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Pittsburgh Pirates Rumors
Pirates prospect Nick Kingham underwent Tommy John surgery yesterday, the club announced. He’ll miss all of this year and a significant chunk of 2016.
It’s always disappointing to lose a year of development and take on the risk of a surgery, of course, but the news is all the more difficult for Pittsburgh given that Kingham seemed close to the big leagues. As Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review notes on Twitter, Kingham was probably the Bucs pitching prospect who was best prepared to join the major league club this year.
While both Baseball America and MLB.com rated Kingham only the club’s sixth-best prospect entering the year, it’s a strong overall group of top-end prospects. MLB.com currently rates Kingham the #68 prospect in all of baseball, crediting him with three solid to above-average pitches. Overall, his value lies less in his upside than in the reasonable expectation that he’ll settle in as a mid-to-back-of-the-rotation starter. (Baseball America calls him a “solid No. 4 starter” in the making.)
A fourth-round pick back in 2010, Kingham progressed steadily and reached Triple-A for the first time last year. He opened 2015 back at Indianapolis for his age-23 season. Over 119 1/3 innings at the highest level of the minors to date, Kingham has worked to a 3.77 ERA with 7.3 K/9 against 2.6 BB/9.
Pittsburgh’s rotation has been excellent thus far, producing the second-lowest ERA in the league (just behind the division-rival Cardinals). With Charlie Morton back in action, and the team’s Triple-A rotation (including Casey Sadler, Clayton Richard, Chis Volstad, Adrian Sampson, and Wilfredo Boscan) all putting up good results at Triple-A, the club seems to have adequate depth as things stand.
Looking ahead at 2016, though, the loss of Kingham could sting. While only veteran A.J. Burnett is set to hit the open market among the team’s current array of starters, Kingham would have increased the team’s flexibility in structuring its roster. The news seems to make a Burnett return somewhat more likely, though we’re a long ways off from having any real idea how that situation will play out.
Here are the day’s minor moves:
- Indians catcher Brett Hayes has accepted an outright assignment to Triple-A Columbus, reports Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer (via Twitter). Hayes was designated for assignment after Yan Gomes was activated from the disabled list, and he could have elected free agency rather than heading back to Triple-A.
- The Giants have outrighted reliever Erik Cordier after he cleared waivers, Andrew Baggarly of the Mercury News tweets. Cordier, 29, allowed just one earned run and struck out nine (versus two walks) in six MLB innings last year, but has yet to receive another MLB opportunity. The fireballing righty will return to Triple-A, where he carries a 1.50 ERA over 12 innings on the back of twenty strikeouts against eight walks. Cordier will have an opportunity to reject the assignment in preference for free agency.
- Third baseman Deibinson Romero has received his release from the Pirates to pursue an opportunity in Korea, as had been expected. The 28-year-old has been tearing up Triple-A thus far, and will now look to provide the same blend of power and patience to the KBO’s Doosan Bears.
Korea’s Doosan Bears have agreed to terms with Pirates minor league third baseman Deibinson Romero, Yoo Jee-ho of Yonhap News reports (hat tip to Dan Kurtz of MyKBO.net). A buyout still must be finalized with the Bucs, per the report, but Doosan has already announced that it will add Romero (Korean language link, also courtesy of Kurtz).
The 28-year-old Romero is enjoying a career year thus far at Triple-A Indianapolis, slashing .302/.403/.548 with six home runs in 155 plate appearances. A native of the Dominican Republic, Romero spent all of his professional career in the Twins organization before joining Pittsburgh as a minor league free agent before the season.
Romero has always shown a quality approach at the plate, walking twice for every three strikeouts in over 1,000 turns at bat in Triple-A. And he has shown legitimate power at times, swatting 19 long balls in his 2012 run at Double-A. After putting it all together thus far in 2015, it seems he’ll have a chance to bolster his earnings (and enjoy rather a different ballplaying experience) with a run through the KBO.
The Pirates hope they’ll be able to keep the just-designated Radhames Liz in the organization, manager Clint Hurdle tells Adam Berry of MLB.com (Twitter link). Nevertheless, Hurdle says that he expects another club to claim the live-armed righty. As MLBTR’s Charlie Wilmoth explained earlier today, Liz has continued to be unable to limit the free passes in his latest run in the majors. His $1MM salary, too, may cause other teams to hesitate to place a waiver claim.
- The Marlins will bring up Jose Urena tomorrow to make his first big league start, Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald reports on Twitter. Urena entered the year rated as Miami’s fourth-best overall prospect in the eyes of Baseball America, which praised his mid-90s fastball and quality change. The issue, per BA, is whether Urena’s breaking ball can play well enough to keep him in the rotation. The 23-year-old righty made two relief appearances in the big leagues last year, but only reached the Triple-A level to start the 2015 season. Thus far, he owns a 1.21 ERA over 37 1/3 innings (5.3 K/9 vs. 2.9 BB/9) at the highest level of the minors. Miami was in need of new blood, both as a general matter and because both Henderson Alvarez and Mat Latos were recently placed on the disabled list (joining Jarred Cosart and Jose Fernandez on the DL).
- While it’s of historical interest only at this point, manager Fredi Gonzalez says that the Braves attempted to sign lefty Brett Anderson over the winter, as MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports (Twitter link). Anderson ultimately signed with the Dodgers, of course, and had another successful outing tonight against Atlanta. Of course, the major question with Anderson has been health, and he experienced some back stiffness tonight. It doesn’t appear to be cause for much concern at this point, but Los Angeles can ill afford any missed time from its top three starters.
The Pirates have announced that they’ve designated reliever Radhames Liz for assignment. The move clears space on the team’s roster for Charlie Morton, who will start tonight. Morton’s return bumps the out-of-options Vance Worley to the Pirates’ bullpen, and Worley will presumably be used mostly in long relief, so the Bucs no longer had much need for Liz, who they had used in a similar role.
The Bucs signed Liz to a one-year, $1MM contract last offseason after he spent 2014 in the Toronto organization and the previous three years in Korea. He showed good stuff, with a fastball that reached at times into the mid-90s, but was mostly unimpressive in the Pirates’ bullpen — he struck out 18 batters in 17 1/3 innings, but walked ten, continuing to struggle with control issues that have dogged him throughout his career.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.