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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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)
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)
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)
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
So how many starts do we have from the internal options:
Mid Season: 20
The Rest: 10
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.
Not much going on in Bucco World recently so I’ve been pretty quiet but I thought I sum on the recent minor moves and give my reaction.
Jones and Hanrahan Rumors
There have been some rumors swirling around that the Pirates have made Garrett Jones and Joel Hanrahan available in trade talks. These are absolutely moves the Pirates need to consider making. Hanrahan is going to make approximately 7 million dollars this season and any value they can get for him would be a positive. Jones on the other hand has three years of control left and therefore has more value. He will also be harder for the Pirates to replace. However he is probably at the peak of his value right now so if a young controllable shortstop or pitcher can be acquired or if a large overpayment occurs the Pirates should move him as well. Still while the Pirates should be open about moving these two they also need to be open on the possibility of starting the season with both of them on the roster should the offers they get not be satisfactory.
Non Tendered Pitchers
The Pirates have been linked to a number of pitchers that have been recently non-tendered. They include Manny Parra, John Lannan and Tom Gorzelanny. I have no problem with considering these options as long as it is done in the right context. None of these players are the solution to the missing rotation candidate but could be useful as 5th starter candidates or as bullpen help. Hopefully the Pirates are considering these players only on minor league contracts or on low salary one year contracts.
Cabrera for Oliver
The Pirates made a trade with the Tigers where they swapped Ramon Cabrera for Andy Oliver. Oliver appears to be another broken once top prospect who Huntington is trying as a reclamation project. Acquiring players like this isn’t a bad strategy and Cabrera isn’t really a high price to pay for one but I still really do not like this move. Cabrera while he isn’t a high end prospect looks like a useful upper level catcher who provided depth for the Pirates at a position they were very weak in meanwhile Oliver just adds to the Pirates fairly large stable of good stuff relievers with poor control. I think similar players to Oliver could have been acquired for much less or even no cost at all.
No Rule V Pick
The Pirates opted to select no one in the Rule V draft. The decision to not select anyone came as a bit of a surprise to me. The Pirates currently have a very unsettled bullpen and the Rule V draft was an opportunity to add a potentially useful arm for a very small amount. Even if the Pirates didn’t think the player could stick it still would have been worth taking a player just to have an extended look at him. On the positive side the Pirates had no player selected in the draft so we will not have to worry about that.
Mark Appel and Scott Boras
I’ll keep this short there was a report that came out that stated Boras said something to the effect that Huntington never contacted him or Appel before drafting Appel and that had he done so he would have told him he had no chance at signing Appel. Huntington is indeed at fault for not contacting Boras but at the end of the day he made the right move by drafting Appel. The way things should have happened is Huntington calls Boras he tells Huntington the Pirates won’t be able to sign Appel and then if Huntington truly believes Appel is the best player available he drafts Appel and calls Boars’s bluff. So really there is no story here and for me this closes the Appel situation once and for all.
I’m not even sure what to make of the reports from the other day which said Grilli would decide by 10 AM followed by the next few reports that he had signed with the Pirates followed by the retraction of those reports. The situation was more hilarious than anything as Grilli should not warrant that kind of coverage. Don’t get me wrong I am hoping Grilli resigns with the Pirates but whether he does or not will not make or break the Pirates 2013 season. SO for now until we hear something a little more firm I’ve had enough of this Grilli talk.