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
Pedro Vasquez, RHP, Altoona – Vasquez makes it to The 21 for a third straight week and this time he takes the top spot. In his first outing last week, he extended his shutout streak to 18 innings by allowing just one hit and no walks over six innings. He had eight strikeouts in that game. The shutout streak was broken on Sunday, but it was still a great game for the 23-year-old. He allowed one run on four hits and one walk over seven innings. In 62.1 innings with Altoona, he has a 2.45 ERA, a 1.01 WHIP, a .227 BAA and a 47:11 SO/BB ratio. Those ERA and WHIP numbers each rank him eighth in the Eastern League. Vasquez works in the low-90s with his fastball, mixing it with a mid-80s changeup and a low-80s curve. He mixes his pitches well, pounds the strike zone and wastes no time between pitches, making for some very quick innings when he’s on his game.
Daniel Amaral, OF, Bradenton – With Chris Sharpe playing well and both Travis Swaggerty and Calvin Mitchell playing every day, Amaral hasn’t been seeing a lot of playing time this season. He got a chance to play more recently after Mitchell missed some games when he was hit with a pick-off throw in the helmet. Amaral is making the most of his chance, putting together an 11-game hit streak this month, batting .375/.404/.458 in June. He has some of the best speed in the system, but he’s also a smart base runner, so he’s able to take advantage of that speed. In 101 pro games, he is 35-for-43 in steals. It would seem like a promotion to Sharpe would clear room for Amaral to play every day, but it’s likely that Lolo Sanchez would be promoted at the same time. For now, Amaral will continue to get his chances to play regularly as long as the bat stays hot.
Dylan Busby, 3B, Bradenton – Busby was on an early season tear with ten home runs in his first 25 games. That was followed by 29 games with no homers and a .482 OPS. Busby got back on the home run track this past week, with one in three straight games. With the Florida State League headed into the All-Star break, he sat in second place in the league with 13 homers. Unfortunately, he also sat atop with strikeout leaderboard with 90 in 59 games. In fact, he has more multi-strikeout games than contests with 0-1 strikeouts. Busby was drafted as someone who had nice raw power, but didn’t get to it enough due to so much swing-and-miss in his game. He had some concerning rates during his first two seasons as a pro, but his 38.8% K rate this season isn’t a good sign for possible future success.
Jauri Custodio, OF, DSL Pirates – The Pirates were only able to sign Custodio because he failed a physical with the Colorado Rockies. After agreeing to sign for $150,000 last July, the Rockies voided the deal because Custodio had a bad bone bruise and wasn’t able to play. He didn’t sign with the Pirates until seventh months later, but it seems like they got lucky that he was still available. Through 11 games, the 17-year-old right-handed hitter is batting .300/.352/.460 with five doubles and a home run. His most impressive stat right now might be his strikeout total, just two of them in 54 plate appearances. The Pirates spent a lot of money on outfielders during the 2018-19 international signing class, but as one of their lower bonuses, Custodio is looking like a bargain early on.
Robbie Glendinning, SS, Bradenton/Altoona – Glendinning missed out on the Florida State League All-Star game and a spot in the Home Run Derby for a pretty good reason. He was promoted to Altoona a few days before the game. We were able to talk to him after he arrived in Altoona and asked about his strong season this year. He credited just being able to play every day, along with getting great experience in winter ball in Australia this year. Glendinning didn’t get regular playing time growing up in Australia and wasn’t facing the best competition when he did play. Now at 23 years old, he is looking like a late bloomer. This past week, he hit .421/.542/.842 in 24 plate appearances. When he left the Florida State League, he was leading the league in average, slugging percentage and OPS. His .992 OPS is 119 points higher than the second best in the league.
Bligh Madris, OF, Altoona – Madris hit .333/.391/.619 in 24 plate appearances last week. He had three doubles, along with his third home run of the season on Saturday. Through his first 62 games this season, he has a .249/.314/.362 slash line. That’s very similar to the line he put up with Bradenton last year, with a slight uptick in OBP and a slight drop in slugging. At 23 years old, Madris is what you would describe as a solid organizational player. He really isn’t showing any standout tools at this point, especially with below average speed and average defense at a corner outfield spot. Without an uptick in both power and on base, he’s going to have a hard time advancing to the majors. Age is on his side for now, but he isn’t making any progress as a prospect at this point.
Mason Martin, 1B, Greensboro – Martin hit .286/.304/.619 last week in 23 plate appearances, topping things off with his 18th home run of the season. That put him at the top of the South Atlantic League in homers and he leads all Pittsburgh Pirates. For the season, he’s hitting .262/.352/.579 in 64 games. He ranks third in the league in both slugging and OPS, while just celebrating his 20th birthday two weeks ago. Just like with Dylan Busby (see above), strikeouts are an issue here. Martin is second in the league with 88 strikeouts. That’s fine when you’re putting up the numbers he is, but the downside is that the pitchers are going to keep getting better over the next four levels. It’s going to be hard to maintain a high success rate with that high of a strikeout rate. He’s got plenty of time on his side though, so there’s room for improvement with experience.
Alexander Mojica, 3B, DSL Pirates – Mojia signed with the Pirates for $350,000 on his 16th birthday. Since he was born on August 2nd, that makes him one of the youngest players in the Dominican Summer League this season. The July 2nd signing period has a cutoff of August 31st for 16-year-old players to sign. A September birthday (or later) means that they need to wait until the following signing period. Mojica isn’t letting youth get in his way so far, putting up a 1.431 OPS last week, which was the best among all Pirates. On the season in 11 games, he is hitting .429/.568/.821 in 37 plate appearances. Mojica is a strong kid, who has worked a lot on conditioning since signing with the Pirates. He’s 6’1″ and listed at 195, though he’s probably a little heavier and it’s not all good weight yet. He’s had some issues early on at third base, but he’s 16 years old (so there’s plenty of time) and he wasn’t signed for his glove.
Deivis Nadal, IF, DSL Pirates – The Pirates signed the switch-hitting Nadal, who turned 17 in February, for $185,000 back on July 2nd. Listed at 5’11” and 150 pounds, he was called as an advanced contact hitter, who needed to fill out some before he added any power. Nadal hit his first pro home run in just his third career game. In 26 plate appearances last week, he had a .389/.560/.500 slash line. That gave him a .353/.500/.529 line through his first 11 games. He is a middle infielder with a chance to stick at shortstop. So far, the Pirates have been splitting him up, with five games at second base and four at shortstop. He has been running often early, with four steals in six attempts.
Hunter Owen, 3B, Altoona – Owen has basically been a regular here this year, so there isn’t anything new to say, other than he keeps performing well. He hit .300/.417/.650 last week in 24 plate appearances. That gave him a .300/.375/.583 slash line going into Sunday. He ranks second in the Eastern League in average, ninth in OBP, first in slugging and first in OPS. He’s also first with 15 homers. Owen has improved at third base to the point he looks average at the position. His walks are still low and his strikeouts are a little high, plus he’s old for the level. That last one could have been fixed recently by sending him to Triple-A when Ke’Bryan Hayes got hurt, but for now, it looks like that spot has been filled by Darnell Sweeney, who is just over two years older than Owen and already has big league experience in two seasons.
Chris Sharpe, OF, Bradenton – Sharpe was snubbed for the Florida State League All-Star game, went on a hot streak, then made it to the game anyway as a replacement player (likely replacing Glendinning). He hit .278/.458/.500 in 24 plate appearances last week. That now gives him a .295/.381/.456 slash line in 61 games. In the pitcher-friendly FSL, those numbers have him ranked sixth in average, third in OBP, seventh in slugging and fourth in OPS. Sharpe also ranks fourth with 14 steals. The most impressive part of his year and part of the reason for his success, is that he has really cut down on his strikeouts. He had 98 strikeouts last year in 333 plate appearances (29.4%). This season he has 49 strikeouts in 253 plate appearances (19.3%).
Dario Agrazal, RHP, Indianapolis – Before he made his big league debut on Saturday, he made a start early in the week for Indianapolis and went seven strong innings. He allowed two runs on four hits and one walk, with three strikeouts. That gave up a 3.10 ERA and an 0.97 WHIP in 49.1 innings over eight starts in Triple-A. The ERA had him ranked first in the International League, just percentage points ahead of teammate Mitch Keller. The WHIP was also first, though it was 21 points better than the second best WHIP in the league. He’s currently just shy in the innings department of qualifying for league leaders, but he returned to Indianapolis after allowing two earned runs over four innings for the Pirates on Saturday.
Osvaldo Bido, RHP, Greensboro – Bido made it in The 21 last week for his outstanding six shutout innings of against Charleston. He gave up just one hit and one walk, while striking out ten batters. That was followed by a solid performance on Monday in which he allowed two runs on three hits and three walks, with five strikeouts in six innings. Bido pitched again on Saturday and put together another terrific start with seven shutout innings on four hits, with no walks and seven strikeouts. The 23-year-old, in his third season of pro ball, now has a 3.06 ERA in 79.1 innings, with 69 strikeouts, a .215 BAA and a 1.01 WHIP. He ranks second in the league in innings and sixth in WHIP.
Luis Escobar, RHP, Indianapolis – Escobar continues to impress in his move back to the rotation. He went 5.1 innings on Tuesday, allowing one run on two hits and two walks, with five strikeouts. In five starts, he has not allowed more than one run in a game. Escobar struggled in the jump to Altoona last year, constantly running up his pitch counts because more experienced hitters were laying off of pitches outside the zone. He relied on getting chases in the lower levels, and still does now. That makes it a bit surprising that he is having so much success in Triple-A. He has outstanding stuff, with a mid-90s fastball, a big curve and possibly the best changeup in the system, so if he got the ball in the strike zone a little more often, his prospect status would take off. Since he is succeeding as a starter, despite 2+ walks in all five outings, he may actually get a shot to start for the Pirates this season.
Carlos Jimenez, RHP, DSL Pirates – Jimenez has a sad background surrounding his signing, though things have gone well for him since the incident. While on his way to a tournament to pitch in front of scouts, he found out his 24-year-old brother, who also played pro ball, was killed. Jimenez pitched in that tournament anyway and must have impressed the Pirates, because they signed him as soon as he turned 16 years old. In fact, he’s still pitching pro ball at 16 until mid-July. In his season debut, he threw five shutout innings and struck out seven batters. After a shaky second start, he returned last week to throw five shutout innings again, this time on three hits and a walk, with five strikeouts. Jimenez was considered to be one of the top pitching prospects in Venezuela going into last year’s July 2nd signing period and early on, he’s living up to the hype.
Max Kranick, RHP, Bradenton – Kranick had an excellent start to end the first half for Bradenton, going 6.1 innings, with one run on five hits, no walks and five strikeouts. The one run being earned is even a stretch because the batter that scored the run reached on a misplayed fly ball that was ruled a triple. Kranick had a few rough outings to begin the month of May, but he has really settled back in over his last his last five games, looking strong in each start. His velocity hasn’t been consistent this year, but even at the low-end, he’s still 92-94 MPH, while the good days show him hitting 97 MPH. He’s throwing his slider often and changing speeds on the pitch for more effectiveness. Kranick has also been told to throw his changeup more often and he’s using it 10+ times a game with solid results.
James Marvel, RHP, Altoona – Marvel beat out teammate Sean Brady for the final spot by picking up one extra strikeout. Otherwise, the two pitchers put up the exact same pitching line this past week. Marvel gave up two runs on three hits and three walks, with six strikeouts in seven innings on Thursday. That gave him a 3.58 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP in 78 innings this season. Marvel led the Eastern League in innings pitched going into Sunday’s action. He’s having success this season due to an improved curveball that has become his out pitch and it’s one of the better curves in the system. He throws a low-90s fastball that generates contact on the ground and he throws a lot of strikes.
Aaron Shortridge, RHP, Bradenton – Shortridge won’t blow you away with his stuff, but he clearly knows how to pitch. His fastball won’t hit more than 90-91 MPH in starts, but last year’s fourth round pick has excellent command, and mixes his pitches well. That led to seven shutout innings in his last start, on three hits and no walks, with a season high eight strikeouts. At the FSL All-Star break, he has a 3.38 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP in 74.2 innings, with 61 strikeouts and just 12 walks. He leads the league in innings pitched and ranks tenth in WHIP. Shortridge has gone at least five innings in all but one start this season and that game was shortened due to rain.
Beau Sulser, RHP, Altoona – Sulser has been pitching in relief all season, but he was getting stretched out recently to move into an open rotation spot. In six of his last seven outings, he worked at least three innings. On Tuesday, he gave up one run over five innings, allowing seven hits, with no walks and three strikeouts. That gave him a 1.34 ERA in 40.1 innings, with a 1.02 WHIP, a .209 BAA and just one home run allowed. Sulser relies on mixing his pitches, keeping the ball down, and throwing a lot of strikes. He has walked just 21 batters in 138.1 innings of pro ball. He doesn’t throw hard, barely touching 90 MPH in short outings, so it’s hard to predict anything more than middle relief in his future. The flip side is that he should reach that ceiling, and possibly by the middle of next year.
Eduardo Vera, RHP, Indianapolis – Last year, Vera was basically a regular in The 21, making early in the season with Bradenton and late in the year with Altoona. We haven’t seen his name here often this year because he hasn’t had many strong starts. In fact, the poor outings far outweigh the average/good ones. That recently led to a mechanical change and the early results are intriguing. Vera allowed two runs over seven innings in a start on June 8th, then came back in his lone start this past week and gave up just one run in six innings, while throwing 60 of 87 pitches for strikes. It’s too early to say that the mechanical change fixed everything, but you have to like the early results.
Gavin Wallace, RHP, Bradenton – It’s not often that a relief pitcher repeats in The 21 because they usually don’t pitch enough innings in a week to do something worth talking about. Wallace is here for a second straight time though because he put up 6.1 shutout innings on three hits, with no walks and seven strikeouts. After beginning the season with a 7.97 ERA through May 16th, Wallace has lowered his season ERA to 4.98 by giving up just one run over his last 14 innings. After issuing three walks in his season debut, he has walked two batters in his last 25.2 innings. Wallace is showing nice velocity in shorter outings, sitting 93-94 MPH, while commanding his pitches well. He doesn’t have a swing-and-miss pitch, so he needs that command to have success.