Former Pirates minor leaguer Andy Marte died in a car crash in the Dominican Republic Sunday morning. He was 33. (Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura also died in a car crash in the Dominican this morning; that was a separate incident.)
Marte was once one of the top overall prospects in the game while he was in the Braves system. He never did make good on that promise, but he played in the big leagues briefly with Atlanta and then in parts of several seasons with Cleveland. He was also briefly rumored to be part of the Jason Bay trade talks between the Pirates and Indians back in the 2007-2008 offseason.
The Pirates signed him to a minor-league deal in December 2010, and Pirates fans briefly had some interest in the Bucs promoting him, although he batted just .202/.278/.328 for Indianapolis. He headed to independent ball and then to the Angels and Diamondbacks organizations before heading to Korea, where he thrived — he hit .312/.390/.547 over the last two seasons with the KT Wiz.
Marte was a very small part of Pirates history, but still one that many fans will remember. It’s a shame to see him go before his time.
Finally, the outfielders. The Pirates’ growing obsession with “versatility” has meant that they’re probably going to cover the outfield beyond their starters with players who are really infielders. They’ve even got guys like Adam Frazier and Jose Osuna listed as outfielders on their web site.
Of course, things could change a lot if Andrew McCutchen gets traded.
Adam Frazier (No. 26): A nice showing in 2016 has probably won Frazier a job on the major league bench. He’s been an infielder nearly his whole career, but the Pirates don’t seem to like him there defensively, or at least not at short, and their roster lists him as an outfielder. He hasn’t been terribly good defensively there, but lack of experience could be a factor.
Starling Marte (6)
Andrew McCutchen (22)
Jose Osuna (64): Osuna has probably more or less replaced Jason Rogers on the depth chart. He seemed to be headed for minor league free agency after a string of .760-ish OPSes, not good enough for a corner player, but a 291/333/482 line after a mid-season promotion to Indianapolis in 2016 got him on the roster. He’s mainly been a first baseman for several years and is a better fit there as a platoon or bench player, as he’s solid defensively at first and doesn’t have the range for the outfield. He has some history of mashing LHPs, which helps. Barring an injury or trade, Osuna isn’t likely to make the major league roster out of spring training, but he could be a callup option during the season.
Gregory Polanco (25)
Barrett Barnes (79): His 458 plate appearances in 2016 were more than Barnes totaled in his first three pro seasons. He mostly struggled through the first three months of 2016 at Altoona, then exploded to hit .404 in July, and then hit eight of his nine HRs in August. Barnes is strictly a corner outfielder now and doesn’t have a good arm, which may partially explain why he survived the Rule 5 draft. The Pirates will probably want to see whether his late-season surge carries over to AAA. I’m not sure what his potential role would be going forward, as the Pirates appear to be getting fanatical about bench players being able to handle multiple positions and Barnes doesn’t project as a starter.
Austin Meadows (77): The Pirates’ top position prospect isn’t on the roster and will undoubtedly open in AAA even if McCutchen is traded, but he should get a chance to make an impression.
Danny Ortiz (69): Ortiz spent last year in Indianapolis and re-signed with the Pirates just after they lost Willy Garcia. He can play center, which they probably like, but he’s never shown anything in three AAA seasons (his career OBP in AAA is .285) to indicate that he’s likely to hit in the majors.
Eury Perez (27): Perez probably has the best, albeit very outside, chance of any NRI outfielder to stick with the Pirates. He’s very fast, plays center, and managed a .331 OBP in his one significant exposure to the majors in 2015. He’s a career 298/347/393 hitter in AAA, although he struggled there last year. I’m not sure about his current status, though, as he left a winter league playoff game (sub. req’d) a few days ago with some sort of ankle injury.
Next up in our who’s who of the Pirates’ Spring Training roster: Infielders.
1B/OF Josh Bell (No. 55)
2B Chris Bostick (63)
3B/1B David Freese (23)
2B Alen Hanson (37)
2B Josh Harrison (5)
1B John Jaso (28)
3B Jung Ho Kang (16)
SS Jordy Mercer (10)
UT Max Moroff (62)
SS Gift Ngoepe (61)
SS Kevin Newman (78): Newman doesn’t require much of an introduction. The Pirates’ 2015 first-rounder has moved quickly through the minors and demonstrated plus hitting and patience along the way, though he doesn’t have much power. He only has 268 plate appearances at Double-A, and the Pirates don’t necessarily have an immediate need for him, so they could keep him in the minors awhile longer. If he keeps hitting, though, he could displace Mercer before too long.
1B/3B Jason Rogers (15): The Pirates, of course, acquired Rogers for Keon Broxton and Trey Supak in one of their worst trades in the past few seasons. Broxton’s combination of defense, baserunning and emerging power makes him one of the Brewers’ most interesting young players (although his strikeout tendencies still ultimately could consume him), and Supak quietly had a pretty good season for Class A Wisconsin (although he’s still light years from the majors). Rogers, meanwhile, didn’t really hit last year at Triple-A, didn’t make an impact in the big leagues, and got outrighted last month. He’ll serve as Triple-A depth in 2017, and with Bell, Kang, Freese and Jaso to man the corner infield positions, it’ll take a bunch of injuries for him to get much of an opportunity in the big leagues.
1B/OF Joey Terdoslavich (88): The Bucs signed Terdoslavich (again, “Ter-DOSS-la-vich”) to a minor league deal last week. As with Rogers, Terdoslavich has some big league experience (with the Braves from 2013 through 2015), but he’ll have a tough time cracking the big leagues with the Bucs given the team’s depth at the positions he plays. He’s hit well at Double-A and only acceptably at Triple-A and spent most of the 2016 season at the Double-A level.
2B Erich Weiss (81): Weiss, the Pirates’ 11th-round pick in 2013, has reached base at a .358 clip as he’s moved through the minors. He’s already 25, though, and he doesn’t have much power. Perhaps more importantly, he’s never appeared at shortstop as a pro, which means he probably won’t be a utility infielder in the majors. That means he’ll have to stick as a starter, which seems like it’ll be an uphill battle. Unsurprisingly, he wasn’t selected in the Rule 5 Draft this winter. He has over a year of experience at Altoona, so he should head to Indianapolis in 2017.
3B Eric Wood (78): Wood capped a decent season with Altoona (during which he hit 16 home runs, more than twice his previous career high) with a strong .330/.388/.489 performance in the Arizona Fall League. His hitting in the AFL still didn’t get him added to the 40-man roster (or selected in the Rule 5 Draft). He played outfield and first base in the AFL, which should help him find playing time wherever the Bucs send him in 2017. If he’s at Triple-A, he’ll likely receive less playing time at third base than Moroff, who’s probably a better prospect.
Keith Law has finished his rankings of all the farm systems with his list of the top ten. He puts the Pirates fourth, behind the Braves, Yankees and Padres, and ahead of the Dodgers. (It’s a subscription article, but you can read his writeups on the top five teams for free.)
Law’s ranking of the Pirates is higher than most sources would put them. It probably results in large part from his interest in Kevin Newman and Ke’Bryan Hayes; Law was a fan of the Pirates’ 2015 draft. His top five from last year — Newman, Hayes, Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows and Josh Bell — are all still “prospects” if you use Rookie-of-the-Year eligibility as a guide, and three of them have enhanced their stock quite a bit. (Law didn’t rank Jameson Taillon highly a year ago.) Adding to the top group now is Mitch Keller. Law also notes the returns of Cole Tucker and Nick Kingham, and the addition of relief prospects at the upper levels, which I assume primarily refers to Edgar Santana and Dovydas Neverauskas.
Law adds that the system is not deep, partly due to the 2016 draft, which he didn’t like. That’s partly also due to the departures of “second-tier prospects” Harold Ramirez and Reese McGuire in what Law flatly characterizes as an exchange for salary relief. The lack of depth is something I wrote about not long ago. It seems to me to spring from the team’s refusal to compete financially in the international arena and their poor track record with college hitters. On the other hand, I’m a little more hopeful than Law about the 2016 draft, maybe unrealistically so. That’s mainly due to prep pitches like Braeden Ogle and Max Kranick, which of course is a tough horse to bet on.
2017-01-20T18:04:28-05:00As we prepare for Spring Training, here are the righty pitchers the Pirates will have in camp. As usual, we’ll update these posts if the Pirates add new players. 40-man roster Lisalverto Bonilla (No. 53)Gerrit Cole (45)Tyler Glasnow (24)Clay Holmes (68)Daniel Hudson (41)Jared Hughes (48)Drew Hutchison (34)Nick Kingham (49)Chad Kuhl (39)Dovydas Neverauskas (66)Juan Nicasio (12)Ivan Nova (46)Nefi Ogando (36)A.J. Schugel (31)Jameson Taillon (50)Trevor Williams (57) Non-roster invitees Brandon Cumpton (60), Casey Sadler (65) and Angel Sanchez (67): These three starters are all returning from injury. The Pirates outrighted Cumpton last winter; he’s had Tommy John surgery and shoulder problems as well, so he’ll likely have a pretty tough road back to becoming the useful depth starter he once was. Sadler had Tommy John at the end of the 2015 season. After he spent 2016 rehabbing, the Pirates re-signed him to a minor-league deal, and he’s now back to throwing bullpens. Sanchez, too, had Tommy John in 2015, and as with Sadler, the Pirates signed him to a minor-league deal for next season. His upside, at least in the short term, is even more limited than Cumpton’s or Sadler’s, since he has limited experience even at Triple-A, even though he recently turned 27. Frank Duncan (71): Of all the pitchers who thrived in Indianapolis’ rotation in 2016 (including Taillon, Kuhl, Glasnow, Steven Brault), Duncan received the least attention, probably because he’s a command-and-control guy who doesn’t throw particularly hard. Still, he seems worthy of attention -- he struck out his fair share of batters at Triple-A last year and limited walks, and seems to have a bit of ground-ball ability as well. Perhaps his 2.33 ERA should be taken with a grain of salt, but Duncan could easily help in the big leagues in 2017 in much the way Cumpton did before his injury. Tyler Eppler (72): Eppler has good stuff but has had only modest success since the Pirates selected him in the sixth round in 2014. That might not be entirely his fault — the Bucs have pushed him up the chain quickly even though he managed less than 100 innings in 2015 due to injury. Still, the young starter will have to improve on his rather low strikeout totals to have much success in the big leagues. Josh Lindblom (47): The Bucs claimed Lindblom from the A’s two years ago, then quickly dropped him so he could sign with the Lotte Giants in Korea. He had a good first season there, then struggled somewhat in his second season in the offensively-charged KBO, and now he’s back on a minor-league deal. In his last significant big-league action, he threw in the low 90s, with a slider, a slow curve and a changeup; that repertoire makes him look like a candidate for the Indianapolis rotation, although he’s been more successful as a reliever in the big leagues, and Neal Huntington tabbed Lindblom as a reliever when the Pirates acquired him two years ago. The Bucs liked him enough to give him a 40-man spot before, so they could call on him to help at some point. Edgar Santana (74): As I suggested earlier this week, Santana is one of the Pirates’ more interesting NRIs, a hard thrower and a ground-ball guy who could establish himself as a bullpen candidate in short order after racing through the minors the last two seasons. In addition to thriving in the regular season, Santana was also terrific in the Arizona Fall League, whiffing 18 batters in 13.2 innings while throwing 98 MPH. Look out for him. Jason Stoffel (52): The 28-year-old Stoffel has never pitched in the big leagues, but he did very well for Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk in the Orioles organization in 2016, striking out 78 batters in 59 innings. The Pirates signed him to a minor-league deal after the season. He should begin the season in the Indianapolis bullpen. [...]
The Rangers have announced that they've designated Brady Dragmire for assignment. This is not a drill. Dragmire lost his roster spot to Tyson Ross, to whom the Pirates were also once connected.
Here's Dragmire's transaction history this offseason, via MLB.com:
September 27: Blue Jays designate Dragmire for assignment.
October 5: Blue Jays trade Dragmire to the Pirates for cash.
December 2: The Rangers claim Dragmire from the Pirates.
December 13: The Rangers designate Dragmire for assignment.
December 14: The Pirates claim Dragmire.
December 21: The Pirates designate Dragmire for assignment.
December 23: The Rangers claim Dramgire.
January 19: The Rangers designate Dragmire for assignment.
This all seems like a plot by a teenage novelist who's just read Kafka for the first time, or an absurd psychological test. How will the young Dragmire react? Will he take it all in stride, secure in the knowledge that he's still a professional baseball player and that he'll surely wind up somewhere? Will he stay up nights worrying about whether he'll spend Spring Training in Florida or Arizona, and whether all the waiver claims will stop by the time it begins? Will he shake his fist at the clouds, wishing he could be anything other than a ballplayer on the margins? It's unclear.
Saturday: Neftali Feliz is reportedly close to a deal that would send him to a different NL Central team next season, the Brewers.
The rumor (which you can take with a grain of salt right now) is that he’ll get $6.5 million, which really isn’t much — it’s less than twice what he got last winter after a poor 2015 season and way short of what we at MLBTR thought he’d get. Still, I admire Feliz’s agent’s plan. After several seasons of injury and ineffectiveness, Feliz headed to the Pirates last season on a make-good deal. Like a lot of pitchers who sign such deals with the Pirates, Feliz did, in fact, make good.
Step 2 of the plan seems to be to turn Feliz back into a closer. The Brewers have spent the past year or so trading every veteran who wasn’t nailed down, including closer types Jeremy Jeffress and Tyler Thornburg. So now there’s a closer vacancy in Milwaukee. Enter Feliz, who has 99 career saves and is still only 28. If Feliz does succeed in Milwaukee (and wherever the Brewers trade him at the deadline) this year, he’ll be in great position to cash in on a free agent market that lately has gone hog wild for closers (see Melancon, Mark).
If Feliz really is just getting $6.5 million after a strong season in Pittsburgh, it’s a risky gambit. But it’s one that could turn out to be extremely lucrative.
2017-01-19T11:55:51-05:00Thanks, everyone, for your questions. Here’s the second round of answers. J182: How come the Pirates do not consider trading Gregory Polanco? To me he is too similar to Starling Marte, but yet offers controllable years and still possesses a high ceiling. I am curious of his opinion/value around the league and if the Pirates have any interest in trading him? I would rather keep Austin Meadows, put Josh Bell in right field and sign a first baseman like Chris Carter until Meadows is ready. I guess the Pirates could trade Polanco, but in my view, he’s exactly the kind of talented, cost-efficient player they should build around. Several other thoughts on your question: I want to push back against the notion that Polanco and Marte are similar players — which I’ve heard before, probably because the Pirates developed them both and they’re both fast. Polanco is a patient left-handed batter who hits a lot of fly balls; Marte is right-handed, rarely walks, gets a ton of his offensive value from his speed, and is an elite defender in left. To me, those two profiles are awfully different. I guess if the Pirates needed a stopgap first baseman, Chris Carter is a guy who’s out there, but he’s a mediocre player. He would have been mistaken for a good one ten years ago, but the way he’s been passed around in the past couple years shows that GMs aren’t fooled by his power, which is pretty much his only skill. He’s Pedro Alvarez, but right-handed, slightly better defensively and worse at hitting for average. I’m sure Polanco would have a ton of trade value. But trading a player who likely hasn’t reached his ceiling and who’s controllable for years to come seems needlessly risky, particularly when Andrew McCutchen is only controllable for two more years. McCutchen, to me, is the much more obvious trade candidate if the Pirates are going to deal an outfielder (which they probably aren’t at this point). Austin Bechtold (via Twitter): Who could be in for an extension? Gerrit Cole, Juan Nicasio, Jordy Mercer? I don’t think Cole will look to sign one and I don’t think Mercer is a very good candidate. Meadows could be a possibility at some point, as could Jameson Taillon (although, as a couple commenters pointed out the last time I suggested that, the Pirates will already control Taillon through his age-30 season). Nicasio isn’t the most obvious choice, but extending him might be a neat move under the right circumstances. He’s never had a big payday, so he might be open to, say, a two-year deal that goes through 2018 and contains an option. I still think he could potentially be terrific if used as a reliever full-time. BattlingBucs: Are there any prospects/minor leaguers you see making a surprise impact for the Pirates this season? Edgar Santana, maybe? He’s flown through the minor leagues in the past two seasons (even though he’s already 25) and has terrific stuff. And as WTM pointed out, the Pirates recently sent Santana to MLB’s Rookie Career Development Program, perhaps indicating that they see him getting to the big leagues sooner rather than later. Joey Mooney: What is your view on the WBC? Would you rather Pirates players not play in it and in what way could they make it more popular? I’d rather Pirates pitchers not do it — as Ray Searage has said, it can cause problems for pitchers as they prepare for the regular season. But the WBC is great fun. I saw a WBC game in San Diego about a decade ago and it was an atmosphere totally unlike any other ballgame I’d been to, even though there were only a few thousand people there. 2010 Will Be The Year: What is your favorite HBO TV Show? True Detective. [...]