<b>PITTSBURGH - </b> As the end of the minor league season approaches and the Sept. 1 start date for…
Pirates Minor League Notebook 8/23
Pittsburgh's hopes for outfielder J.J. Davis to make a splash have been dashed this season by a rash of injuries. He won't be back with the Pirates for a while again after injuring his left hip flexor Saturday while running sprints during a rehab assignment in Nashville. Davis is only 5-for-35 with a double and three RBI for the Bucs this season in what was supposed to be the breakout year for the sixth overall pick in the 1997 draft. Since he'll be 26 in October, he's out of options and his contract expires at season's end, it is unlikely the Pirates will waste a spot on the 40-man roster for him.
Nelson Figueroa was another in a string of prospects to make his Pirates season debut last week when he went six innings and allowed two runs and five hits in a no-decision. Chances are he'll also be in Milwaukee at the Sounds season's end to take a month-long tour with the Bucs.
A DATE ON THE RIVER
Carlos Rivera is finally showing signs of adjusting to pitching in the minors. The first baseman has plodded through the minors because of his outstanding defense, but after a slow start at the plate, he's batting .280 with 16 homers and 44 RBI. He should give Daryle Ward a run for the Pirates job next season.
Brad Eldred has only played 24 games since being recalled from Lynchburg, but the first baseman is making a bid to start next season in Nashville. After struggling in his first few games Eldred, who batted .310 with 21 homers and 77 RBI with the Hillcats, has exploded with a .278 average, 11 homers, 38 RBI and a monstrous .722 slugging percentage. As a 24-year-old taken out of college, he would have to be placed on the 40-man roster in the offseason if the Pirates plan to keep him.
Tom Evans has seen his way around the minor leagues, but the Sounds third baseman is really making an impact. He's batting a team-high .366 with two homers and 15 RBI in 19 games.
Yurendell DeCasater started at first base for the Netherlands in the Olympics, hit three homers and drove in six runs for the Dutch national team before they were eliminated.
Ian Snell had a rough major-league debut this week, but then again, he did have to throw against the St. Louis Cardinals. In his two innings of work, Snell was touched up for a home run by John Mabry, struck out two and walked three. He should be on the Pirates roster sometime in September after the Double-A playoffs end.
Rajai Davis set the Lynchburg record for single season stolen bases earlier this week, eclipsing the mark of 40 set by Nate McLouth last season. Statistics are only for Lynchburg's affiliation with the Pirates. Davis has 46 steals in 59 attempts, also a team record. His .315 average is also a Hillcats best.
Pitcher Tom Gorzelanny is still finding life difficult at the high Class A level. The 22-year-old lefty was 7-1 before being recalled from Hickory, but has struggled to a 2-4 mark with a 4.31 ERA.
Christian Herrera was tearing up the New York-Penn League with Williamsport, but has leveled off a bit with the Hillcats. In 15 games he's batting .245 with two RBI after hitting .282 in 25 games with the Crosscutters.
Gorzelanny may be gone, but the four pitchers he left behind in the Crawdads starting rotation have been outstanding. The foursome, Brian Holliday (7-7), Leo Nunez (8-4), Josh Shortslef (10-4) and Wardell Starling (10-7) have combined for a 35-22 record. Throw in Gorzelanny and that increases to 42-23.
Jon Benick has been among the top hitters in the South Atlantic League for most of the season, but he seems to be fading a bit as the playoffs approach. His average has dipped slightly to .310, ninth in the league, and he trails Ashville's Ian Stewart in the home run race, 29-27.
BLAIR WHICH PROJECT
Blair Johnson got a shot earlier this season with Hickory and was kicked out of town with a 1-4 record and a bloated 8.68 ERA. So far, though, he's handled things in Williamsport fairly well. The 20-year-old right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.62 ERA in 12 starts, including a complete game. Chances are, he'll be back with the Crawdads by the start of next season.
Right-hander Derek Hankins, the 292nd player taken in this year's draft and a product of the University of Memphis, is 5-2 with a 3.05 ERA in 11 starts with the Crosscutters. He has 42 strikeouts and only 11 walks in 65 innings. He has, however, allowed eight homers.
The Pirates have to be disappointed with first-round draft pick Neil Walker. The 12th player chosen this year and a Pine-Richland High School is only batting .247, but his power numbers have increased with a pair of recent homers to give him four on the season and he's driven in 19 runs. He has, however, played in 46 games.
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