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
Ji-Hwan Bae, SS, Greensboro – This week was a little different than the rest because no Altoona or Indianapolis hitters qualified for the list due to their All-Star break lasting three days. That left room for the lower level players to shine, and Ji-Hwan Bae was the best among that group this week. He hit .500/.600/.625 with two doubles, four walks and he went 4-for-4 in stolen bases. The 19-year-old, lefty hitter from South Korea went into yesterday’s action with a .313/.401/.398 slash line in 42 games this season. He’s not big at 6’1″, 170 pounds and doesn’t swing for the fences, but his combination of speed and a line drive stroke has produced 12 doubles and a triple so far. He has played solid defense, both at shortstop and second base. He has the ability and tools to stick at shortstop in the future. Bae’s best tool however might be his speed. He’s 17-for-22 in steals and uses that speed to take extra bases. Except for the power, which some scouts thought/think could develop later in his career, Bae is a toolsy, athletic player at a young age, who is translating those tools to success.
Oneil Cruz, SS, Bradenton – Cruz has been crushing the ball since returning from his right foot fracture. He’s hitting .333/.350/.692 in ten games since rejoining Bradenton. Cruz has four homers and two doubles during that time. His range in the field and base running doesn’t seem to be affected at all by the injury, so that’s a good sign from someone who dealt with a season-ending groin/hip injury last year, followed by some minor lower body issues early this season. Right now Cruz just needs to play and get some at-bats. His slash line hides the fact that his swing can look awful against average and better off-speed pitches. He seems to look fastball on every pitch. He also needs the regular playing time if they are going to leave him at shortstop. At 6’6″, he can cover ground, but it doesn’t always look pretty out there and he can get wild with the throws, which is a bit scary with his plus arm and willingness to show it off at every chance.
Jonah Davis, OF, Greensboro – This has been a rough season for Davis, but he did put together a nice week with a .417/.423/.708 slash line. I actually considered him for the top spot, but his ten strikeouts, along with going 0-for-2 in steals, pushed the honors to his teammate in Greensboro. Davis hit two homers last week, giving him three in his last eight games. He has also batted .326 over his last ten games. That has raised his season slash line, including his brief time in Morgantown, to .186/.293/.346 in 41 games. We mentioned often last year that his strikeouts could be a major concern, despite the success he had at Bristol last year. The has come true this season, with 71 strikeouts in 181 plate appearances. He really isn’t moving as well as last year when we got solid reports about his defense in center field. He’s still playing the spot now, but looks more like a corner outfielder due to average range/speed.
Yoyner Fajardo, 2B, GCL Pirates – Fajardo was the best hitter for either DSL club last year, and early this season that hitting has carried over to the GCL. This past week he batted .444/.500/.500 in 20 plate appearances. His .381 average in 16 games ranks fifth in the GCL this season, though his .824 OPS has him 27th in the league. The average is driven mostly by singles obviously, yet he is making the most of getting on base by stealing ten bases already, which leads the league. The Pirates have the 20-year-old lefty hitter from the Dominican at second base mostly, but he has played left field and third base. He probably won’t see much more outfield time the rest of the way because the GCL Pirates will be up to seven outfielders once Deion Walker and Jasiah Dixon are ready to play.
Michael Gretler, 3B, Greensboro – Gretler was off to a really slow start this season and it lasted well into June. He’s now made it here a few times since then, doing it this week by hitting .389/.400/.556 in 20 plate appearances. He finished the week with three straight multi-hit games. The overall stats still aren’t what you would like to see, especially coming from a player with four years at a major college program. Gretler is hitting .236/.332/.348 in 47 games with Greensboro, after posting a .426 OPS in 15 games with Bradenton. He’s a very athletic player, who has played all four infield spots and has catching experience, but that versatility won’t help him if he can’t hit enough to move up the system. Just like his teammate Jonah Davis, a strong finish to this season is imperative for their future.
Luke Mangieri, 1B, Morgantown/Greensboro – Mangieri moved up to Greensboro to replace Mason Martin when he was promoted to Bradenton. Mangieri was hitting .328/.418/.517 at the time of his promotion from Morgantown. His last game there was his first game this past week and he collected three hits in his send-off game. He has an .875 OPS in his first three games with the Grasshoppers, including his third home run of the season on Friday. Mangieri was actually in Low-A at the end of the 2018 season for 11 games. That was after he was drafted in the 25th round out of Bradley. He didn’t hit for much power in college, but as a first base standing in at 6’3″, 215 pounds, he has the look of someone who could add power to his game. His .514 slugging through 20 games this season is a nice start in that direction.
Will Matthiessen, OF/1B, Morgantown – Matthiessen was a pitcher/outfielder in college at Stanford. Most scouts preferred him as an outfielder due to his power potential, though others had concerns with his ability to make enough contact. He’s listed at 6’7″ and has a huge strike zone. He has some awkwardness to his game due to his size, basically looking like a pitcher at the plate and he doesn’t have the athleticism of your typical outfielder. That might be why he has played two games at first base recently, which would seem like a much better position for him. He got here for his bat though, and that has been strong in his first 13 games as a pro. He has a .326/.453/.488 slash line in 54 at-bats, which only 11 strikeouts. Matthiessen reached base 16 times this past week, with eight hits, seven walks and a HBP.
Alexander Mojica, 3B, DSL Pirates – Mojica has been tearing up the DSL this season and he doesn’t turn 17 years old until next month. At the halfway point, he has a .348/.474/.652 slash line, with seven doubles, seven homers and more walks (22) than strikeouts (17). Mojica is a right-handed hitter, listed at 6’1″, 195, though he’s probably a little heavier and it’s not all good weight. He has a cannon for an arm, grading out as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale according to recent reports. He moves well for his size, but if he has to move elsewhere down the line, the bat will play up wherever he ends up playing. The plan for now is to leave him at third base. His 1.126 OPS ranks second in the entire 45-team DSL, yet he didn’t get selected to Sunday’s All-Star game.
Kyle Mottice, 2B, Greensboro – Last year in the GCL, Mottice posted a .472 OBP, which was the highest mark in that league for qualified hitters in 19 years. This season he is doing even better at getting on base. He has .519 OBP in 37 games, spent mostly with Greensboro. This past week he hit .471/.550/.529 in 21 plate appearances. If all he was doing was getting on base at a 52% rate, then he would still be having an impressive season. He’s doing more than that though, stealing 17 bases in 23 attempts, while also playing solid defense at second base. Mottice’s approach at the plate is rather simple. Stand on top of the plate and do whatever it takes to get on base. He’s already been hit 15 times this year, has 16 walks and a .402 average. He does not hit for any power with that approach, but he will either get extra bases by turning a single into a double, or stealing the base once he’s on first.
Blake Sabol, OF, Morgantown – Sabol was off to a bit of a slow start, but he just wrapped up a nice week that included five walks and his first two home runs as a pro. The 2019 seventh round pick is hitting .232/.354/.420 in his first 18 games. The Pirates have him playing all three outfield spots early in his career. He shows nice speed and athleticism in the field, but his overall defense could use some work and his arm isn’t his best tool. He has shown off his speed on the bases with his two triples, turning what looked like doubles off the bat into an extra base each time. He’s making solid contact so far and the strikeouts haven’t been an issue, especially this past week, with three in 29 plate appearances. He reminds me a bit of Bligh Madris in Morgantown, with a somewhat similar lefty swing, except Sabol has some speed, while Madris is a slightly below average runner.
Travis Swaggerty, CF, Bradenton – Swaggerty lost his hit streak at 12 games on Thursday, but he did it in a game where he walked three times. Now he is currently on a 14-game on base streak. After posting a .646 OPS prior to the All-Star break, Swaggerty has an .825 OPS in 22 games since the break. I mentioned here last week that he was on a long spell without a home run, but he broke that streak, which dated back to June 2nd, with a solo shot on Tuesday night. Perhaps most important here is that he cut back on the strikeouts recently. His total wasn’t out of control (though he still ranks 14th in the league with 82), but when it came with a low average and no power, then it became a concern. Everything seems to be trending in the right direction here, we just need to see it over a longer stretch of time.
Sean Brady, LHP, Altoona – Brady has been putting in work for Altoona since they signed him as a free agent back in early May. His first two starts didn’t go well, but since that point he has been on an impressive run. Brady has thrown 6+ innings in each of his last 11 starts. In his last ten outings, he has given up either one or two earned runs in nine of those games. That’s a 2.78 ERA in 64.2 innings during that stretch. So he’s not just giving them innings, he’s keeping them in every game. Brady’s big issue is that he doesn’t have a strikeout pitch, and also doesn’t have the best velocity, so he’s going to have a hard time succeeding at the next level. He just turned 25 years old last month and he will become a minor league free agent at the end of the season.
Michael Burrows, RHP, Morgantown – Burrows put together a nice outing on Wednesday, throwing 4.2 shutout innings on two hits and three walks, tying his career high with seven strikeouts. Near the end of the start, the trainer visited him, made Burrows throw some pitches and they allowed him to stay in the game. He walked the next batter and was removed, but he had just reached his pitch count limit for the night, so it doesn’t appear to be anything injury related. Burrows has made five starts this season and pitched well in four of those games, giving up two runs over 18.2 innings. His other start didn’t go well, but there were some issues out of his control (soft hits, inconsistent umpire) that day didn’t help his case. Burrows throws hard already, hitting mid-90s in starts, and he’s still just 19 years old. He also has nice control of all three of his pitches and his curve ball can be an effective out pitch, or a pitch he uses early in the count to get ahead of hitters.
Miguel Diaz, RHP, DSL Pirates – Diaz was one of the youngest players in the entire DSL last year, turning 17 on August 19th. He threw a total of 21.1 innings and was tough to hit with a .197 BAA and 19 strikeouts, but those numbers also came with 22 walks. He has returned to the level this year, and while the walks are slightly higher than you want to see, it’s an enormous improvement over what we saw last year. Diaz gave up one run over two innings to begin his week last week, then came back on Friday with four no-hit innings. In six innings, he struck out nine batters. On the season, he has a 1.56 ERA, a .159 BAA, 20 strikeouts and ten walks in 17.1 innings. He’s not a big pitcher, listed at 6’0″, with a medium frame, but he’s already strong for his age. Diaz is an extreme fly ball pitcher, which is a bit rare in the DSL, but he hasn’t allowed a home run yet.
Nicholas Economos, RHP Bradenton – Economos has pretty much been a regular here, including once as our Player of the Week, so there isn’t much to say that I haven’t mentioned 2-3 times before. He tossed seven innings on Thursday, allowing one run on three hits, with no walks and five strikeouts. On the season, he has a 2.23 ERA in 92.2 innings between Greensboro and Bradenton. His 97 strikeouts leads all Pirates, one ahead of Mitch Keller. One thing to note is that he is getting slightly better results in Bradenton, but his strikeouts have really dropped at the level. The better results could just be from pitching in a better league/park for pitchers. The strikeouts have gone from 13.8 per nine innings in Low-A, down to 7.1 per nine in High-A.
Geoff Hartlieb, RHP, Indianapolis – Fans got a bad first impression in the majors of Hartlieb. In 20 innings over 14 appearances, he had an 8.10 ERA and a 1.90 WHIP. There were some highlights, like a high ground out rate and 20 strikeouts, but for the most part, it wasn’t a good first look at the 25-year-old reliever. One of the big problems was the timing of his call up to Pittsburgh. He was coming off of a poor showing in the Arizona Fall League and had just 19.1 innings of Triple-A experience. During that Triple-A time he issued 11 walks. He wasn’t dominating the level either (posting a 3.32 ERA), but there was a need for relievers and he has pitched well at the lower levels. Hartlieb is back down at Indianapolis since the end of June and he’s putting in the time that he needed in the first place. Last week, he pitched a total of 4.1 shutout innings on one hit, with no walks and six strikeouts. We are likely going to see him in Pittsburgh later this year, but unless injuries force the issue again, it probably won’t be until September.
Mitch Keller, RHP, Indianapolis – Keller skipped out on the International League All-Star game to pitch the first game back from the break. He tossed six shutout innings on two hits and three walks, with eight strikeouts. Keller switched up his pitch usage in this contest, going early to his curveball, followed shortly by mixing his fastball, curve and slider rather evenly. The changeup was his fourth pitch on the night and by my count, I believe he threw it just once. By the results, it’s obvious that his plan of attack worked. Keller now has a 3.07 ERA in 82 innings with Indianapolis, recording 96 strikeouts, along with a 1.28 WHIP. In an up year for offense due to the new baseballs being used, he has been the best starter in the International League.
Domingo Robles, LHP, Altoona – Robles has hit some bumps in Double-A. That’s not surprising considering he turned 21 years old this season, and he’s not a hard-thrower. Robles relies more on mixing his pitches and solid control, which works better in the lower levels, especially for lefties. He has a fastball that can get up to 92 MPH, along with a very effective changeup and a hard slider, which is different from the big breaking curve we have seen in the past. This past week, he went five innings with one unearned run on five hits and a walk, striking out four batters. In eight starts in Double-A, Robles has a 4.50 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP, with 28 strikeouts in 40 innings.
Tahnaj Thomas, RHP, Bristol – Thomas had a rough start to his season…actually two rough starts. He lasted just 1.2 innings in his first two outings combined, throwing a total of 78 pitches to record five outs. Things have been much better since then for the 6’4″, 20-year-old out of the Bahamas. Back on July 1st in his third start, he tossed five shutout innings. This past week, he started off with two runs over 4.2 innings, but what made this start noteworthy was a career-high seven strikeouts. Cut to Saturday night and he set a new best with eight strikeouts. He allowed one run over five innings. Thomas throws hard, hitting 99 MPH recently, while still reaching 95 MPH at the end of outings. His slider has improved this season and his changeup is making progress. His pitching coach (Eric Minshall) gave a detailed answer for what Thomas and the other five Bristol starters have been work on since spring. You can see that article here.
Miguel Toribio, RHP, DSL Pirates – Toribio was one of the top pitcher signings for the Pirates during the 2018-19 international signing class. They didn’t go heavy on the pitching side like they did earlier this month during the new signing period, but Toribio received a $175,000 bonus. Now 17 years old, he is a 6’1″ right-hander who is in the early stages of filling out his frame. He doesn’t throw hard yet, but it’s clear from the early results that he knows how to pitch. Toribio made his first start on Friday and tossed five innings, with no earned runs, while striking out nine batters. It has been almost a month since he has given up an earned run and those two runs on June 17th have been the only blemish on his record all season. His 0.65 ERA would be the best in the Dominican Summer League if he didn’t fall just one inning short of qualifying for league leaders.
Brandon Waddell, LHP, Altoona – Waddell began this season as a reliever for Indianapolis and the results were bad, to say the least. He had an 8.70 ERA and a 2.10 WHIP in 30 innings. The only good part seemed to be the 39 strikeouts. As a reliever, he had his fastball up to 95 MPH, but the spike in velocity wasn’t helping. It may have just been him not adapting well to the relief role. Waddell has moved down to Altoona and he was put right in the starting rotation, where he has pitched outstanding. In his start this past week, he tossed six shutout innings on five hits, a walk and seven strikeouts. He now has a 1.44 ERA and an 0.92 WHIP in 25 innings as a starter. At some point you would have to assume he returns to Indianapolis in his familiar starter role.
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.