Six Pirates Prospects on John Sickels’ Top 75

By Jason Shetler

John Sickels of minorleagueball.com has released his Top 75 prospects list for the end of the season. Six prospects represent the Pirates on the list, with Jameson Taillon, Gregory Polanco, Austin Meadows, Tyler Glasnow, Alen Hanson and Reese McGuire.

Taillon is ranked 12th (17th in preseason), and is the 4th best pitcher behind the Mariners Taijuan Walker, the Diamondbacks Archie Bradley and the Mets Noah Syndergaard.

Polanco is ranked 21st (50th in preseason), and is a Top 5 prospect in terms of outfielders. Despite hitting 12 homers in 470 at-bats this season, Sickels thinks Polanco will show more power eventually.

Meadows received a very high ranking at number 29. The 14th overall selection in this year’s draft, completely tore it up in the Gulf Coast League, by hitting .294 and posting a .918 OPS.

Glasnow ranks 39th on the list, after being unranked in the preseason. The 2013 Minor League strikeout leader showed “strong stuff” according to Sickels, but mentioned his command issues, which is probably why he wasn’t ranked higher on the list.

Hanson just missed the Top 50, coming in at number 51 (49th in preseason). After a breakout season in 2012, Hanson’s numbers weren’t as strong this year, especially with Altoona. He  continued to struggle defensively, which seems to hurt his stock as far as being an elite prospect.

McGuire appears on the list ranked 61st. The Pirates other first round pick this year, is  considered the third best catcher by Sickels, behind the Mets Travis d’Arnaud and the Padres Austin Hedges.

Sickels also listed several honorable mentions, which included Nick Kingham. Kingham is currently the Pirates third best pitching prospect behind Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow.

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Bucco Nation Poll Question

By Jason Shetler

 

 

Should the Pirates Re-sign Clint Barmes?

Jason Shetler

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Prior to the 2012 season, the Pirates went out and signed Clint Barmes to a two-year/$10.5 million deal to be the everyday shortstop, after not picking up the club option of Ronny Cedeno. Last year had some good and some bad for Barmes, as he was one of the best defensive shortstops in the National League, but had very mediocre numbers offensively. This season has been more of the same for Barmes. His fielding percentage is at .967, which is actually below the league average, but still not a bad percentage for a shortstop. He also has a 1.5 defensive WAR, so he’s still been valuable with the glove. Offensively, the struggles have continued, and he’s even had his starting role reduced significantly, thanks in part to Jordy Mercer’s strong second half at the plate. Barmes has been able to find himself in games late for defense, with Mercer struggling defensively, especially as of late. With some Pirates hitting free agency after the season, you wonder if they would have interest in possibly bringing back the veteran shortstop. I wouldn’t mind seeing the Pirates re-sign Barmes, only if it means him taking less money and accepting a backup role to Mercer. Looking at some of the upcoming free agent shortstops, there isn’t a wide selection. Brendan Ryan would be a notable name, with his exceptional defensive abilities, however his offensive production is worse than Barmes. Also, his relationship with manager Clint Hurdle is surely going to come into play, in regards to returning to play for him. With the lack of good names in free agency, as well as the Hurdle factor, the return of Clint Barmes may not be out of the realm of possibility.

Jeff Locke Done for the Season

By Jason Shetler

According to manager Clint Hurdle, Jeff Locke will not pitch this weekend against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ballpark. This would indicate that Locke’s 2013 season is over. The decision comes hardly as a surprise, with Locke obviously struggling in the second half, as well as the bad outing he had against the Reds this past Sunday in Pittsburgh. A.J. Burnett will go for the Pirates on Friday, while Hurdle mentioned that Charlie Morton is likely to start Saturday, and Gerrit Cole on Sunday. It looks like Francisco Liriano is slated to pitch the one game playoff, or as the Game 1 starter, if the Pirates were to win the NL Central. As for Locke, the Pirates could still add him to the postseason roster in the bullpen, but that seems very unlikely. 

Could Charlie Morton be an Extension Candidate?

By Jason Shetler

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The future of Charlie Morton looked bleak in 2012, after having Tommy John surgery performed. Morton entered this past offseason as arbitration eligible for a second time, and seemed like a sure bet to be given a non-tender. The Pirates however surprised some, by offering Morton a one-year deal worth $2 million to avoid arbitration, even though he wasn’t expected to return until midseason. He made his return on June 13, exactly one year to the date of having the elbow surgery. In June and July, Morton posted a combined 3.44 ERA, with a 1.28 WHIP, and had a .264 batting average against in eight starts. He made six starts in August, in which he posted a 2.68 ERA, a 1.29 WHIP, but the batting average against was higher at .282. The month of September has been very good to Morton, with a 3.14 ERA, along with a 1.12 WHIP, and holding opponents to an impressive .216 average in five starts to this point. In his 19 starts total, Morton has allowed just six homers in 111.2 innings, and has a 63% groundball rate, which is even better than the 59% he posted in 2011. It’s no surprise that he has pitched stronger down the stretch, with obviously missing the first two months of the season being a benefit. You could also make the argument that Morton has been the Pirates best pitcher in the second half. Morton will be arbitration eligible for a final time this offseason. Which begs the question – Could the Pirates sign Charlie Morton to an extension? – To me, it’s going to depend on whether the Pirates can re-sign A.J. Burnett and for how much. If Burnett doesn’t return next season, then the Pirates should be wide open to extending Morton. One thing to keep in mind , is that the Pirates may not have Francisco Liriano and Wandy Rodriguez going into 2015, so having Morton around would give them a good veteran presense in the rotation. 

What Should the Pirates Postseason Roster Look Like?

By Jason Shetler

As the Pirates inch closer to clinching a playoff spot, the next assignment will be figuring out the postseason roster, since it’ll have to be trimmed back down to 25. Here is the roster that the Pirates should assemble for the 2013 postseason.

Starters

Left Field: Jose Tabata

Center Field: Andrew McCutchen

Right Field: Marlon Byrd

Third Base: Pedro Alvarez

Shortstop: Jordy Mercer

Second Base: Neil Walker/Josh Harrison (Walker vs RHP; Harrison vs LHP)

First Base: Justin Morneau/Gaby Sanchez (Morneau vs RHP; Sanchez vs LHP)

Catcher: Russell Martin

Reserves

Starling Marte

Garrett Jones

Clint Barmes

Tony Sanchez

Gaby Sanchez and Josh Harrison (Both will be on the bench when Pirates face a RHP)

Rotation

A.J. Burnett

Francisco Liriano

Charlie Morton

Gerrit Cole

Bullpen

Jeanmar Gomez

Vin Mazzaro

Justin Wilson

Kyle Farnsworth

Tony Watson

Jason Grilli

Mark Melancon

For the starting lineup, the Pirates should treat the postseason like they did the regular season when it comes to matchups. Such as starting Gaby Sanchez at first base against a left-hander, while not starting Neil Walker at second base against a lefty. As far as the bench, Starling Marte should be used only in pinch-hit or pinch-run situations, and as a defensive replacement late in games for Jose Tabata. Clint Barmes can be used late for defensive purposes over Jordy Mercer. I prefer to see Tony Sanchez as the backup catcher over John Buck, especially if Sanchez is going to be used as Francisco Liriano’s personal battery mate. Having Garrett Jones on the roster would seem more like a sentimental choice, since he’s been with the Pirates since 2009, and has done some good during his time in Pittsburgh. The Pirates four man rotation should be A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Charlie Morton and Gerrit Cole. Not having a fifth starter would allow the Pirates to carry an extra bench bat, since it would be more ideal with pinch-hitting situations, as opposed to American League clubs, who could just carry an extra pitcher. The bullpen should consist of Jeanmar Gomez and Vin Mazzaro pitching multiple innings if need be, Justin Wilson and Kyle Farnsworth pitching the seventh inning, and Tony Watson from the left side setting up in the eighth. There now seems to be debate on whether Jason Grilli or Mark Melancon should be the closer. My thoughts are that if Melancon can rebound strongly in his next save opportunity or opportunities this week, then Melancon should be the Pirates closer come the postseason, and Grilli as the right-handed setup man alongside Watson.

After 20 years of misery, it’s hard to believe that we’re talking about the postseason and how the roster should be constructed.

 

Could the Pirates be Facing a Dilemma with Jeff Locke Next Season?

By Jason Shetler

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After making the Pirates rotation out of Spring Training this season, Jeff Locke had a terrific first half, in which he posted a 2.15 ERA, along with a very good 1.13 WHIP, and made the All-Star team. However, the second half has been the complete opposite for the 25-year-old lefty, as he’s posted a dreadful 6.12 ERA, and a very high 1.87 WHIP. He’s also walked a total of 87 batters this year, which is the most allowed in the National League. Locke’s current ERA stands at 3.52, while his FIP is at 4.03. Because his ERA and FIP aren’t too far off, it would seem to indicate that he may have been lucky in the first half and unlucky in the second half, despite the really bad numbers in the latter. No matter what figures you look at, the fact is that Locke obviously has to show much better command, especially for a pitcher who throws in the low 90’s. It’ll be interesting what happens to Locke next season going into Spring Training. In my opinion, he shouldn’t be given a rotation spot come Opening Day 2014, but because he will be out of options, he’ll probably be the frontrunner for the fifth spot in the rotation. If Locke can have himself a decent Spring, then he should be able to keep his spot in the rotation. If not, then the Pirates will have to decide whether to risk losing him to waivers if he doesn’t clear, or put him in the bullpen with his control issues. I’m not sure if the Pirates are faced with a dilemma regarding Jeff Locke, since they seem to have quality pitching depth to turn to. To me, the only real dilemma could be with Locke himself, and whether he will be apart of the Pirates in some capacity come next season.