The Pirates have a pretty special minor league system. This shouldn’t be news to anyone. They’ve graduated an elite prospect each of the past three seasons along with some very good ones, and traded away others. However, they’ve managed to keep their place amongst the best in baseball despite drafting later and not being able to dramatically outspend everyone. Sure, there are still some high price tag prospects kicking around the system, but they’ve also found some hidden gems or signed some solid internationals along the way.
While many don’t pay as much attention to minors, as the focus is rightfully so on the present in the organization, there are quite a few interesting names to follow down the farm, many of them are in the upper levels. Here are just a few who you might want to take a look at from time to time.
Max Moroff, 2B, AA
When the Pirates selected Moroff in the 16th round of the 2012 draft, he looked like the classic overslot prep pick we’d grown accustomed to the Pirates making. Problem is, the Pirates now had their draft pool capped by the league and only had so much to spend before incurring penalties that would cost them in future drafts. It came as a surprise to me that they managed to sign Moroff to a $300,000 bonus and got him into the system.
Moroff has had mixed results up to this point. He got off to a nice start in the GCL and then the skipped over the NY-Penn league entirely. He’s gone on hot streaks that would last about 40-50 plate appearances before fading out again. He caught my eye about 50 plate appearances into this season, but I postponed my excitement knowing he’s done this in the past. At 114 plate appearances, he hasn’t looked back.
Moroff is doing it all — drawing walks, showing gap power and hitting for average. He’s also cut down on his strikeouts. In his age-22 season, Moroff could be having the kind of breakout season in the upper levels that we’re still waiting for with Alen Hanson. He still has a lot to prove, but he’ll be the organization’s top middle infield prospect if he can keep it up until August.
Jason Creasy, RHP, AA
Overshadowed by his Altoona teammates and fellow overslot 2011 draft picks, Creasy is quietly showing the markings of an innings eater. He managed to average nearly six innings per start last year in Bradenton in a system that keeps close tabs on pitch counts and innings for its prospects. He hasn’t been quite as efficient so far in AA, but one month in he has a solid ERA. While the peripherals don’t always back that up, he’s not been hit hard either.
Zack Dodson, LHP, AA
Remember this guy?
One of the 2009 overslot prep arms that made a lot of baseball nerds start to notice that something is different in the Pirates organization, Dodson (like seven figure recipients Zach Von Rosenberg and the since-traded Colton Cain) had largely been given up on as a bust by fans. Still, Dodson lingered and was the only one of the group to reach AA prior to 2014.
While the peripherals suggest the regression monster is lurking in the shadows waiting to drag him back into organizational player purgatory, a couple of things are notable about his early season success. First, his control has been excellent. While never as wild as some of his other 2009 draft classmates, Dodson is hovering a little over one BB/9 even if he’s striking out just over two. He also allowed only one homerun over his first 29 innings. He’s giving away fewer free passes and minimizing the long ball, all while in a home ball park that should in theory be hell for left handed pitchers.
In a crowded system, it’s note worthy that he’s still getting starts. The Pirates evidently haven’t given up on him and while it’s a long shot that he figures things out to where he becomes a starter in the majors, he has reemerged as a long relief or situational guy.
Jin-de Jhang, C, A+
Jin-de’s short season hot starts sent Pirates fans into a fever pitch over his upside. His first two seasons managed to hide slow second halves. In as aggressive a move as the Pirates have made with a field prospect, the Pirates pushed him to A+ to make plenty of room for Reese McGuire in Charleston. Jin-de, as one would imagine, struggled badly. Here is a crayon depiction of how Pirates fans have reacted to him over his minor league career:
While there was probably considerable overreaction to him early, his being completely ignored feels a mirror image of irrationality. Despite the aggressive push and the weak all around numbers, he didn’t appear overmatched in A+ posting a K rate of around 15%. That has dropped to an outstanding 5% this year while his walk rate has rebounded. We still have not seen the HR stroke return that he flashed in his first month in Jamestown, but five of his first thirty 2015 hits were doubles, putting him almost a third of the way to his 2014 extra base productivity in one month.
Frank Duncan, RHP, A+
Duncan is on this list more for what he represents than what he’s done. The Pirates have pushed a handful of college pitchers to A+ the year after they were drafted and all of those players have produced at the upper levels. Justin Wilson didn’t make it as a starter, but he’s pitched decently in both the Pirates and Yankees bullpens. While Brandon Cumpton debuted in West Virginia, he moved to Bradenton mid year despite showing very little early in the season. Adrian Sampson went from struggling in an aggressive promotion in his first full season to competing with Casey Sadler for the honor of next man up in the Pirates rotation with Cumpton and now Nick Kingham both on the shelf with elbow injuries. Finally, Chad Kuhl has made a smooth transition to AA and is actually off to a stronger start in the Eastern League.
Duncan is a bit older than each of these pitchers, but there is no one forcing the Pirates to push the Duncan the way they have others in the past. Maybe I’m reading this situation incorrectly, but I take it as a vote of confidence.
John Sever, LHP, A
We at TPOP have at least been mildly hip to John Sever since his gaudy Appy League strikeout numbers and ERA caught Kevin and Mike’s eye over the summer. Now I’m also beginning to get it. Pitching in a more age appropriate environment, Sever has continued to attack hitters and that double digit K rate hasn’t gone anywhere against tougher competition. His walk rate has also gone down even if his ERA and FIP have increased due to issues with the home run. Still, he’s looking like a dark horse starting pitching candidate with solid all around upside who could also slot nicely into the back end of the bullpen.