Players Who Would Make A Case
In total, that’s 13 players that are pretty safe from being picked in an expansion draft. The Pirates can’t protect every single player they have, so who are some players who could make a case to be the last man to get protected in the event of an expansion draft?
Catcher Jason Delay may end up getting some consideration by the team. Delay currently has a 154 wRC+ at the time of writing this. The sustainability of that is questionable at best, and impossible at worst, but he’s improved his K% to 15.8% and is considered a good defensive catcher. So far in 572.2 major league innings, Delay has +2 defensive runs saved and +6.0 framing runs.
Colin Holderman would be one reliever to at least consider. Holderman was also a 2022 trade deadline acquisition. So far this year, he has a 3.00 ERA, 2.71 FIP, and 1.27 WHIP in 15 innings of work. He’s struck out 27% of opponents with a 6.3% walk rate, and 0.6 HR/9. Outside of one blow-up outing against the LA Dodgers, he’s been a lights-out set-up man for the Pirates.
Rule 5 pick Jose Hernandez may also be considered. The southpaw has shown some decent talent this year, flashing a mid-90s fastball and wipeout slider. He’s still a young and raw talent though, and he has run into some of his struggles this year. Still, really talented left-handed pitchers aren’t just hanging around for free all the time.
JT Brubaker and Dauri Moreta are two more pitchers who would definitely receive some consideration. Brubaker made some major strides in 2022, but then underwent Tommy John surgery before the 2023 season started. Moreta was acquired this past off-season and has shown talent, though he may end up being left off if things come to push-and-shove.
There are some prospects who have made their debut that could also make a running for the last roster spot. One is Liover Peguero. Although Peguero has had a down season in 2022, he’s still a high-ceiling prospect. It would be hard to let him go for nothing. Outfielders Cal Mitchell, Travis Swaggerty, and Canaan Smith-Njigba could all be a consideration for one of the final roster spots. Cody Bolton may also be under consideration.
In the event of an expansion draft, the Pirates would likely make a trade involving some of these prospects. While they may not be the cream of the crop when it comes to prospects in the league, it would be hard for the Pirates to lose any of these guys for nothing. I’m sure that if there was any expansion draft, you’d see a handful of teams selling low on some prospects just so they didn’t lose them for nothing.
Notable Players Who Would Likely Be Left Off
Now comes to the point where we have to make some hard decisions and see who would more than likely be left off the protected roster, or at least wouldn’t be under consideration. The list isn’t nearly as long as players who would not be considered altogether, but there are some notable ones.
Injured pitchers Wil Crowe and Max Kranick likely are far down the list of priority. Even if they were selected in an expansion draft, the Pirates aren’t going to sweat the loss of either. Same thing with Duane Underwood Jr., Yoahn Ramirez, or Yerry de Los Santos. Sure, losing them isn’t fun, but the Pirates aren’t going to be losing sleep if or when they would be selected.
Other depth guys like Mark Mathias, Josh Palacios, Chris Owings, Eli Villalobos, or Miguel Andujar certainly aren’t going to be players the Pirates would worry about losing, assuming they would still be in the organization by the time this mock hypothetical expansion draft would take place. Not only would they likely not be included in any consideration to be protected, but the likelihood of them getting selected at all would be extremely low.