Morning Report: Winning Without Loaded Rosters

Back in the Dave Littlefield era, the Pittsburgh Pirates used to churn out some pretty good minor league records, but there was always a catch to that success. The farm system back then was rarely loaded with prospects, so winning back then didn’t mean much. They were doing it often by loading the lower levels with older players and signing minor league veterans that would crush the ball in AA and even High-A at times. That looks good on paper, but it doesn’t help the Major League team.

This year, three of the four full-season affiliates have winning records and two of them are in first place. When you look at Indianapolis, they had Adrian Sampson, Casey Sadler and Nick Kingham all in their rotation until Kingham got hurt. They have added Clayton Richard, but he wasn’t brought in to pick up wins for Indianapolis, he’s a reclamation project that they held back in Extended Spring Training and now they are hoping to get something from him at the Major League level. Soon, Jameson Taillon will join the team, giving them another young prospect in the rotation.

On offense, you have Alen Hanson, Elias Diaz, Mel Rojas Jr., Keon Broxton, Jaff Decker and Tony Sanchez. None of them would qualify as a minor league veteran. It’s AAA, so there are always going to be some veterans around for depth, but there are also a lot of younger players. Indianapolis is the third youngest team in the International League.

At Altoona, the team has a lot of potential future Major League players and none of them have that tag because they have been there before. None of them are on their way down, they are all on their way up the ladder. The lone possible exception is Sebastian Valle, who is behind two catchers on the 40-man roster. He has AAA experience and could make it to the majors someday, but it probably won’t be with the Pirates. Altoona has the second youngest team in the Eastern League.

In Bradenton, the lineup is loaded with prospects daily and they are the second youngest team in the Florida State League. That is a great combination for the future, but they are the one team without a winning record. Youth usually equals lesser records, though it doesn’t fit in the FSL this year as Charlotte is the youngest team and their record is easily the best in the league.

West Virginia is actually slightly older than the league average age, but the only player that is 23 years old or older and seeing regular time is Chase Simpson. All the other older players are bullpen arms and bench players, so at least the starting rotation and lineup are age-appropriate as a group.

On Sunday, Neal Huntington spoke about the young players and the success the Pirates’ clubs are having this season. Starting with the upper levels, he talked about the two first place teams.

“The best part of it is it’s being done with age-appropriate guys. We know there’s some six-year free agents we filled in Indy with but the Double-A club is a prospect-oriented group. It’s a good, balanced group. There’s some pitching that we like a lot, there’s some position players we like a lot.”

Huntington also mentioned Bradenton, and how that loaded lineup is working well, but the pitching has disappointed so far. They are second in the league in OPS and third in runs scored on offense, while the pitchers have the second worst ERA in the league.

The thing to realize with Bradenton is that Tyler Eppler just joined the team and Clay Holmes should join the team soon, once he fully recovers from Tommy John surgery. Steven Brault(pictured above), who was acquired in the Travis Snider deal, has been pitching terrific since late April. Lefty Cody Dickson has better stuff than results, so if he can put together a second half run like he had last year, then he will be back on track. Luis Heredia is the wildcard, because not only did he join the team late due to conditioning issues, he has had very high pitch counts(per inning) in all six starts this year. Things aren’t looking good for him, and when you throw in Dickson’s up and down season, those two have to be the most disappointing starters for the Marauders.

Finally, Huntington gave a detailed answer about winning in the minors, and while most fans don’t consider it important, you want to put together the right players and breed a winning mentality from the start, which he addressed.

“We want to win every game we play. Every time the umpire says play ball, whether it’s in the Dominican or Pittsburgh, all the way through our goal is to win the game. At the minor league level, our belief is that we’re going to win that game because we draft well, because we work well before the game and when game time comes we go out and execute. It’s not going to be because our manager pushes the right buttons during the times. We win because we have talented players that execute. This year in the system, so far, our guys have done that. ”

When you look at the depth in the system and the ages for each team, it is hard to argue with that point.

Pirates Game Graph

Source: FanGraphs

Playoff Push

Indianapolis is 9-1 in their last ten games and they have a 6.5 game lead in their division.

Altoona has a 3.5 game lead in their division.

West Virginia trails first place Hickory by 5.5 games with seven games left in the first half.

Bradenton has been eliminated from their first half playoff race.

Today’s Schedule

Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pirates won 1-0 over the Phillies on Sunday afternoon, sweeping the three-game series. They now take on the Chicago White Sox, with two games at PNC Park and two games in Chicago. Francisco Liriano will be on the mound for the Pirates tonight. He is making his 13th start of the season. In his last outing, Liriano gave up three earned runs over eight innings against the Brewers. The White Sox will send Carlos Rodon to the mound for his seventh start. He has a 2.66 ERA in 40.2 innings this season.

In the minors, Stephen Tarpley will take the mound for West Virginia, trying to bounce back from his first poor start of the season. He gave up just one earned run, but in 2.2 innings, he allowed eight hits and three walks. In 17.2 innings this season, ten unearned runs have scored against him. Steven Brault has been on a long streak of success since some early season struggles. In his last nine starts, he has given up a total of 11 earned runs. Casey Sadler has a .211 BAA and a 1.48 GO/AO ratio. Altoona has off today. You can view last night’s prospect watch here.

MLB: Pittsburgh (35-27) vs White Sox (28-33) 7:05 PM
Probable starter: Francisco Liriano (3.25 ERA, 26:87 BB/SO, 74.2 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (41-24) vs Durham (38-27) 7:05 PM  (season preview)
Probable starter: Casey Sadler (3.01 ERA, 18:43 BB/SO, 71.2 IP)

AA: Altoona (37-24) @ Akron (31-30) 7:05 PM 6/16 (season preview)
Probable starter: Jason Creasy (2.97 ERA, 24:33 BB/SO, 69.2 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (29-34) vs Tampa (30-33) 6:30 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Steven Brault (3.00 ERA, 18:39 BB/SO, 60.0 IP)

Low-A: West Virginia (35-28) vs Augusta (30-32) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Stephen Tarpley (1.53 ERA, 7:18 BB/SO, 17.2 IP)

DSL: Pirates (6-7) vs Brewers (4-9) 10:30 AM (season preview)


Here’s a video of Willy Garcia extending his hit streak to 18 games. Sean McCool has an article on the improvements that Garcia has made at the plate this season. Garcia extended the streak another game on Sunday with a single.

Recent Transactions

6/14: Angel Sanchez promoted to Indianapolis.

6/14: Tyler Eppler added to Bradenton roster. Ryan Hafner released.

6/13: Brad Lincoln and Wilkin Castillo placed on Indianapolis disabled list. Radhames Liz activated from reserve roster.

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

Six former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date. They are, catcher Erik Kratz(2010), pitcher Bruce Del Canton(1967-70), infielder Gene Baker(1957-58, 1960-61), outfielder Bud Stewart(1941-42), first baseman Babe Dahlgren(1944-45) and 1890 first baseman Peek-A-Boo Veach, who has my second favorite Pirates’ nickname behind Bob “Death to Flying Things” Ferguson.

The Pirates have made nine trades of note on this date. You can read details on all nine trades here.

1982: Bill Robinson dealt to the Phillies for Wayne Nordhagen.

1977: Ed Kirkpatrick sent to the Rangers for Jim Fregosi.

1966: Don Schwall sent to Braves for Billy O’Dell.

1961: Gino Cimoli traded to Braves for Johnny Logan

1958: Gene Freese and Johnny O’Brien dealt to Cardinals for Dick Schofield.

1951: Cliff Chambers and Wally Westlake sent to Cardinals for Joe Garagiola, Dick Cole, Ted Wilks, Howie Pollett and Bill Howerton. Chambers threw a no-hitter one month earlier.

1949: Ed Sauer sent to Braves for Phil Masi.

1943: Dutch Dietz sent to Phillies for Johnny Podgajny.

1939: Bill Schuster sent to Braves/Bees for Elbie Fletcher.

  • John, You or Tim wrote a few weeks ago that the Hickory Club is virtually unbeatable. Why is that?

    • John Dreker
      June 15, 2015 2:30 pm

      Before their current 8-7 streak, Hickory had a 32-15 record, easily best in the SAL. Even with a slump since I wrote that, they are still well out ahead

  • How to be a Successful MLB GM

    1) Do the exact opposite of what Dave Littlefield did.
    2) Repeat Step 1.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    June 15, 2015 10:59 am

    Although I would never suggest that player development trump winning in the minors, I do think that it should be more important than what many may agree with. I think winning helps develop a winning attitude and breeds more winning – and I still say that one of the turning points in this franchise were the back to back titles that Lynchburg and Altoona won, with a core group that included several players who made it to Pittsburgh.

    With all that being said, coming into this season, I expected Bradenton to be very good and WV to be really bad – and its been largely the reverse. Bradenton suffered some key injuries (Barnes, Ramirez, etc) and their pitching has been pretty awful, with a couple of exceptions. WV has been winning – primarily with great pitching – as that team has not hit very well for most of the season. The last time I looked, they only had one regular hitting .300 (Suiter) – and most of their lineup is sub .250.

  • Bill Robinson was one of the great super utility men. He could play 1st, 3rd or the outfield. I feel every winning club should have someone like that. Glad we have two.

  • John that was very informative. I really never pay attention to W/L records in the minors but look at individuals. If you are winning with the same core throughout the process that does breed a winning attitude especially if the same group proceeds up the ladder.

    • Just a note on winning and moving up the ladder. Tyler Glasnow, Max Moroff and Eric Wood have all been together for four seasons and they have been to the playoffs each of the first three, including a GCL title in 2012. Altoona is in first place now, which I guess, shouldn’t be a surprise