Morning Report: Trying to Make it in Pro Ball as a Non-Drafted Free Agent

The Pittsburgh Pirates signed six players who went undrafted this year, which is a little more than usual. Part of the reason was they had a couple of college draft picks back out of signing to go back to school. The other part was due to injuries at Morgantown and in the GCL, where they were short on both pitchers and position players. Being a non-drafted free agent is not an enviable way to get your pro career started, but it’s all about getting your foot in the door and then showing them why you belong there.

The Pirates have signed a few players in the recent past who seemed like they had some potential, only to see them not last until the next season. One particular pair were Colter Moore and Cory Rhodes back in 2014. They were two big right-handed pitchers who threw in the low-90s, with Rhodes standing 6’4″, 235 pounds, and Moore at 6’8″, with room to fill out. Both pitchers were cut during Spring Training the following year. That Bristol team also had a player who has managed to stick around for three years now in C/1B Chris Harvey, who had a big day for Morgantown last night.

So here is a look at the six players who didn’t get drafted this year, but ended up with the Pirates anyway:

I’ll start with the two who were signed on the same day, pitchers Chris McDonald and Evan Piechota. Both were playing in the United Shore Professional Baseball League, which helped them see action right away with the GCL Pirates, who were short-handed on the pitching staff. If you don’t remember from a few weeks ago, one Friday-Saturday, the GCL Pirates used two outfielders and a coach to help fill in with innings. I got to talk to McDonald and he actually sounds like an intriguing player, at 6’6″, with a nice sinker/changeup combo. Plus, he spent some of his college time as a hitter, so there might be room for growth once he pitches full-time.

So far, McDonald has made three appearances, with a 7.56 ERA in 8.1 innings. Obviously with a small sample size and being thrown right into action, you can’t really take too much from the numbers. He’s going to pitch in long relief and as a non-drafted free agent (NDFA), he will probably be used whenever the team needs him to fill out innings, though they have enough players where that doesn’t mean he will be used on back-to-back days.

Piechota has also pitched three times and he has thrown 4.2 shutout innings, with three hits, no walks and four strikeouts. So his early results are obviously much better, though he is seeing less work.

The GCL Pirates also have another intriguing player in shortstop Andrew Walker, who has speed to burn. He is seeing decent playing time because infielder Luis Perez is out for the year with a shoulder injury and infielder Melvin Jimenez is recovering from his second injury, which has limited him to six games this season. That opened a spot and time for Walker. He is only batting .172 in ten games, but he has seven walks and he is 5-for-5 in stolen bases.

The fourth GCL player has only put in one game, catcher Boomer Synek. He’s a lefty hitter with some power, hence the nickname. He can also play second base and third base. The GCL team needs four catchers because two of them are seeing time elsewhere. Paul Brands has played third base and second base, while Mikell Granberry has played a lot of first base. If they’re both in the lineup along with Raul Hernandez behind the plate, then you need a bullpen catcher and that’s where the fourth catcher comes in.

The thing to remember with all of these players is that they are older college players in a league where the average age is 19 years old. The other thing is that they aren’t in the league because that’s their level of play right now, they are there to fill in for injured players. The Pirates signed them mainly due to a need, but they still have a chance to prove they are worth keeping around after this season.

Two other infielders are playing at higher levels. Daniel Cucjen is with Bristol, and Nick King is with Morgantown. Neither of these players put up strong college stats, but King was the starting shortstop at a major college program (Georgia) and he is a very athletic player, so there could be some potential. The problem is that he has only played four games since signing on June 29th and one of those games was off the bench. Cucjen is seeing a little more time, posting a .646 OPS in seven games. He was a teammate of Casey Hughston in college.

As far as possible prospect potential, I like what I’ve heard about McDonald and Walker, while King got the highest assignment and he has the best college background among these players. A starting shortstop at a major college, who also starred in basketball and football in high school, is bound to have a lot of athleticism and it’s possible that turns into something down the line. It’s a long road for all of them, but they have to start somewhere.

PIRATES GAME GRAPH


Source: FanGraphs

TODAY’S SCHEDULE

Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pirates won 5-3 over the Brewers on Thursday night. They now play a three-game series against the Phillies, with Gerrit Cole on the mound tonight. He returned from the disabled list on Sunday and allowed four runs over four innings against the Nationals. His last start prior to that was on June 10th. The Phillies will counter with Zach Eflin, who has a 4.14 ERA in 41.1 innings, with 20 strikeouts and a 1.21 WHIP. He allowed three runs over six innings against the Mets in his last start. Back on July 5th, Eflin threw a complete game against the Braves, allowing one run.

In the minors, Steven Brault gets the start for Indianapolis, coming off six no-hit innings in his last game. He has thrown shutout ball in six of his ten appearances for Indianapolis this season. Stephen Tarpley was pitching well until his last two starts, in which he allowed 11 earned runs over 8.2 innings. He had a 3.42 ERA in his first 11 starts, which then shot up to 4.50 after those two appearances. Logan Sendelbach has a .228 BAA and a 1.10 WHIP this season.

Fourth round pick Braeden Ogle makes his second start for the GCL Pirates, while Ike Schlabach goes for Bristol.

MLB: Pittsburgh (49-46) vs Phillies (44-53) 7:05 PM
Probable starter: Gerrit Cole (3.11 ERA, 22:60 BB/SO, 72.1 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (50-50) vs Charlotte (45-55) 7:15 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Steven Brault (2.44 ERA, 18:57 BB/SO, 44.1 IP)

AA: Altoona (52-45) vs Akron (54-45) 7:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Cody Dickson (3.64 ERA, 62:61 BB/SO, 96.1 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (51-45) vs Daytona (50-44) 6:30 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Stephen Tarpley (4.50 ERA, 26:60 BB/SO, 64.0 IP)

Low-A: West Virginia (49-47) vs Charleston (54-41) 7:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Logan Sendelbach (3.31 ERA, 27:68 BB/SO, 98.0 IP)

Short-Season A: Morgantown (16-17) vs Connecticut (20-13) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable Starter: Cam Vieaux (3.76 ERA, 12:15 BB/SO, 26.1 IP)

Rookie: Bristol (13-14) @ Greeneville (15-13) 7:00 PM (season preview)

GCL: Pirates (10-14) vs Yankees West (11-13) 12:00 PM (season preview)

DSL: Pirates (15-25) vs Rangers1 (28-11) 10:30 AM (season preview)

HIGHLIGHTS

Here is Trevor Williams picking up his fifth strikeout on Thursday night. It’s a long at-bat, so you get to see a lot of Williams here.

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

7/21: Chris Diaz placed on temporary inactive list.

7/20: Jose Regalado assigned to GCL Pirates on rehab.

7/20: Ryan Vogelsong assigned to Indianapolis on rehab.

7/19: Francisco Cervelli activated from disabled list. Erik Kratz designated for assignment.

7/19: Jameson Taillon activated from disabled list. Chad Kuhl optioned to Indianapolis.

7/19: Frank Duncan placed on disabled list.

7/19: Elias Diaz assigned to Indianapolis.

7/19: Justin Topa assigned to GCL Pirates on rehab.

7/17: Jonathan Schwind assigned to Altoona.

7/16: Elias Diaz assigned to Altoona on rehab.

7/16: Gerrit Cole activated from the disabled list. Josh Bell optioned to Indianapolis.

7/15: Pirates sign Austin Shields. Assigned to GCL Pirates.

7/15: Pirates sign Boomer Synek. Assigned to GCL Pirates.

7/14: Francisco Cervelli assigned to Indianapolis on rehab.

7/14: John Kuchno assigned to Altoona.

7/14: Jordan George promoted to West Virginia

7/13: Daniel Zamora placed on West Virginia disabled list.

7/13: Colten Brewer activated from temporary inactive list. Nick Neumann placed on Bradenton disabled list.

7/12: Rob Scahill claimed off waivers by Brewers.

7/10: Ryan Vogelsong assigned to Altoona on rehab.

7/9: Jonathan Schwind promoted to Indianapolis.

THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY

Six former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus two trades of note. We start with the best player born on this date and you can find a full bio for him here. George Gibson was a catcher for the Pirates from 1905 until 1916 and held the team’s record for games caught until Jason Kendall passed him nearly 100 years after Gibson played his first game. He was a key member of the 1909 club, catching 150 games that season, which is almost unheard now under much easier conditions for a catcher. When he first came up to the majors, he was strictly a defensive specialist with a cannon for an arm, but he turned himself into a respectable hitter. Gibson also managed the Pirates after his playing career was over, finishing with a 401-330 record.

Other players born on this date include pitcher Ryan Vogelsong, who played for the Pirates in 2001 and 2003-06, then became a current Pirate again this year. Also infielder Denny Gonzalez (1984-85, 87-88), first baseman R.C. Stevens, who was a member of the 1960 World Series champs. Sheldon LeJeune played center field for the 1915 Pirates and he may have had the best arm in team history. Back in 1910, he broke the world record for longest throw in the air at 426 feet. He was a great minor league player, but his success never carried over to the majors. Finally, Jack Glasscock played for the 1893-94 Pirates and he is an under-appreciated star from that era, one who hit .290 career, with over 2,000 hits and played a terrific all-around game.

As for the two trades made on July 22nd, we have the 1988 deal that sent outfielder Darnell Coles to the Mariners for outfielder Glenn Wilson. We also have the 2009 deal that saw Adam LaRoche go to the Red Sox for shortstop Argenis Diaz and pitcher Hunter Strickland. You can read more about these deals and the bios of the five players mentioned above, in the link at the top of this section.

  • I was thinking… this weekend may very well be Cole on friday, Glasnow saturday, and Taillon on sunday. That’s pretty exciting. The first view of the future 3 headed horse all going in a single series. As much as I like Kuhl, I’d love to see the Bucs swing a deal for Matt Moore.

  • Jack Glasscock……..meet Johnny Dickshot……….meet Rusty Kuntz?

    I feel sorry for guys with these types of names. I would’ve changed mine once I turned 21, lol.

  • Mike Carlini
    July 22, 2016 9:00 am

    I remember that Darnell Coles trade. After the season was over a lot of players came out publicly and stated that trade had a negative effect on the locker room as Coles was a better presence than Wilson was.

    • That is the first time I ever heard that about Wilson. Do you have a link?

      • Mike Carlini
        July 24, 2016 3:22 pm

        Form what I read it had nothing to do with Wilson rather the players liked Coles. As far as a link, it was posted in publication following the ’88 season. Not to sound like a jerk but it was before the Internet. I remember Stan and Guy talked about it once years later.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    July 22, 2016 8:23 am

    Nice stories….it would be quite an accomplishment if even one of these guys got to AA. But, as an organization, this is not a trend you want to see continue.

    • Sometimes, NDFA guys are just players who were on the teams draft radar, but they never got to pick them because they were lower than the guys you picked. Basically, if other teams don’t take all of your targets, then there may have been some players they really liked who they just didn’t get a chance to select. In these cases though, we know these players were filling in due to injuries.

      King wasn’t signed until after Trae Arbet got injured. Cucjen wasn’t signed until two players backed out of signing for Bristol. Walker got signed when Melvin Jimenez got hurt. McDonald and Piechota got signed because they needed to fill innings with some GCL pitchers getting hurt and one going to Bristol to fill in for the draft pick that didn’t sign.

      If you don’t have these injuries right after opening day and two draft picks not signing who already had roster spots, you don’t have openings for these players and they don’t sign them. If the injuries happened sooner, then those players who were cut in early June are still around as fillers

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