The Pirates have several minor leaguers working to revive stalled careers. Surprisingly, the organization now has better depth in hitters than pitchers at the upper levels. Or maybe I should say “healthy pitchers.”
Chase d’Arnaud, SS (AAA): It’s a step forward for d’Arnaud just to be back on the field, but he’s hit well since returning. That’s good to see, because hitters often take extended periods of time, even after returning to action, to recover from hand injuries. D’Arnaud is hitting 288/373/485 with nine walks and 11 strikeouts in 16 games. Even more importantly, the addition of another infielder probably made the Pirates feel comfortable parting ways with John McDonald, whose presence on the roster served no apparent purpose.
Andrew Lambo, OF (AAA): Lambo deserves kudos just for being in AAA. After flopping at that level in 2011 and missing most of 2012 with an injury, he made his sixth trip to AA to open this season. He seemed doomed to becoming an Altoona institution, but a power surge brought him a promotion. His next goal will be to give the Pirates a difficult roster decision prior to the Rule 5 draft.
Mel Rojas, Jr., OF (AA): Rojas was very raw and toolsy when the Pirates drafted him, but has never capitalized on his perceived ability. After a slow start this year, his prospect days appeared to be a thing of the past. He’s come around some, though, with his monthly OPS going from .628 in April to .736 in May to .958 in nine June games. He still has a ways to go, but his 263/323/406 line is at least respectable.
Willy Garcia, OF (High A): Garcia got off to a dismal start at Bradenton, posting an OPS of .538 and .667 in April and May. In June, though, he’s hitting 324/361/765, with four HRs in his last nine games. There’s still the matter of his 9:74 BB:K ratio. If he can’t stop swinging at bad pitches, he’ll get eaten alive in AA.
Ryan Hafner, RHP (Low A): The 6’6″ Hafner easily fits the Pirates’ preferred model of tall, projectable RHPs. He had a largely disastrous 2012 season, though, walking 75 in 74 innings and striking out fewer than half as many as he walked. Hafner added a slider to his repertoire for 2013 and the new pitch, along with a move to the bullpen, seems to be paying dividends. He’s fanned 53 in 37.1 IP and opponents are hitting just .182 against him.
Andy Oliver, LHP (AAA): Superficially, Oliver is having a good year. His ERA is 3.27, he’s fanned 72 in 66 innings, opponents are hitting .200 against him. But he’s walked 57 and the problem is getting worse rather than better. He hasn’t walked fewer than four in a start since April, and he’s totaled 34 free passes in his last 27.2 IP. Even worse, he’s doing this at a time when the Pirates are in need of a starter to replace A.J. Burnett. Oliver’s probably taken himself out of the running for that role.
Bradenton Starters: The Marauders have several pitchers in their rotation who came into the season with at least a decent chance of establishing themselves as prospects. Unfortunately, Adrian Sampson (5.82 ERA, .315 opponents’ average), Robby Rowland (4.34 ERA) and Zack Dodson (5.23 ERA) aren’t stepping forward. All three are striking out only a little above one batter every two innings. Fortunately, they’re all still young enough (Dodson is 22, the other two are 21) to turn things around.