Every Monday, we do a Top Performers series for the farm system, looking at the best results from the previous week. One week isn’t really enough to draw any grand conclusions about a player, and none of the numbers that we highlight are meant to be predictive. Instead, it gives us an opportunity to talk about the players, giving some mini-profiles of where they are with their development, along with some live reports of what we saw that week.
The small sample size alert always applies with this article, and that’s even more the case in week one, when there were only 3-4 games per team (or two, if you’re Indianapolis). So this week is even more of a case where we are using the good results as an excuse to talk about the players, rather than making too much of a few games or one start for a pitcher.
We had live reports this week from Altoona and Bradenton, which are reflected in the reports below.
Stetson Allie – Allie got off to a good start at the plate with Altoona this week, going 5-for-13 in his first three games, and hitting his first homer of the year. He struck out three times, which is a 23% rate, down from his usual 30%. However, that’s just a difference of one strikeout at this point in the season. There’s currently an opportunity in the Altoona outfield with Austin Meadows on the DL. This might be Allie’s last chance to show what he can do, as there won’t be much playing time to go around after Meadows returns. He’ll need to show his usual power, while also limiting the strikeouts, in order to maintain regular playing time after April. – Tim Williams
Ke’Bryan Hayes – Ke’Bryan Hayes went 5-for-12 with a walk this week, getting on base in all three games he played. The 2015 first round pick received an aggressive promotion to West Virginia, after spending most of last year in the Gulf Coast League. The 19-year-old Hayes received the promotion because he has an advanced approach at the plate and he is strong defensively at third base. He hit .308 in his first season and walked almost as many times as he struck out. Hayes looks good at these very early stages of 2016 and he should be able to hold his own in the league at the plate, while manning the hot corner daily. All five hits this year are singles so far and he had just six extra-base hits last year, so he hasn’t shown power early in his career. That power should start to show up a little later as he fills out, when those singles sprayed around the field turn into doubles in the gaps. – John Dreker
Kevin Kramer/Kevin Newman – Bradenton’s double play combo of Kevin Newman and Kevin Kramer had a strong series against Fort Myers to open up the season. Newman posted a .353/.353/.471 line, while Kramer put up a .286/.412/.500 line. Those numbers, as far as the on base and average, are indicative of their style at the plate. Newman will jump on the first strike he sees, while Kramer was willing to take some pitches to either get the pitch he wants, or draw a walk. I liked the approach from Kramer, which was the same with no one on and runners in scoring position. He didn’t stray from that and it led to him reaching base six times between Saturday and Sunday, even when the rest of the lineup (besides Newman) was having trouble getting on base. Kramer was driving the ball well during Spring Training and he has picked up a double and triple already this season. Except for an ill-advised throw to second base, which went for an error, he looked strong on defense. Kramer turned a nice 6-4-3 double play with Newman, and didn’t panic after a screaming one-hopper right at him got a couple feet away. He did a great job to stay in front of it and knock it down, then regrouped and made a calm throw to get the runner by a step.
Newman really looked good at the plate in the last two games of the series, driving the ball well to all parts of the field. He picked up three hits and had a couple hard hit outs. In extra innings on Sunday, he hit a sinking liner that faded away from the right fielder, which went for a two-base error, but it was tougher than a few plays that were scored hits in the series. Newman looked good running the bases, showing above average speed and terrific hustle at all times. In the field, he didn’t look like a natural shortstop, so I don’t see someone you would call more than an average defender. It was just a small sample size, and he did make a couple nice plays, but he seemed to make some routine plays look more difficult than they should have been. When compared to Fort Myers shortstop prospect Nick Gordon, it was clear that Gordon was the smoother fielder with better range, making semi-difficult plays look easy. I wouldn’t say Newman isn’t a shortstop, just that he doesn’t seem to be a potential above average defender at the position. – JD
Reese McGuire – McGuire only played two games, but went 2-for-6 with three walks. The usual “it was only two games” disclaimer applies, but this gives me a chance to say why I’m not worried about his lack of offense in the past. His hits were well struck, and happened to fall in right in front of fielders, just missing the gaps for extra bases. His patience at the plate (no strikeouts to go with the three walks) shows a very advanced approach. That approach and solid contact is something I’ve seen from him in the past. It’s also why I’m not worried about his lack of offense to this point (that, and the fact that he just turned 21). He’s got the tools to provide some offense. He just needs to be more selective with the pitches he chooses to drive. – TW
Ryan Nagle – The Pirates went over-slot to sign Nagle in the 27th round, keeping him from returning to Illinois for his senior year. They’re giving him priority playing time in West Virginia this year, and he’s responded well in the first week, going 5-for-16 with a double and a homer, and posting a .915 OPS. Power hasn’t been a big thing for Nagle in the past, and his value is more about hitting for average and getting on base. He also doesn’t have a lot of defensive value, being limited to the corner outfield spots. He’ll need to hit his way to prospect status, and he’s off to a good start here. One thing to watch is his performance against lefties. He struggled last year, and so far this year his big results have come against right-handers. If he’s going to hit enough to be a prospect, he’ll need to hit against left-handers. – TW
Tito Polo – Polo was one of my breakout picks last year, but struggled in his first run through West Virginia, posting a .641 OPS. He returned to the level this year, still carrying that breakout tag, and he’s off to a much better start this year. His first game saw him go 3-for-4 with a triple and a home run. He doubled in each of his next two games, continuing to show some good power. Polo makes hard contact with the ball, and looked good at the plate all spring. One concern is that he can be a bit of a free swinger, leading to a lot of strikeouts at times. He’s got four so far this year in 15 plate appearances. That said, he projects as a guy who can have an impact bat, with a high average and a lot of extra base hits, while providing speed on the bases. If he can limit his strikeouts to the 21% range he’s been in the last two years, then he’s got the chance to soar up the prospect ranks. – TW
Eric Wood – On Thursday, I wrote about Wood in my breakout article, saying that he’s the type of guy who would break out in the upper levels, but calling it a rare occurrence. I’m not ready to say he’s breaking out just yet, but I’ve liked what I’ve seen through two games. He’s 4-for-8 so far with two triples to the wall in the gaps. He’s making consistent hard contact, not just with the triples, but with a deep sacrifice fly in his first game. The thing scouts have liked about Wood in the past has been his power potential. He’s been hitting the ball hard since the end of Spring Training, and seems to be carrying that over to the season. If he is going to break out, then this is how it’s going to happen, with consistent hard contact playing in the games. Third base in Altoona is wide open, and more hitting like this will lead to more playing time for Wood. – TW
Colten Brewer – Brewer pitched on Saturday and limited Fort Myers to one run on four hits and two walks, while picking up six strikeouts. He sits 93-96 MPH with his fastball, mixing it with a curve that got some swinging strikes. Brewer has command issues that tend to be more batter-to-batter rather than bad innings or games. An example would be on Saturday when he struck out three in the first inning, then walked two batters (with a wild pitch in between) in the second, before picking up another strikeout. If Brewer ever pitches with more consistency, he could become a legit option as a starter. If he doesn’t, you could see him become a power reliever, who can sit high 90’s in short stints and not worry about a third pitch. – JD
JT Brubaker – In previous years, when the Pirates didn’t have a roster crunch at seemingly every position and every level, Brubaker seemed like the type of guy who would be skipped over West Virginia for the Bradenton rotation. He’s got an advanced fastball, sitting 90-93 MPH and touching 94, along with a tall, projectable frame that could allow him to increase his velocity going forward. He also has good secondary pitches, with an advanced changeup, and a slider that can be an out pitch. He gave up one run on two hits in five innings this week, striking out six. He did have some control problems, with three walks, although that wasn’t an issue last year. I wouldn’t be surprised if he makes it up to Bradenton by the middle of the season. – TW
Tyler Eppler – Eppler had a good start against Harrisburg on Sunday, giving up two runs on three hits in six innings, while striking out three and walking two. He was sitting 90-93 MPH with his fastball, which is just a tick below his normal velocity, and was throwing all three of his pitches for strikes. His new slider, which is a slurve, got three strikeouts, but was still inconsistent. That’s to be expected for a pitch he’s been throwing for less than a year. The most encouraging thing was that he had 11 ground ball outs. Eppler has been average in the past with his ground ball ratio, but yesterday’s numbers were on the extreme side. It’s hard to tell if this is a new trend or just the result of an aggressive Harrisburg lineup struggling against his changeup. Eppler did say that ground balls will be a focus for him this year, so that will be a trend to watch going forward. – TW
Tyler Glasnow – The top prospect in the system got off to a good start with Indianapolis, allowing one run in five innings, while striking out six. He did give up a run in the first inning, although this was a mistake pitch that resulted in a home run, and wasn’t a continuation of his Spring Training issues where he labored for one inning before pulling it together. He struggled with his control, walking a batter per inning in innings 2-4. He also had control problems with Indianapolis last year, although he did a better job before that with Altoona. The control numbers might improve if he learns to drop his curveball in for strikes early in the count, making it so that he doesn’t have to rely on his fastball only to get ahead of hitters. That will be a big focus for him this year. – TW
Alex McRae/Bret Helton/Dario Agrazal – The Pirates have a lot of starters in the lower levels who do exactly the same thing — throw in the 90-93 MPH range with a sinking fastball, and rely heavily on that pitch for ground balls. Three of those guys got off to a good start this weekend, throwing five shutout innings each. McRae had a 7:2 GO/AO ratio, although he struggled with control, walking three batters. Helton was at 6:2 and walked two batters. Agrazal had a few more fly outs, with an 8:6 ratio, and only struck out one, but also only walked one. McRae is pitching for Bradenton this year, while Helton and Agrazal are in the West Virginia rotation. The Pirates draft a lot of sinkerball guys, and the hope is always that one of them will develop in the same way as Chad Kuhl, breaking out to have more than just the potential for a back of the rotation/strong middle relief upside. – TW
Logan Sendelbach – Here’s another sinkerball guy, although Sendelbach clearly had the best results of anyone this week. He made his debut in the West Virginia rotation, throwing five perfect innings with four strikeouts, along with a 7:2 GO/AO ratio. Sendelbach isn’t as hard of a thrower as the guys above. They usually sit in the 90-93 MPH range, and can touch 94. He sits in the 88-92 MPH range. However, he’s got a tall, skinny frame with room to add more velocity as he fills out, and easy arm action which should make it easier to add velocity if he does fill out. I’d group him in with the other guys in terms of “hoping one of them becomes a Chad Kuhl”. The only reason I listed him separate here was to highlight the debut performance. – TW
Edgar Santana – Santana is already in the role I mentioned Colten Brewer could end up in, and he’s doing an impressive job. He’s a power reliever with command of a high 90’s fastball, paired with a plus slider that gives him a solid two-pitch mix. As a reliever, that’s all he needs to be successful. Santana threw two shutout innings on Thursday, then followed it up with another three scoreless frames on Sunday. He works hard in, and soft away, not afraid to back hitters off the plate with a high fastball, setting them up for a slider down and away. Due to his command, he also has the ability to just blow hitters away, but if they try to sit fastball, they look can look really bad when he goes to the slider. Santana allowed just one hit in his five innings, with no walks and five strikeouts, over-matching hitters in the process. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him end up at Altoona by mid-season and he has the upside of a Major League reliever. – JD
Brandon Waddell – I mentioned above that JT Brubaker didn’t get that aggressive promotion to Bradenton this year. Waddell was the college pitcher who received that jump, joining the likes of Justin Wilson, Adrian Sampson, Chad Kuhl, and Tyler Eppler. He can hit 93 MPH with his four seam fastball, but usually relies on the slower two-seamer for quick ground ball outs (67% ground balls last year in Morgantown). He throws five pitches in total, and does a good job of mixing up his offerings and hitting his spots, making up for the lack of overall stuff. His first outing of the year for Bradenton was excellent, with five shutout innings, two hits, no walks, and four strikeouts. He’s got the chance to be this year’s Steven Brault, as a lefty who could emerge as a prospect to watch due to control and deception, rather than pure stuff. – TW