Morning Report: All Or Nothing Hitters

As I noted last week, the Pirates’ problems with offense extend beyond the major league team.  There are, however, some hitters putting up big numbers.  What’s interesting is that the hitters who’ve arguably been the most productive at each level have been taking an all-or-nothing approach.

Starting with Indianapolis, there’s Will Craig.  He hasn’t been as much all or nothing as the other players I’m going to list here, but he has undergone a change in his hitting profile, sacrificing walks and average for power.  He’s also likely been helped a little by the more lively ball being used in AAA now.  Despite a recent 0-for-19 skid, he’s doing a better job of balancing his approach than he did a year ago.  His walk rate is back up a bit, from 7.7% last year to 10.2%, and his K rate is down slightly from 23.3% to 21.4%, which isn’t a high K rate for a power hitter.  (All stats are through Monday.)  He’s made these improvements along with a career-high .277 ISO.  The fact that he could make these adjustments is, maybe, an encouraging sign for the other hitters I’m going to mention here.

Altoona’s best hitter by far has been Hunter Owen.  Through Monday’s games, he was hitting 316/386/646, with just over half his hits going for extra bases.  (He also hit his seventh home run as I’m drafting this.)  There are two big concerns with Owen:  He’s 25, which is old for a prospect just reaching AA, and his K:BB ratios have always been bad.  Currently, he has seven walks and 28 strikeouts.  The walk rate is actually up quite a bit from last year, but a 31.8% K rate is cause for concern.  For one thing, it’s taken an unsustainable batting average on balls in play of .422 to keep his average so high.

The best hitter by far for Bradenton has been Dylan Busby.  He’s been remarkably similar to Owen, except he doesn’t have the sky-high BABIP to sustain his batting average.  In fact, his BABIP of .226 probably shows he’s hit in some bad luck.  Busby’s current slash line is 231/378/677 and he’s leading the Florida State League by comfortable margins in home runs, slugging and OPS.  His walk and strikeout numbers are nearly identical to Owen’s:  nine and 27, respectively.  Busby is two years younger than Owen, so he’s only a little older than ideal for a prospect at his level.

At Greensboro, there’s Mason Martin.  He’s made a lot of progress in his return to the South Atlantic League, with a 233/320/512 line.  His walk rate is good, but his K rate remains alarming, at 37.1%.  Sixty percent of his hits have gone for extra bases.

A few years ago, I probably would have dismissed prospects with K rates as high as Owen, Busby and Martin.  Now, I’m not so sure, as baseball is changing.  Players with profiles similar to these three — as I said, Craig so far hasn’t been so much all-or-nothing this year — do succeed in the majors.  Khris Davis and Joey Gallo are examples, and the “other” Chris Davis was for a few years.  It’s going to take longer to see how things play out with these players to tell whether their approaches will work long-term.

TODAY’S SCHEDULE

Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates won 6-4 in 11 innings over the Texas Rangers on Tuesday night. Jameson Taillon will get the ball this afternoon. He allowed five earned runs over five innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks in his last start. In his last road start back on April 14th, he gave up three runs over six innings in Washington against the Nationals. The Rangers will counter with 28-year-old right-hander Shelby Miller. He has a 7.52 ERA and a 2.07 WHIP in 20.1 innings and five starts. Miller has 18 walks and ten strikeouts.

The minor league schedule includes Altoona with a morning start time and James Marvel on the mound. He has thrown seven shutout innings in each of his last two outings. Indianapolis has an afternoon start time with Rookie Davis on the mound. He allowed four runs over five innings in his last start. Bradenton sends out Domingo Robles, who allowed three runs in the first inning of his last start, then threw six shutout innings the rest of the way. Nicholas Economos gets his third start of the season tonight. He gave up four runs over five innings in his last start.

The full 2019 Pirates Prospects Prospect Guide is now available, up to date as of April 3rd, with every player in the minor league system. Includes full reports on the top 50 prospects, reports on over 150 other players, as well as looks back at the recent drafts and international signing classes.

MLB: Pittsburgh (13-14) @ Rangers (15-13) 2:05 PM
Probable starter: James Taillon (4.06 ERA, 25:6 SO/BB, 31.0 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (13-11) vs Columbus (15-10) 1:35 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Rookie Davis (5.21 ERA, 16:11 SO/BB, 19.0 IP)

AA: Altoona (12-12) vs Erie (10-11) 10:30 AM (season preview)
Probable starter: James Marvel (1.52 ERA, 23:4 SO/BB, 29.2 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (17-8) @ Jupiter (7-17) 6:30 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Domingo Robles (3.30 ERA, 24:9 SO/BB, 30.0 IP)

Low-A: Greensboro (15-9) vs Rome (9-15) 7:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Nicholas Economos (2.16 ERA, 23:10 SO/BB, 16.2 IP)

HIGHLIGHTS

From Indianapolis on Monday, Kevin Kramer hits his first home run of the season

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

4/30: Starling Marte activated from injured list. Jason Martin optioned to Indianapolis.

4/30: Chase Lambert promoted to Bradenton. Raul Siri added to Greensboro roster.

4/30: Jose Osuna assigned to Indianapolis on rehab.

4/28: Oneil Cruz placed on injured list. Deon Stafford activated from injured list.

4/28: JT Brubaker placed on injured list. Dario Agrazal promoted to Indianapolis. Angel German added to Altoona roster.

4/27: Chris Archer placed on injured list. Pirates recall Michael Feliz

4/26: Stephen Alemais placed on injured list. Adrian Valerio promoted to Altoona. Gavin Wallace added to Bradenton roster.

4/23: Nick Burdi placed on injured list. Pirates recall Steven Brault.

4/23: Brandon Maurer placed on injured list. Montana DuRapau added to Indianapolis roster

4/23: Kevin Newman sent to Indianapolis on rehab. Nick Franklin assigned to Indianapolis

4/23: Oneil Cruz assigned to Bradenton.

4/22: Blake Weiman added to Altoona roster. Angel German assigned to Extended Spring Training

4/22: Joel Cesar added to Bradenton roster. Gavin Wallace assigned to Extended Spring Training

4/22: Jose Osuna assigned to Bradenton on rehab

4/22: Gregory Polanco activated from injured list. Steven Brault optioned to Indianapolis

4/21: Elias Diaz activated from injured list. Jacob Stallings placed on injured list.

THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY

Seven former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus a trade of note. The most recognizable player born on this date is second baseman Jose Lind, who was a member of the three NL East championship teams from 1990-92. He played 779 games over six seasons and won a Gold Glove in 1992. Lind hit homers during the 1990 and 1992 NLCS series, driving in a total of ten runs over the three years of playoffs.

One interesting set of players born on this date are Bill White and Tom Forster. They shared a birthday and a position during their only year with the team. Both played shortstop for Pittsburgh in 1884 when they were called the Alleghenys and they were still in the American Association, a rival Major League to the National League. Forster was born one year earlier.

Others born on this date include: Second baseman Johnny Berardino (1950,52), pitcher Heinie Meine (1929-34), catcher Billy Kelly (1911-13) and pitcher George McQuillan (1913-15). More on all of them in the link above.

On this date in 1957, the Pirates traded first baseman Dale Long and outfielder Lee Walls to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for first baseman Dee Fondy and infielder Gene Baker. By the end of the year, Fondy would be dealt to the Cincinnati Reds for slugging first baseman Ted Kluszewski. Baker was a backup during the 1960 season, when the Pirates won their third World Series title.

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