Five Pirates Prospects Who Could Break Out In 2019

By Jason Shetler

Towards the end of the minor league season last year, I did a post listing prospects in the Pirates system that broke out in 2018. Those prospects included Ke’Bryan Hayes, Will Craig, Oneil Cruz, JT Brubaker, Travis MacGregor, Max Kranick, Jared Oliva and Domingo Robles. Here are five Pirates prospects who could be primed for breakout seasons this year.

Braeden Ogle: In the 2016 MLB Draft, Braeden Ogle was selected by the Pirates in the fourth round out of Jensen Beach High School in Florida. The 6’5 left-hander chose to sign with the Bucs for an above slot amount of $374,300 rather than pitch for the University of Florida. Ogle throws a mid-90’s fastball, along with a solid changeup and improving slider. He made only four starts last season with the Low A West Virginia Power, as he dealt with shoulder inflammation for much of the year. In those four outings, he posted a 2.65 ERA and a K/9 of 11.1, but had a 5.3 BB/9, which leads you to think that the inflammation possibly played a role to the control issues. Ogle will likely return to the Low A level to be with the Pirates new affiliate in Greensboro. He certainly has the upside as a southpaw, so staying healthy is all it could take for him to make that next step as a top tier pitching prospect. 

Brett Kinneman: After a strong collegiate career at NC State, outfielder Brett Kinneman was taken in last year’s draft as a seventh round selection by the Pirates, which appeared to be a real diamond in the rough for them. Kinneman displayed an impressive walk rate (11.5%) in his pro debut season with the West Virginia Black Bears, leading to a .355 wOBA. However, he did have a high strikeout rate (28.2%). Kinneman should start out this season with the High A Bradenton Marauders. If he’s able to cut down on the Ks, then he could begin to tap into his full potential offensively. 

Deon Stafford: With their fifth round pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, the Pirates took catcher Deon Stafford out of Saint Joseph’s University. He played his first full season in 2018 with the West Virginia Power. Stafford had a decent walk rate (7.3%), but much like Brett Kinneman, had a high K rate (25.9%). He completely owned lefty pitching, posting a .959 OPS, however, right-handers kept him in check, as he only put up a .685 OPS. Stafford showed some pop in the bat with 11 home runs. There’s been questions about whether or not he will stick behind the plate long term. Last season with the Power, he threw out 27% of baserunners, while having 12 errors and 10 passed balls. Should Stafford improve upon his offensive numbers in 2019, most likely for Bradenton, it won’t matter what position he’ll ultimately play. 

Gage Hinsz: Rarely does a player get drafted out of a high school that doesn’t even have a baseball team, but that was the case with Gage Hinsz. The Montana native instead pitched for the Langley Blaze, a Canadian youth team. In 2014, Hinsz was an 11th round draft choice of the Pirates. He had a commitment to pitch at Oregon State, but decided to turn pro by signing for $580,000. After having moderate success his first few years in the organization, Hinsz struggled in 2017, as he posted an ERA of 5.61, and was limited to 20 games (19 starts) due to shoulder soreness. Entering last year, it was reported that he had to undergo open heart surgery, because of a defective valve. While Hinsz missed the entire 2018 regular season, he was able to somehow recover quickly from the surgery and returned to the mound late in the year to pitch in the Puerto Rican Winter League. His numbers were terrific, with a 1.08 ERA, a 0.92 WHIP and a K/9 of 8.3 in five starts for Gigantes de Carolina. Hinsz will look to carry over those results into this season, and if he does, it would not only emerge him as a top pitching prospect, but also make for a great feel good story. 

Steven Jennings: In terms of non-first round picks in 2017, the Pirates got one of the better prep pitchers that year, selecting Steven Jennings out of Dekalb County High School in Tennessee. Prior to inking a $264,500 signing bonus with the Bucs, Jennings had committed to Ole Miss. He made 13 starts for the Bristol Pirates last season, with a 4.82 ERA, although he did have a .259 batting average against. Walks were on the high side, as his BB/9 was 3.7 . In addition to a low-to-mid-90’s fastball, Jennings throws a plus slider and above average curveball, so the potential is definitely there. He has done good work keeping the ball down in his first two seasons of pro ball, inducing groundballs at a 50% clip. If Jennings can limit the free passes, and also increase his strikeout total, then there’s no reason to think that he can’t take his performance to the next level in 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2019 Pirates Player Projections

By Jason Shetler

The 2019 Pirates will have a lot of their players from last season returning this year. A few notable additions this offseason are outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall and pitcher Jordan Lyles, both of which were signed to one-year deals, as well as infielder Erik Gonzalez, who was acquired from the Cleveland Indians. Here are now are my player projections for the 2019 season. The players listed are only those who are expected to be on the Opening Day roster.

Position players 

Corey Dickerson: .280/.325/.460, 17 HR, 65 RBI, 2.5 WAR
Starling Marte: .275/.335/.450, 16 HR, 75 RBI, 3.5 WAR
Lonnie Chisenhall: .265/.345/.420, 6 HR, 45 RBI, 1.5 WAR
Colin Moran: .265/.340/.475/, 20 HR, 80 RBI, 3.0 WAR
Adam Frazier: .290/.360/.450/, 13 HR, 55 RBI, 3.0 WAR
Josh Bell: .270/.350/.440, 19 HR, 85 RBI, 2.0 WAR
Francisco Cervelli: .250/.355/.390, 8 HR, 50 RBI, 2.5 WAR
Elias Diaz: .260/.310/.410, 7 HR, 30 RBI, 1.0 WAR
Jung-Ho Kang: .255/.340/.445/, 9 HR, 35 RBI, 1.5 WAR
Erik Gonzalez: .245/.290/.400, 5 HR, 20 RBI, 0.5 WAR

Pitchers 

Jameson Taillon: 3.35 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 200 IP, 2.5 BB/9, 8.5 K/9, 4.0 WAR
Chris Archer: 3.60 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 180 IP, 3.0 BB/9, 9.0 K/9, 3.0 WAR
Trevor Williams: 4.40 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 155 IP, 3.0 BB/9, 6.5 K/9, 1.5 WAR
Joe Musgrove: 3.20 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 190 IP, 2.0 BB/9, 8.0 K/9, 3.5 WAR
Jordan Lyles: 4.50 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 100 IP, 3.0 BB/9, 7.5 K/9, 0.5 WAR
Richard Rodriguez: 3.55 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 75 IP, 3.0 BB/9, 9.5 K/9
Keone Kela: 3.35 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 70
 IP, 3.5 BB/9, 11.0 K/9
Kyle Crick: 3.75 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 65 IP, 4.0 BB/9, 9.5 K/9
Felipe Vazquez: 2.30 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 75 IP, 3.0 BB/9, 12.0 K/9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Tyler Lyons Could Be a Great Addition for Pirates Bullpen

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Chris Trotman – Getty Images

While the Pittsburgh Pirates rotation was a real positive for them last season, you could argue that their bullpen was an even bigger strength. Led by closer/relief ace and 2018 All-Star Felipe Vazquez, the Pirates bullpen received contributions from the likes of Keone Kela, Kyle Crick, Richard Rodriguez and Edgar Santana. This offseason, the Bucs have added a few relievers for depth. One of them is Tyler Lyons.

Prior to joining the Pirates organization, Lyons had only been associated with the St. Louis Cardinals. Pitching mostly as a starter in the minors, he pitched in both roles in St. Louis, before ultimately being used exclusively as a reliever in 2016.

Lyons would like to forget about the 2018 season. In 27 appearances, he had an 8.64 ERA, along with a FIP of 5.02. Lyons struggled throwing strikes consistently, as his first pitch strike percentage was only 55%, while posting a career high 4.3 BB/9. He also had a difficult time keeping balls on the ground, putting up a 72% flyball rate. 

On July 27th, the Cardinals designated Lyons for assignment. He cleared waivers and was sent to AAA Memphis, where he spent the rest of the season. Entering the offseason, Lyons declared himself a free agent. The Pirates agreed to sign the 30-year-old lefty on New Year’s Day to a minor league deal, which includes a non-roster invite to Spring Training. Although Lyons is coming off a rough 2018, here’s why he could be a terrific addition for Pittsburgh.

Before last season, Lyons was one of the most reliable bullpen arms for St. Louis in 2016 and 2017. During those two seasons, he posted an ERA of 3.11, and performed near All-Star level, with a 136 ERA+. His WHIP was at 1.05, while his K/9 was 10.0. Opposing batters struggled to do much against his slider and changeup. Here are those figures. 

wOBA off the slider (2016-2017): .187

wOBA off the changeup (2016-2017): .174

Lyons was also phenomenal in high leverage situations in those two years, as the opposition managed just a .385 OPS against. Although he struggled last season, there are a couple things to point out. His K/9 was still impressive at 10.3, and he did have a .412 BABIP, which is a very unsustainable figure when it comes to allowing hits based on bad luck. Lyons will look to compete for a spot on the Pirates Opening Day roster during the Spring. He’s certainly capable of having a bounce back season, and if he does, he will provide an already solid Pirates bullpen with a quality left-handed arm.

 

 

 

 

 

Tyler Eppler to Pitch In Japan

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Adam Pintar

The Orix Buffaloes have announced that they have purchased former Pirates prospect Tyler Eppler. He has been signed to a one-year deal worth reportedly $600,000.

Eppler had been with the Pirates organization since 2014, this after being chosen as a sixth round selection out of Sam Houston State. The 26-year-old right-hander was one of the best control pitchers among prospects in the Pirates system. 

Prior to last season, Eppler had been left unprotected to the Rule 5 Draft. Despite this, he was not taken. Eppler spent the entire 2018 season pitching for AAA Indianapolis, where he posted a 3.59 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP in 153 innings, which were third most in the International League. 

This offseason, the Pirates didn’t protect Eppler from the Rule 5, but once again, he was not selected. Before having his contract purchased by Orix, he pitched in the Dominican Winter League, posting an ERA of 3.18 for Toros del Este. 

Eppler was likely going to join the Pirates at some point this season, but it was just a matter of whether that would be as a starter or reliever. Orix will give Eppler the opportunity to continue pitching as a starter. We’ve seen in more recent years where a pitcher has gone to Japan to make a name for himself and then return stateside to earn a good money deal, Miles Mikolas being an example, so perhaps Eppler could do the same.

 

 

 

 

2019 Pirates Breakout Player Watch: Joe Musgrove

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Gene J. Puskar – AP

The 2018 Pittsburgh Pirates were somehow able to have a winning record, as they finished 82-79. A big reason for the success was their pitching. In regards to the rotation, Jameson Taillon and Trevor Williams were both able to take a big step forward, while Chris Archer was acquired by the Bucs at the trade deadline. Another vital part of their rotation was Joe Musgrove.

After struggling as a starter with the Houston Astros in 2017, Musgrove appeared to be on the verge of a demotion to AAA, but Manager A.J. Hinch and GM Jeff Luhnow decided to keep him on the roster to pitch out of the bullpen. That decision paid significant dividends for Musgrove, as he not only revived his season as a reliever, but helped the Astros capture their first ever World Series title.

Last offseason, the Pirates dealt Gerrit Cole to Houston for a package that included Musgrove. Despite the good work he did in relief, GM Neal Huntington said that the club planned on him becoming a starter again. Musgrove sustained a shoulder injury during Spring Training, placing him on the DL and causing him not to be on the Opening Day roster.

On May 25th, Musgrove made his debut for the Pirates at PNC Park against the St. Louis Cardinals, tossing seven scoreless innings in the process. His season was shutdown in September due to an abdominal injury, which required surgery.

Overall, the 2018 season for Musgrove was a decent one, posting a 4.06 ERA, a 3.59 FIP and managed to be a two-win pitcher (2.1 fWAR) in 19 starts. He did a job limiting baserunners, with a WHIP of 1.18. When there were baserunners in scoring position, he was able to show the ability to strand runners, as opposing batters hit only .242 against him in those situations. Musgrove’s woes as a starter with Houston was mainly due to the inconsistency of his pitches, but those were much improved last year, specifically, the four-seam fastball and changeup. In fact, here are the opponents wOBA against from his four-seamer and changeup with Houston in 2017 compared to last season with Pittsburgh.

Four-seam fastball

2017 (Astros): .426 wOBA

2018 (Pirates): .305 wOBA

 

Changeup

2017: .432 wOBA

2018: .233 wOBA

Musgrove in general didn’t allow much hard contact, as the opposition had an 86.8 mph Exit Velocity off him, which was lower than the 2018 MLB average of 87.4 mph. He also got batters to chase out of the strikezone more last year, with a 38% O-Swing% (or chase rate) compared to just 32% in his two seasons for the Astros. 

Entering 2019, Musgrove will be the #4 starter in the Pirates rotation behind Taillon, Archer and Williams. He should be ready to go come Spring Training. If Musgrove can find a way to avoid the injury bug, as well as continue to improve his secondary offerings, then he should be the Pirates breakout performer this season.