Players the Pirates Will Need to Protect from the Rule 5 Draft

By Jason Shetler

On November 20th, all MLB clubs will have to set their 40-man rosters. With that comes  players who are eligible for the Rule 5 Draft at the Winter Meetings in December. Pirates top prospect Austin Meadows is eligible, but is obviously a lock to be placed on the roster. Here are some other notable players who will need to be protected from the draft. 

Eric Wood: The Pirates selected Eric Wood as a sixth rounder out of Blinn College in the 2012 MLB Draft. A native of Ontario, Canada, Wood had a career year in 2016, as he posted a .782 OPS and hit 16 home runs for AA Altoona. He had been left unprotected for the Rule 5 last offseason, but was not chosen. Up until the Arizona Fall League last year, he was exclusively a third baseman. In 2017, Wood put up an OPS of .749, while hitting 16 homers again, this time with AAA Indianapolis. In addition to third base, he also played first base, left field and right field.

Luis Escobar: Since joining the Pirates out of Colombia in 2013, Luis Escobar has been one of the more intriguing pitching prospects in the organization. Escobar is currently the 16th best Pirates prospect according to MLB Pipeline. His fastball sits consistently mid-90’s. Escobar had a 3.83 ERA for the Low A West Virginia Power in 2017. While his K/9 was strong at 11.5, he did have trouble with the free passes, posting a 4.1 BB/9. Escobar was the Pirates representative in this year’s MLB Futures Game.

Montana DuRapau: Perhaps the biggest diamond in the rough for the Pirates in the 2014 MLB Draft is Montana DuRapau. A 32nd round pick out of Bethune-Cookman University, DuRapau has emerged as one of the better homegrown relievers in the Pirates system. Although he’s not a hard-thrower, he makes up for it with plenty of deception and movement on his pitches. DuRapau began 2017 with Altoona and was promoted to Indianapolis in mid-July. Combined with both affiliates, he posted an ERA of 2.04, along with a 1.04 WHIP and a 10.5 K/9. 

Tyler Eppler: In 2014, the Pirates drafted Tyler Eppler as a sixth round selection out of Sam Houston State. The 24-year-old right-hander is one of the best control pitchers among Pirates prospects, and this year was no exception, as he registered a 2.2 BB/9 for Indianapolis. He had a 4.89 ERA, while opponents hit .292 against him. Eppler’s fastball is mostly low-90’s, but he can top out at 95 mph. 

Yeudy Garcia: Yeudy Garcia signed with the Pirates out of the Dominican Republic in 2013 at age 20, which is considered “old” for an amateur. Garcia’s fastball is mid-to upper-90’s, which he compliments with a sharp slider. In 2015, he had a breakout season, and followed that up with another strong year in 2016. Garcia began this past season with Altoona, and struggled in their rotation, posting an ERA of 6.50 and a .298 batting average against. He was sent to the Curve bullpen in late June, performing much better, with a 3.25 ERA, while holding opposing batters to a .230 average. MLB Pipeline currently has Garcia ranked as the 19th best prospect in the Pirates system.

















How the Charlie Morton Comparison for Chad Kuhl is Different Now

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Jayne Kamin-Oncea – USA Today Sports

During his time with the Pirates, Charlie Morton went from being a struggling power pitcher to reinventing himself as a strong groundball pitcher. This transition earned  Morton a three-year extension prior to the 2014 season. Injuries had played a part in him pitching to his full potential. The Pirates parted ways with Morton following the 2015 season, as they traded him to the Philadelphia Phillies, a move that was viewed as a money saver. 

Morton made only four starts with the Phillies in 2016, because of a torn hamstring. He entered last offseason as a free agent, and signed a two-year deal with the Houston Astros, which came across as surprising. Although Morton pitched well for the Astros during the regular season, he was on full display in the postseason, reaching upper-90’s with the fastball, while still baffling hitters with that nasty curveball. His contributions, especially in Game 7 of the World Series, helped give the Astros their first championship in franchise history.

In the midst of Morton’s career in Pittsburgh, the Pirates drafted Chad Kuhl in 2013. Kuhl profiled as a groundball pitcher in the minors, leading to a post I did in 2015, in which I proclaimed Kuhl as the next Charlie Morton, because of the sinker and getting a heavy amount of grounders as a result.

A month ago, I mentioned about Kuhl performing better in the second half of 2017 and what led to the turnaround. The biggest factor was using the curveball more, which became another good pitch for him, alongside the slider. Longtime Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci had a column on Thursday, listing three pitchers who could be the next Charlie Morton, with Kuhl being mentioned as one of the three. Verducci cited that Morton and Kuhl had nearly the same fastball velocity this year at 95.7 and 95.6 respectively, while the spin rate of their curveballs are terrific. It’s certainly ironic how just a couple years ago that the two were compared as sinkerballers to now pitchers who rely on power stuff. The key obviously for Kuhl is how consistent can he be with that stuff moving forward.












Luis Heredia Becomes a Free Agent

By Jason Shetler

John Dreker of Pirates Prospects mentioned on Twitter yesterday that former Pirates pitching prospect Luis Heredia is now a minor league free agent. 

Heredia was considered the top amateur pitcher out of Mexico in 2010. He joined the Pirates organization in August of that year, this after agreeing to a signing bonus of $2.6 million, which is pretty lucrative for a 16-year-old amateur. 

By 2013, Heredia was rated a Top 100 prospect in the minors, specifically by Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus. He entered the 2013 season out of shape and there were questions about his conditioning. While Heredia was in better shape in 2014, he missed the final two months of that season dealing with a shoulder injury. His 2015 campaign wasn’t good, as he posted a 5.44 ERA in 21 starts for the Bradenton Marauders. 

Prior to the 2016 season, the Pirates made the decision to move Heredia into a bullpen role, seemingly in an effort to give him a faster track to the Majors. He pitched lights out in the first half of 2016 for Bradenton, with an ERA of 0.64, but really struggled the second half, posting a 6.84 ERA. Heredia began this year with the Altoona Curve. In 36 games, he put up a 3.10 ERA, although his FIP and xFIP were higher at 4.22 and 4.66 respectively. For much of his time in the Pirates system, Heredia had difficulty throwing strikes, as his career BB/9 is at 4.4. Based on the hype and expectation level, the Heredia signing certainly has to be viewed as a big disappointment.





Dave Parker to Receive Another Opportunity at Cooperstown

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Getty Images

The 2018 Modern Baseball Era ballot was announced on Monday. The ballot is made up of nine players and one executive. Dave Parker is one of the candidates. Other names on the ballot include Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Ted Simmons, Luis Tiant, Alan Trammell and Marvin Miller. 

Parker was drafted by the Pirates as a 14th round selection in 1970. Affectionately known as “The Cobra”, Parker played 11 seasons with the Bucs from 1973 to 1983, as he hit .305, while posting an OPS of .848 and a 131 OPS+. During that stretch, he captured three Gold Glove awards, won a pair of batting titles and was the recipient of the National League MVP in 1978.

After his time in Pittsburgh, Parker spent the next four seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, where he was an All-Star in both 1985 and 1986. In 1988 and 1989, he played for the Oakland Athletics. His final All-Star campaign was in 1990 with the Milwaukee Brewers, before calling it a career following the 1991 season. Parker had previously been on the Hall of Fame ballot from 1997 to 2011.













Josh Bell Named a Finalist for NL Rookie of the Year

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Matt Freed – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

On Monday, the BBWAA announced finalists for the year end awards. Pirates first baseman Josh Bell was named a finalist for National League Rookie of the Year. The other finalists are Dodgers first baseman/outfielder Cody Bellinger and Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong. 

Bell came into the 2017 season as the Pirates everyday first baseman. He played 159 games this year, while posting an .800 OPS, a 108 OPS+ and a WAR of 1.7. Bell hit 26 home runs, setting the new NL mark among rookie switch-hitters, as well as tying the franchise record for a rookie. He now becomes the third Pirates rookie since 2000 to be named a finalist, the others being Jason Bay in 2004 and Jung-Ho Kang in 2015. While Bell had himself a solid first full season, Cody Bellinger is the heavy favorite to win the award.














Pirates Claim Nik Turley from Twins

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Hannah Foslien – Getty Images

The Pirates have announced that pitcher Nik Turley has been claimed off waivers from the Minnesota Twins. 

Turley was drafted by the New York Yankees out of high school in the 50th round back in 2008. He spent seven seasons pitching in the Yankees system, reaching only as high as the AAA level. 

In 2015, Turley pitched for the San Francisco Giants AAA club in Sacramento. The following year, he was in the Boston Red Sox organization with AA Portland, before getting released and pitching Independent ball for the Somerset Patriots of the Atlantic League. Turley finally made his MLB debut in June of this year with the Minnesota Twins, posting an ERA of 11.21 in ten games, three of which were starts. He pitched most of the season at AAA Rochester, where he put up a 2.66 ERA, along with a 1.18 WHIP and a 10.5 K/9 in 18 games (ten starts). Turley will likely begin 2018 pitching for AAA Indianapolis.










Could Zach Duke Become a Free Agent Target for the Pirates?

By Jason Shetler

p/c: Stacy Revere – Getty Images

The Pirates entered the 2017 season with four lefty relievers in their bullpen. Those southpaws were Tony Watson, Felipe Rivero, Antonio Bastardo and Wade LeBlanc. Rivero is now the only Pirates left-hander who was on the Opening Day roster. Bastardo was released midseason, Watson was traded at the deadline and LeBlanc had his 2018 club option declined on Friday. Jack Leathersich and Dan Runzler are both on the 40-man roster, but Leathersich doesn’t have much big league experience, while Runzler has spent most of his career in the minors. It’s pretty clear that a veteran lefty reliever is something the Pirates will need to address this offseason. One name on the free agent market is old friend Zach Duke.

A 20th round pick of the Pirates in 2001, Duke was lights out in the minor leagues, before joining the Bucs in 2005. He made a phenomenal first impression in Pittsburgh, posting a 1.81 ERA and a 3.4 WAR, while having arguably the best pitching season ever by a Pirates rookie. Whether it was the expectation level, being dubbed an ace type starter, or a combination of both, Duke performed more like an average pitcher over the next five seasons. 

Prior to the 2011 season, the Pirates parted ways with Duke by trading him to the Arizona Diamondbacks. He struggled with the Dbacks, pitching just one season with them. For the next couple years, he pitched with the Washington Nationals and Cincinnati Reds, bouncing back and forth between AAA and the bigs for both organizations. 

The Milwaukee Brewers signed Duke to a minor league deal before the 2014 season. The deal paid major dividends for the Brewers, as he put up an ERA of 2.45, along with a 155 ERA+ in 74 appearances. Duke’s great work was rewarded in free agency, as he inked a three-year deal with the Chicago White Sox for $15 million. In two seasons pitching for the White Sox, Duke posted a 3.11 ERA and had an ERA+ of 128. With the White Sox in seller mode, he was dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals around the 2016 trade deadline. Following last season, Duke underwent surgery to repair a flexor tendon and UCL in his pitching arm. He returned to the Cards in July. Duke made 27 appearances, with a 3.93 ERA and a 110 ERA+, so he was still an above league average reliever. 

Now at age 34, Duke is a free agent again. He has certainly resurrected his big league career as a reliever full-time. Although Duke may not be considered an elite level reliever, he is still a good enough pitcher for the Pirates to pursue and sign to a reasonable contract, so I do think he could very well be a free agent target.