Pirates Prospects http://www.piratesprospects.com Your best source for news on the Pittsburgh Pirates and their minor league system. Tue, 16 Sep 2014 04:00:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 First Pitch: Did You Even Realize This Once Important Milestone Was Approaching? http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/09/first-pitch-did-you-even-realize-this-once-important-milestone-was-approaching.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/09/first-pitch-did-you-even-realize-this-once-important-milestone-was-approaching.html#comments Tue, 16 Sep 2014 04:00:13 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=88166 The first MLB game I ever covered live was on June 24th, 2011. I was going up to cover the debut of Chase d’Arnaud, back when he was one of the top prospects in the system. There was also the chance to cover a Pirates team that looked like they might be contenders, flirting around .500 in a weak division. I remember the game well, not because of d’Arnaud’s debut, but because it was against the Red Sox, and had the best atmosphere I had ever seen in PNC Park. That atmosphere would be replaced by the Wild Card game last year, but it still is memorable.

The most notable thing came in the eighth inning. Jose Veras came in with the Pirates ahead 3-1, six outs away from beating the Red Sox and going one game over .500. This was back in the day when going over .500 after Memorial Day caused everyone’s hopes to go up. Veras gave up two singles to start the inning, followed by a sacrifice bunt to move the tying runs into scoring position. He then came up big in what I thought at the time was a moment that you only saw out of contenders. Veras struck out Marco Scutaro, then got David Ortiz to ground out to shortstop, ending the inning and escaping the jam. The roar of the crowd was huge. The energy was electric.

A little over three years later, the Red Sox return to PNC Park. Things have changed since that last meeting when the Pirates took two of three against Boston. The Red Sox went on to struggle in 2012, win the World Series in 2013, then go back to struggling in 2014. The Pirates meanwhile continued their ascent, although in a “why won’t this old car start?” kind of way. After two failed revs of the engine in 2011 and 2012, they broke their losing streak and made it to the post-season.

Three years ago, the atmosphere in PNC Park was electric, especially due to the significance of going over .500 in June. This week the Pirates should take at least two games against the Red Sox, which would give them win number 81. They might even seal their second winning season in a row against Boston. And the upcoming accomplishment is something I didn’t even think about until tonight. My, how quickly things change.

Expanding on that thought, I didn’t even realize that last Tuesday marked the one year anniversary of win number 82. It was a huge moment at the time, and now it seems like so long ago that 82 wins mattered. We’re now in a situation where 82 wins feels like a failed season. In fact, the second Wild Card spot might seem disappointing to some at this point. That’s not unusual. It’s just how it’s actually like to follow a contender and a good team.

The upcoming series against the Red Sox had me reflecting on that last series between the two teams, and how much has changed during that time. I have to say, I prefer the current situation to the 2011 situation. In terms of which line of thinking is more preferred, I’d take “Will they get the Wild Card or win the division?” any day over “Playoffs seem unreasonable to think about, so let’s focus on whether they can stay above .500.”

Links and Notes

**Pittsburgh Pirates Fall Instructional League Roster and Schedule

**Looking at Why Charlie Morton is Replacing Vance Worley in the Rotation

**The Tommy John Rehab Progress For Jameson Taillon and Clay Holmes

**Morning Report: Pirates Having Trouble Finding Late Round Draft Talent

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Pittsburgh Pirates Fall Instructional League Roster and Schedule http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/09/pittsburgh-pirates-fall-instructional-league-roster-and-schedule.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/09/pittsburgh-pirates-fall-instructional-league-roster-and-schedule.html#comments Mon, 15 Sep 2014 22:00:32 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=88154 The Pittsburgh Pirates will begin the Fall Instructional League this week, commonly referred to as “instructs”.  The first games will be played on Wednesday, and the first day with full rosters in action will be on Saturday.

Instructs is a league for minor league players, mostly guys in the lower levels, to get additional work at the end of the year. As the name of the league suggests, players will get additional instruction at the end of the season, working on new pitches, refining old pitches, learning new positions, or working on other aspects of their game. The Pirates play other teams, in a similar fashion to Spring Training. They have two teams that participate in the league, with the Pirates 1 team made up mostly of players who were in full season leagues, and the Pirates 2 team made up of players who were in short-season leagues.

The schedule for both teams, and the roster for the Pirates 1 team can be seen below. The roster for the Pirates 2 team will be released later this week.

As you can see from the roster, this list isn’t exclusively made up of upper level guys. Some of the more interesting names from the lower levels are included, such as Michael de la Cruz, Tito Polo, and Billy Roth. There are also some upper levels guys on the list, like Alen Hanson, Adrian Sampson, and Elias Diaz. The list includes all of the players who will be headed to the Arizona Fall League: Tyler Glasnow, Tom Harlan, Joely Rodriguez, Sampson, Diaz, Josh Bell, and Dan Gamache.

The Pirates 2 roster will be the more interesting roster. That roster will feature a lot of players who are coming up from the DSL. Usually that is the first indication of who will make the jump from the DSL to the US the following season. The Pirates 1 roster has one player from the DSL, Jhoan Herrera, who was on the Opening Day roster for Bristol, but hurt his ankle and was sent back to the DSL after it healed. We’ll have the Pirates 2 roster later this week.

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Looking at Why Charlie Morton is Replacing Vance Worley in the Rotation http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/09/looking-at-why-charlie-morton-is-replacing-vance-worley-in-the-rotation.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/09/looking-at-why-charlie-morton-is-replacing-vance-worley-in-the-rotation.html#comments Mon, 15 Sep 2014 19:00:51 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=88118 Yesterday the Pittsburgh Pirates announced that Charlie Morton will start Tuesday night against the Red Sox, replacing Vance Worley who was originally scheduled to make the start. Morton has not pitched since August 15th against the Nationals, when he lasted only three innings and gave up five runs. Since that start, Morton has been on the disabled list, attempting to ease the pain that was caused by a sports hernia.

After a rehab start in Altoona in early September and multiple simulated games, the Pirates decided that Morton was healthy enough to re-enter the starting rotation. Morton has been dealing with his sports hernia since the beginning of June, and has had an up-and-down season since. The Pirates were encouraged with what they’ve seen from him in his recent bullpen sessions.

“We liked what we were seeing from Charlie. The ball was coming out of his hand well. He was back closer to the guy that was pitching well when the hip was bothering him and wanted to see how it played out on Tuesday,” GM Neal Huntington said Sunday afternoon.

Huntington was not willing to commit to Morton beyond his Tuesday start, stating that Morton’s health and results will be examined before deciding who will pitch Sunday against Milwaukee in that spot of the rotation.

“If Charlie throws well this will also give Vance an opportunity for a breather. It’s not the end of the world. If Charlie doesn’t throw well we’ll bridge the gap and bring Vance in behind him and go from there,” Huntington explained.

But why risk throwing an injured Morton when Worley is healthy and available and has pitched well this season?

Statistics suggest that Morton is actually a much better match-up against the Red Sox than Worley.

93.7 The Fan Host Dan Zangrilli tweeted that the Red Sox struggle hitting two-seam fastballs and curveballs — Morton’s two primary weapons. Morton throws his two-seam fastball 58% of the time, while throwing his curveball 25%.

The Red Sox have had great success hitting cutters, a pitch that Worley throws often.

With only 13 games remaining this year, each game has heightened importance. The Pirates have six starters they can trust, so they can set up the rotation in order to have the have the best match-ups possible.

Assuming everything goes well for Morton health-wise and he performs at a high enough level on Tuesday, the question is who should make the next start Sunday against the Brewers?

Milwaukee is #1 in baseball in hitting the cutter. They sit 10th in baseball against the two-seamer, and #7 against the curveball. While they still have solid numbers against the two-seam fastball and curveball, they are dominant against the cutter.

Morton has not pitched well against Milwaukee this season, as he has a 4.85 ERA in two starts against them. Things have not gone well against Milwaukee for Worley either, as he pitched against them one time in a losing effort this season, pitching 6.1 innings and giving up 12 hits and 4 earned runs. But in 2013, Morton dominated the Brewers, going 2-0 with a 0.57 ERA in 3 starts.

If things go well for Morton on Tuesday, his 2013 success and Milwaukee’s dominance against the cutter suggest that he would be the better matchup to start on Sunday.

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The Tommy John Rehab Progress For Jameson Taillon and Clay Holmes http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/09/the-tommy-john-rehab-progress-for-jameson-taillon-and-clay-holmes.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/09/the-tommy-john-rehab-progress-for-jameson-taillon-and-clay-holmes.html#comments Mon, 15 Sep 2014 18:09:53 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=88137 The Pittsburgh Pirates have done a good job of preserving pitcher health and avoiding major injuries in the minors. A lot of this is due to their conservative approach with pitch counts and innings limits, especially at the lower levels. Despite this, it’s impossible to totally avoid injuries with pitchers, as we saw this year. In Spring Training, top prospects Jameson Taillon and Clay Holmes both went down with Tommy John surgery. Both pitchers have since been rehabbing, and are now making their way back with their throwing programs.

“All very positive, all on course,” Huntington said of the injured pitchers. “Jameson has begun the throwing program which is a long and drawn out process.”

We’ve detailed a bit of that process in a few updates with Taillon, noting that he started throwing at the end of July, then expanded to throwing from 75 feet at the start of this month. Even with that progress, he still has a long road to go. Pitchers don’t usually start throwing until four months after the surgery, and that leaves about eight months until they’ve fully returned to the mound. For Taillon, as well as Clay Holmes, that timeline puts them on pace to return at the start of the 2015 season. Huntington said the two are currently on course for next year, while noting the limitations of the surgery.

“Tommy John does not make you better,” Huntington added. “It’s a long and arduous road and if we can get that in the mind of coaches and parents of 14-17 year olds, you want to avoid it at all costs. But if you get it, then you work hard to come through it, as Jameson and Clay Holmes and some of the other guys are doing that, and they’re on course for next year.”

In most cases, a pitcher takes a year to return to where he was at before the injury. That’s the hope with Taillon and Holmes. Taillon has a more immediate impact to the Pirates, since a typical return from surgery would put him on pace to join the big league club next year. Holmes is more of a long-term option. He would have started in Bradenton this year, and will likely go back to that level next year. Prior to the injury, he had the upside of a middle of the rotation pitcher who could eat 200 innings a year.

The big news with both pitchers will come closer to Spring Training, as that will give a better indication of how close they are to a full return on schedule.

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Morning Report: Pirates Having Trouble Finding Late Round Draft Talent http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/09/morning-report-pirates-having-trouble-finding-late-round-draft-talent.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/09/morning-report-pirates-having-trouble-finding-late-round-draft-talent.html#comments Mon, 15 Sep 2014 13:00:33 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=88105 The current front office of the Pittsburgh Pirates has been together for seven drafts now. That first draft in 2008 has produced seven players that have reached the majors, so it was quite successful in that regard. For this article though, we are going to take a look at how they did after the first ten rounds and what is left in the system from each year. The closer to 2014 we get, the more we will focus on the group, rather than the individuals that are left and those that looked like possible sleepers.

2008

Back when they still did 50 rounds, the Pirates signed some players in rounds that don’t exist anymore, but none after the 20th round amounted to anything. The biggest names that signed from this late round group were Quinton Miller, Jarek Cunningham and Wes Freeman. All were six-figure bonuses out of HS and both Miller and Cunningham are still in the system, though possibly not for long. Both reached minor league free agency this year, so it’s possible that no one will be left among signed players by the time next season rolls around. Matt Curry was drafted in 2008, but he did not sign until he was redrafted in 2010 by the Pirates. There is a good chance that the Pirates won’t get anything from these late round picks.

2009

This year is good and bad. The Pirates picked three players after the tenth round that made the majors already, only one was signed by them though, and he isn’t around anymore. They signed Phil Irwin, who pitched one game each of the last two seasons for the Pirates before they lost him on waivers to the Texas Rangers. He has since been released. They didn’t sign Matt Den Dekker and Jake Lamb. Den Dekker is an outfielder for the Mets, while Lamb made his debut in August for the Diamondbacks. Three players are still left in the system. Pitchers Jeff Inman and Ryan Beckman were relievers in Altoona this year, while Walker Gourley played everywhere for Bradenton, including four pitching appearances. The biggest signing was Inman for $425,000 and his career has been derailed by injuries.

So far, Casey Sadler is the best late round pick of the Pirates in the last seven years (Photo by: David Hague)

So far, Casey Sadler is the best late round pick of the Pirates in the last seven years (Photo by: David Hague)

2010

Now we get into a time with more players around and our first current player on the Pirates. Casey Sadler is with the Pirates right now and he was one of four players to sign for six-figure contracts. As of right now, it looks like the Pirates missed on the other three players and all of them got at least $400,000 to sign. Ryan Hafner had trouble in the Bradenton bullpen this year, while Jared Lakind moved from first base to pitcher last year and is slowly making progress. He is in the West Virginia bullpen and far from a prospect at this point. Andrew Maggi had a solid season in Altoona, but he is 25 years old already and will probably top out at AAA, possibly getting a cup of coffee in the bigs due to his speed and versatility in the field. Hafner probably has the best shot at being something because he has a very good arm and excellent stuff when his command is on.

Also in the system still from this draft are Matt Curry, Justin Howard, Kelson Brown and Bryton Trepagnier. The first three are position players that spent most of their time at Altoona and each has had some success at the level, but none of the three project to make the majors. Curry was once a mid-level prospect, tearing up the South Atlantic League in 2011, before making the jump to AA. He’s appeared briefly at AAA twice and has played just 93 games over the last two seasons, not doing well either year. Trepagnier had a solid year in the bullpen for Bradenton, but he has command issues and his stuff is just average. It looks like Sadler will be the only real contributor from this group of eight players left.

2011

Now would be a little too soon to really judge this class, especially the high school picks…if they actually signed anyone of note. That being said, the Pirates drafted Aaron Brown, Trea Turner, Zach Lemond and Eric Skoglund and didn’t sign any of them. All were taken within the first three round this year, so there was a chance to really add talent. Unfortunately, Turner was offered $500,000 and turned it down, which looked like a strong number back then and a bargain number now. As it was, they signed Gerrit Cole, Josh Bell and Tyler Glasnow, so they did okay for themselves in the first ten rounds.

Of the 14 guys that did sign after the tenth round, only two are left in the system and neither looks like a prospect. Candon Myles was sent down to Bristol this year and in four seasons at the lower levels, he has no homers and a .631 OPS. Jonathan Schwind is already 24 years old and has played just 192 games. He was hitting decent this year at Bradenton until he got injured, but he is far from a prospect. Myles signed for $125,000 to forego college and 23rd round pick Jordan Cooper signed for $100,000 out of Kentucky. It was the second time the Pirates drafted him and he didn’t last long in the system, despite having a solid arm that made him look interesting. He lasted just two seasons before being cut. There isn’t much chance for this group to even get one MLB appearance, but they also didn’t spend much on them.

2012

This is the year the new draft rules started and it made it a lot harder to find possible high school talent that slipped due to bonus demands. The Pirates signed 12 players this year, three for over-slot bonuses. Max Moroff, John Kuchno and Hayden Hurst signed for $825,000 combined, $525,000 of it was over-slot money. Hurst switched from pitching to hitting this year and had a tough time as a DH in the GCL, so unless he turns into Stetson Allie, they probably won’t see anything from him. Kuchno had a decent season, with some strong outings and he’s a ground ball machine. He also has some control issues and a poor strikeout rate, so he might have a tough time being an impact player down the road. Moroff played second base for Bradenton this year and had trouble at the plate, but he is young, so he has time.

Of the other nine players, five aren’t around anymore, though Tyler Gaffney is still technically Pirates property on the restricted list while he plays football. Thomas Harlan has an outside chance at the majors because he is a lefty and he looked good at Altoona in a few of his outings. Chris Diaz, Jordan Steranka and Josh Smith are still around. Walker Buehler was the one that got away, though they had no chance at him with a Vanderbilt commitment and reported $1,000,000 price tag. He will be drafted very high in 2015 unless something goes drastically wrong. Kuchno, Moroff and possibly Harlan all have a chance to make the majors. None look like potential impact players.

2013

It’s definitely too early to judge this class. They signed three players over-slot, Erich Weiss, Nick Buckner and Billy Roth. Weiss did okay in Low-A ball this year, but he turned 23 last week, so it’s hard to see him being anything more than a role player if all goes well. Buckner showed improvements over last year, while Roth really struggled. Both played at Bristol and were young for the league. Of the 14 other players signed, three are gone already, Beau Wallace, Cameron Griffin and Max Rossiter. No one really stands out among the rest.

2014

Obviously it’s way too early to judge this class, but there were some strong debuts. John Sever is a big lefty that made the Appalachian League postseason all-star team. He was a college player in the APPY Lg, which is a tough level to get a read on, since most of the competition is younger. He really looked great with a very impressive strikeout rate. Luis Paula has a great arm and he looked good in his debut. Montana DuRapau had a strong debut in the Jamestown rotation, while Sam Street was called a potential middle innings reliever prior to the draft.

The only over-slot player might be the best late round pick that they have signed in the last seven years. There was word that Gage Hinsz turned down an offer to be picked in the second round, before going in the 11th round and signing for a $580,000 bonus. That was the highest total the Pirates could give him without paying a huge penalty. As it was, they still had to pay a tax on him. Hinsz has excellent stuff and a big frame with room to fill out. He went to a school that didn’t have a high school team, so he is considered raw despite how well he looks already. Basically, he has a huge upside and a chance to be the best pick from the Pirates entire 2014 signing class, not just the late round players.

So What’s the Conclusion?

Looking over the last seven years and even prior to that for the Pirates, we see that it was already tough to find late round gems. With the new rules put in place in 2012, it now makes it even harder. It’s very possible that from the 2008-2011 drafts, the Pirates will get a total of two games from Phil Irwin and whatever Casey Sadler amounts to and that’s it. Sadler has a chance to be a fifth starter, but more likely he will be a middle innings reliever, serving as the long man out of the pen and as an emergency starter.

From 2012 on, you still have 41 players in the system and one of them(Hinsz) has huge upside, but there are also a lot of players considered to be roster fillers at this point. With a very limited budget after the tenth round now, it’s going to be hard to find a talented player willing to sign. Some high school players used to get picked late, with hopes that their demands would drop, or the team could sign them if other players failed to sign. Now some of those same type of players are going undrafted because teams know they won’t have cap room to sign them. As an organization, you keep plugging away and hope your scouts dig up that one hidden gem that makes it all worth it.

Pirates Game Graph


Source: FanGraphs

Playoff Push

Pittsburgh: The Pirates are 3.5 games behind St. Louis for the NL Central lead. They are four games ahead of  Atlanta and 1.5 ahead of Milwaukee for the second Wild Card spot. The Pirates are three games behind San Francisco for the first Wild Card spot.

Today’s Schedule

Today’s Starter and Notes:  The Pirates beat the Cubs by a 7-3 score on Sunday. They take off today before playing the last 13 days in a row to finish out the season. On Tuesday night against the Red Sox, Charlie Morton will return from the disabled list to make his first start since August 15th. You can read the DSL season recap here complete with scouting reports for each player and the top ten players to watch list can be found here. We will post other season recaps soon.

MLB: Pittsburgh (79-70)  vs Red Sox (66-84) 7:05 PM
Probable starter: Charlie Morton (3.84 ERA, 120:55 K/BB, 152.1 IP) 9/16

AAA: Indianapolis (73-71)

AA: Altoona (61-81)

High-A: Bradenton (78-61)

Low-A: West Virginia (54-81)

Short-Season A: Jamestown (35-40)

RK: Bristol (22-46)

GCL: Pirates (20-40)

DSL: Pirates (34-36)

Highlights

With the minor league season over, it’s time to take a look back at some recent video from the GCL, which we will continue to do over the next few days. All videos are courtesy of the GCL Pirates fan page. Below is a video of relief pitcher Yunior Montero, who had a 4.68 ERA in 25 innings, with 18 strikeouts and a .253 BAA. Montero has an interesting background story, which was covered here. The basics are that he was forced to sign three times due to the MLB age verification process and this year was the first time he pitched since 2011. In his only appearance back then, he threw five shutout innings. Shortly thereafter, his first contract was voided. The rest of the details are in the link.

Recent Transactions

9/8: Pirates release Ernesto Frieri.

9/7: Michael Martinez and Chris McGuiness clear waivers and were outrighted to Indianapolis.

9/2: Pirates recall Gregory Polanco, Jeff Locke, John Holdzkom, Casey Sadler and Bobby LaFromboise.

9/2: Chase d’Arnaud added to 40-man roster and promoted to Pittsburgh. Michael Martinez designated for assignment.

9/1: Pirates recall Gerrit Cole and Tony Sanchez. Stolmy Pimentel activated from the disabled list

9/1: Pirates designate Chris McGuiness for assignment. John Holdzkom added to 40-man roster.

This Date in Pirates History

Five former Pittsburgh Pirates players have been born on this date, including two pitchers from the 1993 team, a reliever that made one appearances for the Pirates and the cousin of a United States President. Rich Robertson and Dennis Moeller were both lefty relievers for the 1993 Pirates, born one year apart. Robertson was a draft pick of the Pirates, while Moeller came over from the Royals in the Jose Lind deal. Dave Pagan pitched for the Pirates on September 27, 1977, throwing three scoreless innings. He struck out the first four batters he faced. Third baseman Elmer Cleveland played for the 1888 Alleghenys, coming over from the Giants in exchange for holdout third baseman Art Whitney. He was the cousin of Grover Cleveland, who was serving his first term as US President at the time.

You can find info on these four players here, as well as pitcher Fritz Ostermueller, who pitched with the team from 1944 until 1948. Also included in the link is a game recap from the 1978 season, with a big hit from Phil Garner.

On this date in 1914(exactly 100 years ago), the Pirates traveled home for one game against Cincinnati and won 9-0. They played two games in Chicago prior to that game and they stopped home for the Reds game on the way to Philadelphia. The Pirates lost both games to the Cubs, then after the drubbing of the Reds, they lost their next 12 games. Pittsburgh played a total of 16 road games in a row and 25 road games during the month of September that year.

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First Pitch: How Much Will Josh Harrison Be Worth in Arbitration? http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/09/first-pitch-how-much-will-josh-harrison-be-worth-in-arbitration.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/09/first-pitch-how-much-will-josh-harrison-be-worth-in-arbitration.html#comments Mon, 15 Sep 2014 07:18:49 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=88123 Josh Harrison is in a very unique situation. He’s having a breakout season in 2014, and contending for the batting title, after looking like a bench player for his first three years in the majors, and at times looking like he didn’t belong in the majors at all. The breakout season is coming at the right time, since Harrison is about to enter his first year of arbitration.

The arbitration process relies on comparable situations to determine a player’s value and worth. The process also calculates the entire career of a player, and not just his most recent season. So while Harrison’s 2014 season will give him a boost, it won’t be the only thing to determine his value in arbitration. As for the comparable players, it’s very difficult to find someone who has a situation similar to Harrison.

I asked about this last month on Twitter, and got a few possibilities for comparable players. The first one I received was Brandon Moss, who had a big breakout season in 2012 with Oakland. A big difference is that Moss was a 2.3 WAR player that year, while Harrison is currently at 4.6 WAR this season. So even if Moss was a comparable, you’d have to adjust for Harrison being better this year. Moss received $1.6 M, which is almost $700,000 per win in his breakout year. That same rate would have Harrison as a $3.2 M player during his first year of arbitration.

Jose Bautista seems like an obvious choice, although he doesn’t really fit the bill. Bautista broke out with the Blue Jays, but had been arbitration eligible a few times before his breakout season, which complicates the situation.

Ben Zobrist is in a close situation. He had a breakout season after a few years as a bench player, although his breakout year came with one league minimum year remaining. Zobrist ended up signing an extension of four years and $18 M, which bought out control of his first two free agent years through club options. The arbitration years broke down as $4.5 M, $4.5 M, and $5.5 M.

The problem with an extension is that Harrison’s story carries a lot of risk. He’s having a great year, but he only has 492 plate appearances. He had 575 plate appearances prior to this season, and looked like a bench player in this years. What is stopping him from reverting back to that next year, or at least slipping enough to make him a very expensive bench player?

The flip side to this is that the Pirates could get a huge value if Harrison turns out to be legit. The Zobrist deal might not be the best, since Zobrist had an 8.5 WAR in his breakout season. But even if Harrison was guaranteed $18 M over four years, that would be a huge value if he ended up repeating his 2014 season and proving himself to be legit.

MLBTR took a look at Harrison as an extension candidate, noting what he might be in line to receive if the Pirates try to extend him. They pointed out that Pablo Sandoval received $17.5 M over three years, while Elvis Andrus got $14.4 M over his three arbitration years. But because of Harrison’s past, I could see him close to the $10-12 M range if he gets an extension, and around $3 M in his first arbitration year if he goes year-to-year.

Because of the lack of third base options in the system, the Pirates might be better off taking a gamble here and trying to go for the extension. That comes with the risk that Harrison could revert to being a very expensive bench player. The potential payoff would be that they’d have their third base situation answered for several years, possibly at a huge value if Harrison continues playing the way he has been playing this year.

Links and Notes

**Josh Harrison’s Triple Play Sparks Pirates Rally

**Polanco returns to lineup, Morton to start on Tuesday

**How Can Justin Wilson Get Back to the Successful 2013 Version?

**Morning Report: Where is the Speed?

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Josh Harrison’s Triple Play Sparks Pirates Rally http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/09/josh-harrisons-triple-play-sparks-pirates-rally.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/09/josh-harrisons-triple-play-sparks-pirates-rally.html#comments Sun, 14 Sep 2014 22:20:30 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=88107 The Pittsburgh Pirates were already down 3-0 in the 4th inning — a deficit that looked well on it’s way to expanding. Edinson Volquez was starting to struggle, allowing a leadoff double to Chris Valaika and a walk to Mike Olt.

And then, in one 5-4-3 fell swoop, the inning was over. Valaika, Olt, and Matt Szczurall all out. And it was started by, who else? Josh Harrison.

Immediately, Harrison was thinking triple play.

“Hit hard enough to my right, one step. I knew for sure double play. Szczur can run. But it was just one of those ones that had me going to the bag and I knew we had a shot,” Harrison said.

Hurdle, too, thought triple play from the moment the ball was hit, traveling down the 3rd base line. And it was executed to perfection, starting with Harrison’s quick 3rd base tag and strong throw to second base.

“Very quick first step by J-Hay. The tag, excellent throw. Walker with a clean turn and just the finish on the end,” Hurdle said.

Volquez, who pitched seven innings with four hits, one walk, and an earned run, was quite frank of the effect Harrison and the triple play had on the inning.

“He saved that inning with that play,” Volquez said.

There was palpable energy amongst the sellout crown and the Pirates clubhouse following the triple play, Hurdle said. With that spark of energy, Neil Walker hit a solo shot to center in the 4th, and the Pirates batted around in a six run 5th, leading to a 7-3 Pirates victory.

“Any time you turn a triple play, I think you’re going to feel an instant boost of energy,” Hurdle said. “Definitely a tipping point in the game for us today. Helped Edinson out, helped us out.”

And who started that six run 5th? Yeah, that guy again. This time, it was Harrison’s 35th double of the year to score Jordy Mercer and Gregory Polanco and knot the score at 3-3.

“Put a good swing on the ball, and it found [its way] down the line,” Harrison said.

Hurdle remarked that he doesn’t take anything for granted that any of his players do. But he and his players have come to expect Harrison to make these game-changing type plays.

At one point, though, there was a time that nobody expected this from Harrison. They didn’t expect him to by a quality utility player, let alone an All-Star and possible batting champion.

“The challenge with Josh is that he provided some great spurts for us, basically every time he was put into the lineup he would provide that burst of energy. He would go out and get some enormous hits for us. But then the other team would start to pay a little more attention to him and would identify his flaws and expose his flaws,” Neal Huntington said. “I’ve admitted more than one time this summer that we might have underestimated Josh.”

Might? Nobody would have ever, in his or her right mind, predicted this outcome for Harrison.

“He seems to give us big at bat after big at bat, consistent hard contact, so he’s really made the pitchers come to him more this year,” Huntington said. “Now he’s filled in at 3rd base and obviously shown he can play a good defensive third.

This is who Harrison is now; a smooth fielding, dynamic, clutch hitting, burst of energy. When the Pirates need a big play, Harrison is often the one to make it. He’s the straw that stirs the drink. He was that today. He’s been that all season. And because of that, he could be that in October.

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Polanco returns to lineup, Morton to start on Tuesday http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/09/polanco-returns-to-lineup-morton-to-start-on-tuesday.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/09/polanco-returns-to-lineup-morton-to-start-on-tuesday.html#comments Sun, 14 Sep 2014 17:06:08 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=88096 Gregory Polanco will get the start today in right field, hitting 8th in the lineup in the series finale against the Cubs. Jacob Turner — who has given up an .808 OPS against lefties — will start with the Cubs.

“We keep having optimism that he’s getting closer,” Clint Hurdle said. “We’ll give him a couple more opportunities to put some at bats today.”

After a hot start following his call up, opposing pitchers made adjustments to their approach against Polanco. Now Polanco has to adjust back, Hurdle said.

“He had as productive first couple weeks as any young player can have,” Hurdle said. “We are engaged in a society here in sports that, that information went viral throughout the league. Everybody saw what he could hit. So they counter-punched. How are they going to attack? Well, he handled hard, he handled middle, he handled thigh. Let’s go down and away, lets spin soft down, go hard up.”

Hurdle liked the progress Polanco made in his brief demotion to the minors.

“He went down just to get at bats, to look out over the plate, to hold your backside. Now, here, it’s continued along those lines,” Hurdle said.

And since he’s come back up to the minors, he’s worked to continue that progress.

“He’s got to recalibrate, he’s got to find a right way to reboot,” Hurdle said. “He’s worked extremely hard since he’s been back, whether it be off the spin machine, in velocity in the cage, taking it out on the field, some directional hitting. We think he’s close.”

In addition to Polanco’s return to the lineup today, Charlie Morton will return to the rotation against the Red Sox on Tuesday. He’ll take the place of Vance Worley.

“He could either piggy back Charlie’s start, or play out of the bullpen,” Hurdle said.

After Morton, Francisco Liriano will start on Wednesday and Gerrit Cole on Thursday.

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How Can Justin Wilson Get Back to the Successful 2013 Version? http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/09/how-can-justin-wilson-get-back-to-the-successful-2013-version.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/09/how-can-justin-wilson-get-back-to-the-successful-2013-version.html#comments Sun, 14 Sep 2014 14:43:42 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=88083 In 2013, Justin Wilson looked like he was on his way to becoming a dominant left-handed relief pitcher for years to come. The solid performance of the Pirates’ bullpen in 2013 was one of the biggest reasons for their 94-win season. Wilson played a big role in it, posting a 2.03 ERA to go along with 59 strikeouts in 73.1 innings of work.

But the 2014 bullpen hasn’t been as dominant, and neither has Wilson. His ERA has grown to 4.31 this season. Interestingly, his xFIP this season of 3.88 is similar to his 3.82 xFIP in 2013, indicating that maybe Wilson’s performance is regressing to the level more consistent with the metrics.

Judging a relief pitcher’s season solely on his ERA can be misleading, as it doesn’t always tell the whole story. So what are the differences between Wilson’s two seasons?

One big difference has been Wilson’s command. Wilson’s walk rate his increased to 4.6 BB/9 this season, compared with 3.4 in 2013. Throughout Wilson’s professional career, his control problems have been well documented. Wilson’s fastball command has been his Achilles heel, and often times his success on the mound depends on how well he is commanding that pitch. Wilson says the big key for him is throwing first pitch strikes, and getting ahead in counts.

“Strike one is a big pitch for me, getting ahead of guys. Those days where I am ahead in counts is usually a better outing,” Wilson said.

Pitching Coach Ray Searage reiterated how important Wilson’s fastball command is, noting that his secondary pitches are much more effective when he is ahead in counts, just like any other pitcher.

Another reason for Wilson’s struggles this season is his .289 BABIP, which is up from .229 in 2013. While some of this could be attributed to his numbers regressing to the league average, decreased command of Wilson’s fastball also plays a role in his higher BABIP.

What role has his secondary pitch effectiveness played in Wilson’s regression this season?

Wilson relies mostly on his four-seam and two-seam fastballs that sit in the upper 90s, while mixing in cutters that play in the lower 90s, and curveballs that sit in the lower 80s. In 2013 he threw his cutter 11.6% of the time, while using his curve ball 12% of the time.

This year, Wilson has drastically cut down on the usage of his curveball, only throwing it 5.7% of the time, while upping the usage of his cutter to 19.1% of the time. Searage said that he wants Wilson to pitch to his strengths, and his strength is his power arm.

“Right now those two pitches (fastball and cutter) are working for him extremely well,” Searage explained. “He’s got good angle and the velocity is usually around 96-97, and his cutter is pretty consistent at 90-91-92. With the movement on the cutter, it makes the little high riser that he has [on his fastballs] tougher to hit too.”

Wilson claimed that he has had more confidence in his cutter this season than he had last season.

“I probably used [my curveball] a little more last year, but I don’t think my cutter was as good last year as it is this year. It’s going to be a [good] pitch for me.”

The numbers back up Wilson’s claim on the cutter. He had a .227 BAA last year on the cutter. He has a .189 BAA this year, and has already thrown the pitch 45 more times. He has also seen the offering turn into a strikeout pitch, going from a 10.9% strikeout rate in 2013 to 25.9% this year. However, the walks have increased from 2.2% to 8.6%.

Despite Wilson’s up and down season, Searage is still very encouraged with the progress Wilson has made.

“He is learning and he is maturing as we go at the Major League level,” Searage said. “Which is a big plus because you don’t just come up here and just have everything done, everything taken care of. He’s starting to learn the hitters. He has a better idea on how to set up hitters and what they’re looking for.”

An encouraging sign with Wilson is that he has not lost velocity with his fastball, and his strikeout rate has actually gone up, from 22.2% in 2013, to 25.7% this season. His control has stayed the same with the pitch, posting a 12% walk rate each season.

Keeping in mind that Wilson is still only 27 years old and completing only his second full season in the Major Leagues, his regression this year could be a classic case of hitters adjusting to Wilson, and now Wilson is working to adjust back to the league. It’s also possible that he could turn into a nice fastball/cutter pitcher with more usage of the latter offering. This is only the second year that Wilson has used the pitch, and he has shown some improvements with it. If he improves the control in the future, it could be a nice out pitch to pair with his fastball.

The Pirates have missed the 2013 version of Justin Wilson, and getting that pitcher back would go a long way to solidifying the back-end of the bullpen that has given up too many late-inning leads this season.

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Morning Report: Where is the Speed? http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/09/morning-report-where-is-the-speed.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/09/morning-report-where-is-the-speed.html#comments Sun, 14 Sep 2014 13:00:36 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=88055 While looking over the leaders in stolen bases for the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system, it looks like a lot of players stole bases this year at a decent clip. There were no huge totals, but 29 players reached double-digits and eight of them had at least 20 steals. That might seem good for the future of the Pirates on the surface.

Hanson looks like the only sure stolen base threat for the Pirates in the near future (Photo credit: David Hague)

Hanson looks like the only sure stolen base threat for the Pirates in the near future (Photo credit: David Hague)

When looking at the leaders for each team, the names don’t give you much hope that they will be able to use that speed in the future to help the Pirates. Still, without much help in the system, the batting order soon could have Alen Hanson, Gregory Polanco, Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Josh Harrison. Those are all players capable of putting up 20+ stolen bases, so the lack of prospects with steals shouldn’t be a concern.

Part of the problem is injuries that slowed fast players down. Austin Meadows, Harold Ramirez and Barrett Barnes were supposed to make up the West Virginia outfield this year. They all suffered hamstring injuries and never played a single game together. They all have good speed, but put up a combined 18 steals this season.

There is also the special case of Victor Fernandez down in the Dominican. I had multiple people tell me that he is the fastest person they have ever seen and a couple pitchers talked about how his range in center field is game-changing. Just like the previous three examples, Fernandez missed time with a hamstring injury and when he returned, he was not the same player. He finished with 14 steals in 45 games and that’s with half of those games coming after his injury. You can dream on Fernandez regaining his tremendous speed and running wild next year, but it’s important to remember that he is very far from the majors right now.

Another example of the speed that wasn’t getting put to use was 2014 draft pick Eric Thomas Jr. His speed was rated as an 80 by some scouts, but he didn’t do much during his time in the GCL this year. Thomas was called raw, which gives him some leeway in his first year, although he was also old for his draft class. He went 5-for-9 in steals this year which is not what you would expect from 80 speed. He also put up a .549 OPS which shows that he has a long way to go before he becomes someone you can keep an eye on in the system.

Getting back to the team leaders, you have Chase d’Arnaud at the top level. His speed got him called up for the pennant run and that’s how he has been used, four games, no plate appearances. He put up 30 steals at Indianapolis, second in the system to Drew Maggi at Altoona. Maggi could see the majors someday due to his versatility in the field, his speed and his good eye at the plate. Chances are that whatever possible time he might get in the majors will be limited. He had 37 stolen bases this year.

Going down to Bradenton, you had Walker Gourley leading the way. He’s an athletic player and smart base runner, plus he put up decent stats at West Virginia in 2013, but he was also a 23-year-old in A-Ball this season, who had a .601 OPS. Their fastest runner was Jeff Roy and he didn’t have much of a season, posting a .587 OPS while playing part of the year at West Virginia. He also went 24-for-40 in stolen bases, so despite his great speed, he didn’t put it to good use.

West Virginia’s leader in stolen bases was Erich Weiss with 21 swipes. He isn’t your prototypical stolen base threat, as he isn’t the fastest guy out there and his 12 caught stealing this season shows that he really wasn’t that successful. Weiss just turned 23 and spent the season in Low-A ball, so while the numbers look decent(.756 OPS from a 2B), he lacks power and any standout tools. If it weren’t for the health issues in the outfield, it’s likely Ramirez would have ended up as the stolen base leader for the Power.

Jamestown’s best thief was Carl Anderson, who got off to a red-hot start, then really cooled off. His 14 steals and June OPS of .812 both look strong, but his .403 OPS in his last 32 games doesn’t give you much hope when you’re talking about a 22-year-old late round draft pick in the NYPL. At Bristol, the best runner is probably Candon Myles, but you’re talking about a player in his fourth year that got sent from West Virginia down to Bristol and did worse two levels lower.

Some of the best speed in the system is down at the GCL, where toolsy players roam the outfield and Cole Tucker led the team with 13 steals. That obviously isn’t an impressive total for a leader, but players like Michael de la Cruz, Tito Polo and Alexis Bastardo are all outfielders that can run and play the game well. Plus they also have the aforementioned Eric Thomas Jr, who has many similarities to Candon Myles. Both are small, light-hitting outfielders with plus speed and they were both called raw when drafted.

There is speed in the system according to the numbers, but there is a question as to how much of it will actually help the Pirates down the line. Players like Keon Broxton and Gift Ngoepe are fringe major leaguers, while Mel Rojas Jr came with an impressive stolen base resume when he was drafted, but he really has never put up good numbers in the pros.

The best shots at usable speed comes in the form of Alen Hanson. He is followed by Harold Ramirez, but only if he is healthy. Besides the hamstring, he also had shin splints and a stress reaction in his shin, which shutdown his season in early July. Austin Meadows is a top prospect, but so far he hasn’t shown much in the stolen base department despite good reports of his speed prior to the draft. JaCoby Jones had 17 steals in 26 attempts and he’s an athletic player, though I’m not sure he will be much of a stolen base threat if he makes it to the majors. His high in college was 12 and his success rate was just okay this year, so you might be talking about a ten steal per season player.

Once Alen Hanson joins the team, the Pirates will be among the fastest teams in baseball, assuming the other four players in that equation are still around. It doesn’t look like there are any other sure things though after Hanson, going all the way to the bottom of the system. With the contract situations of Hanson, Polanco, McCutchen, Marte and Harrison, that doesn’t seem like it will be a problem for the Pirates anytime soon.

Pirates Game Graph


Source: FanGraphs

Playoff Push

Pittsburgh: The Pirates are 3.5 games behind St. Louis for the NL Central lead. They are three games ahead of  Atlanta and 1.5 ahead of Milwaukee for the second Wild Card spot. The Pirates are four games behind San Francisco for the first Wild Card spot.

Today’s Schedule

Today’s Starter and Notes:  The Pirates lost 6-4 to the Cubs on Saturday. Edinson Volquez takes the mound Sunday afternoon for his 29th start, looking to give the Pirates the series win. He has faced the Cubs twice this season, throwing two shutout innings of relief work in his season debut and he threw seven shutout innings on June 12th. Volquez has a 3.42 ERA in 92 innings at home this year. The minor league season is over. You can read the DSL season recap here complete with scouting reports for each player and the top ten players to watch list can be found here. We will post other season recaps soon.

MLB: Pittsburgh (78-70)  vs Cubs (65-83) 1:35 PM
Probable starter: Edinson Volquez (3.36 ERA, 119:62 K/BB, 171.2 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (73-71)

AA: Altoona (61-81)

High-A: Bradenton (78-61)

Low-A: West Virginia (54-81)

Short-Season A: Jamestown (35-40)

RK: Bristol (22-46)

GCL: Pirates (20-40)

DSL: Pirates (34-36)

Highlights

With the minor league season over, it’s time to take a look back at some recent video from the GCL, which we will continue to do over the next few days. All videos are courtesy of the GCL Pirates fan page. Below is a video of righty reliever Julio Vivas, who put up a great season out of the GCL bullpen. We featured Vivas midway through the season in a prospect highlights article. He finished the year with Bristol, where he threw 3.2 scoreless innings over two appearances. In the GCL, Vivas had a 1.17 ERA and a 25:1 K/BB ratio in 23 innings. That gave him an impressive 1.01 ERA in his first season over from the DSL. He has good size as you can see in the video below and he was 20 years old this season, top end for a good age for the GCL.

Recent Transactions

9/8: Pirates release Ernesto Frieri.

9/7: Michael Martinez and Chris McGuiness clear waivers and were outrighted to Indianapolis.

9/2: Pirates recall Gregory Polanco, Jeff Locke, John Holdzkom, Casey Sadler and Bobby LaFromboise.

9/2: Chase d’Arnaud added to 40-man roster and promoted to Pittsburgh. Michael Martinez designated for assignment.

9/1: Pirates recall Gerrit Cole and Tony Sanchez. Stolmy Pimentel activated from the disabled list

9/1: Pirates designate Chris McGuiness for assignment. John Holdzkom added to 40-man roster.

This Date in Pirates History

Five former Pittsburgh Pirates players have been born on this date, including two lefty relievers for playoff teams and the first baseman for the first game in franchise history. Jerry Don Gleaton was a member of the 1992 Pirates, while Fred Green pitched for the 1960 World Series champs. Jake Goodman was the Opening Day first baseman for the 1882 Pittsburgh Alleghenys of the American Association and he batted fifth in the first game in franchise history. He also played for the 1877 Pittsburgh Allegheny(no S), the first pro team in the city and first season ever of minor league ball.

You can read more on those three players, as well as pitchers Don Williams and Frank Carpin, in this link here. Also included in that link is a game recap from the 1982 season, in which the Pirates put on a hitting clinic in the middle innings.

On this date in 1882, the Alleghenys won 13-1 over the Philadelphia Athletics for their seventh straight win. They moved to 36-34 on the season with the win. The game was won by Denny Driscoll, who had a 1.21 ERA that year in 23 starts, the best ERA in the league. It’s also the second best single-season ERA in team history, trailing only the 1.11 ERA Babe Adams put up in 1909.

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