Morning Report: Mitchell Tolman Leads the Offense For Morgantown

With the Pirates off tonight, the playoff game in Morgantown takes center stage today. They won 4-0 over Williamsport on Sunday night to move to the finals. The Black Bears will have an interesting decision to make when it comes to their rotation for the playoffs. They will also have some travel issues in this short series, but not as bad as the team they are playing. I want to start briefly with one of the stars of their first series, then move on to the other two things.

Mitchell Tolman was taken in the seventh round of the draft this year by the Pirates. He was known as a terrific defensive player at Oregon, winning the Rawlings Gold Glove for college third basemen. They only give out one of those per position, so he had to beat out a lot of other third basemen around the country to take that award home. So what did the Pirates do with this talented glove at the hot corner? They had him playing second base when Kevin Kramer got hurt, then staying there when Ke’Bryan Hayes joined the team. The results weren’t good on defense, but he was putting in the work to get better and embraced the position change. That’s a great sign to see, because it has to be tough to find out you’re voted the best at your position, then two months later, you’re playing a new position for the first time.

As I said, it didn’t go great on defense, but Tolman didn’t take that sudden failure to the plate with him. He finished the season with a .330 average in August, followed by .414 in seven September games. This was all during a playoff run, at a new position and he was moved to the top of the batting order. In the playoff series against Williamsport, he had two hits in game one, then collected three of the four Morgantown hits in game three, scoring two of their four runs. Tolman finished with 16 doubles, which was five off the league lead. His 33 walks had him tied for fifth in the NYPL.

With his defensive prowess, I expect him to get better at second base if he stays there, which is possible, since I expect Jordan Luplow to be the Bradenton third baseman, blocking a jump in levels. Ke’Bryan Hayes looks like a sure thing for third base at West Virginia next year. That will likely mean Tolman plays second base, although Hayes will see his share of off-days as he plays a full season for the first time, so Tolman could still see 30-40 starts at his old position. One thing is for sure, if he hits like he did to finish the season, they will find a spot for him.

Morgantown moved on to the finals and that was bad news for Staten Island. They won the other series on Thursday night and they have been home since, waiting to see which team they would face. If Williamsport won, the first game would have been in Staten Island, so they could stay home Sunday night and go to sleep in their own beds. That would have been followed by a 200 mile trip after Monday’s game, for a Tuesday game in Williamsport. For the minor leaguers, that’s a normal bus trip, so no big deal.

Instead, Staten Island had to leave home sometime after 7:45pm last night when Morgantown won, taking them on a 380+ mile trip, which will be immediately followed by a trip home following tonight’s game. Not that Morgantown has it much easier, going the 220 miles from Williamsport to home, followed by the trip to Staten Island. For the Yankees though, the Morgantown win added 560 miles of bus riding over an approximate 33 hour time frame. They’re still a Yankees’ affiliate though, so no sympathy here for them.

No starter has been announced yet for Morgantown, so it will be interesting to see if they go with 19-year-old righty Luis Escobar for the first game. He started two games at the end of the season, after pitching well in the Gulf Coast League. He’s a talented young pitcher, with the ability to hit 95 mph consistently. He’s also very raw, as he was an unsigned 16-year-old third baseman just three years ago before his coach tried him out on the mound. Escobar has really improved in a short time, showing much better control this year in the GCL, compared to last year in the DSL. He is a great sleeper candidate for next season, someone the Pirates might push to Low-A and let him take his bumps there in 2016.

A playoff game would be a terrific experience for Escobar, but I’m sure Morgantown also wants to win, and in a short series, you don’t like to give away games. This is a case where you could see development triumph over winning. Morgantown has two of the top pitchers in the league with Jonathan Brubaker and Dario Agrazal Jr. available. Brubaker last pitched on Monday, so that would be a week between starts if he went tonight. Agrazal pitched game one of the series on Wednesday, so he would be on six days if he went Tuesday. That would give the Black Bears the best chance to win.

The problem would be if they used those two the first two games and the series went three games, you would either have Escobar not pitching for ten days, or Bret Helton going, and he didn’t pitch well in game two or during the season. My guess is that they go development with this start and give the ball to Escobar, but he will be on a short leash, with Luis Paula set to take over if things go wrong early. That would leave their top two pitchers for the last two games.

Indianapolis won their series Friday night, so now they await the winner of the Norfolk/Columbus series. That best-of-five series is tied 2-2, with the deciding game played tonight. The International League finals will begin on Tuesday night, with the last three games of the best-of-five series taking place in Indianapolis. I will add the series to the playoff schedule tomorrow morning, once I know who the Indians will be facing. The Morning Report and Prospect Watch will both continue until the day the last playoff game is played. You can find last night’s Prospect Watch here.

Playoff Schedule

Indianapolis vs Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Best-of-five series. Indianapolis won the series 3-0

9/9: Indianapolis 7, Scranton/WB 3

9/10: Indianapolis 6, Scranton/WB 1

9/11: Indianapolis 4, Scranton/WB 2

Altoona vs Bowie. Best-of-five series. Altoona lost the series 3-1.

9/9: Altoona 8, Bowie 7

9/10: Bowie 7, Altoona 0

9/11: Bowie 11, Altoona 3

9/12: Bowie 3, Altoona 0

West Virginia Power vs Hickory. Best-of-three series. The Power lost the series 2-1.

9/9: West Virginia 4, Hickory 2

9/11: Hickory 6, West Virginia 3

9/12: Hickory 1, West Virginia 0

Morgantown vs Williamsport. Best-of-three series. Morgantown won the series 2-1

9/9: @Morgantown 7:05 postponed until 9/10

9/10: Morgantown 2, Williamsport 1

9/11: Williamsport 3, Morgantown 1

9/12: @Williamsport 12:00 postponed until 9/13

9/13: Morgantown 4, Williamsport 0

Morgantown vs Staten Island. Best-of-three series. NYPL Finals.

9/14: @Morgantown 7:05

9/15: @Staten Island 7:00

9/16: @Staten Island 7:00

Pirates Game Graph

Source: FanGraphs

Playoff Push

The Pirates trail by 2.5 games in the division to the Cardinals. They have a four game lead for the top wild card spot.

Today’s Schedule

Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pirates won 7-6 in 11 innings over the Brewers on Sunday afternoon. Today is an off-day, followed by a day-night doubleheader against the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday. This doubleheader will be the start of 17 games in 16 days. Gerrit Cole will start game one on Tuesday, followed by J.A. Happ in the second game.

MLB: Pittsburgh (86-56) vs Cubs (82-60) 1:35/7:05 PM DH 9/15
Probable starter: Gerrit Cole (2.54 ERA, 42:175 BB/SO, 180.2 IP) and J.A. Happ (1.79 ERA, 7:42 BB/SO, 40.1 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (83-61) @ TBD 9/15
Probable starter:  TBD

AA: Altoona (74-68)

High-A: Bradenton (74-64)

Low-A: West Virginia (87-52)

Short-Season A: Morgantown (42-34) vs Staten Island (41-34) 7:05 PM
Probable Starter: TBD

Rookie: Bristol (29-36)

GCL: Pirates (28-31) (season recap)

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


Here is video of Keon Broxton making a circus catch out in left field.

Recent Transactions

9/10: A.J. Burnett activated from disabled list.

9/9: Zack Dodson promoted to Indianapolis.

9/9: Felipe Gonzalez and Hunter Morris promoted to Altoona. Robert Stock assigned to GCL Pirates.

9/7: Travis Ishikawa activated from disabled list.

9/5: Travis Ishikawa assigned to Indianapolis on rehab.

9/3: Hunter Morris assigned to GCL Pirates

9/2: Austin Meadows, Tyler Eppler and Montana DuRapau sent to Altoona. Matt Benedict and Mel Rojas Jr sent to Indianapolis

9/2: Oderman Rocha assigned to Bradenton

9/2: Pedro Florimon added to 40-man roster. Deolis Guerra placed on 60-day DL.

9/1: Luis Escobar promoted to Morgantown

9/1: Casey Sadler placed on 60-day DL. Elias Diaz, Bobby LaFromboise, Jaff Decker recalled

9/1: Rob Scahill activated from DL. Travis Snider and Radhames Liz added to 40-man roster

This Date in Pirates History

Five former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, including the first baseman in the first game in franchise history. We start back in 1882 with Jake Goodman, who hit .317 in ten games with the Alleghenys. When Pittsburgh defeated Cincinnati back on May 2, 1882 in that first game, Goodman batted fifth. He was soon replaced at first base, despite the nice average. That was the end of his Major League career, with his only other playing time coming in 1878 for Milwaukee(NL).

Other players born on this date include four pitchers, three of them lefty relievers.

Jerry Don Gleaton, lefty reliever for the 1992 NL East champs. He had a 4.26 ERA in 31.2 innings over 23 appearances in his only season in Pittsburgh.

Frank Carpin, 1965 reliever. Another lefty with one season for the Pirates. Carpin had a 3.18 ERA in 39 games for the Pirates. He was taken by the Astros in the Rule 5 draft following the season.

Fred Green is the third lefty reliever and he stuck around a little longer. He was a member of the 1960 World Series champs, posting a 3.21 ERA in 70 innings. He pitched three times in the series and got hit hard, allowing ten runs in four innings. Green played for the Pirates from 1959 until 1961 and then again in 1964.

Don Williams, righty reliever. He pitched briefly for the Pirates in 1958 and 1959, posting a 6.75 ERA each season. He signed with the Pirates in 1953 and was sold to the White Sox during the 1961 season. He missed two years due to military service.

  • I hope tolman becomes another Brock holt-type player.

    • I watch a little College ball and he was one of the few names I recognized that they drafted. Seems like a kid that has the tools.

  • “For the Yankees though, the Morgantown win added 560 miles of bus riding over an approximate 33 hour time frame. They’re still a Yankees’ affiliate though, so no sympathy here for them.”

    Ha! Makes me like you more than ever John!

    • I root against the Yankees teams in the Dominican Summer League so you can bet I’m doing the same in the playoffs three levels higher

  • I was always curious as to how St. Louis were able to draft such talent as Matt Carpenter and Matt Adams later in the draft. Perhaps Tolman can be one of those players for the Pirates, although he was drafted in the earlier than the other two I mentioned.