Williams: Previewing a Live Upcoming Look at the Pirates Prospects in the AFL

Before I get to today’s article topic, I want to talk about some site stuff, which I usually keep separate from my columns. I wrote two weeks ago about how we’ve been seeing a wave of cancellations, leading to some uncertainty about the future of the site. We’ve seen some nice support from you guys, both referring people to the site, buying gift subscriptions, and purchasing the Prospect Guide. The biggest thing is still going to be just keeping everyone on board, and avoiding cancelling if you like the site but are down on the Pirates right now.

Baseball is an expensive sport to cover. There is more travel than any other sport, and when you aim to cover all of the minor league teams, there are more writers to pay. We plan for all of that, but when we see a massive wave of cancellations like we saw in August and September, it throws those plans out of whack.

My goal as editor of this site is always going to be providing you with the most detailed coverage of every player in the system. Our challenge going forward is finding the most efficient way of doing that.

I was worried that I’d have to cut out the AFL coverage this year in response to the cuts. Instead, I’m taking a bit of a gamble and going out to Glendale next week, hoping that the book sales this year will continue doing well, and hoping that this offseason coverage will continue to provide value to the site.

I am doing things a bit different. Usually I go for a week, making sure I see every single player. This time I’m getting in on Monday, and probably missing a few innings of the first game. I’m also leaving on the red-eye Thursday night, so that I can get an extra game in without paying for an extra hotel night or rental car day. This isn’t too much different from my plans during the season. The key difference here is that I’m less concerned with having 5-6 games to cover, and more concerned with just getting features on all seven players who are out there. Ultimately, I’m guessing you care more about those features than you do about the 1-2 extra games covered.

The AFL is always a good trip, and not just because the tacos are insane and McFate Brewing Company releases their Candy Bar Milk Stout around this time of year every year. Yeah, I’m still going to get a week’s worth of tacos and beer on the shortened schedule. But the AFL is a great place to catch up with prospects over the offseason, see what they are working on, get a feel for how they are viewed from scouts who don’t always see them (and some who see them all year), and ultimately take stock of where they are while playing in a showcase league.

We’ve gotten some great AFL coverage in the past, whether it’s getting a feel for how others view Edgar Santana, to getting the first information on Trevor Williams two years ago, or when…well, I’ve actually only been able to cover it for two years, because we couldn’t cover it before going subscription.

This year’s group is full of interesting prospects, with seven guys who will very easily rank in our top 50 prospects heading into next year. I’ve covered each of them over the last few years, and this trip will provide a nice recap and update on where they are, leading to one of the final pieces needed for the 2018 Prospect Guide.

As an early preview, here is what I’ll be looking at next week with each player. Look for my live game reports during the games I’m there (I’ll have photos and video), followed by features on every one of these players in the week following my trip. And I can’t say it enough, but thanks for your support in making this coverage possible!

The Pitchers

Mitch Keller – Keller is obviously the biggest draw here. He’s a guy I’ve been covering for years, almost literally from his first day in the system, through the mechanical changes that he made before his 2016 breakout season, and through all of the changes he made this year. The biggest thing Keller learned to do this year was mixing his off-speed stuff in earlier in the count, so hitters wouldn’t be able to sit on his fastball. He also learned a new changeup grip later in the year, and started seeing better results with the pitch. I expect to see him on Tuesday or Wednesday next week, and while the AFL doesn’t provide a big opportunity to see pitchers use their secondary stuff, I’m hoping to get a view at the new offering.

Taylor Hearn – Hearn has an electric fastball from the left side with some control issues, and made an adjustment to his slider aimed at getting a more consistent release point, and better control of his stuff. Right after that change, he went down with a season ending injury, putting him out for the final six weeks of the year. I’ll be looking to see how he’s doing with the new pitch after missing some time, and how he’s recovering from his injury.

JT Brubaker / Brandon Waddell – I’ve felt that Brubaker and Waddell could both join the group of pitchers collecting in the upper levels who profile more as back of the rotation depth, or future relievers. I think their best chances of making the majors in Pittsburgh will be in relief. Both are pitching in relief in the AFL, and have a few appearances under their belts to get a feel for the role. I don’t think this means the Pirates will be making a switch with either of them, as you usually only get one starting pitcher in the AFL. I’ll be interested to get their feedback on the new role, along with other things they are focused on.

The Hitters

Kevin Kramer – Kramer has been my breakout pick in each of the last two years. The pitcher friendly FSL robbed him of better numbers in 2016. He made an adjustment to his swing prior to the 2017 season, and saw a big increase in production, more than just the normal increase you get when moving out of Bradenton. He started to slump in his final two weeks in Altoona, then went down for the season after only two months. He didn’t get a chance to make a counter adjustment to the upper level pitchers, and when I talked to him last month, he said he was just starting to get comfortable against their adjustments. The results in the AFL have been good so far, and I hope to catch up with him again to see how he’s continuing those adjustments against upper level pitchers.

Logan Hill – After he was drafted in the 25th round of the 2015 draft, I noticed that Hill had the look of a top ten round pick more than your usual college filler in the middle rounds. He’s got a huge frame and a lot of raw power. He didn’t show that in the first half in Bradenton last year, being limited with a hip injury. He returned to Bradenton this year and finally showed his power. The adjustment to Altoona was slower, and he went down early with a hand injury. He has since returned to hit two homers in the young AFL season. I didn’t get a chance to catch up with him about the hand during the end of the season, but hopefully the early results are a sign that it’s not an issue anymore.

Mitchell Tolman – While watching him in Bradenton, I noticed that Tolman reminded me a lot of Max Moroff. He’s got some pop in his bat for a middle infielder. He has good plate patience and the ability to hit for average and get on base. The problem is that he can be too selective, laying off pitches that he could hit early, and waiting for pitches he can crush later. He’s doing a good job so far of hitting for some power in the AFL, already having four doubles. It’s a very hitter friendly atmosphere, so I’ll want to see if that is due to a more aggressive approach, or just the environment.

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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NorCal Buc

I love this site, Tim, and I would support an increase in price and advertising from select businesses. Despite the advertising, I still read the on-line NYTimes, WaPost and Post-Gazette. Not to mention the local Sunday paper, print edition.

Scott K

Economics 101, don’t raise prices when demand is shrinking. It’s true the core customers of the site will be willing to pay more, but to grow the top line of the business most effectively, Tim needs more subscriptions. Thus the pay it forward idea makes more sense to me.

I’d also suggest he create an off-season promotion targeted for past subscribers to come back for a reduced rate in exchange for a 12 month to 36 month commitment. Previous customers are Tim’s low hanging fruit, so to speak.

As for advertisers, I think it would work as long as Tim doesn’t sell his soul to devil and allow the totally annoying pop-up ads!

Phil W

Totally agree that the AFL is a great trip. An abundance of good prospects, inexpensive tickets, small stadiums where you can usually sit right at field level, lots of good restaurants in the Scottsdale area, and a beautiful time of year to visit AZ. My days consist of a morning hike on one of the area mountains, an afternoon ballgame, and a nice dinner at night.


My sister and a HS friend now live in Mesa/Scottsdale. I agree that it is a nice area…..as long as it isn’t the summer. 🙂

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