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, West Virginia and Morgantown this week. We also had live coverage of Indianapolis, Altoona, Bradenton, Bristol and the GCL in the past two weeks. 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.
Stephen Alemais, SS, Bradenton – Alemais had a rough time in West Virginia this season before a hand injury shelved him for over a month. He put up a .646 OPS in a league that he should have had no trouble with offensively. When he returned to action in the GCL for two weeks, the stats were still low for a college hitter in a rookie league, but he was working on a new approach at the plate. He called it the “Adam Frazier approach” where he is geared more towards getting on base, rather than trying to add power to his game. The improvements have worked so far in a small sample size since being promoted to Bradenton. In 21 games, he is hitting .347/.429/.431 and he cut down on his strikeouts, while drastically improving his walk rate. If he’s able to maintain this approach, then when you factor in his plus defense at shortstop, you’re talking about a strong prospect. We will need to see if over a longer time of course, but the early results are very positive.
Christopher Bostick, Util., Indianapolis – Bostick had hits in all six games he played this past week, including four multi-hit games. Through 113 games this season, he has a .287/.346/.417 slash line, with 31 doubles, three triples and seven homers. He has done that while moving all around the field, playing all three outfield positions, as well as second base and third base. Bostick got a brief trial with the Pirates earlier this season and will likely get time with them again. I don’t think he will be a September 1st recall, but we should see him after the Indianapolis season ends, which is either September 4th, or if they make the playoffs, 1-2 weeks later. He’s a solid hitter, with some speed and position versatility, which could be a solid bench piece in the future.
Rodolfo Castro, SS, GCL Pirates – Castro has been impressive this season, hitting .288/.359/.490 in 42 games. He’s doing it as one of the younger players in the league, turning 18 a couple months ago. He was one of the better hitters on the 2016 DSL Pirates, so it wasn’t totally unexpected, unless you read the initial scouting reports. Castro was supposed to be a shortstop with a solid glove and ability to stick at the position, but his bat was behind the defense. Those reports sound like they are about someone else, because the bat has been strong since day one of last season, while the fielding has left something to be desired. If he can show the defense that scouts saw before he signed, then you could be talking about a special prospect in the future because the ability to hit is there at a young age.
Carlos Garcia, OF, DSL Pirates – Garcia is in his second season in the DSL and showing some signs of improvements this year. He was quite literally, awful last season. He had 45 strikeouts in 97 at-bats, getting limited playing time because he was over-matched. That wasn’t a huge issue, considering he turned 17 a month before the season started. This year, he has 23 strikeouts in 89 at-bats, but that also includes 21 walks, as opposed to 11 last year. So he is showing better patience and making much more contact. Those improvements have led to a .756 OPS, which is well above league average. He’s not a big player, and his bat is his carrying tool, so he’s going to need to continue to improve as a hitter before he’s considered a possible prospect. The Pirates liked him enough to give him a $115,000 bonus to sign. Time is still on his side at this point.
Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B, Bradenton – Hayes hasn’t drawn much attention this season because he has mostly just been steady all year. Not too many high points or low points and his plus defense doesn’t show up in the boxscore. This past week, he had four straight multi-hit games, going 9-for-21 with two walks. He is hitting .276/.350/.359 on the season, with 27 stolen bases in 31 attempts. The somewhat low OPS isn’t a big issue for a couple reasons, with the Florida State League being a big reason. Hayes also didn’t get to workout much over the off-season due to his late season injuries last year. While he came into camp in better shape, he wasn’t as strong you would like to see from him, which is hard to improve on when you’re playing daily during the summer in Bradenton. A healthy off-season should lead to improved power numbers for next year, especially getting into Altoona, where the ball travels better.
Jared Oliva, OF, Morgantown – Oliva returned from the NYPL All-Star break with two hits on Wednesday, two on Thursday and three on Friday. After an off-day Saturday, he had a quiet Sunday with just a single and a run scored. This year’s seventh round pick has been solid for the most part, while seeing regular playing time in center field. His defense looks good and he has shown off above average speed. That has led to ten stolen bases and six triples. His big issues so far have been the lack of power and plate patience. In 167 at-bats this season, Oliva had no homers, ten walks and 40 strikeouts. He’s 6’3″, with room to fill out, so there could be more power in the future, but right now he’s more of a slap hitter, who tries to take advantage of his speed. If he was able to get on base more often, then you don’t worry about the lack of over-the-fence power and you live with speed/defense being his carrying tools.
Jeremias Portorreal, OF, GCL Pirates – Portorreal had hits in all five games he played this week, while connecting on his fifth home run of the season. Through 44 games, he has a .261/.337/.430 slash line. Those don’t sound like great numbers, but the GCL is definitely a pitcher-friendly league. He ranks in the top 20 in the league in slugging, with his five homers and four triples putting him two behind the league leaders in each category. He had just three homers in his first three seasons combined. Part of that improvement in over-the-fence power comes from filling out his 6’3″ frame, as well as the fact he was one of the youngest players in the DSL during those first two seasons. Portorreal’s big issues this season has been too many strikeouts. That’s what kept him back in the DSL during his first two seasons, but it was something he really improved on last year. He needs to cut down on the strikeouts, otherwise he will have a tough time as he moves further up the system.
Gift Ngoepe, SS, Indianapolis – Ngoepe had one big game which got him a place in The Twenty, but he also had a pair of hits on Friday and on Sunday. On Tuesday night, he drove in five runs with a pair of home runs. While he had a strong week, the overall numbers have been low since being sent down and the strikeouts have been a huge issue. Ngoepe has a spot on the 40-man roster because of his glove and that should get him a shot with the Pirates in September. He has been moving around the infield now that Kevin Newman is the everyday shortstop and Ngoepe has handled third base and second base nicely. The ability to play three spots makes him more valuable to the Pirates than a glove-only shortstop, who can also be used as a pinch-runner.
Pablo Reyes, 2B, Altoona – Reyes had hits in all six games he played last week, including two games with three hits. On Tuesday, he hit his ninth home run of the season. He also reached the 20 mark in doubles and stole two bases to give him 19 on the season. Reyes has filled in admirably for the injured Kevin Kramer. Before that injury, Reyes was playing multiple positions, which is what he will need to reach the majors as anything more than a cup of coffee type player. He has a .283/.368/.420 slash line in 103 games, but he has put up better numbers since the All-Star break. In his last 36 games, he has a .921 OPS. He’s a solid defender at second base, who can occasionally fill in at both shortstop and center field, while getting on base, showing some pop in his bat and he provides speed. There are no plus tools to his game, but no glaring weaknesses either.
Lucas Tancas, 1B/OF, Morgantown – I mentioned last week when Tancas made his first appearance in The Twenty, that he was a late round draft pick who was taking advantage of regular playing time. That has continued this past week, as he homered twice and extended his hitting streak to ten game. Tancas was seeing outfield time at first, but he has become the regular first baseman. It’s still way too early to get excited about his recent success because there are flaws to his game. He has just six walks in 37 games and he’s a below average runner, who turns 24 in November. The thing that helps his case is his lack of experience for his age. He missed most of the 2016 season with an injury and also took some time off from baseball to play football and wrestle before college. That gives him some leeway, while we wait to see if he can continue to hit and possibly show better patience at the plate.
Sergio Cubilete, RHP, Morgantown – Cubilete is an interesting story. Signed last February, just before his 21st birthday, he had a solid season as a starter in the DSL last year. He earned an invite to the Fall Instructional League and then made the jump over two levels to Morgantown, where he has also put together some solid starts, with a couple poor outings mixed in as well. Cubilete has a strong fastball, which sits 92-95 at times. He had some issues with control last year, and while they will occasionally creep up this season, he has improved his walk rate to an acceptable number. Cubilete gets a decent amount of groundballs by keeping his fastball down in the zone. In fact, in 112.2 innings as a pro, he hasn’t allowed a home run yet. In his start on Saturday, he gave up one run over six innings and struck out eight batters, which is a new career high. – JD
Scooter Hightower, RHP, Morgantown – Hightower has been on a nice run lately, allowing one run total over his last three starts, while going seven innings in two of those games. On Wednesday this past week, he threw seven shutout innings. He has done a tremendous job of filling the strike zone this year, with five walks in 64 innings. That’s not really something new with him, but he has even been better this year than in the past. His biggest issue, besides being a 23-year-old repeating a low level, is that he has become an extreme fly ball pitcher. You don’t see a lot of homers in the NYPL, especially not in Morgantown, so it hasn’t affected him this year, but it could be an issue in the future.
Yeudry Manzanillo, RHP, GCL Pirates – Manzanillo is all about projection. At 6’3″, 175 pounds and just 18 years old, he has plenty of room to fill out and plenty of time to add to his frame. He isn’t a hard-thrower, sitting high-80’s, but that projectable frame should lead to an increase in velocity as he gets older. He has already shown some improvements in stamina, going six innings in two of his last three starts, which is something we haven’t seen for quite some time in the GCL. Manzanillo allowed two runs over six innings on Monday last week, then came back on Saturday to throw three shutout innings. On the season, he has a 3.79 ERA in 38 innings, with 12 walks, 26 strikeouts and a 1.38 GO/AO ratio. He has allowed a lot of hits, leading to a .306 BAA, which includes an even split of .306 against both lefties and righties. That’s a by-product of a young pitcher with a high-80’s fastball working on fastball command.
James Marvel, RHP, Bradenton – Marvel has made three starts for Bradenton since being promoted from West Virginia and he has had just one bad inning. In the fifth inning of his second start, he allowed four earned runs. In the other 17 innings with the Marauders, he has allowed zero earned runs. That total includes seven shutout innings in his start last week, in which he struck out seven batters. Marvel was promoted after he started showing a better changeup and a better approach to attacking hitters. He mainly relies on a low-90s sinker, but he has been using his four-seam fastball up in the zone more effectively lately, while also doing a better job of mixing his pitches to keep batters guessing. Since being promoted, he has a 3.00 GO/AO ratio.
Stephan Meyer, RHP, West Virginia – Meyer began the year in Morgantown, where he also made a few appearances after the draft in 2015 and he spent all of 2016 there. We weren’t getting strong reports on him during Extended Spring Training this year, which explains why he wasn’t at West Virginia earlier. He was recently promoted there just as James Marvel was being promoted to Bradenton. Meyer has made four starts for the Power and he lasted seven innings of three of those games. On Saturday, he had his best outing so far, going seven innings, with one run on two hits and a walk, while striking out eight batters. That’s a nice improvement over the first three games, where he had 11 walks and nine strikeouts total.
Evan Piechota, RHP, Bristol – Piechota isn’t going to impress you with his stuff. He doesn’t throw hard, but he attacks hitters and fills the strike zone. In 46.1 innings with Bristol, the 23-year-old has a 2.91 ERA, with five walks and 41 strikeouts. This week he allowed two runs over six innings in a spot start, which was just two days after throwing a scoreless inning in relief. Piechota sits 86-88 MPH with his fastball, while mixing in a slider and a changeup, with the slider being the better of the two pitches. There isn’t a huge upside due to the lack of velocity, but he’s a great pitcher to have around due to his ability to fill in as a starter like he has already done five times this season. As someone who signed as a non-drafted free agent, he’s also a good story to follow.
Ike Schlabach, LHP, Morgantown – Due to pitching a scoreless inning in the NYPL All-Star game on Tuesday, Schlabach had some extra time between starts. On Sunday (11 days after his previous start), he threw five shutout innings, allowing two hits and two walks. He had three strikeouts and a 7:3 GO/AO ratio, showing why he was an excellent choice for the All-Star game. Schlabach lowered his ERA to 2.77 through 55.1 innings this season. Opponents are hitting just over .200 against him, with both left and right-handed batters having considerable trouble. He has also kept his WHIP low by walking 15 batters all season. It’s been a solid season of development for the 6’5″, 20-year-old southpaw, which should get him a starting spot on West Virginia next season.
Austin Shields, RHP, GCL Pirates – Shields was having a terrific Extended Spring Training until he was shut down in late May for a very brief time due to arm tightness. Before that happened, he was showing excellent control and looked like one of the better pitchers down at Pirate City according to reports. Even though he missed just a week or so of throwing, he has not been the same pitcher since then. Shields has shown poor control, despite still putting up decent results at times, which includes a very impressive .156 BAA. In his one outing last week, he threw five shutout innings on one hit and one walk, which is his best career performance. It’s important to remember with him that he is 19 years old and came from Canada, where the seasons are shorter and he wasn’t always a pitcher. He’s a huge presence on the mound at 6’5″, 220 pounds and he can get his fastball up to 95 MPH.
Cam Vieaux, LHP, Bradenton – Vieaux hasn’t had the easiest transition to Bradenton. If you remember from early in the season, he was a regular in Thee Twenty, allowing one run in almost every outing he made over the first six weeks. He didn’t finish strong in Low-A, but as a 23-year-old with major college experience, as well as the ability to throw a lot of strikes, he earned a promotion to High-A. He was doing a better job of getting ground balls before he left West Virginia, where he gave up one homer over 62.2 innings. In Bradenton, where the ball doesn’t travel as well, he has allowed seven homers in 66.2 innings. Vieaux has put together two solid starts in a row, including two runs over seven innings on Thursday. His strikeout rate, while still very low, has improved in High-A, but he has also allowed more hits to go along with the extra homers, which of course has led to more runs.
Gavin Wallace, RHP, Morgantown – The last spot among pitchers was between Wallace and teammate Beau Sulser, the tenth round pick this year by the Pirates. Wallace won out with fewer base runners and one extra strikeout, but they both threw five shutout innings. That means that five of the top 11 pitchers this past week are in the Morgantown rotation. The younger brother of West Virginia starter Mike Wallace, Gavin is making a name for himself early on in the system. He throws harder than his brother and he really fills up the strike zone. He has a 2.44 ERA in 44.1 innings, with four walks and a .211 BAA, leading to an 0.90 WHIP. The strikeouts are a little low, but his 1.50 GO/AO ratio is above average. His numbers would look a lot better if you could forget back-to-back starts during the middle of July. In his other nine appearances combined (seven starts) he has allowed two earned runs over 35 innings.