Thursday, January 31, 2013

Walker, McDonald Sign

Hey, good news on the Bucco front. The Pirates announced that they have agreed to terms with 2B Neil Walker and RHP James McDonald on contracts for 2013 and avoided salary arbitration. We thought that J-Mac would ink a deal before the hearings took place; we weren't so sure about The Kid. Now everyone's safely in the fold.

In 2012, Walker had a slash of .280/.342/.426, right in line with his career averages. His one red flag was a disk injury that made him a part-time player in September. McDonald was 12-8/4.21, suffering a second half meltdown of Biblical proportions.

When the numbers for arbitration were recently exchanged, Walker asked for $3.6M and was offered $3M; J-Mac asked for $3.4M and was offered $2.65M. Matt Schwarz of MLB Trade Rumors estimated their arb values were $2.9M for Walker and $3M for McDonald.

J-Mac's midpoint and estimated value match, so he had common ground to deal with the FO. But Walker's midpoint ($3.3M) is $400K higher than his arb estimate, and as a Super 2 guy, this year will set his baseline through the 2016 season. In fact, it's the first arb year for both players; J-Mac is under control through 2015.

The financial terms of the deals were not announced; when they come available, we'll post the figures for you. (EDIT - Tom Singer of posted that they both signed at their midpoint: "According to multiple reports, Walker signed for $3.3 million and McDonald for $3.025 million") We're glad neither Hendricks Sports, representing the pair, nor the FO decided to play hardball; both deals appear fair to both sides.

January Happenings

The Bucs have been busy at the end of January - they pulled off the deal to land the Kitten and the Tiger in 1960, inked BB and Paul Maholm to contracts, brought Pokey Reese aboard and saw Big Poison and company off to the Hall of Fame:

  • January 31, 1952 - RF Paul “Big Poison” Waner was elected to the Hall of Fame and inducted on July 21st. He led the NL in batting three times and put up a slash of .333/.404/.473 during his twenty year career.
  • January 31, 1965 - Pud “Gentle Jeems” Galvin was voted into the Hall of Fame by the Special Veterans Committee and was the lone HOF selection that year. Galvin had 20 victories ten times in 14 seasons. He tossed for the Pittsburgh Alleghenys and Pirates from 1885-1892. He won 138 games and notched four 20+ win years. He was inducted on July 26th.
  • January 31, 1971 - The Hall of Fame Special Veterans Committee selected two Bucs from the early days to the Hall, 1B Jake Beckley and OF Joe Kelley. Beckley played for the Alleghenys and Pirates from 1888-96, hitting .300. He banged a modest 43 HR, but legged out 113 triples in that span. Kelley got a cup of coffee with Pittsburgh in 1892, hitting just .239. The Pirates dumped him, and he went on to have a dozen consecutive .300+ seasons beginning the following year. They were inducted on August 9th.
  • January 31, 1976 - The Special Veterans Committee selected C Al Lopez for the Hall of Fame. Lopez caught for Pittsburgh from 1940-46, hitting a modest .254. But he was best known for his glove and ability to handle a staff, and went on to manage the Indians and White Sox when his playing days ended. He was inducted on August 9th.
  • January 31, 1992 - The Pirates signed OF Barry Bonds to a one-year contract worth $4.7M‚ the largest single year deal in baseball at the time.
  • January 30, 1959 - C Smoky Burgess, LHP Harvey Haddix and 3B Don Hoak went from the Reds to the Pirates in exchange for RHP Whammy Douglas, OF Jim Pendleton, OF John Powers and 3B Frank Thomas, providing many of the key pieces of the 1960 championship club.
  • January 30, 2002 - The Pirates signed FA 2B Pokey Reese to a two year, $4.25M contract. Pittsburgh was Reese's fourth team since the end of the 2001 season. He finished the year with Cincinnati, and then was traded to the Colorado Rockies who flipped him to the Boston Red Sox three days later. Boston didn't offer him a contract, making him a free agent.
  • January 30, 2009 - The Pirates avoided arbitration by signing Paul Maholm to a three year, $14.5M contract, which included a team option for 2012. He was released after the 2011 season, and is now pitching for the Braves.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Martin, Liriano & Some Minor News

Some Bucco bits to chew on...
  • Andrew Marchand of ESPN has four reasons why the Yankees will miss Russell Martin this season. 
  • Tom Singer of has an article on some non-roster camp invitees. One interesting note: "Indications are that Francisco Liriano -- when all the roadblocks to formalizing his signing are cleared -- will wind up coming to camp on a Minor League deal and an invite." It may be that his broken right arm is worse than thought, or just a time-buying work-around thanks to a currently full 40-man roster.
  • Grant Brisbee of Sports Nation thinks that the Bucco offseason has been neither over-or-under whelming: "It's been whelming. And that's just fine until the farm gets here."
  • Jonathan Mayo of has his Top 100 Prospects, and the Bucs have four players on the list - RHP Gerritt Cole (#9), RHP Jameson Taillon (#15), IF Alen Hanson (#54) and OF Gregory Polanco (#65).
  • John Sickels ranks the farm systems, and the Pirates jumped up from twelfth last year to fifth this season. He likes the Bucs' high upside pitching arms, but takes away points because the high school pitching the Pirates have invested in so heavily in the draft hasn't developed.
  • The Bucs signed former Twins 2004 first rounder, sinkerballing RHP Kyle Waldrop, to a minor league deal with a camp invite. The 6'5" hurler has a couple of nice 2012 numbers - he had a 2.53 ERA and got 72% of his outs on the ground in 21 IP with the Twins. But a couple of other stats weren't so hot - he also had a 5.15 FIP and 3.0 K per nine. Waldrop, 27, would have broken camp with Minny last year, but went on the DL on March 31st with a strained elbow and missed a couple of months. He should start at Indy, but has a shot at filling in as a middle reliever sometime during the year.
  • Jonathan Mayo of has his Top Ten First Base Prospects list out, and Alex Dickerson is on the roster for the second season.
  • Freddie Garcia signed a minor league deal with the Padres; Jerry Crasnick tweeted that the Bucs were on him, too, but he opted for the coast and a chance to toss in spacious Petco Park.
  • He's the division, anyway. Ken Rosenthal tweeted that SS Ronnie Cedeno's new deal with the Cards is official. Terms, according to a source: One year, $1.15M with $850K in performance bonuses. 
  • RHP Brian Bass, who last appeared in the majors with Pittsburgh in 2010, signed a minor league deal with the Phillies.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

This Day In Pirate History

We thought we'd add something new for you guys to eyeball, a brief "This day in Bucco history" post. Let us know what you think.
  • January 29, 1949 - The Pirates purchased RHP Murry Dickson from the Cardinals for $125,000. During his five-year stay in Pittsburgh, he went 66-85 with a 3.83 ERA and a 20-win season in 1951.
  • January 29, 1961 - OF Max Carey was voted into the Hall of Fame by the veterans committee and inducted on July 24th. In 17 seasons with Pittsburgh, he collected 2,400+ hits, batted .287 and stole 688 bases.
  • January 29, 1967 - GM Branch Rickey and OF Lloyd Waner were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by a unanimous vote of the Special Veterans Committee and were inducted on July 23rd.
  • January 29, 1971 - The Pirates traded OF Matty Alou and P George Brunet to the Cardinals for OF Vic Davalillo and P Nellie Briles.

Alex Presley Edition

Alex Presley played 2011 like a man on a mission, with a slash of .298/.339/.465 in 52 games, and chased Jose Tabata from left to right field. He was penciled in as a starter in 2012, but that didn't work out so well for him as he encountered a tough sophomore slump. The arrival of Starling Marte in left, Travis Snider as another LH outfielder and a remaining minor-league option has put his MLB journey in jeopardy this season. But he's had his moments...

  • Presley led the Pirates in 2012 with a career-high seven triples and hit double digit homers (10) for the first time in the show. Unfortunately, his slash was just .237/.279/.405. Bill James projects him to be part-time in 2013, with a slash of .288/.343/.447 and 8 HR; ZIPS is less kind, although their numbers are based on being a full-time player, with a line of .260/.308/.419 with 13 HR.
  • From the reports we've read, like John Sickels', Presley is considered primarily as a MLB fourth outfielder. His speed and defensive ability are offset by poor plate discipline - his K rate is fine, but he doesn't draw walks - and a below average arm.
  • On April 20th, 2012, Presley became the first Pirate since Freddy Sanchez in 2008 to hit an inside-the-park homer, leading off the Bucco first with the bang off the center field fence that knocked CF Skip Schumaker for a loop after he and the ball bounced off the wall. It was the highlight of a 4-1 loss to the Cards and Lance Lynn at PNC Park.
  • He collected his first walk-off hit on April 7th last season against the Phils in front of a sold-out house at PNC Park when Presley barely legged out a 10th inning, two-out dribbler into the shortstop hole to score Mike McKenry in a 2-1 win over the Phils and Joe Blanton.
  • Last year was the first time that the outfielder broke camp with the team, and he was the Opening Day starter in left field and batted leadoff. He was sent back down twice before September.
  • Presley was promoted to the major leagues and added to the 40-man roster on September 6th, 2010, and made his MLB debut two days later, singling for his first MLB hit off Atlanta Braves pitcher Cristhian Martínez.
  • The outfielder was the Pirates Minor League Player of the Year & a organizational All-Star in 2010 and a post-season International League All-Star in 2011. Baseball America selected him among its Top Twenty 2011 IL Prospects.
  • He was the first Indy player to hit for the cycle, performing the feat against Toledo on June 27th, 2010. Presley also claimed the first pro hit off Stephen Strasburg, a double on April 11th, 2010, while with the Curve.
  • 2010 was his breakout year. After a pair of poor seasons in A ball, the blush was off his bloom, but he responded with a .320/.373/.494 slash with 12 HR, 85 RBI and 86 runs between Altoona and Indy.
  • Some hacks - mea culpa - call Presley "The King," a nickname he's had a long time, being southern and a Presley. He's grown to accept it (the Pirates even claim he's a great clubhouse singer in his own right), but not really embrace it. His old twitter handle was AlexNotElvis.
  • Presley was born on July 25th, 1985 in Monroe, Louisiana. He graduated from Neville High School, where he was twice named to the first team All-State team, and attended the University of Mississippi. From there, he was chosen in the 8th round (230th overall) of the 2006 Draft, receiving a $95,000 signing bonus after being scouted by Darren Mazeroski.

Monday, January 28, 2013

That Old Gang of Mine...

OK, we're bored and don't expect much action before camp begins in three weeks. To kill time, we flipped through some recent signings, and hey - there sure are a lot of Neal Huntington era Buccos still floating around MLB and recently signed:

  • Adam LaRoche (WASH - 2yrs/$24M)
  • Ryan Ludwick (CIN - 2yrs/$15M)
  • Kevin Correia (MINN - 2 yrs/$10M)
  • Sean Burnett (LAA - 2yrs/$8M)
  • Joel Hanrahan (BOS - 1yr/$7.04M)
  • Ryan Doumit (MIN - 2yrs/$7M, extension)
  • Paul Maholm (ATL - 1yr/$6.5M)
  • Tom Gorzelanny (MIL - 2yrs/$6M)
  • Octavio Dotel (DET - 1yr/$3.5M)
  • Matt Diaz (NYY - 1yr/$2M)
  • Nate McLouth (BALT - 1yr/$2M)
  • Jose Veras (HOU - 1yr/$2M)
  • Brandon Moss (OAK - 1yr/$1.6M)
  • Chris Resop (OAK - 1yr/$1.35M, arb eligible)
  • Eric Hinske (ARI - 1yr/$1.075M)
  • Jason Bay (SEA - 1yr/$1M)
  • Steve Pearce (BALT - 1yr/$700K, arb eligible)

Jose Bautista is working in the middle of a deal with Toronto that pays $14M/yr through 2016. Javier Lopez is in the second year of a $8.5M deal with the Giants. It also doesn't show pre-arb folk like Pedro Ciriaco, who will compete with prospect Jose Iglesias in Boston for the starting SS job; Brock Holt, who will try to land a Bosox bench spot, and Donnie Veal, emerging as a potentially lethal LOOGY for the White Sox.

Of course, they aren't all looking at MLB paychecks.

A pack of ex-Pirates were signed to minor league deals this off season - Erik Bedard (HOU), Brian Bixler (NYM), Jeff Clement (MINN), Bobby Crosby (MIL), Juan Cruz (PHI), Zach Duke (WASH), Craig Hansen (NYM), Chris Jakubauskas (MIL), Daniel McCutchen (BAL), Xavier Nady (KC), Ross Ohlendorf (WASH), Garrett Olsen (OAK), Ronnie Paulino (SEA), Chad Qualls (MIA), Drew Sutton (BOS), Hisanori Takahashi (CUBS), Brandon Wood (KC), Tim Wood (MINN) and Delwyn Young (WASH).

And they're better off than these guys, who are still looking for a team: Rod Barajas, Matt Capps, Ronny Cedeno, Andy LaRoche, Lyle Overbay, Freddy Sanchez, and Chris Snyder. Jack Wilson is now a permanent part the unsigned list; he retired during the off season.

Three players took their talents across the Pacific - Nyjer Morgan and Casey McGehee went to Japan, while Dana Eveland will toss in Korea. They'll join Lastings Milledge, John Bowker and Rick Van Den Hurk in the Orient.

The point of the ramble? Actually, it just reinforces the point that Huntington didn't break up a world beating club. Even if he had the Dodger checkbook, there are only a couple of guys he let go over the years who would have made Pittsburgh a stronger club.

Our short list includes Jose Bautista, who was more a victim of Rule 5 jockeying than evaluation, Adam LaRoche, who would free Garrett Jones for right field but at a price, and Hanny, who also got a little rich for the Buccos' blood. Maybe add to list Dewey, who as a bench stick and #2 catcher has more value in the AL but can hit the ball no matter which league he's in, and Paul Maholm to anchor the back end of the rotation, depending on how (or if) Francisco Liriano performs. It also highlights the FO's sharp eye for identifying bullpen arms.

But it gives the Pirate philosophy of dealing for high upside but flawed prospects a big puffy shiner. They have exactly one reliever, Bryan Morris, on the 40-man roster after trading their inherited core of Jay Bay, Jack Splat and Steady Freddy. That's set them back a couple of seasons in rebuilding the club. In fact, the only prospect they've traded for who's had any real impact is James McDonald.

So don't hold it against them that they broke up the old gang. In fact, their go-for-the-gusto trade philosophy isn't the culprit, either. The Pirates simply need to evaluate talent, especially young talent, better.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

J-Mac, Mike Leake Arb Twins & Other Stuff

Two pitchers you usually don't associate together, J-Mac and the Reds Mike Leake, are virtually clones in the arbitration wars. Both have about the same service time (3.08-3.00 years), close salary requests ($3.4M-$3.5M), and exactly the same team counter offers ($2.65M). It's no surprise that their career lines are pretty similar, too. McDonald is 30-28/4.10 in 482-2/3 IP (4.23 FIP) while Leake is 28-22/4.23 with 485 IP (4.43 FIP).

They're represented by different agents - McDonald is a client of the Hendricks Brothers, while Leake's man is Dan Horwits of the Beverly Hills Sports Council. It just goes to show the formula approach to salaries; agents and teams crunch the same numbers. The only factors up for debate are comparable contracts and perceived market value. That's why so many contracts end up settled in-house rather than being decided by the hearing judges.

MLB Trade Rumors has an arb tracker for the 28 players who are on the road for a hearing

  • Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs thinks Rod Barajas' historically lousy year at tossing out base stealers was even lousier than the stats show (though he doesn't entirely blame Hot Rod).
  • Got an ear worm from the player's songs? The Pirates have them and the stadium songs listed, and hey, they even have a link to iTunes in case you can't get enough of  James McDonald firin' up to Wiz and "Youngin' On His Grind."
  • In the same vein, the Pirates also list the players' twitter accounts.
  • Chad Qualls, who spent a couple of forgettable months in Pittsburgh, scored a minor league deal with the Marlins plus an invite to camp.
  • Former WVU quarterback Pat White was offered a minor league deal by the Marlins, but for now will stick to football.
  • How did tying elite free agency to a draft pick work out in the first year of the new CBA? Nine free agents got a one-year, $13.3M qualifying offer. All of them said "no thanks," opting for free agency despite triggering draft pick compensation by the refusal. Three (David Ortiz, Hiroki Kuroda, Adam LaRoche) signed with their old squads. Four others (Josh Hamilton, B.J. Upton, Nick Swisher, Rafael Soriano) jumped to new clubs that were willing to give up the pick. Two (Kyle Lohse, Michael Bourn) are unsigned. Upton went to the Braves, but that's a wash as they'll replace their lost pick with a fresh one when Bourn signs. Six of the seven signees inked multi-year deals, and all but LaRoche averaged at least $13M/year (his is 2 yrs/$24M), so it didn't seem to hurt their market value too much. The draft pick compensation goes away after the 2013 draft if the player remains unsigned that long.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Starling Marte Edition

Ah, let's take ten from the snow shoveling with a hot toddy and the warm thought of Starling Marté roaming left field:

  • Tom Singer of has a couple of notes on Starling Marté: First, he's had an extremely busy year. From Pirate City to Escogido, his Dominican Winter League team, he played 199 games. Good thing he gets a couple of weeks off before camp. And Singer added that last season Marté "...admitted foolishly trying to play through an injured right oblique, an injury he kept quiet. After confessing and recovering (he did eventually go on the DL in August for three weeks), Marté returned to hit .305 over his final 19 games."
  • Bill James projects Marté to hit .297/.336/.479 with 15 HR, 64 RBI, 82 runs and 31 stolen bases in 2013. ZIPS has him at .264/.310/.428 with 11 homers, 68 RBI, 74 runs and 24 stolen sacks.
  • John Sickels isn't sold on him. "So far, Marté is exactly the player we should expect him to be based on his scouting reports and track record: physically talented, exciting to watch, a fine defender, but with significant flaws that crimp his offensive value. My take is that Marté will scuffle along for another year or two at his current level of inadequate offensive performance (.247/.293/.403 in 2012), then make some adjustments and have a run as a solid hitter in his late 20s."
  • Marté was the third player in Pirates' franchise history to go long in his first at-bat and the first to do it since Don Leppert in 1961. He also became the first Pirate to homer off the first pitch of his major league career since Walter Mueller in 1922, and the 13th MLB player overall to manage that feat. If your memory needs refreshed, Marté did it against Dallas Keuchel at Houston on July 25th.
  • The last NL outfield to have Gold Glovers in left and center was Pittsburgh, with the Barry Bonds and Andy Van Slyke patrolling TRS's pasture from 1990-92. Singer speculates that Marté and Cutch could be the next pair.
  • Marté had a great DWL campaign for league champions Leones del Escogido. In 11 postseason games, Marté batted .422 overall, winning the Playoff MVP Award, and hit .304 in 29 regular-season games.
  • 2011 was his breakout year. While playing for the Altoona Curve, Marté was an Eastern League Mid-Season All-Star and Post-Season All-Star, a Baseball America AA All-Star, a Topps AA All-Star, and a organization All-Star. On August 15, 2011, Marté was named the EL's player of the week. Marté also won the Eastern League Batting Title with a .332 batting average and was named the Eastern League Rookie of the Year. He played in the 2011 All-Star Futures Game. Marté was added to the Pirates 40 man roster on November 18th, 2011. His prospect status soared, and he was ranked #73 on Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects list and #56 on Baseball Prospectus's Top 101 Prospect list, both released in early 2012.
  • Starling Marté was the first graduate of the Pirates' Latin American complex, located in the Dominican Republic, to reach the major leagues. Latin American scouting director Rene Gayo signed Marté in 2007 to an $85,000 bonus.
  • "The player I've always looked up to was Vladimir Guerrero. I followed him, and he's the type of player I wanted to grow up to be," Marté told
  • He grew up in Santo Domingo, and was raised by his grandma after his mom passed away when he was ten.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Wintry Recap

If you need a break from doing snow angels in your car and looking in vain for a salt truck, here's a little winter news recap:

  • Things that make GW scratch his head: the Bucs signed LHP Francisco Liriano for two years and $12.75M, if healthy. The NY Mets just inked RHP Shaun Marcum to one-year, $4M contract that was sweetened with $4M in possible incentives, while the Orioles signed RHP Jair Jurrjens to a one year, $1.5M deal. The caveat is both have health issues, and maybe that scared the FO away. Jurrens, who Pittsburgh was rumored to be looking at, was especially a concern.
  • Jason Mitchell of Hardball Times turned a simple counting number - RBI - into an advanced metric.  But hey, it works for Garrett Jones, who it turns out was the tenth most efficient RBI producer in baseball last season.
  • Random stat: Baseball Reference has last season's data on baserunning. The Pirates were the worst at stealing bases with a 58% success rate, and led the league with caught stealing at home with four, which as we recall were botched suicide squeeze plays. But they were lights out when it came to being tossed out as baserunners. The team was caught only 44 times running into outs, second least behind Oakland. The Bucs were just at league average in taking an extra base, at 42%.
  • This post is why you twitter guys should be following (AJ Burnett).
  • Jason Martinez of ESPN timed windows of contention for MLB teams. He sees Pittsburgh's optimal shot at the brass ring in 2016 (Insider subscribers only).
  • Kiley McDaniel continues his "From the Instructs" series for Fangraphs, and takes looks at Mel Rojas Jr., Gift Ngoepe, Wyatt Mathison, Stetson Allie, Luis Urena, and John Kuchno.
  • has picked its Top Ten shortstop prospects, and Alen Hanson hits the list at #8.
  • The Cards are looking at SS Ronny Cedeno as a Plan B if Rafael Furcal isn't recovered from his elbow injury.
  • Joggin' Ronnie Paulino just signed a minor league deal with Seattle.
  • Nyjer Morgan signed with the Yokohama BayStars of Japan’s Central League. 
  • IF Bobby Crosby, who last played big league ball in 2010, mainly as a Bucco, has signed a minor league deal with the Brewers.
  • Andy Marte, one-time hot shot 3B who last played organized ball in 2011 for the Bucco system, sat out 2012 and this year signed with the York Revolution of the independent Atlantic League. He's another frustrating cautionary tale of valuing prospects over proven players.
  • John Perrotto of Baseball Prospectus tweeted that Brian Graham was just named the Orioles farm director. He held the same job with Pirates before he got the ax after serving as the interim GM for Dave Littlefield in 2007, jumping quickly to the Os. Graham still lives in Cranberry.
  • Jason Starks of ESPN reported "There's pretty much zero chance now that we'll see any expanded instant replay in baseball in the 2013 season. It's almost certain, on the other hand, that we'll see vastly expanded replay after that, probably as soon as 2014. And what baseball appears to be discussing heavily is a system that would allow managers to make one or two challenges per game."

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Things We Wonder...

  • The Pirates traded for RHP Kyle Kaminska, who kicked butt at Bradenton (2-0, 1.69), Altoona (1-0, 3.00) and in the Arizona Fall League (3-1, 1.61). Then they dealt him to Boston for RHP Zach Stewart, who the FO DFA'ed and lost to the Chicago White Sox. Was there a point?
  • Clint Hurdle loves him some good glove, bad stick SS Clint Barmes. But he wouldn't play good glove, possibly not-as-bad stick back-ups Pedro Ciriaco in 2011 and Jordy Mercer last season. Maybe if they came from the Rockies...
  • The Bucs brought in 1B/OF Brad Hawpe and invited him to camp. He's behind Gaby Sanchez and probably Jerry Sands at first and, well, everyone in the outfield. Oh, he played for the Rockies...
  • Since Jose Tabata & Travis Snider are out of options while Jerry Sands and Alex Presley each have one remaining, have the decisions for the outfield already been made?
  • Maybe in the bullpen, too - Chris Leroux, Vin Mazzaro and Bryan Morris are also out of options.
  • Will Jeff Karstens or Francisco Liriano get first dibs on the clubhouse tub?
  • With no apparent SS replacement for Clint Barmes in 2014 (and he doesn't have an option clause), would Pittsburgh be better served by having Jordy Mercer get regular time at Indy this year, at least early on, especially if he's not going to see any appreciable field time in Pittsburgh? He still has a pair of options.
  • This is AJ Burnett's walk year; can the Pirate budget fit him in for a 2014 return if he performs equally as well this season as last? Remember, he'll be 37 in 2014.
  • In that vein, one thing we don't wonder about is if they can afford 34 year old Wandy Rodriguez. The Pirates are on the hook for $8.5M of his 2013 salary and $7.5M of 2014 (if he vests his option) thanks to Houston's ante. That's a fair price if he continues to perform better than league average, which he's done the past five seasons.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Francisco Liriano

Francisco Liriano from San Cristoba in the Dominican Republic signed with the San Francisco Giants as a 16 year old in 2000. He was an outfielder, but moved to the mound after the Giants found out he tossed a mid-90s fastball. “The Giants told me they would give me more money if I pitch, so I said I would,” Liriano told the NY Times Michael Schmidt. “But they had never seen me pitch. I didn’t like it, but all I wanted to do was play."

San Fran sent him stateside, and after four months of bullpen sessions, the 17 year old made his pro debut for the Arizona League Rookie Giants, the West Coast version of the GCL. The young lefty went 5-4/3.63 with 67 K in 62 IP, a pretty strong start. Liriano touched 96, and Baseball America ranked him as the Giants’ 14th best prospect in his debut season.

In 2002, the G-Men moved him along to Hagerstown in the Low A Sally League, and he put up a 3-6/3.49 count with 85 K in 80 frames. His heater was consistently in the 93 MPH range, and his secondary pitches were coming along well for a converted OF, jumping him up to a #4 rating by BA. But a career-long problem made its first appearance as he was shut down late in July with shoulder problems.

His wing gave out completely in 2003. He worked just nine innings, plus a handful of late-season rehab starts in the Instructional League, where he looked strong. Liriano was then welcomed to the baseball biz when he, Joe Nathan and Boof Bonser were shipped to the Twins for AJ Pierzynski and cash. Looking back, Brian Sabean would probably like a mulligan on that one (the Giants released Pierzynski after a season).

Liriano started out at High A Fort Myers in the Florida League for the Twins. He went 6-7/4.00 with 125 punchouts in 117 innings. He stepped up to AA New Britain in the Eastern League for seven starts, and did pretty well, going 3-2/3.18 with 45 K in 39-2/3 frames. He showed a big hook and his slider was becoming his plus pitch, so it was a pretty good year, especially after the injury-lost 2003 year. BA kept up the love, listing him as the Twins #5 prospect.

2005 was his breakout year. Starting at New Britain, he went 3-5/3.64 with 92 whiffs in 76-2/3 innings. Then he advanced to AAA Rochester of the International League, and put up a 9-2/1.78 line with 112 K in 91 IP and a WHIP of 0.88. Liriano was named the IL Rookie of the Year. He led all minor league pitchers in strikeouts, with 204 in just 167-2/3 frames, or 11 per game.Minny noticed and called him up in September; where his ERA was high but he collected 33 strikeouts in 23-2/3 innings.

The Cisco Kid was blazing along with a 95 MPH heater and a killer slider. BA rated him the best prospect in the Twins’ system and the Eastern League, and the second best (after Delmon Young) in the IL. John Sickels picked him as the #2 pitching prospect in baseball.

In 2006, Liriano opened the season in the bullpen, a move he didn't exactly endorse, before joining the Twins rotation in late May. He was on fire, getting off to a 12-3/2.19 start and was named Rookie of the Month twice in the AL. The Cisco Kid was named to the All-Star game by Ozzie Guillén to replace José Contreras. Talk of "The Franchise" winning both the Cy Young and Rookie of the Year filled the media as he finished the season by mowing down 144 batters in 121 IP.

Too good to be true? You betcha.

The Twin City staff put him on the DL in early August with elbow inflammation problems, partially of his own doing as he tried to pitch through soreness through July without notify management that he had an issue. Minnesota diagnosed him with a mild elbow ligament strain and shoulder weakness, but after a layoff and one September start, Liriano had Tommy John surgery to replace his ulnar collateral ligament. He missed all of 2007, and some mark the surgery as the turning point of his career.

In 2008, he got off to a slow start with Minnesota and was sent to the bushes to knock off the rust. Working for Rochester, he went 10-2/3.28 and was called back to the show. Liriano finished up 6-4/3.91, not a bad bounce back after TJ surgery. But for the first time, the lefty had fewer whiffs than innings (even though he still had a solid 7.9 per game and would come back strong in future years), and his control became a problem, with nearly four walks per nine innings.

Liriano's following season was completely forgettable. He went 5-13/5.80, and all his indicators were down. He lost a couple or three miles of velocity off his heater, he gave up more hits than innings pitched for the first (and only) time in his career, gave up 1.4 HRs per nine and walked 4.3 batters per game while K'ing eight. Also for the first time since his rookie 2005 campaign, his FIP (4.87) and ERA (5.80) showed a big spread, a phenomena that would hound him almost every following season.

There were some questions about Liriano's conditioning and rehab, so during the 2009 offseason, Liriano returned to the DR to play winter ball. He came to camp lighter, and gave the staff the sense that he was ready to go. The Twins considered using Liriano as a closer to replace the injured Joe Nathan and save his arm, but opted to add him to the rotation. Pretty good move.

Liriano tossed up a 14-10/3.62 slash in 2010, with 201 whiffs in 191-1/3 IP. His fastball was back and all his peripherals showed improvement - K's, walks, HRs, and hits. The walks and groundball rate showed the most dramatic upticks - he cut the walks down by a third and his grounder rate jumped from 40% to 54%. He was named the American League Pitcher of the Month for April to start the year, and ended as the 2010 AL Comeback Player of the Year.

But he couldn't come up with back-to-back big seasons. The lefty went 9-10/5.09 in 2011, with his whiff rate and fastball velocity both down. To make matters worse, he was on the DL from late May to mid-June with shoulder inflammation; he came back again, but in late August had a shoulder strain, pretty much ending the campaign for him but for a couple of late season mop-ups. Liriano did have a moment, though - on May 3rd, he no-hit the Oakland As 1-0 (walking six). Not only did he pick up a no-no, but it was (and is) his only MLB complete game.

2012 was more of the same. Minnesota flipped him to the White Sox at the deadline, and he threw equally poorly for both clubs. His line was 6-12/5.34, and for the second straight year, he walked five guys per game. The groundball rate dropped to 44% and he surrendered 19 HR. His velocity did pick up a tick, and Loriano struck out better than a batter per frame again, but not enough to get either team to invite him back into the fold.

So the Bucs signed him as a free agent in December, but the whole thing went on ice after an arm injury. They're reported to have resigned him, with some of the money flipped from guaranteed to incentive-based earnings. The FO overpaid at $12.75M, and the two year deal was twice as long than you'd expect for a bounce back guy. But that's the way of life for small revenue teams, especially ones that don't win - they have to overpay even flawed guys if they have enough upside to lure them to town.

Make no mistake, Liriano does have upside, sprinkled liberally with frustrating inconsistency. His fastball sits in the 91-94 range, which is sweet for a lefty. His slider is a plus pitch, and he throws a league average or slightly better change up. His K's still come fairly often, though the five walks per game doesn't cut it. But stuff isn't his problem.

Maybe health issues have kept him from becoming consistent. Before his TJ surgery, Liriano was 12-5/2.65 ERA; afterward, 40-48/4.68. That's a small sample size, but suggestive.

He handles lefties much better than righties; his lifetime slash against LH is .227/.301/.296; against righties .254/.335/.409. That's not too surprising. Liriano's slider is his go-to pitch, and it's much more effective against lefties. His change up is the pitch he shows RH, and it's not nearly as dominant. So that may play into his problems.

The Cisco Kid, as we mentioned before, has a sizable spread between his ERA (4.40) and FIP (3.75). His ERA has bettered his FIP just once in his career, in his standout 2006 campaign. It's lasted so long that's it hard to blame the gap on sampling size or old fashioned bad luck. His home run, walk and ground ball rates, along with LOB%, have been at or below league average every season with the exception of his 2006 and 2010 years, so maybe FIP overvalues strikeouts, understates walks or a bit of both.

The Pirates are aware that he's inconsistent with his mechanics, and the LOB % might indicate that Liriano could use some work on his stretch. Those are the early tweaks for Ray Searage to address, once he finally gets the lefty in camp. His conditioning is a question that won't be answered until Liriano returns from his arm injury.

And conditioning is fairly key to Liriano's performance. From what we gather from his medical reports, he has a chronically weak shoulder that requires a regular regimen to keep in shape. The shoulder stress is the link to his elbow problems. So hopefully he's following his doc's advice and working that wing.

Liriano is guaranteed to start once he's healthy; we'll have to wait and see how Clint Hurdle slots him. We'd expect him to pitch fourth if AJ works Opening Day to space the L-R sequence. For all the reasons we listed above, he's a risk. But there are reasons to like him, too.

At 29, Liriano's still in his prime. He's moving to a park that's lefty-friendly, especially regarding the long ball. Liriano only gave up one homer against a lefty last year, but 18 against righties; many of those balls die at the Notch in Pittsburgh. He should get a boost from moving to the NL; the senior circuit ERA is about .35 runs lower without the DH. And there's the karma: the stars align right for Liriano every three years, and if past history holds true, he's due in 2013.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Liriano Signs

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that the Bucs have reached a deal with LHP Francisco Liriano, 29, who was out with a bum right arm. He says the deal will match the original two year/$12.75M contract they had agreed to last month, but would be adjusted during the first season for time missed. The Bucs haven't announced the signing yet, and we assume a very thorough physical is planned before they will.

He didn't give specifics, but we'd guess that it was rewritten to flip some guaranteed money to inning or starts based incentives. The lefty brings some upside and experience. While his counting numbers haven't been very strong, his peripherals suggest that he could contribute as a mid-rotation guy.

The Pirates focused on his 48% career groundball rate and nine Ks per game as indicators, though those numbers are countered by his four walks per nine innings. At any rate, the FO is betting two years on the hope that he performs to his advanced metrics rather than to his ERA.

Liriano will join a rotation that today looks like AJ Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald and Jeff Karstens. It likely takes Jeff Locke and Kyle McPherson out of the mix - or puts the oft injured Karstens back in the bullpen to save some wear on his bod. By July, the Pirates will also have Charlie Morton, who is recovering from TJ surgery, and perhaps Gerrit Cole, who they now have no reason to rush, available for duty.

For that matter, they don't have to rush Liriano, either. This is the deepest staff of the Huntington era, and that's a necessity. Not only do they have some insurance against the inevitable injuries, but also for the question marks, like James McDonald & Liriano's ability to bounce back and JK & Charlie Morton's health.

That depth may come into play quickly. If the Cisco Kid isn't ready, Karstens and one of the kids will start the season in the rotation. This year's schedule is relatively busy at the start, and the Pirates will need all five guys to pitch the second time around.

The staff doesn't have any aces, but it does have some potentially solid mid-rotation types and numbers this year, and the pipeline should be ready to provide a couple of elite arms in the foreseeable future. And it does show that the Bucs realize the price of business is going up. With the signing, their 40-man payroll is sniffing at the $80M mark, with the team on the hook for $68M.

Bucs Still Shopping Jones?

With Garrett Jones signing, Tom Singer of speculates via tweet "With the Red Sox still shopping for a lefty-hitting 1B-OF -- ring any bells? -- you have to wonder if the Pirates will make another run at Iglesias."

He's referring to Cuban SS prospect Jose Iglesias, 23, a great gloveman who wasn't available to the Pirates earlier, but now may be since the BoSox inked Stephen Drew after the Hanny deal. AA shortstop Xander Bogaerts is maybe the #1 player in their minor league system, so Iglesias could be in play now. Mike Napoli's recent deal with Beantown still leaves the Red Sox a lefty bat short, tho they'd prefer to deal a guy like C Jarrod Saltalamacchia rather than Inglesias.

For the Bucs, they'd still require a solid return for Jones; Iglesias alone wouldn't be enough. Jones is probably at his highest value now, and offers two more years of team control through arbitration. Entering his age 32 season, he isn't a long-term piece of the Pirate puzzle, and Pittsburgh has been stockpiling guys to replace him if a opportunity to deal does come up.

But he does have 87 bombs in his four year Bucco career, and Pittsburgh doesn't have much thump in its sticks, so Jones may have more short-term value to the Pirates than he does to other clubs. His status as a platoon guy and his limited defensive value may make him a difficult sell for a solid return. But if someone's looking for a final piece and are willing to overpay some for it, the FO will - and should - be all ears.
  • Singer also tweeted that the Liriano deal isn't dead yet; the Pirates continue to seek more starting pitching, which will be a backburner storyline until April and maybe beyond.
  • Who is Pittsburgh's nominee in the "One Hit Wonder" category posted by David Schoenfield in The Sweet Spot blog? The answer is LHP Ollie Perez, who looked like a number one as a 22 year old in 2004 and now is working out of the bullpen for Seattle. The Mets, btw, paid him about $45M over five years for 29 wins and 520 IP.
  • Dave Laurila of Fangraphs interviewed Bucco backstop from the good ol' days, Spanky LaValliere. He has some interesting stuff on the pitchers he caught, both in and out of Pittsburgh.
  • Saturday was a bad day for MLB, with both Stan the Man and Earl Weaver passing on to the stadium in the sky.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Stan the Man

Maybe the greatest ballplayer to claim Western Pennsylvania as home, Stanislaw Franciszek Musial, better known as Stan the Man, passed away yesterday at the age of 92.

Musial was the son of an immigrant Polish millworker who raised his family in Donora. Stan was old school in every way; he married his high school sweetheart, Lillian Labash, from Donora HS (now Ringgold) and stayed married for almost 72 years until she passed on in May.

In 1936, at the age of 15, Musial played for the Donora Zincs, a local semi-pro team, advancing from batboy to starting pitcher. Musial lore has it that the multi-talented Dragon athlete (he was called "The Donora Greyhound ") turned down a basketball scholarship from Pitt, against his dad's wishes, to pursue his baseball career in 1938, beginning his trek at Class D Williamson, WV.

He started out pitching and a spare OF, but in 1940 landed on his shoulder diving after a ball (he was 18-5/2.32 before the injury, but couldn't find the strike zone very often) and was converted full-time to the outfield, finishing the season with a .311 BA.

In 1941, he hit .326 in Class C while learning to play the OF, was moved up to AA where he banged out a .326 average, and was called up to St. Louis in September, batting .426. He and his patented crouched lefty stance (White Sox HOF pitcher Ted Lyons described it as "a kid peeking around the corner to see if the cops were coming") were in the show to stay.

Before Stan the Man - he got his nickname in Brooklyn when the Dodger fans yelled out "here comes da man" - hung up his spikes 22 years later in 1963, he led the Cards to four World Series (and three titles), and collected seven NL batting titles, three MVPs, two MLB Player of the Year Awards and 24 All-Star appearances.

For modern stat heads, he put up a career WAR of 139.4 and won seven OPS titles. His lifetime OPS is .979, which converts to a 159 OPS+. And all that with a missing year during his prime - in 1945, he served in the Navy.

Carl Erskine, a Brooklyn pitcher, said he went after "...Stan by throwing him my best pitch ... and then backing up third." Preacher Roe, who tossed for both the Bucs and da Bums, had a different game plan against Musial. "I throw him four wide ones then try to pick him off first base."

Musial held 55 records when he retired. Elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility with over 93% of the vote, his HOF plaque simply says: "Holds many National League records ..." because the Hall couldn't fit all of his accomplishments on his bronze calling card. The Man was selected to the MLB All-Century Team in 1999.

His lifetime slash was .331/.417/.559. Musial never struck out more than 46 times in a season; in his career, he whiffed 696 times (5.5%) and walked 1,599 times (12.6%). The Man even laid down 35 successful sac bunts; imagine a middle-of-the-order guy with that number today.

He played for just one team, the Cards, in his 22 MLB years, and he and Red Schoendienst were said to have swayed Budweiser owner August Busch into buying the team in 1953, guaranteeing that the franchise stayed in Saint Louis.

The Man went 14 straight seasons playing 140+ games. In 1947, he was diagnosed with appendicitis and tonsillitis in May; he didn't have either removed until after the season, and hit .312 while playing 149 games. He had an 895 consecutive game streak until sidelined with a broken shoulder in 1957.

Musial was such a balanced ballplayer that he got 1,815 hits at home and 1,815 on the road, and finished with 1,951 RBI and scored 1,949 runs.

Not only did he leave a legacy of great baseball, but he was the epitome of a gentleman. He never turned down an autograph request, and in fact carried around pre-signed baseball cards to hand out, at the suggestion of his bud, John Wayne. There was no sniff of scandal or pretentiousness around the Man, and he was so beloved that Albert Pujols rejected the title of "El Hombre," saying only Musial deserved that title. It carried over on the field, too - he was never ejected from a game, and he played 3,026 of them.

President Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Musial in 2011, the highest award a civilian can receive. Donora named a bridge after him. And St. Louis adored him so much that they put not one, but two statues of him around their park. One says "Here stands baseball's perfect knight." And that's just about right.

There are only two arguments he's part of - was he, Ted Williams or Joe DiMaggio the best player of their era, and was Stan or Carnegie's Honus Wagner the best player from the area? Maybe they'll settle the debate on the Field of Dreams; it's for sure all four are playing there now.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Jones Signs...Some Housekeeping Remains

As expected when Garrett Jones and the FO didn't exchange arb figures yesterday, a deal was in the works. AP announced that that Jones struck a one year, $4.5M contract with the Pirates. That figure is just about on the nose for his estimated arb value of $4.4M as estimated by Matt Schwartz of MLB Trade Rumors. He doubled his 2012 salary of $2.25M, and still has two years of arbitration remaining as a Super Two.

Jones, 31, had a career year, batting .274/.317/.516 with 27 homers and 86 RBI as the Pirates primary clean-up hitter, and was rumored to be on several teams trade lists. The Bucs were said to want top value for him, and by signing him proved that he had high value to them. The only question is whether the platoon player - he's weak against lefties - had an outlier season or finally figured it out, helped by Buc management limiting his exposure to lefties.

With both he and Gaby Sanchez ($1.75M) signed, Clint Robinson and Jerry Sands, both whom have options remaining, could potentially start the season at Indy; at least one of them is redundant now. Robinson scores points as a lefty off the bench; Sands is more versatile as a 1B/OF. Where that leaves Matt Hague, who is pretty well out of the picture, and Matt Curry is squarely in no-man's land, depending on the Robinson/Sands assignments.

There are two guys left to deal with, Neil Walker and James McDonald. There's a pretty sizeable gap between what they requested and the Bucs offered. The Kid asked for $3.6M and was offered $3M; J-Mac asked for $3.4M and was offered $2.65M.

McDonald's midpoint of $3.025M is close to his predicted value of $3M, so there's a good chance he and the club may meet around there. Walker will be a little more testy. His predicted value was $2.9M, which the Pirates beat by a smidge. He may end up with a hearing, as he's entering his first year of Super Two status and so is setting a baseline for his paycheck through 2016.

As Tim Williams of Pirates Prospects pointed out, that figure will mean millions of dollars one way or the other over the life of his arbitration years. Whether the Bucs, or for that matter Walker, accept the midpoint of $3.3M will be the arb season storyline in Pittsburgh

Friday, January 18, 2013

Arb Numbers, Hawpe, 2013 Wins, &...

Arb numbers and some more...

  • Gaby Sanchez signed a one year, $1.75M deal with the Pirates, avoiding arbitration and getting just about what his arbitration figure was projected to be for this season.
  • Neil Walker filed for $3.6M; the Buc counter is $3M and the midpoint is $3.3M. James McDonald filed for $3.4M; the Pirate offer is $2.65M with a midpoint of $3.025M, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. Nothing on Garrett Jones yet; maybe they're trying to iron out a deal. 
  • The AP's Will Graves tweeted that Jeff Karsten's contract is guaranteed for $2.5M, but there's another $1M in inning-based incentives available, bringing him more in range of his $3.8M estimated arb value if he can stay on the hill and out of the tub.
  • Hey! The Pirates just inked another 1B/OF; pretty soon they'll be able to platoon not just by game, but by inning. Brad Hawpe, 34, signed a minor league deal with an invite to camp. He had TJ surgery in 2011, and played just 35 games in AA last year before being released at his own request. Clint Hurdle keeps having flashbacks to 2007 and Coors Field. It inspired this observation by Charlie Wilmoth at Bucs Dugout: "All MLB Teams Are Run By Idiots."
  • Hawpe joins RHPs Jamison Taillon & Luis Hernadez, along with C Ali Soltis, as non-roster invitees to spring training.
  • Bucs in the WBC: Ivan DeJesus, INF - Puerto Rico; Jason Grilli, P - Italy; Chris Leroux, P, and Russell Martin, C - Canada; Wandy Rodriguez, P - Dominican Republic; Ali Solis, C - Mexico; Jameson Taillon, P - Canada and Stefan Welch, INF - Australia. (if you're real curious, Altoona had 13 former players and a coach selected). The rosters are preliminary, but shouldn't change much for the March tourney.
  • The Red Sox signed Hanny for 1 year/$7.04M, the salary figure about as predicted, reported Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors
  • Sabremetric dudes are not impressed with the 2013 Buccos. David Manel at Bucs Dugout has them at 73 wins, as does Dave Szymborski  from House of Cramps.  
  • RHP Zach Stewart, recently acquired for Kyle Kaminska from Boston, was DFA'ed to clear a 40-man slot for JK.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Arb Rolls On...

The Bucs had eight arb eligible guys heading into the season. RHP Charlie Morton (1yr/$2M) signed a new contract, RHP Jeff Karstens was non-tendered and then later inked as a FA (1yr/$2.5M), and RHP Chris Resop (to Oakland) and RHP Hanny (to Boston) were dealt.

1B/OF Garrett Jones, 2B Neil Walker, RHP James McDonald and 1B Gaby Sanchez are left, and today they filed for arbitration hearings, which begin in February. It's not too uncommon - 133 players filed overall out of 213 eligible in October, and most will settle now that there's a deadline. Last year, Pittsburgh also had eight arb-eligible players and signed seven, with Jones going the distance and losing. The FO generally likes to work out contracts rather than take the arb route.

Per the process, the four will trade figures with the Pirates on Friday. They get to negotiate until, and even during, any hearing date. The figures will be interesting - Matt Schwartz of MLBTrade Rumors projected the arb awards to be $4.4M for Jones, $3M for McDonald, $2.9M for Walker and and $1.8M for Sanchez. The Kid and Jones might both prove thorny to sign if the Bucs are looking for a hometown discount, so we'll see how that plays out. Both Morton (est. $2.6M) and Karstens (est. $3.8M) signed well below the MLBTR projections.

They might as well get used to the process now. Morton has one year of arb left, Sanchez, Jones (Super 2) and McDonald have two years and Walker (Super 2) still has three years remaining, per Cot's Contracts. RHP Mark Melancon, OF Travis Snider, RHP Chris Leroux and RHP Vin Mazzaro could join that class in 2014.

  • We forgot to mention yesterday that Jason Grilli will pitch for Team Italy in the WBC. 
  • David Manel of Bucs Dugout has an estimate of Pirate offensive production in 2013 based on ZIPS and Bill James projections. ZIPS has a falloff and James an improvement, mainly based on differing outcomes for Pedro and Starling Marte. 
  • Arb isn't the only deadline creeping up next month. Pitchers and catchers report to Bradenton on February 11th.
  • Jo Jo Reyes, who pitched at Indy last year and signed during the off season with the Angels, is being released from his contract so that he can pitch in Korea.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

ZIPS, Bill James, BA Top Ten and Notes

ZIPping around the news:

  • ZIPS projections are out. Dan Szymborski released them at Fangraph's this year, and they don't look all that promising. The big four from last year: He has Cutch at .283/.369/.480 (Bill James - .286/.372/.483); Neil Walker at .270/.328/.430 (James - .275/.337/.435); and Garrett Jones at .253/.309/.446 (James - .254/.315/.454), so they agree that the trio are going to regress to their norms (which the steady Walker meets every season). The only disagreement is on Pedro - Szymborski has him at .236/.313/.451, while James sees steady improvement at .257/.336/.481. Don't ask about the pitching...yet.
  • The Pirates, Angels, Diamondbacks, Orioles, Mariners, and Padres are all believed to be vying for Rick Porcello. Detroit is looking for a shortstop, late-inning reliever, or right-handed hitting outfielder in exchange for the right-hander, according to Nathan Aderhold of the Daily Dish.
  • Cutch gets some MLB Network love.
  • John Perrotto in Baseball America picked his Bucco Top Ten Prospects, along with the Best Tools in the Organization and 2016 lineup.
  • Kiley McDaniel in his "Report From the Instructs" Fangraph feature gives a scout's view on pitchers Nick Kingham, Clay Holmes and Vic Black. He likes Kingham.

Monday, January 14, 2013

JK's Back...

Well, we guess the search for another starter has just taken a U-turn. Deciding to stay with the devil they know, the Bucs brought back Jeff Karstens, 30, a solid but fragile righty, after refusing to tender him in November.

Bill Brink of the Post Gazette reported the deal is for a year/$2.5M pending his physical, a cut from his $3.1M salary of 2012 and much less than his expected $4M arbitration deal. He's given the Bucs 375-2/3 innings in the past three years mainly as a starter, all cut short by injury, with a 17-23 record. JK's pitched to a sub-4 ERA the past two seasons, but only managed 41 starts.

We thought the Bucs screwed up when they let him go, but he didn't draw much interest in the marketplace, so the prodigal son returned home again. The Pirates other targets, Francisco Liriano and Shaun Marcum, both have bigger physical question marks and would command much bigger deals than Karstens, both in cash and duration.

While it dims the prospects of another starting pitcher signing on, it doesn't dismiss them out of hand. Outside of AJ Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez, Pittsburgh doesn't have a guy with a proven track record of dependability. But now they'll be dealing from strength rather than need, and that's a place the Pirates are rarely at.

Quick Hits

A couple of quick notes:

  • The search continues: Jon Morosi of Fox Sports tweets that the Bucs are looking at Shaun Marcum, along with Texas and San Diego. He's been a solid guy over his career, but only worked 124 IP last season with an elbow issue, making him a risk for 2013. In Pittsburgh's case, his biggest drawback is that he's a RH fly-ball pitcher with a 1.22 HR/9 innings career line, and so might not be the best fit for PNC Park.
  • Big off season for Cutch. Andrew McCutchen will appear on the cover of video game "MLB 13 The Show" after a vote that was cast at the site, Twitter and Facebook. "Dread the dreads" covers social media every bit as well as he covers center field. And with class, as his thx to Bucco fans shows.
  • For you twerps, AJ Burnett has finally gone social. You can follow him at .
  • John Perrotto of Baseball Prospectus tweets that the Bucs are "kicking the tires" of LHP Joe Saunders. 
  • Russell Martin and Chris Leroux are on the Canadian WBC preliminary roster.  
  • Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe: "The Red Sox and Pirates never got deep into discussions of first baseman/outfielder Garrett Jones during the Joel Hanrahan trade talks because, according to a major league source, “'The Pirates really valued Jones highly.'” That fits what we've heard, as chronicled by Tim Williams of Pirates Prospects. We'll see when they sign him just how much they really value him.
  • Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs in his "Reports from the Instructs"  features Gerrit Cole. He concludes that "everything is pointing at a big league debut sometime in 2013 as he continues progressing toward his ceiling of a true #1 starter."
  • Andrew Pentis of talks with Gregory Polanco and Josh Bell about their off season.
  • The Bucs signed Lucas May, a light hitting catcher who looks to be Tony Sanchez's caddy at Indy, as noted by John Dreker of Pirates Prospects.
  • They also signed Aussie 16 year old RHP Nick Hutchings, according to Dreker. He sounds like a real deal from down under, with the Bucs outbidding four other clubs for his services.
  • The Hall of Fame vote ended up with no new members, thank you, steroid era. Old Bucs Barry Bonds, Jose Mesa, Reggie Sanders and Kenny Lofton were on the ballot.
  • David Manel of Bucs Dugout took a comparative look at players' 2011-12 seasons, both for MLB leaders and for the Pirates. The biggest improvement went to Pedro; the biggest bust was Hot Rod.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Pitching Q&A

Some questions about the Pirate pitching as it now stands:

Will the Bucs keep trawling the market for another starter? We suspect not actively; they were looking for a mid-pack lefty who is a sinker/power pitcher. Chris Capuano has been mentioned and fits, but without Hanny to use as a lure, it's unlikely LA will dump him at a price the Bucs are willing to pay. Joe Saunders has also been mentioned, but he doesn't really fit the profile the Pirates are looking for. There's a slim chance Frankie Liriano ends up a Pirate, depending on the yet undisclosed severity of his injury, but it will be at a reduced rate and based on an incentive-based deal. Wonder what Shawn Marcum is looking for nowadays...?

Will James McDonald bounce back? 2012 was an outlier finish for J-Mic. But the Bucs might be wise to keep a little closer watch on his pitch count, and James could help his own cause by being more aggressive and trusting his fielders rather than looking for the punchout. Control and count seem to be his keys.

Are there too many back end pitchers in the rotation? Could be - Kyle McPherson, Jeff Locke and Andy Oliver, the main suspects for the Bucco back end, have given no indication that they're ready to step into a mid-level spot yet. They're all young, and as a group like to nibble. As the old adage goes, work quick and throw strikes, and if they follow that saw, they could become dependable. That's a big if.

Is help on the horizon? For once, the answer seems to be yes. Gerrit Cole could optimistically be ready this year, and Charlie Morton, who the FO has enough confidence in to nurse through another injury, should be back by July. Jameson Taillon has a 2014 ETA, and we still believe that Justin Wilson has the stuff to be a mid-rotation arm if he can quit fighting the strike zone. Phil Irwin fits into the back-ender-in-the-making mold. A couple more guys, notably Clay Holmes, Nick Kingham and Luis Heredia, will help keep the pipeline flowing.

Are Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon enough at the back end of the pen? It would seem, by their peripherals, that they should hold up. If not, Bryan Morris is a good late inning candidate to step into their spot, with Victor Black not too very far away.

The rest of the bullpen? It should be fine; the Bucs have made a slight change of direction by going after young fringe guys via minor deals than reeling in undervalued pitchers on the market. That's a more cost friendly direction, and if there's one thing the management has shown a good eye for evaluating during their tenure, it's relievers. Chris Leroux and Zach Stewart are swing men, along with Tony Watson, Jared Hughes, and Vin Mazzaro as bridge pitchers looking for 2013 spots.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Bucs Deal For Gomez, Looking At Leroux To Start?

Jeanmar Gomez, 24, is the latest addition to the fifth man competition in the 2013 Bucco rotation. He had been DFA'ed by the Indians, and the Bucs decided to roll the dice on the righty.

The Pirates swapped Altoona OF Quincy Latimore, 23, for the Indian hurler. Latimore was a prep draftee from Middle Creek HS, selected in 2007 as the Bucs' fourth round pick. He hit .252/.321/.433, with 15 home runs and 71 RBI for the Curve last season. In six ML seasons, his slash was .252/.310/.419.with 66 HR and 337 RBI.

In 2010, he was a Florida State All-Star and Organizational All-Star, but two years at Altoona soured the Bucs on the North Carolinian. The rap on him was that he didn't show much plate discipline, striking out 100+ times in each of the past four years, and he was treading water at Altoona.

Gomez made his big league bow in 2010. Last year he appeared in 20 games (17 starts) for Cleveland, and was 5-8/5.96 in 90-2/3 IP with 47 whiffs and 34 free passes. He was 3-2/3.19 after May 19th, but his season went downhill pretty quickly after that, including a couple of months in Class AAA Columbus. Overall, Gomez is 14-16 in parts of three MLB seasons with a 5.18 ERA (4.88 FIP), five K and three walks per nine, compiling a 49% ground ball rate.

He does a perfect game to his credit, tossing a no-no in 2009 for Class AA Akron. The Indians signed Gomez out of Caracas, Venezuela, in 2005 during the Neal Huntington era with the Tribe. He throws a sinker as his primary pitch, with a low-nineties four seamer, slider and change in his tookit.

Gomez, who is out of options, was placed on the 40-man roster, which is now full, replacing Rick Van Den Hurk. He'll join Andrew Oliver, Jeff Locke and Kyle McPherson in the battle of the back end. The Bucs are said to still be talking to Frankie Liriano's people, and the way the off season has been going, they may want to smoke a peace pipe with Jeff Karstens' camp, too.

That also could draw RHP Chris Leroux, 28, back into the picture. The Bucs had him start in the Dominican Winter League in 2011 to develop his secondary pitches. He made the club out of camp as a reliever last year, injured his pec and landed on the 60 day DL. Leroux had to clear waivers to stay with Pittsburgh, which had run out of 40-man space, and he did.

He was tossed into the Indy rotation in July when Rudy Owens was traded, and was called up in September with half of the Indian staff, rejoining the 40 man roster. Even if he doesn't get a sniff at starting, he does have a strong chance of filling a multi-role spot in the 2013 pen.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Bucco Bits - Liriano On Hold, Prospect Lists, More

A little Bucco news five weeks away from camp...
  • Frankie Liriano has a right (non-throwing) arm injury severe enough that he didn't come to Pittsburgh to take his pre-signing physical, writes Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review. The FO is still talking to his agent, but the two-year, #12.7M deal is on ice right now. We wondered what was up after he failed to report after Christmas. Anyway, the search for another arm may or may not go on. Neal Huntington said "...if there is not an acceptable upgrade out there, we’re ready to go forward with this group.” That means guys like Andy Oliver, Chris Leroux and Justin Wilson may get a long look at camp.
  • RHP Rick Van Den Hurk left the Bucs to join the Samsung Lions in Korea.
  • Jm Callis of Baseball America has the Bucco organization ranked eighth in MLB. He says "System isn't deep but has impressive trios of arms and bats that most can't match." Kristy Robinson tweets that BA's Top Ten are: 1 RHP Gerrit Cole, 2 RHP Jameson Taillon, 3 RHP Luis Heredia, 4 OF Gregory Polanco, 5 SS Alen Hanson, 6 OF Josh Bell, 7 RHP Kyle McPherson, 8 LHP Justin Wilson, 9 OF Barrett Barnes, and 10 RHP Clay Holmes. 
  • has their own Top Twenty list of Bucco prospects; the top nine are the same, though scattered about in a little different order.
  • Speaking of Cole, he did an interview with's John Parker. Cole must have spoken with AJ; he told the reporter that "My priority at the plate is getting a bunt down and not getting hurt."
  • Arbitration hearings begin in three weeks or so; we're sorta surprised the Bucs haven't done any deals with their arb guys yet (except for the injured Charlie Morton). The foursome are RHP James McDonald, 2B Neil Walker, 1B Gaby Sanchez and OF/1B Garrett Jones.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Jared Goedert

Yah, yah, we know - who the heck is Jared Goedert?  He's a minor league free agent the Pirates signed during the off season from the Indians organization who has never been a top prospect, doesn't have a position to call his own, and collects injuries like kids collect baseball cards. Still, it wouldn't surprise us very much to see him in Pittsburgh for a spell this year, as a bench bat.

Goedert was master of all sports at Concordia High in Kansas. He was All-State twice in baseball, hitting .538 with 11 home runs in 20 games during his senior campaign. The Concordia Kid was also All-State in football (as a QB, he led Jayhawk preppies in passing yards his junior year) and hoops (averaging 19.5 PPG as a senior).

Not surprisingly, the Cleveland Indians took a shot at him out and selected him the 36th round of the 2003 draft. Goedert said thanks but no thanks, and followed the footsteps of his ballplaying dad Joe by enrolling in Cloud County CC.

The next season, he transferred to Kansas State University. He played both first and second base as a Wildcat and put up a slash of .341/.423/.492. Goedert spent the summer playing for the Hays Larks of the collegiate Jayhawk League. He compiled a .482 OBP and a .633 slugging % with 19 doubles, 52 RBI, and 54 runs scored. He was named a First Team Summer All-American by Baseball America.

2006 saw him improve his stat line to .337/.466/.609 with a dozen long balls. Goedert did it the hard way, playing through a pair of broken noses as well as a torn tendon in his index finger, missing just two games.

The Indians called again after his junior campaign, taking him in the 9th round of the 2006 draft (281st overall) and inking him to a signing bonus of $70,000. It should be noted that Neal Huntington was part of the Cleveland management team during both Goedert drafts, so he's quite familiar with him.

Goedert reported to Mahoning Valley Scrappers of the short season NYPL, playing in 63 games with a .269/.328/.382 line. That's actually not so bad when you consider that he played the last month of the season with a bum swing and would undergo labrum surgery following the season.

He recovered fully and and reported to the Lake County Captains of the Class A Sally League in 2007. Goedert was a man amongst boys there, putting up a slash of .364/.475/.715 through 46 games with 16 HR, 51 RBI and 44 runs scored in just 205 PA. He was named a South Atlantic League All-Star, and was promoted mid season. But he aggravated his shoulder injury while diving to stop a ball just before getting moved up (ironically, it was during his last game at Lake County), and that would prove a major speed bump in his following campaigns.

The Kingston Indians in the High Class A Carolina League moved him to second to spare his arm (he was playing third like the baseball was a live hand grenade anyway), and he fought through the injury, hitting .256/.369/.424 with four homers and 23 RBI in 149 PA.

His weak shoulder took its toll in 2008. His slash at Kingston was .255/.336/.373 with 10 bombs, and his .709 OPS would be the lowest of his career.

Still, the Indians advanced Goedert to Class AA Akron in the Eastern League in 2009. He suffered through his worst slash ever, .224/.309/.348 with five bombs in 359 PA. Goedert again had to overcome an injury, this time an oblique, that limited him to 92 games. Hurt and floundering in High A and AA, his sheen was fading fast.

Just in time, Goedert recovered his health (and swing), impressing the Tribe FO in 2010's camp, hitting .426 with a .726 slugging %. It's a truism that spring stats are useless as predictors, but another bad performance on his part would have been a career killer, at least in Cleveland.

In Goedert's case, though, his spring showing was a sign of things to come. He was assigned to Akron and his slash was .352/.382/.540 with seven homers and 32 RBI in 44 games. That earned him a shot with the Class AAA Columbus Clippers. His line there was .261/.345/.528 with 20 dingers and 51 RBI in 81 games. Goedert finished off his comeback tour in Venezuela, playing 14 games with a slash of .333/.474/.444. In November, he had come full circle and was added to the 40 man roster.

But yes, you knew he was overdue. Goedert opened the 2011 season on the DL with an oblique injury. When he recovered, he went back to Akron for a few games before returning to the Clippers, where his slash was .271/.346/.593 with 15 homers in 79 games.

He was removed from the 40 man roster during the off season and went unclaimed. To add insult to injury, Goedert was assigned to Akron to open 2012.

In 2012, the Indians experimented with Goedert to the outfield after six seasons of corner infield to see if his glove could play better, though he did mainly play the hot corner. He raked in AA, and spent the last 86 games in Columbus, where he put up a .279/.331/.460 line with 14 home runs and 60 RBIs. He was named to's Indian organizational All-Star list for third straight year. That was nice, but more telling was the fact that Goedert didn't get a September call up for a team that lost 94 games.

Goedert became a minor league free agent after the season, and the Bucs signed him in November.

Despite the optimistic lede to this post, Goedert does have a holes in his swing and plays the field like the Joker plays Gotham. Not too surprisingly, given his shoulder and oblique history, most of his errors are because of wayward throws rather than iron hands. He's never been on a MLB roster, even for a cup of coffee, and is entering his 28 year old season (his birthday is May 25th).

However, he has shown legitimate home run power, his OPS+ hasn't dipped under 120 since 2009, and he's a 20%+ line drive hitter. Goedert isn't a wild swinger, with Class AAA career 20% K and 9% walk (.341 OBP) rates.

So all that makes him a potential DH candidate in the AL, and here in Pittsburgh, he joins the Pirate collection of bopper corner-type players. His prospects in the organization took a big hit when Jerry Sands, a guy with more pedigree and production, joined the club. But it's a long season, and the Bucs may find themselves in a position where a bench guy with a big RH stick comes in handy. At worst, he's pretty solid insurance in the system where the upper levels are thin.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Some Housekeeping Notes

A little recent Bucco housekeeping:

  • We've all been wondering when the Pirates are going to finalize the Franky Liriano deal. Tom Singer of tweets that there aren't any problems, but the team hasn't managed to get Liriano to Pittsburgh over the holidays for his physical. 
  • Cutch was named the Dapper Dan Sportsman of the Year, the first Buc to take that prestigious local honor since Jason Kendall in 2000. 
  • Former Wildcat Bryan Morris had his jersey (#15) retired by his alma mater, Tullahoma High in Tennessee, yesterday.
  • RHP Chad Beck was reclaimed by Toronto after Pittsburgh had claimed him in October and then tried to pass him through waivers to Indy this month. We expect the Jays to have the same game plan.
  • Troy Renck of the Denver Post reports that the Rox have "some interest" in RHP Jeff Karstens. 
  • Gorkys Hernandez, whom  the Pirates considered a great-field, light-hit OF, claimed the Venezuela Winter League batting title by hitting .372, Tom Singer noted
  • A little late on this, but Singer also had an article linking Tom Walker, Neil's dad, and Roberto Clemente. Some eerie coincidences are noted at the end of the tale...
  • Dean Treanor will return for his third season as Class AAA Indy's skipper. Mike Pagliarulo, former MLB 3B notably with the Yankees (Tom Smith of Rumbunter has his tale), replaces Jeff Branson as the hitting coach for the Indians. Branson was promoted to assistant hitting coach in Pittsburgh, helping out newcomer Jay Bell.
  • Carlos Garcia, who managed at Bradenton the past two years, will take over the helm at Class AA Altoona. He takes the place of PJ Forbes, who resigned last year rather than take a demotion to a lower level.
  • Frank Kremblas, who managed Indy from 2009-10 and then spent a year as a roving minor league assistant, is back behind the bench at High Class A Bradenton.
  • Michael Ryan will manage Class A West Virginia after a year of grooming as Rick Sofield's assistant. Sofield will join the big club as their first base coach. Old Bucco Orlando Merced is the new Power hitting coach.
  • Dave Turgeon will manage the short-season Jamestown Jammers. He was the State College field general last season; the Bucs switched NYPL franchises after the year.
  • Milver Reyes will manage the rookie league GCL Pirates. Reyes was a long time catcher in the Pirate system and was prepped as a player/coach last year. He takes over for Tom Prince, who will become a minor league coordinator.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Jerry Sands

Jerry Sands is a native of Smithfield, North Carolina, farming country, and grew up country strong. At 6'4", 210 pounds, he played both baseball and football for Smithfield-Selma High, the school that produced catcher Barry Foote, a ten-year MLB vet who played from 1973-82 for four NL teams.

He was hindered in recruiting somewhat by being a two-sport star from a small school, cursed with the "athlete" tag. A couple of ACC teams wanted Sands to walk on for football and/or baseball, but he decided to stick to baseball and joined some friends on the D-2 Catawba squad. Good choice, at least for the Indians. Sands set school records for homers (61), walks (132) and slugging (.752), while compiling a .381 career BA.

Still, Division 2 is Division 2, and he ended up drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 25th round of the 2008 draft, signing for the princely sum of $5,000.

Sands started off with the GCL Dodgers in 2008, hitting just .205 in 46 games. The big bopper struck out at a 23% rate, but showed a decent eye in drawing walks (16%; .346 OBP) and did have a .438 slugging % with 10 long balls in 46 games.

LA moved him up to Class A Great Lakes of the Midwest League to open his sophomore campaign. After a slow start, he was shipped down to short-season Ogden of the Pioneer League, and that turned on the light. Sand's line there was .350/.427/.687 with 14 HR and 39 RBI in 41 games, and he was selected to the PL All-Star team. In August, he was given a return ticket to Great Lakes.

He finished 2009 with a .260/.361/.510 slash for the Loons. Going into 2010, Baseball America ranked him the #25 Dodger prospect after the season, so he was starting to show on the radar.

In 2010 with Great Lakes, Sands broke out, putting up a line of .333/.432/.646 in 69 games, with 18 homers and 46 RBI. He was named Midwest League Player of the Week three times and appeared in the mid-season All-Star game, where he was named Player of the Game.

After the all-star game, Sands was promoted to the Class AA Chattanooga Lookouts in the Southern League, where he homered in his first game. He returned to earth a little, but still had a strong line of .270/.360/.529 with 17 more dingers and 47 RBI. Sands was named the Dodgers' Minor League Player of the Year, and capped the tour de force by playing for Don Mattingly's Phoenix Desert Dogs in the Arizona Fall League.

As to be expected, his prospect status hit the stratosphere. John Sickels had him at #2, Fangraphs at #4, Baseball Prospectus at #5, BA at #6 and at #9. Sands also got an invite to spring training.

He was assigned to the Class AAA Albuquerque Isotopes in the Pacific Coast League to open the 2011 season. Sands bashed, hitting .400 with five home runs and was called up by the Dodgers on April 18th. To clear a spot on the 25 and 40 man rosters for him, LA DFA'ed OF Xavier Paul, who in the "small world" department was claimed by the Buccos.

Sands played in 41 games for the Dodgers on a fairly regular basis, but his line was a disappointing .200/.294/.328 with two homers in 144 PA. He was sent back to the Isotopes on June 8th and continued to clean up in the hitter's paradise of the PCL. Sands' slash in AAA was.278/.344/.586 with 29 home runs and 88 RBI when Albuquerque's season ended.

He was a September call-up and returned with a vengeance, collecting 24 hits in his last 59 at-bats. His final line looked OK after that surge at .253/.338/.389, although the slugging % was below what the Dodgers had hoped to see, with just four homers in 227 PA.

Sands only got a cup of coffee with LA in 2012, hitting just .174 in 23 at-bats. But he continued to kill the ball at Albuquerque. In 119 games with the Isotopes, his line was .296/.375/.524 with 26 homers and 107 RBI to go along with a 21 game hitting streak. Sands was selected as the DH for the All-PCL team and earned a spot on the Topps AAA All-Star team.

The big guy ended up with the Isotopes all year in part because he was a PTBNL in the Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzales, Carl Crawford deal with the Bosox. Because Sands didn't pass through waivers, he couldn't officially become part of the transaction until after the PCL season concluded. It apparently didn't make much diff to Boston; he never got a chance to suit up for them before he was shipped to Pittsburgh as part of the Hanny deal.

Sands has gotten 251 PA in the show with a line of .244/.325/.376, four homers and 27 RBI. His strikeout rate is 24% (21% in the minors), though he does have a 10% walk rate (12% in the minors) and a +OPS of 96. He's not a consistent hitter, but given to streaks.

The most noted concern is that his swing gets long, leaving him susceptible to off speed pitches, late on heaters and the major cause of his high K rate. And Sands' splits are heavily tilted toward lefties (.316/.372/.532 v LHP; .204/.301/.289 v RHP in the show), so he has the look of a platoon-type player.

He has good speed for a big guy and enough arm to play right. One thing in his favor is that he's not a pull hitter, a bad thing for a RH to be at PNC Park, but has good power to right and right center. Sands has career .289/.376./.562 slash in the minors, and is a classic corner guy, having split his field time equally among left field, right field and first base.

Sands adds to the logjam among 1B/corner OF in Pittsburgh, and that leads to speculation that the Bucs may have another deal up their sleeve with that depth. If not, he still has one option remaining, as does Alex Presley. If they don't move anyone, that could become a roster determining factor, as Travis Snider and Jose Tabata don't have any options left.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Stolmy Pimentel

Stolmy Pimentel, 22 (he'll be 23 on February 1st), is the least known and perhaps most intriguing name who was part of the Hanny deal with Boston.

He was signed by the Red Sox in 2006 as a 16 year old from San Cristóbal of the Dominican Republic. His bonus was for $25,000, so the string bean teen wasn't considered an elite prospect at the time. That changed in a hurry.

Boston kept him home his first year, pitching for the DSL Red Sox in 2007. He went 3-1/2.90 ERA in 13 starts, striking out 60 hitters in 62 IP. He was named as the Bosox Minor League Latin Program Pitcher of the Year at seventeen.

Pimentel skipped a level and went to Lowell of the short-season NYPL for his American debut as the youngest starter in the league. He went 5-2/3.14 ERA in 11 starts for the Spinners and posted a strong whiff rate again with 61 K in 63 IP. Stolmy was named to the All-Star team and Baseball America rated him the Red Sox #10 prospect with the best changeup in the organization.

His star was taking off, so much that the Red Sox were ready to veto the trade that sent Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers and Jay Bay to Boston because of Pimentel, whom the Pirates wanted badly to be included in the deal. The Bucs instead settled on Craig Hansen, whose career has been derailed due to a nerve condition (he's now with the Mets organization, last throwing for Class A Savannah in 2012).

Stolmy moved up another step in 2009, joining Class A Greenville of the Sally League. His slash there was 10-7/3.82 in 23 starts covering 117-2/3 innings, with 7.9 K and 2.2 walks per nine. Fangraphs ranked him as the #6 prospect in the Sox system after the season, though he dropped of BA's Top Ten list.

He continued on his step-by-step journey, advancing in 2010 to High Class A Salem of the Carolina League. Pimentel's line was a workmanlike 9-11/4.06 in 26 starts lasting 128-2/3 frames. His K and walk rates took a bit of a hit, but he shaved a couple of hits per nine off the previous season, and it looked like he was beginning to learn to pitch instead of just throwing. It helped too that his fastball velocity picked up to the low-to-mid nineties.

Pimentel was named to the All-Star Futures Game with upside overcoming a very so-so stat line, and Boston added him to 40-man roster in November. Fangraphs ranked him as the Red Sox #5 prospect (#6 at BA), and evaluator Marc Hulet wrote "He...projects as a durable, innings-eater with the ceiling of a No. 3 starter."

Unfortunately, reality raised its head and bit him hard in 2011. Pimentel was sent to Class AA Portland in the Eastern League. In 15 starts and just 50-1/3 innings, his slash was 0-9/9.12 with horrible peripherals - 13.4 hits, 1.4 homers, 4.1 walks and only 5.4 K per nine. Pimentel was sent back to Salem, where he recovered his mojo a bit.

His most noticeable concerns were pitching behind in the count, a flat fastball, and a curve that hung more than dove (in fact, he dropped it that season and turned to a slider). He was named the Red Sox's No. 16 prospect by entering the 2012 season and #23 by BA, his prospect status suddenly on life support.

The righty got back on the bike in 2012 at Portland, and in 22 starts he went 6-7/4.59 in 115-2/3 frames with his peripherals rebounding to acceptable, though not strong, levels. Boston was going through a 40-man roster crunch during the off-season and they didn't want to DFA the expendable Pimentel and lose him for no return. So they did the next best thing and used him as a lure for the Hanny trade, no doubt remembering the Bucs prior interest in him.

Pimentel throws a four-seamer in the 92-94 range, with a cutter that's a couple of ticks slower. His change is an above average-to-plus pitch, and his slider is a work in progress. He started to show a sinker last year, and that's a pitch the Pirate people know how to teach. So his toolkit now features an acceptable fastball/change up duet, and possibly starter's stuff if he gets comfortable with and can control either the sinker or slider.

Alex Speier of Boston's WEEI Radio said "He may still develop into a mid-to-late rotation starter with the Pirates, and based on the progress he made with his delivery in 2012, along with Pimentel’s intelligence, work ethic and youth, it would be a mistake to rule out a developmental leap."

Pimentel's biggest problem moving ahead is that he's in his last option year, which means he has to be on the MLB roster by 2014 or could be lost. The Pirates will probably start him out in Class AAA Indy, and logic dictates they'll work him out of the bullpen. His fastball/change combo should play if he's only facing an order once.

In the big picture, a bullpen move could get Pimentel to Pittsburgh in 2014, and buys the Bucs a bit of time to straighten out his mechanics and add a third pitch to his repertoire. Ideally, they'd like to get him in the rotation eventually and if that's not in the cards, try to convert him into a back-end reliever. But hey, if he ends up in the Jared Hughes/Tony Watson mold of converted starters, that's fine, too.

Of course, none of the major league scenarios is a given; Pimentel has floundered in Class AA and may have hit his wall there. But he is an upside throw-in, and every so often you get to cash in your Lotto ticket.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Mark Melancon

The only proven major league piece that the Pirates received in the Hanny/Holt deal was RHP Mark Melancon, 27, a back-end reliever who was a closer for the Astros and a set-up man (briefly) in Boston.

He was born in Wheat Ridge, Colorado and attended Golden High School, where MM was a multi-talented athlete. He lettered four years in baseball and basketball and three times in football. He was pretty good in all of them, as Melancon was named to the All-State Team twice in baseball and football and once in basketball.

Melancon played on a Golden Demons team that won the Colorado 4A State Championship in baseball, and still had the focus to graduate as a member of the National Honors Society. He was ranked the #3 high school prospect in the state, and the Dodgers took a thirtieth round flier on him in 2003, adding his name to a class that included Chad Billingsley, Matt Kemp, Russ Martin and Andy LaRoche. But Melancon had made a verbal commitment to Arizona, and he kept it.

The hard-throwing righty set a single-season freshman record in 2004 by making 29 appearances, and followed that by going 2-0 with two saves in five postseason outings as Arizona returned to the CWS for the first time since 1986. He was also selected to the US National Team and picked up five saves for the Red, White and Blue.

After that strong summer performance, Melancon claimed Arizona’s closer’s job as a sophomore in 2005. He appeared in 34 games, and set a Wildcat single-season record with 11 saves. In 2006 he set the school’s career saves record at 18, and his 66-1/3 innings pitched was more than anyone on the staff beside the team’s top tandem of starters. In hindsight, all those frames may not have been such a good thing, and the workload was about to catch up to his arm.

During the offseason, Melancon was included among the 40 players named to the watch list for the Roger Clemens Award honoring the top NCAA Division I college baseball pitcher. But MM didn't get to vie for it, as he was shut down for his junior campaign with a strained elbow ligament. He didn’t require surgery - yet.

Baseball America ranked him as the 35th best draft prospect overall in 2006, even without tossing a pitch. But his elbow injury scared off a lot of clubs; they suspected future TJ surgery was in the offing (they were right). He dropped to the ninth round, when the Yanks, who had checked out his arm apparently to their satisfaction, took a chance on him with the 284th overall pick. They inked him to a $600K bonus, the slot value for a mid-second rounder. Melancon joined Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, George Kontos and even Daniel McCutchen as draftmates.

After signing his deal, Melancon was assigned late in the year to the short season Staten Island Yankees of the NYPL in 2006. He whiffed eight in 7-1/3 IP, then picked up the save in both of SI’s wins in the league championship series, including the title clincher.

The Yankees sent Melancon to briefly lived Hawaii Winter Baseball league after the season to pick up a few more innings, but he had to be shut down after complaining of elbow soreness. That led to Tommy John surgery in November, costing him the 2007 season.

But he recovered OK, and by fall of 2007, he was doing some Instructional League rehab. Despite missing the year, BA rated him the Yankees’ 11th best prospect after the season, due in part to his good showing in instructional league.

The Yankees invited Melancon to camp in 2008. That's the year he fast-tracked his way through the Bronx Bomber organization, zipping from Class High A Tampa, AA Trenton and AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. His overall line was 8-1/2.27 in 41 outings covering 95 IP, with 89 K, a 0.958 WHIP and opponent BA of .202. For all that, MM didn't get a call to Yankee Stadium; the NY FO thought after his injury comeback that he had worked enough innings. He went into the 2009 season as the Yankees' #9 prospect, according to BA.

After starting 2009 at WBS, Melancon was called up to the majors for the first time on April 25th. He made his MLB bow the next day against the Boston Red Sox, pitching two scoreless innings. MM yo-yo'ed abck and forth between AAA and the show. He ended up 0-1/3.86, but his K rate and walk rate were the same at 5.5 per nine, so it was apparent that he wasn't ready for the bright lights yet.

He again began at WBS in 2010, and made just a pair of appearances for the NYY, getting pretty well lit up, giving up four runs on seven hits in four frames. MM continued to be strong for WBS, going 6-1-6/3.67 with 58 K in 56-1/3 innings, though control continued to be a problem with five walks per nine.

The Yankees were pretty deep in minor league arms and cash while Houston wasn't, and Melancon was traded along with Jimmy Paredes to the Astros for Lance Berkman right at the July 31st deadline.

Melancon got a quick three-game AAA evaluation at Round Rock before joining Houston. He worked 17-1/3 frames, striking out 19, with a late season line of 2-0/3.12, and the walks came down a little, though still at four per game.

He went from Astro set-up man to closer after Brandon Lyon fell to a labrum injury. MM handled the job fairly well, going 8-4/2.78 ERA, with 8.0 K/9 in 74-1/3 innings in 2011, saving 20 games in 25 opportunities. His strikeout rate stayed fairly strong at eight per nine, and the walks dropped to a much more manageable three per nine.

On December 14th, he was traded to the Boston Red Sox for infielder Jed Lowrie and starter Kyle Weiland. The Astros traded him to Boston after the season for Jed Lowrie on December 14th, when he was at high value. That value would drop off the cliff quickly in Beantown.

Melancon was slotted in as the Bosox set-up man, but that plan didn't last but four games before he was bombed back to AAA Pawtucket with an ERA of 49.50 on April 18th.  He served up five gopher balls while facing a mere 18 batters after giving up just five longballs total in all of 2011. After a couple of months of getting himself together and dominating the International League (11 saves, 0.83 ERA, 11.2 K per nine in 21 outings), Melancon was recalled to Boston on June 10th after an elbow injury to Rich Hill.

He tossed to a 4.19 ERA after that, but that couldn't save his season-ending slash of 0-2-1/6.20. Except for an ugly eight homers in 45 IP, his other peripherals were OK - 8.2 K against 2.4 walks per nine, a 1.267 WHIP and 50% ground ball rate. Nevertheless, Boston said "bah humbug" to him during the holidays, and so now he's in Pittsburgh as part of the Hanny Christmas sale.

There are a couple of reasons to expect a bounce back from Melancon. His fly ball rate (26.5% last season) wasn't appreciably higher, so the home run surge against him looks like an outlier. His career numbers - 53.8% groundball rate, 8.5 K, 2.7 BB - look good. Melancon's control seems to have  improved every season. He's returning to the NL Central, certainly a more pitcher friendly division than the AL East and one he's had success in.

And he's controllable. The right-hander won't be arbitration eligible until after the 2013 season and won't enter free agency until after the 2016 campaign (though he is out of options).

He doesn't have the stuff or the ceiling that Hanny has, and he does show same side tendencies. Righties put up a career .226/.293/.336 line against Melancon while lefties hit .253/.342/.402 against him. That's an 86 v 119 OPS. It's a noticeable split, and one that may come into play in lefty-friendly PNC Park.

MM should fit in with guys like Jason Grilli and Jared Hughes; he's in competitive and combative mode from the second the bullpen gate swings open. He's a power pitcher - his four seamer can touch 97, and both his regular and cut fastball clock in at 93. Melancon has a plus curve to go with it. The Bucs may want to work on his change - until he's comfortable using it, lefties will likely keep that favorable split against him.

With Melancon now aboard, it looks he's the set up man for Jason Grilli and the Bucs have their Plan A in place for the back end of the pen. Let's hope he breaks from the gate a little faster this coming season than he did for the Red Sox in 2012, as his career stat slash suggests he should.