Likely new additions to the 40-man roster
If Ji-Hwan Bae isn’t added by the end of this season, he surely will be by the time rosters must be finalized in preparation for the Rule 5 Draft. Bae is having a solid season at Triple-A Indianapolis, slashing .297/.364/.450 with a .361 wOBA and 118 wRC+. Bae’s .153 isolated slugging percentage is a career-best and has been trending upward since 2019.
Bae’s 17.6% strikeout rate is another career low, while his 9.5% walk rate is above average. Bae has mostly played the middle infield but has spent a handful of games in center field and left field for Indy, giving the Pittsburgh Pirates another highly versatile prospect and making room for the multiple other middle infield prospects already in the system.
Newly acquired slugger Malcom Nuñez also has a good chance of acquiring a 40-man roster spot. Acquired as one of the two players in the José Quintana trade, Nuñez was batting .255/.360/.463 with the Cardinal Double-A affiliate. Nuñez’s 13.7% walk rate is a career-best, along with his .208 isolated slugging percentage. Nuñez has run into some bad luck, indicated by his .278 batting average on balls in play (league average is .300 and his career average is .337). Still, he has plus power potential and excellent plate discipline and could be an option at first base and designated hitter for the Pirates sometime next season.
Mike Burrows is arguably the organization’s best pitching prospect. He’s ascended prospect rankings over the past year after significantly improving his change-up, giving him a quality three-pitch arsenal. Burrows got off to a great start to the year with Altoona, posting a 2.94 ERA, 2.73 FIP, and 1.10 WHIP. He struggled with Triple-A Indy, but a .330 BAbip hasn’t done him any favors, and despite having a 5.34 ERA, his FIP comes in at 3.70. His K% is down, and his HR/9 is up from Double-A, but his walk rate has decreased by 3.5%.
Endy Rodriguez is another guy who will surely get a 40-man roster spot to himself. After performing extremely well with A-Ball Bradenton in 2021, Rodriguez has only improved, slashing .302/.392/.544 line, .412 wOBA, and 148 wRC+. Rodriguez has a wRC+ well over 200 since mid-June (213, 113% better than league average) with more walks than strikeouts (25:22 ratio) and ten homers. He hit ten home runs in this 39 game/164 plate appearance stretch and hit 15 all of last season in 98 games/434 plate appearances.
Tahnaj Thomas may be up for heavy consideration. The right-hander has made a name for himself out of the Altoona bullpen. In his last 24.1 innings, Thomas has carved out a 1.85 ERA, 2.27 FIP, and 1.07 WHIP. He’s struck out 28.9% of batters faced since June with a strong 5.2% walk rate. Thomas likely would have been selected last year if there was a draft. He’s the proto-typical Rule 5 selection, being mostly raw talent and ability rather than on-paper performance. Now that he’s started to refine that talent and athleticism, he’d only be a more attractive option.
There are some outfielders I could see the Pittsburgh Pirates protecting in advance of the Rule 5 draft. One is Matt Fraizer. Frazier is heavily struggling this season with a .224/.290/.358 slash line, .288 wOBA, and 75 wRC+. But he was one of the Pirates’ best minor league hitters in 2021 and is still considered one of their better outfield prospects.
Connor Scott is another outfield prospect who is struggling at Double-A, turning in a .245/.315/.379 slash, .310 wOBA, and 89 wRC+. Although Fraizer is doing worse than Scott, I see them protecting Fraizer first. With so many other outfielders on the 40-man roster, the Pirates might only consider Fraizer or Scott if they have the room.
Some younger players will definitely be on the radar. Dariel Lopez has turned on the jets over the past month and a half, so he’ll surely be a prospect under consideration. Catcher/first baseman Abrahan Gutierrez has put up solid numbers with High-A Greensboro and will likely be at least on the table. Both are at Greensboro, so there’s a possibility, although both are still young enough that they may get passed over.
Surging Altoona infielders Aaron Shackelford and Andres Alvarez will likely be considered for Rule 5 protection but will take a back seat to both Bae and Nuñez in terms of priority. Likewise, Cody Bolton and J.C. Flowers may also be considered but will have to wait and see what happens to Burrows. Jared Triolo and Matt Gorksi will both be interesting cases as well. I think Gorksi may even take priority over Fraizer and Scott, given his season. Triolo may earn a 40-man roster spot before the end of this season.