Morning Report: Slow Starts For Some 2015 Draft Picks

Before you read too far into this, just remember that it is way too early to worry about any of these players getting off to a slow start. Saying that, there are some very poor starts for some of the new draft picks. Morgantown was having some real trouble before Tuesday, but two players got their average to the Mendoza Line, so it doesn’t look quite as bad as it did coming into the game.

First round pick Kevin Newman(pictured above) had two hits on Tuesday, including his second double. He is hitting.212/.297/.273 through eight games. I don’t even think it would cause concern if he had those numbers at the end of the season. That’s because he has a great track record, winning two Cape Cod league batting titles and he hit .370 this year at Arizona. It’s also easy to say there won’t be a concern because he won’t finish with numbers that low. If he did, he would probably be hiding an injury. There are two other good reasons to expect him to start hitting better soon. Newman is older for his draft class, turning 22 in a month. He’s also playing in a league where the level of competition is lower than what he saw in college.

That last sentence for Newman holds true for Casey Hughston, who is having a start to his pro career that he would like to forget. He is 1-for-29 with ten strikeouts, leaving him with an OPS that is below that Mendoza Line. I’m not sure what you could say about that type of slump other than it looks worse at the beginning of the season as opposed to the middle, where a strong start and finish could hide a real bad week. Hughston is another solid hitter that is adjusting to pro ball, and coming around slowly. Some people will look at the start and think he was an overdraft in the third round, but that’s where most people had him going, so patience is the key.

You could also add in second round pick Kevin Kramer, with his .200 average and no extra-base hits in eight games. Or Mitchell Tolman, the seventh round pick, who is hitting .167 through nine games, although he does have seven walks. Sticking with top ten picks, you can go to the pitching side and look at the stats of J.T. Brubaker(6th round) and Bret Helton(9th) in their first two starts. Helton has a 7.50 ERA and Brubaker has a 9.45 ERA.

Morgantown also has catcher Christian Kelley, who was the 11th round pick and a surprising one at that because based on previous years, it looked like the Pirates would go with someone that fell in the draft due to bonus demands. Kelley was probably taken right about where he should have went, somewhere in the 11-15 round range, where there isn’t a big difference once you get to that point. He’s hitting .158 so far, plus he allowed seven stolen bases on Tuesday and made his third error.

There are obviously a lot of examples just from the early rounds of this draft that are looking bad early. I would just call it a bad 11 game stretch for the team and move on. Some people might choose to look at the results from Jordan Luplow and Connor Joe from last year and wonder if the Pirates have trouble scouting hitters, but Joe, Luplow, Hughston, Kramer and Newman were all ranked well going into the draft, so it’s not as if they didn’t stock up on some better bats, just the results are there yet. You could even say at this point that it’s too early for Joe due to his back injury and Luplow because he was young for his draft class, born two months after Kevin Newman.

Pirates Game Graph

Source: FanGraphs

Playoff Push

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

Indianapolis is 5-5 in their last ten games. They have a five game lead in their division over Columbus, the team they are currently playing.

Altoona is 2-8 in their last ten games and they are now trailing by 2.5 game in their division.

Bradenton and West Virginia did not win their first half title. The second half began Thursday for both teams and the second half records will be included below in the schedule.

Today’s Schedule

Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pirates won 5-4 against the Tigers in 14 innings on Tuesday night. A.J. Burnett will be on the mound tonight, making his 16th start of the season. Last time out, he allowed one earned run over six innings against the Reds. The Tigers will counter with Alfredo Simon, who has a 3.57 ERA in 85.2 innings. In his last two games combined, he has given up 12 earned runs on 14 hits and six walks in nine innings.

In the minors, Radhames Liz will make his second start for Indianapolis. He threw four shutout innings last week in his first start. Steven Brault makes his third start for Altoona and he threw six shutout innings last time out. Billy Roth will make his second start for Bristol. He went five innings in his debut, and while he gave up three earned runs, he also had six strikeouts. You can view last night’s prospect watch here.

MLB: Pittsburgh (43-33) @ Tigers (39-37) 7:08 PM
Probable starter: A.J. Burnett (2.01 ERA, 27:86 BB/SO, 98.1 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (46-32) vs Columbus (42-36) 1:35 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Radhames Liz (0.00 ERA, 4:10 BB/SO, 9.1 IP)

AA: Altoona (42-35) @ Trenton (41-35) 7:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter:  Steven Brault (3.48 ERA, 3:10 BB/SO, 10.1 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (36-40, 4-2 second half) vs Charlotte (46-30) 6:30 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Frank Duncan (4.11 ERA, 32:51 BB/SO, 76.2 IP)

Low-A: West Virginia (42-33, 5-1 second half) @ Kannapolis (37-38) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Austin Coley (3.94 ERA, 11:65 BB/SO, 77.2 IP)

Short-Season A: Morgantown (5-6) @ State College (4-7) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable Starter: TBD

Rookie: Bristol (3-5) @ Elizabethton (5-3) 7:00 PM (season preview)
Probable Starter: Billy Roth (5.40 ERA, 1:6 BB/SO, 5.0 IP)

GCL: Pirates (4-3) vs Tigers (6-2) 12:00 PM (season preview)

DSL: Pirates (12-15) vs Braves (11-16) 10:30 AM (season preview)


Here we have video of an RBI single from Josh Bell on Monday night. He went 0-for-5 on Tuesday night, but he still has a .321 average and 35 walks, with just 31 strikeouts.

Recent Transactions

6/30: Corey Hart sent on rehab to Indianapolis.

6/30: Jose Tabata outrighted to Indianapolis.

6/29: Jeff Inman and Gift Ngoepe promoted to Indianapolis.

6/29: Pirates sign Daniel Zamora.

6/28: Jose Tabata designated for assignment. Gorkys Hernandez added to Pirates roster.

6/28: Chris Volstad designated for assignment. Steve Lombardozzi added to Pirates roster.

6/28: Clario Perez promoted to Altoona. Wes Freeman activated from disabled list.

6/28: Kawika Emsley-Pai retired.

6/28: Hunter Morris activated from Indianapolis disabled list.

6/27: Junior Lopez promoted to Bradenton. Dovydas Neverauskas activated from West Virginia disabled list.

6/26: Tyler Glasnow assigned to Altoona.

6/26: Deolis Guerra added to Pirates roster. Rob Scahill placed on disabled list.

6/26: Wilkin Castillo activated from Indianapolis disabled list.

6/25: Robert Stock added to Bradenton roster. Jordan Steranka placed on disabled list.

6/24: Casey Sadler placed on disabled list. Brad Lincoln and Josh Wall added to Indianapolis roster.

6/24: Corey Hart placed on disabled list. Chris Volstad added to Pirates roster.

6/23: Pirates sign Shane Kemp. Assigned to Bristol.

6/22: Andy Otamendi assigned to Morgantown.

6/21: Marek Minarik and Luis Paula sent to Bristol.

6/20: Pirates release Edgar Munoz

6/20: Pirates sign Garrett Russini as a non-drafted free agent.

6/19: Pirates sign Sean Keselica and Stephan Meyer. Both players assigned to Morgantown.

6/19: Collin Balester traded to Cincinnati Reds.

6/18: Steven Brault promoted to Altoona. Jin-De Jhang added to Bradenton roster.

6/18: Ten draft picks signed and assigned to various short-season teams. Link here with details. Five others were also signed later in the day. Details here.

6/17: Alen Hanson placed on disabled list. Kelson Brown added to Indianapolis roster.

6/17: Pirates sign Kevin Kramer, Tanner Anderson, Nicholas Economos and Mike Wallace. Kramer assigned to Morgantown. Anderson and Wallace assigned to Bristol. Economos assigned to GCL.


This Date in Pirates History

Three former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus a trade of note. Starting with the players, we have pitcher Al Tate(1946), pitcher Frank Barrett(1950) and outfielder Fritz Scheeren(1914-15). Barrett has an interesting note to his career stats. They have been officially wrong for at least the last 40 years. Sometime between his last game and the printing of the 1976 baseball encyclopedia, his stats got changed to what they read now. He actually pitched a little less with the Pirates and gave up a run less. In this article from 2012, I broke down where the changes were made, which gave him a 4.15 ERA, when in fact he had a 2.45 ERA during his brief stay in Pittsburgh.

On this date in 1921, the Pirates traded pitcher Elmer Ponder to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for outfielder Dave Robertson. The Pirates were hardly using Ponder and Robertson was struggling with Chicago, so both players got a chance for more playing time with their new team. Robertson put on a show at the plate with Pittsburgh, hitting .322 the rest of the way and he drove in 48 runs in 60 games. Ponder got hit around in Chicago, so short-term, it looked like a great deal. Robertson, who won two home run crowns earlier in his career, decided to hold out in Spring Training the next year and the move backfired. The Pirates released him and he later signed with the Giants, but had a tough season, one that would be his last in the majors.

  • Ke’Bryan Hayes 3-3 today. 6-11 with no strikeouts on the season. What a start.

  • John,
    Interesting article regarding Barrett, and I see that it still has not been corrected. Perhaps we should have a PP write-in to see if we can collectively get it fixed. I know I have already mailed it in to Baseball Reference per their site.

  • So before I start complaining (once again) about this years draft choices, when is it no longer a “small sample size” ? 🙂

    • Jim Negrych hit .360+ for a whole season one year right?

      • Aye, in his 3rd year. 🙂 Is that the sample size then? 🙂

        • So hard to judge minor league stats. Improving bb rates and k rates often a better judge as to if a guy is adjusting than the difference in a few HR and 30-40 points of batting average. Especially when we are talking about less than 200 AB or so.

  • In this age of snap judgments and over reactions, I am glad the Pirates show discipline and more patience than other organizations do with their young players.

  • Unrelated to the article, but have you heard any interest in Clayton Richard from other teams since the 72-hour window opened up on the “poop or get off the pot” clause in his contract?

    As far as the article goes, maybe it’s just my way of thinking, but I’m not expecting anything from the 2015 draft class this year except for them to listen and learn.

  • IMO that the crown jewel of this class is KeBryan Hayes [ down in the GCL] until he proves me wrong. Harold Reynolds on MLB network when his named was announced said, “the steal of the draft”. He watched him play in HS down in Texas. The Pirates need position players and several are getting close to being Pirates. The Pirate future looks rosy but maybe not this year.

    • Why not this year? 2nd best record in NL. 4th best in MLB. Who would really be surprised if Pirates bats get hot and start carrying the team? It’s not like Walker, Pedro, et al haven’t shown the ability to go on a tear before.

      • Too many holes in this lineup including a SP and several in the bullpen.

        • Scott Kliesen
          July 2, 2015 6:45 am

          This team is far from perfect, but it’s certainly good enough to win it all. They have SP to compete night in and night out and back end of bullpen is rock solid. Just need a couple seasoned vets (Walker & Alvarez) to find their stroke to get this offense going, as it showed last night in Detroit.

    • Speaking of Hayes, he did it again today with a 2B and a 3B. Incredible work from the youngster thus far.

  • piraterican21
    July 1, 2015 10:35 am

    I know this petty and I do want every Pirates prospect to succeed, but I chuckle when ever I see Newman’s daily line for no other reason that Keith Law rated him the 2 nd best prospect in this draft, ha! Hopefully he turns out to be just that!

  • Darkstone42
    July 1, 2015 10:14 am

    Most to all of the college hitters we took this year started playing a couple weeks to a month after their last college game, and the timing lag could have something to do with their performance, as well, like when a Major League hitter goes on a rehab assignment at A+ and can’t touch anything for a couple games, not because he’s not good enough, but just because he hasn’t seen live pitching in so long.

    I’m sure they’ll all start to hit.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    July 1, 2015 9:29 am

    What gives me hope with Luplow is that he is at least driving the ball and getting extra base hits and a few HRs. One would hope that he will improve on his average going forward.

    • John Dreker
      July 1, 2015 9:53 am

      I think a lot of small factors help his case, with age being one, the position change another, and a couple minor injuries related to the position change that have cost him time

  • John – do you guys have any mid-season scouting reports planned for some of these 2014 guys? Would be nice to get a feel for what scouts are seeing, not just the stat line.

    Jordan Luplow, in particular, is matching his peripherals almost exactly from a year ago, except for a 50+ point BABIP drop. How much of that is poor contact and why? Connor Joe is sporting borderline-elite plate discipline, but very low BABIP as well.

    • NMR, with Joe I think a lot of it can be chalked up from his horrible start this year after not playing for over a year. Maybe he had to get some AB under him and get the rust off and start squaring the ball up again.

      • I think you might be correct, freddy.

        This is admittedly completely arbitrary, but take out his first 10 games as a pro and he’s hit .297/.419/.405 while only striking out 10% of the time and drawing even more walks than K’s. I’d imagine that is exactly what the club was hoping for when they drafted him.