Archive for the ‘ Prospects ’ Category

Prospects: Catchers

AAA: Tony Sanchez

Backing up Tony Sanchez this season in AAA will likely be some combination of Lucas May, Ali Solis and Brian Jeroloman. All of three catchers are past their prospect days but should an opening arise in the majors it is possible one of them could get the call. As for Sanchez his prospect stock has took a hit down to the point where he is no longer widely consider the Pirates top catching prospect (Battling Bucs still gives him the slightest of edges though) but he still does have some upside and could be a useful major league catcher as early as later this season. Sanchez’s defense was said to be good when he was drafted and that remains the case; his game calling is also improving which means he looks to be a very capable receiver at this point in his career. The question is as it always was his bat. Sanchez recovered some last season from a terrible 2011 but his offensive numbers were still a disappointment. In order to move forward this year and show he still might be able to develop into at least an averae MLB starting catcher his offensive game particularly his power will need to make great strides.

AA: Carlos Paulino

Paulino will serve as the regular catcher in AA and be backed up primarily by Charlie Cutler. Kawika Emsley-Pai and others may play at the level as well but barring an injury it is likely to be sparingly. At this point in his career Paulino is essentially an extreme version of Sanchez. His defensive game overall is a little better than Sanchez’s but his bat is worse. Paulino’s defense alone has what it takes to make him a backup catcher in the majors but if he is ever going to have a shot at being a starting catcher he is going to have to show he can hit some. Paulino has hit fairly well in the past posting good numbers in 2011 but he struggled last season when he was forced to repeat A+. Now as the unquestioned starter in AA this is Paulino’s time to shine.

A+: Jacob Stallings, Elias Diaz

Stallings and Diaz are expected to split catching time in A+. Like Sanchez and Paulino these two catchers are noted more for their defense than their offense. Stallings was drafted last year by the Pirates in the early rounds mainly as an attempt to save cap space for making a run at Appel. He comes from the NCAA holding the single season record for throwing out runners attempting to steal. The Pirates are aggressively pushing him over regular A ball and straight to advance. This is a typical move for advanced college hitters but Stallings is not one of those. His offense will likely struggle but it is going to have to be his defense that carries him anyway. As for Diaz the Pirates seem to really like him but up to this point he really hasn’t shown much progress as a hitter. Like all the other catchers discussed so far he is going have to show some improvements with the bat to see his prospect stock rise.

A: Wyatt Mathisen

At this point I’m not really sure who will back up Mathisen but the Pirates are not short of options as the lower levels are filled with a ton of catchers (non prospects of course). Mathisen is a horse of a different color in this catching crop. He is widely considered to be the Pirates top catching prospect (Battling Bucs has him 2nd just slighly behind Sanchez) with his biggest weakness being his defense. Mathisen is really just becoming accustomed to the catcher position having played the majority of his high school career at the shortstop position. His bat is advanced for a high school player and his defensive game has shown flashes of potential but with this being a relatively new position to him there is still a lot to work on. The main challenge for Mathisen in 2013 will be just adjusting to being a full tiem catcher.

Lower Levels: Jin-De Jhang, Daniel Arribas

There was some talk the Pirates might consider moving Jhang to A ball with Mathisen and having them continue to split time between catcher and DH but that doesn’t appear to have happened. Jhang will start the season likely in short season ball. Like Mathisen, Jhang is relatively new to catching and has a lot of work to do to get the mechanics of the position down. His bat is strong for a catcher though and makes him an interesting prospect to watch. Arribas has played catcher, 1st base and 3rd base in the DSL but appears to be focusing entirely on catching right now. Arribas shown some hitting talent in the DSL last season and was moved up to the states this year. He will likely share catching duties in rookie ball this season as he adjusts to his more permanent position home.

Top 5 Catching Prospects

1. Tony Sanchez

2. Wyatt Mathisen

3. Jin-De Jhang

4. Carlos Paulino

5. Jacob Stallings

Pirates/Curve Recap

The Pirates lost to the OCurve today 8-6. That sounds depressing but in reality it isn’t. The game was by all means an exhibition meaning both sides took the game extremely lightly and both rosters were a state of flux with the Pirates roster having many Curve players and vice versa. By the end of the game the Pirates defense was Michael McKenry (C), Kelson Brown (1B), Josh Harrison (2B), Stefan Welch (3B), John McDonald (SS), Dan Grovatt (LF), Andy Vasquez (CF) and Jose Tabata (RF). Not exactly the starting eight you’ll see out there on Monday. Still the game was a joy to watch and had a few highlights. I have pictures which I will try to share later in the week but for now I’ll just give a quick summary of the events.

Before the game Frank Coonley, the Pirates president was about in the stands. Battling Bucs got his first chance to meet him. It wasn’t a long meeting of course but it was an interesting experience. Shortly before the game Coonley was again front and center as he announced the partnership between the Pirates and Curve was extended through 2018. Also before game action got under way the Pirates and Curve joined together for a group picture brining about another great sight.

Once the game actually got under way the first thing that became clear that McDonald either didn’t have or wasn’t using his best stuff. The Curve hit him around well and drew 3 walks in the first inning alone as all 9 hitters came to the plate. After JMac’s struggles Tony Watson took the hill for the Curve in the top of the 2nd and struggled a fair amount himself, His outing was capped when Starling Marte launched a grand slam into the outfield bleachers. Marte ended up having himself a banner day as he also added another hit and displayed his strong arm.

Later in the game Andrew McCutchen was robbed of a hit by a great diving catch in the outfield by Andrew Lambo and the very next hitter Pedro Alvarez had a well hit ball speared by Gift Ngoepe. It was some great defense being played behind Justin Wilson and I’m betting he hopes he gets that kind of help for his appearances starting on Monday. Shortly after this inning Nathan Baker entered the game for the Pirates and struggled mightily allowing 4 runs and missing with most of his pitches. It was not long after Baker’s performance the next top of the inning that the mass substitutions started. The scoreboard at the game wasn’t even to keep up with all the moves as the Pirates had players in the game without names on their jerseys and in some cases without even a number. This hybrid lineup did manage to get a few hits in the 7th and cut the deficit to 8-6 but that was as close as the game got.

The rest of the game was fairly uneventful and it seemingly went on forever. I’m not really sure what the cause of the slow pace of the game but I’m guessing it had something to do with all the substitutions and TV timeouts. As I stated earlier the game went well and was very entertaining but I also know there is nothing I or anyone can or should take from the outcome. For the record the game ended when Jason Townsend coming into face his first batter got Benji Gonzalez, who was pinch hitting for Josh Harrison, to fly out to right field. I have more to say but I’m typing this fairly late at night so this will have to do. I’ll add more notes when I post pictures of the game later in the week.

 

 

The AA Roster

Catchers: Carlos Paulino, Charlie Cutler
Paulino is a defensive first catcher who is graded by scouts as one of the best defensive catchers in the minor leagues. He stuck around with the big league camp until the final round of cuts so the Pirates must see something in him. Cutler is an organizational player who is a bat first catcher.

1st Base/DH: Alex Dickerson, Matt Curry
Both Dickerson and Curry are prospects to some degrees. If it wasn’t for the logjam of 1B types in AAA (Hague, Larish and possibly Robinson) Curry would almost certainly be there after a good season in AA. Both players have received a little time in LF this Spring but neither is an option there long term. Both players are good hitters but the question is whether either has enough power to make up for their defensive limitations.

Middle Infield: Jarek Cunningham, Gift Ngoepe, Drew Maggi
Cunningham will be the starter at 2nd and Ngoepe at shortstop. Cunningham is repeating the level because he struggled last season but has good power for a 2nd baseman so he is worth keeping an eye on. Ngoepe doesn’t do much with the bat but is a slick fielding shortstop. If he can hit even a little his glove will almost certainly carry him to the majors. Maggi was given an overslot bonus just a few years ago but is now just an organizational player. He could see time just about anywhere including the outfield but his primary purpose will be backing up the middle infield.

Other Infielders: Stefan Welch, Adalberto Santos
Welch and Santos figure to split the third base duties. Neither is a 3rd baseman by trade as Welch is better suited for 1st base and Santos has played almost exclusively the outfield. Welch is coming off an excellent season in A+ in 2012 which earned him a promotion to AA. He started off hot but quickly cooled down. He did have a good showing in the WBC for Team Australia this spring though. Santos has hit at every level the Pirates put him on and probably should be up in AAA this year but the roster figures to be a little crowded. He played exclusively the outfield last season but played some 2B the year before that. Santos is likely to see time in both the OF and 2B as well as adding 3B to his duties. If he can be passable defensively eat each position it coupled with his good contact skills could make him an intriguing bench option.

Outfielders: Mel Rojas, Andrew Lambo, Justin Howard, Andy Vasquez
Rojas is the only real prospect in this group. He has a good set of tools but hasn’t really put everything together. He probably isn’t ready for AA but with Polanco moving up to A+ the Pirates have decided to give him an aggressive push and let him continue playing center field. Lambo will be spending his 5th year at the AA level. This his last year before minor league free agency so if he is going to ever live up to that prospect hype its likely now or never. Howard has good contact skills but is poor defensively and has little power. In reality he shouldn’t be in the outfield but the only position he plays even half decently his first base and there is just no room for him there. Vasquez is a utility player who has been in the Pirates organization seemingly forever. He has played a little bit of everywhere but it appears he will serve mainly as a backup outfielder this season. In addition to these guys Santos is likely to see a lot of time in the outfield and Maggi, Dickerson and even Curry could get the occasional start as well.

Starting Pitchers: Jameson Taillon, Stolmy Pimentel, Brandon Cumpton, Casey Sadler, Tyler Waldron
Taillon is of course Taillon. He is the only true top flight prospect at this level. The main question surrounding him is when will he move up to AAA. Pimentel was acquired in the Joel Hanrahan trade and has a lot of upside but has struggled in AA in the past and is on his last option so he is going to have to impress quickly. Cumpton had moderate success in the AA rotation last year but wasn’t overwhelming so the Pirate have opted to have him repeat the level. Sadler is a prospect I like a lot but he is better suited for relief than starting. He pitched well last year both as a starter and a reliever in A+ and the Pirates like to keep their pitching prospects starting for as long as possible. Waldron was supposed to be moving to the bullpen but I guess the Pirates have had a change of mind. He really didn’t pitch that well last season in A+ but he was promoted near the end of the season so the Pirates must see some potential in him.

Relief Pitchers: Tim Alderson, Nate Baker, Jason Townsend, Jeff Inman, Luis Sanz, Ethan Hollingsworth, Kenn Kasparek
Alderson has seemingly been around forever but is still relatively young at only 24 years old. He gets another go around in AA and this could be his last chance to salvage his career. he still has that great curveball and his fastball is back in the lower 90s so anything is possible. Baker was in the AA rotation for most of last year but struggled and was moved to the bullpen. He did well there and as a left hander he shouldn’t be completely dismissed as an organizational player quite yet. Townsend was a prospect I was initially excited about when the Pirates drafted him because he was throwing in the upper 90s and striking batters out. However something happened last year and that good velocity and strike out numbers were no longer there. I will be curious to see if he can regain that form this season. Inman was a fairly highly touted 12th round pick by the Pirates who only slipped that low because of health concerns. Well so far those health concerns have proved to be a big problem as before last year he pitched in only 17 games over 3 seasons. he did remain relatively healthy last year and displayed good velocity but his strike out rates were low largely do to the lack of a good secondary pitch. The other 3 relievers were added this offseason to provide depth and are only organizational players.

Notable Omissions

The players I’m the most surprised to not see here are Zach Thornton, Kelson Brown and Dan Grovatt. Thornton was acquired this offseason for Resop and was talked about as the potential closer for the AA team. He had a high strike out rate last year but he was admittedly old for the level. Kelson Brown had a good showing in AA last year and looked like a possible future utility player in the major leagues. He didn’t have much of a ceiling but I would say he had a shot at a Rob Mackowiak type career. Finally Grovatt was one of the better hitters at A+ last year which again really isn’t saying a whole lot as the offense was terrible at that level. One other player to watch but he is not a notable omission is Ryan Beckman. Fan Graphs recently called Beckman a sleeper prospect and I agree with that assessment. Ordinarily he would be on this roster but he is still recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Top Prospects

1. Jameson Taillon

2. Alex Dickerson

3. Gift Ngoepe

4. Adalberto Santos

5. Stolmy Pimentel

6. Casey Sadler

7. Mel Rojas Jr

8. Matt Curry

9. Carlos Paulino

10. Brandon Cumpton

11. Jarek Cunningham

News and Notes

Not much happening today. But I thought a general post to catch up on some recent news would be a good idea.

Brad Hawpe who has been receiving an inordinate amount of playing time has been released from camp. That means according to my projection there are 5 players left in camp for the last bench spot: Josh Harrison, Brandon Inge, Jordy Mercer, Alex Presley and Felix Pie. To me it comes down to Harrison and Inge and I think considering Inge’s health issues that Harrison has the upper hand.

Tony Watson pitched an uneventful 1-2-3 inning today so it appears more likely that he will be ready for Opening Day which would displace Mike Zagurski from my projected roster. Zagurski hasn’t looked good recently anyway and probably shouldn’t make the team.

Jeff Karstens is scheduled to pitch tomorrow and as long as things go right he has a chance of being ready to be part of the rotation to start the season. If Karstens joins the rotation he would displace Sanchez or Locke from the rotation. That displacement could result in the displacement of Ryan Reid/Jeanmar Gomez or even Justin Wilson from the bullpen. In addition to Karstens possibly being ready by Opening Day it sounds as if Francisco Liriano may be about a month behind that.

As Spring Training winds down the Pirates camp roster now sits at 36 meaning there are still 11 cuts to be made. I’m expecting that we will see some early next week and the roster will really begin to round into shape. The roster battles as I see them are down to Harrison/Inge for the last bench spot, Locke/McPherson/Sanchez/Karstens for the final two rotation spots and Wilson/Gomez/Reid along with the losers of the rotation battle fighting for the final two bullpen spots. All of this assumes Watson is healthy and the Pirates decide to carry Leroux and Tabata which all seem rather likely.

On the site this week I am planning to conclude my expectations series with a look at the non-player parts of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The final three parts of the series will be the coaches, the front office and the team as a whole. Keep an eye out for those. In addition to those I will have a few more season preview pieces. Finally I’ll be attending the Pirates last exhibition game of Spring when they play their AA affiliate on Saturday March 30th. It should be a fun experience and I’m looking forward to providing a recap of the game both from the major and minor league perspective.

In the meantime I have recently updated my Top 20 Hitting and Top 20 Pitching prospects. Check them out. For the record I update them about two or three times a month during the season and I am planning on providing some details on the top prospects in the near future.

2013 Expectations: Low Level Prospects

Last offseason I did a 15 part preview of the Pirates upcoming seasons focusing on what I expected to see out of various positions at the major league levels, the minor levels, the coaching staff and the front office. The series went over fairly well with my readers so I have decided to bring it back for a second year. I’m not sure how many parts this year’s series will include but I will do my best to cover every key player I can think of.

Most of the intriguing prospects that play in the lower levels in a given year are drafted in that year’s draft but of course there are a few holdovers. I’m expecting the Pirates to send the most interesting of the possible holdover lot (Tyler Glasnow, Waytt Mathisen, Jin-De Jhang, Dilson Herrera, Max Moroff and Eric Wood) to A ball. That still leaves some interesting talent and that is what I will discuss here. However at these levels it is difficult to have actual expectations so instead I’ll just go over the interesting names to watch.

Hitters

The two most interesting names that I currently have projected to play in the lower levels are Harold Ramirez and Elvis Escobar. Ramirez and Escobar were the Pirates big international signings in 2011 and made the aggressive jump to the states. Ramirez was hampered by injuries but returned later in the year and held his own. Escobar started the year in center field and while his numbers were not eye popping they were fairly impressive for it being his first professional season and playing at a that high a level. Both of them should start the year in short season ball and while things will be taken slowly with them we will hopefully see signs of growth. The next most interesting duo is the DeLaCruz brothers (not actual brothers they just share the same last name). Julio and Michael were the Pirates two big international signings from last year’s class. Neither is a guarantee to start the year in the states but early reports suggest the Pirates are at least considering it. Julio is a third baseman while Michael is an outfielder. It is difficult to say there are any expectations on them but a solid debut like Escobar had last season would be a welcomed sight. Another interesting group are the players moving up from the DSL. Daniel Arribas, Carlos Ozuna, Ulises Montilla, Maximo Rivera and Enyel Vallejo are the players that appear likely to move up. Of the group Arribas and Rivera stand out to me. The Pirates have been slowly turning Arribas into a catcher as he split time at catcher, 1st and 3rd base the last two seasons. He struggled in 2011, his first professional season but fared really well last season. Rivera was one of the Pirates big international signings in 2009 and was said to have good power potential. He didn’t show much his first two professional seasons but broke out last year aand although he didn’t show much power he had a very solid season. Three other names I’ll be keeping an eye on are Stetson Allie, Kevin Ross and Luis Urena. Allie isn’t much of a prospect as a hitter but due to name recognition he garners attention. Ross was drafted in the 8th round of last year’s draft but signed late and didn’t play much. Urena is another outfielder in the Willy Garcia mold. This may sound a little odd but he is a potential 2014 breakout candidate. What I mean by that is that he showed enough positives in 2012 that with a good performance this season he could put himself in a position to really step up next year. None of these players really have expectations at this point but the hope is a couple of them step up and take on the look of real prospects.

Pitchers

No one single pitcher really stands out in the lower levels but there are two trios I am going to be watching closely. One trio is a group of 2011 high school draftees who have all played very sparingly to this point and in which no one has stood out from the rest. They are Jason Creasy, Jake Burnette and Colten Brewer. I give a slight advantage to brewer as the most intriguing of the bunch but they all have to make some sort of statement this year if they are to be taken as real prospects. The other trio is a mix of last year’s drafted pitchers who for some reason or another received little playing time. They are Jonathan Sandfort, John Kuchno and Hayden Hurst. Sandfort was the Pirates 3rd round pick last season but pitched only 15 innings in rookie ball. Hurst and Kuchno pitched 0 and 5 innings respectively last year and while they weren’t high draft picks they were two players the Pirates opted to go overslot for when the Appel signing fell through. Of the three I’m currently highest on Sandfort but to be honest that is largely because I don’t know much about the other two yet. There are also a couple interesting arms coming up from the DSL this season with the two most intriguing to me being Cesilio Pimentel and Mervin Del Rosario. Both players posted good lines in the DSL last season but struck out very few hitters. Pimentel did have a large strikeout rate in 2011 though.  Also in the lower levels is a semi-interesting group of relief prospects. The most interesting of the group to me is Bryton Trepagnier. Trepagnier saw his velocity increase last season and a rise in his strikeout rate. The Pirates have an interesting mix of prospects from the 2011 and 2012 drafts along with an assortment of international arms in the lower levels of the system. Some of these players are candidates to see time in A ball this year but for the most part they will be playing in rookie ball or short season ball and sharing the workload with the pitchers selected in this year’s draft. I don’t really see a breakout star in this group or even anyone I’m comfortable saying will have a solid season but there are a ton of interesting arms to keep an eye on so that increases the odds that someone here will emerge.

2013 Expectations: Mid Level Prospects

Last offseason I did a 15 part preview of the Pirates upcoming seasons focusing on what I expected to see out of various positions at the major league levels, the minor levels, the coaching staff and the front office. The series went over fairly well with my readers so I have decided to bring it back for a second year. I’m not sure how many parts this year’s series will include but I will do my best to cover every key player I can think of.

Top Hitting Prospects

The top 5 hitting prospects in the Pirates system all are expected to begin to 2013 season in either A or A+ ball. Dilson Herrera should skip over short season ball and start the year in A ball and Josh Bell should join him there as he is expected to repeat the level. Herrera is a popular break out candidate for 2013 and certainly has the tools to do. He is coming off a very solid 2012 season in rookie ball in which he displayed a good all around offensive game. I’m expecting a very good season from Herrera and while I don’t think he will necessary break out I don’t expect him to do anything to hurt his status. Joining him in A ball will be Bell who missed most of last season with a knee injury. At this point it is difficult to know just what to expect from Bell but a good start is I wasn’t to see him healthy and hitting for power. I’m thinking his overall line might not sparkle being essentially his first professional season but if those two things are present it should be a decent year for Bell. At the A+ level the Pirates will have the two top hitting prospects in Alen Hanson and Gregory Polanco and also last year’s supplemental pick Barrett Barnes. Barnes had a very solid debut in A- last season and will be looking to continue it at a much more age appropriate level. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him struggle with the jump but we shall see. Hanson broke out last season and has a tremendous bat for a middle infielder but his defensive game needs a lot of work if he is to remain at shortstop. The Pirates will likely have him focus on improving defensively which I think might end up hurting his overall offensive numbers this season in particular his power. Going step for step with Hanson last season in A ball was Gregory Polanco. Polanco’s season last year was just as impressive as Hanson’s and in fact I think it was slightly better. Polanco will start the season in A+ but if he is successful I expect the Pirates to give him a mid season promotion to AA. My instinct tells me this will be another big year for Polanco so that isn what I am expecting.

Top Pitching Prospects

The Pirates middle levels aren’t just chalked full of hitting prospects as there are 4 top pitching prospects also expected to play at one of the A levels this season. The only one expected to pitch in A+ though is Nicholas Kingham. Kingham had a rough start to his 2012 campaign and finished the season with a poor ERA but he improved greatly as the year progress, finishing strong and posting solid peripherals. He probably doesn’t have the ace upside of the top pitching prospects at the A ball level but he is father along developmentally and looks like he could become a good middle of the rotation inning eater. I think Kingham will take a significant step forward this season. At the A ball level the Pirates are likely to have Luis Heredia and Clayton Holmes and may also have Tyler Glasnow pitching at the level. Heredia is the top prospect here as he put up excellent numbers in A- last season despite being younger than most of his competition. The Pirates will likely continue to proceed slowly with Heredia but I suspect we will continue to see good things from him and I expect him to start missing a few more bats this season. Along with Heredia in A- Clayton Holmes was putting up excellent numbers but unlike Heredia he comes with a couple warning signs. One his delivery is very awkward looking at two he struggled with control at times last season while not striking out many batters. I expect the jump to A level is going to be a big test for him and I think he’ll struggle. Glasnow pitched in rookie ball last year with just a taste of A- at the end of the year. He was dominate in rookie ball and did fairly well in short season ball as well. The Pirates may opt to keep him in short season but my expectation is they will hold him back in extended spring training and then give him a shot at A ball. I actually think he’ll do quite well at whichever level he pitches and I could see him shooting up some prospect lists.

Other Hitting Prospects

In addition to the top level hitters the Pirates have a good assortment of the next level of hitters ready to play in the middle levels. At the A+ level the talent is a little light but Jose Osuna is a very solid 1st base prospect and could be on the verge of a breakout. Lost in the hype surrounding Hanson and Polanco was Osuna’s very solid season in A ball. He didn’t put up the show stopping numbers but it was still a very good season. Osuna is limited defensively to 1st base so his bat is going to have to carry him but he has shown the power potential which suggests it just might. I’m not expecting a full breakout from Osuna but I think he’ll once again post a good line while going largely unnoticed in 2013. In A ball the talent is a little deeper with Wyatt Mathisen, Jin-De Jhang, Eric Wood, Max Moroff and Willy Garcia all having a chance to start there. Mathisen is the headliner of the group and is considered by some to be the Pirates 5th or 6th best hitting prospect. He is an athletic young catcher who is learning the position and has a good solid bat. Jhang split catching duties with Mathisen in rookie ball last season and had a very good season there. It is possible the Pirates choose to split the two up but I think they will both be promoted to A ball and will continue to split the catching duty. Wood and Moroff also played in rookie ball last season manning 3B and SS respectively. Wood had a surprising debut after being a relatively unknown 6th round selection and Moroff showed why the Pirates went overslot to sign him after the Appel signing fell through. Garcia played at A ball last season and wasn’t horrible but he was inconsistent which makes me believe the Pirates will start him back at the level. All the players in this group are candidates to break out and become top hitting prospects. The chances of all of them doing so are slim but I expect at least 1 or 2 of them will do so.

Other Pitching Prospects

The Pirates are lacking a little in the middle levels in the second tier of pitching prospects. Only three names Robby Rowland, Zach Von Rosenberg and Adrian Sampson really catch my eye. Rowland and Von Rosenberg are likely to begin the year in A+ ball. Rowland was acquired last offseason when the Diamondbacks traded him to the Pirates in exchange for the rights to Rule V selection Brett Lorin. Rowland was an underwhelming prospect but he put up a solid season in A ball last year to get on the map. He is one to watch although I think he is going to struggle in the jump to A+. Von Rosenberg is actually one of my under the radar breakout picks. He was drafted by the Pirates in the 6th round of the 2009 draft and he was the most high profile of the large lot of high school arms the Pirates went overslot for to sign. To date Von Rosenberg hasn’t been that impressive as he repeated A ball last year and while his numbers were decent they weren’t exactly what one would hope to see. The Pirates are likely to try him at A+ and I’m going to predict he will have a good season and reemerge on the prospect map. The other pitcher Sampson was drafted by the Pirates last season and sent to A- ball where he pitched extremely well and was one of the few pitchers at that level to actually have a high strike out rate. I’m not really sure what to expect from him in 2013 but I think he has a chance to develop into a good pitching prospect.

Prospects To Watch

I already picked a few of the middle tier prospects who I think have a strong chance of breaking out. I didn’t say which hitters I’d specifically lean towards but if pushed I’d probably go with Jin-De Jhang and max Moroff and on the pitching side I’m expecting a big step up from Von Rosenberg. Digging a little deeper though I see a few under the radar names who could emerge as quality prospects. On the pitching side two players I like are Dalton Friend and Joely Rodriguez. Friend was drafted by the Pirates last year in the 12th round and looks like just a relief pitcher but his stuff is fairly good and he had success last year in A- so I think the Pirates will push him to A+ to see if he has success there and I’m expecting him to rather well and take on the look of a good relief prospect. Rodriguez has been underwhelming so far in his pro career but showed some positive signs in A- last year. I’d be a fool to say I’m expecting a breakout but I like some of what I saw and if the Pirates push him to A ball in 2013 I think he could put up a nice season and become the Pirates second best international pitching prospect (behind Heredia); that in itself won’t be much of an accomplishment but I do think he’ll raise his stalk this year and take on the look of a fringe prospect instead of an organizational arm. On the hitting side under the radar guys are a little harder to find because the Pirates have a lot of top prospects or second tier prospects filling spots. In all honesty I really don’t see too much there but one player I like who I think could surprise if he can get the playing time is Taylor Lewis. Lewis struggled last year in A ball and might repeat the level and if he does he should have a reasonable chance of getting some time in center field but the Pirates might push him to A+ ball and they do he’ll probably serve as a 4th outfielder there. Lewis came from a small school so he probably needs a little more development time than your typical prospect but the talent is there and given a chance I think he could turn himself into a nice prospect this season.

2013 Expectations: Upper Level Prospects

Last offseason I did a 15 part preview of the Pirates upcoming seasons focusing on what I expected to see out of various positions at the major league levels, the minor levels, the coaching staff and the front office. The series went over fairly well with my readers so I have decided to bring it back for a second year. I’m not sure how many parts this year’s series will include but I will do my best to cover every key player I can think of.

Top Prospects

At the very top of my personal top Pirates prospects list the Pirates have a group I call the top 6 and a group I call the next 6. Two of the top 6 prospects and 1 of the next 6 prospects will be beginning the 2013 season either in AA, AAA or perhaps the major leagues. The two top prospects are of course Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon. The next 6 prospect is Kyle McPherson. Cole is likely to garner the most attention and will likely start the season out in AAA but with a few adjustments and a strong start to the season he could see Pittsburgh fairly early on. Big things are expected from Cole and I fully expect we will see him in Pittsburgh come June or July. Cole may be the ace the Pirates are sorely lacking but it is not realistic to expect him to be that right out of the gate. I expect his major league time to be solid but lacking the elite quality we all will hope to see. Taillion should start the year in AA with a chance for a mid season promotion to AAA. I have high hopes that 2013 will be the year he unleashes his full arsenal and starts putting up the dominant minor league numbers we all hoped we would see. McPherson is competing for a major league rotation spot this spring but barring injuries I see him starting the year in the AAA rotation. McPherson will definitely get some time in the majors this season and I would like to see him perform well enough to earn a 2014 rotation spot. I think McPherson has the upside of a solid middle of the rotation starter and I have reasonably high hopes he will take the first steps towards establishing himself as one this season.

Hitting Prospects

The Pirates upper levels aren’t exactly brimming with hitting talent. The top prospects are probably Tony Sanchez, Adalberto Santos, Alex Dickerson, Gift Ngoepe and if he is promoted to AA Mel Rojas Jr. Sanchez I have already discussed this is a pivotal year for him to have a solid season in AAA and in the likely event of one of the Pirates two catchers suffering an injury this season I would expect Sanchez to be a candidate to be called up to the majors. My expectation is Sanchez will have a solid but not great year in AAA and struggle offensively during any brief major league stint. Santos, Dickerson and Ngoepe I could see all starting in AA this season. Santos has a case to move up to AAA but the crowded outfield will likely hold him back. Hopefully one or more of these three will show something this season that lets the Pirates believe they could be contributors to the 2014 team. My expectations aren’t really high for any of them as I expect Dickerson’s numbers to be solid but again not where they need to be for an all bat player, Santos to regress from his good contact ways and Ngoepe to show only minimal improvement with the bat. The remaining hitting prospects with some intrigue are Ivan De Jesus, Matt Curry, Clint Robinson and Carlos Paulino. De Jesus, Curry and Robinson should start the year in AAA and could be called upon to serve as major league depth this season. Of the 3 my expectations are the highest for De Jesus who I think could develop into a nice middle infield utility player.

Pitching Prospects

Outside of the top 3 pitching prospects I discussed the Pirates have a bunch of interesting arms projected to begin the season in one of the top two levels or the major leagues. Bryan Morris, Justin Wilson, Andy Oliver, Phillip Irwin and Victor Black are all very intriguing arms with some degree of chance of making the major league squad but most likely for all except Morris and possibly Wilson they will start the season in AAA. I have previously discussed Morris and Wilson so I’ll focus on the other 3. Oliver to me looks like another Justin Wilson type project who the Pirates will try to fix his control this season. Irwin has the look of a crafty righty with a know how to pitch and a good enough arsenal of pitches where he could be an effective back of the rotation starter. Black has the makings of a late inning shut down reliever but needs some fine tuning before he gets there. My expectation is that Oliver won’t show much improvement with his control and will wind up in the bullpen and the other two will show positive signs of improvement and I wouldn’t be shocked if either or both of them spent a fair amount of time in the majors this year. In AA the pitching talent is a little less deep outside of Taillon but two guys I’ll be watching are Stolmy Pimentel and Casey Sadler. With this being Pimentel’s last option year I expect the Pirates to move him to the bullpen and Sadler shown enough the Pirates are likely to keep him starting but I think they see him as a reliever long term. I don’t have high hopes for Pimentel this season but I think Sadler will show enough promise the Pirates will add him to the roster at the end of the season. There are a bunch of other semi-interesting pitching prospects in the upper levels but the 4 that catch my eye are Duke Welker, Brandon Cumpton, Tyler Waldron and Hunter Strickland. Welker and Strickland are on the 40 man roster and will need to show something to prove they belong there. I think Strickland will surprise people but my expectation is that Welker will struggle. As for the other two I think both will be converted to relief roles this spring to see if either is worth protecting from the Rule V draft this upcoming offseason. I suspect one of these two will wind up being the Pirates yearly surprise addition to the roster.

Prospects To Watch

I already mentioned that I think De Jesus, Waldron and Cumpton are a couple under the radar names to keep an eye on but I want to dig a little deeper and mention a few players who look like organizational players at this point who interest me. Jared Goedert is having a solid spring and while I don’t expect a whole lot out of him if he hits well in AAA he could get a chance in the majors and I think he has a chance to find a niche there as a good pinch hitting option. Michael Colla has flown under the radar but he has had moderate success at essentially every level. He could potential earn a chance to pitch as a middle reliever some time this season. A few other players I plan on keeping an eye on down in AA are Justin Howard, Kelson Brown and Tim Alderson. Howard is a 1st baseman with limited power but a pretty good knack for making contact. The Pirates have tried using him in the outfield some and with no real option to man 3B in AA I wouldn’t be shocked to see him trotted out there. If he can manage to be competent defensively in the outfield and third base his good contact ability could gain him some traction as a potential bench option down the road. Brown is the type of player who is solid in all aspects of the game but wonderful in none. He plays multiple positions, makes decent contact, shows a little power and is sound defensively. However he does none of those things at a high or low level. He has been fairly successful at every level and as I said with Howard the opening at 3B provides him with a chance to get some playing time and if given a chance he could surprise some people. Alderson has been written off by nearly everyone at this point and with very good reason but he is still relatively young. The last two seasons he has shown progress in converting to a reliever and a more finesse pitcher. He isn’t ever going to become what the Pirates hoped they were acquiring when they traded Freddy Sanchez for him but maybe there is enough talent left in him to develop into a marginal relief prospect. Now for the standard disclaimer my expectation of the players I discussed at length here is that they will continue on their path as organizational guys but of that group the names I noted I believe have the best chance to surprise in 2013.

2013 Rule V Draft

I know this is incredibly early but with news being slow this time of year I thought I would fast forward to December and take a look at the players the Pirates will have to decide to either add to the 40 man roster or expose to the Rule V draft. For the sake of simplicity I have opted to focus only on players who will be eligible for the Rule V draft for the first time in 2013. I am sure there will be others who were previously eligible who may wind up factoring into the Pirates or another team’s plans but there are too many to consider at this early point. I have divided the players into five categories and written a little bit about the players, why I think there is a chance they might be selected and how I think the Pirates will proceed with them in 2013. There are of course other first time eligible players and I make mention of that later one but to me they are notable in this discussion. Once again it is way too early to even begin thinking about this kind of stuff but hey news is slow this time of year so why not.

Locks To Be Added: Gregory Polanco

It takes a lot to look like a definite lock to be added to the 40 man roster nearly a year out from your Rule 5 eligibility so naturally there are very few players who fit this description. The Pirates have one and only one such player in Gregory Polanco. He is the Pirates number 1 or 1a hitting prospect and should start the season at A+. Usually when evaluating whether to protect prospects or not teams would like to see what the player is capable of doing at least against AA competition but in Polanco’s case that isn’t really much of a concern as he will be protected in almost any set of circumstances. I expect Polanco will get pushed to AA at some point this season but it will be based on merit not just taking a look at a guy. Polanco has a huge upside as a fast solid defensive center fielder with plus power so the Pirates would be crazy not to protect him.

Next In Line: Brandon Cumpton, Matt Curry, Gift Ngoepe, Adalberto Santos

The four players listed in this group all look like fairly safe bets to become solid major league contributors. Now that doesn’t mean star or even starter but any of these four it would appear could hold down a 25 man roster spot next season and produce at least some value and for that reason each one would be at risk of getting selected and is therefore a candidate to be added. Cumpton, Curry and Santos are all candidates to start in AAA but I would say Curry is the only lock to do so. Ngoepe appears likely to start in AA but could be held back in A+. The Pirates will take a long look at each of these players and decide whether to protect them or not at the end of the season. None of these players has the ceiling of a star but all could be quality depth for the Pirates next season. Cumpton looks like a possible 5th starter or middle reliever. Curry appears to have the upside of a Casey Kotchman type first baseman meaning one who can hit decently but not for a lot of power; most players of this type quickly fizzle out though. Ngoepe has a great glove but will need his bat to develop some in order to become a starting major league option but even if it doesn’t he might be able to find a role as a defensive middle infielder off the bench. Santos is quite simply a professional hitter but one who doesn’t have a true position. Santos has hit at every level but has shown very little power and is not really good defensively anywhere. His ability to hit though and his experience at 2B and in the OF could make him a decent bench bat though.

Possible Relievers: Casey Sadler, Zach Thornton, Jason Townsend, Tyler Waldron

Every year it seems the Pirates protect one pitcher from the Rule V draft who is a bit of a head scratcher. Some times that is a player who was previously eligible and other times it is a first time eligible player. There are too many previous eligible candidates to discuss but of the first time eligible ones the above four currently appear to me to be the most likely to be added to the 40 man roster at the end of the season. I won’t say too much about each of these players individually but they all fit the typical mold of being right handed pitchers who throw in the mid 90s and to date haven’t posted the numbers (especially strike out numbers) that one would like to see from them. Although to be fair Thornton did have a a good strike out rate last season but he was a little old for the level he did it at. All four of these pitchers are likely to start the season in AA and with the exception of Sadler they will all likely be pitching from relief. Sadler is by far the most polished of the group and it could be argued he belongs with the next in line class but unlike the four I listed I don’t think he could necessarily stick for an entire season. If any of these four make an impression with the Pirates and keep in mind that isn’t necessarily only statistics I could see them being protected.

Projects: Zack Dodson, Mel Rojas, Zach Von Rosenberg

At the time these players were drafted all of them were considered to have high ceilings but to date none of them have progressed much and 2013 will serve as a defining year for them. The ceilings these players once were to said to had are still there and outside of Polanco these 3 probably have the most talent of the bunch (with possibly one exception below). Currently I have all 3 projected to start the season at A+ but Rojas could be pushed to AA and Dodson could be held back in A ball once his suspension ends. The players who do wind up starting in A+ I imagine will be aggressively pushed once and if they show any signs of progress. Before the Pirates opt to put any of these players on the 40 man roster I imagine they will want to see them against some AA competition. At this point little should be expected of any of these players but each of them has one last chance to show just a glimmer of that upside the Pirates dreamt about when drafting them.

Other Notables: Stetson Allie, Kelson Brown, Dan Grovatt, Justin Howard, Drew Maggi

There are a lot of other players eligible but essentially I see little to no chance of them being added to the roster or selected. That is nearly a year away though so a lot can and probably will change. Of the remaining players the ones above are the names I find the most interesting. With the exception of Allie who I will get to later all of the players have posted solid minor league numbers and will be playing most likely in AA this upcoming season. A good showing in AA could put them on the radar as a possible Rule V selection but right now they all seem like long shots. The other players not listed are players who have largely not developed past A ball yet and while they may have a ton of talent they are too raw to even be considered in this discussion. The one name on my notable list that doesn’t quite fit with the others is Stetson Allie. In his current states and practically any state he’ll be in by the end of the 2013 season Allie is no threat to be selected and obviously will not be protected. Quite a fall from grace for Allie as headed into last season he had the look of one of the Pirates better prospects but now that he failed at pitching and transitioned back to hitting he appears to be not much more than an organizational player. Certainly he has talent but it appears his time to harness and develop that talent has almost ran out.

Projecting the AA Roster

The Pirates have sort of a gap in talent between AAA and A+ so the AA squad is a difficult one to predict as there are not really a lot of prospects. Some of the borderline players I have making the team in AAA are of course a possibility to start in AA and I will do my best to mention them but of course my projection will ultimately include players not projected on to any of my other levels. As we get lower and lower it becomes increasingly more difficult to project minor league rosters because there is an increasing number of players who still look at least some what promising. So this is essentially just a stab in the dark.

Catcher

Candidates: Carlos Paulino, Charlie Cutler, Devin Ivany, Lucas May, Ali Solis

Analysis: There is really no prospect who is a guarantee to be at this level. Of the above listed catcher Carlos Paulino appears to be the best prospect of the group but is coming off a year in which he struggled in A+. Still if he were to repeat the level it would be his third season there and that doesn’t seem likely especially since he played well at the A+ level in 2011. The other options include whoever loses out in the Lucas May/Ali Solis battle to be the backup catcher in AAA and a couple of minor league veterans in Charlie Cutler and Devin Ivany. There is a case to be made for essentially any of these players to begin the year at AA but in the end only one will be here as the starter and another one as a backup, most of the rest will probably stay in extended spring training until their services are needed.

Prediction: Carlos Paulino

Infield

Candidates: Alex Dickerson, Justin Howard, Stefan Welch, Jarek Cunningham, Oscar Tejeda, Alex Valdez, Jeremey Farrell, Andy Vasquez, Gift Ngoepe, Drew Maggi, Benji Gonzalez, Kelson Brown

Analysis: There are other candidates who I did not list, specifically the players battling for spots in AAA who miss out. Notably because they are the two I have missing out are Jeff Larish and Anderson Hernandez. However I believe those two will serve as depth for AAA and take a spot should one of the non roster invitees to spring training opt out instead of taking the AAA assignment. As for the rest of the crop the only two prospects in the group are Alex Dickerson and Gift Ngoepe. Dickerson is coming off a solid year in A+ and should be the everyday starter at 1B. Ngoepe is a masterful defender who’s bat probably isn’t ready for AA but he is probably going to be forced up a level because of the players behind him. That leaves two spots open second and third base. Most of the rest of the players listed are at this point organizational players with little to no prospect value so it is difficult if not impossible to figure just how the Pirates may handle playing time. Cunningham still has at least some potential in him so figure on him taking one spot but the other is pretty wide open.

Prediction: Alex Dickerson (1B), Jarek Cunningham (2B), Alex Valdez (3B), Gift Ngoepe (SS)

Outfield

Candidates: Adalberto Santos, Andrew Lambo, Mel Rojas, Evan Chambers, Dan Grovatt

Analysis: Like Larish and Hernandez above Brad Hawpe is also a candidate but I don’t see him accepting an assignment to AA so I am assuming he is not a realistic possibility. The rest of the crop gives us some rather unimpressive options. Some of the infielders who don’t wins spots would be candidates for the outfield as well like Howard, Tejeda, Vasquez and Maggi in particular. However I believe the starting three will come from this group. Santos has a strong case to be in AAA but a numbers game will likely keep him down meaning one spot should be his. The others are really open for debate. Mel Rojas should get one if the Pirates opt to promote him but he struggled in A+ in 2012 so I think they will have him repeat the level to begin the season. Of the remaining options Evan Chambers would appear to be the best option for center field. The last spot will probably be mainly split between Grovatt and Lambo but since Lambo has an ounce more of potential I’ll give him the nod.

Prediction: Andrew Lambo (LF), Evan Chambers (CF), Adalberto Santos (RF)

Bench

Analysis: The candidates are everyone discussed above. Obviously the Pirates will keep a backup catcher but in reality it could be nearly anyone on the list. Also a reserve infielder will be kept and it should obviously be someone with the ability to play shortstop and because he still does have at least some potential I am currently leaning towards Drew Maggi. Also a fourth outfielder will be kept as I have mentioned earlier Dan Grovatt and Andrew Lambo will probably share left field duties so the other one will most likely be the 4th outfielder. The last two spots will go to a DH and a utility player which once again could be just about anyone. AA is really a crap shot this year.

Prediction: Charlie Cutler (C), Justin Howard (DH), Drew Maggi (IF), Dan Grovatt (OF), Andy Vasquez (U)

Starting Pitchers

Candidates: Jameson Taillon, Stolmy Pimentel, Casey Sadler, Aaron Pribanic, Tyler Waldron, Nathan Baker, Aaron Poreda, Luis Sanz, Ethan Hollingsworth, Tim Alderson, Brooks Brown

Analysis: Aside from the obvious Jameson Taillon starting the Pirates really don’t have many intriguing starting candidates so it is likely to come from the above group with the possibility of a few more non-interesting names thrown into the mix. To me the four most interesting names outside of Taillon listed are Pimentel, Sadler, Waldron and Alderson. However with only one option remaining Pimentel will probably be converted to relief, Salder appears better suited for relief, Waldron has been rumored to be moving to relief and Alderson has lost almost all of his prospect luster and doesn’t appear to be a viable starter anymore. Of those four I really only expect Sadler to start the season in the rotation. The rest of the rotation will be filled out by the minor league veterans listed and I’m sure a few more names.

Prediction: Jameson Taillon, Casey Sadler, Aaron Pribanic, Nathan Baker, Luis Sanz

Bullpen

Analysis: Aside from a few obvious names like Stolmy Pimentel and Hunter Strickland the AA bullpen like all minor league bullpens is just a guessing game. So I picked 7 players I kind of sort of liked and called it a bullpen.

Prediction: Stolmy Pimentel, Hunter Strickland, Zach Thornton, Tim Alderson, Ethan Hollingsworth, Jason Townsend, Tyler Waldron

Roster

C: Carlos Paulino

1B: Alex Dickerson

2B: Jarek Cunningham

3B: Alex Valdez

SS: Gift Ngoepe

LF: Andrew Lambo

CF: Evan Chambers

RF: Adalberto Santos

 

C: Charlie Cutler

IF: Drew Maggi

OF: Dan Grovatt

U: Andy Vasquez

DH: Justin Howard

 

SP: Jameson Taillon

SP: Casey Sadler

SP: Aaron Pribanic

SP: Nathan Baker

SP: Luis Sanz

 

RP; Ethan Hollingsworth

RP: Jason Townsend

RP: Tyler Waldron

RP: Tim Alderson

RP: Zach Thornton

RP: Hunter Strickland

RP: Stolmy Pimentel

The Dave Littlefield Eight

Five years have come and gone since Neal Huntington has taken over as the Pirates GM. I am of the opinion that when switching GMs it takes 5 full seasons before one can really say that the farm system is essentially all the doing of the current GM. So according to my theory this is the first year we can say the system is essentially all Huntington’s. However even with that being said there are eight remaining players in the Pirates farm system from the days of Dave Littlefield. Of the 8, two are solid prospects, another one is intriguing and the other 5 look like organizational filler at this point. However let me introduce you to the Dave Littlefield 8.

Emmanuel De Leon

Of the 8 players, De Leon is the toughest to get a read on. He was an international free agent signed by the Pirates late in 2007 so he never actually played in the Pirates system until the Huntington regime took over. De Leon is an interesting case because prior to last season he had only thrown 89.1 innings in 4 professional seasons and had not yet reached full season ball. De Leon spent two seasons in the DSL, barely playing in 2008 and then showing good stuff and poor command in 2009. The Pirates brought him to the states and assigned him to rookie ball in 2010 but he barely pitched only getting 7 innings the entire season. In 2011 the Pirates tried him at A- and his control was better but his strike outs took a hit. This past season the Pirates tried him at A ball and like most pitchers there this season he pitched poorly. He was eventually demoted to A- where he got better results and was later promoted back to A ball and eventually pushed up to A+ for a few appearances. The good news is his strike outs returned but the bad news is that his control suffered. De Leon is a relief pitcher at this point albeit one with a very good arm. He still has some potential but the lack of progress he has made in regards to his control makes him a project more than a legit prospect. The Pirates will probably have him pitch in A or A+ in 2013.

Andy Vasquez

Vasquez is one of only two position player prospects left from the Littlefield days. He was signed by the Pirates as an international free agent back in 2006. He was a very late signing for an international player as the Pirates signed him as a 20 year old. He made his minor league debut in 2007 getting into a handful of DSL games and showing some good plate discipline. The following year the Pirates pushed him to A- and he played decently but the plate discipline he showed in a small sample the previous year was gone. The Pirates had him split time between 2B and SS. He repeated A- the following season and was just plain bad. Because of his poor showing in 2009 the Pirates started him back at A- for a 3rd straight year in 2010. He hit better albeit in a small sample size and later was promoted to A ball on account of some injuries. He played sparingly only getting 91 AB between the two levels. In 2011 Vasquez started the year as a utility player in A ball, playing essentially every position but he managed to hit well enough that he eventually became a starter playing primarily LF but also getting time at 2B and 3B. However he continued to show no plate discipline. THe Pirates tried Vasquez in A+ in 2012 as a utility player. Once again he hit fairly well with the exception of his high strikeout and low walk totals. He got a brief promotion to AA at the end of the season. In a matter of two season Vasquez has went from looking like he would be out of baseball soon to being a very competent mid level utility player. Due to the poor results posted by most of the players at the A+ level in 2012 it is not inconceivable that Vasquez could start the year in AA perhaps even receiving regular playing time.

Eliecer Navarro

Navarro is one of 3 pitchers remaining that fit a mold that Littlefield seemed to like. He is a small left handed (5′ 9″) finese pitcher with better offspeed stuff than you typically see from lower level prospects. These types are a fairly safe bet to make it to the lower to mid levels and have a reasonable amount of success there however that is pretty much also their ceiling. Navarro was signed as an international free agent in 2006. Navarro pitched in the DSL in 2007 and 2008 showing good command and striking out a high number of batters. In 2009 the Pirates brought him to the states and assigned him to rookie ball where he continued to pitch fairly well but he didn’t strike out near as many batters. In 2010 the Pirates sent him to A- to begin his season but after 3 successful appearances he was promoted to A ball where he continued to pitch fairly well. His strike out rates bounced back some in 2010 and his control remained good. In 2011 the Pirates tried him at A+and he got hit around pretty hard. He did manage to post a decent strike out rate though and his command was still solid. THe Pirates demoted him back to A ball and he pitched well both as a reliever and a starter. Last season the Pirates tried him back at A+ and his numbers were better although his strike out rate again took a hit but it was still decent. The Pirates had him both starting and relieving but he was far more effective as a reliever. Navarro’s arsenal consists of a high 80s fastball and some good breaking stuff. He is 25 years old and is likely ticketed for AA. At this point he looks like an organizational pitcher but like with all crafty left handed relief pitchers who manage to make it to AA there is a slight chance he could see a cup of coffee in the majors as a LOOGY one day.

Jhonathan Ramos

Ramos is very similar to Navarro in that he is another small left handed pitcher (5′ 8″) with an upper 80s fastball, good breaking stuff and good results in the lower minors. Ramos was an international free agent signed in 2006 by the Pirates. Ramos started his professional career in 2007 in the VSL and spent three seasons there. His first season he showed some control issues but he improved on them greatly in the remaining seasons. He posted strong strike out rates all 3 seasons and had good overall stat lines. The Pirates aggressively promoted Ramos all the way to A ball in 2010 which was his first season playing in the states. He got hit very hard and was demoted to A-. He pitched very well there and was eventually promoted back to A ball. At both levels he displayed great control and had a decent strike out rate. In 2011 the Pirates promoted him to A+ where he originally pitched in the bullpen before joining the rotation. He struggled initially in A+ but had decent numbers although his BB/9 went up slightly and his K/9 fell off dramatically. Ramos got hurt in August and when healthy was sent to A ball where he played in one game. In 2012 the Pirates had Ramos serve as a swing pitcher for A+ and AA. he moved between the levels a few times during the course of the season. He had similar ratios at each level although his ERA was much better in AA. Like in 2011 Ramos’s control wasn’t quite as good and his strike outs were far below what he had been putting up. Ramos is an organizational pitcher and will likely once again split time between A+ and AA in 2013. Like Navarro the chance of him eventually getting a call up to the majors is slim but as a left hander that has reached AA it is feasible.

Porfiro Lopez

Lopez is the last member of the trio of short left handed finesse pitchers left over. He is 5′ 10″ tall and like the other two has an arsenal of a high 80s fastball which he offsets with a solid assortment of breaking stuff. Of the 3 he does seem to have the best velocity occasionally touching the low 90s. The Pirates signed him as an international free agent in 2007 and he spend three seasons in the DSL. In 2008 he pitched sparingly but struggled in his limited action. In 2009 he put up a great season showing great control and striking out a lot of batters. Despite his strong numbers the Pirates sent him back to the DSL for a third season in 2010 where he put up good numbers but they weren’t as good as the previous season and his walk rate rose and strike out rate dropped. The Pirates promoted him to the states in 2011 and sent him to A+ where he predictably struggled mightily getting hit hard but posting a good strike out rate. He was demoted to A ball where he split time between the bullpen and rotation and fared much better posting a lower walk rate and even a tad higher strike out rate. In 2012 the Pirates started Lopez back in A+ but shuffled him between A and A+ a fair amount. He pitched well in A+ posing a good ERA and low walk rate but struggled to strike people out. Conversely he pitched poorly in A ball posting a high walk rate and high ERA but striking batters out at a good clip. The Pirates are likely to use Lopez in a similar role in 2013 as he has the look of an organizational pitcher. If needed he could see some time at AA this season but like the previous two small left handed pitchers his ceiling looks to be a AA level organizational bullpen arm. If things break just right for him or the other two a cup of coffee as a LOOGY in the big leagues is possible but seems highly unlikely.

Eric Avila

Avila is one of the three Littlefield holdovers remaining I still consider a prospect. He was signed by the Pirates as an international free agent in 2006. Avila played three season in the DSL converting from 2B to 3B in his third season. In 2007 he got into a handful of games but played only sparingly collecting only 42 AB. In 2008 he played much more frequently and put up decent numbers but not really anything to stand out except for a low strike out rate. In 2009 he had his breakout season, hitting 9 HR and only striking out 3 more times than he walked. He finished as one of the best hitters in the DSL and was promoted to the states the following season. In 2010 the Pirates assigned him to rookie ball and he displayed power finishing tied for the lead league in home runs. On the downside his great strike out rate nearly doubled making it much more average. In 2011 the Pirates promoted him to A ball and he struggled. He didn’t strike out a ton but had trouble hitting the ball with much authority. The Pirates returned him to A ball in 2012 but this time as a utility player instead of a starter. He got hurt early in the season and basically didn’t play until June. During June and July he hit fairly well and was given a starting job in August. Avila finished the year strong hitting 8 home runs over the last 26 games and giving his prospect status a faint pulse. His strike out and walk rates were concerning as he posted 5 times the number of strike outs as walks. Avila is also a weak defender at third base meaning if he is going to have any value going forward it will have to be with his bat. With no real third base prospect blocking him Avila should get a chance to fully revive his prospect status at the A+ in 2013.

Duke Welker

Up to this point all the remaining Littlefield players have been international free agent signing but Welker was acquired by the Pirates in 2nd round of the 2007 draft. When drafted he had a low 90s fastball and an average slider. He was a bit of an injury risk and an overdraft for a 2nd round selection as scouts said with a 3rd pitch his ceiling was a #4 starter. Welker got into a few games at the A- level in 2007 and pitched well but his season was cut short due to injuries. The Pirates promoted him to A ball the following season and he was hit hard. He got worse as the season went on and his velocity was down from where it was when he was drafted. He also struggled with control and didn’t strike out many batters. In 2009 Welker repeated A level and wasn’t really any better. He wasn’t hit quite as hard as batters only hit .253 against him compared to .307 the previous season but his ERA and BB/9 both rose over the prior year. On the plus side his velocity was back in the low 90s. In 2010 the Pirates opted to try Welker a third time at A ball but this time purely as a reliever. The move appeared to work as Welker started throwing 96-98 mph out of the bullpen. His walks skyrocketed to 9.7 BB/9 but his strike out rate jumped to 10.1 K/9 and opponents hit a measly .198 against him. He was promoted to A+ midseason and pitched largely the same there. Welker opened the following season, 2011 in A+. He pitched very well there showing better control getting his walk rate down to 4.3 BB/9 but his strike out rate also fell. He was promoted to AA near the end of the season and pitched fairly well there posting a 8.1 K/9 and 0.9 BB/9 in a small sample. The Pirates somewhat surprisingly added Welker to the roster prior to the 2012 season and started him off at AA. He pitched well at AA showing good control and inducing a lot of ground balls but his strike out was just average. The Pirates promoted him to AAA where he initially struggled but by the end fo the season was pitching fairly well. Welker needs a little more polish but as a ground ball pitcher who can post average strike out rates there is a good chance we could see him in the majors some time in 2013 but he will likely start back in AAA.

Kyle McPherson

Another 2007 draft pick McPherson was selected in the 14th round. McPherson’s arsenal includes a low 90s fastball that he can get into the mid 90s, a curve and a change. His best asset is not his pitches themselves but the great control he has of them. McPherson started his professional career in rookie ball in 2007 and pitched fairly well albeit with a low strike out rate. He was promoted to A- near the end of the year and hit fairly hard in three starts. McPherson displayed his great command keeping his walk rate below 2 BB/9 at each level. The Pirates kept McPherson at the A- level for 2008 and he pitched well continuing his great command with a miniscule 0.8 BB/9 but had some home run problems as he allowed 10 of them in just 55.2 innings. The Pirates promoted him to A ball in 2009 where he split time between starting and relieving and he was mediocre posting an average ERA with giood WHIP and BB/9 rates but a low strike out rate. He was sent back down to A- where he worked exclusively as a starter and he pitched better but still with a low strike out rate. In 2010 McPherson once again started out in A ball but this time was much better posting good numbers, including a still very strong walk rate but also improving his strike out rate dramatically. He was originally used as a started but moved to relief later in the season to limit his innings. He made a few appearances at the A+ level at the end of the season and pitched very well. The Pirates surprisingly added him the 40 man roster in the offseason and then sent him to A+ in 2011. He continued his strong pitching there posting great numbers including a solid strike out rate. He was promoted to AA midseason and pitched largely the same at that level. McPherson was supposed to start the 2012 season in AAA but a shoulder injury caused him to miss some time and he eventually started back in AA. His numbers there weren’t quite as good as the year before but he still had strong strike out and walk rates. The Pirates promoted him to AAA later in the season where he made 3 excellent starts before eventually getting promoted to the major leagues. McPherson pitched well in his few outings at the major league level. Going into the 2013 season McPherson is a candidate to start the year in the MLB rotation but will most likely be sent back to AAA for a little more seasoning although he will very likely appear in the majors at some point in 2013.

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