FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Pittsburgh Pirates cut five more players from big league camp on Sunday morning before heading to Fort Myers to face the Minnesota Twins.
Pitchers Kyle McPherson, Bryan Morris, Justin Wilson, and outfielders Gorkys Hernandez and Starling Marte were all optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis.
“We talk a lot about we need to make decisions with our heads,” Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington said. “We hope our fans make decisions with their hearts. We try to give them players that they can grab a hold of, and fall in love with. We as front office, and we as coaching staff, need to make decisions with our heads. Where do we put people in positions to be successful.”
McPherson, 24, made one Grapefruit League appearance this spring where he allowed one hit over one scoreless inning. McPherson, who posted a 3.02 ERA over 16 starts with Double-A Altoona in 2010, was named the Pirates Minor League Pitcher-of-the-Year.
“McPherson is a guy that we have high hopes for that hasn’t pitched an inning above Double-A,” Huntington said. “He’s done some great things over the last couple years. His maturity, his makeup, his fearlessness goes along with his stuff package. He’s been around some veterans at camp…[Got] a chance to learn from them, see how they work, see how they prepare, see how they go about their business. Also a chance for him to go on a mound and compete, and feel like he belongs, and feel like his stuff can play at the Major League level.”
Morris, 25, tossed four scoreless outings with the Pirates this spring, giving up four hits with a walk and two strikeouts. The righty started the 2011 season in the rotation with Double-A Altoona before moving into the bullpen where he thrived. Morris will open up the season in Triple-A where his future could be towards the back-end of the bullpen.
“Bryan has the stuff that he’s developing, the mental maturity and the makeup to pitch late in the game,” Huntington said. “We don’t ever want to label guys in the Minor Leagues as closers. It’s like top of the rotation starters, they earn that. Middle of the lineup bats that are the key middle of the lineup bats, the true run producers, they earn that over time. The same with closers.”
“There’s a ton of guys bouncing around Triple-A staff that has the same stuff that closers at the Major League level, but there’s a difference. There’s a different mentality to be able to repeat it, the ability to be consistent. Bryan’s got as good of stuff as most anybody we have in terms of the fastballs, breaking balls. He’s refining his mechanics. He’s refining his consistency, his command. And he’s got a great future with us.”
Wilson, 24, like Morris, started the season in the starting rotation. But after Wilson struggled by posting a 4.24 ERA, he was moved into the bullpen to finish the season at Triple-A Indy. Wilson saw his fastball hit high 90′s from the ‘pen, but the Pirates organization have decided to stretch him back out to be in the rotation to start the 2012 season.
“Justin is going to go down to Triple-A and he’ll be in that rotation down there because the key to his future success is fastball command,” Huntington said. “We still believe he can be a Major League starter. We still believe he can be a very effective starter. He might be one of those guys that breaks into the Major Leagues as a reliever, but the most important thing we can get from him is fastball command, some delivery adjustments, some refinement.”
“As he goes forward, the best way to do that is for him to repeat it a lot during a game. Also to have the side work. Whether it’s flat ground, whether it’s his bullpen work. We felt the best thing for Justin was to go down and start again for two reasons: Number one, Because we believe he can be a Major League starter, and Number two, because it’s more work, it’s more practice time.”
Hernandez, 24, went just 3-for-20 during the Grapefruit League this spring. Hernandez finished the 2011 season with a .283 average, 48 runs, 25 triples and 21 stolen bases with Triple-A, where he will start the season for the second straight year. He is expected to bounce between center field and right with Indianapolis.
“The key question for Gorkys is the bat,” Huntington said. “He is arguably our best defensive outfielder in the system…He knows the swing adjustments he needs to make. He knows the plan adjustment he needs to make. He’s done it at times. He’s done it for extended periods of time. He just hasn’t done it over the course of a season. As he does that, with his defensive ability, with his base running abilities, with his throwing abilities, he becomes a very good Major League player. How it plays out, time will tell. It’s a hypothetical question that we’ll see as these guys develop, as they progress. Part of it is in his control in what he does. Part of it is what’s outside of his control and what the other outfielders in the system do.”
Marte, 23, had an outstanding spring with the Pirates in his first big league camp. The outfielder hit .521 with three homers and two stolen bases over 12 games. Marte, who was named the Eastern League Rookie-of-the-Year after a career-high season in average (.332), hits (173), doubles (38) and home runs (12), hasn’t seen an at-bat above the Double-A level. Marte will open the season at Triple-A Indy, where a call-up to Pittsburgh at some point isn’t out of the question.
“He showed that when he commands the zone, and he hits his pitch, he can hit just about anybody. And that was fun to see,” Huntington said. “He continued to show that he needs to refine his strike zone command. His attack of his pitch is his strength. His ability to barrel balls that aren’t good pitches is a challenge at times. That’s going to be his biggest challenge in Triple-A.”
“We’ve got some work to do there, consistency, pitch to pitch with him. On the bases, he has the chance to be an impact base runner, but we still got some work to do there. Obviously love the guy. And really excited about him and his offensive upside, his chance to come up here and make an impact, but we’ve got work remaining.”
“Sample size, 25 at-bats. Cliff Lee gave up a home run to him, he gave up a single to him, then he showed that he’s Cliff Lee in his last at-bat. There will be a point in time where even the best in the game gets shown by Cliff Lee, and that he’s still Cliff Lee, one of the best pitchers in our game. There were some great things to build on. We’re excited about the future. We’ll see where that future comes.”