Every week we have live reports from all over the system, while I provide additional views of the minors via MiLB.tv, which included Indianapolis and Altoona this week. We also had live coverage from Indianapolis, Bradenton, West Virginia and the GCL in the past week. All of these reports are combined and used each week to highlight the top performers during that time span. This week we went with the top ten hitters and top ten pitchers. With more teams playing, we went with the top ten hitters only to keep the list manageable. In the past, we included everyone who reached an .800 OPS with 20 plate appearances, but the list would have been much longer if we continued that method with eight affiliates playing now. Here are the top guys this week, and the rundown on their performances:

HITTERS

Danny Arribas – Throughout his career, Arribas has shown the ability to hit for average and get on base. He hasn’t shown as much power in the past, although that is starting to change this year. His ISO on the season is .154, making this the second year where his ISO was over .095. The other season was a .119 ISO in 2014 in the GCL. He helped that cause this week, hitting two home runs to give him nine on the season. Putting that in perspective, he had eight career home runs in five seasons in short-season ball coming into the year. Arribas is still a fringe prospect, but becomes more interesting with the boost in power, along with his ability to hit for average and get on base at a high rate. Add in the ability to play anywhere on the field and Arribas becomes a very interesting fringe prospect to watch as he moves up in the system. – Tim Williams

Josh Bell – Bell has been a regular in these Top Performer articles all season, which has led to a .947 OPS that has him first in the International League. He is second with a .409 OBP and first with a .537 slugging percentage, while trailing Adam Frazier by nine points for the batting title. Bell has 19 doubles, four triples, 12 homers and 40 walks, ranking in the top ten in the league in all four categories. Basically, he’s getting on base on a lot and hitting for power. We have documented the improvements he has shown on defense all season, looking much better now than at the end of last season, and he continues to improve. He should be up in the majors sometime soon, with September 1st being the latest we could see that happen if they’re just waiting for a spot to open up. The extra time in the minors won’t hurt him for next year, especially since it’s easier to continue working on defense in Triple-A, as opposed to the majors where everything speeds up. – John Dreker

Anderson Feliz – The 24-year-old Feliz has had a solid season this year with a .289/.338/.417 slash line in 55 games, while seeing time at all four infield positions and two spots in the outfield. He gets lost because he was a minor league free agent signing, but Feliz actually missed a lot of time during his career due to injury, so for someone who signed at age 16, he doesn’t have a ton of experience. He is currently on a 12-game hitting streak and a 17-game on base streak. Feliz will be a free agent again at the end of this season, but he is someone the Pirates will probably consider bringing back due to his versatility and overall value, especially if he continues to play like he has over the last three weeks. – JD

Alen Hanson – Over the last nine games, Hanson has been hitting well, getting on base and using his plus speed to make a difference on the bases. His streak started a little too late to make last week’s Top Performer list, but he has hit .367 in those nine games, with five walks and five stolen bases. He leads Indianapolis with 23 steals and he’s just one behind Tito Polo for the lead among all Pirates, though Hanson has only been caught six times, while Polo has been caught 11 times this year. After a strong start to the season which included an .805 OPS in April, Hanson had a very poor May with a .463 OPS. Since May 31st though, he has a .771 OPS, and those early season strikeout issues have disappeared, with 11 strikeouts in his last 131 plate appearances. If he can maintain those numbers, then his speed and defense (at second base) will get him back to the majors soon if a spot opens. Continuing to get experience in the outfield will help open up more spots for him to possibly fill.  – JD

Jhoan Herrera – The Pirates liked Herrera enough to give him a $300,000 bonus to sign in July 2012. They liked the raw power from a left-handed bat and they saw a glimpse of it during his first season in the DSL in 2013, but he didn’t hit for average and struck out too much. They next year he injured his ankle and missed half of the season, then went from the U.S. back to the DSL to play. He returned to the GCL last year and had 15 extra-base hits and a .265 average, which isn’t bad in the pitching-friendly league. This season he has started off with a .926 OPS in his first 11 games with Bristol. He began his career as a third baseman, but has only played first base the last two years, so the bat is going to need to carry him. For now he’s just a name to keep an eye on. – JD

Logan Hill – Coming into the season, there was a lot of promise with Hill. He went to Bradenton, which was an aggressive promotion for his first full season, but got lost on that roster and didn’t get much playing time. He also struggled, and was demoted to West Virginia, where he could play everyday. The numbers haven’t improved in West Virginia, and have actually gone down. This week he had much better results, going 7-for-18 with a home run and two doubles. The week before, Hill had two doubles, and in his last nine games he has four doubles and a home run. He had just four doubles and three home runs in his first 44 games of the season. So hopefully this is a sign that things are starting to click for the outfielder. – TW

Carlos Munoz – Munoz had a big year last year in Bristol, putting up his usual high average and high OBP, while adding some power from his big frame. He hasn’t had the same results yet this year, but is still showing some signs of his abilities. His average is lower, but he’s still walking more than he strikes out, and he’s not striking out much. His OBP is still high, and his ISO is decent, but should be higher for a guy who is limited to first base or DH. Munoz got on the list this week due to a big finish over the weekend. In his last two games, he went 7-for-8 with a triple, a home run, and a walk. – TW

Michael Suchy – Suchy is one of the biggest outfielders in the system, and you’d think that size would come with some power. He does show off his power potential from time to time, but is mostly a guy who hits for average and gets on base. This week he showed a bit of power, with a double and a home run on Monday, and a triple to close out the week on Sunday. But he made the list largely by hitting, going 8-for-21, with three multi-hit games. That double at the start of last week was the only double he had in June. Being a big guy who relies on average and OBP isn’t bad, and the lack of home runs (3 this year) also isn’t bad, but you need some sort of power to make up for this, and Suchy needs to show that more consistently in the doubles department. – TW

Mitchell Tolman – Tolman is quietly putting up a nice season at the plate, hitting for an .815 OPS with seven home runs, and a 40:31 BB/K ratio in 294 plate appearances. The reason it has been so quiet is that he started slow, with a .679 OPS in the month of April. He improved on that in May, with a .779 OPS, and continued improving in June, hitting for a .902 OPS. That included a big finish to the month this week. Last Monday he went 4-for-4 with a home run. On Thursday, he wrapped the month up going 2-for-3 with two homers. He continued the hitting over the weekend, going 3-for-6 combined on Saturday and Sunday, with two walks and another home run. Abigail Miskowiec wrote about Tolman this week, and how he’s been a key member of the West Virginia offense. – TW

Erich Weiss – Weiss has been solid all season at second base for Altoona. He has a .285/.355/.423 slash line in 72 games, with 15 doubles, six triples and three homers. His defense has been strong this year as well, showing an improvement in his overall game. Weiss had some trouble with left-handed pitching early in his career and his didn’t do well in limited at-bats against them last year in his first taste of Double-A action. This season however, he has a .727 OPS against southpaws. He put up two strong months to start the season, then June was a down month, finishing with a .626 OPS despite a strong finish to the month. He has hit .351 in his last ten games, and that even includes an 0-for-4 yesterday, so he looks like he’s back on track. His upside remains a utility bench player due to lack of any plus tools and it’s important to remember that he’s almost 25 years old in Double-A, which is older than six of the starters in Indianapolis ahead of him. – JD

PITCHERS

Dario Agrazal – Agrazal isn’t having the best numbers this year, posting a 4.79 ERA in 77 innings, with a 44:12 K/BB ratio. He’s a sinkerball pitcher, although his groundball percentage is down this year, going from 61% last year to 44% this year. That might be the reason he’s giving up more hits this time around, leading to the struggles. He had a good start this week, going seven innings with just three hits, one walk, and striking out two. However, that hasn’t been consistent lately, with three of his last six outings leading to six earned runs or more, and the other two having three earned runs or more. – TW

Buddy Borden – The Pirates signed Borden back and assigned him to Bradenton last week. He was drafted by them in the seventh round in 2013, then traded prior to the 2015 season for Sean Rodriguez. He struggled with his control with the Rays this year, pitching out of their Double-A bullpen. The Pirates have him working out of the Bradenton rotation, trying to get his control back on track by working off the fastball. That has gone well in his first two starts. He combined for two earned runs in 8.2 innings of work, along with six hits, three walks, and six strikeouts. Borden was sitting 90-93 MPH with his fastball in the first outing. He still has some work to do with the curveball and changeup, but priority number one right now is getting the fastball back on track and working off that pitch. – TW

Steven Brault – Brault ran into a little trouble in his first start back with Indianapolis, giving up two runs in 3.1 innings. He wasn’t as sharp as we normally see, plus he was working on a limited pitch count, but the trouble was the umpires. The two runs scored on a ball that was ruled a home run despite clearly going foul and it wasn’t even close. Then Brault pitched last week and threw five shutout innings, looking like the pitcher we saw back in late April when his 11-strikeout performance was (and still is) the best pitched game I’ve seen all season. Brault does a great job of mixing his pitches/speeds and throwing all of them for strikes. He hits corners, pitches inside and keeps the ball down. He gets a lot of swing and misses as well, despite not having overpowering stuff. He relies more on deception, movement and control. Brault is also an athletic player, giving more value in the field and at the plate than your normal pitcher. He is also tough on left-handed batters, who have yet to homer once against him during his pro career. – JD

Frank Duncan – I mentioned last Monday that Duncan is becoming a regular in these Top Performer articles, so what does he do last week? He threw seven shutout innings, with five hits, no walks and seven strikeouts. His rise from Spring Training oblique injury, to late start to the season, to Altoona bullpen, to a 2.42 ERA in nine starts for Indianapolis, is incredible. Combined with his stats from Altoona, he has a 2.40 ERA in 78.2 innings, with 70 strikeouts, a 1.91 GO/AO ratio, a .228 BAA and 1.00 WHIP. He was given a tough assignment early in the year by spot starting in Indianapolis, and he has performed well beyond expectations. He gets results by throwing strikes, keeping the ball down and pitching to contact to keep his pitch count low. Despite that last part, he has still put up a strong strikeout rate. We projected him as a possible back-end starter and while that is still the upside, he is a lot closer to reaching it than he was last year. – JD

Tyler Eppler – Eppler faced Bowie on June 25th and gave up four runs on 11 hits over 6.1 innings. Five days later he faced that same Bowie team in Altoona and threw six shutout innings, tying his career high with six strikeouts. Eppler has had some trouble with fastballs up in the zone this year and that has led to mixed results. None of his stats really stand out other than the amount of innings he has put in this season. After his start on Thursday, he was tied for the Eastern League lead with 94.2 innings. His 19 walks are also an impressive total for the innings he has pitched, but the 3.71 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 61 strikeouts and an 0.86 GO/AO ratio are all numbers you would like to see him improve on. If he can do a better job of keeping his fastball down in the zone, then I think the results will look more like his last game against Bowie and less like the previous outing. – JD

Yeudy Garcia – Garcia has struggled most of the year with his command, but he’s showing some positive signs in his last two starts. He gets on this list by giving up one earned run in 6.1 innings last week, with six hits, no walks, and six strikeouts. That follows a start the week before where he threw seven innings with no earned runs, four hits, one walk, and nine strikeouts. The most encouraging thing about those starts is that he needed 84 pitches in the seven inning outing, and 90 this past week. All throughout the year, Garcia had been seeing high pitch counts, reaching the 85-90 pitch range in 4-5 innings. He would have good results in those innings, but wasn’t efficient at all, and wasn’t showing that his results could lead to success in the upper levels. The last two outings are an encouraging sign that he’s starting to get better command of his fastball. – TW

Clay Holmes – The last two starts by Clay Holmes have been some of the best pitching we have seen all season. In fact, over his last four starts, he has allowed just three runs over 24 innings. His last start was as good as you will see. The 6’5″, 230 pound righty pounded the bottom of the strike zone all game, while mixing in a curveball that got great results. He finished with nine strikeouts and a 9:0 GO/AO ratio. His season GO/AO ratio is 3.00, which is as good as you will see in the upper levels. He has also picked up his strikeouts recently, with 26 over those last 24 innings. Holmes always had potential, but the command was never the best and his off-speed pitches lacked consistency. That was even true earlier in the year this season, which led to some poor results in games that you still saw glimpses of the talent. Now we are seeing a player with more confidence and better command of his pitches, who throws hard and doesn’t mind pitching inside, keeping batters uncomfortable and off-balance all game. – JD

Leandro Pina – Unless you read the DSL game recaps, you probably don’t know who Leandro Pina is and why he made our list. Pina has made five starts this season and every one of them has two things in common. Five innings pitched and zero earned runs. In the DSL, the Pirates cap their pitchers off at five innings or 75 pitches, whichever comes first. Pina has maxed out his innings each time mostly because he has issued just two walks. He is a 17-year-old, 6’3″ right-handed pitcher, who the Pirates signed last July for $115,000. Pina gets his fastball into the low-90s and matches it with a plus changeup. It’s obviously too early in his career to make any predictions, but he is a name to remember from the DSL Pirates. – JD

Logan Sendelbach – Sendelbach is having a great season, putting up a 3.21 ERA in 87 innings, with a 64:23 K/BB ratio. He’s doing a much better job this year of commanding his fastball and keeping the ball down in the zone. He had two good starts this week, combining for two earned runs in 11 innings, with seven hits, three walks, and six strikeouts. It’s unlikely that Sendelbach would get a promotion to Bradenton this year, since that rotation is pretty full. He should remain a starter with this performance, and will likely stay in the role next year, remaining in that position until he shows he can’t be a starter anymore. After his debut last season, I was expecting this year to be his final year in the rotation, but he has done an outstanding job to improve his effectiveness this year. – TW

Trevor Williams – Williams started twice last week and looked really good on Tuesday, allowing two runs over six innings. That was nothing compared to what he had in store for Sunday. He allowed a single in the second inning and with that runner getting thrown out trying to stretch it into a double, that allowed Williams to face the minimum over seven innings. He went on to retire the last 16 batters he faced. He is a pitch-to-contact pitcher, trying to get quick outs on the ground, which has led to a 1.56 GO/AO ratio this season. Before this week though, he wasn’t getting positive results in the boxscore, allowing too many runs and way too many hits. He still has a .290 BAA with Indianapolis, so we won’t get too excited about the recent results until he can continue to show he has turned a corner. One other positive sign is that his strikeouts have gone up in these last two outings. – JD

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9 COMMENTS

  1. Regarding Duncan, Eppler, and Garcia – do any of these guys profile as a future MLB starter, or are they more likely to be bullpen arms and spot starter?
    Duncan has been a pleasant surprise this season, while Eppler has been kind of up and down. Garcia’s numbers (most of them) look impressive, but it seems like some are disappointed in his overall performance this year….

    • I could see all of them ending up as a starter at some point, though they obviously all won’t reach that peak. Duncan would be more like a fifth starter. He can get it up to 94 MPH, but most of the time he’s working around 88-91 range. To get by with that in the majors, you need excellent command and he has that. He doesn’t have any plus breaking pitches though, so what he would be doing is just getting by. He might not be a bad 5th starter some day, but his future role might be better in middle relief as a ground ball pitcher, letting him add that extra velocity in shorter outings.

      Eppler’s ceiling would be higher since he’s 6’6″ and throws downhill at 92-94, touching 95. His slider is a fairly new pitch, so it still needs work. The changeup also needs work, but I’ve seen some nice ones. He really just needs to work down in the zone more and you should see better results. I would put his peak as a #4 starter, more likely to be a #5, and the floor would be a reliever, which would probably see him sit 95-96 in short outings.

      Garcia looked better last year, except for his last two starts. He would also have the same upside as Eppler unless his velocity returns. Last year when he was sitting 93-96 with better control, he looked a lot better than the 91-94 with shaky control we have seen this season. I think he could even end up as a back-end reliever if things don’t work out as a starter, because he could scrap his changeup which is a third pitch behind his slider.

  2. Now, that we’re about at mid-season, who are you top 2-3 surprises in the Pirates system, and 2-3 disappointments this year?
    For surprises, off the top of my head and without actually surveying the rosters, I would have to say Tito Polo., Mitchell Tolman, and Jared Lakind. A month ago, one of these spots would have included Waddell, but he’s been trending downward.
    For disappointments, Jordan Luplow, Alan Hansen, and I hate to say it, Willy Garcia. Although his average is not terrible, his still high K numbers combined with almost total absence of HR power this year is very disappointing – I expected him to really breakout this year, in his second season of AAA. Now, maybe his power numbers are down because the team has tweaked his stance or approach, I don’t know.

    • I did this in the morning report about a week or so back, went through each team with my top 5 for best/worst

  3. Weiss is one of my favorite players in the system, although he isn’t considered a top prospect. He just seems very competent in many aspects of the game – and the kid can hit. Given his age, he needs to move up to Indy soon. Same with Tolman – he should be moved up to Bradenton in the next month or so – with Kramer possibly moving to Altoona.
    I’ve noticed that Holmes has continued to get better and better, after a horrific start to the season. I guess that is not surprising given he just came off TJS. I’ve noticed his K numbers have jumped up the last 2-3 starts, which is also encouraging. Physically, Holmes looks like the prototypical workhorse and innings eating starting pitcher – 6’5″ 230 – and imposing figure on the mound.

  4. Glad to see Borden back in the fold. His time with the Rays surely improved his change, since that’s a focus of their organization.

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