Pirate City Notes: Connor Joe and Luis Heredia Show Progress

BRADENTON, Fla. – The Pirates’ Class-A teams played Toronto’s at Pirate City this afternoon.  The High-A lineup:

  1. Kevin Newman, DH
  2. Kevin Kramer, 2B
  3. Connor Joe, 3B
  4. Jerrick Suiter, 1B
  5. Taylor Gushue, C
  6. Jordan Luplow, 3B
  7. Pablo Reyes, SS
  8. Elvis Escobar, RF
  9. Tito Polo, CF

In addition to the above, Cole Tucker stepped in for three at-bats, getting one hit.  Tucker still is not making throws from short during drills, with his throws at this point being limited sessions after practice.

The afternoon started off on a negative note.  Stephen Tarpley warmed up to start the High-A game, but stopped, leading to a huddle with the trainer and coaches.  Tarpley threw one more test pitch, then left holding his side. (UPDATE from Tim Williams: I’m told it was discomfort in his right side, and that he will be re-evaluated tomorrow.)

Lefty Sean Keselica replaced Tarpley.  Keselica threw mostly in the upper 80s, with quite a few changeups.  He gave up a home run to his first batter and generally got hit fairly hard.

Luis Heredia, newly assigned to the bullpen, followed Keselica for one inning.  Heredia sat at 93 MPH and hit 94-95 several times, which is the hardest I’ve seen him throw since . . . well, ever.  His control started off shaky, as he walked the first hitter, but he settle down after that, fanning the next two, in part due to a nice curve that he threw for strikes a couple times.  The fourth hitter reached on a routine grounder that Connor Joe simply held onto for too long.  The fifth hitter singled, but Michael Suchy and Jerrick Suiter combined on a good relay to get the runner at the plate.

Christian Mota and Julio Eusebio followed Heredia.  Mota is a small lefty, but he threw a 91-93 MPH fastball, along with a few changeups.  Eusebio sat at 91-92.  Both had relatively quiet outings.

The offense produced some fireworks, as Joe showed signs of recovery from the back problems that limited him last year.  He hit a pair of home runs to left and also tripled to deep right-center.  Suiter added two longballs of his own, both to the opposite field just inside the foul pole.  One may have been wind-aided, but the other definitely wasn’t.  Michael Suchy had a triple off the batter’s eye in center.  Pablo Reyes hit several balls hard and had two hits.  Reyes has been a second baseman for the last two years, but he played short today and has also seen time at third this spring.  He had a good year in Low-A in 2015, but if he goes to Bradenton, the Pirates will have to search for a way to get him playing time.  The Marauders figure to have Kevin Newman, Kevin Kramer, Joe or Luplow playing in the infield most of the time.

Speaking of Luplow, he’s been limited by an injury to his non-throwing shoulder and has been playing left field, but he replaced Joe at third briefly today.  The move produced unfortunate results, as Luplow collided with first baseman Sam Kennelly as the two were chasing a pop-up.  Luplow was down for a bit with an apparent leg injury, but returned to the game and, eventually, to left field.  Kennelly didn’t fare as well and had to be carted off with what appeared to be a left leg injury. (UPDATE from Tim Williams: Kennelly is getting a scan on his knee and shin area tomorrow, but seems hopeful that it’s not bad.) At the plate, Luplow had a double to deep right-center.

West Virginia

The Low-A lineup was:

  1. Mitchell Tolman, 2B
  2. Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B
  3. Casey Hughston, CF
  4. Carlos Munoz, 1B
  5. Ryan Nagle, LF
  6. Ty Moore, RF
  7. Albert Baur, DH
  8. Christian Kelley, C
  9. Alfredo Reyes, SS

The starter was righty Bret Helton.  He threw 90-93, but had trouble, especially early, getting his secondary stuff over for strikes.  He got hit hard at times.  Scooter Hightower followed Helton.  He threw in the upper-80s with a sharp curve.  After Hightower came Mike Wallace, who also threw in the upper-80s and added a changeup.  Shane Kemp finished.

I saw less of the hitters in the Low-A game.  Tolman had an opposite field home run and Alfredo Reyes hit a couple balls hard.  He also covered a lot of ground at short.  Hughston had a pair of hits, although they weren’t struck especially hard.

  • John/Tim/Wilbur – hearing anything yourselves to back up Heyman’s tweet about Corey Leubke?

    No doubt being the agent-mouthpiece he is, with Leubke set to opt out on Tuesday, but would be interested in what you guys have seen/heard.

    • Was wondering the same…

      Haven’t heard much about him as of late…no predictions he’ll make the club. If he’s throwing as well as Heyman claims, his being under control for next season is interesting…

      • And nobody has really come close to showing that they’ve earned that 7th spot in the pen, without even taking a possible Hughes DL trip into account.

        • Hadn’t thought about Hughes. Thanks for the reminder.

          I’d pretty much assumed Luebke was out of the picture as I’ve heard so little of him…was definitely surprised to see the tidbit pop up.

          Yes, it could be agent fueled…but if he’s legitimately sitting in the mid-90s on a FB and a high 80s curve as a lefty. Meh, why the heck not if is control is respectable? It’s not like the last reliever can’t be hidden away…

          #Stolmy

          • Bingo.

          • Yeah, at this point i’d just tell him he’s got a spot if he sticks around to start the year.

            You dont have a clearly good option for the last bullpen spot, and he’s both a lefty and with potentially not awful stuff. I’d gladly let him know he’s a lock for the OD roster to avoid him bolting so we use Scahill.

  • Via Wilbur on Bucs Dugout…

    Heredia looks like he lost at least 20 pounds.

    • He took a picture of Heredia on Monday in his pitching motion that isn’t as flattering. I think he definitely lost 20 pounds or more since last spring, but he’s in about the same shape as the set of pics we have from late July in Bradenton.

      Heredia, Harold Ramirez and Carlos Munoz were sent to the same team in Mexico with some strict workout plans for their off-season. Ramirez got into great shape. Heredia at least maintained his weight, but probably got stronger, while Munoz doesn’t look like anything happened, though I read multiple times about the workouts he was doing throughout the winter. So he was doing them and someone from the Pirates was there watching him.

      • Appreciate the follow-up, John. Thanks.

      • That Heredia didn’t balloon up over the winter is, at least to me, a glimmer that he might be taking things a bit more seriously/professionally.

        Wish I could say the same for myself…ugh, three more months until thong season and I’m nowhere near ready….

  • Has there been any David Whitehead sightings?

    • Wilbur Miller
      March 24, 2016 11:05 pm

      He was supposed to start Tuesday, which would have meant he’d pitch at Pirate City, but they had a schedule change and the AAA and AA teams went on the road instead. So we missed him.

      • Thanks to both of you. I will be interested in your thoughts after you see him as to if he is just organizational depth, or is there possibly more there.

    • To add to what Wilbur said, I’ve only seen him in bullpen sessions. Minor league camp can be weird, because sometimes you never see certain pitchers. Today I had a thought that Austin Coley might be injured, because I literally haven’t seen him on the mound since early in camp. Then I reviewed the pitching charts and saw he threw the other day on the road.

  • Have pretty much given up hope on Joe and Heredia. If they can salvage something, anything…I’ll do the biggest happy dance.

    • Ditto on heredia

    • It seems about a season too early to give up on Joe. Heredia on the other hand won’t be a starter but reliever – maybe if his velocity increases.

      • Wilbur Miller
        March 24, 2016 10:47 pm

        I’m not really sure why so many people have been gleefully declaring Joe a failure. He was recovering from back trouble last year. This year will be his first chance to play without restrictions. Maybe he’ll work out and maybe he won’t, but anybody pretending to know he won’t just because of last year isn’t being objective or reasonable.

        • Wilbur: It is not in our best interests to wish any pick does poorly. The pick was “who?” and then the Pirates compounded it by saying they saw him as a Catcher, and we definitely did not need additional catchers. We had other positional needs and players were still on the table, but it did not happen.

          If Joe can get double figures this year in HR’s, it will bode well for the Pirates. However, watching him fielding side-by-side at 3B with Ke’Bryan Hayes at Pirate City, his future is not at 3B.

          • “We definitely did not need additional catchers”

            Well, okay. If we just ignore that its one of the spots where you cant ever have enough depth maybe. You can always take on another catcher, and if he doesnt take to it/you have a roster issue you move him to another spot.

            You are thinking of the draft in terms of positional needs. The team doesnt, and thats a good thing. They arent drafting for need, and almost always dont care what the popular pick at a spot is.

          • If Joe moved to second, and all things considered go his way, does he profile as a righty second baseman Neil Walker?

      • Agreed on Joe…he just has a hard time registering because he was such an iffy pick to begin with, then got injured so soon into his career. Regardless of his talent level, he became an afterthought not too long after signing. I’m all for him living up to his ceiling.

        With Heredia…whew…hopefully the change does him well. Heck, if he ever pitches for the big club, I’ll be happy the Pirates recouped something for the investment. It’s hard to believe he’s still only 21…

    • I get Heredia, but why would you give up on Joe? This is his first season in pro ball where he’s not dealing with the impact of an injury.

      • I’m guessing it was 90% that he was such a surprise pick, then fell off the radar with an injury so soon into his career. It was hard to get excited for him, then just as hard to remember he was in the system.

        • Dude, it seriously says something about prospect expectations if a *2014* Draft pick can go from disappointing selection to forgotten in less than two years, 18 months of which he was essentially injured.

          • Joe was a pretty blah pick to begin with, maybe he’s a real sleeper, but coming down with Barrett Barnes’ Disease didn’t allow him the opportunity to show anything off.

            Hopefully, now that he’s healthy, he’ll have a chance to display his skills, but, considering his age, another lengthy minor league injury stint is going to seriously threaten his chances of being a solid contributor in the majors.

            I’m still not positive where he’s going to play…1B or 3rd…but, even at high A, he’s going to be staring up at the more advanced (and younger) Luplow and Osuna as holding down his position(s) at the next level. So, barring injury to one of those guys, it’s not as if the Pirates can even fast-track him.

            I assume his best chance is that, if Bell is promoted, then Osuna steps up to AAA and maybe Joe can back-fill at Altoona by mid-season? But, at nearly 24 and just getting a taste of A+, the clock is ticking for Joe.

            • I think this is getting awwwwful close to suggesting they start drafting for need, and I know you’d never recommend that.

              We’re talking about the same organization that just traded a similarly-valued pick from the same draft for the rights to 28-yo Jason Rogers, who has less versatility than the guy you’re arguing has no position with the Pirates. This seems like we’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves, no?

              If Joe maintains anything close to the elite plate discipline and contact skills shown so far while adding a bit of power to his game, I have absolutely zero question that the Pirates will have a need for his services at any of the four positions he can play over his six years of control.

              • Not suggesting drafting for need at all. In the NFL? Sure. In hockey? Maybe.

                But baseball? No. Not unless it’s a very, very, very special case. And, as the Pirates picked Joe 39th…he’s going to fall well out of the range the rare ‘for need’ player could be taken.

                I think Joe can contribute…but my point is, you can reasonably argue he’s been surpassed by Osuna and Luplow on the depth chart…and Hayes is fast on his heels. He may be able to overcome this, but another extended injury means he runs the risk of players he’s currently ahead of in development overtaking him…much like Barrett Barnes is now an afterthought to guys like H. Ram., Meadows, and even Garcia.

                Hoping the best for the kid and the team…but he’s already slightly behind the eight ball due to his age and inexperience.

                • Well boy have we come a long way in this conversation!

                  “Have pretty much given up hope on Joe…”

                  😉

                  • Ahhhh, darn it! You got me 🙂

                    No, I’m not optimistic…he’s got a long and winding road ahead of him. He can’t afford another substantial injury, his tools are really going to have to shine, and, perversely, his best route is if some of the competition ahead of him weakens…be it by trade, injury, and/or nonperformance.

                    I really can’t root for the last one, but I do hope the kid stays healthy and does what he’s capable of…even then, he’s iffy. But it’s three years out…who knows what’ll happen between now and then…

                    • FWIW, I don’t really see any evidence that Luplow is ahead of him at 1B or 3B – the exact opposite, in fact – and as of now PP commentors are really the only ones who think Jose Osuna is going to eventually amount to anything. We’re not even talking about Top 250 prospects here.

                      And I was just jagging you above, I probably write three posts a day a look back on and think damn, that was too hot take-y.

                    • You aint the only one who looks back and thinks that.

                      BOOM roasted.

                    • I sleep better at night with the self-awareness that I know you know I know I suck at the interwebz. 😉

                    • My attention span kicked out right around the second “know”.

                      Young kids today.

                    • What? Like we’d ever jump into the fray and overcommit on an opinion…

                      That’s for the lesser folks, not guys like you and me 🙂

                      I’d put Luplow ahead. A full year younger, OPS 160 pts higher at the same level (yeah, I know, Joe was getting back into it and should’ve performed better if healthier), seems to have solid power, and while he doesn’t seem as strong as Joe with the pitch selection, a 59:67 BB:K ratio is damned fine (hell, picture Willy Garcia with those numbers 🙂 ).

                      I never wanted to love Luplow…kinda saw him as a ‘filler’ guy when he was drafted, but, I’ve gotta admit, he piqued my interest with the season he put up last year.

                    • Haha, mere interweb mortals; not us. 😉

                      I don’t disagree at all with the bat; I like Luplow just as much, if not more than Joe. Certainly now, and quite possibly even future.

                      But Luplow isn’t *really* an infielder; Joe is. I think Joe can be a real asset at the corners while Luplow *may* eventually simply become passable.

                    • We shall see…when they’re that far down and that undistinguished, there’s a lot of leap-frogging that can occur. Working in Luplow’s favor is that he’s already shown power and he’s a year younger. While he doesn’t seem to have the eye of Joe, I’d say those K:BB totals last year would easily be amongst the better in the system.

  • The first time Wilbur saw Joe hit two HR since…ever….also.

  • Do the Pirates provide any box scores – scoring summaries for these games – or are they just played for “fun”?

    • They keep track, but unless you personally keep score, you won’t see it. We get some of the pitching lines, but you have to remember that innings can end with no outs, one out, two outs or even four outs, all depending on the pitcher’s pitch count. When you can be up with no outs and the bases loaded and the other team’s pitcher reaches his limit so your inning is over, it’s kind of hard to call it a game. If a team wants a batter to get extra AB’s, they will have him lead-off every inning, another thing that makes it hard to call it a game

      • Makes sense – the real games are just weeks away…

      • Wilbur Miller
        March 24, 2016 8:15 pm

        They’ve also played ten innings a couple times this week to get some more time for pitchers.

        And then there’s the major leaguer getting some extra swings who bats second in every inning, isn’t actually the DH, and doesn’t play in the field.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    March 24, 2016 5:25 pm

    Thanks for the update and summary…that High A game must have been a slugfest. Joe’s hitting is encouraging. If the bat plays, he just needs to find a position.

    • Wilbur Miller
      March 24, 2016 5:32 pm

      He looked fine at third, just the one odd play where he took more time than he had. Hopefully just needs more reps. One of the HRs landed on the roof over the batting cages. Couldn’t see where the other landed. The triple was really ripped, too.

      • Joe gets really, really interesting really, really fast if he can put up even average game power.

        • I’ve liked the Joe pick since it happened. You know I have a soft spot for guys who walk more than they strike out, even if the other skills seem to lag behind.

          And the guy is pretty strong. Average game power should be well within reach.

          Bold prediction: Connor Joe finishes the season in AA with a full-season triple slash between all levels of .280/.400/.450 and launches himself into the top 20 prospects.

          Unrelated bold prediction: Tito Polo will get his OBP up to .330 this year, allowing him to steal 60 bases.

          • I might take 20 less points or so on the slugging, but absolutely agree that line is realistically possible. And yeah, if the power comes around this spring there’s really no reason a kid with that plate discipline shouldn’t fly through the early minors.

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