Elvis Escobar to Pitch Winter Ball In Venezuela

By Jason Shetler

p/c: MiLB.com

Per John Dreker of Pirates Prospects, Elvis Escobar is set to pitch in the Venezuelan Winter League for Cardenales de Lara. Dreker notes that the Pirates will put a limitation on Escobar by not having him pitch on consecutive days.

Escobar signed with the Pirates originally as an outfielder in 2011. He struggled to get anything going offensively, as his career minor league OPS is at .666. 

In late May, Escobar made an appearance on the mound for AA Altoona in a blowout game. His fastball had reached 94 mph. Given his struggles at the plate, he decided to make the conversion to pitcher full-time. 

The Pirates sent Escobar to Low A West Virginia in late June to begin his new gig. He then  rejoined Altoona in late August. Combined with the Power and Curve, Escobar posted a 3.56 ERA, along with a 1.35 WHIP and a K/9 of 10.7 in 18 games pitched. While on the mound, he displayed a mid-90’s fastball and a curveball with big break. If Escobar can show the ability to throw enough strikes, he could wind up being a quality southpaw reliever.








Pirates to Interview Andy Barkett For Hitting Coach Job

By Jason Shetler

p/c: MLB.com

According to Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes, the Pirates will interview Boston Red Sox assistant hitting coach Andy Barkett for their hitting coach vacancy.

Just a day after the regular season finale, the Pirates decided to relieve Jeff Branson of his duties as hitting coach. Branson had been in that role since 2014. 

Barkett played for the Pirates, appearing in only 17 games during the 2001 season. Following his playing career in 2005, he managed in both the Tigers and Marlins minor league systems. 

In 2016, Barkett returned to the Pirates organization to serve as an assistant minor league hitting coordinator. He then became the manager for AAA Indianapolis in 2017, leading the Indians to an International League West Division title. Prior to this season, Barkett was hired by the Red Sox as the assistant hitting coach under first-year skipper Alex Cora.




Why Pirates Need to Protect Tyler Eppler this Offseason

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Adam Pintar

The Pirates finished this year with a record of 82-79, giving them their first winning season since 2015. Aside from the bullpen, the rotation as a whole was consistently solid. Jameson Taillon was able to take that next step as a frontline starter, Trevor Williams pitched at an All-Star level, Joe Musgrove exceeded expectations in his first year in Pittsburgh and Ivan Nova was good enough. Chris Archer had his moments of pitching subpar, but to his credit, performed much better down the stretch.

Despite the good pitching from their regular starters, they didn’t get much help from their depth options. Nick Kingham had a disappointing rookie showing with the Pirates, while Clay Holmes struggled with his command. One starter who surprisingly wasn’t given an opportunity to pitch for the big club this season was Tyler Eppler. 

After spending the entire 2017 season with AAA Indianapolis, Eppler returned there to begin 2018. He was a workhorse for the Indians this year, compiling 153 innings, third most in the International League. Eppler put up a 3.59 ERA and a FIP of 3.78. Since being drafted by the Bucs in 2014, he’s been one of the best control pitchers in the system, and that was no different this season, posting a 2.3 BB/9.

Eppler was not added to the Pirates 40-man roster last offseason, therefore, exposing him to the Rule 5 Draft. However, he was not selected. He will again be Rule 5 eligible, so he’ll have to be placed on the 40-man or go through the draft process. 

This offseason, Eppler will be pitching in the Dominican Winter League for Toros del Este. If nothing else, it’ll be a showcase for other teams to scout him, although, the Pirates can easily prevent that by just adding him to their roster. Protecting him this offseason needs to be a priority. Other than Mitch Keller arriving at some point in 2019, the Pirates don’t have much else to lean on with their depth, unless Kingham and/or Holmes pitch significantly better. Also keep in mind that they won’t have the services of Chad Kuhl next year, as he’ll be recovering from Tommy John surgery. With his excellent control of a mid-90’s fastball, along with a 6’5, 230 lb frame, Eppler has the potential of at least being a quality backend starter. 




Reds Reportedly Interviewed Tom Prince For Managerial Position

By Jason Shetler 

p/c: Christopher Horner – Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

 The Cincinnati Reds are in search of a new manager this offseason. Pirates Bench Coach Tom Prince was interviewed by them, this according to Reds beat writer Mark Sheldon.

The Reds had been managed by interim skipper Jim Riggleman, following the dismissal of Bryan Price in late April. 2018 marks Cincinnati’s fifth straight losing season, as well as their fourth consecutive year of 90-plus losses. 

Prince has spent the past two seasons as Bench Coach for the Pirates under Clint Hurdle. The 54-year-old Prince has yet to manage full-time at the big league level, but does have an extensive track record of managing in the Pirates system, with Williamsport (2005-2006), GCL Pirates (2007), Bradenton (2014) and Altoona (2015).




A.J. Schugel, Buddy Boshers and Casey Sadler Elect Free Agency

By Jason Shetler

According to MLB Trade Rumors, pitchers A.J. Schugel, Buddy Boshers and Casey Sadler have all elected to become free agents. 

Schugel was looking to make the Pirates bullpen out of Spring Training this year, but a shoulder injury prevented that from happening. He likely would’ve made the club, since he was out of options. The shoulder problems persisted for him throughout the season. During the 2016 and 2017 seasons, Schugel pitched well with the Pirates, as he posted a 3.00 ERA and a 3.50 FIP in 68 appearances. 

Boshers joined the Pirates as a waiver claim from the Houston Astros in August. Despite being with the big club on August 11th, the 30-year-old lefty never appeared in a game, and was designated for assignment on September 4th. It was somewhat surprising not to see the Pirates give Boshers an opportunity as a southpaw out of the bullpen, especially with the inconsistency of Steven Brault for much of 2018.

Sadler had been with the Pirates organization since 2010. The native of Stillwater, Oklahoma returned to the Bucs this year, this after last pitching for them in April of 2015. Sadler was able to work his way back from Tommy John surgery, which had wiped away his 2016 season. Most of Sadler’s 2018 campaign was spent with AAA Indianapolis. He split his time pitching as both a starter and reliever for the Indians, posting an ERA of 3.39, along with a 1.36 WHIP in 77 innings of work.










Pirates Prospects Who Took a Big Step Forward In 2018

By Jason Shetler

While the Pirates have a few weeks left on the schedule, the Bucs minor league affiliates have all concluded their seasons. Here now are some of the Pirates prospects who were able to take that big step forward in 2018.

Domingo Robles: Signed by the Pirates out of the Dominican Republic in 2014, Domingo Robles began this season with the Low A West Virginia Power. The 20-year-old southpaw really held his own in his first full season of pro ball. In 21 starts for the Power, Robles put up a 2.97 ERA, which was seventh lowest in the South Atlantic League. He also displayed excellent control, issuing just 26 walks, sixth fewest among SAL pitchers who made at least 20 starts. Robles has a low-90’s fastball, a curveball and changeup, all of which he can throw for strikes. He earned a promotion to High A Bradenton in early August where he pitched in five games. He’s currently ranked 28th in the MLB Pipeline rankings for Pirates prospects.

Jared Oliva: Outfielder Jared Oliva was able to open some eyes this season. A seventh round pick of the Bucs in 2017, Oliva posted a .354 on base percentage and had 33 stolen bases in 108 games for the Bradenton Marauders. Among players within the organization, only Cole Tucker stole more bases (35) than Oliva this year. MLB Pipeline has Oliva ranked #22 in the Pirates system.

JT Brubaker: After pitching well in the Arizona Fall League a year ago, JT Brubaker found a way to use that as a springboard for himself, as his 2018 season was his best. Brubaker started off the year with the AA Altoona Curve, posting an ERA of 1.80, along with a 2.64 FIP in six outings, before being promoted to AAA Indianapolis in mid-May. In 22 starts for the Indians, he had a 3.10 ERA and a 3.59 FIP. Brubaker utilized his two-seam fastball more this season, and the result was a career best 56% groundball rate combined with Altoona and Indianapolis.

Ke’Bryan Hayes: While Ke’Bryan Hayes is regarded as one of the top defensive third basemen in the minors right now, he put together his best offensive numbers this year. In 117 games played for Altoona, he posted the seventh highest OPS in the Eastern League at .819, and his 31 doubles were good for fourth most in the league. Now the Pirates #2 prospect, Hayes represented the organization in this year’s MLB Futures Game at Nationals Park and showed off his improved power by hitting a two-run homer.

Max Kranick: Perhaps one of the Pirates better diamond in the rough picks from the 2016 MLB Draft is Max Kranick, who was selected by them in the 11th round. Despite being drafted out of high school just two years ago, Kranick already throws a plus changeup to go along with a mid-90’s fastball and improving curveball. He didn’t join the West Virginia Power until May, but put up good figures once he arrived there, posting a 3.81 ERA, a 3.55 FIP and a WHIP of 1.15. Kranick also racked up the strikeouts, as he fanned 76 batters in 77 innings of work.

Oneil Cruz: Acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers at the 2017 trade deadline for Tony Watson, Oneil Cruz really broke through this year in his first full season as a member of the Pirates organization. With the West Virginia Power, he had an .831 OPS, which was fifth best in the SAL, while registering a wRC+ of 134 in 103 games. Cruz tapped into some of his power potential, hitting 25 doubles and 14 home runs. He also displayed the ability to hit balls to all fields. As a matter of fact, 59.2% of the balls he put in play were either hit up the middle or the opposite way. The overall numbers look even more impressive when you consider that Cruz played the Low A level as a 19-year-old. MLB Pipeline now has him ranked Top 5 among Pirates prospects at #4. 

Travis MacGregor: After drafting Travis MacGregor out of high school as a second round selection in 2016, the Pirates were able to ink him, this despite the fact that he signed below slot value, and could’ve easily honored his commitment to pitch at Clemson instead. Following a disastrous 2017 season in which the Pirates felt that MacGregor was possibly tipping his pitches, he made significant strides in 2018, posting a 3.25 ERA, along with a .235 batting average against and a K/9 of 10.5 in 15 starts. MacGregor however dealt with shoulder and forearm issues at different times this year. Stuff wise, he threw a fastball that reached upper-90’s and a curveball with good spin. Hopefully MacGregor can stay healthy moving forward, because his potential is plenty to be excited about. 

Will Craig: Coming out of Wake Forest, Will Craig possessed phenomenal on base skills, and the Pirates were intrigued by the former ACC Player of the Year enough that they took him in the first round (22nd overall) of the 2016 MLB Draft. In his first two seasons of pro ball, Craig posted a strong .393 OBP. Although the on base figure was outstanding, he was lacking power for a corner infielder, registering just a .367 slugging percentage and eight home runs total in 2016 and 2017. Before this season began, Craig said he was willing to sacrifice his batting average for more power. The new aggressive approach paid dividends for Craig in 2018 with the Altoona Curve, as his .448 SLG%, 30 doubles and 20 homers were all career highs.








Bucco Nation Poll Question

By Jason Shetler