The Pirates waited until pretty late last night to announce all of the roster moves they made in advance of the Rule 5 Draft, but the news finally did get out. They started early in the day by claiming Brian Jeroloman and Jeremy Hefner off of waivers and outrighting Matt Pagnozzi to the minors. Jeroloman, from the Blue Jays system, doesn’t appear to hit much, but he’s got a crazy minor league walk rate (his minor league batting average is .245 and his minor league OBP is .378). I will just assume that the Pirates think highly of his defense because that’s usually the reason guys like these get claimed. Still, he’s 26, hasn’t played in the big leagues yet, and put up a .631 OPS (.295 SLG) in the hitter-friendly PCL in 2011. I’m a little puzzled by this pickup, to be honest. Hefner’s a bit tougher to judge; he put up some good strikeout rates in the low minors, including in the extremely hitter-friendly California League, but he’s struggled a bit in Double-A and Triple-A with those strikeout rates dropping some. In the article linked above, Neal Huntington calls him a victim of the PCL (that’s probably true to an extent; check out how his homer rate ballooned this year) and says that the Pirates’ scouts have liked Hefner for a while. It’s true that most of San Diego’s affiliates play in pretty extreme and dangerous environments for pitchers, so it’s possible that there’s more here than initially meets the eye. Still, I wouldn’t expect him to be more than rotation depth, though it seems like there’s a chance that he’ll be better rotation depth than guys like Brian Burres and Aaron Thompson.
In terms of the Rule 5 moves, most of the pre-deadline speculation was pretty accurate. The Pirates added Starling Marte, Rudy Owens, Justin Wilson, Jordy Mercer, Matt Hague, and Duke Welker to the roster. The only person I thought might be added that wasn’t was Brett Lorin, and while I think it’d be a shame to lose him, it’s likely a safe gamble that a guy that will be 25 before the season starts and hasn’t pitched above Advanced-A will slide through the draft. It’s true that the Pirates lost Nathan Adcock on a similar gamble last year, but he’s a bit younger than Lorin and that likely made him more attractive to the Royals.
To clear room for the six new players, the Pirates designated both Xavier Paul and Eric Fryer for assignment. Paul was certainly an expected move and the Pirates won’t miss him, but I was surprised to see Fryer DFA’d. I suspect it’s a calculated risk to let them keep both him and Jason Jaramillo (Jaramillo has six years minor league service, so I think if they DFA’d him and he cleared waivers he’d be able to opt for free agency, unless I’m mistaken) as they may still need Jaramillo early in the season to back up Rod Barajas and Fryer probably has a good chance of clearing waivers. Still, they could lose Fryer here. He’s got a strong defensive reputation and he’s shown the ability to hit here and there and the catching market this winter is obviously thin. Anyone that picked him up would be taking a bit of a flyer that he’s ready, but, I dunno, I think he’s an interesting player despite his age. It seems to me that after last year’s catching debacle the Pirates are trying to get as much depth as possible behind Barajas and if Fryer slips through waivers they’d have McKenry, Jaramillo, Jeroloman, and Fryer. I’m worried, though that this might be a case of trying to have their cake and eat it, too; Fryer’s the only one I’m even remotely interested in long-term as a Tony Sanchez Insurance Policy and Jeroloman seems like a waste of a roster spot. If Fryer gets through waivers, there’s no harm done and it was a good gamble by the front office. If they lose him, it’ll be hard to see it as anything other than a mistake.