Pirates Acquire Josh Smoker

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Andy Marlin – USA Today Sports

The Pirates have announced that they have acquired pitcher Josh Smoker from the New York Mets in exchange for pitcher Daniel Zamora and cash considerations. 

Smoker was a 31st overall selection by the Washington Nationals in the 2007 MLB Draft. The 29-year-old southpaw joined the Mets organization as a minor league free agent in 2015. Smoker posted a 5.11 ERA in 54 appearances with the Mets last season. His strikeout rate was impressive at 10.9, but he allowed a lot of free passes as well, with a 5.1 BB/9. Smoker is a hard-throwing lefty, as he put up an average fastball velocity of 95.0 mph in 2017. He should get an extended look in Spring Training, especially with Nik Turley getting recently suspended for PED use.

Zamora was a 40th round selection by the Pirates in 2015. The 24-year-old left-hander pitched exclusively as a reliever last year for both High A Bradenton and AA Altoona. Combined with the two affiliates, Zamora had an ERA of 1.76, along with a 1.22 WHIP and a 10.3 K/9 in 39 appearances.

 

 

 

 

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Should the Pirates Sign Jarrod Dyson?

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Kyle Ross – Icon Sportswire

With the departure of Matt Joyce following the 2016 season, the Pirates decided to go with John Jaso as their primary fourth outfielder entering last year, this after they anointed Josh Bell the everyday first baseman. The results were not pretty for Jaso, as he registered -7 Defensive Runs Saved between right field and left field. Jose Osuna was given a chance to play both corner outfield spots, but performed slightly worse, with a combined DRS of -8.

After the World Series was over, MLB Trade Rumors came out with their annual Top 50 free agents list, which included predictions to where each player on the list would end up, as well as a projected amount. Outfielder Jarrod Dyson was given the Pirates as his landing spot, with him receiving a two-year deal worth $12 million. 

Dyson spent the first seven years of his big league career playing for the Kansas City Royals. He was traded to the Seattle Mariners prior to last season in exchange for pitcher Nate Karns. In 390 plate appearances with the Mariners, Dyson had a .324 on base percentage. He stole 28 bases in 35 attempts, marking the sixth consecutive season that he had 25 or more stolen bases. The defense remained outstanding for Dyson, as he put up a total of 15 DRS in center field and left field. 

Shortly after MLBTR predicted Dyson going to the Pirates, I did a post about how good of a fit he would be. Dyson is one of the best baserunners, while his defense is still excellent. Those two areas of Dyson’s game have helped make him at least a two-win player in terms of WAR each of the last four years. The Pirates outfield defense for the most part in 2017 was quite frankly embarrassing to watch. GM Neal Huntington mentioned at the Winter Meetings that he would consider adding a fourth outfielder from outside the organization. Dyson would give the Pirates a tremendous upgrade defensively. With the money saved from the Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole trades, there’s no reason now why they can’t go out and try to sign Dyson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nik Turley Suspended 80 Games

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Hannah Foslien – Getty Images

MLB announced that Nik Turley has received an 80-game suspension due to testing positive for Ipamorelin, which is a performance-enhancing drug. The length of the suspension is the same that Starling Marte got last season.

The Pirates claimed Turley off waivers from the Minnesota Twins in November. The 28-year-old lefty spent most of 2017 pitching in the minors between AA Chattanooga and AAA Rochester, putting up a combined 2.05 ERA in 92 innings of work. He also made three starts with the Twins. Turley was likely to begin 2018 for AAA Indianapolis. He is now the second pitcher in the Pirates organization this offseason to have a drug violation, with the other being Montana DuRapau, who got 50 games for a drug of abuse.

 

 

 

 

What Would it Take for the Pirates to Win the Gerrit Cole Trade?

By Jason Shetler

During the Pirates three straight playoff seasons from 2013-2015, Gerrit Cole played a vital role in each of them, especially in 2015 when he finished fourth in the National League Cy Young voting. Following an injury plagued 2016, Cole stayed healthy this past season, putting up 203 innings. He had major problems keeping the ball in the yard, as he allowed a career high 31 home runs, which were tied for second most among NL starters in 2017.

Trade rumors with Cole this offseason swirled heavily. The Baltimore Orioles, Chicago Cubs, Minnesota Twins, New York Yankees and Houston Astros had all expressed some level of interest in him. The Pirates and Yankees were in deep discussions regarding Cole in December. The Bucs reportedly wanted the Yankees #1 prospect Gleyber Torres in the deal, but the Yanks wouldn’t budge. After extensive talks, the two sides couldn’t seem to agree on a package. Pirates GM Neal Huntington said that he liked their top outfield prospect Clint Frazier, but not as a centerpiece in a deal. 

A couple weeks ago, the Pirates and Cole avoided arbitration for a salary figure of $6.75 million. Just when most thought it was the biggest news involving Cole that week, it became completely secondary, with the Pirates trading him to the Astros as part of a five-player deal. The return for the Pirates included Colin Moran, Joe Musgrove, Michael Feliz and Jason Martin. My initial reaction to the deal from the Pirates view was that it appeared to be more about quantity over quality.

With the ongoing uncertainty of Jung-Ho Kang, the Pirates needed to obtain a big league ready third baseman, and did so by acquiring Moran, the Astros fifth best prospect. Moran has been a solid on base player for much of his minor league career and the power is now starting to show. Musgrove pitched as both a starter and reliever last year with Houston. The Pirates will use him in the rotation to at least begin this season. Feliz is a hard-throwing righty who pitched all of 2017 in the Astros bullpen. He is able to rack up a ton of strikeouts, but he also allows free passes too frequently. Martin is now currently ranked 19th in the Pirates system. The left-handed hitting outfielder can get on base, while displaying decent pop in the bat. He projects more as a fourth outfielder. For the Pirates to win the Cole trade, they need at least two players to pan out, with Moran being one of them. Moran presents the most upside in this deal, and having him underperform would leave a bad taste in the mouth. However, should Moran become a productive third baseman, with Feliz being a bonafide reliever and Musgrove as a mainstay in the rotation, then the trade will turn out to be great. 

 

 

 

 

 

2018 Pirates Breakout Watch: Jameson Taillon

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Jon Durr – Getty Images

After being selected by the Pirates second overall in the 2010 MLB Draft, Jameson Taillon instantly became the top pitching prospect in the organization. Taillon was projected to join the Pirates at some point in 2014, but Tommy John surgery during Spring Training of that year put a huge damper on those plans. He was able to make a full recovery in 2015, however, he had another setback, this time undergoing a hernia procedure. 

Despite missing two full seasons of pro ball, Taillon pitched lights out for AAA Indianapolis in 2016, as he put up a 2.04 ERA and a WHIP of 0.81 in 10 starts. He finally arrived to Pittsburgh in early June. Taillon made 18 starts with the Pirates, posting a 3.38 ERA, along with a 123 ERA+ and a 1.12 WHIP. His control was excellent, as he posted a BB/9 of 1.5, which was tops among MLB rookies with a minimum of 100 innings pitched.

Taillon entered 2017 looking to build off his impressive rookie campaign. Unfortunately, he went through another setback. In early May, Taillon was sent to the disabled list. The diagnosis originally was a groin injury, but further tests revealed that he had testicular cancer. Shortly after, Taillon was cancer free and returned to the Pirates five weeks later, which was truly amazing. All told, he made 25 starts, putting up a 4.44 ERA. Taillon’s other peripherals painted a better picture, with a 3.48 FIP and 3.89 xFIP. He also dealt with unfortunate luck in most of his outings, posting a BABIP of .352. The strikeout rate improved for Taillon, as he put up an 8.4 K/9 compared to his 2016 mark of 7.4, but the walk rate doubled from 1.5 to 3.1. Overall, he still managed to have a 2.9 WAR.

Now with Gerrit Cole no longer in the equation, the Pirates will look to count on Taillon to be their ace of the pitching staff. While his ERA was over four last season, the other metrics were much more positive. Even with the setback, Taillon’s velocity was strong, as he registered 95.8 mph on average with the four-seam fastball, while the average velocity on his two-seam fastball was 95.5 mph. If Taillon is able to cut back down on the walks and maintain his solid strikeout rate, in addition to displaying terrific velocity on his fastballs to go along with his plus curveball, then there’s no reason to think that he can’t take that next step and perform at an All-Star level in 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lolo Sanchez Listed as a 2018 Breakout Prospect by Baseball America

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Wilbur Miller

On Thursday, Baseball America came out with a list of prospects who could breakout this year. Pirates prospect Lolo Sanchez was one of the names mentioned on the list.

Sanchez was the Pirates top International amateur signing in 2015, as he signed with them out of the Dominican Republic for a very good signing bonus of $450,000. The 18-year-old outfielder began his pro career in 2016 playing for the Dominican Summer League Pirates, posting a .359 on base percentage, courtesy of an impressive 12.6% walk rate in 45 games. Last season, Sanchez was with the Gulf Coast League Pirates. In 51 games played, he put up another .359 OBP, even though his walk rate was lower at 9.0%, which is still good. Sanchez has terrific speed and he showed it off by stealing 14 bases. He will likely play Short Season ball again this year, with the West Virginia Black Bears being the possible destination.