Morning Report: Pirates Add an Intriguing Group of College Bats in 2017 Draft

If you look at the Morgantown lineup on most nights, they usually have a group of 2017 draft picks near the top/middle. The Pittsburgh Pirates sent four of their position player draft picks from the top ten rounds there. They also sent two of their better late round picks there, and all six are seeing regular playing time now. I’ve been able to watch a dozen Morgantown games already, so I wanted to take a look at those six players and their early results.

The top draft pick on the Black Bears is third baseman Dylan Busby, who was one of the later arrivals to the team. The third round pick was playing in the College World Series, so he didn’t need any time to catch up to speed once he arrived. That allowed him to get into games quickly, so I’ve seen him play seven of his eight games so far.

The first thing that is obvious with Busby is that he has a long swing. When he was drafted, the scouting report said that his strikeouts were high, but the power is legit. That’s what I have seen from him in every game. He swings and misses a lot, but when he makes contact, you can see the power. Busby has really hit the ball hard a few times. The approach at the plate scares me a little, because he has chased quite a few pitches, although I’ve seen a couple games where he didn’t chase anything and looked good at the plate. His success will hinge on seeing more of that type of player, who waits for the right pitch, rather than someone who goes up there hacking and occasionally gets a hold of a pitch left over the middle of the plate.

Busby had a strong defensive game on Friday night, but had some trouble before that, committing three errors in his first six games. He has played all but one game on turf, so that could take some getting used to at first.

Fifth round pick Deon Stafford has looked decent at the plate, though the strikeouts have started to pile up in his last few games. He has a better approach than what I have seen so far from Busby, which has led to nine walks in 15 games for Stafford. He can really square the ball up well too, hitting four doubles and two homers already. What I like from him early on is how is looks behind the plate. His defense wasn’t highly thought of according to scouting reports, but he moves well back there, and looks really good at blocking pitches. His throws haven’t been the best, but he did throw out one runner from his knees. I was expecting worse defense from him because of the reports, but I haven’t seen a bad catcher back there.

Jared Oliva looks really athletic in the field and on the bases. From what I’ve seen of the seventh round pick, he looks like a strong outfielder and he has used his speed well, going 5-for-5 for steals, while taking extra bases on hits. While I have seen a few line drives from him, the bad news is that he’s batting .217 and a few of those hits were because he didn’t hit it well and had the speed to beat it out. Out of the group of six players I’m mentioning here, he’s really the only one who hasn’t shown power potential yet. It’s been a lot of ground balls so far. I like the athleticism, but he’s going to need to drive the ball better. Gap power would be nice with his speed.

If you’ve seen the highlights section below, you would think ninth round pick Bligh Madris was a superstar in the making. One of his relatives must run the highlight reel job for Morgantown, because he has had a tough time at the plate with a .627 OPS. Until he went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts last night, he showed a solid approach at the plate and glimpses of power. I really haven’t seen anything special in right field, but that’s because he hasn’t had tough plays while I’ve been watching. He seems to have trouble with off-speed recognition, which really stood out last night and might become an issue if the scouting report comes out. Madris is from a smaller school and missed time with a hand injury, so patience with him is probably a good idea.

Chris Sharpe was an intriguing draft pick. Taken in the 14th round, he seemed to have the best current power, but he was a sophomore this year, so he looked like someone they would need to give an over-slot bonus, in order to sign him away from college. The Pirates gave him a $256, 000 bonus and so far, he has a .225 average in ten games, with all nine hits being singles. He has looked better than that, though he does have some swing and miss to his game typical of a power hitter. I’ve seen a couple line drive hits and outs.

It’s interesting that he is being used in the lead-off spot, which is likely just to get him at-bats to make up for some time lost this season due to injury. On defense, Sharpe made a very strong throw to cut down a runner at the plate the other night. I’ll note that he didn’t get rid of the ball quickly, but the throw was accurate and strong, with a nice play by Stafford to make the tag. That was the second nice play that inning by Stafford on a runner getting thrown out at the plate.

The final player is second baseman Tristan Gray, who signed for $125,000 out of Rice in the 13th round. He has easily looked the best out of this group, constantly squaring the ball up. What he is doing is much like what we saw from Kevin Kramer early this season. Gray is hitting .385 through 15 games and even his outs are hit hard. He even hits some foul balls that are lasers. His 1.104 OPS early on matches what I have seen. At 6’3″, he is a big second baseman, who looks like he handle the position so far, though the bat looks like it will play anywhere. I’m still waiting to see why he lasted until the 13th round because he impresses me every game.

So you have six players, with five of them showing legit power potential, though four of them aren’t showing it as consistently as you would like to see. It’s early though, so what you are really looking for is signs of the tools, such as Oliva possibly being a solid center fielder with plus speed. These guys make for an interesting group, especially for the Pirates, who have shied away from power hitters in the past.


Source: FanGraphs


Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates lost 4-0 to the St Louis Cardinals on Saturday night.  The Pirates will send Trevor Williams to the mound today for his 13th start of the season. He has a 4.54 ERA at home this year. Williams has not faced St Louis this season. The Cardinals will counter with right-hander Carlos Martinez, who has a 3.40 ERA in 116.1 innings this season, with 128 strikeouts and a 1.16 WHIP. He has not faced the Pirates yet this season.

In the minors, Tyler Eppler has had a rough stretch since pitching well in both April and May. He had a a 2.45 ERA in April and 3.23 in May, then followed that up with a 7.04 ERA in June. After two games, he’s at 7.45 this month. Gage Hinsz has allowed five runs over 24.2 innings in his last four starts combined. He has a 2.10 ERA in the second half of the season. Tanner Anderson had a string of 14 straight scoreless innings snapped in the seventh inning of his last start. The GCL Pirates and DSL Pirates are off today. Evan Piechota is the likely starter for Bristol, although he replaced Jacob Taylor in the rotation two starts ago and Taylor wasn’t supposed to be out long with a back injury. So we might see Taylor tonight, or even a combo of both Piechota/Taylor if the latter is back.

MLB: Pittsburgh (43-48) vs Cardinals (44-46) 1:35 PM
Probable starter: Trevor Williams (4.80 ERA, 20:54 BB/SO, 75.0 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (52-39) vs Louisville (35-56) 1:35 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Tyler Eppler (4.54 ERA, 38:72 BB/SO, 85.1 IP)

AA: Altoona (47-43) vs Bowie (49-43) 6:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Tanner Anderson (3.82 ERA, 27:62 BB/SO, 92.0 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (50-38) @ Dunedin (45-46) 5:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Gage Hinsz (5.64 ERA, 24:46 BB/SO, 75.0 IP)

Low-A: West Virginia (39-49) vs Greensboro (48-41) 2:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: James Marvel (4.09 ERA, 21:56 BB/SO, 72.2 IP)

Short-Season A: Morgantown (15-10) vs Staten Island (18-7) 4:05 PM  (season preview)
Probable Starter: Gavin Wallace (3.29 ERA, 1:15 BB/SO, 13.2 IP)

Rookie: Bristol (7-16) vs Princeton (9-14) 6:00 PM

GCL: Pirates (7-11) vs Tigers West (7-10) 12:00 PM 7/17

DSL: Pirates (20-15) vs Indians/Brewers) 10:30 AM 7/17 (season preview)


Here are two defensive plays from Tyler Glasnow’s start on Friday. The first is some acrobatics from Gift Ngoepe

Next up is Tyler Glasnow using his glove


7/15: Taylor Hearn placed on disabled list.

7/15: Cody Dickson activated from Altoona disabled list.

7/15: Raul Hernandez promoted to Morgantown.

7/15: Brandon Waddell assigned to GCL Pirates on rehab.

7/14: Brent Gibbs placed on disabled list. Yoel Gonzalez added to West Virginia roster.

7/14: Will Reed assigned to GCL Pirates.

7/14: Montana DuRapau promoted to Indianapolis.

7/13: Dany Hernandez promoted to Bristol. Will Reed assigned to GCL Pirates from Bristol.

7/13: Pasquale Mazzoccoli promoted to West Virginia. Andrew Potter released.

7/12: Luis Escobar activated from temporary inactive list. Nick King assigned to Morgantown.

7/11: Hector Garcia assigned to GCL Pirates on rehab.

7/10: Starling Marte assigned to Bradenton on rehab.

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.


One former Pittsburgh Pirates player born on this date, and one trade of note that is tied into that player. On this date in 1918, the Pirates traded third baseman Gus Getz to Indianapolis, which was a minor league team at the time not affiliated with the Pirates. In exchange, they picked up shortstop Roy Ellam. He had played ten games for the 1909 Reds, then spent the next nine seasons in the minor leagues before this trade. Ellam replaced Howdy Caton at shortstop, who happens to be the player born on this date. Caton played for the Pirates from 1917 until 1920 and lost his shortstop job a second time to someone a little bit better than Ellam. At the end of the 1920 season, Caton took the bench, as the Pirates tried out rookie Pie Traynor at shortstop and he seemed to work out well, though he’s obviously better know as a third baseman.

The first time they played the All-Star game on July 16th was 1985 and Tony Pena was the only representative of the Pirates. Pena came off the bench and replaced Ozzie Virgil in the bottom of the seventh inning on defense. In his only at-bat, he struck out against Dan Petry. The NL won the game by a 6-1 score. You can find the boxscore here. Pena played four All-Star games while with the Pirates, all as a reserve.

  • no mention if any could skip the power and go to bradenton 2018

  • To soon and to early to either get excited or disappointed with these young men. Lets just give them a chance to become acquainted with the professional game before we judge them.

  • Busby’s early scouting report sounds similar to Pedro Alvarez’ current scouting report. Although I would take a Pedro Alvarez with where Busby was picked. On second thought I apologize for the Pedro comp.

  • All in all this is the best draft the Pirates have had. Possibly my bias of hoping more bats in general are drafted. These guys may not look as good in the coming seasons, but they provide hope.

  • gray made the prospect hot sheet for baseball america. here’s what they said:

    “Gray played a little bit of everywhere at Rice because of his versatility and athleticism. The Pirates have let him focus on second base, his best defensive position, and it’s paid off so far. Gray is hitting for average and power. As a lefty-hitting second baseman with a .386/.462/.636 slash line, he’s looking like a bargain as a 13th-round pick.”

    i’d like to see him get moved to low a soon

  • Wabbit_Season
    July 16, 2017 10:13 am


    This is what it’s about, man. Fun article. Loved seeing Gift go get that ball. Still and always rooting for that guy because the glove never has a bad day.

    And the Gray kid. Interesting pick. It’s always fun to see good early results or when these guys finally click and you see that breakout happen. And you guys are always there. Priceless.

    Much love to you guys for the coverage. You do it better than anyone else. I hope you love your job as much as we love reading your work.


  • I think I saw that Busby took the golden sombrero Friday night and they sat him yesterday. The scouting reports I read said he had trouble with striking out. I’m hoping he’ll be able to develop more next year. Hopefully they can correct the long swing.

  • John: Gray was a Utility Player for Rice in his Soph year and did not get the 2B job in his Junior year until Rice had already gone 6-11. Somebody in the Pirates scouting group was sharp enough to notice that he hit well, with power, and did his best work when the money was on the line – Conference USA Playoffs and the NCAA Regionals, and he batted .301 in the 2016 Cape Cod League. They took a chance on excellent scouting.

    • He actually had over 550 plate appearances at Rice in his three years and played three years of summer ball, getting over 100 at-bats each of those seasons, so that’s not the type of player who flies under the radar. He was also ranked fairly high coming out of high school, so scouts have probably seen a lot of him over the years. His dad was drafted too, so those family connections always get players attention.

      There has to be more than to it than him playing different positions because he has looked like a first round pick early on.

  • John, may I assume you’re catching these games on MiLBTV or is there any chance you’re actually in Morgantown during this SI series?

    • John Dreker
      July 16, 2017 9:18 am

      Yes, all on

      • WillyMoGarcia33
        July 16, 2017 10:43 am

        I’ve been catching some of the Morgantown games on MiLB.TV and I have to say, they have probably one of the most legit tv production crews for a minor league team. I’m guess it has to do with being Mountaineers field, but the camera work is amazing. It’s a bummer when they’re on the road.

        • That is very true. They don’t play in Staten Island this year, but that’s the worst one I’ve ever seen. Almost not worth watching, even if nothing else is on.

  • Pretty sure Ngoepe would win a Gold Glove if his bat allowed him to play regularly in Pittsburgh.