The 2018 Arizona Fall League season came to a close last month and officially sent seven members of the Pirates developmental system into their off-seasons. What made this group different than past AFL campaigns was each player finished the 2018 season with the Curve. Cole Tucker, Will Craig, Bryan Reynolds, Geoff Hartlieb, Blake Weiman, Dario Agrazal and Matt Eckelman represented the Pirates in Arizona and were members of the Surprise Saguaros roster, which also featured prospects from the Royals, Cardinals, Rangers and Blue Jays (including Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and 2018 Eastern League MVP Cavan Biggio) systems.
Regardless of level from the previous season, the Arizona Fall League assembles baseball’s best prospects for a six-week campaign to showcase the next stars of the game.
Cole Tucker rode a hot four-game stretch during the Eastern League playoffs to a strong showing in his home state during the Arizona Fall League. Tucker went hitless in just three games in which he had a plate appearance and piled up 11 multi-hit performances, including a four-hit game in late October. His .370 average finished third among all Fall League batters and his 30 total hits were only betterd by AFL MVP Keston Hiura of the Brewers (31 hits). Another encouraging number for the Pirates’ No. 5 prospect was a healthy spike in walks that pushed his on-base percentage to .442, fourth-best in the AFL.
Along with participating in the AFL Rising Stars Game (where he went 1-for-2) and being selected as the shortstop on the All-Arizona Fall League Team, the Phoenix native garnered the Stenson Sportsmanship Award. Tucker was the first Pirates minor leaguer to receive the honor. After fulfilling a dream of playing in the Fall League, Tucker was added to Pittsburgh’s 40-man roster and toured Europe with his older brother, Quinn, after AFL play concluded.
Will Craig continued his 2018 power surge in the desert with monthly numbers that Curve fans were accustomed to watching him post. After a 20-homer season in Curve brick and bronze, his six home runs in the Fall League matched the Mets’ Peter Alonso and Braxton Davidson of the Braves for the most on the circuit. The Wake Forest product recorded 14 of his 18 RBIs during a nine-game hitting streak at the end of the season. Craig finished with an encouraging .304 average and also whittled down his strikeout rate from 4.29 TPA/SO from the regular season in Altoona to 5.00 TPA/SO during the Fall League. Pittsburgh’s No. 16 prospect was selected as the DH on the All-Arizona Fall League Team.
Bryan Reynolds reported to Arizona to make up for some lost time during the regular season when he missed most of April and May due to a fractured hamate. He stumbled out of the gate and hit .094 over his first 10 games but hit .281 over his final eight appearances in the Fall League to bump his average to .188. In his first season in the Pirates system after the Andrew McCutchen trade, Reynolds batted .302 in Altoona in 2018 and is Pittsburgh’s No. 8 prospect.
From a pitching standpoint, Blake Weiman had an impressive showing for Surprise. He led the Pittsburgh pitching representatives with a 3.95 ERA over eight appearances. Weiman was touched up for two runs in his AFL debut but bounced back with five straight scoreless outings. In his last two games, his ERA jumped from 0.82 to 3.95 with five earned runs surrendered. He joined Tucker on the AFL West club in the Fall Stars Game and was charged with one run in two-thirds of an inning. The former Kansas Jayhawk was an eighth-round draft choice in 2017 and spent most of the year with the Class-A West Virginia and A-Adv. Bradenton before he reached Double-A Altoona in late August. The southpaw was the first member of the Pirates’ 2017 draft class to reach Altoona.
Hard-throwing righty Geoff Hartlieb experienced some setbacks from a numbers standpoint while his velocity drew plenty of excitement. Hartlieb had a solid season with the Curve in 2018 but had more multi-run outings than shutout appearances. His best game was a four-strikeout, two-inning outing in which he hit a batter, walked one and allowed one hit. Over 10 games with Surprise, Hartlieb held a 6.59 ERA with one loss and one save. It was reported by Pirates Prospects that Hartlieb touched triple digits on the fastball while sitting upper-90s most of the fall.
Matt Eckelman’s late-season troubles with the long ball resurfaced during his stint in the Fall League. The Pirates organization saves leader in 2018 did not allow a home run through his first 22 games at Double-A until his last regular-season appearance in Bowie on September 2 just moments before he secured the final out of a division-clinching victory. During his next outing in the EL playoffs, Eckelman allowed a walk-off, solo homer to Akron’s Nellie Rodriguez in the tenth inning of Game Two of the ELDS. The Saint Louis University product gave up four homers during the Fall League, the most in the league, and carried a hefty 13.00 ERA with 11 walks to just three strikeouts.
Dario Agrazal allowed five runs over five innings in his lone outing of the AFL. His campaign was cut short due to a back injury. Pittsburgh’s No. 26 prospect also missed time in 2018 with a strain in his throwing shoulder and missed the last two months of the 2017 season due to a pectoral strain.
Arden Pabst was invited to play in the Fall League but did not get a chance to participate. The catcher had a breakout year at the plate that featured two of his 10 total homers coming in a Curve uniform.
With each Pirates representative in the 2018 Arizona Fall League ending the year in Altoona, it was an added bonus for Curve pitching coach Bryan Hickerson to serve on the Surprise staff in the same role.
To view the full statistics for these 2018 Curve players in the AFL, click here.
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