Thursday, July 20, 2017

Not Done yet . . .

So the Pirates are not goners.  They just went 6-1 on a homestand that included a four game sweep of the first place Brewers.  This helped them reach .500, leap the Cardinals, and claw to within 3 games of the Brew Crew, but don't forget the Cubs (who have already made a trade to improve) still stand between the Pirates and 1st place.

Everyone had been talking about how important the homestand was to deciding whether to be buyers or sellers.  To me that stretch was not just the homestand, but the next 3 games as well.  This is on the road against the Rockies.

Now, the Rockies are in the 2nd Wild Card spot, and thus this is another sign of whether or not we belong with teams who are thinking playoffs.  The Cards are now a below .500 team, so while it was important to beat them, I think the Rockies are the better judge.  Plus, winning on the road may be a little harder than home.  After all almost all of these wins were walk offs, which don't happen on the road.

Before I jump back on the hope train, I need to see the Pirates win against the Rockies.  I would settle for 2 out of 3.  But this will have to be done without Cole and without Taillon, who are going to go against the hapless Giants.  Trevor Williams, Chad Kuhl, and Nova have to bring this series home.  If they can pull this off, then I will admit they are back in the hunt.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Always Optimistic - Minor Leagues Half Way Point

As bad as the first half has been for the big league squad the minor league system is VERY encouraging.  First, it has seen the return from injury of some who could help the Pirates.  Brandon Crumpton and Casey Sadler are long shots, but they are back and that is good.  Nick Kingham is looking like his old self and that is very good. 

Indy was loaded with talent and their record shows it.  In fact, it is not as good as it ought to be because of how much the Pirates have had to raid it.  Max Moroff was on fire and is not sitting the bench in Pittsburgh.  Osuna looked good, and is looking okay in Pittsburgh.  Diaz has made several trips as have many bullpen pieces.  Some non-prospects have been hitting the cover off the ball, Bostick and Ortiz.  That always is nice.  But it is the prospects that make us happy.  Meadows had a slow start but a .300 May removed real concern.  It is the injury that worries now.  The pitching prospects are out of sight.  Glasnow has been great since his demotion.  Brault has been amazing.  Clay Holmes has good showings, and probably ought to be considered as the ground ball bullpen guy.  Drew Hutchinson is starting to look like someone who could be a major leaguer, and Edgar Santana has looked very good out of the pen. 

Prospects at Altoona have also done well.  Again Newman started slow, but has come on.  But the power of Kramer has been a revelation, and Luplow earned a promotion with his strong hitting.  Suiter is a lower type of prospect, but .313 is good.  Connor Joe is the only one that might be considered disappointing at .251.  Pitching is equally as exciting.  Austin Coley’s win-loss leaves something to be desired but his 67 Ks does not, nor does allowing fewer hits than innings.  J.T. Bruebaker is also striking out over 60 people, and Alex McCrae is not exactly failing with his 7 wins.  Yeudy Garcia has been disappointing, but hopefully a move to the pen will help him find his hard throwing way to the majors.  I am not sure how much we are supposed to be paying attention to Montana DuRapu, but he has a 1.16 WHIP with 14 saves.  Not mind blowing, but not awful.  And Tate Scioneaux has put together a good season out of the pen with a .98 WHIP. 

Bradenton has propsects showing great potential again.  Out of no where Logan Hill earned a promotion through his bat.  But the big prospects of Cole Tucker and Ke’Bryan Hayes have delivered in some surprising ways.  Hayes is hitting .267 in a non-friendly hitting league, but is showing good defense at the corner.  He also has stolen 22 bases.  That would be astounding if Cole Tucker had not stolen 34.  Tucker is also hitting .292.  The other name of real interest is Will Craig, last year’s first round pick, and he is hitting .291.  Kevin Krause has been derailed off the prospect track with injuries, but his .275 AVG with 6 HRs might help his cause.  It was the pitching that was always the exciting point of this team and while Gage Hinz has showed a lot of inconsistency, he has shown enough to keep one excited about him.  Mitch Keller’s .91 WHIP in 11 starts is competing with Taylor Hearn’s 96 Ks and a 1.16 WHIP for most exciting thing.  Daniel Zamora’s bullpen ability is also something to not neglect. 

West Virginia was expected to be awful, and they are not great, but playing better than expected.  This is partly because of Ty Moore, who earned a promotion.  Carlos Munez, who started off in extended spring training, hit well.  He has cooled off as of late, but a .257 AVG is something to be happy about.  Valerio and Alemais cannot stay healthy enough to get a good read, but Valerio has looked impressive.  This leaves really only Hunter Owen as a hitting prospect.  And he has delivered with a .280 AVG and a team leading 9 HRs.  The pitching here is what really exceeds expectations.  The futures games just got a taste of Luis Escobar.  But he is not alone in showing real promise.  Cam Vieaux earned a promotion (and has yet to lose in 3 starts in Bradenton).  He ought to be climbing onto some of the larger prospect lists as at least a possible lefty-bullpen arm in the future.  Oddy Nunez and James Marvel are both pitching rather well showing strikeout ability as starters.  And Eduardo Vera has a 62/8 K/BB rate, which was done in some starts and some bullpen appearances.  Cenderlind has been a disaster, but one such disaster should not take away from the others. 


That is a really nice look to our prospects in a fairly nice system.  It is top heavy, but the emergence of Escobar, Nunez, and Vera along with the stable hitting of Cole Tucker, Hayes, and Hunter Owen makes the bottom not quite as awful as it was thought to be.  If either Valerio, Alemais, or Munez can develop into something then the Pirates system is very deep and good.  And we have yet to look at this year’s draft.  

High Hopes Dashed - Mid Way Review

The Pirates first half is an unmitigated disaster.  They are basically out of the playoff race, and will probably trade some people down the stretch.  The only question left in the Pirates season is will they trade McCutchen and/or Cole. 

If you had told me at the beginning of the season the McCutchen was going to be hitting near .300 and going back and forth for the HR lead on the team with Josh Bell, I would have said the Pirates were going to make the playoffs.  But while the questions were all answered yes, the sure things all fell to pieces. 

Bell is hitting for power, but is too streaky with his average.  Polanco is disappointing to say the least.  Frazier has cooled off considerably, Freese is what he is, and Cervelli is an offensive liability.  What is worse is the times Jaso has to play in the outfield.  He leads a bench that has had many incarnations and almost all disappointing.  Moroff is currently on the roster hitting below .100.  Nuff said. 

Of course most of that is directly related to Marte’s steroid use and Kang’s drinking problem.  Frasier and Freese would be able to be occasional bats, it would have limited Jaso, and Morroff would not need to be on the roster at all.  Even just having Marte around would drastically improve the offense by adding another power threat and a near .300 hitter.  Imagine Marte and McCutchen both clicking with Harrison’s year.  It is a picture of what could have been, but never will be now.

The Pitching has likewise been a disappointment.  Glasnow was the big question mark that was answered with a no.  He will be back, but right now he is not ready.  That experiment cost the Pirates several games.  But Cole has been so-so.  He has had some great outings, but he has had some really bad ones.  Kuhl’s expected step back was a bit larger than I thought, further hurting the team.  Taillon’s absence is probably what sunk the Pirates.  His ace level pitching probably could have saved the Pirate three to four games in the standings and kept them right in the mix.  Tony Watson’s implosion was also unexpected.  Couple that with the underwhelming performance of Daniel Hudson, and the Pirate bullpen becomes a huge weak spot.  The bullpen did not really even replace Trevor Williams with a decent arm.  Williams has done very well after the first outing in the starting spot, but the bevy of arms thrown into his spot have all failed to perform.  Both Santana and Neverauskas did little to show their potential in brief stints with the club. 

As much as it pains me, I think the Pirates have to move McCutchen.  He should bring a nice return and he can go get the ring he ought to have.  I would try to keep Cole, but there are others that might could be moved.  Watson won’t bring much, but if there is a buyer, I would be a seller.  Cervelli should also be shopped.  Catchers have a good value usually and Elias Diaz showed he may be able to handle the majors now.  One hopes that McCutchen can bring in a big prospect, and maybe some smaller pieces.  A Felipe Rivero kind of return would be nice for Cervelli, and anything for Watson would be fine. 


It would have been a good year.  Marte deserves a lot of blame for his actions that tanked the Pirates season.  I hope he cleans up and is still good without the drugs, but he will never have my full support again.  

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.