clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Pirates spring training relievers: Who are these guys?

New, 201 comments
Cleveland Indians v Kansas City Royals Photo by Brian Davidson/Getty Images

Relievers are always the most interesting subject at this point because the bullpen is usually where the most jobs are open. This time it’s probably two, unless the Pirates go with eight relievers. Felipe Vázquez, Richard Rodriguez, Kyle Crick, Keone Kela and Nick Kingham (if he’s not starting) are set. The rest is pretty wide open. Figuring out a guy’s chances of spending time with the Pirates is also complicated by opt-out clauses. The list is pretty long, with * denoting lefties. As you’ll see, there are a bunch of guys here who are trying to turn high-velocity stuff into effectiveness on the mound.

Previously:

Catchers
Infielders
Outfielders
Starters

Nick Burdi (No 57): As we all know, Burdi has to spend the first two months of the season in the majors to satisfy the Rule 5 requirements. Given the overriding priority the Pirates place on managing the bullpen these days, I’m skeptical they’ll be willing just to hide Burdi, so I think he’s going to have to show he’s ready to contribute in order to make the team. If he doesn’t make it, as I mentioned earlier, he has to go through waivers to get back to Minnesota. It’s very hard to imagine him not getting claimed, so the Pirates may have some leverage in trying to work out a deal with the Twins. One way or another, hopefully they’ll find a way to retain him because he probably has the highest ceiling of any of their relievers apart from Vázquez.

Chance of contributing in 2019: Moderate

Michael Feliz (45): Some of the projection systems aren’t giving up on Feliz and his xFIPs have been consistently much better than his ERAs (3.50 for his career compared to 5.28). He still has an option left and the Pirates went to the trouble of reaching a deal with him ($850K) prior to arbitration, so they’re probably going to keep at it.

Chance of contributing in 2019: High

Jesus Liranzo (60): Liranzo’s issue is really simple: throwing strikes. His fastball reaches 100 mph and he has swing-and-miss secondary stuff, but after acing AA early in 2018 he walked over six per nine innings with Indianapolis. If he finds the strike zone more consistently this year, we’ll no doubt see him with the Pirates. He has one option left.

Chance of contributing in 2019: Moderate

Dovydas Neverauskas (66): During his brief time in the majors, Neverauskas decreased his four-seam fastball usage by about ten percent between 2017 and 2018. I assume he did more or less the same in AAA. Whether for that reason or some other, he went from mostly throwing strikes but not missing many bats in 2017 to missing lots of bats but not throwing strikes in 2018. Like several others on this list, he has one option left and the Pirates will probably keep trying to turn his upper-90s heat into something productive. I doubt, though, that he’ll make the team out of camp.

Chance of contributing in 2019: High

Elvis Escobar* (81): The ultimate wild card. Escobar always had one of the best outfield arms in the system, but it was only when he was clocked in the mid-90s while finishing out a blowout (or trying to; he failed to retire any of six batters) that the Pirates moved him to the mound. He also has a good breaking ball. Escobar pitched well after some time at Pirate City and, since he was eligible for free agency, the Pirates signed him to a minor league deal for 2019.

Chance of contributing in 2019: Low

Roberto Gomez (62): A minor league free agent signee this year, Gomez missed 2015-16 with Tommy John surgery. Before that, he was a starter throwing in the low-90s; now he’s a reliever who throws in the mid-90s. He misses a decent but not large number of bats and has about 15 innings of major league experience, although they didn’t go well. He missed part of 2018 due to injury problems. He looks more like a AAA depth piece than a strong candidate to make the team out of camp.

Chance of contributing in 2019: Low

Geoff Hartlieb (72): A 29th round draft pick in 2016, Hartlieb is a 6’6” former basketball player who can reach 100 mph with his fastball. Despite a lack of extensive experience, the Pirates have moved him up quickly. He had a solid rather than dominant season for Altoona in 2018, as his command and secondary stuff still need work. The Pirates sent him to the Arizona Fall League this past autumn, although he had a rough time there. He could open the season at Indianapolis, but he’d probably need something of a breakout to reach Pittsburgh. He’s not on the 40-man roster yet.

Chance of contributing in 2019: Low

Francisco Liriano* (47): Let’s be realistic: This isn’t 2013 Liriano. Back then, he came to Pittsburgh with the stuff and peripherals that suggested he was primed to bounce back from a couple bad years. Now, he comes with reduced velocity, less movement on his slider and sagging swing-and-miss results. His game was always inducing hitters to chase sliders out of the strike zone and they’re not doing that as much any more. Still, it’s a good flier to take and he’ll reportedly be moving (at least initially) from starting, which he did all last year, to relief, so things may change. His opt-out clause is a bit weird; he has to be on the 40-man roster by March 20 and the 25-man by June 1. Due to his service time, he can’t be sent to the minors without his consent, so it’s not totally clear that they can add him to the 40-man and still send him down, but I assume there’s a plan. (Neal Huntington, btw, has confirmed that they see Liriano as a reliever for now.)

Chance of contributing in 2019: Moderate

Tyler Lyons* (70): Lyons is a beneficiary of the Cardinals’ propensity for turning obscure prospects into productive big leaguers. He was very effective for them in 2016-17, although he missed time both years with injuries. His 2018 season was torpedoed by back and elbow strains. There’s no particular reason to think he won’t bounce back if he’s healthy. He’s had big platoon splits, so he’d be most effective as a lefty specialist. Unfortunately, the Rules of Bullpen Hurdling provide that, except for the officially designated Multi-Inning Guy (MIG), all relievers must pitch one full inning each time out, regardless of the platoon advantage. Anyway, to the extent that the bullpen situation can be boiled down, I imagine the Pirates would like to see Lyons or Liriano take hold of one spot, with Steven Brault as a fallback.

Chance of contributing in 2019: Moderate

Brandon Maurer (38): Maurer was mostly effective as a reliever in the majors until he got traded to Kansas City at the deadline in 2017. Then he suddenly fell off a cliff. There’s no obvious explanation for it in his pitch data, at least not that I can see. His control went south, but both that and his K rate have had odd, sudden ups and downs before. He has generally had much better xFIPs than ERAs. Like with the lefties, I’m sure the Pirates are hoping he’ll step up and claim a spot, which would give them a replacement for Edgar Santana. Given his opt-out, I’ll be a bit surprised if he ever pitches for Indianapolis.

Chance of contributing in 2019: Moderate

Blake Weiman* (82): Weiman is very similar to Lyons, with the arsenal of a finesse starter and big platoon splits. He moved up through three levels in 2018, although he pitched only briefly at Altoona. I imagine the Pirates will send him back there, but if he keeps pitching as well as he has, he should get to Indianapolis and maybe even become an option for the Pirates by the end of the season. Of course, as a 2017 draftee, he won’t be eligible for the Rule 5 draft until after the 2020 season.

Chance of contributing in 2019: Low