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
Jared Oliva, CF, Altoona – Oliva was in a slump for most of the season, after missing the first three weeks due to a concussion he suffered during a collision in the first inning on Opening Day. He had a solid month of June with an .858 OPS, but he added 57 points to that number on the final day of the month, which was also the first day we used for the week here (6-30 to 7/6). So this last week has really been the take-off point for his season. Oliva went 13-for-23 with a double, home run, two walks and 6-for-6 in stolen bases. His season slash line at the end of play on Saturday was .265/.351/.394 in 69 games. He is 22-for-27 in steals and playing a solid center field. The only real tool we aren’t seeing now is the power, which is a bit disappointing because of his home run streak in Bradenton last year. The speed is legit though, and if he can get on base enough to get the most out of it, then he is still a nice prospect at a key defensive position without the power. His success in Double-A is a small sample size still, with his OPS going up 60 points to .745 in just the last week, so it’s best to not declare him back on track until he continues to play well for a longer stretch.
Francisco Acuna, IF, Bristol – Acuna had a week that would usually make him the top hitter in the system. In six games, he posted a .524/.520/.762 slash line over 25 plate appearances. He had the odd “OBP lower than batting average” line due to two sacrifice flies. Acuna is hitting .341/.392/.523 through 15 games this season, with five doubles, a homer and three stolen bases. Originally signed as a shortstop, he has played second base, third base, left field and six games at his natural position. Acuna has received a lot more attention here than your average 19-year-old international signing because he has already played two seasons of winter ball in his home country of Colombia. At least to this point, it appears that those extra at-bats he’s getting against older competition are paying off.
Sergio Campana, OF, DSL Pirates – At a $500,000 bonus, Campana wasn’t the highest price the Pirates paid for a player during the 2018-19 international signing period, but he was considered the best prospect in the group. He’s a right-handed hitter/thrower who turned 17 in late March. Campana is hitting .295/.371/.475 over 15 games in the pitcher-friendly Dominican Summer League. He has hit five triples already and stolen four bases, showing off nice speed. He’s been playing center field daily and batting lead-off. He’s got a nice 6’1″ frame that needs to fill out before we see any real power, but he is expected to add that part to his game as he gets older.
Brendt Citta, OF, Bristol – Citta was injured during Spring Training, suffering a quadriceps injury. That held him back early and now the 2018 38th round pick is repeating Bristol. He might not stay there long, as he is putting up an .851 OPS in 17 games. Obviously there is an asterisk with that stat because he turns 23 this week and last year he was too old for this level. Citta was mostly playing left field last year, with occasional games in right field. Catcher was also supposed to be an option, but he has yet to play there as a pro. This season he has mostly been in right field, with three games at first base. We won’t really get a good idea about him by anything positive he does in the Appalachian League because he came from a major college, but don’t let the draft round fool you, the Pirates liked him enough to give him a $125,000 bonus to sign.
Oneil Cruz, SS, Bradenton – Cruz hasn’t played much this season, missing time early due to lower body discomfort, then missing a lot of time more recently with a fractured foot. When he has played, he has shown the power that makes him so intriguing, along with excellent speed and improved defense at shortstop. He has three true plus tools in his power, speed and arm. The only bothersome part right now seems to be his ability to hit breaking balls because I’ve seen some bad swings in the minimal looks this year on anything that wasn’t a fastball. That has led to 20 strikeouts in 67 plate appearances, which is completely acceptable when it’s combined that the power we saw this week with two homers and two doubles in five games. He’s on a current nine-game hitting streak, though it goes back to before he got hurt and includes GCL rehab games where he clearly over-matched the competition. Remember that Cruz is playing this entire season at 20 years old.
Jonah Davis, OF, Greensboro – Davis had an absolutely awful time at Greensboro before being sent back to Extended Spring Training. He was hitting .131/.223/.238 at the time with huge strikeout totals. From Pirate City, he headed to Morgantown when the season started there and he didn’t do anything of note, going 0-for-13 with five walks and seven strikeouts, which led to him being benched when all of the outfielders from the draft started showing up. Davis was promoted to Greensboro when a spot opened up and it has been a nice turnaround for him so far in a very small sample size. He started the week with a five-game hitting streak that also included four walks. On July 4th, he had some fireworks of his own with a home run, which was just his fourth of the season after hitting 12 in Bristol last year. Davis made the back-end of our 2019 top 50 prospects due to his bat and also the defensive/speed tools which rated average. We kept him at the back of that list though because strikeouts were a concern. Now he really needs to finish strong just to put some of that prospect stock back together.
Bligh Madris, OF, Altoona – Madris went 8-for-22 last week, collecting two doubles, a home run and two walks. That helped get his OPS over the .700 mark (.701 going into Sunday) five weeks after he hit a season-low of .612 back on June 1st/2nd. Madris went 21 games this season before he drew his first walk. Since that point he has has walked 28 times in 59 games, while also cutting back on his strikeouts, which weren’t high to begin with during his three seasons of pro ball. Madris needs to continue in the right direction at the plate because all of his value is in the bat. For the season, he isn’t getting on base enough and isn’t showing enough power to get him to the majors, but the 23-year-old lefty still has plenty of time to get the bat going before you can write him off as a potential future bench piece in the majors.
Mason Martin, 1B, Greensboro – Martin is really having a strong start to the second half of the season. He’s improving his walk rate, while cutting back on his strikeouts. The second part is more important than the first because the walks are a product of the power he is showing and pitchers being less willing to throw him strikes recently. The strikeouts were a problem because not only were they too high, but he had a very high swing-and-miss rate. He was taking a lot of pitcher’s strikes, looking for the perfect pitch, but he was also missing a lot when he did swing. Martin is showing these improvements while also still hitting for power. He 23rd home run on Saturday night put him eight ahead of everyone else in the South Atlantic League. Going into Sunday, he led the league with a .935 OPS. After Sunday’s game was rained out, Martin got the call that he was headed to Bradenton.
Trayvon Robinson, OF, Indianapolis – I don’t really root for any players to get on these lists but it’s nice to see Robinson get on here. He hasn’t been in the majors since 2012 and he was playing independent ball for three years before getting a chance to win a spot with the Pirates this year. He recently spent time on the injured list with a strained roster limit (he wasn’t injured), but the 31-year-old got into eight games (one doubleheader) this past week and hit .421/.500/.737 in 21 plate appearances. That gives him a .917 OPS in 52 games this season. He’s probably not going to get a shot with the Pirates, though I say that know that there have been some surprise Triple-A vets rewarded with a September call-up in the past. He is however showcasing himself to 29 other teams when he plays and he’s one of those players who would be dealt for future considerations that turns out to be nothing, as he was moved just to give him a better chance.
Chris Sharpe, OF, Altoona – Sharpe was off to a bit of a slow start in Altoona, but has picked it up lately. He hit three homers last week and drove in a total of 12 runs. Through 16 games in Double-A, he has a .220/.288/.458 slash line. His four homers with the Curve nearly matches the five he hit with Bradenton in 64 games this season. Overall, Sharpe has a .277/.366/.453 slash line in 80 games, which is a nice improvement for the 23-year-old corner outfielder over what we saw with West Virginia last year, where he had a .722 OPS in 85 games. Besides the better power numbers, he has really cut back on his strikeouts this season. Last year he had 98 in 333 plate appearances. He has exactly 333 plate appearances again this season, though he has just 64 strikeouts. Sharpe also plays solid defense and uses his speed well on the bases.
Travis Swaggerty, CF, Bradenton – Swaggerty hasn’t been a regular in these articles. This is just his fourth appearance out of 13 articles and first since mid-May. He has been hitting well lately, currently on a nine-game hit streak that has included five multi-hit contests and a sharp decline in his strikeouts. The season overall has still been poor for the 2018 first round pick, who has a .246/.330/.343 slash line, with 16 extra-base hits and 15 steals in 75 games. His last home run happened five weeks ago. The other disappointing part early on is that his defense hasn’t matched pre-draft reports. He has taken a lot of bad routes and I’m only seeing about 1/3 of their games. His speed is a legit plus tool and makes up for some of those routes, plus he seems to be excellent at tracking down anything in front of him.
Michael Burrows, RHP, Morgantown – Burrows began his pro career with no earned runs in his first 19 innings. That included 14 innings in the GCL last year and five shutout innings in his debut. He then allowed one run in his next start. Those two outings combined earned him our Player of the Week nod two weeks ago. His next start was a disaster on paper with six runs over 1.2 innings. I was watching the game, and while he did give up a few hard hits, the biggest issue was the strike zone, where he wasn’t getting any calls in the lower part of the zone or on the left-handed batter side of the plate. Along with some soft hits mixed in, it was not as bad as it looked. Burrows brushed that start off this past week, going five innings on Thursday, with one run on five hits and a walk, with five strikeouts. He has outstanding stuff, well ahead of second round pick Braxton Ashcraft, who is more about projection now. Burrows hits 95 MPH in starts and has an excellent hard curve that he can throw for strikes.
Brad Case, RHP, Bradenton – Case had an average outing to start the week, giving up three runs over six innings. He got here because of the second start on Friday night. He tossed six shutout inning on just one hit. Case has been mentioned here as much as any pitcher this year because he’s been solid-to-strong in almost every start. The Friday night game however, may have been the most impressive for one reason. I’ve mentioned that he’s big at 6’7″, 235 pounds and he has a very easy delivery, so we could see more velocity from him. Early in the year I saw 88-90 in one start, a tick higher in others. He started hitting 92 more often before he was promoted to Bradenton, then hit 93 MPH in his first start last week. Case began Friday’s game with three straight fastballs at 94 MPH and hit 93 last in the outing, so we are seeing the velocity. That will help him even more, on top of the excellent command, and ability to throw four pitches for strikes.
CJ Dandeneau, RHP, Bristol – Dandeneau was drafted in the 37th round and signed right away as a college senior. He reported to the GCL first, where he made two appearances without an earned run, before moving up to Bristol this past week. He debuted with one run on three hits over three innings, with no walks and five strikeouts. That was followed on Friday by three shutout innings on two hits and no walks, striking out four batters. Dandeneau throws a four-pitch mix and he’s a durable pitcher, so we might see him get stretched out more. He has a two-seam fastball, a cutter, changeup and a slider. He mixes his pitches well to keep hitters off balance and he’s described as a high IQ player.
Nicholas Economos, RHP, Bradenton – Economos has really made a lot of progress this season after spending his first four years in short-season ball. The scouting report hasn’t really changed, he has just become more consistent with his pitches. He doesn’t throw hard, but deception in his delivery helps his fastball play up. He also mixes his pitches well, using both his curveball and his changeup often. The changeup in particular really works well with the deception in his delivery because batters have a hard time picking up the pitch, which can lead to some awkward swings. This past week, he went seven innings with one unearned run on three hits and a walk, striking out six batters. That gave him a 2.21 ERA and a .180 BAA since being promoted from Greensboro.
Carlos Jimenez, RHP, DSL Pirates – We try to limit the DSL players on the pitching list because the DSL is a pitcher-friendly league and the lowest level of competition in pro ball. That being said, Jimenez is showing up here for the third time already, after giving up one run over 5.2 innings, with seven strikeouts on Friday. I’m also including him because I was able to find out how the 16-year-old from Venezuela was having so much success. I’ve been told that his changeup is “unhittable”. You don’t often hear about pitchers in the DSL being described as plus pitches. It’s usually plus potential, unless it’s coming from an older pitcher, but Jimenez has a plus changeup already. He has a 6’2″ frame that really needs to fill out more, yet he’s showing nice stamina already and terrific results, with a 2.70 ERA in 30 innings, with 39 strikeouts. He is clearly a prospect to watch in this league.
Max Kranick, RHP, Bradenton – Kranick had a seven inning outing on Tuesday that began with him allowing hits to the first two batters, with one run scoring. Over the next 21 outs, just three more batters reached base. Kranick had a rough few games in early May, but both before and after that point, he has been putting up strong starts. He has thrown 6+ innings in each of his last eight starts, which put him atop the Florida State League’s leaders for innings pitched after his last outing. Kranick will probably see Altoona at some point this season, but right now he is working on using his changeup more often and getting the pitch more consistent. He has hit 97 MPH numerous times this season and he throws two versions of a slider, with the second slower one being most effective after batters have seen the high-80s version early in the game.
James Marvel, RHP, Altoona/Indianapolis – Marvel kept putting up one strong start after another with Altoona, which led to the comment here that “He’s likely going to move up to Indianapolis soon because there isn’t much more to prove in Altoona”. That “soon” was later that day. Marvel got the promotion he deserved, then went out and proved that he earned it by throwing a complete game shutout in a doubleheader (seven innings) facing just one batter over the minimum. For the season he has a 2.95 ERA in 106.2 innings, with 88 strikeouts, a 1.03 WHIP and a .223 BAA. His curveball is one of the best in the system, and the reason he has taken a step forward this year, but he had a start recently where the curve wasn’t on so he changed things up, literally. Marvel relied on his changeup for outs that night and was just as effective. He has been slow to progress, but he has really put together an interesting three-pitch mix that he controls well, which has his “middle relief ceiling” looking like it might need to be raised.
Listher Sosa, RHP, DSL Pirates – Sosa had an outstanding start on Saturday, facing two over the minimum while throwing six shutout innings with seven strikeouts. He was one of the top signings on the pitching side during the 2018-19 international signing period, receiving a $150,000 bonus. Sosa is a 6’4″ right-hander with a big frame, who just missed the cutoff for the previous signing period by six days, so he will turn 18 just after this season ends. He throws a fastball that gets in the low-90s and shows the ability to throw strikes with all three of his pitches. The Pirates believe there is room for him to add more velocity as he gets older.
Tahnaj Thomas, RHP, Bristol – Things couldn’t have been much worse for Thomas in his first two starts this season. The 20-year-old, 6’4″, right-hander from the Bahamas was acquired in the Jordan Luplow/Max Moroff trade with the Cleveland Indians. He opened up his season by recording just one out before being removed due to reaching his single-inning pitch count. In his second game, it took 50 pitches to record the first four outs. Cut to his third outing on Monday and he threw five shutout innings on four hits, zero walks and five strikeouts. There is reason to believe that he is much closer to this type of pitcher than the one from the first two starts. Thomas already has strong velocity, hitting 97 MPH. He also has a slider with plus potential, that shows that potential at times. He also missed some time this spring due to a minor injury in April and some mechanical tweaks once he was back on the mound, which limited his game work.
Gavin Wallace, RHP, Bradenton – Wallace began the year very slowly out of the bullpen. He had a 7.97 ERA on May 16th, and that was even after his ERA dropped in each of his six previous games. That’s not saying much because he still allowed runs in three of those six short outings, he was just dropping from a high mark (11.24 ERA). Since May 16th, Wallace has pitched well enough to move back in the rotation and he’s still putting up strong results. In his last 35 innings, he has given up five runs. After allowing two runs over six innings on Saturday night, he’s now down to a 3.74 ERA in 55.1 innings this season. Wallace was sitting 93-95 MPH in relief when he started having success. He doesn’t have a strikeout pitch, relying more on quick outs by pitching to contact. He does an excellent job of spotting his fastball and moving it all around the zone, while working in his off-speed pitches throughout the game.