Archive for the ‘Pittsburg Pirates’ category

Reality Bites Dereck Rodriguez

May 12, 2019

Hope springs eternal, especially at the start of each new baseball season, but reality has a way of asserting itself eventually.

Dereck Rodriguez‘s 2018 breakthrough was a very pleasant surprise in what was otherwise an armpit of a season.  Giants’ fans told ourselves, sure Rodriguez is a 26 year old rookie and his peripheral numbers weren’t impressive, but he’d come late to pitching, so maybe he’d be one of those rare players who establishes himself as a major league star after a 26 year old rookie season.

Alas, it didn’t take reality long to call bullsh#$ on that.  Looking at his minor league numbers, there really wasn’t much reason to think that Rodriguez could really ever be better than a fifth starter, and I certainly didn’t go into the 2019 with grand delusions that Rodriguez was going to have the success this year that he did last year.  The law of averages is a bitch.

Rodriguez was sent down to AAA today.  With Drew Pomeranz on the Injured List and Derek Holland ineffective after seven starts, Rodriguez could get another chance if he has a couple of effective starts for the Sacramento River Cats.  One would have to assume that Tyler Beede will get another start as a result of Rodriguez’s demotion, but with an 18.69 ERA after two major league appearances, Beede is on short rope himself.

Shaun Anderson may be the next River Cat to get a shot at the Giants’ rotation.  He’s pitched better than his 4.11 ERA so far this year in Sacramento.

The other big Giants’ news of the day is that the team claimed now former Phillies outfielder Aaron Altherr off waivers.  I speculated that the Giants might be interested in Altherr as soon as the Phillies signed Bryce Harper.  Apparently, the Gints were waiting for Altherr’s price to drop — the price doesn’t get any lower than a waiver claim.

Altherr is out of options, so the Giants will give Altherr a major league shot. It’s likely that Aramis Garcia gets sent down to make room for Altherr.  Altherr’s start in Philly was awful this year — 1 for 29 at the plate.  He’s one of those players who has talent but strikes out too much.  Hard for those kinds of hitters to be consistent.  There’s not a lot of daylight between Altherr and Mac Williamson, both 28 year old right-handed sluggers still trying to establish themselves.

In a final note, the Pirates just bought former Giant Chris Stratton‘s contract from the Angels for what I am sure was a modest sum since the Halos had just designated the out-of-options Stratton for assignment.  It’s the best outcome Stratton could reasonably have hoped for.  Stratton is back in the National League, where he’s had some success, and PNC Park is a good one for pitchers.

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Christian Walker Is NL’s Biggest Surprise So Far

April 24, 2019

The Arizona Diamondbacks’ Christian Walker is the Senior Circuit’s biggest surprise so far in 2019.  The 28 year old 1Bman was stuck behind Paul Goldschmidt until Big Paul got traded away to the Cardinals this past off-season.  Walker is taking full advantage, batting .347 with a 1.135 OPS through his first 21 games of the season.

How long Walker can keep the hitting up remains to be seen.  Not many players who establish themselves as major league regulars at age 28 have long major league careers.

Walker proved that he could hit when he posted a .980 OPS at AAA Reno in 2017, and he has the advantage of playing his home games in one of MLB’s better hitters’ parks.

Walker had very limited playing time in four major league seasons prior to 2019, and he was often pinch-hitting, which is tough for a young player to do.  One thing that may work in his favor is that he has shown a pronounced reverse-platoon advantage in his career.  As an exclusively right-handed batter, he has an MLB career .975 OPS against righties and a career .789 OPS against lefties.  He’s had fewer than 200 major league career plate appearances, so the platoon splits will probably change significantly over time.

Even so, it’s got to be easier for a right-handed hitter to hit better against lefties with more experience than to learn how to hit righties.  While Walker’s career OPS against righties is certain to regress toward the mean the more he plays, it can only be a good thing for him if he hits well against righties to begin with.

For a player like Walker to have any kind of major league career, he needs to do what he’s doing right now — hit a ton right off the bat when he finally gets a chance to play every day.  I don’t think that Walker will make them forget about Paul Goldschmidt in Arizona, but I will be rooting for him to at least be the next Garrett Jones.

Jake Barrett Gets Screwed

March 1, 2019

It’s tough to be a marginal major leaguer who designated for assignment on the eve of Spring Training.  The Giants claimed Jake Barrett off waivers earlier in the off-season, but then designated him for assignment in order to claim Hanser Alberto off waivers on February 22nd.

Barrett apparently sat in DFA limbo until today when he was claimed by the Pirates.  In the meantime, he didn’t get to pitch even one game this spring for the Giants.

Although Barrett still has time to make an impression with the Bucs, for a marginal player to miss any opportunities to show what he can do (even if it’s across only half a dozen games) in Spring Training is an absolute killer.  A couple of missed relief appearances could be all it takes to decide whether he starts the season in Pittsburgh or AAA Indianapolis.

Ironically, the Giants apparently just designated Hanser Alberto for assignment, as he was reportedly claimed by the Orioles today.  At least Alberto was able to get eight plate appearances (he had two hits and two walks) for the Giants this spring before switching teams. No word yet on who the Giants claimed off waivers or are assigning to their 40-man roster to take Alberto’s place.

I’m a little sad to see Barrett go.  He looks a lot like one of those scrap heap relievers the Giants seem to find every off-season who pitches well and helps the team in San Francisco.

San Francisco Giants Loading Up on Marginal Players

February 17, 2019

With it now looking like the Giants will be bridesmaids in the Bryce Harper sweepstakes (mlbtraderumors suggests today that the Phillies are now the clear favorites to sign Harper), the Giants are continuing to load up on marginal players to address weaknesses throughout the major league and AAA rosters.  I listed the earlier signings about a month ago.

Since then, the Giants have added outfielders Cameron Maybin (age 32 in 2019), John Andreoli (29), Gerardo Parra (32), Craig Gentry (35) and Anthony Garcia (27); infielder Yangervis Solarte (31); catchers Stephen Vogt (34) and Rene Rivera (35); and right-handed pitchers Trevor Gott (26), Jose Lopez (25), Jake Barrett (27) and Brandon Beachy (32).  That’s whole lot of names but not much to get excited about.

In fact, the Giants have accumulated so many possibly has-been or never-will-be outfielders that one has to wonder how the team will get all of them enough Spring Training plate appearances to reasonably separate all the chaff from whatever remaining wheat there might be.

On a more positive note, the Giants have been good at identifying relief pitching candidates who suddenly become useful major league arms once they get to pitch their home games in the pitcher-friendly confines of McCovey Park (name sponsors come and go, but Willie McCovey is eternal, at least in the hearts of Giants’ fans).  Trevor Gott or Jake Barrett could well be the bullpen diamond in the rough the Giants turn up in 2019.

The Giants have been linked to still free agents Gio Gonzalez and Josh Harrison, and there has been rumored interest in the Yankees’ Jacoby Ellsbury.  Still, it looks to me like the Giants are starting a rebuild without yet disclosing that fact to the fan base.  If the Giants don’t make any more significant moves between now and the start of the 2019 regular season, the fans are likely to figure it out on their own soon enough.

Best Foreign Pitching Prospects for Taiwan’s CPBL 2019

January 6, 2019

The last few years I have been taking a greater interest in the foreign players, nearly all pitchers, who pitch in the Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) each season.  Like every independent league, the CPBL is looking for the best, most immediately effective foreign pitchers it can find within the league’s salary structure for the three roster spots available to foreign players on each CPBL major league roster.

Foreigners signing a first CPBL contract typically receive a $45,000 to $55,000 guarantee for the season’s first three months.  If the foreign pitcher pitches well enough to be retained for a full season, said foreign pitcher can earn $120,000 to $150,000 for what amounts to an eight month season, given the many, many rainouts in Taiwan and including Spring Training.

A player with at least one day of MLB major league service cannot be paid less than $90,400 for minor league service time or less than $555,000 for major league service time in 2019.  Thus, most players with any amount of past MLB major league service time who are able to secure a contract to pitch in AAA in 2019 will elect to do so, rather than travel to Taiwan.  Further, these players can also usually secure an opportunity to pitch in one of the top four Caribbean Winter Leagues, where they can make as much as $50,000 or $60,000 if their Winter League team makes the playoffs, which run long relative to short Winter League regular seasons of 40 to 60 games.

The next best summer league after the CPBL is the Mexican League, and CPBL teams often sign American-born pitchers to contracts the off-season after the pitcher has a successful season in the Mexican League.  Mexican League salaries cap at about $8,000 a month for what is usually no more than a five month season, but there is rumored to be extensive cheating on salary caps for the best foreign players, real compensation may be closer to $60,000 for the season.

While Mexican League players definitely make less than CPBL players, Latin American players, particularly those from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico or Venezuela, typically prefer to pitch their summers in Mexico and then pitch in their home countries in the Winter, where they are big, big stars and likely have some endorsement opportunities if they play at home.  Because the CPBL 120-game season tends to run so long, pitching in the CPBL can interfere with the player’s ability to play the first month of the Winter Leagues, which is a definite drawback for these players.

The CPBL signs a relatively high number of first contracts with foreign pitchers age 32 or older.  A lot of pitchers who can still pitch have by their age 29 to 32 seasons aged out of the MLB system and either aren’t quite good enough or young enough to be signed by KBO or NPB teams.  KBO and NPB teams rarely sign any foreign player to a first contract over the age 31 unless the foreigner has a very substantial MLB major league record.

With those considerations in mind, here’s my list of the best pitchers who might reasonably sign with a CPBL team this off-season.  There are many available pitchers with the necessary talent to pitch in the CPBL, particularly among 2018 AAA starters who aren’t able to obtain an MLB minor league contract for 2019, so I don’t claim my list is definitive.  It’s simply too difficult predict whether any individual pitcher no older 28 with the necessary talent and track record will elect to pitch in the CPBL during the off-season.

Kyle Lobstein (age 29 in 2019).  Kyle Lobstein pitched 128 major league innings with a 5.06 ERA between 2014 and 2016 for the Tigers and the Pirates.  However, at the start of 2018, he found himself without an MLB minor league contract and thus began the season in the Mexican League.  He pitched well enough there in the first half (2.95 ERA in 11 starts with good ratios) to secure a contract in the Dodgers organization.  He pitched well at AA Tulsa (2.56 ERA in seven starts) but not as well at AAA Oklahoma City (5.14 ERA in seven starts).  He’s still unsigned for 2019 as I write this.  Lobstein tops my list because he’s still reasonably young and has a major league pedigree.  He’s also a left-hander, which doesn’t hurt.

Barry Enright (33).  Another former major leaguer with a career major league record similar to Lobstein’s, Enright also had a similar 2018 to Lobstein’s.  After pitching well in 13 Mexican League starts, he signed with the DiamondBacks organization.  He pitched O.K. at AA Jackson, but got bombed in four appearances totaling eight innings at AAA Reno.  Reno is a tough place to pitch, playing in possibly the best hitters’ park in the already hit-happy Pacific Coast League.

Lobstein is obviously a better CPBL prospect, but Enright is certainly more likely not to receive an MLB contract between now and when CPBL teams begin signing new foreign pitchers later this month or in February.

Josh Lowey (34).  Josh Lowey is to the Mexican League what Mike Loree is to the CPBL.  Mike Loree is currently the CPBL’s best starter and one of the most productive foreign pitchers in CPBL’s 29 season history.  Josh Lowey has never pitched in the MLB system, having worked his way up from the Independent-A Leagues.  In five Mexican League seasons, he now has a 55-24 record, which is fine indeed.

Lowey got a chance to pitch in the KBO in 2016, and he got hit pretty hard (6.30 ERA in 60 IP) and his command was poor.  However, he was playing for the KBO’s worst team that season, and he struck out 68 KBO hitters.  He certainly has the talent to succeed in the CPBL.

Lowey is getting up there in age, but he was still terrific in 2018.  He went 14-5 in Mexico during the summer with a 3.12 ERA, a 1.178 WHIP and 133 Ks in 144.1 IP.  This Winter he pitched in the Dominican Winter League (DWL), where he went 6-2 with a 2.26 ERA and 1.293 WHIP in 12 starts.  In the DWL’s post-season, he has a 2.45 ERA after three starts.

Lowey didn’t pitch in the Winter Leagues last year, which may have been the reason no CPBL team signed him then.  CPBL teams tend to like at least some Winter League performance the off-season before they bring a new foreign pitcher in.  Lowey has that in spades this year, as he was one of the best starters in what is probably this off-season’s best Winter League.

Tyler Alexander (27).  Another lefty, Tyler Alexander spent three full seasons pitching in Fargo in the Indy-A American Association.  He had been in the Brewers’ organization, but during a period when his grandmother died and his long-time girlfriend broke up with him, he tested positive twice for marijuana, which led to an 50-game suspension from MLB.  Because the Brewers released him, it meant that any signing team had to wait while Alexander served out the 50-game suspension.  So no MLB organization signed him, and he pitched in baseball’s boondocks for three years.

Alexander pitched well in the Mexican Pacific League (LMP), Mexico’s winter league, the previous two off-seasons, but he didn’t get a shot from a summer Mexican League team.  Instead, he joined the Indy-A CanAm League this past spring, which isn’t any better than the American Association, but gets more attention from scouts because the teams play on the East Coast.  He pitched reasonably well and was signed by the Quintano Roo Tigres to pitch in the Mexican League’s second half.  He went 4-3 with 3.81 ERA and a 1.223 WHIP and 48 Ks in 54.1 IP south of the border.

Alexander has been even better in the DWL this winter, posting a 2.68 ERA with a tiny 0.87 WHIP and striking out another 48 batters in 50.1 IP.  He also has a 1.42 ERA after three DWL post-season starts.  The DWL is an extreme pitchers’ league this off-season, but Alexander, like Lowey, has unquestionably been one of the league’s best starters.

After all these years, MLB has waived Alexander’s old 50-game suspension last spring, so an MLB organization could sign him without penalty.  MLB teams are fully aware of what’s going on in the DWL, as are NPB teams, to it’s quite likely either an MLB organization or an NPB team could soon sign him.  If not, he’d make a great prospect for the CPBL.

Tyler Cloyd (32).  Another pitcher with more than 100 MLB major league innings under his belt, Cloyd pitched badly in 17.2 major league innings with the Marlins in 2018, but pitched fairly well for the AAA New Orleans Baby Cakes in 2018, posting a 5.17 ERA in 15 starts with a 1.336 WHIP and 68 Ks in 85.1 IP while walking only 18.  Cloyd is still presumably looking for a minor league contract for 2019, but at his age probably won’t receive one.  He’s another pitcher I could definitely see pitching in Taiwan in 2019.

Bryan Evans (32).  Evans had an interesting 2018 season.  After spending 2017 in the Atlantic League, he started the 2018 season in the Mexican League where he went 3-3 with an unimpressive 4.82 ERA and a WHIP over 1.5 in 11 starts.  But that was good enough for the Mariners to sign him to pitch at AAA Tacoma, where he pitched better.  He went 6-3 for the Rainiers in 14 starts with a 4.40 ERA with a 1.262 WHIP and 71 Ks in 77.2 IP.

Evans also pitched this winter in the DWL where he went 0-3 with a 4.34 ERA, but struck out 29 batters in 29 innings pitched with a 1.372 WHIP.  Evans looks a lot like the kind of pitcher who pitches in the CPBL, and he hasn’t done so yet.  Maybe 2019 will be his year.

Patrick Johnson (30).  He had a good 2018 in the Mexican League, going 12-5 with a 4.02 ERA, 1.307 WHIP and 86 Ks in 116.1 IP.  He didn’t pitch for a winter league team this year, which I think will hurt him with CPBL teams, particularly since his 2018 season looks a lot like a small right-hander (5’10 and 170 lbs) about to have arm problems.

Will Oliver (31), Nate Reed (31) and James Russell (33).  Three 2018 Atlantic League stars who have pitched well in the LMP this winter.  Oliver and Reed are still pitching effectively in the LMP’s post-season, and James Russell has 394 career MLB major league appearances, mostly in relief.

Colin Rea (28), Burch Smith (29) and Sean Nolin (29).  Three pitchers with MLB major league experience coming back from Tommy John surgery, who are all still young enough that I expect they’ll be pitching in the MLB minors in 2019.  However, one could slip through to Taiwan.

Andre Rienzo (30), Paolo Espino (32) and Guillermo Moscoso (35).  Three Latino pitchers with MLB major league experience who I could see pitching in the CPBL in 2019.  Rienza is a Brazilian who has had arm problems, but he had an 0.76 ERA in nine second half starts in the Mexican League season and was brought in at the end of the LMP season to allow only two runs in 18.1 IP across three starts including one in the post-season so far.

Espino is a Panamanian who pitched effectively but certainly not spectacularly in 10 AAA starts for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox this past summer.  He’s been fantastic in the DWL so far this winter.

Guillermo Moscoso has already pitched in NPB, so he’s willing to play in Asia,  but he’s also a Venezuelan who has played eight seasons in the Venezuelan Winter League (VWL).  I could see him deciding that the situation is so dire in Venezuela now, what with two VWL players, including major leaguer and top VWL hitter Luis Valbuena, being murdered while driving back to their home city after a road trip this season, it’s time to go to Taiwan.  He’s enough of a star in Venezuela, they’ll let him start next year’s VWL season late.

Finally, the KBO jettisoned a lot of older but still effective foreign KBO veterans this off-season.  Dustin Nippert (38) rumoredly advised CPBL teams that he’d sign for $50,000 a month, although that’s a non-starter if typical CPBL salaries for first-year foreigners range from $15K to $18K a month.  $50,000 for three months?  Sign ‘im!

So which former KBOer would sign a $75,000 for three month contract?  Maybe Eric Hacker (36) who has previously been rumored as a CPBL prospect.  I see Dominican Henry Sosa (33) doing the Mexican League/DWL combo in 2019, hoping to catch on with an NPB team.

Because of his age, Taiwan’s Wang Wei-Chung (27) is more likely to pitch in AAA or NPB in 2019 than the CPBL.  David Hale (31) and Pat Dean (30) seem like better possibilities for the CPBL.

Chinatrust Brothers Sign Eric Wood and Other Asian Notes

January 1, 2019

The CPBL’s Chinatrust Brothers signed Pirates’ minor leaguer Eric Wood for 2018.  It is the first time since 2016 that a CPBL team has used one of its three major league roster spots on a foreign position player.

Wood will be 26 in 2019 and plays 3B, 1B and the corner outfield positions.  He slashed .269/.328/.481 in 308 plate appearances at AAA Indianapolis in 2018, his second season the International League.  Wood is not a bad hitter, but he doesn’t hit well enough to be a major league 1B/LF, and his defense at 3B isn’t major league average.

Wood was a minor league free agent this off-season and given his age and 2018 performance, it is surprising he did not sign with a major league organization.  CPBL teams do not report the contract amounts they spend on foreign players, but my reasonable guestimate would be that the Brothers guaranteed him $75,000 for the first three months of the 2019 CPBL season, which is probably about the same he would earn for a full season as a minor league free agent signee playing a full year at AAA.  Of course, playing at AAA, Wood would have had a chance to get called up to the majors and make major league money for however long he could stick on a major league roster.

The last position player signed by a CPBL team was former major league Felix Pie in 2016.  Pie was coming off a successful season in South Korea’s KBO in which he batted .326 with an .897 OPS in 2015, but was not invited back by the Hanwha Eagles, so he signed with the CPBL’s 7/11 Uni-Lions instead.  Unfortunately, Pie fouled a ball off his ankle, fracturing it, in his fifth CPBL game, and that was the end of his CPBL career, as the Uni-Lions weren’t willing to wait for him to heal before filing his roster spot with another foreigner.

In recent years, the CPBL has decided it wants starting pitchers to fill the three roster spot limit for foreigners on each team, pretty much like KBO teams had decided before the KBO expanded from eight to ten teams between 2013 and 2015 and decided to allow each team a third foreign player so long as at least one of the three foreigners was not a pitcher.  The Brothers signed Wood in part because of his versatility, although I kind of expect he’ll play mostly 3B in Taiwan.  However, it remains to be seen whether Wood lasts more than half a season, because the Brothers may not have enough adequate domestic starters to make experimenting with a position player work.

Four foreign position players played in the CPBL in 2014 and 2015, but only 2B JIm Negrych managed to last long enough to play in more than 37 CPBL games.  He managed to appear in 107 for the Brothers spread over those two seasons.

In other recent Asian signings, NPB’s Yomiuri Giants signed reliever Ryan Cook to a $1.3M contract, and the Hanshin Tigers signed 1B/3B/LF Jefry Marte for an “estimated” $1M.  Both Cook and Marte have considerable major league experience.

Ryan Cook was really good a few years ago as a young reliever for the A’s, but arm problems, including Tommy John surgery, derailed his career.  He had a 5.29 ERA in 19 relief appearances for the Mariners last year, but he pitched well at AAA, and his arm appears to be healthy again.

Marte has an ugly .222/.288/.407 slash line in 728 career major league plate appearances, but he’s also hit 30 doubles and 30 home runs and he’s only 28 in 2019. He looks like an excellent bet to become a successful NPB slugger.

Houston Astros Reach Deal with Michael Brantley

December 18, 2018

It’s being reported that the Astros have reached a two-year deal with Michael Brantley for $32 million.  It’s less than the three years and $45 million that mlbtraderumors.com predicted and significantly less than the three-year $50 million deal the Phillies gave Andrew McCutchen about a week ago.

It feels like the trend the last few off-seasons is that the first of similar players like McCutchen and Brantley to sign gets the better deal.  It also fits in with the recent trend that teams are going to squeeze the second tier free agents like Brantley much more than in the past.

Brantley is coming off a fine 2018 and he still runs well.  But he’ll be 32 in 2019, and he missed a lot of playing time to injuries in 2016 and 2017.  In my mind this feels like a fair deal in terms of the fact that there are a wide range of outcomes for what Brantley’s performance will be over the next two seasons.  It could be a great deal for the Astros if Brantley is healthy and productive, or it could be a waste of $25M to $30M if he gets hurt again or suddenly gets old.

I was very pleased to see that the Mets have signed Rajai Davis to a minor league deal with an invitation to Spring Training.  Davis, now 38, has had a remarkable major league career for a player of his modest professional beginnings.

The Pirates originally drafted Davis in the 38th round, and the Bucs thought so little of him that they included him as the trade piece in a 2007 deal in which they received Matt Morris and all of what was then a very large $12M remaining salary commitment through 2008.  Morris was dreadful for the Pirates, and Davis was immediately useful to the SF Giants.

Unfortunately, Davis got off to a slow start (1 for 18) in 2008, and the A’s claimed him off waivers.  Davis had probably his best major league season for the A’s in 2009, and that firmly established Davis as a major league player in the eyes of MLB teams.  Davis’ base-stealing ability is elite, but, alas, he’s never gotten on base enough to take full advantage of it.

Davis has never been a star, but he’s always been good enough to stick around and play regularly more often than not during the last decade.  The fact that he’s still around at age 38 is a testament to his abilities to take advantage of the opportunities that were finally afforded to him and to play at a consistently decent level that least one major league team thought he was a low cost way to plug a gap in the outfield.  He’s also been able to stay healthy when many other outfielders have not.