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, West Virginia and Morgantown this week. We also had live coverage of Indianapolis, Bristol 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. 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.
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:
Barrett Barnes, LF, Altoona – Barnes has been a regular in these articles lately. He made it this week by picking up hits in all six games, including his fifth home run on Tuesday. He has an 11-game on base streaking currently active. After putting up a .978 OPS in July, which got him named as the Pirates Prospects Player of the Month, he now has a 1.074 OPS in 17 games this month. That has him ranked third among all Pirates this month. His defense has improved in left field and he is running the bases well. Barnes has played in a career-high 109 games this season, 14 more games than last year, and more games than his first three seasons combined. It has the feel of a breakout season for him, but he also turned 25 back in July, so he still has a lot to prove at the next level before he regains the prospect status he had earlier in his career before injuries derailed his climb to the majors. As a corner outfielder, you would like to see more power, and Barnes has a below average arm. – John Dreker
Jordan George, 1B/RF, West Virginia – As a late round draft pick out of college, it wasn’t a good sign to see Jordan George at Morgantown this season. He’s 24 years old and as a first baseman, he’s playing a position in which he needs to provide a lot of offense to be valuable. George played well for the Black Bears, showing a little bit of extra-base hit power, along with a great eye at the plate, which led to 21 walks in 23 games. He was bumped up a level in the middle of July and has hit even better. In 22 games with the Power, he has a .338/.452/.471 slash line, with 14 walks and 12 strikeouts. He went 6-for-15 with three walks last week, and he has reached base safely in 11 straight games. Despite the hot streak, his prospect status hasn’t really moved up at all. His age weighs heavily against him, and he hasn’t hit a home run in 45 games this season. George will need to hit well at Bradenton next year and likely move up to Altoona mid-season before he gets any consideration as a legit prospect. – JD
Alen Hanson, 2B, Indianapolis – Hanson had a big week last week, collecting nine hits over his first five games, then walking twice on Sunday. He homered twice, including a walk-off grand slam on Monday. Hanson stole three bases, giving him 36 on the season, which leads the International League. He had a solid month of July at the plate and he is doing well so far in August. The most impressive part about those months is that he has been moving around a lot on defense. He’s only playing three positions, but they have him switching regularly between second base, third base and left field, getting him prepared for a utility role. He has played well at third base with one error in 32 chances, including some very tough plays recently, but it’s still a spot he could use more playing time at before you would use him there full time. I’d be surprised if he wasn’t among the first wave of call-ups from the Pirates when the rosters expand. – JD
Jhoan Herrera, 1B, Bristol – Herrera is a big first baseman, and despite the fact that he played third base as recently as 2014, he doesn’t look like he has another position on the field at this point. That means he’s going to have to hit a lot to be a prospect. He really didn’t stand out much when I saw him last week in Bristol. Granted, he only went 1-for-10, and then made this lost by going 4-for-10 with a double and a homer the rest of the week. He showed off a bit of power, but so far it hasn’t been enough this year to make up for his lack of defensive value. – Tim Williams
Casey Hughston, CF, West Virginia – This past week, Hughston showed off some of the skills that got him drafted in the third round last year, where he received an over-slot bonus. He had a four-hit game on Tuesday, connecting on a homer and two doubles. He homered again the next day. Hughston stole two bases this week and also picked up an outfield assist. His defense in center field hasn’t been a problem this year. He has ten homers, six triples and 13 stolen bases. So there are clearly some things going right for him. Unfortunately, the bad far outweighs the good. His 131 strikeouts leads the organization, and that’s with him spending a month down in Extended Spring Training. He also doesn’t take enough walks, leaving him with a .251 OBP. It’s never a good sign when you have fewer walks and more strikeouts than Willy Garcia, but that’s where Hughston stands right now, and he’s doing it as a college player in Low-A ball. – JD
Kevin Kramer, 2B, Bradenton – Kramer currently has a ten-game hitting streaking going in which he has put up a .368 average. He has a .737 OPS, which doesn’t sound impressive, but in the Florida State League, it has him ranked 19th overall. His 27 doubles are second overall to Scott Kingery, who has been promoted, and who was the double play partner of Kevin Newman in college. Kramer of course, started the year as the double play partner of Newman, and he has provided solid defense at second base this year. Kramer isn’t flashy, but he plays the game right. With solid defense, a nice line drive stroke from the left side, which has produced his share of extra-base hits, he has a chance to develop into a top 20 prospect next year in the more hitter-friendly Eastern League. Improving his splits against southpaws would help the lefty-hitting Kramer tremendously. He has a .217/.302/.301 slash line against lefties this season. That wasn’t an issue for him last year. – JD
Austin Meadows, CF, Indianapolis – Meadows had a nice three-game stretch last week, which got him a spot in this article. In the first game, he hit a double and a triple. That was followed by a home run, a walk and a stolen base. Then he topped it off with three walks and two stolen bases. Since returning to Indianapolis from his hamstring injury, he has an .812 OPS in 12 games. With four stolen bases in four attempts, along with nice range displayed in the outfield, Meadows has proven that he is fully back from the injury. He is one home run short of reaching double figures in homers, triples, doubles and stolen bases. That’s something that only four other Pirates have done in the last 11 seasons in the minors. On the season, he has a .901 OPS in 74 games. Of all Pirates with at least 50 games played, Josh Bell has the second highest OPS at .850 this season. – JD
Max Moroff, INF, Indianapolis – Not often do you see hitters make the top performers/The Twenty by not swinging the bat, but Moroff did that last week. He started four games and drew a walk each game, with two on Saturday, plus a walk on Monday during a pinch-hit at-bat. He leads the International League and all Pirates in base on balls by a wide margin. His 78 walks are the most in the minors for the Pirates since 2011. Moroff did swing the bat a few times and had two hits on Wednesday and connected on a home run on Friday night. His .232 average this season hides the fact that he has a .365 OBP and a .360 slugging percentage. He has seen time at third base, shortstop and second base, showing solid defense at all three spots. Moroff has also started to take fly balls in the outfield, which will help add versatility down the line. – JD
Pablo Reyes, 2B/SS, Bradenton – In April and even May, we mentioned that Reyes wasn’t getting enough playing time for someone of his caliber. He had two solid months, especially when you factor in the FSL is a very pitcher-friendly league. Then in June, Reyes served a team suspension, which was an undisclosed discipline issue. He did not hit well when he returned in July, but August has been an offensive explosion. In 15 games this month, he has a .432/.519/.659 slash line, with eight walks and four strikeouts. In 81 games this season, he has a .261/.341/.386 slash line. That .726 OPS is well above the .679 league average OPS, and at 22 years old, he is young for the level this season. Reyes has split his time almost evenly between second base and shortstop, with three starts in center field mixed in as well. He’s a middle infielder with some pop in his bat and above average speed, making him someone who has a shot to make the majors. – JD
Mitchell Tolman, 2B, West Virginia – Tolman hit his eighth home run of the season last week, which is eight more than he hit last year. His week started with four hits and four runs on Tuesday. He had two more hits on Tuesday during game one of a doubleheader, before connecting on the homer in the nightcap. Tolman has had a solid season this year, with a .746 OPS and a 58/59 BB/SO ratio. He has also been solid defensively at second base, improving as the season has gone along. It appears at this time that he will be the starting second baseman for Bradenton in 2017, and likely get a chance to spend the entire season there, as there will probably be a logjam of infielders ahead of him. That should allow him to develop at a slow pace, with no one pushing him at second base in the lower levels at this point. – JD
Frank Duncan, RHP, Indianapolis – The unlikely story of Frank Duncan keeps getting a little better each week. The foundation of the story is well-documented: Duncan began the season in extended spring training, was first a reliever in Double-A Altoona, and has since become a Triple-A all-star starting pitcher. And he is in the midst of his most dominant stretch of the season. Duncan threw six shutout innings against Louisville on Aug. 17, allowing five hits, striking out seven and walking just one. He has thrown 17.2 consecutive scoreless innings. In his previous outing he tossed eight shutout innings against Lehigh Valley. Duncan missed one start due to his sprained thumb, and endured some good and bad when he returned. The good: his stuff was improved, with his velocity sitting 89-90 MPH, an increase from 87-88 MPH. The bad: he had to learn how to control his improved pitches, and struggled doing so at first, walking 10 batters over his first three starts after returning. But he’s now found his rhythm, evident by his current streak of 17.2 consecutive scoreless innings. – Brian Peloza
Yeudy Garcia, RHP, Bradenton – Garcia struggled early in the year with his command, but has been doing a much better job lately in that regard. He continued that this week, throwing six innings with one unearned run and no walks, while only needing 67 pitches to get through the outing. This was only the second start where Garcia needed fewer than 70 pitches, not counting an outing where he left in the first inning with 29 pitches and one out. He’s doing a much better job working with his changeup this year, and the improvements on that pitch gave him something to use when his fastball command was off, while also allowing him to save his slider for strikeouts, making it more effective the less opponents saw the pitch. – TW
Mitch Keller, RHP, West Virginia – The Pirates gave Keller a bit of a break, pushing him back a few days so that he was starting a week after his last start. He returned for that start, and it didn’t look like he missed a beat, throwing seven shutout innings, with two hits, one walk, and five strikeouts. In his last three starts, he has giving up no earned runs in 18 innings, with a 21:2 K/BB ratio. I wrote last week about how he’s looking better than Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon looked at this same level. – TW
Nick Kingham, RHP, Bradenton – Kingham isn’t going to be extending beyond five innings this year, and he’s probably not going to make it beyond Bradenton, as the Pirates take the conservative route with his Tommy John rehab. He went five innings this week, with no runs on three hits, along with three strikeouts. There are only a few weeks remaining in the season, but Bradenton is already in the playoffs, so that could give Kingham a chance for additional innings, without making them difficult innings, since it’s at a lower level. – TW
Kelvin Marte, LHP, Indianapolis – Kelvin Marte is not a prospect, but pitching like one over the past week. He came to the Pirates organization after spending the previous nine seasons in the San Francisco organization. Marte has been used primarily as a reliever this season with Indianapolis, but has been used as a spot starter twice in the past 10 days. And both times Marte has delivered a solid performance. But his best came against Louisville on Aug. 16, throwing six no-hit innings. He struck out three and walked just two batters in the game. Making those two starts somewhat surprising is not that he’s a reliever, but how his only other start of the season went on May 25. Marte allowed seven earned runs and nine hits in a spot start at Rochester. In 54.2 innings as a reliever, Marte has a 3.29 earned run average. Marte has had a pair of solid outings filling in the rotation, but is nothing more than a minor league pitcher. – BP
Chris McDonald, RHP, GCL Pirates – The best pitcher this week was a reliever in the GCL named Chris McDonald. It’s okay if that name isn’t familiar to you because he was signed as a non-drafted player this year, shortly after he began playing independent ball. McDonald was brought in to the system in early July when the Pirates needed someone to fill innings in the GCL. He didn’t do so well in each of his first three games, but in four appearances since then, he has allowed one run in 13.2 innings. That includes three shutout innings on Monday, then McDonald stepped up and threw five shutout frames on Friday after starter Miguel Hernandez was knocked out of the game without recording an out. McDonald has some traits which make him more appealing that your average non-drafted free agent. He stands 6’6″, with a sinking fastball that can touch 93 MPH, along with a plus changeup and a low-80’s slider. He’s an athletic player, who was a strong hitter in college. It’s a very tough road ahead of him, but he is showing some positive signs recently. – JD
Adam Oller, RHP, Bristol – Oller doesn’t have a great fastball, sitting 87-90 MPH and touching 91 in his start early last week. He worked off the fastball in that start, making a change from his earlier outings when he was relying mostly on secondary stuff, trying to avoid contact. When he keeps the fastball down, it can be a decent pitch, although he doesn’t have a good strikeout pitch, making his upside limited going forward. He will probably make the switch to being a reliever in one of the A-ball levels next year. – TW
Stephen Tarpley, LHP, Bradenton – Tarpley had a bad start his last time out, giving up six runs on eight hits in 4.1 innings. He rebounded well, giving up one earned run on two hits in six innings this week. Tarpley has struggled at times with his control this year, and walked five in that last outing. He has been doing better in his other recent outings, with two or fewer walks in four of his last five starts, going six innings in each. It hasn’t been the best year for the lefty, but he’s finishing strong, and got back on track this week, which is a great sign. – TW
Cam Vieaux, LHP, Morgantown – Vieaux looks like one of the more advanced pitchers in Morgantown this year, and his control has really stepped up lately, with just two walks in 26.2 innings over his last five starts. The Pirates have him focusing on a few small adjustments to get his delivery back on track, and aiming to get his velocity up. He’s a different pitcher, but looks like he could be on the same path as Brandon Waddell, at least to the point where he looks like a strong candidate right now to start in Bradenton next year, due to his advanced approach, improved control, and the ability to throw a changeup. – TW
Mike Wallace, RHP, Bristol – Wallace pitched six shutout innings, giving up just one hit, no walks, and striking out seven. His fastball usage was extremely low, sitting 86-89 MPH, and only being thrown 50% of the time. He relied heavily on his off-speed stuff, throwing 22 changeups in the outing. This is a great approach for results in the lower levels, but it won’t lead to results beyond short-season, and won’t get him beyond A-ball. – TW