Bucco Breakdown: Neil Walker

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images North America

p/c: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images North America

Since taking over at second base for the Pirates in 2010, Neil Walker has quietly been one of the more productive second baseman in baseball. In 2013, he was a key part in leading the Pirates to the postseason, hitting seven home runs during the month of September. Walker continued his good production last season, as he hit a career high 23 homers, becoming the franchise leader for home runs in a season by a second baseman. Here are the stats for Walker the past couple seasons, as well as a FanGraphs projection for 2015. 

2013: .251/.339/.418, 114 OPS+, 9% walk rate, 15% strikeout rate, 4.0 WAR in 133 games 

2014: .271/.342/.467, 127 OPS+, 8% walk rate, 15% strikeout rate, 3.4 WAR in 137 games 

2015 (FanGraphs): .272/.339/.446, 8% walk rate, 15% strikeout rate, 3.2 WAR in 136 games 

Walker’s offensive numbers were better last year just about across the board. His defensive metrics however were more favorable in 2013, which was a result of him being a four-win player. Over the past two seasons, he’s posted a decent walk rate, while his strikeout rate has been on the low side at 15%. The FanGraphs projection for Walker this season looks pretty similar to last year. 

Pirates Have Seven Prospects on MLB.com’s Top 100

By Jason Shetler

Tyler Glasnow - p/c: Grant Jefferies/ Bradenton Herald

Tyler Glasnow – p/c: Grant Jefferies/ Bradenton Herald

On Friday night, MLB.com revealed their Top 100 prospects for 2015, and the Pirates had seven prospects make the list, four of which are in the Top 50. 

Tyler Glasnow was no surprise the highest ranked Pirates prospect. He just missed the Top 10, coming in at #12, which is four spots higher than where he was last year. Glasnow ranked third on MLB.com’s Top 10 pitchers list. 

Jameson Taillon fell only three spots from last year to #31, despite missing all of 2014 recovering from Tommy John surgery. He posted a 3.73 ERA along with an 8.7 K/9 the season prior to the elbow injury. 

Josh Bell was ranked #34, after being #29 a year ago. The Pirates 2014 Minor League Player of the Year combined to hit .325, while posting an .834 OPS in 108 games with High A Bradenton and AA Altoona. MLB.com named Bell the top first base prospect for this year. 

Austin Meadows was just able to crack the Top 50 at #46. His ranking pretty much stayed the same from last year, as he was placed at #45. Since joining the organization in 2013, Meadows has batted .317, and has an OPS of .932 in 93 games played. He ranked eighth on MLB.com’s Top 10 outfield list. 

Reese McGuire made quite a jump from last year, going from #74 up to #64. While he really didn’t show much production offensively with a .642 OPS last season, his defensive game was strong, as he threw out 39% of basestealers. McGuire made MLB.com’s Top 10 catchers list, ranking seventh best. 

Nick Kingham ranked #74, which is a significant drop off from his #58 ranking last year. He did put up a 3.34 ERA for Altoona and Indianapolis last season, but his strikeout numbers took a real dip, as he posted a 6.7 K/9 compared to a 9.0 K/9 in 2013, so that appears to be the biggest reason to why he fell that low. 

Alen Hanson was ranked lower than where he was in 2014, going from #73 down to #92. Hanson had a breakout year in 2012, but he really hasn’t been able to repeat those numbers since, even though the offensive stats are still decent. In addition, there’s been the ongoing debate about his defense, which MLB.com apparently still views as a liability. 

The seven Pirates prospects on the list are the most of any team. 





Pirates Purchase Dwight Childs from Can-Am League

By Jason Shetler

The Pirates have purchased the contract of catcher Dwight Childs from the Can-Am League, this according to Kayla Thompson of Indy Ball Island. 

Childs was an 18th round selection of the Cleveland Indians in 2009. He played his first four seasons in the Indians organization, before signing on with the American Association’s St. Paul Saints in 2013. Childs returned to St. Paul last year, and also played for the New Jersey Jackals. In his two seasons playing Independent ball, he had a .596 OPS in 140 games, while throwing out 33% of baserunners. Childs will likely serve as a backup catcher for either High A Bradenton or AA Altoona.

Pirates Sign Josh Wall

By Jason Shetler

According to Pirates Prospects John Dreker, the Pirates have signed pitcher Josh Wall to a minor league deal, which includes a Spring Training invite. 

The Pirates claimed Wall off waivers from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in May of last year. He made 28 appearances for AAA Indianapolis, where he posted a 2.91 ERA, a 1.44 WHIP and a 9.3 K/9. Wall was DFA’d by the Pirates in August, and was outrighted back to AAA shortly after. He will return to the Indianapolis bullpen this season. 

Bucco Breakdown: Mark Melancon

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images North America

p/c: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images North America

After coming off a very disappointing 2012 campaign with the Boston Red Sox, the Pirates acquired Mark Melancon as part of the Joel Hanrahan trade prior to 2013. Not only did Melancon bounce back that year, but he had one of the best seasons by a Pirates reliever in team history. Melancon continued his great work last season, and wound up replacing Jason Grilli as the closer in May. Let’s examine the numbers on Melancon the past two seasons, and see how he projects to do this year. 

2013: 1.39 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 7.6 H/9, 1.0 BB/9, 8.9 K/9, 60% groundball rate in 72 appearances

2014: 1.90 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 6.5 H/9, 1.4 BB/9, 9.0 K/9, 57% groundball rate in 72 appearances 

2015 (FanGraphs): 2.25 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 1.4 BB/9, 8.8 K/9 in 72 appearances 

Over the last two years, Melancon has been an elite level reliever, keeping his ERA below two, his WHIP under one, and putting up solid groundball rates. His best pitch is the cutter, which he threw 61% of the time in 2013. He threw the pitch just 50% last year, as he was mixing in his curveball more, and as a result, was even more difficult to hit. FanGraphs has Melancon’s ERA above two this season, but still has his WHIP, walk rate and strikeout rate remaining stellar. 



Pirates Sign Chris Volstad

By Jason Shetler

The Pirates have signed pitcher Chris Volstad to a minor league deal, this according to Baseball America. 

Volstad was a first round pick of the then Florida Marlins back in 2005, and was a Baseball America Top 100 prospect from 2006 to 2008. The 28-year-old right-hander has spent parts of six seasons in the big leagues with the Marlins, Cubs and Rockies, posting a 4.94 ERA along with a 1.45 WHIP and a 50% groundball rate in 130 games pitched. Volstad began last season pitching in Korea, before signing with the Angels in July, where he made seven starts for AAA Salt Lake. He’ll likely pitch in the AAA Indianapolis rotation, if Jameson Taillon isn’t ready to start the season. 

Who Will be the Biggest X-Factor for the Pirates this Season?

By Jason Shetler

For the first time in a long time, the Pirates enter the 2015 season with a team that not only is very talented, but has quality depth all the way around. Like any team, there are  players who you’re not certain about in terms of performance, but know they can really help out a club if they’re productive. Here are some of the players who I look at as X-factors for the Pirates this year, and who I think is the biggest. 

The Pirates discovered a gem in their bullpen last September with the quick emergence of John Holdzkom. Manager Clint Hurdle entrusted the tall rookie right-hander in high leverage situations more than he did with veteran John Axford. The back end of the bullpen is pretty solid with Mark Melancon, Antonio Bastardo and Tony Watson. To bridge that gap, Holdzkom is going to have to be reliable throughout six months of a Major League season. 

After non-tendering Gaby Sanchez this offseason, Corey Hart has been signed on to serve in a first base platoon with Pedro Alvarez. The 33 year-old Hart missed all of 2013 recovering from knee surgery, and had a rough season with the Seattle Mariners last year. Hart does have a very good track against left-handed pitching, so any contributions he can provide in that aspect would be a plus. 

Despite coming into 2014 as the Pirates top prospect, Gregory Polanco scuffled in his rookie season. The left-handed hitting outfielder will be the Pirates right fielder on Opening Day. If the Pirates are going to have the best overall outfield in baseball, they obviously need Polanco to perform well this season. 

The Pirates over the years have lacked creativity and going outside the box, but that all changed this offseason when they came to terms with Korean free agent infielder Jung-Ho Kang. The plan will be to use Kang off the bench this season to play shortstop, second base, third base and possibly the outfield. Most project Kang to put up subpar numbers in his first year in the States, but if he can at least be a league average player with decent production, the Pirates would definitely take that. 

All of those players I mentioned are certainly going to play vital roles, but for me, the Pirates biggest X-factor for 2015 has to be Pedro Alvarez. Coming off a year in which he struggled not only at the plate, but in the field with his throws from third base, Alvarez will look to bounce back this season as a first baseman. Unlike the others that were mentioned, Alvarez’s situation seems to be more mental than anything. The physical abilities are certainly there, coming off 30 homer campaigns in 2012 and 2013. The Pirates must have that Alvarez, if they want to remain contenders, especially given the uncertainty of Gregory Polanco, the offensive downgrade at catcher, and the possible regression of Josh Harrison.