By Jason Shetler
By Jason Shetler
Before arriving to the big leagues, Joe Musgrove was one of the top tier prospects in the Houston Astros system, ranking sixth by Baseball America, and seventh by MLB Pipeline. The 6’5 righty pitched 62 innings with Houston as a rookie in 2016, posting a 4.06 ERA and a 4.18 FIP.
Musgrove made enough of an impression to be in the Astros rotation to begin 2017. His numbers as a starter however were absolutely dreadful, as he posted an ERA of 6.12, while opposing batters put up an .882 OPS against. Rather than send Musgrove back to the minors, Manager A.J. Hinch and GM Jeff Luhnow elected to move him to the bullpen. That decision paid big dividends, with Musgrove registering a 1.44 ERA and holding the opposition to a .565 OPS. His great work as a reliever not only revived his 2017 campaign, but also allowed him to make the Astros postseason roster.
After much trade speculation regarding Gerrit Cole this past offseason, the Pittsburgh Pirates dealt their former #1 overall pick to Houston for a package involving Musgrove, third baseman Colin Moran, pitcher Michael Feliz and outfield prospect Jason Martin.
For Musgrove in particular, the plan was for him to be a starter again, even though he had significantly better success pitching in relief last season. During the first week of pitchers and catchers reporting, Musgrove dealt with shoulder discomfort. Pirates GM Neal Huntington didn’t express any real concern, suggesting that because Musgrove pitched deep into the World Series with Houston that they would take it slowly with him anyway. The shoulder pain reoccurred with Musgrove late in Spring Training, causing him to begin the year on the disabled list. He went on to have four rehab outings, one with High A Bradenton, one with AA Altoona and two for AAA Indianapolis. Musgrove’s debut with the Pirates came on May 25th. He made a terrific first impression, tossing seven scoreless innings against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Overall, Musgrove has done solid work in the Pirates rotation to this point. In 12 starts, he has a 3.41 ERA, along with a FIP of 3.75. He’s almost a two-win pitcher (1.7 bWAR), despite the fact that he didn’t join the Pirates until late May. Musgrove has kept right-handed batters in check, with a .629 OPS against. As for lefty batters, he’s held them to an OPS against of .740, which is still a manageable figure. Musgrove threw an effective cutter while pitching in the Astros bullpen last year, and is now utilizing that pitch more as a starter in 2018. He’s also relying more on the sinker, throwing it 17.1% of the time this year compared to 8.9% the past two seasons, which has helped keep the long balls down for him this season (0.7 HR/9). Before the trade, many critics suggested that Musgrove wouldn’t be able to cut it as a starting pitcher, but that is no longer being questioned now.
By Jason Shetler
West Virginia Power pitcher Domingo Robles has been promoted to the Bradenton Marauders, this according to John Dreker of Pirates Prospects.
The Pirates signed Robles from the Dominican Republic in 2014 for $175,000, which was one of the better signing bonuses that the Bucs handed out to an International amateur player that year. The scouting report on him is a low-90’s fastball that has good sink, an above average curveball and a mediocre changeup. With Robles still being very young at age 20, he has plenty of time to develop the changeup into a respectable offering.
From 2015-2017, Robles pitched three seasons of rookie ball, with the DSL Pirates, GCL Pirates and Bristol respectively. The Pirates gave Robles an aggressive push by having him begin this year with the West Virginia Power. In 21 starts, he posted a 2.97 ERA, eighth lowest among South Atlantic League starters. His FIP was 3.61, while he allowed only 26 walks for a solid 2.0 BB/9. Robles is currently the 30th ranked prospect in the Pirates system, according to MLB Pipeline.
By Jason Shetler
It was announced on Monday by the International League that Indianapolis Indians pitcher JT Brubaker has been named Pitcher of the Week for the week of July 30th-August 5th.
Brubaker began 2018 pitching for Altoona. In six starts with the Curve, he put up an ERA of 1.80, along with a 1.06 WHIP and a 9.0 K/9. His promotion to Indianapolis came on May 10th.
This past week, Brubaker put together two stellar outings. On July 30th, he allowed just one earned run in seven innings against the Columbus Clippers, and followed that up with an eight shutout inning performance versus the Toledo Mud Hens on August 4th. He also didn’t walk a batter in either start.
Since joining the Indianapolis rotation, Brubaker has posted a 3.24 ERA and a 3.57 FIP in 17 starts. This season, he’s been throwing the two-seam fastball more, leading to a 57% groundball rate combined with Altoona and Indianapolis, which is shaping up to be his career best.
By Jason Shetler
In September of 2015, Jung-Ho Kang suffered a torn meniscus and fractured tibia on a questionable slide from former Chicago Cubs outfielder Chris Coghlan. The speculation was that Kang would miss at least the first month of the 2016 season. During that offseason, Jason Rogers was acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers, and there was talk if he would be the short term replacement at third base for Kang.
Midway through Spring Training 2016, the Pirates got themselves a true alternative at third base by signing David Freese to a one-year deal. Because Freese wasn’t given a qualifying offer by the Los Angeles Angels, it allowed the Pirates to sign him, without having to surrender a draft pick. Freese put up decent numbers in his first season in Pittsburgh, with a .764 OPS and a 1.9 bWAR in 141 games, splitting time between third base and first base. In August, the Pirates and Freese agreed to terms on a two-year extension, which included a 2019 club option.
It was reported in December of that year that Kang had been arrested for drunk driving, his third such offense. The consequence was MLB placing him on the restricted list, and for him to miss the entire 2017 season. Freese replaced Kang as the Pirates primary third baseman last year. His .368 on base percentage led the club, however, the power production was subpar, as he posted just a .371 slugging percentage. Still, Freese managed to be a two-win player, thanks in part to strong defensive metrics, which made him a Gold Glove finalist for NL third basemen.
Freese was moved back into a bench role entering this year, this after the Pirates acquired Colin Moran from the Houston Astros in the Gerrit Cole deal. Much like 2016, the Pirates have used Freese at third base and occasionally first base. He’s coming off a red hot month of July, hitting .364, while posting an OPS of 1.044. With Freese’s club option looming after the season, should the Pirates exercise it?
All signs pointed to the Pirates going into seller mode for 2018, especially after being a season low eight games under .500 on July 7th. Among the trade candidates, Freese appeared to be mentioned the most, seeing as how much he could contribute to multiple contenders as a bench bat. That all changed however, as an 11-game winning streak got Pittsburgh back in the NL Wild Card race, and made them buyers with the acquisitions of Chris Archer from the Tampa Bay Rays and Keone Kela from the Texas Rangers. The club option for Freese next year is worth $6 million. This season, he’s putting up an .806 OPS, and his offensive production in general is 18 points above league average (118 OPS+). He also provides defensive value, even as a 35-year-old. Now that the Pirates plan on competing beyond this year, picking up Freese’s 2019 option would make for a worthy investment for their bench.
By Jason Shetler
The Pirates announced on Tuesday that Chad Kuhl has been transferred from the 10-day disabled list to the 60-day with a right forearm strain, effectively ending his season.
After struggling in the first half of last year, Kuhl performed much better in the second half. An emphasis on throwing more curveballs seemed to make a difference with his second half numbers, and allowed him to remain a starter heading into this season.
Kuhl got off to a slow start in April, as he posted a 4.55 ERA and a .315 batting average against, but pitched significantly better in May, posting a 3.44 ERA, while holding opponents to an average of .213. Kuhl sustained the forearm injury on June 26th against the New York Mets, and hasn’t pitched since.
It’ll be interesting to see where Kuhl fits into the Pirates plans for next season, especially now with the acquisition of Chris Archer. Kuhl could be moved to the bullpen in a long relief role, unless the Pirates decide to move Ivan Nova in the offseason, which would allow Kuhl to be re-inserted into the rotation.
By Jason Shetler
The Pittsburgh Pirates added to their bullpen late Monday night/early Tuesday morning, as they acquired reliever Keone Kela from the Texas Rangers for pitching prospect Taylor Hearn and a player to be named later. Reports are that the second player will be a “low tier” prospect.
Kela spent four seasons pitching in the Rangers bullpen, with this year being his first as their closer. The 25-year-old has put up a 3.44 ERA, along with a 2.97 FIP and K/9 of 10.8 in 38 appearances this season for Texas. Kela is able to display dominance with a terrific combination of an upper-90’s fastball and plus curveball.
Hearn arrived to the Pirates in late July of 2016 from the Washington Nationals as part of the Mark Melancon deal. The 23-year-old southpaw was putting up solid numbers this year for AA Altoona, posting an ERA of 3.12, a 1.08 WHIP and a 9.3 K/9 in 19 starts. Prior to the trade, MLB Pipeline rated Hearn the seventh best Pirates prospect.
Analysis: If the Pirates were going to add to the bullpen, it needed to be a quality arm with controllable years. They did that with Kela, who is under team control through 2021. Kela joins a Pirates bullpen that already has been effective in the late innings with Edgar Santana, Kyle Crick and Felipe Vazquez. From the Rangers perspective, they receive a very intriguing pitcher in Hearn. Most view Hearn as a reliever in the long run, but with the Rangers lack of young rotation depth, they’ll probably give him the opportunity to be a starter first, once he arrives to Arlington. Overall, it’s a good deal for both clubs, however, it’s one that made the Pirates bullpen even stronger.