Morning Report: Catchers Splitting Playing Time Throughout the System

I split this article up into two things about the Pirates’ minor league catchers, starting with one backstop that is showing improvements and then going into the way the Pirates have split up playing time among all their catchers.

I noticed something while looking through the Bradenton stats from this year and how it relates to Jacob Stallings and the improvements he is showing behind the plate. First the stats.

Reese McGuire has thrown out 29% of runners this season. That is down from 39% last year and 44% as a rookie.

Jin-De Jhang has thrown out 20% of runners this year, down from 32% last year and 47% in 2013.

It’s not just the Bradenton pitchers, as Kawika Emsley-Pai threw out 40% of runners when he replaced Jhang, during his brief stay on the disabled list.

On the other hand, Jacob Stallings started at 21% in 2013 and matched Jhang at 32% when they were splitting the catching duties for Bradenton last year. This year in Altoona, he is up to 38% success rate. While those two players have gone down each year, he has gone up. I picked those two above because one was a teammate of Stallings and the other is known for his above-average defense and controlling the running game.

Stallings gets praised for his work behind the plate and this year he is actually putting up a .748 OPS at the plate, which would be a career high if he can maintain that pace. I didn’t give him much of a shot to make the majors two years ago, but he seems to be inching closer, even if it’s just a third-string catcher, who is a short-term backup, or someone that gets a call one September.

One other thing that shows how well Stallings has done, is the fact that Sebastian Valle has thrown out 32% of runners while splitting games behind the plate with Stallings. Valle has always been known for solid defense and last year he threw out 48% of runners. The Pirates’ organization isn’t known for being the best at holding runners on, but it shows you that Stallings is doing better than someone with a really good arm on the same team. The stats above show you that he has improved while someone like Reese McGuire, who has a good/accurate arm and a very quick release, has still seen his stats go down as he moved up.

Another thing I noticed is just how little time some players are getting behind the plate this year, because the Pirates are splitting time at the top three levels. Jhang has only caught 28 games, seeing about the same amount of time in the DH spot. Now in his fourth season, he has caught just 183 games. Stallings and Valle have caught 39 and 47 games respectively. They haven’t missed any time like Jhang did(albeit a brief amount), and the only other catcher to play for Altoona was Chris Stewart for two games during his early season rehab. Neither Stallings nor Valle are seen as top prospects, so the playing time at AAA is the one where the split might be taking too much time away from players that need it.

Elias Diaz will play for the Pirates sometime soon, probably this September. Tony Sanchez will probably be a September call-up as well, though at this point, Diaz might be the one that gets the call if the Pirates need a catcher before that, so you think that he would be getting some more playing time. Diaz has only caught 40 games this year, while Sanchez has been behind the plate for 39 games with Indianapolis. Wilkin Castillo and Chris Stewart have seen some time as well, catching the other 11 games played this year. Most people have written off Sanchez by now, especially the way he is hitting, but if he is going to keep catching for you, then he should probably be getting more time behind the plate because he needs it.

The leader in games caught in the organization is Taylor Gushue and they may have only happened because Kevin Krause has been injured all year, currently recouping from Tommy John surgery. Even if Krause didn’t split time with Gushue evenly, the plan was to have him behind the plate, while also seeing some time in the outfield. So in reality, it seems like the Pirates planned to have two catchers seeing playing time behind the plate instead of a starter and a backup. That’s good in a sense that it means you have that many catchers worth giving time to, which is rare when you’re talking about all four of the top levels.

It’s tough to say just how much a catcher should play in the minors, but ideally, you want him playing more than half of your team’s games. Elias Diaz had a big season last year and he also caught a career-high 97 games and that was before going to the Arizona Fall League, then briefly to winter ball. He isn’t hitting anywhere near what he did last year, but could you say that playing consistently helped him last season? Or did playing too much hurt him? Or is it just the jump in competition that has his OPS 123 points lower? The Pirates have talked about resting players to keep them fresh, but it doesn’t seem to be helping Diaz or Sanchez this year. Jacob Stallings seems to be handling it well though and that should get him one step closer to the majors next season.

Pirates Game Graph


Source: FanGraphs

Playoff Push

The Pirates trail by 3.5 games in the division to the Cardinals. They have a 5.5 game lead for the top wild card spot.

Indianapolis is 4-6 in their last ten games. They have a three game lead in their division.

Altoona is 6-4 in their last ten games and they are now tied for first place with Bowie, who they will play tonight.

Bradenton and West Virginia did not win their first half title. Their second half records are included below in the schedule.

Today’s Schedule

Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pirates won 6-5 in the 14th inning on Saturday. Francisco Liriano will get the ball in the last game before the All-Star break. He has faced the Cardinals twice this year with drastically different results. In his first game, he allowed one run over eight innings. Six days later, he faced them again and gave up six runs over 6.1 innings. Tim Cooney will be on the mound for the Cardinals making his fourth pro start. He has a 3.95 ERA in 13.2 innings.

In the minors, Stephen Tarpley, Steven Brault and Tyler Eppler are all on the mound. Tarpley is coming off a no-hitter on Tuesday night. He went the complete six innings in the rain-shortened contest. Brault gave up three runs on ten hits in his last outing, though firsthand reports said that there were a lot of soft hits in the game. Brault threw 13 shutout innings in his prior two starts combined. Eppler has given up one earned run over five innings in each of his last two starts. The DSL and GCL Pirates are both off today. You can view last night’s prospect watch here.

MLB: Pittsburgh (52-34) vs Cardinals (56-32) 8:05 PM
Probable starter: Francisco Liriano (2.99 ERA, 35:119 BB/SO, 108.1 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (52-38) @ Columbus (49-41) 1:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Wilfredo Boscan (3.87 ERA, 34:51 BB/SO, 76.2 IP)

AA: Altoona (48-39) vs Bowie (48-39) 6:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Steven Brault (2.74 ERA, 4:25 BB/SO, 23.0 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (41-46, 9-8 second half) @ Daytona (46-40) 5:35 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Tyler Eppler (4.57 ERA, 6:14 BB/SO, 21.2 IP)

Low-A: West Virginia (49-37, 12-5 second half) @ Greensboro (34-52) 4:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Stephen Tarpley (2.25 ERA, 15:41 BB/SO, 48.0 IP)

Short-Season A: Morgantown (10-11) @ Vermont (8-13) 5:05 PM (season preview)
Probable Starter: TBD

Rookie: Bristol (7-10) @ Kingsport (10-9) 6:00 PM (season preview)
Probable Starter:  TBD

GCL: Pirates (12-6) vs Astros (5-12) 12:00 PM 7/13 (season preview)

DSL: Pirates (15-22) vs Yankees2 (20-17) 10:30 AM 7/13 (season preview)

Highlights

Here we have the seventh strikeout of the night from Tyler Glasnow, during his dominating performance in Altoona on Friday.

Recent Transactions

7/10: Pirates sign Ike Schlabach and assign him to GCL.

7/10: Pirates sign Tate Scioneaux and assign him to Morgantown.

7/10: Jesus Paredes promoted to Morgantown. Oderman Rocha sent to GCL.

7/9: Pirates sign Sherton Apostel.

7/9: Mike Wallace sent from Bristol to GCL.

7/7: Clay Holmes added to Bradenton roster. Harold Ramirez placed on temporary inactive list.

7/7: Trace Tam Sing added to West Virginia roster. Tito Polo placed on temporary inactive list.

7/6: Josh Harrison placed on disabled list. Travis Ishikawa added to active roster.

7/6: Justin Seller assigned to GCL on rehab.

7/5: Pirates claim Travis Ishikawa on waivers.

7/4: Pirates sign five international players.

7/3: Pirates sign Kevin Sanchez and Samuel Inoa.

7/3: Pirates trade Clayton Richard to Chicago Cubs for cash considerations.

7/2: Chris Volstad sent outright to Indianapolis.

7/2: Pirates sign Larry Alcime Jr and Kyle Simmons.

7/1: Alen Hanson activated from disabled list. John Holdzkom and Hunter Morris placed on disabled list.

7/1: Paul Brands assigned to GCL Pirates from DSL.

6/30: Corey Hart sent on rehab to Indianapolis.

6/30: Jose Tabata outrighted to Indianapolis.

6/29: Jeff Inman and Gift Ngoepe promoted to Indianapolis.

6/29: Pirates sign Daniel Zamora.

6/28: Jose Tabata designated for assignment. Gorkys Hernandez added to Pirates roster.

6/28: Chris Volstad designated for assignment. Steve Lombardozzi added to Pirates roster.

6/28: Clario Perez promoted to Altoona. Wes Freeman activated from disabled list.

6/28: Kawika Emsley-Pai retired.

6/28: Hunter Morris activated from Indianapolis disabled list.

6/27: Junior Lopez promoted to Bradenton. Dovydas Neverauskas activated from West Virginia disabled list.

This Date in Pirates History

Six former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, included a pitcher that helped the team get to two World Series. Starting with the best first, we have Lee Meadows, who pitched for the Pirates from 1923 until 1929. He was a very good pitcher on some very bad teams before coming to the Pirates. His 100-128 record in his first 8 1/2 seasons does not tell the whole story. When he was put on a Pittsburgh team in 1923 that was in contention over the rest of his career, his record turned around. Meadows ended up going 88-52 with the Pirates, including 19-10 seasons in both 1925 and 1927, helping the Pirates to the World Series each year. In between those two seasons, he led the NL with 20 wins. You can read a full bio here.

As for the five other players born on this date, we have pitcher Tom Gorzelanny(2005-09), his teammate from the 2008-09 season, pitcher Phil Dumatrait. Another teammate of Gorzelanny, 2005-07 first baseman Brad Eldred. We also have 1970 catcher Dave Ricketts and utility fielder Johnny Wyrostek, who played for the Pirates during the 1942-43 seasons.

On this date in 1997, Francisco Cordova and Ricardo Rincon combined on a 10-inning no-hitter over the Houston Astros at Three Rivers Stadium. It was only the second time in team history a no-hitter went into extra innings, with the Pirates and Harvey Haddix losing in the 13th inning in the previous game. This was the eighth no-hitter in franchise history and first since 1976 and stands as the most recent one as well.

  • How are any of these players going to be prepared for the rigors of a full ML season if they are only catching half of the games in an already shortened minor league season? It just doesn’t make sense at any level. At the lower minors they need reps, at the highest, they need to build the durability. Unless we are planning on permamently using Lavalliere/slaught splits, it really doesn’t make much sense

  • Thanks john, lots of questions for lots of catchers. Who will thrive who will not.

  • Timely article because I think the Pirates are one of the only teams in the majors where the back-up Catcher plays on a regular basis. This is usually only seen when two Catchers are opposite-handed batting and are used to load up one side or another depending upon whether a RH or LH is pitching. Both Stewart and Cervelli (and Martin) are RH hitters.

    Stewie was obviously the backup last year but still caught in 46 games with Martin catching in 107. I think that helped Martin stay fresh all year, just as this year, it will work the same way with Cervelli.

    Just another innovation from the Pirates. They approached the Amateur Draft differently, built a showplace in the DR, built a World HQ in Bradenton, developmental programs for pitchers that are similar regardless of level, wholesale use of Infield shifts, data-inspired regular days off of their regulars, and that is expanded to Catching which is the hardest and most physically demanding position on the team. There is always a ball in the air with this management group.

  • The article about the catching prospects is very insightful. As these prospects reach AA and AS A would the organization clearly be better off with giving the majority of the playing time to the better prospect who actually will compete for an MLB roster spot? I have all but given up on Sanchez and would like to see Diaz play regularly. I also think they have a number of 40 man roster spots to keep available in the off season.

    • Especially since they had been giving Sanchez time at 1B last year and our 1B situation in AAA sucks…why can’t he play there and give Diaz more time?

  • It’s interesting looking at the standings right now. The Bucs are 3 games ahead of the Dodgers, 4.5 of the Nationals, 5.5 of the Cubs. They are 34-13 since May 9 which is ridiculous. I really hope they chase down the Cards though and win the division. I hate that play-in game.

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