The Twenty: A Week Dominated by Pitching Prospects

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, West Virginia and the GCL 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 – I mentioned last time that Apostel made this list that he was showing a lot of patience at the plate. He was getting a lot of walks, which coincided with him putting on a power display. I was assured that he wasn’t getting pitched around and he was just doing a better job of not expanding his zone. The walks have continued to pile up and it might be a good time to move him up to the GCL, where he will see pitches to hit. Apostel seems like the most likely invite to the Fall Instructional League next month, so it might not be a bad idea to get him over a little earlier. The GCL season also runs a week longer, so he would get extra games as well. He had ten walks in 24 games before his home run barrage in early July, and 31 walks in 23 games since then. Between the added power, extra walks and cutting way down on his strikeouts, Apostel has a .936 OPS this season, compared to .583 as a rookie last year. – John Dreker

Albert Baur, 1B, West Virginia – Baur is a big player, but doesn’t hit for much power. He has a .126 ISO this year, and that’s after adding a double and a home run this week. Watching him, and looking at the size, I’ve wondered why he hasn’t hit for more power. I did see him hit that double and home run, and found out that the Pirates have been adjusting his swing, trying to get the barrel of his bat through the zone longer, and trying to get his contact point out in front more to create some leverage. He looked good at the plate in the small amount of games I saw, hitting the ball with some force. He’s 25 and in Low-A, so even if he is starting to figure things out, he’s going to need to rapidly ascend through the system in order to have a shot at a future MLB career. – Tim Williams

Pedro Castillo, OF, DSL Pirates – The Pirates signed Castillo for $170,000 last July 2nd, which was the second highest bonus they gave to a position player during the last signing period. Part of that is due to the second smallest bonus pool in baseball last year, as well as nearly 30% of it going towards just one player (Jean Eusebio). Castillo has a frame that still needs to fill out at 6’2″, 170 pounds, and when it does, the Pirates expect more power from the lanky lefty. He just turned 17 in April, so there is plenty of time to fill out still. The reports out of Spring Training in the Dominican said Castillo was still a bit raw, so the season expectations were lowered in his first year. He also missed two weeks in July with a quad injury. After taking a week to get up to speed after the injury, he has hit .357/.406/.429 in his last eight games. – JD

Rodolfo Castro, SS/3B, GCL Pirates – Castro has been putting up impressive offensive numbers in his first run through the most pitcher friendly league in the minors. He has a .278/.357/.478 line, showing some power, good control of the strike zone, a good ability to get on base, and contact skills. This week he went 6-for-22 with three home runs, adding to his overall power numbers. Those were actually the first three homers he hit this season, although coming into the week he still had a .149 ISO, which is strong for the level. Castro is stepping up this year as another talented international player in the lower levels of the system. – TW

Jason Delay, C, Bristol – It’s almost a bit unfair that Delay makes this list, being a 22-year-old in the Appalachian League with four years experience at a major college. He is too advanced for this level, but he put up a nice week in his four starts and that has led to a .311/.393/.405 slash line through his first 19 games as a pro. He missed some time this year after a beaning in his third game cost him two weeks. Delay was drafted more for his glove than his bat and he has been getting praise early on for his work with pitchers. One Bristol starter mentioned that Delay receives the ball well and has an ability to steal a lot of strikes. Speaking of steals, he has been able to control the running game, throwing out nine of 22 on attempted steals. The bat will still be a question mark until he proves he can hit at a higher level, but the defense will be his carrying tool through the minors. – JD

Yoel Gonzalez, C, West Virginia – Gonzalez was one of the Pirates’ highest paid players during the 2012-13 international signing period, receiving $350,000. He’s been stuck in the lower levels the last few years, showing good defense and some promising offensive tools, but never really applying his offense in the games. This year that has changed. He went to Morgantown and hit for an .812 OPS, then moved up to West Virginia when Brent Gibbs went down with an injury. He’s made the most of the opportunity, hitting for a .944 OPS in his first 12 games, with four homers in 47 at-bats. This week he went 6-for-15 with two doubles and two homers. He was one of the most impressive hitters I saw on the West Virginia squad, and looked to be making better contact with smarter swings than the player I’ve seen the last three years in rookie ball. He’ll need to do this over the long-term, but might be playing himself into an opportunity with his recent performance. – TW

Tristan Gray, 2B, Morgantown – Gray got off to a tremendous start after being drafted in the 13th round, before cooling off for a couple weeks. He got back on track this past week with seven hits, including two triples and his fourth home run of the season. The tall (6’3) second baseman is hitting .283/.341/.500 in his first 31 games as a pro. When he was on early in the year, his lefty swing was sending line drives all around the field. Gray ranks fifth in the NYPL in OPS and fourth in slugging. He looks like an athletic player, who should be able to stick at second base, but if the bat is legit, then the Pirates will find a place for him. Gray also looks like he could fill out a little more, although the power appears to be there already. He’s an interesting late round pick and one who is performing well so far in all aspects during his first step of pro ball. – JD

Kevin Krause, RF/C, Bradenton – Krause has hit well for most of the season, leading to a .297/.385/.481 slash line in 65 games this season. He doesn’t have enough plate appearances to qualify for the league leaders, but if he did, that .866 OPS would rank him third in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, one spot behind former teammate Jordan George and one spot ahead of another former teammate, Logan Hill. All three players have something in common, being older than average for the league. The first two have been promoted to Altoona already, but Krause may have to wait until next year for that. He has been mostly playing right field, but he still needs a lot of work out there on his routes and just getting more experience overall. Catching really isn’t a future option, although it’s always good to have a third catcher on the team who hits well enough to play everyday. – JD

Lolo Sanchez, CF, GCL Pirates – On a team filled with top 2017 draft picks out of the prep ranks, Sanchez is standing out as one of the most dynamic players. He’s got plus speed, leading to a lot of range in center field, and the speed to steal bases and get extra bases on hits. But he’s also making consistent contact, and adding a bit of power. This week he went 6-for-19 with two homers, and now has three homers in his last six games. If he can add some power to his ability to make contact and his speed and defense, then we’re talking about a player who could eventually be an easy top ten prospect in the system, and maybe higher than that if he continues this pace as he moves up. – TW

Adrian Valerio, SS, West Virginia – This time last year I was covering Valerio in Bristol, and noticed a trend that you find with a lot of young players. He showed off the right tools on both sides of the ball, with a smooth glove and a lot of range in the field, and a good bat and some power potential at the plate. The problem was that he was very inconsistent. He’d make a mental mistake in the field, booting a routine play. He would hit a home run, then swing for the fences his next few games and go into a slump. This time around, I didn’t see that. Valerio was consistent on the field, leaving the mental mistakes out of it. He was hitting well, even after hitting home runs in back-to-back games. The one issue I saw was that he’s a bit of a free swinger. That’s not in the sense that he’s trying to crush every pitch, but he will offer at a lot of pitches, leading to a low walk total. However, he has good contact skills when he’s not trying to crush homers all the time, and enough power that the homers will still come. This has led to a lower strikeout rate and decent power. If he hadn’t been injured three times this year, we might be talking about him now as the breakout player of the year. – TW

PITCHERS

Luis Escobar, RHP, West Virginia – Escobar has always had some of the best stuff in the lower levels, but hasn’t been able to control it due to mechanics. The Pirates have made a few mechanical adjustments with him in the last year, with the most recent changes coming right after the Future’s Game. Since that point, things have started to click, and Escobar has given up just three earned runs in 30 innings, with 34 strikeouts and 14 walks. This continued on Saturday when he struck out nine in 6.2 shutout innings. The walks are still an issue at times, as his mechanics slipped up a few different times on Saturday, leading to four walks. But Escobar may be on the path to finally getting things figured out, and going from a live arm with control issues to an actual legit pitching prospect. – TW

Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Indianapolis – Glasnow didn’t have a dominating outing on Saturday, but he still allowed just two runs over six innings, while picking up seven strikeouts. He has set the bar high while with Indianapolis, allowing two or fewer runs in all ten starts, while striking out 11+ batters in half of those games. He has a better mound presence, is showing better velocity and better control, while using all three of his pitches. Perhaps the most impressive part during this run through Triple-A, is the fact that he ranks 13th in the league with 92 strikeouts, yet he is 59th in innings pitched. It’s not just that he is picking up a ton of strikeouts, because we have seen that in the past, but it’s how they are happening. Glasnow would get a lot of help from impatient hitters chasing out of the zone in the past. Now he is picking up strikeouts by throwing pitches in the strike zone more often. We saw in the majors that the better hitters weren’t chasing his pitches, which led to very poor results. – JD

Scooter Hightower, RHP, Morgantown – Hightower doesn’t throw hard and doesn’t have any plus pitches, but he throws strikes and knows how to pitch. This past week, he made two starts and put together a solid overall week. The first start was average, with three runs over six innings, but he had no walks and eight strikeouts. He backed that up on Saturday with no earned runs over six innings. Hightower was slowed this spring by an oblique injury, otherwise he may have been in West Virginia at this point. As it is, he has a 2.52 ERA, a .229 BAA and an 0.96 WHIP in 50 innings with Morgantown. He has issued just five walks, while picking up 47 strikeouts. He turns 24 in October, now in his third season of pro ball, so it would be nice to see how he could do at a higher level. Hightower has put up nice walk/strikeout totals during each season of pro ball and he’s a big man on the mound at 6’6″, 215 pounds. If he can add a little velocity without sacrificing command, then his future would look brighter. – JD

Mitch Keller, RHP Bradenton/Altoona – We don’t often get a pitcher making this list while pitching for two different teams in the same week, but Keller handled his promotion to Double-A well. He began last week with a six inning outing for Bradenton on Monday. He gave up one run on six hits, with no walks and four strikeouts. After getting the news on Wednesday morning that he was being promoted to Altoona, Keller made his second start of the week on Sunday with his new team. He looked great through four innings, then hit rough spots in the fifth with hard contact leading to two runs, and the sixth when his control was wavering. Keller now has a chance to make at least five more starts in Double-A, plus more in the playoffs if the Curve can hold on to that postseason spot. That will give him a nice base for next year, which would allow him to move to Indianapolis mid-season if all goes well. – JD

Nick Kingham, RHP, Indianapolis – Kingham was the top pitcher here last week after putting up two outings in which he gave up one run over seven innings. It was a terrific rebound from one of his worst starts his previous time out. This past week, Kingham put up even better results, throwing 7.2 shutout innings. While his game from this week looked the best on paper, his previous two outings looked better in person. That’s because he had better command of his pitches and was getting swinging strikes on all three offerings. This last start was more of a pitch to contact game, where the curve didn’t look as sharp and the fastball command wasn’t as strong. That’s nitpicking though, because the previous two starts were as good as you will see. Kingham had very few swinging strikes on Friday night, but almost all of the contact was soft and on the ground. He has now put up three strong starts in a row. It would be nice if the Pirates could get him plenty of innings in the majors this season, because he is out of options for next year. So you’d like to see him up soon, especially if this streak continues. – JD

Braeden Ogle, LHP, Bristol – Ogle pitched two innings early in the week and then another five on Sunday. The two innings outing was a way of the Pirates limiting his innings, although he still ended up throwing over 40 pitches in the game because the defense committed two errors, leading to extra batters in each inning. Ogle put in a lot of innings during Spring Training and Extended ST, throwing in games consistently from March 15th until now. On Sunday, he allowed just an unearned run in his five innings of work and didn’t walk any batters. He said afterwards that he was commanding his fastball and that allowed him to utilize his off-speed pitches well. So far this season, he has a 3.55 ERA in 38 innings, with 28 strikeouts and a 1.37 WHIP. Ogle has been up to 97 MPH this year with his fastball. – JD

Domingo Robles, LHP, Bristol – Robles showed some improvements in spring over what we saw last year from him. He was throwing a little harder and showing better control of all three pitches. That’s not surprising because he is still a young pitcher, turning 19 at the end of April. The southpaw from the Dominican Republic is still filling out his 6’2″ frame, so we could expect to see more velocity in the future. He went from sitting 88-89 during his first two seasons of pro ball, to 91-92 MPH this season. While inconsistent at times, his curveball has been a much better pitch this year. His changeup also shows nice separation from his fastball. While he is still a work in progress, he has the potential for three pitches that will all be at least average, possibly better. This past week, Robles allowed one earned run over 5.2 innings. In 46.2 innings this season, he has walked ten batters and posted a 2.24 GO/AO ratio. – JD

Julio Rosario, RHP, DSL Pirates – Rosario is a player who I didn’t think I’d be writing about in The Twenty anytime soon. The Pirates signed him last July  as a 17-year-old out of the Dominican, giving him a $125,000 bonus. He pitched well during Spring Training, earning a spot in the rotation. That quickly went away after two starts because he was very wild. The move to the bullpen didn’t help at all, as the control was even worse. His season stats paint a much different picture than his last two long relief outings. Rosario has a 9.47 ERA in 19 innings, with 21 hits, 24 walks and three hit batters. The innings total is only that low because he has been removed early from eight of his 12 outings. Something may have clicked this last week, as he got through three innings twice, allowing three hits, two walks and an unearned run over those six innings. Those are more like the numbers the Pirates hoped for when they signed him. Rosario throws low-90s, mixing in a slider, and he has a projectable 6′ 2″ frame. – JD

Eduardo Vera, RHP, West Virginia – When I saw Vera last year in the GCL, and in previous years in rookie ball, he looked like a guy destined for an organizational role in the lower level bullpens. That changed this year when he started hitting mid-90s in a consistent way, and continued changing throughout the year as his velocity started inching higher, hitting as high as 96 and 97. He used to rely more on his off-speed stuff, but now is adopting the identity of a power pitcher, working off his fastball and setting up his off-speed pitches. That has led to some strong results all year, which included his start on Sunday when he gave up one run on three hits, with no walks and seven strikeouts in seven innings. Vera commanded his fastball around the zone, elevating it with two strikes, and was dominant with the pitch. He also mixed in his changeup and curveball well, getting strikeouts with the latter pitch. He’s no longer a guy who grades as a 2.0 prospect, with his transformation this year putting him on the radar as a top 30 prospect in the system. – TW

Gavin Wallace, RHP, Morgantown – Wallace has been as consistent as you can get over his last three starts. In each game, he went five innings with no earned runs, no walks and three hits. The Pirates have capped the 15th round draft pick at five innings, so he’s putting up results as good as it gets for him. Wallace has been starting since he signed, slowly working his way up to his current max after putting in 90.2 innings during the regular season in college. What was interesting during his last two starts, is that he was going at the same time his older brother Mike was pitching for West Virginia. With the off-day for the Power, they are no longer on the same schedule. On the season, the young Wallace now has a 2.62 ERA in 34.1 innings and he has walked just two batters. As you can imagine, he has excellent control of a fastball that touches 94-95 MPH, as well as a slider that gets effective results. – JD

 

  • Oddy?

  • Would love to see Krause get time at 1B. The bat seems to play, he needs another position in addition to RF if C isn’t in his future.

  • Question about Kingham or for that matter anyone in the last year of the minor league commitments. Could the Pirates negotiate with him now on a contract for next year? Sign him to a one year major-league/ minor league deal for 2018? He will get a try out in September I’m sure, but at most 1 or 2 starts, not nearly enough time to fairly judge whether he can help at major-league level next year.

    Usually we don’t hear about a minor-leaguer signing back with the Pirates until well into the winter season..after they’ve conceivably shopped around their services to other teams. It would be nice to lock him down for 2018 now.

    • He will be in a position next year and going forward in which he will need to be kept on the MLB roster. I can’t imagine any reason he would want to do anything lesser. If the Pirates don’t have a spot for him, you can bet another team will

      • Yeah that’s what I’m afraid of. He won’t show enough in a short period of time to get a spot on the MLB roster next year, so he will be outright released. Good for him if that happens I suppose. I guess the Pirates will have a better idea of what he can, or can’t do based upon what they’ve seen from him throughout this whole year, more so than what he does in September anyways. I’d love to have that depth of potential starters going into next year though.

        • They wouldn’t release him. He would end up the same as Hanson, where they put him on waivers and lose him to a team that is willing to use a young player

    • The MLB rules (union negotiated) don’t allow for this. He’d have to pass thru waivers. And he wouldn’t make it.

  • I was hoping Escobar would replace keller at bradenton, also with glasnow, kingham and brault all starters ,who gets moved to the pen or is traded?

  • It sure appears that our international signings from the past few years have taken a nice step forward this year. I like the Pirates approach to sign quantity versus a few high dollar targets and I think they are starting to see the results to this approach.

  • It’s really hit me recently just how many good looking prospects the Bucs have down low in the system. DSL & GCL appear to be packed with high upside kids performing extremely well.

    Have the Bucs ever had half this many kids flashing in the Rookie Leagues? During this modern era P2 ushered in?

    • it’ll be interesting to see where the pirates go here shortly…in regards to who they target in potential trades. will they go with major league ready talent? or will they target lower level prospects, ie: watson trade, to go along with the talent we have in the lower levels right now. basically adding to the next core of the future pirates teams

    • Can’t think of anything off-hand other than when they signed all of the prep pitchers in 2011

  • the lower teams in the minors sure have some interesting pitchers in vera, robles, nunez and escobar

    • Maybe the Dominican scouting organization is actually doing okay, even though they haven’t signed any flashy, expensive prospects?

  • Is Hightower kind of like Duncan? Doesn’t overpower hitters but mixes pitches well?

    • I wouldn’t put him in the same level as Duncan, but the general idea is that he gets by at the lower level by commanding his fastball well, which is all you really need to have success at lower levels.

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