Last week about half of the players in minor league camp reported to Pirate City. The day of their first workout, all of the players gathered on the field, getting ready for stretches and warm ups. Pittsburgh Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington was on the field, overseeing the young players take the field. One of those players, noticeably older, ran over to Huntington and thanked the GM for giving him an opportunity.
Brian Tallet was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates as a minor league free agent on February 3rd. The left hander spent parts of nine years in the majors, pitching for three different organizations. His best year came in 2008 when he posted a 2.88 ERA in 56.1 innings as a reliever with Toronto. The next year he was moved to the starting rotation, where his numbers suffered, with a 5.32 ERA in 160.2 innings.
Tallet signed a major league deal with St. Louis prior to the 2011 season, agreeing to a $750 K contract. So it was a bit of a surprise when his minor league deal with the Pirates didn’t include an invite to Spring Training. But part of that was due to Tallet’s injuries in 2011.
“I just really needed an opportunity to come prove that I was healthy, and that I could still pitch at the big league level,” Tallet said of his deal with the Pirates. “It’s one of those things where they didn’t really have any spots in big league camp and this was really my only option. I just told them I appreciate the opportunity, and hopefully I can make the best of it.”
Tallet got off to a good start in 2011, allowing one earned run in his first 4.1 innings. He fractured his hand on April 13th and missed five weeks after surgery. During his recovery he suffered an intercostal strain in his chest. The lefty didn’t say anything about the injury, and tried the pitch through it for a few weeks. His stuff got worse, and eventually he was placed on the disabled list. He only made one more appearance for the remainder of the year, occurring after a trade to the Toronto Blue Jays, which took place while he was on the disabled list.
The Pirates were in contact with Tallet’s agent discussing an opportunity for Tallet to showcase himself in Spring Training. Tallet had history with Neal Huntington, dating back to when he started his career with the Cleveland Indians while Huntington was a member of the Cleveland front office. Huntington gave Tallet the opportunity to showcase himself and try to make it back to the majors. Tallet hopes to capitalize on the opportunity, but said he wouldn’t blame the Pirates if he didn’t make it back.
Left handed relievers are always in demand, especially for the lefty versus lefty matchup. Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle is a guy who favors the idea of two left handers in the bullpen. That could give Tallet an opportunity with the Pirates this season if he can show that he’s healthy and has his stuff back.
Tallet’s best opportunity to return to the majors might be as a left handed specialist, otherwise known as a LOOGY reliever. His numbers in 2011 were distorted by the injuries, but the southpaw had a .176/.228/.343 line in 2010 against left handed hitters.
Tallet threw live batting practice today at Pirate City, using his stuff live for the first time this Spring. He faced a right hander, Quincy Latimore, and a left hander, Andrew Lambo. Latimore had some success against Tallet, hitting a home run on a cutter that Tallet left high. The left hander had much more success in the lefty-lefty matchup against Lambo (VIDEO). He showed a lot of movement on his pitches, and fooled Lambo on several occasions with his cutter.
Spring Training will be all about getting back on track for the 34 year old left hander. He didn’t pitch much in 2011, so he will have to work to get his pitches back to a level that is good enough for the majors.
“I feel good,” Tallet said about his stuff. “It’s just about getting command, getting adjusted, and basically just doing what I do best, which is throw strikes and get guys out.”
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Tallet back in the majors. He’s got the benefit of being left handed. He’s in a good situation, playing for a team that has a manager who prefers two left handers in the bullpen. The Pirates don’t have a lot of left handed options in the upper levels of the minors. As for whether he could successfully make it back to the majors, Tallet definitely still has the stuff to succeed, even if his success only comes in a LOOGY role.
If the Pirates don’t have a spot, which could be a possibility if they prefer to keep left hander Justin Wilson in a bullpen role, then they probably wouldn’t stand in the way of another team trying to give Tallet a shot. Until then, Tallet will work in minor league camp, trying to get back to form, and hoping to get noticed by any team that will give him another shot in the majors.