Neal Huntington is given mad props for the FA he brought in last year, but one big key to the Bucco resurgence was the bullpen. Trader Neal added featured players like Jerry Sands and Clint Robinson into the fold as players to watch, but the useful pieces ended up being Mark Melancon, Jeanmar Gomez, Vin Mazzaro and perhaps Stolmy Pimentel.
So while the trade of Alex Dickerson to San Diego netted the Bucs a possible platoon/bench outfielder in Jaff Decker, the more immediate payoff may be with RHP Miles Mikolas.
Mikolas, 23, spent most of the 2013 season with AAA Tucson in the Pacific Coast League, where he went 4-2-26/3.25 ERA in 54 appearances covering 61 IP. None of his peripheral stats jumps out at you - 9.1 hits per 9, 1.295 WHIP, 2.5 walks and 5.9 K per nine, although they have to viewed a bit more gently due to the nature of the hit-happy PCL.
His biggest problem in the majors has been carrying over a couple of telling lines: in the minors, his HR per nine is 0.4 and his walk rate is 2.0; as a Padre, those numbers more than double, to 1.1 and 4.2. But if you did a little deeper, there are things to like beside his counting numbers, especially from a Pirate perspective.
First, he does have some pedigree in the show. In 2012, he made 25 appearances with the Padres, going 2-1 with a 3.65 ERA. Again, his peripherals belied his counting numbers - 1.1 HR per nine, 1.454 WHIP, and 4.2 walks per nine, leading to a 4.18 SIERA and 4.52 xFIP.
But more than performance, he fits the Pirate mold. He's 6'5" for starters, and his MLB fastball sits at 93-94 and has touched 98 to go along with a curve. His groundball rate for San Diego was 50.9%, right in the ballpark with his minor league numbers.
He's mostly a fastball/curve pitcher, but we think one number the Bucs may work on reversing is his four seam/two seam ratio. Mikolas tosses 54% of his deliveries as straight heaters and 10% as two seamers, and our guess is that the Pirate pitching mechanics will work on adjusting that mix.
His four seamer has plenty of zip, but it's been described as flat, so while his velocity has allowed him to get away
with the lack of movement in the minors, it's bit him in the majors, as his HR allowed indicate. Keeping the ball down and getting into pitcher's counts are key issues for Mikolas. And they do have time to work with him, as he still has an option left if he doesn't break camp with the Bucs.
Scouting services have him pegged as a middle man with a ceiling as a set-up guy. And that's just fine by the Buccos, which are looking for bullpen help despite a strong 2013 season, as pitchers like Bryan Morris and Jared Hughes could be on the outside looking in. Huntington bringing in Mikolas and bringing back Duke Welker is a pretty strong indicator that he's not going to allow the pen to sit on its past laurels. It's also possible that the middle of the pen gets a big shakeup through trade, conversion to the rotation, or both.
And hey - Mikolas is just the kind of guy to fit in with the denizens of the Shark Tank. He picked up the moniker "Lizard King" when, on a bet, he ate a lizard (washed down with a Dew) in the bullpen during a 2011 Arizona Fall League game. So we know he's got the chops; now to see about that sinker...