Pirates Prospects » First Pitch http://www.piratesprospects.com Your best source for news on the Pittsburgh Pirates and their minor league system. Sat, 12 Apr 2014 21:44:37 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.2 First Pitch: Why the Pirates Should Wait For Super Two With Gregory Polanco http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/04/first-pitch-why-the-pirates-should-wait-for-super-two-with-gregory-polanco.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/04/first-pitch-why-the-pirates-should-wait-for-super-two-with-gregory-polanco.html#comments Sat, 12 Apr 2014 05:28:43 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=76275 The Super Two subject is never popular with top prospects. It’s a smart practice to keep a player down for just two months, all to avoid an extra year of arbitration. If the player projects to be a star, then that extra two months could be worth $10-15 M over the long run. Nothing that a top prospect could do in his rookie season would be worth $10-15 M in the long run for two months in the short-term. Putting that in perspective, that’s like paying a guy $30-45 M over a full season.

But fans don’t want to hear about money. The only thing fans care about is winning now. Meanwhile, a General Manager has to balance winning now with the long-term chances of winning. This creates an unfavorable situation where the team doesn’t promote a top prospect for very valid reasons, and it doesn’t go over well with the fan base. I’m not talking specifically about the Pirates here. Every team does this. There are a few examples where a top prospect is called up before Super Two status, but generally that doesn’t happen with small market teams.

Earlier today I wrote about the projected cutoff for Super Two. I also pointed out an estimated date of June 10th to call a prospect up this year and avoid Super Two status. That date would be relevant for Gregory Polanco, who has been off to a hot start with Indianapolis.

There were a few calls for Polanco to come up early, ignoring the Super Two status. Aside from the monetary reasons, I find this kind of strange. If Polanco came up, he’d be replacing Travis Snider in the starting lineup. Currently Snider has been one of the best hitters on the team, with a .766 OPS after tonight’s game (ranking 4th among starters). It’s very early in the season, and we’re dealing with small sample sizes here. Snider had an .800 OPS before going 1-for-4 with a single tonight.

It’s also early for Polanco. He’s off to a great start, and his talent makes you want to believe that his hitting is legit. But right now he only has 34 at-bats. By comparison, Chris Dickerson is hitting great in 26 at-bats, and no one is calling for him to come up. Andrew Lambo, Brent Morel, Robert Andino, Blake Davis, and Chris McGuiness are all guys who entered tonight’s games with an OPS over .900. A lot of people are hitting in Indianapolis. That tells me that the team has had some favorable matchups/stadiums, or a few big games, and the small sample size really highlights this. This isn’t discounting what Polanco has done. It’s just looking at him with a skeptical view, which you kind of have to do when everyone on the team is crushing the ball. Suddenly it doesn’t seem like Polanco is doing something special that is unique to his talent level.

But let’s just say that Polanco is legitimately crushing the ball. Let’s also ignore that Snider is doing well right now, and not the problem with the team offense at the moment. We’ll entertain the idea of calling up Polanco to give the offense a huge boost. Is that really the environment you want to create for a top prospect in his early 20s? Call a guy up to be the savior of the offense when he’s yet to see a single Major League pitch? Let him know that he only has about a week and a half to prove himself before he’s deemed replaceable?

That’s kind of ridiculous, and it’s something that would never happen. But that’s basically what is being said with any “call Polanco up early” campaign. It’s saying that Polanco, a rookie with no MLB experience, is the difference between a bad offense and a good offense. It’s saying that we can dismiss individual players based on not-even two weeks worth of at-bats. Neither of those is a good stance to take.

The truth about the offense right now is that there are players under-performing. However, several of those under-performing players are guys who should be performing. Andrew McCutchen has a .661 OPS. Jordy Mercer has a .403 OPS. Starling Marte isn’t doing horrible, but his .741 OPS isn’t cutting it. At this point if you’d call up Polanco to take over for Travis Snider, you’d be replacing your most productive outfielder.

McCutchen will bounce back (assuming he’s healthy after leaving in the eighth inning tonight). Mercer will do better than this. Marte should do better than this. And the Pirates should give everyone else the proper time for evaluations. This way you can tell if Snider’s success is actually legit, or if Polanco is actually dominating Triple-A, rather than just having a hot week (and it has been just one week in the minors), or being a part of a team that is collectively hitting the ball well.

In the process, you keep Polanco down and avoid Super Two status with him, which is great for the organization in the long-term. That’s not favorable to the “win now at any cost” group. But the irony with that group is that these are the same people who would have had Polanco traded over the previous two seasons, all to get a short-term rental player to provide a marginal in-season upgrade. That’s the thing about “win now at any cost” moves. A few years down the line, the “any cost” part can look very foolish.

Links and Notes

**Over the weekend I’ve been working on adding new writers to the site. I’m still in that process, but we’ll have some new writers starting this week, mostly at the minor league level. Adding new writers is made possible by purchases on the products page of the site. That’s where you can buy our 2014 Prospect Guide, with information on every player in the minor league system. We also now have a Pirates Prospects logo t-shirt available. It’s my goal to keep all of the website content free, while also adding as much content as possible. The more funds received through these products, the more coverage we can add going forward.

**Andrew McCutchen Leaves Game With Discomfort in His Left Ankle

**Super Two and the Impact on Gerrit Cole and Gregory Polanco

**Prospect Watch: Two More Hits For Polanco, Kingham With Another Good Start

**Minor League Schedule: Heredia Tries To Bounce Back From Rough Opener

**Chris Stewart’s Rehab Moved to Indianapolis

**Prospect Highlights: Gregory Polanco’s Speed, Andrew Lambo, Chris Dickerson

**Jeff Locke Activated From the DL, Optioned to Triple-A

**Draft Prospect Watch: Kyle Freeland Strikes Out 15 Again

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First Pitch: What Do the Pirates Have in Their Rotation? http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/04/first-pitch-what-do-the-pirates-have-in-their-rotation.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/04/first-pitch-what-do-the-pirates-have-in-their-rotation.html#comments Fri, 11 Apr 2014 05:05:13 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=76185 Earlier today I wrote an article looking at what should be expected from each spot in the rotation from a numbers standpoint. That focused on the league averages, and the ERA from each spot. As a side note, I prefer FIP and xFIP over ERA, but when you’re talking about league averages, it really doesn’t make much of a difference. Also, the goal was to look at what teams actually did last year, rather than what they’d be expected to do going forward. That means ERA is a better choice.

For the purposes of this article, I wanted to look at the numbers from today’s article, and apply the rotation rankings to each Pirates’ starter. For this reason, I’m going to focus more on the FIP numbers, since that projects what they should be doing going forward. I included the ZiPS projections for each pitcher, but I mostly went with the 2013 FIP numbers, since I feel that tells the story of what should be expected of these pitchers. Note that this is true regardless of whether the 2013 FIP numbers led to improvements over the ZiPS projections, or a decline compared to ZiPS.

Check out the article from earlier today to get an idea of what is to be expected from each rotation spot. Here is how each spot applies to the Pirates’ 2014 starters.

Francisco Liriano

ZiPS ERA/FIP: 3.21/3.30

2013 Stats: 3.02 ERA / 2.92 FIP

Liriano doesn’t meet the standard of a number one starter based on the MLB average. His numbers from last year were close, and his FIP last year suggests that going forward he would be around a 2.92 ERA. To put that in perspective with the number one rankings, Liriano would have been an ace for about a third of the teams in the league last year. He would have been a number two starter for all but one team in the league last year (the Dodgers).

Liriano’s ZiPS numbers weren’t as optimistic this year, although those are based on his career numbers, and he doesn’t look like that pitcher. I’d say Liriano is closer to his 2013 numbers, making him an ace in a weaker rotation, or one of the best number two starters in the league.

Gerrit Cole

ZiPS ERA/FIP: 3.61/3.76

2013 Stats: 3.22 ERA / 2.91 FIP

Cole is in a similar situation as Liriano. His 2013 numbers are much better than his ZiPS numbers. The 2013 FIP is almost identical to Liriano’s, which means that if he continues that going forward, he would be a number one for about a third of the teams in the league, or a number two for almost every team in the league. I think it’s more likely that Cole repeats his 2013 numbers, rather than putting up the numbers ZiPS projects.

Charlie Morton

ZiPS ERA/FIP: 4.10/4.26

2013 Stats: 3.26 ERA / 3.60 FIP

Morton looked great last year, and this is a case where I would trust his 2013 numbers over his FIP. The FIP considers past stats, which don’t factor in his new sinker, and which factor in his injured 2012 season. Morton’s FIP last year, if he carries that over this year, would be a strong number three starter, or a number two starter in a weak rotation.

Wandy Rodriguez

ZiPS ERA/FIP: 3.83/4.15

2013 Stats: 3.59 ERA / 4.42 FIP

It’s really hard to say what Rodriguez could do, especially with his velocity down in his first two starts, and neither start going well. At this point, I’d go with the lowest projection, which was the 2013 FIP. That FIP would make him one of the best number five starters in the league, or a number four starter in a weak rotation. If you go with the ZiPS projections for this year, he’s either a weak number three, or a strong number four. However, the ZiPS projections take into consideration his previous stats, which probably aren’t relevant with his injury. I’d say the weak 4/strong 5 prediction works best.

Edinson Volquez

ZiPS ERA/FIP: 4.50/4.28

2013 Stats: 5.71 ERA / 4.24 FIP

It’s hard to say what Volquez will do going forward. I’m not going to say he’s fixed after seven innings, but I will leave it open that he could have a good year, and do much better than most are anticipating. His FIP is pretty much the same from last year and the ZiPS projections, so that seems like a safe bet to go with for his projection. That FIP would make him a league average number four starter if he maintains that going forward. I think those types of numbers are achievable.

What Do the Pirates Have?

Liriano and Cole are both guys who project as number one starters in a weak rotation, or some of the best number two starters. Charlie Morton projects as a number three starter in a strong rotation, or a number two in a weak rotation. Edinson Volquez projects as a league average number four starter. Wandy Rodriguez looks like a number four starter in a weak rotation, or a number five starter in a strong rotation.

Putting this in perspective, last year there was only one team in baseball with two starters that had a 2.92 ERA or better. If Liriano and Cole pitch like they did in 2013, and their FIP numbers translate to ERAs this year, then they could do just that. If you add in Morton and his projected 3.60 ERA (using last year’s FIP), then you’ve got an average of a 3.14 ERA over the top three rotation spots. Last year there were eight teams who could match or beat that, and one of them was the Pirates.

The weakest spots for the Pirates are with Volquez and Rodriguez. However, if you add those two in the mix, the Pirates are projected for a 3.63 staff ERA. That would make them one of the top seven teams in the league, based on last year’s numbers. The Pirates rotation was in the top seven last year.

Links and Notes

**Over the weekend I’ve been working on adding new writers to the site. I’m still in that process, but we’ll have some new writers starting this week, mostly at the minor league level. Adding new writers is made possible by purchases on the products page of the site. That’s where you can buy our 2014 Prospect Guide, with information on every player in the minor league system. We also now have a Pirates Prospects logo t-shirt available. It’s my goal to keep all of the website content free, while also adding as much content as possible. The more funds received through these products, the more coverage we can add going forward.

**What Should You Expect From Each Rotation Spot?

**Is There a Spot in the Majors For Jeff Locke?

**Prospect Watch: Three Hits For Alen Hanson, Gregory Polanco and Stetson Allie

**Minor League Schedule: Nick Kingham Gets Second Start

**Vin Mazzaro Accepts Assignment to Indianapolis

**Jameson Taillon Undergoes Successul Tommy John Surgery

**Draft Prospect Watch: Baseball America Updates Rankings

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First Pitch: Are MLB Teams Getting Smarter With Certain Financial Decisions? http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/04/first-pitch-are-mlb-teams-getting-smarter-with-certain-financial-decisions.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/04/first-pitch-are-mlb-teams-getting-smarter-with-certain-financial-decisions.html#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 04:43:28 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=76093 Buster Olney wrote an interesting article earlier today, talking about Stephen Drew, Kendrys Morales, and mentioning Vin Mazzaro clearing waivers. Mazzaro could have been had for just the cost of his $950,000 salary on waivers, but ended up clearing waivers and getting outrighted to Triple-A. Olney had the following quote from one GM to explain the situation.

“Once you go to spring training, you’ve spent almost all the money you’re going to spend,” said one GM. “There aren’t many teams with a lot of extra money lying around.”

I’m not one who believes that MLB teams have infinite money to spend. However, I can’t believe teams have zero dollars to spend, especially teams that are in desperate need of bullpen help. That makes me wonder whether MLB teams are getting smarter about spending the money they do have available.

Mazzaro had a 2.81 ERA last year in 73.2 innings. ERA isn’t a good stat to judge a reliever’s true skill level. But that doesn’t mean teams haven’t used that stat to judge relievers in the past. The better stat to use is xFIP, which showed Mazzaro with a 4.00 last year. That’s not bad, but it amounted to an 0.4 WAR on the season. Out of 135 qualified relievers in the majors last year, Mazzaro’s 4.00 FIP tied for 109th. The fact that Mazzaro has never been better than a 4.55 xFIP in his career might raise some doubt that he can repeat his 2013 success.

If I’m running a team, and I need pitching, I’m not saying I wouldn’t pick up Mazzaro for free on waivers. I think he’s definitely worth his salary. But the upside is limited here. The best case scenario is that you’re getting a guy who pitches like a strong middle reliever. His ERA was better than that last year, but his advanced numbers don’t suggest he will repeat that going forward. It’s not like you’re adding someone like Mark Melancon, who has the potential to be a late inning reliever or a closer.

So are teams getting smarter about spending their limited resources? Or is this just a case specific to Mazzaro?

Olney also talked about the situations surrounding Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew. Morales is a guy who has a good bat, but no defensive value. Drew is a guy who has a pretty poor injury history. It looks like a huge mistake that they both turned down their qualifying offers. Now they’re in a situation where teams don’t want to pay them AND part with a draft pick.

It’s not that I think these teams are wrong. It’s just that I’m not used to teams passing on spending money on guys like Morales and Drew, and doing so in large part due to the value of draft picks. I’m also not used to teams passing on a guy like Vin Mazzaro, who has good traditional numbers, but advanced metrics which don’t make him seem like a massive value. This may just be a small sample size of three cases. Or it could be evidence that MLB teams as a whole are starting to get smarter about some of their financial decisions.

Links and Notes

**Over the weekend I’ve been working on adding new writers to the site. I’m still in that process, but we’ll have some new writers starting this week, mostly at the minor league level. Adding new writers is made possible by purchases onthe products page of the site. That’s where you can buy our 2014 Prospect Guide, with information on every player in the minor league system. We also now have a Pirates Prospects logo t-shirt available. It’s my goal to keep all of the website content free, while also adding as much content as possible. The more funds received through these products, the more coverage we can add going forward.

**Prospect Watch: Sadler With Another Strong Start; McGuire Picks Up Three Hits

**Jeff Locke Dominates With His Fastball in a Rehab Start

**Minor League Schedule: Brandon Cumpton Gets Second Start

**Prospect Highlights: Willy Garcia’s Walk Off Homer; Cody Dickson Strikes Out 7

**An Early Look at the 2015 Pittsburgh Pirates Rotation

**What Do You Want to See on Pirates Prospects? I’ve received a lot of responses on this. To address two of the common suggestions/comments:

1. The podcast will eventually be back once I finish getting other things set up for the season on the site.

2. A lot of people have asked about a Q&A or a chat. I thought a weekly Q&A would be a good addition. Feel free to e-mail any questions to tim@piratesprospects.com.

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First Pitch: Where Can the Pirates Exceed Their Projections? http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/04/first-pitch-where-can-the-pirates-exceed-their-projections.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/04/first-pitch-where-can-the-pirates-exceed-their-projections.html#comments Wed, 09 Apr 2014 05:01:46 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=76006 Earlier today I took a look at the playoff odds for the first time this season. The Pirates were projected just outside of the second Wild Card spot, mostly due to the fact that their poor pre-season projections are still making up a bulk of the projections, despite their early season success. The Pirates are off to a 5-2 start, which really doesn’t mean much this early in the season. The pre-season projections should be making up a bulk of the projections right now, because they’re based on a much larger sample size than the results from this 5-2 run.

I said before the season that there were areas where the Pirates could exceed their projections, with a big area being the pitching staff. I wanted to point out a few of those spots again tonight, as a follow-up to the playoff odds article. I’m including the stats here, but stats at this point are meaningless. A guy can have a horrible average one day, then jump to .300 with one big game. I’ve included analysis and the chances of the player continuing his numbers, which puts the early season results in perspective.

There are three spots in the rotation where the Pirates can get much better production than they’re projected to receive this year. Two of those starters are off to a good start, while one is struggling. Aside from that, we’ve also seen Travis Ishikawa get off to a surprisingly great start in his first week in the first base platoon. Here is a look at those four players, and their odds of giving the Pirates a big, unexpected boost.

 

Travis Ishikawa

Current Stats: .294/.350/.588, 20 PA

ZiPS Projections: .238/.305/.363, 268 PA

Analysis: Ishikawa is off to a great start, carrying over his hot bat from Spring Training. The production so far makes him the top hitter on the team, although that won’t last. The question is whether he can become a good enough hitter to justify his being in the lineup. ZiPS had him projected at a .668 OPS at the start of the season. He has a career .725 OPS, and a career .741 OPS against right-handed hitters. My opinion on him is still that his upside is 2013 Garrett Jones on offense, with better defense at first base. And I don’t think the defense is enough to make that offense worthwhile. But I’d be happy to end up wrong.

Odds of Continuing Current Numbers: Very Low

 

Edinson Volquez

Current Stats: 1.17 ERA in 7.2 IP, 7.0 K/9, 1.2 BB/9

ZiPS Projections: 4.50 ERA in 158 IP, 7.2 K/9, 3.9 BB/9

Analysis: Volquez threw two innings in relief, followed by a great start on Sunday. Is he the next successful reclamation project for Ray Searage? It’s way too early to tell. I’d say the odds are low that Volquez will become this year’s version of Francisco Liriano. I do think he can pitch well enough to be a productive pitcher, putting up at least league-average numbers over 180 innings this year. The key for Volquez will be his fastball command. He’s got great secondary pitches, and when his fastball command is on, he sets those pitches up well. When his command is off, there’s not a thing that a plus curveball or changeup can do to help him.

Odds of Continuing Current Numbers: Depends on your view of Ray Searage

 

Charlie Morton

Current Stats: 3.75 ERA in 12.0 IP, 8.3 K/9, 1.5 BB/9

ZiPS Projections: 4.01 ERA in 117 IP, 5.9 K/9, 3.2 BB/9

Analysis: (Note: I put Morton on this list before his game against the Cubs, or more specifically, against Starlin Castro. I think he could do better than his projections, so I’m keeping him here, despite the poor outing.) Before the season, when the projection systems released their season predictions, I mentioned that Morton had a great chance of exceeding his projections. The reason for this is because most projections are based on career stats. Morton’s career stats are largely irrelevant, since he had his mechanics overhauled in 2011. He was injured in 2012, and last year he returned from Tommy John surgery to look like a solid number three starter with the new mechanics. In most cases, the career stats would trump the recent history. In Morton’s case, his recent numbers show his true talent level.

Odds of Continuing Current Numbers: High

 

Wandy Rodriguez

Current Stats: 4.50 ERA in 6.0 IP, 7.5 K/9, 1.5 BB/9

ZiPS Projections: 3.72 ERA in 115 IP, 6.4 K/9, 2.4 BB/9

Analysis: Unlike the first three, this is a case where you’ve got a guy who played below his projections during the first week of the season (although it was only one start). Rodriguez is in the same situation as Morton. His projections are based off his career numbers, but his injury last year means that you can throw those career numbers out the window. In his first start of the year, his velocity was down, which is a bigger concern than his stat line. Rodriguez is healthy, but there’s the concern that he’s not going to be as good as the pre-injury Wandy.

Odds of Continuing Current Numbers: Medium

 

Links and Notes

**Over the weekend I’ve been working on adding new writers to the site. I’m still in that process, but we’ll have some new writers starting this week, mostly at the minor league level. Adding new writers is made possible by purchases onthe products page of the site. That’s where you can buy our 2014 Prospect Guide, with information on every player in the minor league system. We also now have a Pirates Prospects logo t-shirt available. It’s my goal to keep all of the website content free, while also adding as much content as possible. The more funds received through these products, the more coverage we can add going forward.

**Prospect Watch: Stetson Allie and JaCoby Jones Lead a Night of Home Runs

**Minor League Schedule: Jeff Locke Starts For Bradenton

**Vin Mazzaro Clears Waivers, Has Three Days to Accept Assignment to Indianapolis

**The First Look at the Pirates Playoff Odds in 2014

**How the Cardinals View the Pirates as Competitors

**Draft Prospect Watch: Justus Sheffield Throws No-Hitter

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First Pitch: The Pirates Farm System Getting Hammered With Injuries http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/04/first-pitch-the-pirates-farm-system-getting-hammered-with-injuries.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/04/first-pitch-the-pirates-farm-system-getting-hammered-with-injuries.html#comments Tue, 08 Apr 2014 04:00:19 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=75957 The success of a farm system depends on a lot of things. You need good drafting. You need to sign talented players in the international ranks. You need good scouts to identify talent in both places. After the players are in the system, you need to develop them.

But even with all of the things that can be controlled, you still need luck to have a successful farm system. Part of that luck involves keeping everyone healthy. The Pirates haven’t been so fortunate in that regard this season.

Over the weekend, it was announced that Jameson Taillon would have Tommy John surgery, putting him out for the 2014 season. On Sunday, the West Virginia Power game saw Harold Ramirez and Barrett Barnes go down with leg injuries, and both were placed on the DL today. Those two injuries give the Pirates six injuries to their top 20 prospects, including two major injuries. Here is an updated rundown of our top 20 prospects, along with their level, notes, and their injury status, if applicable. All links take you to their top 20 scouting reports.

1. Gregory Polanco, OF

Status: Healthy

Level: Indianapolis

Notes: Expected to arrive in Pittsburgh by mid-season.

2. Jameson Taillon, RHP

Status: Injured

Injury: Tommy John Surgery

Recovery Notes: Taillon will miss the 2014 season. He could be back for the start of the 2015 season.

3. Tyler Glasnow, RHP

Status: Injured

Injury: Lower Back Tightness

Recovery Notes: Glasnow has been pitching in extended Spring Training, building up his innings to get ready for the season in Bradenton. Depending on how his next starts go, he could be in the Bradenton rotation in a week or two.

4. Austin Meadows, OF

Status: Injured

Injury: Hamstring

Recovery Notes: Meadows will probably miss the first month of the season, then will join West Virginia.

5. Alen Hanson, SS

Status: Healthy

Level: Altoona

Notes: Should spend most of the season in Altoona, with the chance for a mid-season debut in 2015.

6. Nick Kingham, RHP

Status: Healthy

Level: Altoona

Notes: The injury to Taillon could have opened a path for him to the majors this year.

7. Reese McGuire, C

Status: Healthy

Level: West Virginia

Notes: Will spend the entire season in West Virginia.

8. Josh Bell, OF

Status: Healthy

Level: Bradenton

Notes: Has a chance to move up to Altoona in the second half with good first half production in Bradenton.

9. Luis Heredia, RHP

Status: Healthy

Level: West Virginia

Notes: Could move up to Bradenton at some point this year, although the main focus is getting him a full year pitching every fifth day.

10. Harold Ramirez, OF

Status: Injured

Injury: Hamstring?

Recovery Notes: No official word yet on the injury for Ramirez, although he left the game clutching his hamstring and went on the disabled list today.

11. Tony Sanchez, C

Status: Healthy

Level: Pittsburgh

Notes: Currently the backup catcher in the majors, although that could change when Chris Stewart returns.

12. Clay Holmes, RHP

Status: Injured

Injury: Tommy John Surgery

Recovery Notes: Holmes had Tommy John surgery in mid-March, which means he will be out for the 2014 season, and is expected to return around Spring Training next year.

13. Stolmy Pimentel, RHP

Status: Healthy

Level: Pittsburgh

Notes: Pitching in long relief, and could have a shot at the rotation at some point this year.

14. Andrew Lambo, OF

Status: Healthy

Level: Indianapolis

Notes: Was sent down to get over his struggles from Spring Training. If that happens, he could have another shot at the majors this year.

15. Joely Rodriguez, LHP

Status: Healthy

Level: Altoona

Notes: Should spend most of the year in Altoona, with a chance to go to Indianapolis in 2015, and possibly arrive in the majors that summer.

16. Blake Taylor, LHP

Status: Healthy

Level: Extended Spring Training

Notes: Could be on the Jamestown roster this summer.

17. Cody Dickson, LHP

Status: Healthy

Level: West Virginia

Notes: Breakout candidate who could jump to Bradenton in the second half of the 2014 season.

18. Barrett Barnes, OF

Status: Injured

Injury: Hamstring?

Recovery Notes: Just like Ramirez, the injury for Barnes isn’t confirmed. However, he went on the DL today. He suffered several hamstring injuries last year, and so far his injury history has prevented him from spending consistent time at any level, which has hurt his development.

19. JaCoby Jones, SS

Status: Healthy

Level: West Virginia

Notes: Making the transition to being a full-time shortstop.

20. Michael De La Cruz, OF

Status: Healthy

Level: Extended Spring Training

Notes: Will play in the GCL this year during his first year in the US.

The Injuries

The Pirates have two major injuries, with Taillon and Holmes out for the year with Tommy John surgery. They have a few minor injuries that we won’t remember in a few weeks, such as Glasnow and Meadows. It’s too early to know how long Ramirez and Barnes will be out. The injury to Barnes is a bigger concern, since it’s just another in a long line of leg injuries for the outfielder, which has prevented him from developing in the lower levels.

Currently the Pirates are missing three of their top five prospects, four of their top ten prospects, and six of their top 20 prospects due to injuries. Because of that, the success of the farm system this year isn’t looking good. Fortunately, these aren’t long-term issues. Taillon and Holmes will be back in 2015, and shouldn’t lose any of their upside. The other guys should be back at some point this year, with a few of them expected back early. Until then, things are going to be busy in the training rooms at Pirate City.

Links and Notes

**Over the weekend I’ve been working on adding new writers to the site. I’m still in that process, but we’ll have some new writers starting this week, mostly at the minor league level. Adding new writers is made possible by purchases on the products page of the site. That’s where you can buy our 2014 Prospect Guide, with information on every player in the minor league system. We also now have a Pirates Prospects logo t-shirt available. It’s my goal to keep all of the website content free, while also adding as much content as possible. The more funds received through these products, the more coverage we can add going forward.

**Prospect Highlights: Polanco Crushes a HR, McGuire Shows Off a Cannon

**Minor League Schedule: Monday Rainouts Lead To Busy Tuesday

**Minor Moves: Harold Ramirez and Barrett Barnes To The Disabled List

**Tony Sanchez, Chris Stewart, and the Depth vs Best 25 Debate

**Top Performers: Homers For Polanco, Bell, Jhang, and Osuna in Week One

**Top Performers: Even Without Taillon and Glasnow, Pirates Get Strong Pitching

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First Pitch: You Can’t Stop Pitching Injuries, You Can Only Hope to Contain Them http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/04/first-pitch-you-cant-stop-pitching-injuries-you-can-only-hope-to-contain-them.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/04/first-pitch-you-cant-stop-pitching-injuries-you-can-only-hope-to-contain-them.html#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 04:00:56 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=75856 Once upon a time, it seemed like every top pitching prospect the Pittsburgh Pirates had would go down with a major injury. Bobby Bradley, Kris Benson, Sean Burnett, Bryan Bullington, John Van Benschoten, and plenty of others were plagued by injuries. Some of those injuries were career altering. But over the last several years, that trend has disappeared.

Under Neal Huntington, the Pirates have been extremely cautious with their pitchers. They promote clean mechanics. They use very conservative pitch counts and innings limits. They restrict individual throwing programs (i.e., long toss beyond the standard 120 feet) until they know that a pitcher can safely use that throwing program.

And yet, as we saw today with Jameson Taillon needing Tommy John surgery, injuries to pitchers are inevitable.

The Pirates’ Recent History

With help from Baseball Heat Maps, I gathered the list of Pittsburgh Pirates who have had Tommy John surgery since 2008, when Huntington took over and implemented the changes.

Jimmy Barthmaier

5/12/2009

Spent five years in Houston’s farm system. Joined the Pirates in 2008.
Tyler Yates

7/14/2009

Spent 10 years between Oakland, New York Mets, and Atlanta systems before joining the Pirates in 2008.
Donnie Veal

6/4/2010

Was in the Cubs system for four years, then was a Rule 5 pick for the Pirates for the 2009 season.
Joe Beimel

5/1/2012

When he signed, had a nine year MLB career that started with the Pirates. Signed in 2012.
Ryan Beckman

6/12/2012

Drafted by the Pirates in the 18th round of the 2009 draft.
Charlie Morton

6/21/2012

Pitched 7.5 years with the Braves before joining the Pirates in 2009. About three years with the Pirates before the surgery.
Jeff Inman

2013

Drafted by the Pirates in the 12th round of the 2009 draft. Was injury prone, causing him to fall in the draft.
Kyle McPherson

7/10/2013

Drafted by the Pirates in the 14th round of the 2007 draft. Only pitched 66 innings before Huntington arrived.
Clay Holmes

3/19/2014

Drafted by the Pirates in the 9th round of the 2011 draft.
Jameson Taillon

2014

Drafted by the Pirates in the 1st round of the 2010 draft.

The injury that leads to Tommy John surgery involves the ulnar collateral ligament. This ligament doesn’t get damaged from one pitch, or in one year. It usually wears down over time. For that reason, people like Barthmaier, Yates, Veal, and Beimel aren’t really the fault of the Pirates. Charlie Morton would be borderline, since he did spend a significant amount of time with the Pirates before the injury.

The notable guys here are Beckman, Inman, Holmes, and Taillon. They are the guys who were drafted and fully developed since Huntington took over. You could add Kyle McPherson to this list, since he didn’t throw a lot in 2007. If we’re going to dismiss Tyler Yates over the fact that the Pirates probably didn’t do much to him in one year, then we can’t ignore McPherson because of his one year under Littlefield.

I wanted to get an idea of the percentage of Pirates pitching prospects who have been completely developed under Huntington, and who have had Tommy John surgery. First, I limited the field to the 2008-2011 draft years. I stopped at 2011, because the 2013 group has barely pitched, and the 2012 group has just one full season so far. These two years could really skew the results. On that same note, I only included pitchers in the top 20 rounds. Most pitchers after round 20 are only drafted to fill a role for about a year. Adding those guys could once again skew the data.

The Pirates drafted and signed 28 pitchers in the top 20 rounds from 2008-2011. Of those pitchers, only four (Beckman, Inman, Holmes, Taillon) have had surgery. That’s 14.3%. By comparison, Will Carroll of Bleacher Report did a study that showed 124 out of 360 (34.4%) pitchers who started the year in the majors last year have had Tommy John at some point in their careers. I don’t know if the rate is the same for minor league pitchers, but that 34.4% is much higher than what the Pirates have experienced with their fully developed players.

The Preventative Methods the Pirates Take

Jameson Taillon is a perfect example of how a team can take every precaution, and still see a player come down with an injury. Will Carroll wrote another article, detailing the realities and myths surrounding Tommy John surgery. In the article, Carroll quotes Dr. Frank Jobe — the man who pioneered the surgery — on why more injuries seem to be occurring lately. The entire article is an excellent read, but I wanted to focus on this quote for the purposes of this article (bold parts are for my emphasis):

The numbers are high for high school, college and minor-league pitchers, too. That it’s needed at all on middle school pitchers is mind-boggling, but the procedure has been done on those as young as 13. Andrews was doing as many as 150 UCL surgeries back in 2003, and that number stayed about the same from 2004-07. The pace has not slowed since then.

Jobe has an answer to the question, “Why?”

“Overuse,” he said simply during our recent interview. “It’s a little bit surprising [that Tommy John is still frequent]. I think it can be prevented, we can monitor how much they throw, make sure their mechanics are perfect. I think that people like Jim Andrews still work on some exercises that will determine how many pitches are suitable.”

In Taillon’s case, the Pirates took preventative methods that involved limiting how much he throws, and improving his mechanics.

Innings and Pitch Count Limits

In 2011, Taillon made his pro debut in West Virginia. The Pirates were extremely cautious with him, to the point that they drew a lot of national criticism for their approach. He started the year in extended Spring Training, in attempt to avoid pitching in some of the coldest weather in West Virginia. He was on a strict innings count when he arrived in West Virginia, being limited to 4-5 innings max in every one of his starts. This was an attempt to limit him on the season, holding him to 92.2 innings in his first full year.

The following year, the Pirates sent Taillon to full season ball right away. They didn’t have to worry about cold weather in Bradenton in April, which helped. However, he didn’t see a big innings increase. Taillon threw 142 innings between High-A and Double-A in 2012, which was a year-to-year increase of about 50. He still saw single game limitations, only going beyond six innings on three different occasions.

Taillon didn’t see much of an innings increase in 2013, throwing 147.2 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. He was slated to go to the AFL over the off-season to get additional innings, but left after getting a minor groin injury in his first start.

The Pirates have strict pitch counts for their pitchers. For Taillon, that meant an extremely strict 75 pitch limit in 2011. He increased that a bit in 2012, although the Pirates didn’t budge on innings when he was efficient, as shown in one early season start where he had less than 70 pitches in six innings. Usually the Pirates increase from 75 to 85 to 100 in the first three years. Last year Taillon was throwing 92 or more pitches in five of his six Triple-A outings. Four of those outings saw 96+ pitches.

The Pirates are so strict about this that they fired one of their pitching coaches in 2008 for going one pitch over the limit. That may have been to set an example during year one of the new management group, but the focus on limiting workloads hasn’t changed.

Cleaner Mechanics

I first talked with Taillon during Spring Training in 2011. He hadn’t pitched an inning yet in pro ball, and yet he told me that the Pirates were doing something to eliminate a drop in his delivery. I later learned that Taillon’s delivery is what is commonly referred to as a “drop and drive” delivery. Some pitchers have had success with this delivery, with Tom Seaver being a big example. However, in most cases, the delivery can lead to a pitcher getting hit around, and potential arm issues.

The “drop and drive” delivery involves a pitcher dropping his back knee before going forward to the plate. Most pitchers keep their back leg straight, or slightly bent, allowing them to transfer their momentum better to deliver the ball to the plate. When you “drop and drive”, you eliminate a lot of momentum the body generates, putting more strain on the arm to generate the momentum needed to throw hard.

I don’t know if the Pirates were working on Taillon’s drop to avoid potential injuries. I do know that the Pirates were working with Taillon on reducing the drop for fastball command purposes. One of the downsides to the “drop and drive” is that it can cause a pitcher to flatten his fastball out, and can make it nearly impossible for a pitcher to work down in the zone. That’s something the Pirates stress with pitchers, and reducing Taillon’s drop has helped him throw at the knees more often. However, with the injury risk that a “drop and drive” delivery carries, it can’t hurt to reduce that drop, and in the process, potentially reduce the strain put on the arm.

TINSTAAPP

TINSTAAPP stands for “There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect”. It was coined by Baseball Prospectus. It doesn’t specifically focus on injuries, but the fact that every pitcher is prone to injuries leads to the idea that no pitching prospect can be trusted.

I don’t really believe in this, and I don’t think it’s meant to be taken literally, to the point where you don’t actually invest in pitching. If the Pirates didn’t invest in pitching, they might have avoided this situation where their first round pick in 2010 was injured. However, they would have also missed out on Gerrit Cole in 2011, and he’s currently looking like an evolving ace in the majors.

What we know is that every single pitcher is at risk of a major injury. There are steps a team can take to try and limit those injuries, and the Pirates have done a good job of this. But as we are seeing with Taillon, you can’t totally eliminate major injuries to pitchers, even if you’re extremely cautious. The solution? Draft a ton of pitching, take a conservative approach to keep the injury rates down, and hope that enough of them work out to fill your Major League needs.

Links and Notes

**The 2014 Prospect Guide is in stock on the products page of the site. The book features profiles, scouting reports, and grades on every player in the minor league system, including our top 50 prospects. The Prospect Guide has been mentioned as a resource several times on the Pirates’ broadcast, and has been purchased as a source of reference by opposing MLB front office members, opposing scouts, and media members. If it’s a good resource for them, it’s a good resource for you. You can order your Prospect Guide on the products page of the site.

**How To Use and Navigate Pirates Prospects

**Pirates Prospects Shirts Are Now Available

**Jameson Taillon to Have Tommy John Surgery

**Looking at the Pirates Pitching Depth With Jameson Taillon Out For the Year

**Week In Review: Who Needs to Step Up With Jameson Taillon Out?

**Prospect Watch: Gregory Polanco Homers, Nick Kingham Throws Six Shutout Innings

**Harold Ramirez and Barrett Barnes Injured in West Virginia Game

**Minor League Schedule: Phil Irwin Gets First Start

**Pirates Have Four Players Among Youngest In Their League

**Draft Prospect Watch: Louisville’s Nick Burdi Is Worth Watching

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First Pitch: Do the Pirates Now Have a Defined Window to Contend? http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/04/first-pitch-do-the-pirates-now-have-a-defined-window-to-contend.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/04/first-pitch-do-the-pirates-now-have-a-defined-window-to-contend.html#comments Sun, 06 Apr 2014 04:00:32 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=75736 Today the Pittsburgh Pirates announced the extensions of General Manager Neal Huntington and Manager Clint Hurdle. Both were extended through the 2017 season, with options for the 2018 season. Coincidentally, that puts both guys in the same boat as Andrew McCutchen, who is also under contract through the 2017 season, with an option for 2018. If you believe in “windows” for small market teams, then that certainly would mark the end of the window for the Pirates to compete, or at least a big point where the window could possibly end.

Huntington has been with the Pirates since late 2007. When he took over, the Pirates had one of the worst teams in baseball, and one of the worst farm systems. Last year the Pirates won 94 games, made it to the NLDS, and this year they’re ranked as having one of the top three farm systems in baseball. Despite complaints over the off-season that the Pirates didn’t do enough as contenders, they’re still considered a contender, and a lot of prediction systems have them competing for and winning one of the Wild Card spots.

Starting this year, the Pirates are expected to graduate at least one top 100 prospect to the majors each summer. This year it will be Gregory Polanco, along with Jameson Taillon if he ends up healthy. Next year projects to be Alen Hanson, Nick Kingham, and possibly Tyler Glasnow. After the 2015 season the Pirates could see Josh Bell, Austin Meadows, Reese McGuire, Luis Heredia, and more in future years. So not only do they have a talented young team now, but they have a lot of highly talented young players on the way.

That means that the Pirates should be competitive for as long as McCutchen is under team control, which is now as long as Huntington and Hurdle are under team control. They could even remain contenders after McCutchen leaves, and disprove the idea of a “window” for small market teams to compete. The biggest part of that will be on Huntington, as I think the General Manager has a much bigger hand in the success and failure of a team than the Manager.

That said, I don’t think there’s much Huntington can do at this point to focus on 2015-2018. I think he’s already laid the pieces in place to try and contend during those years. The biggest challenge for him now will be continuing to build the team, expanding beyond those years. McCutchen is likely gone after 2018. Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez are free agents after the 2016 season. Charlie Morton is under team control through the 2017 season. Gerrit Cole is under control through the 2019 season. Aside from Cole, the only person who is under control beyond the 2018 season is Starling Marte.

To contend beyond 2018, Huntington is going to need a lot of the current top prospects to work out, but he’s also going to need to keep adding to that group by giving the farm system a boost. That will be harder with the Pirates picking lower in the draft and getting less money to spend internationally. However, they have had success with middle round picks, and their best international signings cost very little money.

Worrying about 2019 and beyond is hardly something to be concerned about. What happens leading up to 2018 is a priority, and even before that, the main priority is 2014. Huntington doesn’t have to really do anything different to try and build beyond 2018. What he has been doing has been working, and he shouldn’t change that approach. The approach he has is what took the Pirates from one of the worst teams in baseball with one of the worst farm systems, to a contender with one of the best farm systems. That’s why he deserved the extension through the 2018 season, to allow him the chance to see the team and organization that he’s built play out.

The 2018 season might mark the window. But I think it’s more likely that the Pirates will continue to operate in a way under Huntington that will stretch the window beyond any player and any contract in the system.

Links and Notes

**The 2014 Prospect Guide is in stock on the products page of the site. The book features profiles, scouting reports, and grades on every player in the minor league system, including our top 50 prospects. The Prospect Guide has been mentioned as a resource several times on the Pirates’ broadcast, and has been purchased as a source of reference by opposing MLB front office members, opposing scouts, and media members. If it’s a good resource for them, it’s a good resource for you. You can order your Prospect Guide on the products page of the site.

**How To Use and Navigate Pirates Prospects

**Pirates Prospects Shirts Are Now Available

**Prospect Watch: Six Shutout Innings For Brandon Cumpton, Josh Bell Homers

**Pirates Announce Three-Year Extensions For Huntington and Hurdle

**The Pirates Destroy the Cardinals 12-2, as Told Through Photos

**Minor League Schedule: Heredia and Kingham Make Debuts

**Draft Prospect Watch: Carlos Rodon Has Trouble With Clemson

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First Pitch: Can the Pirates Contend With the Cardinals? http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/04/first-pitch-can-the-pirates-contend-with-the-cardinals.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/04/first-pitch-can-the-pirates-contend-with-the-cardinals.html#comments Sat, 05 Apr 2014 05:22:12 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=75652 Tonight’s blowout victory by the Pittsburgh Pirates over the St. Louis Cardinals was just one game, and shouldn’t be taken as anything more than just one game. But I did think that the game tonight was ironic, considering the off-season narratives for the two teams.

On one side, you had the Cardinals, who got a lot of praise (myself included) for upgrading their defense on paper over the off-season. They added Peter Bourjos in center field, added Jhonny Peralta at shortstop, and moved players around to positions where they have had more success, such as Matt Carpenter moving from second base to third base. The Cardinals already had a good offense and a good pitching staff. Their biggest weakness last year was their defense, and it was easy to think that upgrading the defense would pretty much ensure that they’d return to being one of the best teams in the NL, if not the best team in the NL.

On the other side, you had the Pirates, who did very little over the off-season. They lost A.J. Burnett, and had holes at first base and right field. They went with the “wait for Gregory Polanco” approach in right, and didn’t make a splash at first base. The end result is that you had a similar team to the 2013 season — good pitching, good defense, and an offense that is often inconsistent, leading to a lot of stretches where the Pirates are forced to rely heavily on their pitching and defense to keep the score low enough to win.

And then tonight, the Pirates offense exploded, while the Cardinals didn’t have the best game defensively. I don’t think this changes the off-season narratives for either team. I like the Cardinals’ defense better this year, and I think there are some legit concerns with the offense for the Pirates. However, off-season narratives have a funny way of getting blown out of proportion due to the length of the off-season.

When you think about the off-season, there’s very little to talk about, and a lot of time to talk about it. This means you’ll end up rehashing the same 2-3 topics over and over again for six months from the end of one season to the start of the following season. And if a situation doesn’t change, then somehow the team gets worse as the off-season goes along. Don’t add a player in November? People get concerned. Don’t add a player by December? The concern grows. Don’t add a player by Spring Training? Start talking about how the team can’t win without addressing this position. On the flip side, you could have a situation like the Cardinals, where you address a key area, and the constant talk about that addition leads to increased optimism about the team.

Then the regular season starts and perspective kicks in. A win like the win tonight shouldn’t be extrapolated into some grand conclusion where the Pirates are a better team than the Cardinals, and all of their offensive problems are solved. But it does serve as a reminder. It reminds us that even the best teams in the league still lose 40% of the time. It reminds us that the Pirates held their own against the Cardinals last year, going 10-9 in the regular season, and taking them to game five of the best of five NLDS. It reminds us that, even though they’ve got some holes that weren’t addressed over the off-season, the Pirates have a lot of good players on this team, and a lot of reasons who they were contenders last year.

So should you draw conclusions from one game? Absolutely not. But if you can perpetuate the same theory over and over during the off-season, then I don’t see why you can’t ask what one game might be proving, all while using that one game as a small portion of analysis on the team — analysis which is much stronger than the guessing games done over the off-season.

 

Links and Notes

**The 2014 Prospect Guide is in stock on the products page of the site. The book features profiles, scouting reports, and grades on every player in the minor league system, including our top 50 prospects. The Prospect Guide has been mentioned as a resource several times on the Pirates’ broadcast, and has been purchased as a source of reference by opposing MLB front office members, opposing scouts, and media members. If it’s a good resource for them, it’s a good resource for you. You can order your Prospect Guide on the products page of the site.

**How To Use and Navigate Pirates Prospects

**Pirates Prospects Shirts Are Now Available

**Prospect Watch: Casey Sadler and Chad Kuhl Dominate With Their Sinkers

**Minor League Schedule: Doubleheaders For Altoona and Indianapolis

**Draft Prospect Watch: Hoffman vs Lemond Highlights Friday Night

**Stetson Allie Joins the Altoona Curve

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First Pitch: The Death of Free Agency http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/04/first-pitch-the-death-of-free-agency.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/04/first-pitch-the-death-of-free-agency.html#comments Fri, 04 Apr 2014 04:03:43 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=75433 Yesterday the Tampa Bay Rays agreed to an extension with right-handed pitcher Chris Archer, getting control of two of his free agent years in the process. Archer becomes the 15th player during the 2014 calendar year to sign an extension that buys out control of at least one free agent year. The Pittsburgh Pirates made one of those deals, extending Starling Marte two weeks ago.

There have been a lot of extensions of this nature around baseball this off-season. In total there have been 19 extensions that bought out control of at least one year of free agency. In total, MLB teams have combined to guarantee $1.018 billion dollars since the start of the off-season on these extensions. That doesn’t include the potential amount of the option years, which are usually the most expensive part of the deal if they’re picked up.

This isn’t a new trend in baseball. Here are the extension counts, per year, that bought out at least one year of free agency.

2014: 15 (through 4/3)

2013: 19

2012: 35

2011: 29

2010: 29

2009: 16

2008: 36

The 2013 season was a down year. The 2014 season looks to be right on pace with other years if this trend continues, and the upcoming off-season should see the numbers rise.

The trend here is that MLB teams are locking up a lot of good, young players through their most valuable years. As a result, the free agent market has been depleted. Just take a look at the three guys the Pirates have locked up in recent years.

Andrew McCutchen – He would have been a free agent following the 2015 season had the Pirates not extended him. That would have made him a free agent entering his age 29 season. The Pirates bought out three years of control, which means his first free agent year will be his age 32 season. McCutchen will probably still get a huge deal when he’s a free agent. However, that deal will probably look bad toward the end of the contract as he gets older. With the extension, the Pirates got control of the three best free agent years you can get from McCutchen. There could still be some additional quality free agent years when he’s eligible, but that might not be worth the overall price that teams will have to pay.

Charlie Morton – He was set to be a free agent following the 2014 season. The Pirates signed him to an extension that bought out control of three of his free agent years. Instead of being a free agent at age 31, he will now be eligible for free agency at age 34. Like McCutchen, he could still get a multi-year deal. However, the Pirates got his most valuable years, without having to take on any of the years near his mid-30s (the age 33 season is an option year).

Starling Marte – This is another situation like McCutchen. The Pirates would have had Marte under team control through his age 29 season. They now have him under team control through his age 32 season. That makes him a free agent for his age 33 season, and gives the Pirates his best free agent years.

Beyond the Box Score did a study a few years ago, noting the aging curves for hitters. Most hitters peaked around ages 25-26, and really started to decline around age 32. They did point out that fast players have a higher peak and didn’t decline as quickly. A fast player like Andrew McCutchen or Starling Marte at ages 33-35 would be similar to other players at age 31. Likewise, FanGraphs did a study on pitcher aging curves, noting a significant decline around the age 32 season for most pitchers.

The Pirates originally would have had McCutchen through age 28, Morton through age 30, and Marte through age 29. Instead, they extended those three, getting team control of their most valuable free agent years. They also have options on the age 32-33 years for most of these guys, limiting the risk if those guys do see a decline.

This isn’t just the Pirates. This is every team around baseball. The result is that so many young players are giving up their best free agent years in extensions. As we saw with Robinson Cano, those players can still get paid, even after giving up their ages 29 and 30 free agent seasons under an extension. But Cano will eventually be an example of a horrible contract, as he probably isn’t immune to age-related decline.

These extensions have basically killed the value of free agency. If you want a good player, you’re going to have to pay big money for a lot of his least productive years, just to get the few productive years he has remaining. Sometimes, the best players don’t even reach free agency, as we’ve seen with the pre-free agency extensions given to Joey Votto and Clayton Kershaw. Even most of the mid-level free agents require that you sign a few of their least valuable years. There is still some value to be found in free agency, but the market has largely been depleted by all of the extensions we’ve been seeing in recent years.

All extension data courtesy MLBTR’s extension tracker.

Links and Notes

**The 2014 Prospect Guide is in stock on the products page of the site. The book features profiles, scouting reports, and grades on every player in the minor league system, including our top 50 prospects. The Prospect Guide has been mentioned as a resource several times on the Pirates’ broadcast, and has been purchased as a source of reference by opposing MLB front office members, opposing scouts, and media members. If it’s a good resource for them, it’s a good resource for you. You can order your Prospect Guide on the products page of the site.

**Here are our previews for the 2014 minor league season:

**Prospect Watch: Josh Bell Picks Up Two Hits and an RBI in Bradenton Debut

**Minor League Schedule: Nick Kingham Tries Again For Season Debut

**The 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates Organizational Probable Pitching Chart

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First Pitch: Picking Two Pirates Breakout Candidates From Each Level http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/04/first-pitch-picking-two-pirates-breakout-candidates-from-each-level.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/04/first-pitch-picking-two-pirates-breakout-candidates-from-each-level.html#comments Thu, 03 Apr 2014 05:12:01 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=75468 The 2014 Minor League baseball season begins today. John Dreker has a schedule of the Opening Day starters in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ organization, with Nick Kingham being the highlight in Altoona. We will be releasing our previews of each level in the morning, and starting the nightly Prospect Watch after all of the day’s games are over. To prepare for the season, let’s take a look at two breakout candidates from each level.

Indianapolis

It’s hard to call a guy in Triple-A a “breakout candidate”. Most guys in Triple-A have already broken out as prospects, and if they haven’t, they probably never will. There are different directions I could go with this. I could mention the two players who could help the Pirates the most this summer. Those would be pretty obvious (although the pitcher choice might be interesting with the uncertainty surrounding Jameson Taillon). But to keep with the “sleeper” theme of this article, I’ll look at two guys who could surprise with a chance at the majors this year. These guys won’t be high upside guys, but they could be guys who could contribute in Pittsburgh this summer, much like Kris Johnson last year.

Pitcher: Phil Irwin

I don’t know if this is a deep sleeper. I always mention Irwin as a guy who could help the Pirates in the majors as a starter, along with Brandon Cumpton and Jeff Locke. Cumpton had success last year in a limited amount of time, while Locke had a great first half and a poor second half to his season. Neither of those guys would be a surprise to mention as rotation depth candidates. Irwin just had one start in the majors last year, then went down with an injury after that outing. He hasn’t shown his best, and his best has the upside of a number four starter. He could be a good depth option if the Pirates run into injury problems again this year.

Hitter: Jaff Decker

This pick was hard, because the “sleeper” label pretty much eliminates a lot of the top guys at the level. Then you’ve got the organizational guys who were signed to minor league deals and have limited upside. I picked Decker because I don’t trust the health/performance of Travis Snider and Jose Tabata. I could see Decker up in the majors at some point this year, and possibly getting some starts if he’s up early enough in the season. I like his ability to get on base throughout his minor league career, and he’s not a bad outfielder, with the ability to play center field.

Altoona

Just like Indianapolis, it’s hard to pick a breakout candidate here. It’s not impossible though. I left off guys who could be considered “top 100 breakout candidates”. That would be someone like Nick Kingham or Joely Rodriguez, who already gets national recognition, but doesn’t currently fall in many top 100 lists. The picks for Altoona were pretty easy, and include one of my overall breakout candidates.

Pitcher: Adrian Sampson

I saw Sampson a lot last year in Bradenton. He’s got some good stuff, with a 91-94 MPH fastball, a nice curveball that is an out pitch, and a developing changeup. Bradenton didn’t have the best infield last year, which led to Sampson’s FIP being about a run lower than his ERA. His fastball was a bit too hittable at times, but he showed great control, and the three pitch mix still has a lot of promise. The Pirates have been aggressive with his promotions because of the stuff, and that stuff makes him a sleeper to watch once again this year.

Hitter: Stetson Allie

Allie is my breakout pick for the entire system this year. I saw him at the end of last season with Bradenton, and the results didn’t look good. He lost some weight over the off-season, and fixed his swing. Early in camp he was showing off effortless power, which was good enough to rival what I saw out of Pedro Alvarez when he was coming up through the system. There’s no question that Allie has the best raw power of any prospect in the organization. He also strikes out a lot. As we saw with Alvarez, that’s not a problem if you can justify the strikeouts with a lot of home runs and extra base hits. Allie’s swing looked great this year in camp, and I could see him hitting for a lot of power this year in the jump to Altoona, possibly giving a long-term answer at first base.

Bradenton

The two guys who have the highest upside in Bradenton aren’t sleepers or breakout candidates at all. Tyler Glasnow broke out last year, and will be joining the Marauders after a few weeks in extended Spring Training. Josh Bell hasn’t really broken out to his full potential, but he had a good season last year, and still ranks as one of the top 100 prospects in the game on some lists. For this level I picked two guys who have the upside to reach the majors as starters/starting pitchers, but might not have impact potential.

Pitcher: Ryan Hafner

He had one of the best strikeout rates in the system last year as a reliever. During Spring Training, I wrote about how he has been overhauling his game in the last year. He moved from a four-seam/curveball guy to a sinker/slider combo. He’s also been working on improving his changeup while getting ready to move to the rotation. The Pirates will have him piggybacking with Pat Ludwig, who is another long-reliever who made the jump to the rotation at the end of the year. This will help Hafner ease into the rotation without seeing a massive increase in innings. He was dominant in the long relief role last year, and if he can carry that over to the rotation, he’ll be an interesting starting pitching prospect to follow.

Hitter: Jin-De Jhang

The Pirates skipped Jhang past West Virginia and straight to Bradenton, allowing Reese McGuire to be the everyday catcher in West Virginia. Jhang is one of the best pure hitters in the system, and he’s got some power potential, with the upside of 20 homers down the line. He’s got to manage his weight so that he can stick at the catcher position. He has done a good job of that the last few years, slimming down and adding some agility. He’s got a great arm behind the plate. He could eventually be a two-way catcher, with his bat giving him a lot of value at the position.

West Virginia

This is where the Pirates have had their big breakout players in each of the last two seasons, and it looks like they’re primed for another year of breakout candidates again. While Indianapolis has guys who have mostly reached their potential, West Virginia is loaded with guys who are mostly nothing but potential. I’m going to leave out Austin Meadows, Reese McGuire, Harold Ramirez, Luis Heredia, and even Barrett Barnes due to their current top prospect ranking in the system, or their high draft stats. That still leaves several interesting guys to choose from, both pitchers and hitters.

Cody Dickson is a top breakout candidate for the 2014 season. (Photo Credit: Mark Olson)

Cody Dickson is a top breakout candidate for the 2014 season. (Photo Credit: Mark Olson)

Pitcher: Cody Dickson

This pick was between Dickson and Buddy Borden. I went with Dickson because I think he’s further along with his progression, and has much better secondary stuff. Both guys can sit in the low 90s, and can hit the mid-90s with their fastball. Dickson gets the edge because he’s left-handed, and because his breaking stuff is considerably better. He’s got the chance to be a middle of the rotation starter one day. If he gets off to a good start in West Virginia, he could make it to Bradenton by the middle of June, with a jump to Altoona next year. That’s similar to the path that Joely Rodriguez, another lefty, took last year. I could see Dickson having a similar season.

Hitter: JaCoby Jones

The Pirates drafted Jones as a center fielder, but split his time last year between shortstop and center field. He will be playing shortstop this year, which gives him a lot of value. Jones is very athletic, and while there have been questions about his swing, he has shown a good hitting ability so far in pro ball. His offensive upside should provide a lot of value at shortstop, and will be what could put him on the prospect radar. He’s got a ton of speed, which combined with his athleticism could allow him to work out at shortstop. If he can hit, he won’t need to be a plus defender at short to elevate his prospect status. He will just need to be good enough to stick at the shortstop position.

Links and Notes

**The 2014 Prospect Guide is in stock on the products page of the site. The book features profiles, scouting reports, and grades on every player in the minor league system, including our top 50 prospects. The Prospect Guide has been mentioned as a resource several times on the Pirates’ broadcast, and has been purchased as a source of reference by opposing MLB front office members, opposing scouts, and media members. If it’s a good resource for them, it’s a good resource for you. You can order your Prospect Guide on the products page of the site.

**If you missed it over the weekend, here are all of the season preview articles:

**Jameson Taillon Had Second Opinion; Now All Parties Quiet as Pirates Decide the Next Step

**Stetson Allie Close to Joining Altoona; McPherson, Worley, Meadows Updates

**Pirates Still Top Farm System in Baseball America’s Updated Rankings

**Chris Stewart Hoping to Catch His First Game on Friday

**Minor League Schedule: Kingham and Cumpton Get Opening Day Starts

**West Virginia Power Release Opening Day Roster

**Draft Prospect Watch: New Mock Draft Has Pirates Taking Alex Blandino

**International and Amateur Draft Bonus Numbers Released

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