Jameson Taillon to Pitch for Altoona on Sunday

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Justin K. Aller – Getty Images

With all the negativity surrounding the Pirates this season, there is great news to be had, as the club has announced that Jameson Taillon will be pitching on Sunday for the Altoona Curve, this after having surgery for testicular cancer just three weeks ago.

After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2014 and a hernia procedure in 2015, Taillon finally was called up to the Pirates last year,and had a terrific rookie season, as he posted a 3.38 ERA and a 123 ERA+ in 18 starts. 

Taillon had picked up where he left off this season, posting a 3.31 ERA, along with an ERA+ of 131. He was originally placed on the 10-day disabled list the first week of May with a groin issue, but tests revealed that he was dealing with testicular cancer. From everything that Taillon has endured these last few years, it’s hard to find someone else in baseball who is as mentally strong as he is.

 

 

Bucco Nation Poll Question

By Jason Shetler

Antonio Bastardo to Pitch for Indianapolis in Rehab Assignment

By Jason Shetler

p/c: David Hague

On Friday, Indianapolis Indians broadcaster Howard Kellman mentioned that Antonio Bastardo is scheduled to pitch one inning for the Indians on Saturday. According to John Dreker of Pirates Prospects, Bastardo threw two innings down at Pirate City on Monday. 

After pitching well for the Pirates in 2015, Bastardo signed a two-year deal with the New York Mets prior to last season. The 31-year-old lefty was traded back to the Pirates at the deadline in exchange for Jon Niese. 

Bastardo has had an awful start to this season, posting a 16.20 ERA, along with a Fielding Independent Pitching of 12.47 in six appearances. He was placed on the disabled list April 25th due to a left quad strain.

 

 

 

Could Adam Frazier Become an All-Star this Year?

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Dennis Wierzbicki – USA Today Sports

Despite being one of the more consistent hitters in the Pirates organization last few years, most baseball publications weren’t high on Adam Frazier, in terms of being a top flight prospect. The overall draft report on Frazier coming out of Mississippi State was that he didn’t have any plus tools. 

Frazier quietly made his way up through the system, and was finally beginning to receive attention, once he reached AAA last year. With the Indianapolis Indians, he posted an .827 OPS. In late June, Frazier joined the Pirates, putting together a nice rookie campaign, with an OPS of .767, along with a 104 OPS+. 

This past offseason, Josh Harrison was involved in trade rumors. The speculation was that Frazier would take over at second base, if Harrison was dealt. The Pirates decided to hang onto Harrison, mainly because his trade value wasn’t high enough, which meant Frazier would begin 2017 as a super utility man. 

During the third week of April, the shocking news came out that Starling Marte had tested positive for PED, and received an 80-game suspension. With Marte out, it allowed Frazier to get more playing time. Shortly after however, he was placed on the 10-day disabled list with a left hamstring strain. Frazier made his return on May 12th, and has been on an absolute tear, posting a 1.120 OPS since coming off the DL. 

So far this season, Frazier has a .446 OBP and a .962 OPS. His on base would be tops in the National League, if he qualified for enough plate appearances. The walk rate is solid at 11.6%, while the strikeout rate is currently identical. Now that Frazier is playing regularly and being a huge contributor in the Pirates lineup, is there a chance that he could be an All-Star this year? – It would certainly not be out of the realm of possibility, as this situation has happened with the Pirates twice this century. The first came in 2006 when Freddy Sanchez filled in for an injured Joe Randa, and went on a hitting spree, to not only be named an All-Star, but to win the NL batting title that year. The other bench player turned All-Star scenario occurred with Josh Harrison in 2014. As long as Frazier can continue to be productive, while not hitting any slumps along the way, there’s no reason to think why he couldn’t be a 2017 NL All-Star selection.

 

 

 

 

 

Pirates Already Have More Breakout Prospects this Season than Last Year

By Jason Shetler

While the Pirates farm system has been ranked in the Top 10 each of the last four years, it did not produce much in the way of breakout prospects last season. The Pirates only had a couple that broke out, with Mitch Keller and Tito Polo. Keller was named the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2016, while Polo was traded to the New York Yankees as part of the Ivan Nova deal. In the early going of 2017, there have already been more prospects who are on their way to having big seasons. Here is a look at the prospects that have been off to hot starts. 

Clay Holmes – After being taken by the Pirates in the ninth round of the 2011 MLB Draft, Clay Holmes was quietly becoming one of the better pitchers in the organization. He hit a huge bump in the road, as Tommy John surgery wiped away his 2014 season. Holmes has the reputation of being a groundball pitcher, and while he is posting a 61% groundball rate in his first season with AAA Indianapolis this year, the fastball velocity has increased into the upper-90’s, and has led to a 10.4 K/9. His ERA currently is at 3.08. 

Cole Tucker – In the 2014 MLB Draft, the Pirates did something that they had not done in quite sometime, and that was selecting a shortstop in the first round. That shortstop was Cole Tucker. During his first couple seasons, Tucker had battled through injuries, but appears to be putting it altogether this year for High A Bradenton. He has posted an .807 OPS, along with 26 stolen bases, which is not only tops in the Florida State League, but also, the most of any minor league player in general. 

Connor Joe – Following the Cole Tucker selection in 2014, the Pirates then drafted Connor Joe with their competitive balance pick. Joe was a catcher/outfielder at the University of San Diego, but has now been playing mostly third base in the Pirates system. He has been off to great start for AA Altoona, posting an OPS of .873.

Edwin Espinal – The Pirates signed Edwin Espinal out of the Dominican Republic back in 2011. The 23-year-old had showed signs of being a decent hitter, but nothing that really opened the eyes. Espinal appears to have finally broke out this season with Altoona, as he’s batting .306, while displaying very good power, with a .472 slugging percentage. He could become another Jose Osuna type. 

Kevin Kramer – A few weeks ago, I did a post on Kevin Kramer dominating the Eastern League for the Altoona Curve. The Pirates second round pick from 2015 is not just owning the AA pitching, but is also having his best season by far. Kramer currently has a .972 OPS, the fourth best mark in the EL. He also has 81 total bases, which are seventh most in the league. 

Max Moroff – Since being drafted by the Pirates in 2012 as a 16th round selection, Max Moroff has been one the top on base guys in the organization. In 2016, he posted a .367 OBP for the Indianapolis Indians, thanks in part to drawing the most walks in the International League with 90. While Moroff’s on base ability has remained strong this season with Indianapolis at .370, the power is now starting to show, as his 12 home runs are tied for most in the IL, while his .928 OPS is good for third best. Moroff has had brief big league time with the Pirates, but is very much a factor to be on their bench moving forward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pirates Need to Move Andrew McCutchen Down in the Batting Order

By Jared Lankes 

p/c: Justin Berl – Getty Images

Andrew McCutchen has been the face of the Pirates for what has seemed like forever now. However, he had a disastrous 2016, even though he finished the season with two strong months. 2017 has, unbelievably, been even worse for McCutchen. The former MVP owns an OBP of .271 with a wOBA of .275, and a wRC+ of 69, well below average in all three statistics. His walk rate is still respectable at 9% but nowhere near where it used to be when pitchers feared him, and while his strikeout rate has returned to more normal levels, he’s hitting a lot of soft contact to the pull side for routine grounders. In short, Andrew McCutchen is not the MVP or even the All-Star player he used to be, and may never reach that pinnacle again at this current pace. A sad reality that we may need to face.

Through all this, however, Clint Hurdle remains steadfast in letting Andrew McCutchen hit right smack in the middle of the lineup in the 3 hole. This decision to do this night in and night out is killing the team on too many occasions. In turn, the debate about moving McCutchen out of the 3-hole to a lower position in the lineup, which was split 50-50 just 6 months ago, has turned into an obvious decision that needs to be made and nearly everyone agrees.

I could probably go through the season so far and pull out at least a dozen instances, if not two dozen, where hitting McCutchen third has lead to a rally being squashed or at least hindered in its midst. There used to be a time where he was the guy you most wanted up in big spots, but sadly he has turned into the guy people seem to least want up in those big spots in which he’d thrive in even just two short seasons ago.

The solution to Andrew McCutchen’s issues may not be a moving him around in the lineup, but moving him in the lineup would be for the betterment of the team as a whole. And who knows? Maybe he gets moved down in the order and something clicks for him knowing he can relax a bit more in a much lesser-leverage area of the lineup.

Given Andrew McCutchen’s struggles and the team’s current situation, they need to be open to any idea to help this team squeeze out every bit of production they can from every player they currently have. Right now, McCutchen hitting third is not maximizing anything; in fact, it is a major part as to why this lineup has not performed the way they are capable. I get that McCutchen is still “the guy” and will be until he’s not with the Pirates anymore, but the time for him having his “own spot” in the lineup has passed because he has not proven to anyone recently that he deserves that.

It was fine to have McCutchen hitting third to begin the year to see if he’d bounce back, but through nearly two months, he hasn’t shown many glimpses of that. Therefore, I believe it is time for Clint Hurdle to make the tough move, that I’m sure he doesn’t want to make, and move McCutchen down in the order to 6th or 7th in an effort to get him going as well as to make the lineup more productive as a whole.

 

 

 

 

Astros Reportedly “Very Interested” in Gerrit Cole

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Jeff Haynes – AP

According to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, the Houston Astros are said to be “very interested” in Pirates starter Gerrit Cole. 

The Astros currently hold the best record in all of baseball. Their GM Jeff Luhnow has done a terrific job of turning Houston into a perennial contender in the American League. Coming into this year, Baseball America had the Astros as having the third best farm system. Houston would like to add a stellar arm to their rotation to pitch alongside former AL Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel, and Cole would certainly be an option. 

In the early part of 2017, Cole has been excellent, despite having the worst run support among National League starters. His ERA currently stands at 2.84, with a 152 ERA+ and a 1.02 WHIP in nine starts. The Pirates could find themselves in a real interesting situation, should they become sellers at the trade deadline. They could receive a big overhaul for Cole, with the combination of the Astros deep farm system, as well as Cole being under control for two more years after this season.