Pittsburgh Pirates: Top Performing Minor League Hitters Part Three

PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 20: Bryan Reynolds #10 of the Pittsburgh Pirates hits a single for his first Major League hit in the fourth inning during the game against the San Francisco Giants at PNC Park on April 20, 2019 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 20: Bryan Reynolds #10 of the Pittsburgh Pirates hits a single for his first Major League hit in the fourth inning during the game against the San Francisco Giants at PNC Park on April 20, 2019 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) /

Looking at how hitters in the Pittsburgh Pirates minor league system performed in 2018 and who to keep an eye out for in 2019 using z-scores in several offensive categories.

Last month, Nick has released our site’s top 30 prospects and earlier in the offseason, I’ve documented composite top 100 rankings based on four major prospect sites.  Today will be the third part of a four-part series, looking at how hitters performed in 2018 to look to see who might be an underrated prospect; the series will go in the order of the really low minors (the three rookie leagues), the low minors (A ball), the upper minors (Double-A and Triple-A), and then ending with a wrap up.

Often times the phrase “you can’t scout the stat line” is thrown around, and it is true, there’s more variables in terms of make up, a pitcher’s stuff, a hitter’s approach, base running, and fielding, etc.  Teams do try to use a model, with Chris Mitchell’s KATOH being one of the more popular ones, and Kevin Creagh developed the Stat Scout Line.  This analysis isn’t a model, rather a summation of z-scores in different statistics to determine which hitters have performed well compared to other prospects.

Because each level of the minor leagues has different players and the goal is to look at potential prospects (sorry Ryan Lavarnway), setting a maximum age requirement and minimum plate appearance requirement is a must.  Since this is looking at 2018, there will be some players who appear on these lists that are no longer in the organization because of a trade, free agency, or they were released.  For each level among hitters we have the following requirements and total number of player seasons:

Minor League Level Sample Requirements
LevelMax AgeMin PAPlayer Seasons
R (Dominican)19200237
R (GCL)1950137
R (Appy)2150128
A- (New York Penn)2250205
A (South Atlantic)2250188
A+ (FSL)23100154
AA (Eastern)24100117
AAA (International)25100108

Across each level, the statistics used for how well a prospect has performed will be the following: age, average, on-base, slugging, isolated power (ISO), strikeout rate, and unintentional walk rate.  Strikeout rate will be multiplied by negative one as a lower than average rate is better, and the same goes for age; a prospect younger than average and performing deserves more credit.  The averages for each level are:

Minor League Level Averages
R (Dominican League)17.52410.2540.3520.3570.10319.4%11.1%
R (GCL)18.21260.2460.3200.3490.10223.0%8.1%
R (Appy)19.91560.2630.3490.3960.13422.2%10.2%
A- (New York Penn)20.71590.2410.3190.3480.10722.4%8.7%
A (South Atlantic)20.82690.2480.3120.3800.13223.5%7.3%
A+ (FSL)21.82790.2540.3230.3710.11821.2%8.1%
AA (Eastern)22.91380.2560.3290.3960.14021.1%8.9%
AAA (International)23.71250.2600.3270.4040.14421.7%8.0%


Double-A: Eastern League

Double-A features prospects close to being Major League ready, and the Pirates had a slew of their top hitting prospects in Double-A Altoona last season, including first rounders Cole Tucker, Ke’Bryan Hayes, and Will Craig.  All three will be in Triple-A Indianapolis in 2019, and the same goes for Bryan Reynolds, who the Pirates got in the Andrew McCutchen trade.  The components for each player are:

Top Eastern League Performers Components
Alfredo Reyes-0.89-1.35-0.14-0.22-1.00-1.34-1.65-0.41
Bralin Jackson-0.89-0.64-1.06-1.68-1.18-0.94-1.33-1.23
Christian Kelley-0.890.28-0.53-0.48-0.36-0.150.47-0.47
Elvis Escobar-0.05-1.43-2.65-3.55-2.33-1.480.39-1.76
Will Craig-0.051.75-0.19-0.200.651.06-0.38-0.40
Bryan Reynolds-0.050.541.181.190.52-0.080.360.45
Stephen Alemais-
Jason Martin0.79-0.141.771.431.560.990.000.04
Cole Tucker1.632.040.090.08-0.49-0.770.610.04
Ke’Bryan Hayes1.631.450.951.050.600.190.800.67

With all the red, you can clearly see why Elvis Escobar was moved to the mound: the bat didn’t play, and the same can be said about Alfredo Reyes and Bralin Jackson.  Will Craig hit for more power but it came with a trade off in on-base and swing and miss, as he slashed .248/.321/.448 this past season with a 7.7 percent walk rate and 23.3 percent strikeout rate.  Being able to marry the two approaches that Craig has shown in pro ball will be a big factor in if he can be an everyday player in the big leagues, and Fangraphs compares him to J.D Davis of the Mets.

Ke’Bryan Hayes posted above average z-scores in every category, hitting .293/.375/.444 and then the third baseman showed off this past spring training with three home runs and four doubles.  I didn’t include any defensive metrics, and that is one of Hayes’ stand out tools as he was able to save the Pirates 9.0 runs (FRAA).

Cole Tucker hit a bit above average but nothing stellar, and was lacking in the power department, and he did show off the speed he possesses, swiping 34 bags on 46 attempts.  Like Craig and Hayes, Tucker will be in Indianapolis to start the season.

Bryan Reynolds showed some promise, hitting .302/.381/.438 in his first season in the Pirates organization and he didn’t strikeout much, while other outfielder Jason Martin clobbered the baseball to a slash of 325/.392/.522 before cooling off in Triple-A.  Fangraphs projects Reynolds as an average starter and Martin as a platoon bat.

The total z-scores are as followed:

Top Eastern League Performers 2018
Jason Martin222896.58
Ke’Bryan Hayes215085.89
Bryan Reynolds233833.59
Cole Tucker215891.18
Will Craig235490.48
Stephen Alemais234630.23
Christian Kelley24347-2.41
Alfredo Reyes24121-5.65
Bralin Jackson24219-8.31
Elvis Escobar23111-11.44

Triple-A: International League

The league closest to the majors, having depth in Triple-A Indianapolis is important, especially if you’re able to have your top prospects near major league ready like the Pirates do for 2019, but 2018 served a different story.  Looking at the components of each player meeting the qualifications, only Jason Martin was younger than the average in this group, and he didn’t perform well in his first taste:

Top International League Performers Components
Jose Osuna-1.041.661.191.180.551.030.37
Christopher Bostick-1.040.950.550.41-0.050.23-0.33
Max Moroff-1.04-1.030.18-0.140.46-0.182.25
Jerrick Suiter-1.04-1.53-1.01-1.14-0.58-1.700.24
Eric Wood-
Pablo Reyes-0.230.790.330.400.040.59-0.42
Jordan Luplow-0.230.720.930.730.550.570.83
Kevin Kramer-0.231.380.871.110.64-0.36-0.33
Kevin Newman-
Wyatt Mathisen-0.23-0.340.070.120.370.120.06
Jason Martin1.38-1.34-1.32-1.08-0.62-0.08-0.25

Kevin Kramer brought the most power to the table in terms of isolated slugging, with a z-score of 0.64 and a slugging of 1.11 (though the slugging trailed Jose Osuna).  The downside with Kramer is he did post below average strikeout and walk rates, but he was one of the better performers in Indianapolis, and he’s a projected .253/.308/.411 hitter by PECOTA.  He will play some role on the Pirates in 2019, and if he’s at second base he projects as an average starter.

Osuna tore the cover off the ball hitting .321/.378/.497, and led the team in total_z.  He’s a serviceable depth piece but doesn’t look to be much more, though he did provide 6.6 runs above average through his glove.  Osuna’s hit .231/.263/.417 in his career at the majors, and projects at .238/.294/.397, looking more like a tweener and at best a bench bat.

The club traded away Jordan Luplow because of the need for a 40-man spot and Huntington likes the upside in Tahnaj Thomas, but in terms of performance the projected .241/.316/.405 looks a lot better than JB Shuck, though Luplow is a projected platoon outfielder.  Kevin Newman and Pablo Reyes both were uninspiring, and look to be nothing more than backup/backend starter and utility player respectively.  The top performers are listed below:

Top International League Performers 2018
Jose Osuna253424.95
Jordan Luplow243574.09
Kevin Kramer245273.07
Kevin Newman244771.80
Pablo Reyes243981.50
Christopher Bostick253270.73
Max Moroff252970.50
Eric Wood253080.30
Wyatt Mathisen242820.17
Jason Martin22234-3.30
Jerrick Suiter25219-6.76

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The numbers are not adjusted for park and league and some of the players above have since been traded or released since the start of the 2018 season.  The biggest names to watch in these upper are Jason Martin, Ke’Bryan Hayes, Bryan Reynolds, and Kevin Kramer.  Martin, Reynolds, and Cole Tucker have all made their Major League debuts this year, with Kramer’s coming last season.  Will Craig has changed his profile, and so far in Indianapolis he has been able to show both skill sets hitting .263/.371/.566 with a 11.2 percent walk rate and 23.6 percent strikeout rate in his first 20 games and 89 plate appearances.