All-Star games are mostly over, so it’s time to get back to the regular edition. I’ll cover more than a week here, so some good (and bad) stretches don’t go unnoticed. Also, the two short-season teams have opened play now.
Matt Hague, 1B (AAA): Hague has steadily hit well all year, but over the last couple weeks he’s really gone on a tear as he’s started to supply the power that’s been missing from his game. Over his last nine games he’s hit .500, going 18-for-36 with five doubles and four HRs. The latter are half his season’s total. He’s now hitting 317/367/468 overall, and has been one of the toughest hitters to fan in the International League. If there’s one unfortunate thing about his hitting, it’s the fact that, as he’s done every year so far, he’s hitting RHPs better than LHPs. The Pirates could use a platoon partner for Lyle Overbay, with Steve Pearce out.
Gorkys Hernandez, CF (AAA): Hernandez has cooled a bit, with just one hit in his last four games, but for the month of June he’s hitting .307 and slugging .455. The latter is especially surprising considering that he has no HRs all year. Hernandez is already on the 40-man roster, so he could be a callup candidate if Jose Tabata misses much time, assuming the Pirates conclude that playing with 24 players for one month is enough.
Garrett Olson, LHP (AAA): OK, Olson’s 27, but the Pirates have started talking about him as a candidate to help the major league team should more roster moves be needed. Although he struggled his last time out, since moving to the Indy rotation Olson has been outstanding, with an ERA as a starter of 1.99. He’s allowed just twelve hits and eight walks in 22.2 IP, while fanning 20. If he gets called up it’ll still more likely be as a reliever, but Olson has worked his way into the team’s plans, even if it’s only into the contingency plans.
Chris Leroux, RHP (AAA): When fans talk about which player has to come off the 40-man roster to make room for this or that prospect, Leroux’s name is almost always the first to come up. Since returning from a stint in Altoona, though, he’s turned things around. For the month of June has has an ERA of 2.18, with fourteen hits and just one walk allowed in 20.2 IP. He’s fanned 18. He’s probably at least saved his roster spot for now.
Jordy Mercer, SS (AA): With Chase d’Arnaud in the majors, it seems like a good time for Mercer to move up. In June he’s hitting 312/356/636. On the year he’s slugging .489, which is power you’re not going to find in many shortstops.
Jeff Locke, LHP (AA): After struggling much of the year, Locke may be turning things around. He struggled in a start on June 18, but otherwise has pitched very well over his last five. He’s allowed 21 hits and ten walks (half of them in one game) over his past 25.1 IP, with 25 strikeouts and an ERA of 2.13.
Bradenton Catchers (A+): The Marauders have a lot of hot hitters right now, but two of the hottest are catchers Ramon Cabrera and Carlos Paulino. Cabrera is 8-for-17 (.471) with two doubles, a triple and a grand slam. He’s now hitting .337 on the season and has struck out only fourteen times in 47 games. Paulino is on a 13-for-31 (.419) tear, with two doubles and two HRs. The logical thing to do might be for the two to share catching and DHing duties, but the DH is . . .
Calvin Anderson, 1B/DH (A+): Possibly the hottest hitter in the system, Anderson is hitting 389/446/681 in June. His five HRs give him thirteen on the year, which ties him with Mercer for the organization lead. Whether this is real is hard to say. Anderson still has fanned in nearly 40% of his ABs, including eleven times in his last 28 ABs. But this may be enough to get him a shot at AA at some point.
Evan Chambers, CF (A+): After completely disappearing for two months, Chambers’ bat has resurfaced. In June he’s hitting 264/361/507, with four of his six HRs. His strikeout rate has dropped to one in every four ABs, after he fanned in 42% of his ABs in May.
Drew Maggi, SS (A): If Anderson isn’t the system’s hottest hitter, it’s probably Maggi. He now has a .989 OPS in June and has twelve hits in his last twenty ABs, a .600 clip. In his last five games, he has two with four hits and one with four walks. On the season, he has more walks (37) than whiffs (35). He’s dragged his overall season’s average up to .260 after he hit .141 in April.
Mel Rojas, Jr., OF (A): Like Maggi, Rojas appeared to be dead in the water earlier this season, but he’s on a 13-for-29 (.448) run that included five straight two-hit games. Rojas still isn’t showing much power or patience, but he has six extra base hits and seven walks in 20 June games after totaling only four extra base hits and seven walks in 58 games in April and May.
Ryan Hafner, RHP (A-): An prep pitcher signed for above-slot money a year ago, Hafner is off to a solid start, allowing no runs or walks in his first two outings, covering eight innings. He’s given up seven hits and fanned six.
Alen Hanson and Yhonathan Barrios, IF (R): Barrios and Hanson are both off to fast starts in the GCL, which just opened play. In five games, Hanson is 8-for-20 (.400), with all but two of those eight hits going for extra bases. Barrios is 9-for-20 (.450) with three extra base hits.
Rudy Owens, LHP (AAA): Things are just going from bad to worse for Owens. After a good run of starts in mid-May, he’s struggled nearly every time out. In his last six starts, he’s allowed 23 earned runs, 39 hits and 12 walks in 29 IP, for an ERA of 7.14. Opponents are hitting .305 against him on the season.
Tony Sanchez, C (AA): Sanchez has simply stopped hitting. He’s in a 3-for-20 (.150) slide and hasn’t had an extra base hit in the month of June, covering twenty games. Could Eric Fryer be the Pirates’ catcher of the future?
Jeremy Farrell, 3B (AA): Just about the entire Altoona ballclub has stopped hitting, but in Farrell’s case it’s part of a growing trend. After posting a .910 OPS in April, he’s dropped to .760 in May and ..609 overall in June. In his last ten games he’s hitting .156. I could also mention Quincy Latimore, who’s on a 2-for-18 (.111) run with nine whiffs, or Brock Holt, who also has just two hits in his last 18 ABs.
Matt Curry, 1B (AA): Curry’s hit the skids after a fast start in AA. He has one hit in his last 21 ABs (.048), with ten whiffs. The higher level pitchers obviously have adjusted to him, which was to be expected, especially from a player making a two-level jump. It’s up to Curry now to make his own adjustments.
Jarek Cunningham, 2B (A+): Cunningham has been in and out of the lineup lately, but when he’s been in, the pitchers seem to have had him figured out. He’s now on a 3-for-32 (.094) slide that includes twelve strikeouts.
State College Spikes (A-): There’s almost nothing positive to report with the Spikes. Eleven of the fifteen position players who’ve played for them this year are hitting .200 or lower. The Spikes are last in batting and last in runs, and have just one HR. They’re averaging barely over two runs per game. The pitching isn’t much better; the team is next to last in the league in ERA. The strength of a New York-Penn League team is usually the college players signed out of the recently concluded draft. The Pirates drafted mainly prep players in the earlier rounds, though, and won’t sign top pick Gerrit Cole before the deadline, so there’s little to no help on the way.