We posted the season recap for the 2018 Indianapolis Indians yesterday. Today we look at the top ten prospects from the team. For each of the first seven top ten lists (see links below) we used the mid-season prospect guide for the rankings and we continue to do that with this list. Players who were prospects at the beginning of the season, but lost that status during the year, were also eligible. More than ten players for Indianapolis made our mid-season top 50, so some decent prospects didn’t make the list below. Our next rankings update will be for the 2019 Prospect Guide.
To be eligible for this list, the hitters needed at least 140 plate appearances, while pitchers either needed 40 innings pitched or 20 appearances. We didn’t include Austin Meadows or Christopher Bostick, who were both traded away during the season. The list below doesn’t include Jacob Stallings, Pablo Reyes, Tanner Anderson or Alex McRae, who all made the back-end of our top 50 mid-season prospect list. Max Moroff was eligible and considered for the list, but we didn’t feel that he did enough in 2018 to be ranked among the top ten prospects.
The numbers next to the names below are their current rankings on our top 50 prospects list. Some differ slightly from the rankings in our book, which is due to three of those players being traded and another player (Jordan Luplow) losing his prospect status when he crossed the 130 at-bats limit in the majors.
Before we get into the Indianapolis top ten, here are links to the previously released top ten lists:
Indianapolis Top Ten Prospects
1. Mitch Keller, RHP – (#1) Keller joined Indianapolis in early July after a strong finish to his time at Altoona. Things did not go well in his jump to Triple-A, at least at the beginning. Keller had control issues early in the year with the Curve. They came back when he joined Indianapolis, where he had a 7.99 ERA through his first five games. It wasn’t just the walks and high pitch counts. When Keller did throw strikes, he was leaving his fastball up in the zone over the middle of the plate and it was getting hammered. Even one of his better games during that time looked a lot better on paper than it did in person. Keller settled down over the final five starts, twice throwing shutout ball, while lowering his ERA by over three runs (4.82 in 52.1 innings with Indianapolis). Keller has shown much better control over the years. When he’s on, he’s commanding his fastball in the mid-to-high 90s, along with a plus curve and a changeup that he used often with success late in the year. If all goes well in 2019, we will see him in Pittsburgh around the middle of the season.
2. Kevin Kramer, 2B – (#6) Kramer was the top hitter in the system this year, posting a .311/.365/.492 slash line in 129 games with Indianapolis. He hit 35 doubles, three triples and 15 homers. He also stole 13 bases and played solid defense around the infield, with most of his time at second base. His big issue was plate patience, which led to a 127:38 slash line. Splits that dramatic in the minors don’t usually translate well right away to the majors. When he got to Pittsburgh, Kramer had a .310 OPS, with 20 strikeouts and two walks in 40 plate appearances. It’s obviously a small sample size and he wasn’t playing every day, so that has to be factored in to someone making his big league debut. That being said, it’s still an area of concern, but Kramer might just have the power, defense and versatility to still be a solid contributor for the Pirates at the start of the 2019 season. It also wouldn’t be a surprise to see him at least begin the season in Indianapolis.
3. Kevin Newman, SS – (#7) Newman spent the last six weeks of the season in the majors after putting together a solid season at Indianapolis. He doesn’t hit for power or draw many walks, so his time in Triple-A was about what you could expect at his ceiling because he did everything else well. Newman hit .302/.350/.407 in 109 games before his big league promotion. He stole 28 bases and played steady defense at shortstop, with some second base mixed in earlier in the season. He had some issues with the jump to the majors, posting a .478 OPS in 31 games, but his skills should translate to the next level. He makes a lot of contact at the plate, he has above average speed and he showed that he can play shortstop full-time, even if he isn’t flashy at the position. He should be part of the 2019 Opening Day roster, though his role right now might depend more on what the Pirates do this off-season.
4. Clay Holmes, RHP – (#10) Holmes did not have a typical debut to the 2018 season. Despite being a starting pitcher and having no big league experience, he was in the Major League bullpen for two weeks, pitching just once before being sent down. He needed to get stretched out again to start, then it wasn’t long before he was back in the majors again. He would make four trips to Pittsburgh and even had one trip to Bradenton to stay on track for a spot start in the majors. He also moved to relief late in the year at Indianapolis, making it a strange season for a prospect from start to finish. Holmes had a 3.40 ERA in 95.1 innings with Indianapolis, striking out 100 batters and posting a 2.29 GO/AO ratio. His overall big league numbers were bad, but he did throw six shutout innings in one game and he gave up two runs over his final eight innings, so there were high points. He will likely be starter depth in Indianapolis to begin 2019.
5. Nick Kingham, RHP – Kingham wasn’t prospect eligible at the mid-season point, but he was a prospect at the beginning of the season, so we just fit him on the list here. Early in the year, he was off to a strong start with Indianapolis, which was a result of adding a slider to his arsenal. He went up to the majors and had an outstanding debut. Things went downhill in the second half for Kingham, both in the majors and while with Indianapolis. Overall it was still a solid season, considering the amount of movement he did, including a start in Altoona to stay on track for a spot start in the majors. He had a 3.88 ERA, with 62 strikeouts and a 1.20 ERA in 67.1 innings over 13 minor league starts. With the Pirates, he had a 5.21 ERA in 76 innings, with 69 strikeouts and a 1.38 WHIP. He will be a part of the 2019 Pirates, likely stretched out early as a starter in case of injuries, but will probably end up in a long relief role.
6. Jordan Luplow, OF – (Not Ranked) Luplow was #12 in our mid-season update, but he used up his prospect status in September. He got off to a slow start in 2018, posting a .511 OPS in April. That was followed by a 1.006 OPS in May, .909 in June, and a few big games in July before he finally joined the Pirates. Luplow was used sparingly for five weeks, then sent back to Indianapolis, where he remained until the end of the minor league season. He finally got some regular playing time with the Pirates in September, though injuries around the outfield factored into that extra time. Luplow finished with an .829 OPS in 88 games in Triple-A. For a second year in a row in Pittsburgh, he combined a very low average, with some signs of power. Through his first 64 big league games, he has a .194/.274/.371 slash line. For a second year in a row, he will likely be competing for the fourth outfield spot in Spring Training.
7. Jason Martin, OF – (#12) As noted in the Altoona top ten article, Martin was the best hitter in the system until he reached Indianapolis in late June. Things did not go well after that point. In 59 games with the Indians, he hit .211/.270/.319, which includes him hitting well when he first arrived. After the All-Star break, he had a .539 OPS, which is lower than any of the 48 International League players who had enough plate appearances to qualify for league leaders this season. In fact, only one player finished within 50 points of that mark. Despite the 324 point drop-off in OPS from Altoona to Indianapolis, Martin did show some good signs during his time in Triple-A. He proved that he can play center field, which wasn’t a given coming into this season. He showed excellent range and improved his routes as the season went along. The other positive is that he will be 23 years old all of next season, so age is on his side. He should be added to the 40-man roster this off-season based on his stats in Altoona, defense and speed. He still has work to do before he’s an MLB option, but there is clearly potential.
8. JT Brubaker, RHP – (#20) Brubaker finished strong after the All-Star break, putting himself firmly on the prospect map. In his final ten starts, he had a 2.34 ERA, with a 1.06 WHIP, a 1.49 GO/AO ratio and 49 strikeouts in 57.2 innings. He began the season strong in Altoona, needing just six starts before the Pirates decided that he was ready for the promotion. Brubaker ran into some trouble after joining Indianapolis, which was mostly due to not attacking hitters. That went against what he set out to do this season, and what he did both in Altoona and when he had his strong run to end the season. He has the stuff to get quick outs on the ground and he can miss bats, showing some of the best velocity in the system, along with a solid four-pitch mix. He will be a depth option to begin 2019, but if he pitches like he did this July/August, then it might not be long before we see him in Pittsburgh.
9. Brandon Waddell, LHP – (#23) Waddell began the season in Altoona before moving up to Indianapolis in late May. He was having a lot of success in Double-A and it didn’t carry over right away to Triple-A. In fact, he was fairly inconsistent of the final three months, switching between good and bad. At one point early on he was moved to the bullpen for a short time. In July, he was our Pitcher of the Month after posting a 2.03 ERA in 31 innings. In August, he had a 4.50 ERA and a 1.67 WHIP in five starts, before finishing with one of his best starts of the season on September 1st. It’s been a slow progress since he was promoted to Altoona early in 2016. That’s partially due to two trips to the disabled list last year, but he has also dealt with some control issues. Waddell will probably end up as a reliever down the line and many people think he will be strong in that role. He’s always been a big game pitcher. Even his September 1st start this year was with a playoff spot on the line for Indianapolis and he came up huge. His fastball, which touches 94 MPH, should also play up in shorter outings, making him a solid lefty who could be used in big spots.
10. Tyler Eppler, RHP – (#31) Eppler spent the entire 2017 season in Indianapolis and saw his share of struggles. That led to him being left unprotected in the Rule 5 draft following the season. In 2018, he got off to a strong start, which included a higher strikeout rate than we normally see from him, along with more ground balls. He fell off in the second half, as both the strikeouts and grounders dropped off. Eppler had a 3.06 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP before the All-Star break, and a 4.42 ERA and 1.39 WHIP after. He will once again be Rule 5 eligible this off-season and he’s now pitching winter ball in the Dominican to either convince the Pirates to protect him, or audition for other teams. He’s a strike-thrower with a fastball that sits 92-94 MPH, touching 96 in the past. He also has a workhorse frame, but without the strikeout pitch in his arsenal, his upside would be a depth starter/long reliever.
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.