Results tagged ‘ Josh Harrison ’

The Final Bench Spot

One aspect of the game the Pirates have struggled with a lot in past seasons is production, both offensively and defensively, from the bench. Pirates pinch hitters hit well below league average and with a team that isn’t exactly full of superstars this is a big problem as production is essentially needed from everyone. Well as we sit here more than two months away from opening day we have a good handle on 4 of the Pirates 5 bench spots.

Michael McKenry

McKenry will definitely start the year as the backup catcher and if he can replicate his performance from 2012 he will be a very good asset off the bench and should even allow the Pirates to rest Martin on a fairly regular basis.

Gaby Sanchez

As things stand right now Sanchez will likely platoon with Garrett Jones at 1B but since Jones will take up the lion’s share of the playing time he will usually be on the bench. At the very least he is a good right handed stick for the bench and he has the upside of returning to his 2010-11 form and returning to his average major league 1B form.

Jose Tabata

It appears as if Travis Snider is going to get first crack at starting in right field which means the out of options Jose Tabata will be relegated to the bench. It is possible Tabata will receive some playing time in the OF especially if the Pirates sit Snider against lefties but he appears likely to be the usual 4th outfielder. He has shown some decent OBP skills in the past and if he can refind his stolen base ability he could be an interesting option, otherwise he is probably just another averageish bench player.

Josh Harrison

Although the Pirates technically have Jordy Mercer and Ivan De Jesus who will be competing with Harrison I find it difficult to believe the Pirates will not keep Harrison in the majors. Harrison gives the Pirates a very flexible player who can play 2B, 3B, SS and even a little RF. He isn’t really a good hitter but he has shown some decent contact skills so he does have some value.

The last spot basically comes down to another middle infielder on the bench, which is how the Pirates usually go or another 1B/OF type who will give the Pirates a better bench offensively. Mercer and De Jesus are the top candidates should a 2nd middle infielder be carries and Sands and Presley appear to be the top candidates should another 1B/OF be carried.

There are pros and cons to carrying either one but I think considering how Ciriaco (2011) and Mercer (2012) were wasted on the bench the Pirates need to strongly considering carrying a better offensive option and of the two main candidates the left handed Alex Presley appears to be the best option as the 4 people I previously have mentioned are all right handed. Another option I think the Pirates should strongly consider is bringing in a middle infielder from free agency but with my preference for him to be a left handed batter the only two real options appear to be Adam Kennedy or Kelly Johnson. Johnson has gotten little interest in the free agent market and if the Pirates could convince him to come be part of the bench and an insurance policy for Walker’s back he could be the perfect addition to the Pirates bench. Johnson would need to be willing to try to be a little more versatile than just 2B as he would probably be asked to dust off his OF glove and maybe even take some reps at 3B. Kennedy on the other hand plays 1B, 2B and 3B and would be another decent add although his bat is a little weak. Johnson would provide some power for the bench and Kennedy would probably be not much more than an average left handed bench stick.

Pirates Offseason Needs

Heading into this offseason the Pirates seem to have a lot of positions set on the 25 man roster but that obviously doesn’t mean that there are not spots that could and should be upgraded. Trying to upgrade these positions the same ways as in year’s past (signing middling free agents) is probably not the best way to solve these problems as is evident by the failures of the last several years. So a new direction is needed and that could possibly include trades, NRI signings, Rule V draft, internal solutions, international signing, etc. My preferred strategy for the Pirates this offseason is to be minimally active in traditional free agency and instead focus on finding players through other means. Still free agency can not be entirely ignored and the idea of going for just one upper level free agent should also be considered. With all that being said I have found six positions that the Pittsburgh Pirates would be well served to upgrade. So in no particular order the positions are:

1. Starting Pitcher

2. Bullpen

3. Catcher

4. Shortstop

5. Corner Outfield

6. Bench

Now I will go over the type of player I believe the Pirates should be looking for at each position and I’ll give the best fit of the available free agents and where necessary I’ll give an example of the type of player the Pirates should look to acquire via a trade. Again I’ll reiterate I’m not necessarily advocating acquiring these players just giving an example of the type the Pirates should be looking for.

Starting Pitcher: The way I see it the Pirates have only AJ Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez locked into the rotation to begin next season. James McDonald should also probably be in there some where but his end of the season struggles make him a question mark. Karstens is the other obvious candidate but he has durability/injury issues. The rest of the candidates, Locke, McPherson, Leroux, VandenHurk, Wilson, etc seem best suited for 5th starter or depth duty for now. So with three question marks of some variety in the rotation starting pitcher is an obvious need. In fact if the Pirates decide to go the route of one decent sized free agent signing I hope it is in the rotation as a Gavin Floyd or Edwin Jackson type could do a lot to help stabilize the rotation. However I am advocating different strategies this season so a trade for a good starter would be a good thing to consider as would a signing of a high upside risky pitcher. For example the pitchers I see fitting into this category are Francisco Liriano, Ervin Santana and Scott Baker. All 3 of those pitchers have a ton of upside and could get a reasonably large sum in free agency but conversely all 3 have significant faults which could drop their respective prices making them prime targets for the Pirates.

Bullpen: The only two players who should be considered near locks for the Pirates bullpen are Jared Hughes and Tony Watson. I also expect Bryan Morris and Chris Leroux to be part of the pen but they aren’t guarantees but we will say the Pirates are looking for 3 players to fill out the pen. Hanrahan of course is someone who could take one spot but I think the Pirates will and should trade him, hopefully doing so fills one of the other holes. Resigning Grilli should be another move the Pirates consider but I wouldn’t go with a big salary for him, I think my max would be 2 years at 4 million per season. To fill the other spots I think the Pirates should do what they have done the past few seasons which is scour for players like Jose Veras or Juan Cruz or even select someone in the Rule V draft. Waiver claims and low-level trades could also work. It is always difficult to predict which relievers will be available for low salary contracts or NRI but some names I like are Kyle Farnsworth, Randy Choate and Jon Rauch. Internally guys like Justin Wilson, Duke Welker and even Chris Resop are candidates to fill out the bullpen.

Catcher: Let me start by saying unequivocally that Rod Barajas should not be brought back at any price. Now as for McKenry he is a decent part of a catching tandem but give him anymore than 90 starts and I have a feeling things won’t be looking so good. So obviously some help is needed for him. Eric Fryer and Tony Sanchez are the internal options but Sanchez could use more time in AAA and Fryer well just isn’t that good. There are bound to be some available catchers that can be acquired via a trade such as Hank Conger and the Pirates should seriously consider that route but if they want to go the free agent route there is a pretty decent free agent market for catchers. Napoli is obviously the best available but is not someone the Pirates should ideally locate a lot of money to. Other catchers such as Russell Martin, Kelly Shoppach and David Ross make sense as well. I wouldn’t rule out a trade here but I think I would prefer going after a catcher like Shoppach and using the trade resources to go after some of the other needs.

Shortstop: Clint Barmes wasn’t as bad this season as most Pirates fans would lead you to believe. He had an awful April and May but was exactly what the Pirates should have expected to get the remainder of the season. With all that being said Barmes production shouldn’t have locked down the shortstop job for next season. The Pirates could look at free agency for an answer but the pickings are slim. Stephen Drew and Jhonny Peralta headline the class but Peralta may not even reach free agency and Drew is coming off a season argubly worse than Barmes. Still something needs to be done to address the shortstop problem because at the very least another solution is going to be needed in 2014. If the Pirates choose to go the trade route I hope they look for someone who has good on base skills and could hit near the top of the lineup. Players like that are rare from the shortstop position and are usually pretty expensive in terms of salary and what it would cost to acquire them via trade. One name that sticks out to me who by all accounts isn’t available but I imagine could be for a good offer is Jed Lowrie. Lowrie can play good defense and has consistently put up a good OBP. If the Pirates can acquire a shortstop in that mold that is the way to go otherwise when considering the options available through free agency sticking with Barmes and adding in more Jordy Mercer to prepare him for 2013 is probably the way to go.

Corner Outfield: The toughest need to really explain. Let me start by saying I am assuming Garrett Jones will split time with Gaby Sanchez at 1B meaning he will only play in the outfield sparingly if at all. If the Pirates decide to make him a OF the need for a corner outfielder greatly diminishes but the need for a 1B to compliment Gaby Sanchez increases, however I’ll ignore that possibility for now. The Pirates production from the corner outfield this season sans Jones was awful. The Pirates received the 2nd worst offensive production from LF this season and were only marginally decent in RF thanks to Jones playing there about half the time. This would seem an obvious spot to upgrade but yet it isn’t. The Pirates have 4 players vying to man these two positions with 3 of them being 24 years old (1 of the 3 will be 25 for all of next season). The Pirates have a ton of youth and potential to fill these 2 positions in Marte, Snider, Tabata and Presley but not much actual success to go on. I would assume Marte has got to be given a chance in one corner due to the fact he has the highest upside of the bunch and had the best season of the four last year. The other spot is where the need comes into play Snider will be playing next season at 25 years old and Tabata will be playing most of it at 24 years old. The two of them look like they could make a decent platoon in RF but with the uncertainty in LF this is not something the Pirates should count on. If the Pirates wanted to make a big splash for an offensive player this is where they should do it. A player like Angel Pagan makes a lot of sense as he could come in play a OF corner and hit atop the order. However due to the youth and potential the Pirates have here I’d rather see a big splash investment go to the pitching side and this be solved with a less splashy option. I envision the type of addition that makes the most sense is a veteran outfield who has good on base skills and who wouldn’t mind being a 4th outfielder but is capable of being a borderline starting option. The two players in free agency that best matches this description are Juan Pierre and Reed Johnson, however I am not too enthused about either of them. Just to give an example of the type of player I’m talking about I’ll mention David DeJesus. Now I doubt the Cubs will actively be looking to move DeJesus but a player like him capable of playing all 3 positions in the OF and maintaining a .340+ OBP is exactly what the Pirates should be looking for. If they can’t find one and they don’t choose to make a big splash I think the best option is to play Marte in LF, have Snider and Tabata platoon in RF, have Presley available in AAA and be open to using Jones in the outfield once again. That may not seem like a great option but neither is bringing in a middling free agent.

Bench: If there is one theme to what the Pirates need to do this offseason it is they have to get deeper. Deeper in the rotation, the bullpen, the lineup, the minor leagues and the bench. This past season the two Pirates who received the most pinch hit appearances were Josh Harrison and Jeff Clement. Both of them struggled and Clement for one shouldn’t be back. Going into next season the Pirates bench figures to include a backup catcher say McKenry, T Sanchez or an outside addition, Gaby Sanchez, a young middle infielder say Mercer, Holt or Harrison and a 4th outfielder say Snider, Tabata or an outside acquisition. That leaves one final spot which this past season belonged to Harrison. Harrison should absolutely be given a chance to win a spot on the bench but only the reserve middle infielder job. The Pirates should allocate some resources to improving this spot with offense being a key focus. Just looking at free agency the Pirates could choose to go for a pure pinch hitter and sign a 1B like Jason Giambi or Carlos Lee. Or since they seem to have a desire to carry at least 4 middle infielders at all times a guys like Maicer Izturis or Adam Kennedy could be pursued. Or they could carry 5 outfielders on the roster (which with Jones on the team seems like overkill) and get a player like Austin Kearns, Raul Ibanez or Reed Johnson. The other option is of course to go with a Mike Fontenot or Jeff Baker type who can play all over the field but that would likely sacrifice offensive production. It is very difficult to speculate on who else the Pirates may be able to acquire here so I’ll just leave it at that but something needs to be done to improve the Pirates bench.

Position Recap: 3rd Base

Pedro Alvarez: Alvarez received the wide majority of at bats for the Pirates from third base this past season. We seen flashes of his brilliance when he got on some unbelievable tears which elevated him to one of the most feared hitters in the game to his bottomless pits where he couldn’t hit anything and was thought of as essentially an automatic out. Pedro is probably always going to be that type of hot/cold player but the key is to make the cold stretches not so bad and by the end of the year Alvarez had made progress with that. There is no doubt about it Alvarez just has gobs of potential and can be the middle of the order bat the Pirates are still desperately lacking. Going into next season will not be very different from this one the most important player to the success of the Pirates will once again be Pedro Alvarez. Along with his big power spike this season came some improved but still shaky defense. It appears Alvarez may eventually have to move over to first base but right now he looks the part of a capable third baseman and until the Pirates have a reason to move him (ie just terrible defense or a stud replacement) he should remain there. There is no reason to not think that Alvarez will be the starting third baseman next year and probably occupying a spot in the middle of the lineup. As for this season I give him an Overall Grade: B+

Josh Harrison: This season Harrison finally got a chance to settle into what will undoubtedly be his primary role in the majors, utility player. Harrison also played some 2B, SS and OF this season but seems most comfortable at 3B which is why I am listing him here. He was defensively solid everywhere except the outfield and even there he appeared to be slowly getting more comfortable. Harrison won’t wow you with his defense and is probably a little suspect at shortstop but as a fill in he is perfectly capable. The problem Harrison had this year was that his bat was rather weak. He had a few hot stretches but overall posted a .624 OPS which isn’t going to be good enough to establish himself as anything more than a fringe bench option. Harrison was the Pirates top pinch hitter this season which admittedly is a role he shouldn’t have but nonetheless he struggled in it. This offseason one thing the Pirates must address is the depth of their bench and by doing so it could end up costing Harrison a spot on the major league roster. I still think he finds a way to sneak in there though. Overall Grade: C

Top Prospects

Eric Avila: The Pirates are very weak prospect wise at 3rd base which allowed Avila to stick around as one of the better  3rd base prospects in the system despite a season and half of poor play. Avila’s 2011 season and first part of 2012 were pretty bad but a strong showing coupled with a power spike at the end of the season has him back atop my 3rd base prospect rankings and has him once again as a prospect to watch heading into next season. Next season will be a big test for Avila to show that he has found his power stroke and is once again a legit prospect. Due to the lack of 3rd base depth in the system Avila should open next season in A+ as the starter and with a good showing should easily be promoted to AA as there is no one blocking him.

Eric Wood: The other two 3rd base prospects I’m going to list were both selected in this past draft and the one who has had the best start to his career has been Eric Wood. Wood was selected in the 6th round of this past draft and was sort of a mystery. He appeared to be an overdraft with the idea of saving money by going way underslot but while he did sign for underslot it wasn’t by a huge sum. He was drafted as JuCo player so he is much closer to a high school age player than he is a college age drafted player. He was known to have some power when the Pirates drafted him and he displayed that power during his debut in rookie ball. The Pirates promoted him at the end of the season to A- ball where he struggles some but the sample size there is rather small and the bigger point is this is a move the Pirates usually make when they are considering sending a player straight to full season ball the following year. I expect Wood to start the season as the starting 3rd baseman in A ball and really get a chance to establish himself as a legit 3rd base prospect.

Kevin Ross: Ross was officially signed as a shortstop but spent no time at that position this season and is widely considered someone who won’t stay at the position anyway. His future seems to be at either 2B or 3B but I see him more as a third baseman which is why I have him listed here. Ross signed late into the signing period and due to this he didn’t get a chance to play a whole lot. He struggled initially but put up a very strong stat line in August to end the regular season. Ross does have some power potential but has some work to do with his swing. He is probably more of a project right now than a prospect but due to the Pirates current state of 3rd base prospects he is definitely an interesting name to keep an eye one. Ross will almost definitely return to one of the short season leagues next year but which one is still a bit of a guess and will probably depend on how he does in extended spring training and by who the Pirates draft next year.

The Pirates Bench

Something has been bothering me about the Pirates for the last few weeks but I figured in time it would play itself out but so far it has not. The make up of the Pirates bench really confuses me. Currently it has the backup catchers McKenry, one of Presley, Jones or McGehee depending on the SP and 3 middle infielders. Now call me crazy but I really don’t see the need or rationale for carrying 3 middle infielders on the bench. Ideally you would like to really have only one but I can understand keeping two. The Pirates bench is no doubt a weak spot right now and there are three ways to fix it.

1.) A direct trade aimed to help the bench. Pretty straight forward target a bench player in a trade

2.) Acquire a starting player which in turn will push current players (McGehee and Presley) to the bench.

3.) Call up help from AAA. There isn’t much down there but Clement looks ready to help and if an outfielder is needed Hernandez and Tabata await in the wings.

My preference is to acquire a corner outfielder which would push Presley to the bench and push Jones and McGehee back to their platoon with Jones getting the majority of the playing time and McGehee being a bench bat. To make room for this extra player I would send Harrison or Mercer to AAA. In addition I would also like to see Jeff Clement called up to add a little pop to the bench. He could start an occasional game at 1st when we wanted to go lefty heavy but would primarily just be a PH. He would replace Sutton. This would leave a bench of:
C: Barajas/McKenry (I’m in favor of making this a 50/50 split)

CI: McGehee

MI: Mercer (or Harrison)

OF: Presley

PH: Clement

2012 Expectations: 3rd Base

STARTER

Pedro Alvarez: Here it is the key to any success the Pirates may or may not have in 2012. The team as constituted has several holes but none are more apparent than the lack of a true cleanup hitter. The Pirates have little chance of finding such a player externally and their internal options are extremely limited. The only such player who exists in the system is one Pedro Alvarez. After a strong rookie campaign Alvarez posted an abysmal 2011 and right now no one really knows what to expect from Alvarez in 2012. He could bust or he could break out. The guess here as is often the case is that it will be somewhere in between. I foresee a slight improvement of his rookie numbers but not the 30 homer year he is certainly capable of. My prediction for him is 23 HR and a line of .250/.330/.480.

BACK UP

Casey McGehee: I have already covered McGehee at 1st base because that is where he will end up getting most of his playing time but he was also bought in to be the backup plan for Alvarez. The hope is that with the occasional exception of a spot start or maybe facing some tough lefties (with Nick Evans at 1st) that there will be little need for McGehee to appear at 3rd base. However if the need arises I expect him to perform better than the Harrison/Wood duo of last season.

ORGANIZATIONAL DEPTH

Josh Harrison: Harrison will be given a chance to win a major league bench job but due to his lack of experience at SS will probably only stick if the Pirates decide to carry an extra infielder at the expense of a 5th outfielder. I expect him to start the season in AAA but with d’Arnaud, Mercer and Navarro all ticketed for AAA there may not be room for him to get regular starts in the infield. The Pirates could try to get him time in the OF but unless Lambo is held back in AA that does not seem too likely. Harrison will probably be needed to fill in sometime in the majors and when he does he should be rather serviceable.

TOP PROSPECTS

Yamaico Navarro: Acquired this offseason for Brooks Pounders Navarro immediately vaults to the top of the Pirates 3rd base prospect rankings. This is more proof of how sad the state of the Pirates 3rd base prospects is than it is praise for him as a prospect. Navarro is a decent prospect and will be given a chance to win a job in the majors but if he doesn’t he will play in AAA. Like Harrison the crowded infield could force him into the outfield but once again the outfield appears pretty full. Navarro is likely to get a chance at some point this year and with more experience at SS than Harrison he could even be the first infielder in line for a call up. Being a new guy in the system I really do not know what to expect from Navarro but my guess here is that he will be in the Harrison mold and will be capabale of being a decent bench guy. His defensive skills and strike zone awareness will make him a slightly better option than Harrison though.

Elevys Gonzalez: Gonnzalez has hit well at every level but lacks the power to be a legit 3rd base prospect. His bat would play well in the middle infield but his defense there is suspect at best. He should start the season in AA but with Farrell possibly repeating the level he may slide over to 2nd to begin the season (assuming Cunningham isn’t promoted). There is no reason to believe he will not continue to hit at a decent clip but on the flip side there is little reason to believe his power and/or defense will improve. Essentially what we have in Gonzalez is another utility type player in a similar mold to Harrison and Navarro.

Eric Avila: Avila was the Pirates best 3rd base prospect headed into the 2011 season but he struggled mightily in A ball. In fact his struggles were so bad that me listing him as the Pirates 3rd best third base prospect is probably on the optimistic side. He displayed some power in the GCL the previous season but that all but evaporated last season. On the plus side he did make strides on his defensive game.  Avila will likely repeat A ball this season and while it would be surprising to see him not improve on his numbers from last year, he will have to have a huge season to get back into the legit prospect status.

POSITION OVERVIEW

Summary: Third base is probably the Pirates weakest position from a prospect standpoint so that makes it even more important that Pedro Alvarez succeeds. Looking at the talent the Pirates have down on the farm and ignoring the possibility of McGehee returning to 2009-10 form the only chance the Pirates have to get good production from 3rd base this year or in the immediate future is Pedro Alvarez. I hate to put so much on one player’s shoulders but in reality it’s the case. The production the Pirates get from third base this season is going to have a major impact on whether this club has a shot break the streak and in the end that all comes down to Alvarez. Don’t let us down Pedro, we are rooting for you.

2012 Expectations – 2nd Base

STARTER

Neil Walker: Probably the most certain part of this team going forward is Neil Walker at second base. Walker appears to be one of the most durable players on the Pirates and once again I am expecting 150+ starts from him this season. Hopefully Walker is able to shake off hi sophomore slump of last season and return closer to his rookie numbers. I do see him getting closer to them but not quite matching. His batting average should stay in the 270-280 range but where improvement will come is with his power as I expect his slugging percentage to be around .450. With another year under his belt at the second base position Walker’s defensive game should continue to improve and it would not be surprising to see him be average defensively at the position this season.

BACK UP

Gustavo Nunez: I am hoping the Pirates will not go with Nunez as the middle infield backup to begin the season but as of right now it appears rather likely that will be the case. I am not going to get into Nunez too much right here because he profiles more as a shortstop than second baseman. However I will say he is likely to be Walker’s backup to start the 2012 season, how long it will last is another matter.

ORGANIZATIONAL DEPTH

Anderson Hernandez: Another rather odd move by the Pirates this offseason was signing Anderson Hernandez. It is always nice to have a veteran middle infielder down in AAA in case of emergencies but there does not appear to be a spot for Hernandez. In theory Hernandez will be given a chance to win the backup middle infield job out of Spring Training but in reality the only way I see him even sticking in AAA is if the Pirates opt to carry an extra reserve infielder at the expense of a 5th outfielder. Either way Hernandez should have little to impact on the Pirates this season.

Others: If there arises a need for Walker to be spelled for an extended time chances are it will be neither Nunez nor Hernandez that fills the role. Instead it will likely be players whose primary position is either shortstop or third base. The four likely candidates are Chase d’Arnaud, Jordy Mercer, Yamaico Navarro and Josh Harrison. I will get more into those four at their primary positions but one or all of these players could see time at second base this season. Navarro and Harrison are candidates to make the major league team out of spring training and could end up serving as Walker’s backup.

TOP PROSPECTS

Jarek Cunningham: The top 2nd base prospect in the Pirates system could rank amongst the Pirates top 15 prospects if he could just manage to stay healthy. He has some strike zone and defensive issues but his bat has the potential to make him a good major league second baseman. He should be moving up to AA this season but due to his injury filled 2011 I am expecting him to repeat A+. If Cunningham manages to stay healthy I could see him posting a good season and become a very good prospect for the Pirates. However his injury history combined with his lack of strike zone discipline makes me doubtful that will happen.

Brock Holt: Holt appeared destined to be moving up to AAA to start this season but the acquisitions of McGehee, Nunez, Navarro and to a smaller extent Hernandez likely means he will repeat AA. With no real option to play shortstop in AA I see Holt getting the majority of the playing time there even though he is better suited as a second baseman. He does a lot of things well but nothing great. Holt has some speed and has shown a fair amount of plate discipline along with decent defensive abilities but he lacks anything that makes him stand out. Most likely Holt’s upside is that of a Major league utility player. Hopefully he proves me wrong but I think this will be the year Holt begins to lose his prospect status and starts to settle in as organizational depth.

Gift Ngoepe: Ngoepe is an interesting case. He was the first black South African to sign a pro-baseball contract. At the time of his signing he garnered a lot of attention even being featured is a Sports Illustrated article. He is a very good defensive player and he runs extremely well. Last season he was beginning to show signs of his offensive game improving but an injury early in the year cut his season short. He is a candidate to be moved up to A+ but with missing so much time last year I see the Pirates having him repeat A+. Unless the Pirates are aggressive with a GCL player there is really no prospect to man SS in A ball so I am expecting to see Ngoepe get a lot of playing time there. I am expecting Ngoepe to keep improving his offensive game in 2012 and become a legit prospect for the Pirates.

POSITION OVERVIEW

Summary: The position for now and for the immediate future is Neil Walker. The Pirates do have some options that can fill in if necessary and even have a few intriguing prospects in the middle levels but I just don’t see any way that Walker does not remain here for the next few seasons. The position will basically succeed or fail with him this year but it is in good hands here. The Pirates have nothing to worry about here and appear set for the next few seasons. Should a prospect develop the Pirates could move them to another position or use them as trade bait.

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