The Pittsburgh Pirates have signed right-handed pitchers Collin Balester, Jake Brigham, Jay Jackson, Josh Kinney and Seth McClung to minor league contracts. Brigham, Jackson, and Kinney will be non-roster invitees for the Major League portion of Spring Training. Information on each player is below.
Jake Brigham – He turns 26 in February, and hasn’t pitched in the majors yet. Brigham spent the 2013 season in the Rangers’ farm system, with a 4.51 ERA in 113.2 innings in Triple-A. Baseball America rated him as one of the Rangers’ top 30 prospects in 2009 and 2010. He throws a 94-97 MPH fastball and a mid-80s slider that acts like a cutter. That’s an interesting combo that could make Brigham a candidate to help the Pirates as relief pitching depth.
Jay Jackson – He turned 26 last month, and hasn’t spent any time in the majors, just like Brigham. Jackson was a former Cubs prospect, and was a top ten prospect for them in 2008 and 2009, along with a top 15 prospect in 2010. In 2013 he pitched in Miami’s farm system, spending more time in Double-A, but also throwing in Triple-A. In 25 innings at the Triple-A level he had a 4.68 ERA, a 7.2 K/9, and a 4.0 BB/9. He hits 93 MPH with his four-seam fastball, and has a power curve. The combo could give him a shot out of the bullpen, but he needs to improve the effectiveness of the curve. He used to throw an upper-80s two-seam fastball, and it will be interesting to see if the Pirates get him to lean on that pitch more, considering their philosophy with ground balls.
Josh Kinney – Unlike the previous two players, Kinney has played in the majors. He has a career 4.73 ERA in 97 innings at the MLB level, with an 8.7 K/9 and a 3.9 BB/9. In 2012 he pitched in the majors for Seattle, with a 3.94 ERA in 32 innings, along with a 10.1 K/9 and a 4.2 BB/9. Last year he spent the entire season in Triple-A with the Mariners, although he missed half the season with a rib injury. He used to get a ton of ground balls, but that number dropped to 44.3% in 2012 with Seattle. Last year in Triple-A the number dropped further to 41.4%. His career average in the majors is 53.8%. If the Pirates can make a good adjustment, then they might have a potentially dominant reliever, with the occasional control issues. He’s older than the previous two players, at age 35, but has a better track record.
Collin Balester – He spent the 2013 season pitching in Triple-A for the Rangers. In his Major League career he has a 5.30 ERA in 185 innings, with a 7.0 K/9 and a 3.8 BB/9. He averages 92.5 MPH with his fastball, but has gotten that average up to 94 in the past. Balester had Tommy John surgery in June 2013, so he’s not going to be ready until the second half of the season. He’s probably not going to make the majors this year, but could pitch out of the Indianapolis bullpen in the second half of the 2014 season.
Seth McClung – The former Brewers pitcher spent the last year in the Mexican League. In his major league career he had a 5.46 ERA in 430.1 innings. He’s another hard thrower, averaging 93.5 MPH with his fastball. McClung turns 33 in February, and will probably pitch out of the Indianapolis bullpen all season. That has been the approach for previous minor league free agents who were signed by the Pirates but didn’t receive an NRI.