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
Logan Hill, OF/1B, Altoona – Back in late May, Hill was our Player of the Week when he collected 15 hits in 25 at-bats. He’s never really been known as a high average player, so it wasn’t his typical week. This past week is more what we are used to for Hill. He homered three times and collected four doubles. Between his Altoona numbers and a brief stop in Indianapolis, Hill has 30 doubles and 12 home runs this season. Those 30 doubles ties him for the lead among all players in the Pirates system. Hill has a .776 OPS this season for Altoona, which is an improvement over the .705 mark he put up last year, but still not a great number for someone who is 26 years old and in their third season at the level. He had a .184 average and a .647 OPS in Indianapolis, albeit in just 14 games. He’s been playing more first base recently, so the added position might help him get to Indianapolis on Opening Day next year, but he’s going to need to pick up the offense to get a chance at the majors.
Brendt Citta, OF, Morgantown – Citta began this season at Bristol, which was somewhat disappointing, but also understandable. He was drafted last year in a late round, but still got a six-figure bonus to leave Kansas a year early. Citta played at Bristol after the draft, where he put up a .748 OPS in 44 games. He was going to compete for a spot in Greensboro, but an early Spring Training injury cost him plenty of time down at Pirate City. So in that sense, the start at Bristol was more of a rehab outing than a planned placement. He didn’t last long, putting up an .831 OPS in 18 games before heading to Morgantown. He had hits in all five games last week, which has him now at a .296/.356/.444 slash line in 23 games for the Black Bears. After mostly playing left field last year, he hasn’t been there yet this season, splitting his time between first base and right field.
Jonah Davis, OF, Greensboro – Davis continued his hot hitting, making it here for the third straight week. He wasn’t considered for the top spot like the last two weeks (basically runner-up each week), but he still had nine hits and two home runs. Davis has a 1.021 OPS in 44 games since returning to Greensboro. Prior to that, he had a .461 OPS in his first 22 games, along with a brief 0-for-13 showing at Morgantown prior to his return to Low-A. While he has cut back on his strikeouts compared to earlier in the season, it’s still been at a 33% strikeout rate since his return. For a major college player in Low-A in his second season, that doesn’t translate well to future success, especially when we are talking about him at his peak and ignoring the overall rate being at 35.1% for the season. The all-or-nothing approach works in the majors, but those players usually don’t come up through the system that way, especially not when they’re age appropriate at the lower levels.
Yoyner Fajardo, IF/OF, Bristol – Fajardo began the season in Morgantown as one of the fill-ins while they waited for draft picks to sign. The plan for all of those players was to have them there until the GCL season opened, and that group saw very little action. Fajardo was supposed to stay in the GCL this year, but he had other ideas. He batted .337 in 28 games and stole 16 bases, putting him among the league leaders in both categories. He was moved up to Bristol on August 5th and then he put together quite a string of games to close out this past week. Fajardo went 11-for-18 in his last four games, giving him a .480 average during his first two weeks at Bristol. He was the best hitter for either of the two DSL Pirates teams last year, and has put up strong numbers over two levels this season. The Pirates have Fajardo playing all over the field, seeing time everywhere except first base, catcher and pitcher during his brief career. His bat is going to keep him in the lineup wherever he ends up playing.
Ethan Paul, SS, Morgantown – Paul was drafted by the Pirates in 2018, then after deciding to head back to Vanderbilt for his senior year, he was drafted in the ninth round and signed as soon as his season ended. While he most certainly left money on the table by signing for $60,000 as a senior ($57,500 plus an easy incentive worth $2,500), he was able to pick up a College World Series title. Until this last week, things were not going as well during his time in pro ball. Even after collecting ten hits in the last six games, he still has a .224/.336/.318 slash line for Morgantown. He has a solid walk total (16) in 28 games, but he’s also striking out 24% of the time, which you don’t like to see from a non-power hitting, who turns 23 next week, playing in short-season ball. He has played a solid shortstop so far, playing there in 27 of his 28 games.
Juan Pie, OF, GCL Pirates – I squeezed Pie on here with 17 plate appearances because he had a strong week and didn’t get a chance to add to it with two rain outs to end the week. He hit .375/.375/.875 with a triple and his first two home runs of the season. After an impressive short stint at Morgantown to start the season while they were waiting for draft picks to sign, Pie has really struggled in the GCL. Even with the past week added in, he has a .229/.308/.354 slash line in 30 games. Those numbers look really bad, but there are things to consider. He’s two years younger than the average pitcher in the league. His .229 average is only four points below league average, while his .354 slugging is actually better than average for the league (.343). He falls short in the OBP (.333 average), but his stats are basically league average now. The problem is that even with that explanation, he’s considered to be one of the top prospects on the team and we aren’t seeing anything to get excited about yet. Maybe this last week will get him on track, though the season has just two weeks left.
Brett Pope, IF, Altoona – The final spot on this list was a toss up between Oneil Cruz and Pope. Cruz had slightly better stats on offense and got in a few more plate appearances, but he also recently had a stretch of six straight games with at least one error. Pope on the other hand, has made just one more error all season than Cruz had in those six games, doing it while playing three different spots in the infield. That gave the final nod to Pope, who put up a .917 OPS last week, thanks to two multi-hit games, two doubles, his first home run and three walks. It was a little bit surprising that Pope started the season in Altoona, after splitting his first full-season of pro ball between Extended Spring Training, West Virginia and Bradenton. He didn’t hit much in High-A and wasn’t there that long, so repeating the level would have been the appropriate placement. Pope struggled at the plate well into July (.567 OPS on July 24th), but over his last 22 games, he has a .310/.403/.483 slash line. If he can keep the bat going, then his defensive versatility gives him a chance to reach the majors one day.
Aaron Shackelford, 3B, Bristol – Shackelford had eight hits last week and homered three times. This year’s 14th round draft pick hit 36 homers in 188 at-bats at his small college program. So we expected to see some power, especially from someone who turns 23 in October and is playing in the Appalachian League. In 43 games this season, he has hit .266/.332/.497, with 14 doubles, a triple and eight home runs. He has 46 strikeouts, which is a bit more than you want to see at this level from someone with his experience. Shackelford was announced as a shortstop, but he hasn’t played there as a pro. He’s been at third base most of the time, with some rough play at second base (five errors in six games) mixed in as well. The power will be intriguing to watch going forward, but we really know if it will get him anywhere in pro ball until he’s at a more age appropriate level.
Travis Swaggerty, CF, Bradenton – Swaggerty has been on a hot stretch for quite some time now, but he’s been more consistent over that stretch than standing out for short spells at a time. His start to the season was very slow and continued into late June, so it hides the fact that he has put up a .901 OPS over his last 44 games. Not only is he getting on base more, he’s able to put his plus speed to good use on the bases. On defense, Swaggerty is a lot like Andrew McCutchen, except with a strong arm. He’s great at coming in on balls, and his speed makes up for some poor routes, but he also has trouble going back on fly balls. Swaggerty is at a point where he has earned a spot at Altoona. It won’t do much difference if he goes there this late in the season, with only two weeks left, but a stretch like this current one at the start of the year would have had him in Altoona two months ago. We could still see him get the late promotion since Bradenton isn’t playing for the playoffs, just to get a taste of the level before beginning the 2020 season with the Curve.
Jesus Valdez, IF, Bristol – Valdez made it here last week by collecting nine hits over the final four days of the week. He made it five straight multi-hit games by going 3-for-5 with a home run and five RBIs in the first game this past week. He slowed down a little when his 12-game hitting streak was snapped the next day, but still finished the week out with four more hits and another home run. The 21-year-old Valdez was acquired in the David Freese trade last year with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He had a decent 2018 season in the DSL, but he was too old for the league and didn’t get signed to a pro contract until well after his 19th birthday. Skipping over the GCL put him at a more age appropriate level, though he’s still on the older side for the Appalachian League, but he gets some leeway because it’s only his second season of pro ball. Valdez has a .312/.400/.453 slash line through his first 45 games, while seeing time at shortstop, second base and third base.
Eric Wood, IF/OF, Indianapolis – Wood missed some time recently when he played for his country (Canada) in an international tournament. He has put up solid numbers since returning, posting an .862 OPS so far in August, which included a .348/.444/.522 slash line this past week. Overall though, it’s been a disappointing season for him, like many of the hitters at Indianapolis. His .756 OPS this season is 34 points below league average, and 52 points below his .808 OPS at Indianapolis last year, back when that number was 99 points higher than league average. He’s going to become a minor league free agent at the end of the season. You could see him returning to the Pirates in a similar role, but at this point it looks like his big league potential is a cup of coffee player at best.
Alex Manasa, RHP, Greensboro – Before I start his description, how odd is it to see “Manasa” be the first name among the ten pitchers here in alphabetical order? He had an outstanding performance last week, throwing six shutout innings on three hits, with no walks and eight strikeouts. That was after no walks and seven strikeouts in his previous outing. Manasa was drafted out of college and he’s in his third season in the system, yet he’s still 21 years old. He’s looked a bit better this year, seeing his velocity inch up, while throwing a slider in all counts that has helped him pick up a lot more strikeouts than before. The important part here is that he’s getting the added strikeouts while minimizing his walks. He was a strike-thrower the last two seasons, but he’s taken that to another level this year with 24 walks in 123.2 innings. Manasa has a 6’4″ frame that we could still see fill out some, and if he can add velocity without sacrificing his command, then his prospect status would move up the charts.
James Marvel, RHP, Indianapolis – Marvel should get serious consideration for a September call-up to the Pirates. After a nice run through Altoona, he has put up a 1.82 ERA in seven starts with Indianapolis, holding batters to a .165 BAA, with a 1.01 WHIP, 37 strikeouts and a 1.30 GO/AO ratio in 39.2 innings. He got in this article by allowing one run over six innings on Tuesday. It’s important to remember that he’s putting those numbers up in a huge year for offense in the International League. For comparison sake, Mitch Keller right now leads the IL with a 3.56 ERA, nearly twice as high as the mark for Marvel in his first seven outings. The other reason Marvel deserves a September look is that he will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft this winter, so they’re going to want to protect him.
Cristofer Melendez, RHP, Greensboro – Melendez had quite a week in two relief appearances. In his first outing, he went three shutout innings on one hit and one walk, with seven strikeouts. He came back four days later and threw three more shutout innings, this time with no hits, one walk and four strikeouts. The 21-year-old right-hander was acquired in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft, after spending four season in the Dominican Summer League. He joined Greensboro in early May after pitching well in Extended Spring Training. In 24 appearances, he has a 4.35 ERA in 39.1 innings, with a .199 BAA and an incredible 63 strikeouts. His problem has been his 24 walks. Melendez hits 96 MPH with his fastball, but doesn’t hold his velocity long, so he will work better in shorter roles. His out pitch is a mid-80s curve that is a bit inconsistent, but still works against lower-level hitters. He also shows nice separation with his changeup.
Winston Nicacio, RHP, Greensboro – Nicacio was a minor league Rule 5 pick this winter. He had full-season experience prior to joining the Pirates, but they started him at Morgantown this season, where he was originally in the starting rotation, but he made more relief appearances than starts. After a 2.96 ERA in 24.1 innings, he was promoted to Greensboro, where he has been on a run of success since his first pitch. Nicacio started on Saturday night and threw six shutout innings on three hits, with no walks and three strikeouts. His three previous outings combined saw him give up three hits and no walks in ten scoreless frames, while striking out 13 batters. The only run he has allowed since the promotion came during his debut, which was five innings, with four hits and one run. In 21 innings, he has an 0.43 ERA and a 20:0 SO/BB ratio. Nicacio hits 94 MPH and mixes his pitches well.
John O’Reilly, RHP, Bradenton – I did an article with O’Reilly this winter about pitchers coming from cold weather states and it now feels like we were telling the future. Cold weather pitchers develop later because they don’t get in as much time as players from the warmer states. It not only limits their development time, it limits the level of competition. O’Reilly was signed as a non-drafted free agent last year and didn’t have anything that really stood out about his college stats or his scouting report. The pitcher who was throwing 88-91 MPH in college, came back this year with increased velocity. He has been sitting 94-95 MPH in relief, hitting 96 a few times in the outings that I’ve watched recently. He’s pitching in relief, but he still has the arsenal of a starting pitcher and mixes those pitches well. So he’s not all velocity, it’s a cutter that he’s throwing harder than his fastball prior to this year, as well as a mixture of off-speed pitches to keep batters guessing. O’Reilly began his week with three no-hit innings and finished it off with two shutout innings and four strikeouts. He has allowed one earned run in 14.1 innings with Bradenton.
Austin Roberts, RHP, Morgantown – Roberts had a strong performance on Friday night, allowing one run on two hits over five innings. He had no walks and seven strikeouts. The most impressive part was the amount of strikes he threw on the night. Out of 57 pitches, 44 went for strikes, meaning he had more outs than pitches called balls. Roberts was drafted in the eighth round this year. He isn’t tall, standing in at 6’0″, but he has a stocky, workhorse frame. He can get his fastball into the mid-90s, to go along with an average slider and a strong changeup that gets a lot of swinging strikes. Roberts likes to get ahead of hitters, then tries to get them to chase 0-2 fastballs just above the strike zone. So far as a pro, he’s been doing a nice job of limiting base runners, while picking up a strikeout per inning.
Yeison Santos, LHP, DSL Pirates – Santos was a July 2nd signing back in 2017, who received a $110,000 bonus, which is on the lower side for first day signings, but he was one of the top pitchers signed by the Pirates. Back then he was described as a fly ball pitcher, who throws a lot of strikes and has room to fill out his 6’2″, 170 frame. He was throwing 88-90 MPH, with a fastball, slider and changeup. That scouting report hasn’t really changed in his second season in the DSL other than filling out some, but he has increased his strikeout rate and become more of a ground ball pitcher. Santos started off slowly this season, before turning a corner in early July. In his last 20.1 innings, he has given up three runs, while posting a 21:4 SO/BB ratio. This past week he threw 6.2 innings, with no earned runs and nine strikeouts.
Aaron Shortridge, RHP, Bradenton – This is Shortridge’s eighth appearance on The 21 and his overall numbers reflect that success. He got here this week with one run over six innings on no walks and seven strikeouts. His previous two outings combined were 13.2 shutout innings. Among Florida State League pitchers, he now ranks first in innings pitched (124.2), fifth in WHIP (112) and seven in ERA (3.18). The most exciting part about Shortridge now is that he added velocity during the season, going from 88-90 MPH, to sitting low-90s. It’s not just the added velocity, it’s that he’s doing it late in the season and he’s having a lot of success. Some pitchers will sacrifice their control/command for added velocity, but he’s throwing just as many quality strikes, while still mixing his pitches well. When he was taken in the draft, the thought was that he had more upside than your normal major college junior because he has limited work during college. It appears that we are seeing some of that projection turned into results.
Cam Vieaux, LHP, Altoona – It has to be a bit disappointing to see Vieaux on this list, at least with the team listed next to his name. He returned to Altoona after making 13 starts for Indianapolis. His 5.05 ERA and 1.48 WHIP were basically league average (4.92 and 1.44) in this up year for offense in the International League. So now Vieaux is back at Double-A, where he tossed six shutout innings while giving up two hits. I almost bumped him off the list because of four walks, but he did just enough to earn the spot (there were some solid pitching performances considered for the final spot). The big problem that we saw with Vieaux is something that we might need to watch more closely in the future. He’s always been a fly ball pitcher and that led to 15 homers while in Indianapolis. In nearly the same amount of innings in Altoona, he has given up five homers.
Brandon Waddell, LHP, Indianapolis – Waddell has had quite the crazy season. He was moved to the bullpen, where it was assumed that he would have success. His velocity increased in shorter outing and he’s always had the big game mentality, so putting him into a game late seemed like it would go well. It was quite the opposite though, which led to him being demoted to Altoona, where he was stretched out as a starter. Back in his familiar role, he had a lot of success and earned a return trip to Indianapolis. His first three starts were even worse than his bullpen results in Triple-A. He gave up a total of 18 runs in 12.2 innings. They stuck with him though and him came out this past Thursday with one run on four hits, with no walks and six strikeouts, in six innings. One of the odd parts of his failures in Triple-A this season is the fact that he has 55 strikeouts in 48.2 innings.