16 Boom or Bust Pirates Who Could Make a Difference in 2016

It’s kind of become a New Year’s Eve tradition for me to write about the boom or bust players who could make a difference for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the upcoming season. I first did this in 2013, talking about players like Francisco Liriano, Starling Marte, and Mark Melancon. I continued that in 2014 with guys like Jordy Mercer, Travis Snider, and Edinson Volquez. Last year’s group included Francisco Cervelli and Jung-ho Kang. All of those guys helped the Pirates making the playoffs three years in a row, and helped lead to them winning the third most games in baseball during that stretch.

The 2013 article was titled 13 Boom or Bust Players Who Could Make a Difference in 2013. Continuing with that trend, the 2014 article was called 14 Boom or Bust Pirates Who Could Make a Difference in 2014. Last year took a bit of a turn, with the article titled The 15 Boom or Bust Players Who Could Put the Pirates Over the Top in 2015.

Things are a bit different this year. The Pirates hadn’t had a winning season in a long time in 2013, and they needed a lot of high upside guys to make that happen. They had more high upside guys in 2014, and there was skepticism that they could return with another winning season. Last year it all looked a bit different, as they looked like a good team, with a few guys extra needed to put them over the top. The group last year was also pretty solid, and it was a bit of a struggle finding 15 people to highlight, without using individual bench or bullpen guys who might not make a big impact.

The 2016 season is kind of a hybrid of those years. The Pirates have reloaded a bit, sending out Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez. A.J. Burnett retired, and J.A. Happ left via free agency after being a huge boost in the second half of the 2015 season. Jung-ho Kang is coming off a serious injury. And we still don’t really know the full team at this point, since the Pirates are still connected to starting pitchers, and still have other needs to fill.

What we do know is that the Pirates have a lot of boom or bust players once again, which they can pair with more reliable guys like Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, and others. They’ve been successful with this approach the last few years, not just because they took risks in adding high upside guys, but because they added so many high upside guys that it was inevitable for a few of them to work out. Those breakouts only helped add to a strong core, and with that approach, it was no surprise that the Pirates were so successful the last three seasons. They’re set up for the same thing again in 2016, with a lot of high upside players who can make them a contender once again.

Before we begin, I’ll add the following disclaimers. One is that not all of these guys have star potential. Some will be just really strong middle relievers if they work out. Some will be strong back of the rotation starters. I tried to list them in order this year by importance (and I didn’t put a ton of thought into the list, so there might be some small disagreements on the order).

The other disclaimer is that I added two sections that focus on the farm system, rather than individual players. Technically, that would make this list 14 players long. However, I also grouped a bunch of middle relievers together, and grouped Jason Rogers/Michael Morse together. So if we’re being technical, there are more than 16 players in this article. I just didn’t want to write a second article talking about the importance of the recent drafts doing well and the potential for future breakout performances both being key to the future of the farm system. Yet. I’ll write that article in more detail soon.

For now, here are the boom or bust players for 2016.

16. Breakout Relievers

Assuming the Pirates keep Mark Melancon and Tony Watson, they will be returning the best reliever combo in baseball for the back of their bullpen. But as we saw at times last year, that doesn’t always lead to a strong bullpen. The middle relievers were an issue at times last year, and while the Pirates are returning Jared Hughes and Arquimedes Caminero, they will need others to step up.

This off-season they’ve added a lot of high upside arms. They signed Juan Nicasio to a $3 M deal, and brought in Yoervis Medina, Jorge Rondon, and Curtis Partch on smaller deals. All of those guys share the same qualities — a fastball that can touch at least 97 MPH, and control problems. They also have Rob Scahill and John Holdzkom as two more hard throwers, and Guido Knudson, who tops out at 94. If one or two of these guys can fix their control issues, then the Pirates would have a strong middle relief group, and a potential replacement for Mark Melancon when he eventually departs the team.

15. Jason Rogers/Michael Morse

I’ll get to the other half of the first base platoon in a bit, as that could have a bigger impact on this team. Rogers or Morse will play an impact as the right-handed part of the platoon, and both have high upside potential. Morse shows the best raw power on the team now that Pedro Alvarez is gone, although that didn’t show up in 2015. Rogers had some great numbers with Milwaukee last year, although they came in a small sample size.

At this point, after trading for Rogers, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Pirates dealt Morse. That would be putting all of their eggs in one basket with Rogers, although they dealt two prospects for him, so it would make sense to give him a shot to show his 2015 was legit. If that turns out to be the case, the Pirates will have a good option as half of the first base platoon, and a strong power bat off the bench.

14. The 2014-15 Draft Classes

This has nothing to do with the MLB team in 2016 directly, but could have an indirect impact. The 2014 and 2015 draft classes were much different for the Pirates when compared to their previous groups. They took a lot of lower ceiling guys who came with much risk. There’s very little star potential in the two draft classes, but some guys who could be league average starters in the future. There could also be some trade depth here, as a lot of the guys drafted the last two years fall second, third, or lower at their positions on the depth charts.

In 2015, the Pirates traded JaCoby Jones (2013 draft) for Joakim Soria and Adrian Sampson (2012 draft) for J.A. Happ. They just got Jason Rogers in a deal that sent Trey Supak (2014 draft) away. Supak had some value as a young, high upside arm. But the hitters the Pirates have taken will need big seasons in Bradenton or higher — just like Jones saw in 2015 — in order to raise their values for trades.

Also, the Pirates will continue picking low in the draft, and will probably take a similar approach with their hitters. Seeing the last two draft classes showing some success would add some confidence to their approach in 2016.

13. Ryan Vogelsong or Another Starting Pitcher

The Pirates currently have Ryan Vogelsong as their fifth starter, although I’m not convinced that they will go without adding another starter this off-season. This is one of those areas where this particular article doesn’t work as well on New Year’s Eve due to how slow this particular off-season is going. I don’t consider Vogelsong a high upside guy. At best, you could expect a 1+ WAR performance, which wouldn’t be horrible for the first two months until the pitching prospects arrive, but wouldn’t be a great addition to Jon Niese and Jeff Locke.

If the Pirates add another starter, I’m guessing it will probably be another reclamation project. And that pitcher would end up on this list as well. They’ve got a strong top of the rotation with Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano. They’ve got some top pitching prospects set to arrive mid-season. Guys like Jon Niese, Jeff Locke, and Vogelsong would be fine as back of the rotation guys. But they currently need one of those guys to have a big year and be a number three starter, or they need another starter who could fill that role.

12. Jon Niese

Speaking of the other starters, the Pirates added Niese by dealing away Neil Walker. The big appeal with Niese is his contract, which pretty much acts like three separate one-year deals, and all at reasonable rates when you look at what similar pitchers are getting on the open market. But that’s only appealing if Niese can return to being the pitcher he was pre-2015. From 2011-2014, Niese was a 2.0-2.7 WAR pitcher. If the Pirates get that out of him, then the Walker trade will look great, and the rotation will receive a big boost. The fact that their infield defense saw some upgrades (in part due to the Walker trade), and Niese is a lefty pitching in PNC Park with Ray Searage as his pitching coach, gives hope that he will bounce back to the pre-2015 numbers.

11. Francisco Cervelli

Cervelli was on this list last year, with the following summary:

“A big question is whether he can stay healthy as a starter. If he can do that, and if he can put up his career numbers or better on offense, with his usual strong defense, then the Pirates won’t miss Russell Martin at all.”

I bring that up in part because one of the regular commenters on this site now apparently owes me a case of my favorite beer (unfortunately, Vanilla Maduro by Cigar City isn’t sold in cases). I also bring it up because Cervelli did make us all forget about Russell Martin. He finished with a 3.8 WAR and at the top of the pitch framing boards, which put him ahead of Martin in each category.

The question this year is whether he can get close to those numbers again. Cervelli’s offensive numbers were slightly higher than his career numbers heading into the year. He had a .278/.348/.381 line, fueled by a .330 BABIP prior to the 2015 season. He posted a .295/.370/.401 line in 2015, fueled by a .359 BABIP. However, there was a clear change in approach here. His fly ball percentage went down, and his ground ball percentage went up (fly balls have the lowest BABIP). His opposite field percentage also went up. The Pirates try to get their hitters working middle-away. Cervelli didn’t see a change in his ability to hit to the middle of the field, but saw an increase in hitting to the opposite field. If this approach holds up in 2016 (they’ve taken the same approach with Chris Stewart, and it has worked for two years), and leads to higher numbers once again, then Cervelli would be a big boost once again for the Pirates, on both sides of the game.

10. Elias Diaz

The Pirates were pretty lucky that Cervelli and Chris Stewart stayed mostly healthy in 2015. Stewart started the year with an injury, but neither guy missed a lot of time, despite injury problems on both sides. That might not be the case in 2016, and if it isn’t, the Pirates will need Elias Diaz to step up. Diaz has some of the best defense behind the plate in the system, with an amazing arm that has been gunning down runners in winter ball. Diaz has some good offensive tools, but would ultimately be a continuation of Martin and Cervelli, where the defense is strong, and you hope the tools finally translate over to the field. He’s good enough that he can fill in for Cervelli as the starter if he goes down. He got a lot of work with Cervelli and the pitching staff in September, so he should be good to step in when needed. But there’s always an uncertainty with prospects, which is why he makes this list.

9. Josh Harrison

When the Pirates traded Neil Walker, they named Josh Harrison as the starting second baseman. Harrison was their starting third baseman going into last season, but ended up returning to his super utility role by the end of the year due to the emergence of Jung-ho Kang. He had a career year in 2014, putting up a 5.0 WAR, but didn’t come close to that last year with a 1.3 WAR. I don’t expect Harrison to return to the 2014 levels, but ZiPS has him at a 2.4 WAR, and that seems reasonable. It’s also right around where Walker has been throughout his career, posting a 2.6-2.7 WAR in most years. They reach that figure in two different ways, with Walker getting there due to offense, and Harrison being helped by defense, which might be more valuable to the Pirates and their ground ball pitchers. If Harrison can replicate Walker’s production, then the Pirates might be a better team overall, assuming Niese also bounces back to his pre-2015 ways.

8. Alen Hanson

One thing about the Harrison/Walker swap is that it removes Harrison from his super utility role, weakening the bench. The Pirates have signed Sean Rodriguez as a utility player, but he doesn’t project as more than a defensive option. They’ll need a guy who can provide some value with the bat. Hanson is a top prospect due to his hitting tools, and while they haven’t consistently shown up in the minors, he’s got the potential to be a starting second baseman one day.

The best way to ease him in to the majors might be as a utility player. The Pirates might have to make him a starter at the beginning of the year if Jung-ho Kang isn’t ready by Opening Day. After Kang returns, Hanson might be best off working in that utility role. This would put him in a similar position as Kang last year, giving him a chance to win a long-term job and push Harrison back to the bench in his super utility role. Of course, Hanson hasn’t been consistent in Triple-A, so you could make the argument that he’s not ready for the majors at the start of the year. But he should be up at some point, and could provide a big impact off the bench and eventually as a starter.

7. John Jaso

Last year, Francisco Cervelli looked like a big breakout candidate if everything went right. There were question marks about whether he could stay healthy and whether he could maintain his strong offensive numbers over a full season. This year, John Jaso looks like the new version of Cervelli. He’s had injury problems related to concussions, although that should be reduced with his move to first base. He’s got some strong offensive numbers the last few years, and is one of the best lefties in baseball against right-handers, which is going to be his role on the team. If the stats hold up over a full season, and if he stays healthy, then the Pirates will get a ton of production at first base, and they won’t miss Pedro Alvarez’s bat. The added twist here is that Jaso is learning a new position, and has an additional question mark with his defense. Fortunately, he can’t do worse than Alvarez did last year. He’s also a catcher making the move to first, and that transition is a lot more common in baseball, and leads to some good results.

6. Josh Bell

Depending on how Jaso works out, there could be a situation where the Pirates don’t even need Josh Bell this year. Or, they could bring up Bell and have a really strong bench with Jaso playing first, outfield, and emergency catcher. Either way, Bell is the future at first base, and is expected to arrive in 2015. There are questions about his defense which need to be addressed, as right now he would rival Pedro Alvarez with his defensive issues. Offensively, there have been some questions in the past. Bell has always had the raw tools to be a great hitter, with a bat that could definitely play at first. He adjusted his leg kick in Indianapolis, and that led to a big increase in power and production from the left side. The right side is still struggling, but could be just an adjustment away. He doesn’t have the same power from the right side, but has the potential to be a good enough hitter to avoid a platoon.

The question marks right now with Bell are his defense, and the hitting from the right side. There are also sample size questions about how legit the offense from the left side was at the end of the year, although the production matches the tools, and is explained by the adjustments. He’s got the potential to be an above-average first baseman or better, and the Pirates will need him if Jaso/Rogers/Morse don’t work out. If they do work out, then Bell would be a great addition, leading to a much stronger all around team.

5. Jung-ho Kang

Kang is another guy who was on the list last year, since he was a total unknown. His return to this year’s list is unfortunate, as it’s entirely injury related. He put up a huge year last year, with a .287/.355/.461 line in 467 plate appearances, good for a 3.9 WAR. He eventually became a starter, and in the second half, he was the best hitter on the team, with a .392 wOBA and a 154 wRC+ (Andrew McCutchen finished second in both categories with .379/137). His season was cut short after a dirty slide by Chris Coghlan, which has since led to a rule change to protect middle infielders from takeout slides. That also puts his 2016 season in question, as we don’t know right now the impact his injury will have on his future performance. If the Pirates can get the 2015 version of Kang, and get him back early, then that would be a boost for the offense.

4. Minor League Breakout Players

This is the other category that doesn’t impact the MLB team in 2016, although we could go with the disclaimer that breakout players make it possible to trade other prospects (or trade the breakout guys) to get help mid-season. The Pirates did this two years ago when they dealt Dilson Herrera for Marlon Byrd, to help fuel their first playoff run.

More importantly, the Pirates will need breakout guys to restock the farm system. They could potentially graduate five of their top ten prospects this year, and maybe more. Now, those prospects don’t just disappear when they arrive in the majors. The Pirates would then just have a lot of young talent under team control for several years, rather than a top farm system. But the Pirates have been picking low in the draft the last two years, will be doing that again in 2016, and hopefully will continue that in 2017 and beyond. They are still adding high upside guys, which led to them having a strong system the last few years. They’re also still seeing big breakouts, such as Yeudy Garcia and Max Moroff in 2015. They’ll need more of this in order to remain competitive for the long-term, and in order to replenish their system after The Next Wave arrives in 2016.

3. Jameson Taillon

This is actually the third year that Taillon has ended up on this list. He was expected to arrive in 2014, but Tommy John surgery in April of that year prevented that from happening. He was then a possibility to arrive in 2015, and was on track to pitch in official rehab games in July. However, he underwent hernia surgery and was out for the season once again. This year he will enter Spring Training healthy. He’s made some good strides with his mechanics during his rehab process, and shouldn’t need much time in the minors to get ready for the majors, outside of getting adjusted to upper level hitters after two years. Taillon has the upside to be a number two starter, and if he has a debut as good as Gerrit Cole’s was in 2013, then he will be a much-needed boost for the rotation.

2. Tyler Glasnow

Glasnow is the top prospect in the system, and expected to arrive by mid-season. Before that happens, he needs to refine his control, and learn to throw his curveball and changeup for strikes early in counts. He had some good numbers in Indianapolis last year, but the control remained a big problem, and his plus fastball and plus curveball got him out of a lot of jams. He won’t have the same success against MLB hitters with the same mistakes. Glasnow might not be fully ready and definitely won’t be at his upside when he arrives at mid-season. But he’s at the point now where giving him a few months extra in Triple-A won’t hurt. The hope is that he will also match Gerrit Cole’s 2013 debut. If that happens with either Taillon or Glasnow, then the Pirates will have a nice boost to the rotation behind Cole and Liriano. If it happens with both pitchers, then the Pirates will be getting a ton of production from their rotation in the second half.

1. Gregory Polanco

If you combined Taillon and Glasnow, their potential impact to the team would probably put them at number one on this list. But in my opinion, no single breakout candidate is more important to the Pirates than Gregory Polanco. The Pirates parted ways with Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker this off-season. There’s a chance that the replacements — John Jaso and Josh Harrison — will combine for the same offensive production as the guys they’re replacing. But there’s also the chance that the offense could drop off.

There isn’t much room on the offense to make up for this drop off. Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte are locked in to the other outfield spots. Jordy Mercer is more of a defensive-first shortstop who won’t bring a lot of offensive value. Cervelli and Kang were both big performers last year, and as I mentioned already, there is risk of a drop in offensive performance from each player.

The only area where the Pirates could make up for the potential loss in offense from the other positions would be in right field with Polanco. And there’s hope that 2016 could be his breakout year. I wrote earlier this month why Polanco could be the most important Pirate in 2016, noting his potential to make up for the drop in offense elsewhere. He had a stronger second half than the first half, and the numbers would have been even better if he wasn’t so unlucky in September, with a lot of hard hit balls, but poor numbers. Hopefully the strong second half is a sign of a breakout for Polanco, and the numbers carry over to the 2016 season. That will be his age 24 season, so expecting him to be a finished product at this point is the wrong approach. If he can break out, he will either make up for the lost offense in other areas, or help give the Pirates a great offense if the other areas don’t decline that much.

  • First off Tim – Love the Next Wave book and this list is a great reason to use it to do more reading on the players who could fill many of the slots you’re speaking about.
    Super brief list IMO and why:
    1. Neise: First love this pitcher, he will fit right into the burgh type of guy… ie: AJ Burnett. I truly believe his ability is undervalued and he lost a little respect in NY with the ACES all around him. I think he is the #3, and potentially he could repace Frankie as the #2. He’s 28 remember.
    2. Jaso: This again is breakout city capable guy. His bat has been top quality… think KC Royals type. I’ve already said I believe he will actually value out by end of year as a better signing than Zobrist.
    3. Polanco: He’s actually #1 in terms of how much breakout potential is still in there. I see the Cobra all over this kid. Parker was dynamic and his upside is that big… but in 2016 at 24? Maybe I’m pessimistic, but I think he’s still a few years away from that. I’d like to see him slot into a more productive batting slot though and 5 between Marte and Kang seems just right.
    4. Taillion: Say what you will about all the scouts, ratings, etc. Taillion to me is not a #2 guy. I see him as the #1 guy, especially this year. There is arm talent, and then there are guys who just find another level. I think Taillion is that guy and regardless of lost time I think he could show that this year. If you don’t believe me ask Ryan Braun what he thinks of Taillions curve. He could be the next Wainright.
    5. Harrison or Hanson: I’m actually not sure, but if I had to lay down odds, I’d say Harrison finally gets the idea that if he doesn’t show up in 2016 and deliver at the level he’s capable of… and yes he is capable of it… there aren’t any other positions left to fall to. Hanson, on the other hand, has always had the scouts attention, he’s delivered on occassion and shown that he can be a TOP level contributor and table setter… ie: Dee Gordon. I think one of these guys will fight for it, and deliver.
    6. Glasnow: I really don’t care what other teams have done in the past…on how they’ve introduced their guys to the MLB life and role, but I know in my gut the way to introduce Glasnow is through the bullpen. Late 2016, this is the guy who should finally arrive and ie: Price… just for example, don’t think just let it rip and have fun. He could be like Francisco Rodriguez with the Angels. He’ll have lots of years to start beginning in 2017. 2016 could be very fun though, wipeout like Chapman in the bullpen.
    7. Bell: I actually don’t believe he could beat out Jaso this year at first because Jaso will be that good. The thing is Bell can and could possibly hit that good and should you keep that bat in AAA… similar to the Cubs last year with both Bryant and Schwarber? Let Jaso stay at 1st – as you’ve said the potential defense could actually be good similar to other catchers, and certainly better than Bell’s defense…so? Boy he looks like a great 4th outfielder to me this year if that bat is ready. Again, 1st will be there in a few years what’s the hurry. Play the bat.
    8. Rodgers: Nobody still has answered the question, who the hell is this guy that NH gives up two prospects, one a 2014 arm with massive potential? I like Morse, I think he’s still a great guy to have on the team and the bench. Love the attitude and his hair looks great along side Serpico. Rodgers though apparently must have something we’ve not quite realized… similar to Cervelli, or maybe more like Stewart – a perfect platoon/bench guy? Still not sure that’s worth a big upside arm though, or if there’s enough AB’s to “breakout”.
    9. John Holdzcom: OK so maybe I’m one of a few who are still high on what I saw from this guy. I don’t think enough attention is being put on what this kid did. Searage needs to spend some time on that because the cutter John throws is as unhittable as Mo’s. These day’s with bullpens being as important as ever, what is the breakout value of having an unhittable reliever step into a critical role? Similar to Harrison, it’s time to deliver and I find it hard to believe any of the bullpen prospects in our system have more upside potential than what he’s already showed us he’s capable of.
    10 (an last on my list). My list will not include Kang, because IMO he’s already arrived. He’s a stud. One of my favorite players and I’d argue would only breakout further if he returned to the SS position and finished becoming perhaps the All-Star caliber guy he could be there. No. The last guy on my list came down to two guys: Either could break out, but nobody expects them to – which is why one of them should, as both have the potential to. Mercer or Locke. Personally, I’m torn because, as noted, I think Kang could and should return to the SS position, however knowing Hurdle, Mercer will be getting that job; and the thing is I’m ok with that because I know that Mercer has the ability to breakout too. He’s a rare guy actually who has both very good power, a decent eye and patience, and after mentoring under Barmes an underrated glove, range, and arm. He’s hit 30 doubles, almost 20 homers, had 83 RBI, an OPS of 750 and higher, and an average of around .280.
    In other words I believe there is a Brandon Crawford, Ian Desmond, Jhonny Peralta potential breakout in there. He’s shown it with inconsistency. So what is breakout player if not someone who put away inconsistency for consistency? Mercer can and should be accountable to deliver equally and not get a pass for defense.
    We’ll leave Locke for another rant.
    Go Bucs!!!!! You know who’s breaking out in 2016, the Bucs that’s who! Championship or Bust!!!

    • WOW. I love the Cobra reference! I’ve been thinking like that for quite some time. He has ALL the same skill sets as Dave Parker + more speed.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    January 1, 2016 5:14 pm

    In regards to this list, when I think of breakout guys, I typically am referring to young, relatively unproven players who have yet to figure it all out and begin realizing their potential. For that reason, IMHO, some of the guys don’t belong on this list – guys like Morse, Vogelsong, Niese, Cervelli, and Jaso. Although he is older, Rogers hasn’t had much experience in MLB, so I agree he is appropriate for the list.
    IMHO, Polanco will be a major factor in how this team does in 2016. If he produces at the same, or lower, level as last year, third place is a given. But, if he blossoms and really becomes the .300+ hitter, with 20-30 HRs, and 80-100 RBIs, 30+ SBs, with good RF defense, he could be the difference maker. Now, I say that assuming our starting rotation is now what it projects to be as of today, with Niese, Locke, and Vogelsong in the 3-5 slots.

  • Sad news a few days ago that former Pirate Scout Keith Ryman died last week. Keith was a great guy and really owned the experience of being around the game in a scouting capacity. He was from Jefferson City, TN which is right up in East TN where the Cubs have their AA Affiliate in Sevierville, TN. He was a Scout for the Cubs the past few years.

    The Fort is on his way to Texas – signed a minor league contract/invite to ST. I’ll bet his time with the Pirates and Jeff Bannister had a lot to do with that offer.

  • Great job in 2015 PP.
    Great job NH since you arrived.
    I’m glad NH is giving the chance for the mass call ups this year. It’s the best chance for impact arms at the ML level. IF Bucco’s can be at or slightly above .500 in June, this could be my favorite year as a Bucco fan since the 70’s.
    The heavy call ups drove the Mets staff & the same for the Cubs lineup. It’s not writing off 2016 like some have posted. It’s trusting years of developing that they have focused on. I hope the saved money goes to Cole & Polanco.

    • Wabbit_Season
      January 1, 2016 10:43 am

      JJ66.

      Spot on. I do see people posting with frustration at these sort of under the surface moves, but, seriously, if you’re going to have a plan to grow your own superstars, you have to execute that plan when it comes time.

      With Hansen, Bell, Taillon and Glasnow just about ready, you can’t really expect to add a player to block them forever. So when Glasnow pushes Vogelsong out of the picture? Fine. Attaboy, Luther!

      As these Pirates build the rotation this year you can see a situation where four aces materialize. And then you have the quietly underground Niese (check spelling) move, who could prove out to be an above average – maybe way above average – #5 for three years to come and the Pirates are looking at the best rotation in baseball at pennies a serving.

      Sweet as Carnation milk.
      ————————————————
      “I’m the rootinest, tootinest, shootinest hombre west of the Pecos!!!”
      -Wabbit

  • Hey Tim Williams.

    Nice article. Now for a pertinent question. Perhaps a subject for an article to come:

    Just finished the top 50 of the guide for the first time this winter and I seem to recall seeing he terms “crowded” and “blocked” and “sharing time” an awful lot relative to many of the prospects.

    Considering when you started this long, strange trip, and the Pirates’ system was barren, when do you think the Pirates’ system will be “chock full,” “crammed” or “full to the limit?”

    I know there is a potential movement of 5 top prospects to the bigs, but that looks as though it will cause a massive chain reaction through the system by year’s end. And, even then, I wonder if you would still consider our system to be effectively “full.” Can the system be “choked” with players? What would that look like?

    -Wabbit

  • Surprise Jordy Mercer is not in this list.

    • Good point. If he does not find his way in 2016, he could become the Utility IF for the future with Harrison, Kang, Hanson, and Bell being the starting IF lineup.

  • Lets face it folks, the 2016 Pirates chances are going to rely on JT and Glasnow…By the looks of the pitching moves made this off-season, the brass is banking JT and Glasnow come in much like Syndergaard and Metz. Taillon has a similar story to Metz with the injury history and high upside and same can be said for Thor and Glasnow. I’m just joping that Niese-Vogelsong-Locke can keep us from being 18-22 again after the quarter mark.

  • Hope everyone had a great Christmas – and wish a Happy New Year to all..

    Think the Yankees would disagree with Tim on the best back of the bullpen – their three is better than the Bucs two…

    I also think you missed a key “breakout” player for next year.

    The Bucs really need to get the MVP back to MVP level performance…

    WAR for the last three years…
    2013 – 8.4
    2014 – 6.9
    2015 – 5.8
    That is a decline of over 30% in two “prime” years.

    For the Bucs to have any chance of even getting to play in game the need a 7+ WAR Cutch – and they are in big trouble of the 15% a year decline continues.

    • Disagree on using the word “breakout” there, but since the article title is “boom or bust” the point is more than valid. The dropoff last season was actually worse than the WAR shows, because 2014 was a year where he played 11 fewer games than 2013 or 2015. Add those games back in and he was on 7.4 WAR pace in 2014.

      It’s not a big surprise that he’s stopped trying to steal bases. Heck, Mike Schmidt was a 29 SB guy his age 25 season. It’s never a surprise when that part of the game fades with age. But Cutch’s SLG and BA last year were the lowest in four seasons. And his contact rates were the worst of his career. He’s chasing fewer pitches, but the ones he does swing at he’s making less contact than ever before.

      He’s earned some trust that he will bounce back. Lots of players have one down year and then return to form. But I personally wouldn’t be surprised if 5.0-5.5 WAR a more realistic expectation from him the next few years.

      • On the other hand… Cutch was injured in ST and most believe it carried over into April. If you take away April he slashed .306/.416/.510, which is vintage McCutchen.

        Yes, it does cherrypick by removing his worst month, but that worst month was very likely due to injury.

        • I agree, and I doubt any of us will be upset if ‘Cutch delivers another 5+ WAR in 2016. He made $10 mil in salary in 2015 and returned a 5.8 WAR Value of $46 mil. Is he second or third on Total War the past 3 years?

          E X T E N S I O N

          • I guess this is what gets me in trouble…
            I for one would be VERY disappointed if Cutch put up a 5-6 WAR year – if he is worthy of an extension he needs to get off to a good start – get back to the 7+ WAR range and stay on the field – if he can’t do that then what Buster Olney suggested makes sense – cash in at the mid season trade deadline and convert him into 3-5 good prospects.

            A 5 WAR Cutch means a 3rd or 4th place finish in the Central

            • If Cutch was traded and he was performing at a 7 WAR level…. I could see that being very disappointing to a team trying to win a championship.
              Also I find it hard to imagine the return that would justify it. Like trading for Harper or Trout. Just doesn’t exist unless you’re trading for another MLB player of similar skill and/or prospect. So crazy talk trade like Cutch for Josh Donaldson. It would be hard to argue a trade like that knowing the depth we have in our OF system, including Marte for CF and someone like Josh Bell who could immediately slot into LF.

              • Offer him 6 years at around 22M/year. If he accepts, GREAT! If he declines, send Cutch to the Indians for Salazar, Carrasco and Clint Frazier! It works for both teams. I’ve mentioned this for a few weeks already. The Pirates get 2 cost controlled young promising starting pitchers and an bonafied OF slugging prospect. The Indians get a perennial MVP CF to make a run in a very winnable AL Central division.

        • A knee injury undermined Cutch last April. He also slumped in September, perhaps because of his knee. He was great otherwise.

          The numbers:

          http://www.fangraphs.com/statsplits.aspx?playerid=9847&position=OF&season=2015

      • I’ll bet you this though, if he drops a little more or stays about the same the likely chance of him being traded becomes more of a reality. And with the OF crop coming that may not be the worst thing.

  • I agree on Polanco. My expectations for his ceiling are like my expectations for The Force Awakens. Possible but not likely. Polanco could be anywhere from what he was last year to Michael Brantley (for the record I think his ceiling is higher than Brantley’s but I think his breakout season would look somewhat reminiscent of a good Brantley season. He’s got that sweet swing. The power is there.

  • Wow buc fan stuck in md. You better pay up!

    • Not every day the owner of successful blog gives you a shout out. Maybe he’s honored.

      • For what it’s worth up until a month ago I was convinced that guy was my dad because of his hatred for Antonio Bastardo and insistence on Glasnow being ready. But my dad denies this.

    • My girlfriend says I have too much beer in the fridge right now. I say there is still space in the fridge, so that’s impossible. But either way, I’m moving next month, and need to clear it out.

      So if BucsfanstuckinMD wants to pay up, he can buy himself one of my current favorites — either a MooHoo Chocolate Milk Stout or Liquid Bliss (Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter), both by Terrapin. Or, if you can get your hands on some Maduro by Cigar City, try it with a tablespoon of vanilla extract mixed in (put the vanilla in the glass, then pour the beer) to recreate my favorite beer, Vanilla Maduro. If none of these are available, Matilda by Goose Island is a great beer.

      • Don’t let him go double or nothing. Also I’ve had a problem lately where I like certain things (Sam Adams Cherry Wheat) or liquors (Knob Creek Maple) and then I can’t drink them again cause I get sick of the sweetness. Be careful with that Vanilla Maduro.

        • The good thing is that it’s not too sweet. It’s a brown ale, and the vanilla works perfectly with it. I like sweet when it’s mixed with a brown ale, a porter, or a stout. Can’t really do it with a lighter beer.

          The other good thing is that I only get Vanilla Maduro when I go up to Cigar City, and even then, they only have it about half the year. So it would be hard to get sick of it, since it’s kind of a special occasion when I’m there at the same time they have it.

          • That’s good. I really liked the Knob Creek Smoked Maple and now I can’t even look at it. I’ll see what Cigar City’s they have next door at the Beer Garden next to my office.

      • Time to get a new girlfriend.

      • I don’t have time right now to talk about beer but am a brewer and beer fanatic. I’m currently in a brewing science program at USF-St Pete which is taught by a lot of the local breweries’ personnel. Tim you may have to have a beer open conversation one day. There are some great breweries up this way. (St Petersburg/Pinellas County/Dunedin) …and if a beer fridge fills up you may need a second fridge…or a fridge just for beer.

        • I usually go to Cigar City, but one of my favorites in St. Pete has been Rapp. They’ve got some good stuff. Brew Bus also has some good beers. I’m going to be getting into brewing my own beer this year.

          • Rapp is awesome. Especially the gose if you like sours. I had the Brew Bus IPA…nice crisp IPA. Brew Bus is taking over the Florida Ave brewery so FLAve will no longer exist. Seventh Sun in Dunedin is great too. If you haven’t tried Coppertail yet they are becoming the new star. They have a state of the art brewery already. The Unholy Tripel is excellent. Two new ones opening up basically right next to the Trop soon and the brewing store right across from the Trop got it’s license too. I’m sure you know but Motorworks next to McKechnie has gotten very good. I thought they were just ok when they first opened but I have really liked a lot of their beers I’ve tried recently. Guys in my program mentioned 2-3 other breweries around Tampa and I had never even heard of them. 1.5 breweries a day in America, it’s hard to keep up.

            • I’ve heard that Motorworks has improved. They were horrible when they first opened. Great space, but every time I went in, I went with a guest beer because none of their beers had any flavor and all were hop bombed. Also, Darwin’s was around the corner with much better beer, but not as cool of a space. I also don’t like the owner. I went in with a group of friends after doing a bike event. We all had bottles of water, but were ordering beers. She came around and took all of our waters away, saying no outside beverages. So even if they have improved, I’ve soured on the place. Darwin’s gets my business when I’m drinking in Bradenton.

              I’ll have to check out Coppertail. Their special release Stone Crab Stout sounds interesting.

              My favorite at Rapp is the Chocolate Hazelnut Porter. Brew Bus is their blueberry wheat ale.

              • a beer that is too hoppy just isn’t drinkable- if I wanted grapefruit I’d get a grapefruit

              • I need to check out Darwin’s. That’s disappointing about Motorworks. Really poor choice to take bottles away like that. They say that to you and you can spread that quickly to many people you come into contact with this site and media conections, then I turn around and mention that to my professors who are all brewers and distributors in the area, and classmates who frequent breweries. Just unnecessary bad press that can spread in ways you never imagined. Just tried a barrel aged stout called Manaphin by Green Bench. Really good, 11%+ and nice bourbon flavor in there. Accidentally paid $20 for a bomber when stopping in for an assignment. It’s a long story…

                • Darwin’s is great. They used to be a Peruvian restaurant in Sarasota that made craft beer, but the food was their main focus at the restaurant. Then they opened a brewery with a food truck, where the beer was the main focus and the food was secondary. It’s not that the food was bad, but I definitely went there for the beers more than the food. Plus, their new food truck at the brewery has pork tacos, which were my favorite app at the old restaurant.

                  They’ve since closed the restaurant, but the brewery seems to be thriving. It should, too. Like I said, it doesn’t have the flash of Motorworks (corn hole, mini golf, huge outdoor deck), but the quality of the beer is much better.

                  • I was thinking of doing a Bradenton weekend and hitting two games and staying down there for a day and a half and checking out some places this spring. Darwin’s will be at the top of my list. I’ve basically only been down there for the Pirates and job interviews and that’s it.

      • BuccosFanStuckinMD
        January 1, 2016 5:08 pm

        You are right Tim, thanks for reminding me…I due owe you a case of your favorite beer – as Cervelli had a very good year last year and far exceeded my expectations for him. He didn’t make me forget Russell Martin, as he doesn’t have Martin’s power or throwing arm, but I have to give credit where its due.
        I will make good on this…let me know your mailing address and what your choice is (within reason, please) and I will make good on it.
        I get a bad rap for some of my negative posts, but that is because I do care and love my Pirates team and want to see them win the division – not just settle for a one game playoff. I also do posts positive things as well, and I acknowledge moves and performances that deserve mention – but, most people don’t remember or note those, they just see my critical posts and harp on those.
        I am not always right – Cervelli, Happ, and Blanton all proved me wrong last year. But, I it appears I was right about the Ike Davis trade, the Bryan Morris trade, the drafting of Connor Joe, Charlie Morton, etc.
        Happy New Year Tim – and thank you again for this site and your hard work, even though we don’t always agree on all the details. God Bless you!

  • Look at that! #11!! Tim never forgets.

  • tim do you think brault could be a leftie out of the pen, maybe even coming north with the club out of spring training.

    • The old guys on here will remember an unknown southpaw named Woodie Fryman coming out of nowhere to make the club coming out of spring training in ’66.

      • Wow, Woody Fryman! Probably one of the best first year pitchers ever. For about 10 years starting with the Pirates, he was excellent the first year for every team he was traded to, and then had a tendency to fall back to earth afterward. Then, after being traded to a new team, the magic would reappear.

    • No. He needs to develop his off speed stuff.

  • Incredibly depressing list of what could be reasonably considered “boom” for about half of these.

    • Oh, the year thing…I see what you did there! Looking forward to the 2025 Boom or Bust list. 😉

      Reading through some of those old posts is fun.

      • Speaking of which I was reading an old post (forget why) about a month ago and in the comments section you were issuing a verbal thrashing to some guy who claimed to be an ex-scout. I think it had to do with an Altoona write up. I forget the dude’s name but he was ripping one of Sean’s articles maybe in a condescending matter. I have to ask – do you put Red Bull in your coffee? Ok, I’m going to read the rest of the article now………….

        • I do have this odd trait of coming to the defense of people I think aren’t being treated fairly, like when Leo is his usual asshole self to Mallorie for instance.

          • I was glad you did because the guy was out of line even if he was extremely knowledgeable. The second part of your response of course illuminates the irony of my first sentence there.

            • You’ll never hear me argue for my own sainthood. 😉

              • All the coffee cups.- Dejan

              • Nothing wrong with being negative as long as you equally acknowledge risk with potential.
                Even I, who am mostly positive, find it hard to find the positive in the Vogelsong signing.
                Last I recall of him here his ERA average over 5 years was 7.16 … ok some fun with numbers there a bit, but we couldn’t run him out of town fast enough. Why do you bring a guy with a proven track record of sucking here back.
                Ok, see I can be negative too!

          • Funny I just defended BuccoFan in MD in the previous thread

          • You really have an odd trait of trolling here pretty heavily actually.

            • Why? Because he speaks his mind? Because he’s not a phony? Because he has the sack to question Tim when warranted? Nothing wrong with calling it the way you see it.

              • He’s as phony as they come. Negative,negative double negative. Anything Tim or any one else says positive is wrong. Try using some critical thinking bub. When you have someone who is constantly criticizing every move an orginization is making that has been very successful for the past 3 years, you have to wonder where all this great insight has come from.

          • Don’t ever change, man! I for one especially appreciate your stance on here. Hope you continue to keep it REAL in 2016.

            Happy New Year

        • Got a little bit of news for both of you : Sean and I are acquainted and I have never ripped anything from him as he is pretty informative. Try checking with him.

      • I doubt I’ll live to see it, but at what point will Tim have to stop following the convention of using the last two digits of the year? The 2050 post is going to have a crap ton of flotsam and jetsom in it.

    • Are you on some kind of meds that have led to this form of depression ? If so, you have my sympathy. If not, I am going to laugh at you.

    • To be fair, coming up with 16 true “booms” on a roster which has 25 people on it at a time is probably kind of challenging.

      On which point, I eagerly anticipate the 2026 version. 🙂

    • Yea this new craft beer excitement makes you want to long for a Fort Pitt or a Stoney. You are talking about beer aren’t you ?

    • Depends on perspective though doesn’t it NMR. I mean who would have seen the ‘Boom’ value of JA Happ?
      Sometimes it’s just almost completely not something you can see coming. The Bust part may be the more concerning and underdelivered part of the message right.
      What if the Bust is prevalent, and that wouldn’t be hard to imagine – because much of the plan of this Off-season seems to suggest stretching the imagination a bit.

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