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In need of a quick start, BP’s top 10, and the Cards have concerns?

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SOUTH HILLS – Some good news as we recover from winter storm Nika. (What’s with the storm names?). The Pirates’ equipment truck left for Bradenton this morning. Pitchers and catchers will not be far behind. While so much of the hot stove focus has centered on roster construction and on player acquisition – pretend or real – I wanted to take a quick look at something else today.

One thing that stands out about the schedule, to  me, is the Pirates might be in need of a quick start.

The Pirates play five more home games (43-38) in the first of the season than the second. The second-half road-home imbalance really shifts in the pivotal month of September when Pirates play just nine home games and 17 road games. That’s a brutal stretch especially when considering 13 of those road games are against 2013 playoff teams (Reds, Cardinals, Braves) and the Pirates also host the defending World Champion Red Sox.

So, yes, the Pirates could be in particular need of a quick start in 2014 and some cushion entering September.

The Pirates improved their roster as the season went along in 2013. Francisco Liriano came off the DL in may. The club called up Gerrit Cole in June, who improved throughout the year. They added Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau at the Aug. 31 deadline. The Pirates might need to similar improvement to weather a second half that shapes up as more challenging than the first half.

 

BP’S TOP TEN 

The last significant Pirates’ top 10 prospect list was released today as Baseball Prospectus unveiled its  list (subscription required) and dubbed the Pirates as a “top-three system.” Recall, Baseball America ranked the Pirates’ system No. 1.

Here’s the list:

1. RHP Jameson Taillon

Taillon was once ranked 8th overall by BP and has slipped to 19th, though that also speaks to the influx of young talented that has emerged in the game. BP gives Taillon’s pitches grades of a 7 fastball, 6+ curve and 5 CH. The changeup grade is an improvement and remember much of the focus last season was for Taillon to develop that changeup. The ceiling has come down, the floor has come up — but there’s still No. 2 starter potential here.

From the BP annual: “A half grade improvement in command could mean a big jump in production.”

2. OF Gregory Polanco

From the BP annual: “The bat comes with torque and leverage, regularly producing hard contact particularly from the middle out, where he can get fully extended. There are some holes on the inner half  … He has the physical tools to project to center.”

3. RHP Tyler Glasnow

BP: “Glasnow sat in the mid-90s with his fastball but he’ll have to command it better against better competition. His curveball flashse plus and he could have an average changeup but that has a long way to go.”

4. C Reese McGuire

Jason Parks shares my enthusiasm for McGuire and I like this aggressive ranking.

BP: “McGuire has the skill-set to develop into the top all-around catching prospect in the game: plus potential with the glove with a bat is stronger than you might think. … If it weren’t for his having only 50 professional games he’d be even higher.”

5. RF Josh Bell

6. RHP Nick Kingham 

7. OF Austin Meadows

From Parks’ top 101 prospect chat: “When I’ve put eyes on Meadows, I’ve been impressed with his athleticism and physical profile, but his plan at the plate and swing never did much for me. I get the short-season results, and I’m not discounting production. But I don’t see a CF profile from Meadows, and I don’t see Frazier-like bat speed either, so the profile is a little light for me. He’s still a top 101 player in a very loaded talent class, so its not like I’m suggesting he’s a bust or a fringe-prospect.”

8. SS Alen Hanson

Did not make BP’s top 101

9. RHP Luis Heredia

10. OF Harold Ramirez

 

DO THE CARDINALS HAVE ANY WEAKNESSES?

St. Louis Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz examines if the Cardinals’ have any concerns entering 2014. In summary, while the Cardinals are a heavy favorite in the NL Central, the Cards do have some question marks thought about as few as any team in baseball.

CLUTCHNESS 

The 2013 Cardinals were able to lead the NL in runs despite scoring only 26.05 percent of those runs on homers, a major-league low. All it took was a mess of doubles (an NL-leading 322) and a record-setting performance (.330 average) when batting with runners in scoring position. That included a .305 mark with RISP and two outs. 

Good luck repeating that. The Cardinals’ No. 1 threat is simply RISP regression, imo.

WHAT JHONNY SHOWS UP?

 Last season Cardinals shortstops combined for a .280 onbase percentage and .303 slugging percentage _ and that .583 OPS was the third-lowest from the Cards’ SS position since 1974. So no matter how Peralta hits, he’ll be an upgrade from 2013. Peralta has never had an OPS under .689 for a full big-league season.

But the Cardinals didn’t give Peralta four years and $53 million for a nominal uptick in offense at shortstop, and Peralta has been inconsistent during his career. Just look at his OPS numbers, in order, over the last three seasons: .824 in 2011, .689 in ’12; and .815 last season.

You know my feelings on Peralta.

SOPHOMORE JINX

The 2014 Cardinals will once again rely on a lot of young players, and their initial success doesn’t always hold. Moreover, the the jump from the second season to the third can be just as challenging as the graduation from the rookie season to Year Two.

Matt Carpenter is good but he’s probably not THAT good. Not every young arm will replicate its performance. Remember, the Cardinals are actually younger than the Pirates which is both scary for Western Pennsylvania and perhaps could result in some sophomore regression.

- TS

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Comments

  1. Nate83 says:

    Good to McGuire high on another list. Catchers that are difference makers are rare and one of the best ways for the Pirates to add a lot of cost controlled value to the team and get an advantage over many of the other major league teams.

    It’s obviously projecting way ahead but I have to imagine the trade value of such a player would be very high. It’s hard to gauge because these type of guys are usually locked up by their original teams. I wonder what Buster Posey would get in a trade. The fact that McGuire is so young and maybe projects to only needing 3 or 3.5 years to reach the majors because of his skill set would only add to his value.

  2. dcpinpgh says:

    Rep Sheila Jackson Lee(D-TX 18th District) criticized the weather establishment for its selection of names and felt that all ethnic groups should be represented when referring to storm’s names and the racist practice of giving “lily-white” names to these storms should come to an end.

  3. If the Cards can repeat those insane RISP stats then Jeff Locke is an all-star.

  4. Andrew says:

    Good stuff on the Cardinals, agree on Peralto but the Cardinals do have the flexibility to mitigate the risk and Carpenter is good but not that good.

    I think the biggest regression worry for the Pirates is the bullpen, there was a 5.0 WAR gap between RA-9 WAR (8.9) and FIP WAR (3.9). I do not think that can be repeated. I think it is highly possible that the Pirates are a better team next year but with a lower win total, especially given the AL West has been swapped for the AL East.

  5. Travis Sawchik says:

    The Pirates have to hope Jeff Locke’s second half will be something like the Cardinals’ 2014 batting average with RISP. Summon the regression Gods

  6. Travis Sawchik says:

    Bullpen performance fluctuates so much year to year that I agree it’s a major concern for the Pirates. I wonder what Grilli looks like in 2014. He was not the same guy in September. Also, that is a nasty little schedule swap that has not received much attention.

  7. NMR says:

    I don’t think any humans can come close to predicting baseball well enough for pre-season schedule analysis to mean much of anything what-so-ever.

    This time last winter we were talking about how hard it would be to top 2012′s record given the loss of the Astros from the division.

  8. NMR says:

    Reliever WAR is so sketchy to begin with. I have very little faith that those values represent real world wins. But your overall point of bullpen regression is a good one.

    One counter to this I have is that bullpens are also by far the most fluid in terms of players. Jason Grilli might be the only guy in the Pirates Opening Day pen that’ll get a long leash. The Pirates system is deep enough that secondary relievers should be replaced rather quickly if performance plummets.

  9. Travis Sawchik says:

    It’s difficult to project team performance, for sure, but a 9/17, home/road split in Sept. is pretty daunting.

  10. Maybe Mother Nature will stay on this nasty mean streak of hers through April and balance out that schedule a little bit.

  11. Bradthedad says:

    What’s the rationale of having Hanson on the 40 man? Didn’t think he was eligible for Rule 5.

  12. NMR says:

    Baseball Prospectus’ ranking of Meadows seems like a classic case of being contrarian just to stand out.

    Even if we assume that Jason Parks critique is accurate, I would love to see the list of other outfield prospects that both match Meadows tools AND answer the questions Parks has about him. Good luck.

    Pefect example is another Pirate, Josh Bell, who Parks had 22 spots higher than Meadows. How many tools does Bell grade out at better than Meadows? He’s less of a runner, less of a defender, equal or worse arm, and equal power. And he sure as heck doesn’t have a better swing than Meadows.

  13. Nate83 says:

    It’s amazing how different Meadows and McGuire’s ranking are from one publication to another. It just goes to show what an inexact science prospect evaluation is. What one evaluator puts value in another may see very little value.

    I agree that it is very odd to have Bell in front of Meadows on any list no matter what the evaluator values. You definitely have a better eye then I do for recognizing flaws in somebodies swing but nothing I have read would distinguish Bell as a player with more upside then Meadows. Meadows does to many things well to not be a higher ranked prospect. Especially with Bell not developing any consistency in his play because of injuries.

  14. Travis Sawchik says:

    I’m not saying I agree with the ranking but Bell has a rare trait in that he’s a switch-hitter with power. Not many of those guys in today’s game. Still, Meadows has the superior tools package and had an excellent debut, showing more polish and feel than many expected.

  15. Steelkings says:

    They had 15 games on the road last year in September. They went 10 and 5. September last year started with a 9 game road trip and ended with a 6 game road trip. If I remember right, they won the series against Milwaukee? and then were swept by the Cardinals. Then, with their season on the brink, they turned around and swept Texas in Texas. The opening game is where we figured out that Garrett Cole was a gem. He beat Yu Darvish 1-0, and after the game several Ranger hitters said; “That guy is really good”.

    The point is;
    last year on the road in September they were 10 -5 and played at Milw, Chi, SL, Cincy and Texas.
    Last year at home in September they were 5 – 7 and played SL, SD, Chi and Cincy

  16. NMR says:

    Fair point about Bell as a switch hitter, but I personally don’t put much stock in this as an asset until it actually proves to be one. Scouting reports of Bell from the right side have not been kind.

  17. Travis Sawchik says:

    It’s probably Parks’ Texas bias

  18. Derek says:

    I honestly don’t know how you find anything to write about, Travis. Thank you for keeping the blog going.

  19. Steelkings says:

    He was eligible this year for the first time.

    This rule:

    Players are eligible for selection in the Rule 5 draft who are not on their major league organization’s 40-man roster and were 19 or older on the June 5 preceding their signing and this is fourth Rule 5 draft upcoming.

  20. Bradthedad says:

    Thanks, Steel. You’re right, this is his 5th year – didn’t seem so since he just turned 22.

  21. NMR says:

    Best Twitter profile picture in the biz. :)

  22. macchamp74 says:

    Good points Steel…schedule is the schedule. Every team plays 81 home and 81 away, I don’t put much stock in what month they appear. Just win baby!

  23. brendan says:

    Jason works too hard and takes his job much too seriously to assemble his list based on any sort of contrarian impulses. So it’s safe to say this how he sees these guys at present.

    Based on the somewhat limited information we have access to I’d probably expect Meadows to be ranked before Bell. But ultimately they’re 5 and 7, so it’s not like there’s a huge gulf between them. Jason’s certainly admitted that he may well be wrong on Meadows, “My guess is that Austin Meadows blossoms into a star and I’m left telling the internet that I didn’t see it coming and that I suck.”

    So we shall see.

  24. The Gunner says:

    Derek

    I agree with you about Travis and his knack for finding things to write about. Let’s hope he’ll soon be writing about a new 1B platoon partner for Gaby or an innings eater type of pitcher to plug into AJ’s spot.

  25. Leo Walter says:

    Gunner, I am pretty sure that Volquez is the designated innings eater.

  26. Steelkings says:

    Or the fact that AJ Burnett is coming back here. I’m leaning that way. For several reasons. If he was going to sign with B-More or Philly, he would have done it by now. B-More was allegedly all in 10 days ago. It doesn’t take that long. B-more is right down the street from his house…Ok..20 minutes… His wife loves their summer home in Pittsburgh and has said so publicly. IMO its down to two. And B-More was all in 10 days ago. So, AJ…Pack your bags for Bradenton and not Sarasota.

  27. Steelkings says:

    I think Volquez will end up being the guy who comes into the 4th inning in those games where the Buc’s are down by 6 runs.

  28. Nate83 says:

    I hope they make a decision soon so we can move on. Hopefully your correct and the Orioles all in is something like 13 or 14 million and AJ is just trying to get the Pirates offer close to that. Kuroda getting 16 million and Hudson getting 2 years for 23 million should be setting the market but we will see.

    I just don’t know where they hide Volquez if they do sign AJ unless Wandy doesn’t start the season. We already have to lose Gomez or Morris because of a crowded bullpen with no options. I wouldn’t want to lose both of those guys just to make room for Volquez. Obviously this shouldn’t prohibit them from signing AJ but it is a concern. I can’t remember the last time the Pirates needed to leave an actual good baseball player unprotected because of lack of room on the roster.

  29. Jim S. says:

    Great points, Andrew. The bullpen concerns me a bit as well. They were good last year, but there was also some good fortune.

  30. Jim S. says:

    Wasn’t it similar last year? We had a bunch of road games in Cincy and St Louis at the end of the year. I remember the pundits saying Pittsburgh would collapse from it.

    Also, if you add the homestand that concludes August, does that balance things? I do wish we were finishing with Cincy and St. Louis at home this year, instead of on the road again.

  31. Steelkings says:

    Im beginning to believe the money has less to do with anything. Its a matter of when. The day he signs he’s off to Pittsburgh to take a physical. And thus the end of his winter Vacation.

    I know this. If you look at his twitter page, he trades tweets with several major league baseball players. All Pirates. Nobody else.

    My prediction is that AJ will sign with the Pirates in that 8 million range, but only because the Pirates offer a player option on a second year. This will happen within the next 5 days.

  32. Jim S. says:

    NMR:

    I thought the exact same thing as I read Parks’ critique of Meadows. Also, I would guess that he has not downgraded Bell one bit for the lost season, whereas most other guys did.

  33. Nate83 says:

    They have 7 spots for 8 quality guys and none of them have options. Add Volquez to the mix and it gets really messy. If Volquez plays that role then Gomez and Morris are both gone. They are both valuable players but I’m not sure what their value is for a trade so they would more then likely be released or traded for a lottery ticket.

    Watson and Wilson have the most trade value so you could trade one of them and get something back of value and open up a bullpen spot but then you are quickly weakening a area of strength for this team now and in the future.

    Not to mention the number of bullpen options we have in the minors. It’s hard to justify Volquez being anything but a starter for 5 million a year. Volquez and AJ may be needed with Wandy being such an unknown and there are always injuries that seem to happen to starters but if Wandy is healthy they will have some immediate opening day roster concerns with AJ signed. A good player(s) will need to be released or traded.

  34. Nate83 says:

    Wow 8 million. That would surprise me. I hope you are correct.

    I personally think the Pirates need to get closer to 12 million to have any chance and that still would be AJ taking less then other offers and opting to stay with what is comfortable, close and familiar.

  35. Jim S. says:

    I was very down on the Volquez signing. I think he has consistently sucked for several seasons now, with the most recent ones actually coming in pitchers’ parks to boot. I have become a bit more optimistic, though. I think the arm is still a good one, and there is still some swing and miss to it. I know his k/9 numbers dropped last year. I’m still not sold on Volquez as anything more than a #5, but at first I didn’t want him getting starts for us at all.

    I read something yesterday about the performance of Volquez when a catcher with good pitch framing skills is behind the plate. The ERA drops quite a bit for pitchers with control issues if they have a good pitch framer back there. Martin is a good pitch framer, and Stewart was #1 or #2 in all of baseball last year. Somewhere around 18% of the “balls” were converted into “strikes” with him receiving. So, a case could be made that if a good pitch framer behind the dish is combined with the Pirates converting him to a heavier 2-seam guy, and their noted ability for doing a good job with shifts … voila, maybe we have a serviceable starting pitcher.

    I still want AJ as well, though.

  36. Nate83 says:

    Jim you are always bringing up park performance and a I appreciate that. It’s often something that is not considered when we have these debates.

    On a another note I saw your response about your daughter on DK blog yesterday. I agree completely about kids in High School Sports or other school activities being more well rounded. I saw two kids in high school join my football team their sophomore years and their entire attitude changed. They got better grades, treated others nicer, stayed out of trouble and just generally made better decisions. My sons are still young and very involved in sports and boy scouts and I hope that doesn’t change even if they don’t necessarily excel at them because it will make them better people.

  37. Jim S. says:

    Travis:

    I could not agree more with the issues you raised with the Cardinals. Let me preface my comments by saying that I still believe they are the class of the division and should win it by 4 or 5 games. But, contrary to popular MLB punditry consensus, I don’t believe they are perfect. And, since you pointed to some possible chinks in the Cards’ armor, Travis, I would advise you to watch your back at the next gathering of your brethren from across the country. You may be taken off the Gammons, Olney, Heyman, Costas, Stark Christmas card lists, or worse. That said:

    * I assume Peralta will be PED-free this year. We’ll see how good of a hitter he really is. I know he’s an upgrade over Kozma, but, like you, I am not completely sold on him. I think they overpaid, and for too many years.

    * I agree that Carpenter is good, but not as great as he was last year. I love Wong, and think he will soon be among the best 2b in the NL.

    * Adams should produce pretty well at 1b. I’d gladly take him over our proposed combo.

    * Bourgos/Jay will have a lot of running to do in CF if Craig is going to play RF. He might be as much of a disaster on balls in the air as Beltran is in his old age, and I still think Halliday tracks down balls in the gap as if he is juggling chain saws at the same time. Jay is not a good CF defensively, and Bourjos still needs to prove he can hit – although the defense could be stellar from him.

    * I love their pitching staff, but as a lot of people point out, some times young guys regress a bit in year 2 – even Cardinals! A lot of experts seem comfortable saying Gerit Cole could easily regress, but I seldom hear them saying the Cards’ guys could do the same. I guess the “Cardinals Way” ensures that doesn’t happen. In fairness, the Cardinals have been highly successful and have, therefore, built up a track record that makes it easier to trust their successes.

    * Good luck with the .330 RISP again, St. Louis. I do think Halliday and Craig adopt a “go the other way” approach with RISP that helps them in that regard, but the entire team is not likely to hit over .300 again in those situations.

    I just get tired of everybody constantly telling me how wonderful St. Louis is at everything, and I am a contrarian by nature. I’m sure they even get the toilets cleaned quicker in the new Busch Stadium than any team in the league. Their “knowldegable” fans insist on it.

  38. Jim S. says:

    Thanks, Nate. I don’t think you can do wrong with your boys in Scouts or sports as long as you stay involved. Good luck with your boys, and embrace these years! I have thoroughly enjoyed actively participating in the activities of our kids. Of course, I am a sports nut, so baseball and basketball with my son is very easy and enjoyable for me. The soccer, with my oldest daughter, was something she became driven about and pulled us into. I knew virtually nothing about that sport when she started. It paid off for her on Signing Day yesterday, but even it hadn’t, it has been a wonderful experience. Our other daughter has gravitated to the arts, and I have to say that was foreign to me. But, I could not be more proud that she has gone her own way, and is doing very well with it as well. I am convinced all of these things have made them better, more focused students, and more well-rounded kids. As I said yesterday, I happily give my wife the bulk of the credit.

  39. NMR says:

    That is a GROAT-esque list of issues, Jim!

    Consider this proof that one can poke holes in even the most complete of baseball teams. This game is really, really hard.

  40. Nate83 says:

    Agree completely. I don’t think many are looking at Peralta and Bourgos as players in all faucets of the game. They both have great upside over the players they are replacing in the areas those players struggled. However they both also come with questions concerning other parts of their game. As a whole they may not be that great of an improvement over the players they displaced.

    Their pitching has to be sort of a question mark coming in. Sure they could very well be extremely good but the could just as easily take a step back.

    Last of all the RISP just isn’t sustainable. It’s not unlike Manning throwing for 54 touchdowns and setting the record for yards. It was a magical season but would anyone bet on him doing it again next year.

  41. NMR says:

    I find myself believing your first post more and more, Steel. Just seems like there has to be a bunch of stuff going on behind the scenes we don’t know about.

    Baltimore is also apparently one of the favorites for Bronson Arroyo, which would seem to take money away from AJ Burnett.

  42. NMR says:

    I don’t know, buddy. If the team actually has more good bullpen options than spots available, I don’t think Watson and Wilson are close to being good enough to where you can say trading one would quickly weaken it.

    I’m sold on trading Justin Wilson at this point. The chances of him regressing are high, and in the end, he’s still just a reliever.

  43. Nate83 says:

    It’s a very unusual season if the Pirates have a long relief guy making 5 million. In the end I think he is needed sometime during the year as a starter because of injuries. If not then great for the Pirates because it means all pitchers stayed healthy and played well.

    I have no problem trading Wilson if they get a good return that immediately helps the team. He could be more valuable to other teams then he is to the Pirates. Especially if other teams see him as a starter or closer. We would still have Watson and I’m excited to see what Stolmy brings to the table. I’m just not crazy about having Morris and Volquez in the bullpen and I’m not convinced Mazzaro and Gomez can replicate their seasons from a year ago.

  44. Jim S. says:

    It is hard to build an organization. And, I recognize St. Louis has been very good at it for very long. So, they haven’t been getting lucky. But, I don’t think they are above criticism. I think the national baseball writers think that, though.

  45. Jim S. says:

    I think Baltimore may have started courting Bronson, in part, to get AJ off the dime.

  46. Nate83 says:

    I think everyone is an option for Baltimore at this point until they actually sign someone. They have an option A, B, C and so on. I think the GM is convinced they need another starter regardless and will definitely sign somebody.

    The Pirates on the other hand I think would like to get AJ but are perfectly content going into the season as is for starting pitching if AJ doesn’t sign with them at the value they put on him.

    To put it simply the Pirates see another starting pitcher as a want (luxury) and Baltimore sees another starting pitching as a need (can’t compete without). That is why I think they will outbid the Pirate when it is all said and done.

  47. Jim S. says:

    How true! In this case, I wish the gods of regression would insist on a full year’s payback for the Cards for that .330. That would put them in the .210 range to balance out over the 2 years.

    Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. If the Cards hit .270 overall, I would guess the odds are greatest of them hitting approx. .270 w/ RISP.

    Kind of like if you flip a coin and 3 straight times it comes up heads. The odds of heads are still 50% on that 4th time.

  48. Jim S. says:

    You could be right on that, Nate.

    I am hearing Balt fans are on them big-time for inactivity.

  49. Nate83 says:

    Unless you are the Cards and you have a 2 headed coin then it always comes up roses.

    Honestly they have a great approach with 2 strikes and a great approach with runners in scoring position. I’m not sure if it’s organizational or they just have 3 or 4 guys that just are good at this sort of thing. I’m not going to suggest they are “clutch” because according to some people there is no such thing but they do not “choke” which I do believe happens to some players in tense situations. For at least for the foreseeable future I think they will continue to be one of the better teams at this but the .330 would seem to be magical and hard to do again if not nearly impossible. I think the second best season compared to that isn’t even close.

    Maybe the regression cost them .1 runs a game costing them 16 runs over the year and contributing to another 2 or 3 losses. Look at Baltimore last year. I’m not so sure that team wasn’t just as good as the year before if not even better. They just had a more reasonable record in 1 run games and extra innings.

  50. The Gunner says:

    Steel

    I hope you are right about AJ. He is definitely the guy I want here.

 
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