Saturday, April 8, 2017

Another season and high hopes

Well another season is under way and projections on the Pirates are all over the map.  But I think this is a year that will be a good one for the Pirates.  I think they ought to be able to make the playoffs, and PERHAPS, win the central. 
I say this because the Pirates are going all in with their best talent in the rotation.  Cole, Taillon, Nova, Kuhl and Glasnow.  While Cole may not be Cy Young quality #1, he is still a #1, and 2-5 I think is better than most teams.  And if say a Kuhl cannot duplicate last year’s success or Glasnow struggles, the Pirates should not have to wait too long to bring up Nick Kingham or Brault or bring Williams out of the pen to the rotation.  That is a lot of options to sure up the back of the rotation. 
The bullpen also looks good.  Watson is set in as closer.  Rivero is a late inning guy as is Hudson, who the Pirates added in the off season.  They have Nicasio in the pen, who showed a lot of ability there last year.  Williams is up too to add long relief and serve as insurance for any starting rotation melt downs.  The decision to release Hughes, I think shows commitment to win now.  Hughes had some good years, but collapsed last year and showed no sign in pulling out.  They went with those who looked better right now. 
And the pen is a place where you can expect AAA help every year, and the Pirates have that in spades.  AJ Schugel was okay last year, and Neverauskas and new comer Pat Light all throw hard and are currently on the 40 man.  If Edgar Santana continues as he has, you can expect him to make the 40 man and the majors before the year is out.  All four are mid 90’s guys who can strike people out.  The Pirates have in the past been very high on Angel Sanchez as well, who will be in the bullpen for Indy.  And I have long thought Cody Dickson would be a good lefty bullpen guy.  This is his first year in the pen, so he may not be helpful in Pittsburgh this year, but a left throwing low 90’s with some ability to get ground balls cannot be dismissed lightly. 
The same can be said of the starting 8.  Bell is up.  Frasier is up.  Hanson is up.  I think there is a lot of potential in that line up.  And if McCutchen struggles Austin Meadows is waiting in the wings in AAA.  And let us not forget that at some point the Pirates ought to get Kang back to add in some more power to the lineup.  While middle infield help is probably more than a year away Max Moroff could be available for that.  He is right on that boarder line, and needs to take that next step.  AAA does have Eric Wood, who looked great in the Fall League, as well as Jose Osuna.  Osuna dominated Spring Training.  And I know that does not mean much, but it can’t hurt Osuna’s confidence.  The problem is he is behind Bell, but wow he looked great this spring. 
Which brings me to the next point.  The Pirates have talent to spare for trades down the stretch.  If they need another starter, and don’t want to have to rely on a rookie to pull off the playoffs, they could trade lots of people to get it.  Osuna, sadly, might be at the top of this list.  You have some guys like Clay Holmes or Steven Brault who could go as pitchers.  Position guys like Barrett Barnes and Wood in addition to Osuna could be used.  Even further down the minor league ladder like Kevin Kramer or Cole Tucker (assuming they want to run with Kevin Newman as the future short stop) or a Gage Hinz could easily help make a big deal sweet enough to happen. 
If things are looking south for the season you could see McCutchen get traded and/or Josh Harrison. Arugably those trades could improve the Pirates with the addition of Meadows and the regular playing of Frasier in addition to whatever prospect were picked up in the trades. 
The Pirates are also well equipped for minor trades to garner a backup catcher or veteran bullpen arm.  Men like Jaso could be traded for such pieces and then replaced from the farm system (hello Osuna!). 

Despite the two kind of quirky losses I am ready for this baseball season for the Pirates.  I think it should be a 90 win kind of year.  

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Now I understand the Bristol Pirates

I think the addition of the Bristol Pirates is finally making sense to me now.  It is related to how they are doing Latin American signings.  The Pirates are doing Latin American signings different than most every other team.  Perhaps it is motivated by money.  They are not spending big dollars and are not incurring penalties like some teams are doing.  They are pretty minor slaps on the wrist, and would be worth it if it landed a big name.  But the Pirates are going to the other extreme.  The Pirates are signing anyone they can get their hands on.

Yes, the Pirates announced this week that they signed 18 people on July 2 this year.  That is over 10 more people than originally thought.  No real high dollar signings, but money spread around over some young guys and some old guys.  The Pirates again are not going above 6 figures and did not make a serious play for any big names.  The Pirates clearly believe sign many, train hard, and see what turns up is a better fiscal policy than sign big names and hope they are worth it. 
The obvious example is Luis Heredia who signed for 3 million and his chance of making the pros is now low, and if he does it will be as a bullpen guy.  You can add the bonuses of Polanco and Marte and multiply by two and still not get close to Heredia’s bonus.  The Pirates cannot really afford to miss big like this, especially in the new system where some penalties happen.  I know I said the penalties are worth it, but they are only worth it if the guy you signed that busted the cap is a success.  And nothing is for sure.  So, the Pirates have decided not to take the chance.  The new way of doing things is too new to see how it will play out.  Some are going to flop like Michael Del Cruz seems to be doing, but Adrian Valerio is a man who looks to be a prospect.  He signed for 400,000, and Cruz about the same.  And that is on the high side of what the Pirates do now.  But for less than half what it took to sign Harold Ramirez and less than a third of what it took to sign Heredia, the Pirates have a prospect and a dud.  Same number of prospects at a much cheaper rate, but it does require more warm bodies. 

So this is why the Pirates are in need of a second Rookie level club.  They are going to be sending a lot more talent up from Latin America.  In the past the GCL Rookie team was simply a place to put high schoolers just drafted and some of the smaller college players along with the few who were getting the promotion from the Dominican League.  Now with lots more players expected to come from the Dominican, another landing place is needed.  Some of those smaller college guys can be diverted to a slightly higher level of competition with the Appy Rookie League, and maybe some guys who are not quite ready for Low A can move a half step in competition rather than eating a slot by repeating with the GCL team (think Jhoan Herrera this year).  This is especially important for pitchers. 

Just look at an example from this year.  In 2013 the Pirates signed Nestor Oronel when he was 16 years old.  He spent a year playing for the DSL.  31 K’s with only 14 walks in 14 starts was good enough to have him come up in 2015 to the GCL.  There he started 9 games and appeared in a few more.  Not a great performance as he failed to win any games, but actually had a better WHIP.  He was not ready for a move to Low A ball to pitch against college hitters who were going to be 2 or more years older than him.  But the Pirates need to be looking at new prospects, so Oronel moves up to the Appy league and start 8 games and appear in more innings this year than last.  He recorded more strikeouts with 36.  Now he is still far from a prospect, but he will be 20 going into next season.  He may even need to start off in the Appy League again.  But, the fact he did not need to eat a starting spot in the GCL helped pave the way for like Miguel Hernandez.  He was signed when 18 (I think), and spent a season in the Dominican and earned his way as a 20 year old to pitch in the GCL where he started 9 games and appeared in one more.  He is a bit wild, but won a couple of games and did not give up as many hits as you might expect. 

Since the Pirates are going with the more the merrier approach in International signings, it is almost a necessity to have that extra Rookie level team to evaluate the people as they go through the system. 

It is a little early to tell if this approach is better than chasing after big names in Latin America, but failure here will be a lot easier to absorb as a system than failure like we see with Luis Heredia.  For a financially strapped organization, I am all for giving it a try.  

Monday, August 15, 2016

Hard to believe

Something is just not right this year.  It feels like the Pirates are much worse than they were last year, and they are.  In fact, it seems as if the Pirates are just awful.  The starting pitching is weak, the bullpen has been shaky, Cutch is hitting under .250 as is Kang, the catchers get hurt every other day, and yet the Pirates remain a game out of the final wild card spot, and thanks to the Mets collapse only have to jump the Cards and the Marlins to get in.  Add to that the new news that the Marlins will be without Stanton for the rest of the year, and they seem likely to fall out.  How are the Pirates in this? 

I want to give up on this season so bad, yet there is a lot of reason to think the playoffs are possible.  Marte is playing out of his mind good.  And frankly so is Frazier.  Both are doing amazing.  Jordy Mercer is playing better than normal.

If those guys can show up like this next year with a McCutchen returning to form, Bell as an upgrade over Jaso, and an improved rotation that does not have to suffer through half a season of Niese, the Pirates could very well be right there with the Cubs as World Series favorites.   But as we learned this year, you cannot count on anything. 

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Lower Minors are they a disaster?

I don’t like the Liriano trade.  It was bad.  But let us not let that affect the way we view the Pirates farm system as a whole.  WTM makes the comment that the Pirates lower part of the farm system is as bad as it was in the dark ages of the 90s, which means we ought to expect an end to our era of competitiveness soon. 

While it is easy to see a real disparity between the upper levels that are loaded, and the lower levels, which have been drafting later, it is not talent poor.  Nor is it as bad as the Littlefield days.

Let us remember first and foremost as we look at the West Virginia Power that this is the part of the year you want this team to be a little talent low.  You almost never pull freshly drafted college kids up to A ball, but you do often send A ball kids up to High A.  So as we look at the current roster of West Virginia remember that they have already sent up Tito Polo and the vastly underrated Taylor Scioneaux (batters hit under .100 at West Virginia against him and are currently hitting under .200 in High A).  Ke’Bryan Hayes also is on the DL, and by all accounts he is still a top prospect with a little more to learn about adjusting to pitchers who adjust to him.  Michael Tolman does not look awful at 2B and I have never understood why Daniel Arribas does not get more of a look.  Not great talent hitting, I grant you, but pitching they have plenty.  Recent addition Taylor Hearn will arrive soon.  In addition to the aforementioned Scioneaux they have Mitch Keller.  Keller has struck out over 100 people this year and walked less than 15.  Yes, he needs work on the change like everyone at this level.  And yes hitters have discovered lately to not swing at his curve because it is probably not a strike.  But no one is saying he is major league ready.  What we are saying is he looks like a real prospect.  Hinsz also shows similar ability with a 41:11 K:BB.  Let us not forget that both are pitching their first full season so a little drop off at the end should not worry anyone too much.  This is especially true for Keller who was in A all year. 

Morgantown is a similar story.  These guys are also all playing longer than they ever have before.  Will Craig started off awful, but has come back strong.  His average is now up to .248, which if you remember his start, is impressive.  He also showed he can take a walk, which is a good sign.  His defense is a disaster, but he can move to 1B if he has to do so.  And Sandy Santos has been more than up to the challenge making himself look like a prospect.  And while Hunter Owen was a late round pick, he has played great including some signs of power.  Don’t be too quick to overlook Kevin Krause, who missed a year for an injury.  A bit early to write him off as a repeat offender of this league.  And while pitching is not Morgantown’s strong suit, late round pick Danny Beddes looks very good, and closer Brandon Bingel has been good too.  Usually you don’t too excited about closers, but he is pitching more than an inning an outing.  Even 15th round pick last year Scooter Hightower is showing good control with a 21:6 K:BB with no homers allowed.  He is improving and that is important at this age and level. 

Now I am not quite sure I see the point in having two rookie league teams.  It does dilute the talent level.  But taken together there is some talent at the Rookie Level.  Victor Fernandez and Jhoan Herrera are both on pace to be 22 in Short A ball next year.  Both are hitting well.  Fernandez has even shown improvement in his plate discipline striking out less and walking more against better competition.  It is too early to write off Nelson Jorge who is hitting over .300 and has shown major improvement over the winter.  Perhaps he can be something.  There has nothing to be upset in over most of this year’s draft picks pitching performances (except Blake Cenderline).  Travis MacGregor looks fine.  Maybe you want a few more strikeouts, but really not a bad start.  Matt Eckleman’s dominate performance at Bristol is probably a bit because he is too old for the league, but it is good enough to make one consider a jump to West Virginia next year rather than Morgantown.  Adam Oller is only 21 and a bullpen guy, but he too has been very good for Bristol.  He will be 22 at Morgantown next year and ought to see if he can be a steady bullpen hand. 

The DSL has a horrible record, but that does not mean that some of these guys might not make it.  I don’t know enough about these guys to see what will translate to American and what won’t but Christopher Perez leads the team in average and plays SS and 2B.  Leandro Pina is 18 and has an ERA and a WHIP under 1 with a 27:4 K:BB ratio.  Surely there is something there that could be developed into something.  Roger Santana is 18 and has a 43:8 ratio.  Does anyone remember what the Latin America program looked like under Littlefield?  Let us not get too upset about the record.  I think there are people here who have a shot at being good prospects. 

Now are these guys top 25 prospects?  Other than Keller, Hinsz, and Craig, Probably not.  Are there guys here primed for a breakout season and could work their way into the top 25.  Yes.  Could we easily be talking about Sandy Santos and Hunter Owen next year as break out stars?  I think so.  Could Nelson Jorge or Travis MacGregor still work their way to the majors?  Absolutely.  The lower minors look bad by comparison to our upper levels, but they are not without talent.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Were we buyers or sellers? Trading deadline review

So the confusing trade deadline has come and gone.  Time to start dissecting. 

Melancon probably had to go.  And the Pirates got a decent return in my opinion.  Felipe Rivero throws hard, without control problems, is left handed, and has five years of control.  Add in a young A ball pitcher who also appears to have strike out potential with no real control problems, and it probably makes sense.  The Pirates did draft Taylor in 2012 so it is not the first time the Pirates have shown interest.  Call it a good trade. 

The Pirates got Ivan Nova for a player to be named later.  Nova is just a rental and probably won’t be a big name going back to the Yanks in return.  As long as that is true this is a good trade.  The Pirates need a starter and Nova fits the bill.  Not great but a reasonable trade. 

The Pirates returned Jon Niese and got Antonio Bastardo back.  Both guys are doing worse this year than last, but I have a ton more confidence in Bastardo than Niese, especially coming out of the pen.  This means horrible things for the Walker trade, but forgetting Walker this trade is great.  It is a good one for the Pirates who need late inning help not long inning hope. 

The Liriano, Ramirez, McGuire trade for Drew Hutchison is a baffler.  Liriano was awful this year.  I guess Hutchison would be better, but he has not exactly set the world on fire.  He is a great deal cheaper.  Harold Ramirez is a good talent, but admittedly blocked a great deal in Pittsburgh.  Many have him in the top 10 (I think he is just outside, but whatever).  Yet, he is still behind Polanco, Marte, and McCutchen.  And even when he is ranked in the top 10 prospects he is behind Meadows.  The Pirates also have Willy Garcia, who is not doing great this year, but I list him to show the Pirates have  quite a bit of depth in the outfield in the minors.  Remember also that the Pirates have tried Hansen, and Osuna in the outfield too.  I could live with this trade if that was all it did.  Somehow this includes Reese McGuire.  Now McGuire only hits about .250, but his defense is great.  The Pirates did re-sign Stewart and Cervelli, but this trade means they have a great deal of confidence in Elias Diaz.  Hutchinson is not worth McGuire too.  This is a bad trade for the Pirates. 

Now that said, I think the Pirates have given themselves a great improvement for next year.  The bullpen next year now has Watson, Hughes, Bastardo, and Rivero.  I think Caminero might be back and the Pirates have enough talent to fill the long man position without any trouble.  They have saved some money with the Liriano trade to go and get a decent name to fill in that extra hole to make a great bullpen.  McGuire was a not going to be on next year’s team so that hit will come later and neither was Ramirez.  They don’t have to go to arbitration with Hutchison, but can if they think it helps.  They have also opened a spot up for these young guns to go grab. 

I think the best part of the deal is that it should save people like Glasnow and Brault.  They would struggle a bit at the majors.  Now they can go back to Indy and develop as they need to do.  Glasnow can work on that change rather than try to help the Pirates win a pennant and be ready for next year.  Brault can too. 

The Pirates are not dead in the water for this year now either.  They have an improved pen with Rivero and Bastardo.  They have an improved rotation with Cole, Taillon, Nova, and Hutchison.  The fifth spot can be up for grabs, but I would prefer to see the returning  Chad Kuhl take the slot.  Although I suspect we see Vogelsong a bit.  Either way, it seems better without Liriano and with Nova.  Time will tell how bad the Liriano weirdness turns out to be for the Pirates, but the other trades look good to me.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Buyers or Sellers?

The reasons for being a buyer are pretty simple. 

#1 You have a shot at the playoffs.  The Pirates have been fairly injured all year and Cutch has been awful, yet the Pirates are only a couple of games out of the final playoff spot.  Adding the needed pieces (mostly pitching) ought to push you over the top.

#2 You have a deep farm system.  This is always an important consideration when looking to be a buyer.  Do you have the pieces to lose?  And right now the answer may actually be yes.  Do the Pirates really need Adam Frazier, Max Moroff, and Alen Hansen?  What about Chad Kuhl, Brault, Kingham, and Williams?  Not to mention Clay Holmes in AA.  Even the wave after that already includes Hinz and Keller.  And let us not forget that we have Kramer, Tucker, and Newman all bunched together and Hayes right behind occupying third further narrowing that group.  The farm system could survive a trade or two.

The reasons for being a seller (or at least not a buyer). 

#1 You have no real shot this year.  The Pirates have an easy schedule down the stretch, some head to head with the Cardinals, and have been pretty even so far with the Mets.  It is reasonable to assume that they can be jumped if the right trades are made.  And the Marlins are playing above their heads, the last wild card spot is a real possibility.  But, that gets you a one game playoff on the road against Kershaw.  Yikes.  If you win that you get the Cubs with the new improved bullpen.  I am not sure the Pirate are cut out to win a five game set against them.  If they did they would get either Bumgardner and the Giants or Strassborg and Harper with the Nats.  Both seem to have better rotations and star players playing like star players.  That is just to get to the World Series.  Not a likely scenario at this point.

#2 You are about to lose Mark Melancon for nothing.  The Pirates are not going to resign him, and he will probably be overpaid.  But the Pirates could trade him now and get something in return.  Maybe a prospect for the pen in a year or a guy who might compete for a 5th rotation spot next year.  Maybe even a catcher to push Diaz.  He will be overvalued right now at the deadline.  This is an opportunity to get a little something to help next year. 

#3 There are too many needs to make the Pirates great again.  The Pirates need another arm in the pen to make a run.  While Watson and Hughes are regaining form, another solid late inning arm is necessary.  Four late inning guys and a ground ball guy ought to be good enough for a playoff push, but they need one more arm to get to that spot.  It doesn’t have to be a closer, but a good hard throwing strike out guy.  But what the Pirates really need is a starting pitcher.  Right now they have Cole and that is it.  Lirano is not going anywhere, but he needs to be pushed down in importance.  Let us assume for a moment that he is getting it together and Taillon is reliable into the post-season.  You don’t want to have to go with Glasnow and Kuhl or Locke and Niese as the back end for the playoffs.  And you don’t want any of them this year pitching in the playoffs.  So, assuming one of those four can hold down a fifth slot we need a guy to take the fourth slot to pitch in the playoffs.  It would actually be better if you can get a #2 or 3 guy to make the Pirates competitive.  The price for a Chris Archer or a Julio Teheran would be astronomical.  You are talking losing a Bell or Meadows plus someone like Brault plus something else (or two). 

#4 The market stinks.  We already mentioned the high priced names with control left like Teheran that will cost top 5 prospects and then some.  Even if the Pirates are just looking for a rental it will still cost a top tier prospect plus a lower minor leaguer, and the return will be bad.  That is just the market this year because there is no one.  None.  It is an ugly starting pitching market.  Seriously James Shields is the big name rental.  Oakland’s Rich Hill might be the best idea, but he just went on the DL.  And Rich Hill is not exactly a world beater that is going to change your team from pretender into contender. 

#5 Help will be here next year.  The Pirates, thanks to some bad injuries last year, are just in a weird year where their internal help is too far off.  Glasnow is not really ready.  Kingham went down.  Kuchno imploded, and it is just a stretch to bring up some bullpen arms.  Think about next year.  The starting rotation can be Cole, Lirano, Taillon, and now Kuhl.  All have experience and ready to go.  By mid June you could bring up Glasnow and Kingham or a Brault and have a good solid rotation.  Your bullpen can have Watson as the closer, Hughes, Locke (or not whatever), and a whole bunch of new guys.  You can sign a guy if you need it or bring back Schlegul.  You could have Durapau by mid season (who is dominating AA right now), and you could convert Frank Duncan to the pen to start the season.  Maybe even a September call up of Luis Heredia, who is destroying High A in the pen.  Add to that Josh Bell’s power bat, and the Pirates are a lot better next year than this year. 

All in all it is pretty clear I want to be a seller.  I think you have to get something for Melancon while you can, and frankly I might trade some others if I could.  I like Jaso and I think he has a place on next year’s team, but maybe now is the time to let Bell do what he can do and get something in return.  Maybe Matt Joyce is as good as it is going to get right now.  I don’t really shop those guys, but I listen if someone came a calling. 
That being said, I also would not be upset if the Pirates just ride it out.  Keep what you have and let Melancon walk at the end of the year.  That way you are not giving up, and you might slip into the playoffs anyway. 

I suspect that the Pirates will make a real low level deal for a bullpen arm.  Maybe a Jeremy Jeffress or a David Hernandez or Andrew Bailey, but nothing too much. 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

All Star Break Breakdown

As I am usually a pretty pessimistic fan, I actually find myself somewhat excited about the Pirates this year.  They are going younger, and it is working.

Yes, they currently sit on the outside looking in, but this is only by a game.  And they have done this without Cole, Cervelli, Stewart, and a bad version of Lirano and McCutchen, not to mention a suspect bullpen.  However, the bullpen has come around and even today's loss showed hope for a Jeff Locke out of the bullpen coming in the future.

We have seen Chad Kohl, and he has been better than many thought.  He deserves a shot at the eventual 5th starter role.  We have seen Glasnow, and he is going to be able to strike guys out.  Adding that change is going to make him deadly.  We have seen Taillon, and while some growth is still there, he can be dominate.  He needs the majors to grow any more, and he is going to be an addition to the team.  We have seen Adam Frazier, and he can be the super utility guy of the future or the eventual starting short stop or second baseman.  He seems to be able with the bat and in the field (although needing a little more outfield time). 

We have also just gotten a glimpse of Josh Bell.  Wow.  What a way to debut.  Bell got a pinch hit single in his first at bat off of none other than Jake Arrietta.  He came around to score the winning run.  We saw Bell's second pinch hit go for a grand slam to put the game away against the Cubs.  We saw his third plate appearance go for a walk, where he would come around to score the tying run.  Bell is 2 for 2 with a run scored in all three plate appearances.  Not bad at all.

So, the Pirates appear to be able to compete with what they have right now.  If they could clear out Niese to make room for a Kuhl or eventually a Glasnow, it would be great.  If they could get their catchers to stay healthy it would be good.  Cole will be back right after the All-Star break.  Plus, they have some prospects that could be traded for immediate help, probably in the bullpen, as they don't really need any other bats and have the young arms to pitch in the rotation.  Someone like Max Moroff, who may now be disposable with Frazier grabbing his opportunity by the horns, or even a Hansen.  Frank Duncan looks like a break out pitching prospect, perhaps he gets a trade look.  Brault could be another pitcher to go.  The Pirates have the people without having to risk someone like Meadows or Keller.

At the very least this has been a glimpse into not needing McCutchen.  He was the hope for so long and Alvarez failed to materialize as his running mate.  Now McCutchen has Marte and Polanco and maybe even Kang to cover him.  Getting a glimpse of Bell as a power bat should make everyone feel like the Pirates are set for the future.  Seeing Taillon develop to run with Cole and getting the glimpse of Glasnow only fuels the fire.  With guys like Kuhl stepping up to audition for the supporting cast is also invigorating.

The Pirate future is bright.  I do think they make the post season, they won't have to face the Cubs in a do or die, nor does it look like Bumgardner will be waiting.  It could be Kershaw, but only time will tell.