We don’t provide a lot of minor league coverage here, although it’s something I’d like to give more attention from time to time. Disclaimer: prospects will break your heart.
No matter how much we look into them, stats never tell the full story — especially at the minor league level. Perhaps a pitcher is only working on one pitch during a game — literally only one pitch. For example, some teams, like the Pirates, are known to put an emphasis on the fastball at the lower levels; after you command the heater, you can master the rest. This makes it hard to interpret the numbers, as we don’t really know what’s going on without the chance to see these guys play regularly.
Nevertheless, it’s interesting to look at the numbers and see the players who might be doing something right. Less forget about the potential shortcomings for a second and take a look at pitchers today.
The Pirates have a distinct ground ball pitching philosophy, and strikeouts are always a good indicator of particular dominance in terms of stuff, command, missing bats, etc. So we’ll compare ground ball rates (GB%) and strikeout rates (K%).
Here are the results for the near 40 pitching prospects who pitched 40+ innings at West Virginia, Bradenton, Altoona, and/or Indianapolis (and who are still with the org. as far as I can tell; removed some others — EDIT: Shane Carle was traded for Rob Scahill in November; h/t John Dreker)…
Average ground ball rate across these minor league levels: ~44%
Average strikeout rate across these levels: ~20%
McKinney, 24, pitched most of 2014 for West Virginia, boasting a 2.20 ERA over 49 innings; he also made one appearance in Bradenton. Overall: 45.5% ground ball rate and a commanding 23.5% strikeout rate, although he walked a bit too many batters (10%).
Barrios, 23, made two stops in ’14: first, he underperformed at West Virginia (4.70 ERA vs. 3.46 FIP), then outperformed at Bradenton (2.25 ERA vs. 3.70 FIP). According to Pirates Prospects, Barrios was consistently touching 98-99 mph on the radar gun in camp last spring.
Finally, Medina was untouchable this year. The 21-year-old posted a 0.72 ERA with dominant K & GB numbers in 35 relief appearances for the Marauders, despite poor control (14% walk rate).
While that’s not a whole lot, that second quadrant (high GB% but low K%) is quite full. There’s a clear emphasis on ground balls throughout the system, and many of these pitchers are making it happen.
Then there’s Tyler Glasnow, who’s a freak with his innate ability to produce strikeouts. He led the Florida State League in strikeout rate (31.9%) and ERA (1.74), among other dominance. Glasnow’s the #16 prospect in baseball for a reason; if he can improve his command a bit, he’ll be well on his way.
Year / K% / GB%
2011 / 24.6% / 39.8%
2012 / 19.9% / 42.5%
2013 / 22.3% / 45%
A couple of notes on pitchers the Pirates have lost this offseason:
– Joely Rodriguez wasn’t so great for Altoona in 2014, but he did excel in the ground ball department (53%). He might’ve turned the corner a bit in the Arizona Fall League, but was sent to Philadelphia for Antonio Bastardo.
– Tyler Waldron, who was scooped up by the Cardinals in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft, rated very well across the board — above average in both K% (22.0) and GB% (46.2), while posting a 3.16 FIP.