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, Altoona and Bradenton 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.

HITTERS

Will Craig, 1B, Bradenton – Craig reached base a lot this week, collecting three multi-hit games, drawing five walks and he was even plunked twice. He didn’t strictly make the list by getting on base though, as he also added a double and a homer. The other key part of his week was some solid defense at first base, which included a couple highlight reel plays. Craig isn’t hitting for power this season, but he is successful due to his approach at the plate, which has led to a .382 OBP. As a first baseman, you’re going to want to see some more power from him in the future. It’s not going to suddenly show up in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League during the summer, but he could stand to be a little more aggressive at the plate. He seems to have the mentality, along with the qualities, of a lead-off hitter. That’s not a bad hitter to have in general, but when it’s a slow first baseman, then it becomes somewhat of an issue. – John Dreker

Elvis Escobar, OF, Altoona – Escobar went 6-for-15 this past week, including a double, two RBIs, and two walks. Escobar is very simply an average hitter that adds speed to the base paths. For him to be successful, he just needs to continue to find any possible way to get on base and try to wreak havoc while there. In addition to the six hits, he was absolutely robbed on Friday night in what should have been a bases-clearing, line drive triple. Besides from the hitting, the most impressive part of Escobar’s past week, to me, has been his drastically improved defense in center field. On Thursday night, Escobar had seven put outs in center, with multiple of those catches being well above average. He has been working on running to the catch spot and getting behind it quicker – AKA, not drifting to the ball in the outfield. He has been showing a lot more promise with the glove and reading the ball off of the bat lately, which is a great sign for Altoona, as he is the only true center fielder on their current roster. – Sean McCool

Edwin Espinal, 1B, Altoona – Over the last week, Espinal was 9-for-26 for a .346 average, but that wasn’t the whole story. He had six extra base hits – four doubles and two homers – in the week to give him a 1.118 OPS. He is among the league leaders in batting average (4th with a .343 AVG) and strikeout rate (2nd at 10.25 TPA/SO). Before last week, Espinal had only hit one home run, but he added two more once the Curve got back to Altoona for a short homestand on Thursday. The blast on Saturday was an absolute monster first inning home run – a line drive that landed well up the hill above the left field bleachers at PNG Field. The power doesn’t really tell the whole story for Espinal, though, as it has been his usage of the whole field and gap-to-gap ability that has been the most impressive aspect of his hitting this year. He has a great two-strike approach and does a great job going to right field when necessary. Along with Kevin Kramer, Espinal has been the Curve’s best hitter this season. –SM

Logan Hill, LF, Bradenton – Hill has some of the best raw power in the system. Before this year, he wasn’t making enough solid contact, or just contact in general, to utilize that power. Hill has an 11-game hit streak going, which includes every game during the month of May. He had five walks and eight hits last week, which includes two doubles and a homer. He ranks third in the FSL in slugging at .588, while sitting second in the league with nine homers and just outside the top ten with nine doubles. He also has 39 strikeouts in 35 games, so that’s something to watch with him, as it was last year. He can get into a slump and the strikeouts can pile up when that happens. Hill seems to have lost a step this year, which takes away a little value. He went 27-for-38 in steals during his first two seasons, but now he is the slowest runner on Bradenton. If he can continue to hit for power as he climbs up the system, then no one will worry about that lack of speed from a corner outfielder. – JD

Austin Meadows, OF, Indianapolis – He did not look like one baseball’s top prospects early this season, but those within the organization said not to worry. Indianapolis hitting coach Butch Wynegar warned people not to go into panic-mode over Austin Meadows’ sluggish start. Meadows hit .195 in April, but Wynegar said Meadows was close to breaking out of his slump. And Meadows put together a week that shows he might be breaking free from those early-season struggles. He hit .346 in six games last week, with multiple hits in half of those games. Meadows had three hits in a game against Charlotte, while he had a pair of two-hit games against Norfolk. His average rose from .192 to .224 during the last week. Meadows has shown glimpses throughout the season of his hitting ability. There are times when he has simply slapped a hit to the opposite field off a left-hander, going with what he’s being given. Other times, Meadows has found the gaps with line drives. But this past week Meadows put those glimpses together into a complete week of output. Opposing pitchers seem to be throwing Meadows nothing but fastballs on the outer part of the plate and “slow stuff,” Wynegar said. Meadows has been adjusting to a more experienced level of pitching and is making improvements toward hitting at a productive level on a consistent basis. If he puts together a few more similar weeks, nobody will remember those struggles he had in April. – Brian Peloza

Logan Ratledge, Util., Bradenton – Ratledge only played three games this week, but he was a big part of the Friday/Saturday games that saw the Marauders put up 32 total runs. In limited time, he had six hits and three walks, scored six runs and drove in three runs. Ratledge only played three games because he was promoted up to Bradenton at the start of the week. He hit .234/.328/.364 in 28 games with West Virginia before the move. The promotion gives him a chance to prove something at a higher level. As a 24-year-old repeating Low-A, he couldn’t prove anything. While 24 is still high-end for High-A, Ratledge has a chance to see where his versatility in the field, along with a decent plate approach and average speed, can get him. He still has an uphill climb before he’s considered a prospect, but he’s in a better place to prove his value. – JD

Pablo Reyes, INF/OF, Altoona – Reyes remains an interesting player, who is usually his own worst enemy. He’s seeing somewhat regular time this season and hitting .257/.339/.356 in 27 games. His value comes from his ability to play multiple positions, including shortstop and center field. Reyes got his first shot at winter ball this year and put up some solid numbers in the Dominican, which is not only the best winter league, it was pitching-heavy this season. Yet Reyes had a nice run as a player who didn’t even have Double-A experience at the time. The problem for Reyes in the past has been taking bad at-bats too hard. He has a tendency to take them out to the field with him and it’s led to some discipline issues which resulted in benchings and a brief suspension last year. That should be something that goes away (or has already gone away) as he matures as a player. With regular playing time, he has a chance to make the majors as a utility player off the bench. He has defensive versatility, speed and some pop in his bat. – JD

Cole Tucker, SS, Bradenton – Tucker had a great week, collecting a double, triple, two homers and he drove in seven runs…on Friday. He really didn’t need to do anything else to get in The Twenty this week, but he reached base in all five games he played to extend his on base streak to 21 games. Tucker had six hits and a walk last week prior to his career night on Friday. He’s now hitting .285/.369/.423, though that number is skewed by the one game, which added 90 points to his OPS. Tucker isn’t just showing he can get on base this season, he’s playing solid defense at shortstop and he is 24-for-28 in stolen bases. He’s just one stolen base away from his career high, and he’s already tied his best totals in triples and homers. It’s been a solid season so far, possibly a breakout year for him, and he’s still seven weeks shy of his 21st birthday. – JD

Erich Weiss, 3B/2B, Indianapolis – Weiss was one of many Indianapolis hitters to struggle in April, scuffling to a .154 average in the opening month. Some of his struggles could be placed on the adjustment to a new level, where many pitchers have major league experience and don’t make as many mistakes as the younger pitchers. Weiss is not an everyday player, with the exception of times with numerous promotions that create an opening. Weiss played in just four games last week, hitting .384 in those games and reaching base in half of his plate appearances, walking three times and striking out just once. Weiss is hitting .297 over his last 10 games and his average is now .231. He’s been primarily used as a second baseman, but has played five games at third base, a position he had not played in four seasons. Weiss has had some good moments at third base and if he continues to produce offensively, his value will increase. – BP

Jackson Williams, C, Altoona – After going from Indy to Altoona this week, Williams went 7-for-13 with four walks from the plate. All of his hits were singles; however, he was hitting gap-to-gap with a mix of liners and hard hit ground balls. Of course, Williams is a 31-year-old playing in Double-A, but he is taking full advantage of his opportunity to get more playing time until Jin-De Jhang returns to Altoona this upcoming week. Nothing he does will blow you away; his leadership skills have been noted, as well as his ability to work well with the pitching staff. On Friday, Williams had a huge game, going 3-for-3 from the plate and throwing out two runners at second from behind the dish. On top of that, he picked off a runner at first base, throwing behind a left-handed batter to catch a guy leaning too far. –SM

PITCHERS

Dario Agrazal, RHP, Bradenton – Agrazal had a terrific start on Monday, then came back on Saturday in relief and breezed through an inning of work. With a day off last week and a start by Nick Kingham mixed in, plus Gage Hinsz being pushed back a couple extra days after dealing with shoulder soreness, the Bradenton rotation was all mixed up. Agrazal started on Monday and wasn’t scheduled to pitch again until this Thursday, so he got a relief appearance on what would normally be his day to start. He allowed one run on three hits in six innings during his start, then quickly retired all three batters he faced in relief. Agrazal struck out seven batters in the start, which is a season best. He usually pitches to contact, using a nice three-pitch mix of a 94-95 MPH fastball, a changeup with good separation in velocity, and a mid-80s curve with a late, hard break. Agrazal pounds the bottom of the strike zone, but also doesn’t mind pitching inside to keep hitters honest. He has a 2.68 ERA in 43.2 innings, with a 1.08 WHIP and a 1.85 GO/AO ratio. – JD

Steven Brault, LHP, Indianapolis – Brault had one of his best starts of the year this week, giving up one run on a walk and three hits in six innings, while striking out four. Brault has dealt with control issues at times this year, which comes from just missing the zone as he works around the edges of the plate. Indianapolis manager Andy Barkett said that he’d like to see Brault attack hitters more often, rather than being too fine with his normal approach. Brault has the stuff to be more than a finesse guy, with a fastball that can reach 95 MPH and sits in the low-90s. He did a better job of attacking hitters this week and getting ahead in the count, which allowed his secondary stuff to play up, and led to some softer contact. He’s one of the top depth options for the Pirates behind Trevor Williams, and more outings like this one would make him the top option as the next man up. – Tim Williams

Austin Coley, RHP, Altoona – Coley was supposed to be in the bullpen for Altoona this season, after starting for Bradenton last year. He got a spot start the first week due to a doubleheader, then briefly got a rotation spot in place of the injured Brandon Waddell. When Waddell returned, JT Brubaker went on the disabled list, keeping Coley in the rotation. He has been given an opportunity to prove he can start in Double-A and he has made the most of it. Coley threw six shutout innings on Thursday, his best start of the season. He had success this week by relying on his two-seam fastball, which sits 89-91 MPH. Coley has said that he can throw the pitch a little harder, but it has better movement and results in that velocity range. He has also shown the ability this season to rely on his off-speed pitches for strikes when teams are hitting his fastball. He now has a 2.76 ERA in 29.1 innings this season. – JD

Tyler Eppler, RHP, Indianapolis – He’s been the most consistent starting pitcher in Indianapolis’ rotation, and Eppler makes another appearance on “The Twenty,” after putting together his best start of the season. He struck out a career-high eight batters in seven shutout innings against Charlotte in his lone start of the week. Eppler allowed just four hits, one of those was to the lead-off batter, in his longest outing of the season. After that, Eppler didn’t have many issues against a prospect-heavy Charlotte team. Eppler has been not only the most consistent Indians pitcher, but also the most efficient. He has needed just 10 pitches or less in six innings this season, and all of those have happened in the fourth inning or later. Eppler continues to develop his “slutter” – a slider-cutter mix. That keeps hitters uncomfortable at the plate, which has been a problem due to his command being so good. Eppler has not allowed an earned run in half of his six starts. If he continues to stay around the zone and use his slutter to keep hitters off balance, this likely won’t be the last time Eppler is on this list. – JD

Clay Holmes, RHP, Indianapolis – Last Sunday, Neal Huntington said that Holmes wasn’t ready for the big leagues yet. Holmes followed those comments up with two of his best starts of the year, combining to give up four earned runs in 12.2 innings, along with 15 strikeouts and no walks. The lack of walks was the biggest change, reversing a trend where Holmes allowed 12 walks in 19.1 innings over his first five outings. He was doing a much better job this week attacking hitters with his sinker-cutter combo, rather than working around the edges. He was getting some dominant results, even when he was pounding the zone with that combo. It didn’t work out for him every time, as he gave up three hard hits in a row in the sixth inning of his second start, leading to two runs and an exit after 5.2 innings and 98 pitches. He still has some work to do in Triple-A, but he’s looking a lot closer with this new aggressive approach than he did about a week ago. – TW

Drew Hutchison, RHP, Indianapolis – Hutchison made two starts this week, and had two of his best outings of the year when looking at the overall results. The starts were different, though, and highlighted what he needs to work on. He gave up one run in 6.2 innings in his first outing, but walked four batters in the process. He was able to work around the control problems, which he hasn’t always been able to do this year. The control was better in the second start, with one walk in six innings, and Hutchison also allowing one run. He had a few moments where the fastball control started to slip away, but he was able to battle back and get back on track. His breaking stuff works best when the fastball is being thrown for strikes. He works on the edges with his breaking pitches, and can get some swings or some called strikes, but this approach works best when he’s ahead in the count. He could return to being the pitcher he was in 2014-15 if he gets more consistent fastball command. – TW

Nick Kingham, RHP, Bradenton – Kingham made his season debut on Thursday and had a terrific first outing. He had a minor ankle injury during Spring Training, which shut him down and caused him to start his innings build up over again. Despite this being his first start of the season, he already had about 20 innings pitched in Extended Spring Training. Kingham was limited to five innings on Thursday and breezed through them, allowing just one hit and no walks. He didn’t have any strikeouts either, but he was getting a lot of soft contact on the ground. He did have some tough plays behind, which made the outing look a little worse than it was on paper. Kingham was pounding the strike zone with his fastball, which hit 95 MPH. His changeup was also very effective, but he was having trouble throwing his curve for strikes and it wasn’t getting any chases. His stay in Bradenton was a short one. Kingham was sent to Indianapolis right after the game and will likely be activated for Tuesday’s doubleheader. – JD

Edgar Santana,RHP, Indianapolis – Santana is currently riding a 17.2 scoreless inning streak, and has actually only given up one earned run this year in 21.1 innings of work, along with a 20:5 K/BB ratio. This past week he extended that streak, pitching six shutout innings in three outings, with two hits, two walks, and six strikeouts. He looks like a guy who could be pitching in the big leagues right now, with very little holding him back. The one thing he needs to work on is keeping his stuff under control, as he has a tendency to put more effort into his delivery than needed to try and over-power hitters. That’s not really necessary, since he throws a mid-to-upper 90s fastball with movement, and a sharp breaking slider that is difficult to hit and gets a lot of chases, even when hitters know it’s coming. With this kind of stuff, and the performances he is seeing, expect to see Santana in the big leagues at some point this year, possibly sooner than later. – TW

Pedro Vasquez, RHP, Bradenton – Vasquez has been a frequent guest in The Twenty articles. He went 6.2 innings last week, allowing one run on seven hits and no walks. That gave him a 2.41 ERA, which is best on a team loaded with top pitching prospects. Vasquez has had success by throwing strikes with his low-90s fastball, which tops out at 94 MPH. He mixes that sinking fastball with a changeup that gets strong results. He could be due for some regression, as he isn’t picking up a lot of strikeouts and isn’t getting many ground balls either. That usually isn’t a good combo, but the lack of walks helps and the fly balls won’t hurt him as much in the FSL during the summer when nothing travels well in the humid/hot air. You would like to see improvements in those two areas as the season goes along. It should be noted that he’s just 21 years old now and he had 43 innings above rookie ball coming into this season, so he has room to grow and improve. – JD

Eduardo Vera, RHP, West Virginia – Vera already leads the West Virginia Power in saves, with three, and in his second spot start of the season on May 14, he proved that he could hold his own as a starter as well. Vera pitched five innings of two-hit ball, which manager Wyatt Toregas called “one of the better games [the Power have] pitched all year long.” Vera’s fastball was serviceable, but his curveball really stood out. He went to the breaking ball for first-pitch strikes, strikeout pitches, and groundball situations. 73.2 percent of Vera’s pitches have been strikes so far in 2017. Because Vera so rarely gives up walks or multiple hits in an inning, he can go deep into games, averaging 41 pitches over 3.1 innings per appearance. The Power rotation could see a shake-up soon, as Toregas said he’d “seen enough of everybody, and we know where we need to go.” Toregas mentioned this may open up more opportunities for Vera and fellow reliever Blake Cederlind to take the mound with a chance to impress. Vera made the most of it on Sunday. – Abigail Miskowiec

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48 COMMENTS

  1. I remember Alex Dickerson’s performance in Bradenton a few years ago being dismissed somewhat by this site’s writers, because he didn’t hit for much power. Go back and look at Dickerson’s season in Bradenton and compare it to how Craig’s season projects over the rest of the year…Dickerson was Babe Ruth in comparison.

  2. Espinal has been very overlooked and underrated it seems, but the guy just hits….not necessarily for a lot of HR power, but consistently high average and decent RBI production. He’s outhit high draft picks like Joe and Luplow all season so far, and over the past 2 years as well. Logan Hill is another who often is overlooked, as most of the attention in Bradenton seems to go to guys like Tucker and Craig.

    As for Tucker, he did have a very good week at the plate – after a mostly poor start this year. I’m still skeptical about his long term future, because of his lack of any plus tools. I seldom read or hear any superlatives about his defense….so, I am assuming it is okay but nothing to write home about? I hope he can stick at SS, because his bat doesn’t play anywhere else other than second base – and I think Newman will be there in the near future.

  3. Why is Edgar Santana not in the the show right now, while Barbato and Hudson continually blow leads? It makes no logical sense to me. Then again, I have given up on logic when it relates to the Pirates at this point.

    • I think if Taillon didn’t go down you might only need one long man to piggy back with Glasnow which would be LeBlanc and then you could send Lindblom down and call up Santana. Or if Barbato struggles you just option him. I’m not ready to give up on Hudson by any means but I was definitely cursing him yesterday and thinking of Santana. My biggest question is why John Jaso gets as many at bats as he does. Once the Diamondbacks tied the game you were left with the reality that one of your best hitters was lifted for possibly your worst in a game that’s now going extras. Is Bell’s defense really THAT bad?

      • Yesterday Jaso came in for Polanco because of the injury.
        Osuna replaced Bell later in the game.

        • I see. If I recall Osuna did ok yesterday. That being said Jaso gets more ABs than I’m comfortable with. I don’t think he should be more than a defensive replacement. As bad as Osuna in RF he’s worth the risk there over Jaso.

          • The only reason I can think of that they used Jaso early is because Ray was pulled at the time, and Osuna had been slumping.
            ,
            But regardless of the situation I’d rather see Osuna getting ABs over Jaso.

            If necessary Jaso should only be a pinch hitter or a 9th inning defensive replacement.

        • There’s no question Jaso is better at first than Bell. But Bell isn’t killing you there. I think you risk more by taking his bat out of the lineup than you do by leaving him in there at first for the 8th and 9th on a given night.

          • i understand why CH is making this move, but I strongly disagree it increases Pirates chances of winning when he does it.

    • Its called NH stubbornness and ownership being cheap – Hudson has a contract – which is why Jaso and Stewart are still occupying space on the roster, although both have far more negatives than positives…its why Gosselin and Bastardo weren’t released outright….

    • Hudson has a rather lengthy track record of success in MLB, including last season. He hasn’t been good this year, and he should be pitching in lower leverage situations until he finds his groove. But it’s way too soon to call him a bust.

      • So send him to Florida to pitch to Marte until he gets his groove back. He hurts the Bucs every time he goes out there right now.

      • He is already a solid first baseman and he just started playing the position regularly this spring. Before that he had a little college time and some time during the Fall Instructional League, so he’s ahead of where I expected him to be at this point.

        • John,

          Do you think he is a guy that when moved to Altoona will see the power tick up? Seems like that has happened for some guys this year.

          • Most players do better in the Eastern League because the league isn’t pitcher-friendly, it’s neutral. Basically when you hit the ball hard at Altoona, you get true results. That same ball hit June-August in Bradenton is going to die in the hot/humid air.

        • ajax brings up a good question. Also I’ve heard the term “Pitcher Friendly Florida State League” about a hundred times and never thought to ask why that is. Is it just bigger parks?

          • Some parks are bigger, but it’s mostly the fact that the ball doesn’t travel in the summer when it’s hot and humid. It’s the exact opposite of Spring Training, when the winds are blowing routine fly balls over the fence. Summer is just dead, hot air and you need to crush a ball to hit a homer.

            • Probably the summer heat affects the compressibility of the ball, making it not jump off the bat as much given the same impulse from the bat. Hot humid air actually helps the travel of the ball given that the pressure is the same.

              • Whatever mumbo jumbo you just said, I’ve heard numerous players say they crush the ball in the summer and it ends up dying in the outfield. In April they still get the windy days that cause some routine fly balls to carry out of the park like you see all the time during Spring Training. The hotter and more humid it gets, the fewer homers you will see, and even some extra-base hits that would get over the outfielder in April, are being caught in June-August.

                • The “mumbo jumbo” is simple physics. I don’t question your observations, which are undoubtedly correct. But your explanations that humidity causes the balls not to travel in the air are not.

                  • I wasn’t questioning what you said at all, I was just putting it into baseball terms. “My observations” are more what players said than what I saw. They are the ones that say they hit the ball down there and think it’s a homer or going for extra bases and it ends up being a routine fly ball, where as other leagues give them a truer result. If you hit a ball in Altoona that you think you got all of, it’s going to go out. That doesn’t hold true in the FSL during the summer months. Anything in the air, just dies.

              • It’s weird to watch. The ball does jump off the bat. There will be some balls that are struck and you know it’s a home run. Then they fall for a routine fly out short of the warning track. For whatever reason, balls just die in the air here.

        • The problem is we have Bell, Osuna, Joe, Espinal – all ahead of Craig and all are best at first base. If Craig isn’t better than all of them, why did we draft him? Especially with Devin Perez sitting there to be taken?

    • We would be VERY fortunate if Craig even remotely approached Sean Casey …but I have my doubts…

  4. its time for santana ,plug him in 6-7 inning with lead and drop hudson to mop up until he starts to pitch better, I guess you send down lindblum or johnny bagofdohnuts.

    • The Pirates might start winning games then…that’s a problem for the front office who have already made the determination that the combination of Jamo’s health, Kang’s Visa problems and Marte’s suspension will lead the Buco’s to a top 5 pick…don’t forget winning doesn’t equal success in the Pirates world…I love conjecture

  5. Cole Tucker when drafted looked like a skinny no hit good glove guy who didn’t look the part. But I guess he has added size and strength since then and maturing into adulthood will improve his play. Good to see.

    • I’ve always liked the Tucker pick more then Newman. I hope they both turn out, but my money is on Tucker

      • I dig the hype around Newman because I do believe it is unwarranted however, useful. Tucker is the better everything and, is a monster on the base paths. It is a shame he missed most of a year due to injury but, that might be a blessing in disguise. It has given Newman time to gain credit as a top prospect which we can use as a decent trade piece while our “true” SS of the future waits for his shot to shine.

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