It’s no secret that Ray Searage and Jim Benedict have done some great things with the pitchers that have come through Pittsburgh the last few years. They have taken pitchers who have been statistically some of the worst pitchers in the game, and turned them into guys who could post top of the rotation numbers. However, when we think of the “reclamation projects”, it always seems like the focus is on the outside of the organization, rather than the guys currently in the system.
It’s not like the Pirates haven’t improved their own pitchers. Charlie Morton was a disaster before Jim Benedict re-worked his whole game in 2011. Since then, he has put up a 3.74 ERA in 495.1 innings, and that includes the time he struggled before going down with Tommy John surgery. Tony Watson went from a lefty starter who looked like an organizational player in 2010, to a guy who looked like he belonged in the majors as a reliever in 2012, to one of the top relievers in the game in 2014.
Another trend with “reclamation projects” is that we tend to think about the starters, but don’t give a lot of thought to relievers like Watson, Mark Melancon, Joel Hanrahan, Jason Grilli, or the good seasons the Pirates have gotten out of middle relievers like Jared Hughes, Jeanmar Gomez, and Vin Mazzaro. Maybe that’s because it’s more common for a reliever to go from struggling to having a big year, or to come out of nowhere and establish himself as a viable Major League option.
I wrote yesterday about Clayton Richard, who fits the bill as a typical reclamation project, and who talked about how appealing the Pirates’ system looked from the outside, after all of the work they’ve done with pitchers the last few years. Richard is one of the few reclamation projects the Pirates will have for the rotation this year (I’d say Chris Volstad could be one, but I’m not sure if he’ll be a starter, and he’s never really had a good season, so he doesn’t fit the bill). Meanwhile, the bullpen is full of potential projects.
Last year the Pirates had horrible results from their bullpen. Mark Melancon and Tony Watson were two of the best in the game, but the rest of the bullpen struggled. It wasn’t until the end of the year that things came together and the Pirates had one of the top bullpens in baseball in September. The overall season still left a void going forward, and a lot of opportunities for players to step up in 2015 and take some spots.
The Pirates have certainly added a lot of options this off-season, including several hard throwing pitchers. They just added Arquimedes Caminero today. The right-hander averaged 95.5 MPH with his fastball last year, and can hit 100 MPH, putting him in the same class as Gerrit Cole and John Holdzkom. They also added Radhames Liz earlier in the off-season, giving him a guaranteed $1 M deal after he showed encouraging signs in the Dominican Winter Leagues. Liz is another hard thrower who sits in the mid-90s, and can touch 100.
Then there’s Pimentel, who could qualify as an internal reclamation project. Technically, he was a reclamation prospect, since he came to the Pirates in 2013 with a low value, then saw the minor league pitching coaches fix him, getting his fastball up to 98 MPH as a starter, and helping him develop the slider into an offering that looked plus at times. The Pirates didn’t use Pimentel much last year, which was strange, since he was out of options and that was the year to see what he could do. He’s got the stuff to be a dominant late-inning reliever, but just needs to transition to the majors.
Holdzkom had a great season last year between Indianapolis and the majors, and was one of the reasons the Pirates had such a great bullpen down the stretch. He’s an extremely hard thrower, and his fastball has some ridiculous cutting movement. He also pairs that with a nasty palm ball, and has been working this off-season on a two-seam fastball to use as a situational pitch to get quick ground ball outs. Based on his limited success, you could argue that he’s earned a spot in the bullpen. The only thing that could keep him out is the numbers game.
Finally, lost in the mix is Rob Scahill, who the Pirates acquired at the start of the off-season for 2013 tenth round pick, Shane Carle. He has an option, so he can be used as depth out of Triple-A, but the stuff is also strong. His fastball averaged 94.4 MPH in his brief time in the majors, and topped out at 98. He has an upper 80s slider, but hasn’t seen that translate to a lot of strikeouts. Minor league free agent Blake Wood is another right-hander who averaged 95.6 MPH with his fastball, and hit 98.
Caminero, Liz, Pimentel, Holdzkom, Scahill, and Wood. Six right-handers who sit in the mid-90s with their fastballs, and can touch 98 MPH or higher. None of them are anything close to sure things, with some of them being further than others. But they’ve all got amazing stuff.
If Searage and Benedict can just tap into the potential for one of these guys, then the Pirates will have an amazing seventh inning guy to pair with Melancon and Watson, not to mention the off-season addition of Antonio Bastardo as the second left-hander.
If they can get two of these guys to realize their potential, then you’re talking about a bullpen that could be one of the best in the game. That’s a bullpen that can throw two of the hardest throwing pitchers in the game at you, plus a very strong lefty, and that’s before even getting to the guys who rate as two of the best relievers in baseball.
The Pirates have very few position battles lined up for Spring Training. One of the battles will be for the final bullpen spots. They have gathered a lot of hard-throwing options together, and from the looks of things, there will be a nice competition to see who makes it. Searage and Benedict have helped the Pirates put together some nice and very under-rated rotations the last few years. This is their chance to do the same thing with the bullpen, giving the Pirates a chance at what worked so well with Kansas City’s bullpen last year.
**As you may have noticed, I updated the site design last night. This was something that was in the plans for a few weeks, as part of an overall plan to speed up the site. For the last few months, something has been happening with the site where it would get slow, and even time out loading pages, specifically around when news broke. I’ve seen as many as 900-1000 people on the site at the same time with no issues, and that was with the same hosting company and the same theme. Recently, if the traffic went north of 100 people at a time, the site would have problems. A lot of that had to do with things going out of date, whether it was certain plugins we ran on the site, or the theme itself. I’ve been spending a lot of time the last few weeks trying to speed things up to get ready for Spring Training and the season. If anyone has any comments, or notices anything with the theme or the site, let me know. I’ve still got a few adjustments to make the rest of this week, and would appreciate any feedback if you guys notice something. The good news was the site seemed to be running fine today when the Caminero trade was announced. Hopefully the recent problem is finished.
**Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 Top Prospects: #3 – Austin Meadows. Only two more to go in the countdown, which will conclude this week. Buy the 2015 Prospect Guide to get write-ups on the entire top 50 prospects, along with profiles for 200+ players in the system.
**Keith Law Ranks Six Pirates Among The Best Prospects At Their Position. The one that surprised me was ranking Alen Hanson as the second best at the second base position. Between Hanson and Kang, I think the Pirates will have a long-term replacement for Neil Walker. But in 2015, those two will provide some nice depth behind Walker.