Bucs sign Kelly Shoppach

Kelly Shoppach Pirates

The Pirates have signed Kelly Shoppach to a minor league deal in an effort to improve their catching depth. He’s been assigned to Class AAA Indianapolis.

The 33-year-old backstop isn’t much of a hitter:

Year Tm G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2005 BOS 9 15 1 0 0 0 0 0 7 .000 .063 .000 .063
2006 CLE 41 110 7 27 6 0 3 16 45 .245 .297 .382 .678
2007 CLE 59 161 26 42 13 0 7 30 56 .261 .310 .472 .782
2008 CLE 112 352 67 92 27 0 21 55 133 .261 .348 .517 .865
2009 CLE 89 271 33 58 14 0 12 40 98 .214 .335 .399 .734
2010 TBR 63 158 17 31 8 0 5 17 71 .196 .308 .342 .650
2011 TBR 87 221 23 39 3 0 11 22 79 .176 .268 .339 .607
2012 TOT 76 219 23 51 14 2 8 27 89 .233 .309 .425 .733
2012 BOS 48 140 16 35 12 2 5 17 62 .250 .327 .471 .798
2012 NYM 28 79 7 16 2 0 3 10 27 .203 .276 .342 .618
2013 SEA 35 107 11 21 7 0 3 9 45 .196 .293 .346 .638
9 Yrs 571 1614 208 361 92 2 70 216 623 .224 .312 .413 .726

…but is solid defensively, boasting a 30% caught stealing rate in his career. He led the majors in 2011 at 41%.

This is a pretty good depth move. With Michael McKenry out for the year, the organization doesn’t have much beyond Russell Martin and Tony Sanchez. Lucas May and Ali Solis, the current Indianapolis catchers, have 17 combined games of MLB experience. If Martin goes down with an injury or Sanchez can’t hold his own, the Bucs would be in trouble. Shoppach helps out in that regard.

Pirates recall Tony Sanchez

Tony Sanchez Pirates

Tony Sanchez, the Pirates’ first round draft pick in 2009, will be getting his chance in the big leagues.

Dan Zangrilli broke the news on Friday afternoon:

 

Interesting stat from Tom Singer:

 

Sanchez, 25, was on the “taxi squad” earlier this season but never made it onto the MLB roster. Many fans have been looking for him to get a call-up, since Michael McKenry has struggled behind the plate.

Thought of to be a defensive-minded catcher, he hasn’t been as sharp back there this year: 12 errors, 22% CS rate (down from 29% in 2012). Tim Williams of Pirates Prospects wondered if Sanchez has a throwing problem.

After struggling at the plate in 2011, some fans started to label Sanchez as a bust. However, the Boston College product has been great this year for Indianapolis, hitting .306 with nine homers and a .951 OPS. His career minor league stats:

Year Age Tm Lg Lev G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2009 21 State College NYPL A- 4 13 2 4 1 0 0 1 1 2 .308 .357 .385 .742
2009 21 West Virginia SALL A 41 155 29 49 15 1 7 46 21 34 .316 .415 .561 .976
2009 21 Lynchburg CARL A+ 3 10 2 2 2 0 0 1 1 4 .200 .385 .400 .785
2010 22 Bradenton FLOR A+ 59 207 31 65 17 0 4 35 28 41 .314 .416 .454 .870
2011 23 Altoona EL AA 118 402 46 97 14 1 5 44 47 76 .241 .340 .318 .658
2012 24 Altoona EL AA 40 141 22 39 14 1 0 17 18 33 .277 .370 .390 .760
2012 24 Indianapolis IL AAA 62 206 21 48 12 0 8 26 23 46 .233 .316 .408 .724
2013 25 Indianapolis IL AAA 55 183 28 56 20 0 9 35 20 45 .306 .389 .563 .951
5 Seasons 382 1317 181 360 95 3 33 205 159 281 .273 .368 .425 .793

Here he is taking some hacks during spring training 2012 (via Rumbunter):

It’s unclear what role Sanchez will play for the Pirates this weekend (catcher? designated hitter?) and who knows how long he’ll be around (short-term? long-term?). Nevertheless, it’ll be a good opportunity for him to show if he’s capable of being a big league player.

UPDATE: The Pirates will send RHP Brandon Cumpton back to the minors to make room for Sanchez. With some injuries to the pitching staff, Cumpton came in and made two strong outings (vs. Dodgers on Saturday, @ Reds on Wednesday) that shouldn’t go unnoticed. As Jeanmar Gomez is set to return from the disabled list next week, Cumpton will lose his rotation spot, but he definitely made a good impression.

McKenry’s arm hurting his value

Michael McKenry has gained many fans in Pittsburgh over the past few seasons. Despite being highly unknown prior to joining the Pirates, “The Fort” works hard on and off the field and has surprisingly become one of the more recognizable players.

However, some under-the-radar rumblings out of Bradenton during spring training this year suggested that the 28-year-old backstop was falling out of favor. Most of that was led by pirates.com writer Tom Singer, who had this to say on his blog:

[quote_simple]

Carlos Paulino: Wasn’t even in Kissimmee. But the Bucs love his arm. Just how deep that love is was hinted by the reassignment to Minor League camp of Tony Sanchez. Paulino will get some more looks to determine whether he might rank as the top midseason callup candidate.”

“Carlos Paulino: Had no chance to throw out the runner on a pitch that had gotten away from him — and still almost did. McKenry has to hold down The Fort, or Paulino could sneak ahead of him on the depth chart.”

[/quote_simple]

We didn’t buy this from the start (read here) and still don’t see any chance of light-hitting Carlos Paulino (currently Class AA) cracking the big league roster this year. But maybe Singer was just revealing the club’s high praise of Paulino’s arm. Spring training would have been an appropriate time to do so, and if there’s been one flaw in McKenry’s game this year, it’s his own throwing from behind the plate.

As everyone recalls, the McKenry-Rod Barajas duo was absolutely awful at throwing runners out in 2012. Thankfully, Russell Martin has improved the club in that area. However, The Fort is still letting the team down in the stolen base department.

Entering Tuesday, McKenry is just 1 for 11 in gunning down base stealers – opponents have swiped bags at a 91.7% rate, one of the highest marks against any catcher in baseball.

Keep in mind that he’s started just six games, which is tied with John McDonald for the fewest of any Pirate who’s been on the roster since Opening Day. It’s getting out of hand for McKenry; he’s allowing too many runners to advance into scoring position via the stolen base, and he’s losing a lot of value because of it.

One emerging metric for catchers is Stolen Base Runs Saved (rSB). Here’s the explanation from FanGraphs:

[quote_simple]”Calculated by The Fielding Bible, Stolen Base Runs Saved measures how many “runs” a catcher contributes to their team by throwing out runners and preventing runners from attempting steals in the first place.”[/quote_simple]

And here’s FanGraphs’ grading scale:

Rating rSB
Excellent +5
Great +3
Above Average +1
Average 0
Below Average -1
Poor -3
Awful -5

Russell Martin has already produced an rSB of +2, which is very good – he’s essentially prevented two runs from scoring by throwing runners out.

Michael McKenry, on the other hand, already has an rSB of -2, meaning that he’s pretty much cost the Pirates two runs with his inability to throw runners out. His -2 mark is tied with Chris Iannetta, Jesus Montero, and J.P. Arencibia for worst in baseball, although they’ve all played a significantly greater amount of innings than The Fort.

At this point, McKenry is hurting himself and the team with his poor arm behind the dish. His value is diminishing because of it; no matter what kind of offensive stats he puts up, it’s difficult putting someone out there who will only thrown out one of every ten runners. He’s not nearly as valuable as a backup catcher if he can’t throw anybody out, which is why the Tony Sanchez and Carlos Paulino type players will receive praise for their arms. Even if Sanchez or Paulino can’t hit, their defensive capabilities make them commodities off the bench. The Pirates are a team that needs to piece together wins any way they can, and they can’t afford to have opponents running wild on the base paths. Russell Martin has cracked down in that regard, and it’s time for Michael McKenry to do the same.

Stats via FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference, and MLB.com | Photo: Keith Allison/Creative Commons

Player Profile: Carlos Paulino

This caught our eye in Tom Singer’s “Cranks & Clunks” post:

[quote_center]”Carlos Paulino: Wasn’t even in Kissimmee. But the Bucs love his arm. Just how deep that love is was hinted by the reassignment to Minor League camp of Tony Sanchez. Paulino will get some more looks to determine whether he might rank as the top midseason callup candidate.”[/quote_center]

First off, that assessment should be taken with a grain of salt. It’s unlikely that Paulino would become the “top midseason callup candidate” since he A) has never played above A-ball, B) has never seen sustained offensive success, and C) the Pirates are rather meticulous with their prospects. Plus, Sanchez’s reassignment doesn’t mean the Pirates think higher of Paulino. There’s a good chance Sanchez is back in minor league camp for a reason, like seeing more at-bats or getting work with more of the minor league pitchers. This piece in Saturday’s Post-Gazette offers another explanation, talking about the reassignments of Sanchez and Andy Oliver:

[quote_box author=”Pittsburgh Post-Gazette” profession=””]

But since both are on the 40-man roster and since it was apparent neither would make the opening-day roster, the Pirates limited their risk by optioning them to the minor leagues.

Had either stayed on the roster past Friday and had an injury that would  cause them to go on the disabled list on opening day, it would have affected their major league service time, which impacts arbitration eligibility and years  of control.

“It’s probably the one drawback of them being on the rosters,” Huntington said.

“It kind of forces our hand a little bit. We’d love to keep those two guys in camp a little longer.”

[/quote_box]

Paulino being the favorite for a callup doesn’t seem like an accurate label just yet, but it is interesting to see the club with high praise of him. So, who is this guy? Here’s a look…

Quick Profile:
Age:  23
Position:  Catcher
Height:  6’0″
Weight:  170 lbs.
Bats:  Right
Throws:  Right

Paulino was acquired in exchange for University of Pittsburgh product Jim Negrych back in March of 2011.

Career offensive stats:

Year Age Tm Lev Aff G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2008 18 Marlins Rk FLA 17 46 5 7 3 1 0 2 1 3 .152 .204 .261 .465
2009 19 Marlins Rk FLA 3 9 1 3 0 0 0 3 0 1 .333 .333 .333 .667
2009 19 Jamestown A- FLA 42 141 13 41 11 1 1 14 11 27 .291 .340 .404 .744
2010 20 Greensboro A FLA 64 201 17 37 10 0 0 10 6 49 .184 .214 .234 .448
2010 20 Jupiter A+ FLA 3 8 1 1 1 0 0 1 0 1 .125 .125 .250 .375
2011 21 Bradenton A+ PIT 82 271 44 81 18 4 4 40 18 33 .299 .351 .439 .790
2012 22 Bradenton A+ PIT 84 303 35 76 18 3 4 35 17 43 .251 .311 .370 .681
5 Seasons 295 979 116 246 61 9 9 105 53 157 .251 .301 .360 .661
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/16/2013.

His offense in the minors has not been something to get excited about. Paulino hit .299/.351/.439 as a 21 year old in 2011, but played for High-A Bradenton again last season. In his second year with the Marauders, he showed an offensive decline. He had five fewer hits in 32 more at-bats, and posted a .681 OPS, which was down from .790 in 2011. Coming to the organization a few years back, he was known as a defense-first catcher.

Career defensive stats:

Year Age Tm Lev Aff G Ch PO A E DP Fld% RF/G PB SB CS CS%
2008 18 Marlins Rk FLA 16 109 94 13 2 0 .982 6.69 3 22 8 27%
2009 19 Marlins Rk FLA 2 10 9 0 1 0 .900 4.50 0 3 0 0%
2009 19 Jamestown A- FLA 37 281 256 22 3 2 .989 7.51 3 22 13 37%
2010 20 Greensboro A FLA 60 492 428 55 9 7 .982 8.05 2 48 33 41%
2010 20 Jupiter A+ FLA 3 17 14 1 2 0 .882 5.00 0 2 0 0%
2011 21 Bradenton A+ PIT 55 354 312 37 5 1 .986 6.35 5 40 16 29%
2012 22 Bradenton A+ PIT 83 577 508 61 8 4 .986 6.86 9 92 26 22%
5 Seasons 261 1846 1626 190 30 14 .984 6.96 22 229 96 30%
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/16/2013.

It’s interesting to see him and his apparently tremendous arm throw out just 22% of base stealers in 2012. But as Pirates Prospects points out on Paulino’s player page, “…a lot of that probably had to do with the pitchers, as the Pirates don’t want their pitching prospects focusing much on baserunners.” The Bucs could certainly use a strong arm behind the dish, especially after last year’s embarrassment.

Going back to Singer’s comment, there shouldn’t be much to look in to. We’ve never seen Paulino play, but it’s tough to award him a callup based on a couple of weeks of spring training. Also, just because Tony Sanchez was sent down before him should not draw comparisons between skill level. Only the upper Pirates’ brass knows the particular rhyme or reason behind some of their moves. Charlie Wilmoth of Bucs Dugout appropriately explained on Friday how March is a tough month for news:

[quote_center]”We can speculate about why, say, the Pirates sent down Jerry Sands so early in camp, but ultimately, we don’t have any idea what that means, if it means anything. And a large percentage of the arguments we could even potentially have this time of year (that is, that are borne out of the events of the day, and not that we just make up arbitrarily) are arguments that we shouldn’t even be having, and probably wouldn’t have any other time of year.”[/quote_center]

Singer says Paulino could be a “top midseason callup candidate,” while his stats and inexperience suggest he needs much more time in the minors. He should get playing time at Class AA Altoona; we’ll be keeping tabs on his progression throughout the season.

Photo: lakelandlocal/Creative Commons

In 19 Days…

Michael McKenry (19) days until Opening Day.

The Fort, who was number 55 until new catcher Russell Martin joined the team, will be back with the Bucs as backup catcher in 2013.

Two questions about number 19…

1. How much will he play? Entering the offseason, one option was to give McKenry the starting job with Tony Sanchez backing him up. However, the club pursued and signed Russell Martin, so he’ll be seeing the bulk of playing time behind the dish. That being said, how much will McKenry play? We expect the $17 million Martin to catch some of the Bucs’ big guns, especially A.J. Burnett. Martin should be catching plenty, but McKenry will still have some opportunities.

2. Can he build off his offensive improvements? McKenry, now 28, was an extremely light-hitting catcher when the Pirates acquired him in June of 2011. He hit just .222 with two home runs in the final months of the ’11 season, but worked hard last offseason to improve his bat. It paid off for the scrappy backstop, as he increased his batting average by 11 points and belted 12 home runs in 88 games. He hit .405 with a 1.266 OPS in 11 games between June 24th and July 7th, including a seven-game hitting streak. While he’s still a light-hitter, he’s suitable for the backup role. McKenry will have to make the most of his opportunities in 2013, so it’ll be interesting if he can provide a decent bat off the bench.

Go Bucs