The Pirates will have a decision to make later this month on whether they will be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline. They are currently eight games under .500, and ten games back from the Wild Card race, with a lot of teams in front of them. So it makes sense to sell, and to give time to the younger players the rest of the season after they sell.
If the Pirates are going to get back to winning, they can’t entirely rely on internal options. They’re going to need some outside help. But right now they have too many holes to focus on outside help at specific positions, and as a small market team, they can’t bring in outside help to patch all of those holes.
So today, let’s look at the starter of the future at each position, focusing primarily on guys who could be up this year, with an additional focus on guys who could arrive as soon as next year. Not all of these guys will work out, obviously, and the ones who don’t work out will reveal where the Pirates need to add from the outside in the future to support this group.
Catcher – Elias Diaz
The Pirates needed Diaz to step up this year and show that he could be a starting option, as they don’t have many (or any?) starting options behind him in the minors. Diaz has done just that, and while it is in a small sample size of 155 plate appearances, it could be enough for them to trust him going forward.
The key here is that it might be difficult to move Francisco Cervelli with his injury history and his contract. Cervelli has put together a better season this year, with limited injuries compared to last year. I’m not sure if that would be enough for him to have positive trade value, and I don’t think the Pirates need to get his contract off the books enough to pay down salary (unless they get an actual return, and not a Drew Hutchison return). It wouldn’t be bad if they kept going with Cervelli and Diaz, but if they can move Cervelli, then Diaz looks like a good candidate to take over.
First Base – Josh Bell
Baseball is funny. If I said before the season that Josh Bell might have some competition from Will Craig, it would have sounded crazy. But now Bell has been struggling, and Craig has found some power in his game, which means the Pirates could have an interesting decision in the future.
But not yet. Bell is too smart of a hitter and his tools are too good for his career to just suddenly fizzle out like this. I think he can eventually turn it around, and since Craig isn’t knocking down the door right now, the Pirates have plenty of time to give him to get things corrected in the majors. If this does continue, Craig’s progress will be something to watch closely.
Second Base – Kevin Kramer
Josh Harrison has two option years remaining on his deal, and if I was writing this column a month ago, I’d be saying how he’s been productive enough to trade and get a decent return. But Harrison, like others on the team, has struggled lately. He might still have some trade value, but the key thing here is that Kevin Kramer looks ready, and looks like a future upgrade.
I just want to highlight that last point, because every time I mention Kramer as a replacement, I get responses on how the Pirates aren’t upgrading. Harrison is a league average all-around second baseman at best. Kramer has the chance to be better than that, due to his power potential and hitting ability, plus his defense is strong at second. The Pirates would be best off bringing him up and getting him adjusted to the majors this year, as he should be an upgrade in the future when it counts.
Shortstop – Kevin Newman
Jordy Mercer is a free agent at the end of the year, and has been a below average shortstop. I don’t know if Kevin Newman will be better than average, and he could end up being a utility infielder in the future. But I do know that the Pirates are better off spending the rest of the season transitioning to Newman, since Mercer is gone at the end of the year. They can even keep Mercer around to help with the transition.
Eventually, I think Cole Tucker will be the starting shortstop of the future. He’s still adjusting to Double-A, and will probably finish the season there, with a jump to Triple-A next year if the second half goes well. So Newman will have some time to show what he can do in the majors before another starting option comes along.
Third Base – Colin Moran
This is a situation similar to first base. Moran’s offense hasn’t exactly been struggling, but he hasn’t been lights out. He’s got more raw power than he has shown, and his lower strikeout rate and high contact rate (third on the team behind Meadows and just behind Dickerson) suggests he should be hitting for a higher average. He’s a rookie, and could still be adjusting to the majors.
The Pirates have Ke’Bryan Hayes in Altoona, who has the potential for gold glove defense at third base. He doesn’t have the raw power that Moran has, but his power has been developing, joining his strong average and on-base skills. Moran still has some time to show that he can stick in the majors, but Hayes could be the starting third baseman of the future if the current trend continues. There’s also the possibility of Moran going to first base if Bell doesn’t rebound.
Left Field – Austin Meadows
This one is simple. Meadows is under team control for six more seasons beyond the 2018 season, and will be part of the future outfield. His struggles lately show why the rookies need to come up and get experience in a lost season. It’s unreasonable to expect a young player to come up and be productive without any adjustments. Meadows arrived and performed better than you could expect any rookie to perform, but is now in his adjustment period. It’s good to get that out of the way in this lost season, just like it would be good to get guys like Newman and Kramer going this year to get their adjustments started.
Center Field – Starling Marte
Marte is under control through 2021 and is one of the best players on the team, so this is another spot that is simple. As for a long-term replacement, there are a lot of outfield options in the minors, but 2018 first round pick Travis Swaggerty could be a guy to focus on as an option to take over in center field. Or the Pirates could move Meadows to center field and the future could be in a corner outfielder like Calvin Mitchell.
Right Field – Gregory Polanco?
Jason Martin hit well in Altoona, and is now hitting well in Indianapolis. That’s not enough to bring him to the majors yet, as he’ll face adjustments at that level. But it’s enough to wonder about the future of Gregory Polanco.
Polanco has been struggling, both at the plate and in a bad way on the field. Martin’s success in the minors essentially puts a deadline on Polanco to finally gain consistency and produce. It might be less than a year for Martin to arrive, and if things are still going the way they’re going right now, it would make sense for Martin to replace Polanco as a starter.
Note that I didn’t include Corey Dickerson in the outfield, since he’s under control only through 2019. It would make more sense to trade him, go big on the rebuild, and go with a future of Marte, Meadows, and Martin (The Killer M’s?).
Starting Rotation – Add Nick Kingham
I’m not going to break down the entire rotation here. Jameson Taillon, Chad Kuhl, Joe Musgrove, and Trevor Williams all have years of control remaining. Mitch Keller is adjusting to Triple-A right now, and should be joining the rotation a year from now. Ivan Nova is currently in the mix, but would be a good trade option.
The one thing I’ll say here is that the Pirates need to make some room for Nick Kingham. He’s in the majors right now, but only as a depth option. He needs to be in the majors as a full-time option, since the Pirates would be better off seeing him making adjustments and getting experience, rather than someone like Nova, who is only under control through 2019.
Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates lost 3-2 to the Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday evening. Nick Kingham will be on the mound today, coming off of five earned runs over three innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers in his last start. The scheduled Phillies starter was still TBD as of last night.
The minor league schedule includes JT Brubaker going up against Columbus for the third time in three weeks. He got knocked out after three innings the first time, then bounced back with 5.2 shutout innings. Travis MacGregor makes his second start since returning to West Virginia. He allowed one run over five innings in his first game back from a deltoid injury. Altoona starter Pedro Vasquez threw six shutout innings in his last home start. Bristol doesn’t have a starter listed, but it should be Oliver Garcia, while Morgantown has sixth round pick Michael Flynn listed. Nothing listed for Bradenton, but it could be the High-A debut of Gavin Wallace. The GCL Pirates and two DSL Pirates teams are all off today.
MLB: Pittsburgh (40-48) vs Phillies (49-37) 1:35 PM
Probable starter: Nick Kingham (4.70 ERA, 37:10 SO/BB, 38.1 IP)
AAA: Indianapolis (47-39) vs Columbus (45-42) 1:35 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: JT Brubaker (3.77 ERA, 44:28 SO/BB, 57.1 IP)
AA: Altoona (44-39) vs Trenton (49-38) 2:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Pedro Vasquez (4.98 ERA, 41:15 SO/BB, 56.0 IP)
High-A: Bradenton (41-40) vs Fort Myers (36-48) 1:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: TBD (0.00 ERA, 0:0 SO/BB, 0.0 IP)
Low-A: West Virginia (46-36) vs Hagerstown (32-52) 2:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Travis MacGregor (2.91 ERA, 49:8 SO/BB, 34.0 IP)
Short-Season A: Morgantown (10-12) vs Auburn (12-9) 4:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Michael Flynn (15.75 ERA, 6:1 SO/BB, 4.0 IP)
Rookie: Bristol (9-8) vs Princeton (11-7) 6:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Oliver Garcia (8.00 ERA, 9:12 SO/BB, 9.0 IP)
GCL: Pirates (6-10) vs Tigers East 12:00 PM 7/9 (season preview)
DSL: Pirates1 (14-17) vs Indians 10:30 AM 7/9 (season preview)
DSL: Pirates2 (13-18) vs Colorado 10:30 AM 7/9 (season preview)
From Indianapolis and Altoona, highlights from two of the prospects acquired this past off-season. Jason Martin’s first Triple-A homer.
RBI single from Bryan Reynolds
7/7: Pirates activate Michael Feliz, recall Alex McRae from Indianapolis. Dovydas Neverauskas and Josh Smoker optioned to Indianapolis.
7/7: Pirates released Felix Vinicio, Pablo Santana and Carlos Garcia.
7/6: Jake Brentz placed on Bradenton disabled list.
7/6: John O’Reilly assigned to Bristol. Sent back to GCL on 7/7 (really happened)
7/6: Rafelin Lorenzo assigned to GCL Pirates on rehab. Raul Hernandez assigned to West Virginia.
7/6: Jin-De Jhang activated from Altoona disabled list. John Bormann placed on disabled list.
7/6: Clay Holmes optioned to Indianapolis. Pirates recall Jordan Luplow.
7/6: Raul Siri assigned to Morgantown.
7/6: Pirates sign Zack Kone
7/5: Royals claim Enny Romero
7/5: Francisco Cervelli assigned to Altoona on rehab.
7/5: Dylan Busby assigned to GCL on rehab.
7/4: Pirates recall Josh Smoker.
7/4: Scooter Hightower promoted to Altoona. Ryan Haug assigned to GCL Pirates.
7/4: Jason Delay activated from Bradenton disabled list.
7/3: Pirates released Larry Alcime.
7/3: Pirates sign Michael Burrows.
7/3: Pirates recall Dovydas Neverauskas. Tanner Anderson optioned to Indianapolis.
7/3: Montana DuRapau promoted to Indianapolis. Erich Weiss placed on disabled list.
7/3: Travis MacGregor activated from West Virginia disabled list. Gavin Wallace promoted to Bradenton.
7/2: Pirates signed a lot of international players.
7/2: Pirates signed even more international players.
7/2: Pirates sign Grant Koch and Mike Gretler.
7/2: Nick Kingham recalled. Jose Osuna optioned to Indianapolis.
7/2: Enny Romero designated for assignment.
7/2: Sean Rodriguez assigned to Indianapolis on rehab
7/1: Calvin Mitchell activated from West Virginia disabled list.
6/30: Ryan Haug assigned to Bradenton.
6/30: Pirates sign Alec Rennard.
6/29: Chad Kuhl placed on disabled list. Max Moroff recalled from Indianapolis.
6/29: Brett Pope promoted to Bradenton. Matt Eckelman promoted to Altoona.
6/29: Evan Piechota activated from Bradenton disabled list.
6/28: Mitch Keller and Jason Martin promoted to Indianapolis. Alfredo Reyes promoted to Bradenton.
6/28: Eddie Muhl retired.
THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY
Seven former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, including one that went on to become a Hall of Fame umpire. We will start with John Bowker, who returned to the organization in a trade in 2015, after playing for the Pirates during the 2010-11 seasons. He only played for Indianapolis during his second stint before being released. Also born on this date, 1991 pitcher Rosario Rodriguez, 1985-91 pitcher Bob Kipper, 1955-58 outfielder John Powers and pitcher Jay Parker, who made his only Pirates’ appearance on September 27,1899 and it was one he probably wanted to forget. He started game two of a doubleheader and was so erratic on the mound, he was pulled after facing two batters. He walked both and both scored, in what turned out to be his only Major League game.
Hank O’Day pitched for the Pirates back in 1885 when the franchise was still in the American Association and the club’s nickname was still the Alleghenys. He went 5-7 in 12 starts, completing all 12 games. In his seven-year career, he had a 73-110 record on the mound, but he made his name behind the plate. O’Day umpired for 30 seasons, plus five other years he filled in the position a handful of times. He was the umpire for ten World Series, including the first one, which included the Pirates. It took awhile, but the Hall of Fame finally recognized his value in 2013.
Finally, Harry Gilbert was born on this date in 1868 and his Major League career lasted one day, but he actually played two games. On June 23, 1890, the Alleghenys/Pirates played a doubleheader in Philadelphia and used both John Gilbert and Harry Gilbert for their double play combo, the first pair of siblings to play together for the Pirates. Harry was the second baseman and he went 2-for-8 at the plate. He had two singles and scored a run, while playing flawlessly in the field. You can read more about that day in an article I wrote here.