Every week we have live reports from all over the system, while I provided additional views of the minors via MiLB.tv, which included Indianapolis and Altoona this week. We also had live coverage of Altoona and Bradenton 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.
Edwin Espinal, 1B, Altoona – This is a big year for Espinal and he appears to coming through in the clutch. He is in his last year before minor league free agency and putting up numbers that should get him a shot at Indianapolis soon, where he can try to earn a 40-man roster spot this upcoming off-season. Espinal signed at 16, so he is still just 23 years old and in his second season in Double-A. He slimmed down during the off-season and it has helped his agility at first base. At the plate, he is hitting .312/.362/.510 in 41 games. He homered twice in the past week, giving him six on the season. He ranks eighth in the league in OPS and he has struck out just 16 times in 174 plate appearances. The Pirates loved the bat when they signed him and he’s always been a player who we thought could breakout at any time. It looks like this could finally be the year. – John Dreker
Jordan George, 1B/OF, Bradenton – George has put up some good numbers with Bradenton this year, hitting for a .298/.429/.405 line in 84 at-bats. He’s a bench player who got some extra playing time this week, and extended his hitting streak to ten games with hits in all six games played. He only had one extra base hit during the stretch, but padded his stats with seven walks. That is the big picture story for George. He does a good job of hitting for average and getting on base, but doesn’t have much power. That will hurt him from a prospect standpoint as he moves up, since he is limited to a corner role defensively. – Tim Williams
Connor Joe, 1B/OF, Altoona – After a slow start, Joe finished with respectable numbers last year in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. He went on a home run tear in the playoffs for Bradenton, then headed to the Arizona Fall League in the off-season to play some outfield and get some experience against upper level pitching. Joe started off slow again this season, but he has come on strong for the last month. He is hitting .312/.418/.532 in May with 11 extra-base hits and a 13:6 BB/SO ratio. While he isn’t fast, he hasn’t looked out of place often in right field and he is a solid first baseman. He’s playing two high offense positions and doesn’t have speed or much over-the-fence power, so he’s going to need to continue to show a strong approach at the plate because that’s where he gets his value. A high OBP and enough power to get his share of doubles would still make him a valuable player if he can carry those numbers into Triple-A down the line. – JD
Wyatt Mathisen, 3B, Altoona – Mathisen has had a solid season so far and continued that this week with six hits, including his first homer for Altoona. He is batting .321/.407/.425 in 37 games and he’s playing more often than he was earlier in the season. He’s playing a decent third base, nothing spectacular, but he makes the routine plays. The 23-year-old Mathisen was a second round pick in 2012 out of high school. He has missed his share of time over the years and never really put together a solid season at the plate. He used this past off-season to get into great shape and he showed up early to Spring Training. It looks like that has helped him this year and we could finally be seeing the player the Pirates thought they were getting with a high draft pick. Mathisen’s upside isn’t great right now because he isn’t a power hitter at a high offense position. He also isn’t an above average defender or runner, so all of the value is in his ability to get on base. He’s finally playing everyday and could be a late bloomer due to the missed time. – JD
Austin Meadows, OF, Indianapolis – Meadows dominated this week, picking up multiple hits in five of his six games. He also had two doubles, his third homer of the season, drew a pair of walks and stole a couple bases. He started off extremely slow, which holds back his overall slash line that now sits at .262/.320/.372 in 46 games. Meadows had 20 strikeouts in April, but has just 11 in May, while accumulating 18 more plate appearances. He has reached base safely in 17 straight games and is showing why he’s considered one of the top prospects in the game these last three weeks. Meadows is more than just a bat though. He’s getting experience at each corner outfield spot and showing terrific range. That speed also has him at 8-for-9 in stolen bases and helps him take extra bases. There are going to be calls for him to come up to Pittsburgh in two weeks when he will be safe from Super Two status. Meadows has played 83 games in Triple-A now and will continue to add to that total. He also had AFL experience, so there’s a chance the Pirates could consider calling him up then, especially if he continues to hit like he has the last few weeks. – JD
Max Moroff, Inf, Indianapolis – Moroff continues to be the surprise power source in the minors this season. He connected on his 13th home run last week as part of a six hit, three walk week. After a brief stint in the majors earlier this month, Moroff continued to put up strong numbers during his return to Triple-A. He has a .260/.375/.565 slash line in 40 games, ranking second in the league in walks and OPS and he’s tied for first in homers. He’s still showing a lot of patience at the plate, almost to a fault at times, though he has cut down some on the six-pitch walks/strikeouts without taking the bat off his shoulder. This year Moroff seems to be a little more aggressive with pitches in the zone, which has led to him not falling behind in the count so often, which was his major issue last year. On defense, he is getting a lot of experience at shortstop with Gift Ngoepe in the majors. That should help Moroff in the future, as he could settle into a utility role off the bench for the Pirates by next season. – JD
Pablo Reyes, Inf/OF, Altoona – Reyes makes a second straight appearance on The Twenty after going 5-for-19 with two doubles and three walks. The versatile 23-year-old has made most of his starts in center field this year, but he has also filled in at shortstop and second base when the Kevins have a day off. Reyes can also play third base in a pinch, but doesn’t have much experience there, with the majority of it coming during winter ball. He’s an athletic player, with quickness in the field and on the bases, as well as some surprising pop in his bat coming from a slim 5’10” frame (which seems generous). On the season, he has a .701 OPS, along with an 18:17 SO/BB ratio in 37 games. He’s been praised over the years for his terrific hand-eye coordination and his ability to put the ball in play. Right now he is a fringe Major Leaguer, but he’s an athletic, toolsy player, who is the right age for Double-A, so there’s still time to develop into a bench option, rather than a AAAA player. – JD
Mitchell Tolman, 2B, Bradenton – Tolman has shown some power potential from the middle infield early in his career, and has continued that during his time in the pitcher friendly Florida State League. His stats don’t look great on the surface, with a .238/.373/.351 line. His approach has looked good, leading to 29 walks and 27 strikeouts on the year. He also makes hard contact, leading to some extra base hits. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him putting up better numbers outside of the FSL. He’s got an encouraging .373 OBP, and reminds me a bit of Max Moroff in terms of a hitter profile as a middle infielder who can do a good job getting on base while providing some power. Tolman added his third homer of the year this week, while also adding a triple in the same game. – TW
Adrian Valerio, SS, West Virginia – We normally go with 20 plate appearances minimum for the week, but that would have eliminated everyone on West Virginia and it was also a poor overall week for the system. Due to four days of rain, the Power played just four games and two were seven inning contests during doubleheaders. I stretched the rules to include Valerio, who had hits in all four games, including his first home run of the season. He also drew two walks, hitting out of the lead-off spot. Over last weekend, Valerio had back-to-back three-hit games, so he has been on a nice run in his last six games. He’s played just 11 games total and began with a 1-for-20 stretch in his first five games, though he had just three strikeouts, so he was putting the ball in play. Valerio has recovered well from his broken hand that he suffered in Spring Training. At the time, he was crushing the ball whenever someone from the site saw him. We got strong reports from Extended Spring Training as well. That’s good to see from him, because the fear was that he was just an advanced defensive shortstop, who may not hit enough to reach the majors. That’s still obviously a question that will be answered down the road a few years, but he appears to be headed in the right direction at the plate. – JD
Eric Wood, 3B, Indianapolis – Wood made The Twenty last week after hitting three homers and drawing a lot of walks. He didn’t have a great week this time, but it was good enough to get him on here again. He had a pair of multi-hit games and continued to draw some walks. Wood is having a season similar to his breakout 2016 campaign with Altoona. His walks are up a little, though so are his strikeouts. His slugging and OBP are nearly identical to last year’s totals. His defense has been solid at third base again and he now has the added versatility of being able to play first base and outfield. He will need more time at each of those positions, but he got experience at both spots over the off-season, moving around in the Fall Instructional League, the Arizona Fall League and winter ball. I he continues his current pace, I’d say there is a good chance he sees Pittsburgh this September and a better chance he is added to the 40-man roster to avoid the Rule 5 draft. – JD
JT Brubaker, RHP, Altoona – Brubaker had his turn in the rotation skipped recently due to a blister on his right index finger. When he returned from the missed time, Altoona used him out of the bullpen so he could build up his pitch count again. He returned to the rotation on Friday and allowed one run on three hits and two walks over five innings. Brubaker has a solid arsenal that he doesn’t always use effectively. He can tend to rely on one pitch for too long before he changes things up. His fastball sits 90-94 MPH and is effective when he gets it down in the zone, although he can get chases up near the letters as well. His slider is an effective strikeout pitch and he gets good results with his changeup. Even with the missed time, Brubaker is having a solid May after a bumpy April when he put up a 5.09 ERA. He has a 2.16 ERA this month and has cut 22 points from his April WHIP. The big difference is four homers last month compared to none this month. The homers usually come when he leaves his fastball up in the zone, so that improvement could signify better fastball command. – JD
Austin Coley, RHP, Altoona – Coley continues to impress as a starter, despite the fact that he was supposed to be a long man out of the bullpen this year. It has a similar feel, though not quite as impressive, as what Frank Duncan did last year. Both pitchers get by with sinkers that top out around 90 MPH and have better movement and results when they sit at that velocity, despite the ability to throw a little harder. The 24-year-old Coley went seven innings on Monday, his longest outing of the season. He gave up one run over 3.2 innings on Saturday night. For the season, he has a 3.00 ERA in 46 innings, with a 1.24 WHIP and a .253 BAA. You would think he would be more of a ground ball pitcher since he relies on a sinker, but his 0.83 GO/AO ratio this season is exactly the same as his career mark over four seasons. – JD
Bret Helton, RHP, Bradenton – With Mitch Keller out, Bret Helton got some time in the rotation, allowing two runs on two hits and four walks in five innings. Helton hasn’t shown the best control this year, although he’s been better out of the bullpen. He has given up seven of his 14 walks on the season in the last two starts, while only striking out seven batters in ten innings. He’s sinkerball guy who is more effective out of the bullpen, but can provide the Pirates some organizational starting pitching depth when a situation like this comes up. As he moves up, he’ll continue pitching out of the bullpen, getting starts in similar situations. – TW
Sean Keselica, LHP, Altoona – Keselica started off great this year, not allowing a run in his first 15.1 innings. He then gave up at least one run in four straight appearances before getting back on track this week. He had two extended relief appearances this past week, throwing 2.1 shutout innings the first time, following by two shutout frames last time out. He also racked up seven strikeouts in those 4.1 innings. On the season, the soon to be 24-year-old southpaw has a 1.61 ERA, in 28 innings, with 31 strikeouts, a .172 BAA, an 0.96 WHIP and a 1.89 GO/AO ratio. He put up similar numbers last year in West Virginia and almost skipped over Bradenton, stopping there for one game and the playoffs last year. Keselica throws low-90s with some deception in his delivery, so he’s hard for batters to pick up. We usually wait longer on lefty relievers before calling them prospects because most lefties with control can get by in the lower minors with lesser stuff than Keselica. He is starting to look like a future Major Leaguer and he could be a strong lefty option, because left-handed batters are 2-for-32 against him this year. – JD
Nick Kingham, RHP, Indianapolis – Kingham has been back for three weeks and he has made The Twenty each week. He had a solid start early last week, then topped it off with a terrific outing on Sunday. The Tuesday start was three runs over six innings, with eight strikeouts. He was relying more on his fastball in that outing. On Sunday, his curve looked like a plus pitch and he was using for early strikes and as an out pitch. The fastball has been good so far, though not quite the velocity we saw at his peak prior to his Tommy John surgery. He commands the pitch well and it sits low-90s, so he doesn’t need that plus velocity to get results. When you combine command of a low-90s fastball, along with the plus curve we saw Sunday and an above average changeup, you have the makings of a solid, mid-rotation starter, who has the frame to be a workhorse starter. He’s still going to need time in Triple-A before he’s Major League ready, but he should see Pittsburgh before September. He’s out of options next year, so the Pirates are going to want to get him more than a few September innings so he isn’t inexperienced going into next season when he has to make the Opening Day roster. – JD
Jared Lakind, LHP, Altoona – Lakind has really struggled at times this year while repeating Double-A. He re-signed with the Pirates as a minor league free agent early in the off-season after putting up a 2.59 ERA in 66 innings last year. He has not been the same this season, but he did have a strong past week, throwing five shutout innings and not walking a batter. That second part is key because he issued at least one walk in each of his previous six appearances. Lakind has a lot of the same qualities as Sean Keselica, with a low-90s fastball that hits 94 MPH at times and he has some deception from the left side. The difference between them this year is the control. It’s possible this strong performance last week will get him back on track. Even his previous outing was one run over 3.2 innings with six strikeouts so it looks like things could be turning around. – JD
Sam Street, RHP, Bradenton – Street doesn’t have the best stuff, but gets results due to some deception with his sidearm delivery. This can lead to some high strikeout totals, which was the case this week. He went 4.2 innings in relief, giving up two hits and striking out six. Street has been used as an emergency reliever, taking over during shorter outings. This was his second 4+ inning game this month, and he combined for ten strikeouts in nine innings between the two games. He doesn’t have the stuff to continue having success in the upper levels, as deception will only take him so far. – TW
Pedro Vasquez, RHP, Bradenton – The Pirates added Vasquez in the Arquimedes Caminero trade last year, and he’s looked like a decent starting pitching option. He doesn’t have the dominant fastball that you see from the rest of the Bradenton rotation, but his 90-93 MPH sinker can get the job done. He throws some good secondary stuff, including a decent changeup that has allowed him to limit damage against lefties. This week he went seven innings, giving up a run on five hits, with six strikeouts. He’s probably a relief pitcher as he moves up, and at best would be a depth starter for the big leagues. – TW
Brandon Waddell, LHP, Altoona – Waddell had some strange stats going into his start last week. He was picking up a lot of strikeouts, not giving up a lot of hits, getting a ton of ground balls….then there was the 4.70 ERA and inability to go deep in his outings. He was limited with his pitches due to his forearm strain in April, but he also left four of his first five outings early. Things appeared to click on Thursday when he got through five innings for the first time. In 5.2 frames, he allowed two runs on three hits and two walks, with four strikeouts. Waddell still has some lopsided stats with a 4.29 ERA in 21 innings, to go along with 21 strikeouts, a .184 BAA and a very impressive 3.10 GO/AO ratio. He issued a lot of walks with Altoona last year, despite starting the season with two walks in 29 innings for Bradenton. It seems to be a problem again this season and he will need to get that under better control (pun intended) to move up a level because he doesn’t have overpowering stuff, although he can still run it up to 94 MPH. – JD
Daniel Zamora, LHP, Bradenton – Zamora is a lefty reliever who has some deception in his delivery. He’s dominated the FSL with an 0.83 ERA in 21.2 innings, with a 22:5 K/BB ratio. This week he combined for six shutout innings in two appearances, giving up four hits, one walk, and striking out eight. Most low-level relievers don’t make it to the big leagues, and rarely does a 40th round pick reach it that high. Zamora could be the exception for both, getting good reviews from scouts as a guy who could make it one day, even if it’s just in a smaller role. – TW
John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.
When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.
Can someone explain to me how Kingham is out of options but hasn’t thrown an MLB inning yet? Is it a similar situation to Hansen? I’m ready to see Kingham in Kuhl’s spot as soon as he is ready. Kuhl is a reliever
When you get added to the 40-man roster, you have three options. Every season that you are sent down, you use an option, unless you don’t spend at least 20 days in the minors during the course of the year. Kingham was added to the 40-man roster prior to the 2015 season. He was sent to the minors in 2015 – 1st option
sent to minors in 2016 – 2nd option
sent to minors in 2017 – 3rd option
Tommy John surgery basically ate up 2 of his options. Isn’t it possible, in some injury cases, to petition MLB for another option? Not that Kingham will need it since I believe as we sit here today, he is the 5th best pitcher the Pirates have in the entire organization.
There are cases in which you can get an extra year, but he does not qualify
Polanco seem headed to the DL once again, Meadows anyone?
Meadows isn’t coming up less than two weeks before he is safe from Super 2.
I hate Super 2. Maybe more than I hate the Cubs. It’s close.
I believe that 100%. Someday they will invent sarcasm font! Hope that Stewart injury wasn’t his knee. It is this might be it for him.
Updates coming soon on the injuries
Get Diaz ready too!
Seems like there’s some tough decisions about rotation makeup with Taillon coming back and a few months down the line with Kingham running out of options needing a test run. PS this may have been covered as I wrote.