Top Prospects 1-5
5. Luis Heredia: The Pirates signed Heredia in 2010 to the largest deal they have ever given to an international player. His signing bonus, of which 75% went to his Mexican team, was worth 2.6 million dollars. Heredia had just turned 16 but already had a 92 mph fastball and good command of his change up two things very rarer for a player so young. In addition to his fastball and change up Heredia also throws a slider and curve but those still need quite a lot of work. The Pirates have hopes his curve ball will improve as he matures and hope that as he ages he will add more velocity. Heredia has been compared by some scouts to Felix Hernandez and is said to have the highest upside of any player in the Pirates organization. He is no doubt a special talent. The Pirates have opted for an aggressive path with Heredia sending him to rookie ball in his first professional season as a 16 year old. Heredia pitched fairly well in rookie ball but did show some control issues. His overall stat line doesn’t look great but when you put it in context of how young he is and how different the environment must be for him it becomes much more encouraging. Heading into the 2012 season the Pirates opted to continue to push Heredia this time sending the 17 year old to A- where he would face competition that was largely 4-5 years older than himself. Heredia had an outstanding season with a 2.71 ERA and 1.10 WHIP. He showed much better control and was inducing a large percentage of ground balls by keeping his fastball low in the zone. The strike outs weren’t there but as of right now that is really a minor point for him. Heredia will certainly be aggressively placed again next season where he will probably play A ball. The Pirates may choose to hold him out of action for a month or so though in order to keep his innings under control. Going forward Heredia is a must watch in the Pirates organization and his ceiling is sky-high.
4. Alen Hanson: Hanson was signed by the Pirates as an international free agent in 2009 and is largely viewed as the consolation prize for their failure to sign Miguel Sano. Hanson has a small build but surprisingly good power. He also runs very well and has shown solid range defensively at shortstop. Still his arm is a little weak so some scouts believe that long term Hanson is probably destined for 2B but the Pirates seem intent on giving him a chance at SS. Hanson played the 2010 season at the DSL level and had a great season. He showed off his great speed, his good contact ability and flashed some gap power. He didn’t play any shortstop though. The Pirates brought Hanson to the states the following season and had him play shortstop at the rookie level. Hanson got off to hot start posting an OPS over 1.300 in June but he cooled down some as the year went on. Hanson had an overall very solid season in rookie ball posting a .781 OPS. His defensive play at shortstop was decent but he certainly showed his flaws at the position. The Pirates gave him a taste of the A- level near the end of the season and like it usually does it was the precursor to a promotion to A ball in 2012. Hanson started the season on fire quickly garnering a lot of attention from fans in Pittsburgh something that is very difficult for a prospect in A ball to do. His hot streak lasted from basically April to June before he finally started cooling off in July. Even then Hanson responded with a very nice finish to give him an overall OPS of .909. He displayed good power hitting 16 home runs and continued making good contact. He also had a fairly decent walk rate but on the downside did strike out a ton. The weakest area of his game was no doubt his defense as he committed 40 errors on the season. He did improve defensively as the season went along though so that is a plus. The only other real negative with Hanson in 2012 was that his stealing efficiency took a hit as he was successful only 65% of the time. Scouts who think Hanson can stick at shortstop would probably be quick to put him very high in the overall prospect rankings but scouts who think he’ll eventually have to move will probably still have him around 60 overall. Hanson’s speed, bat and the outside possibility he sticks at shortstop makes him on of the most interesting prospects in the Pirates system. He will probably play next season at A+ where he’ll face two questions can he continue to hit and can he stick at shortstop.
3. Gregory Polanco: Polanco was another 2009 international signing by the Pirates. At the time he was signed Polanco was a great athlete who had excellent speed and the arm necessary to play center field. The Pirates also viewed him as a player who could potential add power as he filled out. Polanco actually got to play in 2009, the year he was signed and the Pirates sent him to the DSL. Polanco had a nice season at the level but it wasn’t anything spectacular. Still the Pirates had seen enough of him that they decided to bring him to the states the following season. Polanco played at the rookie level in 2010 and struggled with the only real positive being that he showed off an excellent base stealing ability by going 19/21 in steal attempts. Polanco also showed a touch of power but overall it was still a poor performance as he barely walked and his strike out totals were much higher than you’d expect from a speedy center field type. The Pirates had Polanco repeat the level in 2011 and while at first glance it appears Polanco didn’t show too much improvement he actually did. Polanco’s average only rose to .237 but he showed a much better eye at the plate, nearly tripling his walk total from the previous season and also cutting down on his number of strike outs. He also had a perfect season stealing bases and showed off his great arm by recording 8 assists. The Pirates promoted Polanco to A- near the end of the season and promoted him to A ball for the start of 2012. Polanco got off to a solid start but no where near what Hanson did but Polanco managed to keep improving as the season went along as he posted a .822 OPS in the first half and a 1.030 OPS in the second half. For the season his OPS was a tick better than Hanson’s at .910. Polanco had many positives in his season including breaking out the power by belting 16 HR and continuing to show improvements in plate discipline and also cutting down even more on his strike out rate. Also another positive and why I actually have him rated above Hanson is that Polanco leaves little doubt that he will be able to stick at his important defensive position of center field. The only real knock one can make against Polanco’s 2012 season is that his base stealing efficiency took a hit but even so it was still above 70% which is at least an acceptable rate. Polanco is the highest rated position player in the Pirate system and will play next season for the Pirates A+ affiliate and should be the everyday center fielder. Like Hanson the big question surrounding Polanco is can he continue to produce as he moves up the ladder.
2. Jameson Taillon: Taillon was drafted by the Pirates with the 2nd overall pick in the 2010 draft. Huntington’s selection of him says something about the upside he has as it is well noted Huntington prefers to take high school pitchers in numbers later on in the draft over taking one in the first round. Coming out of high school Taillon was already a very polished product throwing a fastball in the mid 90s and having such a good curve ball that one scout said it would amongst the best in baseball right now. There were some concerns about him though mainly that he tended to elevate his fastball and that his change up still had a ton of development needed. Taillon is frequently compared to Josh Beckett and certainly possess ace potential. The Pirates gave Taillon 6.25 million dollars to sign which was the largest signing bonus in the draft, even more than what Harper received. Taillon was an overslot signing so he signed late which means he wasn’t able to make his professional debut until 2011. Taillon opened the 2011 season in extended spring training to keep his innings down but then was aggressively pushed to A ball. Taillon’s numbers weren’t overwhelming but they were still solid. The Pirates had him working almost solely on fastball command which is a strategy they use a lot with younger pitchers in the low minors and in the case of Taillon who had a tendency to elevate his fastball it was probably a good idea. The Pirates sent Taillon to A+ to begin the 2012 season and he started off strong posting a 1.69 ERA in the first month. However Taillon was not good after his hot start, make no mistake he wasn’t bad either but just not good. He didn’t really allow a lot of baserunners as evident by his 1.17 WHIP but his strike out rate dropped and when he was hit he tended to be hit fairly hard. Near the end of the season the Pirates promoted Taillon to AA where he made 3 starts all in dominating fashion. The good news with Taillon is that his stuff is great and that he has fairly good command of the strike zone leading to a low walk rate. Taillon’s change up also seems to be coming along rather nicely. All in all he is developing nicely but the fact he looked rather ordinary in A+ for most of the season is a little concerning. If things break just right for Taillon it is possible he could see the major leagues by the end of the 2013 season but more likely he’ll start the year back in AA with a midseason promotion to AAA. Taillion has shown all the tools the Pirates probably wanted him to show so now all he really needs to do is put up the results.
1. Gerrit Cole: The Pirates drafted Cole first overall in the 2011 draft. The 2011 draft was a bit of an odd year as no player really stood out as being the clear number one choice. Cole was one of many players the Pirates considered with the 1st overall pick and he by far wasn’t the most major league ready or safest choice of the bunch. There were some concerns surrounding Cole coming out of college. The biggest concern by far was that he wasn’t really a great college pitcher. Cole had the highest ERA of any starting pitcher on his college staff in both 2010 and 2011 and luck didn’t seem to be a larger factor as his peripheral numbers were also amongst the worst on those staffs. Cole’s problem stems from weak control. He tends to throw strikes but on occasion has a difficult time putting the ball where he wants in the strike zone. With all those negatives being said it should be obvious there must be a ton of positives surrounding Cole and that is correct. Cole probably has the highest ceiling of any player in the 2011 draft and his upside is often compared to Justin Verlander. Cole’s arsenal includes a two seam fastball he throws in the low 90s, a four seem fastball he throws in the uppers 90s (and it touches 100) and a slider and change up that are regarded as plus pitches. I seen him in person on several occasions and the one thing he has in common with Verlander is that he throws harder late in games. There is no doubt Cole has the upside to not only be an ace but one of if not the best pitcher in baseball. The Pirates signed Cole on deadline day last year for 8 million dollars. The late signing meant he missed the 2011 season so he didn’t make his debut until this past season. Cole started his pro career in A+ and predictably had very little difficulty there. The Pirates promoted him to AA midseason and he ran into some difficulty. His numbers were still very good but he was running his pitch count up quickly so he wasn’t going deep into games. Cole settled down near the end of the season and was sent to AAA where he made one regular season start and one playoff start. His regular season start was mediocre and his playoff start was terrible. For the season Cole showed improvements in his main weaknesses and all of his pitches seemed to have taken a step forward. He still has a little work to do but he will hopefully be ready to help the Pirates at the major league level by midseason.