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:
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.