Second Round of Pirates Cuts Answers a Few Questions For Indianapolis

BRADENTON, Fla. – The Pittsburgh Pirates made their second round of cuts on Friday morning, sending out ten players. They optioned seven to Indianapolis, with Josh Bell, Alen Hanson, Max Moroff, Gift Ngoepe, Willy Garcia, Nick Kingham, and John Holdzkom being sent down. They also reassigned Adam Frazier, Juan Diaz, and Dan Gamache to minor league camp.

It’s no surprise that the moves happened today. Tomorrow is an important deadline for players who didn’t have any Major League service time the previous season. Any player fitting that description who isn’t sent down by tomorrow, and who develops an injury in Major League camp, would have to start the season on the MLB disabled list. That played a big role in John Holdzkom being sent down today, which Ryan Palencer wrote about in detail.

But the Pirates weren’t going to run that risk with any of their prospects, which is why Josh Bell and the rest of the Indianapolis infield got the cut today. Bell’s situation is pretty straight forward, as he needs to improve his defense at first base and continue last year’s improvements with the hitting in order to be ready for a call-up to the majors. Even then, he would create a good problem for the Pirates at first base with John Jaso also at the position, which is something else Ryan Palencer wrote about after the cuts this morning. (Editor’s Note: What a perfect day for Ryan to arrive in Bradenton.)

The decision between a veteran player and a top prospect also came up this spring with Alen Hanson. Unlike the other prospects above, it wasn’t always inevitable that Hanson would go down today. Neal Huntington said that he was being considered for a spot on the club, up until the signing of David Freese.

“Alen had some really good opportunity, and really good moments this spring,” Huntington said. “The General Manager made a decision to go get a now player with where we are on the win curve. It was a reflection essentially of where we are on the win curve, and the opportunity to add a very good Major League player that fits for us really well. In Alen’s case, he’s closer than he’s ever been. We toyed with the idea for a long time of letting Alen have this opportunity out of Spring Training, and we just got to a point in time where we thought the right move was David Freese.”

Earlier this Spring, Clint Hurdle said that the plan with Hanson was to play second base only, rather than moving around. That plan was only for Spring Training, with the idea that he could take a spot out of camp until Jung-ho Kang returned. The Pirates ended up going with Freese for that starting spot, and now the plan for Hanson is to return to moving around the infield, playing second base, shortstop, and third base in Indianapolis.

“We sent him out today with the idea that he’ll begin to bounce around the field,” Huntington said. “Again I cannot emphasize it enough, we still believe all of these guys can be very good players. At the same time, we need them to be able to come up here and help us win. We also want them to have different opportunities to be able to make the club, and bouncing around the field is a big part of that. So Alen will start to bounce as he goes out.”

Huntington noted that Hanson needs to work on the consistency of his pre-game work, and the application of the “incredible tools that he has” into the games. He also pointed out that they challenged all of the infielders to be the first guy called up and to be the one from the group that stands out.

“That was the challenge we gave all of these guys going out,” Huntington said. “Be the first one called up. Be the one that’s worked hard. Be the one that’s gone out and executed. Be the one that’s gone out and helped your team win. We’ve got a really interesting group of players going out, that they all can play multiple positions, they all will play multiple positions. It’s not because we think that’s their ceiling. We think their ceiling is always regulars. The challenge becomes, how do you put them in position to help your Major League team initially.”

Huntington referenced the current Pirates’ infield, noting that none of the guys came up in their current starting position. Josh Harrison arrived as a bench player and a utility guy. He will enter the season as the starting second baseman. Jordy Mercer first came up as a bench player, before taking over as the starting shortstop. Jung-ho Kang was a bench player last year at the start of the season, then moved into a starting role, and will play third base when he returns. Huntington told

“Whether it’s Moroff, Frazier, Gift, Alen Hanson, Dan — that’s [five] pretty talented versatile infielders that all may help us at some point, and it’s up to them who is the first guy called up,” Huntington said.

The question with Hanson is whether he would be a guy who would come up in a utility role, or a guy like Bell who would be put in a starting spot immediately. Huntington mentioned they still see Hanson as a starter.

“Part of that will be determined by the need, and by the opportunity,” Huntington said of the two approaches. “He certainly wouldn’t be hurt by bouncing around the field and using his speed off the bench, using his ability to hit from either side to generate offense at the top of an inning. At the same time, if the need arises, assuming continued growth and development, we’d have no hesitation dropping him into the regular role.”

Getting Playing Time For Everyone

The big challenge after today will be getting playing time for every player in Triple-A. Huntington said that the plan right now is to have all of the infielders going to Indianapolis, with their versatility keeping them all in the lineup. He also said that the DH at-bats will go almost essentially to that group.

I broke down the crowded situation earlier in the week, and how it gets more crowded when Jason Rogers eventually goes down to Triple-A. One thing that helps right now is Adam Frazier’s ability to play the outfield. Huntington also mentioned that they could move a few other guys to the outfield to get them playing time.

“Adam Frazier is taking to the outfield really easily,” Huntington said. “There may even come a point in time down the road where we try each of those guys in the outfield, to give them another opportunity to make the club, and as importantly, find a spot in the lineup.”

There were discussions last year about moving Alen Hanson to left field to give him another position. This came when he was learning third base, and the Pirates decided to table the outfield talks at the time, letting him focus on just one new position. It would be interesting to see if he made that jump, and he’d make the most sense, as he’s the most athletic of the group. That outfield work could also make it easier for Hanson to force his way onto the MLB club. But no matter who makes that move, it’s going to be a crowded group in Indianapolis.

“It will be a challenge,” Huntington said. “It will certainly be a challenge, and how do we rotate them around positions, and how does Dean keep them all in a lineup and sharp? It’s a good problem to have, but it does represent some interesting challenges.”

The Future for Gift Ngoepe

Bell and Hanson were the big position players cut today. Moroff, Frazier, and Gamache often get grouped together, due to their versatility, and the fact that they’ve all moved up together. But don’t forget about Gift Ngoepe. He’s the best defensive shortstop in the system, and that defense will get him to the majors at some point. But his bat will dictate when he arrives.

“Gift has just enough power that he can get himself in trouble at times,” Huntington joked. “The swing gets too big, and he loses what type of hitter he’s going to need to be at the Major League level, and that’s gap-to-gap, line drive, battle. Absolutely battle, make a pitcher work. If he can do that, that’s an everyday shortstop with his defensive abilities. If the bat never comes along, he’s got a good chance to be a really good defensive infielder at the Major League level for a long time.”

Sean McCool wrote about Gift a few weeks ago, breaking down the decision he made to drop switch hitting and only focus on the right side. The Pirates are hoping that this leads to more offensive consistency from the shortstop, which could allow him to be more than a bench guy.

“Our challenge is helping that bat, helping him maximize what offensive abilities he has,” Huntington said. “The scary part of Gift, he’s been a right-handed hitter for one year, and he’s doing it at the highest level. This is not a young man that grew up facing the elite high school competition. He didn’t grow up facing Division I college competition. He’s facing the best competition he’s ever faced, and dropping the left-handed hitting element of his game. So there’s a lot of really intriguing things about where Gift can go as we move forward. Much like the other guys, he has a ceiling as a regular if we can help him grow in other areas.”

I’d disagree with the idea that Gift could be a regular in the majors. I think any offensive improvements will take him from a Quad-A type player who is used as depth, to a regular bench player. The only way he could start is if it’s a Brendan Ryan type player, who has outstanding defense, to the point where you ignore his almost negative offensive value. And I could only see that happening for the Pirates if Jordy Mercer goes down with an injury this year. For that reason, Gift is a very important depth piece for the Pirates in 2016, just like the rest of the Indianapolis infielders.

  • Tim and John…what are the odds of Josh Harrison still wearing black and gold April 2017? I think it is less than 33 percent; contract will be getting in the way.

  • I see it is horse picking season.

  • What about Pedro “Babe” Florimon? He doesn’t have a shot at the OD roster?

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    March 18, 2016 2:59 pm

    Gift, Hanson, and Diaz are hopelessly blocked in Pittsburgh – I would be all in favor of trading some combination of them to improve the rotation, since e are obviously not going to use these guys in Pittsburgh anytime soon. The thoughts of Florimon, Rodriguez, Stewart, and Rogers being our primary pinch hitters is a depressing thought.
    BTW, please get rid of Boscan and Knudson – neither are major league pitchers and both are horrible.

    • Oh for f’s sake…

      • BuccosFanStuckinMD
        March 18, 2016 4:10 pm

        I will remind you of my post above, when you and others start saying the same thing in May and June….you must be happy with Niese, Vogelsong, and Locke starting and the awesome bench of great hitters named above.

  • Just noticed… Elias Diaz still in MLB camp?

    Rangers looking for a catcher? Pirates having a perennial hole at SS? Jurickson Profar playing the field again? I’m just sayin’.

    • BuccosFanStuckinMD
      March 18, 2016 3:01 pm

      I bet we could get a pretty good starting pitcher for Hanson and Diaz – nether is playing in Pittsburgh this year (or even next possibly), and our rotation is a train wreck. If Hanson and Diaz get much older, their trade value will just diminish.

      • Diaz will likely be the starter in Pittsburgh next year. They won’t send away their first alternative to being unable to sign Cervelli. And hopefully Cervelli plays well enough this year that the Pirates won’t be able to afford to sign him long term. With Cervelli it’s gone if he plays well, and gone if he doesn’t; because given his age and injury history why would you sign him long term if he isn’t outsanding?

        This is Cervelli’s last year in Pittsburgh.

        • BuccosFanStuckinMD
          March 18, 2016 4:12 pm

          Meanwhile, we suffer through another year of Stewart as the backup….and Rodriguez on the bench….we must have the most underutilized farm system in baseball, given how highly rated it is.

          • I am not a fan of signing Serpico either. But Stewart isn’t bad as a back up, and Diaz gets to catch full time at AAA this year which is best for his development.

      • Considering Hanson is younger than all the other middle infield prospects.

    • If they dont’ sign Cervelli this offseason that would put us in a bind using Chris Stewart as the everyday in 2017, and potentially into 2018 while waiting for McGuire(if he ends up being major league caliber, which it’s still too early to tell in that he’s only completed A).

      • I’d still make that trade in a heartbeat.

        • Just curious….would you pull the trigger if it was Cervelli for Profar and Diaz taking over the primary catching duties?

          In other words, do you think the potential upside of 5 years of Profar is worth the expected return of one season of Cervelli…to a contending team?

          • Even more so.

            • I admit to also having a Profoner.

              The thought of adding him, moving Jordy to the Florimon role, and jettisoning S-Rod…yeah, that would make me want to roll the dice on Diaz being ready. Even if he doesn’t give you the same production, I think the upgrade in the infield and the strengthening of the bench may make up for it this season and surely will in the coming years.

              • Profoner. Gold!!

                I see it as a legitimate, if not risky, chance to add a 4+ WAR SS, which at this point has to be Huntington’s Moby Dick.

  • Mercer brings average defense and a replacement level bat. So Ngoepe just needs to reach replacement level with his bat to be an improvement over our current MLB regular.

    But Ngoepe isn’t going to be a regular, I’d rather see them plug Hanson in at SS one more time. His problems there were mental, not physical, so maybe some experience and maturity will help. It’d be worth one more look.

    • I’m with NH in being optimistic that Gift can be a regular. Let’s see how his bat plays this year in AAA when he is fully committed to RH only.

  • “The General Manager made a decision to go get a now player with where we are on the win curve.”

    Neil Huntington now talks about Neil Huntington in the third person?

    • barf.

      • “where we are on the win curve” is my new least favorite NH-ism.

        • Particularly when remembering this is the man responsible for rostering Jeff Locke, Jon Niese, and Ryan Vogelsong in the same rotation.

          • For half a year for at least one of those. Tallion will be up by the All Star break.

            • Which is *exactly* my point.

              Nobody that understands and values where the Pirates are on the win curve punts on half a season and then hangs his hat on rookies having immediate and sustained success through October.

            • Now there are certainly resource limitations at play, and that cannot be forgotten.

              • Yes, and that is why NH can spend $3M on Freese for a year to support immediate wins in 1H2016 but refuse to spend $42M on starting pitcher #3 for 3 years, not supporting immediate wins in 1H2016, and not be a hypocrite going in opposite directions at the same time.

                • Once again, here’s where the circular argument comes into play…

                  If there’s one thing nobody can argue the Pirates have been able to do under Huntington, it’s find undervalued pitchers. I find it intellectually disingenuous to throw up your hands and say the only option was to pay full market price for a resource we’ve been told time and time again to *expect* the Pirates to be able to find for less.

                  • Not buying the circular argument rationale … but let’s look for specifics on your premise. Who should the Pirates have signed instead of Vogelsong (but for Vogelsong like money) who would have been a more Volquez like player (higher upside, more likely to be improved by Searage)? I don’t think the player you yearn for(whoever it is) would be willing to sign with Taillon and Glasnow in the wings. They can read rosters too.

                    • Oh balogna. Show me one example of that ever happening.

                      And the extremely easy answer to your alternative pitcher question is Mat Latos.

                    • Maybe Latos’ wife said “anywhere but Pittsburgh” due to her fighting in the stands here. You can’t assume a reluctance is all on the Pirates side. But even saying that it is obvious Latos isn’t a clubhouse fit. Let’s see if you can name another.

                      Regarding your first question, it is impossible to answer for what player or agent would disclose such information. Yet some things are a simple exercise of common sense.

          • Exactly! If it’s like that on the everyday guys, why not the rotation?

        • really win curve.how about score a run in a playoff game.

    • Bringing in Freese was NH’s decision, and right now for the early season, Freese is more likely to be a better player than Hanson. He’s communicating to Hanson that he is being sent down for reasons other than the coaches not liking him.

    • Frozenrope11
      March 18, 2016 9:45 pm

      He traded his now player, Walker. They spent Walker’s salary already .. They surely know more than me, I’m just a fan

  • It would be great to see Gift in the bigs sometime but I gotta think that at age 26 and with other higher-pedigree infielders pushing him, his window of opportunity with the Pirates has realistically passed. He’s depth for now until we probably lose him as a minor league free agent whenever he’s able to go that route.

    • He’s on the 40-man roster now, so he wouldn’t be eligible for minor league free agency at this point. They just sent him down for the first time this year, so theoretically, they could send him down all season this year, 2017 and 2018 and he would still be with the team if they don’t designate him for assignment. All that means that he could go into 2019 Spring Training and still be with the Pirates without ever hitting free agency or playing an MLB game. Likely won’t happen that way, but it could.

      • I would agree that it’s unlikely they’d keep him on the 40 that long. Let’s hope for his sake that if he can’t get his shot with the Bucs, they’ll facilitate him getting that somewhere else.

  • Feel bad for Hanson and Frazier – both looked pretty good in ST and baring injury are not getting to ML before September…

    Time for a trade or two to make some room for young players to get their opportunity when they earn it – as these two guys did.

    • Always have to be wary of using ST to judge the merit of where a guy should play. Neither player has taken many at bats in AAA so deeming them ML ready could be premature based off of 15-20 at bats that saw a chunk of them come against non ML type arms.

      Very positive signs by those two, but id say more of a step towards the majors as opposed to proving their ML ready right now.

      • I’d bet a mortgage payment Adam Frazier would be every bit as valuable as Sean Rodriguez, right now.

        • Without a doubt, but so would a guy like Figeuroa and i think he’s clearly ahead of Frazier on the list of options id go with for a bench role over Frazier. First and foremost because i think Frazier can benefit from more consistent playing time to reach his upside, where as it seems clear Figeuroa has a set and limited ceiling but with current value.

          • But I like Adam Frazier more!

            Not gonna lie, he’s one of my irrational prospect crushes, but I also don’t really see any more progression left in his game. Not exactly saying he’s big league ready, but I doubt there’s any upside there.

            • I actually agree with that, but i do think he could use at least half a season in AAA to see if thats a legit fact. 200 at bats in AAA and then evaluate him.

              Because if he is largely done progressing, 200 at bats wont hurt him and he’ll keep popping around to be a utility type. If he gets a bit better, he’s nearing fringe starter at a few spots.

          • As for Figueroa, one thing I haven’t heard anyone really talk about is how much this club’s bench is going to strike out. Morse, Freese, Rogers, Joyce, Rodriguez, Florimon all project to strike out well above league average.

            Figueroa, on the other hand, would be the exact opposite.

            • He seems to fit their want of a new approach well. Flexibility in where he can play, solid defense up the middle, and clearly a contact type hitter who doesnt K a lot.

              Obviously its a crowded infield (i hate you Sean Rodriguez) but he seems to be impressing coaches.

  • Gregory Bartoletti
    March 18, 2016 12:06 pm

    Tim, what are the prospects of Morroff passing Hanson as a 2nd base option if Harrison goes down with an injury?

  • I don’t understand why Frazier isn’t in AAA.

    • If we assume Gift+Hanson+Moroff are all going to start the year in the minors, someone unfortunately has to be left in Altoona or just not play enough in Indy. Even if you rotate guys at different spots, those 3 along with Frazier and a Florimon/Figueroa type really crowds the infield.

      Screw Sean Rodriguez.

      • No one will be left in Altoona. Updated the article with more info.

        • Good stuff, much appreciated.

          How do you think they will allot playing time as a result?

        • Ah! Thanks. I see Frazier as Sean Rodriguez’s replacement next year, if not sooner, because of his ability to play both infield and outfield as well as hit for average. Glad he’ll be in AAA.

    • I don’t think it said anything about him going to AA. Frazier will be in AAA with the rest of the group, almost positively.

      • If he is, he’ll play a lot of OF early on. Which is fine, but not totally ideal if you are looking for him to develop his skills on defense in all areas (like SS).

    • Frazier will be in Triple-A.

    • When you send down players on the 40-man roster, you assign them to teams. For non-roster players, you assign them to camp. There is no difference though, they are all going to minor league camp, it’s just worded different based on their 40-man roster status

    • Frozenrope11
      March 18, 2016 9:36 pm

      Frazier will be in Triple A , he’s your best 2 nd basemen and is one of the top hitters in the organization.
      Josh Bell is your best overall first basemen , defense is good enough and he he hits!

  • Will see these guys later this year when the team dumps the trash and restocks for the future.

  • I know there is still the Super Two factor, but is Bell’s defense at 1B any worse than Jaso’s?

  • Jeff Locke’s new delivery seems to working quite well. He should be the pitcher for the Homerun derby and throw his best stuff.

    • That made me laugh. Poor Jeff Locke.

    • Repeat after me, Spring Training results mean absolutely, positively, nothing. Zip, zilch, nada!!!!

      If he pitches like this next month, feel free to say I told you so. But I have a feeling he’s going to be a pleasant surprise.

      • Spring Training *stats* don’t mean much, but if the goal of Locke’s new mechanics is to sharpen command then leaving meatballs over the plate time and time again *most certainly* is worth noting.

        I’ve been impressed with the bump his fastball seems to have gotten, but my gosh you gotta locate the ball, son.

        • And if he isnt locating it well, the entire change is useless. If the command issue is just due to him having spotty command and not because of his windup and delivery, let the kid go back to whatever deception advantage he had in the old situation vs new.

          Too early to tell, but worth watching for sure.

          • Bingo.

          • Scott Kliesen
            March 19, 2016 7:08 am

            For sure! Anytime a SP coming off a tough year is making changes to his delivery, it bears monitoring. However, some are prone to coming to conclusions before he even throws his first bullet in a real game. Simply ridiculous.

        • Scott Kliesen
          March 19, 2016 7:06 am

          Yes, if he doesn’t locate he’s in trouble. But let’s wait until the lights are on and games count before burying him. That’s all I’m saying.

  • Alot of the cuts made very nice impressions this spring. Let’s hope for continued success and we will see some of them soon in the major leagues. Sorry to see some of them cut. They brought alot of excitement to the games.

    • Agree! The depth of the system has never looked better. And can I say that Cutch looks as strong and fit as ever. If he can get to a solid start, get some protection in the lineup, could be another MVP like season for him.

    • Regardless of place in the standings, this 2016 club is going to be really fun to watch.

  • I’m surprised Holdzkom was sent down already.

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