Connor Joe and Edgar Santana to Represent Pirates in AFL Fall Stars Game

By Jason Shetler

On Monday, the Arizona Fall League announced their rosters for the AFL Fall Stars Game. The Pirates will be represented by prospects Connor Joe and Edgar Santana. The game is this Saturday at 8 PM ET and will be shown on MLB Network. 

Joe has played third base during the AFL. In 33 plate appearances with the Surprise Saguaros, he’s put up a .364 on base percentage. Joe played exclusively for the Bradenton Marauders this year, posting a .351 OBP. He’s likely to begin 2017 in Altoona.

Santana is pitching terrific for the Saguaros and has been one of the best relievers in the entire AFL, tossing 8.2 scoreless innings, while striking out 15 batters. He pitched across three levels in 2016 with Bradenton, Altoona and Indianapolis, posting a combined 2.71 ERA along with a 1.08 WHIP in 43 appearances. Santana will return to Indianapolis to begin next season.

 

 

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Five Starting Pitchers that Would Make Sense as Trade Targets for the Pirates

By Jared Lankes

It is no secret that the Pirates are in need of starting pitching this offseason. Even GM Neal Huntington has recently acknowledged that fact himself. However, the free agent starting pitching market is not exactly encouraging. Therefore, we are going to see many more teams trying to acquire starting pitching from others teams this offseason. The Pirates figure to be in the middle of it as Huntington has also acknowledged that trading for a starting pitcher or two is the more likely route. But, just what kinds of pitchers would the Pirates be interested in acquiring. Well, I am going to provide five pitchers that would make sense for the Pirates.

Gio Gonzalez: The Nationals figure to have a surplus of starting pitching this offseason (though nobody can count of Strasburg being healthy). Because of this, maybe the Nationals make Gio Gonzalez expendable. Gonzalez, 31, had his worst year in quite awhile in 2016, pitching to a 4.57 ERA. Before that, he had a good run of years where his ERA was well below 4.00. However, he has also seen his innings count year by year deteriorate. He made 32 starts this past season but only accumulated 177.1 innings, which is just over 5 innings apiece. Considering his less than phenomenal numbers and innings questions the past couple years, he may end up being one guy that would be risky to acquire.

Jake Odorizzi: Jake Odorizzi was subject to a lot of trade chatter this summer at the trade deadline. He figures to be subject to it again in the offseason. He is young, controllable, and steady. There isn’t much more a team could want from a pitcher like him. He is controlled through arbitration another few years and seems to be getting better as the years go by. Pirates balked at the asking price for Odorizzi during the trade deadline, but maybe the two teams go back to talking and can hammer out a deal this time around. However, he isn’t the only Rays starter coveted. There is in fact a bigger prize out there.

Chris Archer: Yes, Chris Archer is the bigger prize that can be had in the Rays rotation. The Rays would be naive to not look into offers for this highly-touted righty. He slipped up a bit in 2016 but figures to bounce back with the vast amount of talent he has. Archer is also under one of the most team-friendly deals in MLB. He is signed through 2019 with two team options for 2020 and 2021, and all at a very good rate for his talent. The question wouldn’t be whether the Pirates could afford his contract, it would be whether they can afford to acquire him in the first place. It would be a high cost, but with his talent and contract, it is certainly worth looking into.

Jose Quintana: Quintana, like Archer, is also looked into an insanely team friendly deal. The one thing that separates him from Archer, in terms of Pirates’ needs, is that he is a lefty. The Pirates have always loved having lefties in the rotation. However, their top lefty options now are a non-tender candidate Jeff Locke and Steven Brault. This isn’t exactly encouraging. Having Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon will be a great punch in the rotation, but getting a guy like Quintana to anchor the rotation as a lefty is just what the Pirates need. Now, the White Sox are always known to be stingy with their trading, but even they couldn’t look away if they got the right offer.

Drew Smyly: Okay, let’s get back to earth here. Drew Smyly seems like the perfect candidate to join the Pirates this offseason. He had his poorest year in 2016 but still has some qualities about him that can be tinkered with to get him back to form. It wouldn’t be the most exciting trade to get him in Pittsburgh, but it would be so much cheaper than the other options and might just end up working out.

Out of all these, I would say that Gonzalez and Smyly would be the most likely options. However, there are a lot of options out there that won’t be thought of or discussed that are possibilities as well. Even if none of these guys end up in Pittsburgh, there will certainly be another starting pitcher or two wearing black and gold here soon.

Francisco Cervelli Expected to Play for Italy in WBC

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Mark Alberti - Icon Sportswire

p/c: Mark Alberti – Icon Sportswire

According to Team Italy manager Marco Mazzieri, Francisco Cervelli is on Italy’s preliminary roster for the World Baseball Classic. 

Cervelli entered 2016 in his second season in Pittsburgh. The 30-year-old backstop agreed to sign a three-year extension with the Pirates worth $31 million in May. A month later, Cervelli had an injury to his hamate bone that required surgery. He only threw out 19% of baserunners this season, which may have played a role in his throwing hand not being at full strength following the surgery. Cervelli however had another productive year in the on base department, as he posted a .377 OBP in 393 plate appearances.

 

 

 

 

 

Tom Prince and Kimera Bartee Join Pirates Coaching Staff

By Jason Shetler

After naming Joey Cora the new third base coach on Tuesday, the Pirates have announced that Tom Prince and Kimera Bartee will be joining the team as the bench coach and first base coach respectively. 

Prince will be replacing Dave Jauss as bench coach. The Pirates have indicated however that Jauss is going to remain with the club as a coach. Prince has had plenty of experience in the Pirates organization as a manager. He managed the Williamsport Crosscutters from 2005 to 2006, the GCL Pirates in 2007, the Bradenton Marauders in 2014 and finally the Altoona Curve in 2015. His role this year was serving as the organization’s minor league fielding coordinator. Prince also played for the Pirates, serving as the backup catcher from 1987 to 1993. 

Bartee now fills the first base coach vacancy that was left by Nick Leyva, who the Pirates made their senior advisor of baseball operations last weekend. Bartee has been in the organization since 2008. His most notable job was managing the Pirates former short season affiliate State College Spikes in 2011. In addition to coaching first base, Bartee will also assume the duties of outfield and baserunning coach. He played parts of six seasons in the big leagues as an outfielder with the Detroit Tigers, Cincinnati Reds and Colorado Rockies from 1996 to 2001. 

 

 

 

 

Why Jung-Ho Kang Could be Primed for a Monster Year in 2017

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Jeff Roberson - AP

p/c: Jeff Roberson – AP

In December of 2014, the Pirates made perhaps the most unexpected move of any team that offseason when they won the bidding for Jung-Ho Kang. Even if the Pirates weren’t going to sign him, at least there was an effort in trying to pursue a legitimate International player. A month later, Kang and the Pirates agreed to terms on a four-year deal, which included a fifth year club option. 

Despite a poor Spring Training performance, Kang made the Opening Day roster as a reserve. With injuries to both Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison, he began to receive more playing time and really capitalized. Kang’s fantastic rookie campaign came to a very unfortunate end in September when he sustained a torn lateral meniscus and fractured tibia on a slide at second base from outfielder Chris Coghlan. 

Kang’s 2015 season was one of the best by a rookie in franchise history, posting an .816 OPS along with an OPS+ of 123 in 126 games played. His overall game was certainly valuable with a 4.0 WAR, the best mark by a Pirates rookie in the Expansion Era, which began in 1961. Kang finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting behind Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs and Matt Duffy, formerly of the San Francisco Giants who now plays for the Tampa Bay Rays.

After months of rehabilitation, Kang made his 2016 season debut on May 6th in St. Louis and promptly hit two home runs that night. In his first ten games, he homered five times and finished out May with a .915 OPS. 

In early July, a shocking development came out with Kang being investigated by Chicago police for a sexual assault claim that was made against him. Since then, police have been unable to contact the woman who made the claim, so it appears there was nothing that actually happened.

Kang finished out the season strong, as he put up an OPS of .899 post All-Star break and was given NL Rookie of the Week honors in September. Despite playing just 103 games in 2016, he managed to hit 21 homers, which ended up being third on the team behind Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco.

Heading into 2017, Kang will be entering his age 30 season, which is still his prime. Going by FanGraphs’ Pitch Values, he’s handled the fastball extremely well in his first two big league seasons. According to Statcast, Kang’s average exit velocity of 91.1 mph this year was above the MLB average at 89.6 mph, so his bat speed remains solid. With his offensive approach, combined with now getting use to faster velocity from big league pitching that he wasn’t seeing in the KBO, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Kang could have himself a 30-35 home run season next year, assuming he that he stays clear of injury. 

 

 

 

 

 

Starling Marte Named NL Gold Glove Finalist

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Mark Alberti - Icon Sportswire

p/c: Mark Alberti – Icon Sportswire

On Thursday, Rawlings announced their 2016 Gold Glove finalists, and for the fourth year in a row, Starling Marte is a finalist for National League left fielders. The other two finalists are Adam Duvall of the Cincinnati Reds and Christian Yelich of the Miami Marlins. 

Marte captured the NL Gold Glove award for left fielders last year. The 2016 All-Star had another superb season in the field, as he recorded 17 outfield assists, a new career best for him. He also put up an 11.6 UZR/150 with a 1.3 dWAR and had 19 Defensive Runs Saved. Marte will look to become the first Pirates player to win back-to-back Gold Glove awards since Andy Van Slyke and Barry Bonds both did so in 1991 and 1992.

 

 

 

 

 

Pirates Should Try to Sign Greg Holland

By Jason Shetler

p/c: SI.com

p/c: Jesse Johnson – USA Today Sports

The Pirates had themselves a solid bullpen during the three seasons they went to the playoffs in 2013, 2014 and 2015. While you could argue that the rotation wasn’t impressive in 2016, the bullpen didn’t perform consistently either. The Pirates will certainly have to address that area this offseason with Neftali Feliz becoming a free agent and Jared Hughes likely to be non-tendered. Looking at some of the relievers on the free agent market this offseason, Greg Holland is one reliever who the Pirates should try to sign.

Holland had been a fixture in the Kansas City Royals bullpen since the 2011 season. He eventually took over as their closer, and was an elite level performer. In 2013 and 2014, Holland was arguably the best closer in the American League, as he combined to post a 1.33 ERA along with a 0.89 WHIP and 93 saves in 97 opportunities. 

After helping lead the Royals to the World Series in 2014, Holland was hoping to help out again last year, but that never happened, as he tore his right ulnar collateral ligament, and had to undergo Tommy John surgery in October. As expected, he missed the entire 2016 season. 

As Holland enters free agency this offseason, he should be fully recovered from the surgery. The Pirates back end of the bullpen is currently left-handed heavy with Tony Watson, Antonio Bastardo and Felipe Rivero. As mentioned, Neftali Feliz will be a free agent, so they would need to add a right-handed reliever to use in late innings. Because Holland missed an entire year, it’s likely that he won’t be given a big multi-year contract, which might work in the Pirates favor. Perhaps they could persuade Holland to sign by offering him the closers job in 2017. While it may seem risky to sign a reliever who just recovered from elbow surgery, I think Holland’s career track record is something the Pirates should roll the dice on.