Thursday, February 21, 2019

2/21: JR Re-Hired; 1st CBA; Saunders In-And-Out; Hoopster HoF Groat; HBD Joel, Ted & Jouett

  • 1867 - RHP Jouett Meekin was born in New Albany, Indiana. Meekin was in his 10th year of big league ball when he joined the Pirates in 1900 at age 33; two starts and 21 runs later (half were unearned, but geez…) he had tossed his last in MLB. It was an inglorious end to a stellar career; between 1894-98, he had won 111 games, even while pitching through a torn muscle in 1895. He left pro ball in 1902 and became a fireman.
Ted Savage 1964 Topps
  • 1936 - OF Ted Savage was born in Venice, Illinois. Ted played for eight teams in a nine-year major league career, including a stop in Pittsburgh in 1963, batting just .195. He only ended up with a .233 lifetime BA, but made the most of his post-baseball days. Savage earned a Ph.D. in urban studies from St. Louis University, working there before catching on with the Cards as a community relations admin before retiring. He kept his hand in the game afterward as a promoter and fundraiser for baseballs’ RBI program. 
  • 1961 - C Joel Skinner was born in La Jolla, California. Joel was Pirates OF Bob Skinner’s son, and the Bucs drafted him in the later rounds of the 1979 draft. Though he only played two years in the Bucco system, he was part of a pair of landmarks. The Pirates lost him in the short-lived free agent compensation draft to the Yankees as the first player ever claimed under that system (oddly enough, it was because the Phillies had signed NY’s Ed Farmer, but the compensation pool was formed by the entire league, not just the team involved.) He also was an interim manager for Cleveland, so he and his dad, a former Phil’s skipper, formed just the second father-son manager team in MLB history (George and Dick Sisler were the first). 
  • 1968 - Marvin Miller negotiated the first collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in history with the team owners. The CBA 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. 
  • 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. 
  • 2018 - The Pirates signed OF’er Michael Saunders, a 2016 All-Star for the Blue Jays who went through a tough 2017 campaign (.202 between Toronto & Philadelphia), to a minor league deal with an invite to camp to compete for a vacancy in left. It ended up one of the quickest in-and-outs in Bucco history as the following day the Pirates traded with Tampa Bay to bring in All-Star LF’er Corey Dickerson, making him the default starter and triggering a request by Saunders to be released to seek a job in greener pastures. It was granted and he inked an agreement with the Kansas City Royals on the 23rd. He was a AAA depth guy last year and is with the Rox organization this year.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

2/20 Through the 1920’s: IA, UA Form; HBD Ray, Tom, Jack, Frankie & Baron

  • 1862 - 3B Harry Raymond was born in Utica. After four seasons with the Louisville Colonels, Raymond came to Pittsburgh briefly in 1892, getting into 12 games and batting just .082. He finished the year and his big league career with Washington, going 1-for-18. He did soldier on, playing seven more minor league campaigns before calling it quits in 1899 at age 37. Raymond was best know as a league jumper who went from Louisville to Lincoln in 1891 and was given a lifetime suspension by the American Association and National League, who had an agreement re: player movement. But the punishment was withdrawn later in the year and he got to play out his final MLB season. 
Tom O'Brien (photo via Commercial Gazette via Baseball Obscura)
  • 1873 - Utilityman Tom O’Brien was born in Verona. O’Brien played just two seasons and four positions for his hometown club (1898, 1900), hitting .274 for Pittsburgh before his untimely death during a Cuban barnstorming tour in 1901. The lore around his death is that it was brought on by drinking a bucket of seawater during the voyage as a seasickness cure, but he actually had typhoid that developed into pneumonia, and he passed away at age 27. 
  • 1875 - C Jack Rafter was born in Troy, New York. Jack’s big league line was 0-for-3 in one game for the 1904 Pirates but had a long New York baseball connection. He played at Fordham and spent 13 years in the minors, staying near his home base with stints at Troy, Syracuse and Albany forming the bulk of his baseball resume. 
  • 1877 - The International Association (international 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 major 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. Pittsburgh finished second at 13-6, 1-½ games behind the London (Ontario) Tecumsehs. 
  • 1884 - The now you see it, now you don’t Union Association was organized. It only lasted a season and had two local reps: the Pittsburgh Stogies, which absorbed the Chicago Browns before folding (they would form again in the 1914) and the mid-state Altoona Mountain City nine. Whether it was major league or not depends on your baseball historian of choice; some accept it as big time, others say nay. 
Frankie 1940 Sporting News
  • 1920 - All-Star infielder and restaurant owner 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 that became Hemingways in 1982. 
  • 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. His nickname was bestowed by Post Gazette beat writer Jack Hernon in 1959, borrowing it from Joe Reichler of the Associated Press who wrote in his 1950 pre-season profile of the St. Louis Cardinals: "For relief they have Ted Wilks, the league's bullpen baron...”

2/20 From 1960: Veale, Meares, Joyce Sign; Jack/Jose Mtg; Price Cut; RIP Bill; HBD Tony

  • 1963 - Bill Hinchman passed away in Columbus at the age of 79. He finished his 10-year MLB career with the Bucs from 1915-20 (he hit .284/129 OPS+ in that span), was a Pirates coach in 1923 and scouted for Pittsburgh from 1921-58, signing Rip Sewell, Clyde Barnhart, Claude Passeau, Cookie Lavagetto & Billy Cox for sure and more nebulously, Arky Vaughan & Lloyd Waner.
Tony Menendez 1993 Bowman reverse
  • 1965 - RHP Tony Menendez was born in Havana, Cuba. Tony was a first round draft pick of the White Sox out of high school in 1984 and had a three-year MLB career with three teams between 1992-94 that lasted 23 appearances. He got 14 of those outings as a 1993 Bucco. He did pretty well, with no decisions but a 3.00 ERA in 21 IP, mostly as a September call-up from AAA Buffalo. Tony signed with the Giants the following year, got a brief look in the majors and retired as a Bay farmhand after the 1995 campaign. 
  • 1971 - Bob Veale signed his contract, valued at approximately $30,000, and GM Joe Brown immediately deducted $300 from it in $100/day fines for the big lefty being late for camp. Veale had stirred Brown’s ire earlier in the week by calling for an extension and not returning his contract to the Pirates. Veale was penciled to head to the pen after a 10-15/3.92 line in 1970 and went 6-0 as a reliever, but with a sky-high 6.99 ERA as at age 36, Father Time was bearing down on him. 
  • 1979 - In a move called “unprecedented” by Buc GM Harding Peterson, the Pirates cut sixth-level reserved seat ticket prices by a buck (from $4.25 to $3.25) and announced Monday through Thursday group discounts in an effort to boost attendance, which had dropped below a million (965,000) in 1978 for the first time since Three Rivers Stadium opened in 1971. It helped some as 1.4M fans spun the turnstiles during the season; of course, performance had a little to do with it, too, as the Bucs won the NL and World Series. In TRS’ 30-year history, the Pirates drew under 1M fans five times and went over the 2M mark twice (1990-91). 
  • 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 after a prolonged soap opera clash with management, having played 240 games for the Bucs and hitting .238. 
Jack Wilson 2007 Topps Opening Day
  • 2007 - SS Jack Wilson and his DP partner, 2B Jose Castillo, locked themselves in manager Jim Tracy’s office (he was out supervising practice) to discuss Wilson’s withering review of Castillo (poorly conditioned, not prepared mentally and overall “lazy” in the field) three weeks ago during the Pirates Fest. They came out of tete-a-tete 20 minutes later unbruised, though without comment other than Castillo saying he was ready to play, physically and mentally. Apparently the suits agreed with Jack’s assessment. Freddy Sanchez took over at second base and had an All-Star season while hitting .304; Jose was relegated to utility duty and released at the end of the year. 
  • 2016 - The Pirates agreed to a minor league deal with former Angels’ OF Matt Joyce, 31, an eight-year vet with an All Star game under his belt. It was a good signing; Joyce made the club and while he hit just .242, he posted an OBP of .403, a slugging % of .463, swatted 13 homers in 231 at bats and finished with an OPS+ of 132. He earned $1M as a Buc and turned the campaign into a two-year/$11M deal with Oakland in the off season; he's now with Cleveland.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

2/19: Dodgers Sign Clemente; AJ, Simon & Jones Deals; HBD Stewie, Poet, Dana, Chris & Home Run Joe

  • 1876 - Utilityman “Home Run Joe” Marshall was born in Audubon, Minnesota. A prodigious slugger in the lower levels - he once bashed 26 long balls, a huge number in the dead ball era - his power never translated into the show. He got a brief look in Pittsburgh in 1903, getting into 10 games and hitting .261 with a double and two triples, but no dingers, then another lengthier chance with the Cards in 1906, but again w/no homers. Joe did play 17 pro seasons before retiring in 1913 and worked a variety of jobs afterward - ump, clerk, & miner were all on his resume - until he passed away at age 55. 
Home Run Joe 1903 (photo Pittsburgh Dispatch via Wiki)
  • 1944 - RHP Chris Zachary was born in Knoxville, Tennessee. Chris closed out his nine-year, five-team MLB stay in 1973 with the Pirates, arriving in a trade with the Tigers for C Charlie Sands. He went 0-1-1, 3.00, in six outings from the pen after spending most of the year at AAA Charleston as a starter. Following the season, he was swapped to the Phils for 1B Pete Koegel, played a year of AAA ball and retired. Chris went on to run a horse farm and was recognized as a member of the Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame. 
  • 1954 - 19-year-old Roberto Clemente signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers for one year at $5,000 with a $10,000 signing bonus. The Dodgers got his John Doe in competition with the NY Yankees, NY Giants and Milwaukee Braves, which made a larger offer but dangled it after Clemente had already signed on with Brooklyn. It was a pyrrhic victory as the Bucs claimed Roberto in November’s 1954 Rule 5 Draft. He was unprotected because he was a bonus baby (any player signed to a bonus over $6,000) who wasn’t carried on the Brooklyn MLB roster during the year as the rules of the time required, and so had to be offered in the draft. Clemente was the first player taken and cost the Pirates $4,000. 
  • 1967 - Pirates scout Dana Brown was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The Pirates hired the former minor league OF away from the Phils in 1993; he moved on to Montreal in 2002 as scouting director and left to become a special assistant to the GM with Toronto in 2009. As a Bucco bird dog, he was responsible for signing Ian Snell and Chris Young. 
  • 1971 - RHP Miguel “The Poet” Batista was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. The outfielder-turned-pitcher began his 18-year, 12-team career by tossing a pair of innings for the Bucs in 1992. After his modest Pittsburgh beginnings, he chilled his heels in the minors until 1996 before becoming a MLB fixture from 1998 through his last game with Atlanta in 2012. His nickname came about because of his love of literature. He even published a book of poetry - a lifelong interest of his - titled "Feelings in Black and White (“Sentimientos en Blanco y Negro”) in 2002. 
Stewie 2016 Topps
  • 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 (he batted .250 in four seasons w/Pittsburgh) while providing solid defense. Stew signed a two-year contract with a club option in 2016 as the backup to Francisco Cervelli. He was familiar with the drill; he played behind Cervelli and Martin as a Yankee, too. After several visits to the DL, he became a free agent and signed with the Braves in 2018; he's in the Padres camp now. 
  • 1983 - The Pirates opened camp for pitchers and catchers. The big story early on was whether old San Diego ace Randy Jones, late of the Mets, still had some gas in the tank (he didn’t) and in a slow developing saga, Enrique Romo was absent, with his story being that one of his kids had chicken pox. The truth was Ricky was still seething over a fine and suspension handed out by Chuck Tanner the season before, and though there was some give-and-take, Romo passed on the two years and $700-800K left on his contract and retired at the end of March at age 34, never to appear in another MLB contest. 
  • 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. Simon got brief looks with Tampa and the Phils, ending his MLB days in 2006. He’s played in Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands WBC team (he was born in Curacao) and the indie leagues in the meantime. 
AJ 2013 Topps Archives
  • 2012 - The Pirates officially had RHP AJ Burnett drop in their laps (the deal had been announced a couple of days before). 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, agreeing to a team-friendly $8.5M deal after refusing to exercise a $14.75M Philly option.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Camp Notes

Everybody is in camp (we think...can't confirm Pablo Reyes) and it's a five-way tie for first in the Central so far...

  • Clint Hurdle announced that Jameson Taillon will be the Opening Day starter (3/28 v Reds) and Chris Archer will start Home Opening Day April 1st v the Cards.
And your Opening Day pitcher... 2017 Topps Bunt
  • The Pirates signed RHP Rookie Davis to a minor league deal with NRI. The 25-year-old missed most of last year following hip surgery, and is a depth guy looking to establish himself at this point.
  • Archie's off season and rehab goes under the microscope of the P-G's Bill Brink.
  • Kevin Gorman of the Trib checks out Big Joe Musgrove's winter.
  • Colin Moran warmed up at the plate in the final few weeks and has meet with Rick Eckstein; he's also worked during the offseason on flexibility and fast-twitch to improve his range at the hot corner, per Adam Berry of
  • Nubyjas Wilborn of the Post-Gazette highlights an issue that was off the radar last year: Kevin Newman couldn't keep his weight up (a problem unknown to this blogger).
  • Old Buccos in camp: Steve Blass, Manny Sanguillen, John Candelaria, Omar Moreno and Rennie Stennett. And ol' million-dollar arm turned pro wrassler Rinku Singh showed up to say hi to his former dogs.
  • The Yankee's Luis Severino and the Phils' Aaron Nola have signed extensions, which should provide a template for the Pirates to tie up a similar guy, Jameson Taillon. Which, btw, they have shown no interest in doing, per Jamo.
  • Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch looks at a heated Central Division and is expecting a dogfight, with the Pirates being one of the pooches in the melee.
  • The Mets signed IF Adeiny Hechavarria to a minor league deal with a camp invite. He got a month-long look here last August before being sent to the NYY in September.
  • RHP John Axford, once briefly a Bucco, and the Blue Jays have reached an agreement on a minor league contract that would pay him $1.65M if he makes the club.
  • Bobbleheads! Yay! The Bucs have announced their 2019 bobblehead nights.

2/18: Smiley, AVS & Sid Sign; The King; HBD Sherry, Luis, Cal, Manny, Dal, Bob & Bruce

  • 1891 - LHP Sherrod “Sherry” Smith was born in Monticello, Georgia. He got his career off to an inglorious start in Pittsburgh, giving up seven runs in 4-⅔ IP in his three 1911-12 outings. But after a couple years of minor league seasoning and a change of scenery, he blossomed to win 114 games in the next 12 years for the Brooklyn Robins and Cleveland Indians. In 1980 Smith was inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame and a decade later he was honored with a state historical marker ("Mansfield's Famous Southpaw") near his home.
Luis Arroyo 1957 Topps
  • 1927 - LHP Luis Arroyo was born 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. 
  • 1929 - C Cal Neeman was born in Valmeyer, Illinois. Neeman came off the bench for most of his seven-year career (he made the The Sporting News’ All Rookie squad in 1957 as a Cub but never was the top man after that year), and appeared in 24 games for the 1962 Buccos, hitting .180 after earning a spot on the club as an NRI in camp. He was was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for utility player Bob Burda after the season. After he retired in 1963, he returned to college and worked a variety of jobs, including HS baseball coach. 
  • 1938 - OF Manny Mota was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. The pinch hitter supreme spent six seasons (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. 
  • 1939 - IF Dal Maxvill was born in Granite City, Illinois. Dal joined the Bucs toward the tail end of his MLB days for parts of 1973-74, hitting .188 before being released. “Maxie” finished his 14-year career with Oakland after the Pirates let him go, playing his last game in 1975. Dal coached and was the Card’s GM afterward, retiring from baseball for good when he was fired from that job during a messy transition following Gus Busch’s death. 
Dal Maxvill 1974 Topps
  • 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) and 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 in an era that featured three Bob Millers, all tossing in the majors starting in the late 1950s, and in fact was teammates with one of them 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 postseason, 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. 
  • 1967 - Eddie Feigner, headliner fastpitch softball hurler of the King and his Court, appeared in a charity softball game at Dodger Stadium and struck out six MLB players in a row, including Roberto Clemente, reportedly tossing a 104 MPH underhand heater. 
  • 1988 - 1B Sid Bream avoided an arb hearing and agreed with the Bucs on a one-year/$360K deal w/All-Star, Golden Glove and MVP bonuses. Bream had asked for $485K and the Pirates had countered with $300K after a .275/13 HR campaign in 1987. 
AVS 1989 Donruss
  • 1989 - All-Star outfielder Andy Van Slyke dropped his demand to be paid if there was an owners' lockout when the CBA expired in 1990 (there was, but it was settled in mid-March) and signed a three-year/$5.5M contract with the Pirates, avoiding a looming arbitration hearing. Van Slyke's contract included a $600K signing bonus and salaries of $1.95M in 1989 and 1991 and $1M in 1990 with $270,000 per season available in incentive bonuses. Before the deal ran out, he signed a three-year extension in 1991 worth $12.65M, making him the Pirates' highest paid player. 
  • 1992 - The Pirates and pitcher John Smiley, who had gone 20-8 and earned an All-Star berth during the 1991 campaign, agreed on a $3.44M + incentives deal hours before they were due to face off at an arbitration hearing. The two sides met in the middle; Smiley had asked for $4.1M and Pittsburgh had countered with $2.7M. It was a $2M raise and a ticket out of town: a month later, Smiley was traded to the Twins for Denny Neagle and Midre Cummings.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Position Battles In Camp: Catcher - Three's A Crowd

Ah, three's a crowd here in Bradenton. Francisco Cervelli, Elias Diaz, and out-of-options Jacob Stallings are all MLB backstops, and that's one more body than the team is likely to carry. The Bucs have been shedding catchers - 2013 top pick Reese McGuire was sent to Toronto as the sweetner to dump Frankie's contract; 2012 second-rounder Wyatt Mathisen was converted to the hot corner and was lost to the D-backs; while Jin-De Jhang, signed out of Taiwan in 2012, moved to the Giants as a minor league FA. Heck, Tony Sanchez is still bouncing around somewhere in the sticks. The Pirates haven't exactly reloaded at the position.

Fran still the man (photo Dave Arrigo/Pirates)

Francisco Cervelli, 33, is still the top dog; his glove is dependable, he has the pitchers' trust and he's got a serviceable stick. But he was winter trade bait - age, injuries and $11.5M salary in his walk year make him eminently swappable -  and he's almost certainly not in the Bucs 2020 plans. Additionally, Frannie's value is diminished by the potential scenario of him turning into John Jaso 2.0, so the answer to "will he stay or will he go" is the key to the catching roster this year.

Elias Diaz, 28, had a hectic 2018 season, starting with his mom being kidnapped in Venezuela and ending with him missing much of September with a hammy pull. But in between, he started 59 games behind the dish (he caught 70 games overall), hit .286 w/10 HR in 277 PA, and had another positive dWAR season, with a improved knack for pitch framing to go with a strong if scattershot arm. He's Amore's heir apparent, whether it's this season or next, and the one member of the spring trio, sans injury, who's sure to break camp with the club.

Jacob Stallings, 29, is a good glove guy whose bat has caught up enough (.288 BA in 72 MLB-PA's) to earn him a caddy position.  As noted, he’s out of options and behind Cervelli and Diaz. The Pirates are not likely carry three catchers. If the club keeps Fran and Eli, Jake would be DFA'ed. There's no guarantee he'd be claimed, as he's already passed through waivers twice. Then again, there's no guarantee that he'd stay even if he cleared; he can declare free agency if untaken. The Bucs are thin at the spot, but if there's one thing that's always available, it's a defense-first backup catcher.

Jake's future TBD - 2017 Topps Now

The Reservists:

All good with the leather, not so much with the ash/maple.

Steve Baron, 28, is a minor league free agent just signed this year and former first-rounder (2009) of Seattle. He's set to be Stalling's replacement as Plan C if Jake leaves the org. Baron is 1-for-16 in six MLB games, pretty much in line with his .234 MiLB lifetime BA.

Christian Kelley, 25, was drafted in 2015 and started at Altoona in 2018. He and Baron should split the playing time this year at Indy. It's his second camp and so he's getting to know the pitchers. There's no questions about his defensive chops, but Kelley is another lumber-challenged guy with a .240 minor league BA, including .235 for the Curve last year.

Arden Pabst, 23, is a guy to watch. The 2016-12th rounder hit .281 at Bradenton last year, with a .234 ISO. Pabst had a 19-game stint at Altoona at the end of the year and should start there this year. If he can keep his stroke, he may be the next big thing for the Bucs behind the plate, though there are still miles for him to go.

Jason Delay, 23, moved through three levels last year and is a step behind Pabst; he should start at Hi-A Bradenton this year. The fourth-rounder (2017) from Vanderbilt hasn't hit much (.247 BA), but with all the moving around, he hasn't had a chance to settle in, either. The next couple of years should determine if he and Pabst are the next wave.

2/17: Vin-for-Turkey; Zane Return; Nate Signs; Groat DD; Ike Letter; Pace of Play; HBD Rivington, Eddie, Ed, Whammy & Dave

  • 1890 - IF Rivington Bisland was born in New York City. He got his first big league game with the Pirates in 1912, going 0-for-1 as a September pinch hitter after hitting .287 for Springfield of the Central League. Bisland was taken in the Rule 5 draft by the St. Louis Browns in 1913 and then got another shot with the Cleveland Naps the following season after reneging on an oral agreement with the Pittsburgh Rebels. That was it for him. In 31 games, he hit .118, and after being released in June spent the next two years with the Atlanta Crackers, where the club paid him $350 per month, well over the league limit, to keep him from jumping to the Rebs. He retired after the overpay was discovered rather than face the league’s music (a suspension), played a year of semi-pro ball and then went on to be a fairly successful boxing promoter. (Thx to Diamonds in the Dusk for filling in his background story.) 
  • 1901 - C Eddie Phillips was born in Worcester, Massachusetts. Phillips caught for parts of six MLB campaigns and got his most work as a Pirate in 1931. He started behind the plate for 100 games, batting .232, and was traded to Kansas City as part of the Bill Swift deal the next season. He retired after the 1943 season following 17 years of pro ball and became a minor league manager. 
Ed Brandt 1937 (photo via Retro Image Archive)
  • 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 big league teams. In 11 MLB years, Ed’s record was 121-146/3.86. He started 278 games and finished 150 of them. After his 1939 retirement, Brandt ran a hometown hunting lodge and tavern. He was killed on November 1st, 1944, when he was struck by a car while crossing a street at the age of 39.
  • 1909 - With an early “pace-of-play” reg, the NL made it mandatory that a relief pitcher face one batter with a five-pitch warm up limit. 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 hitting matchup 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 (he carried around an old theater program with him as a good luck talisman), movie actor and all-around bon vivant. Both left baseball for periods of time to hold out for bigger salaries knowing they could pay the bills with their side jobs. 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. After the season, the 34-year-old Donlin was waived and claimed by the Phillies but refused to report and retired. He came back in 1914 after sitting out a season to play for the Giants, but his bat deserted him and 35 games later, his career was finished. Donlin was nicknamed “Turkey Mike” due to his red neck and distinctive strut (It’s said many fans even imitated his way of walking). It wasn't a moniker that Mike particularly cared for; go figure. Campbell, who was expendable in Pittsburgh after the emergence of Max Carey, was also out of baseball for a year and then played out his string in the upstart Federal League, hitting .315 in 1914-15. His nickname was “Demon,” a carryover from his college football days. 
The Press of 2-18-1912 was all over the trade.
  • 1935 - RHP Charles “Whammy” Douglas was born in Carrboro, North Carolina. Whammy only got 11 starts in MLB, all in 1957 with the Bucs, going 3-3, 3.26. He was sent back to AAA Columbus for the ‘58 campaign, posting a 16-10/3.35 line and was traded to the Reds in 1959. His promising career was dead-ended by elbow and shoulder problems. One physical impairment that didn’t bother him, tho, was the fact that he was blind in his right eye after childhood accident. Branch Rickey pressed him on the handicap, and Douglas replied that “You have one hitter. He’s got one bat. And I have one ball.” He had the nickname “Whammy” hung on him thx to Burlington Times-News writer Bill Hunter. “I was striking everyone out, so they just started calling me ‘Whammy,’” Douglas said. 
  • 1941 - OF Dave Wissman was born in Greenfield, Massachusetts. The Bucs signed him out of the University of Bridgeport in 1961, and he got his only pro shot in 1964, playing in 16 games for the Pirates and hitting .148. Wissman played AAA ball for the Pirates and Tigers over the next three years and hung up the spikes after the 1967 campaign. 
  • 1954 - A week before Honus Wagner’s 80th birthday, President Dwight Eisenhower sent Hans a letter that read in part "Realization that you now count your years at the four score mark reminds me, with something of a shock, that it was fifty years ago that I used to follow your batting average with the keenest of interest." Wagner was one of Ike’s childhood sports heroes when DDE was growing up in Abilene, Kansas. Eisenhower was a high school and local semi-pro ballplayer and as a youth had declared his ambition “to be a real major league ballplayer, a real professional like Honus Wagner.” 
  • 1996 - The Pirates brought back LHP Zane Smith after he had left the fold for Boston on a one-year/$400K deal. The lefty had been a Bucco from 1990-94 with a couple of nice seasons during that span, but this was to be his last rodeo. The 35-year-old slashed 4-6/5.08 and was released in July to end his MLB career. 
Nate's last skate - 2009 Topps Heritage
  • 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 open a starting spot for Andrew McCutchen. He returned to the Bucs briefly in 2012, and since then has played in Baltimore and Washington before taking his final bow after the 2014 season. 
  • 2016 - Dick Groat was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 80th annual Dapper Dan Dinner. In 1960, Groat hit .325, 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.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Pitching Battles In Camp - Bullpen: Top Heavy

The hard part is done. Felipe Vazquez, Keone Kela, Kyle Crick, and Richard Rodriguez return, setting up a pretty solid back end for the bullpen, even with Edgar Santana lost for the year.  Assuming the Pirates will go with an eight-man pen, which is Clint's clear preference, that leaves a battle for the long and middle inning slots behind those four.

Lefty Vazquez, 27, will close. He may be underappreciated around the league, but not in Pittsburgh: his fastball/slider combo has earned him 58 saves (in 67 opportunities), a 2.35 ERA and 216 K in 172-2/3IP as a Pirate. Kela, 25, appears to have bumped Crick, 26, from the eighth inning bridge to a seventh-inning set up guy, with Rodriguez, 28, ready to slip in where needed. Clint will use any of the quartet in high leverage jams. Losing Edgar Santana, 27, to the knife opens up a crucial role; he was the bandage guy who was counted on to stop an inning from getting out of hand.

The Buc's bullpen anchor - 2018 Topps Gypsy Queen
The Pirates do have lots of guys to choose from to fill in the bottom four spots. Nick Kingham, Steven Brault, Clay Holmes, Michael Feliz and Dovy Neverauskas return; Nick Burdi will try to earn a spot, Francisco Liriano, Tyler Lyons, Brandon Maurer and Roberto Gomez inked minor league deals, and minor-leaguers Jesus Liranzo, Geoff Hartleib and Blake Weiman are getting looks.


Steven Brault, Nick Kingham and Clay Holmes were discussed in the starters' post; they, along with Frankie Liriano, give the Bucs a ton of long man/spot starter options in putting together a staff. Jordan Lyles, a newbie, is getting the first shot at the rotation but if he fizzles will join the long-man party.

Michael Feliz, 25, is a righty who underperforms on a regular basis - his career ERA is 5.28 but his FIP is 3.80; additionally, he's struck out 227 batters in 168-2/3 IP. He has a remaining option and the Pirates signed him to a $850K deal, so he's getting another year to close his production gap.

RHP Dovydas Neverauskas, 26, has an option left and will get another shot to straighten out at Indy. In Triple A, he's posted a 2.91 ERA, 21 saves and a strike-per-inning; in the show, he's put up a 6.08 ERA, 7.6/K per game and gone 0-for-2 in save opps. He looks a lot like a AAAA player.

The Pirates took RHP Nick Burdi, 26, in last year’s Rule 5 draft, tho he sat out most of the year rehabbing from TJ surgery. He got back in the saddle for a couple of games in September, but the Bucs have to keep him on the roster for 60 days to fulfill his draft claim. He was a top prospect of the Minnesota Twins with a promising fastball/slider toolkit, and hopefully can show it off in camp w/o too much rust, to make it an easy decision for the FO.

Minor League Deals w/Non-Roster Invites:

Frankie's back...LHP Francisco Liriano, 35, has been in a couple of rodeos, still has it against lefties and in short (one time through the lineup) outings. His heater still smokes and his slider is workable, if not the wipeout pitch it once was. He's a known quality in Pittsburgh and his opt-out contract makes him a use-him-or-lose-him signee. Our guess is he has a job to lose in the bullpen.

Frankie's back in a different role - 2016 Topps Heritage
If he slips, southpaw Tyler Lyons, 30, is next up. He was one of the NL's better bullpenners from 2015-2017. But a couple of injuries laid him low last year (he was on the DL twice) and was released in July. Pittsburgh is counting on Lyon's health and production returning; he also has opt-out options, making his placement in the org iffy.

RHP Brandon Maurer, 28, has been in the league six years and had one good season; even worse, he underperforms with a 5.36 ERA/4.13 FIP.  The Bucs think Uncle Ray may be able to reconstruct the fastball-slider toolkit. We'll see; he's also got opt-outs in his agreement.

Roberto Gomez, 29, missed 2015-16 with TJ surgery and was hurt for parts of 2018. He's got a mid-90's heater, and the righty looks like a depth piece rather than roster challenger.

Minor League Auditions:

These guys are here to make their impression; none are serious candidates to break camp with the big club but are more down-the-road prospects.

Jesus Liranzo, 23, was claimed from the Dodgers and is a high-ceiling arm. He's got a high-90's fastball, workable secondary stuff, and is the usual high K/high walk project the Bucs like to take on. The righty has one option left, and his chances of joining the club eventually hang on his ability to find the dish.

Lefty Elvis Escobar, 24, is a converted outfielder who registers on the radar in the mid-90's and has a hook. Escobar showcased himself to scouts in Venezuela as both an OF'er and pitcher, so the mound transition is a back to the future move. The Pirates like his progress; they re-signed him this year as a minor league FA to continue his development.

Geoff Hartlieb, 25, was a third-day pick in 2016 with an upper-90's heater. He had a nice campaign for Altoona in 2018 (8-2-10/3.24), with a post-season trip to the  Arizona Fall League. The righty still needs polished; he could return to the Curve or end up at Indy after camp to hone his command, as he walked four guys/nine innings in 2018.

Blake Weiman, 23, fits into the lefty mold with a 90-ish fastball and slider. The 2017-8th rounder moved through three levels and the AFL last year, whiffing 10 per game and walking virtually no one., although he does show platoon splits. He'll start in Altoona this year (he only made it there for three games in 2018), so we'll begin to get a better picture of how his stuff will fare in the upper levels.

2/16 Through the 1970s: Hans & Number Retire; HBD Luis, Jerry, Ray, Kip & John

  • 1873 - C John Sullivan was born in Chicago. John had a 14-game showing with the Tigers in 1905 and then settled in with the minor league Kansas City Blues; he got one more call to the majors sandwiched inside that KC stint by the Bucs, catching for three frames in 1908. He gave up a stolen base, committed an error and went 0-for-1 before returning to KC, and he retired from pro ball in 1910 at age 37 after 11 years behind the plate. 
  • 1889 - RHP James “Kip” Dowd was born in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Dowd, out of Holy Cross, got into one game for the Pirates in 1910, his only big league outing, and gave up four runs in two innings, although in his defense they were all unearned, to leave him with a spotless career ERA. Aside from getting his name on a major league scorecard, he can also add to his resume that he worked against HoF hurler Mordecai "Three Fingers" Brown on that day. He tossed in the minors for five campaigns (1911-15) afterwards. Kip is the grandfather of Emmy-winning actress Ann Dowd.
Kip Dowd in college (image via Find-A-Grave)
  • 1912 - RHP Ray Harrell was born in Alexandria, Louisiana. He tossed for the Bucs in 1940, getting into three games (3-1/3 IP) with an ERA of 8.10. Ray spent a total of six years in the show, returning in 1945 to take a final bow with the wartime NY Giants after working the intervening seasons in the PCL. He retired in 1950 after an 18-year pro career. 
  • 1952 - Carnegie’s Honus Wagner’s #33 was retired after he bid farewell as a Pittsburgh coach at the age of 77 following 39 years with the team. The Bucs also honored him by giving him a lifetime pension at full pay. Hans’ number was the first the Pirates retired; other Buccos to join him in the honor were Billy Meyer (1), Ralph Kiner (4), Willie Stargell (8), Bill Mazeroski (9), Pie Traynor (20), Roberto Clemente (21) and Danny Murtaugh (40). The Flying Dutchman 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. Honus was also part of the first Hall-of-Fame class ever selected, along with Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson and Babe Ruth. 
  • 1952 - Jerry Hairston was born in Birmingham, Alabama. He was sold to the Pirates by the White Sox in June of the 1977 campaign, and in 51 games he hit .192, mostly as a pinch hitter. Jerry played parts of 14 MLB seasons, all spent with the White Sox except for his brief Bucco stint. Hairston was a baseball legacy link - his dad Sam, brother Johnny and son Jerry were all big league players. 
Jerry Hairston 1978 Topps
  • 1974 - IF Luis Figueroa was born in Bayamon, Puerto Rico. After playing for the Puerto Rican national team, he was signed by the Bucs in 1997 and played four games with the club in 2001, going 0-for-2. Luis was waived and claimed by the Mets. In 2006-07, he got in 14 games for the Blue Jays and Giants, his only other outings as an MLB player. But he had a long career, playing 16 years of pro ball and spending numerous campaigns in Puerto Rico, both in the winter league and with their international squad. Since 2014, he’s been a fielding coach in the Yankee organization.