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Kicking off with the Pirates bullpen

Coming off a 99-loss season in 2009, it would appear that the Pittsburgh Pirates would be in need of major overhaul in the near future. Not so. With the slew of trades and (what appear to be) 2 pretty good drafts in the last 2 years, Neal Huntington seems to have put the Pirates in a position where they have average-to-good options with the position players and the starting rotation. Not all of them are proven at the Major League level, but there is reason for optimism there. The bench and the bullpen, however, are a different story altogether. In this post, I will do a quick analysis of the bullpen- expect another post on the bench, soon, to be followed by an analysis of the starting rotation and the position players.

In 2008, the Pirates’ bullpen (on opening day) had Matt Capps, Damaso Marte (L), John Grabow (L), Tyler Yates, Franquelis Osoria, Phil Dumatrait and Evan Meek (Rule 5 pickup). (Source) By the time the 2009 season ended, only Matt Capps and Phil Dumatrait were active Pirates. Evan Meek was injured, but still a Pirate (as also Tyler Yates, who is coming off Tommy John surgery), and is the only one expected to be in the bullpen in 2010 from the 2008 bullpen. Along the road, the Pirates traded Marte to the Yankees, Grabow to the Cubs, released Osoria, Capps and Dumatrait. Capps’ release has been widely debated, and I won’t add to that here- I see both sides of the argument: my immediate reaction was we should have kept him, but I also understand that bullpens tend to be volatile. If Capps returns to the performance levels prior to 2009, he will be missed, but if his 2009 is anything to go by, it wouldn’t be hard to replace him. Whether Neal Huntington and the Pirates made the right move or not will not be known till the end of 2010, at least, so we’ll have to wait and watch.

Since the end of the 2009 season, there have been quite a few bullpen signings (including non-roster invitees) and waiver claims (some toward the end of the 2009 season). Add in players acquired through trade in the last 2 years and the organization now includes Chris Jakubauskas, Anthony Claggett, Javier Lopez (L), Joel Hanrahan, Jose Ascanio, Kevin Hart, Steven Jackson, Brian Burres (L), Vinnie Chulk, Wil Ledezma (L), Neal Cotts (L), Jack Taschner (L), Virgil Vasquez and Justin Thomas (L). Somehow, I don’t think the number of lefties there is a co-incidence. Clearly, Huntington is intent on throwing as many as possible out there, and pick out the ones that seem to fit best.

The FO is not done yet, it seems. As per this article, the Pirates are in talks with DJ Carrasco, and have also extended an offer to Octavio Dotel. One has to wonder why so little has been heard about Kiko Calero around baseball this season, after a couple of fantastic seasons. Perhaps, from the Pirates’ point of view, he is likely to be beyond their price range anyway- I’d be surprised if there aren’t a couple of contenders who have their sights set on him.

Nonetheless, here’s what the Pirates bullpen projects to be- I’d say Hanrahan, Lopez and Meek are locks to start with. Steven Jackson and Chris Jakubauskas appear to be favorites. If either Carrasco or Dotel sign, they will be in there, too. I am assuming the Pirates will carry 7 in the ‘pen again, so we have 5 spots (almost) taken, with a 6th dependent on Carrasco or Dotel signing. If one of them signs, the last spot almost assuredly goes to a lefty, under normal circumstances. At this point, its hard to choose between Burres, Ledezma and Thomas, and the Pirates may even go with a righty, given past insistences about how lefties are not critical to the pen.

Also, from within the system, watch out for:

Ramon Aguero- should start in Altoona as a closer or late inning reliever, and could finish 2010 in the bigs.

Diego Moreno- Flamethrower, presently in West Virginia, but could advance quickly through the system, possibly with a shot at reaching Pittsburgh in late 2011.

Ronald Uviedo, who likely has management in a fix as to whether to develop him as a bullpen or to give him a shot at starting. I think his future is in the pen in the late innings, and if they deem him as such, he could also end in the majors in 2010.

Tom Boleska- this guy could be a real sleeper. I don’t know why we haven’t heard more about him. Check out his stats, and he seems to be doing great at every level. He finished in high-A last season, and should start in Altoona, or be there early in the season. I have read very little about him, and am not sure if he has had injury trouble, because there really is no other reason for him to not have advanced faster.

Victor Black- it remains to be seen how the Pirates decide to use him going forward. If they want him to log innings to improve his strength and get more repetitions as a starter, he will move slowly especially given the crowd of pitchers jostling for playing time in the lower minors. Also has the potential to be a big league player in the back of the bullpen, perhaps as soon as 2011.

Jose Ascanio had labrum surgery in 2009, and I don’t know if we can expect him to contribute in 2010. I really liked what I saw of him in his time with the Bucs, memorably the strikeout pair of Albert Pujols. I hope he comes back because he has filthy stuff as a reliever. I wonder if the FO will think about converting him to a starter after the 2010 season. Kevin Hart or Daniel McCutchen could also make the pen as a long reliever if the don’t make the starting rotation, although I think it more likely that they will be starting in AAA, since I would expect at least one starter to be traded this year from Pittsburgh.

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  1. January 16, 2010 at 10:11 am

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