Clay Holmes Opening Some Eyes with His Velocity

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Kim Klement – USA Today Sports

In the 2011 MLB Draft, the Pirates chose a pair of diamond in the rough starting pitchers. The first was Tyler Glasnow, who was taken in the fifth round, while the other was Clay Holmes, a ninth round selection. Upon being drafted, Glasnow had better velocity on the fastball than Holmes, and also had a curveball that was considered a plus pitch. The combination of an upper-90’s heater and a swing and miss curve helped Glasnow become the Pirates top pitching prospect. Holmes profiled more as a groundball pitcher. In his first two seasons of pro ball, 2012 with the State College Spikes and 2013 for the West Virginia Power, he posted a 3.18 ERA, along with a 57% groundball rate. 

During Spring Training of 2014, Holmes experienced elbow discomfort and had to miss the entire season due to Tommy John surgery. He successfully recovered from the injury in 2015, and made nine rehab starts combined with the GCL Pirates and the Bradenton Marauders, posting a 2.48 ERA and a groundball rate of 58%. Altoona is where Holmes pitched all of 2016. In 26 starts for the Curve, he had an ERA of 4.22, but did put up a career best 62% groundball rate. This past offseason, Holmes was eligible for the Rule 5 Draft. The Pirates however placed him on the 40-man roster prior to the Winter Meetings. 

As I mentioned earlier, Holmes is a groundball pitcher, but what is now beginning to really stand out is the velocity on his fastball. In his third start of the season on Thursday for the Indianapolis Indians, he displayed perhaps the best fastball velocity of his minor league career, registering 96-97 mph and topping out at 99 mph, all while tossing six shutout innings versus the Durham Bulls. Prior to that outing, I never recalled him hitting 99 on the gun with the fastball. When I spoke with John Dreker of Pirates Prospects, he mentioned that Holmes has been throwing harder this year. The current velocity is a real significant spike compared to what it was before having Tommy John, which ranged from 90-93 mph. With the combination of added velocity and terrific sink on the fastball, Holmes would certainly be an intriguing option to have compete for a spot in the Pirates rotation in Spring Training next year.






Bucco Nation Mailbag

By Jason Shetler

Thanks to everyone who tweeted or messaged me their Pirates questions for the first regular season edition of the “Bucco Nation mailbag”. And with that being said, let’s dive right into it.

What do the Pirates do about Starling Marte? – Try to deal him when suspension is over? Or continue with him and hope he doesn’t use PEDs again? – James from Pittsburgh, PA

I would be really shocked if the Pirates had thoughts about trading Marte based on the situation. Just let him serve his punishment, and just hope that he learned his lesson, because he is far too valuable an asset for this team offensively, defensively and on the basepaths.

Do we expect Jose Osuna to stay up or do you see Austin Meadows making some appearances? – And will Alen Hanson see some regular starts anytime this season? – Brock from Tyrone, PA

Obviously, if Osuna performs well, then he should remain with the club. Perhaps he gets put into a right field platoon with John Jaso for the time being. Should Osuna struggle, Meadows should receive the next call up. Truthfully, I would like to see Meadows get his feet wet at the big league level before Marte makes his return from suspension. To answer your second question, I don’t see Alen Hanson receiving much playing time this season, unless a couple of infielders sustain an injury.

Is it inevitable that Andrew McCutchen, Tony Watson and Josh Harrison will be traded at the deadline? – Joey from North Hills, PA

Should the Pirates find themselves in seller mode, then I think it’s very fair to say that all three will be out of Pittsburgh. Austin Meadows is the heir apparent to McCutchen, while Watson is a free agent after the season. In the case of Harrison, he has a salary that the Pirates would like to unload. In addition, they have Adam Frazier, who could replace Harrison at a much cheaper cost.

After the recent PED suspension of Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen showing he can still play center field, what do you think the chances are that the Pirates sign McCutchen to another long term contract, especially with Austin Meadows in the wings? -Cory from Danville, PA

Honestly, I would say the chances of re-signing McCutchen to another long term extension is slim. Not only because Meadows is knocking on the big league door, and could probably get called up now, if the Pirates chose to, but McCutchen is now in his age 30 season, and isn’t far off from exiting his prime. The one thing you want to avoid is extending a player who’s in there 30’s to a long term deal, because you obviously don’t want to pay someone significant dollars for their declining years.

Are the Pirates good enough to stay in the race as is or do they need to go out and get a bat, and if so, who and at position? – Rich from Coraopolis, PA

The Pirates pitching so far in April has been a pleasant surprise. If they can continue that great work, they can certainly compete for a Wild Card spot. However, the offense has really lacked consistency in the early going, and there’s no sugarcoating it. My guess is they would go with internal options to try and boost the offense. For example, Frazier getting more regular playing time over Harrison or Meadows joining the club.












Bucco Nation Poll Question

By Jason Shetler 

Pirates Acquire Johnny Barbato from Yankees

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Icon Sportswire

The Pirates have announced that pitcher Johnny Barbato has been acquired from the New York Yankees for either a player to be named later or cash considerations. He will report to AAA Indianapolis. 

Barbato was selected as a sixth round pick by the San Diego Padres in the 2010 MLB Draft out of high school. The 24-year-old righty joined the Yankees organization prior to the 2015 season, after being traded from the Padres in exchange for pitcher Shawn Kelley. 

Most of the 2016 season for Barbato was spent at AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he posted a 2.61 ERA, along with a 1.26 WHIP and a K/9 of 9.1 in 48.1 innings. He also pitched with the Yankees, posting an ERA of 7.62, with a much more forgiving 4.45 FIP and 3.74 xFIP in 13 innings of work. Barbato put up a 10.4 K/9 for the Yankees, and displayed a really good fastball, with an average velocity of 94.6 mph.





Will 2017 Finally be the Year Gift Ngoepe Joins the Pirates?

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Kim Klement – USA Today Sports

In the early part of Neal Huntington’s tenure as Pirates General Manager, there was a big emphasis on signing players from different countries, even those that really weren’t a hotbed for baseball talent. The most notable example was Rinku Singh and Danish Patel, who participated in a contest in India called “The Million Dollar Arm”. Both Singh and Patel had never played baseball prior to being signed by the Pirates in 2008. 

Another interesting player signing that year, which didn’t receive as much attention, was Gift Ngoepe, a switch-hitting shortstop, who became the first black South African player to sign a professional baseball contract. During his time in the Pirates organization, Ngoepe has drawn rave reviews for his defense. So much so, that most baseball publications have considered him the best defensive infielder in the system. While the defense has been nothing short of stellar, the offense leaves quite a bit to be desired. 

In Spring Training of 2015, Ngoepe informed Pirates management that he was no longer going to be a switch-hitter, admitting that he feels much more comfortable as a right-handed batter. The change seemed to do some good, as he put a .333 on base percentage that year combined with the Altoona Curve and the Indianapolis Indians. However, he was unable to adjust to a full season of AAA pitching last year, posting a woeful .289 on base with the Indians.

Although Ngoepe was a long shot to make the Pirates out of Spring Training this year, he made a strong impression at the plate, as he posted a .500 OBP in 48 plate appearances. That performance has carried over in the early going of the season for Indianapolis, with an OBP of .387. The BABIP however is at .471, so that on base mark will come back down to earth. The league average OBP for a player is about .330, so if Ngoepe can keep it around there or better, to go along with his elite level defense, then he would be deserving of a call up to Pittsburgh at some point this season, and perhaps a legitimate opportunity to make the Pirates bench out of Spring Training next year.





Al Oliver to be Honored by the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

By Jason Shetler

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum has announced that five players will be honored for their fourth annual “Hall of Game” class on June 10th. Those players are Dave Stewart, Lee Smith, Maury Wills, Tony Perez and Al Oliver. 

Oliver signed with the Pirates as an amateur player in 1964. He spent the first ten seasons of his Major League career in Pittsburgh. Oliver was a three-time All-Star with the Pirates in 1972, 1975 and 1976, and played an integral part in the Bucs World Series championship club in 1971. 

Prior to the 1978 season, Oliver was involved in a four-team trade that sent him to the Texas Rangers and Bert Blyleven to the Pirates. While with the Rangers, he was a two-time All-Star in 1980 and 1981. Oliver was then a two-time All-Star for the Montreal Expos, capturing the NL batting title with them in 1982. He also played for the San Francisco Giants, Philadelphia Phillies, Los Angeles Dodgers and Toronto Blue Jays. During his 18-year big league career, Oliver batted .303, while posting a .795 OPS in 2,368 games.






Brandon Waddell Scratched from Start for Altoona

By Jason Shetler

Pirates pitching prospect Brandon Waddell was scratched from his start on Thursday due to shoulder soreness, this according to John Dreker of Pirates Prospects. 

In the 2015 MLB Draft, the Pirates chose Waddell as a fifth round selection out of the University of Virginia. The 22-year-old left-hander began last season with the Bradenton Marauders, posting a very impressive 0.93 ERA in five starts. He then earned a promotion to Altoona in May. His ERA was at 4.12 in 22 games (20 starts) for the Curve.

Entering this year, Waddell was rated the Pirates 17th best prospect according to Baseball America and 19th by MLB Pipeline. In his first start of the season with Altoona, he allowed four runs in four innings against the Harrisburg Senators. The decision to scratch him from his second start was no doubt as a precaution.