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, then 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. The stats listed below will cover from Sunday-Saturday each 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 reports and views via MiLB.tv, giving us a look at the entire farm system throughout the season.
Player of the Week
James Marvel, RHP, Altoona – Marvel made two starts this past week and pitched well both games, though Saturday’s game was the better outing. On Monday, he went four innings, allowing one run on four hits and a walk, while striking out six batters. Five days later he pitched a complete game during a doubleheader, going seven shutout innings with one hit and one walk allowed. Marvel’s first start of the season earned him a spot in The 21 last week. He went six shutout innings on Opening Day, allowing one hit, with no walks and nine strikeouts. Marvel has a chance to move up to Indianapolis if a spot should open up. He made five starts at Altoona last year and he has a 2.59 ERA in Double-A.
Stephen Alemais, SS, Altoona – Alemais was out of action during the start of the season, but he has returned at a fast pace. This past week, he hit .364/.391/.364 in 23 plate appearances, with just one strikeout. Last year at Altoona with Cole Tucker playing almost every day, Alemais moved to second base and saw just seven games at his normal shortstop position. He’s already been there more this season, starting nine games without an error. Alemais is an above average defender at shortstop, and also made great strides at second base last year. His path to the majors includes him being versatile enough to play multiple positions.
Dylan Busby, 3B, Bradenton – Busby made it in The 21 last week, but only because he had two huge games to finish up the week. Before that point, he had just one hit and was striking out more than half of the time. This week, he only made it because he continued to hit for power. Busby went just 3-for-20, but two more homers, along with four walks and two hit-by-pitches helping his OBP, gave him a .796 OPS. That was enough to place him eighth among all hitters. Busby has a .977 OPS this season, despite 21 strikeouts in 42 at-bats. He has been wildly inconsistent this season. He went 7-for-14 with seven extra-base hits in his best four games this season, and 2-for-26 with no extra-base hits and 16 strikeouts in his other nine games.
Rodolfo Castro, INF, Greensboro – Castro didn’t do much through his first 11 games of the season, but that all changed on Friday night. He went 3-for-3 with a homer and a walk. That one game raised his season OPS 198 points. Castro finished his week off with two walks on Saturday. He had just two walks in his first 12 games. Despite still being 19 years old, he is repeating Low-A this season. Castro got some great experience this off-season, playing well above his competition level in Puerto Rico’s winter ball league. He can play three infield spots, though second base appears to be his top spot. The real draw here is the power potential from a middle infielder. Castro had 12 homers last year with West Virginia and six of his first seven hits this season were doubles.
Jake Elmore, Util, Indianapolis – For the second week in a row, Elmore found a spot on The 21. He was the third best hitter this past week, batting .438/.471/.625 in five games. That gave him a .413/.451/.522 slash line through his first 13 games. Elmore has played all nine positions during his pro career. For Indianapolis, he has started games at shortstop and second base, with the majority of his time in left field. If he continues to hit well, his versatility and big league experience could get him a bench spot at some point this season.
Connor Kaiser, SS, Greensboro – Despite being one of the top hitters this week, Kaiser has a .567 OPS in his first 13 games. He had a 16-game stint at the end of last year with West Virginia after being drafted in the third round. That’s too small of a stint to say he is repeating the level, but he’s also a college player from a major school (Vanderbilt), so you would hope that he could handle low-A ball in his first full season. Kaiser had a three-hit day to start his week, then finished with two hits and two walks on Saturday. This could be his bat waking up and then we won’t remember the slow start to the season, but it could also be just two well-timed games that got him on this week’s list.
Calvin Mitchell, OF, Bradenton – Mitchell had an excellent week at the plate, going 10-for-24 with a double, homer and three walks. That led to a .417/.464/.583 slash line in 28 plate appearances. He currently has a seven-game hit streak going into Monday’s game. We noted on Sunday morning that the Florida State League has seen a lack of offense early this season, but Mitchell ranks seventh in slugging and just outside the top ten in OPS and batting average. He’s one of the youngest players in the league, just celebrating his 20th birthday last month. Mitchell faded late both in 2017 and 2018, so that will be something to watch during the second half.
Bryan Reynolds, OF, Indianapolis – Reynolds is one of two players who made this list and also finished the week in the majors. He didn’t get the fanfare of Cole Tucker and he’s also going to have a much harder time staying up because of the depth of outfielders who could return soon. Reynolds picked up his first big league hit on Saturday, but before he was called up, he hit .294/.400/.647 in 20 plate appearances for Indianapolis. His five homers puts him one behind the two league leaders tied at the top, one being Will Craig, who was our Player of the Week last week. One of the 40-man decisions the Pirates needed to make before the Rule 5 draft this year was adding Reynolds. It seemed like a given anyway, but necessity moved up his addition to the roster.
Lolo Sanchez, OF, Greensboro – Sanchez has been the only constant on offense this year for Greensboro. After making last week’s list, he’s back again with a .375/.423/.625 slash line in 26 plate appearances. He’s now hitting .358/.417/.604 in 16 games. Sanchez is repeating this level after a subpar season last year. What got lost in his slow start last year is that he had a .709 OPS and 18 stolen bases in his last 60 games (the entire second half). That’s 15 points higher than the league average OPS, coming from someone who was two years younger than the league average age. Sanchez is the lead candidate on this team for a mid-season promotion. I don’t expect to see him move up this early, but it could happen before the All-Star break in June.
Chris Sharpe, OF, Bradenton – Sharpe had the best week among all hitters here and I strongly considered him for the Player of the Week. In 30 plate appearances, he hit .423/.500/.808, with two doubles, a triple and two homers. That was quite a change from his first eight games of the season when he went 2-for-23 with no extra-base hits. The Pirates gave Sharpe an over-slot bonus in the 14th round of the 2017 draft. He had a mediocre season for a college player in Low-A, hitting .263/.362/.360 in 85 games and not showing the power that drew him attention in college. He should get a chance to play regularly this season with Bradenton and we will see if he can establish himself as a prospect.
Cole Tucker, SS, Indianapolis – Tucker topped off his week with a home run in his big league debut on Saturday, but it’s what he did here the previous six days that got him a spot on The 21. Tucker hit .353/.421/.706 in 19 plate appearances. He was also among the top hitters in last week’s article. The Pirates felt comfortable enough to bring him up to the majors despite just 12 games in Triple-A. What helped his case was extended time in Double-A, plus strong results in Spring Training this year and the Arizona Fall League over the off-season. It’s possible that he is up for good since Erik Gonzalez will be out at least two full months, but Tucker will at least need to show he can handle majors to guarantee he stays for good.
Dario Agrazal, RHP, Altoona – Agrazal got knocked around in each of his first two starts this season, but managed to go six innings in each game. During his lone start last week, he went six innings again, but this time he allowed just one run on six hits. He has an 11:0 SO/BB ratio in 18 innings this year. Agrazal has had a tough road lately, missing half of 2017 with a pectoral injury, then suffering a forearm injury early in 2018 and a back injury late in the year, which cost him his AFL season. Before the injuries, he was throwing mid-90s with an improved breaking ball that was getting strikeouts for the first time. It appears that he ability to throw a lot of strikes hasn’t gone anywhere, but he’s still trying to get back on track with the quality of his pitches. This last start is an encouraging sign.
Osvaldo Bido, RHP, Greensboro – On Friday, we took a look at the starting pitchers for Greensboro. I was able to see all five of their starters, including two starts from Bido and Alex Manasa. Both of them ended up making this list, and Bido made it here last week as well. He went six innings on Tuesday, allowing one run on two hits and a walk, with six strikeouts. It was the first run that he allowed this season in 17 innings. Bido has issued just two walks so far this year, while striking out 14 batters. His mid-90s fastball and strong mix of breaking pitches makes him a player to keep a close eye on going forward.
Cody Bolton, RHP, Bradenton – Bolton made last week’s The 21 after he had 14 strikeouts in his first 11 innings, while giving up just two runs. He was extremely impressive in his second outing, using his mid-90s fastball as a swing-and-miss pitch, while also displaying his cutter, slider and changeup. Bolton made one start last week and gave up just an unearned run in five innings of work. While it wasn’t as impressive looking as his second start, he still has some of the best stuff in the system. That’s coming from someone who was still in high school at this time in 2017. He was also injured at the end of last year, plus missed part of his off-season training, so we could definitely see more from him as he has time to develop.
JT Brubaker, RHP, Indianapolis – Brubaker had a somewhat shaky start on Opening Day, allowing just two runs, but limiting himself to 4.2 innings due to a high pitch count. It was certainly not a bad first outing, but things have been much better since then. Brubaker allowed one run over six innings in his second start, picking up seven strikeouts. In his lone start this past week, he tossed 5.1 shutout frames on four hits and no walks, with five strikeouts. The only downside to his night is that he left a little early due to elbow stiffness. He said the next day that he felt fine, but the Pirates are being cautious and his fourth start of the season has been pushed back. Assuming nothing is wrong, Brubaker is at the point now where he is a legit option if the Pirates need a spot starter or long reliever.
Rookie Davis, RHP, Indianapolis – Davis has a similar story to Brubaker. His first start wasn’t that good, but he had a strong second start and got even better the next time out. Davis had two starts this past week, going on Sunday, then coming back out six days later for his third game. He went five innings on Sunday, allowing one run on two hits and two walks. On Saturday night, Davis allowed one run over 5.2 innings and struck out six batters. He has a chance to establishing himself as a starting option with some more outings like these last two games. Davis turns 26 next week and has some big league experience, but this is really his first bit of success above Double-A and it’s obviously a small sample size.
Nicholas Economos, RHP, Greensboro – Economos is going to enter the Greensboro rotation in place of Braeden Ogle, who has been sent to the bullpen to help limit his innings. Before he could make a start, a rain out caused Friday’s game to be canceled and it put Economos back in the bullpen for the night. He pitched two scoreless innings in relief and struck out five batters. Earlier in the week, Economos tossed four shutout innings. He now has an 0.77 ERA in 11.2 innings, with 19 strikeouts. In college, the reports said that he hit 94 MPH, but Economos in more in the high-80s and gets by with his off-speed pitches and some deception to his delivery.
Max Kranick, RHP, Bradenton – In Kranick’s first start this season, he had rough control for one inning, which ran up his pitch count. He still ended up with four shutout innings and seven strikeouts. That was followed by an outing in which he recorded just two outs in the first before being removed due to reaching his single inning pitch count. Kranick made his third start this past week and threw six shutout innings on three hits and no walks. He had just on strikeout after nine in his first 4.2 innings, but he was pounding the strike zone and hit 97 MPH for the first time in his career. Kranick was a legit pitching prospect when he was sitting low-90s because of his control and movement on his pitches. Now he’s added about four MPH on average to his fastball and improved his changeup, plus added a slider since he signed. His prospect rank could be much higher by the end of the season.
Alex Manasa, RHP, Greensboro – Manasa has improved a lot this year compared to when we got looks at him last year. He is throwing slightly harder and his slider is a swing-and-miss pitch. What makes the slider so good is that Manasa has excellent command, so he starts the pitch on the outside to right-handed hitters and it takes a late, sharp downward break out of the zone. It’s also effective breaking down and in to left-handed batters. Manasa was drafted out of college, but he went to a community college and also played outfield. We actually liked him better in a few looks at Bristol in 2017 than at Morgantown last year, but he has taken a step forward this year and more could be on the way. Manasa allowed one run over 5.2 innings in his start last week, picking up seven strikeouts.
Aaron Shortridge, RHP, Bradenton – Shortridge made two starts this past week, going six innings each on Monday and Saturday. He threw shutout ball in that first game, allowing just two hits and a walk. In the second contest, Shortridge gave up two runs and struck out a season high six batters. He made our first edition of The 21 this year by giving up one run over 11 innings during his first two starts. He now has a 1.17 ERA in 23 innings, with a .228 BAA, and 0.87 WHIP and a 16:2 SO/BB ratio. Shortridge came from a major college program, but he didn’t see many innings until his junior year, so the 6’3″ right-hander has a little more projection than your normal early round pick out of college. He currently sits about 88-90 MPH so you would like to see a little more velocity to go along with his above average control and solid secondary offerings.
Pedro Vasquez, RHP, Altoona – In the James Marvel write-up, I noted that he threw a one-hit shutout during a doubleheader. Vasquez started the other game that day and he allowed just one hit over six shutout innings. He walked one and struck out five, facing just one batter over the minimum. A Spring Training illness and a mid-season arm injury sidetracked Vasquez last year, limiting him to 89 innings. He was stretched out as a starter, but the plan was for him to pitch in long relief. That was before Gage Hinsz was injured and Eduardo Vera was promoted, opening up two starting spots. Now Vasquez, who has a 1.59 ERA in 17 innings this season, has a chance to prove he belongs in the starting rotation.