Striking Distance

Pirates have chance to gain ground in division.

By Steve Samek

 The Pittsburgh Pirates have started out strong in the first two games of a four-game set in Milwaukee. The Pirates have outscored the Brewer’s 15-four in what I think could be a pivotal point toward the rest of the season. The Pirates it just four games out of first place and a half game back from second in the NL Central. Even taking just one of the next two keeps them at four games back from first place in the division. Plus depending on what the Cubs do against San Diego, a move up to second place is possible. http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/standings/index.jsp.

 

This would then lead them into a series against St. Louis, a team they are currently tied with in the standings. Having momentum from a big series in Milwaukee, should help the Pirates do well against the Cardinals and add separation between the two for at least third place in the division. https://www.mlb.com/pirates/schedule/2017-06

 

Then the Pirates end June and enter July with series against the Rays and Giants. The Rays being similar to the Brewers in record can be hung with, more so being at home where the Bucs have a winning mark at 19-18. The Giants then come into town with one of the worst records in baseball and provide another chance to gain ground by beating them. The schedule keeps staying easy with the Phillies and Cubs rounding out the pre-all-star game slate. The Pirates realistically could go 11-6, or 12-5 during this stretch. This puts them at 44-44, or 45 – 43. This would then give them strong momentum going into the All-Star game, before seeing the Cardinals and Brewers immediately after the break.

Having the separation from before the all-star break would help a lot. Then With more games scheduled against the Giants and Padres, now could be the start of the big month that plays into a playoff spot. https://www.mlb.com/pirates/schedule/2017-07.

The Pirates are currently on a 7-3 run in the last 10 games. This includes a pair of wins against the Marlins after losing two games to the them. A two-one series win against NL West leading Colorado, a win over the Cubs and the two in Milwaukee. https://www.mlb.com/pirates/schedule/2017-06. Showing a sample of how teams better than the Pirates can be beaten.

The offense is picking up for Pittsburgh. Jordy Mercer has a 10-game hitting streak going. He is hitting .389 with a homer and five extra base hits during the streak. https://www.rotoballer.com/player-news/jordy-mercer-triples-to-extend-10-game-hit-streak/394648.  He hit his third triple of the year last night as part of a 2-4 effort. http://piratesbreakdown.com/2017/06/20/takeaways-throwaways-big-first-inning-carries-pirates-7-3-win-brewers/.

Andrew McCutchen is also hitting better in the sixth spot in the order. McCutchen went 3-3 last night with a home run, walk and three rbi. http://piratesbreakdown.com/2017/06/20/takeaways-throwaways-big-first-inning-carries-pirates-7-3-win-brewers/. This is part of a resurgence in which McCutchen is hitting .406 with six homers and 19 rbi in June. http://pit.247sports.com/Bolt/Andrew-McCutchen-hot-bat-has-ignited-surging-Pirates-53263897.

Jose Osuna, Josh Bell and Elias Diaz are developing well in the bigs, and break out second halves could be just what this team needs. Josh Harrison is also contributing with regularity. http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/h/harrijo05.shtml?utm_campaign=Linker&utm_source=direct&utm_medium=linker-piratesbreakdown.com

The Pitching is still a work in progress, but with Jamison Taillon back and Ivan Nova and Gerrit Cole pitching consistently this team has a chance.

Starling Marte is also due back in Mid -July. Having his glove and bat in the lineup is a major plus. http://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2017/04/21/pirates-react-starling-marte-suspension/. http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/m/martest01.shtml. This addition would put some confidence back into the outfield and combined with McCutchen and crew could keep the Pirates around in a weaker NL Central.

 

 

 

2017 MLB Draft round 1

By Steve Samek

2017 MLB draft day one is in the books. The Pittsburgh Pirates had four selections from the initial 72. Starting with pick number 12. With the selection, the Pirates took right handed pitcher Shane Baz.

 Baz a high school pitcher from Texas. He came into the draft ranked as the fifth best right hander and 11th best overall prospect. http://www.baseballamerica.com/draft/2017-mlb-draft-position-rankings-righthanders/#dHcQ26fiFrvmZ2MG.97. Putting him at about where he was projected to be drafted.

Baz is a pretty hard thrower. His fastball hits 92-96 and has touched 98. Complementing that is a curveball, changeup and cutter. http://m.pirates.mlb.com/news/article/235982456/pirates-draft-prep-pitcher-shane-baz-at-no-12/.

Though it may be difficult to sign Baz and take him from his commitment at TCU. Though should Baz sign it will boost a strong, yet depleting pool of arms at the minor league level. This can help the system with the loss of Glasnow as a prospect, despite his struggles and Jameson Taillon.  Taillon was the last high school pitcher taken by the Pirates in the first round when he went number two overall in 2010.  Though a recent trend isn’t helping the chances to sign Baz. Last year Nick Lodolo picked TCU over the Pirates. Should be an interesting follow to see if Baz will sign. The Slot value for the pick is over four million dollars and would take up a large amount of the Pirates over 10 million in bonus money. http://m.pirates.mlb.com/news/article/235982456/pirates-draft-prep-pitcher-shane-baz-at-no-12/.

Reports are coming in that Baz may officially sign on Thursday. http://www.piratesprospects.com/2017/06/pirates-first-round-pick-shane-baz-reportedly-agrees-to-sign.html.

 

With the 42 pick Steve Jennings, another right hander joins in. Jennings can throw 95 mph heat and was a two-sport athlete.  Though not as hard of a thrower as Baz, with a fastball siting in the 89-92 range. Jennings is a Mississippi commit if he doesn’t sigh. http://m.pirates.mlb.com/news/article/235982994/pirates-take-rhp-steven-jennings-in-mlb-draft/

 

To me this is a nice arm to add to the lineup. The speed can be upped in the minors, or is serviceable as is. A curveball, slider and changeup compliment the fastball. Jennings should be sigh able.  Though he may have been a slight reach of a pick, as he was projected as the 49th best prospect in the draft. http://www.baseballamerica.com/draft-preview/.

Eight picks later and Calvin Mitchell was next to hear his name called by Pittsburgh. Mitchell was prospect number 79 by MLBpipeline.com and 74 by Baseball America. http://www.baseballamerica.com/draft-preview/. Making this selection at number 50 a bit of a reach. The high school outfielder hit .369 with 11 home runs and 34 rbi this season. Mitchell has an offer in place from the University of San Diego. For about a million and a half in bonus money from the slot pool Mitchell can join the Pirates. Potential yes, at this price, no. Though it would add to a system lacking a good, as in top 30 organization true outfield prospect and knock some weaker top 30 guys off the list. http://m.mlb.com/prospects/2017?list=pit

With their final selection of day one, number 72 overall the pick was another high school outfielder. This one in the form of Connor Uselton from Southmoore high school in Oklahoma. Interesting discrepancy in draft positions for this kid. MLBpipeline.com had him ranked 46th, Baseball America had him 89th. http://www.baseballamerica.com/draft-preview/

Though the kid adds another multisport athlete to the Pirates system. Though he is also 19 years old and a bit older than most high school players. A maturity that may help with the day to day grind of the minors and professional life. For just around 800,00 he can be placed in the Pirates system. I like this pick. If he can play like the mid second round projection of MLBpipline.com the Pirates have a steal. Though the upside is there even if it’s closer to the 89th ranked pick, which would come as a small loss. http://m.pirates.mlb.com/news/article/235983718/pirates-take-of-conner-uselton-no-72-in-draft/.

I like the stocking up on younger players. With a strong core in place and many fast-moving prospects in the minors, a lot of draftees don’t have to be MB ready now. Giving the high school player time to develop without the pressure of now or never is a plus. Though I’m still waiting on a stud lefty to complement the big-league rotation. Its’s one of the systems lacking pieces, even with three left handers in the top 20 organization prospects. None of them have the real dominance top of the rotation wow factor. http://m.mlb.com/prospects/2017?list=pit

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just Play the Game

By Steve Samek

Recently I picked up the book Just Watch the Game by John Steigerwald as well as its companion Just watch the game (Again). Both tell of the Pittsburgh sports reporters experiences as a reporter and in his youth. Steigerwald primary joy in most of his experiences come from the fact that he was able to be at the stadium and just watch the game without the bells and whistles we enjoy today.

I enjoyed both books being a Pittsburgh Sports fan and an aspiring sports broadcaster and reporter. So, the experiences and stories really hit home for me.

In the first chapter of book one I learned about how Roberto Clemente hit a walk-off grand slam, which I now know is called an ultimate grand slam. Though this was the second one hit that season by the Pirates. Unique story I’d never heard before.  I also enjoyed reading about other Pittsburgh sports icons Chuck Noll, Dave Parker, Terry Bradshaw and a host more. Though I must say that the best story came from Steigerwald’s treatment of Mr. Rodgers. I laughed a good bit during both books where Mr. Rodgers was mentioned. If you’re a fan of Yinzer culture of any variety the book will have you covered.

Another thing I really enjoyed was the opinion sharing. Steigerwald does a good job of stating his opinion and backing it up enthusiasm. He really believes in his thoughts even if they are unpopular. It makes for some funny banter when combined with some of the stories he tells.

The final thing I really enjoyed from the book was the experiences in the broadcast field stories. Being a future broadcaster I learned a lot about what it takes to get to a high level in the field. From taking jobs in the minor leagues, or middle of nowhere markets to get to Pittsburgh. It gave me a perspective as to what to expect to get to where I want to get to. The most important lesson that I learned from the experiences is to just keep improving and getting better even if the money isn’t the biggest. It’s about enjoying the ride and the experiences.

I would recommend reading both of these books. Each one is equally filled with great stories and experiences unique to each one. The other cool thing is you can read the chapters or even the books out of order. Though I recommend reading the books in order so you understand some of the mentions in the second book. Plus, it’s an easy read you won’t want to put down. Pittsburgh sports fans be sure to check out the set. Overall 10/10 and highly recommend.

 

Ranking the Top Five Pirates Closers Since 2000

By Zack Zeigler

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The Pittsburgh Pirates have accomplished a lot in the 21st century. They broke a 21-season-long losing streak by making the playoffs in 2013, saw the rise of players like Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco, and opened one of the best ball parks in all of major league baseball in PNC Park.

A lot has changed with the team over the years, but one thing has remained consistent. You can always trust the man that is throwing in the ninth inning will get the job done.

Since the 2000 season, the Pirates have seen several names jump into the closers role and lead the Pirates from victory. Whether it be a wily veteran found off the market or a young guy getting a chance to prove himself, the Pirates have always seemed to find a way to get it done at the back end of the bullpen.

They haven’t had the bonafide stars such as Mariano Rivera or Trevor Hoffman, but their guy has always been able to get the job done.

We will take a look at the top five Pirates to step into that closers role since the 2000 season. The list includes pitchers who had at least 10 save opportunities in any season from 2000 to present. This list does not include set-up men who jumped in for a save or two, so no Damaso Marte or John Grabow on this list. Here are the top five Pirates closers since 2000. Continue reading “Ranking the Top Five Pirates Closers Since 2000”

Starling Marte Named to 2016 Sporting News NL All-Star Team

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Photo credit: USA Today Sports

By Zack Zeigler

Every year, Sporting News releases its All-Star teams featuring the best players from each league including all nine position players, a starting pitcher, and a closer. The National League All-Star team was released in late October and the Pittsburgh Pirates got some good news along with the announcement.

Continue reading “Starling Marte Named to 2016 Sporting News NL All-Star Team”

Closer Role In Question for 2017 Pirates

Pittsburgh looks to replace Melancon

By Zack Zeigler

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Photo credit: The Boston Herald

One thing the Pittsburgh Pirates have had secured on their team over the last couple years is a dynamite closer at the end of the ball game. Ever since Matt Capps took over the role before the 2007 season, there has always been someone reliable for the ninth inning. In that time, we have seen Octavio Dotel, Joel Hanrahan and Mark Melancon occupy that role.

Those four closers combined to save 293 games in 333 chances, which is an 88 percent save rate over the last 10 seasons.

Melancon set the the all-time saves record in a season for the Pirates with his 51 saves during the 2015 season. However, Melancon is gone, and the Pirates are dealing with an issue they haven’t had to worry about in a long time and that’s inconsistency at the back end of the bullpen.

Continue reading “Closer Role In Question for 2017 Pirates”

Pirates 2016 Minor League All-Stars

Best of each position in the Pirates system

By Steve Samek

Every year, MiLB.com honors the top players in each major league teams’ minor league system. This process takes place over the span of a couple months, and the Pittsburgh Pirates will have theirs announced in December.

Let’s expedite the process and announce my Pirates organization all-star list.

Note: The players will come from the top four levels of the system, and prospects that have contributed in Pittsburgh significantly will be left out.

656605SP – Mitch Keller – RHP – West Virginia (A) and Bradenton (A+)

9-5 – 2.35 ERA – 24 GS – 130.1 IP – 138 SO – .212 BAA – 0.92 WHIP

Keller is the No. 5 prospect for the Pittsburgh Pirates’ system – one that ranks 11th overall.

In a previous post, I made the case as to why Keller will rise to the top prospect position in the Pirates’ system. Keller was named both Pitcher of the Year and Breakout Prospect of the Year by Tim Williams of PiratesProspects.com.

Keller has great upside as a pitcher after a breakout 2016 season. Keller will have a lot to prove, though, as all of his innings came at the A-ball level. Expect to see him in Double-A to start next year, which would be a similar progression path as current No. 1 prospect – Tyler Glasnow.

Keller is the highest-ranking pitcher in the Pirates prospect rankings other than Glasnow. Glasnow has seen time in the majors, and I expect him there to start the year with the Pirates, making Keller my pick at starting pitcher. Continue reading “Pirates 2016 Minor League All-Stars”