Top Performers: Newman and Kramer Lead a Big Week For the Bradenton Offense

This week, we had live coverage from all four affiliates, while John Dreker reviewed a lot of the games via, giving us an additional look at the players throughout the system. 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

Barrett Barnes – Barnes didn’t have any big games last week, collecting one hit each in five of his six games. What he did do is show some power, with a triple and his first home run of the season. He got off to a terrible start this season, beginning a few days late due to a concussion he suffered near the end of Spring Training. Barnes finished April with a .621 OPS and that was helped by three hits on the 29th. So far in May, he has a .783 OPS and has watched his average climb 143 points in the last 17 days. Barnes has also played some solid defense in left field recently, though his arm looks below average at this point. He has made a few diving catches, shown solid range and even robbed a home run. Due to his age, previous Double-A experience, and tools, he’s a candidate for a mid-season promotion if he can continue to play like he has this month. – John Dreker

Elvis Escobar – There was a time when Elvis Escobar looked like a very similar prospect as Harold Ramirez. Both were small outfielders with good contact ability, speed, the range and arm strength to play center field, and gap power. Ramirez took off, while Escobar saw his progress stalled in Low-A. He had better results last year, and has had some good numbers this year, but ultimately he lacks consistency to put up strong numbers for an entire season. This past week was one of the weeks where his bat was on, hitting for a .947 OPS with two doubles and a triple. He was making hard contact with a lot of line drives. I’m not convinced he’ll ever put it together on a consistent basis, enough to have success beyond A-ball. That said, he’s still young, at the age of 21. If he was an American, he’d be a college junior this year, and wouldn’t make it to Bradenton until next year at the earliest, or possibly even 2018. So there’s still time for him to refine his game, and the tools are there for him if he ever does put it all together. – Tim Williams

Ke’Bryan Hayes – When I saw Hayes two weeks ago in West Virginia, he was in a bit of a slump. I wrote about the mechanical changes he made to his stance that weekend, and it led to a few hard hit balls, and his second hit of that week. The changes must have worked well, since he continued hitting last week, putting up a .961 OPS. He also homered twice in that span. Defensively, Hayes looks smooth at third base. His big focus this year will need to be on the offensive side of the game, making sure his swing and stance are consistent. You can expect him to stick in West Virginia all year to work on that. There’s no need to rush him, since he’s very young and the Pirates have Jung-ho Kang in the majors for several more years. Even despite the age, Hayes has looked very promising this year. – TW

Kevin Kramer – I saw Kramer for a series early in April, and he was making a lot of hard contact, but wasn’t getting a lot of hits. I saw him last week, and the hard contact remained, but the hits were starting to fall in. He hit for a 1.043 OPS, hitting his first two homers of the year this week. Kramer isn’t a big home run guy, and those were actually his first two homers of his pro career. He’s more of a line drive, gap hitter who has the ability to get on base and hit for a high average. He’s starting to do that more and more as the season progresses. All of the attention at the start of the year has been on his middle infield partner, Kevin Newman, but Kramer is starting to show why he was a second round pick last year. – TW

Jordan Luplow – Luplow had an impressive season last year in West Virginia, although that was largely fueled by a monster second half after he adjusted to the level, and adjusted to learning third base. He has moved back to the outfield this year, with Connor Joe at third. Outfield is a more comfortable assignment for him, since it is what he played all throughout college. Still, the offense has struggled at the start of the season. It might be picking up, as he had a 1.161 OPS this week, thanks to two homers. He only had four hits on the week in 14 at-bats, so his overall numbers aren’t going to see a big increase. You’d hope to see that second half success start to translate to the higher level for Luplow, and a lot sooner than the second half this year. One thing to consider here is that Luplow had labrum surgery at the end of last year on his non-throwing shoulder. That doesn’t impact him in the field, but is his lead shoulder when batting. So it’s possible he’s still building up, and might improve at the plate as the season goes on and he gets further from his injury. – TW

Kevin Newman – Newman only played four games this past week, but picked up multiple hits in each game, which has been a recurring theme for him this season. He’s not hitting for a lot of power, but he is hitting a lot, with a .361/.411/.433 line. He’s also showing great plate patience, with a 7:6 BB/K ratio in 97 at-bats. The offense looks ready for a promotion to Altoona, but the defense still needs some work. Newman is focusing on his setup, making sure he’s in good position to make a play before a pitch is thrown. He also has struggled a bit lately with faster plays, booting a few balls when he’s trying to attempt to start a quick double play. For now, it might be better for him to stay at a level where his bat is obviously comfortable, so that he can spend more time working on the defense. – TW

Tito Polo – Polo was my breakout pick in West Virginia last year, but he didn’t break out, struggling for a .641 OPS on the season. He’s having much better results this time around, with an .837 OPS and four homers on the season. Two of those home runs came this week, leading to his .993 OPS. He’s got the range and arm strength to be a center fielder, along with the speed to be a weapon on the bases. He tends to get out of control at times, swinging at pitches he shouldn’t swing at, and showing sloppy base running, despite his speed. He’s still young, and has a lot of tools. It’s good to see that the hit tool and the power potential from his small frame are working so far this season. – TW

Jerrick Suiter – Suiter is a corner player, but doesn’t have the power you’d expect from a corner infielder or outfielder. He moved to first base this year, which requires more power, or a lot of contact and a high on-base percentage. It seems that he goes for the latter, as he has a very wide stance, limiting the power potential from his 6′ 4″, 230 pound frame. He does a good job of spraying the ball around the field and getting hits, although that hasn’t been consistent this year. This was one of his better weeks, going 8-for-16 with a double and his first homer of the year. He had a four hit game to start the week, and didn’t let up from there. In order to be a true prospect who has a shot of making the majors, Suiter will need to hit like this a lot more frequently. – TW


Frank Duncan – Due to the doubleheader on Saturday, Duncan got the Sunday start for Altoona and impressed. As a reliever this season, he had a 1.20 ERA, 18 strikeouts and a 2.25 GO/AO ratio in 15 innings. He had an oblique injury during Spring Training, which held him back at the start of the season. In his start on Sunday, he allowed one run over 5.2 innings and the opposition really didn’t get to him until the sixth, which is the first time he went that far this year. He finished the game with an incredible 15:0 GO/AO ratio. There is nothing fancy with Duncan, he gets his results due to commanding the lower half of the strike zone and mixing his pitches well. His control is probably as good as you will see in the system. He pitches to contact, which sometimes results in too many hits, but he can get the occasional strikeout to get out of jams. It will be interesting to see if they put him in the starting role, or continue to get him extended outings as a reliever. – JD

Tyler Eppler – Eppler pitched the first complete game of the season for the Pirates. During the first game of a doubleheader on Saturday, he went the full seven innings and allowed just one run on four hits, with one walk and two strikeouts. That gave him a 2.97 ERA through six starts, with a 1.10 WHIP and a 25:7 K/BB ratio. On paper, this was his second best outing, and also the first time he went seven innings. I have seen better from him, as he got three above average defensive plays behind him and there were also some other well hit balls right at people. He is usually good at keeping the ball on the ground, but he finished with a 7:8 GO/AO ratio and that didn’t include a few line drives. Eppler still got the results though, and he’s been solid in every start so far. His fastball has consistently been 92-94 MPH and his slider is showing improvements and getting good results. – JD

Tyler Glasnow – Glasnow probably had the best control he’s ever had as a pro on Saturday. He was around the zone the entire game and his only walk was a battle, which included two very close pitches called balls. Glasnow was hitting corners with his fastball and keeping the ball down, going up the ladder with two strikes to get some chases. There were a lot of swinging strikes in his 11 strikeout performance. The curve has been better, but I don’t think I’ve seen him command it better. He was throwing it a little harder than usual and it didn’t have the big break that usually freezes hitters, but the results were there due to the command. His changeup is still a work in progress. It doesn’t have good separation from his fastball and sometimes it looks/acts just like the fastball, so he’s basically just speeding up the hitter’s bat. He did throw a couple nice ones with late downward action though, and ever since he started throwing the pitch more often three starts ago, there hasn’t been any damage done on a changeup. It still needs work, but it’s effective against Triple-A hitters. Glasnow leads the International League with 48 strikeouts in 33 innings. He has a 1.64 ERA, a .184 BAA and a 1.03 WHIP, to go along with a 1.09 GO/AO ratio. – JD

Mitch Keller – Keller proved how good his fastball really is on Wednesday because it was the only pitch working for him. He went seven innings for the first time and cruised, allowing one run on three hits and a walk. Even that one run was a fluke because he got three ground balls in the inning that all looked like sure double plays. The first two grounders only resulted in one out and that’s when the run scored. This outing is everything you want to see from the results standpoint. He had ten ground ball outs, six strikeouts, and only two balls were hit well off him all game. The downside was that his curve wasn’t working at all. By now there is probably a scouting report for opposing teams, so having a curve that looks plus at times probably helps keep batters from sitting fastball all the time. He didn’t go to the change-up often even though it’s a good pitch. Keller continued to use the curve without results, while the fastball sat 93-96 and did all the damage, getting called strikes, swinging strikes and soft contact. Through five starts, he has an 0.96 ERA, an 0.61 WHIP, a .160 BAA and 34 strikeouts in 28 innings. – JD

Chad Kuhl – Kuhl continued his impressive start to the season by cruising through six innings, allowing one run on two hits and a walk, throwing just 78 pitches total. One of the biggest lies you hear in baseball is when a pitcher says he made one mistake all game and the opposing batter made him pay. No pitcher throws 99% of their pitches right where they want them, but Kuhl was pretty darn close in this game. His “only mistake” was a fastball he got up to Brandon Allen, who deposited it over the right field wall. Allen has over 200 homers as a pro, and he has some MLB time, so he’s a tough Triple-A batter. The rest of the game, Kuhl worked quickly, kept the ball down and mixed his pitches well. That resulted in an 8:3 GO/AO ratio, four strikeouts and a lot of soft contact. Besides the home run, the only other thing that was off was Kuhl’s fastball, which was sitting 92-93, hitting 94 MPH, instead of sitting 93-95 like usual. He now has a 1.35 ERA in 26.2 innings, with 21 strikeouts and an 0.82 WHIP, which ranks second in the IL behind Taillon. – JD

Edgar Santana – Santana continues to look impressive out of the Marauders bullpen. Every time I’ve seen him this year, he has been throwing a 93-96 MPH fastball, along with a sharp breaking slider that completely fools A-ball hitters. In 22.1 innings this year, he has given up just two earned runs, along with 13 hits, 2 walks, and 20 strikeouts. He’s also generating a lot of ground balls, with a 61% rate so far. With his stuff, results, and age (he’s 24, but only in his third year in pro ball), Santana is a guy who looks like he deserves a move to Altoona sooner, rather than later. – TW

Jameson Taillon – Taillon had an odd start on Tuesday compared to the rest of his outings. There were a lot of fly balls and some well-struck line drives. He didn’t get many swing and misses from the opposing batters. So how did he end up with seven shutout innings on two hits and a walk? Taillon worked efficiently all game, pounding the lower half of the strike zone. He also had all three pitches working, something that really hasn’t happened in any of his other starts despite the results. Either the fastball has been up, or the curve has been erratic. His changeup has looked average or better in every start, so despite the hard contact and lack of swinging strikes, his pitching line matched his stuff last week. He has a 1.19 ERA in 30.1 innings and leads the International League with an 0.76 WHIP. He’s holding batters to a .182 average and he has a 1.10 GO/AO ratio. The only issue now seems to be limiting his innings, so he’s got enough for late September, and hopefully, October starts. You would assume they want to limit him while he’s in the minors, not after he is called up. – JD

  • thecrow124
    May 9, 2016 2:57 pm

    I am really not sure how much limiting there will be to Taillon’s innings. I started out the season saying I didn’t believe he would be anything more than an option for the bullpen this season. I can admit that I am most likely wrong on that assessment. However, by bringing him up in June, there should be 2-3 times where his rotation spot could be skipped just by off days. Then there is the All Star break, where he could miss at least 1 more start. That would reduce his starts by 3-4 over the course of the rest of the season. That would put him at about 26-ish regular season starts. That would work out to roughly 156 innings if he averaged 6IP/start.
    I am probably wrong, but I thought I read somewhere where the Pirates said they wanted to keep Taillon below 180IP, but weren’t overly concerned because he had pitched 140+ innings in the past. I’m not sure I am fully comfortable with that logic, but it is not my call.
    The one I would be more worried about limiting innings for is Glasnow, I don’t believe he has ever gone over 130IP in his career.

    • John Dreker
      May 9, 2016 5:51 pm

      Taillon starts tonight, so he would have 26 starts left including this one if they didn’t skip and at 5 innings each, that is 130 right there, plus the 30.1 he already did. If he went 6 each, that’s 156, plus 30.1, which is over their maximum and leaves nothing for October. He has gone seven innings in each of his last two starts

      Glasnow threw 124 innings in 2014, then made a playoff start, two Instructional League starts and pitched 19.1 innings in the Fall League, so he was over 160 innings. Last year he did 109 regular season, 12 playoff and approx 25 in the Fall Lg, plus he threw for two weeks while he was returning from his ankle injury, so he had 146ish plus throwing on the side to build back up.

      • HartHighPirate
        May 9, 2016 6:00 pm

        Good reply JD. At ages 22 (TG) and 23 (JT) they have only just begun.

  • From strictly a statistical view, Adam Frazier might be the guy performing the best with the least attention (and no, this isn’t a Jose Osuna-like complaint).

    .287/.388/.368 w/ 12%BB and 14%K is wayyyyy more than I expected from his first run through AAA. He certainly looks more capable of filling a big league role than Max Moroff right now, and arguably Alen Hanson as well.

    • freddylang
      May 9, 2016 2:34 pm

      Especially from a standpoint of coming in very infrequently as the 25th man Frazier has the most sound approach for getting 4-5 ab or so a week. I wouldn’t want moroff or Hanson coming in cold a lot and in on base situations with their alarming k rates. You can definitely tell moroff is still in adjustment phase in aaa.

    • Whom would you suggest he replace on the current roster? I do not see any holes.

      • freddylang
        May 9, 2016 3:48 pm

        I think he’s just saying in case they did need to promote someone in the UTIL role.

        • And in ’17 and beyond, in particular.

          No way the Pirates will be able to afford Sean Ruth next year. 😉

          • Too bad they didn’t sign him to a multi year contract.

          • He might be worth triple what he was paid this year…and I’m still afraid they might pay it again…Then again if SRuth hits 10-12 HR this year I might think about paying him at least 5-6 mil. I can’t believe I just said that.

      • Holes might be missing, but you can always enjoy more depth for the times that Harrison sees poor BABIP luck or has an off year.

        Harrison isnt a type of guy you can count on to hit .300 for an entire season, so having a utility guy capable to step in and fill a role well helps if/when Josh Harrison sees his free swinging ways hurt him.

  • freddylang
    May 9, 2016 1:45 pm

    Glasnow, taillon, kuhl, brault at Indy this year: 116.2 ip, 84h, 32bb, 130k, 4 HR allowed, 1.70era, 0.994 era. Incredible. The era should be even lower than it is.

    • Um, don’t forget Boscan…

      1.61 ERA, 23:3 K:BB.

      • freddylang
        May 9, 2016 2:35 pm

        I didn’t forget Bosco. I was just trying to stick to the prospects…but he probably deserved to be included just for how good he has been.

        • While I wouldn’t call him a top prospect…his arm doesn’t scare me. He was solid in AAA last season, is stellar this year, and is only 26. Maybe AAA is his ceiling, but…it weren’t for the big guns the Pirates have there…I’d say he deserves to have his tires kicked if the back end of the rotation needs adjusting.

          And, quite frankly, if someone gets called up before the Super Two date…my money’s on him 🙂

  • Boy, it is just phenomenal to have all of that potentially good pitching.

    We are on heady days with our farm system?

    • And to still be holding out hope for Kingham and waiting for the return of Williams. Lots of arms to dream on…

      • freddylang
        May 9, 2016 1:55 pm

        Hopefully they can fix the staff and the pen with 2-4 of those guys.

        • It pains me to think some of those arms will end up in the pen. Especially at AAA…every one of those guys seems to have the stuff to be a starter…even if it’s just as a solid back of the rotation arm.

          • But how many realistically project to be more than a #4/5? Honest question/conversation.

            At what point is it better for the organization to push a redundant starter or two into a role that’s more valuable to the organization?

            • freddylang
              May 9, 2016 3:47 pm

              That’s a good question NMR. Glasnow/Taillon sure look like more than a 4/5 and Brault is a lefty that gets strikeouts and hits and fields so that makes him a #4 type that you want to hold onto, especially playing 81 games at PNC. I guess that leaves Kuhl as your tradable guy? Especially without having a dominant #2 pitch.

              • I’m also skeptical that Kuhl has the secondaries to consistently be a guy who turns a lineup over enough to put up at least 180 IP as a starter with a FIP under 3.75 or so, which is roughly what I see as mid-rotation on a contender. I’m also skeptical that Brault can do the same, albeit for different reasons, and very much don’t see Williams as that guy.

                None of these prospects are valuable enough for an impact player in return, so to me, they’re perfect options for bullpen improvements. I’ve said it before, but the most damning part of what I’ll call the first phase of drafting and development under Huntington is that they haven’t just missed on the TOR arms or even long-term starters, but that they haven’t even produced marginal relievers outside of Justin Wilson. Justin Wilson’s have plenty of value in and of themselves. Let’s do more of that!

            • What, for instance, would keep Chad Kuhl from contributing to shore up the Pirate bullpen right now?

            • Fair points.

              A couple of things about how I’m looking at it, first….When projecting, I tend to think you’re stretching it even going to AA. The picture starts to clear there, but can still be muddled. So, I’m looking at the guys who are on their way to AAA or already there.

              Secondly, when I say a 4/5, that probably needs to be defined. And, realistically, I think it might be a little overly optimistic. Typically, I’d call a guy who can pull an ERA around 4.00 and contribute about 170 IP as a solid back of the rotation arm. This isn’t what the Pirates have had…for the last couple of seasons, their last slots have been filled with: “Oh, god, I hope he doesn’t implode tonight,” arms.

              That said, I’d say Glasnow has the ceiling of a 1-2, Taillon a 2+, Kuhl a 3-4, Brault/Kingham/Williams a 4-5. At AA, I don’t see anyone who’s established themselves enough to even try to seriously project yet. If you put a gun to my head, Waddell’s sample-size it too small, so I’d have to say Eppler has the most promise…but, until either of them start pitching against borderline ML talent…meh, I’ll abstain.

              So, I suppose the short answer to your first question is I see three guys who are better than a 4-5, and another three who have the potential to meet what I define as a 4-5.

              Now for the other question…”At what point is it better for the organization to push a redundant starter or two into a role that’s more valuable to the organization?” That’s a tough one. A solid 4-5 starter has a lot more value than most relief pitchers. So, if the Pirates have surplus 4-5 arms, in a perfect world, they wouldn’t put them in the pen…instead, they’d capitalize on their assets by trading them for less valuable BP arms, plus additional pieces.

              Unfortunately, that ‘perfect world’ thing isn’t all that helpful…first, while I think these guys have the potential, they haven’t really established any value aside from prospect, secondly, there will be injuries and underperformances…so the team will need depth. So, yeah…if these guys are going to play for the Pirates, their best route is, most likely, in the pen.

              • Great post.

              • back end 7th 8th 9th inning guys win championships, of all those 4-5 starters, you look for a guy who pitches can project to plus pitches for one inning.

            • Remember your question asked, “who is a #3 or better”. Taillon, Glasnow, Kuhl in 2016/2017. Waddell, Kingham, Eppler in 2018. Keller in 2019. Who needs Liriano after 2017, Cole after 2018? The rest of the current rotation is already expendable.

          • freddylang
            May 9, 2016 2:28 pm

            It would be awesome to see what it does for the staff overall to have guys in the pen that want to and possibly can start. It could bring a very interesting competitive edge to the entire pitching staff. It’s not often where you see guys that could move out of pen and into rotation. The pirates have mostly had very defined roles with the pen. Still, some of these guys would be getting thrown into a role they aren’t used to in a pennant race so it might happen more organically next year rather than in the heat of the battle. They may want to just go out and get “true” relievers. We will see.