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.
The Pirates current right field situation is a bit of a mess but as of now it appears Travis Snider has the inside track to become the everyday starter. Snider and the right field position as a whole is a big wildcard for the Pirates. The Pirates need to get some consistent production out of first base and need to do so while keeping Garrett Jones at first base. Snider has shown flashes of power in the past but didn’t really hit for much when he was with the Pirates. That could have been due to a hamstring injury he suffered soon after or to adjusting to a top of the order role or it could be the Pirates were working with his swing to make him less pull happy. Then again it could be a truly troubling sign and Snider’s power might not develop. Due to the discrepancy between the flashes Snider shown while with the Blue Jays and how he played in his short time with the Pirates it is difficult to say what just to expect from him in 2013. Snider could definitely flop or then again he could wind up being an above average right fielders. Projection systems have Snider all over the place from .715 OPS to an 8.13 OPS. I found when things seem this uncertain that the truth usually falls somewhere in between. So I’m expecting Snider to be worth about 1.5-2.0 WAR and post a slash line of around .260/.320/.440.
Tabata is sort of a puzzle to us Pirates fans. In 2010 Tabata had a strong rookie season and the following year his numbers were still decent but not as strong and then last year his performance fell off a cliff. Tabata’s build makes him susceptible to leg problems and that has proven to greatly affect his game. When healthy Tabata has the look of being the thing this Pirates team is most missing and that is a true top of the order hitter. Tabata’s performance in 2012 is often harshly criticized as it should be but from June to the end of the year he posted a .362 OBP with the major league team. It was a relatively small sample but a number that good on a team this starved for base runners can not be so easily dismissed. Tabata is out of options and has quite a few years left on his contract so it appears likely the Pirates will keep him in the majors and let him serve as a 4th outfielder and compliment to Snider in right field. Unless Tabata really shows something in his limited playing time and/or Snider struggles in right field he is not likely to get a chance to win back his starting job but he could still be a valuable asset for the Pirates coming off the bench. Tabata has some speed and on base skills which could nicely compliment the Pirates heavy tilted power lineup and his right handiness could compliment Snider should he struggle against left handed pitching. For this year it is difficult to say what Tabata may do. He could revert to his April/May form or he could build off his moderate success in the second half of last season. I’m thinking Tabata’s true talent level lies somewhere near where his 2011 performance which means I’m expecting a slash of something like .265/.345/.365 from him in 2013. He won’t get much playing time so I see his overall value being about 1.0-1.2 WAR.
Sands was one of the main pieces the Pirates acquired in the Hanrahan trade this past offseason. He has shown flashes of power in the past and has been an average major league hitter during his brief stints in the show. At AAA he has been a masher but that was in the PCL, an offensive paradise. With Snider and Tabata both being out of options it appears unlikely Sands will make the major league team out of Spring Training but the Pirates and Sands could probably benefit from him having some time in the less hitter friendly International League anyway. Sand will undoubtedly be a part of the major league club at some point this season but the performance of those in front of him as well as his own performance in AAA will go a long way in determining when he makes it and how much he plays. Sands also has played first base in the past so I would expect him to be considered an option there should the need arise. On the major league level I’m not expecting to see Sands until the middle of the season and while here hopefully there will not be a need to give him much playing time. In AAA I think its predictable Sands will not hit as well as he did in the PCL but I still expect a solid showing from him. I don’t think he’ll get a ton of playing time in the majors but I think he will show the Pirates enough that they will plan on him being a part of the 2014 squad.
Presley is the 4th outfielder battling for playing time in the outfield and he is probably the most versatile of the bunch as he can handle center field and is probably a better option for left field than the other three players listed here. He has the look of a very solid 4th outfielder but unless the Pirates opt to carry 5 outfielders, a possibility I’m not dismissing, he is likely to begin the season in AAA. The Pirates could certainly use Presley on the major league bench as his left handed hitting could be a big plus as would his ability to play center field and his speed. Ideally one of Snider or Tabata will step up this year freeing the Pirates to trade the other one and Presley will take the 4th outfielder role but that is unlikely to shake out for a while. I’m fairly confident Presley will be with the major league club for a decent amount of time this season. In fact I’m expecting him to receive probably close to 150 PA. As for how well he will produce I tend to agree with the Steamer projection system which has him tagged at a .262/.313/.415 line with a 0.4 WAR. I think Presley should be right around that this upcoming season.
Gerrit Cole: Cole is the Pirates top overall prospect and he has that crown for good reason. Cole has a fastball that touches 100 mph and also has a plus slider and change up. Cole does still have some control issues to work on but he shown great improvement in that regard this past season. Cole started this season in A+ ball, moved up to AA and eventually finished the season by making a few starts in AAA. He is not a finished product right now but he has the look of a very special pitcher. Cole will likely start next season in AAA and should join the major league rotation sometime during the middle of next season.
Jameson Taillon: Taillon has a very similar upside to Gerrit Cole and has a similar arsenal including a high 90s fastbal and a plus curve. Taillon also has a change up and a slider but those are more of a work in progress at this point. Taillon had a shaky season in A+ this year looking dominant at times and then being hit hard other times. Some people believe his struggles were do to largely focus on fastball command instead of throwing his whole arsenal but whatever the cause Taillon still has the stuff to be considered a top tier pitching prospect. Late in the season Taillon was promoted to AA and made 3 dominating starts. Heading into the 2013 season Taillon will likely start out in AA and should get promoted to AAA some time during the season, there also is an outside chance Taillon could see some time in the majors as a September call up.
Luis Heredia: Heredia at only 17 years old was aggressively pushed to the New York Penn league where he frequently faced competition 4 years older than him. Heredia responded to the challenge by having a great season. The only down side to Heredia’s season was a low K rate but the Pirates focus on fastball command in the lower levels and the fact that Heredia’s hasn’t fully developed his off speed pitches yet makes that less of a concern. Heredia’s arsenal includes a mid 90s fastball and a work in progress slider, curve and change up. The Pirates are probably going to aggressively push Heredia once again and let him play full season ball next season.
Kyle McPherson: McPherson missed the beginning of the 2012 season with a shoulder injury and the Pirates then decided t bring him back slowly by having him start his season repeating the AA level. McPherson pitched decently at the level but his numbers were actually worse than the past season. Eventually McPherson got sent to AAA where he put up 3 great starts before ultimately getting called up to the majors. McPherson performed admirably in his time in the major leagues and he looks like a candidate to compete for the 5th starter job next season.
Clay Holmes: Holmes was selected in the 9th round of the 2012 draft and was yet another of the Pirates projectable high school right handers. Unlike many of the other projectable pitchers the Pirates drafted Holmes made a strong pro debut and was great in the New York Penn league. Holmes pitched basically as well as Heredia did. Like Heredia, Holmes also had an issue striking out hitters but hopefully that will improve as he moves forward. One big downside of Holmes season is that he completely lost control of his pitches at times leading to a handful of ugly outings but most of time he was dominant. Holmes is a prospect to keep an eye on and should start next season at A ball where his prospect status could take a big jump if he performs well.
Justin Wilson: Wilson started the season in AAA as a starter and had some dominating outings being the big part of two no hitters. Wilson was nearly unhittable at times this season and had a strike out rate of 9.2 K/9. On the downside Wilson continued to show the control problems that had plagued him for his whole career posting a walk rate of 4.4 BB/9. Wilson was eventually called up to the majors where he made a few relief appearances. He looked decent overall but still had some serious control problems. Wilson’s future may ultimately be as a reliever but the Pirates are probably going to keep him starting in AAA next season so he can get more work in and hopefully harness his control issues.
Nicholas Kingham: Kingham is yet another of the Pirates many projectable high school arms. He was drafted in the 4th round of the 2010 draft and had a very strong showing in A- last season. Kingham still has a lot of things to work on but he has a good fastball and an improving curve that makes him look like a good pitching prospect. This season Kingham played A ball and had an up and down year struggling in April and June but pitching fairly well the rest of the season. His ERA for the year was a little high but his peripherals suggest he pitched better than his ERA indicated. Kingham remains one of the Pirates better pitching prospects and should open next season in A+.
Tyler Glasnow: Glasnow is yet another one of the Pirates many projectable high school right handers and like the other two I mentioned he had a very strong pro debut. This season Glasnow was dominant in rookie ball posting a strike out rate of 10.5 K/9 and holding hitters to a .156 average against him. He has the normal assortment of a 93-94 mph fastball, a projectable curve and a work in progress slider and change up. For as well as he pitched this season Glasnow pitched only 38.1 innings so the Pirates will probably move cautiously with him and have him pitch in A- although he appears as if he might be ready for A ball.
Bryan Morris: Morris spent this past season in the AAA bullpen and he played well for the first 3 months of the season before struggling down the stretch. The Pirates used Morris’s last option this past season so it was kind of strange to not see him really get a chance at the majors. In order to retain him this season Morris will need to start the season on the 25 man roster but yet the Pirates only gave him 5 appearances in September. Morris had a good season this year posting good numbers, throwing a mid 90s fastball and even performing well in his brief time in the majors but he is still really an unknown right now. Morris has potential closer stuff so the Pirates probably won’t give up on him this offseason so he will probably be in the major league bullpen to begin the season.
Victor Black: Heading into this season Black had only pitched sparingly which made the Pirates decision to send him to AA seem odd but he rewarded them by posting great numbers. Black was throwing his fastball in the high 90s and he struck out 12.8 K/9. Black pitched well against both righties and lefties holding both to a batting average below .200. On the down side Black did show some control problems but his stuff was so good that he will definitely be added to the 40 man roster this offseason since he is Rule V eligible. Black will likely open the season in AAA and could very well see the majors at some point next season.
Upper Levels: Other than the prospects I have previously mentioned the Pirates had very few stand outs in the upper levels. Phillip Irwin pitched well in AA, regaining his prospects status and getting promoted to AAA. Irwin will likely be added to the 40 man roster this offseason. Welker pitched in relief in AA this season and did well eventually earning a promotion to AAA. Like Morris and Black, Welker looks like a strong closer candidate. Other than those two Brandon Cumpton had a decent season in AA and should move up to AAA where he could continue starting or pitch relief depending on need. Jason Townsend and Tyler Waldron each got promoted to AA near the end of the season and both pitched decently, Townsend looks like a decent relief prospect going forward and Waldron is still a fringe starter prospect. A spattering of other like Jeff Inman, Tim Alderson, Hunter Strickland and Jhonathan Ramos did just enough to keep their prospect window open heading into next season.
Middle Levels: Robby Rowland who was acquired for Brett Lorin this offseason had a goos howing in A ball this season. It was a nice bounce back season for Rowland as he restablished himself as a prospect. Rowland should get a chance to pitch in A+ next season where he will hopefully continue building off his success. Zach Von Rosenberg was disappointingly sent back to A ball this season and his numbers were mediocre. The good news is that he did look a little better this season and is still young enough where he could improve. Von Rosenberg will likely start next season in A+. Outside of those two and the one I previously mentioned Casey Sadler probably has the best upside and he had a good season both starting and relieving in A+ this season. He should move up to AA. Ryan Hafner and Zach Dodson took major steps backwards in their developments this season and will need to rebound quickly next year. Other players like Pofirio Lopez, Josh Poytress, Rinku Singh and Matt Benedict pitched ok this season and remain borderline prospects.
Lower Levels: The lower levels were dominated by last year’s high school draftees and this year’s draft crop. Jake Burnette, Jason Creasy and Colten Brewer, the Pirates other 2011 high school draftees, each had successful seasons to varying degrees this year. Pat Ludwig and Dalton Friend two college draftees from this past season both appeared very good in relief in the lower levels. Adrian Sampson the Pirates 5th round draft choice had a very solid debut in A- and should move up to A ball next season and is one to keep an eye on. Other draftees such as Jonathan Sandorft, Hayden Hurst and Jon Kuchno pitched very sparingly but remain interesting prospects nonetheless. A few others such as Joely Rodriguez, Jackson Lodge, Andy Otamendi and Bryton Trepagnier did just enough to get themselves noticed but will have to show more going forward.
Jared Hughes: Hughes had the most innings pitched out of the Pirates bullpen this season and overall had a pretty good season. His numbers weren’t dominant as he posted fewer than 6 K/9 but as the Pirates ground ball specialist that appears to be fairly acceptable. Hughes was used in multiple roles this season pitching some long relief at times and even getting a chance to close out a couple of games near the end of the season. There were some knocks against him near the end of the season for allowing a large amount of inherited runners to score but overall he only allowed 10 of 38 for a 26.3% rate. Which is perfectly reasonable. Looking at more traditional numbers like ERA and WHIP Hughes had a great season but he didn’t pitch quite as well as those numbers say even though he was good. The bottom line is Hughes put up a nice 60% ground ball rate and had good numbers supporting that, at a minimum that performance should earn him a middle relief job next season and possibly even give him a chance to win a set up role. Overall Grade: B
Chris Resop: Resop with 73.2 inning pitched had the second most innings out of the Pirates bullpen and did fair in his role. The one discouraging sign is that Resop has always been a strike out pitcher and this season his K/9 rate was down to 5.62 which diminishes his value and overall effectiveness. Usually ERA is not a great indicator of how a relief pitcher did during the course of a season but I think Resop’s 3.91 ERA fits him fairly nicely. He was an average middle reliever this season, the type you should be able to easily find. His WHIP was 1.43 and he allowed 10 of 27 inherited runners to score for a 37.0% rate. Basically Resop is what he is a fungible reliever who is capable of holding down the 6th or 7th spot in a bullpen but a reliever who can be easily upgraded upon. I’m not sure if the Pirates will bring Resop back next season or not but considering he should be relatively easy to replace I expect they will at least consider non tendering him. Overall Grade: C
Joel Hanrahan: Hanrahan threw 14 less innings than Resop and 16 less than Hughes but still received the 3rd most innings of any Pirates reliever. He was used almost exclusively in the 9th inning closer role this season which despite being largely debated by most bloggers is a practice I am relatively ok with. I would like to see some more creativity used but I pretty much accept it for what it is. Hanrahan posted a very strong, 10.11 K/9 but had some massive control problem posting a 5.43 BB/9. There were times this season when Hanrahan looked like his dominating self but there were also long stretches where he looked erratic and largely ineffective. Still more often than not Hanrahan got the job done even if it was not in impressive fashion. Hanrahan inherited only 7 runners this past season and left all of them stranded on the base paths. It was an up and down season for Hanrahan in which his numbers seem to suggest he pitched a whole lot better than he actually did. The Pirates will be able to bring him back next season for probably somewhere in between 7-7.5 million but I expect they will look to deal him. As for this past season I give Hanrahan an Overall Grade: C+
Jason Grilli: Grilli had a strong season posting an unbelievable 13.81 K/9 while posting a slightly high but still reasonable 3.38 BB/9. I think it is pretty clear he had the best season of any Pirates relief pitcher. Grilli pitched the 4th most relief innings for the Pirates this season but only inherited 6 runners which seems preposterous to me considering just how good he was but on the plus side none of the six scored. Grilli did start to get a little shaky near the end of the season but you really couldn’t have asked for much more from him this past season. Quite simply it was a stellar season. Grilli heads into free agency this offseason probably looking at a 2 year contract worth in the neighborhood of 8-10 million dollars. I’m not exactly sure if the Pirates will (or should) give him that kind of money and it will be one of the more interesting stories this offseason. Really not much more than excellent can be said when describing Grilli’s year. Overall Grade: A
Tony Watson: Watson for long stretches of time was the Pirates only lefty in the bullpen which was a large reason why he led the Pirates in relief pitch appearances despite finishing 5th in inning pitched. In addition to some other roles Watson filled this season the Pirates tried Watson as a lefty matchup specialist, it was a role he did ok in but he pitched essentially as well against lefties as he did righties which probably means he is better suited for a more traditional relief role and as a second lefty in the pen. The Pirates will hopefully look for a true lefty specialist this offseason so Watson can be freed up for other duties. Watson’s overall stat line doesn’t really jump off the page at you. I mean 8.94 K/9 is good but not dominating, a 3.38 ERA is good but again not great, and a 1.13 WHIP while very good is not eye-popping. However there was one thing Watson did extremely well this season and that was strand inherited runners. For the season Watson inherited a whopping 61 runners and only allowed 11 to score for a rate of 18.0%. Watson should be back next season as either the primary lefty in the bullpen or maybe as the fireman who comes in to try and put out the fires that the other pitchers started. Overall Grade: B
Brad Lincoln: Earlier I recapped Lincoln as a starting pitcher and he was awful but out of the bullpen he appeared to be an entirely different pitcher. He was as good as if not better than Grilli this season and was really settling into that role and looking good. Lincoln inherited 11 runners while with the Pirates and allowed none of them to score, plus he had an out of this world 99.3% strand rate. Quite simply Brad Lincoln in the bullpen was an awesome weapon Clint Hurdle had at his disposal when he was with the Pirates. We all know the rest though, come the trade deadline he was traded to Toronto for Travis Snider in a move that was praised and criticized by large chunks of the Pirates fan base. His removal from the bullpen no doubt hurt it but how much an impact it had can not really be said. For the record while with Toronto Lincoln was actually quite bad but since I’m judging him just on his performance out of the Pirates bullpen that is neither here nor there. It was a brief 35.2 innings but during that time in the bullpen we got to see the stuff and the talent which made Brad Lincoln a #4 overall pick. Overall Grade: A
Juan Cruz: Cruz pitched exactly the same number of innings as Lincoln did and had a fairly decent season. The overall stat line 8.33 K/9 and 2.78 ERA look pretty good but Cruz was getting very lucky and allowing a lot of base runners posting a 1.63 WHIP. When the Pirates released Cruz it surprised some people but in all reality he wasn’t pitching all that good. Still Cruz had a certain magic to him that allowed him to tip toe out a few tight spots and was certainly worth picking up off the scrap heap this past offseason as an NRI. Essentially Cruz like Resop was an average middle relief pitcher and really there is nothing wrong with that. The Pirates will likely look top pick up another pitcher like Cruz on the scrap heap again this offseason and if they pitch like Cruz did this season it should be considered a success. For the record he inherited 7 runners and allowed only 1 to score for a 14.3% rate. Cruz wasn’t really good but he wasn’t bad either Overall Grade: C
The Rest: The Pirates had another 106.1 innings pitched out of the pen that was picked up by 15 different pitchers. None of them pitched more than 13.2 innings (Qualls) and two of them (McCutchen and McDonald) didn’t even manage to record an out. Rather than go over each one individually I figured I’d lump them all together here. Qualls (13.2 IP) was pretty bad out of the pen but advanced numbers suggest he was unlucky (6.59 ERA, 3.94 xFIP), still his tiny 3.95 K/9 is a red flag. Doug Slaten (13.0 IP) was decent out of the pen but was a little lucky and overall looked like a pretty fungible average lefty relief pitcher. Evan Meek (12.0 IP) was down right awful out of the pen in his limited chances but did pitch rather well in AAA, regardless he is now a free agent and the Pirates have no reason to look at bringing him back. Kyle McPherson (11.2 IP) showed some good things in his limited time in the bullpen which led to him getting a few starts near the end of the season. Chris Leroux (11.1 IP) put up some bad numbers in limited action from the bullpen but pitched far better than those numbers would indicate and appears to be in line for the long relief job in next year’s bullpen. Kevin Correia’s (10.1 IP) time in the bullpen was pretty much like his time in the rotation, mediocre, he wasn’t bad but not good either just decent. Hisanori Takahashi (8.1 IP) posted a good strike out rate (11.88 K/9) but was overall rather bad in his limited action; he is a free agent and probably won’t be brought back. Jeff Karstens (7.1 IP) didn’t get a lot of time in the bullpen but did pitch some average innings out of it late in the season. Bryan Morris (5.0 IP) amazingly pitched very sparingly out of the bullpen this season. Morris is out of options so the Pirates will either need to wave him in 2013 or put him on the roster but yet they really choose not to take much of a look at him. For the record he was fairly good in his 5 innings of work and had a good season in AAA; he should be in the opening day bullpen next season. Justin Wilson (4.2 IP) was a starter in AAA this season but pitched only relief with the Pirates and he did fairly well in his limited opportunities. The Pirates seem to want to keep him starting so he’ll probably return to AAA next season but does have a chance of winning a bullpen job out fo spring training. Jeff Locke (4.1 IP) came up for a fairly odd stint with the Pirates bullpen in which they only intended to use him for long relief so as to not mess up his pitching schedule I guess. Regardless he didn’ allow a run in his brief time and held runners to an absurd .077 BABIP of course nothing can be drawn from that and Locke will of course return to starting next season whether it be in the majors or at AAA. Rick VandenHurk (2.2 IP) got called up to the majors in September on the strength of a good showing in AAA but really didn’t get to show much while with the team. His 2.2 innings weren’t great though he did show he could miss some bats but VandenHurk looks like a possible cut to free up space on the 40 man roster. Wandy Rodriguez (2.0 IP) threw only 2 innings of relief this season and I bet most of you remember those two innings, Rodriguez came in to pitch the 18th and 19th innings of the Pirates 19 inning marathon win over the St Louis Cardinals. For what it is worth he pitched well in those 2 innings and as a starter seemed to settle in nicely with the Pirates rotation after this appearance. Daniel McCutchen (0.0 IP) failed to record an out this season in his only appearance but faced only 2 batters. Considering he wasn’t even called up in September McCutchen is a candidate to be cut this offseason. Finally we have James McDonald (0.0 IP) who liked McCutchen didn’t record a single out but faced 4 batters in the process. At the time he was pitching in relief McDonald had pretty much lost it so there is little surprise he failed to record an out. Hopefully his demotion to the bullpen is just a blip on the radar as McDonald should return to the rotation next season.
AJ Burnett: Acquired this offseason Burnett proved to be a big boost to the Pirates rotation. After an injury which sidelined him most of April Burnett became the ace of the Pirates team and pitched well enough to genuinely be considered a borderline #1 pitcher, not just a #1 pitcher for the Pirates. As all Pirates fans hoped Burnett proved to be more comfortable in the National League, lowering his walk rate and home run rate while still striking out a fair amount of batters. Like all Pirates players Burnett did start to perform worse as the season neared its close but he was still a very strong starter for the Pirates going down the stretch. The Burnett deal looks to be one of the Huntington’s best and fortunately the Pirates have a chance to benefit from it next season as well. Burnett was an unquestioned leader this season and will hopefully continue pitching well and taking a leadership role next season. As for his performance this season it is hard to be disappointed Overall Grade: A-
James McDonald: McDonald starting off pitching as well as if not better than Burnett but unlike Burnett he went in to complete free fall in August. McDonald’s season was sort of the perfect microcosm for the Pirates season. It started off a little shaky, went on an absolute tear and then quickly fell apart at the end. Even with the horrible ending McDonald still managed to put up fairly good numbers overall for the season so it is difficult to call his year a disappointment but it is fair to say that it could have been a lot better. One area McDonald will have to work on is limiting his number of free passes allowed as that really bit him at the end of last season. McDonald profiles as a very similar pitcher to Burnett and at the beginning of the year it appeared Burnett’s presence was helping him hopefully that same effect comes back next season, as McDonald figures to have a prominent role in the rotation once again. Overall Grade: C+
Kevin Correia: Correia just wouldn’t go away this season. The Pirates tried everything they could to get him out of the rotation but alas he was the only member of the opening day rotation still making starts going down the stretch in September. He wasn’t awful this season but he really wasn’t great either. He pitched well enough to be a decent 4/5 starter which is in reality what he truly is. The Pirates could have done far worse as a backup plan this season or they could have done far better by turning to one of the younger pitchers early on. The most troubling thing about Correia this season was his inability to miss bats as his K% took another hit this season and due to this and other factors, namely bad luck, Correia had a few outings where things just didn’t seem to be going his way. Correia is now a free agent and while it could make some sense for the Pirates to bring him back I don’t think there is any mutual interest here. He did a solid job filling in and holding a back of the rotation this season so I need to give him credit for that. Overall Grade: B-
Erik Bedard: Bedard stayed relatively healthy this season which if you would have told me that at the beginning of the season I would have said would have been a huge boost for the Pirates but unfortunately it wasn’t. Bedard had a great first two months but then suffered a mild injury which forced the Pirates to push back one of his starts by a couple of days. At the time it seemed like no big deal but Bedard wasn’t the same pitcher after that. The Pirates tried to give Bedard some extra rest by going with a 6 man rotation and using off days to rearrange the rotation and give him 5 days off between starts instead of 4 but it didn’t work. So after three abysmal months the Pirates finally cut Bedard in August. I can’t really say it was a disappointing season from Bedard as he managed to stay relatively healthy, pitched two great months and even when things went sour from him the numbers suggest some bad luck was at play. Still he was a pretty bad pitcher from June one and really didn’t help the Pirates much after that point. The Pirates made a gamble on Bedard and got some production but it really didn’t pay off, still I think it was one worth making. Overall Grade: C
Jeff Karstens: Karstens did what Karstens does. When Karstens was on the field he pitched well putting up good strong numbers despite his peripherals saying he probably wasn’t that good of a pitcher. However we are used to that from Karstens but his undoing this season was his durability issues. Due to injuries and an apparent decision at the end of the season to look at younger pitchers Karstens threw only 83.1 innings. That is a major disappointment. Like I said he was good in those innings, he walked very few batters and even raised his strikeout rate again but he just didn’t manage to stay on the field long enough for me to call his season a success. The Pirates face a tough decision with Karstens as he is in the final year of arbitration and will likely command a salary of around 5 million dollars. If Karstens is healthy the Pirates won’t be able to find a better starter for 5 million dollars but the injury issues make him a potential non tender. I anticipate the Pirates will tender him but I wouldn’t rule out a trade possibility. As for this season I have to give Karstens good marks for when he pitched but I also have to knock him for how little he pitched. Overall Grade: C
Wandy Rodriguez: Rodriguez came over to the Pirates near the trade deadline in a deal that received mix reviews. A lot of fans didn’t think it was worth giving up Robbie Grossman, Rudy Owens and Colton Cain for him and those voices only grew louder when Rodriguez struggled in his first handful of starts with the Pirates. As for myself I thought that was a pretty fair price for Rodriguez although I would have hoped for a bit more salary relief but that is neither here nor there. The Pirates definitely didn’t get a steal here but they weren’t robbed blind here either. Anyway after his first few shaky starts Rodriguez settled in and actually became arguably the Pirates best starter down the stretch. The Pirates probably will have Rodriguez for the next two seasons and at this point it feels kind of nice to have a good stable veteran left hander in the rotation. Rodriguez won’t wow you with his stuff and he has to improve a bit on his strike out rate he had with the Pirates but he appears to be a good option for the Pirates next season. Overall Grade: B-
The Rest: Rather than break down the final four pitchers who made the Pirates other 23 starts this season I’m just going to mention them all briefly here. Morton made nine starts before going on the DL (with what a lot of Pirates fans thought was a phantom injury) and then receiving Tommy John surgery. He wasn’t particularly impressive in those 9 starts but still has a good bit of potential. I doubt the Pirates tender Morton a contract as he won’t be ready to pitch until at least June and even then the 30 day rehab he is permitted would probably not be enough for him to get ready to pitch in the majors again. I’m expecting a non-tender and a minor league contract. Overall Grade: D Next up is Jeff Locke who made 6 starts for the Pirates and has what first looks like a terrible stat line but Locke did manage to miss some bats and his xFIP suggests his ERA was unlucky. Locke right now is slated to compete for the 5th starter job and is probably currently the favorite for that position. Overall Grade: C Third on the list making 5 starts in Brad Lincoln. Lincoln was excellent out of the bullpen for the Pirates this season but as a starter (which is all I’m grading him on here) he was quite awful. I recall one good start out of the 5. His advanced numbers suggest he was a bit unlucky as well but even so he was still pretty bad. Lincoln is no longer with the team so he obviously won’t be a factor next season. As a starter I give him an Overall Grade: D Last but not least on the list making 3 starts this season is Kyle McPherson. Due to injuries McPherson didn’t start this season in AAA but rather repeated AA. He spent most of the season there before eventually getting called up to AAA and then shortly there after getting called up to the majors. McPherson had essentially the opposite season to Locke; his stat line looks good but his advanced stats say he had a bit of luck this season. Right now McPherson is a strong candidate for the #5 job next season but I would call him a slight underdog right now. Overall Grade: C+
* I’m not going to list the pitching prospects here instead I’m going to do 3 recaps for the pitchers: starter, relievers, prospects.
Jose Tabata: Tabata just barely receive the most playing time for the Pirates this season in right field over Garrett Jones. Everyone knows Tabata started the year off poorly posting a wRC+ of 53 in April and 71 in May but what most may not realize is that he rebounded rather nicely posting a 109 wRC+ in June, 84 wRC+ in August and 143 wRC+ in September (for full disclosure in July his wRC+ was only 5 but that only included 5 PA so I’m ignoring it). In April, August and September Tabata didn’t receive regular playing time; he received only 168 PA combined during those 3 months so that is also something to consider. Anyway moving on from how he performed on a month by month basis Tabata received a lot of criticism this season for not trying which I don’t believe has any merit but it is worth noting. My opinion is his perceived not trying was related to his hip injury and there I fault him and management for not sitting him down to rest it. Either way it is clear to me that Tabata appeared to perform his best this season when relegated to part-time duty and that is the role I see him going forward. Like Tabata or not the one thing you can’t deny is that he has a good knack for getting on base which is something this Pirates club sorely needs. The Pirates currently are heading into next season with 4 internal options four internal options for the corner outfield and with 3 of them being 25 or younger the chance for hopefully 1 or 2 breakouts is still there. My expectation for Tabata is that he will start off next year on the Pirates bench platooning with Snider in RF and also spelling Marte in LF. When he is in the lineup because of his on base skills the Pirates will have little choice but to bat him lead off. As a final note before I give him a grade I will once again urge the Pirates to find a base stealing instructor not just for Tabata but the entire team. Overall Grade: C
Travis Snider: When looking at the Pirates roster and the performances of the player’s this past season it is easy to conclude that the corner outfield spots will be the easiest to upgrade this offseason. While that is true in theory the Pirates have 3 young players who they kind of have to give a shot at winning the starting jobs so blocking them with veteran free agent signing isn’t the way to go. Top on the list of young corner outfielders needing a chance to prove himself is Travis Snider. Snider was brought over this season at the trade deadline and before getting injured and then oddly rested and not rested nearly every other day was actually performing quite well. The Pirates handling of him after his injury is one of the oddest decisions they made this past season and I have yet to hear a good reason for it. Putting that aside though we saw some flashes from Snider this season and he has a good bit of power potential in his bat so not giving him a chance to build on that is probably something the Pirates shouldn’t do. I expect we will see Snider as the starting right fielder next season but the Pirates will have someone maybe Tabata or maybe an outside acquisition ready to step up should he falter. Overall Grade: C+
Josh Bell: Bell was a big story last year after the draft but is sort of now and after thought due to an injury he suffered that caused him to miss almost the entire season. There just isn’t a whole lot to dissect here with Bell. He got off to a bad start in A ball but seemed to be rebounding some when the injury stuck and sidelined him for the season. Bell has a ton of power potential in his bat and is still fairly young so he is definitely still a top prospect but as for this season all that can really be said is it was a lost year of development. Bell will likely remain in A ball next season and he will no longer be that young for the league (he’ll still be a little young but basically right around age appropriate) as he was a little older than most high schoolers when he was drafted in 2011.
Adalberto Santos: Santos is a very interesting case. He doesn’t have the power of a corner outfield nor much of a pedigree but he has just hit at every level he has played at. Santos suffered a knee injury in AA last season but his 340/425/433 slash line in 238 AB there is still impressive. Santos probably doesn’t have the power needed to be an everyday starter in the majors but his ability to hit could make a very intriguing bench player for the Pirates. In addition to player the outfield corners with the Pirates Santos also played a good bit of 2nd base in 2011 although curiously the Pirates didn’t play him there this season at all. Going forward Santos looks like someone who could develop into a nice bench bat for the Pirates. I expect he will open next season in AAA as the starting outfielder at one of the corner positions.
Tyler Gaffney: The Pirates drafted Gaffney in the 24th round in this past draft and the only thing really of note about him was that he was the backup running back at Standford and some people thought he wouldn’t sign for that reason. Gaffney signed relatively quickly and was sent to A- where he started off hot and continued that for nearly the whole season. His line of 297/483/441 is really quite remarkable for a 24th round draft pick. The high OBP needs taken with a grain of salt though as it was fueled by an unbelievably high HBP rate; he was hit by a pitch roughly once every 7.5 PA or to put it another way more frequently than once every other game. Gaffney played primarily RF this season but did move over to CF when Barnes got injured. His great start to his pro career could cause the Pirates to be aggressive with him and send him to A+ but I expect them to be a little more cautious and start him A ball possibly in center field.
Andrew McCutchen: Do I really need to say anything about McCutchen? I think we all know how truly great a season he had. There aren’t too many negative things to say about a player who should be but probably isn’t a serious threat to win the NL MVP. Yes he cooled down some in August like the rest of the Pirates but even then he was still producing at a very high level. If there are a couple of things we can knock McCutchen for they are his base stealing and his tendency to throw to the wrong guy after fielding a ball in the outfield. Too many times this season we saw McCutchen thrown out trying to steal or making an ill advised throw to someone. One can not be too critical though as Andrew McCutchen made the huge step forward this season and became the face of the Pirates franchise. If the Pirates are to be successful next year and in the near future it will be on his shoulders. Oh one last thing remember its McCutchen not McCutheon, how so many national and even local media types kept spelling his name wrong this season is beyond me. Overall Grade: A
Gregory Polanco: For most of the season Polanco’s big breakout season was being over shadowed by Hanson’s big break out year but by the end of the season the two finished with very similar stat lines. Very few people question Polanco’s ability to stay at CF and because of this he is considered a top prospect. In addition to strong defense in center field Polanco has some power in his bat and was very good on the base paths this season. Polanco is your prototypical 5 tool talent and is definitely a prospect to keep our eyes on going forward. He will play next season in A+ and will hopefully build off of his success this season and blossom into one of the best prospects in the game.
Barrett Barnes: The Pirates drafted Barnes in the supplmental round this season and after he signed he went to A- and hit very well at the level. Some question whether Barnes has the ability to stick in center field but some also think he will eventually develop the power needed to play a corner outfield position. Barnes season was unfortunately cut short due to injury but he was still very impressive in his major league debut. As an advanced college player the Pirates will probably could choose to aggressively push Barnes to A+ ball but with Polanco there he will obviously not center field so the Pirates might instead opt to send him to A ball and let him get acclimated to full season ball before speeding up his development.
Elvis Escobar: Escobar was signed near the same time as Harold Ramirez and like Ramirez was aggressively pushed at 17 years old to rookie ball in the United States. Escobar got to start playing immediately as he wasn’t dealing with any injuries and played well enough to entrench himself as the starting center fielder. Overall he had a slightly better line than Ramirez did this season and seems to be the more advanced of the two but at 17 years old he still has a lot of work to do with his game. Escobar doesn’t profile to hit for much power but he does have the speed and throwing ability to stick in center field so that may not be a huge issue. The Pirates may opt to aggressively push him to A ball but it seems more likely he’ll move up just one level to A-.
Alex Presley: The Pirates received very little production from left field this season ranking 29th in most offensive categories. The man manning the position the most frequently this season was Alex Presley. Presley was solid in the field but looked completely lost at the plate at times. He did finish the year on a fairly strong note but his overall performance did nothing to stop the perception of him being a 4th outfielder. Overall Presley posted a .683 OPS which while not terrible is disappointing coming from a starting corner outfielder. Presley also didn’t run too much stealing only 9 bases and being caught 7 times. The bottom line really is that Presley just didn’t look like a major league starting outfielder this season which is fine of course as he could still carve out a nice career as a backup but the Pirates needed more from him this season. Outfield spots figure to be tight next season and the Pirates may even bring in another option to complicate matters farther. Due to his left handedness it is not impossible for Presley to make the roster out of spring training but right now I would expect him to start the year off in AAA. Overall Grade: C-
Starling Marte: For most of the second half of the season it was Starling Marte playing left field and while he wasn’t spectacular in his rookie season he held his own and posted a respectable .737 OPS. In itself that still isn’t good enough for a corner outfielder but due to his youth and relative lack of experience hopes are high that he can improve upon those numbers. Marte also showed off his good defense and great arm this past season and was probably one of the Pirates most effective base stealers swiping 12 bases on 17 tries. Marte was miscast as a leadoff hitter most of this season as he simply doesn’t have the plate discipline needed to make him an effective top of the order hitter but he has enough power potential and other talents that he could develop into a nice 5 or 6 hitter. Due to the Pirates woes in the corner outfield and Marte’s relatively good performance this past season it is difficult for me to imagine that he won’t be next season’s opening day starter in left field. Marte deserves a fair chance at establishing himself as a fixture in the Pirates lineup for next season and as far as this season is concerned he played about as well as you should realistically expect from most rookies. Overall Grade: B
Mel Rojas: When it comes to the outfield I’m not going to stick strictly to positional basis as most lower level outfield prospects at least play center field. Instead I just took my top 9 outfield prospects and moved them to fit positions. Rojas is a center fielder by trade but he had a poor showing in A+ this season so I don’t expect he’ll be moved up to AA and with Gregory Polanco coming to A+ next season he won’t remain in CF so for now I’ve moved him over to left field. Rojas was selected in third round in 2010 and was seen as raw when the Pirates drafted him but with a very high upside. He was not viewed as someone who would add a lot of power but the other 4 tools were and to some extent still there. After 2.5 seasons in the minor leagues Rojas has progressed very little and I suspect you’ll see quite a few analysts giving up on him now which is a justifiable move but I still like his talent and am going to give him one more season before I completely drop him for the prospect radar. For the record he did have a few positives this season as he played a very good defensive center field and was decent on the base paths. However he continued to show poor plate discipline striking out 107 times while only walking 35. For the type of hitter he is that is never going to work. Rojas as stated earlier will probably stay in A+ to start next season but will have to slide into a corner outfield position to accommodate for Gregory Polanco.
Willy Garcia: Garcia is the one guy on my list who actually played extensively in left field this season, though he did split his time pretty evenly between LF and RF. Garcia fits the traditional profile of a corner outfielder meaning he has decent but not great speed, plays solid defense, has a plus arm and has some good power in his bat. Garcia displayed all those things this season but unfortunately was very inconsistent with them, having some good hot stretches followed by doing essentially nothing for long stretches of time. Overall he hit for good power belting 18 home runs and played overall solid defense in the outfield but plate discipline and a tendency to swing and miss made his season rather poor overall. Garcia has the talent to break out and turn into a legit power hitting corner outfield prospect but he didn’t do it this season. There are still obvious holes in his game that could be exposed in A+ so the Pirates may choose to hold him back in A ball and have him work on those things. He is still fairly young and will be playing all of next season at 21 years old so he won’t really be old for A ball either.
Harold Ramirez: Ramirez was signed out of Columbia last season and it was assumed he would start the year in the DSL but the Pirates aggressively pushed the 17 year old to rookie ball in the states. Ramirez had a leg problem at the beginning of the season which caused him to miss the first month of rookie ball so by the time he started playing fellow 17 year old Latin American signing, Elvis Escobar had already taken over CF so the Pirates had Ramirez split time between LF and RF. He got off to a good start but struggled to close out the season in August. Unlike the other two prospects I discussed here Ramirez didn’t show bad plate discipline striking out only 20 times but he also didn’t walk much either. Ramirez is a very quick outfielder and has some power potential, his defense is solid enough to stay in center field but his lack of arm strength will probably put him in a corner eventually. Obviously at 17 Ramirez is still very raw. His showing this season while it doesn’t jump off the page as being great was fairly respectable for a 17 year old in his first year in the United States. Ramirez will probably play next season in Jamestwon for the Pirates new A- affiliate.
Clint Barmes: From June until the end of the season Barmes was exactly what the Pirates should have expected when signing him this offseason. He played great defense and posted an OPS around .650. However his performance in the first two months were pretty bad and that drags down hos overall performance. Barmes bat is of course not even average for a shortstop but he led the league in most defensive metrics which makes him and adequate starting option. Considering Barmes is under contract next season for a not insignificant 5.5 million dollars I fully expect him to be back as the starting shortstop next season. Overall Grade: C
Jordy Mercer: This season’s Pedro Ciriaco. Mercer spent a lot of time with the Pirates this season but played very sparingly as he very seldom received a start and was used as the 3rd string shortstop behind not only Barmes but Harrison. Mercer was often forgotten this season because of his infrequent play and because of the other young shortstop options on the Pirates roster. However none of the other young options are as complete a shortstop as Mercer is. Mercer plays both good defense and has some power making him a decent albeit not spectacular option. My hope is that Mercer will share time at shortstop with Barmes next season but my expectation is that he will either be barely used or be in AAA. Overall Grade: C+
Alen Hanson: Alen Hanson had a big breakout season this year in A ball and is now considered one of the Pirates best prospects. Hanson has a strong bat but there are questions about his defense and some scouts think that he will eventually need to move to either 2B or 3B. Even as a 2B or 3B Hanson would still b a very valuable player as his bat would play at those positions as well but of course his value would take a knock of some sort. For now the Pirates will continue to play Hanson at shortstop and hopefully he will be able to show some improvement next season which should only further increase his value. Hanson should be the regular shortstop in A+ next season.
Gift Ngoepe: Ngoepe appears to be the opposite of Hanson as his bat is very weak but his glove brings high reviews. On the stregnth of mainly his glove work along Ngoepe was named the 20th best prospect this season in the Florida State League. He is a raw player who hasn’t played a lot in organized baseball so there is still some hope his bat will develop in the coming seasons for now though he will have to carry himself with his glove work. Ngoepe’s bat isn’t ready for AA yet but due to Hanson pushing him I suspect Ngoepe will move up anyway and hopefully he will show some progress.
Max Moroff: Moroff was drafted this past season in the 16th round but signed for $200,000 over slot which shows he isn’t your typical 16th round selection. There are some questions whether Moroff can stick at shortstop but for now the Pirates are going to try him there. Moroff played shortstop this season for the Pirates rookie ball team and had a great start to his pro career, in fact the start was strong enough that it seems likely the Pirates will send him to full season ball next season and allow him to be the shortstop in A ball. Moroff’s bat seems advanced enough to handle the push and his glove work was at least adequate for now so he is definitely one to watch heading into next season.
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
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.
Neil Walker: Walker is the only major league player I’m going to be covering here. Everyone else except Brock Holt fits in better at another position and since Holt still has prospect eligibility I’ll discuss him below. There isn’t much to say about Walker he does what he does. He gives the Pirates a solid and improving defensive performance at 2nd base while providing above average offensive numbers for the position. Walker started off cool but heated up in June and July positing two very good months before a finger injury and back injury caused him to play sporadically over the final two months. His performance was solid and he should return next season and once again be a nice consistent presence in the middle of the infield. Overall Grade: B-
Brock Holt: Holt got to make his major league debut this season and he impressed in his short time frame. He started the season in AA primarily playing shortstop before moving up to AAA late in the season where he caught fire and put up video game like numbers. Holt’s defense at shortstop and 2nd base for that matter is a little shaky but he has the ability to work a count and make good contact so he could have some future value as a utility player or even a starting 2nd baseman. It wouldn’t surprise me if Holt got a chance to make the team out of spring training but I expect him to start the season in AAA and be the backup plan to Walker should his back problems fire up again.
Dilson Herrera: Herrera had a big year this season in rookie ball and is going to be a popular pick to have a big breakout season next year. He was signed as a shortstop prospect but spent no time there instead he played 2nd and 3rd base. His defense is good but not great at either position so it is his bat which will need to carry him. He has some potential to add power and 8 home runs this season is a positive sign that it may yet develop. Considering his strong season this year I expect him to move up to full season A ball next year.
Dan Gamache: Gamache was drafted in the 2011 draft out of Auburn University. His selection at the time was widely unnoticed and even his performance this season while good was overlooked and overshadowed by his double play partner. Gamache had the type of performance you look for from a college player in his first year of pro ball and while all the attention was given to the four Latin American prospects who jumped the whole way from rookie ball to A ball he did a solid job and established himself as a prospect going forward. If he can repeat his performance next year likely in A+ he will quickly go up the prospects charts but for now he profiles as a potential utility player.