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 until last year when we changed it to 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. 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 views throughout the system, where we have coverage for all four full-season affiliates. We also get extra views via MiLB.tv, giving us a look at the entire farm system throughout the season.
Player of the Week
Jonah Davis, OF, Bristol – Our Player of the Week earns those honors on his 21st birthday today. The Pirates 15th round pick this year had an incredible week and was the easy choice for the top spot. He played five games and they went as follows: Monday – three hits, including two doubles and his first pro homer. Tuesday – three more hits, including two more doubles. Thursday – three more hits, including two homers and his first triple. Friday – two hits, both doubles. Sunday – only two singles. That’s 13 hits and 30 total bases in 24 at-bats, or a 1.250 slugging percentage. It’s true that a player from a major college (California) shouldn’t be playing in the Appalachian League, but he did his best this past week to prove he doesn’t belong there.
Sherten Apostel, 3B, Bristol – Apostel had a breakout season last year in the DSL and earned a spot in Bristol, skipping over the GCL. The 19-year-old third baseman is 6’4″ and very athletic, with a strong build. He has a cannon for an arm and outstanding power. He also has a younger brother with the DSL Pirates, who is even bigger and stronger. Apostel so far this season is hitting .286/.444/.429 in eight games. He has committed three errors already, but he’s also worked hard on becoming a better defensive player and the arm works well at third base. During Extended Spring Training, he had the best exit velocity among all Pirates down there.
Carlos Arroyo, 2B, DSL Pirates – Arroyo was off to a surprisingly slow start this season until this past week. He had eight hits and six walks in his six games. The second baseman, who is still just 16 years old for nine more days, was one of the top amateur players in all of Colombia when he signed with the Pirates on his 16th birthday. He was drafted third overall in the Colombian winter league this past off-season, which gives you an idea of highly teams in the country thought of him. Arroyo is hitting .254/.405/.317 so far through 20 games, with 13 walks and nine strikeouts. He’s also 4-for-4 in stolen bases. He’s mostly been at second base, but he also has three starts at third base.
Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B, Altoona – Hayes started last week by going 1-for-7, then picked up two hits in each of the last five games. Through 67 games this season, he is hitting .285/.349/.447, with 19 doubles, five triples and four homers. That’s already three more extra-base hits than last year, when he had 168 more at-bats. It’s been a fairly quiet season, except for his Eastern League All-Star selection last week, but he ranked 20th in OPS in the league going into Sunday, and he is seventh in the league in doubles. Those are numbers you want to see from your 21-year-old third baseman, who has outstanding defense and above average speed.
Kevin Kramer, INF, Indianapolis – Kramer was named as our Player of the Month for June yesterday, so it’s no surprise that he would show up here again. He has been a regular in The 21 recently. Kramer had eight hits, two walks and drove in four runs last week. He goes into today’s action with a .282/.342/.498 slash line in 73 games. That slugging percentage has him ranked fifth in the International League and the OPS is tenth in the league, second only to Jordan Luplow on Indianapolis. Kramer still has some issues and he’s relatively inexperienced in upper level ball after missing most of last year with Altoona. You would still like to see him cut down on strikeouts, use his speed better and either get more experience at third base and shortstop, or stick with one position where he would fit best. He’s close to Major League ready though, and possibly close enough to finish his learning on the job in Pittsburgh.
Jordan Luplow, OF, Indianapolis – Despite a horrible April, Luplow is one of the top hitters in the International League and he leads Indianapolis in OPS. This past week, he had 11 hits and five walks. Two of those hits were homers and he drove in 11 runs total. Luplow is hitting .292/.378/.489 on the season, good for fourth in the league in OPS. At this point, he’s basically just waiting for a spot to open in Pittsburgh. Whether that happens before the rosters expand in September is unknown at this point, but it’s getting closer to being a possibility.
Arden Pabst, C, Bradenton – Pabst got a brief taste of Triple-A life recently when the Pirates were short a catcher due to injuries. He played just one game before returning to Bradenton, but he picked up two hits, which likely made a nice impression. Since he’s returned to High-A, he’s continued to hit well. Pabst picked up hits in all five starts this week, including his seventh home run of the season on Sunday. That’s three more homers already than he had in his first two seasons combined. He has a .274/.308/.507 slash line this season, which is quite impressive considering that he didn’t hit much in either of his first two seasons in pro ball. He’s better known for his defense, so adding in improved hitting gives him a better chance to make the majors down the line.
Daniel Rivero, OF, DSL Pirates – When the Pirates signed 16-year-old Daniel Rivero, it was a quiet announcement by international media as part of a group of players, with many of them getting six-figure bonuses. We found out later that bonuses weren’t being announced for players from Venezuela due to the turmoil in their country. Not longer after, we heard from the Pirates that they really liked Rivero and thought he had some huge potential. He is showing that so far early in his career. Now 17 years old, he is hitting .360/.434/.395 through 22 games. He has five stolen bases and he’s struck out just six times in 99 plate appearances. One of the easiest ways to tell possible potential in the DSL is a combination of playing time and spot in the batting order. It can’t tell you everything, but it’s a good indicator of talent. Rivero leads his team in games played and they have him batting second or third every game.
Lolo Sanchez, CF, West Virginia – Sanchez has been on fire recently, looking like the breakout player we expected to see early in the season. In April, he batted .163 and put up a .518 OPS. He hit .250 in May and stole eight bases in nine attempts, but the improvements got lost in the slow start. Sanchez picked things up in June, batting .298/.375/.456 in 20 games. He added two hits, a walk and his 16th stolen base on Sunday to begin July. In he hit closer to those numbers during the first two months, then we would be talking more about him breaking out as a 19-year-old in full-season ball, but those first two months are the bigger sample size and his overall .236 average and .652 OPS aren’t impressive yet. He’s definitely one to watch the rest of the way to see if he can finish up strong.
Chris Sharpe, OF, West Virginia – Sharpe didn’t have a huge week, but he did just enough to get on this list. He had seven hits, including his fourth home run of the season. He walked three times and drove in four runs during Wednesday’s game. Sharpe is hitting .283/.377/.389 with ten steals through 72 games. The four home runs are somewhat disappointing for the 22-year-old, because he showed raw power in college and he’s a corner outfielder, so he’s going to need to hit his way to the majors. He also needs to cut down on his strikeouts. So there are a couple of things holding him back right now from being a legit prospect, but the potential is there.
Jerrick Suiter, 1B/OF, Indianapolis – Suiter is finally getting a chance to play this year and he put up a solid week that included his first home run of the season and two games in which he scored three runs each game. Suiter was in an awkward spot when this season started. He was on the Altoona roster until right before the season started in Indianapolis, where they had a roster crowded with prospects. He went from possibly playing full-time, to sitting on the bench and batting ninth when he did play. Even including this nice week he just finished, he has just 88 at-bats on the season. It’s an odd way to use someone who had a strong year at the plate last year at age 24 and plays plus defense at his main position (first base). He’s played just 31 games at first base over the last two seasons, so it’s probably hurting one of his better tools.
Luis Arrieta, RHP, GCL Pirates – At age 18 last year in the DSL, Arrieta was one of the better performing pitchers. He had a 2.56 ERA in 52.2 innings, with a .202 BAA and a 1.04 WHIP. The scouting reports weren’t great though, other than his fastball. The 6’2″ righty commanded a fastball that sat 92 MPH. When I asked about his off-speed pitches, I was told that they need a lot of work. You can get by at the lower levels if you can command a low-90s fastball and that’s exactly what he was doing. He moved up to the U.S. for the Fall Instructional League and now he’s starting in the GCL, where he tossed six shutout innings on Tuesday. He just turned 19 ten days ago, so we are still talking about a young pitcher, having success, with plenty of time to work on his weaknesses and possible even add to his velocity.
Willy Basil, RHP, DSL Pirates – One of the oldest players that the Pirates signed during this past international signing period was Basil, who turned 21 years old in April. He was signed in mid-February, at the same time the Pirates signed pitcher Lizardy Dicent, who has already moved up to the GCL. Basil got a starting spot with the Pirates2 and has pitched well in all five of his outings. His start this past week was his best, going six shutout innings on one hit and one walk, with three strikeouts. He has now thrown 24.1 innings, with 25 strikeouts, a 1.11 ERA, an 0.95 WHIP, a .181 BAA and a 2.31 GO/AO ratio. Those are strong numbers across the board. The Pirates have found some strong pitchers among the older crowd, most notably being Edgar Santana and Yeudy Garcia before he went through his shoulder issues in Bradenton. Osvaldo Bido in Morgantown looks to be a strong prospect as well and he was signed late. That doesn’t guarantee anything for Basil, and once we get a better scouting report, we will know if he’s really worth following closely.
JT Brubaker, RHP, Indianapolis – Before his lone start last week, Brubaker had his worst outing of the season. He gave up six runs over five innings. His season high before that game was three runs allowed. In his bounce back start on Thursday night, Brubaker pitched his best game since joining Indianapolis. He went 5.2 shutout innings, allowing five hits, two walks and he struck out eight batters, which is his new Triple-A best. On top of that, he also posted a 7:0 GO/AO ratio. Brubaker now has a 3.66 ERA through ten starts in Indianapolis, with 41 strikeouts in 51.2 innings, along with a 1.76 GO/AO ratio. All of his numbers have fallen off of the terrific numbers he put up in Altoona, but there is no doubt that he was ready for this level. He probably isn’t going to be an option for Pittsburgh any time this season, but with the experience under his belt next year, along with the nice mix of pitches he brings to the mound, we could see him as a depth starting option in 2019.
Tyler Eppler, RHP, Indianapolis – Eppler made two starts this past week and his best was on Tuesday when he threw 6.1 shutout innings on just four hits and no walks. His second start did not begin well, with two runs in the first, but he quickly settled down and threw shutout ball over his final five innings. There were two very good signs during that Sunday start. He struck out eight batters, which was easily his highest total in the last five weeks. He also had a 7:2 GO/AO ratio. Coming into the game, Eppler was getting the best ground out rate of his career, and then he improved on that number. As for the strikeouts, he was putting up his best strikeout rate early in the season, but these last few weeks have knocked his rate down. So the eight strikeouts pushed him closer to what you want to see from a potential rotation depth option.
Taylor Hearn, LHP, Altoona – On Sunday, Hearn ran into some trouble in the sixth inning, which led to four runs being scored. That would normally be enough to keep anyone off of the top performers list, but it was what he did during the past week before that last inning that got him here. In Hearn’s first outing of the week, he pitched game one of a total doubleheader and threw seven shutout innings for the complete game victory. On Sunday, he was no-hitting Akron through five innings before the damage occurred. Hearn has been strong this season, picking up his share on strikeouts with 87 in 79.2 innings. He’s also been tough to hit all year, holding batters to a .200 BAA. At this point, there’s still a strong possibility for him to make it as a starter in the big leagues, though a power lefty with his three-pitch mix could also be a valuable arm.
Alex McRae, RHP, Indianapolis – McRae has had a rough season at Indianapolis, but the Pirates have kept him in the rotation. That decision paid off on Wednesday when he had his best outing of the season. McRae went seven shutout innings, allowing three hits, one walk and he struck out eight batters.. Now the question will be whether or not he can build on that performance. McRae has a 4.83 ERA in 78.1 innings, with a .290 BAA and a 1.58 WHIP. Those are all among the worst for starters in the league, but there are some positives in his stats. His 75 strikeouts gives him a strikeout rate well above anything he has put up in the past. He also has a 1.42 GO/AO ratio, which is better than his career average. So far the negatives outweigh the positives, but it’s possible that this last start gets him going in the right direction.
Domingo Robles, LHP, West Virginia – Robles hasn’t had a dominating outing recently, but he’s been very consistent since throwing seven shutout innings on May 17th. In his only start this past week, he allowed two runs on three hits and a walk in six innings. That finished up a month of June in which he had a 2.39 ERA in 26.1 innings, with a .206 BAA and an 0.99 WHIP. On the year he has a 3.20 ERA in 78.2 innings, with 63 strikeouts, a .244 BAA and a 1.17 WHIP. Robles is a 20-year-old southpaw, who pitched in Bristol last year and impressed with his stuff, even if it didn’t always show up in the boxscore. This year he’s getting better results from his low-90s fastball that he controls well, to go along with a curve he uses for strikes early in the count and it can put away batters late.
Bryan Torres, RHP, DSL Pirates – We talked about Torres last week and I mentioned that we needed to get a better report on him first. I did that during the week for the next time he made this list and then he went out and threw six shutout innings on two hits and one walk. So here he is again. Torres has a four-pitch mix, throwing a fastball that sits 90 MPH, a sinker, a changeup and a curve. That’s not impressive velocity, but we are talking about someone who turned 17 in April and still has a lot of time to fill out and add muscle. Torres was signed out of Nicaragua last July 2nd, and he received the highest known bonus that the Pirates gave to a pitcher ($185,000) since they signed Luis Heredia. It’s obviously not a huge investment, but they usually focus on hitters on the international side. So far he is looking like an advanced pitcher for his age, with two runs allowed in his last 21 innings and only six walks on the season.
Pedro Vasquez, RHP, Altoona – Vasquez has had a tough season, starting with an illness in Spring Training that sidelined him. When he was healthy, he had to start back again from scratch, which caused him to miss the first four weeks of the season. Vasquez hasn’t pitched well this year, except one seven inning outing at the end of May in which he gave up just one run. Until Thursday, that was easily his best start of the season. This last start was six innings with one run, which was unearned. Vasquez allowed just three hits, with no walks and a season high seven strikeouts. He was showing improved stuff last year, while also throwing harder, hitting mid-90s, and showing better off-speed pitches. He began to tire at the end of the year, which was a combo of playing in Florida all summer and being well over his previous career best for innings. There won’t be any problem with innings this season and the hope now is that he’s on track and has a much better second half.
Cam Vieaux, LHP, Altoona – Vieaux’s performance in Altoona has definitely been a pleasant surprise. In four starts, he has a 1.73 ERA in 26 innings, with a 22:2 SO/BB ratio, a .198 BAA and an 0.77 WHIP. His performance last week was actually the first time he allowed more than one run in Double-A, yet it was still a strong outing, with two runs on four hits and a walk in seven innings. Vieaux has a total of 39 strikeouts over his last 38.2 innings, which is much better than we have seen from him in the past. That’s going to be the key to his success going forward. We saw better velocity from him in Bradenton, but there is some inconsistency in that area, such as last week when he was sitting 90-91 MPH during his start. He has a nice mix of pitches and throws strikes, so the added ability to miss bats really helps his prospect status.
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.