Pittsburgh Pirates Sending Seven Players to the AFL, Including Keller, Tucker and Hearn

The Arizona Fall League rosters were announced on Tuesday afternoon and the Pittsburgh Pirates are sending seven players to the league this season. I’ll note that these rosters are tentative at this point. Last year, the Pirates ended up making three changes after the rosters were announced. For the most part though, the players announced on the first day are the ones who end up going to the AFL.

The players listed for the Pirates are pitchers Mitch Keller, Taylor Hearn, Brandon Waddell and JT Brubaker. On the player side, you have shortstop Cole Tucker, second baseman Kevin Kramer and outfielder Logan Hill. More on these players shortly.

The Pirates will play on the Glendale Desert Dogs this season after being affiliated with the Surprise Saguaros last year and Glendale for one season before that. Teams send one person from their field staff, which is usually a coach, but this year the Pirates are sending Bristol trainer Lee Slagle. The AFL season starts on October 10th and runs until November 16th, playing a total of 30 games, with the championship game played two days later. The Fall-Stars game is November 4th and will be televised on MLB Network.

We will have daily coverage throughout the AFL season, as well as live coverage in November.

UPDATE: Just wanted to get the names out there early for everyone, so here’s the rundown on the players going. I mentioned a little while back that sending a trainer as the coach was an interesting choice. If you look at the seven players going this year, all seven spent time on the disabled list and three of them are still currently on the list. The Pirates have sent hitting coach Kevin Riggs recently and then pitching coach Justin Meccage, and the players sent those years matched up well with the coach sent. So sending a trainer along with this group of players makes a lot of sense.

Both Hill and Kramer missed significant time with a broken hand by a pitch. Both of them are currently down at Pirate City rehabbing and neither is expected to return, even if Altoona makes a run into the playoffs. Hearn was shutdown just over a month ago with an oblique injury and at the time, wasn’t expected to make it back to action, although there was a chance. The thinking was that there was no reason to bring him back for a short time, when innings came be made up in the instructional league and the AFL. The league has a rule about injured players (must be healthy for 45 days before the end of the season) but MLB runs the AFL and obviously has no issues bending the rules.

Keller and Tucker are obviously the big names going, but this is a packed group of players. From top to bottom, it’s probably the best group they have sent because every player is a clear top 50 prospect in the system, plus you have the big names at the top. Should make for some very interesting AFL coverage.

  • Meadows?

  • I love that Tucker is going.

    He’s been hitting like crazy for a couple of weeks now…hopefully he can keep that going and be on pace for a quick promotion next season…


    • My thoughts exactly – Newman to 2B in May/Jun 2018 with the Pirates opposite Jordy Mercer; Tucker to the Pirates at SS in May/Jun 2019 opposite Newman. Mercer remains to mentor and be the Utility IF.

  • Does anybody know if they going to broadcast some of the games on MLB Network? I believe they did last year. (Besides the Fall Stars game.)

  • What is the purpose of the AFL? It seems to be match-up of prospects with higher ceilings than the minor league system that matches up based on development. Is it a chance to see if players can emerge, or just a chance to get more reps in?

    • I think the original concept is a league for top American prospects so they don’t have to go overseas to play fall/winter ball. That’s why there are rules limiting players who are foreign, play below AA, have been injured, or have MLB service time. But, as the article mentioned, ultimately the MLB clubs decide how they want to use it. They may send top prospects one year and the next it’s a bunch of guys who lost time to injury. Or maybe they send a few A ball guys they want to challenge and some guys who look more like bench options and need to learn new positions (like Eric Wood last year).

  • John, did you expect Brubaker to be in the list?

  • Whoa.

    • ??

      • Stacked group!

        • I like Keller and Logan Hill going to get more experience against better competition. Love that Hearn is going both to build up innings and to try to carry the roll he was on pre-injury into Spring Training. I’m intrigued Tucker is going after having a breakout year and playing a pretty full slate of games a season after shoulder surgery. Hopefully Waddell and Brubaker can work on developing pitches to be able to put batters away and be more efficient. Kramer just needs to play and make up for missed time. AFL will be very interesting as a Bucco fan.

          • Not the kind of October baseball we were hoping for, but I’ll take it!

            Hearn is the most to benefit for me. Kid turned 23 today and has yet to throw 100 competitive innings in a single year in his entire life because of all the injuries he’s had. Timeline for him to turn into a starter is beginning to run thin.

  • I think this is the year I finally get to some games. Lived in Phoenix for 13 years and haven’t been to any AFL games.

    • I don’t want to speak for Tim, but I’d be willing to bet that he would highly recommend the trip there. This is definitely the year to go.