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
Denny Roman, LHP, DSL/Bristol – The 19-year-old Roman opened the week in the DSL with an impressive performance, but what he did at the end of the week can be considered a unique performance. Roman started on Monday morning and threw four shutout innings, striking out nine batters. He has been striking out a lot of batters in the DSL, which isn’t a surprise really because he had faced much tough competition last summer in Mexico. The 5’9″ lefty has surprising velocity, getting it up to the plate at 94 MPH. He also throws a lot of strikes, so you have a combo of lefty velocity, control and experience, and that led to 44 strikeouts and three walks in 23.2 innings in the DSL. The end of the week was something even more special. He skipped right to Bristol and got the start on Sunday night, where he went 5.1 innings, allowing a run on four hits and a walk. The four inning outing in the DSL was his previous longest as a pro, and not only did he top that by four outs later in the week, he did it two levels higher while putting together a strong outing.
Shendrik Apostel, 1B, DSL Pirates – His older brother Sherten got the top spot two weeks ago in The 21, but the 18-year-old Shendrik Apostel was the one who made headlines this past week. His big day was on Friday when he hit two doubles and a single, while driving in five runs. He had two hits and a pair of RBIs on Thursday, then two hits, a walk and an RBI on Saturday. Apostel might just be the strongest player in the system already, which is odd to say about someone at an age when we are usually talking about players still filling out. At 6’5″, 245 pounds, he looks like a man among boys in the DSL. He’s hitting .263/.368/.491 in 35 games this year. He’s just short on plate appearances from qualifying for league leaders, but the slugging would have him ranked 12th in the league and tops among Pirates. The OPS would be 20th best, and it’s important to note that there are 43 teams in the league, so that’s much more impressive than 20th best in any other leagues with Pirate affiliates.
Carlos Arroyo, 2B, DSL Pirates – Arroyo drove in eight runs this past week, collecting eight hits and drawing two walks. He had just 11 RBIs coming into the week. Arroyo is a 17-year-old second baseman out of Colombia, who was one of the top amateurs in his country going into the 2017-18 July 2nd signing period. He’s one of the younger players in the DSL, turning 17 on July 11th. Arroyo has been a solid player this season, getting on base at a high rate, stealing bases and playing strong defense at second base. He has also spent some time at third base, though not with desirable results. He’s a small player at 5’9″, 170 pounds, who hasn’t filled out yet and there is no power to his game. Arroyo has more walks than strikeouts (27:23) and he’s 12-for-16 in steals, to go along with his .280 batting average.
Pat Dorrian, 3B, GCL Pirates – Dorrian has been extremely consistent in his short time in pro ball. The 22-year-old infielder currently has an eight-game hitting streak and a seven-game RBI streak going. In 34 games, he has a .292/.406/.478 slash line, with 22 walks and 14 extra-base hits. He leads the GCL Pirates with 28 RBIs, which ranks third in the GCL. He’s also third in the league and tops among Pirates in walks. His .884 OPS is 13th best in the league and second on the Pirates behind Jack Herman. Dorrian is adjusting to playing third base full-time, after spending most of his playing time in the middle of the diamond.
Mikell Granberry, 1B, Bristol – Granberry almost didn’t get full credit for his strong week. On Monday night, he hit a walk-off homer that was originally credited to Victor Ngoepe until MiLB finally updated the boxscore many hours later. It was his fourth home run of the season and his first career walk-off homer. Granberry also added three hits on Friday night, two walks on Saturday and his seventh double of the season on Sunday. He’s now hitting .281/.403/.465 in 32 games. He has mostly been the DH this year, while seeing occasional time at first base and one game behind the plate, which was his original position. The Pirates also have him taking grounder at third base and shagging fly balls in the outfield to help add some more versatility.
Logan Hill, OF, Altoona – Hill had a strong week, though the ending on Sunday was more indicative of the season he has been having, which is why he’s only been in The 21 a few times all season. Starting with the bad, then the positive. Hill finished 0-for-5 with three strikeouts. He has a .224 average with 109 strikeouts in 96 games this season. Hill showed an improvements in walks and cutting down on strikeouts last year, which led to a solid season. He has 15 more strikeouts in 51 fewer plate appearances this season. The good news was this last week, which saw him collect seven hits, including three doubles and his 14th homer. The power is still there, but that’s the only part of his game working at this point.
Fabricio Macias, OF, West Virginia – The 20-year-old Macias was one of the top available players in Mexico during the 2017-18 international signing period. He signed with the Pirates early this year and headed to Spring Training a short time later. At age 19 last year, he won the award as the best player who was 23 or under in Mexico. Macias was supposed to be with West Virginia to begin this season, but MLB had some issues with contract details for players in Mexico and he was caught up in that with two other players signed by the Pirates. Macias spent three months at Pirate City, seeing regular action during Spring Training and Extended ST games. Once his contract was finalized, he first went to Morgantown, though that was a temporary placement until West Virginia returned home from a road trip. Since June 24th, he is hitting .222/.322/.333 with this past week being his best. Macias had a total of six hits (including two doubles) and three walks.
Kevin Newman, SS, Indianapolis – Newman hit for the cycle on Tuesday, while going 5-for-5 in the game. He was an unlikely player to accomplish that feat because he had one triple and three homers in 410 at-bats coming into the game. Newman added another five hits and a walk throughout the rest of the week. That now has him at a .306/.352/.413 slash line, with 28 steals in 39 attempts. He’s also been solid and steady on defense, with six errors in 81 games at shortstop. The Pirates acquired a much better defensive shortstop in Adeiny Hechavarria from the Marlin recently, so that likely means that we won’t see Newman anytime soon. Though once the rosters expand, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get him some big league time this year.
Deon Stafford, C, West Virginia – Stafford had a big week, homering on Tuesday, collecting three hits and three runs scored on Thursday, scoring three runs on Sunday, then there was Saturday. Stafford drove in two runs with a double and four more runs with a grand slam late in the game. The recent surge follows a trip to the disabled list at the end of July due to a concussion, which cost him nine days. Since returning, he is hitting .345/.394/.793 in eight games. That .793 slugging percentage equals his OPS from the first half of the season, which earned him a trip to the SAL All-Star game. He was struggling a bit since then, with a .494 OPS in July. Stafford should be putting up solid stats, since he’s 22 years old and was drafted high out of college last year due to his bat. The defense is still a question mark, but it’s better than last year and last year was better than his draft reports indicated.
Jacob Stallings, C, Indianapolis – Stallings hit for the cycle this week along with Newman in the same game, so that’s almost enough to get you on a weekly top performers list by itself. He still had another nice game during the week, with two hits and two RBIs. Right now he’s in the majors, which makes this an easy scouting report to write up. He’s currently doing what he’s best suited for, being the third-string catcher for the Pirates. He could be a backup for some teams in the majors, but that opportunity might not come in Pittsburgh. Despite putting up solid numbers on offense in Indianapolis over the last two years, to go along with his strong defense, he has just 16 games played in the majors over three seasons.
Cole Tucker, SS, Altoona – Tucker had a very impressive week, collecting nine hits and walking nine times, while striking out just once. He improved his OPS by 20 points, bringing him up to a .255/.332/.345 slash line through 112 games. Tucker is now up to 29 stolen bases, which is tied for the Eastern League lead. His 67 runs scored has him ranked fifth in the league and his 48 walks are seventh most, one behind Ke’Bryan Hayes for the Altoona lead. Tucker is also sixth in the league in triples. He has a .793 OPS in 32 games since the All-Star break, so it appears he is having a strong finish to his season with exactly three weeks left. When you add in the steals and defense, it’s a well-rounded performance over the last five weeks for the 22-year-old.
Dario Agrazal, RHP, Altoona – Agrazal finally returned to Altoona after missing two months with a right shoulder strain, then making three starts for Bradenton. In his first start back with the Curve, he allowed two runs on seven hits and no walks, with three strikeouts in six innings. He threw a total of 11 shutout innings with Bradenton, though three were wiped away due to rain. Agrazal has excellent overall results this season and he seems to have picked things up where he left off pre-injury. He’s going to end up short on innings for a second season in a row. Last year the Pirates had him pitch in the Dominican Instructional League to add innings, but he might be better off this year against much better competition in the Arizona Fall League.
Shane Baz, RHP, Bristol – It was good for fans of the Pirates just to see Baz on the mound this past week. He was getting hit hard in his start on July 28th and left after three innings. We were told that he was dealing with some pain when he left, but it ended up as being insignificant and his performances since then have proven that he’s fine. Baz went nine days between starts, with the extra time being used to give him an extra bullpen between games to make sure he was fine. On a slightly lower pitch count on Monday, he threw 4.2 shutout innings. It wasn’t a great game with him working around base runners every inning, but it was a great sign. He came back on Saturday and had a much better start, going five shutout innings on three hits and one walk. Baz had 12 strikeouts in his 9.2 innings, giving him 54 strikeouts in 45.1 innings this season.
JT Brubaker, RHP, Indianapolis – Brubaker has been outstanding recently, putting together a very impressive string of four starts. He was our Player of the Week last week for one run over 15 innings. That was after making The 21 for one run over seven innings in the prior week. His lone start this past week was his worst, which is saying a lot. He gave up one run on five hits in 6.2 innings. In his last 28.2 innings, he has allowed three runs, while posting a 23:1 SO/BB ratio. His start last week saw him post a 10:3 GO/AO ratio, which is par for the course for Brubaker, who has a 1.80 GO/AO ratio in 136 innings this year. His success now is similar to what we saw earlier in the year with Altoona when he made it a point to go right after hitters with his best stuff. He had control issues early in Triple-A, but now hasn’t walked more than two batters in a game since June 7th.
Mitch Keller, RHP, Indianapolis – You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief from Pirate fans when Keller had his first strong Triple-A outing on Thursday night. He went six innings, giving up one run on four hits, one walk and one hit batter. He had six strikeouts, a 7:4 GO/AO ratio and was pounding the strike zone. About the only thing going right for Keller in Indianapolis before this game was a strong strikeout rate. After Thursday’s game, he now has 36 strikeouts in 29.2 innings. Unfortunately for Keller, the rest doesn’t look as strong, with a 6.67 ERA, a .289 BAA, a 1.69 WHIP and an 0.96 GO/AO ratio. That’s after posting a 2.00 GO/AO ratio with Altoona. His problem in Triple-A has been the total lack of fastball command. He’s been getting solid results with the curve and changeup, while not throwing his fastball for strikes. When he did have it in the zone, there were a lot of belt-high pitches over the middle of the plate and the more experienced hitters made him pay for those pitches. The hope is that he’s on the right track now, back headed towards Pittsburgh.
James Marvel, RHP, Altoona – When the Pirates promoted Luis Escobar to Altoona last month, it was a bit surprising. He wasn’t exactly pitching great, while James Marvel was pitching much better, he’s older and had plenty more starts in High-A than Escobar. It took Marvel about three weeks longer, but he finally made it to Altoona. In his first start on Friday night, he went 6.2 innings, allowing two runs on six hits and two walks, with five strikeouts and an 11:1 GO/AO ratio. He left Bradenton as the Florida State League leader in innings pitched, and he’s now up to 141 on the season, which leads all Pirates. Marvel hasn’t been a dominating pitcher, but his sinker-heavy, pitch to contact style has helped him become a workhorse starter and now he’s a step closer to the majors. It will be tough for him to actually make the Pirates as a starter, but he could have a shot as a middle reliever who is a ground ball specialist.
Oddy Nunez, LHP, West Virginia – Nunez was recently demoted to West Virginia, where he showed potential last year to be a breakout player in the system. His time in Bradenton has been rough despite throwing an eight-inning no-hitter in late June. Before being sent down, Nunez wasn’t showing the control we saw last year or the velocity. As a 20-year-old with a 6’8″ frame, we saw 91-92 MPH often last year and it wasn’t a high effort delivery, so you expected him to add to those numbers as he continued to mature. Even at 91-92 he was very effective because he hid the ball well and it had a lot of late downward movement. Nunez this season has been struggling to touch 90 MPH, and he’s been down to 84-85 late in starts this year. His start on Friday night was at least a step in the right direction for the control. Nunez gave up two runs over six innings, with no walks and a 9:3 GO/AO ratio. He needed just 67 pitches. He’s still just 21 years old, so there is time for him to bounce back.
Hunter Stratton, RHP, West Virginia – I squeezed Stratton on to the list last week because he just missed a few weeks in a row. There was no squeezing this week, as he put together a strong performance on Saturday night with two runs over seven innings. It was the first time he went more than six innings in his pro career. Stratton has been on a bit of a run lately. After a 6.25 ERA in 40.1 innings during the first half of the season, he has a 3.05 ERA in his last nine starts. His big issue this year has been the walks and just control in general. That has led to a lot of high pitch counts in short outings. Despite the huge drop in ERA during the second half, his walks have remained the same, while his strikeouts have taken a huge tumble and he’s giving up more fly balls. One of those halves is obviously misleading, though it’s possible the real Stratton is somewhere in between those two numbers, at least until he starts displaying better control.
Eduardo Vera, RHP, Altoona – Vera has to be the most consistent pitcher in the system. That’s not to be confused for the most dominant, but you can basically pencil him in for two runs allowed each game at this point. He’s pitching under a lot of pressure as the season winds down. There are just three weeks left in the regular season and possibly some playoffs for Altoona, which could give him 1-2 more starts. That’s it though before he hits minor league free agency. The Pirates got him to Altoona with a large chunk of this season left and they are letting him pitch his game right now, as he tries to earn a roster spot for next year. With decent 92-95 MPH velocity this season, three reliable off-speed pitches and excellent control, Vera isn’t far off from being someone who could see some starts in the majors. He’s been recently keeping the ball down better and throwing better strikes, which has helped with results after two shaky Double-A outings in June. Vera was just returning from Tommy John surgery two years ago and the highest level he pitched at up to that point was the GCL. Compare that to where he is 24 months later and you’re talking about someone who has made incredible progress in a short time.
Cam Vieaux, LHP, Altoona – Vieaux had two outings over the last eight days and he was strong in both of them. He didn’t make The 21 last week because his start early that week was a poor performance. He came back on Sunday and threw seven innings with one run allowed. He had a shutout through 6.2 innings before serving up a solo homer. This past week, Vieaux allowed two runs over six innings on three hits and two walks, with five strikeouts. These last two starts are a nice turnaround that he will need to continue. He had a run of five outings in which he gave up 21 runs in 27.1 innings. Overall, he is still putting up some nice numbers in Double-A through 12 starts. He has a .232 BAA and a 1.05 WHIP in 72.1 innings.
Gavin Wallace, RHP, Bradenton – Made two starts last week, throwing five shutout innings on Monday, then allowing two earned runs over six innings on Saturday. Coming into that Monday game, Wallace had 16 strikeouts in his first 31 innings in High-A ball. That was just slightly lower than his rate with West Virginia, which saw him pick up 43 strikeouts in 75.2 innings. So it was a bit surprising to see him strike out 12 batters in 11 innings last week. Wallace shows decent low-to-mid 90s velocity, combining it with excellent control. He has walked 28 batters in 185.2 innings as a pro. The odd part about his time in Bradenton so far is that he has been a fly ball pitcher. He was a ground ball pitcher with Morgantown in 2017 and West Virginia this year, so there has been a sudden change, but if it comes with more strikeouts like we saw this past week, then that won’t be a concern.