The 21: Oddy Nunez, Clay Holmes and JT Brubaker Highlight a Strong Week of Pitching

Every Monday during the minor league season, we take a look at the top performers in the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system, giving scouting reports on the top ten pitchers and top ten hitters from the previous week. The column was originally called Top Performers until last year when we changed it to The Twenty. The number 21 obviously has a lot of significance for the Pittsburgh Pirates and their fans, so we expanded this article to include one extra player.

Each Monday, we will highlight one Player of the Week, who will be followed by ten pitchers and ten batters who excelled during the previous week. This isn’t a top prospect list, so any player in the system can make the list if he has a strong week. Our scouting reports are based on first-hand views throughout the system, where we have coverage for all four full-season affiliates. We also get extra views via MiLB.tv, giving us a look at the entire farm system throughout the season.

Player of the Week

Oddy Nunez, LHP, Bradenton – Nunez had a pretty good start at the beginning of the week, then on Sunday he ended on a high note. In 12 innings this week, he gave up two runs on six hits. The second start was six shutout innings against the best team in the Florida State League, which helped earn him Player of the Week honors. Nunez had an odd start to his season, with his first start ending after one inning due to a long rain delay. That was followed by him pitching in relief so AJ Schugel could make a rehab start. Nunez hasn’t let it affect him. He has a 1.90 ERA in 23.2 innings, with a .224 BAA, a 1.10 WHIP and a 1.60 GO/AO ratio. The one downside early is lower velocity, although that’s something that could improve as we go along. One of the big improvements from Nunez last year was going from 88-89 MPH to 90-92 MPH. In his first start last week, he was sitting 87-89 MPH, which may explain a slight drop in his strikeout rate so far this year.

Hitters

Albert Baur, 1B, Bradenton – Baur just barely got edged out by Austin Meadows for the best hitter this week and was considered for the Player of the Week spot. He batted .350 this week, raising his season slash line to .300/.362/.450 through 18 games. Those current early season numbers are very similar to the .298/.367/.439 slash line he put up at West Virginia last year. The lefty hitting Baur is in a tough spot because he has the bat to at least take him to Double-A, but as a 25-year-old who is blocked at the level currently by a few players, he’s likely to spend most (or all) of the season at Bradenton. He’s too old for the level, so any numbers he puts up with have questions behind them.

Ben Bengtson, 3B, West Virginia – Bengtson wasn’t getting much playing time this season until a minor injury to Dylan Busby opened up some playing time this past week. Bengtson responded with his first two homers of the season, although he did have a rough defensive game at third base. That could be chalked up to a bit of game rust because he was a solid defensive player last year with Bristol after being drafted in the 23rd round. Bengtson has played at first base once this season and could see more games there sporadically throughout the year, especially if he continues to show some power. Once Busby returns, then he will see the majority of the playing time at third base due to his draft position, so it’s important for Bengtson to impress when he has his chances.

Casey Hughston, OF, Bradenton – Hughston did just enough to make The 21 this week, with hits in four straight games and three walks. Otherwise it’s been a tough season so far for the toolsy center fielder. He is hitting .164/.254/.200 in 19 games, while repeating High-A. Hughston has four above average tools, but unfortunately the hit tool isn’t one of them and it has held him back. His issue since being drafted has been making enough contact and we haven’t seen any improvements. His career .272 OBP has kept him from utilizing his plus speed on the bases and from turning his raw power into game power.

Kevin Kramer, 2B/SS, Indianapolis – Two big games got Kramer on the list this week. In his other three contests, he went 1-for-12 at the plate, but he had a three-hit game on Tuesday, then picked up another three hits on Friday. In that second game, Kramer doubled and hit his first home run of the season. Through 18 games, he is hitting .275/.333/.362, with three doubles and the one homer. He has mostly been at second base in the past, but the Pirates had him play shortstop last fall in instructs and the Arizona Fall League, so he has continued that trend this year. Kramer has ten starts at shortstop and seven at second base, where he has committed three of his four errors. It’s a mediocre start so far from him, but he only had a half season of Double-A experience and he’s spent a lot of time working on his defense, so there should be no worries.

Mason Martin, 1B, West Virginia – Martin picked up hits in each of his last six games, plus he connected on his fourth home run, which put him on The 21 this week for the third time. Through 24 games, he has a .262/.361/.476 slash line, with six doubles, four homers and 11 walks. All that from someone who still has almost six weeks before he celebrates his 19th birthday. After playing some outfield in the GCL last year, he has only played first base this season. It’s a position that has some clearance ahead of him in the system due to the fact that Martin will spend this entire year at West Virginia and if all continues to go well, he will man the same spot in Bradenton next year. That’s getting ahead of ourselves though, because it’s important to remember that he is a teenager in his first full season of pro ball.

Austin Meadows, OF, Indianapolis – Meadows had one of his best career games as part of a 17-run outburst by Indianapolis this past weekend. He collected four hits, including his first home run of the season. Through 16 games this year, he has a .311/.364/.459 slash line. He has split his time evenly between left field and right field so far, making highlight reel catches in each spot. Meadows turns 23 this week and it looks like he isn’t far from being Major League ready. There’s no rush at this point considering his age and the current play of the outfield in Pittsburgh, but if a spot should open up at any point this season, the Pirates should feel comfortable bringing him up.

Calvin Mitchell, OF, West Virginia – Mitchell was our Player of the Week last week, and he followed that up with another solid week that saw him put up a .364/.417/.545 slash line. On the season, he has hit .364/.418/.625, with eight doubles, three triples and three homers in 23 games. He ranks second in the South Atlantic League in average, fourth in OBP and fourth in slugging. The Pirates like to give young players in their first full season, an entire year in Low-A ball to get used to everything that goes along with a 140-game schedule. So unless they have changed their thinking this year, expect Mitchell to remain at West Virginia all season, with the possibility of a promotion to Bradenton during the last week of the season if they are playoff bound and the Power aren’t making the postseason. That’s far off at this point, but something to remember for future reference in all similar cases.

Alfredo Reyes, Util, Bradenton – Reyes re-signed with the Pirates as a minor league free agent during this off-season and he is making the most of his chance to play this year. He has reached base safely in 17 of 18 games, which has led to a .306/.386/.435 slash line. He has played second base, third base and shortstop so far this season and played both corner outfield spots last year. Reyes is an above average defender at shortstop. He has one of the best arms in the system and he also has above average speed. His bat has been the issue throughout his minor league career, as evident by his .234/.293/.301 career slash line, now in his eighth season of pro ball. He’s still 24 years old this entire season, so it’s not entirely too late to write him off as a future big league player, but he’s going to need to continue this strong pace he’s on this year.

Deon Stafford, C, West Virginia – Stafford put up an .800 OPS this past week to get his second mention among the top performers in The 21. On the season he has a .311/.368/.525 slash line in 16 games, with five doubles, a triple and two homers. He also put up solid hitting stats in the pitcher-friendly NYPL with Morgantown last year after being drafted in the fifth round. His bat looks like it has true potential, but it’s the defensive side where he has impressed his manager Wyatt Toregas, who played parts of two seasons in the majors, including 2011 with the Pirates. Stafford was considered to be a raw below-average catcher when drafted. He has some flaws to his game still, but he has been better than advertised and continued improvement will help his prospect status going forward.

Jacob Stallings, C, Indianapolis – Stallings is putting together a nice early season start, which is a continuation of the hitting we saw last year at Indianapolis. Through 14 games this season, he is batting .340/.375/.480 with seven doubles. His role by now is no secret. He’s the Pirates third catcher, who will step into the backup role if either Francisco Cervelli or Elias Diaz go down with an injury. If not, then Stallings will provide bench depth in September. Between his improved hitting, strong defense and his big league experience over the last two years, plus his familiarity with most of the pitchers in the majors, he gives the Pirates a third-string catcher they feel confident about if he’s needed.

Pitchers

JT Brubaker, RHP, Altoona – Brubaker made it on this list last week for allowing one run on four hits and a walk over six innings, with eight strikeouts. His lone start this past week was even better, throwing seven shutout innings on three hits and no walks. He has a 1.57 ERA through 23 innings, with 27 strikeouts, a .200 BAA, an 0.96 WHIP and a very impressive 2.05 GO/AO ratio. At this point, the 24-year-old, hard-throwing righty shouldn’t be far from being promoted to Indianapolis, especially if he continues his early season dominance. He didn’t always get the best results with Altoona last year, but his fastball velocity and his breaking pitches have all taken jumps forward since this time a year ago, so he appears to be ready for the next level. He gets the chance tonight to close out his April strong.

Tyler Eppler, RHP, Indianapolis – Eppler made The 21 during the first week of the season by throwing shutout ball in his first two starts. His start during the second week was rough, getting knocked out after three innings. He rebounded nicely in his only start this past week, throwing six shutout innings on two hits and two walks. On the season he has 19 strikeouts in 18.2 innings, which is well above his career average per inning. Perhaps the most impressive stat is his 1.69 GO/AO ratio. That is well above his career average and much higher than anything he has posted in four season in the system. If Eppler maintains strong numbers throughout the season, we will likely see him in Pittsburgh at some point, possibly as a September call-up unless the Pirates need to dig deep into their depth sooner.

Clay Holmes, RHP, Indianapolis – Holmes had a rough relief outing in his Indy season debut after he spent two weeks with the Pirates. That’s understandable because the Pirates only used him once during that stretch and they originally added him because he was rested enough between spring starts to give them innings. Since Holmes returned to his normal starting spot, he has been on a roll. He threw four shutout innings in his debut, then in his only start this past week, he threw five shutout innings. He is still in the process of getting stretched out, throwing 50 pitches in his first start and 62 in his last game, but the early results have been terrific.

Dovydas Neverauskas, RHP, Indianapolis – Since being sent down to Indianapolis by the Pirates almost two weeks ago, Neverauskas has been used in a multi-inning role. He has gone two innings in each of his three appearances and he hasn’t allowed a hit yet, while striking out eight batters. It hasn’t been all smooth sailing though. He has walked five batters in his six innings and his last two outings were just over 50% strikes thrown. You have to like the results, but you would rather see him throwing more strikes at the same time. Neverauskas will be back in Pittsburgh this season at some point, so while he waits for a spot to open, he just needs to keep plugging away in extended relief outings and try to improve his overall game.

Evan Piechota, RHP, West Virginia – Piechota has been the go to man in any role for West Virginia this year. The non-drafted free agent signed in 2016 has also been the best pitcher in the system during the last two weeks. Last week we talked about him being forced into an emergency long relief role after Sergio Cubilete was hit with a line drive in the first inning. Piechota responded with six shutout innings, facing the minimum of 18 batters. He earned himself a start this past week and threw another six shutout innings, but that wasn’t it for the week. Four days later, he threw two shutout innings in relief. He has an 0.82 ERA in 22 innings, with 23 strikeouts. As far as someone getting the most out of their pitching arsenal, no one can top Piechota so far this season.

AJ Schugel, RHP, Indianapolis – Schugel pitched three times this week, throwing a total of four shutout innings with five strikeouts. So far during his rehab assignment for a Spring Training shoulder injury, he has made a total of six appearances between Bradenton and Indianapolis. Schugel has thrown 6.2 innings total, going over one inning for the first time this past week. He began his rehab on April 12th, so he has approximately two weeks left before the Pirates need to make a decision on him. He’s out of options at this point, but it seems unlikely that the Pirates will risk losing him over adding him to the active roster once his 30-day assignment is completed. It doesn’t sound like he will be added before that point, but it is a possibility.

Eduardo Vera, RHP, Bradenton – Vera provides an interesting situation for the Pirates. He appeared to do enough last year to earn a 40-man roster spot this off-season, but he wasn’t added and wasn’t selected in the Rule 5 draft. This is his last year before minor league free agency now and they will run into the same situation with adding him to the 40-man roster. The difference being that he won’t be Rule 5 eligible if they don’t add him, he will be a minor league free agent. So he is pitching for a lot this season and so far the results are strong. Vera has a 3.00 ERA in 30 innings, with a .219 BAA, an 0.93 WHIP and a 1.28 GO/AO ratio. The one downside so far is his 19 strikeouts, which is down 1.7 per nine innings over last year. He’s getting the desired results, but not missing as many bats as you would like to see.

Cam Vieaux, LHP, Bradenton – The 24-year-old Vieaux went five innings in each of his first two starts this season, allowing a total of seven runs. In his last two starts, he has given up just two runs on six hits over 11 innings. His early strikeout rate is a huge improvement over last year’s total at Bradenton (8.1 per 9 IP vs 5.5 in 2017), so that is a good sign. He’s allowing a lot of fly balls, with a very low 0.68 GO/AO ratio, but every other area is showing progress compared to last year’s numbers in 13 High-A starts. Vieaux will need to keep showing those improvements to get him to the next level.

Brandon Waddell, LHP, Altoona – Waddell is now in his third season at Altoona and he’s trying to quickly make it his last. He’s made four starts this season and his shortest outing was 5.2 innings. This past week he allowed one run on two hits over six innings. The downside to this last start was four walks, which has been an occasional issue in the past. He had just three walks total between his first three starts, so the hope is that the last one was the outlier. In 24 innings this season, the 23-year-old southpaw has 21 strikeouts, a .160 BAA and a 1.53 GO/AO ratio. Left-handed batters are having a particularly tough time so far, going 2-for-20 with ten strikeouts.

Blake Weiman, LHP, West Virginia – Weiman made three scoreless appearances this week in relief and now has a 1.15 ERA over 15.2 innings. He has an extremely impressive 19:0 SO/BB ratio, to go along with a .228 BAA. That’s after posting a 35:4 SO/BB ratio last year in 33.2 innings with Morgantown. Weiman probably won’t last in West Virginia long this year and it was actually a bit surprising that he started the year in Low-A. As an advanced reliever out of a major college, he is showing why he could move quickly through the system. Some have even predicted that he could be the first one from the Pirates 2017 draft class to make it to the big leagues.

  • rickmontgomery
    May 30, 2018 11:08 am

    Release Romero, promote Kingham permanently and promote Brubaker to Indy to take Kingham’s place. ‘Nuff said.

  • brubaker is getting pretty interesting

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