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 Morgantown this week. We also had live coverage of Indianapolis, Altoona, West Virginia and Morgantown in the past week. All of these reports are combined and used each week to highlight the top performers during that time span. We go with the top ten hitters and pitchers, giving you the 20 best players from last week.

HITTERS

Sherten Apostel, 3B, DSL Pirates – Apostel was signed as a raw player out of Curacao in July of 2015 at 16 years old. He was 6’4″, 200 pounds, athletic, with raw power and a cannon for an arm at third base. Some felt he could have a future as a pitcher and that could still be an option down the line if hitting doesn’t work out. Apostel is putting any thoughts of pitching on the back burner recently by showing a lot of improvements offensively over his rookie season in the DSL. He had a lot of issues with strikeouts last year, striking out in 30.3% of his plate appearances. This season, he has that down to 14% right now and with six doubles and three triples, he has matched last year’s extra-base hit total. He’s still having some major issues on defense, mostly with throwing accuracy, but it appears the bat is breaking out in a big way this season. – John Dreker

Jhoan Herrera, 1B, Bristol – Bristol started their week on Thursday, but thanks to an extra innings game and some high scoring, two players from the team had enough plate appearances to make The Twenty. Herrera homered on Opening Day and drew two walks. The next day, he collected three hits that included two doubles, then followed that up with two hits and a walk over the weekend. It has to be a bit disappointing for the 22-year-old to be in Bristol. It’s his second straight season with the team and he was with Morgantown for the first three days of their year, but didn’t get to play. He was originally signed to a six-figure bonus out of the Dominican as a potential lefty power bat, but that hasn’t developed over the years. Herrera was also a third baseman, who has moved to first base, where the bat has to be more valuable. Due to his experience, you could expect a big year from him this season, but the upside is limited for a fifth-year player below full-season ball. – JD

Logan Hill, LF, Bradenton – Hill made his return to Bradenton this year, and is seeing much better results this time around. He went 10-for-27 this week, hitting two doubles and his 16th home run of the year. He had just 13 homers last year, and most of them came after he was demoted to West Virginia. Part of the struggles last year could have been due to a wrist injury at the start of the season. Now that he’s healthy, Hill is putting up a solid .275/.362/.533 line in Bradenton. Those numbers come with a disclaimer that he’s old for the level, turning 24 at the end of May. He would be a prime candidate to move up to Altoona, and with the way he’s been hitting, that promotion should come sooner than later, as it will give him a better challenge for his skill and age. – TW

Samuel Inoa, C, DSL Pirates – Inoa had a tough start to this season, getting hit in the face with a pitch during his third game. That caused him to miss ten days, but it didn’t affect his hitting. He was actually hit during his first plate appearance back and has been hit five times in ten games this year. Along with his hot hitting, those HBP have his OBP high this year, with a .379/.550/.621 slash line. The Pirates liked Inoa enough to give him a $240,000 bonus in July of 2015 and he really struggled IN 2016 as a rookie in the DSL. The 18-year-old backstop has filled out some since signing and that has helped him show some power, which rarely surfaced last year. His defense needs work in all facets, but he should get plenty of time behind the plate this season and continue his work in the Fall Instructional League, as he seems to be a prime candidate to make the trip to Bradenton in September. – JD

Edison Lantigua, OF, Bristol – Lantigua was one of the big international signings for the Pirates in 2013 and had a strong debut in the DSL the following season. He’s a lefty bat with a solid plate approach and a line drive swing, which produces some extra-base power, but he’s been limited to two homers in his first three seasons. He did miss some time in 2015 due to injury, then showed better stats while repeating the GCL last year, so we saw a glimpse of the potential. Still just 20 years old, he has started with a bang in Bristol. He has three doubles and three homers in four games. On the offensive side, he is right there with Yondry Contreras as the top two players to watch on this team. Contreras offers strong defense in center field, but Lantigua isn’t a bad corner outfielder. – JD

Jordan Luplow, LF, Altoona – Luplow had a big week, going 8-for-17 with a double, a home run, and three walks. He’s currently riding an eight game hitting streak, and the home run he hit was number 16 on the year, which is already beyond his career high of 12 in West Virginia during the 2015 season, and almost to his combined total of 22 from the last two seasons. Luplow is an interesting case this year. He looked like a guy who could hit more than the 10 homers he had last year in Bradenton, but not quite a guy who could put up 30 in a season. He has a good approach at the plate, controlling the strike zone and making solid line drive contact. However, he’s got a smaller frame, making consistent 20+ home run power seem unrealistic. The power is good to see this year, but it’s doubtful that he can continue this pace at the higher levels. – TW

Ronaldo Paulino, 1B/3B, DSL Pirates – Paulino was signed as a 17-year-old third baseman last July. The Pirates didn’t have a lot of money to spend on international players in 2016 due to bonus pool restrictions and Paulino was one of the low-key signings. He was intriguing though due to his size at 6’4″, 200 pounds, and he has filled out since then, adding about 20 pounds. The Pirates have mostly used him as a platoon at first base with Matthew Mercedes, but Paulino has also picked up extra at-bats as the backup to Sherten Apostel at third base. Paulino collected nine hits this past week, including his first two career homers back on Tuesday. His overall results have been just okay due to a high strikeout percentage, going down 24 times in 64 plate appearances. That will need to be cut down in order for him to succeed, but for now, the size and power make him an intriguing player to follow. The latest scouting report I got on him says that his defense is poor overall, he’s an average runner and when he makes contact, he hits the ball as hard as anyone on the team. – JD

Jason Rogers, 1B, Indianapolis – Rogers has been on a streak recently that extends back into the previous weekend. He walked three times on Sunday to finish up a week that saw him reach base 11 times in six games. The big blow was his eighth home run of the season on Friday night. Rogers now has a .285/.357/.430 slash line in 66 games. The Pirates acquired him from the Milwaukee Brewers, where he was a pinch-hitting specialist in 2015. The Pirates gave him limited time in that role last year and he had a rough go, except for walking seven times in 32 plate appearances. That is the role where he would be best utilized if he returns to Pittsburgh. He could play first base as well, but there are many better options with the team already. We could see him back in the majors in September, but that will likely only happen if the Pirates are in playoff contention and Clint Hurdle wants a full bench to cover every situation. – JD

Jerrick Suiter, RF, Altoona – Suiter showed his usual good contact skills, going 5-for-14 with two doubles and four walks this week, including one single where he did a good job of going downstairs to get a pitch, lining it to shallow center. His power has improved this year, going to a .182 ISO, up from .070 last year. He was very quiet in the lower half last year, taking a wide stance at the plate that made him top-heavy. He added a toe tap this year, and shortened his stride, aimed at adding more power. The results so far are what you want to see, although Suiter still has a ways to go to make the big leagues. His bat profiles best at a corner outfield spot, but he’s poor defensively in the outfield. He’s the best defensive first baseman in the system, but doesn’t have the power for the position. The increased power he’s shown this year is a good start, but it remains to be seen if he can do this at higher levels. He’ll need to drastically improve his outfield defense if he can’t carry the power over to Triple-A and the majors. – TW

Adrian Valerio, SS, West Virginia – Valerio returned to action back on June 13th after missing 11 days due to a facial injury from a thrown ball. His swing was off when he returned and instead of hitting line drives like normal, he was getting under pitches. That led to a 1-for-17 in his first four games back. Since then, he is back to the player we saw prior to the injury, except he added a little power to his game over the weekend. Valerio isn’t a power hitter and he likely will never be one. He has a swing geared towards using the gaps and hitting line drives, with should lead to a lot of doubles and some triples. He will run into the occasional homers, but I wouldn’t get used to seeing what he did over a three-game stretch last week, connecting on four homers. He had just five career homers prior to this week. In the past, all it took was a long fly ball to ruin his approach, so you hope that the homers this week don’t end up being bad for the 20-year-old shortstop. – JD

PITCHERS

Tanner Anderson, RHP, Altoona – Anderson has emerged as a decent starting pitching prospect this year in his move to the rotation with Altoona. The sinkerball pitcher has one of the best ground ball rates in the system, with a 61.6% ground ball rate after his last outing. That included 11 ground ball outs in a start where he went six innings, giving up just two runs. Anderson’s sinker has some good movement, with late cutting action. He adds deception with his delivery, showing a high, Bronson Arroyo style leg kick from the windup, and a short step to the plate from the stretch. Both deliveries have him starting from the first base side of the rubber, then stepping toward third base as he steps toward the plate. This hides the ball well, but also gives deception, as he starts from one side of the rubber, and his high three-quarters delivery ends up coming from beyond the third base side of the rubber. Anderson also showed off a nice changeup, throwing the pitch for strikes and getting some swings and misses. That’s encouraging, as sinkerball pitchers need the pitch against lefties, and he’s only been throwing that pitch for about a year now. He’s looking like a guy with the floor of a MLB middle reliever, and the chance to be a back of the rotation starter or a rotation depth option. – TW

Steven Brault, LHP, Indianapolis – Brault has been the best pitcher in the system since the beginning of May. He was our Pitcher of the Month last month and he has a chance at repeating this month. In his only start last week, he allowed two runs over six innings. Those two runs weren’t that bad either, with a lead-off walk followed by a swinging bunt that went about 20 feet and two routine grounders up the middle that went against the shift that Indianapolis had on. Brault hasn’t allowed more than two runs in a game since April. He has been showing improved velocity recently, starting with a bullpen outing that saw him hitting 94-95 MPH consistently. That was followed by him hitting 93-94 MPH in the starting role. He has been doing a better job of attacking hitters since late April, with just one game where his command wasn’t strong. He has been ready for the majors for quite a while now, and the velocity in short outings, along with deception in his delivery, means that he could be used as a starter or a reliever. – JD

Austin Coley, RHP, Altoona – Coley went six innings this week, giving up two runs and striking out six batters. He benefited from a very lefty-heavy lineup, getting five of his six strikeouts against left-handers, due to the strength of his changeup. The changeup is Coley’s best secondary pitch, and he’s going to need his slurve to improve to those levels in order to reach the majors. The slurve struggled to put hitters away, with Coley working deep into counts, not fooling right-handers when he tried to throw the slurve for a wipeout pitch. His sinker was on that day, getting his best ground ball results of the season, with his first game where he had more groundouts than air outs. Coley will need either a better sinker or an improved slurve — and possibly both — in order to reach the majors one day. He may actually be a candidate to add the “slutter” like so many other starters in Altoona have done in previous years, just to try and give him a better breaking pitch that pairs better with the sinker. – TW

Yoandy Fernandez, RHP, Morgantown – I wasn’t sure why Fernandez was with Morgantown on Opening Day. The Pirates signed the 29-year-old from Cuba after seeing him pitch for a men’s league team down in Florida. He was dominating in the league and rightly so, he has six years experience pitching Major League ball in Cuba. The reports we got from Extended Spring Training were great every time, yet he stayed down there. Fernandez pitched on Opening Day for Morgantown and threw three shutout innings, striking out seven batters. On Sunday, he threw three innings with one unearned run and struck out five batters. He has dominating stuff for the league, relying on a low-90s sinker for results, mixing in a slider, cutter and a curve, with control over all four pitches. I would assume that he will move up before long. – JD

Scooter Hightower, RHP, Morgantown – The 23-year-old Hightower had quite the opening week, throwing a shutout inning of relief on Opening Day, followed by five no-hit innings in his start three days later. The only base runner he allowed over those six innings was a hit batter, and 12 of the batters he faced went back to the bench after a strikeout. Hightower had solid results for Morgantown last year and even got into a couple games with West Virginia. He had a 45:7 SO/BB ratio in 45.1 innings, though he also had a .295 BAA before his short stint with the Power. At 6’6″, he’s an imposing figure on the mound, but he’s not a hard-thrower, getting by with a high-80s fastball and a strong curve. An oblique injury early in Spring Training had him out for a while, otherwise he may have been in West Virginia already. – JD

Gage Hinsz, RHP, Bradenton – Hinsz ran into some trouble in early May with shoulder soreness, which caused him to be skipped for one start. Before he was hurt, he had two straight outings in which he allowed one run, going six innings the first time and seven the next start. After returning 11 days later, he rattled off four consecutive starts that led us to believe the shoulder soreness might have been lingering still. He had a start of five shutout innings back on June 8th, but was knocked out of his next outing early due to a high pitch count. That led to this week, which he started with one run over six innings. He gave up seven hits in that game, though most of the damage came during the one inning a run scored. It was still a strong outing, but not as good as Sunday when he threw 5.2 shutout innings, while striking out a season high of seven batters. Hinsz has the stuff to put up outings like he had this week, with a mid-90s fastball, a curve that looks plus at times and a serviceable changeup. He gets in trouble at times due to his control, but he’s still young and came to the Pirates as a raw pitcher out of Montana, where he didn’t even have a school baseball team. As he showed this week, there is good reason to be patient with him. – JD

Drew Hutchison, RHP, Indianapolis – In the past week, Hutchison had his best start since joining the Pirates, then put in another solid effort on Sunday. His Monday performance included seven shutout innings, with no walks and ten strikeouts. On Sunday, he went six innings without an earned run, although an error cost him the game. He walked four batters, yet still threw 54 of his 88 pitches for strikes. Those 13 innings without an earned run now had his ERA down to 3.31 through 81.2 innings, which ranks him fourth in the International League in ERA. He isn’t in the same class as Steven Brault this season and Clay Holmes has higher upside, but a few more outings like this past week and Hutchison could become an option for the Pirates. His role however, will likely end up being bullpen depth in September. – JD

Mitch Keller, RHP, Morgantown – Mitch Keller made his first two rehab starts with the Morgantown Black Bears this week and proved that he hasn’t lost a step since going down with a lower back strain on May 16. In his first start, Keller was limited to two innings of work but racked up four strikeouts and dominated with his fastball. He only had to go to his breaking ball once, when an opposing batter had fouled off the fastball three times. Keller had his second start cut short by a rain delay, but he found similar success. In two innings, Keller struck out three, walked one, hit one batter and allowed a single. He was scheduled to go longer, but will now have to wait until his next start to extend his outing and pitch count. – Abigail Miskowiec

James Marvel, RHP, West Virginia – The big thing this season for Marvel was working on the consistency of his off-speed pitches. He came into the year showing improved velocity over last season, now sitting in the low-90s with his sinker. His curve and changeup have been off and on, but that’s just part of coming back from a Tommy John surgery, as is the improved velocity. That consistency has carried over into his performance on the mound. With no earned runs over six innings on Saturday, he now has eight starts this season with 0-1 runs. In his other five starts combined, he has allowed 20 earned runs over 19.1 innings. Compared to last year, Marvel has a lower ERA and is striking out more batters, with slightly fewer free passes. His ground ball rate is down though and he went from one home run allowed last year, to seven this season in 6.1 fewer innings. – JD

Ike Schlabach, LHP, Morgantown – Schlabach made two starts last week for Morgantown and looked okay in the first game, then put together a strong outing in the second start. In nine innings total, he allowed three runs on six hits, with no walks and nine strikeouts. He got through five innings in the second game on only 65 pitches, with 43 going for strikes. The strikeout total is nice to see from Schlabach because he wasn’t getting them too often last year. His fastball velocity went up slightly this season from the 89-91 MPH we saw in the past and it looks faster to hitters because he has some deception in his delivery. He had just 31 strikeouts in 60.1 innings last year, so his early results are quite a step up from those numbers. Schlabach is the youngest player on the team and has a 6’5″ frame that should allow more velocity in the future. If he can combine that with his improved control, then you have some solid potential. – JD

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9 COMMENTS

  1. With all the venom spewed Hutchison’s way after the unmentionable trade last year, it’s nice to see him bounce back.

    I hope Luplow and Hill continue hitting as they have and get promoted soon.

    • Not being sarcastic here but … I think our best hope for Hutch is that he keeps pitching this way and gets his era down near 3.00 by the trade deadline. At that point, we trade him for a prospect. He doesn’t seem like a good bullpen option and he just doesn’t have any of the upside of our current 4/5 options. And he really doesn’t have a much higher if any base than them either.

  2. Seems like it is time for Brault to get called up and help the big league club, either in the bullpen or in Kuhl’s spot in the rotation.

    • Phil, I’m in agreement. Brault has earned a callup and Kuhl either needs to go to the pen with the PBC or at Indy.
      Brault may not be the best option for a high ceiling with the Bucs but he should be able to get past the 5th inning every now and then.

    • He’s up there, literally. At 6’6″, Hightower is a great last name for him, so I think that gets him up to the 75 range.

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