Results tagged ‘ Kyle McPherson ’

News and Notes

Not much happening today. But I thought a general post to catch up on some recent news would be a good idea.

Brad Hawpe who has been receiving an inordinate amount of playing time has been released from camp. That means according to my projection there are 5 players left in camp for the last bench spot: Josh Harrison, Brandon Inge, Jordy Mercer, Alex Presley and Felix Pie. To me it comes down to Harrison and Inge and I think considering Inge’s health issues that Harrison has the upper hand.

Tony Watson pitched an uneventful 1-2-3 inning today so it appears more likely that he will be ready for Opening Day which would displace Mike Zagurski from my projected roster. Zagurski hasn’t looked good recently anyway and probably shouldn’t make the team.

Jeff Karstens is scheduled to pitch tomorrow and as long as things go right he has a chance of being ready to be part of the rotation to start the season. If Karstens joins the rotation he would displace Sanchez or Locke from the rotation. That displacement could result in the displacement of Ryan Reid/Jeanmar Gomez or even Justin Wilson from the bullpen. In addition to Karstens possibly being ready by Opening Day it sounds as if Francisco Liriano may be about a month behind that.

As Spring Training winds down the Pirates camp roster now sits at 36 meaning there are still 11 cuts to be made. I’m expecting that we will see some early next week and the roster will really begin to round into shape. The roster battles as I see them are down to Harrison/Inge for the last bench spot, Locke/McPherson/Sanchez/Karstens for the final two rotation spots and Wilson/Gomez/Reid along with the losers of the rotation battle fighting for the final two bullpen spots. All of this assumes Watson is healthy and the Pirates decide to carry Leroux and Tabata which all seem rather likely.

On the site this week I am planning to conclude my expectations series with a look at the non-player parts of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The final three parts of the series will be the coaches, the front office and the team as a whole. Keep an eye out for those. In addition to those I will have a few more season preview pieces. Finally I’ll be attending the Pirates last exhibition game of Spring when they play their AA affiliate on Saturday March 30th. It should be a fun experience and I’m looking forward to providing a recap of the game both from the major and minor league perspective.

In the meantime I have recently updated my Top 20 Hitting and Top 20 Pitching prospects. Check them out. For the record I update them about two or three times a month during the season and I am planning on providing some details on the top prospects in the near future.

2013 Expectations: Upper Level Prospects

Last offseason I did a 15 part preview of the Pirates upcoming seasons focusing on what I expected to see out of various positions at the major league levels, the minor levels, the coaching staff and the front office. The series went over fairly well with my readers so I have decided to bring it back for a second year. I’m not sure how many parts this year’s series will include but I will do my best to cover every key player I can think of.

Top Prospects

At the very top of my personal top Pirates prospects list the Pirates have a group I call the top 6 and a group I call the next 6. Two of the top 6 prospects and 1 of the next 6 prospects will be beginning the 2013 season either in AA, AAA or perhaps the major leagues. The two top prospects are of course Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon. The next 6 prospect is Kyle McPherson. Cole is likely to garner the most attention and will likely start the season out in AAA but with a few adjustments and a strong start to the season he could see Pittsburgh fairly early on. Big things are expected from Cole and I fully expect we will see him in Pittsburgh come June or July. Cole may be the ace the Pirates are sorely lacking but it is not realistic to expect him to be that right out of the gate. I expect his major league time to be solid but lacking the elite quality we all will hope to see. Taillion should start the year in AA with a chance for a mid season promotion to AAA. I have high hopes that 2013 will be the year he unleashes his full arsenal and starts putting up the dominant minor league numbers we all hoped we would see. McPherson is competing for a major league rotation spot this spring but barring injuries I see him starting the year in the AAA rotation. McPherson will definitely get some time in the majors this season and I would like to see him perform well enough to earn a 2014 rotation spot. I think McPherson has the upside of a solid middle of the rotation starter and I have reasonably high hopes he will take the first steps towards establishing himself as one this season.

Hitting Prospects

The Pirates upper levels aren’t exactly brimming with hitting talent. The top prospects are probably Tony Sanchez, Adalberto Santos, Alex Dickerson, Gift Ngoepe and if he is promoted to AA Mel Rojas Jr. Sanchez I have already discussed this is a pivotal year for him to have a solid season in AAA and in the likely event of one of the Pirates two catchers suffering an injury this season I would expect Sanchez to be a candidate to be called up to the majors. My expectation is Sanchez will have a solid but not great year in AAA and struggle offensively during any brief major league stint. Santos, Dickerson and Ngoepe I could see all starting in AA this season. Santos has a case to move up to AAA but the crowded outfield will likely hold him back. Hopefully one or more of these three will show something this season that lets the Pirates believe they could be contributors to the 2014 team. My expectations aren’t really high for any of them as I expect Dickerson’s numbers to be solid but again not where they need to be for an all bat player, Santos to regress from his good contact ways and Ngoepe to show only minimal improvement with the bat. The remaining hitting prospects with some intrigue are Ivan De Jesus, Matt Curry, Clint Robinson and Carlos Paulino. De Jesus, Curry and Robinson should start the year in AAA and could be called upon to serve as major league depth this season. Of the 3 my expectations are the highest for De Jesus who I think could develop into a nice middle infield utility player.

Pitching Prospects

Outside of the top 3 pitching prospects I discussed the Pirates have a bunch of interesting arms projected to begin the season in one of the top two levels or the major leagues. Bryan Morris, Justin Wilson, Andy Oliver, Phillip Irwin and Victor Black are all very intriguing arms with some degree of chance of making the major league squad but most likely for all except Morris and possibly Wilson they will start the season in AAA. I have previously discussed Morris and Wilson so I’ll focus on the other 3. Oliver to me looks like another Justin Wilson type project who the Pirates will try to fix his control this season. Irwin has the look of a crafty righty with a know how to pitch and a good enough arsenal of pitches where he could be an effective back of the rotation starter. Black has the makings of a late inning shut down reliever but needs some fine tuning before he gets there. My expectation is that Oliver won’t show much improvement with his control and will wind up in the bullpen and the other two will show positive signs of improvement and I wouldn’t be shocked if either or both of them spent a fair amount of time in the majors this year. In AA the pitching talent is a little less deep outside of Taillon but two guys I’ll be watching are Stolmy Pimentel and Casey Sadler. With this being Pimentel’s last option year I expect the Pirates to move him to the bullpen and Sadler shown enough the Pirates are likely to keep him starting but I think they see him as a reliever long term. I don’t have high hopes for Pimentel this season but I think Sadler will show enough promise the Pirates will add him to the roster at the end of the season. There are a bunch of other semi-interesting pitching prospects in the upper levels but the 4 that catch my eye are Duke Welker, Brandon Cumpton, Tyler Waldron and Hunter Strickland. Welker and Strickland are on the 40 man roster and will need to show something to prove they belong there. I think Strickland will surprise people but my expectation is that Welker will struggle. As for the other two I think both will be converted to relief roles this spring to see if either is worth protecting from the Rule V draft this upcoming offseason. I suspect one of these two will wind up being the Pirates yearly surprise addition to the roster.

Prospects To Watch

I already mentioned that I think De Jesus, Waldron and Cumpton are a couple under the radar names to keep an eye on but I want to dig a little deeper and mention a few players who look like organizational players at this point who interest me. Jared Goedert is having a solid spring and while I don’t expect a whole lot out of him if he hits well in AAA he could get a chance in the majors and I think he has a chance to find a niche there as a good pinch hitting option. Michael Colla has flown under the radar but he has had moderate success at essentially every level. He could potential earn a chance to pitch as a middle reliever some time this season. A few other players I plan on keeping an eye on down in AA are Justin Howard, Kelson Brown and Tim Alderson. Howard is a 1st baseman with limited power but a pretty good knack for making contact. The Pirates have tried using him in the outfield some and with no real option to man 3B in AA I wouldn’t be shocked to see him trotted out there. If he can manage to be competent defensively in the outfield and third base his good contact ability could gain him some traction as a potential bench option down the road. Brown is the type of player who is solid in all aspects of the game but wonderful in none. He plays multiple positions, makes decent contact, shows a little power and is sound defensively. However he does none of those things at a high or low level. He has been fairly successful at every level and as I said with Howard the opening at 3B provides him with a chance to get some playing time and if given a chance he could surprise some people. Alderson has been written off by nearly everyone at this point and with very good reason but he is still relatively young. The last two seasons he has shown progress in converting to a reliever and a more finesse pitcher. He isn’t ever going to become what the Pirates hoped they were acquiring when they traded Freddy Sanchez for him but maybe there is enough talent left in him to develop into a marginal relief prospect. Now for the standard disclaimer my expectation of the players I discussed at length here is that they will continue on their path as organizational guys but of that group the names I noted I believe have the best chance to surprise in 2013.

2013 Expectations: Back Of The Rotation

Last offseason I did a 15 part preview of the Pirates upcoming seasons focusing on what I expected to see out of various positions at the major league levels, the minor levels, the coaching staff and the front office. The series went over fairly well with my readers so I have decided to bring it back for a second year. I’m not sure how many parts this year’s series will include but I will do my best to cover every key player I can think of.

Jeff Karstens

After a strange offseason which saw Karstens non-tendered and then resigned I am forced to eat some crow and give some credit to the Pirates front office for correctly analyzing the market for Jeff Karstens. I am glad to have Karstens back and I hope the Pirates use him in the role I feel he is best suited for which is as a utility pitcher, by that I mean he can pitch in any situation, starting, long relief or end of game. I expect that Karstens will be part of the Pirates rotation to start the season but assuming everyone is healthy when Liriano returns I see Karstens moving to the bullpen. If Karstens ends up making about 10 starts this season and pitching a few innings out of the bullpen I think that should suit his skill set just perfectly. Karstens isn’t a great player but he is a solid contributor who should give the Pirates 80-100 solid innings this season. I see Karstens being worth right around 1.0 WAR on the season and posting numbers around a 4.10 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 6.0 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9.

Jeff Locke

I have Locke penciled into the starting rotation to begin the 2013 season. In my mind he has nothing left to prove at AAA and is deserving of a chance to show whether or not he has what it takes to make it as a major league starting pitcher. I believe Locke will have a very solid season for the Pirates but I doubt he makes a whole season worth of starts in the majors. The Pirates have some other pitchers they will surely want to get a look at and Locke would seem the easiest to replace in the rotation. Still I can see Locke getting a chance to impress the Pirates with about 15-20 starts which would represent a good half season of work. If he does well he will probably be a front runner for the back end of the 2014 rotation and if not he very well might be released. This is a big year for Locke and I expect he’ll hold his own. Something in the area of a 4.20 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 7.2 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 feels about right for Locke in 2013. All and all I have him pegged for about 18 starts and roughly 0.8 WAR.

Kyle McPherson

McPherson is Locke biggest competition for the last spot in the Pirates rotation and I think he has the higher upside of the two but at the same time he also only has 3 career starts at the AAA level which means he probably still could use a little more polish. I don’t expect McPherson to make the team out of Spring Training but I expect he’ll make quite a handful of starts and get a chance to leave an impression and claim a rotation spot for 2014. After spending a little time in AAA this season I expect he’ll do rather well after being called up. Like with all young inexperienced pitchers it is difficult to get a true read on what statistics to expect but I’m thinking something like a 4.00 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 7.0 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 feels about right. I think McPherson will wind up with roughly 10-12 starts and be worth just a little less than 1.0 WAR.

Jonathan Sanchez

Originally I thought Sanchez had a good chance to win the job as the second lefty out of the bullpen but as things progress I see that as less and less likely and I now expect him to start the year off in the AAA rotation essentially flipping roles with Justin Wilson. Sanchez certainly has a high upside but his lack of control severely hampers that upside. I actually don’t see Sanchez making more than 2-3 starts for the Pirates this season and I imagine any chances he’ll get he will show flashes of brilliance but also not have enough control to be anything more than mediocre. Sanchez is definitely a competitor for a rotation spot this season but I just can’t see him having much impact on the Pirates rotation in 2013.

Projecting the AAA Roster

Predicting minor league rosters can be a tricky exercise because there are often a lot more options than there are actual spots. The Pirates have roughly 35 players per level who it would make sense to assign to that particular team but obviously you can have 25 at a time. Now at some point during the season it is possible, even likely, that all the players will appear but when talking about original assignments that is not the case. With that disclaimer aside I am going to give my best approximation of what the Pirates minor league rosters will look like this upcoming season. For the record when filling out minor league rosters I go with the standard 8 starters, 5 starting pitchers and 7 relievers. The bench is made of a DH, backup catcher, reserve infielder, reserve outfielder and a utility player.

Catcher

Candidates: Tony Sanchez, Ali Solis, Lucas May

Analysis: The starting catcher is an easy one to peg here. Barring an injury on the major league level Tony Sanchez will start the year in AAA and serve as the regular starting catcher. There is little to no debate about this. Now who will be his backup is a bit more uncertain but it appears likely that it will either be Lucas May or Ali Solis. May has more experience in AAA and even in the majors and Solis is the better defensive catcher. Both will likely spend some time in AAA this year and are probably the 4th and 5th options to see time in the majors should a slew of injuries occur.

Prediction: Tony Sanchez

Infielders

Candidates: Matt Curry, Clint Robinson, Matt Hague, Jeff Larish, Anderson Hernandez, Ivan De Jesus, Brandon Inge, Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer, Chase d’Arnaud, Jared Goedert, Alex Valdez, Jeremy Farrell

Analysis: That is a lot of bodies for 4 starting infield positions. Chances are two of the above players will be on the major league bench, currently I have Harrison and Mercer projected to be there so they can probably be safely dismissed. As far as prospects go the only ones listed above are Curry, Robinson, De Jesus and Mercer and those 4 are more fringe prospects than anything. The Pirates could opt to go a lot of different ways here and at this point it is difficult to figure out just what the plan is.

Predcition: Matt Curry (1B), Ivan De Jesus (2B), Brandon Inge (3B), Chase d’Arnaud (SS)

Outfielders

Candidates: Alex Presley, Jerry Sands, Felix Pie, Darren Ford, Brad Hawpe, Adalberto Santos, Brett Carroll, Andrew Lambo

Analysis: Some of the infielders could come into play here as well as players like Larish and Goedert have some experience in the outfield corners, however I think the Pirates have enough depth where that is likely not to be an issue at least with the starting roster. Alex Presley and Jerry Sands are candidates to start the year in the majors so if they don’t they will almost certainly get starting jobs in AAA. The only prospects in the above list are Santos and Lambo and both of them could use some more time at AA although I would prefer to see Santos pushed to AAA. The Pirates glut of right fielders makes this a crowded group and the Pirates will have to sort through it before the season begins.

Prediction: Felix Pie (LF), Alex Presley (CF), Jerry Sands (RF)

Bench

Analysis: All of the above candidates who I did not project on to the roster are candidates to be part of the AAA bench. Five players in all will make it with one serving as a semi-regular starter at DH. There are still a bunch of names left so it is difficult to say just how this will go but chances are there will be a backup catcher, backup infielder and backup outfielder with the other two spots either going to utility guys or to someone ton handle the DH spot. There are a lot of ways this could go as well.

Prediction: Clint Robinson (DH), Lucas May (C), Jared Goedert (IF), Darren Ford (OF), Matt Hague (U)

Starting Pitchers

Candidates: Jeff Locke, Kyle McPherson, Jonathan Sanchez, Gerrit Cole, Jeanmar Gomez, Vin Mazzaro, Michael Colla, Brandon Cumpton, Phillip Irwin, Andy Oliver, Justin Wilson, Brooks Brown, Stolmy Pimentel

Analysis: Once again we have a lot of bodies for a very limited number of spots. Some of these pitchers are candidates to make the majors and some are candidates to start in either the AAA bullpen or AA. Currently I have Locke and Sanchez making the major league squad so I will remove them from the discussion. Chances are any of the Locke, McPherson, Sanchez trio that doesn’t make the majors will be a SP in AAA and chances are so will Cole. With my current prediction that leaves three spots open to the rest of the group that includes some interesting prospects in Irwin, Wilson, Oliver and Pimentel and some fringe starter types in Mazzaro and Gomez.

Prediction: Gerrit Cole, Kyle McPherson, Justin Wilson, Andy Oliver, Phillip Irwin

Relief Pitchers

Candidates: The above group, Victor Black, Duke Welker, David Bromberg, Erik Cordier, Kyle Waldrop, Mike Zagurski, Roman Colon, Jeff Inman, Kris Johnson, Ryan Reid

Analysis: I’ll be honest with you there is no way in the world I can try to accurately judge what a minor league bullpen is going to look like so I’m not going to pretend I know anything here. What I’m going to make is just a guess and really nothing more.

Prediction: Victor Black, Duke Welker, Brandon Cumpton, Kyle Waldrop, Vin Mazzaro, Mike Zagurski, Kris Johnson

Projected Roster

C: Tony Sanchez, Lucas May

IF: Matt Curry, Clint Robinson, Matt Hague, Ivan De Jesus, Chase d’Arnaud, Brandon Inge, Jared Goedert

OF: Felix Pie, Alex Presley, Jerry Sands, Darren Ford

SP: Gerrit Cole, Kyle McPherson, Justin Wilson, Andy Oliver, Phillip Irwin

RP: Victor Black, Duke Welker, Brandon Cumpton, Kyle Waldrop, Vin Mazzaro, Mike Zagurski, Kris Johnson

The Dave Littlefield Eight

Five years have come and gone since Neal Huntington has taken over as the Pirates GM. I am of the opinion that when switching GMs it takes 5 full seasons before one can really say that the farm system is essentially all the doing of the current GM. So according to my theory this is the first year we can say the system is essentially all Huntington’s. However even with that being said there are eight remaining players in the Pirates farm system from the days of Dave Littlefield. Of the 8, two are solid prospects, another one is intriguing and the other 5 look like organizational filler at this point. However let me introduce you to the Dave Littlefield 8.

Emmanuel De Leon

Of the 8 players, De Leon is the toughest to get a read on. He was an international free agent signed by the Pirates late in 2007 so he never actually played in the Pirates system until the Huntington regime took over. De Leon is an interesting case because prior to last season he had only thrown 89.1 innings in 4 professional seasons and had not yet reached full season ball. De Leon spent two seasons in the DSL, barely playing in 2008 and then showing good stuff and poor command in 2009. The Pirates brought him to the states and assigned him to rookie ball in 2010 but he barely pitched only getting 7 innings the entire season. In 2011 the Pirates tried him at A- and his control was better but his strike outs took a hit. This past season the Pirates tried him at A ball and like most pitchers there this season he pitched poorly. He was eventually demoted to A- where he got better results and was later promoted back to A ball and eventually pushed up to A+ for a few appearances. The good news is his strike outs returned but the bad news is that his control suffered. De Leon is a relief pitcher at this point albeit one with a very good arm. He still has some potential but the lack of progress he has made in regards to his control makes him a project more than a legit prospect. The Pirates will probably have him pitch in A or A+ in 2013.

Andy Vasquez

Vasquez is one of only two position player prospects left from the Littlefield days. He was signed by the Pirates as an international free agent back in 2006. He was a very late signing for an international player as the Pirates signed him as a 20 year old. He made his minor league debut in 2007 getting into a handful of DSL games and showing some good plate discipline. The following year the Pirates pushed him to A- and he played decently but the plate discipline he showed in a small sample the previous year was gone. The Pirates had him split time between 2B and SS. He repeated A- the following season and was just plain bad. Because of his poor showing in 2009 the Pirates started him back at A- for a 3rd straight year in 2010. He hit better albeit in a small sample size and later was promoted to A ball on account of some injuries. He played sparingly only getting 91 AB between the two levels. In 2011 Vasquez started the year as a utility player in A ball, playing essentially every position but he managed to hit well enough that he eventually became a starter playing primarily LF but also getting time at 2B and 3B. However he continued to show no plate discipline. THe Pirates tried Vasquez in A+ in 2012 as a utility player. Once again he hit fairly well with the exception of his high strikeout and low walk totals. He got a brief promotion to AA at the end of the season. In a matter of two season Vasquez has went from looking like he would be out of baseball soon to being a very competent mid level utility player. Due to the poor results posted by most of the players at the A+ level in 2012 it is not inconceivable that Vasquez could start the year in AA perhaps even receiving regular playing time.

Eliecer Navarro

Navarro is one of 3 pitchers remaining that fit a mold that Littlefield seemed to like. He is a small left handed (5′ 9″) finese pitcher with better offspeed stuff than you typically see from lower level prospects. These types are a fairly safe bet to make it to the lower to mid levels and have a reasonable amount of success there however that is pretty much also their ceiling. Navarro was signed as an international free agent in 2006. Navarro pitched in the DSL in 2007 and 2008 showing good command and striking out a high number of batters. In 2009 the Pirates brought him to the states and assigned him to rookie ball where he continued to pitch fairly well but he didn’t strike out near as many batters. In 2010 the Pirates sent him to A- to begin his season but after 3 successful appearances he was promoted to A ball where he continued to pitch fairly well. His strike out rates bounced back some in 2010 and his control remained good. In 2011 the Pirates tried him at A+and he got hit around pretty hard. He did manage to post a decent strike out rate though and his command was still solid. THe Pirates demoted him back to A ball and he pitched well both as a reliever and a starter. Last season the Pirates tried him back at A+ and his numbers were better although his strike out rate again took a hit but it was still decent. The Pirates had him both starting and relieving but he was far more effective as a reliever. Navarro’s arsenal consists of a high 80s fastball and some good breaking stuff. He is 25 years old and is likely ticketed for AA. At this point he looks like an organizational pitcher but like with all crafty left handed relief pitchers who manage to make it to AA there is a slight chance he could see a cup of coffee in the majors as a LOOGY one day.

Jhonathan Ramos

Ramos is very similar to Navarro in that he is another small left handed pitcher (5′ 8″) with an upper 80s fastball, good breaking stuff and good results in the lower minors. Ramos was an international free agent signed in 2006 by the Pirates. Ramos started his professional career in 2007 in the VSL and spent three seasons there. His first season he showed some control issues but he improved on them greatly in the remaining seasons. He posted strong strike out rates all 3 seasons and had good overall stat lines. The Pirates aggressively promoted Ramos all the way to A ball in 2010 which was his first season playing in the states. He got hit very hard and was demoted to A-. He pitched very well there and was eventually promoted back to A ball. At both levels he displayed great control and had a decent strike out rate. In 2011 the Pirates promoted him to A+ where he originally pitched in the bullpen before joining the rotation. He struggled initially in A+ but had decent numbers although his BB/9 went up slightly and his K/9 fell off dramatically. Ramos got hurt in August and when healthy was sent to A ball where he played in one game. In 2012 the Pirates had Ramos serve as a swing pitcher for A+ and AA. he moved between the levels a few times during the course of the season. He had similar ratios at each level although his ERA was much better in AA. Like in 2011 Ramos’s control wasn’t quite as good and his strike outs were far below what he had been putting up. Ramos is an organizational pitcher and will likely once again split time between A+ and AA in 2013. Like Navarro the chance of him eventually getting a call up to the majors is slim but as a left hander that has reached AA it is feasible.

Porfiro Lopez

Lopez is the last member of the trio of short left handed finesse pitchers left over. He is 5′ 10″ tall and like the other two has an arsenal of a high 80s fastball which he offsets with a solid assortment of breaking stuff. Of the 3 he does seem to have the best velocity occasionally touching the low 90s. The Pirates signed him as an international free agent in 2007 and he spend three seasons in the DSL. In 2008 he pitched sparingly but struggled in his limited action. In 2009 he put up a great season showing great control and striking out a lot of batters. Despite his strong numbers the Pirates sent him back to the DSL for a third season in 2010 where he put up good numbers but they weren’t as good as the previous season and his walk rate rose and strike out rate dropped. The Pirates promoted him to the states in 2011 and sent him to A+ where he predictably struggled mightily getting hit hard but posting a good strike out rate. He was demoted to A ball where he split time between the bullpen and rotation and fared much better posting a lower walk rate and even a tad higher strike out rate. In 2012 the Pirates started Lopez back in A+ but shuffled him between A and A+ a fair amount. He pitched well in A+ posing a good ERA and low walk rate but struggled to strike people out. Conversely he pitched poorly in A ball posting a high walk rate and high ERA but striking batters out at a good clip. The Pirates are likely to use Lopez in a similar role in 2013 as he has the look of an organizational pitcher. If needed he could see some time at AA this season but like the previous two small left handed pitchers his ceiling looks to be a AA level organizational bullpen arm. If things break just right for him or the other two a cup of coffee as a LOOGY in the big leagues is possible but seems highly unlikely.

Eric Avila

Avila is one of the three Littlefield holdovers remaining I still consider a prospect. He was signed by the Pirates as an international free agent in 2006. Avila played three season in the DSL converting from 2B to 3B in his third season. In 2007 he got into a handful of games but played only sparingly collecting only 42 AB. In 2008 he played much more frequently and put up decent numbers but not really anything to stand out except for a low strike out rate. In 2009 he had his breakout season, hitting 9 HR and only striking out 3 more times than he walked. He finished as one of the best hitters in the DSL and was promoted to the states the following season. In 2010 the Pirates assigned him to rookie ball and he displayed power finishing tied for the lead league in home runs. On the downside his great strike out rate nearly doubled making it much more average. In 2011 the Pirates promoted him to A ball and he struggled. He didn’t strike out a ton but had trouble hitting the ball with much authority. The Pirates returned him to A ball in 2012 but this time as a utility player instead of a starter. He got hurt early in the season and basically didn’t play until June. During June and July he hit fairly well and was given a starting job in August. Avila finished the year strong hitting 8 home runs over the last 26 games and giving his prospect status a faint pulse. His strike out and walk rates were concerning as he posted 5 times the number of strike outs as walks. Avila is also a weak defender at third base meaning if he is going to have any value going forward it will have to be with his bat. With no real third base prospect blocking him Avila should get a chance to fully revive his prospect status at the A+ in 2013.

Duke Welker

Up to this point all the remaining Littlefield players have been international free agent signing but Welker was acquired by the Pirates in 2nd round of the 2007 draft. When drafted he had a low 90s fastball and an average slider. He was a bit of an injury risk and an overdraft for a 2nd round selection as scouts said with a 3rd pitch his ceiling was a #4 starter. Welker got into a few games at the A- level in 2007 and pitched well but his season was cut short due to injuries. The Pirates promoted him to A ball the following season and he was hit hard. He got worse as the season went on and his velocity was down from where it was when he was drafted. He also struggled with control and didn’t strike out many batters. In 2009 Welker repeated A level and wasn’t really any better. He wasn’t hit quite as hard as batters only hit .253 against him compared to .307 the previous season but his ERA and BB/9 both rose over the prior year. On the plus side his velocity was back in the low 90s. In 2010 the Pirates opted to try Welker a third time at A ball but this time purely as a reliever. The move appeared to work as Welker started throwing 96-98 mph out of the bullpen. His walks skyrocketed to 9.7 BB/9 but his strike out rate jumped to 10.1 K/9 and opponents hit a measly .198 against him. He was promoted to A+ midseason and pitched largely the same there. Welker opened the following season, 2011 in A+. He pitched very well there showing better control getting his walk rate down to 4.3 BB/9 but his strike out rate also fell. He was promoted to AA near the end of the season and pitched fairly well there posting a 8.1 K/9 and 0.9 BB/9 in a small sample. The Pirates somewhat surprisingly added Welker to the roster prior to the 2012 season and started him off at AA. He pitched well at AA showing good control and inducing a lot of ground balls but his strike out was just average. The Pirates promoted him to AAA where he initially struggled but by the end fo the season was pitching fairly well. Welker needs a little more polish but as a ground ball pitcher who can post average strike out rates there is a good chance we could see him in the majors some time in 2013 but he will likely start back in AAA.

Kyle McPherson

Another 2007 draft pick McPherson was selected in the 14th round. McPherson’s arsenal includes a low 90s fastball that he can get into the mid 90s, a curve and a change. His best asset is not his pitches themselves but the great control he has of them. McPherson started his professional career in rookie ball in 2007 and pitched fairly well albeit with a low strike out rate. He was promoted to A- near the end of the year and hit fairly hard in three starts. McPherson displayed his great command keeping his walk rate below 2 BB/9 at each level. The Pirates kept McPherson at the A- level for 2008 and he pitched well continuing his great command with a miniscule 0.8 BB/9 but had some home run problems as he allowed 10 of them in just 55.2 innings. The Pirates promoted him to A ball in 2009 where he split time between starting and relieving and he was mediocre posting an average ERA with giood WHIP and BB/9 rates but a low strike out rate. He was sent back down to A- where he worked exclusively as a starter and he pitched better but still with a low strike out rate. In 2010 McPherson once again started out in A ball but this time was much better posting good numbers, including a still very strong walk rate but also improving his strike out rate dramatically. He was originally used as a started but moved to relief later in the season to limit his innings. He made a few appearances at the A+ level at the end of the season and pitched very well. The Pirates surprisingly added him the 40 man roster in the offseason and then sent him to A+ in 2011. He continued his strong pitching there posting great numbers including a solid strike out rate. He was promoted to AA midseason and pitched largely the same at that level. McPherson was supposed to start the 2012 season in AAA but a shoulder injury caused him to miss some time and he eventually started back in AA. His numbers there weren’t quite as good as the year before but he still had strong strike out and walk rates. The Pirates promoted him to AAA later in the season where he made 3 excellent starts before eventually getting promoted to the major leagues. McPherson pitched well in his few outings at the major league level. Going into the 2013 season McPherson is a candidate to start the year in the MLB rotation but will most likely be sent back to AAA for a little more seasoning although he will very likely appear in the majors at some point in 2013.

Top 10 Pitching Prospects

1. Gerrit Cole

Grade: A

Position: SP

Expected 2013 Level: AAA

Bio: The Pirates selected Gerrit Cole with the 1st overall pick in the 2011 draft and gave him an 8 million dollar signing bonus. Cole is a work horse starting pitcher who has a fastball that sits in the high 90s and regularly touches 100. He also has a good arsenal of secondary pitches including a two seam fastball, a change up, a curve and a slider (the change up is his best secondary pitch). Cole’s upside is a true ace someone who takes the ball every fifth day and gives their team an excellent chance to win nearly all of their starts. Cole does have some issues though as he has a tendency to elevate his fastball which led to him getting hit harder than one would expect in college. Cole had a good professional debut in 2012 and is expected to receive a little more polishing in AAA in 2013 before ultimately joining the Pirates.

2. Jameson Taillon

Grade: A

Position: SP

Expected 2013 Level: AA

Bio: Taillon was selected by the Pirates with the second overall pick in the 2010 draft. There are quite a few similarities between him and Cole. Both pitchers have plus fastballs and a good assortment of secondary pitches to back up but both also have the knock on them of elevating their fastball too much and being hit around a little. Taillon is younger than Cole and as such is not as far as long in his development as Cole but make no mistake he has the same upside as Cole which is a number one pitcher. Taillon’s fastball is likely a hair slower than Cole’s and his best secondary pitch is his curve whereas for Cole it is his changeup. In 2011 Taillon started the year off in A ball and he pitched well although his stats were not dominating as the Pirates mainly had him working on fastball command. In 2012 he was sent to A+ and once again he pitched well but not dominating, he was however very impressive in a short stint in AA at the end of the year. Taillon will start the year in AA and will like get a mid season promotion to AAA at some point.

3. Luis Heredia

Grade: B+

Position: SP

Expected 2013 Level: A

Bio: Heredia was signed by the Pirates as an international free agent in 2010 for 2.6 million dollars. He turned 18 years old near the end of the 2012 season and is extremely polished for his age. He has good command of his fastball which sat in the lower 90s when he was signed but is now in the middle 90s. His offspeed pitches are still a work in progress but scouts seem to believe they are developing nicely. Heredia started the 2011 season in rookie ball and handled himself quite well going up against competition that was mainly 2-3 years older than him. The Pirates pushed him to A- in 2012 and he had an oustanding season. He had a stellar ERA but on the downside didn’t strike many people out but given his developing offspeed stuff that is not really surprising. The Pirates are likely going to push him to A ball this season but will closely monitor his innings.

4. Kyle McPherson

Grade: B-

Position: SP

Expected 2013 Level: AAA

Bio: McPherson was drafted by the Pirates in the 14th round of the 2011 draft making him one of the few leftover Littlefield prospects remaining in the Pirates system. Unlike the three pitchers above him McPherson does not have an ace potential but what he does have is some major league experience and a bit more certainty surrounding the fact that he will become a solid major league pitcher. McPherson is slated to compete for a rotation job in Spring Training but will likely head back to AAA to begin the season as he only has three career starts at that level. His upside is probably that of a #3 starter who eats innings. His arsenal is solid with a low 90s fastball that he can put a little extra on, a changeup and a curve. McPherson’s best asset though is his good control. McPherson is very likely to see the major leagues at some point this season.

5. Nicholas Kingham

Grade: B-

Position: SP

Expected 2013 Level: A+

Bio: Kingham was drafted by the Pirates in the 4th round of the 2010 draft. He fit the standard mold of a tall projectable right handed pitcher that Neal Huntington and his staff appear to love drafting. To date Kingham has probably been the most successful of all those types of pitchers taken and signed by the Pirates. Kingham’s ceiling is likely not that of an ace but he could still make for a solid front of the rotation arm and slot in nicely as a #2. His arsenal includes a low 90s fastball with good movement, a solid change and a curve that is currently a work in progress. The Pirates had Kingham make his pro debut in 2010 but he didn’t pitch much so his first extended taste came in 2011 when he pitched at the A- level in 2011. He performed very well which earned him a 2012 promotion to A ball. At first glance his 2012 numbers in A ball appear poor but that is mainly due to a high ERA as his secondary numbers show he had a fairly nice season. The Pirates are going to try Kingham at A+ and he is a popular breakout pick.

6. Clayton Holmes

Grade: B-

Position: SP

Expected 2013 Level: A

Bio: The Pirates selected Holmes in the 9th round of the 2012 draft and while he was overshadowed by Cole and Bell his 1.2 million dollar signing bonus was a record for any player taken in the 9th round. Holmes is another one of these tall projectable right handers that Huintington’s seems to like as his fastball sits in the low 90s and his secondary pitches show signs of being solid but need work. Due to his large signing bonus Holme’s signing was not approved until the deadline so he did not appear in any games in 2011. The Pirates had Holmes make his professional debut in 2012 at the A- level and he pitched extremely well but was overshadowed by Heredia. Holmes overall numbers were good but he did show some control problems plus he also has a bit of an unortodox delivery which could prove to be a problem going forward. Right now though Holmes good 2012 campaign has him amongst the Pirates top prospects.

7. Tyler Glasnow

Grade: B-

Position: SP

Expected 2013 Level: A

Bio: Glasnow was selected in the 5th round of the 2011 draft and is you guessed it a tall projectable right handed pitcher. He, as most of the rest do, throws a low 90s fastball and has a secondary arsenal which includes a curve, change and slider which has the potential to be solid in the future. Glasnow did not pitch for the Pirates in 2011 but made his debut for them in 2012 in rookie ball. He pitched extremely well, striking out a lot of batters, which is something most Pirates pitchers did not do in the lowest levels, and he touched 96 with his fastball. The Pirates gave Glasnow a few appearances in A- near the end of the year which is usually a sign that they are considering trying him in A ball the following year. The Pirates will probably place him there at some point but like Heredia and Holmes they will be monitoring his innings closely so starting out in extended spring training is a possibility.

8. Justin Wilson

Grade: C+

Position: SP/RP

Expected 2013 Level: AAA

Bio: The Pirates selected Wilson in the 5th round of the 2008 draft and shortly after his selection he received some attention for his performance in the College World Series. Wilson has the stuff to be a good #2 pitcher in a rotation and has made it all the way to AAA but yet he has been held back because of not being able to control his stuff that well. Wilson has a fastball that sits in the mid 90s and can touch the upper 90s and he compliments it with a curve and a slider which are fairly solid pitches as well. He generates a lot of strikeouts and is tough to hit but he also tends to walk a lot of batters which tends to hurt his overall results. His control problems have plagued him all through his minor league career. The Pirates have tried him both at starting and relieving and it is not clear what they will have him do in 2013. Wilson could start the year off in the majors in the bullpen but will most likely be sent back to AAA to work on his control.

9. Bryan Morris

Grade: C+

Position: RP

Expected 2013 Level: MLB

Bio: Bryan Morris is the last piece remaining from the Jason Bay deal. When the Pirates originally acquired him he was touted as a starting pitching prospect but once he got to AA that stalled and the Pirates opted to move him to the bullpen. The move to relief proved to be a good thing for Morris as he has pitched exceptionally well since being moved in 2011. Morris finished 2011 strong out of the bullpen and was promoted to AAA to begin the 2012 season. Morris pitched very well out of the bullpen in 2012 but was surprisingly not called up by the Pirates until September. Morris’s arsenal consists of a mid 90s fastball, a very good curve and an average change up. He is out of options heading into 2013 so even though he has not really been given a chance to establish himself as a major league reliever the Pirates will almost certainly start him off in the majors instead of waiving him and risk losing him.

10. Victor Black

Grade: C+

Position: RP

Expected 2013 Level: AAA

Bio: The Pirates drafted Black with the 49th overall pick in 2009 which they received for their failure to sign Tanner Scheppers the year before. The Pirates drafted Black as a started but even at that time most scouts saw him as a potential late inning reliever rather than a starter. Black pitched a few innings in 2009 in A- and then opened 2010 in A ball but missed most of the season due to a shoulder injury. During the 2010 offseason the Pirates decided to switch Black to a relief pitcher and then sent him to A ball to begin the 2011 year. Black struggled but was for some reason promoted to A+ where he continued to struggle. In 2012 the Pirate surprisingly pushed Black to AA where he stayed healthy all season and had a breakout year. His fastball sat in the mid 90s occasionally going into the upper 90s and he proved to be mostly unhittable. He did walk a few too many but the stuff he displayed is characteristic of a dominating back of the bullpen reliever. Black will start the year in AAA but could be called up to the majors fairly quickly and might ultimately assume the closer role.

Do The Pirates Need Another Starter?

With Jeff Karstens now back on the Pirates payroll there are 6 pitchers with a reasonable chance of starting the year in the major league rotation. They are A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald, Jeff Karstens, Jeff Locke and Kyle McPherson. In addition to those six there are quite a few other players who could factor in at some point this season. There are a handful of pitchers who look like they could be non-horrible spot starting options in Chris Leroux, Jeanmar Gomez, Vin Mazzaro and Zach Stewart but none of them would ideally be counted on. There is also the two reinforcements, Charlie Morton and Gerrit Cole, who will hopefully both be ready to help contribute by mid season. Then there is even Justin Wilson and Andy Oliver who have the stuff to be good starters if they can figure out their control. Finally the Pirates also have a stable of AAA pitchers who look like they should be ready to step up and make a handful of starts later in the year in Phillip Irwin, Brandon Cumpton and even Michael Colla. That is undoubtedly a lot of arms but I still believe the Pirates need to bring in another starter and I’ll explain why.

Let’s first take a look at the depth. A lot of the pitchers making up the Pirates depth, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, Phillip Irwin, Brandon Cumpton and Michael Colla are going to probably need a couple of months before they would be ideally counted on to help the rotation. Two more Justin Wilson and Andy Oliver will need time to prove that they have improved their control before being ready to move up. What this means is that a lot of this depth will not be ready to help out should a problem arise in say April or May. Now with six starters ready to start the year that ordinarily wouldn’t be a huge deal but the Pirates have risk factors with all six of their starters.

Burnett – AJ will be 36 years old this upcoming season and had two poor seasons prior to his good year last season. A pitcher nearing his late 30s is always at risk of breaking down especially one with as much use on it as Burnett.

Rodriguez - At 34 years old Rodriguez isn’t as old as Burnett but there is a cause for concern as his strike out rate has been steadily dropping the last few seasons. The bottom really fell out in 2012 as he dropped from 7.8 K/9 to 6.1 K/9. He is going to need to show he can transition into being successful as a finesse pitcher.

McDonald - The biggest question mark of them all. Which McDonald is the real McDonald? Is he the Cy Young candidate we saw the first half of last year, the AA arm we saw in the second half or somewhere in between. A complete collapse can not be ruled out.

Karstens - The reason the Pirates didn’t offer Karstens arbitration was his injury history. Karstens has been a very consistent starter for the Pirates but the question is how long can he stay healthy? The Pirates really shouldn’t be counting on Karstens for more than about 120 innings max.

Locke – I feel pretty good about Locke but the issue with him is that he has no track record of big league success and has struggled when given his few chances. Locke has been a very successful AAA pitcher and while that probably should transition over to him being at least a solid 4/5 in the majors you never know until he actually does it.

McPherson - McPherson has had shoulder soreness twice in the past year and last time it cause him to miss a decent chunk of the season. Add in the fact that he has only made 3 starts at the AAA level and you have a pitcher who the Pirates should probably proceed cautiously with.

With all those question marks and the real possibility that a starter outside of those 6 might be needed the way the Pirates are currently constructed they would need to give the chances to one of the spot starter options in Gomez, Stewart, Leroux or Mazzaro. If those 4 are forced to make a combined 2-3 starts this year, ok stuff happens the team should be fine but if one of them is needed to move into the rotation in April or May it could very well likely signal bad things for the Pirates. For the Pirates and all teams really one of the most important keys is depth in the rotation and while that is coming for the Pirates it isn’t there yet. Ideally come midseason the Pirates will have a surplus to trade for needs in other areas or will be able to convert some starters into bullpen arms but you can’t go on expecting the ideal the Pirates need to prepare for the very real possibility that they may need an extra arm to help the rotation get through April and May. As long as health holds out Burnett, Rodriguez and McDonald should all start the season in the majors. McPherson would ideally start the year in AAA to get a few more starts and a little more polish. This leaves two rotation spots for Karstens and Locke. I would really like to see those two battle it out for the 5th spot with Locke going to AAA if he loses and Karstens being the swing man if he loses. The las rotation spot needs to go to someone on the outside. Perhaps the Liriano deal can be reworked and he can fill the last spot (his upside would really fit nicely with what the Pirates need) or perhaps another free agent such as Marcum or Saunders can be had or maybe a trade for someone like Capuano or Porcello but the bottom line is another arm needs to be added so the Pirates can have some reasonable security that they will be able to make him through April and May with their in house rotation options.

The Starting Rotation

There has been a lot of news lately about the Pirates seeking a starting pitcher but also about how they are comfortable with the internal options they have. The Pirates do have a fair number of internal options but it doesn’t appear like it is quite enough to go in to the season with. So lets take a look at those internal options the Pirates are currently counting on.

Locks For The Rotation

The Pirates have 3 locks for the starting rotation heading into the season. A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez and James McDonald all should start the season in the rotation and each one of them could be candidates to make 30+ starts and pitch 200+ innings but then again there are age concerns surrounding Burnett and Rodriguez and consistency questions surrounding McDonald. The Pirates are likely hoping that this trio can contribute roughly half of the starts they need in the 162 game season. More realistically though anywhere from 70-75 starts would be a good total.

Competing For A Rotation Spot

The Pirates have 3 players who look as if they are competing for the final 1 or 2 rotation spots in the rotation. These players are Jeff Locke, Kyle McPherson and Vin Mazzaro. All three of these players could definitely have a positive impact on the rotation but then again all 3 of them are untested and unproven. Locke and McPherson both showed flashes of talent near the end of last season and of the 2 Locke seems to be the most polished and ready to take on a big league job. Mazzaro is out of options so the Pirates are either going to have to start the year with him on the 25 man roster or waive him. I really don’t see him as a starter but I expect the Pirates will give him a chance to compete for a job. I’m sure the Pirates would love to get 50-60 starts from this trio but I just don’t see it. If they can get anywhere from 30-35 starts that would be a success.

Mid Season Help

The Pirates have two players who look they will be ready to provide rotation depth some time around the middle of the year. Charlie Morton should b coming back from injury and Gerrit Cole should be polished enough from the minor league to make his debut. I have my doubts about Morton getting ready in the short 30 day window he will have but the Pirates appear to be counting on that so we will see. As for Cole we all know he is the top prospect and should make a very anticipated debut this season but we shall see how he fares and how long it takes him to get here. Both pitchers certainly have the talent to fill rotation spots for this club but again there is nothing for certain here. Ideally these guys would be able to provide a half a season each which would give them 30 starts but 15-20 would be a pretty good amount.

Prospects

There are two prospects outside of Gerrit Cole who appear like they could possibly make a start for the Pirates some time this season. They are Jameson Taillon and Phillip Irwin. Chances are neither will be ready until August at the earliest so counting on the for more than a handful of starts can’t be done. Taillon is of course a top prospect and Irwin is a very stable arm who with just a few months of AAA time could be a Jeff Karstens like starter for the Pirates. Again these two are talented and may play a key role in 2014 but in 2013 anything more than a taste of the majors would be highly unlikely. Around 5 starts is all that can be expected from this duo and even that may be high.

Good Stuff, Poor Control

The Pirates have two left handers who have great stuff but little control. It is uncertain rather the Pirates see them as starters or relievers right now but one would think they will each get a chance at starting in AAA at least to begin the season. These two players are Justin Wilson and Andy Oliver. Both of them are power lefties who if they can even slightly improve their control could be great starters or dominating back end relievers but that is one very big if there. The Pirates shouldn’t be counting on this pair for any starts but it would be a huge bonus if they could make some. I wouldn’t count on them for any but it wouldn’t surprise me to see 10+ starts out of this duo if one or both can take significant strides this season. More likely though these two will serve as bullpen options.

Others

The rest of the Pirates options are players who look better suite for relief work but could step up and make a spot start if needed. They are Chris Leroux, Rick VandenHurk, Zach Stewart and Chad Beck. These guys are really just emergency starters so if the Pirates need these guys for more than 1-2 starts things have probably gone horribly wrong. I would imagine that some of these guys will not even be with the Pirates at the start if the year and if they are 1 or 2 of them are likely to be removed from the roster.

Recap

So how many starts do we have from the internal options:

Locks: 75

Competing: 35

Mid Season: 20

The Rest: 10

Total: 140

The Pirates would probably be able to get by with what they have but my fairly realistic numbers seem to suggest that unless they get good luck in regards to health or are planning to count on players who they probably shouldn’t they are going to come up about 20 starts short. I believe it is important to avoid giving starts to players who just don’t appear ready and to have some backup plans should injuries arise. It is rather apparent to me that right now the Pirates need to bring in one more dependable starter because otherwise making it through the year is going to be rather difficult and could even get ugly. So the talk about Capuano and Porcello has plenty of merit and I expect the Pirates pursuit for their them or another pitcher will start to pick up in the coming weeks.

How Should the Pirates Proceed?

The Pirates have made a few moves so far this offseason but the team is by no means complete. Logically this raise the question what should the team do next? Well I figured this was as good a time as any to take a look at where the team as constructed stands.

Catcher

Starter: Russell Martin

Backup: Michael McKenry

Depth: Tony Sanchez, Ramon Cabrera, Ali Solis

Outlook: The Pirates have a solid starter in Martin who will hopefully put up average numbers for the position and a decent backup in McKenry they know is ready to step up and take a good chunk of playing time should he be called on to do so. In addition the Pirates have two solid prospects in Sanchez and Cabrera waiting at the AAA level and added Solis to serve as emergency depth just like Eric Fryer did last season. In an ideal world you would like to see the Pirates add a veteran 3rd catcher, much like Jose Morales last season, but in all likelihood what you see is what you are going to get here and that really isn’t a bad thing.

Infield (2B/3B/SS)

Starters: Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, Clint Barmes

Backups: Brock Holt, Josh Harrison, Chase d’Arnaud, Jordy Mercer

Depth: Anderson Hernandez, Jared Goedert

Outlook: The Pirates have two of thier key regulars in Walker and Alvarez manning 2B and 3B respectively. At the other starting positions Clint Barmes provides a great glove but a weak bat so in an ideal situation looking for an upgrade over him would be on the agenda. In the real world immediate upgrades at the shortstop position are hard to come by so the Pirates should be looking for a replacement for Barmes in 2014 and beyond. The bench provides an interesting cast of characters who can play all 3 positions but not one of them is a proven commodity. Keeping two of them on the major league bench would be a bad idea so the Pirates should be exploring the market for a backup at these positions. As far as depth is concerned the Pirates have a couple minor league veterans should an emergency arise.

Outfield (1B/OF)

Starters: Garrett Jones/Gaby Sanchez, Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, Travis Snider

Backups: Clint Robinson, Jose Tabata, Alex Presley

Depth: Matt Curry, Matt Hague, Jeff Larish, Felix Pie, Darren Ford, Adalberto Santos

Outlook: The Pirates have a lot of talent in the 1B/OF department but also a lot of question marks. At 1B Jones and Sanchez has the making of a good platoon but the Pirates are shopping Jones which is the right move considering his contract situation and the year he is coming off of. The Pirates shouldn’t trade him for nothing but a good return such as a shortstop for 2014 and beyond needs to be taken if offered. In the outfield the Pirates have one of the best players in the game in McCutchen and two young unproven players in Marte and Snider. Ideally you don’t want both players starting in the outfield to begin the season but once again this isn’t an ideal world. The Pirates should be considering bringing in a more proven outfielder but I understand the reasons they may choose not to do so. As far as the backups go Robinson provides the Pirates with an interesting fall back choice should they be successful in trading Jones. It would be risky to go into the season with him and Sanchez manning 1B but it might just be worth it. As the roster is currently constructed Presley and Tabata figure to fight for one bench spot. Presley is the more prototypical 4th outfielder but Tabata has the OBP skills the team is missing and since he is a righty would be able to spell Snider against tough lefties. Between those two the Pirates should have a solid 4th outfielder. As far as depth the Pirates have two solid prospects in Curry and Santos waiting in the wings and have a plethora of minor league depth to call upon if needed.

Rotation

Locks: AJ Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald

Competing: Jeff Locke, Kyle McPherson, Justin Wilson, Vin Mazzaro, Rick VandenHurk

Depth: Charlie Morton, Gerrit Cole, Phillip Irwin, Brandon Cumpton, Brooks Brown, Zach Stewart, Chris Leroux,

Outlook: Burnett and Rodriguez look like solid pieces of the rotation. They are getting up there in age but the Pirates have little choice but to move ahead with them. McDonald is a big question mark but with all the positives he showed last season the Pirates agin have little choice but to move on with him as part of the rotation. Following those 3 the Pirates have a handful of players who look like non-horrible candidates to start the season as a 5th starter but in no way should two of them be counted on to begin the year. The Pirates absolutely have to look to acquire another starter who is a lock for the rotation. I believe this is the most important thing left to do. I would also like to see a more major league testes starter brought in on a minor league contract to compete for the 5th spot. Locke and McPherson would be solid 5th and 6th starters to begin the season but as 4th and 5th starters with little behind them the Pirates have a big hole. The rest of the players competing will ideally be reduced to bullpen roles or AAA depth. As for the depth the Pirates have a mixture of solid prospects, minor league vets and bullpen arms capable of making a start if needed. Aside from that there is Morton who will hopefully be back mid season and Cole who will hopefully be polished enough to make his debut by mid season. Those two will hopefully being to boost the rotation come the middle of the year.

Bullpen

Locks: Joel Hanrahan, Jared Hughes, Justin Wilson, Bryan Morris

Competing: Chris Leroux, Vin Mazzaro, Justin Wilson, Rick VandenHurk, Zach Stewart, Chad Beck, Duke Welker

Depth: Victor Black, David Bromberg, Erik Cordier, Mike Zagurski, Ryan Reid

Outlook: The bullpen is a mess right now. The Pirates are considering trading Hanrahan a move which they should consider but the value is likely to be low so if they don’t get something worthwhile he could always return and be the anchor for the pen. Outside of him Hughes, Watson and Morris look like sure bets to be part of next year’s bullpen and all of them should be solid. Next up is a large number of players competing for those final bullpen jobs. Its really anyone’s guess as to who will get them and to be honest the Pirates should feel perfectly comfortable with 2 arms coming out of that group. Serving as depth should injuries mount is a typical assortment of minor league depth and Victor Black who looks like a good back of the bullpen prospect. If he shows improved control he could be a quick addition. If Hanrahan is traded a proven bullpen arm or two should be added but even if he remains the Pirates should probably look for one anyway.

What They Need To Do?

1) Acquire a starting pitcher who can pitch a lot of quality innings.

2) Acquire a starting pitcher who will be able to compete for the 5th spot and provide depth in AAA

3) Keep their minds open to all possible trades especially Hanrahan and Jones

4) Look for a future replacement for Barmes at SS

5) Acquire 1 or 2 solid bullpen arms

6) Continue to stockpile bullpen options for the final 2 spots

7) Acquire a good utility player capable of playing the middle infield to improve the bench

Moves that Would be Made in an Ideal World

1) Acquire a veteran 3rd catcher to serve as depth in AAA

2) Acquire a proven 1B/OF so Marte and Snider don’t both play everyday

3) Acquire an immediate upgrade at the shortstop position

4) Acquire 2 young pieces to the starting rotation which would allow the possibility of moving Burnett or Rodriguez

5) Acquire 2 or 3 good arms for the bullpen

Prospect Recap: Part XVII

Top Prospects 6-10

10. Kyle McPherson: McPherson was taken by the Pirates in the 14th round of the 2007 making him one of the few Littlefield selections remaining on the list. McPherson’s strength is his ability to command the strike zone and his stuff is fairly good as well. He can get his fastball up into the mid 90s although it sits in the low 90s and he has a pretty good curve and change up to complement it. He is a fly ball pitcher so he can be susceptible to the home run. McPherson started his pro career in 2007 down in rookie ball and pitched how you would expect a college pitcher to pitch against high schoolers. The good performance earned him a taste at A- where he didn’t fare so well in 3 starts. McPherson returned to A- in 2008 and pitched fairly well except he left up a lot of home runs. The Pirates started McPherson out in extended Spring Training to begin the 2009 season and then eventually sent him to A ball. He pitched decently there, even cutting down on his home runs. While his performance was decent it must not have satisfied the Pirates as surprisingly once A- started playing they sent him back to that level but this time around he pitched very well. In 2010 McPherson once again started the season in A ball but this time he was a much different pitcher. His strike out rate rose significantly and his numbers drastically improved. He received a promotion to A+ near the end of the season and was outstanding in two relief appearances. The Pirates surprisingly added him to the 40 man roster in the offseason. He opened 2011 in A+ and made the Pirates decision look like a good one as he made 12 very good starts before being promoted to AA and he continued to pitch well there. McPherson was slated to begin the 2012 season in AAA but a shoulder injury caused the Pirates to hold him back and then start him back in AA. His numbers were worse than the previous season but still fairly good, surprisingly he stayed at the AA level until August. Once promoted to AAA McPherson rolled off 3 great starts which led to a promotion to the majors. McPherson pitched well in his time with the big club and is a candidate to start 2013 in the Pirates rotation. Whether he is with the Pirates to begin the season or not expect to see McPherson make quite a few starts for the Pirates next season.

9. Clay Holmes: Holmes was drafted by the Pirates in the 9th round of the 2011 draft. He was yet another tall (6’5″) projectable right handed pitcher, the type this Pirates staff just seems to love selecting. Holmes has a fastball that sits in the low 90s, a slider which shows signs of being a plus pitch and of course like most high school pitchers he is in the process of developing a change up. The one knock on him was his delivery which was said to be erratic leading a lot of scouts to believe he would be a project. Holmes appeared to be a tough sign for the Pirates but on the last day they agreed to sign him for a 9th round record of 1.2 million. Holmes signed to late to see any action in 2011 so he made his pro debut this past season at the A- level. Holmes pitched very well at this level limiting batters to a .176 average against him. He had a sparkling 2.28 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. On the down side though he failed to strike many batters out and had some control problems posting a 4.4 BB/9. The control problems were not a constant problem though as a lot of his outings were fine but he had a few where it looked like he could barely throw a strike at all. Holmes has a huge amount of upside but is still a very raw product. The fact he wasn’t missing many bats is slightly concerning but he is still young enough that not too much should be read into that. Holmes will probably open the season in A ball and what to watch for is if he can show better command in his second year as a professional pitcher, if he does Holmes could climb higher on the prospect charts.

8. Nicholas Kingham: Kingham was drafted by the Pirates in the 4th round of the 2010 draft. At this point he is essentially Clay Holmes but one year further along in development. Kingham is another tall projectable right hander who throws in the low 90s and has an assortment of high potential secondary pitches. For Kingham that includes a decent looking change up and a curve that is still a little raw. Kingham made a couple of brief relief appearances in rookie ball in 2010, he pitched well but it was only a 3 inning sample size. The Pirates promoted him to A- the following season and he pitched well posting a 2.15 ERA and 1.10 WHIP. On the downside like Holmes this year Kingham didn’t strike a lot of guys out but did manage to show good control. Kingham was able to post 6 wins which is fairly rare for a low level starting pitcher because they typically aren’t allowed to pitch the 5 innings needed to qualify. The Pirates opted to send Kingham to A ball to begin 2012 and he had sort of an odd season there. He posted a 4.39 ERA which would indicate his performance was just average but his peripherals tell a different story as he saw a bump in his strike out rate to 8.3 K/9, kept his walks under control and kept his WHIP at a low 1.19. Kingham had a slow start to the season posting a 5.22 ERA in the first half but finished strong with a 1.68 ERA over his last 9 starts. He was a popular pick in 2012 to have a breakout season and while he didn’t he did show many good signs that he was developing as a pitcher and that will probably once again make him a popular break out pick going into the 2013 season. Kingham should open at the A+ level and is certainly one who has the potential to quickly elevate his prospect status.

7. Barrett Barnes: The Pirates drafted Barnes in the 2012 draft with the supplemental pick they received for Ryan Doumit signing with the Twins. Barnes signed with the Pirates for slightly below slot but was not an overdraft as he was taken with 45th overall selection and rated the 41st best prospect overall by Baseball America. Barnes is an interesting player as scouts are split on whether he profiles best as a corner outfielder or a center fielder. The Pirates for now are using him as center fielder but that could change as quickly as next season. The case for him being a center fielder is that he is sound defensively there and has good speed, he isn’t a burner but he does run well. The case for him being a corner outfielder is that he doesn’t really have the arm to be a good center fielder and that he projects to add power. Barnes is said to have excellent bat speed and while there are some who question if he will be able to hit for a high average the consensus is that he has excellent plate discipline and would make up for short comings int he average department with a very strong walk rate. In college Barnes didn’t steal a lot of bases but was very efficient when he decided to steal. The Pirates sent Barnes to A- where he struggled initially before settling in and really having a very nice season. Barnes put up a very solid .857 OPS for the season. Barnes did suffer a leg injury late in the season that caused him to miss most of the final month but it isn’t expected to have long term impact. The Pirates typically send advanced college hitters like Barnes to A+ in their first full season of pro ball so expect him to start there. If he does it will likely be as a corner outfielder as center fielder figures to be occupied.

6. Josh Bell: Bell was drafted by the Pirates in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft. The Pirates gave him a staggering 5 million dollars to break his commitment to Texas in what can sort of be considered the final straw that led to the revamping of the draft process. Bell projects defensively as a solid corner outfielder and his speed is only considered average. Where Bell’s value lies is with his bat. He is considered to have plus all around hitting skills and plus power. He is almost without debate the Pirates best power prospect. At the time he was drafted he was considered to be a very difficult sign because of a letter he sent to teams urging them not to draft him. The Pirates were of course successful in persuading him to sign with them. Bell didn’t get to make his pro debut in 2011 but he was aggressively assigned to A ball to begin 2012. Bell started off slow but held his own for a high schooler going straight to full season ball as he hit .274 and slugged .403. He did have a big strike out problem though. After only 62 AB Bell suffered a knee injury while sliding into second. The injury required surgery and while there was hope he would be back before the end of the season his recovery didn’t go well and he missed the rest of the year. The Pirates are expecting Bell to be ready to go by the start of Spring Training but the knee injury is a real concern at this point. As far as his brief performance goes nothing can really be garnered by it as it was so small of a sample. The Pirates will undoubtedly be careful with Bell and will probably send him back to A ball when they determine the knee to be fully healed.

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