Pittsburgh Pirates Option Seven Players to Triple-A

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The Pittsburgh Pirates cut seven more players from their original Spring Training roster, including some that might be surprising.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have made another round of cuts from their Spring Training roster. This time optioning seven  players to Triple-A, some of which might be a surprise.

Among the group optioned to Triple-A was top prospect Ke’Bryan Hayes, as were Cole Tucker, Edgar Santana, Jason Martin, Geoff Hartlieb, Sam Howard, and Yacksel Rios.

Right handed relief pitcher Edgar Santana is probably the most surprising out of this group, however, you can understand their reasoning. Santana was one of the Bucs’ most reliable relief pitchers in 2018. In 66 innings, Santana had a 3.26 ERA, 3.58 FIP, 3.60 SIERA and 1.10 WHIP. Although he carried a sub-par 7.3 K/9 and 19.9% strikeout rate, Santana was a control freak. He walked only 12 batters, resulting in an impressive 1.6 BB/9, and 4.4% walk rate. He was also not home run prone given his 45% groundball percentage and 0.9 HR/9.

Santana underwent Tommy John Surgery at the end of the 2018 season, and missed all of 2019. Before Spring Training was shut down this year, Santana seemed to be back up to speed, tossing 5 scoreless, no hit innings. However, it is understandable why they want to send him to Triple-A. It is possible if Spring Training was not canceled, and the team was able to get Santana regular reps against live batters, Santana doesn’t get demoted. But speaking of the uncertainty of what will become of the 2020 season, it might be best for now to send him to Triple-A for a week or two to prepare him for a larger workload. Plus, now that Steven Brault and Clay Holmes could open the season with the Pirates, they don’t have a reason to rush Santana back.

Tucker might also come as a surprise. Tucker was doing great in Grapefruit League play batting .296/.387/.667 including four walks, just four strikeouts, three home runs, and a double through 37 plate appearances. Tucker’s glove is definitely ready for the Majors. Last year, the former 1st round pick racked up +2 defensive runs saved, 0.9 UZR, 4.6 UZR/150, and 0.3 range runs. He also flashed an impressive glove this spring. Although he did get off to a slow start to his career with the bat, Tucker ended 2019 on a high note, batting .265/.306/.500 in his final 36 plate appearances of 2019.

At Triple-A, Tucker hit .261/.346/.413 with a 95 wRC+. Although Tucker’s overall numbers aren’t too impressive, he did show some solid on base skills. Tucker walked 10.8% of the time, and his .346 on base percentage are very good, especially considering the speed he has.

Barring a contract extension, which the team reportedly approached him about, Hayes’ optioning was pretty expected. As things stand right now, whenever the season does open, the Pirates would lose the extra year of control if they left Hayes on the roster to start the season. While that could change, and the Pirates could reach an extension with Hayes before the season opens, right now this just seems as a precaution.

Hayes is a consensus top 60 prospect across the board, and ranks as one of the team’s top three prospects. Last year at Triple-A, Hayes batted .265/.336/.415 with 10 home runs, and 31 doubles through an injury limited 480 plate appearances. He also stole 12 bags. While his 92 wRC+ isn’t impressive, Hayes had posted very good numbers with the bat in 2018. In 508 plate appearances, Hayes hit for a much better looking .293/.375/.444, and 129 wRC+.

Hayes’ real value is his fielding. FanGraphs gives his fielding a 60 grade, with a future of 70. His arm is also given a 60 grade. That’s the highest fielding grade among the Pirates top prospects. According to MLB Pipeline, he is the only third baseman with 60+ grades for both his fielding (65) and arm (60). When he gets to the majors, he should immediately make an impact with his glove, but his bat needs more seasoning at Triple-A. If he gets off to a hot start, Hayes will be in the Majors the moment his service time is up.

Martin was another notable name that was optioned. Martin was in the running for the team’s fourth outfield spot, but it looks like he’ll get sent to Triple-A for now. Martin was acquired by the Pirates in the Gerrit Cole deal, and made his debut last year. Through his first 40 plate appearances, Martin hit just .250/.325/.306 with nine hits, two doubles, and carried a 4/10 walk-to-strikeout ratio.

Martin has yet to do well enough at Triple-A to warrant a longer look at the big leagues. Last year, Martin hit just .259/.312/.419 with eight home runs and an 83 wRC+ in 406 plate appearances. His fielding also hasn’t been good enough to remain on the 25-man roster. With the Pirates, the prospect had -3 DRS, a -1.4 UZR, and -0.3 range runs. FanGraphs gives his overall fielding a 45 grade with future of 50, and his glove a 50 grade.

Among some of the names that were called up during the times the Pirates lost a handful of injured pitchers, right-handed relief pitcher Geoff Hartlieb was one of them. Hartlieb was easily one of the worst relief pitchers in the Majors last season who pitched at least 30 innings. In 35 innings, Hartlieb gave up 35 earned runs, eight home runs, and walked 18 batters to go with 38 strikeouts. His WHIP was exactly 2. However, Hartlieb should be given a second chance sometime during 2020. At Triple-A, he pitched very well, posting a 2.50 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and a 2.24 FIP through 39.2 innings. He struck out 50 batters, walked just 15, and didn’t give up a single home run either. Plus, his Major League batting average on balls in play sat at .411. Hartlieb has some dynamite stuff and the potential to develop into a quality MLB reliever.

Next. Potential Pirate Breakout Candidates for 2020. dark

The last two players likely weren’t going to play a major role in the Pittsburgh Pirates 2020 season. These two players being Howard and Rios, both of whom are relievers. Howard was brought in off of waivers by the Pirates back in October. Same as Rios but in August from the Phillies. Both relief pitchers have struggled at the Major League level, and serve as nothing more as depth for the roster.