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
Osvaldo Bido, RHP, Morgantown – Bido finished up his season strong, showing the potential that he has to be a special pitcher down the line. At this time last year, Bido was preparing to come to the U.S. for the first time for the Fall Instructional League. In his first season here, he jumped two levels, going right into the starting rotation for Morgantown. That didn’t seem possible at this point last year. While we knew the stuff was there for him to be a very good pitcher, having a four-pitch mix with a fastball that hits 96 MPH, the control wasn’t there for him to make this type of jump. That just shows you how much he improved over one year and how much more could possibly be in his right arm, especially since he still has room to fill out his 6’3″ frame. Bido tossed 6.1 shutout innings on Monday, allowing just two hits. He gave up two runs over six innings on Saturday and served up just three hits. He finished the year with a 4.18 ERA in 75.1 innings, with 58 strikeouts, a .263 BAA, a 1.23 WHIP and a strong 2.00 GO/AO ratio. The most impressive part is that he walked 19 batters this season, after 36 walks in 50.2 innings last year.
Mike Gretler, 3B, Morgantown – Gretler had seven hits last week, including his second career homer. He also walked twice, scored four times and drove in eight runs. The Pirates drafted him as a late round pick in 2017, only to see him decide to return to school, where he ended up winning the College World Series as a senior. He didn’t take long to sign after that and got into games shortly after joining Morgantown. He’s been their regular third baseman since then, but has showed some versatility by also catching twice and making two starts at both second base and shortstop. Since he was a senior sign, he’s a little older than most in the NYPL (turned 22 on January 1st), but he has put up solid stats in a pitcher-friendly league and could be a candidate to skip right over Low-A to Bradenton next year.
Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B, Altoona – Hayes could have made this list just on his final two games of the week. He had four hits on Friday, was off on Saturday, then came back with four more hits on Sunday. During the first four days last week, he collected a total of four hits and three walks. Through 116 games, he is now hitting .290/.371/.438, with 31 doubles, six triples, seven homers, 55 walks and 12 stolen bases. That’s coming from someone whose strong point is his Gold Glove caliber defense. He has a .978 fielding percentage this year, which is four points higher than his mark from last season when he set the Florida State League record for fielding. Hayes will be the starting third baseman at Indianapolis next year at 22 years old and as long as the hitting carries over, you should see him in Pittsburgh around the middle of the season.
Jin-De Jhang, C, Altoona – Jhang is trying to finish strong in what has basically been a lost season. He had nine hits and four walks last week, which gives him .314/.364/.407 slash line in 34 games for Altoona. He also played a handful of rehab games with Morgantown. Jhang had an off-season elbow injury while playing winter ball, which caused him to miss the start of the season. After he returned, he was hit in the head with a backswing, which caused a concussion and kept him out for most of July. He’s a free agent at the end of this season and the Pirates seem fairly well set for next year in the upper levels, so I’m not sure if he will be back in 2019. He has the defense to get to the majors, plus he’s a decent hitter and still only 25 years old, but injuries have really cut into his development the last two seasons.
Brett Kinneman, OF, Morgantown – When the Pirates drafted Kinneman in the seventh round this year, he looked like a possible steal. A power hitter with college success usually doesn’t fall that low, but some scouts thought there was too much swing-and-miss to his game. We have definitely seen that part of his game with Morgantown, where he has 74 strikeouts in 60 games. We have also seen the power in a league where power doesn’t often show up. Kinneman has 16 doubles, four triples and four homers, which has helped him to a .413 slugging percentage. That’s the 17th best slugging percentage in the league and second best on the team behind Edison Lantigua (see below). Kinneman has excelled in big spots for a team that is eighth in the league in runs scored, but being a clutch hitter isn’t something that always carries over year-to-year, so it’s going to be important that he can cut back on the strikeouts to get the most out of his potential.
Zack Kone, SS, Morgantown – Kone has been able to get regular starts at shortstop with Connor Kaiser being promoted to West Virginia and he’s taken advantage of the extra playing time. He has a nine-game hit streak going, with a streak of six straight multi-hit games in the middle of that stretch. He’s 16-for-39 with six walks during the streak. Kone needed that after a slow start. He’s now at .245/.330/.340 in 43 games, showing a solid all-around game between some speed, defense and a little pop in his bat. The Pirates liked him enough to give him a slightly over-slot bonus as a college junior in the 13th round. He was rated much higher earlier in the year, so this could be a potential hidden gem in the late rounds.
Kevin Kramer, 2B, Indianapolis – It would be quite surprising if Kramer wasn’t in Pittsburgh very soon. With Indianapolis being eliminated from the playoffs on Sunday, he could show up in the majors either today or tomorrow. He did all he could this season to get there sooner, hitting .311/.365/.492 in 129 games. Kramer has 35 doubles, three triples and 15 homers. The only worrisome part to his game is the 38:127 BB/SO ratio, which are far from the worst numbers we’ve seen at this level, but splits like that don’t always translate to Major League success. He could hit for enough power, while playing solid defense and adding a little bit of speed, that they will off-set the likely drop in his average/OBP. The important thing now is that he gets some big league experience going into next season, when he should play a much bigger role for the Pirates.
Edison Lantigua, OF, Morgantown – Lantigua has moved slowly through the system, but he has put up some solid numbers over the last two seasons and he is still only 21 years old. He was one of the top international signings for the Pirates back in 2013 and had a strong first season in the DSL. He came to the U.S. in 2015 and was hampered for most of that season by a thumb injury. The Pirates had him repeat the GCL and he hit well, then followed that up with two solid seasons at Bristol in 2017 and Morgantown this year. The problem here is that all of his value is in his bat. As a corner outfielder with limited speed, he really has to impress at the plate and the power isn’t there for the position. He will probably be at West Virginia next year, but it might be better to see if he can handle Bradenton because he’s down to two years before minor league free agency.
Calvin Mitchell, OF, West Virginia – Mitchell had a terrific first month this year, then couldn’t come close to matching that output. He still had a solid May, posting a .791 OPS for the month as a 19-year-old in Low-A ball. That was followed by a .709 mark in June, .611 in July and it took a strong finish to get him to a .672 OPS in August. Including the previous Sunday, he had four straight games with two hits, then added his tenth home run of the season on Saturday and his 28th double on Sunday. Mitchell now has a .280/.345/.426 slash line in 118 games. He will undoubtedly end up at Bradenton next year, where you hope for similar numbers (or better) in the pitcher-friendly FSL. As a corner outfielder with limited speed, all of his value comes from the bat, so the league will be a nice test at a young age to gauge his hitting potential.
Bryan Reynolds, OF, Altoona – Reynolds didn’t have a big week like the other nine hitters on this list, but it was enough to get the tenth spot on this list because no one else stepped up. He managed to collect a hit in all six games he played (eight total hits) and even added three walks. That helped him finish out August with a .342/.409/.470 slash line in 30 games. Putting him in the lineup every day, plus having him in center field almost every day, helped make up for the lost development time due to his hamate surgery early in the year. He’s going to get even more chances to make up for lost time with Altoona making the playoffs and the Pirates sending him and seven current teammates to the Arizona Fall League in October. That will help him next year as he should begin the season in Indianapolis. With Reynolds finishing strong and Jason Martin crawling to the finish line in his first taste of Triple-A, we will see how they decide to split the center field time in 2019.
Eric Wood, Util, Indianapolis – Wood is finishing up strong as his days in the system could be numbered. He’s a minor league free agent at the end of the season and hasn’t shown enough to get added to the 40-man roster, but could be a player who they try to bring back in 2019. Over his last nine games, he has a .500 average (16-for-32). That has raised his average 30 points and he now has a .269/.329/.484 slash line, with 25 doubles and 11 homers in 85 games. He would likely have a lot more value right now if they left him at third base, because his defense there in 2016 was strong. When they decided to add versatility to his game, his defense slipped a bit at third base and he’s not strong anywhere else. Wood ended up playing just ten games at third base this season, seeing most of his time in right field.
Scooter Hightower, RHP, Altoona – With Altoona fighting for first place in their division, Hightower came up big on Thursday night. He threw five shutout innings on five hits and a walk. That was nothing new for him in August. He didn’t allow a single run all month in 23.2 innings over five starts and two relief appearances. Doing well in August is also nothing new for him. Hightower was our Pitcher of the Month last August, except he was with Morgantown then, three levels lower. Not much has changed with him despite the very successful season and at this point, he is exceeding expectations. He’s a fly ball pitcher who doesn’t throw hard and that’s not a good combo in Double-A. What he does have is excellent control of his pitches and the ability to work all around the strike zone. He curveball seems to be the one area of improvement from last year, as it has a sharper break and batters were having a hard time picking it up last week.
Steven Jennings, RHP, Bristol – Jennings finished his season at Bristol strong with six shutout innings on three hits and one walk, striking out four batters. He ended the year with a 4.82 ERA in 65.1 innings over 13 starts, with a 1.45 WHIP, a .260 BAA and 53 strikeouts. His big issue this season was controlling the big innings. Things tended to get out of hand quickly against him, sometimes during outings where he was pitching great early in the game. He had other games, where one big inning was followed by shutout ball over his final 3-5 frames. Jennings is still a project at this point. He didn’t add any velocity this year, which could be explained by a rib injury over the off-season this past winter, which kept him from working out for a time. We got solid reports about his curveball and slider late this season, so some extra juice on the fastball would give him a nice three-pitch mix.
Samuel Reyes, RHP, West Virginia – Reyes joining West Virginia this year in early June was an impressive accomplishment. At that same point in 2017, he was making his pro debut in the DSL. He stepped things up later in the season by making his first two starts of his career. His first game was going well until they tried to stretch him out for his longest career outing. In the sixth inning, the first five batters reached base, so his pitching line looks bad with five runs over five innings, but he probably shouldn’t have been out there for the sixth inning in the first place. He got a chance to redeem himself on Thursday night and put together an outstanding performance. Reyes went six innings, allowing just an unearned run on four hits and no walks. He had a career high seven strikeouts, posting an impressive 8:1 GO/AO ratio and peppered the strike zone, with 60 of 76 pitches going for strikes. It will be interesting to see whether or not the Pirates try to keep him as a starter next year because it appears that he might be able to handle the role.
Ike Schlabach, LHP, West Virginia – Schlabach has been in and out of the rotation all season with pitching injuries throughout the year for the Power. He pitched well this year despite having an undefined role. Even when he was in relief, he was throwing long relief sometimes and others he was coming in for one inning. He was forced back into the rotation after Max Kranick had a blister on his throwing hand. Schlabach pitched well in that first game on Monday in Kranick’s spot, allowing two runs over six innings. He made a second start last week and it was even better, throwing six shutout innings. That gave him a 2.94 ERA in ten starts this season. With his success as a starter, it will be interesting to see if the Pirates try him there as a regular starter next season, or he remains in the do-it-all role, where he has been a valuable member of the pitching staff.
Colin Selby, RHP, Bristol – The Pirates selected Selby in the 16th round of this year’s draft and gave him a $125,000 bonus to sign. The 20-year-old right-hander went right into the Bristol rotation and made 11 starts. Selby earned high marks for his pitching smarts over the last two months. He had a low-90s fastball and he throws both a curve and a slider. He finished his season with one run over six innings, allowing two hits and two walks. That gave him a 4.15 ERA in 47.2 innings, with 41 strikeouts, a .240 BAA, a 1.24 WHIP and a 1.67 GO/AO ratio. Going into next year, he should have a chance to win a spot in the West Virginia rotation. It will matter how many of the young pitchers who missed time this year, actually make the jump to Bradenton despite the downtime.
Hunter Stratton, RHP, West Virginia – Stratton doesn’t always have the best control when he pitches, but he has been doing an outstanding job of limiting runs. He has not given up more than two runs in a game since July 6th. That includes one earned run over six innings in his lone start last week. Despite the excellent results, his last eight starts have been limited to 45 total innings due to his high pitch counts per inning. In those 45 innings, he has a 25:21 SO/BB ratio. Stratton was having poor results early in the year to go along with his control issues, so at least he has shown major improvements in that area. Prior to the All-Star break, he had a 6.25 ERA, a 1.64 WHIP and a .282 BAA in 40.1 innings. Since the break, he has a 2.79 ERA in 61.1 innings, with a .221 BAA and a 1.29 WHIP. He showed a step decline in his strikeout rate, but everything else showed drastic improvements.
Ryan Valdes, RHP, West Virginia – Valdes was a 33rd round pick last year out of college, who pitched (and dominated) briefly in the GCL, before moving up to Bristol. He started to tire near the end of his first season, but that was understandable because he was returning from Tommy John surgery. In his first full season, he reported to Morgantown and posted a 4.75 ERA in 30.1 innings, with 29 strikeouts and a 1.62 WHIP. Valdes got a promotion late to West Virginia and made two appearances last week. He threw three shutout innings in each game, picking up five strikeouts in the second outing. Valdes is the only palmball pitcher in the system (that we know of) and it’s his out pitch. He throws two different versions, changing the speeds on it. He was hitting 94 MPH at times last year, but has kicked that up to 96 this season, sitting 92-95 MPH in outings. He could stand to throw more strikes, but other than that, he has an intriguing mix of pitches.
Pedro Vasquez, RHP, Bradenton – Vasquez had one strong start last week, and then on Sunday, he managed to work around a lot of base runners to keep the damage to a minimum. On Tuesday, he allowed one run over six innings. That would end up being his best performance after being demoted from Altoona a month ago. On Sunday, he gave up one run in 4.1 innings, while striking out six batters. That was the final game of the season for Bradenton. It’s possible that his season isn’t over yet because Altoona is still in the playoffs and they are short a starter due to the suspension of Luis Escobar. Vasquez could use the extra time on the mound, as he got a late start to the season due to a Spring Training illness, then spent some time on the disabled list with a mild forearm strain in July. If he’s done, then it ends up being an extremely disappointing season for the 22-year-old, who showed major improvements late last season with Bradenton.
Eduardo Vera, RHP, Altoona – Last week, Vera was our Player of the Week. If he remains in the system after this season, we might just have to rename this article after him. This is the 12th time he made The 21 this season. In his start on Saturday night, Vera tossed six shutout innings on four hits and one walk, with six strikeouts. He did that despite a long rain delay right in the middle of the outing. In his last three starts, which were all under playoff pressure, Vera has allowed one run over 20.2 innings, with 22 strikeouts. He’s a minor league free agent at the end of the season, who is doing everything he can to show the Pirates he wants to stick around in the system. He will have at least one playoff start left, then after that, we will have to wait to see what the Pirates intend to do with him this winter.
Brandon Waddell, LHP, Indianapolis – Waddell pitched on Saturday night in a must win game for Indianapolis. He started off with a lead-off triple to the first batter of the game. That runner was brought home by the next batter on a sacrifice fly. The rest of the night, he allowed just three hits and a walk in his six innings of work. Waddell had a strong start to his season with Altoona and was looking like he belonged in Indianapolis about a month before he got there in late May. His time is Triple-A has been a bit rocky, but there are outings similar to this one mixed in, showing he just needs some consistency before he becomes a legit Major League option. He was our Pitcher of the Month for July, so he also showed he could be a starting option over a longer time than just 1-2 solid starts between poor outings. Waddell finished with a 4.19 ERA in 81.2 innings with Indianapolis.