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Thursday, December 1, 2022

First Pitch: Six Pirates Relievers Who Hit 98+ MPH; Who Will Win a Bullpen Spot?

It’s no secret that Ray Searage and Jim Benedict have done some great things with the pitchers that have come through Pittsburgh the last few years. They have taken pitchers who have been statistically some of the worst pitchers in the game, and turned them into guys who could post top of the rotation numbers. However, when we think of the “reclamation projects”, it always seems like the focus is on the outside of the organization, rather than the guys currently in the system.

It’s not like the Pirates haven’t improved their own pitchers. Charlie Morton was a disaster before Jim Benedict re-worked his whole game in 2011. Since then, he has put up a 3.74 ERA in 495.1 innings, and that includes the time he struggled before going down with Tommy John surgery. Tony Watson went from a lefty starter who looked like an organizational player in 2010, to a guy who looked like he belonged in the majors as a reliever in 2012, to one of the top relievers in the game in 2014.

Another trend with “reclamation projects” is that we tend to think about the starters, but don’t give a lot of thought to relievers like Watson, Mark Melancon, Joel Hanrahan, Jason Grilli, or the good seasons the Pirates have gotten out of middle relievers like Jared Hughes, Jeanmar Gomez, and Vin Mazzaro. Maybe that’s because it’s more common for a reliever to go from struggling to having a big year, or to come out of nowhere and establish himself as a viable Major League option.

I wrote yesterday about Clayton Richard, who fits the bill as a typical reclamation project, and who talked about how appealing the Pirates’ system looked from the outside, after all of the work they’ve done with pitchers the last few years. Richard is one of the few reclamation projects the Pirates will have for the rotation this year (I’d say Chris Volstad could be one, but I’m not sure if he’ll be a starter, and he’s never really had a good season, so he doesn’t fit the bill). Meanwhile, the bullpen is full of potential projects.

Last year the Pirates had horrible results from their bullpen. Mark Melancon and Tony Watson were two of the best in the game, but the rest of the bullpen struggled. It wasn’t until the end of the year that things came together and the Pirates had one of the top bullpens in baseball in September. The overall season still left a void going forward, and a lot of opportunities for players to step up in 2015 and take some spots.

The Pirates have certainly added a lot of options this off-season, including several hard throwing pitchers. They just added Arquimedes Caminero today. The right-hander averaged 95.5 MPH with his fastball last year, and can hit 100 MPH, putting him in the same class as Gerrit Cole and John Holdzkom. They also added Radhames Liz earlier in the off-season, giving him a guaranteed $1 M deal after he showed encouraging signs in the Dominican Winter Leagues. Liz is another hard thrower who sits in the mid-90s, and can touch 100.

Then there’s Pimentel, who could qualify as an internal reclamation project. Technically, he was a reclamation prospect, since he came to the Pirates in 2013 with a low value, then saw the minor league pitching coaches fix him, getting his fastball up to 98 MPH as a starter, and helping him develop the slider into an offering that looked plus at times. The Pirates didn’t use Pimentel much last year, which was strange, since he was out of options and that was the year to see what he could do. He’s got the stuff to be a dominant late-inning reliever, but just needs to transition to the majors.

Holdzkom had a great season last year between Indianapolis and the majors, and was one of the reasons the Pirates had such a great bullpen down the stretch. He’s an extremely hard thrower, and his fastball has some ridiculous cutting movement. He also pairs that with a nasty palm ball, and has been working this off-season on a two-seam fastball to use as a situational pitch to get quick ground ball outs. Based on his limited success, you could argue that he’s earned a spot in the bullpen. The only thing that could keep him out is the numbers game.

Finally, lost in the mix is Rob Scahill, who the Pirates acquired at the start of the off-season for 2013 tenth round pick, Shane Carle. He has an option, so he can be used as depth out of Triple-A, but the stuff is also strong. His fastball averaged 94.4 MPH in his brief time in the majors, and topped out at 98. He has an upper 80s slider, but hasn’t seen that translate to a lot of strikeouts. Minor league free agent Blake Wood is another right-hander who averaged 95.6 MPH with his fastball, and hit 98.

Caminero, Liz, Pimentel, Holdzkom, Scahill, and Wood. Six right-handers who sit in the mid-90s with their fastballs, and can touch 98 MPH or higher. None of them are anything close to sure things, with some of them being further than others. But they’ve all got amazing stuff.

If Searage and Benedict can just tap into the potential for one of these guys, then the Pirates will have an amazing seventh inning guy to pair with Melancon and Watson, not to mention the off-season addition of Antonio Bastardo as the second left-hander.

If they can get two of these guys to realize their potential, then you’re talking about a bullpen that could be one of the best in the game. That’s a bullpen that can throw two of the hardest throwing pitchers in the game at you, plus a very strong lefty, and that’s before even getting to the guys who rate as two of the best relievers in baseball.

The Pirates have very few position battles lined up for Spring Training. One of the battles will be for the final bullpen spots. They have gathered a lot of hard-throwing options together, and from the looks of things, there will be a nice competition to see who makes it. Searage and Benedict have helped the Pirates put together some nice and very under-rated rotations the last few years. This is their chance to do the same thing with the bullpen, giving the Pirates a chance at what worked so well with Kansas City’s bullpen last year.

**As you may have noticed, I updated the site design last night. This was something that was in the plans for a few weeks, as part of an overall plan to speed up the site. For the last few months, something has been happening with the site where it would get slow, and even time out loading pages, specifically around when news broke. I’ve seen as many as 900-1000 people on the site at the same time with no issues, and that was with the same hosting company and the same theme. Recently, if the traffic went north of 100 people at a time, the site would have problems. A lot of that had to do with things going out of date, whether it was certain plugins we ran on the site, or the theme itself. I’ve been spending a lot of time the last few weeks trying to speed things up to get ready for Spring Training and the season. If anyone has any comments, or notices anything with the theme or the site, let me know. I’ve still got a few adjustments to make the rest of this week, and would appreciate any feedback if you guys notice something. The good news was the site seemed to be running fine today when the Caminero trade was announced. Hopefully the recent problem is finished.

**Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 Top Prospects: #3 – Austin Meadows. Only two more to go in the countdown, which will conclude this week. Buy the 2015 Prospect Guide to get write-ups on the entire top 50 prospects, along with profiles for 200+ players in the system.

**Keith Law Ranks Six Pirates Among The Best Prospects At Their Position. The one that surprised me was ranking Alen Hanson as the second best at the second base position. Between Hanson and Kang, I think the Pirates will have a long-term replacement for Neil Walker. But in 2015, those two will provide some nice depth behind Walker.

**Pirates Acquire RHP Arquimedes Caminero From The Marlins

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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.


Pirates Prospects has been independently owned and operated since 2009, entirely due to the support of our readers. The site is now completely free, funded entirely by user support. By supporting the site, you are supporting independent writers, one of the best Pittsburgh Pirates communities online, and our mission for the most complete Pirates coverage available.

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Tim, the yellow text in your main articles is hard to see with the font you are using. Seems better on my android than my PC.


The Pirates keep bringing in pitching and utility infield players, I wish they had a few more 1st base prospects, seems to me to be the weak link in the upper levels at the moment.


Bell is the #4 prospect in the system and the #1 1st base prospect in baseball.

R Edwards

I guess this article illustrates that to be a successful pitcher in the major leagues, or even at the AA/AAA levels for that matter, you have to do more than throw hard – even if you can throw close to triple digits. None of these guys have seen much sustained success, beyond low levels in the minors.


From the FWIW Dept. : I saw the other day where there were 50+ Minor League pitchers who hit 100 mph at least once last season !

chuck conner

Tim, I have msg you a couple of time about this. You seem to be using WordPress as you venue. You can very easily mark all posts to be opened in a new tab. That would eliminate the need for people to arrow back. All they would have to do is click off of the page their on and it will go back to the previous page. It also keep people on your home page longer and Google likes that. When I come onto your site, I find the articles i want to read and right click on them and open in a new tab. It would be much easier to just click on the article and auto open a new tab.
I may be all wet on this, but I have 8 websites and found the time on my sites increased when I started using “open in new tab.”


Yeah, don’t do this. I often check this site on my phone and Iif every time I clicked a link it opened in a new window I would lose my mind. I can easily right-click/open new window if that is what I want.

chuck conner

all you would have to do is click off of the page and you would be right back to your last page. saves the right click step


I know this will be an unpopular suggestion, but since Watson is clearly an established, high-end reliever who could almost certainly handle a closer role, it seems worth shopping him.
The Blue Jays need a closer, and they have a strong minor league system. Perhaps the Pirates could trade him for (e.g.) Devon Travis and Mitch Nay. Just a thought.
But if the issue is that the Bucs are going to lose some of their talented relievers anyway (i.e. many of them are out of minor league option years), why not sell high on Tony Watson and fill his spot with John Holdzkom?


Lefties are rarely used as closers. Not that I endorse that mentality, but it would be an uphill battle to shop as lefty as a closer on the market and would ultimately exert downward pressure on his trade value. On top of that, he is not ‘proven.’ Not that I endorse that either, but not going to help. The only pitcher that would command a closer-cost would be Melancon. Personally, I think the smart move would trading Melancon and moving Watson to closer.


I think Melancon does get dealt next winter, but this year, I think it would be a good idea to shop Hughes. He’s coming off a pretty stellar season, is young and cheap, and could bring back a reasonable asset depending on where we send him. Of course, he’s one of the guys with an option left, so perhaps he’s not the one to move.

But if the team is really confident in the other arms, Melancon could fetch a really nice return this year, too.


Maybe, Melancon gets dealt next winter – I don’t know that there is really that much motivation to move him. I only meant to suggest that if you are going to trade from the bullpen (because you have guys who you think can take on a bigger role) then it really only makes sense to deal from the top and promote internally. This same thinking goes for Hughes. If you think Hughes is capable of a bigger role, then deal the guy in that role and promote Hughes, because you are never going to get the value for what a bullpen guy can be, only the value of what he has been. Now, if you think Hughes is not that good and are trying to sell high, then that is a different story.


This new format is barely readable in my Chrome browser as the page keeps jumping up and down. It’s fine on my phone. Just thought I’d point out this issue.


PC and I just checked the version and it’s up to date. However, I’m not having the problem I was having this morning so hopefully that problem has been fixed.

Keep up the good work–it’s much appreciated.

Lee Foo Young

On the minus side, they never seemed to fix Justin Wilson’s control problems.

On the plus side, the more fireballers the better. May the best fastball win! 🙂


Tim, I would personally like to see a line item menu of the recent articles at the top instead of the rolling version you have. But if it stays the same I’ll get used to it. The content on this site is fantastic!


OK, sounds good. Keep up the good work and thanks for the reply.


I don’t care for the new format. But maybe it’s just because I was comfortable with the old one and it’ll grow on me.

Or maybe it’s because I’m an old man and I hate everything except Matlock! Ooh, it’s on now! [leaves abruptly]


I really don’t either. And I don’t even like Matlock.

I looked for a “contact us” section to express this thought confidentially. But alas, there is none.

My biggest complaint is that I do not like the “scrolling” of stories. I know that the date the story was published is available in the lower left corner, but what I want to see when I come to the Site is a list of postings from the most recent to the oldest, so I can avoid clicking on something I already have looked at. As it is now I have to wait until it scrolls through all of the featured stories to get to the most recent one(s).

As things stand now, the only time I will visit the Site is when the Twitter feed tells me there is a new story posted, which I will click on in my Twitter feed to bring me here. It’s just too unwieldy to come to the Site unprovoked. I hope something can be done about this or there can be an option added where I can click on it to get back to a front page that has just a list of the stories instead of the scrolling thingie.

I am a big fan of the Site but this IMO is a serious hassle.


That would be fantastic, Tim, and would definitely solve my issues. And I’ll look for that “recent articles” tab.

Love the Site content. Although one suggestion I would make for the Prospect Guide, I like the newfangled stats, but I am missing the traditional stats. If there would be a way next year to include both I think it would be an upgrade. I know you have a limited amount of space. Just a suggestion.

Lee Foo Young

Get off my lawn, Steve!

Seriously, I’d still like that “Home” button back, esp if I am linking to an article from another site or Twitter. Otherwise, I have to use my bookmark to go to the front page.

John Dreker

The Pirates Prospects symbol in the top left takes you to the front page


Is the I Pad format final? Site is squeezed into middle of page. Empty space on both sides.


Narrow holding both vertical and sideways.


Chris Volstad reminds me of Jared Hughes. He has a 50% groundball rate and he stands 6-foot-8 and weighs 230 pounds.

Only 7 of Volstad’s 130 major league appearances have been made in relief. If moving to the bullpen helps him add a little velocity to his
fastball, which has averaged 91.2 mph, and produce a few more
strikeouts, his ground ball rate could make him an effective reliever.

Scott Kliesen

I’d be very surprised if Holdzkom isn’t given the first opportunity to be the 7th inning guy. In his short time in the majors last year, he sure looked like a closer in the making.


Great article tim, as far as the new layout it seems fine to me, once we get used to the new toys it should be smooth sailing once again.


Ditto on the layout – still searching to find things, but the site has continued to improve. The half-screen presentation has it’s limitations, especially for overly wordy folks like me.


the future of the starting rotation seems to indicate they will have 3 right handed pitchers, about 6’5″ who throw on a downward plane with a 95 average fastball and mix in the curve and change-up. A pitcher like Locke could benefit from this.


Even if the Pirates start out the year with 12 pitchers 3 of these won’t make it. If a player has options he’s probably not going to be on the opening day roster no matter what he does in spring training.
















Looking at the 40 man roster it seems the Pirates are one position short to bring on all the pitchers that don’t have options. Maybe with the flexibility they have with position players they can bring on an extra pitching spot.

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