Bucco Nation Top 50 Pirates Prospects for 2016

By Jason Shetler

MLB Network recently had their Top 50 Prospects Countdown. Just for fun, I’ve decided to come up with my own list of the Top 50 Pirates Prospects in the system for 2016. 

50. Wyatt Mathisen

49. Jonathan Brubaker

48. Pablo Reyes

47. Dovydas Neverauskas 

46. Seth McGarry

45. Connor Joe

44. Elvis Escobar

43. Jin-De Jhang

42. Tyler Eppler

41. Mitchell Tolman

40. John Sever

39. Logan Hill

38. Casey Hughston 

37. Luis Heredia

36. Mel Rojas

35. Dan Gamache 

34. Austin Coley

33. Adam Frazier

32. Jose Osuna

31. Billy Roth

30. Carlos Munoz

29. Stetson Allie

28. Cody Dickson

27. Brandon Waddell

26. Gage Hinsz

25. Kevin Kramer

24. Jordan Luplow

23. Max Moroff

22. Jacob Taylor

21. Steven Brault

20. Chad Kuhl

19. Stephen Tarpley

18. Trevor Williams

17. Yeudy Garcia

16. Clay Holmes

15. Barrett Barnes

14. Kevin Newman

13. Mitch Keller

12. Cole Tucker

11. Willy Garcia

10. Ke’Bryan Hayes

9. Nick Kingham

8. Elias Diaz 

7. Reese McGuire

6. Harold Ramirez

5. Alen Hanson

4. Jameson Taillon

3. Josh Bell

2. Austin Meadows

1. Tyler Glasnow






Revisiting the Travis Snider Deal: One Year Later

By Jason Shetler

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

The Pirates started off the 2014 season with Travis Snider and Jose Tabata in a right field platoon, but both struggled early on. Josh Harrison’s breakout year got underway, as he began to receive most of the playing time as the right fielder. Harrison was then moved to third base following the midseason call up of their #1 prospect Gregory Polanco. After putting up staggering numbers against AAA pitching, Polanco wasn’t productive in his rookie season with the Pirates. Fortunately, Snider had red hot numbers in the second half, posting an .880 OPS, this after just a .660 OPS in the first half. 

Despite Polanco’s subpar rookie campaign, the Pirates still had every intention of having him as the starting right fielder heading into 2015. Snider was slated to be the fourth outfielder. With Andrew Lambo in the mix, the Pirates decided to sell high on Snider around this time last offseason. He was dealt to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for pitching prospect Stephen Tarpley and a player to be named later. On February 20th, the Pirates obtained another pitching prospect Steven Brault to complete the trade. There was much criticism surrounding the deal, as people viewed Snider as a good bat off the bench, as well as a fallback option in case Polanco were to scuffle again. As it turned out, Snider was unable to build off his second half success in 2014, as he posted just a .659 OPS for the Orioles before getting released by them in mid-August. He returned to the Pirates on a minor league deal, and was a September call up. Snider was non-tendered this offseason. From the Pirates side of the deal, Tarpley and Brault both pitched outstanding, as Tarpley had a 2.48 ERA in 20 starts for Low A West Virginia while Brault put up a 2.43 ERA in 28 starts combined for High A Bradenton and AA Altoona. 

On Saturday, Snider agreed to sign a minor league deal with the Kansas City Royals. The Orioles were hoping that the once highly touted prospect of the Toronto Blue Jays would finally put it altogether in 2015, but it just didn’t happen. Meanwhile, Tarpley and Brault are currently ranked the #23 and #24 prospects respectively in the Pirates system according to MLB Pipeline. Tarpley in particular has the higher ceiling, as his stuff could make him an impact prospect before arriving to Pittsburgh.




Bucco Breakdown: Gerrit Cole

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Jamie Sabau - Getty Images
p/c: Jamie Sabau – Getty Images

After an impressive rookie showing in 2013, Gerrit Cole was poised to build off that success in 2014. The former UCLA standout was decent that year, but didn’t pitch a ton due to a couple of DL stints. Cole was able to stay healthy last season, and was put himself on the national map. Here are Cole’s numbers from the past couple seasons, as well as a 2016 FanGraphs projection.

2014: 3.65 ERA, 99 ERA+, 3.23 FIP, 1.21 WHIP, 2.6 BB/9, 9.0 K/9, 2.3 WAR in 22 starts 

2015: 2.60 ERA, 148 ERA+, 2.66 FIP, 1.09 WHIP, 1.9 BB/9, 8.7 K/9, 5.4 WAR in 32 starts 

2016 (FanGraphs): 2.89 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 2.0 BB/9, 8.9 K/9, 4.9 WAR in 32 starts 

As most projected, Cole had himself a breakout season in 2015. The 2.60 ERA was fifth best in the National League while his 2.66 Fielding Independent Pitching was third best among NL starters. His dominance last year can be contributed to the fact that he not only displayed great control, but also because he threw his wipeout slider 8% more than in 2014. Cole wound up finishing fourth in the NL Cy Young voting, the highest finish for a Pirates starter since Doug Drabek in 1992. 

My analysis: Entering his age 25 season, Gerrit Cole his now of the Top 10 best starting pitchers in baseball. The combination of solid command on his upper-90’s fastball along with a very outstanding slider should make him a strong Cy Young candidate again this season, barring injury. 




Five Pirates Prospects Ranked in MLB.com’s Top 100

By Jason Shetler

Tyler Glasnow - p/c: Bill Gentry
Tyler Glasnow – p/c: Bill Gentry

On Friday night, MLB.com unveiled their list of the Top 100 prospects for the 2016 season. The Pirates had a total of five prospects make the list with Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows, Josh Bell, Jameson Taillon and Reese McGuire. 

Glasnow obviously was the highest ranked Pirates prospect, coming in at #10 after just missing the Top 10 last year at #12. MLB Pipeline listed Glasnow as the second best pitching prospect among right-handers.

Meadows made a very nice jump from #46 a year ago to #20 this year. The MLB Pipeline rankings had Meadows the fourth best outfield prospect. MLB.com’s Jim Callis considered him the second best prospect overall during the Arizona Fall League. 

Bell just made the Top 50, as he came in at #49. This ranking is a significant drop off from the #34 spot he had last year. The main reason would seem to be making the switch to first base and having struggles defensively. Despite the defense, Bell’s offensive numbers were still good enough to make him the second best prospect at first base according to MLB Pipeline.

Taillon missed the Top 50, ranking #54 on the list, this after being #31 entering 2015. The former first round pick of the Pirates in 2010 has missed the last two seasons with both elbow and hernia surgeries respectively. The injuries have no doubt affected Taillon’s prospect status, but the stuff he possesses, as well as his ceiling, still can’t be overlooked. 

McGuire barely made the Top 100, coming in at #98. This was the biggest drop of any Pirates prospect in the rankings, as he was 34 spots lower compared to last year. Although McGuire’s offense needs plenty of work, his strong defensive abilities alone is still deserving to make him a Top 100 prospect. MLB Pipeline ranked him the fourth best prospect among catchers. 




Would Ivan Nova be a Good Trade Option for the Pirates?

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Joe Camporeale - USA Today Sports
p/c: Joe Camporeale – USA Today Sports

For the past several seasons, Ivan Nova has been a mainstay in the New York Yankees rotation. Nova made his big league debut for them in 2010. His best season as a Bronx Bomber was in 2013, posting a 3.10 ERA and a 129 ERA+. Just when it seemed like Nova was riding high, he was placed on the DL just four starts into the 2014 season, and ended up having Tommy John surgery. He made his return to the Yankees rotation in June of last season, as he had a 5.07 ERA with an ERA+ of 78 in 17 starts. This offseason, the Yankees reportedly have Nova on the trading block. If the season began right now, he would be in their bullpen as a long reliever. The Pirates could still look to add another starter, so would Nova be a possible option for them?

There’s no sugarcoating that Nova didn’t pitch well in 2015, but obviously when you’re talking about the Pirates in recent years, they haven’t been shy when it comes to turning pitchers around. Two things the Pirates generally look for in pitchers is good velocity and groundball ability, both of which Nova can provide. Last season, Nova’s average fastball velocity was at 93.2 mph, higher than the 91.8 mph he threw prior to having Tommy John. He also posted a groundball rate of 49%. One very interesting stat from last year was his chase rate, as he got batters to swing at pitches out of the strikezone 34.4% of the time, which was a career best. The combination of the increased fastball velocity along with his good curveball is a big reason for that. On Thursday, the Yankees avoided arbitration with Nova, settling at $4.1 million. If the Pirates were to acquire him, and he were to bounce back, that salary would be an absolute bargain. Personally, a healthy Ivan Nova might be a better rotation option than Ryan Vogelsong or Jeff Locke.




Pirates Sign Anderson Feliz

By Jason Shetler

According to Kayla Thompson of Indy Ball Island, the Pirates have signed former Independent ball infielder Anderson Feliz.

Feliz was signed by the New York Yankees out of the Dominican Republic back in 2009. The 23-year-old switch-hitter played six seasons in the Yankees system, as he put up just a .693 OPS. Prior to last season, Feliz signed on with the Lancaster Barnstormers of the Atlantic League, posting a .759 OPS in 92 games where he played mostly shortstop and the outfield. My guess is Feliz will begin 2016 with AA Altoona. 

Bucco Breakdown: Francisco Liriano

By Jason Shetler

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

Following A.J. Burnett’s departure prior to the 2014 season, Francisco Liriano took over as the Pirates veteran ace of the pitching staff. The 32-year-old southpaw was a free agent last offseason, and re-signed with the Bucs on a three-year contract. Liriano has certainly been instrumental in the Pirates being a contender each of the last three years. Let’s compare Liriano’s stats from the past two seasons, and what his projection will be in 2016. 

2014: 3.38 ERA, 106 ERA+, 3.59 FIP, 1.30 WHIP, 4.5 BB/9, 9.7 K/9, 1.9 WAR in 29 starts 

2015: 3.38 ERA, 114 ERA+, 3.19 FIP, 1.21 WHIP, 3.4 BB/9, 9.9 K/9, 3.6 WAR in 31 starts

2016 (FanGraphs): 3.30 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 3.5 BB/9, 9.5 K/9, 2.9 WAR in 30 starts

Although Liriano has posted the same exact ERA’s back-to-back seasons, his other figures from 2015 are better across the board than the year before. Last season, Liriano’s ability to rack up strikeouts and induce groundballs continued, as he put up an outstanding 9.9 K/9 while his groundball rate was at 51%. His trend of baffling hitters remained strong, posting a 14.3% swing and miss rate, as well as getting batters to chase pitches out of the strikezone 33.1% of the time. Liriano was able to make 31 starts, which was the first time he started at least 30 games since 2010 with the Minnesota Twins. 

My analysis: When healthy, Francisco Liriano is one of the best strikeout pitchers in the game. As a matter of fact, he’s posted the third best K/9 ratio among NL starters since 2013 with only Clayton Kershaw and Stephen Strasburg ahead of him. Liriano should have another solid year in 2016.




Did the Pirates Miss Out on Doug Fister?

By Jason Shetler

p/c: David Kohl -USA Today Sports
p/c: David Kohl -USA Today Sports

Over the last five seasons, the Pirates have taken on their fair share of reclamation pitchers such as Charlie Morton, A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Mark Melancon and Edinson Volquez. One of the more notable pitchers on the free agent market this offseason that most looked at the Pirates to turn to was Doug Fister. 

Fister is coming off a so-so 2015 campaign, as he put up a 4.19 ERA along with a 4.55 Fielding Independent Pitching for the Washington Nationals in 25 games, 15 of which were starts. He rated out as a replacement level pitcher with a 0.2 WAR. While Fister has put up pretty good career numbers for the most part, the biggest concern has been the decline in his fastball velocity.

2012 (Tigers): 89.1

2013 (Tigers): 88.6

2014 (Nationals): 87.9

2015 (Nationals): 86.4

The velocity on Fister’s fastball has gone down almost three mph on average since 2012, which is pretty alarming considering it wasn’t high to begin with. The decrease in velocity also led to a very low 5.2% swing and miss rate in 2015. As mentioned, Fister had a 4.55 FIP last season. The Pirates brought in Ryan Vogelsong, who posted a 4.53 FIP a year, so even though Vogelsong is a mediocre starter, Fister wouldn’t have been that much of an upgrade. On Thursday, the Houston Astros agreed to terms with Fister on a one-year deal worth $7 million, which could max out the contract to $12 million with incentives. While I’m not suggesting that the Astros overpaid for Fister, it would have been difficult for the Pirates or any other team for that matter to match the deal, especially for a pitcher who profiles more as a back of the rotation type.




MLB Pipeline Ranks Austin Meadows Fourth Best Among Outfield Prospects

By Jason Shetler

MLBPipeline.com has ranked Austin Meadows #4 on their list of the Top 10 outfield prospects in the minors.

In the 2013 MLB Draft, the Pirates chose Meadows with the ninth overall selection. The 20-year-old Georgia native compiled a .310 average with an OPS of .781 and had 21 stolen bases in 127 games combined between High A Bradenton and AA Altoona. He should start out 2016 with Altoona. Jim Callis of MLB.com is very high on Meadows, as he considered him the second best prospect during the Arizona Fall League. 

Bucco Breakdown: Francisco Cervelli

By Jason Shetler

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

The Pirates faced a difficult challenge last offseason, as they needed to replace Russell Martin, who had signed on with the Toronto Blue Jays. The Bucs brought in Francisco Cervelli from the New York Yankees in exchange for reliever Justin Wilson. 2015 marked Cervelli’s first season as a regular catcher. Let’s look at the numbers for Cervelli the past two seasons, and how he projects to do in 2016. 

2014 (Yankees): .301/.370/.432/, 127 OPS+, 6.8% BB rate, 25.3% K rate, 25% CS rate, 1.3 WAR in 49 games

2015 (Pirates): .295/.370/.401/, 114 OPS+, 9.0% BB rate, 18.4% K rate, 22% CS rate, 3.8 WAR in 130 games

2016 (FanGraphs): .288/.366/.386, 9.1% BB rate, 17.8% K rate, 3.8 WAR in 120 games 

Based on Cervelli’s 2014 offensive figures, he certainly had the potential, but just needed an opportunity, and certainly took advantage of that last year. Cervelli put up a .370 on base percentage, which was second best among National League catchers behind only Buster Posey. He was able to increase his walk rate while the strikeout rate was cut down by 7%. Defensively, Cervelli was below league average throwing out runners last season, but was a terrific pitch framer. Overall, he was almost a four-win player. FanGraphs projects another solid year for Cervelli in 2016.

My analysis: Cervelli does a terrific job of controlling the strikezone, as his walk rate is very good while the strikeout rate is on the low side, leading to an impressive ability to get on base. While his caught stealing rate was below league average, he was the second best pitch framing catcher in baseball last year. Only Yasmani Grandal of the Los Angeles Dodgers was rated higher. Cervelli should have another productive season in 2016.