Morning Report: Three Up, Three Down for the Indianapolis Indians

In yesterday’s Morning Report, we took a look at what has gone right and wrong for the Altoona Curve through the first two months of the season. On Thursday it was a look at the Bradenton Marauders, which followed a look at the Greensboro Grasshoppers on Wednesday morning, highlighting the same things. Today we move up to the Indianapolis Indians.

The idea here is to first look at players who are exceeding expectations, then follow it with players who aren’t living up to expectations going into the season. The “down” players could be due to injury, performance or just not getting regular playing time. In the past when we did this, including Wednesday’s article, that could also include pitchers working out of the bullpen instead of the starting rotation.

THREE UP

  1. I’ll start by saying that this was a really difficult team to do compared to the others because they have had so many changes throughout the season already that potential “up” players have actually been moved up. In the case of Cole Tucker and Bryan Reynolds, it was before they even settled in at Triple-A. The top spot here goes to Dario Agrazal, who has been their best starting pitcher, after beginning the season in Double-A and spending the previous two years dealing with three significant injuries. After what he’s been through the last two years, and two very poor starts to begin the 2019 season in Altoona, his success has been somewhat unexpected, especially since he flashed better stuff in 2016-17.
  2. Will Craig is taking advantage of the juiced baseballs in the International League with his 15 homers and a .565 slugging percentage through play on Friday. The thing that lands him here is the combo of power and on base percentage. In 2017 at Bradenton, Craig got on base often, but didn’t show power. In 2018 at Altoona, he hit for power, but the OBP dropped 52 points. This year we are seeing both areas of his game at the same time….oh, and he played right field last night, so that’s something new.
  3. It’s a small sample size, but Luis Escobar has been really successful while moving back to the rotation. He has three quality pitches, but the problem has been the ability to throw those pitches for strikes consistently. In Low-A (and lower) and even High-A to some extent, he got a lot of chases on pitches well out of the zone. That wasn’t happening as much in Altoona last year and Indianapolis this year, which could be a problem if you want him to go deep into starts. His changeup might be the best in the system, and his curve is a swing-and-miss pitch, while also throwing a mid-90s fastball. He just needs to control those pitches better and he’s a Major League starter.

THREE DOWN

  1. Eduardo Vera is the top player down for me, but I may have been wrong on the reasoning in previous times I’ve mentioned his struggles. Vera is a control pitcher, who was sitting 92-94 MPH last year and a tick higher in 2017. I’ve noticed he isn’t throwing quality strikes this year, doesn’t have the velocity (I’ve seen 93 once) and he isn’t using his changeup often, which has been his best pitch in the past. Those all seem like reason enough for someone to struggle while making a jump to a higher level. The real problem here may have started last year when he pitched winter ball after throwing 155 regular season innings and then a playoff start. He also began his off-season training earlier to come into Spring Training trying to impress on the Major League side. I’m sure it doesn’t help that he’s a fly ball pitcher throwing juiced baseballs this year, but I now think the real problem is that he just pitched too much last year and almost took no break this off-season. Vera made an adjustment in his delivery since his last start, and the side throwing results were positive, so we will see if that helps.
  2. Brandon Waddell qualifies here as a double disappointment. One is that he isn’t starting still, but the second is that he isn’t flourishing in relief. Waddell has always been known as a big game pitcher. He has a long track record of coming up big when the pressure is on. That made people (including myself) that if he didn’t make it as a starter, he would be great for relief, especially in tough situations. That could still be true, it’s extremely early in the change, but he has a 7.13 ERA and a 1.92 WHIP in 24 innings. One thing we have seen on a positive note is an uptick in velocity. Waddell has been known as someone who could hit 94 MPH, but you rarely saw it in starts. I’ve seen him sit 93-94 and even hit 95 MPH this season, which is excellent coming from a lefty, especially one with four pitches.
  3.  JT Brubaker gets the third spot and it’s not for his early season performance. He was the top pitcher for Indianapolis in April, but he’s been out for a month now due to an elbow injury. He’s currently rehabbing to get back, but Brubaker would have been getting Major League starts during this time, especially when the Pirates were calling up lesser pitchers and using “the opener”. You don’t need to tell any Pirates fans that injuries are going to happen, they have certainly learned that this year. This injury to Brubaker however, was one of the worst timed injuries for a minor leaguer that you’ll see. By the time he’s back to full strength, there might not be a rotation need/spot for him.

PLAYOFF PUSH

Altoona is in fourth place in their division, 8.5 games back with 17 games remaining in the first half.

Bradenton is in third place in their division, 1.5 games back with 15 games remaining in the first half.

Greensboro is in second place in their division, six games back with 16 games remaining in the schedule.

TODAY’S SCHEDULE

Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates lost 12-10 to the Milwaukee Brewers in 13 innings on Saturday night. The Pirates are sending out Jordan Lyles for the finale of the four-game series. He left his last start early due to left hamstring discomfort, though his pitch count was already high after giving up three runs over four innings against the Cincinnati Reds. Lyles had a 3.68 ERA in five May starts. The Brewers will counter with 26-year-old right-handed pitcher Zach Davies, who has a 2.19 ERA in 61.2 innings, with 42 strikeouts and a 1.23 WHIP. He threw six shutout innings in his last start, after giving up six runs over three innings in his previous outing. Davies has not allowed more than two runs in any of his other ten starts.

The minor league schedule includes Mitch Keller slated to go for Indianapolis, making his first start since his big league debut back on Monday. He allowed six runs in the first inning that day, then retired ten of the last 11 batters he faced to get through four innings. Altoona will send out Domingo Robles, who is making his second start in Double-A. He went five innings in his Curve debut, allowing two earned runs, with one walk and six strikeouts. He led all Pirates pitchers with 37 innings pitched in May.

Bradenton’s Max Kranick gave up four runs over seven innings in his last start. That followed one-hit ball over seven innings in his previous outing. Greensboro sends out Alex Manasa, who tossed seven shutout innings in his last start. This will be his 11th start overall, but just the fourth one at home. The Dominican Summer League has off today after beginning their season yesterday. The teams are always off on Sunday. You can see the season preview here.

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 (NOTE: There have been just three players released and two added since then, so the book is still 99% up to date). 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. Subscribers get 20% off the purchase of a book.

MLB: Pittsburgh (28-29) vs Brewers (33-26) 1:35 PM
Probable starter: Jordan Lyles (3.09 ERA, 56:19 SO/BB, 55.1 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (31-21) vs Gwinnett (32-23) 1:35 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Mitch Keller (3.60 ERA, 5:5 SO/BB, 5.0 IP)

AA: Altoona (24-28) vs New Hampshire (24-29) 2:00 PM  (season preview)
Probable starter: Domingo Robles (3.60 ERA, 6:1 SO/BB, 5.0 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (31-23) vs Tampa (23-31) 1:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Max Kranick (4.84 ERA, 40:15 SO/BB, 48.1 IP)

Low-A: Greensboro (36-18) vs Lakewood (18-36) 2:00 PM  (season preview)
Probable starter: Alex Manasa (3.22 ERA, 53:11 SO/BB, 58.2 IP)

DSL: Pirates1 (1-0) vs Dodgers Shoemaker 10:30 AM 6/3 (season preview)

DSL: Pirates2 (1-0) vs Royals2 10:30 AM 6/3 (season preview)

HIGHLIGHTS

From Altoona on Friday, Hunter Owen hits his 11th home run

Jason Delay lines a single through the infield to bring home two runs

Jerrick Suiter had 19 RBIs in May. Here’s the final one

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

5/31: Pedro Vasquez and Alfredo Reyes assigned to Altoona. Adrian Valerio and Ryan Valdes assigned to Bradenton.

5/31: Jack Herman assigned to Greensboro. Brett Kinneman assigned to Extended Spring Training

5/31: Allen Montgomery added to Bradenton roster

5/30: Connor Kaiser activated from Greenboro injured list.

5/29: Joe Jacques promoted to Bradenton.

5/29: Jake Elmore sent outright to Indianapolis.

5/28: Mitch Keller optioned to Indianapolis.

5/28: Alfredo Reyes promoted to Indianapolis. Domingo Robles promoted to Altoona.

5/27: Pirates acquire Yefry Ramirez from Baltimore Orioles for cash or PTBNL.

5/27: Pirates recall Mitch Keller. Montana DuRapau optioned to Indianapolis.

5/27: Cam Vieaux promoted to Indianapolis. Steven Baron activated from injured list.

5/27: Ryan Valdes and Austin Coley promoted to Altoona.

5/27: Alex McRae added to 40-man roster and recalled. Doydas Neverauskas optioned to Indianapolis.

5/27: Pirates recall Richard Rodriguez to serve as 26th man for doubleheader.

5/26: Francisco Cervelli placed on 7-day injured list. Jake Elmore designated for assignment. Jacob Stallings and Jose Osuna added to Pirates.

5/25: Pirates add Rookie Davis and Dovydas Neverauskas. Chris Stratton placed on injured list. Michael Feliz optioned to Indianapolis. Lonnie Chisenhall moved to 60-day IL.

5/25: Pedro Vasquez promoted to Indianapolis. Ryan Peurifoy added to Altoona roster.

5/25: Ike Schlabach placed on injured list.

5/22:  Ji-Hwan Bae removed from restricted list. Raul Siri assigned to Extended Spring Training.

THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY

Six former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, including one who played for the best team in franchise history. The most recent player born on this date is infielder Chance Sanford, who played for the 1998 club. He was drafted by the Pirates in the tenth round in 1991 and didn’t sign. One year later, they signed him out of the 27th round. Darnell Coles played right field for the Pirates in 1987-88. He was part of two notable trades, coming to the Pirates in exchange for third baseman Jim Morrison and going from the Pirates to the Mariners for outfielder Glenn Wilson.

Also born on this date, Jeff Schulz, who was a minor member of the 1991 NL East champs. During his only season with the Pirates, he went 0-for-3 as a pinch-hitter.

Infielder Gene Michael, who is well-known for his time with the Yankees, was signed by the Pirates as an amateur in 1959 and played for the 1966 club. The Pirates traded him to the Dodgers for Maury Wills.

Tom Leahy, who played 24 games for the 1897 Pirates in a utility role, would be 149 today if modern medicine didn’t fail us.

Finally, Jack O’Connor, who caught 21 years in the big leagues, was born on this date in 1866. He was a member of two of the better clubs in franchise history, joining the team in 1900 and sticking around three years. His time with Pittsburgh did not end well. While the 1902 Pirates were busy winning their second straight NL title and putting together the best season in team history, O’Connor was released at the end of the year when the club found out he was trying to convince teammates to make the jump with him to the American League. You can read more on each player in the link above.

On this date in 1966, Vern Law shutout the Mets by a 6-0 score and also homered in the game. Willie Stargell batted eighth that day and homered and doubled. Donn Clendenon also homered. The homer by Law was his 11th and final one in his career. That is the record for Pirates pitchers. Here is the boxscore from that game.

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