Back in 2011, I took a look at all the amateur free agent players signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates out of Australia. In the article, which can be read here, I said that it didn’t look like the Pirates signed any top prospects yet out of Australia, but the players seemed to be getting better each year. That stayed true the next year when the Pirates signed shortstop Sam Kennelly and pitcher Nick Hutchings. Those two are the best players they have signed out of Australia, with Kennelly receiving a $225,000 bonus to sign and Hutchings being good enough to pitch in the Australian Baseball League at 16 years old.
The five players the Pirates signed before Kennelly and Hutchings are all out of the system now. Pitcher Mitchell Fienemann was the first player signed out of Australia on April 2,2009 and pitcher Jarryd Sullivan was signed three months later. Both were released at the same time in January of 2012. In between those two signings, the Pirates gave catcher Dylan Child a $20,000 bonus, which was the highest reported bonus of the first five Australian players signed. He put up a .497 OPS over three season(2010-12) in the Gulf Coast League and was released last November, though he didn’t play during the 2013 season.
The other two Australians were pitchers signed in 2010, lefty Wilson Lee and righty Jackson Lodge. Lee never made it out of the GCL despite solid scouting reports, getting released last March and Lodge retired after struggling in Jamestown last year. None of the five players made it to full season ball, so you could say the Pirates did a poor job with talent out of Australia during those first three years, but the bonus money they put out was likely under $50,000 total, so it wasn’t a huge investment.
So right now, the Pirates hopes for Australian-born players lies with Sam Kennelly and Nick Hutchings, but those aren’t two bad options. It is a little surprising that they haven’t signed any Australian amateurs the last two years, though that could point more towards the talent available, rather than a lack of trying. The Pirates did draft Australian pitcher Sam Street in the 16th round this year, but he played four years of college ball in the United States, so that isn’t quite the same.
Both Kennelly and Hutchings were 18 years old this season in the GCL and each of them played a big role for the team. Hutchings tied for the team lead in games started(12) and he was third with 47.2 innings pitched. He didn’t have the best stats with a 4.53 ERA, 24:13 K/BB ratio and a 1.36 WHIP, though his 1.34 GO/AO ratio and two homers allowed are both numbers you like to see. Hutchings was younger than some high school players taken in the draft this year, so you have to take that into consideration. The other good sign was an increased velocity near the end of the season, hitting 91 MPH late in one of his last starts.
Kennelly spent most of his time at second base, but during the Australian Baseball League this past off-season, he played all four infield positions and he has the ability to play shortstop regularly. Kennelly signed in 2012 and remained in Australia to finish high school. He played a ton of baseball between signing with the Pirates and reporting to the team for Spring Training this year. Kennelly played two seasons in the ABL, two years with both his high school and club teams, multiple tournaments, including twice in the U18 Youth tournament in Australia(Hutchings played there as well), which pits the best young players in the country against each other over an eight day tournament. Hutchings was the best pitcher this past tournament and Kennelly was the best hitter the year before. They also reported to the Fall Instructional League last year for the first time.
During the 2014 GCL season, Kennelly hit .284/.388/.343 in 30 games, reaching base at least once in 28 of those games. He had a higher OPS than first round pick Cole Tucker and with just 17 strikeouts, he made some of the best contact on the team. At his age, Kennelly put up strong stats and his ability to play multiple positions should allow the Pirates to figure out a position to play him based on need in the system. Both Kennelly and Hutchings are at Pirate City right now in the Fall Instructional League.
The Pirates initial attempts in Australia all ended fairly quickly and none of the players advanced far in the system. The remaining two players are only in the GCL, so even if they do pan out, there won’t be anything to show from Australia for at least 4-5 years. The country as a whole, has only produced 28 players so far and the most successful by far was Joe Quinn, who played 1769 games from 1884 until 1901. Australia is starting to produce more players and the competition there is slowly getting better, so it’s a good place to have a strong foothold. The Pirates hope their most recent signings from Australia end up being the ones that pay off and they’re just the start of success from down under.
Pirates Game Graph
Pittsburgh: The Pirates are 2.5 games behind St. Louis for the NL Central lead. They are 4.5 ahead of Milwaukee for the second Wild Card spot. The Pirates are tied with San Francisco for the first Wild Card spot. Pittsburgh holds the home field advantage if the two teams should finish tied.
Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pirates beat the Brewers 1-0 on Sunday. Francisco Liriano gets his 28th start of the season tonight and second against the Braves. His worse start of the season was against Atlanta on August 19th when he allowed nine runs on ten hits and three walks in four innings. In his last five starts combined, Liriano has allowed three runs over 33 innings. You can read the DSL season recap here complete with scouting reports for each player and the top ten players to watch list can be found here. The Indianapolis season recap and top ten. The Altoona season recap and top ten. Bradenton recap and top ten.
MLB: Pittsburgh (84-71) vs Braves (76-79) 7:10 PM
Probable starter: Francisco Liriano (3.45 ERA, 163:72 K/BB, 151.1 IP)
AAA: Indianapolis (73-71)
AA: Altoona (61-81)
High-A: Bradenton (78-61)
Low-A: West Virginia (54-81)
Short-Season A: Jamestown (35-40)
RK: Bristol (22-46)
GCL: Pirates (20-40)
DSL: Pirates (34-36)
With the minor league season over, it’s time to take a look at some recent video from the Fall Instructional League. On Friday, we posted a brief recap from Thursday’s action, along with some videos. Below is another video from Thursday’s action. This one is of Elvis Escobar beating out an infield single. He started this season with West Virginia after the team suffered multiple outfield injuries. Escobar was assigned to Jamestown in mid-July and hit .274/.316/.349 in 38 games. He turned 20 shortly after the season ended.
9/16: Pirates activate Charlie Morton from disabled list.
9/8: Pirates release Ernesto Frieri.
9/7: Michael Martinez and Chris McGuiness clear waivers and were outrighted to Indianapolis.
9/2: Pirates recall Gregory Polanco, Jeff Locke, John Holdzkom, Casey Sadler and Bobby LaFromboise.
9/2: Chase d’Arnaud added to 40-man roster and promoted to Pittsburgh. Michael Martinez designated for assignment.
9/1: Pirates recall Gerrit Cole and Tony Sanchez. Stolmy Pimentel activated from the disabled list
9/1: Pirates designate Chris McGuiness for assignment. John Holdzkom added to 40-man roster.
This Date in Pirates History
Three former Pittsburgh Pirates players have been born on this date, including a member of the 1990 NL East champs and another that played for the 1960 World Series champs. Starting with the most recent first:
Wally Backman, infielder for the 1990 Pirates. He was signed as a free agent in January and hit .292 in 104 games, spending most of his time at third base while occasionally starting at second base. He went 1-for-7 with a walk and stolen base in the NLCS.
Harry Bright spent three seasons with the Pirates (1958-60), playing a small part for the 1960 World Series champs. Bright hit .250 over 55 games during his first two seasons with the Pirates and he was used four times as a pinch-hitter during the 1960 season. He was part of a four-player deal with the Washington Senators after the 1960 season.
Ira Flagstead, outfielder for the 1929-30 club. Played all three outfield positions and hit .257 in 70 games. He spent a total of 13 seasons in the majors and was a .290 hitter, who twice led the league in outfield assists.
On this date in 1909, the Pirates won 12-7 over the Boston Doves (Braves) to improve their lead in the NL to ten games, their largest lead of the season. It was the Pirates 13th win in a row on their way to 16 straight wins. The top six batters in the Pirates lineup all scored two runs apiece. Honus Wagner had a double and home run, while Dots Miller had three hits. Here’s the boxscore, which notes that just 1,364 people showed up at Forbes Field that day.
John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.
When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.