In Part 1 of my original Bucs Dugout article series title “Pittsburgh Pirates Fans—Greensboro Grasshoppers MiLB Road Trip,” I outlined a plan for Pirates and Grasshoppers fans to see a number of the Pittsburgh’s MLB Top 30 Prospects in action on the field by attending a series of games in North Carolina. The Greensboro Grasshoppers, who are the Pittsburgh Pirates new full-season single A team, are playing their first season at First National Bank Field in Greensboro, NC. Moreover, their rookie class team in the Appalachian League, the Bristol Pirates, and triple-A team in the International League, the Indianapolis Indians, travel to Burlington, NC and Durham, NC, respectively, to play away games against the Burlington Royals and Durham Bulls.
I have been doing the Pittsburgh Pirates Fans—Greensboro Grasshoppers MiLB Road Trip and documenting those Minor League baseball travels on Bucs Dugout. Recently, articles have been posted highlighting my stops at Burlington Athletic Stadium for Bristol Pirates games versus the Burlington Royals and at First National Bank Field for Grasshoppers home games against the Asheville Tourists.
Pittsburgh Pirates Fans—Greensboro Grasshoppers MiLB Road Trip: Part 1 The Travel Plan identified that the Indianapolis Indians traveled to Durham, NC for a three game series against the Bulls on August 9th through August 11th. Entering that series, the Indians record was 57 wins and 58 losses and they were in second place in the West Division standings. I attended game one of the series on Friday, August 9th. This final article reviews my stop at Durham Bulls Athletic Park for that Indianapolis Indians game versus the Durham Bulls.
Indianapolis Indians—Pittsburgh Pirates MLB Top 30 Prospects/Team Offense Leaders
On the date of game 1 of the series, seven players that were ranked as MLB Top 30 Prospects of the Pittsburgh Pirates were members of the Indianapolis Indians roster. The table above identifies each of those players. Note that the list includes three pitchers and four field players. Also, four of them rank in the Pirates’ top 10: right hand pitcher Mitch Keller (#1 prospect), third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes (#2), second baseman Kevin Kramer (#9), and first baseman Will Craig (#10).
A number of those top prospects have already played at the Major League level. For example, number one prospect Mitch Keller, who signed with Pittsburgh after being selected by them out of high school in the second round of the 2014 First Year Player Draft, worked his way up through the classes of their Minor League system and made his MLB debut on May 27, 2019.
Keller has been the leader of the 2019 Indianapolis Indians starting rotation and so far this season has posted a 7 win, 5 loss record in nineteen starts. Entering the series with Durham, he ranked number one among all qualifying players on the Indians pitching staff in wins, win-loss percentage, strikeouts, earned run average, and walks plus hits per innings pitched.
Two other members of the Pittsburgh Pirates top 30 list, first baseman Will Craig (#15) and second baseman Kevin Kramer (#9), are leaders of Indianapolis’ offense. Craig, who played college ball at Wake Forrest University, was selected and signed by Pittsburgh with their first round pick in the 2016 draft. He is having an exceptional season at the plate and entered the series ranking number one among all Indians’ players in five of the thirteen traditional batting statistic categories listed on the team’s website: runs scored, hits, home runs, runs batted in, and total bases.
Kevin Kramer is another former college player (University of California) and high round draft pick (2nd round, 2015) of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Kramer most frequently plays second base for the Indians, but has taken the field in five other positions this season as well as designated hitter. He currently leads the team in double and bases on balls. Kramer made his Major League debut in the Pittsburgh Pirates uniform on September 5, 2018.
For the game I attended, Kevin Kramer and Will Craig were both in the Indians starting lineup. Kramer played second base and hit in the number three slot in the batting order, while Craig played right and batted cleanup.
Durham Bulls—Tampa Bay Rays MLB Top 30 Prospects/Team Offense Leaders
Five member of the Durham Bulls’ current roster are ranked as Tampa Bay Rays MLB Top 30 Prospects. Those players are identified in the table above. Note that there are three pitchers and two field players and that first baseman Nate Lowe is the highest ranked prospect on the team—number eight. Four of them, Anthony Banda, Peter Fairbanks, Jose De Leon, and Nate Lowe, have already played in the majors.
The Rays number twenty three prospect, righthander Jose De Leon was the Bulls starting pitcher in the game I attended. De Leon was signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2013 First Year Player Draft; made his Major League debut with the Dodgers in 2016; and was obtained by the Tampa Bay Rays via a 2016 offseason trade. Even though he has appeared in games at the Major League level with both the Dodgers and Rays, he still meets the requirements of a rookie. De Leon also played for the Bulls in 2017, but missed the full 2018 season due to Tommy John surgery.
In fact, Nate Lowe just returned to the Bulls on August 1st after a stint with the TB Rays. He is a former Mississippi State University baseball player and was selected/signed by the Tampa Bay Rays through the June 2016 First Year Player Draft. Lowe was promoted to the Durham Bulls in early August of 2018 and returned to be their 2019 opening day starting first baseman and number three hitter. He got the call from the Rays in late April and made his Major League debut on April 29, 2019 in an away game versus the Kansas City Royals. Lowe started at first and hit third in Durham’s lineup for the game.
Another of the Rays MLB Top 30 Prospects, shortstop Jake Cronenworth (#18 prospect), currently is the leader of the Durham Bulls offense. He is also a former college baseball player (University of Michigan). Cronenworth was selected and signed by Tampa Bay in the June 2015 draft. Two thousand nineteen is the fifth season of his pro baseball career and the second during which he played for the Durham Bulls. Entering the series with the Indians, Cronenworth ranked number one on the Bulls in six traditional offense statistic categories: R, SB, AVE, OBP, SLG, and OPS. However, on the date of the game, he was on the injured list and not available to play.
Second baseman Kean Wong is also a Durham Bulls offense leader. Wong was drafted and signed by the Rays out of high school in the June 2013 draft. Two thousand nineteen is his second season playing at the triple A class in Durham. Wong has also played multiple positions for the Bulls, second base, third base, left field, and right field. Moreover, he is a table-setter in their lineup and typically hits in the leadoff or number two slot in their batting order. Entering the series, Wong ranked number one on the team in hits, doubles, triples, and total bases.
In this game, the Durham Bulls quickly broke out to a large lead. In the bottom of the second inning, they batted around and scored seven runs. In fact, the first eight batters in the innings reached base, before Indians pitching retired a batter. Numbers four through six hitters, Kevin Padlo (3B), Rocky Gale (DH), and Dalton Kelly (LF) all singled and Padlo scored run 1 on Kelly’s hit. Next, right fielder Jason Coats singled to load the bases and then number nine hitter, catcher Max James walked to force in Gale with run 2.
The Durham Bulls lineup turned over bringing their leadoff batter Emilio Bonifacio to the plate. He singled to drive in Kelly and Coats with runs 3 and 4. The next hitter, second baseman Kean Wong, put the final touches on Durham’s rally. He hit the first pitch delivered to him over the center field wall for a 3 run homer to put the Bulls up 7-0 after just two innings of play.
The Indianapolis Indians staged several rallies in an attempt to come back from that deficit. In the top of the fourth inning, leadoff batter, shortstop Cole Tucker became the Indians first base runner in the game when he doubled. But then, number two hitter and Pirates number two prospect, Ke’Bryan Hayes homered to make the score 7-2. In the fifth, Indianapolis’ number seven hitter Hunter Owen (1B) led off and reached first when hit by a pitch. Then, left fielder JB Shuck doubled to put runners on second and third. Owen crossed the plate on a 1-4 ground out to close the score to 7-3.
However, that was as close as the Indians ever got to catching the Bulls. Durham scored two insurance runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to extend their lead to 9-3. In that inning, Kean Wong reached first on a leadoff walk and came home on an RBI double by Nate Lowe.
In the top of the ninth inning, Indianapolis Indians got solo home runs from cleanup hitter Trayvon Robinson and Hunter Owen, but then the game was closed out by Bulls’ reliever Luis Santos for a Durham 9-5 victory. The Bulls’ starter Jose De Leon pitched five complete innings of 3 hit, 3 run ball, while walking one and striking out six Indianapolis batters. De Leon got the win to make his record 2 wins, 1 loss.
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.