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.









Bucco Nation Poll Question

By Jason Shetler

Pirates Sign Ji-Hwan Bae

By Jason Shetler

p/c: James Mirabelli

Pirates Prospects has reported that the Pirates have signed 18-year-old shortstop Ji-Hwan Bae out of South Korea. 

The Atlanta Braves had originally signed Bae for $300,000 in September of last year. It came out in November that MLB voided the contracts of their 13 international free agents, including Bae, as punishment for illegal contract negotiations. This also led to the firing of their GM John Coppolella, who is now banned for life.

Out of the 13 amateurs that the Braves had signed, Baseball America rated Bae fifth best among the group. Bae is a left-handed hitting shortstop, who is 6’1, 170 lbs. He has exceptional speed, as well as power potential. Bae is considered a plus defender at short. 







What Can the Pirates Expect From Corey Dickerson this Season?

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Matt Freed – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

With the Pirates very unpopular trade of Andrew McCutchen this offseason, which is putting it mildly, Starling Marte has been moved to center field, despite being a two-time Gold Glove winner as a left fielder. Adam Frazier was projected to start in left field, at least until Austin Meadows would arrive.

A couple weeks ago, the Tampa Bay Rays made quite a shocking move, as Corey Dickerson was designated for assignment, this after being named an All-Star a year ago. The day before the Grapefruit League opener, the Pirates struck a deal with the Rays, acquiring Dickerson in exchange for reliever Daniel Hudson, minor league infielder Tristan Gray and cash considerations. On paper, the trade looks great from the Pirates perspective. The question is, what can they expect from Dickerson this season?

The power was on display for Dickerson last year, hitting a career best 27 home runs with Tampa Bay. Among all MLB left fielders in 2017, he finished Top 10 (#9) in slugging percentage at .490. From 2013-2015 with the Colorado Rockies, Dickerson had a slugging percentage of .534. Now sure, his home games were at Coors Field, but he did slug .490 in two seasons for the Rays, so his power is legit. During his big league career, he’s posted a .325 on base percentage. While Dickerson does hit for a good average, the walk rate has been mediocre at 6.2%. Defensively, he’s really made strides the past couple years in left field, as his UZR is 8.7 compared to a -12.0 during his time with the Rockies.

Dickerson will be 29 this season, so he’s still in the prime of his career. His power production would essentially replace McCutchen’s, but the on base figure would be lower. However, he would make the outfield better, with his improved defense in left field. While it remains to be seen if Dickerson can perform at an All-Star level again, he should be able to be a solid contributor for the Pirates on both sides of the ball.











Steven Brault Adding a New Changeup

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Matt Freed – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Steven Brault is currently in competition for a bullpen spot with the Pirates, and in the process, has added a new changeup to his arsenal.

Brault is one of four lefty relievers competing for an opportunity. The 2017 Pirates Minor League Pitcher of the Year is a favorite to land a bullpen spot as a left-handed arm, while Kevin Siegrist, who the Bucs signed recently, would be the other lefty projected to be on the Opening Day roster.

Last year at this time, Brault was looking to win a spot as the fifth starter in the Pirates rotation, but was optioned to AAA Indianapolis instead. After putting up great numbers in the Indians rotation, he was recalled by the Pirates to serve as long man in the bullpen. Brault made an effort to get more groundballs last season, as his sinker usage was about a 14% increase from his rookie year in 2016. He will need to be much more consistent versus right-handed batters, as they are posting an .869 OPS against him as a member of the Pirates. Brault being able to throw an effective changeup would certainly be beneficial in keeping righty hitters in check.







2018 Breakout Prospect Watch: Taylor Hearn

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Tim Williams – Pirates Prospects

While Felipe Rivero is considered the centerpiece of the Mark Melancon deal, Taylor Hearn came over as a prospect with plenty of upside. Originally drafted by the Pirates in 2012, Hearn pitched for Low A West Virginia following the trade. 

The 2017 season for Hearn was spent with High A Bradenton. He had a 4.12 ERA, but his run prevention was much better, with a 3.41 FIP and a 2.84 xFIP. Hearn did a good job of keeping balls on the ground, as he put up a groundball rate of 49%. Despite missing the last month and a half of the season with an oblique, Hearn still managed to finish Top 10 in the Florida State League in strikeouts, while his 10.9 K/9 was the best mark in the league. Although the strikeout ability is there, the walks were on the high side for him, posting a BB/9 of 3.8.

Back in October, Hearn was one of seven prospects in the Pirates organization who took part in the Arizona Fall League. For Hearn in particular, he was looking to make up for lost time, because of the oblique injury he sustained in July. The lefty really held his own against some of the game’s top prospects, as he posted a 3.06 ERA and limited opposing hitters to a .230 average. 

Hearn possesses one of the most powerful fastballs for a left-hander starter in the minors, sitting 97-98 mph. In fact, Baseball America rated his fastball the best in the Florida State League last year. He also throws a decent slider, and a changeup that he continues to throw more. Hearn can certainly rack up the strikeouts, but he’ll need to keep the walks in check, especially once he starts to face more advanced hitters. While most project that Hearn will end up as a reliever in the big leagues, he should be given every chance to remain a starter, unless his changeup doesn’t get better and/or he isn’t throwing enough strikes. If Hearn is able to cut down some on the free passes, while continuing to post a high K total and groundballs, and most importantly, staying healthy, then I expect to see big things from in 2018.