Should the Pirates Trade Felipe Vazquez At the Deadline?

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Joshua Sarner – Icon Sportswire

After being nine games above .500 at one point in May, the Pittsburgh Pirates have been on quite a free fall since then, as they currently find themselves six games under. A few weeks ago, General Manager Neal Huntington mentioned on his Sunday radio show that the club would be looking to add, despite the team going through a lengthy skid.

Based on the Pirates recent play, they are clearly a seller now. David Freese, Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison should be traded, since Freese and Mercer are both free agents after this season, while Harrison has a 2019 club option for $10.5 million, which likely won’t be exercised. Corey Dickerson, Francisco Cervelli and Ivan Nova are also candidates. All three are under team control for next season, although it’s possible that each could get dealt in an effort to make the team younger with more controllable players. Another name that interestingly isn’t getting mentioned much is Felipe Vazquez.

Vazquez, formerly known as Rivero, has been with the Pirates since late July of 2016, this after being acquired from the Washington Nationals in a deal for Mark Melancon, which has become one of Huntington’s better trades. Despite emerging as a very dominant relief ace last year, he was inexplicably not on the 2017 NL All-Star squad.

During Pirates Fest this past offseason, Vazquez expressed interest in signing a long term deal to stay in Pittsburgh. He had fired super agent Scott Boras, making an agreement become even more realistic. In mid-January, the Pirates and Vazquez came to terms on a four-year extension worth $22 million, including a pair of club options for 2022 and 2023.

Although Vazquez went through a bit of a rough stretch last month, he’s been pitching like his dominant self again recently. Even with those struggles, he still has a strong FIP of 2.14 this season, while his 11.7 K/9 is on pace to be a career best, and is tied for fourth highest among lefty relievers in the NL.

Normally, a team has a sense of direction of whether they are contending or rebuilding. The Pirates right now find themselves lost in the woods. Management insisted that even with the trades of Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole that they were “retooling” as opposed to rebuilding. Unfortunately, the 2018 version of the Bucs are in the same shape now as they were the last two seasons. Contenders will always look to add to their bullpen at the trade deadline. There’s no reason to think that those clubs won’t at least show some level of interest in Vazquez, especially with him having three years of control after this season, plus options, as well as reasonable dollars for an elite southpaw reliever. If the Pirates are going to shift focus on a full rebuild, which is the path they should go, then trading Vazquez at the deadline for a massive overhaul is something that needs to done.








Pirates Sign Grant Koch and Mike Gretler

By Jason Shetler

It was announced on Monday that the Pirates have signed two more of their Top 10 draft picks, with catcher Grant Koch (pronounced Cook) and third baseman Mike Gretler. According to MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis, Koch signed at full slot value ($364,600), while Gretler signed for $50,000, which was well below his slot amount ($140,800).

Koch was selected in the fifth round by the Pirates out of the University of Arkansas. He signed late due to the Razorbacks reaching the College World Series. Despite being taken as a fifth rounder, he had been regarded as one of the better college catchers entering this year’s draft. Koch has power for a catcher, although he does have a big swing and doesn’t hit for much average. Defensively, he possesses a good throwing arm, along with above average receiving and blocking skills.

Gretler was taken by the Pirates in the tenth round this year. He’s a familiar name, as he was drafted by the Bucs last year as a 39th round pick, but opted to return to Oregon State for his senior season. Like Koch, Gretler played in the CWS, with Gretler’s Beavers defeating Koch’s Razorbacks to capture the title. Gretler hits for a good average and does provide pop in the bat. His defense is steady enough to stay at the hot corner.












Jonah Davis Named Appy League Player of the Week

By Jason Shetler

p/c: David Crigger

On Monday, the Appalachian League named Bristol Pirates outfielder Jonah Davis their Player of the Week for the week of June 25th-July 1st.

Davis is among the newest members of the Pirates organization, being chosen as a 15th round selection in this year’s MLB Draft out of Cal-Berkeley. Before getting drafted, he batted .321 and hit 14 home runs in his junior season with the Golden Bears.

After signing with the Pirates, Davis was assigned to their Bristol affiliate. The 22-year-old was white hot this past week, hitting .542, along with six doubles, a triple and three homers in 24 at-bats.




Jason Martin Promoted To Indianapolis

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Altoona Curve

On the same day that Pirates top prospect Mitch Keller gets promoted to Indianapolis, outfielder Jason Martin will also be headed to the AAA level, this according to Cory Giger of the Altoona Mirror.

In the 2013 MLB Draft, the Houston Astros selected Martin in the eighth round. During his five seasons in the Astros system, he batted .270 and posted an OPS of .805 in a total of 327 games played.

This past offseason, the Pirates dealt Gerrit Cole to Houston in exchange for four players, one of which was Martin. Following the trade, MLB Pipeline ranked him the 21st best prospect in the Pirates system. 

Martin was not only the best player on the Altoona Curve this season, but one of the top offensive performers in the Eastern League. He made 284 plate appearances with the Curve, hitting .325, which was fifth highest in the EL, while posting a .912 OPS, eighth best in the league.






Pirates Promote Mitch Keller To Indianapolis

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Martin Griff

John Dreker of Pirates Prospects has reported that the Pirates have promoted Mitch Keller from the Altoona Curve to the Indianapolis Indians. 

Since being selected by the Pirates in the second round of the 2014 MLB Draft, Keller has emerged as one of the premiere pitching prospects in the minors. Last year, he was able to dominate for Bradenton and Altoona, as well as against some of the game’s best prospects in the Arizona Fall League.

Keller entered 2018 as the top prospect in the Pirates organization by every baseball publication. The 22-year-old right-hander returned to Altoona to begin this season, and was terrific again for the Curve. In April and May combined, Keller put up an ERA of 3.44, along with a .229 batting average against. For as good as those numbers were the first two months, he was even more dominant in June, posting a 0.69 ERA, while holding the opposition to just a .131 average. Overall, Keller had a 2.72 ERA for Altoona, which was fifth lowest in the Eastern League.








Johnny Hellweg Released By Pirates

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Adam Pintar

According to Tim Williams of Pirates Prospects, pitcher Johnny Hellweg has been released by the Pirates so that can pitch in Japan.

The Pirates signed Hellweg in August of last year on a minor league deal, this after pitching Independent ball in the Canadian American Association of Professional Baseball for the New Jersey Jackals. Outside of playing Indy ball, he had spent a lot of time in the minors, and his last appearance in the bigs was with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2013.

Hellweg returned to the Pirates organization this year and began the season with AAA Indianapolis. The 6’7 right-hander had put up outstanding numbers for the Indians, as he posted a 1.33 ERA, with a 3.12 FIP, an 8.3 K/9 and a strong groundball rate of 68% in 24 relief appearances. 

Given the tremendous work Hellweg had with Indianapolis, combined with the inconsistency of the Pirates bullpen this season, it’s surprising that he didn’t receive a chance to be called up to Pittsburgh, especially after George Kontos had been designated for assignment in late May, and there was an open spot on the 40-man roster at that time. For Hellweg personally, pitching in Japan would present a better opportunity financially.











Pirates Place Michael Feliz on DL; Clay Holmes Recalled

By Jason Shetler

According to Pirates GM Neal Huntington, pitcher Michael Feliz has been placed on the 10-day disabled list with right shoulder inflammation. Meanwhile, pitcher Clay Holmes is recalled from AAA Indianapolis to take his spot for the time being. 

Feliz came over to the Pirates from the Houston Astros as one of the pieces from the Gerrit Cole deal. The hard-throwing righty reliever had pitched extremely well in April, posting a 0.75 ERA, along with a 0.92 WHIP. Following the struggles of George Kontos, Feliz was inserted as the setup man, but has struggled in his own right since then, as he’s posted a 6.42 ERA and a WHIP of 1.60. He’s allowed at least one run in 9 of his last 11 appearances.

Holmes entered this year as MLB Pipeline’s 18th rated Pirates prospect. The 25-year-old right-hander was on the Pirates roster as the 26th man for their doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers on Easter. Holmes made his MLB debut versus the Cincinnati Reds on April 6th, pitching two innings. His numbers have been terrific this season for Indianapolis, putting up an ERA of 3.39, a 2.92 FIP, a 9.6 K/9 and a 59% groundball rate in 13 games (12 starts). Holmes will provide the Pirates with a multiple inning arm out of the bullpen.