Below are the top Runs Created* totals in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ farm system from the last week. The rankings include every hitter who had an at-bat for a Pirates’ minor league affiliate, with no limitations on whether the hitter has prospect eligibility. Players who spent time at different levels are counted multiple times, once for each level, rather than combining their stats. Notes on the top ten players from the last week can be found below the chart.
*Runs Created is a stat created by Bill James used to estimate how many runs an individual contributes to his team. There are many formulas for runs created. For these purposes the basic formula is used. That formula is ((H + BB) * (1B + (2*2B) + (3*3B) + (4*HR))) / (AB + BB).
The Top Ten
1. Gregory Polanco – You probably didn’t need to read this article to know that Polanco was the top hitter in the system this week. You could probably tell that due to the fact that he was a permanent fixture in the featured area at the top of the site for the last week, with highlights every day. Polanco went 14-for-28 with a double, two triples, and a homer, winning the International League Batter of the Week award in the process. Last year, there were only four better weeks during the entire season. Two of those weeks came from Stetson Allie, and only one week came in Triple-A (Jeff Larish). The week that Polanco had will probably end up as one of the top five hitting weeks in the Pirates’ minor league system this season.
2. Erich Weiss – Polanco got all of the hype, but down in West Virginia, Erich Weiss quietly had a strong week. The Pirates drafted Weiss out of the University of Texas in the 11th round last year, giving him an over-slot bonus of $305,000 for his bat. This past week he made that decision look smart, going 13-for-26 with four doubles and an inside the park grand slam. Weiss, who is now playing second base after Wyatt Mathisen took over at third, is riding an eight game hitting streak.
3. Andrew Lambo – Gregory Polanco even over-shadowed an amazing performance on his own team. Andrew Lambo has started hitting again, going 11-for-22 with three doubles and a triple in the last week, taking the number three spot. Lambo hasn’t hit a home run for a while, although his focus has been letting the ball get deeper in the zone, and hitting to the opposite fields. Ryan Palencer had a feature on Lambo over the weekend, looking at the adjustments he has been making since being sent to Triple-A.
4. Gift Ngoepe – He’s the best defensive infielder in the system, although Alen Hanson’s presence in Altoona means that Ngoepe is playing mostly second base, rather than shortstop. That’s not a problem, as he doesn’t need the defensive work. He needs work with the bat, and so far the results have been mixed. He’s hitting well, with a .310/.444/.414 line in 29 at-bats so far this season. However, his poor strikeout issues are still there, with a 27% strikeout rate. That’s down from his 31.7% strikeout rate last year in Double-A, but still an issue. Ngoepe draws a lot of walks, and gets on base due to his speed. He’s got a shot to be a backup shortstop in the majors, but he’s going to need the bat to help him get there.
5. Mel Rojas – The biggest knock against Rojas in the past has been a lack of consistency. He would have a good game or two, then would go on a prolonged cold streak. Last year he did a much better job of staying consistent in Altoona, but not enough to move up to Indianapolis. So far this year, Rojas has a hit in eight of his nine games, and has a .323/.364/.452 line in 31 at-bats on the season. His strikeouts are also down so far, with his 18.2% strikeout rate being the lowest of his career.
6. JaCoby Jones – He was drafted as an outfielder, but the Pirates are switching him to shortstop full time this year. Jones is very athletic and has a lot of speed, so it seems likely that he can handle the position. The intriguing thing is how his bat can play at the position. So far he has a .308/.349/.487 line in 39 at-bats with West Virginia. That kind of production from the shortstop position is good to have. At the time of the draft there was some talk that he could need a big adjustment with his swing, but so far in the pros he has done nothing but hit, which means he might not need that major overhaul.
7. Josh Bell – Last year, Bell had a good season, but his success was quiet and didn’t lead to a huge breakout like we saw from other prospects in the system. This year he has the opportunity to be a big breakout prospect, and so far he’s off to a good start. Bell has a .343/.378/.571 line in 35 at-bats in the young season, with three doubles, a triple, and a homer. He hasn’t been walking a lot, with a 5.4% walk rate, down from 10% last year. That should improve, especially if he keeps hitting everything and stops getting pitches in the strike zone.
8. Danny Collins – With the injuries to Harold Ramirez, Barrett Barnes, and Austin Meadows, Collins has gotten a lot of time in the outfield this year. He was drafted as a first baseman, and had some power potential, hitting seven homers in 228 at-bats with Jamestown last year. He has done a better job this year of getting on base, but so far the power has been limited to doubles. Collins doesn’t have an easy road to the majors, but he will have an easier time if he can handle the outfield, as his bat doesn’t project to carry him as a first baseman.
9. Jarek Cunningham – Cunningham is in Altoona for the third season, but this time he’s showing something a little different. He’s actually drawing walks, with a 16.7% walk rate so far, way up from his career best of 8.9% in 2012. His strikeout rate is also at 20%, which is his best rate since rookie ball in 2008. He’s still not hitting for average, but his OBP and power is giving him value. He’s also adding value by playing third base this year. A skeptical view of Cunningham would say that these types of improvements are expected after two years at a level, or that they’re a result of a small sample size, and that the large sample from the last two years is a bigger indication of his skill. That said, he’s still young enough to have a chance at a breakout season, even if that would be viewed with skepticism until he had success in Triple-A.
10. Stetson Allie – Allie started to hit this week, going 6-for-23 with two doubles and a home run. The most encouraging sign is that his strikeout rate so far is at 21.9%, which is well below his 28.9% in High-A last year. Allie’s power could allow him to easily make the majors with a strikeout rate that low. He’s also drawing a good amount of walks, with a 12.5% walk rate. In the future, Allie projects to be a three true outcomes player, with a low average, a lot of walks, a lot of strikeouts, and a lot of home runs. However, typically guys who are three true outcome guys in the minors don’t go on to play that same role in the majors. As an example, Pedro Alvarez had a 22.9% strikeout rate in Altoona, and has a career 30.3% strikeout rate in the majors. Allie is going to need to continue keeping the strikeouts low in the minors.