This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: March 3rd, Neal Heaton and Ed Phelps

Seven former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date.

Matt Diaz, outfielder for the 2011 Pirates. He was a 17th round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1999 out of Florida State, who made at least a brief appearances in the majors each season from 2003 until 2013. Diaz saw very limited time in the majors in both 2003 and 2004 with Tampa, playing a total of 14 games. The Devil Rays lost him on waivers to the Baltimore Orioles in February of 2005, then just two days later he ended up with the Kansas City Royals. Diaz hit .281 with one homer in 34 games for the Royals, who traded him to the Atlanta Braves in December of 2005. Diaz saw instant success with the Braves as a semi-regular in the lineup, who also saw a lot of time off the bench. In 323 plate appearances over 124 games in 2006, he batted .327 with seven homers and 32 RBIs. The next year he hit .338 with 21 doubles, 12 homers and 45 RBIs in 135 games. He started 140 of his 259 games during those two seasons. Diaz was limited to 43 games in 2008 due to a knee injury suffered in late May when he crashed into the outfield wall. The next season he set career highs with 13 homers and 58 RBIs, while hitting .313 in 125 games. In 2010 he hit .250 with seven homers in 84 games for the Braves. On December 14, 2010 he signed a two-year contract with the Pirates. Diaz played exactly 100 games with Pittsburgh, hitting .259 with 19 RBIs and no homers. On August 31, 2011 he was traded to the Braves for minor league pitcher Eliecer Cardenas. He remained in Atlanta through the end of 2012, then finished his big league career with a brief stint for the Miami Marlins in 2013. He signed with the New York Yankees in December of 2012, but he was cut during Spring Training, then signed with the Marlins eight days later. Diaz finished as a .290 hitter in 736 Major League games, with 45 homers and 226 RBIs. He batted .297 as a starter during his career and .254 as a pinch-hitter.

Neal Heaton, pitcher for the 1989-91 Pirates. He was a second round draft pick of the Cleveland Indians in 1981 out of the University of Miami, who made his Major League debut just one season later. By 1983 he was already an 11-game winner in the majors, who not only threw three shutouts, but also saved seven games. Heaton was originally drafted in the first round by the New York Mets out of high school in January of 1979, selected first overall, but he decided to attend college instead. He went straight to Double-A after signing, where he went 4-4, 3.97 in 77 innings over 11 starts. Heaton was in Triple-A the next year, going 10-5, 4.01 in 172.2 innings, before joining the Indians in September for four starts and four relief appearances. He went 11-6, 4.16 in 16 starts and 23 relief appearances in 1983 during his first full season in the majors. He moved into the starting role full-time the next two seasons and did not pitch well, but was also hurt by some poor teams behind him. He posted a 21-32 record between 1984-85 with an ERA over 5.00 in 67 starts. Heaton was traded to the Minnesota Twins in June of 1986 after posting a 4.24 ERA in 12 starts. After the deal, he went 4-9, 3.98 in 124.1 innings. The following February, he was dealt to the Montreal Expos, who kept him until late spring 1989, when he was shipped to the Pirates in exchange for 24-year-old pitcher Brett Gideon. Heaton went 13-10, 4.52 in 32 starts in 1987. From 1984-87, he averaged 199.2 innings per season. During the 1988 season, he spent the first two months in the starting rotation, then moved to a relief role on June 17th, after putting up a 6.12 ERA.

Heaton started 18 games for the Pirates in 1989 and pitched another 24 games out of the bullpen. He had a career best 3.05 ERA in 147.1 innings pitched. In 1990 he went 12-9, 3.45 in 146 innings, helping the Pirates to their first division title since 1979. He also made his only All-Star appearance that season. In 1991 he pitched out of the bullpen all year, posting a 4.33 ERA in 68.2 innings over 42 games (one start). Despite being with the team during two playoff seasons, he did not appear in a postseason game. In fact, Heaton didn’t pitch in the playoffs once in his 12-year career. In 1992 the Pirates traded him during spring training to the Kansas City Royals in exchange for Kirk Gibson. Heaton played in the majors until July 1993, seeing time with the Royals, Milwaukee Brewers (one inning in 1992) and the 1993 New York Yankees. In 382 career appearances (202 starts) and 1,507 innings, he won 80 games and had a 4.37 ERA. With the Pirates, he went 21-19, 3.46 in 362 innings.

Ron Wotus, infielder for the 1983-84 Pirates. He was a 16th round draft pick of the Pirates in the 1979 amateur draft, selected out of the best high school name I’ve ever seen, Bacon Academy in Colchester, Connecticut. Wotus didn’t hit much his first two years in the minors, but in 1981 in A-ball, he hit .283 with 63 walks, 63 RBIs and 72 runs scored. He improved upon those overall stats the next season, splitting the year between Double-A and Triple-A. In 128 games over the two levels, he hit .296 with 11 homers and an .809 OPS. In 1983. Wotus hit .301 in Triple-A with ten homers and 94 runs scored in 125 games. He got a September call-up, and in five games off the bench, he went 0-for-3 at the plate. He finished two games on defense at shortstop and another at second base after coming in as a pinch-runner. Wotus started back in Triple-A in 1984, then got a late June recall after Rafael Belliard fractured his fibula. He remained with the team through the end of the season, but received very little playing time. At one point he went 34 games without an at-bat, getting into just three games as a late inning defensive replacement during that time. Wotus ended up playing 27 games, hitting .218 in 64 plate appearances. The Pirates went 75-87 in 1984, but they managed to go 10-5 during the 15 games started by Wotus. His chances of making it back to the majors after 1984 took a serious hit during Spring Training when a shoulder injury limited him to just 37 games. He played in the minors with the Pirates through the end of 1986.  After leaving the Pirates, he spent 1987 in Triple-A with the Kansas City Royals, then the 1988-89 seasons were spent with the San Francisco Giants in Triple-A. After his playing days were over, he managed for seven seasons in the minors with the Giants, starting just two years after his final game as a player. He became a Major League coach for the Giants in 1998 and he was at the helm of the Giants briefly during the 2006 season. Wotus also served as their manager for a few games during the 2016-17 seasons. He served as the Giants bench coach until 2017, and he is currently their third base coach.

Jesse Jefferson, pitcher for the Pirates on October 3, 1980. He was a fourth round draft pick in 1968 by the Baltimore Orioles at 19 years old out of Carver HS in Virginia. He struggled during each of his first two seasons of pro ball, including a 7.02 ERA in 1969. He had an 8-16 record in the California League in 1970, though that came with a nice 3.67 ERA in 157 innings. Jefferson moved up to Double-A the next year and continued to improve, going 12-11, 3.45 in 172 innings over 27 starts. He split the 1972 season between Double-A and Triple-A and did much better at the higher level. For Rochester of the International League, Jefferson went 6-3, 2.45 in 103 innings over 17 starts. He was back at Rochester to start 1973, before debuting in the majors in late June after ten starts. He went 6-5, 4.11 in 15 starts and three relief appearances as a rookie with the Orioles. The next year he saw limited work, getting some spot starts and long relief appearances, amounting to 57.1 innings and a 4.40 ERA. Jefferson had a 7-5 record through his first two seasons, but by the time he joined the Pirates six years later, he had a career record of 36-77 in 210 games. The Orioles traded him to the Chicago White Sox in June of 1975 and he struggled with his new team. In his 1 1/2 seasons in Chicago, he went 7-14, 6.35 in 170 innings. After the 1976 season, the Toronto Blue Jays selected him in the Expansion Draft. Jefferson was a regular in their rotation during his first two years, posting a 4.31 ERA in 217 innings in 1977, followed by a 4.38 ERA in 211.2 innings in 1978. His results were in a decline the next season and he got moved to the bullpen. Jefferson had a 5.51 ERA in 116 innings in 1979, followed by a 5.47 ERA in 121.2 innings in 1980. In four years in Toronto, he went a combined 22-56 with a 4.75 ERA. The Blue Jays put him on waivers late in 1980, where he was picked up by the Pirates on September 11, 1980. He pitched just one game for Pittsburgh, a start on October 3rd. He gave up one run over 6.2 innings and picked up the win. The Pirates allowed him to leave via free agency once the season ended and he played just one more year in the majors with the California Angels, where he went 2-4, 3.62 in 77 innings. He continued to pitch in pro ball until 1984, spending the next three years in Mexico, with a brief stint back with the Angels in Triple-A during the 1983 season. In his big league career, he was 39-81, 4.81 in 1,085.2 innings.

Aubrey Epps, catcher for the Pirates on September 29, 1935. He had a nine-season minor league career, hitting .290 in 944 games, but his big league career lasted just one game. He played with two teams during the 1935 minor league season, playing a combined 85 games with a .288 batting average. The Pirates let him catch the last game of the season, which was also the second game of a doubleheader. He had an amazing debut at the plate, collecting three hits and driving in three runs, but he was just the opposite in the field. He allowed three stolen bases on three attempts and committed two errors as the Pirates lost by a 9-6 score. Epps played in the minors until 1941. We posted an Obscure Pittsburgh Pirates article on Epps here. You would assume that someone who played one big league game didn’t spend a lot of time with the team, but that’s not true at all here. The Pirates originally acquired him in September of 1934, after he hit .301 in 152 games for Birmingham of the Southern Association. In 1935, Epps went to Spring Training with the Pirates and he was limited due to a mid-March hand injury. He was sent to Birmingham for more seasoning,  and the Pirates called him to the majors on August 1st, 59 days before he actually got into the lineup. During the 1935-36 off-season, he came down with a very bad case of pneumonia, which resulted in him losing 32 pounds over the winter. Epps made the Opening Day roster in 1936, though he was the fourth catcher at the time, and only lasted 18 days before being sent to the minors for the rest of the season. In 1937, he won an Opening Day job again and lasted with the club until May 15th, before being sold to Memphis of the American Association, ending his time with the club. His actual time spent on the Major League roster was 103 days, but he played one game. He served in the military after his playing days ended.

Bill Brenzel, catcher for the 1932 Pirates. He played five season in the minors before the Pirates gave him his first chance at the big leagues to start the 1932 season. Brenzel debuted in pro ball at 17 years old, playing briefly in the Pacific Coast League in 1927, which was just a small step down from big league competition at the time. It was an incredibly advanced league for someone his age. He ended up playing in the PCL in each of his first five seasons of pro ball, slowly improving until he hit .304 in 87 games during his 1930 season. Brenzel saw more playing time in 1931, resulting in a .284 average and 24 extra-base hits in 109 games for Mission of the PCL. The Pirates announced his purchase on August 3, 1931, noting that he came highly recommended from their former scout Joe Devine, who was the manager for Mission. It was said that Brenzel would only join the Pirates in 1931 if it was an emergency situation, otherwise he would report during Spring Training in 1932. Local papers reported that the purchase price was $50,000 plus a player to be named later, with some sources saying that Mission was after young first base Gus Suhr. Brenzel played nine games in Pittsburgh, six as a starter, and the Pirates lost all six of those games. He had just one base hit in 24 at bats, an RBI double. He was forced into action with catchers Earl Grace and Hal Finney both out of action. For a short time, Brenzel was the only healthy catcher and his backup was either manager George Gibson, who last caught in the majors in 1918, or coach Grover Hartley, who was 43 years old, but only two years removed from his last big league game. Brenzel started five games in a row, then the Pirates were off five days in a row, mostly due to the weather. When they resumed play on May 15th, Earl Grace was back and Brenzel never played again. On May 21st, the Pirates acquired minor league catcher from Newark of the International League and Brenzel was sent to Newark in his place, though the Pirates still held his rights. Pittsburgh sold his contract to San Francisco of the Pacific Coast League on July 4, 1932, officially ending his time with the Pirates. Brenzel played for Kansas City of the American Association in 1933 and 1934 before coming back to the majors in September of 1934. He played 67 games for the 1934-35 Cleveland Indians before returning to the minors for another seven seasons, retiring from playing after the 1946 season. He also managed in the minors for three years and he was a longtime scout.

Ed Phelps, catcher for the 1902-04 and 1906-08 Pirates. He spent five seasons in the minors before getting his first shot at the majors with the 1902 Pirates as a September call-up. The Pirates purchased Phelps from Rochester of the Eastern League on August 26, 1902 in what was a controversial signing at the time. The owner of Rochester apparently made a verbal agreement to sell Phelps at the end of the Eastern League season, which was one week later, to Boston (NL). Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss swooped in and purchased his contract, which didn’t sit well with the Boston management, who had no idea of the purchase until it was announced by the league. Phelps hit .213 in 18 games for Pittsburgh in 1902. In 1903 the Pirates won the National League pennant for a third time in a row and Phelps split the catching duties with Harry Smith. Phelps hit .282 with 31 RBIs in 81 games that year, then batted .231 in the World Series, getting into all eight games. His .980 fielding percentage was the second best for all NL catchers. In 1904 he caught a career high 91 games, hitting .242 with 28 RBIs and just eight extra-base hits. In February 1905 the Pirates traded Phelps to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for veteran catcher Heinie Peitz. He played with Cincinnati until May of 1906, when the Pirates purchased his contract and had him back up George Gibson for three seasons. Phelps played a total of 120 games over that stretch, with Gibson doing the bulk of the catching. Just 82 of those 120 games came as the starting catcher. In 313 games with the Pirates over six seasons, Phelps was a .247 hitter with two homers and 100 RBIs. He was released by the Pirates on January 6, 1909. He played in the majors until 1913, seeing time with the 1909-10 St Louis Cardinals and 1912-13 Brooklyn Dodgers/Superbas. The 1909 season was the only time he played more than 100 games (104) in a season, though he saw plenty of time as a pinch-hitter that year. Phelps hit a total of three homers in 2,096 plate appearances over 11 seasons in the majors, and just one cleared the fence. He had two seasons in the minors in which he hit four homers.