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PITTSBURGH – Ben Cherington made his first official roster moves as Pirates general manager on Wednesday, adding five prospects to Pittsburgh’s 40-man roster to protect them from the upcoming Rule 5 Draft.
Facing Wednesday night’s deadline to set their roster, the Pirates selected the contracts of third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes, shortstop Oneil Cruz, first baseman Will Craig and right-handers Blake Cederlind and Cody Ponce.
• Pirates Top 30 Prospects
To make room for those additions, the Bucs designated four pitchers for assignment: Dario Agrazal, Montana DuRapau, Luis Escobar and Williams Jerez. Pittsburgh ended the day with a full 40-man roster as Cherington’s real work begins.
The annual Rule 5 Draft will take place at the Winter Meetings in San Diego on Dec. 12.
What makes a prospect eligible for the Rule 5 Draft? Players signed at age 18 must be added to the 40-man roster within five seasons or they become eligible if left unprotected. Players signed at 19 or older must be protected within four seasons. This year, that generally meant international signings or high school Draft picks in 2015 had to be protected along with college players taken in the ’16 MLB Draft.
There was no doubt the Pirates would add Hayes and Cruz, two of their top three prospects. Craig, Cederlind and Ponce were also at risk of being selected if left unprotected.
Hayes, the 32nd overall pick in the 2015 MLB Draft, is the Pirates’ No. 2 prospect and the No. 36 overall prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. The slick-fielding third baseman is coming off an uninspiring offensive season for Triple-A Indianapolis. After a solid showing in Double-A Altoona, Hayes hit .265/.336/.415 with 10 homers and 53 RBIs in 110 games for Indianapolis this year. The 22-year-old could be ready for the Majors soon, but Pittsburgh might prefer to have him prove himself offensively back in Triple-A to start the year.
Pirates’ Top 5 prospects
Nov 21st, 2019 · 1:00
Pirates’ Top 5 prospects
Cruz, acquired from the Dodgers as part of the Tony Watson trade in 2017, is the Bucs’ No. 3 prospect and ranked 57th overall, according to MLB Pipeline. The 21-year-old is a fascinating prospect, from his size (6-foot-7) to his defensive future (currently a shortstop, though most evaluators expect that to change in time) and the tantalizing tools that allowed him to hit .298/.356/.475 with eight homers and 11 steals in 73 games this past season. Cruz began the year in Class A Advanced Bradenton and finished with Altoona, where he’ll likely return to start next year.
Craig, the Pirates’ first-round pick in 2016, is now only a call away from the Majors. The Pirates’ No. 10 prospect has shown more home run power while playing improved defense over the last two years, but he still has questions to answer about his overall offensive profile. This year, the 25-year-old slugged 23 homers and drove in 78 runs in Triple-A but hit just .249 with a .326 on-base percentage and 146 strikeouts in 556 plate appearances.
Cederlind, a fifth-round pick in the 2016 MLB Draft, climbed from Class A Advanced Bradenton to Triple-A Indianapolis this year. The hard-throwing reliever was particularly dominant in Double-A, posting a 1.77 ERA and 1.03 WHIP with 42 strikeouts in 45 2/3 innings over 31 appearances. The 23-year-old could make his Major League debut at some point next season.
The Pirates acquired Ponce, 25, from the Brewers in exchange for starter Jordan Lyles before this year’s Trade Deadline. The right-hander moved to the bullpen in 2018 but spent some time as a starter after joining Pittsburgh. Ponce finished the year in Triple-A, then put together an encouraging stint in the prospect-laden Arizona Fall League, posting a 2.35 ERA with 27 strikeouts and only three walks in 23 innings over five starts.
Only one eligible prospect on the Pirates’ Top 30 list was left unprotected: outfielder Lolo Sanchez. Despite his upside, Pittsburgh’s No. 15 prospect is unlikely to be selected in the Rule 5 Draft after finishing this past season in Bradenton.
Escobar, who was designated for assignment, was the Pirates’ 14th-ranked prospect, but his stock fell with a move to the bullpen and consistently high walk rates. Agrazal made 14 starts for the Pirates this year but struggled after an encouraging start, ending the season with a 4.91 ERA and only 41 strikeouts in 73 1/3 innings. DuRapau, a 32nd-round Draft pick in 2014, reached the Majors in May but wasn’t recalled when rosters expanded in September.
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.