Pittsburgh Pirates Arizona Fall League Preview

For those of us who follow Minor League baseball and prospects, the Arizona Fall League is one of the most exciting parts of the year. In the 25 years that the Arizona Fall League has been in existence, more than 1,200 players that have competed have gone on to appear in at least one major league game, including names such as Jeter, Piazza, Pedroia, Pujols, and more recently Bryant, Harper, Acuna and Arenado. The league is loaded with talent and is a great place to look if you’re trying to find that future star who’ll be breaking out in a year or two.  The group sent by the Pirates is no exception.  With a couple of top 10 organizational talents, let’s see what future Pirates will be in Arizona this fall.

Cole Tucker – SS
#5 on Midseason Pirates Top 50

Tucker spent the entire 2018 season with Double-A Altoona, as one of the younger players in the league. Spending the first half of the season at 21 years old, Tucker got off to a slow start slashing only .232/.301/.307, while being caught stealing on 6 of his first 11 attempts through the end of May.  The last 3 months of the season were a different story for Tucker.  Tucker slashed .271/.349/.378 the rest of the way, hitting all 5 of his home runs and stealing 28 bases in 34 attempts. He definitely shows the kind of potential the Pirates are looking for.

Bryan Reynolds – OF
#6 on Midseason Pirates Top 50

Reynolds first season with the organization didn’t exactly get off to the start he hoped, after requiring hamate surgery just 4 games into the season. The injury would cost Reynolds the rest of April and almost all of May.  Upon making his return to the lineup, Reynolds produced like the centerpiece of the Andrew McCutchen trade should have.  In August, he truly hit his stride, slashing .342/.409/.470 with 3 HR and 12 RBI in 117 at-bats.  Reynolds spent half of his time in centerfield in 2018, but likely profiles as a top of the lineup left fielder, as his average and on-base percentage continue to rise.

Will Craig – 1B
#16 on Midseason Pirates Top 50

After slugging 37 home runs and slashing .347/.461/.623 in 3 seasons at Wake Forest, expectations were high for Craig in Pittsburgh. Craig has shown a willingness to take a walk, and hit for a solid avg in his 2 stops in Low A West Virginia and High-A Bradenton.  Everyone kept saying the power would come and did it ever in 2018. Craig more than doubled his career total with 20 home runs while slugging .448. He slugged below .375 each of his first 2 years.  The average and on-base percentage dropped off significantly though, so Craig still has some work to put everything together, but finding the power stroke was a good step forward.

Dario Agrazal – SP
#25 on Midseason Pirates Top 50

The only player on the 40-man roster to play in the AFL, Agrazal will pick up some valuable innings in Arizona after an injury shortened season for Altoona. A strained shoulder cost Agrazal all of June and more than half of July.  While on the mound, Agrazal showed that he could eventually be a back of the rotation option for Pittsburgh.  He posted 9 quality starts in his 16 opportunities and kept a very low BB/9 at 1.2.  Agrazal lacks a dominant out pitch, but he keeps the ball in the yard and the team in the game.  Had he stayed healthy all year, he likely would have seen time in Triple A and could be an option in Pittsburgh in the not too distant future.

Arden Pabst – C
Unranked on Midseason Pirates Top 50

Pabst, a 12th round pick in the 2016 draft, found himself in a tough situation this year. After being more or less classified as a glove first catcher, Pabst showed some more potential with the bat in his first taste of action at High-A Bradenton.  Slugging .515 while hitting 8 home runs and 22 extra base hits in 171 at bats, earned him a promotion to Double-A in July.  Playing time was tough to come by in Altoona though, as Pabst managed only 57 more at bats the rest of the way in a crowded situation.  The extra at bats against a higher level of competition will go a long way in seeing what the Pirates have in Pabst.

Geoff Hartlieb – RP
Unranked on Midseason Pirates Top 50

It’s not often you get much out of a 29th round pick, but it’s starting to look like the Pirates may have a solid contributor in Hartlieb.  The 6’6” righty has progressed nicely through the Pittsburgh system since being drafted in 2016.  Hartlieb brings a mid to high 90’s fastball, which produced an 8.6 K/9.  He will need to raise that number a bit and lower his 3.7 BB/9 if he wants to reach an elite level in the major leagues, but he appears to be not far away from being a major league contributor.

Matt Eckelman – RP
Unranked on Midseason Pirates top 50

Eckelman, another late round pick from the 2016 draft, has found his way to the back end of the bullpen. While the above-mentioned Geoff Hartlieb notched 10 saves in Double-A, it was actually Eckelman that led the Curve in saves with 11, all of which came after a June 27th promotion from High-A.  The Arizona Fall league will be a great test for Eckleman though, as his K/9 (8.2, only 6.2 in Double A) and BB/9 (4.3, but 5.5 in Double A) leave a bit to be desired.

Blake Weiman – RP
Unranked on Midseason Pirates top 50

Weiman saw time across 3 levels in 2018, moving quickly from West Virginia, through Bradenton to Altoona. Weiman has shown a bit more of the strikeout stuff thus far than Eckelman or Hartlieb, posting better than a 10 K/9 in each of his first 2 stops this past season.  He has done a great job of limiting walks, 1.2 BB/9, as well, leaving me most excited for Weiman.  Another big tall reliever, the 2017 8th round pick will get to throw some quality innings that may show just how quickly the Pirates can continue to move him up the ladder.


Featured image of Will Craig – via Jeffrey Hyde on Flickr (@jeffhyde on Twitter)

An absolute sports fanatic. Be it at the office or a family gathering, you can usually find me talking sports, especially baseball. When I am not at the office working for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania at a small bureau in the Dept. of Human Services, I love to golf, go to Baltimore to catch the O’s or Ravens and spend time with my amazing wife. Follow me on Twitter @RyanJames5.

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