Yesterday was Opening Day in the minors, with all four full-season affiliates of the Pittsburgh Pirates playing their first game. We posted the season previews for each team yesterday and links for those can be found below in the schedule section. If you read the preview for West Virginia and you own one of our Prospect Guides, you’ll notice that the team is really lacking top prospects. If you read the First Pitch from last night, it briefly covered the possible breakout candidates at Low-A and how it provided depth to a strong overall farm system. I just wanted to expand on that point for the Power, because at first glance it looks like a team you don’t need to follow close.
Cole Tucker is the big name there and right now, no one is really close to him in that regard. He was a first round draft pick last year and the #9 prospect in the system. He had a big game last night, but it is probably too soon to expect him to have a strong overall season. As an 18-year-old at that level, he will face a lot of pitchers 3-4 years older than him with major college experience, so he is going to be seeing stronger pitching than he is used to almost every single night. If he does put up big numbers, then his prospect status will go through the roof, but if he has a season like Reese McGuire did last year at the level(.262/.307/.334), that would still be impressive considering his age and experience.
After Tucker, the prospect pool gets a little murkier depending on where you would rank some of these players. Newly-acquired pitcher Stephen Tarpley is currently in Extended Spring Training. He was acquired too late for our top 50 list, but would probably have been somewhere around the #14-15 range. In a system that has strength at the top and has lots of depth, that is still a pretty good prospect. Right now there is no word on when he will join West Virginia, but if he pitches anything like he did in the second half last year, you have another player that could jump up the rankings.
Tucker wasn’t the only batter last night that put up big numbers in his first game. Tito Polo(pictured up top) reached base three times with a single, double and a walk. We ranked him #47 overall in the system after his season in the Gulf Coast League. He then went out an had a solid winter ball season in Colombia and he skipped over two levels to full-season ball, which means that he is someone that could really jump up the prospect ranks just by putting up solid numbers. Because of the tools he possesses, you could actually dream a little more and see him moving to the back of the top ten if everything clicks for him.
Another player to watch is John Sever, who is scheduled to start, although he got some throwing in during Thursday night’s opener. He wasn’t originally schedule to be a starter this season, but likely would have seen a lot of innings as a long reliever, piggybacking off another starter that went five innings before he came in and pitched the last 3-4 frames. With Tarpley currently out, Sever stepped into the starting role and could move up the rankings with a solid season.
In his brief debut last night, Sever struck out the side in his only inning of work. Last year, he had 63 strikeouts in 40.2 innings and posted a 1.33 ERA. He is in a different situation than Polo and Tucker in that Sever pitched college ball for three years and his age is average for Low-A, so he has to do more than hold his own to really jump to the top tiers in the rankings. If his numbers look anything like what he put up for Bristol last last, then we are talking about a real steal with a 20th round pick in last year’s draft.
There are other names that will be interesting to follow with the team and they could all be potential breakout players. Connor Joe and Jordan Luplow should join the team soon, while Taylor Gushue and Michael Suchy are already there. All four players were taken in the first five rounds last year. The Pirates obviously saw potential in all of them, so there is a chance that one(or more) of them puts up big numbers and goes from prospect to watch, to a top prospect.
One final player to briefly mention is reliever Yeudy Garcia. He is making a jump in the system that you almost never see in baseball, going directly from the Dominican Summer League to full-season ball. Garcia was old when he signed, so he is age appropriate for the league, but his experience in pro ball is extremely limited. He has great stuff, as you can see in the prospect rankings for the DSL players, but last year was his rookie season and he began to tire as the year came to a close. I expected him to start at Bristol due to his age and success from last year, but he skipped right over three levels to West Virginia. It will be interesting to see how he handles the move and in what role they use him. Garcia was hitting mid-90’s consistently as a starter last year, so in relief, you might see even more velocity from him.
Pirates Game Graph
Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pirates lost 3-2 to the Reds yesterday. They begin another three-game series tonight, this time against the Milwaukee Brewers. Jeff Locke gets his first start of the season. He battled Vance Worley for the fifth spot in the rotation this Spring, then after winning the spot, he moved up to the #4 starter when Charlie Morton was placed on the disabled list.
In the minors, the top two pitchers going are Adrian Sampson for Indianapolis and Jason Creasy for Altoona. Both are top 30 prospects in the system, with Sampson ranked 12th overall and Creasy ranked 26th. Sampson pitched briefly for Indianapolis at the end of last season, making four starts and posting a 6.16 ERA in 19 innings. He had a 2.55 ERA with Altoona, the second best ERA in the Eastern League. Alex McRae starts for West Virginia. He was a 10th round draft pick in 2014 and had a 6.21 ERA in 15 starts with Jamestown. You can view last night’s prospect watch here.
MLB: Pittsburgh (0-3) @ Brewers (0-3) 8:10 PM
Probable starter: Jeff Locke (NR)
From Wednesday’s game, Francisco Cervelli collects an RBI double that scores Starling Marte. It was his first extra-base hit and first RBI for the Pirates. Tomorrow, we will start with the minor league highlights.
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.
4/1: Pirates release Danny Collins, Joan Montero, Will Kendall, Remy De Aza, Raul Fortunato, Taylor Lewis, Colter Moore and Cory Rhodes.
3/31: John Holdzkom and Rob Scahill optioned to AAA, Blake Wood assigned to minor league camp.
This Date in Pirates History
There have been six former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, including two players that won World Series rings with the team. Outfielder Lee Lacy signed with the Pirates as a free agent in January 1979 and was used mainly off the bench that first season, where he hit .247/.327/.412 in 84 games. Lacy lasted with the Pirates until 1984 and played a total of 1523 games during his 16-year career.
Joe Gibbon was a rookie pitcher for the 1960 Pirates. He made nine starts and 18 relief appearances that season, posting a 4.03 ERA over 80.1 innings. He pitched twice during the World Series against the New York Yankees and allowed three runs over three innings. Gibbon pitched with the Pirates until he was dealt in a 1965 trade with the San Francisco Giants that brought Matty Alou back to Pittsburgh. Gibbon returned to the Pirates in another trade with the Giants in 1969. He pitched two more seasons in Pittsburgh and made two appearances during the 1970 playoffs.
On this date in 1962, the Pirates opened up their season with a 6-0 win over the Phillies. Bob Friend started and went the distance for the complete game shutout. Roberto Clemente drove in four runs. This was the 81st season in franchise history and the first time they opened the season on April 10th. You can view the boxscore here.