Earlier I posted the 2013 Indianapolis Indians preview. The Triple-A squad is going to be where most of the replacements are going to come from for the Pittsburgh Pirates this year. Here is a look at some of the options in Triple-A. The goal here is to get an idea of who could arrive, when they could arrive, and what type of playing time they could see.
Gerrit Cole - The biggest help is obviously going to come from the top prospect in the system. It’s just a question of when Cole will arrive. He saw his control start to struggle at the end of last season, with a 13.2% BB/PA in his final month in Altoona. Despite those struggles, he was moved up to Indianapolis. There he made two starts, and was bounced early in the second outing. Cole is close to being ready for the majors, but the idea that he only needs to check in to Triple-A for a few weeks and get his extra year of control is wrong. He didn’t look ready for Triple-A when he was promoted last year, and you’d like to see him get a good amount of starts at the level to prove that he’s ready to move up. This is a guy with amazing stuff and a great assortment of pitches. But he still needs some work commanding some of those pitches, and mastering how to pitch. The Pirates need to make it so that when Cole is promoted, he’s up for good.
Kyle McPherson - There might not be an immediate need for Cole with McPherson in the Triple-A rotation. He looked good at times this Spring, and is one of the better pitching prospects in the upper levels. McPherson has a good three pitch mix and some of the best control in the system. Neal Huntington mentioned after he was demoted that they trusted McPherson if a spot opened up early in the season. If the Pirates do need a starter, he should be the first call, instead of Cole. His upside is a 200 inning per year number three starter.
Phil Irwin - The starting rotation in Pittsburgh will have a lot of options throughout the year. Aside from Cole and McPherson, the rotation could also see Jeff Karstens, Francisco Liriano, and Charlie Morton. So while Phil Irwin has the stuff to be a back of the rotation starter in the majors, he might not have a spot. Instead, he could help out from the bullpen later in the year. He’s got a good fastball, an effective sinker, and a curveball that is already a great strikeout pitch as a starter, and would work well in relief.
Vic Black - Black struggled with his control this Spring, but made an adjustment to shorten his glove pat after being sent to minor league camp. The early results were similar to the dominant numbers Black put up in Altoona in 2012. It’s easy for him to get away from his mechanics, so control may always be a problem. When he sticks to his mechanics the control is manageable and he’s un-hittable. He’ll need to work on his consistency with his mechanics. He has the arm to be a future closer, but could make it in the majors at some point this year as a middle reliever.
Bryan Morris - Morris should have been in the majors last season, well before his brief appearance in September. He also could be a better option than Jeanmar Gomez right now. The Pirates had an extra option on him this year, and opted to send him down. If he stays down past May 8th, they’ll get an extra year of control. He should be up in the majors not long after that, since he has very little to prove in the minors. Morris has the upside of a late inning reliever, but will be in lower pressure innings when he finally arrives.
Duke Welker - Just like Morris and Black, Welker has the upside of a late inning reliever. If he makes it to the majors this year, it will be in a lower pressure role. Welker would have been an option last September when rosters expanded, but he was recovering from an injury. If he doesn’t make it up before then, he should be in the majors when rosters expand this September.
Ryan Reid - The Pirates have a lot of bullpen options, but Reid pitched well in Spring Training, has always posted strong numbers in the minors, and could be an option for the Pirates as depth this year. Vin Mazzaro and Kris Johnson could also be bullpen depth if needed.
Jerry Sands - The Pirates will go with Travis Snider and Jose Tabata in the outfield to start the year, although both guys could be on the bench if they continue to give Gaby Sanchez playing time. If Snider and Tabata do get a shot, and if they both struggle, the Pirates could turn to Sands. Another option could be…
Alex Presley - He’s coming off a down year in 2012, but Presley did have good numbers in Spring, and had decent numbers in the majors prior to 2012. Ultimately his upside is a fourth outfielder, but he could get a shot at proving himself to be more. Then again, the Pirates will be in trouble anyway if they get to Presley by going through Snider, Tabata, Sands, and Sanchez isn’t an everyday option. In that case, it won’t matter that Presley is only a fourth outfielder.
Felix Pie - When talking about Pie after he was sent down, Neal Huntington drew some similarities to Garrett Jones. Not so much in the type of player, since Jones and Pie are two totally different guys. It was more about the age, the strong Spring, and how Jones went on to break out after a strong season in Triple-A. If Pie gets off to a great start with Indianapolis, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Pirates give him a second half shot.
Jordy Mercer - In the past the Pirates have called up Mercer, only to have him sit on the bench. So it might be foolish to suggest he could get time in the majors this year. The Pirates stuck with Clint Barmes last year through horrible offense, and didn’t give Mercer much of a shot. The only way I see Mercer getting time is if Barmes goes down with an injury. Even then, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see John McDonald as the starter with Mercer as the backup who rarely plays. You could also write the same thing about Ivan De Jesus Jr.
Matt Hague/Jared Goedert - With all of the corner infield options in Pittsburgh, I don’t see either of these guys getting significant time this year. The only way it happens is if Pedro Alvarez goes down with an injury, or when rosters expand in September. Until then, they’ll be blocked on the bench by Josh Harrison or Brandon Inge.
Tony Sanchez - The Pirates signed Russell Martin to a two-year deal, which pretty much signaled that Sanchez won’t be up anytime soon. Martin has been pretty reliable, and Michael McKenry is a good backup, so there’s not much of an opportunity for Sanchez this year. If Martin does go down with an injury, that could open the door for Sanchez to get some time as a starter.