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Offseason Update: Rule 5 Draft, Minor League Signings Impact Potential 2024 Indians Roster

The 2024 Indianapolis Indians are projected to display more veterans alongside touted prospects
February 23, 2024

INDIANAPOLIS – The long-awaited sights and sounds of MLB Spring Training returned last week when Pittsburgh Pirates pitchers and catchers congregated at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla., for the official start of camp. As fans in Indianapolis anticipate the arrival of Opening Day on March 29, when the Indians travel

INDIANAPOLIS – The long-awaited sights and sounds of MLB Spring Training returned last week when Pittsburgh Pirates pitchers and catchers congregated at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla., for the official start of camp. As fans in Indianapolis anticipate the arrival of Opening Day on March 29, when the Indians travel to Louisville before returning to Victory Field on April 2, the Pirates have made a number of roster moves affecting the potential Triple-A roster.

This year’s Indianapolis squad is projected to feature more MLB-ready players with many already having experience at the highest level to supplement top prospects rising through the system. Right-handed pitchers Paul Skenes (No. 3) and Jared Jones (No. 62) are two of five Pirates on MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects list entering 2024, both of whom could make an impact at the Triple-A level early in the season.

The Pirates have made a handful of big-league signings to this year’s major league squad that they hope can provide rotation, bullpen and roster stability for the team moving forward, in addition to signing numerous veterans on minor league deals. Veterans assigned to Triple-A will serve as positional depth and clubhouse leaders as mentors to the up-and-comers.

40-Man Roster Changes

In November, the Pirates added two top 10 organizational prospects (Baseball America), infielder Tsung-Che Cheng (No. 7) and right-handed pitcher Braxton Ashcraft (No. 10), to the 40-man roster to protect them from eligibility for the Rule 5 Draft.

Cheng, 22, split time between High-A Greensboro and Double-A Altoona for the 2023 season. Across the two leagues, Cheng posted a .278 batting average, .352 on-base percentage and .456 slugging percentage in 123 games. He tied for the South Atlantic League lead with nine triples and also added 12 doubles in 57 games for the Grasshoppers to be named a SAL postseason All-Star. Among Pirates farmhands, he ranked first in triples (10), second in hits (128), third in total bases (128), fourth in runs (80) and extra-base hits (46), and tied for fourth in doubles (23).

Ashcraft, 24, has recovered nicely since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2021. Although he only pitched 52.2 innings this past season between Single-A Bradenton, Greensboro and Altoona, the Pirates view him as a pitcher who offers great promise and has shown flashes of success on the mound. In 19 starts last summer, the Pirates’ 2018 second-round pick displayed a 2.39 ERA (14er) with 63 strikeouts.

Prior to the addition of Cheng and Ashcraft to the 40-man roster, the Pirates lost a number of players from their 2023 squad on waivers. Infielders Tucupita Marcano (San Diego), Vinny Capra (Milwaukee) and Alfonso Rivas (Cleveland; later claimed by Los Angeles [AL] and St. Louis), outfielder Miguel Andújar (Oakland) and left-handed pitcher Angel Perdomo (Atlanta) were all claimed. Right-handed pitcher Cody Bolton was also traded to Seattle in exchange for cash, and righties Vince Velasquez and Yerry De Los Santos along with lefty Jarlín García elected free agency.

Rule 5 Draft

The offseason spotlight shined on America’s Music City when the annual MLB Winter Meetings took place in Nashville, Tenn., with the Rule 5 Draft occurring on Dec. 6. The Pirates passed on selecting in the Major League phase of the draft, however, they did make two selections in the minor league phase that could impact the Triple-A roster.

Right-handed pitcher Fineas Del Bonta-Smith, 27, was selected from Colorado in the first round of the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft. He spent the entire 2023 season with Double-A Hartford, going 2-2 with a 5.40 ERA (27er/45.0ip) in 35 games. He was originally selected by Colorado in the 22nd round of the 2019 First-Year Player Draft.

Infielder Seth Beer, 27, was selected from Arizona in the second round of the minor league phase. Originally selected by Houston 28th overall in the 2018 First-Year Player Draft out of Clemson (S.C.) University, the left-handed slugger made his MLB debut with the Diamondbacks on Sept. 10, 2021, and became the 129th player in MLB history to homer in his first major league at-bat. In the years to follow, Beer split time between Arizona and the minor leagues. In 2023 with Triple-A Reno and Double-A Amarillo, Beer posted a .273 batting average (103-for-377), 15 home runs and 66 RBI.

On the other end, the Pirates had four prospects selected by other teams, all in the second round of the minor league phase. Infielder Dariel Lopez, the former No. 14 ranked Pirates prospect, was selected by San Francisco. In addition, the Pirates lost southpaw Omar Cruz (San Diego), catcher Rafael Escalante (Minnesota) and right-hander Roelmy Garcia (Tampa Bay).

Trades, Waiver Claims and MLB/MiLB Signings

Following the Rule 5 Draft through the first week of spring training, the Pirates have made numerous minor league acquisitions that could impact the Indians in 2024, including a trade for former first-round pick Billy McKinney from New York (AL) in exchange for cash. McKinney, 29, who split the 2023 season with Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre and New York (AL), appeared in 40 International League games and hit .274 (37-for-135) with nine home runs and 25 RBI. McKinney also gained more major league experience, appearing in 48 games for the Yankees.

Additional minor league signings include outfielder Gilberto Celestino, infielders Sergio Alcántara, Francisco Acuna and Jake Lamb, left-handed pitchers Michael Plassmeyer and Brady Feigl, and right-handed pitchers Hunter Stratton, Ryder Ryan, Ben Heller, Isaac Mattson, Wei-Chieh Huang, Connor Sadzeck, Kade McClure, Brent Honeywell, Wily Peralta and Chase Anderson. Lamb (8 years, 10 days), Peralta (6 years, 105 days) and Anderson (8 years, 141 days) all bring a wealth of major league service time to camp.

The Pirates also made a plethora of offseason moves that will shape the 2024 major league roster. They signed infielder/designated hitter Rowdy Tellez to add power to a Pittsburgh lineup in need of additional pop at first base and brought back franchise icon, outfielder/designated hitter Andrew McCutchen. They also supplemented the 40-man roster via trades for outfielder Edward Olivares from Kansas City and southpaw starting pitcher Marco Gonzales from Atlanta. At the end of January, they signed flamethrowing lefty Aroldis Chapman, who is fresh off a World Series title with the Texas Rangers. The club hopes that the signing of Chapman will ensure a devastating combo between him and closer David Bednar at the back end of the bullpen. Other moves that will shape the Bucs’ roster include the signing of left-handed pitchers Martín Pérez and Josh Fleming, and catchers Ali Sánchez and Yasmani Grandal.

As a result of these additions, the Pirates lost two former Indians on waivers in righty Max Kranick (Mets) and outfielder Canaan Smith-Njigba (Mariners). The team announced that Indians fan favorite Smith-Njigba will be returning to the Pirates organization via waiver claim after spending less than two weeks with Seattle. Catcher Endy Rodríguez and right-handed pitchers Johan Oviedo and JT Brubaker were all placed on the 60-day injured list while they recover from their respective UCL reconstruction surgeries, and righty Andre Jackson was designated for assignment to pursue an opportunity to pitch for Yokohama of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball.