Pirates Prospects http://www.piratesprospects.com Your best source for news on the Pittsburgh Pirates and their minor league system. Wed, 28 Jan 2015 05:57:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 First Pitch: Did the Pirates Make a Mistake Trading Snider, Or Are They Selling High? http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/first-pitch-did-the-pirates-make-a-mistake-trading-snider-or-are-they-selling-high.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/first-pitch-did-the-pirates-make-a-mistake-trading-snider-or-are-they-selling-high.html#comments Wed, 28 Jan 2015 05:53:56 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=92583 I found myself going back and forth between two thoughts when thinking about the Travis Snider trade this evening.

The first thought involved thinking about the possibility that Snider could be the next Brandon Moss. The Pirates got Moss in the Jason Bay deal, hoping that his power potential would translate over to the majors. It never did, although he did have a huge season with Indianapolis in 2010, with an .800 OPS and 22 homers before moving on. He eventually broke out with Oakland, and had an .813 OPS as a starter over the last two years. Snider was once one of the top prospects in the game, and had what looked like a breakout season in the second half last year. It’s very risky to deal him after that season, especially if that was the first indication that he could be a starter.

The other thought went to a long-held belief about how small market teams should be run. I believe that small market teams shouldn’t get attached to their players. Eventually, every player will move on, and ideally you want someone ready to step in when that player is ready to depart. The goal should be to have a replacement ready early, allowing you to trade a player, re-stock the farm system, and replace him with an equal part in the majors. That continued process would lead to the elimination of any “windows” to compete.

Each thought brings up many questions. Are the Pirates selling high on Snider or are they selling low? Will their current internal replacements be just as good? Did they get fair value for Snider? Is there another shoe about to drop? Who will grill the ridiculously thick cut steaks at the team get-togethers now that Snider is gone?

I can’t say that I have an answer for any of these questions. There are some questions that can’t be answered at all right now, and won’t have answers until we learn who the PTBNL is, what Snider does going forward, and how his replacements fare. If you came here looking for a final judgement of this deal, with a determination that this was a win, a loss, a good deal, or a bad deal, then that’s not what this article is about. It’s going to be nuanced, and it’s going to work through the fact that we still don’t know a lot about this deal. Fortunately, I’ve broken it up into small sections, which should make it more organized.

What is Travis Snider’s Trade Value?

Earlier this evening, before the deal was made, I looked at Snider’s trade value. That was going to be the original article tonight if the deal wasn’t complete. What I learned is that the trade value varies greatly, depending on how you view Snider.

If you use Snider’s 1.7 WAR from the 2014 season, then you get a value that would warrant a top 100 prospect. I used a 1.7 WAR, and a $4.5 M salary through arbitration in 2016 (which I’m assuming he’d get with back-to-back 1.7 WAR seasons), and got a trade surplus value of $13.8 M.

Using this value says that Snider will absolutely repeat his 2014 season, and I don’t think anyone can say that.

The other approach is to use an average of the last three seasons, which gives Snider about an 0.5 WAR. This would basically make him a non-tender candidate next year, and give him about $1 M in trade value this year.

Just like the opposite extreme, I don’t think you can take this route, because it says that Snider won’t come close to his 2014 season.

So let’s meet in the middle and call Snider a 1.0 WAR player going forward. I figure he would make about $3-3.5 M next year through arbitration with that production, and would have an overall trade value of around $6.5-7 M. I think this approach is the fairest way to determine his value.

So what did the Pirates get? On to the next section.

Stephen Tarpley and the PTBNL

Prior to the trade being completed, the biggest name attached to the deal was left-hander Steve Brault. Then, a few more possible names came out, including Stephen Tarpley. I was talking with John Dreker about the new names, and mentioned how I liked Tarpley much better than Brault. My familiarity with both guys is limited to what I read tonight, but Tarpley just seems to have much more upside, while Brault seems like one of those lefties who can dominate in A-ball, then will struggle in the upper levels and might make it as a reliever. Tarpley has some upside, with velocity that can hit the mid-90s, and the possibility to be more than a back of the rotation starter or a reliever.

But right now, Tarpley is a Grade C prospect. According to Bill Brink, who talked with Neal Huntington, the player to be named later is “similar” to Tarpley. So we can assume that’s another Grade C prospect.

I’ll get to the PTBNL in a second, but as for the value, I’d say the Pirates got at least $5 M in value. That seems a bit low for the mid-point view of Snider, but it’s also close to fair value. It’s definitely not a salary dump with zero return.

A lot of that value could depend on the PTBNL. No, this isn’t an Aramis Ramirez/Bobby Hill situation. But this is a situation where the usage of a PTBNL makes me think this is a 2014 draft pick, and there could be some interesting options there.

There is really no reason to make a trade this time of year and have a PTBNL. If you don’t know who you want, you could just wait and decide on a name. I guess it is possible that the Pirates might want to scout a few guys in Spring Training to make a final decision. However, a PTBNL at this time in the year makes the most sense if it’s a 2014 draft pick. Those picks can’t be traded until one year after their signing date. A team doesn’t have to officially name a PTBNL until six months after the deal. So any player from the Orioles’ 2014 draft is in play.

Going with an assumption that this is a 2014 pick, and taking a very literal meaning of “similar to Tarpley” (as in, only looking at lower level left-handed pitchers), there were two guys who caught my attention. The first is Tanner Scott, who the Orioles took in the sixth round, and who reportedly hit 100 MPH this year. John Sickels says he has a high ceiling. The other guy who drew my attention was Brian Gonzalez, another lefty taken in the third round. He only throws 88-91 MPH, but has a huge frame, and could add some velocity going forward. Sickels says he could end up the best of the bunch, behind Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey.

Sickels also said that Tarpley was a “Sleeper Alert choice,” and if the Pirates can get two lower level pitchers like that, then it might not be a bad trade return, and could potentially have a lot of upside.

A potential problem here is that the Pirates need Snider’s production in the majors a lot more than they need two additional projectable pitchers in the lower levels. Unless they can find a replacement.

Who Replaces Travis Snider?

The reality of the Pirates’ situation is that Travis Snider is a bench player and a Plan B at all three outfield positions. That’s not a bad thing. Gregory Polanco is unproven, and Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen have missed time with injuries before due to their all-out play. Having Snider on the bench is one of the things that made the Pirates look like they had a ton of depth, and a really strong bench. So how do they replace him?

The current internal options would be Andrew Lambo and Jaff Decker from the 40-man roster, and Jose Tabata, Keon Broxton, Mel Rojas, and Gorkys Hernandez from the non-roster invitees. I think the last three can be ruled out for now, just because I don’t see them jumping past the first three.

For as much of a negative reaction that he gets, Tabata hasn’t been horrible as a bench player. He has a career .715 OPS, and is a year removed from a 1.1 WAR. He could very well be a good bench player, but might not have the same upside as Snider to be a potential replacement starter.

That’s why I’d turn to Lambo or Decker. Both guys have similar profiles. They were once top prospects, and were seen as guys who could eventually hit for power. Lambo is 26 and Decker turns 25 next month. Decker’s power is still in that projection area, and he’s getting to the point where you question if he will hit for power in the future. Meanwhile, Lambo has shown his power off the last two years in the minors, but hasn’t had a chance to establish himself in the majors. With Snider gone, he could finally have that chance, especially since first base seems out of the question with Pedro Alvarez and Corey Hart at the position.

I’ve been calling for the Pirates to give Lambo a chance for the last two years, so I don’t think it’s a bad thing if that’s the way they are going. There is some risk here, as his power is unproven in the majors. Then again, you could have said that about Snider not too long ago. It was only last year at this time that you could have cut Snider and not many would have blinked an eye. Then he had a breakout season at the age of 26, which is Lambo’s age in 2015.

I’d include Corey Hart in this discussion, but his performance in the outfield largely depends on how well his knees can hold up.

If the Pirates replace Snider with Lambo, then the hope would be that Lambo takes advantage of this chance, has a breakout season off the bench in 2015, and gives you the same production that you would have hoped for out of Snider.

How Will the Trade Turn Out?

The Best Case Scenario – Under the small market approach that I outlined above, you’d want someone like Lambo to replace Snider and match his production, while getting two high-upside guys in the lower levels to continue to strengthen your system. If Lambo hits well, and if one or both of the pitchers ends up breaking out, then it really doesn’t matter to the Pirates what Snider does. Lambo hitting in the majors and the pitchers breaking out would make the Pirates look very smart here.

The Worst Case Scenario – The big fear here is that Snider does continue his breakout season, and shows that he could be a starter, much like Moss. That would really hurt if Lambo doesn’t work out and the Pirates can’t replace Snider. In this scenario, the pitchers would only be a consolation prize, as the Pirates would have needed Snider’s bat more than two lower-level pitchers. And if they don’t work out at all, then it could make the Pirates look foolish.

As I said above, there are a lot of things we don’t know about this deal, which could impact how it goes down. The biggest things are how Snider follows up on his 2014 season, whether Lambo (or whoever else) can successfully replace him, and whether the pitchers can improve their value going forward (and the identity of the PTBNL will play a role in how this trade is evaluated).

You’d like to think that this is a classic buy low/sell high trade, where the Pirates are selling high on Snider and buying low on some high-upside arms. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough information right now to tell if that’s the case, or if the opposite is the case. This is a situation where the Pirates have earned some trust to make this type of move, and take this type of risk. But I don’t think they’ve earned enough trust on this side of the ball — unlike the reclamation pitchers — to assume there is a great chance of this approach being a success.

**Travis Snider Traded to Orioles For Stephen Tarpley and a PTBNL

**Stephen Tarpley Player Page

**Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 Top Prospects: #9 – Cole TuckerThe top ten countdown resumes tomorrow. The entire top 50 is exclusive to the 2015 Prospect Guide, along with 200+ reports on every prospect in the system.

**Pirates Will Have Five Spring Training Games Broadcast on ROOT Sports

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Travis Snider Traded to Orioles For Stephen Tarpley and a PTBNL http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/pirates-and-orioles-discussing-travis-snider-trade.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/pirates-and-orioles-discussing-travis-snider-trade.html#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 22:43:17 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=92559 According to Dan Connolly of The Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles are in the middle of trade talks that involve outfielder Travis Snider. It’s a trade the two teams looked into last year. According to Connolly’s sources, the deal isn’t done, but could involve two minor league players that aren’t on the 40-man roster. Check back for any updates.

UPDATE 5:53 PM: Connolly updated his own tweet and said that the deal could be done within the next day.

UPDATE 5:57 PM: Connolly says that it should be one or two minor leaguers, and that they’re not thought to be 40-man guys or top prospects.

UPDATE 6:00 PM: Thoughts from Tim Williams…

This is the second time that we’ve heard the Snider-to-Baltimore rumors. The first time came during the Winter Meetings, when the Pirates were rumored to be going after Brian Matusz. That same day they traded for Antonio Bastardo, filling their second lefty role in the bullpen, and the Snider talks died down.

The potential return, as described by Connolly, doesn’t sound appealing. Snider is coming off a huge second half, where he posted a .289/.353/.510 line in 224 plate appearances, with ten homers. He ranked third in wOBA and wRC+ for the Pirates in the second half of the season.

It’s no guarantee that Snider will repeat that success in 2015. But he’s relatively cheap (making $2.1 M in 2015), has one more year of control beyond the 2015 season, and is a great backup plan for the Pirates, adding to what is looking like a very strong bench.

Gregory Polanco is the starter in right field, putting Snider on the bench. However, Snider is around if Polanco continues to struggle adjusting to the majors. He is also an injury replacement for either Starling Marte or Andrew McCutchen. Marte is the bigger injury risk of the two, as he is constantly getting hit by pitches. If Snider’s second half was legit, then he’s a great backup if any of these scenarios play out.

Connolly says that the trade would likely come from Baltimore’s “solid minor league pitching core.” That’s where this doesn’t make sense. The Pirates also have a solid core of pitchers, especially in the upper levels. They currently project to have six potential starters in Indianapolis, once Jameson Taillon returns, which means that someone like Casey Sadler or Brandon Cumpton would get moved to the bullpen.

The Pirates need Snider’s depth in the majors more than they need an extra pitching prospect in the minors. The only way this would make sense is if they either received a better return than Connolly is describing, or if they believed that they could easily replace Snider in the majors, while getting an extra pitching prospect for him.

I guess we’ll have to wait and see how this plays out, since right now there are a lot of possibilities.

UPDATE 6:25 PM: Connolly says that left-handed pitcher Steven Brault is a possibility if Snider gets traded.

Brault wasn’t in Baseball America’s top ten, and ranked as the 16th best prospect in John Sickel’s rankings. He received a C+ rating, borderline C, and was described as a potential back-end starter. He had good numbers in A-ball last year, and should make the jump to Double-A this year.

That, alone, doesn’t seem like it’s worth dealing Snider. The second player would have to be good to make such a deal worthwhile. And it appears that the Orioles are trying to get this done without giving up two players.

UPDATE: 7:40 PM: Rob Biertempfel mentions two more names that he has heard as possibilities, both pitchers. The first is 21-year-old left-hander Stephen Tarpley, who had a 3.68 ERA in 66 innings this year with Aberdeen in the NYPL. He was a 3rd round draft pick of the Orioles in 2013. Tarpley was ranked as the 12th best prospect in the Orioles system by John Sickels.

The second name is an interesting one, Jon Keller, who is the older brother of Mitch Keller. The elder Keller is a 6’5″ righty, who had a 1.59 ERA and 66 strikeouts in 56.2 innings for Delmarva this year. The 22-year-old had an 0.94 WHIP in Low-A and made two late season appearances in High-A ball. The younger Keller was the second round pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2014 and signed for a $1,000,000 bonus.

UPDATE 8:22 PM: Multiple Sources are reporting that the deal is done and one of the players returning to the Pirates is pitcher Stephen Tarpley. We posted information on Tarpley at the bottom of this article. His MiLB page can be found here.

UPDATE 8:38 PM: The deal is done. Travis Snider to the Orioles for pitcher Stephen Tarpley and a player to be named later. Something we didn’t mention before with Tarpley is his impressive 1.95 GO/AO ratio. He also improved as the season went along, posting a 2.56 ERA in five August starts, after putting up a 7.36 ERA in his first five games.

UPDATE 8:56 PM: There is a good write-up of Tarpley here on Fangraphs, including the fact that he has hit 97 MPH with his fastball and “a low 80’s curve that flashes plus.”

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Pirates Will Have Five Spring Training Games Broadcast on ROOT Sports http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/pirates-will-have-five-spring-training-games-broadcast-on-root-sports.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/pirates-will-have-five-spring-training-games-broadcast-on-root-sports.html#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 16:54:35 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=92555 The Pittsburgh Pirates will have five Spring Training games broadcast on ROOT Sports this year, with all five coming in the middle of camp. The scheduled games are as follows.

**Sunday, March 15 vs. Baltimore Orioles at 1:05 p.m.

**Tuesday, March 17 vs. Houston Astros at 1:05 p.m.

**Wednesday, March 18 vs. Detroit Tigers at 6:05 p.m.

**Saturday, March 21 vs. Boston Red Sox at 1:05 p.m.

**Friday, April 3 at Philadelphia Phillies (Philadelphia) at 7:05 p.m.

Normally the March 15th-21st timeframe is the best time to see Spring Training. Pitchers are a little more stretched out. Position players are playing a little deeper into the games. Most importantly, the roster is starting to take shape, revealing who might make the team. The latter probably won’t be much of a surprise this year, since there don’t look to be many actual position battles. Then again, it never hurts to see baseball on TV in March, even if there is little surprise in who might make the team. I’m sure for many people, one of these games will give the first look at Korean infielder Jung Ho Kang.

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Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 Top Prospects: #9 – Cole Tucker http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/pittsburgh-pirates-2015-top-prospects-9-cole-tucker.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/pittsburgh-pirates-2015-top-prospects-9-cole-tucker.html#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 15:05:32 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=92498 The Pirates Prospects 2015 Prospect Guide is now on sale. The book features prospect reports on everyone in the system, the 2015 top 50 prospects, and the most comprehensive coverage of the Pirates’ farm system that you can find. While the top 50 prospects are exclusive to the book, we will be releasing the top 20 prospects over the next few weeks. Be sure to purchase your copy of the book on the products page of the site.

To recap the countdown so far:

20. Luis Heredia, RHP
19. JaCoby Jones, SS
18. Willy Garcia, OF
17. Clay Holmes, RHP
16. Gage Hinsz, RHP
15. Trey Supak, RHP
14. Cody Dickson, LHP
13. John Holdzkom, RHP
12. Adrian Sampson, RHP
11. Harold Ramirez, OF
10. Elias Diaz, C

We continue the countdown with the number 9 prospect, Cole Tucker.

9. Cole Tucker, SS

The Pirates selected Tucker in the first round of the 2014 draft.

The Pirates selected Tucker in the first round of the 2014 draft.

The Pirates surprised everyone when they took Cole Tucker in the first round of the 2014 draft. Every public draft ranking had Tucker rated much lower than where he ended up going. What made it even more confusing is that the Pirates drafted him with the 24th overall pick, despite the perception that he was rated much lower than that, and despite the Pirates also having the 39th overall pick.

After the draft, the pick made more sense. Tucker was rated much higher inside the game than he was by the public rankings. Oakland was ready to take him 25th overall if the Pirates passed. Cleveland and Colorado were interested, with both having picks before the Pirates selected again at 39.

Tucker has a lot of speed and range, and projects as a guy who could stick at the shortstop position, even if he adds muscle to his tall and lean frame. The projectable frame gives him the potential to hit for some power in the future, although he doesn’t project to be a big power hitter, with gap power being the most likely outcome. He commands the strike zone well, and has a good feel for hitting, with the left side producing better results.

One added bonus here is that Tucker was just 17 years old when he was drafted, and was one of the youngest players in the draft. Most players are 18 when they are drafted out of high school. This is an age range where players see rapid growth and development in their games. By taking a younger player, the Pirates could be getting a guy a year early, while watching him show some big developments in their system.

Tucker’s pro debut wasn’t great, but also wasn’t horrible. He faded at the end of the season, but did an outstanding job hitting for average and getting on base throughout the season. His defense looked sharp, with quick moves, good footwork, and a lot of range due to his speed. The one downside was that he had some throwing issues, with most of that coming early in the season. He had a minor thumb injury, but the throwing problems came before that injury occurred. (UPDATE: Tucker Had Surgery to Repair a Torn UCL in His Hand) There were reports that he had an arm injury early in the season, but Tucker said that his arm was fine. This could have been chalked up to early pro-career nerves, but will be something to watch going forward.

It’s too early to say for sure what Tucker’s likely upside could be, although the potential is high. He’s got a legitimate chance to stick at the shortstop position, while being an above-average regular. The Pirates will give him every opportunity to make that happen. Because of his young age, it’s possible he goes to Morgantown in 2015, rather than getting the aggressive push to West Virginia.

Click Here to Purchase the Pirates Prospects 2015 Prospect Guide

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First Pitch: How the Pitch Clock Could Affect Rehab Assignments and Other Scenarios http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/first-pitch-how-the-pitch-clock-could-affect-rehab-assignments-and-other-scenarios.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/first-pitch-how-the-pitch-clock-could-affect-rehab-assignments-and-other-scenarios.html#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 05:00:24 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=92531 With the proposal of testing the pitch clock in Minor League Baseball this season, several issues come to mind.

After the use in the Arizona Fall League, the clocks met mixed reviews across the board. Those mixed opinions will certainly continue, as the clock will likely be implemented in Double-A and Triple-A parks this season.

Though the everyday Minor League pitchers will have a tough first month or so adjusting to it, one major issue is what is to be done with it when a Major League pitchers makes a rehab appearance?

The rehabbing hitter won’t have nearly the same issue, as the clock does not play into their plate preparation, it could be vital for a pitcher trying to work off the rust after an injury. Not only is the pitcher trying to get back in the groove on the mound, they are also looking to work on things in the last few starts in the rehab stint. The pitch clock could make that difficult, as they will have something else to pay attention to.

Last year, both Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole saw rehab stints following injuries. Cole’s assignment lasted four starts at Indianapolis, while Liriano saw one at the same level. Depending on where the pitch clock is used, that could impact where the rehab assignments take place. If it is eventually universally used throughout the Minor Leagues, it could impact the use of rehab starts altogether, limiting them just to extending Spring Training.

There is no doubt that injuries are coming throughout the season, especially with pitchers. The pitch clock could have a serious impact, as getting in-game reps in rehab assignments are an extremely important portion in the process of getting back to big league game ready. It also aids pitchers in facing hitters at the top of other minor league organizations to get back into big league shape, where it is believed that the pitch clock will be used.

The top levels of the organization also house some of the top prospects within an organization, which is true with the Pirates. Basically, you are asking these pitchers to alter their game plan and change the way that they work, while they are trying to make growth. There is also a situation like Jameson Taillon’s, who might begin his season in extended Spring Training, only to get thrown into this later in the year. That is quite an adjustment within the season for someone coming off Tommy John surgery.

As for everyday pitchers in the Minor League level, those who work quickly will see a marginal difference and slower workers will have to adjust their approach significantly. Late inning relievers, who are accustomed to holding leads and baserunners will also have a hard time with the adjustment as well.

According to Baseball America, the use of the pitch clock would likely put one 20-second pitch clock behind the plate and one along the outfield wall. The clock would also include no more than 2:05 in between innings.

A nice loophole for pitchers nearing the end of the clock, is tossing over to first base several times to refresh it. That seems like a difficult fix as well, unless umpires and baseball officials want to go far enough to limit how many times per inning that you can throw over. In fact, the pitcher is not allowed just to step off the rubber anymore, and must throw to either a base or home before the clock expires, or the hitter will be rewarded ball added to their count.

While it clearly needs to get some bugs worked out, the pitch clock is coming this season – whether we like it or not. However, the adjustment will not just be for the everyday Minor League players, it will also affect planning within the organization long-term.

**The Other Tall, Hard-Throwing Pirates Pitcher Returning From Tommy John Surgery

**Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 Top Prospects: #10 – Elias Diaz. The top ten countdown resumes tomorrow. The entire top 50 is exclusive to the 2015 Prospect Guide, along with 200+ reports on every prospect in the system.

**Winter Leagues: Gorkys Hernandez Homers, Shows Off Great Defense (With Video)

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The Other Tall, Hard-Throwing Pirates Pitcher Returning From Tommy John Surgery http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/the-other-tall-hard-throwing-pirates-pitcher-returning-from-tommy-john-surgery.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/the-other-tall-hard-throwing-pirates-pitcher-returning-from-tommy-john-surgery.html#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 17:00:34 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=92089 Jameson Taillon became the biggest profile Tommy John case for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2014, but another top pitching prospect also underwent the procedure. Clay Holmes went down a few weeks before Taillon, undergoing the surgery in mid-March. Holmes doesn’t have the same skills as Taillon, but he is a promising pitching prospect to follow, rating this year as the 17th best prospect in the system.

Just like Taillon, Holmes has been getting back on the mound recently, getting ready to return during the 2015 season. Since his surgery came before Taillon’s, his rehab also started earlier. While Taillon threw his first bullpen session last week, Holmes had been throwing bullpens as early as December. He took a break, then started throwing bullpens again two weeks ago. A video of a bullpen session from last week can be found at the bottom of this post. Holmes has been throwing his fastball so far, but is to the point where he will start adding changeups and then curveballs in his bullpen sessions.

“The way my arm feels now, I feel 100 percent. I can’t say that I am 100 percent, but I feel 100 percent,” Holmes said on his rehab progress. “Mentally, now, I’ve kind of checked out of the rehab stage and I’m getting ready for the season like I would any other year.”

The 2014 season was going to be something to look forward to from Holmes. He was going to be making the jump to the Bradenton rotation, while hoping to build off a strong second half from West Virginia in 2013. He started the 2013 season with a 5.08 ERA and a 44:47 K/BB ratio in 67.1 innings. He finished the season with a 2.79 ERA in 51.2 innings, along with a 46:22 K/BB ratio. It was a similar path that Nick Kingham took in 2012 — a poor first half, followed by a quietly dominant second half and an increase in command. Kingham followed that up with a breakout season in Bradenton in 2013. There was hope that Holmes would do the same in 2014.

The only thing that has changed with that hope is the year. Holmes could still follow-up on his success in West Virginia, and emerge as one of the top pitching prospects in the system. He’s a tall pitcher who was hitting 94-95 MPH with his fastball in 2013, and has a curveball that is an out pitch when he is commanding it well. The biggest issue he had in the past was his control and command, although Tommy John surgery may have helped him.

“It’s probably been one of the best learning experiences for my career,” Holmes said about the injury. “You don’t have to worry about media, numbers, you don’t have to worry about any of that. It’s kind of just a good time to focus on my body, what I have to do, my throwing. As far as my body and throwing aspect, I think I’m probably at my best now than I have been my whole career.”

As to how the injury helped him build towards better control, Holmes said he now has a better feel for his body, which is one of the biggest challenges for tall pitchers at a young age.

“Things start coming together, you get a better idea of how your body works, how you do things,” Holmes said. “Just get comfortable with who you are, and kind of have a better idea of what you’re doing. All of that combined leads to, ultimately, better command.”

Holmes should be ready at some point in April, and possibly Opening Day. However, coming off Tommy John surgery could mean his innings will be limited and more controlled in 2015. The Pirates also seem to want to save innings for late in the season, rather than shutting down a pitcher early.

“That’s one thing they have told me, they don’t want that to happen,” Holmes said about the possibility of an early shut-down. “So if anything, it’s going to be my start is late so I can finish the year.”

Neal Huntington talked about the rehab process for Holmes and how it compares to Jameson Taillon’s rehab process, despite Holmes having zero shot at the majors this year.

“Ideally it should mirror Jameson’s,” Huntington said. “We want to be conservative with him because these are guys that we think have a chance to be really good Major League pitchers for many years down the road. We want to be conservative with them. We want to have them cross each hurdle as they can and should. We can make up innings in Arizona. We can make up innings in instructional league if the season runs out on us. So we’ve got alternatives, and we’ll do what we need to do to build their innings the right way.”

One challenge for Holmes is that he’s Rule 5 eligible at the end of the 2015 season. He is a lock to be protected, due to the fact that the Pirates paid him a ninth-round record $1.2 M in the 2011 draft. He has also lived up to early expectations, adding velocity since being drafted, and showing promise with the results. The Pirates have protected pitchers who haven’t seen Double-A ball yet, with the most recent example being Joely Rodriguez after the 2013 season. For that reason, don’t expect Holmes to be aggressively pushed just because of his pending Rule 5 eligibility. That said, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Pirates took it slow with him during the 2015 season, then gave him additional innings during the off-season in the Fall Instructional League and possibly the Arizona Fall League.

Holmes is a guy who should make the majors in the future, and has the upside of a middle of the rotation starter who can handle 200 innings a year. To get there, he is going to have to continue his success from the second half of the West Virginia season in 2013, continue to improve his command, and show that he can return from Tommy John surgery as good or better than he was before the injury.

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Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 Top Prospects: #10 – Elias Diaz http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/pittsburgh-pirates-2015-top-prospects-10-elias-diaz.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/pittsburgh-pirates-2015-top-prospects-10-elias-diaz.html#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 15:00:34 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=92479 The Pirates Prospects 2015 Prospect Guide is now on sale. The book features prospect reports on everyone in the system, the 2015 top 50 prospects, and the most comprehensive coverage of the Pirates’ farm system that you can find. While the top 50 prospects are exclusive to the book, we will be releasing the top 20 prospects over the next few weeks. Be sure to purchase your copy of the book on the products page of the site.

To recap the countdown so far:

20. Luis Heredia, RHP
19. JaCoby Jones, SS
18. Willy Garcia, OF
17. Clay Holmes, RHP
16. Gage Hinsz, RHP
15. Trey Supak, RHP
14. Cody Dickson, LHP
13. John Holdzkom, RHP
12. Adrian Sampson, RHP
11. Harold Ramirez, OF

We continue the countdown with the number 10 prospect, Elias Diaz.

10. Elias Diaz, C

Diaz had a breakout season in 2014. (Photo credit: David Hague)

Diaz had a breakout season in 2014. (Photo credit: David Hague)

Diaz has always been highly regarded for his defensive skills, being named the best defender in his league by Baseball America in each of the last two seasons. He’s got a good frame, a plus arm, and good agility behind the plate. The Pirates love his defense, considering him one of the best defenders in the system. By our ranks, he would finish second behind Reese McGuire.

The big thing that Diaz needed to show in previous years was offense. He always had potential with his bat, displaying a line drive swing and gap power. The skills were good, and he was never overmatched at the plate, but the results never showed up on the field. That changed in 2013, when he finished the season with an .892 OPS in August. He carried that success over to the 2014 season, finally breaking out at the plate.

Diaz put up fantastic numbers, hitting for average, getting on base, and adding some power. His strikeouts were low, and his walk rate was good, which is not a combo that you usually see from hitters out of Latin America. He was moved up to Indianapolis at the end of the season, although the offense didn’t carry over in a small sample size. He went to the AFL in the off-season to get continued work in the upper levels.

Diaz should return to Indianapolis in 2015. Prior to his breakout season, he looked like a future defensive-minded backup catcher. The 2014 season propelled him to be the top catching option in the upper levels, surpassing Tony Sanchez as the catcher of the future. He could arrive in Pittsburgh in 2015, but will first need to work on his hitting and fine tune his defense in Triple-A.

Click Here to Purchase the Pirates Prospects 2015 Prospect Guide

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Winter Leagues: Gorkys Hernandez Homers, Shows Off Great Defense (With Video) http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/winter-leagues-gorkys-hernandez-homers-shows-off-great-defense-with-video.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/winter-leagues-gorkys-hernandez-homers-shows-off-great-defense-with-video.html#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 13:00:15 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=92467 In the Dominican on Saturday night, Estrellas won 2-1 to stay alive in the best-of-nine finals. The Gigantes took a 4-3 advantage in the series. Mel Rojas Jr. went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts, while Gustavo Nunez went 0-for-3 after sitting out his first game of the entire playoffs on Friday.

Rafael Perez started the game and had his worst outing, allowing two runs on three hits and two walks, picking up four strikeouts over 5.1 innings. Obviously that isn’t a bad outing, but Perez came into the game giving up just one run in his first 26.2 innings of the postseason. Despite this great run when the competition in the Dominican is at its peak, Perez is still a free agent.

The finals began in Venezuela and each team has one Pirates player on their roster. Gorkys Hernandez was on the winning side of the 6-0 opener, going 0-for-3 with a walk and run scored. Deolis Guerra pitched a scoreless eighth inning, retiring the side in order. He got Gorkys Hernandez out on a grounder back to the mound.

In Mexico, Sebastian Valle went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and an error in his team’s 4-2 loss.

Sunday’s Action

In the Dominican, Mel Rojas Jr. helped his team to a victory in the finals and a spot in the Caribbean Series, which begins on February 2nd. Rojas went 2-for-4 with a two-run double in the third inning. He also singled and scored a run in the 12-5 victory. Gustavo Nunez went 1-for-4 in the game and finished the playoffs with a .263 average in 23 games.

In Venezuela, Gorkys Hernandez hit his third homer of the playoffs in his team’s 8-5 win. The homer was a solo shot in the third inning. Hernandez also drew two walks, stole a base and scored two runs.

In Mexico, Sebastian Valle went 1-for-4 with a double. He is 2-for-13 in four playoff games. Opponents are 1-for-2 in stolen base attempts in the series.

On Sunday in Australia, Sam Kennelly went 0-for-3 with a run scored in his team’s last regular season game. He started at shortstop and committed his first(and only) error of the season. Kennelly finished the year with a .200/.256/.225 slash line in 18 games and he saw playing time at all four infield positions. Beginning on Thursday, the Perth Heat will take on third place Sydney in a best-of-three series, with the winner playing in the league championship series the following weekend.

In Puerto Rico, Robert Andino went 0-for-5, but he is still hitting .302 in the playoffs. Andino is a free agent.

Video Highlights

Below are some video highlights from winter ball, showing recent action from two of the above players. The first is Sebastian Valle squaring around to bunt, then deciding to swing away with great results.

The second video is some great defense by Gorkys Hernandez.

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First Pitch: MLB’s Biggest Problem Has Nothing to Do With Pitch Clocks or Defensive Shifts http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/first-pitch-mlbs-biggest-problem-has-nothing-to-do-with-pitch-clocks-or-defensive-shifts.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/first-pitch-mlbs-biggest-problem-has-nothing-to-do-with-pitch-clocks-or-defensive-shifts.html#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 05:00:30 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=92481 Major League Baseball has a problem.

That problem has nothing to do with the pace of the game or the length of the game. It has nothing to do with defensive shifts or a lack of offense.

The problem isn’t a lack of short-term interest. We’re coming out of a season where baseball just recorded their seventh biggest attendance season of all time, all while making billions of dollars in local and national TV deals that the game has never seen before.

The problem MLB has is a long-term problem. They need to get young fans interested in the game to improve their long-term interests. Baseball is hardly dead, as the current popularity shows. It probably isn’t going anywhere any time soon either. But if they want to continue bringing in record financial numbers, they need a long-term plan.

This is largely a self-created problem.

For about a generation now, MLB has focused on short-term profits over the long-term interest in the game. They have started World Series games after 9:00 PM, due to the increase in advertising dollars after that time. The trade-off is that young kids no longer grow up watching the biggest event the sport has to offer. Compare that to the Super Bowl, which starts at 6:30 PM next Sunday, or 3:30 PM local time for Seahawks fans. Young kids will be able to watch the entire Super Bowl, and will be home and in bed by the time a World Series game would be entering the fifth inning.

MLB has also catered their game to large market teams. They’ve allowed the league to give a significant advantage to big spenders like the Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers. These teams never have to go through long rebuilding processes. They don’t have to worry about “windows” to compete. There are no players in the game that are off-limits. They can trade top prospects without blinking or imagining what they could be losing for six-plus years of control.

As a result of these two things, the ratings for the World Series have been at all-time lows the last few years. Last year the average game saw 13.8 million viewers. An average episode of The Walking Dead laughs at those numbers. Meanwhile, the Super Bowl last year — between Denver and Seattle — averaged 112.2 million viewers in a game that was over by halftime. Sure, the Super Bowl has the advantage of being just one game. But the World Series this year came down to a game seven, setting up the same scenario as the Super Bowl. The result was 23.5 million viewers.

There might be some other differences. Game seven was on a Wednesday. There was less notice that there would be a game seven. One of the teams involved was Kansas City. But that doesn’t explain a gap of about 90 million viewers. The NFL was also featuring Denver vs Seattle. Can you imagine the ratings for a Rockies vs Mariners World Series? Would that lead to record ratings like the NFL got last year?

Major League Baseball has a problem. Their solution is to focus on defensive shifts and pitch clocks and other things that aren’t leading to the problem. I’d say their solution is to treat the symptoms and not the disease. But they’re not even treating symptoms. It’s like treating a disease by mowing the lawn. Meanwhile, the disease keeps growing to the point where it eventually becomes harder or impossible to treat.

New MLB commissioner Rob Manfred wants to make baseball more appealing to young fans. Cutting down game times isn’t the solution, especially when you consider that the average NFL game is longer than the average MLB game — even when MLB is seeing their longest games in history. Artificially adding offense to the game by removing defensive shifts isn’t going to cut it either.

The best way to appeal to younger fans would be to actually show them the game. Sacrifice some short-term ad dollars and start the World Series before 7 PM. Change the game so that every market has a fair shot, and create a situation like the NFL where teams from every city have a fair chance of winning, and the casual fan cares about any team that might square off in the World Series. It’s a simple solution, but it’s difficult to implement. So MLB will instead go with solutions that only complicate the game, and don’t solve the current problem.

Links and Notes

**New MLB Commissioner Wants to End Defensive Shifts

**Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 Top Prospects: #11 – Harold Ramirez. The top ten countdown begins tomorrow. The entire top 50 is exclusive to the 2015 Prospect Guide, along with 200+ reports on every prospect in the system.

**Top 20 Pirates Prospect List From John Sickels Has Some Interesting Rankings

**Josh Bell Named Top First Base Prospect

**Winter Leagues: Valle Returns to Action, Kennelly Helps Perth Clinch Playoff Spot

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New MLB Commissioner Wants to End Defensive Shifts http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/new-mlb-commissioner-wants-to-end-defensive-shifts.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/01/new-mlb-commissioner-wants-to-end-defensive-shifts.html#comments Sun, 25 Jan 2015 17:26:26 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=92469 When Rob Manfred was named commissioner, it was said that he was mostly a continuation of Bud Selig, with similar approaches to the game. Under Selig, the game was constantly in favor of big market teams, and it seemed like every time a small market team found an advantage, it was taken away. It looks like the more things change, the more they stay the same, as Manfred is following that path.

This week marks the end of Selig’s reign as MLB’s commissioner. You’d think that would be a good thing, but Manfred immediately shows that things will either stay bad or get worse. He recently commented to ESPN about the growing trend of defensive shifts, and said that he would be open to eliminating shifts.

Shifts have helped smart teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates gain an edge over the competition. Over the last few years, the Pirates have focused heavily on defensive shifts, catcher pitch framing, and either finding ground ball pitchers, or adjusting pitchers to throw more ground balls. That is a big reason why they’ve transformed guys like A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Edinson Volquez, Mark Melancon, Vance Worley, and others from some of the worst statistical pitchers in the game, to having some of the best numbers in the game. And that process has allowed the Pirates to reach the playoffs in each of the last two years.

In the video linked above, Manfred offered the following comments in response to a question about how shifts might be killing the game.

“We have really smart people working in the game, and they’re going to figure out ways to get a competitive advantage,” Manfred said to ESPN. “I think it’s incumbent upon us in the commissioner’s office to look at the advantages that are produced, and say, ‘Is this what we want to happen?'”

If there is one thing MLB should not be doing, it is focusing on controlling how the game is played. It’s one thing to try and speed up the game with pitch clocks. But when you start to take away competitive advantages like defensive shifts, you start the game down a slippery slope. Where does it end?

What if a team decides to optimize its lineup by putting the best hitters at the top, rather than the middle of the order, so that the best hitters see more plate appearances during the season?

How about bunting? At one point in time, that wasn’t a part of the game. That was a long time ago, and baseball obviously is open to the process now. But how is that process for hitting any different than the process of shifts for fielding? The only difference here is that shifting is new, and hasn’t been a precise strategy for years. And if you want a fielding precedent, what about back in the time where fielders had to stand on the bag? Obviously baseball was fine moving away from that traditional method of fielding.

And how would MLB enforce shifting? Shifting isn’t always extreme. For the infielders, it could just mean putting the shortstop closer to the bag, rather than on the second base side. For outfielders, it could mean playing a player deep in center field. Shifting also includes moving the defense in to anticipate a bunt, or playing deep for double play depth. Teams have been doing that for years, and there’s never been an issue.

When Manfred talks about MLB questioning what they want to happen, it makes me wonder: what exactly does MLB want to happen?

On the surface, it seems that MLB wants to remove the advantages by the smart teams, and make things simple. To win, you just have to get the best players. The teams who can easily get the best players are teams in the biggest markets. Teams like the Pirates have turned to things like shifting because they can’t get the best players, and thus have to turn to the smartest strategies. When MLB says it doesn’t want the game being played this way, they are saying that they don’t want teams like the Pirates finding advantages.

Or there’s the player-specific approach to shifting. It used to be that you feared someone like David Ortiz or any big left-handed power hitter. Now you just play the second baseman in shallow right field, move the shortstop over to the second base side of the bag, move the third baseman to shortstop, pitch inside, and in the process, increase your chances of getting that player to ground out to the right side of the infield. Shifting has changed the game to the point where you take away an advantage that these dominant hitters once had.

These hitters have flaws, and there is an obvious way to attack those flaws and reduce the effects of their bat. So is MLB saying that they would rather have these hitters protected from teams attacking their flaws? Where does that end? Do we eliminate the LOOGY position and make it impossible for teams to bring in a lefty to face Pedro Alvarez in the late innings? Should teams be forced to pitch to Andrew McCutchen with first base open and runners in scoring position?

When Manfred was elected the new commissioner, I had a small amount of hope that he might bring a change, even though he was seen as the next Selig. In his first week, that hope was immediately destroyed. The best way to sum this up is by looking at a reaction by two General Managers, via Jeff Passan, to this news.

You know what casual baseball fans want? Yankees vs Red Sox. Big market teams winning. They don’t care about the Pirates, Rays, Athletics, or any other small market team. The only way baseball can cater to the casual fan is to rig the game in favor of those big market teams, while taking away any advantage small market teams have.

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