Stats Don’t Tell the Whole Story For Pirates’ Players in the AFL

The 2015 Arizona Fall League season wrapped up on Thursday for the Pittsburgh Pirates’ players in the league. A quick look at the stats suggests it wasn’t a good AFL season for the Pirates, but the stat sheet doesn’t tell the entire story. The Pirates sent seven players to the league and ended up with an eighth when they acquired pitcher Trevor Williams in a trade with the Marlins. Below you will find a brief recap of each player and their fall performance.

We start with the top prospect the Pirates sent, outfielder Austin Meadows. Numerous people who covered the AFL said that he looked like the best prospect in the league. That is despite the fact he hit .169/.194/.308 in 65 at-bats. Meadows got a chance to play all around the outfield in the AFL, after only playing center field in his pro career. He showed a little pop in his bat with five extra-base hits in 16 games and a home run in the Fall-Stars game. Meadows also went 3-for-3 in stolen bases, plus impressed scouts on defense. It was clear from the scouting reports that his stats did not match the performance or upside.

Reese McGuire put up strong stats, hitting .294/.379/.412 in 51 at-bats. He also had seven walks and just seven strikeouts. Late in the season, McGuire was taking a lot of pitches, attempting to work the count. It was almost too patient, as he ended up with four of his seven strikeouts in the last two games. It wasn’t a successful approach though, finishing up 1-for-13 with one walk in his last three games. His defense received praise, as he continues to show above-average skills behind the plate. It’s a small sample size, but it’s a good sign that he wasn’t over-matched against quality upper level pitching.

Adam Frazier wasn’t in the AFL long. He ended up playing for Team USA in the Premier12 tournament in Taiwan and Japan, seeing more action there than he did with Glendale. He hit .355 in that tournament and even played some exhibition games with Team USA, as they practiced in Scottsdale, Arizona. In the AFL, Frazier moved all around on defense and hit .321/.394/.571 in seven games. He is looking like he could be a solid utility fielder in the majors with the ability to play anywhere except pitcher, catcher and first base.

The pitching side is where stats can be the most deceiving. With three of the four pitchers the Pirates sent there working on new pitches, that led to some high ERA numbers. Steven Brault was working on his four-seam fastball, while also going through a mechanical change that would allow him to add some velocity. The Pirates would like him to be a more efficient pitcher so he can get quicker outs and put in more innings. Brault was successful with Altoona, but the Pirates feel that the added velocity and better efficiency with his pitch count, will help him succeed at the next level and beyond. He had some decent outings in the AFL and a couple shaky games, finishing with a 4.91 ERA in 14.2 innings, striking out 16 batters.

Tyler Eppler had two main goals during his time in the AFL. He worked on adding depth to his slider, and he needed to make up for lost innings during the season. With the slider, he only started throwing the pitch this season after using a curve as his breaking pitch prior to this year. He wasn’t getting good results with the curve, so the Pirates felt a change was necessary. Eppler needed to add more depth to the slider so he could bury it low in the zone and in the dirt. He threw the pitch about 5-6 times per game, while also mixing in his change-up about as often. During the regular season, he wouldn’t be throwing those pitches as often, but the AFL is there so players can work on things during game action against quality competition.

As for the innings, he threw just 71.2 innings during the regular season, due to missing most of the first half with a sore elbow. He added 16.2 innings in the AFL and threw 17 innings in Extended Spring Training before joining Bradenton in June. In addition, he got in 18 innings during the Fall Instructional League before going to the AFL. While his innings total during the season doesn’t look like much, his full total ended up being 123.1 innings since late April. Eppler’s stats were not good with Glendale, posting a 7.56 ERA, a .343 BAA, an 0.62 GO/AO ratio and just five strikeouts. The important thing is that he should now be able to pitcher as a starter during the entire 2016 season without worrying about an innings cap.

Brett McKinney added a cutter to his arsenal, which was necessary because his fastball gets flat. He can sit mid-90’s, working 94-95 mph during a couple of his AFL outings, but the pitch has no movement, so he gets hit hard at times. McKinney didn’t pitch well for Altoona, posting a 7.50 ERA in 24 outings. His AFL time wasn’t any better with a 6.23 ERA and 1.96 WHIP in nine appearances. He will need to continue working on the cutter and improving his off-speed pitches if he hopes to have success at the higher levels.

Cody Dickson wasn’t working on anything new in the AFL, just focusing in on his command issues and putting in some extra work. Dickson was used out of the bullpen and had some poor outings, leading to eight walks, nine hits and seven runs in 8.2 innings. The walks are disappointing, as it shows he still has a lot to work on with command. As he moves up to Altoona, the hitters will become more disciplined and it will be tougher to get them to chase pitches out of the zone.

Trevor Williams began the year on the Mesa Solar Sox, which was the Marlins’ AFL affiliate. After one outing, he was traded to the Pirates and joined Glendale. He had a lot of success after the trade, giving up one run in 7.1 innings, while posting a .192 BAA and a ridiculous 7.00 GO/AO ratio. Williams was used as a reliever, but the Pirates see him as a starter and he should begin the year with Indianapolis. He fits their organizational pitching philosophy perfect, getting quick outs by pitching to contact and inducing ground balls. If he can’t make it as a starter, he profiles as a strong reliever, getting his fastball up to 95 mph, to go along with the high ground ball rate.

  • Let’s go get Freeman. Atlanta is rebuilding for 2019…

    • In case you didn’t get the message, Atlanta has already said they aren’t trading Freeman.

    • Come 2019, Freeman will still have multiple years on left his deal and be only 29 years old. Any 3 year rebuild and contend move likely includes Freeman on the roster.

  • Meadows had an alarming rate of strikeouts in his time in the AFL. What did the scouts see that suggested he might be the best player there? Is some of the scouts views based on what they saw during his A and AA season?

    • I think you have to take all that stuff with a grain of salt, man. I’m sure there is little advanced scouting on pitchers he faced. Who knows what he was trying to do with certain plate appearances? Maybe working counts like Mcguire was doing. Maybe trying to take pitches to the opposite field more than he would.

      I thought Hanson was more of a concern, who brought his second half MiLB slump into the Winter Leagues with him.

      I guess my point is context. Plus I think Meadows was a younger player there.

    • His athleticism helps his case. He projects to be a four-tool player, only lacking arm strength. They scouts watch the defense, the base running, the swing, batting practice, all stuff that doesn’t show up in his slash line. I don’t believe their thoughts were swayed by his regular season performance, but they likely paid closer attention to him due to his prospect status.

      • Thanks I am big fan of Meadows but was disappointed he did so poorly in a league where most stars tend to rip it.

        • Only mention this because it caught my attention the other day in an article I was reading…

          Mike Trout’s only stint in the AFL? .245/.279/.321 as a 19 year old. Five months later he’d begin his first 10-win season for the Angels.

          They say this is a scouting league, but it’s most certainly not based on statistics.

        • “Most” would be an interesting thing to delve into. It isnt all that tough to find current ML quality young options that struggled at one point in the AFL. Quick look nets me names like Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, and Randal Grichuk. Some put up quality stats, others dont. Not sure its a clear indicator either way.

  • This type of coverage is why this site is so superb. Well done as usual.

  • Brett McKinney added a cutter to his arsenal, which was necessary because his fastball gets flat

    How far can he go with a FB with no movement?

    • My backyard when we have our annual wiffle ball tourney.

    • Well Kyle Farnsworth used to get lit up throwing 99-100 flat down the middle, so 94-95 doesn’t have much of a chance without having different looks. He can’t be throwing it 80% of the time, his Altoona stats show that didn’t work well

      • When he kept the ball down, he did alright. But when he got that 4 seam FB up in the zone, he got hit very hard.

  • I watched the AFL game on MLB yesterday and was amazed with the talent. I did not realize the depth and high prospect level of the players. I always thought it was low minor league talent. I saw where you posted one scribe said Meadows was one of the top talents in the League despite his age.

    • The rules aren’t followed strictly, but they want each team to send players from AA or AAA and usually you send players with talent. Basically, you won’t see any roster fillers, so the games are all similar talent to AA All-Star games every day. The games are about as good as the winter league games in Venezuela/Mexico, and just under the Dominican, which attracts the most talent