The biggest “up” trend in the Pirates’ farm system lately has been Indianapolis, which has won 14 of its last 19. Help appears to be ready in AAA, but the Pirates being the Pirates, it’s mostly in the form of starting pitching, which is the one thing the Pirates don’t need. Indianapolis does have some guys hitting, but . . . well, we’ll get to that.
Jordy Mercer, IF (AAA): Mercer started turning things around the moment he left April behind. He now sports a 14-game hitting streak and is batting 377/421/453 in May. Whether this will do him any good remains to be seen. Even though Clint Barmes is making Pirate fans long for the comparatively robust bat of Abe Nunez, the Pirates have made it clear they’re committed to Barmes for the foreseeable future, no matter how bad his hitting or disappointingly erratic his glovework. Meanwhile, with Chase d’Arnaud back from his concussion, Mercer has moved off shortstop, which is the one position at which he has a viable future in the majors.
Matt Hague, 1B (AAA): I’m not sure he belongs in the “trending up” section, but Hague was struggling so badly after going back to AAA that I thought I’d put him here anyway. Yes, he has 14 hits in his last 33 ABs, a .424 clip, but those 14 hits include just two for extra bases, both doubles. In 106 ABs in AAA, Hague has just four extra base hits, all doubles, and is slugging only .321 despite the fact that he has his average up to .283. That’s not exactly a classic first base profile. Still, at least he’s collecting plenty of hits again.
Gorkys Hernandez, OF (AAA): A week ago, Hernandez appeared to top the list of candidates to come off the 40-man roster in the event space is needed. In the past week, though, he’s gone 10-27 (.373) with a double and not one but two HRs, his first two of the year.
Ramon Cabrera, C (AA): Cabrera’s in a tough spot, because he’s on the short end of a job-sharing arrangement with Tony Sanchez. After winning the 2011 Florida State League batting title, he got off to a slow start at Altoona, and it’s tough to overcome a slow start when you’re not playing every day. Cabrera seems to be heating up, though. After starting the week 0-6, he went 8-17 (.471) in a four-game series at Erie. The hits included his first extra base hits of the year, two doubles and a HR. His overall numbers are now a respectable 286/348/381, and he has eight walks to go with only nine Ks.
Mel Rojas, Jr., OF (High A): The breakout the Pirates have hoped to see from the raw-but-toolsy Rojas hasn’t arrived, but he’s hit his way out of his late-April slump. In his last eight games he’s gone 16-39 (.410). He did, however, fan nine times, which means he had a batting average on balls in play of .533. Overall, he’s hitting 288/346/388.
Dan Grovatt, OF (High A): Grovatt got off to a miserable start, but finally got his bat going a little over a week ago. In his past six games he’s gone 11-27 (.407) with five doubles and a HR. On the season he’s hitting 252/320/396.
Gerrit Cole, RHP (High A): Cole’s performance at Bradenton has concerned some people, but a lot of the concern results from too much focus on his ERA. At 3.18 it’s not spectacular, but his other numbers are better indicators: opponents are hitting just .193 against him, his WHIP is 1.00, and he’s striking out 10.3 per nine innings. And in his last three starts he’s allowed only three runs in 17 innings, a 1.59 ERA.
Gregory Polanco, OF (Low A): Polanco’s season has gotten lost a bit in the wake of Alen Hanson’s huge start, but he’s now hitting 304/351/528 with seven HRs. He’s also 10-12 in stolen base attempts. In the past week, he went 8-20 (.400) with three doubles and a HR. Polanco is enjoying nearly as big a breakout as Hanson and may have just as high a ceiling.
Jake Fox, No Particular Position (AAA): Sure enough, the moment the #FreeJakeFox movement started, Fox went into a slump. He’s now hitless in his last 15 ABs. Not that it matters, as the Pirates don’t appear to believe that any personnel changes are needed to one of the worst offenses MLB has seen in generations.
Matt Curry, 1B (AA): After a hot spell got his average over .300 and started generating some power, Curry slumped to a 3-23 (.130) week that included 11 whiffs. He evidently has a ways to go to master AA.
Altoona Starting Pitchers: The Curve starters failed to post a single good game during the week, finishing with a composite ERA of 7.06. Their current rotation features ERAs of 4.14, 5.15, 5.19, 5.35 and 7.20 (Phil Irwin, who’s pitched only one game). And they play in a pitcher’s park. Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon can’t arrive soon enough.
Willy Garcia, OF (Low A): Garcia had a power outburst in early May, but now he’s mired in a 1-18 (.056) slump that includes eight whiffs. Garcia has six HRs on the year, but his OBP is just .252 and he has only five walks to go with 36 Ks.
West Virginia Pitching: There’s no point breaking it down; it’s all bad. In the past week the Power gave up 56 runs in six games and that’s in spite of the two-hit, one-run game produced by Zack Dodson and Josh Poytress on Sunday. That win stopped a seven-game losing streak.