Bleacher Report Ranks Felipe Rivero Among Top 5 Relievers

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Matt Freed – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The other day, Bleacher Report came out with their midseason rankings of the Top 30 relief pitchers for 2017. After not being ranked at all in the preseason, Felipe Rivero was listed in the Top 5 as fourth best, just behind Kenley Jansen, Andrew Miller and Craig Kimbrel.

Rivero entered this season in the seventh inning role for the Pirates. Following the early struggles of Daniel Hudson, he replaced Hudson as the setup man. Rivero eventually took over as the closer, this after Tony Watson had faltered. 

The 2017 numbers for Rivero to this point have been absolutely phenomenal, and he was arguably the biggest All-Star snub this year. He currently has the Majors lowest ERA of 0.70, along with a solid 2.20 Fielding Independent Pitching. Rivero has posted a 10.5 K/9, while holding opposing batters to only a .352 OPS. A huge part of Rivero’s success this season has been cutting down on the walks, posting an excellent 2.1 BB/9, which was at 3.9 combined with the Nationals and Pirates a year ago.

 

 

 

Pirates Recall Steven Brault

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Indianapolis Indians

According to Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish and SB Nation, the Pirates have recalled Steven Brault. Pirates Prospects’ John Dreker was the first to report that Brault had been scratched from his start for AAA Indianapolis. No word yet on the corresponding move, but it’s likely that Gregory Polanco could go on the 10-day disabled list after sustaining a hamstring injury on Friday.

Brault first joined the Pirates in July of last year. The 25-year-old lefty was in competition during Spring Training for the fifth spot in the rotation, but was optioned to Indianapolis instead. Brault’s numbers have been outstanding for the Indians, posting the lowest ERA in the International League at 2.06, while putting up a 1.13 WHIP, which is fourth best. 

 

 

 

Potential Trade Targets for Pirates Bullpen

By Jason Shetler

Entering last Sunday, the Pirates found themselves eight games behind first place in the NL Central. Following a four game sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers and a Friday night win versus the Colorado Rockies, the Bucs are in a position where they could actually become buyers, which was unthinkable just a week ago. The bullpen is one area the Pirates would likely add to. Here are some trade candidates that they could look to target.

AJ Ramos: Marlins closer AJ Ramos has spent his entire big league career to this point in Miami. After being named an All-Star for the first time last year, Ramos has been a league average reliever this year, posting a 4.08 ERA and a 101 ERA+ in 36 appearances. The walks have been an issue, with a 4.8 BB/9, but he does continue to rack up a ton of strikeouts, putting up a K/9 of 11.5. Ramos is making just over $6.5 million this season, and does have team control for next year. 

Anthony Swarzak: One of the best bargain deals for 2017 has been with Anthony Swarzak. Signed by the Chicago White Sox on a minor league deal this past offseason, Swarzak has pitched extremely well this year, with an ERA of 2.45 and a 175 ERA+ in 38 appearances. He’s also kept baserunners in check, as evidence of his 1.00 WHIP. The White Sox have already traded Jose Quintana to the Chicago Cubs and Todd Frazier to the New York Yankees, so Swarzak is likely to be dealt, especially since he’ll be a free agent after the season. 

Brad Hand: It’s been another mediocre year for the San Diego Padres, but Brad Hand has been one of their few bright spots. The 27-year-old lefty has gone from failed starter with the Miami Marlins to bonafide reliever in the Padres bullpen. This season, Hand has posted a 2.20 ERA, a 1.02 WHIP and a K/9 of 11.4 in 44 games. Based on the solid numbers, and having two more years of control beyond this year, the Pirates would have to give up significantly more to acquire Hand. 

Jim Johnson: After pitching for the Atlanta Braves in 2016, Jim Johnson re-signed with them on a two-year extension last offseason. In 41 games pitched this year, Johnson has a 3.92 ERA, however, he does have a much better Fielding Independent Pitching of 2.45. He continues to induce grounders, with a 51% groundball rate, but more surprisingly is the increased strikeout rate at 10.9, which stands to be his career best. Johnson is owed $5 million this season, and will make the same amount for 2018.

Justin Wilson: If you read my most recent post, I mentioned how a familiar face could be a trade target for the bullpen. That face I referred to was Justin Wilson. The hard-throwing southpaw spent three seasons in the Pirates bullpen from 2012-2014. Prior to 2015, Wilson was dealt to the New York Yankees for Francisco Cervelli. He’s now pitching for the Detroit Tigers, and is performing extremely well this year, posting an ERA of 2.75, a 2.97 FIP, a 0.94 WHIP and a 12.5 K/9 in 38 appearances. The Tigers appear to be sellers, this after recently trading J.D. Martinez to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Wilson is making $2.7 million this season, with club control for next year. 

Pat Neshek: The Philadelphia Phillies have been baseball’s worst team in 2017. One of their few standouts this season however is Pat Neshek. The 36-year-old sidearm righty made his second All-Star team this year. Neshek’s numbers have been outstanding, putting up a phenomenal 1.17 ERA, along with a FIP of 2.07 in 45 appearances. He’s certainly been tough to figure out, holding right-handed batters to a .489 OPS, while lefty bats haven’t done much better, with an OPS of .549. Owed $6.5 million this year, Neshek becomes a free agent after the season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pirates Best Move Might be to Hold onto Andrew McCutchen for Now

By Jared Lankes

p/c: Charles LeClaire – USA Today Sports

It’s been very widely-speculated that Andrew McCutchen could be on the move during the July 31st Non-Waiver trade deadline period. However, this is not as obvious of a move as it seems to be. In fact, a couple of factors have showed up in the last couple weeks that should discourage the Pittsburgh Pirates from moving on from the face of their franchise right now.

The most obvious factor that shows up is that the Pirates are playing much better lately, propelling them back in contention. Over the month of July, the Pirates have started to show up with the potential that people know they have with this young team that may just be starting to bud at the right time. If we believe this is the case, then there’s no point in tearing this core apart. The Pirates could be better in 2018 with the young players developing more and hopefully full seasons from Starling Marte and Jameson Taillon (Jung-Ho Kang is an outside possibility too). A big proponent of staying competitive in 2018 might be to have McCutchen as the team still seems to ride or die as he does.

Another reason to keep McCutchen is the questions surrounding Austin Meadows. By all accounts, Meadows was scheduled to be up in the bigs this July. However, he has had slower development than anticipated in AAA, mainly due to multiple injuries involving his hamstrings. So, Meadows may not be ready for quite awhile yet, and it would not be a total shock to not see him in the MLB in 2017 or even most of 2018. The main reason the Pirates were wanting to trade McCutchen in the first place is because they thought they could smoothly transition to Meadows when the time was right. That possible transition has been anything but smooth to this point.

Additionally, the only other outfield options they have after McCutchen, Marte, and Polanco are non-everyday MLB outfield options such as Adam Frazier, Jose Osuna, John Jaso, Chris Bostick, and Danny Ortiz. So, it could behoove the Pirates to keep McCutchen, even into 2018 as they play the wait-and-see game with Meadows, whose first full MLB season might not come until McCutchen is gone in 2019 anyways (Jordan Luplow could be an option in 2019 as well).

The third reason why keeping McCutchen for now might be a good idea is the outfield trade market. We already knew that the market for that position would be a buyer’s market, but I didn’t expect it to be as one-sided as it is. A few days ago, the Tigers traded away JD Martinez, the most-coveted bat in this market, to the Diamondbacks for basically scraps, proving how bad of a time it is to trade away outfielders. We know Neal Huntington won’t trade McCutchen just to trade him and settle for a weak haul; he’ll want a big haul in return, and I just cannot see a team giving that right now.

Well, my friends, it appears that we will not have to say goodbye to Andrew McCutchen just yet as it would seem like the Pirates have all the reasons they could ever need to keep him now. Between suddenly contending, questions about Meadows, and a weak market, the Pirates need to see what they can do while McCutchen is still around instead of trading him away and moving on.

 

 

 

 

Could Justin Wilson Become a Trade Target for the Pirates?

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Duane Burleson – Getty Images

Much of the 2017 season has revolved around the Pirates being sellers, because of their inconsistent play, in addition to not gaining much ground in the NL Central standings, even when they play well. That trend has changed quickly however. After being eight games behind first place in the division, entering this past Sunday, the Pirates now find themselves just three back, this after sweeping the Milwaukee Brewers in a four game series. 

The Pirates bullpen has performed much better collectively in July, which has obviously been a reason for the team’s success recently. Despite Tony Watson pitching better as of late in particular, he could still be a trade candidate come the deadline. A few days ago, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported that the Tampa Bay Rays have interest in trading for Watson. Should the Pirates decide to go “addition by subtraction” with the bullpen, perhaps they could look to acquire a familiar face in Justin Wilson.

In the 2008 MLB Draft, the Pirates selected Wilson as a fifth rounder out of Fresno State. After pitching as a starter in the Bucs system, he joined the big club in August of 2012 as a reliever. As expected, Wilson displayed harder velocity in relief, and it helped him become a vital part of the Pirates playoff contending bullpen in 2013 and 2014. 

Following the 2014 season, Russell Martin rejected the Pirates qualifying offer, becoming a free agent in the process. Knowing it would be very difficult to re-sign him, the Pirates searched for a new catcher instead. In a somewhat surprising move, Wilson was dealt to the New York Yankees in exchange for Francisco Cervelli. 

After just one season in New York, Wilson was on the move prior to last season, as he was traded to the Detroit Tigers. This past offseason, the Tigers avoided arbitration with Wilson by signing him to a one-year deal worth $2.7 million. 

Wilson took over as the Tigers closer in early May, following the struggles of former All-Star Francisco Rodriguez. The 2017 numbers for Wilson are terrific, posting a 2.75 ERA, along with a 2.97 Fielding Independent Pitching and a 12.5 K/9 in 38 appearances. Even more impressive has been his ability to limit baserunners this season, with a 0.94 WHIP.

The Tigers have already traded outfielder J.D. Martinez to the Arizona Diamondbacks, and it’s possible that they could move Wilson as well. Combined with an inexpensive salary, and being under team control for next year, Wilson is perhaps someone the Pirates could look at as a potential buyer. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bucco Nation Poll Question

By Jason Shetler

Kevin Newman, Cole Tucker and Stephen Alemais Receive Promotions

By Jason Shetler

Pirates Prospects is reporting the promotions of three shortstop prospects. Kevin Newman to AAA Indianapolis, Cole Tucker to AA Altoona and Stephen Alemais to High A Bradenton. 

Newman entered 2017 as the Pirates top shortstop prospect. The 2015 first rounder has struggled most of the season for Altoona, with a .669 OPS, but has been performing much better in July, posting an OPS of .790. 

Tucker returned to Bradenton to begin this season. The 21-year-old put up very impressive numbers for the Marauders, as he posted an .801 OPS. Tucker’s speed has really opened some eyes this year, stealing 36 bases, which led the Florida State League.

Alemais started off this year with the Low A West Virginia Power. Drafted by the Pirates in the third round of last year’s MLB Draft, Alemais has done little on the offensive side, putting up just an OPS of .646 for the Power this season. Defensively however, he has been excellent, and is the best defensive shortstop in the Pirates system, not named Gift Ngoepe.