Morning Report: Arizona Fall League Possibilities for the Pirates

Every year I put in my guesses for the Pittsburgh Pirates who could go to the Arizona Fall League. I’ll admit that I put too much thought into it, but it’s my favorite article. Even after trying to figure out the possible AFL players for longer than I’ve been writing here (started in June 2010), I believe my best year was getting five correct, and many times I’ve only been right on 2-3 of my guesses. I still go for it anyway, so here are my top seven possibilities for the 2018 AFL season.

I’m going with seven players because that’s almost always the amount of players the Pirates (and every other team) send. What I factor in first and foremost is that the players usually have Double-A experience already, but no Major League experience. I’d say about 85-90% of the players chosen in the past fit that description, so it’s a safe assumption that at least 5-6 will this year.

Another key factor is that players who missed time during the season will go there to make up for that lost time. In fact, all seven players originally selected last year, missed time during the season. I say “originally” because Cole Tucker was in that group, but couldn’t play. Those injuries ranged from Kevin Kramer missing three months with his broken hand, down to JT Brubaker missing two starts and coming back on a limited pitch count due to a blister issue on his right hand. A final note is that players almost never go twice to the AFL, so I never guess someone who has already been there, but it can happen.

Keeping those things in mind, my first guess seems like the most obvious one. Bryan Reynolds (pictured) should be going to the AFL this year, after missing seven weeks due to hamate surgery. When he returned to action, he wasn’t in the lineup every single day right away. Reynolds has played 60 games this year, so even if Altoona makes the playoffs and goes two full rounds, he will be under 100 games played for the year. The AFL is great for making up for lost at-bats (and innings for pitchers) so this seems like a definite.

The AFL has a rule about foreign-born players. If they have winter ball in their home country, then they aren’t allowed to play in the league. The AFL has a lot of rules that aren’t followed and this is one of them. All teams have to do is put players on the Extreme Fatigue list, which eliminates them from playing winter ball before December. Hundreds of players are put on that list each year, ranging from injured DSL players to a guy like Felipe Vazquez, who has no intention of playing winter ball.

I mentioned all of that because it’s okay for you to learn new things and because Dario Agrazal would normally not be allowed to play in the AFL. He’s from Panama and they have a winter league that he played in before he signed with the Pirates. He wouldn’t pitch there anyway, but he missed two full months this year with a right shoulder strain and he’s already used one option after being added to the 40-man roster. So it would be smart to get him more time on the mound and the AFL is perfect for that.

Right away is where this gets tougher because no other Double-A prospect missed a lot of time this year. So then you need to think about other things that might get a player sent there. One can be two catchers splitting playing time, leaving neither with a lot of time behind the plate. Christian Kelley would be a good choice because he is well-liked by the Pirates and has currently played 76 games, but he’s getting regular playing time now over Arden Pabst, who put up big stats in Bradenton. Pabst was going to play winter ball last year after missing time, but I’m going for him getting the AFL assignment. He has just 54 games played this season and could use the extra time.

The Pirates usually send three position players and four pitchers, so now let’s look for that third position player to join Reynolds and Pabst. I’m going with Cole Tucker here. He struggled during the season a bit, but he’s been in the lineup every day. The Pirates wanted to send him there last year. He’s from Arizona. The experience would be good for him, especially if he’s making the jump to Indianapolis next year. Seems like a good fit to me.

Now looking for three pitchers to join Agrazal, I’m going with two relievers who bring the heat. I think Geoff Hartlieb and Matt Eckelman will both go to the AFL. Neither has put in a lot of innings and both are intriguing arms with some rough edges, so extra innings against upper level hitters would serve them well. The AFL is almost always full of hard-throwers, so they would fit in well.

You’re usually going to see two starters go to the AFL and no one in Double-A really fits that mold of being a prospect and needing innings. It’s tough to look at High-A for a player because their rotation is lacking a prospect who needs innings and most of the Indianapolis pitchers have either a lot of innings or have already been in the AFL. So I’m going for another foreign-born player with winter ball in his home country. Luis Escobar is 18.2 innings under last year’s total still and he’s on the 40-man roster, which means he’s used an option already. You don’t want him forced onto the 25-man roster in 2021 with little or no big league experience. Getting extra time in the AFL can help speed him along. He’s an instance where they might use his as a reliever so he doesn’t go too far over last year’s innings.

So there you have it. I’m going with Cole Tucker, Arden Pabst and Bryan Reynolds on offense and Dario Agrazal, Luis Escobar, Matt Eckelman and Geoff Hartlieb as pitchers. I reserve the right to add players if any of these players are the players to be named later in the Rays/Rangers trades. The actual AFL players should be announced right around September 1st.

PLAYOFF PUSH

The Pirates are in fourth place in their division, trailing by 8.5 games with 49 games left on the schedule. They trail the second wild card team by 5.5 games.

Indianapolis is in first place and they lead by 3.5 games with 27 games left in their schedule.

Altoona is in second place and trails by five games with 29 games left in their schedule. They lead the race for the second playoff spot by three games.

Bradenton is in fifth place and trails by 9.5 games with 26 games left in their schedule.

West Virginia is in sixth place and trail by 9.5 games with 27 games left in their schedule. They trail the second place team by six games and could make the playoffs if Lakewood wins the second half title and they finish second.

Morgantown is in sixth place and trail by 12.5 games with 26 games left in their schedule.

Bristol is in third place and trails by 4.5 games with 23 games left in their schedule. They trail the second place team, which also gets a playoff spot, by four games.

The GCL Pirates are in fourth place and trail by eight games with 16 games left in their schedule.

The DSL Pirates1 are in sixth place and trail by ten games with 17 games left in their schedule.

The DSL Pirates2 are in fifth place and trail by 16.5 games with 17 games left in their schedule.

TODAY’S SCHEDULE

Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates lost 2-0 to the Colorado Rockies on Monday night. Jameson Taillon will get the start today, coming off of his last outing on July 31st when he allowed three runs over 6.2 innings against the Chicago Cubs. The Rockies will counter with right-hander Chad Bettis, who has a 5.10 ERA in 95.1 innings, with 69 strikeouts and a 1.40 WHIP. In his last start, he gave up two runs over three innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The minor league schedule includes Tyler Eppler starting for Indianapolis tonight at home. He has a 1.99 ERA at home this season and a 5.10 ERA on the road. Altoona doesn’t have a starter listed, but there will be some additions to their rotation with James Marvel and Dario Agrazal both joining the club. Pedro Vasquez was sent down to Bradenton and he will debut there tonight. Sergio Cubilete got a spot start 11 days ago and allowed two runs over five innings, then came back with one run over six innings last week. Osvaldo Bido had a run of three straight starts with one run allowed before his last two outings. In both of those games, he put up identical lines of three runs on nine hits and a walk in five innings. Brad Case and Luis Arrieta will be pitching for the GCL Pirates today.

MLB: Pittsburgh (57-56) @ Colorado (60-52) 8:40 PM
Probable starter: Jameson Taillon (3.74 ERA, 116:34 SO/BB, 125.0 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (62-51) vs Lehigh Valley (70-43) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Tyler Eppler (3.56 ERA, 91:29 SO/BB, 118.2 IP)

AA: Altoona (59-50) @ Trenton (63-49) 7:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: TBD (0.00 ERA, 0:0 SO/BB, 0.0 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (50-56) @ Charlotte (59-50) 6:35 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Pedro Vasquez (0.00 ERA, 0:0 SO/BB, 0.0 IP)

Low-A: West Virginia (56-52) @ Greensboro (54-55) 7:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Sergio Cubilete (4.85 ERA, 51:30 SO/BB, 59.1 IP)

Short-Season A: Morgantown (18-32) vs Batavia (22-27) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Osvaldo Bido (5.05 ERA, 30:13 SO/BB, 46.1 IP)

Rookie: Bristol (21-24) vs Johnson City (20-24) 6:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: TBD (0.00 ERA, 0:0 SO/BB, 0.0 IP)

GCL: Pirates (18-20) vs Tigers East 12:00 PM (season preview)

DSL: Pirates1 (26-29) vs Dodgers Guerrero 10:30 AM (season preview)

DSL: Pirates2 (21-34) vs Mariners 10:30 AM  (season preview)

HIGHLIGHTS

From Bradenton on Sunday, the guy who owned the highlights section last August in Morgantown, walks it off with a single

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

8/6: Pirates acquire Adeiny Hechavarria and cash considerations From the Tampa Bay Rays for Matt Seelinger.

8/6: Domingo Robles Promoted to Bradenton. James Marvel promoted to Altoona.

8/5: Dario Agrazal assigned to Altoona. Pedro Vasquez assigned to Bradenton.

8/5: Pirates recall Casey Sadler. Option Alex McRae to Indianapolis.

8/5: Zac Susi assigned to Bristol.

8/4: Pirates released Yair Babilonia and Garrett Brown.

8/4: Corey Dickerson activated from disabled list. Christopher Bostick optioned to Indianapolis.

8/4: Ben Bengtson and Deon Stafford activated from West Virginia disabled list. Raul Siri promoted to Bradenton. Jhoan Herrera assigned to Morgantown.

8/4: Austin Coley placed on disabled list.

8/3: AJ Schugel assigned to Bradenton on rehab.

8/3: Pirates option Steven Brault to Indianapolis. Recall Dovydas Neverauskas

8/2: Alfredo Reyes promoted to Indianapolis. Pedro Vasquez activated from Altoona disabled list.

8/2: Nick Kingham optioned to Indianapolis.

8/2: Leandro Pina placed on 60-day minor league DL.

8/1: Eric Wood activated from Indianapolis disabled list.

8/1: Bralin Jackson activated from the disabled list.

8/1: Pirates sign Mason Fishback. Assigned to GCL Pirates.

8/1: Pirates sign Carlos Jimenez, Andy Maldonado and Franrielis Mercedes.

7/31: Pirates trade Austin Meadows, Tyler Glasnow and a PTBNL to Rays for Chris Archer.

7/31: Pirates trade Taylor Hearn and a PTBNL to Rangers for Keone Kela.

7/29: Ben Bengtson and Rodolfo Castro placed on disabled list. Raul Siri and Jhoan Herrera added to West Virginia roster.

7/29: Erich Weiss activated from Indianapolis disabled list.

7/28: Pirates sign Justin Morris. Assigned to GCL Pirates.

7/28: Josh Smoker claimed off waivers by Detroit Tigers

7/28: Josh Bell placed on disabled list. Jose Osuna recalled from Indianapolis.

7/28: Corey Dickerson placed on disabled list. Austin Meadows recalled from Indianapolis.

THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY

Eight former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, including one better know for his managerial career. We start with an important transaction that occurred on this date in 1958. The Pirates signed an 18-year-old kid out of high school named Willie Stargell. During his first season of pro ball in 1959, Stargell played D League ball, which is similar to Low-A now. He hit .274 with seven homers in 118 games. You can read more on Stargell here.

Players born on this date include:

Jim Gray, who played for the franchise in 1884, 1890 and 1893. He was a very good local player who filled in occasionally when needed. He also played for the Pittsburgh team in the Player’s League in 1890, but dressed for just six games total during his four stops in the majors.

Adonis Terry, 1892-94 pitcher. In a roundabout way, the Pirates acquired him for Hall of Fame pitcher Pud Galvin. They sent Galvin to St Louis for Cub Stricker, who never played for the Pirates. Instead, he was immediately dealt for Terry, who won 30 games between his first two seasons in Pittsburgh, but lasted just one game the next year.

Les Fleming, successful minor league hitter, who never saw that translate over to MLB success. Hit .258 in 24 games for the Pirates in 1949 as their first baseman.

Jerry McNertney, catcher for the 1973 team. Was the backup at the beginning of the year when Manny Sanguillen tried to replace Roberto Clemente in right field. When that didn’t work, Sanguillen went back to catching and McNertney lost his spot.

Jim Sadowski, pitcher for the 1974 Pirates. Spent eight season in the Pirates system, but his big league career lasted just nine innings.

Steve Kemp, 1985-86 left fielder. He was a slugger for the Tigers in the early 80’s, but his Pirates career was a disaster over two seasons.

Tyler Yates, 2008-09 pitcher. One of the first players the current front office trade for, which didn’t work out that well.

The Hall of Fame manager mentioned above is Bill McKechnie, which if you’ve ever been to Spring Training, you’ll recognize the last name from the Pirates home field….or at least you would have before the poor decision to change the name before Spring Training in 2017. McKechnie played six seasons for the Pirates and managed them for five years, including 1925 when the franchise won it’s second World Series title. An interesting note about his start with the Pirates as a manager. He tried out for the team as the backup middle infielder in 1921, then when that didn’t work out, he became a coach, which transformed into the managerial spot when George Gibson got fired. You can read more about McKechnie in the link above, which also includes some lesser transactions made on this date.

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