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.