West Virginia had a heartbreaking day to finish their season yesterday. They won their game and finished tied for first in the standings, but they were .002 points behind Greensboro with their .557 winning percentage. That was due to Greensboro having two games rained out, so 38-30 was better than 39-31. If there was any consolation with that ending, it’s that Greensboro had the head-to-head tiebreaker as well, so the Power could have lost the division that way instead if the winning percentage was the same. Regardless of the outcome, there were some obvious highlights to the season.
I have looked over the seasons for the DSL, GCL and Bristol Pirates, as well as Bradenton in previous Morning Reports. Morgantown is still playing their regular season and Altoona and Indianapolis are in the playoffs, so those three teams will get quick reviews once they are done. Plus we will have season recaps and top tens for all of the teams later in the month. For now, here are the top five highlights for West Virginia:
1. Eduardo Vera – On a team full of older players, one of them had a breakout season worthy of the top spot on this list. Vera turned 23 in July, but he also had an ill-timed Tommy John surgery right at the end of Spring Training in 2015, which had him limited well into the 2016 season. During that time off, he got into better physical shape and that helped him put up an incredible season, especially when you look at where he was pre-injury. The 21-year-old Vera threw high-80s with a decent curve and solid control. He blended in for the most part because nothing stood out. The 23-year-old Vera hit 96 when I saw him last week and had command over three pitches, including his improved curve and changeup. He threw over 130 innings and walked 14 batters. Just holding his velocity, which was more low-90s this spring, is an impressive accomplishment considering he threw 137 innings combined in his first five seasons.
2. Oddy Nunez – While we got great Spring Training reports about both Vera and Nunez, those reports were both about players who looked like low-level relievers in previous years, so it was hard to get too excited before we saw results. Nunez had upside because he’s a huge lefty (20 years old) at 6’8″, 230 pounds, but just like Vera, he didn’t throw hard before. While he wasn’t getting up to Vera’s 97 MPH top speed this season, he did go from 88-89 last year to 91-93 MPH this year, throwing on a nice downhill plane, which made it tough for batters to square up. The reason why Nunez wasn’t #1 on this list is because he didn’t have the stamina Vera had, losing a tick off his fastball later in the year and working with a lower pitch count most of the season.
He had some of the issues Clay Holmes had last year, which really isn’t an issue other than it hurt his results. Nunez would often induce contact that was too soft, which resulted in numerous infield hits, or grounders hit too soft for a double play. He was also a victim early in the season of some very poor scoring that gave him earned runs in multiple games that should have been unearned.Plus the West Virginia infield was horrible defensively, especially when Valerio and Alemais were out. Basically, he was a lot better than the early stats indicate. Yet he still finished with a 3.71 ERA, a 1.18 WHIP, a 1.98 GO/AO ratio and 94 strikeouts.
3. Adrian Valerio – Valerio has always been known as a strong defensive shortstop and at 20 years old, he continued to impress this season, cleaning up some of the issues he had in the past. What was even better is that he made the jump from Bristol to West Virginia and had his best offensive season ever. Many of his mistakes on both sides of the ball in the past were mental, and things that players just learn with age, maturity and experience. This year he didn’t rush throws or make defensive plays flashier than they needed to look. He became a consistent fielder, who can make the flashy plays. On offense, he didn’t try to do too much. Before this year. Valerio would hit a ball far one at-bat, then change his approach to do it every at-bat, getting himself into slumps. That issue changed this season, where he maintained a solid line drive approach all year and the homers were more mistakes than him swinging for the fences. His overall stats were strong on both sides of the ball, which makes him a highlight in that he turned into the player we thought he could be.
4. Luis Escobar – Escobar really didn’t break out like we thought he could, as he had some consistency issues. Nothing was different about him either. We knew he was good before this year, with three pitches he could use for strikeouts and they all looked the same. So it’s tough to say he was a highlight this season in the same sense that the other three players were, where they all showed major improvements. Escobar’s actual highlight was the strikeouts. He had 168 of them to be exact, breaking the team record previously held by Tyler Glasnow, and leading the system and the league in strikeouts. His WHIP, walk rates, ERA, BAA have all been around the same point during the last three seasons, but he really improved his strikeout rate, which wasn’t bad before this year. His upside remains very high, he just needs to be more consistent to reach his full potential.
5. Alright, so I lied. Those were the four main highlights and they were well ahead of everything else. They didn’t have many prospects to begin the year, and while fringe prospects Vera and Nunez lived up to their Spring Training hype, nothing else really stood out. They sent starters James Marvel and Cam Vieaux up to Bradenton, but those were expected moves. The bullpen pitched well, including Ronny Agustin joining the team late and flashing an extremely impressive curveball. Geoff Hartlieb had an 0.83 ERA and got promoted, plus he was hitting mid-90s, so you could say he might be the fifth best highlight. Pasquale Mazzoccoli filled in nicely for Hartlieb and was also showing nice velocity. Hunter Owen hit well, but he turns 24 in a couple weeks, so you need to see him produce at a higher level. Yoel Gonzalez, Angel German and Oneil Cruz had their moments, but they weren’t around long enough to make a huge impression.
The Pirates trail in their division by 9.5 games. They are 7.5 games back for the second wild card spot.
Morgantown has been eliminated from the playoffs.
PIRATES GAME GRAPH
Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates won 12-0 over the Chicago Cubs on Monday night. Steven Brault will be on the mound making his first start of the season today. He has pitched six times in relief for the Pirates, going as long as four innings back on August 18th. Brault will be the first lefty starter this year for the Pirates, leaving 1891 alone once again as the only season that the Pirates didn’t used a lefty starter (they didn’t have a single lefty pitcher that year). The Cubs will counter with right-handed Kyle Hendrick, who has a 3.32 ERA in 108.1 innings, with 94 strikeouts and a 1.24 WHIP. He has faced the Pirates twice this season, allowing three runs over 11 innings.
In the minors, the regular season is over for everyone except Morgantown. They play until Thursday and Scooter Hightower is scheduled to start today. Indianapolis and Altoona are the only two teams to make the playoffs. Both series will begin on Wednesday. We will have a playoff preview for both teams on Wednesday.
MLB: Pittsburgh (66-72) vs Cubs (75-62) 7:05 PM
Probable starter: Steven Brault (5.93 ERA, 6:9 BB/SO, 13.2 IP)
AAA: Indianapolis (79-63) @ Durham (86-56) 6:35 PM 9/6 (season preview)
Probable starter: Clay Holmes (3.36 ERA, 59:99 BB/SO, 112.2 IP)
AA: Altoona (74-66) @ Bowie (72-68) 7:05 PM 9/6 (season preview)
Probable starter: Mitch Keller (3.12 ERA, 11:45 BB/SO, 34.2 IP)
High-A: Bradenton (70-62) (season preview)
Low-A: West Virginia (69-67) (season preview)
Short-Season A: Morgantown (39-34) vs Williamsport (35-36) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Rookie: Bristol (17-49)
GCL: Pirates (26-34)
DSL: Pirates (36-34) (season preview)
Here is Cole Tucker, hitting his second home run for Altoona.
9/4: Pirates claimed Jack Leathersich on waivers from Chicago Cubs.
9/3: Josh Harrison placed on disabled list. Christopher Bostick recalled from Indianapolis.
9/3: Austin Meadows placed on disabled list.
9/3: Anderson Feliz and Justin Maffei promoted to Indianapolis. Mitchell Tolman and Casey Hughston promoted to Altoona
9/3: Kevin Kramer assigned to Morgantown on rehab.
9/2: Kevin Kramer and Taylor Hearn assigned to GCL Pirates on rehab.
9/1: Pirates activate Wade LeBlanc and Joaquin Benoit from disabled list.
9/1: Hunter Owen added to West Virginia. Shane Kemp promoted to Bradenton.
8/31: Juan Nicasio claimed on waivers by Philadelphia Phillies
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.
THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY
Six former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, including a Hall of Famer everyone loves (except Yankees fans) and the pitcher who threw the first no-hitter in team history. We get the others out of the way quickly first, starting with catcher Rod Barajas, who hit .206 with 11 homers in 104 game during the 2012 season.
Andy Barkett played 17 games for the 2001 club, his only Major League experience. He hit .304, splitting his time between first base and outfield. Barkett was the Assistant Hitting Coordinator for the Pirates last year and he managed Indianapolis to the playoffs this season.
Chris Green, lefty pitcher for 1984 Pirates and fourth round pick in the 1979 draft. Gave up two runs in three innings over four appearances for the Pirates.
Jimmy Knowles, 1884 first baseman for Alleghenys. Hit .231 in 46 games, scoring 19 runs.
Lefty Leifield, pitcher for the Pirates from 1905 until 1912. Before the Pirates brought him to the majors in September 1905, he pitched 616 innings for the 1904-05 Des Moines Prohibitionists of the Western League. He won five games for the Pirates that first season, giving him 31 wins total that year. In his first full season, Leifield had 18 wins and a 1.87 ERA. On September 26th of that season, he threw a six inning no-hitter against the Phillies, which was the first no-hitter in 25 seasons for the franchise.
Leifield won 20 games during the 1907 season and another 19 in 1909 when the Pirates won their first World Series title. He started and lost game four of the series. The Pirates traded him to the Cubs during the 1912 season and he went on to play until 1920. During his time in Pittsburgh, he had a 109-84, 2.38 record, completing 125 of 191 starts.
Also born on this date 81 years ago, Hall of Fame second baseman Bill Mazeroski. You can read a full bio for him here. Known mostly for his amazing defense and his walk-off homer that ended the 1960 World Series, Mazeroski ended up with some decent offensive numbers during his career. He played in ten All-Star games and won eight Gold Gloves. He still holds the career record with 1,706 double plays turned by a second baseman. Mazeroski had 2,016 hits during his career and drove in 853 runs.