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
JT Brubaker, RHP, Indianapolis – Had an outstanding past week and that was after appearing in last week’s The 21. In the one start that got him in last week’s article, he allowed one run over seven innings. He matched that performance on Monday, although he did it with no walks and eight strikeouts. That’s a difficult outing to top, but he did just that on Saturday. Brubaker went eight shutout innings on just three hits, with no walks and six strikeouts. He now has his Triple-A ERA down to 3.24 through 17 starts and his walks have really gone down after a poor stretch of three games in which he walked 13 batters total. Since then (June 7th) he has walked 12 batters in 11 starts. Brubaker has shown outstanding stuff recently, now adding a low-90s cutter to his 95-96 MPH fastball that has touched 99 MPH.
Edgar Barrios, INF, DSL Pirates – Barrios was signed as an international amateur free agent by the Pirates back in January. He came from Colombia, where he had an extensive track record of success both local and in international tournaments, and he was one of the top available free agents at the time. His small stature (5’9″, 145 pounds) likely held him back from signing earlier. Barrios just turned 18 two weeks ago. This past week, he picked up ten hits, including two three-hit games. He was a shortstop growing up, but the Pirates have bounced him around the infield, seeing almost equal time at second base, shortstop and third base. Barrios is doing what you would expect from a small middle infielder. He’s getting on base, with 27 walks leading to a .366 OBP, and he has stolen 12 bases in 18 attempts. He hasn’t shown any power yet, but he has room to fill out as he gets older.
Paul Brands, Util, Morgantown – The Pirates signed Brands out of the Netherlands, where he was considered one of the top prospects. The 21-year-old began his career as a catcher, transforming into a utility player at this point due to his athleticism. If he continues to hit like he did this past week, that versatility will allow him to get into the lineup more often. Brands started the week by reaching base safely seven times in a row, going 4-for-4 on Monday, then 2-for-2 with a walk on Tuesday. He finished it off by collecting two hits and an RBI on Sunday. He has already played six positions this year with Morgantown, everywhere except center field, shortstop and pitcher. Brands played some second base and outfield in Extended Spring Training each of the last two seasons. He also played those spots before he signed with the Pirates, so he had little trouble expanding into a full-time utility role.
Oneil Cruz, SS, West Virginia – Cruz had a strong week, though it ended with an undisclosed injury during his second at-bat on Saturday night. He homered on Monday and Friday, while also picking up two doubles, two singles and a walk. He also homered last Sunday. Prior to this recent streak, he had just one homer in his previous 26 games. The led to his slugging percentage dropping off 61 points, but the recent surge has obviously helped in that area. The biggest improvement Cruz has shown this year is cutting down on strikeouts. He had 132 of them last year. This season, just nine plate appearances short of his 2017 total, he has 95 strikeouts. That has helped him show large jumps in his batting average, on base and slugging. Playing at the same level as last year also helps, but you’re talking about someone who doesn’t turn 20 years old until a month after the season ends.
Pat Dorrian, 3B, GCL Pirates – Dorrian had a terrific month of July, leading the entire farm system with a .943 OPS. The 22-year-old was signed as a non-drafted free agent in June, but he wasn’t actually eligible for the draft due to signing out of high school with the Atlanta Braves, before deciding he wasn’t ready for pro ball. He is clearly ready for pro ball now, putting up a .289/.404/.464 slash line through his first 30 games. He’s an aggressive hitter in the strike zone, but also had a great eye at the plate, which has led to 20 walks already. Dorrian has been playing third base full-time, though he can also play shortstop and second base. Obviously, being a college player in the GCL, you expect him to hit against the young pitching in the league, but the parks and humid conditions in the league still favor the pitchers.
Jack Herman, OF, GCL Pirates – Herman was a 30th round pick out of high school this year, who signed for the surprisingly low bonus amount of $50,000 (which also comes with money for college if pro ball doesn’t work out). He’s been hitting since day one in the GCL and is showing no signs of slowing down. The 18-year-old from New Jersey picked up a total of ten hits and three walks this past week. That gave him a .360/.457/.535 slash line through 23 games, with a 15:14 BB/SO ratio and ten extra-base hits. He ranks second in the GCL in OBP, sixth in average, seventh in slugging and sixth in OPS. The Pirates sent a few college draft picks to the GCL, including some non-drafted free agents who showed strong offense this season, and Herman is outhitting all of them and most of the other players in the 18-team league too.
Raul Hernandez, C, West Virginia – Hernandez makes The 21 for the first time, but that’s mostly due to the fact he hasn’t played regularly at any point this year. He had a big week this past week, picking up five multi-hit games, totaling 12 hits. He now has a .322 average through 26 games with West Virginia. Hernandez is 22 years old and a solid defensive catcher, who really likes to throw the ball. He won’t let runners stray far from the bag without a throw. The Pirates trusted him enough back in 2016, before he played his first game in the U.S., to backup at Bradenton when there was a need for an extra catcher. He only got into one game, but it was quite the jump from the DSL when more experienced catchers were available. Since that point, he hasn’t even played 100 games and he’s been healthy almost the entire time. Right now he’s making the most of his opportunity to play.
Samuel Inoa, C, GCL Pirates – Inoa was in the middle of a huge season at the plate late year in the DSL when he got hit in the face with a pitch. He also missed time with a hand injury early in the year and then was out again late in the season. Those injuries have followed the 19-year-old catcher this season, costing him plenty of time. Inoa’s first injury, wasn’t really one at all, but it kept him out of action for a long stretch in the spring. He had to have surgery for appendicitis. He was coming back slowly from that when the GCL season started and the Pirates had him at first base. A hamstring injury shortly after that caused him to miss most of the first three weeks in July. He’s back in the lineup every day now and finally behind the plate. Inoa hit two homers last week and two triples, driving in eight runs total. Through 18 games now, he has a .297/.324/.547 slash line. He can obviously hit when healthy and his defense was much improved last year, but he needs to stay on the field more often to truly reach his potential.
Steven Kraft, DH, GCL Pirates – Kraft made it on this list due to one huge game. On Friday, he went 5-for-5 with two doubles. He had two decent games earlier in the week, homering and driving in four runs on Tuesday, and picking up two more RBIs on Wednesday, but it was the one-game outburst that earned him a spot. Kraft was a non-drafted free agent signing back in June. He played infield and a little outfield in college, but he has mostly been the DH in the pros, seeing occasional time in the outfield recently. The 22-year-old, who attended Western Kentucky, has a .330/.398/.495 slash line through 25 games, with ten walks and ten strikeouts in 103 plate appearances. He just reached the minimum plate appearances required for league leaders on Saturday and he ranks 11th in the league in average, 13th in OPS and 15th in slugging.
Kevin Kramer, 2B/3B, Indianapolis – Kramer made this list despite getting injured diving for a ball right in the middle of the week. He only missed the end of one game and two others, so he was able to get enough plate appearances. Kramer had a four-hit game on Tuesday, hitting his 12th homer and driving in three runs. He had two hits the next night before getting hurt, then returned on Saturday with two more hits. He finished up on Sunday with a single and a walk. Kramer is now hitting .302/.360/.483 through 102 games, with 41 extra-base hits. The only real downside is his 32:106 BB/SO ratio. Numbers like those don’t always translate to big league success, so it isn’t surprising that he’s still in Triple-A at this point. We also shouldn’t forget that he missed nearly three full months last year during his only time in Double-A.
Pablo Reyes, Util, Indianapolis – Reyes had a big day on Friday, missing the cycle by a double, while adding an extra single and scoring four runs. He also had hits in each of his first four games during the week, the doubled on Sunday. He’s playing every day now and has recently moved up in the order. Reyes is hitting .299/.346/.453 in 87 games with Indianapolis. He’s creeping up on minor league free agency, but the move to the top of the order and playing full-time makes it look like the Pirates are trying to get as many looks at him as possible, to see if they will add him to the 40-man roster. He provides the versatility, along with just enough power, speed, defense and hitting to make him an intriguing option.
Dario Agrazal, RHP, Bradenton – Agrazal continued his return from a right shoulder strain by throwing five shutout innings at Bradenton last week on two hits and no walks. He had two starts of three shutout innings each in the previous week, though the stats from one game were wiped out when the game couldn’t be completed. That satisfied the Pirates enough that he was ready to return to Altoona yesterday, where he was pitching well before the injury. Agrazal was added to the 40-man roster during this past off-season, but two full months missed really took a bite out of the amount of time he will get in Double-A this year. That was after a pectoral injury last year cost him the last two months of the season. That most likely means that he will open up 2019 back in Altoona and using up his second option, adding a little urgency to get him Triple-A experience later in the year.
Brad Case, RHP, GCL Pirates – You don’t see many college players in the GCL unless they came from a Junior/Community college and were draft eligible at an earlier age. Case is a special case, because not only did he attend a four-year college for three seasons, but he received a six-figure bonus. The Pirates usually don’t make any adjustments with draft picks until the Fall Instructional League, observing the player rather than trying to change him while he’s getting acclimated to pro ball. Case immediately made an adjustment though, and it was one that helped his velocity and made his slider better by staying on his back leg longer during his delivery. On Wednesday, he had his best career outing, throwing six shutout innings on three hits and no walks, with seven strikeouts. He is clearly better than your average GCL pitcher, but the lower level competition in the league allows him to work on his new mechanics and still get his innings.
Sergio Cubilete, RHP, West Virginia – Cubilete was needed as a starter ten days ago when West Virginia had back-to-back doubleheaders. He performed well in that game, giving up two runs over five innings. He remained in the rotation this past week and it turned out to be a wise decision. Cubilete went six innings, giving up one run on three hits and a walk. He had three strikeouts and was efficient with his pitches, throwing 78 total. Cubilete has a solid repertoire, starting with a fastball that gets up to 95 MPH. He was in the Morgantown rotation last year and had a spot in the Power rotation early this season until he was hit with a line drive in the face. He returned in dramatic fashion 19 days later, throwing five shutout innings on one hit in his first game back. The 23-year-old right-hander has mostly pitched in long relief since then with mixed results, but these last two starts should get him more time on the mound.
Max Kranick, RHP, West Virginia – Kranick missed last week’s The 21 because he had a shortened outing earlier in the week in which he allowed four runs. On Sunday, he came back with one of the best starts this season for any Pirates minor leaguer. He faced the minimum over six innings, giving up one hit, then picking off that runner. If that start came a day later, he would have been our Player of the Week. That’s because Kranick gave up one run on three hits, with no walks and eight strikeouts on Friday night. In those two starts, he faced just 39 batters in 12 innings. He’s become a strike-throwing machine recently, issuing one walk in his last six starts combined, while striking out 34 batters over that time. Kranick has shown a ton of improvements this season, adding velocity and sharpening up a slider that he started throwing last fall. He now sits 93-96 MPH after working low-90s in the past.
James Marvel, RHP, Bradenton – Marvel made two starts last week and pitched well in both of them. On Tuesday, he gave up one run on two hits and a walk in six innings. On Sunday, he went eight innings, giving up one run on four hits and two walks. Marvel posted a 12:2 GO/AO ratio in that second game. He was already leading the Florida State League in innings pitched going into Sunday and he now has a healthy margin over second place. Besides being a workhorse for the Marauders, he’s also getting solid results, with his 3.68 ERA in 134.1 innings. Marvel relies heavily on a sinker that sits 93-94 MPH for his results. When his control is on, he’s getting a lot of quick outs on the ground. The strikeouts are low because he lacks a true swing-and-miss pitch, but he has still got some Major League upside as a middle reliever, ground ball specialist.
Allen Montgomery, RHP, Bristol – The Pirates signed Montgomery as a non-drafted free agent back in late June after he completed his college career at Southern Illinois. He was a reliever in college, with stats slightly below conference average as a senior, though they were a huge improvement over his junior season stats. Montgomery reported to Bristol after spending two weeks at Pirate City getting stretched out to pitch. Until this past week, he was seeing limited use, but he made the most of his time. After allowing a run over 2.2 innings on Tuesday, he came back with three shutout innings on Saturday. The impressive part of that second outing was that the opposition had 14 runs already, with seven coming against Argenis Romano, who allowed just four runs all season prior to that game. So Montgomery shut down a team that was hitting around one of the best pitchers in the league, after they put up seven runs against the starter.
Evan Piechota, RHP, Bradenton – Piechota was pitching great in whatever role West Virginia handed him early this season. That earned him a promotion to Bradenton, where he has not be as successful. He had a strong start this week though, and he did it on 12 days rest due to multiple rain outs for the Marauders. Piechota started on Saturday night and threw seven innings, giving up one run on three hits, a walk and four strikeouts. He threw 64 of 84 pitches for strikes. He’s not what you look for in a prospect, lacking velocity and plus pitches at 24 years old. He gets the most out of his ability though, working smart and throwing strikes. He’s also a great pitcher to have around, as shown here in his start this past week on extended rest. He could also be used in any situation out of the bullpen and will give you everything he’s got if he is needed on short rest in a spot start.
Domingo Robles, LHP, West Virginia – Robles has put together quite a run during his last three starts, which come after his worst outing of the season. In his lone start two weeks ago, he allowed one run over seven innings. Then this past Monday, he matched that performance. Robles pitched again on Saturday and he tossed five shutout innings. That gave him a 2.97 ERA in 115 innings this year. Robles is a solid three-pitch lefty, who gets his fastball into the low-90s, while using his curveball in all outs and mixing in a solid changeup. He just turned 20 at the end of April and he has a 6’2″ frame that could still fill out some more, making him an intriguing prospect.
Yeison Santos, LHP, DSL Pirates – Santos allowed three earned runs over 5.2 innings in his first two pro appearances combined. Those aren’t bad numbers, but it stands out compared to the rest of his season. In ten appearances since then, he has given up two earned runs over 26 innings. He pitched twice in extended relief this past week, throwing three perfect innings on Monday, then allowing one run over four innings on Saturday. That was his longest outing of the season and it was also the first earned run he allowed since June 22nd. Santos is one of the youngest pitchers for either DSL Pirates team, turning 17 in April. He signed on July 2nd and received a $110,000 bonus. He’s a fly ball pitcher, who throws a lot of strikes and has room to fill out his 6’2″, 170 frame. Santos throws 88-90 MPH, with a fastball, slider and changeup.
Hunter Stratton, RHP, West Virginia – Stratton made two starts last week, going five innings on Tuesday with one run allowed, then five more innings on Sunday with two runs allowed. He was on the fringe for this article because neither start was that great, but I included him because he almost made The 21 each of the last two weeks as well. Stratton was a 16th round pick last year out of college, though he went to Community College, so he was draft-eligible earlier and he’s pitching this entire season at 21 years old. He has a 4.75 ERA in 77.2 innings, with 67 strikeouts and 41 walks. The lack of control has really limited his innings this season, which is one really why he went five in both starts last week. He’s been able to pitch into the sixth twice this season in 16 starts, so that’s an issue that needs to be fixed for him to remain as a starter. He throws low-90s with his fastball, touching 93 MPH in recent starts.