Pirates Prospects » Top Stories http://www.piratesprospects.com Your best source for news on the Pittsburgh Pirates and their minor league system. Fri, 30 Jan 2015 05:39:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 First Pitch: Here is Why Projection Systems Will Be Low on the Pirates For the 2015 Season http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/first-pitch-here-is-why-projection-systems-will-be-low-on-the-pirates-for-the-2015-season.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/first-pitch-here-is-why-projection-systems-will-be-low-on-the-pirates-for-the-2015-season.html#comments Fri, 30 Jan 2015 05:00:41 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=92651 Yesterday, Baseball Prospectus released their PECOTA projections, and the results weren’t favorable for the Pittsburgh Pirates. They had an 80-82 projected record, finishing third in the NL Central, behind the Cardinals and the Cubs. That projected record has actually changed today, moving to 81-81 after the Travis Snider trade (and the Pirates improving in projections after trading Snider away is a totally different subject that I plan to write about soon).

The projections for the Pirates are disappointing after two straight playoff appearances. That doesn’t mean the projections are telling the entire story. I’m not here to criticize the PECOTA projections or say that they’re worthless. They definitely provide some value, and give an idea of what to expect in most cases. You just need to dig deeper and realize some of the limitations with those projections.

Last year, PECOTA projected the Pirates at 78-84, following their first playoff appearance in 20 years. The Pirates obviously did much better than those projections, finishing with 88 wins. Even before the final results came out, it appeared the projections were missing one key thing: the way the Pirates managed to get the best results out of their reclamation pitching projects.

The Pirates have developed a pattern the last few years. They’ve focused on catchers with strong pitch framing and defensive skills, which has helped to lower some walk rates. They’ve focused on defensive shifts. They have targeted ground ball heavy pitchers, or made adjustments with pitchers to have them throwing a two-seam fastball more often, aimed at getting more ground balls. That plays into the defensive shifts.

A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, and Edinson Volquez are all examples of the same success story. They all had some of the worst numbers, from an ERA standpoint, in the game prior to joining the Pirates, while also having some horrible control numbers. After joining the Pirates, the control improved, and their end results were fantastic. In some cases, that didn’t look legit. Volquez had a FIP that was closer to a number four starter, but an ERA that was closer to a number two starter. I’d have to believe part of that was due to outside factors, such as the shifts and framing. Some luck had to be involved too, so that Volquez could benefit from this a bit more than other starters in the rotation.

The PECOTA projections last year were down on the rotation. It looks to be the same story this year. The Pirates are projected for 687 runs scored this year, compared to 682 last year. The biggest difference is they are projected to give up 692 runs this year, after giving up 631 last year.

The rotation looks very similar to last year. The key difference is that Edinson Volquez has been replaced by A.J. Burnett. Both guys had similar FIP numbers for most of the season last year, with Volquez seeing his ERA benefit more due to the team he was playing for. So that shouldn’t be a big difference.

The bullpen struggled last year, but came together in a big way at the end of the season, and was one of the best in baseball in September. The biggest difference between that September bullpen and the current one is that Justin Wilson has been replaced by Antonio Bastardo. The other changes to the final spots are usually minimal, and wouldn’t help contribute to an increase in 60 runs.

Keep in mind that the 631 runs allowed last year included some struggles from Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole in the first half, and a horrible bullpen performance, outside of Mark Melancon, Tony Watson, and Jared Hughes, during that time. You could argue that the pitching will be better this year, although 631 seems like a conservative number.

So why are the Pirates projected for 61 additional runs in 2015?

Digging deeper into the projections, the individual player projections tell the story. Specifically there are the numbers for A.J. Burnett, Charlie Morton, and Vance Worley. All three have a negative WARP, and all three have an ERA in the 4.20-4.55 range. That makes sense in terms of projections, since projections reflect historical results. The problem is that the projections and the historical results don’t tell the story about these players right now.

Let’s start with Burnett. He’s projected for a 4.30 ERA. Last year he had a 4.59 ERA. His xFIP has been 3.69 for his career, and was 3.95 last year. If you only looked at his 2014 season, and assumed he’d put up the same numbers going forward, then the PECOTA projection might make sense. But if you look at what he did with the Pirates in 2012-13, you’ll see a different story. He posted his best two seasons in the last seven years while with the Pirates. That included his two lowest walk rates, his best strikeout season, the only two years with an ERA below 4.04, and his two best ground ball ratios since 2005 (which was the only year he generated more ground balls).

Low walk rates. High ground ball rates. More strikeouts. Strong overall numbers.

Then there’s Charlie Morton, who is a very polarizing topic in Pittsburgh. The PECOTA projections give Morton a 4.55 ERA, which lines up with his career 4.50 ERA. He also has a career xFIP of 4.11. Those career numbers happen to be very misleading, since Morton is a totally different pitcher now than he was pre-2011. In fact, just looking at the last two years, he has a 3.52 ERA and a 3.74 xFIP. He has posted his best two strikeout numbers of his career. His walk rates have been lower than his career average. And he continues to post extreme ground ball rates, which didn’t exist pre-2011.

Low walk rates. High ground ball rates. More strikeouts. Strong overall numbers.

Finally, you’ve got Vance Worley, who is projected to have a 4.20 ERA. Worley had good numbers in his first few years in the majors, but suffered an injury in 2012. When he returned in 2013, the injury caused him to change his mechanics, and the results were a disaster. The Pirates got him for nothing last Spring, and proceeded to fix his mechanics, reverting them back to where he was when he had success early in his career, along with the other usual changes they make with pitchers. The results? His lowest walk rate ever, his highest ground ball rate ever, an increase in strikeouts compared to where he was with the Twins, and his best ERA and xFIP combo of his career.

Do I need to repeat the growing trend?

There are things that a projection system can’t pick up. For as much as we’ve learned about catcher pitch framing (and Baseball Prospectus has been a leader in this analysis), I don’t think we can project the impact of a good pitch framer on an individual pitcher’s projections. The Pirates have focused heavily on pitch framing, and that’s probably a reason why their pitchers consistently post some of their best strikeout numbers and some of their lowest walk rates. The PECOTA projections seem low on all three of the above pitchers in walks and strikeouts, compared to their recent seasons with the Pirates. At best, the PECOTA projections match the results from these players in their time with the Pirates.

Likewise, I don’t think the impact of shifting can be found in the projections. Recent mechanical adjustments also aren’t represented. The Pirates have combined adjustments with defensive shifting. Their approach has led to some of the best ground ball rates of each pitcher’s career, which combined with the shifting helps lead to much better overall results.

That’s why the Pirates are going to be showing underwhelming results in most projection systems. It’s because the Pirates have found success with a specific approach that the projections don’t recognize. This doesn’t mean the projections don’t have value. It just means you need to combine the projections with further analysis to fill the gaps that they miss, rather than taking them at face value.

**Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 Top Prospects: #7 – Alen Hanson. The number six prospect is tomorrow, followed by the top five next week. The entire top 50 in the Pirates’ system is exclusive to the 2015 Prospect Guide, along with 200+ reports on every prospect in the system.

**More Praise For Alen Hanson

**Five Pirates Make Keith Law’s Top 100 Prospect List

**Austin Meadows Named Eighth Best Outfield Prospect

**Jake Elmore Sent Outright to Indianapolis

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Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 Top Prospects: #7 – Alen Hanson http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/pittsburgh-pirates-2015-top-prospects-7-alen-hanson.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/pittsburgh-pirates-2015-top-prospects-7-alen-hanson.html#comments Thu, 29 Jan 2015 17:30:35 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=92504 The Pirates Prospects 2015 Prospect Guide is now on sale. The book features prospect reports on everyone in the system, the 2015 top 50 prospects, and the most comprehensive coverage of the Pirates’ farm system that you can find. While the top 50 prospects are exclusive to the book, we will be releasing the top 20 prospects over the next few weeks. Be sure to purchase your copy of the book on the products page of the site.

To recap the countdown so far:

20. Luis Heredia, RHP
19. JaCoby Jones, SS
18. Willy Garcia, OF
17. Clay Holmes, RHP
16. Gage Hinsz, RHP
15. Trey Supak, RHP
14. Cody Dickson, LHP
13. John Holdzkom, RHP
12. Adrian Sampson, RHP
11. Harold Ramirez, OF
10. Elias Diaz, C
9. Cole Tucker, SS
8. Mitch Keller, RHP

We continue the countdown with the number 7 prospect, Alen Hanson.

7. Alen Hanson, 2B

Alen Hanson made the move to second base during the 2014 season. (Photo credit: David Hague)

Alen Hanson made the move to second base during the 2014 season. (Photo credit: David Hague)

The question surrounding Alen Hanson the last few years has been whether he would be able to stick at shortstop. That question seems to have an answer following the 2014 season. Hanson struggled once again with his defense at shortstop, still showing the skills needed to play the position, but lacking the consistency needed to be a good defender. A lot of his defensive issues have come on routine plays, and that was not an issue he could overcome, even after multiple benchings to clear his head.

Hanson was moved to second base at the end of the season, which was partially due to his struggles, but also due to the developments Jordy Mercer made in the majors. With Mercer currently the long-term shortstop, the Pirates decided to switch Hanson to second to speed up his bat to the majors, rather than continue to work on the defense at shortstop.

Aside from the lack of consistency on routine plays, Hanson’s biggest issue at shortstop was a lack of arm strength. He had enough strength to make the throw from short, but his arm was average at best. He displayed a lot of range at short, and that should serve him well at second, while the arm strength won’t be an issue. The consistency problems could still be an issue.

The biggest strength for Hanson is his bat. He profiles as a speedy leadoff hitter who can hit for average with some power from the middle infield spots. His walk rate has dropped in Double-A, and he will need that to rebound in order to be a leadoff guy. Whether he was playing second or short, he was always going to be an offense-first middle infielder. He has the bat to be a top prospect at either position. Hanson’s move to second base was made to speed his bat up, with a 2015 debut in mind. He should start off with Indianapolis, and could be in the majors if Neil Walker goes down with an injury. His long-term outlook is the starting second baseman in Pittsburgh. (UPDATE: The Prospect Guide was written before Jung Ho Kang was added to the system. Kang will give Hanson competition as the long-term second baseman, although I’m not sure I’d consider Kang the favorite right now.)

Click Here to Purchase the Pirates Prospects 2015 Prospect Guide

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Austin Meadows Named Eighth Best Outfield Prospect http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/austin-meadows-named-eighth-best-outfield-prospect.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/austin-meadows-named-eighth-best-outfield-prospect.html#comments Thu, 29 Jan 2015 16:32:37 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=92652 MLB Pipeline wrapped up their lists of the top ten at each position on Thursday, saving outfielders for last. Austin Meadows was the lone representative of the Pirates among outfielders, coming in eighth on the list. They write-up says Meadows has a “smooth left-handed swing with five-tool potential”. While he does possess the potential for four plus tools, his arm is average at best. That still means that he could hit for average and power, while adding speed and strong defense.

Meadows missed the first three months of the season with a lingering hamstring injury that occurred during Spring Training. He returned on June 30th and between two rehab stops and his assignment to West Virginia, the 19-year-old hit .317/.394/.488 over 45 games.

Keith Law posted his top 100 prospect list earlier today and had Meadows ranked second among Pirates, 32nd overall and as the seventh best outfielder.

MLB will release their top 100 prospect list tomorrow night on the MLB Network.

The other Pirates that made MLB Pipeline’s top ten lists were Josh Bell, who finished first among first baseman. Tyler Glasnow was third for right-handed pitchers, and Reese McGuire rated as the seventh best catcher.

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Five Pirates Make Keith Law’s Top 100 Prospect List http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/five-pirates-make-keith-laws-top-100-prospect-list.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/five-pirates-make-keith-laws-top-100-prospect-list.html#comments Thu, 29 Jan 2015 15:18:02 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=92641 Keith Law released his top 100 prospect list today(subscription required) and the Pittsburgh Pirates have five players on the list. Led by Tyler Glasnow in the 13th spot, he also has Austin Meadows at #32, Jameson Taillon at #36, Josh Bell ranked 60th overall and Alen Hanson takes the 89th spot. Insiders can see the profiles for the top 50 prospects here, and prospects 51-100 here.

The Pirates have more representatives than any other team in the NL Central. The Cubs have four, and so do the Cardinals, although their top prospect came in at #62. The Reds have two players on the list and the Brewers have just one.

This is the second time recently that Austin Meadows has been listed second for Pirates players. John Sickels posted his top 20 last Friday and also had Meadows ahead of Taillon. Law says that Meadows has a chance to be a star, as long as his power develops like it should.

Law posted his rankings of each farm system in baseball yesterday and had the Pirates ranked seventh overall.

You can see Law’s list from 2014 here, where he had Gregory Polanco ranked 13th, same place as Glasnow this year. Law has not ranked Reese McGuire on either list and Nick Kingham fell off his latest list and wasn’t on the 2013 list either.

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First Pitch: Where Would Stephen Tarpley Have Ranked in the Pirates 2015 Top 50? http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/first-pitch-where-would-stephen-tarpley-have-ranked-in-the-pirates-2015-top-50.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/first-pitch-where-would-stephen-tarpley-have-ranked-in-the-pirates-2015-top-50.html#comments Thu, 29 Jan 2015 05:03:53 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=92628 The first year I released the Prospect Guide, I decided to publish the book in late January. The thing about writing a book on prospects is that the transactions involving those prospects are a never-ending process. Whether it’s my book, Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, or any other team book, there’s always a risk that a player will be traded away after the publishing deadline, or a new player will be added to the system. There’s really no deadline that avoids this.

The thing about that first year is that I finished the book in late-December, and then just sat around for a month waiting for transactions that didn’t happen. So I moved the deadline up to right after the Winter Meetings, which has been a good cut-off for prospect transactions. That said, there have been transactions after the deadline, including some that could have impacted the top 50 prospects. When those transactions take place, I always ask our writers where they would have ranked the player in the top 50, so that we don’t leave anyone out.

Today I conducted that process to find out where left-handed pitcher Stephen Tarpley, acquired in the Travis Snider deal, would have ranked.

When I first read about Tarpley, my immediate thought was to compare him to Cody Dickson. Tarpley is a year younger, and played one level lower than Dickson last year. The comparison lies in the fact that they’re both left-handers with fastballs that can hit the mid-90s, and upsides of number three starters one day. That’s an over-simplification of the two players, since they seem very different beyond those similarities.

As an example of the differences, Tarpley had more strikeouts and fewer walks than Dickson. I’d say that’s due to the difference in the levels, but I don’t think there’s a massive difference in talent between full-season low-A ball and short-season A-ball. The knock on Dickson is that he lacks control and a changeup. He worked on both things in West Virginia this year, and improved the control in the second half. Meanwhile, the main focus for Tarpley has been improving his secondary stuff, especially his curveball, and throwing with velocity in the early part of the game, since he has a strange habit of not reaching his normal velocity the first few innings.

Dickson has been a sleeper of ours over the last two years for two main reasons. One is the stuff from a lefty. Tarpley also gets credit for that. The other reason for Dickson is the fact that the Pirates have shown a good track record of developing pitchers in the lower levels, especially with adding a changeup and reducing control issues. Those adjustments don’t apply in Tarpley’s case, although the velocity issues seem like they could be a delivery adjustment issue, and the Pirates have also had success here on a lot of levels.

So in my view, Tarpley gets credit for having great stuff as a lefty, and being in a system that has strong coaches and a good chance of developing him to his full potential. Thus, my immediate reaction was to put him right there with Dickson, who ranked 14th overall in this year’s top 50.

I asked Wilbur Miller and John Dreker where they would rank Tarpley (aside from myself, Wilbur and John are the only people who rank every prospect in the system for the book, rather than just prospects for specific teams), and they had him in the 11-13 range. That’s another way of saying that one person had him 11th and one person had him 13th. If you bought the Prospect Guide (and if you haven’t, well, I don’t want to tell you how to live your life, but you definitely should buy it, since it’s the most in-depth look at the Pirates’ farm system that you can find), then you’d know that I prefer tiered rankings over a straight numerical list. The 11-13 range puts Tarpley at the end of tier 3 or the beginning of tier 4.

Based on the combined rankings, Tarpley would likely end up around the 12 or 13 spot. As for the tiered rankings, we had Dickson at the start of tier 4, and those tiers are largely made up of players with comparable talent. If this was the decision process for the book (and that process is totally different, since we don’t submit numerical rankings, but instead submit most likely upsides for each player, which then leads to total rankings), I’d probably end up bumping Tarpley down right behind John Holdzkom, making him the 14th ranked prospect, and pushing Dickson and everyone behind him down a spot. That puts Dickson and Tarpley together, with the slight edge to Tarpley, although both would be in the same talent tier, so there wouldn’t be a big difference.

What this means overall is that the Pirates have two left-handed starting pitching prospects in A-ball who have the upside of middle of the rotation starters. That increases the odds that the Pirates will end up with a solid lefty starter in their rotation one day, since Dickson was basically the only top left-handed starting prospect in the system before this trade.

**Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 Top Prospects: #8 – Mitch Keller. The top ten countdown resumes tomorrow, and we’re starting to get into the group that will draw consideration for top 100 overall lists. The entire top 50 in the Pirates’ system is exclusive to the 2015 Prospect Guide, along with 200+ reports on every prospect in the system.

**The PTBNL in the Travis Snider Trade Won’t Be Determined Until Spring Training. This increases the odds that it isn’t a 2014 draft pick, although I explain in the article how it doesn’t rule things out.

**Keith Law Ranks Pirates As Seventh Best Farm System. The thing I found interesting was Law’s comment about how the Pirates will start the season with a star at every level. I’m assuming he means the full-season leagues. By my count, you’ve got Taillon in Indianapolis, Glasnow and Bell in Altoona, and I’m sure Meadows and McGuire will factor in somehow, although I don’t think we can say at this point whether they will go to Bradenton or return to West Virginia for another season.

**Pirates Sign Wilkin Castillo to a Minor League Deal. My quick thoughts on the upper level catching depth is that Tony Sanchez would be the top early-season replacement, followed by Elias Diaz after some time with Indianapolis. From there, I think Sebastian Valle would get priority, and wouldn’t be surprised to see him getting starts and playing time in Altoona early in the year. That means Castillo would at least be the sixth option the Pirates turn to, if they find themselves in a 2011 scenario again. Here is Wilkin Castillo’s player page.

**Kevin Ross Suspended 50 Games For Drug of Abuse

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The PTBNL in the Travis Snider Trade Won’t Be Determined Until Spring Training http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/the-ptbnl-in-the-travis-snider-trade-wont-be-determined-until-spring-training.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/the-ptbnl-in-the-travis-snider-trade-wont-be-determined-until-spring-training.html#comments Wed, 28 Jan 2015 19:53:07 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=92617 Roch Kubatko of MASN Sports in Baltimore had an update on the Travis Snider trade today, saying that he’s hearing the player to be named later won’t be determined until Spring Training.

Last night I wrote about the possibilities for the PTBNL, noting that it might be a 2014 draft pick that can’t be traded until mid-season. I don’t think this news rules that out. Kubatko has been saying that the player will be “determined” in Spring Training, which doesn’t necessarily mean he will be traded at that time. Last year the Pirates made a similar deal in sending Blake Taylor to the Mets for Ike Davis, and there were some rumors saying that the Mets didn’t decide on Taylor right away, and were deciding between a few other players.

This update does lead to a stronger possibility that the reason for a PTBNL is so that the Pirates can get a closer and more recent look at a few players. Kubatko says that the two teams didn’t settle on whether the second player is a pitcher or a position player. He also said that an official didn’t know what Neal Huntington was referring to with his “similar” comment, saying that Huntington could be referencing the lower levels of the farm system or prospect status.

It looks like we won’t be hearing much about this subject for at least a month, and most likely two months, since I’d imagine the point of all of this will be for the Pirates to evaluate a few players before they make a decision.

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Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 Top Prospects: #8 – Mitch Keller http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/pittsburgh-pirates-2015-top-prospects-8-mitch-keller.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/pittsburgh-pirates-2015-top-prospects-8-mitch-keller.html#comments Wed, 28 Jan 2015 15:10:50 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=92502 The Pirates Prospects 2015 Prospect Guide is now on sale. The book features prospect reports on everyone in the system, the 2015 top 50 prospects, and the most comprehensive coverage of the Pirates’ farm system that you can find. While the top 50 prospects are exclusive to the book, we will be releasing the top 20 prospects over the next few weeks. Be sure to purchase your copy of the book on the products page of the site.

To recap the countdown so far:

20. Luis Heredia, RHP
19. JaCoby Jones, SS
18. Willy Garcia, OF
17. Clay Holmes, RHP
16. Gage Hinsz, RHP
15. Trey Supak, RHP
14. Cody Dickson, LHP
13. John Holdzkom, RHP
12. Adrian Sampson, RHP
11. Harold Ramirez, OF
10. Elias Diaz, C
9. Cole Tucker, SS

We continue the countdown with the number 8 prospect, Mitch Keller.

8. Mitch Keller, RHP

Mitch Keller was hitting 95 MPH during his first professional season.

Mitch Keller was hitting 95 MPH during his first professional season.

The Pirates loaded up on plenty of over-slot prep pitchers from 2008-2011 when there were no restrictions on draft spending. Even with the restrictions over the last few years, they have managed to find a way to keep adding these over-slot guys. Mitch Keller was one of three top prep pitchers signed by the Pirates in the 2014 draft, and he ranks as the best of the bunch. You could even go a step further and say that he ranks ahead of every other prep pitcher they’ve drafted since the rules changed for the 2012 draft.

Keller isn’t your typical projectable right-hander, mostly because there’s not much need for projection. He already saw a velocity increase during high school, jumping from the mid-to-upper 80s, to the 90-92 MPH range, and touching 95.

His pro debut saw him hitting 95 MPH routinely with his fastball, although he doesn’t maintain that velocity, and usually ranges from 87-95 in his starts. As he fills out and matures, he should be able to maintain the higher velocity. He did have some command issues at times this year, leading to bouts of wildness, and that will be a focus for him as he moves up in the lower levels. The pitch has a lot of movement, so it’s hard to say whether that is the reason for the command issues. He has a smooth and repeatable delivery, which should help his command.

Along with the fastball, Keller has two good secondary pitches, throwing a curveball and a changeup. His curveball has a lot of late break, and is thrown with good command. The pitch has the potential to be an above-average offering. The fact that he has a good feel for a changeup is impressive, since most high school pitchers with a fastball that reaches 95 and a good curve don’t need a changeup.

The Pirates have been a bit more conservative with their prep pitchers over the last few years. In the past, they would send a prep pitcher to the New York-Penn League during his first full season, after spending some development time in extended Spring Training. They’ve gotten away from that approach in the last two years, although Keller could be an exception. His current stuff, plus his feel for a changeup makes him more advanced than the other guys who have gone through the system, and the Pirates could choose to challenge his arm with an aggressive promotion.

It’s too early to pinpoint Keller’s upside. He has the chance to be a number two or three starter in the majors, although there’s still more room for projection. He’s a bit more polished than most of the prep pitchers the Pirates have drafted, and should be one of the top guys to follow in the lower levels in 2015.

Click Here to Purchase the Pirates Prospects 2015 Prospect Guide

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First Pitch: Did the Pirates Make a Mistake Trading Snider, Or Are They Selling High? http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/first-pitch-did-the-pirates-make-a-mistake-trading-snider-or-are-they-selling-high.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/first-pitch-did-the-pirates-make-a-mistake-trading-snider-or-are-they-selling-high.html#comments Wed, 28 Jan 2015 05:53:56 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=92583 I found myself going back and forth between two thoughts when thinking about the Travis Snider trade this evening.

The first thought involved thinking about the possibility that Snider could be the next Brandon Moss. The Pirates got Moss in the Jason Bay deal, hoping that his power potential would translate over to the majors. It never did, although he did have a huge season with Indianapolis in 2010, with an .800 OPS and 22 homers before moving on. He eventually broke out with Oakland, and had an .813 OPS as a starter over the last two years. Snider was once one of the top prospects in the game, and had what looked like a breakout season in the second half last year. It’s very risky to deal him after that season, especially if that was the first indication that he could be a starter.

The other thought went to a long-held belief about how small market teams should be run. I believe that small market teams shouldn’t get attached to their players. Eventually, every player will move on, and ideally you want someone ready to step in when that player is ready to depart. The goal should be to have a replacement ready early, allowing you to trade a player, re-stock the farm system, and replace him with an equal part in the majors. That continued process would lead to the elimination of any “windows” to compete.

Each thought brings up many questions. Are the Pirates selling high on Snider or are they selling low? Will their current internal replacements be just as good? Did they get fair value for Snider? Is there another shoe about to drop? Who will grill the ridiculously thick cut steaks at the team get-togethers now that Snider is gone?

I can’t say that I have an answer for any of these questions. There are some questions that can’t be answered at all right now, and won’t have answers until we learn who the PTBNL is, what Snider does going forward, and how his replacements fare. If you came here looking for a final judgement of this deal, with a determination that this was a win, a loss, a good deal, or a bad deal, then that’s not what this article is about. It’s going to be nuanced, and it’s going to work through the fact that we still don’t know a lot about this deal. Fortunately, I’ve broken it up into small sections, which should make it more organized.

What is Travis Snider’s Trade Value?

Earlier this evening, before the deal was made, I looked at Snider’s trade value. That was going to be the original article tonight if the deal wasn’t complete. What I learned is that the trade value varies greatly, depending on how you view Snider.

If you use Snider’s 1.7 WAR from the 2014 season, then you get a value that would warrant a top 100 prospect. I used a 1.7 WAR, and a $4.5 M salary through arbitration in 2016 (which I’m assuming he’d get with back-to-back 1.7 WAR seasons), and got a trade surplus value of $13.8 M.

Using this value says that Snider will absolutely repeat his 2014 season, and I don’t think anyone can say that.

The other approach is to use an average of the last three seasons, which gives Snider about an 0.5 WAR. This would basically make him a non-tender candidate next year, and give him about $1 M in trade value this year.

Just like the opposite extreme, I don’t think you can take this route, because it says that Snider won’t come close to his 2014 season.

So let’s meet in the middle and call Snider a 1.0 WAR player going forward. I figure he would make about $3-3.5 M next year through arbitration with that production, and would have an overall trade value of around $6.5-7 M. I think this approach is the fairest way to determine his value.

So what did the Pirates get? On to the next section.

Stephen Tarpley and the PTBNL

Prior to the trade being completed, the biggest name attached to the deal was left-hander Steve Brault. Then, a few more possible names came out, including Stephen Tarpley. I was talking with John Dreker about the new names, and mentioned how I liked Tarpley much better than Brault. My familiarity with both guys is limited to what I read tonight, but Tarpley just seems to have much more upside, while Brault seems like one of those lefties who can dominate in A-ball, then will struggle in the upper levels and might make it as a reliever. Tarpley has some upside, with velocity that can hit the mid-90s, and the possibility to be more than a back of the rotation starter or a reliever.

But right now, Tarpley is a Grade C prospect. According to Bill Brink, who talked with Neal Huntington, the player to be named later is “similar” to Tarpley. So we can assume that’s another Grade C prospect.

I’ll get to the PTBNL in a second, but as for the value, I’d say the Pirates got at least $5 M in value. That seems a bit low for the mid-point view of Snider, but it’s also close to fair value. It’s definitely not a salary dump with zero return.

A lot of that value could depend on the PTBNL. No, this isn’t an Aramis Ramirez/Bobby Hill situation. But this is a situation where the usage of a PTBNL makes me think this is a 2014 draft pick, and there could be some interesting options there.

There is really no reason to make a trade this time of year and have a PTBNL. If you don’t know who you want, you could just wait and decide on a name. I guess it is possible that the Pirates might want to scout a few guys in Spring Training to make a final decision. However, a PTBNL at this time in the year makes the most sense if it’s a 2014 draft pick. Those picks can’t be traded until one year after their signing date. A team doesn’t have to officially name a PTBNL until six months after the deal. So any player from the Orioles’ 2014 draft is in play.

Going with an assumption that this is a 2014 pick, and taking a very literal meaning of “similar to Tarpley” (as in, only looking at lower level left-handed pitchers), there were two guys who caught my attention. The first is Tanner Scott, who the Orioles took in the sixth round, and who reportedly hit 100 MPH this year. John Sickels says he has a high ceiling. The other guy who drew my attention was Brian Gonzalez, another lefty taken in the third round. He only throws 88-91 MPH, but has a huge frame, and could add some velocity going forward. Sickels says he could end up the best of the bunch, behind Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey.

Sickels also said that Tarpley was a “Sleeper Alert choice,” and if the Pirates can get two lower level pitchers like that, then it might not be a bad trade return, and could potentially have a lot of upside.

A potential problem here is that the Pirates need Snider’s production in the majors a lot more than they need two additional projectable pitchers in the lower levels. Unless they can find a replacement.

Who Replaces Travis Snider?

The reality of the Pirates’ situation is that Travis Snider is a bench player and a Plan B at all three outfield positions. That’s not a bad thing. Gregory Polanco is unproven, and Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen have missed time with injuries before due to their all-out play. Having Snider on the bench is one of the things that made the Pirates look like they had a ton of depth, and a really strong bench. So how do they replace him?

The current internal options would be Andrew Lambo and Jaff Decker from the 40-man roster, and Jose Tabata, Keon Broxton, Mel Rojas, and Gorkys Hernandez from the non-roster invitees. I think the last three can be ruled out for now, just because I don’t see them jumping past the first three.

For as much of a negative reaction that he gets, Tabata hasn’t been horrible as a bench player. He has a career .715 OPS, and is a year removed from a 1.1 WAR. He could very well be a good bench player, but might not have the same upside as Snider to be a potential replacement starter.

That’s why I’d turn to Lambo or Decker. Both guys have similar profiles. They were once top prospects, and were seen as guys who could eventually hit for power. Lambo is 26 and Decker turns 25 next month. Decker’s power is still in that projection area, and he’s getting to the point where you question if he will hit for power in the future. Meanwhile, Lambo has shown his power off the last two years in the minors, but hasn’t had a chance to establish himself in the majors. With Snider gone, he could finally have that chance, especially since first base seems out of the question with Pedro Alvarez and Corey Hart at the position.

I’ve been calling for the Pirates to give Lambo a chance for the last two years, so I don’t think it’s a bad thing if that’s the way they are going. There is some risk here, as his power is unproven in the majors. Then again, you could have said that about Snider not too long ago. It was only last year at this time that you could have cut Snider and not many would have blinked an eye. Then he had a breakout season at the age of 26, which is Lambo’s age in 2015.

I’d include Corey Hart in this discussion, but his performance in the outfield largely depends on how well his knees can hold up.

If the Pirates replace Snider with Lambo, then the hope would be that Lambo takes advantage of this chance, has a breakout season off the bench in 2015, and gives you the same production that you would have hoped for out of Snider.

How Will the Trade Turn Out?

The Best Case Scenario – Under the small market approach that I outlined above, you’d want someone like Lambo to replace Snider and match his production, while getting two high-upside guys in the lower levels to continue to strengthen your system. If Lambo hits well, and if one or both of the pitchers ends up breaking out, then it really doesn’t matter to the Pirates what Snider does. Lambo hitting in the majors and the pitchers breaking out would make the Pirates look very smart here.

The Worst Case Scenario – The big fear here is that Snider does continue his breakout season, and shows that he could be a starter, much like Moss. That would really hurt if Lambo doesn’t work out and the Pirates can’t replace Snider. In this scenario, the pitchers would only be a consolation prize, as the Pirates would have needed Snider’s bat more than two lower-level pitchers. And if they don’t work out at all, then it could make the Pirates look foolish.

As I said above, there are a lot of things we don’t know about this deal, which could impact how it goes down. The biggest things are how Snider follows up on his 2014 season, whether Lambo (or whoever else) can successfully replace him, and whether the pitchers can improve their value going forward (and the identity of the PTBNL will play a role in how this trade is evaluated).

You’d like to think that this is a classic buy low/sell high trade, where the Pirates are selling high on Snider and buying low on some high-upside arms. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough information right now to tell if that’s the case, or if the opposite is the case. This is a situation where the Pirates have earned some trust to make this type of move, and take this type of risk. But I don’t think they’ve earned enough trust on this side of the ball — unlike the reclamation pitchers — to assume there is a great chance of this approach being a success.

**Travis Snider Traded to Orioles For Stephen Tarpley and a PTBNL

**Stephen Tarpley Player Page

**Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 Top Prospects: #9 – Cole TuckerThe top ten countdown resumes tomorrow. The entire top 50 is exclusive to the 2015 Prospect Guide, along with 200+ reports on every prospect in the system.

**Pirates Will Have Five Spring Training Games Broadcast on ROOT Sports

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Travis Snider Traded to Orioles For Stephen Tarpley and a PTBNL http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/pirates-and-orioles-discussing-travis-snider-trade.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/pirates-and-orioles-discussing-travis-snider-trade.html#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 22:43:17 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=92559 According to Dan Connolly of The Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles are in the middle of trade talks that involve outfielder Travis Snider. It’s a trade the two teams looked into last year. According to Connolly’s sources, the deal isn’t done, but could involve two minor league players that aren’t on the 40-man roster. Check back for any updates.

UPDATE 5:53 PM: Connolly updated his own tweet and said that the deal could be done within the next day.

UPDATE 5:57 PM: Connolly says that it should be one or two minor leaguers, and that they’re not thought to be 40-man guys or top prospects.

UPDATE 6:00 PM: Thoughts from Tim Williams…

This is the second time that we’ve heard the Snider-to-Baltimore rumors. The first time came during the Winter Meetings, when the Pirates were rumored to be going after Brian Matusz. That same day they traded for Antonio Bastardo, filling their second lefty role in the bullpen, and the Snider talks died down.

The potential return, as described by Connolly, doesn’t sound appealing. Snider is coming off a huge second half, where he posted a .289/.353/.510 line in 224 plate appearances, with ten homers. He ranked third in wOBA and wRC+ for the Pirates in the second half of the season.

It’s no guarantee that Snider will repeat that success in 2015. But he’s relatively cheap (making $2.1 M in 2015), has one more year of control beyond the 2015 season, and is a great backup plan for the Pirates, adding to what is looking like a very strong bench.

Gregory Polanco is the starter in right field, putting Snider on the bench. However, Snider is around if Polanco continues to struggle adjusting to the majors. He is also an injury replacement for either Starling Marte or Andrew McCutchen. Marte is the bigger injury risk of the two, as he is constantly getting hit by pitches. If Snider’s second half was legit, then he’s a great backup if any of these scenarios play out.

Connolly says that the trade would likely come from Baltimore’s “solid minor league pitching core.” That’s where this doesn’t make sense. The Pirates also have a solid core of pitchers, especially in the upper levels. They currently project to have six potential starters in Indianapolis, once Jameson Taillon returns, which means that someone like Casey Sadler or Brandon Cumpton would get moved to the bullpen.

The Pirates need Snider’s depth in the majors more than they need an extra pitching prospect in the minors. The only way this would make sense is if they either received a better return than Connolly is describing, or if they believed that they could easily replace Snider in the majors, while getting an extra pitching prospect for him.

I guess we’ll have to wait and see how this plays out, since right now there are a lot of possibilities.

UPDATE 6:25 PM: Connolly says that left-handed pitcher Steven Brault is a possibility if Snider gets traded.

Brault wasn’t in Baseball America’s top ten, and ranked as the 16th best prospect in John Sickel’s rankings. He received a C+ rating, borderline C, and was described as a potential back-end starter. He had good numbers in A-ball last year, and should make the jump to Double-A this year.

That, alone, doesn’t seem like it’s worth dealing Snider. The second player would have to be good to make such a deal worthwhile. And it appears that the Orioles are trying to get this done without giving up two players.

UPDATE: 7:40 PM: Rob Biertempfel mentions two more names that he has heard as possibilities, both pitchers. The first is 21-year-old left-hander Stephen Tarpley, who had a 3.68 ERA in 66 innings this year with Aberdeen in the NYPL. He was a 3rd round draft pick of the Orioles in 2013. Tarpley was ranked as the 12th best prospect in the Orioles system by John Sickels.

The second name is an interesting one, Jon Keller, who is the older brother of Mitch Keller. The elder Keller is a 6’5″ righty, who had a 1.59 ERA and 66 strikeouts in 56.2 innings for Delmarva this year. The 22-year-old had an 0.94 WHIP in Low-A and made two late season appearances in High-A ball. The younger Keller was the second round pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2014 and signed for a $1,000,000 bonus.

UPDATE 8:22 PM: Multiple Sources are reporting that the deal is done and one of the players returning to the Pirates is pitcher Stephen Tarpley. We posted information on Tarpley at the bottom of this article. His MiLB page can be found here.

UPDATE 8:38 PM: The deal is done. Travis Snider to the Orioles for pitcher Stephen Tarpley and a player to be named later. Something we didn’t mention before with Tarpley is his impressive 1.95 GO/AO ratio. He also improved as the season went along, posting a 2.56 ERA in five August starts, after putting up a 7.36 ERA in his first five games.

UPDATE 8:56 PM: There is a good write-up of Tarpley here on Fangraphs, including the fact that he has hit 97 MPH with his fastball and “a low 80’s curve that flashes plus.”

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Pirates Will Have Five Spring Training Games Broadcast on ROOT Sports http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/pirates-will-have-five-spring-training-games-broadcast-on-root-sports.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/pirates-will-have-five-spring-training-games-broadcast-on-root-sports.html#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 16:54:35 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=92555 The Pittsburgh Pirates will have five Spring Training games broadcast on ROOT Sports this year, with all five coming in the middle of camp. The scheduled games are as follows.

**Sunday, March 15 vs. Baltimore Orioles at 1:05 p.m.

**Tuesday, March 17 vs. Houston Astros at 1:05 p.m.

**Wednesday, March 18 vs. Detroit Tigers at 6:05 p.m.

**Saturday, March 21 vs. Boston Red Sox at 1:05 p.m.

**Friday, April 3 at Philadelphia Phillies (Philadelphia) at 7:05 p.m.

Normally the March 15th-21st timeframe is the best time to see Spring Training. Pitchers are a little more stretched out. Position players are playing a little deeper into the games. Most importantly, the roster is starting to take shape, revealing who might make the team. The latter probably won’t be much of a surprise this year, since there don’t look to be many actual position battles. Then again, it never hurts to see baseball on TV in March, even if there is little surprise in who might make the team. I’m sure for many people, one of these games will give the first look at Korean infielder Jung Ho Kang.

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