Pittsburgh Pirates: Tahnaj Thomas And The Rule 5 Draft, What To Do

Photo Credit: MiLB.com

 Who would have thought that there is a downside to the amount of talent that the Pittsburgh Pirates added to their minor league system? While it is a huge step forward that Ben Cherington has been able to build the depth within the organization that he has in such a short time, it has come with a downside.

Teams have till November 19th to protect Rule 5 draft eligible players by adding them to their 40 man roster. With such an influx of talent into the system, there are plenty of hard decisions that are going to have to be made about who to protect, and who to leave open.

It may come down to the final minute, but it is something that comes with the territory for Cherington and company. 

While some decisions will be easier than others, some of the choices will have to come with a strategic thought process. Players selected in the Rule 5 must remain on the major league roster for the entire 2022 season or be offered back to their original team.

So teams competing for a championship may be less likely on dedicating a roster spot to a player that in any other situation would be playing in the minors. Even non-contending teams will have to deal with that roster spot tied up on a player that isn't major league ready.

The 2020 Rule 5 draft showed that pitchers are the ideal candidates to be selected, being able to stash them away at the end of the bullpen to use in the lowest of leverage situations. Of the 16 players selected, 13 were pitchers.

Of the position players selected, one was returned to their team before the season started, another was traded (Ka'ai Tom) before being released by the end of the season, and the other being a success story in Akil Baddoo (113 OPS+, 13 HR in 461 PA).

When looking at the Pirates, and the players eligible for the Rule 5, a few names stick out as potential candidates to get drafted. This is where Cherington and company need to get creative, and a name that's out there that falls into that category is right-handed pitcher Tahnaj Thomas

While 2021 wasn't the ideal season for the 22-year-old native of the Bahamas, the talent still remains and with the right adjustments, he could be hidden in the bullpen for an entire season before being sent back down to the minors.

Thomas has one of the most electric fastballs in the minors, at times hitting triple digits and setting in the upper 90s. Being new to the position (switched from shortstop), he has struggled with his control, positing an 5.19 BB/9 and throwing only 58% of his pitches for strikes.

The Pirates even shut him down for nearly a month to work on his pitching mechanics, to still mixed reviews.

Overall, Thomas finished the 2021 season with a 3-3 record in 16 starts, striking 62 batters and walking 35 in 60 2/3 innings pitched. 

So, with the 2020 Rule 5 being one of the busiest in recent history, is there anything that can be taken from it? Where does Thomas stack up compared to some of the other players who were taken last year?

First up, here's a look at some of the notable names drafted, and how they performed during the 2019 minor league season, which would have been the last year they pitched.

Player

Level

Record

Games/Starts

Innings

ERA

BB/9

K/9

Thomas

A+

3-3

16/16

60 2/3

5.19

5.19

9.19

Jose Soriano

Low-A, Rookie

5-7

20/18

82 1/3

2.51

5.57

10.05

Luis Oviedo

Low-A

6-6

19/19

87

5.38

4.13

7.44

Brett de Geus

Low-A, A+

6-2

39/0

61 2/3

1.75

1.89

10.50

Garrett Whitlock

AA

3-3

14/14

70 1/3

3.07

2.30

7.29

Zach Pop

Low-A, A+, AA

2-3

44/0

64 2/3

1.53

2.64

8.90

Jordan Sheffield

A+, AA

4-5

49/2

55

3.27

7.03

12.10

Will Vest

A+, AA, AAA

3-5

37/0

55

3.27

2.94

9.49

As you can see, some of Thomas' basic counting numbers line up really well to some of the players that were drafted and remained with their new team in 2021. While they played at varying levels of the minors, one thing remains constant, they show great stuff but struggles with control.

They were selected by new organizations, received adjustments and some actually became more than just deep bullpen arms. Garrett Whitlock made nearly 50 appearances for the Boston Red Sox, a team that made the ALCS in 2021. 

He also struck out 81 batters in his 73 1/3 innings while posting an 1.96 ERA in that time.

Player

Record

G/GS

IP

ERA

FIP

BB/9

K/9

Oviedo

1-2

22/1

29 2/3

8.80

5.66

7.88

9.40

de Geus

3-2

47/0

50

7.56

5.07

4.5

7.38

Whitlock

8-4

46/0

73 1/3

1.96

2.84

2.08

9.94

Pop

1-0

50/0

54 2/3

4.12

3.77

3.95

8.39

Sheffield

0-0

30/0

29 1/3

3.38

4.23

3.98

6.13

Vest

1-0

32/0

35

6.17

4.17

4.62

6.94

While Jose Soriano didn't make it out his rehab assignment before getting injured again (he will miss the 2022 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery and was removed from the Pirates 40-man roster earlier), the rest pitched in the majors to a different level of success.

While others pitched fairly well in 2021, Oviedo's control problems continued and he finished with an 8.80 ERA while walking 26 batters in 29 2/3 innings.

So will the Pirates add Thomas to the 40-man roster? Based off how the Rule 5 draft works he would be a prime candidate to be selected. Unfortunately for the Pirates, they can't look at who they will protect on a case by case basis, but will have to look at things in a much bigger picture.

They still have a team to build for 2022 and whoever is on the 40-man could potentially be called to action. You don't want to lose a player you have hope for, but also you don't really want a roster spot tied up on a player you don't want to be playing in the majors if an injury comes around.

As said before, team's have till November 19 to make their final decisions. With so many choices to be made, it wouldn't be surprising for the Pirates to take every second possible to make their final decision.

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