Pittsburgh Pirates Rumors

Pittsburgh Pirates trade and free agent rumors from MLBTradeRumors.com.

Huntington On Kang, Harrison, Kingham

Here are the highlights of Pirates GM Neal Huntington’s Sunday chat with the media, via Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

  • The Pirates acquired versatile infielders Jung-Ho Kang and Sean Rodriguez to give Clint Hurdle more tactical options and to allow the team to be more “proactive” about resting starters, Huntington says. Both players have, perhaps, been more useful than the Pirates anticipated — Kang is hitting .304/.369/.435 and has lately worked his way into regular duty, and Rodriguez has seen plenty of time at first base as well as the outfield corners.
  • Third baseman Josh Harrison struggled early in the season after signing an extension in Spring Training, but he’s hit well recently, batting .488/.511/.714 in his last two weeks before today’s game against the Mets. “It looks like a guy that’s having fun playing the game again,” says Huntington. “Just showing up with energy every day and trying to do everything in his power to help a club win versus trying to justify.”
  • Prospect Nick Kingham has yet to get a second opinion for his elbow injury, two weeks after it was reported he was going to seek one. “Nick chose a very busy doctor. Our hope is to get him in this week, and we’ll have an update after that,” Huntington says. Kingham has not pitched since May 6, but the severity of his injury is still unclear. He was set to provide the Pirates with rotation depth this season. MLB.com ranks him the sixth-best prospect in a strong Bucs system.

Quick Hits: Martinez, Rusney, Difo, Tabata, Judge

One international scouting director calls Cuban center field prospect Eddy Martinez an “impact talent,” Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs reports (Twitter links). McDaniel credits the 20-year-old with 70-grade speed and 50-grade raw power, joining other recent observers in expecting an eight-figure bonus for the youngster. Though we’ve heard suggestions that a signing could come quickly, McDaniel says it remains unclear whether he’ll wait until the next July 2 period kicks off. Martinez will, of course, be subject to international bonus pool restrictions regardless of when he signs.

Here are some more notes on prospects and promotions:

  • The Red Sox no longer have any good reasons to keep outfielder Rusney Castillo in Triple-A, Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com opines. Stats and scouts suggest he is ready, says Edes, and the big league club could use an offensive boost. While the team still has more outfielders than it knows quite what to do with, even after outrighting Allen Craig, Edes says that should not get in the way of Castillo — particularly given the club’s huge investment in him.
  • The Nationals will make a surprising call-up of middle infield prospect Wilmer Difo, the team announced (and as Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweeted earlier today). The 23-year-old broke out last year and earned Baseball America’s seventh slot on the club’s prospect list entering the season. As BA noted, Difo has ample tools, and finally put them to use in A ball in 2014. He had already earned a jump to Double-A this season, where he owns a .308/.339/.500 slash over 56 plate appearances. For now, it seems Difo will just get a taste of big league action while filling in for Jayson Werth, who needs to rest an injured wrist but has apparently avoided serious injury.
  • Outfielder Jose Tabata is headed back to the Pirates today, as Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports on Twitter. The 26-year-old once looked like a cornerstone player, but has struggled to maintain consistency in recent years and was ultimately outrighted last season. He has been impressive at Triple-A this year, however, slashing .352/.422/.396 with eleven walks against just eight strikeouts over 102 turns at the plate. Tabata is owed $4MM this year and $4.5MM next season under the early-career extension that he signed. Pittsburgh can also control him for three additional seasons through a series of club options.
  • Towering Yankees prospect Aaron Judge is putting up strong results against Double-A pitching and could be due for a move to the final level of the minors, ESPNNewYork.com’s Andrew Marchand writes. Judge could be with the club as soon as early 2016, Marchand writes, and he’s not the only prospect making waves. Slade Heathcott, a former top prospect who lost his 40-man roster spot, is enjoying renewed success and has forced himself back into the Yankees’ plans. Said GM Brian Cashman of Heathcott: “He is a legitimate option for us at the major league level.”

NL Central Notes: Gennett, Holliday, Kang

A season’s worth of struggles at the plate have led to a Triple-A demotion for Scooter Gennett, who has made the bulk of the starts at second base for the Brewers over the past two seasons, reports Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (via Twitter). Gennett has never been able to handle left-handed pitching, but he’s a career .313/.345/.470 hitter against righties (even including this year’s struggles). The 2015 season has not been kind to Gennett, however, who is 0-for-11 in 12 plate appearances against left-handed pitching and has produced just a .192/.236/.250 slash line against right-handed pitching. Gennett’s struggles aren’t mere early-season BABIP woes either (though some of that has been at play); the 25-year-old has 19 strikeouts in 65 plate appearances, and that 27.5 percent clip is an alarming increase for a hitter who carried a career 15.5 percent strikeout rate into the season. As Haudricourt notes, promising relief prospect Corey Knebel, acquired in the offseason trade that sent Yovani Gallardo to Texas, has been recalled from Triple-A.

More from the NL Central…

  • Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday spoke with Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about how he’s been able to survive the constant grind of 162-game seasons and perform as durably as he has throughout his career. As Goold writes, that durability is why chairman Bill Dewitt Jr. sees Holliday as a pillar of the club. Per Goold, both team and player expect Holliday’s 2017 option to be exercised, if not rolled into a lengthier extension. Said Holliday of the matter: “I’d like to play as long as I can at a high level. I’d love to play here until I’m just not ready to play. I want this to be my last spot.”
  • Jung Ho Kang made his fourth consecutive start on Sunday — his third at the shortstop position, writes Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Jordy Mercer‘s struggles have led the Pirates to give more playing time to Kang, who signed a four-year deal as the first position player to successfully jump from the Korea Baseball Organization to Major League Baseball this offseason. Kang is hitting a robust .300/.367/.457, and while some have expressed concern about his defense, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle seemed confident in his abilities. Hurdles likened Kang to Jhonny Peralta, noting that while he doesn’t have the lateral range of Mercer, he is sure-handed and accurate with his throws. Brink notes that the Pirates have been translating their infield positioning notes into Korean for Kang. “Jordy’s got more experience within this league for positioning,” said Hurdle. “The only way Jung Ho’s going to get it is to continue to get out there and get those reps.”


Minor Moves: Burton, Blanton, Boscan, Mitchell

Here are today’s minor moves from around the league, with the most recent at the top.

  • the Yankees have released righty Jared Burton, MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch tweets. Burton, formerly a regular in the Reds and Twins bullpens, has made a handful of appearances for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this season. The Yankees originally signed Burton to a minor-league deal with a series of opt-out dates, and they already released and re-signed him in March, so perhaps it’s not out of the question that they could re-sign him yet again.
  • The Royals have announced that they’ve selected the contract of veteran righty Joe Blanton. Blanton had an opt-out opportunity yesterday on his minor-league deal. He had been pitching for Triple-A Omaha, where he posted a 3.89 ERA, 6.9 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 in 39 1/3 innings. The longtime Athletics and Phillies starter last appeared in the big leagues in 2013, when he posted a 6.04 ERA in 132 2/3 innings with the Angels. Blanton will work in long relief, as MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan tweets. The Royals also announced that they optioned righty Aaron Brooks to Omaha and placed lefty Brian Flynn on the 60-day disabled list.
  • The Pirates have selected the contract of righty Wilfredo Boscan, Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tweets. They also optioned utilityman Steve Lombardozzi to Triple-A Indianapolis and moved righty Brandon Cumpton to the 60-day disabled list. Boscan will, presumably, help the Pirates’ bullpen after yesterday’s 11-10 extra-inning loss, which required the Bucs to throw 261 pitches. The 25-year-old Boscan has a 2.87 ERA, 5.7 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 in 31 1/3 innings at Triple-A Indianapolis this season. He has never pitched in the Majors.
  • The Angels have signed outfield Jared Mitchell and assigned him to the Double-A Arkansas Travelers, the Travelers have announced. The White Sox released Mitchell, a 2009 first-round pick, earlier this month. The 26-year-old has hit .226/.334/.381 in parts of six seasons in the minor leagues.
  • The Phillies have acquired infielder Jayson Nix from the Orioles for cash considerations, the teams have announced. Nix will head to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. The 32-year-old was hitting .167/.190/.198 in 100 plate appearances for Triple-A Norfolk, and he struggled in brief stints in the big leagues last year with the Phillies, Pirates and Royals. In parts of seven seasons in the Majors, he’s hit .212/.282/.345. The move gives the Phillies infield depth after the recent promotion of Maikel Franco and their decision to have Cody Asche transition to playing outfield.
  • The Rays have signed former Pirates pitching prospect Kyle McPherson, Steve Kinsella of DRaysBay tweets. McPherson pitched 26 1/3 strong innings with the Bucs in 2012 after posting a 3.22 ERA, 8.5 K/9 and an extremely stingy 1.2 BB/9 in 67 innings in the high minors that year, but he had Tommy John surgery in 2013 and another elbow injury last season. He became a minor-league free agent last fall.

Quick Hits: Cole, Drew, Vogt

In case you’ve not noticed, Pirates righty Gerrit Cole has delivered on his promise — and then some — thus far in 2015. As things stand, he owns a 2.32 ERA with 9.5 K/9 against 2.5 BB/9 and a healthy 55.3% groundball rate. The 2011 first overall pick has, as Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports writes, justified Pittsburgh’s decision to take him over a host of other strong options (though Anthony Rendon, Jose Fernandez, and Sonny Gray — among others — could also ultimately stake a claim as the best player from that productive draft). Jayson Stark of ESPN.com says that Cole represents the complete package on the hill, and may have upside that is yet to be fully tapped.

Here are some more stray links from around the game:

  • The Yankees plan to keep utilizing Stephen Drew despite his lackluster batting line, as Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News reports. Skipper Joe Girardi, who has deployed Drew around the infield, says that the quality of his at-bats have not yet shown up in terms of results but that a turnaround could be forthcoming. Lacking clear solutions up the middle, it makes good sense for the Yankees to give Drew every chance to succeed. If nothing else, as Feinsand notes, his quality defense makes him a useful utility player even if New York were to make an addition at the trade deadline.
  • ESPN.com’s Buster Olney (Insider link) looks at the Athletics and where things could be headed for the club this summer. Despite the rough start, there are signs of promise, and the division could still be within reach. If a return to competitiveness is not forthcoming, however, Olney suggests that the club could market not only Ben Zobrist and Scott Kazmir, but also catcher Stephen Vogt. While Vogt is still going to be cheap for some time, that same fact — combined with positional scarcity and his outstanding production thus far (third in the league in both wRC+ and fWAR) — could make him quite an interesting trade piece. While Olney makes clear that he is just speculating, it is certainly an intriguing idea, and one that we can’t put past the always-creative Billy Beane.

NL Notes: Asche, Franco, Kang, Rockies

The Phillies announced that Cody Asche will be optioned to Triple-A and converted into an outfielder. That move seems all but certain to herald the return of top prospect Maikel Franco, a third baseman. As Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News tweets, Philadelphia will wait until at least Friday to formally move Franco up, which will ensure that the club will add an additional year of control.

  • Meanwhile, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. says that the club is continuing to talk with other clubs, as Todd Zolecki of MLB.com tweets“We’ve been in dialogue about a lot of things,” said Amaro. “That really hasn’t stopped since the offseason.” Obviously, with Philadelphia having long been established as a seller, plenty of homework and groundwork has already been accomplished heading into the summer.
  • Jung-ho Kang continues to produce at the plate for the Pirates, and Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says that it isn’t too soon to increase his workload. The Pittsburgh front office and field staff is favorably impressed with Kang’s effort to adapt to his new environment, both on and off the field. Colleague Adam Bittner, meanwhile, offers a counterpoint, arguing that both Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer have enough of a track record and promise in their peripherals to warrant continued patience.
  • Rockies GM Jeff Bridich addressed his club’s pronounced struggles, as MLB.com’s Thomas Harding reports. “We have a good collection of players,” said Bridich. “And at this point, meaning the last two weeks of the season, they’ve added up to a bad team.” Colorado’s head baseball decisionmaker went on to discuss the fundamental problems he sees, such as a failure to move runners and hit when runners do reach scoring position (on the offensive side) and issuing too many walks while failing to attack the strike zone (for the club’s pitchers). While there may be plenty of truth in that assessment, and while it would surely be hard for Bridich to say much else at this stage, the fact remains that a broader roster shake-up looks like an increasingly strong option for the front office to consider.

Neal Huntington On Harrison, Kingham, Tabata

Here’s the latest on the Pirates from GM Neal Huntington, courtesy of the Post-Gazette’s Paul Zeise:

  • Huntington feels that third baseman Josh Harrison, who’s hitting just .173/.209/.282 after today’s game, is pressing to prove he deserves the extension he received last month. Huntington feels that players react one of three ways after receiving a new contract. Some players relax and play better as a result; others, content with their newfound wealth, stop trying as hard. And then there’s Harrison. “The third case, which is what we believe is the case with Josh, he is trying to justify the contract, he is trying to show those who doubted him and show those of us that had faith in him that he is deserving.”
  • Prospect Nick Kingham, who injured his elbow last week, is seeking a second opinion. Huntington is not yet willing to say what doctors believe Kingham’s injury is. Heading into the season, MLB.com, Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus all ranked Kingham in the bottom half of their lists of the top 100 prospects in the game. He was pitching reasonably well for Triple-A Indianapolis and likely will make his big-league debut this season if he can return to health. The news that he’s seeking a second opinion suggests that his injury is significant, however.
  • Jose Tabata is hitting .338/.416/.397 at Indianapolis, but it doesn’t sound like Huntington is anticipating that the often frustrating outfielder will return to Pittsburgh, even though he’s signed through at least 2016. “We have been very open with Jose that while we hope his return to the big leagues [is] with us, he is a guy who may need to get somebody else’s attention and have somebody come get him,” says Huntington.

Pirates Acquire Jayson Aquino

The Pirates have announced they have acquired left-hander Jayson Aquino from the Blue Jays for cash considerations. Aquino, who was designated for assignment Tuesday, will report to Class A-Advanced Bradenton.

This is the 22-year-old’s third organization in as many months. Aquino was obtained by the Blue Jays in a February trade after he was designated by the Rockies. Per Baseball America, Aquino has been ranked among Colorado’s top 30 prospects three times topping out at 9th following the 2012 season, but falling to 28th last offseason. Baseball America notes in its scouting report Aquino possesses a plus changeup and an average slider, but poor fastball command and becomes emotional on the mound when the strike zone isn’t to his liking.

In five starts for Toronto’s Class A-Advanced affiliate, Aquino has thrown 25 2/3 innings posting a 2.81 ERA, 5.6 K/9, and 2.1 BB/9.

 


Minor Moves: Parker, Cabrera, Walters, Hernandez, Stock

Some minor transactions from around the league and the independent circuit…

  • The Cubs have released right-hander Blake Parker, according to the MLB.com transactions page. Parker, designated for assignment yesterday, had not appeared in the big leagues this year. In his 3 1/3 innings at the Triple-A level, Parker permitted one earned run to score while striking out one and walking three batters. He does own a 3.68 career ERA in the majors, with a healthy 10.4 K/9 against just 2.9 BB/9.
  • Righty Daniel Cabrera has been released by the Reds, the club’s Triple-A affiliate tweets. The 33-year-old has not appeared in the big leagues since 2009, and spent each of the last two seasons playing in Japan. He made just one appearance at Louisville this season, going three innings and allowing one earned run but issuing four free passes and striking out only one opposing batter.
  • The Dodgers have signed right-hander P.J. Walters, who had been pitching with the independent Atlantic League’s Lancaster Barnstormers, reports Mike Ashmore of the Trentonian (Twitter link). The 30-year-old Walters should join L.A.’s Minor League ranks following the move. Though Walters has posted just a 6.28 ERA in parts of five Major League seasons with the Cardinals, Twins and Blue Jays, he does have a lifetime 4.70 ERA with 8.0 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9 in Triple-A.
  • Former Twins left-hander Pedro Hernandez has signed a contract with the independent St. Paul Saints, the team announced. Hernandez was acquired along with Eduardo Escobar in the 2012 trade that sent Francisco Liriano to the White Sox. The now-26-year-old Hernandez struggled to a 7.33 ERA with 33 strikeouts against 26 walks in 66 1/3 Major League innings with the Sox, Twins and Rockies from 2012-14. He posted solid, if unspectacular numbers throughout much of his Minor League career until reaching the Triple-A level.
  • Right-hander Robert Stock‘s contract has been purchased by the Pirates, according to a tweet from the Normal CornBelters of the independent Frontier League. The 25-year-old hit the indy circuit after posting a 4.12 ERA with 43 strikeouts against 46 walks in 63 1/3 innings between the Cardinals’ Class-A and Class-A Advanced affiliates in 2014.

NL Central Notes: Saltalamacchia, Garcia, Kang

After a more in-depth look at the Brewers earlier today, here’s a look around the rest of the NL Central…

  • The Reds will not pursue catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia despite an injury that could force Devin Mesoraco to undergo hip surgery, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (via Twitter). Mesoraco will serve as a pinch-hitter/interleague DH and try to delay surgery for as long as he is able. The Reds have 8 games in AL parks over the coming two weeks, Rosenthal adds. The decision not to place Mesoraco on the disabled list is strange, to say the least, as he’s contributed a mere eight plate appearances to the Reds dating back to April 12. By opting not to place Mesoraco on the DL, the Reds have given manager Bryan Price a limited bench with which to work and prevented themselves from perhaps adding some defensive versatility or speed to the bench.
  • Oft-injured Cardinals lefty Jaime Garcia has ramped up his throwing program to a 70-pitch live BP, MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch reports on Twitter. At this point, St. Louis probably cannot count on much from Garcia, given his significant shoulder problems, but would surely welcome the opportunity to get what it can from him with Adam Wainwright down for the year.
  • The Pirates ought to seriously consider giving more time to infielder Jung-ho Kang, Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review opines. Pittsbugh’s offense has scuffled badly, of course, with shortstop Jordy Mercer and third baseman Josh Harrison among the struggling starters. It would not be surprising to see Kang appear more frequently in the lineup, particularly given that he has exhibited some promising signs with a 10.3% walk rate, 17.9% strikeout rate, and sturdy .265/.333/.412 overall batting line, along with solid-enough defensive ratings, all in a short sample. Harrison, at least, presumably has a reasonably long leash after signing a significant extension over the offseason.