Morning Report: There Are a Lot of Storylines to Follow in Altoona

There have been some strange things going on in Altoona, from the pitching staff looking totally different since the calendar changed to May, to Max Moroff looking like a breakout prospect, to Willy Garcia putting the ball in play, but not over the fence. It’s been an interesting year so far and we still have four full months left.

Starting with the starting pitchers, who were the main story at the beginning of the year. As a group, Tyler Glasnow, Chad Kuhl, Jason Creasy, Angel Sanchez and Zack Dodson dominated in April. They threw a total of 100.1 innings that first month, posting a combined 1.08 ERA. Once the calendar changed though, they have all seen their ERA go up. In 47.1 innings this month, they have a 4.18 ERA. Most of them are probably closer to the middle of those two ERA numbers.

Max Moroff has been incredible this year, finally showing the talent that scouts thought he had. We got a strong report about him earlier this year, and he has done nothing but hit since then. Moroff has a 26 game on base streak, a ten game hit streak and he has a six game multi-hit streak. Moroff is fourth in the Eastern League with a .358 average. He is also eighth with a .949 OPS, and that is from someone that had a .665 OPS in the Florida State League last year.

The problem with Moroff was always that he wasn’t aggressive at the plate, took too many pitches and that led to a lot of strikeouts. He has 17 strikeouts this year, which is 112 less than last year and that is because he has been more aggressive. Scouts liked him in the past as well, even when he was playing shortstop. After seeing his play three different series in Lakewood in 2012, a scout told me that he changed his report on Moroff to “future Major Leaguer”. I got the same impression seeing him play 12 times that season. He got better each time and even though the stats didn’t show it, the skills were there, the consistency was not.

Then there is Gift Ngoepe, who may have got a wake up call recently when it was announced that shortstop Adam Frazier was joining Altoona, returning from a fractured finger that had kept him out all season. It was assumed that Frazier would take over at shortstop full-time, but he has only started once and Ngoepe is hitting .444 in his last eight games. The funny thing is that if Frazier never got hurt, he probably would have started at shortstop for Altoona, with Ngoepe moving over to second base, so Moroff may have been sharing playing time. That wouldn’t have been a surprise because his stats and age suggested that a return to Bradenton wouldn’t be out of the question either.

I touched on the Willy Garcia contact in the Prospect Watch last night, but it is good to expand on here. He has just three strikeouts this month in 36 plate appearances. That is coming from a guy that strikes out every three at-bats over his career. He is also known as a home run hitter, but he has none in 106 plate appearances this year. Garcia isn’t even getting extra-base hits, with just two doubles and a triple to his credit. He has a .603 OPS this season and his walks are where they normally are, with five total and only three unintentional walks. Garcia has always been a streaky hitter, but this lack of power, plus low strikeout rate are not his norm.

Finally, I can’t mention Altoona without talking about Josh Bell. He had an incredible week last week, but he went 4-for-23 this week. Bell is hitting .346/.405/.500 in 27 games, all numbers that are among the best in the league. Bell is still on schedule for a June 2016 arrival, right about the same time the #FreeGlasnow hashtags reach their peak. For Bell at least, he does need the work at first base, so his arrival won’t just be delayed waiting for the Super-Two date to pass.

Pirates Game Graph

Source: FanGraphs

Today’s Schedule

Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pirates defeated the Cardinals by a 4-3 score on Sunday. They are now just one game below .500 as they head to Philadelphia for four games. Gerrit Cole takes the mound and he’s glad he isn’t facing the Reds. In ten innings against Cincinnati, he has allowed six earned runs. In his other four starts, he has given up three earned runs over 25.2 innings. Jerome Williams is the opposing pitcher. He has a 5.18 ERA, though he has made three Quality Starts. In his last outing, he gave up six runs over 4.1 innings.

In the minors, Austin Coley has been the best pitcher early for West Virginia. His 0.88 WHIP is tied for second in the South Atlantic League and his 2.42 ERA is just outside the top ten. For Bradenton, Cody Dickson will make his seventh start of the season. He has a 1.79 GO/AO ratio, which is well above his average from his first two seasons. No starter has been named for Indianapolis yet. It could be Charlie Leesman, who last pitched six days ago and was sent to the West Virginia Black Bears(paper move) after he threw 97 pitches in relief. Since he isn’t on the roster, he can’t be named the starter yet. You can view last night’s prospect watch here.

MLB: Pittsburgh (15-16) @ Phillies (11-21) 7:05 PM
Probable starter: Gerrit Cole (2.27 ERA, 10:39 BB/SO, 35.2 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (18-13) @ Pawtucket (18-13) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: TBD

AA: Altoona (17-11) vs Bowie (18-12) 6:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Chad Kuhl (2.25 ERA, 10:16 BB/SO, 28.0 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (15-15) @ Brevard County (14-15) 6:35 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Cody Dickson (2.97 ERA, 10:19 BB/SO, 30.1 IP)

Low-A: West Virginia (16-13) vs Charleston (19-11) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Austin Coley (2.42 ERA, 2:27 BB/SO 26.0 IP)


From Sunday, Alen Hanson hit his first homer of the season. In 28 games, he has a .257/.303/.321 line, with nine stolen bases.

Recent Transactions

5/11: Antonio Bastardo placed on Paternity List. Bobby LaFromboise recalled from Indianapolis.

5/11: Connor Joe added to WV Power roster. Trace Tam Sing transferred to WV Black Bears.

5/10: Pirates acquire Jayson Aquino from Toronto Blue Jays for cash. Aquino assigned to Bradenton.

5/9: Pirates released Justin Howard.

5/8: Charlie Morton assigned to Altoona on rehab.

5/8: Nick Kingham placed on disabled list. Adam Miller added to Indianapolis roster.

5/7: Clayton Richard assigned to Bradenton. Felipe Gonzalez assigned to Extended Spring Training.

5/7: Colten Brewer added to WV Power roster. Eric Dorsch assigned to WV Black Bears

5/7: Jeff Inman added to Altoona roster. Tyler Sample sent to WV Black Bears.

5/6: Andrew Lambo placed on 15-day disabled list. Steve Lombardozzi selected from Indianapolis.

5/6: Adam Frazier activated from Altoona disabled list. Andy Vasquez assigned to Indianapolis.

5/6: Brad Lincoln added to Indianapolis roster. Charlie Leesman assigned to WV Black Bears.

5/5: Josh Wall added to Indianapolis. Brad Lincoln assigned to WV Black Bears.

5/4: Barrett Barnes assigned to Bradenton. Junior Sosa assigned to Extended Spring Training.

5/1: Jerrick Suiter placed on disabled list. Austin Coley added to WV Power roster.

5/1: Pirates sign pitcher Robert Stock.

4/29: Jaff Decker placed on disabled list. Wilkin Castillo added to Indianapolis roster.

4/27: Jeremy Bleich promoted to Altoona

This Date in Pirates History

Five former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, and one of them shines above the rest. Quickly with the other four players before we get into the All-Star pitcher. Mike Garcia, pitcher for the 1999-2000 Pirates. Mark Huisman, pitcher for two playoff teams in 1990-91. Walt Terrell, who was Huisman’s teammate in 1990. Both Huisman and Terrell were born on the same date in 1958. Gene Hermanski, outfielder for the 1953 Pirates.

Rip Sewell was born on this date in 1907. During his 12 seasons in Pittsburgh, he won 143 games. He came from a great baseball family, with three cousins that played in the Majors and one of them(Joe Sewell) is in the Hall of Fame. Sewell was a three-time All-Star and he received MVP votes in three different seasons while with the Pirates. He led the NL with 21 wins in 1943 and his 13-3 record in 1948 gave him the best winning percentage in the NL. Sewell is famous for throwing the Eephus pitch, which he started doing in 1942 after a hunting accident. You can read a full bio on Sewell here.