A little over four years ago I was driving up to Williamsport, PA on September 3rd, 2010. The minor league season was wrapping up, and I was finishing my second season running this site, and the first season where it was more of an overall look of the organization, rather than a close look at the Lynchburg Hillcats (who moved away to Bradenton that year) and a not-so-close look at every other level. I had this crazy idea to write a book detailing every single minor league prospect in the system. Unemployed at the time, I figured I could try to sell the book on the site, and possibly make the site a full-time job (fortunately, it worked out, and the fifth edition of that book will be finished at the end of this week). But to do that, I needed to actually see the prospects in action.
With the little bit of money I made from the site that year, I set up a trip to cover as many levels of the system as I could over the final two weeks of the season. Altoona in Richmond, Bowie, and at home. State College. West Virginia. I called every friend and family member I knew in every city I would be in, hoping for a couch to sleep on. I drove everywhere, ending up with over 2700 miles in two weeks. Mid-way through the trip, I decided to call an audible, scheduling a trip up to Williamsport, PA so that I could see Zack Dodson pitch for the first time.
The highlight of that trip was a left-handed pitcher, but it wasn’t Dodson. Instead, it was the guy who came in to pitch three innings after Dodson — Joely Rodriguez. I hadn’t heard the name before. That was when the site was still starting out. I didn’t know who every single player in the system was at that time. I wasn’t expecting much. I definitely wasn’t expecting him to come on and hit 94 MPH with good movement on his fastball. I talked to a scout the next day, and found that he was also doing that in his time in the GCL.
Dodson was going to be in the top 50 prospects section of the Prospect Guide, and I was only there to get information for that report. But that visit put Rodriguez in the top 50 (at number 39). It was a guy I had never heard of one minute, and thought he had a shot at a Major League career three innings later. Pretty much, it was my first experience “scouting” and finding someone off the radar.
The Pirates dealt Rodriguez today for Antonio Bastardo. In doing so, they probably increased his chances of making the majors. In writing this year’s Prospect Guide, I have been projecting out the future depth charts for the 2015 season (and I’ll probably have articles on those in January, when things become a little more clear). Here are the current starting options for Triple-A and Double-A, minus Rodriguez.
Indianapolis: Jameson Taillon, Nick Kingham, Adrian Sampson, Brandon Cumpton, Casey Sadler, Clayton Richard
Altoona: Tyler Glasnow, Chad Kuhl, Jason Creasy, John Kuchno, Angel Sanchez, Orlando Castro, Tom Harlan, Zack Dodson
Obviously there are more starters than spots at each level. I’m not sure Rodriguez would have been an option to move up to Indianapolis, due to his struggles in Altoona. I don’t think the strong winter league and AFL performances would have changed that. I don’t even know if he would have been a lock to start in Triple-A. We had him ranked 33rd in the upcoming top 50, which would rank fourth on the Altoona list. But the Pirates don’t necessarily have the same rankings.
Even if Rodriguez was a starter at the beginning of the year, he probably wasn’t going to remain a starter for long. It would have been hard to make the jump to Triple-A and win a rotation spot. It also would have been difficult to win a spot in the majors with a future projected rotation that could eventually include Gerrit Cole, Tyler Glasnow, Jameson Taillon, Nick Kingham, and now Francisco Liriano for three more years. His future with the Pirates looked to be a reliever, and even that route is a bit more difficult.
I don’t know the Phillies farm system, but I have to think he’ll have a better opportunity there, possibly getting a shot to make it as a starter in their system. I also think this move will increase his chances of reaching the majors, which is something I hope happens with Rodriguez.
As you know, I don’t like paying for relievers. The Pirates filled a need today by adding Antonio Bastardo as their second left-handed reliever, and to do so they dealt Rodriguez and commit an estimated $2.8 M in payroll. The payroll doesn’t matter much, since that’s not an overly ridiculous price compared to the free agent market. Pat Neshek got $12.5 M over two years, and he has had one season where he’s been more than a replacement-level player since Neal Huntington joined the Pirates. Bastardo has been consistent. He’s not the best reliever, but he is a solid lefty middle reliever, and that’s something the Pirates missed for most of last year.
So what about the other form of payment, the prospect? I don’t like the idea of dealing prospects for relievers, especially a one-year rental. But if the prospect is projected to only be a reliever in your system, then you’re basically trading a guy who might have a Major League career for a guy who is already a solid Major League pitcher. I don’t think that falls in the same category as some of the other deals that are made for relievers where top 100 prospects are dealt, or guys who could play more significant roles in the majors.
A few years from now, the perception of this deal could change. Rodriguez could be pitching in the majors with the Phillies, maybe as a starter. Bastardo working out with the Pirates isn’t a guarantee. Jeff Locke could become a dominant reliever, and we could look back and wonder if they needed to make a deal at all. Or maybe everything works out as planned for all parties, with the Pirates getting the reliever they need, and the Phillies getting a good prospect for their re-build.
As it stands right now, the Pirates had a need for a lefty reliever, and the free agent market was insane. One possible alternative was trading Travis Snider, potentially on the verge of a breakout, for two years of Brian Matusz, who isn’t any better than Bastardo. Considering the alternatives, dealing a potential reliever (in their system) for a player you need who doesn’t cost nearly as much as he would on the open market, is a good deal to make. The Pirates traded from a position of strength and excess — upper level starting pitching prospects who probably won’t crack the MLB rotation with the Pirates — for a short-term need.
It’s hard to find fault with that approach and with this trade. You hope it works out for the Pirates, and Bastardo helps them fix their bullpen issues from the year before. As for Rodriguez, I hope this gives him a better shot at the majors, just because that has been something I’ve been pulling for an expecting for the last five seasons, ever since that night in Williamsport.
Links and Notes
**I finished the 2015 Prospect Guide today. Well, at least until tomorrow, when I’ll have to make a bunch of changes after the Rule 5 draft. Also, the Pirates will be completing the Sean Rodriguez trade following that draft. Those will be the final transactions going into the book, after which I will be sending the book to the publisher. You can pre-order your copy here.
**Pirates Acquire Antonio Bastardo From the Phillies For Joely Rodriguez
**AFL Names Joely Rodriguez to 2014 Prospect Team. Right before he was traded.
**Pirates Have Had Discussions on an Extension For Neil Walker
**Pirates Have Reportedly Discussed Shopping Travis Snider For Brian Matusz. I’m guessing this deal is dead, and the rumors didn’t give it much of a chance. But in this link I talk about how good Travis Snider was in the second half last year.
**Pat Neshek Signs With the Astros After Reportedly Coming Close to Signing With Pirates
**Winter Leagues: Tony Sanchez Sent Home From Dominican, Stolmy Pimentel Gets Hit Around
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.
I just have something to say about strand rate and people saying it’s not a skill. You have got to be joking, anyone who has pitched above the level of peewee league KNOWS that its a skill. Its about twice as hard to pitch with runners on base, as you have your focus completely split, you are also throwing from the stretch which reduces your velocity and your mechanics are completely different for a lot of pitchers, especially starters. I hate to be mean, but if you think that a pitcher who pitches better with no runners on or better with runners on is mere happenstance, you are a fool. It is like two different pitchers. There were dozens of times i had no control out of the windup or couldn’t find my curveball, but as soon as a runner was on base and things were “shortened up” my control of my fastball got better and my release point for the curve was waaay better. The other side is mental, and although it can’t be quantified, doesn’t mean its real. Its real convenient to say someone is weak mentally or whatever…… but you have to give credit for the opposite as well. Pitchers often pitch to contact with noone on, and then pitch much tougher when runners get on base, its the same exact concept as pitching different with a big lead vs. a tie game. it sure as hell is a legit stat, especially if something as ridiculous and arbitrary as pitch framing is!
I agree completely! I pitched in rookie ball, never made it past that but I know the game. A lot of posters on this site will complain at any move the Pirates make.
Shoulda got someone whose stats aren’t propped up by strikeouts.
Are teh strikeouts good?
Dang, it was only Alfredo Simon going to Tigers. I guess it was too much to hope for Cueto to leave the NL.
It seems we do not like lefties in our system. We keep trading them away.. nice story
I like the upside of Rodriguez, but the Pirates are in a tough division and any hole they have that can be filled for the present is more important than a prospect in the system that is at best a guess for success, is worth the move.
I am pretty sure the Pirates tried to get Bastardo at the trade deadline this past season, but Philly had all their players overpriced, I would not be afraid to bet the Phillies got a lot less for Bastardo now than they would have gotten then from the Pirates.
Nice article Tim – can’t wait to get my 2015 Prospect Guide. Hope this works well for the Bucs and Joely. In following your blog over the last year or so I got the impression he was a young man you were rooting hard for – and for very good reasons.
Great story Tim – and I am happy for you that this site has worked out and has become a new career for you. I am envious!
Now, as for the Bastardo for Rodriguez trade – in general, i agree with you and I think this was a good gamble for the Pirates and it does meet an immediate need – a a second left hander in the bullpen. I would be more excited if extending Bastardo was part of the deal – and and I hold out hope the Pirates extend him before the season starts. Otherwise, this has the potential to be a bad trade long term.
I agree, on paper, it does not appear that there would be much opportunity for Rodriguez to pitch in the rotation at Indy in 2015. However, I think there would be a mot of opportunity for him to do so in Altoona – as I think he is better than everyone on your list above (starters that appear likely to be in Altoona in 2015) except Glasnow and possibly Creasy. Plus, Sanchez is now gone. So, he could have been the #2 or #3 starter in Altoona to start 2015, and who knows how the rest of the year works out. Injuries, poor performance, etc. can change things very quickly. Taillon will not likely be ready at the start of 2015 – and I am not sold on Clayton Richard – could be another Jonathan Sanchez. So, I think you are going to great length to try to minimize Rodriguez prospect status and chances to succeed in Pittsburgh, to help justify the trade. The same thing happened last year with Blake Taylor – before we traded him, everyone thought he was a great prospect and get right out of HS. After the trade, he became a C prospect.
I would have rather gotten a Matusz, if we could have worked out a deal – as he has better control and is under control for 2 years. I think Snider had his breakout year in 2014 – and unless Polanco turns out to be a bust or we have a bad injury in the OF, I don’t see him replicating or improving on 2014. He will likely be getting far less the number of at bats.
Richard has never been a head case and he has been pretty consistent his whole career, not sure where you get jonathan sanchez…..
I wasn’t suggesting he was a head case – not sure where you got that. I was just stating that these reclamation projects don’t always work out…sometimes a guy has just lost it or never really had it.
Blake Taylor was rated as C+ pitcher prior to it being known he was the PTBNL.
Matusz is effectively a lefty specialist, Bastardo isn’t. Hurdle loves the clean inning and doesn’t chase platoon splits, so I’m not sure a LOOGY would be the best option. Not that Bastardo is great, just another option.
Except that Marte has a history of getting hurt and Snider proved to be the best PH the Bucs have had in awhile, not to mention the power that he finally started to display last yr – today’s game values that much more than in the past
I cannot disagree with that assessment….
You are overlooking the fact that Bastardo stunk for the Phillies last year, choking in every clutch situation, and has lost about 5 mph on his fb.
While I don’t agree with how Fangraphs defines “clutch”, it is true that Bastardo has been on the wrong side of the midpoint the past couple seasons – including worse than a -1.4 (poor) last season. Of 650 or so pitchers listed, Bastardo was in the 620s (along with Morton).
Fastball has consistently sat at around 92-93, so fine velo that hasnt seen odd spikes or inconsistencies over a years time. Others will show you how the notion that he stunk isnt accurate.
yea he stunk….11.4 K:9, FIP of 3.10, RHB hit 195. and LHB hit 175 against him…he’s pathetic. Yea sure he wasn’t as good in 2014 as he was in 2013, but that’s relievers for you. I don’t feel it has anything to do with HGH or any “performance enhancer” have those guys use that to recover from injuries faster, not to actually think they will get better at baseball. He was suspended in 2013 for it anyways and last year still had a very good season, pitching in a hitters ballpark as his home field and for a bad team with old players on defense. I am going to say his numbers will improve even more with pirates defense and having pnc park as his new home.
C’mon B ! There you go spoiling that guys fun by using numbers. No fair….
Kind of like AJ stunk w the Yankees, and Liriano stunk for White Sox & Twins, and Volquez stunk for Dodgers and Padres, and Melancon stunk for Red Sox. Do I need to go on?
You think maybe the Pirates see something you don’t? I’ll trust them to make wise decisions because their track record in these type moves has been unbelievably successful.
lol but he didn’t actually stink, I don’t know where some of these people are coming from. This isn’t a reclamation project ya know, hes been a solid reliever for years.
This 25 man roster is getting pretty tight. I’m dreaming on Deshields in the Rule 5 today but think it’s a super longshot.
Great read, Tim. Nice to get more than a simple X’s and O’s type rundown with the personal touch, great article.
Yet another sneaky move from that master sneak genius nh, c’mon spring training!
Tim, Thanks for sharing your story. These are one of things that make me enjoy this site so much. Your giving out insight and information that 99% of people will never get to witness. Your knowledge of the game in my opinion goes a long way to educating the Pirate fan base. Which is good for the younger Pirate fan base who has never really witnessed winning baseball and you also help the educate the traditional baseball fans who sometimes don’t understand the new thinking in baseball. I have one question for you because you know more about these things more than I do. What would an extension to Neil Walker look like ? Could they front load it? If they did what would that look like? What would the hometown discount look like that could be affordable to the Pirates? I’d appreciate your input. Thanks