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.