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
Domingo Robles, LHP, Altoona – Robles put up strong stats this season at Bradenton, with a 2.61 ERA, a 1.00 WHIP and a .203 BAA in 62 innings. That led to the 21-year-old getting a promotion to Altoona in late May. He had a 4.23 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP in his first month with the Curve. In July, he hit a rough patch. Robles posted a 6.03 ERA and a .302 BAA in 31.1 innings. That stretch carried into his first start in August, but since that point he has been one of the better pitchers in the system. His best outing came on Monday when he threw a complete game shutout on 95 pitches. His final start of the year on Saturday was somewhat abbreviated, but still a solid performance with one run on three hits and no walks in five innings. After that August 4th start Robles had a 5.22 ERA, but he worked it down to 4.02 with his final out of the season. He has the three-pitch mix and control to keep progressing as a starter, but a little more velocity would certainly help his case. Right now he can get into the high-80s in starts and usually tops out at 92 MPH. Robles will still be 21 years old when the 2020 season opens up, so you can imagine that another gear is in there, which could help him miss some more bats.
Ji-Hwan Bae, SS/2B, Greensboro – Bae is likely going to win the South Atlantic League batting title today. The only person who can realistically pass him is on the injured list and would actually need Bae to pass him going the wrong way. After action on Saturday, Bae held a six point lead and would need to go 0-for-7 in the final two games of the season to lose the title. Obviously that’s not hard to do over two games, but it’s unlikely that they would just leave him out there after he went 0-for-6 to see what happens. Bae has been battling for the title since the high mark was set on August 5th (the last game for the second place player, Terrin Vavra). At that time, Bae had a .298 average. He finally passed Vavra on August 22nd and hasn’t looked back. Bae hit .400 last week (8-for-20), with a double, two triples and six RBIs. He finished August with a .370/.458/.500 slash line and 13 stolen bases.
Jonah Davis, OF, Greensboro – After a very poor start to the season, Davis put together a very strong August. Twice he was the runner-up in our Player of the Week race, and the other two weeks of the month, he was still one of the top ten hitters in the system. Davis batted .318/.383/.654, with ten homers in 26 games last month. He did all of that while still striking out 36.4% of the time, which means the numbers are likely unsustainable, but he was still extremely productive with that high rate. This past week, Davis had seven hits, including his 18th and 19th home runs. His strong finish should allow him to move up to Bradenton next year, where the pitcher-friendly league and more advanced pitchers will show whether he can truly be a prospect despite the major contact issues.
Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B, Indianapolis – Hayes went 6-for-15 with four walks last week in five games. That gave him a final slash line of .327/.379/.42 in 28 games in August. It was his third straight month of improved offense, after bottoming out in May with a .684 OPS. Hayes has some interesting splits to his season. He has put up a .671 OPS in 56 home games and an .844 OPS on the road. Indianapolis is a huge ballpark thanks to it being 415 to center field, where they have a straight portion to the wall that leads to deep gaps on both sides of center. Unless you’re hitting the ball down the line, you really have to square the ball up to hit a homer. On the other hand though, it tends to lead to better batting averages and more doubles, so that should make up for some of the difference in slugging. However, Hayes is batting just .244 at home with 13 doubles and .291 on the road with 16 doubles.
Logan Hill, OF/1B, Altoona – Hill had a strange month of August. He was our Player of the Week in the middle of the month after putting up huge numbers over a six-game stretch. He made it here this week for collecting 11 hits in seven games. Despite those nice stretches of success, he had a .758 OPS for the month, which made it a below average month for him. Hill received a mid-season promotion to Indianapolis and struggled during the 14-game trial before returning to Altoona. Prior to the promotion, he had a .793 OPS with the Curve. After returning, he had a .743 OPS. He’s now spent parts/all of three season in Double-A and really didn’t do anything to prove he’s ready for the next level. He put up solid stats, but he’s also 26 years old and all of his value comes from the bat. He’s probably going to be competing for a bench spot at Indianapolis next year.
Grant Koch, C, Greensboro – Koch was having a really bad season at the plate last year, which was really a continuation of the numbers he put up last year in Morgantown. He’s not going to get to the majors on his glove alone because he doesn’t have the defense that we see with some of the catchers higher up in the system. So he really needs to start hitting. It came about too late to really save his 2019 numbers, but his run on Friday/Saturday sure gave him a positive note to finish the season and carry into 2020. Koch came into the day on Friday with four homers in his first 362 plate appearances. He was even 0-for-12 to start the week when he connected on a fifth inning home run. That was followed two innings later by homer #2 and one inning later by a third shot. On Saturday, he homered in the fourth inning, meaning that he matched his season home run total over a nine inning span. As I said, it didn’t really save his season, we are still talking about a major college player with a .587 OPS in two seasons of pro ball, but it’s a glimmer of hope for next year.
Mason Martin, 1B, Bradenton – Martin had five hits and two walks during an abbreviated final week of the season. One of those hits was his 35th home run of the season. After putting up a .262/.361/.575 slash line in 82 games with Greensboro this year, he posted a .239/.333/.528 slash line in 49 games with Bradenton. It’s a drop in stats obviously, but he set the bar high in Greensboro and then put up strong number in a worse environment for hitters. With 32 doubles, 35 homers, 90 runs scored, 129 RBIs and 68 walks, it’s one of the more impressive seasons you will find looking back through the years for Pirates minor league players. He did finish with the third highest strikeout total ever for the Pirates, and would have likely ended up second if not for the final three games of the season being canceled, but it’s very hard to overlook those numbers over two levels for someone who turned 20 years old during the season.
Brett Pope, IF, Altoona – Pope capped off a strong month of August with his biggest week of the year. He hit .368/.478/.632 in six games, with two doubles, a homer and two walks. That gave him an .882 OPS for the month while seeing regular playing time. Coming into the month, Pope had a .591 OPS on the season. Getting an Opening Day spot with Altoona was a bit surprising, as Pope played just 77 games of A-Ball in 2018, split over the two levels. He is more known for his solid defense, with the ability to play middle infield and third base. Once he was announced for the Curve, then the assumption was that he would have some trouble on the hitting side in Double-A and that held true for the first four months of the season. It took some time, but it looks like he has finally adjusted to the level and now you’re talking about someone who may have potential to reach the majors. The defense and versatility will still be what drives his value, but he’s a smart player, with decent speed and the ability to make contact at the plate and use the whole field. If everything continues to click for him, then the 23-year-old Pope has a big league future.
Blake Sabol, OF, Morgantown – Sabol had eight hits and three walks last week. Through 55 games, that gave him a .254/.360/.363 slash line, with 14 extra-base hits and 34 walks. A .723 OPS from a college hitter in short-season ball isn’t going to turn any heads, but in the New York-Penn League, that’s not a bad number. In fact, he ranks 19th in the league in OPS, 13th in OBP and sixth in walks. He was playing center field early in his time with the Pirates, but now sees action in both left field and right field. We saw some issues with his defense early on, though his speed helped make up for some mistakes. Sabol is big and athletic at 6’4″, 215 pounds. He hasn’t shown power yet, but there could be some in the future with an adjustment to his swing and staying back more on pitches. His current style is more of a line drive approach that allows him to get out of the box faster.
Lolo Sanchez, OF, Bradenton – Sanchez put up big numbers for Greensboro this year and that led to a promotion to Bradenton after the All-Star game. Things did not go well for the 20-year-old when he jumped to the pitcher-friendly FSL. His final line in 52 games was .196/.300/.270 in 163 at-bats. Those numbers were even helped by his final week, which saw him pick up six hits and four walks in five games. There were some overall positives from the season, which carried into High-A. Sanchez showed a nice contact rate, limiting his strikeouts, and still hitting for some power earlier in the season. He stole 33 bases in 48 attempts, with his success rate getting much better as the season went along (he was at 50% in late April). He is sure to open up 2020 in Bradenton, and won’t turn 21 years old until after Opening Day.
Lucas Tancas, 1B/OF, Bradenton – Tancas got here the same way Koch made this list. He had one big game and hit a home run in another game, otherwise he was 0-for-13 the rest of the week. He went 4-for-4 on Tuesday with two doubles. His home run on Monday was his ninth of the season. Tancas finished up the season with a .280/.342/.427 slash line in 106 games. He ranked sixth in the FSL with a .769 OPS, tied with teammate Dylan Busby for the team lead. Tancas finished fifth in the league in slugging and fifth with 28 doubles. It was a nice improvement over the dreadful .598 OPS he put up last year with Bradenton, so he should move up to Altoona in 2020, but it’s important to remember that he’s a 26-year-old corner player (1B/LF) who doesn’t have speed or strong defense, so all of the value needs to come from the bat. His 29:142 BB/SO ratio in 428 plate appearances likely won’t translate well against better pitching.
Sean Brady, LHP, Altoona – Brady was our Player of the Week last week and followed that up with a strong outing on Tuesday night. He went seven innings, allowing one run on six hits, one walk and three strikeouts. Brady becomes a free agent at the end of this season, so it will be interesting to see if the Pirates bring him back. He’s been outstanding at eating innings for Altoona this year, but his upside is limited by having an average pitch mix, average control and mediocre velocity. He knows how to pitch, but can still get in a lot of trouble if he doesn’t have his best stuff because he doesn’t miss many bats. Pitchers like that usually top out at Double-A.
Brad Case, RHP, Bradenton – Case was a frequent guest in The 21 early in the season, but couldn’t keep up the same pace at Bradenton. He struggled a bit more recently, but finished his season of strong with no earned runs over five innings, allowing four hits, with no walks and seven strikeouts. Case went right after hitters on this night, mixing his fastball and slider, with the latter getting better as the game went along. He finished his season, split between Bradenton and Greensboro, with a 3.41 ERA over 137.1 innings, with a 108:25 SO/BB ratio, a .232 BAA and a 1.05 WHIP. He’s probably going to return to Bradenton as a starter next season, but should get a chance to win a job at Altoona, either on Opening Day, or as one of the first players up when a spot opens.
Francis Del Orbe, RHP, Morgantown – Del Orbe made the big jump from the DSL in 2017 to Morgantown in 2018 and put together a solid overall season. He returned to the same level in 2019 and he’s putting together a nearly identical stat line in his second season, with the ERA, innings pitched, strikeout rate, walk rate, BAA, WHIP and GO/AO ratio all extremely close to his 2018 numbers. He’s 20 years old now, so he’s a solid age for the level still. You would have to imagine that the numbers get him at least to Greensboro next year, with a chance to move to Bradenton at some point. Del Orbe doesn’t have overpowering stuff or any plus pitches, but he knows how to get outs. This past week he allowed one run over seven innings on five hits, no walks and nine strikeouts.
Will Kobos, RHP, Greensboro – Last week we had an in depth look at Kobos after he threw five no-hit innings and struck out eight batters. The report included old notes, watching him pitch three times and talking to one of his coaches. This week Kobos made two starts, going five innings with one run allowed each time. He picked up ten strikeouts on Monday and six more on Saturday. Kobos finished his season with a 2.12 ERA in 34 innings with Greensboro. That was after getting hit around in Morgantown to the tune of a 6.05 ERA and a .311 BAA. He also improved his strikeout rate while moving up, going from 17 in 19.1 innings with the Black Bears, to 41 in 34 innings in Low-A. The better stats are a bit harder to explain because you’d much rather face NYPL in Morgantown’s big ballpark, compared to Low-A hitters in Greensboro, which favors hitters. Either way, it’s a strong finish for someone who also struggled in Bristol last year after being drafted in the 19th round.
Conner Loeprich, RHP, Bradenton – Loeprich profiles as a future middle reliever, but he’s had his moments in the rotation for the Marauders. He didn’t start his only game this week, but it basically ended up being like a start because he went six innings. Loeprich threw shutout ball on two hits, no walks and six strikeouts. He finished up his season at Bradenton, which started after he was promoted from Greensboro on July 23rd, with a 3.38 ERA, a 1.37 WHIP and 28 strikeouts in 37.1 innings. Those were improvements on the numbers he put up at Low-A. Loeprich has success with mixing his pitches well, including an above average curveball that has a sharp break. He doesn’t throw hard, touching 94 MPH, but sitting low-90s. His main off-season was improving his changeup and the pitch looked better in the few times I saw him pitch.
Tahnaj Thomas, RHP, Bristol – There were some better choices than Thomas for the top pitchers if you just look at the pitching lines for the week, but none of those players pitched in a bigger game. Thomas had the final start of the regular season for Bristol and if they won, they made the playoffs. If they lost, the season was over. He came through big with one run over five innings on four hits and no walks, with five strikeouts, leading Bristol to their first playoff appearance in 17 years. Thomas finished the season with a 3.17 ERA in 48.1 innings, with 59 strikeouts, a 1.12 WHIP and a .217 BAA. He gained a lot of attention for hitting triple digits numerous times in starts, but what got lost a bit is that he walked just nine batters over 46.2 innings while throwing that hard. He not only improved his velocity (and his slider), he improved his control as well.
Noe Toribio, RHP, Greensboro – Toribio made two starts last week and both of them were solid/strong performances. In game one he allowed two runs over five hits over six innings. In the second outing, he gave up one run on three hits in seven innings. In 13 innings, Toribio had no walks and ten strikeouts. After opening the season at Morgantown, he posted a 3.79 ERA in seven starts with Greensboro. That’s coming from someone who had a 5.68 ERA in 12 starts in the GCL last year, and he just turned 20 years old last Sunday. He’s a fun pitcher to watch because he goes right after hitters, using a low-90s fastball that has touched 97 MPH in the past, along with a slider that is a swing-and-miss pitch and a very effective changeup. Toribio can get a lot of run down and in on his fastball to right-handed batters, which has proven to be a very tough pitch for lower level hitters to either hit or take. There’s a lot of upside here.
Pedro Vasquez, RHP, Altoona – Vasquez had an outstanding run during the middle of the season and his overall season has been strong. He added to those numbers on Tuesday with seven shutout innings on three hits and a walk, with four strikeouts. That gave him a 2.79 ERA and 1.11 WHIP through 116 innings with the Curve, which ranked him fifth in the Eastern League in both ERA and WHIP. One of the things to watch here with Vasquez is that he isn’t a high strikeout pitcher and that’s mixed with him being a fly ball pitcher. That type of pitcher hasn’t translated well to the new baseballs in Triple-A, but his strong control and ability to throw three pitches for strikes, should help him out. Vasquez is much like Noe Toribio in that he goes right after hitters and works quickly. Vasquez takes almost no time between pitches and he’s ready for the catcher’s signal as soon as he gets the ball back.
Cam Vieaux, LHP, Altoona – Vieaux has been a man on a mission since being sent down from Indianapolis back on August 9th. Coming off of five shutout innings in his last Triple-A start, Vieaux backed it up with six shutout frames and seven scoreless innings in his first two Altoona starts. He nearly had a no-hitter in his next start, but a home run with two outs in the sixth inning snapped a streak of 23.2 scoreless innings. So how did he return from the one-hitter? By throwing 7.1 shutout innings and striking out ten batters for the second time in his career. If it wasn’t for that one pitch, he would be at 30.1 scoreless innings this month. I’m guessing the demotion to Double-A didn’t sit well for the 25-year-old lefty.
Gavin Wallace, RHP, Bradenton – Wallace hit a rough patch in August, so his start in the last game of the season had to feel good. The Florida State League announced that they were canceling the last three days of the season on Wednesday, but Bradenton had one more game left before going home and Wallace pitched six strong innings, giving up one run on four hits and a walk, while striking out eight batters. His previous three starts saw him give up 14 runs over 15.2 innings. He finished the year with a 4.13 ERA in 109 innings, but he really pitched much better for most of the season. Over a three month span from early May to early August, he had a 2.48 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP in 72.2 innings. For comparison sake, those numbers would rank third (ERA) and fifth among FSL league leaders. Wallace showed solid velocity in a starting role, consistently hitting 94-95 MPH in starts. He’s a strike-thrower who gets ground balls, but doesn’t have a true strikeout pitch yet.