Monday, February 29, 2016

And We're Off...Black v Gold Scrimmage

The official spring opener, the 2016 Black and Gold kickoff scrimmage (we still miss ya, Manatee Community College) is slated for noon at McKechnie Field. And it's a nice, 5-1/2 inning showcase for the future of Bucco pitching.

For the Black club, Jameson Taillon gets the first two frames, Steven Brault the next pair and Chad Kuhl finishes up. Tyler Glasnow opens for the Gold, with Big John Holdzkom tossing the third frame and Trevor Williams coming on in the home stretch.

Pretty sweet matchup to start the spring (photo Dave Arrigo/Pirates)
The Gold lineup will be Alen Hanson 2B, Danny Ortiz CF, Jake Goebbert LF, Jason Rogers 1B, Ed Easley C, Max Moroff 3B, Pedro Florimon SS, Harold Ramirez RF & Juan Diaz DH, with Taillon pitching and C Jake Stalling on the bench. For the Black, the order is Cole Figueroa 2B, Adam Frazier CF, Matt Joyce LF, Willie Garcia RF, Josh Bell 1B, Elias Diaz C, Don Gamache 3B, Gift Ngoepe SS & Juan Diaz, DH (not a typo; he's listed on both cards). Glasnow does the tossing and C Reese McGuire is on the pine.

There are some interesting names - Ortiz, Goebbert, Rogers, Figueroa, Joyce & Florimon are all in roster battles while Hansen, Elias Diaz and Bell, along with Glasnow, Taillon & Holdzkom, may get a call at some point in the season - on the card today. Mix in future hopefuls such as McGuire, Moroff, Frazier, Ngoepe, Gamache, Stallings, Ramirez, Garcia and the other pitchers and it's a nice preview game.

Notes: Contract Kerfuffles; Take Out Rule; TV Sked & Random Stuff

Quiet camps...boring for bloggers but generally a good sign.

  • All 63 players made it to camp this week on time with nary a personal or visa problem.
  • The Bucs are fairly injury free to open camp. Cory Luebke has a strained right hammy that's day-to-day, and Robert Zarate has "left elbow discomfort," rut-roh. Jung Ho Kang is dipping his toe into normal baseball activities, and Gerritt Cole's rib seems to have calmed down as he's working off a mound. Jameson Taillon is tossing, so all is well.
  • Speaking of injury, the Player's Association & MLB  reached an agreement on take out slides; a more direct line is called for, with rolling or high slides now verboten. In exchange, the neighborhood play becomes reviewable, so the IF'ers actually will have to tag the bag for a forceout. JHK and Jordy both lost time to takeouts last year; Kang was in favor of the new rules while Mercer was kinda meh.
JHK should be a little less of a target at third. (photo: Dave Arrigo/Pirates)
  • 1B Michael Morse took some balls at third; 3B Jason Rogers took some balls at first; welcome to multi-tasking Pittsburgh, guys. Neither looks to take anyone's time away - seems like everyone on the roster can play those two spots - but the Pirates do like their guys to own several gloves.
  • Juan Nicasio joined Mark the Shark and Jared Hughes in trying out the new pitcher's protective cap in camp. 
  • Camp has been quiet enough that the writers are tossing out contract stuff - should Cutch be extended, or maybe Fran, while Gerrit Cole told the Trib's Rob Biertempfel that he's honked that his pre-arb deal is so chintzy (so is his agent Scott Boras). They're all busywork stories; Fran is plain & simply in his walk year, Cutch has three seasons to go on his deal, and Cole knows the service rules (he is the union rep); maybe he's firing the first salvo for next year's arb session.
  • Casey McGehee, 33, signed a MiLB deal w/camp invite with the Tigers.
  • The Pirates will be on MLB Network 15 times during the spring, along with a dozen games televised (with some overlap) by Root Sports
Spring TV schedule courtesy of the Pittsburgh Pirates

Sunday, February 28, 2016

2/28: HBD Boojum; Bucs Ink Rick, A-Ram, Jack; Clemente on TSN; COL; Drug Trials

  • 1897 - IF Ernest Judson (Jud or Boojum) Wilson was born in Remington, Virginia. Jud played for the Homestead Grays (1931-1932, 1940-1945) and had a brief stop with the Pittsburgh Crawfords in 1932. The Grays’ captain and Hall of Fame infielder compiled a .351 lifetime BA. He was indifferent with the glove and ornery - his Hall of Fame bio describes him as “ill tempered and fearless” - but may have been the best pure hitter the Negro Leagues ever produced. Satchel Paige gave him his nickname when he heard a line drive off Wilson's bat zip by his head. After that, Satchel called Jud by the sound the ball made: "Booh-ZHOOM!" per Dave Sheinin of the Washington Post.
  • 1926 - The Pirates announced an increase in ticket prices: with tax included box seats was $1.75; Reserved $1.50; Grandstand $1.10 and Bleachers remained at $.50.
  • 1970 - Roberto Clemente was featured on the cover of The Sporting News for the story “Swan Song?” TSN needn’t have worried; the 35 year old Arriba hit .352 and made the All Star team for the division-winning Buccos.
  • 1985 - RHP Rick Reuschel, 36, signed a free agent deal with the Bucs. He proved to be far from over the hill, working from 1985-87, going 31-30 with a 3.04 ERA with 91 starts while eating 586-2/3IP and winning an All-Star berth. He was flipped in a 1987 deadline deal with the Giants, traded for pitchers Scott Medvin and Jeff Robinson.
  • 1986 - Commissioner Peter Ueberroth gave seven players who were admitted drug users, including Pirates Dave Parker and Dale Berra, a choice of a year's suspension without pay or heavy fines (10% of their salary) and career-long drug testing‚ along with 100 hours of drug-related community service as a result of the Pittsburgh Cocaine trial.
  • 2002 - The team agreed to terms with 3B Aramis Ramirez on a back loaded, three-year contract extension through 2004 for $9.5M. The Bucs traded him to Chicago, along with Kenny Lofton, in mid-2003 for IF Bobby Hill and a minor league pitcher before the big money fell due. A-Ram finished his career with the Bucs in 2015, retiring after 18 MLB campaigns with a .283 BA, 368 HR and 1,417 RBI.
Aramis Ramirez 2001 Upper Deck
  • 2006 - The team & SS Jack Wilson worked out a three-year, $20.1M contract extension through the 2009 season with an $8.4M club option for 2010. He was sent to Seattle before the 2009 deadline. Injury-bitten in his later years (he only played 90 games or more once from 2008-12), he retired after the 2012 campaign.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

2/27: Pie, Cum, Jud, Ray & Pete Get the Call; HBD Craig; Bob Colman Sold

  • 1915 - C Bob Coleman, a Pirate backup who hit .245 during the 1913-14 seasons, was sold to Columbus of the American Association during the era when minor league clubs were independents. He made it back to the bigs with Cleveland in 1916, but after that, Bob toiled in the minors until hanging up the spikes in 1927 at age 36.
  • 1948 - 3B Pie Traynor was elected to the Hall of Fame by the baseball writers. The infielder spent his entire 17-year career with the Pirates, where he compiled a .320 lifetime batting average and never had a season where he struck out more than 28 times. Traynor was best known for his glove at the hot corner, where he recorded 2,288 putouts and started 308 double plays. He was formally inducted on June 13th, 1949, and accepted with a 40 word speech. Pie stayed in the City after his career and is buried in Homewood Cemetery.
Pie Traynor 1931 W517
  • 1977 - OF/PH Craig Monroe was born in Texarkana, Texas. The vet hadn’t had a solid year since 2006, but the Bucs inked him as a free agent in 2009, hoping for a bounce back from the 32 year old. They didn’t get it; he hit .215 with three homers and was released on July 1st, ending his MLB career.
  • 2006 - Homestead Gray player, manager and owner Cumberland “Cum” Posey was elected to the Hall of Fame’s Special Committee on the Negro Leagues, along with 1B/3B Jud Wilson of the Grays/Pittsburgh Crawfords and RHP Ray Brown, also of the Grays. Included in the class was OF Pete Hill, who was born (or at least raised from an early age) in Pittsburgh and first played for the Keystones. They were inducted on July 30th. 
Cum Posey 1913 via team photo

Friday, February 26, 2016

2/26: HBD Sam, Preacher & Vic; Simon Deal

  • 1863 - IF Simeon Henry Jean “Sam” LaRocque was born in St. Mathias, Quebec. Sam played fairly regularly for Pittsburgh in 1890, getting into 111 games w/481 PA, hitting .242, but after just one outing in 1891 was shipped to Louisville, where he ended his pro career. Sam did stay in baseball, managing in the minors.
  • 1909 - The Pirates traded IF Charlie Starr to the Boston Doves for a PTBNL, who was C Mike Simon. 1909 was Starr’s last season while Simon was a Pirate reserve catcher for the next five years, compiling a .244 BA and tossing out 45% or more of base stealers four of his five campaigns.
Preacher Roe 1945 Play Ball
  • 1916 - LHP Elwin “Preacher” Roe was born in Ash Flat, Arizona. Preacher worked early in his career with the Pirates from 1944-47, where he was 34-47/3.73. He started off with two strong years, but an off season fractured skull in 1945 was followed by a pair off poor campaigns. Preacher was traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers and bloomed (a spitter added to his arsenal helped him mightily), earning four All-Star berths and pitching in three different World Series. There are two versions of how he got his childhood nickname. One is that he was an ornery kid, and his grandma called him "Preacher" in hopes that he would eventually turn into one. The other, more likely, is that a minister and his wife used to take him around whenever they went out on their buggy, and he became Preacher because of his association with the couple.
  • 1930 - C/3B Vic Janowicz was born in Elyria, Ohio. A gridiron All-America and Heisman Trophy winner at Ohio State, Janowicz passed on football to sign for $75K as a bonus baby with the Bucs. He hit only .214 over two seasons (1953-54) as a bench player. He returned to football late in the 1954 season with the Washington Redskins, and was their starting halfback in 1955. An automobile accident in 1956 ended his athletic career.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

2/25: HBD Syd; Tony Womack Trade; Matt Lawton Signing; Anti-Trust Rules

  • 1929 - Pirate GM Syd Thrift was born in Locust Hill, Virginia. Thrift had been out of baseball for nine years when he was the surprise hire for general manager in 1985. He brought in dark horse Jim Leyland as manager and dealt veterans like Don Robinson, Tony Pena and Rick Reuschel in exchange for young prospects like Doug Drabek, Andy Van Slyke, Mike LaValliere, Mike Dunne, Chico Lind and Jeff Robinson. Thrift's term ended after the 1988 season when he was fired after noisily butting heads with team ownership. He’s credited for laying the foundation for the team's success in the early nineties under Jim Leyland.
Syd Thrift (with glasses) photo by Rick Stewart/Getty
  • 1957 - In a big day for MLB, the U.S. Supreme Court decided 6-3 that baseball is the only professional sport exempt from antitrust laws, withstanding a challenge from the NFL. Ever since, congressmen (mainly from areas without teams) threaten to rescind the exemption, but baseball has managed to dodge the bullet so far. The case was Radovich v. National Football League, and the NFL tried to sway the court to give it the same antitrust status as baseball, but the Supremes ruled that was a matter for legislative, not judicial, action.
  • 1999 - The Pirates traded 2B Tony Womack to the Arizona Diamondbacks for a player to be named later (P Jason Boyd) and OF Paul Weichard (minors). Womack led the NL in steals for three straight seasons, two with the Bucs, and played on Arizona and St. Louis World Series clubs.
Tony Womack 1997 Fleer Ultra Platinum
  • 2005 - OF Matt Lawton signed a one year, $7.75M deal with the Pirates. The Bucs traded him at the deadline to the Cubs for Jody Gerut. He had a solid half season, hitting .273 with 10 HR and 44 RBI before being flipped.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

2/24:HBD Hans, Wilbur & Earl; Bucs Threaten to Walk From 3RS

  • 1874 - Hall of Famer (he was part of the first class, with Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, et al) Honus Wagner was born in Chartiers, now a part of Carnegie. Considered by many to be the greatest SS to ever play, he spent 18 years (1900 -17) with Pittsburgh and played on a pair of World Series teams, winning in 1909. The Flying Dutchman won eight NL batting titles with a lifetime .328 BA. He drove in 100+ runs nine times and scored 100+ runs seven times. Wagner also served as a Pirate coach from 1933-51 and very briefly as a player/manager.
  • 1892 - LHP Wilbur Cooper was born in Bearsville, WV. Cooper tossed for 13 years in Pittsburgh, winning 202 games, the most in Pirate history, with a 2.74 ERA and 263 complete games to his credit. He and Carl Mays are the only two 20th century pitchers who worked over 3,000 innings with a sub-3.00 ERA that aren’t in the Hall of Fame.
Wilbur Cooper 1924 Diaz Cigarettes
  • 1907 - C Earl Grace was born in Barlow, Kentucky. He was a reserve catcher for the Bucs for five seasons (1931-35) with a .275 BA. Earl handled a glove as well as he handled a bat. In 1932, he finished the season with just one error in 413 chances to establish a then NL record with a .998 fielding percentage.
  • 1981 - How close were the Bucs to leaving? The Pirates, bleeding money, filed suit in the Allegheny County Courthouse for the annulment of its lease at Three Rivers Stadium after receiving relocation overtures from New Orleans, Washington & Tampa. The case was eventually resolved when the Galbreath family sold the team in 1985 to a public-private partnership after threatening bankruptcy.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

2/23: HBD Barney, Bo & Jaff; Pud, Luis & Raul Sign; Martin Dealt

  • 1885 - Pirate owner Barney Dreyfuss was born in Freiburg, Baden (Germany). He is often credited with the creation of the modern baseball World Series. Dreyfuss also built one of baseball's first modern steel and concrete baseball parks, Forbes Field, in 1909. During his period of ownership (1900-1932), the Pirates won six NL pennants and World Series titles in 1909 and 1925; only the New York Giants won more NL championships during the same period. He’s in the Hall of Fame as one of the founding fathers that helped steer MLB through its early growing pains.
  • 1888 - RHP James "Pud" Galvin signed with Pittsburgh for $3,000, including $1,000 in advance. The club offered the ace $3,500 with no front money, but Galvin needed the quick grand to carry him through the off season. “Gentleman Jeems” ended up in the Hall of Fame; he was a much better pitcher than financial planner.
Pud Galvin 1994 American Archives
  • 1963 - OF Bobby “Bo” Bonilla was born in the Bronx. The switch hitter spent six years in Pittsburgh (1986-91) with a line of .284/114/500 and was a four-time All Star for Pittsburgh before leaving in 1991 as an FA, signing a huge deal with the NY Mets.
  • 1981 - RHP Luis Tiant signed a minor league deal with the Bucs for a guaranteed $125K. He tossed in Class AAA Portland until August, when the 40 year old El Tiante was called up, going 2-5 with a 3.92 ERA down the stretch. He was released at the end of the season.
  • 1990 - OF’er Jaff Decker was born in Phoenix. A first round pick of the San Diego Padres in 2008 out of high school, he put in a couple of emergency stints in Pittsburgh in 2014-15, getting in 28 games and hitting .214, but with a strong .371 OBP. He moved on to the Tampa Bay organization in 2016.
Jaff Decker (image via MLB.com)
  • 2000 - The Bucs dealt Al Martin to the San Diego Padres for OF John Vander Wal and pitchers Jim Sak and Geraldo Padua. Martin played four more years as a platoon guy while Van der Wal lasted the better part of two seasons for the Bucs before being traded to the Giants. Sak & Padua never made it to the show.
  • 2004 - The Pirates signed free agent OF Raul Mondesi to a $1.15M contract. He left the team in May to fight a lawsuit in his native Dominican Republic, didn’t return, and was released for breach of contract. Mondesi suspiciously signed another deal with the Angels a few days later, but was out of baseball in 2005.

Monday, February 22, 2016

2/22: King of the Caribbean Dies; HBD Roy, Bill & Frankie; Orlando Signs; Buc & Steelers Visit WH

  • 1900 - C Roy Spencer was born in Scranton, NC. He played from 1925-27 on two World Series clubs as a reserve, appearing in the ‘27 Classic. In three years, he hit .307 for Pittsburgh. After leaving Pittsburgh, Spencer played nine more seasons, starting from 1929-32 for Washington.
  • 1911 - C Bill Baker was born in Paw Creek, NC. The backup played four seasons (1941-43, 1946) with Pittsburgh, missing a couple of years while in the Navy during WW2, and hit .247. Baker went into umpiring after his career, and worked his way up to the NL for a season before his knees finally gave out, an occupational hazard for an old catcher.
  • 1922 - SS Frankie Zak was born in Passaic, New Jersey. He played three years, all in Pittsburgh (1944-46), as a reserve infielder and pinch runner with a .266 lifetime BA. Even tho he only got 160 bats in 1944, he was named a replacement All-Star. The game was held at Forbes Field, and with wartime travel restrictions creating logistic problems, the NL took the easy road by selecting him (Frankie did hit .300 that season). Red Patterson in the New York Herald-Tribune explained “Frank Zak was substituted at the last moment for (Pirate) Pete Coscarart, who was supposed to replace Eddie Miller but went fishing before he could be notified.” A local sports scribe cracked "He (Zak) got a break. He thought he'd have to pay his way in." The poor guy couldn’t even get a memento; he was named to the team too late to have his name included in the All-Star program. 
Frankie Zak (image via Find A Grave)
  • 1980 - President Jimmy Carter hosted both the Steelers and Pirates in a single ceremony at the White House to celebrate their respective championship wins in Super Bowl XIV and the 1979 World Series. More than one observer believed that the ceremony had more to do with the upcoming Pennsylvania primary than trophies, but championship showcases, thought to be initiated by JFK, were made into an annual rite by Carter’s successor, Ronald Reagan.
  • 1985 - The Pirates signed Orlando Merced as a high school free agent at the age of 17. The Puerto Rican spent seven seasons with the Bucs, playing outfield and first, batting .283 from 1990-96 before being traded as part of the Jose Silva/Abraham Nunez deal with the Toronto Blue Jays.
  • 1999 - Howie Haak, known as the “King of the Caribbean” by baseball people and “Big Daddy” by young Latino ballplayers, died of a stroke at age 87. Haak scoured Latin America for the Pirates from 1950-88, when he resigned after a spat with GM Syd Thrift and beat the bushes for the Houston Astros for several years afterward. In 1984, Haak was selected as the first recipient of the Scout of the Year award, voted on by his peers. In his day, he signed scores of players for the Bucs, including Manny Sanguillen, Omar Moreno & Rennie Stennett of Panama; Tony Pena, Jose DeLeon, Frank Taveras & Cecilio Guante of the Dominican Republic, Ramon Hernandez & Junior Ortiz of Puerto Rico, Joe Christopher & Al McBean of the Virgin Islands, Roman Mejias & Orlando McFarlane of Cuba and Tony Armas of Venezuela. He also reeled in some US players, like Gino Cimoli, Dick Stuart, Dale Berra, Steve Nicosia, Joe Gibbon, Red Witt, John Candelaria and Bob Veale. 
Howie Haak (image via SABR)

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Notes: Joyce, Cole, JHK; Josh-Alen; Jared-Shark; Projected Wins & Other Randomness


Camp is humming quietly along...
  •  Pittsburgh signed Matt Joyce, a LH corner OF'er, to a MiLB deal w/camp invite. In six years with Tampa, he slashed .250/.342/.435 with an All-Star berth before failing to clear the Mendoza Line for the Haloes last season. He's getting a look as a possible fourth OF'er/bench lefty.
  • It's being pooh-poohed, but Gerrit Cole has "right rib inflammation" and has been on a modified PT program since January. No word on the cause, and let's hope it's just something that needs a little rest.
  • Jung Ho Kang has been doing some basic drills, and seems to be recovering at a nice pace. We'd still be surprised to see him start on Opening Day, but it's good news to know he'll be available sooner rather than later. In a related issue, the Player's Association and MLB are thought to be making headway on a sliding rule that could be ready for the season. Its exact form has yet TBD, but in the Arizona League, the players had to slide directly into the base, so that's one possible model.
  • Fangraphs'  Paul Swydan writes about a possible Josh Harrison/Alen Hanson conundrum
  • Jared Hughes and Mark Melancon sported the new protective pitcher's helmet while doing bullpens; the headgear looks a lot like a plastic golf visor cap. 
The New Lids (image via Adam Berry/MLB.com)
  • USA Today picked its 2016 team win totals; the Cubs have the highest projection in MLB with 101 wins, with the Bucs coming in third in the NL Central with 88 victories. Baseball Prospectus isn't sold on the division; they have the Cubs winning 92 games, but the Pirates & Cards barely breaking .500 and both missing the playoffs.
  • This year's Sunday throwback unis are based on the yellow 1979 World Series club's jersey, black pants, pillbox cap and all.
Cutch Sports the Throwback (image via Pittsburgh Pirates)
  • Doc Emrick, NBC hockey announcer and big Bucco fan, will call some as yet undisclosed Pirates spring training games w/Greg Brown.
  • Sam Dykstra of MiLB.com looks at the Central Division rookies, with the young Pirate arms being pretty impressive on paper. Also, Richard Justice of MLB.com selected 20 rookies who could impact the 2016 season. Among them were Tyler Glasnow, Jameson Taillon and Josh Bell.
  • Baseball America has a chart of the draft and international bonus pools; the Bucs are mid-pack. 
  • Tony Sanchez signed a MiLB deal with camp invite with the Blue Jays.
  • Ike Davis agreed to a minor league deal with the Rangers.
  • RHP Brooks Pounders, 25, is an NRI at the KC camp. The second rounder from 2009 has overcome TJ surgery & a torn lat to make his first MLB spring training appearance. He was traded to the Royals by the Bucs for IF Yamaico Navarro in 2011. 
  • John Sorce of Baseball Essentials has a piece on how the MLB divisions would look like if they were banded together by geography rather than the gerrymander process.

2/21: Bucs Back JR; First CBA; Groat in Hoops HoF

  • 1968 - Marvin Miller negotiated the first collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in history with the team owners. The agreement ran from January 1st‚ 1968 to December 31st‚ 1969. The minimum MLB player's salary was raised to $10‚000, meal money during the season went up to $15 a day‚ and players got $40 a week for training-camp expenses.
  • 2009 - The Pirates picked up manager John Russell’s contract option for the season. The sophomore skipper went 67-95 after taking Jim Tracy’s spot. "JR met or exceeded expectations in his first year as the Pirates' manager," GM Neal Huntington explained in a statement. JR skippered through the 2010 campaign, suffering through a dismal 105 loss year, and was replaced by Clint Hurdle.

John Russell (photo from Associated Press)
  • 2011 - Seven new members of the College Baseball Hall of Fame were announced, including Duke’s Dick Groat, who became the first player ever inducted into both the college basketball (he was a two-time All-America who considered hoops to be his best sport) and baseball halls. Groat won a World Series and MVP while with the Pirates, and in his 26 game NBA career with the Fort Wayne Pistons, he averaged 11.9 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists before joining the Bucs full-time.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

2/20: HBD Baron, Frankie & Tom; Meares Contract; IA Forms

  • 1873 - Utilityman Tom O’Brien was born in Verona. O’Brien played just two seasons for his hometown club (1898, 1900), hitting .274 for Pittsburgh before his untimely death while on a Cuban barnstorming tour in 1901.
  • 1877 - The International Association (so-called because it had a pair of Canadian clubs) was formed in Pittsburgh with the Alleghenys as one of the charter teams. Some baseball historians consider it to be the first minor league; others think the league was conceived to rival the National League. It was fairly short lived, folding after the 1880 season. It really didn’t have much a schedule; Alleghenys’ ace Pud Galvin tossed 18 of the 19 IA games played that first year.
  • 1920 - All-Star infielder and restaurateur Frankie Gustine was born in Hoopeston, Illinois. He played 10 years (1939-48) for the Bucs, hitting .268 as a Pirate and earning three All-Star spots. Gustine later became the head coach at Point Park College from 1968-74 and operated a bar/restaurant on Forbes Avenue in Oakland a few steps away from Forbes Field.
Frank Gustine (image from The Sporting News collection)
  • 1928 - The Baron of the Bullpen, ElRoy Face, was born in Stephentown, NY. He pitched fifteen years (1953, 1955-68) for the Bucs, going 100-93-188/3.36. Face was the first major leaguer to save 20 games more than once, leading the league three times and finishing second three times; in 1959 he set the still-standing major league record for winning percentage (.947) at 18-1, winning 22 games in a row over two seasons (19548-59). He held the NL record for career games pitched (846) from 1967-86, and the league record for career saves (193) from 1962-82. Face still holds the NL record for career wins in relief (96), and he held the league mark for career innings pitched in relief (1,211-1/3) until 1983.
ElRoy Face 1953 Topps
  • 1999 - The Pirates signed free agent SS Pat Meares to a $1.5M contract. In April, they extended the deal through the 2003 season for $15M. He broke his hand early in 1999, had surgery, and was out of baseball by 2002, having played 240 games for the Bucs and hitting .238.

Friday, February 19, 2016

2/19: AJ Trade; HBD Stew; Sausage Swatter Signing

  • 1982 - C Chris Stewart was born in Fontana, California. He joined the Pirates via trade in 2014, and hit .294 as Russ Martin’s caddy while providing solid defense. Stew signed a two year (plus a club option) contract in 2016 as the back-up to Francisco Cervelli. He’s familiar with the drill; he played behind Cervelli and Martin as a Yankee, too.
Stew 2014 Topps TSR Custom
  • 2004 - The Pirates signed 1B Randall Simon to an $800,000 FA contract months after trading him to the Cubs following his sausage-swatting incident in Milwaukee. He spent 26 days on the DL with a bad hammy, hit .194 upon his return and was released in August.
  • 2012 - The Pirates had RHP AJ Burnett drop in their laps. The Yankees sent him to Pittsburgh for farm hands Diego Moreno and Exicardo Cayones and agreed to pay $20M of the $33M remaining on the last two years of his contract. AJ went 26-21 with a 3.41 ERA in Pittsburgh before joining the Phils for an injury-plagued 2014 season. He returned to the Bucco fold in 2015 (9-7, 3.18 ERA) for his farewell campaign with a team-friendly $8.5M deal.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

2/18: HBD Luis, Manny, Bob & Bruce

  • 1927 - LHP Luis Arroyo was born in in Penuelas, Puerto Rico. “Tite” (a Latino nickname for Enrique, his middle name) was a screwballer who got a lot of ground outs. He tossed for the Bucs between 1956-57, with 12 starts in 72 appearances and a 6-14-2/4.69 ERA. After a year in AAA, he was converted full time to relief and spent his last four seasons in Yankee pinstripes, winning a World Series game and earning an All-Star nod in 1961.
  • 1938 - OF Manny Mota was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. The pinch hitter supreme spent six season (1963-68) with Pittsburgh as a fourth outfielder early in his career, hitting .297 during that span. It wasn’t until 1974 that the Dodgers used him solely as a bench bat and he came through in spades, smacking 150 career pinch hits.

Manny Mota 1967 Dexter Press
  • 1939 - RHP Bob Miller was born in St. Louis, Missouri. Miller spent 18 years in the show, tossing for the Bucs in 1971-72 (6-4-6, 2.19), while pitching in two NLCS sets and a World Series. He later managed in the Padres organization and was pitching coach for the Blue Jays and Giants. Miller pitched at a era that featured three Bob Millers, all tossing in the majors in the late 1950s, and in fact was teammates with Bob G. Miller in 1962 with the Mets.
  • 1950 - RHP Bruce Kison was born in Pasco, Washington. The righty pitched nine years (1971-79) for the Bucs, and his career bookended Pittsburgh World series titles; he was 4-1 in the post-season, including a memorable 6-1/3 shutout innings stint against the Orioles in game #4 of the 1971 Fall Classic. He was part of the rotation for three years, but was used mostly as a spot starter and long guy, putting up a Pirate pitching line of 81-63/3.49.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

2/17: HBD Ed; Turkey Trot; Nate Signs Deal; Groat DD Award; Rule Change

  • 1905 - LHP Ed Brandt was born in Spokane, Washington. In his final two MLB seasons (1937-38), he tossed for Pittsburgh and went 16-14-2/3.23. He was mostly a good pitcher on bad teams, winning 121 games in 11 years after taking his lumps during his first three seasons.
  • 1909 - The NL made it mandatory that a relief pitcher face one batter, and gave him five pitches to warm up. The rule countered managers who would yank a pitcher, bring in another (slowly) to kill a little time, and then pull him if they didn't like the pinch hitting match up or when the guy the skipper really wanted on the mound was good and loose. It eventually became Rule #6.2.2.
  • 1912 - The Pirates switched outfielders, sending Vin Campbell to the Boston Braves for Mike Donlin. Both players were solid hitters but neither were one trick ponies. Campbell was a successful businessman while Donlin was a vaudevillian, silent movie actor and all-around bon vivant. Both left baseball for periods of time to hold out for bigger salaries knowing they could make better money at their side jobs. They each ended up playing just one year for their new teams, then sat out the 1913 season. Donlin hit .316 in 77 games for the 1912 Pirates while Campbell hit .296 and led the league in at-bats for the Braves that season. On a side note, Donlin was nicknamed “Turkey Mike” due to his red neck and distinctive strut. It’s said many fans even imitated his way of walking, but it wasn't a moniker that he particularly cared for.
Mike Donlin (image via The Deadball Era)
  • 2009 - CF Nate McLouth signed a three-year, $15.75M contract with an option that bought out his arbitration years. It guaranteed his salary but not his home; he was traded to Atlanta in June to clear the CF spot for Andrew McCutchen. He returned to the Bucs briefly in 2012, and since then has played in Baltimore and Washington. A free agent this season, the 34 year old has done OK, earning $30M in 10 campaigns.
  • 2016 - Dick Groat was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 80th annual Dapper Dan Dinner. In 1960, Groat hit .325 and was named NL MVP for the WS winners and earned three All-Star berths as a Bucco SS. He was also a two-time All America at Duke as a hoopster.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Heading to Camp: Bullpen Depth

Interesting crew collected by the FO this year; some vets, comeback kids and AAAA guys with an option or two to work with and a smattering of southpaws. The odds are one of them will break camp with the Buccos. Long guy? Lefty? Lots of choices with this gang.

Rob Scahill: Rob had a pretty mediocre set of numbers at Colorado, but it's often difficult to judge a guy that works at altitude (tho his numbers show no big divergence between home and away outings). He hasn't set the world afire in the minors, either. But he did work 28 games for the Bucs last year, putting up a 2.64 ERA, with the caveat that his peripherals weren't pretty, especially the 1.598 WHIP and 4.7 walks per game. Scahill did put together a nice 61.6% ground ball rate and throws a 93 MPH sinker, so he has a chance to break camp with the team if he can find the strike zone. If not, he still has an option remaining.

John Holdzkom: Holdzkom was a great story during the 2014 stretch, but the 2015 chapter wasn't as bright. He battled control issues, dead arm and the death of his brother. This is a new year, and we'll see how Big John and his mid-nineties heat plays. He did get a 56.3% groundball rate to go with 14 K per game in 2014 with the big club, so there's a lot to like, especially if he can add a second pitch. He is on the 40-man roster but with two options left, making it likely that the team will start him at Indy for a little rust removal unless he has a lights-out camp. The FO wants him under their eye; he was refused team permission to join New Zealand's World Baseball Classic club.

John Holdzkom 2015 (photo Dave Arrigo/Pirates)


Robert Zarate: Southpaw Zarate, 29, has taken an international approach to his game, having pitched for the Toronto Blue Jays system through 2008, then spending the next six years with various Nippon League & Japanese indies while wintering in his native Venezuela. He put up some nice numbers in AAA last year, with a 2.76 ERA, .197 opponent BA (.135 v LH), 1.091 WHIP and 10.7 K per game (3.3 walks). He tosses a low-nineties heater with a slider and change. Robert has also started fairly regularly in his career, so he's an intriguing boom or bust kinda character who could fill in anywhere from LOOGY to long man.

Eric O'Flaherty: The 31 year old southpaw was an effective setup man for the Braves from 2009-2012, with a ground ball rate of 57%. He had TJ surgery in 2013, bounced back with a good second half of 2014 with the A's and then was put through the wringer last year, tho he kept up his good worm-burner rate with a 58% score. Eric's a fastball (90)/slider (84) guy, with his velo down a couple of ticks from his Bravo days, as it's been since returning from TJ rehab. O'Flaherty will be a NRI at camp.

Cory Luebke: The ex-Padre lefty was a first rounder for SD in 2007, but hasn’t pitched since 2012 after going through a pair of TJ procedures. He started quite a few games for SD (25 out of 55 outings) but with his arm history, his role is TBD; we're guessing bullpen. His arsenal is (or was) a rising low-nineties fastball and good change with a hard slider and 12-to-6 hook. Cory (31 in March) will be coming to camp as a NRI. Bucco factoids - the Pirates drafted him out of Marion (OH) High School in 2004, but he opted for Ohio State. And he decided to sign here after hearing good things about the org from his old SD roomie, Clayton Richard, per MLB.com's Adam Berry.

Jorge Rondon: Rondon can hit 100 with his heater, one of four heavy pitches in his toolkit. He's a sinker ball guy on top of that velocity, and the Bucs tend to bring out the best in those arms. They'll have to; he's gotten a couple of sips of coffee in the bigs and been belted around. But he's 27 with a power arm and coming off a decent  AAA year - 2.90 ERA, 49 K in 40 IP and 15 BB; not bad by comparison to most of the field, so he's worth the flyer. Rondon does have a couple of strikes against him, tho - he's non-rostered and out of options, so it may be break camp or bust for him.

Guido Knudson: Knudson, 26, was claimed from the Tigers, released by the Bucs and then re-signed, so it appears the Pirates do have some interest in having him in the system. Guido was clocked in a brief Motown stint, but had a pretty solid  minor league year between AA-AAA. He's started a few games on the farm, and was often called upon to work multiple innings. Knudson is a high K, high BB guy (what else is new) with a 93 MPH heater and a slider to go along with it. As a guy that misses bats (and the plate) who can eat some innings; he profiles as a middle-inning organizational depth arm. If he gets a call up, he does have two options to work with.

Guido Knudson (photo via Pirates)
Trey Haley: Haley, 25, was a second round pick of Indians who put up a 2.45 ERA in 43 appearances at the Tribe's AA-AAA levels. He's another power arm with his fastball in the high nineties and a nasty hook as his main weapons. As with seemingly every new name, he has good minor league K numbers (8.6 per game) and an equally high walk rate; in fact, at 6.5 walks per game, he may be the wildest of the Bucs wild children. The Pirates are hoping their worked-to-the-bone staff of gurus can point him toward the plate. He was signed to a big league deal and placed on the 40 man. With two options remaining, they have time to develop him as long as he can hold a roster spot, so he's almost assured to open at Indy.

Curtis Partch: Partch, 28, fits the mold - 6'5", big heater (mid nineties), punch-out power arm, and treats the strike zone like a foreign object. He had a couple of stints with the Reds and spent last year in the Giants system. Aside from dubious command, the knock on his fastball is that it's flat, ala old Bucco prospect Victor Black. Curtis is a project for the Bucs; the FO loves big arms and have had some luck in reining in control issues, so he's joining the 2016 fixer-upper class.

Jim Fuller: Another lefty depth guy. Fuller, 28, is a finesse arm, tossing the upper eighties (his fastball is hard to pick up despite the low velo; one scout described it as "invisible") with a slow curve and an eighties slider. He's posted good back-to-back MiLB seasons, first in AA then following up in AAA. Jim projects as a LOOGY and should start in the minors.

Daniel Bard: The Bucs signed former Red Sox reliever Daniel Bard, 30, to a minor league deal. He's trying to rally from surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, the same malady that iced former prospect Craig Hansen's career. He was once a top gun, hitting the high nineties with his fastball. He's got an interesting pedigree, and although he didn't make it out of the Cub's instructional camp in 2015, a comeback by Daniel would add some unexpected gravy to the Bucco menu.

Next up: Heading to Camp - The Catchers 

Prior Posts:
Heading to Camp: Starting Pitching, Eight Deep
Heading to Camp: Starting Pitching, On the Way & Depth Arms  

Heading to Camp: Bullpen Core

2/16: Han #33 Retired; Breakfast of Champions; A Couple of Awkward Signings

  • 1952 - Carnegie’s Honus Wagner’s #33 was retired after he bid farewell as a Bucco coach at the age of 77 after serving 39 years with the team. The Bucs also honored him by giving him a lifetime pension at full pay. Other retired Pirate numbers belong to Billy Meyer (1), Ralph Kiner (4), Willie Stargell (8), Bill Mazeroski (9), Pie Traynor (20), Roberto Clemente (21) and Danny Murtaugh (40). Han’s was the first number retired in franchise history, and with good cause. He finished his career with a .329 average and won eight NL batting titles, ranking among the Pirates' top 10 in 11 offensive categories. He was a coach with the Pirates between 1933 and 1951. The Flying Dutchman was also part of the first Hall-of-Fame class ever selected, along with Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson and Babe Ruth.
Honus Wagner via Dugout Legends
  • 1996 - General Mills put out a Wheaties cereal box commemorating Negro League stars Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson and Cool Papa Bell to celebrate the league's 75th anniversary. All three legendary figures played for Pittsburgh and/or Homestead at some point in their Hall of Fame careers.
  • 2000 - The Pirates signed RHP Leo Nunez out of the Dominican Republic. He never twirled for the Bucs, being traded to KC in 2004 and made the news in 2011 when he admitted to being Juan Carlos Oviedo, not Leo Nunez, a fake ID he used to shave a year off his age and make him a more desirable prospect. He pitched thru 2011, served a lengthy suspension to start 2012 and then blew out his elbow during rehab, requiring TJ surgery. Juan/Leo returned to the show in 2014, but hasn’t appeared on a MLB hill since that season.
  • 2002 - RHP Ron Villone signed a $900K FA contract with the Bucs, making Pittsburgh one of his 12 MLB stops in a 15 year career. He went 4-6 with a 5.81 ERA for the Pirates and was released at the end of the year.

Monday, February 15, 2016

2/15: HBD Russ, Barry & Don; Lockout; Vic Willis Sold

  • 1910 - The Pirates sold RHP Vic Willis to the Cardinals. Vic was a 20+ game winner for the Bucs during his four year stint, going 89-46 with a 2.08 ERA from 1906-09. But the 34 year old Willis was running on empty. He won nine games for St. Louis, and 1910 was his big league swan song.
Vic Willis via Pittsburgh Heroes of Baseball
  • 1956 - The Pirates and the Kansas City A's canceled an pair of exhibition games in Birmingham‚ Alabama‚ because of a local ordinance barring black players from playing against white players. The two teams moved the spring games to New Orleans.
  • 1963 - RHP Barry Jones was born in Centerville, Indiana. He began his career in Pittsburgh after being selected in the third round of the 1984 draft. From 1986-88, Jones went 6-9-6/3.81 with the Bucs before being traded to the White Sox for Dave LaPoint. After an eight year career, he moved to Murrysville, and spent several months helping to build PNC Park as a project manager for the concrete contractor.
  • 1980 - IF Don Kelly was born in Butler. Kelly went to Mt Lebanon HS and Point Park College before signing with the Bucs and making his debut in 2007. From 2009 onward, he’s played with the Tigers, moving on to the Marlins during this off season. He married Carrie Walker in 2007; his brother-in-law is Neil Walker and his father-in-law is former big league pitcher Tom Walker. The Kellys live in Wexford.
Don Kelly 2007 Pirate promo photo
  • 1983 - C Russ Martin was born in East York, Ontario, Canada. The free agent pickup was with the Pirates from 2013-14, hitting .256 and rated highly behind the dish in all the defensive metrics and intangibles. The Toronto Blue Jays signed him to a five-year, $82M FA contract during the 2014 off season after Russ had a career year at the plate.
  • 1990 - The owners refused to open spring training camps without a new Basic Agreement with the Players' Association, beginning a lockout that lasted 32 days and delayed the start of the regular season by one week. The beef was over an owner plan to cap payroll at 48% of the league revenues; the MLBPA and Donald Fehr wanted no part of a cap. They eventually settled on “Super Two” arb, a raise in the minimum salary and adding an extra player to the active roster as the cap plan was sentenced to "death by committee."

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Heading to Camp: The Bullpen Core

Going into camp, the Bucco bullpen locks appear to be Mark Melancon, Tony Watson, Arquimedes Caminero, Jared Hughes and newcomers Juan Nicasio and Neftali Feliz. Notables losses from last year's stellar gang are Joakim Soria, Antonio Bastardo and Joe Blanton. And they were a good crew - the Bucs lost once all year when leading after seven frames as the pen posted the MLB's top relief ERA.

They were retooled after the 2014 campaign too, when guys like Jason Grilli, Justin Wilson, Bryan Morris, Vin Mazzaro, Stolmy Pimentel, Jeanmar Gomez, Ernesto Frieri and Big John Holdzkum answered the phone. This year's shuffle is the Pirate rule, not the exception.

One opening remains in the relief corp. Assuming Feliz and Nicasio will offset Soria and Blanton, that makes the Bucs one shutdown lefty short of last year's group. But Bastardo was, like Watson, a guy that was effective against either side, so the Bucs may opt to fill in with a two-way arm instead of another lefty, although that does leave Clint a little short in the match-up game, a familiar scenario.

The Bucs have loaded up with NRI lefties; it's TBD if any have the stuff to break camp.

Here's a quick look at the anticipated pen:

Mark Melancon: It's probably the 30 year old Shark's last Pirate go-around; Watson is just about ready to close and Melancon's $9.65M deal is rich for the FO's liking, although they do have to face the music and realize the back end of bullpens are tough to build on the cheap anymore. Mark had another effective year in 2015, albeit with some SABR-metric red flags. His saving grace is that his BABIP for the past two years has been in the mid-.250 range, and between coaxing soft contact and the infield positioning, he's been able to outperform the metrics. Still, if the Bucs are floundering at the deadline, he'll be dangled again, as he was this winter, before his 2017 walk year.

The Shark celebrates another save with Fran (photo Dave Arrigo/Pirates)
Tony Watson: The heir apparent, Tony is another one whose ERA far outpaces his FIP. In his case, the reason is because his WHIP has been under 1.000 two of the last three seasons, and he's stingy with both hits and walks. No runners, no runs. Great durability, too, with 290 appearances in the past four campaigns. The only flag for him was a drop in K rate from 9.4/9 innings in 2015 to 7.4 last year. He's making $3.45M this season with another arb year to go.

Arquimedes Caminero: Uncle Ray got him to quit trying to throw the ball through the backstop, and tho his K rate dropped by a couple per game, so did his walks. Oddly enough, per Fangraphs his fastball velocity went up to 97.9 and his ground ball rate increased to 47.6%, both career highs. So a little less grunting added some movement, and he's turned into an effective bridge guy. Arquie only has a year's service time, so he's under team control for the long haul.

Jared Hughes: The true fireman, Clint brings him in anytime a ground ball is needed to stop the bleeding, and he's thrived in that role. As long as he continues to get the ball hit into the dirt at his career 61.7% rate, they'll be a spot for him. Additionally, he can soak up multiple innings, so he's the perfect middle man. Hughes is inked to a $2.175M deal and has two more arb years ahead.

Jared Hughes (photo Dave Arrigo/Pirates)
Juan Nicasio: The Bucs signed him to a one year/$3M deal after he posted a 1-3/ 3.86 slash with a save for the Dodgers in 52 relief appearances and one start. He averaged10K per nine featuring a heater that averages 95 and touches on 98. The down side - five walks per game. He's the opposite of most Pirate relievers, as he underperformed his FIP of 2.83. He does bring a great deal of versatility to the mix, having been a starter for much of his career, and the Pirates have all sorts of options. Nicasio is, by plan, going to be stretched out as a starter in camp, although he could be a fit for just about any spot from a multiple innings eater to the back end. He has one more arb year remaining.

Neftali Feliz: Since his 2011 season, including 2010's RoY (he saved 72 games from 2010-11), Neftali has been through the wringer, being switched to the rotation, encountering control issues and then undergoing TJ surgery. He's lost a couple of feet from his heater, though he still guns it in at 94, and opposite of the Pirates' preferred mold, is a 50% fly-ball guy. But his control is OK, the OF can cover pretty well, and Searage has had bigger train wrecks to work with. His 6.38 ERA last year was two runs over his FIP, largely fed by an unsightly .349 BABIP. The Bucs bet $3.9M that he'll have a healthy arm and bounce back this year. In what role has yet to be determined; he has an early back-end resume but mop-up results last year. He should be motivated; 2017 is his FA season.

Next up: The Pirate Bullpen's Depth Arms 

Prior Posts:
Heading to Camp: Starting Pitching, Eight Deep
Heading to Camp: Starting Pitching, On the Way & Depth Arms

2/14: First Negro League w/Keystones; HBD Earl & Damaso; McClatchy Buys Bucs

  • 1887 - Per Wikipedia, the National Colored Base Ball League, the first attempt at a professional Negro League, was organized at a meeting in Baltimore. Eight clubs were represented, including the original Pittsburgh Keystones. The league quickly folded (the Keystones finished 3-4), but set a foundation that would eventually allow the Pittsburgh Crawfords and Homestead Grays to enter the baseball scene. The Keystones went dormant, then were revived briefly from 1921-22 to play in the Negro National League. Their home field was Central Park (also known as Keystone Park or Chauncey Street Park), located in the Hill at the corner of Chauncey Street and Humber Way. The park was built by black architect Louis Bellinger, who would later design Greenlee Field for the Pittsburgh Crawfords.
Keystones Emblem (image via Joes Sports)
  • 1897 - C Earl Smith was born in Sheridan, Arizona. Smith spent five of his 12 big league years in Pittsburgh from 1924-28, hitting .315 over that span. He was a member of the 1925 World Series-winning club (he hit .350 v Washington) and the 1927 Series team that lost to the Yankees. Smith was suspended for a spell in 1925 for brawling with a fan in Boston; not only did he lose time to the league, but he was laid up briefly after the fact when a second fan clunked him with a chair!
  • 1975 - LHP Damaso Marte was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. He pitched for the Bucs in 2001 and again from 2006-08. He went 7-8-5 with a 3.52 ERA and struck out 200 batters in 186-⅔ IP. In 2008, during his second stint as a Bucco, Marte and Xavier Nady were traded to the Yankees for four prospects: José Tábata, Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens, and Daniel McCutchen.
Damaso Marte (photo Linda Cataffo/NY Daily News)
  • 1996 - Kevin McClatchy and partners purchased the Pirates from the Pittsburgh Associates with the understanding that a baseball-only stadium be built within five years. The sale saved the franchise from being moved out of Pittsburgh by other potential buyers and provided for a new ballyard, but proved a mixed blessing.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Notes: Prospect Props; Off Season Stuff; JHK; Ex-Bucs & Media

Lotta love for Pirate prospects this week...

  • Jim Duquette of MLB.com believes the Walker-for-Neise deal was one of those rare win-win swaps.
  • Anthony Castrovince of Sports on Earth identifies a key question going into the spring for every team. For the Pirates, he hones in on the recovery of Jung Ho Kang.
  • Cliff Corcoran of Sports Illustrated doesn't think very highly of the Pirates off-season. While giving the FO the benefit of the doubt because of past moves, he wrote that "...given how competitive their division is, how successful the Cubs’ off-season was and how much talent was available this winter, Pittsburgh had to do more this winter to keep pace." 
  • The Sporting News says the Vegas line for 2016 in the Central has the Cubs with 89 wins, the Cards with 87.5 and the Pirates with 87. 
  • Scout.com ranks seven Pirate prospects among their Top 100:  Tyler Glasnow #6, Austin Meadows #26, Josh Bell #46, Jameson Taillon #53, Ke'Bryan Hayes #57, Alen Hansen #80 and Reese McGuire #93.
Ke'Bryan Hayes (image from MLB.com)
  • USA Today selected 100 young players primed to make impacts during the major league season, and the Bucs had four on the list - Tyler Glasnow, Josh Bell, Jamison Taillon and Austin Meadows.  
  • Keith Law of ESPN rated the Pirate minor league system as #8 (Insider behind a subscription wall). He also ranks four Pirate pups in his Top 100: Tyler Glasnow #6, Austin Meadows #16, Kevin Newman #23, and Josh Bell #56, also behind a subscriber wall. Yes to Newman and no to Jameson Taillon are the biggest outliers.
  • In a Q&A piece, Jim Callis of MLB.com picks  his "All Leap" team - ten currently unranked minor leaguers who could became Top 50 prospects in 2017. The Bucs had a pair - 3b Ke'Bryan Hayes & OF Harold Ramirez.
  • Po' Bobby LaFromboise was DFA'ed by the Phils; it's the third time during the off season he's lost a 40-man roster spot. He cleared waivers and was assigned to AAA by Philly, with an invite to camp.
  • The White Sox crossed off one more name that had been at least tossed about for the Buccos (altho it's doubtful the FO had any serious interest in him, judging by the offer he accepted) when they signed RHP Mat Latos to 1-year/$3M contract. They also inked 1B Travis Ishikawa to a MilB deal with an invite to camp.
  • Sad baseball tale: Met reliever Jenrry Mejia, 26, has been banned from the game. Mejia got his third strike when he was permanently suspended (with loss of salary) following a third positive test for PED use. Mejia is the first major or minor league player to receive a permanent suspension under MLB’s drug-testing program. Amazingly, he collected all three strikes within a span of 10 months. A lifetime ban is a misnomer, though - he can apply for reinstatement after a year, and if successful, he'd have to serve another year suspension. So he's out for a minimum of two years.
  • MLB.com writer Tom Singer, who covered the Pirates for the past three years, passed away suddenly in his Arizona home.We'll miss his quirky and light touch.
  • Root Sports will broadcast 12 Pirate spring training games, beginning Friday, March 4th against the Twins at McKechnie Field. The matches will also feature a 30 minute pre-and-post game segment.

2/13: Cool Papa HoF Day; Nellie Passes Away; The Deal That Wasn't; HBD Pete; Inge Signing

  • 1921 - IF Pete Castiglione was born in Greenwich, Connecticut. He played seven years (1947-53) for the Bucs, mainly as a reserve, and hit .258 for Pittsburgh. Pete actually signed with the Bucs in 1940, but he joined the Navy in 1943 and served two years in the Pacific. He participated in campaigns at the Solomon Islands, New Guinea, Palau Islands, Philippine Islands and Okinawa, and was at Wakayama, Japan at the end of the war, so his best work may not have been at Forbes Field, but in the Pacific theater.
  • 1974 - OF James "Cool Papa" Bell was named to the Hall of Fame by the Special Committee on the Negro Leagues. He played for both the Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords, and was inducted on August 12th. Cool Papa joined the Homestead Grays in 1943, and they won league championships in Bell's first two seasons. They were foiled going for the trifecta, losing in the 1945 World Series to the Cleveland Buckeyes. Per Biography.com, he got his moniker when he began as a pitcher for the St. Louis Stars in the Negro National League. He was dubbed “Cool” when he struck out legendary Oscar Charleston; Bell's manager added the “Papa.”
Cool Papa Bell (photo via Negro League History Museum)
  • 1980 - As a five-and-ten veteran, OF’er Bill Robinson vetoed his proposed trade to the Houston Astros for pitcher Joaquin Andujar when Houston wouldn’t offer him a new contract. It’s hard to project how the trade would have worked out. Robinson had a strong 1980 campaign, then faded away, while Andujar wouldn’t hit his prime until 1982, winning 61 games and two All Star berths between then and 1985 as a St. Louis Cardinal. 
Bill Robinson 1979 (photo Associated Press)
  • 2005 - RHP Nelson “Nellie” Briles, who was part of the Pirates 1971 World Series club, died at age 61 in Orlando, Florida, after suffering a heart attack at a Pirates alumni golf tournament. In his game five start in the Series against the Orioles, Briles pitched a two-hit, complete game 4-0 shutout, also driving in a run with a second inning single. He pitched three seasons for the Pirates, going 36-28 with a 2.98 ERA. Following his retirement in 1979, Briles worked as a color man for the Pirates, and joined the front office in 1986 as director of corporate sales. He founded the Pittsburgh Pirates Alumni Association, and was also the director of the team's annual fantasy camp.
  • 2013 - The Bucs signed 36 year old IF Brandon Inge to a one year, $1.25M FA contract. 50 games and a .181 BA average later, he was released on August 1st, ending his 13 year MLB career.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Heading to Camp - Starting Pitchers On the Way & Depth Arms

The list is heavy on young guns working their way up and light on immediate help, but the MLB staff is not very deep this year, so performance/injury issues could push the timetable if the FO doesn't bring a couple of more arms to camp. For the curious, the list is of all the spring training invitees, both 40-man roster guys and Non-Roster Invitees (NRI).

  • Jameson Taillon: Taillon, 24, has missed two years with TJ surgery followed by a hernia, so working off the rust and managing the innings/pitches he tosses should logically keep him on the farm this year. But the Bucs' FO has made noises that he may be in play if the rotation requires a patch, so we'll see. Jameson has gotten back on the horse, working out at Pirate City during the fall instructional period. Even so, JT only has 37 IP at Indy and none since 2013, so he needs some work. It's all gravy if he's strong enough to see some big league time this year; we're betting on 2017.
  • Chad Kuhl: Kuhl, 23, had a pretty good year at Bradenton in 2014 and a breakout campaign at Altoona last season, going 11-5 with a 2.48 ERA and being named the Altoona PoY. He's not much of a swing-and-miss guy, but uses a mid-nineties power sinker to put up a 58% ground ball rate. Chad got a taste at Indy last year, and that's his likely destination this season as he tries to develop a plus second pitch; both his slider and change need work. But that sinker could earn him a call up as a September reliever. If he doesn't come up with a secondary pitch, he could end up on the same track as Tony Watson & Jared Hughes, both converted starters with heavy sinkers. He's a NRI to camp.
Chad Kuhl Bradenton (photo Eric Seibert)
  • Steven Brault: Part of the Travis Snider deal, southpaw Brault used three pitches - a low nineties fastball, improving changeup and slider - mixed with decent control to put up a 13-4 record with a 2.43 ERA between Bradenton and Altoona. Without a knockout pitch, he profiles as a back-of-the-rotation starter, ala Jeff Locke. Our guess is he'll start the year at Altoona, although he may land an Indy slot. He's also a NRI to spring training, with a 2017-18 ETA.
  • Trevor Williams: Williams, 23,  was a second round pick of the Fish in 2013 out of Arizona State with just 14 IP at the AAA level, cobbling together a workmanlike but not dazzling minor league body of work. He  features a mid-nineties fastball with a curve and change, but isn't a very big swing-and-miss guy.The righty is considered a back-end depth arm, and will likely start out the season at Indy.
  • AJ Schugel: Schugel, 26, has a low nineties heater, a plus change and is in search of a breaking ball.  He made a couple of not very successful stops at Arizona, and didn't have much more success at the AAA level. The Bucs themselves seem a little unsure; they claimed him, DFA'ed him, then re-signed him with as a NRI. He looks more like a development piece than a depth option right now and has two remaining options.
  • Wilfredo Boscan: Boscan, 26, is riding a strong season at Indy, going 10-3 with a 3.07 ERA.   But all you need to know is that the Bucs called him up three times last year and never used him. He was re-signed as a NRI, and with a crowded Indy rotation may be relegated to bullpen duty.
Wilfredo Boscan 2015 Pirate Photo Day (photo Getty Images)
  • Kelvin Marte: Another lefty, Marte, 28, has a 90 MPH fastball, a decent change and a curve.  He had been with the Giants since 2007 before the Bucs signed him to a NRI deal. Kelvin has only six games at the AAA level, and as a little guy (5'9") tends to wear down quickly. He's primarily a starter, but has the look of a bullpen guy in the Pittsburgh system.
  • Jesse Biddle: He was claimed despite October TJ surgery and won't be a factor this season. Biddle, 24, was the first round draft pick of the Phils in 2010, but his performance hit a wall in 2014-15. Pittsburgh is betting that the fall off was injury related. He has two options left; the Pirates have a variety of avenues to address him being dead weight on the 40-man, the simplest being to just place him on the long-term DL.
  • Nick Kingham: Kingham also had TJ surgery in May, and should be available some time this summer. He'll end up at Indy and isn't likely to be in the mix this season. Nick was a Top 100 prospect before hurting his arm, with a low-to-mid nineties fastball and good control, so he could be part of the 2017 transition (he did spend parts of two season at Indy).
Next: Heading to Camp - The Bullpen Core

2/12: Bucs Sign Rennie, John Ericks; HBD Dutch, Woody & Joe Garagiola

  • 1912 - RHP Lloyd “Dutch” Dietz was born in Cincinnati. Dutch tossed from 1940-43 for the Bucs, going 14-16-6 with a 3.86 ERA, highlighted by a 7-2/2.33 slash in 1941. He was traded to the Phils in ‘43, then to the Dodgers. Dietz entered military service with the Army Medical Corps in 1944, and was stationed in Texas where he pitched for the Fort Sam Houston Rangers. After his return to civilian life in 1946, he played four more minor league seasons before hanging up the spikes.
  • 1922 - RHP Forrest “Woody” Main was born in Delano, California. He pitched off and on for the Bucs in 1948, 1950, and 1952-53 after being claimed from the Yankees. Main was in the Bronx Bomber’s system as a Kansas City Blue, and when KC manager Billy Meyer was named skipper of the 1948 Pirates, he selected Main in that winter’s Rule 5 draft. Woody went 4-13-3 with a 5.14 ERA as a Pirate.
  • 1926 - C Joe Garagiola was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and spent the middle of his MLB career (1951-53) with Pittsburgh. Joe hit .262 over that span, but is best known as an announcer, a profession he began after his playing days in 1955. Garagiola grew up just a few doors down from his childhood friend Yogi Berra and later said, "Not only was I not the best catcher in the Major Leagues, I wasn't even the best catcher on my street!"
Joe Garagiola 1953 Bowman
  • 1969 - The Bucs made one of their top Latino signings when they inked 18 year old 2B Rennie Stennett of Colon, Panama, to a deal. Rennie debuted as a 20 year old and played nine seasons (1971-79) with Pittsburgh, hitting .278. His career was derailed in 1977 when he broke his leg sliding, and 1981 was his last season in the show.
  • 1993 - The Bucs signed RHP John Ericks to a FA deal. After a couple of seasons on the farm, the 6’7’ Ericks worked 57 games for the Bucs between 1995-97, going 8-14-14 with a 4.78 ERA. The Pirates liked the Fighting Illini as a starter, but he had two shoulder surgeries and was switched to the pen. He was never 100% afterward and was out of baseball after working 10 games in 1997.
John Ericks 1996 Leaf

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Heading to Camp: Starting Pitchers, Eight Deep

Gone are AJ Burnett, JA Happ and Charlie Morton; the 2016 Bucs rotation is in shake up mode. But having Gerrit Cole and Frankie Liriano as anchors helps the redo as should Jon Niese, who has a resume as a solid rotation guy. Jeff Locke is still trying to find the path to consistency, while Ryan Vogelsong is looking for a bounce back. Both those back-enders will be working with the shadow of Tyler Glasnow looming. And we wouldn't be surprised if a Justin Masterson type ended up joining the club before camp. The staff isn't deep at all; an early glitch could spell big problems.

There are two similarities in the top four of the rotation; all are ground ball guys, and all are under team control beyond this season. A quick look:

  • Gerrit Cole: Cole, 25, went 19-8/2.60, posting career highs with 32 starts and 208 innings while notching 202 strikeouts last season. The performance earned him his first All Star nod. He's a horse, but to reach the Cy Young level, he probably needs to add one more pitch to his fastball/slider one-two and become a bit more effective in pitching to contact (for a power arm, he has a career 49% ground ball rate). He's easily the top dog of the rotation, and just a gnat's eyelash away from being elite. Cole should be around for a while, Scott Boras willing; he doesn't start his arb seasons until next year.
Gerrit Cole (photo Getty Images)
  •  Francisco Liriano: Frankie, 32, has settled comfortably into the two spot, first behind AJ and now Gerrit. In his three Bucco seasons, he's won 35 games, pitched to a 3.26 ERA with 9.6 K/per nine IP and a 1.214 WHIP.  Like Cole, he could stand to be more efficient with his pitch count; his control is much improved over his past years, but still lands him in hot water when he needs early strikes against disciplined lineups. A healthy campaign would also be a plus, though he's never been the workhorse type - in his 12 MLB seasons, he's never broken the 200 IP barrier. Frankie still offers a killer slider with a 50%+ ground ball rate and is signed through the 2017 season.
  • Jon Niese: The Bucs got a workmanlike rotation arm (113 starts, 3.65 ERA from 2012-15) in Niese, 29,  who was the odd man out for a Mets staff featuring Bartolo and the young guns. He's unlikely to match the AJ/JA production, but is a nice upgrade over the up-and-down Charlie Morton and as a career 50% ground ball guy, he fits right into the Bucco scheme. Last year, he threw more off speed stuff and fewer fastballs than his norm, and even dabbled with a slider. We think Uncle Ray may apply the KISS formula to his tool kit this year and feature his sinker and cutter. Niese has two club options, worth $10M & $11M for 2017-18, so he's under team control for three seasons.
  • Jeff Locke: Locke, 28, is working with Ray Searage on simplifying his motion; we hope something turns the trick. He's put together stretches of very nice ball - he's 25-24 over the past three seasons - but can't find day-in, day-out consistency. Locke has cut his walk rate down in the past couple of years, but still has a tendency to nibble rather than attack hitters. True to form, he's good at inducing grounders, with a 51% rate. He's running out of time to find the answer; the farm arms are about knocking on Pittsburgh's door. The Redstone Rocket has two more years of arb after signing for $3.025M this season.
Time for Jeff to cut bait (photo Dave Arrigo/Pirates)
  • Ryan Vogelsong: Vogelsong, 38, was an out-of-the-blue signing. In the past three years, he's been anywhere from meh to blah, doesn't get ground balls, and his K and walk ratios are ordinary. But the Pirates are quite good at identifying guys who are a tweak away from competence, especially sinker ball tossers, and we assume that's the case here. V-Song was mostly OK until the dog days last season after a rough April, but he's still the most likely guy to be looking for a chair when the Tyler Glasnow musical chairs shuffle begins. He's inked to a one year/$2M deal.
The cavalry:
  • Tyler Glasnow: Glasnow, 22, throws a mid-nineties heater to go with a plus curve, and is the Bucs top prospect along with being a consensus top 25 MiLB player. But he only has eight starts at Indy, and the Pittsburgh FO likes to season their guys before their call (and keep that pesky service time clock from ticking). Starting him at Indy, though, does ring more of polishing up than saving dollars; Tyler has walked 4+/9 innings in his minor league career, and needs work on the finer points like holding runners. If all goes to plan, he should be a mid-June to All-Star break addition to the staff.
  • Kyle Lobstein:  Lobstein, 26, was a depth guy for Detroit, and may be in line to be the sixth starter in Pittsburgh, at least for a couple or three months. In 2014 and early 2015, he tossed to a 4.34 ERA as a Tiger back-ender with an 88 MPH heater and a cutter, change and hook in his arsenal. He had shoulder inflammation that landed him on the DL for three months and was basically a BP pitcher after returning, so his arm strength is an obvious question mark. He was a second rounder in 2008 as a high school hurler, and the Bucs sent cash to the Tigers for his services after he was DFA'ed. Lobstein, who has two remaining options and just one year of MLB service time, will likely begin at Indy to stay stretched out if needed unless he's carried north as a long man in the pen.
  • Juan Nicasio: Our guesstimate has Nicasio, 29, working as the multi-role guy from the pen beloved by Clint. But the Pirates have already said that they're planning on stretching him out as a starter in camp, so he remains in the mix if the razor thin staff takes a hit early on. JC was only converted to reliever full time last year and has 70 MLB starts under his belt, although, as generally the case, all his pitches picked a couple of ticks from the pen. The Bucs signed him to a one year/$3M deal after he posted a 1-3/ 3.86 slash with a save for the Dodgers in 52 relief appearances (one start). He averaged 10K per nine featuring a heater that averages 95 and touches 98, offset by five walks per game. Nicasio has one more arb year left.

Next Up - Heading to Camp: Starting Pitching - Arms On the Way & Depth