Gift Ngoepe Promoted to Indianapolis

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Jeremy Boland - Moments Photography
p/c: Jeremy Boland – Moments Photography

Infielder Gift Ngoepe has been promoted to AAA Indianapolis, this according to Cory Giger of the Altoona Mirror.

Ngoepe signed with the Pirates back in 2008, becoming the first player from South Africa to sign a professional baseball contract. Most publications regard him as the best defensive infielder in the organization. Ngoepe this season for the Altoona Curve was hitting .260 with a .700 OPS in 71 games. The Indianapolis Indians are currently short of position players with Steve Lombardozzi being recalled to Pittsburgh and Jose Tabata needing to clear waivers after being DFA’d on Sunday, so the promotion of Ngoepe to Indy was most likely done as a corresponding move.

Phillies Reportedly Scouting the Altoona Curve

By Jason Shetler

A source tells Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that the Philadelphia Phillies will send a scout to Altoona to evaluate some of the Pirates prospects in AA. 

The most notable prospects in Altoona right now are Josh Bell, Stetson Allie, Max Moroff and recently promoted Steven Brault. It sounds obvious, but there’s no doubt the Phillies would want Bell as the main piece in a Cole Hamels trade. It’s highly unlikely the Pirates would pursue Jonathan Papelbon given his huge price tag and what they would have to give up. Current Phillies setup man Ken Giles could be a possibility, but I expect him to be their closer once Papelbon is moved. 

Pirates Reportedly Scouting Clay Buchholz

By Jason Shetler

p/c: David Butler II - USA Today Sports
p/c: David Butler II – USA Today Sports

According to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, the Pirates had a scout in attendance watching Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz. 

Buchholz is in his eighth year with the Red Sox. The 30-year-old right-hander has a 3.68 ERA this season, but his 2.72 Fielding Independent Pitching suggest that he’s been better than that. He’s also shown good control with a 2.2 BB/9 and striking out batters at an 8.8 K/9. Buchholz is making $12 million this year, and has a $13 million club option for 2016 as well as a 2017 option worth $13.5 million. 

Midseason Review of the Pirates Offseason Moves

By Jason Shetler

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

As we’re about midway through the 2015 season, here is a midseason review of the Pirates transactions from this past offseason. 

A.J. Burnett: After just one season with the Philadelphia Phillies, A.J. Burnett returned to the Pirates on a one-year deal worth $8.5 million, which was $3.5 million less than his club option with the Phillies that he declined. Burnett has been outstanding for the Bucs this season. His 2.05 ERA is currently fourth best in the National League. Burnett also has a 183 ERA+, a 1.21 WHIP and a team best 2.8 WAR.  Grade: A 

Antonio Bastardo: Just like A.J. Burnett, Antonio Bastardo pitched for the Phillies last season. The Pirates acquired the veteran lefty reliever from Philly in exchange for pitcher Joely Rodriguez. Bastardo got off to a rough start the first two months, but has pitched better of late, allowing only three earned runs in his last 14 appearances. For the season, Bastardo is posting a 3.66 ERA, a 1.41 WHIP and a K/9 of 8.2.  Grade: C 

Arquimedes Caminero: The Pirates acquired Arquimedes Caminero from the Miami Marlins for cash. Caminero has certainly been money in the Bucs bullpen this year, as he’s posted a 2.97 ERA, an 0.99 WHIP and a 10.0 K/9. He’s also been bringing the heat with an average fastball velocity of 97.8, second only behind Aroldis Chapman. Grade: B+ 

Corey Hart: With the Pirates wanting to spell out Pedro Alvarez against lefty pitching, they inked Corey Hart to a one-year deal for $2.5 million. Hart has really struggled this year, batting just .222 with a 597 OPS, a 64 OPS+ and a -0.5 WAR. He’s currently on the DL with a left shoulder impingement.  Grade: D 

Francisco Cervelli: With Russell Martin expected to sign elsewhere, the Pirates went out and acquired Francisco Cervelli from the New York Yankees for pitcher Justin Wilson. Cervelli has been solid on the offensive side, hitting .306 along with a .791 OPS and a 121 OPS+. Behind the plate, he’s been around league average with a 27% caught stealing.  Grade: B+ 

Jung-Ho Kang: The Pirates surprised many this past offseason when they signed Jung-Ho Kang out of Korea on a four-year deal. Despite playing his first season in the States, Kang has been very productive for the Bucs to this point, hitting .272 with a .743 OPS, a 108 OPS+ and a 1.5 WAR.  Grade: B+ 

Radhames Liz: A once highly touted pitching prospect, Radhames Liz signed with the Pirates on a one-year contract worth $1 million. Liz made the Opening Day roster as a multiple inning arm out of the bullpen. The 31-year-old right-hander posted a 3.63 ERA, but allowed plenty of batters to reach base with a 1.73 WHIP. He did show the ability to strikeout hitters with a 9.3 K/9. The Pirates designated Liz for assignment in late May, and has been pitching for AAA Indianapolis since.  Grade: C- 

Rob Scahill: The Pirates signed Rob Scahill on a minor league deal. Rather than have Stolmy Pimentel on the team since he was out of options, the Pirates decided to put Scahill on the Opening Day roster. Scahill has been a pleasant surprise in the bullpen this season, as he’s put up a 1.80 ERA. His WHIP has been on the high side at 1.48, but he’s been able to limit the damage, thanks in part to an impressive 65% groundball rate.  Grade: B 

Sean Rodriguez: In an effort to improve the bench, the Pirates obtained Sean Rodriguez from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for pitcher Buddy Borden. Rodriguez is batting .267 with a .683 OPS and a 88 OPS+. He’s been used as a defensive replacement at first base, and has been above average with a 5.3 UZR/150.  Grade: C+ 

Casey Sadler Placed on DL with Forearm Strain

By Jason Shetler

According to John Dreker of Pirates Prospects, pitcher Casey Sadler has been placed on the AAA Indianapolis disabled list with a right forearm strain, retroactive to June 22nd. 

Sadler has made 13 starts this season for Indianapolis while posting a 4.22 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP. He also made a spot start for the Pirates back in April. Hopefully the injury to Sadler won’t be anything significant, as the Pirates starting pitching depth has already been thinned down by the recent setback of Jameson Taillon and Nick Kingham being lost to Tommy John surgery. 

Pirates Call Up Chris Volstad; Corey Hart to the DL

By Jason Shetler

The Pirates have announced that pitcher Chris Volstad has been called up to the big club. Meanwhile, Corey Hart is heading to the 15-day disabled list with a left shoulder impingement. 

Volstad signed with the Pirates on a minor league deal this past offseason. The former Florida Marlins top pitching prospect has pitched 76 innings this season for AAA Indianapolis, posting a 3.43 ERA with a 1.32 WHIP. Volstad is a groundball pitcher, as he’s put up a groundball rate of 50% in parts of six seasons in the big leagues. 

Corey Hart has been a disappointment for the Pirates to put it mildly. The 33-year-old signed a one-year deal with the Bucs for $2.5 million during the offseason. Hart is batting just .222 along with a .597 OPS, a 64 OPS+ and a WAR of -0.5 in 35 games. 

Should the Pirates Call Up Josh Bell This Season?

By Jason Shetler

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

Last year at this time, Gregory Polanco was called up to the Pirates. Polanco entered last season as the Pirates top prospect in the organization. He scuffled in his rookie campaign, and was optioned back down to AAA Indianapolis before being recalled by the Bucs in September. Polanco has underperformed the first half of this year, hitting .243 along with a .659 OPS, an OPS+ of 84 and a 0.6 WAR. If Polanco continues to struggle, would calling up Josh Bell be an option? 

Bell came into 2015 as the Pirates #3 prospect and top position player prospect in the system according to MLB.com. The 22-year-old switch-hitter is having a solid season for the Altoona Curve, as he’s batting .318 with an .828 OPS. Most of that production has come from the left side of the plate (.326 avg, .872 OPS vs RHP). The Texas Rangers called up their top prospect Joey Gallo a few weeks ago from AA, and he has given the Rangers  another quality bat in their lineup. Pirates GM Neal Huntington normally likes to be patient with top prospects, but perhaps giving Bell an aggressive push to the Majors like the Rangers did with Gallo is something that should be considered, especially since the Pirates haven’t got much production out of Polanco. Bell has played first base exclusively this year, but has played more outfield during his time in the minors, so it’s not as if the Pirates couldn’t move him back to the outfield. I’m not suggesting that Bell should be the right fielder for the remainder of the season, but it wouldn’t hurt to see what he can do at the big league level. Should he struggle, the Pirates could go to Polanco again or trade for a right fielder. If Bell does perform well, then the Pirates have themselves a consistent right fielder for just the league minimum and no Super 2 implications. 

Trade Candidates Who Could Improve the Pirates Bench

By Jason Shetler

With the lack of production from the Pirates bench this season, particularly Corey Hart and Jose Tabata, here are some players who the Bucs could look to acquire in an effort to improve the bench.

Ben Zobrist: The Oakland Athletics were buyers at the trade deadline last year, as they acquired Ben Zobrist from the Tampa Bay Rays as part of a five-player deal. The switch-hitting super utility man is posting a .746 OPS along with a 108 OPS+ this season for the A’s. Zobrist for his career has been better from the right side with an .807 OPS vs lefties, so platooning him with Neil Walker at second base would make sense. He’s owed $7.5 million this year, and will be a free agent after the season. 

Gerardo Parra: Not much has gone right for the Milwaukee Brewers this season, but one of their few bright spots has been Gerardo Parra. The left-handed hitting reserve outfielder is hitting .281 with a .748 OPS and a 102 OPS+. Defensively, Parra has been terrific, as he’s put up a career 18.5 UZR/150 in right field and a 9.5 UZR/150 in left field, while winning a pair of Gold Gloves in 2011 and 2013 with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Parra is making around $6.2 million, and becomes a free agent after this year.

Jeff Baker: In his second season with the Miami Marlins, Jeff Baker has found himself in a first base platoon. Baker has strong numbers in his career against left-handers, and this year has been no different, posting an OPS of .928 vs southpaws. Corey Hart was suppose to spell out Pedro Alvarez against lefty pitching, but has done virtually nothing against them. Not only would Baker be a significant upgrade, but he’s making $2.1 million, which is actually less than Hart is making at $2.5 million. 

Ryan Raburn: While the Cleveland Indians aren’t sellers just yet, Ryan Raburn is someone to consider should the Tribe fall out of contention. The 34-year-old utility man is having a very good year for the Indians, as he’s batting .292 with an .877 OPS. Raburn is owed $2.5 million this year along with a $3 million club option for next season. Just like I mentioned with Ben Zobrist, Raburn could platoon at second with Neil Walker. 

Will Venable: During his eight seasons in San Diego, Will Venable has been a regular in the outfield, but because of the Padres aggressive offseason moves, he began the year as their fourth outfielder. Venable is currently the Padres starting center fielder, as he’s filling in for the injured Wil Myers. The numbers have been decent for Venable this season with a .735 OPS and a 109 OPS+. He’s making $4.25 million this year, and will enter free agency after the season. 

Steven Brault Promoted to Altoona

By Jason Shetler

p/c: piratesprospects.com
p/c: piratesprospects.com

According to Pirates Prospects Tim Williams, pitcher Steven Brault has been given a promotion to AA Altoona. 

Brault was acquired by the Pirates from the Baltimore Orioles as the player to be named in the Travis Snider deal this past offseason. The 23-year-old southpaw was rated the 18th best prospect in the Orioles system by Baseball America prior to the trade. In 13 starts this season for the Bradenton Marauders, Brault posted a 3.02 ERA along with a 1.26 WHIP and a solid 72% groundball rate. 

Pirates Top 25 Midseason Rankings

By Jason Shetler

Here are the midseason rankings for the Pirates 25-man roster. 

25. Corey Hart: .182 avg, .485 OPS, -0.5 WAR

24. Jose Tabata: .300 avg, .623 OPS, -0.3 WAR 

23. Jordy Mercer: .222 avg, .565 OPS, -0.1 WAR

22. Jeff Locke: 4.90 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, -0.5 WAR 

21. Antonio Bastardo: 4.32 ERA, 1.50 WHIP

20. Vance Worley: 3.83 ERA, 1.49 WHIP 

19. Sean Rodriguez: .262 avg, .672 OPS, 0.1 WAR 

18. Neil Walker: .252 avg, .682 OPS, 0.3 WAR 

17. Gregory Polanco: .249 avg, .666 OPS, 0.7 WAR 

16. Chris Stewart: .290 avg, .695 OPS, 0.6 WAR 

15. Pedro Alvarez: .234 avg, .758 OPS, -0.2 WAR

14. Jared Hughes: 3.25 ERA, 1.37 WHIP 

13. Arquimedes Caminero: 3.18 ERA, 0.99 WHIP

12. Rob Scahill: 1.50 ERA, 1.42 WHIP 

11. Josh Harrison: .281 avg, .718 OPS, 0.9 WAR 

10. Mark Melancon: 1.99 ERA, 1.04 WHIP 

9. Tony Watson: 1.83 ERA, 0.93 WHIP 

8. Charlie Morton: 1.62 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 1.0 WAR 

7. Jung-Ho Kang: .281 avg, .769 OPS, 1.6 WAR 

6. Francisco Cervelli: .324 avg, .822 OPS, 1.3 WAR 

5. Francisco Liriano: 2.94 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 1.6 WAR 

4. Starling Marte: .286 avg, .826 OPS, 1.7 WAR 

3. Andrew McCutchen: .293 avg, .862 OPS, 2.1 WAR 

2. A.J. Burnett: 1.89 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 2.8 WAR 

1. Gerrit Cole: 1.71 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 2.5 WAR