MLB Pipeline Names Taylor Hearn a Breakout Prospect for 2018

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Tim Williams – Pirates Prospects

On Thursday, MLB Pipeline’s Jonathan Mayo listed 12 prospects (six position players and six pitchers) who are primed for breakout seasons in 2018. One of the players Mayo mentioned is Pirates prospect Taylor Hearn.

The 2017 season for Hearn was spent with the Bradenton Marauders. He was limited to 87.1 innings, because of an oblique injury he sustained in July. Hearn posted a 4.12 ERA for the Marauders, however, advanced metrics were much more favorable, with a 3.41 FIP and a 2.84 xFIP. 

To make up for lost innings, Hearn was sent to the Arizona Fall League. He performed well there, posting an ERA of 3.06, while limiting opposing batters to a .230 average. Hearn throws an upper-90’s fastball and good slider, but the overall command and development of the changeup will determine if he remains a starter. MLB Pipeline currently has Hearn as the 11th best Pirates prospect in their rankings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oneil Cruz Added to Escogido Roster

By Jason Shetler

Leones del Escogido has added Pirates prospect Oneil Cruz to their roster, this according to their Twitter account. He is replacing Starling Marte, whose Winter Ball season was shutdown, because of a hand injury. 

Cruz signed out of the Dominican Republic as a 16-year-old with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015. At the 2017 trade deadline, he was dealt to the Pirates as part of the Tony Watson deal. Before the trade, Cruz put up a .635 OPS and split his time between third base and shortstop with Great Lakes, the Dodgers Low A affiliate. Once he joined the Pirates organization, he posted a .717 OPS, while playing primarily at third base for Low A West Virginia. MLB Pipeline currently has Cruz ranked as the 15th best prospect in the Pirates system. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pirates Re-Sign Jackson Williams and Sign John Stilson

By Jason Shetler

The Pirates have re-signed catcher Jackson Williams to a minor league deal, while pitcher John Stilson has been signed to a minor league contract, this according to John Dreker of Pirates Prospects. 

Williams split his 2017 season as a backup catcher with AA Altoona and AAA Indianapolis. In 54 games combined with both clubs, he put up just a .525 OPS. Williams however did a good job of throwing out baserunners, posting a caught stealing rate of 32%. His role in 2018 should be the same. 

Stilson was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays as a third round pick out of Texas A&M in 2011. MLB Pipeline rated him the sixth best Blue Jays prospect during the 2013 season. Stilson entered 2017 in his sixth season in the Jays organization. He posted a combined 3.19 ERA, a 1.25 WHIP and a K/9 of 8.6 in 38 relief appearances with AA New Hampshire and AAA Buffalo. Stilson should begin 2018 in the Indianapolis bullpen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pirates Shutdown Starling Marte’s Winter Ball Season

By Jason Shetler 

p/c: David Hague

According to Pirates Prospects, the Pirates have decided to shutdown Starling Marte’s Winter Ball season, because of a left hand injury he sustained last week while sliding into third base. 

After coming off his first All-Star campaign in 2016, Marte was hit with an 80-game suspension in mid-April, due to testing positive for Nandrolone, which is considered a performance-enhancing drug. He returned to the Pirates in mid-July. Marte batted .275, along with a .712 OPS and 21 stolen bases in 77 games played. 

To make up for the lost time he missed this year, Marte participated in Winter Ball for the first time in four years. In 28 games with Leones del Escogido, he hit .255, with an OPS of .706 and was eight-for-eight in stolen bases. The decision to shut him down was obviously precautionary, so he can rest his hand and be ready for Spring Training.

 

 

 

 

The Case for Making Jose Osuna a Primary Third Baseman

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Mark Alberti – Icon Sportswire

Entering Spring Training 2017, Jose Osuna was invited to his first big league camp as a member of the Pirates. With the expectation being that he would be an early cut, Osuna really opened some eyes, as he was one of the top hitters during the Grapefruit League. So much so, that he almost cracked the Pirates Opening Day roster. 

Although Osuna began the year with AAA Indianapolis, his arrival to Pittsburgh wasn’t a long wait, joining the Bucs on April 18th as the corresponding move for the Starling Marte suspension. Osuna spent the rest of 2017 as a utility man on the Pirates bench,  playing some games at first base, as well as left field and right field. He performed better against left-handed pitching (.740 OPS) than righty pitching (.660 OPS). 

During the month of July, Osuna began getting reps at third base, working with Pirates third base coach and infield instructor Joey Cora. Despite the Pirates being out of playoff contention in September, manager Clint Hurdle decided not to play Osuna at third base, probably because Hurdle thought he would look overwhelmed there. This offseason, Osuna has been playing third base during Winter Ball in Venezuela, being able to field groundballs pretty routinely and beginning 5-4-3 double plays without much problem so far. While the plan might be just to give Osuna more versatility, here is why the Pirates should consider using him primarily as a third baseman.

In addition to Winter Ball, Osuna should see plenty of time at the hot corner in Spring Training. With another bench player likely to be added outside the organization, and Osuna having options remaining, this would give him the chance to get some more work at third with Indianapolis on a regular basis. Given the fact that he won’t see time at first base with Josh Bell cemented there, as well as the Pirates having plenty of other outfield options internally, Osuna’s future with the Pirates should be as a third baseman.