Pirates Reportedly Have Alen Hanson and Jared Hughes on the Trade Block

By Jason Shetler

According to Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Pirates have made Alen Hanson and Jared Hughes available for trade. 

Hanson has been in the Pirates organization since 2009 when he signed with them out of the Dominican Republic. The 24-year-old switch-hitter entered 2013 as the Bucs top middle infield prospect. Last season, Hanson was mostly with AAA Indianapolis, posting a .707 OPS, along with 36 stolen bases, which were second most in the International League. He also played 27 games with Pittsburgh, mostly as a pinch-hitter and pinch-runner. Hanson is out of options, so he would have to make the club, or be available for teams to claim off waivers. The fact that Hanson is on the trade block would indicate that the Pirates are seriously considering having Jose Osuna on the Opening Day roster. 

Hughes has spent parts of six seasons pitching in the Pirates bullpen. 2016 was a down year for the sinkerball right-hander, as he posted a 4.68 Fielding Independent Pitching, and struggled to strand inherited baserunners. Hughes has allowed a ton of batters to reach base this Spring Training, with a 2.32 WHIP in eight appearances. The idea of trading Hughes doesn’t really make much sense. He has options remaining, so the Pirates could just simply send him to Indianapolis to begin the season. In addition, Hughes’ trade value is low right now, meaning the return would probably just be for cash considerations. 

 

 

 

What Does Not Having Jung-Ho Kang Mean for the Pirates?

By Jared Lankes

It’s been reported that Pirates third baseman Jung-Ho Kang has been denied a work visa to come to the United States. In turn, his status for whether he will be on the Pirates at any point in the 2017 season remains uncertain. While there are obvious off-field repercussions of this, there are plenty on-field consequences that will impact the Pirates as they break camp to go north in less than two weeks.

While the Pirates have probably been preparing for life without Kang for weeks, maybe even months, a lot of things about this ball club change as a result of Kang’s sudden absence. The Pirates will have to adjust to the situation and utilize the players they have in order to fill the gap that Kang leaves.

The most obvious thing that changes is third base. It is clear as day that David Freese will now be the everyday third baseman until further notice. And the Pirates are in a situation where he can play there everyday with no need for a platoon first base role as Josh Bell, being a switch-hitter, is his own platoon partner.

But now that third base changes, an extra bench spot opens up that was occupied by Freese. While John Jaso, Adam Frazier, Chris Stewart, and Freese were guaranteed bench spots, the final spot was up for grabs between basically Phil Gosselin and Alen Hanson, with Jose Osuna having a very outside chance. Now, instead of choosing between the more proven Gosselin with options and the less proven but “use him or lose him” situation regarding Hanson, the team no longer has to choose as both will assumedly on the roster. Osuna will likely not be on the roster despite his amazing spring training.

The other thing this effects is the lineup. Kang was destined to be the cleanup hitter for the Pirates, but that now won’t happen. The Pirates need to re-structure how their lineup will look. The best idea might be to put Gregory Polanco in the cleanup spot, meaning Andrew McCutchen hits third, Polanco fourth and Starling Marte fifth, and I think this will be the look the Pirates employ while Kang isn’t present.

Overall, the Pirates are a different team without Jung-Ho Kang in so many ways. His presence makes more of a difference than people realize. Not having him is going to hurt the club, but the team will simply have to adjust and have the players to do so.

Felipe Rivero: Extension Candidate for the Pirates?

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Tim Williams – Pirates Prospects

During his now decade long tenure as Pirates General Manager, Neal Huntington has signed his fair share of players to extensions. The list includes Jose Tabata, Andrew McCutchen, Charlie Morton, Starling Marte, Josh Harrison, Gregory Polanco, Chris Stewart, Francisco Cervelli and David Freese. While the McCutchen and Marte extensions in particular have really paid off, others like the Tabata and Harrison extensions haven’t panned out. You’ll notice that Charlie Morton is the only pitcher that was signed to an extension by Huntington. Although Morton had been one of the better sinkerball pitchers in the game, he dealt with the injury bug, and wasn’t consistent enough whenever he was healthy. In regards to current Pirates pitchers, is Felipe Rivero someone that could be an extension candidate for them at some point? 

A couple days before last year’s trade deadline, Rivero was acquired by the Pirates from the Washington Nationals in the Mark Melancon deal. The trade was deemed very unpopular, not just because Melancon was a fan favorite, but some felt like the Pirates were giving up on the season. Truth be told, the Pirates weren’t going to be able to re-sign Melancon once he hit free agency, and the proof of that was the four-year/$62 million he signed this offseason with the San Francisco Giants. Melancon’s trade value around the deadline was very high, so the Pirates were right to cash in on the opportunity. 

While with the Nationals last year, Rivero posted a 4.53 ERA, but had a much better 3.27 Fielding Independent Pitching and a K/9 of 9.6 in 47 appearances. Following the trade, he pitched very well with the Pirates, as he put up an ERA of 3.29, along with a 128 ERA+ and a 12.8 K/9 in 28 appearances. Combined with Washington and Pittsburgh, Rivero had an average fastball velocity of 95.8 mph, which was second highest among MLB lefty relievers with at least 50 games pitched, behind only, you guessed it, Aroldis Chapman. Back in January, MLB.com’s Mike Petriello wrote an article on which pitchers had the best “whiff” pitches in 2016. Rivero was tops in the changeup category, posting a 58.3% whiff rate. Petriello thinks Rivero’s changeup might have been the most unhittable pitch in baseball last year.

Rivero appears to be the one pitcher that the Pirates could realistically extend. Gerrit Cole isn’t a strong candidate, given that he’s dealt with injuries two of the last three years, as well as being represented by Scott Boras. Jameson Taillon has the potential to be an ace type starter, but injuries are just as much a concern with him than they are with Cole. Taillon underwent Tommy John surgery in 2014 and had a hernia procedure the following year. Both of those surgeries happened before he even arrived to Pittsburgh last season. I would be in favor of a Rivero extension, but only if it’s the team-friendly variety, which would eliminate arbitration years, and perhaps cover one or two free agent years, with reasonable club options. 

 

 

 

 

 

Bucco Nation Poll Question

By Jason Shetler

Chad Kuhl Looks to Officially Have a Spot in Pirates Rotation

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Pirates Prospects

Earlier this morning, Pirates GM Neal Huntington told members of the media that Chad Kuhl has done nothing to lose his inside track for a rotation spot, which pretty much solidifies his place as the #4 starter. In four Spring starts, he has put up a 3.75 ERA, along with a 0.75 WHIP.

Kuhl had a decent rookie campaign with the Pirates in 2016, posting a 4.20 ERA, with a better Fielding Independent Pitching of 3.95 in 14 starts. The groundball rate for Kuhl was at 44%, significantly lower compared to what he did in the minors. He will also need  his sinker to be much more effective when facing left-handed batters, as they posted an .854 OPS against him.

 

 

 

Andrew McCutchen Drives in Two Runs to Help Team USA Win First Ever WBC

By Jason Shetler

p/c: @WBCBaseball

Team USA has captured its first ever World Baseball Classic, as they defeated Puerto Rico in the championship game by a final of 8-0. Andrew McCutchen helped contribute to the win in the process. 

In the early stages of the WBC, McCutchen wasn’t doing much at the plate. Aside from his struggles, he was also ejected in a game last week for arguing a very questionable called third strike. 

McCutchen’s fortunes began to change, which started on Saturday when he delivered a two-run double in a 6-3 victory over the Dominican Republic. On Tuesday, he had a RBI single in a 2-1 win versus Japan in the semi-finals. In the championship game against Puerto Rico, McCutchen had an infield RBI single in the fifth inning. He then drove in another run in the eighth inning. 

 

 

 

Josh Bell Expected to be Ready for Opening Day

By Jason Shetler

According to Tim Williams of Pirates Prospects, Josh Bell is expected to be ready for Opening Day. 

Bell enjoyed success offensively in 2016 for both the Indianapolis Indians and the Pirates. While with the Indians, Bell put up the fifth best OPS in the International League at .850. In 152 plate appearances with the Bucs, he posted a .775 OPS, thanks in part to on base of .368, which was seventh best among MLB rookies. 

On February 1st, Bell underwent minor knee surgery. The recovery time took about a month, as he played his first game on March 6th. The news of Bell being ready for Opening Day isn’t much of a surprise, unless there was setback. With the Pirates opening the season in Boston, the question becomes if Bell will play first base or be used as the designated hitter for that series.