Morning Report: Christian Kelley Continues to Show Improvements at the Plate

On Saturday night, Bradenton catcher Christian Kelley collected four hits and a walk. He raised his average to .330, which ranks him seventh in the Florida State League. He also ranks sixth in OBP (.426) and 14th with an .849 OPS. We ranked Kelley as the 49th best prospect in our 2017 Prospect Guide.  He’s up to 45th now due to some departures and players losing their prospect status. Kelley got that ranking more for the fact that he combined strong defense with improved hitting last year. He was driving the ball better than in 2015, when he played in Morgantown after being drafted in the 11th round. The stats were only slightly better on paper in 2016, but we had the advantage of multiple people seeing him each year, and we noticed the improvements. His strong defense pushed him up the rankings into our top 50.

Kelley has had a strong approach at the plate this season, driving the ball well and even making some hard contact that resulted in outs. We didn’t expect him to put up big numbers this year, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them drop to more expected levels soon. That’s based on a couple things that hurt every player in the FSL and many catchers in baseball. As the season progresses, the FSL becomes even more pitcher-friendly. Some of these early season homers and long hits you see, will die in the hot summer air. That same hot summer air will do a number on a regular catcher too, wearing them down as the season goes along. If Kelley is putting up similar numbers in July and August, then he just doesn’t move slightly up the prospect list, he takes a huge leap.

The Pirates cleared some traffic for Kelley by trading catcher Taylor Gushue at the end of last year. After they traded Reese McGuire months earlier, it seemed to weaken the depth at the catcher position for the Pirates. If things went as planned though, Jin-De Jhang would have been catching in Altoona since Opening Day and Kelley would have been the starter for Bradenton. Both were rated higher than Gushue at the time of the trade and Kelley has taken a step forward. Jhang should be at Altoona any day now. That would have left Gushue as a backup for either team, or splitting time with either Jhang or Kelley, taking time away from one of them. They should each move up a level next year, with Elias Diaz taking over for Chris Stewart in Pittsburgh.

For those wondering, Gushue is putting up huge numbers in Potomac, but that’s the same level as he played last year, and a better league for hitters. They are still big numbers though, with some power he didn’t show with the Pirates. Chris Bostick has already played for the Pirates, so it will be tough for this trade to end bad, even if Gushue can continue to hit well at a higher level. For those even more curious, Reese McGuire is on the disabled list for the second time since the trade went down. No idea what the injuries have been since Blue Jays Prospects didn’t report them, but he’s already missed 11 days this time, with no return date announced.

**Time for the prospect status update and the Pirates made it easier by sending down Chris Bostick and Max Moroff on Friday. That still leaves Jose Osuna, Gift Ngoepe, Alen Hanson, Johnny Barbato and Saturday night’s starter, Trevor Williams. One interesting note first that some people may have noticed. MLB Pipeline posted that Alen Hanson graduated from their prospect list on Saturday. That’s because they use the MLB Rookie of the Year rules, which allows a player 45 non-September days in the majors before they lose their status. We only use the 130 at-bat cutoff, because anything less and that player really didn’t get much of a chance. Hanson reached that 45 day mark Friday, but he’s still well short of 130 at-bats, so he remains on our list.

We start with Williams, who bounced back from a horrible start on Monday to go five innings last night. That gives him 32.1 innings total and leaves him 18 innings short of losing his prospect status. Johnny Barbato threw two innings on Friday and is up to nine this season. He pitched 13 innings last year, so he’s 28.1 innings short. We also use 30 appearances for pitchers and he’s at 18, so he will probably reach the appearance mark first.

For the batters, Osuna and Ngoepe each batted once on Saturday. Ngoepe has 32 at-bats already, but he also has 16 strikeouts, so I can’t imagine he will lose his prospect status this year. His fast start was great, but you’re seeing why his bat always held him back. Osuna has slumped too, but there isn’t a better outfield option unless the Pirates go for strong defense with Danny Ortiz, which could happen. Osuna picked up his 58th at-bat last night. Hanson didn’t play last night, so he is stuck on 69 career at-bats.

**During the West Virginia brawl earlier this week, both Hunter Owen and Arden Pabst were thrown out of the game. Owen is currently serving a three-game suspension. I was able to confirm my suspicions about Pabst’s fate. He will begin a four-game suspension as soon as Owen returns. In the minor leagues, multiple suspensions aren’t served at the same time, so as not to leave the team too short-handed. Catcher Chris Harvey is away from the team attending graduation ceremonies at Vanderbilt, where he attended school before signing with the Pirates as a non-drafted free agent. He will return in time to take over for Pabst, while he goes on suspension. Brent Gibbs, the seventh round pick from 2016, was added to the roster to cover for the absences of both Pabst and Harvey.


Source: FanGraphs


Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates won 4-3 over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Saturday night. The Pirates will go with Ivan Nova tonight, making his eighth start of the season. He has made three consecutive starts on the road, and this will be his fifth start away from PNC Park this season. Nova has allowed six runs and 19 base runners over 12.1 innings in his last two starts combined. The Diamondbacks will counter with 25-year-old lefty Robbie Ray, who has a 4.14 ERA over 41.1 innings this season.

In the minors, Clay Holmes gets the start for Indianapolis, coming off an outing in which he allowed two runs over seven innings, while striking out eight batters. It was his longest outing this season and his high for strikeouts as well. Brandon Waddell was unable to record an out in his last start, reaching his single inning pitch count while putting five runners on base. Eduardo Vera makes his second start of the season. He has an 0.88 WHIP in 21.2 innings. Bradenton has off today. Kevin Kramer has a 30-game on base streak active. Cole Tucker currently has a 21-game on base streak.

MLB: Pittsburgh (15-22) @ Diamondbacks (21-17) 4:10 PM
Probable starter: Ivan Nova (2.23 ERA, 3:29 BB/SO, 48.1 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (15-17) vs Norfolk (15-20) 1:35 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Clay Holmes (3.42 ERA, 12:30 BB/SO, 26.1 IP)

AA: Altoona (20-13) vs New Hampshire (12-23) 1:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Brandon Waddell (9.00 ERA, 5:11 BB/SO, 7.0 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (24-13) @ Daytona (20-17) 7:05 PM 5/15 (season preview)
Probable starter: TBD

Low-A: West Virginia (16-19) vs Charleston (18-18) 2:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Eduardo Vera (2.08 ERA, 3:22 BB/SO, 21.2 IP)


Here is the home run from Cole Tucker that topped off his career night at the plate.


5/12: Pirates active Adam Frazier and David Freese from disabled list. Chris Bostick and Max Moroff optioned to Indianapolis.

5/12: Justin Maffei assigned to Morgantown.

5/12: Zane Chavez added to Altoona roster. Tomas Morales assigned to Morgantown.

5/11: Chris Harvey assigned to Morgantown. Brent Gibbs assigned to West Virginia.

5/11: Nick Kingham assigned to Bradenton. Pedro Vasquez assigned to Extended Spring Training.

5/10: Albert Baur activated from West Virginia disabled list.

5/9: Jackson Williams assigned to Altoona from Indianapolis. Zane Chavez assigned to Morgantown.

5/8: Pirates add Max Moroff and Chris Bostick to roster. Elias Diaz and Phil Gosselin assigned to Indianapolis.

5/8: Adam Frazier assigned to Indianapolis on rehab. Just Maffei assigned to Indianapolis.

5/8: Boomer Synek retired.

5/8: Kevin Krause placed on disabled list. Logan Ratledge promoted to Bradenton.

5/7: Michael Suchy placed on disabled list. Jerrick Suiter promoted to Altoona.

5/7: Jess Amedee activated from disabled list.

5/6: Jameson Taillon placed on disabled list. Josh Lindblom promoted to Pirates

5/4: Brandon Waddell activated from disabled list. JT Brubaker placed on disabled list.


Only one former Pittsburgh Pirates player born on this date, and he played just one game. Drew Rader was a star pitcher at Syracuse, who would have been the first overall draft pick if there was an amateur draft back in 1921. Known at the time as the best college pitcher, the Pirates paid extra to get Rader into camp in 1921 and ended up using him just once. He pitched two shutout innings on July 18,1921, coming into the game late with Pittsburgh down 12-1 to the Giants. That was not just his only Major League game, he also only played one minor league game in his pro career. I will point out that a pitcher named Rader with an unknown first name, pitched briefly during the 1925, 1926 and 1929 seasons in the low minors, so that may have been him.

Also born on this date, manager Horace Phillips, who took over the team in 1884 and stuck around until 1889, making him the first manager for the Pirates (then called Alleghenys) after they moved to the National League.

On this date in 1896, Jake Stenzel collects six hits, as the Pirates defeat the Boston Beaneaters by a 20-4 score. Pittsburgh had 27 hits in the game. Stenzel had two hits the day before and four hits the day after his big game, making him 12-for-15 over a three game stretch. He ended up with a .361 batting average that season, which is one point higher than his .360 average with the Pirates over five seasons. That average puts him as the top hitter in franchise history.

Stenzel is a great player from the past that is often overlooked due to his short career and how long ago he played, but he has done something no one else in baseball history has done. He has four seasons in which he hit at least .350, stole 50 bases, scored 100 runs and drove in 80 runs. No one else has reached those minimum standards four times in their career and he did it four years in a row (1894-97).

Two years before Stenzel’s big game, the Pirates and the Cubs (then called the Colts) met for the first time on May 14th. The two teams went another 45 years before they met again on this date. In that 1894 game, the Pirates (who went by the nickname Braves that season) won 6-3 behind the pitching of Ad Gumbert, who went 15-14 that season despite a 6.04 ERA. Pittsburgh scored four runs in the second inning after a dropped ball at second base would have resulted in an easy inning-ending double play.

  • I went thru 5 pages of google to see if I could find out why the “#1 draft pick” in 1921 was a dismal failure (at least in baseball). I couldn’t find anything but a picture.

    • Yes he went on to invent RADAR and was never given any credit because they changed the name because of Herbert Hoover.

    • John Dreker
      May 14, 2017 9:39 am

      Back then it could have been many things. He was a college kid with a good education, probably could make more somewhere else. Baseball lost a lot of players to business. He may have even made more playing semi-pro somewhere. Some players in the minors made more than bench players in the majors, so there were plenty who would turn down big league jobs to remain the big fish in the small pond. Bill Clancy from the 1905 Pirates was that type of player. He could have played more in the majors, but he would have lost money doing it, and he had no problem being a minor league superstar over being average in the majors.

    • GreenWeenie
      May 14, 2017 10:01 am

      As I recall, he was a doctor. A small child was choking on a hot dog during an exhibition game. He had to cross the base line to save the child and was forced to give up his baseball career.