Jared Hughes Officially Becomes a Free Agent

By Jason Shetler

The Pirates have announced that Jared Hughes is now officially a free agent. He was placed on release waivers Wednesday. 

Hughes had been in the Pirates organization since 2006 when he was drafted by them as a fourth rounder out of Long Beach State. The 31-year-old right-hander was primarily a starter before making the switch to reliever. 

In 2011, Hughes joined the Pirates as a September call up. Over the next few years, he began to establish himself as one of the better groundball relievers in baseball, and was an integral part of the Pirates bullpen, especially in 2014 and 2015. 

The 2016 season was a down year for Hughes, as he put up a Fielding Independent Pitching of 4.68, while posting a 58% groundball rate, which was a 6% decrease compared to the two seasons prior. Hughes and the Pirates agreed to terms on a one-year deal for $2.825 million to avoid arbitration this past offseason. Spring Training was a real struggle for him, as he posted an 11.57 ERA and allowed a ton of batters to reach base. 

 

 

 

Pirates Preview: The Starting Lineup

By Jared Lankes

p/c: Justin K. Aller – Getty Images

The Pirates lineup certainly took a major hit (no pun intended) when they lost Jung Ho Kang to Visa issues related to his drunk driving. In turn, this leaves the lineup one power threat short. Though, this doesn’t mean the Pirates still don’t have a potent lineup.

Looking up and down the lineup card, we will see capable bats throughout. Here, I will preview how the general lineup will look like, even though I know Hurdle will be flexible with his lineups as always.

1) 2B Josh Harrison: I have been advocating for Francisco Cervelli to leadoff for awhile. However, I do not think Hurdle sees it that way. One criticism I have with Hurdle is that he’s a believer in speed at the leadoff spot, even if the other skills needed for that spot may not be there. Hence why Harrison is in this spot. I get the sense that Hurdle will force Harrison into the leadoff spot despite him not being the best fit there, simply because of speed alone.

2) CF Starling Marte: I think the Pirates are still under the impression that they want their best hitter to hit second. However, Cutch will bat third and that has been confirmed, and Polanco fits well somewhere else in the lineup, which we’ll get to. So naturally, Marte, a great hitter in his own right, may get the nod to hit second. While I like Marte as a more middle-of-the-lineup guy, I think the Pirates may place him here to start him off in the Marte-Cutch-Polanco chain in the lineup because of his natural ability to hit for contact and steal bases.

3) RF Andrew McCutchen: I don’t believe in “comfortable spots” in a lineup for players too often, but I think McCutchen is an exception. I feel the Pirates realize that him hitting third is what is best for him, as well as the team. They’ve already confirmed he will hit third, so there’s that too.

4) LF Gregory Polanco: I like the idea of a Marte, Cutch, Polanco chain in the lineup, which I eluded to earlier. I think it is where they can really do damage. I have Polanco hitting cleanup based on his skill set. He is primed for a breakout year where the homers just keep coming. Polanco has been bulking up in order to realize his power potential, and this appears to be the year where he may crack 30 HRs. Without Kang, and possibly even with Kang, Polanco may be best suited to hit cleanup.

5) 1B Josh Bell: I like Bell in the 2 hole, but I don’t think the Pirates will hit him there, and it’s not a huge deal in this case. Bell’s bat will play anywhere you put him in the lineup because of his pure ability to hit and get on-base. If his power develops, that’d be a major boost.

6) 3B David Freese: Freese will fill in at 3B, and that’s not so bad. Him being a substitute 3B means you have it pretty good. While he’s not a great hitter, he will do enough to be an asset in that department. Let’s just hope the strikeouts cease a bit.

7) C Francisco Cervelli: Cervelli is a high-OBP guy with very little power, which is why I want him leading off. I do not think that happens though, as I previously mentioned. Therefore, he gets taken all the way down to the 7 spot. He will do what he does and be what he is; nothing more, nothing less, and that’s not so bad to have.

8) SS Jordy Mercer: Mercer’s bat leaves a lot to be desired, but he’s a pretty okay SS nonetheless. He is coming off his best offensive season though so maybe something has clicked for him. If he can have a similar year to his 2016 year at the plate, the lineup would receive a major boost.

As I said, I think Hurdle will mix and match lineups based on matchups, who’s hot, etc. but the one thing that I hope won’t change is the Marte-McCutchen- Polanco chain in the lineup. Overall, I see a very good Pirates lineup that I think is the biggest strength of this 2017 team.

Pirates Preview: Bullpen

By Jared Lankes

Felipe Rivero – p/c: Tim Williams – Pirates Prospects

The Pirates situation in the bullpen is potentially the most fascinating of the bunch. They have an array of guys who are capable bullpen pitchers but only seven spots when it comes down to it. This is complicated by the fact that they have five lefties that may all receive spots in the bullpen. Here, I will go through who I expect to get the bullpen spots and will look into each player. Moreover, I will organize this by lefties and righties. I will also look at the main snub(s) from the group.

Lefties:

1) Wade LeBlanc: I was surprised when the Pirates added LeBlanc late last season then was even more surprised when they signed him to a one-year contract as a tender candidate (I didn’t even expect a tender). However, he not only looked good in the limited looks he received last year on the Pirates, but he’s had a strong spring on top of it, and appears ready to prove that he belongs. I feel he’s done more than enough to earn a look in the bullpen to begin the year. Whether he will take that next step is subject to anyone’s best guess.

2) Antonio Bastardo: Pirates aspired to trade Bastardo all offseason but to no avail as there were zero takers for the lefty presumably. Bastardo is in his second stint with the Pirates after being acquired by the Mets in August last season in exchange for Jon Niese. Even though Bastardo had a rough and tumble 2016 season, I believe he could still be effective in a role in the bullpen. While lefty specialist may not fit him best, I think it may be the spot he must take on and embrace. But I doubt he will be used as just that as I expect Clint Hurdle to use the bullpen flexibly.

3) Tony Watson: Watson was another guy the Pirates were trying to unload this offseason, mainly for salary relief and to add extra space to a crowded bullpen. But it looks like the bullpen will have Watson. 2016 was shaky for Watson as the innings workload from all his years caught up to him a bit. People, including me, are now skeptical whether he has anything left in the tank. Well, that’s tough to say. Hopefully Hurdle won’t overwork him because I think Watson can be solid if used an appropriate amount of times. He’s not a guy you can trot out there 4-5 times a week anymore and expect great results.

4) Felipe Rivero: Probably the Pirates best reliever, Felipe Rivero will be the key component of the bullpen this season. This is potentially the year that Rivero lives up to all the hype that he has garnered. With an electric fastball and a devastating changeup, Rivero has all the tools to be absolutely dominant. The main role he will fill is unclear, but he’s the kind of pitcher that can do all sorts of different things in all kinds of situations.

Snub:
Tyler Webb: I like Tyler Webb, but I don’t believe the Pirates will carry five bullpen lefties and Webb could be the odd man out in that situation. It would be ideal for the Pirates to work out a deal with the Yankees to make him a member of the Pirates that they don’t need to keep on the 25-man because of Rule 5. That way, they can send him to AAA and call him up whenever he is needed. At present moment, however, I would not expect Webb to be in the Pirates’ bullpen to start the season.

Righties:

1) Daniel Hudson: Pirates took a calculated risk on Daniel Hudson by signing him this past offseason. The oft-injured righty was fairly effective for the Diamondbacks last year outside of one awful stretch that inflated his numbers. The Pirates are hoping Hudson remains healthy and is able to bring his filthiness to the Pirates. He has tools that Searage loves to work with, and there is at least a fair chance that Searage can get Hudson to his very best. Interestingly, Daniel Hudson’s deal has a “games finished” incentive, which could mean nothing or mean that the Pirates may give him some chances to close out games. Stay tuned.

2) Juan Nicasio: After a bumpy ride as a starter last year for the Pirates, Juan Nicasio was great out the bullpen. Now, he’s expected to be an integral piece of the bullpen this season. What his main role will be is undetermined, but I feel a hybrid role could be in play for a guy like Nicasio. In any case, I expect him to be solid as long as he doesn’t need to start games or be exposed to too many lefty hitters.

3) AJ Schugel: AJ Schugel was very effective out of the bullpen for the Pirates in 2016 after being acquired as an afterthought. His changeup is rated amongst one of the league’s most effective, and I think he’s finally found his niche that can turn him into a very solid bullpen pitcher.

Overall, while the bullpen situation can be classified as a mess by many, I think it can be an effective group if not overworked and utilized correctly. The thing this bullpen could show off the most is flexibility. I hope Clint Hurdle is able to tap into this flexibility and isn’t afraid to give the ball to someone that we normally wouldn’t see in such a situation (for example: closer by committee). If Hurdle is able to do that, I think he can find where this bullpen can get ahead, even without the talent that previous Pirates’ bullpens have had.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pirates Release Jason Creasy

By Jason Shetler

The Pirates have released minor league pitcher Jason Creasy, this according to John Dreker of Pirates Prospects. 

In the 2011 MLB Draft, the Pirates selected Creasy as an eighth round pick out of high school. The 24-year-old righty agreed to a signing bonus of $250,000, which was above the slot amount. 

Creasy had his best season in 2013 with the West Virginia Power, where he put up a 2.74 ERA and had a K/9 of 8.0 in 32 games, 13 of which were starts. Pirates Prospects at one point rated him a Top 50 prospect in the system. Creasy had a subpar year in 2015, posting an ERA of 4.41 in 147 innings pitched for the Altoona Curve. Last season, he posted a 6.07 ERA with Altoona, and missed a good portion of the year, because of  a forearm strain.

 

 

 

Why the Pirates Need to Keep Tyler Webb

By Jason Shetler

p/c: David Goldman – AP

The biggest storyline for Spring Training 2017 with the Pirates is of course who will be the fifth starter in their rotation. Another area that has yet to be decided as well is in the bullpen. As of right now, the guaranteed relievers are Tony Watson, Felipe Rivero, Daniel Hudson, Antonio Bastardo and Juan Nicasio. Some of the other candidates competing for spots are Jared Hughes, who is now reportedly on the trade block, A.J. Schugel, Wade LeBlanc and Tyler Webb. Perhaps the most intriguing out of the group is Webb. 

The Pirates didn’t make many significant moves this past offseason. Out of the few moves they made, one came as a surprise, as they selected Tyler Webb from the New York Yankees in the Rule 5 Draft during the Winter Meetings. This marked the first time since 2011 that the Bucs chose a player in the Major League portion of the draft.

Webb was a tenth round selection of the Yankees in the 2013 MLB Draft. The 26-year-old southpaw is coming off a very good season, in which he posted a 3.59 ERA, a Fielding Independent Pitching of 2.76 and a 10.2 K/9 in 72.2 innings of work with the Yanks AAA club Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Although Webb isn’t a hard throwing lefty, his ability to rack up strikeouts are based on deception and being 6’6 to where he can throw his pitches on a downward plane. 

Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle has a reputation of favoring veteran players, which would be an advantage for both Hughes and LeBlanc. GM Neal Huntington however did give some praise to Webb on his radio show Sunday by saying that he doesn’t allow much hard contact and can get lots of awkward swings. If Webb doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, then he would have to return to the Yankees, the team in which he was selected from. However, I think it would be a wise move for Huntington to work out a deal with the Yankees, so that Webb can remain in the organization, much like he did with Evan Meek in 2008. In the event of an injury or someone faltering, Webb would be an intriguing depth option, with his ability to strikeout batters as a left-hander, as well as being able to pitch multiple innings out of the bullpen if necessary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does Trevor Williams Have a Realistic Chance to Make Pirates Rotation?

By Jared Lankes

p/c: Charles LeClaire – USA Today Sports

Pirates right-hander Trevor Williams pitched his best spring training outing recently, collecting five super strong innings of work to continue his awesome spring. Williams sits in a position where he still has a chance to make the Opening Day rotation and head north with the big club as it has not been decided, at least publicly, who the fifth starter will be for the Pirates. Because of all this, one has to wonder if Trevor Williams even stands a slim chance of earning that final rotation spot.

The rotation battle features three other pitchers hopeful to head to Fenway to start their regular season; these other pitchers being Drew Hutchison, Steven Brault, and top-of-the-line prospect Tyler Glasnow. This is harsh competition considering that many see Trevor Williams as the fourth option out of the litter. However, none of these guys have really seized the opportunity this spring quite like Trevor Williams. While spring training stats are meaningless, the performances and work ethic shown can be an indicator of who has rightfully went out there and took hold of the opportunity they’ve been gifted. Right now, if all things were equal, Williams would be the clear front-runner for the spot.

But it’s not all created equal. Williams has the odds stacked heavily against him based on pure circumstance. Firstly, Drew Hutchison is getting paid relatively good money, and the Pirates may not want that money being wasted on a guy that’s sitting in AAA. Next, Brault brings something that the Pirates do not have in the rotation, and that is being a lefty. Based on being a lefty alone, Brault stands a chance of being in the rotation. Then there’s Glasnow. While unpolished, Glasnow is a premium prospect and would easily give the Pirates the most upside out of the bunch, even if he would need to take his lumps and bruises along the way. So that leaves Trevor Williams with nothing really that differentiates himself from the others.

In turn, the main question becomes whether the Pirates will base this decision on spring performance or circumstance. In my estimation, I think circumstance will play out majorly here as spring training performance may be taken simply at face value. While Trevor Williams has had a very strong spring training, I do not think that’s enough for him to overcome all the obstacles he would need to get over to make the Opening Day rotation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gregory Polanco Scratched from Today’s Lineup Due Left Shoulder Discomfort

By Jason Shetler

The Pirates announced this morning that Gregory Polanco has been scratched from today’s lineup because of discomfort in his left shoulder, and is listed as “day-to-day”. The Bucs will host the Detroit Tigers at 1:05 ET, which can be seen on ROOT Sports Pittsburgh.

Polanco spent half of the Spring playing in the World Baseball Classic for the Dominican Republic, and was one of the best hitters in the entire WBC. In a second round game versus Venezuela, he hit a very impressive line drive home run at pitcher-friendly Petco Park in San Diego. The discomfort in Polanco’s shoulder is probably just minor, and being scratched from the lineup was only an obvious precaution. He is likely going to be the Pirates cleanup hitter on Opening Day.