Pirates Release Barrett Barnes

By Jason Shetler

Pirates Prospects has reported that outfielder Barrett Barnes has been released from the organization. 

Barnes was chosen as a first round supplemental pick by the Pirates in the 2012 MLB Draft. The former Texas Tech standout had a very good showing in his pro debut season with the State College Spikes in 2012, posting an .857 OPS.

Entering 2013, MLB.com rated Barnes the tenth best prospect in the Pirates system. From 2013-2015, injuries limited him to a total of 158 games. Barnes managed to stay healthy in 2016 with the Altoona Curve and put up an OPS of .853 in 124 games. However, the injury bug struck him again, as he played in only 31 games last season for AAA Indianapolis. Given the amount of outfield depth with Indianapolis this year, Barnes wouldn’t have got much playing time.





Pirates Lose Jack Leathersich and Jordan Milbrath to Indians

By Jason Shetler

The Pirates announce that pitcher Jack Leathersich has been claimed off waivers by the Cleveland Indians, while Rule 5 pick Jordan Milbrath was sent back to Cleveland. 

Leathersich came to the Pirates in September of last year as a waiver claim from the Chicago Cubs. The 27-year-old southpaw entered Spring Training vying for a spot as one of the lefties in the bullpen. Leathersich appeared in just five games this Spring, but really struggled, as he posted an 11.57 ERA and a 2.36 WHIP. On Monday, the Pirates decided to place Leathersich on waivers, which was surprising, given that he has an option remaining, and could’ve just been sent to AAA Indianapolis for depth purposes.

Milbrath was exposed to the Rule 5 Draft by the Indians, and was selected by the Pirates at the Winter Meetings in December. The intrigue was that he threw consistently mid-90’s, despite having a sidearm delivery. Milbrath made nine appearances for the Pirates this Spring, posting an 8.64 ERA. He had problems controlling his fastball, which led to eight walks in 8.1 innings pitched. Just like Leathersich, Milbrath was put on waivers by the Pirates on Monday, before being sent back to the Indians organization.






Mets Claim Bryce Brentz from Pirates

By Jason Shetler

The Pirates have announced that outfielder Bryce Brentz has been claimed off waivers by the New York Mets.

A few days before the Grapefruit League season began, the Pirates acquired Brentz from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for cash considerations. Once a highly touted prospect, Brentz was looking to compete for a spot as a reserve outfielder. 

In 17 games for the Pirates this Spring, Brentz posted a .712 OPS. Elizabeth Bloom of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported on Saturday that Brentz had been put on waivers by the Pirates, since he’s out of options. The Mets now have to decide if they want Brentz on the Opening Day roster. If not, he would have to clear waivers, before being sent to the minors.






Why 2018 is an Important Year For Elias Diaz

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Tim Williams – Pirates Prospects

A few years ago, Elias Diaz was establishing himself as one of the top catching prospects in the Pirates system. Not only that, but most baseball publications regarded him as the best defensive catcher in the minors. 

Diaz arrived to Pittsburgh in 2015 as a September call up to serve as a third catcher. His chances of being a starting catcher were put on hold, as the Pirates and Francisco Cervelli came to terms on a three-year extension in May of 2016. 

With injuries to Cervelli each of the past two seasons, Diaz has gotten his opportunity to catch for the Pirates, especially last year, when he started half of the time. His offensive numbers in 2017 were very anemic, posting just a .265 on base percentage, along with an oWAR of -0.5 in 200 plate appearances. The defense however remained strong, as he put up a 30% caught stealing rate, which was 3% above league average. Using Pop Time, a Statcast metric that measures how quickly a catcher releases the ball from when it reaches his mitt to when the fielder receives it, Diaz’s Pop Time of 1.93 was better than the 2017 MLB average (2.01). As the 2018 season is about to begin, here’s why it’ll be an important one for Diaz.

Given the injury history of Cervelli, Diaz will be asked to catch more games than a prototypical backup catcher would. While Cervelli is a good pitch framer behind the plate, Diaz is the better defensive backstop overall, in my opinion. His on base ability however is nowhere near the level of Cervelli’s. The league average OBP for catchers last season was .331, which means Diaz will need to hit for a better average and also improve upon his 5.5% walk rate from a year ago. He has added a leg kick to help generate more power, and has three home runs this Spring, so will see if that translates during the regular season. Although Diaz has the defensive capabilities to stick in the big leagues, he’ll need to show the Pirates this season that he can handle himself well at the plate, if he wants to be the regular catcher at some point. 






Pirates Release Daniel Nava

By Jason Shetler

Chris Cotillo of SB Nation has reported that the Pirates have released outfielder Daniel Nava.

Nava signed with the Pirates in early February on a minor league contract. The 35-year-old switch-hitter had only 214 plate appearances last season for the Philadelphia Phillies, as he dealt with hamstring and lower back issues. Despite the injuries, he was an above average performer offensively, posting a 118 OPS+.

During the first week of Spring Training, Pirates Director of Sports Medicine Todd Tomczyk announced that Nava had back surgery, which would require a recovery time of 10-12 weeks. With the combination of the surgery, the Corey Dickerson trade and outfield depth in AAA, the decision to release Nava isn’t much of a surprise.





How Much of a Leash Will Joe Musgrove Have in the Pirates Rotation?

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Chris O’Meara – AP

Entering the 2016 season, Joe Musgrove was rated the eighth best prospect in a very stacked Houston Astros farm system, according to MLB Pipeline. He had an okay rookie season with Houston that year, as he put up a 4.06 ERA, along with a 4.18 FIP in 11 games (10 starts). Musgrove began 2017 in the Astros rotation, but was moved to the bullpen in late July. Here were his numbers in both roles.

Starter: 6.12 ERA, .882 opponents OPS, 2.7 BB/9, 7.7 K/9

Reliever: 1.44 ERA, .565 opponents OPS, 1.4 BB/9, 9.0 K/9 

Instead of optioning Musgrove to the minors, the Astros made the decision to have him in the bullpen, and it paid big dividends, as he completely turned his season around, while also being apart of their postseason roster. The average fastball velocity for Musgrove last year was 93.6 mph. He also threw a plus slider that averaged at 83.5 mph, making for good separation. Opposing batters hit just .188 off Musgrove’s slider. He also has a cutter, but was utilized better in relief. 

Shortly after Pirates pitchers and catchers had reported, Musgrove felt something in his shoulder prior to throwing a live BP session. He held out as a precaution, and the issue was only minor. Pirates GM Neal Huntington has said that they were going to take it slowly with Musgrove anyway, being that he pitched deep into the World Series with the Astros. Because of a couple off days the first week of the season, the Pirates won’t need a fifth starter until April 8th, so it would give Musgrove an extra week to prepare. But the question becomes how much of a leash will they give him as a starter?

The 2018 FanGraphs projection for Musgrove is a 3.75 FIP, which would be a run prevention figure of a mid-rotation starter. He has a good enough fastball, along with an excellent slider, but he needs a quality third pitch, if he wants to be a mainstay in the Pirates rotation. As I eluded to earlier, Musgrove throws a cutter, although that pitch was more effective when he pitched out of the bullpen. He does have a curveball, but it was a below average offering for him last season, regardless which role he had. The Pirates have rotation depth in AAA with Nick Kingham, Clay Holmes and Tyler Eppler, in addition to still having Tyler Glasnow and Steven Brault as options as well. Based on the pitching depth, I don’t think Musgrove will be given a lengthy leash, but as long as he performs well as a starter, then he’ll be able to keep extending that leash.