Video: Indy Indians IL West Champs

The Indianapolis Indians (Pirates AAA affiliate) clinched a playoff berth on August 23rd by winning the International League West Division. They wrap up the regular season on Monday, with the playoffs beginning on Wednesday. Indy faces the Charlotte Knights in the first round. Congratulations to the Indians on their great year, and good luck to them in the postseason. Here’s a video from the Indians YouTube account, featuring season highlights and some of the celebration:

Go Bucs/Go Tribe

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Cruz reinstated, Hughes to Indy

This morning, the Pirates activated RHP Juan Cruz and sent RHP Jared Hughes to Indianapolis.

Despite some recent regression, Hughes has done a solid job in the bullpen this season. Prior to his outing last night, he had a 9.00 ERA in his past seven games. He was sharp last night though, and pitched 2.1 scoreless innings. Overall, Hughes has a 2.70 ERA in 56.2 innings (47 appearances). He has options remaining, which could justify this move from the team’s perspective.

Cruz started the season on a roll, and didn’t allow a run until May 9th. He left the team for a few days at the end of May, and hasn’t been the same since then. In 16 games (from June 3rd to July 17th), Cruz had a 4.76 ERA in 11.1 innings.

Not a fan of this move; this doesn’t really bolster the ‘pen. Cruz wasn’t sharp in the few weeks before his injury, while Hughes has done well, other than a couple of his recent outings. There isn’t much room in the bullpen, but the Pirates can stock up on relievers when the roster expands in September. Hopefully Hughes can get some rest at Indy and come back strong.

Locke promoted, Presley optioned

Late last night/early this morning, Kristy Robinson of Pirates Prospects broke the news that Jeff Locke would be joining the big league club. It was made official today, with Alex Presley heading back to Triple-A.

Locke, who is 9-5 with a 2.66 ERA in 21 starts this season and leads Indianapolis with 125 innings pitched, was slated to start for the Indians on this afternoon. Kyle McPherson made his Indy debut in place of Locke.

The 24 year old Locke was a September call-up last season, but was rocked in four starts. He went 0-3 with a 6.48 ERA. He allowed 12 runs on 21 hits, and averaged just over four innings per start.

In the corresponding move, Alex Presley was optioned. He spent some time in Indianapolis earlier this season, hitting .301 in 20 games.

This seems to be a temporary move. The Pirates are being cautious with their pitchers during this long stretch of games without an off day. Presley should be back soon.

Tabata turning it around at Indy

On July 24th, Indianapolis broadcaster Will Flemming said the following about outfielder Jose Tabata:

“Not only has he not been not sharp offensively, but his effort on defense at times has been totally appalling. Tabata has cost the Indians games and runs with just a complete lack of effort, getting after baseballs and with throws.”

Since then, Tabata has been raking at the Triple-A level. In nine games from July 25 to August 4, he’s hit .455 (15 for 33) with seven runs batted in. He was 4 for 6 with four RBI on Thursday night. On Saturday, he went 3 for 6 with two RBI.

In 28 games for the Indians this season, Tabata is hitting .324 (35 for 108) with five doubles, 13 RBI, and four stolen bases. His batting average was hovering in the mid-.200’s after his demotion, but it’s drastically climbed over the last week. He’s hitting .342 vs. LHP, and .297 vs. RHP.

He was sent to Triple-A on July 3rd. At the MLB level this year, he hit just .230 in 72 games. Tabata, who signed a long-term deal in August of 2011, will make $1 million next season. Assuming he’s 23 (or is he older?), Tabata is an important piece of the organization.

Even with success at Indy, he may not be granted a promotion for a while. There could still be question about his focus and effort; there’s only so much you can tell from a box score. The stats will show how he’s performed at the plate, but there are no signs of his hustle, defense, etc. The Pirates outfield seems pretty set right now. Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, and Travis Snider seem to have the starting roles locked up; Alex Presley is the bench option. Garrett Jones can also play a corner outfield position. Josh Harrison has played a few games in right field.

If he comes back to Pittsburgh this season, there’s a decent chance it will be in September when the rosters expand. There’s really no spot for him right now, unless someone goes down with injury. If they do consider promoting him, hopefully he’ll be completely out of the funk he was in before his demotion. A spot may be open for him on September 1st if he can keep tearing it up at Indy.

Marte Time?

We, along with the rest of the Pirates fan base, have been tracking the progress of Starling Marte over the past few weeks, including a some updates right here on this blog. Marte, 23, is the Pirates’ top position player prospect, and appears to be ready to get the call to the major leagues.

Marte improved his case for a recall on Monday night, going 3 for 4 in Indianapolis’ 7-5 victory over Gwinnett. He drove in three runs and finished just a single shy of the cycle. He now has a triple-slash line of .291/.353/.510, as well as 11 HR and 58 RBI. According to the Minor League Equivalency Calculator, Marte would hit about .250 with 9 HR and 45 RBI if he received 350 MLB at-bats. The calculator isn’t a great tool and obviously can’t predict the future, but it gives you a rough idea of his production this year and the jump between the AAA/MLB levels.

A frustrated Jose Tabata.

Between Jose Tabata, Alex Presley, Josh Harrison, and a few others, the Bucs haven’t received ideal offensive production from the corner outfield positions. However, the bigger problem is the defense, and Marte is said to be one of the best defensive players in the organization. There have been some serious defensive issues in the outfield over the past few games. Drew Sutton misplaying fly balls left and right. Garrett Jones‘ errant throw on Sunday (although partial blame goes to Jordy Mercer‘s positioning). Josh Harrison’s poor route on Monday night allowing a double and two runs to score. Defense alone is a major reason to call Marte up.

Still, they seem tentative to make the move. A few weeks ago, Dejan Kovacevic reported that he spoke with a Pirates official that said “it’s time.”  On Monday night, Rob Biertempfel reported this odd quote from assistant GM Kyle Stark:

“Remember, we’re dealing with people. So, you don’t know for sure. As much as we’d like to say we know exactly what guys are going to do in different situations, you don’t know. You try to know the guy as well as you can, then factor all that information so you can make the best decision you can. You don’t just rely on performance or rely on superficial stuff. You have to really, truly know the guy.”

Kovacevic came back with his own thoughts, and said that this is “an old Kyle Stark technique, one he’s openly discussed, where they ‘test’ a kid after the kid is SURE he’s due for a promotion.”  He then went on to add “if Marte’s ready, quit messing around.”

One possible reason as to why they might be hesitant to recall Marte is because they don’t want to diminish his trade value. His name has been tossed around in trade rumors the past few days. It seems that he may be part of a deal since the Pirates aren’t willing to part with Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon. If they call Marte up now and expose him, teams could see some strengths/weaknesses between now and the 31st. If they keep him in Triple-A and he continues to rake, his value will stay high. To elaborate on this, Ken Rosenthal reported that “scouts and executives from multiple clubs continue to express doubt about the ability of … Starling Marte to become a star.” This same idea was brought up with Indy’s three left-handed pitchers (Jeff Locke, Rudy Owens, and Justin Wilson). Some believed that if they called any of them up, their trade value would decrease. At least one of these pitchers may be traded at the deadline, depending on the moves that are made.

While we pondered this, Kovacevic tweeted that Marte’s value, whether in the minors or majors, has nothing to do with it:

If this is the case, why wouldn’t they call him up? It’s clear that they could use some help, and there’s no reason to keep him down in Indy for any longer. Joey Votto just went down with injury, which will definitely hurt the Cincinnati Reds. The Pirates need to take advantage, especially with their weak schedule. No matter what they decide to do with him, it needs to happen as soon as possible. It’s an interesting time of the year and we’ll see how the Bucs handle the situation.