Top Performers: Glasnow, Taillon, Kuhl, Bell, Frazier, Moroff, Newman, Ramirez, Tucker

This week, we had live coverage from all four affiliates, while John Dreker reviewed a lot of the games via MiLB.tv, giving us an additional look at the players throughout the system. I traveled to Indianapolis to get reports on the Triple-A squad, then returned to Bradenton for a game over the weekend. Sean McCool and Abigail Miskowiec had live coverage from Altoona and West Virginia, respectively. All of these reports are combined each week, and used to highlight the top performers during that time span. Here are the top guys this week, and the rundown on their performances:

Position Players

Danny Arribas – Arribas had another big week, making the top performers list for a third time this year, and second week in a row. As I mentioned last time, he’s an athletic player, who can play multiple positions and he gets on base. He seems like the type of player the Pirates focus on getting during their recent drafts. Arribas put up a 1.212 OPS, thanks to a .412 average, a homer, double and six walks. His .874 OPS this season has him ranked tenth in the South Atlantic League and first on West Virginia. Arribas has more walks than strikeouts and he’s 5-for-6 in stolen bases. The big issue with him is age now and room for him in Bradenton if they want to move him up. He’s 23 already, so that’s too old for Low-A. The ability to play third base, catcher, first base and DH, could mean that the Pirates could find at-bats for him in High-A, but he may have to wait until someone ahead of him moves up. – John Dreker

Josh Bell – Bell has struggled for most of the month of May, but his bat came alive this week. One of the most encouraging signs was that this happened from the right side of the plate. In the past, Bell has struggled from the right side, but that hasn’t been the case this year. He has an .896 OPS from the right side, along with a .771 OPS from the left side. The numbers from the left are down a bit, but that shouldn’t be a big concern, as he’s always been much more comfortable from the left side. Bell spent a lot of time this week working on some fine tuning to his swing, including a few different approaches to get his timing back from the left side. Despite hitting well from the right side, he worked to continue improvements there as well. You can read my breakdown of the work he was doing last week in Friday’s Prospect Watch. – Tim Williams

Elvis Escobar – Escobar went 6-for-19 this week, with a home run and an .883 OPS. The best part of his week was the three walks. It doesn’t sound like much, but that’s coming from someone with a season-best 22 walks last year in his fourth season. He also had four walks this year prior to last week. Escobar had big issues last season with being thrown out on the bases. Not only was he not getting on base enough, he was thrown out in 21 of his 36 stolen base attempts. He’s running less this season, going 4-for-6 in steals. He has above average speed, which allows him to cover a lot of ground in the outfield. He also has a strong arm. At 21 years old, Escobar still has upside, so if he could continue to get on base, while showing gap power, speed and strong defense, then he could develop into the prospect the Pirates thought he could be when they signed him to a $570,000 bonus. – JD

Adam Frazier – Frazier had a big week this week, hitting for a .370/.414/.444 line. What impressed me the most was his ability to hit the ball where it was pitched. Twice during the week I saw him take an outside pitch and slice it down the left field line with a nice, controlled swing. A lot of hitters will try to add power to that type of pitch, or will try and do too much by pulling the ball, which usually resuls in a rolled over groundout. Frazier showed smart hitting in these cases. He’s also a heads up player and an aggressive base runner, reminding me a lot of Josh Harrison. I had one scout comment that Frazier is a guy who doesn’t initially impress you, but grows on you over time. He doesn’t have any tools that are great, but does enough things well enough, and the hustle and smarts pushes his game to being a future MLB player. – TW

Connor Joe – Joe got off to a slow start this year, hitting for a .582 OPS in the month of April. He’s been doing much better in May, with a .755 OPS, and that has been improving as the month has gone on. This past week, he hit for a .318/.400/.455 line in 22 at-bats. He has multiple hits in five of his last night games, and has reached base safely in all eight of those games. Joe has good hitting tools, but that hasn’t translated over to the stat line yet. You hope that this is the start of the stats catching up with the skills. – TW

Kevin Kramer – Kramer is another guy who started off slow, and has done much better in May. In the month of April, he hit for a .637 OPS, although a lot of his at-bats were solid contact that didn’t drop in for hits. He’s still making solid contact in May, and hitting for an .810 OPS. He has looked good at second base, looking very comfortable and athletic with the turn on the double play. Offensively, he’s another high OBP guy, although he’s got a bit more power than the rest of the guys in the last few drafts. He might be stuck in Bradenton most of the year, since Erich Weiss is blocking him in Altoona, while possessing similar tools and upside. – TW

Max Moroff – I mentioned earlier that Adam Frazier got good remarks from a scout I talked with this week. Frazier got praise for being a guy who grows on you, after not initially sticking out due to a lack of one strong tool. Coincidentally, I got the same comments from another scout about Max Moroff at the start of last season, saying he does enough things well, and getting a David Eckstein comparison. Moroff has struggled a bit in May, with a .569 OPS, after an .816 OPS in April. He did well in the last week, although that was mostly due to plate patience, as he walked five times in 25 plate appearances, while hitting a home run over the weekend. He and Frazier will provide the Pirates with plenty of bench depth in the future, possibly starting this year. – TW

Carlos Munoz – Munoz is starting to heat up after an April that saw him put up a devilish .666 OPS. He has made the top performers list two weeks in a row now, this time with a .350 average, two doubles and four walks contributing to his inclusion. The power isn’t there that we saw last year in Bristol, but one of his doubles this week did hit off the outfield wall, so he might be getting there. A good sign is that his strikeout totals have remained low as he moved up the system. The thing to watch this year with Munoz is the fact he is playing full-season ball for the first time after five years of short-season ball in the system. Conditioning has been a big issue with him since day one and even with an off-season filled with winter ball, he’s still in bad shape. With his lack of speed and average defense at first base, the bat will really need to get hot for him to continue to climb up the farm system. He will need to show power with the on base skills, mostly because he clogs the bases (or gets lifted for a pinch-runner) when he’s only getting on first base all the time. – JD

Kevin Newman – Newman continues to hit in Bradenton, putting up some pretty consistent numbers. He had an .870 OPS in the month of April, and has an .873 OPS this month, with pretty similar power and OBP distributions. That mostly trends towards a higher OBP, and lower power, as he’s been more of a singles hitter thus far. He does make solid contact at times, but seems to have a knack for placing the ball where the fielders aren’t standing. His bat looks ready for a promotion to Altoona, but his fielding needs work, and is the reason he’s still in Bradenton. The Pirates can focus on that while he’s at a level where he’s clearly comfortable hitting, allowing him to put more attention towards the defense. – TW

Tito Polo – Polo was given a couple days off this week in advance of Casey Hughston being sent down. That means Polo will likely be playing center field everyday for the Power now. He has the speed and defense for it, plus the arm is above average, so that won’t be a problem. He got hits in all five games this week, going 8-for-21 with three doubles and a walk. Despite the strong stats, he also struck out nine times, so he was truly a two outcome player last week. For the season, he has a .780 OPS in 33 games. With the bad week, the strikeouts now look like a problem (35 in 134 at-bats) and he is just 11-for-19 in stolen bases. He hasn’t lost a step since last year, but he also isn’t on pace for the 46-for-59 stolen base success he had last season. He has all the tools to be a legit top prospect, just needs the consistency. – JD

Harold Ramirez – Ramirez’s batting average continues to rise with the temperature, as he batted .333 this past week with two doubles. More importantly, he walked five times compared to only one strikeout over the same span. Ramirez has been displaying a strong opposite field hitting ability, as all of his base hits this past week were to either right or center field. He has admitted that the cold weather adversely affected his performance early in the year, and he has been feeling much better of late. As well as the weather, Ramirez has made some small adjustments with his batting stance, allowing him to get into his swing quicker and more efficiently. – Sean McCool

Mitchell Tolman – Tolman had an .820 OPS last week, driven by a lot of singles. After putting up an .817 OPS with Morgantown last year, there were some higher expectations with him this season. He was a Gold Glove winning third baseman in college last year (and they only hand out one of those for college), but his move to second base hasn’t been as easy as you would hope. The glove has been there for the most part, but earlier this month I saw him get saved by the first baseman on a couple poor throws that came up well short while turning double plays. The plays weren’t smooth like a middle infielder, meaning he looked like a third baseman playing second base. He also missed a routine grounder right at him and didn’t show great range in the series. He has a .673 OPS this year, which wouldn’t play up for a third baseman about to turn 22 in Low-A ball, never mind the fact Ke’Bryan Hayes has that position locked down. If Tolman can continue his recent hot streak at the plate and improve defensively at second base, then there is still a chance for him to be a solid player who moves up the system. – JD

Cole Tucker – Tucker put up an .883 OPS in his second week back with West Virginia. It was a nice step up from a first week that looked like he just had some rust to shake off. In 44 at-bats this year, Tucker has struck out just six times. His swing is more contact oriented and he swings early in the count often, so the strikeout total is not a big surprise, but he did double and triple last week. I got to see him play shortstop twice that first week back and the throws looked fine, same as what I saw last year. So there doesn’t seen to be any shoulder related issues that would prevent him from playing shortstop in the future, which was the worry with a labrum surgery. He should move up to Bradenton around mid-season, probably the same time Kevin Newman moves up to Altoona. – JD

Pitchers

Austin Coley – Coley allowed nine earned runs in his first eight innings this season, getting knocked out early in two starts. Since then, he has turned things around quickly. He has given up a total of seven runs in 34.1 innings since. The last start was seven shutout innings on Wednesday, though I will note that all three Bradenton pitchers who made the list this week did it while pitching against a last place Brevard County team with a .595 OPS. Coley has a .223 BAA this season, and his 1.16 WHIP and 1.00 GO/AO ratio are slight improvements over last year. His control hasn’t been as good, with an impressive 1.5 BB/9 last year, now sitting at 3.4 this season. So he has improved over a slow start, but there is still some work to be done. – JD

Tyler Glasnow – Glasnow made two starts this week, and I got a chance to see the first one. He didn’t have the best stuff in that outing, with a poor changeup, and his fastball velocity down. After the game, Glasnow and Dean Treanor both said that his stuff was off that day. He still managed to give up one run over six innings. He returned to the mound Sunday night, giving up two runs in six innings. He looked great through the first four innings, then fell apart in the final two frames. The Pirates have Glasnow working on the changeup a lot more often these days. He’s still able to put up good numbers, but the actual stuff isn’t going to look good while he’s developing the pitch. He could be an option for later in the season, but doesn’t look like he will be ready in a few weeks when Super Two passes. – TW

Clay Holmes – Holmes took another step in his return from Tommy John surgery, posting his best start since 2013. For the first time all year, he didn’t walk a batter. He also struck out six batters, his high over the last two seasons. Holmes did all that by commanding his fastball well down in the zone, while mixing in his curve, which was very effective all game. He didn’t go to the changeup much, but the pitch has shown improvements this season. Holmes has had mixed results this season, usually because his pitches aren’t all sharp at the same time. When he is on, you see a 93-95 MPH fastball with excellent downward movement and he can bury the pitch down and in to right-handed batters. He gets a lot of soft contact, which has actually hurt him at times with grounders resulting in infield hits, or balls hit too slow to turn double plays. The curve is a low-80’s pitch with a big break at times, while he gets good separation with the changeup at 87-88 MPH. He doesn’t have a lot of innings for a high school pitcher now in Double-A, so he’s still learning the trade and building back up from the missed time. With his stuff, the good outings should eventually far outweigh the bad. – JD

Chad Kuhl – The biggest thing that Kuhl needs to work on is the consistency of his slider. On Monday, he had an excellent outing with the pitch, using it for first pitch strikes, and throwing a wipeout slider for swinging strikeouts. His start was the best in the entire system this year, and a good sign for his ability to be ready for the MLB rotation sooner, rather than later. He didn’t carry the success over to the second start on Saturday, struggling with his slider a bit, and seeing a drop in velocity. Kuhl looks to be ahead of Glasnow in terms of being ready for the big leagues, and could help the Pirates next month in the rotation, especially if he shows consistency with the slider. – TW

Alex McRae – McRae is included this week despite pitching a game that might not count in his final totals. He threw six shutout innings on Thursday, but after nine innings, Bradenton was in a 1-1 tie and in a rain delay. The game was suspended and it will only be finished later next month if it has an effect on the first half playoff race. Since the opposing team has almost been eliminated already, that means Bradenton would need to be within a half game going into the final day of the first half for them to complete the game. If they don’t, then the stats will be wiped out. McRae is having a season much like last year, where he would give up a run or nothing for a couple starts, then have a poor outing. There isn’t a lot of consistency, which you hope to see from a 23-year-old in High-A ball. His 14:21 BB/SO rate in 48 innings also doesn’t give you a lot of hope for future success, especially because he isn’t an extreme ground ball pitcher. He has shown the ability to pitch well at times, and if he can continue to do that more often while limiting the poor outings, then he will have an easier time moving up the system. – JD

Jose Regalado – Regalado allowed two runs over nine innings this week, which followed two no-hit innings in his previous outing. I mention that previous outing more for the fact that it came just three days before he started and threw five shutout innings. Other than his control, Regalado doesn’t wow you with stuff. He usually sits 88-90 with the fastball, and mixes it with a changeup and a slow mid-70’s curve. At 24, he’s likely just a swing-man at this point, filling whatever role they need. – JD

Logan Sendelbach – Sendelbach almost had a much better week to talk about. Through 4.2 innings on Saturday, he had allowed just one walk and no hits. Three batters and 23 pitches later, he was pulled from the game. Those three long plate appearances produced a double and two walks, ruining a game that started off so great. On Monday, he allowed three runs over five innings. Sendelbach has a solid 3.18 ERA this season, which is skewed by one really poor outing in which he gave up seven run in 1.2 innings. In his other starts, he’s given up nine earned runs in 43.2 innings. He’s been getting results mostly due to solid command of his fastball down in the zone. Last year at Bristol, he left the pitch up often and it would get flat, leading to some very poor games. This year has been a total turnaround, with nice downward plane on the pitch, as he works the lower half of the plate. He throws a slider too, which needs work, but commanding the fastball has been the big focus this season and it seems to be paying off. – JD

Jameson Taillon – Of the three Indianapolis pitchers, Taillon looks to be the most ready, and the one guy who would probably be up today if it wasn’t for Super Two, and the two years of injuries. When I saw him this week, he pitched six shutout innings, walking none and striking out eight. The impressive thing was that he didn’t have his best curveball on the night, but was able to rely on the changeup to make up for the lack of his second best pitch. The key difference here between Taillon and Glasnow is that you know the curve is going to be there for Taillon, while the changeup was the pitch in question heading into the year. He will have starts where one of his pitches is off, and the fact that he can rely on all three of them now means that he won’t be greatly impacted when one of the pitches does have an off night. – TW

Trevor Williams – You’d expect Trevor Williams to be on this list, since he’s a Triple-A pitcher who was making a rehab start in A-ball. He had a great start, pitching an easy five shutout innings, while showing good command of his pitches, and flashing a fastball that was 91-95 MPH, mostly sitting around 92. He will make his next start in Indianapolis, giving another boost to the rotation. The Pirates are still considering him a starter, so I wouldn’t expect him to be a bullpen option for the big league club at this point. However, if the Pirates get a few prospects working in the big league rotation, and Williams is pitching well in Triple-A later in the season, I could see them bringing him up as a bullpen option at that point. – TW

Analysis

  • Hey Tim: As someone who is still scratching his head over the pick two years ago, I am curious, how far is Connor Joe out of the Top 30? If his offense continues to improve do you see him getting back in?

    • You should check out your copy of the Prospect Guide to see where he’s ranked. 🙂

      • I forgot to buy mine during Spring Training this year. 🙂 BTW, funny Connor Joe story: Wife and I caught a West Virginia game last June. Looking around I saw a well dressed Asian couple in their 50s, and the husband was wearing a very nice Pirates polo style shirt. I told my wife, “I think those are Connor Joe’s parents.” to which my Filipina wife responded, “Probably because those two plus me are the only Asians in this whole park!” 😉 And she was correct.

  • Frazier, Newman, Kramer — cut from the same cloth as Freddie Sanchez. Sanchez could drop a double down either line at any time. But for his injuries….

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