First Pitch: If There Was a Minor League Season, Part 7

In our hypothetical minor league season, Greensboro will likely have the most interesting team of all.

Not the least interesting aspect will be how the playing time gets juggled.  As I said in the Bradenton installments, the Pirates are developing a logjam because different categories of players are developing at different rates.  Some of the prep and international guys are doing well, while many of the college guys are not.  Also, the Pirates have loaded up heavily on college players who project as organizational guys.  The result is a lot of players converging, developmentally speaking, in class A.


As we all know, this isn’t exactly the most promising position in the system.  Greensboro will, however, have the one catcher in full season ball I find interesting, which is Eli Wilson.  A 2019 16th round pick out of the University of Minnesota, Wilson had a decent debut at Bristol and still has a ways to go.  He’s very athletic, though, including decent speed, and has the tools to be a good defensive catcher and hit with at least a little power.  He should share the catching position with Kyle Wilkie, last year’s 12th round pick.  Like most of the team’s college draftees, Wilkie struggled to hit last year in the New York-Penn League and his defense still needs work.  Greensboro could also have Ryan Haug, a defense-oriented catcher who’s probably an org. guy.


The GBO infield is potentially loaded with players who deserve regular time.  The one certainty should be Liover Peguero, who came from Arizona in the Starling Marte trade.  Peguero has a high-upside bat and could stick at short, so it’s vital that he play the position regularly.

Beyond Peguero, there are infielders who showed some promise at Bristol and some who struggled in the NYPL.  The four who showed the most promise were at Bristol.  Francisco Acuna played short and batted .293 while tying for the league lead in doubles.  Aaron Shackelford, last year’s 14th round draft pick, played mainly third and a little at second, and hit for good power.  Jesus Valdez, who came from the Dodgers in the David Freese trade, played second, third and short, and showed some power potential.  Yoyner Fajardo is primarily a second baseman and hit well over .300 both at Bristol and in the GCL last year.

The first baseman likely will be Will Matthiessen, last year’s sixth round pick.  He was an outfielder in college, but played a lot at first in the NYPL.  He did not, however, hit well.

Other college guys from the NYPL were ninth rounder Ethan Paul, who played short, and 19th rounder Cory Wood, who played second.  Both were around league-average hitters and Paul, at least, will likely get a lot of playing time.  Another possibility is Zack Kone, a 2018 draftee who struggled badly at GBO last year, possibly due in part to injury problems.

There’s no good answer to the playing time question with this infield, other than Peguero playing every day.  Probably the best way to go about it would be to play Acuna, Shackelford, Valdez, Paul and Fajardo a lot at second and third, and see who earns the most PT.  I’d probably also give Shackelford and Valdez time at first, unless Matthiessen started hitting better.


Except for the GBO rotation, this is the most crowded position at any of the full-season affiliates.  It breaks down into three groups.

2019 Prep Draftees:  Sammy Siani was the 37th overall pick and got a $2.15M bonus.  He didn’t exactly light up the GCL, but it’d be unusual for the Pirates not to push him up to the South Atlantic League for his first full year.  Two late-round, over-slot guys, Jasiah Dixon and Deion Walker, both had very strong, albeit brief, debuts in the GCL.  Of the two, Dixon gets more love from scouts, but both have a good case for moving up.

2019 College Draftees:  Matt Gorski (57th overall), Matt Fraizer (3rd round) and Blake Sabol (7th round) all put up uninspiring numbers in the NYPL.  Sabol did the best of the three and Fraizer the worst, although Fraizer may have been hampered in the aftermath of a hamate injury.  The only sensible solution is to move Gorski and Sabol, at least, up to Bradenton.

2018 College Draftees:  Brett Kinneman, a 7th round pick, struggled badly at GBO last year, got demoted to the NYPL, and struggled there, too.  Brendt Citta, a late-round pick, has yet to reach full-season ball, but hit well at both Bristol and in the NYPL last year.  These two will both turn 24 by the end of the season and, at some point, there has to be some sort of up-or-out principle set in.

So here’s our hypothetical Greensboro lineup:

1. Sammy Siani, OF
2. Jasiah Dixon, OF
3. Liover Peguero, SS
4. Will Matthiessen, 1B/DH
5. Matt Fraizer, OF/DH
6. Deion Walker, OF/1B/DH
7. Francisco Acuna, 2B
8. Aaron Shackelford, 3B
9. Eli Wilson, C

Bench:  Kyle Wilkie, Jesus Valdez, Yoyner Fajardo, Brett Kinneman.




By John Dreker

Three former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus some Opening Days that occurred on April 17th in Pirates History.

Deolis Guerra, pitcher for the 2015 Pirates. He was signed as a minor league free agent prior to the 2015 season and he made his Major League debut with the Pirates on June 27, 2015. He pitched ten games for the Pirates, posting a 6.48 ERA in 16.2 innings. He was re-signed as a minor league free agent after the 2015 season, but the Pirates almost immediately lost him to the Los Angeles Angels in the Rule 5 draft. Guerra had a 3.68 ERA in 63 games for the 2016-17 Angels. Since then he has pitched one big league game, allowing four runs while recording just two outs for the 2019 Milwaukee Brewers.

Andy Barkett, OF/1B for the 2001 Pirates. His Major League career was brief, spending one month with the Pirates in the middle of the 2001 season. Despite getting just 17 games in the big leagues, Barkett put up a .304 batting average and a .786 OPS. He mostly played left field, but also saw time at first base and in right field. He played 11 seasons of pro ball (1995-2005) and signed with the Pirates as a minor league free agent prior to 2001. Barkett has managed nine seasons in the minors, including 2017 with Indianapolis, the Triple-A affiliate of the Pirates. He was also an assistant minor league hitting coordinator for the Pirates. Barkett was the assistant hitting coach for the Boston Red Sox in 2018, helping them to a World Series victory.

Bob Osborn, pitcher for the 1931 Pirates. He was born the day after Pirates all-time great (and his teammate for one season) Paul Waner. Osborn began his pro baseball career in the majors, making one September appearance for the 1925 Cubs. The next season he saw plenty of time on the mound, both as a starter and as a reliever. He went 6-5, 3.63 in 136.1 innings that season, making 15 starts and 16 relief appearances. In 1927 he had the same role, although he didn’t pitch as well and saw less time. He made 12 starts and 12 relief appearances, going 5-5, 4.18 in 107.2 innings. He spent all of the 1928 season and most of 1929 in the minors. He returned to the Cubs pitching ranks in 1930, getting 13 starts and 22 relief appearances. Osborn went 10-6, 4.97 in 126.2 innings that season. The ERA sounds high but it was actually one of the best years for offense in baseball history. The Cubs team ERA was 4.80, which ranked fourth in the NL.

The Pirates lost pitcher Steve Swetonic in Spring Training with an arm injury in 1931 and they purchased Osborn from the Cubs in late April to replace him. He was seldom used by the Pirates, appearing in eight games in relief during his first two months. In the middle of July he made two starts, then became a mop-up man out of the pen. He pitched in nine straight losses, seven times coming during doubleheaders. On September 3rd, he took over for a struggling Larry French in the second inning. Osborn threw 7.1 innings of shutout ball and the Pirates made a comeback to get him the victory. That game was the only Pirates victory he pitched in during the last two months of the season. After five more relief appearances in losing efforts, his baseball career was over. Osborn would be traded, along with catcher Eddie Phillips, to the minor leagues for pitcher Billy Swift on January 29, 1932, but he never pitched again.

The Openers

The first time the Pirates opened the season on April 17th was in 1902, in what turned out to be the best season in team history. The Pirates shut out the Cardinals that day, 1-0 behind the pitching of Deacon Phillippe. He pitched a seven-hit shutout and the only run of the game was scored by Tommy Leach, who collected three hits, including Pittsburgh’s only extra-base hit. The Pirates went 103-36 that year, winning their second straight NL pennant.

The next April 17th opener was in 1923 when the Pirates took on the Chicago Cubs. Pittsburgh walked away with a 3-2 win courtesy of a fine pitching performance from Johnny Morrison. He pitched a complete game and both runs scored off him were unearned. The Pirates lineup that day included three future Hall of Fame players. Rabbit Maranville and Max Carey batted 1-2 in the lineup, while Pie Traynor hit sixth.

In 1934 the Pirates opened up in St Louis and dropped their opener by a 7-1 score. The opposing pitcher that day was the great Dizzy Dean. He shutdown a Pittsburgh team that had five future Hall of Famers at the top of the lineup. Lloyd Waner, Freddie Lindstrom, Paul Waner, Pie Traynor and Arky Vaughan hit one through five that day. The Pirates also used Waite Hoyt in relief, another HOF player. The Cardinals lineup, besides Dean, also had Frankie Frisch, Joe Medwick and Leo Durocher in it, making it ten Hall of Famers who participated in that game.

The 1939 Pirates opened their season in Cincinnati with a 7-5 victory. Cy Blanton of the Pirates faced off against Johnny Vander Meer that day. Lloyd Waner batted lead-off for the Pirates, Arky Vaughan batted cleanup and Paul Waner got a pinch-hit in his only at-bat. Another Pirates Hall of Famer joined the fun that day as Heinie Manush got to pinch-hit for catcher Ray Mueller in the 8th inning. Manush spent two seasons with the Pirates, but accumulated just 28 plate appearances.

Another April 17th opener in Cincinnati occurred during the 1945 season. The game didn’t have the firepower of previous openers, with many good players serving in the military during WWII. The managers for each team went on to make the Hall of Fame and so did one of the players, as a manager. Frankie Frisch was at the helm for Pittsburgh, a HOF second baseman. His catcher that day was Al Lopez, who was still six seasons away from beginning his HOF managerial career. The opposing manager,and third HOF’er, was a former Pirates infielder named Bill McKechnie. The Pirates lost the game 7-6 in 11 innings. Reds lead-off hitter Dain Clay drove in five runs, four of which came on a fifth inning grand slam of Pirates starter, Fritz Ostermueller. In was the first home run of Clay’s career.

The last time the Pirates opened up their season on April 17th was in 1956, when the Giants defeated the Bucs 4-3 at the Polo Grounds. Hitting third that day and playing right field for the Pirates was Roberto Clemente, who made his Major League debut exactly one year earlier. He went 0-for-4 with a strikeout. Dale Long hit a two-run homer for the Pirates and Bob Friend pitched a complete game, taking the loss. Batting third for the Giants that day was Willie Mays, but the hitting star was pitcher Johnny Antonelli, who tied the game up in the seventh inning with a solo homer.

Having followed the Pirates fanatically since 1965, Wilbur Miller is one of the fast-dwindling number of fans who’ve actually seen good Pirate teams. He’s even seen Hall-of-Fame Pirates who didn’t get traded mid-career, if you can imagine such a thing. His first in-person game was a 5-4, 11-inning win at Forbes Field over Milwaukee (no, not that one). He’s been writing about the Pirates at various locations online for over 20 years. It has its frustrations, but it’s certainly more cathartic than writing legal stuff. Wilbur is retired and now lives in Bradenton with his wife and three temperamental cats.

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