The Twenty: Will Craig and Ke’Bryan Hayes Lead the System This Week

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 Indianapolis 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

Sherten Apostel, 3B, DSL Pirates – Apostel signed with the Pirates in 2015 out of Curacao, as a 6’4″, 200 kid, who had raw power and a strong arm. He’s filled out his frame a little in two years since signing and he is seeing early results this season at the plate. Apostel got off to a very poor start last year, struggling through June and July due to a high strikeout rate. He finished strong however, posting a .787 OPS in August. So far early this season, he has a .318/.400/.455 slash line, helping his team out tremendously last week by driving in seven runs. If he can continue to hit, we will see him in Bradenton this September for the Fall Instructional League. That’s despite some very poor defense early over at third base. The arm is more than enough for the position, but his throwing accuracy has been off and the glove still needs work. Still just 18 years old, he is a project with a lot of upside in the bat. If he can’t stick at third base, they will find a spot for him. – John Dreker

Barrett Barnes, OF, Indianapolis – Just as he was getting on track offensively, Barnes had another moment of bad luck. He injured his hamstring while running out an infield single in Indianapolis’ game on Sunday. On the play, Barnes started to ease up a few steps ahead of the bag. After he hit the bag, Barnes went to his knees and slammed down his helmet. He’s dealt with multiple hamstring injuries in the past and probably immediately knew what was wrong. No time is good for an injury, but Barnes’ timing is unfortunate. He hit .400 in six games last week and is hitting .414 over his last 10 games, raising his batting average from .156 to .247. Barnes missed the first several weeks of the season with a hamstring injury and had that problem in the past. He had a slow start offensively, hitting .156 during 15 games in May, but was rebounding in a big way with his recent offensive surge. Also, Barnes has made a couple of impressive catches in the outfield. He took away a home run in one of the first games he played and one week ago made a leaping catch against the wall to take away an extra-base hit. The early thoughts were Barnes might be out a couple of weeks, but the organization might take it slow with him coming back due to his past issues with his hamstring. Barnes was starting to show signs of his development before Sunday’s injury. Ideally, he is able to come back quickly and pick up where he left off. – Brian Peloza

Albert Baur, 1B, West Virginia – Baur makes The Twenty for the second week in a row because he keeps on hitting. He currently has a ten-game hit streak and he has somewhat quietly amassed a 31-game on base streak, which is every game he has played this season. I mentioned his faults last time, but it’s important to temper the expectations. Being a 25-year-old first baseman in Low-A without power doesn’t scream upside, despite his ability to get on base. Baur is doing well enough that he deserves to be a level higher by now, but he isn’t going anywhere with Will Craig ahead of him. He’s in a situation where he just needs to keep hitting and eventually he will move up. The one problem with Craig moving is that Bradenton already has some guys not playing everyday, who could fill in at first base when Craig leaves, so even when he moves up to Altoona, that might not open a spot for Baur. – JD

Will Craig, 1B, Bradenton – Craig has been hitting well lately, and showing off his power potential over the last two weeks. In seven games this month, he has a .481/.548/.778 line in 27 at-bats. He’s got an impressive .290 average and a .390 OBP, but the power has lagged behind, with a .429 slugging percentage. The .139 ISO is still above average for the FSL, but you want to see Craig showing the type of power he’s seen from the last two weeks. If he keeps this up, he could see a promotion to Altoona in the next month, as his bat is advanced for this level, and won’t have much to prove if these numbers continue. – Tim Williams

Elvis Escobar, CF, Altoona – This wasn’t a great week for offense, so Escobar made the list based on his batting average alone. That’s because he went 8-for-23, which is a strong .348 average, but that was also his OBP and his slugging percentage for the week. It’s a good start for Escobar, who has struggled a bit in his first full-season of Double-A at 22 years old. He is hitting .265/.316/.309 overall in 48 games and not doing any of the things that give him some potential value. He is an above average runner, though he is just 1-for-2 in stolen bases this season and has never been successful with the running game. He also had some trouble on defense tracking fly balls in center field, which hasn’t been an issue in the past. It’s something he has worked hard on this season and shown improvements. Escobar has an above average arm, so if he can play center field and use his speed better, then he has some value. He hit well in winter ball this off-season against pitching similar to Double-A, though the Venezuelan league is closer to Triple-A in strength, so the ability is there. He just needs to be a more complete player with the tools he already possesses. – JD

Anderson Feliz, Util., Indianapolis – He only played seven games the entire month of May, but saw action in five games last week. And Feliz is making the most of his opportunities, which have been created due to some of the promotions to the Pirates as Indianapolis has turned into a revolving door at times. Feliz hit .350 in five games last week, compiling five RBI. Feliz had a rough start to the season, going 0-for-13 in the first five games he played. But since that point Feliz has steadily improved his offensive output. He’s hitting .198 this season after just cracking the .200 mark earlier in the week. Those numbers don’t sound great, but they’re a drastic improvement from where he began the season. Feliz has also shown the ability to play all over the field, playing games at first, second, shortstop, and both corner outfield positions. Feliz isn’t going to draw a lot of attention, but he’s been a solid player to have at the Triple-A level. – BP

Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B, Bradenton – Hayes is currently riding a nine game hitting streak, going 11-for-36 during that stretch, with a double and a triple. He has also added four walks in that span, while only striking out four times. Hayes is showing a good approach at the plate this year, limiting strikeouts and drawing a good amount of walks. He’s hitting for average and getting on base, but not hitting for much power. The power could come in the future if he adds some muscle to his frame, especially after losing some weight and muscle over the offseason when recovering from a cracked rib. Even if he doesn’t add a lot of power, he’s got the defense that would allow him to make it to the majors as an average/OBP guy. – TW

Wyatt Mathisen, 3B, Altoona – Mathisen took over the farm system lead in batting average this past week, finishing with a .320 mark. He’s picked up hits in each of his last nine starts. This past week he went 8-for-21 with three walks and his third home run of the season. He’s been playing decent overall defense over at third base, though nothing spectacular. He started a game at second base this week, the first time he has played there. That was more due to need than a move to a new spot. Kevin Kramer will be out for at least six weeks with a fractured hand, so that opens up the possibility for more second base for Mathisen. It wouldn’t hurt to have some versatility because he has never shown the ability to hit for power and speed isn’t part of his game. He cut a lot of weight this season, going from a stocky lower half to a strong frame, so it’s possible the added strength could eventually turn into more power. Mathisen has felt like he has been around for awhile, but he’s just 23 years old and has missed a lot of time over the years with injuries, so there is still room for development. – JD

Hunter Owen, 3B, West Virginia – Owen has put up solid numbers this season on offense with a .297/.402/.467 slash line in 52 games. He has reached base in 20 of his last 21 games, with the lone exception being a game in which he left early. This past week he had seven hits, including his fifth home run of the season. He has 18 extra-base hits on the year. He’s an older player in Low-A like Albert Baur, but Owen probably isn’t being blocked from moving up by Ke’Bryan Hayes. That’s because Owen will likely (should) move off third base to the outfield where he has played before and looked much better. I’m not saying he’s an above average outfielder, just noting that he hasn’t set the defensive bar high at third base and I’ve seen him make some nice plays in the outfield showing range. If they want to stick with him at third base and hope he shows enough improvements to be adequate there, then he is at the right level now. The bat could play at Bradenton now though. –JD

Jason Rogers, 1B, Indianapolis – Rogers had six hits this week, to go along with three walks and a HBP, reaching base ten times. He has a .273/.329/.429 slash line this season through 55 games. He’s shown enough with the bat that he could join the Pirates as a solid bench piece, which is the player that they thought they were acquiring from the Milwaukee Brewers before last season. The problem seems to be that there isn’t a need for him right now with John Jaso and Jose Osuna both serving as capable backups to Josh Bell. Rogers is a decent first baseman, who can fill in at third base, but it wouldn’t be a position he could play regularly, just a position he is used to playing. If he gets a chance this year with the Pirates, it will likely be as a September call-up and be limited playing time. He could lose first base playing time soon if the Pirate decide to promote Edwin Espinal to Indianapolis to see what he has in his last year before minor league free agency. – JD

PITCHERS

Dario Agrazal, RHP, Bradenton – As John Dreker pointed out to me over the weekend, Dario Agrazal had seven games with 6+ strikeouts in his first 71 pro games. In his last six starts, Agrazal has five games with 6+ strikeouts. He has already been showing good control this year, which is dangerous from a fastball that hits 96 MPH pretty consistently. If this is a sign that he’s developing a strikeout pitch, then he could have a shot at sticking in the rotation for the long-term, rather than settling for a middle relief upside as a sinkerball specialist. – TW

Steven Brault, LHP, Indianapolis – One question was not easy to answer early in the season: Who is the best option at the Triple-A level if the Pirates need a starting pitcher? Now, that question is easy to answer. Brault is without a doubt the best starting pitcher option on the Indians’ staff. His somewhat sluggish start to the year (3.86 ERA, 1.44 WHIP in April) keeps becoming more of a distant memory. Brault’s latest outing was impressive, allowing one earned run on four hits over six innings. He struck out eight and walked just one. Brault has been dominant since the calendar turned to May, posting a 1.09 earned run average and 0.99 WHIP in seven starts. He’s worked on being more aggressive with his delivery and pitches. In the past, he’s been criticized for trying to paint the corners too much as Tom Glavine would, instead of attacking hitters. His fastball has good movement and he’s been doing what coaches have asked: pitch aggressive and attack hitters. Brault had an impressive Triple-A campaign last year and made seven starts with the Pirates. And when he wasn’t chosen to be the fifth starter out of Spring Training, these recent performances are what people expected out of Brault with Indianapolis. Brault allowed one hit in a scoreless inning of relief on Sunday, as he is the next starting pitcher to skip a start and pitch in relief instead. That’s already been done with Tyler Eppler, Clay Holmes, and Drew Hutchison. But the relief appearance should be a one-time, or at least rare, occurrence. Brault is continuing to solidify his position as the best starting pitching option at the Triple-A level. –BP

JT Brubaker, RHP, Altoona – Brubaker had his best start of the season this week, tossing six shutout innings while allowing just two hits, no walks and striking out five batters. It was the second time he threw six shutout innings, but he hopes this time turns out better than last time. Brubaker suffered a bad blister on his index finger after his last six inning shutout performance on May 2nd. He then missed a start while on the disabled list and ended up going 14 days before his next game. When he returned, he was on a limited pitch count so he could build back up to his normal count. He had a couple decent outings, then struggled on June 1st, allowing five runs in four innings. Brubaker throws low-90s, touching 94 MPH. He mixes in a slider that is a swing-and-miss pitch, as well as a changeup that is an effective third pitch. He sometimes elevates his fastball and can occasionally get dependent on his slider, but when he is on and mixing his pitches well, then you see someone who can perform like he did this week. One positive note about his season is an increased ground ball rate, going from a flyball pitcher last year, to a ground ball pitcher this season. – JD

Luis Escobar, RHP, West Virginia – Escobar had an outing this week that has been typical of his season. Before he could record the second out of the second inning, he had already allowed a double, triple, homer and a walk, leading to three runs. From that point on, he retired 14 straight batters to finish his day, while picking up seven strikeouts. He has three pitches that look like plus pitches at times with his mid-90s fastball, a sharp-breaking curve and a changeup that gets a lot of swinging strikes. The problem is that his control is sporadic and can sometimes lead to a lot of walks, or batters sitting on his fastball and you end up with innings like his first two last week. He has a lot of success with his curve without throwing it in the strike zone, so a patient team will be able to make him throw strikes and not get themselves out. His fastball can be the same way, with a nice downward plane that gets a lot of swings at pitches in the dirt. He just turned 21 years old, so with that three-pitch mix, there is still a ton of upside and the Pirates will just need to be patient with him. – JD

Oliver Garcia, RHP, DSL Pirates – The best pitcher in the system last week was 19-year-old Garcia, who is in his second season in the DSL. He was a long reliever as a rookie last year and slated for that role this year until taking over a spot in the rotation late at the end of Spring Training. That looks like a good move now, as he has thrown ten shutout innings already, with four hits, two walks and eight strikeouts. Garcia didn’t have the best scouting report last year, throwing 88-90, with weak secondary pitches, but he still had decent results, except for being a fly ball pitcher. He has filled out his lanky frame this season, now listed at 6’3″, 213 pounds, after signing back in 2015 at 167 pounds. I’ve seen old and recent pictures of him and he has put on good weight, looking much stronger over two years time. He now has a fastball that sits 92-93 MPH, to go along with an improved slider and a changeup. It’s still too early to pass any judgments, but he looks like a projectable pitcher, who added velocity as he filled out. – JD

Geoff Hartlieb, RHP, West Virginia – Hartlieb threw 4.1 innings this week without an earned run, while striking out seven batters. He hasn’t allowed an earned run in nearly a month and he has some terrific numbers on the season, though the high strikeout total is a new twist. He comes with the caveat that he’s a 23-year-old college pitcher in a Low-A bullpen, but he throws hard, getting it up to 95 MPH this season. He’s doing as much as you could ask from him in his role, posting an 0.94 ERA in 28.1 innings, with a .198 BAA, an 0.87 WHIP and a 2.69 GO/AO ratio. He had just 16 strikeouts in his first 24 innings, but if last week’s strikeouts aren’t just a mirage, then his potential upside goes up from late last year when he wasn’t throwing as hard and looked like someone who would just be bullpen depth in A-ball. – JD

Gage Hinsz, RHP, Bradenton – Hinsz had one of the best starts of his career on May 2nd, then skipped a start with shoulder soreness. He returned to allow 21 earned runs in 18.2 innings over his next four starts, failing to put up the results he was starting to show before the injury. His most recent start is hopefully a sign that he’s back on track. He pitched five shutout innings, giving up four hits, two walks, and striking out five. This came after getting some extended rest, due in part to some rainouts for Bradenton. He’s got some great stuff, with a mid-90s fastball and a curveball that flashes plus when he’s commanding the pitch consistently. That said, he’s a little raw, and the shoulder soreness may have thrown him off his game briefly. – TW

Drew Hutchison, RHP, Indianapolis – He put together his second consecutive solid start, with a relief appearance sandwiched in the middle of those. Hutchison allowed two earned runs on five hits over six innings. He walked two batters and struck out five, throwing 65 of his 100 pitches for a strike. That’s the fifth start Hutchison has thrown at least six innings, and has made it at least five innings in all but one of his 11 starts. Hutchison has been solid most of the season, but not necessarily spectacular. Considering he’s made 74 career starts in the major leagues, the expectations for Hutchison pitching at the Triple-A level should be high. Hutchison has put together solid outings, allowing just one earned run in four of his starts. But too often he has followed those up with less efficient outings, such as needing 104 pitches to get through five innings, or by allowing five earned runs in four innings. Hutchison has the potential to be a solid option at the Triple-A level, but he needs to show more consistency to reach that point. – BP

Oddy Nunez, LHP, West Virginia – When Nunez is on his game, it appears that the only things that can stop him are his limited pitch counts and the poor West Virginia infield defense. Nunez threw five innings last week, allowing one hit and one walk. He’s great at getting soft contact on the ground, including a 10:1 GO/AO ratio in this last start. He has a 2.29 GO/AO ratio on the season. He throws strikes and can miss bats at times, although he’s attempting to pitch to contact and his secondary pitches need some refining. Nunez was a reliever his first two seasons, but he came to camp this year showing an increase in his sinker from high-80s to low-90s. Coming from a 6’7″ frame, with a nice downward plane on his fastball, it’s a tough pitch for batters to square up. That fact that he’s 20 years old and only pitched in short-season ball as a reliever, means that his innings will need to be monitored all season due to the increased workload. – JD

Tate Scioneaux, RHP, Altoona – Scioneaux continues to defy logic with his success in Double-A. He has a couple things going for him, but also some major strikes that aren’t affecting him at this point. Scioneaux has deception in his delivery, coming from a low angle. He also throws a lot of strikes. The problems are that he is sitting mid-80s and is an extreme flyball pitcher, more than anyone else in the system. That hasn’t prevented him from being a terrific long-man and short reliever out of the Altoona bullpen this year. This week he totaled five shutout innings over three appearances, giving him a 1.55 ERA in 40.2 innings. He has a .189 BAA and a 36:5 SO/BB ratio. Those numbers aren’t a fluke, as his career BAA is .192 and in 147 career innings, he has a 152:31 SO/BB ratio. Many pitchers over the years have made it to the majors while relying on deception and a funky delivery, but a lot of them are lefties and we have also seen players like that flame out at Double-A just as often. Scioneaux seems to be winning the war so far, but he will still need to prove himself a level up before we consider him a legit prospect. – JD

Menu