Category Archives: Pittsburgh Pirates Pro Shop

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Bryan Reynolds had a rookie season to remember, but he will not be #ROYnolds.

It was revealed Monday that Reynolds finished fourth for the BBWAA National League Rookie of the Year award.

Mets first baseman Pete Alonso was a near unanimous pick for the award, finishing first in 29 ballots and second in one. Alonso led baseball with 53 home runs, breaking Aaron Judge’s rookie record. He drove in 120 runs and had 5 WAR. He received 148 points in the vote (five points for a first place vote, three for second, one for third).

Braves right-hander Mike Soroka received the other first place vote and finished second overall (82 points). Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis, Jr. finished third (26 points) after an abbreviated campaign.

Reynolds had one second place vote and six third place votes, giving him nine points.

Reynolds was promoted to the majors on Apr. 20 to replace the injured Starling Marte. He started his major league career with an 11 game hitting streak and did not slow down from there. He hit .314 with 16 home runs, 68 RBI and an .880 OPS over 546 plate appearances. He set a new Pirates rookie record with 37 doubles.

Baseball-Reference valued him at 3.9 WAR, sixth among major league rookies. Since 1950, the only Pirates rookies with more WAR in a season than Reynolds were Red Witt (4.0 in 1958) and Jung-Ho Kang (4.0 in 2015).

Also receiving votes were Cardinals starter Dakota Hudson (four points) and Nationals center fielder Victor Robles (one point).

Astros designated hitter and outfielder Yordan Alvarez was a unanimous pick for the American League Rookie of the Year.

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I was flipping around the dial Friday night in between periods of the Penguins game and landed upon a broadcast of the WPIAL 6-A championship football game between Pine-Richland and Central Catholic, when I heard a familiar voice.

No, not Bob Pompeani.

I’m talking about Neil Walker. The former Pirates second baseman, who starred in football and baseball at Pine-Richland before he was selected with the 11th overall pick by his hometown team in the 2004 draft, was doing some color commentating in the booth. Walker, who at 34 is no longer a kid, noted that he was coming up on his 10-year anniversary as a major leaguer, and also mentioned that he wouldn’t mind playing one more year in the big leagues.

So, should the Pirates take a flyer on the ol’ Pittsburgh Kid?

Walker spent parts of seven years with the Pirates, appearing in 17 games in 2009 before taking over as the regular second baseman the following year. He was part of a core of young players that included Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez, all of whom combined to help turn the Pirates fortunes around earlier this decade.

During his time as a Pirate, Walker compiled a batting average of .272 and a .769 OPS, and failed to drive in more than 65 runs only once during his time as a regular in Pittsburgh. Although Walker was a No. 1 draft pick, I did not have extraordinarily high expectations of him when he joined the Pirates. At 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, he seemed a bit bulky for second base, and coming through the Bucs’ minor league system, he never once reached the .800 OPS mark.

I’m not sure what the advanced analytics would tell you about Walker’s time in Pittsburgh, but I always considered him an average player, or just slightly above that. His range certainly was limited, but I never considered him a major liability in the field. And while his offensive numbers were not eye-popping, he seemed to deliver more than his fair share of clutch hits.

In short, he struck me as a positive piece on a winning team, but not one I would seek to acquire if my team figured to scuffle.

Walker’s final year in Pittsburgh was 2015, when he hit .269 with an OPS of .756 – a drop of more than 50 points from the previous year, when he batted .271, hit 23 home runs and drove in 76. That December, the Pirates – wary of his salary and his history of back problems – peddled him to the New York Mets in exchange for left-hander Jon Niese in what became a lightning rod of a deal. It was one of several moves that offseason that raised the ire of Pirates fans, who screamed that the front office went back on its word to add to the club – rather than subtract – when it finally got competitive.

Walker hit .282 with 23 home runs – but just 55 RBIs – with the Mets in 2016 and then hit the jackpot by accepting a $17.2 million contract from New York for 2017. He only lasted until mid-August that year with the Mets, who shipped him to Milwaukee. Overall that year he put together an .801 OPS, driving in 49 runs in 385 at-bats.

Walker returned to New York in 2018, but this time with the Yankees, where he scuffled to a .219 batting average after signing a $4 million free agent contract. For 2019, Walker headed south to Miami and saw action in 115 games, batting .261 with 8 home runs and 38 RBIs. He missed time with several injuries, including a jammed right index finger that kept him out of the lineup for two weeks and a pulled right quad, which landed him on the injured list for nearly a month.

So, does Walker have anything left in the tank, and would he add anything to a Pirates team that is either in major transition or an outright rebuild? Given that he was willing to play last year for $2 million, it’s not likely that Walker would demand – or command – much in the way of salary. He certainly doesn’t need the money; according to Baseball Reference he has earned nearly $52 million during the course of his career, and the website Spotrac has it at $54 million. I’m not sure he would provide anything more than one of the Pirates’ existing bench players would provide and in the case of guys like Pablo Reyes or Jose Osuna, it would be even less, given their ability to at least wear an outfielder’s glove.

Walker’s relationship with the Pirates had soured during his final season; the club had taken him to arbitration prior to the 2015 season and won. Walker told the Tribune-Review that the arbitration hearing “was probably the point when I lost all faith in the organization.” According to the Trib, the Pirates offered Walker a three-year, $27 deal, but Walker asked for $19 million over two years. Walker said the Pirates never countered, though, and that put the two sides in an arbitration hearing, with Walker seeking $9 million and the Pirates wanting to pay a million less.

The owner writing the Pirates’ checks certainly hasn’t changed, but all of the key front office players have moved on. So, would that open the door to Walker coming back in a far reduced role? When healthy, he’s still capable of providing a little pop off the bench. He would also be steady presence for some of the club’s younger players. And from a PR standpoint, the Pirates could do a lot worse. I’m not lobbying for it, but I wouldn’t be opposed to a spring training invite to see if there’s any kind of a fit, particularly given the new 26-man rosters for 2020.

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This is the first of many weekly looks into moments that great impacted the Pittsburgh Pirates.

It was an ordinary game in the middle of April that pitted the Pittsburgh Pirates against the San Francisco Giants at PNC Park. The Pirates had started the season with much promise, as the pitching staff that was expected to be the anchor of the club was performing above those very expectations. Jordan Lyles was pitching like a complete steal as the number five starter and the offense was ice cold. Nobody had really gained traction as of yet, but Josh Bell was just starting to find it. None of us had a clue just what he found, but Bell was about to catch fire.

Then it happened. Erik Gonzalez sprinting out toward centerfield tracking a pop fly off the bat of Yangervis Solarte, Starling Marte sprinted in for the ball. If you were watching, you saw it coming. People in the left field bleachers yelled ‘look out!’ Gonzalez and Marte collided and the impact was severe. Two players with speed came to a sudden stop and lie on the grass one writhing the other nearly motionless. You could hear the hit from the stands, and not the way you do at a football game where plastic and fiberglass create an echo as they collide. This was the thud and crack of actual flesh and bone.

Josh Kurelac
@JoshKurelac
Pirates made some roster moves.

Erik Gonzalez is on the 60-day injured list with a left clavicle fracture. Starling Marte is on the 10-day IL with an ab contusion.

Here’s last night’s collision that caused the injuries:

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2:55 AM – Apr 21, 2019
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The park fell silent, I mean as soon as the 18,000 strong gasps ended there wasn’t another sound until Erik Gonzalez was helped up. He walked off under his own power but visibly favoring his shoulder. Marte was carted off as a precaution, riding off to roars.

The situation looked bleak. Starling Marte had been one of the players having success at the plate to open the season and anchored the defense. Kevin Newman whom Gonzalez had beaten out for starting short stop duties was himself on the IL with a finger he banged up messing with a pitching machine of all things.

This moment would lead the Pirates to make moves that would transform the lineup for the rest of 2019 and beyond. Cole Tucker an exciting first round draft pick with an electric smile and energetic playing style and, newly acquired outfield prospect Bryan Reynolds, picked up in the Andrew McCutchen trade, were called up to fill the void. Tucker carried with him expectation and excitement, everyone expected he would cement himself and grab hold of the position. We had all prematurely written off Newman after one month of baseball. He delivered quickly too, with speed and burst, a splash of power and a smooth glove capable of dynamic range that was more than welcome playing next to Colin Moran. Less was known or expected from Mr. Reynolds, in fact he didn’t even seem all that excited about being in the Big Leagues. We’d soon come to see that quiet confidence wasn’t an act, it was just Bryan Reynolds.

Eventually Kevin Newman and Cole Tucker started splitting time as Tucker’s bat went stone cold. Kevin Newman then proceeded to tear into a five-month effort to show all of us just how wrong we were and, in the process, take a firm grasp of short stop and the leadoff position. Bryan Reynolds wasn’t supposed to play much, but he started hitting right away and never stopped. Right handed, left handed, day games, night games, cold weather….well, you get it. Reynolds finished fourth in rookie of the year voting in 2019.

Without that collision, its possible Newman never gets a chance to take hold of his position. The team showed about the same confidence level in Newman as the fans when they traded for Gonzalez to be an insurance policy. Reynolds most likely would have continued to dominate AAA pitching for the better part of 2019, and we never would have seen Cole Tucker flash the future and charisma he brings to the table.

Injury is never a positive thing, but this one instance forced the club to bring the future into the now and because of that one moment, we have two fewer questions as we enter 2020.

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CLEVELAND — One fascinating dynamic that emerged in the Pirates’ clubhouse late in the 2019 season: Players were pushing Bryan Reynolds and Kevin Newman, their two terrific rookies, to feel more comfortable in leadership roles.

And that push apparently won’t abate, no matter how much change occurs over the players’ heads.

“I think we’ve got to change the culture a little bit, and that’s always on the players, first and foremost,” Joe Musgrove, the team’s unquestioned leader, was telling me. “Sometimes, having as many young guys as we do, it’s hard to go out there and play with the confidence of a team with a ton of experience. With all the setbacks, all the injuries, all the issues we had, it allowed an opportunity for our young guys to go out and get major-league reps. The next step is taking control of the situation all around them.”

Reynolds and Newman, he meant. And in the most respectful way, I might add.

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The Pittsburgh Pirates have some house keeping to take care of before the offseason gets underway. However, the market is already beginning to take shape.
One of the biggest needs, if not the biggest need, for the Pittsburgh Pirates this offseason is to find a productive catcher. The team went from having one of the best catching situations in baseball back in 2018 to see the position completely regress this past year.

The team saw Francisco Cervelli suffer another injury plagued season which led him to be cut by the team. Then catcher Elias Diaz, who somewhat broke out in 2018, took a complete step backwards. He saw his power drop off completely and looked very bad behind the plate. Jacob Stallings did turn some heads during the second half of the season, and should be viewed as the only secure catcher on the roster for next season. Nothing against Stallings, but he was out on waivers last season. This is very telling of how much went wrong with the team’s catcher’s in 2019.

Last month we did an article breaking down some of the catchers that would be on the free agent market. After this weekends option deadline, a new and very intriguing name became available. The Washington Nationals declined their $9 million option on veteran catcher Yan Gomes.

Gomes is a veteran catcher who has established himself as a good all around catcher in his career. Many likely remember him when he was with the Cleveland Indians, where he spent six seasons. He actually started in the Toronto Blue Jays organization and debuted for them back in 2012. The Jays traded the Brazilian native, along with Mikes Aviles, to the Cleveland Indians for pitcher Esmil Rogers.

Gomes put together a solid career with the Indians, showing a decent offensive skill set along with a strong defensive profile. Gomes is a career .245 hitter with an average of 14 home runs hit over his last five seasons. This is not a great offensive profile, but it is definitely more productive than what Elias Diaz provided last year. Furthermore, Gomes owns a career .175 ISO, showing that when he does hit, he hits for some power.

Where Gomes’ real value lies is his work behind the plate. In his career Gomes has averaged out to be a plus pitch framer, although saw himself around league average last year at -0.3 framing runs. With that being said, Elias Diaz rated as one of the worst pitch framers in baseball at -13.1 runs. Gomes also rated very well in terms of defensive runs saved, putting up five for the season. Once again, Diaz posted -23, one of the worst in baseball.

Jacob Stallings meanwhile posted strong numbers behind the dish, with six framing runs and 13 defensive runs saved. The question about Stallings has always been if he could be an everyday player.

If the Pittsburgh Pirates are able to bring Yan Gomes in and pair him with Stallings, the Bucs could get back to having a strong tandem behind the plate. Furthermore, Gomes’ veteran experience could help mold Jacob Stallings into an even better catcher, but also help develop some of the young arms in the system.

Gomes is coming off a down year and while he did hit 12 home runs, he posted one of the worst batting averages of his career. Still, he is a big defensive upgrade over Elias Diaz, who looked lost behind the plate at times this season. Gomes should fit into the Bucs financial range on a short-term bounce back contract. Gomes is just one season removed from an all-star game and a WAR over 2.0, so he definitely would be a worthy gamble.

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The Pittsburgh Pirates completed their leadership makeover Wednesday, hiring Derek Shelton to be their new manager.

Shelton spent the past two seasons as the Minnesota Twins’ bench coach. This will be his first major league managerial job.

“I have known Derek for more than 15 years and have great admiration for his passion for the game and players, work ethic, curiosity and desire to learn,” Pirates general manager Ben Cherington said in a statement.

Shelton’s previous stops include a season as quality control coach for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2017 — his tenure overlapping Cherington’s stint as Toronto’s vice president of baseball operations — and seven years as a hitting coach with the Tampa Bay Rays. Shelton broke into the majors as hitting coach for the Cleveland Indians from 2005 to 2009, and he has managed in the New York Yankees’ minor league system.

Cherington added that Shelton “will help lead an elite playing and coaching environment at the major league level and be a true partner to all of baseball operations.”

Shelton, 49, said in a statement that he wants to facilitate a “player-centric culture built on strong communication and relationships with our players, our staff and the entire organization.”

He replaces Clint Hurdle, who was fired in September amid the franchise’s worst season (69-93) since 2010.

The Pirates hired Cherington to be their general manager earlier this month and named Travis Williams as their new president in October.

Shelton filled the eighth and final managerial vacancy, joining Joe Maddon (Angels), Joe Girardi (Phillies), David Ross (Cubs), Jayce Tingler (Padres), Mike Matheny (Royals), Carlos Beltran (Mets) and Gabe Kapler (Giants). Beltran was the only racial minority hired.

Shelton inherits a team that finished below .500 in three of the past four seasons, though the on-field product during a miserable 25-48 second half proved to be just part of Pittsburgh’s issues in 2019. Relievers Keone Kela and Kyle Crick were suspended for their roles in separate dustups with members of the team’s coaching and support staff. All-Star closer Felipe Vazquez was arrested in September on felony charges stemming from an alleged sexual assault of a minor.

Cherington said shortly after his hiring that the Pirates need to do a better job of continuing to develop players once they reach the major leagues. Owner Bob Nutting expressed frustration at seeing former Pirates prospects flourish elsewhere, including Rays outfielder Austin Meadows and pitcher Tyler Glasnow.

Amid the losing, there were bright spots. First baseman Josh Bell became an All-Star while hitting 37 home runs. Rookie outfielder Bryan Reynolds hit .314 and finished fourth in National League Rookie of the Year balloting, and shortstop Kevin Newman hit .308 in 130 games after being elevated to the starting role following an early season injury to Erik Gonzalez.

The pitching staff, however, is in tatters. Ace Jameson Taillon is out for 2020 after Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow for a second time. Pittsburgh finished with a team ERA of 5.18, next to last in the NL and 26th in the majors.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Since joining the Pittsburgh Pirates, Chris Stratton has been a pleasant surprise out of the bullpen
There was a time when Pittsburgh Pirates reliever Chris Stratton was one of the best, if not the best, pitching prospect in the San Francisco Giants minor league system. After three inconsistent seasons with the Giants, Stratton was traded to the Los Angeles Angels on Anaheim in March of this year.

On May 7th, the Angels designated Stratton for assignment after he struggled to the tune of a 8.59 ERA, 6.20 FIP, 1.84 HR/9, a 12.5% walk rate, and 15.3% strikeout rate in 29 1/3 innings pitched. On May 11th, the Pirates swung a trade with the Angels after claiming him off waivers. Since joining the team, quietly, Stratton has been one of the team’s best relievers.

Stratton has logged 17 1/3 innings since joining the Pirates. He has posted a 3.12 ERA, 3.32 FIP, just two home runs, and a 15:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio (21.7% strikeout rate, 2.9% walk rate) since joining the club.

Most of the damage done against Stratton came in one inning. In the 8th inning of a blowout loss against the Arizona Diamondbacks on May 15th, his second outing as a Pirate, Stratton took the hill in the 8th inning after having already pitched 3 innings. Stratton looked gassed, but was just trying to help get the Pirates to the end of a blowout loss while saving the bullpen.

In the bottom of the 8th inning that day Stratton allowed four of the six runs he’s surrender as a Pirate and both home runs. Outside of this one inning, Stratton has been fantastic with Pittsburgh.

A big reason for Stratton’s success has been the spin rate on his pitches. According to Baseball Savant, the spin rate on his fastball this season is in the 91st percentile. His curveball spin rate has been even better falling in the 99th percentile.

These two pitches have turned Stratton into a strong bullpen option for the Pirates. He also brings value to the Pirate ‘pen because he can pitch multiple inning outings in addition to your tradition 1 inning outings.

NEXT: Pirate Mailbag: July 10th, 2019
Since joining the Pirates, Stratton’s ERA has dropped to 6.56 and his FIP to 5.13. If he continues to pitch the way he has, these numbers will continue to trend in the right direction. He will also continue to be a strong bullpen option for the Pirates.

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The deadline to protect players from the Rule 5 draft is today. What will the Pirates do?

The deadline for protecting players from the Rule 5 draft is 11/20 at 5 PM and the Pirates have some work to do. As new general manager, Ben Cherington, works out who to protect, let’s go over some options.

For those of you who don’t know, I’ll first go over the basic rules of the Rule 5 draft. Players that meet the following criteria are eligible for the draft.

Signed by the team at 18 years of age and has five years of experience.
Signed by the team at 19 years of age and has four years of experience.
To protect those players from being taken in the Rule 5 draft, the team must place them on the 40-man roster. That is the deadline we’re talking about. The caveat to that is, if a player is taken, they must be put on the active roster for the entire season, or they are offered back to the original team.

With that said, I’m going to go over some players the Pirates MUST protect, and some they might want to so that they are not plucked from their system.

MUST Protect
Ke’Bryan Hayes, Will Craig, Cody Ponce, James Marvel, Oniel Cruz, Blake Cederlind

Now, when I say “must” protect, I’m not necessarily making a case that that any of the six players above are too talented to lose. I’m mostly saying that, if those six players are not on the 40-man roster by the end of the day, they will be taken in the Rule 5 draft. I also believe they should protect those six. Considering where the Pirates’ are right now, losing young talent would be quite frustrating.

Inside of that list, Hayes, Craig, and Cruz are the most obvious locks. Cederlind could be a borderline guy, but I would think a team out there would feel fine with him being in their bullpen this season, and the Pirates cannot afford to lose pitchers.

MIGHT Protect
Lolo Sanchez, Ike Schlabach, Hunter Owen

This list is could be much longer. These would be guys who probably are not ready for the majors, but an opportunistic, rebuilding team might be willing to sacrifice an active roster spot in favor of their potential.

Lolo Sanchez is the name on here that I’d hate to see go. He has elite speed and defensive skills and his bat has been coming along. He’s at least two, probably three, years away from being ready to contribute at the major league level, but his potential is real and could be enticing to a cellar-dweller.

One name to watch as someone I would be surprised to see the Pirates protect, but should be an intriguing target for teams looking to bolster their bullpen is Cam Vieaux. He’s been pretty solid through each stop in the minors.

For context, the Pirates currently have 39 of the 40 roster spots accounted for. So, in order to protect more than one of the players mentioned, corresponding moves will need to be made. I’d expect guys like Dorvydas Neverauskas, Williams Jerez, and Yacksel Rios to be among those in consideration to make room.

We will keep you updated as moves are made.

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Cody Ponce, who was acquired by the Pirates via trade this year, is pitching for Team USA in the Premier 12 tournament.

The 2019 World Baseball Softball Confederation Premier 12 tournament is underway. The tournament is serving as a qualifier for the 2020 Olympics with one spot available to the top finisher in the Americas and another to the best of Asia/Oceania. Cody Ponce, a Pirates’ AAA pitcher, started team USA off right Saturday – leading the team to a 9-0 win over the Netherlands.

Ponce started the game and went five innings – allowing only three base runners and no runs. He also struck out five. None of three base runners allowed made it beyond second base as Ponce made short work of the Dutch lineup.

Ponce has had a pretty busy fall as he has just finished up playing for the Peoria Javelinas in the Arizona Fall League. He pitched well there too – 23 innings while allowing 26 hits and walks. He struck out 27 and posted a very respectable 2.35 ERA.

A newcomer to the Pirates, Cody Ponce has rebounded nicely in the fall following a pretty disappointing start in the Pirate organization after being acquired via a trade before the July 31 deadline in exchange for Jordan Lyles. Ponce pitched 18.2 innings for the Indianapolis Indians – posting a 5.30 ERA.

While with the Brewers, Ponce was used almost exclusively as a reliever. However, the majority of his appearances since the trade, both during the minor league season and the fall league, have been as a starter.

One thing I really like about Ponce is his strikeout rate. He average 10 Ks per nine innings in 2019, and that number has been getting better as Ponce has gotten older.

Cody Ponce’s time pitching for team USA will be something to watch as we get into the winter. We will provide some periodic updates.

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As the Pittsburgh Pirates continue to hunt for a new catcher, could veteran Jason Castro be the answer?
General manager Ben Cherington has a lot of needs he must address for the Pittsburgh Pirates this offseason. One of the biggest needs he must address is the catcher position. After being among the best teams in baseball in terms of catcher production in 2018, the Pirates were one of the worst in 2019.

The Pirates primarily used three catchers in 2019 – Elias Diaz, Francisco Cervelli and Jacob Stallings. In addition, Steven Barron also played in seven games. Overall, Pirate catchers combined for a fWAR of -0.5 in 2019 and this was despite Stallings posting a 1.3 fWAR.

Catching market starting to thin out for the Brewers

Stallings did emerge in 2019. In 71 games he slashed .262/.325/.382 with a wRC+ of 82 and his aforementioned 1.3 fWAR. While Stallings proved to be a great defensive catcher and a plus framer, he struggled to hit for any power at all. Due to this, his ceiling moving forward is that of a back up catcher.

Cervelli battled injuries before being released and signing with the Atlanta Braves, Diaz was abysmal and is a DFA candidate this offseason and Barron is a career minor leaguer for a reason. Even though the Pirates may not be looking to compete in 2020, their catcher situation is not good enough and must be addressed this offseason. One way to address this situation would be to target free agent Jason Castro.

The left-handed hitting Castro is a nine-year MLB veteran who has spent the last three seasons with the Minnesota Twins. Castro owns a 14.5 fWAR, 93 wRC+, .308 wOBA, and a .231/.313/.390 slash line in 825 MLB games.

While Castro is a slightly below league average hitter, he is a plus defender behind the dish. Castro’s career dWAR is 71.0. He is highly regarded for his ability to call a game, handling of a pitching staff, his ability to lead his staff, and his pitch framing.

Castro would be a great influence for a young Pirate pitching staff. The lessons that pitchers such as Edgar Santana, Joe Musgrove, Kyle Crick, Mitch Keller, and others, could learn from Castro are lessons that may prove to be invaluable.

The Pittsburgh Priates are in need of catching help in 2020. Veteran Jason Castro could provide this help to a Pirate team that features a young pitching staff. Castro’s name will be one to watch as the offseason continues.