First Pitch: Minor League Baseball During the Coronavirus

I wanted to take a moment this morning to highlight this tweet about the current state of minor league baseball players dealing with the coronavirus:

Just take a moment to read that message. There’s nothing I can add, other than that we’ve heard a similar story from minor leaguers in the Pirates’ system. MLB needs to change how they treat minor league players. The coronavirus is only making that more apparent.





By John Dreker

Four former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, plus one transaction of note.

On this date in 2003, the Pirates signed center fielder Kenny Lofton to a one-year contract. He was coming off a season in which he hit .261 with 72 walks and 29 stolen bases, but the Pirates were able to sign the six-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove winner late in the off-season for just over one million dollars. Four days earlier, Pittsburgh also signed outfielder Reggie Sanders to a free agent contract. Lofton played 84 games for the Pirates, hitting .277 with 58 runs scored and 18 stolen bases before he was traded to the Chicago Cubs in the Aramis Ramirez deal.

Matt Kata, infielder for the 2007 Pirates. He was a 1999 draft pick of the Diamondbacks, who began his Major League career with Arizona four years later. He played 160 big league games over his first three seasons before spending all of 2006 in the minors playing for the Reds organization. The Texas Rangers signed Kata as a free agent for the 2007 season, but released him on June 13th after playing 31 games with a .186 batting average. The Pirates signed him two days later and after a brief stint at Triple-A they called him up to Pittsburgh. He played 47 games, getting 90 plate appearances with a .250 average and ten RBIs, although he didn’t draw a single walk. The Pirates allowed him to leave via free agency at the end of the season and he signed with the Rockies. Just prior to the start of the regular season, Pittsburgh reacquired him, sending him to Triple-A where he spent the entire year. Kata played 40 games with the Astros in 2009, then spent three seasons at Triple-A before retiring. He was a .239 career hitter in 278 Major League games.

Earl Smith, center fielder for the 1955 Pirates. He signed with the Pirates as an amateur free agent in early 1949. That year in class C ball, he hit .324 in 69 games. Smith would hit .324 the following season at the same level, this time playing 139 games. After three straight seasons in which his batting average hovered around the .250 mark at higher levels, he was sent back to class C ball, where he hit .387 with 32 homers playing for Phoenix of the Texas-Arizona League. That season helped earn him a spot on the Opening Day roster for 1955. He would play six games over his two weeks with the team before being returned to the minors. Earl collected just one hit in his 16 career at-bats, a lead-off single in his next to last game, coming off Don Liddle of the Giants. He was returned to the minors, where he finished out his career following the 1956 season. The Pirates had a catcher named Earl Smith, who played on the 1925 and 1927 World Series Pirates teams. There was also an outfielder in the majors from 1916-22 with the same name.

Billy Rhines, pitcher for the 1898-99 Pirates. The Pirates acquired him from the Reds in a seven-player trade on November 10,1897. In that deal they gave up 30-game winner Pink Hawley and star outfielder Mike Smith, who has the sixth highest overall batting average in team history. Rhines started his Major League career in 1890, winning 28 games and leading the NL with a 1.95 ERA. He posted a 2.87 ERA in 372.1 innings the following season, but the overwork got to him and his 1892 stats suffered. Rhines pitched poorly in 1893, then spent all of 1894 in the minors. Back in the majors in 1895, he won 19 games, then he led the NL again in ERA the next year with a 2.45 mark. The season prior to joining the Pirates, he was 21-15, 4.08 in 32 starts and nine relief appearances. For Pittsburgh in 1898, Billy went 12-16, 3.52 in 288.2 innings. He went the entire season without allowing a home run. Rhines made just nine starts in 1899 before his time with the Pirates, and Major League career, ended. His final game with the Pirates was on June 22nd and he did so poorly that he was released that same day. He pitched briefly in the minors in 1901 before retiring from baseball, finishing his big league career with a 113-103 record.

Denny Mack, infielder for the 1883 Alleghenys. Over a 13-year stretch from 1871 until 1883, Mack spent eight seasons in the majors. He debuted in the National Association, which was the first Major League and lasted from 1871 until 1875, when it then gave way to the National League. He spent four seasons in the National Association, two years in the National League, then two years in the American Association, finishing his MLB career with the Pittsburgh Alleghenys in their second season in franchise history. Mack played shortstop, first base and some second base, hitting .196 in 60 games. He was a .228 hitter over 373 games, with one home run and 309 runs scored. Until recent research, Mack had an unknown birth date. He was born in 1850 in a town called Mauch Chunk, PA, which is current day Jim Thorpe, PA.

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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