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Morning Report: Checking in on the Pirates’ 2017 Draft — The Hitters


The Pirates’ 2017 draft held a great deal of interest for me because, for the first time almost within memory, they focused heavily on hitters with power potential.  Power has been lacking in the Pirates’ system throughout Neal Huntington’s tenure as GM, partly due to the team’s poor Latin American scouting and partly because it just doesn’t seem like a priority to them in the draft.  So I was very curious how their 2017 draft would turn out.  I’ll take a look at where the hitters stand today, with the pitchers tomorrow.  (Numbers are the draft round.  All stats are as of the end of play on May 6.)

2.  Cal Mitchell, OF:  So far so good with Mitchell, who looks so far like the best hitter to come out of this draft.  He had solid numbers last year as one of the youngest players in the South Atlantic League, and he’s doing the same this year in the Florida State League.  His batting line of 281/309/474 isn’t overwhelming, but considering his age and the league average of 239/315/350, he’s doing quite well.  He’s also third in the league in home runs as I write this.

2.  Conner Uselton, OF:  A prep outfielder like Mitchell, Uselton’s story has been just the opposite.  Although he was a little old for a prep draftee, the Pirates sent him to Bristol last year and he was literally one of the worst hitters in the league.  He also struggled so much defensively that the team eventually started removing him for defense in the late innings, which you rarely see in the minors.  He’s in extended spring training now and was in better shape and playing better, so we’ll see.

3.  Dylan Busby, 3B:  A power-first hitter from Florida State University, Busby struggled in his first season, then was plagued by concussion problems resulting from two beanings last year in low class A.  So far this year, he’s leading the FSL in home runs and slugging.  (He has more homers than the entire St. Lucie team.)  He’s old for the league at 23 (Mitchell is 20) and he striking out in well over a third of his plate appearances, so it’s going to take time to tell whether the power outburst is sustainable.

4.  Jason Delay, C:  A glove-first catcher, Delay is the backup at Altoona, as the Pirates have pushed him quickly due to his defense.  He has a .960 OPS right now, but that’s in limited playing time.  His ceiling is probably something like Jacob Stallings.

5.  Deon Stafford, C:  Stafford is a bat-first catcher whose defense probably needs to improve.  Despite the lower draft round and the fact that he’s now behind Delay in the system, he actually has the higher ceiling.  He hit respectably last year in low class A, with decent power, but he didn’t dominate the way you’d like to see with a college draftee at that level.  He’s just getting into action this year at Bradenton after missing time with an oblique injury.

7.  Jared Oliva, OF:  A legitimate center fielder and good baserunner, Oliva had a semi-breakout season last year with Bradenton, showing decent power (again, taking the power-sucking FSL into account), which hadn’t been characteristic for him in the past.  So far this year he’s struggling a bit at Altoona, with a .673 OPS.  He missed some time at the beginning of the season with a concussion.

9.  Bligh Madris, OF:  A dark horse draftee out of Colorado Mesa University, Madris made the jump to the FSL in his first full year, but struggled there.  The Pirates moved him up to Altoona this year anyway and he’s made some progress, batting .286 so far.  The power hasn’t come yet (he has one HR) and his plate discipline is marginal (27:7 K:BB).

13.  Tristan Gray, 2B:  The Pirates sent Gray to Tampa Bay in the Corey Dickerson trade.  He’s in AA and has an OPS of .697.

14.  Chris Sharpe, OF:  Sharpe has gone a level at a time, from short season ball to low A to high A, and has put up about the same OPS each year: . 684, .722 and .705.

17.  Mason Martin, OF:  A prep draftee who’s now a first baseman, Martin is the most extreme, all-or-nothing hitter in the system.  After a huge debut in rookie ball, he struggled badly enough in the SAL last year that he got demoted to Bristol, where he also struggled after a good start.  This year he’s back in the SAL and still one of the younger players in the league.  He’s made some improvement, currently batting 229/336/514 and is third in the league in home runs.  He’s also striking out in over a third of his plate appearances.  His kind of power at his age (not quite 20), though, is very uncommon.

21.  Robbie Glendinning, SS:  Glendinning settled in quickly as a utility player, but he’s suddenly swinging the bat very well this year (1.080 OPS at Bradenton and .848 in a brief stint at Altoona) after a solid season last year in the SAL.  He’s even hitting for power.  If the hitting holds up even partially, he could become an interesting player.

22.  Brett Pope, SS:  Pope is a good defensive shortstop but struggled at the plate last year at Bradenton.  He opened this year at Altoona as a utility player, but is playing a lot due to an injury to Stephen Alemais.  He isn’t hitting at all.

23.  Ben Bengtson, SS:  Recently released after a series of injuries.

24.  Nick Valaika, SS:  Released before this season.

26.  Lucas Tancas, OF:  Tancas has played mostly at first.  The Pirates jumped him to the FSL last year, possibly more to fill a need than because they considered him a good prospect, and he struggled to a .598 OPS.  He’s back there this year and doing better at .706.

30.  Manny Bejerano, C:  Released before this season.

31.  Jesse Medrano, 3B:  Medrano quickly settled into a utility role.  He’s in the FSL now and has a .612 OPS.

37.  Kyle Watson, SS:  Released before this season.

38.  Ryan Peurifoy, OF:  Peurifoy struggled last year in the SAL.  This year, he’s at Altoona as a seldom-used backup and is 0-for-20 with ten strikeouts.

The overall situation here isn’t bad and isn’t great.  Mitchell is probably the one who unequivocally looks like a very good prospect, although Martin’s power can’t be discounted.  Except for Uselton, all of the earlier picks are at least showing some signs of potential, and it’s too soon to give up on him.  We’ll know a lot more in a few months, as Busby hopefully will keep showing the power and earn an early promotion, and Oliva, Stafford and Madris all have chances to step forward.


Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates won 5-4 over the Texas Rangers on Tuesday night. Nick Kingham gets the ball this afternoon in his first start of the season. His longest appearance this season was 2.1 innings, which he did in his last outing five days ago. He gave up four runs in that game, which is a season high. The Rangers will counter with right-hander Shelby Miller, who has a 7.99 ERA in 23.2 innings, with 13 strikeouts and a 2.03 WHIP. He faced the Pirates seven days ago and allowed four earned runs over 3.1 innings.

The minor league schedule includes early start times for both Altoona and Bradenton, and Mitch Keller on the mound for Indianapolis. Keller gave up two runs over six innings in his last start, though both runs came in the first inning on solo homers. His 38 strikeouts leads all minor leaguers for the Pirates. Altoona will send out Sean Brady, who was signed as a minor league free agent on Monday. He pitched between Triple-A and Double-A for the Cleveland Indians this season, posting a 7.77 ERA in 24.1 innings pitched. Brady allowed two runs over seven innings against Altoona earlier this season. Aaron Shortridge will get the noon start for Bradenton. In his last two starts, he has allowed nine earned runs over 10.1 innings. In his first 23 innings, he gave up a total of three runs. Steven Jennings is scheduled to start for Greensboro tonight. He allowed one earned run over five innings in his last outing.

The full 2019 Pirates Prospects Prospect Guide is now available, up to date as of April 3rd, with every player in the minor league system. Includes full reports on the top 50 prospects, reports on over 150 other players, as well as looks back at the recent drafts and international signing classes.

MLB: Pittsburgh (17-15) vs Rangers (16-17) 12:35 PM
Probable starter: Nick Kingham (6.39 ERA, 13:6 SO/BB, 12.1 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (15-15) @ Scranton/WB (16-12) 6:35 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Mitch Keller (3.48 ERA, 38:14 SO/BB, 31.0 IP)

AA: Altoona (16-15) vs Bowie (8-24) 10:30 AM (season preview)
Probable starter: Sean Brady (NR)

High-A: Bradenton (20-11) @ Clearwater (12-19) 12:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Aaron Shortridge (3.24 ERA, 23:4 SO/BB, 33.1 IP)

Low-A: Greensboro (20-10) @ Delmarva (24-4) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Steven Jennings (6.75 ERA, 27:9 SO/BB, 26.2 IP)


From Altoona, the only two videos (GIFs technically) from Monday’s action. The Curve trailed 7-0 in the eighth and mounted a valiant comeback that fell short. Here’s the start of the scoring, Bligh Madris brings home the first two runs

Logan Hill adds to the score here. Jerrick Suiter followed with a two-run single (not shown)


5/6: Pirates sign Sean Brady and assign him to Altoona.

5/6: Jacob Brentz promoted to Indianapolis. Erich Weiss assigned to Extended Spring Training

5/4: Jameson Taillon placed on injured list. Kevin Newman activated from injured list.

5/4: Pablo Reyes optioned to Indianapolis. Tyler Lyons added to Pirates.

5/4: JB Shuck designated for assignment. Pirates recall Dovydas Neverauskas.

5/4: Sean Keselica promoted to Indianapolis. Alfredo Reyes assigned to Altoona.

5/4: Blake Cederlind promoted to Altoona. Ryan Peurifoy assigned to Extended Spring Training

5/4: Nick Mears and Shea Murray promoted to Bradenton. Yerry De Los Santos and John O’Reilly added to Greensboro roster.

5/4: Drew Fischer placed on 7-day injured list.

5/3: Randolph Gassaway added to Bradenton roster. Michael Gretler assigned to Greensboro.

5/1: Connor Kaiser placed on injured list. Kyle Mottice added to Greensboro roster.

4/30: Starling Marte activated from injured list. Jason Martin optioned to Indianapolis.

4/30: Chase Lambert promoted to Bradenton. Raul Siri added to Greensboro roster. John Bormann assigned to Extended Spring Training.

4/30: Pirates release Ben Bengtson


Four former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, and one trade of note. On this date in 1940, the Pirates sent left fielder Johnny Rizzo to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for center fielder Vince DiMaggio. The trade didn’t go over well the next day in the local papers, with one headline saying  “Straight swap of players brings strikeout king of majors here.” The trade worked out well for the Pirates despite the fact they dealt away their single-season home run leader. As a rookie in 1938, Rizzo hit 23 homers. His record bridged a gap between Hall of Famers, as Arky Vaughan broke the team record with 19 in 1935 and Ralph Kiner broke Rizzo’s record in 1946.

After the trade, DiMaggio played five years for the Pirates and made two All-Star teams. Rizzo lasted a month with the Reds and was out of the majors by 1942.

Players born on this date include:

Jason Davis, pitcher for the 2008 Pirates. Finished his seven-year big league career with the Pirates, posting a 5.29 ERA over four starts and ten relief appearances.

Orestes Destrade, first baseman in 1988. His .149 over 36 games with Pirates, then spent four seasons playing in Japan, where he hit 30+ homers each year.

Bill Powell, a member of the 1909 World Series champs. Powell pitched for the team in 1909-10, throwing 15 games total.

Eddie Boyle, catcher for the 1896 Pirates, who went 0-for-5 in two games for the Pirates after going 0-for-9 in three games with Louisville earlier that season, which were his only Major League games.

A bigger bio for all of the players listed here can be found in the link at the top of this section.

On this date in 1963, Willie Stargell hit his first career home run. Playing in his 21st big league game, Stargell homered off of Lindy McDaniel of the Chicago Cubs. It brought the Pirates within one run in the eighth inning, though their rally fell short. Here’s the boxscore

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Wilbur Miller
Wilbur Miller
Having followed the Pirates fanatically since 1965, Wilbur Miller is one of the fast-dwindling number of fans who’ve actually seen good Pirate teams. He’s even seen Hall-of-Fame Pirates who didn’t get traded mid-career, if you can imagine such a thing. His first in-person game was a 5-4, 11-inning win at Forbes Field over Milwaukee (no, not that one). He’s been writing about the Pirates at various locations online for over 20 years. It has its frustrations, but it’s certainly more cathartic than writing legal stuff. Wilbur is retired and now lives in Bradenton with his wife and three temperamental cats.

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