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.  

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Pirates in free fall

The question now is about whether or not the Pirates are going to have a winning season not whether or not they get to the postseason.  And how big a seller will the Pirates be at the deadline. 

I say this because it is hard to think the Pirates are trying much to win right now.  Today’s line up was familiar of the early 2000s.  When your line up includes Rodriguez and Kratz and Joyce, you are in big trouble.  I understand Marte went down with an injury, and it is probably a normal day off for Cutch.  But this is awful. 

First, Stallings is a better option than Kratz.  Hitting a whopping .050 going into today’s game should prove that.  Second, we have better options than Rodriguez right now.  Frazier or Moroff could give you all the flexibility defensively as Rodriguez (since you don’t need to cover first as Freese can do that), and probably hit better than .250 with a high strikeout potential.  Third, yesterday the Pirates started Wilfred Boscan.  Now, Glasnow has not allowed a hit in his last 12 innings in AAA.  I get it he probably does need more work on the change up and seeing multiple games without a loss of control for an inning would be nice, but the Pirates are falling out of contention for anything and Glasnow gives you a better shot than Boscan.  At some point you have to give it a go now.  You could always demote Glasnow after the game if you think Nicasio will be back for the next start.  But Boscan imploded as did the bullpen.  Would Glasnow have done that?  Was it really because Glasnow’s rest was one day off.  Probably not. 

To show you how bad it is today up 1-0 on the Giants in the 2nd inning, the Pirates had a runner at third with nobody out, but you knew he was not going to score.  Due up were Kratz, Rodriguez, and then pitcher Jon Niese.  All three struck out.  Not even a sac fly from Kratz or Rodriguez.  That is unacceptable baseball, especially when your two best players are on the bench.  The trio of Kratz, Joyce, and Rodriguez went 1 for 9 with Joyce pulling in two walks, and Rodriguez managing a meaningless hit late in the game.  Kratz ended the game with a .043.  That is also his OBP because he has not even drawn a walk. 

It is going to be fun to watch the prospects get some big league playing time this year, but it is painful to watch the Pirates tank so that becomes necessary. 

Saturday, June 11, 2016

2016 Draft and what it says about the Pirates

There are many sites that are going to be able to give you better person by person breakdown of the picks.  For example, I still have no idea why the Pirates picked Blake Cederlind.  But, I would like to take a bird's eye view of the draft and see if we can come up with what this draft is saying about the Pirates as a whole.

#1 - The Pirates think they need left handed pitching.    It seems to me that the Pirates went after lefties a little more than normal.  3 of the first 10 picks were left handed pitchers.  And some seem a little like over drafts indicating that perhaps the Pirates think they have a need in the system of left handed pitching prospects.  And that may be fair.  You can quickly name lots of right handed pitchers in the system like Taillon, Glasnow, Keller, and Hinz not to mention some lower tier names.  But who is the big lefty prospect?  Kingham was doing well before surgery, we will see where he is now.  So maybe this is not a bad idea.

#2 - The Pirates believe they can get hitters through International signings.    The Pirates drafted a ton of pitchers.  Hitters are almost non-existent.  Will Craig is a hitting prospect.  Alemais is not a pitcher, but not a big hitting prospect.  Same with Gibbs.  Only 18 of the 41 picks are hitters, and not all of those will sign.  A lot of those 18 are late round guys who are not leaving school  Nor is 24th rounder Brodrato.  So, one has to conclude they have a comfort level with getting guys elsewhere.  Perhaps the success of a Tito Polo helps one think that the draft is more important for pitching prospects than hitting ones.  Consider that 8 of the 18 are either catchers or short stops, the two positions that defense might trump hitting. 

#3 - The Pirates value youth.   This is not just high school.  The Pirates seemed to avoid college seniors as if they had the bubbonic plague this year.  MLB has them only taking 9, but I have heard some debate about whether Vieaux is really a SR making it only 8. 

#4 - The Pirates scouted the Southern Conference a lot this year.    Really the SoCon, not the SEC.  The Southern Conference had 4 guys picked by the Pirates.  Three of those four were from East Tennessee State University and the other was from Western Carolina, the actual winner of the SoCon.  I am not even sure what to make of this, but it is a little weird, right?  I am not the only one who thinks three guys from ETSU, which didn't even finish in the top 2 in a conference that is hardly known for baseball is a little strange?  Not that I don't like some of those picks.  Brown was nasty at Western this year with some pop in the bat. 

So those are some of my thoughts about the state of the Pirate system by looking at this draft.  Other than #4, which I threw in because I grew up on the SoCon, I think the Pirates are drafting for what they can work with knowing that their International system seems to struggle to produce pitching (see Heredia), and is producing hitting. 

It is not a great draft, but it is not a bad one either.  Sometimes you wish things would have gone a little differently.  For example Tom Hatch being drafted by the Cubs right before the Pirates.  He was very good this year for OSU, and would have been a great addition to the Pirates.  I think he has a MLB future, but he was off the board. 

This will be an interesting one to take a look at in a couple of years.