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.