Options for Pirates if Gregory Polanco Goes on the Disabled List

By Jared Lankes

The Pirates right fielder Gregory Polanco suffered yet another injury to his hamstring this weekend in Toronto. And by the looks of it, he will likely hit the disabled list for the third time this season. It has been reported by some outlets that Polanco isn’t only seriously injured, but he was also seen hugging teammates after sunday’s contest, speculated to mean that he will not make the trip to Milwaukee with the team which could prelude a DL stint. How long Polanco will be out is still up in the air, but depending on how long it is expected to be could influence how the Pirates handle filling the void. Here, I will discuss some of the potential ways to fill the void depending on how things shake out.

1) Stick with what is on the roster:
It is very plausible, almost likely, that the Pirates stick with what is currently on their roster. The Pirates have four guys, good or not, that can play in the outfield. These guys being John Jaso, Jose Osuna, Adam Frazier, and the newly acquired Sean Rodriguez. The Pirates could certainly see the bevy of options they possess and just choose to stick with it. I mean, they did just that when Marte was out during his suspension and when Polanco was hurt the previous two times, and that was before they acquired another option in Sean Rodriguez. They could also play Harrison in the outfield a bit and show off some Frazier or Rodriguez at second base, or even get Moroff some reps at second base as well.

2) Get help from AAA:
There are a couple outfielders in AAA that could help in some sort of capacity. While Meadows is still rehabbing on his way to getting back to AAA, he could be an option upon returning, but I can’t envision that. This leaves Danny Ortiz, Chris Bostick, and Jordan Luplow. Danny Ortiz is a career minor leaguer, so it shouldn’t be him. Bostick is intriguing, but like all the other extra outfield options they currently have on their major league roster, he is an infielder by nature. This leaves us with Jordan Luplow. Luplow, a guy who has barely been in AAA a month, has been dominating at every level the last few seasons, including making AAA look like the little leagues. He was called up to the majors for a few games just a couple weeks, and while he went 0-9, he did not look overmatched. While he may not be ready, maybe the Pirates think he is developed enough to be given a look. However, in my opinion, if he will get called up, I think he has to be given the opportunity to play everyday. He can’t be sitting on the bench five times a week not getting many at bats. That is no good for him. They would have to let the guy play more often than not, and I cannot see the Pirates giving him a majority of at bats over the guys they have right now.

3) Find external help:
One of the things that has killed the Pirates this season is not having a true 4th outfielder. As I said before, they have an array of options, but many of them are infielders by nature and are guys that don’t prioritize playing outfield. With the Marte suspension, the Polanco injuries, and everything seemingly going wrong with Meadows, the gaping hole of no other true outfielder option is huge, and with Polanco hurt again, we see that gaping hole once again. If the Pirates, who are 4.5 games back of division lead as I am writing this, really believe they have a chance at this thing, maybe they find a way to fortify their roster even more by acquiring an outfielder to assist with Polanco out and make the bench stronger when/if he gets back. This would also provide cover if the Pirates would make the playoffs and Marte would be ineligible at that juncture. Given the way the position player market is, maybe the Pirates can find something that fits.

In my estimation, I can definitely see them just sticking with what they have. The reason for this is because, through everything that has happened this season, that is precisely what they have done. I cannot envision a sudden change in direction like that unless it is said that Polanco is out for the season, and even then the realistic chances this team wins the division are slim at best. It is hard to prepare for the postseason or winning a division when a team is currently below .500, four games back, and in fourth place. If Pirates were in 1st place or 2nd place and only one or two games back, it would become much easier to make that move. Truth is that another outfielder to replace what they currently have or to just fill-in for a bit will not make much of an impact at all. I think it is a much safer bet for the Pirates to stick with what they have and/or call up the young talent from AAA and let them show themselves off.

Steven Brault Named International League Pitcher of the Week for the Second Time

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Indianapolis Indians

After being named the International League Pitcher of the Week during the month of May, Steven Brault was given that honor a second time for this past week.

Last Monday, Brault pitched seven shutout innings versus the Buffalo Bisons, the Toronto Blue Jays AAA club. On Saturday, he tossed seven scoreless again, this time against the Washington Nationals affiliation, the Syracuse Chiefs. 

Brault has been pitching exceptional this year for Indianapolis, posting an IL best 1.94 ERA, along with the third lowest WHIP at 1.07 in 120.1 innings. In late July, Brault was recalled by the Pirates, making two relief appearances. 





A.J. Schugel Has Been an Unsung Hero in Pirates Bullpen Again

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Charles LeClaire – USA Today Sports

Looking to add depth to their bullpen for the 2016 season, the Pirates claimed A.J. Schugel off waivers from the Seattle Mariners. Schugel pitched well last year, as he put up a 3.63 ERA, along with an ERA+ of 113 and an even better 3.18 Fielding Independent Pitching. 

Despite his good work, the Pirates optioned Schugel on two different occasions, once with the call up of Tyler Glasnow, the other with Steven Brault. Schugel had better numbers last season than Jared Hughes, and it was especially odd, given that Hughes had options remaining to be sent to AAA. 

Entering Spring Training this year, Schugel appeared to have a pretty good shot of making the Opening Day roster. His chances seemed even better, following the release of Hughes during the final week of Spring. However, the Pirates made a surprising decision by cutting Schugel, optioning him to Indianapolis. 

April did not go Schugel’s way at all, as he posted a 9.82 ERA. He did experience extreme bad luck though, with a BABIP over .400. Things really began to balance out for him in May and June, posting a combined ERA of 1.67, a 1.06 WHIP and a .194 batting average against. 

The Pirates recalled Schugel on July 7th. His numbers have been even better to this point the second time around, allowing only two earned runs in 15.1 innings for a 1.17 ERA. The FIP is higher at 3.20, but it’s still a good figure. Perhaps the biggest thing for Schugel this year is getting a heavy amount of grounders. Schugel’s groundball rate is currently at 63%, which is a 21% increase from a year ago. He is throwing the two-seam fastball about 7% more this season at 68%, while his superb changeup is being thrown 31% of the time. The Pirates bullpen has performed better since the beginning of July, and Schugel is quietly playing a vital part once again.












Rangers Claim Phil Gosselin from Pirates

By Jason Shetler

Just two days after claiming Jhan Marinez from the Pirates, the Texas Rangers have obtained Phil Gosselin off trade waivers from the Bucs, multiple outlets have reported. 

The Pirates acquired Gosselin this past offseason from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for pitcher Frank Duncan. Gosselin had a good showing in Spring Training, and made the Opening Day roster. He struggled in Pittsburgh, collecting just six hits in 40 at-bats, while playing below average defense, leading to a -0.6 WAR. Gosselin spent most of his time this season with AAA Indianapolis, batting .266 and posting a .640 OPS in 63 games.





Taylor Hearn’s Fastball Rated Best in the Florida State League

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Tim Williams – Pirates Prospects

On Thursday, Baseball America put out a list containing players with the best tools from each league in the minors. The categories were based on a survey asked to scouts and managers of their respective leagues. Pirates prospect Taylor Hearn was given recognition for best fastball in the Florida State League. 

The Pirates originally drafted Hearn as a 22nd round selection in 2012, but did not sign. He joined the Washington Nationals organization in 2015, this after being chosen in the fifth round. Two days prior to last year’s trade deadline, the Pirates acquired Hearn and Felipe Rivero from the Nationals in the Mark Melancon deal.

Hearn began this season at High A with the Bradenton Marauders. The 12th ranked Pirates prospect has posted a 4.12 ERA, but his FIP and xFIP are much better at 3.40 and 2.83 respectively. He also has 106 strikeouts in 87.1 innings pitched (10.9 K/9). Hearn was placed on the disabled list in mid-July with a strained right oblique, and is likely done for the season.

The fastball for Hearn is very intriguing, as he throws it in the mid-upper 90’s, with the ability to touch 100 mph. His slider has the makings of an above average pitch and his changeup is a work in progress. Hearn is currently a starting pitcher, but the command, as well as the development of his changeup, will dictate whether or not he remains a starter at the upper levels. 





Rangers Claim Jhan Marinez from Pirates

By Jason Shetler

The Texas Rangers have announced that they claimed Jhan Marinez off waivers from the Pirates. He, along with Danny Ortiz, were both designated for assignment this past weekend, in order to add Sean Rodriguez and George Kontos to the 40-man roster. 

After pitching well in the Milwaukee Brewers bullpen a year ago, Marinez returned to the Brewers to begin this season. The 28-year-old righty posted a 5.40 ERA in 15 games. Marinez was DFA’d by Milwaukee, and had been claimed off waivers by the Pirates on May 19th. 

In 24 appearances with Pittsburgh, Marinez put up an ERA of 3.18 and a 134 ERA+. His Fielding Independent Pitching however was on the high side at 4.55. Combined with the Brewers and Pirates, Marinez had a 52% groundball rate. It would have been nice to see him clear waivers, and to be an extra bullpen arm in September, but that won’t be the case now.






Why the Sean Rodriguez Trade Made Sense for the Pirates

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Getty Images

Looking to add versatility on the bench for the 2015 season, the Pirates acquired Sean Rodriguez from the Tampa Bay Rays for pitcher Buddy Borden. While Rodriguez displayed solid defense at most of the positions he played at, the offensive numbers were quite meager, as he posted just a .642 OPS, along with an oWAR of -0.5. 

Despite Rodriguez’s poor offensive production in 2015, the Pirates made the unpopular decision to re-sign the veteran utility man to a one-year deal for $2.5 million. The salary however was reasonable, given that his defensive value alone was worth that amount. The signing wound up paying big dividends for the Pirates, as Rodriguez had his most productive season offensively in 2016. His 18 home runs were a career high, while his .859 OPS was a personal best. Overall, he was about a two-win player, with a 1.9 WAR, which is a solid mark for a bench player. 

The Pirates were looking to bring back Rodriguez again this past offseason, but they were unable to, as he agreed to terms on a two-year/$11.5 million dollar deal with the Atlanta Braves on Thanksgiving. In January, Rodriguez, his wife and two kids thankfully survived a terrifying car crash. Based on the injuries, it was unclear whether or not Rodriguez would play at all in 2017. He defied the odds, making his season debut for the Braves on July 17th. 

After not being very active at the trade deadline, the Pirates made a pair of moves this past Saturday. One was claiming veteran reliever George Kontos off waivers from the San Francisco Giants, while the other was acquiring Rodriguez from the Braves in exchange for 2014 competitive balance pick Connor Joe. Here’s why it made sense for the Pirates to bring Rodriguez back.

Whether it was the Starling Marte suspension or a Gregory Polanco DL stint, the Pirates were lacking any kind of reliable defensive fourth outfielder, with the likes of John Jaso, Jose Osuna and Adam Frazier. Rodriguez has shown flashes of being a quality outfielder, and if nothing else, is an upgrade over the other three. Aside from the outfield, he can play above average defense at other positions, which would be vital for the Pirates in terms of run prevention. Rodriguez’s bat is also a nice addition to the bench. GM Neal Huntington mentioned on his radio show this past Sunday that the Rodriguez acquisition was made in part to provide the team with more depth, as well as the uncertainty of Jung-Ho Kang moving forward. The return wasn’t really significant, with Joe not even being a Top 30 prospect in the Braves system. Given all those reasons, the Rodriguez trade was definitely understandable.