Every week we have live reports from all over the system, while John Dreker provides additional views of the minors via MiLB.tv, which included Indianapolis, Altoona and Morgantown this week. We also had live coverage of Indianapolis, Altoona, West Virginia and Bristol in the past week. All of these reports are combined and used each week to highlight the top performers during that time span. We go with the top ten hitters and pitchers, giving you the 20 best players from last week.
In the past, we’ve called this feature “Top Performers”. However, it has always been an article where we use the performances as an excuse to give live reports on the players. So the title didn’t really reflect what was in the article — a lot of easy to find reports on players, based on our live coverage, all in one place. So we’re calling it “The Twenty”, because people love lists, even if we don’t have a specific order here (although we do highlight the best hitter and pitcher in the title now).
The title might change in the future. Every year around August, we make small adjustments to this feature, seeing what changes might work for next year. We’re always open to any suggestions, as usual.
Here are the top guys over the last seven days and the rundown on their performances:
Stephen Alemais, SS, Morgantown – When I saw him two weeks ago in Morgantown, my thought was that I probably wouldn’t get many opportunities to write about Alemais in this article. He has outstanding defense, with smooth moves, good hands, plenty of range, and a plus arm. His offense is lacking though, possibly in part because he had a labrum injury on his non-throwing shoulder (but lead hitting shoulder) that crept up earlier this year. He put up some good numbers this week, going 10-for-24 with two doubles and a homer. His long-term hitting will be the difference maker, determining whether he’s a future starter, or just a strong defensive backup in the majors. – Tim Williams
Barrett Barnes, LF, Altoona – Barnes had an absolutely huge week at the plate this week, going 9-for-17 with two doubles and three home runs in five games played. That earned his the Eastern League Player of the Week award. Before last Tuesday, Barnes had not hit a home run since May 2nd, a stretch of more than three months without a ball going out of the park from a corner outfielder. In that time, we reported that Barnes had a revelation of some sort that helped him re-discover his groove, and he has completely turned his season around. On May 12th, Barnes was hitting .221 and was completely scuffling, not showing any signs of the tools re-appearing that originally made him a first round pick. Since then, Barnes has risen his batting average to .302 after last night’s game, and he has shown the ability to hit for gap power and utilize some speed on the base paths and in the field. This week was big for Barnes because of the three home runs, and the hope would be that he continues to develop more pop, especially playing a premium outfield position. One nice thing about his splits this season is that he is doing all of this while facing mostly right-handed pitching, as Barnes has 312 plate appearances against righties while only 68 against lefties. His OPS is practically the same against both sides. -Sean McCool
Rodolfo Castro, SS, DSL Pirates – Castro was signed more for his advanced glove at shortstop than his bat, but it’s been the offense that has got him daily mentions in our Prospect Watch coverage. He is hitting .288/.390/.450 in 47 games in the DSL, and I should point out that he’s the youngest player on the team. He has picked up those numbers lately, batting .438 over his last ten games while drawing nine walks. He’s a switch-hitter, who has performed much better against right-handed pitching, posting a .913 OPS, as opposed to the .642 mark he has against lefties. If he continues to hit, then he will be considered a legit prospect, because the defense (despite 33 errors) is considered to be an asset and he should stick at shortstop in the future. – John Dreker
Elvis Escobar, OF, Altoona– I’d like to think that my article about Elvis Escobar turning into a prospect was the reason he was promoted to Altoona the next night, but the truth is that he earned that promotion. Escobar had a fantastic month of July, and in 11 games with Altoona, he has a respectable .286/.300/.388 slash line. He had two games this week in which he picked up three hits, collected two triples and scored five runs. Escobar has the tools to be successful and with him now being in Double-A, it’s important to note that he made it there at 21 years old. He’s a line drive hitter, who can get extra-base hits with his speed. He hasn’t been able to put that speed to proper use stealing bases, though that’s an area that should see improvements as he continues to get more experience. Escobar can play all three outfield positions and he has a very strong arm. He’s a small player who probably won’t even hit for power. That being said, he is very strong, so he will occasionally run into a homer, while still picking up extra-base hits by driving the ball into the gaps – JD
Jordan George, 1B, West Virginia – George gets on base a lot, but doesn’t hit for much power, which is something he needs in order to have success in the upper levels. He made the list this week doing what he does best, going 5-for-11 with five walks, but no extra base hits. He also struck out only once in this stretch, and that one strikeout is his only one in 37 plate appearances over his last ten games. He’s unlikely to be an upper level prospect, but should be a lower level filler, helping the A-ball teams remain competitive. – TW
Connor Joe, 3B, Bradenton – Joe only played four games last week, yet he still managed to pick up nine hits and four walks. That included his fifth homer of the season on Sunday. While the defense hasn’t been anything to talk about with 23 errors at third base, you can probably blame some of his early offensive struggles on the fact he was playing a new position and not doing well there. Joe now has a .747 OPS, which is just behind Jordan Luplow for the team lead. Joe’s 24 doubles have him tied for third most in the league. His OPS has gone up every month of the season and his strikeout rate, which was an issue the first two months, has become much better since the start of June. He’s starting to hit like you would expect a high draft pick to hit, with the caveat that he turns 24 tomorrow, so he is old for the league. Because he didn’t play the year he was drafted and missed some time at the start of last year, that helps his case going into 2017 in Altoona. – JD
Kevin Krause, C/RF, Morgantown – Krause missed last year with Tommy John surgery, after putting up some promising power numbers in his pro debut. He returned this year, and has been playing right field and catching, showing no ill effects of the surgery, and no restrictions. He has also seen his hitting slowly increasing, going for a .738 OPS in June to an .821 OPS in July, and currently a .918 OPS in August. This week he went 9-for-20 with a triple. The one thing that hasn’t returned is his power production, although with the hitting picking up, that could follow. – TW
Ryan Nagle, RF, West Virginia – The Pirates went over-slot on Nagle last year in the 27th round, although he hasn’t really shown why he was worth the small additional bonus money. He hasn’t hit for any power this year and his average has been low, although his walk rate is picking up in the second half. He did show some power this week, hitting a walk off homer for his only extra base hit. He went 7-for-19 on the week, with two walks and four strikeouts. Nagle came from college as a junior last year, so the fact that he’s not doing much in Low-A this year doesn’t give him a good shot to continue getting a lot of playing time in the future. – TW
Jeremias Portorreal, RF, DSL Pirates– Portorreal was hitting .152/.286/.239 at the end of June in the DSL. He is in his third season in the league and there aren’t too many success stories that start with spending three years in the DSL. The one thing he had going for him is that his 16th birthday was after the July 2nd signing period started, but before September 1st. That meant that he could begin playing games months before he turned 17. So while he already had two full seasons, he was still young for the league. The slow start this year still looked bad though, but he has turned his season completely around. Portorreal put up a .791 OPS in July, which is well above league average, but that was just the beginning. So far in August, he has a 1.258 OPS and he has reached base safely in 25 of his last 26 games. He has also cut down on his strikeouts, going from one every 3.9 plate appearances last year, to one every 6.5 plate appearances this season. On defense, he’s a solid right fielder with an above average arm. – JD
Sandy Santos, CF, Morgantown – Santos has a lot of tools, but is very raw across the board. He shows a good ability to hit at times, and shows some power potential in the form of extra base hits. He’s also a free swinger, and an all-out player to the point where it’s a detriment to his game. This past week he had a 1.346 OPS, fueled by going 11-for-23 with four doubles and two triples. This is a big turnaround from his month of July, when he had a .600 OPS. However, if history repeats itself, then Santos might not be counted on to continue at this pace for the long-term. His big week at the plate earned him the New York-Penn League Player of the Week award. – TW
Frank Duncan, RHP, Indianapolis – Before his start on Friday night, Duncan was having trouble going deep into games and walks had become a recent issue. His ten walks over three starts was the highest three-game total in his career. He had also failed to go six innings in six consecutive starts. That all changed on Friday when he threw eight shutout innings on three hits, one walk and six strikeouts. The numbers were even better than the line suggests, because through the first 7.2 innings, he allowed just one base runner. After loading the bases with two outs in the eighth, he got a weak ground out to second base to end the inning. Duncan has been a terrific surprise for the Pirates, who planned to give him 2-3 spot starts in Indianapolis before returning him to Altoona. He pitched well enough that those plans changed and now he has an ERA that would rank third in the International League if he had about 5-6 more innings. Duncan would also rank fifth with his 1.13 WHIP, one spot behind Tyler Glasnow, and tied with Drew Hutchison. – JD
Matt Eckelman, RHP, Bristol – In his first inning on Sunday night, Eckelman had some control problems that were out of character. He needed 30 pitches to complete the frame, going deep into counts, but only giving up a walk and a hit. He settled down after that, working off his 91-93 MPH fastball, which hit 94 once, and often had some good downward movement and great location on the edges of the plate. He also mixed in plenty of curveballs and split changeups. He’s got a big frame and a low effort delivery, and looks like an interesting arm to follow going forward. It’s likely he’ll end up in relief somewhere down the line, but he should get plenty of innings for now with his mix of pitches and his control. – TW
Yeudy Garcia, RHP, Bradenton – Going into this past weekend, Garcia had his worst start of the season last time out, giving up six runs over 4.2 innings. In his start on Saturday night, he had a chance to bounce back from that game and he did with five shutout innings and seven strikeouts. Garcia leads the Florida State League in strikeouts with 118. He ranks eighth with a 2.88 ERA. He has shown a lot of improvements in the second half of the season, averaging more innings per start, walking less batters, getting more grounders, and giving up fewer hits. The only thing that is down is his strikeout total, but he is still averaging nearly a strikeout per inning, so that’s not an issue. If he stays on track for the last three weeks of the season, then he’s going to end up having a solid year, which will lead well into his 2017 season at Altoona, where he will need to throw more strikes to the more advanced hitters. – JD
Bret Helton, RHP, West Virginia – Helton had a great start this week by the numbers, with one run on seven hits and a walk in six innings, along with seven strikeouts. He didn’t have the best stuff that night, and an NL scout in attendance noted he looked better earlier in the year, with his stuff elevated and flat up in the zone. Despite this, he took advantage of an aggressive team, and worked his way to good results. Helton doesn’t seem like a guy who will continue as a starter beyond A-ball, but could have some value as a reliever in the future. – TW
Clay Holmes, RHP, Altoona – Since mid-to-early June, Clay Holmes has really begun to show the reasons why he is rated so highly as a prospect. Taking away one bad start on July 21st (five earned runs in four innings pitched), Holmes has a 1.73 ERA in ten starts (57 innings) since June 16th. In his last start on Friday, Holmes went six innings and only allowed one earned run. He faced off against the best hitting team in the league (and the best team record-wise in all of professional baseball). His two-seamer was the best I’ve seen so far this season, and he got 13 ground balls compared to only four fly balls. He was a little sporadic with the curve ball, but opposing hitters still struggled with making solid contact with the pitch. Altogether, Holmes has been trending upwards of late, and he looks to be getting stronger as the season progresses. – SM
Mitch Keller, RHP, West Virginia – The best thing I can do here is link to my very in-depth article on Keller from Sunday. In that article, I point out that Keller looks better than Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon did at the same level. The short of it? Keller is now sitting 94-97 MPH with good control, showing an improved changeup that he’s getting comfortable throwing, and flashing a plus curveball. He still needs to refine his secondary stuff and make it more consistent, but right now he looks like one of the top prospects in the system, and a future top of the rotation starter. – TW
Max Kranick, RHP, GCL Pirates – Kranick technically made this list as a reliever, throwing five shutout innings in his only appearance. The GCL Pirates had two rain outs at the beginning of the week, so he had to piggyback off the start of second round pick Travis MacGregor. Kranick faced just one batter over the minimum thanks to the game plan set up for him going into the start. GCL catcher Mikell Granberry noticed the Braves team they were facing looked too comfortable at the plate the previous day. So he decided to pound the inside of the plate and Kranick did it to perfection, getting ground balls and a lot of weak contact. Kranick mentioned that his curve was working terrific for him in the start, then Granberry said both his fastball and changeup looked great in the game and he was hitting his spots. Kranick has displayed excellent command so far, walking two batters in 21.2 innings. In five of his outings combined, he has allowed a total of two runs, while giving up four runs in his only other game. The Pirates liked him enough to give him an over-slot bonus in the 11th round and he is showing why they thought he was worth the money. – JD
Stephan Meyer, RHP, Morgantown – Meyer recently switched from a four-seam fastball that was very flat, to a two-seam fastball that has good downward movement and generates ground balls. The results have been clear, with a 1.59 ERA in 28.1 innings over his last five starts. He is also seeing a lot more ground outs, and a 59.1% groundball rate, compared to 42.34% before the switch. This switch also helped him keep his other pitches down in the zone. He went from a guy who didn’t look like he would make it far out of short-season, to a guy who might remain a starter going forward in the lower levels. – TW
Roger Santana, LHP, DSL Pirates – Santana has allowed two earned runs or less in all 12 of his starts this season in the DSL, leading to a 1.44 ERA. That’s from the same pitcher who put up a 5.66 ERA in 47.2 innings last season. He threw five shutout innings last week, while picking up four strikeouts. Santana is good for four strikeouts a game it seems, as he has finished with exactly four in nine of his 12 starts. The Pirates signed the 18-year-old, 6’1″ lefty to a $100,000 bonus in July of 2014. He didn’t fit the part last season, at least not at the start. Word from the Dominican was that he showed a lot of improvements late in the season, and they have carried over into this season. He has a fastball that sits 89-90 MPH with a lot of movement, pairing it with a nice curve and excellent command. Santana should be an invite to the Fall Instructional League next month and then he could be one to watch in the GCL rotation next year – JD
Trevor Williams, RHP, Indianapolis – Williams had one of the best starts in the system this week, allowing one run over seven innings. He comes into tonight’s start with nine straight appearances in which he has gone at least six innings. His start on Wednesday included improved control, which isn’t something that was an issue until recently. Williams had been pounding the strike zone early in the season. Then in his three starts from July 26th to August 5th, he walked a total of ten batters. He didn’t walk anyone in his last game and he did a great job of keeping the ball on the ground, posting a 12:1 GO/AO ratio. Williams also picked up six strikeouts, so it was everything you could hope for from him. Because he has strong velocity in shorter outings, gets grounders and throws strikes, it is thought that he would make an excellent back-end reliever, but if he’s pitching like he did last week over seven innings, he will have a role a starter down the line – JD