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
Heading into this offseason the Pirates seem to have a lot of positions set on the 25 man roster but that obviously doesn’t mean that there are not spots that could and should be upgraded. Trying to upgrade these positions the same ways as in year’s past (signing middling free agents) is probably not the best way to solve these problems as is evident by the failures of the last several years. So a new direction is needed and that could possibly include trades, NRI signings, Rule V draft, internal solutions, international signing, etc. My preferred strategy for the Pirates this offseason is to be minimally active in traditional free agency and instead focus on finding players through other means. Still free agency can not be entirely ignored and the idea of going for just one upper level free agent should also be considered. With all that being said I have found six positions that the Pittsburgh Pirates would be well served to upgrade. So in no particular order the positions are:
1. Starting Pitcher
5. Corner Outfield
Now I will go over the type of player I believe the Pirates should be looking for at each position and I’ll give the best fit of the available free agents and where necessary I’ll give an example of the type of player the Pirates should look to acquire via a trade. Again I’ll reiterate I’m not necessarily advocating acquiring these players just giving an example of the type the Pirates should be looking for.
Starting Pitcher: The way I see it the Pirates have only AJ Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez locked into the rotation to begin next season. James McDonald should also probably be in there some where but his end of the season struggles make him a question mark. Karstens is the other obvious candidate but he has durability/injury issues. The rest of the candidates, Locke, McPherson, Leroux, VandenHurk, Wilson, etc seem best suited for 5th starter or depth duty for now. So with three question marks of some variety in the rotation starting pitcher is an obvious need. In fact if the Pirates decide to go the route of one decent sized free agent signing I hope it is in the rotation as a Gavin Floyd or Edwin Jackson type could do a lot to help stabilize the rotation. However I am advocating different strategies this season so a trade for a good starter would be a good thing to consider as would a signing of a high upside risky pitcher. For example the pitchers I see fitting into this category are Francisco Liriano, Ervin Santana and Scott Baker. All 3 of those pitchers have a ton of upside and could get a reasonably large sum in free agency but conversely all 3 have significant faults which could drop their respective prices making them prime targets for the Pirates.
Bullpen: The only two players who should be considered near locks for the Pirates bullpen are Jared Hughes and Tony Watson. I also expect Bryan Morris and Chris Leroux to be part of the pen but they aren’t guarantees but we will say the Pirates are looking for 3 players to fill out the pen. Hanrahan of course is someone who could take one spot but I think the Pirates will and should trade him, hopefully doing so fills one of the other holes. Resigning Grilli should be another move the Pirates consider but I wouldn’t go with a big salary for him, I think my max would be 2 years at 4 million per season. To fill the other spots I think the Pirates should do what they have done the past few seasons which is scour for players like Jose Veras or Juan Cruz or even select someone in the Rule V draft. Waiver claims and low-level trades could also work. It is always difficult to predict which relievers will be available for low salary contracts or NRI but some names I like are Kyle Farnsworth, Randy Choate and Jon Rauch. Internally guys like Justin Wilson, Duke Welker and even Chris Resop are candidates to fill out the bullpen.
Catcher: Let me start by saying unequivocally that Rod Barajas should not be brought back at any price. Now as for McKenry he is a decent part of a catching tandem but give him anymore than 90 starts and I have a feeling things won’t be looking so good. So obviously some help is needed for him. Eric Fryer and Tony Sanchez are the internal options but Sanchez could use more time in AAA and Fryer well just isn’t that good. There are bound to be some available catchers that can be acquired via a trade such as Hank Conger and the Pirates should seriously consider that route but if they want to go the free agent route there is a pretty decent free agent market for catchers. Napoli is obviously the best available but is not someone the Pirates should ideally locate a lot of money to. Other catchers such as Russell Martin, Kelly Shoppach and David Ross make sense as well. I wouldn’t rule out a trade here but I think I would prefer going after a catcher like Shoppach and using the trade resources to go after some of the other needs.
Shortstop: Clint Barmes wasn’t as bad this season as most Pirates fans would lead you to believe. He had an awful April and May but was exactly what the Pirates should have expected to get the remainder of the season. With all that being said Barmes production shouldn’t have locked down the shortstop job for next season. The Pirates could look at free agency for an answer but the pickings are slim. Stephen Drew and Jhonny Peralta headline the class but Peralta may not even reach free agency and Drew is coming off a season argubly worse than Barmes. Still something needs to be done to address the shortstop problem because at the very least another solution is going to be needed in 2014. If the Pirates choose to go the trade route I hope they look for someone who has good on base skills and could hit near the top of the lineup. Players like that are rare from the shortstop position and are usually pretty expensive in terms of salary and what it would cost to acquire them via trade. One name that sticks out to me who by all accounts isn’t available but I imagine could be for a good offer is Jed Lowrie. Lowrie can play good defense and has consistently put up a good OBP. If the Pirates can acquire a shortstop in that mold that is the way to go otherwise when considering the options available through free agency sticking with Barmes and adding in more Jordy Mercer to prepare him for 2013 is probably the way to go.
Corner Outfield: The toughest need to really explain. Let me start by saying I am assuming Garrett Jones will split time with Gaby Sanchez at 1B meaning he will only play in the outfield sparingly if at all. If the Pirates decide to make him a OF the need for a corner outfielder greatly diminishes but the need for a 1B to compliment Gaby Sanchez increases, however I’ll ignore that possibility for now. The Pirates production from the corner outfield this season sans Jones was awful. The Pirates received the 2nd worst offensive production from LF this season and were only marginally decent in RF thanks to Jones playing there about half the time. This would seem an obvious spot to upgrade but yet it isn’t. The Pirates have 4 players vying to man these two positions with 3 of them being 24 years old (1 of the 3 will be 25 for all of next season). The Pirates have a ton of youth and potential to fill these 2 positions in Marte, Snider, Tabata and Presley but not much actual success to go on. I would assume Marte has got to be given a chance in one corner due to the fact he has the highest upside of the bunch and had the best season of the four last year. The other spot is where the need comes into play Snider will be playing next season at 25 years old and Tabata will be playing most of it at 24 years old. The two of them look like they could make a decent platoon in RF but with the uncertainty in LF this is not something the Pirates should count on. If the Pirates wanted to make a big splash for an offensive player this is where they should do it. A player like Angel Pagan makes a lot of sense as he could come in play a OF corner and hit atop the order. However due to the youth and potential the Pirates have here I’d rather see a big splash investment go to the pitching side and this be solved with a less splashy option. I envision the type of addition that makes the most sense is a veteran outfield who has good on base skills and who wouldn’t mind being a 4th outfielder but is capable of being a borderline starting option. The two players in free agency that best matches this description are Juan Pierre and Reed Johnson, however I am not too enthused about either of them. Just to give an example of the type of player I’m talking about I’ll mention David DeJesus. Now I doubt the Cubs will actively be looking to move DeJesus but a player like him capable of playing all 3 positions in the OF and maintaining a .340+ OBP is exactly what the Pirates should be looking for. If they can’t find one and they don’t choose to make a big splash I think the best option is to play Marte in LF, have Snider and Tabata platoon in RF, have Presley available in AAA and be open to using Jones in the outfield once again. That may not seem like a great option but neither is bringing in a middling free agent.
Bench: If there is one theme to what the Pirates need to do this offseason it is they have to get deeper. Deeper in the rotation, the bullpen, the lineup, the minor leagues and the bench. This past season the two Pirates who received the most pinch hit appearances were Josh Harrison and Jeff Clement. Both of them struggled and Clement for one shouldn’t be back. Going into next season the Pirates bench figures to include a backup catcher say McKenry, T Sanchez or an outside addition, Gaby Sanchez, a young middle infielder say Mercer, Holt or Harrison and a 4th outfielder say Snider, Tabata or an outside acquisition. That leaves one final spot which this past season belonged to Harrison. Harrison should absolutely be given a chance to win a spot on the bench but only the reserve middle infielder job. The Pirates should allocate some resources to improving this spot with offense being a key focus. Just looking at free agency the Pirates could choose to go for a pure pinch hitter and sign a 1B like Jason Giambi or Carlos Lee. Or since they seem to have a desire to carry at least 4 middle infielders at all times a guys like Maicer Izturis or Adam Kennedy could be pursued. Or they could carry 5 outfielders on the roster (which with Jones on the team seems like overkill) and get a player like Austin Kearns, Raul Ibanez or Reed Johnson. The other option is of course to go with a Mike Fontenot or Jeff Baker type who can play all over the field but that would likely sacrifice offensive production. It is very difficult to speculate on who else the Pirates may be able to acquire here so I’ll just leave it at that but something needs to be done to improve the Pirates bench.
Rod Barajas – Barajas came to the Pirates as a free agent this past offseason and at the time was widely considered one of the better options available. To put it bluntly his 2012 season with the Pittsburgh Pirates was just plain awful. Outside of a strong month of May Barajas struggled to hit and was horrible at throwing runners out all year long. I will give him credit for working with the pitching staff well and appearing to be a good game caller overall. When he was signed I thought it was a good move and I still think it was the Pirates needed someone to fill the catcher role and Barajas was amongst the best available. The problem I have was the continuation of giving him 60% of the starts when it became apparent he had lost it he should have gotten the smaller portion of the share meaning about 40%. Barajas has a 3,5 million dollar option for next season and while I see no way the Pirates pick it up I am dismissing the possibility of him resigning at a lower amount for next season. Overall Grade: D
Michael McKenry – Pittsburgh’s favorite catcher. The one a large percentage of the Pirates fan base, at one point this season, would have lead you to believe was amongst the best in the game. Sadly McKenry isn’t that good and all the talk about him needing to start 4 out of every 5 games was overblown (I believe only Yadier Molina, AJ Ellis, Miguel Montero and Matt Weiters approached that ratio). Still McKenry was without a doubt the Pirates best catcher this past season and has shown himself perfectly capable of being the smaller part in a catcher time share (he may be even able to handle the larger share but I’m not fully convinced of that yet). His offense outburst was surprising and probably unsustainable for following seasons but still a very positive sign. It was kind of funny this season to hear people saying he should be the “starter” this season because of his offense when the same people said last year he should be the “starter” because of his defense. Like Barajas, McKenry struggled mightily at throwing out runners. I expect McKenry will be back next season possibly even as the “starting” catcher. Overall Grade: B
Eric Fryer – Fryer did not play one single game at catcher for the Pirates which considering he is by far better than Barajas and McKenry at throwing out runners is a bit of a shame. Fryer simply doesn’t have the skill set to stick around the majors for a long period of time, he appears to be a very good depth option in the minors because he is a solid defensive catcher and can also play multiple positions but that is pretty much all. My expectations are that he will be removed early on from the 40 man roster. Overall Grade: C
Tony Sanchez – Sanchez did not have the greatest year in AA and AAA but did have a better showing than last season. He was steady but not spectacular in AA which earned him a promotion to AAA where he flashed a bit of power but overall struggled. Sanchez has a great arm and is an all around solid defensive catcher. His bat leaves some question marks and without a little bit of power he will probably struggle to hit well enough to remain a starting MLB catcher. Sanchez is eligible for the Rule V draft this season and I fully expect him to be added to the roster. There is an outside chance Sanchez starts the year with the Pirates in a time share with McKenry behind the plate but I fully expect him to get more seasoning at AAA. Sanchez will probably get a chance to claim the starting catcher job at some point next season though.
Wyatt Mathisen – Mathisen was the Pirates 2nd round draft pick this past season. He signed relatively quickly and started to play in the GCL. In high school Mathisen was the most athletic player on the team so he usually played shortstop but he did have some experience catcher and most scouts believed that is where his future was the brightest. Mathisen split time in the GCL between catcher and DH this season and put some very strong numbers. He has the look of a strong two way catching option and is one to watch for the next few seasons. There is a chance Mathisen could start next season in full season ball but I expect with catching being a relatively new full time thing for him we will see him in A- next year.
Jin-De Jhang – Jhang was the catcher splitting time with Mathisen this season and he too is relatively new to the catcher position. Jhang coincidently put up numbers very similar to Mathisen this season and profiles as a similar less athletic catcher. This was Jhang’s first season out of Taiwan and he handled himself well. Chances are either Jhang or Mathisen will make the jump to full season A ball next year and for some reason I get the sense that it will be Jhang but we will just have to wait and see.
Other Prospects – Charles Cutler (AAA*), Ramon Cabrera (AA*), Carlos Paulino (AA*), Jacob Stallings (A+*)
The * denotes my projected level for the player next season
1) Tony Sanchez
2) Wyatt Mathisen
3) Jin-De jhang
4) Ramon Cabrera
5) Jacob Stallings
1) Alex Dickerson
2) Matt Curry
3) Jose Osuna
4) Justin Howard
5) Edwin Espinal
1) Brock Holt
2) Dilson Herrera
3) Dan Gamache
4) Jarek Cunningham
5) Jodaneli Carvajal
1) Eric Wood
2) Kevin Ross
3) Eric Avila
4) Stefan Welch
5) D.J. Crumlich
1) Alen Hanson
2) Gift Ngoepe
3) Max Moroff
4) Gustavo Nunez
5) Drew Maggi
1) Gregory Polanco
2) Josh Bell
3) Barrett Barnes
4) Willy Garcia
5) Mel Rojas
6) Adalberto Santos
7) Tyler Gaffney
8) Elvis Escobar
9) Harold Ramirez
10) Quincy Latimore
11) Andrew Lambo
12) Candon Myles
13) Dan Grovatt
14) Jesus Vasquez
15) Luis Urena
Upper Level (AA and AAA) Pitchers
1) Gerrit Cole
2) Jeff Locke
3) Justin Wilson
4) Kyle McPherson
5) Bryan Morris
6) Victor Black
7) Duke Welker
8) Phillip Irwin
9) Brandon Cumpton
10) Jeff Inman
Middle Level (A and A+) Pitchers
1) Jameson Taillon
2) Nicholas Kingham
3) Robby Rowland
4) Casey Sadler
5) Zach Von Rosenberg
6) Jason Townsend
7) Zach Dodson
8) Porfirio Lopez
9) Nathan Kilcrease
10) Ryan Hafner
Lower Level (Rookie and A-) Pitcher
1) Luis Heredia
2) Clay Holmes
3) Tyler Glasnow
4) Adrian Sampson
5) Jonathan Sandfort
6) Joely Rodriguez
7) Pat Ludwig
8) Jackson Lodge
9) Dalton Friend
10) Andy Otamendi
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.
Lots of news in Pirate world recently. We have big time prospects, Sanchez and Allie making big time moves and we have the 2012 Rule IV MLB draft today.
As everyone probably knows by now Tony Sanchez was promoted to AAA last night. I imagine the general thought is he hasn’t done enough to earn the promotion and with a just a cursory glance at his season numbers, .277/.370/.390, one would probably be right but Sanchez has been heating up as late hitting for a .364/.417/.545 line in his last 10 AA games. The Pirates have no solution for the catching position in 2013 and beyond, Sanchez needs to show this organization what he is capable so the time for a push was now. Hopefully he can carry his hot streak over to AAA and once again become our catcher of the future.
There are a couple ripple effects to this move; first it fills the AAA roster with 25 players and oddly enough 4 catchers. The surplus of catchers at AAA likely mean additional moves will be made. At the AA level Ramon Cabrera, a interesting catching prospect himself, now becomes the normal starter which will hopefully help him pick up his game. In AAA Jose Morales who just passed on his June 1st opt out date now becomes the backup catcher, something I can’t think he would like too much. Kris Watts most likely becomes expendable from the AAA roster and will either be sent to AA or extended spring training. The other catcher on the AAA roster, Eric Fryer, appears to now be the #3 catcher on the depth chart and will likely only catch sparingly this season unless an injury occurs. Fryer does have flexibility though as he can also play 1B, 3B and the OF.
Stetson Allie’s big move is not a promotion or demotion or even a move to the bullpen but rather a move to 3B. Coming out of the draft Allie was considered a good 3B prospect but not 2nd round material and definitely not 2.25 million dollar signing bonus material. There is no other way to slice it, this is bad news for the Pirates.
Allie has a great arm and it was hoped his control problems could be reeled in but it appears as if the Pirates have now given up on that. All is not lost though Allie was considered one of the best high school power hitters in the 2010 draft and was considered a 3rd – 5th round talent as a 3B. Allie goes from being one of the best pure stuff pitching prospects in the Pirates system to one of the best pure power prospects in the system. If his game can translate it isn’t a horrible trade off. For what it is worth Allie was considered a big power bat with plate discipline issues when he was drafted.
I’ll update my prospect rankings after the draft and I honestly have no clue what I will do with Allie. He will of course fall, definitely out of my top 10 but will probably appear in my top 20 hitting prospects. I can tell you this he is in my opinion currently the Pirates best 3B prospect in the system.
Now as for the draft tonight there has been a lot of talk of Max Fried emerging to form a clear top 8 in the draft. I’m not particularly high on Fried but I think he would be decent value for the Pirates at 8 however his value to the Pirates may be more who he may push down rather than them selecting him. It is a rather wide held belief the Padres are interested in him at #7 and that means if they take him and the Mariners take Correra at #3 (also a rumored possibility) there is a very good chance Zunino would be available to the Pirates at #8 and that would be a steal. I’m hoping the first 8 picks work out something like this:
If the Pirates land Zunino or really any of those 8 guys or Giolito I will be quite happy with their 1st round pick. There are a couple of other players I wouldn’t mind in that slot (I discussed that earlier) but for now I’m hoping they wind up with one of those 9 and my preference is Almora or Zunino. It also is worth noting the Pirates have the 45th pick tonight as well thanks to the Twins signing Ryan Doumit. There are a few names I am hoping to fall there but we are now so late into the draft we just need to see how things play out.
I will try to post my feeling about the Pirates two selections tonight after they are made. A reminder the draft starts at 7 PM and our 2nd place Bucs get a day off before taking on the 1st place Reds.