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
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.