Taillon, Sands among Bucs’ first cuts

The Pirates have finally made their first roster moves of the spring, announcing that eleven players will be headed back to minor league camp.

Jameson Taillon, Jerry Sands, Clint Robinson, Vic Black, Stolmy Pimentel, Hunter Strickland, Duke Welker, Erik Cordier, Matt Hague, Darren Ford, and Anderson Hernandez are the players departing from big league spring training.


Jameson Taillon, one of the club’s top prospects, will be headed to minor league camp. He just arrived back to Bradenton after participating in the World Baseball Classic, but he won’t be getting anymore action with the big league team this spring. Taillon will most likely start in Altoona, but a promotion to Indianapolis is likely at some point in 2013.

Two pieces from the Joel Hanrahan trade, Jerry Sands and Stolmy Pimentel, were optioned to Triple-A Indy. The other new players acquired in that deal, Mark Melancon and Ivan De Jesus, are still in camp. Melancon is expected to be part of the Bucco bullpen; De Jesus is battling for a bench job.

Another player acquired via trade this winter, Clint Robinson, was sent to Triple-A this morning. Robinson has been a classic “AAAA” player in his career, as he’s put up big numbers in the minors, but has yet to contribute in the majors.

Vic Black, Hunter Strickland, and Duke Welker are pitchers with the potential to help the Pirates down the road, but will start the year in the minors.

Matt Hague, who made the Opening Day roster in 2012 with a huge spring training, was also among today’s cuts. He’s hit .364 (8 for 22) in Grapefruit League play this year, but there simply isn’t a spot on the team for him.

Erik Cordier, Darren Ford, and Anderson Hernandez didn’t have much of a chance to make the club. They were reassigned to minor league camp as well.

Photo: Matt Burton/MiLB.com

Don’t dig too deep into Spring Training stats

It’s not just training time for the players; writers, bloggers, and baseball fans everywhere are preparing for the highly anticipated months of spring, summer, and early fall. While the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues provide an outlet of information, you shouldn’t always read into the February/March statistics of players.

Before we begin, it should be noted that success/failure in spring is definitely used to assess the Opening Day roster; we aren’t advocating that you should ignore player stats all together. Our goal is to simply warn you not to get too high or low on particular players. We’ll use the Pirates’ 2012 spring training stats, and divide player performance into four categories. Here’s a look…

The Spring Underachievers

There’s always a group of players that disappoint in spring ball, leading fans to believe that these guys don’t have what it takes to succeed in the regular season.

A prime example from last year is Pedro Alvarez. El Toro was coming off a terrible 2011 in which he hit just .191 in 74 games, so his weak performance in Grapefruit League play had Bucco fans labeling him as a bust. He hit .170 with two home runs and a .465 OPS in 19 spring games, but bounced back with a solid regular season, hitting .244 and crushing 30 bombs.

Another Pirates regular that you could classify as a 2012 spring underachiever was second baseman Neil Walker. Walker’s 20 Grapefruit League games resulted in a .262/.262/.311 line with zero long balls. He struck out 13 times and didn’t draw a single walk. However, The Pittsburgh Kid produced a .280 batting average, .768 OPS, and a career-high 14 HR during the year.

Simply because a player fails to succeed in spring training does not mean he can’t put up solid numbers when it counts.

The Spring Overachievers

Another classic group consists of those that rip the cover off the ball in March, but can’t find their form when April rolls around.

Nate McLouth certainly falls into this category from 2012. Both Nate and Bucco fans were pumped that he was coming back to the ‘Burgh after an abrupt trade in June of 2009. He impressed in spring training, hitting .362/.464/.574 over 23 games. He struggled when the team came north, however, as he went just 8 for 57 (.140); the Pirates let him go at the end of May. Nate went on to lead the Baltimore Orioles into the postseason, and he re-signed with them in December.

Another former Pirate and current Oriole, Yamaico Navarro, followed a similar trend. He posted a .310 average and drove in nine runs during Grapefruit League play, earning himself a spot on the Opening Day roster. However, he went 8 for 45 (.178) through May, and was demoted to Triple-A Indianapolis.

A third Bucco to perform in the spring was Matt Hague. “The Hit Collector” collected 22 hits in March, posting a .400/.400/.800 line. Hague broke camp with the club, but never excelled in 30 MLB games.

A recurring theme you may notice with these players, and a large number of other spring overachievers, is that they don’t receive much playing time once the season starts. It may be easy for them to get in a groove while playing nearly every day in spring training, but it’s just as easy to get cold when they ride the bench in April. A strong spring doesn’t always guarantee a great regular season, especially for bench players who see a big change in playing time.

The Consistent Performers

There are, of course, a few players that can keep pace through spring and into the summer.

Andrew McCutchen was definitely a consistent performer, hitting .310 with 4 HR, 12 RBI, and a .988 OPS in 21 March games. Cutch carried his strong play into the season, when he was an MVP candidate.

Garrett Jones could be classified as consistent as well. He didn’t hit for much average at .230, but he foreshadowed his power potential. Three doubles, four homers, and 17 RBI in spring led to 28 two-baggers, 27 bombs, and 86 runs batted in during the season.

While not many can replicate their numbers between exhibition play and the regular season, there are still some players that can continue their success.

The Hyped Minor Leaguer

There could potentially be a couple of minor leaguers that tear up the Grapefruit League, leaving fans saying “Put them on the team!”

Last season, Starling Marte fit that description. He played in 12 spring games, hitting .520 (13 for 25) with 3 HR, 4 RBI, and a 1.440 OPS. Coming off a great 2011 in which he won the Eastern League batting title with the Altoona Curve, fans were ready for the club to pull the trigger on Marte. However, he wasn’t quite ready to make the jump and played in Class AAA until late July.

Therefore, if Gerrit Cole or Jameson Taillon get a few appearances and dominate, don’t expect them to stay in big league camp. Watch for Cole especially, as he is closer to making his MLB debut than Taillon. As of now, the only way Cole makes the club is if something goes wrong and they absolutely need him in the rotation.

The bottom line: you can’t always use spring training games as a baseline for regular season performance. Some players will start hot, some players will be cold, some players could even stay consistent; however, there’s no reason to make assumptions based on meaningless exhibition games. It’s called spring “training” for a reason, and these guys are getting back in game shape for the six-month grind. We’ll worry about performance once April rolls around.

Go Bucs

Pirates acquire three; Russell Martin on radar?

Neal Huntington and his staff shuffled the roster a bit today by acquiring three players.

First, they picked up RHP Zach Stewart from the Boston Red Sox for a player to be named later. Stewart, 26, has a career 6.82 ERA in 33 games.

Next, the Bucs got 1B Clint Robinson and RHP Vin Mazzaro from the Kansas City Royals in exchange for Luis Rico and Luis Santos (both minor league pitchers). Robinson, who will turn 28 in February, hit .292 with 13 HR last season for Triple-A Omaha. He’s been blocked in the Royals’ system, mostly by young first baseman Eric Hosmer. Robinson seems to be a decent pickup; his name was brought into discussion last spring when the Bucs lacked offense. The 26 year old Mazzaro had a 5.73 ERA in 44 innings last year for KC. He pitched against the Pirates on June 9th, lasting just three innings and surrendering four runs.

To clear room on the 40 man roster, they designated “The Hit Collector” Matt Hague and Yamaico Navarro for assignment.

Rob Biertempfel of the Trib brought up some good points about these pickups. He writes, “Pirates today made two trades that could figure into plans for who is tendered/non-tendered Friday… Vin Mazzaro could be either back-end starter or long reliever, just like arbitration-eligible Jeff Karstens. Clint Robinson makes it 3’s a crowd at first base with arbitration-eligible Garrett Jones and Gaby Sanchez.” It’ll be interesting to see how the Bucs handle this. Both Garrett Jones and Gaby Sanchez should betendered contracts, but you never know. If Jones and Sanchez are on the Opening Day roster, Clint Robinson would most likely be replacing Matt Hague and Jeff Clement as the first baseman at Indianapolis.

In other news, it looks like the club is aggressively pursuing catcher Russell Martin. Jon Heyman wrote that the Bucs are trying to pry him away from the Yankees. Heyman says that the Pirates may be offering around 3 years/$25 million. Many of the people who have weighed in on the situation are not too excited about this deal. Martin hit just .211 last season and his power numbers will most likely decline at PNC Park. Is he an upgrade over Rod Barajas? Yes. Is he worth the money he’s asking for? Probably not.

Biertempfel had this to say – “There’s a sense among some in industry that Pirates will overpay if necessary for a FA this year. Will it be C Russell Martin? Management must show it’s serious about avoiding another second-half breakdown. And the club desperately needs a catcher.”

Ken Rosenthal with a few thoughts:

[tweet https://twitter.com/Ken_Rosenthal/status/273892378060926976]

[tweet https://twitter.com/Ken_Rosenthal/status/273892380908863488]

[tweet https://twitter.com/Ken_Rosenthal/status/273894393163964416]

Go Bucs

Season in Pictures: May 2012

May 2nd, 2012
A.J. Burnett walks off the mound after allowing 12 runs in just 2.2 innings against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Bucs got rocked, 12-3, at Busch Stadium.

May 8th, 2012
Rod Barajas flashes the Zoltan after hitting a walk-off homer to lift the Pirates over the Nationals, 5-4.

May 19th, 2012
Andrew McCutchen and Josh Harrison celebrate one of Cutch’s two bombs in Detroit. The Pirates beat the Tigers in a Saturday matinée by the score of 4-3.

May 21st, 2012
Neil Walker slides home safely as the go-ahead run in the eighth inning to give the Pirates a 5-4 victory.

May 26th, 2012
Matt Hague‘s walk-off hit-by-pitch lifts the Bucs over the Cubs, 3-2, in front of a Saturday night sellout crowd.

May 28th, 2012
Gorkys Hernandez, Andrew McCutchen, and Jose Tabata celebrate after beating the Reds on Memorial Day. It was the Pirates fourth consecutive win and put them at the .500 mark.

Burnett gets Bucs back to .500

Tonight’s rubber match between the Pirates and Reds featured a pitching matchup of A.J. Burnett and Johnny Cueto, and it was another low scoring game.  Burnett got off to a shaky start in the first, giving up a book-rule double to leadoff man Zack Cozart.  Pedro Alvarez muffed the play on Drew Stubbs‘ bunt, putting runners on the corners.  Jay Bruce lined out to first base, and then Brandon Phillips drove in run on a sac-fly.  Burnett did a heck of a job to strike out the next batter, limiting the damage to just one run.  Jordy Mercer picked up his first career hit with a single in the first.

The first scoring chance the Bucs had came in the second.  Garrett Jones tripled, and after Matt Hague grounded out, Rod Barajas was intentionally walked to get to Burnett.  He worked the count full, fouling off pitch after pitch.  He finally drew a walk, loading the bases for Jose Tabata.  He swung at the first pitch, hitting a dribbler to second for the third out.

Burnett and Cueto both pitched well in the middle innings, and A.J. had retired 15 straight Reds at one point.  The Pirates finally cashed in on a chance to score in the sixth on a string of great 2-out at-bats.  Neil Walker drew a walk, and Jones worked the count full.  Walker was off on the pitch, and Jones singled through the hole into right to put runners on the corners.  Hague doubled to right-center, driving in two and increasing his hit-streak to 6 games.

The bullpen took over with the 2-1 lead after Burnett went 7 innings and gave up just two hits, and Jason Grilli and Joel Hanrahan both pitched scoreless innings to close out the game and increase the Pirates record to 14-9 in one-run games.

Win: Burnett (4-2)
Loss: Cueto (5-3)
Save: Hanrahan (13)


Go Bucs