My original plan for tomorrow was to head up to Morgantown to cover the West Virginia Black Bears for their next four games. But that plan changed tonight when I realized two things.
1. Stephen Tarpley, who I haven’t seen pitch since early in extended Spring Training, is starting for the Power.
2. Seth McGarry, who I saw pitch in the GCL last month, is starting for the Black Bears.
Add in the fact that Tarpley is a much higher rated prospect than McGarry, and the decision was easy to stick around Charleston for one more day to see the top left-handed pitching prospect in the system pitch.
On a somewhat related note, today it was announced that Steven Brault was the Eastern League Pitcher of the Week. This was a continuation of what Brault has done since moving up to Altoona, as Sean McCool noted today.
Minus Steven Brault's outing on 7/12, he has pitched 46 innings with a 2.15 ERA in 8 starts since promotion to Altoona. #Pirates
— Sean McCool (@NotSoMcCool) August 3, 2015
Brault was fantastic in Bradenton before his promotion, displaying a nice two-seam fastball that he constantly commanded down in the zone, with late cutting action. He doesn’t have a lot of velocity, usually sitting in the upper 80s and reaching the low 90s with his four seam fastball. But his pitches have good movement, and he has a lot of command, making it possible that he ends up as a back of the rotation starter in the majors.
Meanwhile, Tarpley has a much bigger upside, with a fastball that sits in the low 90s and can touch 97. He has been fantastic this year since joining West Virginia, starting off slow after returning from his shoulder injury, but picking up the production as the season went on. Tarpley’s floor is lower than Brault’s, giving him more risk. But his ceiling is higher, with the chance to be more than a back of the rotation starter one day.
Of course, Brault and Tarpley are only related topics because the two were acquired in the same trade for Travis Snider. That has been a hot button topic all year, with a lot of criticism toward the trade, especially when Gregory Polanco was struggling early in the year and Travis Snider started with a few strong weeks in early April. The complaints continued as the Pirates saw struggles from their bench. But slowly, the trade started looking better and better, and as Sean noted today, it’s looking like a great deal at this point.
— Sean McCool (@NotSoMcCool) August 3, 2015
Sure, minor league stats don’t matter as much for a team looking for wins in the majors. But consider the following comparisons to Snider:
**Gregory Polanco is still struggling, but has a .678 OPS. He’s also trending upwards, with a .784 OPS since the start of July in 122 plate appearances.
**Travis Ishikawa, who isn’t exactly a fan favorite due to his struggles early in 2014, currently has a .725 OPS in 40 plate appearances. It’s a small sample size, but not far off his career .716 OPS.
Polanco has been better than Snider this year, and while the season totals are close, the breakdown is favorable to Polanco. Snider has a .615 OPS outside of his first six games with the Orioles, while Polanco is now starting to figure things out, and starting to trend upward. You could argue that this would have been more difficult for Polanco if Snider was stealing playing time, as the biggest thing Polanco needed was to adjust to MLB pitching.
Then there’s the bench role. As I noted, Ishikawa isn’t a fan favorite because of his struggles when named a platoon player last year. Likewise, Snider gets a lot of credit for his two good months at the end of last season. Neither scenario represents the player’s career trends. Snider could be a good bench option, but he’s no better than Ishikawa.
Right now, if you could trade Ishikawa for two left-handed pitching prospects like Brault and Tarpley, you’d make that move every day of the week. The Pirates got Ishikawa for nothing, and he’s been just as productive as Snider, both this year and historically.
The fact that the Pirates got this type of return for Snider is amazing when you look back at the deal. There was a chance that Snider’s final two months last year were a representation of him finally figuring it out. By trading him, the Pirates took a risk that they would be trading away a guy who was trending upward, which had the potential to be an embarrassing decision. Instead, they now look like they knew exactly what they had in him, while selling him at his highest value and getting two guys who were just about to break out (Brault had decent numbers last year, but was a 22-year-old in low-A, while Tarpley made a second half adjustment with his arm slot, leading to much better production that he has since carried over to 2015).
If Snider was with the team right now, you would hope for that type of return, and you wouldn’t come close to getting it. There would probably be complaints that they didn’t sell him at a high point and get something when they could. That’s not really a wild guess based on nothing, since those complaints have come up in the past anytime someone sees a big drop in value.
I’m not bringing all of this up just to celebrate how the Snider trade has worked out — although if it had worked out the opposite way, we’d be hearing about it daily. Instead, I’m bringing it up to point out an encouraging sign. No deal sets a trend in scouting, but this is a success for the Pirates’ efforts of scouting at the MLB level in recognizing that Snider wasn’t likely to repeat his second half from 2014. It’s also a success for their minor league scouting in recognizing two young talents who they had been looking at for some time. And while you can’t extrapolate that to say that the Pirates are a success in each area, it’s these types of moves that make you more comfortable when they decide to trade for guys like Michael Morse or J.A. Happ — with the hope that their small trend doesn’t represent what type of player they could be. The same success gives you a bit more comfort in the idea that the Pirates know what they’re doing when they trade away prospects like JaCoby Jones and Adrian Sampson, while relying on all of the other options in the system to be better long-term options for the team.
I’ve heard Neal Huntington say countless times that they need to know their own players better than everyone else. In the case of Snider, it looks like they did.
**Prospect Watch: Radhames Liz Hurt by Defense and Wildness. Liz has been outstanding since joining the Indianapolis rotation, although he finally had a rough outing tonight.
**Jung Ho Kang Named NL Rookie of the Month. As I’ve been saying, he’s looking like the biggest steal of the year.
**A.J. Burnett Diagnosed, Estimated Return in Approximately Four Weeks. Some good news here, as Burnett could return sooner than later.
**Michael Morse Joins the Pirates, Jaff Decker Optioned to Indianapolis. It won’t count in the stats, but Morse had a great debut with the Pirates in their suspended game.
**Chad Kuhl Put It All Together in July. Sean breaks down what was working so well for our Pitcher of the Month for July.