Jim Callis Mentions Harold Ramirez and Ke’Bryan Hayes as Breakout Prospects for 2016

By Jason Shetler

MLB.com’s Jim Callis did a list of Top 10 prospects who are poised to breakout in 2016. A couple of Pirates prospects were mentioned, Harold Ramirez and Ke’Bryan Hayes. 

Ramirez has shown the potential to be productive offensively, but has dealt with injuries the last couple of seasons. Despite playing in just 80 games this past season for High A Bradenton, the Colombian born outfielder posted an .857 OPS and stole 22 bases. If Ramirez can stay healthy, and is able to put up the solid numbers over a full season, then he should a Top 3 prospect for the Pirates in 2017. 

Hayes was the Pirates 2015 first round supplemental pick. The 18-year-old third baseman showed terrific on base ability, posting a .408 on base percentage in 56 games combined with the Gulf Coast League Pirates and West Virginia Black Bears. Hayes also did well on the defensive side, as he posted a .961 fielding percentage while turning eight double plays. 

 

Will the Pirates Keep Mark Melancon?

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Justin K. Aller - Getty Images North America

p/c: Justin K. Aller – Getty Images North America

As Mark Melancon enters his free agent year, the question remains whether or not he will be dawn a Pirates uniform on Opening Day. He’s coming off a stellar 2015 season in which he posted a 2.23 ERA, a 173 ERA+ and recorded a Major League best 51 saves. 

Melancon is projected to make around $10 million in arbitration. Heading into the offseason, my perception was that the Pirates would really sell high on him not just because of the great numbers he put up this past season, but also with the large salary figure, which small market teams usually try to move in an effort to allocate that money for other needs. That being said however, here are a couple reasons why Melancon staying in Pittsburgh can’t be ruled out. 

The expectation seemed to be that Melancon would be dealt at the Winter Meetings. It’s hard to imagine that there wasn’t much interest for him in Nashville, so my guess is that the Pirates asking price return was probably deemed too high for other clubs to make a deal. With Melancon having just one more year of team control, the Pirates won’t get the same prospect package as the Padres received from the Red Sox in the Craig Kimbrel trade since Kimbrel has two years of control plus a club option. Also keep in mind that the Pirates non-tendered Pedro Alvarez and traded Charlie Morton, which saves them about $16 million. That salary relief could be enough to hang onto Melancon. The Pirates are likely going to add another starter to the rotation, so Melancon could still be attractive trade bait, if they choose to go that direction. While I’m not saying that Melancon will stick around with the Pirates, it certainly seems more of a possibility now than either back in October or prior to the Winter Meetings.

 

 

 

How Many More Moves Will the Pirates Make this Offseason?

By Jason Shetler

While the Pirates haven’t made any real blockbuster moves this offseason that would garner the national attention of the baseball world, they have managed to make a few key moves, most notably the trade of Jon Niese, and the signings of John Jaso, Juan Nicasio and Sean Rodriguez. With almost two months left in the offseason, how many more moves can we expect from the Pirates? – Here are some possibilities.

The bench right now is very right-handed heavy with Chris Stewart, Jason Rogers, Michael Morse and Sean Rodriguez. John Jaso can be a reserve on days when the Pirates are facing a left-handed starter. Alen Hanson could be a internal option since he’s a switch-hitter, but the Pirates will probably wait to call him up midseason due to  Super 2. My guess is they’ll likely go outside the organization. Kelly Johnson is someone who’s an above league average hitter, and because he’s a left-handed bat, he could really balance their bench. 

The bullpen looks to be pretty complete. The only real need there is a lefty reliever. Antonio Bastardo is a free agent, and is seeking a three-year contract worth $18 million, which is similar to the one that Tony Sipp received. Unless that price comes down, I doubt the Pirates will bring back Bastardo. Cesar Ramos, Franklin Morales and Matt Thornton are free agent options who they can sign for a lesser amount. The Pirates could also consider using Michael Morse as trade bait to obtain a left-handed arm. 

The starting rotation is currently Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, Jon Niese, Ryan Vogelsong and Jeff Locke. I find it hard to believe that the Pirates rotation will look like that on Opening Day, which certainly makes me think another starting pitcher will be addressed. Scott Kazmir appears to be out of their price range now. They could look at Yovani Gallardo, but would have to surrender their first round pick to get him. Mat Latos has been linked to the Pirates, and is someone they could sign for cheap as a bounce back candidate. Then there’s the trade route for starting pitching, such as Andrew Cashner of the Padres, Ivan Nova of the Yankees and Jake Odorizzi of the Rays. 

 

 

 

Top 10 Pirates Moments of 2015

By Jason Shetler

As we get ready to approach the new year, let’s look back at the Top 10 Pirates moments of 2015.

10. Pedro Alvarez’s riverboat home run: Over the course of his career, Pedro Alvarez has hit his share of mammoth, tape measure home runs, and perhaps his most impressive came on May 19th against the Minnesota Twins. Alvarez blasted a solo homer off Twins starter Ricky Nolasco, which not only cleared PNC Park’s right field porch, but also landed in a riverboat on the fly. 

9. Jung Ho-Kang’s first MLB homer: Like with any rookie, you always want to keep track of his first accomplishments, most notably his first home run in the big leagues. Jung-Ho Kang’s first long ball came in dramatic fashion on May 3rd against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. It was hit off Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal, which had tied the game 2-2 in the ninth. The Pirates lost the game however by a score of 3-2 in 14 innings. 

8. Pirates turn a triple play: For the second year in a row, the Pirates were able to turn a triple play at PNC Park. The second one came off the St. Louis Cardinals on May 8th. With Vance Worley on the mound, Yadier Molina hit a liner to Neil Walker for the first out, which was followed by a throw to Jung-Ho Kang for the second out, and back to Walker for out number three. The 4-5-4 triple play would end up being the first of its kind in Major League history. 

7. Mark Melancon saves 50: Mark Melancon entered the 2015 season as the Pirates closer. Things didn’t look promising for him, as he really scuffled in April. Melancon however was lights out the rest of the way. He would go on to surpass Mike Williams’ single season saves record by a Pirates closer with 47. Melancon became the first closer in franchise history to record 50 saves in a season, doing so against the Colorado Rockies on September 24th. 

6. A.J. Burnett’s final start: In 2012 and 2013, A.J. Burnett became the ace of the Pirates staff, and really embraced the city of Pittsburgh in the process. Prior to 2014, Burnett had told the Pirates he would retire, if he didn’t re-sign. Pirates fans were very upset after finding out that he had signed with the Philadelphia Phillies. Burnett decided to decline his 2015 option with the Phillies, so he could sign with the Pirates for less. As expected, he bounced back this year. So much so that he was named an All-Star for the first time. Just like Burnett embraced the Pirates, Pittsburgh embraced him back by flashing the Batman logos with lights on the buildings across from PNC Park in his final start on October 3rd against the Cincinnati Reds.

5. Starling Marte’s defensive dandies: Starling Marte was the best defensive left fielder in baseball during the 2015 season. His defensive efforts against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ballpark on July 31st was simply amazing. The Pirates were leading 5-4 in the ninth, and with one man out, Mark Melancon gave up a base hit to Todd Frazier. With Brandon Phillips rounding third base, Marte threw a rifle to home plate to nail Phillips for the second out. Marlon Byrd hit a solid line drive to the outfield, but Marte would lay out to make the catch for the final out, and put on arguably the best single game defensive performance in 2015. 

4. Gregory Polanco’s walkoff single: The Pirates took on the St. Louis Cardinals in Pittsburgh on July 12th, which was televised on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, and was the last game before the All-Star break. The Cardinals had a 5-3 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth. Trevor Rosenthal was looking to shut the door, but the Bucco bats had other ideas, as they tied the game 5-5 after a Francisco Cervelli RBI single. With Jung-Ho Kang at third, a struggling Gregory Polanco stepped to the plate and delivered the game-winning RBI to give the Pirates a 6-5 win. You could argue that the hit turned Polanco’s season around. 

3. Pedro Florimon’s walkoff triple: Throughout the course of a season, a contending team will have things go there way, even from the unlikiest of heroes. On August 18th, the Pirates and Arizona Diamondbacks were tied 8-8 in the 15th inning. With Francisco Cervelli on first, the light-hitting Pedro Florimon came through with a game-winning RBI triple off rookie left-hander Keith Hessler to give the Bucs a wild 9-8 victory. 

2. Andrew McCutchen’s walkoff homer: On July 11th, the Pirates and Cardinals were the featured Saturday game on FOX. Questionable calls from home plate umpire Vic Carapazza had been going against the Pirates seemingly all night long. The biggest was a strikeout on Mark Reynolds from A.J. Burnett that Carapazza ruled a “foul tip”. The next pitch was a solo home run by Reynolds to give the Cardinals a 1-0 lead. This led to Francisco Cervelli getting ejected. The game was tied 3-3 heading into extras. Mark Reynolds homered again to give the Red Birds a 4-3 advantage in the tenth. The Pirates would strike back with a Chris Stewart RBI single. With the game nodded 4-4 in the 14th, Jhonny Peralta drove in the go-ahead RBI single to give the Cardinals a 5-4 lead. Following a Neil Walker leadoff single, Andrew McCutchen rose to the occasion, as he delivered the biggest home run of his career, a two-run walkoff homer off Nick Greenwood to give the Pirates a 6-5 win in the 14th. 

1. Pirates clinch third consecutive playoff appearance: After enduring 20 straight losing seasons, the Pirates all of a sudden are making playoff appearances look like an art form. The Bucs were able to punch their playoff ticket for a third consecutive year after a 13-7 win over the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on September 23rd. 

 

 

 

 

Pirates Hire Wayne Mathis for Amateur Scouting

By Jason Shetler

The Pirates have announced that they have hired longtime scout Wayne Mathis to take over amateur scouting for the draft in the southern parts of Louisiana and Texas beginning in January. 

Prior to being hired by the Pirates, Mathis had worked for MLB’s scouting bureau in which he provided reports to all 30 clubs since 2002. Based on his previous job, he certainly seems to have a ton of scouting experience. Mathis is a former player as well, as he played rookie ball for the New York Mets in 1989 and 1990. 

Why Trading for Andrew Cashner Would Make the Most Sense

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Stan Liu - USA Today Sports

p/c: Stan Liu – USA Today Sports

So far this offseason, the Pirates have added a couple starters to the rotation with Jon Niese and Ryan Vogelsong. Niese will essentially take the place of Charlie Morton while Vogelsong is going to pitch near the back end. Despite the additions, the Pirates could look to bring in another starter. They had been interested in Scott Kazmir, but appear to be out of the running now since the asking price is probably too high. Other free agent starters who the Bucs have been linked to are Mat Latos and Bronson Arroyo. During the Winter Meetings, the Pirates were reportedly in talks with the Los Angeles Angels regarding C.J. Wilson. That would seem unlikely, as Wilson is owed $20 million for next season. Looking at other realistic trade options, the one starter who would make the most sense is Andrew Cashner.

The San Diego Padres were extremely aggressive last offseason in an effort to bring in big name players. Outside of the Washington Nationals, the Padres were the biggest disappointment in 2015, as they lost 88 games while finishing fourth in the NL West. This offseason, the Padres seem to be uncertain which direction they’re headed in, especially after losing Justin Upton to free agency, and trading Craig Kimbrel to the Boston Red Sox for a package of prospects. Cashner is someone who definitely could be on the trade block. Here were his numbers from this past season.

4.34 ERA, 84 ERA+, 3.85 FIP, 1.44 WHIP, 3.4 BB/9, 8.0 K/9, 2.3 WAR in 31 starts 

Cashner didn’t have a great year in 2015, but he wasn’t bad either. While the ERA is a tad bit on the high side, his Fielding Independent Pitching was better as you can see. He’s only a year removed from putting up a stellar 2.55 ERA. Cashner continues to be a hard-throwing starter with an average fastball velocity of 94.8 mph. His groundball rate this past season was pretty good at 47%. Cashner will become a free agent after 2016, so the Pirates shouldn’t have to trade a ton to get him. The projected arbitration figure for Cashner this offseason is at $7 million, which would be a real bargain for a starter who can be a solid #3 in the rotation. 

 

 

 

Clario Perez Suspended for a Positive Drug Test

By Jason Shetler

Pirates minor league pitcher Clario Perez has violated MiLB’s Drug Prevention and Treatment Program for the drug Stanozolol, and will now face the consequences of an 80 game suspension. 

Perez signed with the Pirates back in 2009 out of the Dominican Republic. The 23-year-old right-hander made 44 appearances this past season for both High A Bradenton and AA Altoona, posting a combined 2.65 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP. Perez has put up a 3.69 ERA along with a WHIP of 1.24 in 167 games pitched during his seven seasons in the Pirates system.