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
Kevin Newman, 2B/SS, Indianapolis – This past weekend will either go down as the point where Kevin Newman finally got on track in Triple-A, or just a small sample size we look back on against the worst pitching team in the International League. From Friday to Sunday, he went 10-for-14 and raised his average 52 points. His OPS during that three-game stretch went up 137 points. Newman hit his 11th double on Sunday, his first homer on Saturday and stole two bases to give him six on the season. He continues to split his playing time between second base and shortstop, which should help him get to the majors if the bat is legitimately on track now. It’s going to take more than three games against lowly Columbus to convince the Pirates that he’s ready for the next level, but he has to start somewhere and this past weekend was a huge first step.
Albert Baur, 1B, Bradenton – Baur is becoming a regular in these top performer articles. He made it this week based off of the strength of his first game when he hit two homers. He had a single and a walk Tuesday, two hits the next day and added his fifth double of the season later in the week. Baur is now hitting .320/.357/.485 in 29 games.He’s already 26 and in High-A, so it’s tough to get excited over these numbers. You want to see what he can do a level higher, but right now there is no room to move him up. So the best he can do now is continue to plug away at Bradenton and wait for a shot in Altoona.
Dylan Busby, 3B, West Virginia – Busby had what was easily his best week since being taken in the third round of the 2017 draft. He also did it while still displaying his biggest weakness in the pros. He hit .375/.375/.875 in six games, with three home runs. Busby had just two pro homers in his first 230 at-bats before connecting on two dingers on Wednesday and another on Thursday. Despite the great slash line, he also finished with no walks and 11 strikeouts in 24 at-bats. Busby has 32 strikeouts in 104 plate appearances, which is slightly higher than his K rate from last year when he put up a .522 OPS with Morgantown.
Oneil Cruz, SS, West Virginia – Cruz now has a 13-game hit streak after picking up an RBI single on Saturday. The streak started back at the end of April, when he finished with a .215 batting average for the month. So far in ten May games, he has a .357/.391/.595 slash line. Despite the hitting streak, he made it into this article due to one big night. On Thursday, he connected on four hits, including three doubles. Cruz had just two doubles this season before that game. He now has 14 extra-base hits and an .844 OPS on the season, showing off some of that power that intrigued the Pirates even before he was acquired in the Tony Watson trade. His strikeouts are too high still and he’s having a difficult time at shortstop, but if that raw power translates to stats, the Pirates will have no trouble finding a position for him.
Tyler Gaffney, OF, Bradenton – Gaffney had two games this week in which he singled and homered, which helped get him the final spot in this article for the hitters. The 27-year-old outfielder, who took five years off to pursue a football career, is holding his own in his return to pro ball. He is hitting .263/.348/.424 in 27 games, with nine steals in 12 attempts and just 18 strikeouts in 113 plate appearances. The Pirates are giving him every chance to succeed by giving him regular playing time, which will help him get back into the routine of playing baseball regularly. So far the results have been very positive, so it will be interesting to see if he can continue to play well over a longer time frame, or possibly even improve is stats as the season goes along.
Jordan Luplow, OF, Indianapolis – Luplow was in a major slump that lasted all of April, before turning it around in May. He had a .511 OPS in 18 April games and now he has a 1.260 OPS in 12 May games. He earned our Player of the Week last week and returns to the top performers after another strong week that saw him collect eight hits, including his third home run. Despite that early rough stretch, he now has numbers that look respectable, with a .265/.361/.451 slash line in 30 games. He’s an option if the Pirates need an outfielder at any time, though you would obviously like to see his recent streak of success continue. He doesn’t need to put up a 1.260 OPS to get back to Pittsburgh, but you don’t want to see the return of anything close to those April numbers.
Jason Martin, OF, Altoona – Martin was right there with Kevin Newman and Dario Agrazal (see below) for the Player of the Week spot. He had five straight multi-hit games to end his week, which included two home runs. Martin is one of a handful of players who are destroying Eastern League pitching this season. He now has a .346/.405/.606 slash line in 28 games. He ranks fifth in average, sixth in slugging and sixth in OPS. At 22 years old, he is the second youngest player in that group of top hitters behind Vlad Guerrero Jr, who is rightfully one of the top prospects in all of baseball. While he still has things to work on, tops among them being his running game, it may not be long before we see Martin in Triple-A. He came to the Pirates already with 79 games of Double-A, so it looks like he’s about ready to take that next step.
Jared Oliva, CF, Bradenton – Oliva had a big game on Saturday with a single, double, homer, walk and two stolen bases. He had hits in all five games this week, although up until Friday, he was still in a 4-for-25 stretch. Oliva had two hits that night, then broke out for his big game. On the season, he has a .245/.333/.418 slash line in 31 games, with six steals in eight attempts. Speed is a big part of Oliva’s game, both in center field and on the bases, so I’d expect him to run often this season. He will have to do a better job of getting on base than he is now, but it’s still early in the season and we are talking about a somewhat raw college player who skipped over Low-A ball.
Arden Pabst, C, Bradenton – Pabst was our first Player of the Week and has been hitting well since in a platoon behind the plate with Jason Delay. I actually let him slide on the minimum plate appearances because he had back-to-back games worth mentioning, though the first one happened on the previous Sunday. Pabst homered twice in that game, then had three hits and another home run on Tuesday. His early season success was a high average with no power, which has now turned into a high average with power too. He’s hitting .348/.392/.565 in 19 games. Pabst is known for his defensive work, but he hasn’t hit enough in two years as a pro to be considered a prospect. While it’s still too early to change that thinking, he’s definitely headed in the right direction.
Pablo Reyes, Util, Indianapolis – Reyes had been seeing regular playing time since getting to Indianapolis on April 21st. He’s upped his versatility by playing the utility player role these last two years instead of his normal second base. With Altoona he was jumping between second base and center field, while Indianapolis has been using him at four spots, adding shortstop and third base. It’s a big season for Reyes, who reaches minor league free agency at the end of the year. Last year, the Pirates inexplicably waited until late in the season to get Edwin Espinal up to Triple-A and he went elsewhere as a free agent this past off-season. Reyes will get a much longer shot at this level and that will give the Pirates a much better idea whether or not he can contribute enough to add to the 40-man roster. He’s now hitting .322/.333/.424 through 19 games at Indianapolis after a week that include four multi-hit games.
Eric Wood, 3B/1B, Indianapolis – Just like Reyes, Eric Wood is also fighting for his future this season. Unlike Reyes, Wood has already put in a full season of Triple-A and now he’s trying to improve on mediocre numbers put up last year. Wood hit his third homer of the season on Sunday and added his 12th double. He now has a .260/.324/.479 slash line through 30 games this year. One of his big issues last year was a high strikeout rate, which was disappointing after taking a big leap to correct that issue the year before in his breakout season with Altoona. So far this season, he is much closer to his 2016 rate, which putting up slightly better numbers. Indianapolis has been using him at third base, first base and right field this year. Those aren’t exactly positions of need right now, but if he continues to put up strong offensive numbers, the 25-year-old from Canada could get his first big league chance later this season.
Dario Agrazal, RHP, Altoona – Agrazal was considered heavily for the Player of the Week thanks to his two strong outings last week. He pitched in relief of Joe Musgrove early in the week and threw five shutout innings. After getting pushed back a day due to rain, he pitched on Sunday and gave up one run on four hits over six innings. Agrazal is the league leader in ERA (1.30) and WHIP (0.82), while also recording a lot of ground ball outs. Despite those numbers, his season had one major issue before Sunday. He had just 16 strikeouts through 35.2 innings. Last year, Agrazal saw his prospect status take off when he put up a stretch of high strikeout totals like we have not seen before during his career. You love everything else he does well, but you have to miss bats more often in the minors and until his seven strikeouts on Sunday, we were not seeing that part of his game.
JT Brubaker, RHP, Indianapolis – Brubaker had quite the impressive debut for Indianapolis this past week. He was our Pitcher of the Month for April and we mentioned that combined with his previous Double-A experience and the fact that Indianapolis had rotation spots available, Brubaker should move up a level. He was told he was moving up after his lone May start with Altoona and debuted with six shutout innings in Triple-A. His combined numbers this season between both spots includes a 1.54 ERA in 41 innings, with 37 strikeouts, a .229 BAA, a 1.07 WHIP and a very impressive 2.12 GO/AO ratio. Brubaker started throwing harder last year, topping out at 99 MPH and this year he became a more aggressive pitcher, specifically focusing on that part of his game. If he keeps that mentality in Indianapolis, he could move well up the prospect charts by the end of the season.
Sergio Cubilete, RHP, West Virginia – Two batters into his second start of the season, Cubilete got smoked with a line drive to the face. It knocked him out of the game and landed him on the disabled list for just over three weeks. He returned on Friday night and the results were better than you could imagine. Cubilete tossed five shutout innings on one hit. The Pirates liked what they saw this spring from the 23-year-old righty and gave him a rotation spot in West Virginia over some prospects who are currently still in Extended Spring Training. His chance to show the Pirates they made the right decision was derailed briefly, but he really bounced back tremendously from that horrific looking injury.
Taylor Hearn, LHP, Altoona – Hearn has had some trouble recently after two strong starts to begin his season. He had a strong outing this past week, which could help get things on the right track. Hearn allowed one run on one hit and two walks. Through six starts, he has a 5.17 ERA in 31.1 innings, with 32 strikeouts, a 1.18 WHIP and a .217 BAA. You have to like those last three stats, especially from someone who went through a rough patch. He’s still picking up strikeouts while now allowing many hits and the walk rate is his lowest since his debut season. While future power reliever is still a possible role for him, the Pirates would be wise to give him time to try to develop as a starter.
Joe Musgrove, RHP, Altoona/Indianapolis – Musgrove probably deserved the Player of the Week spot, but I couldn’t give it to an MLB player pitching in Double-A on rehab. He had a solid outing with Altoona, giving up one run over four innings. That followed a shaky performance for Bradenton in his first rehab appearance. On Saturday, Musgrove flat out dominated, facing one over the minimum in 5.2 innings, with that one extra batter reaching on an error. He had six strikeouts and a 7:0 GO/AO ratio. He’s scheduled to make one more appearance for Indianapolis and get to 100 pitches before he joins the Pirates.
Casey Sadler, RHP, Indianapolis – Sadler made The 21 last week after tossing five shutout innings. He went into that game with an 8.31 ERA through his first four appearances. So it now appears that the shutout game was a turning point for him after a bad beginning to the season. That’s because he followed up his strong outing with one run over five innings, while striking out eight batters. In relief on Sunday, he pitched two perfect innings with three strikeouts. He still needs 2-3 more strong games to get the season stats down to a nice level, but it’s a nice sign for him to get back on track. If he continues like the last two weeks, then he’s a nice depth option for the Pirates with a little bit of experience in Pittsburgh.
Hunter Stratton, RHP, West Virginia – Stratton began the season back in Extended Spring Training and needed a couple of injuries and some player movement to open up a rotation spot for him. When he joined West Virginia, he was being used in relief and the results were not desirable. Stratton seems to have turned things around in the starting role, though he may not remain a starter once Braeden Ogle returns from the disabled list. In his lone start this week, the 2017 16th round draft pick allowed one run over five innings on three hits and two walks. In his prior start, he picked up seven strikeouts in five innings. If he doesn’t have a rotation spot when Ogle returns, he will still likely get extended innings in relief.
Eduardo Vera, RHP, Bradenton – We might need to turn this section into the Eduardo Vera and other pitchers section. He has consistently put together strong performances since late last year with West Virginia. He has gone at least six innings in each of his last six starts, taking it to seven innings in three of those games. Vera has a 2.45 ERA in 44 innings, with a .203 BAA and an 0.89 WHIP. He allowed two runs over seven innings in his lone start last week. Like we mentioned with Pablo Reyes and Eric Wood above, Vera is in his last season before minor league free agency. Keeping that in mind, plus factoring in his results through seven starts, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get him to Altoona soon and see what he can do at a higher level.
Brandon Waddell, LHP, Altoona – Waddell has been performing at a high level since his season debut this year and now he’s waiting to be the next starter to move up to Indianapolis after JT Brubaker. It’s hard to top the numbers that Waddell has put up this season, posting a 1.59 ERA through 39.2 innings, with 30 strikeouts, a .172 BAA, an 0.83 WHIP and a 1.34 GO/AO ratio. He padded those numbers with an outstanding outing this past week, coming up just one out away from a shutout over Trenton. In 8.2 innings, he had no walks and seven strikeouts. He now has 41 starts in Double-A, so it’s time to see what he can do at the next level.
Gavin Wallace, RHP, West Virginia – After leaving his start on April 26th after three innings, Wallace went on the disabled list. He ended up missing just one start, so the undisclosed injury must have been minor. When he returned on May 7th, Wallace allowed two runs over 5.2 innings, but he walked four batters. That’s extremely rare for him because he issued seven walks through his first 88 innings as a pro. Things were back to normal in his Saturday start when he gave up one run on four hits and no walks in seven innings. Those seven innings are his new career high. Wallace is having a decent season so far, with 3.86 ERA in 32.2 innings, with a .232 BAA, a 1.07 WHIP and a 1.58 GO/AO ratio. One extremely odd stat from him is seven homers allowed. He didn’t give up a single home run in 68 innings last year.