Top prospect Gregory Polanco received a spot on the 40-man roster before the deadline Wednesday, along with three other Pirates minor leaguers, meaning they are no longer eligible for the Rule 5 draft.
Shortstop Alen Hanson, left-handed pitcher Joely Rodriguez and right-hander Casey Sadler also received spots on the 40-man roster, which is full. If the Pirates wish to add a player, they must designate someone for assignment or trade a player to make room.
Players not on a 40-man roster who are four years removed from signing their first pro contract — five if they signed when they were 18 or younger — are eligible for selection in the Rule 5 draft in December at the winter meetings. The selecting team must keep the player on their major league roster all season or offer him back to his original club.
Polanco, 22, an outfielder rated by Baseball America as the Pirates’ No. 1 prospect, climbed from Class A Bradenton to Class AAA Indianapolis this past season, hitting .285 with 12 home runs, 30 doubles and 38 steals.
“It’s been very fun to watch him mature into the tools, and then have those tools continue to grow and develop,” general manager Neal Huntington said by phone from Dominican Republic, where he recently watched Polanco play in winter ball.
Polanco likely will begin the 2014 season in Indianapolis and could make his major league debut next summer.
In 127 games between Bradenton and Class AA Altoona this season, Hanson, 21, hit .274 with a .329 on-base percentage, 8 home runs and 30 stolen bases. In 79 at-bats with the Scottsdale Scorpions of the Arizona Fall League, Hanson hit .253/.294/.329 with one home run and six steals.
His defense needs to improve: He committed 32 errors this season, after 40 in 2012, and his 25 errors with Bradenton led the team even though he didn’t spend the whole season there. Huntington said the Pirates believe Hanson has the tools to stay at shortstop.
“[He’ll] flash the outstanding play ability that we are working to try to be more consistent, and then would make an immature error at times,” Huntington said of reports on Hanson’s fall league defense.
Rodriguez, 22, debuted in the minor league system in 2009 with their Dominican Summer League affiliate. In 140 innings between West Virginia and Bradenton this season, he had a 2.70 ERA with 101 strikeouts. His strikeout rate increased from 4.5 per nine innings while with short-season State College in 2012 to 6.5 per nine this season.
“We liked the upside,” Huntington said. “Left-handed arm with three quality pitches and strike throwing.”
Sadler, 23, had a 3.37 ERA in 1361⁄3 innings between Altoona and Indianapolis, though he started only one game for Indianapolis. The Pirates drafted Sadler in the 25th round in 2010.
He became a full-time starter this season, after shuffling between starting and relief in his first three years in pro ball, because of what Huntington called “starter traits” — size, delivery, arm action and his arsenal of pitches. The move to the rotation coincided with a reduced strikeout rate. In 2010 and 2011, when he started only one of the 47 games he appeared in, he struck out 7.9 and 7.7 batters per nine innings. That dropped to 6.4 in 2012, when he started 17 games out of 32, and 4.8 this season.
Minor league free agents
The Pirates announced the signing of five minor league free agents, all right-handed pitchers, and extended invitations to major league spring training to three of them. Collin Balester, Jake Brigham, Jay Jackson, Josh Kinney and Seth McClung joined the organization, with Brigham, Jackson and Kinney as non-roster invitees.
Balester, 27, a fourth-round pick by the Montreal Expos in the 2004 draft, pitched in the majors for parts of five seasons, from 2008-12. He pitched in six games for Class AAA Round Rock in the Texas Rangers organization in 2013 before having Tommy John ligament replacement surgery June 3.
Kinney, 34, pitched for Class AAA Tacoma in the Seattle organization this past season, striking out 32 in 33 innings in relief.
Brigham, 25, a sixth-round pick in 2006, split 2013 between Round Rock and Class AA Frisco in the Rangers system. He pitched in 33 games, starting 18, and had a 4.03 ERA.
Jackson pitched for the Miami Marlins organization in 2013, when he had a 3.53 ERA in 1042⁄3 innings between Class AA Jacksonville and Class AAA New Orleans.
McClung, 32, debuted in 2003 with Tampa Bay but has not pitched in the majors since 2009. He recently pitched in the Mexican League and in Taiwan.
Bill Brink: email@example.com and Twitter @BrinkPG.