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
Mitch Keller, RHP, Indianapolis – Keller didn’t have the best pitching outing in the system this past week. That belonged to Osvaldo Bido (see below). However, Keller did have the one that got the most attention. On Friday night, he struck out 13 batters, including all of the first 12 outs on strikeouts. It happened to come on the same night that Rookie Davis started for the Pirates for the first time and things didn’t go well there. Davis was actually placed on the injured list on Saturday, so Keller could see his next big league start when that spot comes up again on Wednesday. The one downside to Keller’s big strikeout game was that he lasted just five innings due to his pitch count. He had a lot of full counts early and he issued three walks. Keller earned the Player of the Week spot over Bido and others because he also went six innings earlier in the week, allowing two runs on three hits. Overall at Indianapolis, he has a 3.10 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 58 innings. The strikeouts lead the league, and his ERA has him tied for the league lead with teammate Dario Agrazal (Agrazal would technically be the leader at 3.101 to 3.103).
Pat Dorrian, 3B, Greensboro – Dorrian had a strong week at the plate, hitting .333/.391/.667 with two double, a triple and a homer, in 23 plate appearances. Through 51 games, that gave him a .250/.340/.448 slash line, with 21 extra-base hits and he’s also 6-for-7 in steals. Dorrian finished April with a .643 OPS, so he’s been on quite a run since then. Part of the improvement has been the much better BB/SO ratio since April. He had four walks and 23 strikeouts during that first month. Since then, he has 18 walks and 26 strikeouts (in 55 more plate appearances). Dorrian excelled in that area last year, while also putting up huge numbers on offense. So it’s not surprise to see that his hitting has returned at the same time that his plate patience improved.
Robbie Glendinning, SS, Bradenton – I mentioned last week when he was one of the top performers, that Glendinning was just a few plate appearances shy of qualifying for league leaders. He had to serve a suspension due to a benches clearing situation earlier in the week, so he might drop off of the leaderboard again for a short time. However, going into Sunday, he led the Florida State League with a .939 OPS. Glendinning is hitting .327/.378/.573 through 40 games with Bradenton, after putting up an .848 OPS in nine games with Altoona to begin the season. He’s playing shortstop full-time now with Oneil Cruz out of action. He has a total of 24 extra-base hits on the season and he’s 7-for-9 in stolen bases. He has been one of the more pleasant surprises of the first half, though the huge numbers he put up in Australia this winter may have pointed to him having success now.
Juan Jerez, INF, DSL Pirates – Jerez put up the best numbers for all qualified hitters (minimum 20 plate appearances), posting a .409/.458/.818 slash line in 24 plate appearances. Signed at 16 years old last July for $380,000 out of the Dominican, the Pirates actually added his older brother (Mario) first, as a late signing during the 2017-18 signing period. While Mario is bigger and very athletic, he had poor results as a rookie last year. He was still moved up to the U.S. while his little brother debuts in the DSL this year. Juan, who turned 17 in late November, had three doubles and two homers last week. He was listed as a middle infielder when signing, but so far has only played second base, handling all 25 chances sent his way without an error.
Bligh Madris, OF, Altoona – Madris has had an odd season. Early in the year he was hitting for average, but wasn’t drawing any walks, literally. He walked for the first time in his 22nd game. At the time, he had a .326 average. Since that point, he has walked 19 times and hit .177 in 36 games. He made the list this week by collecting a double, triple and homer last week, while also walking four times. Overall though, this has been a disappointing season so far for the 23-year-old, who was taken in the ninth round in 2017. He has a .641 OPS in 56 games, and all of his value comes from his bat. He didn’t have a strong season last year in Bradenton either (.664 OPS) but at least there, it was a tougher league for offense and he skipped a level.
Jared Oliva, CF, Altoona – Oliva had a six-game hitting streak snapped on Sunday. He picked up a double and two homers during that stretch. Through 46 games, he has a .205/.298/.325 slash line, with 11 extra-base hits and eight steals in 13 attempts. After returning from an early season concussion, Oliva has not been able to get on track this season. His numbers are well off of his strong showing from last year in Bradenton, and even his steals have really slipped. Last year he was 33-for-41 in steals, so his success rate is well down too. We are also seeing an increase in his strikeouts this year. So there isn’t a lot to like this season, but you have to start someone and he wouldn’t be here if he didn’t have a good week.
Pablo Reyes, INF/OF, Indianapolis – After getting off to a very slow start, both with the Pirates and after his demotion to Indianapolis, Reyes has been one of the better hitters in the system lately. This past week he batted .364/.391/.682 in 23 plate appearances, with four doubles and his fourth home run. Reyes has a .994 OPS in his last 15 games. Indianapolis has been using him mostly at shortstop, with second base and left field mixed in as well (plus one game in center field). That split between positions will change with Cole Tucker returning to Triple-A and getting most of the shortstop time, but expect Reyes to continue moving around. Versatility will get him back to the majors, especially if he can continue to hit well.
Randy Romero, OF, DSL Pirates – Romero is a second-year player in the DSL, who is in an unenviable position. The Pirates went heavy on six-figure outfield signings last July, leaving any returning player from 2018 in a challenge for playing time. So far, Romero is facing that challenge, hitting .316/.435/.421 last week. He has four stolen bases and just one strikeout in his first 26 plate appearances. Romero is a small player, who relies on plus speed, contact ability and solid defense. We did a player feature on him over the winter, showing what he learned in his first year of pro ball and what he was doing to become better. He could move up to the U.S. when the GCL season starts, which would clear up some of the playing time issues in the outfield for the DSL Pirates.
Chris Sharpe, OF, Bradenton – Sharpe looks like he could be the first outfielder to jump from Bradenton to Altoona this year, after really stepping up his game since getting snubbed for the All-Star game. Sharpe already had the best OPS among Bradenton outfielders before he made this list last week. He returns again after a bigger week, hitting .454/.481/.542 in 27 plate appearances. He now has a .296/.373/.452 slash line in 56 games, which ranks him fourth in the league in OPS, just one point out of third place. He’s sixth in average, sixth in slugging, third in OBP and fourth in steals. His big area of improvement has been the strikeout rate. Last year was an unacceptable 29.4% K rate. This year is all the way down to 19.2%. Sharpe got a good start on making next week’s list on Sunday by driving in five runs.
Lucas Tancas, 1B, Bradenton – Tancas is showing major improvements over his 2018 season when he was a platoon player for the Marauders and had a .598 OPS in 92 games. He is 25 years old, so the stats come with a major asterisk, but he’s hitting .286/.333/.424 in a very pitcher-friendly league. He has 19 doubles, which is one behind the league leader. Tancas has also been playing improved defense at first base. The main issue here, even more so than age, is his 11:68 BB/SO ratio in 220 plate appearances. Numbers like those in High-A, don’t translate to success at high levels, especially not for a first baseman. A glove-first middle infielder with speed might be able to get away with that, because they have other carrying tools, but not an older first baseman, so there really needs to be an improvement with the plate patience here.
Luis Tejeda, INF, DSL Pirates – The Pirates signed Tejeda on his 16th birthday (August 26th), making his possibly the youngest player in the entire DSL. You need to turn 16 by August 31st to sign the same year you turn 16, so at worst he is five days older than the youngest player. He has been playing shortstop in all six games this season, which is a good sign for his potential because the Pirates have numerous middle infielders on their two DSL teams. Tejeda (which I’ve seen a “Tejada” multiple times) had four hits on Thursday. He has a .346/.393/.538 slash line through his first 26 plate appearances. His $500,000 bonus is tied for second highest in the 2018-19 international signing class for the Pirates.
Osvaldo Bido, RHP, Greensboro – Bido had his best career outing on Wednesday, throwing six shutout innings on one hit, one walk and ten strikeouts. It was a nice sign from someone who hit a few bumps recently, after starting the season with an 0.91 ERA in April. Bido has the stuff to be a big league starter, with a strong four-pitch mix and excellent velocity. He still has room to fill out his 6’3″ frame, so there could be more in the tank. He’s a long way from the pitcher in the DSL who had a lot of trouble throwing strikes just two seasons ago. He didn’t have to take any velocity off of his pitches to improve his control either. Bido ranks sixth in the South Atlantic League in innings pitched (66.1) and his 1.06 WHIP is the tenth best in the league.
Luis Escobar, RHP, Indianapolis – It appears that Escobar is now back in the starting rotation for good, or at least for the near future. He is now stretched out to five innings, making four starts for Indianapolis with solid results each time. That’s quite a difference from where he was two months ago, when he was sent to Bradenton as a reliever. Escobar allowed one run over five innings on Wednesday. That gave him a 1.59 ERA and a .130 BAA in 17 innings as a starter. The only downside so far has been the nine walks. The move to the bullpen seemed a bit surprising to begin the season, especially since he was ranked as the third best starter in the system at the time. There has always been the chance that he ends up as a reliever, since his control isn’t the best, but he also gets some better velocity on his pitches in shorter outings. For now, the best idea would be to leave him in the rotation and see how it plays out.
Steven Jennings, RHP, Greensboro – Jennings went six shutout innings on Tuesday, giving up three hits and two walks, with two strikeouts. In was the first time that he went six innings this season. I was able to watch his game yesterday (which would count towards next week’s The 21) and have some impressions from that game. On a slow gun off by about 2-3 MPH I’m told), he was sitting 88-90 MPH, touching 91. That’s actually good for him, because those numbers are where he was usually at early this season. So by the end of his outing when he dropped down to 86-87 on the radar, he was probably really in the 88-90 MPH range. The impressive part about the fastball was that he has nice downward plane and he was hitting spots. His high-70s curve is definitely his best pitch when it doesn’t get too loopy, while the slider was a little harder and inconsistent. He didn’t throw many changeups, but he had a nice one that had late drop for a swing and miss in a righty vs righty matchup. He allowed three runs in 5.2 innings, but it looked much better live than on paper.
Max Kranick, RHP, Bradenton – Kranick had two starts last week, allowing two runs over 6.1 innings, followed by one run over six innings. The first start was going much better until the seventh inning when he started to wear down. You’ll see that often during day games in the Florida State League, where the weather can be brutal once they get into May. Kranick got through April with a 2.91 ERA in five starts. He ended May on an up note, but it was an overall tough month, with a 6.41 mark in five starts. Now June he seems to be putting things together. Kranick is working on throwing his changeup more often, to go with his fastball that has been up to 97 MPH this season, as well as his slider, which he will take something off of occasionally to keep hitters off-balance. Adding that changeup as a regular weapon will help him get to the next level. It has actually been a solid pitch for him in the past, but the Pirates had him concentrating on adding and refining his slider up until recently.
Samuel Reyes, RHP, Bradenton – The younger Reyes made it on as well, joining his brother Pablo as one of the top performers this week. Reyes got here by pitching well in two longer outings, getting stretched out to help while the rotation was missing two pieces. He allowed one run over three innings on Tuesday, followed by one run over 3.1 innings on Saturday. Between Greensboro and Bradenton this season, he has an 0.79 ERA in 34 innings, with 35 strikeouts, a .113 BAA and an 0.74 WHIP. In longer outings, he has control of a 93-94 MPH fastball, with a solid changeup and a plus curveball that is nearly impossible for High-A hitters to square up. He can get up to 96 MPH in shorter relief outings.
Domingo Robles, LHP, Altoona – Robles has handled the jump to Double-A nicely so far, especially considering that he was still 20 years old at the start of the 2019 season. He pitched a complete game on Saturday night, throwing seven shutout innings in the first game of a doubleheader. Robles is a true workhorse pitcher, though he doesn’t really have the typical workhorse look, still filling out his 6’1″ frame. His shortest outing this year was five innings, and he’s made it through seven innings on four occasions, giving him 80 innings before the halfway point of the season. He’s not a big strikeout pitcher, gets his share of ground balls and doesn’t walk many batters, which helps keep his pitch count down. Robles is showing a little better velocity this year, though it’s in line with what we saw in 2017. He’s hitting 92 MPH, while throwing a hard slider instead of a loopy curve that he had up until this year. He also has an outstanding changeup.
Sergio Umana, RHP, DSL Pirates – We usually include the best DSL pitcher each week in these columns, as long as someone deserves the spot. It’s a low scoring league with a lot of bad fielding, so we see a lot of shutout ball being thrown, or at least no earned runs for the pitcher. Umana earned this place in his pro debut by throwing five shutout innings while picking up nine strikeouts. The 19-year-old is the second pitcher signed out of Nicaragua by the Pirates in the last two signing periods (Bryan Torres in 2017), but before that, it was quite some time since they signed a Nicaraguan player. The Pirates found him back in November playing in an under-18 tournament, which is actually for players who are 18 and under (I didn’t name it!), which Umana was at the time. He was hitting 87-89 MPH in that tournament, displaying strong control. At the time, he was considered the best unsigned pitching prospect in his country.
Pedro Vasquez, RHP, Altoona – I mentioned last week how bad it looked that Vasquez put up the best start of the week and then got demoted from Indianapolis the next day. The move would have looked better if he went down to Altoona and struggled, but instead, he went down and threw six shutout innings for the second straight game. Vasquez allowed five hits and a walk, while striking out four batters. The 23-year-old right-hander from the Dominican looked his best during the middle of the 2017 season when he was sitting 93-94 MPH and displaying a strong changeup and a curve that was a little inconsistent, but a solid pitch at times. He controlled his fastball and changeup well. After two issues last year (Spring Training illness and mid-season forearm strain) he’s at about the same place now, just a tick slower on the velocity. His recent streak of success continued on Sunday, so he could land here next week as well.
Cam Vieaux, LHP, Indianapolis – Vieaux got promoted to Indianapolis two weeks ago and has made three starts already. His first one was two runs over five innings. The was followed by five runs over five innings in his lone home start. This past week, he gave up one run on two hits in five innings. The interesting thing here is that he displayed poor control in each of the solid performances. In the poor outing, he walked just one batter. Vieaux was pitching well and showing good control with Altoona, and has never really walked many batters at any level since being drafted in the sixth round in 2016. In fact, these two five-walk games with Indianapolis are the only times he has walked that many batters in a game, so you would expect to see some improvements in that area. He’s a fly ball pitcher who doesn’t have a lot of swing-and-miss to his game, so the new juiced baseballs in Triple-A this year could make things tough for him if his control isn’t on every start.
Gavin Wallace, RHP, Bradenton – Wallace was a starter last year, but has moved to relief this season, where he has had a lot of difficulties until very recently. After having a 7.97 ERA on May 16th, he has allowed one run over 7.2 innings and five appearances. Wallace is a control pitcher, who pitches to contact and gets a lot of ground balls. That was working in Low-A and below, but it hasn’t translated to High-A. He’s showing 93-94 MPH velocity in shorter outings this year, while also throwing his off-speed pitches for strikes. The problem is that batters are hitting .331 against him with five home runs. We will see if this recent run is his getting used to his relief role now, or if it’s just a small sample size. He got a nice start of making next week’s list by tossing four shutout innings on Sunday.