Assessing the Keone Kela Trade

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Jerome Miron – USA Today Sports

The Pittsburgh Pirates added to their bullpen late Monday night/early Tuesday morning, as they acquired reliever Keone Kela from the Texas Rangers for pitching prospect Taylor Hearn and a player to be named later. Reports are that the second player will be a “low tier” prospect.

Kela spent four seasons pitching in the Rangers bullpen, with this year being his first as their closer. The 25-year-old has put up a 3.44 ERA, along with a 2.97 FIP and K/9 of 10.8 in 38 appearances this season for Texas. Kela is able to display dominance with a terrific combination of an upper-90’s fastball and plus curveball. 

Hearn arrived to the Pirates in late July of 2016 from the Washington Nationals as part of the Mark Melancon deal. The 23-year-old southpaw was putting up solid numbers this year for AA Altoona, posting an ERA of 3.12, a 1.08 WHIP and a 9.3 K/9 in 19 starts. Prior to the trade, MLB Pipeline rated Hearn the seventh best Pirates prospect.

Analysis: If the Pirates were going to add to the bullpen, it needed to be a quality arm with controllable years. They did that with Kela, who is under team control through 2021. Kela joins a Pirates bullpen that already has been effective in the late innings with Edgar Santana, Kyle Crick and Felipe Vazquez. From the Rangers perspective, they receive a very intriguing pitcher in Hearn. Most view Hearn as a reliever in the long run, but with the Rangers lack of young rotation depth, they’ll probably give him the opportunity to be a starter first, once he arrives to Arlington. Overall, it’s a good deal for both clubs, however, it’s one that made the Pirates bullpen even stronger.






Pirates Expressing Interest In Keone Kela

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Jerome Miron – USA Today Sports

The Pirates are showing “legitimate interest” in Texas Rangers reliever Keone Kela, this according to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News.

Kela was a 12th round selection by Texas during the 2012 MLB Draft. The 25-year-old righty has spent the first four seasons of his big league career pitching in the Rangers bullpen.

This year is Kela’s first as the Rangers closer. In 36 appearances, he’s put up a 3.18 ERA, a 2.57 FIP and has struck out hitters at a 10.9 clip. Kela’s average fastball velocity this season is at 97.5 mph, while his curveball has been a solid secondary offering. 

For 2018, Kela is making $1.2 million, and would be under club control through the 2020 season. While the trade return for Kela would be on the high side, acquiring him would strengthen the Pirates bullpen even more, especially with Felipe Vazquez, Kyle Crick and Edgar Santana providing stability late in games.



Pirates Designate Josh Smoker For Assignment

By Jason Shetler

The Pirates have announced that pitcher Josh Smoker has been designated for assignment. 

Smoker was acquired by the Pirates in January from the New York Mets in exchange for minor league pitcher Daniel Zamora and cash. The 29-year-old was one of a few lefties who were looking to grab a spot in the Pirates bullpen, and he wound up making the Opening Day roster. 

The numbers Smoker had with the Pirates this season were absolutely brutal, as he posted an 11.12 ERA, along with a FIP of 9.69 in just seven appearances. His time with AAA Indianapolis has faired significantly better, putting up a 2.83 ERA and a 10.0 K/9 in 32 games. There’s a very good chance that Smoker will clear through waivers.






Luis Escobar Promoted To Altoona

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Tim Williams – Pirates Prospects

According to the Bradenton Marauders Twitter account, pitcher Luis Escobar will be headed to the AA level to pitch for the Altoona Curve.

Since joining the Pirates organization in 2013 as an amateur player from Colombia, Escobar has been emerging as one of better prospects for the Bucs. As a matter of fact, MLB Pipeline has him ranked as the fourth best pitching prospect in the system behind Mitch Keller, Shane Baz and Taylor Hearn. He represented the Pirates in the MLB Futures Game last year.

Prior to the promotion, Escobar threw the fourth most innings in the Florida State League at 92.2, while posting a 3.98 ERA. He also had 85 strikeouts, which were tied for third most in the league. Escobar has the ability to pump his fastball into the upper-90’s. His secondary offerings include a plus curveball, with plenty of swing and miss action, and a changeup that keeps improving. While Escobar does have solid stuff overall, command can be his own worst enemy at times. He’ll need to iron out those issues, if he wants to remain a starter moving forward.












International League Names Brandon Waddell Pitcher of the Week

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Adam Pintar

It was announced on Monday by the International League that Indianapolis Indians left-hander Brandon Waddell has been named Pitcher of the Week for this past week.

After spending all of 2017 pitching for the Altoona Curve, Waddell returned there to start off this year. The Pirates 24th ranked prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, was superb with the Curve, as he posted a 2.68 ERA, along with a 1.08 WHIP and a groundball rate of 54% in 53.2 innings pitched.

Waddell’s good work in Altoona earned him a promotion to Indianapolis on May 30th. He hasn’t been as effective so far with the Indians, posting a 5.19 ERA and a WHIP of 1.53, albeit in a small sample, with 34.2 innings. Waddell put together his best AAA outing this past Friday against the Toledo Mud Hens, tossing seven scoreless innings on just two hits, while striking out a career high nine batters.








Kyle Crick Excelling In Pirates Bullpen

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Justin K. Aller – Getty Images

After being chosen as a sandwich pick (49th overall) by the San Francisco Giants in the 2011 MLB Draft, Kyle Crick received plenty of minor league accolades. In 2013, Baseball America rated Crick the top prospect in the Giants system, while listed him as a Top 100 prospect overall. That same year, he was the Giants representative in the MLB Futures Game.

Despite receiving those honors, Crick struggled as a starter in 2016, and was moved to the bullpen. He arrived to the Majors last year, posting a 3.06 ERA and 3.90 FIP in 30 appearances out of the Giants bullpen. Crick’s average fastball velocity sat at 95.5 mph, which was fourth highest among National League rookie relievers in 2017.

On January 15th, Crick and outfield prospect Bryan Reynolds were dealt to the Pirates in the Andrew McCutchen trade. The expected occurred, as the anger of trading Cutch led to some fans wanting to boycott the team, while also completely dismissing the acquisitions of both Crick and Reynolds.

The Pirates entered Spring Training with a few open spots in the bullpen, with Crick presumably having the inside track for one of those. As it turned out however, he had a less than stellar showing, and didn’t make the Opening Day roster, which got fans to sour on the Cutch deal even more.

Crick began the year with AAA Indianapolis. He was called up to Pittsburgh on April 13th. The Pirates bullpen has certainly had their fair share of inconsistencies this season, mainly having younger, inexperienced arms. While Tyler Glasnow and Richard Rodriguez have been pleasant surprises, Crick has provided solid work as well. In 37 appearances to this point, he’s put up a 2.04 ERA, along with a FIP of 2.83. Crick is throwing the four-seam fastball harder this year at 96.3 mph. He’s also added a power sinker, averaging 96.7 mph, and his slider has been a plus offering. The Pirates were looking for someone to pitch in the setup role, this after the struggles of George Kontos. They tried using Michael Feliz, but he wasn’t able to respond. Crick has now taken over in that role, and is really excelling, holding opponents to just a .472 OPS against in high leverage situations. For a reliever who was viewed as an afterthought after joining the Pirates, Crick has given the backend of the bullpen much needed stability.









Dodgers Reportedly Showing Interest In Josh Harrison

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Joe Sargent – Getty Images

The Los Angeles Dodgers are said to be showing interest in Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Josh Harrison, this according to Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press.

After coming off an All-Star season in 2017, speculation began as to whether or not Harrison would be moved in the offseason, due to how much he was owed for 2018 ($10.25 million), as well as having high trade value. Following the trades of Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole in January, Harrison voiced his displeasure, which really turned up the heat on the rumor mill that he would be dealt next.

In somewhat of a surprise, the Pirates chose to keep Harrison for his eighth season in Pittsburgh. During a series with the Miami Marlins in mid-April, a fastball fractured a metacarpal bone on his left hand. He ended up making a pleasantly quick recovery, returning to the club in late-May.

Harrison hasn’t been able to get on track at the plate this season, batting .256, while posting an OPS of .641 and a 0.2 oWAR in 55 games. The only value he presents at this point is above average defense and versatility to play multiple positions. The Dodgers just see Harrison as an alternative infield option, as their main goal is trying to acquire prized trade candidate and Baltimore Orioles third baseman/shortstop Manny Machado.









Oneil Cruz Named South Atlantic League Player of the Month For June

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Tracy Proffitt

Pirates infield prospect Oneil Cruz has been recognized as the South Atlantic League Player of the Month for June.

Cruz returned to the West Virginia Power to begin 2018, this after he joined the Power last season from the Los Angeles Dodgers as part of the Tony Watson trade. The 19-year-old got off to a decent start, as he posted a .769 OPS in April, and followed that up with a better May, hitting .323 and putting up an OPS of .879. 

For as terrific as Cruz performed in May, his numbers in June were even better, as he batted .375, along with a 1.025 OPS, thanks in large part to .606 slugging percentage. This season, Cruz is posting an .874 OPS, which is currently fifth best in the SAL, while his 157 total bases are third most.






Pirates To Call Up Alex McRae

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Adam Pintar

Sources tell Pirates Prospects’ Sean McCool that pitcher Alex McRae is headed to Pittsburgh from AAA Indianapolis. No word yet on who will be sent out.

The Pirates drafted McRae as a tenth round selection in 2014 out of Jacksonville University. McRae, who is 25, doesn’t have power stuff, but has a fastball with plenty of sink.

This season marks McRae’s first with the Indianapolis Indians. He’s made 16 starts (17 games altogether) for the Tribe, posting a 4.61 ERA. He does have a .354 BABIP, which would indicate that he’s had some poor luck. McRae’s K/9 is well on pace to be a career high at 8.6, but unfortunately, so is his BB/9 at 4.2. He will provide another long relief option in the Pirates bullpen.