The Pirates and Diamondbacks announced a deal sending utilityman Josh VanMeter to Pittsburgh for minor league pitcher Listher Sosa. To clear space on the 40-man roster, Pittsburgh designated outfielder Jared Oliva for assignment.
Arizona had designated VanMeter for assignment over the weekend. The 27-year-old is out of minor league option years, meaning the D-Backs had to keep him on the active roster all season or bump him from the 40-man. The Arizona front office evidently determined they weren’t prepared to carry him in the majors.
The Bucs will have to keep VanMeter in the bigs themselves. That they parted with a minor leaguer, rather than waiting to try to grab him off waivers, indicates he’s at least likely to break camp with the MLB team. Pittsburgh would’ve been third in waiver priority based on their finish near the bottom of last year’s standings. (The Pirates had the league’s fourth-worst record, but the D-Backs were one of the teams below them). Rather than risk another team trading for VanMeter or the Orioles/Rangers grabbing him on waivers, the Bucs decided to relinquish a young pitcher to add him.
VanMeter adds a left-handed, multi-positional bat to the mix for skipper Derek Shelton. He has appeared in each of the past three seasons with the Reds and D-Backs, tallying 649 plate appearances. The former fifth-round pick has a career .212/.300/.364 slash line, offense that checks in 25 percentage points below average by measure of wRC+. It was a similar story last season, when VanMeter hit .212/.297/.354 in a personal-high 310 trips to the dish with Arizona.
Those results aren’t great, but VanMeter has shown some promising traits that caught the attention of the Bucs front office. He’s walked in an above-average 10.6% of his plate appearances. Last season, he only chased 21.1% of pitches outside the strike zone, the tenth-lowest mark among the 262 hitters with 300+ trips. That’s partially attributable to an overall patience at the plate — he also has one of the lower swing rates on pitches in the zone — but that selectivity has allowed VanMeter to work plenty of deep counts. He also has slightly above-average career marks in hard contact rate and average exit velocity, pairing his measured approach with some raw power.
VanMeter isn’t regarded as a great defender anywhere, but he’s got plenty of experience at each of first, second and third base and in left field. Ke’Bryan Hayes and Yoshi Tsutsugo are going to play most days in the respective corner infield spots, but the Bucs don’t have obvious answers at the keystone or in left. VanMeter will presumably start off as a bench bat, but there should be a chance to earn more at-bats on a rebuilding Pittsburgh team if his performance warrants.
Oliva had been one of the candidates to see some time in the left field, but his future in the organization is now in question. Ranked among the back half of the Bucs top 30 prospects by Baseball America in each of the past three seasons, the University of Arizona product looked like he may develop into a fourth or fifth outfield type. He posted strong offensive numbers with gaudy stolen base totals up through Double-A in 2019, but he’s coming a tough campaign.
The right-handed hitter appeared in 64 games and tallied 249 plate appearances with Triple-A Indianapolis last season. He posted a .249/.321/.364 line in a fairly hitter-friendly setting, and he didn’t produce in a 20-game big league look in July. The Bucs will now have a week to trade Oliva or place him on outright waivers. Given that he’s only 26 years old and still has a couple option years remaining, it’s not out of the question another club takes a flier.
Sosa, meanwhile, is a 20-year-old righty who spent last season in the Florida Complex League. The Bucs signed him for $150K out of the Dominican Republic during the 2018-19 international signing period. The 6’4″ hurler posted a 4.31 ERA in 31 1/3 innings last season, striking out 25% of opponents against a tiny 3.8% walk rate.
Image courtesy of USA Today Sports.