Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Justin Masterson . . . finally

Justin Masterson has finally signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates and for a minor league deal too.  It makes you think his rehab has not gone as well as hoped. 

He will now try to regain some former form, or at least consistent ground balls with the side of strike out.  The Pirates did leave open the possibility for Masterson as a reliever, which right now looks like the bigger need.  Although he is going to begin as a starter.  Nicasio has been pretty good and Locke is not awful, so he has some work to do to break the rotation.  But the bullpen . . .

The bullpen has struggled and already used several different guys.  Masterson would give a nice long man piece or even just a flex guy.  Although replacing Voglesong with someone would make me feel a little better.  Without Hughes the pen lacks a consistent fourth man.  Watson and Melancon are solid.  Feliz looks decent enough so far.  But other than that the group really looks bad.  Schugel and Scahill are emergency replacements and look like it.  Vogelsong is the long guy with declining skills.  Lobstein is inconsistent and Caminero has shown flashes of greatness, but has also been lit up.  The bullpen desperately needs Hughes back. 

Hughes can help calm the mess being a pitcher who can be trusted in high stress situations.  This can move Caminero back to lower stress situations, and perhaps more rest in-between outings, hopefully improving his consistency.  It will drop one of the emergency guys back to AAA as well.  But it still leaves some upgradeable slots that Masterson would upgrade.  If Vogelsong is untouchable, it at least pushes the other emergency guy back to AAA or perhaps removes the need for Lobstein with a more tried MLB pitcher. 

I for one am very hopeful that Masterson can perform at AAA and get into the Pirate bullpen. 

And maybe just maybe we can make it to that moment when you see Taillon take the mound . . .

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

That was fast . . .

I fully expected Michael Morse to get dropped from the team this year.  I figured it would be when Josh Bell got a call up in June.  Morse will probably stay with the team because I believe the Pirates will still have to pay his salary if he stays in their system.  No one is going to pay him anything near that.  But I did not expect Morse to get dropped after only 8 at bats. 

I think it is the product of two things.  One, clearly it has a little to do with the need for another bullpen arm.  A.J. Schugel pitched tonight, fairly well by the way.  With Lirano missing a start, the long guys taxed from yesterday, and Vogelsong getting the spot start, another fresh arm was needed. 

But mostly I think it is the sign that the Pirates are pleased with Jaso.  Jaso has been great so far this year.  His patient approach has drawn walks and produced hits.  Jaso will not have to platoon now.  Obviously at some point Schugel or one of the other long relievers will get dropped for a fifth bench bat, but not until Lirano is good to go.  Who they bring up then will be interesting, but money should be on Jason Rogers.  If he gets to platoon with Jaso may very well depend on how well Jaso does these next few days. 

The Pirates record may not be where we want it, but having Jaso be the outright first baseman is a problem worth having. 

Friday, April 8, 2016

Exciting Depth should help in trades this year

The Pirates have a great team this year.  They could very well be in the race for the division title and probably in the playoff race.  This is the year that I think the Pirates will go all in by getting a big name trade because the minor league system is so stacked that trades are almost necessary to clear out some room.

This is great news if we need a 5th starter or some bullpen help, trades should be easy to pull off.  Just look at the situation.

Pittsburgh's infield is fairly loaded right now.  Kang has third, Mercer is at short, and Harrison is playing second.  There is not a lot of weakness there.  Maybe you could upgrade the bat at short.  Josh Bell is expected to take over at 1B this year, but Jaso looks pretty good there right now too. 

Indianapolis has on its roster right now Hanson at second.  Many consider him ready now.  It is his second year at AAA.  Jason Rogers plays 1B and 3B.  Dan Gamache, who maybe major league utility player caliber, plays 3B and 2B.  Gift Ngope plays SS and 2B (maybe not a good enough hitter).  Max Moroff plays 3B, 2B, and SS.  Adam Frazier plays 2B and SS.  It is possible that Gamache and Ngope are not good enough for the MLB, but the others probably are.  They can't even all fit in Indy's infield, much less find a home in Pittsburgh.  Maybe one can push Mercer out and maybe another finds the UT spot on the bench, but that leaves quite a few as good trade chips.

Indy also has two major league catchers in Elias Diaz and Jacob Stallings.  The Pirates are not going to re-sign Cervelli, but have Stewart for more time.  So, maybe neither of these guys goes, but maybe one does.

The outfield for the Pirates is set for years, but Willy Garcia is ready in AAA.  He probably finds the fourth outfielder spot in Pittsburgh next year, and the Pirates are going to find some room for their infielders out in the Indy outfield, but look in AA.  Austin Meadows is lurking.  Assuming he is not a tradable piece and they slow walk him, in two years he needs to be playing in Pittsburgh.  Harold Ramirez looks like he might have the tools to be a MLB player and Barrett Barnes was a first round comp draft pick.  They might excite a team enough to be trade pieces, and so they should be because when are they going to crack the outfield in Pittsburgh?  Frankly, Justin Maffei has done enough to require some looks in my opinion. 

Don't get me started on pitching.  The Pirates are pretty clearly saving some places for Taillon and Glasnow, as they should.  And Kingham should not be on the block because he was on track to be a MLB 3rd starter before his injury.  Chad Kuhl could easily be a starter soon in the majors.  In a couple of years the starting rotation for the Pirates could easily be Cole, Taillon, Glasnow, Kingham, and Kuhl.  But where does that leave Brault?  What if Holmes or Eppler has a good year at AA this year?  They would be knocking on the door. And there is this new guy Trevor Williams at AAA. 

The point is that the Pirates have a good major league team finally.  They also have a stacked upper minor league.  I expect some big trades this year if the Pirates are in contention giving away some of that middle infield depth or a starting pitcher.
And if the Pirates can't compete, I expect Cervelli would be on the block and Harrison too (unless he was dominate), maybe even Jordy Mercer because the Pirates have young guys to fill those holes.  And Niesse and Nicasio would be gone before you could count to 10. 

This is going to be a great season one way or the other.  The organization is in great shape it is going to be fun to watch.   

Monday, April 4, 2016

One up , One down

So here we are at the start of another Pirate baseball year.  The Pirates have made the playoffs for 3 straight years, and are going for 4.  For the first time, they are trying it without Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker (one of whom was much more important).  Despite my criticism of their offseason, I actually think they are going to make the playoffs again.

My reasons were on full display in game 1. 

First, the St. Louis Cardinals are good, but should be much easier to beat this year.  Especially here at the beginning when people are recovering from thumb injuries, they are down two short stops, and no new rookies have emerged yet.  This is the time to jump on the Cardinals as the Pirates did yesterday. 

Second, Gregory Polanco.  There is every reason to believe Polanco takes a big step forward.  He started very slowly as did Marte two years ago.  Polanco was heating up as the year ended, as did Marte two years ago.  Marte was on fire last year and this year Polanco should do the same. 

It should be a fun year to watch.  Hopefully the Pirates get off to a better start, and do better in division than last year.  Both of which should happen.  This should more than make up for the fall off that is bound to happen outside the division. 

Go Bucs!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Nick Hibbing retires

I have to admit the news of Nick Hibbing retiring is disappointing.  He was just drafted last year.  My draft review shows my excitement for this mid teen round pick.  He was big in the run Iowa made last year.  He was their closer, and they would just give him the ball and he usually got it done.  Even if it meant going three innings, and routinely two in the big games.  Now he did not have great K rates or ground ball rates, but he did get outs without runs.  He did it in college, and he was doing it in Short Season A ball.  He had a sub 2 ERA and I still thought he had a chance to make the team one day as a mid reliever.  He may have even been a guy who could have moved up the ladder fairly quickly.  Even if he was just a AAAA depth option in the pen, that should have kept him in the game.  One wonders why he decided to retire this week.  I wish him well in his life, but I think he could have been an addition to the Pirates farm system. 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

More signings

The Pirates have apparently signed two more left handed pitchers on minor league deals.  And I think it creates a nice competition for the second left hander spot in the bullpen.

One is Cory Luebke, and I don't think much will come of this one.  It is a flyer on a guy who once looked to be top of the rotation stuff in San Diego.  He was extremely successful with a high K rate and low BB rate in 2011.  He began in the pen, but had 17 pretty good starts.  He started 2012 well enough, but had Tommy John surgery missing the rest of that season and the next.  In 2014 he tore his UCL and had to have another surgery missing that season and 2015.  He did pitch from the bullpen in 2011 and probably with his injury history is looking for a bullpen slot now. 

Two is Eric O'Flaherty, who has pitched from the pen for the Mariners, Braves, and A's.  He had Tommy John surgery in 2013.  He was DFA'd by the A's this past year after a pretty poor showing.  Still, he is a sinker ball pitcher in the low 90's with a four seamer, slider, and change up that is mid 80's.  He had a disaster of a 2015 and it appeared to be related to a loss of control as his walks per 9 jumped from 1.8 in 2014 to 5.4 in 2015.  If he can rediscover control he could be a replacement level pitcher in the bullpen that does low leverage situations.  Not counting last year he has had a pretty steady positive WAR (reaching a peak of 3.3 in 2011)

This does liven up the bullpen fight for the last free spot.  With Melancon, Watson, Hughes, Caminero, and Feliz set in stone in the bullpen, and Nicasio as close to certainty as one can get, it really only leaves one spot open.  A spot that we know Hurdle likes to carry a second lefty that is not necessarily a Lefty Only Specialist.  The only one who fit that bill before today was the unknown of Zarate.  Now the Pirates have some competition for Zarate in Luebke and O'Flaherty.  That is now the position to watch. 

And it almost promises Holdzkom and Haley will be stashed in the minors. 

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.