Morning Report: West Virginia’s Pitching Staff Has Been Solid this Season

Yesterday I mentioned that the Indianapolis pitching staff is first in the league in ERA, thanks in large part to the four prospects in the rotation all having strong starts to their season. West Virginia also leads their league in ERA and while they don’t have the high profile prospects that Indianapolis has, the Power are doing it with their one big prospect and some pitchers with potential.

Mitch Keller pitched on Wednesday and allowed two runs, which gives him an 0.86 ERA through four starts. He is of course the big prospect there. Keller is followed a few spots lower on the ERA league leaders chart by Logan Sendelbach with a 1.71 mark. He has made huge strides since the end of the 2015 season, showing much better command of his fastball. I wouldn’t call him a top 50 prospect in the system yet, but the potential is now there and he wasn’t even in the discussion late last year when we put together the prospect guide.

A few spots after Sendelbach is JT Brubaker, with his 2.14 ERA. He pitches later today and Tim Williams will have live coverage of his start. Brubaker was our #31 prospect in the guide, moving up one spot top our top 30 when Trey Supak was traded. Just a few more spots away, you find Dario Agrazal, with a 2.33 ERA. He falls somewhere between Brubaker and Sendelbach right now as far as prospect ranking. He should receive strong consideration for the back-end of the top 50, as long as he continues to show excellent command and improved velocity over the 87-90 we have seen in the past, bumping it up to 91-94 now.

West Virginia has also got strong relief work, with four bullpen arms all posting an ERA of 1.29 or less. There are no big prospects in their bullpen, but they have a lot of solid pitchers out there. That pitching has led to a strong start by the Power, which I will get back to in a minute (or however long it takes you to read the next part).

If you followed along last year, you remember that we had a section called “Playoff Push”. That is where we track the playoff standings for every team in the system, including the Pirates. It’s obviously too early to think about a playoff spot with the Pirates, and even Indianapolis and Altoona are far off with 120+ games left.

Soon though, we will add the section back for both Bradenton and West Virginia because those leagues play for a first half title and second half title, with the winners meeting in the first round of the playoffs. If the same team wins both halves, then the team with the second best record over the course of the season gets in. That leaves an odd situation which has come up in the past. A team could finish with the best record in the league over the course of the season and not make the playoffs because they didn’t win either half.

I’ll be adding the Playoff Push section within a week or so and it will just cover those two teams. Early on, West Virginia is making a run for the first half title thanks to their strong starting pitching. They have a 14-6 record, which ties them with Hagerstown and puts them one game ahead of Hickory, the previous affiliate of the Pirates before they moved to West Virginia. Bradenton is 9-11 and closer to last place than first place, with three teams ahead of them. They are still only four games out though.

The playoffs in the minors are more for the players and the fans from each city. You of course want to see your affiliates win, but you would rather have a last place team full of prospects as opposed to a first place team filled with veterans. If you’ve followed the Pirates for awhile, you might remember some of those great years for minor league records and farm systems that produced almost nothing of value.

The benefit of the playoffs from the prospect side are the meaningful games and pressure situations that a playoff push brings. It also gives them a chance to extend their season, which is good at the lower levels where the alternative is a longer break before the Fall Instructional League starts.

Another benefit is the ability to bring up players from lower levels from teams not in the playoffs. Pirates did it last year with Ke’Bryan Hayes, moving him from the GCL to Morgantown. In the GCL, you don’t experience road trips because every night is spent at Pirate City. You don’t get night baseball or playing in front of crowds. It helped prepare him for the grind that this season will be from April until September. He also got to play two weeks against older/better players. The Pirates also got time for Austin Meadows in Altoona and a start for Chad Kuhl in Indianapolis, both moving up a level for the playoffs.

Assuming for a second that West Virginia does make the playoffs, it could allow prospects like Gage Hinsz, Adrian Valerio and Luis Escobar to get in extra meaningful games against better players, giving them a head start on next year. It could also help some of the higher draft picks, who will probably spend the season in Morgantown if they were drafted out of college.

The challenge for the Power will be keeping a strong starting staff in place all season. Brubaker and Agrazal are advanced compared to the other pitchers, so they could see a mid-season promotion to Bradenton. Mitch Keller on the other hand, may be shutdown by the time September rolls around because he’s a young pitcher with limited innings last year. He missed time due to a forearm strain, which was more precautionary to shut him down for a little bit, rather than a major injury he sustained. He may reach his innings limit before a possible playoff series.

PIRATES GAME GRAPH


Source: FanGraphs

TODAY’S SCHEDULE

Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pirates won 9-8 on Wednesday night over the Rockies. Juan Nicasio will be on the mound this afternoon making his fifth start. He gave up two runs over five innings in his last start against the Diamondbacks. The Rockies will counter with Tyler Chatwood, who is making his fifth start. He faced the Dodgers on the road in his last start and allowed three runs over four innings.

For Indianapolis, Jameson Taillon makes his fourth start of the season. He is coming off a game in which he allowed just one hit over six shutout innings. He has not walked a batter all season. This will be his third start on the road.

JT Brubaker has some strange results this season. He had one start where he didn’t walk anyone and he gave up three runs on eight hits over five innings. In his other three starts combined, he has allowed two runs over 15 innings and walked a total of nine batters. Altoona has off today.

MLB: Pittsburgh (13-9) @ Rockies (9-12) 3:10 PM
Probable starter: Juan Nicasio (4.50 ERA, 11:21 BB/SO, 20.0 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (10-8) @ Norfolk (7-13) 12:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Jameson Taillon (1.65 ERA, 0:16 BB/SO, 16.1 IP)

AA: Altoona (9-11) @ Akron (12-8) 6:35 PM 4/29 (season preview)
Probable starter: Jason Creasy (4.50 ERA, 4:11 BB/SO, 22.0 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (9-11) vs Palm Beach (11-9) 6:30 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Alex McRae (3.79 ERA, 8:7 BB/SO, 19.0 IP)

Low-A: West Virginia (14-6) vs Rome (7-13) 7:05 PM  (season preview)
Probable starter: JT Brubaker (2.14 ERA, 9:25 BB/SO, 21.0 IP)

HIGHLIGHTS

Here is Jose Osuna hitting his fourth home run of the season on Tuesday night.

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

4/27: Sam Street placed on the temporary inactive list. Jose Regalado added to Bradenton.

4/25: Pedro Florimon added to Indianapolis roster. Antoan Richardson released.

4/25: Austin Meadows added to Altoona roster. Justin Maffei assigned to Morgantown.

4/25: Jake Burnette placed on disabled list. Logan Ratledge assigned to West Virginia.

4/22: Pirates recall Jason Rogers. Cole Figueroa optioned to Indianapolis.

4/21: Pirates release Michael Morse.

4/21: Jhondaniel Medina assigned to Altoona.

4/21: Cory Luebke assigned to Indianapolis on rehab.

4/20: Jared Hughes assigned to Indianapolis on rehab.

4/19: Julio Vivas added to West Virginia roster. Logan Ratledge assigned to Morgantown.

4/18: Jung-ho Kang assigned to Indianapolis on rehab.

4/16: Trevor Williams placed on disabled list. Jhondaniel Medina promoted to Indianapolis.

4/15: John Kuchno promoted to Indianapolis. Frank Duncan added to Altoona roster.

4/14: Cory Luebke placed on disabled list. Pirates recall Rob Scahill.

4/14: Pirates sign Justin Masterson.

 

THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY

Seven former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, all of them pitchers. Recent pitchers include former first round draft pick Daniel Moskos, high-priced Cuban signing Yoslan Herrera and Romulo Sanchez, who pitched for the team during the 2007-08 seasons.

Older pitchers born on this date include Pedro Ramos (1969), Tom Sturdivant (1961-63) and  Walt Woods, who pitched for the Pirates on April 27,1900, one day before his 25th birthday. Woods had a 20-year career in pro ball.

The final pitcher born on this date was Red Lucas, who played five seasons for the Pirates, from 1934 until 1938. He went 47-32 during his time with Pittsburgh and Lucas has a very under-appreciated career. He won a total of 157 games, he made just 12 errors during his entire 14-year career and he was a .281 career hitter, who was used as a pinch-hitter almost 500 times.

The link above also includes a trade from the 1910 season, where the Pirates tried to improve their pitching staff by giving up two players to the Boston Doves for Kirby White. Two years into his career at the time of the trade, White had  2.94 ERA over 174.1 innings, pitching for a Boston team that was awful. He seemed like a strong pickup for the Pirates and they didn’t give up much to get him, but he went 10-10, 3.46 in 153.1 innings for a strong Pirates team and then never pitched in the majors again after May, 1911.

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.

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joe s

Osuna is turning into a monster.

gashuffer

they may soon have a catch-22 in the inf/of aspect but never ever for
pitching more more more.

leefoo

Let’s hope that Taillon continues to pitch “lights out”.

As for Danny Moskos, the pick got rid of Littlefield. It was a blessing in disguise.

piraterican21

The way Volgenson is used is mind boggling, the long guy is actually Lobstein

Bill Harvey

Jose Osuna does like to admire his HR’s. But he did crush that one.

Biagio

“No List” needs some love out there!

Bruce Humbert

Love “out there” is not lacking – it is love in the front office that is missing…

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