AFL Preview: Pirates Sending Some Top Talent to the Fall League This Season

The Arizona Fall League begins on Tuesday and the Pittsburgh Pirates are sending seven players to the Glendale Desert Dogs. You can view the league’s full 31 game schedule here, which runs until November 21st, when the championship game will be held. We will post recaps after each game, as well as providing some live coverage from the AFL in a few weeks.

The Pirates are second two of their top ten prospects in the system, Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire. They are also sending Steven Brault, Tyler Eppler and Adam Frazier. Those three are top 30 prospects in the system. Also going is Cody Dickson, who has been a top 30 prospect in the past, but inconsistencies have lowered his overall ranking. Finally, Brett McKinney will be in the Glendale bullpen. He doesn’t have the best stats, but McKinney has a big arm, hitting high-90’s on occasion with his fastball, working in the 92-95 range.

Meadows and McGuire will obviously be the top two to follow. For Meadows, it gives him a chance to build on a terrific season, which saw him finish among the hitting leaders in the FSL, then get a late promotion to Altoona, where he put up even better numbers. McGuire didn’t hit well during the season, posting a .595 OPS, which included a .409 OPS against left-handed pitchers and a .578 OPS in the second half. His defense remains among the best in the minors, so the sooner his bat can catch up to the glove, the better. McGuire will probably only play about 10-15 games depending on how often he is used as a DH. Each club has three catchers, so they tend to split the time behind the plate fairly even.

Adam Frazier had a breakout season for Altoona this year, one that started with him on the disabled list with a finger injury. When he returned, he wasn’t in the lineup daily until he forced his way in with his hitting. Frazier finished with a .324/.384/.416 slash line in 103 games. It will be interesting to see how he is used in the league. He moved around a little this year, then ended the season as the regular shortstop. He played 29 games in center field this season, plus also briefly appeared in left field and third base. Frazier has also played second base in the past. His defense isn’t great at shortstop, so this could give him a chance to work on that specific spot, or he could see time at multiple positions, since he profiles as a future utility player.

Tyler Eppler missed half of the 2015 season due to an elbow injury that occurred during Spring Training. He got a late promotion to Altoona, which helped add some innings, though he only finished with 77.2 IP total including playoffs. Starters in the AFL usually record between 20-30 innings and they are usually on a 50 pitch limit. I would expect Eppler to finish in that innings range.

Some starting pitchers go to the AFL and work as relievers. We saw it last year with Adrian Sampson, who threw 12 innings over ten outings. Steven Brault and Cody Dickson both surpassed their inning total from 2014 already, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see one or both in the bullpen. The league hasn’t announced any starting pitchers yet, but we should know their role soon.

Brault had a great season this year, while Dickson was hurt by command, though he did show improvements. After 58 walks and 13 hit batters in 129.1 innings in 2014 with West Virginia, he walked 52 and hit eight in 141.2 innings. Those still aren’t great numbers, but they are going the right way. Dickson also lowered in BAA by nine points and saw an uptick in his ground ball numbers.

Including playoffs, Brault threw 14 more innings than last year, finishing with 160.1 total. He ended the regular season with a 2.43 ERA, splitting his time between Bradenton and Altoona. Brault had a 1.12 WHIP and 125 strikeouts this year, both among the best in the Pirates’ system. In his last ten starts, he really stepped things up, posting an 0.96 ERA in 65.1 innings, holding batters to a .444 OPS over that stretch. In his three-year pro career, he has never allowed a home run to a left-handed batter. That covers a total of 393 plate appearances against lefties.

Brett McKinney is the one from this group who stands out, but it’s because all the others are well-known if you’ve followed the site. McKinney is the perfect type to send to the AFL for more work, because he has potential, without real success. His 7.50 ERA in 24 relief appearances with Altoona hides the fact that he can get his fastball into the high-90’s at times. More work against elite prospects could help develop that pitch into a plus fastball, plus it allows him to work on his secondary pitches.

Update 4:00 PM: Just found out that Brault will be used as a starter, while Eppler will be a 2-3 inning reliever and Dickson will also be in the bullpen. Eppler could still finish around 20 innings, while Brault should be in the 20-30 range

  • Is anyone else nervous that meadows will end up being ridiculously good and the pirates keep him in the minors too long? Obviously there is no space for him and he has only played AA but of all the pirates blue chip prospects he is the one I think has the highest upside.

    • Well, nothing has been done regarding an extension for Andrew McCutchen, and Gregory Polanco, who just finished his first year of MLB Service, is far from a lock to stay with the Pirates. I say that because he has rejected offers for a long term deal, which does not endear him to the GM.

      • I don’t think Greg has changed his value for the plus or minus based on this year, so that same offer will probably again be on the table, with maybe a very slight improvement (1-2m extra over 4 years maybe)

  • McKinney’s velocity really impressed me, though he had a tendency to get the ball up and out over the plate.

    • I was told by a couple people he isn’t consistent with it. I saw him in the 92-93 range once, then saw him 95-97 and in the FIL he was mostly 93-95 this year. If you can get him hitting 97 consistently, even touching 98, then you have some more margin for error with his control

      • Wilbur Miller
        October 12, 2015 6:50 pm

        “in the FIL he was mostly 93-95 this year”

        Same when I saw him at Bowie. He tended to get behind in the count, which didn’t help.