Normally on Monday, we run a feature called The 21. The feature was previously called The Twenty, and was called Top Performers before that. It focuses on the best performances from the previous week.

We decided to change it from The Twenty to The 21, and I don’t think I need to explain why 21 is a more significant number for the Pirates.

That article will start up next week, recapping the top performers over the first 11 days. We held off doing the article this week, since there were only 3-4 games per level.

With that said, let’s take a look at some of the interesting performances over the opening weekend, with a focus on the significance of some early stats, and what to watch for going forward.

Indianapolis

Most of the Indianapolis hitters have less than ten at-bats, so I won’t go into them. The big thing that stood out this weekend was the amount of strikeouts shown from several members of the pitching staff. Tyler Eppler struck out 10 in 5.2 innings, and Nick Kingham struck out 10 in 5 innings. Kyle Crick also struck out five in three innings of relief.

This could just be a result of Columbus having a bad lineup that is prone to strikeouts. But it does give something to watch in each of those cases.

Eppler has lacked a consistent strikeout pitch. He added a slider/cutter, but the pitch flattens out at times, and isn’t always effective. If he can start getting results with the pitch this year, he could get back on the radar as a guy who can help in Pittsburgh.

Kingham hasn’t seen his prospect status fully bounce back since being injured. His stuff has started to return, and seeing the strikeouts was encouraging. The one downside was his three walks in five innings, showing a possible trend where he still doesn’t have his control back.

Finally, I don’t need to say much about why Crick is important. The Pirates have seen some struggles with their middle relievers, and if he can do well in Triple-A, he might be able to come up and step in to replace Dovydas Neverauskas, assuming continued struggles from Neverauskas.

Altoona

It was great to see Mitch Keller putting up a dominant performance in his first outing of the year, giving up two hits and two walks while striking out eight in six shutout innings. The best part was that it came against a lefty-heavy lineup, where Keller’s changeup was effective. If you want to see him in Altoona, I’d book that trip as early as possible.

JT Brubaker struck out eight in five innings, and Brandon Waddell struck out seven in 5.2 innings. These are more cases where the one-game results could be on the specific opponents. They’re also cases where the players need more strikeouts to boost their stock and future upside.

I wrote about how Will Craig made a few adjustments to try and add some power. So far he has two home runs, although only three hits. The power is encouraging to see early, and based on what I’ve seen in Spring Training, I don’t think he’ll have an issue hitting for average.

Bradenton

Luis Escobar’s first start of the year was encouraging. The only damage that came off him was from a solo homer in the fourth inning. The best part was that he didn’t allow a walk in five innings, and was very efficient with 61 pitches. Escobar has had some control problems in the past, but has focused on his mechanics this offseason. It would be a huge step if he can cut down on the control issues this year.

Tyler Gaffney doesn’t look like a guy who has been away from the game since 2012. He went 4-for-11 in his first few games back, and was hit by a pitch three times, including a walkoff HBP. He’s older, due to the time spent in the NFL, but still very athletic, and an interesting guy to follow.

Angel German had an interesting outing yesterday, throwing two innings with six strikeouts, mostly due to a promising slider. He was also pumping 95 MPH fastballs, but had poor control, leading to two walks, and about as many balls as strikes. He has good stuff, and could be a promising relief prospect if he can tone down the control issues.

West Virginia

Mason Martin and Calvin Mitchell both homered in their opening weekend with West Virginia, showing off their power. Mitchell has had strikeout problems in the past, but only had two in 15 at-bats.

My biggest concern with Martin is that he takes too many pitches, letting some hittable stuff go by, and waiting on a pitch he can crush, with the downside being that he sets himself up for strikeouts. That approach typically doesn’t work in the upper levels, leading to a lot of walks, a low average, and a high strikeout rate, with power declining as you move up. He has struck out seven times in ten at-bats, and has drawn four walks. That will be a thing to watch the rest of the year.

And of course, there’s Travis MacGregor, who struck out 12 in 5.1 innings. The same “it could be a bad team” rules apply, but I have noticed improvements from MacGregor, in terms of better command, improved velocity, and improved secondary stuff. It was added encouragement that he only walked one in that outing.

TODAY’S SCHEDULE

Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates won 5-0 over the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday to take three of four in the series. The Pirates now go to Chicago for the Cubs home opener, followed by an off-day on Tuesday, then two more games against their division foe. Ivan Nova will make his third start of the season this afternoon, coming off of a game in which he allowed five runs over 5.1 innings. The Cubs will counter with 28-year-old right-hander Tyler Chatwood, who gave up one run in six innings, despite six walks, in his only start this season.

The minor league schedule includes the season debuts of top lefty pitching prospects Taylor Hearn and Braeden Ogle, as well as southpaw Cam Vieaux going for Bradenton. Austin Coley gets the fifth starter spot for Indianapolis now with Clay Holmes still in the majors.

MLB: Pittsburgh (7-2) @ Cubs (5-4) 2:20 PM
Probable starter: Ivan Nova (6.10 ERA, 7:4 SO/BB,  10.1 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (2-1) vs Toledo (2-1) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Austin Coley (NR)

AA: Altoona (3-1) vs Harrisburg (2-2) 6:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Taylor Hearn (NR)

High-A: Bradenton (3-1) @ Lakeland (2-2) 6:30 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Cam Vieaux (NR)

Low-A: West Virginia (2-2) vs Lakewood (1-3) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter:  Braeden Ogle (NR)

HIGHLIGHTS

From the Pirates on Sunday, Jameson Taillon pitched “a one-hit shutout masterpiece”

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

4/5: Pirates claim Jesus Liranzo from Los Angeles Dodgers. Placed on Altoona disabled list.

4/2: Kevin Siegrist placed on suspended list for Indianapolis.

4/2: Pirates place Joe Musgrove on DL; Recall Clay Holmes

3/31: Pirates release Clark Eagan

3/29: Pirates placed AJ Schugel on disabled list.

3/28: Pirates release seven minor league players, including Barrett Barnes and Cody Dickson

THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY

On this date in 1930, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded Hall of Fame pitcher Burleigh Grimes to the Boston Braves for pitcher Percy Jones and cash. This trade didn’t work out well for the Pirates, who failed to get a single win out of Jones, while Grimes won 33 games over the next two seasons. Grimes would end up coming back to the Pirates to finish his career in 1934.

The only former player born on this date, pitcher Claude Passeau, is one that got away from the Pirates. After using him for one game in 1935 (his MLB debut), the Pirates traded him to the Phillies. Passeau ended up winning 162 games in his career. The Pirates got catcher Al Todd in return for Passeau and he had three strong seasons in Pittsburgh, but they also threw in catcher Earl Grace, who was a capable backup for two seasons. They won the catcher part of the deal, but lost out big with the pitcher.

The first time the Pirates ever played on April 9th might surprise you, considering how many years they were around prior to that season. In the early years of baseball, the season began much later, with games opening up in early May at one point. It wasn’t until 1959, that the Pirates opened a season before April 11th. That year, they opened up on the road at Crosley Field, dropping a 4-1 decision to the Reds. You can see the boxscore here. Roberto Clemente drove in the only run for the Pirates.

Also on this date in 2001, the Pirates opened up PNC Park on a somber note, as Willie Stargell passed away that same day. The Pirates lost 8-2 to the Reds in front of 36,954 fans.

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