Kyle Lobstein to Start the Pirates Grapefruit League Opener

By Jason Shetler

According to Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Kyle Lobstein will start for the Pirates in the Grapefruit League Opener on Tuesday against his former club the Detroit Tigers. 

The Pirates acquired Lobstein from the Tigers for cash considerations in December. The 26-year-old lefty pitched in 63.2 innings for the Tigers last season, posting a 5.94 ERA, although his Fielding Independent Pitching was lower at 4.64. Lobstein was able to induce groundballs at a 52% rate. He’s likely to begin 2016 with AAA Indianapolis since he has options remaining.

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Which Pirates Affiliate Will Have the Most Prospects to Begin 2016?

By Jason Shetler

Earlier this month, ESPN.com’s Keith Law still had the Pirates as a Top 10 farm system by ranking them eighth best. Every year, a different organization affiliate will have more prospects than others, so which full season Pirates affiliate will have most of that talent to begin 2016? 

AAA Indianapolis Indians: The Indianapolis Indians are going to boast without question their best rotation since being affiliated with the Pirates in 2005. The staff will be led by the Bucs #1 prospect Tyler Glasnow. The rest of the rotation will include fellow prospects Jameson Taillon, Chad Kuhl and Trevor Williams, who was acquired this offseason from the Miami Marlins. Pirates #3 prospect Josh Bell is going to man first base. Alen Hanson will be mostly at second base, and should play shortstop and third base as well for versatility purposes. Willy Garcia is in right field while Elias Diaz will be behind the plate to catch the very talented Indians pitching staff. 

AA Altoona Curve: The Pirates #2 prospect Austin Meadows will be the center fielder in his first full season with Altoona. Rounding out the outfield is going to be Harold Ramirez and Barrett Barnes. 2015 Pirates Minor League Player of the Year Max Moroff will be the second baseman. Behind the plate will be Reese McGuire. From the pitching side, Steven Brault and Cody Dickson are the notables in the Curve rotation. 

High A Bradenton Marauders: The Bradenton Marauders will have themselves a pretty solid 1-2 punch in their rotation with Stephen Tarpley and 2015 Pirates Minor League Pitcher of the Year Yeudy Garcia. The middle of the infield will consist of Kevin Newman and Kevin Kramer, the Pirates first and second round draft selections from a year ago. After a breakout campaign last year, Jordan Luplow will be the Marauders third baseman this season. 

Low A West Virginia Power: Last year, the Pirates had Cole Tucker play his first full season with the West Virginia Power rather than start out in short season ball during the summer. The same situation should apply to Ke’Bryan Hayes this year after he was very impressive in the Gulf Coast League in 2015. The rotation will feature a couple of high upside arms from the 2014 draft in Mitch Keller and Gage Hinsz. 

Entering 2016, most of the Pirates top tier prospects will be at the upper level of the minors with Indianapolis. Altoona and Bradenton are both going to have a decent amount. West Virginia won’t have many to begin the season, but they should have  Ke’Bryan Hayes, who’s a Top 10 prospect in the system right now.

 

 

 

 

 

Top 10 Best Diamond in the Rough Draft Picks in Pirates History

By Jason Shetler

Here now are the ten best “diamond in the rough” picks that the Pirates have ever drafted. These players were all selected after the fifth round. 

10. Tony Womack: The Pirates chose Tony Womack in the seventh round of the 1991 draft. After being a utility player his first few seasons, he became the Pirates starting second baseman in 1997. Womack was an All-Star that year, as put up 60 stolen bases, which were most in the National League. He also stole an NL best 58 bases in 1998. 

9. Kevin Young: In the 1990 draft, the Pirates selected Kevin Young in the seventh round. He played for the Pirates from 1992 to 1995 before being released by them prior to the 1996 season where he then signed with the Kansas City Royals. Young returned to Pittsburgh in 1997, and finished his career with them until 2003. In 11 seasons total with the Pirates, he had a .762 OPS. There was a three year stretch from 1997 to 1999 in which Young posted an OPS of .862 with a 119 OPS+. 

8. Randy Tomlin: Randy Tomlin was drafted as an 18th round pick in 1988. While most look at Doug Drabek, John Smiley, Zane Smith and Bob Walk as the main contributors of the early 90’s Pirates rotation, Tomlin pitched very well during his time with the Bucs, posting a 3.43 ERA along with an ERA+ of 107 from 1990 to 1994.

7. Nate McLouth: The Pirates drafted Nate McLouth as a 25th round selection in 2000. He made his debut in 2005, and was used as a reserve outfielder his first couple seasons. 2008 was a career year for McLouth, as hit 26 home runs, the second highest single season total by a Pirates center fielder in club history. He was named an All-Star that season, and also won a Gold Glove award. From 2005 to 2009, McLouth posted a .783 OPS with a 104 OPS+. He had a second stint with the Bucs in 2012.

6. John Smiley: In 1983, John Smiley was drafted by the Pirates in the 12th round. He  pitched six seasons in Pittsburgh from 1986 to 1991 where he put up an ERA of 3.80 with a 1.19 WHIP. Smiley’s best season came in 1991 when he became an All-Star for the first time while also finishing third in the NL Cy Young voting. 

5. Bruce Kison: In the 14th round of the 1968 draft, the Pirates selected Bruce Kison. Kison’s debut season was in 1971, and he was a vital part of the rotation throughout the 70’s. During that stretch, he posted a 3.49 ERA. Kison was one of the few players who were on both of the Pirates World Series championship teams in 1971 and 1979. 

4. Bob Moose: The Pirates selected Bob Moose in the 18th round of the inaugural MLB Draft in 1965. A graduate of Franklin Regional High School, Moose spent all ten of his big league seasons with his hometown team from 1967 to 1976. He registered a 3.50 ERA along with a 2.95 Fielding Independent Pitching and helped the Pirates during their 1971 World Series title run.

3. Tony Watson: Tony Watson was drafted originally as a starting pitcher by the Pirates in the ninth round of the 2007 draft. He made his debut with the Bucs in 2011 as a reliever, and has really excelled in that role. In his first five seasons, Watson has posted an ERA of 2.46 with a 151 ERA+. He was named an All-Star in 2014, becoming the first Pirates lefty reliever in franchise history to take part in the Midsummer Classic. 

2. Mike Gonzalez: It’s not often that a 30th round pick is able to reach the Majors, but that was the case with Mike Gonzalez after being drafted in that round by the Pirates in 1997. Gonzalez arrived to Pittsburgh in 2003, and spent the next couple seasons pitching as a setup man before becoming the Pirates closer in 2006. Prior to the 2007 season, he was traded to the Atlanta Braves as part of the Adam LaRoche deal. In his four seasons with the Pirates, Gonzalez had a 2.37 ERA while posting an outstanding ERA+ of 184. 

1. Dave Parker: The unquestioned greatest find in Pirates draft history was Dave Parker. After being drafted by them in 1970 as a 14th rounder, “The Cobra” spent 11 seasons in Pittsburgh from 1973 to 1983, posting an .848 OPS along with a 131 OPS+. Aside from helping the Pirates win the 1979 World Series, Parker’s other accolades with the Bucs include being named a four-time All-Star, a three-time Gold Glove winner and the recipient of the 1978 NL MVP award. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top 10 Managers in Pirates History

By Jason Shetler

The Pirates are just a few teams in baseball that can say they’ve been around for more than a century. Obviously, that comes with a long list of managers in that time. So who were the most notable? – Here now is a list of the Top 10 best managers in Pirates history. 

10. Pie Traynor: While most associate Pie Traynor as the greatest third baseman in franchise history, it’s easy to forget that he also managed the club at one point. Traynor took over the Pirates in 1934 and managed them until 1939. He held his own as a skipper, compiling a .530 winning percentage.

9. George Gibson: The Pirates hired George Gibson as their manager in 1920, making him the first and only Canadian born manager in club history. He was let go after the 1922 season. After spending several years as a scout for the Chicago Cubs, Gibson was brought back by the Pirates in 1932. He managed six seasons altogether in Pittsburgh, and had a winning percentage of .549. 

8. Al Buckenberger: The best Pirates manager pre 1900 was Al Buckenberger. He managed only three seasons from 1892 to 1894, but did compile an impressive .565 winning percentage. Buckenberger was also the team president at the time. 

7. Donie Bush: In his first season as Pirates manager in 1927, Donie Bush led the Bucs to a National League pennant. Unfortunately for Bush and the Pirates, they were swept by a much more talented New York Yankees team, most famously known as “Murderer’s Row”. In three seasons with the Pirates, Bush posted a .580 winning percentage. 

6. Clint Hurdle: Following the firing of John Russell in 2010, the Pirates brought in Clint Hurdle. 2011 and 2012 began promising, but both ended in second half collapses. Hurdle and the Pirates put it altogether in 2013 by winning 94 games, and snapping the streak of 20 consecutive losing seasons. He was given the NL Manager of the Year award for his efforts. After making the playoffs in 2014 with 88 wins, Hurdle led the Bucs to a 98-win campaign in 2015 and a third straight playoff appearance. 

5. Jim Leyland: Prior to the 1986 season, the Pirates named Jim Leyland as their manager. It took a few years, but he got the Bucs to be a real power in the early 90’s, as they won 95 games in 1990, 98 games in 1991 and 96 games in 1992 while capturing the NL East division title each time. Leyland was a two-time NL Manager of the Year recipient in 1990 and 1992.

4. Chuck Tanner: A native of New Castle, PA, Chuck Tanner got to manage his hometown club prior to 1977 when he was acquired from the Oakland A’s for Manny Sanguillen. The Pirates won 96 games in Tanner’s first season. In 1979, Tanner led them to a 98-win season, which included an NL pennant, and of course, their fifth World Series title in franchise history.

3. Bill McKechnie: In 1922, Bill McKechnie was brought in to manage the Pirates. During his four seasons as their skipper, he compiled an excellent .583 winning percentage while winning the 1925 World Series. McKechnie managed a total of 25 seasons, and in 1962, was inducted into the Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee.

2. Danny Murtaugh: Danny Murtaugh was hired to take over the Pirates in 1957. He guided the Bucs to an improbable World Series championship in 1960 over the heavily favored New York Yankees in seven games. Murtaugh was named the NL Manager of the Year that season. After stepping down a couple times due to health reasons, he managed the Pirates to another World Series victory in 1971, making him the first manager in franchise history to capture two World Series titles. During his 15 seasons in Pittsburgh, Murtaugh won 1,115 games along with a winning percentage of .540. He’s certainly one of the greatest managers in baseball history not to be in Cooperstown.

1. Fred Clarke: Prior to 1900, the Pirates obtained two noteworthy players from the Louisville Colonels. One was Honus Wagner and the other was Fred Clarke. Clarke managed the Pirates, which made him the first ever player/manager in club history. He led the Pirates to a 102-win season in 1902, and in 1903, guided them to the very first World Series, in which they lost to the Boston Americans. Clarke however guided them to their first World Series crown in 1909 by defeating the Detroit Tigers. The Pirates won 110 games that season, which still remains the franchise record. Clarke compiled a team record 1,422 victories with a .595 winning percentage in his 16 seasons with the Pirates. He was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Old Timer’s Committee in 1945. 

 

 

 

Top 25 Best Pirates Players Since 2000

By Jason Shetler

Whether it’s been through most of the consecutive losing season streak or recently with being a perennial contender, the Pirates have had their fair share of solid players. Here now is a list of the Top 25 best Pirates players since 2000. 

 25. Pedro Alvarez: The Pirates selected Pedro Alvarez with the #2 overall pick in the 2008 draft. In 2012, he became the first Pirates third baseman to put up a 30 homer season since Aramis Ramirez in 2001. Alvarez hit 36 home runs in 2013, which was tied for most in the NL. He was also named to the All-Star team that year.

24. Francisco Cervelli: Prior to 2015, the Pirates acquired Francisco Cervelli from the New York Yankees to replace Russell Martin. Cervelli’s first season with the Bucs was solid, as he posted a .370 on base percentage along with a 114 OPS+. He was considered the second best pitch framing catcher in 2015 behind only Yasmani Grandal of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

23. Edinson Volquez: The Pirates brought in Edinson Volquez before the 2014 season as a reclamation project. Ray Searage and Jim Benedict certainly worked their magic with the veteran right-hander, as he put up a 3.04 ERA with an ERA+ of 118. 

22. Jung-Ho Kang: In a move that surprised most in baseball, the Pirates signed Jung-Ho Kang out of Korea prior to the 2015 season. Kang had a solid rookie campaign, posting an OPS of .816 with a 124 OPS+ and a 4.0 WAR. 

21. Jack Wilson: The man known as “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” put on an absolute show as the Pirates shortstop with his defense from 2001 to 2009. Wilson made his only All-Star appearance in 2004 when he batted .308 along with a .794 OPS. His best defensive work came the following year in 2005, putting up an incredible 4.1 dWAR, a 14.3 UZR and had 32 Defensive Runs Saved. 

20. Garrett Jones: Pirates general manager Neal Huntington made quite a find when he signed Garrett Jones to a minor league deal before the 2009 season. Jones made an impact that year after getting called up, as he posted .938 OPS with an OPS+ of 146 and finished seventh in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. In his five seasons in Pittsburgh, Jones had a .780 OPS with a 113 OPS+. 

19. Adam LaRoche: In 2007, the Pirates acquired Adam LaRoche from the Atlanta Braves in a deal that involved Mike Gonzalez. While most fans viewed LaRoche unfairly as being passive, his numbers were actually very good in his three seasons with the Bucs, as he put up an .809 OPS with a 112 OPS+. 

18. Xavier Nady: The Pirates obtained Xavier Nady from the New York Mets at the 2006 trade deadline for Oliver Perez and Roberto Hernandez. Nady was quite productive during his three years with the Pirates, as he posted an .835 OPS along with an OPS+ of 117. 

17. Craig Wilson: When Craig Wilson joined the Pirates in 2001, he tied a Major League record for most pinch-hit home runs in a season with seven. Wilson’s best year came in 2004 when he smacked 29 homers while posting a .853 OPS. In his six seasons with the Pirates, he had an OPS of .846 and a 118 OPS+. 

16. Reggie Sanders: Looking to add a right-handed power bat, the Pirates signed former All-Star outfielder Reggie Sanders in 2003. Despite playing just one season in Pittsburgh, Sanders was extremely productive, putting up a .913 OPS. He also hit 31 home runs, which was the second highest single season total of his career. 

15.  Matt Stairs: Just like Reggie Sanders, Matt Stairs spent the 2003 season with the Pirates. The Canadian born slugger was mostly known for being a terrific pinch-hitter. His only year with the Pirates was one of his best, as he posted a very strong .950 OPS, as well as a 145 OPS+. 

14. Joel Hanrahan: The Pirates acquired Joel Hanrahan from the Washington Nationals in 2009. After trading Octavio Dotel to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the 2010 trade deadline, the Bucs inserted Hanrahan as the closer. During his four seasons with the Pirates, Hanrahan put up a 2.59 ERA with a 151 ERA+ and was an All-Star in 2011 and 2012. 

13. Tony Watson: When the Pirates drafted Tony Watson in 2007, he was used primarily as a starter, but injuries forced him to become a reliever. The Pirates called up Watson in 2011. Since joining the Bucs bullpen, Watson has been exceptional, posting a 2.46 ERA along with an ERA+ of 151, and is currently one of the best lefty relievers in baseball. 

12. Freddy Sanchez: At the 2003 trade deadline, the Pirates acquired Freddy Sanchez from the Boston Red Sox as part of the Jeff Suppan deal. He took over as the Pirates third baseman in 2006 following an injury to Joe Randa, and wound up hitting .344 to capture the National League batting title that year. Sanchez would become a three-time All-Star during his time in Pittsburgh.

11. Neil Walker: The Pirates drafted Neil Walker as a catcher in 2004. A few years later, he was moved to third base. In 2010, Aki Iwamura struggled mightily as the Pirates second baseman, and Walker got his chance and never looked back. During his seven seasons with his hometown club, Walker had a .769 OPS and a 113 OPS+. 

10. Starling Marte: The Pirates signed Starling Marte out of the Dominican Republic as a highly touted amateur in 2007. By 2012, he was the Pirates top prospect in the organization. Marte made his big league debut that year, and homered in his very first at-bat against the Houston Astros off 2015 AL Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel. During his time with the Bucs, Marte has posted a .785 OPS with a 118 OPS+, 113 stolen bases and won the NL Gold Glove award for left fielders in 2015. 

9. Mark Melancon: After trading Joel Hanrahan to the Red Sox prior to 2013, the Pirates brought over Mark Melancon as one of four players the Bucs got in return. Melancon has not only been great, but his numbers have been historic in terms of all-time Pirates relievers, posting a 1.85 ERA along with a stellar 199 ERA+. 

8. A.J. Burnett: The Pirates were looking to add a veteran starter to their rotation prior to the 2012 season. They acquired A.J. Burnett from the Yankees in exchange for a couple minor league players. After two solid years with the Bucs, he signed on with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2014. Burnett returned to Pittsburgh in 2015, his final big league campaign. In his three seasons as a Pirate, he put up a 3.34 ERA with an ERA+ of 111. 

7. Francisco Liriano: As once a promising young starter for the Minnesota Twins, Francisco Liriano battled injuries and inconsistency. Before the 2013 season, the Pirates decided to take a flier on Liriano. After becoming a free agent following the 2014 season, Liriano re-signed with the Pirates. From to 2013 to 2015, he posted an ERA of 3.26 with a 113 ERA+ and a 9.6 K/9. 

6. Jason Kendall: Entering 2000, Jason Kendall had established himself as one of the better offensive catchers in baseball. The three-time All-Star continued to be a force at the plate, as he put up a .379 on base from 2000 to 2004. He was also above average behind the dish in that span with a 31% caught stealing rate. 

5. Russell Martin: Prior to 2013, the Pirates were in need of a reliable catcher. They surprised many by signing top free agent backstop Russell Martin. Despite playing just two seasons with the Bucs, Martin was certainly impactful on both sides with a. 362 on base while throwing out runners at very solid 39% clip. 

4. Gerrit Cole: In 2010, the Pirates hit rock bottom by losing 105 games. Entering the 2011 draft, they had the first pick overall, and selected UCLA standout Gerrit Cole. The flame-throwing righty made his much anticipated debut in 2013, and has not disappointed, posting a 3.07 ERA along with a 121 ERA+ and placing fourth in the 2015 NL Cy Young voting, the highest finish for a Pirates starter since Doug Drabek in 1992. 

3. Jason Bay: After five great seasons in Pittsburgh, Brian Giles was traded to the San Diego Padres in 2003 for a package that included Oliver Perez, Corey Stewart and Jason Bay. Based on the production from Giles, Bay certainly had some pressure on him, but he responded extremely well, and was productive in his own right. In 2004, he became the first Pirates rookie ever to be crowned NL Rookie of the Year. All told in six seasons, Bay put up an OPS of .890 with a 131 OPS+, and was named to three All-Star teams.

2. Brian Giles: Former Pirates GM Cam Bonifay pulled off his best trade acquisition prior to 1999 when he obtained Brian Giles from the Cleveland Indians in exchange for Ricardo Rincon. The two-time All-Star outfielder had a phenomenal first season with the Pirates. That success carried over in a huge way, as Giles posted a 1.011 OPS with an OPS+ of 157 from 2000 to 2003. He’s currently sixth on the Pirates all-time home run list.

1. Andrew McCutchen: The #1 Pirates player since the beginning of the 21st century is Andrew McCutchen. The former first round pick of the Bucs in 2005 became the Pirates center fielder in 2009 following the trade of Nate McLouth. To this point of his career, McCutchen has posted an .884 OPS, a 144 OPS+, been named to five All-Star teams, has won four Silver Slugger awards, a Gold Glove and captured the NL MVP in 2013.

 

 

 

Bucco Nation Pirates Projections for 2016

By Jason Shetler

During my “Bucco Breakdown” series, I compared stats of each Pirates player from the last two seasons, as well as provide a 2016 projection from FanGraphs or Steamer. I will now give out my own Pirates projections for the upcoming season.

Outfield

Andrew McCutchen: .305/.405/.510, 22 HR, 90 RBI, 6.0 WAR

Gregory Polanco: .280/.350/.440, 17 HR, 65 RBI, 3.5 WAR

Starling Marte: .290/.340/.500, 24 HR, 95 RBI, 5.5 WAR

 

Infield

John Jaso: .265/.360/.435, 7 HR, 50 RBI, 1.5 WAR

Jordy Mercer: .260/.305/.350, 8 HR, 45 RBI, 1.0 WAR

Josh Harrison: .285/.330/.425, 10 HR, 70 RBI, 2.5 WAR

Jung-Ho Kang: .280/.350/.430, 13 HR, 65 RBI, 3.0 WAR

 

Catcher

Francisco Cervelli: .275/.355/.415, 8 HR, 60 RBI, 3.5 WAR

 

Bench

Chris Stewart: .260/.315/.335, 1 HR, 15 RBI, 0.5 WAR

Jason Rogers: .260/.335/.400, 6 HR, 25 RBI, 0.5 WAR

Michael Morse: .270/.340/.425, 8 HR, 30 RBI, 1.0 WAR

Sean Rodriguez: .225/.280/.375, 3 HR, 20 RBI, 0.0 WAR

 

Rotation

Francisco Liriano: 3.50 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 4.0 BB/9, 9.5 K/9, 3.0 WAR

Gerrit Cole: 2.85 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 2.0 BB/9, 9.0 K/9, 5.0 WAR

Jeff Locke: 4.35 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 3.5 BB/9, 6.5 K/9, 0.5 WAR

Jon Niese: 3.65 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 2.5 BB/9, 6.5 K/9, 2.0 WAR

Ryan Vogelsong: 4.50 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 3.0 BB/9, 7.0 K/9, 0.5 WAR

 

Bullpen

Arquimedes Caminero: 3.30 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 3.5 BB/9, 9.0 K/9

Jared Hughes: 3.25 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 2.5 BB/9, 5.5 K/9

Juan Nicasio: 3.50 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 3.5 BB/9, 8.5 K/9

Mark Melancon: 2.50 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 1.5 BB/9, 8.0 K/9

Neftali Feliz: 4.00 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 3.5 BB/9, 7.5 K/9

Tony Watson: 2.75 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 2.0 BB/9, 8.0 K/9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How a Few Signings Could Give the Pirates a Real Bang for their “Buc” this Season

By Jason Shetler

Neal Huntington has been able to find his share of cost effective signings during his tenure as Pirates general manager. The most notable have been Garrett Jones several years ago, Francisco Liriano prior to 2013 and last offseason with Jung-Ho Kang. This offseason, Huntington has made a few potential bargain signings that could pay dividends for the Pirates in 2016. 

The first came in late December with the John Jaso signing, which was two years at $8 million. Jaso is making the transition from catcher to first base this season, and will be in a platoon with Michael Morse. While Jaso doesn’t have the power numbers that Pedro Alvarez has, he makes up for it with terrific on base ability. For his career, he owns a .361 on base percentage, which is 52 points higher than Alvarez (.309). 

Last week, the Pirates signed Eric O’Flaherty on a minor league deal to compete for a spot as a lefty arm in the bullpen. O’Flaherty is coming off his worst season with an 8.10 ERA, but his numbers before that were extremely good. From 2009 to 2014, he posted a 2.12 ERA along with a stellar 184 ERA+. O’Flaherty is also a solid groundball pitcher with a career groundball rate of 55%, and could really benefit from the Pirates aggressive use of infield shifts. 

Matt Joyce was signed by the Pirates to a minor league contract on Thursday. The 31-year-old outfielder had a dismal season last year for the Los Angeles Angels, as he posted only a .563 OPS. His five seasons prior to that with the Tampa Bay Rays however was very good, posting a .782 OPS with an OPS+ of 119. 

In 2015, Jaso, O’Flaherty and Joyce all combined to make about $13.4 million. This season, the three will combine to make up roughly only $5 million. O’Flaherty and Joyce have a chance to bounce back for just the league minimum. Meanwhile Jaso is making $4 million this year, which is quite a bargain when you consider how much teams are spending now for high on base guys.