By Jason Shetler
p/c: Matt Roberts – Getty Images
On Monday, the Pirates announced several more players that will attend Spring Training as non-roster invitees. One of those is catcher Ryan Lavarnway, who has been signed to a minor league deal.
Lavarnway was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in 2008 as a sixth round pick. Not only did he become the Red Sox top catching prospect at one point, but he was also rated a Top 100 prospect overall by both MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus in 2012.
Much of the 2017 season for Lavarnway was spent with the Nashville Sounds, the AAA club of the Oakland Athletics. In 82 games for Nashville, his OPS was .668. He also got a cup of coffee with the A’s, appearing in six games. Lavarnway has thrown out 31% of baserunners during his time in the minors, but has not had the same success at the big league level, throwing out just 20%. He could compete with Elias Diaz to be the Pirates reserve catcher, but AAA Indianapolis is probably the more realistic destination for him to begin this season.
By Jason Shetler
p/c: Tim Williams – Pirates Prospects
Last offseason, the Pirates selected Tyler Webb from the New York Yankees in the Rule 5 Draft, marking the first time since 2011 that they chose a pitcher in the Major League portion of the draft. While the fifth starter spot was the Pirates most notable competition a year ago, there were also a couple of bullpen spots up for grabs. Webb had a good showing in Spring Training, but was cut at the very end. The thought was that the Pirates could work out a deal with the Yankees to keep Webb in the organization, however, that was not the case. During this offseason’s Winter Meetings, the Pirates decided to go for another pitcher in the Rule 5, with the selection of Jordan Milbrath.
Coming out of Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Milbrath was taken by the Cleveland Indians as a 35th round pick in the 2013 MLB Draft. In his first four seasons of pro ball, he pitched as both a starter and reliever, posting a 4.96 ERA. Knowing he wasn’t getting anywhere, a substantial change was made.
Entering last season, Milbrath changed his arm slot and began to use a sidearm delivery. The result was a significant increase in velocity, and more importantly, tons of movement on his fastball and slider. In 30 appearances combined with High A Lynchburg and AA Akron, he posted a 3.02 ERA and had a 10.0 K/9. Milbrath’s BB/9 was at 4.0, but that’s probably not a surprise given the new delivery. The biggest takeaway from him last year was the heavy dose of groundballs, as he registered an astounding 73% groundball rate, which is very Brad Ziegler-like.
While the Pirates bullpen depth consists of internal options like A.J. Schugel, Dovydas Neverauskas and Edgar Santana, as well as new additions Kyle Crick and Michael Feliz, Milbrath could be viewed as a dark horse entering Spring Training. Combined with improved velocity and movement on his pitches, Milbrath certainly has a chance to seize the opportunity.
By Jason Shetler
p/c: David Hague
Pirates minor league pitcher Montana DuRapau has been given a 50-game suspension due to a second positive test for a drug of abuse, this according to Pirates MLB.com beat reporter Adam Berry.
Over the last few years, DuRapau has been one of the most consistent relievers in the Pirates system. The 25-year-old right-hander pitched for both AA Altoona and AAA Indianapolis in 2017. Combined with both affiliates, he posted a 2.04 ERA, along with a 1.04 WHIP and a K/9 of 10.5 in 42 appearances.
DuRapau was not added to the 40-man roster after the season. Because of this, he became eligible for the Rule 5 Draft during last month’s Winter Meetings, but was not selected. DuRapau was expected to begin 2018 with Indianapolis. Barring any rainouts, his return date would be May 30th. The Pirates gave DuRapau an invitation to big league camp for Spring Training, so it’ll be interesting if he still gets invited following the news of his suspension.
By Jason Shetler
p/c: Keith Srakocic – AP
Prior to the 2016 season, the Pirates brought in Neftali Feliz as a potential bounce back reliever. While his ERA was high in 2015, advanced metrics painted a different picture, suggesting that he performed better than the ERA had indicated. As a result, the Feliz signing was a success for the Pirates.
Last offseason, the Bucs decided to go the same route with Daniel Hudson, as he was signed to a two-year deal. Before coming to Pittsburgh, Hudson’s fastball velocity was Top 10 among National League relievers in 2016. He struggled last season however, posting a 4.38 ERA, a 4.34 FIP and a 1.46 WHIP in 71 appearances. Hudson’s control was very erratic in 2017, putting up a 4.8 BB/9, which was 12th highest among all qualified MLB relievers.
The 2017 season for the Pirates saw the debuts of two promising relief arms in Dovydas Neverauskas and Edgar Santana. Instead of acquiring Joaquin Benoit at the trade deadline, which quite frankly was pointless, Neverauskas or Santana should have been given that opportunity. Although Hudson is slated to be in the bullpen again, here’s why he should be moved before the season.
With the good work that George Kontos provided the Pirates after coming over as a waiver claim, Hudson likely won’t be used in as many high leverage situations, and that’s a problem, since he’ll be owed $5.5 million in 2018. The Pirates have plenty of young bullpen depth now, with Neverauskas and Santana, as well as the recent additions of Kyle Crick and Michael Feliz, who were acquired in the Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole deals respectively. Crick and Feliz are expected to be on the Opening Day roster, while Neverauskas and Santana would likely have to compete. By trading Hudson, it opens up a bullpen spot for one of them. Because the Pirates won’t be contenders this year, the direction to go with younger arms makes more sense.
By Jason Shetler
After a couple of major moves over the last few days, the Pirates made a smaller one on Tuesday, signing first baseman/outfielder Connor MacDonald to a minor league deal, this according to John Dreker of Pirates Prospects.
MacDonald was signed as an International amateur free agent out of Australia by the Houston Astros in 2014. The 21-year-old spent 2017 with Short Season Tri-City, where he posted only a .598 OPS. He was released by the Astros in July.
This offseason, MacDonald is playing for the Sydney Blue Sox of the Australian Baseball League. He is being managed by Tony Harris, who is a Pirates scout in Australia. In 29 games with the Blue Sox, MacDonald is putting up an OPS of .927 and has nine home runs. He will likely begin 2018 in the Pirates organization with the West Virginia Power or West Virginia Black Bears.
By Jason Shetler
p/c: Getty Images
From first round draft selection to MVP, Andrew McCutchen accomplished quite a lot during his nine-year run as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The five-time All-Star was the unquestioned face of the franchise, and he played a significant role in making the Pirates a true playoff contender from 2013-2015. Speculation became reality, as McCutchen was dealt to the San Francisco Giants. Here now is a look back at his five best seasons with the Pirates.
5. 2011: By 2011, McCutchen began to establish himself as one of the most promising young players in the game. He was named an All-Star for the first time that year, as he put up an .820 OPS, a 130 OPS+ and a WAR of 5.7.
4. 2015: The 2015 season saw McCutchen become an All-Star for the fifth time in his career. He posted an .889 OPS, along with an OPS+ of 144 and a 4.9 WAR, while finishing fifth in the NL MVP voting.
3. 2014: McCutchen was really in his prime when he entered the 2014 season. His numbers were very strong that year, with a .952 OPS and a 166 OPS+, both of which were tops in the NL. He also had a 6.3 WAR. While McCutchen was third in the MVP voting, a strong argument can be made that he should’ve won the award.
2. 2012: Although his numbers in 2011 were very productive, McCutchen’s offense reached a new level in 2012, posting an OPS of .953 and a 162 OPS+. He was also a seven-win player that year (7.0 WAR) and captured a Gold Glove. McCutchen led the NL with 194 hits, while his 31 home runs were the most ever in a season by a Pirates center fielder. Just like 2014, he finished third on the MVP ballot.
1. 2013: McCutchen’s greatest overall season as a Pirate was in 2013. He put up a .911 OPS and had an OPS+ of 157. The offensive figures may not have been as productive compared to his 2012 and 2014 seasons, but stellar defensive metrics made him an eight-win player (8.1 WAR). While the Pirates snapped their streak of 20 consecutive losing seasons in 2013, McCutchen became the first Pirate to capture NL MVP honors since Barry Bonds in 1992.