By John Perrotto
It would seem there is no one left in the farm system for the Pirates to promote to the major leagues this season. They have already used 48 players, three less than the club record established during last season’s 57-105 debacle.
However, the Pirates plan to add approximately 10 players to the active roster once the minor-league season ends on Sept. 5. Some of those players may join the Pirates as soon as next Thursday as Sept. 1 is the day the roster limit expands to 40 from 25.
General manager Neal Huntington, player development director Kyle Stark and manager Clint Hurdle have had numerous discussions about the potential September call-ups in recent weeks and have just about finalized the list. While they refuse to divulge who might be coming up, here is a look at four players who could very well make their major-league debuts in the coming weeks:
–First baseman Matt Hague, who is hitting .308 with 12 home runs, 70 RBIs, a .371 on-base percentage and a .462 slugging percentage in 132 games at Class AAA Indianapolis. Hague is not on the 40-man roster and the Pirates would need to clear a space to get him on it.
The 26-year-old right-handed hitter was considered a fringe prospect coming into this season but has opened eyes with a fine first year at the Class AAA level. The Pirates could certainly use any additional offense they can find as they rank 14th in the National League and 26th in the major leagues with an average of just 3.83 runs a game.
–Center fielder Gorkys Hernandez, who is hitting .278 with one homer, 35 RBIs, 19 stolen bases, a .333 on-base percentage and a .385 slugging percentage in 116 games with Indianapolis.
One of three players acquired from Atlanta in the Nate McLouth trade two years ago along with right-hander Charlie Morton and Indianapolis left-hander Jeff Locke, the 24-year-old Hernandez doesn’t hit enough to be an everyday player in the major leagues. However, his above-average defense and speed make him an intriguing option as a bench player.
–Left-handed reliever Justin Wilson, who is 10-8 with a 4.06 ERA in 27 games, 21 starts, for Indianapolis with 89 strikeouts in 119 2/3 innings and a 1.49 WHIP. Like Hague, he would have to be added to the 40-man roster.
The burly 24-year-old has control problems, which led to high pitch counts as a starter. The Pirates moved him to the bullpen earlier this month and while he has walked five batters in 9 1/3 innings, he has also struck out 11 and, most impressively, started hitting 99 mph with his fastball after usually topping out at 95 while in the rotation.
–Right-handed reliever Bryan Morris, who is 3-4 with three saves and a 3.32 ERA in 32 games, six starts, for Class AA Altoona while striking out 58 in 70 2/3 innings and posting a 1.34 WHIP.
Morris is the last of the four players received in the Jason Bay trade in 2008 still in the Pirates’ organization as Craig Hansen, Andy LaRoche and Brandon Moss have been released. The Pirates thought Morris could become a top-of-the-rotation starter when they acquired him but they moved him to the bullpen in May he now profiles as a set-up or middle reliever.
The Pirates usually don’t promote players to the majors from Class AA but there are indications that they want to see how Morris fares against big-league hitters.
John Perrotto has covered the Pirates and Major League Baseball since 1988.