What we can learn from ranking the Pirates … and is AJ Burnett striking out too many batters?


PNC PARK  – On Thursday I did my best, and perhaps failed miserably, to rank the Pirates’ 25 most valuable assets.

Trade-value lists are interesting exercises. And engaging in a team-specific exercise offers something the popular league-wide lists do not: you are able to better identify an individual organization’s surpluses and weaknesses.

The Pirates have what I think are clearly defined surpluses and deficits when looking at Thursday’s list, even if you disagree with some of the rankings:


Outfielders: (6 in top 25)

This should not come as a shocker, since it’s pretty apparent two of the Pirates’ best players are outfielders Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte. But the depth of the position is pretty interesting. I heart Gregory Polanco as a prospect. I think he has a higher ceiling than Marte. I think Jose Tabata is useful, ditto Travis Snider. Then there’s Josh Bell and his power potential lurking in Low A, and last year’s second-round pick Barrett Barnes.

McCutchen and Marte shouldn’t be going anywhere as both are under the club’s control through at least 2018.

What the depth could allow the Pirates to do is flip some of that surplus for areas of need (see: below). They’ve already done this once, trading OF Robbie Grossman as part of the deal to acquire LHP Wandy Rodriguez.

Right-handed pitching (6 in top 25)

Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon are about as untouchable as it gets. And Luis Heredia and Tyler Glasnow are pretty intriguing in their own right. It will be interesting to see how the AJ Burnett story plays out. Will he retire? Re-sign? Be flipped at the deadline? James McDonald? Will he be able to stay healthy? There’s depth from the MLB roster down to Low A ball. With such depth it would be interesting to entertain the idea of a Taillon for Francisco Lindor or Cole for Jurickson Profar trade.


What? Trade me (Francisco Lindor) for Jameson Taillon? That would be interesting … but it has very little chance, like 0.01, of ever happening.

Relief pitching (4 in top 25)

Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon are perhaps the best 8th-9th inning duo going right now. Both are under club control next season. Vic Black looks like a future closer at Triple-A indy. Justin Wilson touched 98 mph on Friday night against Houston, and could be a major weapon out of the pen as a lefty. The Pirates traded their closer a year ago and with their depth of late-inning, power-arm options perhaps they would again consider selling high on a closer.


Shortstop (1 in top 25)

Clint Barmes is a free agent after the season. John McDonald is 38. Jordy Mercer is interesting but do you trust him with a full-time MLB gig? Alen Hanson is probably ticketed for a switch to second base in the future. Filling shortstop with a quality two-way player is exceptionally difficult. The Braves wouldn’t include Andrelton Simmons in a deal for Justin Upton. The Angles might regret trading Jean Segura for Zack Greinke (OK, they already do). The Diamondbacks had to trade their 2011 third-overall draft pick – Trevor Bauer – for Didi Gregorius.

Rather than trade one of their untouchable assets, perhaps the Pirates should consider J.P. Crawford, Carl Crawford’s cousin, with their 9th or 14th overall picks. He’s the top shortstop in the draft.

Third base  (1 in top 25)

I’m not sure how the Pedro Alvarez story plays out in Pittsburgh. Is he the next Aramis Ramirez, who leaves town to find success elsewhere? Does he sign a long-term deal? Regardless, the Pirates would do well to find another long-term option at the position. There are a number of third base prospects in the draft, head-lined by North Carolina’s Colin Moran.

First base (1 in top 25)

Garrett Jones is a nice player but he’s 32. Travis Snider can play some first base, but is he a long-term answer? There are few elite first baseman in the game, meaning finding above average production here, whether via platoo or a single bat, can create a competitive advantage.


A.J. Burnett entered his Saturday start leading the NL in strikeouts. That’s good. But it’s also bad in one aspect: efficiency. Burnett has not pitched more than seven innings in a start this season. The Pirates entered tied for worst in the NL among innings pitched by their starting staff. They need more innings from their best pitchers.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said Saturday that Burnett might want to consider pitching more to contact.

“Strikeouts are good but you can fall in love with them,” Hurdle said. “Two- and three-pitch outs are good and those are probably what he’s going to try to focus on a little bit.”

There’s nothing wrong a quick-strikeout. It’s the best thing going in run prevention. But too often strikeouts pitcher are too inefficient in putting away batters. And Burnett shouldn’t get caught up in Ks to the detriment of pitching deeper into games.


(Twitter: @Sawchik_Trib)