This was not a strong overall week in the system, which made the voting a bit more fun because three categories went down to the final vote and I had a lot of trouble with those same picks on my own. That being said, one of the hitters had a nice advantage in hitting over everyone else. That was Bligh Madris, who put up an OPS that was 153 points higher than the second best mark in the system last week. That advantage led the 26-year-old Indianapolis outfielder to being named as the Pirates Prospects Player of the Week for May 23-29.
Madris made a lot of waves this year with his extremely impressive performance during Spring Training, putting up a 1.376 OPS in 14 games. He was with the Pirates until the final cuts, still with the team while the Triple-A season was getting started. When he got to Indianapolis, he was greeted with a crowded outfield situation that made it tough to get daily playing time in April. In May, he forced his way into the lineup with the help of some players being promoted to Pittsburgh to fill in for injuries. He had to seize the opportunity when it came up and he did that this past week, hitting .364/.482/.773 in 27 plate appearances, with three doubles, two homers and five walks, taking part in all seven games this past week. He has a .910 OPS for the month of May, which ranks sixth for all Pirates minor league players with at least 60 at-bats in the month.
Madris is in a tough spot right now, with both Travis Swaggerty and Canaan Smith-Njigba doing better recently after slow starts to their season. Both of those outfielders are on the 40-man roster, giving them an advantage as they continue to get more Triple-A experience. You also have Ji-hwan Bae, who has been the best hitter at Indianapolis, and he has been playing the occasional outfield this year. The Pirates also hope to get some injured outfielders back sooner rather than later, which could push some players currently in the majors back to Indianapolis. The window of opportunity isn’t closing in the next week or so, giving Madris more time to prove that he needs to be out there playing regularly. Some players have to create their own spots. We are seeing that in Altoona with Andres Alvarez, and we are seeing it with Madris this month in Indianapolis. If he continues to play the way he has been lately, and what we saw during Spring Training, then he will force his way to the majors.
TRIPLE-A: INDIANAPOLIS INDIANS
Player of the Week: Bligh Madris .364/.482/.773, 2 HR, 1 SB, 27 PA
Analysis: Besides Bligh Madris, three other Indianapolis players had strong weeks at the plate. Canaan Smith-Njigba put up a 1.101 OPS, one point higher than Ji-hwan Bae. Smith-Njigba did it with ten hits, four doubles and five walks, posting a .517 OBP. He had an impressive on base streak snapped this past week by a pinch-hitting appearance. Bae batted .370 with three doubles, a triple and a homer, finishing with seven runs and seven RBIs. Oneil Cruz had an absolutely awful week in the field with seven errors in six games, but the hitting was the best we have seen from him all year. He hit .333/.400/.667 in 30 plate appearances, with three homers. His .732 OPS is creeping up on the league average mark.
Hoy Park got called up by the Pirates on Sunday, but not before he put up a .912 OPS in 22 plate appearances. Carter Bins did well in limited time, posting a .917 OPS in 12 PAs. Indianapolis had six of the eight players who had over an .800 OPS this past week. It was not a good overall week for the system, but Indianapolis had a great series in St Paul.
On the pitching side, no one really dominated, but Cody Bolton, Matt Eckelman, Austin Brice, Aaron Fletcher and Eric Hanhold all went 3-4 innings with a 0.00 ERA. The rest of the pitching staff gave up 46 runs.
DOUBLE-A: ALTOONA CURVE
Player of the Week: Mike Burrows 0.00 ERA, 8:1 K/BB, 7.0 IP
Analysis: Mike Burrows is the only pitcher to win our Player of the Week award this year, and he got some support for the overall award this week as well. He ended up as the winner for Altoona after the best start of the week in the system. He went seven shutout innings on two hits, one walk and eight strikeouts. He has been the best pitcher for the Pirates so far this season, posting a 1.90 ERA, and 0.87 WHIP and a 54:12 SO/BB ratio in 42.2 innings. He’s looking at a mid-season promotion to Indianapolis this year and that could come soon.
Besides Burrows, Altoona got some strong pitching from Noe Toribio, who threw five shutout innings on four hits, no walks and eight strikeouts in a relief appearance. His previous outing was 3.2 shutout innings. He now has a 1.86 ERA in 29 innings. Travis MacGregor had a strong relief outing as well, throwing four shutout frames on three hits, one walk and six shutouts. This year he has a 10.38 ERA as a starter and a 1.71 ERA in relief. Brad Case picked up his first pro save with three shutout innings on one hit and five strikeouts. JC Flowers gave up one run over 4.1 innings in his two appearances.
On the hitting side, I mentioned that there were eight players in the system who had an .800 OPS and the other two outside of Indianapolis were with Altoona. Liover Peguero led the way with a .981 OPS in 22 plate appearances. He hit .350 with two doubles, a homer and two steals. He has an .878 OPS in 40 games this season. Aaron Shackelford had an .856 OPS in 20 plate appearances. He batted just .222, but he hit two homers and drove in six runs. Matt Gorski had the third best week for Altoona hitters with his .776 OPS. That’s a decent number but a far drop from his unreal week that got him promoted to Altoona.
HIGH-A: GREENSBORO GRASSHOPPERS
Player of the Week: Jared Jones 1.80 ERA, 10:1 K/BB, 5.0 IP
Analysis: Greensboro had three pitchers put up very nice weeks, splitting the team’s overall vote for Player of the Week. Jared Jones had an impressive week for strikeouts. In his one start, he gave up one run over five innings, with six hits, one walk and ten strikeouts. Eight pitchers for the Pirates threw more innings this week, but he had the most strikeouts. He has a 5.35 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP in 38.2 innings this season, while picking up 54 strikeouts. Domingo Gonzalez was also strong in his start, giving up one run over six innings, with three hits, two walks and five strikeouts. He had a 10.54 ERA in April and a 4.50 ERA in May. Nick Garcia made two starts and threw five shutout innings on Tuesday, followed by two runs over 4.1 innings on Sunday. He pitched better in May, though not a huge difference like Gonzalez. Garcia had a 3.74 ERA in 21.2 innings this month. Sean Sullivan and Jack Carey each tossed three shutout innings, with Carey doing it in a spot start.
It was a very rough week at the plate for Greensboro. No one qualified for this analysis section on the hitting side. I use an .800 OPS cutoff, but will stretch a bit if someone is close. Basically, I’m not leaving off a player with a .790 OPS unless the rest of his team crushed it, and even then I’d probably still make a mention. Here, Dariel Lopez lead with a .763 OPS in 19 plate appearances. Jack Herman was the only other player over the .700 mark. Yeah, it was a rough series.
LOW-A: BRADENTON MARAUDERS
Player of the Week: Jake Sweeney 1.04 ERA, 9:2 K/BB, 8.2 IP
Analysis: Jake Sweeney had an impressive week, making a long relief appearance and a start. Combined he allowed one run over 8.2 innings, with four hits, two walks and nine strikeouts. He came into the week with a 5.49 ERA and 14 walks in 19.2 innings, so this was a very nice week for him. We will see if he can roll this performance into a strong June. As for others on Bradenton, Darvin Garcia tossed four shutout frames, striking out six batters. Both Yunior Thibo and Anthony Solometo went three innings without any earned runs (both allowed unearned runs). For Solometo, his outing was his pro debut. On offense, you know by now that no one reached that .800 OPS mark. However, Sergio Campana didn’t miss by much with his .780 mark. It’s noteworthy in that he was a high profile international signing, who really hasn’t done anything special yet, though his defense gets a lot of praise. He had a .460 OPS in April, and May is at .716 going into the final day of the month. In the Florida State League, that’s a nice average month. No one else was close to Campana during a rough week for Bradenton hitters.+ posts
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.