Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Now I understand the Bristol Pirates

I think the addition of the Bristol Pirates is finally making sense to me now.  It is related to how they are doing Latin American signings.  The Pirates are doing Latin American signings different than most every other team.  Perhaps it is motivated by money.  They are not spending big dollars and are not incurring penalties like some teams are doing.  They are pretty minor slaps on the wrist, and would be worth it if it landed a big name.  But the Pirates are going to the other extreme.  The Pirates are signing anyone they can get their hands on.

Yes, the Pirates announced this week that they signed 18 people on July 2 this year.  That is over 10 more people than originally thought.  No real high dollar signings, but money spread around over some young guys and some old guys.  The Pirates again are not going above 6 figures and did not make a serious play for any big names.  The Pirates clearly believe sign many, train hard, and see what turns up is a better fiscal policy than sign big names and hope they are worth it. 
The obvious example is Luis Heredia who signed for 3 million and his chance of making the pros is now low, and if he does it will be as a bullpen guy.  You can add the bonuses of Polanco and Marte and multiply by two and still not get close to Heredia’s bonus.  The Pirates cannot really afford to miss big like this, especially in the new system where some penalties happen.  I know I said the penalties are worth it, but they are only worth it if the guy you signed that busted the cap is a success.  And nothing is for sure.  So, the Pirates have decided not to take the chance.  The new way of doing things is too new to see how it will play out.  Some are going to flop like Michael Del Cruz seems to be doing, but Adrian Valerio is a man who looks to be a prospect.  He signed for 400,000, and Cruz about the same.  And that is on the high side of what the Pirates do now.  But for less than half what it took to sign Harold Ramirez and less than a third of what it took to sign Heredia, the Pirates have a prospect and a dud.  Same number of prospects at a much cheaper rate, but it does require more warm bodies. 

So this is why the Pirates are in need of a second Rookie level club.  They are going to be sending a lot more talent up from Latin America.  In the past the GCL Rookie team was simply a place to put high schoolers just drafted and some of the smaller college players along with the few who were getting the promotion from the Dominican League.  Now with lots more players expected to come from the Dominican, another landing place is needed.  Some of those smaller college guys can be diverted to a slightly higher level of competition with the Appy Rookie League, and maybe some guys who are not quite ready for Low A can move a half step in competition rather than eating a slot by repeating with the GCL team (think Jhoan Herrera this year).  This is especially important for pitchers. 

Just look at an example from this year.  In 2013 the Pirates signed Nestor Oronel when he was 16 years old.  He spent a year playing for the DSL.  31 K’s with only 14 walks in 14 starts was good enough to have him come up in 2015 to the GCL.  There he started 9 games and appeared in a few more.  Not a great performance as he failed to win any games, but actually had a better WHIP.  He was not ready for a move to Low A ball to pitch against college hitters who were going to be 2 or more years older than him.  But the Pirates need to be looking at new prospects, so Oronel moves up to the Appy league and start 8 games and appear in more innings this year than last.  He recorded more strikeouts with 36.  Now he is still far from a prospect, but he will be 20 going into next season.  He may even need to start off in the Appy League again.  But, the fact he did not need to eat a starting spot in the GCL helped pave the way for like Miguel Hernandez.  He was signed when 18 (I think), and spent a season in the Dominican and earned his way as a 20 year old to pitch in the GCL where he started 9 games and appeared in one more.  He is a bit wild, but won a couple of games and did not give up as many hits as you might expect. 

Since the Pirates are going with the more the merrier approach in International signings, it is almost a necessity to have that extra Rookie level team to evaluate the people as they go through the system. 

It is a little early to tell if this approach is better than chasing after big names in Latin America, but failure here will be a lot easier to absorb as a system than failure like we see with Luis Heredia.  For a financially strapped organization, I am all for giving it a try.  

Monday, August 15, 2016

Hard to believe

Something is just not right this year.  It feels like the Pirates are much worse than they were last year, and they are.  In fact, it seems as if the Pirates are just awful.  The starting pitching is weak, the bullpen has been shaky, Cutch is hitting under .250 as is Kang, the catchers get hurt every other day, and yet the Pirates remain a game out of the final wild card spot, and thanks to the Mets collapse only have to jump the Cards and the Marlins to get in.  Add to that the new news that the Marlins will be without Stanton for the rest of the year, and they seem likely to fall out.  How are the Pirates in this? 

I want to give up on this season so bad, yet there is a lot of reason to think the playoffs are possible.  Marte is playing out of his mind good.  And frankly so is Frazier.  Both are doing amazing.  Jordy Mercer is playing better than normal.

If those guys can show up like this next year with a McCutchen returning to form, Bell as an upgrade over Jaso, and an improved rotation that does not have to suffer through half a season of Niese, the Pirates could very well be right there with the Cubs as World Series favorites.   But as we learned this year, you cannot count on anything. 

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Lower Minors are they a disaster?

I don’t like the Liriano trade.  It was bad.  But let us not let that affect the way we view the Pirates farm system as a whole.  WTM makes the comment that the Pirates lower part of the farm system is as bad as it was in the dark ages of the 90s, which means we ought to expect an end to our era of competitiveness soon. 

While it is easy to see a real disparity between the upper levels that are loaded, and the lower levels, which have been drafting later, it is not talent poor.  Nor is it as bad as the Littlefield days.

Let us remember first and foremost as we look at the West Virginia Power that this is the part of the year you want this team to be a little talent low.  You almost never pull freshly drafted college kids up to A ball, but you do often send A ball kids up to High A.  So as we look at the current roster of West Virginia remember that they have already sent up Tito Polo and the vastly underrated Taylor Scioneaux (batters hit under .100 at West Virginia against him and are currently hitting under .200 in High A).  Ke’Bryan Hayes also is on the DL, and by all accounts he is still a top prospect with a little more to learn about adjusting to pitchers who adjust to him.  Michael Tolman does not look awful at 2B and I have never understood why Daniel Arribas does not get more of a look.  Not great talent hitting, I grant you, but pitching they have plenty.  Recent addition Taylor Hearn will arrive soon.  In addition to the aforementioned Scioneaux they have Mitch Keller.  Keller has struck out over 100 people this year and walked less than 15.  Yes, he needs work on the change like everyone at this level.  And yes hitters have discovered lately to not swing at his curve because it is probably not a strike.  But no one is saying he is major league ready.  What we are saying is he looks like a real prospect.  Hinsz also shows similar ability with a 41:11 K:BB.  Let us not forget that both are pitching their first full season so a little drop off at the end should not worry anyone too much.  This is especially true for Keller who was in A all year. 

Morgantown is a similar story.  These guys are also all playing longer than they ever have before.  Will Craig started off awful, but has come back strong.  His average is now up to .248, which if you remember his start, is impressive.  He also showed he can take a walk, which is a good sign.  His defense is a disaster, but he can move to 1B if he has to do so.  And Sandy Santos has been more than up to the challenge making himself look like a prospect.  And while Hunter Owen was a late round pick, he has played great including some signs of power.  Don’t be too quick to overlook Kevin Krause, who missed a year for an injury.  A bit early to write him off as a repeat offender of this league.  And while pitching is not Morgantown’s strong suit, late round pick Danny Beddes looks very good, and closer Brandon Bingel has been good too.  Usually you don’t too excited about closers, but he is pitching more than an inning an outing.  Even 15th round pick last year Scooter Hightower is showing good control with a 21:6 K:BB with no homers allowed.  He is improving and that is important at this age and level. 

Now I am not quite sure I see the point in having two rookie league teams.  It does dilute the talent level.  But taken together there is some talent at the Rookie Level.  Victor Fernandez and Jhoan Herrera are both on pace to be 22 in Short A ball next year.  Both are hitting well.  Fernandez has even shown improvement in his plate discipline striking out less and walking more against better competition.  It is too early to write off Nelson Jorge who is hitting over .300 and has shown major improvement over the winter.  Perhaps he can be something.  There has nothing to be upset in over most of this year’s draft picks pitching performances (except Blake Cenderline).  Travis MacGregor looks fine.  Maybe you want a few more strikeouts, but really not a bad start.  Matt Eckleman’s dominate performance at Bristol is probably a bit because he is too old for the league, but it is good enough to make one consider a jump to West Virginia next year rather than Morgantown.  Adam Oller is only 21 and a bullpen guy, but he too has been very good for Bristol.  He will be 22 at Morgantown next year and ought to see if he can be a steady bullpen hand. 

The DSL has a horrible record, but that does not mean that some of these guys might not make it.  I don’t know enough about these guys to see what will translate to American and what won’t but Christopher Perez leads the team in average and plays SS and 2B.  Leandro Pina is 18 and has an ERA and a WHIP under 1 with a 27:4 K:BB ratio.  Surely there is something there that could be developed into something.  Roger Santana is 18 and has a 43:8 ratio.  Does anyone remember what the Latin America program looked like under Littlefield?  Let us not get too upset about the record.  I think there are people here who have a shot at being good prospects. 

Now are these guys top 25 prospects?  Other than Keller, Hinsz, and Craig, Probably not.  Are there guys here primed for a breakout season and could work their way into the top 25.  Yes.  Could we easily be talking about Sandy Santos and Hunter Owen next year as break out stars?  I think so.  Could Nelson Jorge or Travis MacGregor still work their way to the majors?  Absolutely.  The lower minors look bad by comparison to our upper levels, but they are not without talent.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Were we buyers or sellers? Trading deadline review

So the confusing trade deadline has come and gone.  Time to start dissecting. 

Melancon probably had to go.  And the Pirates got a decent return in my opinion.  Felipe Rivero throws hard, without control problems, is left handed, and has five years of control.  Add in a young A ball pitcher who also appears to have strike out potential with no real control problems, and it probably makes sense.  The Pirates did draft Taylor in 2012 so it is not the first time the Pirates have shown interest.  Call it a good trade. 

The Pirates got Ivan Nova for a player to be named later.  Nova is just a rental and probably won’t be a big name going back to the Yanks in return.  As long as that is true this is a good trade.  The Pirates need a starter and Nova fits the bill.  Not great but a reasonable trade. 

The Pirates returned Jon Niese and got Antonio Bastardo back.  Both guys are doing worse this year than last, but I have a ton more confidence in Bastardo than Niese, especially coming out of the pen.  This means horrible things for the Walker trade, but forgetting Walker this trade is great.  It is a good one for the Pirates who need late inning help not long inning hope. 

The Liriano, Ramirez, McGuire trade for Drew Hutchison is a baffler.  Liriano was awful this year.  I guess Hutchison would be better, but he has not exactly set the world on fire.  He is a great deal cheaper.  Harold Ramirez is a good talent, but admittedly blocked a great deal in Pittsburgh.  Many have him in the top 10 (I think he is just outside, but whatever).  Yet, he is still behind Polanco, Marte, and McCutchen.  And even when he is ranked in the top 10 prospects he is behind Meadows.  The Pirates also have Willy Garcia, who is not doing great this year, but I list him to show the Pirates have  quite a bit of depth in the outfield in the minors.  Remember also that the Pirates have tried Hansen, and Osuna in the outfield too.  I could live with this trade if that was all it did.  Somehow this includes Reese McGuire.  Now McGuire only hits about .250, but his defense is great.  The Pirates did re-sign Stewart and Cervelli, but this trade means they have a great deal of confidence in Elias Diaz.  Hutchinson is not worth McGuire too.  This is a bad trade for the Pirates. 

Now that said, I think the Pirates have given themselves a great improvement for next year.  The bullpen next year now has Watson, Hughes, Bastardo, and Rivero.  I think Caminero might be back and the Pirates have enough talent to fill the long man position without any trouble.  They have saved some money with the Liriano trade to go and get a decent name to fill in that extra hole to make a great bullpen.  McGuire was a not going to be on next year’s team so that hit will come later and neither was Ramirez.  They don’t have to go to arbitration with Hutchison, but can if they think it helps.  They have also opened a spot up for these young guns to go grab. 

I think the best part of the deal is that it should save people like Glasnow and Brault.  They would struggle a bit at the majors.  Now they can go back to Indy and develop as they need to do.  Glasnow can work on that change rather than try to help the Pirates win a pennant and be ready for next year.  Brault can too. 

The Pirates are not dead in the water for this year now either.  They have an improved pen with Rivero and Bastardo.  They have an improved rotation with Cole, Taillon, Nova, and Hutchison.  The fifth spot can be up for grabs, but I would prefer to see the returning  Chad Kuhl take the slot.  Although I suspect we see Vogelsong a bit.  Either way, it seems better without Liriano and with Nova.  Time will tell how bad the Liriano weirdness turns out to be for the Pirates, but the other trades look good to me.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Buyers or Sellers?

The reasons for being a buyer are pretty simple. 

#1 You have a shot at the playoffs.  The Pirates have been fairly injured all year and Cutch has been awful, yet the Pirates are only a couple of games out of the final playoff spot.  Adding the needed pieces (mostly pitching) ought to push you over the top.

#2 You have a deep farm system.  This is always an important consideration when looking to be a buyer.  Do you have the pieces to lose?  And right now the answer may actually be yes.  Do the Pirates really need Adam Frazier, Max Moroff, and Alen Hansen?  What about Chad Kuhl, Brault, Kingham, and Williams?  Not to mention Clay Holmes in AA.  Even the wave after that already includes Hinz and Keller.  And let us not forget that we have Kramer, Tucker, and Newman all bunched together and Hayes right behind occupying third further narrowing that group.  The farm system could survive a trade or two.

The reasons for being a seller (or at least not a buyer). 

#1 You have no real shot this year.  The Pirates have an easy schedule down the stretch, some head to head with the Cardinals, and have been pretty even so far with the Mets.  It is reasonable to assume that they can be jumped if the right trades are made.  And the Marlins are playing above their heads, the last wild card spot is a real possibility.  But, that gets you a one game playoff on the road against Kershaw.  Yikes.  If you win that you get the Cubs with the new improved bullpen.  I am not sure the Pirate are cut out to win a five game set against them.  If they did they would get either Bumgardner and the Giants or Strassborg and Harper with the Nats.  Both seem to have better rotations and star players playing like star players.  That is just to get to the World Series.  Not a likely scenario at this point.

#2 You are about to lose Mark Melancon for nothing.  The Pirates are not going to resign him, and he will probably be overpaid.  But the Pirates could trade him now and get something in return.  Maybe a prospect for the pen in a year or a guy who might compete for a 5th rotation spot next year.  Maybe even a catcher to push Diaz.  He will be overvalued right now at the deadline.  This is an opportunity to get a little something to help next year. 

#3 There are too many needs to make the Pirates great again.  The Pirates need another arm in the pen to make a run.  While Watson and Hughes are regaining form, another solid late inning arm is necessary.  Four late inning guys and a ground ball guy ought to be good enough for a playoff push, but they need one more arm to get to that spot.  It doesn’t have to be a closer, but a good hard throwing strike out guy.  But what the Pirates really need is a starting pitcher.  Right now they have Cole and that is it.  Lirano is not going anywhere, but he needs to be pushed down in importance.  Let us assume for a moment that he is getting it together and Taillon is reliable into the post-season.  You don’t want to have to go with Glasnow and Kuhl or Locke and Niese as the back end for the playoffs.  And you don’t want any of them this year pitching in the playoffs.  So, assuming one of those four can hold down a fifth slot we need a guy to take the fourth slot to pitch in the playoffs.  It would actually be better if you can get a #2 or 3 guy to make the Pirates competitive.  The price for a Chris Archer or a Julio Teheran would be astronomical.  You are talking losing a Bell or Meadows plus someone like Brault plus something else (or two). 

#4 The market stinks.  We already mentioned the high priced names with control left like Teheran that will cost top 5 prospects and then some.  Even if the Pirates are just looking for a rental it will still cost a top tier prospect plus a lower minor leaguer, and the return will be bad.  That is just the market this year because there is no one.  None.  It is an ugly starting pitching market.  Seriously James Shields is the big name rental.  Oakland’s Rich Hill might be the best idea, but he just went on the DL.  And Rich Hill is not exactly a world beater that is going to change your team from pretender into contender. 

#5 Help will be here next year.  The Pirates, thanks to some bad injuries last year, are just in a weird year where their internal help is too far off.  Glasnow is not really ready.  Kingham went down.  Kuchno imploded, and it is just a stretch to bring up some bullpen arms.  Think about next year.  The starting rotation can be Cole, Lirano, Taillon, and now Kuhl.  All have experience and ready to go.  By mid June you could bring up Glasnow and Kingham or a Brault and have a good solid rotation.  Your bullpen can have Watson as the closer, Hughes, Locke (or not whatever), and a whole bunch of new guys.  You can sign a guy if you need it or bring back Schlegul.  You could have Durapau by mid season (who is dominating AA right now), and you could convert Frank Duncan to the pen to start the season.  Maybe even a September call up of Luis Heredia, who is destroying High A in the pen.  Add to that Josh Bell’s power bat, and the Pirates are a lot better next year than this year. 

All in all it is pretty clear I want to be a seller.  I think you have to get something for Melancon while you can, and frankly I might trade some others if I could.  I like Jaso and I think he has a place on next year’s team, but maybe now is the time to let Bell do what he can do and get something in return.  Maybe Matt Joyce is as good as it is going to get right now.  I don’t really shop those guys, but I listen if someone came a calling. 
That being said, I also would not be upset if the Pirates just ride it out.  Keep what you have and let Melancon walk at the end of the year.  That way you are not giving up, and you might slip into the playoffs anyway. 

I suspect that the Pirates will make a real low level deal for a bullpen arm.  Maybe a Jeremy Jeffress or a David Hernandez or Andrew Bailey, but nothing too much. 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

All Star Break Breakdown

As I am usually a pretty pessimistic fan, I actually find myself somewhat excited about the Pirates this year.  They are going younger, and it is working.

Yes, they currently sit on the outside looking in, but this is only by a game.  And they have done this without Cole, Cervelli, Stewart, and a bad version of Lirano and McCutchen, not to mention a suspect bullpen.  However, the bullpen has come around and even today's loss showed hope for a Jeff Locke out of the bullpen coming in the future.

We have seen Chad Kohl, and he has been better than many thought.  He deserves a shot at the eventual 5th starter role.  We have seen Glasnow, and he is going to be able to strike guys out.  Adding that change is going to make him deadly.  We have seen Taillon, and while some growth is still there, he can be dominate.  He needs the majors to grow any more, and he is going to be an addition to the team.  We have seen Adam Frazier, and he can be the super utility guy of the future or the eventual starting short stop or second baseman.  He seems to be able with the bat and in the field (although needing a little more outfield time). 

We have also just gotten a glimpse of Josh Bell.  Wow.  What a way to debut.  Bell got a pinch hit single in his first at bat off of none other than Jake Arrietta.  He came around to score the winning run.  We saw Bell's second pinch hit go for a grand slam to put the game away against the Cubs.  We saw his third plate appearance go for a walk, where he would come around to score the tying run.  Bell is 2 for 2 with a run scored in all three plate appearances.  Not bad at all.

So, the Pirates appear to be able to compete with what they have right now.  If they could clear out Niese to make room for a Kuhl or eventually a Glasnow, it would be great.  If they could get their catchers to stay healthy it would be good.  Cole will be back right after the All-Star break.  Plus, they have some prospects that could be traded for immediate help, probably in the bullpen, as they don't really need any other bats and have the young arms to pitch in the rotation.  Someone like Max Moroff, who may now be disposable with Frazier grabbing his opportunity by the horns, or even a Hansen.  Frank Duncan looks like a break out pitching prospect, perhaps he gets a trade look.  Brault could be another pitcher to go.  The Pirates have the people without having to risk someone like Meadows or Keller.

At the very least this has been a glimpse into not needing McCutchen.  He was the hope for so long and Alvarez failed to materialize as his running mate.  Now McCutchen has Marte and Polanco and maybe even Kang to cover him.  Getting a glimpse of Bell as a power bat should make everyone feel like the Pirates are set for the future.  Seeing Taillon develop to run with Cole and getting the glimpse of Glasnow only fuels the fire.  With guys like Kuhl stepping up to audition for the supporting cast is also invigorating.

The Pirate future is bright.  I do think they make the post season, they won't have to face the Cubs in a do or die, nor does it look like Bumgardner will be waiting.  It could be Kershaw, but only time will tell.  

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Pirates in free fall

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 11, 2016

2016 Draft and what it says about the Pirates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 10, 2016

Draft 2016

Day 1 of the draft saw three draft picks, and all were overdrafts by all accounts.  But, after seeing how Cole Tucker has performed, I think the Pirates have earned a bit of a break here.

Yes, it could be also that all of these will sign for under slot and give the Pirates some money to throw at harder signs today or even a Gage Hinz type offer in Rounds 11-13 which we will see tomorrow, so the book is hardly closed on the draft.

Will Craig is a big hitting 3B from Wake Forest.  College Hitters are usually a safe thing, and Craig will probably anchor the Black Bears offense.  We have not really seen a lot of these college hitters work out lately for the Pirates, so this one will have a lot of pressure.

Nick Lodolo is a high school lefty with a lot of height.  He is projectable and that fits with what the Pirates had been doing, but seemed to leave behind.  The Pirate farm system is littered with failed tall projectable types, so Lodolo will probably face increase criticism.  Although I do think the farm system is short on lefty pitching, which makes Lodolo valuable.

Travis Macgregor is a sort of tall high school right handed pitcher who was apparently moving up draft charts, which is an encouraging note.  He already sits in the 90's which should ease comparisons to previous high school failures who shall remain unnamed.  His secondary stuff may also be above what one would expect as well. 

It is unclear whether either of those two guys will pitch much in short season ball. 

Day 1 produces the hype, but I think day 2 makes or breaks the draft, so this is the day I am interested in.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Justin Masterson . . . finally

Justin Masterson has finally signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates and for a minor league deal too.  It makes you think his rehab has not gone as well as hoped. 

He will now try to regain some former form, or at least consistent ground balls with the side of strike out.  The Pirates did leave open the possibility for Masterson as a reliever, which right now looks like the bigger need.  Although he is going to begin as a starter.  Nicasio has been pretty good and Locke is not awful, so he has some work to do to break the rotation.  But the bullpen . . .

The bullpen has struggled and already used several different guys.  Masterson would give a nice long man piece or even just a flex guy.  Although replacing Voglesong with someone would make me feel a little better.  Without Hughes the pen lacks a consistent fourth man.  Watson and Melancon are solid.  Feliz looks decent enough so far.  But other than that the group really looks bad.  Schugel and Scahill are emergency replacements and look like it.  Vogelsong is the long guy with declining skills.  Lobstein is inconsistent and Caminero has shown flashes of greatness, but has also been lit up.  The bullpen desperately needs Hughes back. 

Hughes can help calm the mess being a pitcher who can be trusted in high stress situations.  This can move Caminero back to lower stress situations, and perhaps more rest in-between outings, hopefully improving his consistency.  It will drop one of the emergency guys back to AAA as well.  But it still leaves some upgradeable slots that Masterson would upgrade.  If Vogelsong is untouchable, it at least pushes the other emergency guy back to AAA or perhaps removes the need for Lobstein with a more tried MLB pitcher. 

I for one am very hopeful that Masterson can perform at AAA and get into the Pirate bullpen. 

And maybe just maybe we can make it to that moment when you see Taillon take the mound . . .

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

That was fast . . .

I fully expected Michael Morse to get dropped from the team this year.  I figured it would be when Josh Bell got a call up in June.  Morse will probably stay with the team because I believe the Pirates will still have to pay his salary if he stays in their system.  No one is going to pay him anything near that.  But I did not expect Morse to get dropped after only 8 at bats. 

I think it is the product of two things.  One, clearly it has a little to do with the need for another bullpen arm.  A.J. Schugel pitched tonight, fairly well by the way.  With Lirano missing a start, the long guys taxed from yesterday, and Vogelsong getting the spot start, another fresh arm was needed. 

But mostly I think it is the sign that the Pirates are pleased with Jaso.  Jaso has been great so far this year.  His patient approach has drawn walks and produced hits.  Jaso will not have to platoon now.  Obviously at some point Schugel or one of the other long relievers will get dropped for a fifth bench bat, but not until Lirano is good to go.  Who they bring up then will be interesting, but money should be on Jason Rogers.  If he gets to platoon with Jaso may very well depend on how well Jaso does these next few days. 

The Pirates record may not be where we want it, but having Jaso be the outright first baseman is a problem worth having. 

Friday, April 8, 2016

Exciting Depth should help in trades this year

The Pirates have a great team this year.  They could very well be in the race for the division title and probably in the playoff race.  This is the year that I think the Pirates will go all in by getting a big name trade because the minor league system is so stacked that trades are almost necessary to clear out some room.

This is great news if we need a 5th starter or some bullpen help, trades should be easy to pull off.  Just look at the situation.

Pittsburgh's infield is fairly loaded right now.  Kang has third, Mercer is at short, and Harrison is playing second.  There is not a lot of weakness there.  Maybe you could upgrade the bat at short.  Josh Bell is expected to take over at 1B this year, but Jaso looks pretty good there right now too. 

Indianapolis has on its roster right now Hanson at second.  Many consider him ready now.  It is his second year at AAA.  Jason Rogers plays 1B and 3B.  Dan Gamache, who maybe major league utility player caliber, plays 3B and 2B.  Gift Ngope plays SS and 2B (maybe not a good enough hitter).  Max Moroff plays 3B, 2B, and SS.  Adam Frazier plays 2B and SS.  It is possible that Gamache and Ngope are not good enough for the MLB, but the others probably are.  They can't even all fit in Indy's infield, much less find a home in Pittsburgh.  Maybe one can push Mercer out and maybe another finds the UT spot on the bench, but that leaves quite a few as good trade chips.

Indy also has two major league catchers in Elias Diaz and Jacob Stallings.  The Pirates are not going to re-sign Cervelli, but have Stewart for more time.  So, maybe neither of these guys goes, but maybe one does.

The outfield for the Pirates is set for years, but Willy Garcia is ready in AAA.  He probably finds the fourth outfielder spot in Pittsburgh next year, and the Pirates are going to find some room for their infielders out in the Indy outfield, but look in AA.  Austin Meadows is lurking.  Assuming he is not a tradable piece and they slow walk him, in two years he needs to be playing in Pittsburgh.  Harold Ramirez looks like he might have the tools to be a MLB player and Barrett Barnes was a first round comp draft pick.  They might excite a team enough to be trade pieces, and so they should be because when are they going to crack the outfield in Pittsburgh?  Frankly, Justin Maffei has done enough to require some looks in my opinion. 

Don't get me started on pitching.  The Pirates are pretty clearly saving some places for Taillon and Glasnow, as they should.  And Kingham should not be on the block because he was on track to be a MLB 3rd starter before his injury.  Chad Kuhl could easily be a starter soon in the majors.  In a couple of years the starting rotation for the Pirates could easily be Cole, Taillon, Glasnow, Kingham, and Kuhl.  But where does that leave Brault?  What if Holmes or Eppler has a good year at AA this year?  They would be knocking on the door. And there is this new guy Trevor Williams at AAA. 

The point is that the Pirates have a good major league team finally.  They also have a stacked upper minor league.  I expect some big trades this year if the Pirates are in contention giving away some of that middle infield depth or a starting pitcher.
And if the Pirates can't compete, I expect Cervelli would be on the block and Harrison too (unless he was dominate), maybe even Jordy Mercer because the Pirates have young guys to fill those holes.  And Niesse and Nicasio would be gone before you could count to 10. 

This is going to be a great season one way or the other.  The organization is in great shape it is going to be fun to watch.   

Monday, April 4, 2016

One up , One down

So here we are at the start of another Pirate baseball year.  The Pirates have made the playoffs for 3 straight years, and are going for 4.  For the first time, they are trying it without Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker (one of whom was much more important).  Despite my criticism of their offseason, I actually think they are going to make the playoffs again.

My reasons were on full display in game 1. 

First, the St. Louis Cardinals are good, but should be much easier to beat this year.  Especially here at the beginning when people are recovering from thumb injuries, they are down two short stops, and no new rookies have emerged yet.  This is the time to jump on the Cardinals as the Pirates did yesterday. 

Second, Gregory Polanco.  There is every reason to believe Polanco takes a big step forward.  He started very slowly as did Marte two years ago.  Polanco was heating up as the year ended, as did Marte two years ago.  Marte was on fire last year and this year Polanco should do the same. 

It should be a fun year to watch.  Hopefully the Pirates get off to a better start, and do better in division than last year.  Both of which should happen.  This should more than make up for the fall off that is bound to happen outside the division. 

Go Bucs!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Nick Hibbing retires

I have to admit the news of Nick Hibbing retiring is disappointing.  He was just drafted last year.  My draft review shows my excitement for this mid teen round pick.  He was big in the run Iowa made last year.  He was their closer, and they would just give him the ball and he usually got it done.  Even if it meant going three innings, and routinely two in the big games.  Now he did not have great K rates or ground ball rates, but he did get outs without runs.  He did it in college, and he was doing it in Short Season A ball.  He had a sub 2 ERA and I still thought he had a chance to make the team one day as a mid reliever.  He may have even been a guy who could have moved up the ladder fairly quickly.  Even if he was just a AAAA depth option in the pen, that should have kept him in the game.  One wonders why he decided to retire this week.  I wish him well in his life, but I think he could have been an addition to the Pirates farm system. 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

More signings

The Pirates have apparently signed two more left handed pitchers on minor league deals.  And I think it creates a nice competition for the second left hander spot in the bullpen.

One is Cory Luebke, and I don't think much will come of this one.  It is a flyer on a guy who once looked to be top of the rotation stuff in San Diego.  He was extremely successful with a high K rate and low BB rate in 2011.  He began in the pen, but had 17 pretty good starts.  He started 2012 well enough, but had Tommy John surgery missing the rest of that season and the next.  In 2014 he tore his UCL and had to have another surgery missing that season and 2015.  He did pitch from the bullpen in 2011 and probably with his injury history is looking for a bullpen slot now. 

Two is Eric O'Flaherty, who has pitched from the pen for the Mariners, Braves, and A's.  He had Tommy John surgery in 2013.  He was DFA'd by the A's this past year after a pretty poor showing.  Still, he is a sinker ball pitcher in the low 90's with a four seamer, slider, and change up that is mid 80's.  He had a disaster of a 2015 and it appeared to be related to a loss of control as his walks per 9 jumped from 1.8 in 2014 to 5.4 in 2015.  If he can rediscover control he could be a replacement level pitcher in the bullpen that does low leverage situations.  Not counting last year he has had a pretty steady positive WAR (reaching a peak of 3.3 in 2011)

This does liven up the bullpen fight for the last free spot.  With Melancon, Watson, Hughes, Caminero, and Feliz set in stone in the bullpen, and Nicasio as close to certainty as one can get, it really only leaves one spot open.  A spot that we know Hurdle likes to carry a second lefty that is not necessarily a Lefty Only Specialist.  The only one who fit that bill before today was the unknown of Zarate.  Now the Pirates have some competition for Zarate in Luebke and O'Flaherty.  That is now the position to watch. 

And it almost promises Holdzkom and Haley will be stashed in the minors. 

Monday, February 8, 2016

Roster guess

With the Pirates bullpen really only having one spot to fight for and the wait and see game for signing Justin Masterson being the only thing to watch in the bullpen, it leaves us with the most interesting thing being how the Pirates bench is made.

Now the Pirates did not do a lot in the offseason, but maybe you can see a new trend developing.  The Pirates have long loved flexibility.  Note how all the Pirate outfielders (Marte, McCutchen, and Polanco) could play center.  Sean Rodreguiz fits this bill too.  They want guys who can do a lot.  But are they starting to look for plate discipline as a thing to promote?  Let’s see.

The starting outfield is listed above and the infield will be Kang, Mercer, Harrison, and Jason Jaso (1B).  Jaso fits exactly what the Pirates want.  He is flexible because he will be an emergency catcher and he fits the new bill as he draws lots of walks.  The catcher will be Cervelli. 

This leaves five bench spots.  Three of which are spoken for already.  Stewart will again be the back up catcher.  Michael Morse will platoon at 1B and be the right handed power bat off the bench.  The Pirates also re-signed Sean Rodrequiz, who can play 1B, OF, and 2B.  He may be the defensive 1B who plays the last inning or two of close games with Morse being so-so and Jaso being new at 1B. 

The last two spots then are up in the air with a middle infield spot likely one of them, although Kang can play SS if needed, so it is not necessary to force a SS on the bench. 

First we ought to look at the prospects.  Alen Hanson leads the group that includes Gamache, Moroff, Ngoepe, and Frazier.  I don’t think any of these guys breaks camp with the team.  My long time being suspicious of Alen Hanson is well known, but he does seem to have done whatever he is going to do in the minors.  He is what he is, and now is the time for MLB.  He can hit, and his defense improved at second, but he is only second.  Moroff is actually the one I think the best suited for the bench.  He has some power and draws walks (but does K too much).  He could use a bit more seasoning at AAA, but he is my favorite of this group.  However, none will make the team out of spring training. 

This leaves the battle between Pedro Florimon and Cole Figueroa with Florimon having the inside track.  It should be noted that Figueroa would give a lefty off the bench.  Hurdle likes a lefty or two on the bench.  It is not encouraging to think of Florimon being on the 40 man, but it looks like it will happen.

With one spot left things get interesting.  Jake Goebbert is your best bet as a corner outfielder and the left handed hitter off the bench.  Goebbert appears to be able to draw walks, which again could be the emerging trend.  He can play some first perhaps as well.  If he does not hit in spring training and Figueroa pushes out Florimon, it is not unthinkable for Goebbert to go back to the minors as he has options.  His competition is Jason Rogers.  Rogers is a righty with some potential who plays 1B with a bit of 3B and perhaps corner outfield.  Rogers has an option left, so he is going to have to earn it.

The interesting thing is if Kang is not healthy or completely ready.  I think that this would make Rogers a shoe-in.  In fact, I think his signing was almost completely to be insurance for Kang this year and replace Morse on the bench next year.  The question is would it make Rogers the starter.  He would surely see action, but Harrison at 3B would be possible until Kang returns.  Would the Pirates break camp with Hanson as the starter at second and Rogers as a back up to Harrison at 3B?  There is no need to waste a prospect on the bench, but it is a different story if the starting job is open.  Florimon and Figueroa are not going to start. 

I have to admit that I don’t know what is going to happen, but I do think Kang will not be completely ready.  I think the Pirates probably do break camp with Rogers on the team and Kang on the DL.  I think Figueroa takes Florimon’s place on the 40 man and leaves camp with the Pirates.  Goebbert may start on the team, but is the one who goes down when Kang comes back leaving Rogers on the team.  It makes for an interesting bench with a lot of flexibility and an ability to draw walks (except Sean Rodreguiz) and able to play defense (except Morse). 

One thing that is clear is that the Pirates are deep in AAA, and should not have trouble filling holes when people get hurt.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Pirates still have a big hole

As the Pirates approach Spring Training, one big glaring hole remains.  The starting rotation.  The Pirates may not be done, and let’s hope not because this is not an awe inspiring group. 

The #1 is Gerrit Cole.  This is not a problem.  The big man keeps doing well and throwing gas.  No reason to expect any decline and maybe an increase in performance.

The #2 is Lirano.  Again no reason to worry here.  Lirano may suffer a small decline as age catches him, but he is a very effective lefty and gets big strikeouts.  Strong rotation up front.

The #3 is Jon Niese.  Niese is okay.  He gets ground balls, and one would expect with the upgrade of the Pirates defense put up better numbers.  He has postseason experience, which is nice.  Yet, as a #3 this is not so good.  He would be a great #5 starter, and an okay #4.  But as the third best pitcher, your rotation is weak. 

The #4 is Jeff Locke.  Locke is what he is.  He is going to have some good games.  He is going to have some really bad ones.  And usually he will eat up innings and it is up to your offense.  He is a lefty, which can be a blessing on previous rotations, but this one is loaded with lefties, so that even that is now a bit of a curse.  Locke would be acceptable as a #5, but even then you would think the position could be upgraded.  Having someone lower than him in the rotation is awful.  Locke is the guy you don’t mind skipping in a rotation, and you can’t do that if he is the #4. 

The #5 is Ryan Vogelsong.  Vogelsong is old and would be better as the long relief guy in the bullpen.  I didn’t really understand this signing, and I still don’t.  Perhaps they were desperate for a right handed pitcher.  But desperate is never good.  If he stays in the rotation all year the Pirates may miss the playoffs.  He has postseason experience, but does not have enough skill left for that to matter much.

The immediate depth appears to be Kyle Lobstein.  He is AAAA and not much else.  He could do long relief for a stretch and maybe a spot start, but yikes!  He is also a lefty.  So using him to replace a struggling Vogelsong is problematic as a 4 lefty rotation has seldom been done, and would be reason to worry.

Now the Pirates need to sign as #3 quality starter to fix their problems.  They have been linked to Justin Masterson rumors, which would be nice.  He is about a #3, and has some upside you may think the Pirates can tap into.  He is also right handed which would be nice.  It could bump everyone down a slot to where they ought to be.  Again you would think you could still upgrade the back end, but it would be workable and playoff able without the upgrade. 

The other thing the Pirates could be banking on is an early call up for many players.  If the Pirates can survive May and April with that rotation, they could start bringing heavy throwers up in June.  Nick Kingham, Tyler Glasnow, and Jameson Taillon all will be there in AAA.  Kingham and Taillon are recovering from injuries so that will impact timing.  All three of those guys would be upgrades over the backend of that rotation.  In fact a rotation of Cole, Lirano, Taillon, Glasnow, and Kingham is mouthwatering.  And really Vogelsong could be cut without worry and Locke with only a little concern. 

As great as that rotation sounds it is very young and that is not a great formula for playoff runs.  Plus, it is dependent on everything going right, which is rare.  Glasnow could use a little more control work, and Taillon is oft injured.  Kingham is coming back from one, but is probably the best bet to be ready on time. 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Looking at the 2009 Draft

With the dropping of Tony Sanchez from the 40 Man roster the 2009 draft is essentially a closed book for the Pirates.  A lot is being written and said about this draft, and it is mostly negative.  And no one can really argue it was a good draft, but I don’t think it as serious as many state.

I think my understanding of the 2009 draft has two major differences from most.  I think I put more weight on players being parts of trades.  Colton Cain may very well be a bust, but for the Pirates he helped bring in talent for a pennant run.  Mission accomplished in my opinion.  Victor Black did the same thing.  Black, by the way, seems to be doing fine in the Mets bullpen. 

Secondly, I simply think 2009 was a horrible draft overall.  The Pirates did not find the deals and steals for sure, but 2009 was an awful year all around excluding the obvious number 1 in Stephen Strassborg.  Let’s take a look.

Sanchez was drafted 4th overall and considered an overdraft, but Donovan Tate (drafted 3rd overall) also never made the majors and is in the Dodgers organization after being let go by the Padres.  That is right, he failed to make the Padres.  He has had substance abuse problems as well.  The 5th overall pick was Matthew Hobgood, and he is currently a minor league free agent.  So, the picks right next to Sanchez were actually bigger failures with less major league time than Sanchez.  And remember the Pirates overdrafted Sanchez.  Not so with the other two guys.  Nor was it the case for the second overall pick Dustin Ackley.  Ackley was chased off of second base in Seattle to the outfield, and eventually traded to the Yankees.  He has not hit very well and is defensively so-so.  That is the second overall pick in the draft.  The first round produced 5 All Stars so far, one of which is Strassborg.  Yes, one is also Mike Trout, but everyone passed on Trout so that is hardly a Pirate only mistake.  If you add in the comp round, you get one more All Star.  That All Star is Boxberger, who was traded twice and made the All Star game for the Rays as a closer rather than the starter he was drafted to be.  Another one of those All Stars was Aaron Crow for the Royals.  He had one good season where he was the Royals rep on the All Star team.  He lost the closer position that year after failing to record a save and was traded to the Marlins.  While he made the All Star game, Crow is probably a bust as a draft pick.  And does anyone remember Tyler Scheppers, the Pirate 08 draftee who refused to sign.  He was drafted in the comp round and he is currently a total failure too.  He was the ninth rated prospect going into the 09 draft and compared to Verlander. 

And before we pile on the failure of the high school pitchers taken later in that draft.  Let us look at high schoolers taken in 09.  We have already looked at the failure of Hobgood and Tate, both of whom are high schoolers.  Zack Wheeler (6th overall) is 18-16 overall in the majors and with his second team.  Jacob Turner (9th overall) is 11-25 after being in 4 different organizations and is currently a minor league free agent.  Maztek is a success story making the pros with the team that drafted him and after two pro seasons he sits at 8-14 with an ERA over 4, but it is Colorado.  Comp round picks don’t look much better from High School.  Some of the high school hitters look better especially with Mike Trout and Shelby Miller and Grichuck hitting okay too, but those are not all roses either.  Nick Franklin (27th overall) is hitting .204 as a backup catcher.  Sanchez could have done that.  And Reymond Fuentes (28th overall) is a bust somewhere in the Royals organization after getting 5 hits in 33 at bats with the Padres. 

Comparatively the 2008 draft also had 6 All Stars in the first round and comp round including Pedro Alvarez, Buster Posey, and Eric Hosmer.  It also includes some good players like Bret Lawrie.  Players with some potential left like Jake Odorrizi, and some high profile failures like Justin Smoak and number one overall pick Timothy Beckman.  The 2010 draft class has already produced 5 All Stars including Matt Harvey, Bryce Harper, and Manny Machado.  And let’s be honest this class is at a disadvantage with 2 of the top 10 overall picks not signing. 

The point is the Pirates did not do well.  But, it was probably a really bad draft class.  Yes, it would have been great to find some of the hidden gems.  But, they are not as bad as we think because it was just a down year producing down results.