Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Pirates down the stretch

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Trade Deadline moves examined


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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Early Returns on 2014 draft strategy

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

2015 Draft Recap

With the Pirates playing okay and squarely in the Wild Card hunt, the draft came at a great time. This year the Pirates are drafting with a lot less money. 

I think the Pirates are clearly drafting athletes now rather than positions.  They took Kevin Newman a decent hitting short stop who some say can stay at short stop with their first pick.  Short stop is a position that requires a good amount of athleticism.  And if you can play there, you can be moved just about anywhere else.  This also explains Kevin Kramer is also a good hitting short stop.  Sandwiched inbetween is Ke'Bryan Hayes, who plays third in high school.  This is another position where one can still play many other positions if third does not work out.  Hayes may have some pop, and with some growing yet to do there is hope.  Jacob Taylor also fits this mold as he has been a pitcher for a year, and obviously can play elsewhere if he fails at pitcher much like Stetson Allie. Brandon Waddell from Virginia should sign and have quicker success than Taylor.  Waddell will begin at Low A, but Taylor may start in Rookie League ball.  These are the two pitchers to watch. 

The biggest surprise to me is that they went 10 out of 11 college players for the first 10 rounds.  A lot of people who project to be solid hitters without power.  They should be able to sign them all even though some have eligibility left.  I think they can probably get it done without too much trouble. 

The third day you usually see an early high schooler drafted that they try to save money to go and sign like Gage Hinz.  However, this year that did not happen probably because of the low money in the pool.  Although I do like Ty Moore from UCLA.  They had a great year and a surprising exit in the regionals.  Moore was a big hitter on that team.  Nick Hibbing was an interesting pick in the 16th round.  Iowa had a surprisingly good year.  He was dominate out of the pen.  His stuff was clearly hard to hit as opponents hit under .200 against him in 25 appearances.  He averaged multiple innings per outing, and in the big games he would sometimes go 3 innings.  Yet, he is not a great strikeout pitcher.  He was about at 1 per inning, but that number is inflated a bit.  Against the good teams he was not at that mark.  Hibbing also seemed to get more flyball outs than ground ball outs and that is not what the Pirates have favored in the past.  Yet his control is impeccable.  Still, I was surprised to see Hibbing be taken at 16. 

Ike Schlabach was the first high schooler taken and he is a big lefty.  Although as a 19th rounder I don't think the Pirates are going to sign him. 

Other guys that interest me are Scooter Hightower, John Bormann, Logan Ratledge, and Stephan Meyer.  Hightower is a 6'6 righty who will probably sign.  Ratledge was ranked 157th best in the draft and is one of those shortstops that you can move else where if you need.  Bormann is a highly thought of defensive catcher.  The Pirates have had some success with those, and teaching to hit is easier than teaching defense at least as a catcher.  Meyer is a 6'4 righty from Bellevue University, NE, so he should sign despite being a junior.  I live near there and he never even got radio coverage.  He is not going to be able to improve his draft position by going back for another year.  I bet he starts in Bristol or maybe even GCL, but he signs. 

If you thought last year was bland, you probably hated this year.  I said last year was the average and you should expect more like it.  I think this year is much the same, proving my point from last year.  There is not a ton to get excited about here.  But the Pirates are drafting people who they believe can hit and play where needed. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

Alen Hanson vs. Dilson Herrera

Well, it is time to face the facts.  Dilson Herrera is better than Alen Hanson and it may not even be close.  Dilson Herrera has made the majors and is now going to be facing Pirate pitching. 

I always thought Herrera was better than Hanson.  When the trade was Hanson was on a higher minor league level and still playing short.  Now Herrera has past Hanson, although one could argue that the Mets need may have played a role and Hanson is not needed right now in Pittsburgh.  However, Herrera was hitting .370 in AAA and Hanson's OBP is not that high (.318).  Hanson has two errors already this year and there is little reason to think moving to second is going to make his defense acceptable.

The problem with Hanson has never been his ability.  I do think Herrera was underrated in that area ever since he put together a massive hitting streak in the DSL, but Hanson can hit.  The problem is mental and that is always worse than someone who has a more physical hole in his game.  I don't think Herrera has ever been sat down by his team.  Hanson has it happen quite a bit.  His error in the field were not a player trying to play short stop that did not have the tools, the errors were on the routine plays.  Baseball is mostly routine plays.  Baseball is doing the ordinary stuff really well.  Hanson seems prone to throwing fits, not running out ground balls, and not having his head in the game.

We lost that trade with the Mets.  Vic Black and Herrera are going to be key pieces in the Mets trip to the playoffs this year.  We got what we needed in the short term, but this is why I never like trading for short term rental players.

Looks like the Pirates just lost in 10.  Ugh.   

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Pirates Clearly have improved

Spring Training begins and there is real reason to hope this year.  The Pirates start this season with so much depth it is scary.  They didn't do a ton during the offseason, but every move was with great purpose. 
They have made the bench depth better.  Cory Hart is probably an upgrade over Ike Davis.  Sean Rodriguiz and Kang are both upgrades.  Pedro Alvarez is a bit of a question mark at first, but his raw power makes it a real possible upgrade at first over Gabby.  And while the Pirates may have stepped back a bit behind home plate, going to get Cervelli is still good enough.  Add to that the real reason to hope that Polanco is an upgrade in the outfield, and the Pirates look set in the field. 

But the pitching is great too.  Lirano, Cole, Morton, Worley, and Locke are back.  But adding AJ Burnett is huge.  The bullpen looks good with many new faces like Liz to help fill out the long relief.  It is a comforting thing.

But the real greatness is in all the people ready to come up and fill time.  Andrew Lambo is ready for first or outfield, and may beat out Tabata for the final bench spot.  Brandon Crumpton is ready to fill in the rotation.  Nick Kingham and Jameson Taillon will be ready by July or so.  You have Sadler who can go to the bullpen if needed.  Adrian Sampson might prove hard to ignore as well.  Lafromboise will probably be a lefty for the pen in the minors.  That is a lot of pitching depth. 

And I really did not even think about those who could break out to earn shots if needed like Jaff Decker, who is still on the 40 man. 

In short the Pirates look good at pitching both starting and bullpen.  They look great in the infield with the possible exception of first base where they have a lot of possible parts.  They are amazing in the outfield with spare parts.  This should be the year to move forward and start thinking division title.    

Friday, December 26, 2014

An offseason of dreams

The Pirates got in with the wild card again this past year.  Two years in a row of playoff baseball is something to be thankful about.  Yet, this offseason has set hopes of more playoffs into a new stratosphere.  This is the Pirate front office doing what you always hoped they would do.

First, they have kept real talent on the team and have in in the minors.  This has obviously been building for years, but during two playoff runs they have not traded away the future.  In addition to breaking camp this year with Gregory Polanco, the Pirates will have at Indianapolis Nick Kingham, Jameson Taillon, and then some to help if the rotation needs it.  They have stashed plenty of guys who can give bullpen aid for short stretches.  They have even managed to hold on to guys like Mel Rojas Jr., who could be an outfielder if we need it.  Amazing.

Second, they have resigned talent that is needed.  Yes, they had to let Russel Martin go.  They tried, and that is something.  But they did resign Fransico Lirano.  Pitching was going to be a problem, but getting Lirano stablizes the rotation quite a bit.  It keeps your ace, and is a proven commodity.  How long has it been since the Pirates resigned their ace in a free agent year?

Third, the Pirates made a splash in the free agent market.  They got Fransico Cervelli (via trade) to be their catcher.  Now that is not a big time fish, but it helps a need a great deal.  He is a starting quality catcher.  They also signed AJ Burnett.  Burnett came back to Pittsburgh for less.  This was a case of the Pirates not burning bridges and being a legitimate place to return to try and win a championship.  This is an upgrade for our 3rd starter, and brings a leader back into the clubhouse.  The Pirates also signed some bullpen help with Bastardo and Liz.  This helps replace one of the traded players for Cervelli, but also fills out a bullpen, which always needs something.  It is a sign of not being content with a pretty decent bullpen.  Don't even get me started on Sean Rogdriguiz and other moves to help the team.

Fourth, none of this even compares to winning the rights to sign  Jung-Ho.  Now he has not signed yet, but he probably will.  Winning the bidding means the Pirates are in it to win it.  They have never done something like this before.  They are taking a flyer on a middle infielder who may or may not have real pop, but does appear to be defensively sound, and can make contact.  Why not go for it?  Only teams that are serious about getting better do such things, and the Pirates have done it.  My excitement level is off the charts. 

In short the Pirates have acted like serious World Series contenders this offseason.  Perhaps this year we can win a division crown.  That would be the step forward that the Pirates need to take.  And this offseason is enough to help fans dream dreams that could really come true.