Top 10 Pitchers: A Breakout Pitcher You Should Follow, Not Named Adrian Sampson

Below are the pitching Game Scores* in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ farm system from the last week. The top ten scores are highlighted in the write-up below. The rankings include every pitcher who made a start for a Pirates’ minor league affiliate, with no limitations on whether the starting pitcher has prospect eligibility.

*Game Score is a stat created by Bill James used to determine how good a pitcher’s outing really was. The formula for game score is simple: Start with 50 points, add one point for every out recorded, add two for each inning completed after the fourth, add one point for each strikeout. Subtract two points for each hit, four points for each earned run, two points for each unearned run and one point for each walk. There tends to be an advantage for pitchers who can go longer in the game, as they have more time to pile up strikeouts, while getting bonus points for extra innings beyond the fourth frame.

In terms of pitching game scores, anything that scores a 65 or better is considered a “gem”. The Pirates farm system had nine “gems” this week. Here are the top performers.

1. Buddy Borden – Buddy Borden had all of the makings of a breakout candidate this year. He had a fastball that could hit 96 MPH with good movement, and a low 80s curveball that has some nice movement and generates strikeouts. Borden has dealt with command issues, and those issues led to a poor stretch in the middle of the season. The right-hander started the year with a 2.53 ERA in 46.1 innings through his first ten starts. He had a 45:18 K/BB ratio in that span. That’s when Borden started to struggle over his next five outings, with a 6.55 ERA in 22 innings, along with an 8:13 K/BB ratio. He was even moved to the bullpen for an outing, where he threw two shutout innings.

Since then, Borden has been back on track. He has a 2.27 ERA over his last eight starts since that bullpen appearance, with a 46:13 K/BB ratio in 43.2 innings. There has only been one outing where he had poor control, which was on July 18th when he walked five in three innings. Every other start during this stretch has featured 5+ innings and two or fewer walks. He’s got an electric arm with the potential to be more than just a back of the rotation guy, and outside of a few weeks in June, his season has been outstanding. Borden took the top spot this week, throwing six shutout innings with two hits, no walks, and ten strikeouts. He also had another gem this week that finished fourth on the list.

2. Tyler Glasnow – Tyler Glasnow continued doing Tyler Glasnow things this week. He struck out 11 batters in six shutout innings, giving up two walks and two hits in the process. It was the fourth time he has recorded double-digit strikeouts this season, including the third time in his last six games. That stretch also includes one game with nine strikeouts. Glasnow had four walks per game in each of his last two games, but saw his control bounce back this time around. Glasnow’s numbers on the year are great, but if you take out his rough start in April and early May, he has been on fire. He’s got a 1.13 ERA in 80 innings during that stretch, with a 107:36 K/BB ratio. The numbers during this recent six game stretch? An 0.51 ERA in 35 innings, with a 50:14 K/BB ratio. Glasnow probably deserves a promotion to Altoona as of several starts ago, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Pirates keep him in Bradenton all year to give him experience in a playoff race, along with extra starts pitching in the post-season.

3. Jhonathan Ramos – Ramos hasn’t had the best stuff this year for Altoona, with a 4.26 ERA in 50.2 innings, along with a 4.8 K/9 and a 2.7 BB/9 ratio. He was very efficient in a start this week, throwing six shutout innings with one hit, no walks, and two strikeouts. He only needed 72 pitches to get through the frame. Ramos doesn’t seem like an option for the majors, due to the lack of strikeouts in the upper levels. However, he should be a good organizational arm who can either start or fill out a long relief role in the upper levels.

4. Buddy Borden – Borden’s second start saw him give up one run on two hits in seven innings, with two walks and four strikeouts.

5. Adrian Sampson – As Ryan Palencer reported earlier today, Adrian Sampson has been promoted to Indianapolis. He has been the breakout pitcher in the system this year, posting a 2.55 ERA in 148 innings with Altoona, along with a 6.0 K/9 and a 1.8 BB/9 ratio. His final start in Altoona saw him give up one run on four hits in seven innings, with no walks and four strikeouts. Sampson has outstanding command of his fastball, which sits in the low-to-mid 90s. He pairs that with a nice breaking ball that can generate strikeouts, and an improved changeup that has been a key to his success this year. He has just destroyed right-handed hitters, allowing only a .538 OPS on the season. The changeup is helping his numbers against lefties, with a .692 OPS this year, down from a .908 OPS last year at a lower level.

6. Cody Dickson – Dickson was my choice for the breakout pitcher in West Virginia this year. He hasn’t fared as well as Borden, but there are encouraging signs in the second half. The lefty had a 5.58 ERA in 59.2 innings, with a 47:29 K/BB ratio. A lack of control was said to be one of his issues when he was drafted last year, and that was present for the first half of the season. In his last ten starts he has done much better, with a 2.61 ERA in 51.2 innings, along with a 40:21 K/BB ratio. When it comes to evaluating guys in West Virginia, it’s better to look at the trends as the season goes on, rather than the overall numbers. Guys like Nick Kingham and Clay Holmes have posted some average overall numbers in previous years, made up of poor first half results and great second half results. Kingham went on to carry his success to the higher levels, while Holmes has been out for the year this season. John Kuchno is another example of this, posting a 5.02 ERA in 66.1 innings last year in the first half, followed by a 2.84 ERA in 57 innings in the final two months. He’s now having a strong season in Bradenton. The fact that Dickson is joining this trend is a great sign, and speaks well for his future.

7. Tyler Eppler – The Pirates took Eppler in the sixth round this year, and so far he has been putting up some impressive numbers with Jamestown. He has a 3.02 ERA in 50.2 innings, with a 6.2 K/9 and a 1.8 BB/9 ratio. Eppler made the list twice this week, throwing two shutout appearances. His best outing saw five shutout innings, giving up two hits, a walk, and striking out five. He’s a big framed pitcher at 6′ 6″, 220 pounds who can hit as high as 95 MPH with his fastball, but usually sitting in the low 90s. He’ll need to develop a good secondary pitch to increase his strikeout rates. Right now he has a four pitch mix, with a chance to make it as a starter in the majors one day.

8t. Frank Duncan – Duncan was a 13th round pick and a college senior in the 2014 draft. His results have been surprising this year, with a 3.45 ERA in 44.1 innings out of the Jamestown rotation, along with a 5.9 K/9 and a 1.8 BB/9 ratio. He’s got a 90-93 MPH fastball and good control. He also has a big frame, at 6′ 4″, 212 pounds. Just like Eppler, he throws four pitches, but needs to develop a good out pitch. The key difference between the two is that Duncan is a year older, making his potential ceiling a little bit lower.

8t. Dario Agrazal – I’ve been impressed by what I’ve seen out of Agrazal in the GCL this year. He has a 2.83 ERA in 41.1 innings, with a 5.9 K/9 and an 0.9 BB/9. The impressive thing is that he has some great command of his fastball, and throws 90-93 MPH with almost no effort at all. Agrazal has a good frame, at 6′ 3″, 190 pounds, which should allow him to hold up as a starter over the long-run. I could see him getting an aggressive promotion next year, skipping over the two short-season leagues and going to West Virginia at the age of 20. He’s too far off to project what he could become, but right now he looks like one of the better arms in the short-season ranks, and a guy who should continue getting a big role going forward.

10t. Chad Kuhl – Kuhl has been posting some strong numbers in Bradenton this year, with a 3.43 ERA in 131.1 innings, along with a 5.8 K/9 and a 2.4 BB/9. He’s a sinkerball guy who gets a ton of ground balls, with a 58% ground ball rate this year. The one downside is that he doesn’t strike out a lot of guys, mostly pitching to contact and getting quick outs. That means his upside could be similar to Casey Sadler or Brandon Cumpton, with the ability to be a back of the rotation starter, but more likely ending up as a reliever or depth starter in the long-term for the Pirates, due to the quality of pitchers they have in the upper levels.

10t. Tyler Eppler – Eppler’s second best outing this week saw him throw six shutout innings, with six hits, one walk, and four strikeouts.

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