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Keller, Tucker, Kramer lead Bucs' AFL crew

MLB.com

CHICAGO -- The Arizona Fall League will serve a dual purpose for some of the Pirates' top prospects this year. They'll share the field with elite Minor League competition, for one, and they'll also have a chance to make up for lost time.

Nearly all of the seven Pirates prospects selected to play in the AFL were sidelined by injuries this season. The roster for the Desert Dogs, released on Tuesday, includes right-handers Mitch Keller and J.T. Brubaker, shortstop Cole Tucker, second baseman Kevin Kramer, left-handers Taylor Hearn and Brandon Waddell, and outfielder Logan Hill.

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CHICAGO -- The Arizona Fall League will serve a dual purpose for some of the Pirates' top prospects this year. They'll share the field with elite Minor League competition, for one, and they'll also have a chance to make up for lost time.

Nearly all of the seven Pirates prospects selected to play in the AFL were sidelined by injuries this season. The roster for the Desert Dogs, released on Tuesday, includes right-handers Mitch Keller and J.T. Brubaker, shortstop Cole Tucker, second baseman Kevin Kramer, left-handers Taylor Hearn and Brandon Waddell, and outfielder Logan Hill.

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The AFL is a "finishing school" for prospects who are close to the Majors. Generally speaking, if a team sends a player to the Fall League, it's an indication that the club thinks he has the chance to contribute in the big leagues in the near future. In other words, it's generally a short leap from the AFL to MLB.

2017 Arizona Fall League rosters

The league has six teams, with five organizations represented on each. Every MLB team is required to send at least six players from its organization.

"That's always good to get that experience and that perspective and see other guys," said Larry Broadway, the Pirates' director of Minor League operations. "It's a good challenge from a skills perspective. At the same time, it's a good opportunity for guys to get exposure to other guys on other clubs and spread their wings a little bit."

Keller, the Pirates' No. 2 prospect, missed time earlier this season due to a strained back. The 21-year-old has made the leap from Class A to Double-A Altoona, posting a 3.19 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in 110 innings over 22 starts overall.

"The stuff is there. The strikes are there. The quality of the pitches is there," Broadway said. "Got to keep him on the field and continue to refine his approach and the quality of the strikes, the quality of the command."

Tucker, 21, also made the jump to Double-A last month despite sitting out with a fractured thumb in June. The AFL is particularly convenient for the 2014 first-round Draft pick, a native of Phoenix. Now the Bucs' No. 5 prospect, Tucker entered Tuesday batting .268/.347/.399 with 43 stolen bases in 104 games.

"He was definitely a projection Draft [pick] -- very lanky but athletic, and you could tell he's going to continue to fill out and get stronger," Broadway said. "He's doing that and starting to get the kinetic chain firing in the right sequences. If he does, it's pretty special."

Kramer, Pittsburgh's No. 10 prospect, has been out since June 10 due to a fractured hand, but he has resumed hitting high-velocity pitches off a machine. When healthy, he hit .297/.380/.500 in 53 games for Altoona.

Hearn, 22, was the other half of the Pirates' return in the Mark Melancon-Felipe Rivero trade. The Pirates' No. 12 prospect, Hearn has been out since July 13 with an oblique injury but recently threw a two-inning simulated game, putting him on track to participate in the AFL.

Waddell, ranked No. 24, missed nearly two months due to a strained left forearm. Hill sustained a fractured left hand and hasn't played since July 26. Brubaker has been the least affected by injuries, though he did skip a couple of starts due to blister issues.

"They should all be in a good spot," Broadway said.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

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