Category: Minors

Starling Marte Freed

Kristy Robinson of Pirates Prospects reported on Twitter that the Pirates have called up outfielder Starling Marte from the team’s AAA affiliate in Indianapolis (Dejan Kovacevic confirmed).

Marte is the top position player prospect in the Pirates’ farm and excited fans last season when he hit a .332 average and a .870 OPS with the AA Altoona Curve, which earned him a promotion to the Indians. While he hasn’t had the exact same statistics, he has hit .286/.348/.500, which puts his OPS just .022 points below his 2011 total.

The Pirates have had a problem with their corner outfielders all season, especially with Jose Tabata who earned himself a demotion to triple-A after hitting just .230 with a .290 on base average. Drew Sutton was hot for a while after being acquired, but he has cooled off considerably since. Josh Harrison and Garrett Jones have shown their ineptitude at playing the corner outfield positions, and Alex Presley cannot hit.

To make room for Marte on the roster, the Pirates sent down pitcher Evan Meek, who was recalled from Indianapolis on Saturday.


Prospect Lookout

The MLB is now at the halfway point of the season, which means it’s a great time to look back on the performance of the top ten prospects in the Pirates’ farm system.
Last year’s first overall pick Gerrit Cole was excelling in the Florida State League, where he had a 2.69 ERA through 67 innings spread over 13 starts, which earned him a promotion to the Pirates’ AA affiliate, the Altoona Curve. Among the reasons he was sent to Altoona was his high strikeout rate, striking out 9.27 batters per nine innings pitched, and his 2.82 BB/9, which is below league average. In Altoona, Cole has played very well. Although his ERA is 4.63, it is not a good indicator of his performance through three starts. He has a 10.3 K/9, as well as a 0.77 BB/9, although that is likely unsustainable, and a 1.49 FIP. Cole has been unlucky, as batters have a .410 BABIP against him. While his peripherals look good, Cole has only pitched 11.2 innings, so take his performance with a grain of salt. Cole has shown his toughness by taking a line drive to the face and finishing the inning before being taken out of the game due to swelling.

The number two prospect for the Pirates, Jameson Taillon, has shown flashes of brilliance in high-A ball so far, despite having a lackluster performance. Taillon hasn’t been able to strike out the sheer number of batters he did last season in West Virginia, striking out approximately two fewer batters per nine innings. He has an ERA of 4.05, but his FIP number of 3.38 shows that his defense hasn’t helped him out and his ERA should fall. He’s stranded 66.6% of baserunners he’s allowed this season, so look for his ERA to fall when he strands more runners. A positive for Taillon is that he hasn’t allowed as many home runs as he did in low-A last season, dropping from 0.87 homers per nine innings to 0.62 HR/9. The second half performance for Taillon should be better than his first, so hopefully the Pirates will promote him to AA by 2013.
Outfielder Josh Bell hasn’t shown the power surge he was expected to have when the Pirates drafted him with the first pick in the second round in the 2011 Draft. Bell has been up to the plate 66 times for the West Virginia Power this year, and he has hit one home run. How about that for the “best power hitter” in the Pirates system? He hasn’t exactly been hitting well otherwise, hitting .274/.288/.403 despite an incredibly high .381 BABIP. The 6’4” outfielder has also struggled with his vision at the plate, walking in just three percent of his plate appearances while striking out in 31.8% of his at bats. While 2012 looks like a disappointment so far, Bell has only played 15 games, so like Cole in AA, his statistics are flawed due to a small sample size.
Ranked number four in the Pirates’ farm, Starling Marte may be called up to the Major Leagues by next week, Dejan Kovacevic reports. Marte is only one year removed from an insane season at AA Altoona, hitting .332 with an on-base average of .370 and slugging .500. While Marte hasn’t put up the same numbers in Indianapolis for the Pirates’ AAA affiliate, he has still performed very well, hitting for an OBA of .349 while slugging .487. Marte walked in just 3.8% of his plate appearances in 2011, but he has rebounded in AAA by having a 6.4% BB%. With his increased walk rate, however, comes an increased strikeout rate. Last season was likely an anomaly in terms of strikeouts for Marte, as he had a strikeout rate of 17.5%, down from 23.3% in high-A ball. His strikeout rate increased by over three percent, from 17.5% to 20.8%; this is encouraging still, because Marte was able to lower his MiLB average K%. Marte has contributed 10.9 runs to the Indianapolis Indians with his offensive skill. He has been tried out at right field with the Indians recently, probably preparing him for a call-up to the Majors.
Luis Heredia is 17 years old and is playing against people five years older than him in the New York-Penn League. Not only that, but he is playing well against people five years older than him in the New York-Penn League. Ignore the small sample size of 19 innings pitched over four starts and just absorb these numbers. Heredia has allowed two earned runs this season, giving him an ERA of 0.95. He has struck out 6.63 batters per nine innings he has pitched while walking only 1.42. All of this with a relatively average .293 BABIP. Assuming he can keep up with his 2.20 FIP for the rest of the Spikes season and continue to develop, Heredia is well worth the $2.6 million the Pirates signed him for out of Mexico in 2010.
Kyle McPherson, the number six prospect for the Pirates, was looking for a repeat season in his first full season of AA. In his 2011 campaign, McPherson had a 3.02 ERA and an 8.26 K/9 through 16 starts after being promoted from high-A Bradenton. Much like Jameson Taillon, McPherson has a high ERA despite good peripherals. He hasn’t struck out as many people as he has done throughout his professional career thus far, but his 6.35 K/9 is still respectable, especially when combined with his 1.59 BB/9. As is the case with Luis Heredia and Josh Bell, McPherson hasn’t started nearly enough games to get a good look at him, throwing just 22.2 innings, but if he can keep it up, he’ll be a good fifth starter in the future.
Tony Sanchez was picked fourth overall in the 2009 MLB Draft and has been an off-and-on player since signing with the Bucs in August of that year. Double-A in 2011 was a disappointment for Sanchez, as he hit just .241/.340/.318 with defense that wasn’t what the Pirates expected out of him in 2009. However, with a little more time and another broken jaw, Sanchez rebounded and earned himself a promotion to AAA after having an OBA of .370 and slugging .390. In 25 games with Indy, Sanchez hasn’t been up to much good, having an OBP of just .293. An encouraging sign, however, is his .385 slugging average, so it’s not like he’s slapping singles down the first base line. If he can progress, the Pirates might cll up Sanchez some time next season or even in September of ’12.
The top switch hitter in the Bucs minor league system is Robbie Grossman. Grossman, who dominated with the Bradenton Marauders last year by hitting .293/.418/.450, earned himself a promotion to the AA Altoona Curve, where he’s hitting for a .369 OBA, as well as a .408 slugging average. Baseball America writes that Grossman has the best plate discipline in the system, and it shows with his 14.6% walk rate while striking out in 18.7% of his at-bats. An increase in power is always welcome, and Grossman has done that by hitting seven home runs through 82 games this season, compared to 14 in Bradenton through 134 games last season. Grossman hasn’t showed the good baserunning skills he showcased last season, where he stole 24 bases in 34 attempts; this season, he has stolen nine bases, but has been thrown out nine times. All in all, Robbie Grossman will probably have to spend the rest of this season in AA before being called up to Indianapolis.
Stetson Allie was converted to a batter mid-season after struggling in his two thirds of an inning, walking eight batters and allowing four earned runs, not to mention his three wild pitches. Allie started his transformation with the GCL Pirates in Bradenton, where he hit for a .316 OBA while slugging .359 through 18 games. He also walked at a similar rate to Robbie Grossman, walking in 14.5% of his plate appearances, but he struck out in 30.3% of his at-bats. The two runs he hit with the Pirates is two more home runs than Tony Sanchez hit in Altoona. Allie is a longshot now, but there are some glimmers of hope for him finding success in the Bigs.
If there is one player who should take Kevin Correia’s spot in the rotation, it’s 24-year old Jeff Locke. Locke was briefly with the Pirates in 2011, struggling mightily with a 6.48 ERA in four starts. In 17 starts for the Indianapolis Indians this season, Locke is 7-5 with a 2.95 ERA. He’s striking out 7.78 batters per nine innings and walking 2.24. Perhaps Locke is getting lucky, as he’s stranded 79% of baserunners he’s allowed, which contributes to a 3.40 FIP
While Alen Hanson wasn’t listed on the Baseball America top ten list coming into the season, he’s turning some heads in West Virginia. In 85 games, the 19-year old shortstop is hitting .329/.391/.587 along with 15 home runs. He has a nine percent walk rate but he’s struck out in 19% of his plate appearances. His .422 wOBA and 77 wRC (based on wOBA) are good for a 154 wRC+ (which is basically an OPS+ version of wRC). He’s been very lucky, having a .382 BABIP, so look for his numbers to regress back to what mere mortals can put up.

Pirates All-Star Recap

Four players in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization were elected to either the Major League All-Star Game or the Futures Game – Andrew McCutchen and Joel Hanrahan to the Midsummer Classic and Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon to the All-Star Futures Game.

The week started out with the Futures Game on Sunday. Gerrit Cole pitched the second inning for the USA team, and he struck out Xander Bogaerts to start off, then quickly got Wilmer Flores to ground out. Cole was throwing flames, retiring the first two batters on 99 and 97 mph fastballs. He hit 100 against Jesus Aguilar, but he issued a walk. Cole then showed what everybody who has been following him knows – he can blow hitters away with his incredible stuff, but he needs to work on his command, when he allowed a two-run home run to Jae-Hoon Ha on a fastball over the plate at 95 mph. Home runs are rally killers, though, as Cole struck out the next batter on a nasty slider to end his inning.

Jameson Taillon would later come in to pitch the second inning. He made a great pitch, a 98 mph fastball down and outside, but it was hit for a double. The next batter flied out on another 98 mph fastball. Oswaldo Arcia hit an opposite-field double down the right field line to drive in Sanchez on a curveball knee-high on the outside corner. Taillon looked like he was going to be hit very hard, but he got out of the inning on a very lucky double play, throwing a hanging curveball and the shortstop made an incredible play.

On Monday, Andrew McCutchen participated in the Home Run Derby, the first Pirate to do so since Jason Bay in 2005 in Detroit. He quickly broke the franchise’s record for homers in a Derby, previously held by Barry Bonds with two home runs, by hitting four bombs. Here’s a video clip of McCutchen’s highlights. While four home runs may not seem like a lot, he hit more home runs than Matt Kemp (1) and Robinson Cano (0), as well as tying Carlos Gonzalez. He was also one home run away from advancing to the second round.

In the main event, though, McCutchen and Hanrahan well represented the Pirates. McCutchen entered the game in the fifth inning and remained in center field for the rest of the 8-0 blowout. He went one-for-two, singling in his first at bat, and flashing the Z on base, and grounding out to third – but in true Pirate fashion, he was a hair’s length away from turning it into an infield hit. Joel Hanrahan must have been pretty nervous coming into the game in the ninth inning, throwing three pretty bad balls, one of which was actually a wild pitch, but he was still able to strike out Kansas City’s own Billy Butler on a 98 mph fastball.

Pirates Recall Hernandez

The Pittsburgh Pirates have recalled outfielder Gorkys Hernandez from their AAA affiliate in Indianapolis. To make room on the 25-man roster, outfielder Jose Tabata was sent down to the Indians.

Hernandez, who was previously recalled by the Pirates in late May, is hitting for an OBA of .364 in 64 games played for the International League’s Indianapolis Indians. In his nine games with the big league club earlier this season, Hernandez had 11 plate appearances and hit .200/.273/.200. Acquired by the Pirates in the Nate McLouth trade in 2009 and named the “best defensive outfielder” in the Pirates’ minor league system by Baseball America, the 24-year old Hernandez has spent time in center and right fields, but the majority of his starts have been in left field.

Jose Tabata has struggled mightily in his 2012 campaign, having an OBA under .300. Even though he has stolen eight bases, tied for second most on the Pirates, he has been thrown out nine different times, which is the most on the team.

Cole Promoted to Double-A

Gerrit Cole was promoted to double-a Altoona today.

Cole has been wonderful this season, going 5-1 in 13 starts with a 2.55 ERA. He struck out 69 batters while walking just 21, bringing his K/BB ratio to 3.29. In his 67 innings pitched, Cole has allowed just 53 batters to reach via a hit for a batting average against of .217. All of these statistics brought fans to vote him in to the Florida State League All-Star Game.

In his final single-A start, Cole tossed five scoreless innings, allowing three hits while walking two and striking out seven.

His first start in Altoona is expected to be on June 20th, next Wednesday. Make the trip. Altoona’s about two and a half hours away from downtown Pittsburgh, and you can get tickets here. There are going to be fireworks after the game.

Is a Call Up on the Horizon for Owens?

With the struggles of both Brad Lincoln and Kevin Correia in their 8-6 and 7-1 losses to the Baltimore Orioles, rumors are floating around that AAA pitcher Rudy Owens could be recalled an take a rotation spot. The starting pitching has been a strong suit for the Pittsburgh Pirates, allowing 3.60 runs to score per game, ranking third lowest in the National League, behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Washington Nationals. But they have to be good if the Pirates want to be successful, receiving just 3.2 runs behind them per nine innings the starters pitch. Correia and Lincoln, when starting, have allowed 4.87 runs per game, combined, which would rank second highest in the Majors as a team ERA.

Owens, who is currently ranked the 15th best prospect in the Pirates system by Baseball Prospectus, has been dominant at AAA Indianapolis this season. In 12 starts, Owens has an ERA of just 2.29, leading the International League among players with at least ten starts. After his stock dropped after struggling last year, his first year in AAA, raising his ERA from 2.46 with Altoona to 5.05, he appears to have adjusted to triple-A batters. A feature of Owens’ skill set is his ability to avoid walks, despite not being a strikeout pitcher. With AA Altoona in 2010, Owens had a walk rate of 1.4 walks per nine innings, which was second in the Eastern League. Although a lack of command plagued Owens with Indianapolis last season, raising his BB/9 ratio to 2.6, he is third in the International League in that statistic, walking only 1.3 batters per nine innings. In the last ten of Owens’ 12 starts, he has an ERA of 1.89 through 66.2 innings pitched, limiting opposing batters to hitting .225 off of him.

Another call up possibility for the Pirates is left handed pitcher Jeff Locke. While not having nearly as much success as Owens, Locke has still been effective this season, having a 3.27 ERA through 11 starts. The Pirates also toyed with the idea of calling up Locke late in 2011 as part of the MLB roster expansion in September, starting him four times and putting up with his 6.48 ERA before the season ended. Locke was acquired in a June 2009 trade which sent Nate McLouth to the Atlanta Braves, as the Pirates received Charlie Morton and Gorkys Hernandez, as well as Locke, in return.

With both Correia and Lincoln, the Pirates have a tough decision to make. For Correia, do you put him in the bullpen, where he hasn’t been bad in his career, tossing a 4.20 FIP over 127 relief appearances, but he hasn’t relieved ten games or more since 2007? With Lincoln, do you try converting him in to a more successful starter, perhaps not shaving a full mile an hour off of his fastball from his appearances out of the pen, or do you keep him in the bullpen where he’s had success? It’s a lot on the Pirates’ plate, and hopefully they make the right decision.

Wyatt Mathisen to Sign with Pirates

The Pirates have reportedly come to terms with their second-round pick, catcher Wyatt Mathisen. Mathisen attended Calallen High School and had a commitment to the University of Texas, but he will skip college and go right to the Pirates’ organization.

Baseball America’s Jim Calis called Mathisen the best high school player in the draft.