- The Pirates have said they intend to use Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow and Chad Kuhl as starters when the three young arms are promoted to the majors, though Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review notes that if all three are called up this season, the Bucs may not have enough rotation space. The Pirates have one starter likely to be shifted out (Juan Nicasio) and Sawchik figures Jon Niese’s recent good form has solidified his starting spot.
- This could leave Jeff Locke fighting for his job, though Sawchik hears from scouts that Locke has some trade value if the Pirates wanted to address their rotation surplus by making a deal. The six-year veteran has been a decent back-of-the-rotation arm for the Bucs over the last three seasons, capable of eating innings (a career-high 168 1/3 frames in 2015) and keeping the ball in the park (a career 50.7% grounder rate) while not recording many strikeouts. This season, however, Locke has not pitched very well, posting a 5.08 ERA, 5.6 K/9, 4.2 BB/9 and an even 50.0% grounder rate over 51 1/3 innings.
- Also from Sawchik’s piece, he opines that Rich Hill would make sense as a trade deadline target for the Pirates. Of course, given Hill’s strong performance and low cost (roughly $4MM still owed this season), the A’s lefty could be one of the deadline’s most sought-after trade chips. In Pittsburgh’s case, acquiring Hill could allow them to keep Glasnow or Kuhl in the minors until next season.
- Pirates skipper Clint Hurdle didn’t shoot down the idea of moving right-hander Juan Nicasio to the bullpen when asked about it Sunday, tweets Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Nicasio, who has 77 big league innings in relief under his belt, will continue in the rotation for now. However, with the Super Two cutoff nearing, it stands to reason his spot could soon be in jeopardy if the Bucs go the expected route and promote top prospects Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon. Nicasio put himself in danger of a demotion by following a solid April with four mediocre to poor May starts. The 29-year-old allowed 15 earned runs on 28 hits in 20 May innings, though he did pick up 18 strikeouts against six walks. All told, Nicasio owns a 4.79 ERA, 9.00 K/9 and 3.45 BB/9 through 47 frames.
The Mets and Dodgers are locked in an unusual feud, reports FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal. New York contacted Major League Baseball on Friday after finding out that Los Angeles wanted to mark prearranged defensive positions in the Citi Field outfield, according to Rosenthal. The league is cognizant of the fact that the Dodgers used a laser rangefinder before the game to mark positions, but that’s only a violation of MLB rules if it’s done during the game. Further, given that the Dodgers actually informed the Mets’ grounds crew of their plans, there wasn’t any subterfuge on LA’s part. Nevertheless, the grounds crew notified their superiors after the Dodgers told them their outfielders would dig holes in the grass with their cleats if the markers were taken out, leading to this battle between the two sides.
The Dodgers, by the way, evened the teams’ three-game weekend series Saturday in a 9-1 rout. Notably, the game featured third-inning ejections of Mets starter Noah Syndergaard and manager Terry Collins after the ace threw behind LA second baseman Chase Utley. A hated rival thanks to both his time with the division-rival Phillies and, more recently, his slide that broke the leg of then-Met Ruben Tejada in last year’s NLDS, Utley went on to belt two homers and drive in five runs.
More from around the majors:
- Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen has struck out in a career-worst 23.4 percent of plate appearances this year, which concerns the five-time All-Star. “I’m a guy that has a good feel for the zone, and when I get good pitches to hit, normally I hit them. But more times than not lately, I’ve been getting them and I’ve been missing them,” he said (via Dave Sessions of MLB.com). “I’m getting to two strikes more and having to battle. When I’m on and I’m feeling good, I get a pitch to hit, I hit it.” As McCutchen mentioned, he has been missing more pitches this year – his swinging strike and contact rates (13.3 percent and 72.2 percent, respectively) are easily at personal-worst levels. It’s no surprise, then, that McCutchen’s numbers have declined this season, though his production (.258/.341/.463 line with nine home runs in 214 PAs) is still well above average.
- Right-hander Tim Lincecum is on track to make his Angels debut June 12 against Cleveland, reports Pedro Moura of the Los Angeles Times. The two-time Cy Young Award winner threw 75 pitches in an extended spring training game Saturday and regularly clocked in at 89 mph with his fastball – up from 87 mph last season. “Now that my velo’s just a couple ticks up from where it was last year, I feel like that can make a huge difference,” said Lincecum, who admitted that he’s “not going to blow the doors off” opposing hitters. Lincecum regularly did that during his heyday with the Giants, but his velocity decreased over the years and his numbers declined significantly.
- Indians left fielder Michael Brantley went on the disabled list nearly two weeks ago with shoulder inflammation, but there’s currently no timetable for his return, according to The Associated Press. Brantley missed most of April after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery and then appeared in a mere 11 games before heading back on the DL. Brantley said Saturday that he doesn’t think he rushed his previous return. “I was ready. We talked about it. We had a great process laid out. Everything went smoothly. It was just a bump in the road.”
- In his latest mock draft (Insider required), ESPN’s Keith Law has the Phillies taking Florida left-hander A.J. Puk first overall. Puk is one of five realistic possibilities for the club, per Law, who notes that the majority of scouts and executives he spoke to this week acknowledged there’s still plenty of uncertainty in general going into next month’s draft.
Top Pirates prospect Jameson Taillon skipped a start at Triple-A this week, but not because he’s hurt, writes MLB.com’s Adam Berry. “Taillon is strong and healthy, but as we look to monitor his and other pitchers’ workload to put them in a position to finish the season strongly, we will periodically look to reduce pitch counts by removing the pitcher from a game early or by skipping a start,” says GM Neal Huntington. Pirates fans are anxious for Taillon’s big-league debut, a day that could potentially come in June, after the Super Two threshold passes. After missing two seasons due to injury, Taillon has been outstanding for Triple-A Indianapolis, posting a 1.82 ERA, 9.3 K/9 and a measly 0.9 BB/9 in 49 1/3 innings. Here’s more from the NL Central.
The Pirates have announced that righty Ryan Vogelsong is headed to the 15-day DL after being diagnosed with facial fractures. He’ll be replaced on the active roster by fellow right-hander A.J. Schugel.
Vogelsong was struck by a pitch in the left eye area yesterday in what was one of the more frightening plays you’ll ever see on a baseball field. The team previously suggested that he had suffered injuries both to the eye and the surrounding bone. Fortunately, Vogelsong’s wife tweeted promising news last night about his general outlook, which was obviously much more important than his playing status.
Pittsburgh signed the 38-year-old to provide a swingman option and stabilize a staff that has some uncertainty. He’s done just that, providing 21 2/3 innings of 3.74 ERA pitching with 6.6 K/9 against 4.2 BB/9.
It’s obviously not clear at this point just what lies ahead for Vogelsong, but surely we’ll learn more in the coming days. MLBTR joins many others around the game in wishing the respected veteran a full and speedy recovery.
Here’s the latest from PNC Park…
- The Pirates are looking for bullpen help, GM Neal Huntington told reporters (including MLB.com’s Adam Berry and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Chris Adamski), though Huntington noted that the pickings have been slim for buyers. The Bucs will “scour the Minor Leagues to see if there’s another Jason Grilli-type situation out there,” Huntington said, as in a possible buy-low veteran who’s recovering from injuries or a drop in form. The GM didn’t totally rule out the idea of calling up top pitching prospects Tyler Glasnow or Jameson Taillon as relievers, though “on a case-by-case basis, there are some things we are still accomplishing with our young minor-league starters…before we start trying to shove them in the bullpen,” Huntington said. With the Pirates’ rotation also lacking in depth, Glasnow and/or Taillon are much more likely to start when they’re called up, as noted earlier today.
- Matt Joyce may be the latest veteran to enjoy a career revival after joining the Pirates, Paul Zeise of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes, something manager Clint Hurdle attributes to the franchise’s ability to scout and identify players who have the right attitude about overcoming their struggles. In Joyce’s case, his winter stint in the Dominican Republic impressed the Bucs. “To go play 50 or 60 games in a different country and do some things on and off the field that, in a crazy kind of way, might help you find your way back? I thought it was outstanding. It polarized the whole story of [Joyce] for me. I know that level of commitment,” Hurdle said.
- Francisco Cervelli’s three-year extension not only keeps a key player behind the plate for the Pirates, it also serves as another sign of the franchise’s growth, the Post-Gazette’s Bill Brink writes. While the Bucs have inked several young players to extensions, Cervelli signed his multi-year deal with free agency beckoning this winter, as opposed to other veterans who have left Pittsburgh for richer deals after rebuilding their value with the club.
- Pirates general manager Neal Huntington wants elite pitching prospects Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon to spend the entire season with Triple-A Indianapolis, but he realizes that it’s unlikely to happen. “Perfect world they have a full year at Triple-A. It’s probably not going to be a perfect world,” he said Sunday (Twitter link via Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review). Glasnow and Taillon have torched the minors this year and look poised to join the Pirates when the Super Two threshold passes in June. Aside from Gerrit Cole and, to a much lesser extent, Juan Nicasio, Pittsburgh has gotten little production from its rotation members this year. Thus, Glasnow and Taillon will provide a pair of welcome reinforcements.
- The Pirates have gotten many offers for minor league right-hander Chad Kuhl over the years, Huntington said Sunday (Twitter link via Stephen Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). Huntington added that he thinks Kuhl has the potential to be an asset in either the rotation or bullpen at the major league level. Both Glasnow and Taillon overshadow Kuhl, but the latter has gotten eye-opening results at Triple-A this year, posting a microscopic .99 ERA in 45 2/3 innings. Kuhl, 23, also demonstrated similar abilities at lower minor league levels.
- The three-year, $31MM extension the Pirates gave catcher Francisco Cervelli this week could be a major win for the club, opines Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. With pitch-framing value included, NEIFI Analytics projects Cervelli’s open market worth from 2017-19 at $57MM – nearly twice as much as he’s going to make with the Pirates – as Sawchik points out. Thus, Sawchik questions Cervelli’s decision to sign the extension, but he concedes that the backstop perhaps values playing in Pittsburgh over maximizing his worth.
- The Pirates’ shallower outfield alignment is getting excellent results, Sawchik and Chris Adamski detail. The Pirates’ outfielders lined up deeper last season and stopped enemy runners from advancing an extra base on singles 52.6 percent of the time. That number is up to 59 percent this season. Center fielder Andrew McCutchen has experienced the biggest improvement, going from 42.4 percent to 55.7 percent (via BucsDugout.com), since moving in an average of 17 feet from last season to this year (316 to 299). Further, after the Pirates turned 45.7 percent of the balls hit to the outfield into outs last year, they’ve increased the rate to 53.1 percent in 2016. Pittsburgh elected to move its outfield in this season because of its pitching staff, said manager Clint Hurdle. “No. 1, we have a staff that predominately uses two-seam fastballs. So in an actuality, a high percentage of balls are getting to the outfield on the ground. Fly balls that are hit (off two-seam fastballs) are not hit as high or deep as four-seam fastballs. It also accentuates outfield arms. It increases throwing accuracy, the ability to stop runners.”
- The Pirates announced that they have selected the contract of right-hander Wilfredo Boscan from Triple-A Indianapolis, with catching prospect Elias Diaz hitting the 60-day disabled list to make room on the 40-man roster and left-hander Cory Luebke being optioned to Triple-A to clear room on the active roster. Boscan will throw his first pitch as a big leaguer if he takes the hill for the Bucs. The 26-year-old spent last season in the organization as well and was even promoted to the Majors on three occasions but never got into a game before being designated for assignment and outrighted back to Indianapolis. He re-signed on a minor league pact this winter and has had a very strong start to the year, firing 40 innings of 2.48 ERA ball with an outstanding 31-to-4 K/BB ratio in the Triple-A rotation. Luebke had faced 23 batters and allowed 12 of them to reach in what was his first big league action since 2012 due to a pair of Tommy John surgeries. Diaz had elbow surgery earlier this season and will be out until later this summer.
The Pirates have announced a three-year extension with catcher Francisco Cervelli that will pay him $31MM, per Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports (via Twitter). Cervelli is represented by Beverly Hills Sports Council, which also recently negotiated an extension between the team and Gregory Polanco.
Cervelli had been set to hit the free agent market after the season, but will instead remain in Pittsburgh through 2019 under his new deal. It’s a straight three-year pact without any options, and will cover Cervelli’s age-31 through age-33 campaigns. The structure breaks down as follows, per Stephen Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Twitter link): $9MM in 2017, $10.5MM in 2018, and $11.5MM in the final year.
Cervelli, 30, had just cracked the power rankings of MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes, landing at ninth on the list in a weak upcoming class. As Dierkes explained, Cervelli had played his way into position for a rather significant deal, with four or even five years potentially being achievable — though he has cooled off considerably at the plate in recent weeks.
Instead, the talented receiver will take himself off of the market and remain in the place where he finally established himself as a front-line option. A re-signing after the season seemed unlikely, so this pact allows team and player to continue what has been a fruitful relationship.
Of course, it’s eminently arguable that Cervelli might’ve earned quite a bit more were he open for bidding from all thirty teams. Dierkes suggested a $60MM guarantee as a plausible number, which would have slotted behind recent deals for more-established backstops such as Brian McCann and Russell Martin. As of this winter, Cervelli was said to be interested in a three-year pact to stay with the Pirates. He’ll get just that, but settle for a good bit less than the $39MM he was reportedly seeking.
Like Martin, Cervelli experienced a career renaissance with the Pirates. He had never fully established himself in New York, but has prospered since arriving with the Bucs. All told, Cervelli has provided the Pirates with a .291/.373/.384 batting line over 650 plate appearances. He’s continued to reach base at a prodigious clip this year, boosting his walk rate to an excellent 15.0%, though his power numbers have dipped somewhat in 2016 (he currently owns a .043 ISO).
Of course, Cervelli is valued for much more than his bat. He’s considered a high-quality defender who delivers plenty of value on the defensive side of the spectrum, too. Baseball Prospectus graded him out as the second-best gloveman behind the dish in all of baseball last year, and he’s continued to draw strong reviews in 2016. Cervelli is among the game’s premier pitch framers, with StatCorner crediting him with a league-leading 26.7 framing runs above average last year.
Cervelli’s record is not without its blemishes, though. Most notably, he was slapped with a 50-game PED suspension arising out of the Biogenesis scandal. That occurred prior to his arrival in Pittsburgh, and doesn’t necessarily cast doubt on his recent performance levels, but certainly is far from a feather in his cap. He’s also missed some lengthy stretches due to injury. They have mostly been due to the perils of lining up behind the plate, but Cervelli comes with his share of nicks and bruises and is certainly aware of the dangers he faces every night.
It’s certainly reasonable to acknowledge the risk that Cervelli will avoid by taking this deal. As noted, he has not been able to maintain his pop at the plate, and any erosion of his batting line might have driven down his market value. A qualifying offer might have played a major role, too, and there is a relatively robust list of catchers available next winter. Among the younger backstops who might have challenged Cervelli in free agency are Wilson Ramos, Matt Wieters, and Jason Castro, and organizations looking at shorter-term fixes have several other plausible options to consider as well.
Cervelli joins a long list of core players under long-term control for the Pirates, many of them via extension. Center fielder Andrew McCutchen can be kept through 2018 under his deal, with the two men on his flanks — Polanco and Starling Marte — locked up even further into the future. The contract of infielder Josh Harrison goes through 2020, while that of Jung Ho Kang runs as far as 2019. That’s also the last year the Pirates can hold onto staff ace Gerrit Cole via arbitration, though the hope is that he’ll soon be joined by top prospects Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon as key rotation options.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.