Pirates Prospects » First Pitch http://www.piratesprospects.com Your best source for news on the Pittsburgh Pirates and their minor league system. Sat, 17 May 2014 16:45:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 First Pitch: The Pirates Short and Long Term at Shortstop http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/05/first-pitch-the-pirates-short-and-long-term-at-shortstop.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/05/first-pitch-the-pirates-short-and-long-term-at-shortstop.html#comments Sat, 17 May 2014 07:41:31 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=79033 Today I wrote about Jordy Mercer and how I think he’s going to bounce back offensively this year. He may already be in the process of doing just that, but I don’t want to put too much stock on his recent hot streak, which is a sample size of six games.

If Mercer doesn’t bounce back, then the Pirates once again find themselves in trouble at the shortstop position. That’s not an uncommon thing, as shortstop is the hardest position in the game to fill.

The Short Term

Jordy Mercer (Photo by: David Hague)

Jordy Mercer (Photo by: David Hague)

Jordy Mercer – The Pirates need Mercer to bounce back. If he doesn’t, then there’s no one for the position until mid-2015 at the earliest, and possibly later than that if Alen Hanson isn’t ready by then. It would be nice if the offense returns to the 2013 levels, and the defense stays with the good 2014 numbers. But the Pirates could settle for last year’s version of Mercer, without the defense.

Stephen Drew – If Mercer isn’t working out a month from now, the Pirates might want to consider signing Stephen Drew. If he is signed after the draft, they wouldn’t have to give up a first round pick. Drew wouldn’t be available until the start of July, at the earliest, since he’d have to get ready for the season. If the Pirates have no shot at contending by mid-June, then they might want to just ride it out with Mercer, give him the entire year to fail or rebound, and then act accordingly during the 2014 off-season.

The Long Term

Gift Ngoepe (left) and Alen Hanson (right).

Gift Ngoepe (left) and Alen Hanson (right).

Alen Hanson – He’s currently the top shortstop prospect in the system, and over the last month he has a .301/.339/.505 line in 103 at-bats. That removes his slow start during the first two weeks of the season, which is the same thing he did last year before taking off with his bat. Hanson could use some more walks, since he projects to be a leadoff hitter. He should remain with Altoona the rest of the season, with a chance to move up to Indianapolis at the end of the year. Best case, he could be in the majors by the middle of the 2015 season. A more conservative projection has him in Pittsburgh in 2016.

JaCoby Jones – He’s making a lot of noise right now due to his bat. On the season he’s hitting for a .259/.335/.420 line in 143 at-bats. That’s down, in large part, due to a recent slump that has seen him hitting for a .565 OPS in the last ten games. Jones has shown some power, with five home runs in 143 at-bats, and a .161 ISO. He’s a converted outfielder, and I’m not sure how he’ll handle the shortstop position over the long run. I think the best and most realistic thing to hope for would be that he ends up what you’d want Mercer to be — a guy who can stick at the position, won’t kill you defensively, and will provide a decent bat with some power.

Gift Ngoepe – He had an .822 OPS in April, but that has dropped thanks to his .690 OPS in May. Ngoepe is the best defensive shortstop in the system, although that title could soon go to Adrian Valerio, who signed for $400,000 out of the Dominican Republic last year (file Valerio under the long-long term). Ngoepe also has a ton of speed, and draws a good amount of walks. The problem is that he strikes out too much, and doesn’t hit for average. I’m not convinced that he can hit enough to be a regular. You might point to Clint Barmes as an example of a guy who didn’t hit and was a regular. However, if Ngoepe is striking out 25-30% of the time in Altoona, then he’s at risk of putting up Brian Bixler numbers in the majors.

Links and Notes

Pirates

**Pittsburgh Pirates Positive Regression Candidates: Jordy Mercer

**Podcast: Previewing the Pirates-Yankees Series With River Avenue Blues

Prospects

**Prospect Watch: Locke and Glasnow Pitch Well; Three Hits For Polanco

**Minor League Schedule: A.J. Morris Has Been Impressive This Season

**Prospect Highlights: Home Runs From Stetson Allie and Gift Ngoepe

2014 Draft

**Draft Prospect Watch: Updates For Players Linked to Pirates First Round Pick

**First Mock Draft From Jonathan Mayo Has a Familiar Name For Pirates

**Baseball America’s Second Mock Draft Has Pirates Going With Monte Harrison

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First Pitch: The Pirates Have Returned to the Days Where They Can’t Beat Milwaukee http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/05/first-pitch-the-pirates-have-returned-to-the-days-where-they-cant-beat-milwaukee.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/05/first-pitch-the-pirates-have-returned-to-the-days-where-they-cant-beat-milwaukee.html#comments Fri, 16 May 2014 05:26:51 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=78935 There were so many reasons that the Pittsburgh Pirates were winners last year. But one key aspect to their winning season was the fact that no one team dominated them. Their worst record against any team was 2-4, which happened against the Rockies and Dodgers.

In the years leading up to the 2013 season, there was one team that always dominated the Pirates: the Milwaukee Brewers. Whether it was at home, or in Miller Park, the Pirates could never beat Milwaukee. From 2007-2012, the Pirates combined for a 24-69 record against Milwaukee, posting a losing season every year during that stretch. But just like almost every other team last year, the Pirates managed to beat the Brewers.

That’s not the case this year. The Pirates are currently 2-8 against Milwaukee. Their season record is 17-23. A .500 record against the Brewers would have also resulted in a .500 record so far for the team this year. A performance like last year would have the Pirates above .500.

Last year the Pirates were a team that got the best of almost every other team. There was no team that dominated them. They were legitimate contenders and one of the best teams in the league. This year they’ve gone 2-8 against Milwaukee, and have also gone 2-5 against Cincinnati. Outside of their record against the Brewers, the Pirates are a .500 team this year. The Brewers are looking like legitimate contenders so far this year.

You don’t need me to tell you this, and you don’t need simple analysis of the record against the Brewers to tell you this either: the Pirates aren’t legitimate contenders this year. At best, they’re a team that could battle for a Wild Card spot — one of the next tier teams behind the true contenders.

If there’s any consolation to all of this, it’s that the Pirates have been .500 against the rest of the teams in the league. And while they’re 2-8 against Milwaukee, the losses haven’t been in the 20-0 variety of old. The eight losses against Milwaukee this year have been by a combined 14 runs. That’s an average of just under two runs per loss. Four of those losses have been one run games. So while the Brewers are the better team, the Pirates aren’t exactly getting blown away here.

But let’s say the Pirates are just struggling against the Brewers, and aren’t going to be as bad against every other team. They’ve still only got a .500 record against other teams this year. They now have 122 games remaining, including nine games against the Brewers. They still need to win at a .566 rate the rest of the season to get to 86 wins and try to sneak into the Wild Card game. The Pirates went 6-3 before this recent series against Milwaukee. They need two more similar runs to get to .500. Then they need two more of those runs, plus .500 ball the rest of the season, to get to 86 wins.

It’s not impossible, but it is improbable. The good thing is that they don’t see Milwaukee again for a few weeks, followed by a long stretch where they don’t see them until the middle of August. So can the Pirates up their game a bit against the other teams in the league? Or have the Brewers put them in a hole that is too deep to climb out of?

Links and Notes

**Minor League Schedule: Tyler Glasnow and Nick Kingham Lead Big Friday Night

**Prospect Watch: Alen Hanson and Josh Bell Homer, Six No-Hit Innings From Buddy Borden

**2014 Pirates Draft Prospects: Kyle Schwarber, Matt Imhof, Forrest Wall, Foster Griffin

**Keith Law’s First Mock Draft Has Pirates Taking Vanderbilt’s Tyler Beede

**Pirates Activate Wandy Rodriguez, Option Jaff Decker

**Prospect Highlights: Strikeout From Casey Sadler, More From JaCoby Jones

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First Pitch: What Would Russell Martin Be Worth in Free Agency? http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/05/first-pitch-what-would-russell-martin-be-worth-in-free-agency.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/05/first-pitch-what-would-russell-martin-be-worth-in-free-agency.html#comments Thu, 15 May 2014 06:34:02 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=78887 Earlier today I wrote about the throwing problems from Tony Sanchez, and how those issues could keep Sanchez from being a starter in the majors. The Pirates will have a choice this off-season between trying to bring back Russell Martin, or giving the everyday job to Sanchez. Originally it seemed like a lock that Sanchez would take the job next year. But the more he struggles with his throwing, the more he could see that future starting role slip away.

As for Martin, the team has some money to spend after this season, and much more than the $17 M they were aiming to spend last off-season. They will be losing Martin, Wandy Rodriguez, Edinson Volquez, Jason Grilli, and Clint Barmes. By the end of the year, that will be almost $35 M off the books. There will be some salary increases to off-set that, but even after those salary increases, the Pirates will have about $20 M to spend to just get to the level they’re at this year. So they could afford to bring him back.

The question is what kind of salary he could command. It seems that teams are becoming more aware of the benefits of pitch framing and handling a pitching staff. But do teams value that enough to pay for it?

Last year, Brian McCann received a five-year, $85 M deal. McCann was coming off a year with a 2.7 WAR, which was also his three-year average from 2011-2013. Martin had a 4.1 WAR last year, but had a 2.2 average the previous three years.

If McCann was being paid just based off his recent WAR, then he was being paid about $6.3 M per win. If he was being paid based off his production from before 2011, then the cost would be closer to $5 M per win. Let’s use the $6.3 M figure for now.

It’s hard to project what Martin could receive, since his value will partly be based on this season. He had an 0.6 WAR after one month, which means he would be about a 3.6 WAR player over a full season, or a three win player if you take time away for potential injuries and missed time. I don’t think Martin’s value will be based on his 2.2 average from 2010-2012. I think his value could be seen as higher, especially if he comes back and continues performing well. At the least, he could have a similar value as McCann, which would put him in line for a huge deal.

But what about pitch framing? McCann has had some excellent pitch framing and blocking skills, leading to about 3.2 wins above replacement average per year just from those skills alone, according to the Baseball Prospectus research. Likewise, Martin has been worth about 2.7 wins per year for those skills. Once again, McCann and Martin have similar values, although Martin is worth about half a win less than McCann.

I still think free agent contracts are lagging behind the appreciation for defensive skills. McCann and Martin are very similar players from a value perspective, but they’re totally different players from a skills perspective. Martin is one of the best defensive catchers in the league, getting all of his value from that defense. McCann is good defensively, but not as good as Martin. He makes up for that with his offense, plus he’s good at framing and blocking. But free agency is still at a point where offense gets paid, and defense is undervalued. I don’t think that will change, even with the studies and recognition that catcher defense is getting.

Martin should be worth the same contract that McCann got, or maybe a bit less since McCann has a bit of an edge over Martin. It’s doubtful Martin will get that amount. I don’t think he’ll be limited to his $8.5 M per year though. Jarrod Saltalamacchia got $7 M per year, and Carlos Ruiz got $8.5 M per year after a down year. So Martin should be getting ten figures.

Martin originally was reportedly seeking a four-year, $40 M deal the last time he was a free agent. The Pirates gave him two years and $17 M, which was seen as an aggressive offer, outbidding the Yankees. This time around, I think he could get that $40 M, and he could get it over a three-year span instead. And even if Martin does make $13 M per year, he would represent a big value. He is worth around the same as McCann, and might be worth more than that if you put the proper value on his framing and blocking skills.

The Pirates could afford Martin, and it might not be a bad investment. Sanchez hasn’t been looking like a sure thing, and Martin was a key player for the Pirates last year. Even as he gets north of 30, his defensive skills should still be around, and that’s where his value comes from. He could be a good bridge until Reese McGuire arrives, which would be 2017 at the earliest. And if Tony Sanchez improves his game during that time, then the Pirates wouldn’t be in the worst situation with two strong catchers on the roster.

Links and Notes

**Is Tony Sanchez Throwing Away His Chance at Being a Starter?

**Prospect Watch: Harold Ramirez Returning Strong From Hamstring Injury

**Minor League Schedule: Strong Start to Season For Buddy Borden

**Baseball America Unveils New Top 100 Draft Prospects List

**Prospect Highlights: More Extra Base Hits From Gregory Polanco

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First Pitch: Where are the Pirates Breakout Prospects This Year? http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/05/first-pitch-where-are-the-pirates-breakout-prospects-this-year.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/05/first-pitch-where-are-the-pirates-breakout-prospects-this-year.html#comments Wed, 14 May 2014 05:51:49 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=78831 Over the last few years, the Pittsburgh Pirates have had more than their fair share of breakout prospects. Gregory Polanco and Alen Hanson stepped up in West Virginia in 2012. Tyler Glasnow emerged in 2013 at the same level. Guys like Nick Kingham, Stetson Allie, and Joely Rodriguez also improved their stock. The one thing about Polanco, Hanson, and Glasnow is that they were not only breakout prospects on a local level, but they were also breakout prospects in all of baseball.

The Pirates entered the 2014 season primed for another set of breakout prospects. They had a system loaded with top prospects and a lot of potential breakout candidates in the lower levels. That’s probably why they were universally ranked one of the top three farm systems in the game.

In a way, Polanco has been the big breakout player so far. That’s obviously not in the sense that he’s breaking out as a prospect, since he did that already. Instead, he’s starting to break out on a national scale as one of the top young players in the game.

In about a month, Polanco will be in the majors. So far the focus in the minor league system this year has been Polanco and injuries. So what will be the focus when Polanco graduates? Who will emerge as the big breakout prospect? Or, who might already be emerging behind the massive shadow that Polanco is casting?

At the moment, there aren’t any Polanco/Hanson/Glasnow level breakouts. This is, in part, due to the injuries. Austin Meadows and Harold Ramirez were two big breakout candidates, and both have missed time this year with hamstring injuries. Meadows hasn’t made his debut yet. He was originally expected back around the beginning of May, but has been delayed with some tightness. That’s not to say that there haven’t been any good stories in the minors. Here is a quick rundown of a few of the mini-breakouts this year.

Indianapolis

It’s hard to get a breakout prospect at this level, since most guys at this level have pretty much established their value and potential. Obviously Polanco is the biggest guy here, since he’s emerging as one of the top prospects in the game. Andrew Lambo has also had a nice start to his season, and is showing that the offense from last year might not have been a fluke.

Brandon Cumpton is another prospect who is raising his stock. He’s not really breaking out, and he’s not doing anything different from what he’s done in the past. But with the rotation struggling in Pittsburgh, Cumpton currently looks like one of the best five starters, and a guy who should be starting over Wandy Rodriguez. You could also add Casey Sadler as a guy who is showing that he might have a future as a major league starter.

Altoona

My breakout pick this year was Stetson Allie. The power production is there, with Allie hitting his seventh homer of the year tonight. He’s also drawing a good amount of walks, with a 13.3% walk rate. However, the strikeouts have been bad, with a 29.6% strikeout rate on the season. Allie has a .227/.343/.479 line in 119 at-bats. That’s an .822 OPS in three-true-outcomes style. But most three outcome guys in the majors weren’t three outcome guys in the minors.

Take Pedro Alvarez, as an example. He never had a strikeout rate above 24.6% in his initial run through the minors. That’s not great, but it’s better than the 30% in the majors so far. He also showed the ability to hit for average, with a .333 average in Altoona, and a .277 average in his first run through Indianapolis. Allie could become a three outcomes guy in the majors, but he’s got some work to do to cut down on the strikeouts. If he’s striking out 30% of the time in Double-A, then he’s going to have some serious problems in Triple-A and the majors.

As for the rest of the prospects, the two highest profile pitchers coming into the year were Nick Kingham and Joely Rodriguez. Kingham is having a decent year, while Rodriguez is struggling. On the hitting side, there’s Hanson, who had a slow start, but has been hitting well since then.

There have been two smaller breakouts at this level. The first is Mel Rojas, who is hitting for a .306/.380/.440 line in 134 at-bats. Rojas is a very athletic player, and looks to be tapping into some of his raw power, although not to the point where he could be more than a fourth outfielder in the majors. Rojas is Rule 5 eligible this off-season, which means he could play himself onto the 40-man roster by the end of the calendar year if he keeps this up.

The other smaller breakout has been Adrian Sampson, who has a 2.27 ERA in 35.2 innings, with a 27:12 K/BB ratio. Sampson struggled in Bradenton last year while working on his changeup, but has had success this season in large part due to the improvements made on that pitch. He’s a three pitch guy who has the chance to be a number four starter in the majors.

Bradenton

Tyler Glasnow and Clay Holmes were going to be two of the top prospects to watch at this level. Glasnow missed a few weeks with a back injury, while Holmes went down for the season with Tommy John surgery. The Marauders have had good pitching at times from guys like Chad Kuhl, Jason Creasy, Orlando Castro, Pat Ludwig, and John Kuchno. However, the biggest upside here would be back of the rotation starters, with Kuhl and Creasy having the best shot at reaching that level.

Offensively, Jin-De Jhang has looked overmatched, which might not be a big surprise, since he jumped over low-A ball due to Reese McGuire’s presence in West Virginia. Eric Wood and Jose Osuna have shown flashes of hitting well, although Wood doesn’t project for the power you’d want from a starting third baseman, and Osuna is currently injured.

The top hitting prospect is Josh Bell, and he’s also the top hitter so far. Bell has had issues against lefties this year, but has been crushing right-handers with an .898 OPS. His swing can be ugly at times, looking long, off-balance, and awkward. It seems to be working from the left side, but the right side could use some work. Bell hasn’t tapped into his potential plus power yet. He displays some good line drive and gap power, but right now his home run power is based more on projection than actual results.

West Virginia

This has been the hot spot for breakouts the last few years, although injuries have limited the opportunities this year. West Virginia has lost Austin Meadows, Harold Ramirez, Barrett Barnes, Luis Heredia, and Reese McGuire to injuries this year. McGuire and Ramirez are both back, while the other three remain on the DL.

Offensively, the two breakout players have been JaCoby Jones and Erich Weiss. Both are putting up good numbers, although nothing close to the monster numbers that Hanson and Polanco had two years ago. Jones is the most encouraging, since his power and ability to get on base from the shortstop position could be valuable if he can stick at the spot.

On the pitching staff, the breakout candidates were Cody Dickson and Buddy Borden. Dickson has been inconsistent, posting a 4.86 ERA in 33.1 innings, and dealing with lapses in control at times. Meanwhile, Borden is having a nice season, with a 2.67 ERA in 30.1 innings, along with a 27:12 K/BB ratio.

Breakout Perspective

It might be unfair to compare any of these guys to Polanco, Hanson, or Glasnow. That shouldn’t be the bar for a breakout candidate, since most prospects — even the successful ones — won’t reach that high. It’s also important to note that it’s still early. Polanco only had an .819 OPS in 189 at-bats through the month of May 2012. In the final three months, he had a .978 OPS in 248 at-bats. So there’s still time for someone like Jones or Bell to take good numbers and turn them into a breakout season. But even having good numbers an entire year can be good enough, as you don’t always need a monster breakout season to eventually develop into a major league player.

Links and Notes

**Scout: Gregory Polanco has a chance to be a star

**More Details on Gregory Polanco’s Extension Offer

**Prospect Watch: Gregory Polanco Just Misses the Cycle in Four Hit Night

**Minor League Schedule: Casey Sadler Looks to Bounce Back From First Poor Outing

**Zack Dodson Activated From Disabled List, Pitches Tonight

**Prospect Highlights: Homers From Gregory Polanco and JaCoby Jones

**Draft Prospect Watch: Kyle Schwarber Homers, Matt Imhof Goes to Pirates in Latest Mock Draft

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First Pitch: Could the Pirates Be Sellers This July? http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/05/first-pitch-could-the-pirates-be-sellers-this-july.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/05/first-pitch-could-the-pirates-be-sellers-this-july.html#comments Tue, 13 May 2014 06:44:49 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=78757 Today I was reading a few articles about how the Tampa Bay Rays might have to start thinking about trading David Price this summer due to their record. This was before their loss tonight, when they were sitting 16-22. That had me thinking two things.

1. I need to go up to St. Pete to see David Price soon.

2. If the Rays need to start thinking about selling because they’re 16-22 and four games out of the wild card, then what should the Pirates be talking about, sitting at 16-21 and 3.5 games back from the second NL Wild Card spot?

The games back stat is a little misleading at this point. The Rays have five teams ahead of them before you get to the teams currently occupying the Wild Card spots. The Pirates are 3.5 games back, but would have to jump past seven teams to get a Wild Card spot.

So if the Rays need to be thinking about selling right now, does that mean the Pirates need to do the same thing?

The situations are a bit different. The Rays have a lot of injuries (Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, Jeremy Hellickson), and don’t have the depth the Pirates do or a big impact from the minor league system on the way. The Pirates, meanwhile, have some good depth in Triple-A, and have the eventual arrival of Gregory Polanco. That means they’re more likely to receive the help they need to improve as the year goes on.

But at what point should they start making plans for pending free agents like Francisco Liriano, Russell Martin, and more?

I don’t think they need to do anything right now. They’re coming off a 6-3 stretch. One more stretch like that, and they’re one game below .500. They also don’t need to do anything until they see how the team does with Polanco. They can make some internal improvements right now, which is what they should do by making a switch from Wandy Rodriguez to Brandon Cumpton.

As far as external additions, if Jordy Mercer continues his struggles, then that will bring up an interesting debate about whether they should sign Stephen Drew after the draft, and after the point where they wouldn’t have to give up a draft pick to sign him.

You could also point out that a big reason they’re struggling right now is that their pitching isn’t performing to expectations. That especially includes Liriano, who would be the biggest trade chip if the Pirates were sellers. If Liriano’s struggles would lead to the Pirates being sellers, then selling him probably wouldn’t bring back much in return.

I still think there’s a lot of room for improvement with the Pirates. The offense isn’t as bad as we saw throughout most of April, and hopefully the positive signs we’re seeing lately means they’re starting to bounce back. The pitching has struggled, even from the guys who were expected to perform. The Pirates just have to wait it out for guys like Liriano, but they should start to think about moving on from someone like Rodriguez.

As I’ve been mentioning a lot in the last few weeks, the Pirates have dug themselves a deep hole that they now need to climb out of. That’s not going to be easy, but it is possible. There’s a chance they could also be sellers this summer, but the time to think about that probably won’t come for another month or two.

Links and Notes

**Week In Review: Polanco Offer, Roster Moves, Prospect Reports, 2014 Draft

**Top 10 Hitters: Is Mel Rojas Finally Putting Things Together?

**Top 10 Pitchers: Brandon Cumpton Continues Pitching Well…For Indianapolis

**Prospect Watch: Gregory Polanco Hits His Fifth Homer

**Minor League Schedule: Joely Rodriguez Looks to Build Off Strong Outing

**Prospect Highlights: Gregory Polanco’s Triple, Alen Hanson’s Homer

**Pirates Release Four Minor League Pitchers

**Pirates Sign Second Baseman Nathan Sopena

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First Pitch: Thoughts on Decker, Wandy, Worley, Glasnow, 2014 Draft http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/05/first-pitch-thoughts-on-decker-wandy-worley-glasnow-2014-draft.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/05/first-pitch-thoughts-on-decker-wandy-worley-glasnow-2014-draft.html#comments Sun, 11 May 2014 06:09:23 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=78612 The Brent Morel promotion was a strange one. The Pirates probably only needed an extra hitter for the three game series against the Cardinals this weekend, assuming Andrew Lambo could return early next week. None of the available hitters on the 40-man roster have had a good season, with the exception of Gregory Polanco, who won’t be called up until the Super 2 deadline passes.

I don’t know what the Pirates knew regarding their outfield situation at the time Morel was recalled. Since the move, Travis Snider’s suspension was upheld, and Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte both dealt with minor injuries. The combination meant that Gaby Sanchez was playing in right field tonight. It’s possible that all of this came after the decision to bring up Morel. But Morel shouldn’t have come up to begin with. Like the rest of the options, he didn’t have strong season numbers. The only player who has been hitting well recently has been Jaff Decker. He should have been called up on Friday, and not Morel.

As it stands, the Pirates weren’t impacted by the move at all. They won both games that Snider missed, and even won tonight without McCutchen and Marte. And now, Jaff Decker will be promoted to Pittsburgh, presumably to take Morel’s spot on the active roster. So no harm was done by the decision to bring up Morel in the first place, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a strange move.

Our Prospect Highlights this morning had video of Decker during his recent hot streak.

**

Wandy Rodriguez will start for the Pirates on Thursday. As I wrote in the article, this is a mistake. Rodriguez has looked bad in his rehab outings so far. He’s had success the first few innings, then fell apart each time. He has also struggled during his time in the majors this year. There is no reason why he should be starting, especially when Brandon Cumpton has looked so good. Cumpton should be the fifth starter, and Rodriguez should be moved to the bullpen as a long reliever.

I’m guessing the decision to keep Rodriguez in the rotation and Cumpton in Triple-A has to do with preserving depth. If they moved Rodriguez to the bullpen, they’d have one less starter, and would have to DFA someone like Jeanmar Gomez, who has been struggling recently. The problem here is that preserving depth only makes sense if the guys who you are keeping around are doing well. Rodriguez and Gomez are not.  I’d give Gomez more of a pass, since he’s not doing horrible, and since he’s coming off a great year. But starting Rodriguez, for whatever reason, doesn’t bode well for the team’s chances of success in those starts.

**

As far as depth goes, Vance Worley could be an option to add to the mix. Ryan Palencer wrote today that Worley feels like he is back on track as a starter, after working with Jim Benedict in extended Spring Training. Worley was basically added for free from the Minnesota Twins, but is an interesting pitcher, since he is only a year removed from a strong run in the Philadelphia rotation in 2011-2012. The Pirates have revived the career of pitchers who have done a lot less than Worley.

**

I saw Tyler Glasnow on the mound tonight, and will have video and an article on Glasnow this week. I wrote up a brief recap of his start in the Prospect Watch tonight. Also, check out tomorrow’s Minor League Schedule, which includes a preview of Jeff Locke returning to the Indianapolis rotation.

**

The draft is getting closer, but don’t expect any clear picture of who the Pirates will take until draft day. It’s going to be impossible to know who will be available to them with the 24th pick. However, we will get an idea of what type of talent could be available in that range.

Lately, a few top college pitchers have required Tommy John surgery, with Erick Fedde being the second guy announced in the last week. John Dreker wrote about how one of these guys could fall to the Pirates. It will be interesting to see what happens here. For a team at the top, the draft is so rich with pitching that you don’t really need to take a guy who is guaranteed to miss the next year and who is currently injured. But for a team at the bottom of the first round, you could take that risk, and miss having a guy for a year, if it means that you get better talent in the long run. Kyle Gibson was an example of this a few years ago with the Twins.

The Pirates certainly haven’t shied away from taking guys who have had Tommy John surgery in the past. Adrian Sampson and Hayden Hurst were two examples in recent drafts. But taking a guy who is currently injured is another issue. Tommy John is more of a setback these days, and hardly alters a pitcher’s upside, so I’m not even sure if these two would fall to the Pirates. If they did, it would leave the Pirates with an interesting decision.

Speaking of players in their range, Kyle Schwarber went to the Pirates in Baseball America’s first mock draft. As John Dreker writes in the Draft Prospect Watch, Schwarber homered tonight against Penn State.

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First Pitch: Are the Pirates Turning Things Around? http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/05/first-pitch-are-the-pirates-turning-things-around.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/05/first-pitch-are-the-pirates-turning-things-around.html#comments Sat, 10 May 2014 06:41:29 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=78536 A week ago, the Pittsburgh Pirates won 6-5 against the Toronto Blue Jays in dramatic comeback fashion. I asked at the time if that was the spark they needed to turn things around. It was too early to tell that at the time, and one week later it is probably still too early to call that win a turning point. But quietly, the Pirates have put together a nice run, going 5-2 in the last week. That would have been 6-1 had it not been for a blown save on Monday against the Giants.

One week after that big win against Toronto, I ask: Are the Pirates turning things around?

They got in this hole thanks to a really bad stretch of losing. They went 4-15 from April 11th to May 1st. To counter that, they will need one really big stretch of winning, or one more smaller stretch like we’ve seen in the last week.

Aside from the winning, there are some encouraging signs lately that help support the idea that the Pirates are turning things around. First, there’s the starting pitching. Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton came up big this week, each going eight innings to lead the Pirates to back-to-back wins. I’m not about to say that the rest of the rotation will start doing the same thing. I’m not going to predict a repeat from Cole and Morton. What I will point out is that the rotation is capable of more.

At the moment, Cole, Francisco Liriano, Edinson Volquez, and Brandon Cumpton (who should be the fifth starter) all have an ERA higher than their xFIP. The only person with an ERA lower than his xFIP is Morton, who has a 3.45/4.28 split. The starting pitching should be better than this. It was expected to be better than this, especially from Liriano, Cole, and Morton.

I think the rotation can go up from here, because I don’t think this group is full of number three and four starters like the numbers indicate.

The next big thing is Starling Marte. Since moving out of the leadoff spot, Marte has been on fire. He’s hitting for a .342/.390/.526 line in 38 at-bats. The strikeouts, which were at an alarmingly high rate in April, have dropped to a respectable rate in May. The walks have also dropped back to his career norms, but the lack of walks is acceptable with the return of his hitting, and especially the return of his power.

As for the leadoff spot, somehow during this time the Pirates have gotten a .387 average and a 1.137 OPS from their right fielders, with Jose Tabata, Travis Snider, and Josh Harrison all chipping in. I’m more confident in Marte continuing his success than the trio of right field options.

Pedro Alvarez is another guy who is heating up, with a .785 OPS in the month of May. Ike Davis can be added to that list, with an .873 OPS so far this month. Neil Walker is on fire, with an OPS of 1.086.

In April, the Pirates were pretty much just getting offense from Andrew McCutchen. They were getting nothing before him, and nothing after him. Now they’re getting offense from the number one through six spots. I don’t know if all of those players will continue producing, but I do expect most of them to do better than what we saw in April. Just like the pitchers, I don’t think the offense was as bad as we saw. They’ve got some room for improvement.

The Pirates still have an uphill battle. If they want to get to 86 wins (which will probably be needed for a Wild Card spot), then they will need to win at a .559 pace the rest of the season. There are eight teams in the majors that have that winning percentage or better, so it can be done.

Last year the Pirates had a lot of success by limiting the cold streaks. They didn’t lose more than four games in a row. There was only one ten game stretch where they won fewer than four games. Obviously that hasn’t carried over to this year. They eliminated the horrible losing stretches last year, which led to 94 wins. They were also capable of getting hot and winning 11 out of 13, 9 out of 11, and 9 in a row. This is largely the same team. None of those winning stretches came with Marlon Byrd or Justin Morneau. The 11 out of 13 happened before Morton and Cole joined the team. The nine game streak was without Burnett. Only one of those big streaks came with all three pitchers.

This team has shown that they can get really hot, much like they’re doing right now, and win a lot of games in a short time span. They did it several times last year. We might be in the middle of one of those stretches right now. While I can’t say that the offense we’ve seen lately will continue on a consistent basis, I can say that this team is capable of getting hot all at once like this, leading to those strong stretches. The Pirates are going to need at least one of those stretches to get back in the mix, and that’s not including what they’ve done in the last week.

They dug a deep hole in April, but it’s not impossible to climb their way out of it.

Links and Notes

Pirates

**Which Edinson Volquez Will the Pirates Get Going Forward?

**Travis Snider and Russell Martin Suspensions Upheld

**Pirates Add Brent Morel to the Active Roster

Prospects

**Prospect Watch: Sadler Has Rough Return to Indianapolis; Mathisen Stays Hot

**Minor League Schedule: Nick Kingham and Tyler Glasnow Pitch Tonight

**The Best Gift Ngoepe Update, Ever

**Prospect Highlights: Gregory Polanco Strikes Again, Mel Rojas Jr. With Walk-Off Hit

2014 Draft

**Draft Prospect Watch: Brandon Finnegan Returns, Luke Weaver Throws Seven Shutout Innings

 

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First Pitch: A Busy Day For 2014 Drafts http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/05/first-pitch-a-busy-day-for-2014-drafts.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/05/first-pitch-a-busy-day-for-2014-drafts.html#comments Fri, 09 May 2014 04:19:30 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=78449 Today was a big day for draft news on the site.

No, not the NFL draft. The Pittsburgh Steelers took linebacker Ryan Shazier in the first round. If you want to read about that, you should check out the writeup by my friend, Dave Bryan, at Steelers Depot.

No, I’m talking about the MLB draft. It’s now a month away, and that’s probably why there was so much news on the subject today. Baseball America released their first mock draft. Keith Law released his top 100 prospects. John Dreker continued our weekly preview, profiling four potential first round picks each Thursday leading up to the draft.

The MLB draft has always been a big focus on this site. When I first created the site, it was limited to a payroll tracker, a future payroll chart, and a few draft prospect trackers for the top 2009 draft prospects. Back then, the Pirates were always picking high in the draft, so it was easy to get a feel for who could be in their range. Obviously, that wasn’t accurate in 2009, as they surprised everyone and took Tony Sanchez in the first round. However, leading up to the draft, it was easy to focus on about 8-10 players who could be candidates for that number four pick.

As the years went on, it was always a two-to-three man race. Jameson Taillon or Manny Machado? Gerrit Cole, Dylan Bundy, or Trevor Bauer? Even in the last two years, there was a shot that someone big could drop to them. That happened in 2012 with Mark Appel, and in 2013 with Austin Meadows.

During that time, I always wondered what it was going to be like when the Pirates were contenders, picking lower in the draft. Of course, that was back during the time where you could spend whatever you wanted, and for teams that did spend freely, that meant you could still get an impact prospect in the 20-30 range. That’s not the case anymore.

The Pirates were fortunate in the last two drafts. They had top talent fall to them each time, and while Appel didn’t sign, his compensation pick led to the drafting of Austin Meadows. This is the first year that the new draft system could really limit them. Fortunately, the draft class looks stronger than usual, which means the pick at number 24 could very well be just as good as ten picks earlier in previous years. They won’t get an Alvarez or a Cole, but they could get a nice prospect.

The process of following and planning for the draft has also changed. In the NFL draft, teams have specific needs and draft for those needs. That makes it easy to project what direction a team could go in during mock drafts, even at the end of the first round. In baseball, teams don’t draft for need, since most draft picks are at least 2-3 years away from the majors, if not much more. That makes it difficult to project who exactly could go to the Pirates with the 24th pick. It also means that mock drafts are just throwing names against the wall, since it’s pretty much impossible to know where the Pirates are leaning at this point.

That doesn’t mean you can’t have a wish list. One of my favorites is left-hander Sean Newcomb, who we profiled last week. Casey Gillaspie (profiled in that same article) wouldn’t be bad if you want a good hitting first base prospect. Then there’s guys who have a very small chance of falling, who would be great at number 24, such as prep shortstop Jacob Gatewood.

The difference between this year and previous years is that the gap between these players isn’t that great. There are a lot of really talented pitchers in the Pirates’ range, which means that a Sean Newcomb-or-bust approach wouldn’t be appropriate. It’s not like last year, where passing on Austin Meadows at number nine would have been a big mistake.

We’re preparing for the draft this year by casting a wide net, profiling a lot of different players in the Pirates’ range, and then seeing what happens on draft night. I’d be surprised if we hear much about who the Pirates are focusing on, as they probably won’t have a clue who they could take until it gets close to their pick. Until that time, we’ll have any available news on the draft, along with our profiles of the guys who are in the Pirates’ range, giving reports on about 20 possible draft picks prior to the draft.

To follow our draft coverage, check out our 2014 draft page. Got any favorite players in this year’s draft? Leave your early pick in the comments.

Links and Notes

2014 Draft

**2014 Pirates Draft Prospects: Michael Conforto, Luke Weaver, Michael Chavis, Kodi Medeiros

**Baseball America’s First Mock Draft Has Kyle Schwarber Going to Pirates

**Keith Law Releases New Top 100 Draft Prospect List

Pirates

**Pirates Make Phil Irwin Roster Move Official

Prospects

**Prospect Watch: Big Game For Josh Bell, Harold Ramirez Returns to Lineup

**Minor Moves: Harold Ramirez Returns to West Virginia, Matt Curry to Altoona

**Minor League Schedule: Casey Sadler Returns to Indianapolis Rotation

**Prospect Highlights: Speed From Gregory Polanco, Home Run From Mel Rojas Jr.

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First Pitch: Which Hitter Not Named Gregory Polanco Should Come Up? http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/05/first-pitch-which-hitter-not-named-gregory-polanco-should-come-up.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/05/first-pitch-which-hitter-not-named-gregory-polanco-should-come-up.html#comments Thu, 08 May 2014 05:20:56 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=78394 Injuries have been the unfortunate theme for the Pirates’ minor league system this year. Their top pitching prospect, Jameson Taillon, went down for the season with Tommy John surgery. Several other top ten prospects, including Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows, have dealt with injuries this year. Most of the injuries are irrelevant in long-term considerations. For example, Meadows has had some setbacks with his hamstring, but it’s not like the Pirates are in any rush to get him to the majors with a future outfield of Andrew McCutchen, Gregory Polanco, and Starling Marte.

The biggest injury so far this year was to Taillon, and that’s especially true with the starting rotation struggling in Pittsburgh. Perhaps the second biggest injury is the recent injury to Andrew Lambo.

The Pirates will be sending Phil Irwin back to Indianapolis, presumably to call up a hitter. Lambo went on the disabled list today with a bruised thumb, meaning he won’t be that hitter who is coming up. That’s unfortunate, as Lambo has a .344/.430/.570 line in 93 at-bats this year with the Indians. He’s almost doing as well as Gregory Polanco, and since there aren’t the same Super 2 concerns with Lambo, the Pirates could bring him up anytime.

For the next two weeks, the Pirates will have an extra roster spot, allowing them to call up an extra hitter, in place of their fifth starter, who won’t be needed until May 24th. This would have been a perfect spot for Lambo to come up for a few weeks and get a shot in the majors.

Now the Pirates have their choice between the following players:

Jaff Decker – He has a .222/.317/.322 line in 90 at-bats this year, although he has been hitting well the last few games.

Brent Morel – .215/.279/.312 line in 93 at-bats won’t cut it.

Chris McGuiness – He’s not struggling as much as the others, but has a .214/.350/.405 line in 84 at-bats.

Gregory Polanco – Don’t expect him to come up before the Super 2 deadline.

Chris Dickerson – He’s the best performer of the group, with a .309/.378/.469 line in 81 at-bats. However, he’s not on the 40-man roster. The Pirates could just designate one of the above players for assignment, with the top option being Morel. That would open up a spot for Dickerson, who is the most deserving of the non-Polanco guys.

Of course, all of this depends on how long Lambo will be out. If he’s able to return early next week, then the Pirates would only be calling up a guy for three games over the weekend, until Lambo returned and became the top option once again.

Links and Notes

**Prospect Watch: Cumpton With a Strong Return; Rojas and Mathisen Homer

**Minor League Schedule: Adrian Sampson Tries to Continue Breakout Season

**Phil Irwin to Be Optioned Back to Triple-A

**Draft Prospect Watch: Jeff Hoffman to Have Tommy John Surgery, Prep Arm Pulls Out of Draft

**MLB Removes Several Podcasts From iTunes, Including P3

**Andrew Lambo Placed on the Indianapolis Disabled List

**Prospect Highlights: Gregory Polanco Drives a Double to the Gap

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First Pitch: Did the Pirates Make Gregory Polanco a Fair Offer? http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/05/first-pitch-did-the-pirates-make-gregory-polanco-a-fair-offer.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/05/first-pitch-did-the-pirates-make-gregory-polanco-a-fair-offer.html#comments Wed, 07 May 2014 04:31:25 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=78268 The value of extensions are often distorted by unfair comparisons to free agency. When a guy signs a pre-free agency extension, the reaction is usually that the team got a huge deal, due to the low cost in comparison to the outrageous free agent contracts.

Take Andrew McCutchen as an example. That extension — $51.5 M for six years — is seen as a massive value, especially when guys like Jacoby Ellsbury are getting $150 M contracts. McCutchen’s deal is a value, but only because he’s living up to the deal and exceeding the deal. At the time he signed the deal, it just looked like it was market rate for a guy with his service time and his production. The reason $51.5 M was considered market rate for guys like McCutchen, and others who signed similar deals (Jay Bruce, for one), is because of the risk involved.

Teams control a player’s rights until that player has six years of service time. In most cases, the team will get a player for six full seasons, plus one partial season. Until a player gets three years of service time, he is limited to making the league minimum. From there, a player will have three years of arbitration, where he receives a percentage of his free agent market value.

When an extension offer is made, it is made with the knowledge that the player is looking at a reduced salary for his first six seasons in the majors. Then you add in the risk factor, with the possibility that the player might not live up to expectations (SEE: Tabata, Jose), and the cost gets lower.

The result is that there are two markets. There’s the free agent market, which usually reflects a player’s full value. Then there’s the market for extensions, which is starting to get established over the last few years.

As we saw with Starling Marte, plus a lot of other players recently, the market for hitters with more than one year of service time, but less than two years is $30-35 M. McCutchen’s extension is a few years old, but as we saw with Matt Carpenter and Jason Kipnis, the market for players with more than two years and less than three years is still in the $52 M range. There’s not really much of a market for players with less than one year of service time, since there aren’t many players who sign extensions that early.

So what does that say about the extension offer that Gregory Polanco received? The Pirates offered him $25 M for seven years, plus three option years that would have taken the deal to $50-60 M total over ten years. I’m assuming the deal would start in 2014, rather than beginning in 2015. If it started this year, the deal would buy out control of three free agent years from Polanco. That’s the same amount of free agent years the Pirates got from McCutchen and Marte.

Since we can’t compare Polanco’s offer to any recently signed extensions, let’s compare him to the other outfielders in Pittsburgh.

The Years of Control

There are three factors to a guaranteed contract — the signing bonus, the guaranteed years, and the buyout prices in option years. Marte and McCutchen both got free agent years guaranteed. Marte got one year guaranteed, while McCutchen got two years guaranteed. The proposed deal for Polanco wouldn’t have any guaranteed free agent years. So the best way to compare the guaranteed money would be to look at the normal years of control (the 0-6 years) for each player, along with the signing bonus and buyouts.

Polanco’s guaranteed deal through his sixth year of service time would have paid him $25 M.

Starling Marte will receive $22.5 M guaranteed through his sixth year of service, and that is including his 2013 salary before the extension. It doesn’t include his partial 2012 salary. That total also includes his signing bonus, and his buyout prices.

Andrew McCutchen’s price is $25.375 M. Again, that includes his 0-6 contracts, including what he earned prior to his extension. It also includes the signing bonus and buyouts.

The reason I included the signing bonus and buyouts for both players is because those are probably included in Polanco’s deal as well.

So by comparison, the guaranteed amount is very fair for Polanco, considering the years it covers, and considering that he has one and a half fewer years of service time than Marte, and two and a half years less than McCutchen.

The Free Agent Years

It seems that the later you sign your extension, the more you get guaranteed in free agency. Polanco has zero service time, and didn’t have any free agent years guaranteed. Marte had a little over a year, and got one year guaranteed. McCutchen had a little over two years of service, and got two years guaranteed. That also seems to be standard for other extensions around baseball.

It makes sense. The further you are away from free agency, the bigger risk you take in guaranteeing those years. Since these extensions we’re looking at all buy out three free agent years from the Pirates outfielders, we can compare the potential added values. Note that I used the buyouts above, so I won’t be including the additional costs here for the option years.

Starling Marte could receive an additional $31 M if his option years are picked up. He has two option years, totaling $24 M, which would add an additional $21 M to his deal. He also has one guaranteed free agent year for $10 M.

Andrew McCutchen has two guaranteed years at $27 M total. He also has one option year for $14.5 M, minus the $1 M buyout. In total, that gives him an additional $40.5 M through those free agent years.

We don’t know the potential breakdown of Polanco’s extension offer. Jon Heyman reported that the deal could have reached $50-60 M. That means those extra three years would have been worth $25-35 M.

In comparison to Marte and McCutchen, the $25 M figure is a bit low. Then again, Polanco doesn’t have a single at-bat in the majors, so it’s hard to argue that he deserves the exact same deal as Marte or McCutchen. The $35 M figure would fall between those two deals, giving Polanco more than Marte, but about $5 M less than McCutchen.

Usually when there’s a difference in future value like that, it has to do with Super Two status. I’m not sure if that’s the case here, but I do know that Super Two isn’t reflected in the guaranteed value of extensions. Instead, there are clauses in the contract that increase the value of certain years if a player does qualify for Super Two status.

I don’t want to say that Polanco’s offer had a Super Two clause to give that potential added $10 M. So we’ll just stick with what we know. Polanco’s additional deal, at its lowest, would have added $25 M for the three free agent years. By comparison, that’s $6 M below Marte, who was $9.5 M below McCutchen. Considering the service time for each player, the tiered structure seems fair.

Is the Extension Fair?

If these reports are correct, then the Pirates made a very fair offer to Polanco. They offered him the same amount of money that McCutchen received for his 0-6 years, and a few million more than Marte received. They offered him a potential $25 M or more for his first three free agent years. That’s $6 M less than Marte, and $15.5 M less than McCutchen. The differences make sense due to Polanco’s lack of service time. Also, keep in mind that Polanco is receiving more in the 0-6 years, so his difference, compared to Marte, would only be $2 M.

It’s hard to argue that this isn’t a fair offer when looking at it side-by-side with Marte and McCutchen. It’s actually a very aggressive offer for a guy who hasn’t spent a single day on a Major League roster.

Does it Make Sense For Polanco to Reject?

I believe there is a reason you don’t see a lot of players sign extensions like this. That reason is because you don’t need much time in the majors to get more guaranteed money, and potentially more money down the line.

If Polanco waits a year and a half, he could get a deal like Marte, with an extra $6 M guaranteed, and a few extra million potentially added down the line. The real payout is waiting two and a half years like McCutchen. He’d get an extra $25 M guaranteed, and a chance to make an extra $15 M down the line.

There is risk involved here. Polanco could get hurt prior to reaching that two and a half year mark. He could struggle and fail to live up to his potential. Going back to the Jose Tabata extension, he received $15 M guaranteed. That was seen as a team friendly deal at the time. But what would have happened if Tabata declined and waited another year? Does he get an extension coming off his 2012 season, where he posted a .664 OPS and dealt with a lot of injuries? Unlikely.

If Polanco takes the risk to wait and try to increase his value, then it wouldn’t be unheard of. A lot of players do the same thing. That’s why you don’t see many players signing extensions with less than a year of service time.

The End of Negotiations?

I wouldn’t take much away from the news that Polanco rejected the deal. What that tells us is that the two sides are discussing an extension, and haven’t agreed yet. Maybe it means Polanco isn’t ready to sign an extension right now. I will point out that we’ve heard the same thing in the past with Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen. We heard that the two sides weren’t close. During the Spring, we heard that Marte turned down an offer, only to sign less than a week later. This doesn’t mean an extension for Polanco is coming soon. It just means that the negotiations shouldn’t be ruled over just because the player didn’t sign the first offer we heard about.

Overall, it’s good that the Pirates are being aggressive with Polanco, and trying to extend him early. I’ve written in the past that this is the approach they should take with him. From here, we’ll have to wait and see if that approach ends up successful.

Links and Notes

**Pirates Offered Gregory Polanco a Seven Year Contract

**Prospect Watch: Andrew Lambo Misses Second Game With Bruised Thumb. Also in this, Wandy Rodriguez struggles in his latest rehab start.

**Minor League Schedule: Brandon Cumpton Returns to Indianapolis Rotation. When Rodriguez returns, he should be in the bullpen, with Cumpton as the fifth starter.

**Pirates Call Up Phil Irwin, Option Jeff Locke

**Prospect Highlights: Your Daily Alen Hanson Highlight

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