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Pirates’ upcoming roster issues: Part two

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates-Media Day Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

Originally, I was going to cover both the upcoming roster decisions and possible September callups in this installment. This one got pretty long, though, so I’m going to look at possible callups in a third post.

Players Eligible for the Rule 5 Draft

The trade of Taylor Hearn and callup of Kevin Newman have shortened this list. The Pirates shouldn’t be facing a roster crunch this fall, at least not due to Rule 5.


Mitch Keller, RHP

Kevin Kramer, 2B

Jason Martin, OF — Martin is the one guy in this group I suppose somebody could argue about. After a great showing in AA, he’s run into a major slump in AAA. He was passed over in Rule 5 last year, despite the fact that he was coming off two good seasons, so it could happen again. But it’d be a silly risk for the Pirates to take.

Cole Tucker, SS

Tougher Calls

J.T. Brubaker, RHP — The Pirates have several pitchers who are on the bubble, guys who’ve had some success at the upper levels without dominating. Of this group, Brubaker is the one I’d be most inclined to add to the roster. He’s been inconsistent in AAA, but his results are finally starting to match his stuff, which includes a mid-90s fastball that reaches 99, a good change and an improved slider. I can’t help wondering whether he could aid the Pirates now in relief.

Tyler Eppler, RHP — Eppler is tall (6’5”), which the Pirates love, and he throws in the mid-90s. The results have never really been there, though, as he lacks a strikeout pitch and isn’t a groundball pitcher. He’s repeating AAA and isn’t getting hit as hard as he did last year, but his K rate is up only a little (6.8 K/9 from 6.3) and opponents are hitting .275 against him. He was passed over in the draft last year and there’s nothing that screams “major league pitcher” in his track record.

Christian Kelley, C — Kelley is the new Jacob Stallings. He’s a good defensive catcher who has yet to put up a .700 OPS. He’ll be a good depth guy in AAA next year, but there’s not enough upside to create much risk that he’ll get selected.

Adrian Valerio, SS — Valerio got passed over last year and the only thing that’s changed this year is that his hitting has dropped off sharply.

Brandon Waddell, LHP — Waddell made it to AA very quickly, but has struggled some of the time since. He’s similar to Jeff Locke and Steven Brault in that he tends to nibble around the edges, sometimes walking hitters and sometimes just getting into hitters’ counts. He pitched very well in eight starts early this year in AA, then got pummeled when he first moved up to AAA. He’s pitched better since mid-season, but it’s debatable whether he has the upside to tempt some team to take him in the draft.

Players Who Are Kinda Interesting for One Reason or Another

Montana DuRapau, RHP — DuRapau has always been interesting, because he throws only in the low-90s and pitches up in the zone, but has generally gotten good to excellent results, including high K rates. He forfeited a non-roster invitation this spring, though, by getting suspended after testing positive for a drug of abuse. Since getting activated, he hasn’t pitched well in AAA and then got hurt. So it hasn’t been a good year for him, which is too bad because his name alone should be worth 0.5 WAR.

Yeudy Garcia, RHP — A couple years ago, Garcia looked like one of the Pirates’ top prospects, thanks to an upper-90s fastball and very good slider. Since then he’s been beset by shoulder and control problems. He’s had a poor year in AA this year and just got suspended for violating team policy.

Scooter Hightower, RHP — Hightower spent last year in the NYPL, even though it was his third pro season, and now suddenly he’s in the rotation in AA. He’s pitching well, with good BB and K rates, and only three HRs allowed in over 60 innings despite the fact that he’s an extreme flyball pitcher. He doesn’t have overpowering stuff but seems to be hard to square up against. I have no idea whether he’s really a prospect, but it’ll be worth following his remaining starts.

Logan Hill, OF — Hill is interesting because he has good power, but he also has significant contact issues that have led to a lot of struggles this year. He’s been red hot in August, with an OPS over 1.000, but that’s only gotten his season OPS into the mid-700s. He’s also 25 now.

Gage Hinsz, RHP — Going into last year, Hinsz looked like one of the Pirates’ more promising pitchers, but he was plagued by back and shoulder problems, then missed all of this year due to heart surgery. A well-meaning but unnecessary effort to raise money for him led to a some phony online narratives, firmly contradicted by his family, about the Pirates not being supportive. Hinsz is obviously not a roster candidate, but he’s expected back next spring and should be interesting to follow.

James Marvel, RHP — Marvel lacks overpowering stuff and has been fairly hittable, but he started pitching better in July, at Bradenton. He’s done better still with Altoona, but that’s only four starts and he probably doesn’t have the upside to interest anybody in the draft.

Domingo Robles, LHP — A finesse lefty, Robles got good results this year at West Virginia without dominating or missing many bats. He’s with Bradenton now and probably lacks the upside to get selected.

Roger Santana, LHP — Santana isn’t a big guy, but his fastball is getting as high as 95 now and he has a good change. His progress has been slow and he’s had some extreme ups and downs this year with Bristol. His stuff is promising, but the weak results so far and the fact that he’s still in rookie ball should keep him from being drafted.

Players About to Become Minor League Free Agents

Jin-De Jhang, C — Jhang has been plagued by injuries the last two years. He’s hitting well right now in AA, but scouts have never been enamored with his physique. The Pirates have other options for upper level catchers now, so he’ll move on.

Ryan Lavarnway, C — Formerly a top Red Sox prospect based mainly on his power, Lavarnway suddenly fell off a cliff way back in 2013. He’s come back to life just as suddenly this year, with an OPS above .900. With Stallings and Kelley likely to be the catchers in AAA next year, and with no options left, I doubt the Pirates will add Lavarnway to the roster.

Wyatt Mathisen, UT — Mathisen has made slow progress over his career and is having a solid season in AAA this year, but nothing that would merit adding him to the roster. Things really went wrong for him when he moved out from behind the plate.

Pablo Reyes, UT — Reyes is the most under-appreciated player in the system (although BA did include him on a very long list of possible Rule 5 picks a year agp). He doesn’t have a loud tool, but does a lot of things at a very competent level. He hits for average, has good plate discipline, has a bit of power, runs well and can play anywhere, although short is a stretch. (I don’t know what Brian’s numbers show, but I’d like to find out, especially for Reyes at second and in center.) Not only has he hit at every level, he improved last year in AA and again this year in AAA. The Pirates don’t even want to play Newman, so it’s hard to see Reyes ever getting a shot, but there’s no reason to think he wouldn’t be a passable utility player in the majors.

Casey Sadler, RHP — Sadler got dfa’d recently. Why him and not Tanner Anderson or Alex McRae, I don’t know, as Sadler pitched extremely well in AAA after a rough first month. I doubt the Pirates will put him back on the roster.

Eduardo Vera, RHP — Vera lost most of two seasons to Tommy John surgery, which is why he’s on this list despite only reaching AA this year. In fact, the Pirates have pushed him quickly the last two years to get him this far. He’s been erratic in AA since an early promotion and his K rate is very low, but he doesn’t walk many and often pitches deep into games (he’s averaging over six innings per start in AA, which is high for the minors). His 2016 season consisted of just 8.2 IP in the GCL and now he’s in the AA rotation. Considering how much progress he’s made in two years, the Pirates might be reluctant to let him walk.

Eric Wood, UT — Wood has pretty good power and has solid numbers this year in AAA, but he looks like a AAAA player.