Top Performers: Keller, Kuhl, Tucker, Eppler, Waddell and Osuna Highlight Last Week’s Best

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, Altoona and Morgantown this week. We also had live coverage of Indianapolis, Altoona 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:

HITTERS

Sherten Apostel – Apostel is a big, strong 17-year-old kid from Curacao, who signed for a $200,000 bonus last year. He has the arm to be a solid pitcher (can hit 94 MPH), but the Pirates want to try to take advantage of his huge raw power at the plate and his athleticism. He was signed as a third baseman, but the DSL Pirates are using his more often as a DH to get him some at-bats. Leading up to this week, his numbers were very poor at the plate, with a .164 average and a .503 OPS. He has also struck out a lot this season, with 48 in 140 at-bats. He made the Top Performer article this week because he picked up hits in all five games. Among those hits was his first career home run. He also picked up three hits on Friday, which combined with the rest of the week, raised his OPS 81 points. He was already interesting to watch due to the high bonus and his scouting report, but if he continues to hit well over the last three weeks of the DSL season, then we could see him in the GCL as early as next season. The Pirates may still want to hold him back in the DSL even if that happens due to his age and lack of regular playing time in the field. – John Dreker

Jhoan Herrera – The 21-year-old Herrera has been one of the few bright spots for a very poor Bristol team this year. His is fourth in the Appalachian League with 12 doubles, and his .789 OPS is well above league average. He is currently on a seven-game hit streak, which included three hits last night. Herrera signed for $300,000 in July, 2012, receiving that much due to his raw power from the left side of the plate. He hasn’t really showed much over-the-fence power, but his slugging percentage has gone up every season since his rookie year in the DSL back in 2013. He missed a lot of development time in 2014 due to an ankle injury in Spring Training, otherwise he would have been in the U.S. a year earlier. Herrera was signed as a third baseman and played there for two seasons. Now he’s strictly a first baseman, so the bat will need to continue to play up for him to advance up the system – JD

Kevin Krause – Krause is old for the current level, but that is due to his return from Tommy John surgery, which caused him to miss all of last year and return to the same lower level this year in his rehab. He had a lot of appeal in 2014, due to his power potential behind the plate. He hasn’t seen that fully return this year, with a .144 ISO, compared to .284 his first run through the level. The good news is that he’s still able to catch after the procedure, and is showing no ill effects from the injury, although he only rotates as a secondary option for the position, spending a lot of time in right field. He got on the list this week by showing off some of his power, with a big home run to start the week, and a high OBP due to four walks. He isn’t quite a legit prospect yet, but should get plenty of opportunities due to his power potential and ability to catch. – Tim Williams

Edison Lantigua – Lantigua had a terrific rookie season in the DSL in 2014, then came to the GCL in 2015 and struggled. That was partially due to a thumb injury that bothered him for most of the season, but we have also seen a lot of DSL players recently have trouble making the jump to the U.S., so it wasn’t just Lantigua. The 19-year-old lefty/lefty has been playing right field only this season after playing left field in each of his first two years. He has a lot of tools, so the potential is there for a top player, he just needs to stay healthy. He has already missed time this season with a hand injury, and had to leave another game after making a diving catch in foul territory. Lantigua is hitting .303/.366/.445 in 32 games, and he picked up at least one hit in all five games he played last week. He is second in the GCL with six triples, and he ranks 12th with his .812 OPS. – JD

Danny Ortiz – Ortiz doesn’t have an overly impressive batting average, hitting .225 this season and .250 over the past 10 games. But Ortiz is arguably one of the more clutch players Indianapolis has, evident by his four walk-off hits this season. Ortiz is also efficient with the hits he does have with 14 home runs and 48 RBIs this season. In comparison, Josh Bell has had 44 more at-bats, but has 13 home runs and 55 RBIs. During a critical week for the Indians’ playoff hopes, Ortiz hit .272 with seven RBIs, which includes a grand slam at Columbus on Aug. 4. He’s trying to finish the season on a high note, after hitting .260 in April and May. But his batting average plummeted over the next two months, hitting .205 in June and .174 in July. Ortiz will be a minor league free agent after this season unless the Pirates put him on the 40-man roster. It’s probably doubtful that would happen, but Ortiz was a top target during the off-season, as far as minor league free agents go. The problem with Ortiz is while he has had some hits and RBIs at key moments, he doesn’t put himself in a position to score often enough with a .272 on-base percentage. Anything is possible, but Ortiz appears poised to be nothing more this season than a decent offensive threat for the Indians. – Brian Peloza

Jose Osuna – A tough decision will be looming for the Pirates organization later this month thanks to Jose Osuna, who will become a minor league free agent at the end of the season if he’s not put on the 40-man roster. That won’t be an easy decision, but Osuna is pushing the issue with the way he’s played since being promoted to Indianapolis on June 30. Sure, there are some deficiencies with Osunas game: he’s an average in the field, not the fastest of players, and doesn’t draw many walks. But there has been one shining positive: he has a knack for getting extra-base hits and lots of them since his promotion. Osuna leads the International League with 20 extra-base hits since July 1, while he is fourth with a .598 slugging average. He had a .307 average during the past week, with nine RBIs. He hit two home runs in a game against Columbus and five of the six home runs he’s hit in Indianapolis has given the Indians the lead. He also had two hits in three games. Osuna will regularly put in extra work in left field prior to games, working on catching fly balls and playing balls off the walls. If Osuna keeps hitting the way he has, it may be hard not to see what he could do at the major league level. But at the same time, promoting him would pretty much be based solely on his potential as a hitter. – BP

Jeremias Portorreal – Returning for a third season in the DSL usually isn’t a good sign. Portorreal received the second highest bonus ($375,000) from the Pirates during the 2013-14 signing period, and after going to the Fall Instructional League last September, he returned to the DSL this season. That doesn’t happen too often, and when he started off slowly this year, he began to look like a bust. One important thing to remember is that the Pirates signed him on his 16th birthday on August 7, 2013, making him one of the youngest players in the DSL in 2014. He just turned 19 on Sunday and he’s been on fire for the last month. Portorreal had a 19-game on base streak snapped late last week, then finished up the week with a game in which he hit two doubles and reached base in all five plate appearances. He’s a tall, lefty/lefty outfielder, who is still filling out. Portorreal has already cut well down on his strikeouts this season, and if he can continue to get on base and add extra-base hits, then we could see the prospect the Pirates envisioned when they signed him three years ago. – JD

Raul Siri – Siri has been struggling this season, which carried over from a tough season last year. His GCL stats weren’t the worst last season, especially when you factor in that it’s a very pitcher-friendly league. The problem was that he destroyed the ball for the first seven games, then put up a .497 OPS the rest of the way. Coming into this past week, he had a .548 OPS in the first 31 games with Bristol. Last week in five games, Siri hit .412/.545/.647, with hits in all five games and walks in four of those contests. If he can finally get on track, he’s an interesting player. His scouting report from the DSL in 2014, which was taken from multiple sources, had him as a line drive hitter, with patience and the ability to occasionally put the ball over the fence. He also has above average speed and solid defense at second base, with the ability to fill in at shortstop and third base. Siri tied the DSL season record with 25 doubles in his only season, and he was one of the best hitters in the entire league. So the potential is there for the 21-year-old infielder, he just needs to get back to what got him where he is now. – JD

Michael Suchy – Suchy had hits in all five games he played last week, contributing a couple big hits during Wednesday’s win when he drove in three runs. In 92 games this season, he is hitting .268/.360/.387, with 22 extra-base hits and eight stolen bases. Not great numbers, but when you put them into perspective with the league he is playing in, he’s actually one of the better hitters. Suchy ranks tied for ninth in OBP, and his OPS is tops on Bradenton among all qualified hitters. His numbers for the most part are around the same as last season when he had a solid year for West Virginia. The only big difference is the doubles, going from 34 last year down to 13 this season. Even though the FSL is a tougher league to hit in, as a big 23-year-old kid, you would like to see him at least maintain the same power as he makes the jump. The ability to hit for more power will be the biggest factor in how far Suchy makes it in baseball – JD

Cole Tucker – Tucker is becoming a regular in the Top Performer articles thanks to a run of multi-hit games that has raised his average 50 points in his last ten games. He only played four games this week, but he had seven hits, two walks, and drove in four runs. While his .677 OPS and 44 strikeouts in 45 games at Bradenton, doesn’t scream success, it’s important to remember that he is one of the youngest players in a league that heavily favors pitchers. Even if he repeats the FSL next year, he will still be one of the youngest players in the league at 20 years old on Opening Day. While Tucker’s hitting and fielding are almost on par with last year in West Virginia, there is one area of his game that has really suffered this season. After stealing 25 bases in 31 attempts last season, this year he is 4-for-10 in steals, plus a couple pick-offs that aren’t in those numbers. Tucker is still somewhat raw due to his age and missed time, including his thumb surgery at the end of the 2014 season, which cost him the Fall Instructional League. Luckily, the Pirates have Kevin Newman at shortstop ahead of him, and no one at West Virginia pushing him yet, so he should benefit from another season in High-A if they decide to keep him there. – JD

PITCHERS

Danny Beddes – Beddes, taken in the 15th round this year, is a big pitcher who has thrown harder in the past, sitting 90-94 and touching 95. His velocity was down a bit this week, sitting mostly 89-91, and touching as high as 93 from what I saw. That can probably be chalked up to pitching later in the year than he ever has in the past. He didn’t have the best command of his two-seamer, and wasn’t getting consistent movement on the pitch. He mixed in a cutter, a curveball, and a changeup, with the changeup being a newer pitch for him. The cutter was his best breaking pitch, coming in around 87 with some good tilt. The curve worked away from right handers or inside to lefties, and he could throw it for strikes. He’s an interesting arm due to his size and velocity potential, but the command will need to improve to set up his secondary stuff better. –TW

Wilmer Contreras – Usually we try to limit these players to guys who put in at least five innings during the week, but Contreras pitched so well over his four innings as a spot starter on Tuesday, that we couldn’t leave him out. He gave up one hit, with no runs or walks, while striking out seven batters. At the deadline of the 2014-15 July 2nd signing period, the Pirates had just under $200,000 left in their signing pool and gave Contreras $85,000 of that money, while spending the other $100,000 of lefty pitcher Randy Jimenez. Contreras is 18 years old now, a 6’3″, righty, with a medium build. The up to date scouting report on him (as I got it after this outing) is that he sits 86-88 MPH with his fastball, and his slider is his second best pitch. He controls his pitches well, and also throws the occasional changeup. He has a 3.18 ERA in 28.1 innings, with 28 strikeouts, a .173 BAA, and an 0.92 WHIP. The stats are good, but he will need to add a little more velocity and do a better job of getting ground balls before he becomes an interesting prospect. – JD

Tyler Eppler – Eppler has been a workhorse this season and he was at it again last week, allowing one run on six hits and one walk in seven innings. He has gone at least six innings in 16 of his 21 starts, and only failed to go five innings twice. He is 11th in the Eastern League with a 3.81 ERA, and he ranks sixth with 127.2 innings and eighth with a 1.24 WHIP. Eppler has done a better job of missing bats recently, striking out at least six batters in four of his last six starts. His biggest issue this year has been getting his fastball up in the zone. When he is on his game, you have a 6’6″ righty, throwing on a downward plane at 92-95 MPH. That is not as easy pitch to hit. It has a tendency to get flat at times and that has led to a lot of fly balls. His slider has shown potential and he can use his changeup, so there are the makings of a solid back-end starter who will give you a lot of innings, he just needs to get more consistent with his fastball command down in the zone – JD

Bret Helton – Helton put up the best Game Score last week for any Pirates pitcher. He threw seven shutout innings, giving up three hits and one walk, while striking out four batters. It was a strong turnaround from his previous two starts, when he gave up 13 runs over 8.2 innings. While he doesn’t have the best stuff, he has limited the hits he’s allowed this season, posting a .238 BAA in 111 innings. Helton has a 4.22 ERA this season, partially due to too many walks, plus he has hit 12 batters. He has still been a innings eater as of late. After starting off the season with eight straight starts of less than six innings, he has gone six or more in 11 of his last 13 outings. Right now his upside seems limited to a future middle reliever if he makes the majors, but he’s still in his first full season as a pro, so a few more outings like last week could change his future outlook. – JD

Mitch Keller – Keller looked like he was feeling the effects of a young pitcher who was well over his innings from the previous season. We got reports from his previous start that his velocity was still strong, actually sitting just a hair higher than earlier in the year. That start didn’t go well though, and neither did his two prior starts. He was knocked out of the game before he could go five innings in both contests. On Saturday night, he bounced back with six shutout innings, allowing four hits, no walks, and he struck out nine batters. It was the first time he struck out that many batters since setting down ten in his third start of the season. Keller leads the South Atlantic League with an 0.94 WHIP. He is also sixth with 112 strikeouts and seventh with a 2.85 ERA. It will be interesting to see how the Pirates handle his innings the rest of the way. He should have five starts left this season, but he’s already at 107.1 innings. They usually like to limit young arms to 120 innings in their first full season, yet he still looks strong on the mound as far as stamina and velocity. What you may see is shorter outings with limited pitch counts to finish the season – JD

Chad Kuhl – After leaving his previous start after one inning due to triceps discomfort, Kuhl returned nine days later with six shutout innings. He proved that he was healthy in that game, and he is now scheduled to start tomorrow night in Pittsburgh. The last time the Pirates called Kuhl up to the majors, he was coming off multiple poor outings in a row. His promotion was based more on his incredible run to start the season, rather than where he was at during that time. Now he has Major League experience and he’s coming off a strong outing, so we should see a better version of him with the Pirates. The one thing you have to worry about though is him going from being ready to start on Saturday for Indianapolis, to throwing a bullpen instead and making his start three days later. He may also be slightly limited with his pitch count due to throwing just 85 pitches since July 23rd. – JD

Alex McRae – McRae has been one of the most inconsistent pitchers since being promoted to Altoona in early June. He has put up some of the worst starts we have seen all season, and also been mentioned here among the Top Performers multiple times. Last week was his good side, going six innings with one run on five hits and two walks, striking out six batters. His Altoona stats are horrible through 11 games, with a 6.31 ERA, 1.80 WHIP and a .346 BAA, yet he has still put up some of the better outings we have seen from their pitchers. He has started throwing his four-seam fastball more, which led to an increase in his velocity, but he had a 2.89 ERA with Bradenton before being promoted, so it hasn’t helped with results. If we see the good McRae more consistently, then he becomes more than a possible future middle reliever in the majors. – JD

Stephan Meyer – Meyer has struggled for most of this season, putting up a 5.40 ERA in 46.2 innings over ten starts. This week, he went six innings, giving up an unearned run on six hits, with a walk and six strikeouts. That continues a trend where he has put up better numbers, and a lot more ground balls. This is largely due to switching to a two-seam fastball, which has let him get the ball down more, and has made him more difficult to hit. His curveball was on in this start, leading to the six strikeouts. However, that hasn’t always been the case this year, as he is inconsistent with his curve and change. Having a fastball that can be effective and set up his secondary pitches is a good start, but Meyer will need more consistency with his secondary stuff to make the jump to being a legit prospect. – TW

Cam Vieaux – Vieaux pitched six innings on Sunday, giving up one run on six hits, with no walks and five strikeouts. That followed a start earlier in the week where he gave up two runs on three hits and a walk, with two strikeouts. I saw the Sunday outing, and he did a good job of throwing strikes, getting ahead with his fastball, and using a quality slider to put guys away. He had his best slider of the year, leading to the strikeouts. The Pirates have been working with him to get his weight on his backside more during his delivery, and incorporating his legs more in his delivery. This is leading to a better slider with more tilt, and more swings and misses as a result. The hope is that he can also add velocity going forward. He was 88-91, hitting 92 twice on Sunday, which is up from when he was mostly 88-89 earlier in the season. He has worked 90-93 in college in the past, and that wouldn’t be a bad range for a lefty who can command the inside of the plate. – TW

Brandon Waddell – Waddell gave up only one run in seven innings pitched last Wednesday at home against Richmond. He dominated early, throwing strikes and working all around the zone. He was commanding his fastball extremely well, and he was able to work his changeup and slider into the mix. As the game progressed, Waddell struggled a little more with his command, but he was able to get through seven innings while only walking three batters. His change-up has been a good out pitch for him, and he was able to utilize his slider well in the start, too. Waddell’s best strength going into his Double-A promotion was his command, and that has been one of his weaknesses at the level, with his walk rate jumping to 4.91 BB/9. He walked five in two starts before Wednesday’s, and the command was better. Keeping walks down will allow Waddell to continue trending in a positive direction. –Sean McCool

  • Jose Osuna for life! Who cares if they are only adding Osuna for his bat….the Pirates need some offense.

  • Drop Garcia from the 40 and add Osuna. Garcia is not hitting for any power this year due to the Pirates telling him to stop striking out so much.

    • I wouldn’t say he has no power. He does have 32 extra-base hits with a month left. I think you’re just seeing what AAA does to a player with horrible plate patience and pitchers who have a better book on him now. I wouldn’t be surprised to see neither of them on the 40-man. You could easily find someone on a minor league deal who provides the same overall value and has MLB experience. Let them serve as your fifth outfielder while not taking a spot on the 40-man. Danny Ortiz could run circles around Osuna on defense, plus he’s better than Garcia and Ortiz plays all three spots, plus he has 14 homers this year. That’s fine as a player you hope never sees Pittsburgh, but is there just in case. Will add value on defense and might run into a pitch. He doesn’t make many mistakes on the field/bases either.

  • The fascination with Jose Osuna is utterly hilarious.

  • I wonder if the Astros would have any interest in Osuna. The Astros outfield blows so maybe they would leap at the chance of plugging him into their lineup and letting him swing for the fences. He fits the type of the player the Stros seem to target.

  • And who are the PTBNL on the above list?

    • My guess there are two lists, one if Nova wins more than 7 games for the Bucs and a second if he doesn’t.

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