Games 1 and 2: Bristol Pirates versus Burlington Royals at Burlington Athletic Stadium July 24, 2019
In my earlier Pittsburgh Pirates Fans—Greensboro Grasshoppers MiLB Road Trip (link to Part 1) article on BUCS Dugout, I suggested that fans of the Pirates and Grasshoppers have the opportunity to see an away game of Pittsburgh’s rookie class team in the Appalachian League, the Bristol Pirates (BRS), or their triple A team the Indianapolis Indians (International League) when they play away games in North Carolina. Through those games, fans would have the opportunity to see a number of other Pittsburgh Pirates top prospects in action on the field.
As identified in that blog post, the Bristol Pirates traveled to Burlington, North Carolina for a three game series on July 23rd through July 25th. The Pirates are a member of the West Division of the Appalachian League and entering that series were tied for third place in the division standing with a 15 win, 17 loss record. Originally, I planned to attend game one of the series, but that game was rained out. Instead, I attended games one and two which were played as a day-time double header on Wednesday July 24th.
Bristol Pirates—Pittsburgh Pirates MLB Top 30 Prospects/Team Offense Leaders
At that point in time, two players that are ranked as Pittsburgh Pirates 2019 MLB Top 30 Prospects were members of Bristol’s roster. They are number sixteen prospect Tahnaj Thomas (RHP) and number twenty one prospect Santiago Florez (RHP). Both Thomas and Florez were members of the Pirates opening day starting rotation.
Currently two players are the key leaders of the Bristol Pirates offense. They are infielders Francisco Acuna and Aaron Shackelford. Pittsburgh signed Francisco Acuna, who is an International player from Columbia, as a free agent in July 2016. At the age of 19 years old, he is playing his third season of pro ball in the Pirates Minor League organization. Acuna is identified as a second baseman on the Bristol Pirates website, but has most frequently started at shortstop. Recently, he is hitting in the middle of their lineup. On the date of game one of the series in Burlington, he ranked number one among all qualifying players on the team in five of the thirteen traditional offense statistic categories listed on the B-Pirates official website: doubles, stolen bases, batting average, slugging percentage, and on-base plus slugging percentage.
Aaron Shackelford played college ball at The Master’s College (Santa Clarita, CA) prior to entering the 2019 First Year Player Draft. After being selected and signed by Pittsburgh, he was assigned to the roster of the Bristol Pirates for the start of his professional baseball career.
Shackelford is listed as a shortstop, but has normally started at third base for Bristol. Typically he hits in the cleanup slot in their batting order. Entering the series with Burlington, he ranked number one on the team in four offense stats: runs, hits, home runs, and total bases.
Burlington Royals—Kansas City Royals MLB Top 30 Prospects/Team Offense Leaders
Attending a Bristol Pirates away game versus the Burlington Royals also gives fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Greensboro Grasshoppers the opportunity to see a few of the KC Royals top prospects that are currently playing at Burlington. Entering the series, two B-Royals players ranked number one on the team in most of the thirteen traditional offense stats listed on the team’s website.
The teams cleanup hitter, first baseman Vinnie Pasquantino, ranked number one or tied for number one in five stat categories: runs, doubles, home runs (tied with one other player), runs batted in, and total bases. Pasquantino, who played college ball at Old Dominion University, was selected and signed by Kansas City in the June 2019 First Year Player Draft. Therefore, this season with Burlington is the first of his professional baseball career.
The other team offense leader, catcher/first baseman Logan Porter, is another middle of the order power hitter. Porter, also a former college player (Dixie State College), was signed by KC in 2018 and is playing his second season in their Minor League system. He ranked number one (or tied for #1) among all qualifying players in six stats: HR (tied with Vinnie Pasquantino), BB, AVE, OBP, SLG, and OPS.
Game 1 Highlights
The Bristol Pirates starting pitcher, Dante Mendoza, had a rough outing in this game. In the bottom of the first, he walked the first three Burlington batters he faced, Maikel Garcia (SS), Michael Massey (2B), and Jake Means (3B), to load the bases. After striking out their cleanup hitter, he hit number five hitter, first baseman Logan Porter with a pitch to force in run one of the innings; then walked the next batter William Hancock (C) to score run two; and hit number seven hitter, left fielder David Hollie with a pitch to force in another run. The B-Royals had broken out to a 3-0 lead without getting a hit.
But the Royals were not yet done. The next batter, number eight hitter Burle Dixon (CF) got Burlington’s first hit an infield single that knocked in Porter with run four. Then a fifth run crossed the plate on a 1-3 ground out. The B-Royals had built a 5-0 lead without hitting a ball out of the infield.
That was the end of Mendoza’s day. He was replaced by reliever Alex Roth, who entered the game as Burlington’s leadoff batter Maikel Garcia came to the plate for the second time in the inning. Garcia promptly singled to right to drive in Hollie and Dixon. That hit marked the end of the B-Royals rally, but they had taken a 7-0 lead at the end of one inning of play on just 2 hits.
The Bristol Pirates attempted to rally back in the top of the second inning. Cleanup hitter Aaron Shackelford (DH) led off and reached first on an E4. With one down, number six hitter, first baseman Ernny Ordonez doubled to drive Shackelford in with the Pirates first run. Later in the inning, number eight hitter, catcher Eli Wilson, hit a two out single to drive in Ordonez with run two. That made the score Royals 7, Pirates 2.
But that is as close as the Bristol Pirates got to Burlington. In the bottom of the fourth, the Royals scored two insurance runs to increase their lead to 9-2. The Burlington Royals won the seven inning game by that score. Their starting pitcher right hander Noah Murdock threw four innings of four hit, two run (both unearned) ball. But lefty reliever, Drew Parrish, who threw three perfect innings while striking out four of the nine batters he faced to close out the game, got the win.
Game 2 Highlights
In game two, the Bristol Pirates opened up an early lead. With one out in the top of the first, the Pirates number two and three hitters, third baseman Matt Morrow and designated hitter Fernando Villegas, singled to put runners on first and second base. That brought cleanup hitter Aaron Shackelford (2B) to the plate. He lined a one ball no strike pitch over the right field wall for his team leading fourth home run of the season. That put the Pirates up 3 runs to 0 before the B-Royals came to bat.
Bristol scored a solo run in the top of 4th to extend their lead to 4-0. Francisco Acuna, who played short and hit in the number 7 slot in game 2, led off with a single; stole second base, and came home on an RBI single by number eight hitter Jean Eusebio (LF).
Meanwhile, the Pirates starting pitcher, right hander Adrian Florencio held Burlington’s offense scoreless through four innings. Florencio came out to start the firth and gave up a single to the Royals leadoff batter. However, after retiring the second batter he faced in that inning, he was replaced by righty reliever Yordi Rosario, who got the next two batters out to retire the side.
Entering the bottom of the 6th inning of the seven inning game, the Bristol Pirates held a 4-0 lead over Burlington. However, from that point forward their relief corps let that lead slip away. In that inning, the B-Royals scored three runs to close the gap to 4-3. The first run crossed the plate on a double by Kevon Jackson (CF), the second on an RBI single by third baseman Rafael Romero, and the third on leadoff batter, left fielder Jay Charleston’s triple.
In the bottom of the seventh, the B-Royals played small ball to push across a solo run; tied the score at 4-all, and send the game to extra innings. Michal Massey led off and walked. Then, cleanup hitter Vinnie Pasquantino and number five hitter Jake Means each reached base on bunt singles. That brought number six hitter Mikey Filia to the plate with the base loaded. Filia hit a sacrifice fly to left that brought Massey home with the game tying run.
With the game tied 4-all at the end of seven innings, Minor League Baseball’s new pace-of-play rules came into play. That called for the batter that made the last out in the last regulation inning (in this case the seventh) to be placed on second base prior to the normal batter that was to lead off comes to the plate. This was a new first for me.
In the top of the eight, the Bristol Pirates number two hitter Matt Morrow was placed on second base; the middle of their batting order was due up; but they failed to drive him in with the go ahead run. On the other hand, in the bottom of that inning the runner on second was B-Royals number eight hitter Kevon Jackson. Number nine batter Rafael Romero led off and successfully advance Jackson to third with a sacrifice bunt. That brought the Royals leadoff hitter Jay Charleston to the plate. He hit a no ball, two strike pitch into left for a single that drove in Jackson for a Burlington 5-4 walk-off win.
This double header gave me an opportunity to see both of the Bristol Pirates team offense leaders and a number of their pitchers in action on the field. In fact, sixteen different field players were in the starting lineups and seven pitchers took the mound. Among the B-Pirates field players, one that stood out was Fernando Villegas. He started in both games; hit in the number three in their batting order, and had hits in each game. In game one, Villegas has a double in three trips to the plate, while in game 2 he went one for four with a single and scored a run.
Villegas is an International player from Mexico that was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates as a free agent in 2018. Earlier in the season he was on the Greensboro Grasshoppers roster, but did not appear in any games for them. Instead, he was sent down to the rookie class to rehab from an injury. Grasshoppers fans should keep an eye out for Fernando Villegas. It’s possible that he will return to the full-season a class as the season progress to play in the outfield at Greensboro.
Walter Triebel spent 15 years as an adjunct faculty member at Fairleigh Dickinson University. He has had an extensive career in business and as a textbook and reference book author. Triebel’s “Road-Tripping the South Atlantic League: A Guide to the Teams, Ballparks and Cities” was published by McFarland in 2016. It’s available for purchase on their website as well as Amazon.