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
James Marvel, RHP, Bradenton – Marvel had an outstanding week, making starts on Monday and Saturday. In the first game, he gave up two runs over seven innings, with no walks and seven strikeouts. It was the second time in three weeks that he had a seven inning start with no walks and seven strikeouts. Marvel was even better on Saturday, allowing one run over seven innings, while setting a new single game high with nine strikeouts. He allowed just one hit and three base runners total. There was one thing that really stood out about the second game. Marvel has always been a pitch-to-contact ground ball guy, working with a nice low-to-mid 90s sinker. In this outing, he had a 2:7 GO/AO ratio, which is probably up there as one of the worst for his career, but it was still an outstanding performance. Before his Saturday start, Marvel already led all Florida State League pitchers with 94.2 innings, 4.2 than the second highest total. He has lowered his ERA from 4.52 to 3.90 in his last three starts.
Ji-Hwan Bae, SS, GCL Pirates – Bae is the highest bonus position player ever for the Pirates among international amateurs. He signed for $1.25 M back in March. The lefty-hitting, 6’1″, 170 pound shortstop turns 19 later this month. He signed later than most top international amateurs because he graduated high school first. He was originally signed by the Atlanta Braves, but had his contract voided along with 12 other players in their system due to shady bonus practices. Bae was 4-for-24 to start the GCL season before this week, but he raised his average to .256 by Saturday by going 6-for-15 with three walks. He has just four strikeouts in 46 plate appearances and he’s 3-for-4 in stolen bases. Bae has committed four errors so far in 34 chances, but he is projected to remain at shortstop long-term.
Patrick Dorrian, INF, GCL Pirates – Dorrian signed as a non-drafted free agent shortly after the 2018 draft, but he’s not your typical case. He was drafted in the 12th round by the Braves out of high school in 2014 and signed, then decided shortly after that he wasn’t ready for pro ball. That made him ineligible for both Division I baseball and the draft. He’s more advanced than the GCL, but there was both a need for infielders with the team and a chance to get him regular at-bats. He made the most of that opportunity this past week. Dorrian had six hits, five walks, six runs scored and five RBIs. He hit his first pro homer on Wednesday, which was an inside-the-park home run. Through 11 games, he’s hitting .297/.409/.432, with seven walks and six strikeouts. If a spot opens up at Bristol for an infielder, he could be the first player to move up. He’s mostly played third base so far, but he also has time at second base and shortstop.
Robbie Glendinning, INF, Morgantown – Glendinning was drafted in the 21st round last year and struggled at Morgantown. He returns to the level this year and so far he’s putting up better stats. This past week, he had six hits and six walks. Through 20 games, he has a .254/.375/.343 slash line. Glendinning is a native of Australia, though he was drafted out of college in the U.S. This past off-season, he played winter ball in Australia and put up some big stats while playing shortstop full-time. The Pirates have him playing second base and shortstop, splitting his time fairly evenly between the two positions. He spent time at third base last year. He’s a patient hitter, who racks up both walks and strikeouts at a high rate. A little more aggressiveness in the strike zone would help him out.
Mikell Granberry, 1B/C, Bristol – Granberry fell short of our minimum for plate appearances, but his 1.805 OPS was the best in the system by a wide margin last week, so it would have been wrong to leave him out. Granberry was hitting well during Extended Spring Training, even during a stretch in May when they only had three healthy catchers at Pirate City for two teams and all of the bullpens before games. He’s mostly been at first base this year, where his defense is solid at times. So far this season, he has a .381/.500/.643 slash line in 11 games. Granberry has been set back by injuries a few times during his career, which is why he is a 22-year-old in the Appalachian League. He could probably hold his own a level or two higher at this point. He’s extremely athletic for a catcher and has also played third base and some outfield during his time at Pirate City.
Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B, Altoona – Hayes has been among the best hitters in the system over the last month. This past week he started off with an 0-for-5 on Monday, then reached base at least twice in each of the last six games. Those totals include ten hits and five walks. He also added three steals on Sunday, something that’s been missing from his game after swiping 27 bags last month. Hayes is now hitting .293/.361/.454 through 74 games. That has him ranked 15th in the Eastern League in OBP, slugging and OPS. There are some big games coming up for the Gold Glove-caliber third baseman. He will play in the Eastern League All-Star game on Wednesday, then the MLB Futures Game on Sunday.
Jack Herman, OF, GCL Pirates – The Pirates took Herman in the 30th round and he signed quickly out of high school for a $50,000 bonus. That is a low bonus number that you don’t see for high school players, although it also comes with money for college if he should fail in pro ball. Herman said afterwards that he didn’t want to miss out on a chance to play pro ball, so now he’s living his dream and hope no one wakes him up. Through his first six games he has a .500/.571/.864 slash line, with a six-game hitting streak and he reached base multiple times in all but one game. Herman also has four walks and two strikeouts in 28 plate appearances.
Logan Hill, OF, Altoona – Hill had an interesting week because it was helped by four walks in one game. He has just 20 total walks on the season. He hit his 12th homer of the season on Monday and had a walk-off single on Sunday. Hill is batting .205/.283/.405 through 68 games this year, failing to regain the momentum he had last year before a hand injury ended his season early. The 25-year-old corner outfielder is striking out more often this year, not walking as often and despite 12 homers, he has just 18 extra-base hits. His raw power is among the best in the system, so that’s keeping him in the lineup, but that’s not enough to get him to the next level.
Hunter Owen, 3B, Bradenton – Owen hit three homers this past week and drove in a total of eight runs. Through his first 69 games this season, the 24-year-old is hitting .264/.327/.463, with 12 doubles, three triples and ten homers. Owen added some versatility by catching this spring, then had to put it to use when three catchers were all hurt at the same time. He was very rough in the first game, but then he caught Oddy Nunez’s no-hitter in his second game. While it’s not a position he could play full-time, the ability to catch helps him as he goes further along. Owen’s biggest issue is his 13:71 BB/SO ratio. He has power in his bat, but he needs to show more patience to have success at a higher level.
Ronaldo Paulino, 1B, DSL Pirates – Paulino got a chance to play extra last week after Shendrik Apostel was hit in the face with a pitch. Apostel was fine afterwards, but got thrown out of the game for walking towards the pitcher. Paulino replaced him and hit his third home run of the season. He got the start the next day and hit his fourth homer. He also had four walks during the week. Paulino is 6’3″, 232 pound, all-or-nothing hitter, who swings hard and occasionally crushes the ball, but usually just pushes air. He has an .852 OPS this season, compared to just .659 last year. The problem is that he doesn’t make enough contact to keep those numbers up. In 297 plate appearances over the last two seasons, the 19-year-old first baseman has 112 strikeouts. Until he makes some improvements in that area, he will never be able to hit at higher levels.
Travis Swaggerty, OF, Morgantown – This year’s first round pick saw some firsts this week, hitting his first home run, followed by his first triple. After a week with seven hits, he now has a .300/.349/.525 slash line in his first ten games as a pro. So far, he has been a very aggressive hitter, sitting on first pitch fastballs. He has shown a tendency to pull the ball, though he also showed some nice power the other way on a double off the wall early in the week. Swaggerty has just one walk and nine strikeouts. It’s much too early to be concerned about that ratio, but it’s something to keep your eye on moving forward. Once a scouting report gets out, he likely won’t see many fastballs early in the count.
Osvaldo Bido, RHP, Morgantown – Bido has as much (or more) potential as anyone pitching in Morgantown this year, but there is also the potential for him to not even make it to Double-A. He might have the biggest difference between floor and ceiling in the system. He has struggled this season, mostly due to control, but he put together a terrific start this last week. Bido allowed one run on three hits and no walks in five innings. His 15 outs were split up between eight strikeouts and seven ground outs. Bido throws hard and all four of his pitches are impressive when he’s on his game. He’s already 22 years old, but he signed later and his 6’3″ frame still has room to fill out. So we could be talking about more than mid-90s velocity and more stamina in his outings. For now, you take the good with the bad from Bido and it’s best to be patient, because IF everything clicks, he could be a top arm in the system down the line.
Tyler Eppler, RHP, Indianapolis – Eppler gave up a lot of hits (ten) in his lone start last week, but there were also some things to like in that outing. He lasted 7.2 innings and only allowed two runs, while not walking anyone. We’ve mentioned it in The 21 before because he’s been a semi-regular in the article this season. Eppler has looked like a depth option, but that’s his likely upside. He’s an effective innings eater in Triple-A, but the strikeout rate has dropped from early season numbers and he’s a fly ball pitcher. Those two things usually don’t lead to success in the majors. The good news with him is that he shows excellent velocity that can get up to 96 MPH at times as a starter, and he is a strike-thrower. The second part has had him in trouble at times in the past because you would see batters go up there hacking against him. He has done a better job at throwing effective strikes this season, which has kept the ERA down. If he can hit 95-96 MPH at times as a starter, then you might be looking at a nice relief arm in the majors. If he can miss more bats, then he’s better than a depth starter.
Yeudy Garcia, RHP, Altoona – Garcia pitched three times in relief this past week, throwing two shutout innings each time. His outings were better each time as well, finishing with Saturday’s performance when he retired all six batters he faced, four on strikeouts. Garcia’s strikeout rate has been great this season, picking up 40 strikeouts in just 33.1 innings. The problem is that the overall results haven’t been so great up until this past week. He has walked 22 batters, which has helped lead to a 5.40 ERA (it was 6.59 before last week) and a 1.62 WHIP. His velocity has been solid in relief, sitting 93-96, which is almost exactly where he was as a starter with West Virginia back in 2015 when he climbed up the prospect charts. His slider can look sharp at times, though he can also hang the pitch. If he can regain the above average control that helped make him a top prospect, then he could have a future as a Major League reliever, but the upside appears to be an average middle reliever at best.
Taylor Hearn, LHP, Altoona – At the end of April, Hearn had a 5.75 ERA through his first four starts of the season. He was also seeing lower velocity than in the past and things didn’t look great for his top ten prospect status at that point. Things turned around in a big way in May, as he posted a 2.63 ERA in 24 innings, with 26 strikeouts and a .186 BAA. The best part was that his velocity returned. June was even better, with a lower ERA, lower WHIP and a better strikeout rate. In his lone start this past week, Hearn gave up one run on three hits and three walks (one intentional) in six innings, while striking out seven batters. He now has a 3.35 ERA on the season, with 94 strikeouts in 86 innings. At the end of the day on Friday, he was two strikeouts behind the Eastern League leader and his 1.09 WHIP was the second best in the league.
Travis MacGregor, RHP, West Virginia – MacGregor was one of the most improved players in the system this spring and he started off the season by pitching well for West Virginia. He got sidetracked by a deltoid injury on his throwing arm and that kept him out of action for five weeks, though he was only inactive for a short time. MacGregor went to Pirate City and stretched out enough to go three innings in a start on June 22nd for the GCL Pirates. He made a second start in the GCL before returning to West Virginia last week. MacGregor started on Tuesday and went five innings with one run on five hits and a walk. He pitched again yesterday and allowed two unearned runs over five innings. On the season with the Power, he now has a 2.54 ERA in 39 innings, with just eight walks and 55 strikeouts. It appears that he is picking up right where he left off before the injury.
Alex McRae, RHP, Indianapolis – McRae had his best back-to-back starts of the season at the perfect time. He was in last week’s The 21 for seven shutout innings. Then he followed that up with one run over 5.2 innings in his lone start last week. Five days later, instead of seeing if he could build on recent success, the Pirates needed bullpen reinforcements and McRae was in the right place at the right time. On the season, McRae has a 4.61 ERA with Indianapolis. Batters are hitting .290 against him and he has a 1.58 WHIP in 84.2 innings. That WHIP ranked him 27th out of 29 eligible starters in the International League, and the ERA was slightly better at 20th overall among that group. He wasn’t the ideal player to come up as far as prospects, but he was ideal as far as ability to help the battered Pittsburgh bullpen. He should return to Indianapolis soon, though they are on the All-Star break now. Then we will see if he can continue to show improvements at Triple-A.
Luis Nova, RHP, GCL Pirates – Nova was signed in late December, one of the first signings by the new international scouting department. He was 18 years old already and turned 19 last month, so he’s older for a new pitcher, but the Pirates sped up his progress by pushing him to the GCL after three successful long relief outings in the DSL. This past week, he allowed one unearned run over eight innings. He finished his week with 4.2 shutout innings in relief on Saturday. Nova is described as a strike-thrower, who likes to attack hitters early in the count to get ahead, then put them away with a plus slider. That has led to 23 strikeouts and just four walks in 23.2 innings this season.
Casey Sadler, RHP, Indianapolis – Sadler had a very impressive week under normal circumstances with 9.1 shutout innings. How he came about that total makes it even better. Sadler pitched 1.1 innings on Monday night. Two days later, he was back out there for two shutout innings. When Alex McRae was called up to the Pirates on Saturday, Sadler took his spot and tossed six shutout frames, throwing 93 pitches. On the season, he has a 3.47 ERA in 59.2 innings, with 49 strikeouts. He has made six starts and 15 relief appearances, filling the swing role for Indianapolis. Sadler hasn’t pitched in the majors since his one spot start in 2015, missing plenty of time with Tommy John surgery. He turns 28 this week and he’s a minor league free agent at the end of the season. A week like this makes a great impression for a team short on pitching. If he can keep it up, he may possibly get a look in September.
Roger Santana, LHP, Bristol – Santana was a six-figure bonus player as an international amateur in 2014. He struggled his rookie season in the DSL, then put up strong numbers in his second year, earning a trip to the U.S. Not much went right in the DSL last year, but he earned a spot in the Bristol rotation this year and his last two starts have been terrific. Santana allowed one run over five innings in his second start, then came back last week and threw five shutout innings with seven strikeouts, which tied his career high. The 20-year-old lefty works his fastball 91-93, hitting 95 MPH this season, and has a changeup that is a very effective pitch against right-handed batters.
Brandon Waddell, LHP, Indianapolis – Waddell started with Altoona this season, his third year with the team. In 2016 he received a promotion from Bradenton after a strong start to the season. In 2017, arm injuries slowed him down and he needed to makeup innings in the Fall Instructional League and Arizona Fall League. So he never put in a full season with the Curve, but it felt like he was there forever. A strong start to 2018 got him to Indianapolis, where he had a rough debut, a strong second game and another rough outing in his third game. Waddell was moved to the bullpen for four appearances with mixed results. He got back into the rotation on June 29th and pitched well for three innings before being hit around in the fourth. That could have had more to do with his pitch count and being limited for two weeks. In his lone start last week, Waddell went seven innings, giving up two runs on nine hits and two walks, with three strikeouts. It was his longest outing since May 8th. He should see regular time in the rotation the rest of the way.