Borderline Relief Pitcher Prospects (Grade C-)
Jeff Inman: Going into the 2009 season, Jeff Inam was considered a potential first round talent by some scouts. However he suffered a shoulder injury which dropped his status and allowed the Pirates to pick him in the 12th round. They signed Iman for $425,000 which of course was overslot. Inman managed to pitch 4 innings below the close of 2009 and looked to be healthy getting his fastball up to the mid 90s (it was down in the low 80s before he was shut down in college). Unfortunately an elbow problem prevented him from playing at all in 2010. In 2011 he was sent to A+ and got some work as a starter, he was doing very well but then once again in May he was sidelined with an elbow injury and missed most of the rest of the season. This season Inman didn’t start out playing at any level but was assigned to A+ during the season and pitched very well in 9.2 innings out of the bullpen before being promoted to AA. At AA he continued to pitch very well and managed to remain healthy for the entire season. The only downside of all of this is that Inman’s strike out rates are not great and for a pitcher with his stuff they should be better. Inman obviously has some talent and could make a decent relief pitcher in the majors but the bi question mark about him is his health.
Tim Alderson: Alderson is the prospect that just keeps hanging on. The Pirates acquired him from the Giants in the 2009 trade of Freddy Sanchez. At the time he was considered a very good pitching prospect but his stock was beginning to slip a little bit. He performed decently for the Pirates in AA the remained of the season but before the 2010 season the Pirates and Alderson decided to try to change him back to his old delivery. The experiment was a disaster and Alderson put up some awful numbers. At the start of the 2011 season the Pirates decided to send Alderson back to AA once more but this time pitch him out of the bullpen. At first it seemed to work well Alderson was pitching better and had regained his low 90s velocity but as the year went on his results and velocity both slipped. This past season the Pirates assigned Alderson back to AA to pitch a 4th straight season at the level. Once again he began the year in the bullpen and once again he started off pitching well. He pitched so well in fact that the Pirates gave him a few starts and even promoted him to AAA for a short while. Oddly enough despite this being his 4th year of AA, Alderson upon being promoted to AAA was the youngest player on the Pirates AAA roster. After being sent back to AA Alderson missed some time with an injury and when he returned he once again struggled to finish out the year. He did show improvement this season and at 24 years old will still amazingly not be old for the AA level next season but time is certainly working against him at this point.
Jason Townsend: Townsend is one of those prospects that there is just something about him that makes me like him more than most other people. He was drafted by the Pirates in the 31st round of the 2010 draft and was just your typical late round selection so the Pirates didn’t go overslot to sign him. He played the 2010 season at the A- and showed great stuff with a 97 mph fastball but he displayed poor control. The Pirates promoted him to A ball the following season and he pitched much better. He still wasn’t as dominating as a guy with his stuff should be and his velocity dipped some but he still pitched well. This past season the Pirates sent him to the A+ bullpen and Townsend had another solid season. Unfortunately though his velocity stayed in the low 90s and his strike out rate fell even more, making his performance good but not dominating. He was promoted to AA and got into a few games but with largely the same results, meaning he pitched well but didn’t particularly stand out. As a power reliever Townsend needs to post a dominating stat line to be taken serious as a relief prospect. Even though Townsend really hasn’t had that big breakout season yet to establish himself as a good relief prospect there is still something about him I like but in order to be taken serious Townsend will need to start showing more hopefully as soon as this upcoming season.
Dalton Friend: The Pirates drafted Friend in the 12th round of the 2012 draft. He seems to be a rather interesting prospect as he is left hander with good velocity. His fastball is said to sit at 95 mph although it wasn’t there this past season but he missed nearly all of 2011 with a shoulder injury so that very well may be the cause of his drop in velocity. After signing with the Pirates Friend pitched for the Pirates class A- affiliate. His first appearance was awful but he seemed to settle down after that and pitched very well the remainder of the season. His future going forward is likely as a fastball/curveball lefty relief pitcher and he has the stuff to be a very good one. The Pirates had Friend start the season off throwing short relief appearances but appeared to be stretching him out near the end of the season so it is possible they want him to be a starter next season. If that is the case that is a good sign for Friend as that would mean the Pirates probably view him as at least a good prospect. He will likely go to a full season level next season and with a good showing he could establish himself as a real prospect.
John Kuchno: I’m really not sure what to think about Kuchno. The Pirates drafted him in the 17th round of this past draft and there was little to no attention paid to him until the Pirates signed him late into the signing period for slightly over slot. The Pirates evidently view him as at least some sort of prospect and there is some reason there as he has a good fastball and a good curve. His numbers in college were decent but not really outstanding so that leaves me to believe he is more a project the Pirates see some potential in. His late signing meant he didn’t get to pitch for the Pirates too much but he did get 5 innings at the A- level and he showed good stuff getting a lot of strike outs but he also was a little wild issuing a fair number of walks. Like most pitches this low in the minors Kuchno could probably start or pitch out of the bullpen next season but his stuff appears to be better suited for a relief role so my guess is the Pirates will take that route with him. The Pirates evidently see something in him so Kuchno is one to watch headed into next season.
Pat Ludwig: The Pirates drafted Ludwig in the 10th round of the 2012 as a signability pick to save money presumably for Appel. He received a signing bonus of only 5,000 considerably less than the 125,000 slotted for his spot. Still Ludwig showed good stuff in college posting a high K rate and is evidently a fairly smart fellow considering the Pirates drafted him out of Yale. Even with all that had Ludwig performed poorly after signing with the Pirates he would probably just be an afterthought right now but he went to the A- level and pitched outstandingly well. He showed great command and managed to post a good strike out rate while limiting hitters to a .196 average against him. The Pirates gave Ludwig a small taste of A ball near the end of the season and he continued to pitch well, even upping his strikeout rate. Ludwig’s results this season makes him an interesting one to watch, if he continues pitching like he did this season he should be viewed as a legit relief prospect regardless of the reason the Pirates drafted him. He seems relatively advanced for a college pitcher so the Pirates could try him at the A+ level next season.
Ryan Beckman: I almost didn’t include Beckman here but then I thought that since I included Inman here I had to include him. Beckman was drafted by the Pirates in the 18th round of the 2009 draft. The Pirates allowed him to pitch a lot of innings at the rookie level in 2009 and his results weren’t impressive. The Pirates moved him up to the A- level the following season and he pitched better but by no means did he put up great numbers. I should note at this point Beckman was a ground ball pitcher but evidently he changed something before the 2011 season. Beckman started the 2011 season at the A level but was quickly promoted to the A+ level. There he served as the closer and pitched substantially better than he had at any point in his pro career. He started allowing more fly balls but with that came a big bump to his K rate. The Pirates had him change his arm slot at some point so maybe that can be attributed to his quick change in pitching styles but whatever it was it made a sneaky breakout candidate for the 2012 season. Unfortunately that was not to be. Beckman started the 2012 season at the AA level but injured his elbow in his first outing and required Tommy John surgery which put him out for the rest of the season. Beckman’s sudden change in 2011 makes him interesting to watch but he will likely miss the first few months of next season with the injury as well.