The Bristol offense this year has been disturbingly bad through the first half of the Appalachian League season. The pitching isn’t much better with a 4.77 ERA that ranks next to last, but the offense has a .649 OPS, which is 43 points behind the second worst team in the league. That is despite Victor Fernandez ranking fifth in the league with a .901 OPS.
This is a team that shouldn’t be that bad at hitting. They have a 22-year-old college draft pick batting lead-off in Garrett Brown. He was described as being raw because he also played other sports, but that’s why he is in the Appalachian League and not in Morgantown like most college seniors. Brown supposedly has plus speed according to his draft profile, but he has attempted one stolen base. Part of that can be blamed on a .313 OBP.
They also have Michael de la Cruz and Julio de la Cruz on the team. I put them together because they signed at the same time for $700,000 each, but they are very different players. Michael has always been the better prospect, and while his .686 OPS is above team average, he is still in his fourth pro season and well behind where we expected him at this point. Basically, if he is with Bristol this year, you should expect more from him.
Julio is even worse at this point because he has a .592 OPS and this is his second season in Bristol. He also doesn’t provide any speed or defense like Michael de la Cruz. There is also the fact that we had strong reports on him from Extended Spring Training, so that hasn’t carried over at the halfway point of the season.
Another hard one to believe is Sam Kennelly, who has been the worst hitter on the team. Part of the reason it’s hard to believe is that he has played winter ball in Australia for four years now and this last off-season was easily his best performance. He had three brothers who played pro ball, two of them made it to Triple-A, and everyone who saw them play ball growing up said Sam Kennelly was the best of the group. He shouldn’t be having a tough time in the Appalachian League, where the pitching pales in comparison to what he saw over the winter.
Then you have seventh round draft pick Brent Gibbs with a .671 OPS. I know the Pirates liked him for the defense, but he falls into the same category as Garrett Brown. He’s at this level because there was work to do with the bat, but this seems like it’s a lot of work at this point.
No one knows what happened to Raul Siri, but he went from one of the best hitters in the entire DSL in 2014, to a .538 OPS this season. He even got a small taste of the level last year, moving up from the GCL for the last week of Bristol’s season.
The last one is a player the Pirates mishandled last year. Alexis Bastardo had great reports from the DSL in 2013, then came to the U.S. for the 2014 season and injured his shoulder. When he finally did play, he put up an .835 OPS in the pitching-friendly GCL. The next season, he’s sitting on the Morgantown bench barely playing, while three of the outfielders from last year’s Bristol team have been released, and another was demoted to the GCL this season.
I don’t blame the team for having Nick Buckner and Edgar Figueroa playing because they were potential prospects with tools. Sandy Santos was there too and he’s a legit prospect if he ever gets his head in the game. Henrry Rosario and Enyel Vallejo have never been considered prospects, so either one of them could have sat on the Morgantown bench better than Bastardo. We might be looking at a different player if he was playing full-time last year at Bristol instead of this season. About the only things you can say good about his season this year is the defense and he is 6-for-6 in steals, but those two years of lost time seem to have taken their toll.
You have seven players who seem to be under-performing, while Victor Fernandez is the only player really exceeding expectations. Everyone else I didn’t mention like Adrian Valerio, Jhoan Herrera, etc. are right around where I expected them to be, so I can’t knock them for their numbers. That is especially true in the case of Danny Cucjen, who is a college player hitting like a college player should in this league.
Despite the worst offense in the league and second worst pitching, somehow Bristol is two games out of first place. Part of that is because no team in the league is much better than any of the others, with seven games separating the best team in the league from the worst.
Indianapolis is in second place in their division, trailing by four games. They trail by 10.5 games for the lone wild card spot.
Altoona leads their division by one game. The top two teams in the division go to the playoffs, with the first place team getting the home field advantage in the first round.
Bradenton won the first half title. They have home field advantage in the playoffs.
West Virginia is tied for fifth place in their division, trailing first by 3.5 games.
Morgantown is in third place in their division, trailing first place by seven games. They are five games back for the lone wild card spot.
Bristol is tied for third place, trailing by two games. The top two teams in each division go to the playoffs.
The GCL Pirates lead their division by two games. This is the only league where you have to win your division to make the playoffs.
The DSL Pirates trail their division by 17 games. They trail in the wild card by 16.5 games.
PIRATES GAME GRAPH
The Pirates were off on Thursday
Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pirates had off yesterday. Steven Brault gets his second Major League start today against the Milwaukee Brewers. He made his only start on July 5th against the Cardinals in St Louis and allowed one run over four innings, working on a limited pitch count. The Brewers will counter with Junior Guerra, who has a 2.85 ERA in 94.2 innings, with 80 strikeouts and a 1.09 WHIP. He faced the Pirates back on July 19th and allowed two earned runs over six innings.
In the minors, it is a very busy day with 11 games scheduled. West Virginia has a doubleheader today, with Logan Sendelbach scheduled for one game and no starter listed yet for the second game. Bradenton also has a doubleheader. Bristol started a game yesterday, then suspended it in the first inning. They will play two seven inning games today, starting the first game in the bottom of the first inning. Tyler Eppler starts for Altoona, while Luis Escobar gets the start for Morgantown. The GCL Pirates will go with fourth round pick Braeden Ogle
MLB: Pittsburgh (52-48) @ Brewers (43-56) 8:10 PM
Probable starter: Steven Brault (2.25 ERA, 2:5 BB/SO, 4.0 IP)
AAA: Indianapolis (54-52) vs Norfolk (41-64) 7:15 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Wilfredo Boscan (4.00 ERA, 13:48 BB/SO, 78.2 IP)
AA: Altoona (58-46) @ Trenton (65-40) 7:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Tyler Eppler (3.95 ERA, 25:78 BB/SO, 114.0 IP)
High-A: Bradenton (53-47) @ Daytona (53-46) 5:05 PM DH (season preview)
Probable starter: TBD
Low-A: West Virginia (51-50) vs Delmarva (55-46) 5:05 PM DH (season preview)
Probable starter: Logan Sendelbach (3.26 ERA, 28:72 BB/SO, 105.0 IP) and TBD
Short-Season A: Morgantown (19-20) @ Auburn (17-22) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable Starter: Luis Escobar (3.20 ERA, 16:20 BB/SO, 25.1 IP)
Rookie: Bristol (16-18) vs Elizabethton (16-18) 6:00 PM DH(season preview)
GCL: Pirates (14-16) vs Yankees East (9-20) 12:00 PM (season preview)
DSL: Pirates (16-30) vs Mets1 (27-19) 10:30 AM (season preview)
Here is a triple from Reese McGuire from his four-hit night on Tuesday.
7/28: Frank Duncan activated from disabled list.
7/26: Eric Fryer reinstated from paternity list. Elias Diaz optioned to Indianapolis.
7/25: Ke’Bryan Hayes placed on the disabled list.
7/24: Tyler Glasnow placed on disabled list. A.J. Schugel recalled.
7/23: Tyler Glasnow recalled. A.J. Schugel optioned to Indianapolis.
7/23: Eric Fryer placed on paternity list. Elias Diaz recalled.
7/22: Erik Kratz clears waivers. Elects free agency.
7/21: Chris Diaz placed on temporary inactive list.
7/20: Jose Regalado assigned to GCL Pirates on rehab.
7/20: Ryan Vogelsong assigned to Indianapolis on rehab.
7/19: Francisco Cervelli activated from disabled list. Erik Kratz designated for assignment.
7/19: Jameson Taillon activated from disabled list. Chad Kuhl optioned to Indianapolis.
7/19: Frank Duncan placed on disabled list.
7/19: Elias Diaz assigned to Indianapolis.
7/19: Justin Topa assigned to GCL Pirates on rehab.
7/17: Jonathan Schwind assigned to Altoona.
7/16: Elias Diaz assigned to Altoona on rehab.
7/16: Gerrit Cole activated from the disabled list. Josh Bell optioned to Indianapolis.
THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY
Five former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus four trades of note and a special hit from the franchise’s all-time greatest player. The players born on this date are Mike Williams, closer for the Pirates from 1998 until 2003 and a two-time All-Star. Tommy Gregg, outfielder in 1987-88 and seventh round pick of the Pirates in 1985. Dave LaPoint, a lefty starter acquired by the Pirates late in the 1988 season. He made eight starts and won four games, with a 2.77 ERA. Erv Dusak, utility player for the 1951-52 Pirates, who saw time at six different positions and even started a game on the mound. George Cutshaw, second baseman from 1918 until 1921. He was part of the big trade in 1918 that involved Hall of Famers Casey Stengel and Burleigh Grimes.
The Pirates made two trades on this date in 2009, sending Jack Wilson and Ian Snell to the Mariners, and Freddy Sanchez to the Giants for six players total in return. Nine years earlier, they acquired Wilson from the Cardinals in exchange for Jason Christiansen. Wilson played 1,159 games for the Pirates, while the Cardinals got 29.1 innings out of Christiansen.
On this date in 1916, the Pirates and Cubs made a four-player deal that involved a catcher going each way and two well-known veterans changing teams. The Pirates sent second baseman Otto Knabe to Chicago and got outfielder Frank Schulte. Knabe was an All-Star caliber player, who was nearing the end of his career. At the time of the deal, the Pirates had actually sent him home because they said he was too out of shape. Schulte too was near the end, but during his prime, he became the first player to hit 20 doubles, 20 triples, 20 homers and steal 20 bases in the same season. Only three players have accomplished that feat since, so it is extremely rare. Despite the big names in this deal and a veteran catcher name Art Wilson going to Chicago, the best player after the deal was young catcher William Fischer, who was hitting below .200 at the time of the trade. He played well for the Pirates through the end of the 1917 season.
Exactly one year before that 1916 trade, Honus Wagner hit an inside-the-park grand slam in an 8-2 win over Brooklyn. It was the 97th home run of his career and he hit just four more after this one. Wagner hit five grand slams in his career and all were inside-the-park homers. You can read more about the game in the link above.
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.