Catchers: Carlos Paulino, Charlie Cutler
Paulino is a defensive first catcher who is graded by scouts as one of the best defensive catchers in the minor leagues. He stuck around with the big league camp until the final round of cuts so the Pirates must see something in him. Cutler is an organizational player who is a bat first catcher.
1st Base/DH: Alex Dickerson, Matt Curry
Both Dickerson and Curry are prospects to some degrees. If it wasn’t for the logjam of 1B types in AAA (Hague, Larish and possibly Robinson) Curry would almost certainly be there after a good season in AA. Both players have received a little time in LF this Spring but neither is an option there long term. Both players are good hitters but the question is whether either has enough power to make up for their defensive limitations.
Middle Infield: Jarek Cunningham, Gift Ngoepe, Drew Maggi
Cunningham will be the starter at 2nd and Ngoepe at shortstop. Cunningham is repeating the level because he struggled last season but has good power for a 2nd baseman so he is worth keeping an eye on. Ngoepe doesn’t do much with the bat but is a slick fielding shortstop. If he can hit even a little his glove will almost certainly carry him to the majors. Maggi was given an overslot bonus just a few years ago but is now just an organizational player. He could see time just about anywhere including the outfield but his primary purpose will be backing up the middle infield.
Other Infielders: Stefan Welch, Adalberto Santos
Welch and Santos figure to split the third base duties. Neither is a 3rd baseman by trade as Welch is better suited for 1st base and Santos has played almost exclusively the outfield. Welch is coming off an excellent season in A+ in 2012 which earned him a promotion to AA. He started off hot but quickly cooled down. He did have a good showing in the WBC for Team Australia this spring though. Santos has hit at every level the Pirates put him on and probably should be up in AAA this year but the roster figures to be a little crowded. He played exclusively the outfield last season but played some 2B the year before that. Santos is likely to see time in both the OF and 2B as well as adding 3B to his duties. If he can be passable defensively eat each position it coupled with his good contact skills could make him an intriguing bench option.
Outfielders: Mel Rojas, Andrew Lambo, Justin Howard, Andy Vasquez
Rojas is the only real prospect in this group. He has a good set of tools but hasn’t really put everything together. He probably isn’t ready for AA but with Polanco moving up to A+ the Pirates have decided to give him an aggressive push and let him continue playing center field. Lambo will be spending his 5th year at the AA level. This his last year before minor league free agency so if he is going to ever live up to that prospect hype its likely now or never. Howard has good contact skills but is poor defensively and has little power. In reality he shouldn’t be in the outfield but the only position he plays even half decently his first base and there is just no room for him there. Vasquez is a utility player who has been in the Pirates organization seemingly forever. He has played a little bit of everywhere but it appears he will serve mainly as a backup outfielder this season. In addition to these guys Santos is likely to see a lot of time in the outfield and Maggi, Dickerson and even Curry could get the occasional start as well.
Starting Pitchers: Jameson Taillon, Stolmy Pimentel, Brandon Cumpton, Casey Sadler, Tyler Waldron
Taillon is of course Taillon. He is the only true top flight prospect at this level. The main question surrounding him is when will he move up to AAA. Pimentel was acquired in the Joel Hanrahan trade and has a lot of upside but has struggled in AA in the past and is on his last option so he is going to have to impress quickly. Cumpton had moderate success in the AA rotation last year but wasn’t overwhelming so the Pirate have opted to have him repeat the level. Sadler is a prospect I like a lot but he is better suited for relief than starting. He pitched well last year both as a starter and a reliever in A+ and the Pirates like to keep their pitching prospects starting for as long as possible. Waldron was supposed to be moving to the bullpen but I guess the Pirates have had a change of mind. He really didn’t pitch that well last season in A+ but he was promoted near the end of the season so the Pirates must see some potential in him.
Relief Pitchers: Tim Alderson, Nate Baker, Jason Townsend, Jeff Inman, Luis Sanz, Ethan Hollingsworth, Kenn Kasparek
Alderson has seemingly been around forever but is still relatively young at only 24 years old. He gets another go around in AA and this could be his last chance to salvage his career. he still has that great curveball and his fastball is back in the lower 90s so anything is possible. Baker was in the AA rotation for most of last year but struggled and was moved to the bullpen. He did well there and as a left hander he shouldn’t be completely dismissed as an organizational player quite yet. Townsend was a prospect I was initially excited about when the Pirates drafted him because he was throwing in the upper 90s and striking batters out. However something happened last year and that good velocity and strike out numbers were no longer there. I will be curious to see if he can regain that form this season. Inman was a fairly highly touted 12th round pick by the Pirates who only slipped that low because of health concerns. Well so far those health concerns have proved to be a big problem as before last year he pitched in only 17 games over 3 seasons. he did remain relatively healthy last year and displayed good velocity but his strike out rates were low largely do to the lack of a good secondary pitch. The other 3 relievers were added this offseason to provide depth and are only organizational players.
The players I’m the most surprised to not see here are Zach Thornton, Kelson Brown and Dan Grovatt. Thornton was acquired this offseason for Resop and was talked about as the potential closer for the AA team. He had a high strike out rate last year but he was admittedly old for the level. Kelson Brown had a good showing in AA last year and looked like a possible future utility player in the major leagues. He didn’t have much of a ceiling but I would say he had a shot at a Rob Mackowiak type career. Finally Grovatt was one of the better hitters at A+ last year which again really isn’t saying a whole lot as the offense was terrible at that level. One other player to watch but he is not a notable omission is Ryan Beckman. Fan Graphs recently called Beckman a sleeper prospect and I agree with that assessment. Ordinarily he would be on this roster but he is still recovering from Tommy John surgery.
1. Jameson Taillon
2. Alex Dickerson
3. Gift Ngoepe
4. Adalberto Santos
5. Stolmy Pimentel
6. Casey Sadler
7. Mel Rojas Jr
8. Matt Curry
9. Carlos Paulino
10. Brandon Cumpton
11. Jarek Cunningham
Tim Williams at Pirates Prospects has a the 2013 Minor League Spring Training Roster for the Pirates on his site. Every year I look over this list to see if there are any interesting developments like a player being shifted to or from the mound, notable absences or even notable additions from the DSL. For some reason this year nothing like that caught my eye but what did catch my eye was that Tim had the player’s ages listed beside their names. Usually this wouldn’t be a big deal but for some reason it caught my attention. Some players were a few years older or younger than I thought. The I got to thinking about how age plays in a role in how I and everyone else define prospects. I looked over the list and gave this some more thought and concluded that ordinarily a player 25 years old or older is usually considered a non-prospect. Of course there are plenty of exceptions but as a basis it seemed like a good start.
I decided to turn my attention to see just how many players on the roster were indeed 25 and over and what sort of prospect ability they had. In all I counted 27 such players ranging from my base line age of 25 all the way up to 33 years old. Some of these 27 are of course no longer prospects not just because of their age but because of time they have spent in the majors but for most of the dream of reaching the show hasn’t happened yet and at this point for many of them likely never will. Still I thought I’d give a look at them. I didn’t intend to learn in an in-depth profile on each player just gain a casual idea of where they are as a prospect and a professional ball player.
The majority 15 of the 27 players age 25 or over are pitchers. The below list contains no true prospects but there are some intriguing names. I have also included their ages and a little blurb about their background.
Nathaniel Baker, 25: Baker was a 5th round draft choice by the Pirates in 2009. He projects to start the year in AA and remains mildly intriguing mainly because he is left handed pitcher with decent velocity. Baker has split time between starting and relieving but appears best suited for relief.
David Bromberg, 25: Bromberg was signed as a minor league free agent. He has spent the last 3 seasons in the upper levels and has been mildly effective. He looks like a fringy relief pitcher who should serve as minor league depth.
Michael Colla, 26: Colla was drafted by the Pirates in the 14th round of the 2008 draft. He has spent the last two seasons in AA and has put up solid numbers. He has almost purely been a starter in the past but could move to relief in AAA this season.
Roman Colon, 33: Colon had a few seasons as a middle reliever in the majors with poor to average results. For the last three seasons he has hung around in AAA and even played in Korea and served as emergency depth for teams. That appears to be his role going forward.
Zachary Foster, 26: Foster was drafted in the 49th round of the 2008 draft. He has struggled so far in his professional career spending most of his time in A or A+ ball. At this point he is an organizational player and one not likely to make it past the middle levels.
Ethan Hollingsworth, 26: Hollingsworth was taken by the Pirates in this year’s minor league Rule V draft. He has split the last two seasons between AA and AAA and has been decent in AA and poor in AAA. The Pirates likely selected him to serve as depth for the upper levels.
Jeffrey Inman, 25: Inman is one of the more interesting names on this list. He was taken in the 12 round of the 2009 draft but was a more highly regarded pitcher who slipped due to a shoulder injury. He really hasn’t stayed healthy much in his professional career but posted a decent season in AA last year. Considering all his injuries he probably should get an additional year of being considered a borderline relief pitcher prospect.
Kenn Kasparek, 27: Kasparek was drafted by the Mariners in 2008 but found himself in an independent league to begin 2012. The Pirates signed him when they had an opening in A+ ball. He figures to continue serving as a depth reliever for the middle levels.
Elecier Navarro, 25: Navarro is one of Littlefield’s leftovers. He is a small finesse left handed pitcher whose finese stuff has served him well through the lower and middle levels but he has now probably reached his ceiling.
Aaron Poreda, 26: Poreda is one of only two pitchers on this list who has pitched in the majors. He is however a bit different from Colon. The Pirates acquired him in 2011 minor league Rule V draft but before that he was once a highly regarded prospect. He was a key part of the Jake Peavy deal between the Padres and White Sox but when Poreda arrived with the Padres he suddenly lost his control. Since the trade Poreda has spent most of his time pitching in AA or AAA and putting up some very high walk rates, his other numbers though have been relatively speaking fairly solid.
Aaron Pribanic, 26: Pribanic is the last player remaining the Pirates got from the Jack Wilson trade. His first three years with the Pirates were fairly solid but he essentially lost all of 2012 due to injury and that has greatly hurt his prospect status. He will likely begin 2013 in AA with one last chance to avoid become an organizational guy.
Luis Sanz, 25: Sanz was signed by the Pirates as a minor league free agent. He has yet to advance past A+ ball and if he does this year it will likely only be because of an extreme lack of depth for AA.
Zach Thornton, 25: Thronton was acquired for Chris Resop this past offseason and is at least a little intriguing. Thornton played last season at the A+ level which he was old for but posted a very high K rate. His ability to miss bats make him a tad bit interesting. He should start the 2013 season in the AA bullpen.
Erik Turgeon, 26: The Pirates signed Turgeon to a minor league contract last year to fill in a hole at the A+ level. He pitched well at the A+ level but had already logged significant playing time above that level. He has some ability to miss bats but at this point looks like an organizational player.
Philippe Valiquette, 26: Valiquette was signed by the Pirates as a minor league free agent this offseason. Usually he would fall into the same category as the others but he is a little special as he is a left handed pitcher who has hit triple digits with his fastball in the past. That skill alone will keep teams hoping on for at least another season or two.
In addition to the 15 pitchers I have discussed there are 12 position players who fit the description of being 25 years or older and in the minor league camp.
Charles Cutler, 26: Cutler was selected by the Pirates in the minor league Rule V draft in 2011. Last season he served as a backup catcher in AA and put up some decent numbers. Cutler put up strong numbers in the lower levels but struggled in his first trip to AA in 2010. He has repeated the level the last two seasons and done well. I would like to see what he could do at AAA but the consensus seems to be that he is an organizational catcher.
Devin Ivany, 30: Ivany was signed by the Pirates as a minor league free agent this offseason. Over the last three seasons he has spent most of his time at AA where he has been fairly average. Ivany is proof that minor league catchers tend to hang around for a while due to teams always needing them to help work with young pitchers.
Miguel Perez, 29: Perez is another organizational catcher but he did get a cup of coffee in the big leagues in 2005. His playing days appear to be over, short a string of injuries as he is slated to serve as a bullpen coach and bullpen catcher in one of the upper levels in 2013.
Kelson Brown, 25: Brown is one of the more interesting players on this list. He was drafted in the 34th round by the Pirates during the 2012 draft. Since starting his professional career the Pirates have used Brown as a utility player/ organizational player but he has hit well at each level including AA last season. There doesn’t seem to be a spot for him at AAA to begin the season so he will probably repeat AA at some point in 2012. He has the look of an organizational player but he has no glaring weakness so he can’t be completely written off.
Jeremy Farrell, 26: Farrell is the son of the Boston Red Sox manager and was drafted by the Pirates in the 8th round of the 2008 draft. He has spent the last two seasons in AA where he has been average at best. The Pirates really don’t have a clear-cut choice for 3B in AA this year though so he might get one last chance at some consistent playing time.
Jeff Larish, 30: Larish played in the majors from 2008-2010 spending some time in AAA as well and had his moments but was a below average player overall. He has hung around the last two years serving as a AAA utility player and that will be his role once again in 2013.
Alex Valdez, 28: The Pirates signed Valdez as a minor league free agent this offseason. He spent 2010 and 2011 putting up mediocre numbers in AA and AAA but in 2012 he played in the Mexican league and put up a fairly impressive line. As I stated earlier the Pirates don’t really have a stand out option for 3rd base at the AA level so Valdez could see some playing time there.
Andy Vasquez, 25: Vasquez is a leftover from the Littlefield days. He appeared to be on his way out of baseball in 2009-10 but he has rebounded by putting up two solid seasons the past two years in A and A+. He looks like a decent utility player for A+/AA and will likely compete for a spot there in 2013.
Brett Carroll, 30: Carroll has the most distinguished major league career of anyone on this list to date. That isn’t to say it was good but he has appeared in a major league game at least once every year since 2007 so he has at least been hanging around the fringes. Carroll hasn’t hit well in his major league time and outside of a 2011 stint with the Brewers AAA teams hasn’t even hit well in AAA the past four seasons. He’ll compete for time in the AAA outfield in 2013 but faces an uphill climb.
Justin Howard, 25: Howard is a player I like a fair amount. The Pirates drafted him in the 24th round of the 2010 draft. He isn’t really much of a prospect because defensively he is limited to 1B (or maybe RF) and he has very little power. He is a fairly decent hitter though as he was probably one of the best hitters the Pirates had the A+ level last season. Still he profiles as an organizational guy and will likely serve as a bench player in AA in 2013.
Carlos Mesa, 25: Mesa defected from Cuba and was signed by the Pirates in 2011. He was relatively old when he defected and in two seasons hasn’t made it past the A+ level. He really hasn’t been good either but he will likely continue to serve as a backup option for the A and A+ levels in 2013.
Adalberto Santos, 25: The exception that proves the rule that 25 year old players aren’t typically prospects. Santos was drafted by the Pirates in the 22nd round of the 2012 draft. He was red-shirted as a freshman so he spent 5 years in college and was nearly 23 when selected. Obviously not much was expected from him but Santos has raked at every level. A knee injury kept him out for a significant amount of last season but he still hit very well at the AA level. Santos is deserving of a chance to prove himself at the AAA level this season. His lack of power limits his ceiling as a major leaguer but his good contact ability could make him an intriguing 4th outfielder and bat off the bench.
So there you have it the 27 players 25 years and older currently in the Pirates minor league camp. They will undoubtedly be joined by more as players get sent down but those will be players with slightly better pedigrees and better chances of making it back or in some rare cases to the show. The players I listed, for the most part have either seen their major league days come and go or are likely to never the big leagues but yet they keep playing for what must be the love of the game. I have always been a little fascinated with the career minor league. If he reaches a high enough level he might get a decent pay check but these guys by and by aren’t bringing in huge sums of money and the dream I’m sure they all had of reaching the show is out of their grasp but yet they continue to solider on filling an important but often overlooked role in professional baseball. The above 27 players aren’t glamorous and feature one average prospect, a couple of fringy prospects, a few past their prime fringe major leaguers and a fair amount of minor league veterans. It may not seem like an inspirational group but I always take a little bit of solace in knowing that these kind of professional athletes exist.
Borderline Relief Pitcher Prospects (Grade C-)
Jeff Inman: Going into the 2009 season, Jeff Inam was considered a potential first round talent by some scouts. However he suffered a shoulder injury which dropped his status and allowed the Pirates to pick him in the 12th round. They signed Iman for $425,000 which of course was overslot. Inman managed to pitch 4 innings below the close of 2009 and looked to be healthy getting his fastball up to the mid 90s (it was down in the low 80s before he was shut down in college). Unfortunately an elbow problem prevented him from playing at all in 2010. In 2011 he was sent to A+ and got some work as a starter, he was doing very well but then once again in May he was sidelined with an elbow injury and missed most of the rest of the season. This season Inman didn’t start out playing at any level but was assigned to A+ during the season and pitched very well in 9.2 innings out of the bullpen before being promoted to AA. At AA he continued to pitch very well and managed to remain healthy for the entire season. The only downside of all of this is that Inman’s strike out rates are not great and for a pitcher with his stuff they should be better. Inman obviously has some talent and could make a decent relief pitcher in the majors but the bi question mark about him is his health.
Tim Alderson: Alderson is the prospect that just keeps hanging on. The Pirates acquired him from the Giants in the 2009 trade of Freddy Sanchez. At the time he was considered a very good pitching prospect but his stock was beginning to slip a little bit. He performed decently for the Pirates in AA the remained of the season but before the 2010 season the Pirates and Alderson decided to try to change him back to his old delivery. The experiment was a disaster and Alderson put up some awful numbers. At the start of the 2011 season the Pirates decided to send Alderson back to AA once more but this time pitch him out of the bullpen. At first it seemed to work well Alderson was pitching better and had regained his low 90s velocity but as the year went on his results and velocity both slipped. This past season the Pirates assigned Alderson back to AA to pitch a 4th straight season at the level. Once again he began the year in the bullpen and once again he started off pitching well. He pitched so well in fact that the Pirates gave him a few starts and even promoted him to AAA for a short while. Oddly enough despite this being his 4th year of AA, Alderson upon being promoted to AAA was the youngest player on the Pirates AAA roster. After being sent back to AA Alderson missed some time with an injury and when he returned he once again struggled to finish out the year. He did show improvement this season and at 24 years old will still amazingly not be old for the AA level next season but time is certainly working against him at this point.
Jason Townsend: Townsend is one of those prospects that there is just something about him that makes me like him more than most other people. He was drafted by the Pirates in the 31st round of the 2010 draft and was just your typical late round selection so the Pirates didn’t go overslot to sign him. He played the 2010 season at the A- and showed great stuff with a 97 mph fastball but he displayed poor control. The Pirates promoted him to A ball the following season and he pitched much better. He still wasn’t as dominating as a guy with his stuff should be and his velocity dipped some but he still pitched well. This past season the Pirates sent him to the A+ bullpen and Townsend had another solid season. Unfortunately though his velocity stayed in the low 90s and his strike out rate fell even more, making his performance good but not dominating. He was promoted to AA and got into a few games but with largely the same results, meaning he pitched well but didn’t particularly stand out. As a power reliever Townsend needs to post a dominating stat line to be taken serious as a relief prospect. Even though Townsend really hasn’t had that big breakout season yet to establish himself as a good relief prospect there is still something about him I like but in order to be taken serious Townsend will need to start showing more hopefully as soon as this upcoming season.
Dalton Friend: The Pirates drafted Friend in the 12th round of the 2012 draft. He seems to be a rather interesting prospect as he is left hander with good velocity. His fastball is said to sit at 95 mph although it wasn’t there this past season but he missed nearly all of 2011 with a shoulder injury so that very well may be the cause of his drop in velocity. After signing with the Pirates Friend pitched for the Pirates class A- affiliate. His first appearance was awful but he seemed to settle down after that and pitched very well the remainder of the season. His future going forward is likely as a fastball/curveball lefty relief pitcher and he has the stuff to be a very good one. The Pirates had Friend start the season off throwing short relief appearances but appeared to be stretching him out near the end of the season so it is possible they want him to be a starter next season. If that is the case that is a good sign for Friend as that would mean the Pirates probably view him as at least a good prospect. He will likely go to a full season level next season and with a good showing he could establish himself as a real prospect.
John Kuchno: I’m really not sure what to think about Kuchno. The Pirates drafted him in the 17th round of this past draft and there was little to no attention paid to him until the Pirates signed him late into the signing period for slightly over slot. The Pirates evidently view him as at least some sort of prospect and there is some reason there as he has a good fastball and a good curve. His numbers in college were decent but not really outstanding so that leaves me to believe he is more a project the Pirates see some potential in. His late signing meant he didn’t get to pitch for the Pirates too much but he did get 5 innings at the A- level and he showed good stuff getting a lot of strike outs but he also was a little wild issuing a fair number of walks. Like most pitches this low in the minors Kuchno could probably start or pitch out of the bullpen next season but his stuff appears to be better suited for a relief role so my guess is the Pirates will take that route with him. The Pirates evidently see something in him so Kuchno is one to watch headed into next season.
Pat Ludwig: The Pirates drafted Ludwig in the 10th round of the 2012 as a signability pick to save money presumably for Appel. He received a signing bonus of only 5,000 considerably less than the 125,000 slotted for his spot. Still Ludwig showed good stuff in college posting a high K rate and is evidently a fairly smart fellow considering the Pirates drafted him out of Yale. Even with all that had Ludwig performed poorly after signing with the Pirates he would probably just be an afterthought right now but he went to the A- level and pitched outstandingly well. He showed great command and managed to post a good strike out rate while limiting hitters to a .196 average against him. The Pirates gave Ludwig a small taste of A ball near the end of the season and he continued to pitch well, even upping his strikeout rate. Ludwig’s results this season makes him an interesting one to watch, if he continues pitching like he did this season he should be viewed as a legit relief prospect regardless of the reason the Pirates drafted him. He seems relatively advanced for a college pitcher so the Pirates could try him at the A+ level next season.
Ryan Beckman: I almost didn’t include Beckman here but then I thought that since I included Inman here I had to include him. Beckman was drafted by the Pirates in the 18th round of the 2009 draft. The Pirates allowed him to pitch a lot of innings at the rookie level in 2009 and his results weren’t impressive. The Pirates moved him up to the A- level the following season and he pitched better but by no means did he put up great numbers. I should note at this point Beckman was a ground ball pitcher but evidently he changed something before the 2011 season. Beckman started the 2011 season at the A level but was quickly promoted to the A+ level. There he served as the closer and pitched substantially better than he had at any point in his pro career. He started allowing more fly balls but with that came a big bump to his K rate. The Pirates had him change his arm slot at some point so maybe that can be attributed to his quick change in pitching styles but whatever it was it made a sneaky breakout candidate for the 2012 season. Unfortunately that was not to be. Beckman started the 2012 season at the AA level but injured his elbow in his first outing and required Tommy John surgery which put him out for the rest of the season. Beckman’s sudden change in 2011 makes him interesting to watch but he will likely miss the first few months of next season with the injury as well.
What Do The Pirates Have to Give Up?
In this installment I will look at the Pirates prospects eligible for the Rule V draft. The Pirates will not be able to protect everyone and while this year’s crop isn’t as strong as some these are players the Pirates should look to trade in order to avoid a roster crunch in the offseason.
Locks To Be Added: Victor Black, Tony Sanchez, Robbie Grossman
Borderline to be Added: Tim Alderson, Stefan Welch, Ramon Cabrera, Jarek Cunningham, Brock Holt, Jeffrey Inman, Phillip Irwin
Interesting But Won’t Be Added: Andrew Lambo, Quincy Latimore, Aaron Poreda, Aaron Pribanic, Hunter Strickland, Nathan Baker, Yhonathan Barrios, Ryan Beckman, Jorge Bishop, Jodaneli Carvajal, Evan Chambers, Zachary Fuesser, Elevys Gonzalez, Samuel Gonzalez, Quinton Miller, Gift Ngoepe, Carlos Paulino, Rinku Singh
First lets get a little background on all the listed players
Victor Black: Black is pitching well in AA and looks like a good back of the bullpen prospect. He is in a similar mold to Duke Welker and will be definitely added to the roster.
Tony Sanchez: Sanchez was not so long ago the 4th overall pick in the draft and while he has lost some luster he still looks like he should be a serviceable major league starting catcher as early as midway through next season.
Robbie Grossman: Grossman is having a down season but he put up strong numbers last season and was considered a borderline top 100 prospect coming in to the year. He shows great plat discipline and will definitely be added.
Tim Alderson: Alderson has posted a good season and is now back on the prospect map. He isn’t what he once was but the potential is still in there some where and now since he has rebounded it is possible a team could take a shot on him.
Stefan Welch: The Pirates picked up Welch as a minor league free agent and at the time it appeared to be a minor move but fast forward and now the Pirates have a 23 year old prospect tearing up AA and playing a good 3B. Times have changed. Edit: As was pointed out by guapo in the comments my brief blurb seems to paint Welch as a prospect. My intention was to say that if he keeps his current level up or something close to it the Pirates will have a decision on their hands. If he falls back to earth he obviously wouldn’t be protected nor selected.
Ramon Cabrera: Coming into the season Cabrera was considered the Pirates second best catching option. He is having a bit of a down season in AA but could still draw interest from someone. I doubt the Pirates will add him with Sanchez having to be added so maybe he can attract some attention.
Jarek Cunningham: I was tempted to put Cunningham in the lock category but I realized I’m not sure how the Pirates view him. Cunningham has good power potential from 2B or 3B but has missed a few years due to injury. I would think he’d be drafted in the Rule V draft so I would think eh could be a trade piece this season.
Brock Holt: With Chase d’Arnaud and JordyMercer already on the 40 man roster the Pirates have their fair share of players like Holt. Holt is having his second solid season in AA but the Pirates are not moving him up. They could choose to add him to the roster but it would probably have to be at the expense of d’Arnaud. Holt would not have a ton of value but as a player who looks to have the floor of a utility infielder and the ceiling of an average 2B/SS in the majors he could attract some attention in trades.
Jeffrey Inman: If Inman were in another system he’d seem like the typical Pirate Rule V selection. Inman has a ton of potential but is injury prone and has missed a lot of time. Inman is now in AA and although he is struggling he has the upside that some team could take a flier on him and try to hide him in the bullpen.
Phillip Irwin: Irwin is a starter in AA and looks like he could be a decent back of the rotation arm some day. The Pirates probably won’t add him to the roster but he is advanced enough where he could probably be kept in someone’s bullpen all next season. His trade value would probably be minimal though.
Zach Dodson: Thank you to Kevin who pointed out in the comments that Dodson is not eligble until 2013. My reference material said 2012 and even though that seemed off to me I went with it.
Interesting Players Who Won’t be Added: I’m not going to bother breaking down this group but basically it breaks down into two groups. One group (Lambo, Latimore, Pribanic, Poreda, Strickland, Baker, Beckman, Chambers, E Gonzalez) are players in the upper levels who could probably hold down a spot on a 25 man roster but who’s numbers would be easily replaceable. Essentially they are all 24th and 25th type guys. The other group (Barrios, Bishop, Carvajal, S Gonzalez, Ngoepe, Singh) are players in the low levels who have a lot of talent but are too raw and too far away to have any chance at sticking on a roster all year. I left out three players, Fuesser, Miller and Paulino because they are slightly different. Paulino is an interesting defensive first catcher who has shown offensive ability but is only in the middle levels. Fuesser is a middle level lefty reliever who has some upside. Miller is a starting pitcher with a ton of talent but who has yet to produce any results. Some of the too young groups may be attractive as secondary lottery tickets in a deal.
The Pirates best most attractive pieces are obviously the 3 players who are a lock to be added, Grossman, Sanchez and Black. Any of those 3 could be attractive to other teams and be a key piece in acquiring a good rental or a secondary piece in acquiring a longer term piece.
The next most attractive group are Welch, Cabrera and Cunningham. Any of those 4 players could be a piece that could land the Pirates a good rental or even be a minor part of another trade.
Alderson, Holt, Inman and Irwin are all guys who could probably net a low cost rental but not much more. Their value are similar to the other 4 but are probably slightly less because of their limited upside.
The final group as far as trade value consists of potential throw ins and lottery tickets.
Joel Hanrahan: After a terrific season last year as the Pirates closer Hanrahan will once again be the team’s closer. There is no reason not to expect another great season from him. As the anchor of the bullpen Hanrahan should be in line to finish out most of the Pirates’ wins. I would not rule out a midseason trade though because the price of relievers is very high right now and if the Pirates find themselves out of it by the deadline shopping Hanrahan to a contender in need of a late inning reliever would make a lot of sense because they could potential acquire a long term solution for 1B or SS.
Chris Resop: Some thought Resop would be non-tendered but I am happy the Pirates decided to bring him back. Resop’s ability to post high strike out totals makes him good at coming into jams and getting out of them with little damage; I’ve always consider this the fireman role of the bullpen. For most of the season Resop did quite well in this role but he faded as the year went on nonetheless I expect him to return to this role and do fairly well in it.
Jason Grilli: Signed in the middle of last season from the Phillies Grilli came in and did very well. The Pirates choose to bring him back this season and he will be the team’s second highest paid reliever. Grilli has shown the flexibility to pitch late in games, pitch multiple innings and to do some mop up work if necessary. I see Grilli taking on the role of the utility pitcher; this means he will pitch in any and all situations. Grilli is really a non-descript relief pitcher but he seems to mesh well with this team so his respectable performance should be enough to warrant him a spot on the roster for most of the season.
RIGHT HANDED OPTIONS
Evan Meek: Meek will likely get the first crack at the set up role but due to his injuries and inconsistent play last year coupled with the facts the Pirates have a lot of bullpen options and Meek has an option left he is not a lock to make the team. I think last year was a fluke year for Meek and I expect him to make the team and regain his form this season. A healthy effective Meek would make the idea of trading Hanrahan a little easier to swallow or should the Pirates find themselves in a competitive position it would give them a terrific shut down duo for the 8th and 9th innings.
Chris Leroux: There has been some talk about stretching Leroux out to become a starter but I don’t see it happening. Chances are Leroux would have to be sent down to the minors for a while to work as a starter and with no options remaining he would need to be waived for that to be possible. With all that being said Leroux is not a lock to make the team. The Pirates have a lot of good options available and with being out of options he provides less flexibility that most of the people he is competiting with. He is a definite borderline player; I wouldn’t be surprised to see him start the year in the bullpen or be waived, it could go either way. My prediction is that Leroux will make the bullpen and pitch well but not really do enough to distinguish himself and he will be removed from the roster at some point during the season.
Daniel McCutchen: As of right this minute McCutchen is probably the favorite for the long relief job. Should the Pirates bring in another starter as is rumored the job will likely go to a current projected starter like Kevin Correia. This could leave McCutchen on the outside looking in but with an option remaining he should definitely remain on the Pirates 40 man roster and be called upon some time this season. He might even be called upon to make the occasional spot start this season depending on the health and performance of the Pirates top starting options. There is nothing that wows you about McCutchen but his ability to give multiple innings out of the bullpen makes him a nice option to have around.
Jared Hughes: Hughes came up late last season and pitched pretty well but he is probably a long shot to make the major league roster at this point. He seems to be another pitcher in the same mold as Grilli, Resop and Leroux he can strike people out and his control while a little shaky is good enough to make him a solid relief option. The Pirates will probably call upon him at some point this season and I see no reason why he won’t be a serviceable middle reliever.
Juan Cruz: I believe Cruz is the Pirates answer for replacing Jose Veras. Before signing Cruz the Pirates had Evan Meek and a bunch of other intriguing arms to fill the set up role but what they didn’t have was someone with experience doing it who they could call upon should no one step up and take the role. Cruz gives the Pirates that; he will be the fall back option for the Pirates 7th and 8th inning roles. Cruz is on a minor league contract so he doesn’t have to make the team and very well might not but it is good the Pirates brought him in just in case he is needed. I would really like to see Cruz make the team but unless Meek starts out in AAA I just do not see a spot for him. Probably at some point this season Cruz will get his chance with the Pirates and if so I expect him to put up similar numbers to what Veras did last season.
LEFT HANDED OPTIONS
Tony Watson: Watson is probably the Pirates best option for a left hander out of the bullpen meaning he will likely make the team out of spring training. On the other hand Watson is not a complete product and could definitely use more time in the minors. When pressed into duty last season Watson performed admirably and with no other clear cut options he deserves a chance to prove himself. I am not expecting a great season from Watson but he seems like a serviceable lefty; if one of the below guys or someone else can step up it would be great for the Pirates to get him back to AAA. As it is I see Watson having a serviceable year as the top lefty in the pen and pitching a lot of situational matchups.
Daniel Moskos: Moskos may be the Pirates second best left handed option for the bullpen but he could use AAA work even more than Watson could. With their abundance of right handers I doubt the Pirates will choose to carry two lefties but if they do Moskos has the inside track to be the second lefty. Whether Moskos makes the team or not he is going to be asked to play a role in the majors at some point and I see it going quite well. I have always liked Moskos as a potential late inning left handed reliever and while that will never make him worth the 4th overall pick it should make him a useful player. I predict Moskos will begin to take some late inning situational time away from Watson by the end of the year.
Jo-Jo Reyes: The Pirates signed a slew of depth left handed relievers and I am not going to spend much time of any of them but the one I find most intriguing is Reyes. He has started in the past and has basically only been a passable spot starter but he has shown a good knack for getting lefties out meaning a bullpen role could be good for him. I think he has a chance to make the roster out of spring training but I don’t see it. I am not expecting much from Reyes but I believe he can be a decent reliever if he is needed.
Doug Slaten: Slaten is the definition of a lefty specialist; he is horrible against righties but does well enough against lefties that he still manages to keep a job. Hurdle likes two lefties in the bullpen so Slaten has a chance to make the major league roster but I don’t see it happening. If needed he would be fine if used in a LOOGY role but anything more than that could be scary for Pirate fans.
Brian Tallet: Even with the Pirates lack of left handed options Tallet stands little chance to make the team. I imagine he is here as sort of a last resort back up plan. Chances are Tallet will not play in the majors this season but by some chance he does we shouldn’t expect much. I imagine the Pirates will try to find him a spot in AAA but even that could be tough to do.
Stetson Allie: I have not given up on Allie as a potential starter but it looks as of now that the bullpen is the safer bet and that he will probably be working in that role this season. He has only been pitching for two seasons so of course he is raw I’m not sure why anyone expected anything more from him. Allie has a huge upside but is probably as far away from the majors as the younger Luis Heredia. I think Allie will show progress this season but it will likely be back in short season ball so it won’t exactly send his prospect status soaring. The potential is still very much there though.
Justin Wilson: Wilson could return to starting this season but due to his control issues I see his best fit as the bullpen. When you combined that with the fact the Pirates are light on left handed relievers Wilson could see time in the majors as early as the beginning of this season if he is needed. There were reports of Wilson hitting 99 mph out of the bullpen last season; that would be fantastic from a left handed reliever but I think more realistically we will see him consistently at 95-96 which will still be good. I expect Wilson to get some time in the pen later this season and as long as his control isn’t plain terrible I think it will go rather well.
Bryan Morris: A lot of people have given up on Morris but I haven’t. I see him as the heir apparent to Joel Hanrahan. Would that be a good return for the Jason Bay trade? Well of course not but it would still be great if he could turn into a good closer and I think Morris has the makeup to do just that. Should the Pirates opt to trade Hanrahan (and I think that depends on their contender status this season) I see Morris assuming the closer’s role by the end of the season.
Jeff Inman: Inman has a big upside and is probably easily one of the Pirates most talented pitching prospects. The problem the man can’t stay healthy. He has been in the system 3 years and has thrown just 40 innings. Inman was once considered a starting prospect but at this point I don’t see any way possible he remains a starter. He could have a future as a reliever pitching limited innings but even that would require him to stay healthier. Considering his low inning workload I would be surprised to see the Pirates start him above A+ but he could find himself in AA at some point. If he manages to stay healthy I can see him putting up very good numbers but that is a very big if at this point.
Duke Welker: The Pirates protected Welker from the Rule V draft this offseason, considering they had quite a few options they could have protected it shows they must think rather highly of Welker. He does have good stuff for a reliever and appears to have the making of a late inning reliever but for some reason I just don’t have a strong feeling about him. I see Welker struggling as a reliever in the majors but I don’t really know why, it is really just a hunch. Anyway Welker should start the season in AA but if he does well he is a candidate for an early promotion to AAA. He could even have an impact in the majors this season but I don’t see that happening.
Zac Fuesser: Fuesser is my second left handed pitching prospect on this list. He appears destined for a relief spot even though he did start 11 games last year and pitched over 100 innings. With so many other pitching prospects around him Fuesser has mainly been used in a piggy back role meaning he pitches but only after a more highly thought of prospect gets his work in. He will be in A+ this season and with a stacked starting rotation he will probably get little consideration there but could be called upon often as a long reliever. Fuesser’s true development as a reliever probably won’t start to next season when the prospects start to separate themselves from the filler but the fact he is left handed gives him a respectable chance at making an impact in the majors at some point.
Summary: For 2012 the bullpen appears to be fairly strong. My only real concern about it is that it will be overworked but hopefully the Burnett acquisition will alleviate that some. The Pirates have a good mix of right handers but are really lacking left handed options at the moment. The relievers are by no means a lock to be effective but I think considering the number of options the Pirates have available it is pretty safe to assume they will be able to find a mix that provides them with good stability this season and that is really all you can ask from a bullpen. For next season the Pirates have an intriguing mix of young pitchers who are coming up in relief roles that should allow the Pirates to cut loose some of their more expensive middle relief options. As far as long term goes it is always difficult to know exactly what pitchers will end up relievers but it appears as if the Pirates should have some options and chief among might be a fireball closer in Stetson Allie (although we should hold out hope he ends up starting).