Morning Report: Looking Back at the Players Sent to the AFL Last Year

The Pittsburgh Pirates sent eight players to the Arizona Fall League last year, five pitchers and three position players. During league play, the Pirates saw good results from four of their pitchers, while Thomas Harlan struggled in a starting role. Elias Diaz held his own at the plate, but Dan Gamache and Josh Bell each had a tough time. While Diaz isn’t exactly struggling at the plate with a .713 OPS, the other two players have been the better hitters this season. I figured I’d take a look at how some of these players are doing now and how the AFL experience may have helped them.

As mentioned, Harlan was the pitcher that had the most trouble with his 9.64 ERA in 14 innings, but it’s interesting to note that the player that has performed the worst out of this group is the only one not in the system anymore, Joely Rodriguez. He is still a tough player to figure out, because many scouts praised his stuff and we saw results live, but he has really only had the results to match the stuff once in his career, back in 2013 when he looked strong in A-ball at two levels. Since he isn’t in the system anymore, most people don’t follow him regularly. I’ve checked his stats about 5-6 times throughout the year and the results have never been pretty.

Rodriguez began the year starting in AAA, which would probably have been his role if he stayed in the Pirates’ system. I have no idea if the Phillies tried to make a change with him, but he’s now pitching in relief in AA, so that should tell you about the free fall he has seen. He is probably on par with what we saw with Mel Rojas Jr. this year. Someone that looked like the majors would call in 2015, but now he is further away than he was at the start of 2014. Rodriguez has a 6.45 ERA this season in 89.1 innings, with a .326 BAA and a 1.82 WHIP. About the only good thing you can say is that he has held on to his 40-man roster spot, so they must see something there.

Getting back to the current Pirates that played in the AFL, Bell was there mostly to learn how to play first base and just get some general experience there. He played a little in the Fall Instructional League before leaving for Arizona, but he was basically brand new to the position on Opening Day of the league. His hitting wasn’t good, though it was probably good experience to see some of the best young pitchers on a nightly basis and maybe it wasn’t bad to struggle a little.

We looked at it from a standpoint of him having trouble against tough pitching, but also acknowledging it’s not easy to step up in competition while also learning a new position. It’s possible that putting up poor numbers was good motivation for Bell, who probably spends more time in the batting cages than anyone in the system. He has always hit well before, so it was something different and I highly doubt he was happy with the results. When you throw in Dan Gamache, you have two players that had trouble against tougher competition and this year they have turned the results around.

If you were looking at AA players to go to the AFL this season, you could use Bell and Gamache as examples of reasons to go. Learning a new position, or in Gamache’s case, making up for lost time. Most of the players come from AA, and it’s usually American-born players, since others can(and do) play winter ball in their home country. Adam Frazier might be a player that fits both examples, with his time spent in the outfield this year and him missing the first month. Players usually don’t go to the AFL twice, but there have been exceptions. You wouldn’t mind seeing Bell go again(which is highly unlikely) just to get extra time in at first base and go there with a chance to be more comfortable at the plate to see what he can do.

One player that built off results from the AFL, was Angel Sanchez. He had some impressive relief outings, after what could be considered a nightmare 2014 season that saw him pitch poorly for four different organizations. The AFL experience allows you to work on pitches under tough conditions and that’s what a lot of pitchers go there to do. While looking for potential candidates for this year, I usually look first for pitchers that could use extra innings. A prime example this year would be John Kuchno, who has been in the bullpen all season after starting the last two years. Sanchez didn’t need the extra innings, he pitched plenty in both 2013 and 2014.

Sanchez got strong reports from the AFL to go along with the good stats. His fastball was hitting 94 MPH and he was showing excellent off-speed stuff. This year, he has basically done the opposite of Joely Rodriguez, getting taken off the 40-man roster and working his way up to the second best option now out of Indianapolis if the Pirates should need a spot starter. In four starts this month, he has a 2.05 ERA, an 0.91 WHIP and a .206 BAA in 26.1 innings, with a 4:21 BB/SO ratio. He only has seven AAA starts, so you’d like to see more time with Indianapolis before you really consider him for a start, though he has 187 innings in AA, so that counts towards upper level experience pitchers need.

If you want to look for a player that is struggling like Sanchez was in 2014, then maybe Jason Creasy is a prime candidate for an AFL tour. This year at Altoona, he is having the “stuff without results” season that Sanchez had last year. Some poor outings have kept Creasy’s innings down, so he could fall short of last year’s total, which would make him a starter candidate in the AFL.

Pirates Game Graph

Source: FanGraphs

Playoff Push

The Pirates trail by six games in the division to the Cardinals. They have a three game lead for the top wild card spot.

Indianapolis is 5-5 in their last ten games. They have a one game lead in their division.

Altoona is 5-5 in their last ten games and they are now tied for second place with Richmond, both two games back of Bowie.

Bradenton is 8-2 in their last ten games. They trail Palm Beach by 1.5 games in the standings.

West Virginia is 6-4 in their last ten games and they have a one game lead in the division.

Morgantown is 9-1 in their last ten games. They trail by four games in the division.

Today’s Schedule

Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pirates won 3-1 over the Nationals on Sunday. After an off day today, the Pirates will go on the road to take on the Minnesota Twins in a quick two-game set. Charlie Morton will be on the mound against Mike Pelfrey on Tuesday night.

In the minors, Adrian Sampson has been named the Indianapolis starter. Clay Holmes is making his fourth start for Bradenton, after three rehab starts with the GCL Pirates. He has a .196 BAA with Bradenton and a 2.00 GO/AO ratio. Chad Kuhl has an 0.76 ERA in four July starts. He is holding right-handed batters to a .230 BAA this season. Colten Brewer is averaging nearly a strikeout per inning on the season, but over his last ten starts, he has 59 in 53.1 innings. Neil Kozikowski didn’t start last night for Bristol, as Billy Roth moved up a day, so it’s possible Kozikowski goes tonight instead. Morgantown is off today. You can view last night’s prospect watch here.

MLB: Pittsburgh (57-41) vs Twins (52-46) 8:10 PM 7/28
Probable starter: Charlie Morton (4.59 ERA, 20:36 BB/SO, 64.2 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (58-44) @ Columbus (57-45) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Adrian Sampson (3.95 ERA, 29:92 BB/SO, 118.1 IP)

AA: Altoona (54-48) vs Richmond (53-47) 7:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Chad Kuhl (2.75 ERA, 34:75 BB/SO, 111.1 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (51-48, 19-10 second half) @ Clearwater (57-44) 7:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Clay Holmes (2.70 ERA, 5:11 BB/SO, 13.1 IP)

Low-A: West Virginia (57-42, 20-10 second half) @ Hagerstown (49-49) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Colten Brewer (5.13 ERA, 22:68 BB/SO, 72.0 IP)

Short-Season A: Morgantown (20-16) @ Tri-City (19-17) 7:05 PM 7/28 (season preview)
Probable Starter: TBD

Rookie: Bristol (13-17) @ Pulaski (19-14) 7:00 PM (season preview)
Probable Starter: TBD

GCL: Pirates (14-11) vs Phillies (20-8) 12:00 PM (season preview)

DSL: Pirates (19-29) vs Brewers (20-28) 10:30 AM (season preview)


Here is a video of Keon Broxton crushing his third homer for Indianapolis

Recent Transactions

7/25: Pirates designate Brent Morel for assignment.

7/25: Justin Sellers sent outright to Indianapolis

7/25: Adam Miller assigned to GCL on rehab

7/24: Robert Stock activated from disabled list.

7/23: Pirates traded Yhonathan Barrios to Milwaukee Brewers for Aramis Ramirez and cash.

7/23: Steve Lombardozzi designated for assignment.

7/23: John Holdzkom assigned to Morgantown on rehab.

7/23: Hunter Morris activated from Indianapolis disabled list.

7/23: Wes Freeman released. Andy Otamendi assigned to Bradenton.

7/23: Mervin Del Rosario assigned to GCL Pirates.

7/22: Pirates purchase contract of Pedro Florimon. Wilfredo Boscan optioned to Indianapolis. Jayson Aquino designated for assignment.

7/22: Barrett Barnes promoted to Altoona. Andy Vasquez promoted to Indianapolis.

7/22:  Gorkys Hernandez assigned to Indianapolis on rehab.

7/21: Jonathan Schwind and Andrew Lambo assigned to GCL Pirates on rehab.

7/21: Harold Ramirez activated from temporary inactive list. Robert Stock placed on disabled list.

7/20: Jordy Mercer placed on disabled list. Pirates recall Brent Morel. Corey Hart transferred to 60-day DL.

7/20: Tito Polo activated from temporary inactive list. Jeff Roy promoted to Bradenton.

7/20: Kelson Brown activated from Indianapolis disabled list.

7/19: Junior Lopez assigned to Bradenton. Oderman Rocha assigned to GCL Pirates.

7/19: Pirates place Gorkys Hernandez on DL. Wilfredo Boscan recalled.

7/19: Jose Tabata activated from temporary inactive list.

7/17: Pirates sign Jake Thompson. Assigned to Indianapolis.

7/17: Pirates recall Jaff Decker.

7/17: Oderman Rocha assigned to Bradenton. Junior Lopez assigned to GCL Pirates.

7/16: Hunter Morris placed on Indianapolis disabled list. Jose Tabata placed on temporary inactive list.

7/15:  Pirates sign Ryan Nagle. Assigned to Morgantown.

7/15: Pirates sign Brandon Waddell and James Marvel. Waddell assigned to Morgantown.

7/15: Luis Paula sent to Morgantown.


This Date in Pirates History

Two former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus a key game from the 1979 season. Starting with the players and neither was around too long. Enrique Wilson played for the 2000-01 Pirates, joining the team on July 28,2000 in a deal with the Indians for Wil Cordero. The next season he was dealt to the Yankees on June 13th for Damaso Marte. Wilson was a valuable utility player during his first season with the Pirates, seeing time at 2B/3B/SS and putting up a .723 OPS. He was mostly playing shortstop in 2001 before the trade and had a .186 average in 46 games.

The other player born on this date was left-handed pitcher Irish McIlveen, who despite pitching for the Pirates back in 1906, is one of the last Major League players born in Ireland. He was a star athlete at Penn State and joined the Pirates in July of 1906, right out of college. McIlveen pitched twice for the Pirates and played three games off the bench. After coaching two years at PSU, he returned to the majors with the New York Highlanders, playing exclusively in the outfield. By May of 1909, he was out of baseball.

On this date in 1979, the Pirates took a doubleheader from the first place Montreal Expos that brought them within a half game of the NL East top spot. The link above has more details for the games, including quotes from Dave Parker, who got hit by a pitch in both games of the doubleheader. You can find the boxscore for game two here, which has a link for the first game.

On this date in 1907, the Pirates turned a 3-6-3 triple play against the Philadelphia Phillies in game two of a doubleheader, which the Pirates won by a 3-0 score. It was just the third triple play by the Pirates at home in the franchise’s  26 season history up to that point. With runners on first and second, first baseman Joe Nealon caught a hard hit line drive right at him and immediately threw to Honus Wagner, who touched second and returned the throw to Nealon before the runner from first could get back. The previous five triple plays by the Pirates all occurred on the road.

  • I was at that Expo/Pirate DH. GREAT time!

  • John: Do you think that Joely Rodriguez can resurface as an effective pitcher for an MLB team? I’ve seen him pitch a few times and he looked like a decent prospect. I am wondering if the Phillies changed his approach and delivery? He is on their 40 man roster and not knowing the situation with his Rule 5 status he may be available.

    • Rodriguez showed nothing in AA last season. High ’80s lo 90s with little movement most of the time with poor control let alone command.

      • I personally was never real high on him, but rated him higher than I wanted to because scouts love his stuff. I had three of them after one game come up to be and talk highly of him, two unsolicited.

        I didn’t like that all of his pitches had a small window of velocity. I saw a game he threw around 75 pitches and 73 of the pitches were 83-90, one 91 and one was something like 80 I believe. He was throwing three different pitches but there was so little difference in velocity that the batters could sit speed instead of guess pitches. Even with a change-up, they say you want to see an eight MPH difference. I would have suggested a high-70’s curve instead of the hard slider he threw.

    • If he is on their 40-man, then he isn’t Rule 5 eligible. If they take him off and he clears waivers, then he will be. Scouts loved him before this year and after seeing him in the AFL, some thought he was better than just a #5 starter.

      I don’t know what happened to him this year, but I do know he is healthy(at last check with a reliable source) and he is having his worst season ever. I can’t imagine he totally lost his potential, even at his worst point this year, a scout told me he will still make it, even if it’s a power reliever. He still only 23 too, so that helps.