Top Performers: Newman, Joe, Polo, Ramirez, Brault, Escobar, Williams

Every week we have live reports from all over the system, while I provide additional views of the minors via, which included Indianapolis, Altoona and West Virginia this week. We also had live coverage of Indianapolis, Altoona, West Virginia and Morgantown in the past week. All of these reports are combined and used each week to highlight the top performers during that time span. With more teams playing, we went with the top ten hitters and pitchers only, just to keep the list manageable. In the past, we included every hitter 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:


Sherten Apostel – The Pirates signed Apostel as a 16-year-old out of Curacao last July and gave him a $200,000 bonus. He’s from a country that has produced only 14 Major League players, though all 14 have played in the majors in the last 18 years. Apostel was described as being very raw, but he had an athletic build at 6’4″, 200 pounds, and a very strong arm. Many saw him as a possible pitcher, but the Pirates liked the athleticism and raw power potential and put him at third base, where the plus arm would play up. Apostel struggled out of the gate, which isn’t a surprise due to his age and the fact he had been a pitcher in the past. We saw some glimpses of hope this week with a three-hit game, three doubles and three walks. He has been used 18 times as a DH or off the bench, and 13 times at third base. Apostel has had some issues with strikeouts, though he has drawn 20 walks already, so some of those strikeouts might be coming from being too patient at the plate. – John Dreker

Barrett Barnes – Even though Barnes’ hitting streak ended during the first game of a doubleheader on Wednesday (went 0-for-1 after walking twice), Barnes continues to find ways to get on the base paths lately, extending his on-base streak to 18 games through Sunday. Included in that streak, Barnes actually walked at least once in five games in a row in the past week. Barnes has been reasonably good at drawing walks throughout his career, but he wasn’t walking much, and striking out way too often, earlier this season. He has still be striking out more often than normal, but the fact that he has been walking more shows that he is seeing the strike zone better lately. Altogether since July 5th, Barnes is batting .436 (24-for-55) with a 1.056 OPS. He is hitting the ball deeper to the gaps and displaying some of that raw power that he was touted as having as a younger prospect. – Sean McCool

Victor Fernandez – I wrote about Fernandez and why he wasn’t a top 50 prospect yet, right in the middle of him having a strong week that ended with an .892 OPS. He’s been even better over the course of the season, posting a .902 OPS with nine doubles and seven stolen bases in 25 games. Fernandez has plus speed and can drive the ball well, making him a player of interest. He’s also a 21-year-old (22 in October) in a league where the average age is a little more than a year younger than him. We saw last year why it is better to be cautious with an older player having a big season in Bristol with Carlos Munoz, who is having an average season at West Virginia this year. Munoz has better plate patience than Fernandez, but Fernandez also had a lot less experience going into his age 21 season and he’s a much more athletic player. It makes him one too watch for now, especially if he can continue putting up big numbers – JD

Logan Hill – Back on July 11th, I wrote a recap of what I saw while watching a weekend series for the West Virginia Power. I mentioned all of the strong qualities for Logan Hill (who I also saw in Bradenton earlier this season) and ended it by saying it’s surprising how bad he is doing and he should be better. He had a .578 OPS through 58 games up to that point. Since then, he has a 1.167 OPS in 12 games. Because the poor streak is so much longer than the recent hot streak, his season starts still don’t impress. Hill is a strong athlete though, with surprising speed for his size and power that isn’t surprising bad on his size. He plays a nice corner outfield, runs the bases well and he has terrific raw power. While he obviously won’t continue to hit as well as he has the last two weeks, his stats should look respectable by the end of the season and he should be better prepared to handle Bradenton next year. – JD

Connor Joe – Joe has been steadily turning his season around, showing improvements each month. He had a horrible .582 OPS in April, with no power. He improved to a .688 OPS in May, followed by a .780 OPS in June. He’s taken it a step further, with an .890 OPS in July. The power numbers aren’t fully there, with just four home runs on the year, but he does have 20 doubles. He also shows a lot of power potential and hard contact when you see him live, and the FSL is very pitcher friendly, with some low power numbers across the league (the league ISO is .106, and Joe is at .121). Joe hasn’t looked like the best pick yet, due to his back injury that derailed his first two seasons, and his slow start this year. However, he shows a lot of hitting potential, and we might be starting to see that translate to results. – Tim Williams

Kevin Newman – Newman hit his first Double-A homer on Tuesday, a line drive that just reached the left field seats. He said after the game that his swing isn’t conducive to hitting home runs; however, his line drive cut will allow him to “run into a couple” every once in a while. That line drive swing has been very good for Newman since his Double-A promotion, as he continues to get on base often for the Curve. He has at least one hit in 24 of his 30 Double-A games, and he is hitting .483 with a 1.248 OPS since July 16th. Newman continues to hit gap-to-gap line drives and not strike out much. His defense is steady at shortstop, and he looks to have the athletic ability to stick at the position. – SM

Jose Osuna – Osuna got a promotion to Indianapolis back on June 30th and has put up a .944 OPS in 23 games. That was helped greatly by a 1.625 OPS last week, which included three home runs over a three-day span. The Pirates will have a tough decision to make with Osuna this off-season when he reaches minor league free agency. He doesn’t have any real plus tools, but he’s a solid all-around player, who only really lacks speed. He can play well at first base and he is serviceable in the outfield. His arm is strong, but he doesn’t get many outfield assists. Osuna filled out at an early age, so his best home run season actually came when he was a 19-year-old back in the South Atlantic League. He tends to swing early in the counts and doesn’t swing and miss too often, which leads to respectable strikeout totals, but low walk rates. There are a lot of minor league free agents around at corner spots who have the same upside as Osuna and most won’t require a 40-man roster spot, so it’s possible the Pirates could just go in another direction this off-season. If he continues to hit in Triple-A though, Osuna will make that decision tougher – JD

Hunter Owen – Hunter Owen has been the big power source for Morgantown, as he’s posted a .316/.356/.558 line so far. He leads the team easily in home runs (5). A 25th round draft pick, Owen is very aggressive at the plate and takes a big cut. When he connects, he makes hard contact, as he did in all five at-bats Saturday against Connecticut. He went 4-for-5, the one out being a line drive to short. The hits included a double and HR, and he drove in five. On Sunday, against Lowell, Owen looped a double down the right field line for his only hit. He went 1-for-4 with a walk and two strikeouts. The big caveat with Owen is his strike zone judgment, as he’s fanned 21 times on the year while walking only four. Logan Hill – the previous year’s 25th round pick – provides a cautionary tale. He put up strong numbers last year at Morgantown, with better plate discipline than Owen’s, but he’s struggling mightily with the West Virginia Power this year. Owen isn’t speedy and will be limited to a corner outfield position, so his bat will have to carry him. – Wilbur Miller

Tito Polo – Polo has gotten off to a slow start with Bradenton, after showing a breakout performance in West Virginia earlier in the year. The breakout performance was in large part due to his power potential translating into games. He’s looked good in person in Bradenton, but the power hasn’t fully reached the stat sheet. Coming into the week, he had a .268/.315/.329 line at the level. This past week, he went 5-for-20 with two home runs, putting up an OPS of .836. Polo had some good power numbers in West Virginia, with 12 homers in 225 at-bats. However, he had most of that production in his final 103 plate appearances, with eight homers and a 1.122 OPS, compared to four homers and a .780 OPS earlier in the year. It took some time for his power to heat up in West Virginia, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the same is true for his production in Bradenton. – TW

Harold Ramirez – After another week of hitting in every game he got an at-bat in, Ramirez continued his climb up the Eastern League hitting leaderboard, as he is now third in the league in average and second in hits. He is still mostly a singles hitter, finding holes through the infield and hitting short line drives to the outfield, but he got off the snide with a double and triple on Saturday night. He just had a 15-game hitting streak snapped on Sunday, where he hit .439. From the standpoint of simply needing a hit, Ramirez ranks right up there with Kevin Newman for the best man to have at the plate. Defensively, you still see some struggles in center field with his first step, but more time in center with Austin Meadows in Triple-A can only be good for the 21-year-old. – SM


Steven Brault – After throwing six no-hit innings in his previous start, Brault set the bar high for his outing on Friday night. While he gave up some base runners on three hits and four walks, he still managed to throw six shutout innings and strike out nine batters. Brault’s main issue in this last start was a lack of aggressiveness, which is surprising considering the fact he gets more swing and misses than any other pitcher I’ve seen this season. He got to 0-2 on numerous batters and then didn’t put them away. He tried to get them to chase and it ran up his pitch count. Even when opponents were hitting the ball off of him, they weren’t making great contact. Brault is known for his deception, which helps his fastball play up. On Friday, he wasn’t just getting a lot of swinging strikes on all of his pitches, he was also getting some very late swings on fastballs that were 90-92 MPH, as batters pick the ball up late out of his hand. That not only makes it appear he’s throwing much harder, he also has a lot of late movement, which makes his pitches tough to square up. Brault has allowed only 11 homers in his four seasons and not one of those came from a left-handed hitter – JD

Blake Cederlind – Cederlind was taken in the fifth round this year out of the JuCo ranks, and has been putting up good numbers in Bristol, outside of one horrible start where he gave up five earned runs in 0.1 innings. He built up to five innings this week, making two starts and combining for nine shutout frames, with six hits, four walks, and six strikeouts. He’s got a projectable frame, and can already throw 92-95, touching 97. He’s going to be an interesting pitcher to watch, although his command can be spotty at times, which was shown this week when he walked three in four innings in one of his starts, which is pretty bad for a guy with his velocity in rookie ball. – TW

Cody Dickson – Dickson has had control problems all year, leading the Eastern League in walks, but those problems subsided for at least one start, as he didn’t allow an earned run in 5.2 innings last Friday. He tied a career high with eight strikeouts, and his curve ball got multiple swings-and-misses. With control problems all season so far, Dickson located all of his pitches around the zone until he tired in the sixth inning. He was able to work his fastball in and out of the zone, and he used that fastball command to set up whatever he wanted later in the at-bat. On the season, he has 64 walks to 69 strikeouts. The walks have dropped his status as a prospect; however, if he is able to figure some of that out, he could still have value as a left-handed specialist or reliever. – SM

Matt Eckelman – The Pirates took Eckelman in the 21st round this year, and he has impressed so far, working his way into the Bristol rotation. He went a combined 10 innings in two starts this week, giving up a run on seven hits, with two walks and nine strikeouts. Eckelman is a big framed pitcher with a four pitch mix and outstanding control. His performance this year comes with the disclaimer that he’s a college senior pitching in rookie ball. But it has earned him a spot in the rotation, and could get him a lot of innings in West Virginia next year if his success continues – TW

Luis Escobar – Luis Escobar has been shaky much of this season, mainly due to control that often hasn’t been there. He’s walked 16 in just 25.1 IP on the year. Saturday’s game against Connecticut wasn’t fundamentally different, as he threw only 39 of 70 pitches for strikes and had a lot of two and three ball counts. He consistently made pitches when he had to, though, and allowed only one earned run, four hits and one walk in five innings. He probably wouldn’t have allowed any runs but for his own error when he threw away a double play grounder. Escobar’s fastball gets into the mid-90s and, in this game, he threw a lot of changeups to a lefty-heavy lineup. Pitchers at lower levels often don’t have the confidence to lean heavily on their changeups, but Escobar evidently does and it’s a pitch with good deception. He also threw his curve effectively against Connecticut. What trouble he had in the game all came in his last inning, after he’d had a long rest due to a big previous inning by his teammates. – WM

Scooter Hightower – Every week we try to include one reliever in here. Most don’t qualify unless they get forced into a long relief outing. Hightower threw five shutout innings this week, with three of those innings coming on Monday and two of Saturday. The 6′ 6″, 22-year-old, right-hander has a 2.31 ERA in 23.1 innings this season, with 19 strikeouts. He has given up too many hits, which has led to a 1.41 WHIP. He pitched well last year for Bristol, so it’s a little surprising that he’s a long man in the bullpen for Morgantown this year. Due to his age and college experience, the thought was that he could end up with West Virginia this year and see extended innings as a long reliever. The problem seems to be that he hasn’t added velocity, which was the biggest thing holding him back. He’s big and has a projectable frame, but he was sitting 86-88 last year. When you throw that hard in the lower levels, you can get away with it if you have excellent command and a strong secondary pitch. As you could higher in the system, that tends to work less at each level – JD

James Marvel – When I saw Marvel in extended Spring Training, he induced a lot of weak ground balls. That has been the case for him so far in his pro debut with Morgantown. He has a 3.78 ERA in 33.1 innings, with a 23:8 K/BB ratio, and a ton of ground ball outs. His GO/AO ratio has been 2.21 on the season. It was very high this past week, with a 9:2 GO/AO ratio as he gave up two runs on four hits in six innings, with a walk and seven strikeouts. Marvel is returning from Tommy John surgery this year, but things seem to be going well for him so far. He looks like a guy who could make the jump to Bradenton next year, and maybe end up in Altoona, as his stuff is polished enough that he won’t need a lot of time in A-ball after he gets built up following his injury. – TW

Domingo Robles – The Pirates signed Robles for $175,000 in 2014, making him one of several international pitchers they signed that year to a six figure deal. Robles is more about command than stuff, with reports that he can hit 92 MPH from the left side, but usually sitting in the upper 80s with his fastball. He had two rough starts at the beginning of the year, giving up 10 earned runs in 8 innings. Since then, he has allowed two earned runs in 11.1 innings over his last three outings, including five shutout innings this past week. In that start, he gave up three hits, no walks, and struck out four. The Pirates love soft tossing lefties with good control in the lower levels, so expect Robles to continue getting starts or piggyback opportunities. – TW

Logan Sendelbach – Sendelbach is quietly having a strong season, though if you’ve read the Top Performer articles over the year, you know he has been mentioned a lot (this is his ninth one). On the season, he has a 3.26 ERA, which ranks him tenth in the South Atlantic League. He is also fourth in WHIP (1.08) and second with 105 innings pitched. The reason he keeps showing up here and among the SAL leaders is his consistency. He has gone at least five innings in 16 of his 19 starts. Two of the three times he fell short were 4.2 innings and one of those games he allowed one run on one hit. He has had just one outing this season that could be considered a poor outing, allowing seven runs in 2.2 innings (which I happened to be watching). The 22-year-old righty doesn’t throw hard, usually sitting 88-91 MPH with his sinker, mixing in a slider that has become better as the season has gone along. When he keeps the ball down in the zone, which has been often this season, he gets strong results. That includes four games this year in which he has struck out seven batters, though he isn’t a high strikeout pitcher most times, getting better results when he gets quick outs by pitching to contact – JD

Trevor Williams – Williams has quickly turned himself into a Major League option, one we might see in September out of the bullpen, or sooner if the Pirates need him. He does an excellent job of mixing his pitches and speeds, while pitching to contact. Williams kicked up the velocity in his previous start, hitting 95 MPH often. He backed off just a little in his game last week and he ended up throwing eight shutout innings in one of the best performances all season among minor leaguers for the Pirates. In his last five starts combined, he has an 0.79 ERA over 34 innings, holding opposing batters to a .365 OPS. Williams has a 1.47 GO/AO ratio on the season and he has walked just three batters in his last six starts combined. – JD

The 21

  • I’d like to see Brault in the Pirates rotation. Williams is also someone I at least hope to see out of the bullpen. As far as trades go, there is no one currently being discussed on the trade market who I feel would put us “over the top” for a playoff run. I’d rather see what the kids can do. Yes, we have a lot of prospects we can part with, but unless they are under team control for several years I don’t want the Bucs to overpay for a few months on a rental player.

  • Darkstone42
    July 26, 2016 2:08 am

    If Connor keeps this up, we’re going to have to call him Above Average Joe.

  • There’s been more than one comparison of Ramirez to Tabata, fair or unfair. Will Harold have enough pop in his bat to play a corner OF on a regular basis?

    We know Tabby never developed power and actually went downhill in all phases. Hopefully, HR won’t?

    • John Dreker
      July 25, 2016 8:35 pm

      The thing I hate about player comps is that pessimistic people go with players who failed, while optimistic people go with the best comparison they could find. Very few people go with the average. The other thing I hate is people go with familiarity. If a player is with the Pirates, he gets comped to Pirates, not players from the other 29 teams. Literally, 3.3% comp pool and you need to find the best. The third thing to hate should be the most obvious. It’s dealing with humans, we aren’t trying to find similar washer machines here, where you would expect two brands to perform similar…other than that, comps are fine to fill your day with happy/unhappy thoughts

    • It was that 40+ year old wife he latched otno to, early on, draining all of hsi power potential.

      I told him to stay away from older women, but he didn’t’ believe me…and look what happened to him?