Pirates Prospects » Season Recaps http://www.piratesprospects.com Your best source for news on the Pittsburgh Pirates and their minor league system. Wed, 10 Sep 2014 23:15:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 DSL Season Recap: Pirates Look Strong Up the Middle and at the Top of Their Rotation http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/08/dsl-season-recap-pirates-look-strong-up-the-middle-and-at-the-top-of-their-rotation.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/08/dsl-season-recap-pirates-look-strong-up-the-middle-and-at-the-top-of-their-rotation.html#comments Thu, 28 Aug 2014 16:05:53 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=87025 The DSL Pirates went 34-36 this year, playing with an inexperienced team. Last year, the Pittsburgh Pirates had two affiliates in the DSL, so we had 70 players in all to cover in the season recap. Many of those players moved up to the United States this year to help fill out roster space due to the new Bristol affiliate. After eight DSL players were released back in May, that left the Pirates team filled with first year players and a lot of them struggled early on, especially the bullpen arms. Below, you will find a brief scouting report on every player with the team at the end of the year.

Before we start, there are four names to briefly mention. Yunelky Adames was recently released after playing four seasons in the league. He just turned 24 and didn’t do anything special at the plate this season, so it’s not a surprise that he was cut. Pitcher Jesus Perez was cut back in June after just one appearance. He struggled with the team last year during his limited time. Outfielder Rudy Guzman was supposed to be in the U.S. this year, but visa issues kept him in the DSL. He never played a game this year, spending his time recently practicing with the players that have signed since July 2nd. Finally, pitcher Leandro Rodriguez missed his second straight season, this year due to shoulder surgery. He was considered a prospect in 2012, but may have missed too much time at this point.

Siri and Valerio Make up Talented Middle Infield

Raul Siri was named the DSL All-Star game MVP

Raul Siri was named the DSL All-Star game MVP

On to the current players and we start with the three catchers on the team. Mikell Granberry saw the most playing time until he hurt his back in late July and missed three weeks. When healthy, the 19-year-old hit well in his rookie season, posting a .760 OPS. He showed strong improvements with his defense as the season went along and has a good ability to block pitches in the dirt. He needs some work on his throwing, but he shows a strong arm with a quick release.

Patrick Reyes got extra playing time when Granberry was out and Ramy Perez was hurt at the same time. Reyes is the best defensive catcher of the three Pirates in the DSL. As a fourth-year player, he finally started to show some skill at the plate, posting an OPS 143 points over his previous career best. Reyes will likely move up to the States next year due to his defensive value. Third-string catcher Ramy Perez didn’t hit at all in his second season. He is a 19-year-old, defense-first receiver with limited upside due his offense.

First base was mostly played by Adames, so we move on to second base, where Raul Siri had an outstanding season. He led the DSL with 25 doubles and he was named the All-Star game MVP. Siri is an interesting case because he signed when he was 18, but apparently waited to sign due to some injury issues. He is small at 5’9″, 175 pounds, so his size will always be in question. With injuries in his past, along with missing a week with a hand injury this year, that keeps him from being the top prospect on the team. He was still far and away the best player this year, finishing with a .324/.434/.521 slash line, drawing 41 walks, stealing 11 bases and hitting 34 extra-base hits. His defense is at least average, though some say it’s above average, as I got mixed answers from a survey of four people close to the team back in July.

Shortstop Adrian Valerio has been talked about all year, even before the season started, because he is that rare young shortstop that is almost guaranteed to stick at shortstop and provide Gold Glove caliber defense. The 17-year-old is a switch-hitter, that showed some power, but overall his season at the plate was average at best. He will go as far as his bat takes him, but his outstanding defense will give him every opportunity to reach his potential. Valerio hit much better from his natural right side, so he should see improvements in his overall stats with more reps as a lefty.

Third baseman Jhoan Herrera was supposed to be in the States this year, but an ankle injury derailed those plans. When his ankle healed, he was returned to the DSL, where he was able to play full-time. Herrera signed for a six-figure bonus and it was because of his advanced bat. He posted a .720 OPS in 31 games this year and finished very strong. Herrera is average at best at third base, so his bat will need to carry him. He seems like a strong candidate to return to the States next year.

Valerio is the best defensive player on the DSL Pirates

Valerio is the best defensive player on the DSL Pirates

Infielder Luis Perez looked good in his abbreviated playing time and saw more playing time as the season went along. He had a .302/.457/.340 slash line, with a 25:13 BB/K ratio and he was 11-for-12 in stolen base attempts. Perez fell just outside the top ten prospect list below due to his age (20) and he’s on the small side at 5’10″, 170 pounds. He didn’t show any power this year and while he played some shortstop, his position is second base due to his arm. That puts him behind Siri on the depth chart.

Johan De Jesus still has age going for him and he showed some improvements over his rookie season, but that first year was a disaster. He played shortstop his first year, then saw more action at third base this season because Adrian Valerio is a superior defensive player. De Jesus hit .204/.364/.257 this year and stole ten bases in 11 tries. When he signed for $200,000 on his 16th birthday (born 8/1/96), the scouting report was that he had no tools that stood out, but he had good contact skills at the plate, which was his main positive. Two years later, nothing really has stood out about him and he has 114 strikeouts in 359 at-bats, so he hasn’t made much contact either. He will still be 18 for almost all of next season and the Pirates really gave him a lot of playing time this year, so I wouldn’t write him off just yet.

Third-year infielder Jesus Ronco got the kiss of death for position players, getting used twice as a pitcher early in the season. He also missed time with an injury during the middle of the season. At 20 years old and being used as a bench player, he doesn’t have any upside.

Huascar Fuentes was supposed to get time in at first base, but he was injured almost the entire season with a broken wrist. At 22 years old (he signed last November), he doesn’t have much upside and didn’t get a chance to show the team anything this year.

High Upside Outfield

Left fielder Edison Lantigua established himself as the top prospect by showing great improvements at the plate as the season went along. The 17-year-old received a $275,000 bonus last year as one of the Pirates top July 2nd signings. He hit .299/.390/.433 in 47 games, with 12 doubles and five triples. Lantigua is an aggressive hitter that makes strong contact at the plate, hitting line drives to all parts of the field. He has good speed, which leads to above-average range in left field. He has average arm strength, though his throws are very accurate. There were also good reports about his baseball smarts, saying he doesn’t make many mistakes, which is great to see from such a young player.

Jeremias Portorreal was the top prospect coming into the season due the huge upside potential from his bat. As it turned out, his season was basically a disaster, with very few bright spots all season. He was the youngest player on the team, so it’s tough to get too down on him, but he is someone who had a great scouting report, so expectations were high. He’s going to have to hit, because Portorreal offers very little in the field and on the bases. He .529 OPS was only better than third-string catcher Ramy Perez among all Pirates hitters. He finished eighth in the DSL with 73 strikeouts, the highest total on the Pirates. Portorreal was given plenty of playing time, finishing fourth on the team in plate appearances and I’d expect him to be back in the DSL next year with better results.

Center fielder Victor Fernandez is easily the fastest player on this team and from the sound of it, he might be the fastest player in the organization. People I talked to said he had game-changing speed in the outfield and on the bases. Unfortunately, he injured his hamstring early in the year and that really limited his speed on the bases. The 19-year-old had an .867 OPS, showed some power and on-base skills, plus he stole 14 bases.

Sandy Santos displayed a lot of skills, stealing bases, racking up outfield assists and look strong at the plate at times. He’s a toolsy 6’3″, 20-year-old, who showed nice improvements over his rookie season. Santos was considered for the final spot in the top ten due to his tools and the playing time he received this year.

Eliezer Ramirez should see much more time next season

Eliezer Ramirez should see much more time next season

Young Eliezer Ramirez got a six-figure bonus, but very little playing time. He was considered raw when he signed and the only highlight he showed in his limited time was the ability to draw walks. That was actually good to see, because a young player seeing limited time might try too hard to impress. He should see much more playing time next year.

Rookie Felix Vinicio played 43 games and posted a .698 OPS. The 19-year-old made good contact, with a 19:16 BB/K ratio in 134 at-bats. Vinicio has a really quick bat, but not much else. He’s a small lefty, standing 5’10″, 175 pounds, and he didn’t have a single stolen base, so he needs to show more before he’s considered someone to watch. His arm is average at best and his range is limited due to his speed.

 Starting Pitching Looked Good This Year

The Pirates had three pitchers that really stood out this year and a fourth starter that quietly had a strong season. All-Star Yeudy Garcia, control specialist Richard Mitchell, hard-throwing Luis Escobar and DSL veteran Francis Rodriguez all had good showings this season. All four pitchers are righties and three of them made the top ten list below, while Rodriguez was considered for the last spot.

Garcia is the hardest thrower of the group, topping out at 95 MPH as a starter. He finished with a 2.43 ERA and 2.10 GO/AO ratio, plus led the team with 47 strikeouts. He will be interesting to watch going forward because this was his rookie season, though he is already a month shy of his 22nd birthday. Garcia has good size at 6’3″ and he has filled out a little since signing, easily exceeding his listed weight of 185 pounds.

Mitchell is probably the most familiar name, as he was listed as one of the top DSL prospects after the 2012 season. He throws 91 MPH and pounds the strike zone, embracing the “pitch to contact” teachings of the Pirates better than any pitcher in the DSL.  He throws a ton of first pitch strikes, works down in the zone and throws inside. Mitchell has a change-up that showed great improvements this year and his curve is at least an average offering. He led the team with 65 innings and that was due to keeping his pitch count low.

Garcia looked like a legit top prospect, but his age holds him back

Garcia looked like a legit top prospect, but his age holds him back

Escobar’s numbers don’t stand out, a 4.75 ERA and 31 walks in 55 innings, but he had one horrible start (10 ER in 1.2 IP) that really skewed his stats. He is also new to pitching, moving over from third base two years ago after his coach recommended the move. Escobar can hit 94 MPH and once he fills out and gets more experience, he could really break out. The Pirates signed him for $150,000 after following him for a while and noticing strong improvements, so they obviously see a lot in him with a bonus that high despite being raw. He missed his last two starts due to an appendectomy.

Rodriguez last year was described as a pitcher that relied heavily on off-speed pitches for success and didn’t have the stamina to start. He had better stamina this year, but still relied heavily on off-speed pitches, which could explain his success against younger hitters. Rodriguez is a very smart pitcher, who had great results this year and was able to throw 52.2 innings over 12 starts, posting a 2.91 ERA and 1.06 WHIP.

The other main starter was Nestor Oronel, a 17-year-old lefty from Venezuela that had a tough rookie season. It’s hard to believe he ended up with a 4.13 ERA because he had a .354 BAA, allowing 87 hits in 58.2 innings. Oronel throws high 80′s with sinking action to his fastball. He showed improvements as the year went along with his curve and his change-up had mixed results. He seems likely to be a starter again next year in the DSL.

The Pirates used six starters all season, with Jherson Esqueda getting four starts. He missed some time due to injury this year, then slowly built his way back in relief before moving into the rotation. Esqueda is a second-year player that looked good in limited time his rookie season. He throws mid-80′s, so he relies on his excellent command and a plus change-up. His brother Carlos Esqueda played four years with the VSL/DSL Pirates and then this year, he was on loan from the Pirates to a team in the Mexican League, along with pitcher Jovany Lopez.

The Bullpen Had It’s Issues

Armando Bustamante had a nice stretch in the middle of his rookie season, but during the start and finish he had control issues. The 18-year-old righty was getting extended looks in relief, but the Pirates scaled him back after a four inning outing and he finished poorly. Bustamante throws high-80′s with his fastball and his best pitch is his slider that sits high-70′s. With 36 innings pitched in relief, he seems like a candidate to move to the rotation next year, assuming his fastball command is good enough.

Bustamante looks like a potential starter next year

Bustamante looks like a potential starter next year

Edgar Santana seems like a filler, a 22-year-old(23 in October) that saw limited time in relief, with little success. He touches mid-90′s with his fastball and has a plus slider, so there is potential. He walked three batters in 19.2 innings, but none of his other stats were impressive.

Righty Julian Villamar had an 8.31 ERA and issued 29 walks in 26 innings at age 20, which is usually enough to write someone off. Hard to believe with those stats, but he actually had a nice six game stretch in which he threw 10.1 scoreless innings and was very tough to hit. He throws hard, but he can get very erratic at times, looking like a prospect at times, while other times it looks like it’s his first time pitching. It will be very tough to bounce back from this season, but he has the arm to do it.

Mister Luciano has a great baseball name and an arm to match, but his stats didn’t match the arm. The 18-year-old really struggled, but he should get another chance. He throws low-90′s with a hard-breaking curve and a change-up that is serviceable. He gave up too many runs, hits and walks, so his rookie season was a disappointment.

Cristian Mota is the only DSL player that moved up to the States mid-season. He’s a small lefty reliever, who is already 22 years old, but he can hit 95 MPH and has good command of his fastball, though he can get erratic at times. He needs work on his secondary pitches, so right now he isn’t much of a prospect, but hitting 95 from the left side should keep him around for awhile.

Luis Brun struggled with his command for a second season. He called a project last year and his stats were worse this season. He’s a small 19-year-old righty that is far from a prospect at this point.

Cesar Santos injured his hand early in the year on a collision during a bunt play. He missed the rest of the season, so his rookie year was basically lost. The 19-year-old lefty throws high 80′s and had some control issues during his limited time.

Ramon Garcia sits 90-91 MPH with a plus curve ball, but he needs to mature as a pitcher. He has issues with concentrating, getting off his game easy and he isn’t much of a fielder. He’s basically a raw pitcher with a great arm and plus curve. Garcia is a 22-year-old righty, who gets a lot of ground balls, but also gives up too many hits.

Second-year player Delvin Hiciano throws 93-94 MPH and showed improvements on all of his pitches as the season went along. He missed some time due to injury, but returned to finish strong. He will be 23 before next year starts and has thrown just 22.2 innings over two years, so he is really inexperienced for his age.

Edgardo Leon is an 18-year-old righty with good size at 6’3″, 190 pounds and room to fill out. He relies almost 100% on his fastball, which sits 87-88 MPH. His off-speed pitches need a lot of work and they were rarely used. He should add some velocity as he fills out.

The 19-year-old Alex Martinez is another 6’3″ righty, which almost seems like a prerequisite to sign with the Pirates. He had some control issues during his limited mound time, walking 12 batters in 17 innings. Martinez was throwing 94-95 MPH early in the season with no control. The Pirates gave him a new pitch and slowed him down so he had better control. Sometimes he resorts back to the hard-thrower, but he is learning to be a better pitcher.

Luylli Miranda is a small, 22-year-old lefty, who had great results in his third season. He pitches well under pressure, throwing a sinker that sits 87-88 MPH and he complements it with a change-up that rates as the best on the team.

The 17-year-old Raymond Rodriguez was the youngest pitcher on the team this year. The 6’1″ lefty made 17 appearances, threw 17.1 innings and allowed 19 walks. He threw mostly fastballs, sitting 90-91 MPH. Rodriguez worked on fastball command most of the year.

Eumir Sepulveda is an 18-year-old, 6’2″ righty, who struggled during his rookie season. In 21 innings over 14 appearances, he had a 7.29 ERA. He missed some time due to injury, looked good at times after he returned, but also had issues throwing strikes in other appearances. He has a chance to be a starter in the future.

Angel Vasquez saw limited time as a 20-year-old rookie due to an early season injury. When he returned, he was dominating, throwing all of his pitches for strikes, including an impressive 12-to-6 curve ball. He is a 6’1″ righty, who gave up one run over his last 11.1 innings.

Mikell Granberry made the top ten list due to his offense and improved defense

Mikell Granberry made the top ten list due to his offense and improved defense

Top Ten Prospects

1. Edison Lantigua, LF

2. Adrian Valerio, SS

3. Raul Siri, 2B

4. Jeremias Portorreal, RF

5. Luis Escobar, RHP

6. Richard Mitchell, RHP

7. Yeudy Garcia, RHP

8. Mikell Granberry, C

9. Jhoan Herrera, 3B

10. Victor Fernandez, CF

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Pittsburgh Pirates 2013 Arizona Fall League Season Recap http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/11/pittsburgh-pirates-2013-arizona-fall-league-season-recap.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/11/pittsburgh-pirates-2013-arizona-fall-league-season-recap.html#comments Fri, 15 Nov 2013 15:00:23 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=69420 The Arizona Fall League ended on Thursday with a 3-2 loss for the Pittsburgh Pirates players and their Scottsdale Scorpions team. The team finished the season with a 10-21 record, but there were some positive signs from the Pirates players assigned to the league.

Jameson Taillon pitched once before an injury ended his season

Jameson Taillon pitched once before an injury ended his season

The Pirates sent a total of eight players to the AFL, the last coming when Phil Irwin replaced Jameson Taillon on the roster. They had three position players, Alen Hanson, Alex Dickerson and Gift Ngoepe, two starting pitchers in Irwin and Taillon and three relievers, Matt Benedict, Zack Thornton and Tyler Waldron. In our AFL season preview, we broke down these players, where they stood as far as prospect status and what was needed to do to establish themselves as better prospects.

Below you’ll find a recap of each player’s performance in the AFL along with some comments on where they stand now that the season is over.

Jameson Taillon went to the AFL looking to add some innings to his season total. He ended up adding just two shutout innings before being shutdown with a tweaked groin. The injury is just a minor setback and Taillon should be able to endure a full workload next season, which will likely include September innings in the majors, as well as possible October innings. In his only game, he threw 35 pitches and was sitting 94-96 MPH, touching 97 MPH and showing strong secondary stuff.

The biggest name for the Pirates in the AFL after Taillon was clearly Alen Hanson and he impressed some scouts. He was the youngest position player on the Scottsdale roster. After some early hiccups on defense, that included two games in a row with two errors (one fielding, one throwing each time), Hanson settled down and excelled on both sides of the ball. He was named to the Fall Stars game, the only representative of the Pirates. Hanson finished with six errors on the year and just one in his last 15 games.

On offense, he had a .253/.294/.329 slash line in 79 at-bats and looked much better from the left side. All three of his extra base hits came off right-handed pitchers, while southpaws held him to a .200 average and .476 OPS. Hanson had six stolen bases in nine attempts. He will likely end up back at Altoona for at least half of the 2014 season, as he looks to refine his skills all around. Hanson will be 21-years-old the entire 2014 season, so for his age, AA is still an advanced placement. If the defense improves, and he has the skills to do that, Hanson will be batting leadoff for the Pirates as their everyday shortstop by mid-2015.

Hanson impressed the scouts, but Alex Dickerson also looked fairly good at the plate. He batted .290 in 18 games, though it was a slightly empty average. He had four doubles and no homers, plus drew only five walks. One caveat with the lack of power is the fact Scottsdale plays in a huge ballpark. It’s 360 down the left field line and 430 to straight away center field. As a team, they had just 11 homers as season, the lowest total in the league. Dickerson was decent hitting against lefties, something he did well during the regular season. He ran into one issue during the season that has caused him problems in the past. He missed a week of action with back stiffness, but is was a minor setback and he picked up hits in six of the seven games he played after returning.

Dickerson split his time between both corner outfield spots and to the chagrin of many Pirates fans, he didn’t see any action at first base. The fact he played both outfield spots without an error and we know he can play first base, gives him some versatility. But the Pirates don’t have a definite long-term option at first base, which raises questions of why Dickerson continues to play the outfield and whether he can be a starter for the Pirates at first base.

Gift Ngoepe the middle infielder, had a great season in the AFL. Unfortunately, Gift Ngoepe the batter, was the polar opposite. While his glove and speed might someday get him to the majors, the chances of that happening didn’t go up with his performance in the AFL. You might be able to find a bright spot with his struggles at the plate. Ngoepe is Rule 5 eligible this off-season, and he proved during the regular season at AA and during the AFL that his bat is far from major league ready. That could keep the Pirates from feeling they need to protect him, but should also turn off any other team from picking him.

Ngoepe went 4-for-51 at the plate and struck out 19 times. His .270 OPS was the worst in the league among anyone who played more than one game. Basically, his hitting was awful. The good side is the defense, 17 games in all with no errors. He mostly played second base, but had a couple of appearances at shortstop as well. Ngoepe didn’t get much of a chance to run the bases, so he had just two stolen bases in two attempts. He should be back at Altoona next year alongside his double play partner from the AFL, Alen Hanson. He will have a lot to prove with his bat if he wants to go any further.

Phil Irwin was originally announced for the AFL, then the Pirates decided to hold him back and have him pitch in the Fall Instructional League. When Jameson Taillon went down with an injury, Irwin was sent to Arizona to get in his work. He was coming off an injury, followed by right elbow surgery, so you can’t be too critical about his results in the AFL. Irwin had a strong first outing, throwing three shutout innings. It went downhill for him after that game. In his last four starts combined, he allowed 15 earned runs on 20 hits and six walks in 12.2 innings. Working on a 60 pitch limit, Irwin got through four innings of work twice and twice he was knocked out in the third inning.

The results from Irwin should be scrutinized too much. This was basically like a rehab assignment for him and a chance to build up some innings for next year. He only made three starts during the regular season, throwing ten innings for Indianapolis and 4.2 in his lone Pirates start. The good things are that his velocity was just a tick below normal, he was using all of his pitches and more importantly, he proved he was healthy.

Matt Benedict pitched well in the AFL up until the end. In his last three appearances, he allowed runs in each game, a total of four earned runs in 4.1 innings. Prior to that, he gave up one run in his first eight outings. He posted a very impressive 3.38 GO/AO ratio due to relying heavily on his sinker and held batters to a .233 BAA. Benedict also issued just five walks and while he struck out 11 batters in his 16 innings, he picked up a strikeout in each of his last ten outings. In relief, he was able to touch 93 MPH with his fastball. Benedict was starting for half of 2013 and struggling, but he looks like he could have a place as a reliever if he can continue to command his pitches and keep the ball on the ground.

There were a few good signs from Tyler Waldron in his nine appearances. He had a nice 1.58 GO/AO ratio and didn’t allow a home run. He also had back-to-back appearances in which he threw a total of five no-hit innings. The bad for Waldron was basically everything before and after those five no-hit innings. In those other games, he gave up 17 hits and five walks in nine innings. Left-handed batters hammered him for a .348 average. In his last outing, he was mixing in all of his pitches and he hit 92 MPH. Waldron was in the AFL trying to make up for what was basically a lost season, as an arm injury limited him to 32.1 innings during the season.

Thornton Learns From AFL Experience

During the regular season, Zack Thornton split his time between three levels, beginning in Bradenton, moving to Altoona, then shuffling back and forth between the Curve and Indianapolis. Three important things were consistent between each stop, he kept the ball on the ground, refused to walk batters and piled up strikeouts.

Zach Thornton pitched well in the AFL

Zach Thornton pitched well in the AFL

The overall results were good at Indianapolis, but the ERA went up and Thornton took a lot from that.

“I learned no matter what level you are at if you make the pitch you execute in the right spot that you are going to be successful,” Thornton said. “The approaches are a little different but I still went and attacked hitters and didn’t back down.”

With just 12 walks in 75.1 innings during the regular season, there should be little doubt that Thornton goes out to the mound with a game plan and sticks to it.

“It comes down to be able to execute the pitch and if you can do that you will be very successful in this game. I never change the way I pitch. I go after hitters and pitch to my strengths and stay with the process.”

Going to the AFL allowed Thornton to work on things under the tutelage of Stan Kyles, the pitching coach during the regular season for Altoona and for the Scottsdale Scorpions. Thornton said about Kyles “He knows me very well and if I was struggling he knew my key points to get me back to where I needed to be.”

That allowed him to be comfortable on the mound and concentrate and work on a one particular pitch.

“The thing I really wanted to work on was my change-up, being able to throw it in any count and especially the right on right change-up. I felt like I accomplished that very well and was very successful with it.”

Thornton also learned a lot in Arizona just from not sitting in the bullpen like relievers normally do. The Pirates have their starters track pitches between starts, but going to the AFL allowed Thornton to do that for the first time regularly in his career. It was a whole new perspective for him,

“When I am on the mound it is hard to tell how much my ball is moving and what the action is on my ball so it is cool to see it from a different view on other pitchers.”

It also helps when he’s facing the same hitters down the line because he gets to see their approach against the other pitchers.

All that he learned in the AFL led to strong numbers in his 11 outings. In 14.2 innings, he had 14 strikeouts, a 2.57 GO/AO ratio, walked just three batters and had a .157 BAA. To get these results, Thornton mixes in a fastball that sits 90-91 MPH with a low 80′s change-up and a slider in the 77-78 MPH range.

Thornton called pitching in the AFL an amazing experience. Putting what he learned into action and staying on the right path might lead to an even more amazing experience: getting to the majors in Pittsburgh.

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Pittsburgh Pirates 2013 Season Recap: Third Base http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/11/pittsburgh-pirates-2013-season-recap-third-base.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/11/pittsburgh-pirates-2013-season-recap-third-base.html#comments Wed, 06 Nov 2013 16:00:10 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=69050 Pedro Alvarez has become one of the best power hitters in the majors, and has improved his defense at third base. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Pedro Alvarez has become one of the best power hitters in the majors, and has improved his defense at third base. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

When Pedro Alvarez was drafted in 2008, the view was that he would eventually become a power hitting third baseman who would eventually anchor the middle of the lineup with a ton of power. He hasn’t emerged as a star, but Alvarez has provided the power. He’s also answered some questions about whether he can stick at third base, at least in the short-term.

Alvarez finished the 2013 season with a .233/.296/.473 line, along with 36 homers in 614 plate appearances. He was a three true outcomes player, although his 7.8% walk rate wasn’t as high as most three true outcome players. The power was impressive, and gave him a ton of value in the middle of the lineup, even if his 30% strikeout rate was frustrating to watch. Alvarez led all NL third baseman in home runs, and finished second among all MLB third baseman, behind Miguel Cabrera.

Looking beyond third base, Alvarez has emerged as one of the best home run hitters in the majors over the last two seasons. In the last two years, only four players have hit more home runs than Alvarez. Those players are Cabrera (88), Chris Davis (86), Edwin Encarnacion (78), and Adam Dunn (75). Alvarez has 66, which is tied with Adrian Beltre, Alfonso Soriano, and Mark Trumbo during that span.

One big thing about the 2013 season for Alvarez was his defense. For the first time in his career he posted positive defensive value at third base. There were a lot of errors, but there were also a lot of really difficult plays that were made, including the charging, bare-handed grab and throw across the diamond that Alvarez makes on a routine basis. His UZR/150 was -0.4, which ranked tenth among 20 qualified third basemen.

Overall, Alvarez had a 3.1 WAR, which ranked ninth out of 21 qualified third basemen. His numbers would have been higher if he would have been part of a platoon. Alvarez had a .249/.310/.532 line in 467 plate appearances against right-handers, with 33 of his 36 homers. Against lefties he had a .180/.252/.286 line in 147 plate appearances. To put the left-hander line in perspective, Clint Barmes had a .211/.249/.309 line this season, which is better than the numbers Alvarez posted against lefties.

The idea of platooning Alvarez isn’t popular, because people can’t separate his good performances from his bad performances. If you bring up the platoon, the response is usually negative over suggesting the benching of a 36 home run player. In a platoon, Alvarez would still have 33 homers, and you’d still get those other three from the guy hitting lefties. In fact, you’d get more than just those three homers, improving the overall production at third base. As an example, Jordy Mercer only had 89 plate appearances against lefties this year, but hit four homers during that span. If you platoon Alvarez and someone like Mercer, you might get 40 home runs from the third base position, plus an OPS well over .800.

Even though it makes sense, it still might be hard to sell the idea, since most people only look at the overall stat line and don’t look at the splits. If you do look at the splits, then you’ll see that Alvarez is not improving against lefties. There have been plenty of players who would have already been moved to a platoon role at this point in their careers. The Pirates are getting great production from third base about 75% of the time. A platoon could help them improve the production from that position the other 25% of the time.

The Future

The future at third base hasn’t really changed in the last year. In fact, here was my summary in last year’s recap.

The Pirates have Alvarez under team control through the 2016 season. He’s a Scott Boras client, so an extension or a return as a free agent would be unlikely. That means the Pirates have four years to develop a third base prospect, or acquire one through the draft or trade. That’s a lot of time, but it doesn’t feel that way considering the lack of potential options in the minors.

The only thing that has changed from that summary is that the Pirates now have three years to develop a third baseman. They still don’t have any good options in the minors. Eric Wood is the only promising third base prospect, and he didn’t have the best season this year, with a .255/.314/.360 line in 364 at-bats in West Virginia.

The Pirates could get creative and move Wyatt Mathisen to third base. Mathisen is a catcher, but missed a lot of time last year due to a small labrum tear. The injury didn’t require surgery, and it’s hard to say how that will impact his arm strength going forward. Prior to the injury, Mathisen had a strong arm, and has previously played shortstop, so he should be able to handle third. The biggest impact the injury had was that it allowed Reese McGuire and Jin-De Jhang to catch up with Mathisen in West Virginia. The Pirates will either have to hold one of Jhang or Mathisen back in Jamestown, push someone up to Bradenton, or change positions. If they change positions, the best candidate would be Mathisen, and third base would make a lot of sense due to the organizational need.

Even if the Pirates move Mathisen, they don’t have a strong option at third base. The only way they might replace Alvarez internally after the 2016 season is if they draft a third baseman in the first round next year, then watch him ascend to the majors in a year and a half. The timeline is tight for Mathisen as well, since he would have to start hitting immediately in West Virginia next year, move to Bradenton by the end of 2014, get to Indianapolis by the end of 2015, and be ready for the majors after the 2016 season. That’s a lot of developing for a high school player.

At this point, an internal solution at third seems unlikely. Fortunately, the Pirates have improved as a destination for free agents. I don’t think they’ll be able to get Alvarez back, since a third baseman with his power will command a lot on the open market. They might be able to find a legitimate starter if Alvarez goes elsewhere. Or, if there is no free agent available, they could make a trade from the farm system for a replacement. They could also make a trade between now and the end of the 2016 season for a prospect that could eventually take over at third.

Alvarez is still under team control for three more seasons, and the Pirates would be smart to keep him until he becomes a free agent if they remain contenders through that span. It’s probably not time to panic about the future of the position, even if there is a lack of internal options. Their top farm system and their emergence as contenders opens up some possibilities in the future, so that they don’t have to rely on developing a third baseman in the next three seasons.

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Pittsburgh Pirates 2013 Season Recap: Left Field http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/11/pittsburgh-pirates-2013-season-recap-left-field.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/11/pittsburgh-pirates-2013-season-recap-left-field.html#comments Mon, 04 Nov 2013 19:02:18 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=68598 Starling Marte

Starling Marte was a 4.6 WAR player in 2013. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

For most of the season, Starling Marte was the starting left-fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The only exception was when Marte was injured, leading to Jose Tabata getting a lot of starts at the position. Other players, like Alex Presley, Travis Snider, and Felix Pie, got a few starts, but when breaking down the left field position it was primarily Marte.

Defensively, Marte was outstanding. His UZR/150 was the best out of all MLB left fielders this year, although he lost the Gold Glove award to Carlos Gonzalez, despite Gonzalez missing about half the season. Marte also posted some good offensive numbers, and overall he was a 4.6 WAR player in his first full season in the majors. That ranked second on the Pirates, and tied for 32nd in the majors. The only question about Marte was his ability as a leadoff hitter.

Back in Spring Training, I asked Clint Hurdle about Starling Marte’s walk rate and his role as a leadoff hitter. Perhaps the only knock against Marte is that he doesn’t draw walks. In his short career in the majors he has a 4.4% walk rate. The numbers weren’t much better in his minor league career, as he was only over 4.9% at one level, and that was his 6.5% walk rate in Triple-A. Hurdle pointed out that Marte could be a dynamic leadoff hitter, then suggested that many of the best leadoff guys in the game are unconventional.

When it comes to a leadoff hitter, most people are focusing on one stat: on-base percentage. The lack of walks from Marte means that he will never be a leader in OBP. But is it possible that people are over-exaggerating what kind of OBP you need from a leadoff spot?

In 2013, Marte had a .343 OBP. That ranked fifth on the Pirates, behind Andrew McCutchen, Justin Morneau, Gaby Sanchez, and Marlon Byrd. Morneau and Byrd were only around for a month, and Sanchez was a platoon player. The Pirates didn’t have the best OBP as a team, but that doesn’t mean Marte was bad. The league average OBP in 2013 was .318, so Marte was above-average.

So what about the leadoff numbers? In 2013, only four teams saw an OBP greater than .343 from their #1 hitters, with two other teams right at .343. The flip side to this is that Marte didn’t have all of his at-bats as a leadoff hitter. He had a .336 OBP as a leadoff guy, which still would have been top ten among teams. Marte also wouldn’t be expected to play every game, even if he was healthy for the entire season, which means the team OBP isn’t going to be based entirely on him.

The point of the team numbers is to show that most teams would love to have Marte’s numbers at the top of the order. Now let’s look at the actual players. I looked at all of the players who saw 250+ plate appearances in 2013 at the leadoff position. I went to 250 just to get a list of 30 players. In that list, Marte finished tied for 13th with his .336 OBP as a leadoff hitter. His full season .343 OBP would have ranked 11th on this list.

At the age of 24, Marte’s numbers were about middle of the pack, and slightly above the average. If you only looked at qualified leadoff hitters (which would give you all of the full time guys), Marte still ranks around the middle of the pack.

The Pirates could improve over Marte, but it’s not as big of a need as people think. Marte’s numbers as a leadoff hitter are better than most, while the perception is that he just isn’t a leadoff guy. Not a lot of teams are getting better production from the leadoff spot. A much bigger need would be the #4-5 spots in the order, where the Pirates are below average compared to other MLB teams.

The reason Marte has a good OBP is because of his high average and his tendency to get hit by pitches. The average isn’t likely to go down, as Marte gets on base a lot more often than others due to his speed. The HBP trend is something that has existed throughout his minor league career, and shouldn’t be expected to go away, though it does come with injury concerns and jokes about oven mitts. The speed and the tendency to get hit with a pitch will both keep Marte’s OBP at above-average rates, and in a good range for a leadoff hitter.

His lack of walks means he will never be more than an average to above-average leadoff hitter in terms of OBP. However, you also have to consider what happens when Marte does get on base. He stole 41 bases this year, which ranked sixth in the majors out of 140 qualified players. Earlier in the year there was a stat floating around about how many times Marte doubled, tripled, or stole a base. The idea was that this showed how many times Marte put himself in scoring position, which is always what you want from a leadoff hitter. When counting doubles, triples, and stolen bases, Marte tied for fifth in the majors. Some of those stolen bases might have been stealing third, in which case Marte was already in scoring position. However, he still ranks top ten out of 140 qualified players.

Marte showed this year that he gets on base at an average rate for a leadoff hitter. When you consider how often he gets in scoring position, that only adds value to his bat at the top of the lineup. It would help going forward if he improved on his walk rate, but for now it wouldn’t be the worst thing if Marte continued as the leadoff hitter for the Pirates.

The Future

Marte is under team control for the next five seasons, which means he’s pretty much the present and the future for the Pirates. They will have him under team control through his age 29 season, with two more league minimum years remaining. The Pirates might want to consider extending him, in the same way they extended Andrew McCutchen. If they extend Marte on the same timeline that they extended McCutchen, then the extension would come next off-season. The earlier they extend him, the better value they could get.

There’s also some risk involved, as they would be basing this decision on one season. However, Marte wouldn’t cost a lot at this point. He also gets a lot of value from his speed and defense, so even if he doesn’t improve certain parts of his game (power, walks), he would still provide value over the long-term. Marte only received an $85,000 signing bonus, and his career earnings to this point are under $1 M. That’s a few million less than McCutchen had received by the time he signed his extension, which means the Pirates might have a better chance of getting a great deal with Marte. And if Marte continues to improve his game, then the Pirates could get a massive value from an extension, much like they did with McCutchen.

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Pittsburgh Pirates 2013 Season Recap: Catcher http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/10/pittsburgh-pirates-2013-season-recap-catcher.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/10/pittsburgh-pirates-2013-season-recap-catcher.html#comments Thu, 31 Oct 2013 17:00:34 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=68760 Russell Martin Catching

Russell Martin was a huge upgrade behind the plate for the Pirates. (Photo credit: David Hague)

It was almost one year ago that the Pittsburgh Pirates signed Russell Martin to a two-year deal. The move ended up being outstanding, although it wasn’t seen as an earth shattering move at the time. Some pointed to Martin’s .211 batting average the previous year. Some felt that a combination of Tony Sanchez and Michael McKenry could do the same as Martin for cheaper. Some worried about Martin’s numbers declining. I had my list of reasons why Martin shouldn’t have been signed, and they were all wrong, and the article is still online here if you want to look back.

Comparing any catcher to some of the guys that have come through in previous years is setting a low bar. But Martin was a massive upgrade over guys like Rod Barajas, Chris Snyder, and even Ryan Doumit. First, let’s look at the offense.

Russell Martin 2013: .226/.327/.377

Rod Barajas 2012: .206/.283/.343

Chris Snyder 2011: .271/.376/.396

Ryan Doumit Pirates Career: .271/.334/.442

Offensively, Martin was an upgrade over Barajas, but Snyder and Doumit were better. Snyder was slightly better, but just couldn’t stay healthy and his defense wasn’t as good as Martin’s defense. Doumit was clearly a better hitter, but his defense was about as far away from Martin’s defense as you can get.

As for that defense, there aren’t a lot of established stats for catcher value. A lot of the stats are new, and the values of some are unappreciated. Here is a look at a few of those stats.


FanGraphs uses a stat called RPP, which measures the number of runs above / below average a catcher is at blocking pitches. Here are the numbers for each catcher.

Russell Martin 2013: 4.5

Rod Barajas 2012: 2.2

Chris Snyder 2011: -1.6

Ryan Doumit 2011: -1.1

Martin was the best of the group. Barajas wasn’t that bad, while Snyder and Doumit were horrible. The difference between Martin and those two in 2011 is half a win in total value.

Stolen Bases

I feel like it’s a bit unfair to compare Martin to previous catchers, since the previous catchers had to deal with a “we don’t care what the runners do” attitude from the pitchers and the team. But Martin threw out 40% of runners this year, and that wasn’t all on the pitchers, just like the extremely poor numbers by Barajas weren’t all on the pitchers. Here is a measure of the defensive runs based on stolen bases (measured in rSB).

Russell Martin 2013: 9

Rod Barajas 2012: -10

Chris Snyder 2011: -1

Ryan Doumit 2011: -1

By going from Barajas to Martin, the Pirates saved 19 runs. Ten runs is a win, which means Martin’s arm was worth almost two wins more than Rod Barajas in a single season. That’s amazing. Note that this number not only looks at throwing out runners, but it also factors in the amount of steals, and how catchers can prevent steals in the first place.

Defensive Runs Saved

This looks at how many runs a player saved or hurt his team in the field compared to the average player at his position. For more on DRS, check out this write up by FanGraphs. This looks at total defensive value.

Russell Martin 2013: 16

Rod Barajas 2012: -12

Chris Snyder 2011: -1

Ryan Doumit 2011: -6

FanGraphs grades anything +15 or better on the DRS scale as “Gold Glove Caliber”. Martin was a finalist for the Gold Glove, but lost to Winner at Catcher by Default, Yadier Molina. FanGraphs grades zero as average, -5 as Below Average, -10 as Poor and -15 as Awful.

Once again, Martin was clearly ahead of everyone else. He was also the only catcher with positive value. And the upgrade from Barajas to Martin was staggering, adding almost three additional wins. Even if you look back at 2011, the combo of Snyder and Doumit had better offense, but the defense from Martin this year was about two extra wins better than that pair. The offense from the 2011 pair compared to Martin amounted to a little less than one win. So the total upgrade of Martin over that combo was a little more than one win, even though Snyder/Doumit had considerably better offensive numbers. This shows that Martin was amazing defensively, but it also shows how defense can be very unappreciated compared to offense.

The Future

Tony Sanchez

Tony Sanchez projects to take over for Martin in 2015. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Russell Martin is only under control through the 2014 season. If he has another season similar to his 2013 campaign, the Pirates won’t have as easy of a time signing him as they did last off-season. They might not need him back after next season.

Tony Sanchez got his first taste of Major League ball this season, after seeing his power return at the minor league level. It’s too early to tell if Sanchez will carry his hitting and power over to the majors. The odds of it happening are strong in PNC Park, due to the nature of Sanchez’s power revival. He started going to the opposite field more often at the end of the 2012 season, and made it a habit in 2013. That trend could make the Clemente Wall a huge target for Sanchez, allowing him to put up the offensive numbers to be a starter.

Defensively, Sanchez is strong. He’s excellent at blocking pitches, works great with the pitching staff, and he’s got a strong arm. The one downside to his game is that he is prone to having periods where he makes wild throws — either down to second, to first on a bunt, and over the third baseman’s head on a strike three call at one point this year. A lot of this snowballs after the initial error, with Sanchez doing too much in his following throws to try and make up for the bad throw. Spending an entire season in the same clubhouse with Martin might help Sanchez learn how to get past this for good, and let one mistake remain one mistake, rather than turning it into several mistakes.

As a starter, Sanchez could have the upside of Martin — strong defense, great advanced skills like blocking and pitch framing, and some power in his bat, even if he doesn’t hit for average.

Reese McGuire is the long-term starter behind the plate for the Pirates.

Reese McGuire is the long-term starter behind the plate for the Pirates.

The Pirates might only need Sanchez as a starter for a short time. They’ve got a lot of talented catchers in the lower levels, led by 2013 first round pick Reese McGuire. Like Sanchez and Martin, McGuire projects to be an excellent defensive catcher. He might end up being the best of the three, as he already shows some advanced skills, and a lot of tools that could work in the majors today. That’s not to say that McGuire can go on the fast track to the majors. Everything about his defense looked great in the minors this year, as I outlined in the GCL recap. However, as he moves up he’s going to have to deal with better base runners, and more difficult breaking pitches to block and catch. The bigger adjustment will come with his offense. When he was drafted, there was a split in opinion of whether McGuire could hit enough to be a starter. He showed good hitting skills this year, and that will be a huge focus as he moves up throughout the levels of the minors.

McGuire profiles as the long-term starter at catcher, and the Pirates could be in a nice situation with he and Sanchez on the same roster, giving them a great combo behind the plate. The Pirates have other interesting options in the lower levels, including Jin-De Jhang and Wyatt Mathisen. Both should fall behind McGuire when it comes to playing time behind the plate, and Mathisen could even be a candidate to eventually move to a different position due to his athleticism. That said, both have a chance to be a two-way catcher, though that chance is smaller than McGuire’s chance.

As far as depth in 2014, Michael McKenry will be a Super Two player, making him eligible for arbitration this off-season. I feel that he will return, and since he has an option remaining, he would be available as a third catcher out of Triple-A. The Pirates also have an interesting depth option in Carlos Paulino. He’s an all-defense option, and strictly a backup, but he features a laser arm which is the best in the system. I could see the Pirates adding a few catchers to the upper levels over the off-season, but most of those will be hard to predict and will come on minor league deals.

For once, the catching position isn’t an issue for the Pirates in the short-term, and with all of the minor league options they have, it might not be an issue in the long-term either.

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Pittsburgh Pirates 2013 Season Recap: Shortstop http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/10/pittsburgh-pirates-2013-season-recap-shortstop.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/10/pittsburgh-pirates-2013-season-recap-shortstop.html#comments Wed, 30 Oct 2013 14:00:52 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=68702 Jordy Mercer was a 1.4 WAR shortstop in 2013. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Jordy Mercer was a 1.4 WAR shortstop in 2013. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

In my opinion, shortstop is the hardest position to fill at the major league level. That’s probably not just my opinion. There’s a reason why teams don’t trade young shortstop talent. There’s a reason why guys like Yuniesky Betancourt get starting jobs in the majors. Shortstop is the hardest position to defend, requiring the most athleticism. Catcher might be tied, but catching requires skills completely different than shortstop, and you don’t always have to be as athletic to play the position.

The Pirates had a good shortstop for the longest time in Jack Wilson. He was great defensively, and had decent hitting for the position. But Wilson was traded in 2009, and quickly started the decline of his career after that. Meanwhile, the Pirates had no one internally to take over. They went with Ronny Cedeno for a few years, but he was frustratingly inconsistent. They turned to Clint Barmes in 2012. He was one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball, but one of the worst offensive shortstops, taking away from his defensive value.

Barmes started back at the position in 2013, but was more of the same. He had great defense and really bad offense. The Pirates occasionally used John McDonald, who had even worse offense, and not as good defense. By the middle of May, they turned to Jordy Mercer for his first start. By the middle of June, Mercer was the regular starter.

Mercer doesn’t have the defensive value that Barmes has, but he makes up for that with his offense. He posted a .285/.336/.435 line, with his .772 OPS ranking fourth on the Pirates. That’s also a strong line for shortstops in general. Of all shortstops with 300+ plate appearances, Mercer’s OPS ranked 8th in the majors, out of 36 qualifying shortstops.

From a value standpoint, Mercer was worth almost a full win more than Barmes. In 365 PA, Mercer had a 1.4 WAR, while Barmes had an 0.6 WAR in 330 PA. Mercer’s value might go down next year. Somehow they finished with similar plate appearance numbers, but Barmes saw 804 innings, while Mercer saw 594 innings at short. Mercer had a -9.4 UZR/150, which ranked 29th out of 33 shortstops with 550+ innings at the position. Meanwhile, Barmes ranked second out of that group with a 14.2 UZR/150, falling only behind Andrelton Simmons.

If Mercer gets more playing time next year, he’s going to see his overall value drop with more innings on the field. That is unless he massively improves his defense. Since the time he was drafted, Mercer was seen as an offense first shortstop. He could still provide positive value at the position due to his offense, but like Barmes, he’s going to be an average to below average option.

Without developing any other options, it’s hard to beat that. The free agent market isn’t going to produce a better option, and people don’t just trade away talented shortstops without those shortstops bringing a massive return.

As a team, the Pirates finished with a 1.6 WAR at the shortstop position, which ranked 18th in all of baseball. There’s room for improvement, but I think that improvement is ultimately going to come in a few years. For now, having Mercer will be a good stopgap until a better alternative arrives.

The Future

Alen Hanson is the top shortstop prospect in the Pirates' system.

Alen Hanson is the top shortstop prospect in the Pirates’ system.

That better alternative could very well be Alen Hanson. The young infielder just turned 21 last week, and is currently playing in the Arizona Fall League. He spent the last month of the 2013 season playing in Altoona and getting a taste of Double-A ball. The results haven’t been strong at either stop. Hanson’s offense has been down, although this could be chalked up to a first look against upper level pitching from a young player.

Hanson has great offensive tools, with good hitting abilities from either side of the plate, a quick swing, and a ton of speed. He has the ability to bunt for a hit, but in 2013 he also developed a tendency to show bunt, then hit successfully into a drawn in infield. That ability, combined with his speed, will keep infielders guessing. He will eventually hit in the upper levels. The questions will surround his defense.

The big story this year with Hanson was his high error count. He recorded a lot of errors, especially during the first ten games in Bradenton. The thing about his errors is that most of them came on routine plays. Hanson would relax his arm or his fielding techniques, and as a result he would throw wild or let the ball bounce off the heel of his glove. You would watch that, then a few plays later you would see him range deep into the hole, make a “Derek Jeter” jump throw, and fire a strike to first to get an out.

Hanson displays a lot of tools that say he can stick at shortstop. He’s got a lot of range, and his arm strength is good enough to stay at the position. The only problem was his tendency to take off on routine plays. He was only 20 this year, so that could be chalked up to a lack of maturity. As he gets older, that could go away. It’s going to be the difference between him potentially being a top shortstop at the position, and Ronny Cedeno with better offense.

If you look around the league, there are questions surrounding every top shortstop prospect. Didi Gregorius has great defense, but there are questions of how much he can hit. There were questions about Jean Segura’s ability to be a starting shortstop before the Brewers acquired him. You’d love to have Jurickson Profar, but he’s more the exception than the rule. In Hanson’s case, he’s got the chance to provide solid offensive value from the shortstop position, while having the defense tools to at least not be a liability. Considering the weakness of the position around the league, that would put Hanson in the top half of the shortstop rankings.

He could use some time to develop. A year in Double-A in 2014, with a brief look at Triple-A at the end of the season won’t hurt. Spending several months in Triple-A in 2015 would also be good. Mercer should be fine as the starter in Pittsburgh until Hanson is ready. Hanson profiles to be the best bet at shortstop in the long-term. For now, he’s at least a year and a half away, as he needs time in the upper levels, and needs to grow and mature.

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2013 GCL Pirates Season Recap and Top 10 Prospects http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/10/2013-gcl-pirates-season-recap-and-top-10-prospects.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/10/2013-gcl-pirates-season-recap-and-top-10-prospects.html#comments Tue, 29 Oct 2013 14:00:05 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=68560 In previous years, I got to see 1-2 weeks of the GCL players. Most of that time came during the Fall Instructional Leagues, and I didn’t get a further look until Spring Training. This year I saw almost everyone at the level at least once, with only 1-2 exceptions. When combined with the earlier draft signing deadlines, this allowed me to see all of the new draft picks much earlier than I normally would have. On that same note, it allowed those draft picks to get playing time in the year they were drafted. The combined result was that I got to see Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire live up to the hype, but I also saw some promise out of middle and late round picks like Billy Roth and Neil Kozikowski. Below is a recap of the hitters and pitchers at the level, followed by the top ten prospects this year.

The Hitters

Austin Meadows had a strong debut in the GCL this year, being named Baseball America's top prospect in the league.

Austin Meadows had a strong debut in the GCL this year, being named Baseball America’s top prospect in the league.

The earlier draft signing deadline meant that the Pirates got to see a lot of playing time from their first round picks. Both Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire went to the GCL, then were sent to Jamestown by the end of the season. They both got off to strong starts in their young pro careers, showing why they were taken as early first rounders.

Austin Meadows had a great season with the bat in one of the most pitcher friendly leagues in the minors. He hit for a .918 OPS with five homers, and was named the top prospect in the GCL after the season. He’s got a ton of power potential with a smooth and easy swing. There were some Jay Bruce comparisons around the draft when it came to the power from the left side, and I heard some of those same comparisons by scouts at the games. He’s got the range and the arm strength to play center field, although long-term he profiles as a corner outfielder due to his size. That won’t be an issue, as the Pirates already have plenty of center field options in their system.

Reese McGuire came in with the reputation of strong defense and a questionable bat. The defense was there, with McGuire throwing out 44 percent of basestealers in the GCL. All of the throws I saw were extremely accurate, thrown to the second base side of the bag, and in low, perfect position for the tag. McGuire also has great footwork which allows him to get the throw off quickly. He also showed good skills blocking, receiving, and handling the pitching staff. He did hit, with a .780 OPS. He started off by hitting for power, but by the end of the season he was only hitting for average and getting on base. His offense in the GCL doesn’t answer any questions about his ability to hit, but the defensive skills definitely lived up to expectations.

Two other prep players joined Meadows and McGuire on the GCL team. Trae Arbet was a fifth round shortstop who was signed to an over-slot deal. He looked over-matched at the plate, and raw on the field. You could see some potential there, with some good defensive tools, although his overall game was raw. He’s definitely a guy who will return to short-season ball next year, possibly to the new Bristol team. Nick Buckner was signed to an over-slot deal as a 14th round pick. He showed off a cannon for an arm and some power potential, but like Arbet, he looked over-matched at the plate, and his overall game was raw.

The Pirates had a lot of young international players making the jump to the GCL this year. The most impressive guy was Ulises Montilla, who put up some of the best offensive numbers on the team, with some power from the middle infield spots. Montilla was a little on the old side for this league, but not too old. He’s mostly a second baseman, and should be a candidate to move to West Virginia next year due to his age and his advanced bat.

Danny Arribas was another interested international hitter. Arribas is a catcher, but played a lot of first base due to the presence of Reese McGuire. He’s very athletic and showed good hitting skills, although not a lot of power. Arribas has more value behind the plate, but due to the options in West Virginia next year (McGuire, Wyatt Mathisen, Jin-De Jhang), he will probably be held back in Jamestown, working behind that trio for a few seasons.

The rest of the offense showed a few tools each, but not many players stood out. Candon Myles had speed, which he used for a high average and on-base percentage, but he lacked power. Carlos Ozuna showed some promise defensively at shortstop, but struggled with the bat. The most promising of the remaining group was Enyel Vallejo, who got most of his playing time in the second half. Vallejo was old for the level, but showed good hitting skills with some power in only his second pro season.

The Pitchers

The Pirates have added a lot of prep pitchers throughout the last few years, and they added three more in the 2013 draft. Blake Taylor was the highest profile player, drafted in the second round. The lefty has gotten his fastball up to 94 MPH in the past, and has the makings of a plus breaking ball. He needs work on fastball command and his changeup. His overall numbers in the GCL were strong, although he did have some control problems.

I saw Neil Kozikowski a few times this year, which was probably more than most scouts have ever seen him. When the Pirates drafted him, he was a complete unknown, with very little information surrounding him. That made it a surprise when the Pirates gave him an over-slot deal in the eighth round. When I saw him he was throwing in the 88-91 MPH range, and was using his changeup frequently, which is rare for high school players. Most don’t have a changeup, and lack trust in the pitch early in their career. Kozikowski has good movement on his fastball at times, but at other times he can leave it up in the zone, getting hit hard in those instances.

Billy Roth got the most attention, being praised as the best late round pick by Baseball America. When I saw Roth he was sitting 90-91 MPH and touching 92. By comparison, guys like Tyler Glasnow and Nick Kingham were in that range out of high school, and both are throwing mid-90s now. Roth also featured a nice changeup which was 83-84 MPH and had a lot of break, looking like a slider. His curveball sits in the upper 70s and shows good break. That is his best breaking pitch, although the changeup looked promising when I saw it.

Jon Sandfort was taken as a prep pitcher last year, and returned to the GCL this year. He was inconsistent, looking great at times, and getting hammered at other times. He was 89-92 MPH at times this year, and has touched 94 in the past. He also showed good movement with his fastball, with one NL scout saying that he didn’t need to throw 94 to be effective. His curveball is his best pitch, with 12-to-6 break in the upper 70s. That same NL scout praised the quality of his changeup, which Sandfort is comfortable throwing in any count. He didn’t have the best overall numbers this year, but Sandfort’s stuff is very promising going forward.

Wei-Chung Wang posted some impressive numbers this year, and a fastball that hit 94 MPH.

Wei-Chung Wang posted some impressive numbers this year, and a fastball that hit 94 MPH.

The Pirates had a lot of international pitchers making the jump to the US this year. One of those pitchers was Wei-Chung Wang. The Pirates signed him out of Taiwan in 2011, and he missed the entire 2012 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. That put him at an older age for the GCL, but he showed promise. Wang was hitting 93-94 MPH in his final start of the year, which is strong for a lefty. Normally I’m skeptical of a left-hander in the lower levels, especially if they have advanced off-speed stuff. The off-speed stuff usually dominates the lower levels, but doesn’t translate over to the upper levels without a good fastball. Wang has good off-speed stuff, with a nice curveball. Unlike a lot of lower level lefties, his fastball projects for success beyond short-season ball. He could be a candidate for the West Virginia rotation in 2014.

Adrian Grullon didn’t have the best numbers, but did show some promise. He had a 90-92 MPH fastball and a nice low-80s curveball. He’s 6′ 7″ and has a projectable frame, so he could continue to add velocity. The fastball/curve combo was enough to lead to a 10.2 K/9 ratio, although that came in limited innings as Grullon missed some time with a minor injury.

Cesilio Pimentel, Miguel Rosario, and Melvin Del Rosario all had extended innings and time in the rotation. Pimentel is a soft-tossing lefty, throwing 87-90 MPH. Miguel Rosario is a harder thrower, hitting 90-93 MPH. Del Rosario was mostly 85-89 MPH this year, but the lefty has touched as high as 93 in the past. All three are interesting arms, although they all profile as Wild Cards.

One big wild card is Yhonathan Barrios. He was signed for $250,000 as a shortstop in 2008. At the time that was one of the top bonuses in team history for an international player. Barrios failed to live up to his upside as a hitter, and was converted to a pitcher this year. I was surprised when I saw him throwing 95-96 MPH in the GCL, with good movement on his upper 70s slider, and an impressive low-80s changeup. Barrios was hitting 99 MPH during instructs, so there might be something to him as a reliever. He was a pitcher before he moved to shortstop. It will be interesting to see how the Pirates handle him next year, as he has more upside than a lot of the other position players converted to pitchers in previous years. Kirk Singer made the same transition, and I’ve heard good reports on his velocity, although I didn’t get a chance to see him this year.

Top 10 Prospects

The cutoff for eligibility on this list was 70 at-bats, 20 innings pitched, or 10 relief appearances. There weren’t many players who missed the cutoff. Most of the list is based on upside, rather than the results this year. These players are so far away that even their upside is hard to peg. I could see this list changing by the time the 2014 Prospect Guide is finished.

1. Austin Meadows

2. Reese McGuire

3. Wei-Chung Wang

4. Jon Sandfort

5. Blake Taylor

6. Billy Roth

7. Ulises Montilla

8. Neil Kozikowski

9. Danny Arribas

10. Trae Arbet

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Pittsburgh Pirates 2013 Season Recap: Right Field http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/10/pittsburgh-pirates-2013-season-recap-right-field.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/10/pittsburgh-pirates-2013-season-recap-right-field.html#comments Mon, 28 Oct 2013 14:00:27 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=68528 Jose Tabata started slow, but had a strong finish to the 2013 season. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Jose Tabata started slow, but had a strong finish to the 2013 season. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

During the 2012 season, the Pittsburgh Pirates had a few options in right field, and none of them worked out. Heading into the 2013 season, it looked like they would solve this problem by going with a quantity of starting candidates, giving them a chance that one could break out. They traded for Travis Snider last year at the deadline. Jose Tabata was returning, with inconsistent production under his belt. They had Alex Presley on reserve in Triple-A. Jerry Sands was one of the top pieces that came in return for Joel Hanrahan, and looked like the top alternative to Snider or Tabata heading into the season.

Even with those options, the Pirates ran into right field problems again this year. For the second straight season, the issues in right broke up the first base platoon, forcing Garrett Jones into right field, and forcing Gaby Sanchez to play full-time at first, when he should only be a platoon option.

Snider and Tabata started the year in a sort of platoon. I say “sort of” because neither one of them was good at hitting left-handed pitchers, with Tabata having the slight edge with his career numbers, but lacking the dominant numbers you’d want to see from a right-handed hitter in a platoon.

At the start of the season things looked great for Snider. He had a .300/.382/.417 line in 60 at-bats during the first month of the season. Things quickly went downhill from there. Over the next three months he posted a .192/.254/.291 line in 182 at-bats. That ended on July 27th when Snider was placed on the disabled list with a toe injury. The injury was described as something Snider was dealing with for some time. It’s hard to say if this led to the horrible numbers after April. Snider returned in September and didn’t do much better, although he did have two key home runs in a 3-for-19 campaign, mostly as a pinch hitter.

The Jose Tabata half of the “platoon” had the exact opposite season. Tabata was horrible in the first month of the year, with a .178/.260/.289 line in 45 April at-bats. He caught fire in May, hitting for a .389/.436/.556 line in 36 at-bats, yielding most of the playing time to Snider. Tabata went down at the end of May with a strained left oblique, and didn’t return until the beginning of July. He started off strong, with a .941 OPS in his first ten games back. However, Tabata went on a cold streak right after the All-Star break.

August was an interesting month for Tabata. He hit for an .851 OPS in 84 at-bats, getting time as a regular starter. There was a strange phenomenon where he would immediately go on a hot streak when someone else was called up, whether that was Alex Presley, Felix Pie, or Andrew Lambo. But it could have just been that he stayed hot the entire time, regardless of who was coming up. That happened again in September, as he carried his hot streak over with a .315/.351/.493 line in 73 at-bats. Overall, Tabata had a .312/.357/.490 line in 157 at-bats over the final two months of the season.

The Pirates tried some other players in right field throughout the season. Alex Presley got a few starts, then was later traded to Minnesota for Justin Morneau. Andrew Lambo had a hot bat in the minors, but didn’t get much playing time in the majors due to the hot streak from Tabata. The Pirates even resorted to starting Russell Martin in right field early in the season, and gave Brandon Inge five starts. They couldn’t turn to Jerry Sands, as he was struggling in Triple-A, and also injured.

They solved the right field problem in late August when they traded for Marlon Byrd. Byrd passed through waivers to the Pirates, surprisingly making it past the Cincinnati Reds. In exchange, the Pirates gave up Dilson Herrera and Vic Black. Byrd hit for a .318/.357/.486 line in 107 at-bats. His production came at a key time, as Starling Marte was out with an injury. That allowed the Pirates to use Byrd and the hot hitting Tabata down the stretch. Byrd’s biggest moment might have been the solo home run off Johnny Cueto in the Wild Card game, which started the unraveling of Cueto, and eventually led to the Pirates advancing to the NLDS.

The Future

Gregory Polanco is the future third outfielder in Pittsburgh, and that future will arrive in 2014.

Gregory Polanco is the future third outfielder in Pittsburgh, and that future will arrive in 2014.

Byrd is a free agent this off-season, and it’s doubtful that the Pirates could bring him back. He’s going to be looking for a multi-year deal after his career year. That type of deal doesn’t make sense for the Pirates, since their top hitting prospect, Gregory Polanco, is due to arrive in the second half of the 2014 season. Polanco is the future. He might not play right field, but he will be the third outfielder.

Polanco is a potential impact player with a ton of tools. He’s got speed that makes him a weapon on the bases, and allows him to cover a ton of ground in the outfield. He also has a strong arm, which can allow him to play any position in the outfield going forward. He shows an advanced approach at the plate, hits for average, gets on base, and has a lot of power potential. Polanco already hits for some home run power, but there is room in his frame to allow you to dream of 30 homers per year. Even if that doesn’t happen, his ability to get on base and hit for average will help set the table in the lineup.

Because of his advanced approach, and all of his tools, it’s hard to see Polanco missing as a prospect. There’s risk with any prospect, but the risk here is minimal. Even if one part of his game doesn’t work out, Polanco draws value all over the field. If he doesn’t hit for a strong average, he’s still going to get on base. If he doesn’t hit for power, he still has plus speed on the bases, and plus defense. And if it all comes together, then the Pirates could have the best outfield in the majors with Polanco, Starling Marte, and Andrew McCutchen.

The question about the future isn’t a long-term question, but a short-term question. The Pirates need to find someone to bridge the gap until Polanco is ready. That could come from a stop-gap free agent, although they might have trouble finding quality on a one year deal. It could come from internal options like Jose Tabata and Andrew Lambo. Either way, the Pirates need to cover about 2.5-4 months of the 2014 season until Polanco is ready to come up.

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2013 Jamestown Jammers Season Recap and Top 10 Prospects http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/10/2013-jamestown-jammers-season-recap-and-top-10-prospects.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/10/2013-jamestown-jammers-season-recap-and-top-10-prospects.html#comments Fri, 25 Oct 2013 17:35:48 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=68512 The 2013 season was the first year for the Pirates in Jamestown, after ending their relationship with the State College Spikes over the 2012-13 off-season. Jamestown featured a lot of talented young players this year, although the makeup was a bit different from what State College was used to seeing. The pitchers were still young, but many of them were right out of college, rather than high school players from the previous year’s draft. There were also a lot of talented hitters, which hasn’t been the case in previous years, with many of the younger hitters getting promoted over State College to West Virginia. Below is a recap of the hitters and pitchers at the level, followed by the top ten prospects this year.

The Hitters

Harold Ramirez was the top prospect at the level. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Harold Ramirez was the top prospect at the level. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

The top prospect at the level was clearly Harold Ramirez. The outfielder had a .285/.354/.409 line in a pitcher friendly league, with 11 doubles, four triples, and five homers. Ramirez was more than just the stats. He shows off great bat speed and excellent contact skills. He’s got good plate patience, and a lot of speed. That speed led to 23 stolen bases in 34 attempts. It also gives him enough range to play center field. He’s got the arm strength to play center. In the long-term, Ramirez might not make it as a center fielder in the Pirates’ system, due to all of the options. That could be as soon as next year, since he projects to be at the same level as Austin Meadows. He doesn’t project to hit for enough home runs to profile as a typical corner outfielder, but he should have enough extra base power, speed, and defense to provide all around value as a corner outfielder in the future.

Elvis Escobar has all of the same tools that Ramirez has, but didn’t have the same results in Jamestown. Escobar hit for a .268/.293/.350 line. He had moments where his hitting looked good, but his contact skills and plate patience weren’t strong. He’s got a lot of bat speed, and has good gap power when he makes contact. He also has a lot of speed and a strong arm, making him another candidate to play center field.

Edwin Espinal is a prospect to watch going forward. He’s very raw, but has a lot of power potential. The Pirates signed him as a third baseman, but moved him to first due to his weight and a lack of range. He had a rough season at the plate, but finished strong, hitting for a .302/.325/.415 line in his final 106 at-bats from August to the end of the season. During that span he recorded hits in 25 of his final 30 games. He also started hitting for power at the end of the month.

The Jammers entered the season with Max Rossiter and Jin-De Jhang as the catchers. Rossiter was a 2013 draft pick, but retired after only one game. That left Jhang with a lot of playing time. Jhang showed good hitting skills in the pitcher friendly league. He started off hot with the bat, but faded down the stretch. That could be due to the extra work behind the plate wearing him down at the end of the season. Jhang hit five home runs, and has the potential to be a 15-20 home run hitter down the line.

A lot of the 2013 college draft picks made their debuts in Jamestown. JaCoby Jones (3rd round) had the biggest initial impact, hitting for an .817 OPS while splitting time between shortstop and center field. He went down early with a knee injury, and didn’t return the rest of the year. Adam Frazier (5th round) showed a strong ability to hit for average and get on base. He needs to add some power if he wants to be more than a utility player in the future. Erich Weiss (11th round) also showed good hitting ability, and plays at third base. That’s a position of need in the Pirates’ farm system, so Weiss will be a guy to watch. Jeff Roy (18th round) displayed a ton of speed, but doesn’t have many other tools beyond that, making him a speed/defense option. Danny Collins (13th round) led the team in homers with seven, but didn’t do a good job hitting for average or getting on base.

Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire joined the team at the end of the season. Meadows made the biggest impact, going 9-for-17 with two homers in the regular season. He had a hit in all eight games with Jamestown. That will be the limit of his time with the Jammers, since he should join West Virginia for full season ball next year.

The Pitchers

The Jammers had a lot of pitching talent this year. That has been the case in previous years for the Pirates in the NYPL, although there was a slight change this year. In previous years, the top pitching talent was due to all of the prep pitchers being promoted to the level in their first season. This year there were more college pitchers from the 2013 draft that appeared at the level. There were also a few international pitchers who made the jump. There was only one prep pitcher, Colten Brewer, and he was from the 2011 draft. Brewer looked good through three starts, but went down with an injury, which has been a trend in his young career.

From the 2013 draft, Chad Kuhl made one of the biggest impacts. The ninth round sinkerball pitcher had a 2.11 ERA in 55.3 innings, displaying strong control. He also flashed a 95-96 MPH fastball. He was under the radar as a college junior and a ninth rounder, but he could emerge as a starting candidate down the line, or at least a relief option due to his velocity. Kuhl wasn’t specifically a sinkerball pitcher when he was drafted, but the Pirates were in the process of converting him. His GO/AO rates in his final four starts were much better than the first nine starts, with three of his best ratios of the year.

Fourth round pick Cody Dickson also made an impact, with a 2.37 ERA in 57 innings of work, along with a 9.3 K/9 and a 3.8 BB/9. Dickson is a left-hander who can throw 92-94 MPH and has a plus curveball. That combo led to a lot of strikeouts at this level. He needs work on his fastball command and his changeup, so he could spend some time in West Virginia next season. Dickson could eventually become a number three starter if he improves in those two areas, and the Pirates have done a good job getting pitchers to make those specific improvements. He has a chance to be one of the best pitchers from the 2013 Pirates draft class, and that’s a group of talented guys.

Buddy Borden, taken in the seventh round, is another one of those talented pitchers. Borden signed late, but was dominant in his limited time in Jamestown. He posted a 12.4 K/9 and a 2.7 BB/9 ratio. He throws 90-93 MPH, but has hit 96 in the past, and has good sink to his fastball. He’s a candidate to pitch in Bradenton next year, although he could start the season in West Virginia due to a lack of rotation spots in Bradenton.

Other interesting 2013 draft picks included Henry Hirsch (22nd round), Brett McKinney (19th round), and Justin Topa (17th round), who all were hitting 95-96 MPH with their fastball. Hirsch is the most interesting of the group, since he’s the youngest, falling below the average age for the league. Shane Carle (10th round) is a sinkerball pitcher who had great results, although he’s a year older than Kuhl and doesn’t have the same velocity.

Dovydas Neverauskas is a player to watch in West Virginia next year. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Dovydas Neverauskas is a player to watch in West Virginia next year. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

The Pirates had a few interesting international pitchers this year. Dovydas Neverauskas pitched a full season in the rotation, putting up a 4.01 ERA in 60.2 innings. The tall right-hander has been hitting 95 MPH pretty consistently the last two seasons. This year he was much better than the numbers indicated. He gave up five runs in 4.2 innings in one August start, and gave up six in one inning in another start earlier in the month. For most of the season he was dominant, although he had four outings where things fell apart on him. He’s still a young pitcher, turning 21 in January, and will be a guy to watch next year in West Virginia.

Isaac Sanchez has been working 91-93 MPH the last few years, but was more consistently in that range this year. The Pirates thought enough of him to put him in the rotation all year, and he showed some decent results. He struggled with his control at times, with a 4.1 BB/9 ratio. That’s been the story with him in the past — good velocity but lacking control. He did show improved secondary stuff this year, and he just turned 21, so he has time to continue his development.

Jackson Lodge spent most of the season in the rotation. He’s a lefty with good secondary stuff, but not much of a fastball. Lodge was the youngest pitcher on the team, and his results were impressive when considering that age in a college league. Axel Diaz, Oderman Rocha, and Cesar Lopez are all hard throwing international right-handers who had limited playing time at the level due to all of the other pitching talent. These are the types of players who could be helped by more playing time next year when the Pirates add a new team in Bristol.

Top 10 Prospects

The cutoff for eligibility on this list was 70 at-bats, 20 innings pitched, or 10 relief appearances. There weren’t many players who missed the cutoff. Buddy Borden signed late, and as a result he fell a few innings short of 20 innings. JaCoby Jones missed time with an injury and was nine at-bats short. Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire also joined the team late, and didn’t qualify. Harold Ramirez was the easy pick for number one. After that, the list is up in the air. Most of the list is based on upside, rather than the results this year. These players are so far away that even their upside is hard to peg. I could see this list changing by the time the 2014 Prospect Guide is finished.

1. Harold Ramirez

2. Jin-De Jhang

3. Cody Dickson

4. Dovydas Neverauskas

5. Elvis Escobar

6. Chad Kuhl

7. Adam Frazier

8. Isaac Sanchez

9. Erich Weiss

10. Edwin Espinal

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Pittsburgh Pirates 2013 Season Recap: The Bullpen http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/10/pittsburgh-pirates-2013-season-recap-the-bullpen.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/10/pittsburgh-pirates-2013-season-recap-the-bullpen.html#comments Thu, 24 Oct 2013 17:17:48 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=68449 Mark Melancon was a huge steal in the Joel Hanrahan trade last off-season. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Mark Melancon was a huge steal in the Joel Hanrahan trade last off-season. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

If there was any doubt that Neal Huntington can build a bullpen, then the 2013 season should have erased that doubt. Last off-season, Huntington traded Joel Hanrahan in his final year of team control. In return, the Pirates got Mark Melancon, Jerry Sands, Stolmy Pimentel, and Ivan De Jesus. Hanrahan made $7 M and went down early with a season ending injury. He will be a free agent this off-season. Melancon put up a 1.39 ERA in 71 innings, and is under control for the next three years.

Sands was disappointing. De Jesus had a good season but looks like infield depth. Pimentel had a great season, looking like he could be a major league starting option for the next six years. But Melancon alone made the trade a win.

It wasn’t just the Hanrahan trade. The Pirates brought back Jason Grilli and gave him the closer’s role, despite no experience pitching in the ninth inning. The pair of moves wasn’t favorable. The Pirates went from an established combo in the eighth and ninth inning to a guy with no experience in the ninth and a guy coming off a down year. It provided no comfort that the Pirates would have a good bullpen. But the Pirates ended up having a great bullpen, with Grilli and Melancon pitching lights out in 2013. People might still believe that you need “proven closers” pitching in the ninth inning, or the same pitching in the eighth, but thankfully the Pirates don’t seem to have that mentality.

Vin Mazzaro cost the Pirates nothing last off-season. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Vin Mazzaro cost the Pirates next to nothing last off-season. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

There were two other key off-season moves that led to a strong bullpen. The Pirates traded two pitchers out of the Dominican Summer League in exchange for Vin Mazzaro and Clint Robinson. Robinson was lost via waivers at the end of Spring Training, but Mazzaro made the majors and put up a 2.81 ERA in 73.2 innings. He also showed a good tendency to get out of jams. Jeanmar Gomez was acquired in exchange for Quincy Latimore. Gomez made a few starts in the rotation, and was great out of the bullpen, putting up a combined 3.35 ERA in 80.2 innings. Gomez and Mazzaro ended up costing nothing in prospects, and nothing financially, but were both a huge boost in quality bullpen innings this year.

The bullpen options weren’t all external additions this year. Tony Watson was already around, and was an established left-handed reliever. He took that to the next level this year, especially in the second half of the season. Watson posted a 0.69 ERA in 26 innings over the second half of the season, which was the fifth best of 152 qualified relievers during that stretch. He also had a 1.89 FIP to back up that number, which ranked 11th of those 152 relievers.

The Pirates turned to two other young, internal options in Justin Wilson and Bryan Morris. Both pitchers came up through the system as starters, but have moved to the bullpen in recent years. Wilson was immediately dominant, pairing with Watson to give the Pirates two top lefties out of the pen. He had a 2.08 ERA in 73.2 innings, with a 7.2 K/9 and a 3.4 BB/9 ratio. Morris had a 3.46 ERA in 65 innings, although his advanced metrics didn’t support that number. He’s got the chance to be a late inning option in the future, but he needs to adjust to the majors with more strikeouts and fewer walks.

On Tuesday I talked about how the Pirates had amazing depth in the starting rotation, which helped them overcome a lot of injuries. The Pirates had a lot of depth in the bullpen, but the bullpen stayed healthy and productive all year. Jason Grilli went down for a few months with an injury, and Jeanmar Gomez missed a few weeks while he was pitching out of the rotation, but that was the limit to the bullpen health problems. Jared Hughes filled in the most when the Pirates needed an extra reliever, but struggled with his control over 32 innings.

Outside of Hughes and the top seven relievers, there was no one else who pitched more than 11 innings in relief. Ryan Reid was the reliever who had 11 innings, and he was the only other reliever with double-digit innings. The Pirates were fortunate that their bullpen stayed mostly healthy throughout the year, although they had the depth if injuries did come up. Because those injuries never came, they were able to trade from that depth in August, sending out Vic Black in the Marlon Byrd deal, and trading Duke Welker in the deal for Justin Morneau.

Overall the Pirates had one of the strongest bullpens in the majors. They combined for a 2.89 ERA, which ranked third in the majors. That was legit, as their 3.59 xFIP ranked 7th. What’s more impressive is that the bullpen threw 545 innings, which ranked fourth in baseball. All of the top ten teams ranked by innings finished below the Pirates in ERA and xFIP. Some of those teams finished well below the Pirates. To have a strong bullpen is one thing, but to have a strong bullpen that is relied upon that often, and stays strong and healthy? That’s something very rare.

The Future

The Pirates traded future closing candidate Vic Black in the Marlon Byrd trade.

The Pirates traded future closing candidate Vic Black in the Marlon Byrd trade.

Black and Welker were two key pieces of the bullpen future. Black was the top relief pitching prospect in the system, and profiled as a future closer. He even served as a closer for the Mets at the end of the season. Welker was a hard throwing reliever who had the stuff to pitch in late innings in the future for the Pirates. But the trades definitely won’t hurt the Pirates in the future.

As we saw with this year’s bullpen, it’s not difficult to get quality relievers at the major league level. Jason Grilli was originally acquired as a minor league free agent, signed away from Philadelphia’s Triple-A team. Mark Melancon was a buy low move in the Joel Hanrahan trade, and Hanrahan was only a few years removed from being a buy low option himself. Jeanmar Gomez and Vin Mazzaro cost nothing in prospects or money. Tony Watson, Justin Wilson, Bryan Morris, and Jared Hughes were all converted starters.

This is how the Pirates can continue building their bullpen in the future. They seem to have the eye for buy low relievers, or just relievers who have no surface value and can be had for next to nothing. Their minor league system is loaded with starting pitching options, and eventually some of those guys will have to move to the bullpen, since you can only have five starters in a rotation. In fact, just look at the current rotation candidates for the top three levels of the minor league system next year.

Triple-A: Jameson Taillon, Jeff Locke (if Burnett returns), Brandon Cumpton, Phil Irwin, Nick Kingham, Kyle McPherson (mid-season)

Double-A: Casey Sadler, Joely Rodriguez, Zack Dodson, Adrian Sampson, Robby Rowland

High-A: Tyler Glasnow, Clay Holmes, Jason Creasy, John Kuchno, Ryan Hafner, Cody Dickson (mid-season), Buddy Borden (mid-season)

Some of those guys are guaranteed to be starters (Taillon, Glasnow as examples). Others look like they could be middle of the rotation starters, but there might not be space in the rotation. There are some who are still more potential than results right now. For example, Dodson, Sampson, and Rowland haven’t put up the best numbers. They will probably move up out of necessity, so they don’t block the guys coming up from West Virginia. They have talent, but don’t stand out as much as the other pitchers at the top three levels. They almost remind me of how Jared Hughes and Tony Watson looked when they were in high-A and Double-A. Those two didn’t look like strong starting prospects, but saw huge boosts once they moved to the bullpen.

Some of the guys above will be future major league starters. Some will be used as depth out of Triple-A. Some might be traded, since the Pirates are getting close to a point where they have enough pitching depth to make such a move and not feel it. But just because of the quantity of pitching prospects above, it’s safe to assume that a few of these guys will be future relievers, and maybe even future late inning relievers. The Pirates don’t have to get all of their relievers internally. They can continue to buy low and get the Mazzaro/Gomez types. But it certainly helps to have options from all talent avenues. If major league teams eventually wise up and stop paying for relievers, or place more value on the buy low types or guys like Mazzaro/Gomez, then at least the Pirates will still have plenty of internal options available to maintain a strong bullpen.

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