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.
Just Missed the Top 30
Jose Osuna: Osuna was signed by the Pirates late in 2009 out of Venezuela. He was originally signed as an OF but it was a widely held belief that he would eventually need to move to 1B and he has indeed done so. When he was signed Osuna was already touted as having good plate discipline and some good raw power. He has shown both of those tools rather well so far in his pro career. Osuna played in the VSL in 2010 and had a good showing leading the league in HR at only 17 years old. Osuna was promoted to the states in 2011 and raked down in rookie ball posting a .911 OPS in 178 AB. He continued to show very good plate discipline although his power did take a slight hit. It was also at this level that Osuna shifted to 1B. This past season the Pirates used him as the regular 1B at the A ball level and he did fairly well. Osuna posted a .778 OPS in 482 AB. He also continued to keep his strike outs low but his walk rate dipped slightly. The power Osuna was said to possess was flashed a few times as he hit 16 HR. Osuna had an amazing month of July in which he had a 1.011 OPS and belted 9 HR. Osuna will only be 20 years old next season and already appears to be a fairly advanced hitter. The power potential along with solid plate discipline is there and could make Osuna a good 1B prospect for the Pirates moving forward. Going forward he needs to get better (more comfortable) at 1B and he needs to show that he can keep hitting as he moves up the ladder.
Dan Gamache: The Pirates drafted Gamache in the 6th round of the 2011 draft. He played primarily 3B in college but the Pirates announced him as a 2B and that is where they have been using him. Gamache is a solid defender and he has the ability to hit to all fields and has shown solid plate discipline but he lacks power. Gamache made his pro debut in rookie ball last season and in a very small sample size hit very well. The Pirates promoted to A- and things didn’t quite go so well. This season the Pirates promoted him to A ball and he quietly had a good season. He was overshadowed by his middle infield partner of course but he more than held his own. Gamache posted a solid .780 OPS while adapting very well to his new position as a full time 2B. It wasn’t a dominating performance from him and as an advanced college player a better showing could have been expected but he played the season at only 21 years old so he wasn’t exactly old for the level. Due to his limited power Gamache will most likely need to show he has what it takes to stick at 2B if he is to move forward as a prospect but so far things are looking good in that regard. The Pirates will most likely want to see Gamache continue to hit and play solid defense as he moves up to A+ next season.
Jarek Cunningham: The Pirates drafted Cunningham in the 18th round of the 2008 draft, he was one of their many over slot picks. He was a fairly highly regarded prospect but missed his senior season at high school because of an ACL tear so it was expected he would go to college. He was originally drafted as a shortstop but he was never really expected to stick there and his since moved to 2B and some are convinced he could move again possibly to 3B or a corner outfield spot. Cunningham’s pro career started out great with a strong showing at the rookie level but unfortunately he injured his knee and was forced to miss all of the following season. In 2010 the Pirates sent him to A level with mixed results. Cunningham showed some good power and actually finished 3rd in the league in extra base hits but he also showed a huge strike out problem and had very inconsistent plate discipline. The Pirates sent Cunningham to the A+ level in 2011 and he started out on fire in April and May before eventually cooling off and slumping through July. In July of that year Cunningham suffered a concussion and the only appearances he made the rest of the season were a few rehab stints in rookie ball. This past season Cunningham played at AA and was disappointing. On the plus side he did manage to stay healthy most of the year and was better defensively but his bat was just nowhere to be found. Cunningham is in an interesting prospect because of the power potential he provides for a 2B but his constant injuries and disappointing showing in 2012 has really hurt his prospect stock. This upcoming season will be a big test for Cunningham.
Tyler Gaffney: The Pirates drafted Gaffney this past year in the 24th round out of Stanford. The most noteworthy thing about him was that he was also Stanford’s backup RB for the football team. Gaffney is a very solid hitter but his draft stock was hurt as he doesn’t have the power of a typical corner outfielder or the speed of the typical center fielder. Basically he is your classic tweener in the outfield. Gaffney made his pro debut at the A- level this season and hit very well. He posted a crazy .483 OBP which was fueled by an astonishing 13.2 HBP percentage. He also completed a weird trifecta registered exactly 20 strike outs, walks and hit by pitches. Gaffney has been described by most as a very good potential 4th outfielder but I believe he has a good enough bat and good enough OBP skills to force a team to consider using him as a regular despite his lack of power. Gaffney missed the end of the season with a shoulder problem, which considering the HBP, really isn’t surprising but his .924 OPS this season should easily be enough to earn him a promotion to A ball if not A+ ball next season.
Ramon Cabrera: Cabrera was signed by the Pirates in 2008 out of Venezuela. He had just converted to catching so his defensive game is raw. Cabrera made his pro debut in the VSL in 2008 and had a very solid season. The following year he started back at the VSL but received a rare in season promotion to the United States. Once in the states Cabrera had a strong year showing off his good contact and plate discipline abilities which is what carries him as a prospect. Cabrera took a step back in 2010 when upon being promoted to A ball his walk rate took a hit. He still managed to keep his strike out rate low and show decent contact but his good plate discipline wasn’t there. In 2011 Cabrera moved up to A+ and had a breakout season offensively positing an .881 OPS. Unfortunately Cabrera’s shaky defense caught up with him as he threw out only 13% of runners trying to steal. The good offensive showing in 2011 was enough to earn Cabrera a promotion to AA this past season. He started the season serving as the DH and backup catcher to Tony Sanchez and struggled in that role but once he became the regular catcher he started to hit much better and even showed improvements defensively. Cabrera’s strengths are his ability to make good contact and his plate discipline but his shaky defense behind the plate and small stocky stature (he is listed at 5’7″ 202 lbs) make some question whether he has the defensive and durability needed to hold up behind the plate for a full season. Cabrera like a lot of other prospects I have discussed so far is Rule V draft eligible this season but unlike the rest he has a decent chance of either being added to the 40 man roster or if not added being selected by another team. If he is still with the Pirates next season he could be an interesting one to watch in AAA.
Phillip Irwin: Irwin was drafted by the Pirates in the 25th round of the 2009 draft by the Pirates. His selection came with very little fanfare as he has nothing that makes him stand out. He is a right handed pitcher who tops out in the high 80s and his secondary pitchers are just really average. He was selected out of college so he wasn’t really all that projectable either. Irwin plain and simple just doesn’t have the stuff of a good pitching prospect but what he does have is the results. Irwin made his pro debut in 2009 at the A- level and was great. Irwin moved up to A ball in 2010 and once again his stuff wasn’t impressive and his ERA was only decent but his peripherals nonetheless were very good. The Pirates moved Irwin up to the A+ level last season and once again he pitched well despite not having the greatest stuff. He pitched well enough to earn an in season promotion to AA where he did get hit a little harder but once again his ERA wasn’t horrible (3.81) and his peripherals suggested he was pitching about the same if not better than he did in A+. He lowered his walk rate and raised his strike out rate (his WHIP did take a minimal step forward though). This season the Pirates started him back at AA and you all know the theme by now, he pitched well once again. The Pirates gave him a shot in AAA near the end of the season and he finally did see a significant uptick in his walk rates and WHIP but it was coupled with a significant rise in his strike out rate so it is quite possibly just a sample size issue. Irwin is Rule V eligible this season and despite not having the stuff of a top pitching prospect he has clearly shown enough where the Pirates will undoubtedly protect him.
Casey Sadler: Sadler was drafted by the Pirates in the 25th round of the 2010 draft. He throws a low 90s fastball with a cutter and a curve to compliment it. He started his pro career in the A- level and pitched well but in only 24 innings. The Pirates promoted him to A ball the following season and he pitched primarily out of the bullpen. Sadler pitched well all season but got particular better as the season went along. Sadler was near unhittable in the second half posting a 1.51 ERA and 0.70 WHIP. The Pirates promoted him to A+ for the 2012 season and once again he started off in the bullpen. He pitched well out of the bullpen but was for several reasons eventually forced to join the rotation. Sadler pitched decently as a starter but there is little doubt that relief work fits him better. Sadler posted a far better K rate out of the bullpen and it was clear the extra innings from starting wore him down as his outings began to get shorter in August. Amazingly despite starting the year in the bullpen Sadler had the most innings pitched for the Pirates at the A+ level which means they want to see him pitch which in turn means they like him as a prospect. There has always been something about Sadler I like and while it is very unlikely he’ll ever make it in the majors as a starting pitcher he does seem to clearly possess the ability to be an effective reliever. Nonetheless with limited options to start in AA next season Sadler is likely to remain in the rotation.
31.) Jin-De Jhang: It took me a while to pare my top prospect list down to just 30. The last 7 players I went over all have a good case to be part of it but the player that was most difficult for me to leave off was Jhang. Jhang was signed by the Pirates out of Taiwan in June 2011. The Pirates gave him 250K to sign and thought highly enough of him to bring him right to the states instead of starting him off in one of the instructional leagues. He has just moved to the catching position full time so he is still raw behind the plate but he has shown the tools including a good arm which make most believe he could one day be a good defensive catcher. Jhang’s strength is not his glove though, it his bat and he got to show that off in rookie ball this season. Jhang posted a very solid .780 OPS and actually received more playing time behind the plate than the Pirates 2nd round draft choice, Wyatt Mathisen. Jhang didn’t show the power potential this season but displayed a good contact rate, good plate discipline and surprisingly fairly good defense and speed. There is no doubt the Pirates consider Jhang a very good prospect and they could easily decide to jump him straight to full season ball next year. Jhang’s upside defensively and more importantly his upside offensively couple with his strong debut this season makes him a prospect to keep a very close eye on and a potential breakout candidate for next season.
In addition to trying to figure out the best way to supplement their roster externally the Pirates will have some internal decisions to make about their roster coming up. Basically the status of every internal player who may be on the 40 man roster can be broken down into 5 categories: 1) Rule V draft eligible 2) 0-3 Years Experience 3) Arbitration Eligible 4) Under Contract 5) Free Agents
Rule V Draft Eligible
As always there are a lot of players eligible for the Rule V draft but in reality I think only 5 have a chance at being added to the 40 man roster and of the rest few have any chance of being selected. The five players in this group are:
Tony Sanchez, C
Ramon Cabrera, C
Gift Ngoepe, SS
Phillip Irwin, SP
Victor Black, RP
Analysis: It is essentially a guarantee that both Sanchez and Black will be added to the roster and I feel almost as confident in saying that Phillip Irwin will be added as well. Cabrera and Ngoepe are the two interesting ones for me. Normally teams do not select a catcher in the Rule V draft and if they do I would think most would look for a strong defensive one so that he could at least provide that value as a backup, Cabrera is shaky defensively making it seem unlikely to me that he would be selected. Due to this I think the Pirates leave him off the roster. Ngoepe is very raw and may not be ready for a spot in AA let alone the majors but good fielding, light hitting middle infielders are fairly common selections in the Rule V draft meaning there is at least some chance Ngoepe would be selected. Due to this and the fact the Pirates seem to view Ngoepe as a legit prospect I wouldn’t be surprised to see him added, however since he is so raw right now I’m going to lean towards the side that the Pirates will not add him to the 40 man roster, though this one is a tough call.
0-3 Years Experience
This is the group that the Pirates can elect to retain for any salary that wish above the league minimum. Typically first year players earn the league minimum and players who have been on the roster a little longer earn a touch more. These players have no salary concern so the only real question is are they good enough to stay on the roster. The Pirates of course have a lot of players in this category:
Chris Leroux, Michael McKenry, Tony Watson, Josh Harrison, Alex Presley, Jared Hughes, Rick VandenHurk, Gustavo Nunez, Travis Snider, Jordy Mercer, Starling Marte, Kyle McPherson, Brock Holt, Eric Fryer, Jeff Clement, Jeff Locke, Justin Wilson, Bryan Morris, Chase d’Arnaud, Yamaico Navarro, Daniel McCutchen, Matt Hague, Duke Welker
Some of the above will obviously be retained while others their future with the club is murky at best.
Will Be Retained: Michael McKenry, Tony Watson, Josh Harrison, Alex Presley, Jared Hughes, Travis Snider, Jordy Mercer, Starling Marte, Kyle McPherson, Brock Holt, Jeff Locke, Justin Wilson, Bryan Morris, Duke Welker
Uncertain Future: Chris Leroux, Rick VandenHurk, Gustavo Nunez, Eric Fryer, Jeff Clement, Chase d’Arnaud, Yamaico Navarro, Daniel McCutchen, Matt Hague
Analysis: The first group that is consists of players I believe will definitely be retained is pretty self-explanatory. Some of the players are going to be expected to be key contributors (McKenry, Watson, Hughes, Snider, Marte, McPherson, Locke, Morris) while others will be brought back as depth (Harrison, Presley, Mercer, Holt, Wilson, Welker). The second group is the more interesting one when it comes to roster decisions. Not all of them will be let go but I believe a large number of them will be. Of the second group I believe Chris Leroux’s spot is the most secure as I seem him being in line to be the long relief man out of the bullpen next season. The removal of anyone else would not come as a surprise to me but I’m leaning toward d’Arnaud and McCutchen being retained and the rest being left go. Navarro and Hague were not brought up in September which says the Pirates aren’t too high on them. VandenHurk and Clement looked pretty bad during their short stints in September. I think it is nearly certain Clement will be gone but VandenHurk has a chance at staying. I can’t imagine the Pirates attempting to carry Nunez next year under his Rule V restrictions so I expect him to be gone. Finally Fryer seems rather exppendable with Sanchez and possibly Cabrera being added to the roster. As for McCutchen I think he stays since he has another option left and can be a fungible 9th or 10th bullpen option who can be stashed in AAA and d’Arnaud stays because he started to show some signs of getting back on track near the end of the season.
These are the players who go into next year not under contract but still under Pirates control but they can not just be assigned a salary. Typically this group makes up a rather large chunk of the Pirates payroll for a season and this season will be the same thing. This year’s arbitration class is:
The Pirates will have to decide who of the above will be worth the salary they are likely to command through the arbitration process. I believe 5 of the above 8 players will definitely be tendered while the other 3 all have at least a chance to be. For the first time in a while I see no blatantly obvious non-tenders.
Will Be Tendered: Joel Hanrahan, Garrett Jones, James McDonald, Neil Walker, Gaby Sanchez
Might Not Be Tendered: Jeff Karstens, Charlie Morton, Chris Resop
Analysis: Each player in the first group will be tendered a contract by the Pirates that is all but guaranteed but there are questions about all of them such as will they play with the Pirates in 2013 and if so what will their role be? Walker seems to be the most stable but his back issues throw even his status into question. Of the other I can’t see the Pirates not tendering Karstens but there has been a lot of talk that suggests that such a thing is possible. I could see them tendering and then trading him or trading him before he needs to be tendered (ala Jose Veras) but not just non-tendering him. Morton is the one who I believe has the strongest chance of being non-tendered. His injury is going to keep him out until at least the middle of the year and paying a pitcher of Morton’s quality probably just a little under 3 million for a few months of work is something the Pirates shouldn’t do. I suspect that the Pirates and Morton will try to work out a minor league contract though so he remains in the organization. Resop is the ultimate 50/50 propositions. He is likely going to cost somewhere between 1-1.5 million this season which isn’t bad but he is a middle reliever who struggled to miss bats this season so the Pirates could choose to move on and go with a younger/cheaper option. Of this group I expect Hanrahan and Karstens to be traded, Morton to be non-tendered but signed back on a minor league deal, Resop to be non-tendered and probably sign elsewhere and the other 4 to return and play a significant role with the 2013 Pirates.
The Pirates have what I believe is for them an abnormally high number of players under contract for next season. Granted that is only 5 players plus 2 options but still that seems a touch higher than past year’s but then again I could be wrong on that front. Anyway those players are:
Under Contract: AJ Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, Clint Barmes
Has An Option: Pedro Alvarez, Rod Barajas
Analysis: First lets deal with the option year players because they are rather simple to evaluate. Alvarez’s option will of course be picked up and Barajas’s will of course be declined. Unfortunately I am not ready to rule out the possibility of the Pirates resigning Barajas at a lower rate. As for the players under contract Burnett and Rodriguez will be back and headlining the front of the rotation and McCutchen will continue to be the face of the franchise and the key player in the lineup. Tabata and Barmes are two players the Pirates may look to move but I’ll expect both will be back Barmes as the starting shortstop (hopefully sharing playing time with someone else) and Tabata as the 4th outfielder possibly splitting time in right field with Travis Snider.
The Pirates have 4 players on their roster who are going to be free agents and while it is not the Pirates way to resign players they deserve mention here as well. The 4 players are:
Free Agents: Kevin Correia, Jason Grilli, Hisanori Takahashi, Chad Qualls
Analysis: I don’t see any way Correia will return; I can see the Pirates possibly wanting him back but I don’t think that feeling will be mutual. Takahashi and Qualls are two fungible relievers whom the Pirates could possibly consider resigning when it comes time to cobble a bullpen together but I expect that they will go another direction. The last player, Jason Grilli, is one I expect the Pirates to make a serious effort to try and resign. It would not be wise for the Pirates to sign Grilli to a big contract but something in the neighborhood of 2 years and 8 million dollars could make a whole lot of sense. However I believe we have seen our last of Grill and that the back of the bullpen will have a very different look next season.
So there you have it. Below I’m going to post a summary of whom I predict will be affected by these internal roster decisions.
Rule V Players Added: Tony Sanchez, Phillip Irwin, Victor Black
League Min Players Let Go: Rick VandenHurk, Gustavo Nunez, Eric Fryer, Jeff Clement, Yamaico Navarro, Matt Hague
Arbitration Eligible Players Not Tendered: Charlie Morton, Chris Resop
Options Not Picked Up: Rod Barajas
Players Traded: Joel Hanrahan, Jeff Karstens
Players Leaving Via Free Agency: Jason Grilli, Kevin Correia, Chad Qualls, Hisanori Takahashi
Since the catching position is struggling in the major leagues for the Pirates I thought now would be a good time to look at what is down in the minors in terms of catching prospects.
At the rookie league level there are two interesting prospects sharing most of the catching duty. They are Wyatt Mathisen and Jin-De Jhang.
Mathisen: Wyatt Mathisen was selected out of high school in the second round of this past draft. While in high school Mathisen rarely played catcher instead moving all around the field and spending most of his time as a shortstop. His skill set best projects as a catcher though and that is how the Pirates and most other teams viewed him. Mathisen has the potential to be a strong two-way catcher who can play both good defense and hit for power and average. He also possesses average speed which would be a plus in a catcher. So far during his pro debut he is off to a good start with a .789 OPS in 152 PA. Mathisen figures to start 2013 in A- but could be pushed to A ball.
Jhang: Jin-De Jhang was signed out of Taiwan in 2011 and at the time was considered one of the best prospects in that area. That was reflected in the $250,000 bonus he received from the Pirates. Like Mathisen Jhang hasn’t spent much time at catcher so he has some skill sets to work on. So far this season in his pro debut Jhang has posted good numbers with an OPS of .798 in 133 PA. He has also received more playing time at catcher than Mathisen showing the Pirates really view him as a legit prospect. Like Mathisen, Jhang should start at A- next season but to separate the two, him or Mathisen could be pushed to A ball.
At this level the majority of the playing time behind the plate has went to one player with a bunch of other receiving a handful of starts as well. Jacob Stallings has received the majority of the playing time and his main backup appears to be Ryan Hornback.
Stallings: Jacob Stallings is another 2012 draftee as he was selected in the 7th round this season out of the University of North Carolina. He was a college senior and signed for way under slot at $10,000. Unlike the catchers I have mentioned previously Stallings is a very polished catcher and has a good bit of experience behind the plate. Stallings strengths are his ability to handle a pitching staff, play solid defense and yes throw out runners. He set an NCAA record in 2011 with 32 caught stealings. At the plate Stallings has good plate discipline but is overall a weak hitter. He has already received praise from his coaching staff being called another pitching coach out on the field. So far this season Stallings has put up a respectable .717 OPS in 223 PA. Due to his weak bat Stallings projects only as a backup catcher. With a lot of young pitchers having a guy like Stallings is valuable to the Pirates and he should start next season in A ball or A+ depending on how the Pirates choose to push Mathisen and Jhang.
Hornback: Ryan Hornback was a 27th round pick in 2011 out of San Jacinto College. He was viewed as a solid defender and was an average hitter at college. In his first year of pro ball he played in the rookie league and didn’t do a whole lot. This season Hornback has caught only 13 games and has received only 86 PA. He has done respectably in those at bats posing a .696 OPS. It appears the Pirates view him as an organizational player now so expect him to either stay in A- or possibly move up to A ball in a backup capacity. Essentially he will go where the team needs him.
In West Virginia the catching job has been shared by two players with the last name Diaz. Elias Diaz and Francisco Diaz have caught nearly all the games played at this level.
E Diaz: Elias Diaz was signed by the Pirates as an international free agent in 2008. He wasn’t viewed as much of a prospect at the time but the fit the Pirates mold of an athletic catcher with a guy arm and potential in his bat. Diaz put up good numbers in his first year of pro ball in the VSL with a .781 OPS and was promoted to the US in 2010. Since coming to the United States Diaz has struggled. In 2010 he put up an OPS of .590 in Rookie ball. The next season he was surprisingly moved to A ball and put up a .607 OPS. He has repeated the level this season and has put up a .543 OPS in 329 PA. At only 21 years old there is still time for him but he will need to move quickly. With no real options for A+ next season the Pirates could choose to push Diaz but most likely he’ll return to A ball for a 3rd season.
F Diaz: The Pirates selected this Diaz in this year’s minor league Rule V draft and he appeared to be nothing more than some middle level catching depth. Diaz was part of the Phillies organization from 2007-2011. He came to the states in 2009 and was immediately used as an organizational player playing everywhere from Rookie ball to A+ ball. He never put up good numbers with the Phillies. Surprisingly though Diaz is only 22 years old which is a touch old for A ball but not overly so. He has put up great numbers this season with an .822 OPS in 140 PA. Diaz did struggle in a short stint in A+ though with a .377 OPS in 39 PA. At this point there is nothing to get excited about here but his strong numbers in A ball this season at least give him some hope of continuing to move up the ladder. If he is still around next season I suspect he will be A+ ball.
With the exception of Francisco Diaz’s short stint the catching duty at this level has been handled by Carlos Paulino and Kawika Emsley-Pai.
Paulino: Carlos Paulino was acquired by the Pirates at the start of the 2011 season for a player most Pirate fans probably either never heard about or have forgotten about, Jim Negrych. The only reason Pirate fans may have even heard about Negrych was that he was a Pitt guy. Anyway as for Paulino at the time he was acquired Paulino didn’t appear to be much of a prospect just a good solid defensive catcher for the middle levels but last season Paulino at 21 years olds broke out in A+ posting a .790 OPS in 301 PA. That production would under normal circumstances earn you a promotion but the Pirates were full at catcher at AA with Sanchez repeating the level and Cabrera having actually outperformed Paulino at A+. So Paulino repeated A+ this season with hopes of farther cementing his prospect status but that hasn’t happened as he has posted a .676 OPS in 308 PA. Paulino remains one to keep an eye on because of his good defense and the fact he does have a breakout offensive season on his resume but right now he is on the back burner. I suspect he’ll start next season in AA.
Emsely-Pai: Kawika Emsely-Pai was drafted by the Diamondbacks in the 10th round of the 2010 draft in June and was kind of strangely released by them in December 2010. He did have a poor showing in A- but it was only 103 PA and was his first pro season. The Pirates signed Emsely-Pai to a minor league contract in January 2011. The Pirates place Emsley-Pai in A ball and he had a good season posting a .725 OPS in 250 PA. The performance was good enough to earn him a promotion to A+ this season where he backs up Paulino. Unfortunately in limited playing time (150 PA) Emsely-Pai hasn’t produced great numbers posting an OPS of just .608. I suspect he will be back at A+ next season possibly even as the starting catcher next season.
Tony Sanchez started the year as the starting catcher for the Altoona Curve but since he was promoted I’m covering him in AAA. Outside of Sanchez the two players who have manned the catching position in AA this season are Ramon Cabrera and Charlie Cutler.
Cabrera: Ramon Cabrera was signed by the Pirates as an international free agent in July 2008. He had just transitioned to catcher at the time so he was relatively raw at the position at the time of the signing. He spent all of 2008 and part of 2009 in the VSL putting up strong numbers with an OPS in 2008 of .771 and in 2009 of .868. He then came state side where he continued hitting well in rookie ball and was promoted to A ball in 2010. Cabrera struggled in A ball to the tune of a .654 OPS but was nonetheless pushed to A+ in 2011 where he broke out with a .881 OPS in 396 PA. Ordinarily that would have earned him a chance to be the starting catcher in AA but Sanchez was blocking him. Cabrera did catch some games while Sanchez was in AA and has caught most since he has left and has been ok offensively posting a .692 OPS in 396 PA. The knock against Cabrera has always been his defense and his durability behind the plate. He is relatively small for a catcher at 5′ 7″ 202 lbs and has had trouble throwing out base runners already. So what needs to carry him is his bat and his ability to hit line drives and consistently make contact. Cabrera will likely repeat AA next season.
Cutler: Charlie Cutler was another player taken in the minor league Rule V draft but he did appear to have a little bit of upside. Cutler was drafted by the Cardinals in 2008 and put up good numbers at every level in their organization. To be fair he was old for each level but that is still a pretty solid performance. Last season at 24 years old in AA Cutler put up an .874 OPS in 232 PA. He struggled the year before in AA posting only .581 OPS in 140 PA. At 24 years old he was probably a touch older than you would like for players in AA but that isn’t egregiously old for the level. This year with the Pirates Cutler remained in AA acting as a 3rd catcher and has once again had a solid season posting a .824 OPS in 159 PA. Of course at 25 years old he is now definitely too old for the level. Cutler’s reputation defensively is not good but his bat can’t be ignored. He has a career .800 OPS in the minors and .782 OPS in AA. The Pirates should push him to AAA next year to see what they got here as he is worth keeping an eye on.
Three catchers have shared nearly all the playing time for the Indianapolis Indians. Tony Sanchez has received the most games behind the plate but prior to his promotion Jose Morales and Eric Fryer were handling the work load.
Morales: Jose Morales was signed by the Pirates this offseason to a minor league deal to compete with Micheal McKenry for the team’s backup catching position and to at least serve as the 3rd catcher. Unfortunately he got injured early in Spring Training and never really got a chance to compete. Morales is your typical AAAA player. He spends a lot of time in the minors in AAA and when the need arises can come up and adequately fill a role with the major league roster. Morales started off the year decently but has struggled as of late. Since he hasn’t been added by now I don’t envision him joining the big league club unless it is for an emergency. Chances are he won’t be back next season.
Fryer: Eric Fryer is an interesting case. Fryer has never been highly regarded as a prospect and has nearly always been blocked by a better catching prospect but yet he just kept performing well enough in a limited sample to keep moving up. The Pirates acquired Eric Fryer and Casey Erickson from the Yankees for Eric Hinske. When he first came to the Pirates Fryer actually showed enough to warrant a look as a starting catcher for the first time in his career posting a .730 OPS in 187 PA in A+ but the Pirates had just drafted Sanchez and once he was promoted Fryer went back to being a backup. Fryer continued to hit well though posting an .865 OPS the following year in A+ and then a .976 OPS in AA the following season. Fryer received a quick promotion to AAA in 2011 where it appeared he was going to get a chance to start some games but injuries forced him to Pittsburgh. Fryer sparingly played in Pittsburgh and when he was sent back down to AAA struggled hitting for only a .647 OPS. This season Fryer has been worse posting a .513 OPS. Fryer is a candidate to be removed from the 40 man roster this offseason and since he has already been removed once can opt for free agency if he clears waivers which he almost assuredly will. I expect him to stay though and be back at AAA next season but not really as a catcher instead he will be using his versatility and playing some 1B, 3B and OF.
Sanchez: Tony Sanchez is the Pirates best catching prospect and realistically speaking short of trying to project out Mathisen or Jhang is the Pirates only hope of having a strong two-way starting catcher in the majors relatively soon. Sanchez was drafted by the Pirates 4th overall in 2009 and was definitely a reach at that position but with no real clear-cut options the Pirates opted to go for high upside later round selections. Sanchez started off his pro career strong posting an OPS of .976 in 188 PA at A ball. The next season he also put up good numbers in A+ ball with a .870 OPS in 250 PA. It was beginning to appear the Pirates made the right choice in drafting him but then in June he fractured his jaw ending his season. In 2011 Sanchez started in AA and was not good leaving a lot of people to question his top prospect status. This season Sanchez once again opened in AA and while he wasn’t great he fared much better and earned a promotion to AAA. Sanchez started slow in AAA but had a great July and appears to be back on track for a 2013 arrival. Sanchez’s strength is his defense. He is a good game caller and great at blocking pitches. His ability to throw out runners gets mixed reviews from average to very good but the average reviews mostly stem from the troubles he had in A+ ball when he was playing with a hurt shoulder. The question surrounding Sanchez has always been whether his bat would be good enough to be a starting catcher. Sanchez is not going to be a player who supports a very high average but can be good and he has the ability to provide plus power from the catching position. In short if you want the Pirates catching problem fixed internally this is your hope. Sanchez will likely start 2013 in AAA and if things go according to plan be called up to the majors near the middle of next season.
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.
1. Tony Sanchez
2. Ramon Cabrera
3. Eric Fryer
4. Carlos Paulino
5. Samuel Gonzalez
Prospects By Likely Level
AAA: Eric Fryer
AA: Tony Sanchez, Ramon Cabrera
A+: Carlos Paulino, Elias Diaz
A: Samuel Gonzalez, Kawika Emsley-Pai
Lower: Jonathan Schwind, Ryan Hornback
B: Tony Sanchez
C+: Ramon Cabrera
C: Eric Fryer, Carlos Paulino
C-: Samuel Gonzalez, Elias Diaz
Profiles (Top 3 Prospects)
Tony Sanchez: Last season Sanchez struggled in AA but he remains in the opinion of most one of the Pirates top 10 overall prospects. He is the Pirates best hope of getting a strong 2-way catcher. The thought is that Sanchez was slowed last season because of the broken jaw he suffered the year before and the subsequent weight loss that followed. Sanchez is considered a strong defensive catcher and has been working on improving his game calling skills. On the offensive side Sanchez’s best tool is considered to be his power. Unfortunately last season Sanchez showed little in the terms of power or any offensive prowess for that matter. Over this past offseason Sanchez was able to regain most of the weight he lost because of his broken jaw and the Pirates are hoping this will vault him back to top prospect form.
Ramon Cabrera: Cabrera had a very strong showing in A+ last season, winning the league batting title. Under normal circumstance Cabrera should be moving up to AA as the starting catcher but due to Sanchez likely repeating the level Cabrera will probably be relegated to back up duty and DH duty. Cabrera’ s strength is that he can most definitely hit; he has shown the ability to post good averages and has even displayed decent plate discipline. The knock against Cabrera is that he isn’t strong defensively and that his small stature probably will lead to durability issues.
Eric Fryer: Fryer made a quick ascent to the majors last season while the Pirates were involved in catcher mania. He got a brief appearance in the majors but didn’t get much of a chance to show case himself. I get the feeling the Pirates are not too high on him and view him as nothing more than potentially a future utility player (he has seen time at C, 1B, 3B and the OF). Personally I am a little higher on Fryer than most and see him as a player who could turn into a very good major league backup and maybe even a serviceable starter. For this season Fryer will likely split time at catcher with Jose Morales in AAA at least until Sanchez proves himself worthy of playing in AAA. Once that happens Fryer may start to see time at other positions. for one hope he plays his way on to the major league roster and I believe there is a good chance for that to happen.
Summary: The Pirates have some intriguing catching prospects but in all reality most of them profile as nothing more than a backup or at the very most a marginal starter. The only real hope the Pirates have for a strong 2-way starting catcher is Tony Sanchez. Sanchez with a strong showing could arrive as early as September this season but some time next year seems more likely. The future of the catcher position for the Pirates is tied to Tony Sanchez. If he excels this season the immediate future at the position will be looking pretty good but if performs poorly the Pirates appear to have no other really solid starting option on the horizon. In short the future of this position is all on the shoulders of Sanchez. Best of luck to him this year.
Rod Barajas: Signed in the offseason Barajas will assume the role as the regular starting catcher in 2012. He has some durability issues so I expect him to start between 90 and 100 games. He will do his job of helping out the pitchers and giving some power to the bottom of the lineup (I’ll predict 14 HR). However is poor on base skills will prove to be frustrating as the season goes along and he will begin to lose playing time to other alternatives. It is possible that if a contending team develops a need for a catcher he could be moved at the deadline but I expect him to remain with the team for the duration of the season (except for the occasionally DL stint). His 2013 option will not be exercised at the end of the season.
Michael McKenry: McKenry will manage to edge out Jose Morales for the backup catching position but his playing time at first will be minimal. There will be sentiment amongst the fan base for him to receive the regular starts but his bat will simply not play. The power he displayed in the minors will not be seen this season but he will continue with the solid defense. I expect we will see his bat stay at about the same level it is currently meaning his OBP will be around .300 and his SLG will be around .350. The lack of bat will keep him out of the Pirates plans for the starting catcher job but his defense and handling of the pitching staff will allow him to hold down the backup job.
MINOR LEAGUE DEPTH
Jose Morales: Morales will compete with McKenry for the backup catcher job in Spring Training and this will be a real competition but in the end he will lose out and head to AAA to serve as the backup catcher. He does have an opt out clause but since he has another one later in the season I believe he will opt not to exercise the first and go to AAA. Morales’s bat plays better than McKenry but his defense is behind and McKenry’s familiarity with the staff puts him at a disadvantage. I expect Morales to receive a call up some point before his second opt out date and he will have a decent showing but will not remain on the roster.
Eric Fryer: I have rather high expectations of Fryer but I do not think the Pirates share my thought process. I am assuming Tony Sanchez will start the season in AA leaving the AAA catching job to Morales and Fryer. Hopefully if that is the case, Fryer will receive the majority of the playing time. Fryer’s defense behind the plate is good enough to be a starting catcher, in fact he is probably the best of all the upper level catchers at throwing out potential base stealers. His bat has always shown potential and I think this season will be no different as he should post solid AAA numbers. The Pirates will overlook his production and keep him down in AAA longer than he should be and sometime in June Sanchez will be promoted pushing Fryer to a reserve role. Somehow some way I expect Fryer to get a chance and have a good enough showing where the Pirates will consider going into 2013 with him as the starting catcher.
Tony Sanchez: Sanchez will begin the season in AA as the starting catcher. Last season was only a minor setback and he will rebound this season eventually earning a promotion to AAA. Having rebuilt his strength his power will return and his offensive game will develop. His defense is already strong and it will continue to improve. He probably will not show the type of bat the Pirates first hoped when drafting him but he will do enough this season to reestablish himself as the Pirates catcher of the future.
Ramon Cabrera: Cabrera should start the season in AA but due to the presence of Sanchez his time at catcher will be limited meaning he should see a decent number of at bats as a DH. Cabrera’s bat has never been his problem and he should do fairly well in AA. His stature and defense is what hurts his overall prospect value and obviously he cannot do anything about his stature but he will also have difficulties working on his defense until Sanchez is promoted. Cabrera’s hitting will almost surely take a downturn this year but that should be expected going from a hitter friendly home park to a pitcher one. Overall he should have a solid season and give the Pirates a solid catching prospect to start in AA or AAA next year (depending on how much time he has the starting catcher in AA this season).
Carlos Paulino: Paulino who was acquire last offseason for Jim Negrych had a surprising season in A+ last year and should be moving up to AA, however due to Sanchez being held back he will likely repeat the level. I believe his bat was greatly helped by being in A+ last year so not much can be determined until he gets his chance in AA. My prediction is that he will struggle. Even if his offense dose struggle Carlos Paulino has the defensive tools to make a decent backup in the majors. He will be a work in progress but is a good catcher to have in the system for depth purposes.
Summary: The Pirates will struggle to get good production in the major leagues from their catcher. Barajas is no longer an average major league catcher but will hopefully prove to be at least adequate but I have my doubts. McKenry has the making of being nothing more than a backup and while there is value in that it is lessened by the lack of a strong starter. Although this season’s combination may not prove too successful I foresee brighter days ahead. Eric Fryer should establish himself as a good major league backup and could even prove to be a decent fill in at starter. In reality though the future of the catching position is dependent upon Tony Sanchez and I see him having a good bounce back season. The 2012 season will not be a pretty one for the Pirates catchers but I see brighter days ahead with Fryer and Sanchez waiting in the wings.