Morning Report: Two Different Approaches to Handling Young Pitchers

For West Virginia today, Stephen Tarpley will take on Lexington, who will go with Scott Blewett on the mound. That’s an interesting opponent, especially when you consider his circumstances. Last year, I followed Blewett closely leading up to the draft and was able to interview him in late May. He ended up going to the Royals in the second round. You could compare Blewett to the big three the Pirates took last year, Mitch Keller, Trey Supak and Gage Hinsz. In doing so you see a big difference between the Pirates and the Royals.

Blewett was rated a little higher than any of those three Pirates’ pitchers, but you’re still talking about three pitchers that were taken in the second round and the Pirates reportedly offered Hinsz a deal in the second round(which he turned down), before letting him go to the 11th round, where they could offer him an over-slot deal. They are all 19-year-old right-handers, with fastballs in the 90’s and tall/projectable frames. Despite all the similarities, Blewett will be making his 17th start in Low-A, while the others all went to Bristol together this season.

That difference in competition doesn’t speak to the difference in talent between the players. The Pirates added an affiliate in Bristol, so they could put high school pitchers there in their first full season of pro ball, as long as they are ready to leave the GCL. That was one of the main reasons they added the affiliate, though it also covers some high school position players and second-year international players. Getting back to Blewett, he was rated higher than the others, but he also came from a cold weather state and had a minor injury during his senior season, so he saw very little mound time. He may have had a higher upside according to those covering the draft, but he is someone you would consider raw due to his short high school season.

If he was in the Pirates system, it’s almost certain that he would have been at Bristol this year, especially with his limited innings last year. Blewett has thrown six innings in a game this year, something that definitely wouldn’t have happened with the Pirates, where he would be on a 5IP/75 pitch limit. He has a 5.33 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP in 72.2 innings. He also has a 23:53 BB/SO ratio and a 1.27 GO/AO ratio. Not the worst stats, but nothing great.

At the beginning of the year when Cole Tucker was assigned to West Virginia at such an early age, I talked with Tim Williams about it and realized that the worst case scenario on the field was that he failed at the level and moved to Morgantown when their season started. He would get a chance to play everyday against older competition, but could move down to something closer to his speed in late June if necessary. Other teams took that approach, namely the Brewers with Monte Harrison and Jacob Gatewood, who were two players we followed closely leading up to the draft. Harrison struggled in Low-A, then went to the Pioneer League and looked great until he got hurt.

The Pirates tend to take an easier approach with pitchers, keeping them in a controlled environment down in Pirate City until the short-season starts. Many people don’t include that when looking at Keller, Hinsz and Supak this year, but they were throwing regularly against competition in Extended Spring Training(EST). So they don’t just have 77.1 innings between them this year like the Bristol stat sheet reads, they have a lot more. You just don’t see it on paper because no one keeps record during EST.

Is one approach better than another? That’s probably something we won’t know for awhile(if ever) because there are too few cases to base it on right now, the players are so far from the majors, and each individual pitcher responds differently. The Pirates obviously haven’t had success avoiding arm injuries, with more Tommy John surgeries than any other MLB team over the last 18 months. That makes the slow approach tough to embrace, especially when you’ve heard about how dominating Tyler Glasnow is for the last three years, only to find out on Sunday from the GM that he isn’t in their plans this year. We’ve been trying to set you up for that for the last couple weeks, so hopefully you accepted it by then and Sunday was just a confirmation.

It will be interesting to follow the progress of Blewett and the big three for the Pirates. It’s probably a topic I’ll revisit sometime next year, possibly including more examples from the 2014 draft class, who fit into the same category of pitchers as the four mentioned here.

Playoff Notes and the 2009 Draft

There are some interesting match-ups going on right now in the minors. Indianapolis starts a series against the team they are trying to hold off in the division. The Indians will likely make the playoffs anyway, since they are well ahead of the second best wild card team, but you obviously want the home field advantage in the playoffs.

Altoona is taking on first place Bowie, who they can still catch. They need to do really well over these final eight games, which will be tough, since they are all road games. The Curve still have a wild card team chasing them, and Richmond has an easier schedule to finish the season.

You also have Bradenton with two more against Palm Beach, who they trail by four games. Since Palm Beach owns the tiebreaker, the Marauders have to win both games to stay alive.

We have mentioned that Zack Dodson is one of the three 2009 draft picks still in the system, a list that could be at zero going into next season. Tony Sanchez is far from a sure thing to stick around, especially with no options left. Jeff Inman is injured again, barely pitching over his seven seasons, though he has looked like a future Major League reliever at times. Then there is Dodson, who has thrown 147.1 innings this year for Altoona, 25 more than he has thrown in any other season.

The latter two would have to be signed as minor league free agents and I could see both being resigned. Inman still looks to have potential, although we never heard what his latest injury is, so that might have an impact on the decision to bring him back. Dodson has been a reliable starter this year, looking great at times when he keeps the ball down, which in turn keeps he pitch count down. He’s also a lefty, so that always helps his case. There is also the thinking that if a team keeps you around for seven years and you still have a regular role, then they probably wouldn’t mind having you back.

Pirates Game Graph

Source: FanGraphs

Playoff Push

The Pirates trail by 4.5 games in the division to the Cardinals. They have a five game lead for the top wild card spot.

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

Altoona is 6-4 in their last ten games. They are in second place, 4.5 games back of Bowie and they lead the wild card by three games, with eight games left.

Bradenton is 5-5 in their last ten games. They trail Palm Beach by four games in the standings with six games left. That includes two against Palm Beach, who they need to sweep, due to the Cardinals holding the tie-breaker.

West Virginia has clinched a playoff spot.

Morgantown is 7-3 in their last ten games. They have a half game lead in the wild card chase with eight games left in the season. None of the 12 teams behind them in the wild card chase have been eliminated yet.

The Bristol Pirates were eliminated from the playoffs.

The GCL Pirates’ season is finished. They did not make the playoffs.

The DSL Pirates’ season is finished. They did not make the playoffs.

Today’s Schedule

Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pirates lost 5-0 to the Rockies on Sunday afternoon. They now travel to Milwaukee for three games, after an off-day on Monday.

In the minors, Vance Worley starts for Indianapolis, in what could be his last start before being recalled when the rosters expand. He has pitched three times since being sent to the minors, throwing a total of 18 innings. In his last game, he allowed three runs on nine hits in six innings. Prior to that, he threw seven innings without an earned run, striking out nine batters. Stephen Tarpley allowed one run over seven innings in his last start. He is fifth in the SAL in ERA, seventh with a 1.14 WHIP and tied for ninth in strikeouts. The DSL and GCL Pirates are done. You can view the DSL season recap here. You can view last night’s prospect watch here.

MLB: Pittsburgh (79-50) @ Milwaukee (55-75) 8:10 PM 9/1
Probable starter: Gerrit Cole (2.44 ERA, 38:166 BB/SO, 169.2 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (79-57) @ Columbus (78-58) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Vance Worley (2.50 ERA, 5:13 BB/SO, 18.0 IP)

AA: Altoona (71-63) @ Bowie (75-58) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Zack Dodson (3.91 ERA, 34:76 BB/SO, 147.1 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (69-63, 37-25 second half) vs Palm Beach (73-59) 6:30 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Felipe Gonzalez (3.56 ERA, 26:70 BB/SO, 93.2 IP)

Low-A: West Virginia (81-50, 44-18 second half) vs Lexington (54-76) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Stephen Tarpley (2.49 ERA, 23:97 BB/SO, 105.0 IP)

Short-Season A: Morgantown (36-32) @ Batavia (28-39) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable Starter: TBD

Rookie: Bristol (29-34) @ Elizabethton (32-34) 7:00 PM (season preview)
Probable Starter: TBD

GCL: Pirates (28-31)

DSL: Pirates (30-42) (season recap)


Here is Mel Rojas Jr. robbing a possible homer, or maybe just extra bases.

Recent Transactions

8/29: Alen Hanson activated from Temporary Inactive List. Wilkin Castillo assigned to GCL.

8/28: Carlos Munoz promoted to Morgantown.

8/28: Edwin Espinal activated from Bradenton disabled list. Clay Holmes placed on disabled list.

8/28: Kelson Brown placed on disabled list.

8/26: Stephan Meyer and Tanner Anderson promoted to Morgantown.

8/26: Cristian Mota promoted to Bristol.

8/25: Ke’Bryan Hayes promoted to Morgantown. Raul Siri promoted to Bristol.

8/25: Kevin Kramer promoted to West Virginia. Jordan Luplow placed on disabled list.

8/25: John Bowker placed on disabled list. Kelson Brown activated from disabled list.

8/25: Pedro Florimon sent outright to Indianapolis.

8/25: Alen Hanson placed on temporary inactive list.

8/22: Jordy Mercer activated from disabled list. Travis Ishikawa placed on disabled list.

8/22: Josh Wall sent outright to Indianapolis.

8/22: Pirates release Jesus Ronco and Luis Brun

8/21: Josh Harrison activated from disabled list. Josh Wall designated for assignment.

8/20: Corey Hart assigned to Indianapolis on rehab.

8/20: Travis Snider signed to minor league deal.

8/19: Josh Wall added to Pirates. Pedro Florimon designated for assignment.

8/18: Edwin Espinal placed on disabled list. Junior Sosa activated from Bradenton disabled list.

8/18: Adam Miller placed on disabled list. Jeremy Bleich activated from temporary inactive list.


This Date in Pirates History

Eight former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus six trades of note. Everything was covered in the link at the beginning, so with so much to mention, I’ll just list all the transactions and players and you can view the link if you so choose.

The Trades:

2011: Outfield Matt Diaz sent to Braves for Eliecer Cardenas.

1997: Shortstop Shawon Dunston acquired from the Cubs.

1985: Bill Madlock sent to Dodgers for R.J. Reynolds, Sid Bream and Cecil Espy.

1981: Pirates acquired second baseman Johnny Ray and two players to be named later from the Astros for Phil Garner.

1968: Relief pitcher Elroy Face sold to Detroit Tigers.

1953: Johnny Lindell sold to Philadelphia Phillies.

Players born on this date:

Morris Madden, 1988-89 pitcher.

Ramon Hernandez, lefty reliever from 1971 until 1976.

Roy Berres, catcher from 1937 until 1940.

Syd Smith, 1914-15 catcher.

Wally Rehg, 1912 outfielder.

Monte Cross, 1894-95 shortstop.

Red Ehret, 1892-94 pitcher.

Duke Farrell, 1892 OF/3B.

  • Today I Learned: the Tigers promoted Dave Littlefield to VP of Player Development?

    EDIT: I didn’t even add that question mark; the commenting software apparently couldn’t believe it either. Ok, that was a lie, but really…

  • Lets see if Pirate Ray can rebuild this guys career: Phillippe Aumont was just released by the Jay’s. I always liked this guy, and think he is a fix away from being one heck of a pitcher. Really couldn’t hurt to try and see what they can do with him. (I think he is only 26?).

  • Thank you for this write up I am always interested in the different approaches each team has when managing their young pitchers. I have a tendency to be critical about the way the Pirates manage their staff. Part of it is I do not know how many innings these guys throw in extended spring training. Also I am of the opinion that each pitcher or hitter should make his own path. I think sometimes I believe the Pirates hold players back simply because they had a plan that the playing just exceeded beyond what management anticipated. Other times I think they hold players back because of fiscal reasons (they want a player at peek value for the years they have him locked up). The Pirates present management certainly have been successful doing what they do. I would like to see how we compare to some of the other successful teams such as the Cards, Cubs,Dodgers etc.. I would also Like to see how we compare to some of the teams who have had many failures.

    • When you mentioned the Pirates holding back players because of fiscal reasons the first thing that popped into my head was the Cubs not bringing up Kris Bryant.
      Does anyone really think that was done for performance issues? I never had a problem with the Pirates doing it, but if a team with pockets as deep as the Cubbies do it then you really can’t blame any team for trying to get the most production from their top flight players. I’m sure a quick search will find other teams that have done the same thing. If the players union doesn’t like it negotiate another process in the next contract. (And I’m not anti-union, I was president of our local.)

      • I agree almost every team does it to some extent. I think its the right thing to do for the Pirates who do have a budget unlike a number of teams in this league. It is frustrating though when you know a player could help but he is not up because of things other then baseball. In the 70s and 80s you got a glimpse of your teams future when they brought up next years stars in September. That never or rarely happens now because that would cost a team a year of service. What you get now are specialist (speed guys, Loggys, extra catcher etc. with an occasional power RP).

        • The success of the Pirates has also changed the way they view September callups.
          September has gone from giving prospects a look, to fortifying an already strong major league team.
          These callups will not be starting important September games so it makes sense to call up veterans with specific skill sets.

    • IC: “Also I am of the opinion that each pitcher or hitter should make his own path.” That is well stated and it is one of the problems I have with our developmental system, and I see it more often with pitchers. Some need the slow approach while some want to seek their own level by their performance. I get tired of hearing why a guy has not been promoted because THE PLAN was for him to spend the whole year at a certain level. And, with the rash of TJ’s we are seeing, are we sure this method is better than others? Other playoff teams who promote on merit, and expose their kids to higher levels earlier seem to have fewer arm problems.

      I do not see these kids, but I trusted that we were teaching them how to succeed in MLB. Then I find out through articles on this site that young guys like Glasnow or Taillon are slower to the plate from the stretch than Morton or Burnett. We got those two as babies – practically a clean slate to work with, and certainly had the time, but we seem to have ignored that part of pitching altogether. Just my $0.02 on a slow day.

  • Jake from State Farm throws a no-no. This guy scares me more than anyone we have faced in three years. The Cubbies aren’t going away and we better hope that the analytic’s crew at PBC find some flaws or tendencies with this stud or we may be one and done again.

    • Think the O’s would like a do over on that deal?

      • As good as Searage & Benedict have been, the Cubs have the best reclamation project in baseball.

    • Or he could go 6 innings and give up 2-3 runs (he’s done it many times this year) and its a ballgame.

      He’s very good, and certainly can dominate, but he aint unflappable.

    • Jake will be a tough matchup for sure, but I can assure you the Scrubbies aren’t exactly doing cart wheels looking forward to facing Cole at PNC either.

    • I’m sure the Cubs won’t be particularly thrilled about facing Cole either. People just assume that we’re going to lose the wild card game, just because we did last year. Cole has just as much of a chance of throwing a gem as Arrieta does.

    • The frequency with which no hitters are occurring is diminishing some of their luster. The strike zone is larger, and players seem not to alter approach with two strikes as much any more (or at least this is want baseball color commentators frequently say). I guess a complete game is pretty impressive at this point.

      Good pitching can come out of nowhere.

  • John, while reading this I realized that I haven’t seen anything, or else I have missed it, on Angel Sanchez in a good while. Any news at all ?

    • There hasn’t been any update. He left with what looked like a forearm injury and that is the last we heard. Only answer was that he will be reevaluated in a few days

      • Thanks for that John. He is another pitcher I think could be a big asset in the near future.

  • Dunston had a freakin’ gun.

  • Ramon and Giusti were quite the L-R duo in the 70s, just like Tony and Mark.