The Pirates have signed former Washington (PA) WildThings outfielder Bralin Jackson to a minor league deal, this according to John Dreker of Pirates Prospects.
Jackson was selected out of Raytown South High School in Missouri as a fifth round pick by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2012. Upon being drafted, Jackson was considered toolsy, having a quick bat, good speed on the basepaths and a strong arm for a center fielder. Baseball America at one point rated him the 27th best Rays prospect.
During his five seasons in the Rays system, Jackson posted just a .653 OPS. He was released by Tampa Bay in December of last year and signed on with the Washington WildThings of the Frontier League in February. Jackson had good numbers for the WildThings this year, putting up an OPS of .802, while hitting a career high 16 home runs in 95 games played.
Multiple baseball publications release their updated prospect rankings at different times. MLB Pipeline does theirs late in the regular season, while Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus come out with theirs during the offseason. Just for fun, I thought I’d put together my list of the Top 10 Pirates prospects right now, and then comparing that to where the other publications have the prospects ranked at.
1. Mitch Keller: 2017 as a whole was outstanding for Mitch Keller. After posting a 3.14 ERA with High A Bradenton and a 3.12 ERA with AA Altoona this season, Keller dominated some of the game’s best prospects in the Arizona Fall League, where he put up an ERA of 1.52. He worked on his changeup during the AFL, and it’s now become an effective pitch for him, to go along with the mid-90’s fastball and plus curveball.
MLBP (2), BA (1), BP (1)
2. Austin Meadows: Although Mitch Keller has surpassed Austin Meadows on the list, Meadows is still the Pirates top prospect in terms of position players. He had just a .670 OPS this year with AAA Indianapolis, but hamstring issues played a big part in him struggling. When healthy, Meadows has the tools to be a solid, all-around outfielder. The Pirates made the no-brainer decision to place Meadows on the 40-man roster, protecting him from the Rule 5 Draft.
MLBP (1), BA (2), BP (2)
3. Shane Baz: It’s not very often that a prep pitcher has phenomenal stuff upon being drafted, but that’s the case with Shane Baz. The Pirates 2017 first rounder out of Concordia Lutheran High School in Texas had a strong commitment to pitch at TCU, but the Bucs were able to ink him for $4.1 million. Baz possesses a fastball that can reach upper-90’s, a swing and miss mid-90’s cutter, a good slider and above average curve. He posted a 3.80 ERA in his debut season with the Gulf Coast League Pirates.
MLBP (3), BA (3), BP (3)
4. Cole Tucker: In terms of Pirates prospects, you could argue that Cole Tucker is the most athletic in the system right now. The former first round pick in 2014 began this year with Bradenton, putting up a .790 OPS. He was then promoted to Altoona in July, where he had an OPS of .726. Combined with both affiliates, Tucker stole 47 bases, and most likely would’ve had 50 had a thumb injury not kept him out a few weeks.
MLBP (5), BA (6), BP (4)
5. Ke’Bryan Hayes: Shane Baz isn’t the only graduate of Concordia Lutheran who’s currently in the Pirates system, as Hayes was drafted out of the same school 32nd overall in 2015. Hayes played the High A level for Bradenton this season as one of the youngest players in the Florida State League, and really held his own, posting a .345 on base percentage. He didn’t hit for much power, but that could increase once he really develops offensively. Hayes is already establishing himself as one of the best defensive third basemen in the minors, with a very strong arm and good range.
MLBP (4), BA (4), BP (5)
6. Kevin Newman: Entering 2017, Kevin Newman was arguably the Pirates best pure hitting prospect in the organization, but had a down year offensively this season. Newman had a .310 OBP with Altoona. He was promoted in July to Indianapolis, where he hit .283, but had an OBP of .314. To his credit however, Newman was tough to strike out, as he put up an 11.6% K rate combined for both Altoona and Indianapolis.
MLBP (6), BA (5), BP (6)
7. Taylor Hearn: While Felipe Rivero is viewed as the main piece from the Mark Melancon deal, Taylor Hearn is a very promising pitcher in his own right. Hearn pitched for Bradenton this season, as he posted an ERA of 4.12, but had a 3.41 Fielding Independent Pitching. He had a 10.9 K/9, although he did walk batters at a rate of 3.8. Hearn participated in the AFL to make up for lost time, because of an oblique injury he sustained in July, and had a 3.06 ERA. His fastball is consistently upper-90’s and he compliments it with a good slider. The development of Hearn’s changeup will decide whether he remains a starter or is moved to the bullpen.
MLBP (Not in Top 10), BA (9), BP (8)
8. Will Craig: In the 2016 MLB Draft, Will Craig was chosen by the Pirates in the first round out of Wake Forest. The former ACC Player of the Year was considered an on base machine upon being drafted. That trend continued in 2017 with Bradenton, as he put up a .373 OBP, which was third best in the FSL, thanks in large part to a strong walk rate of 11.4%. Despite being 6’3, 212 lbs, he had just a .371 slugging percentage for the Marauders, so the lack of power prevents him from being higher in prospect rankings.
MLBP (7), BA (Not in Top 10), BP (10)
9. Luis Escobar: Signed by the Pirates of Colombia in 2013, Luis Escobar is definitely one of the most intriguing pitching prospects in the system. Escobar spent the entire 2017 season with the West Virginia Power, posting a 3.83 ERA, along with an impressive K/9 of 11.5. The command was an issue for him, with a 4.1 BB/9, mainly due to being too amped up on the mound, so he will need to do a better job of controlling his emotions. Escobar has a mid-90’s fastball that can creep into the upper-90’s at times. He also throws a curveball, which is a solid pitch when he does command it right, and an average changeup. Escobar was the Pirates representative in this year’s MLB Futures Game and was recently added to the 40-man roster, being protected from the Rule 5.
MLBP (Not in Top 10), BA (7), BP (7)
10. Kevin Kramer: After putting up decent numbers his first two seasons in the Pirates system, Kevin Kramer was on the verge of having a breakout season this year with Altoona, until a left hand fracture foiled those plans. At the time of the injury, he had a very impressive .880 OPS. Kramer made up his lost playing time in the AFL. He and Mitch Keller both participated in the Fall Stars Game.
Sources tell Pirates Prospects that pitcher Angel Sanchez has been released from the organization, opening up a spot on the 40-man roster in the process. Dan Kurtz of MyKBO reported that Sanchez signed a deal with the SK Wyverns of the KBO, so the Pirates released him to make it happen.
The Pirates obtained Sanchez as a waiver claim from the Chicago White Sox back in 2014. He performed very well in 2015, putting up a 2.69 ERA combined with the Altoona Curve and the Indianapolis Indians.
Unfortunately for Sanchez, he underwent Tommy John surgery in September of 2015, causing him to miss the entire 2016 season. The Pirates re-signed Sanchez to a minor league contract last offseason. He pitched most of 2017 with Indianapolis, as he posted an ERA of 3.74 in 39 appearances. Sanchez was called up to the Pirates in late August, but struggled, posting an 8.76 ERA in eight games.
The Pirates have claimed pitcher Sam Moll off waivers from the Oakland Athletics, this according to MLB.com A’s beat reporter Jane Lee. He has been placed on the 40-man roster.
A third round selection of the Colorado Rockies in the 2013 MLB Draft, Moll was obtained by Oakland in mid-August of this year, a deal in which the Rockies received cash considerations. Prior to the trade, MLB Pipeline ranked him the 20th best prospect in the Rockies system.
Combined with AAA Albuquerque (Rockies) and AAA Nashville (Athletics), he posted a 3.64 ERA in 50 relief appearances, which is considered very good in the offensive friendly environment that is the Pacific Coast League. Moll joined the A’s as a September call up, allowing eight runs in a small sample size (6.2 innings). He will likely pitch out of the AAA Indianapolis bullpen to begin 2018.
The 2016 Pirates rotation lacked any sort of consistency, with the struggles of Francisco Liriano and Jon Niese, as well as injuries to Gerrit Cole. At the time of the trade deadline, the Pirates still had an outside shot of the second Wild Card spot. They became buyers and sellers at the deadline. One of the additions was Ivan Nova.
Much like when the Pirates acquired J.A. Happ from the Seattle Mariners as a buy low pick up at the 2015 trade deadline, they did the same with Nova in 2016, getting him from the New York Yankees for outfielder Tito Polo and pitcher Stephen Tarpley. Nova was excellent coming over, posting a 3.06 ERA and a Fielding Independent Pitching of 2.62 in 11 starts.
Last offseason, Nova hit free agency. Because of the free agent market for starting pitching being considered weak, the general consensus was that Nova would get paid very well, based on his second half surge. In late December, the Pirates agreed to terms with Nova on a three-year contract worth $26 million, which was $10 million less than what the Toronto Blue Jays signed Happ for the offseason prior. Dave Cameron of FanGraphs gave high praise for the Pirates signing of Nova, calling it one of the better moves of the entire offseason.
Nova was exceptional in the first half of 2017, as he posted a 3.12 ERA, along with a .254 batting average against. He also received National League Pitcher of the Month honors in April. The second half saw big time regression, with an ERA of 5.83, an opponents average of .316 and a 1.9 HR/9. Even with the terrible second half, Nova managed to still be an above average starter, putting up a 2.1 WAR and a 104 ERA+.
The Pirates find themselves at a crossroads this offseason, as to whether they will add onto the team, or enter rebuilding mode, the latter being more likely. Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole are going to attract a ton of interest from other clubs. Nova could be on the trade block as well, and so the question is, how much value does he have currently?
As mentioned before, Nova was a two-win pitcher, despite his second half regression. He did pile up a career high 187 innings pitched this year. The fastball velocity for Nova was still good at 93.5 mph, while the curveball remained an effective pitch, according to FanGraphs’ Pitch Values. The control was outstanding, as his 1.7 BB/9 was the fourth lowest among all MLB starters. Nova provides two years of club control on a reasonable contract, so that certainly helps his value as well. While the return for Nova probably won’t be as significant as what McCutchen and Cole would offer, the Pirates should still be able to net a good return for him nonetheless.
On Monday, the BBWAA announced the ballot for the 2018 Hall of Fame. The ballot includes 19 players who on there for the first time. Those players are Andruw Jones, Aubrey Huff, Brad Lidge, Carlos Lee, Carlos Zambrano, Chipper Jones, Chris Carpenter, Hideki Matsui, Jamie Moyer, Jason Isringhausen, Jim Thome, Johan Santana, Johnny Damon, Kerry Wood, Kevin Millwood, Livan Hernandez, Omar Vizquel, Orlando Hudson and Scott Rolen. Here are the players that should be worthy of Cooperstown.
Jim Thome: While Jim Thome is a first year player on the ballot, it shouldn’t take him long to be off it, as he is a virtual lock to be inducted next summer. For much of his career, Thome was one of the most productive offensive players in the game. He hit 612 home runs, eighth most all-time, while he put up a career 147 OPS+. Thome had seven seasons in which he finished Top 5 in OPS.
Chipper Jones: Just like Jim Thome, Chipper Jones should be elected to the Hall of Fame on his first attempt. An eight-time All-Star and lifelong Atlanta Brave, Jones was the recipient of the 1999 NL MVP. He compiled 468 home runs, joining Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray as the only switch-hitters to hit over 400. Going by JAWS, a system created by sabermetrician Jay Jaffe, which averages a player’s career WAR with their seven-year peak, Jones is the sixth best third baseman of all-time.
Andruw Jones: In 1996, Andruw Jones was called up to the Braves at just 19, and quickly emerged as one of the top young players in the bigs. Jones spent his first 12 seasons with the Braves, compiling a 61.0 WAR in that span. He captured ten consecutive Gold Glove awards from 1998 to 2007, while being one of the best defensive center fielders ever. Even with his time as a reserve outfielder, as well as playing a couple years in Japan towards the end of his career, Jones is still rated the 11th best center fielder all-time, according to JAWS.
Hideki Matsui: Hideki Matsui has been regarded as one the most legendary players in Japan. He was a nine-time All-Star and won the MVP award on three occasions with the Yomiuri Giants. In December of 2002, Matsui signed with the New York Yankees. He posted an OPS of .852 in seven seasons for the Yankees and was the World Series MVP in 2009. Matsui combined to hit 507 homers between Japan and MLB. Since it’s referred to as the National Baseball Hall of Fame, his Japanese numbers should be considered.
Johan Santana: Not often does a player who gets lost in the Rule 5 Draft go on to accomplish great things, but that was the case with Johan Santana. Originally signed as an amateur with the Houston Astros, he was selected in the Rule 5 by the Florida Marlins and then flipped to the Minnesota Twins shortly after. From 2004 to 2010, Santana was the best left-handed starter in baseball, posting a 2.89 ERA, along with a 151 ERA+. He received the AL Cy Young award in 2004 and 2006, while finishing Top 3 in 2005 with the Twins and 2008 for the NL Cy Young with the New York Mets. During that seven-year stretch, he accumulated a 43.3 WAR, so he was very much a perennial Cy Young type starter. Santana belongs in the Sandy Koufax category, as far as starting pitchers who didn’t have a long career, compared to the average Hall of Famer, but were still extremely dominant.
Scott Rolen: Scott Rolen’s MLB career got off to a promising start, as he was named the NL Rookie of the Year in 1997 with the Philadelphia Phillies. After seven productive seasons in Philly, Rolen was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in July of 2002. He was a four-time All-Star with the Cardinals, before being named an All-Star for the Cincinnati Reds in 2010 and 2011. Rolen put up an .855 OPS in 17 big league seasons. Defensively, he was the winner of eight Gold Glove awards, five of which he won consecutively from 2000 to 2004. Rolen had a 56.8 JAWS, making him tenth best among third basemen all-time.
The Pirates have announced that Gift Ngoepe has been traded to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for either a player to be named later or cash considerations.
Ngoepe was first signed by the Pirates in 2008 out of South Africa, which is not a hotbed when it comes to baseball talent. Up until 2015, Ngoepe had been a switch-hitter, but informed the Pirates that he was going to focus on just being a right-handed batter. Pretty much every baseball publication considered him the best defensive infielder in the organization.
On April 26th of this year, Ngoepe made his Pirates debut against the Chicago Cubs, thus becoming the first ever South African born player to reach the big leagues. He played 28 games with the Bucs, as he posted a .619 OPS, while striking out 41.3% of the time. In 77 games for AAA Indianapolis, he had an OPS of .681. Given the utility options the Pirates have currently, it would give Ngoepe a better chance to compete for a bench spot with Toronto.
Around this time, the MVP awards are decided, which usually is followed by debate on who really should have won. The Pirates have had several MVP winners, including Roberto Clemente, who was the first Latin born player to win it, two-time winner Barry Bonds, and Andrew McCutchen, the most recent recipient in 2013. However, there have been Pirates players who have had great years, but no prestigious hardware to show for it. Here now are the five greatest non-MVP seasons in Pirates history.
5. Barry Bonds 1991: As mentioned, Barry Bonds was a two-time recipient of the National League MVP for the Pirates in 1990 and 1992. Although his 1991 campaign wasn’t as strong as the other two, he was still very productive, leading the NL in OBP (.410), OPS (.924) and OPS+ (160). Bonds finished runner-up that year to Terry Pendleton.
4. Willie Stargell 1971: In 1979, Willie Stargell was named NL MVP, sharing that honor with Keith Hernandez. His first MVP season almost happened in 1971, as he was runner-up to Joe Torre. Stargell led the NL in home runs (48), OPS (1.026) and OPS+ (185), while posting a 7.9 WAR.
3. Willie Stargell 1973: Stargell’s 1971 season was certainly outstanding, but the numbers he put up in 1973 were even better. He was tops in the NL that year in homers (44), doubles (43), slugging percentage (.646), OPS (1.038) and OPS+ (186). Despite this, he lost out on the MVP again, this time to Pete Rose.
2. Ralph Kiner 1949: Ralph Kiner had some extraordinary offensive seasons during his career with the Pirates. The best of those seasons came in 1949. Kiner posted a league leading 1.089 OPS, an OPS+ of 186 and had an 8.1 WAR. Even with traditional stats, he led the NL in homers with 54 and had 127 RBI, both of which were career best. Surprisingly, Kiner didn’t even finish in the Top 3 of the NL MVP ballot. The Pirates won only 71 games that year, so there’s no doubt that the voters held that against him.
1. Arky Vaughan 1935: The greatest season for a Pirates player to not capture the NL MVP was Arky Vaughan’s in 1935. He put up astonishing numbers for a shortstop that season, as he was tops in OBP (.491), which still remains the single season franchise record, OPS+ (190) and had a WAR of 9.2. Vaughan finished third in the voting.
The 2017 edition of the Arizona Fall League featured a total of seven Pirates prospects, four of which were pitching prospects. Those pitchers were Mitch Keller, Taylor Hearn, Brandon Waddell and JT Brubaker. The AFL regular season concluded on Thursday, with each performing very well. Here is a recap of what all the pitchers did.
Mitch Keller: The Pirates sent Mitch Keller to the AFL, not only to make up for lost time due to lower back stiffness, which required a DL stint, but also to work on his changeup. The Bucs top prospect was arguably the best pitcher entering this year’s AFL. Keller led all AFL starters with a 1.52 ERA, while his 1.04 WHIP was fourth lowest. He also started in the Fall Stars Game. Although Keller throws a power fastball and plus curveball, it was the pitch he was working on, the changeup, that really opened some eyes, getting swings and misses with it, as well as topping out at 90 mph with the offering.
Taylor Hearn: Half of the 2017 season for Taylor Hearn was spent on the DL, because of an oblique injury. He was considered one of the most intriguing southpaws in the AFL. The Glendale Desert Dogs used Hearn as both a starter and reliever. He pitched well overall, posting an ERA of 3.06, and limiting opposing batters to a .230 average. Along with the upper-90’s fastball, Hearn did a good job of mixing in the slider and changeup.
Brandon Waddell: Just like Keller and Hearn, Brandon Waddell also made up for missed time, as a forearm strain landed him on the DL twice. Waddell was used mostly in the bullpen for Glendale, as he put up a 2.57 ERA, which was sixth best among AFL relievers. He displayed good control, with a 2.6 BB/9, while he posted a 9.6 K/9. Waddell’s main weapon was the changeup, a pitch that Baseball America recently named the best among all Pirates prospects in the organization.
JT Brubaker: Most Pirates fans may not be familiar with JT Brubaker, but he is certainly one of the more underrated prospects in the system. As a matter of fact, I did a post on Brubaker last year, mentioning him as a sleeper prospect. Upon being drafted by the Pirates in 2015, Brubaker threw in the low-to-mid-90’s with the fastball, but that velocity has since increased, throwing it consistently mid-to-upper-90’s. During the AFL, he topped out at 99 mph. Brubaker pitched exclusively relief with Glendale, posting a 2.63 ERA. He put up a strong 10.9 K/9, while showing excellent control, with a BB/9 of 1.4.
Per John Dreker of Pirates Prospects, outfielder Todd Cunningham has signed a minor league deal with the Pirates.
The Atlanta Braves selected Cunningham in the second round of the 2010 MLB Draft out of Jacksonville State. He made his debut for the Braves in 2013, playing in just eight games. In 2014, MLB Pipeline rated Cunningham the 18th best prospect in the Braves system. Prior to the 2016 season, he was claimed off waivers by the Los Angeles Angels, posting just a .438 OPS in 20 games played for the Halos.
Cunningham signed a minor league contract with the St. Louis Cardinals last offseason. In mid-July, he was acquired by the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for cash. Combined with AAA Memphis and AAA Oklahoma City, Cunningham posted an OPS of .819, although it should be noted that both clubs play in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. The AAA Indianapolis outfield is most likely where Cunningham will begin at next season.