Bucs finalize roster as Rule 5 Draft looms

Bucs finalize roster as Rule 5 Draft looms

Bucs finalize roster as Rule 5 Draft looms
PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates added six Minor Leaguers to their 40-man roster on Friday in order to protect them from being exposed in the upcoming Rule 5 Draft. Those additions included outfielder Starling Marte, infielders Jordy Mercer and Matt Hague and pitchers Rudy Owens, Justin Wilson and Duke Welker.

In order to clear enough spots on the roster, the Pirates designated outfielder Xavier Paul and catcher Eric Fryer for assignment.

The Pirates' 40-man roster is now full. The club, which has the eighth selection in the Dec. 8 Rule 5 Draft, will likely look over the list of available players before deciding if it wants to open a spot in order to make a selection.

One of the Pirates' top position player prospects, Marte led the Eastern League with a .332 batting average for Double-A Altoona. He scored 91 runs, drove home 50 and swiped 24 bases. Marte, who was recently named to the Double-A All-Star Team, is expected to begin 2012 in Triple-A.

While the 23-year-old still needs to improve his plate discipline, he does have a chance to be in Pittsburgh before the end of next season.

Hague had one of the best seasons of any position player in the Pirates' system this year and could be considered as an option for a 2012 bench spot in Pittsburgh, depending on what the Pirates do the rest of the winter.

The first baseman led the International League with 162 hits in 139 games. He ranked third in the league in doubles (37) and total bases (240). Hague has methodically made his way up the Pirates' system since being drafted in 2007 and has hit at every level.

The Pirates lack middle-infield depth, which makes Mercer particularly valuable. He hit .255 with 69 RBIs in 132 games last season. The first 72 games came in Double-A, before Mercer's midseason promotion.

Mercer is one of the better defensive middle infielders in the system, and he, too, could be ready to join the Pirates sometime in 2012.

Owens and Wilson both began 2011 in Triple-A Indianapolis' rotation with the hope that they might be considered for a second-half callup. Neither was, though both could pitch their way into the Pirates' 2012 plans.

After being named the organization's Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2009 and '10, Owens struggled to find consistency in his first season at Triple-A. He finished 9-7 with a 5.05 ERA in 21 starts. A shoulder injury shut the left-hander down for good in August.

Wilson went from starter to reliever, finishing out the year by pitching out of the back end of the 'pen. If he remains in a relief role, Wilson will probably have a chance to make it to Pittsburgh quicker.

The 24-year-old left-hander posted a 3.21 ERA in nine relief appearances after going 8-7 with a 4.24 ERA in 21 Triple-A starts. Wilson's velocity also increased when he was used out of the bullpen.

Welker started the year in high-Class A Bradenton, where he had a 2.25 ERA in 36 relief appearances. The former second-round Draft pick moved to Double-A in mid-August and finished with eight appearances at that level.

Welker, 25, allowed six earned runs on 11 hits in 10 Double-A innings. This marked the second straight year that Welker has pitched exclusively in relief.

The Pirates have another 40 Minor League players who are now Rule 5 eligible because they were not protected. Included in that group are right-hander Aaron Pribanic, right-hander Michael Colla, outfielder Andrew Lambo, right-hander Michael Crotta and right-hander Diego Moreno.

A player becomes eligible for this December Draft after being in an organization for four or five years, depending on the age the player was when he signed.

As for Fryer, the Pirates now have 10 days to trade, release or outright him to the Minors. If the Pirates outright Fryer to Triple-A, he does not have the option of electing for Minor League free agency. Fryer appeared in 10 games with the Pirates in 2011.

Paul, on the other hand, does have that option. If he is not picked up on waivers, the outfielder will become a free agent. General manager Neal Huntington spoke to Paul on Friday and let him know the organization would welcome him back.

Paul appeared in 121 games for the Pirates last year, mostly as a late-game defensive substitution. He batted .252 and stole 16 bases in 232 at-bats.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.