Every week we have live reports from all over the system, while I provided additional views of the minors via MiLB.tv, which included all four affiliates this week. We also had live coverage of Indianapolis and Altoona 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

Barrett Barnes, OF, Indianapolis – After missing the first part of the season as he recovered from an injury, Barnes had a rough beginning to his Tripe-A career. He entered last week with a .105 batting average and had not shown much at the plate. But he hit .400 last week (6-for-15) and raised his batting average to .189 by the end of the week. Barnes had a pair of multi-hit games in the week. Slow starts at the plate are not uncommon when jumping up a level, especially going to the Triple-A level. Barnes also struggled when he first jumped to Double-A Altoona, hitting .246 in 37 games at that level in 2015, before hitting .306 there last season. And while his offense has taken some time to gain some life, Barnes has made a few impressive defensive plays. He took away an extra-base hit in a game against Lehigh Valley, catching a ball jumping against the fence in right field. That play was big as Indianapolis starter Nick Kingham was struggling in that inning and needed some help behind him to push through. Barnes also took away a home run earlier this season. If his offense continues to pick up, he’ll come closer to realizing his potential. – Brian Peloza

Albert Baur, 1B, West Virginia – Baur is the old man on the Power roster after being a late round draft pick in 2015 and spending two seasons at Morgantown. At 25 years old, the 6’4″, lefty hitter is four years older than league average in the South Atlantic League. That experience hurts his prospect status, but it helps his stats, which include a .311/.392/.389 slash line through 25 games. Baur had ten hits this week and four walks, which added 56 points to his OPS. He missed about a month earlier this season after getting hurt during the opening week. Since returning, he has been seeing the majority of the playing time at first base, with Carlos Munoz seeing more time as the DH. Baur is going to need Will Craig to move up a level before he sees Bradenton. Even then, he will be in a tough spot due to being behind Craig and still being old for the level. – John Dreker

Chris Bostick, Util., Indianapolis – Before he got called up in early May, we noted that he was doing enough to get a shot with the Pirates, who were dealing with some injuries and some poor performances off of the bench. Bostick has continued to hit well since returning to Indianapolis, while playing multiple positions. He was leading the International League in average prior to Sunday’s action and he has collected 22 extra-base hits this season, including his fifth homer of the season last week. Bostick offers the Pirates a versatile utility player who has started at four positions this year and made starts at six spots during his career. While he is just 4-for-7 in stolen bases this year, he runs well enough that his speed could be an asset. It wouldn’t hurt for him to get more experience in Triple-A while he waits for an opening in the majors. He turned 24 back at the end of March and has played 112 games at the level, so time is still on his side. – JD

Will Craig, 1B, Bradenton – Craig has shown a good ability this year to hit for average and get on base. He hasn’t hit for a lot of power, although when watching him you can see the power potential is there. This past week he showed that potential in the games, going 8-for-20 with two doubles, a triple, and a home run. On the season, Craig has a .272/.370/.410 line in 227 plate appearances, showing good offensive results in the very pitcher friendly Florida State League. Defensively, he’s also showing good comfort at first base, with no questions about his ability to stick at the position for the long-term. Craig is going to need more in-game power production as a first baseman going forward, but I have a feeling this will start to appear as he moves up in the system, out of the FSL. – Tim Williams

Logan Hill, LF, Bradenton – Hill has been the exception to the general rule that the FSL holds down offense and power. He currently has a .283/.368/.571 line in 228 plate appearances, with a system leading 14 home runs. His .188 ISO is well above the league average of .116, and his 14 homers are just six shy of what the Palm Beach Cardinals have for their entire team this year. Hill has a big build and some good raw power. He didn’t show that last year in Bradenton, likely due to a wrist injury at the start of the year. He is a bit older for the level, just turning 24 at the end of May, with the average age for hitters in the FSL being 22.8. With his hitting this year, he should see a promotion at some point to Altoona, where he can show his skills at a more age-appropriate level.  – TW

Kevin Kramer, 2B, Altoona – Kramer really saw his numbers drop off from an incredible April, but he still ended up with a solid month of May, posting an .822 OPS. The 1.091 OPS the previous month, which earned him our April Player of the Month award, made it seem like he struggled in May. You would take his May stats every month for the rest of the season and he would be a front-runner for our Breakout Player of the Year. Kramer had a couple of strong games to open up June, driving in five runs over two days. Along with his fifth homer of the season on Monday, that was enough that he just made it into this article. He’s done a lot of everything this season, from playing a solid second base, to getting on base with his .393 OBP, to collecting 25 extra-base hits, to stealing seven bases in nine tries. With his numbers coming back down to earth, it’s likely that Kramer will spend the majority (or all of) the season in Altoona this year. The Pirates like to get everyone not named Austin Meadows close to a full season at the level. If he gets on another hot streak though, things could change. – JD

Jordan Luplow, LF, Altoona – While Kramer seems like the front-runner for Breakout Player of the Year, Luplow would be the current leader in the clubhouse. He had an incredible stretch during this past week. On Monday, he homered twice to tie his season output of ten homers from last year at Bradenton. On Tuesday, he homered again. On Saturday, he tied his career high for homers, which was set back in 2015 with West Virginia. On Sunday, he set a new career high with his 13th homer. The power was there for him before, but this run has surpassed expectations to this point. Luplow had 36 doubles in 2015, so you would assume some of those doubles could turn into homers as he gets older and fills out more. His ten homers last year in the Florida State League actually represent a good total for the league, but this season isn’t even halfway over. What gets lost right now is that he has cut down his strikeouts while increasing the power, and he wasn’t a big strikeout player to begin with, going down swinging 78 times all of last season. Last year, he struck out once every 5.4 plate appearances, while this season he is at once every 6.5 PAs. – JD

Kevin Mahala, Inf., West Virginia – With Stephen Alemais on the disabled list with a hand injury and Adrian Valerio joining him there due to a facial injury, Mahala has a chance to start regularly at shortstop. He took advantage of his new opportunity this week by picking up seven hits, including his first home run of the season. Mahala wasn’t seeing regular time this year until the last nine days. He’s hitting .250/.322/.324 in 41 games, while seeing time at all four infield spots. Shortstop should be his until one of the two prospects returns, so needs to continue to make a strong impression. Drafted in the 18th round last year, the 22-year-old (23 next month) will likely stick around as a utility player for a while due to his ability to play all around the infield. There’s nothing special about his defense, but he won’t hurt you at any spot. The bat will need to improve for him to exceed that organizational utility man role. – JD

Carlos Munoz, 1B, West Virginia – Both halves of the first base platoon in West Virginia placed among the top ten hitters this week, as Munoz joined Albert Baur on the list. Munoz had seven hits last week,  including his fifth homer, and he walked five times. About a month ago, I mentioned that Munoz was in his last season before minor league free agency. At this rate, it looks like this year could end his time in the system. He’s got a strong bat for the lower levels due to some power and great patience at the plate.  That has led to .280/.403/.459 slash line through 46 games. Part of his success is due to his experience. He’s in his seventh season of pro ball and he’s played winter ball in Mexico the last three season against much tougher pitching than he is seeing in Low-A. He doesn’t project well due to his weight issue, which limits him to first base, though he’s more of a DH. His speed is also well below average and the power doesn’t play up enough to make up for the lack of tools. His above average approach at the plate should allow him to reach the upper levels, but it doesn’t look like that will happen with the Pirates. – JD

Hunter Owen, 3B, West Virginia – Owen started the week off by going 1-for-9 in three games, including one game in which he was replaced early on defense. He made the list this week by reaching base nine times in his last four games. Owen was one of the best hitters during Spring Training this year and he’s putting up strong stats, albeit as someone in Low-A who turns 24 in September. He’s hitting .294/.405/.456 in 46 games. He’s been playing third base this year, but from everything I’ve seen, it’s not a position in his future. I did see him play outfield last year in Morgantown and the Fall Instructional League and he looked good out there, so left field seems like a more realistic landing spot for him. He will go as far as the bat will take him, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to put him at a more ideal position and challenge him in Bradenton soon. – JD

PITCHERS

Dario Agrazal,RHP, Bradenton – Agrazal has flown under the radar this year, getting lost in a Bradenton rotation full of top prospects who sit mid-90s or better with their fastballs. He also shows that velocity, sitting 95-96, while touching 97 MPH this year with his sinker, and showing outstanding control that has only led to eight walks in 68.1 innings. The downside to his game, and what separates him from the other starters on the team, is the lack of a strong out pitch. His slider can get some strikeouts at times, which is what happened this week when he struck out six in seven innings, allowing just two earned runs. But he largely doesn’t have a strong out pitch, which could limit his upside in the future to a long reliever, with the chance to be a depth starter in a Trevor Williams type role. – TW

Steven Brault, LHP, Indianapolis – He’s been pretty good during the past several weeks, but Brault put together his best outing of the season against Lehigh Valley, owners of the best record in the International League. Brault tossed seven shutout innings, striking out eight and he didn’t allow a walk. The IronPigs managed just five hits and there was really nothing to find fault with in Brault’s start. He’s been on a nice run lately, allowing just four earned runs during his last six starts. The key? Brault is pitching aggressive and using his athleticism to his benefit. At times, he’s been criticized for pitching too much like Tom Glavine, looking to possess pinpoint precision, hitting exact spots on corners. Instead, Brault needs to be aggressive with his fastball which plays well. After his start against Lehigh Valley, Indianapolis manager Andy Barkett compared Brault’s performance to something former major league pitcher Kenny Rogers would have put together. Barkett called Brault’s performance a “major league outing.” One interesting thing to watch with Brault in the next week or so is if the organization decides to skip one of his outings, instead choosing to use him out of the bullpen. That philosophy is used for two main reasons: lower the workload of pitchers and allow them to get some experience in the bullpen. Brault has made three relief appearances in his career, so that’s probably not a huge need. If Brault does skip a start, one would hope that doesn’t break the momentum he has built in recent weeks. – BP

Austin Coley, RHP, Altoona – Coley makes The Twenty for the fourth time this year due to his terrific relief performance on Sunday. After Brandon Waddell got knocked out of the game in the first inning, Coley came on and gave Altoona 5.1 innings, while allowing just one run. Three days earlier, he threw two shutout innings, making the long relief outing even more impressive. Coley was supposed to be in the bullpen this year, but he has now made eight starts and five relief appearances. He leads Altoona and ranks sixth in the Eastern League with a 2.70 ERA in 53.1 innings. While the performance is impressive, especially considering the fact that he’s been switching between roles, Coley still projects as a bullpen arm. He doesn’t have great stuff, relying mostly on a sinker that touches 91 MPH and has some movement. He’s also a fly ball pitcher, who doesn’t get a lot of strikeouts, so that limits his upside. – JD

Luis Escobar, RHP, West Virginia – Thanks to the magic of MiLB.tv, I was able to watch both of Escobar’s starts this week. While the stats were enough to get him in The Twenty, he did have his issues in each game. On Tuesday night, Escobar was relying on his curveball for results. He didn’t have control of his fastball or his changeup, but the curve looked like a plus pitch all night. He ended up allowing just one unearned run over six innings, while getting a lot of soft contact on the ground. On Sunday, the control was off and on with all three pitches, and he was getting by early due to impatient opponents chasing pitches out of the zone and not forcing him to throw strikes. The outing included a lot of swinging strikes and more soft contact. I noticed him overthrowing the ball a lot as well, which flattens out his fastball. Escobar has been inconsistent all season, despite having three pitches that look like plus offerings at times. The problem is that he rarely has all three pitches working at the same time. If everything clicks for him, he will be one of the top prospects in the system, but until he shows more consistency, he will remain near the back of the top 20. – JD

Taylor Hearn, RHP, Bradenton – Hearn had a couple rough outings before turning things around on May 27th with seven shutout innings. That wasn’t enough to get him a spot on last week’s The Twenty because of his Monday start that week in which he allowed four earned runs over one inning. It was a terrific start however, and he backed it up this past week with two runs over six innings. Hearn recorded 15 strikeouts over 13 innings in those last two starts. He was the Florida State League leader in strikeouts with 65 at the end of the day on Friday. He’s been inconsistent this season due to control issues and high pitch counts. When he’s on his game, the opposition can’t touch his 96-99 MPH fastball, along with a slider that is a strikeout offering. At other times, he is difficult to hit, but he can still run up his pitch count due to too many deep counts. Hearn has already matched his innings total from last year (51.2 IP both years), so it will be interesting to see how the Pirates handle his workload the rest of the way. – JD

Bret Helton, RHP, Bradenton – Helton has been thrown into the starting rotation with Mitch Keller out and he’s responded with a decent outing that got him into last week’s The Twenty and then six shutout innings that got him listed again this week. The season stats aren’t great for Helton, but it is interesting to note that he was throwing harder as a reliever this year. In the starting role last year, he wasn’t making much of an impression with a high 80s fastball and no plus off-speed offerings. That led to a 4.44 ERA, along with too many homers, walks and hit batters and not enough strikeouts. In relief this season he was hitting 94 MPH, which is a speed we heard about when he was drafted in the ninth round in 2015.  His strikeout rate picked up in relief, although he still has a .296 BAA and a 1.49 WHIP this year, along with being more of a fly ball pitcher. The pair of solid starts is nice to see, but his future role will be in the bullpen. – JD

Clay Holmes, RHP, Indianapolis – Holmes made start and a one-inning relief appearance in the past week, with mixed results. The final line of his start doesn’t look bad, but his command was not good. Holmes threw a scoreless inning of relief against Lehigh Valley, skipping a start. The organization has had two other pitchers — Tyler Eppler and Drew Hutchison — skip a start in order to gain more rest and have familiarity with pitching out of the bullpen. In his start on Sunday against Gwinnett, Holmes allowed just one earned run in five innings of work. But he walked four batters, hit another batter and threw five pitches that brushed batters back. His velocity was still good, sitting in the mid-90s, but he struggled locating a lot of his pitches. Holmes has had some command issues over his last three starts with 11 walks in those games, but he’s only allowed five earned runs in those games. If Holmes can figure out his control issues, he could get on a big roll moving forward. – BP

Sean Keselica, LHP, Altoona – We don’t often include relievers on The Twenty because it’s not hard to find ten starters with higher inning totals, who put together a decent start. It’s even more difficult for relievers once all eight affiliates are playing. So it’s odd when someone like Keselica makes the list two weeks in a row. This past week he gave up one run over seven innings. That followed 5.1 shutout innings in his previous three appearances combined. He has made quite an impression this season, showing a fastball that’s up to 94 MPH, along with a breaking ball that is very tough on lefties. In fact, Keselica is positioning himself to be a future lefty killer down the line, although his upside now appears to be a middle reliever. Lefties against him this season are 2-for-37 with 14 strikeouts. During his minor league career, he has averaged more than a strikeout per inning, while posting a 2.06 GO/AO ratio. – JD

Alex McRae, RHP, Altoona – Although he was only able to go four innings because of pitch count last Monday, McRae just allowed two earned runs in 11 innings pitched this past week. That includes pitching seven scoreless innings at Bowie on Saturday night (a combined shutout with Tate Scioneaux). McRae was our Pitcher of the Month in April with a 2.12 ERA in 29.2 IP; however, his ERA inflated thanks to allowing six runs in 1/3 of an inning on May 19th. The crux of McRae’s attack is based off of getting the ball on the ground, as he isn’t much of a strikeout pitcher. He will allow his fair share of hits through an outing, but the goal is to induce soft contact and keep his defense active behind him. Armed with a slider and changeup, his sinker ball is his number one pitch, and he has been working on nailing that pitch low and away. Currently his ground ball rate is at 50.5 %, the best of his young career. – Sean McCool

Pedro Vasquez, RHP, Bradenton – Vasquez sits 90-93 MPH with his fastball, which makes him seem like a soft tosser in a rotation where the other four starters can sit mid-90s or higher. But while Vasquez doesn’t have the velocity, he does have the ability to mix up his pitches while showing good location on the fastball, leading to some strong results this year. He has a 1.97 ERA on the season in 59.1 innings, with a 44:10 K/BB ratio. This week he threw seven shutout innings, giving up a walk and two hits, with eight strikeouts. The strikeouts are a thing to watch lately. He has 21 strikeouts in 20 innings over his last three starts, after having 23 strikeouts in 37.1 innings during his first seven starts. Without the ability to get strikeouts, he projects as a guy who would be a reliever at best. The ability to add an out pitch would allow him to emerge as a future depth option for the rotation or a back of the rotation starter. – TW

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5 COMMENTS

  1. I always thought that pinpoint command separated good pitchers from great pitchers. Now it seems that a pitcher has to throw high 90’s to be considered great. I still think command is the key to success.
    Another thought: I was watching Wacha pitch and the comp I came up with is Kuhl. I think they are very similar. The only difference I can see between the two is that Wacha trusts his stuff and Kuhl does not. They both were very similar in the minors and at one time Kuhl showed good control and some command. So maybe, just maybe when Kuhl figures out that he can win without being perfect, the Pirates might have something special.

  2. A positive review of Will Craig???
    BLASPHEMER!!!

    In all seriousness, great recap of everyone

  3. John: How can Jordan Luplow still be at Altoona? His power has really peaked, but I think he has been a .780+ OPS hitter at every level since being drafted, and his W/K Ratio has been excellent at every level. Other than Meadows, I am not sure what we have at AAA that could keep him at AA.

    • He hit five homers this week and his OPS has gone up 106 points in the last seven days. No one was wondering why he was at Altoona last Monday. While he isn’t slow or bad in the field, his value is coming all from the bat, so it doesn’t hurt to get him as much experience as possible before bringing him up.

      It’s a misconception that guys who do well are still at levels strictly because they are blocked. There are things to learn at each level. Regardless of when Luplow gets to Indianapolis, he is going to make the majors when/if he is ready. They don’t have a set number of at-bats, even though they like to use Andrew McCutchen as an example, the only reason he got that many AAA at-bats was because he couldn’t be called up before June. He was ready for the majors to start that season, so that McCutchen at-bat mark that gets quoted often is a BS total

      • I understand that 5 HR in a week will have a huge effect on OPS, but his OPS numbers have been very good all the way up, SS – .782; Lo A .830; Hi A .784; AA .964 (200 PA). He spent a full year at SS, Lo A, and Hi A, and his time at AA this year, and has 168 Walks and only 220 K’s. As an OF he has 28 Assists and only 3 errors in over 200 Chances. He was tried at 3B at Lo A, but he had a Pedro-like 21 errors in 233 Chances.

        At 23, with 13 HR already at AA, he should be getting a good look at AAA – hopefully after the AA All Star Game. In the near future, the Pirates will have LH hitters Polanco and Meadows, and Bell as a Switchhitter, and we desperately need to identify RH power hitters. No, I did not forget Marte, but his power comes and goes.

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