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
Jordan Luplow, OF, Indianapolis – Luplow had an extremely tough month of April, but he appears to be turning things around since the calendar changed to May. In 18 games last month, he batted .180/.282/.230 with two extra-base hits. Despite that line, there was a good sign that his struggles could be more about hitting into bad luck. He had a 9:9 BB/SO ratio in 71 plate appearances, so he was putting the ball in play often, but the hits weren’t falling. On Tuesday, Luplow tripled. He then homered during each of his first two at-bats on Wednesday. In Thursday’s and Saturday’s games, he reached base three times each day. He picked up two more hits on Sunday. Luplow is currently behind the hot-hitting Jose Osuna if the Pirates needed an outfielder any time soon, and once we reach mid-June, he could fall behind Austin Meadows as an option, so it’s important for him to continue this recent streak of offense over an extended time.
Christopher Bostick, Util, Indianapolis – Bostick has been consistently strong at the plate all season, which has led to a .325/.381/.506 slash line through 22 games. He’s doing it while playing outfield full-time for the first time in his career. He saw a lot of time in the outfield last year with Indianapolis, but he also saw decent time at second base and the occasional game at third base. Bostick remains an option for the Pirates at some time this year, but he isn’t the main option at any position he plays, so we might not see him until September. He’s hitting enough and versatile enough to be in the majors now, especially after he put up a .777 OPS in his first brief trial run through the big leagues last year.
Will Craig, 1B, Altoona – Craig started off the season strong, then went through a slump, before picking things back up this past week. He went 7-for-21 at the plate and four of his hits were doubles. Craig has a .238/.344/.413 slash line in 26 games this season. He has five doubles, three homers and 11 walks in 96 plate appearances. Craig made adjustments at the plate to attempt to hit for more power, plus he got into better shape this off-season. We have seen improved speed from the slimmer Craig, but the power is somewhat similar (slightly better) to last year and he isn’t getting on base as much. The Pirates would obviously like to see a better OPS than the .756 mark he is currently putting up. Since he’s a first baseman only, there isn’t a huge rush to get him to the majors with Josh Bell likely manning that position for the next five years. With any prospect, you want to see them progress as fast as possible, regardless if there is a spot for them in the majors.
Oneil Cruz, SS, West Virginia – Cruz has had a rough start to his season with a lot of errors at shortstop, too many strikeouts and not enough hits. What he has done so far is hit the ball hard whenever he makes contact. Cruz is hitting .234/.342/.479 in 26 games to give him a solid .821 OPS. He has two doubles, three triples and five homers, along with 14 walks, which is well above his walk rate from last year. His strikeout rate is just slightly above last year (31.5), but that is being off-set by the extra power. Despite repeating the level, Cruz is still just 19 years old for this entire season. Even with the poor start to the season, you’ll take that .821 OPS over an entire season. If he can maintain that number, while working on his defense, then it will be considered a successful year.
Christian Kelley, C, Altoona – Kelley has the defense to one day be a backup option in the majors, possibly as the third string behind Elias Diaz and Jacob Stallings when Francisco Cervelli reaches free agency. If he can hit a little more, than he becomes a legit Major League backup. So far that hitting has been solid this season with a .290/.328/.454 slash line in 18 games as Altoona’s primary catcher. Kelley had two hits in each of his last three games. That included him driving home three runs on Tuesday, while also picking up a walk, then adding his third home run of the season on Friday. The Pirates have got him time in Major League camp during Spring Training in each of the last two seasons, showing the confidence they have in Kelley to work with Major League pitchers.
Kevin Kramer, SS/2B, Indianapolis – Kramer had a big week this past week, as did many of the batters on Indianapolis. He collected nine hits, including his second and third home runs of the season. Through 25 games this year, Kramer has a .298/.359/.479 slash line. He’s going to be a Major League option as some point this season, but there are still some things he needs to work on before that’s possible. He could stand to cut down his strikeouts a little. He’s also 2-for-6 in stolen bases, so a little work on his running game wouldn’t be a bad idea. Kramer has been playing shortstop in half of his games, but he has very little experience there as a pro. More time in Triple-A would give him a chance to work on his overall game and be closer to a finished product if the Pirates needed a middle infielder later in the season.
Jared Oliva, CF, Bradenton – After skipping over Low-A ball, Oliva has not had a strong start to his High-A career. That changed a little this week thanks to his first home run and a couple of multi-hit games. On the season, he has a .213/.311/.337 slash line in 26 games. Oliva has been strictly in center field this season, where his speed helps him cover a lot of ground. He needs to do a better job of getting on base to properly utilize that plus speed. So far this season, he is 4-for-6 in stolen bases after going 15-for-19 last year with Morgantown. The 2017 seventh round pick will likely never develop power in the pros due to his approach at the plate, but if he can get on base, steal bases and plenty solid defense in center field, then he has a legit shot at making it to the majors.
Jose Osuna, 3B/OF, Indianapolis – Osuna was a close second to Calvin Mitchell for our Player of the Month in April. In the week since we wrote that article, Osuna has continued his hot hitting. On Monday, he had three hits, including his third home run of the season. On Friday and Saturday, he picked up a total of four hits and a walk. He added his 12th double of the season on Sunday, most among all Pirates. Osuna is hitting .359/.409/.628 through 23 games. Prior to this past week, all but one of his starts came at third base. This week the Pirates had him playing right field three times and Neal Huntington indicated on Sunday that Osuna could be with the team soon. With the Pirates having two days off this week and two games in an AL park, Osuna could be up as soon as Tuesday to serve as the DH.
Ryan Peurifoy, OF, West Virginia – Peurifoy did just enough to make this top ten hitters, but I was going to squeeze him onto the list anyway because of his exploits from Tuesday though Thursday. On Tuesday night, he ended the Power game with a walk-off homer. About 12 hours later, he homered in his first at-bat during a Wednesday morning game. On Thursday night, he won the game in the 15th inning on the mound. For the second time this season, Peurifoy pitched a scoreless inning of relief. A 23-year-old backup outfielder in Low-A ball usually isn’t going to get much notice or even play enough to qualify for the weekly top prospects, but Peurifoy had an unforgettable week and deserved some attention for it.
Chris Sharpe, OF, West Virginia – Sharpe wasn’t even on the West Virginia travel roster before Opening Day, but when Fabricio Macias was put on the restricted list while MLB looked over his contract, Sharpe took his place. He’s been making the most of his time with the Power, hitting .289/.378/.422 in 26 games. He has shown a little bit of power, some patience at the plate and some speed on the bases. Those are all of the things that convinced the Pirates to give him an over-slot deal after they took him in the 14th round of the 2017 draft. Sharpe, who turns 22 next month, has some potential to be a solid all-around prospect, but he will need to cut down on his strikeouts (30 in 101 plate appearances this year) to reach that ceiling.
Adrian Valerio, SS, Bradenton – Valerio has a story similar to Jordan Luplow, where the calendar changing to the month of May helped his offense click. Both had tough April hitting performances, with Valerio putting up a .216/.233/.352 slash line in 22 games. Valerio had two hits on Wednesday, then followed with a base hit on Thursday before turning it on over the weekend with back-to-back three hits games. He collected his seventh double of the season on Sunday to cap off the big week. Valerio could get by with his current stats over a full season because he gives you some speed on the bases and his defense is where he adds his most value. If he could manage to put up better stats in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, then his prospect status will increase.
Dario Agrazal, RHP, Altoona – Agrazal was supposed to pitch on Sunday, but rain wiped out that game. He will likely pitch in relief of rehabbing MLB pitcher Joe Musgrove tonight after Musgrove goes four innings. Agrazal had one start this past week and allowed one run on four hits and a walk in six innings. On the season he has a 1.47 ERA in 30.2 innings over five starts, going at least six innings in four of those games. Agrazal has a .200 BAA, an 0.88 WHIP and a 1.61 GO/AO ratio. His only downside so far this season is 20 strikeouts in those 30.2 innings. Part of his intrigue last year was the combination of high strikeout totals with Bradenton, along with the high ground ball rate and his ability to throw quality strikes. He needs to get back to that high strikeout rate we saw in the month before he was promoted to Altoona last year, otherwise his upside is limited.
JT Brubaker, RHP, Altoona – Brubaker was the front-runner for our Pitcher of the Month award going into the last day of April. He had a start on the 30th, where he just needed a decent performance and he would cement his spot. Instead, Brubaker went eight innings and allowed one run on six hits and no walks, while striking out seven batters to make it an easy choice for us. He had his first poor outing during his second start of the week on Saturday, but even then, he only allowed two runs. He ran up his pitch count early and was done after four innings. There was one impressive part to his second game and that was a 9:0 GO/AO ratio. On the season, Brubaker has a 1.80 ERA and not only is he averaging exactly one strikeout per inning, he also has a 2.45 GO/AO ratio, which is twice as many ground outs as his career average. Brubaker’s last start shouldn’t affect his timeline to be promoted to Triple-A, which could happen at any time now.
Luis Escobar, RHP, Bradenton – Escobar had an unusual outing this week when he went six innings in relief. In was after Joe Musgrove pitched three innings in a rehab start. Escobar finished the game and threw shutout ball on two hits and a walk, while striking out a season high seven batters. He faltered in his Sunday outing, but the first game was too good to overlook. In six outings, he now has a 3.86 ERA, with 25 strikeouts, a .232 BAA, a 1.19 WHIP and a 1.20 GO/AO ratio in 30.1 innings. The strikeouts are still lower than normal, though he’s trending back to his normal rate. The walks are also much lower, and that’s after issuing five in his last start before this past week. He also has a ground ball rate that would easily be his career best. So there are a lot of things that are unusual early on for Escobar, but he still has the same three-pitch mix that made him one of the top pitching prospects in the system. You probably would take the lower strikeout rate if it also means fewer walks and more ground balls, but it would be great to have all three aspects working at the same time.
Mitch Keller, RHP, Altoona – Keller had a rough outing before his one start this past week. He walked five batters in that game, allowing three runs in four innings of work. He bounced back nicely is his start on Thursday, giving up two runs on four hits and two walks in seven innings. Most of that damage, including the two runs, came in the seventh inning. Keller had six strikeouts in the game, giving him 29 total in 29.2 innings this year. He also has a .192 BAA, a 1.15 WHIP and a 1.67 GO/AO ratio, which would be his career best. While he isn’t a finished product yet at this point, there is still talk of possibly seeing Keller in Pittsburgh late this season. That seems more likely if they are in a playoff chase. Before he gets to the Pirates, he needs to get through Indianapolis, and before that happens, the Pirates probably want to see at least a few starts with better control like he had this last week.
James Marvel, RHP, Bradenton – Marvel put together one of the best outings of the week with one run on four hits and three walks in seven innings. Most of that happened in the first inning, when the only run he allowed came with two outs, when a single hit off of the second baseman’s glove. Marvel is having a decent beginning to his season after getting four starts at the end of last year with Bradenton. He has a 3.63 ERA in 34.2 innings, with 27 strikeouts, a 1.18 WHIP and a 1.28 GO/AO ratio. Those numbers are all right about where he finished off last year in 118.2 innings between West Virginia and Bradenton, with almost identical strikeout and walk rates. Marvel is a little bit old for the level, turning 24 back in September, but that’s because he missed a lot of time due to Tommy John surgery right before he was drafted. He seems like a good bet to eventually held to Altoona later this season and then we will see how well his stuff plays against upper level hitters.
Alex McRae, RHP, Indianapolis – McRae has been an awful pitcher on the road in Triple-A and a strong pitcher at home. In three road starts, he has a 10.95 ERA, a .404 BAA and a 2.27 WHIP. In three home starts, he has a 1.69 ERA, a .230 BAA and a 1.25 WHIP. As you can imagine, his start this past week was at home, and in that game he pitched outstanding through six shutout innings before surrendering two runs in the seventh. It’s obvious that McRae needs more consistency in his game if he’s going to make it to the majors. His future role is likely as a middle reliever, because he doesn’t miss enough bats, but he can throw strikes and record quick outs on the ground.
Casey Sadler, RHP, Indianapolis – Sadler had a horrible April, but he opened May with a start in which he threw five shutout innings. In 18 innings between three starts and two relief appearances this season, he has a 6.00 ERA, a .359 BAA and a 2.17 WHIP, while posting an 11:11 GO/AO ratio. About the only thing going right for him so far is his 1.56 GO/AO ratio, which is typical of what we have seen from Sadler over the years. He’s obviously going to need to step things up this season if he’s going to get back to being a Major League option. His last start was a step in the right direction.
Ike Schlabach, LHP, West Virginia – Schlabach is making the most of his move to the rotation after opening the season as a long relief man. The 21-year-old lefty gave up one earned run on five hits and a walk in six innings in his lone appearance this past week. In his other two stats since joining the rotation, he allowed two runs over ten innings. In 26.2 total innings this season, Schlabach has a 3.38 ERA, with 20 strikeouts, a .221 BAA, a 1.24 WHIP and a career low 0.73 GO/AO ratio. Last fall, the Pirates tried to get more velocity out of him by making small tweaks to his delivery. The move to the bullpen this year seemed like a bad sign, but he has pitched so well over the last two weeks in the rotation that he’s going to keep getting his chances to show he has starter potential.
Eduardo Vera, RHP, Bradenton – Vera had a terrific outing this week, overshadowing the strong performance from Mitch Keller going on at the same time. Vera went seven shutout innings on three hits and no walks, while striking out three batters. He has done a great job of filling the strike zone this year, carrying over the plus control we saw last year. Sometimes he can get too much of the strike zone and mistakes like those have led to four homers this year. Vera is an efficient pitcher though, with a mid-90s fastball and two solid off-speed pitches. That efficiency has helped him go at least six innings in each of his last five outings. As mentioned last week, he’s a free agent at the end of this year and the Pirates would be wise to see what he could do soon at the next level before they have to make a 40-man roster decision with him this off-season.
Brandon Waddell, LHP, Altoona – Waddell had an outing similar to the one James Marvel put up, with the only difference being a lower strikeout total. They both gave up one run on four hits and three walks in seven innings, though Waddell had a season-low two strikeouts. He also had an 8:8 GO/AO ratio, so he wasn’t getting his usual high ground ball rate and wasn’t striking out batters, but he still had his longest outing of the year and gave up one run for the third time already. He also had six shutout innings in his second start, so this has been a nice beginning for the 23-year-old southpaw. His 1.74 ERA was eighth in the league going into this past weekend, while his 31 innings were tied for fourth and his 0.87 WHIP was tied for second. Waddell has been in Altoona for 40 starts now and he looks like he’s ready to move to the next level.