Every week we have live reports from all over the system, while I provided additional views of the minors via MiLB.tv, which included Indianapolis, Altoona and Bradenton this week. We also had live coverage of Indianapolis and Altoona in the past week. All of these reports are combined and used each week to highlight the top performers during that time span. We go with the top ten hitters and pitchers, giving you the 20 best players from last week.
Sherten Apostel, 3B, DSL Pirates – Apostel is having a breakout season. The same player who hit .205/.208/.375 as a rookie last year, is hitting .274/.393/.533 this season and has nearly cut his strikeout total in half. He went through a power surge two weeks ago and hasn’t seen much to hit since. He homered this past week, but what really got him on this list is his nine walks in five games. I assumed he was getting pitched around, but I was told that he is just being very patient at the plate, while waiting for the right pitch. In a league like the DSL, plate patience and a solid approach can go a long way for the OBP. He has had some defensive issues, though it’s mainly from the throwing side, where he has plus arm strength. All signs point to him being in Bradenton in September for the Fall Instructional League.
Garrett Brown, OF, West Virginia – Brown was taken in the 23rd round last year as a 23-year-old, who was considered extremely athletic, but raw at baseball. He played football for two years before going back to baseball. Except for plus-plus speed, he did not look good at Bristol last year. He was held back in Extended Spring Training this season before reporting to Morgantown on Opening Day. After a short time, an outfield spot opened up in West Virginia and he has put up some strong numbers early on with the Power. Brown had hits in all five games he played last week, capping it off with three hits on Sunday. He now has a .333/.370/.414 slash line in 23 games with West Virginia. If he can continue to get on base, then he should be able to take full advantage of that speed to take extra bases and rack up stolen bases. It’s important to remember he is still raw due to the missed time, so his age doesn’t weigh against him as much as it normally would for a 24-year-old in Low-A.
Roldolfo Castro, SS, GCL Pirates – Castro was the youngest player on the DSL Pirates last year, a shortstop who put up solid offensive numbers and was named an All-Star. Now 18 years old in the GCL, he is hitting .333/.410/.478 in 19 games this season. Castro is doing that while moving between shortstop, second base and third base. He didn’t play any second base last year, and just one partial game at third base, but he is a strong defensive shortstop, who seems to be handling the other two positions well, albeit in small sample sizes. This past week, he collected eight hits and two walks in five games, with two of those games being seven innings as part of a doubleheader. Castro is a switch-hitter, who had some trouble against lefties last year. This year he is hitting well from both sides of the plate, accounting for the difference in his early stats compared to last season.
Jordan George, 1B, Bradenton – George is a Twenty repeat from last week due to him carrying a 19-game hit streak through Sunday’s action. He had three multi-hit games last week and connected on his eighth home run of the season. That total is impressive because he’s in the Florida State League and also because he hit a total of two homers in his first two seasons combined. This recent streak has run his stats up to .301/.391/.466 through 65 games, placing him third in the league in OBP, fifth in OPS and ninth in slugging. The switch-hitting George is actually having a lot of trouble this season against lefty pitching, posting a .592 OPS, which makes his overall numbers even more impressive when you consider how well he is handling right-handed pitchers. If he was hitting even league average against lefties, he would be the best hitter in the league. He has a .931 OPS since the All-Star break back in mid-June.
Jin-De Jhang, C, Altoona – Jhang has been hitting well recently, and with the way his season started, there was nowhere to go but up. He caught five games last week and had four multi-hit contests. That included his first home run of the season on Thursday and two doubles on Sunday. Those three extra-base hits equal what he put up in his first 38 games. This was supposed to be a big season for Jhang, but an oblique injury cost him most of Spring Training and the first six weeks of the regular season. Before this week, he was hitting just .201/.255/.223, which is well off the high average we are used to seeing from him. That is his carrying tool, along with a strong arm. The rest of his defense is average and he has never hit for power or drawn walks, so Jhang needs to raise his average to get himself back on the prospect map.
Edison Lantigua, OF, Bristol – Lantigua is a repeat from last week when he had some big games for Bristol. It’s actually quite impressive that he made it this week too, because he left Wednesday’s game early due to a stomach virus and had to sit out on Thursday. He still picked up hits when he returned and has now reached base in ten straight games. Lantigua is a player who was considered for our top 50 and even got a little bit of discussion for the final spot. What keeps him out is just wanting to see more from him before we put him on the list. He has moved slow since coming to the U.S. after a strong pro debut in the DSL in 2014. His time in the GCL in 2015 started off poorly due to a thumb injury that cost him time and bothered his swing when he returned. He bounced back last year and he is still just 20 years old, so there is potential. A continued solid season in Bristol could put him on West Virginia next year.
Bligh Madris, RF, Morgantown – If you read the Morning Report daily, which you should be doing, then you know Madris has become a cult hero in the highlight section. For some reason, they have featured him in highlights more than the rest of his teammates combined. This week he actually gave them good reason to be featured, hitting three homers and winning a game with a walk-off single in extra innings. Madris is hitting .298/.381/.524 in 22 games since signing after he was selected in the ninth round of the amateur draft this year. I did a recap of what I saw with Morgantown after watching 12 games online. The big issue with Madris is that he had a lot of trouble with off-speed pitches. Other than that, the 21-year-old right fielder showed a solid plate approach and some nice power when he made contact, which was before he hit three homers this past week.
Mason Martin, RF/1B, GCL Pirates – During his first four days of action after signing two weeks ago, Martin had a lot of trouble at the plate and in the field. His strikeouts were very high and everything defensively was an adventure. The defense will take some time to work on, but the hitting has already picked up in a huge way. Martin hit .667/.733/1.600 last week and now leads the GCL with five homers. It is not a high offense league, so these numbers are beyond impressive, especially from an 18-year-old who has now played nine games as a pro. It’s obviously way too early to dream big with him based on five games at the lowest level, but it’s not something you see everyday in this league. Since 2005, the GCL Pirates high for homers is nine in a season, and that was by John Fitzpatrick, who was a 23-year-old power hitting first baseman in college, so that’s not quite comparable to someone who turned 18 last month. It gives Martin something to shoot for though.
Jared Oliva, CF, Morgantown – Oliva was taken in the seventh round of the amateur draft this year. He has looked raw at times, showing some swing and miss to his game, along with a lot of soft contact. The upside to the soft contact was that it allowed his to show off some excellent speed and help his team on the bases. He had three hits in three of the four games he played this week. The overall numbers are still low, with a .267/.309/.360 slash line in 21 games, with 21 strikeouts. Oliva has gone 8-for-9 in stolen bases and has looked solid in center field showing some nice range. He has also seen some time at both corner outfield spots. He appears to be someone who will take some time to reach his potential, but the speed gives him two potential plus tools, and he has a 6’3″ frame that looks like it could still fill out some and allow him to tap into some power.
Jeremais Portorreal, RF, GCL Pirates – While Mason Martin got all of the headlines last week, Portorreal had a couple big hits, slugging a grand slam on Thursday as part of a three-hit game, and adding a solo homer on Saturday. That gave him three homers on the season. It doesn’t sound like a high total, but only two players have hit more in the GCL so far this season. Portorrreal is hitting .266/.341/.481 in 21 games so far. That gives him the second best OPS on the team behind Rodolfo Castro and puts him slightly out of the top ten for the league. His .481 slugging is best on the club and ranks him tenth in the league. Portorreal made some adjustments at the plate last year, which were noted in detail in this article. That got him pushed up from the DSL to the GCL during the season, which rarely happens unless necessitated by an injury. His biggest issue this season has been strikeouts, which you don’t like to see because he really cut down last year on them after struggling his first two seasons in pro ball.
Steven Brault, LHP, Indianapolis – Brault didn’t have his best start this past week, but that’s only because his best starts have been outstanding. He was our Pitcher of the Month for both May and June and had been doing well in July. That finally led to the Pirates calling him up for the first time this season on Saturday, although it wasn’t as a starter. If you watched his one inning against the Rockies, you saw part of what has made him better this season. His velocity was 93-95 MPH, which is a tick higher than the 94 MPH he has been hitting consistently in starts this season. He’s also doing a better job of attacking hitters and using all of his pitches. After giving up two runs over six innings last week, Brault took over the International League lead with a 2.06 ERA. He’s also among the top eight in the league in innings pitched, strikeouts and WHIP. It appears the Pirates plan to keep him in the bullpen for this road trip, then we will see what they intend to do with him after that.
JT Brubaker, RHP, Altoona – After a very tough stretch of four starts, Brubaker seems to be getting back to what we saw in early June when he rattled off two of his best career starts. In his first start last week, he gave up one run over five innings. That followed up a game in which he gave up three runs over six innings, but looked much better than the line indicated. Brubaker pitched a second time last week (on Sunday) and gave up just one run over six innings to first place Bowie. It was a big game for Altoona in the standings and he came through big. Brubaker has been showing increased velocity lately, taking his stuff to a different level. He routinely sat 90-93, touching 94 from the time he signed until early in this season. Recently he has hit 97 MPH and was hitting 96 often during his first start last week.
Luis Escobar, RHP, West Virginia – Since Escobar pitched in the Futures Game, he has put up some impressive results. The problem seems to be that he doesn’t throw enough strikes, and when he does, he gets a lot of swing-and-misses, so he’s running up his pitch count every game. This past week, he threw 5.1 innings of shutout ball. That followed up two outings in which he allowed just one run, but he pitched a total of 14.1 innings in those games. Escobar had a second start last week and that was more of what you want to see from him. He reached six innings for the first time since June 10th and allowed just one run on two hits and two walks, while striking out nine batters. That’s his highest total since he began the season with four straight 9+ strikeout games. Part of his recent success has come from not showing his curve too many times early to the point batters expect it every time there is two strikes. He has been going for a high fastball with two strikes and has had some success with batters chasing.
Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Indianapolis – Glasnow has been a regular here since he was sent to the minors back on June 10th. All seven starts have been strong enough to get him mentioned in The Twenty. The big difference between what you saw in the majors this year and what he is doing at Indianapolis is his mentality. He came down to the minors ready to attack hitters. His control issues have still led to too many walks, but he isn’t the same pitcher. He is around the plate more often now and doesn’t let the bad things bother him as much, staying focused on the mound. He ditched the windup, even with no one on base, and that has led to the better control and better velocity. Glasnow has hit 100 MPH multiple times and is hitting 97-99 MPH much more often than in the past. Both the curve and changeup have solid results. Last year we said often that he wasn’t ready for the majors despite the great results in Triple-A. Right now I’d say he looks like a much better option now, but a few more starts wouldn’t hurt him. It’s important to remember that if he is called up after August 26th, they get an extra year of service time out of him.
Bret Helton, RHP, Bradenton – Just two days before his 24th birthday, Helton allowed one run over five innings against Clearwater on Sunday. That backed up a start on Tuesday in which he went seven innings and gave up just one run, making him an easy choice for this article. The seven innings ties his career high, which he reached once in 2016 while he was in the West Virginia rotation all season. Helton has been a spot starter this season, but recently took over the spot of Taylor Hearn, who could be out the rest of the season with an oblique injury. Helton is making the most of his opportunity now, with a 3.39 ERA in 79.2 innings. I wasn’t impressed with him last year as a starter, but I did like that he showed much better velocity in a relief role this season. He is also doing better as a starter this year, though if he makes it to the majors, it will be as a reliever.
Gage Hinsz, RHP, Bradenton – Early in this season, Hinsz was struggling with command, which led to some poor results. The stuff was there for a successful pitcher, including mid-90s velocity on the fastball and a curve that looks like a plus pitch at times, but he lacked the results. He had two great outings (April 27, May 2) and then hurt his shoulder. Hinsz only missed one start, but everything was off once he returned and it took a month to get back on track. After two runs over seven innings this past week, he now has a 2.56 ERA over 38.2 innings since June 14th. It appears he is back on track, throwing a lot of strikes and getting the desired results. We ranked him as our tenth best prospect in our mid-season update based more on upside, but he has been pitching like a top prospect for more than a month now.
Mitch Keller, RHP, Bradenton – Keller recently had two poor starts in a row, especially for someone who is known as a strike-thrower. He walked four batters in the first game, then tied a career-high with five walks in the next outing. His start last week was much different though. Keller was throwing strikes right from the start and showing the best velocity we have seen from him, hitting 100 MPH against the second batter of the game. He threw six shutout innings, giving up just one hit and two walks. The start had a bad ending though. When he came out for the seventh inning, the first batter hit a line drive off of his shin. He probably had just 2-3 batters left with his pitch count at that point, but he still had to leave early. Keller reportedly will make his next start, though you could see it pushed back a couple days as there is still some soreness to go along with the large bruise. The good part is that it’s nothing more than a bad bruise.
Kleiner Machado, RHP, DSL Pirates – Last year Machado was the youngest pitcher on the DSL Pirates. He had decent results because he was tough to hit, but he also walked a lot of batters. He has shown solid improvements this season and it started with working on fastball command. He now throws more strikes and he has seen an uptick in his velocity, going from 89-90 last year to 90-91 MPH this season. He has also improved his changeup tremendously, going from a weak third pitch last year to an out pitch this season. His curve showed some potential last year and it has remained the same, possibly falling behind the changeup for his second best pitch. Machado is holding batters to a .239 average this season and he has 14 strikeouts in 16.2 innings. That’s after picking up 14 strikeouts in 34 innings last year.
Ike Schlabach, LHP, Morgantown – The best pitcher over the last few weeks has been Schlabach, who came into Sunday’s action with a 1.97 ERA and then went out and had his best outing of the season. After giving up one run over six innings earlier in the week, he came back with six shutout innings on Sunday. He allowed just one hit and it was a bunt single in the first inning. Despite throwing a total of 12 shutout innings in his prior two starts, the two outings last week were even better. Schlabach has always been a ground ball pitcher, but that wasn’t true early this season. Now he is getting back to his norm with a 9:1 GO/AO ratio on Monday and a 9:3 ratio on Sunday. He has a .157 BAA and an 0.76 WHIP this season, with the latter ranking tops in thee NYPL. It’s also noteworthy that he is the youngest player on the team.
Leandro Pina, RHP, GCL Pirates – Pina was the best pitcher in the DSL for the Pirates last year and one of the best in the entire league, getting the starting nod in the All-Star game. The transition to the U.S. for the 6’3″, 18-year-old, hasn’t been the easiest. He had success in the DSL due to above average control and a plus changeup. He only threw 86-88 MPH last year, and this season has seen just a slight uptick, sitting more in the 87-89 MPH range. Pina put up an incredible start on Saturday, only because it’s something we have not seen in awhile. The Pirates limit GCL pitchers to five innings and 75 pitches, whichever comes first. That’s what pitchers like Shane Baz and Steven Jennings will eventually work up to when they get fully stretched out. Pina went six innings this week because he breezed through the first five frames on a very low pitch count. By my incomplete research, I couldn’t find another outing over five innings in the GCL since 2009 for the Pirates. Opponents are having a much easier time hitting him this year, but he is still throwing a ton of strikes and has really improved his ability to pick up strikeouts.