Morning Report: Why Minor League Playoffs Matter

Most of the time we say that minor league records don’t matter, and that’s mostly because it doesn’t give you a sense of how good the farm system can be. Back in the Littlefield era, the Pirates would win league titles and have nothing to show for it down the line because they stacked the teams with older players who were too good for the level, but not good enough to be considered true prospects. That approach doesn’t accomplish much. Despite that, playoffs do serve a purpose in the minors and it looks like the Pirates could come up short on playoff teams this year.

At the lower levels, the DSL and GCL Pirates have both been eliminated from the playoffs already. These levels don’t matters as much for the point I’m trying to make, because no player from a team at a  lower level is going to be called up to see playoff action. Part of the reason the playoffs are good is that it gives players from a lower level and chance for a late-season promotion and gets them into important games. Last year, Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire joined Jamestown late and got a taste of the high level of competition, along with the playoff atmosphere surrounding those games. While the games don’t mean much to the average Pirates fan, the players are out for the title and those games mean everything at the time. I’ve seen pictures of dogpiles and celebrations in the GCL and DSL, the lowest levels, so even when no one is watching, they still care a lot about winning.

With eight affiliates this year, it’s a little surprising that only one team has a good shot at the playoffs this season and that is Bradenton(see playoff push below). Besides the DSL and GCL, both Bristol and Altoona are on the verge on elimination, while Jamestown, West Virginia and Indianapolis have an uphill climb to first place and their schedule is nearing a close.

It looks right now as if the Pirates are leaving Tyler Glasnow at Bradenton this year and at this point, it seems like a great idea. He has three starts left and then a chance to pitch in the playoffs. The games for Bradenton are pressure games for the players, especially ones that have been there all year. They are in a fight for first place with Palm Beach and the two teams play each other four times still. If he gets sent to Altoona, which could still happen, he will be facing better hitters in the non-pressure situation, but his season will be over on September 1st. Jameson Taillon got sent to Altoona to make his last three starts in 2012, so there is a recent, highly-comparable example of what could happen with Glasnow.

As for other players the playoffs could help, any number of prospects could move up from West Virginia to Bradenton for the last week of the regular season. JaCoby Jones is a strong possibility, as well as starters Buddy Borden, Cody Dickson and Luis Heredia. Reese McGuire and Austin Meadows certainly could, but with the way McGuire has hit this year and how much time Meadows has missed, plus their age factored in, you might not see them there. Usually guys that get called up late, are ones that are guarantee for that level(or higher) to start the next season and I’m not 100% sure that either of them couldn’t use a bit more low-A time next year. Erich Weiss is another player that could move up and with his age/experience, he should really be at Bradenton already.

So while the playoffs don’t mean much to the average Pirates fan, for the players it is a great experience playing under those conditions. For players at a lower level, it’s a chance to move up and play meaningful late-season games, while getting them acclimated to the higher level of competition.

Pirates Game Graph


Source: FanGraphs

Playoff Push

Pittsburgh: The Pirates are 1.5 games behind St. Louis for the first Wild Card spot. They are a half game behind San Francisco for the second spot. They are currently 4.5 games back from the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central.

Indianapolis: The Indians are six games back in the International League West, and seven games back in the Wild Card with 16 games left in the season.

Bradenton: The Marauders are in first place in the Florida State League South, leading by one game over Palm Beach. The Marauders need to win the second half division to make the playoffs. They have 15 games left in their season, four against Palm Beach.

Today’s Schedule

Minor League Starter of the Day:  In his last seven starts combined, Tyler Glasnow has allowed a total of three earned runs. Over 41.1 innings in those starts, he has 60 strikeouts. As mentioned above, Glasnow is pitched well enough to be moved to Altoona, but he is also helping Bradenton towards the playoffs and pitching in pressure situations. That comes with the possibility of an extra start or two during the playoffs if they can clinch the second half title. It could be interesting to note, that while the post-game notes from last night had Glasnow listed as today’s starter, the team website had TBD listed. Bristol has a doubleheader today. Neither starter has been announced yet. The DSL and GCL Pirates are both off today.

MLB: Pittsburgh (64-59) @ Washington (68-53) 5:05 PM
Probable starter: Edison Volquez (3.67 ERA, 95:51 K/BB, 139.2 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (64-64) @ Louisville (62-66) 1:35 PM
Probable starterCasey Sadler (3.06 ERA, 64:23 K/BB, 106 IP)

AA: Altoona (54-73) @ Erie (62-64) 1:35 PM
Probable starter:  Zack Dodson (4.88 ERA, 62:41 K/BB, 103.1 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (69-55, 34-21 2nd half) vs St Lucie (68-55) 5:00 PM
Probable starter: Tyler Glasnow (1.52 ERA, 132:54 K/BB, 106.1 IP)

Low-A: West Virginia (48-76, 28-28 2nd half) @ Lexington (49-77) 2:05 PM
Probable starter:  TBD

Short-Season A: Jamestown (29-31) vs Batavia (28-34) 7:05 PM
Probable Starter:  Austin Coley (6.57 ERA, 10:4 K/BB, 12.1 IP)

RK: Bristol (16-38) vs Johnson City (29-26) 5:00 PM DH
Probable Starter: TBD

GCL: Pirates (18-32) vs Yankees2 (29-21) 12:00 PM 8/18
Probable Starter: TBD

DSL: Pirates (32-34) vs  Yankees2 (36-30) 10:30 AM 8/18

Highlights

Gerrit Cole had his second straight outstanding outing in AAA on Friday night and below is just a small sample size of his performance. He threw seven shutout innings, allowing five hits and one walk. He struck out three batters, the last one shown in this video.

Willy Garcia hit his 18th homer on Friday night, an opposite field shot in the second inning that gave Altoona a 1-0 lead at the time. The 18 homers ties his career high set with West Virginia in 2012.

Recent Transactions

8/15: Elias Diaz promoted to Indianapolis.

8/15: Stolmy Pimentel placed on 15-day disabled list. John Axford added to roster.

8/14: Clint Barmes assigned to Altoona on rehab.

8/14: A.J. Morris assigned to Altoona.

8/14: John Axford claimed off waivers from Cleveland Indians.

8/14: Matt Hague designated for assignment.

8/14: Pirates sign pitcher Matt Nevarez. Assign him to Altoona.

8/13: Ernesto Frieri outrighted to Indianapolis.

8/13: Ramon Cabrera claimed off waivers from the Detroit Tigers. Assigned to Altoona.

8/13: Wirfin Obispo designated for assignment.

8/12: Brandon Cumpton recalled from Indianapolis. Casey Sadler optioned to Indianapolis.

8/12: Adrian Sampson promoted to Indianapolis.

8/11: Casey Sadler recalled from Indianapolis. Andrew McCutchen placed on the DL.

8/10: Pirates claim Tommy Field off waivers from the Los Angeles Angels and option him to Triple-A.

8/10: Cody Rhodes assigned to Bristol.

8/10: Justin Topa activated from disabled list. Francisco Diaz placed on DL.

This Date in Pirates History

There have been four former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date including two from the early 90’s that many fans might remember. Outfielder Alex Cole, who played for the 1992 Pirates and reliever Bill Landrum of the 1990-91 Pirates were members of the three playoff teams from that era. Also born on this date is third baseman Arch Reilly, whose entire big league career lasted one inning. When Reilly was sent to the minors, pitcher Marcus Milligan was also sent down. While Reilly saw his big league dream come true, Milligan never got into a game and the next year, he was killed during a WWI plane crash. Finally, second baseman Johnny Rawlings played for the 1923-26 Pirates, making him a member of the 1925 team that won the second World Series title in franchise history. Bios for all four of these players can be found here, as well as a recap of a crucial doubleheader from the 1990 season.

John Dreker

Author: John Dreker

John was born in Kearny, NJ, hometown of the 2B for the Pirates 1909 World Championship team, Dots Miller. In fact they have some of the same relatives in common, so it was only natural for him to become a lifelong Pirates fan. Before joining Pirates Prospects in July 2010, John had written numerous articles on the history of baseball while also releasing his own book and co-authoring another on the history of the game. He writes a weekly article on Pirates history for the site, has already interviewed many of the current minor leaguers with many more on the way and follows the foreign minor league teams very closely for the site. John also provides in person game reports of the West Virginia Power and Altoona Curve.

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  • R Edwards

    How about Nick Buckner today, in game 1 of a doubleheader at Bristol? 5-5, 3 doubles, 1 triple, 1 single and 6 RBIs!!! Not bad for a 19 year old.

    He still strikes out way too much, but he is very young. I like his size and power potential as a corner outfielder or first baseman. Anyone know what he is like in the field??

    • John Dreker

      He’s an average outfielder, range and arm both rate as average. He’s definitely interesting. The bat is going to have to carry him, but there are holes in the swing and plate patience. He just turned 19 last week, so there is plenty of time for him to improve.

  • CalipariFan506

    I actually think making the AAA playoffs can hinder the MLB roster with callups when it expands in September. But other than that I agree completely.

    • John Dreker

      The Pirates called up two players on Sept 1st and four players on September 3rd last year and the AAA playoffs started on September 4th. No team that could use players in the majors would leave them in AAA just because of the playoffs and last year is a perfect example of that.