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 – When six shutout innings is easily your second best start of the week, you’re probably going to get the Player of the Week spot every time. On Tuesday, Nunez made his second start since returning from a brief trip to the disabled list. After allowing one run over five innings in his first game back, he responded with six shutout innings. He didn’t have the best control on that night, walking four batters, but his pitched out of jams. There weren’t any jams to pitch out of on Sunday. Nunez tossed a complete game, eight inning no-hitter, which was shortened due to rain. He walked two batters and hit one other, while picking up six strikeouts. The only downside to his recent return is that the scouting report remained the same. He doesn’t have the velocity or control he had last year. Late in Sunday’s game, there were numerous fastballs in the 85-86 MPH range. He’s got deception in his delivery and late sink on his pitches, but that’s still not going to work in the upper levels. Last year he was 90-92 MPH.
Oneil Cruz, SS, West Virginia – The Power had a shortened week due to the South Atlantic League All-Star break. That was a game that didn’t include one of the league’s best hitters, Oneil Cruz. The roster selection was done before he really took off at the plate, so it’s not a total shock that he didn’t make it. Cruz has been doing his best recently to make a more important game…his debut for the Bradenton Marauders. Cruz has a 12-game hitting streak going, with eight hits over his last three games. That included his ninth homer on Thursday and tenth home run on Saturday. He’s now hitting .318/.375/.547 through 66 games, ranking second in the SAL in OPS going into play on Sunday. The only thing that might be holding Cruz back from a promotion is the desire of the Pirates to leave him at shortstop. With Adrian Valerio at Bradenton, the best place for the 19-year-old Cruz to continue getting reps at shortstop is West Virginia.
Jean Eusebio, OF, GCL Pirates – Eusebio was the top signing for the Pirates from their 2016-17 international class. He received a $550,000 bonus and displayed the tools to match, though his stats weren’t that impressive. Eusebio was hurt by being overly patient at the plate. It led to a lot of walks, but also resulted in more strikeouts than you would like to see, along with a low average. He was among the best hitters during Spring Training last year, so there were positive signs early on to go along with the four tools he displayed. Eusebio played a strong center field with an above average arm and plus speed. He’s a line drive hitter who displayed advanced skills at the plate. He is off to a quick start in the GCL, which just started on Monday. Eusebio hit .353/.421/.529 in 20 plate appearances, with a double, triple, two walks and a stolen base.
Yoyner Fajardo, 2B, DSL Pirates – Fajardo had four straight multi-hit games this week, which included a triple in each game, a double on Tuesday and his first pro home run on Friday. The 19-year-old, left-handed hitting infielder was having a decent start to his season before this week, but now he’s ranked fourth in the entire 43-team DSL with a 1.154 OPS. It’s a pleasant surprise from a player who wasn’t signed until early March when the Pirates had already spent most of their international bonus pool money. He’s played mostly at second base, but he has also seen time at shortstop and third base. Fajardo will be a question mark because he was a late signing, likely for a low bonus, but so far he’s showing positive signs, which could lead to him moving up to the States in September for the Fall Instructional League. Until then, keep an eye on their current top hitter.
Jordan George, OF/1B, Altoona – George had a solid week, finishing with his second home run of the season on Sunday. He added another five hits and three walks during his week. Through 51 games this season, he’s hitting .293/.381/.374, with a 19:21 BB/SO ratio. Those are nice numbers for someone who doesn’t get any headlines. The problem with George is that he’s a one-tool player, albeit with the most important one. He’s also just shy of his 26th birthday, so there isn’t a lot of potential for development still. He really needs to start showing more power as a corner outfielder/first baseman, while maintaining the high on base. Then he will have a better chance at making the majors.
Jhoan Herrera, 1B, Morgantown – Herrera was hitting the ball well during Extended Spring Training this year and that earned his a regular spot in Morgantown. He played just four games this week, but had two big days. On Tuesday, he had three hits and a walk, driving in three runs and collecting his first home run. On Saturday, he had three more hits, this time hitting his second homer and driving in five runs. The early results of .417/.440/.833 is a nice early sign from someone who has now been hitting well since early April. The 23-year-old was signed to a six-figure bonus due to the potential in his lefty bat. He didn’t show much in his first four years and missed almost all of last year with a leg injury, so for now it’s still best to remain skeptical until he shows more.
Jordan Luplow, OF, Indianapolis – Luplow had a very poor April. Then he hit the cover off of the ball in May, followed by a slow start to June. That changed just before the middle of the month and now he’s back to hitting the ball well. Luplow had a nine-game hit streak snapped by a pinch-hitting appearance on Sunday. On the year, he has a .278/.364/.473 slash line in 67 games, with 22 doubles, three triples and six homers. He’s cut back on the strikeouts recently and his walk rate has increased at the same time. If he’s going to get a chance back in Pittsburgh before September, his recent streak is the way to do it, because he’s showing patience and some power. Indianapolis has a lot of competition for players to be called up, so he really needs to stand out to get that call.
Luke Mangieri, 1B, Morgantown – We have two first basemen from Morgantown making the top prospects list in the same week. Mangieri and the aforementioned Jhoan Herrera have been splitting first base and the DH spot. Mangieri played five times last week and had eight hits total, with at least one in each game. The big hit was his first home run as a pro. The Pirates drafted the 21-year-old, lefty hitting Mangieri in the 25th round this year. He was voted the best defensive first baseman in his conference and showed an increase in power and plate patience during his junior year this season. The hope is that he can continue to make progress at the plate and be a late round hidden gem.
Mason Martin, 1B, Bristol – After a solid April as one of the youngest players in the South Atlantic League, Martin struggled through all of May into June. He was sent to Extended Spring Training, where he had a few rough games before joining Bristol. Once he got to the level he probably should have started at this year, he hit immediately. Martin hit four homers last week and drove in ten runs. He hit four homers in 45 games with West Virginia. Assuming this isn’t just a hot streak and he soon goes back to struggling, then Martin should return to West Virginia next year, where he will still be a teenager on Opening Day. There’s a reason why we say that the GCL to full-season ball in one year is an aggressive push and not everyone is ready for it.
Jared Oliva, CF, Bradenton – Oliva played seven games this week, which led to some big stats. He had three hits on Friday and three more on Saturday, including his ninth home run of the season. On Sunday, he had just one hit, but it was a big one, clearing the bases with a three-run double. He also homered on Monday and had two hits and a walk in the middle of the week. Oliva has been a pleasant surprise this year. We knew he was very fast and played strong defense, but last year he didn’t show any power, or even power potential. So we definitely didn’t expect to see him with a .500 slugging percentage this late in the season in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. He ranks fifth in the league in OPS and all four guys ahead of him are first basemen, not speedy center fielders.
Bryan Reynolds, OF, Altoona – Despite being one of the top prospects in the system and be a key part of a major trade, you don’t hear much about Reynolds since his return to action. He’s been back since May 29th, and after going 0-for-7 in May, he has hit .306/.368/.452 in 16 games this month. He had hits in all five games he played this past week and drove in runs in four of those games. In the field, all 18 of his games since returning have been in left field. He played center field and right field prior to his hamate injury that cost him over six weeks of action. Reynolds seems like the most likely candidate in the system for the Arizona Fall League. They usually take Double-A players and missing time during the season usually signals a trip to the AFL. A nice finish and the added playing time in the fall could help get him to Triple-A to start next year.
Shane Baz, RHP, Bristol – Baz made his season debut on Wednesday and fought for five shutout innings. He allowed four hits, walked three, struck out just one, and needed 80 pitches to get through his outing, so it wasn’t the best shutout you’ll see, but it was a shutout none the less. Baz was getting a lot of ground ball outs, including a key double play to end the fourth inning. We have mentioned a lot on the site that Baz was originally scheduled to go to West Virginia in late April or early May. He was basically going to take the same path that Jameson Taillon did in his first full season of pro ball. That didn’t work out due to some control issues in Extended Spring Training, so now Baz is on a normal path for prep pitchers in the system. He’s most likely going to stay at Bristol the rest of the season, although the other teams play for another week after Bristol ends, so maybe his last start ends up in Morgantown.
Osvaldo Bido, RHP, Morgantown – Bido was a late signing during the 2016-17 international signing period. He was old for a new signing at 21 years old, but he threw hard. In the DSL last year, he was the hardest thrower, consistently hitting 95 MPH. The problem was that he didn’t have the best control. There was still a lot to like with Bido, including the fact that he had a 6’3″ frame, with plenty of room to fill out. This spring, his control improved somewhat and he skipped over two levels to Morgantown. Bido impressed in his first outing until things fell apart in the sixth inning. In his lone start this past week, he made it through six frames, while allowing two runs, with four strikeouts and a 10:2 GO/AO ratio. He has hit 96 MPH this season, and also throws a cutter, slider and changeup, all in the mid-to-high 80s. He’s still a project at this point and should still fill out more, but he has the pitches to be a solid starter in the system. He just needs to keep improving his control so he’s effective.
Luis Escobar, RHP, Bradenton – Escobar hasn’t been mentioned much in The 21 because he’s had some recent control issues. Going into his start on Wednesday, he had walked at least three batters in his of his last five starts. That’s not a surprise, as he walked 60 batters last year for West Virginia and he’s at the same exact pace this year. Escobar was also inconsistent last year, finishing with a 3.86 ERA, despite some of the best stuff in the league. It’s gone up 20 points so far this year in a league that favors pitchers. The big difference between the two seasons in the strikeout rate. Last year he was at 11.5 strikeouts per nine innings, while that rate has dropped to just over 7.5 this season. The good news right now is his last start, which was six shutout innings on two hits and two walks, with six strikeouts. That game marked the end of the first half for Bradenton, so entire has an entire half of a season to continue to show improvements over his early numbers.
Clay Holmes, RHP, Indianapolis – Holmes was scratched from his start in Indianapolis on Sunday so he could rejoin the Pittsburgh Pirates in place of reliever Michael Feliz. They could have waited another day and brought Nick Kingham to the majors on his regularly scheduled day to throw, but Holmes got the call instead and deserved it with his recent play. Holmes allowed one run over 7.1 innings in his start last week. He gave up five hits, with no walks and eight strikeouts. After having a lot of trouble throwing strikes for a stretch in May, he turned things around in his last four starts. Combined in those games, he allowed two runs over 25.1 innings, with a 25:4 SO/BB ratio. Holmes has 71 strikeouts this season with Indianapolis in 66.1 innings, while posting an impressive 2.03 GO/AO ratio.
Mitch Keller, RHP, Altoona – Keller just missed making The 21 last week, then he went out and made sure he would make today’s article. On Wednesday night, he allowed one unearned run over six innings, with four hits, one walk and four strikeouts. He also finished with an impressive 10:2 GO/AO ratio. Keller lowered his season ERA to 3.00 through 78 innings. He also has 70 strikeouts, a .221 BAA, a 1.66 GO/AO ratio and a 1.19 WHIP. With the season at the halfway mark, and Keller pitching well in each of his last four starts, his time at Altoona should be coming to an end soon. Counting the playoffs last year, he has now made 21 starts at the level, plus he pitched in the Arizona Fall League last fall, which is basically like a Double-A All-Star game every appearance.
Kleiner Machado, RHP, GCL Pirates – Prior to the start of the GCL season, we were told that Machado looked better than last year when he pitched in the DSL and put up decent stats. So far so good. He pitched twice last week, tossing three innings each time without an earned run. In two seasons in the DSL, he only had two appearances total of 3+ innings without an earned run, and now he does it in each of his first two GCL games. He has a nice three-pitch mix, with a low-90s fastball and a curve with plus potential. His issue in the past, which might not be gone yet, is that he doesn’t trust him fastball enough and would rather go for chases than challenge hitters. Machado will be better if he gains confidence in himself.
Alex Manasa, RHP, Morgantown – Two starts this season and two appearances in The 21. Manasa didn’t receive great reports this spring, with lower velocity and a lot of hard contact from the opposition. He still earned a starting spot in Morgantown and so far he has put up some nice results. His start this past week was borderline for this article at this time of year when nine affiliates are playing. He gave up two runs on four hits and three walks in 6.1 innings. What pushed him over the top was a nice ground ball rate and the fact that both runs scored after he left the game. He was also extremely efficient through the first five innings, throwing just 49 pitches. I said in last week’s article that we would need to see more from him before we get too excited because he had three months of mediocre reports from the spring, but he stayed on the right path this past week.
Luis Peralta, LHP, DSL Pirates – During the 2016-17 international signing period, the Pittsburgh Pirates almost completely ignored left-handed pitching, signing just one southpaw all year. That completely changed this recently ended signing period in which they signed 12 lefties. The top (announced) bonus in that group was Peralta, who received $110,000 on July 2nd. He’s on the small side for a pitcher, standing 5’11”, 170 pounds. He turned 17 in January and still has some room to add muscle to his frame. Peralta allowed eight runs in his first six innings, covering three appearances. That was before this past week when he threw 7.2 shutout innings, with three hits, two walks and 11 strikeouts. Peralta is the younger brother of Brewer pitcher Freddy Peralta, who tossed six shutout innings against the Pirates on Tuesday.
Domingo Robles, LHP, Bristol – Robles has been fairly consistent this season and in the process he is putting on strong numbers. One of his recent short outings was planned as such to give him a little break in his workload. In the last five weeks, he has gone seven innings on four occasions. In his lone start this past week, he gave up two runs on five hits and no walks in seven frames. That gave him a season ERA of 3.22 in 72.2 innings, with 15 walks, 59 strikeouts, a .250 BAA, a 1.21 WHIP and a 1.09 GO/AO ratio. That start also gave Robles a career high in innings, surpassing both his 2015 and 2017 totals. Despite turning 20 years old less than two months ago, he should still be fine to go for regular innings for a little while. Last year he was pitching for two months in Extended Spring Training and those numbers are calculated into his workload, but don’t show up on paper.
Bryan Torres, RHP, DSL Pirates – The Pirates don’t spend much on international pitching, giving their larger bonuses almost every year to position players. Torres received a $180,000 bonus on July 2nd, a few months after his 16th birthday. You have to go back to Luis Heredia for a higher bonus handed out to an international pitcher by the Pirates. Torres is from Nicaragua, a country that hasn’t been represented in the Pirate system for a few years, and it’s only produced 15 Major League players. We don’t have a reliable scouting report on Torres yet, but his last start tells a nice story for the young pitcher. He tossed six shutout innings on two hits and no walks. Torres has allowed two earned runs over his last three starts combined and while he gave up three runs in his pro debut, he did strike out seven batters in that game.