Pirates put Kela, Moran on IL, claim Alford

August 28th, 2020

The Pirates placed infielder and closer on the injured list before Thursday’s doubleheader against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium, putting their most productive hitter and their top trade chip on the shelf only four days before Monday’s Trade Deadline.

Moran is on the seven-day concussion injured list, as he has been experiencing concussion-like symptoms since exiting Sunday’s game at PNC Park following a collision at first base. Kela, who hasn’t picked up a baseball since leaving Friday’s game, was placed on the 10-day injured list due to right forearm inflammation. Both moves were made retroactive to Monday.

In their place, the Pirates called up infielder Will Craig – their first-round pick in the 2016 Draft – and reliever Nick Mears. Craig was immediately thrust into action on Thursday, starting Game 1 at first base.

Pirates manager Derek Shelton declared both players, along with infielder Kevin Newman, to be “active” and “available” before Tuesday’s series opener in Chicago. Newman returned to the lineup on Thursday, starting Game 1 at second base, but Kela and Moran clearly needed more time to heal.

“We're going to continue to monitor them. We need healthy bodies, and the fact [is] that they're not,” Shelton said. “Colin, with the concussion, he needs to be on the protocol. And with Ke, it just hasn't gone as fast as we thought in terms of throwing, so we're just getting a healthy body."

Kela, 27, missed all of Summer Camp and the start of the season after testing positive for COVID-19. He allowed one run with three strikeouts in two innings over his first two appearances, then his third outing ended after only five pitches.

Shelton said Kela still has not thrown since Friday, as they are giving him as much rest as possible, which forced the Pirates to make a decision on his status. Kela has been considered Pittsburgh’s most likely trade candidate leading up to the Trade Deadline, so this figures to affect general manager Ben Cherington’s ability to move him in the coming days. While players can still be dealt while on the injured list, the injury – and subsequent questions about when he’ll be able to pitch – will obviously affect his value.

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Moran, 27, leads the Pirates with six home runs on the season. He has hit .259/.326/.531 with 11 RBIs while mostly shuffling between first base and designated hitter. The fact that he hasn’t played as much third base played into Pittsburgh’s decision to recall Craig rather than third-base prospect Ke’Bryan Hayes.

The Pirates are currently comfortable using Erik González, JT Riddle and José Osuna at third base, and Shelton said they want to get their first look at Craig in the Majors. Craig is primarily a first baseman, but he has also spent some time working out in right field this year. Hayes remains at the club’s alternate training site in Altoona, Pa.

“Obviously, at some point, Ke'Bryan's going to be here. I understand people are excited about him, and I think that's real,” Shelton said. “But we're going to get a chance to see what Will Craig's going to do.

"I just called [Craig] in this morning and checked on him to see where he was at. I think my exact words to him were, 'Hey, you wanna play in a big league game?' Big smile came across his face. One of the cool things you can do in this job [is] when you're telling guys for the first time that they're making their big league debut.”

The Pirates had a couple options on hand to replace Kela, as they carried relief prospects Blake Cederlind and Mears on their taxi squad along with catcher Andrew Susac and right-hander Cody Ponce, the Game 2 starter on Thursday.

Availability was the biggest reason the Pirates chose to recall Mears instead of Cederlind, the hard-throwing right-hander. Cederlind threw a live batting practice session on Wednesday, making him unavailable for Thursday, and Mears is stretched out to pitch multiple innings if necessary.

Pirates claim former top prospect

The Pirates added an intriguing name to their outfield mix on Thursday, claiming 26-year-old outfielder off waivers from the Blue Jays.

Alford, the Blue Jays’ No. 22 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, was ranked the No. 47 prospect in all of baseball entering the 2018 season. The right-handed-hitting outfielder, a third-round Draft pick in 2012, comes with tremendous upside that he has yet to consistently tap into at the highest level.

Moved up and down by the Jays over the past four seasons, Alford has hit just .155 with a .454 OPS, two homers and six steals in 46 Major League games. He went just 3-for-16 with a homer and three RBIs in 13 games before Toronto designated him for assignment on Aug. 20. Shelton said he will get a chance to work at all three outfield spots.

Pirates management has some familiarity with Alford, as general manager Ben Cherington and assistant GM Steve Sanders worked in Toronto’s front office before coming to Pittsburgh and Shelton served as the Blue Jays’ quality control coach in 2017.

“Unbelievably athletic kid, so I’m going to be excited for Tarrik [Brock, Pittsburgh’s outfield coach] to get with him and for [hitting coaches Rick Eckstein and Mike Rabelo] to get with him. I think there’s a lot in there with the bat,” Shelton said. “We’re going to hope to [tap into] it. Probably one of the best kids I’ve ever been around. … He’s an unbelievable human being. Excited to add him into the group and see what we can do with him.”

The Pirates will have to clear a spot on their 40-man and active rosters whenever Alford joins the team.