Morning Report: Two Pitchers Talk About the Benefits of the Arizona Fall League

The Arizona Fall League rosters were announced on Tuesday afternoon and the Pittsburgh Pirates are sending a loaded group of players to the league. For most of them this season, the reason they are going is to make up for some lost time. All seven players the Pirates are sending this year spent time on the disabled list. JT Brubaker had the shortest DL stint at two weeks, but once he came back from the early season injury (blister on his right index finger), he had to build his pitch count back up. So he not only lost innings by missing two starts, he lost innings by his role when he returned.

Due to that minor injury, Brubaker won’t be building on last year’s inning total during the regular season, but the AFL gives him a chance to add innings against upper level competition. My guess will be that he is used as a reliever and we will find out during the AFL season that he is using the league to work on one of his off-speed pitches. That seemed to be a popular reason players went last year.

A week or so ago, I asked Sean McCool to talk to a couple of pitchers on Altoona and ask them how the AFL helped them. Alex McRae and Tanner Anderson have both put together solid seasons this year for the Curve and both went to the AFL to work on their changeup. Anderson went in as a starter, which allowed him to add some more innings so he could start for Altoona this season. That was after pitching 88 innings last year, split between West Virginia and Bradenton. McRae put in plenty of innings as a starter last season, so he was used in a relief role.

Brubaker is somewhere between these two players, needing innings, but not a large amount. So he could just get innings as a reliever while working on refining an off-speed pitch. Brandon Waddell should start because he missed a lot of innings this season. Mitch Keller also missed innings, and now with one start left during the regular season, he is still 20.1 innings behind last year, so I expect him to start as well. The fourth pitcher is Taylor Hearn, and while he missed time, he still pitched more than last year. I’d expect him to pitch in relief and work on his new slider that started showing a lot of progress right before he got hurt.

Some people asked yesterday about the reason for the AFL and how it helps players. We talk about pitchers adding innings and working on pitches. Batters get reps against high level pitchers and some of the position players go to learn a new position. What about the AFL from the player perspective?

We asked Alex McRae and Tanner Anderson more specifically, how did the AFL help them develop as a player? Here are the answers they gave Sean last week:

Alex McRae: “I think just having some success there against some of the top players gives you a ton of confidence knowing you can compete with the best players in minor league baseball. That’s the biggest thing. You learn from other people, too. I would say having some success and being able to pitch against those guys gives you a lot of confidence. They’ll tell you one thing that they want you to work one. For me, they wanted to get more reps with the changeup. It’s different for everybody, but that was my one thing they wanted me to work on.”

Tanner Anderson: “It wasn’t so much what I learned over there. It was more of a mindset. You are over there facing pretty solid guys, and it kind of gets you prepared for the future and how the competition will get continuously better. Having success over there, it helps your mindset out and gives you a lot of confidence, especially coming to pitch at the Double-A level. It wasn’t like I learned a ton there pitching-wise, but mentally, it helped confidence.”

** We also have a late coaching addition to the AFL. Bradenton hitting coach Keoni De Renne will be with Glendale this year. He wasn’t on the original coaching assignment list released earlier this month and it appears that the team will go with two hitting coaches. De Renne worked with Cole Tucker, Logan Hill and Kevin Kramer in 2016 and Tucker and Hill this season, so he’s a good fit for the three offensive players the Pirates are sending to Arizona.


The Pirates trail in their division by nine games. They are 9.5 games back for the second wild card spot.

Indianapolis won their division

Altoona clinched a playoff berth. They lead their division by one game with six games remaining. The division winner gets home field advantage.

Bradenton has been eliminated from the playoffs

West Virginia is in third place, 1.5 games out of first. Their season ends September 4th.

Morgantown is in third place, 4.5 games back. Their season ends September 7th.

Bristol has been eliminated from the playoffs.

The GCL Pirates have been eliminated from the playoffs.

The DSL season is over.


Source: FanGraphs


Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates lost 4-1 to the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday night. They will send Ivan Nova to the mound today for his 27th start. He has posted a 6.00 ERA in eight starts since the All-Star break and a 4.75 ERA in 15 starts on the road this season. Nova has allowed five earned runs over 13.2 innings against the Cubs this season. The Cubs will counter with lefty Jose Quintana, who has a 4.49 ERA in 150.1 innings, with 162 strikeouts and a 1.30 WHIP. He had a 4.49 ERA with the Chicago White Sox this season and it’s at 4.50 in eight starts with the Cubs.

In the minors, JT Brubaker gets the start for Altoona, fresh off of the announcement that he will participate in the Arizona Fall League. He has a 3.06 ERA in nine starts since the All-Star break. Bradenton finally got in a game yesterday after four straight rain outs, but their second game of a doubleheader got rained out. They will try today for a doubleheader, or both games will be canceled. Eduardo Vera starts tonight in game one of a doubleheader for West Virginia. He missed a no-hitter by one out in his last start. Ike Schlabach starts for Morgantown. Bristol has just two games left. The DSL season is over.

MLB: Pittsburgh (63-70) @ Cubs (71-60) 8:05 PM
Probable starter: Ivan Nova (3.97 ERA, 27:109 BB/SO, 165.2 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (75-61) @ Louisville (54-82) 6:35 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Drew Hutchison (3.47 ERA, 50:118 BB/SO, 150.1 IP)

AA: Altoona (71-63) @ Richmond (59-75) 6:35 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: JT Brubaker (4.33 ERA, 42:102 BB/SO, 120.2 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (67-59) @ Tampa (80-49) 5:00 PM DH (season preview)
Probable starter:  Pedro Vasquez (3.37 ERA, 30:105 BB/SO, 133.2 IP) and Logan Sendelbach (3.22 ERA, 22:57 BB/SO, 81.0 IP)

Low-A: West Virginia (64-65) @ Lakewood (69-64) 5:05 PM DH (season preview)
Probable starter: Eduardo Vera (3.50 ERA, 14:103 BB/SO, 118.1 IP) and TBD

Short-Season A: Morgantown (35-32) vs State College (36-31) 7:05 PM (season preview)

Rookie: Bristol (16-48) vs Burlington (28-38) 7:00 PM

GCL: Pirates (24-32) vs Tigers East (13-43) 12:00 PM

DSL: Pirates (36-34) (season preview)


Here is the second double of the game on Monday night by Kevin Newman.


8/29: Mikell Granberry promoted to Bristol. Jason Delay promoted to Morgantown.

8/29: Brent Gibbs placed on disabled list. Raul Hernandez promoted to West Virginia.

8/29: Daniel Zamora promoted to Altoona.

8/28: Adam Frazier placed on disabled list. Pirates recall Dovydas Neverauskas.

8/28: Johnny Barbato optioned to Indianapolis. Jordan Luplow recalled.

8/28: Hunter Owen assigned to Morgantown.

8/27: Casey Sadler promoted to Indianapolis.

8/27: Barrett Barnes assigned to Indianapolis.

8/26: Francisco Cervelli placed on the disabled list. Elias Diaz recalled from  Indianapolis.

8/25: Francisco Cervelli activated from the disabled list. Elias Diaz optioned to Indianapolis.

8/23: Edgar Santana optioned to Indianapolis. Pirates select the contract of Angel Sanchez.

8/23: Cody Dickson promoted to Indianapolis.

8/23: Gage Hinsz placed on disabled list.

8/23: Braeden Ogle placed on the disabled list.

8/23: Arden Pabst placed on disabled list. Henrry Rosario promoted from Bristol to West Virginia.

8/22: Joaquin Benoit and George Kontos placed on disabled list.

8/22: Dovydas Neverauskas optioned to Indianapolis. Steven Brault, Edgar Santana and Johnny Barbato recalled from Indianapolis.

8/22: Hunter Owen and Jason Stoffel assigned to GCL Pirates on rehab.

8/21: Pirates option Jacob Stallings to Indianapolis.

8/21: Brandon Cumpton promoted to Indianapolis. Jacob Brentz activated from Altoona disabled list.

8/21: John Bormann assigned to Bradenton.


Five former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus two trades of note. On this date in 1991, the Pirates helped their playoff run by acquiring third baseman Steve Buechele from the Texas Rangers for two minor league pitchers. He would hit .246 and drive in 19 runs the rest of the way for the Pirates. Then in 1992, they traded him to the Chicago Cubs for pitcher Danny Jackson. The Pirates gave up pitcher Kurt Miller in the original deal. He was the fifth overall draft pick in 1988, but never panned out in the majors.

On this date in 1990, the Pirates gave up three minor league players to the Phillies for 1B/OF Carmelo Martinez. He didn’t do much for the Pirates during the rest of the season, but drove in two runs during the NLCS. He would be traded away during the 1991 season. All three of the players the Pirates gave up eventually reached the majors, but Wes Chamberlain was by far the best and he played just 385 Major League games, so the deal didn’t end up too bad.

Former players born on this date include (bios for each in the link above):

Luis Rivas, 2008 infielder.

Johnny Lindell, 1953 knuckleball pitcher. Started his career as a pitcher, played ten seasons as an outfielder, then went back to pitching.

Charlie Starr, infielder for the 1908 Pirates. Seldom-used backup who got into 20 games all season, seeing time at three different spots.

Will Thompson, pitcher on July 9, 1892. Gave up five runs over three innings in his only big league game. Poor defense led to four unearned runs.

Also born on this date, Hall of Fame outfielder Kiki Cuyler, who played for the Pirates from 1921 until 1927. His .336 batting average is the third best in franchise history. He holds the Pirates’ single season record with 369 total bases in 1925. He drove in six runs during the World Series that year. You can read a full bio of Cuyler here. He was elected to the HOF in 1968.

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.

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