I’ve noted the last few weeks that there are going to be guys who make this article almost every week. Two of the guys who are making the list each week are Kevin Newman and Ke’Bryan Hayes, which is a great sign for the 2015 draft class.
Newman has a .379/.439/.431 line in 58 at-bats, while Hayes is hitting for a .375/.410/.518 line in 56 at-bats in West Virginia. Hayes is more polished defensively right now, with defense being the big thing that Newman is working on in Bradenton at the moment.
It wouldn’t be out of the question to see this combo end up starting on the left side of the Pirates’ infield in the future, with Newman set to arrive earlier than Hayes. They both fit the current trend of focusing on a high OBP and defense, while sacrificing some power. They both do that well, which is what keeps landing them in this article week after week.
Here is our rundown of the top performers this week, with notes and observations from our live coverage in Indianapolis, Altoona, Bradenton, and West Virginia.
Stetson Allie – The best compliment I can give to Stetson Allie from my time seeing him so far this year is that he is “unnoticeable” in right field on defense. What I mean by that is that he has made all of the plays that a typical right fielder would be expected to make. I use the term “unnoticeable” loosely, because he has actually made some above average plays in the field – tracking down multiple balls towards the line and even over his shoulder. The progress has been tremendous from last season, and Allie is showing he deserves playing time once Austin Meadows returns to the outfield mix. From the plate, Allie has continued to show that unteachable raw power. He hits line drives, and he hits them hard. The swing gets a little loopy at times, but his approach has been pleasantly better this season compared to last year. Allie had a .775 OPS with two doubles and a homer this week. – Sean McCool
Danny Arribas/Carlos Munoz – These two players have a very similar story. Neither of them are real prospects, with both of them on the fringe. They both made the list this week with lower averages, but high walk rates and a lot of extra base hits (along with a few homers between them). They ranked first (Munoz) and second (Arribas) in the system in walks this week, and have the same rankings on the season. Munoz has been a good hitter the last few years, with a big season at the plate in Bristol last year. However, he always seems to fade down the stretch, which might be due to his weight issues. Arribas can play anywhere on the field, including catcher, but typically doesn’t have the best bat. I talked to one scout last year who felt he was the type of guy who could reach Double-A with his versatility, and then have a shot at reaching the majors in a small role if everything clicked at that point (think Alex Presley, as an example of the latter part). I wouldn’t say that either guy is an actual prospect right now, and their upsides won’t lead to important roles in the majors if they do make it. However, they both showed up on the list this week, and they’re interesting enough to at least mention in this article. – Tim Williams
Josh Bell – Bell had a big week this week, topping it off with the cycle he hit on Friday night. That was enough to make him the International League Batter of the Week. He has reached base safely in all 15 games this season and he has been showing power at the plate with three homers and eight extra-base hits. His season slash line of .321/.424/.589 has him fourth in the International League in OPS. He has also shown improved defense at first base. It still needs some work, but it’s mostly things gained with experience at the position, such as knowing when to go for a ball hit to his right, and when to let the second baseman get it. You also want to see him get more at-bats against left-handed pitchers. He has struggled with them in the past, but early on he is 5-for-15 with three doubles and four walks against lefties. He’s still waiting for that first homer since June 10, 2014 off a southpaw. – John Dreker
Taylor Gushue – The Pirates have no shortage of catching prospects in their system, and Gushue kind of gets lost in the mix. He’s a level lower than Reese McGuire, so he’s never going to be projected as a future starter for the Pirates. He’s got some good skills, with a strong arm, good agility, and good raw hitting skills. However, in the past he’s been a bit too raw in all of those areas, which only makes it more difficult for him to stand out. He’s off to a great start this year, hitting for a .964 OPS in the last week, and a 1.001 OPS on the season. He won’t have the defense of McGuire or Elias Diaz, and he won’t have the offense to make up for that difference in value. However, he’s a talented enough catcher to start for a team one day in the majors, or be a strong backup, assuming the start of this season is a sign that his raw abilities are starting to translate to the field. – TW
Ke’Bryan Hayes – Hayes just continues hitting, putting up a 1.029 OPS in 21 at-bats this week, along with his first career home run. I talked to an NL scout who saw him recently, and the scout was impressed with how good he was defensively at third base. That has stood out to me as well, and I’d say he’s the best defensive third baseman in the system right now. That’s not a difficult task, considering the guys that have switched to the position, but this statement is more about how good Hayes is, rather than how weak the other guys are. He has the tools to stick at third base and be an asset defensively in the majors. His hitting tools and plate patience are both good, and if they continue developing, he could be an above-average third baseman without any increase in power. There’s still a chance the power could develop, which would propel Hayes even further up the value charts. Right now, he’s too young to have an actual ceiling, but the results he’s showing have been very encouraging. – TW
Kevin Newman – Between Hayes and Newman, the top of the 2015 draft class is looking very strong right now. Watching Newman, it seems like he just has a gift of putting the ball where the fielders aren’t positioned. His hits come in all varieties, from line drives to the gap, to infield singles from his speed, to hard grounders that find a hole. There’s definitely some fortunate BABIP work here, as Newman is at .407. But Newman will be a high BABIP guy (though not this high) because he focuses on contact and hitting middle-away, rather than trying to hit for power. He also has more walks this year than strikeouts, continuing a trend that he showed last year in West Virginia. At this point, Newman looks like he’s out-of-place in A-ball, and should be playing at a higher level. With Cole Tucker on the verge of returning, I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens sooner, rather than later. I could see Tucker getting a month in West Virginia to readjust to pro ball, followed by promotions for each player in early June, with three months at a higher level for each guy. – TW
Jose Osuna – Osuna got off to a slow start this year, but he has knocked off the cobwebs (or maybe I should say “brush the snow off his shoulders” because the cold weather certainly seemed to affect him) to get hot lately for the Curve. He had a five game RBI streak this past week, including home runs in back-to-back at-bats (last AB in one game and first AB in the next). He has had two 3-strikeout games in April, but those are rare for the slugging first baseman. More impressively than his at-bats recently, Osuna has shown great progress in his play at first base. He has shown quick feet and a good glove, making plays on short hops, throws in the dirt, etc. He showed off his extremely strong arm over the weekend, too, by making a nice scoop and firing it to second for a force out. – SM
Mitchell Tolman – Tolman hit for a .393/.438/.643 line in 28 at-bats this week, while also hitting four doubles and his first career home run. The Pirates have taken a lot of guys who hit for average, draw walks, have gap power, and don’t strike out. Tolman fits this mold. He doesn’t have the defensive upside that Hayes or Newman have, so he’s limited to a bench role in the future. He very much fits the Dan Gamache mold, with the ability to hit for some power, and ultimately his bat carrying him to the upper levels, and possibly the Majors as a bench player one day. – TW
Erich Weiss – The knock on Weiss so far in his career is a lack of power production, and he has done his part so far this season to at least put a hold on that thought. He has only hit one home run so far, but the gap-to-gap power is certainly there. He seems to be driving the ball harder and not relying on ground balls through the hole to maintain a healthy batting average. He has put on muscle weight leading into this season, and he is using the bottom half of his body to compliment his quick hands. In the field, Weiss has shown a quick first step and solid glove. Having yet to commit an error so far this season, all of the tools are there for the tall second baseman. – SM
Steven Brault – Brault has looked decent this season, with the big knock being that he isn’t going deep into games. In three starts, he has thrown a total of 13.2 innings. His command hasn’t been sharp, leading to seven walks, but some of those came from him being unable to put away hitter with two strikes, leading to long at-bats. This past week, his pitch count was high because he was putting hitters away, with nine strikeouts. He did have a couple moments where his command briefly left, but he was mostly around the zone. Brault got a lot of swings and misses on Friday, more than usual. He’s usually a pitch to contact pitcher, with late movement on his pitches leading to soft contact and quick outs. He seems to be getting closer to the pitcher we saw dominate Double-A last year. Brault has looked good at the plate and in the field, which can only help him on the mound. – JD
JT Brubaker – I’m heading to West Virginia this week, and Brubaker is one of the guys I’m looking forward to seeing the most (obviously outside of the Keller/Hayes combo). He’s a right-hander who sits 90-93, touching 94, and has an advanced changeup. The stats suggest he should be in Bradenton, with a 2.14 ERA in 21 innings, along with a 10.7 K/9 and a 3.9 BB/9. He might need to improve the control a bit, although this week’s start inflated that, with four of his nine walks on the year. Despite the four walks, he allowed a run on one hit, with seven strikeouts. I could see him making it to Bradenton when the chain reaction of pitching promotions begins, obviously starting at the top with promotions to the majors. – TW
Austin Coley – Coley got off to a rough start in his first two games, giving up a combined nine earned runs in eight innings, along with a 7:5 K/BB ratio. His outing this week was much better, with one run on two hits in five innings, along with no walks and four strikeouts. He’s an interesting pitcher, with the potential to be a back of the rotation guy or a strong middle reliever who relies on a sinking four seam fastball. Unfortunately, the rotation part probably won’t happen in Pittsburgh, when considering all of the depth and more talented options ahead of him. – TW
Clay Holmes – In his two starts this week, Holmes allowed three runs over 11 innings. Those outings followed a start last week in which he allowed one run over six innings. Seeing all three outings, you see the inconsistency you expect from a young pitcher with limited innings over the past two seasons due to Tommy John surgery. You also see the potential he has on the mound. Holmes has been mostly sitting 92-95 with his fastball. It has good downward motion and a little run to it towards right-handed batters at times. He is doing a great job of keeping the fastball down, leading to a 3.90 GO/AO ratio early on. He just added a two-seamer, which will help with that even more. Holmes has also flashed a curve that looks like a plus pitch at times, to go along with a changeup that has improved significantly. When all three pitches are on, he can breeze through innings. He isn’t going to be a quick mover, and will probably be limited in his innings this year, but he has the pitches and potential to be a middle of the rotation starter who can go 200 innings a year. – JD
Mitch Keller – Keller has looked incredible in all three outings the season. In two of them, he picked up ten strikeouts. In the other game, he only had three strikeouts, but he was getting a lot of weak contact early in the count, which led to him finishing his five innings in just under 50 pitches. His fastball sits 93-96 with good downward action and Low-A hitters are being overpowered by him. Even if they wanted to guess fastball, he has a curve with nice depth that he has been throwing for strikes, plus his changeup has generated some awkward swings from players gearing up for the fastball. He has pounded the strike zone, which has led to the ridiculous line of 15 innings, seven hits (three were bunt hits), no walks and 23 strikeouts. His 0.47 WHIP and 0.00 ERA lead the South Atlantic League. – JD
Chad Kuhl – Kuhl fits the part of a big league pitcher already, getting on the mound and looking all business. He attacks hitters as well as anyone and does a good job mixing his pitches, relying mainly on his sinker that can hit 96-97 MPH with a lot of movement. He also throws a slider that has improved a lot since this time last year. It too has a lot of movement and batters have trouble laying off the pitch as it tends to be a chase pitch that breaks outside the zone. He gets a lot of soft contact on the mound, sometimes too much, as hitters have been just barely fouling off pitches, leading to some early high pitch counts. This past week he threw five shutout innings, with a walk and two hits, yet he reached his pitch limit earlier than you would like to see due to all of those foul balls. He doesn’t look far from Major League ready, just needing experience against Triple-A hitters and for the slider to continue to improve so he can get more quick outs. – JD
Logan Sendelbach – Last year in Bristol, Sendelbach looked nothing like a pitching prospect. He was a college player taken in the top ten rounds, yet he was sent to the lower level short-season team and his focus was fastball command. It wasn’t going well, as he often elevated his fastball and it would flatten out. That led to some very poor results. Skip to this season and he is off to a strong start after four games. On Saturday, we got a first look at him outside of Spring Training and he didn’t fit the scouting reports from last year. His fastball was down in the zone all game and it was getting great results. He allowed one run over six innings and that one run came off an elevated fastball that was hit well over the left field fence. It’s still early in the process, but it looks like he has taken that first big step towards future success. His focus is still fastball command and on Saturday, he rarely went to his secondary pitches. As the season goes along, he will need to continue showing that better fastball command, while working in his off-speed pitches more often. – JD
Jameson Taillon – Taillon made two starts this week, allowing two runs on seven hits over 4.1 innings on Monday, then he threw six shutout innings on Saturday, allowing just two base runners. From a scouting standpoint, the first start looked better, as he had his curve and changeup both working, while he did a good job of keeping his fastball down. In Saturday’s game, the curve wasn’t sharp, and he elevated too many fastballs. In three games this season, he has a 1.65 ERA in 16.1 innings, with no walks, 16 strikeouts, a .210 BAA and a 1.83 GO/AO ratio. At this point, it’s just about going out there and shaking off the rust. You never want to root against a pitcher, but it’s not a bad thing for him to face some adversity on the mound in Triple-A before getting called up. If he gets hit around once, you want to see how he bounces back from it. It’s going to happen in the majors regardless of how good he ends up being, but you’d rather get that out of the way in the minors. The way Taillon has been focused on the mound and attacking hitters this year, I think you will see his best stuff the first time he pitches after a bad start. – JD
Brandon Waddell – I finally got a chance to see Waddell in a real game for the first time this week (outside of instructs and Spring Training outings), and was impressed. I managed to catch the one game where he was tagged for a few runs, giving up two in five innings of work, with one of those coming on a home run. That was his worst outing of the year so far, which says something about how his year is going. He commanded the strike zone well, didn’t get behind on many batters, rarely got to three ball counts, and while he mostly pitched to contact, he struck out more than a batter an inning in that outing. He did even better during his second start, giving up one run in seven innings, with six strikeouts and no walks. Waddell looks like he could be this year’s Steven Brault, as a lefty who wasn’t highly rated coming into the year, but could propel his way up the prospect ranks by the end of the season. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up in Altoona for the second half, even after the Pirates gave him an aggressive push to Bradenton this year. – TW