Jose Osuna Has Been Promoted to Altoona

By Jason Shetler

According to Pirates Prospects Tim Williams, the Pirates have promoted outfielder/first baseman Jose Osuna to AA Altoona.

Osuna has been one of the more underrated prospects in the Pirates system. The 22-year-old native of Venezuela began the season with a High A Bradenton squad that’s been loaded with top prospects. In 44 games for the Marauders, Osuna hit .282 while posting an OPS of .764 and played majority of the time in right field. 

Francisco Cervelli Looking Like a Servicable Replacement for Russell Martin

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Rich Schultz - Getty Images
p/c: Rich Schultz – Getty Images

Russell Martin was a huge part in helping the Pirates contend in 2013 and 2014. Based on his significant contributions both offensively and defensively during those two years, Martin was far and away the best catcher on the free agent market this past offseason. The Pirates chances of re-signing the veteran catcher was going to be very difficult, especially with having multiple teams looking to make substantial offers. The Toronto Blue Jays made Martin an offer he couldn’t refuse, as he signed a five-year deal worth $82 million. 

Shortly before the Jays inked Martin, the Pirates found their new catcher by acquiring Francisco Cervelli from the New York Yankees in exchange for Justin Wilson. Cervelli had spent parts of seven seasons as the Yankees backup catcher. Most thought Cervelli to be a major downgrade based simply on Martin’s impact in Pittsburgh. During the offseason, I considered Cervelli to be the Pirates version of a “Moneyball” player for 2015, because of having decent numbers for a backup and looking for an opportunity to play regularly. Not to mention he was due to make under $1 million in the process. Cervelli has played 35 games for the Pirates, and here are his numbers to this point.

.308/.377/.393, 113 OPS+, 1.0 WAR, 27% caught stealing (29% league average) 

Cervelli has been above average offensively so far hitting over .300. Coming into this season, Cervelli’s career on base percentage was .348. He’s been terrific in that department thus far, posting a .377 on base, which is second best among all Major League catchers right now. Behind the plate, Cervelli has been slightly below average throwing out runners, but it’s not as if teams are running at will on him. His 1.0 WAR currently makes him a valuable asset. No one should have expected Cervelli to be an upgrade over Martin, but to Cervelli’s credit, he’s certainly looking like a very serviceable replacement. 

Nick Kingham Undergoes Tommy John Surgery

By Jason Shetler

The Pirates have announced that Nick Kingham has undergone Tommy John surgery. 

Kingham came into 2015 as the Pirates sixth best prospect according to MLB.com. The 23-year-old right-hander experienced elbow discomfort a few weeks ago during an outing against AAA Rochester. Before the injury, he posted a 4.31 ERA, a 1.31 WHIP and a K/9 of 9.2 in six starts this season for the Indianapolis Indians. Kingham was expected to join the Pirates at some point this year, but instead won’t pitch again until the latter part of 2016. 

Jung-Ho Kang Performing at an All-Star Level

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Gene J. Puskar - AP
p/c: Gene J. Puskar – AP

Times have certainly changed for the Pittsburgh Pirates the past two seasons, as they’ve finished above .500 both times and found themselves in the National League Wild Card Game, advancing to the NLDS in 2013. In an effort to make the team better without Russell Martin, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington went completely outside the box and won the bidding for Jung-Ho Kang, eventually signing the Korean born infielder to a four-year deal worth $11 million in January. 

As expected, Kang was slated to be on the Pirates bench on Opening Day. He was used mostly as a pinch-hitter the first couple weeks of the season. Since the early part of May, Kang has been getting regular playing time at both third base and shortstop, more so the latter with Jordy Mercer’s continued struggles. Kang is certainly playing at an All-Star level, hitting .329 along with a .931 OPS during the month of May. He’s also been doing a terrific job of creating runs, with a 133 wRC+. Kang currently has a 1.5 WAR, which is the best of any Pirates position player right now. Before joining the Pirates, Kang was considered average defensively, but so far has been above average, posting a .969 fielding percentage with a 4.0 UZR/150 at shortstop. He’s been just as solid at third base, putting up a 42.5 UZR/150 and has yet to commit an error. It remains to be seen how long Kang can keep up his hot hitting, as he has a .372 BABIP, which indicates a certain degree of regression. If Kang is able to sustain his strong numbers through June, there’s no reason to think why he can’t be in the Midsummer Classic.

Tyler Glasnow Ranked in Keith Law’s Top 10

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Mark Olson -MiLB
p/c: Mark Olson -MiLB

Earlier today, Keith Law of ESPN.com came out with his updated Top 25 prospect rankings, and had Tyler Glasnow ranked in his Top 10 at #9.

Glasnow entered 2015 as the Pirates top prospect from every baseball publication. The 6’8, hard-throwing right-hander to this point has made six starts with the Altoona Curve, posting a 2.76 ERA, a 1.02 WHIP and striking out batters at an 8.9 ratio. Glasnow is currently on the DL with an ankle injury.

Deibinson Romero to Play in the KBO

By Jason Shetler

According to the Yonhap News Agency, infielder Deibinson Romero has agreed to terms with the Doosan Bears of the Korea Baseball Organization. Doosan will need to buy out his contract with the Pirates to make the deal official.

The Pirates signed Romero this past offseason as a minor league free agent. He was putting up strong numbers with AAA Indianapolis, hitting .302 along with a .950 OPS in 38 games. With the Pirates improved infield depth this year, it would have been difficult for Romero to be called up. His best shot of being with them probably would have been as a September call up. In addition, Romero will likely make more with Doosan than he would have with his Pirates minor league deal.

Pirates Activate Charlie Morton; Radhames Liz DFA’d

By Jason Shetler

Charlie Morton has officially been activated from the disabled list. In a corresponding move, Radhames Liz has been designated for assignment, the team announced.

Morton struggled mightily in Spring Training, as he was recovering from hip surgery he had late last year. The 31-year-old right-hander made three rehab starts prior to joining the Pirates rotation. In 2014, Morton posted a 3.72 ERA, a 1.27 WHIP and a 56% groundball rate in 26 starts.

Liz signed with the Pirates on a one-year deal worth $1 million back in December to be a multiple inning arm out of the bullpen. A once highly touted pitching prospect of the Baltimore Orioles several years back, Liz had an ERA of 3.63, but allowed a ton of batters to reach base with a 1.73 WHIP in 11 appearances.

How Much Has A.J. Burnett Reinvented Himself?

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Justin K. Aller - Getty Images
p/c: Justin K. Aller – Getty Images

A.J. Burnett was one of the better strikeout pitchers in baseball prior to signing a mega deal with the New York Yankees in 2009. After helping them capture a World Series title that year, Burnett really struggled the next two seasons with the Yanks. The Pirates acquired Burnett in February of 2012 as a reclamation project. With a change of scenery and the guidance of pitching coach Ray Searage, he was able to have two successful years in Pittsburgh. Prior to last season, Burnett chose to sign with the Philadelphia Phillies after talks of possibly retiring. His 2014 campaign with the Phillies wound up being subpar, but it should be noted that he was trying to pitch through a sports hernia. It was evident that Burnett’s heart belonged in Pittsburgh, as he wasted no time to re-sign a one-year deal with the Bucs this past offseason. Not only has he been worth every penny of the $8.5 million he signed for, but his 1.37 ERA is currently the lowest of any starter in baseball. It’s been well documented now that Burnett has changed his style of pitching, but how much as he reinvented himself? -Here’s a look at his fastball percentages courtesy of FanGraphs Pitch F/X.

2007 (Blue Jays): 69% 4-seamer, 1% sinker

2008 (Blue Jays): 65% 4-seamer, 3% sinker

2009 (Yankees): 64% 4-seamer, 2% sinker

2010 (Yankees): 47% 4-seamer, 23% sinker

2011 (Yankees): 40% 4-seamer, 11% sinker

2012 (Pirates): 47% 4-seamer, 13% sinker

2013 (Pirates): 46% 4-seamer, 12% sinker

2014 (Phillies): 21% 4-seamer, 37% sinker

2015 (Pirates): 13% 4-seamer, 52% sinker

Burnett started throwing the sinker more last year with the Phillies, but wasn’t able to command it while leading the National League in walks. This season, he’s been exclusively a sinkerball pitcher & his throwing strikes with it consistently. Because he’s getting ahead in the count more, Burnett is still getting strikeouts with the knucklecurve, which he’s throwing 30% of the time (his career norm). Burnett’s groundball rate is 56%, and has helped the Pirates rotation to be the best in the NL in terms of groundball percentage. Not only is Burnett off to the best start of his career, but he’s also well on his way to Cincinnati come July. 

Bucs Prospects Report 5/22

By Jason Shetler

AAA Indianapolis

Alen Hanson was 2-for-4 with a two-run homer (2), a double and a walk. (.301 avg; .787 OPS)

Elias Diaz drove in a run as a pinch-hitter. (.261 avg; .677 OPS)

Mel Rojas did not play.

AA Altoona

Chad Kuhl pitched 6.2 innings, giving up six runs (five earned) on eight hits, walked three and had two strikeouts. (92 pitches; 55 strikes) (3.09 ERA; 1.39 WHIP)

Willy Garcia went 2-for-5 with a run scored. (.287 avg; .656 OPS)

Josh Bell was also 2-for-5. (.324 avg; .855 OPS)

Stetson Allie goes 1-for-5 with a two-run double. (.203 avg; .657 OPS)

Keon Broxton was 1-for-5 and also doubled. (.288 avg; .785 OPS)

Max Moroff went 1-for-4 with a walk and scored a run. (.327 avg; .862 OPS)

High A Bradenton

Cody Dickson threw 5.2 innings, allowing three runs on six hits, walked a pair and struckout three. (3.71 ERA; 1.44 WHIP)

Edwin Espinal was 2-for-3 with a double. (.255 avg; .678 OPS)

Jose Osuna went 2-for-5. (.297 avg; .805 OPS)

JaCoby Jones hit his fifth home run of the year. (.270 avg; .772 OPS)

Barrett Barnes went 1-for-4 with a double, a free pass and came around to score. (.284 avg; .765 OPS)

Reese McGuire was also 1-for-4 and drove in a run. (.252 avg; .596 OPS)

Jin-De Jhang goes 1-for-3 with a run scored. (.338 avg; .773 OPS)

Austin Meadows and Wyatt Mathisen did not play.

Low A West Virginia

Austin Coley pitches six innings, as he gave up just one run on four hits, walked a batter and punched out seven. (2.89 ERA; 0.96 WHIP)

Pablo Reyes had three hits including a triple, two RBI and a stolen base. (.256 avg; .796 OPS)

Cole Tucker went 2-for-4 and scored a run. (.280 avg; .636 OPS)

Jordan Luplow was 1-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored.  (.229 avg; .683 OPS)

Taylor Gushue went 1-for-4 (.221 avg; .601 OPS)

Why Alen Hanson is Such an Interesting Prospect

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Bill Gentry - Indianapolis Indians
p/c: Bill Gentry – Indianapolis Indians

For the past few years, the Pirates have established one of the better farm systems in all of baseball. While the Pirates have a ton of interesting prospects with high ceilings, perhaps none is more interesting than Alen Hanson. 

Since 2013, Hanson has been the Pirates top infield prospect. Entering this year, MLB.com ranked Hanson the Pirates seventh best prospect in the system. The 22-year-old switch-hitter got off to a very slow start in April, as he batted .234 along with a .549 OPS, but has tore it up in May, hitting .360 with a .958 OPS. Aside from having one bad month and one terrific month, here’s what makes Hanson an interesting prospect.

The Pirates wouldn’t need Hanson to come up as a starter this year, since they of course have Neil Walker at second base and Jung-Ho Kang establishing himself as the regular shortstop. Sean Rodriguez has done a very good job of hitting off the bench thus far, but Jordy Mercer has been struggling mightily in the early going. If Mercer continues to scuffle for another few weeks, the Pirates could choose to call up Hanson, as he would pass through Super 2 status. The other option the Pirates could consider is using Hanson as attractive trade bait to maybe acquire a starting pitcher, if they remain in contention heading into the trade deadline. Hanson could be the Pirates second baseman as early as 2016, so you wonder if the Pirates will resist temptation and hang onto him.