This morning I wanted to look at four of the biggest movers on our Mid-Season Top 50 Prospects List. I picked two players who moved up the most since our 2017 Prospect Guide rankings and two who moved down the most spots. I will explain what went into their movement so you can see how they got to where they are now.
No one in the system has improved as much as Eduardo Vera since last year. That placed him 27th on our updated list after not even getting consideration for the Prospect Guide list. At this time last year, Vera was returning from Tommy John surgery. His positives before the surgery were that he was known for solid control and he had a 6’3″ frame to fill out. He was throwing 88-89 prior to the surgery and came back just a tick higher. I was told last year that he looked good in the GCL, but he received limit mound time during his rehab and we were still talking about a 22-year-old with marginal results since 2012.
This Spring Training, I was told very early on that he looked even better this year. The velocity was better and his curve improved. His original role with West Virginia this year was long relief, so we mentioned him as someone to watch in our season preview. That still wouldn’t have been enough to put him in a top 50 if we did one in April.
The reason he made the mid-season list is because he has been even better than advertised. He has added velocity as the season went along and now he has command of three pitches. Vera reportedly hit 97 MPH last month, while we have seen him in the 93-95 range as a starter. He also added muscle to his frame over the off-season, so he is still going strong after topping his previous high for innings pitched. So you have a possible starter with command of three pitches, including a solid changeup. He has a solid frame for starting and he’s getting results, showing an ability to pick up strikeouts and record a lot of ground balls. You could argue that he could be even higher on the list, but we want to see how he handles starting through an entire season.
Dario Agrazal probably should have been in the top 50 last year. I was higher on him than everyone else, but the concern from others was valid. He showed improvements in his velocity last year, going from low-90s to sitting 94-95 MPH. That didn’t get the best results and didn’t lead to strikeouts, which is what others wanted to see. What I liked about Agrazal then was that he still has an easy delivery, with clean/repeatable mechanics. Basically, he looked like some guy just about to get ready to ramp it up on the mound, but he was already going 100%. That is something that has always stood out about him since we first saw him in the GCL when he would sit 87-91 MPH in starts. The motion was so free and easy, you knew he could add more and not sacrifice control.
Agrazal not only looked solid at the lower velocity, he had success in the lower levels by pitching to contact, using both sides of the plate and inducing a lot of ground balls. The problem would be if his command was even slightly off, he could get hit hard, so the added velocity was a key to him moving up in the rankings.
This year he was hitting 95-96 MPH consistently, even touching 97 at times with Bradenton. The game plan for him was still the same until he developed a new slider. He went from a hard curve with late hard break, to a newly-improved slider which led to more strikeouts. He added the key ingredient missing from his game, and he still had both the quality stats and the same high ground ball rate. Sometimes missing too many bats will lead to high pitch counts, but Agrazal was going deep into games consistently even while adding more strikeouts.
Those improvements led to a promotion to Altoona in June. Agrazal may have been rated a little higher in his tier if he didn’t land on the disabled list with a right pec strain after his first Altoona start. He’s been out for almost a month with no return date set, so the lost time and injury combo didn’t help him in the rankings.
Two Players See a Big Drop in Rankings
While those two pitchers drastically improved their stock, two other players saw a big drop. Yeudy Garcia took the biggest tumble, though I’ll note that his high placement in the book was probably optimistic. He had trouble for most of last year, but we found out after the season that his shoulder was bothering him for awhile (he didn’t tell anyone) and the procedure to clean it up was considered minor. Our hope was that the 2016 version of Garcia was due to the injury and the 2015 version would return. That of course didn’t happen.
In 2015, Garcia would sit 93-96 during starts, occasionally hitting higher. He had solid control and got results with his slider, plus he was working on a changeup. Last year, he would sit 90-94 in games and didn’t have the control we saw the year before. He would also go for a slider heavy approach, which would usually get results short-term in games, but lead to high pitch counts and poor outings.
This season was no different and now after going on the disabled list last month, he is in the bullpen. We left him on the list because he isn’t far removed from looking like a top 10-15 prospect, but as a reliever, that really hurts his overall value. In he can regain the velocity, then that would work well in the bullpen with his slider, but that would keep him near the bottom of the top 50 still.
Stephen Alemais fell due to performance. He went to a major college and saw time at West Virginia last year after being drafted. With his defense being outstanding at shortstop, he really just needs to be a decent hitter to have MLB value. We knew he was going through an off-season of hard training with Jose Reyes and we also saw some results with the bat in the Fall Instructional League. We rated him 25th in our Prospect Guide because there was some hope that what we saw after the season would translate into success. It didn’t at all, as he put up a .223/.266/.380 slash line with a 5:32 BB/SO ratio in 29 games before he got hurt back in mid-May.
So you have a player who misses almost two months with an injury and hasn’t shown anything with the bat at a level he should have been able to do well at with his college experience. He has recently made an adjustment in his approach at the plate, trying to go more for an Adam Frazier style of hitting, rather than going for power. If the adjustment works for him in Bradenton, where he made his debut last night, then he will climb back up the list. The flip side is that he probably won’t go lower because he is now at the appropriate level in High-A. So long as he stays healthy and doesn’t look completely over-matched, you still have to believe in the plus defense and great work ethic with desire to get better.
PIRATES GAME GRAPH
Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates defeated the Milwaukee Brewers by a 4-2 score on Thursday afternoon. The Pirates now travel to Colorado for three games, where they will send Trevor Williams to the mound tonight. He has a 4.11 ERA in three July starts and a 5.13 ERA in 33.1 innings on the road. The Rockies will counter with right-handed pitcher Jeff Hoffman, who has a 4.33 ERA in 62.1 innings, with 53 strikeouts and a 1.17 WHIP.
In the minors, Indianapolis sends Clay Holmes to the mound tonight. He left his last start with shoulder fatigue, but won’t miss any time by going on his regular schedule today. Jacob Taylor is due to start for Bristol and the combo of Leandro Pina/Jake Webb should go for the GCL Pirates. Taylor failed to record an out in his last start. The schedule says Mike Wallace for West Virginia and Gavin Wallace for Morgantown, but I wouldn’t place money on both of them starting. Stephan Meyer was originally scheduled for Morgantown yesterday before Brandon Waddell took his spot, so Meyer will possibly go today, ruining the brotherly competition.
MLB: Pittsburgh (48-48) @ Rockies (56-41) 8:40 PM
Probable starter: Trevor Williams (4.69 ERA, 22:59 BB/SO, 80.2 IP)
AAA: Indianapolis (54-43) @ Gwinnett (47-49) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Clay Holmes (3.58 ERA, 38:75 BB/SO, 78.0 IP)
AA: Altoona (49-46) @ Bowie (51-36) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Tanner Anderson (4.01 ERA, 24:63 BB/SO, 98.2 IP)
High-A: Bradenton (52-40) vs Clearwater (51-44) 6:30 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: TBD
Low-A: West Virginia (42-50) @ Kannapolis (49-46) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Mike Wallace (3.23 ERA, 15:41 BB/SO, 55.2 IP)
Short-Season A: Morgantown (18-12) vs State College (17-13) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable Starter: TBD
Rookie: Bristol (8-20) @ Burlington (10-17) 7:00 PM
GCL: Pirates (8-13) vs Phillies (11-9) 12:00 PM
DSL: Pirates (22-18) vs Dodgers2 (24-15) 10:30 AM (season preview)
Here is Elvis Escobar hitting his third home run of the season on Wednesday afternoon
7/20: Kevin Newman promoted to Indianapolis. Anderson Feliz and Jackson Williams assigned to Altoona.
7/20: Tomas Morales placed on disabled list.
7/20: Cole Tucker promoted to Altoona. Logan Ratledge assigned to Bradenton.
7/20: Stephen Alemais promoted to Bradenton.
7/20: Pirates release Zane Chavez
7/19: Brandon Waddell and Conner Joe assigned to Morgantown on rehab.
7/18: Starling Marte activated from restricted list. Phil Gosselin optioned to Indianapolis.
7/18: Hunter Owen placed on disabled list. Nick King promoted to West Virginia.
7/15: Taylor Hearn placed on disabled list.
7/15: Cody Dickson activated from Altoona disabled list.
7/15: Raul Hernandez promoted to Morgantown.
7/15: Brandon Waddell assigned to GCL Pirates on rehab.
7/14: Brent Gibbs placed on disabled list. Yoel Gonzalez added to West Virginia roster.
7/14: Will Reed assigned to GCL Pirates.
7/14: Montana DuRapau promoted to Indianapolis.
7/13: Dany Hernandez promoted to Bristol. Will Reed assigned to GCL Pirates from Bristol.
7/13: Pasquale Mazzoccoli promoted to West Virginia. Andrew Potter released.
7/12: Luis Escobar activated from temporary inactive list. Nick King assigned to Morgantown.
THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY
Two former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus a trade of note. On this date in 2003, the Pirates traded away closer Mike Williams to the Philadelphia Phillies for minor league pitcher Frank Brooks. During that season, Williams was one of the worst All-Stars ever, making the team despite a 6.27 ERA. The Pirates only got 17.1 innings out of Brooks, but the trade was a win by default, as Williams was having a poor season and wasn’t worth his salary. The Phillies let him go via free agency after the season and he never pitched in the majors again, giving him the dubious honor of being selected for the All-Star team twice, making it in each of his last two season.
As for the two players born on this date, neither played a big role with the team, but one did have a very interesting nickname. Dick Smith, infielder for the 1951-55 Pirates, was signed out of Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania. He is the last of only three players from that school to make the majors. Smith played five seasons with the Pirates, but only got into 70 games and hit .134 in 186 at-bats. The Pirates were his only Major League team. He turns 90 today, making him the ninth oldest living former Pirates player.
Also born on this date, Irv Young, who pitched for the 1908 Pirates. Due strictly to his last name, he had the pressure of being named Cy the Second, as in the second Cy Young. Irv never came close to that potential and during the middle of the 1908 season, he was dealt to the Pirates for pitcher Harley Young. Harley wasn’t anywhere near as talented as Irv, but you may have already guessed that he was nicknamed “Cy the Third”. In his brief time with the Pirates, Irv Young had a 2.01 ERA in seven starts and nine relief appearances.