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 West Virginia this week. We also had live coverage of Indianapolis, Altoona and West Virginia 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. This article also includes the first four days of the season from the previous week.

HITTERS

Trae Arbet, 2B, West Virginia – Drafted out of high school in 2013 and given a $425,000 bonus, Arbet is just making it to full-season ball in his fifth season in the pros. He put up a solid average and showed some pop at Bristol in 2015, then missed almost all of 2016 due to a wrist injury. Arbet has slugged three homers this season and he has a .333 average. He’s going to need the bat to carry him because there isn’t much else to his game. He started at shortstop and then moved to second base, but defense isn’t his strong suit. He doesn’t steal any bases and he’s had issues with a really low walk rate, combined with a high strikeout rate, during his career. A big power year would be a nice start for him, but due to his age, experience and flaws, he will need to hit at a higher level before he’s considered a prospect – John Dreker

Edwin Espinal, 1B, Altoona – This is a big year for Espinal. The 23-year-old is in his last season before minor league free agency. So far the stats look good with a .393/.455/.571 slash line through eight games. Espinal slimmed down over the off-season, dropping 20 pounds. He’s always shown glimpses of a player who looks like he is about to break out at the plate, only to go into a slump to even out his stats. Espinal is a big guy who hits the ball hard, but doesn’t get any loft, so he’s mostly a line drive hitter. He doesn’t strikeout too much, but he also doesn’t walk enough. Espinal is a solid first baseman, who can play third base in a pinch. He doesn’t have much range at the hot corner, though a very strong arm helps his case. Espinal will need to continue to hit if the Pirates are going to keep him around after this season. A season like Jose Osuna had last year might get him a 40-man roster spot, so that’s something to watch this year – JD

Logan Hill, OF, Bradenton – Hill started last season at Bradenton and didn’t last long, getting demoted to West Virginia, where he had a strong second half. He’s a big, athletic corner outfielder, who runs well for his size and has a ton of raw power. So far this season, he has put up a .318/.375/.591 slash line in 11 games. He’s already showing signs of slowing down though, going 1-for-14 with eight strikeouts in his last four games. Hill has the tools to be a prospect, he has just lacked the consistency so far. He turns 24 next month, so he isn’t young, but this is only his second full season in the pros, so if he can have a big year in Bradenton, then he will look like someone who could eventually make the majors. The Marauders are hitting him in the middle of the lineup right between Will Craig and Ke’Bryan Hayes, which is a good sign for Hill. – JD

Casey Hughston, CF, Bradenton – Hughston is off to a terrific start this season, giving you a glimpse of why the Pirates gave him over-slot money in the third round back in 2015. He has a .343/.400/.514 slash line through ten games. Hughston is a lot like Logan Hill, though he’s a year younger and has more speed, which allows him to play a strong center field. Both players have raw power, but strikeouts and low walk rates have been an issue. That’s where Hughston has really suffered, striking out 237 times in 654 at-bats in the pros. He’s had some spurts of success in the past, so it’s way too early to declare he has fixed the hole in his swing, but the start is encouraging. He’s going to add value on defense and on the bases, while also running into his share of homers. If he can cut down on the strikeouts and get on base more, then he becomes a legit prospect. – JD

Christian Kelley, C, Bradenton – Kelley got some great experience this spring, getting an invite to Major League Spring Training. He also got to stay a little longer due to Francisco Cervelli playing in the WBC and Jin-De Jhang getting hurt. Kelley’s calling card is his solid all-around defense, including his 36% caught stealing rate last year. The Pirates have him at Bradenton this year, where he’s catching three top ten pitching prospects in their starting rotation. Defense alone won’t make Kelley an interesting prospect. Last year, he drove the ball better than he did out of college in 2015 with Morgantown. This season he is hitting .357/.438/.464 in eight games. He made our top 50 in our 2017 Prospect Guide, but if he can continue to show signs of improvements at the plate, then he will move up from the 49th spot. – JD

Kevin Kramer, 2B, Altoona – A universal breakout player pick, Kevin Kramer has yet to disappoint in his first nine games of the young season. He has recorded a hit in each game, giving him a .452/.575/.871 slash line (1.446 OPS) with four doubles and three home runs. In the Curve’s home opener, Kramer homered twice to almost single-handedly power the Curve to a 3-2 win. He is the type of player who doesn’t strike out much, with an excellent K-rate usually sitting in the low-to-mid teens professionally, and he can draw walks on an average to above average rate. So far this season, the walks have come, but his strikeouts are up a little, something that usually happens to a player moving up a level for the first time. That hasn’t gotten in the way of his hitting, though, as he is hitting line drives, gap-to-gap, and using an advanced approach to read pitchers and pick his battles at the plate. The glove is strong and consistent, as Kramer profiles to be able to play any of second, third, or shortstop if needed. – Sean McCool

Kevin Krause, RF, Bradenton – Krause has been an interesting prospect since he signed in the ninth round of the 2014 draft. That’s because he was a catcher with power in his bat, something that the Pirates’ system has lacked for a long time behind the plate. Tommy John surgery cost him the 2015 season and his stats weren’t anything special last year as a 23-year-old in the New York-Penn League. Krause jumped over Low-A this season and showed almost immediately that he still had some power in his bat, hitting three homers in 24 at-bats. I say “almost immediately” because he didn’t play during the first three games, only getting playing time after Jordan George got hurt. Krause is hitting .333/.407/.917 so far, numbers that obviously won’t continue in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. He’s going to need to continue to get on base and hit for power to make sure he continues to get playing time and because he’s only playing outfield now, and he’s not strong defensively out there. – JD

Wyatt Mathisen, 3B, Altoona – Mathisen came into camp in great shape after losing a lot of weight, looking like a completely different person. The early results at the plate have been good, with a .381/.500/.524 line in 21 at-bats. He has always had a good hit tool, and hit for a .296 average with a .354 OBP last year in the second half with Bradenton. He has also shown improved defense at third base, getting a lot of time there this year. The question is whether he can add enough power in the future to be a starter, and if he can hit in the upper levels. He won’t continue at this pace, but hitting for average with a .143 ISO isn’t a bad start to showing he can have a chance to make it to the majors. – Tim Williams

Ty Moore, LF, West Virginia – This season didn’t start ideally for Moore. He was in Extended Spring Training (EST) and it took two early injuries in West Virginia for him to join the team. He started last year in West Virginia and struggled early on, which led to him being sent back to EST until the season opened up in Morgantown. He put up decent numbers there, but they came from a college player repeating the level. He’s making the most of his opportunity this season, collecting hits in all six games since joining the Power. He has a .393/.433/.607 slash line in 30 plate appearances. Moore will need to keep his on base percentage up because that’s the key to his game. He doesn’t have speed or power, and he’s an average corner outfielder, but he has the ability to put together good at-bats and he doesn’t strikeout often. – JD

Logan Ratledge, IF/OF, West Virginia – Ratledge has reached base at least once in all ten games this season. That has helped him to put up a .263/.404/.500 slash line, with nine walks, five extra-base hits and three stolen bases. He has already played six positions this season and it’s likely he will continue to move around the field. Ratledge has pitched once this season already and took the mound four times last year. He’s a solid player to have at the lower levels, but his upside doesn’t have him as anything more than a player who could reach Double-A at some point at a utility player on the bench. Ratledge turns 25 during the middle of this season. – JD

PITCHERS

Tanner Anderson, RHP, Altoona – Moving into a full-time starters’ role for the first time in his professional career, Tanner Anderson hasn’t disappointed. On Saturday afternoon in Altoona, Anderson was a ground ball machine, throwing 5.2 scoreless innings and only walking one batter. That followed a five inning outing earlier in the week where he only allowed one run in five innings. Anderson may have gained a tick on his four seam fastball, as it was registering around 92-93 MPH on Saturday. His two-seamer had a lot of action, and batters had a difficult time reading it to get the ball out of the infield. Anderson credited the development of his changeup as being able to get batters out the second time through the lineup. That is a new(er) pitch for Anderson, and it should only improve with time. With this opportunity to start games now, it should be interesting to see how Anderson handles batters the second – or third – time through the lineup this season. – SM

Dario Agrazal, RHP, Bradenton – Agrazal didn’t have the best opening game this season, giving up four runs (only two earned) in 4.2 innings. He followed that up with no earned runs over six innings in his second start. Through 10.2 innings, he has a 1.69 ERA, a 1.13 WHIP and a 2.38 GO/AO ratio. Agrazal is a player who we mentioned as someone who could throw harder that the 87-91 MPH fastballs we saw early in his career. That’s because he has nice size and a very low effort delivery, with clean mechanics. His father is a highly respected pitching coach in Panama, so he had a good upbringing for pitching. Agrazal finally added that velocity last year, sitting 94-95 MPH at times. He is a pitch-to-contact guy, who throws strikes and looks for quick outs. He also doesn’t mind throwing inside to keep batters uncomfortable. Because he doesn’t miss a lot of bats, he isn’t a high upside guy, but there is Major League potential there due to his strong command of a mid-90s fastball, along with a sharp breaking mid-80s curve and a solid changeup. – JD

Tyler Eppler, RHP, Indianapolis – Indianapolis has two pitchers that were in contention during spring training to earn the fifth starting spot in Pittsburgh’s rotation. But neither of those two — Steven Brault or Drew Hutchison — have looked as good as Triple-A newcomer Tyler Eppler. He’s thrown 11 scoreless innings in two starts, allowing four hits and one walk, striking out eight. Eppler was on a pitch/inning limit in both of his first two starts, or he likely would have gone deeper into those games. Eppler threw six scoreless innings and allowed just one hit against Toledo on April 13. He walked one batter and struck out four. Eppler’s second outing was even better than his debut, considering it was the second time Toledo hitters faced Eppler in less than one week. But they couldn’t make enough adjustments to fare better. Eppler is sitting 94-95 MPH with his fastball and has used his slider-cutter pitch effectively to keep hitters off-balance. Indianapolis manager Andy Barkett has been impressed with Eppler’s poise and ability to adjust to a higher level, where hitters are a little more experienced and less likely to chase pitches. If Eppler continues to pitch well, he might be in Pittsburgh sooner than later. – Brian Peloza

Luis Escobar, RHP, West Virginia – Escobar has dominated opposing hitters this season, leading to a league leading 23 strikeouts in 11 innings. In two starts, he has allowed two runs on six hits and one walk, giving him an 0.64 WHIP. He does it with a strong three-pitch mix, starting off with a fastball that he gets nice downward action on, throwing mid-90s, topping out at 97 MPH on occasion. He also has a sharp breaking curveball that is hard for batters to pick up until it’s too late. The third pitch is his changeup, which is another strikeout pitch that has late downward movement and gets a lot of swinging strikes. Escobar is picking up the strikeouts despite not throwing a lot of pitches in the strike zone. His curve would rarely get a called strike and batters flail at the pitch well out of the strike zone. He occasionally leaves the fastball up out of the zone and other times will spike the pitch out in front of the plate, but Low-A hitters will chase. He does a good job of throwing his changeup for strikes. Escobar needs to show better control to succeed at the higher levels, but we are talking about a 20-year-old pitcher who is putting up huge strikeout numbers, so it’s hard not to get excited about his start. – JD

Taylor Hearn, LHP, Bradenton – The Pirates acquired Hearn last year at the deadline in the Mark Melancon trade, and they might have gotten him at just the right time. Hearn was just coming back from a broken foot, and only had 29 innings on the year in his first full season in pro ball. The Pirates got the hard throwing lefty and immediately started working on his control as a starter. So far he has gone 11.2 innings in 2016, with a 2.31 ERA, but more importantly a 12:3 K/BB ratio. He can throw a changeup, and has a plus slider when it’s on, although the command and movement of the pitch can be inconsistent. He’s only been throwing it for a year, so that’s not too much of an issue right now. Hearn has one of the best arms in the system, and if this control continues to be the norm, the Pirates will have gotten a steal. – TW

Sean Keselica, LHP, Altoona – We don’t grade lefty relievers too high until they’ve had success above A-ball. Keselica’s 7.2 shutout innings don’t exactly give him that success tag, but his results have him creeping on the radar. The Pirates moved him up to Altoona after almost no time in Bradenton last year, and after dominating West Virginia. He’s got a deceptive delivery, and can hit the low-90s with his fastball, getting a lot of movement on the pitch. If he can repeat his 2016 success in Altoona, he could jump on the radar as a relief pitching prospect. – TW

Alex McRae, RHP, Altoona – McRae was one of the best pitchers in the system last year in the final months of the season, and has picked up where he left off in his first two starts of 2017. He has given up just one earned run in 11 innings, with a 13:3 K/BB ratio. He gets a lot of ground balls with a heavy sinker approach, and is off to a good start in that area as well, with a 60% ground ball rate. McRae has a chance to move up to Indianapolis at some point this year, and could be the first one up when a spot clears if he keeps pitching like this. He could have the upside of a depth starter or a reliever who can pitch multiple innings with a power sinker. – TW

Yunior Montero, RHP, Bradenton – Luis Escobar is getting all of the attention for his strikeouts, but Montero actually has the better strikeout rate, picking up 15 in 6.2 innings of shutout ball. He’s being used as a multi-inning reliever, which is the role he had last year with West Virginia, where he also occasionally got a spot start. Montero sits 93-94 MPH with his fastball and didn’t have a strong secondary pitches when I saw him last year. This year he has been able to throw his curveball for strikes, which has led to the improved strikeout rate. He also has a changeup for his third pitch. He’s an easy pitcher to root for due to his road to where he is now, and it appears the better control he’s displaying this year (including Spring Training), could help him up the ladder. The Pirates didn’t leave Edgar Santana at Bradenton too long last year after he was dominating the league, and you could see Montero make the same type of move if the control is legit – JD

Logan Sendelbach, RHP, Bradenton – Due to the strong prospect rotation in Bradenton, Sendelbach was moved to the bullpen this year. He still made a spot start last week, and has given up just one earned run in his first 9.1 innings, with an 8:2 K/BB ratio. Sendelbach takes a heavy sinker approach, and works best when his fastball is in the 90-93 MPH range. He’s got a shot to be a middle relief prospect one day, and might have a shot at more innings this year in the second half after other starters get promoted. – TW

Cam Vieaux, LHP, West Virginia – During Spring Training this year, Vieaux didn’t have the best velocity on his fastball. That was something that the Pirates tried to work on with him, hoping to add to his 88-91 MPH velocity by generating more power with his lower half. He occasionally hit 92 as a pro and would hit 93 MPH in college, so there appeared to be potential. Late in Spring Training, he was mostly 88-89 in his start. We believed Vieaux was a potential player who could skip Low-A ball due to his age, experience and ability to throw multiple pitches for strikes. The Pirates have done that each of the past few years with advanced college pitchers in their first full season. Instead he is with West Virginia, where he has made two starts, allowing two runs over 10.1 innings. Vieaux went six innings in his last start and was extremely efficient with his pitch count, needing just 55 pitches to get through his outing. He should have no problem at Low-A ball and he should be in line for a mid-season promotion, once someone moves up ahead of him. – JD

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7 COMMENTS

  1. Kevin Kramer! I remember that pick when it occurred and people being upset we’d taken two middle infielders (along with Newman) with our early picks. Glad to see he is working out (thus far of course)

  2. Luis Escobar sounds a lot like Tyler Glasnow, except that he already has the changeup. That is exciting.

    Obviously, he’s not the caliber of prospect Glasnow is given how far from the Majors he is, but a guy who throws that hard with plane, and who has two swing-and-miss secondary pitches has to have massive upside.

  3. I know it wasn’t much to go on, but Casey Hughston really impressed me in spring training this year. I really hope he’s figured something out, because he’s got so much talent, it would be great to see him put it together.

  4. Trae Arbet, 2B, West Virginia – Drafted out of high school in 2013 and given a $425,000 bonus

    Is it me or does it seem that giving some player a big draft bonus is a kiss of death in a whole lot of instances?

    • It’s not just just you. But it’s also not causative. It’s just the averages.

      Teams give a lot of guys decent money in the draft. Not a lot of guys reach the Majors. Ergo, a lot of guys who get decent money in the draft ultimately don’t reach the Majors.

    • I think it just stands out when a guy doesn’t work out.

      Glasnow was an over-slot guy. Keller was an over-slot guy. Holmes set a record for the biggest 9th round bonus. Bell obviously was a big over-slot guy. But once they become legit prospects, the big bonus is forgotten.

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