The Pittsburgh Pirates have announced that they have added a new minor league affiliate in the Appy League. The team will play in Bristol, VA, starting in 2014. The Pirates Bristol affiliate will play in the five team Appalachian League West Division along with Kingsport (New York Mets), Greeneville (Houston), Elizabethton (Minnesota) and Johnson City (St. Louis).
The Appalachian League is a rookie league, on the same level as the GCL. Presumably this will allow the Pirates to give more playing time and development to younger players, although I’m not sure exactly how big of an impact this could provide. People will look at this and envision an entire team of prospects that could benefit. In reality, the amount of players who could benefit would be minimal.
The GCL Yankees had this situation in 2013. The Yankees had two GCL teams, and two quality shortstop prospects. Because they had two teams, they were able to give both shortstops a chance to start at the position. Even if the extra GCL team provided no other benefit, having a second team to develop that second shortstop was worth it.
Having watched the 2013 GCL team, I can’t say there were a lot of situations where the Pirates would have needed an extra team. However, there was one example of how an extra rookie league team might have helped this past year. Enyel Vallejo barely got any playing time in the first month of the season. Prior to July 26th, he had 22 at-bats in the first month of the GCL season. He started getting playing time on the 26th, after Luis Urena was sent to West Virginia. From July 26th to the end of the season, Vallejo posted a .337/.351/.539 line in 89 at-bats.
That’s not a lot of at-bats for Vallejo, which raises a lot of questions. Was the performance legit? Would he have done this from the start of the season? And of course, what kind of prospect could he be? With an extra rookie league affiliate, the Pirates could have started Vallejo from the beginning of the season, and could have tried to answer some of these questions. They could have also given Danny Arribas playing time behind the plate, which he missed out on due to Reese McGuire being drafted.
The reality here is that guys like Vallejo and Arribas are long shots. If they can’t make the starting lineup of the first rookie league team, then they’re probably not the best prospects in the system. That said, the thing about long shots is that they do have a chance of turning into something. If just one guy like Vallejo or Arribas breaks out, then the extra team was worth it.
In 2014 the Pirates will have the following affiliates:
Indianapolis Indians (AAA, International League)
Altoona Curve (AA, Eastern League)
Bradenton Marauders (High-A, Florida State League)
West Virginia Power (A, South Atlantic League)
Jamestown Jammers (Short-season, New York- Penn League)
Bristol (Advanced Rookie, Appalachian League)
Gulf Coast League Pirates (Rookie, Gulf Coast League)
Dominican Summer League Pirates 1
Dominican Summer League Pirates 2