At the risk of unduly prolonging the Mason Martin Festival, I wanted to add a few thoughts about his season and what it portends going forward. He has, indeed, put up impressive numbers: 35 HR, 126 RBI and a .910 OPS across two levels through Tuesday’s games. In fact, Martin still leads the South Atlantic League in home runs and is second in RBIs despite missing the last third of the season. He’s also tied for 11th in homers in the Florida State League after playing a third of a season there.
The big question, of course, is whether Martin can continue succeeding despite his prodigious tendency to swing and miss. Big HR and RBI totals in the minors don’t necessarily translate to the majors. (Pirate fans found that out with Brad Eldred, who had 38 HRs and 137 RBIs in 2004.) Martin struck out in 29% of his plate appearances with Greensboro and so far is fanning 33% of the time at Bradenton. That’s not a big drop from last year, when he struck out in 34% of his plate appearances across two levels. It does seem odd that, after struggling badly most of last year, Martin is hitting so much better now without significantly cutting down on the strikeouts.
There are reasons to believe Martin can make his approach work. With or without the strikeouts, he’s a very different hitter this year apart from just the obvious production. For one thing, he’s no longer trying to pull the ball on every single swing, as he was last year. It’s also encouraging that he quickly started producing after being promoted to the offense-stifling environs of the Florida State League. And it’d be incorrect to think he’s a guy who just flails at everything. He has a good eye, as shown by the fact that he’s walked in over 12% of his plate appearances. If anything, he probably needs to be more aggressive early in the count, as he gets into some unfavorable counts by taking pitches in the strike zone.
Another reason for optimism is the fact that the game has simply changed. It was pretty much received wisdom just a few years ago that a prospect who was striking out more than a quarter of the time wasn’t going to succeed in the majors. The one big exception was Ryan Howard, who managed due to a HR/FB rate that was over 25%. Now, however, hitters often manage with K rates similar to Martin’s, as long as they produce enough power. Chris Davis, Khris Davis and Joey Gallo are just a few examples. They may not get by with that approach indefinitely, but Chris Davis’ 2012-16 run would be a perfectly good outcome, as long as it wasn’t accompanied by Chris Davis’ current contract.
The bigger hurdle (pun intended) for Martin might be simply getting a shot in the majors. Leaving aside the question of Josh Bell, the Pirates seem to be growing increasingly unwilling to put up with rookie struggles. That probably helped account for the disastrous Archer trade. Assuming that he handles the upper minors well, it’s still not very likely that he’ll storm right onto the major league stage the way that Bryan Reynolds, a very different type of hitter, did. The Pirates’ current front office also doesn’t seem to value power and seldom drafts power-first hitters like Martin. If they’re are still pursuing their plan to hang around .500 every year with ultra-low-cost teams, Martin might make them too nervous to get a real shot. Of course, he has a couple more levels to go before he faces that hurdle.
UPDATE: I just wanted to add a little more perspective here. Martin’s 35 HRs are the third most for any player in the minors. If you eliminate players who’ve hit all or most of their longballs in AAA, where the baseballs are livelier, the closest player to Martin has 28. The next best total for a player Martin’s age (he turned 20 in June) is 22. Martin also leads all of the minors, including AAA, in RBIs by 21.
Indianapolis has been eliminated from the playoffs.
Altoona has been eliminated from the playoffs.
Bradenton has been eliminated from the playoffs.
Greensboro has 6 games left. They have been eliminated from the division race, but they are 4.5 games back for the second best record, which could possibly get them a playoff spot. They can be eliminated as early as today.
Morgantown has 7 games left. They trail by a 1/2 game in the division and two games in the wild card.
Bristol has 1 game left. They are a 1/2 game back in third place. Two teams make the playoffs in each division and the top two teams are playing each other. If Bristol wins today, then the winner of the other game will be their opponent in the first round of the playoffs. If Bristol loses, they miss the playoffs.
GCL Pirates have been eliminated from the playoffs.
DSL Pirates1 season ended.
DSL Pirates2 have clinched a playoff spot
Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates won 5-4 over the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday night. They will send out Mitch Keller in the series finale. He is coming off of a strong performance against the Cincinnati Reds in which he allowed one run over six innings and struck out nine batters. In his previous start, Keller gave up six runs over 4.1 innings in the Little League Classic. against the Chicago Cubs. The Phillies will counter with right-hander Vince Velasquez, who has a 4.93 ERA in 91.1 innings, with 98 strikeouts and a 1.35 WHIP. He went just 2.1 innings against the Miami Marlins in his last start, giving up seven runs. In his previous two starts combined, Velasquez allowed six runs over 10.1 innings. He has a 5.00 ERA as a starter and 4.35 in ten relief outings.
The minor league schedule includes the final game of the season for Bristol and it’s a huge one, with their best prospect on the mound. Tahnaj Thomas will get the ball in his 12th start of the season and it’s a must win game. If they win, they make the playoffs. If they lose, they don’t. Thomas has not allowed more than three earned runs in any start this season and he’s given up five runs over his last five outings combined. Michael Burrows gets his 11th start for Morgantown. He has allowed three runs and walked two batters in each of his last three starts, pitching a total of 11.2 innings. He has not made it through five innings since his fourth start of the season.
Indianapolis has a day game, with James Marvel making his tenth start. He allowed two runs over seven innings in his last start. Including his Altoona starts, Marvel has a 2.97 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP in 151.1 innings. Altoona is sending out Sean Brady, who was named as our Player of the Week after throwing a complete game shutout in his last outing. Bradenton goes with Nicholas Economos, who has allowed one run over six innings in both of his starts since being sent down from Altoona. Greensboro is sending out Winston Nicacio, who allowed seven runs over 3.2 innings in his last start. That was after he gave up one run and no walks in his first 21 innings of Low-A ball. The DSL regular season is over. The Pirates2 received a first round bye, so their playoffs will start later this week.
MLB: Pittsburgh (56-76) @ Phillies (68-63) 6:05 PM
Probable starter: Mitch Keller (7.24 ERA, 33:11 SO/BB, 27.1 IP)
AAA: Indianapolis (64-70) vs Toledo (64-70) 1:35 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: James Marvel (2.72 ERA, 44:19 SO/BB, 49.2 IP)
AA: Altoona (67-67) vs Akron (60-74) 6:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Sean Brady (3.89 ERA, 75:33 SO/BB, 125.0 IP)
High-A: Bradenton (72-61) vs Palm Beach (56-72) 6:30 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Nicholas Economos (1.94 ERA, 58:24 SO/BB, 79.0 IP)
Low-A: Greensboro (76-56) vs Rome (63-70) 7:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Winston Nicacio (2.92 ERA, 23:2 SO/BB, 24.2 IP)
Short-Season A: Morgantown (37-32) vs Batavia (38-32) 6:35 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Michael Burrows (4.54 ERA, 36:19 SO/BB, 39.2 IP)
Rookie: Bristol (33-33) vs Danville (30-37) 6:30 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Tahnaj Thomas (3.32 ERA, 54:14 SO/BB, 43.1 IP)
GCL: Pirates (18-35) vs Red Sox (26-25) 11:00 AM (season preview)
DSL: Pirates1 (34-36) (season preview)
DSL: Pirates2 (56-16) vs TBD (season preview)
From Altoona on Monday night, three highlights from Domingo Robles. First, a strikeout to end the sixth.
— Altoona Curve (@AltoonaCurve) August 26, 2019
A weak grounder to end the eighth
0⃣0⃣0⃣ 0⃣0⃣0⃣ 0⃣0⃣ ❓
That's Akron's runs over eight innings against Domingo Robles pic.twitter.com/BHAGDKq0oU
— Altoona Curve (@AltoonaCurve) August 26, 2019
He gets the complete game shutout on pitch 95 of the night
Domingo goes the distance!
9 IP | 5 H | 0 R | 1 BB | 5 SO | 95 pitches, 73 strikes
FINAL: Curve 5, Akron 0
— Altoona Curve (@AltoonaCurve) August 27, 2019
The only Indy highlight from Monday was this fine play by Jake Elmore
Jake Elmore can also field his position, quite well in fact, fwiw. pic.twitter.com/z3ycmjl4XW
— Indianapolis Indians (@indyindians) August 27, 2019
8/27: Pirates recall Yefry Ramirez. Parker Markel optioned to Indianapolis.
8/25: Matt Eardensohn promoted to Morgantown.
8/22: Darnell Sweeney placed on Indianapolis injured list.
8/22: Blake Cederlind promoted to Indianapolis. Kevin Kramer activated from Indianapolis injured list.
8/22: Osvaldo Bido activated from injured list. Ryan Valdes placed on Bradenton injured list.
8/22: Quinn Priester promoted to Greensboro.
8/21: Chris Archer and Clay Holmes placed on injured list. Pirates recall Dario Agrazal and Parker Markel.
8/21: Michael Flynn assigned to GCL Pirates on rehab
8/20: Richard Rodriguez activated from injured list. Montana DuRapau optioned to Indianapolis.
8/20: Pirates release Austin Coley.
8/20: Sean Keselica placed on Indianapolis injured list.
8/19: Cole Tucker optioned to Indianapolis.
8/18: Pirates add Montana DuRapau to roster.
8/18: Elvis Escobar activated from Altoona injured list. Tom Koehler placed on injured list.
THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY
Five former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus two trades of note. Starting with the transactions, we have the 1996 deal that brought Jason Schmidt to the Pirates in exchange for Denny Neagle. The two pitchers both had their moments for their new club, but the Pirates got nothing from the two minor league players that were thrown into the deal. The Pirates got Ron Wright and Corey Pointer, adding a lot of power to the farm system, though neither made the majors with the Pirates. Wright actually did get called up, but injured his wrist and never played.
On this date in 1988, the Pirates traded for Ken Oberkfell. They sent Tommy Gregg to the Braves four days later and received cash in return. Oberkfell was known as a decent hitter with a strong glove, but he hit just .181 in 34 games for the Pirates.
Former players born on this date include:
T.J. Beam, 2008 relief pitcher. Had a 4.14 ERA in 45.2 innings over 32 appearances.
Mark Ryal, 1990 outfielder. He went 1-for-12 in nine late-season games.
Wally Roettger, 1934 outfielder. The Pirates acquired him in a four-player trade with the Reds. He hit .245 in 47 games with Pirates.
Charlie Grimm, first baseman from 1919 until 1924. He hit .286 in 770 games with the Pirates, driving in 369 runs. He was sent to the Cubs in a six-player deal after the 1924 season, which was covered here. The deal included the Pirates’ all-time win leader Wilbur Cooper and Hall of Fame shortstop Rabbit Maranville.
Bill Stuart, 1895 shortstop. Hit .247 in 19 late-season games for the Pirates.