I didn’t really have a top in mind when I started this article, but I wanted to take a look at two players in similar situations this year. Both started the season off great, but they have both really tailed off over the last 4-5 weeks. There is a big difference between the two and it’s their age and the way it is looked at compared to the level they are at right now.
Back on May 21st, after a 3-for-5 game, Max Moroff had a .329/.406/.462 slash line and was getting some rave reviews for his all around performance. After his 1-for-8 game on Thursday night(he had off Friday), Moroff saw his slash line drop to .297/.378/.410 through 55 games. Those are still good numbers, but they are obviously a drop-off from where he was three weeks ago, and well down from a month ago when he had a .949 OPS through 27 games. That was the halfway point to his season at this point, and that second half OPS sits at .641 in 137 plate appearances. Those numbers are more in line with what we have seen for Moroff in the past.
So the real question is, should we expect a player like we saw the first 27 games, or one that we have seen the last 28, plus the last two seasons. Moroff had a .680 OPS while with West Virginia in 2013 and .665 with Bradenton last year. I think the Pirates would be happy this year with someone that falls between those two numbers because Moroff turned 22 last month, which is a very good age for a AA player.
We could go through the same process with Chase Simpson, except he is 15 months older than Moroff, plays a position that requires more offense, and he is in Low-A ball, where his age isn’t good for the level. Simpson started this season off great, and considering his age and college experience, that really isn’t a big deal. We had questions as to why he was at the level to begin with and I think he is now answering those questions.
Simpson should be a middle of the order bat under normal circumstances, but the main goal in the minors isn’t winning, it’s to develop players. That means you sometimes see guys at the top of the lineup that hit like they should be at the bottom of the order. Simpson has batted seventh more than any other spot in the order and he has even batted eighth in nine games. He had a .987 OPS in April and it felt like he should be promoted to Bradenton, with Jose Osuna being moved to Altoona because he was hitting well too. Osuna moved and Simpson has stayed. Since April, Simpson had a .719 OPS in May and .663 so far in June. He has struck out 60 times in 192 at-bats. Those are not numbers you want to see from a 23-year-old corner infielder in Low-A ball.
You see the similar traits and Simpson is in Low-A in his second season in the system, while Moroff was also at the same level in his second season. He was out of high school though, while Simpson had four years of college(one as a redshirt after a transfer, though he did play summer ball). The struggles for Moroff should almost be expected as he is making the big jump from High-A to AA, which is a real separator of talent in the minors. If you can handle AA, you’re not far off from the big leagues, but many careers have died at that level. As long as Moroff holds his own the rest of the way, even if he has to repeat AA next year, that isn’t the worst thing.
For Simpson, you probably expected him to continue to hit and move up and at least make it to AA sometime next year. That might not be a given at this point and the fact he is hitting down near the bottom of the order usually isn’t a good sign for his prospect status. He has some of the best power on the Power, but the strikeouts are an issue and when an older player gets in a prolonged slump, that could lead to them being more of a bench player who helps fill out rosters.
Pirates Game Graph
Indianapolis is 8-2 in their last ten games and they have a 5.5 game lead in their division.
Altoona has lost three straight, but still has a 2.5 game lead in their division.
West Virginia trails first place Hickory by 4.5 games with nine game left in the first half.
Bradenton has been eliminated from their first half playoff race.
Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pirates won 1-0 over the Phillies on Friday night in the opener of a three-game series. Gerrit Cole will make his 13th start tonight. He faced the Phillies on May 11th and gave up two runs over seven innings. Sean O’Sullivan will make his ninth start for the Phillies. He has a 4.96 ERA.
In the minors, Clayton Richard gets his seventh start for Indianapolis tonight. He has not allowed an earned run in any of his last three starts, covering a total of 21.2 innings. Richard has a .222 BAA, 1.13 WHIP and a 1.33 GO/AO ratio. In his last start, Cody Dickson allowed five first inning runs, then threw five shutout innings. Austin Coley has a 1.04 WHIP, fifth best in the SAL. You can view last night’s prospect watch here.
MLB: Pittsburgh (33-27) vs Phillies (22-40) 4:05 PM
Probable starter: Gerrit Cole (1.73 ERA, 19:86 BB/SO, 78.0 IP)
AAA: Indianapolis (39-24) vs Gwinnett (30-30) 7:15 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Clayton Richard (1.69 ERA, 10:16 BB/SO, 37.1 IP)
AA: Altoona (35-24) vs New Hampshire (28-32) 7:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Matt Benedict (4.91 ERA, 5:11 BB/SO, 22.0 IP)
High-A: Bradenton (27-34) @ Ft Myers (31-30) 6:30 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Cody Dickson (4.58 ERA, 20:36 BB/SO, 59.0 IP)
Low-A: West Virginia (34-27) vs Augusta (29-31) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Austin Coley (3.56 ERA, 8:57 BB/SO, 60.2 IP)
DSL: Pirates (6-6) vs Brewers (3-9) 10:30 AM (season preview)
Here’s a video of Elias Diaz’s third home run of the season, which he hit on Friday night.
6/12: Pirates sign J.T. Brubaker, Seth McGarry and Bret Helton.
6/11: Pirates acquire John Bowker from the San Francisco Giants.
6/10: Yhonathan Barrios promoted to Indianapolis.
6/9: John Holzkom activated from Indianapolis disabled list
6/9: Brett McKinney promoted to Altoona. Ryan Hafner added to Bradenton roster.
6/7: Pirates release Tyler Sample.
6/5: Justin Sellers assigned to Bradenton on rehab.
6/5: Charlie Leesman placed on Indianapolis disabled list.
6/5: Francisco Diaz activated from WV Power disabled list.
6/5: Kawika Emsley-Pai promoted to Bradenton roster. Jin-De Jhang assigned to Extended Spring Training.
6/3: Pirates outright Radhames Liz to Indianapolis.
This Date in Pirates History
Two former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus one trade of note. On this date in 2001, the Pirates traded infielder Enrique Wilson to the New York Yankees for relief pitcher Damaso Marte. Wilson spent 3 1/2 years with the Yankees, while Marte was dealt to the White Sox before the 2002 season. They would sign him again in 2005 and then trade him to the Yankees along with Xavier Nady in 2008.
The two former players born on this date played a total of eight games with the Pirates. Pitcher Darrell May made two starts and three relief appearances for the 1996 Pirates. He played seven years in the big leagues despite being taken in the 46th round of the 1992 draft.
Catcher John O’Connell played for the Pirates in 1928 and 1929, though he played three games total. His big league career consisted of one late inning replacement in 1928 and catching the last two games of the 1929 season.
The Pirates defeated the Royals by a 5-3 score on this date in 1997, the first interleague game in franchise history. You can view the boxscore here.