Juan Cruz will make the Pirates’ bullpen, and the team is expected to announce a corresponding roster move in the morning. It would only make sense for that move to come from a bullpen arm, since the Pirates have plenty of bullpen options on the 40-man roster, and bullpen options are the easiest commodity to come by.
I’ve seen some arguments for guys like Chris Leroux, Jared Hughes, or Duke Welker. But if I’m making the decision, the player to go would be Daniel McCutchen.
McCutchen might not be a popular choice due to his stat line in 2011. He’s a versatile pitcher who can spot start, pitch in long relief, or pitch in a key situation on a pinch. But there are two reasons why McCutchen is expendable.
First of all, McCutchen doesn’t have dominant stuff. Chris Leroux averages 93 MPH with his fastball, and spent time over the off-season working on his off-speed stuff. Jared Hughes throws a 96 MPH sinker. Duke Welker throws 95-96 MPH consistently, and pairs his fastball with a sharp slider in the upper 80s. McCutchen, meanwhile, averaged 91.3 MPH on his fastball last year, which was higher than previous seasons.
Second, it’s not hard to find a pitcher like McCutchen. All you need to do is find another Daniel McCutchen, as in, another fourth or fifth starter prospect who failed to make it as a starting pitcher in the majors. The big appeal with McCutchen is that he can fill a lot of roles. Leroux can do the same. Brad Lincoln could do that if the Pirates wanted to give up on him as a starter. Jared Hughes could also fill several roles.
Because McCutchen doesn’t have as good of stuff as guys like Leroux, Hughes, or Welker, he’s less likely to repeat his 2011 performance in future years. Last year he had a 5.0 K/9 and a 3.5 BB/9 ratio. Those aren’t the ratios you see from dominant relievers.
McCutchen reminds me of Jesse Chavez. He put up good numbers, but the odds of him doing that on a consistent basis are slim. We saw how this played out with Chavez, and he had a better strikeout rate and a lower walk rate. Yet he didn’t have the stuff to repeat his 2009 season in 2010 or 2011. McCutchen is very similar, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him regress from his 2011 numbers going forward. The Pirates would be better off keeping Leroux, Hughes, and Welker, who all have much better stuff than McCutchen, giving them a much better chance of success.
Links and Notes
**The Pirates lost to the Twins 11-6. Game story is here.
**This will be a important year for the 2009 prep pitchers. I take a look at the four who are remaining in the system.
**Prospect Notebook: Gerrit Cole went five, Ryan Hafner made his Spring debut.
**Pirates Notebook: With Morton on the DL, Roster Decisions Loom. Plus an update on Evan Meek improving this spring.+ posts
Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of PiratesProspects.com. He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.