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Cannonballs coming: Some Indianapolis thoughts

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Before I move on to the minor league summaries, I had some thoughts about Indianapolis, both generally about the hitters and specifically about a couple of the pitchers.

Indy Hitters not with the Program

The Pirates have gotten some attention for their recent emphasis on line-drive, contact-oriented hitting.  It's evident in the majors, as we've all discussed here, and with the 2015 draftees, especially Kevin Newman and Ke'Bryan Hayes.  Indianapolis is another story.  Not only are the Indians near the bottom of the International League in most offensive categories, they're one of three teams striking out far more than the others.  The only hitter who seems to have caught on to what the Pirates are looking for is Adam Frazier, currently hitting 308/384/383 with 15 walks and 18 strikeouts.

The rest of the offense is, at best, concerning.  Since the end of April, Josh Bell has stopped hitting.  Overall, he's down to 274/377/415, which are not the AAA numbers of a future starting first baseman.  Even worse, his strikeout rate has increased sharply.  Last year, Bell struck out in only 11% of his plate appearances between AA and AAA, with a slightly lower rate in AAA.  This year he's whiffing in 21%.  Max Moroff's problems have been even more alarming, as he's fanned in 31% of his plate appearances, 38% of his at-bats.  Willy Garcia has struck out in 30% of his plate appearances.  That's nothing new for him, but on top of that his power has disappeared.  Gift Ngoepe has fanned in an astronomical 41% of his plate appearances, making Pedro Florimon suddenly look like the better candidate to serve as shortstop depth.  Alen Hanson's plate discipline has always been an issue, but it's gotten worse, as he's fanning in 23% of his plate appearances and walking in only 3%.  Jacob Stallings is striking out 24% of the time.  Even Jason Rogers has seen an increase, from 16% at the AAA level previously in his career to 22% this year.

One other minor note:  The Indians are making outs on the bases at a prodigious rate.  They're third in the league in steals, with 35, but they've been caught 33 times, twice as many as any other team.

Jameson Taillon

Pirates Prospects has an excellent article (sub. req'd) up about how the Pirates are managing Taillon's workload.  The short version is that they're looking at pitch counts and not innings.  More specifically, they're looking at pitches thrown under stress, although the Pirates naturally won't say how they measure stress.  There's a lot more, including the fact that Taillon himself isn't at all concerned about Super Two.  If nothing else, the article makes clear that the Pirates have more to worry about than Taillon's AAA stats.  It should be obvious from Matt Harvey's problems this year that the question of Taillon's promotion is much more complicated than the standard internet "reasoning," which basically goes, "Niese/Locke/Nicasio bad, Taillon good, make move now.  Hodor, Hodor."

Of course, I'm still inclined to think they should either bring Taillon up very soon or move on to Plan B.  Oh, but wait, there is no Plan B.  That's what really bugs me.  Taillon and Chad Kuhl are doing as well as anybody could possibly have expected, and Tyler Glasnow is doing about as well as they should have expected.  So if the team doesn't want to bring any of them up now, it necessarily follows that they knew darn well throughout the off-season that bringing the prospects up early couldn't serve as Plan B for the rotation.  Since they chose to start the season with an extreme, high-risk, low-upside rotation, it was incumbent on them to have a Plan B.  So when they say it's too soon to bring up the prospects, my response is, "OK then, what is Plan B, because the current rotation sucks."  But there isn't one.

Chad Kuhl

Pirates Prospects has another good article (again, sub. req'd) on Glasnow, Taillon and Kuhl.  What struck me most was one of Indianapolis manager Dean Treanor's comments about Kuhl.  He said hitters can't get comfortable against Kuhl because he works inside so well, better than Glasnow or Taillon.  This is nothing new.  In 2014, when he was in the Florida State League, Kuhl came close to leading the minors in hit batsmen.  At the risk of sounding like Kirk Gibson, I think that's a good thing.  Not because he was hitting guys, but because he obviously knows what he needs to do.  The results of the last couple years show he's doing it successfully.  I may have to rethink my notion that his future should be in the bullpen.  There have been very effective major league pitchers who got by almost entirely on fastballs because they were able to locate and, in particular, to throw in.  Chris Young, when healthy, has been one.  Another is Bartolo Colon, and he's hundreds of years older than Kuhl with much less velocity.  (On the other hand, of recent Pirate pitchers, the one whose repertoire most closely resembled Kuhl's arguably was Matt Capps.  But Capps was horrible as a starter in the low minors.)

Now on to the game summaries.  West Virginia and Mitch Keller were rained out.

-- Indianapolis (21-19) beat Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, 5-1.  S/W-B's lineup features some interesting names:  Nick Swisher, Deibinson Romero (batting .128), Pete Kozma, Chris Parmelee, and token prospect Aaron Judge.  Dave Littlefield would have killed for a AAA lineup like that.  (Come to think of it, he'd probably have killed for a major league lineup like that.)  Anyway, Kyle Lobstein made his first start for the Indians.  He was probably on a low pitch count, as he came out after four innings and 57 pitches.  He allowed no runs on two hits, with one strikeout.  Josh Bell went 3-4 with a double and his fourth HR.  (The stats up above were pre-game.)  Pedro Florimon was 2-4 with a bases-loaded triple.  Others:

Alen Hanson:  0-4, 2 K
Adam Frazier:  1-4
Jason Rogers:  1-4
Willy Garcia:  0-2, BB
Max Moroff:  0-2, BB
Gift Ngoepe:  0-3, 2 K

-- Altoona (23-18) blanked Portland, 8-0.  The Curve benefited from ten walks and blew the game open in a six-run eighth inning that included one hit, five walks, a hit batsman and an error.  With David Whitehead starting, the game could have been a walkathon of epic proportions, but Whithead managed to get through five innings with only three walks, all of them in the second inning.  He gave up two hits and struck out one, but he still threw only 41 of 77 pitches for strikes.  Harold Ramirez raised his average to .292, going 2-4 with a double and a walk.  Barrett Barnes was 2-3 with a double and three RBIs.  Others:

Austin Meadows:  0-4, BB
Dovydas Neverauskas:  2 IP, 1 BB, 2 K (last 11 games:  15.2 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 4 BB, 17 K)

-- Bradenton (21-19) beat Dunedin in ten innings, 5-4, on a walkoff wild pitch.  Stephen Tarpley lasted only four innings, giving up a pair of two-run HRs.  He allowed four hits and three walks overall, with six strikeouts.  Tarpley threw 44 of 78 pitches for strikes.  The Marauders battled back from a 4-0 deficit to tie the game, before a wild pitch with two out and the bases loaded in the tenth ended it.  Kevin Newman reached base four times, going 2-3 with a double and two walks.  His OBP is now .427.  Tate Scioneaux, Nick Neumann and Luis Heredia combined for six scoreless innings in relief.  Others:

Kevin Kramer:  2-4
Jordan Luplow:  1-5
Connor Joe:  2-5, 2B
Scioneaux:  2 IP, 2 K (since promotion, 0.87 ERA, 0.58 WHIP, 10.5 K/9)
Heredia:  IP, K (on season, 0.46 ERA, 0.76 WHIP)