The first month of the minor league season is in the books. John Dreker provided looks at each of the four full-season teams this week in this article, breaking down the results for Indianapolis, Altoona, Bradenton, and West Virginia.
Continuing that breakdown, I’m going to take a look this morning at the progress of the top ten prospects in the system, and my thoughts on their performances. One month isn’t a lot to change the opinions of most prospects, although there are a few guys on the list who look like they’re on a downward trend, including one player who could see a big drop by mid-season.
There aren’t many guys on the list performing up to or exceeding expectations, which is discouraging. There are some guys lower on the prospect lists who are performing well, with Calvin Mitchell, Travis MacGregor, and Jason Martin being a few highlights, so this isn’t a system-wide thing.
Here are the top ten guys, and my thoughts on their first month of the season.
1. Mitch Keller – Keller is pitching about as well as you would hope, both in terms of stats and strikeouts. He’s got a 2.73 ERA in 29.2 innings, with 29 strikeouts in that span. The only thing to nitpick would be a higher walk total, with 14 in that span. However, that’s inflated a bit by walking five in four innings in his April 28th start. He bounced back with two walks in seven innings on Thursday night, striking out six in the process. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him make the jump to Indianapolis at some point in the next month.
2. Austin Meadows – Meadows got off to a slow start his first week of the season, but has since been hitting well. He had a .668 OPS in the first week. He got a day off on 4/13, then a few more days off due to weather. Since that time, he has a .904 OPS in 55 plate appearances, while showing some power with a .149 ISO. That kind of hitting can get him to the majors this year if the Pirates eventually need an outfielder, which would probably only be a need if an injury occurs.
3. Cole Tucker – Tucker is the opposite story of Meadows. He got off to a hot start, and had an .862 OPS through 4/23. He has since been in a slump, going 2-for-27 with four walks in his last seven games. He also has eight strikeouts in that span, fueled by a four strikeout Tuesday game, compared to ten strikeouts in his first 15 games. Hopefully this is just a bump in the road in his development.
4. Shane Baz – He has been pitching in extended Spring Training, and should be close to joining West Virginia. Baz has looked good this year in the times I’ve seen him pitch, but the real test will be when he joins the full-season squad.
5. Ke’Bryan Hayes – Hayes is off to a slow start at the plate in his Double-A debut. I’m not overly concerned by the slow start. This is his first attempt at the level, and I’m not going to make much out of his first 25 games or 100 plate appearances. He’s not getting overmatched in terms of strikeouts, but isn’t drawing a lot of walks or hitting for power. This is a case where it’s best to see how he develops over the full season, and evaluating him at that point. Sean McCool will have an article on Hayes this weekend.
6. Kevin Newman – While I’m not concerned with Hayes, I am concerned with Newman. He only had 178 plate appearances in Indianapolis last year, so this isn’t a big return to the level. However, he should be adjusted to the level by this point, and instead is hitting for a .598 OPS. His average is down, he’s not drawing walks (2 in 94 PA), and he’s not hitting for power, with an .079 ISO. The latter two issues existed last year, and his average has dropped since then. We have Cole Tucker ahead of him as the shortstop of the future, and it’s getting to where Kevin Kramer is ahead of him as the second baseman of the future. Unless some drastic changes happen, I could see Newman having the biggest drop in our mid-season prospect rankings.
7. Taylor Hearn – Hearn got off to a great start this season, giving up one run in 11 innings over his first two starts, with an 11:3 K/BB ratio. His last three starts haven’t been as good. He still has the strikeouts, with 18 in 15.1 innings over that span, but also has a 9.39 ERA and seven walks. His start last night was better, with a 9:2 K/BB ratio in six innings, although he did give up four runs. I think he would be better used as a reliever in the long-term, although he would have to fix his control in order to be a late inning candidate.
8. Lolo Sanchez – He was my big breakout candidate this year, and so far he has been far from that. Sanchez has a .464 OPS in his first 113 plate appearances. He’s not hitting for much power and is striking out a lot more than normal. The talent is definitely there, but this could be a case where a young player is trying too hard. He had a big Spring Training against players at the same level, and against some players at higher levels. This included several home runs, and that big steal of home in the MLB game. Last year he wasn’t much of a power hitter, but still hit for some power while being a well-rounded player. It seems he’s trying too hard to hit for power this year, throwing the rest of his game off. We typically evaluate guys in the lower levels based on tools, rather than stats. Sanchez ranks well in that regard, and we’ll give him the full season to see how he adjusts his game and adjusts to the higher level before grading the stats too heavily.
9. Bryan Reynolds – Reynolds got off to a good start before undergoing hamate surgery. Granted, it was only four games where he went 3-for-13 with two doubles and a triple. The hamate surgery will reduce his power for about a year. That means we really haven’t seen what he can do in Double-A, and we won’t get a chance to see the type of player he is until starting around this time next year. Our grades on him at mid-season will still be based on the pre-trade reports, plus the limited views we’ve had during Spring Training and the few games in Altoona.
10. Jordan Luplow – Luplow appeared to have a legit shot at the MLB roster until the Corey Dickerson trade went down. That was obviously the right move for the Pirates, based on the performance from Dickerson. Luplow has struggled in his return to Indianapolis, possibly justifying the Pirates’ call that he needs more time in the minors. I say “possibly” because there’s also the possibility that he’s pressing to get back to the majors, leading to his .707 OPS so far. That has actually increased this week, with Luplow going 4-for-15 with two homers and two triples, along with three walks. If he continues hitting like that, he could be an option again for the Pirates if they need some MLB depth, although it’s possible that he could fall behind Meadows on the depth charts if that need is later in the season.
Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates won 6-4 over the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday night. The Pirates will send Jameson Taillon to the mound today for his seventh start. He pitched six innings in his last start, allowing three runs on seven hits and two walks. In his two prior starts combined, Taillon surrendered 12 earned runs over 5.1 innings. The Brewers will counter with right-handed pitcher Jhoulys Chacin, who has a 4.54 ERA in 33.2 innings over seven starts, with 20 strikeouts and a 1.60 WHIP. He allowed four runs over 4.1 innings against the Cincinnati Reds in his last start.
The minor league schedule includes Tyler Eppler making his sixth start for Indianapolis. He has thrown shutout ball in three of his starts this season and allowed four earned runs in the other two games. Altoona starter JT Brubaker was our Pitcher of the Month for April, leading the farm system in strikeouts and innings pitched. He allowed one run over eight innings in his last start, which followed seven shutout frames on April 23rd. Oddy Nunez threw six shutout innings in his last start and hasn’t allowed more than two earned runs in a game this year. West Virginia has not named a starter yet. Altoona will finish yesterday’s suspended game before playing tonight’s game.
MLB: Pittsburgh (18-15) @ Milwaukee (19-14) 7:10 PM
Probable starter: Jameson Taillon (4.83 ERA, 29:9 SO/BB, 31.2 IP)
AAA: Indianapolis (13-12) vs Gwinnnett (10-16) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Tyler Eppler (2.92 ERA, 24:7 SO/BB, 24.2 IP)
AA: Altoona (14-11) vs Erie (9-17) 4:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: JT Brubaker (1.45 ERA, 34:5 SO/BB, 31.0 IP)
High-A: Bradenton (17-11) @ Charlotte (13-15) 6:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Oddy Nunez (1.90 ERA, 14:7 SO/BB, 23.2 IP)
Low-A: West Virginia (15-13) vs Hickory (9-17) 6:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: TBD (0.00 ERA, 0:0 SO/BB, 0.0 IP)
From Indianapolis on Thursday night, the exciting walk-off winner from Erich Weiss, who hit a two-run double in the bottom of the ninth.
— Indianapolis Indians (@indyindians) May 4, 2018
5/4: Pedro Vasquez promoted to Altoona. Sean Keselica assigned to Morgantown.
5/1: Joe Musgrove assigned to Bradenton on rehab.
4/29: Pirates recall Nick Kingham. Enny Romero placed on disabled list.
4/29: Brett McKinney added to Indianapolis roster.
4/27: Bo Schultz promoted to Indianapolis. Adam Oller promoted to Bradenton.
4/27: Gavin Wallace placed on disabled list. Beau Sulser and Drew Fischer added to West Virginia.
4/26: Todd Cunningham traded to Chicago White Sox for a player to be named later.
THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY
Three former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, including two who played for Pirates teams that went to the World Series. The most recent player born on this date was Tommy Helms, a seldom used infielder for the 1976-77 teams. He joined the Pirates at the end of a career that included winning the 1966 Rookie of the Year award, two Gold Gloves and he was a two-time All-Star.
Gene Curtis played left field for a short time for the 1903 Pirates. It’s the second day in a row that a 1903 outfielder was mentioned, as yesterday was the birth date of Lou Gertenrich, who lasted just one game with the team. Curtis played the last five games of the regular season, while the Pirates rested their regulars in advance of the first World Series. It was his only time in the majors.
Jose Pagan was born on this date in 1935. He played eight years in Pittsburgh from 1965 until 1972. Pagan was mostly a third baseman with the Pirates, although he played every spot but center field and pitcher during his time. In 625 regular season games, he had a .690 OPS. He had a .267 average in four games during the 1971 World Series. He played third base and started all of the odd number games during that series.
On this date in 1987, Rafael Belliard hits the first of two home runs he hit during his 17-year career. He went to the plate 1,171 times with the Pirates and 1,353 times with the Braves, the only two teams he played for during his career. His second homer came ten years later. You can read more about the game in which he homered for the Pirates in the link above. You can find the boxscore here.