Morning Report: Overall Improvements Helped Christian Kelley Get Promoted to Bradenton

In yesterday’s Morning Report, we mentioned that Erik Lunde announced his retirement on Monday. He was replaced by Raul Hernandez on the Bradenton roster, but that move turned out to be temporary based on convenience, with Hernandez playing right in town with the GCL Pirates. On Wednesday, the Pirates sent Hernandez to West Virginia and promoted Christian Kelley.

At first it seemed like Taylor Gushue would do the bulk of the catching the rest of the way, but with Kelley getting called up, they will likely split the catching duties fairly evenly. That could help Gushue stay fresh through the playoffs. As you can imagine, catching in the summer in the Florida State League can be brutal.

Tim Williams is down in West Virginia covering the Power this week, which includes live coverage of Gage Hinsz and Mitch Keller today and tomorrow. He will also get a first look at newly-acquired Taylor Hearn. Tim was able to talk to Power manager Brian Esposito about Kelley and his late-season promotion.

“There was a vacancy right there [ Bradenton], and it was a matter of who was going to be able to go up there any play,” Esposito said. “That club is going to be in the playoffs, so you want to make sure you have your bases covered. He’s certainly an option to go up there. He’s done a pretty good job down here. He’s earned the right to go play up there.”

Kelley is a strong defensive catcher, and he joins Taylor Gushue, who also provides strong defense. It’s the hitting area where Kelley lacked upside coming into this season. He was drafted in the 11th round in 2015 based on his defense, then hit .232/.330/.242 in 56 games for Morgantown last season.

His numbers at the plate haven’t improved much this season, with the one difference being a little bit of power added to his game. That wasn’t hard to do with just two doubles and no triples or homers in 2015. He has 12 doubles and two homers this season. There has been a noticeable difference, even if the .236/.310/.305 slash line in 77 games this season seems to say otherwise.

Last year, Kelley looked like he was just trying to make contact and put the ball in play. That led to a lot of weak contact. I mostly saw him at the end of the season when all of the playoff games were online, but did catch a couple earlier games. This season I’ve seen him in person during two series, and he’s probably caught about ten of the games I’ve watched online. Kelley is driving the ball better this season. Those bloop hits and soft fly balls have turned into more liners in the gaps. As I said, it’s not really showing up in the stats, but he does look better.

Esposito was asked about his improvements and the focus was on the defensive aspect, which is why I added the part about the offense. While Kelley was known as a solid defensive catcher, which is what I’ve seen from him, there was room for improvements and Esposito believes he is better now than he was back in April.

“He’s made some strides. He was getting better. He’s learning a lot about calling a game, and learning how to read some swings,” Esposito said. “Basically he was brushing up a lot on how to lead the game from behind the plate. Just running traffic, directing pitchers and infielders, and being aware of the situation. He was doing a better job. He was learning on the fly.”

Right now we are still talking about a catcher with limited upside due to his offense. He would clearly be behind Taylor Gushue at this point, even if they do end up splitting time during the rest of the season. That’s while acknowledging that Gushue isn’t a potential top 50 prospect for us right now. Kelley will be 23 next month and should be the starting catcher at Bradenton in 2017. He’s part of a long line of strong defensive catchers in the system right now. If anything, catching defense in the minors for the Pirates is off the charts strong. The problem is that right now, the only one of the group that looks like a possible Major League starter is Elias Diaz, and even he could end up as a solid backup for most of his career.

** A little “Where are they now?” for your Thursday morning. I noticed on Tuesday night that Zack Dodson made a start for the Laredo Lemurs of the American Association. He was recently released by the Orioles. Dodson threw six shutout innings in his debut, giving up just one hit. While looking at the roster, it was like a mini reunion for the Pirates and all of them are doing well. According to the scouting report I was able to get last night, Dodson was sitting 89-91, hitting 93, and his off-speed pitches looked sharp.

After Dodson left the game, Jeff Inman came on to close out the contest and was sitting 94-96 with a plus slider. He was always an intriguing power arm for the Pirates, he just could never stay healthy. They drafted him out of Stanford in 2009 and he got a $450,000 bonus. Inman has hit 99 MPH this season. He has a 2.90 ERA in 40.1 innings, with 37 strikeouts, a 1.17 WHIP and a .232 BAA.

One of the other starters for the Lemurs is Ryan Beckman, who was an 18th round draft pick in 2009 and played in the system until 2014. He has a 2.64 ERA in 98.2 innings, with 93 strikeouts and a 1.13 WHIP.

I started looking over some of the other rosters and noticed one of the managers is Shelby Ford. In case you don’t remember him, he was the Pirates third round pick in 2006 and made it all the way up to Triple-A, before being released in 2011. He was a player in the American Association up until last year.

PLAYOFF PUSH

Indianapolis is in second place in their division, trailing by nine games. They trail by 13 games for the lone wild card spot.

Altoona leads their division by 1.5 games. 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 2.5 games.

Morgantown is tied for fourth place in their division, trailing first place by 12 games. They are six games back for the lone wild card spot.

Bristol is in fourth place, trailing by 6.5 games. The top two teams in each division go to the playoffs.

The GCL Pirates are two games back in their division. This is the only league where you have to win your division to make the playoffs.

The DSL Pirates have been eliminated from their division race. They trail in the wild card by 14.5 games.

PIRATES GAME GRAPH


Source: FanGraphs

TODAY’S SCHEDULE

Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pirates lost 4-0 to the Padres on Wednesday night. They finish up their series against San Diego with an afternoon start time. Jameson Taillon will be on the mound making his tenth start. He has gone exactly six innings in each of his last five starts. Taillon allowed one run on six hits and a walk, with six strikeouts, in his last start. The Padres will counter with Christian Friedrich, who has a 4.76 ERA in 81.1 innings, with 63 strikeouts and a 1.48 WHIP. He faced the Phillies in his last outing and gave up four runs over seven innings.

In the minors, Gage Hinsz will make his 13th start of the season.  In his last two starts, he has 15 strikeouts over 10.1 innings. In his prior outing, he threw six shutout innings. Hinsz has gone at least five innings in all 12 starts this year.

Indianapolis has an afternoon start time with Kelvin Marte making a spot start. James Marvel is listed for Morgantown, although he was scheduled to pitch yesterday’s game which was called after the top of the first inning. So I’m not sure he would be available for today, assuming he went through all of his normal pre-game warm-ups to get ready yesterday.

MLB: Pittsburgh (56-55) vs Padres (49-64) 12:35 PM
Probable starter: Jameson Taillon (3.29 ERA, 6:43 BB/SO, 52.0 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (58-61) @ Buffalo (59-59) 1:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Kelvin Marte (4.21 ERA, 16:45 BB/SO, 57.2 IP)

AA: Altoona (63-52) vs Harrisburg (62-54) 7:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Alex McRae (6.31 ERA, 19:39 BB/SO, 55.2 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (57-56) vs St Lucie (61-50) 6:30 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Austin Coley (4.35 ERA, 39:76 BB/SO, 118.0 IP)

Low-A: West Virginia (59-56) vs Delmarva (59-56) 7:05 PM(season preview)
Probable starter: Gage Hinsz (3.15 ERA, 14:48 BB/SO, 65.2 IP)

Short-Season A: Morgantown (23-28) @ State College (35-16) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable Starter: TBD

Rookie: Bristol (19-27) @ Danville (21-25) 7:00 PM (season preview)

GCL: Pirates (16-23) vs Braves (19-22) 12:00 PM (season preview)

DSL: Pirates (24-33) vs Mets1 (34-23) 10:30 AM (season preview)

HIGHLIGHTS

Here are two highlights from Sandy Santos, who shows off the tools he has, which makes him interesting despite the plethora of mental mistakes he makes on the field. First one is defense.

Here he is at the plate.

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

8/10: Christian Kelley promoted to Bradenton. Raul Hernandez assigned to West Virginia.

8/10: John Kuchno assigned to Altoona.

8/9: Chad Kuhl promoted to Pirates. Curtis Partch optioned to Indianapolis.

8/9: Erik Lunde retired.

8/9: Kyle Lobstein placed on disabled list. Kelvin Marte activated from disabled list.

8/9: Raul Hernandez assigned to Bradenton.

8/8: Delvin Hiciano assigned to GCL Pirates on rehab.

8/8: Josh Outman assigned to Indianapolis.

8/7: Austin Meadows activated from Indianapolis disabled list.

8/6: Arquimedes Caminero traded to Mariners for two players to be named later. Curtis Partch recalled from Indianapolis

8/6: Jason Creasy assigned to Morgantown on rehab.

8/6: John Kuchno assigned to Indianapolis. Josh Outman assigned to Altoona.

8/6: Chris Harvey assigned to Morgantown

8/4: Ryan Vogelsong activated from disabled list. Max Moroff optioned to Indianapolis.

8/4: Pirates release Wilfredo Boscan.

8/4: Kelvin Marte placed on disabled list.

8/4: Henrry Rosario promoted to Bristol. Sam Kennelly assigned to GCL Pirates.

8/3: Chris Harvey promoted to Indianapolis. Trey Haley sent to Altoona.

8/3: Elvis Escobar promoted to Altoona. Justin Maffei assigned to Bradenton.

8/3: Erik Lunde assigned to Bradenton. Jose Regalado activated from disabled list.

8/2: Wilfredo Boscan placed on disabled list.

8/2: Tomas Morales assigned to Altoona. Chris Diaz activated from temporary inactive list.

8/1: Pirates trade Francisco Liriano, Reese McGuire and Harold Ramirez for Drew Hutchison.

8/1: Pirates acquire Ivan Nova from New York Yankees for players to be named later.

8/1: Pirates trade Jon Niese to New York Mets for Antonio Bastardo and cash.

8/1: Blake Cederlind placed on disabled list. Evan Piechota assigned to Bristol.

8/1: Edgar Santana promoted to Indianapolis.

7/31: Pirates recall Max Moroff. Steven Brault optioned to Indianapolis.

7/31: Erik Lunde assigned to GCL Pirates.

7/30: Pirates trade Mark Melancon to Washington Nationals for Taylor Hearn and Felipe Rivero.

THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY

Four former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, including a player that held a Major League record for 33 years. Starting with outfielder Woody Jensen, who spent his entire nine-year Major League career with the Pirates from 1931 until 1939. He played 738 games with the team and in 1936, he had 696 at-bats, which stood as an MLB record until the Pirates Matty Alou had two more at-bats during the 1969 season. Jensen had trouble cracking the outfield for the Pirates early in his career because the team had three Hall of Famers at one point, Paul and Lloyd Waner, as well as Freddie Lindstrom. Jensen hit .285 during his career and struck out just 100 times in 2,869 plate appearances.

Others players born on this date include:

Al Pedrique, 1987-88 shortstop. It took him nine years to make the majors after he signed. He hit .301 for the Pirates in 1987. then struggled the next year and was released after the season.

Dorn Taylor, pitcher in 1987 and 1989. The Pirates signed him as a non-drafted free agent, one of those rare success stories from that route. He made the Opening Day roster in 1989.

Walter Barbare, 1919-20 infielder. Prior to the 1921 season, he was part of a famous trade that involved two future Hall of Famers, with the Pirates getting back shortstop Rabbit Maranville from Boston(Braves) and Billy Southworth going to other way, along with cash and another player. At the time, it was considered a blockbuster deal.

  • John,
    What are T. Gushue’s liabiitities that you don’t ie him enough to make the top 50? Is there any potential he an solve something to make a dramtic improvement?

    • The offense in his second full season. He came from a major college program, so for him to be putting up a .232/.290/.368 slash line in High-A is a red flag. No real sign of improvements. He’s still young enough to improve though, so I wouldn’t call him a filler or a non-prospect, just not showing enough in a deep system to make the top 50.

  • Yes that and the trade of Reese! How about Jaff Dacker reeling his ugly head in the Padres series. Was Dickerson worth it!

    • I cry myself to sleep every night thinking about the loss of Dickerson.

      Check back and see how he is doing after more than 100 or so ABs.

      And, even then, it is what it is….a “meh” trade. He woud’ve never played for us, just like Decker. And, if the Padres weren’t so terrible, I doubt he’d be playing regularly for them. I hope he does well, but it doesn’t mean we should’ve kept him.

      While you’re crying about ex-OFers, go check out what Robbie Grossman is doing. Was Wandy worth it? 🙂

      • All I stated was Decker worth it? 7 HR’S this year but wait I guess we are an OBS team. He makes Jaso look real bad imo– if they spent all ST on converting him to a first baseman the world would be our oyster.

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