The Pittsburgh Pirates will be sending seven of their youngsters to the Arizona Fall League to compete as members of the Glendale Desert Dogs. Who has the most to gain from playing in the desert this fall?

When most Pittsburgh Pirates fans think of baseball in the fall, they think back to playoff games  in the cool, brisk autumn temperatures.

But there is a different brand of baseball that also starts up in the fall. It is the Arizona Fall League, where teams send some of their more promising young players to gain invaluable experience.  The league is held in high regard due to the quality of prospects that participate.

For the 2017 league, The Pittsburgh Pirates have decided to send seven prospects to serve members of the Glendale Desert Dogs this year. The Desert Dogs will be made up of players not only from the Pirates, but also the Philadelphia Phillies, Los Angeles Dodgers, Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox.

The seven players that will be heading out west from the Pittsburgh Pirates organization are and where they rank among the team’s top prospects are:

Pitchers –  JT Brubaker, Taylor Hearn (12), Mitch Keller (2), Brandon Waddell (24)

Infielders – Kevin Kramer (10), Cole Tucker (5)

Outfielders – Logan Hill

Out of these seven players, who has the most to gain from the added experience with Glendale?

Mitch Keller

Keller, as the Pittsburgh Pirates’ second best prospect, certainly has caught the attention of many. So far this season he has pitched across three different levels (A-, A+, AA) and has compiled a record of 7-5 and an ERA of 3.19. Since joining the Altoona Curve, Kellers has continued to excel. He has posted a 10.7 K/9 at the AA level and has a HR/9 of .6, surrendering just two over 28.2 innings. The number two prospect in the organization has shown why he is ranked so highly, and the AFL will give him exposure to a variety of hitters from multiple organizations. This exposure should help him prepare for an eventual call up to the Pirates. The Pirates are well aware of what they can gain an extra year of service time by keeping Keller down until the Super Two deadline passes, so he more than likely will not make it to Pittsburgh until some time in June at the earliest.

Brandon Waddell

Another pitcher who could find himself in Pittsburgh sooner rather than later is Waddell. Like Keller, Waddell has pitched across three different levels in the organization (Rookie, A-, AA) and has been successful at each stop this year. The lefty has done a tremendous job of limiting the number of home runs he serves up, averaging .4 per nine innings this year. He has been walking 3.7 hitters per nine innings this year, which is certainly not awful but it is one facet of his game that he could improve on while with the Desert Dogs this fall. It will come as no surprise if he is a member of the Indianapolis rotation to start the 2018 season, especially if he performs well in the AFL.

Taylor Hearn

Hearn came over with Felipe Rivero in the deal that sent Mark Melancon to Washington last season. With how Hearn has pitched so far this season, that deal is looking more and more like an absolute steal for the Pittsburgh Pirates. While his ERA of 4.12 is not ideal, he is still young and a few years away from being close to big league ready. However, he has struck out 106 hitters in 87.1 innings of work this year, so the potential is definitely there. The exposure that he’ll get in the AFL will grant him an opportunity to work on is control (he has 37 walks in those 87.1 innings).

Kevin Kramer

So far this year with Altoona, Kramer has shown the best home run power of his young professional career, slugging six in 202 at-bats compared to four in 444 at-bats last year and none in 2015. Kramer experienced a broken hand back in June, in those types of injuries can have a huge affect on a player’s ability to hit, especially for power. So the AFL will be a great opportunity for Kramer to continue to work back from the injury. The Pirates have many talented middle infielders in their system (including fellow Desert Dog Cole Tucker), so Kramer can also use this experience as a way to move further up the prospect ladder for the Pirates.

The MLB Network airs games from the Arizona Fall League, so if you subscribe to that channel make sure you check the schedule to see if your Pittsburgh Pirates / Desert Dogs are on TV. It’s a great opportunity to see some of the rising prospects of the team play in a different environment.

Ethan Obstarczyk

Ethan is a lifelong Pirates fan who resides in the east end of Pittsburgh. When not talking about, writing about or watching baseball, he also enjoys watching football and hockey along with movies and listening to some of his favorite bands. He can also be found on Instagram (ethanobstarczyk) and Untappd (Ethan_O).