Here’s part two of this weekend’s Q&A, this time looking at prospect questions, budget questions, and all of the random ones. If you missed part one, which covered the offseason, you can find that here. We did save two questions for longer articles, so look for that early next week.
Thanks for all of the questions this week! I hope you enjoy the new format, and we’ll definitely do this again next week.
Oh, hey, prospect questions!
Lee Fieux: Keller had a somewhat disappointing year, albeit supposedly working on his off speed pitches. What do you expect out of him in 2019? Is his upside as good or better than Taillon’s? How is your OOTP team doing? 🙂
Tim: I’ve seen Keller since the day he pitched his first pro game, including all of the key changes along the way. The one thing that stood out the most was that he relied on his fastball an extreme amount of the time. As in, more than any other guy who was following the old “throw your fastball 60% of the time or more” plan.
When he was in Bradenton in 2017, a lot of the discussions I had with him were about using the secondary pitches more often early in games, rather than using the fastball almost exclusively the first four innings. He was making that change, but still sticking to the “throw your fastball a large majority of the time” plan.
One of the key changes this past year is that he changed that approach, throwing his curveball and changeup more often early in the game and in counts. This is a big part of the reason why he struggled this past year. It takes a lot to adjust your approach and lean heavier on pitches that you previously used only in certain situations, especially when that adjustment happens during the season.
One encouraging thing for me is that most of Keller’s best adjustments have come during the offseason. His mechanical adjustment that led to better control in West Virginia in 2016 actually started in Bristol the previous year, but didn’t finally click until the offseason. The changeup work he did with his new grip in Altoona in 2017 saw improvements that offseason in the AFL. So I’m really interested to see how much he has changed in Spring Training after this offseason.
I expect Keller to be like Taillon, both in terms of being able to enter the league and immediately provide value, and in terms of having top of the rotation upside.
As for the OOTP team, I can’t remember the last time I played. I am at 100% on Spider-Man PS4 though, including the expansion packs.
Jim Deweese: While I can only dream about Cruz becoming the long-sought-for Lefty McThump, I cannot see him sticking in the hole. It appears like Hayes will arrive at third base, limiting him to 1st base or right field. I think right field, if he gets to Pittsburgh…what do you think.
Tim: I’m skeptical that he will stick at shortstop, and as you noted, Hayes has third base locked down. I agree that first base or right field look more likely for him with the Pirates, and that right field would provide more value. I think he will have enough power to stick at either position. But it makes a lot of sense for the Pirates to continue to try and work him at shortstop, hoping against the odds that he can stick at the spot, despite the large frame.
lucabrasi: Assuming he isn’t extended, which current farm system prospect is the best candidate to replace Corey Dickerson?
Tim: In the short-term, I think the Pirates will hope that one of Bryan Reynolds or Jason Martin step up in 2019 and emerge as an option for the 2020 season. In the long-term, the guy with the highest upside would be Calvin Mitchell, and that’s assuming that Travis Swaggerty is the starting center fielder and replacement for Starling Marte at that point.
jimmyz: With the MLB rotation under team control for several years and Keller being the only upper level prospect with impact upside, which of the lower level pitching prospects do you think have the best chance of taking a big step in their development to become a potential in house replacement for one of the guys on the current staff?
Tim: One downside to the Pirates’ system is that they definitely have a gap between the upper level and lower level talent, with a lot of the lower level guys being more projectable than actual results right now. I’m not sure how to handicap things in terms of who will have the most upside, but the five lower level pitchers who stand out the most are Cody Bolton, Tahnaj Thomas, Braxton Ashcraft, Travis MacGregor, and Michael Burrows.
MacGregor is recovering from Tommy John surgery this year, so the hope is that he returns and continues the progress he saw in 2018. Bolton saw a lot of good progress last year, but had his season cut short with a forearm issue that wasn’t described as major. If he can return healthy in 2019 and take a step up, he could be one of the best candidates from this list. Guys like Thomas, Ashcraft, and Burrows are more projectable lottery tickets, and it will probably take two more seasons to even get an idea of what they could become.
tmuney15: Why is Brubaker not rated higher? He has a high 90’s fastball, multiple pitches, and good control. He wins at all levels, but seems so underrated.
Tim: We have him as the number two starting pitching prospect in the system, and in the tier with guys ranked in the 6-13 spots, which means you could argue for him in any of those spots. He really took a step forward this year with his cutter, and I think that has him looking at a more likely future as a starter, rather than a reliever/starting depth. If he continues that improvement from 2018, I could see him being the best non-Keller depth option for the rotation by the end of the year, and maybe starting to force his way into the mix.
Stonecipher: I see a lot of the upper level guys that occupy the top of the Pirates’ prospect list as still having significant hurdles to accomplish before being able to make an impact at the MLB level. I am an avid MilB box score reader, what performance metrics would you keep an eye on for Craig, Tucker and Hayes?
Tim: This is expected for prospects in the minors, and a reason they’re still in the minors. All of them have things to work on before arriving in the majors, and they even have things to work on after their arrival.
Tucker needs to start applying his offensive tools in the game, which really relies on taking advantage of his large frame more consistently. Hayes needs to keep doing what he was doing last year, and carry the results up to a higher level, with the necessary adjustments against more challenging pitchers. Craig needs to combine his 2018 ability to hit for power with his pre-2018 ability to hit for average and get on base. He did that in the AFL, so we’ll see if it carries over to Indianapolis this year.
heacox204: After seeing Tyler Eppler sign with a Japanese team, I wonder is this something that we should consider as a possiblity in the future with our upper level depth? There are guys like McRae, and DuRapau that seem stuck in AAA and forever blocked. It’s great for them, but does take a hit on our depth.
Tim: That decision is really a personal one for the players, and not a team strategy. If the player feels his best path forward is playing in Japan, then he requests his release so he can sign with a team over there. The team grants that if he’s not high up in their plans.
Eppler was a perfect example of this. He wasn’t high on the depth charts as a rotation or bullpen option. If he arrived in 2019, it would be a minor role, after several other guys were given a chance first. And as indicated by teams passing over him in the Rule 5 draft multiple years, he didn’t have other MLB-ready opportunities.
I think McRae has more of a chance of helping the MLB club this year than Eppler. DuRapau is a guy who seems to be blocked, and could benefit from playing elsewhere if he can get a better deal than his current Triple-A salary.
Zachary Wolfe: What should we expect their future tv deal to be? Asumming frank doesnt completely butcher it (a bug if), we should have a higher income stream and therefore be able to afford a higher payroll. Any guess as to what that might look like?
Tim: I don’t know if I could guess a figure. Despite attendance issues, the TV ratings have been very good, and I believe some of the best in baseball. But the market is also lower than places like Houston and other teams who received massive TV deals, as Pittsburgh doesn’t have a large comparative population to draw from in the surrounding areas.
Even with that, they should receive a bigger deal than the $20-25 M a year they are getting now. I think if it’s not around $40 M or more per year, then it would be disappointing. That $40 M figure is what the Indians drew in 2013. I think the best thing to hope for is a deal like what the Cardinals received.
SalemPirate: How dire is the Pirate financial situation? Will it always be profits before winning? The Pirates could sign Manny (emphasis on could) boosting fan enthusiasm, jacking up attendance and actually turning the team into a contender.
Tim: I don’t know specifics, but I don’t think the approach has changed. The approach has been to spend up to the budget and not take a loss in any given year, with the belief that they can try to contend every year and avoid windows. That raises trust questions about whether they are actually spending every dollar available, as everyone just has to take their word for it.
I wouldn’t say that signing any player would boost fan enthusiasm or increase attendance. I think the team actually becoming a contender is the only thing that will do that.
SweetNick: As far as the 40 man, who is the next dfa? The one after that and the one after that?
Tim: I hate speculating on this, because a lot of players and families read the site, and I don’t like taking guesses as to which ones will be on the move or demoted off the 40-man roster.
SalemPirate: If thee roster stays relatively the same till the trading deadline, are the Pirates going to be buyers or sellers? Also, if the roster does remain basically the same will the Pirates be contenders or not?
Tim: I think that will depend on their record at the deadline. At the least, I see them in the same situation as the last few years, where they are on the fringe of contending, and looking to buy, while maybe selling guys who are on their way out. Since they don’t have many of those guys, I could see the approach being similar to 2018, where they add to the team (maybe not in such a huge way, unless they have a few breakout prospects they can deal), and don’t subtract guys on shorter contracts.
rutkap: What do you put the odds at Nick Kingham opening the year as the Pirates 5th Starter?
Tim: The Pirates would probably need two injuries to the rotation in order for Kingham to be a regular starter. I think one injury would create a situation where they turn to an opener, which Kingham would be part of.
PhillyJake: Won’t the real Josh Bell please stand up? please stand up? please stand up?
Tim: Y’all act like you’ve never seen a young player struggle before
Jaws all on the floor like Pedro and Eldred just walked through the door.
NMR: Congrats on the engagement! Any moves in your future?
(yes, this is me selfishly asking if we’re gonna lose Bradenton-based content)
Tim: Thanks man! No move planned right now, but I can guarantee that if I do move out of Bradenton, it would come with a replacement for coverage down here, along with me moving to an area where I could still cover every team live during the year (including trips down to Bradenton). In short, my dream of moving to Sydney, Australia is on hold for now.