Spring is in the air, and the Pirate pitchers and catchers are six days away from camp. This week, we're gonna take a look at the Bucco hurlers, starting with the finishers.
A bullpen is only as strong as its closer, and the Bucs have the dependable Matt Capps ready to finish out games. His strengths are a bulldog mentality, a low 90s heater, pin point control, and a developing off-speed pitch to spring on those dang lefties.
The 25-year old began his career as a starter, and at the time his change-up was considered his best pitch, so we think there's a lot of upside to him adding that to his selection menu, along with the occasional breaking ball.
Capps had an inconsistent year in 2008 (2-3-21, 3.02), held back by a bout of bursitis in his shoulder. It healed with rest, and he also committed himself to getting into better physical condition, coming into camp a little lighter and a lot more in shape.
This is a big year for Capps. The RHP became the closer in 2007 when Solly Torres couldn't hang onto the job, and until his injury made him mortal, he had the best save percentage in baseball.
Capps is also working on the last year of a contract paying him $2.35M in 2009, though he's under team control for two more years after that via arbitration. So he'd like to prove he can pitch a whole season and be da man this year.
Jesse Chavez was Indy's closer last year, and notched 14 saves with a 2.88 ERA. Pittsburgh got the 25-year old in 2006 as part of the Kip Wells deal, and he's a fairly hard thrower (93-95 MPH) with decent control.
But the RHP has a terrible split (.177/.282) against lefties, which limits his usefulness. Still, John Russell called his name during his September audition when the game was on the line, so the organization thinks he has some promise.
There are a couple of guys down the road with enough closer potential that the Pirates added them to the 40-man roster.
One is 25-year old RHP Jeff Sues, who was drafted by the organization in 2005 as a starter, but was bedeviled by injuries.
In what was basically his first full pro season, he threw well at both Lynchburg and Altoona. Sues hits the mid-90s when he's on, and his control is OK but sometimes streaky. He could end up at Indy at some point this year, and is on a fast track to Pittsburgh.
The other is surprise addition 22-year old RHP Ronald Uviedo. He struck out 88 batters in 87 innings of work at Lynchburg and Hickory walking just 20, and throws a 94 MPH fastball and sharp curve.
Both youngsters are fly ball pitchers, so they occasionally give up the long ball. They're also Rule-5 eligible, and that means they'll be fast tracked so that they don't jam up the 40-man roster.
Eric Krebs has a nice arm too, and was converted to the pen last year. But the 23-year old RHP, who throws a 94 MPH heater with a slider, has two problems - he's on the wild side, and he can't stay out of the tub. Still, he struck out 60 in 57 innings at Lynchburg and has upside that can't be ignored.
He's another Rule-5 eligible hurler, but slid through the lottery this year after being smacked in the face with a liner and missing some time in the minors, followed by being shut down with shoulder tenderness in Hawaii during fall ball. Krebs should start out at Altoona, and this season should sort out whether he's a pretender or prospect.
Tom Boleska, a 22-year old RHP who was lights out at Hickory, may be a player to watch. He struck out 47 in 45 innings, with an ERA of 2.36 and a WHIP of 0.93 for the Crawdads, throwing a mid-90s heater and slider. Boleska will start the season in the tub - he suffered an oblique sprain at the end of last year, and still isn't ready to go.
One young guy worth mentioning is Brent Klinger, who gave up one earned run, allowed just eight hits, and struck out 13 batters in 15-1/3 innings between the GCL and State College. The 20-year old RHP throws a 94 MPH heater and will probably be at West Virginia to open 2009.
Guys on the MLB roster that are considered having the stuff to close are RHPs Tyler Yates and Craig Hansen. Both throw bullets, but have to show they can find the plate before they're entrusted with a lead. And both are out of options, so they have to make the club in the spring or face being DFA'd. Yates should, but Hansen will be an interesting decision.
Daniel McCutchen was considered potential closer material back in his Yankee days thanks to his control, aggressive, right at 'em approach against hitters and his mental toughness, but the Pirate suits seem perfectly happy to have him start.
And given his upside and the nature of the Bucco rotation, GW can't find any fault in that thinking.
(Tomorrow - the bullpen bridges and backenders)