Pittsburgh Pirates Rumors

Draft Notes: Pirates, Astros, McGuire

We're a little more than a month away from the 2013 Amateur Draft, which kicks off June 6. (Here's the full draft order.) Here's the latest:

  • The Pirates, who pick at No. 9 (a compensation pick for failing to sign Mark Appel last year) and No. 14 (their regular first-round pick) could take UNC third baseman Colin Moran, Conor Glassey of Baseball America suggests in his preview for National League teams. That's about as definitive as anyone can get, at this early stage -- it's unclear what will happen after the Cubs select either Appel or Jonathan Gray with the No. 2 overall pick.
  • The Astros, who pick first in the draft, are scouting eight prospects, Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle reports (on Twitter). GM Jeff Luhnow tells Ortiz he has personally scouted seven players.
  • While Appel and Gray stand out in this year's draft class, the next tier of college pitching talent is still establishing itself, ESPN.com's Jason Churchill writes (Insider-only). That includes Ryne Stanek of Arkansas, Ryan Eades of LSU and Sean Manaea of Indiana State. Manaea could be the first to be drafted, Churchill notes, possibly going to the Rockies at No. 3, the Indians at No. 5 or the Red Sox at No. 7.
  • Churchill also writes that at least some teams in this draft would prefer to pick position players, and might draft them a bit earlier than their talent might suggest.
  • There is a wide range of opinions about high school catcher Reese McGuire, who might go anywhere from No. 4 to No. 21, Churchill writes. The Pirates have scouted McGuire heavily and have two picks in that range.

Prospect Rumor Roundup

The Prospect Rumor Roundup returns for a second week with a look back at the biggest trade of the offseason...

With Toronto almost 10 games out of first place at the beginning of May, and with the bandwagon already set ablaze by fickle fans, it's safe to say that this is not the type of start to the year that the Blue Jays front office was expecting. The organization orchestrated two key trades during the 2012-13 offseason, which brought a number of high-profile veterans north of the border, including R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and Emilio Bonifacio. A month into the season, those five players have accumulated a combined 0.3 fWAR (Wins Above Replacement).

With arguably a top five minor league system prior to the deals, Toronto mortgaged a good deal of its future for a chance to win now. While the veterans are struggling, the majority of the prospects -- no longer under the Jays' control -- are thriving in their new digs.

Catcher Travis d'Arnaud reportedly came close to winning a big league roster spot out of spring training with the Mets. He was assigned to Triple-A where six of his nine hits went for extra bases. He also added 12 walks before going down with a broken foot. He'll miss about eight weeks, but veteran catcher John Buck is holding down the fort in the Majors. D'Arnaud was added to the 40-man roster in November 2011 and is currently in his second of three option years, so he'll have to establish himself in the Majors by the end of the 2014 season to avoid being sent through waivers to be demoted to the minors.

One of three top young arms in Toronto's system prior to being dealt to the Mets, Noah Syndergaard has a 3.24 ERA in five High-A ball starts. He's been even better than it appears, though, as he allowed seven of his nine earned runs on the year in just one start. Jonathan Raymond of MiLB.com recently spoke to the prospect's A-ball pitching coach to learn more about his approach. The Texas native is eligible for the Rule 5 draft in 2014 so he'll have to be added to the 40-man roster after next season to avoid being snatched away from the Mets.

Outfielder Wuilmer Becerra suffered a scary injury last year in rookie ball when he was hit in the face during an at-bat, ending his season after just 11 games. The 18-year-old was originally signed out of Venezuela for $1.3MM and was considered one of the top Latin amateur free agents in 2011. He's currently playing in extended spring training and should be assigned to a short-season club in June.

Adeiny Hechavarria was signed out of Cuba by the Jays and has taken over the starting shortstop gig in Miami, although he's currently on the disabled list. His offense hasn't kicked in yet but he's playing steady ball in the field and is known for being a plus defender capable of providing a ton of value with his glove alone. Hechavarria's traditional three option years expired at the end of 2012 but he was granted a rare fourth option year for the 2013 season, so he can be sent down to the minors this year -- if need be -- without being exposed to waivers.

Like Syndergaard, Justin Nicolino was a member of Toronto's top pitching trio. The Florida native has enjoyed his time in the Miami Marlins organization despite an inconsistent year to date and has a 3.60 ERA in five starts in the High-A Florida State League. Nicolino's adjustment to his hometown organization was recently outlined by Guy Curtright at MiLB.com. He doesn't have to be added to the 40-man roster until after the 2014 season. I recently spoke with Marlins Director of Player Development Brian Chattin, who said the organization was happy with all the players they acquired. "Nicolino has shown an above-average changeup and a mature approach to his development," he added.

An injury to outfielder Jake Marisnick kept him on the sidelines until this past weekend. After spending 55 games at the Double-A level in 2013, he got his feet wet back in High-A ball before moving back to Double-A. He has plus defensive skills but a front office contact within the Jays organization told me during the offseason -- shortly before the big trade -- that he's still getting used to some adjustments made to his batting stance and swing mechanics. Chattin told MLBTR, "[Jake has] excellent makeup, he's a well-above-average athlete, impressive defender in center field and has the tools to be an impact major leaguer." Marisnick will have to be added to the 40-man roster this coming November to shield him from the Rule 5 draft.

The lesser known name of the group of prospects sent to Miami, Anthony DeSclafani arguably has had the most success of the four players. The University of Florida alum has a 0.44 ERA with 16 strikeouts and three walks in 20.2 innings pitched. A reliever with inconsistent results in college, the organization is trying to stretch him out as a starter in pro ball. "Anthony has thrown strikes and lived at the bottom of the zone in each of his starts," Chattin told MLBTR. "We are allowing him to use his curveball in addition to his slider/fastball/changeup combination. He has confidence in his curveball and is using it well as a complement to the rest of his arsenal." Like Nicolino, DeSclafani has to be added to the 40-man roster after the 2014 season.

Prospect Tidbits: With the recent success of 2012 National League Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey, the knuckleball is enjoying renewed popularity. Orioles minor leaguer Eddie Gamboa is attempting to become the next successful big league knuckleballer. Benjamin Hill of MLB.com explained that the pitching prospect received some guidance from Hall of Famer Phil Niekro during spring training. Gamboa said that he's currently throwing his new pitch about 50 percent of the time in game situations, much to his surprise. Said Gamboa:

"I always put up okay numbers, enough to keep getting a job again but not enough to get a promotion... My game was stuck... The knuckleball was always something that I had practiced just in case, but I didn't think that just in case was going to be this year."

A talented two-way player in high school, Stetson Allie signed with the Pirates for a $2.25MM bonus in 2010 and began his career on the mound. When he was unable to harness his control (29 walks in 26 innings in 2011), the organization took a huge gamble by shifting the strong-armed prospect to first base. It took a year of struggling to find his footing but Allie is finally tapping into his plus raw power and has eight home runs in 24 A-ball games. Mike Newman of FanGraphs.com recently watched the Pirates prospect play and he also spoke with Allie, as well as Pittsburgh's assistant general manager Kyle Stark.

Pirates Designate Jonathan Sanchez For Assignment

The Pirates announced that they have designated pitcher Jonathan Sanchez for assignment.  The move will open up a roster spot for right-hander Bryan Morris.

Sanchez, 30, signed a minor league deal with the Pirates in February.  He was an Article XX(B) signing and hooked on with the big league roster thanks to injuries in the Bucs' rotation.  

On the year, Sanchez owns a 11.85 ERA with 9.9 K/9 and 5.3 BB/9 through four starts and one relief appearance.  The left-hander's contract called for him to earn $1.375MM this season and Pittsburgh will be on the hook if they cannot find a taker in the next ten days. 

2014 Vesting Options Update

As we close in on the month of May, let's check in on the players who have vesting options for the 2014 season...

  • Kurt Suzuki, Nationals: $9.25MM option vests with 113 starts in 2013.  Prior to Opening Day, the Nats announced that Suzuki would be in a timeshare with Wilson Ramos behind the plate.  However, Ramos' hamstring has led to Suzuki starting 16 of the club's 23 games so far in 2013. Ramos is scheduled to rejoin the club on Monday, but if he suffers another setback, Suzuki could have a realistic shot at triggering his '14 option.
  • Jamey Carroll, Twins: $2MM option vests with 401 plate appearances.  Carroll has surpassed that mark in each of the last three seasons with 500+ plate appearances in each of the last two years, but he has just 18 PAs as April comes to a close.
  • Wilson Betemit, Orioles: $3.2MM option vests with 324 plate appearances (combined 700 between 2012 and 2013).  Betemit suffered a PCL tear during the last week of Spring Training, keeping him out of action until at least mid-May.  When he returns, he figures to see less action than he did last year thanks to Manny Machado
  • Lance Berkman, Rangers: $13MM option vests with 550 plate appearances.  So far, Berkman has 19 games under his belt with 80 plate appearances.  He'll be within reach as long as he stays healthy.  In 2011, his last full season, Berkman racked up 587 PAs for the Cardinals.
  • Roy Halladay, Phillies: $20MM option vests with 259 innings pitched (combined 415 innings pitched between '12 and '13).  So far, Halladay has logged 28 and 1/3 innings through five April starts but the 259 mark remains a longshot.  However, it's worth nothing that Halladay has come close to that figure twice in the last six years (2008, 246 IP; 2010, 250.2 IP) and surpassed it once in his career (2003, 266 IP).
  • Brett Myers, Indians: $8MM option vests with 200 innings pitched in 2013 and a passed physical after the season.  Myers is expected to miss most of May due to tendinitis and a mild ligament sprain in his right elbow.  So far, the right-hander has 21 and 1/3 innings to his credit in 2013.
  • Barry Zito, Giants: $18MM option vests with 200 innings pitched.  Zito has 23 and 2/3 innings so far through the month of April and will make his fifth start of the year tonight against the Padres.
  • Johan Santana, Mets: His $25MM option could have vested with 215 innings pitched or winning the 2013 Cy Young Award, but he won't have a chance at that thanks to a season-ending tear in his pitching shoulder.

It's also worth noting that Francisco Liriano has a $8MM club option for 2014 with the Pirates, but it can vest at any of three levels, $5MM, $6MM, or $8MM, based on the number of days he is not on the DL this year with a recurrence of his right arm injury.  It's not known how many days the hurler must steer clear of right arm trouble in order to trigger each level of his option, however.  Liriano has yet to take the hill in 2013, but he is expected to make his big league debut on May 10th vs. the Mets.  

Minor Moves: Hoey, Curtis, Colon

On Tuesday, Corky Miller played in his first Major League game since 2010 and he didn't have to wait long for another, starting at catcher for the Reds tonight against the Nationals.  The veteran backstop was added to the Reds' 40-man roster earlier this week, as noted by Baseball America's Matt Eddy in his roundup of the week's minor league transactions. 

Here are the minor moves that took place today, with the latest at the top of the page...

  • The Brewers released right-hander Jim Hoey earlier this week, Eddy reports.  Milwaukee signed Hoey to a minor league deal in December.  Hoey last pitched in the Majors with the Twins in 2011 and he owns a 7.02 ERA in 59 career innings with the Twins and Orioles.
  • The Cardinals have purchased the contract of infielder Jermaine Curtis from Triple-A, the team announced.  Curtis, a fifth round pick in the 2008 draft, has a .279/.384/.360 slash line over 1861 career PA in the Cardinals' system and he has spent most of his career playing second and third base.  Curtis takes the roster spot of Matt Adams, who was placed on the 15-day DL in a corresponding move.
  • On Wednesday, the Braves acquired Roman Colon from the Pirates in exchange for cash considerations. SB Nation's Talking Chop blog appears to have been the first to report the move. Colon, 33, has a 5.19 ERA in 187 1/3 career big league innings. In 1080 1/3 minor league innings, he's posted a 3.92 ERA, 6.2 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9. Colon, who was originally signed by the Braves in 1995, was assigned to Triple-A Gwinnett and struggled in his first outing with the club.

Central Links: Grilli, Cubs, Valverde

The latest out of baseball's Central divisions...

  • Pirates closer Jason Grilli told ESPN's Buster Olney (Insider required) that he wouldn't trade his past trials and tribulations in his career because they've made his new role that much sweeter. Grilli relishes the chance to be "The Guy" at the end of games, and he was encouraged last season by then-teammate Joel Hanrahan telling him, "Grilli, you can definitely do this."
  • Cubs manager Dale Sveum recently said he'd be lying if the team's early struggles didn't have him thinking about his job security, but GM Jed Hoyer told ESPN's Jesse Rogers that Sveum's job is secure. "[Job security] shouldn't be what he's thinking about in the least," Hoyer told Rogers in voicing his support.
  • Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski addressed reporters regarding Jose Valverde yesterday (video link), noting that a 40-man roster move is on the horizon to get Valverde on the club. Dombrowski said he's pleased to have Valverde back in the fold and that no Triple-A time was necessary given his track record and how his stuff looked at Class A Lakeland. Valverde is throwing 93-95 mph and is throwing better than he was last season, per Dombrowski.

East Links: Grilli, Cano, Webster, Rendon

A pair of top prospects made their big league debuts yesterday, as Allen Webster started the second game of a double-header for the Red Sox and Anthony Rendon made his debut at third base for the Nationals with Ryan Zimmerman on the DL. Here's more on each, as well as some other news from baseball's Eastern divisions...

  • Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer chronicles Jason Grilli's ascension from the Phillies' Triple-A affiliate to Pirates closer. In 2011, the Phils called up six relievers instead of Grilli, despite his dominant numbers. Grilli had a clause in his contract stating that if another MLB team wanted him on their 25-man roster, the Phillies had to either call him up or release him. Pittsburgh scouts took notice of Grilli, called the Phillies, and Philadelphia elected to release him so he could sign with the Buccos.
  • Sonia Cruz, the spokeswoman for Robinson Cano's foundation, appeared in the latest round of Biogenesis documents, according to TJ Quinn and Mike Fish of ESPN. Cruz's name was only connected to a pair of $300 payments, which she said were for her own weight loss interests. Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News reports that MLB sources told him there was no link between Cano and Biogenesis. When he heard about the latest report, a surprised Cano told reporters, including Feinsand, "It's got nothing to do with me."
  • Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal examines the number of starting pitchers needed by the Red Sox in each season over the past decade and notes that the evidence suggests Webster will be back this season. MacPherson also adds that preliminary research indicates this is the earliest the Red Sox have ever turned to seven different starting pitchers in any season.
  • The timing of Rendon's call-up suggests that the Nationals may be more willing to let him remain with the club all season than they've let on, writes Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post. Kilgore points out that Rendon has spent 20 days in the minor leagues, meaning his free agency has been delayed by a full year now.
  • Jake Arrieta is at a crossroads with the Orioles, in the mind of the Baltimore Sun's Dan Connolly. At 27 years of age, Arrieta has passed the "prospect" stage but has yet to find the consistency to convert his above-average repertoire of pitches into consistent success. Connolly notes that it's not wise to trade someone with Arrieta's talent while his value is so low, but moving him to the bullpen hardly maximizes his value.
  • Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that the Jay-Z's cerficiation process won't be complete anytime soon (Twitter link). As expected, CAA's Brodie Van Wagenen will handle Robinson Cano's extension talks.

Quick Hits: Maholm, Royals, Shields, Martin

Earlier today, Jim Bowden of ESPN.com (Insider sub. req'd) looked at five early season surprises and wondered if they'd be able to sustain it across the entire year.  The list begins with Paul Maholm of the Braves and Bowden notes that he wound up there only after Ryan Dempster used his no-trade clause to block a deal to Atlanta.  The Braves instead traded prospects for another Cubs starter in Maholm and it worked out for them in a big way.  The Braves later used the prospects offered in the Dempster trade to acquire Justin Upton from the D'Backs and Maholm has been more successful since the deal.  Here's more from around baseball..

  • Royals General Manager Dayton Moore spoke with ESPN's Buster Olney (audio link) on his latest podcast about his moves this winter.  Moore explained that he pulled the trigger on the December deal for James Shields because he felt that the club needed to win through pitching.  Meanwhile, he expects big things out of Wade Davis once he gets back into the flow of being in the rotation.
  • While Russell Martin's offense hasn't shown up yet in 2013, the club's biggest free agent acquisition of the winter has shown something very important in Pittsburgh, writes Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs.
  • In his latest mailbag, a reader asked Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star if the Blue Jays should look to sign someone in the wake of injuries to Jose Reyes and Brett Lawrie.  In Griffin's eyes, there's no one on the open market right now that could step in and make a difference right away.

Cafardo On Willingham, Headley, Iglesias, Red Sox

In today's column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes that MLB is working to address the lack of African-American participation in baseball, both on the field and in the stands.  While the RBI program [Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities] has seen more than 200 of its kids drafted to major league teams, Cafardo writes that it hasn't sparked the kind of interest that leads to a kid getting his friends together and playing an informal game at the park.  Here's more from today's column..

  • The feeling is that if the Twins aren’t in the race in early July, Josh Willingham would become available. “He’s a power righthanded bat that any contender could stick right in the middle of their lineup and get outstanding production,” said one National League GM. “You’d have to give something up, but he’d be worth the expenditure. He can really hit.
  • Scouts and GMs say Chase Headley could be the most sought-after player at the trade deadline. Part of it is that the Padres star plays third, is a good hitter, and teams in contention believe he would really thrive if he played for a winner.
  • The Pirates really wanted shortstop Jose Iglesias in the Joel Hanrahan deal as their scouts felt he would eventually hit.  For now, it looks like his offense has improved.  “The Pirates really wanted a young shortstop they could build around and Iglesias was the guy they earmarked,” said one baseball executive. “The jury was out by some teams’ evaluations on him, but there was no denying his defense and no denying that he had a chance with the bat as he matured. Maybe that time has come.
  • One scout who watched the Red Sox's Triple-A affiliate recently gave high marks to the club for their haul in last year's mega-deal with the Dodgers.  "If Ben Cherington never makes another trade he can rest assured that the two kids he got from the Dodgers [Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa] have tremendous arms."  The scout added that he would like to see the Red Sox continue to extend De La Rosa as a starter.
  • There’s a feeling among Astros personnel that Chris Carter, who was acquired from the A’s, could emerge as a 30-home run guy.  Carter has been hot after a 1-for-19 start to the season.

Pirates Designate Chris Leroux For Assignment

The Pirates have designated right-hander Chris Leroux for assignment according to Michael Sanserino of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (on Twitter). The move creates a roster spot for fellow right-hander Bryan Morris.  As Sanserino explains in another tweet, Leroux has been outrighted before, meaning that if he clears waivers, he can refuse a minor league assignment and become a free agent.

Leroux, who turns 29 on Sunday, has allowed 10 runs in 15 2/3 innings for the Buccos over the past two seasons. He's whiffed 15 batters in that time and has fanned 63 hitters in 69 1/3 Major League innings. The Winthrop product was drafted by the Marlins in the seventh round of the 2005 draft and has averaged 93.3 mph on his heater in parts of five big league seasons.

Morris, 26, is the last remnant of the Jason Bay/Manny Ramirez three-team blockbuster that also netted the Pirates then-prospects Craig Hansen, Brandon Moss and Andy LaRoche. He has a 2.57 ERA, 8.7 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9 in 84 Triple-A innings.

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