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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bucco Nation Poll Question

By Jason Shetler

Bucco Nation Poll Question

By Jason Shetler

What Should the Pirates Do With Michael Feliz?

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Matt Sunday – DKPS

While with the Houston Astros, Michael Feliz was one of the harder throwing relievers in their bullpen, with the ability to rack up a ton of strikeouts. His upside impressed the Pirates enough to acquire him from Houston as part of the Gerrit Cole trade.

Feliz made his Pirates debut on Opening Day in Detroit, and it wasn’t a good first impression, as he gave up four earned runs, without recording an out. However, from April 1st to May 20th, he pitched lights out, allowing only two earned runs in the span of 21 appearances.

The solid work from Feliz earned him a spot as the setup man, this after George Kontos had really struggled. Unfortunately, Feliz himself failed to perform well in the high leverage role. His struggles carried into June and July, posting a 5.15 ERA, along with a WHIP of 1.59.

On July 27th, the Pirates optioned Feliz to AAA Indianapolis. He returned to Pittsburgh two weeks later, but made just one appearance, an outing against the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday in which he allowed three earned runs. On Thursday, he was sent back to Indianapolis. So what should the Pirates do with Michael Feliz in the offseason?

The 2018 season for Feliz has had its ups and downs. As mentioned earlier, he had success early on, inserting himself as the Pirates setup man, but hasn’t been able to get back on track since then. Overall, Feliz is posting a 6.05 ERA. His FIP is significantly lower at 4.28, which isn’t great, but better than what the ERA would suggest. Feliz has a .345 BABIP, indicating that some of the runs he’s given up have been a result of bad luck hits. On the flip side, he has a 4.1 BB/9, so that combination would certainly lead to a high ERA. The one plus for him this year is a 10.2 K/9, which is actually third best among Pirates relievers who have made at least 40 appearances. Feliz will be first time arbitration eligible this offseason. Because his arbitration figure will be relatively cheap, it wouldn’t hurt the Pirates to tender him. Should Feliz return to the Pirates, they wouldn’t be forced to have him on next year’s Opening Day roster, since he has options remaining. I’m not saying the Pirates need to bring Feliz back to “justify” the Cole deal, it’s for them to have a depth option bullpen arm at a reasonable cost.

 

 

 

Bucco Nation Poll Question

By Jason Shetler

Joe Musgrove Beginning To Prove Doubters Wrong

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Gene J. Puskar – AP

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Domingo Robles Promoted To Bradenton

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Sam Santilli

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.