Morning Report: DSL Pirates Have Been Disappointing From a Prospect Standpoint

About three weeks ago, I did a DSL recap of the first half and it was mostly focused on a young team having a lot of issues with injuries. Since then, the team has been relatively healthy, at least compared to the first half. The problem with the three injuries that have occurred since then, is that they are all big name players.

Catcher Gabriel Brito and pitchers Brian Sousa and Adonis Pichardo have all missed time recently. Brito has returned after a left hand injury cost him two weeks, but the two pitchers are still out. Sousa is having shoulder issues for the second time, while Pichardo has arm fatigue and hasn’t pitched since July 15th. Those three players all received six-figure bonuses shortly after the July 2nd signing period began last year.

Pichardo is the truly disappointing one because the other two are still very young for the league. He is 19 years old, which is league average. Pichardo signed two years later than normal after he showed an uptick in velocity and he continued to improve in that area coming into the season, touching 96 MPH. When he has pitched this season, the results haven’t been there, with a 6.97 ERA and 1.87 WHIP.

Pichardo isn’t the only pitcher struggling, as the Pirates rank 37th among the 38 teams in ERA, just two points ahead of the worst. Their 1.58 WHIP is the worst in the league, and they are 33rd in strikeouts. It’s not surprising that they aren’t among the best, since all but two of their 54 starts have come from first-year players. The two that didn’t were by Raymond Rodriguez, who is only 18 and was a reliever pushed into two spot starts, so they have one of the youngest rotations in the league. The problem isn’t that they aren’t among the best though, it’s just how bad they have been.

The best pitcher on the staff has easily been closer Ramon Garcia. He made the All-Star team and he’s having a strong season, but you don’t hear about too many 23-year-old closers in the DSL going on to have future success. Unfortunately, the best hitter has also been a 23-year-old, Huascar Fuentes. Just like with relievers, you don’t see too many success stories coming from players his age in the DSL, especially when the players position is first base.

So with that in mind, just who has looked the best among prospects so far? On offense, Mikell Granberry has an .836 OPS and he’s still 19, but he had defensive issues behind the plate, mostly from rushing throws. That’s partly due to pitchers having trouble holding runners on, but the other catchers have definitely had better success. Gabriel Brito has an .807 OPS, but he has missed a lot of time.

From the pitching side, you really can’t pick anyone that has done well and is considered a prospect. I will point out Julian Villamar, who has the arm to be a talented reliever. He throws mid-90’s and has a curve that breaks hard. Unfortunately, control has been an issue, so while he has upside, he could also never leave the DSL. His control has looked good in his last four outings, which totaled 9.2 innings, so it’s an encouraging small sample size.

The season recap won’t be anything like last year’s, when it was tough picking just ten prospects for the top ten. I ended up adding another three “names to watch” and 11 of those 13 players came to the United States, leaving this team with little experience. That wasn’t helped by all of the injuries, which left a young team looking like a very bad team.

I would assume that next year’s team will be better because I don’t see a lot of players being promoted, and if there ends up being a lot, it’s going to include a bunch of players that struggled this year. They are bringing in some strong international signings from this year, plus two pitchers that were signed back in June before the July 2nd signing period. Both of those pitchers have high upside and they have been in the academy with the team for two months already. So next year’s team has a lot of top signings coming in and should be a much more experienced group, which should equal a better team. The 2015 season has definitely been a down year for the DSL Pirates.

Pirates Game Graph

Source: FanGraphs

Playoff Push

The Pirates trail by 5.5 games in the division to the Cardinals. They have a 3.5 game lead for the top wild card spot.

Indianapolis is 6-4 in their last ten games. They have a three game lead in the division.

Altoona is 4-6 in their last ten games and they are in second place, four games back of Bowie.

Bradenton is 7-3 in their last ten games. They trail Palm Beach by one game in the standings.

West Virginia is 7-3 in their last ten games and they have a four game lead in the division.

Morgantown is 6-4 in their last ten games. They trail by five games in the division.

GCL Pirates are 7-3 in their last ten games. They are tied for first place, though their winning percentage is nine points higher than the other team.

Today’s Schedule

Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pirates defeated the Reds by a 3-0 score on Sunday to split the four-game series. Pittsburgh now heads home for three games against the Cubs. Francisco Liriano will be on the mound tonight, making his 21st start of the season. He faced the Cubs back on April 21st, allowing three runs over five innings. Chicago will go with Jon Lester, who has a 3.26 ERA in 132.2 innings. He allowed one run over seven innings versus the Pirates on May 16th.

In the minors, it’s a light day on the schedule tonight, as three teams have off. Radhames Liz gets his eight start. He has thrown shutout ball in five of his seven starts and allowed one run in another. He has a .176 BAA and a 0.97 WHIP. Liz has thrown 19 shutout innings over his last three starts. Austin Coley has 85 strikeouts this season, seventh most in the South Atlantic League. Altoona, Bradenton and Bristol all have off today. You can view last night’s prospect watch here.

MLB: Pittsburgh (61-43) vs Cubs (57-47) 7:05 PM
Probable starter: Francisco Liriano (2.92 ERA, 42:140 BB/SO, 126.1 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (63-46) @ Durham (52-56) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Radhames Liz (1.02 ERA, 15:51 BB/SO, 44.1 IP)

AA: Altoona (58-51) @ New Britain (51-56) 7:05 PM 8/4 (season preview)
Probable starter: Zack Dodson (3.93 ERA, 26:53 BB/SO, 121.1 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (55-51, 23-13 second half) vs Jupiter (49-59) 6:30 PM 8/4 (season preview)
Probable starter: TBD

Low-A: West Virginia (62-43, 25-11 second half) vs Greenville (55-51) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Austin Coley (4.00 ERA, 17:85 BB/SO, 105.2 IP)

Short-Season A: Morgantown (22-20) vs Auburn (20-21) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable Starter: TBD

Rookie: Bristol (17-20) @ Kingsport (19-20) 7:00 PM 8/4 (season preview)
Probable Starter: TBD

GCL: Pirates (20-11) vs Tigers (17-13) 12:00 PM (season preview)

DSL: Pirates (21-33) vs Yankees2 (30-24) 10:30 AM (season preview)


Here is Josh Bell’s first AAA hit, which happened to be a walk-off winner in the 13th inning.

Recent Transactions

8/2: Shane Kemp sent from Bristol to GCL.

8/2: Josh Smith activated from Altoona disabled list.

8/1: J.A. Happ added to active roster. Bobby LaFromboise sent to Indianapolis.

8/1: Josh Bell and Jeremy Bleich promoted to Indianapolis.

8/1: John Holdzkom placed on disabled list. Hunter Morris sent to Altoona.

7/31: Pirates trade Adrian Sampson to Mariners for J.A. Happ.

7/31: Pirates trade Jose Tabata to Dodgers for Michael Morse and cash.

7/31: A.J. Burnett placed on disabled list. Bobby LaFromboise recalled from Indianapolis.

7/31: Deolis Guerra designated for assignment.

7/31: Dan Gamache promoted to Indianapolis. Erich Weiss promoted to Altoona. Trace Tam Sing promoted to Bradenton.

7/30: Pirates trade JaCoby Jones to Detroit Tigers for Joakim Soria

7/30: Vance Worley designated for assignment.

7/30: Justin Seller traded to Chicago White Sox for a player to be named later, or cash.

7/30: Pirates sent Gorkys Hernandez outright to Indianapolis

7/30: Logan Ratledge promoted to Morgantown. Erik Forgione promoted to West Virginia

7/30: Pirates acquire Joe Blanton for cash considerations.

7/29: Pirates trade Jayson Aquino to Indians for cash considerations.

7/28: Gift Ngoepe placed on disabled list.

7/28: Pirates release Ulises Montilla.

7/28: Brent Morel refuses outright assignment to Indianapolis.

7/28: Miguel Ferreras retires. Mervin Del Rosario promoted to Bristol.

7/27: JaCoby Jones promoted to Altoona. Josh Smith placed on disabled list.

7/27: Steve Lombardozzi sent outright to Indianapolis. Andy Vasquez placed on disabled list.

7/27: Jordan Steranka activated from Bradenton disabled list. Isaac Sanchez placed on disabled list.

7/27: Junior Sosa added to Bradenton roster.

7/27: John Holdzkom activated from Indianapolis disabled list.

7/26: Jonathan Schwind assigned to Bristol on rehab.

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.

This Date in Pirates History

Five former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus a managerial change of note. The players start with shortstop Kevin Elster, who signed as a free agent in 1997, but broke his wrist in mid-May and missed the rest of the season. Mackey Sasser, catcher for Pirates in 1987 and in 1995. The Pirates acquired him at the 1987 trading deadline for Don Robinson, then flipped him to the Mets the next spring for Randy Milligan. He didn’t last long as a free agent signing in 1995, getting released in May.

Sid Bream, played first base for the Pirates from 1985 until 1990 and then I’m not sure what happened to him, probably something I’m just trying to forget.

Jim Gott, relief pitcher from 1987-89 and then again in 1995. Teammates with Sasser during both stops with the team. He had 34 saves for the 1988 team.

Gus Getz, third baseman for the 1918 Pirates. Had a forgettable time in Pittsburgh, but his career had two things that were noteworthy. He had 1172 in the majors and walked just 24 times. He also hit two homers as a pro and connected on them just eight days apart during a seven-year career.

On an off-day in 1957, the Pittsburgh Pirates had a 36-67 record and decided to make a change, firing manager Bobby Bragan and hiring Danny Murtaugh to be the interim manager. Murtaugh led the team to a winning record(26-25) the rest of the way and three seasons later, he skippered them to their third championship in franchise history. He would win 1115 games as the manager of the Pirates and brought home another title in 1971, while also making the playoffs three other times.

John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.

When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.

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Andrew Rothstein

Jacoby Jones hit 3 homers yesterday??!! That’s pretty good … At least we got a save out of Soria!

Scott H

So…who comes off the roster today when Morse joins the team?

My prediction is that it comes down to Rodriguez or Ishikawa, who can also both play the 1B/OF.

I trust Ishikawa’s bat a bit more, but S-Rod has been with the team all season.

Talent wise, Florimon should probably go, but that leaves Rodriguez as the only back-up MIF on the team.

Decker could be optioned, but then Rodriguez, Ishikawa and Morse are your only options for 4th OF, which wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world because the starting three don’t need defensive replacements late in a game.

Now, that I think of it, I’m kind of hoping it is Decker…

michael t

Talking to another Bucs fan today and this topic came up. Compared to football and hockey and the NBA, baseball has an enormous investment in “development” teams. The Bucs have at last 7 such teams by my count. How many total minor league players do the Pirates have under contract? I realize all are not “prospects” for the ML but the investment of time and money is huge to end up with 25 major league players. Do any of these minor league teams break even or make money? Has there ever been a major league franchise successfully pass the whole deep minor league group of affiliates and basically just fund AA and AAA teams?

michael t

Thanks John. 250 players is more than I would have imagined. With that many players added to the age and development variables its no wonder you get guys like Polanco coming out of nowhere after 4-5 years of nurturing.

Andrew Rothstein

John – is there a cap on the total number of players that can be on a minor league roster? I know there are limits on the active roster, but I’m wondering if there is a total limit including guys on the DL?


The Bucs promoted a lot guys from the DSL to both GCL & Bristol and went with a very college heavy draft. If there are few promotions from the DSL, would they have to go for a more prep heavy draft in 2016?

Richard H

With Burnett most likely done I believe someone like Liz and even Glasnow could be a starter that puts up an ERA in the 3’s. If Glasnow pitches well in his next 3 starts I see his chances of being successful at the majors at about 80%. I would not bring up either as a reliever but can’t help but think one could be the 3rd starter #’s the team would need if they go passed the wild card game. Cole performed at that level as a rookie and helped in the playoffs and Glasnow has experienced more success than him in the minors. It might be a slight rush but I believe he would succeed. I still would like to have him get a few more starts at AAA but a September call up makes sense to me if he is putting up Liz #’s and keeping his changeup in the 88 range.


Glasnow’s also younger, and maybe more susceptible to the pressure of MLB.


They should’ve promoted Liz rather than trade for Happ. At least Liz shows some promise. Happ is Zach Duke redux.

michael t

You have to wonder if AJ was hiding the extent of his elbow discomfort that he disclosed yesterday has been there for weeks. Would the Bucs have let Clayton Richard walk, who is 2-0 with the Cubs? Based on the quotes from NH, Bucs had no intention of adding a starter until AJ announced after the blow-up that he couldn’t go and was put on the DL. Then we had a few hours to find an arm. Morton came up huge yesterday and we have to hope Liz does it again tonight. Cubs and Dodgers this week provide a big test and will affect the wild card race. We are going to find out if this team can create some breathing room in the face of what may be some bad news after AJ’s exam.

michael t

John…I am aware of the timeline but AJ’s interviews since going on the disabled list indicate the elbow was a problem before the All-Star break and his performance is evidence of that. I am not saying Richard would be our savior, I am of the belief the organization would have behaved differently if AJ had told them the elbow as getting worse. We all hope the exam today reveals no damage and rest will get him back on the mound.


This may be reflection of the fact that the Pirates have not invested as much in Latin America as some other teams – namely, typically going for quantity and not quality in their July International signings. It would be like and NFL team only drafting fifth round picks, and trying to compete against some teams with a lot of first, second, and third round picks….

Richard H

What does Liz need to do to get a chance to start? Liz has good stuff, has a 1.02 ERA 15b/51k 44.1 innings is about as dominant as you can be. What is his game missing?


They shouldn’t have gone out and gotten Happ.

Sure, Liz might be a AAAA starter, but we know what Happ brings: High 4.00 ERAs.


Maybe not after the Pirates brain trust works their magic.

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