Morning Report: Starters Turned Relievers

The Pittsburgh Pirates turned four of their top pitching prospects into relievers this year. Prior to the season, Clay Holmes, Brandon Waddell and Luis Escobar all became relievers. Shortly after the season began, Braeden Ogle went to the bullpen. The four are having varied results.

Escobar was the top name we heard about before releasing our prospect guide. Along with his return to Bradenton, it affected his prospect rankings when we updated the book at the end of Spring Training. We knew Holmes and Waddell were going to pitch in relief. With Waddell, it was assumed that he would eventually be moved to relief and his rankings reflected that, but Holmes was supposed to pitch in long relief and that can always turn back into starting, so we didn’t drop his rankings. Part of that reason is that we have seen his stuff play up in shorter roles.

Ogle was moved to the bullpen for two reasons. One we knew coming into the season. He only made four starts last year due to shoulder inflammation, so his overall innings were going to be limited this season. The other reason that the move happened so soon was that he velocity really dropped off during his two starts.

Here’s a look at the early returns from this group:

Escobar has been the prize of the group so far. There were always those who believed he would end up as a reliever, but most agreed that he had a chance to start in the majors. The problem is that he used up his second minor league option this year and he needs to be able to stick in the majors in 2021. That doesn’t leave a lot of development time for a starter who struggled after a promotion to Double-A late last year. Going into Saturday, Escobar has thrived in shorter roles, with 11.1 scoreless innings that include 14 strikeouts, a 1.86 GO/AO ratio, an 0.79 WHIP and a .108 BAA. It’s a small sample size obviously, but those are impressive numbers.

Ogle has an even smaller sample size in relief and the move to the bullpen didn’t start off well. He gave up three runs in his first inning of relief. The last four appearances have been better, with one run over five innings, while striking out eight batters. On Friday night, he got his first chance to close out a game and he did just that in a one run contest. He’s already just three innings short of last year’s total, so I don’t expect him to go back into a starter role this season.

Holmes has been erratic in relief. His control issues as a starter have seemed to get worse in relief. He is supposed to be pitching in long relief, but those control issues have limited him to 15.2 innings so far. He has walked 15 batters and also given up 17 hits, giving him a 2.04 WHIP. His 13 strikeouts are in line with his career average, though you expect an uptick in relief. His 1.43 GO/AO ratio really shows the big difference from the past. As a starter, he got a lot of soft contact on the ground. That’s still happening to a degree, but it’s well off his past results.

Waddell shows what can happen in relief to a pitcher. The other three pitchers here are known as hard-throwers. I’ve seen each of them hit 97 MPH this season and all three have touched higher in the past. Waddell has touched 94 MPH in the past, but he’s mostly in the 89-91 MPH range as a starter, mixing up his four pitches to keep hitters off-balance. In relief this season, he has hit 95 MPH numerous times, while throwing about three MPH harder on average. That doesn’t just help the fastball, the breaking pitches are better as well. The results aren’t there, mainly due to 11 walks in 13 innings, but he’s a ground ball pitcher missing bats now with 18 strikeouts. It’s obviously a small sample size that can change by the end of the season, but he’s averaging five more strikeouts per nine innings compared to his career average.


Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates won 6-4 over the Oakland A’s on Saturday night. Jordan Lyles will be making his sixth start. In his first three games, he allowed one earned run over 17 innings. In his last two starts, Lyles has given up six earned runs over nine innings. The A’s will counter with 26-year-old right-hander Frankie Montas, who has a 2.97 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP, with 30 strikeouts in 33.1 innings. He gave up just one earned run in his last start, but was knocked out of the game after 4.1 innings due to eight hits and two walks.

The minor league schedule includes Max Kranick going for Bradenton. He allowed one earned run over five innings in his last start and had to deal with five errors behind him. Kranick allowed four runs in his second start, and a total of three earned runs in his other four starts combined. Indianapolis will send out Eduardo Vera, who allowed five runs on nine hits over six innings in his last start. He also struck out six batters, tying his season best. Scooter Hightower will be on the mound for Altoona. He had his best start of the season back on Tuesday when he gave up one run over six innings. Greensboro will send out Brad Case, who has issued just two walks this season in 28.2 innings. He has an 0.77 WHIP and a .185 BAA.

The full 2019 Pirates Prospects Prospect Guide is now available, up to date as of April 3rd, with every player in the minor league system. Includes full reports on the top 50 prospects, reports on over 150 other players, as well as looks back at the recent drafts and international signing classes.

MLB: Pittsburgh (15-15) vs A’s (15-20) 1:35 PM
Probable starter: Jordan Lyles (2.42 ERA, 26:9 SO/BB, 26.0 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (15-13) vs Louisville (12-18) 1:35 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Eduardo Vera (4.85 ERA, 21:8 SO/BB, 26.0 IP)

AA: Altoona (15-13) @ Richmond (10-16) 1:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Scooter Hightower (4.63 ERA, 11:5 SO/BB, 23.1 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (18-10) vs Lakeland (10-16) 1:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Max Kranick (2.91 ERA, 20:7 SO/BB, 21.2 IP)

Low-A: Greensboro (18-10) vs West Virginia (17-10) 2:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Brad Case (2.20 ERA, 18:2 SO/BB, 28.2 IP)


From Altoona on Friday, the slider from Blake Weiman to end the game

Jason Delay’s first home run of the season. The left fielder’s reaction says it all

Not the best video, mostly because it’s a GIF, but here is Jared Oliva’s first home run since June 22, 2018


5/4: Jameson Taillon placed on injured list. Kevin Newman activated from injured list.

5/4: Pablo Reyes optioned to Indianapolis. Tyler Lyons added to Pirates.

5/4: JB Shuck designated for assignment. Pirates recall Dovydas Neverauskas.

5/4: Sean Keselica promoted to Indianapolis. Alfredo Reyes assigned to Altoona.

5/4: Blake Cederlind promoted to Altoona. Ryan Peurifoy assigned to Extended Spring Training

5/4: Nick Mears and Shea Murray promoted to Bradenton. Yerry De Los Santos and John O’Reilly added to Greensboro roster.

5/4: Drew Fischer placed on 7-day injured list.

5/3: Randolph Gassaway added to Bradenton roster. Michael Gretler assigned to Greensboro.

5/1: Connor Kaiser placed on injured list. Kyle Mottice added to Greensboro roster.

4/30: Starling Marte activated from injured list. Jason Martin optioned to Indianapolis.

4/30: Chase Lambert promoted to Bradenton. Raul Siri added to Greensboro roster. John Bormann assigned to Extended Spring Training.

4/30: Pirates release Ben Bengtson

4/30: Jose Osuna assigned to Indianapolis on rehab.

4/28: Oneil Cruz placed on injured list. Deon Stafford activated from injured list.

4/28: JT Brubaker placed on injured list. Dario Agrazal promoted to Indianapolis. Angel German added to Altoona roster.

4/27: Chris Archer placed on injured list. Pirates recall Michael Feliz

4/26: Stephen Alemais placed on injured list. Adrian Valerio promoted to Altoona. Gavin Wallace added to Bradenton roster.


Three former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, including two who played for Pirates teams that went to the World Series. The most recent player born on this date was Tommy Helms, a seldom used infielder for the 1976-77 teams. He joined the Pirates at the end of a career that included winning the 1966 Rookie of the Year award, two Gold Gloves and he was a two-time All-Star.

Gene Curtis played left field for a short time for the 1903 Pirates. It’s the second day in a row that a 1903 outfielder was mentioned, as yesterday was the birth date of Lou Gertenrich, who lasted just one game with the team. Curtis played the last five games of the regular season, while the Pirates rested their regulars in advance of the first World Series. It was his only time in the majors.

Jose Pagan was born on this date in 1935. He played eight years in Pittsburgh from 1965 until 1972. Pagan was mostly a third baseman with the Pirates, although he played every spot but center field and pitcher during his time. In 625 regular season games, he had a .690 OPS. He had a .267 average in four games during the 1971 World Series. He played third base and started all of the odd number games during that series.

On this date in 1987, Rafael Belliard hits the first of two home runs he hit during his 17-year career. He went to the plate 1,171 times with the Pirates and 1,353 times with the Braves, the only two teams he played for during his career. His second homer came ten years later. You can read more about the game in which he homered for the Pirates in the link above. You can find the boxscore here.

John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.

When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.

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