Buc’n Battle Report: Saint Searage?

Saint Searage?

It is only 14.1 innings and that proves absolutely nothing but Volquez’s start of the season should at least have us thinking about our letters to Pope Francis asking him to name pitching coach Ray Searage a saint. After all a saint needs to have performed a miracle and if Volquez keeps pitching at anywhere close to this level I think we have one here.

Maybe there is no such thing

As a pitching prospect. The Pirates ranks took another blow this week as Luis Heredia was removed from his start after throwing just one pitch. The issue appears to be his shoulder and it is reported to be minor but this still isn’t good news. Hopefully Heredia will be throwing again in a matter of days/weeks not months but shoulder injuries always worry me. Heredia was already nearing disappointment status after basically a lost 2013 season which saw him show up out of shape another set back would drop him down to just an ordinary prospect.

AAA Hitting

The story at AAA has been Gregory Polanco and his torrid pace but lost in all of that is the fact Andrew Lambo is starting to hit pretty well. It is still probably too early to have changed the Pirates minds but sooner or later he is going to have to get his shot over Ishikawa who after a good start is regressing back to what we knew was coming.

AAA Pitching

It is always nice to add depth and by adding Jeff Locke and Vin Mazzaro back in the ranks in AAA that is just what the Pirates did. Locke should serve as the sixth starter and with the shaky beginning the rotation has had he might be needed sooner rather than later. It is more difficult to guess as to what role Mazzaro will have as Hughes and Welker will likely be the top two options to fill a hole in the bullpen thanks to being on the MLB roster but if a reliever goes down with a long term injury the Pirates may turn to him.

Wei-Chung Watch

Two weeks into the season and amazingly enough Wei-Chung Wang still hasn’t made his major league debut. The Brewers appear like they really want to hold on to him but don’t want to play him. With their good start likely raising expectations you have to wonder just how long they can continue to field in essence a 24 man roster.

Central gets tougher

I hate to admit it but this Brewers team is a strong one. I still don’t think they are the best team in the division that belongs to the Cardinals but I had a sneaky suspicion they might be able to challenge for the second spot and so far things are trending that way. Still the bullpen is playing over its head right now and the offense is performing at a level they aren’t capable of maintaining so they will regress but even so I expect them to be in the race for most of the year.

Consistency

I am quite amazed the Pirates have made it two weeks without having to make a single adjustment to the Opening Day roster. Such a thing usually doesn’t happen as a player is bound to come up with a minor early season injury. Another thing that amazes me is just how regular the Pirates everyday lineup has gotten. Hurdle typically likes to mix things up a bit and with non cookie cutter platoons at 1B and RF I expected to see a good bit of it. Now as for if these things are good or not I think the former definitely is while the later well the jury is still out on it.

Morales and Drew?

With Morales and Drew still not signed the talk is shifting to them signing after the draft. Naturally with a hole at 1B and a struggling SS the Pirates are popping up as a potential landing spot. Given there is still plenty of flexibility in the budget a thing not a lot of teams have this seems like a reasonable suggestion. Personally I like the idea of signing Drew to give the offense a boost should Mercer not come around but I’m a bit more skeptical on Morales for the simple fact I don’t really view him as an everyday 1B.

Week Ahead

More division games. I know just a little under half the games the Pirates play this year will come against their division mates but starting out with 26 such games in a row is a bit of a long stretch especially considering just how good the division is. I know most were hoping the Pirates would just come out firing but let’s be realistic here if the Pirates can just hold their heads above water in their own division going a touch above .500 their playoff chances still look pretty decent. With all that being said the Reds aren’t playing really well right now and the Pirates need to defend their home when the Brewers come to town.

Why I like Ike?

As a five star general during World War and the United States of America’s 34th President what isn’t to like about Dwight D. Eisenhower also known as Ike. The man oversaw a prosperous time in the country’s history and … whats’ that … I have the wrong Ike. This is supposed to be about baseball? Umm … ok I can make that work.

Scratch all that apparently this article pertains to Ike Davis, 1B for the New York Mets. Recently the New York Mets have opted to install Lucas Duda as their regular first baseman and with Josh Satin serving as his backup and platoon partner that really leaves little role for Ike Davis to occupy. Defensively Davis is limited to 1B meaning he isn’t an ideal bench player and with no DH in the NL it isn’t likely he will get regular at bats relegating him to just pinch hitting duty. It gets even worse for Davis though as soon Chris Young will be pushing towards a return and will force the Mets into a decision. I’m not entirely certain which players have and don’t have options for the Mets but it appears quite certain the make up the team would work best if the player Young replaced was Davis. All of this has led some to speculate the Mets would be open to dealing Davis and an obvious fit for a left handed first baseman would be a team with hopes of contention who is starting  someone like say Travis Ishikawa at first base.

Davis is far from an ideal fit for the Pirates but all of this does not mean he isn’t a useful fit for them. Davis had a strong rookie season for the Mets back in 2010 but followed that up with an injury shortened 2011, a disappointing 2012 and a disastrous 2013. Still despite all of that I contend Davis remains one of the better options for the Pirates. Courtesy of FanGraphs here is a leaderboard which shows how various players rumored to be available to play 1B have fared against right handed pitching since the start of the 2011 season (note this excludes Davis’s best year). Take note of who has the highest wRC+ in this time period. In a bit of a mild surprise in a list that contains such names as Corey Hart, Adam Lind and Kendrys Morales the best hitter over the last three years against right handed pitching has been Ike Davis.

I’m as willing to admit as anyone that Davis has his faults. Straying away from baseball for a second and in to a field I am not at all familiar with we reach his recent case of Valley Fever. From what I can tell often once a person gets over it they are not susceptible to it anymore but that isn’t true in all cases and I’m not familiar enough with Davis’s specific case to know whether that applies or not. Either way this in itself is one thing outside of his performance that bears considering. The disease doesn’t seem to do much except make a person extremely fatigued but for a baseball player that is obviously a very bad thing.

Moving on to on the field issues brings us first to Davis’s strike out rate. Let’s be honest here the last thing the Pirates need to do is add more strike outs to this lineup. Davis strikes out a lot nearly 1 out of every 4 at bats which in a lineup featuring Starling Marte and Pedro Alvarez would just add to the list of frustrating swings and misses. However the one thing he has that those other don’t is the ability to take a walk as his walk percentage for his career is around 12% meaning he walks once for about every two strike outs. This ability allows him to post a solid OBP despite his low batting average and high strike out rate.

The other red flag that sticks out is his underwhelming performances the last two seasons but 2012 can be explained in part at least with his battle with Valley Fever. The Pirates would have to trust their medical staff on whether this would be an ongoing issue. Last year though was more of a product of a poor season but as a silver lining he did begin to hit well down the stretch before getting injured. At 27 years old it seems unlikely Davis’s skills would already be on the decline so his strong finish shouldn’t be completely ignored. His recent poor play does make him a risk but if he wasn’t a risky acquisition there would be zero chance of the Pirates or any other team for that matter of acquiring him early on in this season.

The next obvious question becomes is Davis better than the Pirates current plan? Well this is an impossible one to answer for the simple reason that we really don’t know what that plan happens to be. Right now Travis Ishikawa is getting the lion’s share of the starts but is that a temporary thing until Lambo or McGuiness shows something or is it how the Pirates are planning on holding down the position this year. Ishikawa is off to a solid enough start and if he can continue playing near this level replacing him would not be something necessary but he has a track record which seems to indicate what type of player he really is. Ishikawa is a good glove 1B that has a good approach at the plate but he lacks the power to be a true impact bat for the position. Upgrading upon that is something the Pirates surely want to do.

Now we come back to the Andrew Lambo situation. He is really the key piece to all of this. How exactly do the Pirates view him? Is it as a potential long term solution to their hole at 1B or is it as a project (like Jeff Clement) with a lot of upside but a low chance of panning out? If the Pirates really believe Lambo can be their 1B giving up assets (both players and cash) for Davis wouldn’t be worth it but if they see him as no more than a project something should be done and Davis right now is the obvious solution.

Now just what might it take to acquire Davis from the Mets? In the offseason it appeared the Mets were shooting for the moon asking for a young quality pitcher someone who would be comparable to the Pirates Nicholas Kingham. I think it is fairly obvious now with Davis being demoted to bench duty that he isn’t going to get them that kind of a return. Still Davis isn’t exactly going to be free I have saw some speculating on a Locke for Davis swap and while I believe that is still probably a bit much it is certainly getting closer. One thing is for certain though and it is the Mets primary target in exchange for Davis is a controllable starting pitcher. The Pirates have several options there and if they wait it out perhaps they will be able to get him at a low enough price that it makes sense to deal away from their starting pitcher depth.

Davis is far from an ideal candidate for the Pirates and he comes with risks and the downward trend his career has been on is certainly concerning but even so he remains a quality option against right handed pitching and with Gaby Sanchez in the fold that is really what the Pirates need. Travis Ishikawa is playing well enough right now that 1B is not really an issue but to me it appears inevitable that he will revert to what he truly is and when that happens the Pirates are going to be forced into doing something to solve the position. Perhaps Lambo will prove to them he is worthy of a chance or perhaps another external candidate will become available and be a more attractive option than Davis but for the time being Ike is the best option out there and really that isn’t a bad thing. When it comes down to it none of us may love Davis but we should all certainly like Ike.

Buc’n Battle Report Week 1

As I said in my rebirth post there will be no reoccurring features however I am going to attempt to do one post every week or so that highlights what I believe to be the significant news surrounding the Pirates and I’m going to throw my opinion/thoughts on the matters out there. It is going to feature a touch of whatever I feel like is important be it off the field antics, on the field play, promotions, minor league results, etc. The tentative name I gave it is Buc’n Battle Report report which has a few obvious meanings which I won’t go over but suffice to say it plays on the view of the baseball season being a long grind and needing of weekly updates on where things stand.

Barry Bonds Presents MVP trophy to Andrew McCutchen

I am too young to remember Bonds’ time with the Pirates and as such I hold no ill will to him for his departure or for his shortcomings in the 1992 NLCS. As for the steroid controversy I am less sure where I stand on that issue but I’m not willing to crucify the guy and exclude him from all baseball events. As for the Pirates decision to have him present the trophy I think it was a great decision to try to have all the former MVP back for the moment and it felt incomplete without Parker and would have felt more so with out Bonds. I’m happy with the mix response Pittsburgh gave him as that feels about right although had I been there myself I probably would have chosen to remain quiet.

Instant Replay

The Pirates were involved in a lot of interesting replays early on but the noise about the process seems to be calming down. I am in favor of the use of replay but there are certainly quite a few bugs that need fixed in this current iteration of it and chief among them on my list is the whole challenge process. Managers are milking it with these slow walks out to the umpires only to stand around and faux argue until a signal is received. An eye in the sky would surely help speed up this process and improve its accuracy.

Jameson Taillon to have Tommy John Surgery

This is obviously not good news but the fact that it occurred before he was on the major league roster is the silver lining. The Pirates will not lose his service time to the surgery and recovery and will still control his rights through 7 major league seasons. Of course the more immediate news here is how this affects the Pirates pitching depth which is obviously significantly as the Pirates will not be able to get another pitcher inside or outside the organization this year who could have the mid season impact Taillon could have had. His loss will sting but I still feel the Pirates have the depth to carry them through this. The news is bad but it most certainly isn’t crushing and it is better now than later.

Edinson Volquez’s Strong Debut

7.2 innings on the week while allowing only a single run. Not exactly the kind of start most Pirates fans envisioned for Volquez. I think lost in all the negative talk about Volquez is the fact that Volquez really does have the stuff necessary to become a very good starting pitcher and all that eludes him is the ability to put his pitches where he wants them. Now that is a big thing eluding him and by no means is it now fixed Volquez will inevitably have a few games in which he looks awful but the start has been great and will hopefully build some early season confidence not only in Volquez but in the eyes of the fans.

Bunting

I would prefer to see a stop to the senseless bunts (there are a select few which are fine) but at the very least if you are going to bunt have the players practice it more and become decent at it. The combination of poor bunting ability and senseless bunting is going to wind up costing this team a game sooner or later.

Contract Extensions

Not much to say here the extensions given to Hurdle and Huntington were well earned and I hope they continue improving as the next few years go by and if they do the Pirates very well may find themselves with one of the better GM/manager tandems in baseball.

Minor League Recap

Not much to say a week in the A OF which appears to be dripping with talent has a bunch of early hamstring issues which will hopefully get resolved. Aside from that it was nice to see Polanco get off to a good start, Allie join AA and Battling Bucs sleeper prospect Max Moroff have a solid first week. On the pitching side on things a few more starts like the one Kingham had this week should land him in AAA shortly and good to see Cumpton with a solid season debut in AAA.

Major League Action

The early results seem to show this team looking a lot like last year’s and that is a good thing. The bats should produce some more runs this year as they will surely get luckier when runners are one and the power this group has should translate to some more offense as well. The right field and first base situations are so far so good as the four players have all had solid starts to the year. Tony Sanchez looks like a man who shouldn’t be sent down but in the name of depth he will be and that isn’t all that bad of a decision. Grilli and Melancon don’t quite look as lights out as they were last year but asking for that would be too much as long as they remain a steady duo things will be fine. All and all things seem to be trending in the right direction.

The Rebirth

It has been a little less than a year now since I shut down this blog. I know most of my readers (few as they were) have likely moved on without really feeling the blog’s absence but the same can not be said about this author. Baseball holds and has always held a special place in my heart. The game in some ways is just simply magical and it captures the imagination like no other sport can. Several times during this past year I have felt the desire to renew this site but I have always held back because I just didn’t have the time to commit to it. Then about a week ago I got a chance to write a guest post for a great new Pirates blog called Saber Bucs. It wasn’t much just an attempt at figuring out future contract extensions but it was enough to get my juice flowing again. However I still realize I don’t have it in me to commit to this site daily but I’m at peace with now and I’m going to set out to do what I had always planned to do with this site and that is just write my opinion on what is one of my strongest hobbies, the Pittsburgh Pirates. The site won’t feature any reoccurring articles and it will probably go days if not weeks between posts and I know I won’t garner much if any following but I’m going to write not for views or followers or anything else but for me and the joy I get following the Pirates. I’m at a fairly stressful time on my life right now and the Pirates are my great escape. For those that choose to read the few articles I churn out over the next few weeks, months, years, decades or however long I manage to keep this going I thank you but for me this is about something a bit more personal.

So all it might be in a bit of a different form but Battling Bucs is back!!!

Shutting Down Battling Bucs

As is probably pretty evident by now the frequency of my postings here at Battling Bucs has dwindled down to almost zero over the last couple of weeks. This is due to conditions in my life making it harder for me to find time to commit to blogging. I have a new full time job taking some of my time, I have a wedding I am in the process of planning taking some of my time and many other factors are pulling my attention away from this wonderful blog. Although it didn’t even make it two full years this blog has meant a lot to me, no it never got to be ultra-popular or anything like that but it provided me with an outlet to speak my piece and post my opinions on a franchise dear to my heart, the Pittsburgh Pirates. It has been a great run and I’d like to thank all my readers. Your site views have been much appreciated.

For the last three months before April began I pored just about everything I could into this site and that made it great I shot up the MLB blogs leader boards all the way into the top 30 and I was climbing. My desire is to go on and see if I can’t make a run at the top spot but I don’t have the time or resources to make that possible. I guess you could say LIFE is forcing this closure. It is the ending of an era for me and in a way kind of the end of my college days, yes I have been out of college for almost a year now but this blog was born from those days and kept me connected to them. I always say I am lucky in that my childhood still lives on and in some ways always will. I have two things left keeping me tied to it The Simpsons and of course the Pirates but even those two are in some ways fading. The Simpsons for as great as the show has been is nearing the end of its run and the Pirates very soon are going to post a winning season (maybe not this year or next but its coming) officially ending the chapter of poor baseball I have endured all my life. Being a little philosophical here for a moment life or more specifically time as it does with everyone has defeated me and now I must move on.

My passion for the Pirates still grows everyday and I catch as many games as I possibly can. My desire to write about them and share my opinions and analysis with others is still there as well. Make no mistake I’m not done blogging but I can no longer upkeep this site. As some of you are probably aware a short while ago I joined some other bloggers over at the Pittsburgh Sports Forum and started writing some posts for them. I will continue to do so and I hope you all will come over there and check out my posts. It is a better outlet for me in this transition time in my life. Who knows when things settle down and if life provides me with the opportunity Battling Bucs could one day rise again but for the time being it shutting down.

One last time I would like to thank everyone who has read my site these last almost two years. It has been a pleasure to share my opinions with all of you. May our Pirates do something truly special this year and may this year be the start of a magnificent run.

Let’s Go Bucs!

The 2009 Draft

When looking at Huntington’s draft record it is often criticized as being poor. There is nothing wrong with this opinion as it has a lot of support but it is based upon essentially one draft. It’s too early to judge the 2010-12 drafts and the 2008 draft why not stellar was fairly solid producing 5 players who have played in the majors for the Pirates plus the main piece of the Wandy Rodriguez trade. One could argue it should be better (which I believe it should have been) but I don’t really think there is an argument to be made that it was flat-out bad. That leaves the 2009 draft which by all accounts does indeed look like a bad draft. The first round pick hasn’t developed as expected and none of the overslot high school arms have really broken out to this point. My question is how does it compare with other teams? I don’t really have the time to compare it to the drafts of the other 29 teams in the league so I chose 4 teams which I felt made sense.

Two teams I chose were the San Diego Padres and the Baltimore Orioles. The reason I selected these two is quite simple they selected 3rd and 5th in the 2009 draft respectively meaning one pick ahead of and one pick behind the Pirates. The other two teams I selected were the Oakland Athletics and Milwaukee Brewers. The reasons I selected these two are a bit more obscure. I selected the Athletics because they are a small market team well-known for having a consistently good minor league system so I figured they would show me what a good draft looked like. I selected the Brewers because they are a small market team in the Pirates division. Basically they just appear to me to be a team in a very similar situation to the Pirates.

I broke the draft down into five sections: Round 1, Rounds 2-5, Rounds 6-10, Rounds 11-20 and Rounds 21 and up. I noted every player who actually either appeared in the major leagues for these teams or who are still in the system and considered a prospect. So there is no bias on my part in picking who is still a prospect I used John Sickles top 20 lists he published in late 2012 and early 2013. Below are my findings:

Round 1

Padres: Donavan Tate, Grade C

Orioles: Matthew Hobgood, Grade NA

Athletics: Grant Green, Grade B-

Brewers: Eric Artnett, Grade NA; Kentrail Davis, Grade C; Kyle Heckathron, Grade C

Pirates: Tony Sanchez, Grade C; Victor Black, Grade C+

Analysis: Not a very inspiring group of prospects here. Tate, an OF, struggled last year at the age of 21 between the A and A+ levels posting a combined OPS of .620. Hobgood is a pitcher who didn’t pitch at all in 2012 but in 2011 as a 20 year old posted a 8.76 combined ERA in rookie and short season ball. Grant Green (who I’ll admit was who I wanted the Pirates to pick) is the best prospect of the group and at age 24 he posted a .796 OPS in the PCL (AAA league know for high offensive numbers). He has lost a lot of his appeal since draft day as he no longer looks like an everyday shortstop.

The Brewers had their regular 1st round pick and two supplemental picks. Last season Arnett pitched as a 24 year old in A+ and posted a 3.56 ERA while pitching exclusively in relief. Kentrail Davis is an OF who at age 24 last season posted a .761 OPS in AA, the Brewers are having him repeat the level this season. Kyle Heckathorn is a pitcher who last season at age 24 posted a 4.75 ERA while splitting time between the rotation and the bullpen. The Brewers promoted him to AAA this season and he now appears to be focusing exclusively on relief. Tony Sanchez split time between AA and AAA last season and as a 24 year old posted a .739 OPS for the year. Victor Black was a supplemental pick of the Pirates and is the second best prospect in this group, last season at age 24 he posted a 1.65 ERA out of the AA bullpen.

Rounds 2-5

Padres: Everett Williams (Round 2), Grade C; Keyvius Sampson (Round 4), Grade B-

Orioles: Tyler Townsend (Round 3), Grade C

Athletics: NA

Brewers: Cameron Garfield (Round 2), Grade C+; Josh Prince (Round 3), Grade C

Pirates: Zack Dodson (Round 4), Grade C

Analysis: Another fairly uninspiring group. Looking at the Padres they have Williams, an OF, who posted a .651 OPS as a 21 year old in A+ last season, and Sampson a starting pitcher who posed a 5.00 ERA as a 21 year old in AA last season. The Padres by grades have the most impressive group. Tyler Townsend is a 1B prospect in the Orioles system, last season he played at four different levels ranging from rookie ball all the way to AA. He was 24 years old and his overall OPS was .773, his longest stint was in A+ where in 136 PA he posted a .711 OPS. The Athletics have no one drafted in round drafted in rounds 2-5 who Sickles mentions on his prospect list.

Cameron Garfield was drafted by the Brewers with their second 2nd round pick in 2009 and is a catcher. Last season at age 21 he hit well in half a season at A ball posting a .910 OPS, this was his 3rd year at that level largely due to an injury that wiped out nearly all of his 2011 season. Prince was originally drafted as a SS but the Brewers has him playing primarily CF last season. At the AA level at age 24 he showed good speed stealing 24 bases but his bat was a little weak compiling only a .706 OPS. The only Pirates selection of note remaining from the 2009 is Zach Dodson. Dodson was one of many prep arms drafted by the Pirates that year and like the rest he hasn’t developed. Last year in his second season in A ball Dodson actually posted worse numbers than the year before putting up a 4.86 ERA as a 21 year old.

Rounds 6-10

Padres: Mike Mikolas (Round 7), MLB; James Needy (Round 6), Grade C

Orioles: Ryan Berry (Round 9), Grade C

Athletics: Ian Krol (Round 7), Grade C+

Brewers: Hiram Burgos (Round 6), Grade C+; Khris Davis (Round 7), Grade C+

Pirates: Zach Von Rosenberg (Round 6), Grade C; Brock Holt (Round 9), MLB

Analysis: This group is a little bit more interesting as we have our first major league ball players. There are 4 in all between these five teams and two of them came from these rounds. It should be noted the other two are actually the more noteworthy MLB players. Mikolas is a relief pitcher whom the Padres drafted in the 7th round. Starting in 2010 he focused full time on relief. As a 23 year old in 2012 he split last season between AA, AAA and the majors. In the minor leagues he posted a combined ERA of 2.92. During his major league stint he pitched 32.1 innings with an ERA of 3.62 and a WAR of 0.1. Milkolas failed to make the Padres this year out of spring and is back in AAA. James Needy is a pitcher. Last season at 21 years old he pitched primarily in A ball but the Padres gave him 8.1 combined innings in AA and AAA as well. He pitched well posting a 1.79 ERA primarily in relief at all 3 levels combined.

Berry is a pitcher in the Orioles system who spent last year primarily in A+ but did get into one game at the AA level. His ERA at the two levels combined was 3.21 and he did this  as a 23 year old relief pitcher. Krol spent his 2012 season splitting time between A+ and AA. He didn’t pitch the greatest posting a 5.20 ERA but he was young for the levels at only 21 years old.The Brewers have probably the strongest group remaining from these rounds. Burgos is a pitcher last season he split his time between A+, AA and AAA. He pitched a total of 171 innings with over 40 IP at each level and compiled a fantastic ERA of 1.95. At 24 years old he was age appropriate for the upper levels. Davis is a left fielder who at the age of 24 put together a really strong season in 2012 at the AA and AAA levels. He also had a short stint in rookie ball which I’m guessing was injury related but overall he posted a 1.055 OPS. On the downside injuries did limit him to 316 PA.

Von Rosenberg received the largest bonus of all the Pirates overslot high school arms in 2009. He repeated A ball last season as a 21 year old and saw improvements in his ERA lowering it to 4.38 but his walks rose and strike outs dropped. Brock Holt is obviously no longer with the Pirates but he did play in the majors for them so he is worth noting. Last season before being promoted to the majors Holt split time between AA and AAA. He hit the ball well at AA and caught fire at AAA making his overall OPS a good looking .859.  While in the majors Holt collected only 72 PA and posted a .682 OPS and he was exactly a replacement level player posting a 0.0 WAR.

Rounds 11-20

Padres: NA

Orioles: Michael Ohlman (Round 11), Grade C; Ty Kelly (Round 13), Grade C

Athletics: NA

Brewers: Scooter Gennett (Round 16), Grade B-

Pirates: NA

Analysis: Very slim pickings in these rounds as according to Sickles only 3 players have retained prospect status. The Padres, Athletics and Pirates have no players of note. Ohlman was drafted by the Orioles as a catcher but last season he split his time fairly evenly between catcher and 1st base so the Orioles are at least considering him for other positions. During the 2012 season he was 21 years old and spent the season primarily in A ball with a short stint in rookie ball and a bit longer stint in Australian Baseball League. Not exactly sure why he was playing in Australia but he is back now. At the A ball level he put up a solid .868 OPS. Kelly’s primary position appears to be 3rd base but last year he spent more time at 2nd than third and also spent a significant amount of time in LF so he appears to be a player without a set position. As a 23 year old he split his time in 2012 between A+, AA and AAA. Kelly dominated in A+ posting a .973 OPS and played well in AA (.797 OPS) and even respectably in AAA (.739 OPS).

Gennett is the best prospect the Brewers have remaining in this draft (although they do have a solid major league I will get to in a little bit). He is a 2B and spent 2012 as a 22 year old in AA. His numbers at the level were good considering he was young for the league as he posted a .714 OPS.

Rounds 21-50

Padres: NA

Orioles: Brenden Webb (Round 30), Grade C; Time Berry (Round 50), Grade C

Athletics: Dan Straily (Round 24), Grade B/MLB; Conner Crumbliss (Round 28), Grade C

Brewers: Mike Fiers (Round 22), MLB

Pirates: Phillip Irwin (Round 21), Grade C+

Analysis: The Padres once again have no noteworthy players meaning the latest they selected a noteworthy player was the 7th round. The Athletics selected the best prospect amongst these 5 teams in the 24th round in Dan Straily. Straily split his minor league time last season as a 23 year old between AA and AAA and posted a 2.78 ERA. He only pitched 39.1 innings in the majors last season which is how he has retained his prospect status. Straily pitched well in his limited time posting a 3.89 ERA. Crumbliss primarily plays the outfield now although he does have significant time at 2B during his early minor league days. Last season Crumliss spent the year at AA where at 25 he was a little old for the level but he hit well posting an .805 OPS.

To date the most successful major leaguer of this group is Mike Fiers. Fiers actually made his major league debut in 2011 making him the fastest player to reach the majors out of these 5 teams. Fiers did spend some time in AAA last season making 10 starts and posting an ERA of 4.42.His time in the majors was even better as he posted a 3.74 ERA over 22 starts and was worth 1.8 WAR (career WAR is currently 1.6). Fiers is the elder statesman of this group too as he was 27 years old last year. Irwin is the only Pirates draft pick past round 20 that has managed to retain his prospect value. Irwin played at the A+, AA and AAA levels last season but by far spent most of his time at the AA level. At 25 years old he was old for the level but he posted a good 2.83 combined ERA between all 3 levels.

Summary

Padres: 1 MLB player (0.1 WAR), 1 B- grade prospect, 3 C grade prospects (5 total players)

Orioles: 6 grade C prospects (6 total players)

Athletics: 1 B grade prospect with MLB time (0.6 WAR), 1 B- grade prospect, 1 C+ grade prospect, 1 C grade prospect (4 total players)

Brewers: 1 MLB player (1.6 WAR), 1 B- grade prospect, 3 C+ grade prospects, 3 C grade prospects (8 total players)

Pirates: 1 MLB player (0.0 WAR), 2 C+ grade prospects, 3 C grade prospects (6 total players)

Usually this is where I would give my opinion of the situation but this exercise wasn’t for me to spout off my opinion but rather to show how the Pirates 2009 draft currently stands compared to other teams in similar situations. These teams are not cherry picked by me to try and prove any point. The Padres and Orioles are listed do to the proximity of where they drafted, the Athletics are listed due to the fact they are a proven successful small market club and the Brewers are listed because they are a small market team within the Pirates division.

I will note once again that the Pirates had an additional pick in the 1st round and that the Brewers had two additional picks in the first round and an additional pick in the second round. When looking at the drafts those are factors that need to be considered. This is not a perfect look at what each team got from the 2009 draft or even the team’s ability to identify talent. There are undoubtedly players drafted by these teams that went unsigned and others who were traded perhaps for a very useful major league piece however my attempt here is just to show what each team has remaining that they brought into their own system directly through this particular draft.

Hitting, Where are thou?

Once again the Pirates find themselves with no hitting to begin the season. This year if you can believe it has actually been worse than the start of the 2012 season. It is mind-boggling that a team can hit this bad at the start of the season but it is happening. Once again though people are overreacting some, the Pirates are not this bad of a hitting team. Make no mistake they aren’t a good hitting team but they aren’t a historically bad hitting team either. In the coming weeks the Pirates will likely rebound some and becomes the below average offensive team they are but that still leaves us with the question of why we are once again seeing such a poor start.

Any number of factors could be in play here. It is possible the team did an inadequate job getting the hitters ready during spring. It is possible the collection of hitters the Pirates have assembled could be prone to poor starts. It is possible it could just simply be bad luck. Or it could be something else or some combination. It is impossible to figure out just what is at play here but I’d like to take a deeper look at the mix of hitters the Pirates have in their lineup.

The Pirates lineup is loaded with high strikeout guys. The major league average strikeout rate for non pitchers last season was 21.4% so keep that in mind when looking at these numbers.

Russell Martin: 19.6% K rate in 2012

Garrett Jones: 20.0% K rate in 2012

Gaby Sanchez: 17.2% K rate in 2012

Neil Walker: 19.6% K rate in 2012

Pedro Alvarez: 30.7% K rate in 2012

Clint Barmes: 21.5% K rate in 2012

Starling Marte: 27.5% K rate in 2012

Andrew McCutchen: 19.6% K rate in 2012

Travis Snider: 25.9% K rate in 2012

Jose Tabata: 15.5% K rate in 2012

The above are the Pirates 10 regular players. A fair number of them were below the average K rate last season but only two Sanchez and Tabata were significantly lower. What does that mean? It means on days when Snider and Jones both starts which should be against just about every right handed pitcher the Pirates are fielding an entire lineup of players who are going to strike out in at least about 1 out of every 5 at bats. In theory that isn’t a big deal but of course the strike outs don’t come exactly 5 at bats a part. Players get cold and when average to high strike out players get cold guess what they strike out a lot. Not exactly rocket science there. Strike outs in return limit the number of balls put in play and limit the chances of getting a good bounce. Without a good bounce hitters continue to hit without runners on where they see fewer pitchers to hit so they continue to struggle and the strike outs continue to mount. It’s all a cyclical effect. A couple hitters start off cold and struggle to put the ball in play creates fewer good hitting opportunities for the players hitting well so they in return get cold and start hitting fewer balls and striking out more. What this Pirates lineup lacks are some low strikeout guys who can work counts and get on base or even players who just manage to make contact a lot.

The Pirates find themselves in a tough cycle to break out of. Ideally a lineup like this would have a different type of bench supporting it but the Pirates really don’t have that. Sanchez and Tabata can mix things up a little bit but McKenry and McDonald are largely useless to change much. The last bench player Harrison is an interesting player though. Harrison won’t work hardly at all but he won’t strike out much either so having a bat like him who will make contact in the lineup could be a good thing. Problem is unless you are facing a left handed pitcher where do you play him? The Pirates really can’t sit Walker or Alvarez against right handers and Harrison isn’t good enough defensively to warrant starting him over Barmes, Marte or Snider. I thought this past weekend when facing two left handers in a row was a perfect opportunity to play Harrison for a couple games and see if his contact skills couldn’t ignite some sort of spark but alas that didn’t happen. In reality that is all Harrison brings to the table the ability to make contact on a consistent basis and that is something this Pirates team desperately needs.

With all that being said the Pirates non pitchers currently have a ridiculously low .169 BABIP. Simply put that isn’t going to continue forever and in time more balls will begin to fall in and the Pirates will in return score more runs. Still even with bad luck playing a huge role in this current offensive mess it would be nice if the Pirates lineup had or at least could be complimented with some good contact hitters who can manage to get on base at a high level. The front office has done a fair job of assembling some decent arms and some decent power hitters but it has been a miserable failure at balancing out the lineup and providing it with any kind of useable depth.

Battling Bucs is Cutting Back

I must sadly report that with life catching up with me I am going to have to trim back my posting here at Battling Bucs. I have been doing everything I could to try to keep up my post per day rate over the last month and a half but I will no longer be able to do so. The site won’t end as I’ll continue trying to do a couple of posts per week and I’ll chime in with my thoughts on important Pirates moves. You can still follow me on Twitter and I’m doing some blogging on Pittsburgh Sport Forum so you can also check me out there. I’m not going to disappear from the online Pirates  fan community but I will have to scale back. I guess life catches up with all of us in time. Thank you to all of you who have stopped by and read my blog and I hope you continue to do so even if it will be running at a reduced pace.

Prospects: Catchers

AAA: Tony Sanchez

Backing up Tony Sanchez this season in AAA will likely be some combination of Lucas May, Ali Solis and Brian Jeroloman. All of three catchers are past their prospect days but should an opening arise in the majors it is possible one of them could get the call. As for Sanchez his prospect stock has took a hit down to the point where he is no longer widely consider the Pirates top catching prospect (Battling Bucs still gives him the slightest of edges though) but he still does have some upside and could be a useful major league catcher as early as later this season. Sanchez’s defense was said to be good when he was drafted and that remains the case; his game calling is also improving which means he looks to be a very capable receiver at this point in his career. The question is as it always was his bat. Sanchez recovered some last season from a terrible 2011 but his offensive numbers were still a disappointment. In order to move forward this year and show he still might be able to develop into at least an averae MLB starting catcher his offensive game particularly his power will need to make great strides.

AA: Carlos Paulino

Paulino will serve as the regular catcher in AA and be backed up primarily by Charlie Cutler. Kawika Emsley-Pai and others may play at the level as well but barring an injury it is likely to be sparingly. At this point in his career Paulino is essentially an extreme version of Sanchez. His defensive game overall is a little better than Sanchez’s but his bat is worse. Paulino’s defense alone has what it takes to make him a backup catcher in the majors but if he is ever going to have a shot at being a starting catcher he is going to have to show he can hit some. Paulino has hit fairly well in the past posting good numbers in 2011 but he struggled last season when he was forced to repeat A+. Now as the unquestioned starter in AA this is Paulino’s time to shine.

A+: Jacob Stallings, Elias Diaz

Stallings and Diaz are expected to split catching time in A+. Like Sanchez and Paulino these two catchers are noted more for their defense than their offense. Stallings was drafted last year by the Pirates in the early rounds mainly as an attempt to save cap space for making a run at Appel. He comes from the NCAA holding the single season record for throwing out runners attempting to steal. The Pirates are aggressively pushing him over regular A ball and straight to advance. This is a typical move for advanced college hitters but Stallings is not one of those. His offense will likely struggle but it is going to have to be his defense that carries him anyway. As for Diaz the Pirates seem to really like him but up to this point he really hasn’t shown much progress as a hitter. Like all the other catchers discussed so far he is going have to show some improvements with the bat to see his prospect stock rise.

A: Wyatt Mathisen

At this point I’m not really sure who will back up Mathisen but the Pirates are not short of options as the lower levels are filled with a ton of catchers (non prospects of course). Mathisen is a horse of a different color in this catching crop. He is widely considered to be the Pirates top catching prospect (Battling Bucs has him 2nd just slighly behind Sanchez) with his biggest weakness being his defense. Mathisen is really just becoming accustomed to the catcher position having played the majority of his high school career at the shortstop position. His bat is advanced for a high school player and his defensive game has shown flashes of potential but with this being a relatively new position to him there is still a lot to work on. The main challenge for Mathisen in 2013 will be just adjusting to being a full tiem catcher.

Lower Levels: Jin-De Jhang, Daniel Arribas

There was some talk the Pirates might consider moving Jhang to A ball with Mathisen and having them continue to split time between catcher and DH but that doesn’t appear to have happened. Jhang will start the season likely in short season ball. Like Mathisen, Jhang is relatively new to catching and has a lot of work to do to get the mechanics of the position down. His bat is strong for a catcher though and makes him an interesting prospect to watch. Arribas has played catcher, 1st base and 3rd base in the DSL but appears to be focusing entirely on catching right now. Arribas shown some hitting talent in the DSL last season and was moved up to the states this year. He will likely share catching duties in rookie ball this season as he adjusts to his more permanent position home.

Top 5 Catching Prospects

1. Tony Sanchez

2. Wyatt Mathisen

3. Jin-De Jhang

4. Carlos Paulino

5. Jacob Stallings

Opening Day!!!

Apologies in advance to the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers who opened last night but today is the true honest to goodness Opening Day. Nothing warms my heart more than those two little words, this is the best day on the calendar year for me and a true holiday. On today of all days anything really does seem possible. Every Pirates season I can recall has finished the same way in disappointment but no matter the outcome the one day that does not and can not disappoint me is Opening Day. There is just something magical about it. There are a few days every year in which we say the Sports world creates an unofficial holiday. Most prominent are probably Super Bowl Sunday, the beginning of March Madness and possibly the Olympics. More so than any of those days though Opening Day feels truly special more like a religious day than just a sporting day.

Those other days I mention aren’t holidays simply because of the sport. March Madness takes on its holiday like form largely do to office pools and gambling. Super Bowl Sunday takes on its holiday like feel largely do to the event and not the game. And the Olympics are more a celebration of human achievement than a celebration of any particular sport. Opening Day however, to me at least, has nothing like that attached to it. It is quite simply and purely the celebration of baseball. It is a day to sit back, remove all the noise (PEDs, lack of competitive balance, etc) and focus on the greatness of the game. The feeling of it, the sights, the smells are impossible to describe. For me everything just seems better this one day a year, my senses feel heightened and I walk with a spring in my step.

The reason for this great feeling I and I’m sure countless others feel is difficult to describe. There is just something about baseball some force which draws us to the games. No matter how bad our teams may be the ones who truly get baseball stick with it and ride the season through until the bitter (or sweet) end. If you can’t feel this force it is nearly impossible for me or anyone else to describe what it can do to a person but if you feel this force you will know immediately what I am talking about here.

The last couple of weeks have seen many disagreements between Pirates fans and baseball fans in general but today is the day we sit that all aside and welcome our game back. For this is truly a special and magical day. Enjoy it, live it and take in the magic. This is a day of great hope and where anything truly feels possible. There is no other day quite like today. Opening Day is here and the world is right again.

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