We’re in the middle of the 2019 MLB season, and approaching the trade deadline. That means most of the articles now are going to be recapping the first half, focusing on the second half, and looking at trade deadline strategies.

From a prospect standpoint, you also have the midseason ranking articles. Yesterday I submitted my Pirates midseason top 30 to Baseball America. I’m not sure when those run, but it will be soon, and I’ll talk more about the list when it’s posted. We’re also getting started on our own midseason top 30 list, which is the combined rankings from myself, John Dreker, and Wilbur Miller. That list will come out after the deadline in eBook form, with more info coming soon.

One takeaway I had from the midseason lists is that the Pirates still have some potential with this current group of players between the majors and Triple-A. For all of the injuries and struggles this year, there have been some great stories. Josh Bell finally broke out. Bryan Reynolds and Kevin Newman have had great rookie seasons. Even guys like Dario Agrazal have looked good at times, adding some promise to the future mix.

But then there are three of the top prospects in the system waiting in Triple-A: Mitch Keller, Cole Tucker, and Ke’Bryan Hayes (not listed in ranking order). We’ve seen Keller and Tucker in the majors this year. Neither player had the success of Reynolds or Newman, and both are back in Indianapolis working on their game.

I believe that Keller can be a strong MLB pitcher with an adjustment to his pitch usage and approach with that usage. I can’t say if he’d be better off right now working in Triple-A versus working in the majors. What I can say is that eventually he’s going to need to get time in the majors to adjust to the league.

I think Cole Tucker has more upside than Kevin Newman, although Newman has always been safer with a higher floor. Tucker is more raw, and it would be fair to say that he’s reaching the stage where he needs to show consistent results, rather than relying on untapped offensive tools. Just like Keller, he’s got work to do, and eventually he will need to do some of that work adjusting in the majors. The Pirates don’t have to rush as much with him though, thanks to Newman’s success.

Then there’s Ke’Bryan Hayes, who is the third baseman of the future in Pittsburgh. Hayes has solid defense, and his bat has been on fire since returning from the IL at the end of June. If he can boost his offense going forward, with more power and the ability to hit for average and get on base, then he could be an impact third baseman.

The Pirates don’t really have Hayes blocked. They’ve got Colin Moran and Jung Ho Kang as their third base options, with neither coming close to locking down a long-term spot or blocking Hayes when he’s ready. If this offensive production continues from Hayes, he could be ready to arrive this year.

Then there are other prospects like Kevin Kramer and Will Craig, whose roles aren’t as defined due to people blocking them at the MLB level. Kramer has Newman and Tucker to contend with, plus Adam Frazier in the majors. Craig is obviously blocked by Josh Bell, and isn’t strong enough defensively at another position to make a successful switch off first base.

If the Pirates throw in the towel at some point this month, and trade away some players to retool for next season, then it would make sense to bring these prospects up. Give Keller some time to adjust in the majors, to see if he can be an option on Opening Day next year. Give Hayes a chance to debut and win that third base job for 2020 and beyond. Give Tucker a chance to show he can hit more like that first week in the majors, and less like what followed. And if they don’t use Kramer or Craig as trade bait, bring them up, see what they’ve got, and if Craig does well, hope the NL adds the DH.

The Pirates are going to need to do more than rely on prospects to carry them back to the playoffs. But they will need those prospects to step up. They’ll need continued production from guys like Newman and Reynolds, along with other guys like Keller, Hayes, and Tucker joining them.

If they’re out of it during the final two months — and I think you can argue they’re already out of it — then it would make sense to turn to the prospects in order to prepare for next season. If that happens, the final two months could be very interesting to watch.

TODAY’S SCHEDULE

Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates lost 7-0 to the St Louis Cardinals on Monday night. The Pirates will send out Dario Agrazal for his fourth Major League start tonight. Ten days ago, he allowed two runs over six innings against the Milwaukee Brewers. In his previous start, he gave up one run over six innings in Houston. The Cardinals will counter with 23-year-old right-hander Jack Flaherty, who has a 4.64 ERA in 97 innings, with 107 strikeouts and a 1.23 WHIP. He allowed one run on two hits in seven innings against the San Francisco Giants in his last start. He has not faced the Pirates yet this season. Flaherty has a 3.48 ERA in nine home starts and a 5.96 ERA in nine road starts.

The minor league schedule includes Mitch Keller scheduled to go for Indianapolis, making his first start since his six shutout innings last week earned him the International League Pitcher of the Week award. He leads the league in ERA and ranks third in both WHIP and strikeouts. Altoona is sending out Sean Brady, who has pitched 6+ innings in each of his last 11 starts. In his last ten starts, he has allowed 1-2 earned runs in nine of those outings. Aaron Shortridge will get the start from Bradenton, he second game back after suffering an injury on a line drive off his arm. He went four innings in his first game back, allowing two runs on four hits and two walks.

Luis Nova is making his eighth start for Greensboro. He has faced just three different teams so far, including three runs over 17 innings against Lakewood. In his other four games combined, he has given up 15 earned runs over 17.1 innings. Bristol is sending out Dante Mendoza, who tossed four shutout innings with six strikeouts in his last start. He also put up those same stats in his season debut 19 days earlier. Morgantown has off today.

MLB: Pittsburgh (44-49) @ St Louis (47-45) 8:15 PM
Probable starter: Dario Agrazal (2.81 ERA, 7:5 SO/BB, 16.0 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (47-46) vs Syracuse (46-48) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Mitch Keller (3.07 ERA, 96:31 SO/BB, 82.0 IP)

AA: Altoona (49-41) vs Trenton (49-41) 6:30 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Sean Brady (3.57 ERA, 42:20 SO/BB, 75.2 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (49-43) vs Clearwater (50-43) 6:30 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Aaron Shortridge (3.89 ERA, 67:16 SO/BB, 88.0 IP)

Low-A: Greensboro (57-36) vs Hagerstown (40-54) 7:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Luis Nova (5.01 ERA, 28:6 SO/BB, 32.1 IP)

Short-Season A: Morgantown (15-15) vs State College (16-15) 6:35 PM 7/17 (season preview)
Probable starter: Michael Burrows (3.54 ERA, 25:13 SO/BB, 20.1 IP)

Rookie: Bristol (12-14) @ Pulaski (16-9) 6:30 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Dante Mendoza (3.94 ERA, 16:9 SO/BB, 16.0 IP)

GCL: Pirates (7-10) vs Braves (5-9) 12:00 PM  (season preview)

DSL: Pirates1 (18-19) vs Cubs1 (18-19) 10:30 AM  (season preview)

DSL: Pirates2 (31-6) vs Colorado (17-20) 10:30 AM  (season preview)

HIGHLIGHTS

From Indianapolis on Sunday, this isn’t a repeat highlight from yesterday, Pablo Reyes homered for the third time in his last two games

From Altoona, Jared Oliva also homered on Sunday, continuing his recent hot streak

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

7/13: Ryan Valdes activated from Bradenton injured list. Raul Siri placed on injured list.

7/13: Keone Kela assigned to Indianapolis on rehab.

7/12: Blake Weiman placed on Indianapolis injured list.

7/11: Fernando Villegas assigned to Bristol.

7/11: Eric Wood placed on Indianapolis injured list.

7/10: Pirates release Roger Santana.

7/9: Pirates sign Tsung-Che Cheng

7/9: Pirates sign Deion Walker

7/9: Brendt Citta promoted to Morgantown. Luke Mangieri promoted to Greensboro. Ryan Peurifoy released.

7/8: Trevor Williams reinstated from paternity list. Kevin Kramer optioned to Indianapolis.

7/8: Pirates release Nick Garland and Mason Fishback

7/7: Mason Martin promoted to Bradenton.

7/7: Braeden Ogle and Logan Stoelke placed on injured list. Matt Eardensohn added to Bradenton roster.

7/7: Pirates recall Kevin Kramer. Montana DuRapau optioned to Indianapolis.

7/6: Pirates recall Dario Agrazal, Luis Escobar and Montana DuRapau. Steven Brault place on injured list. Trevor Williams placed on paternity leave. Dovydas Neverauskas optioned to Indianapolis.

THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY

One former Pittsburgh Pirates player born on this date, and one trade of note that is tied into that player. On this date in 1918, the Pirates traded third baseman Gus Getz to Indianapolis, which was a minor league team at the time not affiliated with the Pirates. In exchange, they picked up shortstop Roy Ellam. He had played ten games for the 1909 Reds, then spent the next nine seasons in the minor leagues before this trade. Ellam replaced Howdy Caton at shortstop, who happens to be the player born on this date. Caton played for the Pirates from 1917 until 1920 and lost his shortstop job a second time to someone a little bit better than Ellam. At the end of the 1920 season, Caton took the bench, as the Pirates tried out rookie Pie Traynor at shortstop and he seemed to work out well, though he’s obviously better know as a third baseman.

On this date in 1968, the Pittsburgh Pirates added 37-year-old coach Bill Virdon to the active roster, three years after he last played in the majors. The Pirates were short-handed at the time, and while Virdon was used sparingly off the bench, he hit a pinch-hit two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning on July 23rd against the Cincinnati Reds to send the game to extra innings. That would end up being his last big league hit and next to last at-bat.

The first time they played the All-Star game on July 16th was 1985 and Tony Pena was the only representative of the Pirates. Pena came off the bench and replaced Ozzie Virgil in the bottom of the seventh inning on defense. In his only at-bat, he struck out against Dan Petry. The NL won the game by a 6-1 score. You can find the boxscore here. Pena played four All-Star games while with the Pirates, all as a reserve.

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