Pirates Notebook: The 2011 Core?

The Pittsburgh Pirates have a nice situation right now in Altoona. Their top three hitting prospects (I’m not including McCutchen in that statement, just the minor league guys) are all playing for the same team.

The other day I pointed out how Gorkys Hernandez has been much better since Jose Tabata returned from his injury. Gorkys is batting .381/.435/.476 in that short time period, with a hit in five out of six games.

My theory is that, with the horrible offense in Altoona, and without Jose Tabata in the lineup, opponents had no reason to pitch to Gorkys. Now that Tabata is hitting behind Gorkys, teams won’t be as willing to pitch to him.

The same could be true with Pedro Alvarez now in Altoona. Alvarez doesn’t have much protection in the order, but he does have Gorkys and Tabata hitting in front of him, which should give him some good pitches to hit.

If things go well, we could see this trio moving up together, and joining Andrew McCutchen and company in the majors no later than 2011. Looking at the rest of the guys on The Prospects Tracker, the Pirates could see Alvarez, Tabata, Gorkys, Tony Sanchez, Brad Lincoln, Daniel McCutchen, and possibly Jeff Locke and Bryan Morris in the majors by 2011.

A few weeks ago the Pirates management said they had no timetable for when the “core” would arrive in Pittsburgh. It looks like 2011 could be that time. For now, we’re going to get an early preview, with Andrew McCutchen already tearing it up in the majors, and the trio of prospects in Altoona for the time being.

Last Start for Snell?

A lot of speculation went on tonight in the chat about whether this would be the last start for Ian Snell. I got home too late to see him pitch, although that was only the fourth inning. That speculation was partly fueled by the announcement that Virgil Vasquez was pulled after one inning, despite being healthy in Indy tonight.

It turns out that Vasquez is being held as an emergency pitcher, just in case Charlie Morton can’t make his start on Friday. As for Snell, should this be the end?

In his three starts before tonight, Snell put up quality outings, allowing just seven runs in 19 innings. In 15 games this year he has eight quality starts. The problem is that he gets absolutely hammered in the other starts, giving the team little to no chance to win.

I think the big problem with Snell comes with the expectations, and the salary. I’ve mentioned this before, but if Snell came in to the season with the expectations of Ross Ohlendorf or Jeff Karstens, there wouldn’t be such a fuss. If he came in to the season making the league minimum, there wouldn’t be such a fuss. That’s not the case. Snell came in to the season as one of the highest paid pitchers on the roster, with success under his belt, and struggles in his recent history.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that thinking. Snell is one of the worst pitchers on the staff, and that includes the bullpen. I’m sure that Tom Gorzelanny, Virgil Vasquez, or Daniel McCutchen could do a better job. We’ve seen Karstens put up better numbers already this year.

The problem is that Snell is an enigma. While Karstens can put up decent numbers for a fifth starter, that’s pretty much all he is. Snell has the potential to be much more, which is why he gets judged harder. Every time we see Snell put up a quality start, it makes it that much more frustrating to see him get chased in the third inning. Everytime we see Snell string a few quality starts together, it erases the memory of the poor starts enough to provide hope that maybe he will finally realize his potential.

At the end of the day, everytime Snell puts up a total bomb, Pirates fans grow less patient with him. This results in fans becoming less forgiving when he comes back with a decent outing. In short, it seems like Snell is buring his bridge with Pirates fans. I wouldn’t be upset to see him go. I say get rid of the headache and trade him while he still has some value.

Of course he’ll go off on a three game winning streak after that.

Pirates looking to trade for Luis Ayala

John Perrotto reports that the Pirates are looking to trade for Luis Ayala, who was recently designated for assignment by the Minnesota Twins. Ayala, who is 31 years old this year, would provide the Pirates with a veteran right hander in the bullpen, allowing guys like Evan Meek, Steven Jackson, and Jesse Chavez to pitch in more non-pressure situations.

In his career, Ayala has a 5.8 K/9 ratio, a 2.0 K/BB ratio, an 0.9 HR/9 ratio, and a 1.267 WHIP. This year Ayala’s numbers were similar, with the exception of his 1.423 WHIP.

From 2003-2007 Ayala posted a 2.82 ERA in 274.2 IP, with similar ratios, and a 1.198 WHIP. He has struggled the last two years, allowing an increased amount of hits.

Ayala fits the model that the Pirates seem to like: he has a career ground ball ratio of 47.7 percent. This year his ground ball ratio is down to 38.8 percent, a major difference which could explain his increased amount of hits. Hopefully the Pirates can add him, as it would probably cost very little in the line of prospects.

Ayala is making $1.3 M this year, with performance bonuses of $250 K if he appears in 50-70 games (currently at 28), and $325 K if he finishes 35-60 games (although that seems unlikely). Total due to Ayala at this point would be about $730 K.

The MVP Tracker

The MVP Tracker will be updated tomorrow, but here are the top changes for the Tuesday loss:

1. Adam LaRoche: -.276 WPA
2. Ian Snell: -.254
3. Delwyn Young: -.074
4. Andy LaRoche: -.064
5. Steve Pearce: -.049

Tough break for Adam LaRoche, who homered to start the 9th, but made the final out to take a big dip in the WPA.

Prospect Watch

The Prospects Tracker is updated with the Tuesday games:

-Pedro Alvarez made his AA debut, going 0 for 4 with 3 strikeouts.

-Gorkys Hernandez continues to shine, with a 2 for 4 day.

-Jose Tabata went 2 for 3.

-Tony Sanchez went 2 for 4 in State College. Sanchez has one more game in State College before moving up to West Virginia on Saturday.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • Anonymous

    Why is Tony Sanchez being shipped out of State College so quickly?

  • Anonymous

    He's just getting his feet wet before moving up. Sanchez is further along development wise than the guys at SC and most #1 picks start at A ball.

    Kipper
    http://www.thebuccosforum.com

  • Tim Williams

    What Kipper said.