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The Pirates acquired Erik Gonzalez last off-season in a minor trade with the Cleveland Indians. They sent to Cleveland outfield prospect Jordan Luplow, and infielder Max Moroff, and received back Gonzalez, as well as pitching prospects Tahnaj Thomas and Dante Mendoza. Gonzalez is one player in Spring Training who is fighting for a roster spot.
Gonzalez started out the season as the Bucs’ primary shortstop, but a collision with center fielder Starling Marte caused the utility man to miss a good chunk of 2019. However. his absence was not impactful to the Pirates’ season. Through April, he had a .592 OPS through 59 plate appearances.
Gonzalez has two things going for him. He ended the year on a strong note, batting a solid .322/.349/.407 in his final 63 plate appearances. Gonzalez is also a strong defender up the middle, having +3 DRS and a 1.3 UZR at shortstop.
The first Lithuanian player in the MLB hasn’t done so well since appearing in the majors. Now 27-years-old, Dovydas Neverauskas is on the line to lose a roster spot, and potentially a spot in the Pirate organization.
The past two seasons haven’t been kind to the hard throwing right hander. In his last 36.1 innings, Neverauskas has given up 35 earned runs, 17 walks, and 11 home runs. Even when he has been sent to Triple-A, he has struggled there too. In 52 innings in 2019, Neverauskas averaged a 5.09 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, and 4.14 FIP. He did ok with his control at 3.8 BB/9 and a 12.8 K/9, but he gave up 1.4 HR/9
When the right hander first appeared in the Majors, his fastball sat in the high-90’s. Last season, it went down to 95.9 MPH. Currently, Neverauskas is 12th on the Pirates relief pitcher depth chart. He could easily be passed by prospect Cody Ponce, and given his recent lack of success, both at the major league level and in Triple-A, it’s pretty easy to see him receiving a DFA.
Clay Holmes’ 2019 was not great, but it could have been worse. Through 50 innings, the former starting pitching prospect gave up 31 earned runs, resulting in a 5.58 ERA, and 4.97 FIP. Despite his lack of success, Holmes did not give up that many extra base hits, as opponents slugged just .366 vs the right hander. He finished with a strong 0.9 HR/9 rate, while striking out 10.1 batters per 9.
What really bit Holmes was his control, or lack thereof. He walked 6.5 batters per 9. He actually gave up almost as many walks than hits (45 to 36). However, most of Holmes’ struggles can be traced back to his fastball, which isn’t as fast as it used to be. Opponents crushed the pitch for a .313 batting average and .522 slugging. It was also responsible for nearly 40% of all his walks (37.9% to be exact). The pitch averaged right at 94 MPH and topped out at 95. That’s a far cry from 2018 when it averaged out right at 95, and topped out at 96.3. Plus with little movement, the pitch is pretty much a non-factor.
While most batters can recognize Holmes’ fastball, it’s a pitch he can afford to drop. His three other offerings are ten times more effective. His sinker not only has surpassed his fastball in average velo (94.3), but had batters slugging just .381 against it. Both his curveball and slider had opposing batters baffled, resulting in a .333 opponent slugging on both pitches. If you want a further in-depth analysis about Holmes’ offerings, might I suggest this article: Pittsburgh Pirates 2020 Breakout Candidate: Clay Holmes.