Writing about this particular subject is frustrating. The Pirates for three seasons now have steadfastly refused to do anything that might be interpreted as building for the long term, while also making little to no effort to improve the team for the short term. Combine that with a manager whose overriding priority is to cater to the egos of veteran players, and there’s simply no willingness to try to get much value out of their farm system.
The Pirates’ situation isn’t exactly complicated. They’re out of contention and their starting middle infielders are both set to be free agents, unless the team elects to keep one of them for an option that’s many times his value. Indianapolis’ second baseman and shortstop were just voted the International League’s All-Stars at their positions. A team that was serious about improving its status as the most average team in modern baseball history would say, “To hell with the AAA playoffs.” It’d play the two middle infielders every day, and get as much playing time as possible for the numerous other prospects at Indianapolis. But that’s not the Pirates. So far, they’ve preferred to give as much playing time as possible, except when prevented by injuries, to two lame ducks. At least they finally parted ways with the dead duck.
Maybe they’ll change this approach in September. They did decide to keep Kevin Newman up instead of sending him back for the stretch run. Of course, Clint Hurdle managed to find a more convoluted explanation than simply, “We want to see him play in the majors.”
The Pirates’ exact direction is something we may not discover for a while, though. If they hold to past practices, there will be two September callup dates. Indianapolis probably has a better than even chance to make the post-season. The Pirates’ pattern has been to keep the players they regard as real prospects in AAA for any playoffs, while calling up one or two, or even no, fringy players to add depth at the start of the month. That means guys like Kevin Kramer and Jordan Luplow will be with Indy until its season ends. That happens on September 3 if they don’t make the playoffs and some later date if they do. The Pirates’ “real” callups will probably come then.
Getting to specific players:
Players on 40-Man Roster Who Might be Called Up
P: Tanner Anderson, Buddy Boshers, Nick Burdi, Michael Feliz, Clay Holmes, Jesus Liranzo, Alex McRae, Dovydas Neverauskas
C: Jacob Stallings
IF: Jung-Ho Kang, Max Moroff, Jose Osuna, Kevin Newman (currently in majors)
OF: Jordan Luplow
Players Who Could be Added to the Roster and Called Up
P: Mitch Keller, Tyler Eppler, J.T. Brubaker, Brandon Waddell
C: Ryan Lavarnway
IF: Kevin Kramer, Pablo Reyes
OF: Jason Martin
That’s obviously a lot of guys, but two can be dealt with separately because their situations are unique. If I’ve calculated things right (a big “if”), Nick Burdi has to be called up from his rehab by about September 14. Another consideration is that any time in the majors reduces the amount of time he has to spend there at the start of next season. He’s not pitching that well now (his recovery has only totaled 11 IP so far), though, so I imagine he’ll stay in AAA as long as Indy is playing (until his rehab is up), then come to the majors and probably not pitch much. I doubt they’ll make a real decision on him until next spring. Jung-Ho Kang’s situation isn’t all that different. If he can return in September, he’ll probably stay in Indy and get as many ABs as possible, then come to the majors. He’ll be just off wrist surgery, so they’re not going to learn much, but they’ll want to see whatever they can.
As far as September 1 is concerned, I expect the Pirates will call up at least one pitcher to ease Clint Hurdle’s paranoia about managing the bullpen. Boshers seems a likely choice, although they could call up two pitchers if they decide to send Nick Kingham back to start playoff games. Maybe they’ll call up McRae or Anderson for white flag roles, or they might want to bring Feliz back. I could also see them calling up Stallings, especially with Francisco Cervelli’s ongoing issues. Indy will still have Lavarnway and Jackson Williams to catch in any playoffs, and Stallings should be beyond the “needs to play every day” stage. He’s more of a veteran depth guy than a prospect now. I doubt any of the other position players will be called up unless it’s in response to an injury. I could be wrong, but the Pirates just don’t seem to care about having any depth on the bench.
Once Indy’s season is over, the bigger question may be how much the callups will play, as opposed to which guys will come up. I’d guess that nearly all of the 40-man players will join the Pirates. It’d be too much of a slap at guys like Moroff, Osuna and Luplow, who’ve already seen a good bit of time in the majors, not to call them up at all. The guys least likely to be called up are probably Liranzo and, maybe, Neverauskas. Liranzo has been awful in AAA lately and Neverauskas hasn’t been very good, mainly due to control issues.
Of the non-roster guys, my guess is that the only one who gets called up is Kramer. With the year he’s had and with second base a question mark for next year, it’d send a terrible message to their minor leaguers not to bring him up. Whether Hurdle will play him, of course, is another issue, and Adam Frazier has earned a look at second base. Martin, on the other hand, has struggled in AAA and hasn’t earned a callup. And I doubt they’ll add Lavarnway or Reyes to the roster in any event.
It’s hard to see any of the pitchers coming up. Keller hasn’t been very good in AAA. Unless he’s absolutely lights-out in the spring, he shouldn’t be under consideration for the opening day roster, so there’s no particular reason to call him up for just one or two starts. The other three pitchers are probably on the bubble for the 40-man roster. (I think Brubaker has a much better case than Eppler or Waddell.) Also, they’d all rate behind Holmes, Nick Kingham and, if he’s healthy, Chad Kuhl for innings. It might make more sense for the Pirates to defer a roster decision on them until the off-season.