Pirates Q&A: Tall Pitchers, Relief Prospects and Super Two Status

We had a tremendous response to our Q&A request article on Thursday. Today’s article will deal with a large group of prospect questions, focusing on the pitching side, with some other areas also covered below. The rest of the answers will be posted over the next few days.

Mark HIt seems that the Pirates place a premium on tall projectable pitchers in the draft. These pitchers are probably a little harder, and take longer, to develop. Do you think their preference for tall pitchers has hurt their ability to develop pitching prospects? Fangraphs top 132 prospects list 8 pitchers 6’5” or taller and 22 pitchers 6’2” or shorter. Yet during the Huntington era the Pirates have drafted & signed 39 pitchers 6’5” or taller and 41 pitchers 6’2” or shorter (assuming the heights at baseballreference.com are correct). It kind of feels like we have been missing out on some pitchers in the draft with our bias for tall pitchers. Maybe the Pirates approach changed recently since the PP top 50 has 3 times as many 6’2” or shorter pitchers than 6’5” or taller pitchers. SABR has a pretty interesting article from 2010 that basically concludes pitcher height has no impact on effectiveness or durability. Any thoughts?

I think baseball in general places a premium on tall pitchers, but I believe that only really affects bonuses and draft spots. If someone can pitch in the majors, height doesn’t matter. They will be found. Overall, I think size will get a marginal pitcher more of a chance because there’s more room for projection.

I know one thing that the Pirates liked about the taller pitchers is the extension they get towards the plate. You truly can’t appreciate what batters face when a 6’7″ pitcher is on the mound with a long stride, until you see it up close, especially if they throw hard and on a downward angle.

One personal experience in particular was when Duke Welker finally put things together in Low-A for the first time. At 6’7″ and throwing downhill, guys were gearing up early for his mid-90s fastball and they had no chance at his off-speed pitches. Tyler Glasnow got similar swings in Low-A and he had a long stride towards home plate.  At 5’8″ with similar stuff, Elvis Escobar isn’t getting those reactions from hitters, but he still has a chance to be a decent MLB pitcher.

As a fan of a team, you would hope that your club doesn’t write off anyone based on size and I don’t think the Pirates do that. There are few examples now of a small pitcher being successful, but that should never be a deciding factor.

DutchStewBrad Case had a good year with good control. He ended up in West Virginia for his last outings of 2018. Where do you project him to start the 2019 season and how do you see his development?

I like the potential from Case. He’s a big pitcher at 6’7″, who showed quick improvements once he joined the Pirates. He controls five pitches well and worked hard this off-season to add stamina and improve his slider. He has a great head on his shoulders and he’s very open to coaching. For more on him, check out our player feature from this winter. I think he will begin the season with Greensboro, where he’s either a starter or they will have a piggyback system going, where two pitchers both get 3+ innings in the same game. Either way, he should see significant innings.

I personally like the way he goes about his business. He got to Spring Training early to help his chances of making a full-season roster, but he’s also a team-first player. I had a recent quote from him that I didn’t use, but could add here to show his desire to compete and win.

“It’s my first Spring Training and I’m going out there to do two things: compete and get better. Wherever I end up, the goal then becomes to win a championship.”

Darkstone42So. Yeudy Garcia. We’ve seen some good and some bad for from him this spring. The good has been that bender of his getting all kinds of awkward reactions out of hitters. The bad is the command. Does he have a path to earn his way back into a rotation and starter prospect status, or is the command too far gone for him to be other than an all-stuff, no command reliever?

My guess is that he will remain a reliever. He didn’t exactly excel in the role last year outside of a high strikeout total. As you mentioned, control is his issue. He has never looked as strong as we saw during the 2015 season in West Virginia. His 2016 season really derailed him and it was an odd overall year. His velocity was lower all season and he would go very heavy with sliders at times. At the end of the year, he had some procedure done to his shoulder, which no one talked about, so we never got full details.

Since then his control has been much worse and the overall results have been poor. He’s been on the DL twice in the last three years due to phantom injuries and he was suspended at the end of the 2018 season for a team discipline issue.

Garcia has solid velocity and a breaking ball that looks plus at times, but he might be as far as he can get with just that combo.

NMRAs we all predicted, the 2018 organizational leader in K/BB rate was….Blake Weiman. While his profile carries significant platoon risk, he’s also the closest thing to a homegrown lefty reliever the org seems to have within sight distance of Pittsburgh. Do you sense any interest in continuing to push him hard this year to the point where he’s a second half option if his stuff plays in the upper levels?

Weiman is special because he has such great command, which helps his stuff play up. If you just look at his pitches (velocity/break/usage), he’s similar to Sean Keselica, a fellow lefty at Altoona, but the command gives him an advantage. As the question states, that makes him a rare commodity in the system, and as the depth chart in our prospect guide shows, there is no one currently in the relief role who gives him a run for the top spot.

I don’t know if he is a strong option for the second half in Pittsburgh. He’s really not getting a good look this spring on the MLB side and they seemed to stock up on those lefty types this off-season, with Robbie Ross being the most recent pickup. I would count Weiman more for a 2020 option, while they give him more time to develop. He has a tendency at times to go heavy with breaking balls, which has more effectiveness below Triple-A. He’s also not overpowering, which usually helps players move up quicker when they are having success.

Joe SweetnichThe Pirates traditionally have surprised with a non-prospect becoming a good MLB reliever (i.e. Tony Watson, Jared Hughes). Who do you see as a possibility to be next?

I like this question, but it’s a tough one to answer. If we believe a starter has at least decent potential as an MLB reliever, then we try to rate them based on that higher floor. I decided to pick one starting pitcher who didn’t make our top 50 for this question. Just for clarification, I wouldn’t rate him as having the best chance as a current starter to be a decent reliever, just someone who is under the radar. I would say James Marvel fits that mold the best. He has the control, ability to get grounders, he can miss some bats, he has solid velocity and the demeanor for the role. In shorter outings, I think you would see better velocity and more missed bats. He’s also had success higher up, but he doesn’t profile as a starter in the majors.

handerhanDo you anticipate Keller or Brubaker pitching in the Majors first?

This question has to be answered in scenarios. Mitch Keller is the type of player who won’t be up until the Super two deadline passes, which (if he reaches his peak) would make him a much more expensive player over his time in Pittsburgh. When the exchange is at best a handful of starts for millions of dollars, then the price isn’t worth it. Blame the CBA rules. Fortunately (not really) with Keller, the Pirates aren’t holding him back to save money. He had a decent run to end his season at Indianapolis last year, but his Triple-A time started off rough and overall it’s not a huge sample size. His spring performance so far isn’t building any confidence. Keller needs more time in Indianapolis. Right now it’s just an assumption that he will be ready and up by early June.

JT Brubaker has already had strong success in Triple-A and he’s 2+ years older than Keller, with more Triple-A time. If Opening Day at Triple-A was a must win game, I’d hand the ball to Brubaker. If the Pirates need him before June due to an overworked bullpen or a spot start coming up, Brubaker will be an early season option. So the fact that he has a two month head start on Keller, and he’s more advanced right now, makes him the more likely one to debut first. It’s also possible that in early June, Brubaker is still the better option. Keller is going to come up when they feel that he is ready to stay.

Cabbo80With the waiting time for prospects and the extra year before arbitration rules as they are, do you think it takes away the fun of the debut of anticipated rookies?

Staying with the Super two theme.  It does add a bit of frustration when the team can use a player who is being held back, but it also gives time for the anticipation to build up. We don’t know if Keller will be up in early June this year, but if he has a strong month of April, then every May start will be an event until he finally makes it. That will in turn add excitement to his first big league start.

TNBucsWith the minor league exhibition season beginning Tuesday, will prospects like Keller, Hayes, Tucker, and Craig be joining the AAA roster? Asking because I may make it to Pirate City on Tuesday to watch the AAA and AA games. If they’re still with the Pirates, I may opt for LECOM instead.

Guys who don’t have a shot to make the Opening Day Major League roster, usually do leave once the minor league games start, so the four players you named should be among that group (Keller was this morning). I can’t guarantee they will all be there, but it’s definitely a possibility. Here’s the minor league schedule at Pirate City for those who missed it.

Catch22Is Will Craig starting to become a real prospect? I know some say RBI’s don’t matter, but he seems to have a knack for being an RBI hunter…Is his upside higher than say a Gaby Sanchez?

Craig set his goal last year to drive in runs and did a great job of it, so to him at least, RBIs did matter a lot. I don’t think that will get him to the majors as quick as becoming a more rounded hitter. The Pirates want to see a combo of his power and on base skill, not one or the other. The only asterisk to that would be if he continued to add power without sacrificing more on base. There’s no real rush to get him to the majors right now, so he has time to develop his bat at the upper level. He can also use some more work at first base, but he made some big strides there last year.

joe sWe all have biases. So how do you deal with yours or eliminate yours when you are writing about a prospect that you like for what ever reason.

This is a good question and I’m sure it’s something everyone deals with while grading prospects. I try to leave all bias out, which really requires just checking myself afterwards. There are plenty of players over the years who have been great interviews and others that aren’t, but that can’t be a factor in rankings. So I do go back and re-check specific players afterwards to make sure they aren’t getting a boost or getting knocked due to personal interactions. Having multiple people do rankings helps in most cases because you can ask others about what I might be seeing/missing that they see/don’t see. I also try to avoid letting one game change my opinion. If I see someone live and they don’t fit the profile we have for them, good or bad, I make a mental note and then actively try to see more from them before changing my mind.

lucabrasiAre there any pleasant surprises so far in Minor League camp? A late round hitter who is knocking the cover off the ball or a pitcher who suddenly added 5 mph to their fastball?

I’m taking the easy way out on this one and just saying that it’s a better question to ask in about two weeks. Up until now, it’s just been practices, but the games start on Tuesday and then it will be easier to see results.

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