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
Robbie Glendinning, SS, Altoona – There weren’t any huge weeks put up in the farm system last week, but a lot of players put up strong weeks, to the point that the 11th best hitter on our list still had a .984 OPS. Glendinning got here because he led everyone in hits and drove in eight runs, but you could make a case for 4-5 other hitters below and even 2-3 pitchers for this top spot. So it was really a strong all-around week, despite no one separating themselves from the pack. Glendinning batted .419/.419/.645, with two doubles, a triple and a home run last week. He is now hitting .343/.405/.557 in 23 games for Altoona, after putting up a league leading .992 OPS with Bradenton. He’s getting on base at a slightly higher clip in Double-A, with a slight decline in the power numbers, though we are talking about someone with a season slugging percentage of .586, who has collected 33 extra-base hits in 66 games. This has been quite the impressive season for the 23-year-old, who is also a solid defensive player, and adds some extra value with his speed.
Sergio Campana, OF, DSL Pirates – Campana was one of two players who received the second highest bonus handed out by the Pirates during the 2018-19 international signing period. His $500,000 bonus was $200,000 behind fellow 16-year-old Dominican outfielder Osvaldo Gavilan, but Campana was considered by many to be the better prospect. After missing the start of the 2019 season with a minor injury, Campana got off to a slow start. He picked up things this past week however, hitting .471/.500/.647 in 20 plate appearances, with a double and a triple. He has a .697 OPS through his first 11 games as a pro. Campana still needs to fill out his 6’1″ frame before we see the full power potential from him. He has excellent bat speed, plus speed on the bases and he can play solid defense while sticking in center field.
Rodolfo Castro, 2B/SS, Bradenton – Castro had hits in five games last week, but it was clearly Wednesday’s game that got him a place here. He went 3-for-4 with two home runs that night. Those were his first two homers with Bradenton and gave him a total of 16 home runs on the season. Between his two stops, Castro is hitting .246/.302/.516 in 70 games this year. While we go from Sunday-Saturday from this article, Castro got a nice start on next week by hitting a double and a triple on Sunday. That gave him 35 extra-base hits in 2019, equaling his career high from 2018, set in 105 games. Castro played two games at shortstop for Bradenton before Oneil Cruz returned on Sunday. He will probably only play there now when Cruz needs a rest Castro’s defense has looked better this year, which is an important part of his development because it’s unlikely that he will ever be a high OBP guy. If he can offer power, some speed and solid defense up the middle, then he’s an interest prospect going forward, and someone who just turned 20 years old in late May.
Jean Eusebio, OF, Bristol – Eusebio signed with the Pirates after his 16th birthday for $550,000, making him their biggest international signing in four years. He went to the DSL as one of the youngest players in the entire league and didn’t hit much, but showed great patience at the plate, speed on the bases and he played solid defense. He went to the U.S. in 2018 and had a rough year in the GCL, posting a .630 OPS, while only going 4-for-8 in steals. Eusebio is a toolsy player, with speed being his best tool, so the lack of steals/success was a bit surprising. He’s playing this year in the Appalachian League at 18 years old, still younger than many high school draft picks last month. He went 0-for-10 in his first four games, then had two multi-hit games, followed by his first career grand slam on Friday night. In fact, it was just his second career homer, but would should see more power as he continues to fill out his 6’1″ frame.
Michael Gretler, 3B, Greensboro – Gretler has surprisingly had a very rough season. He looked good last year at Morgantown and was a solid performer at a major college, who was drafted as a senior. Gretler began the season at Bradenton and hit .189/.218/.208 in 15 games, while not even playing every day. He wasn’t doing any better in his first 30 games with Greensboro, hitting .204 going into last week. He finally showed some hope beginning on Monday, with the first of back-to-back multi-hit games. Gretler had seven hits on the week, including his first home run of the season. He is likely going to get a chance to get on track with third baseman Pat Dorrian traded to the Baltimore Orioles last week, opening up more playing time at the hot corner.
Jommer Hernandez, C/1B, DSL Pirates – Until this last international signing period, it seemed like the Pirates always signed one catcher to a decent bonus each year. We saw Yoel Gonzalez, Gabriel Brito, Mikell Granberry and Samuel Inoa all receive six figure bonuses and none of them have lived up to the hype. Inoa is still around, but he (along with Granberry) has dealt with a lot of injuries to slow him down. Hernandez received $250,000 in July of 2017, then debuted with very mediocre results last year. He returned to the DSL in 2019, getting passed up by some low bonus signings, and has seen time at first base, as well as catching. Hernandez is hitting .309/.415/.492 this season in 18 games, getting a boost to his stats thanks to five hits between Thursday/Friday, with four going for extra bases. He’s not fast by any means, but he’s among the league leaders with four triples.
Fabricio Macias, OF, Greensboro – Macias has been fairly consistent throughout the season after putting up a .333 OPS in his first 16 games. In his next 50 games, he batted .344/.391/.508. Macias has 22 extra-base hits, and while he doesn’t draw many walks, he also doesn’t strike out often, posting one of the better strikeout rates in the system. He’s a solid defender in the outfield, making 13+ starts at all three spots. Macias also has decent speed, though that hasn’t translated to stolen bases this year (9-for-19 in steals). We are seeing why he was considered one of the best prospects in all of Mexico when he signed with the Pirates last year. Despite the long stretch of success, Bradenton is crowded in the outfield right now with Travis Swaggerty, Calvin Mitchell and Lolo Sanchez, with none of them hitting well right now. That likely means that Macias will stay with Greensboro until at least late in the season (barring an injury of course), if he moves up at all this year.
Ernny Ordonez, 1B, Bristol – Ordonez was a 33rd round pick this year, who received a $75,000 bonus to forego a commitment to Kansas. He was a junior college player these last two years, making him slightly younger (turned 20 in January) than your average college pick. He played shortstop in college and was announced as a third baseman, but the Pirates have used him at first base in all seven games he has played. Five of those games came last week and he picked up hits in all five games, topping things off with his first home run as a pro on Saturday night. Ordonez should be able to do well in the Appalachian League due to his two years of college experience. He’s not a prototypical first baseman due to his athleticism/speed/arm, so I wouldn’t expect him to stay at first base down the line. That would put a lot more pressure on the bat and take away some of his best tools at the same time.
Alfredo Reyes, IF/OF, Altoona – Reyes has been moving back and forth between Indianapolis and Altoona this year, not getting consistent regular playing time anywhere. That has led to him playing 44 games total and hitting .195/.290/.281 between both stops. Reyes is one of the more toolsy players in the system, but his weak point is the bat and making consistent hard contact. He is right up there among the fastest runners in the system and the best defenders, as well as possessing a cannon for an arm. This past week he hit .389/.421/.778 in 19 plate appearances, collecting four doubles and a home run. He has shown flashes of being a solid hitter in the past, but his approach at the plate leads to slumps as well. We’ve seen him display power when he’s able to stay back on pitches and put a good swing on the ball, but he’s often early on pitches with an all arms swing that produces swinging strikes on off-speed pitches and lots of soft contact.
Rayber Romero, IF, DSL Pirates – Romero was one of a large group of 16-year-old players signed by the Pirates on July 2nd last year. He came out of Venezuela, so his signing bonus wasn’t announced, but 13 of the other 17 players signed that day received six-figure bonuses, so it’s possible that he did as well. Romero isn’t big, standing in at 5’10”, 155 pounds. He was signed as a third baseman, but so far he has played more games at second base and in left field. He’s a switch-hitter, who has performed well from both sides early on, leading to a .360/.467/.427 slash line in his first 21 games, with 11 walks and ten strikeouts. The defense has been a little shaky to this point, but he’s added value on the bases, going 12-for-14 in stolen base attempts.
Jesus Valdez, IF, Bristol – Valdez was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers last August in the David Freese trade. It was a fairly small return, though the Pirates had no intentions of bringing Freese back and they didn’t need him in September. Valdez was already 20 years old, and had just finished his first season of pro ball in the DSL, making him one of the older position players in the league. He showed some power, speed and defensive versatility, but it’s difficult to figure out just how much of it was due to his age and playing at the lowest level. The good news here is that he was skipped over the GCL this season, so that sped up his progress a little. After a 1.120 OPS last week, he has an .801 OPS in his first ten games. The Pirates are using his almost daily at shortstop, after he saw decent time at all four infield spots last year.
Sean Brady, LHP, Altoona – Brady made two starts last week, going seven innings with one run allowed and then six innings with two runs allowed on Saturday. That got him consideration for the top spot for the week. He has put up some solid numbers for Altoona since his first two starts back in early May. The Pirates signed him just five days after he was released by the Cleveland Indians and had him in his first game just two days later. Brady allowed ten runs over 11 innings in those initial two performances. Since that time, he has a 2.96 ERA in 51.2 innings. He has also pitched at least six innings in each of his last nine starts. Brady doesn’t throw hard and has been more of a pitch-to-contact pitcher, with solid walk rates and ground ball rates throughout his career. He’s never been much of a strikeout guy, which makes it hard to see success at the next level. He’s 25 years old and a lefty, so he will get his chances. He’s a free agent at the end of this season.
Brad Case, RHP, Bradenton – Case had a shaky debut with Bradenton, though the start included everything that could go wrong, from poor defense, to wind blown hits and rain, to some bad calls from the umpire. Case walked two batters in that game and just three others in his other 13 starts, and the two walks each had questionable calls. He even had a throw back from the catcher after a pitch go into the outfield, which set up a run. That ended up being just a rough intro to High-A ball, after he posted a 2.45 ERA at Greensboro, with a league leading 0.77 WHIP and a ridiculous 50:3 SO/BB ratio. Since that debut, Case has gone seven innings each time, making The 21 last week after giving up two runs, then improving on that this past week with one run on four hits. In each of those games, he has no walks and five strikeouts. Case has added a tick to his fastball during the season, now hitting 93 MPH, but we could still more from him because he’s has a huge 6’6″ frame and a low-effort delivery.
Nicholas Economos, RHP, Bradenton – Economos has had an impressive season, allowing more than three runs in a game just once this year. He was our Player of the Week here once and has been included in previous The 21 articles as well. He got here this week thanks to his Saturday night start, which was one earned run on four hits over 6.2 innings. Economos doesn’t throw hard, which is what you would assume when you see 86 strikeouts in 78.2 innings this year. He gets by with deception in his delivery, and his ability to throw off-speed pitches for strikes. It’s something that we have seen work well for pitchers prior to Double-A, but once they get to the upper levels, they need plus off-speed pitches and command if you’re barely scraping 90 MPH during starts.
Santiago Florez, RHP, Bristol – Florez is in his third season in the system and is establishing himself as a legit pitching prospect. The 6’5″, 19-year-old from Colombia began to throw harder last year at the end of Extended Spring Training and he showed better control than the previous season. This year he moved up to the Bristol rotation and debuted with five shutout innings on three hits and no walks, with three strikeouts. Florez sits 93-95 MPH with movement on his fastball and he was still hitting 95 MPH in the final inning of his start. That type of stamina isn’t always around for young pitchers, but he has a big frame that has been filling out since his signed a six-figure deal back in 2016, just after his 16th birthday. Florez switched from a loopy curve as his breaking ball to a harder slider this year.
Domingo Gonzalez, RHP, DSL Pirates – Gonzalez is a second-year player in the DSL, who didn’t get much notice due to poor results in his first year. He gave up too many hits, walked too many batters and didn’t have a high strikeout rate. Now at 19 years old, he is putting up video game numbers. After 9.1 shutout innings last week, he now has an 0.36 ERA in 25.1 innings, with a .146 BAA, an 0.56 WHIP and a 33:3 SO/BB ratio. Gonzalez isn’t a big pitcher at 6’0″, 185 pounds, with a medium frame and he’s already filled out more than most players in the DSL, so there likely isn’t much projection here. He was part of a group of four players signed right at the deadline for the 2017-18 signing period (the last of 74 signings) and went right into action just eight days later.
Carlos Jimenez, RHP, DSL Pirates – Jimenez did a great job of limiting damage during his two starts last week by missing a lot of bats. On Monday, he gave up one run on six hits in three innings. On Saturday, he tossed 4.2 shutout innings on six hits and a walk. If an older pitcher put up those numbers, I wouldn’t have included them here, despite one run over 7.2 innings. Jimenez is a bit different though because he is just 16 years old, working on limited pitch counts each game, and most importantly, he racked up 14 strikeouts. I’ve told his story before, but for those who don’t remember, the quick version is that the Pirates scouted him during a tournament he pitched in the day after his older brother, who was an active baseball player, got killed in Venezuela. Jimenez doesn’t turn 17 until July 14th, making him one of the youngest pitchers in the league. Through six starts, he has a 2.96 ERA in 24.1 innings, with 32 strikeouts. He was considered one of the best pitching prospect in Venezuela during this past international signing period.
Mitch Keller, RHP, Indianapolis – Keller made two starts last week, with one looking strong and the other was solid early, until his pitch count ran up in the fifth inning and ended his night early. I considered him for the top spot, but decided against it due to the shortened outing and just two strikeouts in the second game. In the first game, he was using his curveball much more often than we have seen recently, and he almost abandoned his slider, using it just seven times all game. We saw the opposite is some of his starts right before he made his big league debut. The Pirates wanted him to mix his pitches better and that’s what we have seen. Keller leads the International League with a 2.82 ERA, which is well ahead of second place. He’s now third in WHIP and fifth in strikeouts, with the latter stat made more impressive by the fact that he made three big league starts. I assume we will see him in Pittsburgh during the second half of the season (before September that is), where he should eventually take a spot to get him experience for the 2020 season.
Alex Manasa, RHP, Greensboro – Manasa made two starts last week and had a strong, but odd line in one game, then picked up a Quality Start in the other contest. Manasa tossed seven shutout innings on Monday. He gave up six hits and walked one, while failing to pick up a single strikeout. That wouldn’t have been odd for him last year when his strikeout rate was much lower. However, Manasa had a slight uptick in his velocity this year, combined with a strong slider and command of his pitches. That led to 64 strikeouts in his first 70.2 innings, though his rate has slipped after three strikeouts in 13 innings this past week. Manasa came back on Saturday and allowed three runs over six innings. On the year, he has a 3.12 ERA in 83.2 innings, with a 1.15 WHIP. He ranks 11th in the league in both ERA and WHIP, while placing fourth in innings.
James Marvel, RHP, Altoona – Except for two starts in early May in which he allowed 14 runs in ten innings, Marvel has been one of the best and most consistent pitchers in the system this year. He has a 2.07 ERA in his other 13 starts combined. In his lone start last week, he went seven innings, giving up one run on four hits and a walk, with eight strikeouts. Marvel has been using his quality curveball effectively this year, but the pitch wasn’t on for part of this game, so he went to the changeup for strikeouts. He’s likely going to move up to Indianapolis soon because there isn’t much more to prove in Altoona. The one problem, which is really only a problem for Marvel, is that Pedro Vasquez has pitched even better and he already has Triple-A time this season, so they both could move up a level.
Eduardo Vera, RHP, Indianapolis – Vera has had a rough overall season in Triple-A, but a recent mechanical adjustment had led to much better results in three of his last four starts. That includes two runs over seven innings on Tuesday against Louisville. That’s a team that put up 14 runs against him over 15.2 innings in three earlier season starts. Vera is seeing better velocity with the slight change in his delivery, sitting 92-94 in his last start, instead of the 89-91 we saw earlier this year. In this recent start, he was using his changeup more often. That’s a pitch that he has had a lot of success with in the past, using it 20+ times a game on good days. Vera could really use a strong second half because he will become a minor league free agent at the end of the season.