Morning Report: West Virginia Has Dealt with Injuries and Struggles, Though There are Bright Spots

Today is part four of progress from the prospects at each level. The Pittsburgh Pirates gave aggressive pushes to some young hitters this year, skipping them from the Gulf Coast League to the West Virginia Power. The results so far have been mixed. The Power also had a lot of young pitcher and added even more during the season, but they have also had their share of injuries.

Calvin Mitchell has been the main highlight this season for the Power. He leads the team with an .896 OPS, showing no struggles so far with the jump three levels higher than last year. The strikeouts are getting a little too high despite his success on offense, so we will have to see how that affects him going forward. The second half could also be tough on a young player in their first full season of pro ball, but that can be helped by some extra days off here and there, along with some time at DH.

Lolo Sanchez (pictured) has been disappointing, though only because high expectations were put on him coming into the year. Until a player makes the jump from the GCL to Low-A as a teenager, you won’t know how they with handle it. He looked great in Spring Training, but has never got it going with West Virginia. He’s now hitting .202/.273/.298 in 52 games, with more strikeouts (40) than his previous two seasons combined (37). If he gets on base more often, his plus speed could provide a lot more value.

Oneil Cruz has improved tremendously over last year, at least at the plate. The work at shortstop is coming along slowly. His strikeouts are down, his walks are the same, while his average and power are both up. There is still so much more power that he can tap into, but a teenager in Low-A with an .851 OPS will always get you noticed. His stock is trending up.

Mason Martin had a nice start before things fell apart in May. He was recently demoted to Bristol, where he will be with three other prep players from his draft class who were selected ahead of him. So it’s not really a bad thing that he will be playing at Bristol now. It just puts him on a normal pace instead of an aggressive one.

Rodolfo Castro was a player we predicted could have some trouble with an aggressive push from the GCL to Low-A and it was due to his aggressive approach at the plate. Keeping that in mind, his .624 OPS was about what you should expect from someone who just turned 19 last month. He’s not being over-matched, so it appears that he has handled the jump as well as could be expected given his youth and plate approach.

Deon Stafford was named to the All-Star team. His bat has been strong this year, albeit as a college player in Low-A. The defense is a work in progress, but he handles a pitching staff well and his arm looks better than last year.

Chris Sharpe is having some success while striking out way too much. He has some power and speed to his game and gets on base, but 66 strikeouts in 191 at-bats likely won’t lead to future success against tougher pitching.

Dylan Busby was starting to hit well right before he got beaned, which knocked him out of action late last month. He was still striking out too much, but when he hit the ball, it was a lot of hard contact. We will see if he can pick up where he left off when he returns, or will he go back to struggling like he did last year and in April.

Domingo Robles has been the other pitching in the rotation all season for the Power and he’s been consistently good, while showing off a nice fastball he controls well, plus a curveball that he throws in any count. He has a 3.18 ERA in 62.1 innings, with a 52:14 SO/BB ratio and a 1.20 WHIP. His ground ball rate is down a little, but still an acceptable rate. Robles was still 19 on Opening Day, so this is looking like a nice season for him, which should get him more notice.

Travis MacGregor and Braeden Ogle were both pitching well before they were injured. Both injuries have ended up keeping them out longer than anticipated, although that’s a not a surprise with the caution the Pirates use with young pitchers. They were both seeing a rise in their prospect status, slight for Ogle since he was already rated fairly high. It was much larger for MacGregor, who didn’t make our top 50 after a tough year last year. His improvements would have easily had him ranked top 30, but he will need to show something when he comes back.

Max Kranick and Cody Bolton were late arrivals to West Virginia after pitching well in Extended Spring Training. Both are throwing hard this year and showing improved breaking pitches. Kranick had two strong starts and then two poor outings, although this last one had all of the damage in the second inning and he finished strong. Bolton had been great, with two runs and 20 strikeouts over 20.1 innings. It’s too early to pass judgement on either, but their progress is great to see.

Gavin Wallace was having a decent season, though it’s tough to see success at higher levels when you’re not missing bats as a college pitcher in Low-A. That has changed in his last two starts with 15 strikeouts between them. He had just 13 strikeouts total in his previous seven starts combined. If that can continue, then you have one of the best command pitchers in the system, who racks up ground ball outs, pairing it with a high strikeout rate. Two starts isn’t enough to go on, but if it continues, he won’t be in Low-A for long.

Ike Schlabach has pitched well as a starter, but the Pirates are using him just as a spot starter this year, while flipping him between the bullpen and occasional starts. That’s tough for any pitcher to do, but surprising that they would do it to a 21-year-old, who never pitched in relief before this year.

Lefty reliever Blake Weiman dominated at the level, though I should point out that it was surprising that he didn’t begin the year in Bradenton because he is an advanced pitcher with major college experience. He’s been even better in High-A, albeit in a much smaller sample size.

TODAY’S SCHEDULE

Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates were off yesterday. They travel home to play the Cincinnati Reds today, where they will send Chad Kuhl to the mound for his 14th start. He allowed three runs over five innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers in his last start. The Reds scheduled starter is right-hander Matt Harvey, who has a 5.97 ERA in 57.1 innings, with 44 strikeouts and a 1.40 WHIP. He gave up one run over six innings against the Pirates on May 22nd.

The minor league schedule includes the opener for Morgantown. We will have a preview soon for the team. Tyler Eppler starts for Indianapolis. He threw 5.2 shutout innings in his last start and has given up four earned runs over his last four starts combined. Altoona sends Cam Vieaux to the mound for his second Double-A start. He allowed one run over seven innings in his debut while striking out seven batters. Max Kranick starts for West Virginia for the fifth time. He had two strong outings, followed by giving up 11 runs total over his last two starts.

Bradenton is on their All-Star break until Monday. Matt Eckelman and Alfredo Reyes were selected for the game, along with Eduardo Vera, who is now with Altoona. He was replaced by Scooter Hightower, while Arden Pabst was added as a backup.

MLB: Pittsburgh (33-35) vs Reds (25-43) 7:05 PM
Probable starter: Chad Kuhl (3.95 ERA, 69:27 SO/BB, 73.0 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (35-29) @ Columbus (32-32) 7:15 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Tyler Eppler (2.84 ERA, 59:19 SO/BB, 63.1 IP)

AA: Altoona (32-28) vs New Hampshire (39-26) 7:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Cam Vieaux (1.29 ERA, 7:0 SO/BB, 7.0 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (33-29)  vs Clearwater (31-34) 6:30 PM 6/18 (season preview)
Probable starter: TBD (0.00 ERA, 0:0 SO/BB, 0.0 IP)

Low-A: West Virginia (35-28) vs Delmarva (34-30) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Max Kranick (5.75 ERA, 14:7 SO/BB, 20.1 IP)

Short-Season A: Morgantown (0-0) @ Mahoning Valley (0-0) 7:05 PM
Probable starter: TBD

DSL: Pirates1 (5-6) vs Indians/Brewers 10:30 AM (season preview)

DSL: Pirates2 (2-9) vs Colorado 10:30 AM (season preview)

HIGHLIGHTS

From Wednesday, a look at the top two shortstops in the system. First, Kevin Newman…

Next is Cole Tucker hitting his first home run

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

6/14: Pirates release Luis Cadet.

6/14: Pirates sign Antonio Gonzalez.

6/13: Pirates sign Enrique Santana, Bladimir Susana and Domingo Gonzalez.

6/13: Pirates sign nine draft picks.

6/13: Oddy Nunez activated from the disabled list. Jess Amedee assigned to Bristol.

6/12: Jerrick Suiter placed on Indianapolis disabled list.

6/12: Pirates sign three draft picks.

6/12: Enny Romero assigned to Bradenton on rehab

6/11: Pirates sign seven draft picks.

6/11: Jung Ho Kang assigned to  Indianapolis on rehab.

6/10: Ivan Nova activated from the DL. Nick Kingham optioned to Indianapolis.

6/10: Jacob Stallings recalled from Indianapolis. Adam Frazier optioned to Indianapolis.

6/9: Jackson Williams added to Indianapolis roster.

6/8: Richard Rodriguez placed on disabled list. Pirates recall Dovydas Neverauskas.

6/8: Mason Martin assigned to Bristol. Jesse Medrano assigned to West Virginia.

6/6: Samuel Reyes added to West Virginia roster. Evan Piechota promoted to Bradenton.

6/6: Eric Wood placed on disabled list. Jerrick Suiter added to Indianapolis roster.

6/6: Cam Vieaux promoted to Altoona. Jake Brentz assigned to Bradenton.

6/6: Oddy Nunez  placed on disabled list.

6/5: Yoel Gonzalez released.

6/5: John Bormann added to West Virginia roster.

THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY

Six former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date. At this time last year it was five former players, because Erik Kratz was back with the team for a second stint as the fifth or sixth catcher, whatever crazy number they were up to at the time. The other five former players are pitcher Bruce Dal Canton (1967-70), infielder Gene Baker (1957-58, 1960-61), outfielder Bud Stewart (1941-42), first baseman Babe Dahlgren (1944-45) and 1890 first baseman Peek-A-Boo Veach, who has my second favorite Pirates nickname ever behind Bob “Death to Flying Things” Ferguson.

The Pirates have made nine trades of note on this date. You can read details on all nine trades here.

1982: Bill Robinson dealt to the Phillies for Wayne Nordhagen.

1977: Ed Kirkpatrick sent to the Rangers for Jim Fregosi.

1966: Don Schwall sent to Braves for Billy O’Dell.

1961: Gino Cimoli traded to Braves for Johnny Logan

1958: Gene Freese and Johnny O’Brien dealt to Cardinals for Dick Schofield.

1951: Cliff Chambers and Wally Westlake sent to Cardinals for Joe Garagiola, Dick Cole, Ted Wilks, Howie Pollett and Bill Howerton. Chambers threw a no-hitter one month earlier.

1949: Ed Sauer sent to Braves for Phil Masi.

1943: Dutch Dietz sent to Phillies for Johnny Podgajny.

1939: Bill Schuster sent to Braves/Bees for Elbie Fletcher.

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