Bucs make two waiver claims

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

The Pirates claimed catcher Brian Jeroloman (Blue Jays) and right-hander Jeremy Hefner (Padres) off waivers on Friday in moves designed to improve the club’s depth at both positions. The club also announced that catcher Matt Pagnozzi has been removed from the 40-man roster and outrighted to the Minors.

With these three moves, the Pirates’ 40-man roster stands at 36. Several Minor League players who are eligible for the Rule 5 Draft are expected to be added to that roster before the end of the day. Friday is the deadline to protect players from the Dec. 8 Draft.

Neither Hefner, nor Jeroloman, have appeared in a Major League game, though Jeroloman spent time on Toronto’s big league roster in 2011. He was added in late August but dealt with a jammed right wrist for much of the time that he was up.

Jeroloman, 26, spent the rest of 2011 catching for Triple-A Las Vegas. In 79 games, he hit .240 with nine doubles, two homers and 26 RBIs. While his .245 career Minor League average is rather pedestrian, Jeroloman’s .378 on-base percentage is a reflection of his excellent plate discipline.

“He had a bad year in Triple-A, which is why he found himself on waivers,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “We’ve liked the catch-throw in the past. He’s got among the highest walk rates among all catchers in Minors. Catching is a scarcity position in the industry, and we felt like we had the opportunity to claim a guy that we have liked in the past.”

On the defensive side, Jeroloman has an above-average arm, a career .992 fielding percentage and has caught 30 percent of attempting base stealers in his six Minor League seasons. He projects as a solid organizational depth catcher. Huntington said that Jeroloman is “probably on the outside looking in” when it comes to competing for the backup catching role out of Spring Training.

Jason Jaramillo and Michael McKenry remain the two top candidates for that job.

In his first full season at Triple-A, Hefner went 9-7 with a 4.98 ERA in 28 starts in 2011. He struck out 120 and walked 61 in 157 1/3 innings, though Hefner was passed by other pitching prospects in the Padres’ system last year.

A fifth-round pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, Hefner has pitched almost exclusively as a starter in his climb up San Diego’s system. Hefner, 25, has a 3.84 ERA in those five Minor League seasons and was named the Padres’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2008.

“He’s a pitcher that our scouts have liked,” Huntington said. “He’s a victim of a Pacific Coast League that inflates most pitchers’ statistics.”

Like Jeroloman, Hefner is not expected to be in Pittsburgh on Opening Day. Rather, he’ll likely begin the year as a depth option in Triple-A in case the Pirates need to dip into their system for starting pitching help.

Pagnozzi, who was a late season waiver claim by the Pirates, now has the ability to declare for Minor League free agency. The Pirates have made him an offer to return under a Minor League contract, though Pagnozzi will likely first see what other offers are available before accepting.

He appeared in just five September games with the Pirates after making seven big league appearances with the Rockies earlier in 2011.

Follow me on Twitter: @LangoschMLB

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