By Jason Shetler
While the Pirates have a few weeks left on the schedule, the Bucs minor league affiliates have all concluded their seasons. Here now are some of the Pirates prospects who were able to take that big step forward in 2018.
Domingo Robles: Signed by the Pirates out of the Dominican Republic in 2014, Domingo Robles began this season with the Low A West Virginia Power. The 20-year-old southpaw really held his own in his first full season of pro ball. In 21 starts for the Power, Robles put up a 2.97 ERA, which was seventh lowest in the South Atlantic League. He also displayed excellent control, issuing just 26 walks, sixth fewest among SAL pitchers who made at least 20 starts. Robles has a low-90’s fastball, a curveball and changeup, all of which he can throw for strikes. He earned a promotion to High A Bradenton in early August where he pitched in five games. He’s currently ranked 28th in the MLB Pipeline rankings for Pirates prospects.
Jared Oliva: Outfielder Jared Oliva was able to open some eyes this season. A seventh round pick of the Bucs in 2017, Oliva posted a .354 on base percentage and had 33 stolen bases in 108 games for the Bradenton Marauders. Among players within the organization, only Cole Tucker stole more bases (35) than Oliva this year. MLB Pipeline has Oliva ranked #22 in the Pirates system.
JT Brubaker: After pitching well in the Arizona Fall League a year ago, JT Brubaker found a way to use that as a springboard for himself, as his 2018 season was his best. Brubaker started off the year with the AA Altoona Curve, posting an ERA of 1.80, along with a 2.64 FIP in six outings, before being promoted to AAA Indianapolis in mid-May. In 22 starts for the Indians, he had a 3.10 ERA and a 3.59 FIP. Brubaker utilized his two-seam fastball more this season, and the result was a career best 56% groundball rate combined with Altoona and Indianapolis.
Ke’Bryan Hayes: While Ke’Bryan Hayes is regarded as one of the top defensive third basemen in the minors right now, he put together his best offensive numbers this year. In 117 games played for Altoona, he posted the seventh highest OPS in the Eastern League at .819, and his 31 doubles were good for fourth most in the league. Now the Pirates #2 prospect, Hayes represented the organization in this year’s MLB Futures Game at Nationals Park and showed off his improved power by hitting a two-run homer.
Max Kranick: Perhaps one of the Pirates better diamond in the rough picks from the 2016 MLB Draft is Max Kranick, who was selected by them in the 11th round. Despite being drafted out of high school just two years ago, Kranick already throws a plus changeup to go along with a mid-90’s fastball and improving curveball. He didn’t join the West Virginia Power until May, but put up good figures once he arrived there, posting a 3.81 ERA, a 3.55 FIP and a WHIP of 1.15. Kranick also racked up the strikeouts, as he fanned 76 batters in 77 innings of work.
Oneil Cruz: Acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers at the 2017 trade deadline for Tony Watson, Oneil Cruz really broke through this year in his first full season as a member of the Pirates organization. With the West Virginia Power, he had an .831 OPS, which was fifth best in the SAL, while registering a wRC+ of 134 in 103 games. Cruz tapped into some of his power potential, hitting 25 doubles and 14 home runs. He also displayed the ability to hit balls to all fields. As a matter of fact, 59.2% of the balls he put in play were either hit up the middle or the opposite way. The overall numbers look even more impressive when you consider that Cruz played the Low A level as a 19-year-old. MLB Pipeline now has him ranked Top 5 among Pirates prospects at #4.
Travis MacGregor: After drafting Travis MacGregor out of high school as a second round selection in 2016, the Pirates were able to ink him, this despite the fact that he signed below slot value, and could’ve easily honored his commitment to pitch at Clemson instead. Following a disastrous 2017 season in which the Pirates felt that MacGregor was possibly tipping his pitches, he made significant strides in 2018, posting a 3.25 ERA, along with a .235 batting average against and a K/9 of 10.5 in 15 starts. MacGregor however dealt with shoulder and forearm issues at different times this year. Stuff wise, he threw a fastball that reached upper-90’s and a curveball with good spin. Hopefully MacGregor can stay healthy moving forward, because his potential is plenty to be excited about.
Will Craig: Coming out of Wake Forest, Will Craig possessed phenomenal on base skills, and the Pirates were intrigued by the former ACC Player of the Year enough that they took him in the first round (22nd overall) of the 2016 MLB Draft. In his first two seasons of pro ball, Craig posted a strong .393 OBP. Although the on base figure was outstanding, he was lacking power for a corner infielder, registering just a .367 slugging percentage and eight home runs total in 2016 and 2017. Before this season began, Craig said he was willing to sacrifice his batting average for more power. The new aggressive approach paid dividends for Craig in 2018 with the Altoona Curve, as his .448 SLG%, 30 doubles and 20 homers were all career highs.