Checking in on the Pirates’ affiliates through the first month of the season…
Indianapolis Indians (12-10)
With Labor Day behind us, the 2014 minor league season is officially in the books. The Pirates will see just one of their affiliates — the Bradenton Marauders — in postseason play. Despite praise for individual standouts, the overall teams had a rough year in 2014. Here’s a round-up from the Pirates’ system…
1. Tyler Glasnow, RHP
Stats: 12-5, 1.74 ERA, 11.4 K/9, 4.1 BB/9 (124.1 IP)
3. Josh Bell, OF
Levels: Bradenton, Altoona
Stats: .325/.375/.459, 9 HR, 60 RBI (108 games)
4. Austin Meadows, OF
Levels: GCL & Bristol (rehab), West Virginia
Stats: .317/.394/.488, 3 HR, 16 RBI (45 games)
5. Nick Kingham, RHP
Levels: Altoona, Indianpolis
Stats: 6-11, 3.34 ERA, 6.7 K/9, 2.9 BB/9 (159 IP)
6. Alen Hanson, 2B/SS
Stats: .280/.326/.442, 11 HR, 58 RBI (118 games)
7. Reese McGuire, C
Level: West Virginia
Stats: .262/.307/.334, 3 HR, 45 RBI (98 games)
8. Harold Ramirez, OF
Level: West Virginia
Stats: .309/.364/.402, 1 HR, 24 RBI (49 games)
9. Cole Tucker, SS
Level: Gulf Coast League Pirates
Stats: .267/.368/.356, 2 HR, 13 RBI (48 games)
10. Mitch Keller, RHP
Level: Gulf Coast League Pirates
Stats: 0-0, 1.98 ERA, 9.5 K/9, 4.3 BB/9 (27.1 IP)
Indianapolis Indians (AAA)
73-71, second place in International League West, 6.0 games back
There were high hopes for the Tribe entering 2014, with top prospects Jameson Taillon and Gregory Polanco starting the season in Indy. Unfortunately, Taillon fell victim to Tommy John surgery and missed the entire year. Polanco didn’t disappoint in his AAA action, hitting .347 with a .945 OPS before graduating to the big leagues in June. After missing an opportunity to break camp with the MLB club, Andrew Lambo crushed International League pitching once again by slashing .328/.389/.563. Some of Indy’s best arms (Casey Sadler, Brandon Cumpton) have seen time in Pittsburgh, while others (Vin Mazzaro, Andy Oliver) have been stuck in the minors. Two rising pitching prospects, Nick Kingham and Adrian Sampson, got their first taste of AAA action after midseason call-ups.
Altoona Curve (AA)
61-81, fifth place in Eastern League West, 18.0 games back
Alen Hanson spent a full season in Altoona this year — he picked up the bat after a slow start, but committed 29 errors in the field, moved to second base, and was benched for extended periods of time for not growing up. Pitcher-turned-position-player Stetson Allie was bumped up to AA after pretty limited time in A-ball — he mashed again, launching 21 homers in 117 games. One of the breakout players of 2014, catcher Elias Diaz batted .328/.378/.445 for the Curve while displaying “the strongest pure throwing arm” in the Bucs’ system. Sampson (2.55 ERA) and Kingham (3.04 ERA) headlined the pitching staff before heading to Indianapolis.
Bradenton Marauders (A+)
43-27, first place in Florida State League South
Two blue chip prospects, Tyler Glasnow and Josh Bell, led one of the best teams in the Florida State League. A bunch of solid players on this squad, though those two led the way — Glasnow and Bell were named the FSL Pitcher and Hitter of the Year, respectively. Glasnow keeps getting better and better, while Bell hit .335 before being promoted to Altoona.
West Virginia Power (A)
34-33, fourth place in South Atlantic League North, 7.5 games back
The top two picks of the 2013 draft class spent time with the Power this summer. Outfielder Austin Meadows hit well after returning from a hamstring injury that sidelined him for months, while catcher Reese McGuire struggled with the stick but threw out nearly 40% of base stealers. A third round pick last year, shortstop JaCoby Jones broke out with the Power by knocking 23 home runs and leading the system with a .503 slugging percentage. West Virginia’s pitching staff was lacking; one familiar name — Luis Heredia — posted a 4.15 ERA in 18 starts.
Jamestown Jammers (A-)
35-40, second place in New York-Penn League Pinckney, 12.5 games back
Hard to draw much from a short season A team, especially when no top prospects are around… You can find their stats here. The Jammers are relocating to Morgantown next year.
Bristol Pirates (A-Rookie)
22-46, last place in Appalachian League West, 16.0 games back
A first-year affiliate of the club, the Bristol Pirates were absolutely terrible… Stats here.
– Obviously you should keep an eye on Tyler Glasnow. Now the #1 prospect in the system, he continues to rise on overall prospect lists — MLB currently has him at #19 in baseball. A-ball hitters weren’t much of a challenge for Glasnow, so it’ll be interesting to see how he does next season as he moves to Altoona.
– Josh Bell ripped the cover off the ball this year. You probably know that the Pirates have quite a bit of outfield depth right now, and it doesn’t appear that Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, or Gregory Polanco will be going anywhere anytime soon. That being said, Bell will play first base in the Arizona Fall League and will probably start there in Altoona next year. The Pirates haven’t had success with internal first base options (pretty much don’t draft any), nor have they gotten great production from the external options they’ve acquired. Let’s see if Bell can stick at 1B; his bat should certainly play there.
– Of course, keep tabs on Taillon. He’ll need time at Indy upon returning to competitive action, but could make an impact in Pittsburgh next year. Another guy in that category — Nick Kingham. He’ll be a legit option in camp next year, though I’d expect him to start the year in AAA. Kingham’s been called “a poor man’s Gerrit Cole.”
– Adrian Sampson tore up Eastern League hitters for much of the year, even taking a no-hitter into the ninth inning back in July. He doesn’t strike many out but limits his walks; he’ll be an interesting guy to watch as he starts in Indianapolis next year.
– Ever since Neal Huntington said something along the lines of “if Russell Martin is as expensive as we think he’ll be, we have Tony Sanchez,” another catcher has gotten a ton of attention — Elias Diaz. Not sure if that’s a coincidence or what, but it’s interesting because Diaz ended up replacing Sanchez at Indy just days later, bumping Tony to first base. Keep an eye on Diaz.
– Now 132 games into his professional career, JaCoby Jones is slashing .291/.349/.498 … The power he showed in 2014 (21 doubles, 3 triples, 23 home runs) is impressive, especially if he can stick at shortstop.
– Top 2014 draft picks: Cole Tucker, Connor Joe, Trey Supak, Mitch Keller.
The Pirates’ system had one of the lowest organizational winning percentages in all of baseball…
The Pirates are widely considered to have one of the best systems, obviously due to their strong top prospects and not just their team-by-team production. Few other systems can match the kind of talent the Pirates have in the top 10. It ultimately comes down to how many of those prospects will graduate to the big leagues and make an impact. We’ve seen Cole, Polanco, Marte, and others rise through the system recently; Glasnow, Bell, Taillon, Kingham, etc. could all join them within a couple of years. They say the waiting is the hardest part… Hopefully waiting for these prospects to reach Pittsburgh will be worth it.
So the Pirates didn’t make a splash at the trade deadline to improve their right field situation. Prices were apparently astronomical, and anyone they could have acquired – Alex Rios, Nate Schierholtz, Hunter Pence, etc. – would have cost more than they were willing to pay.
However, they may have their upgrade right in their own farm system.
Andrew Lambo, the 24-year-old outfielder who came over in the Octavio Dotel trade three years ago, has been absolutely raking in the minors this season. Here are his stats between the Class AA and AAA levels:
Double-A Altoona: .291/.351/.559 with 14 HR, 46 RBI in 52 games
Triple-A Indianapolis: .282/.349/.598 with 14 HR, 41 RBI in 48 games
A few reasons to call him up…
– He has the power.
Those who have held the RF spot this year – mostly Jose Tabata and Travis Snider – have put up the worst production at their position in the National League. All of the right fielders’ combined OPS of .660 is glaring low, making a deadline upgrade seem inevitable. While that upgrade never came, Lambo can make it happen. His .910 and .946 OPS marks at Altoona and Indianapolis, respectively, are very impressive. How about those 28 homers?
– He has the hot bat.
The guy has been on fire (all year, really). In the last 10 days alone, he’s mashed five dingers and knocked in 13.
– His left-handed stroke could fit nicely with PNC Park’s short porch.
– There’s already a spot open on the 40-man roster.
A potential reason NOT to call him up was always due to the fact that he’s not on the 40-man roster. However, the Bucs’ 40-man currently sits at 39, so Lambo would be an easy add. Even if it was full, moving Michael McKenry (who’s out for the year) to the 60-day DL would have cleared space.
We know a lot of fans would like to see Andrew Lambo in Pittsburgh. It ultimately comes down to how the front office feels about the whole situation, but we think he might be worth a shot.
At the 2011 All-Star break, the Pittsburgh Pirates held a record of 47-43; they finished at 72-90.
In 2012, they improved to 48-37 at the break, but still finished below .500 at 79-83.
It’s 2013 and the Pirates have exceeded all expectations, sitting at 56-37 at the All-Star break. How will it end up? Is another collapse in store? Or will the streak finally end – maybe even… playoffs?
Here are 15 questions for the second half…
1. Can the pitching hold up?
The Pirates’ staff helped provide one of the best storylines in the first half of Major League Baseball. Without the superb pitching, the Bucs wouldn’t be anywhere near a record of 56-37. Among all 30 teams, the Pirates rank 1st in ERA, 1st in opponent batting average, and 2nd in WHIP. However, they must keep it up if they’re serious about contending. The 2011 and 2012 teams both saw their pitching staffs run out of gas down the stretch.
2. Can the offense improve?
While the Pirates rank highly in most pitching categories, the club ranks low in the hitting department. At the break, they’re 26th in batting average and 26th in runs scored. Assuming the pitching staff regresses a bit, the Bucco bats will have to pick up the slack and win some ballgames.
3. What will happen at the trade deadline?
In 2011, Neal Huntington acquired two veteran bats, Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick, on deadline day. While the team was already falling off at that point, it was still nice to see the franchise in “buyer” mode for the first time since 1997, when the Freak Show picked up Shawon Dunston. In 2012, NH traded for Wandy Rodriguez, Travis Snider, and Gaby Sanchez in late July. With more confidence than the previous year, most fans and even some players were looking for an impact player to come to Pittsburgh at the deadline – but he never came. Now in 2013, it’s hard to say what will happen. It seems like the players are worried about the team’s chemistry and don’t want to change a thing. It’ll be interesting to see what unfolds in the next two weeks.
4. Will there be another 19 inning game?
Hopefully this question will be a resounding NO when it’s all said and done. Two years ago, it was the infamous Jerry Meals game – a devastating 4-3 loss against the Braves. Last year, it was a big 6-3 win against the Cardinals. Say what you will, but the numbers don’t lie: the Pirates went 19-43 after the 19 inning game in 2011 and 13-29 after the 19 inning game in 2012.
5. Can Andrew McCutchen finally have a good second half?
Back in February, we wondered if Cutch could avoid a second half breakdown this year. His play fell off after the All-Star break the past two seasons, so he’ll be a player to watch for the next couple months. McCutchen had a nice first half (.302/.376/.471) – hopefully he can build upon that.
6. Will we see Wandy Rodriguez again?
Wandy, 34, has dealt with a few injuries this year, slowing him down a bit. He’s posted a 3.66 ERA in his 25 career games with the Bucs, and they could certainly use his experience in the final months. His current injury status could determine whether or not the Pirates will pursue another arm at the deadline. If they feel he won’t be back in quite some time – if at all – another veteran pitcher could be brought to Pittsburgh.
7. Can Gerrit Cole contribute for the full stretch run?
Another determining factor for whether or not a pitcher will be acquired could be the team’s stance on Cole. They’ve said that they don’t plan on limiting his workload, but you never know what will happen. Plus, some fans are questioning whether or not the young stud is actually MLB ready – the .307 opponent batting average is particularly concerning. It’ll be interesting to see if Cole 45 can settle into a role and contribute through September.
8. Will Jeff Locke and Francisco Liriano continue to dominate?
The two southpaws have been two of the biggest surprises in 2013. Locke (8-2, 2.15) was sent to the All-Star Game for his excellent first half, while Liriano (9-3, 2.00) was lights-out since making his Bucco debut in May. Locke & Liriano will be two huge keys to keep the rotation afloat in the second half.
9. Will the bullpen remain unstoppable?
Led by Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon, the Shark Tank has been a bright spot for the 2013 Pirates. They rank 2nd in ERA, 2nd in opponent batting average, and 1st in WHIP among all Major League bullpens. Just like the starting rotation, the Pirates’ ‘pen will need to continue their success if the club is serious about contending.
10. Can Michael McKenry figure things out?
Pittsburgh fans have quickly turned on The Fort, who’s been subpar throughout the 2013 campaign. Offensively, he’s hitting just .182 with a .549 OPS; defensively, he’s thrown out just 5 of 40 attempted base stealers. You can’t even put too much blame on the pitchers anymore, since Russell Martin has managed to throw out 22 of 46. Even though he’s just a backup, McKenry could be more important than you think in the second half. Every game will be important, and Martin won’t be capable of catching them all without seriously wearing down. The Fort needs to step up at the plate and behind it, or else the Bucs may need to give Tony Sanchez a try.
11. Who, if any one, will contribute from Class AAA?
This question particularly pertains to the month of September, when the rosters expand to allow 40 players. However, the Pirates could potentially dig into their farm system sooner than that, with a bit of depth at Triple-A Indianapolis. As we just noted, Tony Sanchez is available behind the plate, hitting .282 with an .866 OPS on the year. In the infield, Ivan De Jesus has had a really nice season at the dish (.332/.390/.481). Andrew Lambo has hit .280 with a .927 OPS since moving up to Indy, and some fans have already boarded the #FreeAndrewLambo train. On the mound, Andy Oliver, Brandon Cumpton, Duke Welker, and Vic Black are all 40-man rosters players who could be called up at anytime.
12. Will the Cardinals slow down?
It’s hard to believe that the Pirates could be on pace for 98 wins, yet still be in stuck in second place. Entering the second half, the St. Louis Cardinals own baseball’s best record at 57-36. Will they ever slow down? The Bucs will have their chances to shut down the Red Birds, starting with a crucial five-game series (five games in four days!) at the end of July. They’ll face each other another nine teams before the season’s end. Those 14 games could seriously dictate the Pirates’ playoff chances.
13. Can they hold off the Reds?
The Cincinnati Reds cooled off as they entered the break, but chances are pretty good that they’ll fight their way back. They’re currently 5.0 games out of first place and 4.0 games behind the Pirates, though that could all change as soon as this weekend – the Bucs will travel to Cincinnati for an important three-game set. They’ll see the Redlegs again for six games in September. That’s 23 games between the Reds and Cards, exactly one-third of the Pirates’ second half schedule. Buckle up.
14. Who will sneak up in the Wild Card race?
If the Cardinals keep a firm hold on the division lead, then the Pirates would have to settle for a Wild Card spot at best. They currently have a four-game lead over Cincy for the first WC, and Cincinnati has a five-game lead over Washington for the second. It’s a pretty big lead… for now. Keep an eye on the Nationals, Phillies, and Dodgers, who are all hovering around .500 and could make a run at the Wild Card.
15. Is this the year?
This is the main question that will be answered by the end of September. It seems like a vague question, but there’s so much meaning in those four words. Really, the Pirates have three options: 1) Collapse III, 2) Break .500 for the first time since 1992 but miss the playoffs, 3) Easily eclipse .500 and qualify for a postseason berth. At this point, any three of those three are possible. Another collapse doesn’t seem likely, but like we’ve seen the past two years, you can’t predict baseball. Hopefully the third time is a charm, and the Pirates finally have a great second half and finish over .500. The streak would be over then, but will that satisfy the team and its fans? Everyone wants more with the postseason in sight. As Mark Melancon said at the All-Star Game, “If we don’t get (to the playoffs), that would be devastating.”
It should be a fun, interesting, and crazy second half.
Enjoy these next 69 games – it may be one heck of a ride. The first taste of winning baseball in Pittsburgh since ’92? Yes, please.
You gotta believe.