Morning Report: Indianapolis Has Seen Plenty of Positives Over the First Month

Today is part four of the early season look at the minor league teams and their prospects. The Indianapolis Indians don’t quite have the star power of the Altoona Curve this year, but they aren’t far behind.

Indianapolis has 11 of the current top 50 prospects in the system, but that doesn’t include Nick Kingham, who is in the majors now, and Dovydas Neverauskas, who lost his prospect eligibility before being sent down. Indianapolis also had Max Moroff and Kyle Crick at one point this season, plus Jose Osuna is tearing the cover off of the ball early. So while none of those players count towards that “11 current prospects”  number, they have helped make the team very interesting to watch this year.

We start with the top hitting prospect in the system, Austin Meadows, who turned 23 yesterday. He’s been healthy so far, which is the most important thing. Meadows has performed well too, getting on base, stealing some bases and playing strong defense in the outfield. He hasn’t shown much power with six doubles and one homer, but he’s making a lot of solid contact and not striking out.

Kevin Newman is the next best prospect at this time, although that could certainly change if things don’t change with him. Newman’s peak is a reliable shortstop who gets on base and uses his speed well. He’s not getting on base, not stealing bases and he’s playing more second base than shortstop. That’s added on to the fact that he’s not young for the level (exactly three months away from his 25th birthday) and he played 40 games for Indy last year, so you can’t say he’s just adjusting to a higher level.

Jordan Luplow was competing for a Major League job this spring after getting some time last year in Pittsburgh. His season has been off to a very slow start, though he did hit his first two homers of the season on Wednesday and reach base three times yesterday. If the Pirates needed an outfield tomorrow, it’s more likely that they call on Jose Osuna, who was the International League Player of the Month. Even Christopher Bostick seems like a more likely choice, since he’s right there with Osuna as one of the top hitters in the league and Bostick has been playing strictly in the outfield this year.

Kevin Kramer has put up solid numbers while playing more shortstop than second base. He’s not yet an MLB option, but considering that he missed half of his Double-A season last year, he’s off to a strong start at a new level.

Jacob Stallings is hitting well and playing his normal solid defense, so he’s ready to step in if the Pirates need him. Eric Wood is putting up nice numbers and cutting down on his strikeouts, so it’s possible he could be an option at some point this year. His problem is that there are a lot of options on this team for the Pirates. Wood is a minor league free agent at the end of this year, so that’s something to watch.

On the pitching side, Nick Kingham earned a trip to the majors and then earned an extra start with his brilliant performance. Clay Holmes has been getting stretched out as a starter after the Pirates buried him in the big league bullpen for two weeks (I’m sure he didn’t mind). He had two shutout performances before his last outing had some control issues. The important part was that he increased his pitch count and should be at full strength next time out.

Tyler Eppler has pitched much better than last year in his first run through Indy, but there are still a couple of inconsistencies, which keep him from being an MLB option right now. The rest of the rotation with Alex McRae, Austin Coley and Casey Sadler have all had rough starts. As we mentioned yesterday, if the Pirates want to promote JT Brubaker and/or Brandon Waddell soon, they would have no trouble finding a spot for them.

One final note and that is Tanner Anderson being used in long relief. We rated him higher than any of the last three starters mentioned (McRae, Sadler and Coley) and that wouldn’t change now with the way he has pitched and the way they are pitching. The fact that he’s in long relief isn’t a good sign because you would rather your best pitchers get the most innings in the minors unless there is no chance for them as a starter.

We didn’t see Anderson as a starting option, but he’s such an efficient strike-thrower, who gets a lot of soft contact on the ground, that it’s hard not to see a potential middle reliever. He could also excel in big spots or be an innings eater. Seems odd to say someone is being misused when they are in the role that they are best suited for, but he’s still in the developmental stages of his career and should be pitching more often.

TODAY’S SCHEDULE

Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates lost 3-1 to the Washington Nationals on Thursday afternoon. The Pirates will now travel to Milwaukee for three games, where they will send Nick Kingham to the mound today for his second start. He pitched seven shutout innings in his debut, allowing just one hit, with no walks and nine strikeouts. The Brewers will counter with right-handed pitcher Junior Guerra, who has an 0.82 ERA in 22 innings over four starts, with 21 strikeouts and an 0.95 WHIP. He allowed one run over six innings against the Chicago Cubs in his last start.

The minor league schedule includes a start in West Virginia by Domingo Robles, who is hoping for some defensive help. Robles allowed no earned runs on two hits and two walks in each of his last two outings. The difference was that one went five innings, while the other was only two outs because the Power committed four errors in the first inning. Taylor Hearn is making his fifth start and hopes it’s more like his first two rather than the last two outings. Hearn started the season with one earned run over his first 11 innings, then surrendered 12 earned runs over his next 9.1 innings. Bradenton starter James Marvel has struck out four batters in four of his five starts. Indianapolis starter Alex McRae has an 0.93 ERA at home and 10.95 on the road. Altoona has a doubleheader today with no starter announced for game two yet.

MLB: Pittsburgh (17-15) @ Milwaukee (19-13) 8:10 PM
Probable starter: Nick Kingham (0.00 ERA, 9:0 SO/BB, 7.0 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (13-11) vs Gwinnnett (9-16) 7:15 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Alex McRae (6.55 ERA, 18:12 SO/BB, 22.0 IP)

AA: Altoona (14-10) vs Erie (8-17) 4:30 PM DH (season preview)
Probable starter: Taylor Hearn (5.75 ERA, 20:8 SO/BB, 20.1 IP) and TBD

High-A: Bradenton (16-11) @ Charlotte (13-14) 6:35 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: James Marvel (4.23 ERA, 22:8 SO/BB, 27.2 IP)

Low-A: West Virginia (15-12) vs Hickory (8-17) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Domingo Robles (3.86 ERA, 24:5 SO/BB, 21.0 IP)

HIGHLIGHTS

From Altoona’s game on Tuesday, a Will Craig double to the gap, which scored Jordan George from first base. Hard to tell from the video, but they said he went to third base on the throw, so it wasn’t a triple.

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

5/1: Joe Musgrove assigned to Bradenton on rehab.

4/29: Pirates recall Nick Kingham. Enny Romero placed on disabled list.

4/29: Brett McKinney added to Indianapolis roster.

4/27: Bo Schultz promoted to Indianapolis. Adam Oller promoted to Bradenton.

4/27: Gavin Wallace placed on disabled list. Beau Sulser and Drew Fischer added to West Virginia.

4/26: Todd Cunningham traded to Chicago White Sox for a player to be named later.

4/25: Rafelin Lorenzo placed on West Virginia disabled list. Raul Hernandez added to roster

4/25: Released Julio Gonzalez from DSL Pirates

4/25: Jose Osuna recalled for Wednesday’s doubleheader. Demoted after game.

THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY

Five former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, including one that has an interesting baseball-related story from after his playing days were over. Depending on your age, you might remember two players born on this date, outfielder Jason Michaels (2008) and infielder Ken Oberkfell (1988-89). Before those two, there was 1919 first baseman Vic Saier and 1914-15 outfielder Zip Collins. The oldest player is the one we take a look at today.

Lou Gertenrich played just one game for the Pirates, manning right field on June 21,1903. The Pirates were short two outfielders due to an injury to Fred Clarke, and regular right fielder Jimmy Sebring left to get married. Gertenrich was a local player from Chicago and the Pirates were in Chicago at the time. He had played two Major League games two years earlier, so they Pirates picked him up for one day and he actually batted second during his only game (remember that this was in the middle of a pennant race, which the Pirates won). He went 0-for-4 and handled the only two plays he had in the field. Gertenrich isn’t as obscure as you would think a player from 1903 with three games experience would be. In 1922, he advertised his candy company on the back of baseball cards that are quite popular now for pre-war card collectors due to their scarcity.

Vic Saier was a player the Pirates had high hopes for, but they ended up getting almost nothing from him. Between 1911 and 1916, he was with the Chicago Cubs, playing well enough to twice get MVP votes. After 1916, his baseball career went downhill quick. He broke his leg and missed almost all of the 1917 season. Then in 1918, after the Pirates won a disputed claim over his rights, he left baseball for a year to join the war effort. He returned in 1919, still only 27 years old. He was young enough that the Pirates believed he could still play well after so much missed time. Instead he hit .223 in 58 games and was released in August, ending his time in baseball.

  • I think a lot of the players mentioned at AAA will be playing elsewhere next year. Many are just fillers or insurance should a rash of injuries hit the Pirates, but the talent of the classes behind them is too good to hold down, and a lot of space on the 40 man will be needed.

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