Morning Report: Updates on the Top 30 Prospects

Here’s a look at the top 30 prospects for the Pittsburgh Pirates and how they have fared through games played on May 24th. I’ll note that this is slightly different from the top 30 in our Prospect Guide (which is on sale now) because Kevin Newman lost his prospect status last week, so he has been taken off the list.

It’s also different than our daily Prospect Watch list because we take players off that list who are in the majors for long periods or out for the season, giving you more daily performances each day. Except for removing players who lost their prospect status, the next update to our top 50 prospect list will be in mid/late July after all of the draft picks have signed and we get a chance to get reports on them.

  1. Mitch Keller – After a slow start to the season that saw him deal with minor control issues, Keller has looked much better in his last two starts. He’s added a new pitch this month, which still needs some work, but with the Pirates needing pitching help, he will at least make his debut on Monday. Obviously there’s no word yet on whether he will be up for good, or it’s just a spot start.
  2. Ke’Bryan Hayes – Hayes has hit .245/.339/.399 in his first 41 games. Those aren’t great numbers, especially since it’s an up year for offense in the International League due to using livelier baseballs. Hayes hasn’t been over-matched though and his defense has been outstanding, with a .991 fielding percentage. For reference, the Major League record is .991 for third basemen.
  3. Cole Tucker – Tucker was crushing the ball at Indianapolis, before getting called up to the majors. He clearly wasn’t ready for the big leagues after just 12 Triple-A games, but there was a need due to injuries. His defense has been as advertised, but the bat has produced just a .465 OPS in 88 at-bats and he hasn’t attempted a stolen base (mostly due to not being on base). There’s a chance he might not be eligible for our mid-season update with him needing just 43 at-bats, but he really should be getting the Triple-A time he needed.
  4. Oneil Cruz – Not much to update here because he’s been out of action twice, limiting him to 11 games. His defense looked better before the injury, but he was having a lot of trouble at the plate with off-speed pitches. He should be back in about three weeks.
  5. Travis Swaggerty – Swaggerty is hitting .253/.345/.364 through his first 41 games, with nine steals in 11 chances. He’s playing solid defense, with his speed making up for some occasional bad routes. He has improved his walk rate recently, which is a good sign as a lead-off hitter. He still has an aggressive approach at the plate, hunting first pitch fastballs, and there’s some swing-and-miss to his game still. It’s an overall solid, yet unspectacular season in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League.
  6. Kevin Kramer – Kramer started off slow, sat in the majors for five days without playing, then started off slow again in Indianapolis. He’s been one of the better hitters in the system over the last three weeks and has his OPS up to .867 through 35 games. He has been given playing time at both shortstop and outfield recently, in addition to playing second base and third base.
  7. Bryan Reynolds – Reynolds might not be here long, although it will be interesting to see what the Pirates decide to do when Corey Dickerson comes back. Reynolds has a .929 OPS in 28 games with the Pirates after hitting well in a brief time with Indianapolis. As for the prospect status, he has 89 at-bats and the limit to remain a prospect is 130. He’s earned a spot, but will the Pirates keep five regular outfielders?
  8. Will Craig – Craig is showing off the best power of his career while also doing a better job of getting on base than last year. He’s basically putting everything together, including improved defense at first base. There obviously isn’t a place for him with the Pirates right now, but 42 games at Triple-A isn’t exactly a lot, so there’s no rush at this point. A full season at the level has never hurt anyone.
  9. Jason Martin – Since being sent down to Indianapolis about a month ago, Martin has shown some power, speed and defense, but isn’t getting on base at a high clip. Unless it’s due to injuries, we probably won’t see him in Pittsburgh again until September.
  10. JT Brubaker – Brubaker has been injured for the last month and is just now getting back to throwing. The timing of the injury was rough because he would have been in the majors right now getting a regular spot with both Jameson Taillon and Trevor Williams out. He could be a second half option, depending on how well his return goes.
  11. Calvin Mitchell – As someone who is playing the entire season at 20 years old in High-A ball, Mitchell is putting up some strong numbers. He’s hitting .299/.335/.463 in 44 games with 17 extra-base hits. His BB/SO ratio of 10:49 could be an issue going forward, as the walks are well down off previous totals and the strikeout rate is higher than you would like to see.
  12. Cody Bolton – Bolton has been one of the best stories this season, looking like one of the best pitchers in the Florida State League, while showing stuff that could land him near the top prospect spot in the system by the end of the season. He regularly hits 97 MPH in his starts, even touching 98 this year. He throws a cutter and a slider with similar looks but different speeds and also has a serviceable changeup. His innings will be something to watch as the season goes along because he missed time last year.
  13. Tahnaj Thomas – Thomas was dealing with a minor shoulder injury late in Spring Training, so he has come along slowly during Extended Spring Training (EST). The early reports of his game action have been positive and barring a setback of course, he will be ready for a starting role once the short-season teams start next month. He’s likely headed to Bristol.
  14. Braxton Ashcraft – Ashcraft is also in EST, showing progress over last year. He has filled out some already and he’s got a big 6’5″ frame to add more. He is headed to the Bristol rotation.
  15. Lolo Sanchez – Sanchez is having the breakout season we predicted a year too early. Repeating Low-A, the 20-year-old outfielder is doing a great job of getting on base and making hard contact. He leads the league in stolen bases, leads all Pirates in outfield assists and he has just 20 strikeouts all season. He should move to Bradenton soon.
  16. Nick Burdi – Burdi was pitching well for the Pirates before he had that awful looking elbow injury that turned out to be much better than expected. He’s not close to returning, but he should return during the second half.
  17. Pablo Reyes – Reyes struggled as a bench player in the majors and has been off to a slow start in Triple-A as well. He should get going once he gets some more at-bats. He needs just 34 at-bats to lose his prospect status, but probably won’t get that total until September unless he really gets on a hot streak soon.
  18. Clay Holmes – Holmes is another possibility to be removed from the prospect list before our mid-season update. He has 34.2 innings pitched in the majors and is coming off of back-to-back impressive outings. He’s a multi-inning reliever, so getting in another 15.2 innings before late July is possible, especially now that he might get more of a chance.
  19. Travis MacGregor – McGregor is out for the season due to Tommy John surgery last October. He’s rehabbing at Pirate City and everything was on track last time we checked.
  20. Braeden Ogle – Ogle started two games this season before moving to the bullpen. Part of the reason was due to a slide in his velocity during starts, but he was also limited to just 17 innings last year. Even as a reliever, he’s already 3.2 innings over last season, with over 90 games left, so I wouldn’t expect him leave the relief role. He has hit 97 MPH this season.
  21. Stephen Alemais – Alemais was out at the start of the season, then briefly returned before injuring his shoulder. After trying rehab, he had season ending surgery.
  22. Michael Burrows – Burrows looked great after being drafted in the 11th round last year and he’s showing big signs of progress this spring. He was recently sitting 93-95 MPH in an EST start. He’s headed to the Bristol rotation.
  23. Jared Oliva – Oliva was injured in his first game of the season. He returned after two weeks, but hasn’t done much since then. He has put up a .596 OPS in 33 games. Oliva didn’t finish strong last year, especially not in the power department, so he’s been on more of a down note since late last June.
  24. Ji-Hwan Bae – Bae just returned from a 30-game suspension, so there isn’t much to go on here. He was originally called up to Greensboro so he wouldn’t miss any time during his suspension (he missed his pay, but was playing in EST). If he was down at Pirate City when the suspension was handed out, then he couldn’t start serving it until the GCL season started, at which time there are no more EST games. The Pirates decided to keep him there once he returned. The 19-year-old shortstop had four hits in his second game back.
  25. Max Kranick – Kranick has the pitches to be a Major League starter and he throws strikes. He’s been inconsistent this year though. He has looked very impressive in some starts and just went through a patch of three straight tough outings. His last start was strong, hitting 97 MPH and using his slider very effectively.
  26. Luis Escobar – Escobar dominated High-A as a reliever and has now moved up to Triple-A, where he has seen limited action so far. Escobar has the pitch arsenal to be a power reliever, hitting 98 MPH, with a plus curve and a strong changeup.
  27. Osvaldo Bido – Bido began the year off great for Greensboro, then had a couple of tough outings, but seemed to get back on track in his last start. He had a tough start last night, so we will see if he bounces back again. He pounds the strike zone and has a big league quality mix of pitches. He’s 23 years old, but still has room to fill out his frame.
  28. Eduardo Vera – Vera has struggled in Triple-A and there seems to be a few reasons behind it. His velocity is down slightly over the past, sitting 90-92 instead of the 92-94 we saw last year, or 93-95 we saw in 2017. His command isn’t what we saw last year when he dominated late at Altoona. His best pitch is his changeup and he’s not using it often. He told me last year at times he threw the pitch about 25% of the time. In the games I’ve seen, his usage is around 10% and his fastball is getting him in trouble.
  29. Gage Hinsz – Hinsz has been injured since the very end of Spring Training and is just now getting back to throwing. His return time will depend on whether or not he’s used as a starter or reliever.
  30. Aaron Shortridge – Shortridge got off to a great start, but ran into a rough patch recently. He’s showing excellent control and mixing his pitches well, though he’s not a hard-thrower. Despite being a college draft pick in High-A, there is still some projection left here because he didn’t pitch much before last year.

PLAYOFF PUSH

Altoona is in fourth place in their division, eight games back with 23 games remaining in the first half.

Bradenton is in third place in their division, three games back with 21 games remaining in the first half.

Greensboro is in second place in their division, 4.5 games back with 22 games remaining in the schedule.

TODAY’S SCHEDULE

Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates lost 7-2 to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday night. The Pirates will send out Chris Archer today, making his eighth start of the season. He has allowed nine runs over 8.2 innings in his two starts since returning from the injured list. Prior to going on the injured list, Archer allowed six runs over four innings against the Dodgers. The Dodgers will send out 31-year-old right-hander Kenta Maeda this afternoon. He has a 3.51 ERA in 51.1 innings, with 52 strikeouts and a 1.19 WHIP. His last start was 6.2 shutout innings against the San Diego Padres. He struck out 12 batters in that game. Maeda threw six shutout innings in his prior start against the Washington Nationals.

The minor league schedule includes a TBD for Indianapolis because Mitch Keller, the scheduled starter, will be with the Pirates on Monday. Colin Selby makes his third start for Greensboro. He allowed one run on two hits in his debut and two runs on two hits (both homers) in his second game. Nicholas Economos makes his second start for Bradenton. He allowed two runs over five innings in his debut. Economos had 50 strikeouts in 32.2 innings with Greensboro, but just three in his High-A debut. Sean Brady will likely get the start for Altoona, though he becomes an option for Indianapolis today, unless they stay in house to replace Keller. We will find out later.

The full 2019 Pirates Prospects Prospect Guide is now available, up to date as of April 3rd, with every player in the minor league system (NOTE: There have been just three players released and two added since then, so the book is still 99% up to date). Includes full reports on the top 50 prospects, reports on over 150 other players, as well as looks back at the recent drafts and international signing classes. Subscribers get 20% off the purchase of a book.

MLB: Pittsburgh (25-24) vs Dodgers (34-18) 1:35 PM
Probable starter: Chris Archer (5.55 ERA, 37:18 SO/BB, 35.2 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (26-19) @ Columbus (27-19) 2:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: TBD

AA: Altoona (22-25) @ Portland (15-31) 1:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Sean Brady (5.71 ERA, 10:4 SO/BB, 17.1 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (27-21) vs Tampa (21-27) 1:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Nicholas Economos (3.60 ERA, 3:2 SO/BB, 5.0 IP)

Low-A: Greensboro (33-15) @ Hickory (31-17) 3:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Colin Selby (3.00 ERA, 11:1 SO/BB, 9.0 IP)

HIGHLIGHTS

From Indianapolis, Will Craig’s 12th home run of the season

Kevin Kramer’s go-ahead two-run double on Friday. His 14th double of the season

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

5/25: Pirates add Rookie Davis and Dovydas Neverauskas. Chris Stratton placed on injured list. Michael Feliz optioned to Indianapolis. Lonnie Chisenhall moved to 60-day IL.

5/25: Pedro Vasquez promoted to Indianapolis. Ryan Peurifoy added to Altoona roster.

5/25: Ike Schlabach placed on injured list.

5/22:  Ji-Hwan Bae removed from restricted list. Raul Siri assigned to Extended Spring Training.

5/21: Steven Baron placed on injured list. Richard Rodriguez added to Indianapolis roster.

5/21: Austin Coley added to Bradenton roster. Luis Nova assigned to Extended Spring Training

5/20: Nicholas Economos promoted to Bradenton.

5/18: Justin Harrer added to Greensboro roster. Jonah Davis assigned to Extended Spring Training

5/17: Trevor Williams placed on injured list. Clay Holmes recalled from Indianapolis

5/17: Geoff Hartlieb added to 40-man roster and recalled by Pirates. Jacob Stalling assigned to Indianapolis (cleared waivers) and Richard Rodriguez optioned to Indianapolis

5/17: Luis Nova added to Bradenton roster. Oddy Nunez placed on injured list

5/16: Tate Scioneaux placed on injured list.

THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY

Three former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus the debut of one of the best pitchers in franchise history, and a very historic pitching performance. The players born on this date include catcher Dann Bilardello, who played for the Pirates in 1989 and was a member of the 1990 NL East champs. Pitcher Chuck Hartenstein, who played for Pittsburgh in 1969-70, and pitcher Jack Cronin, who was a teammate in 1898 of the pitcher who made his debut on this date.

Sam Leever, who went 194-100 in 13 seasons in Pittsburgh, made his debut on this date in 1898 as a reliever. There were two interesting things of note from the post-game recap about Leever’s debut. The local newspaper praised his speed and control, saying if he listened to instructions, he should become a winner. Leever was quoted after the game, saying that he will work to become a better hitter. The Pirates lost to 11-7 to the last place Senators that day, but Leever obviously became a winner and went on to help the Pirates to four NL titles and one World Series title.

On this date in 1959, Harvey Haddix threw what is called by many, the greatest pitched game ever. He retired the first 36 batters he faced, only to lose the game in the 13th inning. While he got the loss, he is still remembered for this amazing feat 60 years later and it is unlikely to ever be topped. Here is the boxscore from that game.

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