Clint Barmes: From June until the end of the season Barmes was exactly what the Pirates should have expected when signing him this offseason. He played great defense and posted an OPS around .650. However his performance in the first two months were pretty bad and that drags down hos overall performance. Barmes bat is of course not even average for a shortstop but he led the league in most defensive metrics which makes him and adequate starting option. Considering Barmes is under contract next season for a not insignificant 5.5 million dollars I fully expect him to be back as the starting shortstop next season. Overall Grade: C
Jordy Mercer: This season’s Pedro Ciriaco. Mercer spent a lot of time with the Pirates this season but played very sparingly as he very seldom received a start and was used as the 3rd string shortstop behind not only Barmes but Harrison. Mercer was often forgotten this season because of his infrequent play and because of the other young shortstop options on the Pirates roster. However none of the other young options are as complete a shortstop as Mercer is. Mercer plays both good defense and has some power making him a decent albeit not spectacular option. My hope is that Mercer will share time at shortstop with Barmes next season but my expectation is that he will either be barely used or be in AAA. Overall Grade: C+
Alen Hanson: Alen Hanson had a big breakout season this year in A ball and is now considered one of the Pirates best prospects. Hanson has a strong bat but there are questions about his defense and some scouts think that he will eventually need to move to either 2B or 3B. Even as a 2B or 3B Hanson would still b a very valuable player as his bat would play at those positions as well but of course his value would take a knock of some sort. For now the Pirates will continue to play Hanson at shortstop and hopefully he will be able to show some improvement next season which should only further increase his value. Hanson should be the regular shortstop in A+ next season.
Gift Ngoepe: Ngoepe appears to be the opposite of Hanson as his bat is very weak but his glove brings high reviews. On the stregnth of mainly his glove work along Ngoepe was named the 20th best prospect this season in the Florida State League. He is a raw player who hasn’t played a lot in organized baseball so there is still some hope his bat will develop in the coming seasons for now though he will have to carry himself with his glove work. Ngoepe’s bat isn’t ready for AA yet but due to Hanson pushing him I suspect Ngoepe will move up anyway and hopefully he will show some progress.
Max Moroff: Moroff was drafted this past season in the 16th round but signed for $200,000 over slot which shows he isn’t your typical 16th round selection. There are some questions whether Moroff can stick at shortstop but for now the Pirates are going to try him there. Moroff played shortstop this season for the Pirates rookie ball team and had a great start to his pro career, in fact the start was strong enough that it seems likely the Pirates will send him to full season ball next season and allow him to be the shortstop in A ball. Moroff’s bat seems advanced enough to handle the push and his glove work was at least adequate for now so he is definitely one to watch heading into next season.
Pedro Alvarez: Alvarez received the wide majority of at bats for the Pirates from third base this past season. We seen flashes of his brilliance when he got on some unbelievable tears which elevated him to one of the most feared hitters in the game to his bottomless pits where he couldn’t hit anything and was thought of as essentially an automatic out. Pedro is probably always going to be that type of hot/cold player but the key is to make the cold stretches not so bad and by the end of the year Alvarez had made progress with that. There is no doubt about it Alvarez just has gobs of potential and can be the middle of the order bat the Pirates are still desperately lacking. Going into next season will not be very different from this one the most important player to the success of the Pirates will once again be Pedro Alvarez. Along with his big power spike this season came some improved but still shaky defense. It appears Alvarez may eventually have to move over to first base but right now he looks the part of a capable third baseman and until the Pirates have a reason to move him (ie just terrible defense or a stud replacement) he should remain there. There is no reason to not think that Alvarez will be the starting third baseman next year and probably occupying a spot in the middle of the lineup. As for this season I give him an Overall Grade: B+
Josh Harrison: This season Harrison finally got a chance to settle into what will undoubtedly be his primary role in the majors, utility player. Harrison also played some 2B, SS and OF this season but seems most comfortable at 3B which is why I am listing him here. He was defensively solid everywhere except the outfield and even there he appeared to be slowly getting more comfortable. Harrison won’t wow you with his defense and is probably a little suspect at shortstop but as a fill in he is perfectly capable. The problem Harrison had this year was that his bat was rather weak. He had a few hot stretches but overall posted a .624 OPS which isn’t going to be good enough to establish himself as anything more than a fringe bench option. Harrison was the Pirates top pinch hitter this season which admittedly is a role he shouldn’t have but nonetheless he struggled in it. This offseason one thing the Pirates must address is the depth of their bench and by doing so it could end up costing Harrison a spot on the major league roster. I still think he finds a way to sneak in there though. Overall Grade: C
Eric Avila: The Pirates are very weak prospect wise at 3rd base which allowed Avila to stick around as one of the better 3rd base prospects in the system despite a season and half of poor play. Avila’s 2011 season and first part of 2012 were pretty bad but a strong showing coupled with a power spike at the end of the season has him back atop my 3rd base prospect rankings and has him once again as a prospect to watch heading into next season. Next season will be a big test for Avila to show that he has found his power stroke and is once again a legit prospect. Due to the lack of 3rd base depth in the system Avila should open next season in A+ as the starter and with a good showing should easily be promoted to AA as there is no one blocking him.
Eric Wood: The other two 3rd base prospects I’m going to list were both selected in this past draft and the one who has had the best start to his career has been Eric Wood. Wood was selected in the 6th round of this past draft and was sort of a mystery. He appeared to be an overdraft with the idea of saving money by going way underslot but while he did sign for underslot it wasn’t by a huge sum. He was drafted as JuCo player so he is much closer to a high school age player than he is a college age drafted player. He was known to have some power when the Pirates drafted him and he displayed that power during his debut in rookie ball. The Pirates promoted him at the end of the season to A- ball where he struggles some but the sample size there is rather small and the bigger point is this is a move the Pirates usually make when they are considering sending a player straight to full season ball the following year. I expect Wood to start the season as the starting 3rd baseman in A ball and really get a chance to establish himself as a legit 3rd base prospect.
Kevin Ross: Ross was officially signed as a shortstop but spent no time at that position this season and is widely considered someone who won’t stay at the position anyway. His future seems to be at either 2B or 3B but I see him more as a third baseman which is why I have him listed here. Ross signed late into the signing period and due to this he didn’t get a chance to play a whole lot. He struggled initially but put up a very strong stat line in August to end the regular season. Ross does have some power potential but has some work to do with his swing. He is probably more of a project right now than a prospect but due to the Pirates current state of 3rd base prospects he is definitely an interesting name to keep an eye one. Ross will almost definitely return to one of the short season leagues next year but which one is still a bit of a guess and will probably depend on how he does in extended spring training and by who the Pirates draft next year.
Neil Walker: Walker is the only major league player I’m going to be covering here. Everyone else except Brock Holt fits in better at another position and since Holt still has prospect eligibility I’ll discuss him below. There isn’t much to say about Walker he does what he does. He gives the Pirates a solid and improving defensive performance at 2nd base while providing above average offensive numbers for the position. Walker started off cool but heated up in June and July positing two very good months before a finger injury and back injury caused him to play sporadically over the final two months. His performance was solid and he should return next season and once again be a nice consistent presence in the middle of the infield. Overall Grade: B-
Brock Holt: Holt got to make his major league debut this season and he impressed in his short time frame. He started the season in AA primarily playing shortstop before moving up to AAA late in the season where he caught fire and put up video game like numbers. Holt’s defense at shortstop and 2nd base for that matter is a little shaky but he has the ability to work a count and make good contact so he could have some future value as a utility player or even a starting 2nd baseman. It wouldn’t surprise me if Holt got a chance to make the team out of spring training but I expect him to start the season in AAA and be the backup plan to Walker should his back problems fire up again.
Dilson Herrera: Herrera had a big year this season in rookie ball and is going to be a popular pick to have a big breakout season next year. He was signed as a shortstop prospect but spent no time there instead he played 2nd and 3rd base. His defense is good but not great at either position so it is his bat which will need to carry him. He has some potential to add power and 8 home runs this season is a positive sign that it may yet develop. Considering his strong season this year I expect him to move up to full season A ball next year.
Dan Gamache: Gamache was drafted in the 2011 draft out of Auburn University. His selection at the time was widely unnoticed and even his performance this season while good was overlooked and overshadowed by his double play partner. Gamache had the type of performance you look for from a college player in his first year of pro ball and while all the attention was given to the four Latin American prospects who jumped the whole way from rookie ball to A ball he did a solid job and established himself as a prospect going forward. If he can repeat his performance next year likely in A+ he will quickly go up the prospects charts but for now he profiles as a potential utility player.
Garrett Jones: Garrett Jones nearly pulled off what would have been quite a rare feat I imagine. He led the Pirates in PA from a 1B and was only 1 behind Jose Tabata for most PA from a RF. However I see Jones as more a 1B than an OF so I’m covering him here. Jones had what can only be described as a great season for him. He struggled defensively some and seemed to actually get worse as a base runner but he brought his bat with him and provided the Pirates with a nice steady option for the middle of the order. Jones isn’t the ideal cleanup guy but with how he performed this season he was more than adequate. Jones will enter next season in his 2nd year of arbitration since he was a Super 2 candidate and while I wouldn’t say he is a non-tender candidate he is certainly someone the Pirates could consider selling high on and trading to another team for a missing piece say at catcher, shortstop or pitching. However it is my expectation that Jones will be back next season manning 1st base. Overal Grade: B+
Casey McGehee: Casey McGehee played a lot of 1st base for the Pirates, almost as much as Jones actually, and he was defensively sound at the position which was somewhat surprising given his limited experience there but McGehee struggled mightily with the bat. If you look at his splits McGehee performed very well hitting wise at 3rd base and as a pinch hitter (granted small sample size applies) but was bad at first base. He never really materialized as the right-handed platoon partner for Jones the Pirates envisioned and was dealt at the trade deadline. His tenure with the Pirates while disappointing needs to be taken with the fact he was never expected to do too much other than hit lefties decently and be a respectable pinch hitter and he was asked to do more than that. Overall Grade: C-
Gaby Sanchez: Sanchez came over at the trade deadline and replaced McGehee as Jones platoon partner. He struggled his first couple of games with the Pirates but quickly reverted back to putting up the kind of numbers he did in Miami/Florida the two years previous. These numbers are not spectacular but are solid enough for the small portion of the 1st base platoon. The Pirates were having Sanchez work on some 3rd base during the season and I imagine his work will continue into the offseason and he will attempt to not only be a right-handed alternative to Jones but to Alvarez as well. He has some 3rd base experience in the minors so I don’t foresee this being an issue but only time will tell. Sanchez will be a first time arbitration eligible player next season and I expect him to be retained. Overall Grade: C+
Alex Dickerson: Dickerson the Pirates third round selection last season played in A+ this year and put up solid numbers but that weren’t quite what you would hope for from an advanced bat first college player. This takes nothing away from what he did but more was definitely hoped for. Even with his not as good as it could have been showing Dickerson is a near lock to move up to AA and if he manages to improve on his numbers even a little bit there he will move into legit prospect territory. Dickerson is probably the Pirates best hope for a legit 1st base prospect in the near future.
Matt Curry: Curry’s season in a lot of ways was very similar to Dickerson’s. He had a strong showing in AA but it wasn’t quite what was hoped for an advanced college hitter repeating a level. He was still called up to AAA at the end of the season and should no doubt start the season there and with a good showing by him could even get a shot in the majors by the beginning of next season. Curry profiles as a similar player to Dickerson but doesn’t have the power potential, he could develop into an average major league 1st baseman though and that would be a huge improvement over what the Pirates have had in recent seasons.
Jose Osuna: Osuna was one of the 4 Latin American players making the jump from rookie ball to A ball this season. Like the other 1st base prospects I listed he did ok but not as good as was hoped. He is defensively limited to 1st meaning his offensive game will have to carry him and while the power potential is there he really has only shown flashes of it. He did have solid power numbers this season but that came in streaks and his overall line was not too impressive. Even with his struggles I believe Osuna has done enough to warrant a promotion to A+ next season where he will definitely be a break out candidate.
Rod Barajas – Barajas came to the Pirates as a free agent this past offseason and at the time was widely considered one of the better options available. To put it bluntly his 2012 season with the Pittsburgh Pirates was just plain awful. Outside of a strong month of May Barajas struggled to hit and was horrible at throwing runners out all year long. I will give him credit for working with the pitching staff well and appearing to be a good game caller overall. When he was signed I thought it was a good move and I still think it was the Pirates needed someone to fill the catcher role and Barajas was amongst the best available. The problem I have was the continuation of giving him 60% of the starts when it became apparent he had lost it he should have gotten the smaller portion of the share meaning about 40%. Barajas has a 3,5 million dollar option for next season and while I see no way the Pirates pick it up I am dismissing the possibility of him resigning at a lower amount for next season. Overall Grade: D
Michael McKenry – Pittsburgh’s favorite catcher. The one a large percentage of the Pirates fan base, at one point this season, would have lead you to believe was amongst the best in the game. Sadly McKenry isn’t that good and all the talk about him needing to start 4 out of every 5 games was overblown (I believe only Yadier Molina, AJ Ellis, Miguel Montero and Matt Weiters approached that ratio). Still McKenry was without a doubt the Pirates best catcher this past season and has shown himself perfectly capable of being the smaller part in a catcher time share (he may be even able to handle the larger share but I’m not fully convinced of that yet). His offense outburst was surprising and probably unsustainable for following seasons but still a very positive sign. It was kind of funny this season to hear people saying he should be the “starter” this season because of his offense when the same people said last year he should be the “starter” because of his defense. Like Barajas, McKenry struggled mightily at throwing out runners. I expect McKenry will be back next season possibly even as the “starting” catcher. Overall Grade: B
Eric Fryer – Fryer did not play one single game at catcher for the Pirates which considering he is by far better than Barajas and McKenry at throwing out runners is a bit of a shame. Fryer simply doesn’t have the skill set to stick around the majors for a long period of time, he appears to be a very good depth option in the minors because he is a solid defensive catcher and can also play multiple positions but that is pretty much all. My expectations are that he will be removed early on from the 40 man roster. Overall Grade: C
Tony Sanchez – Sanchez did not have the greatest year in AA and AAA but did have a better showing than last season. He was steady but not spectacular in AA which earned him a promotion to AAA where he flashed a bit of power but overall struggled. Sanchez has a great arm and is an all around solid defensive catcher. His bat leaves some question marks and without a little bit of power he will probably struggle to hit well enough to remain a starting MLB catcher. Sanchez is eligible for the Rule V draft this season and I fully expect him to be added to the roster. There is an outside chance Sanchez starts the year with the Pirates in a time share with McKenry behind the plate but I fully expect him to get more seasoning at AAA. Sanchez will probably get a chance to claim the starting catcher job at some point next season though.
Wyatt Mathisen – Mathisen was the Pirates 2nd round draft pick this past season. He signed relatively quickly and started to play in the GCL. In high school Mathisen was the most athletic player on the team so he usually played shortstop but he did have some experience catcher and most scouts believed that is where his future was the brightest. Mathisen split time in the GCL between catcher and DH this season and put some very strong numbers. He has the look of a strong two way catching option and is one to watch for the next few seasons. There is a chance Mathisen could start next season in full season ball but I expect with catching being a relatively new full time thing for him we will see him in A- next year.
Jin-De Jhang – Jhang was the catcher splitting time with Mathisen this season and he too is relatively new to the catcher position. Jhang coincidently put up numbers very similar to Mathisen this season and profiles as a similar less athletic catcher. This was Jhang’s first season out of Taiwan and he handled himself well. Chances are either Jhang or Mathisen will make the jump to full season A ball next year and for some reason I get the sense that it will be Jhang but we will just have to wait and see.
Other Prospects – Charles Cutler (AAA*), Ramon Cabrera (AA*), Carlos Paulino (AA*), Jacob Stallings (A+*)
The * denotes my projected level for the player next season