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.