There’s Nothing to Worry About Regarding the Pirates Bullpen

By Jared Lankes

The Pirates bullpen has seen its fair share of ups and downs throughout the season. It has been a very bumpy road for them, with players consistently getting swapped out to keep them fresh. However, as of right now, the Pirates bullpen has been trending upwards over the last week or so. We’ve seen this before with this team. Though, this time, I don’t think it is just a phase. Nope, I think it is here to stay.

The first thing that will need noted is Juan Nicasio. Though he hasn’t seen much action out of the pen yet, he has created enough of a difference in the bullpen by just his presence alone. I am going to compare it to Blanton from last year, not in the player by player comparison, but the presence rather. Joe Blanton in 2015 was able to come in and change the whole bullpen dynamic, while pitching well to boot. His ability to be used in both roles as a hybrid player was very convenient to how the entire bullpen is used. Clint Hurdle could use relievers way differently and more out of what he wanted to do, not what he needed to do. I think Nicasio could provide similar stuff. He could be filthy for 1-2 innings, but then also give you 3-4 innings for length other times. If he pitches effectively, then there shouldn’t be a problem.

A very easy transition from Nicasio is AJ Schugel. Both have very similar features while being completely different pitchers. What they both do similarly is they are nastier in shorter outings, like I mentioned above for Nicasio, while both being able to give the Pirates innings if needed. Another hybrid guy. The difference is that Schugel relies more on offspeed stuff, mainly that changeup that is one of the most valuable pitches in baseball according to many. Schugel has also had a very incredible June that has propelled him into being a very good relief option in the league, above average in fact.

The other five guys in this bullpen will be used according to how Nicasio and Schugel are used. This and of course how the starters do. Pirates bullpen will rely on these two to help shape this bullpen back into a good one like it once was.

Besides those two, there are two relievers that need to be better than they are now, and those are Jared Hughes and Arquimedes Caminero. Both, showing signs of life lately, have to return at least close to 2015 form. For that to happen, Hughes needs sinker command back to get his GB% back, which in turn will lead to less fly balls and hard contact. As for Caminero, it’s all about the fastball for him. His best nights, he can control that fastball and get hitters on a string with everything else he’s got. These two looking better lately gives me hope that they are capable of continuing this upward tick.

I’m not worried about the big 3 at the bottom at all. Neftali Feliz, Tony Watson, Mark Melancon have been very reliable outside of a select few occasions, which happens from time to time. If you are going to worry about one, it would be Feliz, but there’s not much to worry about. He’s been one of the best 7th inning guys in the game, and even has been used in the 8th if the matchups favor him over Watson. The former all-star closer has been a great commodity to have as early as the 7th. And of course Melancon has been one of the best closers in the game, as we all know. There is really never a reason to really worry about Mark Melancon at all.

The bullpen isn’t as good as it has been in previous years, and we will have to accept that reality. However, there is no reason the bullpen put together this year cannot get the job done. I get that they’ve had problems, but if these pitchers do what many think they can and will, this team shouldn’t have a problem when Hurdle does make that call to the bullpen.

A.J. Schugel Getting Comfortable in the Pirates Bullpen

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Charles LeClaire - USA Today Sports
p/c: Charles LeClaire – USA Today Sports

This past offseason was certainly interesting for A.J. Schugel. Back in December, the Arizona Diamondbacks won the Zack Greinke sweepstakes. In order to make room on the 40-man roster for Greinke, the Dbacks designated Schugel for assignment. He was then claimed off waivers by the Seattle Mariners, but was designated again in January. 

The Pirates decided to take a flier on Schugel, claiming him from the Mariners. However, he was DFA’d for a third time in February after the Bucs had obtained Jesse Biddle, who is no longer in the organization. Schugel cleared waivers, and was outrighted to AAA Indianapolis. Because of the Pirates heavy bullpen usage in April, they decided to go with an extra reliever/short bench. Schugel received the call up, and was added to the 40-man following the designation and eventual release of Michael Morse. 

Schugel started off slow in both April and May, posting a combined 4.73 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP. While June was a really bad month for the Pirates as a whole, Schugel was one of the few positives, as he put up a 2.45 ERA along with a WHIP of 0.60 and holding opposing batters to a .143 average in ten appearances. The month of June has now helped Schugel become an above average reliever this season with an ERA+ of 111. His control numbers have remained excellent with a 1.6 BB/9, which is definitely contributed to a solid 2.98 Fielding Independent Pitching. Schugel’s effectiveness has hinged on throwing an outstanding changeup. As a matter of fact, Pitch f/x Pitch Values, a metric used by FanGraphs, rates Schugel’s changeup as second best among all MLB relievers. Not only is it encouraging to see Schugel feel more comfortable, but he’s now providing help to a Pirates bullpen that needs as much as it can get. 






Austin Meadows and Dovydas Neverauskas to Participate in Futures Game

By Jason Shetler

Austin Meadows and Dovydas Neverauskas will be representing the Pirates in this year’s Futures Game during All-Star Weekend at Petco Park in San Diego. Meadows is going to play for the U.S. team, while Neverauskas will be on the World team.

Meadows missed the beginning of this season with an orbital fracture that he dealt with in Spring Training. Despite the injury, the Pirates #2 prospect was terrific for AA Altoona, as he batted .295 along with a .931 OPS. Meadows was given a promotion to AAA Indianapolis not long ago, and was recently on a 26-game hitting streak.

Neverauskas began the year pitching for Altoona. The Lithuanian born right-hander posted a 2.57 ERA with a 0.82 WHIP and K/9 of 10.3 in 22 appearances. Just like Meadows, Neverauskas was recently promoted to Indianapolis.






Dodgers Claim Cole Figueroa from Pirates

By Jason Shetler

The Los Angeles Dodgers have announced that Cole Figueroa has been claimed off waivers from the Pirates, and he will be sent to AAA Oklahoma City. 

Figueroa signed with the Pirates back in December on a minor league deal. He was in competition during Spring Training, beating out Jason Rogers and Pedro Florimon for the final roster spot off the bench.

In 26 at-bats with the Pirates, Figueroa batted just .154. He also spent time this season with AAA Indianapolis, hitting .307 along with a .787 OPS in 20 games played. Figueroa was designated for assignment this past Friday when the Pirates called up Adam Frazier. 




Pirates Sign Max Kranick

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Butch Comegys
p/c: Butch Comegys

The Pirates have announced that they have signed their 11th round pick Max Kranick. Terms of the signing bonus are unknown right now, but it’s probably over the slot amount. 

Kranick attended Valley View High School in Archbald, Pennsylvania. The 6’3, 200 lb right-hander had a commitment to pitch at the University of Virginia. Kranick currently throws a low-90’s fastball that can reach 95 mph. His arsenal includes a curveball and changeup, both of which have the potential to become very good secondary offerings. 

Entering this year’s draft, Baseball America and Keith Law of each considered Kranick a Top 100 draft prospect. BA rated him #84, while Law had him at #88. That essentially makes Kranick a third round pick, so the Pirates may have discovered quite a diamond in the rough.






Pirates Sign Buddy Borden

By Jason Shetler

The Pirates have signed Buddy Borden to a minor league deal, and he’ll be pitching for the Bradenton Marauders, this according to John Dreker of Pirates Prospects. 

Borden was originally drafted by the Pirates as a seventh round selection in 2013 out of UNLV. The 24-year-old righty was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays prior to last season in the Sean Rodriguez deal. Borden struggled in 14 relief appearances this year for the Rays AA affiliate Montgomery where he posted an ERA of 5.22 with a 1.67 WHIP. He was released by Tampa Bay last week. 

Brandon Waddell and Stephen Tarpley Receive Pitcher of the Week Honors

By Jason Shetler

On Monday, a pair of Pirates pitching prospects won Pitcher of the Week honors for their performances this past week. Brandon Waddell was given the award by the Eastern League, while Stephen Tarpley received his from the Florida State League.

Waddell tossed seven scoreless innings on Friday against AA Bowie, which included a career high eight strikeouts. This marks the second time this season that the 22-year-old left-hander has captured a POW award, his first coming on May 1st when he was pitching for Bradenton in the FSL. Waddell has posted a 3.09 ERA with a 1.16 WHIP in 14 starts combined with the Marauders and Curve. 

Tarpley made two starts last week versus High A Jupiter and Charlotte, allowing just one run in 12 innings of work. The 23-year-old lefty didn’t make his season debut for Bradenton until May after sustaining an oblique strain during Spring Training. Tarpley has made nine starts this year for the Marauders, posting a 3.40 ERA along with a 1.16 WHIP.







Pirates Release Cory Luebke

By Jason Shetler

After refusing an outright assignment to AAA Indianapolis, Cory Luebke has been given his unconditional release, the Pirates announced today. 

Luebke signed with the Pirates in February as a minor league free agent. The 31-year-old southpaw had an opt-out clause in his contract, which prompted the Pirates to trade fellow lefty reliever Eric O’Flaherty to the Atlanta Braves late in Spring Training. 

On April 6th, Luebke made his first big league appearance since 2012 when he was a member of the San Diego Padres. While it was certainly a nice story for him personally, it was anything but that statistically, as he posted a 9.35 ERA and issued more walks (11) than strikeouts (9) in nine appearances out of the Pirates bullpen.


Chad Kuhl to Make his MLB Debut on Sunday

By Jason Shetler


A source tells DK Pittsburgh Sports that Chad Kuhl will be making his big league debut on Sunday night against Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

The Pirates selected Kuhl as a ninth round pick out of the University of Delaware in the 2013 MLB Draft. MLB Pipeline has ranked the 23-year-old righty as the 16th best prospect in the Pirates system. Kuhl was putting up solid numbers this season for AAA Indianapolis, posting a 2.58 ERA along with a 1.19 WHIP in 14 starts.