Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Felix Pie

Hey, the Bucs just signed Felix Pie! A handful of years ago, that would have been big news. He was touted to have five tools and be a rising with a bullet prospect earlier in the decade. Pie was included in Baseball America's Top 100 prospects for five straight years (2003-’07), peaking at #27 spot in 2006, and was Top 50 for three years running. But that was then; now it just means that Indy's roster is getting restocked, not reloaded.

The Dominican was signed in 2001 by the Cubs, and was inked on the cheap, receiving no signing bonus from Chi-town. After a year in the DSL, he was brought stateside to the rookie Arizona League and hit .321 for Mesa.

The next season, he was advanced to the Class A Lansing Lugnuts, where he hit .285 with 4 home runs and 47 RBI. In 2004, it was onward and upward to the High A Daytona Cubs, and Pie hit .299 with 8 home runs and 47 RBI.

The Cubbies moved him a step at a time - they were already smarting from criticism, probably justified, that they had rushed top pick Corey Patterson through their system - and in 2005 Pie joined the Class AA West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx. He had another solid season, banging away for a .304 BA with 11 home runs. It could have been better, but a broken ankle limited him to 59 games and cost him a possible call up during the season. Even though he missed most of the year, BA picked him as Chicago's top prospect.

After a slow start in 2006, Pie recovered to hit .282 in Class AAA Iowa with 15 long balls and an OBP of .341, and BA again rated him as the Cubs #1 prospect, ahead of LHP Donnie Veal. Pie played 55 games of the 2007 season with the Iowa Cubs as he yo-yo'ed between AAA and the show.

He was called up early, on April 17, 2007, and plugged into left field to replace the injured Alfonso Soriano. Pie got his first MLB hit that day, too, doubling off Greg Maddux. He was sort of a "player of the month" for the Windy City that season, spending May in Iowa, June in Chicago, and July back in Iowa until August 8th, when he made it to Wrigley for the rest of the season thanks to Cubbie injuries. Pie hit just .215 during his maiden voyage with the Cubs, getting 196 AB, and .362 with 9 HR in 250 PA for Iowa.

Still, the Cubs were impressed by the toolkit. With Patterson imploding, they traded CF'ed Jacques Jones, leaving the pasture job to a winner-take-all battle between Pie and Sam Fuld. Pie didn't help himself by being injured. Originally thought to be a groin injury, he ended up with a twisted testicle, ouch!

But it didn't cause him to miss much time, as painful as it sounds, and Pie won the job, starting on Opening Day. But he didn't get much chance to get a grip on the spot. Chicago had brought in Reed Johnson from Toronto as insurance just before camp and gave him the job short-term; Pie became primarily a defensive replacement by May. In the middle of the month, the Cubs signed Jim Edmonds, and sent Pie back to Iowa to get everyday at-bats. In 96 PA, he hit .241 for the Cubbies and again was solid in AAA, batting .287 with 10 HR.

On January 18, 2009, Pie was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for LHP Garrett Olson and Single-A pitcher Henry Williamson. He wasn't getting much playing time with the impatient Cubs, and many believed his potential was being wasted. At least the Orioles did.

In the 2009 season, Pie started in left field for the Orioles for most of April and part of May. But it looked like the Cubs were right; he started slowly and was bumped out of a starting role by rookie Nolan Reimold. Pie worked hard on the bench, though, going through drills with hitting coach Terry Crowley. Injuries to CF Adam Jones and Nolan Reimold gave Pie a chance to get back into the lineup, and he had a better second half. He ended up hitting .266 for the Birds.

He won the starting job in 2010 after a strong spring, but ended up on the DL when a back muscle separated from the bone. He didn't return until July, but ended up hitting a respectable .274. Pie's .305 OBP and 4:1 K-to-walk ratio were red flags, but Baltimore avoided arb with him by inking him to a one-year, $985K contract.

But he didn't play everyday in 2011, and hit just .220 with a sub-.300 OBP as Reimold reclaimed the job. Pie was DFA'ed in August and finished the year at AAA Norfolk. After the season, he opted for free agency and signed with the Indians. They released him in April when he didn't make the final spring cut.

Pie caught on with the Camden Riversharks of the independent Atlantic League, and a dozen or so games later signed a minor league contract with the Atlanta Braves and was sent to Class AAA Gwinnett. He hit .285 there, and a couple of days ago he signed a minor league deal with the Pirates with an invitation to spring training.

"The Cat" isn't the worst gamble a team could take. He's 27, has 1,051 PA and a .249 BA. He's not an instinctive outfielder, but he does make the occasional great running, wall crashing catch and has a strong arm. Pie also has good speed, but that hasn't translated into creditable base-running mojo; he runs the paths more like a playful puppy than a pro.

He has a 20% K rate and .298 OPB in the MLB, and as a projected top-of-the-order guy, those numbers clearly don't cut it. Pie's another lefty, and so he's in competition with Travis Snider and Alex Presley for an outfield spot.

But the Bucs love their highly-drafted reclamation projects. Pie can play all three positions, so he does profile as a LF'er for Pittsburgh, and that's a hybrid critter because of PNC Park's zigs and zags.

His minor league slash of .298 BA and .355 OBP also has to be teasing the Pirate FO, as it did with Chicago, Baltimore, Cleveland and Atlanta. His problem could be, like many ballplayers, that it's easier to put up numbers while in the lineup everyday, but a much tougher task to learn the discipline to platoon or come off the bench and be productive.

At worst, the Bucs have added another AAAA player to their organization and plugged an outfield hole at Indy. At best, they've inked an upgrade of Lastings Milledge with a bit of a Latin temper.

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