Francisco Cervelli Could Be a Sleeper For the Pirates

Over the off-season, the Pittsburgh Pirates saw Russell Martin sign with the Toronto Blue Jays. Before that happened, they traded Justin Wilson to the New York Yankees, getting Francisco Cervelli back in return. By the looks of things, Cervelli will be the starting catcher for the Pirates during the 2015 season.

There are definitely things that make Cervelli an interesting catching option. Over the last two years he had a .293/.372/.449 line, although that came in a small sample size of 223 plate appearances. He has also been one of the best rated pitch framers in the game, and has strong defensive skills. The most notable thing after his addition was this comment by Brandon McCarthy.

The biggest issue for Cervelli has been his history with injuries. Even if you dream that the offense the last two years is legit, and the defense will make him a strong two-way catcher, there is the risk that he won’t be able to play a full season. Then again, looking at the catching market, you’re not getting a strong two-way catcher for Justin Wilson. The Pirates either need to pay a lot for that type of catcher (SEE: Russell Martin’s contract with Toronto), or they need to take a risk on a guy like Cervelli who has some question marks, but also some signs that we could point to a year from now as evidence that he was just about to break out.

Today’s video feature talks with Cervelli about his defense, his improved offense the last two years, his injury problems, and how he is getting to know the pitchers in the Pirates’ organization. Clint Hurdle also discusses that subject, and I asked both about the McCarthy tweet. The video also has Cervelli taking batting practice, and making some strong contact, plus some video of him and Chris Stewart in the bullpen. Cervelli was a great interview with a lot of really honest and candid answers about the above topics.

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.

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R Edwards

Unlike Martin, when he was acquired by the Pirates from the Yankees, Cervelli doesn’t have any history of success at the MLB level, other than in very small samples. Martin was outstanding in LA and had a strong season for the Mets. So, to compare the two is silly – the only similarities are they both are catchers and were acquired from the Yankees.

I hope Cervelli is a pleasant surprise, because if he isn’t and Stewart is the primary catcher, the Pirates are in trouble. I don”t like known cheaters on my team, but now that he is PED free hopefully, we’ll see what Cervelli can do.

I am cautiously optimistic.

Chris Hale

To me defense is the only important thing to discuss . So many people talk about his offense. Who cares. offense is really irrelevant . even if his career average was .200 they would have went and got him to be the starting catcher . He will be hitting 8th anyways. He was brought here to play plus defense and control the pitching staff. If he couldn’t do that he wouldn’t be here. Russell Martin’s offense was not the reason we took that step forward in 2013, it was his defense. If Cervelli plays great defense and the pitching staff is one of the best in the NL and he hits .200 then hes the most important player on the team. There is plenty offense 1-7

R Edwards

When was the last time a team won the WS with a catcher hitting .200?

Brian Bernard

I’ll take the word of Brandon McCarthy over any fan or follower. You don’t call someone a stud if you think he’s just ok. He’s the perfect age for a catcher to mature, he’s in the perfect opportunity with a great staff and sucessful and fun having ballclub. I don’t expect .300 and perfect health – but I expect him to lead the catching group with average offense and above average defense. You can’t expect him to have Russell Martin defense but I see his offense being similar.


AJ Burnett spoke highly of Rod Barajas and we saw how that worked out.

paul maggio

Is it fair to brand Cervelli as injury prone when the injuries were freakish. Just a bad streak of luck I think.


That is why depth is important. Never know what is going to happen.


When I saw this article, I was going to type the same thing. I think that Tim has i it right that he could be a sleeper here.


Having grown up in ‘Little Italy” in Erie, love the Italian accent. SportsOMania best hope he is not Sicilian!

mike perry

He’s not he’s Venezuelan


South America is full of Italians!


rocco: Do not know how it is in Venezuela, but in Argentina the Italians refer to themselves and are referred to as Tano’s which is slang for Italiano/Italians. Got that last Fall from the owner of a pizza joint in Manchester, NH called Tano’s – great Sicilian pizza.


Yeah. Like the tip of South America is like the heel on a boot!



He’s both.


I would be surprised if he is the starting catcher by the end of the year. I would not be surprised if he gets DFA’d at some point this season.

Sec 119

I’ll take that bet

Steve Williams

You clearly do not follow baseball at all. His chance of being DFA,d is zero. And if healthy he will be the starter.


Word of advice : He is the same guy who was predicting Sebastian Valle would be the starting catcher.


I did not predict that. I just said I would not be surprised if he was by the end of the year. My prediction is Chris Stewart will get most of the work behind the plate. The catcher position in Pittsburgh is full of questions. When they are questions it allows for someone to emerge and take the spot. The catcher with the most established record is Chris Stewart and he is what he is a good defensive catcher.

Of course Cervelli is and should be the number one catcher on the depth chart. It is my belief for a number of reasons he will not keep that spot.


His salary is low enough that DFA is a possibility if he falls flat on his face and a better option presents itself.


And on what do you base that on if I might inquire?


He did not hit in the upper levels of the minor leagues. His numbers the last two years in MLB besides being a small sample size are skewed by PED use. In addition he has not shown an ability to stay healthy.


Go back to sleep. You were a lot more intelligent doing that.


Rather than telling me to go to sleep tell me what makes you so sure Cervelli will be good. Tim said he could be a sleeper which means he is far from a sure thing.


When did I ever say I was sure Cervelli was going to be good ? Nobody, and I mean nobody in Pittsburgh ever thought Russel Martin would be as productive as he was last season either. But when you start spouting off about Cervelli like you really know what you are talking about, I am going to call you on it.


Like anyone else I am basing an opinion based on what has been seen from him in the past. If you go back years ago I defended Josh Harrison and thought Jordy Mercer was going to be a good MLB shortstop while most thought they would amount to nothing. I am not saying my opinion is the law but it is an opinion given with thought. If Cervelli turns out to be a good acquisition I will be very happy I was wrong. Two you years ago the Yankees gave him this opportunity and Chris Stewart ended up getting majority of the work at catcher.


I’ll tell you what : I will go back to the season I watched both Harrison and Mercer play at the AA level, and I told any and everyone who was interested that both , particularly Harrison, were underrated, and would out perform Chase d’Arnaud at the MLB level….if given the opportunity. So, don’t bruise your back patting it.


Glad to hear you were right once.

Lee Foo Young

He was a great interview! I am hoping he picks up where Russell left off. He definitely seems to have a good head on his shoulder.


I love having this guy around. Yankees just can’t abide by the thought of having an “unproven” player in a regular role. I doubt he does what Russell did last year, but I think he’s even money to have a better OPS+ than Russell this year.
All of a sudden the Pirates’ system is Catcher Central. That’s a good thing in my book, it’s a hard position to trade for, as this offseason has proved. I’m rooting for Yasmany Tomas to do well in Arizona, and for the Pirates to swing a trade for Jake Lamb as 3B depth.


r: Lamb would be an excellent add, and at 24 he will probably see a lot of work at AAA in 2015. He won the MVP in AA, so you may be aiming high on this kid. My suggestion was Ryan McMahon, 20, who played at Lo A in the Rockies org – possibly less costly in a trade.

Cervelli will do very well for the Pirates, and the fact that he has worked with Stewart and AJ will help a lot.


I would not be surprised to see this turn out to be the sleeper trade of the year.

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