The Pittsburgh Pirates today announced that they have claimed right-handed pitcher A.J. Schugel from the Seattle Mariners. No corresponding move has been announced yet to clear a spot on the 40-man roster. The 26-year-old made his Major League debut with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2015 and allowed five runs over nine inning in five relief appearances.
Schugel was a 25th round draft pick in 2010 by the Angels out of Central Arizona College. Three years earlier, he was a 33rd round pick of the Padres out of high school. By 2013, he reached Triple-A and started the entire year for Salt Lake City, posting a 7.05 ERA in 89.1 innings. While that number is extremely high, the team had a 5.37 ERA playing in one of the highest offense parks in baseball.
He moved on to Arizona in 2014 and made 26 starts in Double-A, posting a 3.48 ERA and 1.30 WHIP, with 117 strikeouts in 147.1 innings. Schugel started the 2015 season in the majors, pitching once before being sent to Triple-A. He eventually got demoted after a rough start in Triple-A and pitched great in Double-A, making the climb back to the majors by the end of August. In 65 starts in Double-A, he has a 2.98 ERA, while it goes up to 7.99 in 28 Triple-A starts, though there is a huge difference between the parks he has pitched in at those levels.
Scouting reports have him sitting low-90’s, touching 95 MPH. He has a changeup that is described as either average or above average, depending on which source you trust. He throws a slider that needs work. Schugel isn’t a high strikeout pitcher, but he displays strong command and he posted a 1.40 GO/AO ratio this past season after being around 1.00 in that department over his first five seasons combined. He has two options remaining.
Schugel looks like someone who the Pirates feel is a better option than whoever they end up getting rid of for his spot. With the two options left, they will be able to send him down. With almost no success in Triple-A, even though he has some MLB experience, it’s unlikely he has a chance to make the Opening Day roster. He just recently went through waivers this winter, so they may feel that can pass him through and send him outright to Indianapolis if they need a 40-man spot later.
UPDATE 4:17 PM: Analysis from Tim Williams…
It’s hard to say at this point where Schugel will fit in with the Pirates. He has some experience in the majors, although the performance in that time doesn’t suggest he’s a good depth option. His performance as a starter in Triple-A doesn’t suggest he’d be good for that rotation either, especially since he’d block a better option like Chad Kuhl, Steven Brault, or Trevor Williams. He seems like the type of guy who would benefit from a move to the bullpen, where his fastball would play up. That also seems to be the best fit for him based on the current depth chart.
As for the overall move, this is just another situation where the Pirates are adding depth. I wouldn’t be surprised if Schugel ends up getting designated for assignment later in the off-season. He cleared waivers in the NL in December, then was claimed in the AL. This time around he cleared in the AL, and went through every team except St. Louis. By claiming him, the Pirates now have the opportunity to put him through waivers again, knowing that St. Louis passed on him once, and knowing most of the other teams passed on him twice. That speaks to his value, which is low, but if the Pirates see something they like in him, then there’s no cost here to get him in the system.
UPDATE 4:59 PM: The Pirates have designated Yoervis Medina for assignment, opening up a spot for Schugel. Medina was picked up off waivers less than a month ago. He is out of options and would have had a hard time making the Opening Day roster. Just like was mentioned with Schugel, Medina is the type you pick up on waivers, and if you need a spot for someone else later, you hope to get him through waivers. If he is kept, he will be assigned to Indianapolis as a depth option out of the bullpen. He has had some success in the majors recently, so it would be nice for the Pirates if they could keep him in the system.
UPDATE 5:07 PM: Analysis from Tim Williams…
Personally I’d rather have Medina over Schugel. Medina is a hard throwing right-handed reliever who has dealt with control problems, and the Pirates have had success in that department in recent years. But there’s a good chance Medina wouldn’t have made the roster out of Spring Training and would have been DFAd anyway. He was out of options, and the current bullpen only has one spot open, with Mark Melancon, Tony Watson, Jared Hughes, Arquimedes Caminero, Juan Nicasio, and Neftali Feliz looking like locks.
The Pirates have Rob Scahill, John Holdzkom, Trey Haley, Kyle Lobstein, and A.J. Schugel as guys on the 40-man roster competing for the final bullpen spot. They’ve got several other NRI guys competing for a job, and Medina would join that list if he clears waivers. The 40-man list includes a lot of hard throwers, so the Pirates could still end up with a reliever the quality of Medina in their bullpen.
If the Pirates decide to go with two left-handers, then Media had no shot at all, since that final spot would be taken by one of the current guys competing for a spot (Lobstein, plus NRI guys like Jim Fuller, Kelvin Marte, or Robert Zarate), or an addition later in the off-season.