1. Gerrit Cole
Expected 2013 Level: AAA
Bio: The Pirates selected Gerrit Cole with the 1st overall pick in the 2011 draft and gave him an 8 million dollar signing bonus. Cole is a work horse starting pitcher who has a fastball that sits in the high 90s and regularly touches 100. He also has a good arsenal of secondary pitches including a two seam fastball, a change up, a curve and a slider (the change up is his best secondary pitch). Cole’s upside is a true ace someone who takes the ball every fifth day and gives their team an excellent chance to win nearly all of their starts. Cole does have some issues though as he has a tendency to elevate his fastball which led to him getting hit harder than one would expect in college. Cole had a good professional debut in 2012 and is expected to receive a little more polishing in AAA in 2013 before ultimately joining the Pirates.
2. Jameson Taillon
Expected 2013 Level: AA
Bio: Taillon was selected by the Pirates with the second overall pick in the 2010 draft. There are quite a few similarities between him and Cole. Both pitchers have plus fastballs and a good assortment of secondary pitches to back up but both also have the knock on them of elevating their fastball too much and being hit around a little. Taillon is younger than Cole and as such is not as far as long in his development as Cole but make no mistake he has the same upside as Cole which is a number one pitcher. Taillon’s fastball is likely a hair slower than Cole’s and his best secondary pitch is his curve whereas for Cole it is his changeup. In 2011 Taillon started the year off in A ball and he pitched well although his stats were not dominating as the Pirates mainly had him working on fastball command. In 2012 he was sent to A+ and once again he pitched well but not dominating, he was however very impressive in a short stint in AA at the end of the year. Taillon will start the year in AA and will like get a mid season promotion to AAA at some point.
3. Luis Heredia
Expected 2013 Level: A
Bio: Heredia was signed by the Pirates as an international free agent in 2010 for 2.6 million dollars. He turned 18 years old near the end of the 2012 season and is extremely polished for his age. He has good command of his fastball which sat in the lower 90s when he was signed but is now in the middle 90s. His offspeed pitches are still a work in progress but scouts seem to believe they are developing nicely. Heredia started the 2011 season in rookie ball and handled himself quite well going up against competition that was mainly 2-3 years older than him. The Pirates pushed him to A- in 2012 and he had an oustanding season. He had a stellar ERA but on the downside didn’t strike many people out but given his developing offspeed stuff that is not really surprising. The Pirates are likely going to push him to A ball this season but will closely monitor his innings.
4. Kyle McPherson
Expected 2013 Level: AAA
Bio: McPherson was drafted by the Pirates in the 14th round of the 2011 draft making him one of the few leftover Littlefield prospects remaining in the Pirates system. Unlike the three pitchers above him McPherson does not have an ace potential but what he does have is some major league experience and a bit more certainty surrounding the fact that he will become a solid major league pitcher. McPherson is slated to compete for a rotation job in Spring Training but will likely head back to AAA to begin the season as he only has three career starts at that level. His upside is probably that of a #3 starter who eats innings. His arsenal is solid with a low 90s fastball that he can put a little extra on, a changeup and a curve. McPherson’s best asset though is his good control. McPherson is very likely to see the major leagues at some point this season.
5. Nicholas Kingham
Expected 2013 Level: A+
Bio: Kingham was drafted by the Pirates in the 4th round of the 2010 draft. He fit the standard mold of a tall projectable right handed pitcher that Neal Huntington and his staff appear to love drafting. To date Kingham has probably been the most successful of all those types of pitchers taken and signed by the Pirates. Kingham’s ceiling is likely not that of an ace but he could still make for a solid front of the rotation arm and slot in nicely as a #2. His arsenal includes a low 90s fastball with good movement, a solid change and a curve that is currently a work in progress. The Pirates had Kingham make his pro debut in 2010 but he didn’t pitch much so his first extended taste came in 2011 when he pitched at the A- level in 2011. He performed very well which earned him a 2012 promotion to A ball. At first glance his 2012 numbers in A ball appear poor but that is mainly due to a high ERA as his secondary numbers show he had a fairly nice season. The Pirates are going to try Kingham at A+ and he is a popular breakout pick.
6. Clayton Holmes
Expected 2013 Level: A
Bio: The Pirates selected Holmes in the 9th round of the 2012 draft and while he was overshadowed by Cole and Bell his 1.2 million dollar signing bonus was a record for any player taken in the 9th round. Holmes is another one of these tall projectable right handers that Huintington’s seems to like as his fastball sits in the low 90s and his secondary pitches show signs of being solid but need work. Due to his large signing bonus Holme’s signing was not approved until the deadline so he did not appear in any games in 2011. The Pirates had Holmes make his professional debut in 2012 at the A- level and he pitched extremely well but was overshadowed by Heredia. Holmes overall numbers were good but he did show some control problems plus he also has a bit of an unortodox delivery which could prove to be a problem going forward. Right now though Holmes good 2012 campaign has him amongst the Pirates top prospects.
7. Tyler Glasnow
Expected 2013 Level: A
Bio: Glasnow was selected in the 5th round of the 2011 draft and is you guessed it a tall projectable right handed pitcher. He, as most of the rest do, throws a low 90s fastball and has a secondary arsenal which includes a curve, change and slider which has the potential to be solid in the future. Glasnow did not pitch for the Pirates in 2011 but made his debut for them in 2012 in rookie ball. He pitched extremely well, striking out a lot of batters, which is something most Pirates pitchers did not do in the lowest levels, and he touched 96 with his fastball. The Pirates gave Glasnow a few appearances in A- near the end of the year which is usually a sign that they are considering trying him in A ball the following year. The Pirates will probably place him there at some point but like Heredia and Holmes they will be monitoring his innings closely so starting out in extended spring training is a possibility.
8. Justin Wilson
Expected 2013 Level: AAA
Bio: The Pirates selected Wilson in the 5th round of the 2008 draft and shortly after his selection he received some attention for his performance in the College World Series. Wilson has the stuff to be a good #2 pitcher in a rotation and has made it all the way to AAA but yet he has been held back because of not being able to control his stuff that well. Wilson has a fastball that sits in the mid 90s and can touch the upper 90s and he compliments it with a curve and a slider which are fairly solid pitches as well. He generates a lot of strikeouts and is tough to hit but he also tends to walk a lot of batters which tends to hurt his overall results. His control problems have plagued him all through his minor league career. The Pirates have tried him both at starting and relieving and it is not clear what they will have him do in 2013. Wilson could start the year off in the majors in the bullpen but will most likely be sent back to AAA to work on his control.
9. Bryan Morris
Expected 2013 Level: MLB
Bio: Bryan Morris is the last piece remaining from the Jason Bay deal. When the Pirates originally acquired him he was touted as a starting pitching prospect but once he got to AA that stalled and the Pirates opted to move him to the bullpen. The move to relief proved to be a good thing for Morris as he has pitched exceptionally well since being moved in 2011. Morris finished 2011 strong out of the bullpen and was promoted to AAA to begin the 2012 season. Morris pitched very well out of the bullpen in 2012 but was surprisingly not called up by the Pirates until September. Morris’s arsenal consists of a mid 90s fastball, a very good curve and an average change up. He is out of options heading into 2013 so even though he has not really been given a chance to establish himself as a major league reliever the Pirates will almost certainly start him off in the majors instead of waiving him and risk losing him.
10. Victor Black
Expected 2013 Level: AAA
Bio: The Pirates drafted Black with the 49th overall pick in 2009 which they received for their failure to sign Tanner Scheppers the year before. The Pirates drafted Black as a started but even at that time most scouts saw him as a potential late inning reliever rather than a starter. Black pitched a few innings in 2009 in A- and then opened 2010 in A ball but missed most of the season due to a shoulder injury. During the 2010 offseason the Pirates decided to switch Black to a relief pitcher and then sent him to A ball to begin the 2011 year. Black struggled but was for some reason promoted to A+ where he continued to struggle. In 2012 the Pirate surprisingly pushed Black to AA where he stayed healthy all season and had a breakout year. His fastball sat in the mid 90s occasionally going into the upper 90s and he proved to be mostly unhittable. He did walk a few too many but the stuff he displayed is characteristic of a dominating back of the bullpen reliever. Black will start the year in AAA but could be called up to the majors fairly quickly and might ultimately assume the closer role.
1. Gregory Polanco
Expected 2013 Level: A+
Bio: Polanco was signed by the Pirates as an international free agent in 2009 for the small sum of $75,000. His career started off slowly as he really did very little, aside from being a great base stealer, to stick out during his first three professional seasons. That all changed in 2012 though as Polanco displayed all of that five tool potential he was said to possess. Polanco has some real power in his bat and has so far kept his strike outs under control also he has the speed and range necessary to stick in center field for the long haul.
2. Alen Hanson
Expected 2013 Level: A+
Bio: Hanson was an international free agent signed by the Pirates in 2009 for $150,000. Some say he was a consolation prize for the Pirates failure to sign Miguel Sano. In 2011 Hanson had a solid showing in rookie ball during his first year in the Unites States so the Pirates pushed him to A ball in 2012. Hanson broke out in a big way absolutely crushing the ball for the first few months of the season. He did cool down a little but was still hitting at a high level. Hanson has an oustanding bat and has decent range at the shortstop position but some scouts question whether he has the arm to stick at the position but either way his bat will play.
3. Josh Bell
Expected 2013 Level: A
Bio: Bell was drafted by the Pirates in the second round of the 2011 draft straight out of high school. He was said to be a tough sign and proved so as the Pirates gave him a 5 million dollar signing bonus, a record for a non first round pick, to break his commitment to Texas. Bell is said to possess great power and is probably the Pirates best power hitting prospect in the system. The Pirates aggressively pushed Bell to A ball in 2012 but he suffered a knee injury early in the year which ended up costing him most of the season. Bell has the athletic ability to stick in the outfield but if his knee proves to be a problem he also has the power to move to first base.
4. Barrett Barnes
Expected 2013 Level: A+
Bio: Barnes was drafted by the Pirates in the 2012 draft with the supplemental pick they received for losing Ryan Doumit. Barnes is a center fielder but some scouts question whether he has the arm to stick there but even if he doesn’t stick he has some good power potential and good speed so a shift to left field should be no issue. Barnes also shown good plate discipline in his college career which will offset any potential problems he may have with keeping his average up. The Pirates started him off in A- in 2012 and he got off to a slow start but really heated up and finished the year with a very solid line. THe Pirates like to push advanced college players to A+ in their first full professional season so Barnes will likely go there but with Polanco also there he will probably be forced to slide over to left field.
5. Dilson Herrera
Expected 2013 Level: A
Bio: Herrera was an international free agent signed by the Pirates in 2010 for a signing bonus $220,000. The Pirates started him off in the VSL in 2011 and he played very well with the only knock being a few too many strike outs. The Pirates aggressively promoted him to the states for 2012 and he continued hitting well posting a .823 OPS in rookie ball. Herrera was originally announced as a shortstop but really doesn’t have the range or speed to play there so the Pirates have been using him as a second baseman, which is a position he should have little trouble handling going forward. He has shown flashes of power, decent speed and average plate discipline. Herrera is a popular pick to break out in 2013.
6. Tony Sanchez
Expected 2013 Level: AAA
Bio: Sanchez was drafted by the Pirates with the 4th overall pick in 2009. He was definitely an overdraft but the Pirates felt none of the other players (mainly high school pitchers) really stood out so they went with a safe first round choice and went with tough signs in later rounds. The strategy hasn’t worked but that is another story. Sanchez’s pro career actually got off to a great start in 2009 and 2012 but then he got hit in the face with a pitch and broke his jaw. He has not really produced good numbers since then. Sanchez doesn’t have a big upside but he looks like a relatively safe bet to be a productive major league catcher. He is strong defensively behind the plate and has a little bit of power in his bat. He profiles as at least a strong backup and if his bats develops he could be an average starting catcher.
7. Wyatt Mathisen
Expected 2013 Level: A
Bio: The Pirates selected Mathisen with their second round pick in the 2012 draft. He was drafted as a catcher but because of his athletic ability actually spent most of his high school career as a shortstop. Mathisen has very little experience behind the plate but he does have the tools needed to become a solid defensive catcher and he also has a good bat which makes him the Pirates best hope for a strong two-way catcher. Mathisen started the 2012 season in rookie ball splitting time between catching and DHing. He showed a good arm throwing out 36% of would be base stealers and also hit fairly well. The Pirates have a tough choice with Mathisen as to whether to push him to A ball to begin the year or hold him back to A- and give him more time to develop as a catcher.
8. Alex Dickerson
Expected 2013 Level: AA
Bio: Dickerson was the third Baseball America top 50 draft prospect drafted by the Pirates in 2011. Dickerson fell to the Pirates in the third round of that draft because teams were concerned about his back but Dickerson can no doubt hit as he won the Big 10 triple crown as a sophomore. He played outfield in college but really didn’t have the defense to stick there so the Pirates moved him to first base where they are hoping he will realize his power potential and have the bat to stick at the position. The Pirates started Dickerson off at A- in 2011 and he hit well but as an advanced college player that was to be expected. The Pirates pushed Dickerson to A+ in 2012 and once again he hit well but he really didn’t show much power which is a bit concerning for an all bat college prospect. Dickerson did nicely adapt to first base however and the power is still there he just needs to realize it.
9. Jose Osuna
Expected 2013 Level: A+
Bio: Osuna was signed as an international free agent by the Pirates in 2009 for $250,000. He was signed as an outfielder by the Pirates have been slowly transitioning him to a first baseman and that is the position he played all of last season. Osuna showed some good power in the VSL during 2010 which earned him a promotion to the states in 2011, there he continued hitting well. The strong performance in rookie ball caused the Pirates to aggressively push him to A ball in 2012 where he put up a solid hitting line while showing good improvement defensively at first base. Osuna had pretty much an average year except for one fairly long hot streak in June. He didn’t dominate the level in 2012 but he played very well for a 19 year old at the level so the Pirates will almost surely move him up.
10. Willy Garcia
Expected 2013 Level: A
Bio: Garcia was signed as an international free agent by the Pirates in 20120 for a signing bonus of $280,000. Garcia made his professional debut in the DSL in 2010 and fared pretty well which was enough to earn him a promotion to the United States. In 2011 he played rookie ball and started off slowly before finishing the year strongly. The strong finish was enough for him to earn a promotion to A ball in 2012. Garcia played the year as a 19 year old and held his own but overall really didn’t perform that well. Garcia did show off some good power by belting 18 home runs and he also possess decent speed and solid defense so the talent is still definitely there. Garcia actually finished the year worse than he started the year which is why the Pirates are likely to hold him back in A ball in 2013.
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.
Top Prospects 6-10
10. Kyle McPherson: McPherson was taken by the Pirates in the 14th round of the 2007 making him one of the few Littlefield selections remaining on the list. McPherson’s strength is his ability to command the strike zone and his stuff is fairly good as well. He can get his fastball up into the mid 90s although it sits in the low 90s and he has a pretty good curve and change up to complement it. He is a fly ball pitcher so he can be susceptible to the home run. McPherson started his pro career in 2007 down in rookie ball and pitched how you would expect a college pitcher to pitch against high schoolers. The good performance earned him a taste at A- where he didn’t fare so well in 3 starts. McPherson returned to A- in 2008 and pitched fairly well except he left up a lot of home runs. The Pirates started McPherson out in extended Spring Training to begin the 2009 season and then eventually sent him to A ball. He pitched decently there, even cutting down on his home runs. While his performance was decent it must not have satisfied the Pirates as surprisingly once A- started playing they sent him back to that level but this time around he pitched very well. In 2010 McPherson once again started the season in A ball but this time he was a much different pitcher. His strike out rate rose significantly and his numbers drastically improved. He received a promotion to A+ near the end of the season and was outstanding in two relief appearances. The Pirates surprisingly added him to the 40 man roster in the offseason. He opened 2011 in A+ and made the Pirates decision look like a good one as he made 12 very good starts before being promoted to AA and he continued to pitch well there. McPherson was slated to begin the 2012 season in AAA but a shoulder injury caused the Pirates to hold him back and then start him back in AA. His numbers were worse than the previous season but still fairly good, surprisingly he stayed at the AA level until August. Once promoted to AAA McPherson rolled off 3 great starts which led to a promotion to the majors. McPherson pitched well in his time with the big club and is a candidate to start 2013 in the Pirates rotation. Whether he is with the Pirates to begin the season or not expect to see McPherson make quite a few starts for the Pirates next season.
9. Clay Holmes: Holmes was drafted by the Pirates in the 9th round of the 2011 draft. He was yet another tall (6’5″) projectable right handed pitcher, the type this Pirates staff just seems to love selecting. Holmes has a fastball that sits in the low 90s, a slider which shows signs of being a plus pitch and of course like most high school pitchers he is in the process of developing a change up. The one knock on him was his delivery which was said to be erratic leading a lot of scouts to believe he would be a project. Holmes appeared to be a tough sign for the Pirates but on the last day they agreed to sign him for a 9th round record of 1.2 million. Holmes signed to late to see any action in 2011 so he made his pro debut this past season at the A- level. Holmes pitched very well at this level limiting batters to a .176 average against him. He had a sparkling 2.28 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. On the down side though he failed to strike many batters out and had some control problems posting a 4.4 BB/9. The control problems were not a constant problem though as a lot of his outings were fine but he had a few where it looked like he could barely throw a strike at all. Holmes has a huge amount of upside but is still a very raw product. The fact he wasn’t missing many bats is slightly concerning but he is still young enough that not too much should be read into that. Holmes will probably open the season in A ball and what to watch for is if he can show better command in his second year as a professional pitcher, if he does Holmes could climb higher on the prospect charts.
8. Nicholas Kingham: Kingham was drafted by the Pirates in the 4th round of the 2010 draft. At this point he is essentially Clay Holmes but one year further along in development. Kingham is another tall projectable right hander who throws in the low 90s and has an assortment of high potential secondary pitches. For Kingham that includes a decent looking change up and a curve that is still a little raw. Kingham made a couple of brief relief appearances in rookie ball in 2010, he pitched well but it was only a 3 inning sample size. The Pirates promoted him to A- the following season and he pitched well posting a 2.15 ERA and 1.10 WHIP. On the downside like Holmes this year Kingham didn’t strike a lot of guys out but did manage to show good control. Kingham was able to post 6 wins which is fairly rare for a low level starting pitcher because they typically aren’t allowed to pitch the 5 innings needed to qualify. The Pirates opted to send Kingham to A ball to begin 2012 and he had sort of an odd season there. He posted a 4.39 ERA which would indicate his performance was just average but his peripherals tell a different story as he saw a bump in his strike out rate to 8.3 K/9, kept his walks under control and kept his WHIP at a low 1.19. Kingham had a slow start to the season posting a 5.22 ERA in the first half but finished strong with a 1.68 ERA over his last 9 starts. He was a popular pick in 2012 to have a breakout season and while he didn’t he did show many good signs that he was developing as a pitcher and that will probably once again make him a popular break out pick going into the 2013 season. Kingham should open at the A+ level and is certainly one who has the potential to quickly elevate his prospect status.
7. Barrett Barnes: The Pirates drafted Barnes in the 2012 draft with the supplemental pick they received for Ryan Doumit signing with the Twins. Barnes signed with the Pirates for slightly below slot but was not an overdraft as he was taken with 45th overall selection and rated the 41st best prospect overall by Baseball America. Barnes is an interesting player as scouts are split on whether he profiles best as a corner outfielder or a center fielder. The Pirates for now are using him as center fielder but that could change as quickly as next season. The case for him being a center fielder is that he is sound defensively there and has good speed, he isn’t a burner but he does run well. The case for him being a corner outfielder is that he doesn’t really have the arm to be a good center fielder and that he projects to add power. Barnes is said to have excellent bat speed and while there are some who question if he will be able to hit for a high average the consensus is that he has excellent plate discipline and would make up for short comings int he average department with a very strong walk rate. In college Barnes didn’t steal a lot of bases but was very efficient when he decided to steal. The Pirates sent Barnes to A- where he struggled initially before settling in and really having a very nice season. Barnes put up a very solid .857 OPS for the season. Barnes did suffer a leg injury late in the season that caused him to miss most of the final month but it isn’t expected to have long term impact. The Pirates typically send advanced college hitters like Barnes to A+ in their first full season of pro ball so expect him to start there. If he does it will likely be as a corner outfielder as center fielder figures to be occupied.
6. Josh Bell: Bell was drafted by the Pirates in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft. The Pirates gave him a staggering 5 million dollars to break his commitment to Texas in what can sort of be considered the final straw that led to the revamping of the draft process. Bell projects defensively as a solid corner outfielder and his speed is only considered average. Where Bell’s value lies is with his bat. He is considered to have plus all around hitting skills and plus power. He is almost without debate the Pirates best power prospect. At the time he was drafted he was considered to be a very difficult sign because of a letter he sent to teams urging them not to draft him. The Pirates were of course successful in persuading him to sign with them. Bell didn’t get to make his pro debut in 2011 but he was aggressively assigned to A ball to begin 2012. Bell started off slow but held his own for a high schooler going straight to full season ball as he hit .274 and slugged .403. He did have a big strike out problem though. After only 62 AB Bell suffered a knee injury while sliding into second. The injury required surgery and while there was hope he would be back before the end of the season his recovery didn’t go well and he missed the rest of the year. The Pirates are expecting Bell to be ready to go by the start of Spring Training but the knee injury is a real concern at this point. As far as his brief performance goes nothing can really be garnered by it as it was so small of a sample. The Pirates will undoubtedly be careful with Bell and will probably send him back to A ball when they determine the knee to be fully healed.
Top Prospects 11-15
15. Justin Wilson: The Pirates drafted Wilson in the 5th round of the 2008 draft. Shortly after being drafted he gained some attention for his performance in the College World Series. He didn’t appear in a game in 2008 but made his debut in 2009. The Pirates aggressively pushed him to A+ and at first he appeared overmatched but he improved as the year went along and finished the year strong. He showed some control issues but on the positive side he missed some bats. The Pirates promoted him to AA in 2010 and he became one of the Altoona 4 that led the Pirates AA affiliate to an Eastern League championship. His numbers were very strong as he struck out a lot of batters and was difficult to hit but once again he struggled with control. The Pirates opted to start Wilson in AAA to begin the 2011 season and he started off well but once hitters started laying off more and more pitches he began to struggle and was eventually sent to the bullpen. While in the bullpen he garnered some attention in Pittsburgh by hitting 99 mph on the radar gun on several occasions. Wilson returned to AAA in 2012 and had a similar but more successful season. He once again struck out a lot of hitters but he continued to show command issues. He would put together a few good starts but then have one where his lack of command got the best of him. The Pirates promoted him to the majors late in the year and his control problems continued. Wilson has great stuff and is difficult to hit but his control issues are holding him back. The Pirates are probably going to give him one more chance as a starter in AAA to begin the season but if not successful he could make a good late inning reliever.
14. Wyatt Mathisen: The Pirates drafted Mathisen in the second round of this past draft. Scouts and the Pirates agreed that he profiled best as a catcher but in high school he got little time behind the plate and played mainly shortstop and pitcher. He is an athletic player with good speed for a catcher and projects to hit for both power and average. His defense behind the plate is still a little raw but that is probably from the lack of experience there. He signed with the Pirates for exactly slot amount and was sent to rookie ball. There he split time with Jhang at catcher and DH. Mathisen hit well and played solid defense throwing out 36% of base runners. Baseball America had him rated the 47th best overall prospect in this past draft, the second best catching prospect in the draft and they also rated him the 5th best prospect at the GCL level this past season. Mathisen has all the tools needed to be a strong two way catching prospect but also has a lot of development in front of him. The Pirates will have to decide whether to push him to full season ball next season or be more cautious and only promote him to A-.
13. Tony Sanchez: Sanchez was the 4th overall pick in the 2009 draft and has been the subject of some fair and unfair criticism. He was definitely an overdraft when the Pirates selected him but truth be told there was not really any particular player that stood above the rest so the strategy of going with a polished college catcher and going for overslot picks later was a solid one but it has been unsuccessful. As for Sanchez he signed quickly in 2009 and was sent to A- to get his feet wet but was shortly promoted to A ball. There Sanchez hit well as should be expected for an advanced college player at that level and he played good defense behind the plate. The Pirates promoted Sanchez to A+ near the end of the season but he only got 10 AB so he started back at that level in 2010. Sanchez was battling a shoulder injury at the beginning of the season but still hit rather well, his defense, specifically throwing out runners, did suffer though. He appeared to be in line for a promotion but in June he got hit in the face with a pitch which broke his jaw. Sanchez started the 2011 season in AA and with the exception for good plate discipline his showing was awful. It is very possible some of his numbers were hurt because the broken jaw caused him to lose a fair amount of weight but still the numbers were a disappointment. The Pirates sent Sanchez back to AA in 2012 and he hit much better, continued showing good plate discipline and played solid defense but he showed very little power. The Pirates promoted him to AAA midseason and he struggled some but he did show some power. Sanchez was added to the roster this offseason and will likely start the season in AAA but should see the majors at some point.
12. Tyler Glasnow: The Pirates drafted Glasnow in the 5th round of the 2011 draft. Glasnow grew rapidly in high school, growing 8 inches as a freshman. As he filled out his frame he added velocity eventually settling into the low 90s with the possibility of addining more. He compliments his fastball with a slider, curve and a change up. The curve is considered the best of his secondary pitches. The Pirates signed Glasnow for 600K which was well overslot but he signd late so he did not appear in any games in 2011. The Pirates surprisingly started Glasnow out at the rookie ball level instead of A- where most of the previous year high school pitchers started. He had a very strong season posting a 10.5 K/9 and holding opponents to a .156 batting average. On the down side he did show some control issues positing a 4.2 BB/9. From reports it appears Glasnow has added some velocity as he was sitting at 93 and touching 96 with his fastball. The Pirates gave him a late season promotion to A- which probably means they are considering starting him at the A level but they have been very careful with him so they may choose to send him back to A-. Regardless Glasnow will probably start the season in extended spring training and be assigned a level later on in order to keep his innings under control.
11. Dilson Herrera: Herrera was the Pirates second biggest international signing in the 2010 signing period behind Heredia. He signed for 220K and was listed as a shortstop but the Pirates have yet to give him any time there so he likely can’t play shortstop even passably. Herrera debuted in the VSL in 2011 and had a great season showing good power, good contact and good plate discipline but he did have a slightly higher than hoped for strike out rate. The Pirates thought highly enough of Herrera to bring him to the states for 2012. He played the year at rookie ball showing good power at 7 HR and even showing decent speed on the base paths. The Pirates promoted Herrera to A- near the end of the season which is a sign they are considering starting him at the A level. Herrera is already a popular pick to be an Alen Hanson type breakout candidate next season. He is actually often compared to Hanson but he doesn’t have his speed or even his defensive ability at shortstop but on the plus side he does have a bigger frame which should mean more power. Herrera should start the 2013 season at the A level as the everyday second baseman.
Top Prospects 16-20
20. Matt Curry: Curry was drafted by the Pirates in the 37th round of the 2008 draft and then again by the Pirates in the 16th round of the 2010 draft. He is limited defensively to 1B and has very little speed meaning it is his bat, particularly power that will be needed to make him successful. Curry signed at the conclusion of the College World Series in 2010 and was sent to A-. He started off hot but trailed off near the end of the year. Curry showed some decent power by hitting 7 HR and also showed the willingness to take a walk but on the downside he struck out about a quarter of the time. The Pirates sent Curry to A ball the following season and he absolutely destroyed the level, posting a 1.148 OPS before being jumped all the way up to AA. At first Curry seemed to handle the aggressive push well as he held is own early one before heating up and posting a .847 OPS in July but Curry struggled to finish out the season. The Pirates had Curry repeat the AA level in 2012 and it came with mixed results. His overall .832 OPS looks good but it was oddly buoyed by a huge home/road split which saw CUrry post a .953 OPS at home. Keep in mind the Pirates AA affiliate is known to play in a very pitcher friendly ball park so that makes the split even a little more curious. Anyway the down side of the numbers are he only hit 11 HR which is very low for an all bat 1B prospect. The Pirates gave Curry a taste of AAA near the end of the season and that is where he will likely start 2013. Right now Curry is looking like another Matt Hague type player unless he can manage to start hitting for some more power so 2013 will be a big test for him as there is certainly an opening for him at the major league level should he start to show some power.
19. Brock Holt: Holt made a name for himself last season by being a surprise call up in September but he didn’t register enough at bats to lose his prospect status. The Pirates drafted Holt in the 9th round of the 2009 draft. He was viewed as a good all around offensive player and was officially listed as a shortstop. The majority opinion was that he didn’t have the defensive ability to stick at shortstop. He also has slightly above average speed and is a is only an average base stealer. Holt after signing was sent to A- and split time there between 2B and SS. He hit fairly well and showed good plate discipline nearly drawing as many walks as he had strike outs. Holt had a slight injury to start the 2010 season but when healthy the Pirates pushed him to A+. Holt was struggling defensively at SS but was in the midst of a great offensive season (.848 OPS) when he collided with his second baseman, suffered a concussion and missed the rest of the season. In 2011 the Pirates sent Holt to AA where he initially played 2B but started to get some time at SS as promotions started to happen. He hit well at the level, while never really standing out and continued to show good plate discipline. Holt’s 2011 season was surely good enough for him to start 2012 at AAA but the Pirates had too many players in front of him so Holt repeated AA and played primarily shortstop. Holt had a great season at AA but rather oddly remained at the level before finally getting promoted in August. After the promotion Holt got on a ridiculous hot streak posting a 1.013 OPS in AAA which led to his promotion to the majors. Holt will probably be given a chance to win a utility job out of spring training but will likely start the season back at AAA. His best asset is his good plate discipline but his poor defense at shortstop is what is holding him back. To move forward Holt is either going to need to show better defense at SS or get a chance at 2B.
18. Victor Black: The Pirates drafted Black with the supplemental pick they received in 2009 for their failure to sign Scheppers. Black is a hard thrower who sits in the mid 90s and compliments his fastball with a change and a slider. Most scouts seen him as a late inning reliever when drafted but the Pirates initially tried him as starting as is their norm. The Pirates started Black in A- in 2009 and he pitched fairly well, striking out a lot of batters and proving to be very tough to hit but on the downside he showed some control problems. The following season, 2010, proved to be essentially a lost year for Black as a shoulder injury limited him to only 2 appearances. Following the 2010 season the Pirates decided to move Black to the bullpen full time and he was slated to start the year in A ball but the Pirates decided to give him some extra time in extended spring training so Black didn’t start pitching until May. He didn’t pitch well in A ball showing even more control problems than he did before and also being hit a little harder. Despite all that the Pirates gave Black a taste of A+ near the end of the year where he continued to struggle. The shoulder injury looked like it might have been still affecting him as he was only throwing in low 90s. Going into 2012 the Pirates surprisingly continued pushing Black this time sending him to AA. Something clicked for Black this time though as he stayed healthy and his velocity was back and in fact was a little better as he even reach the upper 90s on occasion. Black was absolutely dominant with a 12.8 K/9 and at times looked unhittable. Still the control problems remained as he had a 4.4 BB/9 rate. Black was added to the 40 man roster this offseason and will likely start next year in AAA if he can show improvements in his command it is possible he could take over a back if the bullpen spot in the majors by the end of the season.
17. Alex Dickerson: The Pirates drafted Dickerson in the 3rd of the 2011 draft. Due to the previous selections of Cole and Bell, Dickerson went under the radar but he was ranked in the Baseball America’s top 50 draft prospects. He played primarily outfield in college but his defense isn’t good enough to hold him there so the Pirates have moved him to 1B. Dickerson doesn’t run well and he doesn’t play defense well but he has a good bat. The Pirates sent Dickerson to A- in 2011 and there he played 1B and hit fairly well. He didn’t show as much power as one would hope but it was a small sample size and he was adjusting to new bats so his .896 OPS is still encouraging. Like the Pirates do with most of their advanced college draftees the Pirates skipped Dickerson over A ball and straight to A+ to begin the 2012 season. He struggled initially at the level but seemed to settle in as the season went one. His numbers portray a good solid season as he posted an .804 OPS but yet it was also a mildly disappointing showing. Dickerson was an advanced college all bat prospect so his offensive numbers were expected to be good and merely being good makes the season just average. He hit 13 HR so he did show a little more power but he will need to show more going forward. He did manage to keep his strike outs fairly low but then again his walk rate was also low. Dickerson is widely regarded as one of the 5 best 1B prospects in all of baseball but that comes with the caveat that most players end up moving to 1B only after they shown they can’t handle another position. To be a true prospect and take that next step forward Dickerson is going to have start showing better overall offensive numbers but specifically better power numbers. He should start next season as the regular 1B in AA and if he hits there is nobody who should block him in the Pirates organization.
16. Bryan Morris: Morris was drafted by the Dodgers in the 1st round of the 2006 draft so he has been around the prospects list probably longer than any other player listed. He came over to the Pirates in the Jason Bay trade in 2008 and is the last remaining piece. His arsenal includes a mid 90s fastball, a plus curve and a developing change up. Before coming to Pittsburgh he played only sparingly for the Dodgers showing good stuff but poor command in 2006 and then missing all of 2007 because of Tommy John surgery. He pitched decently for the Dodgers in 2008 before coming over to the Pirates but after making three starts for the Pirates A affiliate and showing no control Morris was shut down for the season because of a shoulder problem. The start of Morris’s 2009 season was delayed because of surgery on his big toe. Once he got started he was sent to A+ and once again he showed good stuff but terrible command which led to a poor season. In 2010 the Pirates sent Morris back to A+ and finally he looked like he was getting some where. Morris showed much better control getting his walk rate down to 1.4 BB/9 and was almost unhittable with a 0.60 ERA and 0.99 WHIP. Morris was promoted to AA and he continued to pitch well before wearing down and eventually being sent to the bullpen. The Pirates sent Morris back to AA the following season and he returned to starting but he struggled before suffering an oblique injury. The Pirates attempted to ease him back into starting but he continued to struggle, finally in June the Pirates made the decision to keep him in the bullpen full time. It worked out well as Morris pitched much better out of the pen than he did as a starter. Morris started the 2012 season in AAA out of the bullpen and was outstanding for the first 3 months. It seemed rather odd the Pirates didn’t give him a chance in the majors considering they used his lat option in 2012. Nonetheless Morris remained in AAA and started to cool off over the final 2 months. He finished the AAA season with good numbers and got a September callup to the majors where he was rarely used. Since he is out of options Morris will either have to be waived or start the 2013 season on the Pirates 25 man roster. If Hanrahan is dealt this offseason he is a possible closer candidate.
Top Prospects 21-25
25. Robby Rowland: The Pirates acquired Robby Rowland before the start of the 2012 season in exchange for Brett Lorin, whom the Diamondbacks selected from the Pirates in the Rule V draft. Rowland was a 3rd round high school selection in the 2010 draft. In 2010 the Diamondbacks had Rowland make his professional debut in the pioneer league, an advanced rookie league. He got hit around a little bit but the league is known for being offensively friendly so overall his numbers weren’t that bad. Before the 2011 season the Diamondbacks had Rowland change his throwing motion and then had him repeat the advanced rookie level. The results were awful as he was hit around again but much worse this time. The Pirates acquired him before 2012 and sent him to extended spring training where they worked with him to get him back to his regular throwing motion, something the Diamondbacks had already started. He debuted for the Pirates at the A level in mid May and pitched well the whole season being the Pirates best starter at that level. Rowland showed very good command but was unable to miss many bats. As far as his arsenal is concerned he has a low 90s fastball and a couple secondary pitches highlighted by a good splitter. The splitter gives him a high ground out rate which compensates slightly for the lack of strike outs. Rowland will be 21 next season and should be in the A+ level. He is going to start having to miss some bats to move up the prospect ladder but the potential is there.
24. Max Moroff: Moroff was drafted by the Pirates in the 16th round of this past draft. He was announced as a shortstop but had played every infield position for his high school team. The Pirates liked him enough that they gave him 300K to sign after Appel refused to sign. He got off to a late start but once he made his debut in rookie ball it became apparent what the Pirates saw in him. Moroff was the everyday shortstop and posted a 343/471/433 line, good for a .904 OPS. He showed outstanding plate discipline and struck out only 11 times. Moroff is a decent defender at short; he possess a good arm but there are questions about whether he has the range to stick at the position. His speed is solid but nothing special. Moroff’s real calling card is his good plate discipline and line drive bat. In the short amount of time he played in rookie ball he showed off that advanced approach at the plate and it should likely be enough to skip him straight to full season ball next year. Moroff will likely be a popular break out choice in the Pirates system headed in to 2013.
23. Willy Garcia: Garcia was signed by the Pirates as an international free agent in 2010. The Pirates gave him a significant sized bonus of 280K showing they believed he had a lot of talent. Garcia’s most notable tool is his raw power but he also is a fairly good defensive outfielder and has a strong arm. He is not as fast as a lot of a Latin American outfield prospects but he runs fairly well. On the down side he is an aggressive swinger who doesn’t like to take a lot of pitches. Garcia debuted in the DSL in 2010 at the age of 17. He did fairly well there but his numbers didn’t stand out, they were just average. The Pirates still brought him to the states in 2011 where he started out at the rookie level. He had an up and down season there, once again struggling with plate discipline but he finished the year with solid numbers and was even given a promotion to A- near the end of the season. Like a lot of prospects the Pirates promote from rookie ball to A- near the end of the season the Pirates started Garcia off in A ball in 2012. Once again he struggled with plate discipline but this time it came with him showing some of that raw power by blasting 18 HR. He once again ended the season with a solid but not spectacular stat line. Garcia hasn’t stood out an any level but he has been holding his own despite being young for each level. He will only be 20 next season and could play at either A or A+ but if he continues to show off that raw power and makes even a slight improvement in his plate discipline Garcia has the raw talent necessary to quickly shoot up this list.
22. Gift Ngoepe: Ngoepe was signed by the Pirates in 2008 out of South Africa. He was the first black South African to ever sign a pro contract with a baseball team. At the time his signing earned a lot of attention and looked more like a good story and a publicity stunt but the Pirates claimed it was a baseball move. Fast forward 4 years and it is certainly clear that Ngoepe is no mere publicity stunt but rather a true prospect. The Pirates sent him to rookie ball in 2009 and he did fairly well showing decent plate discipline and playing solid defense. In 2010 the Pirates sent him to A- and he looked to be making progress with the bat but he slumped near the end of the season when opponents started throwing him primarily offspeed pitches. The Pirates still felt highly enough of Ngoepe to push him to A ball the following season. He started off hot there, showing good plate discipline, cutting his K rate and even surprisingly showing a little bit of power. Unfortunately he suffered a hammate injury early on which caused him to basically miss the rest of the season. Still despite only getting 85 AB at the A level the Pirates pushed the raw Ngoepe up to A+. He once again started struggling with strike outs but he did manage to keep his walk rate up and even surprisingly hit 9 HR. However Ngoepe isn’t a prospect because of his bat but because of his glove and once again he was great with that. He was named the best defensive shortstop in the league and his glove work was good enough to have him crack Baseball America’s top 20 prospects for that league. Ngoepe has a lot of work to do with his bat and even on the base paths but his terrific glove work should keep him around a while and with a promotion to AA possibly on the horizon he is worth watching.
21. Adrian Sampson: Sampson was drafted by the Pirates in the 5th round of this past draft. Sampson was drafted out of a Junior College but he had offers to go to Oregon both going into next year and out of high school. Sampson signed for basically slot money right after the draft and almost immediately began pitching for at the A- level. He was overshadowed there by two dazzling performances by higher rated prospects but he pitched extremely well there and even managed to miss a few bats with a 9.1 K/9. Sampson has a low 90s fastball which he can get up into the mid 90s and compliments it with a good curve and a work in progress change-up. He also has good command of his pitches. The most encouraging sign fo Sampson was his ability to get strike outs at the A- level as that is something that very few other Pirates pitchers did at the level. Sampson will be 21 years old next season so he is still relatively young but the Pirates will probably not be afraid to move quickly with him meaning he should start the season off in A ball and if he does well he could be quickly promoted to A+. Sampson will be another popular breakout choice headed into the 2013 season.
Top Prospects 26-30
30. Adalberto Santos: Santos was drafted by the Pirates in the 22nd round of the 2010 draft. Santos has limited power and his speed is decent but he isn’t exactly fast. He was drafted as a red shirt senior out of college meaning he was just a few months shy of being 23. His bio and his tools have the look of an organizational player but yet Santos isn’t one for the sole reason that he can really hit. The Pirates drafted Santos as a 2B but in his pro debut in 2010 at the A- level he played exclusively in the corner outfield. He played well there posting a .885 OPS, showing decent speed by going 17/24 in steal attempts and playing solid defense. Due to his good performance and his age the Pirates aggressively pushed him A+ in 2011. Here Santos started splitting his time between 2B and the OF and once again he played well, posting a .868 OPS. Santos showed a touch more power with 7 HR and was once again efficient on the base paths going 27/31 in steal attempts but it was his OBP and plate discipline that once again stood out. Santos started 2012 off in AA and played great for the first month before suffering a knee injury. The injury caused Santos to miss two months but he picked up right where he left when he returned. He did eventually cool down a little but he finished the season with a .858 OPS at the AA level. The Pirates seem to have ended his 2B experiment as he played exclusively in the OF. Santos’s lack of power is probably going to stop him from being a regular in the majors but the fact that he can hit so well and show great plate discipline all while running well and playing solid defense makes him an ideal candidate for a bench job. He should start the 2013 season in AAA and is one to watch.
29. Duke Welker: Welker I believe is one of the last prospect holdouts remaining from the Littlefield days. He was drafted by the Pirates in the 2nd round of the 2007 draft. At the time of his selection he was viewed as an overdraft with the ceiling of a 4/5 starter plus he came with considerable injury risks. He started off well in 2007 in his pro debut at the A- level but had to be shut down due to forearm tightness. The next two years Welker was tried as a starter at the A level and was simply put a disaster. He posted a 5.51 and 5.79 ERA respectively and was every bit as bad as those numbers suggest. Welker started 2011 back in A ball with his prospect days all but over but something happened. Welker started pitching out of the bullpen and was a vastly different pitcher. His fastball no longer was low 90s but upper 90s and in his short stints he was able to miss bats and limit contact. Unfortunately this also came with some big control problems something that hadn’t really plagued him in the past. Still this was enough to get him promoted to A+ at midseason. He continued to pitch well there and he was deadly against right handers as they batted only .107 against him. In 2011 he started back at the A+ level pitching about the same except with a touch more control and was eventually promoted to AA. Welker before last season was a surprising add to the 40 man roster showing the Pirates believe in him. He started 2012 at AA and pitched very well earning him a quick promotion to AAA where he continued to pitch well albeit with slightly worse control. If Welker can reign in his control he has the talent to be a dominant back of the bullpen reliever and that is surely what the Pirates see, hopefully he’ll begin to realize that potential this upcoming season.
28. Zach Von Rosenberg: Von Rosenberg was one of the many projectable prep pitcher the Pirates selected in the 2009 draft and in fact he was widely considered the best of the bunch. Von Rosenberg was drafted in the 6th round but was a top 50 overall talent. He was said to have good command of his whole arsenal at the time and it was believed his velocity would increase on his fastball from the 91-92 it was sitting at. In 2009 Von Rosenberg got to pitch 1 inning at the rookie level so essentially his pro debut came the following season in A-. He was decent at the level showing good control but he also didn’t miss a lot of bats. A big positive was that his off speed pitches were viewed by scouts as getting better. Von Rosenberg started the 2011 season at the A level and got rocked through his first 16 starts posting a 7.58 ERA. He showed great command and actually improved his strike out rates to a fairly good level but he showed a tendency to leave his fastball elevated and when he did it got hit hard. On a positive note he did seem like he was figuring something out near the end of the year as over his last 9 starts he had a 2.66 ERA which lowered his season ERA to 5.73. Von Rosenberg started back at the A ball level in 2012 and he showed limited progress over 2011. He wasn’t hit as hard but his walk rate rose and his strike out rate fell. He showed some flashes of pitching very well but wasn’t consistent by any means and his fastball continues to sit at 91-92 and sometimes doesn’t even reach that. The hope for increase in stuff hasn’t come but yet Von Rosenberg will still only be 22 next season and should start the year in A+, a very age appropriate level. There is still time for Von Rosenberg to turn his pro career around and become a legit prospect and we know the talent is there still this year will be a huge one for him.
27. Mel Rojas Jr: Rojas is yet another prospect with all the talent one would want a prospect to possess but yet he hasn’t produced. He was drafted by the Pirates in the 3rd round of the 2010 draft and considered a potential five tool talent with power as the tool most in question. There is no doubt Rojas can run well and has a tremendous arm. He started his pro career off at the A- level in 2010 and struggled immensely. He simply didn’t hit but he did show some solid plate discipline. In 2011 he started the year at the A level and once again he played poorly. He was slightly better at making contact but the solid plate discipline he showed was gone and he struck out roughly 20% of the time, a rate too high for a hitter like Rojas. On a positive note he did show some improvement to his plate discipline in the second half of the season and was definitely a better player but he still wasn’t playing all that well. Despite his struggles Rojas was promoted to A+ where he continued to play center field and oddly enough he had a very eerily similar season to what he had in 2011. He did managed to show the slightest increase in power but he also showed a slight decrease in his walk rate. If Rojas is not promoted next season he will likely be forced to moved away from center field because of the talent behind him. So far Rojas has made very little progress and his prospect days are quickly running out but still the talent is there to make him one to watch.
26. Eric Wood: Wood was selected in the 6th round of this past draft and was largely dismissed as a signability pick to save money for Appel. While Wood did sign for underslot it wasn’t for as low as an amount as most of the other back half of the top 10 picks. Wood received a 100K signing bonus. Wood was drafted out of a junior college making him neither a traditional high school or college prospect. At the time of the draft little was actually known about him except for the fact that he had some decent power as evident by him winning his team’s home run derby. Wood made his pro debut in the rookie level and showed off some of that good power. He posted a .838 OPS and was good all around at the plate. Defensively the Pirates had Wood play 3rd base which is his natural position and he was solid defensively there. Due to the Pirates lack of 3B prospects Wood is likely the organization’s top prospect at the position meaning he should be blocked by no one as he moves up. The Pirates gave Wood a small taste of the A- level near the end of the year which is usually an indication that they are considering sending a player straight to A ball. Wood has to prove he can carry his success in rookie ball over to higher levels before he will start to fully settle in as a prospect but there is nothing not to like so far with what he has shown.
Just Missed the Top 30
Jose Osuna: Osuna was signed by the Pirates late in 2009 out of Venezuela. He was originally signed as an OF but it was a widely held belief that he would eventually need to move to 1B and he has indeed done so. When he was signed Osuna was already touted as having good plate discipline and some good raw power. He has shown both of those tools rather well so far in his pro career. Osuna played in the VSL in 2010 and had a good showing leading the league in HR at only 17 years old. Osuna was promoted to the states in 2011 and raked down in rookie ball posting a .911 OPS in 178 AB. He continued to show very good plate discipline although his power did take a slight hit. It was also at this level that Osuna shifted to 1B. This past season the Pirates used him as the regular 1B at the A ball level and he did fairly well. Osuna posted a .778 OPS in 482 AB. He also continued to keep his strike outs low but his walk rate dipped slightly. The power Osuna was said to possess was flashed a few times as he hit 16 HR. Osuna had an amazing month of July in which he had a 1.011 OPS and belted 9 HR. Osuna will only be 20 years old next season and already appears to be a fairly advanced hitter. The power potential along with solid plate discipline is there and could make Osuna a good 1B prospect for the Pirates moving forward. Going forward he needs to get better (more comfortable) at 1B and he needs to show that he can keep hitting as he moves up the ladder.
Dan Gamache: The Pirates drafted Gamache in the 6th round of the 2011 draft. He played primarily 3B in college but the Pirates announced him as a 2B and that is where they have been using him. Gamache is a solid defender and he has the ability to hit to all fields and has shown solid plate discipline but he lacks power. Gamache made his pro debut in rookie ball last season and in a very small sample size hit very well. The Pirates promoted to A- and things didn’t quite go so well. This season the Pirates promoted him to A ball and he quietly had a good season. He was overshadowed by his middle infield partner of course but he more than held his own. Gamache posted a solid .780 OPS while adapting very well to his new position as a full time 2B. It wasn’t a dominating performance from him and as an advanced college player a better showing could have been expected but he played the season at only 21 years old so he wasn’t exactly old for the level. Due to his limited power Gamache will most likely need to show he has what it takes to stick at 2B if he is to move forward as a prospect but so far things are looking good in that regard. The Pirates will most likely want to see Gamache continue to hit and play solid defense as he moves up to A+ next season.
Jarek Cunningham: The Pirates drafted Cunningham in the 18th round of the 2008 draft, he was one of their many over slot picks. He was a fairly highly regarded prospect but missed his senior season at high school because of an ACL tear so it was expected he would go to college. He was originally drafted as a shortstop but he was never really expected to stick there and his since moved to 2B and some are convinced he could move again possibly to 3B or a corner outfield spot. Cunningham’s pro career started out great with a strong showing at the rookie level but unfortunately he injured his knee and was forced to miss all of the following season. In 2010 the Pirates sent him to A level with mixed results. Cunningham showed some good power and actually finished 3rd in the league in extra base hits but he also showed a huge strike out problem and had very inconsistent plate discipline. The Pirates sent Cunningham to the A+ level in 2011 and he started out on fire in April and May before eventually cooling off and slumping through July. In July of that year Cunningham suffered a concussion and the only appearances he made the rest of the season were a few rehab stints in rookie ball. This past season Cunningham played at AA and was disappointing. On the plus side he did manage to stay healthy most of the year and was better defensively but his bat was just nowhere to be found. Cunningham is in an interesting prospect because of the power potential he provides for a 2B but his constant injuries and disappointing showing in 2012 has really hurt his prospect stock. This upcoming season will be a big test for Cunningham.
Tyler Gaffney: The Pirates drafted Gaffney this past year in the 24th round out of Stanford. The most noteworthy thing about him was that he was also Stanford’s backup RB for the football team. Gaffney is a very solid hitter but his draft stock was hurt as he doesn’t have the power of a typical corner outfielder or the speed of the typical center fielder. Basically he is your classic tweener in the outfield. Gaffney made his pro debut at the A- level this season and hit very well. He posted a crazy .483 OBP which was fueled by an astonishing 13.2 HBP percentage. He also completed a weird trifecta registered exactly 20 strike outs, walks and hit by pitches. Gaffney has been described by most as a very good potential 4th outfielder but I believe he has a good enough bat and good enough OBP skills to force a team to consider using him as a regular despite his lack of power. Gaffney missed the end of the season with a shoulder problem, which considering the HBP, really isn’t surprising but his .924 OPS this season should easily be enough to earn him a promotion to A ball if not A+ ball next season.
Ramon Cabrera: Cabrera was signed by the Pirates in 2008 out of Venezuela. He had just converted to catching so his defensive game is raw. Cabrera made his pro debut in the VSL in 2008 and had a very solid season. The following year he started back at the VSL but received a rare in season promotion to the United States. Once in the states Cabrera had a strong year showing off his good contact and plate discipline abilities which is what carries him as a prospect. Cabrera took a step back in 2010 when upon being promoted to A ball his walk rate took a hit. He still managed to keep his strike out rate low and show decent contact but his good plate discipline wasn’t there. In 2011 Cabrera moved up to A+ and had a breakout season offensively positing an .881 OPS. Unfortunately Cabrera’s shaky defense caught up with him as he threw out only 13% of runners trying to steal. The good offensive showing in 2011 was enough to earn Cabrera a promotion to AA this past season. He started the season serving as the DH and backup catcher to Tony Sanchez and struggled in that role but once he became the regular catcher he started to hit much better and even showed improvements defensively. Cabrera’s strengths are his ability to make good contact and his plate discipline but his shaky defense behind the plate and small stocky stature (he is listed at 5’7″ 202 lbs) make some question whether he has the defensive and durability needed to hold up behind the plate for a full season. Cabrera like a lot of other prospects I have discussed so far is Rule V draft eligible this season but unlike the rest he has a decent chance of either being added to the 40 man roster or if not added being selected by another team. If he is still with the Pirates next season he could be an interesting one to watch in AAA.
Phillip Irwin: Irwin was drafted by the Pirates in the 25th round of the 2009 draft by the Pirates. His selection came with very little fanfare as he has nothing that makes him stand out. He is a right handed pitcher who tops out in the high 80s and his secondary pitchers are just really average. He was selected out of college so he wasn’t really all that projectable either. Irwin plain and simple just doesn’t have the stuff of a good pitching prospect but what he does have is the results. Irwin made his pro debut in 2009 at the A- level and was great. Irwin moved up to A ball in 2010 and once again his stuff wasn’t impressive and his ERA was only decent but his peripherals nonetheless were very good. The Pirates moved Irwin up to the A+ level last season and once again he pitched well despite not having the greatest stuff. He pitched well enough to earn an in season promotion to AA where he did get hit a little harder but once again his ERA wasn’t horrible (3.81) and his peripherals suggested he was pitching about the same if not better than he did in A+. He lowered his walk rate and raised his strike out rate (his WHIP did take a minimal step forward though). This season the Pirates started him back at AA and you all know the theme by now, he pitched well once again. The Pirates gave him a shot in AAA near the end of the season and he finally did see a significant uptick in his walk rates and WHIP but it was coupled with a significant rise in his strike out rate so it is quite possibly just a sample size issue. Irwin is Rule V eligible this season and despite not having the stuff of a top pitching prospect he has clearly shown enough where the Pirates will undoubtedly protect him.
Casey Sadler: Sadler was drafted by the Pirates in the 25th round of the 2010 draft. He throws a low 90s fastball with a cutter and a curve to compliment it. He started his pro career in the A- level and pitched well but in only 24 innings. The Pirates promoted him to A ball the following season and he pitched primarily out of the bullpen. Sadler pitched well all season but got particular better as the season went along. Sadler was near unhittable in the second half posting a 1.51 ERA and 0.70 WHIP. The Pirates promoted him to A+ for the 2012 season and once again he started off in the bullpen. He pitched well out of the bullpen but was for several reasons eventually forced to join the rotation. Sadler pitched decently as a starter but there is little doubt that relief work fits him better. Sadler posted a far better K rate out of the bullpen and it was clear the extra innings from starting wore him down as his outings began to get shorter in August. Amazingly despite starting the year in the bullpen Sadler had the most innings pitched for the Pirates at the A+ level which means they want to see him pitch which in turn means they like him as a prospect. There has always been something about Sadler I like and while it is very unlikely he’ll ever make it in the majors as a starting pitcher he does seem to clearly possess the ability to be an effective reliever. Nonetheless with limited options to start in AA next season Sadler is likely to remain in the rotation.
31.) Jin-De Jhang: It took me a while to pare my top prospect list down to just 30. The last 7 players I went over all have a good case to be part of it but the player that was most difficult for me to leave off was Jhang. Jhang was signed by the Pirates out of Taiwan in June 2011. The Pirates gave him 250K to sign and thought highly enough of him to bring him right to the states instead of starting him off in one of the instructional leagues. He has just moved to the catching position full time so he is still raw behind the plate but he has shown the tools including a good arm which make most believe he could one day be a good defensive catcher. Jhang’s strength is not his glove though, it his bat and he got to show that off in rookie ball this season. Jhang posted a very solid .780 OPS and actually received more playing time behind the plate than the Pirates 2nd round draft choice, Wyatt Mathisen. Jhang didn’t show the power potential this season but displayed a good contact rate, good plate discipline and surprisingly fairly good defense and speed. There is no doubt the Pirates consider Jhang a very good prospect and they could easily decide to jump him straight to full season ball next year. Jhang’s upside defensively and more importantly his upside offensively couple with his strong debut this season makes him a prospect to keep a very close eye on and a potential breakout candidate for next season.
Borderline Outfield Prospects
Andrew Lambo:Lambo was acquired along with James McDonald in the 2010 trade of Octavio Dotel. Like a lot of Neal Huntington acquirees Lambo was once a top prospect who his old team had soured on. Lambo is not strong defensively but he has the potential to be a very good power hitter. Going into 2009 Lambo was the Dodgers #1 prospect and was rated #49 overall. The Dodgers drafted Lambo is 2007 and he started off strong hitting very well in rookie ball and then moving up to A ball the following season where he continued to hit very well. The Dodgers jumped Lambo to AA before the end of the 2008 season just to get his feet left and started him there in 2009. Lambo had not a spectacular season but a very solid one for a 20 year old in AA. The Dodgers sent him back to AA in 2010 and he started off on fire but then he got suspended 50 games for what is believed to be testing positive for marijuana. After returning from the suspension his play tailed off and this is when the Dodgers decided to send him to Pittsburgh. After coming to Pittsburgh Lambo hit well until he injured his shoulder and that seemed to affect him through his end of season slump. The Pirates sent him to AAA in 2011 (he was still only 22 at the time) and he was awful so he got demoted to AA. He started slowly there but finished the year strong. 2012 was pretty much a lost season for Lambo as he suffered a hammate injury early in the season and only had 92 AB at the AA level. The good news he finished the season strong after returning. Lambo is with the Pirates one last season before he becomes a minor league free agent so 2013 is likely make or break for his prospect status.
Quincy Latimore: Outside of Pedro Alvarez and Josh Bell there is probably no one in the Pirates organization that has better raw power than Quincy Latimore. The Pirates drafted him in the 4th round of the 2007 draft for that very reason. Latimore is actually on the small side for a power hitter at only 5’10” 175 lb but he drives the ball really well. Latimore’s defense and speed are probably average but what he struggles with is plate discipline as he strikes out a ton and often looks bad doing it. The start of Latimore’s pro career was just so-so as he had decent season in 2007 and 2008 at the rookie level and A- levels respectively. It was in 2009 he became the hitter we know him as today as he started show some great power, putting up some great hit streaks but also showing some really cold cold streaks and striking out a ton. In 2010 Latimore basically had a repeat of the 2009 season with the exceptions that he showed more power and struck out even more. In 2011 he got promoted to AA and essentially did it again positing a few great months but overall striking out a lot and posting a rather unimpressive overall line. Latimore repeated the AA level this past season and while his overall stat line was only slightly better than 2011 he showed solid improvement in his walk and strike out rates and managed to keep his power numbers up. Latimore has some big holes in his game, namely his plate discipline but his great power potential has kept his prospect status alive and he should move up to AAA next season with a chance to prove himself.
Dan Grovatt: Grovatt was drafted by the Pirates in the 11th round of the 2010 draft. He was described as a solid all around player with the exception that he had limited power but there was a thought that the limited power could have been due to his unusual swing. Grovatt is a very good defender with a plus arm and he has above average speed. After signing with the Pirates Grovatt appeared in 3 games at the rookie level; his numbers weren’t good but it was only a sample of 11 AB. In 2011 the Pirates pushed Grovatt to A ball and he had a very odd season. In the first half of the season Grovatt showed great plate discipline. He drew a lot of walks and struck out at a very low rate but he also showed next to no power. At some point Grovatt must have changed his approach because in the second half Grovatt had just the opposite line as his walk rate dropped, his strike out rate rose and his power numbers also rose. The Pirates promoted Grovatt to A+ in 2012 and he decided to continue going with the aggressive approach as his walk rate stayed low. He displayed a little power and actually managed to improve upon his K rate but I think it’s rather apparent Grovatt is at his best when he decided to be disciplined rather than aggressive at the plate. Nonetheless Grovatt had a decent season and will likely move up to AA next year. I’m hoping we see the more discipline approach come back as that Grovatt is at least interesting compared to the aggressive Grovatt who just looks like a typical organizational player.
Jesus Vasquez: The Pirates signed Vasquez out of the Dominican Republic in 2008. Vasquez has very good power potential and has pretty decent speed as well. In his first two seasons as a pro ball player in the DSL Vasquez put up solid numbers for a 17 and 18 year old but outside of showing some of that power potential really did nothing to stand out. That changed in 2011 though as in his 3rd season at the DSL Vasquez was arguably the best hitter in the league finishing second in HR and slugging percentage and first in OPS. He also showed improved plate discipline as his walk rate rose but his strike out rate also remained high. The Pirates brought Vasquez stateside this season and started him at the rookie level. Due to a very crowded outfield Vasquez played primarily 1B but he does have the defensive ability for the outfield. He showed some pretty good plate discipline but the power wasn’t there. Later in the season the Pirates sent Vasquez to A- because of opening in the outfield and he flourished defensively, showing off a good arm by recording 10 assists in 33 games. His power returned at the A- level but his plate discipline took a serious hit. Vasquez’s power potential makes him interesting but like a lot of these outfielders his plate discipline hold him back.
Harold Ramirez: Ramirez received the second largest bonus the Pirates have ever given out to a Latin American prospect behind only Luis Heredia. The Pirates signed him in 2011 for just slightly over 1 million dollars. Ramirez skipped over the DSL and came directly to the states which was an aggressive placement for the 17 year old. Ramirez has good potential in his bat, excellent speed and has the defense to stick at center field, although his arm is somewhat questionable. Ramirez missed the start of the season with a leg problem and because of that lost his chance to claim CF and was instead relegated to playing the corners. As a 17 year old making his pro debut and adjusting to a new country he held his own. His season wasn’t great by any stretch but it was a rather decent showing considering his circumstances. Ramirez no doubt has a ton of potential and going off strictly that is a better prospect than I am giving him credit for but right now he is also very raw and very far away from having an impact on the majors. Ramirez is definitely one to keep an eye on and he has the potential to shoot quickly up the prospect lists with a strong showing in the next couple years.
Elvis Escobar: Essentially everything I just said about Ramirez applies to Escobar. He is a Latim American prospect signed last season for a big bonus (his was only 570K) and he skipped over the DSL this season in favor of starting his career in the states. There are some differences though of course. Escobar has only good speed not outstanding like Ramirez’s and his power potential is thought to be significantly less. Those are the negatives regarding Escobar but on the positive side he appears to be a slightly more advanced hitter plate discipline wise. Escobar started the season off at the rookie level playing center field and established himself at that position before Ramirez came back which is why Ramirez despite being the slightly better prospect was forced to a corner. Escobar did more than hold his own this season as he actually had a very solid showing at the rookie ball level. Escobar started off slowly but finished strong and is actually now probably considered a slightly better prospect than Ramirez because he seems slightly more polished but the difference is not really important at this point. Both Escobar and Ramirez should move up to the A- level next season and both have the potential to quickly shoot up the prospect list.