The Pittsburgh Pirates sent seven players to the Arizona Fall League last year. That’s an average amount of players, although there weren’t any highly rated prospects in the group. From our 2017 Prospect Guide, Edgar Santana was the highest rated player at #18 in the system and his AFL performance helped him climb a few spots because he absolutely dominated a league full of prospects. I did this same type of article last July for the 2015 group, so I figured it would be a good time to check out how the seven players from last year have fared this season.
I mentioned the prospect rankings because it’s good to temper expectations from this group. That being said, you can still check to see how they have done this year, compared to where they were heading into the AFL last year.
We start with Edgar Santana because he’s the highest rated prospect and the only one who has made the majors so far. The Pirates called him up for his first taste of the big leagues at an odd time. He had two strong months to start the season, then had a few bad outings, and really his first bad outings since the 2016 season. He threw 14.1 shutout innings in the AFL (including Fall-Stars game) and looked like he deserved a call-up in April. He struggled in his first chance with the Pirates, but I expect him to be up again before September.
Eric Wood put together a strong 2016 season for Altoona and put up big numbers in the AFL with a .330/.388/.489 slash line. He also played winter ball in the Dominican, so he’s not the best example to use for seeing how an AFL trip can pay off for a player. He is putting up strong numbers in Indianapolis this year, including an .803 OPS and 34 extra-base hits. One interesting note is that he was sent to the AFL to gain some position versatility and he has only played one game in the outfield since late May, mostly staying at third base, with the occasional time at first base.
Connor Joe was in High-A last year, where he finished strong and showed a solid approach at the plate for most of the season. Like Wood, he moved around to other spots in the AFL. He didn’t hit for average while there, but his 11 walks gave him a strong OBP. The defensive versatility has helped Joe this year, as he has looked good in both right field and at first base. The hitting has remained about the same as last year, though he has cut down on his strikeouts. An injury has had him sidelined for two weeks, but he has put together a decent season.
Jin-De Jhang went to the AFL to help with his defense and get some extra playing time after spending most of 2016 as a backup. He got a Spring Training invite this year, but an oblique injury cost him more than two months when you factor in Spring Training time missed. Jhang hasn’t hit at all this season, showing quite a drop-off from his numbers last year at the same level. You have to give him some leeway due to the missed time, but he’s now been back for seven weeks and he has a .439 OPS.
Alex McRae went to the AFL as a reliever with the goal to work on his changeup. Edgar Santana and Tanner Anderson also went there for changeup work. McRae pitched in relief in the AFL and put up decent results. He is still at the same level as last year, so it’s tough to tell if previous experience at the level is what helped him so far this year. His stats are only slightly better, though his strikeout rate is down, so that isn’t a great sign. Regardless of results, it’s always good to get extra work on a pitch in a game situation, where you don’t mind the results of the pitch as much as you’re there to get comfortable using it.
Anderson’s time in the AFL has probably paid off the most. He went there as a starter and it has allowed him to be used as a starter all season for Altoona. That’s after he spent last year as a long reliever, splitting the year between West Virginia and Bradenton. He also worked on his changeup, which gave him a third pitch and the arsenal to be a starter. He has put up solid results this season. I wouldn’t say his upside has changed, just his chances of reaching that upside have improved.
Montana DuRapau went to the AFL with a lot to work on. He wanted to do a better job of getting his pitches down in the zone, while also working on a cutter and his off-speed pitches. His results there weren’t good, but that could be from having so much to work on and very few innings. His stats have improved this season and it’s mostly due to not allowing any homers. The strikeout rate, BAA, WHIP and GO/AO ratio are all about the same as last year, but the ERA has gone from 3.65 to 1.49 because he is keeping the ball in the park.
Sometime in the near future, I’ll give thoughts on who might go to the AFL this year. They announce the rosters around September 1st, so I’ll have it up a little bit before then. I’ll say that even though the choices are limited, it’s still very tough to guess who is going. I don’t think I’ve picked more than three of them correctly in any year. That’s with knowing that the players are always from Bradenton on up and they go heavy with Altoona players. Very few foreign players ever go (because they do winter ball instead), very few players repeat the league and very few players with MLB experience go. That eliminates a lot of options. I think we could see a very interesting group this year, but Tim Williams will have a 5-7 days worth of coverage regardless of who goes from the Pirates.
PIRATES GAME GRAPH
Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates won 14-3 over the Chicago Cubs on Sunday afternoon. The Pirates are now on the All-Star break until Friday when they open a series at home against the St Louis Cardinals.
In the minors, Cam Vieaux goes for Bradenton for the fourth time. He threw six shutout innings in his debut, then came back with one run over six innings. In his last start, he allowed two runs over seven frames, though he did surrender 11 hits. Altoona and Indianapolis are both off until Thursday, and Morgantown has off today. Jake Webb is scheduled to start for the GCL Pirates, followed by Leandro Pina. Webb made his pro debut last week with a scoreless inning of relief and should go two innings today. Pina will be scheduled for his normal 5IP/75 pitch maximum.
MLB: Pittsburgh (42-47) vs Cardinals (43-45) 7:05 PM 7/14
Probable starter: Gerrit Cole (4.43 ERA, 27:94 BB/SO, 107.2 IP)
AAA: Indianapolis (50-39) vs Louisville (35-54) 7:05 PM 7/13 (season preview)
Probable starter: TBD
AA: Altoona (46-41) vs Bowie (47-42) 7:00 PM 7/13 (season preview)
Probable starter: TBD
High-A: Bradenton (48-36) vs Tampa (47-39) 6:30 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Cam Vieaux (1.42 ERA, 3:9 BB/SO, 19.0 IP)
Low-A: West Virginia (37-46) @ Rome (45-40) 1:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: James Marvel (4.39 ERA, 20:53 BB/SO, 67.2 IP)
Short-Season A: Morgantown (12-7) @ Hudson Valley (6-13) 7:05 PM 7/11 (season preview)
Probable Starter: Sergio Cubilete (3.24 ERA, 7:10 BB/SO, 16.2 IP)
Rookie: Bristol (5-13) vs Pulaski (13-5) 7:00 PM
GCL: Pirates (2-10) vs Braves (6-6) 12:00 PM
DSL: Pirates (19-12) vs Rays2 (16-15) 10:30 AM (season preview)
Here is a two-run double from Morgantown shortstop Brett Pope, who has shown off a nice glove since being drafted last month.
7/8: Antonio Bastardo designated for assignment. Phil Gosselin recalled from Indianapolis.
7/8: Dan Runzler activated from disabled list. Justin Maffei assigned to Altoona from Indianapolis.
7/8: Luis Escobar placed on temporary inactive list. Nick King assigned to West Virginia.
7/8: Cody Dickson placed on disabled list.
7/6: Pirates recall A.J. Schugel. Elias Diaz optioned to Indianapolis
7/6: Gift Ngoepe activated from disabled list.
7/6: Pirates release Jared Lakind
7/5: Hunter Owen assigned to West Virginia. Nick King assigned to Morgantown.
7/5: Adonis Pichardo assigned to Bristol from GCL Pirates.
7/4. Stephen Alemais assigned to GCL Pirates on rehab.
7/4: Starling Marte assigned to Indianapolis on rehab.
7/4: Gift Ngoepe assigned to Morgantown on rehab.
7/4: Yeudy Garcia activated from disabled list. Casey Sadler assigned to Altoona from Indianapolis.
7/4: Pirates release Buddy Borden.
7/3: Francisco Cervelli activated from disabled list. Edgar Santana optioned to Indianapolis.
7/2: Starling Marte assigned to Bradenton on rehab.
7/2: Hunter Owen assigned to Morgantown. Nick King assigned to West Virginia.
THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY
Two former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, and both were pretty good infielders. Starting with the oldest one first, because his career with the Pirates was very brief. Bobby Lowe pinch-hit for the Pirates on April 17, 1904 and struck out in his only at-bat. He never actually signed a deal with the Pirates, and after making the team as a utility player out of Spring Training, he was quickly let go so he could sign with the Tigers. Lowe played 18 seasons in the majors and put together a solid career, but he is known for just one game. On May 30, 1894, he became the first player in Major League history to hit four home runs in one game. Over 1,821 career games, he hit .273, scoring 1,135 times, while driving in 988 runs and stealing 303 bases.
The second player actually made his name with the Pirates, shortstop Gene Alley. He signed with the Pirates out of high school in 1959 and played for the team from 1963 until 1973, which was also his entire big league career. Alley was the double play combo partner of Bill Mazeroski, and while Maz was getting all the defensive attention, Alley won the NL Gold Glove in both 1966 and 1967. He made two All-Star teams and twice received NL MVP votes. He ended his career with 999 base hits, though if you count his playoff stats, he had exactly 1,000. Unfortunately for Alley, he was 1-for-27 during the postseason. He turns 77 today.