Josh Bell and Mitch Keller Named 2016 Pirates Minor League Award Winners

By Jason Shetler

On Friday, the Pirates announced Josh Bell as the 2016 Minor League Player of the Year, while Mitch Keller was named their 2016 Minor League Pitcher of the Year. 

Bell entered this year as the Pirates third ranked prospect in the system. The switch-hitting first baseman put up productive numbers for AAA Indianapolis, hitting .295 with an .850 OPS, good for fifth best in the International League. Bell received his call up to Pittsburgh on July 8th. In just his second game, he belted his first MLB home run on a pinch-hit grand slam against the Chicago Cubs. During his time with the Pirates, Bell has posted a .407 on base percentage, which is tops among NL rookies with at least 100 plate appearances. 

Keller was the biggest breakout prospect in the system this season. The Pirates #5 prospect dominated South Atlantic League batters, posting a 2.46 ERA along with a league best 0.92 WHIP and a K/9 of 9.5 in 23 starts for the West Virginia Power. Keller was promoted to the Bradenton Marauders on August 30th. In his only start for the Marauders, he pitched six scoreless innings against the Jupiter Hammerheads. Keller will return to Bradenton to begin next season. 





Pirates Acquire Phil Coke

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Jared Wickerham- Getty Images

p/c: Jared Wickerham- Getty Images

The Pirates have announced that they have acquired Phil Coke from the New York Yankees for cash considerations. 

Coke first came up with the Yankees in 2008. A few days before the trade deadline that year, the Pirates and Yankees were about to make the Xavier Nady/Damaso Marte trade. The original deal had Coke involved along with Jose Tabata, Ross Ohlendorf and George Kontos, but the Pirates decided to obtain Jeff Karstens and Daniel McCutchen over Coke and Kontos instead. 

During Spring Training this year, Coke signed a minor league deal with the Atlanta Braves, but was released just a couple weeks later. The 34-year-old lefty went the Independent ball route in April, signing on with the Lancaster Barnstormers of the Atlantic League. Two weeks later, Coke was purchased by the Yankees. He spent most of 2016 pitching for AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre where he posted a 2.96 ERA with a WHIP of 1.27 in 20 games, 11 of which were starts. He also made three appearances with the Yankees. The Pirates will have to make a corresponding move for Coke to be added to the 40-man roster. My guess is Zach Phillips getting designated for assignment. 





Why the Pirates Bullpen Could be Better in 2017

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Thearon W. Henderson - Getty Images

Felipe Rivero – p/c: Thearon W. Henderson – Getty Images

The Pirates were a playoff team in 2013, 2014 and 2015. While it sounds obvious, the biggest part of their success was the pitching. As good as the starting rotation was for the Pirates in those three seasons, their bullpen played an even more vital part. 

Last offseason, the Pirates bullpen lost some key pieces to free agency with Antonio Bastardo, Joakim Soria and Joe Blanton. To fill those voids, they inked Juan Nicasio and Neftali Feliz to one-year contracts, while signing Cory Luebke and Eric O’Flaherty on minor league deals. 

A few developments that occurred in Spring Training was Nicasio being inserted into the rotation over Ryan Vogelsong, O’Flaherty being dealt to the Atlanta Braves because of Luebke having an opt-out clause in his contract, and Jared Hughes sustaining an injury and having to begin the year on the disabled list. 

The first half of the season presented some problems with the bullpen. Ryan Vogelsong wasn’t effective pitching in long relief, Jared Hughes struggled to limit baserunners and couldn’t strand inherited runners as consistently, Arquimedes Caminero had command issues, Kyle Lobstein was subpar for the most part, and Cory Luebke did not pitch well at all. Tony Watson wasn’t great, but wasn’t terrible either. The only two relievers that showed consistency were Mark Melancon and Neftali Feliz. A.J. Schugel performed well when he was called up, but the Pirates made a confounding decision to option Schugel back to Indianapolis as opposed to Hughes, despite the fact that Hughes was struggling and had an option remaining. Juan Nicasio began pitching better when he was moved to the bullpen in June.

The trade deadline saw the Pirates bullpen receive a makeover. Two days prior to the deadline, Mark Melancon was traded to the Washington Nationals for Felipe Rivero and pitching prospect Taylor Hearn. Rivero has been outstanding since the trade. On the day of the deadline, Jon Niese went back to the New York Mets in a swap for Antonio Bastardo. Just like Rivero, Bastardo is doing solid work. You could argue that he’s looked even better than his first time around in Pittsburgh. Statistically, the bullpen has performed better overall in the second half, and here’s why that could continue heading into next season.

In regards to the left-handers, Rivero and Bastardo are both major upgrades compared to what they had in the first half this year with Luebke and Lobstein. Watson hasn’t been as effective in 2016, but he’s certainly capable of bouncing back next year. The question is whether they want Watson to continue to close out games or place him back in the setup role and have Rivero assume the duties as closer. As mentioned, Nicasio has been superb pitching in relief. He’ll be arbitration eligible for a final time this offseason, and should be brought back to possibly be in a seventh inning role with Bastardo. Hughes will likely get non-tendered. Should that be the case, Schugel might get his opportunity next season to see what he can provide more extensively. At one point, FanGraphs rated Schugel’s changeup as the second best among MLB relievers. The role of long reliever will probably go to one of the young guys who don’t make the rotation out of Spring Training. For example, if Trevor Williams doesn’t win a rotation spot but does pitch well in the Spring, then that’s a nice option to have as a multiple inning arm out of the bullpen. And not to mention that another quality reliever could be added to the mix in the offseason either by trade or free agency. Given those reasons, there’s the potential of the Pirates bullpen being solid again.





Eric Wood Playing the Outfield

By Jason Shetler 

p/c: Mark Olson - MiLB

p/c: Mark Olson – MiLB

According to Tim Williams of Pirates Prospects, third baseman Eric Wood is playing the outfield in the Instructional League and will be playing the position during the Arizona Fall League in October.

Wood has been in the Pirates organization since 2012 after being chosen as a sixth round selection out of Blinn College in Brenham, Texas. A native of Ontario, Canada, Wood developed consistent power in 2016 by hitting 16 home runs. He also made significant strides with his defensive play at third base this year, as his fielding percentage was a 32% improvement compared to the four seasons prior. During his time in the system, Wood has been exclusively a third baseman. His path to the Majors will likely be in a utility role, so having him learn the outfield for both Instructs and the AFL is a good opportunity to add some versatility. 




Which Prospects Could Join the Pirates in 2017?

By Jason Shetler

The 2016 season for the Pirates created a ton of buzz in regards to their prospects. Tyler Glasnow, Jameson Taillon, Chad Kuhl, Josh Bell and Adam Frazier have each showed glimpses of what they’re capable of moving forward. So which prospects in the system could arrive to Pittsburgh next season? – Here are some of the possible candidates. 

Austin Meadows: 2016 did not start off well for Austin Meadows, as he suffered an orbital fracture in Spring Training, and missed the first month of the season. However, the injury had little affect on his performance, as he posted an .867 OPS and stole 17 bases in 82 games combined with Altoona and Indianapolis. What the Pirates decide to do with Andrew McCutchen next year is ultimately going to dictate when Meadows will join them. At the very least, there’s a pretty good chance he’ll be a September call up.

Barrett Barnes: In 124 games this year with Altoona, Barrett Barnes had his best season, as he hit .306, while posting an OPS of .853, which was good for sixth best in the Eastern League. Barnes should begin 2017 with Indianapolis, and could get called up in September. 

Brandon Waddell: The Pirates don’t have a ton of left-handed pitching prospects in the organization, but Brandon Waddell is perhaps their best one right now. Waddell pitched for Bradenton and Altoona this season, as he posted a 3.49 ERA and held opposing batters to a .246 average in 147 combined innings. He’s likely to start out next year with Indianapolis. Even if the Pirates don’t call up Waddell as a starter, it’s certainly possible that he is used as a long reliever out of the bullpen.

Jose Osuna: One of the more underrated prospects in the Pirates system currently is Jose Osuna. The native of Venezuela put together another quality season in 2016, combining to hit .279 with a .787 OPS and collecting 37 doubles for Altoona and Indianapolis. Osuna will head back to Indy to begin next season, and could get called up in the event of a Josh Bell or David Freese injury. 

Kevin Newman: Since being selected by the Pirates in the first round of last year’s draft, Kevin Newman has done nothing but tear the cover off a baseball. The former Arizona Wildcat batted .320, which was the highest mark among all Pirates minor league position players this year, while putting up an .814 OPS combined with Bradenton and Altoona. Newman will likely join the Pirates in 2017 either replacing Jordy Mercer, in case of an injury, or in September as an extra bat off the bench. 

Nick Kingham: A few years ago, Nick Kingham was beginning to emerge as one of the better pitching prospects in the Pirates system. Prior to last season, he was considered by most as the Bucs third best prospect arm behind Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon. Kingham was set to join the Pirates in 2015, but elbow discomfort led to Tommy John surgery. Now fully recovered, he pitched extremely well in ten rehab outings combined with the GCL Pirates, Bradenton and Altoona, posting an ERA of 2.93 along with a 0.93 WHIP. Kingham will return to Indianapolis next year, and should see Pittsburgh at some point. 

Tyler Eppler: Another pitching prospect who is quietly becoming a quality arm is Tyler Eppler. The 23-year-old right-hander has displayed excellent control during his time in the system, and that trend continued in 2016 with Altoona, as he put up a 1.8 BB/9. In 27 starts for the Curve, he posted a 3.99 ERA. Eppler is likely to start the 2017 season with Indianapolis. He could find himself in a Trevor Williams type situation, in which he pitches the entire season for Indianapolis and then joins the Pirates in September as a multiple inning arm out of the bullpen. 

Willy Garcia: Unless Matt Joyce was going to struggle or get hurt, there was a good chance that Willy Garcia would get the call to Pittsburgh, but of course, it never happened. It also didn’t help that he had just a .659 OPS to go along with a high strikeout rate of 26% for Indianapolis this year. Garcia will return to Indy to begin next season. He could get join the Pirates at some point in 2017, assuming he can bounce back offensively. 




Sean Rodriguez Named NL Co-Player of the Week

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Charles LeClaire - USA Today Sports

p/c: Charles LeClaire – USA Today Sports

For the second week in a row, a Pirates player has been named National League Player of the Week. Last week, it was Jung-Ho Kang, and this week it’s Sean Rodriguez, who shares the honor with Brandon Drury of the Arizona Diamondbacks. 

Rodriguez batted .414 and hit five home runs, including a go-ahead three-run homer against the Philadelphia Phillies this past Tuesday. He’s also currently riding an eight game hitting streak. 

The Pirates brought back Rodriguez last offseason on a one-year deal for $2.5 million. The 31-year-old utility man has been very productive in 2016, posting an .871 OPS along with an OPS+ of 129 and a career high 17 long balls in 298 plate appearances.