Finding a good Major League ballplayer in the Rule 5 Draft is a hard task on its own. But the Pittsburgh Pirates might just end up getting two decent players from their last Rule 5 Draft class.
Finding a productive player in the Rule 5 Draft is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. It's a complete coin toss most of the time. Most of the time, one, maybe two players become good Major League ballplayers by the teams who pick them. But one team finding two players who go on to become productive big leaguers? That's almost unheard of from the Rule 5 Draft. However, the Pittsburgh Pirates might perform this rare feat this year.
The big pick from the most recent Rule 5 Draft for the Pittbsurgh Pirates was Jose Hernandez from the Los Angeles Dodgers. He might just end up as the most productive player from the Rule 5 Draft, and if there was any player who could potentially surpass him in value, it's first baseman Ryan Noda who was also plucked from LAD. So far, Hernandez looks like he could eventually develop into a high-leverage reliever.
In 24.1 frames, Hernandez has worked to an outstanding 2.22 ERA, 3.07 FIP, and 0.95 WHIP. Hernandez has struck out exactly a quarter of the batters he's faced, but the big number here is his 4.2% walk rate. He's tied with Alex Young of the Cincinnati Reds and Brock Burke of the Texas Rangers for the second lowest walk rate by a left-handed reliever. His 5.8 K:BB ratio is also the third-best among all LHP bullpen arms. He also has a solid 0.74 HR/9 rate. While Hernandez has a below-average 89.4 MPH exit velocity, he is above average in hard-hit rate at 35.4% (72nd percentile) and well above average in barrel rate at 4.6% (83rd percentile).
Hernandez owns one of the best sliders in baseball, and it's been one of the reasons he's been so successful this year. Batters have not been able to touch Hernandez's spiraling slider. In 40 plate appearances, batters have a laughable .050 batting average, .075 slugging percentage, and .054 wOBA. On a pitch-by-pitch basis, Hernandez's slider is the second most valuable of its kind in baseball at -5.3 RV/100. You're talking about surpassing guys with notoriously harsh sliders like Josh Hader, Camilo Doval, Max Scherzer, and Logan Gilbert. Even though he's a reliever who has only faced 40 batters with his slider, he still has the 5th highest run value at -5.
Hernandez has been great this year, and most underlying metrics point to a bright future for the young Southpaw. He has a 2.89 xERA, along with a quality 3.57 xFIP and 3.23 SIERA. Hernandez doesn't induce that many ground balls with a 38.5% ground ball rate. However, his strong ability to prevent quality contact has paired well with his ability to get strikeouts at an above-average rate.
Hernandez has been great, and he was selected in the major league phase of the draft. What you typically don't hear of is players from the minor league phase eventually going on to becoming decent players. But the Pirates may have just done that, pulling off a heist by getting outfielder Josh Palacios in the minor league phase from the Washington Nationals.
Unlike Hernandez, Palacios has played in the big leagues before. He had 91 plate appearances with the Washington Nationals and Toronto Blue Jays in 2021-2022, managing a meager 41 wRC+ before the Bucs picked him up. He's also played far less than Hernandez, being promoted to the Major League club on May 9th, but he's done far more than what most minor league phase Rule 5 draftees do.
He's collected a total of eight hits (14 total bases), along with three walks and just four strikeouts. Of his eight hits, he has a double, triple, and a clutch long ball. He's ripped the cover off the baseball in this short time with a 91.2 MPH exit velocity. His defense hasn't been terrible either, as he's already saved one defensive run and has produced one out above average.
Now I'm not saying that Palacios is the next Mike Trout, but that doesn't mean he couldn't eventually become a solid fourth outfielder, which in and of itself is a lot more than what most Rule 5 draft picks become, and was generally considered a sound defensive outfielder as a prospect. Keep in mind Palacios had a wRC+ above 200 at Triple-A Indianapolis before the Pirates promoted him to the big leagues. Last season, he batted .294/.379/.439 with a 121 wRC+, 10.2% walk rate, and 16.1% strikeout rate for the Nats' Triple-A affiliate, and overall is a .305/.391/.462 batter with 13 long balls in 463 plate appearances at the highest level of the minor leagues.
The Pirate's last Rule 5 Draft class could end up being historically good. Finding one good player is hard enough, and they could end up with two solid players. Only time will tell, but as of right now, the Bucs look like they've found some diamonds in the rough for what was essentially a nothing cost.