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An unofficial Pittsburgh Pirates blog

Updated: 2017-11-19T09:29:17-05:00


Pirates’ Arizona Fall League recap



The Arizona Fall League finished play a couple days ago. The Pirates had seven players with Glendale, four pitchers and three position players. The pitchers got the better of it across the board. It can be tough to evaluate pitcher performance in an environment like that, though, as you have to know whether the pitcher is working on something, as opposed to simply trying to get hitters out. In the Pirates’ case, I know Mitch Keller was specifically working on his changeup and Taylor Hearn on his slider, which is more or less a new pitch for him. It’s encouraging that they both got good results.

Keller was one of the AFL’s best pitchers, posting a 1.01 WHIP and 1.52 ERA in 23.2 IP. He didn’t strike out many, just 13, but that likely resulted from him going with the change over his curve. The same thing happened while he was at Bradenton, when his K/9 fell to 7.4 while he was focusing on the change. He went back to a normal pitch mix when he moved up to Altoona, which was in a playoff race, and his K rate jumped back up to 11.7.

Hearn had a 3.06 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in 17.2 IP. He had one bad outing in which he allowed five hits and three earned runs in two-thirds of an inning. Otherwise he had little trouble.

J.T. Brubaker and Brandon Waddell both pitched well in relief. Brubaker was sitting at 95-97 mph and hitting 99 (sub. req’d). In the AFL, he fanned 16 and walked only two in 13.2 IP, with a 2.63 ERA. Brubaker throws a lot of changeups. If his velocity plays up in relief, it’d be interesting to see whether that would make him more effective overall. Waddell had 2.67 ERA in 14 innings, striking out 15.

The hitters had more trouble. Kevin Kramer, who played mainly at short, batted 200/296/317 and struck out in a third of his at-bats. Mitchell Tolman had very similar numbers, at 197/290/328, with a K rate nearly as high. Logan Hill did the best of the hitters, posting pretty good power numbers and a 239/312/433 line.

Pirates release more minor leaguers



In the absence of real news . . . .

According to Pirates Prospects (sub. req’d), the Pirates have released another seven low-level minor leaguers. These are: RHPs Dany Hernandez, Eumir Sepulveda and Jose Delgado; IF Julio De La Cruz; and OFs Sandy Santos, Henrry Rosario and Luis Benitez.

These are all players who just weren’t advancing. De La Cruz signed for $700,000 in 2012 — more than the Pirates have been willing to shell out to any Latin American signee since then — but struggled consistently at all phases of the game. Santos had big-time tools but poor instincts; the Pirates tried converting him to the mound this fall, apparently without success. Hernandez was the other Cuban pitcher the Pirates signed last spring, along with Yoandy Fernandez, who was released yesterday. So the team’s latest, half-hearted foray into Cuba went nowhere fast.

One other item: first baseman Edwin Espinal signed with the Tigers. He’ll be eligible for the Rule 5 draft.

Pirates release seven minor leaguers



About this time every year the Pirates do some paring down of their minor league rosters. This year, in addition to RHP Brandon Bingel, whom I mentioned yesterday, they released RHPs Yoandy Fernandez, Chris McDonald and Angel Vasquez; LHP Hector Garcia; IFs Huascar Fuentes and Nick King; and OF Justin Maffei. The closest to noteworthy among these players would be Fernandez, Garcia and Maffei.

I’m a little sorry to see Maffei go. He was a good backup outfielder at the upper levels, but hadn’t gotten much playing time the last couple years. His skill set is very similar to that of Todd Cunningham, whom they just signed as a free agent.

Fernandez was one of two Cuban RHPs the Pirates signed a little over half a year ago, the other being Dany Hernandez. Neither figured to be a prospect, as the Pirates continue to ignore potential major league talent from Cuba. Fernandez did strike out 13 batters per nine innings in the New York-Penn League this year, but he was 7-10 years older than the hitters he was facing.

Garcia looked like a good prospect a few years ago, but was derailed by Tommy John surgery. He’s had trouble staying on the field since then.

Pirates sign OF Todd Cunningham to minors deal



Pirates Prospects is reporting (sub. req’d) that the Pirates have signed outfielder Todd Cunningham to a minor league deal. Cunningham, who’ll turn 29 next March, has 130 plate appearances in the majors with the Braves and Angels. He has just a .520 OPS in that limited action. He’s hit 275/358/375 in over 2000 plate appearances in AAA, including 284/404/414 this year, which he split between the Cardinals’ and Dodgers’ AAA affiliates. He’s a switch hitter and appears to have good speed, and has played mainly center in the minors. He’ll probably fill the depth role that Danny Ortiz filled this year. (And, yes, repeat after me: Every. Single. Team. Makes. Moves. Like. This. Every. Single. Off-season.)

Oddly, signing now makes Cunningham eligible for the Rule 5 draft. I can’t imagine that happening, but the Pirates did lose Deolis Guerra to the Angels under similar circumstances two years ago. Not exactly something to lose sleep over . . . .

In one other very minor item, the Pirates released RHP Brandon Bingel. He was a 22nd round draft pick two years ago and spent both seasons in the New York-Penn League.

Pirates get the top competitive balance pick in the 2018 draft



MLB has determined the draft order for the competitive balance rounds and the Pirates will have the top pick in Round A. They picked in Round B last year, so they moved up this year. That gives them the 31st overall pick, right after the first round. They already have the tenth overall pick as a result of competing their way to a 75-87 record in 2017. The tenth pick won’t be affected by free agent signings, but the 31st pick possibly could be, meaning it could move up.

Mariners acquire Ryon Healy from Oakland



Oakland has traded 3B/DH Ryon Healy to Seattle. Healy was a player who seemed like a possible fit for the Pirates if they were to get serious about trying to improve their bottom-feeding offense. Seattle gave up reliever Emilio Pagan, who had a good year in 2017 as a 26-year-old rookie, and a low-level infielder who doesn’t appear to be a top prospect.

Pirates dismiss Rene Gayo for taking kickback



According to a report from Ken Rosenthal, the Pirates have dismissed their Director of Latin American Scouting, Rene Gayo. Rosenthal states that a MLB investigation showed that Gayo took a kickback from a Mexican Summer League team as part of the sale of at least one player to the Pirates. The Pirates do not face penalties themselves.

Obviously, it’s impossible to say what impact this will have on the Pirates’ international scouting. Player signings throughout Latin America revolve heavily around connections with buscones. Whether this would hamper the Pirates is impossible to say. They currently have over $2M left unspent in their international bonus pool for the signing period that ends next summer.

Pirates interested in Neil Walker?



I don’t really buy this, but Jon Morosi has tweeted that the Pirates have “some interest” in Neil Walker.

Of the available free agents whom the team could plausibly sign, Walker probably presents the best chance for an infield upgrade. He’ll undoubtedly have interest from other teams, though, so that will eliminate the Pirates. And Neal Huntington has said the Pirates are “comfortable” with their existing infield options thanks to the acquisition of Sean Rodriguez. If he really believes that, he shouldn’t be working in a major league front office, much less running one.

In other news:

— The Cardinals, who apparently are not comfortable with a team that was eight wins better than the Pirates, are looking at Rays’ closer Alex Colome. Despite their loaded outfield, they’re also thinking of going after Carlos Gonzalez.

— Baseball America has posted their list of the Pirates’ top ten prospects (sub. req’d). Not surprisingly, Mitch Keller ranks first. The most interesting ranking is probably Ke’Bryan Hayes, who’s fourth. Whatever scouts they’re talking to obviously were impressed by Hayes, who also ranked high in the Florida State League top twenty. (The league and team lists are done by different people and don’t always agree.) The power isn’t there yet, but Hayes won’t turn 21 until January and he’ll be in AA in 2018. The strangest thing about him is that he went from being a below-average to an above-average runner, which is not a transition you see a lot, even at his age. If you read the chat, the BA guys clearly liked the Pirates’ GCL roster a lot.