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 of Altoona, 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. It’s heavy with lower level players because Altoona and Indianapolis were on their All-Star break from Monday-Wednesday, so not many players from those teams qualified. 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 – Arribas is having a great season in West Virginia, and has been an on-base machine. His .385 OBP ranks fourth in the system out of full-season players, falling behind Kevin Newman, Josh Bell, and Adam Frazier. A key difference is that those guys are all in the upper levels at the ages of 22-24, while Arribas is in West Virginia at the age of 23. He’s showing off some power this year, but what largely will get him to the upper levels of the system is his average and ability to get on base, combined with the fact that he can play all over the field. So far this year he has primarily played first base, with one game in center field. Abigail Miskowiec wrote about him today, and what has been working so well for him this season. – Tim Williams

Will Craig – The 2016 first round pick ended his week with two strong games to make his first Top Performers list. I’m sure it won’t be his last. Craig got off to a slow start, reminiscent of 2015 first round pick Kevin Newman last year in Morgantown. Through 23 games, Craig now has a .641 OPS. Through 23 games last year, Newman had a .560 OPS. Craig has been getting on base his entire time with Morgantown despite a low average. He is sixth in the league with 16 walks and 15th with a .361 OBP. He hit his first pro home run on Sunday and reached base eight times in his last three games, so we are probably seeing him starting to get comfortable with pro ball. The defense has been shaky so far, with six errors in 13 games at third base. – John Dreker

Elias Diaz – Diaz started last week rehabbing in Bradenton, and by the end of the week he was playing back-to-back full games in Altoona, prepared to head to Indianapolis today. He started hitting well in the last week, shaking off the offensive rust from his elbow surgery. He went 9-for-20 with a home run, including 2-for-7 with a walk in Altoona. The best sign here is that he’s healthy now, isn’t experiencing pain, and his rehab is progressing well. With Francisco Cervelli returning soon, Diaz might not be needed in the majors, allowing him to work more in Indianapolis. – TW

Elvis Escobar – Escobar has been a streaky hitter in his minor league career, and is currently on one of those hot streaks right now. He has an eight game hitting streak, going 15-for-29 in that stretch, including 11-for-22 with a homer in the last week. Escobar isn’t putting up great numbers on the season, with a .682 OPS. He has never really put up strong numbers in the past, due to his inconsistent play. However, he shows a lot of tools that make him an interesting prospect, and he’s young enough that he can afford another year or two in A-ball to try and work some things out. He got promoted to Bradenton this year, but is unlikely to go further until he learns to hit this way on a more consistent basis. On Monday afternoon, Escobar was named the Florida State League Player of the Week.- TW

Logan Hill – Hill put up strong stats at Morgantown as a 25th round draft pick last year. That helped him skip over West Virginia to start this season. He struggled with the jump, mostly due to a lack of playing time on a crowded Bradenton roster. When Hill got sent down to West Virginia, the stats dropped even more. Even with a strong showing last week, he has a .195/.285/.323 slash line in 47 games. He’s a big, powerful hitter, who is also very athletic. Hill is 11-for-13 in stolen bases this year and he can cover some ground at either corner outfield spot. He has 11 doubles and six homers, showing some of that power, but he has not made enough contact, striking out 80 times in 258 plate appearances. – JD

Casey Hughston – Casey Hughston is basically Logan Hill in center field. Almost everything you say about Hill is true with Hughston, except Hughston didn’t play well at Morgantown last year after being drafted in the third round. Hughston is athletic, covers ground in the outfield and can steal bases. He has some great raw power, which has led to three homers in the last week and seven on the season. One this week was an inside-the-park homer, but he still hit the ball well. Hughston also has the same strikeout issues as Hill, which got him demoted to Extended Spring Training for a month. Since returning, he has hit .252/.297/.456 in 26 games. The strikeouts are still an issue though, with 36 since he has returned and 87 in 258 plate appearances this season. – JD

Edison Lantigua – Lantigua looked like a promising prospect last year in his jump to the GCL, but only had a .556 OPS, which might have been due to a hand injury he suffered early in the season. He’s off to a better start this year, posting an .871 OPS in 71 at-bats, with a lot of extra base hits. One possible concern is that he went out of the game on Saturday with a hand injury. He suffered the injury earlier in the game, but remained in, and was only pulled later in the game as the injury felt worse. Hopefully it’s something minor this time around, and not something which could derail his season like last year. – TW

Logan Ratledge – The Pirates seemed to get a steal with Ratledge in the 13th round last year. He had a strong senior season at North Carolina State and multiple teams talked about taking him in the top ten rounds. He fell to the Pirates in the 13th round and then didn’t look like a steal once he started playing, struggling in limited playing time split between Bristol and Morgantown. He has been with West Virginia all season, though at times he was the 26th man, waiting for an open roster spot. He also pitched a few times, which is usually the kiss of death to minor league baseball careers. Since Tito Polo got promoted, Ratledge has started playing more often and he is making the most of his time. He put up a 1.265 OPS last week and he has an .825 OPS over the last month. He started playing outfield this year for added versatility and he can play three infield positions, plus he has stolen 19 bases this season. –JD

Henrry Rosario – Rosario isn’t much of a prospect. He’s 5′ 9″, 180 pounds, and this is his third season in the GCL, at the age of 23. He is having a good season, posting a 1.131 OPS, with five homers in 66 at-bats. That includes going 9-for-22 with two homers in the last week. The results are good to see, but Rosario isn’t likely to put up these same numbers at a higher level, and didn’t do that when he moved up to Bristol last year, posting a .552 OPS in 200 at-bats. He looks like a good lower level organizational guy, giving the GCL team a boost, which will definitely help their young pitching staff to pitch with more run support. – TW

Eric Wood – The last spot (these go alphabetical if you haven’t noticed) should be reserved for Eric Wood, who is becoming a regular in the Top Performers. Most players on Altoona didn’t get enough plate appearances to qualify this week with the All-Star game taking up three days, but Wood just made it with exactly 20 plate appearances. He hit .333/.450/.733, connecting on two homers to tie him with Josh Bell and Tito Polo (why don’t the Pirates just look for players with four letters in their first and last names if they want power hitters?) for the most in the system. I’ll keep pointing out that Wood is an appropriate age for Double-A, and he’s now hitting for more power, striking out less, and the defense at third base has been much improved. He has turned himself into a prospect this year. – JD

PITCHERS

Dario Agrazal – Agrazal is starting to pitch like we expected him to prior to the year, but his prospect status has also gone up a little recently. Agrazal pitched well in Morgantown last year and he already had advanced command of his fastball, so I expected him to perform well in West Virginia and move up to Bradenton at some point. He wasn’t pitching well until recently though, occasionally having success, but some very poor outings also mixed in there, which led to a 5.20 ERA in mid-June. In his last four starts combined, Agrazal has allowed four earned runs over 26.1 innings. He has also added some velocity that we always thought was there. He was hitting 93 in the past with a very easy, low-effort delivery. Last weekend, he was sitting 94 MPH, hitting 95 numerous times. When you add in his plus command (13 walks in 96.1 innings) and the ability to throw his hard mid-80’s curve and 87-88 MPH changeup for strikes, you have the makings of a nice pitcher, who is still just 21 years old. – JD

Danny Beddes – The Pirates took Beddes in the 15th round of the 2016 draft as a college senior out of Utah Valley. You don’t expect college seniors to get big roles, especially when they fall to the 15th round. That’s usually a sign that those guys don’t have much talent and are organizational guys. I don’t know if Beddes will turn into a prospect, but there are some things to like. He’s 6′ 6″, 240 pounds, and can get his fastball up to 95 MPH, working in the 90-94 range. He also throws a low-80s curveball and a cutter. The Pirates have used him as a starter in Morgantown this year, and he has put up some good results. This week he gave up one run on six hits in six innings, with a walk and five strikeouts. It’s hard to put much on his numbers this year, but the most impressive thing is his role, with the Pirates seeing him as a good enough prospect to receive plenty of innings. – TW

Steven Brault – As far as pitching performances go, it is hard to top what Brault did on Saturday in his first start since pitching for the Pirates 11 days earlier. He threw six no-hit innings, with two walks and seven strikeouts. I have mentioned that his 11-strikeout game early this season is the best pitching performance I’ve seen this year from anyone and this game was very similar. Brault hit his spots well, keeping the ball down and working both sides of the plate. He mixed his pitches/speeds to keep the hitters guessing, and like usual, he got a lot of swing and misses. There wasn’t any hard contact on Saturday until the last batter lined out to deep center field. Brault was on a limited pitch count, finishing his night with 75 pitches. He will still need a couple more starts to full get stretched out, but if all goes well, then he becomes an option for the Pirates if there is an opening. – JD

Miguel Hernandez – Hernandez has gotten off to a strong start this year. He has three outings where he has thrown five shutout innings, including one in the past week. In those outings, he has combined for nine hits and two walks allowed, along with 11 strikeouts. The other start this year wasn’t as good, with Hernandez failing to make it out of the first inning, giving up three runs on three walks and no hits, and only recording one out. When he’s at his best, he’s sitting 91-93 MPH, touching 94-95, with an 85-88 MPH slider that has some nice, tight break. When he’s off, it’s due to his control, although that hasn’t been an issue much in the early part of the season. It was an issue in extended Spring Training, but he seems to be getting over those issues now. – TW

Gage Hinsz – Like Dario Agrazal and Mitch Keller (see below), Hinsz threw seven shutout innings this week for West Virginia. He did it by pounding his fastball down in the zone and throwing 57 of his 78 pitches for strikes. He has shown a remarkable improvement in his control this season. Last year for Bristol, Hinsz walked 23 batters in 38 innings. He didn’t have any really bad games, it was just every game had 2-3 walks it seemed. In 44.1 innings this season, he has walked just seven batters. The stuff is improved as well, as Hinsz now hits 95 MPH with the fastball and his curve can be a plus pitch at times. He hasn’t quite matched the stats of the other high upside 20-year-old (Keller) on the Power staff, but Hinsz was setback this spring by a concussion suffered during a car accident, and it now appears he is just catching up with his recent performances. – JD

Mitch Keller – Keller hasn’t pitched as well in the second half as he did early in the season, but all of the good things well saw early in the year are still there. In his start last week, he threw seven shutout innings, giving up two hits and no walks. In his previous start, which I covered live, he was hitting 96 MPH consistently and showed a better average velocity than I saw the first time I watched him in person. He was also doing a better job of throwing his off-speed pitches for strikes early, which led to more usage of the pitches throughout the game. Keller leads the South Atlantic League with an 0.83 WHIP, while ranking fifth with a 2.64 ERA and sixth with 94 strikeouts. I’d expect him to be limited sometime down the line, possibly shorter outings rather than skipped starts. He already has 88.2 innings and finishing out the season normally would give him nine more starts, which would put him well over the 120 innings cap the Pirates usually use for young pitchers in their first full season. – JD

Travis MacGregor – I saw MacGregor pitch four shutout innings last week, working mostly off his fastball in the process. He was sitting mostly 87-88 MPH, but touching as high as 92. His velocity got up to 92-93 by the end of his high school season, sitting in the 89-91 range, so this was a bit of a drop, probably due to getting built back up after the layoff between high school and pro ball. MacGregor didn’t throw his curveball in the game, but threw a few in the bullpen and in warm-up pitches, and didn’t have the best command, bouncing the 12-to-6 offering well short of the plate a few times. He had some command issues, with a lot of moving parts to his delivery. He starts with a high leg kick that he brings in close to his chest, getting very compact in his windup. He then has a long extension to the plate, which he said he was working on getting more consistent. His arm drags behind at times when he rushes out of the windup, and his head tucks into his left shoulder at the end of some pitches, which is something he will have to watch for going forward. There are some things to clean up with his delivery, and the curveball obviously needs better command, but MacGregor looks like a promising project right now. – TW

Alex McRae – McRae isn’t a flashy pitcher. He’s got some good velocity, sitting in the low-90s with his sinker, but doesn’t have much of an out pitch. This pitch-to-contact approach can lead to some really bad outings, or really good outings, depending on how the balls in play are going. This past week was one of the really good outings. He pitched eight innings — one of the longest outings you’ll see a Pirates minor leaguer go — giving up just one run on eight hits, with a walk and four strikeouts. That’s a big turnaround from last time out, when he gave up six runs on eight hits in just 1.1 innings of work. McRae will remain a starter in Altoona for now, but long-term, if he’s going to make it to the majors, it will be as a reliever. – TW

Leandro Pina – Going strictly on performance, Pina has been the best pitcher for the Pirates this season. He has made seven starts and thrown five shutout innings in six of those games. Pitchers in the DSL for the Pirates are capped at five innings or 75 pitches, so he has performed as well as possible in all but one game. In that one other game, he gave up two runs in four innings. Pina started the DSL All-Star game on Sunday and retired the side in order in his only inning. I got an updated scouting report on him, which wasn’t quite as encouraging as the low-90s fastball we heard about prior to the year. Pina sits 85-88 MPH with his fastball, mixing it with a plus changeup and a curve that is at least average. It’s important to remember that he has a 6’3″ frame with room to fill out, plus he is only 17 years old, but it sounds like he is beating DSL hitters with two things they don’t see, plus command and a plus changeup. – JD

Trevor Williams – When Williams first rejoined Indianapolis in late May after his shoulder injury, the stats weren’t good. He was giving up too many hits and that led to some poor pitching lines and shortened outings. His has recently turned things up a notch, now looking like he isn’t far off from being an option for the Pirates. In 20 innings over his last three starts, he has allowed one run on nine hits and two walks. The fastball has been up a tick and the control has been improved. Williams has been getting a lot of ground balls and limiting the runners. He pitches to contact, but his strikeouts have gone up a little recently as well. Prior to the year, Indianapolis planned to go with an all-prospect rotation, which never worked out due to injuries. Williams looked like the low man in that group, but his recent performances have that group bunched up a lot closer than before. – JD

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17 COMMENTS

  1. A little off topic here, but with the controllable, cheap SPs graduating to the Burgh, does anyone think the team keeps Melancon? I think a QO is a no-brainer, but would 3 years get something done with him? It would be a shame to have a dominant starting staff without a shutdown closer. I have little faith Watson can deliver next season in that role.

  2. Right now, I would have to think that Glasnow would be the 3rd option for starting pitching help, behind both Brault and Trevor Williams.

  3. The way Brault is pitching, I think the Pirates have to make an opening for him when he’s stretched out enough to join the rotation. He’s been largely steady all season, bringing swing-and-miss stuff with decent control. Aside from Taillon, he might be the most Major League ready of this year’s rookie crop.

    • The Pirates are in a place they’ve probably never seen before. They have Cole, Taillon, Liriano and Locke and then they have Kuhl, Glasnow and Brault with different upsides obviously probably auditioning for that 5th spot. I would be fine with trading Locke and letting Kuhl, Glasnow and Brault audition for the last two spots. With all due respect to Trevor Williams he’s probably a little behind Brault in the pecking order. And lets be honest, they’re not trading for Rich Hill. So then you ask yourself is it worth trading for a slight project over giving Brault his shot? I say no.

  4. Wait…Craig is on the Hot list?

    Well, then, my work here is done.

    Welcome to the Pirates, Mr Craig…besides, when there are 167 likes on John’s comment about my naysaying Will’s ability, I guess I was over criticizing the young man just a tad or two?

    Nah….I’d never do that with a prospect, right Mr Hanson?

  5. Hey John, love this article every week on the site!! As I think about Melancon and what we are going to do next season, who has been the best or 2 best relievers for the week?? Just need to know if there is anyone in the system that may have a shot in Pitt.

    • The two best relief prospects, besides starters moving to relief, are Dovydas Neverauskas and Edgar Santana. Neverauskas didn’t have a great week, but Santana has thrown eight shutout innings over his last four games, with just three hits allowed

      • Yeah, even though Hughes threw a clean inning yesterday, I would rather see Neverauskas, Santana or DuRapau get a shot. Hughes is scary. When he came in yesterday, I figured the game was over. Luckily for him, Frazier made what might have been a game-saving catch. I think Hughes still has an option left. Just send him to Indy or trade him. Did I mention that I don’t like Hughes?

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