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. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Winning the Right Way

The Pirates appear to be in line to make the playoffs after tonight's 1-0 win over the Braves.  After how bad the Pirates were early this season and their season long inability to sweep teams, I never thought they were going to make the playoffs.  Yet, the Pirates are going to do it.  And they did it without trading for anyone. 

The Tigers traded big as did the A's.  The Angels did it, and the traditional way of thinking is that you have to upgrade your team to make the stretch run.  The Pirates have upgraded without trades, but it is still an upgrade.  Well their was the one early season trade to rid them of Grilli, but that was arguably not a good trade.

The Pirates relied on their farm system to upgrade them rather than deplete the farm system for rental players as the Royals did last year.  The knew that Gregory Polanco was coming, but after an initial help, he really fell off the radar and was later demoted.  But his help was there for an important stretch.  They trusted Jeff Locke and Brandon Crumpton could get the job done in the rotation and they did just fine.  And let us not overlook the trade right before the season to acquire Vance Worley for cash.  Worley sat in AAA for the year and came ready to pitch, and he has done so. 

The masterful use of the waiver wire is what the Pirates excelled at this year.  When the Pirates had trouble with Alvarez, they were able to use the wire to grab Brent Morel.  Now that does not sound like much, but Morel could defend 3B and plugged the emergency back up role just fine while Harrison took over the hot corner.  When they needed to replace Barmes as the emergency back up short stop, they did that over the wire too.  No panic, just use the waiver wire to get what you need.  No need to trade for a SS or a 3B, just waiver wire.  Even better appears to be the use of the wire to pick up LaFrombose, a lefty specialist.  Now this was done near the end of the year, but could pay dividends in the playoffs.  He will be available to add to the team if extra left handers are needed. 

Now the real gem is of course Holdzkom.  Holdzkom was found by the scouts in independent ball, and is now a legitimate late innings pitcher.  Take tonight for example.  He pitched the 8th in a 1 run game during the stretch run for the playoffs.  There is little doubt that Holdzkom becomes the the 7th inning man for the playoffs.  And he will be back for the next year strengthening the bullpen, which was a clear weakness early in the season.  Holdzkom will simply take Stolmy Pimentel's place who the Pirates successfully hid all year on the roster.  Not often are playoff contenders able to hid guys who have no options left on the roster all year if they are not actually contributors.  

The Pirates nice stretch by the Pirates is proof that the trade deadline is a bit overrated.  Teams often ought to trust their roster and trust their farm system. 

If anything the contrast between the A's and the Pirates ought to be stark.  One made a blockbuster trade that moved a starting player and some minor leaguers for a front line starting pitcher for the rest of the season, and the Pirates absorbed criticism and stood pat.  The A's are limping down the stretch and have gone from the best team in the majors before the all star break to barely making the playoffs.  The Pirates went from third in their division and behind several teams to in the playoffs and challenging for the top wild card spot, and while they are going to come up a little short on the NL central title, they gave it a run.

This was an impressive display from the Pirates this year, especially their front office.   

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Playoff Rosters

So the Pirates have to set their playoff roster before expanding it on September 1st.  The rules are a bit flexible, but lets run through this.

If you are on the 25 man active roster as of midnight August 31st then you are eligible for post season play.  This includes those on the DL, so Charlie Morton is eligible despite not being active.  Now in the big wrinkle anyone from the organization can be added to take the spot of a person the DL when playoff time comes.  So what does this mean for the Pirates playoff roster?

It means that people eligible for the playoffs include Brandon Crumpton and Brent Morel since they are currently on the 25 man roster.  This is why Andrew Lambo was brought up before September 1.  Lambo is now eligible for the playoffs as is Jose Tabata.  So the 25 men who took the field today are all eligible. 

Those who are not eligible of interest include Gregory Polanco and Jeff Locke along with Gerrit Cole who were optioned the other day in order to help bring up Morel and Lambo. 

Now the Pirates have two other players who remain eligible in Charlie Morton and Stolmy Pimentel.  Both of those guys are eligible for the playoffs. 

The Disabled List loophole it means that Cole or Locke or Polanco or anyone else in the organization could be used to take Morton or Pimentel's slot and be on a post season roster if that person is still on the DL come playoff time.  Currently with Morton sounding like he is not going to pitch again it means that one of these demoted players would be able to play in the playoffs.  And it would NOT have to be a pitcher that took Morton's place.  Of course if anyone else on the active 25 man roster gets sent to the DL and remains there during the playoffs the Pirates would be able to replace that person as well. 

Two other things worth noting are that if a player is acquired from other teams in September that person cannot play in the Divisional series and beyond.  Thus, trades are effectively over for the Pirates.  Also, for whatever reason, the one game wild card playoff does not follow this eligibility rule.  Anyone on roster at the end of the season is able to play in this game.  In a sense the one game playoff is considered more of a final regular season game than a post season game.  Anyone who is called up in September is eligible for that one game. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Pirates Call Ups

The Pirates are two games back in the loss column (unless SF loses tonight) from the final wild card spot.  They just had a decent run of winning series against the Brewers and the Cardinals; however, the Pirates inability to sweep anyone is the reason I still think they miss the playoffs. 

But the September call ups are about to become a reality, so who will the Pirates call up to try and help the playoff push?  Here are my thoughts.

No Brainers:
- Stolmy Pimentel = His injury was a bit questionable and timed perfectly to be able to come up without having to make room on the 25 man roster.
- Charlie Morton = I am not sure if he will be healthy enough at the beginning of September, but when he is, he comes right back.
- Gregory Polanco  = Polanco went down to try and get right, but is still part of the outfield of the future, so expect him back.
- Tony Sanchez = Sanchez gives the Pirates 3 catchers which they did last year for the playoff push, so no reason to expect they will not do it again.  Sanchez on the roster allows Martin to pinch hit on days where he is resting without worry.  Also Sanchez moving up gives plenty of at bats to Diaz in AAA, which is what they want anyway.

- Andrew Lambo = Lambo came up last year, and is hitting homers at a nice clip since coming back from the AAA DL.  Lambo gives a power option off the bench, and can play outfield or 1B giving added defensive flexibility.

I think so, but not postive:
- Casey Sadler = He has been up and down and could give a long inning relief option so that if the Pirates got blown out they did not have to waste a good pitcher.  He is in the starting rotation at Indy, so they may wait until Indy is done, but once they are, I think Casey comes back up.
- Michael Martinez = He is infield depth.  Again, I think they wait until Indy's season is over, but they have had him up before.  Why not?
- Bobby LaFromboise = a recent waiver claim.  He is a lefty with a funky delivery, and is pretty good against lefties.  Clint is not much on the one pitcher, one hitter philosophy, but maybe after September he would be willing to give it a shot.  LaFromboise is not part of Indy in any real way, so if he is going to come up, I would imagine it would be right away.

Probably not:
- Chris McGuiness = Too many choices at 1B with Pedro over there now and Lambo able to play there too.
- Brent Morel = The Pirates seem to prefer Martinez, and I don't think they carry people just to carry people.  In the pennant race, the Pirates seem to favor only bringing up players they may use.
- Mel Rojas = He did great after making the jump to AAA.  But Lambo and Polanco are both going to see outfield time or pinch hitting/running.  There is no need for a 6th outfielder.  He will play out the season in AAA and come back next year as a prospect and possible 4th outfielder.  A good year, but no call up.  Plus, I think they have to remove a guy and why bother for someone who is not going to play.

I just don't see the Pirates adding people to the 40 man in order to call them up.  That is bad news for Vin Mazzarro, but I don't think the Pirates are going to do it.  If they liked Mazzarro enough to think he could have helped their pen, they would have done it long before now.  Same goes for Andy Oliver.  I don't see a whole lot of call ups.  I am projecting 8, but would not be surprised of LaFromboise got left out.  I will be surprised if more than 8 come up. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Big Market Rebuilding: Theo Epstein is not brillant just rich

You can always count on Grantland to have some thought provoking articles.  The recent one about the way the Cubs are rebuilding is no different.  However, Mr. Jazayreli left out the most important point: this type of rebuilding is not possible for teams like the Pirates. 

The point of the article is that the Cubs are starting to find success by rebuilding counter to the MLB norm.  Instead of going for pitching because pitching wins championships. they have gone for hitting.  Those hitters are all panning out because they are a safer bet than pitchers (see Stetson Allie), and less injury prone (see Taillon).  The article does give a nod to the FIP stat and that the Cubs seem to be using to grab a pitcher here and there, but the Pirates seem to be doing a bit of that themselves.  The last paragraph makes the claim that if they sign a big name free agent pitcher they should be a pick to make the playoffs in 2015. 

But there is the rub.  The Cubs have money to sign a big name free agent pitcher in the offseason.  The Pirates do not.  To get the big name pitcher you have to over pay, and the Pirates do not have the budget to do that, the Cubs do.  The article admits at the end that an ace is going to be necessary to get to the playoffs and win in the playoffs.  The Cubs do not have to develop that ace because they can go and sign one or two.  So why not just load up on hitting?  Pitching is a free agent offer sheet away. 

The Pirates do not have that ability.  People do not sign in Pittsburgh unless their career is in ruins.  Burnett was acquired via trade because he failed miserably in New York.  Lirano was injury prone and inconsistent in Minnesota, so he signed with Pittsburgh.  Once AJ Burnett re-established himself as a good pitcher, he faked retirement to avoid the qualifying offer from the Pirates and signed back in a big market: Philly.  Will Lirano re-sign with the Pirates?  Probably not.  So the Pirates have to develop their own ace pitchers.  And that means having to draft several because, as was pointed out, some do not make it (see Zack Von Rosenburg). 

So the Cubs new way of rebuilding is not really genius new way to build a team as much as it is a big market team way of rebuilding.  And that is a point that should be made.   

Monday, August 11, 2014

Why it is too early to give up on Luis Heredia

There is no hiding it, Luis Heredia is having a bad year.  He entered tonight with more walks than strikeouts, and averaging giving up a hit an inning.  He did have a good night tonight as he went seven innings giving up no runs, three hits, two walks and getting five strikeouts.  It lowered his ERA to under 4.  Sadly the Power blew the game and Heredia will not get a win for his efforts.  Still it was one of his best outings of the year.

Heredia is only 20.  He is young for his level, and is eating innings despite his control problems this year.  He is averaging a little over 5 innings an outing.  There is something to be said for that.  Heredia is still a work in progress.  Last year he came into camp overweight.  This year he did not.  He started off the year on the DL, but is putting innings on his arm and looking healthy now.  A lot of his problems come from the Pirates trying to get an out pitch.  They switched him this year to a slurve, and it is not working.  They went from a curve to begin with to a slider now to a slurve.  They are playing with his arm slot, and this accounts for a lot of his problems.

Yet, Heredia still has a good fastball.  His change up is okay, and if they can settle in and let him develop a decent out pitch he can be a good pitcher.  His projection to be an ace is probably out the window; however, Heredia still has the potential to be an inning eater who can get your team wins.  A lot of this depends on developing that out pitch, but the Pirates system has some real success with pitchers, so there is real reason to hope.  Outings like tonight can be much more regular.

Heredia does not have to be added to the 40 man this year, but he will in 2015.  So, I do not think that Heredia can repeat A Ball.  Next year he has to start out at High A to see if he can handle the jump in competition.  Will Heredia work hard in the offseason again, and will he come back with that out pitch?  Important questions.  These last months of baseball are important.  Heredia is improving, and if that trend continues there is good reason to be bullish on Heredia.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Gage Hinsz and the 2014 draft

The Pirates did it.  They signed 11th round pick Gage Hinsz.  I was a little worried as they did not seem to have a lot left and an Oregon State commitment is not easily broken, but I am glad that they got him. 

That wraps up this years draft, and I like it.  I liked it earlier, but I think now Pirates fans need to readjust their thinking to see drafts like this as good.  This is an average draft, and we should like average.  It is called average for a reason, it happens regularly.  It is going to be harder and harder to get great drafts if the Pirates are going to insist on finishing above .500.  It is evident now that the Pirates were not trying to save money on Tucker, but that other teams also had him ranked in the middle of the first round.  And while you might could quibble about Connor Joe, or Jorge from Puerto Rico, every draft is going to have a few of those picks. 

The Pirates are consistently showing an ability to get a decent pick just outside the 10th round the way they draft.  They have shown a willingness to pay a tax, but not lose a draft pick.  They have clearly strengthened an already stocked farm system.  There may not be an Andrew McCutchen in this group, but there are a whole lot of Josh Harrisons. 

It is not a blow your mind great draft, but those should be rare.  It is not an awful draft either.  This is the average.  And it is an average the Pirates can live with.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Who to trade?

It is starting to look more and more like the Pirates are going to be buyers at the trading deadline rather than sellers.  I still think the playoffs is a long shot, and it would be better to be sellers, but it would not sit well with most of the fan base.

So the question becomes what prospects do we have to watch go away for this long shot hope?

I would start off by saying that Glasnow, Kingham, Meadows, McGuire, and Bell should all be off the table.  Kingham is ready for primetime, and could be a nice addition to the 2015 rotation, and the other guys are the foundation of the Pirates dynasty.  Taillon should be off the table too, but with his injury it is unlikely anyone would want to trade for him.

This means I would be willing to part with anyone else given the right return.  I would actually be ecstatic if we got a good player in return for Alen Hanson, but I have always been low him, much lower than most.  I would have done anything to keep Dilson Herrera last year and trade Hanson, but it is too late now.  Herrera hit over .300 in High A this year and has recently received his promotion to AA where he is hitting a cool .340.  Herrera may not have been able to stay at short, but neither can Hanson.  The fact that Herrera went in a trade makes me think that some of the other teams do not value Hanson as highly either.

Luis Heredia is someone who I would like to keep, but if he brings the right return, then he goes.   I still really like his potential remembering that he is not yet 20, but you can't just trade away people you don't think are going to be any good.  And so perhaps now is also the time to offer up Adrian Sampson.  He is having a break out season, and might bring back some interest.  A lot of our other young interesting pitchers are hurt (like Clay Holmes and Duke Welker), so not many other names pop out as good trade bait.  That is unless you count Casey Sadler and Brandon Crumpton.  Crumpton specifically has shown he can do this at the major league level, and it would stink to lose him, but he should not be off limits.  Maybe he brings back a piece.

I am not sure who would be a good trade piece as a hitter.  Elias Diaz, AA catcher, could be a possibility.  Maybe Mel Rojas too.  Both guys would probably need to be added to the 40 man this year, and trading them now might free up the crunch.  Gift Ngope has some potential with the bat, maybe he gets put in a deal.  Barrett Barnes is just coming back off injury, but he could be a young prospect worth shopping around.  The Pirates are fairly loaded in the outfield anyway.  Keon Broxton probably won't bring much, but maybe he could be packaged to bring back something.

If you could package Broxton, Sadler, and Hanson it might bring back a piece worth having.  But overall, I hope the Pirates do not go crazy.  The odds are long at this point, and the Pirates have not had great success in the trade deadline deal.  It is usually a bad deal for the buyers.  I would prefer staying the course and letting next year take its course.  I just think the Pirates are low in too many places (SS, 1B, starting pitching) for deadline deals to make a difference.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Problem with the Pirates

The Pirates are above .500 and that is a good thing.  But I still think they are in big trouble.  Let me point to one thing that I think is a real problem.  The Pirates cannot sweep anyone.  They fail over and over to put their foot on the throat of lesser teams and finish them off.  And this is not just about getting dominated by David Price and being unable to sweep one of the worst teams in baseball.  It happens over and over and over again.

In fact, by my count, the Pirates have only one sweep all year and that is against the Nationals.  They failed to do it against the Rays, the Blue Jays, the Reds, the Cubs, and many many more.  They just cannot sweep.  Why can be a bit of harder thing to figure out.  Is our pitching just not strong enough?  Is our bullpen too weak?  Do we lack timely hitting?  Who knows!

But I do think it has been enough time to say that the inability to sweep is a real problem.  We are not able to dominate lesser teams.  This was not a problem last year.  Playoff teams are able to sweep lesser teams.  Even with their 5th starter on the mound, they polish off the guys that are no good.

Ultimately that means I think the Pirates are about where they should be.  At .500.  I expect them to hover here for the rest of the season.  They are not going to be able to put distance between themselves and that number because they cannot sweep teams, and they are going to lose series to the better teams. This makes them a middle of the pack team.

All this to say that unless they can come up with a trade that addresses and fixes this problem, then I hope they are sellers at at the trade deadline.  I don't want to lose good prospects to continue to tread water.  And the fact that we are in the Wild Card race is more a commentary on how awful the National League is overall than a commentary on the Pirates being any good.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

What to do at catcher next year at West Virginia?

One of the interesting things that has developed after this year's draft is what to do at catcher next year in A ball (West Virginia).
They already have a bit of a problem in Jamestown between Taylor Gushue and Kevin Krause.  One can DH while the other plays catcher, so it works, but both are top 10 draft picks who should be viewed as prospects.  Getting playing time behind the plate is especially important to Gushue, who only had one year at the position at Florida.
Add to this the new level of Bristol, a Rookie League club, but a high rookie league, and you can have some problems.  At Bristol sits Daniel Arribas.  Arribas is an international signing, and he has talent.  He played GCL last year, and DSL the year before that.  He is talented enough to play any position, focusing mostly on 1B when not playing catcher, but he is a catcher first.  Arribas has a nice bat, but cannot spend a third year in short season ball without it killing his career.  Plus, he has done everything needed to get promoted to full season ball.  The organization needs to be able to evaluate Arribas and now there is a back log on talent at catcher.  Arribas has more years in the system, which means his clock is starting to tick loudly.
You might be thinking that Arribas could just go to 1B for a while so that all three might could play, but that is not really possible because the Pirates have Kevin Ross currently playing 1B at Jamestown.  He was an 8th round pick in 2012 who did well in the GCL in that year, but the next year was hurt, played little, and lost a whole year of development.  He is too young to toss aside.  He probably needs to be seeing time at West Virginia as well.

So next year there will be three catchers who need to be at West Virginia.  Two of them can play other positions, particularly 1B, but that position is has a person sitting on it too.  One of these catching prospects is going to be missing a lot of at-bats.  It will be interesting to see who the Pirates handle it.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The start we wanted

Gregory Polanco has a hit streak going.  Some of those early hits may not have been impressive, but his 5 for 7 night last night including the game winning two run homer was impressive.  Polanco is going to be a great addition to Pittsburgh.

But I was thinking more of the addition of Taylor Gushue.  He has a multiple hit game and a homer as well.  The other hit was a triple.  I was also thinking of Nick Kingham.  He made his AAA debut.  And he was marvelous.  He struck out 8 in 7 innings, with only one walk.  He has a perfect 0.00 ERA.  It is not hard to start day dreaming about next year's starting rotation with Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, Nick Kingham, Jameson Taillon, and someone else.  I think I could live with that line up.

The Pirates also apparently have signed Nelson Jorge.  I would imagine he will start in the GCL.  Interestingly the also signed a 21st round high schooler Eric Thomas Jr.  I just assumed he would go to college.  He is a center fielder with upside I guess.  The Pirates don't have to offer him a contract just because they drafted him.  I can't imagine they gave him over slot money as he is not a highly regarded prep player.  They may actually be over their limit anyway.  This is probably the reason we have not yet signed Connor Joe and Luplow.  We need to save some money on those two guys contracts.  Not a lot to be under the amount, but a decent amount if we want to throw any over the slot money on other guys.

Chase Simpson also signed.  I expect him to start at 3B for Jamestown.  And a Junior college pitcher, Palmer Betts, also signed.  He may start out in the new Bristol Appalachian League affiliate.  It used to be the Bristol Tigers, but I assume now it will be the Bristol Pirates.  I watched that league growing up and saw Darrell Strawberry play for the Kingsport Mets.  The Elizabethton Twins almost always win that league.  We will see if the Pirates can keep pace.

Anyway you look at yesterday it was a good start.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Draft over all

I think this is an okay draft.  It is not great by any means and can only be good if some of the day 3 guys sign (like Gage Hinsz and/or Colin Welmon).  Then you should not expect the same sort of excitement that we had last year with two top 15 picks.  Yes, the Pirates probably should have not reached for Cole Tucker at 24.  So his career is off to a really bad start as he will now be measured against a lot of other guys the Pirates could have signed.

I do think there are a few things to be excited about watching.  Nelson Jorge is a pretty big unknown coming from Puerto Rico.  How he does at SS and swinging the bat is one of the potential upside things out of this draft.  I am excited about Taylor Gushue as well.  I know he is behind McGuire at catcher, but he has potential.  I will be keeping an eye on his box score.  I do like Chase Simpson from round 14.  Power hitting 3Bs are always fun to watch.  And I will be watching to see whether Jordan Luplow can put up better numbers than Connor Joe.

But in the end, that is all that I am excited about.  And I am probably stretching it to add the Luplow v Joe battle.  Three guys that I am ready to see signed and on the field is not very many.  Of course if they were to manage to add Gage Hinsz or Colin Welmon they would immediately be added to the list of excitement.  I do expect they will make a real effort at Hinsz.

As I said earlier, I don't a mind a draft like this every now and then as long as they save money and put it into other areas.  Sometimes you do have to shift priorities to another part of the overall budget.  If this means a decent off season signing next year then I can live with this.  If this mean landing a big Latin American talent, then I am okay with this.  There are big league prospects in this bunch, so it is not as if we threw a whole draft away.  Mitch Keller, Trey Supak, Jordan Luplow, and even Connor Joe and Cole Tucker are big league prospects.  But they are not exactly All Star prospects.  It fills out the organization with more prospects, but these guys are not going to top the organizational charts at their position.  And coming away from a draft where we did not really add a new top prospect at any position is disappointing.  And even though I am no where near as high on Alen Hanson as most, I do think he will still be rated above Cole Tucker at SS leaving this draft class in some desperate need of big time production in short season ball to generate some excitement.

I will be interested to see a couple of front office interviews in the next couple of days.

Draft Day 3 round up

The third day of the draft can start with some excitement, but quickly turns into people who are just depth or will never ever sign.  Pirates Prospects draft tracker is up and going.

Gage Hinsz was the 11th round guy who everyone hopes the Pirates will sign.  A high school pitcher with real upside and a fastball tin the 90s already.  The Pirates ought to be able to save money to pay him over the slot money.  He is committed to Oregon State, which shows you something of how highly regarded he is as Oregon State is a power program.  He was rated in the top 200, and the Pirates could use a little more upside guys in this draft.

14th round pick Chase Simpson is someone I like a lot.  He is a switch hitter with the power to stick at 3B.  He played for Wichta State, and hopefully will sign.  The Pirates did take a lot of college hitters, but not a whole lot of power, and power from both sides is rare.

19th Round pick Carl Anderson is a speedy outfielder with a good eye.  He is a junior, but maybe the Pirates could go over the slot to sign him if Hinsz goes to college.

Round 23 seems to be where the Pirates start racking up guys who will not sign.  Both Zack Warren (LHP) and Denis Karas (3B) look very interesting, but neither will probably sign.

The Pirates also drafted a few juniors who will probably return to college as well.  This includes 33rd round Zach Lewis from Wabash Junior College who is a righty who can touch 90 and seems to have great control.  He could be interesting, but probably needs to add some velocity.  Also 34th round Colin Welmon who was ranked as a top 200 talent and projected for the 5th or 6th round.  He throws in the low 90s and probably will return to school.  Maybe if the Pirates really saved a lot of money they could throw it at him, but it is doubtful.

This draft does look like it might be meant to help fill out a new minor league affiliate in Bristol, and there are no real picks that make you excited.  Still I do think there are some potential big leaguers in this bunch.  Signing Gage Hinsz would be a nice bump to a rather dull class.  There a lot of RHPs in this class.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Draft Day 2 Rounds 3 - 10

I sort of liked the Day 2 draft guys taken individually.  However, I do lean more toward college players right when you pick in the middle to the back rather than up front when you are looking for impact players.  The Pirates are putting together a draft of solid, but not great, players.  I feel this is what you can do from time to time when your system is already stacked with talent.  

I feel that Day 2 was a day where a lot of guys that probably will play major league ball for teams other than the Pirates were drafted.  A lot of these guys could be future trade bait to help improve the big league club.  And there is nothing wrong with that.  

Jordan Luplow, who MLB has ranked in the top 100 and BA at 103, is a corner outfielder who has a good bat.  This is the second outfielder of this draft and he is a college guy too.  The Pirates outfield is pretty deep right now.  Marte, McCutchen, Polanco, and Rojas seem to be the outfield of the future.  And this does not take into account last year's draftee of Austin Meadows or Josh Bell.  Is he better than Barrett Barnes or Harold Ramirez?  Who knows.  Luplow is depth.  And depth aids trades.  

Taylor Gushue is a 20 year old college catcher, which makes him interesting.  He played at Florida so this is not some lower rung college either.  I like Gushue, but he will still be behind McGuire on the depth chart.  Ranked in the top 110 on everyone's board seems to make Gushue a good draft pick.

Michael Suchy is an outfielder from college.  This is my least favorite pick as some scouts think he is going to have hitting issues.  However, he may have more all around tools than Luplow.  Again, if he does turn into something, outfield depth is easily tradable.

Tyler Eppler is a RHP from college and is tall like the Pirates like them.  He is not cracking the Pirates top pitchers in the minors any time soon.  I am not that big a fan of this pick either, but pitchers are not a bad group to collect.

Nelson Jorge is a Puerto Rican High Schools Short Stop.  He apparently is a switch hitter.  For those wanting a projectable upside pick, this one counts.  However, he is the second high school short stop taken this year behind the first round pick of Cole Tucker.  However, short stop is a position of need.

Austin Coley is a RHP from college who should be an easy sign.  Belmont is not a powerhouse college, but he was drafted last year by the Mets.  I like this pick.  Pitching is important and while our future rotation seems deep, injuries are frequent here.  He could profile as a good reliever, but pitchers are also easily tradable.  

Kevin Krause is a catcher from Stony Brook.  He seems to have some hope in his bat and could play outfield if the catcher backlog demands it.  And frankly one would have to assume he would be behind Gushue as well as McGuire on the depth chart.  

Alex McRae is a RHP who has stuff, but no real results.  This would be my least favorite pick except I am beginning to trust the Pirates ability to build pitchers.  He has the speed already throwing in the low 90's.  I bet he profiles as a reliever long term, but I worry about this guy a lot.  He has given up more than a hit an inning in college in a minor conference.  Sometimes you might throw 93, but stuff on the side does not mean you are going to do something with that stuff in the game.  Missing bats seems important, and McRae does not appear to do that.  

The Pirates have not had an outstanding draft, and there is no one that you are going to run to the computer to see what he did today, but there are some guys who could help the organization.  The Pirates have some upside guys here with Gushue and Jorge.  I think the floor is higher on some of these guys than the past where there was a high ceiling, but a floor that was worrisome.  As college guys they are a lot closer to what they are going to be, so by definition they have smaller upside, but also a higher floor.  In two days the Pirates have drafted 4 top 100 prospects and two more who are in the top 110.  Half of the picks so far have been top 110 players.  Add to that a high upside-low floor short stop from Puerto Rico for a little excitement.  

The other thing we may not be considering here is budget.  Lots of talk has been made about saving money against the slot to pay over the slot to other guys.  And the Pirates usually have one or two outside the first 10 rounds that they give that a try.  But maybe this year the Pirates are just trying to save a little extra money for an offseason free agent?  They want to come in under slot budget so that they can spend it for a stretch run or next season at short stop?  Would that really be bad if the Pirates did that?  

Tomorrow should provide a little bit to talk about.  Tune in.

Pirates Draft Day 1

The Pirates had a different first day draft.  I am not sure if it is different because the Pirates did some strange stuff or just because I barely remember the Pirates ever drafting so far down that it was not fairly certain that Pirates were going to draft a high impact player.  Currently the Pirates are getting a bit savaged for their picks, so let us take a look.

The first pick (#24) was Cole Tucker, a high school shortstop.  MLB had him ranked 67 and Baseball America 84.  This is the pick that is making most people scratch their heads.  High School Short Stop with no real power, but good defensive skills is not exactly a first round recipe.  I would be more disappointed in this pick if some of the other names the Pirates had been linked to were still around.  Kyle Schwarber went 4th to the Cubs after spending a lot of weeks being linked to the Pirates.  I saw Kyle play, and he could flat out play.  Also the Wichita State First basemen went a couple of picks before the Bucs.  The high school pitcher who was also connected to the Bucs was off the board as well.  This pick has me worried, I will admit it.  But maybe the Pirates are hoping he will turn down their offer and they will get a comp pick at #25 next year.  Although this kid will probably never get to the first round after being in college.  It is an upside pick.  I bet he takes the offer, and the Pirates may save some cash for later signings.

The next pick was #39 and they took Connor Joe from the University of San Diego.  This kid will start out in our A- affiliate, wherever that is now.  MLB has him at 110 and Baseball America at 102.  So this is a bit of a stretch.  Picking outside of the top 100 in round #1 is worrisome.  However, I like that this is a college kid who is drawing walks and hitting well.  The Pirates announced him as an outfielder even though he has been doing catching for a couple years now.  A good solid bat is always helpful, but this is a reach.  The Pirates must expect to save money here.  It is hard not to conclude they have a plan for the draft that includes trying to get a few tough to sign prospects to sign.  Although I will say I sort of like this pick.  If you are going to reach, I prefer reaching for an established bat at the college level rather than for a High School Pitcher.  Less chance of being a complete bomb.  And this is the pick for Bryan Morris, so it should be viewed as kind of a bonus. 

The second round saw the Pirates take Mitch Keller.  MLB ranked him 69 and Baseball America 76.  So he is not too far out of place, but a small reach.  According to Baseball America this is our top rated player and currently our third pick.  Keller is hitting the 90’s with his fastball and has a curve to get people out.  This pick probably worries a lot because of how many high school pitchers the Pirates have had go down the tubes.  Von Rosenberg is a name that evokes fear in Pirate fan’s minds.  Or even closer we could remind everyone that Stetson Allie did not make it as a pitcher.  But that does not make taking projectable high school arms a bad decision, just a riskier one.  Avoiding all high school pitchers because of the disastrous 09 draft would be a mistake.  And as I always point out.  Colton Cain was good enough to be part of a trade.  It is not as if he had imploded with everyone else. 

Pick #74 was our last pick, and our Competitive Balance pick.  The Pirates took Trey Supak.  This high school pitcher from Texas was ranked 99 by Baseball America and 62 by MLB, so clearly there is some real disagreement about his upside.  According to MLB this pick was a steal for the Pirates, and a reach by Baseball America’s standards.  He is 6’5” and throwing upper 80’s to low 90’s.  It is hard to real trash this pick, but also hard to get excited since Supak is just a high school arm and you never know where that will lead you. 

You have to give the Pirates credit, they love the tall high school arms, and they do not deviate from that drafting philosophy.  In fact, I have to say that is what gives me hope out of this draft.  The Pirates did what they thought was right.  Even taking the worst case scenario they Pirates took 3 top 100 talent guys in two rounds and got another who was right on the doorstep of the top 100.  Three high school kids is what worries me and probably many others.  If you are taking high school guys you feel better if they are Jameson Taillon types that seem to be can’t miss.  These guys aren’t that.  Oddly enough the biggest impact in the minors this year (assuming they all sign) will be Connor Joe who is the one ranked outside of the top 100.  His bat ought to translate well and he can make an impact in Low A this year.  The others guys should not really make much of a wave until short season ball next year when they have added a professional offseason to their bodies and minds. 

Day 2 should be exciting if nothing else.  The Pirates are off the reservation and doing their own thing. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

I am going to get my hopes up

I had protected myself by not getting my hopes up, but then they go and throw together this kind of west coast swing. 
The Pirates are only 2 games out of the wild card, and St. Louis has been losing and the Pirates just beat the Dodgers, the current wild card leaders, in a series.  They are making a come back even before getting the Polanco bump thanks mostly to better hitting by Jordy Mercer and Pedro Alvarez.  Mercer has been on fire and has raised his average to above .220.  He and Alvarez both hit homers the other day, and Alvarez might be on one of his hot streaks, which can carry the Pirates sometimes.  Add in Josh Harrison hitting over .300 and the Pirates all of a sudden have an offense up and down the line up. 

Harrison cannot stay this good.  His leadoff hitting has been important in setting up McCutchen, who pitchers are avoiding if they can as well as Walker who is having a great year and tied for the team lead in homers.  Marte is doing better down in the line up and becoming more productive over all with Mercer swinging a hot bat.  Alvarez is hitting now and you have to always be ware of Martin putting one over the wall even if his average is low.  Same goes for Sanchez and Ike Davis has held up his end of the platoon.  This offense might be enough to make it to Polanco, who could consistently do what Harrison is doing now without the adventurous outfield defense. 

Even a better sign is the pitching coming around.  Lirano is stabilizing and Volquez might be decent.  Grilli is back to being Grilli, which allows the entire bullpen to settle into normal roles again.  Our 7,8, and 9 innings look great.  But most importantly with regards to pitching is the emergence of Gerrit Cole as the ace.  He is ready to fill that role.  He outdueled Strassborg not long ago, and put the Padres in their place last night.  He is the rock that the rest of the starting rotation can depend upon and the batters can look forward to his turn.  He will end slides and continue win streaks.  Cole is the future and it looks like the future might be now. 

So as I fight against my hopes make sure you check out the draft starting tomorrow which just got a lot more interesting.  The Pirates picked up a pick in a trade dumping Bryan Morris.  Now the Pirates have two first rounders (or picks before the second round depending on how we label these picks).  It should be a good draft to get some real talent.  Will the Pirates go high school or for an established college player?  Check back in tomorrow. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

Mel Rojas Jr. promoted to AAA

Mel Rojas has been promoted to AAA.  He deserved it as he had been hitting around .300 all year.  Plus, the Pirates need to know what they have in him.  He has gotten better as each year passes.  Played AA last year and had his best year.  He returned there this spring, and increased his walks and lowered K's.  He has hit better as well.  This could be to help the AAA outfield assuming Polanco is up to Pittsburgh in a week or so.  It may also be because Lambo had surgery and is probably not coming back soon.  I thought Keon Broxton might get the call up as he has been just as good as Rojas all year and he plays a corner outfield spot.  Keon deserves a promotion soon.

If we are looking for other people who are deserving of a promotion Drew Maggi could be mentioned. He is hitting over .300 and is becoming a jack of all trades.  He is a super utility player who might deserve a future spot on the 40 man.  He is playing some outfield now, and perhaps that is a good reason to leave him in AA for now.  But he can play the infield and soon corner outfield spots.  If his hitting stays as good as it is, it would be nice to see if he could do it at the AAA level.  Later in the year you might look at promoting Adrian Sampson as well.  He is pitching lights out baseball this year.  It is not time for him to go to AAA yet, but before the year is out it will be.

If some of those guys get promoted you have to fill the holes, and I actually think Jonathan Schwind should get the first call up.  He is hitting a nice .325 and is playing the outfield now.  He could see what he could do against AA pitching.  Josh Bell is over .300, but just getting through a season healthy seems to be the best idea for him.  I do think before the year is out AA is where Bell needs to be, but there is no rush.  Schwind needs evaluation and seems to have A+ figured out.  Schwind is not a real high prospect, so no big deal if he flops.  Bell you have to be careful with.  Wait until you know he is ready.

The problem is I am not sure what position guys to promote to A+ from West Virginia.  No real outfielders stand out because the prospects are all hurt.  McGuire is hitting well and throwing out runners, but I go back to the no need to rush a prospect.  The guy who is hitting the best is Erich Weiss, but he is learning second base, and so there seems to be a reason to keep him lower to work on his defense.  In fact, Buddy Borden might be the guy who should be called up.  He has 45 K's and seems to be working late into most games.  But this is his first year of full season ball, so I would not do that any time soon either.  Wait and see how his stuff looks after he logs some more innings.

The Pirates are 3 outs away from taking Game 2 from the Dodgers for two in a row.  I refuse to get sucked back in.  This team is out of it, and I will not allow my hopes to get up.  I will not.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Time to give up

Well that series loss by the Brewers was encouraging in some ways.  Lirano pitched well.  Wandy pitched well.  But we lost the series and so none of that matters.  The Brewers are not in free fall, and the Pirates are well out of first and while not out of the wild card race, it is not looking good.  The cruel truth is that the bullpen is not the same this year, and the rotation is worse.  And all of our bats are not doing what we had hoped.  Yes, we can expect Jordy Mercer to get better and Alvarez to hit more, but they did not do it in April and only slightly better in May.  You can't win a pennant in April, but you can lose it.  Now I think we have.

While there is still some great stuff to look forward to, such as the arrival of Polanco, the season itself is done.  I am hoping for an above .500 record, but that too looks difficult.  2015 should see us well positioned to make a playoff run and have a good draft choice to keep the coffers full.  I could like that. 

But it is time to start thinking of who can be traded this year to add some high  minor league help.  I am not sure the Pirates have big time trading cards right now.  Melacon and Grilli would probably draw interest from others and both or at least one of them could be traded with little loss to the team.  Closers can be signed in the off season as free agents and Duke Welker should probably make the bullpen next year.  Brian Morris might deserve a shot at closer too.  These two ought to bring back something. 

Jose Tabata or Travis Snyder could easily be traded too, but I am not sure how high the market on these two would be.  Most teams in contention are not going to have a hole in the outfield, and these two are not very suitable plugs.  I doubt they will bring much back even if a team wants them.

Russell Martin could be the biggest bait to dangle.  He has not hit particularly well this year, but he still has some pop in his bat, and he is a very good defensive catcher.  His contract is expiring so perhaps the Pirates need to get something and maybe another team will not feel so bad as they don't need him as a long term solution.  It seems Tony Sanchez is ready to go, so why not at the trading deadline.  It would not be unusual for teams down the stretch to want pop off the bench or a legit catcher even if it is only to get rest for their main guy.  Martin might could bring back a minor leaguer worth wanting. 

What the Pirates would be looking for is a bit more interesting.  Obviously you can never have enough pitching.  If a good pitching prospect were on the market, the Pirates would take it.  The hole at 1B is a major need, but it is doubtful that anything we have is worth a true plug to the hole over there.  That is going to have to be addressed in free agency.  Short Stop is another need as Mercer is not hitting like one hoped and I am not sure you can keep resigning Barmes as a back up.  But again, this is a highly coveted position and getting a short stop prospect would require more than just a major leaguer. 

I think a possibility would be second baseman.  The Pirates do not have a second base prospect in their whole organization unless you count Hansen because his defense is so bad at short.  And he is at least a full season at AAA (and at second) away from being able to help there.  A second baseman who could compete for a back up infield spot might be nice. 

However, I do believe the Pirates are going to be taking long term chances.  They will probably get players who are still fairly far away from the majors.  Maybe they can get Jack Lopez from the Royals.  Lopez has a great arm for an infielder, but not a great bat.  He is repeating High A, after being drafted out of high school in 2011.  Maybe they could snag a Yankee prospect since they maybe desperate to win now (although it is hard to find a name to like over there). 

It is a shame about the season, but I have high hopes for the trading deadline. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

This is more like it

If you are like me and still clinging to the vain hope that the Pirates did not play themselves out of the playoffs in April, then this is what you need to see.  The Pirates putting together a four game win streak, and 5 of 6.  More importantly the Brewers helped out by losing 3 in a row and 7 out of 10 before their win tonight against the Yankees.  This puts the Pirates 6.5 games back, which is do-able.

What is even more encouraging is that they are doing this when they are not at their best.  No longer do they appear to be unable to come up with the timely hit or fall a little short, now they are making the plays even if the game as a whole had been ugly.  Marte makes the dash for home and wins the game despite a low offensive output game.  The Pirates win tonight despite no McCutchen and a shaky game from Volquez on the mound.  And they were able to do it off a key Alvarez base hit.  Yup, Alvarez won a game with a base hit rather than a homer.

The rotation is starting to take shape.  Lirano is not going to be as dominate as last year and his hope of 20 wins is gone.  But, he does appear to be a guy that is going to pitch alright.  Gerrit Cole is looking great.  If he does not tire at the end of the season he is going to be the stopper on this staff.  Maybe Wandy gets back and does okay, but if not Crumpton looks good and Locke is still around too.  Volquez is going to struggle, but will have some good games mixed in.  The big question is Morton.  He looked good in his last start going 8, but overall he is not missing bats like he used to do.  He is a ground ball pitcher, but he needs some more strikeouts to be effective.  He is down basically an extra strikeout a game and is up walk.  His last couple of games have been especially low in strikeouts.  I think he had three in the 8 innings.  That is well below his normal.  If Morton can come around, the Pirates have a good chance to run down some teams and make a play for the Wild Card, but if Morton is unable to provide 3rd starter stuff, the Pirates are going to have to fight for .500.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Minor League Look for April

With a couple of Pirates games rained out maybe now is the time to look at the minors a bit more.  It is starting to get a little worrisome looking at the majors.  Any team that consistently is starting at least 2 players who hit below .200 will not win many games.  However, you can also think that those players are due for warming up with the weather, so it kind of depends on whether it is half full or half empty.

Let’s start with Indy and AAA.  The prospects here are doing fine, if not great.  Gregory Polanco has an OPS of 1.089.  He is ready for the majors as he does not seem to have too much trouble at the corner outfield spot he will be playing in the majors.  As soon as super two is not a worry, I expect to see Polanco starting in Pittsburgh for the rest of the year.  The other outfielder to care about is Andrew Lambo.  And yes he has been moved back to the outfield now that Ike Davis is at first.  His OPS is just barely under 1.  He has not had the power one hopes for, but he did hit a homer the other night.  His slow start is over and now he is looking like a guy who could be useful in the big leagues if he is needed. 

Pitcher here has also been fine with the exception of Phil Irwin, who is just coming off surgery so it is understandable.  Jeff Locke’s stats aren’t that great and he has a problem with the long ball, but he has a 16/4 k/BB rate.  Sadler and Crumpton look good.  Jerod Hughes looks ready to be a spot reliever too.  Duke Welker is walking a few too many, but he could also be used if needed. 

AA and Altoona is almost the opposite.  Hitting the prospects are disappointing.  Allie is up to .260 and 6 dingers, and so there is something to be excited about.  He has 12 walks, which might be a bigger reason to get excited.  He is always going to be a high strike out guy.  What he needs is to be able to draw walks and get his average up a bit.  A .260 average with his power might be okay at the big league level, but it is too low for AA.  Sadly Hanson is not hitting either.  I also do not understand why they keep him at SS.  His 8 errors already this year show a need to move him.  I understand he loses value as a second baseman, but how much longer does he need to show he can’t play SS.  .  Mel Rojas is repeating the level, and his walk rate is improving so perhaps that is good news.  If you are looking for a bright side it is perhaps Drew Maggi.  He is playing 3B now, but is hitting .316.  No power, but he might project as a utility back up man, like a Josh Harrison. 

Pitching is a little different.  Joely Rodreguiz is not pitching well.  Nick Kingham has had a bad outing or two, but still looks good.  20/12 K/BB rate is not awful especially noting that he has yet to allow a homer.  The big surprise has been Adrian Sampson.  Sampson has a 23/8 rate with a 1.05 WHIP.  Sampson is putting his name into the prospect list.

High A at Bradenton is not exactly loaded with prospects.  Josh Bell is the one everyone is watching.  He had a mini slump this season, but seems to be out of it now.  He is hitting .287 and leading the team with 2 homers.  This production all year without injury would be a success, although a little more power would make me happier.  Osuna’s .280 with one homer and 5 doubles is not awful, but perhaps a little disappointing.  The other prospects (Crumlich, Wood, Moroff) are a bit disappointing.  I have always enjoyed Jonathan Schwind, who was drafted as a catcher, but is in the outfield now.  He is looking fine in this league.  He is hitting .324.  He is old for the league, but it might be worth a call up just to see if there is any hope here of something.

Pitching at this level has a bit more success.  It is hard to say any of the starters have been awful.  Castro is succeeding.  Creasy looks fine, and even John Kuchino is not horrible.  Tyler Glasnow, who is the big prospect, has just pitched twice.  The first was brilliant, the second a nightmare, so stay tuned for this one.  It is the bullpen that has been just awful.  Ryan Hafner is a bust, and I had liked him out of the bullpen, but it is not working.  Robbie Rowland is not getting it done.  They have thrown Walter Grouley, an infielder, multiple times. 

At A ball in West Virginia is where the real fun is.  It would be even more fun if everyone was not injured.  The outfield was supposed to feature Austin Meadows and Barrett Barnes and Harold Rameriz.  All three have been injured.  Meadows has yet to make an appearance and Barnes and Rameriz played 4 games a piece.  That was okay because they still had speedy outfielder Candon Myles, and they moved Danny Collins out there to help because they had new sensation Edwin Espinal to play first.  Well, things have continued to get worse and now they have activated last year’s breakout possible, who now is left off most lists of players to watch, Elvis Escobar.  He has only played in two games and went 0 for 6.  Reece McGuire also has gotten hurt, but before the minor injury he was hitting a scant .222.  The team has resisted the urge to put Wyatt Mathieson back behind the plate allowing him to continue to learn 3B.  He is hitting .259 while picking up his new position.  Erich Weiss, who is learning another infield spot is hitting a cool .333, and JaCoby Jones is over .300 as well.  Although his 7 errors give me the same sort of pause I have always had with Alen Hanson. 

Pitching features mainly Heredia, who went down with a sore arm and Cody Dickenson, who has been so-so.  This is the level where they are focusing on throwing fastballs for strikes and learning changes, and not really trying to pitch as they would at higher levels, so things like hits allowed are bit misleading.  Dickenson is not missing very many bats giving up 31 hits in 24 innings.  But he does have 18 K’s, and hopefully will get stronger as the year goes on. 

All in all, it is a hard year to evaluate the Pirates minor leagues because so many are out hurt.  But right now it looks like the big names are doing okay, but there are no real surprises to get excited about with the lone exception of Edwin Espinal.  Adrian Sampson might be one, but he needs more time.    

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Not yet time to panic

Okay so the Pirates have had a rough go for a bit here.  Losing two series now to the hated Brewers (including one brawl), and a below .500 record is not what anyone expected coming into this season.  Normally, I would be in full panic mode, but I think it is a bit early for that. 

First, the Pirates are scoring runs.  This is not something we were very good at last year, but this year we are hitting the long ball and scoring in bunches.  Even new Pirate Ike Davis has been in on the hitting.  Walker and Alvarez are doing some real power shots, and McCutchen is breaking out of some early season slowness.  The overall average numbers are less than stellar, but some of that will come up as the year goes along.  And let us not forget that Gregory Polanco could easily upgrade the Snider/Tabata position in the outfield making the hitting even better.  I also think Jordy Mercer will get his bat going, at least a little better than he has. 

Second, bullpens often take time to settle in, even if they are almost totally intact from last year.  I do believe that is what is happening here.  Yes, Grilli has blown three saves, but two of them were on Ryan Braun home runs and there is no reason to believe that those were not aided by roids.  I am only half joking.  At the very least, Grilli should not be viewed as totally incompetent.  He is more like a Lee Smith closer than a Rivera closer.  Grilli is going to make your stomach go in knots before actually getting the save and some blown saves are bound to happen, especially with long balls since Grilli is a power strikeout guy.  Where Bryan Morris fits in needs to be established and if Jenamar Gomez is going to be as good as last year is up in the air.  But the Pirates have bullpen help in the minors even after trading Zack Thorton away.  There is always Duke Welker.  He is a hard throwing guy.  Let us not forget the minor league addition of Schlerath this off season.  He is doing great in AAA, and has could be a guy to turn to if needed.  Jerod Hughes has already gotten a call up, so he might can help.  We also still have Vin Mazzarro in the organization as he cleared waivers.  The ability to rebuild the bullpen is there if it is needed.

Third, the starters are just going to get better.  It is hard to imagine Wandy Rodriguez this bad all year.  He was just put on the DL, so that might explain it, but he is hardly this bad.  And if he is then he can be upgraded with Jeff Locke or Brandon Crumpton, who will both be better than how bad Rodriguez is right now.  Gerrit Cole will have his ups and downs, but he threw a great game the other day, the bullpen just blew it.  Lirano will be fine, probably not as good as last year, but fine.  Charlie Morton will be okay as well.  These guys have been around long enough that you can expect them to return to their average.  Right now we can hope Volquez stays above his average, and there is reason to think so because the Pirates have a history of making people better.  Even if he falls off in the second half, the aforementioned replacements are going to be there. 

We simply have to be better in these close games.  We cannot continue to give up so many blown leads.  And I don't think we will.  So, while I am worried and unhappy right now, I do think we have a lot of reason to be hopeful.  We have not had any chance yet to feast on the NL East or seen any west coast teams come in for a visit.  We are getting are does of the Reds and Brewers right now.  I do think our schedule gets a little better.  Stay .500 in April, and I think we will be well into the hunt.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Off to a Good start and Prospect Updates

The Pirates are off to a good start.  We have to win series against the Cardinals, especially at home.  And it was nice to have it done with Gerrit Cole and Volquez.  We are going to need great pitching from those two to get another trip to the Playoffs.

Our prospects are not doing all that well.  Okay the ones on the field are good, but we have a lot of injuries.  Taillon is out for the year with Tommy John, and now Harold Ramirez and Barrett Barnes are on the DL.   So are several others and a few are just coming off like Phil Irwin.

I never gave a prospect ranking, but it is not too different from Pirates Prospects list with one major exception.  I don't have Alen Hanson in the Top 10.  His defense is not good enough for short, and that lowers his value.  Plus, they are not trying him at other spots yet and that has me worried.  Is he good enough for 2B on defense.  He does not have enough power for 3B.  So, just bump everyone up a notch on that list and slot Hanson at 12.  Although I put Taillon above Polanco.  I probably would have Heredia a little higher too.  I value pitching a lot.  And with that said, I would probably not have Joely Rodriguez in the top 20, and I worry about JaCoby Jones as well.  I have Brandon Crumpton on the list instead of Joely.  And probably Phil Irwin rather than JaCoby.  Also, Wyatt Mathison should be on that list.  Since Stolmey made the team, you can bump everyone up a spot and slot Wyatt at 19 and Irwin at 20.  I am not concerned about Mathison moving to third.  He was an athlete that played middle infield in high school.  He can play the position, and his injury does not worry me too much.  If JaCoby is on the list for athleticism, shouldn't Mathison get some athletic love too?  I like him as a top prospect.

Also my dark horse is John Kuchino from Ohio State.  I like him.  He has done pretty well, and is

Monday, March 31, 2014

Welcome Back Baseball!

It is everyone's favorite day: Opening Day. 

Don't give me any of that opening night mumbo jumbo, I want opening day.  And we got it today.  The Pirates win.  And we did it just like we did last year: strong pitching, great bullpen, and no offense. 

Lirano was fabulous with 10 K's.  The Bullpen was great with another dominating look from Grilli and company with last year's not-so-good Brian Morris raking in the win. 

And the bats, well what can you say?  It usually takes some time to heat up.  Marte and McCutchen both got hits.  Two from our new 1B platoon.  And the big blast from Neil Walker.  More power from Neil would be a welcome thing this year.  Alvarez had multiple strikeouts on the down side.  He did hit the ball hard once, but right at the short stop who was playing straight up the middle. 

The only real take away is that we are 1-0 and just beat the Cubs ace.  Day off tomorrow, and so the bullpen should be back to full strength for game 2. 

Enjoy the baseball day.  It is much easier to do so after a win.

Friday, January 17, 2014

No to Salary Caps and Floors

Baseball is one of my favorite guilty pleasures.  I love almost everything about it.  But about this time of year everyone piles on the “Baseball needs to change” bandwagon and rips America’s Pastime.  It is my theory that you can tell whether you are a liberal or a conservative based upon how you view Major League Baseball, but that is for another day.  I will defend the Hall of Fame voting in my next post, but I want to defend the lack of a Salary Cap in MLB.  It is one of the last hold outs for capitalism in American sports, and people are always trying to take it away.  
Tim Williams is one of my favorite Pittsburgh Pirate writers, and a fan of the Sabermetric system, so I enjoy his posts.  He has written a thought provoking post on the need for a salary cap and the problem with having such Income Inequality in baseball.  I am going to have to disagree.
Let me say, I do think MLB has made some rules to try and ensure the Red Sox and the Yankees always make the postseason such as the limit on draft spending and the taking away a draft pick for top free agents.  Those things need to be changed, but income inequality is not a big problem in baseball.  Let’s examine Tim’s arguments.  
Tim sites the lack of high priced free agent signings by teams with less than $90 M in TV revenue.  And as a Pirate fan, we never get big named free agents.  But the question is should we even want them?  Look again at Tim’s list, and now lets compare actual win-loss results.  
The 2012 signings of Josh Hamilton and Zack Grienke had vastly different results.  The Angels finished below .500 and missed the playoffs.  The Dodgers won their division with 92 wins, a good total.  However, that win total was less than the Pirates (94) and less than the Cardinals (97) who are both Low Revenue teams of about 30 M.  The record was also lower than other small market teams Oakland (96), and tied with Cleveland and Tampa Bay.  All of these teams made the playoffs just like the Dodgers.
The 2011 signings are similar.  The Angels appear on the list again, and while this time they finished over .500, they missed the playoffs.  This does make the below .500 finish this past year look even worse.  The Marlins signed Jose Reyes despite being a Low Revenue Team and they finished dead last in their division.  The Tigers signed Prince Fielder and won their division with 88 wins.  It should be noted that the Cardinals are the team that lost Albert Puljos to the Angels and they made the playoffs without him two years in a row.
The 2010 signings also offered no clear advantage.  The Red Sox made a big signing, but it helped them to a 90 win season.  However, it was not good enough to make the playoffs.  The next year they were worst in the division, and this past year they did win it all, but Carl Crawford was no longer a Red Sock making his deal with them look like a failure.  The Phillies had the best record in baseball and over 100 wins thanks to their big signing, but the Nationals had a below .500 record.  St. Louis made the playoff this year too, as did Arizona and Milwaukee.  
So while it is true Low Market Teams have trouble signing big name/high priced free agents, it is far from clear that these players help.  And perhaps the contracts hurt as we are seeing with the Angels who now have two huge contracts with no playoffs to show for it.   
Tim’s other argument is the “success” of other sports that have salary caps, floors, and 50/50 revenue sharing.  He uses the NFL and their amazing TV ratings compared to baseball.  The problem with this is the ratings have no proven relation to teams and salary.  The sad fact is that NFL is popular because it is easier for the modern man to watch than baseball.  It is one of those back and forth sports, and it has short bursts of action and ultimately a clock that ends the game.  This is perfect for the world today that has problem of paying attention, committing to long term anything, and wants to do as little thinking as possible.  And the other dirty secret is gambling.  The NFL is wildly popular because so much money is riding on every game.  The amount of money bet on an NFL game dwarfs what it would be even on World Series games.  The NFL actively promotes this relationship, which is why they have injury reports out a day or two before kick off.  It is about betting money.  
Perhaps Tim should have looked at other sports with salary caps.  The NBA does not do that kind of TV rating, and we can not really say that every NBA team has a chance to win.  Anyone here a Bobcat fan?  My point exactly.  The NHL has a hard cap, and they cannot even get on TV.  Their teams all have a chance to win, but no one cares.  Why?  Because the success of the sport has little to nothing to do with the salary cap system.
An easy argument can be made that the single most successful and consistent franchise over the past decade is the St. Louis Cardinals, a Low Revenue Team.  This goes to prove the point, a salary floor and cap are not needed.  One needs to have good management making good decisions and your team can win and win often regardless of revenue.