Grading Each Player on the Pittsburgh Pirates' 40-Man Roster
As the start of the 2014 season inches closer and closer, the Pittsburgh Pirates are hoping to build on a tremendous 2013 season in which the team made the playoffs for the first time since 1994.
Backed by solid pitching and reliable offensive production, there is reason to believe this team will contend for another playoff spot in 2014.
Throughout the first few weeks of spring training, we have seen production from a number of hitters and pitchers, and here I grade each player by his performance in spring training and potential for the 2014 regular season.
Gerrit Cole, P, Grade: B+
Gerrit Cole was dazzling on the mound in his 2013 rookie campaign, going 10-7 with a 3.22 ERA. His efforts helped lead the Pirates back to the playoffs, where they lost in the division series to the St. Louis Cardinals.
At only 23 years old, Cole has emerged as a leader in the clubhouse, as he will be the No. 2 starter behind Francisco Liriano.
In two games this spring, Cole has given up six hits and two earned runs in five innings pitched. For such a small sample size, it is reasonable to believe he is just getting back into his groove. That is why he will be just as dominant this season for the Pirates.
Cole owned a 1.168 WHIP last season, keeping batters off the basepaths and mowing down hitters with his 7.7 strikeouts per nine innings pitched.
Expect Cole to be named to his first All-Star team in 2014 and to lead his team back to the playoffs as he earns an A grade this season.
Brandon Cumpton, P, Grade: C+
Brandon Cumpton made his major league debut in 2013, pitching in six games and accumulating a 2-1 record with an impressive 2.05 ERA with the Pirates.
This spring, Cumpton has struggled to get batters out, allowing 19 hits in 15.1 innings pitched for the Bucs. Still, he owns an impressive 2.93 ERA, as he has pitched much better of late. According to Tom Singer of MLB.com, he is being considered for the fifth spot in the starting rotation.
Cumpton has very high potential, as he showed last season. He just has to work on keeping the hits down and runners off the bases. If he does that and keeps the ERA around 3.00, he will earn a much higher grade by the end of the season.
Jeanmar Gomez, P, Grade: B-
Jeanmar Gomez made his debut in 2010 with the Cleveland Indians, and he has been both very good and very bad at different times over four major league seasons.
In 76 career games, Gomez owns a 4.67 ERA along with a 17-16 record. He really bounced back last year from an unsuccessful 2012 campaign where he had a 5.96 ERA in 20 games with Cleveland.
In 2013 with the Pirates, Gomez pitched to a 3.35 ERA in 34 games, and he was an important piece in Pittsburgh's bullpen.
This spring, Gomez has allowed 10 hits in 8.1 innings pitched. His 10.8 hits allowed per nine innings pitched is 3.5 hits over his 2013 regular-season average. Due to this, he currently is graded as right around average with a B-.
Still, we have seen what Gomez is capable of, which is why his potential is more along the lines of a B+ grade.
Jason Grilli, P, Grade: A-
At 36 years old, Jason Grilli earned his first full season as a closer in 2013, saving 33 of the Pirates' 94 wins.
Now 37, Grilli will look to continue to close out wins for Pittsburgh in 2014.
In only two games this spring, Grilli has done everything he has been asked to do, which is why he deserves an A-. In two innings pitched, Grilli has faced the minimum six batters, allowing no hits while striking out three.
If he continues to be this effective on the mound, he will be deserving of a higher grade, but the sample size is too small to award him an A.
Jared Hughes, P, Grade: C-
After a frustrating 2013 season in which his ERA increased by nearly two full runs from 2012, Jared Hughes is struggling again this spring.
Hughes has pitched seven innings in six appearances for the Bucs, totaling a 5.14 ERA this spring. His 1.429 WHIP must be lowered in order for him to be effective out of the bullpen in 2014.
Right now, Hughes is deserving of a below-average grade due to his ineffectiveness.
Phil Irwin, P, Grade: B+
Phil Irwin made his major league debut for the Pirates last season, starting one game and allowing four earned runs in 4.2 innings pitched.
In three innings pitched this spring, Irwin has allowed only one hit. He has shown his ability to throw a nasty curveball that is very difficult for batters to make contact with.
After being injured for much of last year, Irwin is back and making his case for either the fifth spot in the the Bucs starting rotation or a middle reliever role.
Francisco Liriano, P, Grade: B
After an impressive 16-8 record in 2013, Francisco Liriano will get the nod on Opening Day this season.
In 11.2 innings pitched this spring, Liriano has given up three runs on 11 hits.
The Pirates are relying on Liriano to perform in 2014, and based on his statistics this spring, there is no reason to believe he won't be successful again this year.
Jeff Locke, P, Grade: B+
Lefty starter Jeff Locke had a spectacular first half of the 2013 regular season before falling off after the All-Star break.
Still, he finished 2013 with a 10-7 record and owned a 3.52 ERA for the Pirates.
The Bucs will need Locke to put together a consistent season in 2014, especially with the absence of A.J. Burnett in the rotation.
This spring, Locke has made one appearance, throwing two innings and allowing only one hit. Expect Locke to look to prove he is an above-average pitcher over a full season this year.
Vin Mazzaro, P, Grade: B
Vin Mazzaro pitched in 57 games with the Pirates in 2013, going 8-2 with a 2.81 ERA.
This spring, he got off to a great start before a bad outing in which his ERA inflated to 5.40. Unfortunately, the Pirates may not have Mazzaro in their plans for the future.
Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (h/t Charlie Wilmoth of Bucs Dugout) reports that the Pirates are currently listening to offers from other teams for both Mazzaro and outfielder Jose Tabata.
Mazzaro is deserving of a high grade this spring, and he should be successful wherever he goes.
Mark Melancon, P, Grade: A-
Mark Melancon really broke out in 2013 with the Pirates, owning a 1.39 ERA in 71.0 innings pitched.
This spring, Melancon has allowed one run in three innings pitched, and he is showing that he can be one of the best setup men in baseball.
Melancon is one of the most important factors in the Pirates bullpen, and his contributions so far both in spring training and last season have been great.
Bryan Morris, P, Grade: B
In 55 games with the Pirates last season, Bryan Morris owned a 3.46 ERA, causing concern with his 28 total walks and 3.9 walks per nine innings pitched.
This spring, Morris has already walked three batters in 7.1 innings pitched. He has also allowed six hits and three earned runs while hitting a batter.
However, his stuff has impressed many in the organization, and he could be an important piece to the bullpen in 2014.
Charlie Morton, P, Grade: B+
In 2012, starting pitcher Charlie Morton got the news that he would be shut down for the remainder of the season to undergo Tommy John surgery.
After a long road to recovery, Morton was back in 2013, where he was able to make 20 starts for the Bucs, going 7-4 with a 3.26 ERA.
Now, as the 2014 regular season is edging nearer, Morton is ready to take on the No. 3 role in the Pirates starting rotation, and by the looks of it, he's going to be effective.
In eight innings pitched this spring, Morton has one earned run while striking out two batters. If he returns to form in 2014, the Pirates will have a very dangerous third pitcher in that rotation, making them tough to beat in a short series.
Andy Oliver, P, Grade: C-
In seven career major league appearances with the Detroit Tigers in 2010 and 2011, Andy Oliver went 0-5 with a 7.11 ERA. Furthermore, he allowed 37 hits and 21 walks in 31.2 innings pitched.
This spring, he is struggling to get batters out again, owning a WHIP of 1.500. In the four innings he has pitched, Oliver has allowed two earned runs on two hits and four walks.
Other than the control problem, Oliver has been able to get batters out, allowing only two hits while also earning the win in a game against the Philadelphia Phillies.
He must continue to work at controlling his pitches in order to have a shot at success in the major leagues in 2014.
Stolmy Pimentel, P, Grade: B
Stolmy Pimentel made his major league debut in 2013 with the Pirates, and he was very good.
Pimentel gave up two runs in 9.1 innings pitched. He displayed his powerful arm by striking out an impressive nine batters in those 9.1 innings as well.
Pimentel has only made one appearance this spring, earning the win in a game in which he pitched two innings and let up only one hit.
He would like to be a starter for the Pirates, and he may be an option for that fifth spot if he continues to impress the organization with his selection of nasty pitches.
Pimentel is one of those guys who has a ton of potential, but right now, he comes in with a grade of B. It will be fun to watch what he can do for this young and exciting Pittsburgh team in 2014.
Joely Rodriguez, P, Grade: C+
Joely Rodriguez is another young gun who can provide great depth to the bullpen in 2014 for the Pirates.
While he is still only 22 years old and has never thrown a pitch in the major leagues, he is making his case for a call-up at some point in the season.
According to Tom Singer of MLB.com, manager Clint Hurdle spoke about the abundance of pitching the Pirates have, saying, "If you don't break camp with us on March 30, you want to go down and work yourself into being the next guy up."
By the looks of it, Rodriguez is eager to be one of those guys, having yet to allow a hit in three innings pitched this spring.
Wandy Rodriguez, P, Grade: B+
After missing a significant part of the 2013 season due to injury, starting pitcher Wandy Rodriguez is hoping to land the final open spot in the rotation for the Pirates.
Rodriguez has had some stellar seasons in his nine-year career. In 2012 (his last full season), Rodriguez owned a 3.76 ERA in 34 games for both the Houston Astros and Pittsburgh, where he was traded to midseason.
This spring, Rodriguez looks hungry for that starting role, as he has struck out six batters in seven innings pitched. For his fierce return from injury and the ability he has shown he still has, Rodriguez deserves a high grade.
The Pirates would love for him to have a great comeback season, as their rotation would be complete from top to bottom.
Casey Sadler, P, Grade: B+
Casey Sadler could be another example of a young and effective pitcher who may sneak into that final spot in the starting rotation. He is quietly having a terrific spring, striking out three batters in two innings pitched for the Pirates.
In four minor league seasons, the righty has posted a 23-18 record with a 3.30 ERA and 1.203 WHIP.
While it is still too early to tell whether he will be an effective starter at the big league level, Sadler must be respected for the tremendous job he is doing so far this spring.
Edinson Volquez, P, Grade: F
After an unsuccessful 2013 season, Edinson Volquez entered spring training in contention for the final spot in the Pirates starting rotation.
In 14.0 innings pitched this spring, Volquez has 15 earned runs on 19 hits, three of which were home runs. He has also been erratic with his control, walking seven batters so far.
With himself struggling and others performing extremely well, any hopes of making the rotation are pretty much out the window for Volquez.
Tony Watson, P, Grade: A-
Lefty reliever Tony Watson will be entering his fourth major league season with the Pirates in 2014, and he has been very reliable.
In 166.0 innings pitched, Watson has a 3.09 ERA with 144 strikeouts and an outstanding 1.066 WHIP.
He is back at it again this spring, allowing two hits in two innings pitched with one strikeout.
He has also proven that he can close out games, earning two saves last season for the Pirates. Watson is so reliable in many different scenarios out of the bullpen, which is why he deserves an A- going into the season.
Duke Welker, P, Grade: D
Duke Welker has 1.1 innings of major league experience under his belt after making his debut in 2013 with the Pirates.
In the two games he pitched last season with Pittsburgh, Welker struck out one batter while retiring all four he faced.
This spring, however, he has performed poorly, allowing six earned runs on seven hits and five walks in 5.1 innings pitched.
According to Jenn Menendez of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the organization has optioned Welker to Triple-A. He will have time down there to work out the kinks in his mechanics and make it back to the majors when the team feels he is ready.
Justin Wilson, P, Grade: B
Justin Wilson was impressive in his first full season last year with Pittsburgh, going 6-1 with a 2.08 ERA in 58 games.
Aside from a mistake pitch that led to a home run, he has flashed his talent this spring, striking out three batters in 1.2 innings pitched. Wilson has a power fastball that reaches 98 miles per hour along with a stymieing curveball, so expect the strikeouts to continue to pile up for him.
He is an integral part of Pittsburgh's outstanding bullpen, and he should be effective again this season.
Russell Martin, C, Grade: A
After signing with the Pirates prior to the 2013 season, Russell Martin led his team to the postseason by calling his usual smart, sound games behind the plate.
He has also been a pretty good offensive catcher throughout his career, and this spring, he looks like he could be in the discussion for Most Valuable Player as he was last year when he finished 24th in the National League.
In 24 at-bats this spring, Martin has eight hits and 10 runs batted in. Four of those hits have cleared the wall for home runs, as he has shown tremendous power early on.
Pitchers know they will always get a strong effort behind the plate from Martin, but he is so much more dangerous when he is hitting the way he is right now.
Tony Sanchez, C, Grade: B+
While Martin has been sensational this spring, backup catcher Tony Sanchez is tearing it up at the plate as well.
In 33 at-bats this spring, Sanchez has nine hits, two of them coming as home runs. He has struck out nine times already, but his average sits at an acceptable .273.
While it is still early, any team would take a backup catcher who is hitting nearly .280 as Sanchez is. He will provide for a great go-to option when Martin needs a day off.
Sanchez is still young at 25 years old, and getting to shadow Martin will be extremely beneficial to his own production.
Chris Stewart, C, Grade: N/A
Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Grade: A
Pedro Alvarez had a career year in 2013, blasting 36 home runs and driving in 100 runs for the Pirates.
Pittsburgh's success this season hinges on Alvarez's performance at the plate, as he will again be serving as the cleanup man.
This spring, Alvarez is batting .278 in 36 at-bats with two home runs. Last season, the third baseman hit for a low .233 average, so maintaining a high one in 2014 would be huge for the team.
Clint Barmes, SS, Grade: C
In 11 major league seasons, Clint Barmes has been an average hitter at best. So, he deserves an average grade.
In 2013, Barmes batted .211. In 21 at-bats this spring, he is batting .190. At least he is staying consistent at the plate.
Alen Hanson, SS, Grade: B+
Alen Hanson made his minor league debut when he was only 17, and he is developing quickly.
In four minor league seasons, Hanson owns a .292 batting average with 28 home runs and 183 runs batted in. This spring, he has four hits in 10 at-bats with two stolen bases.
While Hanson will start the season in the minors, he still has plenty of time to continue to develop into an everyday major league player. It looks like he will be the shortstop of the future for the Pirates.
Chris McGuiness, 1B, Grade: B
Chris McGuiness made his major league debut last season with the Texas Rangers, playing in 10 games and batting .176.
This season, the first baseman is looking to make a name for himself at the big league level. He is batting .240 this spring with three runs batted in, but the development is clear just by watching his presence at the plate.
According to Tom Singer of MLB.com, Hurdle has been very impressed with how McGuiness has handled lefty pitchers this spring, something that is often difficult for a lefty hitter to do.
"Lefty versus lefty off a good pitcher ... showed up a couple of times," Hurdle said. "His best balls have been hit off left-handed pitching."
Singer also touched on McGuiness' performance in the Arizona Fall League in 2011, where he beat out Mike Trout, Gerrit Cole and Bryce Harper for Most Valuable Player that season.
That is pretty impressive stuff.
McGuiness has the potential to be a dangerous hitter at this level. Let's see if he can start to put it all together in 2014.
Jordy Mercer, SS, Grade: B-
After a productive 2013 season in which he played 103 games and batted .285, Jordy Mercer is off to a slow start in spring training for the Pirates.
He has just five hits in 26 at-bats so far this spring, as he has struck out six times. Still, he has a nice .344 on base percentage, as he has a great eye and the ability to draw walks.
Mercer is Pittsburgh's guy at shortstop this season, and he will have to get things going if he wishes to keep his starting job.
Brent Morel, 3B, Grade: C-
In four major league seasons with the Chicago White Sox, third baseman Brent Morel has hit for an average of .229.
That simply won't get the job done as an everyday third baseman on a winning team at the major league level.
This spring, Morel has just four hits in 25 at-bats, which is good for a measly .160 average and a grade of C-.
Gaby Sanchez, 1B, Grade: B
In his six-year major league career, Gaby Sanchez owns a .258 batting average.
The Miami Marlins traded him to the Pirates after he batted .202 in his first 55 games in 2012. In his 50 games played with the Pirates, Sanchez batted .241.
In 2013, the first baseman looked like an improved player all-around, raising his average to .254 in 136 games played. However, he will still have to raise his average and drive in more runs to help the Pirates.
This spring, Sanchez is working on that, batting .300 with six hits in 20 at-bats. He continues to show his discipline at the plate with four walks, which has his on-base percentage at .417.
Neil Walker, 2B, Grade: B
In 2012, Neil Walker batted .280 with 132 hits in 129 games. In four more games last season, he batted only .251 with 120 hits.
Walker is still an integral part of the Pirates lineup, as his work ethic and leadership set an example for the rest of the young team.
This spring, he is batting .242 with one home run in 33 at-bats. Tom Singer of MLB.com reports that Walker is feeling healthy after a 2013 spring training where he was nursing a back injury. "I can definitely feel it. I'm more in tune with my body. I no longer have to worry about stuff in the weight room; those thoughts in the back of my head have gone away," Walker said.
If Walker really is fully healthy, he could be primed for a big season in Pittsburgh.
Jaff Decker, LF, Grade: C-
In 13 games with the San Diego Padres last season, Jaff Decker batted .154 with one home run.
In 34 at-bats this spring, Decker is batting .206 with four doubles and two runs batted in.
He is still young and developing, but right now, Decker is a below-average player at the major league level.
Josh Harrison, U, Grade: B
Over three major league seasons with the Pirates, Josh Harrison has hit .250 with seven home runs in 229 games.
This season, Harrison will be a utility player again, and the Pirates hope he will produce for them throughout the course of the season.
According to Jenn Menendez of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Harrison said, "I don't worry about anything. The minute you start to focus on outside factors is when you lose focus and you're not at your best to help the team. Do your part to help the team win any way possible."
He seems to be taking this approach seriously, as he is ripping the cover off the ball with a .333 average in 15 games with one home run, two doubles and one triple.
Look for Harrison to be a reliable player off the bench or in the utility role this season for Pittsburgh.
Andrew Lambo, RF, Grade: C-
Andrew Lambo is another young player who made his major league debut in 2013 with the Pirates, playing 18 games and batting .233 with one home run.
This spring, he is off to a horrible start, batting .105 in 38 at-bats. However, his five strikeouts are a sign that he has improved his contact this spring, as he struck out 11 times last season in 30 at-bats.
He will have to improve with the bat to make it back to the major leagues this season.
Starling Marte, LF, Grade: A-
After a breakout 2013 season in which he batted .280 with 12 home runs and 41 stolen bases, Starling Marte looks like he is ready to be known as one of the best outfielders in the National League.
In 34 at-bats this spring, Marte is batting .265 with two doubles and three stolen bases.
He is so important to the Pirates organization, as his presence both with his glove and with his bat gives the Bucs a shot at winning on any given day.
Look for Marte to have another big year batting ahead of Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez.
Andrew McCutchen, CF, Grade: A+
After watching Andrew McCutchen play last season, it is safe to say that there's nothing this guy can't do. After all, he was named the 2013 National League MVP.
In five career seasons, McCutchen is a .296 hitter with 103 home runs and 379 runs batted in. On top of that, he has an average of 28 steals per 162 games played. So, it is pretty evident that McCutchen is an all-around athlete.
This spring, the center fielder has 16 hits in 30 at-bats, which is good for an average of .533. Four of those hits have been home runs.
McCutchen is the only player on the roster who deserves a perfect score because he simply is one of the best players in all of baseball, and his knowledge of the game is shown every time he takes the field.
Gregory Polanco, CF, Grade: B
Gregory Polanco is arguably the most highly touted prospect in Pittsburgh's organization, and he will get his chance in the near future with the team. However, Jenn Menendez of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that the Pirates optioned him to Triple-A Indianapolis, where he will have time to continue to grow.
Polanco hit for a .273 average in 22 at-bats this spring with a home run and two doubles.
He has shown development, which is why he deserves a B right now, but in a few years, he could be one of the best players in the organization.
Travis Snider, RF, Grade: B-
Travis Snider had a pretty bad year in 2013 with the Pirates, batting .215 with five home runs in 111 games.
This spring, Snider is batting an impressive .323 in 31 at-bats with three doubles and a home run. He looks to be much-improved from last season.
Still, the strikeouts have to be a concern, as Snider has eight already. If he can get those down and make more contact, Snider can realistically be a very productive player for the Pirates in 2014.
Jose Tabata, RF, Grade: C
In four career seasons, Jose Tabata has hit only 17 home runs.
This spring, he has only four hits in 31 at bats, and according to Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Pirates are interested in trading him.
It has been unfortunate for Tabata, but he just hasn't lived up to expectations in Pittsburgh. Perhaps a change would be best for him as well.
*All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.