First Pitch: Why Do the Pirates Keep Playing [Insert Struggling Prospect]?

I spend a good amount of time discussing the Pirates’ farm system with our writers, getting their thoughts on the guys they cover, and sharing notes about specific players. In a few conversations with Sean McCool this year, an interesting topic has come up that I’ve been meaning to write about for some time.

The topic usually comes up when discussing the infielders in Altoona, and it usually comes up when the conversation turns to Eric Wood. The third baseman isn’t having the best numbers this year, with a .230/.288/.307 line in 270 at-bats. The numbers last year were a bit better, but only at .271/.345/.393 in 399 at-bats. And the 2013 season featured a .255/.314/.360 line in 364 at-bats. The only time Wood had success in his career was in 2012 after he was drafted, when he posted a .287/.371/.467 line in 122 at-bats.

All of this raises the question: why does Wood continue getting so much playing time? And the answer takes me back to that 2012 season in the GCL.

We received a few reports from the GCL that year from scouts outside the Pirates’ organization. Some of the favorable reports were expected, with people liking Tyler Glasnow, Wyatt Mathisen, and other top prospects who were performing well. Other reports were a bit of a surprise, with two standing out: Max Moroff and Eric Wood. The reports on Moroff were stronger, but scouts liked Wood’s power potential.

To answer the question of why Wood keeps getting playing time, all you have to do is look at Moroff.

Moroff also had a big year in the GCL in 2012, posting a .343/.471/.433 line in 67 at-bats. But after that he didn’t show much for the next two years, with a .233/.335/.345 line in 2013 and a .244/.324/.340 line in 2014. Despite the struggles, he still kept moving up and kept receiving playing time.

If you just looked at the stats, you might have wondered why. It’s because the Pirates saw what the scouts saw in 2012, and continued to see that potential, even when Moroff wasn’t successful. And Moroff is now showing what everyone liked, hitting for a .307/.379/.406 line in 414 at-bats with Altoona this year. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s more power that hasn’t shown up in the stat line, as Moroff makes solid contact to the gaps on a regular basis.

Altoona has another example of this. Adam Frazier didn’t have the best numbers last year in Bradenton, with a .252/.307/.309 line in 492 at-bats. There were questions about why he was still getting playing time, especially with JaCoby Jones pushing him from West Virginia. I wrote last year that Frazier looked better than his numbers, and Wilbur Miller had the same report when he saw Bradenton. Frazier has looked much better this year, posting a .349/.398/.446 line in 258 at-bats, although some of that production is fueled by a high BABIP.

So why do the Pirates stick with Wood, despite the poor numbers? It’s because they’ve seen some potential in him, and are waiting for that to translate to the stat lines like it did with Moroff and Frazier this year. But it’s not always a guarantee that these players work out, even if scouts see the potential. It’s far more common to hear stories about players who keep getting chances and don’t work out. That might end up being the case with Wood, and he might have stopped getting chances a while ago if he played a position other than third base. But those guys with good reports and bad stats will keep getting chances, with the hope that a few of them eventually have breakouts like Moroff and Frazier.

**Cole Shows Why He’s Special in Pirates Victory Over Dodgers, Kershaw. Pete Ellis with the live report from PNC Park.

**Prospect Watch: Austin Meadows Homers, Pablo Reyes Has a Big Night. Includes a live report from Sean McCool in Altoona, along with my live report from Morgantown.

**Site Updates: Welcome Back, Returning Site Readers! This week’s site updates, although there aren’t many updates. Just a welcome back message to the old readers who have re-joined the site recently.

**Pirates Are Getting Big Numbers From a Big First Base Prospect. Carlos Munoz has been fantastic this year in Bristol. I broke down what works for him at the plate after seeing him all last year, and for several games last week. The big concern is his weight, which I went into detail with Munoz and Bristol manager Edgar Varela.

**Pirates Send Vance Worley Outright to Indianapolis. There were a lot of complaints when the Pirates went with Joe Blanton over Worley. Now they’ll have both in September.

**Guerra Returns to Pirates, Boscan Designated For Assignment. The Pirates were able to pull Guerra off waivers, which means they’ll be able to keep him as bullpen depth in September. Now Wilfredo Boscan goes through the waiver process to see if he can clear.

**Pirates Went With a Familiar Starting Pitching Strategy at the Deadline. I looked at some of the numbers for J.A. Happ, and realized that he looks exactly like some of the old reclamation projects for the Pirates. It’s going to be more challenging to make those changes on the fly. Speaking of Happ…

**J.A. Happ Getting Skipped in the Rotation. The Pirates are skipping him in the rotation, which isn’t a bad move. They don’t need him to pitch, and they can get him some time working with Ray Searage in the meantime.

**Morning Report: Tommy John Surgery Has Become All Too Common For Pirates. John Dreker breaks down the increase of Tommy John surgeries the last two years for the Pirates.

  • Angel Sanchez last season is another great example of this also.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    August 8, 2015 9:31 am

    Although I believe in the premise of the article – that we cannot write an prospect off, especially in the lower levels, sometimes the team does need to make the tough decision of moving on when a prospect has been given numerous and extended opportunities, and have failed to improve. A player like Allie comes to mind.

    • You gotta fill out rosters, so young guys struggling big time can still have value in the org if only to help fill out spots. Allie isnt a great example, but with him the pure power and hit potential if enough to give him multiple years before cutting the cord. If he isnt improving by 26 he’s done.

  • I would think at lower levels they are looking at improvement over a certain period of time. Can that player make adjustments and will he be open to instruction/changes?

    I know how stubborn I was at 22. I’m sure an 18-22 year old with a few hundred thousand dollars in his pocket can be adverse to change.

  • Eric Wood reminds me a lot of Jarek Cunningham. Similar power potential, but he never worked out.

    And, as EmJay states, his defense is below average.

    He may or may not be gone after this season? Esp with all those 3rd basemen we now have?

  • Tim: Wood is hard to understand because in addition to the piddling offensive stats, his play at 3B is very Pedro-like with 28 errors in 2013, 27 errors in 2014, and 16 already this year. He is still only 22, but even if he can find the power, where will he play?

    RHSP Dario Agrazal, 20, continues to impress at Short-Season with excellent control and is a ground ball machine.

  • Nice perspective. Maybe this should be something for me to remember when Conner Joe struggles. I am glad he’s been on a roll for the last week or so, seemingly getting a season’s worth of hits during that time.

    • Instead of Connor Joe, who is already in his age 23 season, how about Michael “Sushi” Suchy, who is in his age 22 season and has shown a lot better batting average and power potential this year.

      • BuccosFanStuckinMD
        August 8, 2015 9:27 am

        Suchy is a strong candidate for breakout player in the Pirates system this year….he is worthy of at least top 30 consideration, if not higher…