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
Mason Martin, 1B, Bradenton – Back in late May, Martin became the first repeat Player of the Week this season. Two months later, he’s in the top spot for the third time, while no one else has made it twice yet. Martin powered his way here, starting with a home run on Tuesday, another on Wednesday, then two more on Friday. On Saturday, his two-run double was the key hit in the win over St Lucie. That gave Martin 97 RBIs on the season, to go along with 28 homers, which is comfortably ahead of everyone else in the system. He also has 25 doubles, three triples and 59 walks. Most importantly however is that his strikeout rate has improved since being promoted to Bradenton. It’s still early, so it’s a small sample size, but he’s at a 25% K rate, which is acceptable at this level for a young player, especially one showing plus power. He was at 29% with Greensboro, which came with a very high swinging strike rate as well. If that trend can continue, then that will push him up the prospect charts by the end of the season.
Francisco Acuna, INF, Bristol – Acuna had a rough year in 2018, getting sent back to the Dominican academy in the spring after some off-field issue. He returned in the summer when the GCL season began, but he wasn’t playing every day, and the stats weren’t anything impressive. Acuna first got attention as a rookie in the DSL in 2017, when he got on base at a .386 clip, stole 19 bases and played solid defense at shortstop. That was followed by him playing regularly in the Colombian winter league prior to his 18th birthday. It’s a league that gets a lot of players with A-ball experience on their resume and the occasional player who has been higher in pro ball. So after that build up, the 2018 season was extremely disappointing, but he went down to Colombia and had another solid winter. That has been followed by this season in Bristol, where he is putting up big numbers early on. Going into Sunday’s action, Acuna had a .330/.373/.495 slash line in 28 games, while seeing most of his playing time at shortstop. He’s showing some power in his bat, especially for a small player (5’7″, 150+) and he’s stealing bases again, while making a lot of contact.
Ji-Hwan Bae, SS/2B, Greensboro – Bae plays an impressive all around game, showing value at the plate with his on base skills, in the field at either shortstop or second base, and on the bases, where he has picked up 18 steals this year. This past week, he had eight hits and two walks in six games, with two of those games being shortened doubleheader games. Bae has a .306 average and a .382 OBP this season, with a 755 success rate in steals. He doesn’t have enough plate appearances to qualify for league leaders, but his stats would rank fifth in average, seventh in OBP and he’s just outside the top ten in steals. He will move up that list, as a few of the players ahead of him have been promoted already. Bae just turned 20 years old on Friday, so he’s one of the younger position players in the league. Besides showing range and athleticism in the field, he’s made just one error in 29 games at second base for a .991 fielding percentage.
Oneil Cruz, SS, Bradenton – With a doubleheader and no days off, Bradenton played eight games last week. Cruz played in all eight and collected hits in seven of those games. He started the week off with three hits, then homered on Tuesday and Thursday. Through Saturday’s action, he had a .326/.358/.535 slash line, including three games in the GCL. About the only downside since he returned from his foot injury in late June is that he has walked just twice in 23 games, and one of those walks was intentional. Cruz has a lot of trouble with breaking balls still, but his strikeout rate has been fine over the last month. He can also get fooled by pitches and still hit the ball very hard and a long way. His second homer this week was an example of that. He was out in front of a breaking ball, and with a mostly arms swing, he powered the ball just over the right field fence. Cruz was promoted to Altoona after Sunday’s game, so we will see how he handles Double-A over the last month of the season.
Matt Gorski, OF, Morgantown – The Pirates drafted Gorski 57th overall this year and gave him a $1,000,000 bonus despite concerns from some scouts that he might not make enough contact in the pros to make the majors at all. There was a lot to like though, with an athletic 6’4″ frame that produced both power and speed, plus a strong, accurate arm. Gorski put up decent stats this past week, mostly due to two doubles and a triple helping his slugging percentage. Overall however, this has been a slow start in pro ball. Through his first 26 games, he has a .214/.245/.330 slash line, with 26 strikeouts in 110 plate appearances. A 23.6% strikeout rate is acceptable, but thanks in part to a very low walk rate, a .575 OPS isn’t going to get any excitement going, even if he adds positives on the bases and on defense.
Justin Harrer, OF, Greensboro – The 22-year-old Harrer was having an outstanding time at the plate in Extended Spring Training before earning a promotion to Greensboro in mid-May. It hasn’t gone smoothly since that recall, with a .241/.330/.405 slash line putting him right around league average. This past week he helped those numbers a bit with seven hits, including homers on back-to-back days. After seeing most of his playing time in center field last year after being drafted in the 35th round, this season he’s mostly been in left field. Harrer is 6-for-7 in steals and he has 16 extra-base hits in 49 games. He seems like an organizational guy right now, but it is important to at least remember that he hit his way out of Pirate City this spring and was getting more praise than any other hitter down there.
Jack Herman, OF, Greensboro – Herman has been a regular here recently, this time making it thanks to a big day on Friday when he hit his tenth home run and drove in four runs. Through 42 games, he has a .264/.342/.514 slash line. Somehow, he only has one double this season. The 19-year-old, 30th round pick from last year, has been splitting his time between left field and right field, after playing some center field during Extended Spring Training. The athleticism in there to play center field, but the hope is that the bat will play anywhere. Right now his 30.4% strikeout rate is a big concerning because those things don’t usually get better as you go up the system, but as one of the younger players in the league, there is more room for growth here.
Rodolfo Nolasco, OF, DSL Pirates – Nolasco was hitting into some bad luck earlier this season. You can assume that to be true because he had the highest average exit velocity (by far I’m told) for any player on the two DSL Pirates teams, but he had a .757 OPS coming into this past week, plus a low strikeout rate. That OPS is actually strong for the DSL because it’s a pitcher-friendly league, but the 17-year-old Nolasco has plenty of teammates who are putting up bigger numbers. We might be seeing him break out though. He homered on Friday and Saturday, giving him four home runs on the season. He also added his tenth double in that Saturday contest. He’s a legit power bat, who is still filling out his 6’1″ frame. Nolasco has mostly been in right field, though he’s served as the DH just as much. The Pirates gave him a $235,000 bonus last July.
Randy Romero, OF, DSL Pirates – Romero got here based off of two games only, but they were outstanding performances. On Monday, he went 5-for-5 with two walks. On Friday, he went 5-for-5 for the second time in the same week. Romero enters action on Monday with a .407 batting average in 43 games, which not surprisingly leads the Dominican Summer League. Romero is doing more than hitting though, he’s also running. He is 24-for-24 in stolen bases. He also brings strong defense to the table, with above average range, the ability to play all three spots and he’s picked up seven outfield assists. I asked about Romero possibly moving up to make sure he was staying down for the obvious reason. The GCL Pirates already have seven outfielders and none of them are considered fillers. At 19 years old (20 next month), you might think he could handle Bristol, but they also have seven outfielders there. So he will likely finish out the season in the DSL before heading to the U.S. for fall instructs.
Jared Triolo, 3B/SS, Morgantown – The Pirates drafted Triolo 72nd overall this year as a third baseman, but he’s been splitting his time between shortstop and the hot corner. While some scouts like him at third base, there were some questions about his defense, but he seemed to have answered them already. During a three-game stretch this past week, he collected seven hits and drove in four runs. Besides those games though, it’s been a slow process adapting to pro ball. His slash line sits at .239/.304/.407 through 29 games. He already has 11 doubles, as well as a triple and two homers, so there has been some signs of power. Triolo’s walk rate and strikeout rate have been fine, and he’s looked solid on defense, so when you add in the power, it hasn’t really been a poor start. He’s just not getting enough hits to fall yet.
Cole Tucker, SS, Indianapolis – After being sent down to Indianapolis on June 8th, Tucker got off to a solid start. He put up an .825 OPS in June, though he finished off the month slow and that carried into July. Through 20 games this month, he has a .634 OPS, which says a lot about the recent slump when he makes it here as one of the top performers. Tucker had six hits and three walks in five games this past week. Among those hits was his eighth home run of the season. He also picked up his tenth stolen base (in 13 attempts) on Saturday. Tucker has been playing well defensively since being sent down, making numerous highlight reel plays. He’s going to be back in Pittsburgh at some point this year. Possibly after the trade deadline if a spot opens up, but if not, he will be up in September.
Brad Case, RHP, Bradenton – In his two starts prior to last week, Case allowed five runs on seven hits and two walks in both games. He went six innings in the first game and lasted just three frames the next time out. He made it on the list this week by giving up seven hits and two walks for the third consecutive game. That’s because this past week’s outing was six shutout innings. Case has moved up the system fairly quickly since signing out of the 17th round in last year’s draft. He began his career that June in the GCL, then had stops at Bristol and Morgantown prior to the end of the season. He began this year at Greensboro before being promoted after 11 starts. He left the South Atlantic League as the leader with an 0.77 WHIP. Things haven’t gone as well in Bradenton, mostly due to those two down starts in a row, but his 3.80 ERA and 1.24 WHIP through eight starts aren’t what you would consider bad stats. The 6’7″ Case has been showing a little more velocity late in the year, while commanding a four-pitch mix that has been very effective throughout the season.
Max Kranick, RHP, Bradenton – Kranick made two starts last week, both with solid results, though the second game looked much better on paper. Early in the week, Kranick gave up two runs over six innings. The problem here was that he allowed ten hits, though they were scattered and nine were singles. The second game was one run over 5.1 innings and he allowed just two hits, with both of them being bloop hits over the infield. It was an impressive outing in which he went heavy with his slider, recorded a strikeout on his changeup, and hit 97 MPH four times. Kranick has a 3.79 ERA over 109.1 innings, with a 1.19 WHIP and a 78:30 SO/BB ratio. The strikeout rate is a little low, but his slider is still relatively new and can be inconsistent at times. When it’s on, it’s a strikeout pitch. He has solid control of his pitches and his changeup is coming along slowly as he uses it more often. Going into Sunday’s action, Kranick led the FSL in innings pitched and ranked tenth in WHIP.
Alex Manasa, RHP, Greensboro – Manasa was consistent this entire year until the middle of this month. He ran from Opening Day until his 14th start without allowing more than three earned runs in a game. That streak ended three outings ago when he gave up five runs. He next outing saw him allowing four runs. Manasa got back on track on Saturday night by throwing six shutout frames on two hits and a walk, with five strikeouts. On the season, he has a 3.43 ERA over 107.2 innings, with an 87:22 SO/BB ratio and a 1.19 WHIP. Manasa doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but he does sit low-90s with his fastball, while showing a slider that has improved this season, along with a decent changeup. He controls all three of his pitches well. Earlier in the year he was picking up more strikeouts, but he can also pitch to contact with the best of them, getting quick outs and go deep into games. Manasa was drafted out of college in 2017, but he’s still just 21 years old this season.
James Marvel, RHP, Indianapolis – Marvel has been dominant during his short time in Indianapolis, doing all of the things that had him successful in Altoona, which is translating well to the high offense International League. He has had one bad inning in four starts, giving up five runs in the fifth inning of his second game. In his other 23 innings with Indianapolis, he has held the opposition scoreless. Marvel was here last week for six shutout innings on one hit, one walk and nine strikeouts. That would have been fairly difficult to repeat, but he put up the “six shutout innings on one hit” part of the previous pitching line. Marvel walked four batters and struck out seven, giving him 24 strikeouts in 23.2 innings at Triple-A. He was 90-92 MPH in his last start, which is a tick lower than last time we got readings for him. He has been up to 94 MPH. The velocity isn’t a big deal because Marvel has movement on his pitches and he can hit his spots. His true value comes from his curve ball, which is one of the better breaking balls in the system. It’s usually a 12-to-6 curve, but he can also get tilt on it, burying it down and in to left-handed batters. One of his last starts at Altoona, his curve was off that night, so he switched to his changeup and was using that as his strikeout pitch. There’s a lot to like in his three-pitch mix.
Luis Ortiz, RHP, Bristol – The 20-year-old Ortiz was signed this past winter for $25,000 as an international free agent, and then he jumped over the bottom two levels of the system. In six starts this season, he has a 2.89 ERA, with 24 strikeouts, a .226 BAA and a 1.14 WHIP in 28 innings. He helped those numbers out on Friday night with five shutout innings and six strikeouts, which is his high during his brief career. Ortiz has a fastball that sits 93 MPH, getting up to 95. His slider and changeup are solid pitches, and he has the ability to throw all three pitches in any count. He has a nice 6’2″ frame, but he’s still filling out, so we could see more in the future.
Colin Selby, RHP, Greensboro – Selby has put together a nice season at Greensboro after beginning the year in Extended Spring Training. He got the chance in Low-A because he showed a lot of improvements in his pitching, including added velocity. Selby went from sitting low-90s last year at Bristol to hitting 97 MPH this season. His slider and changeup both look better this season, while he has basically turned his curve into his fourth pitch. That has all led to a 3.04 ERA over 74 innings, with 71 strikeouts, a .208 BAA and a 1.08 WHIP. In his one start last week, he gave up one run over six innings on four hits, no walks and five strikeouts. It was his sixth straight start with 1-2 runs allowed.
Tahnaj Thomas, RHP, Bristol – In his start prior to Saturday night, Thomas was tossed out for throwing at a batter who homered earlier in the game. There were also some earlier batters hit on Bristol, but it resulted in a six-game suspension. He returned like a man on a mission, tossing five shutout innings on three hits, with no walks and seven strikeouts. The 20-year-old, 6’4″ right-hander has some of the best stuff in the system and his upside potential is second to none on the mound for the Pirates. He was hitting 99 MPH this season, but in his last two starts, he has hit triple-digits, including one pitch at 101 MPH. Thomas holds his velocity late and has displayed a slider that looks like a plus out pitch. After walking five batters in his first two starts combined, Thomas has issued just one walk over his last five games. In 24.1 innings, he has 33 strikeouts and a .227 BAA.
Noe Toribio, RHP, Morgantown – Toribio got promoted to Greensboro on Friday, but he made his start last week with Morgantown and pitched great. Over five shutout innings, he allowed one hit and one walk, while striking out three batters. It was his third start (out of four) in which he threw five shutout innings. Toribio made it here last week as well and I mentioned that he’s throwing his fastball 91-93 MPH with movement and command. He also has a sharp breaking that is very effective. His promotion is somewhat surprising because he wasn’t even starting a few weeks ago, though the plan was to have him as part of a six-man rotation. Now he’s still a month shy of his 20th birthday and pitching in full-season ball. He has had his fastball up to 97 MPH in relief and we could see higher numbers from him as a starter in the future. As long as he doesn’t sacrifice command or movement for velocity, then 2-3 more MPH would give him one of the best fastballs in the system.
Jesus Valles, RHP, Morgantown – Valles hasn’t made a smooth jump to Morgantown this year after debuting in the DSL last year. The jump over two levels for the 21-year-old, 6’3″, right-hander, may have been a little agressive. That being said, he just put together his best start of the season and he was one of our top performers two weeks ago as well. Valles went six innings on Friday, with no runs on seven hits and a walk. He loaded the bases with two outs in the sixth, so a good portion of those base runners came late in his outing. On the season, he has 4.19 ERA in 38.2 innings, with a 1.47 WHIP and a .301 BAA. The big problem here is that Valles doesn’t have a strikeout pitch yet, which has resulted in a 4.0 SO/9IP rate. He is helped out by solid control, which limits the walks, but he will need to start missing more bats to have success at a higher level.
Brandon Waddell, LHP, Altoona – Waddell began the year in Indianapolis, pitching out of the bullpen regularly for the first time. Despite showing better velocity and racking up the strikeouts, he did not have success in his new role. That led to him being demoted to Altoona, but promoted back to the rotation. Waddell dominated with the Curve, putting together a 2.23 ERA in seventh starts, basically having one bad inning during that time, and even that came late in a game as he was continuing to get stretched out. On Monday, Waddell had his best start with the Curve, throwing six shutout innings on four hits, with no walks and six strikeouts. After the game, he was promoted to Indianapolis, where he will now get a second chance back in the Triple-A starting rotation.
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.