PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates' four-game winning streak ended Wednesday night, but they'll have another chance to crawl back into the National League Central race this weekend as they host the Cubs at PNC Park. With an off-day Thursday, we're taking your questions on Andrew McCutchen, Tony Watson, the Draft and potential callups.
With Cutch hitting so well now, is it more or less likely that he will get traded this season?
-- Andrew A., Pittsburgh
This is a good question without a clear answer, Andrew, mostly because of how messy the division race is. The Pirates entered the off-day six games below .500, but only 4 1/2 back of the NL Central-leading Brewers. Would you believe their 14-14 record since May 15 is tied with the Cubs for the best in the division? It's true!
So McCutchen's future in Pittsburgh may depend on one question: Do you think the Pirates can contend? They'd have to put everything together and get hot at some point, because .500 ball won't pull them out of this hole. Can they do it within the six weeks before the non-waiver Trade Deadline?
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If they're in the division race, it's simply hard to see the Bucs trading McCutchen unless they're blown away -- kind of the same situation they were in last offseason. If they're out of it, and McCutchen's still hitting like this, they'll probably deal him while his stock is up and there's still time left on his contract.
I'm not saying McCutchen will hit .400 the rest of the way, but this turnaround seems to be for real. The numbers back it up: .388/.468/.701 with five homers, 15 RBIs, 10 walks and only 15 strikeouts since he took two days off in Atlanta late last month. No matter where he is, he'll help.
I'm as happy as anybody to see Felipe Rivero pitching in the ninth inning, but won't it be harder to trade Watson now?
-- Brandon M., Erie, Pa.
If there are teams out there that still values the "closer" label enough to let that affect their evaluations, maybe. Watson has pitched well in three lower-leverage situations, striking out three in three scoreless innings. How he pitches is more important than when he pitches. For the Pirates, it was more important to win games and ease the pressure on Watson.
If Watson is pitching well as the non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches, he'll be a valuable commodity -- late-inning lefties with excellent track records typically are. At that point, it would become a question of where the Bucs stand and whether they want to deal him before he reaches free agency.
Did the Pirates have a good Draft? When will we see any of these guys?
-- Frank P., Philadelphia
I'll defer to our friends at MLBPipeline.com. Jim Callis ranked the Pirates' Draft as the third best this year behind the Twins, who picked first, and the Reds, who picked second. So, yes, it appears that the Bucs had a good Draft, but the reality is we won't be able to evaluate the true success of this Draft for years.
Once those players sign, they will enter the Pirates' player development system. If all goes well, you still probably won't see the high school picks for four or five years. As recent examples Chad Kuhl and Adam Frazier have shown, college players tend to start higher and move faster; they were both drafted in 2013 and were on the big league roster in '16.
When will the Pirates call up Austin Meadows and Steven Brault?
-- Mike C., Sewickley
I doubt they'll call up Meadows until there's a chance for him to play every day. The only way that would exist right now is after an injury to McCutchen, Gregory Polanco or Frazier. If Meadows were to come up now, before Starling Marte's return, Frazier would have to return to a super-utility role. Do you want his bat out of the lineup?
Here's the other thing: Meadows is hitting .252/.310/.366 in Triple-A. He had a great May, but he struggled in April, and he's cooled down in June. He has 147 games of experience above Class A ball. He's not the kind of prospect you want to rush, either.
As for Brault, it's more a matter of need. Kuhl's 5.61 ERA isn't pretty, and the Pirates are 3-10 in his starts, but he still does a lot of things they like. The same goes for Trevor Williams. It's hard to argue with Brault's outstanding Triple-A numbers -- a 2.11 ERA with 66 strikeouts in 68 1/3 innings over 13 outings -- but keep in mind the Bucs had him at least seventh on their rotation depth chart coming out of Spring Training behind Kuhl, Tyler Glasnow and Williams.
If a starter gets hurt or pitches his way back to Triple-A, as Glasnow did, then I think Brault would be the next man up based on what he's done with Indianapolis.