Morning Report: What’s With the Pirates and Corner Infield Prospects?

One thing that’s been striking about the Pirates’ minor league lineups in recent years has been the tendency for the corner infielders to be . . . well, afterthoughts.  Frequently — although not always — the first and third basemen for their affiliates will be players who aren’t really prospects and who are playing the position more or less by default, because somebody has to.  The situation contrasts sharply with, say, shortstop, where the Pirates are apt to have logjams.  This year, for instance, Connor Kaiser, as a third round draft pick from a major college program (Vanderbilt) would normally have moved up to Bradenton, but Oneil Cruz is there (at least when he’s not hurt), so Kaiser is at Greensboro.  Stephen Alemais probably would have gone to Indianapolis, but Cole Tucker was there, and now Kevin Newman.  (Alemais is currently injured, but it’s possible he could move to Indy once Newman returns to Pittsburgh.)  The truth is, the Pirates don’t draft many first and third basemen in the earlier rounds, or sign many real corner infield prospects in Latin America.

Indianapolis this year is an exception, with Ke’Bryan Hayes and Will Craig, the latter of whom was drafted as a third baseman.  At Altoona, though, the first baseman is Jerrick Suiter, who’s 26 and was demoted after struggling last year at Indy.  He also was drafted as an outfielder.  The third baseman, Hunter Owen, also is a converted outfielder.  (Position changes usually entail moving to an easier, not tougher position, but the Pirates also tried the outfield-to-third move with Jordan Luplow.)  Owen is having a huge year so far, but he also was old to be just reaching the level.  He wasn’t found on any prospect lists before the season and, given his age relative to the level, may not be after, even if he keeps hitting like he has so far.

At Bradenton, the first baseman is Lucas Tancas, who’s repeating the level after struggling there last year.  He also was drafted as an outfielder.  I’m not saying, by the way, that outfield-to-first isn’t a common transition, because it is.  It’s just that the Pirates decision to move Tancas, a 26th round draft pick, and not, say, Jared Oliva (7th round), Bligh Madris (9th) or Chris Sharpe (14th), tells us something about which guys they see as prospects.  The third baseman at Bradenton is Dylan Bundy, a 3rd round pick who was plagued by concussions last year.

The first baseman at Greensboro is Mason Martin.  He was converted almost immediately after being drafted to first and he obviously is a prospect.  At third, Greensboro started off with Zack Kone, a 13th round pick who was drafted as a shortstop but is blocked there by Kaiser, and who does not project offensively as a third baseman.  More recently, Greensboro has used Pat Dorrian at third.  He’s an intriguing player, but he was a non-drafted free agent.

The short season teams haven’t started play yet, but if you look at last season the pattern is the same.  The West Virginia Black Bears’ first baseman was Luke Mangieri, a 25th round draft pick who doesn’t profile well offensively and who, this year, is still in extended spring training.  The third baseman was Mike Gretler, a 10th round pick as a college senior who’s now playing only sporadically as a utility player at Bradenton.  Bristol had prospects at both infield corners:  Martin at first and Sherten Apostel, now with Texas, at third.  In the GCL, the first baseman was Nick Patten, a 28th round pick who, at nearly 22, was quite old for that level.  The third baseman was Dorrian.

I’m not sure how much all of this means.  The conventional wisdom is that most major league first basemen and many third basemen moved there from other positions.  It’s possible that most teams draft and sign a lot more shortstops than they do first or third basemen.  But the conventional wisdom isn’t always right.  I checked Baseball America’s list of the top 100 draft prospects this year and it included ten third basemen and four first basemen.  I also looked at their list, just published, of baseball’s top 100 prospects.  Of those, 13 are third basemen and four first basemen.  Three of the third basemen were drafted as shortstops, but that still leaves 14 corner infielders, or 14% of baseball’s top prospects.  So I do wonder whether a disinclination to draft or sign corner infielders has something to do with the Pirates’ chronic problems in finding power hitters.

TODAY’S SCHEDULE

Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates won 7-5 over the Texas Rangers on Wednesday afternoon. The Pirates are off today, as they travel home for a weekend series against the Oakland A’s. Joe Musgrove will be on the mound Friday night. He allowed one earned run over 6.2 innings in his last start and has gone at least six innings in every start this season. Oakland will counter with left-hander Brett Anderson, who has a 4.35 ERA in six starts and 31 innings. He has a 1.48 WHIP and 18 strikeouts. Anderson’s last two starts were against the Toronto Blue Jays. He allowed a total of eight runs over seven innings.

The minor league schedule includes the sixth start from Mitch Keller, who had three perfect innings with eight strikeouts to begin his last start, before allowing four runs on eight hits and a walk in his last two innings. Pedro Vasquez goes for Altoona. He gave up four runs over five innings in his last start. Prior to that game, he had allowed just three runs this season. Bradenton sends out Aaron Shortridge, who looks to bounce back from his first poor start. He gave up three runs over five innings, after allowing three runs total in his first four starts. Steven Jennings goes for Greensboro. He allowed five runs over three innings in his last start, his shortest outing of the season.

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 (14-14) vs A’s (14-19) 7:05 PM 5/3
Probable starter: Joe Musgrove (1.54 ERA, 31:7 SO/BB, 35.0 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (13-12) vs Louisville (10-16) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Mitch Keller (3.60 ERA, 32:14 SO/BB, 25.0 IP)

AA: Altoona (12-13) @ Richmond (10-13) 6:35 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Pedro Vasquez (2.86 ERA, 14:3 SO/BB, 22.0 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (17-9) @ Jupiter (8-17) 6:30 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Aaron Shortridge (1.93 ERA, 19:4 SO/BB, 28.0 IP)

Low-A: Greensboro (16-9) vs Rome (9-16) 7:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Steven Jennings (7.89 ERA, 21:7 SO/BB, 21.2 IP)

HIGHLIGHTS

From the Pirates on Tuesday night (or Wednesday morning for most), Bryan Reynolds hits his first big league homer

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

5/1: Connor Kaiser placed on injured list. Kyle Mottice added to Greensboro roster.

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. John Bormann assigned to Extended Spring Training.

4/30: Pirates release Ben Bengtson

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

THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY

Three former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, all of them pitchers and they lasted a total of 13 games between them. Jose Ascanio pitched ten games, split between 2009 and 2011. Clay Carroll pitched two games for the 1978 Pirates and Freddy Sale pitched for Pittsburgh on June 30,1924. With the Pirates losing 7-3 to the Cardinals that day, Sale came on for the eight inning and gave up two singles to the first two hitters. Two batters later, he got an out and a double play without allowing a run and his big league career was over.

Clay Carroll was in his 15th and final season in the majors when he joined the Pirates. His career in the big leagues began back when the Braves were still in Milwaukee. The Pirates knew him well, as he faced them plenty of times over the years, including three times in the NLCS while with the Reds (1970, 72 and 75). In 731 career games, he had 96 wins and 143 saves.

The Pittsburgh Pirates played their first game in franchise history 137 years ago today. That day, the Alleghenys defeated the Cincinnati Red Stockings on the first day of baseball in the American Association. It was a league that lasted ten years total. Pittsburgh was a member for the first five years before moving to the National League for the 1887 season. The first batter in team history was Ed Swartwood, who led the league in runs and doubles in 1882 and became the first Pirates/Alleghenys player to lead the league in average (.357) the next season.

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