Monday, February 8, 2016

Roster guess

With the Pirates bullpen really only having one spot to fight for and the wait and see game for signing Justin Masterson being the only thing to watch in the bullpen, it leaves us with the most interesting thing being how the Pirates bench is made.

Now the Pirates did not do a lot in the offseason, but maybe you can see a new trend developing.  The Pirates have long loved flexibility.  Note how all the Pirate outfielders (Marte, McCutchen, and Polanco) could play center.  Sean Rodreguiz fits this bill too.  They want guys who can do a lot.  But are they starting to look for plate discipline as a thing to promote?  Let’s see.

The starting outfield is listed above and the infield will be Kang, Mercer, Harrison, and Jason Jaso (1B).  Jaso fits exactly what the Pirates want.  He is flexible because he will be an emergency catcher and he fits the new bill as he draws lots of walks.  The catcher will be Cervelli. 

This leaves five bench spots.  Three of which are spoken for already.  Stewart will again be the back up catcher.  Michael Morse will platoon at 1B and be the right handed power bat off the bench.  The Pirates also re-signed Sean Rodrequiz, who can play 1B, OF, and 2B.  He may be the defensive 1B who plays the last inning or two of close games with Morse being so-so and Jaso being new at 1B. 

The last two spots then are up in the air with a middle infield spot likely one of them, although Kang can play SS if needed, so it is not necessary to force a SS on the bench. 

First we ought to look at the prospects.  Alen Hanson leads the group that includes Gamache, Moroff, Ngoepe, and Frazier.  I don’t think any of these guys breaks camp with the team.  My long time being suspicious of Alen Hanson is well known, but he does seem to have done whatever he is going to do in the minors.  He is what he is, and now is the time for MLB.  He can hit, and his defense improved at second, but he is only second.  Moroff is actually the one I think the best suited for the bench.  He has some power and draws walks (but does K too much).  He could use a bit more seasoning at AAA, but he is my favorite of this group.  However, none will make the team out of spring training. 

This leaves the battle between Pedro Florimon and Cole Figueroa with Florimon having the inside track.  It should be noted that Figueroa would give a lefty off the bench.  Hurdle likes a lefty or two on the bench.  It is not encouraging to think of Florimon being on the 40 man, but it looks like it will happen.

With one spot left things get interesting.  Jake Goebbert is your best bet as a corner outfielder and the left handed hitter off the bench.  Goebbert appears to be able to draw walks, which again could be the emerging trend.  He can play some first perhaps as well.  If he does not hit in spring training and Figueroa pushes out Florimon, it is not unthinkable for Goebbert to go back to the minors as he has options.  His competition is Jason Rogers.  Rogers is a righty with some potential who plays 1B with a bit of 3B and perhaps corner outfield.  Rogers has an option left, so he is going to have to earn it.

The interesting thing is if Kang is not healthy or completely ready.  I think that this would make Rogers a shoe-in.  In fact, I think his signing was almost completely to be insurance for Kang this year and replace Morse on the bench next year.  The question is would it make Rogers the starter.  He would surely see action, but Harrison at 3B would be possible until Kang returns.  Would the Pirates break camp with Hanson as the starter at second and Rogers as a back up to Harrison at 3B?  There is no need to waste a prospect on the bench, but it is a different story if the starting job is open.  Florimon and Figueroa are not going to start. 

I have to admit that I don’t know what is going to happen, but I do think Kang will not be completely ready.  I think the Pirates probably do break camp with Rogers on the team and Kang on the DL.  I think Figueroa takes Florimon’s place on the 40 man and leaves camp with the Pirates.  Goebbert may start on the team, but is the one who goes down when Kang comes back leaving Rogers on the team.  It makes for an interesting bench with a lot of flexibility and an ability to draw walks (except Sean Rodreguiz) and able to play defense (except Morse). 

One thing that is clear is that the Pirates are deep in AAA, and should not have trouble filling holes when people get hurt.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Pirates still have a big hole

As the Pirates approach Spring Training, one big glaring hole remains.  The starting rotation.  The Pirates may not be done, and let’s hope not because this is not an awe inspiring group. 

The #1 is Gerrit Cole.  This is not a problem.  The big man keeps doing well and throwing gas.  No reason to expect any decline and maybe an increase in performance.

The #2 is Lirano.  Again no reason to worry here.  Lirano may suffer a small decline as age catches him, but he is a very effective lefty and gets big strikeouts.  Strong rotation up front.

The #3 is Jon Niese.  Niese is okay.  He gets ground balls, and one would expect with the upgrade of the Pirates defense put up better numbers.  He has postseason experience, which is nice.  Yet, as a #3 this is not so good.  He would be a great #5 starter, and an okay #4.  But as the third best pitcher, your rotation is weak. 

The #4 is Jeff Locke.  Locke is what he is.  He is going to have some good games.  He is going to have some really bad ones.  And usually he will eat up innings and it is up to your offense.  He is a lefty, which can be a blessing on previous rotations, but this one is loaded with lefties, so that even that is now a bit of a curse.  Locke would be acceptable as a #5, but even then you would think the position could be upgraded.  Having someone lower than him in the rotation is awful.  Locke is the guy you don’t mind skipping in a rotation, and you can’t do that if he is the #4. 

The #5 is Ryan Vogelsong.  Vogelsong is old and would be better as the long relief guy in the bullpen.  I didn’t really understand this signing, and I still don’t.  Perhaps they were desperate for a right handed pitcher.  But desperate is never good.  If he stays in the rotation all year the Pirates may miss the playoffs.  He has postseason experience, but does not have enough skill left for that to matter much.

The immediate depth appears to be Kyle Lobstein.  He is AAAA and not much else.  He could do long relief for a stretch and maybe a spot start, but yikes!  He is also a lefty.  So using him to replace a struggling Vogelsong is problematic as a 4 lefty rotation has seldom been done, and would be reason to worry.

Now the Pirates need to sign as #3 quality starter to fix their problems.  They have been linked to Justin Masterson rumors, which would be nice.  He is about a #3, and has some upside you may think the Pirates can tap into.  He is also right handed which would be nice.  It could bump everyone down a slot to where they ought to be.  Again you would think you could still upgrade the back end, but it would be workable and playoff able without the upgrade. 

The other thing the Pirates could be banking on is an early call up for many players.  If the Pirates can survive May and April with that rotation, they could start bringing heavy throwers up in June.  Nick Kingham, Tyler Glasnow, and Jameson Taillon all will be there in AAA.  Kingham and Taillon are recovering from injuries so that will impact timing.  All three of those guys would be upgrades over the backend of that rotation.  In fact a rotation of Cole, Lirano, Taillon, Glasnow, and Kingham is mouthwatering.  And really Vogelsong could be cut without worry and Locke with only a little concern. 

As great as that rotation sounds it is very young and that is not a great formula for playoff runs.  Plus, it is dependent on everything going right, which is rare.  Glasnow could use a little more control work, and Taillon is oft injured.  Kingham is coming back from one, but is probably the best bet to be ready on time. 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Looking at the 2009 Draft

With the dropping of Tony Sanchez from the 40 Man roster the 2009 draft is essentially a closed book for the Pirates.  A lot is being written and said about this draft, and it is mostly negative.  And no one can really argue it was a good draft, but I don’t think it as serious as many state.

I think my understanding of the 2009 draft has two major differences from most.  I think I put more weight on players being parts of trades.  Colton Cain may very well be a bust, but for the Pirates he helped bring in talent for a pennant run.  Mission accomplished in my opinion.  Victor Black did the same thing.  Black, by the way, seems to be doing fine in the Mets bullpen. 

Secondly, I simply think 2009 was a horrible draft overall.  The Pirates did not find the deals and steals for sure, but 2009 was an awful year all around excluding the obvious number 1 in Stephen Strassborg.  Let’s take a look.

Sanchez was drafted 4th overall and considered an overdraft, but Donovan Tate (drafted 3rd overall) also never made the majors and is in the Dodgers organization after being let go by the Padres.  That is right, he failed to make the Padres.  He has had substance abuse problems as well.  The 5th overall pick was Matthew Hobgood, and he is currently a minor league free agent.  So, the picks right next to Sanchez were actually bigger failures with less major league time than Sanchez.  And remember the Pirates overdrafted Sanchez.  Not so with the other two guys.  Nor was it the case for the second overall pick Dustin Ackley.  Ackley was chased off of second base in Seattle to the outfield, and eventually traded to the Yankees.  He has not hit very well and is defensively so-so.  That is the second overall pick in the draft.  The first round produced 5 All Stars so far, one of which is Strassborg.  Yes, one is also Mike Trout, but everyone passed on Trout so that is hardly a Pirate only mistake.  If you add in the comp round, you get one more All Star.  That All Star is Boxberger, who was traded twice and made the All Star game for the Rays as a closer rather than the starter he was drafted to be.  Another one of those All Stars was Aaron Crow for the Royals.  He had one good season where he was the Royals rep on the All Star team.  He lost the closer position that year after failing to record a save and was traded to the Marlins.  While he made the All Star game, Crow is probably a bust as a draft pick.  And does anyone remember Tyler Scheppers, the Pirate 08 draftee who refused to sign.  He was drafted in the comp round and he is currently a total failure too.  He was the ninth rated prospect going into the 09 draft and compared to Verlander. 

And before we pile on the failure of the high school pitchers taken later in that draft.  Let us look at high schoolers taken in 09.  We have already looked at the failure of Hobgood and Tate, both of whom are high schoolers.  Zack Wheeler (6th overall) is 18-16 overall in the majors and with his second team.  Jacob Turner (9th overall) is 11-25 after being in 4 different organizations and is currently a minor league free agent.  Maztek is a success story making the pros with the team that drafted him and after two pro seasons he sits at 8-14 with an ERA over 4, but it is Colorado.  Comp round picks don’t look much better from High School.  Some of the high school hitters look better especially with Mike Trout and Shelby Miller and Grichuck hitting okay too, but those are not all roses either.  Nick Franklin (27th overall) is hitting .204 as a backup catcher.  Sanchez could have done that.  And Reymond Fuentes (28th overall) is a bust somewhere in the Royals organization after getting 5 hits in 33 at bats with the Padres. 

Comparatively the 2008 draft also had 6 All Stars in the first round and comp round including Pedro Alvarez, Buster Posey, and Eric Hosmer.  It also includes some good players like Bret Lawrie.  Players with some potential left like Jake Odorrizi, and some high profile failures like Justin Smoak and number one overall pick Timothy Beckman.  The 2010 draft class has already produced 5 All Stars including Matt Harvey, Bryce Harper, and Manny Machado.  And let’s be honest this class is at a disadvantage with 2 of the top 10 overall picks not signing. 

The point is the Pirates did not do well.  But, it was probably a really bad draft class.  Yes, it would have been great to find some of the hidden gems.  But, they are not as bad as we think because it was just a down year producing down results. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Winter Meetings So far

The Pirates made some news and got this offseason off to a hot start, or at least a controversial start.

First, it is undeniably good when your team is not picking up players in the Rule 5 draft.  It means your team is pretty good.  Or at least trying to win. 

Second, losing Deolis Guerra is no big deal.  Sure it is better to have him than the money, but if he ended up on the team it meant something went wrong in the bullpen. 

Third, today's signing of Juan Nicasio is good.  He is a mid 90's guy for the pen that can throw multiple innings and maybe spot start if needed.  The pen needed some help.  Melancon is the closer and Watson the set up man.  The back end is set (baring a trade of course).  Jerrod Hughes has his role as the ground ball guy locked up too.  The Pirates still have Caminero from last year, but lost Soria and Bastardo.  Nicasio will take a spot in the pen that needs him to be more than just the long man.  The final two spots could be Scahill and Holdzkom, but neither of those guys is a sure thing.  The Pirates did pick up Knudson in the off season, but if you get waived from the Tigers pen, well, it says something.  The Pirates did also claim Jorge Rondon, who throws hard, but his lack of success is not inspiring.  And they paid money for Webster, but he seems to be starting depth.  Nicasio then gives experience, velocity, and reliability to a bullpen that looks shaky so far. 

Fourth, the Walker trade is the main thing.  Neil Walker was traded to the Mets for Jon Neise.  Now, the Pirates gave up the better player, but I think it was a decent deal.  Neise does help replace some of the losses in the starting rotation.  Burnett is retired, and Locke is only okay.  Many are pointing out the similarities between Locke and Neise, but remember those similar stats are with Locke getting the support of one of the best defenses in baseball, and Neise had the Mets.  Yes, the defense that cost the Mets multiple games in the World Series.  He should improve with the Pirates as he gets ground balls.  It is noteworthy that he is lefty as well.  Morton was awful against left handed hitters this year, and Neise could be a Morton replacement.  He is also cheaper than Walker.

Walker is better and worth more wins, but Walker is the worst option for the Pirates infield right now.  Kang showed he deserves a place in the everyday line up.  But Harrison does too.  He hits and does not strike out much and frankly adds a bit of hustle and crazy that can change ball games.  But Kang is better at third than Harrison.  Mercer, the worst hitter of the group, is the best defender and the defense gets so-so with Mercer not at short.  Thus, the obvious place for Harrison is second.  It is his best defensive spot.  Also Alen Hanson is ready to be a major league back up (I don't ever see him as much more than this), so there is some insurance at second base.  Max Moroff is probably only a year away, so your future is coming. 

Walker was not worth resigning next off season.  Trading him in-season would probably have hurt team chemistry, and probably would not have brought back major league ready returns.  We all expect the Pirates to be in the playoff hunt, and you don't give up a second baseman for prospects when you are trying to make the playoffs.  So, this is probably his highest value for a trade right now.  They got a pitcher that will be part of the rotation and has World Series experience.  It was not necessarily an equal value trade, but it was the best trade the Pirates could make.  So they made it rather than take nothing next year. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Pirates down the stretch

The Pirates are coming down the stretch now and it is beginning to look like the Pirates will be in the playoffs again.  They will probably win over 90 games and still not win the division.  They may not even be the first wild card as that is still in the air and a reason to play hard through September.  The Cubs are hot, and the Pirates are much better at home, so that top wild card spot is enormous. 

Who the Pirates will bring up is an interesting question.  Every team wants some more arms and the Pirates will surely do that.  Hopefully AJ Burnett will return and push either Locke or Happ to the pen.  You can also count on Rob Scahill returning to the pen.  There is not a lot of other pitching help currently on the 40 Man.  Casey Sadler is hurt, and Bobby Lafromboise is not much help at all.  I think the Pirates will probably try to get Vance Worley or Liz back on the 40 and bring them up to help out as well.  The easiest way to do this is to move Deolis Guerra to the 60 DL opening a spot.

The Pirates are pretty loaded on offense right now and already have trouble finding playing time for Harrison and Mercer, but they will surely bring some help up.  Ishikawa will return from the DL to add something, but the Pirates are going to want more and they have to make a decision if that includes Corey Hart.  Hart does not serve much of a purpose and he probably just gets cut.  I assume Jaff Decker will also return to the Pirates for an extra lefty bat on the bench.

The Pirates have shown a desire to carry 3 catchers during September, and they have the option of Tony Sanchez, who is not good behind the plate but has experience, and Elias Diaz, who is better defensively but more important to Indy (who is going to continue playing).  I expect one will make the trip to Pittsburgh. 

The interesting thing is what about Travis Snider, who they just signed, or Pedro Florimon, who would be defensive help and base running speed.  Someone has to come off the 40 man to make room for these guys.  Lafromboise is a possibility.  So is Tony Sanchez, who probably gets dumped in the off season anyway.  Ishikawa may also be on the chopping block, but one has to think that he is better equipped to help down the stretch than Florimon, and maybe Snider too.  He has postseason experience and while only hitting .220 with the Pirates has on OBP of over .400.  Of course dumping Lafromboise may also open up the space for Liz or Worley, which ever was not added when Deolis Guerra goes to the 60 Day or gets dumped (as he was once earlier).  It should be interesting to see what the Pirates do to fill out the roster for September.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Trade Deadline moves examined

It is time to examine how the Pirates did during the trading deadline. 

The Pirates came into the deadline with a load of prospects, and needs in the bullpen, first base, and a need for more power.  The late injury to Jordy Mercer also made a need for depth on that side of the infield as well.


Ultimately no matter what happens the rest of the way the Pirates did great because they kept all their prospects giving up a very small amount for all the return.  This is a win for a small market club. 


They quickly addressed the left side of the infield with Armaris Ramirez, which makes a feel good story, and it cost us a long shot bullpen candidate.  He has experience, a little power left, and can still play third.  You trust him much more than Brent Morrell or Pedro Florimon at the plate, so this is good.  Great move in fact because he can be a bench upgrade when Harrison and Mercer get back.

The long shot trade was Michael Morse for Jose Tabata.  Tabata has no place on the Pirates, has no more upside to explore, and is only a little cheaper than Morse.  Morse has more power than Tabata, can play first, which the Pirates need, but is declining rapidly.  In the end this is two teams switching expensive pieces that are failures.  Each piece fits the other team better and you hope the scenery change gives them a slight boost. 

The one that cost us the most is Joakim Soria.  Soria has closed, is still a late inning guy who can throw hard and get strikeouts.  Now this one cost us Jacoby Jones, who is loved by some.  I have always been a bit skeptical of Jones.  However, he has shown steady power.  He is playing short right now, but remember he was outfield once too.  This does give him some flexibility for the Tigers.  He strikes out a lot.  I think the emergence of Kang made Jones really pretty expendable.  Now we have a solid bat who can play third and short better than Jones.  While Jones is younger and might end up with more power, Kang gives you the ability to let him go and wait for Tucker at short or even some of the talent emerging on the AA roster right now.  You have to give up someone with potential and upside to get a gun like Soria.  This was pretty mild, and Soria really helps the bullpen.  In fact, I think this was the most important piece for the Pirates to get.  So, this is a good deal.

J.A. Happ was kind of a throw on at the last minute with Burnett going to the DL.  This cost us Adrian Sampson.  Now Sampson has a major league career ahead of him for sure.  He can be a fourth line starter, probably will be a fifth starter, and at worst is a bullpen guy.  I like Sampson, and I think the Pirates should have brought him up in September.  But trading him for renting Happ was needed.  Sampson was going to be hard pressed in a stacked Pirates future rotation of Cole, Taillon, Glasnow, Kingham, and the last spot for Locke, Crumpton,  or Angel Sanchez to name a few and we still have Morton under control for a while.  Is Happ better than Worley?  Probably a little.  Lord willing you don’t need Happ much.  Is Happ better than Sampson?  Not in the long run, but you don’t want your season in the hands of a AAA call up right now.  Happ is at least a known commodity.  Hard to criticize this deal with the Burnett injury, but hard to like it too.


The Pirates also got for cash Joe Blanton.  The same Joe Blanton who baffled them so bad in Kansas City for 3.1 out of the bullpen.  Blanton too has playoff experience and gives them a legit long man rather than Worley.  He is not going to tear it up, but is upgrading the bullpen.

Let us also not forget about the Travis Ishikawa waiver pick up.  It costs nothing but a little cash.  I like Ishikawa.  He too can play first or the outfield.  He has World Series experience and is a real professional hitter.  He knows how to work counts, use the whole field, and hit in situations.  This is a bench upgrade for nothing, and it makes the Pirates better. 

So the Pirates shored up the left side of the infield and seriously upgraded their bullpen for basically one future strike out prone major leaguer.  They also got a little extra power and a good pinch hitter losing only the pointless Jose Tabata and increasing the payroll a bit.  They also picked up a stop gap fifth starter for a future fifth starter, but if Brunett is able to come back this year and Kingham and Crumpton come back next year it won’t hurt long term.  They also sent Worley to the minors for a slightly better, but more experienced and consistent long man.  Again probably taking on some extra payroll. 

They did not really make 1B any better, but they did what they could and did not lose much over it.  This is a big win for the Trade deadline.  I love it. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Early Returns on 2014 draft strategy

The West Virginia Power are always the most exciting team to watch as it is the first good glimpse of last year’s draft picks.  This year it is even more so because of the strategy shift thanks to being actually decent and not picking at the top of the draft.  It included a lot more college hitters and pitchers than normal.  This happened again this year in 2015, so West Virginia is the first glimpse to see if it is a good plan.

It has to be admitted that so far it is not working out all that well.  Let us start with the bad news.
Connor Joe the Comp round pick has only played 24 games, and he is hitting .244 with a .655 OPS letting you know he has not shown power or anything of that sort yet. 
Taylor Gushue, who hit so well in short season last year, has been a big disappointment offensively.  The 4th round pick is hitting a paltry .211 in 44 games with only one homer.  Kevin Krause, who was the other catcher taken in the ninth round is injured and out all season. 
Jordan Luplow, the 3rd round selection, is hitting .232 with 3 HR’s, but a hopeful 16 doubles to lead the team, and 33/23 K/BB rate. 
Tyler Fillben, a twelfth round pick, is hitting .233. 
This is not a great look for the big name hitters.
The exceptions are top pick Cole Tucker, Michael Suchy (5th), Chase Simpson (14), and Jerrick Suiter (26).  Suiter is hitting .308 in a smaller game sample, although large enough to be decent.  Chase Simpson is slumping after a very hot start, but is still .257 with a team lead 6 HRs and leads the team in total bases and second in OPS (for those with a minimum PA).  He does lead the team in strike outs, but also in walks.  Suchy is a close second in walks.  He is hitting .253 with 12 doubles and 3 round trippers.  Cole Tucker is hitting a nice .271 with only 25 Ks.  He also has 16 stolen bases.  He has not looked awful at short either.  And he really does not count in this discussion because he is straight out of high school. 

The pitchers look a bit better.  Austin Coley, 8th round pick, is actually looking very good as a starter.  He is 8-4, but more importantly has 61 strikeouts to lead the team and has only 9 walks. 
Alex McRae (10th) is also starting.  He is giving up a few more hits and runs, but has 40 Ks to 12 BBs.  Not bad. 
John Sever, a 20th round pick who did well at Bristol last year, is also looking good with 55 Ks and 19 BBs.  He was starting, but has been moved to the bullpen or maybe a sort of piggy back role.  He could miss a few more bats, but potential is there.
Sam Street (16) has a similar issue with allowing hits out of the pen, but is striking out 8 per 9 innings, so that is good.  Remember they work heavily on the fastball at West Virginia making higher hit totals not so troubling. 
Montana DuRapau has struck out 9 and only walked 1 in 19 innings.  He has a WHIP of .414.  Admittedly it is a small sample, but something to be encouraged about. 
It is not all good for the pitchers Nick Neumann (28) is only 17 Ks and 7 BBs.  And Eric Dorsch (15), who has only 7 innings, is also not good.  He has walked 6 to striking out 5, but he has also plunked 2 guys. 

This year’s draft feels a lot like last years.  Hopefully they will have slightly more success at the West Virginia level.  It is still far too early to tell how well drafting in the middle of the draft is going for the Pirates.  But there is room to hope it gets better, at least for the college guys.