Bucs face Rule 5 decisions ahead of deadline

Pittsburgh has done most of heavy lifting, but a few choices remain regarding which prospects to protect

Bucs face Rule 5 decisions ahead of deadline

PITTSBURGH -- Around this time last year, the Pirates added a handful of top prospects to their 40-man roster to protect them from the annual Rule 5 Draft, bringing aboard Tyler Glasnow, Josh Bell and outfielder Harold Ramirez along with Minor League Player of the Year Max Moroff.

Pittsburgh already did most of the heavy lifting on that front this year, but it still faces a few decisions leading up to Friday's deadline to protect prospects. The Rule 5 Draft will be held on Dec. 8, the final day of the Winter Meetings in National Harbor, Md.

All players on a club's 40-man roster are protected from the Rule 5 Draft, while those eligible include anyone else who signed in 2012 at age 18 or younger or in '13 at 19 or older. The Pirates have 70 eligible players in their organization, but only a small percentage of those prospects are likely to be selected, as they must then spend the entirety of next season on the Major League 25-man roster.

The Bucs have 39 players on their 40-man roster, so they can select one prospect without having to remove anyone. But they may want to clear a few more spots before Friday's deadline, as they're looking to add at the Major League level -- specifically a starting pitcher -- and also could use this week to claim players they've targeted as other clubs bump them off their 40-man rosters.

Both options require more roster flexibility than the Pirates currently have, which means some rostered players may be dropped before Friday.

What's been done
Four prospects who would have been eligible for the Rule 5 Draft wound up in the big leagues this year: Adam Frazier, Chad Kuhl, Steven Brault and Trevor Williams. The Bucs also promoted two potential 2017 contributors who would have been eligible for Minor League free agency: reliever Dovydas Neverauskas and first baseman/outfielder Jose Osuna.

The Pirates shipped away two more Rule 5-eligible players in the Ivan Nova trade, dealing prospects Stephen Tarpley and Tito Polo to the Yankees as players to be named later.

Those eight moves significantly decreased the number of decisions Pittsburgh must make this week.

Top prospects
Right-hander Clay Holmes, Pittsburgh's No. 11 prospect per MLBPipeline.com, made a full return from Tommy John surgery and posted a 4.22 ERA in 26 starts for Double-A Altoona. It's hard to imagine a club keeping him in the big leagues all year, even as a reliever, so the Pirates may be safe to leave him unprotected one more time.

The more complex case is outfielder Barrett Barnes, their No. 26 prospect. The 25-year-old put together a strong season in Altoona, batting .306/.377/.477 in 124 games, and he can play all three outfield positions. That might make him at least a useful fourth outfielder, and the Bucs are low on high-level outfield depth after trading Ramirez to Toronto. He seems more likely to be protected.

Fall stars
Third baseman Eric Wood is tearing up the Arizona Fall League, and the Pirates aren't rich in high-level third-base depth beyond Jung Ho Kang and David Freese. In his second season with Altoona, the 23-year-old Wood hit .249/.339/.443 over 118 games. He'll be a more interesting call than catcher Jin-De Jhang, who's also hitting well in the AFL but not yet likely to stick in the Majors.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.