Pirates Prospects » Analysis 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 Prospect Reports: Phil Irwin Getting Back the Feel For His Pitches http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/05/prospect-reports-phil-irwin-getting-back-the-feel-for-his-pitches.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/05/prospect-reports-phil-irwin-getting-back-the-feel-for-his-pitches.html#comments Sat, 17 May 2014 16:33:27 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=78996 April was a month to forget for Phil Irwin. In the month, Irwin had an 11.57 ERA in 14 innings, with 20 hits allowed.

“When you take a year off from surgery and don’t get as many innings in the spring as you want, I was just struggling to find the timing on my delivery,” Irwin said. “I just did not get the feeling of comfort on the mound early in the season. It obviously resulted in a bad April.”

However, Irwin turned it around in May. He started the month with 7.1 shutout innings, after being sent to the bullpen after a pair of April outings. The right-hander struggled last night, with three runs allowed, but has a 3.52 ERA on the month. He also has eight strikeouts in 7.2 innings in May.

“Right now, I have been working on my delivery,” Irwin said. “Everything feels good. My timing and my arm feels good. It was just feeling the ball out front. I did not have a lot of feel for it at all.”

Due to this lack of feel, Irwin’s walks were way up as well. While he walked a staggering ten hitters in April, he has yet to allow a free pass in May. He also hit four batters. Irwin said that this was because he “literally did not know where the ball was going.”

The fastball command is back for Irwin, but most importantly, he said that the command of his patented curve ball is back.

“For a lot of guys, if the fastball feels good, everything else feels good,” Irwin said. “For me, it is the other way around. It has always been to build my delivery around my curve ball. If the curve ball feels good, everything else does. If the fastball doesn’t feel good, I throw a curve ball to get back to the fastball. It’s really backwards. The curve ball felt awful (early in the season).”

Irwin said that he can tell how the curve ball is by how the hitters are seeing it and the contact that they make. He also said that they were getting good wood on it and not chasing the ones in the dirt. With this, batters were hitting an astonishing .339 in April against .200 in May. He also allowed three home runs and a double in April. In May, he has kept every offering inside the park and allowed just one double.

The biggest mechanical adjustment for Irwin is getting to the back leg and generating power from it. He said that this also allows his arm time to get around in the back. When he is late in this action, the ball will spray back to the right-handed hitters. Indianapolis pitching coach Tom Filer concurs and said that they have been working on it.

“His timing was off a little bit,” Filer said. “He was a little bit out in front of himself. He is now getting back up over the rubber. He is staying in the box and his arm is catching up and he is throwing downhill. Also, his breaking ball has come back, which is the biggest thing.”

With the command and the feel coming back, Irwin has also seen an increase in velocity. He went from around 86 MPH in his first few outings to 90-92 in his last appearance. He said that he has “not seen that (velocity) for a while.”

Even though he did not pitch early in May when he was recalled by the Pirates for bullpen help, Irwin said that the organization showing confidence in his abilities was nice to see and boosted his confidence tremendously.

“It was good for me,” he said. “It got me back into feeling comfortable and good about baseball again. It can change your mindset whether you throw or not. It shows that the organization does still believe in you still, even though I hadn’t been pitching as well as I want to. I came back down and everything has been good since.”

In addition, Irwin is pleased with working out of the bullpen. He said that it has been in discussion for the past two years. He realizes that two-pitch hurlers don’t tend to have long-term success in the big leagues. Despite the success at most levels in the organization as a starter, he said that “all they have to do is sit on the fastball if they recognize my curve ball” as a starter in Pittsburgh. Irwin is also pleased that he can pitch and help the team win every day.

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Podcast: Previewing the Pirates-Yankees Series With River Avenue Blues http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/05/podcast-previewing-the-pirates-yankees-series-with-river-avenue-blues.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/05/podcast-previewing-the-pirates-yankees-series-with-river-avenue-blues.html#comments Sat, 17 May 2014 16:30:50 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=78947 For those of you who have been asking “when is the podcast coming back”, you’ll be happy to know that the answer is…soon. In fact, there’s a 90% chance that the podcast will return next week, and I’ve already lined up the first guest.

On the surface, what you see me doing with this job involves the writing, podcasts, and anything that shows up on the site. Behind the scenes, I’ve had a lot going on this year involving a few projects that we hope to roll out this season, along with a few side projects that you’ll find out about soon enough. I’ve also been adding writers throughout the season, as you’ve already seen with the great work that Ryan Palencer is doing in Indianapolis, and which you will see with a few new writers over the next few weeks. Most of the writers we added are just finishing up with school, and will be making their “debuts” shortly.

In the process of adding writers, working on behind the scenes stuff, and my general role of managing the site, I haven’t had time to do any podcasts until now.

But if you’re looking for a podcast now, you should check out The River Avenue Blues podcast, which I was a guest on this week, discussing the upcoming series between the Yankees and the Pirates. Joe Pawlikowski and I discussed the Pirates this year, including looking at some of the former Yankees who are now Pirates, along with a quick preview of the pitching matchups this weekend. A few of the highlights:

**We talked about the reputation Jose Tabata has with Pirates fans of being lazy, which was the same reputation he had with the Yankees.

**We discussed why pitchers like Francisco Liriano, Mark Melancon, and Edinson Volquez have gone from some of the worst numbers in the league, to respectable numbers.

**I found out that Gerrit Cole is the Yankees version of Miguel Sano. Every time a prospect list comes out, or every other week (whichever comes first) I hear something about Sano. I always wondered if other teams fan bases do the same thing with “the one that got away”. Apparently they do, even when it’s the Yankees.

To listen to the podcast, head over to River Avenue Blues. Hopefully by this time next week, I’ll be announcing the first episode of the new season of our podcast.

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Pittsburgh Pirates Positive Regression Candidates: Jordy Mercer http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/05/pittsburgh-pirates-positive-regression-candidates-jordy-mercer.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/05/pittsburgh-pirates-positive-regression-candidates-jordy-mercer.html#comments Fri, 16 May 2014 18:11:51 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=78959 It was almost a year ago that Jordy Mercer played his first game of the 2014 season at shortstop. Mercer came up in early May to play second base with Neil Walker on the disabled list. Walker returned on May 13th, and Mercer started his first game of the season at shortstop on May 15th. A few weeks later, Mercer was named the primary starter, which was a relief to Pirates fans who were tired of seeing Clint Barmes’ bat in the lineup.

When it comes to the shortstop position, defense has a ton of value, and is highly underrated. That’s especially true for a team like the Pirates, who have had the highest ground ball rate in baseball the last two years. Barmes has been one of the best defensive shortstops in the league, but has no offensive value. That overall package still has value, especially to a team that gets a 50% ground ball ratio. But that doesn’t mean you need to have a defense-only shortstop.

The Pirates made the switch to Mercer, sacrificing some defense in exchange for much better offense. Barmes had a .558 OPS last year. Mercer had a .772 OPS. Barmes was much better than Mercer defensively, but Mercer was much better than Barmes offensively. Overall, Mercer’s increase in offense trumped Barmes’ increase in defense. That led to a 1.4 WAR from Mercer, compared to an 0.6 WAR from Barmes in almost the same amount of playing time.

The hope coming into this season was that Mercer could improve his defense, which is something he was working on with Barmes during spring training. So far, Mercer has improved his defense. He went from a -9.4 UZR/150 last year to a 5.3 UZR/150 this year. One disclaimer about UZR is that you need to factor in sample sizes.

When it comes to explaining sample sizes, I compare UZR to batting average. If a guy hits .300 in a month, you wouldn’t call him a .300 hitter. If he hits .300 in a year, you wouldn’t call him a .300 hitter, but he would be closer to that label. You’d only call a guy a .300 hitter if he does this consistently over several years. It’s the same with defensive ratings and UZR. Mercer was bad defensively last year, and has been good in about a month and a half this year. Neither of those are good enough to make a grand conclusion.

That said, it is good to see Mercer starting off so well defensively. The downside is that his offense has really taken a hit. Mercer has a .545 OPS this year, meaning that so far he has been Clint Barmes offensively, and Clint Barmes-lite defensively. He has been hitting well lately, going 9-for-23 with three doubles and a homer since the start of the Cardinals series last week. But that’s a sample size of six games, and all you can do is hope that’s the spark he needs to turn things around.

Looking at the advanced metrics, there are signs that Mercer will turn things around. He has a BABIP of .242, which is well below his .330 last year, and his .300 career BABIP. In the minors, he mostly stuck in the .300 range, and was never as low as .242. I don’t expect this to continue.

Likewise, his power is way down, with an .082 ISO. He had a .150 ISO last year, and he had a career .132 ISO in the minors. A big factor here is his HR/FB ratio, which is at 3.6%. Mercer was at 9.9% last year, which is a normal range. A normal range this year would have given him about two more home runs on the season. His line drive rate is also down, at around 10.9%, compared to 22.8% last year. The downside is that this has been replaced with ground balls, with his ground ball rate going up to 58.7%, from 46.8%.

This is all very similar to the trends that Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez were displaying at the end of April. They both had low BABIP, HR/FB, and line drive ratios. Since that point, both have gotten back to normal.

When I wrote about Walker, I pointed out that if his BABIP numbers regressed to the mean, then he’d be putting up a .314/.360/.510 line going forward. His line since that article? .321/.438/.509. I actually wrote that I thought Walker would end up below the line I calculated, but he has been above that line so far. I still think don’t think he’s capable of these monster numbers going forward, but I do think he could post an OPS above .800.

Likewise, Alvarez had a .667 OPS at the time, and I said he should have an .828 OPS going forward — and possibly higher — if his BABIP were to regress to the mean. Since that point, he has had a .777 OPS, which isn’t great, but is much better than what he was going previously.

Due to the limited amount of playing time in his pro career, I’m not sure I could come up with a similar analysis for Mercer that wouldn’t end up with “he’s probably going to return to last year’s numbers”. I do think the BABIP and HR/FB ratios are low, and I think they will be closer to last year’s numbers than this year. To be fair, we couldn’t also say that Mercer’s defensive improvements will stick around, while dismissing this year’s offensive struggles. The hope would be that Mercer’s offense indicates some bad luck, while the defense indicates that his work with Barmes during the off-season is paying off.

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Is Tony Sanchez Throwing Away His Chance at Being a Starter? http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/05/is-tony-sanchez-throwing-away-his-chance-at-being-a-starter.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/05/is-tony-sanchez-throwing-away-his-chance-at-being-a-starter.html#comments Wed, 14 May 2014 17:11:07 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=78846 The Pittsburgh Pirates will be faced with an interesting decision this off-season. Their starting catcher, Russell Martin, will be eligible for free agency. Their top catching prospect, Tony Sanchez, is at a point where the organization needs to decide whether his future is as a starter, or a backup. The decision? Bring Martin back at a much bigger cost than what they’re paying him now, or give Sanchez his shot at being a starter.

What complicates the Sanchez decision, or what might make the Martin decision easier, has been the throwing from Sanchez. The 2009 first round pick has displayed some issues over the last few years with his throwing. That’s not just throwing out runners at second, but making throws down to first and third. Sanchez was held back from the majors last year due to these issues, and they don’t seem to be going away.

As far as caught stealing numbers, Sanchez has really struggled this year. He went 0-for-7 in the minors, and is currently sitting at 17% caught stealing in the majors. Part of that process involves the pitcher, so you can’t always blame the catcher for poor numbers. But it’s hard to blame the pitching staff in Pittsburgh when Russell Martin had a 33% caught stealing rate with that same staff, prior to his injury.

Sanchez has posted good stolen base numbers in the past, with a 31% caught stealing rate in 2012. He also has good defensive skills beyond his throwing problems. His blocking is excellent, he’s a good pitch framer, and he handles a pitching staff well. There are currently no ways to quantify that last skill, but Pirates’ General Manager Neal Huntington offered praise for the work Sanchez has done with pitching staffs.

“The maturity Tony has shown over the years with us is tremendous,” Huntington said. “His primary focus is how he’s going to get the pitcher not only through that game, but through that inning or through that at-bat, through that pitch. That’s wonderful recognition for a young catcher and that’s what going to allow him to have a very successful major-league career and one of the reasons why we’re so excited about his growth and his development and where he’s going to go.”

As for the blocking and pitch framing, there have been ways to quantify that. Baseball Prospectus says that Sanchez has been worth 3.4 blocking runs per 7000 pitches this year, and 14.3 framing runs per 7000 pitches. Combined, that means Sanchez is worth about 1.8 extra wins for his blocking and receiving. However, Russell Martin has been worth a combined 30 runs per 7000 pitches, meaning he would be worth about 1.2 wins more than Sanchez over a full season. Martin also has the ability to handle a staff, so at best, that’s a wash.

Offensively, Sanchez has struggled a bit in the majors this year, with a .273/.298/.291 line in 57 plate appearances. On the other side, Martin hasn’t been great offensively, with a .242/.342/.355 line in 73 plate appearances. Neither of those are large sample sizes, although Martin’s are close to what he did last year. The upside for Sanchez is similar to Martin — a low average, good ability to get on base, and some power, with an OPS around .700.

But the big issue for Sanchez remains the throwing. That’s not just the caught stealing numbers. It’s the wild throws down to second that allow the runner to take third base, or the wild throws down to first that turn an out into two bases. Sanchez had 14 errors last year with Indianapolis. He has six errors so far this year between Triple-A and the majors. You could call that a small sample size, but the wild throws have become a bad trend for Sanchez, not unlike the situation with Garrett Jones having problems throwing to second base while playing first.

“Just keep working through it. You’d be surprised at the number of catchers that are in the major leagues that had some level of this challenge at some point in their career, guys that you would never think of,” Huntington said. “We’ve got staff members that have been other places and we’ve got scouts that have seen some major-league catchers work through this and he’s just going to have to continue to work through it. He’s certainly capable of it and yet another challenge for him to overcome.”

The question is, will the Pirates be better off letting Sanchez work through those issues as a starter? If he doesn’t work through those issues, the catching situation could be pretty bleak. Meanwhile, you know what you’re getting with Russell Martin, who is basically everything you want Sanchez to become. They don’t have to make a decision just yet, but if the throwing issues continue from Sanchez, there won’t be much of a decision to make.

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Scout: Gregory Polanco has a chance to be a star http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/05/scout-gregory-polanco-has-a-chance-to-be-a-star.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/05/scout-gregory-polanco-has-a-chance-to-be-a-star.html#comments Tue, 13 May 2014 14:25:23 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=78739 With the media and fan attention that has been thrown at Gregory Polanco, almost everything has been said about the super prospect. With this kind of attention comes Major League pressure. The pressure and the attention allow some people to forget that Polanco is only 22. In fact, he has had only five at bats this season against pitchers who are younger than him.

The numbers don’t lie for Polanco, with an OPS of 1.015 through 36 games with Triple-A Indianapolis. In addition, he has only struck out 29 times in 144 at bats. He also boasts an on base percentage of .425. The impressive statistical list goes on, but there is one thing that the organization would like to see Polanco do to help the preparation for the big leagues – fail some.

Prior to going 2-for-4 with a home run and a double on Monday, Polanco was mired in a mini slump. He had three out of four games where he went hitless. He was 1-for-16 with three walks over the span. How Polanco responds to this adversity is something that the Pirates brass is quite mindful of, as dry stretches are a guarantee at the big league level. For Polanco himself, he is aware that slumps and cold spells will come.

“Baseball is hard,” Polanco said. “Hitting is very hard and nobody is perfect. I know that I am going to get a game with no hits. (I have to) keep playing and keep working hard, no matter what.”

To avoid slumps like this, Polanco has been working on eliminating holes from his game. One aspect that he is working on at the plate is keeping back on the off speed pitches against tough lefties.

“(With) the left-handed pitching, trying to stay a little bit more back to let the ball carry deep,” Polanco said. “(I am trying) to hit a little bit more to the opposite field.”

With this in mind, one of Polanco’s toughest games of the season came on April 19 against crafty southpaw Jeff Francis. In that game, Polanco went 0-for-3 against Francis with two strikeouts and a weakly hit groundout to first. For Polanco, it is about improving and getting better every day and every plate appearance, regardless of who it is against.

“I’m working on the off speed, like change ups and curve balls,” Polanco said. “It’s hard right now, but I am working every day to get better.”

Polanco is also working hard on his defensive game in Indianapolis. Comfort going back on balls and locating the warning track are two aspects that Polanco listed as focuses.

Scout view

One American League scout, who saw Mike Trout in the minor leagues as well, provided an assessment about the comparison to Polanco.

“I think that Mike Trout was better,” the scout said. “He had off the chart speed and his defense was just off the chart as well.”

Though the scout viewed Trout as slightly more polished at this point in their careers, he said that Polanco “has got a chance to be a star.” The scout pointed to a triple that Polanco had in Saturday night’s game against Kevin Gausman, a top prospect in the Baltimore system.

“On that triple, he just has another gear from first to third,” the scout said. “He’s a big, strong physical kid who can run.”

In addition, another aspect of the game that Polanco possesses stands out – power. The scout said that the power production in the big leagues is what will make Polanco a star. He said that he has all of the other tools necessary for his designation. Of Polanco’s 52 hits, 19 have been for extra bases this season.

Though Polanco will likely go through an adjustment period in Pittsburgh, the question will be how quickly his talent catches up to the talent around him.

“Right now, he is just more talented than players around here,” the scout said. “He will see much better pitching. He is still so young even for this league. There will be adjustments like how he will handle left on left.”

Eyes on Pittsburgh

With the Major Leagues so close, Polanco is visibly ready for the call. The information that leaked about him declining the seven-year deal last week just fueled that anticipation.

“I know that it is difficult, but I have to wait until the time comes,” Polanco said. “I have to play every day hard and wait for it.”

When it comes to all of the ‘Free Polanco’ campaigns, Polanco is extremely happy with the fan support and is just eager to show them what they have been waiting for in Pittsburgh.

“I know that a lot of people support me every day,” Polanco said. “Just let it happen.”

In another month, there will be no more ‘Free Polanco’ campaign or speculation about his Major League debut; this day will become reality. Where everyone has their opinion about what the future holds for Polanco, I can say that he is one of the most talented Triple-A prospects I have ever seen. He is so graceful with every movement and every swing. One thing is for sure, Polanco is going to special, and we will be able to sit back and enjoy come mid-June.

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Week In Review: Polanco Offer, Roster Moves, Prospect Reports, 2014 Draft http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/05/week-in-review-polanco-offer-roster-moves-prospect-reports-2014-draft.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/05/week-in-review-polanco-offer-roster-moves-prospect-reports-2014-draft.html#comments Mon, 12 May 2014 07:00:21 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=78630 The big news this week was the revelation that the Pirates offered Gregory Polanco a seven year contract. Polanco turned the deal down, obviously, although it didn’t seem like a bad offer. I broke down the deal, comparing it to the deals that Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen received. The summary was that the deal was fair, although Polanco can get more guaranteed money, and more money in his option years with just 1-2 years of service time in the majors. That’s probably why there aren’t many players who sign deals that early.

Meanwhile, the Pirates look like they might be turning their season around, going 6-3 during this home stand.

Pirates

The Pirates made a lot of roster moves this week. They brought Jeff Locke up for a spot start, optioning Casey Sadler. After Locke’s start, they recalled Phil Irwin to provide long relief for a depleted bullpen. Irwin wasn’t needed, as Charlie Morton and Gerrit Cole went eight innings in back to back games. From there, the Pirates made a questionable move to bring up Brent Morel as an extra hitter. Andrew Lambo would have been the choice, but he was placed on the Indianapolis Disabled List this week.

Following the announcement of Morel’s promotion, the suspensions for Travis Snider and Russell Martin were upheld. That, plus minor injuries to Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte led to a need for an outfielder. The Pirates wrapped up the week by calling up Jaff Decker and sending Morel back down.

Next week, expect more moves, as the Pirates will be activating Wandy Rodriguez from the DL, and giving him the start on Thursday.

**Ryan Palencer writes about how Jeff Locke looks to rebound his career. Locke fell apart in his final inning during his spot start. In his return to the Indianapolis rotation on Sunday, he looked great.

**Nate Barnes writes about the two versions of Edinson Volquez that we’ve seen this year.

**I wrote about the starting rotation woes.

Prospects

**Scott Sypien breaks down Nick Kingham’s stuff against Akron.

**Ryan Palencer writes that Vance Worley feels like he is back on track as a starter, after working with Jim Benedict.

**To no surprise, the Pirates have been one of the most successful teams in the International Market.

**Harold Ramirez and Matt Curry returned from the DL this week.

**Top Performers: JaCoby Jones Leads a Huge Week For West Virginia Hitters

**Top Performers: Another Pirates 2011 Draft Pick is Stepping Up

**The Best Gift Ngoepe Update, Ever.

**Here are the minor league recaps from this week, highlighting all of the notable prospect performances each day.

**And here are the Prospect Highlights from this last week, looking at clips of some of the best plays from the top prospects over the last week.

2014 Draft


It was a busy week for draft news and not all of it was good. The strength of the class took a hit when two pitchers found out they needed Tommy John surgery and another backed out of the draft in order to attend college. East Carolina’s Jeff Hoffman and UNLV’s Erick Fedde both will be out for the next year or so while they recover from Tommy John surgery. Both of them were projected as likely top ten picks, so that will cause both of them to drop in the rankings.

There was also news that prep arm Jacob Bukauskas asked not to be drafted so he can go to North Carolina. He was a potential back of the first round pick. Then the last hit to the class was when Scott Blewett missed a start with shoulder soreness, casting some doubt around his chances of going in the first round. The prep righty from New York has been mentioned often in the Pirates range. We always say a lot can change with the draft in a short time and this week was a not-so-great example of that.

**2014 Pirates Draft Prospects: Michael Conforto, Luke Weaver, Michael Chavis, Kodi Medeiros Scouting reports and videos on four players that could be draft options for the Pirates.

**Draft Prospect Watch: Kyle Schwarber and Sam Travis Homer in Indiana Win Recap of the Friday/Saturday results from the best college hitters.

**Draft Prospect Watch: Brandon Finnegan Returns, Luke Weaver Throws Seven Shutout Innings Brandon Finnegan missed his last start due to shoulder soreness. His shoulder was bothering him in his previous start and caused him to leave that game early. He made his return Friday on a limited pitch count.

**Erick Fedde is Second Top College Pitcher to Need Tommy John Surgery

**Keith Law Releases New Top 100 Draft Prospect List Law has Kyle Freeland matched up with Pirates, while most people think the Evansville starter will be long gone before the Pirates made their selection.

**Baseball America’s First Mock Draft Has Kyle Schwarber Going to Pirates The Indiana catcher is profiled here, complete with video.

**Draft Prospect Watch: Jeff Hoffman to Have Tommy John Surgery, Prep Arm Pulls Out of Draft News on Hoffman, Bukauskas and mid-week stats from around college

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Vance Worley Back on Track as a Starter After Working With Jim Benedict http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/05/vance-worley-back-on-track-as-a-starter-after-working-with-jim-benedict.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/05/vance-worley-back-on-track-as-a-starter-after-working-with-jim-benedict.html#comments Sat, 10 May 2014 15:00:59 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=78504 Since being acquired by the Pirates on March 25, Vance Worley has been working to get stretched out, after being groomed for a role relief by the Twins.

“I am glad to have the opportunity here to get things back on track,” Worley said. “Coming off last season, I had the surgery in the offseason. I was in some situations where I did not have some success and ended up in the minor leagues. I went into camp and was looking to fight for a job and never really got a chance to fight for it.”

For Worley, the fit in Pittsburgh is a nice one. He said that they have seen him for years in all levels of baseball and “know what I am capable of.” Worley knows that if he accomplishes that, he will receive another shot at the big leagues.

What he is capable of is a combined 3.60 ERA in 264.2 innings between the 2011 and 2012 seasons. This success earned Worley the opening day start in Minnesota in 2013, but the success did not translate over.

Worley was willing to go to the bullpen with the Twins, as they stated that their vision was him as the set-up man this season. After not throwing for 10 days, and getting one inning in that role, Worley was sent to the Pirates.

“I got picked up over here and they said that they wanted me to get stretched out as a starter,” Worley said. “I got to go through extended and got to work with Jim Benedict a little bit. We got things right mechanically and I think that we actually moved a little bit faster than we were going to.”

Worley had back-to-back five inning appearances in extended spring training before making his debut in Indianapolis on May 6. In the outing, Worley threw 75 pitches over six innings. He allowed five hits and one run, while striking out four. Most importantly, he reported that there was no soreness in the days after.

“Everything felt good,” Worley said. “Mechanically, it felt right. Mentally, it is back on track. I am just seeing what they want to do.”

All of the variety of pitches were working for Worley in his first start, he said. He was able to mix and throw the cutter, curveball, and change-up “just the way that it used to be.” Though he admitted that he was struggling with command on the left side of the plate, he said that it improved as the game continued and he got more comfortable.

Though he has been a reliever a few times in the past, Worley made no doubts that he would like to be a starter, because it is “what I know.” However, he said that he would do whatever it takes to get back to the big leagues.

For Pirates general manager Neal Huntington, he looks to Worley for possible help later in the season when he is stretched out – whether that is in the bullpen or as a starter.

“It was a matter of getting him stretched out,” Huntington said about Worley’s delay to Indianapolis. “We like him as a starter candidate and with the idea that if we have a need out of the bullpen, he’s pitched out of the bullpen. But we wanted to get him back starting. We feel like that’s a better place to try to get him back to what he was a couple years ago.”

Huntington also said that the process of stretching Worley out allowed each party to have a ‘getting to know you’ period.

“It was ultimately, he just needed spring training,” Huntington said. “He hadn’t gotten multiple innings, given his situation in spring training with the club he was with. We wanted to get him stretched out, wanted to see what we could help him with at the same time, wanted to get to know him, earn his trust and respect before we started jumping in and saying fix this or fix that. But mostly it was about getting him stretched out.”

Given his experience and past success, Worley is a perfect low risk candidate for the Pirates later in the season. While he will not be ready for few months, Worley could be a key down the stretch in Pittsburgh given any injuries in the rotation or even in long relief if needed.

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Which Edinson Volquez Will the Pirates Get Going Forward? http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/05/which-edinson-volquez-will-the-pirates-get-going-forward.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/05/which-edinson-volquez-will-the-pirates-get-going-forward.html#comments Fri, 09 May 2014 15:00:27 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=78406

Clint Hurdle doesn’t like to use the phrase “reclamation project” when discussing players whose careers the Pirates have turned around in the past few years. He sees the men in his clubhouse as humans first, and players after that.

So, for him, to call a player a “reclamation project” as if he was a piece of furniture salvaged from a trash dump to be renovated and added to a living room just doesn’t make sense.

Rather, the more appropriate phrase in the clubhouse is a “bounce-back” candidate, a work that holds an implication of future success after a stretch of adversity. And many of the Pirates have bounced back.

The first high-profile bounce-backer was A.J. Burnett, who rebounded from rough seasons pitching in the American League to serve as the Pirates ace for the last two seasons before taking his talents to Philadelphia. Francisco Liriano followed Burnett to Pittsburgh a year later, and was named the National League’s Comeback Player of the Year.

And don’t forget about players like Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon and Charlie Morton either.

But when it comes to the latest “bounce-back” candidate, Edinson Volquez might be the first to truly warrant the title of reclamation project if Burnett, Liriano or others did not.

Edinson Volquez is the latest "bounce-back" candidate brought into the organization.

Edinson Volquez is the latest “bounce-back” candidate brought into the organization.

Rock Bottom

Among all qualified starters a season ago, Volquez’s 5.71 earned run average was the worst, as he allowed more runs than any other pitcher in the majors. He was designated for assignment by San Diego in August before the Los Angeles Dodgers picked him up for the rest of the season.

Volquez’s DFA from the Padres may have finally meant hitting rock bottom for the 30-year-old right-hander, after his career went downhill following an injury-riddled 2009 season that culminated in Volquez undergoing Tommy John surgery Aug. 3, 2009, to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) and flexor mass in his pitching arm.

Just one year earlier, Volquez seemed to have finally delivered on the potential that made him a high-profile signing as an 18-year-old out of the Dominican Republic in 2001.

In  2008, he went 17-6 in 2008 with a 3.21 ERA and 206 strikeouts in 196 innings pitched. With top pitching prospect Homer Bailey debuting in 2007 and Johnny Cueto coming up in 2008, the Reds appeared to have a trio of pitchers that would serve as cornerstones in the rotation for year to come.

After his operation, Volquez began the next season on the 60-day disabled list, and was up-and-down between Cincinnati and Triple-A Louisville during the 2010 and 2011 seasons. After the 2011 season, the Reds flipped Volquez and three prospects for Mat Latos.

He made 32 starts for San Diego in 2012, tying his career-high, but walked 105 batters and finished with a 4.14 ERA in one of baseball’s friendliest parks to pitchers.

But, once one hits bottom there is nowhere to go but up. On Dec. 13, 2013, Volquez became the latest hoping to join the ranks of those whose careers found salvation within the Pirates’ organization.

Volquez's best season came in 2008, when he won 17 games and struck out 206 batters. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Volquez’s best season came in 2008, when he won 17 games and struck out 206 batters. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Mutual Interest

Before he signed his one-year, $5 million deal with the Pirates in the winter, Volquez consulted Liriano, his fellow Dominican countryman, for advice on where he should pitch next. Liriano told him to come to Pittsburgh based on the coaching staff alone.

“He told me ‘we have great coaches over there,’” Volquez said. “They can help you to get better, to get back on track and be able to pitch.”

Liriano’s recommendation was all the convincing Volquez needed, and soon after he told his agent Lenny Strelitz that he wanted to sign with the Pirates. Fortunately for Volquez, the Pirates were interested in him as well.

While general manager Neal Huntington waited for A.J. Burnett to make a decision on if he would pitch in Pittsburgh in 2014, let alone play baseball at all, he needed to make contingency plans for the major-league rotation in case Burnett decided not to return (as he didn’t).

In Volquez, Huntington said his scouts “saw things they liked” and the front office made moves.

“They saw a guy that flashes three above-average, major-league pitches,” Huntington said. “Our analysts liked some things he did metrically and we felt like he was a good opportunity for us to add a guy that had some upside that maybe was a little bit undervalued.”

An offseason conversation with Francisco Liriano convinced Volquez to come to Pittsburgh. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

An offseason conversation with Francisco Liriano convinced Volquez to come to Pittsburgh. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Mechanics And Mentality

For pitching coach Ray Searage to begin rebuilding Volquez, he looked back to when he was at his best.

“We looked at some video and ‘08, ‘09 was where he pitched his best so what we tried to do is get him back to that position in ‘08 and ‘09,” Searage said. “Not to the exact same thing but it’s really, really good that’s he’s close to it.”

The biggest mechanical change Searage employed was to ensure that Volquez stayed on his back leg longer as he noticed Volquez was flying out of his delivery too early and negatively impacting his command.

In addition, Volquez is doing a better job of focusing on the targets laid down by the catcher’s glove. Searage emphasized that Volquez keep his head still during his delivery, giving him a steady target to concentrate on.

“His head’s being still and he works around his head,” Searage said. “It just allows him to get a good feel and get a good ‘Kodak moment’ if you want to say, on where he wants to throw the ball.”

As a result, Volquez has been able to command his fastball better and is throwing strikes at a career-high rate. In tandem with his improved mechanics, Searage’s tinkerings have allowed Volquez to not think about how he is throwing his pitch but to instead just throw them.

“He’s got good downhill plane to [the fastball] and he can move the ball inside and out,” Searage said. “His delivery is more sound than it has been in past years. So now he feels more confident and his focus is on executing the pitch as opposed to how he’s doing it.”

With his focus clearer, Volquez has also been able to focus on improving his approach to hitters. Namely, working more efficiently.

“Being aggressive with first-pitch strikes, getting ahead, staying ahead and then putting them away,” Searage said. “We have a three-pitch mentality where we try to go after hitters that way and Edinson never had that before and he really took to it extremely well.”

Next to the lessons and tips on his approach and mechanics, Volquez has also benefitted personally from his relationship with Searage which helps further drive home the teachings Searage wants to instill in Volquez and the rest of his pitching staff.

“The way he treats me is like a dad,” Volquez said. “He’s talking about baseball but at the same time he gives a lot of love, [he wants us] to be confident, to do what you want to do. We’ve got a good idea about what we’re trying to do right now and be in the same place.”

Pitching coach Ray Searage has helped Volquez to think only about executing his pitches. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Pitching coach Ray Searage has helped Volquez to think only about executing his pitches. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Results

Volquez’s first four starts of the season made it seem like the Pirates had certainly found their next bounce-back guy. Including two shutout innings of relief on April 3, Volquez owned a 1-1 record with a 1.92 ERA through four starts. By Game Score’s definition, Volquez nearly pitched three gems (Game Score of 65 or better) and gave his team a great chance to win each game even though the Pirates went 2-2 in those four games.

Date

Innings Pitched

Runs

Walks

Strikeouts

Game Score

Strike %

April 6

5.2

1

1

4

62

65.4

April 12

6.1

2

2

4

61

67.7

April 17

7

2

1

3

55

68.8

April 22

7

2

1

3

61

71.0

Catcher Russell Martin says Volquez has had success early by being aggressive, something supported by his high percentage of strikes thrown. As Searage said, that allows him to get ahead with his fastball and work his other pitches in off that.

“He’s been able to keep the fastball down and to use the changeup,” Martin said. “Sprinkle the changeup in there in the mix with all of his pitches because he’s good when he’s using all of his pitches.”

“For the most part, he’s been aggressive and when he’s been good he’s been keeping the ball down and using that changeup off that same plane.”

Season

Strike%

BB%

K%

2008

61.2%

11.1%

24.6%

2009

57.8%

14.7%

21.6%

2010

59.5%

12.7%

24.4%

2011

60.3%

13.3%

21.3%

2012

59.8%

13.1%

21.7%

2013

60.9%

9.9%

18.3%

2014

66.1%

5.7%

13.3%

Because of his aggressiveness, Volquez has also been able to throw strikes at the highest rate of his career and lowered his walk rate to its lowest point in since 2008, his first full season in the majors. While his strikeout rate is at a career-low, the trade-off has been beneficial.

But since his strong start, Volquez has run into some misfortune in his last two starts that’s resulted in his ERA doubling and then some.

Date

IP

R

BB

K

GSc

Strike %

April 27

5.2

6

1

2

32

63.9

May 4

5

6

3

3

29

55.4

Volquez took losing decisions in each of those starts, and his ERA now sits at 4.19. But Hurdle doesn’t buy that the numbers tell the whole story in the two six-run outings.

“I think you need to look at the six runs he gave up and how he gave them up,” Hurdle said after Volquez’s start Sunday. “It was a three-run home run [April 27] again on a pitch [after] a borderline pitch that could’ve been a called third strike, then he had to make another pitch.”

Volquez started strong, with a 1.93 ERA in his first four starts, but allowed six runs in each of his last two outings. (Photo by: David Hague)

Volquez started strong, with a 1.93 ERA in his first four starts, but allowed six runs in each of his last two outings. (Photo by: David Hague)

Volquez himself said he was off rhythm in his last start against Toronto on Sunday, when he allowed a two-run home run and a grand slam. The grand slam came after Volquez issued two of his three walks on the day, then a base runner reached base on a high-chopper in the infield.

Against Colby Rasmus (who hit .385 in Pittsburgh last weekend) with the bases loaded, Volquez dealt a curveball over the heart of the plate that Rasmus hammered out of the park.

The common denominator for Volquez beyond allowing six runs in his last two starts is decreased percentages of strikes thrown. As a result, he isn’t attacking the zone and able to do the things Martin detailed he needs to do in order to be successful.

As for his issues with rhythm, Volquez noted he had a week off between his start in St. Louis and against Toronto. He said he is fine mechanically and just wants to get back to pitching every fifth day, while keeping it as simple as he did at the beginning of the season.

“I just want to go backward, like [throw] more strikes than balls,” Volquez said. “It happens when you’re off your rhythm.”

If his two recent starts prove to be the exception to the norm set by his first four, then Volquez looks like the next success story when it comes to the Pirates and their “bounce-back” candidates.

The Pirates have faith in his ability, from Huntington and the front office on down as the right-hander has gotten ahead of hitters, attacked the strike zone and kept the ball down “for the most part.”

“He’s pitching with confidence,” Huntington said. “We’re looking forward to him continuing to do the things that he’s done that have allowed him to be successful.”

And once he gets his rhythm, Volquez hopes to see results closer to those from his first four starts than his last two. Either way, he’s happy that he is a Pirate at this stage of his career.

“I think I’m in the right spot right now,” Volquez said.

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Jeff Locke looks to rebound career http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/05/jeff-locke-looks-to-rebound-career.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/05/jeff-locke-looks-to-rebound-career.html#comments Mon, 05 May 2014 12:55:25 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=78052

The story of Jeff Locke from 2013 all-star to minor leaguer in less than a year is well-known. However, Locke is getting an opportunity to rebound, as he will start for the Pirates tonight as they open a series against the Giants.

While Locke’s ERA is over five in his four starts at Indianapolis, some of this is due to tough luck. In his first two starts, Locke allowed all of his runs by way of the long ball. In that time, he struck out 17 hitters in 19 innings, while walking only five.

However, some of the runs are due to the overall contact from the opponents. Locke has allowed 24 hits in those 19 innings at Indianapolis and opposing batters are hitting an even .300 against him. With all of these numbers, Locke is still looking to improve on everything, as his season got off to a slow start due to an injury.

“Everything has been a work in progress,” Locke said. “Everything has felt a lot better every time that I have gone out. I have been able to reach my pitch count. In Bradenton, I threw 81 or 82 pitches. When I came to Indy, I threw another 80-something. My last two outings, I have been throwing in the mid-90s, so I feel like I am good and stretched out, back where I want to be.”

At the same time, Locke said that his body feels like spring training has just ended. Locke missed three weeks of work, as he suffered from an oblique injury in camp.

Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington agrees with the assessment and sees the difficulty that Locke had while missing a majority of spring training.

“As we’ve seen with some past guys, when they don’t have spring training, sometimes it takes them a little while to go through spring training, but they’re going through spring training live and they’re going through it at a competitive environment,” Huntington said. “Jeff’s kind of doing that, as we’ve experienced here when you ask a man to go through spring training at the major league level, that’s a tough thing to do. So we’re asking him to go through it at Triple-A, which can be a challenge. He’s stretched out, he’s healthy, he’s had some really good signs, and at the same time, just like most pitchers, he’s made a few mistakes.”

Since coming back from the injury, Locke has put a major emphasis on repeating his delivery every time, getting on the back side, and staying strong over the rubber. He is also working on pitch location.

“There have been times, since I have been here, that my fastball has gotten a bit up,” Locke said. “Thankfully, working on it enough, you can make that correction and get it back down in the zone. Really, aside from that, I feel like I have picked up where I left off in spring training, even through it was early when I went down.”

Locke realizes that throwing in the low 90s means that his misses must be down in the zone. With this emphasis, the only goal is to keep the ball below the belt at almost all cost. With this plan, Locke boasts a 54.6% ground ball ratio in his five minor league starts.

Locke said he has been most pleased with his fastball so far. He said that he feels like he has good control with it and has looked to use the fastball more than his other pitches.

“My off speed stuff has been really reliable so far,” Locke said. “I don’t normally do a whole lot of maintenance work on anything like that. Everything just normally fits pretty good. There are days where I just won’t use it nearly as much, depending on the situation. If they are making early contact on fastballs and I am getting outs, then I won’t have to use it as much.”

Locke is not the only person seeing the marked improvement. Indianapolis pitch coach Tom Filer is seeing it as well.

“I am seeing some really good stuff,” Filer said. “In each game, he has gotten better. I see a marked improvement in each one of his outings. He shows me something a little bit more that makes me think that it’s coming.”

With this improvement, Filer said that he is waiting for one more aspect to come around.

“Right now, I see his fastball command and his changeup command,” Filer said. “Now, if we get that curveball to do what it is supposed to do and be that big weapon that he has had in the past, then he is going to be right there.”

Filer said that he views that the biggest key to Locke’s success is having the three pitch mix. He said that mixing the curveball in makes hitters look for more than just hard and soft, but also incorporates some movement in. With what he has seen with the mix, Filer said that Locke is very close to being the winner that he has been in the past.

Filer said that one of the biggest things with Locke is finding the target when he comes out of his turn, which is a bit more dramatic in his delivery. He said that this allows Locke to improve his command and create angles to the plate. He was also looking for all three pitches to come out of the same slot, rather than moving it on any particular pitch.

In his first start, Locke allowed a lead off home run and then a grand slam later in the outing. Then, in his second start, both against Louisville, Locke allowed back-to-back home runs. Locke was not as concerned with the solo shots, as he understands that they will come.

“As far as hard contact, nobody has really hit the ball hard unless it has gone over the fence,” Locke said. “It’s just one of those things. There was a lot of damage done on one swing. Last week, it was back-to-back home runs. I’m ok with that. You are going to win a lot of games just giving up solo home runs.”

With this in mind, in his final two outings in Indianapolis, Locke did not allow a home run.

Though Locke is seeing marked improvements in several aspects, it is hard to believe that his is ready to compete at the big league level with the consistent success that opposing hitters are compiling. However, the walk numbers being down are certainly a sign that Locke could improve enough to get to that point by the end of the season.

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Week In Review: OBP, Players of the Month, 2014 Draft Prospects http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/05/week-in-review-obp-players-of-the-month-2014-draft-prospects.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/05/week-in-review-obp-players-of-the-month-2014-draft-prospects.html#comments Mon, 05 May 2014 07:00:19 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=78001 The Pirates got a little bit of a break this week due to a few rain delays. They ended up going 2-3 in the short week, winning two games in comeback fashion over the weekend. At the start of the week they had fallen so much that they were no longer projected as playoff contenders.

Nate Barnes wrote this week about how the Pirates are looking to improve the offense by emphasizing On-Base Percentage. Nate also looked specifically at how that emphasis was working out. Of course the offense has been a big issue this year, with a lot of players under-performing. I looked at two bounce back candidates in Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez. If the Pirates wanted another boost for the offense before Gregory Polanco arrives, then they should consider calling up Andrew Lambo for right field.

**Jeff Locke Will Start For the Pirates on Monday. It’s only expected to be a spot start, since the Pirates won’t need a regular fifth starter until May 24th.

**Stolmy Pimentel to DL, Cumpton Sent Down, Hughes and Mazzaro Return

Prospects

This week we announced our Player and Pitcher of the Month for the month of April. To no surprise, Gregory Polanco was the Player of the Month For April. Polanco also got some national recognition, being named to Baseball America’s April All-Prospect Team. Of course the biggest topic surrounding Polanco is when he will arrive in the majors. That largely depends on the Super Two deadline, even if the Pirates won’t say that. I wrote about why teams don’t come out and openly discuss the Super Two deadline.

Casey Sadler was the Pitcher of the Month For April. He is currently in the Majors, and made his debut this week, pitching two shutout innings on two separate occasions. Ryan Palencer wrote about how the sinker is working early for Sadler, leading to his success in Indianapolis and the majors. Sadler being named the Pitcher of the Month was impressive, especially considering the strong pitching throughout the minors in April.

**Ryan Palencer wrote about how Andy Oliver is dominating, but still has questions with his control. Ryan also wrote about the depth that is coming out of Indianapolis this year to help the Pirates.

**Top Performers: Pirates Hitters Cutting Down on Strikeouts in the Minors

**Top Performers: Sadler, Sampson, and Glasnow Off to Good Starts

**Weekly Transactions

**Here are the minor league recaps from this week, highlighting all of the notable prospect performances each day.

**And here are the Prospect Highlights from this last week, looking at clips of some of the best plays from the top prospects over the last week.

2014 Draft

by John Dreker


The 2014 amateur draft is just under a month away and we started our preview of the players mentioned most in the Pirates range. Each Thursday we will profile four new players leading up to the draft on June 5th. In the upcoming days, we should start to see more mock drafts as the industry experts get a better idea of where these players are ranked.

**2014 Pirates Draft Prospects: Sean Newcomb, Braxton Davidson, Casey Gillaspie, Spencer Adams Profiles for the four players mentioned most often in Pirates range.

**Draft Prospect Watch: Casey Gillaspie Homers Twice, Sean Newcomb Throws Two-Hitter The two players mentioned most in the Pirates range both have big games on Saturday.

**Draft Prospect Watch: Trea Turner Scores Five Runs in Carlos Rodon’s Win The two big names for North Carolina State help them to victory over Coastal Carolina. Article also has links to the best articles on the draft and who the Pirates might take.

**Getting to Know Some Potential Pirates First Round Draft Picks Video highlights of the four players mentioned in the previous link

**Draft Prospect Watch: Sean Newcomb or Casey Gillaspie? Mock drafts and rankings

**Updated MLB.com Draft Prospect Rankings New rankings for the top prospects in the draft.

**Draft Prospect Watch: Michael Chavis Hits Four Homers In Two Days Chavis has been mentioned often in the Pirates range. Also updates on the best college relievers.

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