Pirates Preview: Bullpen

By Jared Lankes

Felipe Rivero – p/c: Tim Williams – Pirates Prospects

The Pirates situation in the bullpen is potentially the most fascinating of the bunch. They have an array of guys who are capable bullpen pitchers but only seven spots when it comes down to it. This is complicated by the fact that they have five lefties that may all receive spots in the bullpen. Here, I will go through who I expect to get the bullpen spots and will look into each player. Moreover, I will organize this by lefties and righties. I will also look at the main snub(s) from the group.

Lefties:

1) Wade LeBlanc: I was surprised when the Pirates added LeBlanc late last season then was even more surprised when they signed him to a one-year contract as a tender candidate (I didn’t even expect a tender). However, he not only looked good in the limited looks he received last year on the Pirates, but he’s had a strong spring on top of it, and appears ready to prove that he belongs. I feel he’s done more than enough to earn a look in the bullpen to begin the year. Whether he will take that next step is subject to anyone’s best guess.

2) Antonio Bastardo: Pirates aspired to trade Bastardo all offseason but to no avail as there were zero takers for the lefty presumably. Bastardo is in his second stint with the Pirates after being acquired by the Mets in August last season in exchange for Jon Niese. Even though Bastardo had a rough and tumble 2016 season, I believe he could still be effective in a role in the bullpen. While lefty specialist may not fit him best, I think it may be the spot he must take on and embrace. But I doubt he will be used as just that as I expect Clint Hurdle to use the bullpen flexibly.

3) Tony Watson: Watson was another guy the Pirates were trying to unload this offseason, mainly for salary relief and to add extra space to a crowded bullpen. But it looks like the bullpen will have Watson. 2016 was shaky for Watson as the innings workload from all his years caught up to him a bit. People, including me, are now skeptical whether he has anything left in the tank. Well, that’s tough to say. Hopefully Hurdle won’t overwork him because I think Watson can be solid if used an appropriate amount of times. He’s not a guy you can trot out there 4-5 times a week anymore and expect great results.

4) Felipe Rivero: Probably the Pirates best reliever, Felipe Rivero will be the key component of the bullpen this season. This is potentially the year that Rivero lives up to all the hype that he has garnered. With an electric fastball and a devastating changeup, Rivero has all the tools to be absolutely dominant. The main role he will fill is unclear, but he’s the kind of pitcher that can do all sorts of different things in all kinds of situations.

Snub:
Tyler Webb: I like Tyler Webb, but I don’t believe the Pirates will carry five bullpen lefties and Webb could be the odd man out in that situation. It would be ideal for the Pirates to work out a deal with the Yankees to make him a member of the Pirates that they don’t need to keep on the 25-man because of Rule 5. That way, they can send him to AAA and call him up whenever he is needed. At present moment, however, I would not expect Webb to be in the Pirates’ bullpen to start the season.

Righties:

1) Daniel Hudson: Pirates took a calculated risk on Daniel Hudson by signing him this past offseason. The oft-injured righty was fairly effective for the Diamondbacks last year outside of one awful stretch that inflated his numbers. The Pirates are hoping Hudson remains healthy and is able to bring his filthiness to the Pirates. He has tools that Searage loves to work with, and there is at least a fair chance that Searage can get Hudson to his very best. Interestingly, Daniel Hudson’s deal has a “games finished” incentive, which could mean nothing or mean that the Pirates may give him some chances to close out games. Stay tuned.

2) Juan Nicasio: After a bumpy ride as a starter last year for the Pirates, Juan Nicasio was great out the bullpen. Now, he’s expected to be an integral piece of the bullpen this season. What his main role will be is undetermined, but I feel a hybrid role could be in play for a guy like Nicasio. In any case, I expect him to be solid as long as he doesn’t need to start games or be exposed to too many lefty hitters.

3) AJ Schugel: AJ Schugel was very effective out of the bullpen for the Pirates in 2016 after being acquired as an afterthought. His changeup is rated amongst one of the league’s most effective, and I think he’s finally found his niche that can turn him into a very solid bullpen pitcher.

Overall, while the bullpen situation can be classified as a mess by many, I think it can be an effective group if not overworked and utilized correctly. The thing this bullpen could show off the most is flexibility. I hope Clint Hurdle is able to tap into this flexibility and isn’t afraid to give the ball to someone that we normally wouldn’t see in such a situation (for example: closer by committee). If Hurdle is able to do that, I think he can find where this bullpen can get ahead, even without the talent that previous Pirates’ bullpens have had.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pirates Release Jason Creasy

By Jason Shetler

The Pirates have released minor league pitcher Jason Creasy, this according to John Dreker of Pirates Prospects. 

In the 2011 MLB Draft, the Pirates selected Creasy as an eighth round pick out of high school. The 24-year-old righty agreed to a signing bonus of $250,000, which was above the slot amount. 

Creasy had his best season in 2013 with the West Virginia Power, where he put up a 2.74 ERA and had a K/9 of 8.0 in 32 games, 13 of which were starts. Pirates Prospects at one point rated him a Top 50 prospect in the system. Creasy had a subpar year in 2015, posting an ERA of 4.41 in 147 innings pitched for the Altoona Curve. Last season, he posted a 6.07 ERA with Altoona, and missed a good portion of the year, because of  a forearm strain.

 

 

 

Why the Pirates Need to Keep Tyler Webb

By Jason Shetler

p/c: David Goldman – AP

The biggest storyline for Spring Training 2017 with the Pirates is of course who will be the fifth starter in their rotation. Another area that has yet to be decided as well is in the bullpen. As of right now, the guaranteed relievers are Tony Watson, Felipe Rivero, Daniel Hudson, Antonio Bastardo and Juan Nicasio. Some of the other candidates competing for spots are Jared Hughes, who is now reportedly on the trade block, A.J. Schugel, Wade LeBlanc and Tyler Webb. Perhaps the most intriguing out of the group is Webb. 

The Pirates didn’t make many significant moves this past offseason. Out of the few moves they made, one came as a surprise, as they selected Tyler Webb from the New York Yankees in the Rule 5 Draft during the Winter Meetings. This marked the first time since 2011 that the Bucs chose a player in the Major League portion of the draft.

Webb was a tenth round selection of the Yankees in the 2013 MLB Draft. The 26-year-old southpaw is coming off a very good season, in which he posted a 3.59 ERA, a Fielding Independent Pitching of 2.76 and a 10.2 K/9 in 72.2 innings of work with the Yanks AAA club Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Although Webb isn’t a hard throwing lefty, his ability to rack up strikeouts are based on deception and being 6’6 to where he can throw his pitches on a downward plane. 

Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle has a reputation of favoring veteran players, which would be an advantage for both Hughes and LeBlanc. GM Neal Huntington however did give some praise to Webb on his radio show Sunday by saying that he doesn’t allow much hard contact and can get lots of awkward swings. If Webb doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, then he would have to return to the Yankees, the team in which he was selected from. However, I think it would be a wise move for Huntington to work out a deal with the Yankees, so that Webb can remain in the organization, much like he did with Evan Meek in 2008. In the event of an injury or someone faltering, Webb would be an intriguing depth option, with his ability to strikeout batters as a left-hander, as well as being able to pitch multiple innings out of the bullpen if necessary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does Trevor Williams Have a Realistic Chance to Make Pirates Rotation?

By Jared Lankes

p/c: Charles LeClaire – USA Today Sports

Pirates right-hander Trevor Williams pitched his best spring training outing recently, collecting five super strong innings of work to continue his awesome spring. Williams sits in a position where he still has a chance to make the Opening Day rotation and head north with the big club as it has not been decided, at least publicly, who the fifth starter will be for the Pirates. Because of all this, one has to wonder if Trevor Williams even stands a slim chance of earning that final rotation spot.

The rotation battle features three other pitchers hopeful to head to Fenway to start their regular season; these other pitchers being Drew Hutchison, Steven Brault, and top-of-the-line prospect Tyler Glasnow. This is harsh competition considering that many see Trevor Williams as the fourth option out of the litter. However, none of these guys have really seized the opportunity this spring quite like Trevor Williams. While spring training stats are meaningless, the performances and work ethic shown can be an indicator of who has rightfully went out there and took hold of the opportunity they’ve been gifted. Right now, if all things were equal, Williams would be the clear front-runner for the spot.

But it’s not all created equal. Williams has the odds stacked heavily against him based on pure circumstance. Firstly, Drew Hutchison is getting paid relatively good money, and the Pirates may not want that money being wasted on a guy that’s sitting in AAA. Next, Brault brings something that the Pirates do not have in the rotation, and that is being a lefty. Based on being a lefty alone, Brault stands a chance of being in the rotation. Then there’s Glasnow. While unpolished, Glasnow is a premium prospect and would easily give the Pirates the most upside out of the bunch, even if he would need to take his lumps and bruises along the way. So that leaves Trevor Williams with nothing really that differentiates himself from the others.

In turn, the main question becomes whether the Pirates will base this decision on spring performance or circumstance. In my estimation, I think circumstance will play out majorly here as spring training performance may be taken simply at face value. While Trevor Williams has had a very strong spring training, I do not think that’s enough for him to overcome all the obstacles he would need to get over to make the Opening Day rotation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gregory Polanco Scratched from Today’s Lineup Due Left Shoulder Discomfort

By Jason Shetler

The Pirates announced this morning that Gregory Polanco has been scratched from today’s lineup because of discomfort in his left shoulder, and is listed as “day-to-day”. The Bucs will host the Detroit Tigers at 1:05 ET, which can be seen on ROOT Sports Pittsburgh.

Polanco spent half of the Spring playing in the World Baseball Classic for the Dominican Republic, and was one of the best hitters in the entire WBC. In a second round game versus Venezuela, he hit a very impressive line drive home run at pitcher-friendly Petco Park in San Diego. The discomfort in Polanco’s shoulder is probably just minor, and being scratched from the lineup was only an obvious precaution. He is likely going to be the Pirates cleanup hitter on Opening Day.

 

 

 

 

What Should the Pirates Opening Day Lineup Look Like?

By Jason Shetler

As we are now a week away from the conclusion of Spring Training, I thought I would give out my 2017 Pirates Opening Day lineup. The Pirates will be facing a right-hander, which will be reigning AL Cy Young winner Rick Porcello. This lineup probably won’t resemble Clint Hurdle’s, but here’s how I would construct it. 

Leadoff: Francisco Cervelli (Catcher) – Having Cervelli in the leadoff spot is a drum that I’ve been beating on even before Spring Training began. Cervelli’s on base ability has been terrific with the Pirates, posting a .370 OBP in 2015 and a .377 mark last season. 

Second: Josh Bell (First Base) – Bell should be ready on Opening Day, as he’s recovering from minor knee surgery he underwent in February. He posted a .368 OBP during his rookie season with the Pirates last year. I like the idea of having the first two batters of a lineup being solid on base guys.

Third: Andrew McCutchen (Right Field) – While McCutchen had a down year in 2016, his second half numbers did resemble vintage Cutch. He is certainly capable of bouncing back this season. 

Cleanup: Gregory Polanco (Left Field) – It’s fair to assume that Jung-Ho Kang would have been the Bucs cleanup man to begin the season, but that won’t be the case, as visa issues won’t allow him back to the United States, following his drunk driving incident during this past offseason. Polanco is now the Pirates main power source, as he hit 22 home runs, while slugging .463 a season ago. 

Fifth: Starling Marte (Center Field) – Marte had an odd year offensively in 2016. While he batted .311, he didn’t drive in many runs, with just 46 RBI in 489 at-bats. Marte drove in 81 runs in 2015, so his RBI production should resemble closer to that than last year. 

Sixth: David Freese (Third Base) – For the second year in a row, Freese will be replacing Jung-Ho Kang as the Pirates Opening Day third baseman. In his first season with the Pirates, Freese put up a .352 OBP. 

Seventh: Adam Frazier (Designated Hitter) – After being drafted by the Pirates in 2013, Frazier became one of the most consistent hitters in the system. During his rookie season with the Bucs in 2016, he had an OBP of .356. Frazier has been the top hitter in the Grapefruit League. Since the Pirates will be facing Porcello, it makes obvious sense to have Frazier’s lefty bat in the lineup for Opening Day.

Eighth: Josh Harrison (Second Base) – Since his 2014 All-Star campaign, Harrison has been a below league average player offensively. He will need to improve upon his on base mark from last season, which was at .311. 

Ninth: Jordy Mercer (Shortstop) – Mercer enters his fourth season as the Pirates Opening Day shortstop. He has a track record of not performing well versus right-handed pitching, and that trend continued last year, as he posted just a .314 OBP. 

 

 

 

 

 

Chris Stewart Leaves Game with Left Groin Discomfort

By Jason Shetler

Pirates catcher Chris Stewart left Friday’s game after injuring his left groin. The team announced that he has been listed as “day-to-day”. 

The Pirates took on the Tampa Bay Rays in Bradenton, and were victorious by a score of 4-0. Stewart started behind the plate and batted eighth. He contributed to one of the four runs, as he delivered a RBI single off Rays starter Erasmo Ramirez in the fourth inning. In his next at-bat, Stewart struckout and appeared to have hurt the groin afterwards. He was replaced by Jackson Williams the following inning.

Stewart battled knee problems for much of the 2016 season. The 35-year-old backstop played in only 34 games with the Pirates, as he posted a .604 OPS. He hit one home run, which was his first since the 2013 campaign when he was playing for the New York Yankees. Stewart enters 2017 in his third season as the backup catcher to Francisco Cervelli.