Jordan Luplow Promoted to Indianapolis; Logan Hill to Altoona

By Jason Shetler

Pirates Prospects has reported a pair of promotions. Outfielder Jordan Luplow is heading to AAA Indianapolis, while outfielder Logan Hill will take his place in AA Altoona. These promotions are a domino effect with Jason Rogers going to Japan.

The Pirates selected Luplow as a third round choice in the 2014 MLB Draft. The Altoona Curve have had a good number of breakout prospects this season, and Luplow has been no exception. His 16 home runs were tied for fourth most in the Eastern League, while his .903 OPS was good for seventh best. A few weeks ago, Luplow was named the EL Player of the Week.

Hill was drafted by the Pirates as a 25th round pick in 2015. The 24-year-old is also having himself a breakout year. In 71 games for High A Bradenton, Hill hit 16 homers, which led the Florida State League, and he put up the seventh highest OPS at .864.

 

 

 

Andrew McCutchen’s Time with the Pirates Appears to be Drawing to a Close

By Jared Lankes

p/c: Justin Berl – Getty Images

The Pirates drafted Andrew McCutchen what feels like a short 12 years ago, and since that moment, he has known nothing but playing in the Pirates organization his entire professional baseball life. Conversely, Pittsburgh Pirates fans over the years haven’t known a Pirates team that didn’t feature Andrew McCutchen.

The star center fielder has been the icon, the figure, the face of the Pirates. When you think about the Pirates, Andrew McCutchen is the guy that pops into your head almost immediately. It seems like, no matter what, he will be associated with Pittsburgh and vice versa.

However, baseball has to be a business at times and teams must transition their roster every so often in order to remain competitive and phase out the older players in exchange for the next wave of potential stars. This has lead to trade rumors swirling around him. This has become a sad reality, a cloud over the head of the superstar that helped bring winning back to the Pirates.

As we all know, the Pirates nearly traded McCutchen in the offseason before a deal reportedly fell through with the Nationals. For better or for worse, it happened. McCutchen started off 2017 even worse than 2016 as he fell to the Mendoza line (.200 batting average) and wasn’t producing for the better part of April and May. Since, however, he’s been possibly the hottest hitter in baseball and his stats look wonderful now. This, coupled with the fact the Pirates may sell a bit at the trading deadline depending on where they stand as well as a looming Austin Meadows, has lead to the inevitability that a McCutchen trade may happen within a month when MLB teams do their bi-annual swapping marathon (The Winter Meetings being the other one).

Many fans are clinging on the hopes that he isn’t traded and can remain a Pirate for life, an optimistic look but not one that dawns itself in this current reality. McCutchen, like so many others, just don’t stand a chance to stay with one team their entire careers. The same will seem to hold true for McCutchen, unfortunately. He will either be traded this July, in the offseason, next July, or walk as a free agent. Either way, his time with the Pirates will be reaching a conclusion much sooner than we think.

So, Pirates fans: I think we should enjoy potentially the very last month we have with McCutchen as a Pirate because his last game could be almost every game in July, so enjoy every one like it’s his last. Pirates fans will look back fondly on McCutchen no doubt as he has been one of the very special ones in Pirates history, and we can’t forget that. We truly got to witness a great player form right before our very eyes, and it was remarkable.

When the inevitable moment of McCutchen’s departure occurs, it is okay to cry (I know I will) because McCutchen left us all with lasting memories that will not be forgotten. He was a true great on and off the field, and we can’t thank him enough for what he brought to the Pirates.

But as the curtain begins to close on Andrew McCutchen’s Pirates career, it’s important to know that each end is a new beginning. A new beginning for McCutchen to play elsewhere, meet new people, and have a new city hopefully embrace him. And a new beginning for the Pirates who will look to continue to field greats that we will never, ever forget.

 

Why the Jason Rogers Trade Didn’t Make Much Sense

By Jason Shetler

p/c: David Hague – Pirates Prospects

In September of 2015, Jung-Ho Kang sustained a season ending injury, in which he tore his meniscus and fractured his tibia. With the uncertainty of Kang’s status heading into the 2016 season, who was going to take over as the Pirates third baseman for the time being?

That offseason, the Pirates acquired Jason Rogers from the Milwaukee Brewers for outfielder Keon Broxton and pitcher Trey Supak. During the 2015 season, Rogers had an .808 OPS and a 121 OPS+ with the Brewers, so he appeared to be the favorite to replace Kang as a short term solution. 

Midway through Spring Training last year, David Freese signed a one-year deal with the Pirates to be their third baseman. Freese not only came in with a proven track record, but it didn’t cost the Bucs a draft pick, since the Los Angeles Angels declined to make him a qualifying offer. Rogers was then in a battle for a spot on the bench, but lost out to Cole Figueroa. He spent most of last season playing at AAA Indianapolis, and his time with the Pirates was brief, receiving just 33 plate appearances. 

Rogers wasn’t really in the conversation for a bench spot in Spring Training this year, which was certainly odd. He went back to Indianapolis, where he split his games between first base and DH. There was a report that Rogers had been in negotiations with the Hanshin Tigers of the Japanese Central League. On Thursday, Brian Peloza, who covers the Indianapolis Indians for Pirates Prospects, mentioned that the signing was made official. 

The Rogers trade overall really didn’t make a whole lot of sense. First off, if the Pirates really wanted David Freese, then they should’ve tried to sign him during the offseason and not traded for Rogers in the first place. Second, Keon Broxton had the tools to become a quality fourth outfielder for the Pirates, but instead, has played a integral part as a regular in the Brewers lineup, with 13 home runs and an OPS of .810. Not to mention Trey Supak is becoming a superb strikeout pitcher, posting an 11.0 K/9 with two of the Brewers A ball affiliates this season. And third, the fact that Rogers wasn’t considered much of candidate for a bench spot this Spring showed that the Pirates had essentially given up on him. While this trade is by no means Neal Huntington’s worst as GM, it’s one that he certainly would like to have back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Luis Escobar to Represent Pirates in Futures Game

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Tracy Proffitt

On Thursday, the U.S. and World rosters were announced for the 2017 MLB Futures Game. Pirates prospect Luis Escobar is one of the pitchers who will represent the World Team. The game is July 9th at Marlins Park in Miami, and will be televised on MLB Network. 

Escobar was signed by the Pirates out of Colombia in 2013. The 21-year-old right-hander entered this season as the 13th best prospect in the Pirates system according to MLB Pipeline. 

This year marks Escobar’s first full season of pro ball. In 71.2 innings pitched for the West Virginia Power, his ERA is 4.77, but he has more favorable metrics, with a 3.93 Fielding Independent Pitching and a 3.46 xFIP, while holding opposing hitters to a .223 average. Escobar has also racked up 97 strikeouts, which are currently most in the South Atlantic League. There’s a decent chance that he could be promoted to Bradenton before the season is over.

 

 

 

 

Pirates Sign Dylan Busby

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Joe Rondone – Tallahassee Democrat

The Pirates have announced that they have signed their third round selection Dylan Busby. MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis reported that the signing bonus was $575,000, well below the slot amount of $626,600. 

Busby was selected by the Pirates 88th overall out of Florida State. The 6’3 third baseman had a great season offensively this year, with an OPS of .996, along with 15 home runs to lead the Seminoles. Busby will begin his pro career in Morgantown for the West Virginia Black Bears.

 

 

 

Jason Rogers Reportedly in Negotiations with Japanese Team

By Jason Shetler

p/c: David Hague – Pirates Prospects

According to Brian Peloza of Pirates Prospects, Jason Rogers is in negotiations with the Hanshin Tigers of the Japanese Central League. 

Prior to last season, the Pirates acquired Rogers from the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for outfielder Keon Broxton and pitcher Trey Supak. Rogers had brief playing time with the Pirates in 2016, posting just a .303 on base percentage in 33 plate appearances.

During Spring Training, Rogers wasn’t really in competition for a bench spot with the Pirates, which was certainly odd. In 68 games this season for AAA Indianapolis, he is hitting .278, along with a .773 OPS, while splitting his time between first base and DH. The trade has not looked good, especially now with Keon Broxton playing a vital role in the Brewers lineup.

 

 

 

 

Trevor Williams Holding His Own in Pirates Rotation

By Jason Shetler

p/c: John Bazemore – AP

While Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage receives plenty of accolades, and deservedly so, Jim Benedict also played an instrumental role in turning around pitchers such as Charlie Morton, A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Edinson Volquez and J.A. Happ. 

In October of 2015, Benedict joined the Miami Marlins to become their Vice President of Pitching. Shortly after, the Pirates obtained Trevor Williams as essentially compensation for losing Benedict. Williams was considered a Top 10 prospect for the Marlins, albeit in a weak system.

Last season, Williams did terrific work in the AAA Indianapolis rotation, as he put up a 2.53 ERA, while holding opponents to a .242 average. His big league debut came as a September call up, pitching three innings of relief to pick up the victory. Following the game, him and his dad embraced with a hug, in one of the most emotional player moments at PNC Park. 

Williams entered Spring Training in a battle for supremacy over the fifth starter spot. Tyler Glasnow eventually was named the final starter. However, with the Pirates sending Rule 5 pick Tyler Webb back to the New York Yankees, Williams was awarded a spot in the bullpen to pitch long relief. 

The unexpected occurred during the first week of May when it was announced that Jameson Taillon had been diagnosed with testicular cancer. Williams took Taillon’s place in the rotation, making his first start on May 8th at Dodger Stadium. The outing did not go well, allowing eight runs (six earned) in three innings of work. Since then however, Williams has performed well, posting an ERA of 3.94. The control has been superb, as his BB/9 is 1.7, which would be tied for fourth best in the National League, if he qualified for enough innings as a starter. The better control can be contributed to throwing the four-seam fastball 53% of the time, a 12% increase from last year. According to FanGraphs’ Pitch Values, Williams’ sinker has been a more effective pitch for him this season. Along with the low walk figure is a low number of long balls, as he has allowed only five home runs since being a starter. With the demotion of Tyler Glasnow, as well as the ineffectiveness of Chad Kuhl, the work Trevor Williams has provided in the Pirates rotation is a much needed shot in the arm. 

 

 

 

 

 

Is it Time to Move Chad Kuhl to the Bullpen?

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Jayne Kamin-Oncea – USA Today Sports

After being taken by the Pirates in the ninth round of the 2013 MLB Draft, Chad Kuhl quietly emerged as one of the better pitching prospects in the system. His success in the minors was based on having excellent control of a power sinker and slider. 

It was one year ago today that Kuhl made his debut for the Pirates, a game in which he outdueled Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball. All told, he had himself a passable rookie season, putting up a 4.20 ERA, along with a Fielding Independent Pitching of 3.95 in 14 starts.

During Spring Training, Pirates GM Neal Huntington indicated that Kuhl had the inside track for the fourth spot in the rotation. The first two months had been rough for him, posting a combined 6.04 ERA in April and May. Run prevention has been a little better lately, allowing 12 earned runs in his last five starts. However, he has only gone five innings in each of those outings. Out of the 15 starts Kuhl has made this season, just twice has he pitched at least six innings. With that being said, is it time for the Pirates to use Kuhl as a reliever? 

The arsenal is certainly there for Kuhl. His average fastball velocity is 95.5 mph, which is tied for fourth highest by a National League starter, while his sinker velocity of 94.1 mph is the best mark among all sinkerball pitchers in MLB. The slider is Kuhl’s main secondary offering, and it’s a good pitch according to FanGraphs’ Pitch Values. Although he has held right-handed batters in check with a .664 OPS, he has really struggled commanding those pitches to lefty hitters, as they’re posting an OPS of 1.090 off him. As I mentioned earlier, Kuhl has done a poor job of going deeper into games, which may indicate that he is having a difficult time in pacing himself inning by inning. 

Boston Red Sox pitcher Joe Kelly went through what Kuhl is going through now. A right-handed starter who threw very hard, but lacked consistency. Kelly is now pitching exclusively in short relief for the Red Sox, hitting upper-90’s consistently and reaching triple digits with relative ease, and most importantly, having great success. The Pirates bullpen has definitely been a problem area, so it wouldn’t hurt to see what Kuhl could potentially provide as a reliever. Steven Brault is pitching extremely well this year with AAA Indianapolis, which should make it an easier decision to have him replace Kuhl in the rotation. 

 

 

 

 

 

Jhan Marinez has Been a Nice Addition to Pirates Bullpen

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Charles LeClaire – USA Today Sports

Way back in 2006, the then Florida Marlins signed Jhan Marinez as an amateur out of the Dominican Republic. He made his MLB debut with the Marlins in 2010 as a 21-year-old. 

In 2011, Marinez was one of two players traded to the Chicago White Sox as part of a deal to have Ozzie Guillen become manager of the Marlins in 2012. For the next few years, he pitched exclusively in the minors, with the Tigers AAA team Toledo and the Dodgers former AA affiliate Chattanooga. After pitching for Durham, the Rays AAA club in 2015, Marinez re-signed with Tampa Bay on a minor league contract prior to last season. He appeared in three games with the Rays, before getting dealt to the Milwaukee Brewers for cash. Marinez performed well for Milwaukee, posting a 3.68 ERA and a 122 ERA+ in 30 appearances. 

Entering this season, Marinez was looking to build off the success he had with Milwaukee a year ago. The Brewers however decided to cut ties, as they designated him for assignment on May 14th. While he did have an ERA of 5.40, his BABIP indicated extreme bad luck at .396. 

A week after being DFA’d, the Pirates claimed Marinez off waivers from the Brewers. The 28-year-old righty has been terrific to this point for the Bucs, with a 2.25 ERA, a Fielding Independent Pitching of 3.04 and a 1.15 WHIP in 15 games. Marinez is putting up a 56% groundball rate this year, thanks in part to a steady diet of two-seam fastballs that he is throwing about 61% of the time. According to FanGraphs’ Pitch Values, his slider has been a very effective secondary pitch. Since joining the Pirates, Marinez has kept the walks down, with a 2.7 BB/9, while his K/9 is at 8.1, which is a solid mark, especially for a groundball pitcher. Outside of Felipe Rivero and Juan Nicasio, the Pirates bullpen has had inconsistencies, with the struggles of Daniel Hudson and Tony Watson, as well as the recent regression of Wade LeBlanc, so Marinez has given them a much needed shot in the arm thus far. During the Pirates three year playoff stretch from 2013-2015, manager Clint Hurdle used Jared Hughes in tight spots to strand inherited baserunners, because of his ability to induce groundballs with regularity. Perhaps Hurdle could begin using Marinez in more high leverage situations, and utilize him in that same role.