By Jason Shetler
Major League Baseball is having their Winter Meetings the first week of December in National Harbor, Maryland. The most notable thing to take place will be the annual Rule 5 Draft, which consists of players with a certain amount of service time in the minors to be available for other clubs to choose, if they’re not on the 40-man roster. Here are some minor league players the Pirates could risk losing, should they be left unprotected.
Barrett Barnes: After losing Ryan Doumit to free agency following the 2011 season, the Pirates received a first round compensation pick for the 2012 MLB Draft and selected outfielder Barrett Barnes. In 124 games this past season with the Altoona Curve, Barnes had a career year, hitting .306 and posting an .853 OPS. Because of the amount of outfielders already on the Pirates 40-man roster, Barnes could be available in the draft.
Clay Holmes: In the 2011 MLB Draft, the Pirates chose Clay Holmes as a ninth round selection. The 23-year-old right-hander was beginning to emerge as one of the better pitching prospects in the system before Tommy John surgery wiped away his 2014 season. Holmes made 26 starts this year for Altoona where he posted a 4.22 ERA and a 1.48 WHIP. Although the numbers weren’t great for him, he does have good upside, which includes terrific movement on his fastball. Because the Pirates will need plenty of starting pitching depth, there’s a good chance he’ll be added to the roster and protected.
Eric Wood: With their sixth round pick in 2012, the Pirates went with Eric Wood. The native of Ontario, Canada had his best season in 2016, as he put up an OPS of .782 and hit a career high 16 home runs. Wood has also been doing some damage in the Arizona Fall League, posting a 1.033 OPS. Based on the success Wood had this year, as well as scouts being on hand in the AFL to watch him, several teams could show interest, so it’s likely the Pirates find a way to place him on the 40-man.
Jared Lakind: Jared Lakind has certainly had an interesting minor league career. Drafted originally as a first baseman by the Pirates in 2010, Lakind made the conversion to pitcher entering the 2013 season. The 24-year-old left-hander was solid this year in the Altoona bullpen, as he posted a 2.59 ERA with a 1.18 WHIP and a batting average against of .216 in 47 appearances. When it comes to the Rule 5 Draft, relief pitchers are generally easier to hide on a roster, and with Lakind specifically, a team could be able to ultilize him mainly as a lefty specialist.
Jin-De Jhang: During the Neal Huntington Era, the Pirates have been much more aggressive in signing players from various countries. One of these players was Jin-De Jhang, who was signed by the Pirates out of Taiwan in 2011. The 23-year-old backstop spent most of 2016 with Altoona where he batted .298 along with a .721 OPS in 54 games. Behind the plate, he threw out runners at a 31% clip. Jhang also played six games for the Indianapolis Indians. He does have the potential to be an above average offensive catcher, but the question is whether his defensive abilities can hold up due to his size. Perhaps another club could select him to be their backup catcher for just the league minimum.