Pirates Prospects http://www.piratesprospects.com Your best source for news on the Pittsburgh Pirates and their minor league system. Sat, 28 Mar 2015 15:06:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Why Should You Care About Prospects? http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/03/why-should-you-care-about-prospects.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/03/why-should-you-care-about-prospects.html#comments Sat, 28 Mar 2015 15:06:14 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=97016 Yesterday I had a shorter day than usual. The Pirates had cuts at the MLB level, and a road game. The day was shortened at Pirate City, with the schedule moved up to the morning due to expected thunderstorms in the afternoon. So I decided to head over to the Buccos sub-Reddit and hold an AMA (ask me anything, for those unfamiliar with Reddit terminology). The questions were good, with a lot of discussion about players in the farm system, along with some questions on the MLB battles. There were also some questions and comments about the site’s upcoming switch to a subscription format.

One of the questions ended up being a question I get often, and it was along the lines of “why should I care about prospects?”

I gave a response there, but I’ll go into more detail here for anyone who didn’t see it, or anyone else who has the same question. Technically, you don’t have to care about prospects. But if you want to be informed about the Pirates, then you’re going to want to follow the progress of the prospects in the system.

The Pirates are always going to be a team that builds their core through the farm system. Take a look at their starting lineup for the 2015 season.

C – Francisco Cervelli (Acquired for Justin Wilson)

1B – Pedro Alvarez (Draft)

2B – Neil Walker (Draft)

SS – Jordy Mercer (Draft)

3B – Josh Harrison (Acquired in a 2009 trade)

LF – Starling Marte (International Signing)

CF – Andrew McCutchen (Draft)

RF – Gregory Polanco (International Signing)

Pretty much all of those guys are home-grown. The two exceptions are Cervelli — who was acquired for a home-grown player — and Harrison, who spent all but one year of his career and his development in the Pirates’ system. Some of the guys above were in the organization already when Neal Huntington took over. Some were added after Huntington took over. But either way, this organization under Huntington has focused heavily on the farm system, and used that to build the core of a team that has made the playoffs the last two years, and projects to make it again this year.

The playoffs won’t change that approach. Just look at the first base situation as proof. The Pirates are going with Pedro Alvarez and Corey Hart this year as their first base options. Alvarez is coming off a down year at the plate, and is new to the first base position. Hart is also coming off a down year, with question marks about whether he can bounce back to his pre-double knee surgery form. These are not exactly guarantees.

The minor leagues will put the first base situation in perspective. If you don’t follow the prospects, then you don’t know about Josh Bell. You don’t know that he was moved to first base this off-season, with the sole purpose of being the first baseman of the future, possibly by mid-2016. If you know about that information, then you’d know that the Pirates are going to roll the dice with short-term options like Alvarez and Hart, then wait on Bell to arrive. They did the same thing prior to Gregory Polanco’s arrival, and prior to every other big prospect who was the “Player of the Future” at their position.

That’s not the only example. Going into this off-season, if you followed the farm system you would have known that the Pirates had a short-term need at catcher and starting pitcher. They didn’t have the short-term options at the Major League level, unlike the situation with Alvarez at first base. They did have prospects in the system. Elias Diaz had a breakout year at the plate in 2014, looking like the catcher of the future. However, he wouldn’t be ready until the middle of the season, at the earliest. The pitching staff has top prospects in the upper levels like Jameson Taillon, Nick Kingham, Adrian Sampson, and Tyler Glasnow. But none of them were going to be ready by Opening Day, meaning the Pirates needed at least two free agent starters. Thus, the Pirates needed a short-term catching option and two starters for the 2015 season.

If you’re not following the prospects, then you aren’t fully informed about the Pirates. I often get asked why I devote time to the Major League team when this is a prospect site. We cover the majors because it’s all connected. The Pirates don’t just have this farm system operating as a separate division from the majors, and occasionally churning out MLB players by happy coincidence. It’s all one organization. Everything the Pirates do in the minors has one goal in mind: future success in the majors. And every move the Pirates make at the major league level can be explained by what is going on in the minors. The reason to follow prospects is because it gives you the full insight into the short-term and long-term plans of this organization.

The Best Way to Follow the Prospects

As you may know, we announced this week that the site will be switching over to a subscription site on April 13th. We provide better information on the Pirates’ farm system than any other site. That includes live reports, in-depth coverage and analysis, and putting everything in perspective by revealing the thought process behind all of the moves the Pirates make, from the minors to the majors.

Let’s go back to the Josh Bell example. You might have known about Bell, because he’s one of the guys that the rest of the Pittsburgh media will talk about when they do an occasional minor league story. You can go to Baseball-Reference or one of many other sites and look up his stats for free. And you might have even seen an article on him being the first baseman of the future at MiLB.com, Baseball America, or Baseball Prospectus. But you’re not going to get an idea of how he’s making the transition to first base, or what he has done to prepare to the move unless you follow this site.

At the start of Spring Training, I wrote about how Bell added muscle this off-season, which he can afford to add due to his move from the outfield to first. I also talked about how he wore down at the end of last year, and how the move to first base should eliminate the fatigue. He saw a drop in power at the end of the year, and I would argue that the added muscle, and the lower intensity position will help him avoid that power drop in the future. And then there’s the actual performance at first base, which I provided in a video earlier this month.

This is information you can’t get from the stat pages. It’s information you won’t get from the national outlets that are just looking for the big story on Bell (he’s moving to first base) and not looking for all of the detailed ongoing coverage of the move. It’s only information you will find here. I know that because I sit alone in the Pirate City media room every day, and I’m the only reporter interviewing the prospects and watching them on the field for the majority of these days. And then during the season we are the only outlet that has regular coverage from every minor league city in the system.

I mentioned the national outlets like MiLB.com, Baseball America, and Baseball Prospectus. All of those sites do an outstanding job covering minor league baseball, and I’m a personal subscriber to BA and BP. But when it comes to individual teams, you’re not going to get detailed coverage. You’ll get the top ten prospects, and usually those are the prospects they feature during the season. You won’t get reports on every prospect in the Pirates’ system, and you won’t get a deep look at how the Pirates operate like you do at Pirates Prospects.

For example, take a look at the article I wrote last week about how the Pirates are now trying to stay ahead of the curve with the new draft rules. Or there’s the article I did earlier this month breaking down Jameson Taillon’s delivery over the last four years. No other site would offer this level of analysis on the Pirates’ system. Our close coverage of the farm system led to us spotting the trend with Wyatt Mathisen, JaCoby Jones, Connor Joe, Jordan Luplow, and then confirming that the trend is related to the new draft rules. In Taillon’s case, I have a library of video dating back to his debut, and was able to use that, plus my many conversations with Taillon over the years, to ask the right questions to get that level of insight on his delivery changes.

Getting back to the original question: why should you follow the prospects? If you’re a Pirates fan, then you’re not going to be fully informed about how this organization operates if you don’t follow the farm system. The Pirates put a huge focus on their farm system, and so should you. And the best way to follow the farm system is by subscribing to and reading Pirates Prospects. For the price of one cup of coffee each month, you can get the best coverage of the Pirates’ system, from the majors to the minors, and you can follow the only site that gives detailed coverage on the Pirates’ minor league system.

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Draft Prospect Watch: Carson Fulmer Dominates Tennessee, Dillon Tate Returns to Form http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/03/draft-prospect-watch-carson-fulmer-dominates-tennessee-dillon-tate-returns-to-form.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/03/draft-prospect-watch-carson-fulmer-dominates-tennessee-dillon-tate-returns-to-form.html#comments Sat, 28 Mar 2015 12:00:11 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=96981 The big news regarding the draft since our article on Thursday, was the Tommy John surgery performed on last year’s first overall pick. We take a look at that below, along with some weekend starts from the best draft-eligible college pitchers around the country. A couple games featured a top pitcher going up against a top hitter. You can read more about the top college pitchers covered below in our draft preview. The draft begins on June 8th and the Pittsburgh Pirates have the 19th and 32nd overall picks. The Pirates will have the 11th highest draft bonus pool.

We start with the news on Brady Aiken and it wasn’t good. On Thursday, he announced that he underwent Tommy John surgery and that will put him out of action for the next 12 months. What that will do to his draft stock is unknown. Aiken turned down $5M last year from the Astros after their physical revealed a problem and they dropped their initial offer, which was over $6M. Aiken decided to return to the draft and attended the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. He lasted all of 13 pitches in his first start before leaving due to tightness and that injury led to Thursday’s surgery.

If some team is willing to take a huge gamble on him, he could still go early in the draft and this could just be considered a minor setback. You also have to take into consideration the bonus he turned down and what he will be willing to accept to sign this year. Only so many teams will be able to work him into his budget if he wants anywhere close to $5M, so there is a chance he could return to the draft next year.

The big game on Friday was Tennessee going up against Vanderbilt. It matched up one of the best pitchers, Vandy’s Carson Fulmer, versus outfielder Christin Stewart, who we had a report for on Thursday. Also featured in the game was Vanderbilt shortstop Dansby Swanson, who could be the top college bat selected this year.

This game was all Vanderbilt, with Fulmer pitching a gem. He went eight shutout innings, striking out 12 batters. Fulmer threw 114 pitches, 65 for strikes. He gave up five hits and walked three batters. Stewart faced Fulmer four times, striking out twice, flying out to right field and grounding out to first base. Swanson had a surprisingly bad game considering his team put up nine runs. He went 0-for-5 and struck out three times.

Louisville’s Kyle Funkhouser went seven strong innings against Georgia Tech, picking up the win. He allowed one run on four hits and two walks, with seven strikeouts. His pitch count could be a little concerning, throwing 121 pitches. Funkhouser has a 2.40 ERA in 45 innings, with 49 strikeouts and a .205 BAA.

UC Santa Barbara’s Dillon Tate had a nice bounce back after a rough start last week. Tate took the loss against Long Beach State, but he pitched a great game. He gave up two runs(both unearned) over nine innings, allowing three hits and a walk, while picking up ten strikeouts. I mentioned last week that his poor outing could be an indicator that he was slowing down in the starting role after working as a reliever prior to this season, so this was an important start for Tate.

James Kaprielian from UCLA went eight innings against Washington State in a 4-3 win. He gave up three runs on four hits and a walk. Kaprielian threw 105 pitches, getting nine strikeouts and 11 ground ball outs. He has a 2.35 ERA, with 55 strikeouts and a .217 BAA in 46 innings.

Duke’s Michael Matuella had a tough game due to control issues. He went 4.2 innings against Boston College, allowing six runs(two earned) on five hits, five walks and a hit batter. He threw 93 pitches, 53 for strikes and struck out six batters. Matuella has a 1.08 ERA in 25 innings this year. BC right fielder Chris Shaw went 2-for-3 with a walk, run scored and RBI. He was rated fairly high early in the year, but his performance, except for hitting six homers, has just been average.

Pepperdine’s Jackson McClelland pitched a strong game on Friday afternoon against Portland, going the distance in a 5-1 win. The run he allowed was unearned, as he struck out eight batters and got eight ground ball outs. McClelland threw 117 pitches, 75 for strikes. In 51 innings this year, he has a 1.41 ERA and a .215 BAA.

We talked briefly about Josh Staumont from Azusa Pacific on Thursday. He made some noise in his first game when he was hitting triple digits with his fastball. On Friday, he was again hitting 100 early and still throwing hard when he left after seven innings. Staumont picked up the win against Hawaii Pacific and struck out six batters.

Two prep pitchers of note from this week. The first one is lefty Juan Hillman, who was among our “others to watch” in the prep pitcher draft preview. Prep Baseball Report posted that he went five innings on Thursday and he allowed one run on three hits. Hillman had eight strikeouts and touched 93 MPH with his fastball, showing good command.

A couple weeks ago, we mentioned Nolan Kingham, the younger brother of the Pirates own Nick Kingham. This link has a video and a nice article about the younger Kingham that is worth checking out. The Las Vegas Review Journal has a new article on Nolan, along with a recap of his last game, in which he hit 95 MPH. He has a commitment to Texas and according to the article, he will weigh his options on draft day once he sees where he is selected.

Prep catcher Chris Betts went to the Pirates(when their first selection was 20th overall) in a very early mock draft this year. He was featured in our prep hitters draft preview. Betts has hit well this year, batting .452/.605/1.064 in his first 12 games. While the Pirates have a lot of strong catchers in the lower levels, Betts is a strong lefty bat that could be moved to another position due to defense that is average at best.

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Q&A: Trading Prospects For Rentals, Polanco Concerns, Meadows vs Appel http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/03/qa-trading-prospects-for-rentals-polanco-concerns-meadows-vs-appel.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/03/qa-trading-prospects-for-rentals-polanco-concerns-meadows-vs-appel.html#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 17:02:14 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=96924 I missed the Q&A last week due to a common problem in Spring Training: I forgot what day it was. It was around 6:00 that I was driving home from a busy day at Pirate City and suddenly it hit me “Oh yeah, today is Friday. I didn’t do the Q&A.” It wasn’t going anywhere. Some of the questions from last week were answered throughout the week. Here are some of the best questions from this week.

Rob Wheeler: Hey Tim. I have been thinking about an article you wrote a couple years ago ever since the Royals made their big run last October.

You made a point that their trade of Wil Meyers to Tampa for Shields and company was not something the Pirates should do, and not something a small market team should do – that it more or less created a “window” of opportunity, versus the Pirates stated goal of a continual championship quality team.

Any thoughts on revisiting those thoughts in light of what the Royals were able to accomplish, along with where both teams are at this point? I know Meyers disappointed, but the point was really about the Royals and not the Rays. Does it appear they enjoyed their window to its fullest but are now destined to move forward without both Meyers and Shields as a mediocre team?

Thanks! Great job with the site!!

As you may know, I’m against the idea of creating a window like the Royals did. Maybe Shields helped put them over the edge to reach the playoffs, but look at the shape they’re in now. Shields is gone, they don’t have Myers, and they don’t have Jake Odorizzi, who was also traded in that deal, and who put up outstanding results with the Rays last year.

Odorizzi was worth 2.2 fWAR, while Shields was worth 3.3 fWAR in 2014. One win would have put them tied with Oakland, and they won the season series against the Athletics, so the Wild Card game would have still been in Kansas City. Shields also didn’t help much during their playoff run, so I doubt their outcome is changed for the worse without him in the post-season. There’s also the Wade Davis factor here, although the Royals might have had enough bullpen depth to overcome his absence as well.

In hindsight, I’d rather have the Rays side of that deal, if only because of Odorizzi. I’d rather have him for six years, even if it means a slight decline in production in 2014. But I don’t think you need hindsight for this. Myers was the big ticket, but the Royals traded a lot of prospects for Shields. Prospects are unknown. The big ones might not pan out (although I’m definitely not closing the book on Myers yet) and some of the lesser ones surprise you. If you look at what the Rays got (Odorizzi, flipped Myers for a good return), and look at what the Royals have now, I’d say the Royals made a mistake, and I don’t think the trade really helped them last year.

I thought I’d ask my friend, who is a Royals fan, about his thoughts following the post-season run. Here was his response.

“We still have a huge hole in right field and we gave up seven years of control for a short-term rental. Don’t get me wrong, I loved every minute of the ride. But I think it really hurts us long-term. That move reeked of desperation because of [Dayton Moore’s] inconsistency in developing major league pitchers.”

Joe Sweetnich: Do you have concern over Gregory Polanco’s spring performance?  He does not seem to be making solid contact and looks more like the Jul-Sep 2014 Polanco than the one we grew to love previously.

I don’t, but then again I never really get concerned with any Spring Training performances. There have been so many times in the past where guys have looked horrible in Spring Training, and it all goes away when the season starts. Then there are times when guys are crushing the ball in Spring Training, and it all disappears during the season. If Polanco is still struggling in June, that’s when I’ll be concerned.

Dan Bruni: Would you rather have Austin Meadows and/or Reese McGuire, or Mark Appel? Under the old CBA, the Pirates would have certainly signed Appel, and added another potential ace and depth option for 2015.

That’s a tricky question, because I’m not sure which scenario you’re presenting. If this is under the old CBA rules, then the choice is simply Appel or Meadows, since they would have still had their McGuire pick in 2013. I’m much more familiar with Meadows, so that would alter my choice a bit, although we did follow Appel closely, for obvious reasons, and I don’t think he could be considered a potential ace. I think I’d go with Meadows, just because I like his power potential, and hitting prospects come with much less injury risk than pitching prospects.

If it’s under the new CBA, then it’s no question that I take the Pirates side. In that scenario, it’s not just Meadows and McGuire or Appel. It’s Meadows, McGuire, Blake Taylor (used to acquire Ike Davis), Cole Tucker, and Mitch Keller. That’s four of the top ten prospects in the system, plus Taylor. Of course, all of this assumes the Pirates would have gone over-slot to get Appel, while forfeiting all of those picks. And you can see why no team has considered that yet.

Clint Knowles: Is there any possibility that the Bucs will trade Walker this season in order to make room for Alen Hanson, trade Walker and put Kang at second, or keep Walker and use Kang off the bench?

I really don’t see Walker being dealt during the season, unless the Pirates somehow fall out of contention. Even if Kang and Hanson are performing well, it would make more sense to deal Walker next off-season, so as not to weaken the team during a playoff push. There’s no reason why you can’t have Kang or Hanson on the bench performing like starters.

Eldon Yeakel: Why do the cubs only have to send Kris Bryant down for two weeks to gain a year of control, when the pirates had to wait until mid season to bring Marte and Polanco to gain a year of control?

There are two separate issues here. The first is getting an extra year of control. You have to keep a player down for a few weeks to get that, which is what the Cubs are doing. The mid-season date is for Super Two, which gives the player an extra year of arbitration. The Cubs don’t seem to care about that with Bryant, and they have the resources where they can afford to pay the extra money associated with six weeks of additional production for a rookie. For a small market team like the Pirates, it would be foolish to pay extra in the long-run just to get six additional weeks of a rookie. We saw exactly why last year, when Polanco struggled in his first run through the majors. Marte also struggled initially. That’s to be expected with rookies.

Finally, a question from Twitter that I’ve received twice in the last day:

If the Pirates would want to take him after Tommy John surgery (and I think they would, considering his upside), then I’d have to think one of the teams before them would want to take him for those same reasons. I don’t see Aiken falling to the Pirates at all. I’d be surprised if he fell out of the top ten.

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Huntington Notes on the Bench Battle, Final Rotation Spot, Kang, Richard, and Stewart http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/03/huntington-notes-on-the-bench-battle-final-rotation-spot-kang-richard-and-stewart.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/03/huntington-notes-on-the-bench-battle-final-rotation-spot-kang-richard-and-stewart.html#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 14:34:37 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=96945 The Pittsburgh Pirates made their latest round of cuts today, sending 12 players to minor league camp. None of the moves were that surprising, as every single player sent down was expected to be cut from big league camp at some point this Spring. The one notable name was Jose Tabata. He wasn’t notable because he had a strong chance to make the team, but he was notable because of the contract.

Tabata had very little chance of making this team, with one factor being the left/right makeup of the team. If Tabata got the final spot, the Pirates would have had a bench featuring all right-handers.

“It factored a decent amount into it,” Pirates’ General Manager Neal Huntington said on the makeup of the bench with today’s moves. “Jose’s swing change, we think, is playing up. We wanted to get him out and get him consistent at-bats, and try to get him off to a good start at Triple-A, and build some value to come up and help us.”

Huntington noted that today’s cuts were about getting these guys playing time to get them ready for their seasons, since the starting pitchers are going deeper into games, the relievers need the additional innings, and the guys competing for the bench will need the at-bats in the final week of Spring Training. Tabata wouldn’t have seen many at-bats going forward if he stuck around.

“Our job is to get him back to the big leagues and provide him with an opportunity,” Huntington said. “[We were] very open with him that opportunity may come with someone else, but if he goes out and plays hard, plays well, he’ll be in the big leagues with somebody.”

I don’t see anyone trading for Tabata and taking on his contract unless he displays some big changes. He will go to Triple-A, and will likely get plenty of playing time. One playing time situation to watch in the Indianapolis outfield will be with Gorkys Hernandez. He put up good numbers this Spring, and Huntington indicated that the Pirates want to give him a closer look going forward.

“Gorkys has had a great camp. It’s amazing that it’s his 27-year-old season,” Huntington said. “He can still play defense with just about anybody. The swing looks shorter. Now is the time to go out and get him consistent at-bats, and see if this swing change is going to translate into the quality that we saw so far this Spring Training.”

The final bench spot is now a battle between Andrew Lambo and Jaff Decker. Both are left-handed hitting outfielders. Justin Sellers is still on the roster, but has soreness in his Achilles tendon, and is unlikely to factor into the mix. The wild card could be Pedro Florimon. Huntington said he is still in the mix, mentioning that his defense, base running, and versatility could have more value than just a left-hander off the bench.

No Decision For the Rotation

The Pirates haven’t made a decision on the fifth spot in the rotation yet, with the decision still being between Jeff Locke and Vance Worley. Locke pitches today, while Worley threw yesterday. But those outings will only play part of the decision.

“We pride ourselves on being process driven and not outcome driven,” Huntington said. “We’ve still got a couple more outcomes to work through. Our challenge is that we’re in a really good spot, whether it’s Jeff Locke or Vance Worley. Both of those guys deserve to be in Major League rotations. Both of those guys are going to make quality starts for us this year. It’s just a matter of who gets in the rotation to start the season.”

Huntington confirmed that the loser will go to the bullpen, before adding that history shows that pitcher will likely be back in the rotation at some point.

“There’s no question we’re going to need both of these guys to make quality Major League starts for us this year,” Huntington said. “We’re absolutely going to need more than five starters. Hopefully we won’t need 12 like we did a few years ago, or nine like we did last year.”

One situation that could factor in the mix is the rehab of Charlie Morton. The right-hander seems to be in line to begin the season in Pittsburgh from a health and innings standpoint, but has had some issues with his stuff while working on a tweak in his delivery.

“Much like when a pitcher has surgery, [that pitcher is] getting used to the arm again. In Charlie’s case, he’s getting used to his hips again, and how his body functions,” Huntington said. “We’ve seen some really good things from him and we’ve seen some challenges from him.”

Huntington said that the Pirates are focusing on having Morton in the rotation, with the loser of the Worley/Locke battle serving as depth for the rotation. However, a lot will be determined by the next start for Morton.

“Our expectation is he’ll be ready to go, but we want to see how this next outing goes, and make sure that he’s ready to go out and compete and get hitters out on a consistent basis,” Huntington said.

Jung-ho Kang to Start the Year in Pittsburgh

Don’t expect Jung-ho Kang to go down to Indianapolis due to his struggles in Spring Training.

“We have every intent in the world of him helping us winning games at the Major League level beginning Opening Day,” Huntington said, before listing off the things they like about Kang. “We like the bat speed. We love the power. We like what he’s been able to do defensively at short, at third, at second. The ability to make the blind turn was very intriguing. At the same time we also know that we’ve got some reps that are needed to have him feel comfortable there overall.”

Other Notes

**Huntington talked about the opt out clause for Clayton Richard, and the situation involving stretching him out, which I talked about yesterday: “Our goal is to get Clayton Richard back to the big leagues. We hope it is with us. We believe it is going to be with us…We’re working to get Clayton ready to go, and hopefully that is with us, whether it’s in Pittsburgh or in [Indianapolis].”

**Chris Stewart is still expected to start the year on the disabled list, as Huntington said they don’t want to turn a 2-4 week layoff into 6-8 weeks. “Chris is working hard, he’s begun baseball activities. I think we’re both in a good spot in that there’s no need to rush him back. There’s no need to push this.”

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Pirates Cut 12 Players From Major League Camp http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/03/pirates-cut-12-players-from-major-league-camp.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/03/pirates-cut-12-players-from-major-league-camp.html#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 12:46:18 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=96926 The Pittsburgh Pirates made a big round of cuts today, sending the following players to the minors.

Jose Tabata

Steve Lombardozzi

Charlie Leesman

Josh Wall

Bobby LaFromboise

Deolis Guerra

Brad Lincoln

Gorkys Hernandez

Brent Morel

Gustavo Nunez

Sebastian Valle

Deibinson Romero

LaFromboise was optioned to Indianapolis, while everyone else was reassigned to minor league camp. There were no surprises, as all of these cuts were sending out guys who had no shot at the big league roster. The one guy who might have had a shot was Tabata, but even in his case it seemed very unlikely that he would win the final roster spot.

There are now 35 active players in camp, which includes three non-roster invitees. The number does not include Brandon Cumpton, who will start on the 60-day DL. The Pirates only have three spots remaining, with two bullpen spots and the final bench position up for grabs.

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First Pitch: Major League Day at the Minor League Park http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/03/first-pitch-major-league-day-at-the-minor-league-park.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/03/first-pitch-major-league-day-at-the-minor-league-park.html#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 04:00:10 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=96815 You’re a minor league player, stepping into the on deck circle to get ready for your next at-bat. You’re getting the timing down while watching a few pitches of the at-bat taking place in front of you. Then suddenly, you get a tap on the shoulder. You turn and see it’s Gregory Polanco. He just grounded out in the other game, and now he’s here to take your spot. You quickly accept this, then walk behind the fence while he takes your spot on the on-deck circle, and you hope that the inning reaches you and gives you a chance at the plate.

Just another day at Pirate City.

Clint Hurdle has talked about how the Pirates can send MLB players over to Pirate City to get extra at-bats if needed. The result is that those players can definitely get their at-bats, although that comes at the expense of a few minor league at-bats. Typically the Pirates will send two hitters over to Pirate City, and both hitters will lead off every inning, or bat second and third in every inning of each game. This will last for the first 5-6 innings, giving about 6-8 at-bats total, since they don’t always bat in every inning of every game.

It’s not like the minor league at-bats are important. Today Gregory Polanco and Jung-ho Kang were getting reps, and if that process costs everyone on the West Virginia team one at-bat, then it’s well worth it. Even if it costs several at-bats on that day, it’s worth it, because the MLB hitters are the priority.

What this does create is a day that is dominated by MLB coverage at minor league camp, which is what happened today. Gerrit Cole threw 100 pitches in one of the games. He struggled, making it through 5.1 innings, giving up four runs on seven hits, with three walks and seven strikeouts. Out of those 100 pitches, 56 were strikes. Cole was throwing mostly fastballs in the first inning, but quickly switched to his off-speed stuff and seemed to be focusing heavily on that in the later innings, to the point where he wasn’t pitching off the fastball like normal. He has been working on his breaking pitches this Spring, and that seemed to be the main focus of the off-speed stuff. His curve was missing low, leading to some of the walks and struggles.

There was also the fact that the wind was blowing extremely hard today, leading to a few wind aided homers. Gregory Polanco hit a routine fly that carried for a home run. Afterward, he smiled at Kang on the way back to the dugout and shook his head slightly, with a look of disbelief on his face. Edwin Espinal went opposite field for a homer to right, also benefitting from the wind. So while both had big hits, there was really nothing to take from them.

Kang also homered, and did it on the field where the wind wouldn’t help him as much. That said, the home run comes with the disclaimer that it was against an A-ball pitcher. The only other notable hit I saw today was Elias Diaz with a double to the right-center field gap, although once again, this comes with the lower level disclaimer.

Between Cole, Polanco, Kang, and the wind, there wasn’t much to take away from the day’s events. Add to that the fact that one of the teams was bunting excessively every time a runner was at first base (it seemed to be a day for bunting practice), and the fact that Cole would occasionally step in for an at-bat, and you’ve got a very quiet day at Pirate City in terms of prospect reports.

The one player who had a chance to stand out was Mitch Keller, who was a second round pick in the 2014 draft. The prep pitcher went three innings, and looked good, giving up one hit, no walks, and striking out one. He was sitting 91-94 MPH, mixing in an 85-88 MPH changeup and a mid-70s curve. I saw a few starts from Keller last year. He’s got some impressive stuff, and can be dominant at times. Other times, his command is way off. He had a few command issues today with the fastball, but overall looked good. I’ll have an article on Keller and the other two over-slot 2014 prep pitchers tomorrow (would have been today, but it was bumped back due to today’s news).

As for the rest of the day, here is the rundown.

**The weekly Q&A returns tomorrow after a week off. Submit your question using the form at the bottom of the page.

**If you missed our big announcement on Wednesday, the site will be changing over to a subscription site soon. More details can be found here, as well as how to subscribe: The Future Of Pirates Prospects.

**My friend Dave Bryan, who runs the outstanding site Steelers Depot, has purchased a one-year subscription to be given away on Twitter. I’ll have the details tomorrow on my Twitter account (for real this time…today got kind of crazy with work). While you’re at it, you should also follow Dave for great insight and all of the latest news on the Steelers. I haven’t had much time to follow the Steelers in recent years, but anytime I’m looking for an update, Steelers Depot is always where I go.

**Pirates Prospects Is Looking For Paid Writers In Altoona And West Virginia. This is priority number one before we add an analyst for the MLB team.

**Notes: Richard’s Role On The Pirates, The Fifth Starter Battle, And Upcoming Cuts. A look at the upcoming decision for Clayton Richard, and when the fifth starter battle might be determined. Also, expect cuts in the morning.

**Pirates Release Zack Von Rosenberg And Four Other Minor Leaguers. I wrote about how Von Rosenberg had a tough situation, being the only interesting prospect in the system for the better part of a year, which really elevated the hype and expectations to an unreasonable level.

**Improving His Two-Seam Fastball Will Make Nick Kingham A More Effective Pitcher. Video feature with Kingham talking about how he will be using the two-seam as a situational pitch this year.

**Draft Prospect Watch: College Shortstop Has Become A Position Of Strength In The Draft

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Notes: Richard’s Role on the Pirates, The Fifth Starter Battle, and Upcoming Cuts http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/03/notes-richards-role-on-the-pirates-the-fifth-starter-battle-and-upcoming-cuts.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/03/notes-richards-role-on-the-pirates-the-fifth-starter-battle-and-upcoming-cuts.html#comments Thu, 26 Mar 2015 21:16:50 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=96803 Clayton Richard’s roster status is going to be a hot issue over the next few days. His role with the team will also be a big question mark. The left-hander came in for the seventh inning today, slated to throw 60 pitches. He lasted 2.2 innings, running into trouble in his third inning of work before leaving and throwing some extra pitches in the bullpen.

The maximum that Richard could have reached today was three innings. Meanwhile, most starters are well beyond that, with Vance Worley throwing six innings today, and Gerrit Cole throwing 5.1 innings and 100 pitches at Pirate City. That raises the question of whether he’s still in line to be starting depth, or whether he will be a long-relief option.

Clint Hurdle mentioned Richard as one of the starting depth options. He also said that Richard might have one more outing where he could get one more inning, pushing him up to four innings of work. Still, that wouldn’t get him ready to be a starter by Opening Day.

Richard has been working on some mechanical changes, which I outlined a few weeks ago. His issue is very similar to Vance Worley from last year, where he had his mechanics thrown off after an injury. The Pirates are trying to get him back to where he was in 2010.

“He has been making progress with each outing,” Hurdle said of the changes. “It’s been incremental progress. There is life to the fastball. The two-seamer has played. He’s worked in the breaking ball at times, and the changeup. The command overall has been good. He’s fighting his way back and finding his way back. With each outing, there’s some confidence building.”

Richard said that the changes are going in the right direction, and that he did well with them in the first two innings today.

“It’s not a habit yet,” Richard said of taking the changes in the game. “So until it becomes that, I can not get to outings and then just forget about it.”

One issue complicating matters is that Richard has an opt out, which Travis Sawchik reported last week. Richard believes is on March 31st. That would allow him to opt out of his deal and become a free agent if he’s not added to the 40-man roster by that date. Even if he is added to the 40-man, he has enough service time that he could decline a minor league assignment and become a free agent. That might make sense if another team was willing to give him a starting role, although he’d have no way of knowing that job was out there before making a decision, and that new team would also have the capability of optioning him to the minors.

“Early on in camp I knew that the opt out was there, but it really hasn’t been on my mind,” Richard said. “I try not to think about it, because I have no control what happens to me.”

Richard said that his role hasn’t changed since the start of camp.

“There hasn’t been anything changed since I got to camp, where I have been informed of it,” Richard said of whether the Pirates might be moving him to long relief versus keeping him as a starter.

The best case scenario would be for the Pirates to retain Richard, keep him in extended Spring Training to continue getting stretched out and work on his mechanical adjustments, then send him to Indianapolis when he’s ready, where he could be used as starting depth. That’s the same approach they took with Vance Worley last year. We’ll see how they handle things in the next few days, as they have until early next week to make a decision on how to handle Richard.

Fifth Starter Decision Coming Soon?

Clint Hurdle didn’t say whether he was going with Vance Worley or Jeff Locke, but it sounds like the move could come sooner, rather than waiting for the end of camp.

“I anticipate we’re going to need to make a decision sooner than later with them, just so they can both post up knowing what they’re going to do next,” Hurdle said.

Worley threw six innings today, and Locke has another outing tomorrow.

“You want the guy that’s going to get the start to know when he’s going to start so that he can finish off Spring Training and know his schedule,” Hurdle said.

The loser of the battle will go to the bullpen, and could serve as starting depth. Hurdle said that he felt either pitcher could make the transition back to the rotation, even if they started in the bullpen. However, that statement might have an expiration date.

“If you’re down there for a long time, down there for a month and you don’t throw more than 35 pitches, then it’s going to be a challenge,” Hurdle said on making the transition back to starting. “Whoever it is, that man will be in a role where you’re looking for him to pitch more than multiple innings. You’re looking for him for three, or if a starter gets knocked out early, to carry four somewhere along those lines to keep the pitch count in play, to keep them strong, so they could seamlessly transition back to the rotation.”

Hurdle talked briefly about the rotation depth, also mentioning Richard, Nick Kingham, and Casey Sadler as options.

“We drop down about nine, ten deep now, which is a very good place to be,” Hurdle said on the starting options.

Cuts Coming Tomorrow

Hurdle said that the Pirates will meet tonight and discuss the next round of cuts. Expect those to come tomorrow morning.

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Pirates Release Zack Von Rosenberg and Four Other Minor Leaguers http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/03/pirates-release-zack-von-rosenberg-and-four-other-minor-leaguers.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/03/pirates-release-zack-von-rosenberg-and-four-other-minor-leaguers.html#comments Thu, 26 Mar 2015 16:19:59 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=96767 The Pittsburgh Pirates have released five minor league players. Those players are as follows.

Nate Baker

Ryan Beckman

Ashley Ponce

Chris Peacock

Zack Von Rosenberg

The most notable name here is Zack Von Rosenberg. He was the poster child for the Pirates’ strategy of drafting and signing over-slot prep pitchers in the middle rounds. Quinton Miller was the first over-slot guy in 2008, but Von Rosenberg was the big one early in the process. He was considered a late first round talent, but fell to the Pirates in the sixth round of the 2009 draft due to signability concerns. They paid him $1.2 M, which was not only significant in price, but significant because it was the first big moment where they showed that they were willing to spend big beyond the first round.

The idea with Von Rosenberg was that he had a chance to add velocity due to his projectable frame, and smooth, easy delivery. That velocity never came, with the exception of jumping to the 92-93 MPH range in some starts in 2012. However, he had issues flattening out his fastball at that speed, which made him very easy to hit.

Von Rosenberg switched to a two-seam fastball in 2013, lowering the velocity in hopes of adding more deception. The results improved in 2014, but the stuff wasn’t over-powering, usually topping out in the mid-80s. When I saw him in his last appearance on Tuesday, he was hitting 85 MPH with his first several pitches. It also looks like his delivery got complicated over the years, as seen below. The first image is from a video I shot in 2012, and the second is from his outing this week.

ZVR 2012

ZVR 2015

I definitely selected that first image specifically because I remembered that amazing play he made.

The new delivery features much shorter arm action, almost as if his arm is tied to his body. It would be hard to generate velocity with this approach, although he might have some deception. The ball definitely isn’t as flat, but it was also 5-8 MPH slower than his 2012 velocity, so I’m not sure the tradeoff is worthwhile.

Von Rosenberg was dealt a bad hand with his situation. The Pirates were early in their rebuilding phase, and just starting to put the focus on the draft. They didn’t have any top pitching prospects, and had been starved at the Major League level for a top of the rotation guy. Von Rosenberg might have had a shot, but it was always a small shot, just like any other projectable prep pitcher. But he was the best guy in the system in a time when there was no one in the system, and he was the focus of the 2009 draft (the Pirates selected Tony Sanchez in the first round to save money and spend it on guys like Von Rosenberg) at a time when the Pirates were looking to the draft to rebuild. He was elevated to a prospect status that was definitely unfair, just because he was the main guy when the system was weak.

If Von Rosenberg had been drafted in 2011, things might have been different. The Pirates drafted Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie in 2010. They also signed Luis Heredia. They drafted Gerrit Cole in 2011. Suddenly the middle round prep pitchers in the system were a bonus, rather than the focus. And that’s evident by Clay Holmes, who received the same $1.2 M bonus as Von Rosenberg. There are hopes that Holmes will reach his upside and become a middle of the rotation starter, even after Tommy John surgery. But no one is depending on Holmes to be a top of the rotation guy. No one is even depending on him as a key member of the Pirates’ rotation. And you could draw up a scenario where he’s not even needed at all, even if he does reach his upside.

That’s a massive change from the days when Von Rosenberg was drafted, and it’s unfortunate for him, because the expectations were unreasonable high as a result of the system being so poor. Two years later, he might have been just another guy. But in 2009, he was THE guy, even though his odds to be that guy didn’t match the hopes.

As for the other four, Nate Baker was a 2009 pick in the fifth round out of Mississippi. The lefty always displayed a great changeup, but struggled with his fastball command. Ryan Beckman looked promising as a potential middle relief option, but went down with Tommy John surgery, and never really bounced back to put up the dominant numbers he saw pre-2012. Ashley Ponce was an organizational guy in the lower levels, filling out the utility infield spots. Chris Peacock was signed this off-season out of indy ball as one of the guys who could hit the upper 90s with his fastball, but struggled with control. I saw him last week and he was sitting 87-89 MPH.

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Improving His Two-Seam Fastball will Make Nick Kingham a More Effective Pitcher http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/03/improving-his-two-seam-fastball-will-make-nick-kingham-a-more-effective-pitcher.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/03/improving-his-two-seam-fastball-will-make-nick-kingham-a-more-effective-pitcher.html#comments Thu, 26 Mar 2015 14:00:38 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=96386 With Jameson Taillon returning from Tommy John surgery, and unlikely to make an impact at the Major League level early in the year, the top prospect to watch for a MLB promotion in 2015 will be Nick Kingham. The right-handed pitcher made the jump to Indianapolis last year, and was optioned to the level a few weeks ago, where he will pitch out of the rotation. Kingham could be an option for the Pirates by mid-season, after they go through early season options like Jeff Locke, Casey Sadler, Clayton Richard, and Radhames Liz.

On Tuesday, Kingham went up against the Phillies’ farm system, and had a very specific approach. He was focusing heavily on his two-seam fastball, throwing it much more often than the four-seam pitch he usually works with. His fastball was sitting 92-95 MPH, although the upper end might have been the four-seam.

“It’s coming a long way, it’s still not to where it needs to be, but you can’t get better unless you throw it,” Kingham said of the pitch. “Today was the first day I threw it consistently.”

Kingham said he threw about 20-25 two-seam fastballs. He’s focusing on improving the pitch now, so that he has it as a situational pitch, and something to mix in with the four-seam fastball. He’s not going to become a two-seam guy in the future, but the focus on the new pitch should help him increase his ground ball rates and become more effective against upper level guys. This isn’t an uncommon approach for the Pirates. They’ve taken a lot of guys who have had good stuff, put a bigger focus on the two-seam, and saw those pitchers reach a new level thanks to an increased ground ball rate. Kingham’s ground ball rate last year was 45%.

Along with the focus on the two-seamer, Kingham was throwing a few curve balls toward the end of his outing, trying to get the pitch sharp for the beginning of the season. The video below features an at-bat where he threw three straight curves, eventually getting a strikeout. The video also features more of Kingham from Tuesday’s outing, and his comments on what he is working on at this point in camp.

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Draft Prospect Watch: College Shortstop Has Become a Position of Strength in the Draft http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/03/draft-prospect-watch-college-shortstop-has-become-a-position-of-strength-in-the-draft.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2015/03/draft-prospect-watch-college-shortstop-has-become-a-position-of-strength-in-the-draft.html#comments Thu, 26 Mar 2015 12:00:42 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=96573 Today we take a look at the depth at shortstop in this draft, along with a game report for two of the top college bats. The draft begins on June 8th and the Pittsburgh Pirates have the 19th and 32nd overall picks. The Pirates will have the 11th highest draft bonus pool.

It seems like there are college shortstops coming out of the woodwork recently. We started the year with three names to watch, LSU’s Alex Bregman, Vanderbilt’s Dansby Swanson and Florida’s Richie Martin. A couple weeks ago, I added Texas shortstop CJ Hinojosa to the watch, after he was ranked 18th overall among all college players. Then last week, Arizona’s Kevin Newman became the new shortstop to watch, after he and his double play partner(Scott Kingery) got off to terrific starts this season. This week, we add a new name to the list.

A couple days ago, John Manuel tweeted that Kyle Holder from San Diego was getting 70 grades for his defense, with Manuel pointing out how rare that is for a college shortstop. Holder is a lefty bat with decent size for a shortstop at 6’1″, 185 pounds. He hit .298/.358/.403 in 52 games last year. Holder didn’t walk much, but he also didn’t strike out much either. He was 7-for-9 in stolen bases and hit three homers. This season, he is hitting .353/.409/.412 through 22 games and he’s made just one error. The ability to hit for average, make solid and consistent contact, while playing above average defense at shortstop, will likely get him selected on day one of the draft. It will be interesting to see where he ranks when new mock drafts start coming out.

Speaking of Richie Martin, he is in danger of losing ground to some of these other shortstops, because the bat hasn’t been there so far this season. He had a strong game against Stetson on Tuesday this week, going 3-for-4, with three runs scored, a walk, HBP and two stolen bases. His teammate Harrison Bader rebounded from a slow weekend, going 2-for-4 with a walk. Bader had a 1.451 OPS going into last week’s action. Martin is hitting .292/.412/.406 through 26 games. While the on base % is nice, his average is last among regulars on Florida and his slugging ranks him sixth among regulars.

There was a big mid-week game in Knoxville, with Cincinnati’s Ian Happ going up against Tennessee’s Christin Stewart on Wednesday night. I was able to watch this game to get a good look at the players I’ve been writing about. Happ grounded out weakly on the first pitch he saw against a lefty pitcher of note for Pirates fans, Zach Warren. He was the Pirates 23rd round draft pick last year(more on him below). In his second at-bat, Happ grounded the second pitch between third and shortstop and it actually hit off both player’s mitts for a generous hit. Happ was thrown out trying to steal second and it wasn’t even close. In his third time up(this time batting lefty), he swung at a 3-2 pitch in the dirt and struck out. Happ flew out to center field in his fourth at-bat, ending his day 1-for-4 with that infield single.

He didn’t look good in this game at the plate, but he has been one of the better hitters during this college season, so you can chalk it up to a bad game. The throw he made from right-center(mentioned below) was strong and he is an athletic looking player.

The lefty hitting Stewart flew out to right-center in his first at-bat. Ian Happ in center field caught the ball and made a strong throw that would have got a runner tagging up at second base, but the third baseman missed the catch. In Stewart’s second at-bat, he hit the first pitch hard to right field for an out. He grounded out slowly to the second baseman in his third at-bat, reaching on a fielder’s choice. In the seventh inning, Stewart popped out to third base in an at-bat in which he saw four breaking balls and a fastball out of the zone. He went 0-for-4 on the day and scored a run. Stewart looked bad against a couple breaking balls, then that was almost all he saw afterwards. He looked good at the plate in a couple of the at-bats, which also included some well-hit foul balls.

Warren looked real good during his five shutout innings, especially for a freshman. He threw 68 pitches and did well keeping the ball down in the zone and throwing quality strikes. His scouting report out of college said he threw high-80’s and he was sitting 87-89 on Wednesday, touching 90 MPH. He didn’t throw many breaking balls and didn’t need to against Cincinnati, a team that has 22 freshmen.

Links and Notes

**Joe Demers was listed among our “others to watch” in the prep pitchers season preview and he began his year with a perfect game. He pitched his team to a 3-1 victory on Wednesday in the NHSI and threw a complete game in the process. Nathan Rode had him sitting 90-92, hitting 93 MPH early on, and touching 89 MPH late. MLB Pipeline has notes from the NHSI, including a report on Demers.

**Perfect Game has an article on Josh Staumont from Azusa Pacific and the easy heat he throws. Staumont was mentioned here early in the year after he hit 100 MPH in his first start. Early in the year, he was ranked as a likely 2nd/3rd round pick.

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