One of the many forgotten Pittsburgh Pirates from 2016-2017 was relief pitcher A.J. Schugel. But what happened to him after 2017?
Right handed relief pitcher A.J. Schugel was actually a quite effective long relief and middle relief pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2016 and 2017. But after 2017, Schugel didn’t play another game in the majors. So, what happened to this right handed pitcher?
Now, first off, Schugel wasn’t any sort of top prospect. He was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 33rd round of the 2007 MLB Draft, and then in the 25th round of the 2010 draft by the Los Angeles Angels. However, he didn’t last long with the Angels as he was sent to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2013-2014 offseason in a three team trade that nettedt the D-Backs Schugel and Mark Trumbo, the Chicago White Sox Adam Eaton, and the Angels Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs.
Throughout his minor league career, Schugel never really appeared on any top prospect boards. He only appeared on MLB Pipeline’s list once as the Angles 14th best prospect in their system back in 2012, and that’s about it.
The right-handed pitcher made his MLB debut in 2015 with the Diamondbacks, and allowed 17 hits, five earned runs, struck out five, but also walked five in only 9 innings. He also surrendered a pair of home runs. Not seen as a part of the Diamondbacks’ future plans, Schugel was selected off waivers by the Seattle Mariners in December 2015, and then put on waivers again to be picked up by the Pittsburgh Pirates in January 2016.
Schugel began the 2016 with the Pittsburgh Pirates Triple-A team and he pitched well with Indianapolis. The righty struck out 18 batters, walked only three batters and did not allow a home run in 18 innings of work. This was in different stints as the Pirates optioned and recalled Schugel a few different times across the 2016 season. But when he was in the majors, he was a fairly good long relief pitcher.
In 36 games, Schugel amassed 52 innings of work. He put up a 3.63 ERA, 3.19 FIP and 1.03 WHIP to go along with a 6.4% walk rate, 22.6% strikeout rate and 0.69 HR/9 rate. He also had a 3.52 SIERA, 3.37 DRA and 3.72 xFIP. However, he was placed on the 60-day DL at the end of the year, before returning in 2017.
Despite having a 1.97 ERA in 32 innings, Schugel regressed that season with the Pittsburgh Pirates. This time around, Schugel gave up three home runs in much fewer innings compared to the previous season. Also, he saw his walk rate jump to 10.3%. His strikeout rate also took a hit as it fell below 20% at 19.9%. He posted a FIP (4.00), xFIP (4.23) and SIERA (4.28) all well above his 2016 marks. Like in 2016, Schugel was optioned back and forth from the majors and Triple-A. Where he also wasn’t putting up any numbers that made the Pirates put him on a MLB roster. Through 36 innings, Schugel had a 4.17 ERA, 4.02 FIP, and 1.36 WHIP.
In 2018 A.J. Schugel might have played some sort of long relief role again, but failed to stay healthy. He only pitched a total of 17.2 professional innings, all coming from Triple-A and High-A. Even when he was healthy enough to pitch, he wasn’t effective as he gave up 13 earned runs on 14 hits including four home runs in those 17.2 innings. Following 2018, Schugel elected free agency, but went unsigned all of 2019. In February 2020, Schugel signed on with an Independent League team to continue his professional career.
Schugel was a fairly forgettable pitcher. He was never put in high leverage situations, and was mainly used as a lower leverage relief pitcher or one that was put in when a starter failed to make it long into a game. Regardless, he still was pretty good at his job, and even though he wasn’t the best, you could always use pitching depth that isn’t awful in the majors. Schugel’s bottom line with the Pittsburgh Pirates includes a 3.00 ERA, 3.50 FIP, 1.17 WHIP, 3.82 SIERA, 3.92 xERA to go with a 21.5% strikeout rate, 7.9% walk percentage, and 0.75 HR/9.