Pirates claim 3 pitchers in minor league Rule 5 draft
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Pirates came away from the winter meetings with a pitcher named A.J., but it wasn't the one most fans wanted them to get.
The team claimed three right-handed pitchers in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft. The Pirates took A.J. Morris from the Chicago Cubs, Tyler Sample from the Kansas City Royals and Felipe Gonzalez from the New York Yankees.
Three Pirates minor leaguers were selected by other teams. The Milwaukee Brewers took lefty Wei-Chung Wang, the Cubs claimed catcher Charles Cutler, and the Toronto Blue Jays snatched righty Roberto Espinosa.
The Rule 5 draft marked the close of the four-day meetings. The Pirates on Wednesday gave pitcher Charlie Morton a three-year, $21 million contract extension — the largest single payout by any team during the meetings, even though it did not go to a free agent.
The Pirates also signed free-agent right-hander Edinson Volquez to a one-year, $5 million contract, which is pending a physical. That deal likely ended the team's quest to re-sign A.J. Burnett, who still has not indicated whether he will retire.
Sample, 24, was a third-round draft pick in 2008. He spent the past three seasons at High-A Wilmington. This past season, he went 2-4 with a 5.06 ERA and 1.917 WHIP in 18 games (six starts). He averaged 8.8 strikeouts and 9.2 walks per nine innings.
“We saw a kid who has plus stuff,” director of player personnel Tyrone Brooks said. “We'll see what we can do to help him throw strikes.”
Brooks said Sample might start next season at Double-A Altoona.
Although he's 27 years old, Morris never has pitched higher than Double-A. Last season, he went 4-2 with a 4.75 ERA and 1.51 WHIP in 31 games (10 starts) at Double-A Knoxville. He was a fourth-round pick in 2009, and his best pitch is the slider.
Gonzalez, 22, played four seasons in the Dominican Summer League before pitching this year in rookie ball. In 11 outings (five starts) in the Gulf Coast League, he went 4-1 with a 2.23 ERA and 1.18 WHIP.
Wang, 21, was taken in the Triple-A portion of the draft, although he only pitched in rookie ball last season. He was eligible for the draft because the Pirates voided their first contract with him in 2011 when they learned he needed Tommy John surgery.
“We were surprised he was selected,” Brooks said. “But he's a young kid with a quality arm.”