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
Brad Case, RHP, Greensboro – Case had one of the best outings we will see this season on Saturday. He retired the first 18 batters he faced before allowing a bloop single that fell right near the left field line. The tough part of that hit is that he had the batter well out in front of the pitch and it was an awkward swing. Case retired the next three batters to end his night. Earlier in the week, he gave up two runs over seven innings, with both runs coming in his final frame. Case has been pitching well all season, posting a 1.90 ERA and an 0.70 WHIP that ranks second in the South Atlantic League. He has walked two batters in 42.2 innings. Case uses all of his pitches and works all four corners of the zone. He doesn’t strike out many batters, but there is potential for more. He has a very low effort delivery that produces a fastball that has hit 94 in the past, but usually sits 89-91 MPH. His slider is an effective second pitch and deception in his delivery makes it hard to pick up his changeup.
Jake Elmore, Util, Indianapolis – Time for your weekly Jake Elmore update. He’s the only hitter to make all five editions of The 21 this season. He’s hitting .380/.444/.546 in 31 games, seeing starts at second base, shortstop and left field. He can play basically anywhere on the field, though catching would just be an emergency situation. He leads the International League in batting, ranks sixth in OPS, fourth in hits and second in doubles. Elmore is showing that he is capable of handling a bench spot in the majors, but he might not get that chance with the Pirates.
Robbie Glendinning, IF, Bradenton – Glendinning has been one of the best hitters in the system all season, though he couldn’t avoid a demotion from Altoona early in the year when Stephen Alemais returned to the lineup. Glendinning batted .300 with an .848 OPS in Altoona, before being sent to Bradenton, where he was originally slated to begin the season. Since joining the Marauders, he has done nothing but hit. He batted .348/.348/.739 in 23 at-bats last week, hitting three doubles and two homers. That gave him a .344/.373/.672 slash line 17 games at High-A. Glendinning is an athletic player, who is capable of playing shortstop regularly, though he can also play third base and second base if needed.
Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B, Indianapolis – Hayes isn’t breaking out at the plate yet like most hoped, but it’s important to remember that he’s one of the youngest players in Triple-A right now. He’s playing in a park that isn’t great for homers, so we could be seeing the power develop even more this year in the form of his 14 doubles, which leads the league. This past week he hit .300/.417/.450 in 24 plate appearances. His strikeout total has been higher this year than in the past, though he had just three last week, so that could just be an early adjustment to Triple-A. Hayes is playing outstanding defense as usual (one error in 79 chances) and he’s 5-for-5 in stolen bases, so there is value being added outside of the slightly below league average .743 OPS.
Brett Kinneman, OF, Greensboro – Kinneman hit .278/.300/.556 last week, with two doubles and his fourth home run of the season. His 2019 has basically been a big series to start the season (nine hits and seven RBIs in his first four games), then one long slump until this past week. He is batting .168/.238/.319 in 30 games this year, with 48 strikeouts. When he was drafted, there were questions about whether he would make enough contact to be successful in pro ball, but those questions also came with some big raw power for a seventh round pick. He had a decent debut in Morgantown, putting up a .757 OPS in a pitcher-friendly league, while striking out 74 times in 60 games. This year the strikeout rate has increased and that has led to the poor overall numbers.
Jason Martin, CF, Indianapolis – Martin makes it here for a second week in a row after being sent down by the Pirates. He was the last hitter to make this list (meaning tenth best week), so his .278/.350/.500 week doesn’t really stand out. All of his damage happened on Friday and Saturday when he went 4-for-8 with a double, homer, two walks and two stolen bases. Martin really struggled last year in Triple-A, so the hot start to his return is a bit of good news. He will return to the Pirates at some point this season, and come back as a more experienced player. He probably wasn’t ready for the majors this year, but injuries made it necessary to bring him up. Next time will be a different story.
Mason Martin, 1B, Greensboro – Martin posted the highest OPS for any hitter in the system last week. That was helped out by a big game on Saturday to wrap up his week. Martin hit .412/.478/.706 in 23 plate appearances. He connected on his eighth home run of the season, which ranks him third in the South Atlantic League. Martin’s .872 OPS is the ninth best in the league. He’s showing a nice improvement while repeating the level, though it’s important to note that he is still weeks shy of his 20th birthday. Martin is combining power with patience, while also showing some progress on defense. The downside is the high strikeout total, but if it comes along with both walks and extra-base hits, then it shouldn’t hold him back.
Calvin Mitchell, OF, Bradenton – Mitchell has been solid all season, but he put up even bigger numbers this past week. In seven games, he went 10-for-24, with two doubles and a triple. That led to a .417/.481/.583 slash line for the week. He is now hitting .308/.345/.508 in 33 games, with 14 extra-base hits. He ranks fourth in the Florida State League in slugging, fifth in average and seventh in OPS. The offense is a great sign from Mitchell, who is one of the youngest players in the FSL. His value is almost entirely in his lefty bat, as he’s an average corner outfielder with below average speed. He’s going to need to hit his way to the majors and while he put up solid numbers last year in Low-A, the early results this season are a very positive sign.
Kyle Mottice, IF, Greensboro – Mottice fell three plate appearances short of our flexible minimum of 20 that we use for this article. We included him because he posted the second best OPS last week. Mottice started the season in Extended Spring Training. In six games (four last week) since joining Greensboro, he has a .526/.625/.579 slash line. He has two strikeouts in 24 plate appearances and he is 4-for-4 in stolen bases. Greensboro has used him four times at second base and twice at shortstop. Mottice had a .472 OPS last year in the GCL, which is the highest total in the league since 2000. He also stole 16 bases in 16 attempts, so he hasn’t been caught yet in 20 attempts as a pro. Between the speed, defense, low strikeout rates and on base ability, there has been a lot to like so far in his brief pro career.
Lolo Sanchez, OF, Greensboro – You have to wonder how long Sanchez will stay at Greensboro, though Bradenton has a crowded outfield ahead of him with no one ready to move up to Altoona. He finished up solid in the second half of last year, posting a .709 OPS in his final 60 games. That was after a .586 OPS in the first half. The 20-year-old Sanchez is doing much better this year, posting a .320/.382/.533 slash line in 33 games. He ranks fifth in the league in OPS, sixth in slugging and seventh in batting average, while leading the league with five triples. He’s 12-for-18 in stolen bases and plays solid defense, splitting his time this year between all three outfield spots. This past week he had a .983 OPS, with just one strikeout in 27 plate appearances.
Chris Sharpe, OF, Bradenton – Sharpe is a toolsy athlete with some power, speed and defense. None of them are above average, but it’s a set of tools that can get a player to the majors as a solid player if they reach their peak. We really haven’t seen that from him outside of spurts of offense. That happened last week when he hit .368/.400/.632 in 20 plate appearances. One of his hits was a long home run to left field in Bradenton. After a slow start to the season, he has a .245/.342/.402 slash line in 30 games. One of his biggest issues during his first two seasons was his BB/SO rate. This year, the strikeout rate is much lower and the walk rate is slightly higher than last year. We could be seeing him make those positive adjustments to get the most out of his tools.
Dario Agrazal, RHP, Indianapolis – Agrazal was our Player of the Week last week and had an outside chance to repeat if Brad Case didn’t come through with a big start on Saturday. In his third game since being promoted to Indianapolis, Agrazal gave up one run on three hits over eight innings. He had no walks and seven strikeouts. In 21.2 innings with Indianapolis, he has a 1.25 ERA, an 0.65 WHIP and 20 strikeouts. Agrazal relies on a two-seam fastball that was 88-91 MPH on Friday. He throws a four-seam fastball that touches 94 MPH, along with a slider and a changeup. He commands all of his pitches well, pounding the strike zone. Agrazal isn’t quite where he was at velocity-wise when he was at his peak before injuries started to pile up, but he can still be very effective where he is now. He gets in trouble when he’s not commanding his pitches.
Cody Bolton, RHP, Bradenton – Bolton has made it here every week so far because every start has been a good one. He hasn’t given up more than one run in any outing. The one that got him here this week was seven shutout innings on three hits and no walks, with seven strikeouts. He leads the Florida State League with an 0.77 ERA, while also ranking first in WHIP with a matching 0.77 mark. Bolton is eighth in the league in strikeouts, averaging just over one per inning. We have mentioned how he has been repeating his performance, but that too deserves repeating. Bolton overpowers hitters with a mid-90s fastball and a high 80s cutter that is thrown using his slider grip. He basically has two versions of a slider, with the cutter being 4-5 MPH more. He also throws a changeup that is effective, though he’s mostly working with his fastball/cutter at this point.
Yerry De Los Santos, RHP, Greensboro – De Los Santos debuted in 2015 at 17 years old in the DSL and pitched 59 innings. He signed for a low six-figure bonus the prior July, which made him a player to watch back when the Pirates were limited in what they could spend on international players due to MLB’s bonus cap. He missed all of 2016 and part of 2017 with a shoulder injury. De Los Santos missed part of 2018 as well, though he ended up pitching well over three levels in limited time. This spring he took a major step forward and now he appears to be a reliever to watch in the system. De Los Santos was sitting 94-96 MPH in Extended Spring Training, while flashing an improved slider in the mid-80s. That earned him a trip to Greensboro, where he tossed three shutout innings over two appearances, giving up one hit and striking out five batters.
Steven Jennings, RHP, Greensboro – Jennings could be getting on track after a slow start to the season. He start this week was definitely a step in the right direction. In 5.1 shutout innings, he allowed three hits, walked three and struck out three batters. It wasn’t dominating by any means, and he wasn’t efficient with his pitches (91), but he had a 7.89 ERA through his first five starts. He was coming off of one run over five innings in his sixth start, so it’s a very positive two-game run. Jennings has a tendency to let runs pile on, turning a solid start into a poor one in a hurry. While we haven’t seen a jump yet in his velocity, his has the control and off-speed pitches to be successful. He’s also pitching this entire season at 20 years old, so there is still time and potential for the 2017 second round pick.
Alex McRae, RHP, Indianapolis – McRae has not had a good season so far, but he’s here for a reason. On Thursday, he tossed 6.2 shutout innings on one hit and two walks, while striking out five batters. He came into that day with a 6.60 ERA, a 1.57 WHIP and a .308 BAA. The 26-year-old McRae got two brief cups of coffee with the Pirates last year, which was mostly due to timing. They needed someone who could go multiple innings after the bullpen was worked hard, and that lined up twice with his day to start in Indianapolis. While his season ERA is higher this year than last, he has a better strikeout rate, a lower WHIP and a better BAA. If he can use this start as a springboard, he could get another chance like the one he had last year.
Samuel Reyes, RHP, Greensboro/Bradenton – Reyes was a surprise return to Greensboro this year. Sometimes when that happens, it because of a drop in a pitcher’s stuff during the spring, but that wasn’t the case here. He has pitched as well as anyone in the system this season and continued that during his debut in Bradenton. Reyes retired all ten batters he faced this week, the last seven in High-A ball after being promoted mid-week. His ridiculous stats so far this season include an 0.46 ERA, an 0.61 WHIP, an .065 BAA and 26 strikeouts in 19.2 innings. Reyes is mostly known as Pablo’s younger brother at this point, but he’s quickly establishing a name for himself.
Domingo Robles, LHP, Bradenton – Robles broke a pattern of either giving up 3+ runs or throwing shutout ball. On Tuesday night, he allowed one run on five hits and a walk in six innings, while striking out six batters. He now has a 2.51 ERA in 43 innings, with 34 strikeouts, a .197 BAA and an 0.98 WHIP. Robles hit 92 MPH in his last start, a number he reached consistently throughout the 2017 season, but not often since then. He just turned 21 years old two weeks ago and is having success in High-A, so there is potential here. Besides having control over a fastball with movement, he has a tighter breaking ball than the loopy curve we saw last year. Robles also has a solid changeup as part of his three-pitch mix.
Hunter Stratton, RHP, Bradenton – Stratton had his longest outing of the season on Thursday, tossing four shutout innings. In fact, since pitching one inning on April 27th, he has gone up one inning in each of his next three outings. Stratton has a 1.23 ERA in 22 innings this season, with 21 strikeouts, a .167 BAA and an 0.82 WHIP. After being drafted in 2017, he was very inconsistent as a starter over the previous two years. He seems to be doing much better in a relief role, yet he is still using a four-pitch mix, which could mean that he gets starts later in the year. Possibly sooner if this recent inning increase was the team building him up. Stratton was throwing 88-93 MPH last year. This year in shorter outings, he is 92-93 MPH, with a changeup, mid-80s slider and low-80s curve.
Beau Sulser, RHP, Altoona – If I didn’t just mention the video game numbers being put up by Samuel Reyes, then you’d probably be more impressed with what Sulser is doing this season. He began the year in Bradenton, but before he could get into a game, he was promoted to Altoona. In 20.1 innings, he has allowed one run. He has an 0.44 ERA, an 0.74 WHIP and a .119 BAA, with 18 strikeouts. Sulser had his longest outing of the season this week, tossing 3.1 shutout innings. Despite being a 2017 draft pick, he’s already 25 years old. He’s also not an overpowering pitcher, getting by more on command. His walk total is already twice as high as either previous season and his GO/AO ratio is his lowest, but that’s only because he was so good in those areas in the past.
Pedro Vasquez, RHP, Altoona – Vasquez has been solid in all but one of his starts this season, making him the most consistent Altoona starter this year. His start this past week was two runs on six hits and a walk in six innings. That gave the 23-year-old Vasquez a 2.73 ERA in 33 innings, with a 1.09 WHIP, a .246 BAA and 21 strikeouts. He didn’t have the best debut in Double-A last year, but he was coming off a Spring Training illness, plus he had a minor forearm injury mid-season. Now we are seeing the pitcher who was one of the best in the Florida State League for 90% of the 2017 season, until he saw a dip in his stuff late as his inning total went well beyond his previous high.
John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.
When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.