As First Pitch pointed out this morning, this isn’t the Pirates team we expected, but the lack of runs isn’t just a problem with the parent club. That leads to the question, where is the offense with the top two teams in the Pirates’ minor league system this year? Indianapolis has scored 16 runs in their seven games and they have no homers. The Indians have a .598 OPS, thanks in part to a .237 team average. Altoona has scored just 12 runs in their six games. The Curve have a .516 OPS, which surprisingly isn’t the lowest in the league, although the one team below them has scored 20 runs this year. Those obviously aren’t numbers you want to hear when your Major League team just got shutout twice in a row and they have a 3-6 record.
Indianapolis probably won’t hit many homers this year. When you look at the six guys they have playing the corner positions, there aren’t any big power threats. Outfielders Jaff Decker, Mel Rojas Jr. and Jose Tabata combined for 16 homers last season and all three saw significant playing time. Corner infielders Deibinson Romero, Brent Morel and Hunter Morris hit 23 homers total and all three of them had plenty of at-bats as well. As a group, they ranked behind Kris Bryant(43) and Joey Gallo(42) for the minor league home run title last year.
Zero home runs at this point probably isn’t as uncommon as you think. Two other International League teams haven’t hit a homer yet this year, and six other teams in other leagues are stuck on zero in the home run column. There are also 14 teams that have hit just one homer. The Curve with their lineup that includes Josh, Bell, Stetson Allie and Willy Garcia in the middle, have hit two homers. Power is down in baseball and part of that is that the ball doesn’t travel as well during the early season in the colder weather.
I mentioned the .237 team average for Indianapolis, but didn’t mention where that places them in the 14-team International League. They are actually tied for eighth in team average and that .598 OPS has them in 11th place. Not good obviously, but not the worst. The good news is that it’s still early enough in the season where one big game can turn things around. While neither of them has an extra-base hit yet, Mel Rojas Jr. is hitting .316 and Elias Diaz has a .308 average. There is little doubt that Alen Hanson will start to hit eventually, but we are also talking about someone who started off each of the last two seasons slow, so there seems to be a pattern developing.
On the flip side, both teams are getting strong pitching, just like the Pirates. Indianapolis has a 2.14 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP, both second best in the International League. Altoona has a 2.21 ERA, but if you dig a little into that stat, you’ll see their starters have put up an incredible 0.28 ERA in 32 innings. The Curve have had strong pitching without getting strikeouts, which fits into the “pitch to contact” philosophy the Pirates teach, but their number is surprisingly low. They have struck out 28 batters, which is well below the 75 put up by the league-leading staff in Bowie.
As I said, it’s still early in the season, so no need to worry at this point. With the two lower level teams, they each seem to be hitting well, even if West Virginia lost a game in which their pitchers combined for a no-hitter yesterday. Bradenton easily has the best OPS in their league, leading second place by 82 points. West Virginia is fourth in their league. The Power don’t look like a powerhouse offensive club, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see Altoona and/or Indianapolis be the better hitting team in the near future.
Pirates Game Graph
Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pirates lost 1-0 to the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday, dropping two of three in the series. They now open up a three-game series at home against the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday after an off day today. Last week, the Pirates won two games in Milwaukee, including a 6-2 win with Jeff Locke on the mound. He makes his second start of the season tomorrow night.
In the minors, Jason Creasy gets his second start, trying to continue the amazing run by Altoona starters to begin the season. In six games, their starters have allowed a combined one earned run over 32 innings. Creasy contributed five shutout innings in his first start. Two 2014 draft picks start in the lower minors. Tenth round pick Alex McRae goes for West Virginia, while 13th round pick Frank Duncan starts for Bradenton. Chris Volstad was named the starter for Indianapolis. He threw six innings of shutout ball in his debut, allowing just one hit. You can view last night’s prospect watch here.
MLB: Pittsburgh (3-6) vs Brewers (2-6) 7:05 PM 4/17
Probable starter: Jeff Locke (3.00 ERA, 1:2 BB/SO, 6.0 IP)
AAA: Indianapolis (3-4) vs Louisville (3-4) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Chris Volstad (0.00 ERA, 1:2 BB/SO, 6.0 IP)
From Tuesday morning, Mel Rojas Jr. collects an RBI single. Rojas is 6-for-19 this year, giving him a .316 average, but all of his hits are singles and he hasn’t drawn a walk, so his slash line is .316/.316/.316
Also from Tuesday, Chris Stewart also had an RBI single. We had an update on Stewart yesterday and his possible return date to the Pirates.
4/14: Jose Regalado added to West Virginia Power. Erik Forgione assigned to West Virginia Black Bears
4/14: Collin Balester assigned to Altoona.
4/13: Francisco Liriano reinstated from paternity list. Casey Sadler optioned to Indianapolis.
4/12: Chris Stewart assigned to Indianapolis on rehab.
4/12: Justin Topa placed on Bradenton disabled list. Matt Benedict assigned to Bradenton from Altoona
4/11: Pedro Florimon clears waivers. Assigned to Indianapolis.
4/11: Stolmy Pimentel claimed off waiver by the Texas Rangers.
4/9: Chris Stewart assigned to Altoona on rehab. Jaff Decker assigned to Indianapolis on rehab.
4/7: Pirates release Matt Nevarez, Andrew Dennis and Dwight Childs.
4/5: Pirates recall Rob Scahill, designate Stolmy Pimentel and Pedro Florimon for assignment.
4/5: Pirates place Charlie Morton, Brandon Cumpton, Jaff Decker, Justin Sellers and Chris Stewart on the disabled list.
4/2: Pirates acquire first baseman Hunter Morris from the Milwaukee Brewers for a player to be named later.
This Date in Pirates History
On this date in 1903, one of the greatest Pirates players of all-time was born. Paul Waner played 15 seasons in Pittsburgh, hitting .340 during his time in the city. Waner has the highest career batting average among any Pirates player with more than 2000 plate appearances. He is sixth in OPS, second in runs, third in hits, fourth in total bases, first in doubles, second in triples, third in walks and fifth in RBIs. You can read his full bio here.
There have been two former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date and one small trade of note. Also on this date in 1903, the same day Paul Waner was born, the Pirates opened up their season with a 7-1 win over the Cincinnati Reds. This team went on to play in the first World Series and the lineup from Opening Day(which is in the link) was nearly identical to the one that started game one of the WS. For more information on that first World Series, click this link that recaps game eight of the series. At the bottom of the link, there is an article on the comparison between the Pirates and Boston American(Red Sox) along with the recaps of the first seven games.
The two players born on this date are 1942 catcher Babe Phelps and 1891 left fielder Piggy Ward. Their bios can be found in the link above.
In 1937, the Pirates got pitcher Joe Bowman from the Phillies in exchange for 1B/RF Earl Browne. Bowman ended up playing five seasons for the Pirates, while Browne was out of the Majors by early 1938.