First Pitch: The Pirates Added Some 2014 MLB Players Today

The moves the Pirates made today were all of the minor league variety. First they signed five minor league free agents — all right-handed pitchers. They followed that up with the expected Rule 5 roster moves, protecting four prospects from the draft on December 12th. While all of these moves involved minor league players, it’s very likely that today’s additions will lead to MLB production at some point during the 2014 season.

During the off-season, the main focus is on the Opening Day roster, and who will be starting at each spot. As we saw in 2013, depth is important. The Pirates wouldn’t have made the playoffs without the depth of their rotation, or the mid-season additions of guys like Gerrit Cole or Jordy Mercer. The moves today won’t add to the Opening Day roster, but they will definitely add to the depth throughout the season.

Three of the minor league free agents were invited to Spring Training. Jake Brigham, Jay Jackson, and Josh Kinney all profile as relief pitching depth at best, and all three bring something interesting to the table. Brigham throws a 94-97 MPH fastball and a mid-80s slider that acts like a cutter. He has worked as a starter in the past, and it could be interesting to see how he does as a full-time reliever. Jackson hits 93 MPH with his four-seam fastball, and has a power curve that has been inconsistent. He could be a candidate to switch back to his two-seam fastball to generate more ground balls, which has worked for a lot of Pirates pitchers.

The first two players are 26-years-old, while Kinney is 35. His advantage is that he has previous MLB experience, with some dominant strikeout ratios. That includes a 3.94 ERA in 32 innings, along with a 10.1 K/9 and a 4.2 BB/9 in 2012 with Seattle. He’s gone from an extreme ground ball pitcher to a below average ground ball pitcher in two years, so perhaps an adjustment could get him back to the heavy ground ball approach.

Individually, the chances for each of those players reaching the majors is small. However, minor league free agency is a game of quantity. Together, the Pirates might get one Ryan Reid type reliever out of that group, possibly giving them a month or two of key depth innings out of the bullpen. That’s also assuming the bullpen remains as healthy as it was in 2013. The rotation suffered a ton of injuries last year, but the bullpen was a bit lucky when it came to health. That might not be the case in 2014, and if it isn’t, then the Pirates would be more likely to have to dip into their relief pitching depth and turn to guys like Brigham, Jackson, and Kinney.

The bigger impact in 2014 will come from the Rule 5 additions. They aren’t additions to the system like the free agents, but the addition to the 40-man roster gives us a chance to highlight these players. The Pirates added Gregory Polanco, Alen Hanson, Joely Rodriguez, and Casey Sadler to the 40-man roster today, although only two of those players have a shot at helping the Pirates in 2014.

Gregory Polanco could provide the biggest impact in 2014. The Pirates have a hole in right field which they could address via free agency. However, they could also go with Andrew Lambo and Jose Tabata to hold down the fort until Polanco is ready, which could be by the end of July. Polanco has the potential to be an impact talent, and is the future third outfielder next to Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte. It’s hard to tell how rookies will perform when they first come up. Marte posted a .737 OPS in his rookie season over two months of games. McCutchen had an .836 OPS in almost four months during his rookie season. Polanco’s advanced plate patience should give him a shot of putting up offensive numbers closer to McCutchen’s once he’s ready. His speed and defense should also provide enough value to make him worth at least 1.5-2 wins above replacement over half a season.

Casey Sadler could help the Pirates in 2014 either as rotation depth or bullpen depth.

Casey Sadler could help the Pirates in 2014 either as rotation depth or bullpen depth.

Casey Sadler is the other player who could help in 2014. The Pirates could go one of two ways with Sadler. They could keep him as a starter and use him as starting pitching depth. He would likely start back in Altoona in that scenario, since the Indianapolis rotation would be full with other MLB depth options. There have been players who have made it from Double-A to the majors in one season, such as Jeff Locke and Kyle McPherson, but that would limit Sadler to a late season option. The other alternative is moving him to relief and sending him to Indianapolis. His long-term spot would be as a reliever in the Pirates’ system. He’s got the upside to be a back of the rotation starter in the majors, but the Pirates have better options in the long-term for the rotation. Sadler throws a very good sinker which led to an extreme ground ball ratio in 2013. He pairs that with a good curveball, although he mostly works off the sinker and pitches to contact. That approach has worked well in Pittsburgh. He has a better chance of reaching Pittsburgh as relief pitching depth out of Triple-A, but the Pirates might want to keep him as a starter for one more year to provide extra depth.

Again, none of these guys will help the Opening Day roster. The Pirates still have moves to make in that regard. But the MLB season is long, and you’re going to need more than just the 25 guys who break camp. Polanco will almost certainly play in the majors in 2014, while Sadler and the minor league free agents could also factor in to the pitching depth throughout the year.

Links and Notes

**Pre-Order the 2014 Prospect Guide

**Pirates Add Polanco, Hanson, Rodriguez, and Sadler to the 40-Man

**Pittsburgh Pirates 2014 40-Man Payroll Projection

**Pittsburgh Pirates Future Payroll

**Pirates Prospects Who Are Eligible For the 2013 Rule 5 Draft

**Pirates Sign Five Minor League Free Agents

**Winter Leagues: Andrew Lambo Makes Winter Debut

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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  • http://battlingbucs.wordpress.com battlingbucs

    Good piece though I wouldn’t say Hanson and Rodriguez have no shot of helping the team in 2014. Polanco and Sadler definitely have a better chance but those two don’t have no chance.

    The Pirates are incredibly thin in the infield (2B, 3B, SS) positions so it is not unthinkable that if a few injuries occur and Hanson hits well that they could need his services. They will surely add some more depth and to me it looks like the chances of Hanson coming out and earning an early promotion to AAA are slim but it could happen.

    A much more likely (though still long shot) is that Joely Rodriguez helps out in 2014. Teams are always looking to add an extra left hander to the bullpen come September and if Rodriguez makes his way to AAA for even just a month or so before that and has reasonable success I could see the Pirates bringing him up and using him as an extra left hander in the pen. I mean he would appear to be the most convenient choice unless Oliver stays and turns it around or unless the rotation stays reasonably healthy and one of Locke or Wandy can serve in that role. Surely any time he did get wouldn’t serve as a big impact but even just serving as an extra arm in September would be something and I think he has a shot at that.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com/author/admin Tim Williams

      I don’t think they have a chance. Rodriguez hasn’t pitched above A-ball. The list of Pirates pitchers who have spent less than one season above A-ball before reaching the majors is short. In fact, I’m not sure if there’s anyone on the list with the current group. I also don’t think they’ll use him as a September call-up, since he’d be jumping over Triple-A.

      Hanson needs work on his defense, and more accurately, his consistency. I could see him spending the entire 2014 season with Altoona, then going Indy/MLB in 2015.

      With either player, the Pirates would be taking an extreme approach to get them in the majors in 2014. It would also be an unnecessary move for each player.

      • http://battlingbucs.wordpress.com battlingbucs

        It certainly isn’t a good chance for either but I wouldn’t rule it out completely. The last two years not withstanding the Pirates used to always it seemed have one player who hadn’t played above A ball manage to make his way on to the major league roster. Just off the top of my head I know Pearce, Presley and Fryer all accomplished that feat.

        At the beginning of each of those seasons I know they all were considered highly unlikely to see the majors but they made it. I would bet against either Hanson or Rodriguez making the majors but it certainly isn’t impossible.

  • Heckler1

    Could someone please explain to me the phrase (used in this story) about people being “invited to spring training”? In about 2 months I will be out at Pirate City on a daily basis watching spring training practice before spring games begin. There will likely be well over 150 people practicing on the various fields. Some will be like Cutch and Starling who are already in the Show and others will be Greg Polanco who better be up there by mid summer. However there will also be kids who will start the year in as Marauders or at Short-Season Jamestown and others will be in extended spring training until they are placed somewhere. Regardless of where they end up they will all be at spring training – all 150 or so of them. So where does the phrase “invited to spring training” come from if they are all going to be there anyway? Thanks for clarifying.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com/author/admin Tim Williams

      There are two phases of Spring Training: major league and minor league. The major league Spring Training involves everyone on the 40-man roster, plus any “Non Roster Invitees”. Those are players who aren’t on the 40-man roster, but get an invitation to Major League camp to compete for a roster spot in the majors.

      Minor league ST involves everyone else in the organization. The “invitation” is a reference to the major league portion of camp.

      • Heckler1

        THANKS!! You are the first person who could explain that to me!!

  • emjayinTN

    Heck: I think it is a phrase from the past where MLB ST started earlier, and then the other minor league affiliates would come in a little later and practice & play on the “lesser” fields, which may not be the case anymore. It was an honor to be invited because of the way they did the previous year in the minors. Take a guy like Oliver – he has to show that he can throw strikes or he is toast. Therefore, he gets invited so that every pitch he throws will be watched by the ML GM, manager, coaches, assistants, scouts, etc. They then make the decision of where he goes to work and on what he must work on to get back to the MLB Field.

    With the Pirates, they have built their World HQ in Bradenton and players are there year-round. One of the hardscape improvements made by the Bucs mostly with Revenue Sharing dollars, and in partnership with the city of Bradenton. A real success story.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com/author/admin Tim Williams

      “I think it is a phrase from the past where MLB ST started earlier, and then the other minor league affiliates would come in a little later and practice & play on the “lesser” fields, which may not be the case anymore.”

      That’s still the case.

  • emjayinTN

    Tim/Heck: Obviously you guys are local – I have never been to ST, but it is on my bucket list and I would appreciate any assistance you guys can provide. Friends of mine like to stay up in Orlando or St. Pete because it affords them more ability to visit more fields, see more teams, and it can still include the Pirates. I see the point with that but I want to see the facility in Bradenton. Possibly stay in St Pete and drive down. I have been to see Mickey very often and I will be there the week after Thanksgiving, so that is no priority. However, I think the Nats are on the East Coast and that is another team I would like to see. Any info would be appreciated. Thank you.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com/author/admin Tim Williams

      St. Pete is definitely closer. You’d just have to pay tolls to cross the Sunshine Skyway, although it’s a nice drive. I’m not sure where the Nationals play now, so I can’t help you there. You’ve also got Tampa, Clearwater, and Dunedin in driving distance, which are places where the Pirates frequently play.