Pirates Prospects » Season Previews http://www.piratesprospects.com Your best source for news on the Pittsburgh Pirates and their minor league system. Sun, 20 Apr 2014 23:26:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 2014 Indianapolis Indians Season Preview http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/04/2014-indianapolis-indians-season-preview.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/04/2014-indianapolis-indians-season-preview.html#comments Thu, 03 Apr 2014 11:04:13 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=75381 The 2014 minor league season begins today. To prepare for the start of the season, we have previews of all four of the full season affiliates of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Here are the previews for each team:

Indianapolis Indians - READING

Altoona Curve

Bradenton Marauders

West Virginia Power

First Pitch: Picking Two Pirates Breakout Candidates From Each Level

Here is a look at the 2014 Indianapolis Indians, who will feature top prospect Gregory Polanco on their Opening Day roster.

Lineup

C – Carlos Paulino

1B – Andrew Lambo

2B – Michael Martinez

SS – Robert Andino

3B – Brent Morel

LF – Jaff Decker

CF – Chris Dickerson

RF – Gregory Polanco

DH – Chris McGuiness

The top prospect at the level is Gregory Polanco. He is expected to arrive in Pittsburgh by mid-season, after getting some additional at-bats in Triple-A and getting re-acclimated to right field. Polanco is an impact talent with plus speed and plus defense in the outfield. He also has great plate patience, can hit for average, and has some power potential still left in his tall frame. He’s a guy who projects to be a star in the majors, and he won’t be with Indianapolis for long.

The second biggest bat on the team belongs to Andrew Lambo. Coming into the season, Lambo looked like a lock to win the first base platoon job, splitting time with Gaby Sanchez. He struggled during Spring Training, and the Pirates sent him down to Indianapolis to get back on track. He could be an option for the first base job later this year if he returns to Triple-A and starts hitting again like he did in 2013.

Jaff Decker and Chris McGuiness were acquired over the off-season as a result of a trade that sent Alex Dickerson to San Diego. Decker was acquired in that deal with Miles Mikolas, and Mikolas was later flipped to Texas for McGuiness. Both players have similar profiles. They have shown a good ability to get on base, along with some decent power. Both could be an option for the bench this year. Decker could start in right field if Travis Snider and Jose Tabata struggle. McGuiness could start at first base if Travis Ishikawa and Lambo struggle.

The rest of the Indianapolis starters profile as depth options for the Pirates’ bench. Carlos Paulino is a strong defensive catcher with the best arm in the system. Michael Martinez and Robert Andino are the top middle infield depth options. Martinez had a good Spring Training, and the Pirates have liked Andino for several years before acquiring him last year. Brent Morel is one of the only true third basemen the Pirates have behind Pedro Alvarez. The Pirates are also planning to get him time at first base, and have him working at second base in practice. He could get some time at second base in games if he gets comfortable with the position. Chris Dickerson is a bench option for the outfield, capable of playing all three outfield roles.

Bench

Nevin Ashley, Chase d’Arnaud, Matt Hague, Adalberto Santos

Ashley could share the catching duties with Paulino until Tony Sanchez returns to Indianapolis. At that point, Sanchez will take over as the starter, with Paulino likely serving as the backup. D’Arnaud is another middle infield depth option for the Pirates, although they’ve also been getting him work in the outfield to add some versatility. Matt Hague could get some time as the designated hitter, and might also get some time at third base. Adalberto Santos can play second base, third base, and the corner outfield positions. He’s a good hitter with poor defense who profiles as a utility player if he reaches the majors.

Starting Rotation

Jacob Brigham, Brandon Cumpton, Phil Irwin, Casey Sadler, Adam Wilk*

Cumpton and Irwin could serve as early season depth. Pirates fans saw both in Pittsburgh last year. Cumpton pounds the strike zone with his four seam fastball — a pitch that has so much movement that it gets classified as a sinker. He relies heavily on the pitch, getting a ton of ground ball outs. Irwin works best when he can command his fastball and get ahead in the count, setting up his plus 12-to-6 curveball. Both starters have the potential to be back of the rotation starters one day in the majors.

Jeff Locke will join this rotation when he gets stretched out, and will join those two as early season depth options. Jake Brigham and Adam Wilk are currently holding down rotation spots until Locke and Jameson Taillon return. The return of Taillon is currently up in the air as the team debates the next step after his second opinion on the elbow. As for Locke, he had a great first half of the 2013 season, and a horrible second half. The truth is that his talent level probably falls somewhere in the middle, with the upside of a strong number four starter in the majors.

Sadler was added to the 40-man roster over the off-season, and will be making the jump to Indianapolis full time this year, after making an appearance at the level at the end of last season. He’s another sinkerball pitcher who has back of the rotation potential in the majors. He falls behind Cumpton, Locke, and Irwin on the depth charts, but could see action in the majors by the end of the 2014 season.

Vance Worley could also join the Indianapolis rotation after he gets stretched out in extended Spring Training. Worley could take Taillon’s spot in the rotation until he returns.

Bullpen

Jared Hughes, Jay Jackson, Josh Kinney, Andy Oliver*, Daniel Schlereth*, Zack Thornton, Duke Welker

The first players the Pirates will turn to would be the guys on the 40-man roster — Duke Welker and Jared Hughes. Welker is a hard thrower who consistently hits 97-98 MPH, and pairs that fastball with an upper 80s sharp slider. He has dealt with control problems in his career, but has improved on those issues the last few years. This is his final option year, which means he will need to show what he can do in the majors at some point this season. Hughes has a nice sinker, but lacks consistency with the pitch at times, which is why he hasn’t made the jump to the majors as a full time reliever. He should be the top option to go back and forth between Pittsburgh and Indianapolis this year, for when the Pirates need an extra reliever in Pittsburgh.

Jackson, Kinney, and Schlereth were all signed as minor league free agents over the off-season, along with Wilk and Brigham. It would appear that Wilk and Brigham are ahead of the other three right now, since they’re starting off in the rotation. Schlereth has been working on a new arm slot, aimed at getting more movement on his fastball and generating more ground ball outs. Jackson and Kinney are lower on the depth chart, but could make the majors if there were a lot of injuries to the bullpen.

Thornton had a big year in the minors last year, and is another ground ball heavy pitcher. He could be a sleeper option to arrive in the majors and help out the bullpen this year. Andy Oliver was outrighted off the 40-man roster at the end of Spring Training. The former top prospect has one more year to try and fix the control problems that have derailed his top prospect status. He’s eligible for minor league free agency following the 2014 season.

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2014 Altoona Curve Season Preview http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/04/2014-altoona-curve-season-preview.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/04/2014-altoona-curve-season-preview.html#comments Thu, 03 Apr 2014 11:03:12 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=75374 The 2014 minor league season begins today. To prepare for the start of the season, we have previews of all four of the full season affiliates of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Here are the previews for each team:

Indianapolis Indians

Altoona Curve – READING

Bradenton Marauders

West Virginia Power

First Pitch: Picking Two Pirates Breakout Candidates From Each Level

Here is a look at the 2014 Altoona Curve, who will feature top prospects Alen Hanson and Nick Kingham on their Opening Day roster.

Lineup

C – Elias Diaz

1B – Justin Howard

2B – Gift Ngoepe

SS – Alen Hanson

3B – Jarek Cunningham

LF – Keon Broxton

CF – Mel Rojas Jr.

RF – Willy Garcia

DH – Drew Maggi

The Altoona lineup is full of a lot of players who need to perform right away, at risk of becoming an organizational player or making their way out of baseball. The Pirates tend to push these types of prospects, forcing them to either move up and have success in Altoona, or move out of the system.

Alen Hanson is the one prospect who stands out, and isn’t a “move up or move out” type of guy. He’s one of the top prospects in the system, and the top shortstop prospect the Pirates have. There have been questions about Hanson’s defense, but people who see him live feel he has the skills to stick at shortstop. Hanson is an offense first shortstop, although his hitting wasn’t strong last year in his initial appearance with the Curve. He’s got the potential to be a leadoff hitter due to his speed and gap power. He could spend the entire year in Altoona, with the chance to move up to Indianapolis in time for the playoffs.

Outside of Hanson, there are a lot of question marks. Willy Garcia had a strong Spring, and has shown some impressive power at times in Bradenton and West Virginia the last two years. He has plate patience issues due to his inability to hit breaking stuff. He’s still young enough that he could break out and put it all together. It was only two years ago that he was seen as having the same or more upside as Hanson and Gregory Polanco.

Mel Rojas is another outfielder who has a lot of potential, but hasn’t put it all together yet. He has shown flashes throughout his career of strong performances, but usually lacks consistency, and follows up a few big games with a week of hitless games. His season in Altoona last year was one of his best performances, but he still needs work, which is why he’s back at the level. He’s a good defender with speed and raw power, and is another sleeper to watch.

The Pirates added Keon Broxton at the end of Spring Training. He was the number 15 prospect in Arizona’s farm system last year, according to Baseball America. They listed him as having plus speed and Major League defense with a plus arm. His bat hasn’t come along, and could eventually hold him back from the majors. With Garcia, Rojas, and Broxton, the Pirates have a very athletic outfield, and three guys who have yet to live up to their potential.

Justin Howard will start the season at first base, but will soon be replaced at the position by Stetson Allie. Allie had an oblique injury during Spring Training, and has been rehabbing in extended Spring Training. He is expected to make it to Altoona by the end of the week. He has the best raw power in the system, and the ball just explodes off his bat. His swing is much better this year, compared to last year in Bradenton when he struggled at the plate. Allie was crushing the ball early in camp, and was hitting well when he returned from his injury. He looks like the biggest breakout candidate in the system this year.

Altoona won’t have a set lineup at second and third base. Third base was played by a lot of different players during Spring Training, including Jarek Cunningham, Kelson Brown, and Dan Gamache. Those three could also play second base, splitting time with Gift Ngoepe. Gamache is currently out with a foot fracture, so Cunningham should get some extra time at third. Andy Vasquez can also play third.

Elias Diaz is a very athletic catcher with a strong arm and good raw hitting skills. He’s like the outfielders in that he’s more potential than results, and is running out of time. He does have the potential to be a good backup if he puts everything together.

Bench

Kelson Brown, Ralph Henriquez, Junior Sosa, Andy Vasquez

The bench players with Indianapolis have a shot at making the majors. The bench players in Altoona and below are mostly organizational guys. Brown should get time at second and third base. Sosa is a speedy outfielder who can play all three positions. Vasquez can play all over the field.

Starting Rotation

Zack Dodson*, Nick Kingham, Joely Rodriguez*, Tyler Sample, Adrian Sampson

Kingham is the top prospect here, but might not be in Altoona for long. He spent the second half of the 2013 season in Altoona, with great results. The Pirates have sent a lot of pitchers back to Altoona after having success in less than a full season. Some of those pitchers ended up making the majors by the end of the same season. Jeff Locke did it in 2012, and Brandon Cumpton did it in 2013. Kingham might be with Indianapolis before June, and could be in the majors by the end of the year. He’s got the upside of a number three starter in the majors, and could be in the major league rotation in 2015.

Joely Rodriguez had a nice breakout season in 2013. He’s always had good stuff, with a fastball that could work in the 91-94 MPH range, and a nice slider and changeup. He showed improvements with the changeup in 2013, but most importantly he started consistently throwing 91-94 MPH, and commanding his fastball in that range. Rodriguez was added to the 40-man roster over the off-season, and could end up being a Justin Wilson-type pitcher, with the ability to either be a dominant lefty out of the bullpen, or a starting option.

Adrian Sampson is a sleeper prospect to watch. He can get his fastball up to 94 MPH, and pairs that with a nice curveball. He wasn’t helped by a poor infield defense last year in Bradenton, but also struggled with the consistency of his stuff at times. The stuff is good enough to allow Sampson to eventually pitch in a major league rotation. This is the second year in a row that the Pirates have given him an aggressive push.

Zack Dodson is the only prep pitcher from the 2009 draft class who is still a starter. He’s another guy who is following the “move up or move out” approach, getting promoted to the next level, despite a lack of success at his previous level. There was a time when Dodson looked like he could have a future as a number three starter in the majors. That might be out now, but he still has a chance to make it as a reliever.

Tyler Sample will take the fifth spot in the rotation, but could be replaced early in the season by Pat Ludwig. The Pirates have Ludwig piggybacking with Ryan Hafner in High-A. That situation could change in a few weeks when Tyler Glasnow returns to Bradenton. Ludwig spent a lot of time this camp working as a starter against Double-A opponents.

Bullpen

Ryan Beckman, Matt Benedict, Emmanuel de Leon, Kenn Kasparek, Joan Montero, A.J. Morris, Jhonathan Ramos*

Just like the bench players, the bullpen options don’t provide a lot of future major leaguers. The Pirates do have a few hard throwers in this group. Emmanuel de Leon and Joan Montero can both work in the mid-90s, but each pitcher has struggled with control at times. Ryan Beckman was ticketed to be the Altoona closer two years ago, but went down early with an elbow injury that needed Tommy John surgery. He’s a sinkerball pitcher who throws from a sidearm motion, getting a lot of movement with the pitch.

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2014 Bradenton Marauders Season Preview http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/04/2014-bradenton-marauders-season-preview.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/04/2014-bradenton-marauders-season-preview.html#comments Thu, 03 Apr 2014 11:02:24 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=75373 The 2014 minor league season begins today. To prepare for the start of the season, we have previews of all four of the full season affiliates of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Here are the previews for each team:

Indianapolis Indians

Altoona Curve

Bradenton Marauders – READING

West Virginia Power

First Pitch: Picking Two Pirates Breakout Candidates From Each Level

Here is a look at the 2014 Bradenton Marauders, who will feature top prospect Josh Bell on their Opening Day roster, with Tyler Glasnow on the way.

Lineup

C – Jin-De Jhang

1B – Jose Osuna

2B – Max Moroff

SS – Adam Frazier

3B – Walker Gourley

LF – Raul Fortunato

CF – Jeff Roy

RF – Josh Bell

DH – Jordan Steranka

The highlight of the offense will be Josh Bell. The outfielder quietly had a good year at the plate with West Virginia, although it was overshadowed by the monster season from Stetson Allie. It also fell short of Bell’s full potential when he was drafted, which was the ability to eventually hit for a plus average with plus power. Bell could still reach those levels offensively. He’ll start in Bradenton, and with success he could move up to Altoona by the end of the season.

Jin-De Jhang is the next best prospect at the level. He’s a strong hitting catcher with a good arm and increased agility behind the plate due to some weight loss over the last few years. Jhang has the chance to be a two-way catcher, although a lot of his value will come from his ability to hit for average and his power potential.

Jose Osuna played in Bradenton last year, but really struggled at the plate and will return to the level in 2014. That’s unlike guys in previous years who have struggled and moved on to Altoona, such as Willy Garcia, Mel Rojas, and Stetson Allie. Osuna looked lost at the plate last year, showing very few signs of success. He does have some good power potential, but needs to quickly turn things around in his second run through Bradenton.

Out of the rest of the lineup, Adam Frazier has the best chance of being more than a bench guy. I haven’t seen much of him in game action, but I’ve heard good reports on his hitting skills. He can play both middle infield positions, and will be playing shortstop with the Marauders. His ability to play shortstop, hit for average, and his speed could get him to the majors one day.

Max Moroff is a raw infield prospect who gets favorable ratings from scouts, but has fallen behind Frazier on the depth charts. He will mostly play second base this year, but should still get some time at short. Walker Gourley is very athletic, capable of playing anywhere on the field. He’ll get most of his time at third base to start the year. Eric Wood is currently injured, but is expected to take over the third base position when he returns. Wood is like Moroff in that he’s very raw, but gets favorable ratings from scouts. Raul Fortunato is a very toolsy outfielder who has displayed a good hitting ability in his career. Jeff Roy has a ton of speed, but that’s pretty much his one tool, and it might not be enough to get him to the majors.

Bench

D.J. Crumlich, Ashley Ponce, Jonathan Schwind, Jacob Stallings

The guy who could make the biggest long-term impact here is Jacob Stallings. He doesn’t have the typical catcher’s body, as he’s very tall and skinny. He does have good defensive skills, and a great ability to handle a pitching staff. Stallings almost reminds you of Chris Stewart, since he’s a no bat, all defense catcher.

Starting Rotation

Jason Creasy, Ryan Hafner/Pat Ludwig, John Kuchno, Chad Kuhl, Orlando Castro*

Tyler Glasnow will eventually join this rotation, and will be the top option when he is fully stretched out. Glasnow is the second best pitching prospect in the system, and could finish the year in Altoona, depending on his success in Bradenton. Clay Holmes was originally slated to pitch in Bradenton this year, but that was before he had Tommy John surgery.

The Marauders will see a few starting pitchers who have worked in relief in the past. Jason Creasy started the 2013 season in the West Virginia bullpen, pitching long relief. He moved to the rotation in the second half, and had a lot of success. Creasy is a two-seam fastball pitcher, and has the stuff to make it as a starter in the majors with the way ground ball pitchers have success with the Pirates.

Ryan Hafner and Pat Ludwig were also relievers in West Virginia at the start of last season. They’ll be piggybacking in Bradenton. Hafner had one of the best strikeout rates in the organization, after switching to a two-seam fastball and learning a slider before the 2013 season. He has been working on his changeup, and will move back to the rotation this year, after struggling as a starter in 2012. Ludwig moved to the rotation at the end of the 2013 season in Bradenton. He could make the jump to Altoona early in the year, possibly as soon as Glasnow returns.

Chad Kuhl had a lot of success in Jamestown last year, and will be an interesting guy to follow this year. He was a ninth round pick in the 2013 draft, and is a sinkerball pitcher who can sit around 94 MPH with the pitch. He could be one of the best pitchers in the rotation this year, and might have a shot at ending up with Altoona by the end of the season.

Orlando Castro moved to the rotation last year in West Virginia and had a ton of success. He didn’t have the same results in Bradenton, and eventually moved to the bullpen. He’ll start back in the rotation, although I don’t like his upside, since he seems like a lefty who has success in A-ball due mostly to advanced off-speed stuff.

Bullpen

Thomas Harlan*, Jhondaniel Medina, Robby Rowland, Josh Smith*, Bryton Trepagnier, Tyler Waldron

The top reliever from this group is Medina, who is a hard thrower that has a chance to make the majors one day as a middle reliever or Triple-A depth. The Pirates acquired Medina for Yamaico Navarro prior to the 2013 season. He put up great numbers in West Virginia last year, showing some nice velocity in the process.

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2014 West Virginia Power Season Preview http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/04/2014-west-virginia-power-season-preview.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/04/2014-west-virginia-power-season-preview.html#comments Thu, 03 Apr 2014 11:01:25 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=75390 The 2014 minor league season begins today. To prepare for the start of the season, we have previews of all four of the full season affiliates of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Here are the previews for each team:

Indianapolis Indians

Altoona Curve

Bradenton Marauders

West Virginia Power – READING

First Pitch: Picking Two Pirates Breakout Candidates From Each Level

Here is a look at the 2014 West Virginia Power, who will feature top prospects Reese McGuire, Harold Ramirez, and Luis Heredia on their Opening Day roster, with Clay Holmes on the way.

Lineup

C – Reese McGuire

1B – Edwin Espinal

2B – Erich Weiss

SS – JaCoby Jones

3B – Wyatt Mathisen

LF – Danny Collins/Candon Myles

CF – Barrett Barnes

RF – Harold Ramirez

DH – Michael Fransoso/Danny Collins

The West Virginia lineup is loaded with a lot of high upside players, which gives them a great chance at a breakout candidate once again. 2013 first round picks Reese McGuire and Austin Meadows will both be at the level. Meadows isn’t on the Opening Day roster, as he is recovering from a hamstring injury. He hopes to join the team by the end of April, although he hasn’t been playing in games yet. Meadows has plus power potential, and could eventually be an impact hitter at a corner outfield spot in the majors. McGuire is one of the best defensive catchers in the minors, with outstanding maturity and discipline behind the plate. Both of these guys are already rated as top 100 prospects, so they don’t necessarily fall in the typical “breakout” category.

Wyatt Mathisen was drafted as a catcher in the second round of the 2012 draft, but moved to third base this year to get playing time with McGuire at the same level. The move to third might end up helping Mathisen. He played more shortstop in high school, due to his athleticism. Learning third base might be more natural for him than learning catcher, which could allow him to focus on his hitting more.

The move for Mathisen meant that Erich Weiss moved over to second base. The Pirates drafted Weiss in the 11th round of the 2013 draft, and gave him a $305,000 bonus, which ended up resulting in a tax after they went over their bonus pool. They liked Weiss for his bat, which should play better at second base.

JaCoby Jones is another 2013 draft pick who has a lot of upside due to his speed and athleticism. There were concerns about his swing around the draft, but he’s shown a good hitting ability since entering pro ball, leaving no reason to change his approach at the moment. He will be moving to shortstop this year, and is one of the biggest breakout candidates on the team. If his bat continues to do well, and he can handle the shortstop position, he will shoot up the prospect ranks.

The most exciting thing about the West Virginia team is the outfield, especially when Meadows returns. Alongside Meadows will be Barrett Barnes and Harold Ramirez. Barnes was a first round compensation pick in 2012. He has a lot of tools, and can play center field. The only problem is that he’s been hurt pretty often since entering pro ball. As a result, he has missed a lot of development time. That has him back in West Virginia, rather than where he probably should be, in Bradenton. He might make Bradenton by the end of the year if he can finally stay healthy and hit in A-ball.

Ramirez had a small breakout last year, being named the top prospect in the NYPL by Baseball America. He has strong defense, a great arm, and plus contact skills with a quick bat. He doesn’t hit for a lot of power, which doesn’t make him your typical corner outfielder. However, his speed, defense, ability to hit for average, and gap power more than makes up for the lack of home runs. If Ramirez repeats his 2013 season in West Virginia, then he could see another breakout, this time ending up on a lot of top 100 lists.

Danny Collins will play left field at the start of the season, while also getting time at first base and DH. Collins was a 2013 draft pick, and has some pop in his bat. He’s got more value if he can stick in left field, although his only chance of playing there all year is if Barnes moves to Bradenton when Meadows returns.

A deep sleeper on this team is Edwin Espinal. When Espinal first came to the US, he had the nickname “Tank” due to his huge size. He has slimmed down since his rookie season, and has moved to first base from third base. Espinal has a lot of raw power, and some good potential with his bat. Raw is the key word when describing him. The numbers don’t say that he’s a top prospect, but I get a lot of unsolicited praise about his game and his potential, especially when asking people about the promising Latin American prospects in the lower levels. He’s a guy to watch, especially if that power finally clicks.

Bench

Chris Diaz, Francisco Diaz, Michael Fransoso, Candon Myles

Fransoso will get time as the designated hitter early in the season. Candon Myles will get some time in left field. These assignments depend on where Danny Collins will be playing, with Collins getting a lot of time in left field. Once Austin Meadows returns, Collins will primarily be the designated hitter, with Barnes moving over to left field. That will make it hard for Fransoso and Myles to both get regular starts. None of the bench players in West Virginia profile as guys who could make the majors.

Starting Rotation

Buddy Borden, Shane Carle, Cody Dickson*, Luis Heredia, Dovydas Neverauskas

The West Virginia rotation has a lot of talent, led by returning pitcher Luis Heredia. The Pirates are sending Heredia to West Virginia on Opening Day this year, with the goal of him pitching a full season. He might move up to Bradenton after a month or two, and there would certainly be room for him in that rotation. Heredia has been throwing in the low-90s in Spring Training, and has hit 95 MPH. He’s in much better shape this year than he was last year. He needs to work on his control, along with getting command of his new slurve. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s in Bradenton by the start of the second half.

Buddy Borden and Cody Dickson are two promising pitchers from the 2013 draft. Borden was a seventh round pick who throws 89-93 MPH, touching the mid-90s at times. He also throws a low 80s curve, and an upper 70s changeup. Both pitches could be average offerings in the majors one day. Borden has a clean delivery, and can be dominant while attacking hitters and challenging them to hit his stuff. He’s a nice sleeper to be a starter in the majors one day, and possibly more than just a back of the rotation guy.

Dickson is a lefty who can throw 91-94 MPH, and pairs that with a great curveball. He needs to work on his fastball command and develop a changeup. If those two things fall in place, he could end up as a number three starter in the majors. If that doesn’t happen, his fastball/curveball combo will make him a power lefty reliever.

Dovydas Neverauskas has been a guy who has been on my radar ever since he came into the system. I saw him hitting 95 MPH at the age of 18, and he started hitting that more consistently the following year when the Pirates made him a starter in the GCL. Last year he was a starter in Jamestown, and was a strong pitcher for the most part, with a few horrible outings. He pairs his fastball with a curveball, but the pitch didn’t generate a lot of strikeouts. He’s going to need to develop an out pitch. For now, his tall, projectable frame, easy delivery and arm action, and already-mid-90s velocity has him on the radar as a starting pitching prospect to watch.

Finally, Shane Carle was taken in the tenth round of the 2013 draft, and is another sinkerball pitcher with good velocity. Carle had a lot of success in the Jamestown rotation last year, working primarily with his 92-94 MPH sinker. The pitch was a swing and miss pitch at times, and generated a 56% ground ball ratio. He didn’t get the aggressive push to Bradenton that Chad Kuhl received, although he could end up in Bradenton by the end of the season. That type of promotion is also possible for Borden and Dickson, since both were college pitchers, like Carle. Neverauskas is the only guy who could spend the entire season with West Virginia.

Bullpen

Yhonathan Barrios, Henry Hirsch, Will Kendall*, Jerry Mulderig, Clario Perez, Isaac Sanchez, Justin Topa

Last year the West Virginia bullpen started off with Jason Creasy, Ryan Hafner, Pat Ludwig, and Kyle Haynes. The first three are now in the Bradenton rotation. Haynes was traded over the off-season for Chris Stewart. This year the West Virginia bullpen shows some upside, possibly more than most low-A bullpens show.

Yhonathan Barrios is a hard thrower who can consistently hit 98-99 MPH. Barrios was signed as a shortstop out of Colombia, and was given one of the biggest international bonuses in Pirates’ history at the time. He was converted to a pitcher last year, which is what he was before being signed by the Pirates. His velocity is the feature, but he also has some nice break on his slider, making him a sleeper reliever to watch.

Isaac Sanchez has the best chance of making the eventual jump to the rotation. This is especially true once one of the members of the starting rotation leaves for Bradenton. Sanchez has good stuff, and was a member of the Jamestown rotation last year, showing promising stuff and getting good reviews from coaches in the organization.

Henry Hirsch and Justin Topa are two hard throwers who can hit mid-90s with their fastballs. I could see Topa getting extended work, and possibly a few starts by the end of the year.

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The Pirates Have a Bench That Can’t Hit Right-Handers http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/03/the-pirates-have-a-bench-that-cant-hit-right-handers.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/03/the-pirates-have-a-bench-that-cant-hit-right-handers.html#comments Sun, 30 Mar 2014 20:02:05 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=75202 The 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates season begins on Monday when the Pirates take on the Cubs. To prepare for the start of the year, I’ll be previewing all of the position groups on the Opening Day roster. Here are the previews we have so far.

The Pirates Rotation Has Some Red Flags, But Still Projects to Carry the Team

The Pirates Won’t Have to Wait For Gregory Polanco to Have a Top Outfield

Pirates Will Once Again Have Strong Infield Defense and Offensive Questions

The Pirates are Returning a Bullpen That Was One of the Best in Baseball

The Pirates Have a Bench That Can’t Hit Right-Handers – READING

The Pirates have had a weak bench the last few years. They haven’t had the luxury of a good bench bat like the St. Louis Cardinals had last year with Matt Adams. There are a few big reasons for this. For one, they prefer defense with their backup catcher and shortstop spots. They’ve also carried a platoon at first base the last few years, along with split playing time in right field last year. That means there’s only one spot on the bench that could be focused on offense, and the Pirates haven’t had an offensive based player to fill that role.

This doesn’t look to change at the start of the 2014 season. It’s not that a team needs a big hitter off the bench. The Pirates didn’t have one last year, and they won 94 games and made the playoffs. But it’s nice to have a bat you can turn to in the late innings, rather than a group of players with no one standing out from the pack. Here is a look at the makeup of the bench, along with some thoughts on where the Pirates could find their go-to bench bat.

Tony Sanchez/Chris Stewart

Sanchez will start the year as the backup catcher with Stewart on the disabled list. By the end of April, Stewart should be back, with Sanchez going to Triple-A. Stewart has a lot of value defensively, but lacks any value from his bat. Meanwhile, Sanchez has some value offensively, although that is limited since teams don’t normally use their backup catcher in a pinch-hitting role.

Expect the Pirates to once again focus on defense from their backup catcher spot. Sanchez will get some time in the majors, and his offense will help in the games where he is starting over Martin, but that will hardly help the bench during games.

Ga

Gaby Sanchez can crush left-handers, but struggles against right-handers. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Gaby Sanchez/Travis Ishikawa

Normally the first base platoon has the chance to provide help late in games against specific handed pitchers. That’s still the case with Gaby Sanchez. He’s a great option against left-handers later in a game, assuming he didn’t start that game. The problem with this first base platoon is that neither player has a good track record of hitting right-handers, and you typically need a pinch hitter against a right-handed pitcher more than a left-handed pitcher.

If the Pirates could find a way to get an everyday first baseman, or someone who could hit right-handers for this platoon, then they could upgrade their bench. An everyday guy would allow them to use the second spot from this platoon on someone who could just be a bench bat, with no other roles to fill on the roster.

Jose Tabata or Travis Snider would be the best bet for the Pirates to have a good bat off the bench. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Jose Tabata or Travis Snider would be the best bet for the Pirates to have a good bat off the bench. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Travis Snider/Jose Tabata

This combo might be the best bet of producing a good bench hitter, although that’s saying something considering neither of these outfielders are guarantees. Snider looks to get the majority of the playing time in right field, which means Tabata will be the bat off the bench in most games. Tabata hit well at the end of the 2013 season, with an .848 OPS in August and September. If he can hit like that again this year, he would make a strong bat off the bench. That’s assuming Snider ends up hitting.

The Pirates need one of these two guys to hit for the starting lineup until Gregory Polanco arrives. Once Polanco is ready, they can move the most productive player to the bench, and hope that this will result in a strong bat for pinch-hitting opportunities.

Clint Barmes

Barmes was signed to be the backup middle infielder, although he has been getting playing time all around the infield and could play in more of a utility role. His best value is at shortstop due to his defense. As far as the bat goes, Barmes won’t provide the Pirates with value off the bench. This is one of those cases where the Pirates are choosing defense over offense. That’s a choice you have to make with middle infielders off the bench. If you had a middle infielder who could do both, he’d probably be a starter.

Josh Harrison

Harrison will take up the final spot on the bench. This is the spot where the Pirates could use a nice bat. However, they don’t have any internal options that stand out. Harrison had some success last year against left-handers. His primary value comes from the fact that he can play a lot of positions, including backing up third base, or shortstop in a pinch. He could see some time in the lineup against left-handers at second base, and he could be another option against lefties. However, this is another spot where the Pirates will lack a bat that can hit right-handers.

The Depth

If a starter goes down, then the replacement will probably come from the bench. That means the depth in Triple-A would be next in line for a bench role, unless it was a position like first base, where the only replacement options are in Triple-A. That’s also the one position where the Pirates might be able to solve their bench issues. Andrew Lambo would be a great bat off the bench if he starts hitting. The problem is that the Pirates would need him in the lineup if that happens, since his upside is greater than the upside of Ishikawa. However, if Lambo does get back on track in Triple-A, that could at least help the Pirates’ bench in games where Gaby Sanchez starts.

The backup infielders aren’t much better than Josh Harrison as far as the hitting goes. They include Michael Martinez, Robert Andino, Chase d’Arnaud, and Brent Morel. If there is an injury to the infield, one of these guys would step up as depth for the bench. However, this group won’t provide that bat the Pirates need.

Jaff Decker and Chris Dickerson are options in the outfield, but they’re not going to get a chance unless there’s an injury early in the season, or unless Tabata and Snider both struggle this year.

The best hope the Pirates have for a good bat off the bench would come from Snider/Tabata. They would either need both players to hit well early in the season, or just one of them to hit well off the bench after Polanco arrives.

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The Pirates are Returning a Bullpen That Was One of the Best in Baseball http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/03/the-pirates-are-returning-a-bullpen-that-was-one-of-the-best-in-baseball.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/03/the-pirates-are-returning-a-bullpen-that-was-one-of-the-best-in-baseball.html#comments Sun, 30 Mar 2014 17:35:32 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=75183 The 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates season begins on Monday when the Pirates take on the Cubs. To prepare for the start of the year, I’ll be previewing all of the position groups on the Opening Day roster. Here are the previews we have so far.

The Pirates Rotation Has Some Red Flags, But Still Projects to Carry the Team

The Pirates Won’t Have to Wait For Gregory Polanco to Have a Top Outfield

Pirates Will Once Again Have Strong Infield Defense and Offensive Questions

The Pirates are Returning a Bullpen That Was One of the Best in Baseball – READING

The Pirates Have a Bench That Can’t Hit Right-Handers

Last year the Pirates had one of the best bullpens in the majors. The bullpen combined for a phenomenal 2.89 ERA, which ranked third in all of baseball, and second in the National League. Their 3.35 FIP ranked fifth overall, indicating that it wasn’t just luck that led the Pirates to their success. Many of the members from the 2013 bullpen will be returning in 2014. In fact, the only major change was to swap out Vin Mazzaro for Stolmy Pimentel, which could end up being a nice upgrade if Pimentel realizes his upside in the majors. Here is a look at what to expect from each reliever this year.

Jason Grilli was dominant when healthy last year.

Jason Grilli was dominant when healthy last year.

Jason Grilli

Grilli was lights out last year, posting a 2.70 ERA and a 1.97 FIP. The only downside was that he missed time with an elbow injury, putting him out of action for a little over a month. He was a little shaky when he first came back, but settled down and finished the year with five scoreless outings in a row.

There are two concerns with Grilli heading into the 2014 season. The first concern is that he won’t be able to repeat his 2013 success. Both his FIP and xFIP were lower than his ERA. Part of that is due to his struggles in early September. However, if he continues striking out well more than a batter an inning, there’s no reason to think that he can’t put up an ERA below 3.00, and probably more likely something closer to an ERA around 2.00.

I’m not as concerned with the chance for regression. The bigger concern would be his age and his health. He missed a month last year, and at age 37, expecting full health seems optimistic. The Pirates played it safe with him during Spring Training, limiting his workload and getting him a lot of work at Pirate City, where pitch counts can be controlled. What they need to avoid is a scenario like the 2013 season, where Grilli had 27 appearances in the first two months of the season. It’s not a bad thing to see your closer that often, since that means you’re winning a lot of games. However, winning by more than two or three runs can help to avoid using your closer for every single win.

Steamer: 65 IP, 2.82 FIP

Oliver: 56 IP, 2.91 FIP

ZiPS: 50.1 IP, 2.61 FIP

Mark Melancon ranked as one of the best relievers in baseball last year.

Mark Melancon ranked as one of the best relievers in baseball last year.

Mark Melancon

Despite putting up one of the best seasons of any reliever in baseball last year, Melancon comes with concerns. Like Grilli, there’s the concern of regression. In Melancon’s case, regression seems more likely. He had a 1.39 ERA last year, which was below his 1.64 FIP and 2.05 xFIP. You probably don’t need to see the advanced metrics to know that a guy who posted a 1.39 ERA probably won’t continue with those numbers. However, the advanced numbers from Melancon suggest that he can still post a dominant season.

The other concern comes with his struggles in the closer role at the end of the season. I don’t hold the belief that a pitcher can be dominant in the 8th inning, but needs something special to dominate in the 9th inning. I think it’s more likely that Melancon’s late-season struggles came as a result of his workload and a small sample size. He basically had one bad week at the end of the season, and prior to that he converted 16 of 17 save opportunities.

Considering Grilli’s age and health concerns, there’s a possibility that Melancon could get some more save chances this year. I’d expect him to continue to dominate, although maybe not to the extreme that we saw last year. With Grilli set to be a free agent after the 2014 season, Melancon could use any opportunities this year to show that he can replace Grilli as the closer in future years.

Steamer: 65 IP, 2.74 FIP

Oliver: 70 IP, 2.98 FIP

ZiPS: 68.2 IP, 2.64 FIP

Tony Watson was one of the top five relievers in the game in the second half of the 2013 season. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Tony Watson was one of the top five relievers in the game in the second half of the 2013 season. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Tony Watson

Watson got off to a bad start during the 2013 season. He had a 4.44 ERA in 26.1 innings through the first two months of the season. That might have been due to the fact that he was dealing with an injury last Spring, which altered the way he prepared for his season. The good news is that Watson was healthy this Spring, getting a lot of multi-inning appearances at Pirate City to build arm strength and possibly prepare for multi-inning roles this year.

The interesting thing about Watson’s season was how he recovered from that bad start. He was one of the best relievers in baseball in the second half of the season. His 0.69 ERA ranked 5th out of 152 qualified relievers in the second half. His 1.89 FIP suggests that he will regress a bit, but still could be dominant.

The biggest change for Watson last year came with improvement to his control. He went from a 4.39 BB/9 in his rookie season to a 3.88 BB/9 in 2012. Last year he saw serious improvements, putting up a 1.51 BB/9. This could be due to a switch in his approach. In 2011 he was throwing a four-seam fastball. He switched to a sinker in 2012, and got more comfortable with the pitch last year.

I doubt Watson will carry his second half results over and continue pitching like one of the best relievers in baseball. However, I could see him exceeding his projections below, especially if he continues showing improvements with his sinker and eliminating the walks.

Steamer: 55 IP, 3.60 FIP

Oliver: 64 IP, 3.69 FIP

ZiPS: 63.1 IP, 3.46 FIP

Justin Wilson needs to maintain his lowered walk rates going forward.

Justin Wilson needs to maintain his lowered walk rates going forward.

Justin Wilson

Like everyone else in the bullpen last year, Wilson had a dominant season, posting a 2.08 ERA. However, if you’re looking for someone who could regress, Wilson is a prime candidate. He’s not at risk of dropping to the point where he’s a bad reliever. He just shouldn’t be expected to put up another ERA like he did last year.

Wilson’s control is an issue, with a 3.4 BB/9 last year. He benefitted from a .229 BABIP and an 84.9% strand rate. That combo means that his walk rate was hidden by a lack of hits, and the impact of the walks were reduced by a high strand rate. I wouldn’t be surprised if the BABIP stays low. It probably won’t be in the .229 range, but Wilson has always had a low BABIP throughout his career in the upper levels. FIP expects him to drop to league average, and I think he could exceed that.

The strand rate will probably go down, which means those walks will catch up to him. He did show improvements last year with his control, posting the best BB/9 of his pro career, including the minors. Whether that can continue will be something to watch. I think Wilson will end up with an ERA in the mid-3 range this year, similar to his 3.41 FIP last year. That’s still a good reliever, but that’s not the dominant looking ERA we saw last year.

Steamer: 55 IP, 3.49 FIP

Oliver: 104 IP, 4.33 FIP

ZiPS: 72 IP, 3.99 FIP

Jeanmar Gomez pitched well in a lot of roles for the Pirates last year. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Jeanmar Gomez pitched well in a lot of roles for the Pirates last year. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Jeanmar Gomez

Gomez filled a ton of roles last year. He was a starter, a long-reliever, a one inning middle reliever, and a late-inning guy at times. In the process, he had a 3.35 ERA and a 3.85 FIP. His results in the bullpen were closer to the FIP, with a 3.77 ERA. Gomez plays perfectly into the Pirates’ system of strong infield defense and defensive shifts. He’s got a great sinkerball, which led to a 55.4% ground ball rate last year.

The Pirates could use Gomez in a similar role this year, although Stolmy Pimentel’s presence means that Gomez might not make a lot of starts in the rotation. He’s not a dominant reliever who gets strikeouts, but his sinker-heavy approach makes him a great option for the middle innings, long-relief, or any other role he might be needed for. The projections are lower on him, although that could be due to his struggles before coming to the Pirates. Two of the projections also have him getting over 100 innings, which is something I don’t see happening.

Steamer: 59 IP, 3.76 FIP

Oliver: 142 IP, 4.12 FIP

ZiPS: 128.1 IP, 4.14 FIP

Bryan Morris looked like a different pitcher this Spring. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Bryan Morris looked like a different pitcher this Spring. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Bryan Morris

Morris had good numbers last year, posting a 3.46 ERA in 65 innings. However, his 4.34 xFIP suggests he would be in line for regression if he continues pitching the way he did during the 2013 season. Fortunately, he looks like a different pitcher this year.

Morris has added a two-seam fastball, which looked effective in camp. He has been hitting 97 MPH, and his stuff looks nasty. Last year Morris threw his cutter 49.6% of the time. I’d expect him to lean more on his fastballs this year, using the cutter as an out pitch, instead of his primary pitch. That could help him improve the control numbers (3.9 BB/9), and possibly add some more strikeouts compared to last year (5.1 K/9).

It’s hard to say how Morris will perform with his new stuff. Most of the projections have him finishing near his advanced metrics last year. If the new approach does well, he could repeat his 2013 ERA, and actually have the advanced metrics to support that success as legit.

Steamer: 30 IP, 3.74 FIP

Oliver: 76 IP, 4.24 FIP

ZiPS: 74.2 IP, 4.36 FIP

Stolmy Pimentel will get a shot at the Majors this year, with a chance to be a starter next year.

Stolmy Pimentel will get a shot at the Majors this year, with a chance to be a starter next year.

Stolmy Pimentel

At the start of Spring Training I wrote about Stolmy Pimentel, and why he looked like a favorite for the Opening Day roster. He ended up making the team, after getting a starter’s workload during camp. Pimentel’s major league track record is limited to the 9.1 innings he pitched last year. He’s on the team because of his stuff and his upside. Read the article above for a breakdown of his stuff.

The 2014 season will largely be about getting Pimentel adjusted to the majors. The Pirates have three starting pitchers in their rotation who are eligible for free agency after the season. They’ll replace one of those spots with Jameson Taillon. Pimentel could be another candidate to start next year if he does well in the majors this year. I’d expect him to get a Jeanmar Gomez-type role, working some long-relief early in the season, getting a few spot starts, and picking up higher leverage appearances if he starts to show success in other roles.

Steamer: 35 IP, 3.90 FIP

Oliver: 150 IP, 5.11 FIP

ZiPS: 142.1 IP, 4.31 FIP

The Depth

As good as the bullpen was last year, the Pirates were lucky. They didn’t see many injuries to the core group. If you take out September call-up innings, the Pirates had about 60 innings from their depth throughout the season. Four of their seven primary relievers threw 70+ innings in the bullpen. The other three went 65 innings (Morris), 50 innings (Grilli), and 45.1 innings (Gomez). Grilli was the only reliever who had an injury that caused him to miss a lot of time. Gomez was limited in the bullpen because he was helping out in the rotation.

In short, this rarely happens. And don’t expect it to happen again this year. The Pirates will most likely need to turn to their depth, and fortunately, they have a lot of depth to turn to.

The 40-man roster has Jared Hughes, Duke Welker, and anyone who will also serve as depth for the rotation. The Pirates usually try to preserve their rotation depth, so Hughes and Welker seem like the first guys the team could turn to if an injury occurs. Hughes has a nice sinker, but the pitch lacks consistency at times, which is why he hasn’t landed a full-time major league job yet. Welker saw a brief appearance in the majors last year, and ranked as one of the hardest throwers in the league during that small sample. His minor league reports back that velocity up. He’s got the fastball/slider combo to be a late inning guy, and the 2014 season could be his chance to show what he can do in the majors.

The non-roster invitees include a lot of depth options, both left and right-handed. The lefties include Daniel Schlereth, Adam Wilk, and Yao-Hsun Yang. I’d expect Schlereth to get the first shot at a job if one of Watson or Wilson go down. However, regular season results with Indianapolis could change that.

On the right-handed side, the Pirates have a lot of interesting options. Zack Thornton was acquired for Chris Resop a year ago, and had an excellent season in the minors last year. He doesn’t have the best stuff, but pounds the strike zone and gets a lot of ground balls, which is an approach the Pirates seem to like. Jake Brigham, Cody Eppley, Josh Kinney, and Jay Jackson were all minor league free agents, and could be options depending on their success with Indianapolis. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jackson and Brigham get extended roles with Indianapolis early in the season, especially with Jeff Locke getting stretched out and Jameson Taillon missing a month. They could also be two of the main options that the Pirates turn to if they need bullpen depth.

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Pirates Will Once Again Have Strong Infield Defense and Offensive Questions http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/03/pirates-will-once-again-have-strong-infield-defense-and-offensive-questions.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/03/pirates-will-once-again-have-strong-infield-defense-and-offensive-questions.html#comments Sat, 29 Mar 2014 16:04:36 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=75122 The 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates season begins on Monday when the Pirates take on the Cubs. To prepare for the start of the year, I’ll be previewing all of the position groups on the Opening Day roster. Here are the previews we have so far.

The Pirates Rotation Has Some Red Flags, But Still Projects to Carry the Team

The Pirates Won’t Have to Wait For Gregory Polanco to Have a Top Outfield

Pirates Will Once Again Have Strong Infield Defense and Offensive Questions – READING

The Pirates are Returning a Bullpen That Was One of the Best in Baseball

The Pirates Have a Bench That Can’t Hit Right-Handers

The Pirates won last year in large part to their pitching staff, and their defense played a big part in that. The defense behind the plate from Russell Martin was huge, and the defensive shifts in the infield also had a huge assist. Martin will return this year, and the current infield looks to be good defensively. Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez have both been showing improvements at their position, while Jordy Mercer has been working on improving his defense so he won’t negate his offensive value. The current first base alignment gets a lot of their value from defense, with question marks about the ability to hit right-handed pitching. Here is a look at the starters at each position around the infield, including the catcher position.

Russell Martin was one of the best defensive catchers in the game last year. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Russell Martin was one of the best defensive catchers in the game last year. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Catcher – Russell Martin

A lot of the value that Russell Martin brings to the table used to be hard to quantify. However, Baseball Prospectus did a great job of putting a number on his pitch framing and blocking skills. For that reason, we know that he was worth 2.3 wins above replacement for his pitch framing skills, and 1.3 wins above replacement for his blocking skills last year. Both skills ranked among the best in baseball, which combined with Martin’s 40% caught stealing rate, made him one of the best defensive catchers in the game.

Offensively, Martin didn’t have a lot of value. Actually he had no value, putting up replacement level numbers. His average and OBP improved from the 2012 season, but his power dropped. I wouldn’t expect that to change in 2014, since the last time he has provided more than replacement level value with his batting and base running was in 2008.

Even with replacement level offense, Martin was worth 4.1 wins above replacement last year, and that was without the advanced catching metrics on framing and blocking (although FanGraphs does attempt to quantify blocking, with their numbers being lower than the BP studies). What we’ve learned in the last year is that catcher defense is extremely important, and probably still undervalued. That’s not an aspect of Martin’s game that will be going away any time soon, so you can expect another good year from him defensively. Anything he does at the plate is just a bonus.

I’d expect Martin to outperform the projections, since they probably don’t account for his defense as much as FanGraphs. And if you believe in the BP advanced catching studies, Martin could seriously exceed the value in the projections below.

Steamer: 2.6 WAR

Oliver: 3.4 WAR

ZiPS: 3.1 WAR

Gaby Sanchez crushes left-handers, but shouldn't be getting at-bats against right-handers.

Gaby Sanchez crushes left-handers, but shouldn’t be getting at-bats against right-handers.

First Base – Gaby Sanchez/Travis Ishikawa

We knew coming into the season that Gaby Sanchez would get time this year against left-handed pitching. Sanchez dominates left-handers, and had a .987 OPS against lefties last year. That ranked him 16th out of 248 major league players who had 100+ plate appearances against left-handers. The problem is that Sanchez can’t hit right-handers. In his career, his best marks have been a .742 OPS against right-handers, which is slightly better than what Garrett Jones did last season.

The Pirates needed a first baseman to hit right-handers. There wasn’t much available on the free agent market after James Loney signed with the Rays. The trade market didn’t have a lot to offer, with a lot of players like Ike Davis who have upside, but are borderline reclamation projects. The Pirates had Andrew Lambo and traded for Chris McGuiness, although neither player had experience in the majors. They let Garrett Jones and Justin Morneau walk, although neither player was good last year against right-handers.

Travis Ishikawa has good defense at first base, but his career numbers are no better than Garrett Jones in 2013.

Travis Ishikawa has good defense at first base, but his career numbers are no better than Garrett Jones in 2013.

Across the board, the Pirates didn’t have a good option against right-handers. But out of all of those weaker options, it looks like they took the weakest one. Travis Ishikawa will get the starting first base job against right-handers. What’s worse is that Clint Hurdle has said it won’t be a traditional platoon, which means Gaby Sanchez will get some time against right-handers as well. Ishikawa has a career .737 OPS against right-handers, while Sanchez has a career .700 OPS against right-handers. Neither of those guys should be the top option, even if the rest of the field is weak.

The one value these guys bring is defense. Sanchez had a down year last year, but has been good defensively in his career. Ishikawa has a career 13.3 UZR/150 in his career at first base, which beats the career 3.3 mark from Sanchez. But I don’t think this will off-set the negative value that their offense will bring against right-handers.

The one consolation here is that if Ishikawa hits to his career numbers, he will be the 2013 version of Garrett Jones, with much better defense. That’s an upgrade for the Pirates, although “Garrett Jones 2013″ shouldn’t be the bar that the Pirates set for first base. If the Pirates are going with Ishikawa and Sanchez, then Ishikawa should get all of the time against right-handers, since he has better defense and slightly better numbers against right-handers. That said, I think they should be exploring a trade, or bringing up Lambo once he starts hitting again in Triple-A.

Steamer: 0.9 WAR (Sanchez) / 0.0 WAR (Ishikawa)

Oliver: 0.6 WAR (Sanchez) / 0.2 WAR (Ishikawa)

ZiPS: 1.0 WAR (Sanchez) / -0.1 WAR (Ishikawa)

Can Neil Walker hit for power once again in 2014? (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Can Neil Walker hit for power once again in 2014? (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Second Base – Neil Walker

I’ve got mixed opinions on Neil Walker. There are some things to like about his game and where he is heading. At the same time, even thought he has over 2200 plate appearances in the majors, there are still question marks about his game. I wrote about Walker in detail back in January, and I’ll sum up some of the positives and the concerns here.

One positive is that his walk rate has been trending up each year in the majors. He went from a 7.2 BB% to 8.2%, 8.9%, and 9.1% respectively in his four years as a pro. That would have led to a higher on-base percentage in 2013, although a low .274 BABIP resulted in a .251 average, leading to his OBP being three points lower than the 2012 totals. I’d expect Walker’s average to bounce back this year, sitting in the .275-.280 range, which combined with the walks, would lead to a nice on-base percentage.

The power saw an increase last year, going from a .146 ISO to a .167 ISO. However, it’s hard to say whether this is legit for Walker. In 2010 and 2013 he had exactly a .167 ISO each season. In 2011 and 2012 he had a .134 and .146 ISO. You’ve got two seasons that say one thing, and two seasons that say another. It’s hard to determine which level of power is legit for Walker.

As I mentioned in the above article, if Walker’s power from last year is legit, and his average bounces back, he could put up Dustin Pedroia-level offensive numbers this year.

Defensively, Walker has shown improvements in his time with the Pirates. He had a -16.4 UZR/150 in his rookie year, which improved to a -4.4 in 2011. That improved to a -1.4 in 2012 and a -0.8 in 2013. If he can continue that upward trend, then that will be just another thing to give him value.

The last three years, Walker has been worth about 2.6-2.7 wins above replacement. That’s where two of the projections systems have him, although it’s possible he could exceed this if his average bounces back, power stays at the 2013 levels, and the defense and walks continue their upward trends. I’d expect the average to bounce back, and the defense and walks to at least stay at their 2013 levels. That just raises the question of where his power will end up.

Steamer: 2.4 WAR

Oliver: 3.1 WAR

ZiPS: 2.6 WAR

The Pirates will be giving Jordy Mercer a bigger role this year. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

The Pirates will be giving Jordy Mercer a bigger role this year. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Shortstop – Jordy Mercer

Jordy Mercer took over the primary shortstop duties from Clint Barmes last year, with Barmes still getting a decent amount of playing time. This year the Pirates brought Barmes back for their bench, but they’re set on giving Mercer a bigger role as the regular starter, rather than splitting time and just taking the majority share like last year.

Mercer isn’t as strong as Barmes defensively. He does bring more to the plate offensively. Last year he hit for a .285/.336/.435 line in 365 plate appearances, with eight home runs. That tied him with Stephen Drew for the eighth best offensive value in baseball among shortstops with 350+ plate appearances (29 shortstops total). Drew had almost 140 additional plate appearances over Mercer.

The offense is good, and as Mercer improves and gets used to the majors, he could jump up to be one of the better offensive shortstops in the league, falling in the next tier outside of the elite guys like Troy Tulowitzki and Hanley Ramirez. The defense needs to improve, so it doesn’t end up negating the offensive value. According to Travis Sawchik, Mercer is learning tips from Barmes on angles to help him improve defensively.

Shortstop is the most important defensive position in the infield, and the Pirates rely heavily on their infield defense with all of their shifts and ground ball heavy pitchers. Mercer getting defensive tips is a good thing, and if he can implement them, that will be great. His negative defensive value hurts the Pirates more than it would hurt other teams, since they see more ground balls than other teams, and more opportunities for Mercer.

Like with most young players, the projection systems probably don’t have enough to be accurate with Mercer. He put up a 1.4 WAR last year in half a season, and the projections have him at that level for 2014 in a full season. It’s possible that he could end up a three win player, which would make the Oliver projections below seem a little less crazy in comparison to the other two projections.

Steamer: 1.1 WAR

Oliver: 3.9 WAR

ZiPS: 1.5 WAR

Pedro Alvarez needs to continue improving his defense and walks, otherwise he's a one trick pony. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Pedro Alvarez needs to continue improving his defense and walks, otherwise he’s a one trick pony. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Third Base – Pedro Alvarez

Everyone loves the home run. Traditionally, a home run allows you to get a quick judgment on a player just by looking at that one stat. However, home runs don’t always mean that a player is a good hitter.

Last year, Pedro Alvarez led the National League with 36 home runs. That gives him 66 home runs in the last two seasons. So the power is definitely there, which is a good thing for a guy who is projected to bat in the middle of the order. The problem is that power is the only part of Alvarez’s game.

Alvarez saw his batting average drop from .244 in 2012 to .233 last year. He could be due for a bit of a bounce back, since his .276 BABIP was below his career line of .299. However, if you’re expecting him to hit .250 or better, you’re going to be disappointed. Alvarez has a 30% strikeout rate in almost 1850 plate appearances in the majors. Guys who strike out about once every three trips to the plate don’t usually hit for a high average.

There’s nothing wrong with a three true outcomes guy (home run, strikeout, walk), except that Alvarez isn’t that guy yet. His walk rate declined to a 7.8%, dropping from the 9.2-9.7% range the previous two years. The league average last year was 7.9%. Typically, “three true outcome” guys have a walk rate that is above average, thus justifying the strikeouts and the low average that comes with those strikeouts. Take Carlos Pena, as an example. He had a career .233 average, with a 26.9% strikeout rate. However, his career 13.9% walk rate gave him a career .348 OBP. Alvarez is closer to a .300 OBP.

Where Alvarez makes up for this is with his improving defense. He looked much improved on the field last year at third base, and the stats agreed. His -0.4 UZR/150 was the best of his career, and a big improvement over the -9.1 UZR/150 in 2012. That defense ranked 10th out of 20 qualified third basemen last year. If Alvarez continues these improvements, then it would help make up for the lack of hits and walks.

At the moment, Alvarez is an average defender at third base who has some of the best power in the league, and nothing else. Improving the defense would help add value to his game. Getting his walk rate up to the 2011-12 totals will also help his value. Alvarez is a one trick pony when it comes to his offense. Fortunately, that one trick does provide a lot of value. It just doesn’t provide as much value as you’d think, and if he doesn’t improve the defense or the walks this year, it’s possible he could have less value than Walker and Mercer.

Steamer: 2.5 WAR

Oliver: 3.3 WAR

ZiPS: 2.8 WAR

The Depth

I’ll cover a lot of the depth options when I talk about the bench tomorrow. In most cases, the Pirates will just move a bench player to the lineup, and promote a minor league player to the bench. There are also players who could fill in at depth options for multiple positions. So to keep this organized, I’ll break down the depth by position.

Catcher - Tony Sanchez will start the year as Russell Martin’s backup, and will return to Triple-A when Chris Stewart recovers from his injury. If Martin gets hurt, I’d expect Sanchez to take over the starting duties.

First Base - There are two spots here. The depth behind Gaby Sanchez requires someone who can crush left-handed pitching. Matt Hague has done a good job of that in his minor league career. The depth behind Travis Ishikawa is where you’ll find more options. Andrew Lambo is the top internal option, although the Pirates want him working on his hitting and getting back on track in the minors. I don’t know if I’m convinced they won’t make a trade or bring in outside help. It’s also possible that Lambo could come up sooner, rather than later. Behind Lambo is Chris McGuiness, who would have been my choice to open the season in Pittsburgh if the organization didn’t want to go with Lambo.

Second Base - Josh Harrison would be the top depth option here. Clint Barmes could also play the position. Either player could get time against left-handers, since Walker struggles in that regard. In the minors, the Pirates have Robert Andino, Michael Martinez, and Chase d’Arnaud as depth options for second base. The Pirates have also been getting Brent Morel time at second base in practice, and he could see game action there if the experiment goes well.

Shortstop - If Mercer goes down, Barmes would probably take over as the starting shortstop. Behind Barmes would be Andino and d’Arnaud in the minors, and maybe Josh Harrison in a pinch.

Third Base - The Pirates don’t have much depth here, which explains their addition of Brent Morel this Spring. He would be the top option to take over if Alvarez goes down. Josh Harrison is also a candidate, and would provide good defense, but a lack of offense. Either way, if Alvarez goes down, it would be a big blow to the team, since no one else can match his power.

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The Pirates Won’t Have to Wait For Gregory Polanco to Have a Top Outfield http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/03/the-pirates-wont-have-to-wait-for-gregory-polanco-to-have-a-top-outfield.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/03/the-pirates-wont-have-to-wait-for-gregory-polanco-to-have-a-top-outfield.html#comments Sat, 29 Mar 2014 13:05:21 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=75061 The 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates season begins on Monday when the Pirates take on the Cubs. To prepare for the start of the year, I’ll be previewing all of the position groups on the Opening Day roster. Here are the previews we have so far.

The Pirates Rotation Has Some Red Flags, But Still Projects to Carry the Team

The Pirates Won’t Have to Wait For Gregory Polanco to Have a Top Outfield – READING

Pirates Will Once Again Have Strong Infield Defense and Offensive Questions

The Pirates are Returning a Bullpen That Was One of the Best in Baseball

The Pirates Have a Bench That Can’t Hit Right-Handers

The Pirates had one of the best outfields in baseball last year, combining for a 13.1 WAR, which ranked third in baseball, and was the best group in the National League. A big reason for this was Andrew McCutchen, who won the MVP award and had an 8.2 WAR. Starling Marte’s 4.6 WAR also helped. Both players will be returning this year, and at their ages, it’s possible that they could continue that production, and possibly improve. That means the Pirates will probably once again have one of the top outfields in the league.

Travis Snider and Jose Tabata didn’t put up the best results as starters throughout the year. Tabata had a strong finish to the season, but missed some time with an injury. Snider had a horrible season, and missed a lot of time with a toe injury. The Pirates will go with both players in right field again this year. The difference is that they have top prospect Gregory Polanco set to arrive in June. That means if Tabata and Snider are struggling, the Pirates won’t have to wait until the end of August to replace them. And once Polanco arrives, the Pirates could be on their way to having the best outfield in the game.

Andrew McCutchen was the NL MVP last year. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Andrew McCutchen was the NL MVP last year. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Andrew McCutchen

In 2012, Andrew McCutchen had a breakout season, posting a 6.7 WAR. The big concern heading into the 2013 season was that McCutchen wouldn’t be able to reach those levels once again, making it hard for the Pirates to be competitive. Instead, he exceeded that production, posting an 8.2 WAR in 2013.

McCutchen actually saw a decline with his overall offensive numbers. He had a .327/.400/.553 line in 2012, and a .317/.404/.508 line in 2013. His average dropped a bit, and his power saw a decline to his 2011 numbers. To make up for this, McCutchen saw massive increases in his defensive value, and saw an increase in his base running.

It’s hard to say where McCutchen’s game will go from here. Will his power bounce back to the 2012 levels, or remain like the 2013 levels? His .190 ISO in 2013 was more in line with his career .193 mark, compared to the .226 he put up in 2012.

Will the defense continue at 2013 levels? He had an 8.4 UZR/150 last year, compared to a -8.6 UZR/150 in 2012. In his career he has a -2.8 UZR/150, although he’s had positive numbers in two of the last three years.

The projections all have McCutchen as a 6-7 win player. I think that’s a good conservative approach to take. At the same time, it’s possible that McCutchen either maintains his 2013 production, or improves on that value once again, which could come by keeping the defensive value and returning the offense to 2012 totals.

Steamer: 6.2 WAR

Oliver: 6.8 WAR

ZiPS: 6.0 WAR

Starling Marte Pirates

The Pirates just signed Marte to a six year extension. (Photo credit: David Hague)

Starling Marte

The Pirates just signed Marte to a six-year extension with two option years. In total, the deal buys out control of three of his free agent years. This comes after his first full season in the majors, where he had a 4.6 WAR. In 2012 he had a 1.1 WAR in the final two months of the year, which is about a 3.3 WAR season over a full year. So it’s not out of the question that Marte could repeat his 2013 value, or improve on those numbers in his second full year in the majors. If that happens, then the Pirates would have extended him at the right time.

Marte gets a lot of his value from his speed and defense. He was worth 7.2 runs above average running the bases last year, and 4.9 runs above average defensively. The defensive rating is actually adjusted down since he plays left field, which is traditionally less demanding defensively. However, PNC Park’s left field plays like center field, so Marte’s true defensive value is probably greater than the advanced metrics give him credit for. His UZR/150 of 20.1 was the best in baseball among left fielders.

Marte had a .280 average last year, which came with a .363 BABIP. That’s a high number, but it’s not unusual for him. He had a .344 in Triple-A, a .390 in Double-A, and a .424 in High-A. Marte has a high BABIP because of his speed, and his ability to bunt for a single, or reach base on infield singles. Last year Marte ranked second in baseball in bunt hits with ten, and 9.9% of his balls in play were infield hits, which ranked 11th in baseball.

The power numbers were good, with a .161 ISO, and there’s room for improvement as he gets older. The biggest concern is his lack of walks. Marte has a 4.4% walk rate in his career so far, and with his approach at the plate, that doesn’t project to go up. Marte ranked in the top 30 in baseball last year in swing percentage out of the strike zone. He’s not going to draw a lot of walks, although that was off-set last year by him getting hit by a lot of pitches. That has been a trend in his career, which should continue going forward, and should help to elevate his OBP.

The projections have Marte between a 3-4 win player. Considering he was closer to five wins above replacement last year, those projections seem low. It’s possible that Marte could exceed these projections, and exceed his 2013 value, as he gets more time and experience in the league. His defense and base running will be there, giving him a lot of value without even considering the bat.

Steamer: 3.0 WAR

Oliver: 3.8 WAR

ZiPS: 3.1 WAR

Travis Snider projects to get the bulk of the playing time in right field to start the year.

Travis Snider projects to get the bulk of the playing time in right field to start the year.

Travis Snider

The Pirates seem to be going with Snider as their primary right fielder to start the year. He has looked good in the limited time that I’ve seen him during Spring Training. I’ve also talked with a few scouts who remain high on him, despite the lack of success so far in the majors. The Pirates are obviously high on him, which led to them giving him $1.4 M this year, and one more shot in the majors before Gregory Polanco arrives.

There’s not much to say about Snider’s game to give any hope that he will be a good player in right field this year. You’re pretty much relying on projectable tools, and the hope that everything will finally click for him this year. The time is running out on the tools, and the time for him to put everything together in the majors is running out, since Polanco is on the way. The projection systems have him close to being a replacement level player, which seems like a safe bet.

Steamer: 0.3 WAR

Oliver: -0.1 WAR

ZiPS: 0.0 WAR

Jose Tabata had a strong finish to the 2013 season. Photo Credit: David Hague

Jose Tabata had a strong finish to the 2013 season. Photo Credit: David Hague

Jose Tabata

Tabata actually had a better season than Snider last year, looking good in the final two months of the season. He has been injury prone throughout his career, which is something you could say about Snider. He has also been inconsistent, although that’s an upgrade over Snider. If you ask me, Tabata should be the primary right fielder, with Snider serving as the backup. He has been better so far in his career, and the Pirates have more invested in him going forward. They’d be better off seeing if he can put things together this year before Polanco arrives.

Tabata was a 1.1 WAR player last year, after missing about two months of the season. He had a horrible year in 2012, but was an 0.8 WAR player in 2011 and a 1.9 WAR player in his rookie season in 2010. The projection systems have him close to a win and a half above replacement, which would be a decent starter and a great bench option when Polanco arrives.

I’d personally rather see what Tabata can do going forward, rather than giving Snider another shot. I’m not saying that there’s no chance Snider puts things together. I’m also not saying that Tabata will continue hitting like he did at the end of 2013, where he had an .848 OPS over the final two months of the season. But if you ask me who has the better chance of being productive before Polanco arrives, and valuable to the team after Polanco arrives, my answer would be Tabata in both cases.

Steamer: 1.4 WAR

Oliver: 1.4 WAR

ZiPS: 1.5 WAR

Gregory Polanco

Gregory Polanco is expected to arrive in Pittsburgh by mid-season.

Gregory Polanco

I’d list him with the depth options and the other guys that won’t open the season in Pittsburgh, but Polanco deserves his own section. He’s going to be up by mid-season this year, and he has the skills to have an immediate impact in the majors, much like Andrew McCutchen did during his rookie season. Eventually, Polanco projects to be an impact talent, although that might not happen in 2014.

When Polanco arrives, he’ll give the Pirates strong defense in right field, and a ton of speed on the bases. He’ll have a chance to turn a lot of walks and singles into doubles with his base stealing abilities. He’s got advanced plate patience, so he won’t deal with the low walk rates that Marte struggles with. He also makes good contact and projects to hit for average, with the ability to hit for power now, and more power projection in the future.

It’s hard to get a good projection for prospects who haven’t played in the majors. Surprisingly, Polanco gets good ratings from the projection systems — better than most prospects receive. These projections are based on an entire season of play, which he will not get. Polanco does have some work to do before he arrives in the majors, since he hasn’t seen much pitching above Double-A, and he’s seen about half a season’s worth of pitching above A-ball. He probably won’t need until mid-June, but by the time he’s ready, it will be in the Pirates’ best interest to wait a few weeks and avoid Super Two status. Once mid-June arrives, expect Polanco to arrive in Pittsburgh.

Steamer: 0.0 WAR

Oliver: 4.6 WAR

ZiPS: 2.9 WAR

The Depth

Polanco is the guy who will take over in the second half of the season in right field. If the Pirates need an outfielder prior to that, expect Jaff Decker to be that guy. Decker has the ability to play all three outfield positions, and has shown a good ability to get on base, while hitting for a decent amount of power in the minors.His upside is more of a fourth outfielder or a part-time starter. The Pirates would probably only need him off the bench, since he would fall fifth on the depth chart, and that’s before Polanco arrives.

Chris Dickerson is also a depth option who profiles as a bench player at best. Dickerson would see the majors if the Pirates lost two of their regular outfielders, which is certainly a possibility considering the injury history from Snider and Tabata, as well as Marte’s tendency to get hit with pitches, and McCutchen’s all out play.

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The Pirates Rotation Has Some Red Flags, But Still Projects to Carry the Team http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/03/the-pirates-rotation-has-some-red-flags-but-still-projects-to-carry-the-team.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/03/the-pirates-rotation-has-some-red-flags-but-still-projects-to-carry-the-team.html#comments Fri, 28 Mar 2014 18:35:19 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=75045 The 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates season begins on Monday when the Pirates take on the Cubs. To prepare for the start of the year, I’ll be previewing all of the position groups on the Opening Day roster. Here are the previews we have so far.

The Pirates Rotation Has Some Red Flags, But Still Projects to Carry the Team – READING

The Pirates Won’t Have to Wait For Gregory Polanco to Have a Top Outfield

Pirates Will Once Again Have Strong Infield Defense and Offensive Questions

The Pirates are Returning a Bullpen That Was One of the Best in Baseball

The Pirates Have a Bench That Can’t Hit Right-Handers

Last year the Pirates were successful in large part due to their rotation. The rotation combined for a 3.50 ERA, which ranked fifth in baseball. Their 3.57 xFIP, which tied for third, suggested that this was no fluke. The 2014 rotation will be missing A.J. Burnett, but the Pirates are also getting full seasons from Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, and Charlie Morton. The rotation does have some red flags due to injury concerns, but the Pirates have plenty of depth, which played a big role in their ability to maintain a strong rotation throughout an injury plagued season last year.

The Pirates still have a few cuts to make, so some position groups like the bullpen and the bench aren’t finalized. The rotation is finalized, which makes this group a good place to start the season previews. Although the fact that the rotation played such a huge role in the success of the 2013 Pirates is all the reason you’d need to begin any group of previews with a look at the 2014 starting staff.

Francisco Liriano was the ace of the staff last year, and projects to be the ace again this year.

Francisco Liriano was the ace of the staff last year, and projects to be the ace again this year.

Francisco Liriano

Liriano is coming off a year where he looked like an ace. In 161 innings, he had a 3.02 ERA, which was supported by his 3.12 xFIP. A large portion of his success came at home. Typically, players perform better at home than on the road. In Liriano’s case, the split was extreme. He had a 1.47 ERA at PNC Park, and a 4.33 ERA on the road. The xFIP numbers were both in the 3.10-3.15 range, so this could just be a combination of luck, and PNC’s park factors helping a left-hander.

There are two concerns with Liriano heading into the 2014 season. The first concern is the fact that he has never put up two good seasons in a row. He had a 3.62 ERA in 2010, then struggled in 2011 with a 5.09 ERA. He had a 3.91 ERA in 2008, followed by a 5.80 ERA in 2009. In 2006 he had a 2.16 ERA, and he missed the 2007 season with an injury.

I’ve never really bought in to the “every other year” theory, because there’s no reason to justify that this is predictive analysis. It’s ridiculous to say that Liriano won’t have a good season this year because last year he had a good season. His performance last year will have no impact on his pitching this year.

If you look at the advanced metrics, you’ll see a trend that explains the “every other year” phenomenon. Here are the xFIP numbers for Liriano by year, along with his BB/9 ratios.

2006: 2.38 xFIP / 2.38 BB/9

2008: 4.25 / 3.79

2009: 4.48 / 4.28

2010: 2.95 / 2.72

2011: 4.52 / 5.02

2012: 4.14 / 5.00

2013: 3.12 / 3.52

When the walks were up, Liriano struggled. When they were down, he produced some of his best seasons. Liriano had decent control last year with the Pirates. He’s always been a guy who can strike out nearly a batter an inning, with the exception of the 2011 season, when the strikeouts were down. PNC Park will help reduce his home runs, as will the focus on generating ground balls. As long as Liriano maintains his solid control numbers, he should have another good season.

The second concern with Liriano is his tendency to be injury prone. This is more concerning than the “every other year” issue, because it does provide some sort of predictive analysis. When healthy, Liriano should do well in the rotation. But expecting Liriano to make 32-33 starts and pitch 200 innings is a stretch. Last year he threw 182.2 innings between the minors and the majors. In 2010 he threw 191.2 innings. In 2008 he went 199.1 innings between all levels. In 2005 he went 191.1 innings between all levels. Liriano has been playing full-season ball for ten years now, and in that time he has only gone over 160 innings four times.

There’s not much the Pirates can do about this, except to be prepared with a lot of depth. When healthy, I expect Liriano to do very well.

Steamer: 192 IP, 3.41 FIP

Oliver: 164 IP, 3.72 FIP

ZiPS: 161 IP, 3.12 FIP

Charlie Morton looked like a strong middle of the rotation starter after returning from Tommy John surgery.

Charlie Morton looked like a strong middle of the rotation starter after returning from Tommy John surgery.

Charlie Morton

Charlie Morton returned from Tommy John surgery in the second half of the 2013 season, and by the end of the year he was pitching like a strong middle of the rotation starter. However, his history raises questions as to whether he can repeat that success. With most players, history is a good thing to look at when determining the future possibilities for a pitcher. In Morton’s case, you can throw all of that history out the window.

The Charlie Morton today and the Charlie Morton before the 2011 season are two different pitchers. The Pirates overhauled Morton’s game in 2011, making him a sinkerball pitcher with a new delivery. The result was a 3.83 ERA in 171.2 innings. However, that success was short-lived.

Morton struggled in 2012, then went down with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. His struggles were tied to the injury, since he couldn’t throw his sinker or his curveball without pain, thus eliminating his two best pitches. Since the switch in 2011, Morton has been a strong pitcher when he is healthy.

Health would be the big concern going forward with Morton. However, he did combine for 156.2 innings last year between all levels, and the Pirates have been taking steps with his mechanics to avoid stress on his arm. You could probably pencil him in for at least 160 innings, with anything else being a bonus. Personally, I think he will exceed that 160 inning mark this year. As for the results, most of the projection systems factor in his entire body of work. It’s not the most scientific approach to eliminate everything and just point to last year, but in Morton’s case, I think the circumstances warrant that type of approach.

Steamer: 182 IP, 3.79 FIP

Oliver: 130 IP, 4.10 FIP

ZiPS: 121.1 IP, 4.06 FIP

Wandy Rodriguez Pirates

Wandy Rodriguez looks healthy heading into the 2014 season. (Photo by: David Hague)

Wandy Rodriguez

Rodriguez has looked good in his time with the Pirates. In 2012 he had a 3.72 ERA in 75 innings after the trade that brought him to Pittsburgh. In 2013 he had a 3.59 ERA before the injury that shut him down for the year. His advanced metrics were both worse than his ERA, although as a lefty, PNC Park probably helped him out-perform those metrics.

The biggest question coming into the year was whether Rodriguez would be healthy. He tried returning last year, but had setbacks each time. All throughout Spring Training he looked good, and said that he was healthy after each start. After his last start, Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle said that Rodriguez still isn’t where he was before the injury.

“He’s still got a ways to go, but he’s competitive,” Hurdle said. “He’s not where he can get. But it’s good to see him healthy, it’s good to see him taking the ball.”

It’s possible that Rodriguez could continue to improve as the season goes on and he gets back to pitching. He looked good enough in Spring Training that he could probably go out and put up league average numbers at the start of the year. He’ll still get help as a lefty in PNC Park. Rodriguez is a wild card, but he’s not the huge question mark he was coming into camp.

Steamer: 144 IP, 3.86 FIP

Oliver: 142 IP, 4.09 FIP

ZiPS: 119 IP, 3.85 FIP

Gerrit Cole looked like an ace at the end of the 2013 season. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Gerrit Cole looked like an ace at the end of the 2013 season. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Gerrit Cole

If I’m listing these pitchers based on their expected production, and not based on the Opening Day rotation order, then Cole would be at least number two on the list. He was exceptional during his rookie season, looking like an ace by the end of the year. He had a 3.22 ERA, which was supported by a 3.14 xFIP. He also threw over 190 innings when you include the playoffs and the minor leagues. There’s a good chance that Cole could throw 200 innings this year, while putting up numbers that would rank him among the top 30 starters in the game.

Last year, Cole relied heavily on his fastball when he first arrived in the majors, throwing the pitch about 80% of the time. Eventually he started moving to his slider, which is his best out-pitch. Once he incorporated the slider more often, the results started to come and he started looking like an ace. He’s been working on a slurve, which would give him more separation from his upper 90s fastball and his upper 80s to low 90s slider and changeup.

As long as Cole goes with the slider as his primary out pitch, he should be great. The curveball can help, since it will give him another look, and a pitch that isn’t in the 88-101 MPH range. Cole is still young, and still improving his game — whether that’s adding new pitches or making his current pitches more effective. He was already looking like a future ace in his rookie season, and if he continues to improve, the results could be scary.

Steamer: 182 IP, 3.62 FIP

Oliver: 149 IP, 4.05 FIP

ZiPS: 163 IP, 3.53 FIP

Can Edinson Volquez be the next big reclamation project?

Can Edinson Volquez be the next big reclamation project?

Edinson Volquez

The biggest question mark in the rotation is Edinson Volquez. He’s the latest reclamation project for the Pirates, although the early results don’t look promising. I wrote about Volquez extensively here. The summary is that his curveball and changeup look good, but the mechanical adjustments and his fastball command lack consistency at the moment. Some innings he’ll look great, and some innings he will struggle.

The Pirates are going with Volquez in the rotation, much to the dismay of Pirates fans. I’m a little more optimistic on Volquez than most. I’ve liked the secondary stuff, and I trust the Pirates’ pitching coaches to do a good job and get his mechanics to a consistent point. I don’t know if Volquez will be the next Liriano, but I do think he will be capable of producing league average numbers. It seems that the projection systems agree.

Obviously the uncertainty makes Volquez the biggest red flag in the rotation. If people were taking bets on where the depth would be used first, I’m sure almost everyone would predict Volquez. I’d expect the Pirates to give him two months, or a month if his results are Jonathan Sanchez-esque. But I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that Volquez will be a disaster.

Steamer: 48 IP, 4.12 FIP

Oliver: 180 IP, 4.36 FIP

ZiPS: 164.2 IP, 4.15 FIP

The Depth

The Pirates have the makings of a talented rotation, but they also have some injury concerns. Francisco Liriano, Charlie Morton, and Wandy Rodriguez all have a poor injury history. Edinson Volquez raises red flags due to his recent struggles. It’s very likely that the Pirates will need to turn to their rotation depth this year, possibly more than normal.

Last year the Pirates’ starters pitched 925 innings. If you average the above innings projections for all three projection systems, you get about 750 innings from the above five pitchers. That means the Pirates will need to find 175 innings from their depth, or about a full season. Fortunately they have enough options that they should be able to get that amount, and more if necessary.

Brandon Cumpton would be the top option as far as early-season depth. He looked good in Spring Training, and had a lot of success last year in his brief time in the majors as a depth option. Cumpton isn’t as good as his 2013 results would indicate, but he does profile as a guy who could be a back of the rotation starter in the majors.

Jeff Locke had a great first half last year, then a horrible second half. He wasn’t as good as the first half, but he also wasn’t as bad as the second half. I view Locke as a guy with strong number four starter upside, which is about the mid-point between his two halves last year. I think Cumpton has jumped him on the depth chart, especially with Locke dealing with an injury this Spring, which prevented him from getting fully stretched out. However, he could make it back to the majors for another shot at the rotation this year.

Phil Irwin is another early-season depth option, although he needs to show that he is healthy first. Irwin has been starting at Pirate City and getting stretched out, and looks to be ready for the start of the season. He’s another guy with back of the rotation potential, but the Pirates would need a lot to go wrong in the first month of the season to go to him.

The biggest depth option this year is Jameson Taillon. The top pitching prospect was expected to arrive by mid-season, much like Gerrit Cole did last year. However, an elbow injury has him sidelined for a month, and he will go on Monday for a second opinion. This could push back his debut, although he should pick up the bulk of the necessary innings, even if he doesn’t arrive in mid-June.

Of course the Pirates have Jeanmar Gomez and Stolmy Pimentel at the major league level, and both pitchers could make early season starts, before the team would have to turn to Triple-A. They also have Casey Sadler in Triple-A. Sadler is a good sinkerball pitcher, and those guys tend to have success in Pittsburgh with the defensive shifts and a strong infield defense. Nick Kingham will start the year in Altoona, but could make the jump to Pittsburgh by the end of the season, much like Cumpton and Locke have done in the past.

The depth options above give the Pirates eight pitchers who can start in the majors, beyond the Opening Day rotation. That doesn’t include Kyle McPherson, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery, and could return in the second half. It doesn’t include the deep emergency options like Jay Jackson or Vance Worley, who currently profile as Indianapolis rotation depth with Taillon out and Locke not fully stretched out. But if the Pirates get to Worley and Jackson, they probably won’t be contending this year. Then again, you could have said the same thing about Kris Johnson before the 2013 season.

The Pirates maintained a successful rotation in 2013 in large part because of the deep rotation depth that they had. It looks like they’ll have similar depth this year, which is good due to the red flags in the Opening Day rotation.

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2013 GCL Pirates Season Preview http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/06/2013-gcl-pirates-season-preview.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/06/2013-gcl-pirates-season-preview.html#comments Fri, 21 Jun 2013 20:15:22 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=57795 The GCL Pirates started their 2013 season today, losing 6-4 to the GCL Yankees. In the past we’ve had limited reports on the GCL guys. Most of those reports have come from pre-draft or pre-international signing talks, analyzing stats, or just the limited times we’ve seen the teams. In the past few years Wilbur Miller has seen the GCL team during the season a few times, and I’ve seen them for a few games, but the total amount of games combined is probably in the single digits. Following the season there have been instructs reports, and some limited reports in Spring Training.

Since I’m down in Bradenton this year, I’m really looking forward to seeing a lot of these guys more often. I’ve already seen them in extended Spring Training, and while I didn’t get to make it over there as much as I would have liked, it was a 100% increase over our coverage of extended Spring Training in the past. The thing about guys at this level is that most are raw, and you’re looking more at potential than results. Occasionally you’ll get some amazing results, like Tyler Glasnow or Dilson Herrera in recent years. You’ll also see some extreme advancements during the year, like Glasnow going from a low-90s guy to a guy who could consistently hit 96 last year.

Glasnow is a prime example of why I’m excited to be covering these guys this year. Last year I saw him at 89-91 and touching 93 in Spring Training. The next time anyone from the site saw him was at the end of the year when John Eshleman saw him hitting 96 in State College in his final start. Throughout the year Glasnow went from a guy who was sitting in the upper 80s/low 90s to a guy who looked like a future top of the rotation pitcher. It’s not a guarantee that other pitchers or players will make such an extreme progression. But this is a level where guys can progress in a short amount of time, and I’m looking forward to tracking that progression a little closer this year, rather than waiting until they jump to A-ball and experiencing a sort of time warp between what they were and what they now are.

Aside from the projectable guys, the biggest thing to watch will be first round pick Reese McGuire, and Austin Meadows when he eventually signs. Those two will be the top prospects at the level, which is really something special to watch. Usually you don’t get top 100 prospects in the GCL, or at least the Pirates haven’t in the last few years. They’ve had potential top 100 prospects, and they’ve had Luis Heredia as the lone exception. But with the new signing deadlines, the Pirates will be able to send their two first round picks to the GCL for an extended period, and maybe send them to Jamestown by the end of the year.

Below are my thoughts on each player on the GCL roster. I’m sure a lot of these reports will change by the end of the year, and even throughout the year. I’ll be keeping track, starting with the first game at 10 AM Saturday morning, which might be the only thing I’m not looking forward to with GCL coverage.

Pitchers

Starting Candidates

Adrian Grullon is a tall, projectable right hander, and a sleeper pitching prospect in the GCL this year.

Adrian Grullon is a tall, projectable right hander, and a sleeper pitching prospect in the GCL this year.

Adrian Grullon, RHP - Grullon should get some time in the rotation and is an interesting pitcher to watch. He’s 20 years old, throws 88-93 MPH, but was sitting in the upper part of that range when I’ve seen him. He’s a tall, projectable pitcher at 6′ 7″, 197 pounds, and has loose arm action with the chance to add velocity. He throws a good slider, and has some work to do on the changeup. The size, the fastball/slider combo, and the potential for added velocity make him a sleeper to watch.

Hayden Hurst, RHP - The Pirates went over-slot to sign Hurst in the 17th round of the 2012 draft after Mark Appel decided not to sign. Hurst can throw 91-94 MPH with his fastball already, and is a tall, projectable pitcher at 6′ 5″, 235 pounds. He’s got good cutting movement on the fastball, and has the potential for some good off-speed pitches. Hurst has dealt with problems this Spring getting hit around, and dealing with control. He’s got one of the best young arms on the team though, and should be one of the top starters.

Cesilio Pimentel, LHP - Pimentel is an interesting starter, throwing 88-91 MPH with his fastball and pairing that with a good slider which could be an above-average pitch. He’s got an erratic delivery which could add some deception. He’s also got a good frame at 6′ 2″, 185 pounds.

Miguel Rosario, RHP - He’s not a big pitcher like a lot of the other guys in the system, but he’s a hard thrower, sitting at 92 MPH. He only threw 6.2 innings in the DSL last year, but his stuff has looked good in Spring Training and he’s gotten a lot of innings as a starter.

Jon Sandfort, RHP - Sandfort was taken in the third round last year in the draft. He’s been working in the 87-90 MPH range with his fastball, which is down from the mid-90s and touching 96 range that he’s hit in the past. He could reach those levels again if he strengthens his arm. He has good downward movement with his fastball, and a nice big breaking 12-to-6 curve. He has improved his changeup this year, and should be one of the better pitching prospects to watch at the level. If he can regain that old velocity from high school, he could be one of the better pitching prospects to follow in the lower levels of the system.

Blake Taylor, LHP - Taylor was taken in the second round this year, and signed quickly for under-slot. He can touch as high as 94 with his fastball, and eventually could sit in the 92-94 MPH range. He’s got a good curveball, and needs improvement on his changeup and fastball command. Taylor is 17 years old and is a very projectable pitcher. He’s got the potential to eventually be a middle of the rotation starter one day.

Wei-Chung Wang, LHP - The Pirates signed Wang out of Taiwan in 2011, and he has spent the last year rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. He made his debut today, throwing 4.1 innings and allowing four runs on two homers, but had eight strikeouts and no walks. Wang used to throw in the low-to-mid 90s, but his velocity hasn’t returned yet following the surgery, and he’s been in the upper 80s. He’s got a nice curveball, which will lead to a lot of strikeouts in the lower levels. The Pirates thought enough of him that they gave him $350,000 initially, which was a record out of Taiwan. He’s got a good size, and if he can regain that arm strength and the old velocity, he could be a good left-handed pitching prospect.

 

Bullpen Arms

Luis Campos, RHP - Campos throws in the upper 80s and is in his second year in the GCL after getting hit around last year. He profiles as lower level bullpen depth.

Melvin Del Rosario, LHP - Del Rosario can throw 88-93 MPH with good sink to his fastball, and he’s also flashed a slider that has the potential to be above average. His velocity has been in the lower end of that range in Spring Training. Command of his pitches has been an issue. Because of his fastball/slider combination, I could see him getting a lot more innings than the other pitchers listed as bullpen arms, although I’m not sure he’d be in the mix as a starter.

Roberto Espinosa, RHP - He throws in the 80s with his fastball, and has a good curve. This is his second year in the GCL, and he should remain an organizational reliever.

Jeff Gibbs, RHP - The Pirates added Gibbs as a minor league free agent this Spring. He was hit hard in the Arizona Summer League last year at the age of 21. He should serve as bullpen depth in the lower levels.

Cameron Griffin, LHP - Griffin was taken in the 23rd round out of Stetson University. The left-hander throws in the low 90s, and has mostly worked as a reliever in college. He should take that same role with the GCL squad, picking up some innings in relief behind a young pitching staff.

Jimy Hernandez, RHP - Hernandez is a hard throwing right-hander who hasn’t pitched in the Pirates’ system since 2011, when he was hammered in the GCL. He missed all of last year with an injury. He should serve as bullpen depth, like a lot of other guys on this list.

Yhonathan Herrand, RHP - Herrand is a hard thrower who can hit 97-98 MPH with his fastball. However, he has zero control. If he could ever add some control, then he’s got the frame and the stuff to be a special pitcher. The odds of this happening are unlikely, and he should be a hard throwing reliever in the lower levels until that control improves.

Henry Hirsch, RHP - Hirsch was taken in the 22nd round out of the University of New Haven. He had a good K/BB ratio in 2013, but was hit hard in his junior year. He’ll probably work out of the GCL bullpen, and could make it up to Jamestown this year, serving as lower level relief depth.

Andy Otamendi, LHP - Otamendi is in his second year in the GCL. He’s a lot like the left-handers the Pirates usually bring up from the international rookie leagues. He throws mid-to-upper 80s with good control of his off-speed pitches. He’ll pitch out of the bullpen, and doesn’t project as a prospect due to the lack of stuff.

Oderman Rocha, RHP - Rocha is an interesting guy to watch, just because he’s a tall, projectable right-hander who has put up great numbers in the foreign rookie leagues. He’s improved his control in each of the last two years. He will probably serve as a reliever, but will be one of the guys who could get multiple innings. I saw him getting hit hard a lot in extended Spring Training, but it was hard to tell if that was him, or the fact that a lot of those hits came against guys in Jamestown like Elvis Escobar.

Angel Sanchez, LHP - He’s a huge, 6′ 7″, 190 pound left-hander. He doesn’t throw with much velocity, sitting in the mid-80s, and has some horrible control problems. Sanchez does have a good curve, and is intriguing just because of the size.

Cristian Santiago, RHP - He’s a 6′ 4″, 232 pound right-hander who had control problems last year. He throws 89-91 MPH. The size makes him an interesting pitcher, although he’s 23 years old this year, so he’s most likely an organizational guy.

 

Catchers

Danny Arribas, C - Arribas is an interesting guy, signing out of The Netherlands and spending the last two years in the DSL. He’s played catcher, first, and third, and could get some time at the corners with McGuire on the roster. He’s very athletic, and has a line drive approach. Last year he saw improvements with his K/BB ratios and his gap power. The Pirates could use Arribas in the infield due to Sammy Gonzalez being a backup to McGuire. I’d expect Arribas to get the second most time behind the plate.

Sammy Gonzalez, C - Gonzalez looked like a sleeper prospect a few years ago in the NYPL. Then he had labrum surgery, moved to first base for a year, and although he’s back behind the plate, he might have lost his chance to become that sleeper prospect. It will be hard making it past McGuire, Jin-De Jhang, and Wyatt Mathisen in the lower levels.

Reese McGuire, C - McGuire should get the bulk of the catching duties. Danny Arribas is the other contender for playing time, but McGuire will obviously be the primary guy here. He’s got strong defensive tools, and will need more work on his hitting. I’m not sure if he will catch right away. Wyatt Mathisen took a few weeks of instruction before catching out of high school last year, although Mathisen played more shortstop than catcher in high school. He should get plenty of playing time, and might even have a shot at moving up to Jamestown by the end of the year.

 

Infielders

Trae Arbet, SS - Arbet was taken in the fifth round of the 2013 draft, and given an over-slot bonus to sign. He’s a very athletic shortstop with the range and arm to stick at the position. Those tools are good but not great, raising questions of whether he will stick at short over the long-term. That’s normal for any prep shortstop, so it shouldn’t be seen as out of the ordinary. He has good bat speed and power, but tends to chase pitches out of the strike zone. In short, he’s a project but has the potential to be a good all-around shortstop. The Pirates seem to believe in his ability to stay at short, judging by the over-slot deal, so he should play short in the GCL.

Adam Landecker, IF - Landecker was drafted in the 21st round as a second baseman. He was playing some third base last week in extended Spring Training. He has played second, third, and short in his time with USC, and should move around between second and third with the GCL Pirates.

Ulises Montilla looks to be one of the best infielders making the jump from the DSL.

Ulises Montilla looks to be one of the best infielders making the jump from the DSL.

Ulises Montilla, 2B - Montilla had a great season last year in the DSL, hitting for a .320/.407/.457 line in 197 at-bats. He has shown a good hitting ability in the times I’ve seen him in Spring Training and extended Spring Training. He’s a small guy at 5′ 11″, 170 pounds, and his future is really up in the air right now. I don’t want to say that he will or won’t make it for any specific reason, simply because I’ve only seen him in exhibition games. He is a guy I’ll be watching throughout the year. Put him down as a sleeper candidate, and probably my top guy to watch from the group of international infielders.

Carlos Ozuna, SS - Ozuna has a lot of speed and good fielding potential. The Pirates played him at shortstop exclusively in the DSL in 2012. He has played shortstop a lot in the Spring Training games, and will probably get a lot of time at the position. The bat will be a question mark, and like Montilla, he’ll be a sleeper candidate I’m watching.

Maximo Rivera, UTIL - Rivera is like the other sleepers in this group. He signed for a $165,000 bonus, which was one of the highest payments in the 2009 international class. He didn’t show much at the plate his first two years, but really broke out last year with a .367/.429/.472 line in 199 at-bats. He’s athletic enough that he can play anywhere, and last year he played everywhere except catching. He wasn’t getting as much playing time on the field toward the end of camp compared to other guys, so he’s probably lower on the depth charts, despite the bonus and the strong year last year.

Kevin Ross, IF - Ross was taken last year out of high school as a shortstop. He played six games at short, 14 at third base, and one at second. This year he’s been playing a few games at first base. He’s got a big frame and there could be some power potential. He won’t have the range to be a shortstop, and you’d like to see him stick at third or second to maximize the value of his bat. I think the fact that he was playing first is because the Pirates have several talented middle infielders coming up from the DSL, which means we could see guys moving around a lot to create playing time.

Enyel Vallejo, SS - Vallejo had a contract issues last year, which delayed his signing. He’s an extremely athletic player with a lot of energy. He’s also 21 years old and making his pro debut in the GCL. He’s been playing a lot of shortstop when I’ve seen him, showing some good fielding potential. Once again, he’s another sleeper.

 

Outfielders

Justin Maffei, CF - He was taken out of San Francisco in the 25th round this year. There wasn’t much room for him in Jamestown with Harold Ramirez, Elvis Escobar, and others, so he was sent to the GCL. He should start, at least until Austin Meadows arrives (which is something you can say about all three outfielders). Even after that he should start and get plenty of playing time, as he’s a speedy option who was playing center field in camp last week.

Candon Myles, LF - Myles is a speedy outfielder taken out of high school in the 2011 draft. He spent the 2012 season in the GCL, and will return in 2013. Last year he had a decent average (.279) and a great OBP (.365), but didn’t hit for any power. Speed is the main part of his game, but he’s going to need to add some power to make it past the short-season leagues.

Luis Urena has some of the best power in the lower levels, but his plate patience is horrible.

Luis Urena has some of the best power in the lower levels, but his plate patience is horrible.

Luis Urena, RF - It’s a bit disappointing to see Urena back in the GCL once again. He’s got some impressive raw power, and it shows up in games. The problem is that his plate patience is horrible. The hope is that Urena can finally figure it out this year and make the quick jump to Jamestown. He’s got the potential to be a five tool guy, but he’s starting to run out of time with so many trips back to the GCL.

 

Top Prospects

1. Reese McGuire, C

2. Blake Taylor, LHP

3. Jon Sandfort, RHP

4. Trae Arbet, SS

5. Hayden Hurst, RHP

6. Adrian Grullon, RHP

7. Ulises Montilla, 2B

8. Luis Urena, RF

9. Carlos Ozuna, SS

10. Wei-Chung Wang, LHP

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