Saturday, February 16, 2019

Pitching Battles In Camp - Bullpen: Top Heavy

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Minor League Deals w/Non-Roster Invites:

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

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

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

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

Minor League Auditions:

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

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

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

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

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

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