The Pittsburgh Pirates have announced 12 Spring Training invites, among them are four players they just signed to minor league deals. The list of players who were already in the system is as follows:

Steven Brault

Reese McGuire

Adam Frazier

Trevor Williams

Dan Gamache

Chad Kuhl

Antoan Richardson

Jacob Stallings

The new players are left-handed pitchers Kelvin Marte and Jim Fuller, catcher Ed Easley and infielder Juan Diaz.

Marte is 28 years old and very small for a pitcher at 5’9″, 170 pounds. He has pitched briefly in AAA during his career, but spent the 2015 season in AA for the Giants. In 130 innings, he had a 2.63 ERA, with a 1.22 WHIP, 77 strikeouts and a 1.45 GO/AO ratio. During his seven-year career, he has a 1.53 GO/AO ratio. He has never been a big strikeout pitcher, relying instead on a high ground ball rate and excellent control. He will probably pitch at Indianapolis in the bullpen, or possibly in whatever role they need in Altoona.

Jim Fuller is another small 28-year-old lefty, standing 5’10”, 190 pounds. He pitched well in his first taste of AAA this season, posting a 2.78 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 32.1 innings in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. He has pitched parts of three seasons in AA and like Marte, he gets his share of grounders and also has strong control. Unlike Marte, Fuller has been a high strikeout pitcher during his career, picking up 423 in 407.1 innings. He has hit 94 mph in the past and has average secondary stuff. The Pirates don’t have a lot of lefty bullpen options at the top-level, so these two fill that need, though neither look like they have any chance to break the roster on Opening Day.

Ed Easley is a 30-year-old catcher, who finally broke into the majors briefly with the Cardinals this season. The Pirates were short on minor league catchers, so they probably need to add 1-2 more before the off-season is through. Easley gives them an experienced backstop, who has a .780 OPS in AAA, though all three seasons were in the PCL. He has been strong at throwing out runners in the past, but struggled with it in 2015, catching just six of 40 runners. He was taken 61st overall in the 2007 draft.

Juan Diaz made the majors briefly in 2012 for the Indians. The 27-year-old has played parts of four seasons in AAA, hitting .272/.315/.373 this season in the PCL. He is big at 6’4″, 220 pounds, but has never shown much power, even while spending a couple of seasons in the PCL. Most of his minor league time has been spent at shortstop, seeing some time at second base and third base as well. He looks like AAA depth in the Gustavo Nunez mold from last season. Baseball America has rated Diaz as the best defensive infielder in the Mariners’ system(2007) and best infielder arm in the Eastern League(2011).

UPDATE 4:45 PM: Analysis from Tim Williams…

None of the players who were invited have a real shot to make the team out of Spring Training. Brault, Williams, and Kuhl will compete for the Triple-A rotation. One of those starters will go to Double-A, and that number could end up being two if the Pirates sign another veteran starter for Triple-A.

Frazier and Gamache will start on the Triple-A bench as utility players, with Gamache getting time at second and third, and Frazier getting time at shortstop, center field, and plenty of other positions. I say “bench” for each of them, only because they don’t really have a projected starting spot, and the Indianapolis lineup is so up in the air this year, with a lot of guys projected to split time at multiple positions. I’m not sure there will be a traditional bench, nor a traditional lineup.

Antoan Richardson will also go to Triple-A, where he could get a shot at starting in the outfield, depending on how the Pirates have things play out with their infield at the level.

Reese McGuire and Jacob Stallings are both pretty much invites to add extra catching depth. There is a huge need for extra catchers, especially early in camp, which will be their primary roles. That’s not selling their abilities short, but neither have a shot at the majors at the start of the year. Stallings could begin the year as a backup in Triple-A, while McGuire could begin the season as a starter with Altoona. McGuire won’t be up at all this year, while Stallings would need a few catchers in front of him going down in order to make the majors this season.

Getting to the more important stuff here, the Pirates added a few depth pieces, although none of them have a strong shot at making the majors either. Ed Easley looks like a third catcher in Indianapolis, with the ability to add some MLB depth, and add an extra catcher for Spring Training. The reason I think he ends up the third catcher is because I’ve got Elias Diaz/Jacob Stallings as the catching combo in Indianapolis at the start of the year, and Reese McGuire/Jin-De Jhang as the combo in Altoona.

Juan Diaz looks like a true bench player for Triple-A, adding another strong defensive middle infielder to the mix. I don’t see him being ahead of someone like Gift Ngoepe on the depth chart.

Then there are the lefty relievers — Kelvin Marte and Jim Fuller. The stats for Fuller stand out, mostly due to the strikeouts. Neither guy looks like a strong option for the second lefty spot in Pittsburgh. They both top out at 91 MPH, and both are questionable beyond their ability to get lefties out. Basically, this looks like two guys who have similar upsides to Bobby LaFromboise.

That raises the question as to what the Pirates will do for their second lefty spot in Pittsburgh. Right now it looks like they are keeping Mark Melancon, which would keep Tony Watson in the setup role. That would create a need for a second lefty in the bullpen. Aside from Marte and Fuller, the Pirates have also signed Robert Zarate this off-season. Zarate projects as a better option, with the ability to hit 94 and good strikeout numbers with poor walk rates.

The Pirates could go with the best option of the three guys, along with the possibility of adding other options. It wouldn’t give them a strong combo like they had last year with Antonio Bastardo as their second lefty. Then again, the off-season isn’t over. If they sign another starter, it’s possible that Jeff Locke could move to the bullpen as the second lefty. Or, they could add someone via free agency or trade (the latter of which is how they added Bastardo last year).

Right now, the second lefty spot is still up in the air, although the Pirates have a bit more depth with their minor league signings this off-season.

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56 COMMENTS

  1. If it is Cervelli/Stewart in Pittsburgh, Diaz/Stallings in Indy, McGuire/Jhang in Altoona, where does that leave Tony Sanchez? I realize he has dropped off the catching scene, but the guy is a decent enough hitter and should be able to play somewhere.

  2. Given the White Sox signed both Brett Lawrie and Todd Frazier, I wouldn’t mind seeing NH give up a low prospect and take a flier on Mike Olt.

    Olt never produced as expected due to a concussion that messed up his vision, but he’s been working on that (there’s an articleon him in the latest New England Journal of Sports) and making progress.

    Worst case he ends up being Brandon Wood Redux. More likely he’s a poor man’s Mark Reynolds. But there’s still a chance he’s actually decent. At any rate, he should produce a higher OPS than SRod and he’s a good fielding 3b until Kang returns, then bench power after that.

    • Even after the surgery to repair the vision, he struck out 35 times in 92 ABs in the ML and 75/220 at the minor league level.

      Eeek,,,

      Still, if he were available for nothing, it wouldn’t be a bad guy to kick the tires on. The only issue is that the Pirates really aren’t known for fixing hitters.

    • His glove is suspect at both 3B and 1B, and he is still struggling at the plate. I doubt any team in the NL can afford that luxury for their 25th man on the active roster, and he blocks others if sent down to AAA/AA.

  3. Ok, how about the player that has not been mentioned lately.
    What do you think happens to Tony Sanchez? Does he
    go through spring training then put on waivers and is
    claimed by another team? Can’t we get some value
    for him like a draft pick or something?

    • That’s what I think will happen. He’s out of options, but won’t make the big league club. He’ll either be traded for a very minor return, or most likely lost to waivers.

      • Agree also, I’ve thought that the perfect guy would be Jesus Montero. Some speculation left in that bat and Seattle could use some projection on a fresh catcher / 1b like Sanchez.

    • Honestly, I wonder how much of Sanchez’s problem is mental…

      His first stint at AAA was okay, the next was excellent, the next was okay, and the last was abysmal.

      It seems like he hit a batting peak, didn’t get promoted, and dropped off.

      I think he’s a good change of scenery candidate who might turn into something serviceable (Steve Pearce-ish) if he makes the move to 1B.

  4. Is any aspect of these invites a “reward” or “teaser” for guys they expect to be major leaguers down the road? Getting a taste of major league camp has got to be pretty cool for them.

  5. I know Tim or John or others may have the answer to this dumb question, but what is the difference between just signing someone to a minor league deal as opposed to one with a spring invite?

    • I think the difference is that many of these minor league signings are guys who arent really prospects anymore, theyre borderline MLB players. They’ll be in AAA. They’re fully developed, they are what they are.

      The other guys are prospects, theyre young and they have worked their way up to the upper levels of the minor league system. A couple could be viable options for the majors if they did well in ST, but theyre all still developing. They were invited, most if not all will be returned to their respective teams in the minors, some will be going to AAA, some to AA.

    • Some guys get signed to a minor league deal and don’t get invited to MLB camp. That means they’ve got no shot at the majors at all, rather than a small chance out of camp. They go to minor league Spring Training. These are usually the lower level minor league signings.

    • They just signed two guys as lefty relief depth, and signed another guy earlier this off-season. All three of those guys would be the second lefty before Brault. They see him as a starter.

          • Google is a wonderful search engine, is it not?

            The other two guys look like organizational depth.

            Easley was recalled twice last year by the Cards. Mostly an organizational catcher.

            Diaz is another good field, no hit infielder. Seems to be a low walk/ high K kind of guy. At one time he was the Mariners top rated defensive infielder.

            I guess Florimon and Ngoepe weren’t enough? 🙂

      • than why the invite? if he shows something in the spring and has some high velo in short outing. than why not? they really only have one lefty on the 25 man in watson, I don’t count minor league free agents that were signed in dec. /jan. ps I think you rank one of his breaking pitches best in the system,so what does he have to work on? As for starter he’s never going to be better than a 4 or 5 so why not see he can be the next tony watson.

        • They invite guys every year who have no shot at cracking the majors. They do it for upper level guys to give them experience in a big league camp and in a big league clubhouse.

          Last year they invited Gift Ngoepe, Mel Rojas, Stetson Allie, Keon Broxton, Tyler Glasnow, Adrian Sampson, and Angel Sanchez. None of those guys had a shot to make the team out of camp.

  6. Jim Fuller (from Amazin’ Avenue in 2013)

    The long of it: Fuller had quite the long trip to get here, indeed he’ll turn 27 in the middle of next season. He was part of the vaunted 2010 Savannah rotation, then lost all of 2011 to a torn labrum, and was sitting in the mid-80s when I saw him last year for Savannah. I wrote him up as a non-prospect then, but another full year away from the shoulder surgery and a move to the pen has done wonders for his stuff. Fastball has ticked back up to the upper 80s, touching 91, and one scout referred to it as ‘invisible.’ The same scout called him ‘a major league arm.’ Fuller still throws the slow curve and appears to be working a low 80s slider into the mix as well, but it’s the fastball deception that’s going to be his ticket to the majors as a left-on-left guy. So far, so good as lefties hit just .154/.225/.231 against him this year.

    • Anyone remember the non-prospect and no chance at the bigs Hunter Strickland.
      Guys bounce back every year, and I’d love to have Hunter in our pen now. Don’t rule these guys out – anyone who has worked as hard as some of these career guys who have fought through injuries have could be the next Strickland, or Jason Grilli. Fuller may be your next big story…
      Speaking of big story – I’m rooting hard for Holdzkom. Best cutter in our system and even if he’s lost a bit on velocity he could still be our Hunter Strickland this year.

  7. Kelvin Marte:

    Small lefty with three pitch mix; command is below-average; doesn’t walk a lot of guys but very loose in the zone with fringe stuff; will struggle to make outs against better bats; fastball plays below-average; slider lacks intensity and plays soft and loose; chanegup isn’t a bad pitch, with some deception and vertical action. Not a major league pitcher; lacks arm-side stuff for LOOGY upside; Triple-A pitcher in either start/relief role.

  8. I like this cat, Trevor Williams they got from Miami. I know hes not on the same level as Glasnow and Taillon, but feel he could make his debut right around the time they do, possibly.

    Reading things here and other places, seems like a good FB. If they can get the breaking stuff to play, looks like he could be a useful arm. Im glad they whined and were able to get this guy as compensation.

    • Seems like really solid depth in the “in case of injury” department for OD SPs. Obviously need a bit more depth, but he’s better quality depth than your average NRI type. Particularly with guys like Cumpton and Sadler as they are.

        • Im high on Kuhl also. Id like him to fully get another 10-20 starts to develop into a legit back end SP, but yeah when in need he seems as able as anyone to plug and play as a fine #5.

          • A #5 who hits 98?
            Lets take a brief look at SP depth, not just for 2016… but competition wise for the 5 spots. Using Tim’s tiered system….
            #1 Cole / Taillion / Glasnow
            #2 Frankie / Kingham / Kuhl / Yuedy
            #3 Neise / Brault / Tarpley
            #4 Locke / A.Sanchez / Holmes

            Going max stuff projection – highest ceilings reached… is there a comp to the NY Mets rotation.
            #1 Cole = Harvey
            #2 Taillion = Degrom
            #3 Glasnow = Syndergaard
            #4 Yuedy = Wheeler
            #5 Tarpley = Matz

            Tim – would that be the highest ceiling 5?

            • No one was discussing his ceiling at 5, but his ability to this year show up and fill in if needed.

              I have no doubt his ceiling is above that, but this year he’d almost certainly be that unless he shows balls out and really overachieves to where his stuff was at to end the previous season.

        • I have seen Kuhl hit as high as 97-98, and sit around 95. He has pretty good command but doesn’t strike out as many as his velo would suggest. With a good changeup he could even get to a mid rotation level.

      • The team has so many guys who should be able to out perform Vogelsong. He’s a very poor version of Vance Worley IMO.
        I guess you could wonder if he’s got enough left to be a long guy only… but too much $ for that.

    • Anybody but Vogelsong. No, I take that back…..there ARE some ‘anybodys’ out there who REALLY stink.

      I’d still like to see us pick up a good #3.

        • Its Vogelstink on good days, and Vogelsuck on typical days. Maybe he will prove me wrong, but there were other better realistic options, to me, on the market.

          • He ruined Bradenton for me, along with a trip to Cincy and two PNC Park trips. Gave up 5 runs in the first or by the 2nd in every single one…Seeing him pitch well for Giants stunned me.

    • Yeah, Williams may even be the first guy out of all of them because he is a guy they may be more likely to “up and down” rather than Glasnow or Taillon.

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