The New York-Penn League season begins in Morgantown on Friday and there are two unexpected names on the roster for the Black Bears. The Pittsburgh Pirates are sending right-handed pitchers Braxton Ashcraft and Michael Burrows to their top short-season affiliate. In the recent past, those two pitchers would have headed to Bristol for their first full season of pro ball.
Ashcraft was last year’s second round pick, signing for a $1,825,000 bonus. Burrows was drafted in the 11th round and required a $500,000 bonus to sign, $375,000 above the slot. Both pitchers were drafted out of high school last year and they are 19 years old. They each opened their career in the GCL last year after signing and have been in Extended Spring Training this year.
As recently as a month ago, we were told that both pitchers would begin the 2019 season at Bristol. That seemed obvious based on how other prep pitchers have been used. Since Bristol has become an affiliate in 2014, adding a team between the GCL and Morgantown (Jamestown was the affiliate back in 2014), most prep pitchers have gone to Bristol in their first full season in pro ball. Cody Bolton made the jump to West Virginia, and some needed to stay in the GCL, but Mitch Keller, Trey Supak, Gage Hinsz, Max Kranick (after a few rehab starts in the GCL), Braeden Ogle, Travis MacGregor, Shane Baz and Steven Jennings all went to Bristol.
The Pirates felt that Ashcraft and Burrows made enough progress this spring that they could handle the jump to Morgantown. Ashcraft looks like he has filled out his 6’5″ frame some since last year, while Burrows was sitting 93-95 MPH recently in a spring start.
There are reasons that it might not be a bad idea to send them to a higher level. The Appalachian League is a higher offense league, while the ballpark in Morgantown is much more pitcher-friendly. You would also put more experienced fielders around them at the higher level. They will be facing better hitters, but in Bristol there’s always a chance that the high offense and worse fielding leads to shortened outings due to limited pitch counts.
It will be an interesting challenge, and one we might see more often in the future if it works out well this year.
A Look at Two Outfield Prospects
We are going to have a Morgantown preview later in the week, but there are two other names there of interest and need an explanation. The Pirates are sending 18-year-old outfielders Juan Pie and Angel Basabe to Morgantown to begin the season. Both players were expected to be in the GCL, with Bristol as a possibility, so this deserves an explanation.
The Morgantown season begins Friday and not one draft pick who is playing there has been signed yet (expect that to change tonight and tomorrow). So there are players going to the New York-Penn League for a short time until the draft picks start filling in the roster and are available to play. Most guys take a few days between signing and playing, possibly up to a week or more if their school season ended earlier.
Basabe and Pie were our top two prospects from the DSL Pirates last year. We actually mentioned a trio of outfielders who separated themselves from the pack. The third one was Daniel Rivero, who is headed to Bristol. The #4 prospect, Yoyner Fajardo, plus the #7 and #8 prospects on that top ten list, Emilson Rosado and Norkis Marcos, are also headed to Morgantown for a short time.
Morgantown is one of the few teams in the NYPL that broadcasts games online. With eight of the first ten games at home, it will give us an early look at two of the top outfield prospects who likely wouldn’t have been seen this season, unless they jumped to Morgantown at the end of the year to get in some extra games after the lower level seasons end. We will get some live looks and reports from the GCL, Bristol and Morgantown this season, but as far as online viewing, Pie, Basabe and some other players headed back to the GCL, wouldn’t have been seen this year under normal circumstances.
John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.
When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.