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Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Morning Report: Where is the Speed?

While looking over the leaders in stolen bases for the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system, it looks like a lot of players stole bases this year at a decent clip. There were no huge totals, but 29 players reached double-digits and eight of them had at least 20 steals. That might seem good for the future of the Pirates on the surface.

Hanson looks like the only sure stolen base threat for the Pirates in the near future (Photo credit: David Hague)
Hanson looks like the only sure stolen base threat for the Pirates in the near future (Photo credit: David Hague)

When looking at the leaders for each team, the names don’t give you much hope that they will be able to use that speed in the future to help the Pirates. Still, without much help in the system, the batting order soon could have Alen Hanson, Gregory Polanco, Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Josh Harrison. Those are all players capable of putting up 20+ stolen bases, so the lack of prospects with steals shouldn’t be a concern.

Part of the problem is injuries that slowed fast players down. Austin Meadows, Harold Ramirez and Barrett Barnes were supposed to make up the West Virginia outfield this year. They all suffered hamstring injuries and never played a single game together. They all have good speed, but put up a combined 18 steals this season.

There is also the special case of Victor Fernandez down in the Dominican. I had multiple people tell me that he is the fastest person they have ever seen and a couple pitchers talked about how his range in center field is game-changing. Just like the previous three examples, Fernandez missed time with a hamstring injury and when he returned, he was not the same player. He finished with 14 steals in 45 games and that’s with half of those games coming after his injury. You can dream on Fernandez regaining his tremendous speed and running wild next year, but it’s important to remember that he is very far from the majors right now.

Another example of the speed that wasn’t getting put to use was 2014 draft pick Eric Thomas Jr. His speed was rated as an 80 by some scouts, but he didn’t do much during his time in the GCL this year. Thomas was called raw, which gives him some leeway in his first year, although he was also old for his draft class. He went 5-for-9 in steals this year which is not what you would expect from 80 speed. He also put up a .549 OPS which shows that he has a long way to go before he becomes someone you can keep an eye on in the system.

Getting back to the team leaders, you have Chase d’Arnaud at the top level. His speed got him called up for the pennant run and that’s how he has been used, four games, no plate appearances. He put up 30 steals at Indianapolis, second in the system to Drew Maggi at Altoona. Maggi could see the majors someday due to his versatility in the field, his speed and his good eye at the plate. Chances are that whatever possible time he might get in the majors will be limited. He had 37 stolen bases this year.

Going down to Bradenton, you had Walker Gourley leading the way. He’s an athletic player and smart base runner, plus he put up decent stats at West Virginia in 2013, but he was also a 23-year-old in A-Ball this season, who had a .601 OPS. Their fastest runner was Jeff Roy and he didn’t have much of a season, posting a .587 OPS while playing part of the year at West Virginia. He also went 24-for-40 in stolen bases, so despite his great speed, he didn’t put it to good use.

West Virginia’s leader in stolen bases was Erich Weiss with 21 swipes. He isn’t your prototypical stolen base threat, as he isn’t the fastest guy out there and his 12 caught stealing this season shows that he really wasn’t that successful. Weiss just turned 23 and spent the season in Low-A ball, so while the numbers look decent(.756 OPS from a 2B), he lacks power and any standout tools. If it weren’t for the health issues in the outfield, it’s likely Ramirez would have ended up as the stolen base leader for the Power.

Jamestown’s best thief was Carl Anderson, who got off to a red-hot start, then really cooled off. His 14 steals and June OPS of .812 both look strong, but his .403 OPS in his last 32 games doesn’t give you much hope when you’re talking about a 22-year-old late round draft pick in the NYPL. At Bristol, the best runner is probably Candon Myles, but you’re talking about a player in his fourth year that got sent from West Virginia down to Bristol and did worse two levels lower.

Some of the best speed in the system is down at the GCL, where toolsy players roam the outfield and Cole Tucker led the team with 13 steals. That obviously isn’t an impressive total for a leader, but players like Michael de la Cruz, Tito Polo and Alexis Bastardo are all outfielders that can run and play the game well. Plus they also have the aforementioned Eric Thomas Jr, who has many similarities to Candon Myles. Both are small, light-hitting outfielders with plus speed and they were both called raw when drafted.

There is speed in the system according to the numbers, but there is a question as to how much of it will actually help the Pirates down the line. Players like Keon Broxton and Gift Ngoepe are fringe major leaguers, while Mel Rojas Jr came with an impressive stolen base resume when he was drafted, but he really has never put up good numbers in the pros.

The best shots at usable speed comes in the form of Alen Hanson. He is followed by Harold Ramirez, but only if he is healthy. Besides the hamstring, he also had shin splints and a stress reaction in his shin, which shutdown his season in early July. Austin Meadows is a top prospect, but so far he hasn’t shown much in the stolen base department despite good reports of his speed prior to the draft. JaCoby Jones had 17 steals in 26 attempts and he’s an athletic player, though I’m not sure he will be much of a stolen base threat if he makes it to the majors. His high in college was 12 and his success rate was just okay this year, so you might be talking about a ten steal per season player.

Once Alen Hanson joins the team, the Pirates will be among the fastest teams in baseball, assuming the other four players in that equation are still around. It doesn’t look like there are any other sure things though after Hanson, going all the way to the bottom of the system. With the contract situations of Hanson, Polanco, McCutchen, Marte and Harrison, that doesn’t seem like it will be a problem for the Pirates anytime soon.

Pirates Game Graph

Source: FanGraphs

Playoff Push

Pittsburgh: The Pirates are 3.5 games behind St. Louis for the NL Central lead. They are three games ahead of  Atlanta and 1.5 ahead of Milwaukee for the second Wild Card spot. The Pirates are four games behind San Francisco for the first Wild Card spot.

Today’s Schedule

Today’s Starter and Notes:  The Pirates lost 6-4 to the Cubs on Saturday. Edinson Volquez takes the mound Sunday afternoon for his 29th start, looking to give the Pirates the series win. He has faced the Cubs twice this season, throwing two shutout innings of relief work in his season debut and he threw seven shutout innings on June 12th. Volquez has a 3.42 ERA in 92 innings at home this year. The minor league season is over. 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. We will post other season recaps soon.

MLB: Pittsburgh (78-70)  vs Cubs (65-83) 1:35 PM
Probable starter: Edinson Volquez (3.36 ERA, 119:62 K/BB, 171.2 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 back at some recent video from the GCL, which we will continue to do over the next few days. All videos are courtesy of the GCL Pirates fan page. Below is a video of righty reliever Julio Vivas, who put up a great season out of the GCL bullpen. We featured Vivas midway through the season in a prospect highlights article. He finished the year with Bristol, where he threw 3.2 scoreless innings over two appearances. In the GCL, Vivas had a 1.17 ERA and a 25:1 K/BB ratio in 23 innings. That gave him an impressive 1.01 ERA in his first season over from the DSL. He has good size as you can see in the video below and he was 20 years old this season, top end for a good age for the GCL.

Recent Transactions

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

Five former Pittsburgh Pirates players have been born on this date, including two lefty relievers for playoff teams and the first baseman for the first game in franchise history. Jerry Don Gleaton was a member of the 1992 Pirates, while Fred Green pitched for the 1960 World Series champs. Jake Goodman was the Opening Day first baseman for the 1882 Pittsburgh Alleghenys of the American Association and he batted fifth in the first game in franchise history. He also played for the 1877 Pittsburgh Allegheny(no S), the first pro team in the city and first season ever of minor league ball.

You can read more on those three players, as well as pitchers Don Williams and Frank Carpin, in this link here. Also included in that link is a game recap from the 1982 season, in which the Pirates put on a hitting clinic in the middle innings.

On this date in 1882, the Alleghenys won 13-1 over the Philadelphia Athletics for their seventh straight win. They moved to 36-34 on the season with the win. The game was won by Denny Driscoll, who had a 1.21 ERA that year in 23 starts, the best ERA in the league. It’s also the second best single-season ERA in team history, trailing only the 1.11 ERA Babe Adams put up in 1909.

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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.


Pirates Prospects has been independently owned and operated since 2009, entirely due to the support of our readers. The site is now completely free, funded entirely by user support. By supporting the site, you are supporting independent writers, one of the best Pittsburgh Pirates communities online, and our mission for the most complete Pirates coverage available.

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There are a lot of other variables to successful base stealing besides speed: what pitch in the count is best to go, how to maximize the lead, how to study the pitchers to know their “tell” of when they are going to the plate, acceleration in the first few steps, which foot you use to make your first step, best way to slide, etc. All of these require extensive, intensive coaching. If the Pirates have a travelling stolen base instructor I am not aware of it, but that position would be a good position to invest in. At the very least they ought to have clinics in Spring Training put on by ex-players who were good at stealing bases.

While the Pirates have players with speed, they all have deficiencies in some of the above. They need better coaching on the topic of base stealing.

John Lease

Where is McCutchen’s speed? When was the last time he stole a base? He should be a 30+ steal guy every year, but it never pans out.

Ian Rothermund

I would have to agree. However, he’s also a potential league MVP without the steals, and it’s not worth the potential for injury. Also, if Walker wasn’t having such an impressive offensive season, I could see him stealing more as well.


Unless you are breaking records with speed (Hamilton) in the minors I don’t think many people think about it, speed is something that we seldom get in reports, we get stolen bases, but Yogi Berra stole bases.

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