely Vlad's dicussion of the prospects at Bucs Dugout and Tim's massive rundown on Buccofans. If you're looking for more names and more information on the draft, I'd certainly recommend you go there. My focus is a bit narrower, but the list of available players is huge and it's entirely possible I'm overlooking someone. Click after the jump for the rest of the preview.
Who will be removed: I'm almost positive the Pirates will make a pick in this year's Rule 5, so they'll need to remove someone from their 40-man roster to make room for the pick. They've got some leeway here; Luis Cruz was just put on waivers (but not yet DFA'd) so he's a candidate, Brian Bixler is a candidate, Argenis Diaz is probably someone that could be removed and slip through waivers, Jeff Sues wasn't that impressive in his first full year on the 40-man, and Anthony Claggett is expendable. It looks, at this point, like it's going to be Cruz that's off the roster, which makes sense since Ronny Cedeno, Bixler, and Diaz is probably enough no-hit middle infielers for one club.
Non-pitchers: I think it's pretty unlikely the Pirates will select a position player in this draft. I don't really see anywhere on the roster to hide a backup infielder or outfielder unless we drop someone like Brandon Moss or Steve Pearce (which I guess isn't impossible), and if there's a Dan Uggla out there just waiting to be plugged in to Ronny Cedeno's position I just don't see him. The one name that stands out is Danny Dorn. He's a 1B/OF type that destroyed Double-A in his first go-round there in 2008, though he was 23, and struggled with Louisville in the International League last year. He could probably be an acceptable bench bat or maybe even a platoon player at the big league level right now. His minor league platoon split is enormous, he kills righties to a .948 tune and only hits .666 against lefties. The problem is that as a lefty first baseman/corner outfielder he's pretty much in the same mold as Jeff Clement and Garrett Jones, two guys that are more highly regarded than he is.
Pitchers: I could be misremembering past years, but I see a lot of available pitching talent in this year's Rule 5, and I can't figure out how some of these guys weren't protected. The Rays left Aneury Rodriguez, who they acquired from Colorado in the Jason Hammel trade, unprotected after a solid Double-A debut in 2009. He's 6'3"/180 and the age of 21 he struck out seven batters per nine innings with a K/BB ratio of almost 2:1 in Montgomery. According to this scouting report, he's got a good fastball that sits in the low 90s that he can control, a pretty good curveball, and a "fringey" change. He does have a bit of a home run problem, which is scary for a guy that would be jumping from Double-A to Pittsburgh, but I think he's probably more ready to make that jump than either Evan Meek or Donnie Veal because he actually has command of his pitches. He's not immediately ready to pitch in high leverage situations, but he could fill the Jeff Karstens role off the bat and maybe even grow in to something better as the season goes along. As young Rule 5 guys go, it'd be great to have one that you could give at least somewhat work to,
There's also Yohan Pino, who the Indians acquired from the Twins in the Carl Pavano trade towards the end of the summer. Pino made two excellent starts with Columbus, then wasn't protected. He's a bit older (he'll be 26 the day after Christmas) and he's not a hard thrower, but he's got a very good strikeout rate (because of what's described as a "great curveball and slider") and excellent control. There were some concerns about a foot injury in 2008, but he proved pretty clearly in 2009 that he's past that. Most of the Twins sites I found mentioned him as a future reliever, but it seems to me that he could probably be a solid back-end starter right away in 2010. If he were placed in the bullpen, I don't think he'd miss a beat. Whoever picks him won't have to hide him in the 'pen.
If the Pirates are interested in making a Veal-like selection, the Braves left Cole Rohrbough unprotected. He entered 2009 as one of their best pitching prospects, but he struggled in advanced-A. He's talented as hell, but he's a looooong way from being ready for the Majors and picking him would hurt his development, give us some painful outings to watch, and necessitate some creative DL usage. That's likely why the Braves left him unprotected. In any other year he might be worth the risk, but with other young (and more mature) talent available this year I can't see the Pirates taking a big risk like this. (As Tim points out in the comments, Rohrbough is one of the last draft and follows from 2006, and thus not yet eligible)
In the "once interested, always interested" category, Chuck Lofgren of the Indians' sytem is avaible again. A lot of people (myself included) thought that Lofgren would be the Pirates' pick in last year's Rule 5 because of Huntington's Cleveland connections. That didn't happen and Lofgren hasn't gotten any better, so I doubt he's an option this year. One guy that might come up is George Kontos, who's better known as "one of the guys we all thought would be a Pirate after the Xavier Nady trade, but then he wasn't." Charlie has recently posted on him; he was looking
Prediction: Picking second, the Pirates will at least have a shot at either Rodriguez or Pino, and they should take whichever one the Nats don't take, assuming that the Nats will snag one. Pino will likely be the better picher in 2010, but Rodriguez is younger and more valuable in the long run. If Rodriguez is gone, it's possible the Pirates will pick Kontos instead of Pino because they're more familiar with him and he's a little bit younger, but I really think that any of those three would be pretty solid picks.