First Pitch: An Early Look at the Depth Out of Indianapolis in 2015

Today we started our 2014 season recap series by looking at the 2014 Indianapolis Indians. As the Triple-A team, Indianapolis obviously provides the depth for the Pirates throughout the year. This year the depth wasn’t that strong on the position player side, although the additions of Vance Worley, Jeff Locke, and Brandon Cumpton helped the rotation at times throughout the year.

With the Indianapolis recap coming today, it seemed like a good time to look ahead to next year, and see what kind of depth we can expect in 2015. This is an early look, which will probably see a lot of changes by the end of the off-season. That said, the bigger prospects probably won’t see their status changed by minor league free agents or off-season transactions.

Pitching

I’m not going to go heavy into relief pitching depth, since a lot of that usually comes from starting pitching depth or minor league free agents that are signed over the off-season. The main focus here will be starting pitching depth.

The depth at the beginning of the year currently projects to be the depth that the Pirates have this season. That includes Brandon Cumpton, Jeff Locke, and Casey Sadler. The current projected rotation in the majors would include Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, and Vance Worley. Depending on what they do in the off-season, one of Locke or Cumpton could start in the majors. My guess is that Sadler would transition more to a relief role, although he could still start in the minors if there is room.

That might not be a guarantee. Jameson Taillon will be coming back healthy at the start of the 2015 season, and will go to Indianapolis. Nick Kingham and Adrian Sampson both finished the 2014 season in Triple-A, and both are projected to go back to the level in 2015. All three pitchers could provide the Pirates with rotation depth by the middle of the season, although with different upsides on all three guys. As for Sadler, if Cumpton and Locke start off in Triple-A, he would probably get pushed to a bullpen role.

Catching

This is another situation that is up in the air, and largely depends on whether the Pirates keep Russell Martin, or how they replace Martin if he signs elsewhere. I don’t think Tony Sanchez is a good option to start, but he wouldn’t be bad as a backup or as a third catcher out of Indianapolis. The backup option would be best, since he’s to the point now where he needs to be in the majors in some role. If that happens, then Elias Diaz would be the top depth option out of Triple-A. Diaz has more upside behind the plate than Sanchez, but will need some time adjusting to pitching at the Triple-A level. However, his defense is good enough that he could fill in as an injury replacement early in the season.

Infielders

The Pirates didn’t have good infield depth this season. That will mostly be the case next season, with one key exception. Alen Hanson was moved to second base this year in Altoona, and will be making the jump to Indianapolis next year. The move was made after Hanson struggled with his defense at the shortstop position, although it was also made with the focus of speeding his bat up to the majors so that he could contribute in 2015. For that reason, you could expect him to arrive at some point, probably as an injury replacement. If he hits well, he could be the eventual replacement for Neil Walker at second base.

There isn’t much at third base as far as depth in the minors. Gift Ngoepe has strong defense up the middle, but no bat. Dan Gamache has been good defensively at third, and not as good defensively at second. He showed off some gap power in Altoona this year, and will move up to Indianapolis after going to the AFL this off-season. I’m not sure how much the Pirates would trust either player next year, or whether they’d be considered depth options. Outside of Hanson, the infield depth looks about the same.

Outfielders

With Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco in the majors, there isn’t much need for strong outfield depth in the upper levels of the minors. Polanco hasn’t gotten off to the best start in his young career, although it’s way too early to rule out good production in the future. The Pirates might be stuck with Jose Tabata, although his contract could allow him to be sent back to Indianapolis again. Worst case is that another team claims him off waivers and assumes the entire amount owed to him in the future.

It will be interesting to see if the Pirates bring back Travis Snider as an expensive bench player/depth option, although he’d have nothing to do with Indianapolis. Snider would have an impact on two guys who could return to Indianapolis — Andrew Lambo and Jaff Decker. Lambo looks to be higher on the depth charts right now, simply due to the fact that he’s in the majors and Decker is doing nothing but sitting on the 40-man roster. If Decker remains in the organization next year, he could be depth once again, although he’d be about the sixth or seventh best option.

Mel Rojas and Keon Broxton would both be interesting options, although the upside with each player is a fourth outfielder, so they’re not going to provide much more than bench help.

Overall Depth

The strongest depth, from a prospect standpoint, will come from the pitching, and specifically starting pitching. That’s a good thing for the Pirates, since that looks to be their biggest area of need in the majors. Most of the depth won’t be ready on Opening Day, meaning they will need to look to add 1-2 starting pitchers over the off-season, whether that’s bringing back Edinson Volquez and/or Francisco Liriano, or looking for the next reclamation project. The big boosts to expect by mid-season would be Taillon, Kingham, Hanson, and Sampson.

Links and Notes

**Charlie Morton Has a Good Outing in Return From DL

**Pirates Name Tyler Glasnow and Josh Bell Pitcher and Player of the Year

**2014 Indianapolis Indians Season Recap and Top 10 Prospects

**Morning Report: Pirates Have a Talented Instructional League Outfield

First Pitch

  • I love kingham and taillon as prospects, but it is a little scary that they’ll have to break in two rookies to the rotation at the same time while trying to win a pennant.

    It would’ve been nice to get taillon 100 innings this year so that only kingham would be broken in in 2015.

    Maybe bringing taillon up into the bullpen in the 2nd half to get the David Price treatment could be an option since his innings will probably be probably low in yr 1 after TJ anyway.

    • Or start Taillon in the bullpen and gradually build him up for starting. If the Pirates are contending and he is pitching reasonably well, it would be nice to have him available late in the season rather than being shut down because he reached his innings limit.

      This could depend upon how far along he is with rehab by spring training.

  • We need 4 catchers not 3. It doesn’t make sense to jettison Stewart since a) he’s here b) he’s not that expensive and c) he’s supposedly a Clint Barmes quality of person in the clubhouse.

    Sanchez should stay at AAA and catch as much as possible and Elias should play 1B or somewhere he won’t get injured but still will get ABs. His glove isn’t really in question.

    Resign Martin or replace Martin, but our catching depth is good and won’t be if we replace Stewart with Sanchez.

    I guarantee you that Neal thinks that he need at least 4 capable catchers (2 with options) after the year we went through 7.

    • Why would you have your best defensive catcher at the present time ( Elias Diaz ), play ” 1B or somewhere ” ? That makes little sense to me. You would be a lot better off flipping that scenario with Tony Sanchez, as he is not even close defensively, to Diaz.

      • Agreed. Sanchez has had the better part of 3 years catching at AAA, it’s not as if additional time behind the plate at Indy is going to help him hone his craft. I don’t disagree with the fundamental premise that 4 catchers on the 40-man might be in order, but think that Diaz should be getting the majority of starts behind the dish in Indy.

        After watching Ike and Gaby slog through another game with little offense to show for it, I’m frankly dreaming about a Snider/T Sanchez platoon at 1B for 2015.

        • The offense of the platoon you mentioned would not be enough to replace the defense you’d lose. Snider would probably be a hack at 1B defensively. Sanchez would be hard pressed to be better than Gaby defensively and probably wouldn’t hit LHP as well. It would be a way to hide some catching depth though.

          Snider is a very good 4th OF. Very good teams have very good 4th OFs. I’m fine with Ike at 1B and Snider getting 400 ABs mostly against RHPs.

          • Oh, I don’t think Snider would have much of a struggle matching Ike Davis’ bottom-feeding defense, given a winter to work on it. Snider is an average fielder at a more difficult position, and only his arm grades out as below average. He’s more athletic than Lambo, whom the Pirates were all set to hand the strong side platoon job this year until he urinated it away. They put Pedro across the diamond after 3 weeks of taking ground balls, which yeah – Pedro’s a decent fielder already and had experience at a corner IF spot, but still 3 weeks. If the Pirates wanted to make that switch, Snider would have months of winter ball and 6 weeks of spring training to work on it. Heck, they played Garrett Jones there for 3 years, so it’s not like the bar is set all that high for defense.

            You’re likely right that Tony Sanchez won’t be as good defensively as Gaby, but on offense the bar isn’t particularly high either. Gaby’s line against LHP this year is nothing to boast of: .264/.324/.448, and against LH starting pitchers it’s .258/.308/.340, which is the profile of a pinch hitter/late inning defensive replacement. And since he’s shown no ability to hit right handers, his likely $3M arbitration award makes him a luxury.

            I also don’t see how Snider gets 400 AB as a 4th OF. He can’t play CF, and he’s not a platoon option at the corners (unless you want to take ABs away from Marte). If he winds up with 400AB from the OF next year, it means either Polanco fizzles out or one of the 3 has a catastrophic injury.

            • I think that a well rated defensive catcher (outside throwing issues), will perform better at first base than a converted corner outfielder.

              Also not sure why Snider should be penciled in for 400 plate appearances, he is a career .245/.309/.403 93 wRC+ hitter, with a .245/.312/.407 95 wRC+ line against RHP. That triple slash line mirrors his 2014 numbers vs RHP, the wRC+ number, 107, is higher because league offense is down. Ike Davis, 117 wRC+, has actually been better vs RHP.

              Snider has altered his swing and had an exceptional 30 PAs in July and another great 30 PAs in September, but I see no reason to think that he should be the projected big half of a 1B platoon.

              • Perhaps you misread, or misunderstood what I wrote – I wasn’t comparing Snider’s 1B playmaking abilities to those of Tony Sanchez, I was comparing them to Ike Davis, who has the 2nd worst UZR/150 among NL 1B. I was comparing Tony Sanchez to Gaby Sanchez and I think Gaby has set a reasonably good standard of defensive play, such that I thought it likely, as elguapo suggested above, that a contemplated switch from Gaby to Tony would result in a defensive downgrade.

                Count me among those who believe that Travis Snider has set a new performance level with his swing change. Snider’s struggles with the hit tool are well documented – Baseball Prospectus published an article in August 2012 that detailed his rapid progression through the minor league system and an unfortunate decision to trade contact for pull power.

                During the offseason, following surgery on his foot, and presumably under the guidance of the club, Snider re-worked his swing to generate more contact. It has clearly worked. His contact rate jumped from 74% to 81%. He is crushing fastballs of all types – pitches that used to exploit the holes in his swing. He’s hitting to all fields – only 38% of his balls in play are going to the pull side. The results have been more pronounced since the beginning of June, but even during his rough early season (with almost zero power), his components suggest a new intentional approach.

                All of his other peripherals are close to his career norms – BABIP, LD%, HR/FB% is a tad higher, but basically where he was during his Toronto days. There’s nothing that screams regression here. Combine this with gradual improvements in his plate discipline (career lows in swing% outside the zone, where his contact rate has been low throughout his career), and you have a nice solid hitter. I’m far from suggesting he’s the next Joey Bats, but I feel pretty confident that his next 400 AB will be far more valuable than the last 800, and definitely more valuable than Ike’s next 400.

                And Ike Davis’ wRC+ is a context-neutral farce, tied up entirely in his ability to take a walk. Which would be more ok if he hit 2nd in the batting order, but he doesn’t – he hits 6th, and lately 7th, has no speed to steal or take the extra base on a single, all of which is a recipe for getting stranded when the pitcher inevitably comes to bat. I believed in Ike, I believed in his wRC+, but the truth is, Ike betrayed me. He’s a one trick pony.

                • Davis and Sanchez’s fielding rates similarly for their careers. Is 3 to 5 runs over 800 innings really that atrocious, let alone true indication of talent?

                  Do really want Snider to slide down the defensive spectrum and take is new 7-10% better than average performance against RHP to first base? You mention Snider moving back down the power vs contact spectrum, Davis has done the same thing, and their triple slash line against RHP this season are effectively the same, but Davis has 40 more points of on base.

                  As for base clogging and not driving in runners on the year both Davis and Snider have scored 24% of time when reaching base (league average 29%), and have scored 13% of base runners on when they come to bat (league average 14%.)

                  Davis isn’t very good, but I really question if Snider would be an upgrade let alone justify a position change.

                  • The case is far from airtight, I’ll admit, and is dependent on a bit of faith, as well as the constraints of managing talent on a small-market roster.

                    I think that Snider, going forward, will be a better offensive player than Ike Davis, by at least a win (before positional adjustment) over a ~400 PA platoon season. I happen to think he’ll be even better than that, but if you take each’s current WAR, delete the positional adjustment and scale it to 400 PA, that’s exactly where they stand relative to one another now.

                    Ike Davis will make $4.5-$5M in arbitration in 2015, while Snider will make closer to $2M.

                    It is a certainty that Snider will be blocked by Polanco in RF. He’ll be lucky to get much more than 200 PA.

                    So the two scenarios are:

                    A – Davis at 1B for 400 PA, Snider in RF for 200 PA. Combined OWAR ~ 1.5 at a cost of $7M.

                    B – Snider at 1B for 400 PA, Lambo in RF for 200 PA. Let’s assume Lambo is a replacement level player. Combined OWAR ~ 1.5 at a cost of $2.5M.

                    Of course, any upside Lambo provides creates a further advantage for Scenario B, or you could simply give those 200 PA to Tabata, whose salary is a sunk cost in either scenario, and save $500k.

                    What you are left with is a $4.5M (or $5M) savings for the same (or potentially better) offensive output. At $6M/WAR, Snider would only have to be less than 8 runs worse than Davis on defense to make this move work out. It has the added advantage of creating opportunities for the Pirates’ voluminous OF assets (Lambo, Tabata, Rojas) who, even if they perform at a modest 1 WAR level, would generate upside over keeping Davis on the roster.

                    • My only point is that Snider is not very valuable as a platoon first basemen, he has more value as a trade piece than playing first.

                      You sort of have a false dichotomy there, I don’t think the Pirates are going into next season with all of Snider, Tabata, Lambo, and Davis on the roster. The Pirates didn’t tender an offer to Jones who was due around $5 million in arbitration.

                      Davis is having a similar season to Jones 2013, the only reason I’m using Davis as a comparison to Snider is because Snider despite improving his performance hasn’t been appreciably better than Davis.

                    • So if not Davis, then the alternative is either Pedro – at a similar if not greater salary, high beta offensive production and scant innings at 1B (which was the one thing Davis does have over Snider) – or someone on the free agent or trade market — which, you might notice, is depressingly threadbare. Unless you think Gaby becomes a full time 1B, in which case I would point out that he has not even hit LH starting pitchers well.,let alone same siders.

                      Also curious as to what you believe Snider might bring back in trade.

                    • Teams were giving contracts with $5 million AAV for 4th outfielders last season, I think Snider has some trade value. Assuming his new level is sustainable he is about or a little over a 2.0 WAR/600 PAs player making around $2-3 million with additional years of control.

                      Honestly the Pirates have too many moving piece at the corner spots for me to project what they will look like at first, the Alvarez situation complicates everything, if he is off 3rd there is the large half of the platoon (personally I want Alvarez at 3rd and Harrison in a Zobrist type role.) Maybe the Pirates non-tender Davis and bring him back on a lesser contract, maybe Lambo gets an opportunity, maybe Oakland doesn’t tender Moss, and the Pirates sign him.

                  • One additional point – Davis May have traded pull for contact as well but it has been far from a success, considering his BABIP since the switch has been in the .260s two years running.

                    • Trading contact for power also means being more selective. Being left handed and slow he isn’t exactly ever going to have a high BABIP but since his demotion last June Davis gap between strikeouts and walks is 1.6%, (some of that is being hidden from LHP), prior is was 13.4%.

            • Your logic concerns me greatly:

              If anyone could do it, there’d be a long line of people positioning themselves for a gold glove whom came from other positions. How many good glove 3rd baseman have gone to 1st and never won one- a lot, former outfielders?- alot. quit selling the position short. If you are a lefty, you either play first base or outfield, its not just for unathletic poor fielders to play.

              Garrett Jones IS a first baseman whom they made play outfield, not the other way around. It was his primary position, so i’m not sure what your point is there. Pedro was put there after 3 weeks because its the only place to hide his arm during the season and keep his bat in the lineup, not because he was ready to play first base.

              • As you know, there have been many many MANY players who moved to 1B. Miguel Cabrera, Mike Napoli, Joe Mauer, Carlos Santana, Edwin Encarnacion, Mark Reynolds and Nick Swisher have all moved within the last 3 years. Going back in time, Willie Stargell moved. Ernie Banks moved. Pete Rose moved. Julio Franco, Rafael Palmeiro and Joe Carter moved. Ryan Zimmerman will move next year. The list goes on.

                Why did they move? Lots of reasons. Cabrera is a crap 3B. Napoli wasn’t a great catcher. Mauer is on a long contract and is getting beat up. Santana gave way to a superior player (Gomes). Other guys got old.

                Did any of them win gold gloves? Who gives a whit! They didn’t move to 1B to win hardware, they moved to stay in the lineup because while they couldn’t reasonably hold down C/3B/RF, their bats still play(ed), and they play(ed) better offensively than the alternatives at 1B.

                Which brings me to the Pirates. The incumbent LH 1B is Ike Davis. Not a very good hitter. Not a very good fielder. Travis Snider is a better hitter. And he could very well become a better fielder, given time. But honestly, it doesn’t much matter if he doesn’t, because 1B defense is simply less important. If it were that important, teams would try to put better defenders there, rather than bat-only guys like Ryan Howard, Cabrera and Garrett Jones (who, despite being a 1B throughout his professional career, has always been well below average). Or Andrew Lambo, because if he had hit a lick in spring training, the Pirates would have handed him the job, despite no prior professional experience at the position. Or Pedro, because as you said yourself, they only put him at 1B after 3 weeks of taking ground balls to keep his bat in the lineup.

                The lesson isn’t that anyone can play 1B (although it is certainly less difficult than the other positions on the diamond), it’s that teams – including forward-thinking, analytical and defensive-minded teams like the Pirates – will readily sacrifice 1B defense for the sake of a bat. In the case of Davis, they made the sacrifice and didn’t even get the bat. If that’s the standard, then a guy like Snider – who will be blocked in the OF next year, is no hack, and despite his stocky build is a pretty athletic guy with decent range and instincts – could surely learn enough of the footwork to be playable. He would grade out no worse than Lambo, and they were willing to do that.

      • Diaz doesn’t need regular work at C. He needs ABs against AAA pitching. Sanchez needs ABs against AAA pitching too.

        Flip them if you want but both need to stay at AAA and be our depth.

        Maybe Sanchez should play 1B and learn another position. He’s not a starter defensively and might never be. Being a backup and RHH 1B option might make him more valuable.

        • Diaz being better on defense at catcher than Sanchez doesnt mean he doesnt need work. Diaz is close to being a future starting catcher, so you want that guy continuing to get reps on both sides.

        • Sure. Flip them. Diaz does need AAA ABs though. If guys like Cumpton or Sadler are fooling him in AAA then he’ll never hit RHPs in the show. Hitting .320+ in AAA proves a lot more that hitting .320 in AAA

  • Locke is out of options now, so he would figure to be in the ’15 rotation from the jump. From there it gets tricky. If they go with an internal option for the #5, such as Stolmy or Cumpton, that leaves the team pretty thin in case of early season injuries, assuming the Pirates will want Taillon and Kingham to get at least a dozen starts in Indy before calling them up. It’s also a few too many #4 types in the rotation, though at least Locke and Worley have demonstrated a knack for early season success.

    If they sign a FA starter, then the question is what do you do with the extra arms when Taillon and Kingham are recalled? Can’t option Locke or Worley, nor presumably the FA they sign. It’s an interesting situation. I would ordinarily assume they’d sign someone l- NH likes the bounce back candidates – but this might be the year they abstain.

    • Locke the lefty and Stolmy seem like good trade candidates when Taillon and Kingham are ready. Package them with an excess position player like the Cards did with Joe Kelly and Craig to fill whatever injury hole arises. I think Worley sticks in the rotation.

Menu