Top Performers: Glasnow, Taillon, Joe, Polo, Brault, Kuhl, Garcia, Waddell

This week, we had live coverage from Indianapolis, Altoona, and I was in West Virginia for most of the week. John Dreker also reviewed a lot of the games via MiLB.tv, giving us an additional look at the players at the top levels. As usual, we provide recaps of the top performers, using their strong numbers as an excuse to go into detail on their upside and what has led to their results. Here is the rundown this week:

Position Players

Danny Arribas – Arribas had another big week at the plate last week, this time hitting for a .333/.375/.600 line in 16 plate appearances. Coming into this week, he had a .246/.354/.507 line in 86 plate appearances on the year, with a low average, but a good ability to draw walks and some pop in his bat. Those two things, plus his versatility and ability to play all over the field, will get him to Double-A. At that point, he could have a shot at the big leagues if everything clicks at the right time. – Tim Williams

Edwin Espinal – Espinal did not play every game over the past week for the Curve, as they try to shuffle too many players through their lineup, but he put on quite a performance last Tuesday and has been batting well otherwise. On Tuesday the 26th, Espinal finished a triple shy of the cycle, and that included an absolute rocket of a home run. He sent a line drive over Altoona’s left field wall into the bleachers, showing great power and strength. He had a double to add to a two-hit game on Sunday. Espinal has also been good at not striking out much, and his strikeout rate is a little high so far this year, but he has shown good plate discipline for his first time in Double-A. He has also been working both corner infield spots for the Curve. – Sean McCool

Cole Figueroa – He has parts of three seasons in the majors and he’s 28, but Figueroa still qualifies for prospect status. He wouldn’t rate that high since he is likely at his peak by now, yet he is still a depth option for the Pirates until some of the younger infield prospects are ready. What he does provide is an experienced Quad-A type player and he’s hitting like someone who belongs on an MLB bench early on. Figueroa had a 1.043 OPS this week, while seeing time at shortstop, second base and third base. He came within a home run of a cycle in his first start, then had three hits and a home run the following game. His versatility and experience will likely get him another shot with the Pirates at some point this season. – John Dreker

Adam Frazier – Frazier went 9-for-22 this week, drawing four walks, to go along with two doubles and a triple. The impressive part with him so far this season is the way he has affected the game on the bases with his hustle. In one game this week, he got a double on a ball that hit off the glove of a diving third baseman and got about ten feet away. Then later that same game, he scored from second base on an infield hit. Frazier also leads the farm system with nine stolen bases. He has looked good at the plate, showing patience and using the whole field. I’m not 100% sold on him as an outfielder, as his throws have been weak and he takes some bad routes, but the latter can obviously get better with experience. He has been playing almost exclusively in left field this season. – JD

Willy Garcia – Garcia went 8-for-26 this week with two triples and a home run. He showed some good patience at the plate this week, which you rarely see from him. Garcia had four walks and also laid off some tough pitches prior to collecting a few of his hits. The overall stats still highlight his biggest issue, with 25 strikeouts in 76 at-bats. He also has just one homer this year, coming off a pitcher (Kyle McPherson) who allowed four homers in one inning. Garcia has played strong defense, like usual, and his arm is a weapon on the field, with runners rarely testing him. He needs to continue being more selective at the plate and waiting for pitches to drive if he wants to continue to find success at the plate. – JD

Connor Joe – Joe was dropped down in the order to the number six spot this week, and he seems to be responding well to the new position. He hit for a .294/.400/.471 line in 20 plate appearances so far, and carried the success into the new week, going 1-for-4 last night. Joe has shown the skills to be a good hitter, with a quick, smooth swing and great plate patience. He has shown flashes of his potential in games, but not on a consistent basis. Perhaps this move will be what it takes to get him on track. This week he had three of his five extra base hits on the year. – TW

Max Moroff – He didn’t hit for average this week, but five walks and a couple homers gave him an .870 OPS. Moroff’s walks have been high so far this year with 15 in 21 games. He has also struck out a lot, with 22 in 64 at-bats. He is seeing regular time at second base, third base and even some shortstop, the latter being a position he played sparingly the last two seasons. Moroff has a .789 OPS so far due in a large part to the walks and three homers. He’s hitting just .217 though, striking out too much, and he’s attempted (unsuccessfully) just one steal. It’s still early in the season, so he could just be adjusting slowly to the higher level. From what I’ve seen, the defense has looked fine at each spot, and he has made a few above average plays. – JD

Jose Osuna – Osuna continues to hit for average on an Altoona Curve offense that has been fairly anemic over the past week, minus a nine run outburst on Tuesday, April 26th. He hit a monster home run over the left field bleachers on Tuesday and added a double on Sunday. His average has slipped slightly, but he continues to get on base with base-on-balls, walking five times in a three game span last week. More impressively, Osuna has shown that he is a field general from the first base position. You can hear him loud and clear every time he calls for a fly ball. He plays the first base position very well, and I’d almost say that he may be leaning towards a slightly above average fielder from the position. – SM

Tito Polo – Polo didn’t get a lot of playing time in the last week, due to some rain in West Virginia. However, I got several chances to see him, and was impressed by this year’s version of the speedy outfielder. He looks much improved over last year, where he had the tools, but wasn’t applying them to games. He used his speed to get on base and create runs by moving up on the base paths. He showed good recognition by adjusting to a pitcher after one at-bat, and using that previous at-bat to anticipate an approach, which led to a key home run on Friday. He hit for a .308/.400/.538 line, and while he still has things to work on, he’s much improved over last year in West Virginia. – TW

Pitchers

Steven Brault – From a pure pitching standpoint, Brault threw the best game I have seen from any pitcher this season. He got through six shutout innings by doing everything right. He hit his spots, kept the ball down, worked the inside corner and changed speeds well, mixing all of his pitches. Brault got a ton of swinging strikes in the game and he was facing a lineup with a lot of experience. His 11 strikeouts tied the Triple-A high from this season, which was set the day before by Tyler Glasnow. He was also coming off an outing in which he had nine strikeouts over five innings and that game was filled with swing and misses from the opposition. Brault has a 1.83 ERA in 19.2 innings, with a .203 BAA. He is lacking the ground balls we saw last year, along with the quick outs, but that is being sacrificed for more strikeouts at this point. Those two numbers (strikeout rate and GO/AO ratio) will likely be closer to where you would expect by the end of the season. The important part is that the command of all of his pitches has been strong, which has led to the great results. – JD

Frank Duncan – The Pirates switched Duncan to the bullpen this year, using him in a long relief role after he had been a starter the previous two years. He’s doing great so far, with an 0.68 ERA in 13.1 innings, along with a 16:4 K/BB ratio. Duncan didn’t project to be a starter in the majors, outside of a rotation depth option or a number five guy in a weak rotation. He’s a sinkerball guy who sees his stuff and approach play up in the bullpen. He has a better shot of reaching the majors in a middle relief role, so the move to the bullpen was a good one. It’s good to see that this is leading to early results. – TW

Yeudy Garcia – One of the biggest questions this year has been wondering what is wrong with Yeudy Garcia. He hasn’t been the dominant pitcher that showed up last year in West Virginia. His walks are up, his velocity is down, and he’s relying too much on his slider. When I’ve seen him this year, the fastball has topped out at 94, and he turned to the slider too much, almost trying to work off the breaking pitch. That’s a big change from last year when he was 94-96 MPH easily, topping out at 97, and using the fastball to set up the slider. I spoke with an NL scout last week who liked Garcia a lot better last year, and didn’t see the same pitcher in the start he saw this year. I spoke with an AL scout who saw him on Sunday, and that scout agreed that he was using the slider too much, and didn’t think it was a good enough pitch to be used that often. You hope that he bounces back and reverts to the 2015 version soon, but right now it’s a mystery as to what is causing the difference in his stuff. – TW

Tyler Glasnow – Glasnow had two starts this week with very different looks, but similar results. On Tuesday, he threw six shutout innings, allowing two hits. On Sunday, he threw two-hit ball over five shutout innings. The difference was the command, with one walk and 11 strikeouts on Tuesday and five walks with seven strikeouts on Sunday. In both games he threw a lot of change-ups, with 15 on Tuesday and about 15-20 on Sunday. The pitch looked better in the first game and that could be due to his fastball being a tick faster in that outing. It had a little bit better separation in velocity, and he was commanding it well, so it was an effective pitch. Glasnow is putting up the numbers to suggest he is ready for the majors now, but he still needs to work on his change-up and his fastball command. In his one poor outing this season, his curve wasn’t working. He didn’t have the plus command of his fastball to fallback on, and wasn’t using the change-up all game. That led to batters sitting fastball and putting up runs. As he proved on Tuesday, when all three pitches are on, he can dominate. Glasnow was named the International League Pitcher of the Week. – JD

Chad Kuhl – He had two starts this week, allowing one run on six hits and two walks in 11 innings. Kuhl had a very impressive stat come out of that second game, as he posted a 12:0 GO/AO ratio. In his first three starts, the grounders were down compared to last year, but that just proved to be a small sample size at work and he’s now right back where you expect him. Kuhl has looked good in all four of his starts, posting a 1.31 ERA and an 0.92 WHIP. In his first three games, he battled some hitters with two strikes, which ran up his pitch count early. In his last game, his command was a little off, which led to a lot of pitches through the first four innings. His sinker has been very effective this season, sitting 93-95. He mixes it well with a change-up and a hard slider. Kuhl has the demeanor on the mound to be an effective reliever, but it’s definitely too early to consider that, especially with the success he is having so far in Triple-A. With the strides he has taken in the last year alone, it’s not out of the question to think he could be a quality Major League starter at some point late this season or next year. – JD

Alex McRae – McRae has been a mixed bag this year. In two of his starts, he has given up four earned runs each. The other three starts have seen him combine for 16 shutout innings. He doesn’t get many strikeouts, and relies on a pitch-to-contact approach, generating a lot of ground balls. That means he’s at the mercy of the BABIP gods, which has either been really good or really bad for him. Long-term, he doesn’t have an out pitch, and will profile better as a reliever. – TW

Logan Sendelbach – Sendelbach is off to a great start this year, with a 1.32 ERA in 27.1 innings, along with a 14:3 K/BB ratio. I saw him this week, when he threw 6.1 shutout innings, giving up six hits and no walks, while striking out two. I’ve seen him have good starts and bad starts in the past, and the key difference is his ability to get ahead of hitters with the fastball. He’s a sinkerball guy who relies on soft contact, but if he’s not commanding his fastball effectively, and getting it over the plate, he struggles. That hasn’t happened much this year, as the numbers would indicate. He doesn’t have a good out pitch, but if he sets up with the fastball well enough, his slider becomes more effective and can generate some outs. Sendelbach is another sinkerball guy who profiles better as a reliever in the long-term, since his upside as a starter would be a depth option or a back of the rotation guy in a weaker rotation, due to his lack of a good breaking pitch. – TW

Jameson Taillon – Taillon went seven innings for the first time this year in his start on Thursday afternoon. He allowed one run on five hits and two walks with seven strikeouts. More importantly, he did it against a lineup with a lot of MLB experience, seven players in all who have played in the majors. Taillon was coming off six shutout innings, with just one hit allowed in his previous start. This weeks outing was better from a scouting standpoint. There was a large difference in the quality of opponent, and Taillon just looked better in the outing. His fastball was down in the zone more often, the curve looked better and his change-up continued to look strong, which has been the case since his first start. He issued two walks (his first two of the season), but he was around the zone all game. He continues to look closer to being Major League ready than any of the other Indianapolis starters. – JD

Brandon Waddell – Waddell has made this article every week. If he does it next week, that would be impressive. He pitched six shutout innings this last week, striking out seven and allowing two hits. That earned him the Florida State League Pitcher of the Week award. He’s been just as dominant in every other outing, which earned him a promotion to Altoona. He makes his debut tomorrow night for Altoona, which means it would be a good sign if he shows up in this article next week. – TW

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