Jonathan Mayo Mentions Harold Ramirez as a Just Missed on MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospects List

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Tim Williams - Pirates Prospects

p/c: Tim Williams – Pirates Prospects

Last Friday, MLB.com came out with their rankings of the Top 100 prospects. The Pirates in total had five prospects on the list with Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows, Josh Bell, Jameson Taillon and Reese McGuire. They came very close to having six, as MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo mentioned Harold Ramirez as a just missed prospect for the list on MLB Pipeline’s podcast from Thursday. 

(13:00 minute mark)

Ramirez came to the Pirates as an amateur player from Colombia in 2011. The 21-year-old outfielder spent 2015 with High A Bradenton where he batted .337, which would have led the Florida State League had he qualified for enough at-bats. Ramirez also put up an OPS of .857, and stole 22 bases. He’s also considered an above average defender. Ramirez is expected to begin the 2016 season with AA Altoona. MLB Pipeline ranks him the seventh best prospect currently in the Pirates system. 

 

 

 

 

Bucco Breakdown: Jeff Locke

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Jake Roth - USA Today Sports

p/c: Jake Roth – USA Today Sports

Jeff Locke began his first full season in the Pirates rotation in 2013. His first half numbers that year resulted in a trip to the All-Star Game. The second half however was a much different story, as he posted a 6.12 ERA, and was left off the postseason roster. In 2014, Locke didn’t join the Pirates until midseason. He beat out Vance Worley for the fifth spot in Spring Training of last year, pitching in the rotation the entire season. Let’s compare Locke’s numbers from 2014 and 2015, and what his projection is for the upcoming season. 

2014: 3.91 ERA, 92 ERA+, 4.37 FIP, 1.27 WHIP, 2.7 BB/9, 6.1 K/9, 0.3 WAR in 21 starts

2015: 4.46 ERA, 86 ERA+, 3.95 FIP, 1.42 WHIP, 3.2 BB/9, 6.9 K/9, 1.6 WAR in 30 starts

2016 (FanGraphs): 4.25 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 3.1 BB/9, 6.9 K/9, 0.9 WAR in 24 starts 

The past couple seasons for Locke have been interesting. His Fielding Independent Pitching was higher than the ERA two years ago while his 2015 FIP was significantly better then the ERA indicates. Locke had a higher walk ratio last season, but the strikeout ratio was better compared to 2014. While he didn’t have a great year in 2015, he was at least above replacement level. 

My analysis: Jeff Locke has tried to establish himself as a groundball pitcher. In 2014, his 2-seam fastball was thrown 38.6% of the time. He relied on it much more heavily last season at about 60%. The problem though for Locke has been lacking command of the 2-seamer by trying to nibble the corners too much and avoiding contact, which leads to trouble. Locke doesn’t have a high strikeout ratio, so he’s not able to work out of jams as consistent as someone like Francisco Liriano. The Pirates are hoping Locke can pitch decent enough once Tyler Glasnow or Jameson Taillon receive their call up. 

 

 

 

Should the Pirates Use Juan Nicasio as a Starter?

By Jason Shetler

 

p/c: Kyle Terada - USA Today Sports

p/c: Kyle Terada – USA Today Sports

Back in December, the Pirates added an intriguing arm to their bullpen by signing Juan Nicasio to a one-year/$3 million deal. The 29-year-old righty is coming off his best season in 2015 with the Los Angeles Dodgers where he posted a 3.86 ERA and a career best K/9 of 10.0 in 53 games pitched. His 2.83 Fielding Independent Pitching made him an even better reliever. 

Nicasio arrived in the big leagues in 2011 with the Colorado Rockies as a starter. During his four seasons in Colorado, he had a 5.03 ERA, but had a FIP of 4.39, so it’s not like he pitched terribly. As mentioned, Nicasio put up his best strikeout ratio last season in the Dodgers bullpen. He showed an increase in his fastball velocity, averaging 95.0 mph, which certainly helped out the strikeout amount. Pirates GM Neal Huntington has said that Nicasio would be stretched out during Spring Training. Now while that means he would pitch multiple innings out of the bullpen, should the Pirates entertain the idea of using Nicasio in the rotation?

Ryan Vogelsong and Jeff Locke are currently the two back end starters to enter 2016. Although both were mediocre a year ago, the Pirates are hoping they can perform decent enough once Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon make their way to Pittsburgh at some point this season. A left-handed reliever still needs to addressed, so they could always move Locke to the bullpen and place Nicasio in the starting rotation. My guess is the Pirates will eventually bring in a lefty arm for the pen, and Locke will remain a starter for the time being. However, should a situation arise, in which Locke or Vogelsong are really struggling before June, then perhaps the Pirates could use Nicasio in the rotation as a “band-aid” until Glasnow or Taillon get called up.

 

 

 

 

Bucco Nation Poll Question

Bucco Breakdown: Jason Rogers

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Scott Kane - USA Today Sports

p/c: Scott Kane – USA Today Sports

Jason Rogers was a 32nd round selection of the Milwaukee Brewers in the 2010 MLB Draft. In 2013, he was named the Brewers Minor League Player of the Year. Rogers made his big league debut for Milwaukee as a September call up in 2014. He spent most of last season with the Brewers in a first base platoon with Adam Lind. Rogers was dealt to the Pirates this offseason in exchange for outfielder Keon Broxton and pitcher Trey Supak. Since Rogers only appeared in eight games with the Brewers two years ago, I’m just going to breakdown his numbers from last season.

2015 (Brewers): .296/.367/.441, 120 OPS+, 8.9% BB rate, 20.1% K rate, 0.7 WAR in 86 games 

2016 (Steamer): .262/.323/.403, 7.9% BB rate, 18.9% K rate, 0.2 WAR 

For a Brewers club that really struggled in 2015, Rogers was an above average contributor offensively, putting up a .367 on base percentage along with a very good OPS+ of 120. Rogers also had a .360 BABIP last season, which is a definite sign of regression for 2016. 

My analysis: The Pirates brought in Jason Rogers to be a reliable, yet cost effective bat off the bench. In terms of versatility however, he’s pretty limited, as he plays mainly first base and some third base. While his numbers are likely to regress in 2016, perhaps he could utilized mostly against left-handed pitching as a pinch-hitter or with an occasional start versus southpaws. Based on the lack of versatility, but with good numbers against lefty pitching, Rogers could end up being a Gaby Sanchez type player.

 

 

 

Do the Pirates Need to Add Another Bench Player?

By Jason Shetler

As the Pirates are in the final month of the offseason, they’ve been able to address most of their needs with the only exception being a left-handed arm in the bullpen. The bench right now looks close to being complete with Sean Rodriguez, Chris Stewart and Jason Rogers. John Jaso and Michael Morse will come off the bench when the other is starting at first base. With one spot remaining, should the Pirates go out and bring in another bench piece?

The Pirates bench is very right-handed heavy with Rodriguez, Stewart, Rogers and Morse. The only lefty bat will Jaso on days that Morse gets the start against a left-handed starter. As far as internal options who can bat from the left side, the Pirates have a few with Cole Figueroa, Pedro Florimon and Alen Hanson. Figueroa last season did an excellent job of controlling the strikezone with an 8.7% walk rate to just a 5.3% strikeout rate, albeit against AAA competition, but still impressive nonetheless. Florimon provides little offensively, however his defense is very good. With the Pirates relying on pitching and defense, you wonder if they would carry a reliable defender off the bench despite not much offense. Hanson obviously has the most offensive upside of the three. The problem is that if Hanson makes the Opening Day roster, he falls under Super 2, which the Pirates most likely wouldn’t allow to happen. 

There isn’t that much remaining on the free agent market. Kelly Johnson appeared to be a really good fit for the Pirates since he’s still a good left-handed bat, but he signed with the Atlanta Braves in January. The Pirates really don’t have a true fourth outfielder at the moment. Sean Rodriguez would likely be that option with his outfield defense being above average. David DeJesus is a free agent who is coming off a down season last year with the Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Angels, but has usually been a reliable on base guy and decent defender, so perhaps the Pirates could look at him on a cheap one-year deal. Just a question if they want to add experience to the bench, or go with an inexpensive internal player until Alen Hanson arrives midseason.

 

 

 

Assessing the Jesse Biddle Trade

By Jason Shetler

 

p/c: Tug Haines

p/c: Tug Haines

On Wednesday, the Pirates acquired left-hander Jesse Biddle from the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for reliever Yoervis Medina. This marks the second time this offseason that the Pirates and Phillies have completed a trade. Both sides worked out a trade for Charlie Morton back in December. Here now is my assessment of the Biddle deal.

Not long ago, Biddle was the #1 prospect in the Phillies system. While his control numbers in the minors have been erratic with a 4.4 BB/9, his strikeout ratio has been excellent at 8.8. Biddle posted a 4.95 ERA in 2015, but that was mainly due to pitching with a sore elbow, which required Tommy John surgery this offseason. He of course will miss the entire 2016 season. 

Medina was claimed off waivers by the Pirates from the Chicago Cubs in December. The 27-year-old right-hander has put up a 3.08 ERA along with a 121 ERA+ in three seasons with the Mariners and Cubs. Medina was designated for assignment by the Pirates in late January, and was just recently outrighted to AAA. 

While the Phillies are getting an above average reliever in Medina, they had to do so at the expense of giving up a left-handed starter with plenty of upside. Even though Biddle will be recovering from elbow surgery this year, age is on his side, as he’ll still be just 25 entering 2017. In addition, the Pirates obviously will have years of club control with him. If nothing else, he’ll provide much needed left-handed depth after this year, which is especially vital given the fact that Francisco Liriano is a free agent after 2017, and with the uncertainty of Jeff Locke’s future in Pittsburgh.