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
Mason Martin, 1B, Greensboro – Martin went on a run of five straight games with a home run, giving him six on the season. For the past week, he hit .348/.483/.957 in 29 plate appearances. That gave him a .238/.330/.538 slash line through his first 21 games. He ranks second on the team in slugging behind Lolo Sanchez and he’s already driven in 17 runs. Strikeouts are still a concern here, as he is already up to 32 on the season, second most in the South Atlantic League. However, Martin is showing a nice improvement over his stats from last year in West Virginia, when he was demoted after 45 games. He also looks better defensively at first base, where he had some issues last year.
Dylan Busby, 3B, Bradenton – Busby is having an all-or-nothing season at the plate, but that has earned him a spot among the top performers for three weeks straight. He hit .211/.318/.579 in 22 plate appearances. His two homers last week gave him six on the season, and then he hit two more on Sunday, giving him a head start on making next week’s list. The downside this year is the 26 strikeouts in 77 plate appearances. Busby has a long swing, with plenty of raw power. That power is translating to home runs this season, but the strikeouts are still an issue. He has a .213 average, while his OBP has been helped out by six hit-by-pitches. That’s not something that is sustainable, especially for Busby, who missed time twice last year after being hit by pitches.
Will Craig, 1B, Indianapolis – Craig was our first Player of the Week thanks to six homers through his first nine games (it was an extended week due to the season starting on a Thursday). His follow up week was awful, ranking next to last among all hitters in the system. He got back on track this past week, hitting .350/.458/.500 in 24 plate appearances. Craig collected his seventh home run, which put him in the lead for all Pirates. It’s still fairly early in this season, but he’s getting on base at a high rate and hitting for power, which is a combo of the best parts from his last two seasons. If Craig can keep it up, then the Pirates will have a nice problem of figuring out where to put him and Josh Bell.
Pat Dorrian, 3B, Greensboro – Dorrian was off to a slow start this year, but he has picked things up recently. He hit .286/.375/.476 in 24 plate appearances last week, with four doubles and seven runs scored. In 18 games this season, he has a .222/.265/.397 slash line, with five doubles and two homers. One of the things that made the 22-year-old Dorrian interesting last year is that he was drawing his share of walks, to go along with a .335 average and some pop in his bat. This year, he has a 3:23 BB/SO ratio, which needs to be improved, and can be if he shows the same approach as last year. He was signed by the Pirates as a non-drafted free agent, though he wasn’t draft eligible because of signing out of high school. Dorrian is starting regularly at third base, where he hasn’t made an error in 12 games.
Jake Elmore, Util, Indianapolis – This is the third The 21 article this year and Elmore has been among the top hitters each time. This past week he batted .333/.346/.583 in 26 plate appearances, with three doubles and a homer. On the season, he is hitting .386/.416/.543 in 19 games, which has him ranked third on Indianapolis in OPS behind Cole Tucker and Bryan Reynolds, who are both in the majors. Elmore provides veteran depth and versatility in the field. He has started multiple games in left field, shortstop and second base this year, and has played all nine positions during his pro career.
Connor Kaiser, SS, Greensboro – Kaiser got a spot here due to two completely different games. On Friday, he walked four times. On Saturday, he homered twice and drove in four runs. They were his first two homers of the season and matched his total from last year, which was split between Morgantown and West Virginia, after he was drafted in the third round. Kaiser was off to a really slow start this season, but after this past week, he could be on the right track. He now has a .188/.391/.297 slash line, with more walks (21) than strikeouts (18). He has looked solid at shortstop, though his four errors are three more than he committed last season in 27 more games. He also hasn’t attempted a stolen base yet after going 7-for-9 last season.
Grant Koch, C, Greensboro – Koch was off to a terrible start this season offensively and wasn’t looking strong behind the plate either. The hitting picked up this past week with a .375/.474/.500 slash line. The 22-year-old, fifth round pick from 2018, is now batting .189/.259/.245 in 15 games this season. Koch is 4-for-15 in throwing out runners this season and has committed three errors, after going without an error in 36 games with Morgantown last year. His bat was supposed to be what made him a solid pick in the fifth round, but so far as a pro he has a .188 average and a .550 OPS.
Bligh Madris, RF, Altoona – Madris has been one of the better hitters for average in the system so far this season. He hit .458/.458/.542 in 24 plate appearances last week, giving him a .321/.321/.429 slash line this season. A look at those batting averages and OBP’s tells you that he may have trouble sustaining a high average. Madris has no walks and 19 strikeouts in 20 games. He had a .292 OPS last year in Bradenton, due to both a low average and low walk rate, but walks have been non-existent for him this year. The power is a good sign because he’s a corner outfielder with average defense and no speed, so the 23-year-old, ninth round pick from 2017, will need to continue to hit for power to keep progressing in the system.
Hunter Owen, 3B, Altoona – Owen hit .400/.400/.900 in 20 plate appearances last week. He collected two doubles, a triple and two homers, giving him five on the season (he hit his sixth on Sunday). Owen is batting .329/.400/.671 through 22 games. That’s a huge increase over last year, when the 25-year-old third baseman batted .262/.316/.464 for Bradenton. His biggest issue last year and in the past has been huge differences between his walks and strikeouts. This year he has seven walks and 26 strikeouts in 85 plate appearances. Owen also didn’t offer much defensively (or on the bases) in the past but he seems to be a much more reliable fielder now at third base. It’s at least a huge leap from the well below average defense he displayed in West Virginia in 2017 when every grounder was an adventure.
Travis Swaggerty, CF, Bradenton – We usually set a minimum of 20 plate appearances to make the top performers, but Swaggerty (17 PAs) was one of the better hitters of the week, so we let him slide. He hit .400/.471/.733, with two doubles and a homer. He was off to a slow start, as was the entire Florida State League this year, but this week helped push him OPS up to a .652 mark. Swaggerty has been showing the tools in the outfield and on the bases that got him drafted high. He’s also made some hard contact, but he has been overly aggressive at the plate early in the count and that’s led to a low OBP. Swaggerty recently made an adjustment with his batting stance and the early results have been strong.
Mitchell Tolman, 2B, Altoona – Tolman finished the 2017 season in Altoona and then went to the Arizona Fall League after the season. His stock seemed to be on the rise, but then a 50-game suspension for drug of abuse has really set him back. The Pirates sent him to Bradenton when he returned and he finished the season there. He wasn’t playing full-time early this year, but an injury to Stephen Alemais and a promotion for Alfredo Reyes has opened up time. Tolman is taking advantage of his chance, hitting .294/.350/.529 last week in 20 plate appearances. He’s now batting .250/.300/438 through 21 games. So far, he’s only been playing second base, though he’s seen time at third base during each of his first three seasons.
Dario Agrazal, RHP, Altoona – After three injuries have sidetracked him the last two seasons, Agrazal has started to pitch well this season. Perhaps most impressive during his early season performance is no walks in 25 innings. He made our top performers list last week with one run over six innings, then pitched even better in his last start back on Tuesday. He went seven shutout innings on three hits and recorded eight strikeouts. Agrazal was just promoted to Indianapolis to take the place of JT Brubaker. We don’t know at this time whether or not it’s a permanent move, but Agrazal will have a chance to show that he belongs at the level. Wilbur Miller had an in person report for Altoona last week, follow Agrazal’s start.
Osvaldo Bido, RHP, Greensboro – Bido has made The 21 each of the first three weeks, as he’s put up some of the best pitching stats in the system. He started his week with 5.2 shutout innings, then finished with two runs over seven innings, with both runs coming before he recorded his second out of the game. Bido now has an 0.91 ERA in 29.2 innings, with a .147 BAA and an 0.71 WHIP. He has made quite the progress in just two seasons. Back in 2017, he was a hard-throwing DSL pitcher who lacked control. He skipped to Morgantown last year and showed an incredible improvement in throwing strikes, but the stats didn’t match the stuff he possessed. While he obviously isn’t going to continue at this pace, he is showing why we felt confident enough to rank him in our top 30 prospects, and there’s a good chance he could move up that list by the time we do our mid-season rankings.
Cody Bolton, RHP, Bradenton – Bolton has shown some of the best stuff in the system this year and his outings keep getting better. He gave up one run in his last start, which was unearned, over six innings. That gives him an 0.82 ERA in 22 innings, with a .163 BAA, an 0.86 WHIP and 23 strikeouts. He has been throwing in the 93-96 range this season, hitting 97 in his first start. He’s also been throwing a cutter/slider often, that comes in around 88-89 MPH and it’s been used as an out pitch. Bolton displayed an excellent changeup in his second start, but I didn’t see it as often in either of his last two starts. As long as he doesn’t fall into the pattern of relying on his top two pitches because it works at High-A, then he should continue to develop into a top pitching prospect in the system.
Brad Case, RHP, Greensboro – Case has had three strong outings this season and a fourth in which he allowed three runs over five innings. His start last week was his best. In six shutout innings, he allowed one single on a soft liner that was nearly caught at shortstop. He walked none and struck out three batters. We did a player feature on Case over the winter, taking about his desire to make the Greensboro rotation. He not only earned a spot, he’s keeping it with his performance. Case worked on improving his slider this off-season. He pounds the strike zone with his fastball, working well on the inside corner to both lefties and righties. He’s holding batters to a .188 average and his lack of walks has led to an 0.79 WHIP. He’s a big pitcher with an easy delivery, who works in the 88-91 MPH range, but he’s hit 94 in the recent past.
Luis Escobar, RHP, Bradenton – Escobar used his second minor league option this season, so the Pirates made the decision to move him to the bullpen. He had some struggles in Double-A as a starter last year, then ended the season on a team suspension, so that has led to him returning to Bradenton. He probably won’t be at the level much longer, because he has been dominating. In 10.1 innings over eight appearances, Escobar has a .118 BAA, an 0.00 ERA, an 0.87 WHIP, a 1.83 GO/AO ratio and 14 strikeouts in 10.1 innings. There has always been a chance that he ended up in the bullpen, but he would have had a lot of trouble sticking in the majors before his options ran out if he remained as a starter. When he’s throwing strikes, his three-pitch mix makes him a strong late inning option.
Max Kranick, RHP, Bradenton – Kranick has looked strong this season, except for two short spurts where he had control issues. Those issues didn’t show up in his game last week. After throwing six shutout innings on one hit in his previous outing, Kranick followed that up with two runs on four hits and no walks over six innings in his last start. He was holding batters to a .169 BAA through four starts, while also posting a 1.13 GO/AO ratio, which is the highest ground out rate of his career. Kranick is throwing harder than ever, sitting 93-96, while touching 97 MPH in each of his last two games. Just two years ago, he was more in the 89-92 MPH range and didn’t have the quality of breaking ball and changeup that he has now.
Conner Loeprich, RHP, Greensboro – Loeprich was the 20th round draft pick last year, who went to Morgantown and served as their closer. He did well in the role, posting a 2.83 ERA, a 1.12 WHIP, a 2.53 GO/AO ratio and a .178 BAA, with 31 strikeouts in 28.2 innings. After four shutout innings last week, he is starting to get back on track this season. Loeprich allowed two runs in two of his early appearances, which had him at a 4.70 ERA before this past week. As a reliever, it takes a while to rebound from a couple of poor outings. We did a player feature on Loeprich over the winter, showing how he made it to pro ball. His curveball was rated as plus pitch when he was drafted, while his low-90s cutter is his main pitch. Loeprich is the rare reliever who throws four pitches, mixing that strong two-pitch combo with an improving changeup and a hard slider.
Alex Manasa, RHP, Greensboro – Manasa has been one of the most improved pitchers this season. He was a strike-thrower last year, who pitched to contact. This season he has been missing more bats, thanks to a slight improvement in velocity and excellent command of a slider that has become a strikeout pitch. Manasa gave up two runs on four hits and no walks in his lone start last week. If you include his Sunday results, which could get him a repeat in next week’s The 21, he now has 29 strikeouts in 28.1 innings. That’s coming from someone who had just 46 strikeouts in 80.1 innings. He’s also cut his walk rate down and his ERA is nearly two runs lower than last year. Manasa was drafted out of a community college in 2017 and would have been draft eligible for the first time this year if he attended a four-year school.
James Marvel, RHP, Altoona – Marvel has been one of the best pitchers in the system this season. His Opening Day assignment was the best start so far for any Pirate pitcher. His two starts two weeks ago, earned him the Player of the Week honors here. His start on Friday night was one of the best this week. He tossed seven shutout innings on four hits and two walks. Marvel now has a 1.52 ERA in 29.2 innings, with a .167 BAA and an 0.74 WHIP. He leads the Eastern League in innings pitched, while ranking third in WHIP and sixth in ERA. Marvel has always filled the strike zone and kept the ball on the ground, while racking up innings. His curveball seems to be a better out pitch this year with more of a sharper late break, leading to the early success.
Oddy Nunez, LHP, Bradenton – Nunez has had some major control issues this season, which has led to a 17:17 BB/SO ratio. He made two starts this past week, giving up two runs over five innings on Monday, followed by one run over six innings on Saturday night. Nunez had a lot of potential going into 2018 at Bradenton, but we saw a drop in his velocity and poor control that wasn’t showing up in West Virginia during the previous season. He’s 6’8″ and 22 years old now, so you didn’t expect him to start throwing in the mid-to-high 80s last year. This season he has showing 90-92 MPH on his four-seam fastball, but his main pitch is the sinker and that’s been in the high-80s. When he’s on his game, it’s a tough pitch to square up because there’s both deception in his delivery and a lot of late movement on his pitches. He’s worth keeping in the rotation for now because the 2017 version had a lot of potential, but he needs to have more weeks like this past one.