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
Mason Martin, 1B, Bristol – If you read the title and thought it was a misprint, it was not. Martin had 13 hits, nine walks and a hit-by-pitch in one week and he did it in just 30 plate appearances. That’s a .650 average and a .767 OBP. He needed that this week because he was batting .228 in his previous 13 games and he hasn’t homered since June 28th. Now Martin has numbers that rank him among the best in the league and it’s important to remember that he just turned 19 last month. So despite playing poorly in the South Atlantic League earlier this year, he’s at the appropriate level for his age now. Martin has a .353/.456/.588 slash line in 27 games and his strikeouts are down a lot compared to his West Virginia numbers. He’s also playing better defensively with Bristol, though reports say he’s still a work in progress at first base. He has plenty of time to improve that area, but it’s the bat that will get him places.
Stephen Alemais, 2B, Altoona – Alemais had hits in five of the six games he played this week. The only time he didn’t get a hit was during the second game of Friday’s doubleheader and in that contest he reached base in all three plate appearances on two walks and a hit-by-pitch. The day before, Alemais picked up four base hits. So far in July, he is putting up big numbers. In 17 games, he has a .358/.485/.396 slash line. If he continues to hit well over the final six weeks of the season, then he’s likely going to open next year at Indianapolis. With his strong defense at shortstop and improving play at second base, he won’t need to tear the cover off of the ball to get a shot in the majors, but if the hitting improves, then he will have a better future role. The Pirates have a logjam in the middle infield right now, though that will clear up a little sometime between the trade deadline and the end of the season.
Will Craig, 1B, Altoona – Craig has been an RBI machine for most of this season and that was on display this past week when he drove in runs in all six games, picking up a total of 12 RBIs. More importantly, he has been showing power, hitting three homers last week to give him 16 on the season. In fact, he has 35 extra-base hits this year already after collecting 33 total all of last year. The problem is that the power is coming at the expense of his on base percentage, which has him at a .780 OPS for the season. Craig really needs to walk rate to return to 2017 levels while maintaining the power, then he will be considered a much better prospect. Or he could just keep on putting up weeks like this last one and no one will care about his on base.
Jonah Davis, OF, Bristol – Davis doesn’t belong in the Appalachian League. That’s something that we have established through knowledge of his college background and he has established with his hitting at Bristol. He currently has 19 extra-base hits in his first 22 games. Davis has a .400/.427/.758 slash line, which gives him the best slugging percentage and best OPS in the league. The reason he is in the league is quite simple. There isn’t enough playing time at Morgantown and higher draft picks are there ahead of him. Davis likely wouldn’t even stand out if he was in the NYPL right now, partially due to playing time, but also his 25:4 SO/BB ratio would probably be worse against better pitching. He’s a small player, but there is some legit power in that lefty bat. He also has speed and the ability to play center field, so there are plenty of things to like about his game.
Mike Gretler, 3B, Morgantown – Gretler was drafted by the Pirates in 2017, but decided to go back to school instead. The move paid off with a College World Series title, although it probably cost him some bonus money in the process. The Pirates were actually quite generous with the bonus total, as Gretler was a college senior with no leverage and they usually get between $2,000 and $10,000 to sign. They gave him a $50,000 bonus and he joined Morgantown shortly after his college season ended. So far in 14 games, the 22-year-old right-handed hitter has a .255/.386/.383 slash line. He’s currently riding a seven-game hit streak, with five walks during that stretch. He walked three times on Thursday, then drove in three runs on Friday.
Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B, Altoona – Hayes had seven hits and six walks last week to get him on this list again. He’s been a regular recently, although he wasn’t in The 21 last week when he didn’t play any regular season games due to appearances in the Eastern League All-Star game and the Futures Game, where he hit a home run. Hayes had a slow start to the season with a .555 OPS in April. That bad month did a good job of hiding the fact that he had a solid May, posting an .833 OPS. Most people thought he was still struggling at that point, but that was just the start for the 21-year-old with the golden glove. Hayes had a .982 OPS in June, which is ten points lower than his July OPS. On the year now, he has a .296/.372/.455 slash line in 81 games. Those numbers have him tied for ninth in average in the league, 12th in OBP and 14th in OPS.
Brett Kinneman, OF, Morgantown – Kinneman was the seventh round pick this year out of North Carolina State. He’s a lefty hitting right fielder with some power in his bat. That power has translated to seven doubles and one homer in his first 27 games, although the NYPL isn’t the best league for hitters. A big concern coming out of college for Kinneman was his strikeouts. So far he has 26 strikeouts in 116 plate appearances. That comes with 17 walks, which along with those extra-base hits, has him at a .255/.371/.362 slash line. Kinneman is a potential steal in the seventh round if they can keep the strikeouts around the current rate. He was ranked higher coming into the draft, looking like a a 4th/5th round pick instead, and that was with all of the concerns in place already.
Kevin Kramer, 2B, Indianapolis – Kramer had a big week with one big game in the middle. He started off with three hits on Monday. He had a hit and a walk on Tuesday, then after pinch-hitting Wednesday, he came back with five hits on Thursday. It was the second time in his career he had five hits in a game, but also the first time since 2015 that he had more than three hits in a game. Kramer finished his week by collecting two hits in each of the final three games. Through 91 games, he now has a .300/.358/.490 slash line. If the plan is to bring him up to play second base every day, then he should be fine to take over that role. At this point, he’s done enough at the plate to get a shot. If the Pirates wanted to use him as a utility infielder, then he would need more time at shortstop and third base first.
Juan Pie, OF, DSL Pirates – Pie started off great this year, getting named as our Player of the Week after the first full week of the DSL season. He was the biggest bonus for the Pirates during the 2017-18 international signing period at $500,000, until they signed Ji-Hwan Bae back in March. That still makes Pie the biggest bonus among all DSL Pirates and he’s played the part so far. He has a .301/.400/.515 slash line in 36 games. The 17-year-old, 6’2″, lefty hitting/throwing outfielder has seen action at all three outfield spots, but most of his time has been spent in left field. He doesn’t have the speed to play center field, so his value will come from his bat. Pie has nine doubles, seven triples and two homers. The triples are a bit misleading in this league because you have big fields and young players, so if you have gap power like Pie, you can run for days. His 4-for-9 in stolen bases is a more indicative stat when it comes to his speed.
Emilson Rosado, 3B, DSL Pirates – Rosado had an incredible past week, putting up a .722/.750/.889 slash line in 20 plate appearances. That batter average is no misprint. He went 3-for-3 on Monday, then followed it up with 1-for-2 on Tuesday, 1-for-3 on Wednesday and back-to-back 4-for-5 days on Thursday and Friday. Rosado had a .706 OPS coming into the week, which isn’t bad for a 17-year-old in the DSL, a league which usually favors pitchers. He’s a big, strong third baseman, standing at 6’3″, 229 pounds. He’s a slow runner and looks like he could be in a little bit better shape, so hopefully his conditioning improves as he gets older and some of that added weight turns to muscle. Rosado has decent walk and strikeout rates, while his power (eight doubles, no triples, one homer) isn’t bad for 31 games in the DSL, but I expect that we could see more from him in the future.
Cole Tucker, SS, Altoona – Tucker went through a long stretch this season where he wasn’t providing any offense. His defense was fine, but without getting on base, he wasn’t able to utilize his speed. Tucker told us that he was hitting into a lot of bad luck and the exit velocities we got showed that he wasn’t hitting the ball well without matching results. He has picked up the pace over the last month or so and now he’s been a more valuable player, adding steals and hitting to the above average defense. Tucker has an .844 OPS in 20 games this month. He’s up to 26 steals, being thrown out just four times after starting the season going 0-for-5 in steals through May 19th. He should be at Indianapolis to start next season, still 22 years old on Opening Day, which will make him one of the younger players in the league.
Michael Flynn, RHP, Morgantown – The Pirates took the 6’4″, 21-year-old (22 in two weeks) Flynn in the sixth round of this year’s draft out of Arizona. He got off to a rough pro debut, giving up six runs over two innings in his first game. He was then skipped in the rotation and returned to allow one run over two innings. His third game wasn’t the best, with three runs over 3.2 innings, but he has looked like a sixth round pick since then. Flynn started last Sunday and gave up just one hit and no walks over four shutout innings. He didn’t get his next start until seven days later, but it was another strong effort. He went five innings for the first time, allowing one run on four hits and a walk. He struck out six batters, which is a new high for him. In his brief pro time, Flynn has been an excellent ground ball pitcher, who throws a lot of strikes. It’s possible he makes the jump to Bradenton to start next season, although there will be competition for those five spots.
Taylor Hearn, LHP, Altoona – Hearn made two starts last week and pitched well in both of them, but he was much better in the second game. On Monday, he went six innings and allowed one run on five hits and two walks, with two strikeouts. On Sunday, he pitched six innings again, this time he threw shutout ball on three hits and two walks, while striking out nine batters. The two strikeout game was an odd one for Hearn, who has 105 strikeouts in 98 innings this season, but he bounced back with another big outing just six days later. Not only has he been picking up strikeouts, but his 3.03 ERA is now the best among qualified starters and he is holding batters to a .196 BAA. My thought all year was that he would remain with Altoona this season, but now he’s putting up numbers that are hard to ignore. The problem is that Indianapolis has six starters right now, so it’s still possible Hearn doesn’t make it there until 2019.
Randy Jimenez, LHP, GCL Pirates – Jimenez signed at the end of the 2014-15 international signing period for a $100,000 bonus. The Pirates saw potential in the young lefty, who was six days short of his 17th birthday at the time. In two seasons in the Dominican Summer League, he was extremely wild and not that difficult to hit. Despite those two major flaws, he was moved up to the United States this spring. Those who saw Jimenez in the DSL, noticed that he had much better control this year than in the past. That’s not to say it was great, but it was much better than awful. He is learning to control his pitches, which have a lot of movement. When he’s been on his game this spring during Extended Spring Training and so far in the GCL, he’s been very difficult hit. He throws a sinker and a cutter in the low-90s with a lot of action. Jimenez was on his game on Wednesday when he threw five shutout innings on three hits and one walk, while striking out six batters. He’s a project still, but one to keep an eye on if the Pirates have the patience to stick with him.
Max Kranick, RHP, West Virginia – Kranick allowed one run over 5.1 innings in his one start last week. He gave up four hits, one walk and picked up nine strikeouts, which was a new career high. Kranick said the focus in that game was throwing his slider with more conviction. The pitch was something he learned in the Fall Instructional League last year, so it’s still semi-new. It was at it’s best on Monday night, coming in at 84-87 MPH, it helped him pick up some extra strikeouts. His fastball was 93-96 MPH in that start, which is the best we have seen from him. Kranick just turned 21 over the weekend, so he still has time to continue to add to that velocity. Even if he doesn’t, that’s still a strong range and he controls the pitch well. The slider is becoming a second strong offering and he still has the curve and changeup, which have both show potential. With ten starts already in Low-A and six more weeks left in the season, it’s quite possible that he ends up in Bradenton to start the 2019 season.
Estalin Ortiz, LHP, DSL Pirates – Ortiz was one of the more intriguing international signings by the Pirates during this last signing period. He’s a 6’4″ lefty, who throws 94-95 MPH and has a strong changeup with good separation. He was 19 years old at the time of his signing, which is usually a bad sign from an international player, but Ortiz’s late signing wasn’t talent related. He had high bonus demands when he was first eligible to sign. When teams wouldn’t meet those numbers, he continued to play and kept getting better, so he raised those demands. He had numerous opportunities to sign over the years, but teams weren’t meeting his price, so he continued to wait. He was heavily scouted late last year and turned down multiple six-figure offers until finally settling on an unknown bonus amount with the Pirates in February. He has been outstanding recently, giving up a total of five runs in his last seven outings. That included two starts this past week in which he allowed two runs over nine innings. He has not given up multiple earned runs in a start since his second pro game back on June 12th.
Argenis Romano, RHP, Bristol – Romano was a late international signing by the Pirates, making his debut right before his 20th birthday. He was in the DSL in 2015, the GCL in 2016 and Bristol in 2017, moving up each year despite poor results. Now at 23 years old, he is well above the age you like to see in the Appalachian League, but he’s also putting up terrific numbers. This past week he was needed in long relief and ended up pitching 4.2 shutout innings. In 22.1 innings over seven appearances, he has a 1.21 ERA, with a 1.03 WHIP, a .227 BAA and 21 strikeouts. There isn’t a lot of upside here, but the strong results should keep him around. His best pitch is his curveball, which he mixes with a low-90s fastball and an average changeup.
Yeison Santos, LHP, DSL Pirates – Santos is one of the youngest players in the DSL for the Pirates, turning 17 back in mid-April. The 6’2″, 170 pound southpaw, was one of just three pitchers who received six-figure bonuses from the Pirates on July 2nd last year. They have been taking it slow with their young hurler, giving him outings consisting of 2-3 innings each time. The results have been excellent so far, leading to a 1.59 ERA in 23 innings over nine appearances. This past week, he threw three shutout innings on Tuesday, then followed it up with 2.2 shutout frames on Saturday. Santos has now given up just one earned run in his last 17 innings. It will be interesting to see how the Pirates handle him if he finishes strong. The results suggest he could jump to the GCL next year, but the lack of innings sometimes leads to a younger player returning to the DSL as a full-time starter the following year.
Colin Selby, RHP, Bristol – Selby was taken in the 16th round of the 2018 draft out of Randolph-Macon, a smaller baseball school where he was a three-year starter in the rotation. He’s the only 2018 draft pick in the Bristol rotation now and he’s put together three solid starts in five outings. Selby started with 6.2 shutout innings in his first two starts combined, and he did that while allowing just one hit and no walks. He had a rough third start, then needed a week off due to general soreness that comes along with pitching a full college season and then jumping into the pros. Selby came back with five runs over four innings, but that was followed by his lone start last week, which saw him go five innings, with no earned runs on two hits and two walks. Even with the two off-nights, he’s putting together solid stats so far. The Pirates gave him $125,000 to sign and the spot in the rotation shows that they think he deserves the innings. That could lead to him starting for West Virginia next year, though there should be a decent battle for those five spots.
Aaron Shortridge, RHP, Morgantown – Shortridge had his best outing as a pro on Monday, then topped that performance on Sunday. The 2018 fourth round pick out of the University of California (where he was teammates with Jonah Davis) was put right into the Morgantown starting rotation. He worked with a limited pitch count at first, but has been up to 75 pitches recently and putting in outstanding work. On Monday, he gave up one run on three hits and no walks in five innings, while striking out nine batters. Six days later, he threw five shutout innings on two hits and no walks, striking out seven. Shortridge now has 37 strikeouts in 28 innings, to go along with a 2.89 ERA. He should remain in the Morgantown rotation the rest of the season, with a chance to skip to Bradenton next year.
Jesus Valles, RHP, DSL Pirates – Valles has been one of the best pitchers for either DSL team this year. The 20-year-old from Venezuela is a 6’3″ right-hander, who signed later during the 2017-18 international signing period. This past week he made a start on Monday and went six shutout innings, allowing three hits and a walk, with two strikeouts. The walk was somewhat unusual because he has just four in 41.2 innings and hasn’t walked more than one batter in any of his eight starts. He has also held the opposition to either two or three hits in half of his starts. Valles pitched in relief on Saturday, adding a scoreless inning to his totals for the week. That gave him a 3.02 ERA, with 32 strikeouts and a 1.01 WHIP. Valles throws his four-seam fastball 90-92 MPH and it’s his best pitch. He also has a sinker (88-90), a terrific changeup (80-84) and a curve (76-78), giving him a nice four-pitch mix.