BRADENTON, Fla. and CHARLESTON, WV – Over the weekend, the Pirates made two lower level roster moves to demote two of the outfielders they selected in the 2015 draft. They sent 25th round pick Logan Hill down to West Virginia from Bradenton, and sent third round pick Casey Hughston to extended Spring Training. Both outfielders had been struggling this year, with a lot of their struggles revolving around one thing — the strikeout.
Hughston was the bigger prospect in the draft, getting a high draft slot and an over-slot deal at $700,000 as a college junior (slot was $592,700 for his pick). He’s a big outfielder, but has a lot of speed for his size, and also a lot of raw power potential. That said, his strikeouts were out of control in West Virginia, and he displayed signs of poor bat speed to get to pitches on the outer half of the plate. He struck out in 35.2% of his plate appearances in his time in West Virginia. Abigail Miskowiec reported on Hughston’s strikeout issues a little over a week ago. The Pirates demoted Hughston because of those issues.
“He had some things going on with his bat so they’re going to try to break him down, break down his swing. We’re hitting the pause button,” West Virginia Manager Brian Esposito told Pirates Prospects on Sunday.
Esposito said that Hughston will try to hone in on his swing in extended Spring Training, noting that this is a difficult thing to do when a player is competing at a full-season level.
“He was very professional about it,” Esposito said. “He’s very mature. He played lockdown defense for us in the outfield all year. He is able to separate his offense and his defense.”
The second half of the set of moves saw Logan Hill demoted from Bradenton to West Virginia. Hill was a lower draft pick, but has the build and the tools that made him look like a top ten round prospect. We actually rated Hill 36th overall in our pre-season top 50, one spot behind Hughston. That rating was largely due to his power potential, along with his ability to hit and get on base. The Pirates didn’t draft many players with a lot of power potential over the last few years, with Hughston and Hill being two of the rare cases.
Hill was sent to Bradenton, where he had issues getting playing time early in the year, due to the crowded roster. When he did get playing time, the results weren’t there on a consistent basis. He had a horrible .138/.219/.138 line in 29 at-bats in April, striking out 11 times. He really picked up the production in May, with a .303/.400/.545 line in 33 at-bats, while cutting down on the strikeouts a bit with only nine. So this demotion wasn’t fully about the strikeouts.
“I think there’s a little bit of both, to be honest with you,” Bradenton Manager Michael Ryan said about whether the demotion was for performance or playing time. “This guy, as far as where his skillset is, he needs to play everyday. Just couldn’t get him everyday at-bats. Some other guys have to play over him. When we would get him in, the performance just wasn’t where the organization probably thought it was going to be.”
Hill hasn’t gotten off to a great start with West Virginia, going 0-for-10 with six strikeouts in his first three games. The positive is that he did start all three games, including both games of a double-header on Sunday. He’s going to get playing time now, and hopefully that will allow his bat to develop as expected.
“Get him down there, play a different level, get him maybe a fresh start to help him,” Ryan said. “He’s an outstanding player. He can hit. It’s just the 20 punchouts in 62 at-bats. Just getting him a new, fresh start and let him play everyday.”
The Pirates have a lot of players performing well so far from the 2015 draft, but their draft strategy has them lacking power in the lower levels. If one of these two power bats can get back on track after the demotion, it will make the early returns from their draft class look that much better.
Abigail Miskowiec contributed to this report.