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.
Borderline Infield Prospects (Grade C-)
Carlos Paulino: The Pirates acquired Paulino from the Marlins before the start of the 2011 season in exchange for Jim Negrych. In three years in the Marlins organization Paulino had established himself as a solid defensive catcher with a lot of questions surrounding his bat. He had a good offensive season in rookie ball in 2009 but was awful for the Marlins in A ball during the 2010 season. The Pirates still pushed Paulino up a level after acquire and sent him to A+ where he figured to back up Ramon Cabrera. However Paulino quickly earned more playing time by having a big offensive season and continuing his great defensive work. To keep his bat in the lineup the Pirates even tried Paulino some in LF near the end of the season. It appeared Paulino was in line for a promotion to AA this season but Tony Sanchez repeating the level caused a bit of a log jam and he remained at A+. Unfortunately he regressed at the plate this season and despite posting similar walk and strike out rates hit quite a bit worse. He did show some offensive improvements in the second half but it was still a step backwards from his 2011 season. Despite his poor offense Paulino’s calling card is his defense and that is strong enough that he could make it to the majors one day as a solid backup catcher.
Jacob Stallings: Paulino is a great defensive catcher but he isn’t the best in the organization. That title goes to Stallings who the Pirates drafted as a signability pick in the 7th round of this year’s draft. In his junior season Stallings set an NCAA record for base runners thrown out attempting to steal so that speaks highly of his defensive ability. The Pirates coaches at the A- praised Stallings this season and called him a second pitching coach. Even with the Pirates odd strategy of not having their pitchers hold on runners Stallings managed to throw out 36% of base stealers this season. He is a great game caller and a leader in the clubhouse. For all the positive reviews his glove work receives his bat receives negative marks. Stallings is not strong with the bat. He is not a good contact hitter and has very little power but on the plus side he has shown decent plate discipline, drawing a fair number of walks in college and at the A- level. Stallings is a great catcher to have in the organization as he should be a big help to the Pirates young crop of pitchers but due to his weak bat he isn’t really much of a prospect. Stallings great defense with even just a slight improvement in his bat may very well be enough for him to make it to the majors one day but if so it will likely be as only a backup catcher.
Eric Avilia: The Pirates signed Avilia as a 16 years old out of the Dominican Republic in 2006. He wasn’t a high-profile signing and he spent 3 seasons in the DSL before breaking out in 2009. Avilia had a very strong 2009 showing a lot more power, better plate discipline and better contact skills. He moved to the states the following season and had a strong showing in rookie ball finishing tied for the league lead in HR but on the downside his K rate did jump significantly. At this point Avilia was the Pirates top 3rd base prospect, a good title but one with very little distinction as the Pirates 3B prospects have been very weak outside of Alvarez. The Pirates sent Avilia to A ball in 2011 and well it didn’t go well. On the positive side he did manage to cut back on his strike out rate but that came at the expense of him making essentially any good contact. For the season he hit .216/.275/.289 and only hit 4 home runs. His defense at third base had also seemed to take a step backwards. The Pirates sent him back to A ball as a utility player which appeared to mark the end of his prospect days. Avilia got hurt early in the season and didn’t return to June. After posting solid numbers in June and July Avilia earned a chance to start in August and took off displaying some of that great power he has and showing much better contact. Unfortunately his strike out rate continued to rise and his walk rate dipped. Avilia’s power makes him intriguing but he is running out of time to show not only something else but some consistency.
Drew Maggi: The Pirates drafted Maggi in the 15th round of the 2010 draft and signed him for the overslot amount of 468K. At the time he was drafted Maggi was viewed as a strong OBP guy with good speed and defense but limited power. Maggi was drafted as a shortstop but was considered more of an athlete by scouts meaning they thought he could end up as a middle infielder or a center fielder. He debuted at the A- level and struggled hitting for only 156/257/203 line. The Pirates typically send advanced college players like Maggi to A+ for their first full pro season but due to his struggles in A- they sent Maggi to A ball. Maggi hit decently at the A level showing the great plate discipline but never really did anything to stand out the way the Pirates would surely hoped he would. The Pirates sent Maggi to A+ and there he continued with pretty much the same results, good plate discipline but no power. He is also had more trouble making good contact and saw a jump in his strike out rate. His defense was solid but not spectacular. Despite his struggles the Pirates decided to promote Maggi to AA during the season and there he served primarily as a utility player playing both the middle infield and the outfield. His numbers at AA were even worse. Considering the Pirates pushed him to AA despite not earning it and didn’t give him full time playing time it appears they view him as an organization player at this point still Maggi retains some upside.
Kevin Ross: The Pirates drafted Kevin Ross in the 8th round of the 2012 draft and unlike the other picks in the back half of the top 10 he didn’t appear to be a signability selection. Ross was thought to be a tough sign but he ended up signing for slightly below slot. When drafted Ross was characterized as a solid defensive shortstop with a good arm and power potential but it was believed that as he filled out his size would force him to move from SS to 3B. The Pirates announced him as a shortstop but he didn’t play there at all this seasons instead splitting his time between 2B and 3B. Ross played very sparingly so his numbers have to be taken with a grain of salt but he struggled in his limited appearances. Ross appears to have a relatively high upside as Baseball America rated him the 225th best prospect in this past draft so the Pirates will probably try to see what they got in him. Ross will likely play next season with one of the short season affiliates.
Borderline Starting Pitcher Prospects (Grade C-)
Brandon Cumpton: Cumpton was drafted by the Pirates in the 9th round of the 2010 draft. Cumpton has a decent arsenal including a low 90s fastball and a fairly good curve. His climb through the Pirates system has been a relatively quick one. Upon signing Cumpton went and pitched briefly at the A- in 2010 and he put up solid numbers in his 10.2 innings of work. In 2011 he had an up and down season starting off poorly in A ball before finally turning it on and pitching well enough to earn a promotion to A+. There he was pretty much a mediocre pitcher not good nor bad. It was enough to earn him a promotion to AA this past season and once again he was just mediocre. Cumpton has pitched decent at every level the Pirates have put him at but has never really done enough to stand out. He has fairly good control which keeps his walk rate low but on the other hand he doesn’t miss a lot of bats. The Pirates have tried him in the bullpen some and there his stuff seems to be better as he can get his fastball up into the mid 90s. His mediocre results as a starter points to someone who isn’t overmatched but to someone who is probably best suited for the bullpen. Nonetheless the Pirates might choose to keep him as a starter next season and he could see time in both AA and AAA. If Cumpton has a future in the majors though it is likely as a reliever.
Tyler Waldron: The Pirates drafted Waldron in the 5th round of the 2010 draft which was kind of surprising because he didn’t have that great of a college career. Waldron has some potential with a good fastball and an assortment of off speed stuff which should reasonably improve over time. However his results so far have been pretty much in line with what Cumpton has done so far except that he has actually been a little more hittable. Waldron had a solid debut in 2010 at the A- level and then like Cumpton split time in 2011 between the A and A+ levels where he was mediocre at best. The Pirates sent Waldron back to A+ to begin the 2012 season but with the exception of a slight uptick in his strikeout rate his numbers actually got worse. Even so the Pirates gave him a late promotion to AA where he managed to pitch slightly better but he started to show a little less command. Waldron hasn’t really shown anything that makes him stand out but he does have some potential and the Pirates though highly enough of him to pick him in the 5th round. His low strike out rate and the fact that he has been fairly hittable are concerning for a pitcher with his stuff. Right now Waldron remains a project and with a slim assortment of starting options for AA next season Waldron looks like a safe bet to remain a starter for now.
Kyle Kaminska: It is tough to get a read on Kaminska. The Pirates acquired him as what looked to be a throw-in in the Gaby Sanchez trade but he has pitched very well in his time with the Pirates. While with Florida Kaminska put up solid numbers in the low minors. He showed great command and even managed to miss quite a few bats. He did have quite a few outings where he was hit hard but generally he pitched well. In 2011 it appeared like he may have tapped out as the move to AA knocked his strike out total down and also came with a little less control. The Marlins tried him at the AA level again this season and he seemed to regain his control but was getting hit awfully hard. When the Pirates acquired him they sent him to A+ and returned him to starting. The Pirates promoted him near the end of the season to AA where he pitched mainly out of relief but did make one start and he continued to pitch well showing the great command he had throughout his minor league career and avoiding being too hittable. All of this is a nice story but not enough to garner Kaminska too much attention except it doesn’t end here. The Pirates sent Kaminska to the AFL and so far through six starts he has been great. After getting slightly roughed up in his first start Kaminska has pitched 24 innings ans allowed only 2 runs. The Pirates will likely continue to try Kaminska as a starter and his results so far in the AFL make him an interesting one to watch.
Matt Benedict: The Pirates drafted Benedict in the 30th round of the 2011 draft. His stuff is the typical assortment you see. A fastball right around 90 with an average curve and a pretty good change up. When drafted he appeared to be just an organizational pitcher and that is still likely where he’ll end up but he has done enough to make himself be noticed. His performance in A- in 2011 was solid but his strike out rates were low and he didn’t really stand out. However Benedict started this season at the A level and was clearly pitching head and shoulders above the rest of the rest of the staff. To be fair the pitching staff at A ball had an absolutely horrible start to this season but Benedict still stood out. His numbers weren’t overwhelmingly great but they were clearly much better than anybody else on the staff. For that reason the Pirates promoted him to A+ and tried him at starting. To put it kindly that didn’t work out as Benedict was hit hard. Despite that the Pirates kept him starting almost all season which shows they at least find him mildly intriguing. Benedict doesn’t look like much of a prospect at this point but his solid performance in A ball make him at least worth noting. The Pirates would probably move Benedict to the bullpen next season but the staff at the A level was so bad last season that they may let him have another try at starting.
Zack Dodson: Dodson was one of the many prep arms the Pirates drafted and signed in the 2009 draft and sadly he has probably been the 3rd most successful of the group. The Pirates drafted him in the 4th round and signed him for 600K. He threw in the low 90s and had a good curve ball and was a projectable high school arm, meaning the Pirates and other scouts thought he would add velocity as he filled out. Dodson pitched only briefly at the rookie level in 2009 and opened the 2010 season at the A- level where he showed very little getting hit around and showing poor control. The Pirates still sent Dodson to the A level in 2011 and he seemed to have figured some stuff out, he had added a few mph to his fastball and was showing improved command, but he broke his hand in May. He made a few rehab starts in the lower levels but didn’t pitch well. His velocity had dropped back into the upper 80s and he had turned into a ground ball pitcher. Despite his very good showing in A ball the Pirates sent Dodson back to the level to start the 2012 season probably because of the limited playing time he got. Everything fell apart for Dodson this season though. Dodson proved to be very hittable, starting leaving up a lot of home runs and the improved control he showed was gone. To top it all off Dodson’s season ended when he was suspended 50 games for failing a drug test. Dodson will miss roughly the first month of the 2012 season and will need to pitch well to regain his prospect status.
Jake Burnette: Burnette was drafted by the Pirates in the 2011 draft and is yet again another one of their projectable high school arms. The Pirates drafted him in the 7th round and gave him 550K to forego college. Burnette throws in the high 80s to low 90s but again is projectable so the Pirates hope to see that velocity increase. Regardless the Pirates have seen very little of Burnette so far as he pitched only 1 inning in 2011 at rookie ball and then made 5 starts at the A- level this season before missing the rest of the year with an elbow injury. Burnette pitched decently in his five starts this year but had a very low strike out rate. There really isn’t a whole lot to say about Burnette at this point as there is certainly talent here but he hasn’t really gotten a chance to show much of it. The Pirates will probably have him pitch in one of the short season leagues again next season where he will hopefully stay healthy and get enough innings to possibly show some of his potential.
Colten Brewer: Brewer is yet another projectable high school pitcher selection by the Pirates. Typical story here he throws in the low 90s and is projected to add velocity as he fills out. The Pirates drafted him in the 4th round in the 2011 draft and signed him for 240K. Brewer didn’t get into any games in 2011 because of a back problem but pitched this past season in rookie ball and did fairly well. Brewer showed decent command and while he didn’t strike out a lot of hitters his 6.5 K/9 was better than a lot of the Pirates low-level pitchers. Brewer did miss some time this season with an injury so he only pitched 25 innings but he showed some potential in that time and will likely move up to the A- level next season. Like Burnette there isn’t a whole lot to say about Brewer because he has seen such limited playing time thus far but he doesn have some potential and the Pirates thought highly enough of him to select him in the 4th round and go over slot so there must be some talent here.
Jon Sandfort: Sandfort is yet another of the Pirates tall projectable high school pitchers. To be fair most of the pitchers are 6’3″ or 6’4″ but Sandfort has a couple extra inches on them coming in a 6’6″. He has the typical arsenal of a low 90s fastball, a curve and a work in progress change-up. The Pirates selected him in this past draft in the 3rd round showing they find something about him very intriguing. The Pirates signed him for the full slot amount and sent him to rookie ball where he pitched decently but showed some control issues. He only pitched 15 innings so it is difficult to say exactly how bad his control issues are but that is something to keep an eye on going forward. The Pirates used him as a starter this past season although he only pitched 2-3 innings in each start. Sandfort will likely move up to the A- level next season where hopefully he will get more playing time.
Hayden Hurst: The Pirates selected Hurst in the 17th round of the 2012 draft and when it became apparent Appel wasn’t going to sign gave him 400K to break his college commitment. He has yet to actually pitch for the Pirates so there really isn’t a whole lot to say about him. He is not the Pirates typical projectable high school pitcher as he already throws in the mid 90s and is pretty filled out at 6’5″, 235 lbs. I have Hurst on this list solely on the fact the Pirates gave him 400K to sign which means they obviously must see something in him. Hurst will likely pitch at one of the two short season levels next year and will hopefully show us what it is that makes the Pirates think so highly of him.
Borderline Relief Pitcher Prospects (Grade C-)
Jeff Inman: Going into the 2009 season, Jeff Inam was considered a potential first round talent by some scouts. However he suffered a shoulder injury which dropped his status and allowed the Pirates to pick him in the 12th round. They signed Iman for $425,000 which of course was overslot. Inman managed to pitch 4 innings below the close of 2009 and looked to be healthy getting his fastball up to the mid 90s (it was down in the low 80s before he was shut down in college). Unfortunately an elbow problem prevented him from playing at all in 2010. In 2011 he was sent to A+ and got some work as a starter, he was doing very well but then once again in May he was sidelined with an elbow injury and missed most of the rest of the season. This season Inman didn’t start out playing at any level but was assigned to A+ during the season and pitched very well in 9.2 innings out of the bullpen before being promoted to AA. At AA he continued to pitch very well and managed to remain healthy for the entire season. The only downside of all of this is that Inman’s strike out rates are not great and for a pitcher with his stuff they should be better. Inman obviously has some talent and could make a decent relief pitcher in the majors but the bi question mark about him is his health.
Tim Alderson: Alderson is the prospect that just keeps hanging on. The Pirates acquired him from the Giants in the 2009 trade of Freddy Sanchez. At the time he was considered a very good pitching prospect but his stock was beginning to slip a little bit. He performed decently for the Pirates in AA the remained of the season but before the 2010 season the Pirates and Alderson decided to try to change him back to his old delivery. The experiment was a disaster and Alderson put up some awful numbers. At the start of the 2011 season the Pirates decided to send Alderson back to AA once more but this time pitch him out of the bullpen. At first it seemed to work well Alderson was pitching better and had regained his low 90s velocity but as the year went on his results and velocity both slipped. This past season the Pirates assigned Alderson back to AA to pitch a 4th straight season at the level. Once again he began the year in the bullpen and once again he started off pitching well. He pitched so well in fact that the Pirates gave him a few starts and even promoted him to AAA for a short while. Oddly enough despite this being his 4th year of AA, Alderson upon being promoted to AAA was the youngest player on the Pirates AAA roster. After being sent back to AA Alderson missed some time with an injury and when he returned he once again struggled to finish out the year. He did show improvement this season and at 24 years old will still amazingly not be old for the AA level next season but time is certainly working against him at this point.
Jason Townsend: Townsend is one of those prospects that there is just something about him that makes me like him more than most other people. He was drafted by the Pirates in the 31st round of the 2010 draft and was just your typical late round selection so the Pirates didn’t go overslot to sign him. He played the 2010 season at the A- and showed great stuff with a 97 mph fastball but he displayed poor control. The Pirates promoted him to A ball the following season and he pitched much better. He still wasn’t as dominating as a guy with his stuff should be and his velocity dipped some but he still pitched well. This past season the Pirates sent him to the A+ bullpen and Townsend had another solid season. Unfortunately though his velocity stayed in the low 90s and his strike out rate fell even more, making his performance good but not dominating. He was promoted to AA and got into a few games but with largely the same results, meaning he pitched well but didn’t particularly stand out. As a power reliever Townsend needs to post a dominating stat line to be taken serious as a relief prospect. Even though Townsend really hasn’t had that big breakout season yet to establish himself as a good relief prospect there is still something about him I like but in order to be taken serious Townsend will need to start showing more hopefully as soon as this upcoming season.
Dalton Friend: The Pirates drafted Friend in the 12th round of the 2012 draft. He seems to be a rather interesting prospect as he is left hander with good velocity. His fastball is said to sit at 95 mph although it wasn’t there this past season but he missed nearly all of 2011 with a shoulder injury so that very well may be the cause of his drop in velocity. After signing with the Pirates Friend pitched for the Pirates class A- affiliate. His first appearance was awful but he seemed to settle down after that and pitched very well the remainder of the season. His future going forward is likely as a fastball/curveball lefty relief pitcher and he has the stuff to be a very good one. The Pirates had Friend start the season off throwing short relief appearances but appeared to be stretching him out near the end of the season so it is possible they want him to be a starter next season. If that is the case that is a good sign for Friend as that would mean the Pirates probably view him as at least a good prospect. He will likely go to a full season level next season and with a good showing he could establish himself as a real prospect.
John Kuchno: I’m really not sure what to think about Kuchno. The Pirates drafted him in the 17th round of this past draft and there was little to no attention paid to him until the Pirates signed him late into the signing period for slightly over slot. The Pirates evidently view him as at least some sort of prospect and there is some reason there as he has a good fastball and a good curve. His numbers in college were decent but not really outstanding so that leaves me to believe he is more a project the Pirates see some potential in. His late signing meant he didn’t get to pitch for the Pirates too much but he did get 5 innings at the A- level and he showed good stuff getting a lot of strike outs but he also was a little wild issuing a fair number of walks. Like most pitches this low in the minors Kuchno could probably start or pitch out of the bullpen next season but his stuff appears to be better suited for a relief role so my guess is the Pirates will take that route with him. The Pirates evidently see something in him so Kuchno is one to watch headed into next season.
Pat Ludwig: The Pirates drafted Ludwig in the 10th round of the 2012 as a signability pick to save money presumably for Appel. He received a signing bonus of only 5,000 considerably less than the 125,000 slotted for his spot. Still Ludwig showed good stuff in college posting a high K rate and is evidently a fairly smart fellow considering the Pirates drafted him out of Yale. Even with all that had Ludwig performed poorly after signing with the Pirates he would probably just be an afterthought right now but he went to the A- level and pitched outstandingly well. He showed great command and managed to post a good strike out rate while limiting hitters to a .196 average against him. The Pirates gave Ludwig a small taste of A ball near the end of the season and he continued to pitch well, even upping his strikeout rate. Ludwig’s results this season makes him an interesting one to watch, if he continues pitching like he did this season he should be viewed as a legit relief prospect regardless of the reason the Pirates drafted him. He seems relatively advanced for a college pitcher so the Pirates could try him at the A+ level next season.
Ryan Beckman: I almost didn’t include Beckman here but then I thought that since I included Inman here I had to include him. Beckman was drafted by the Pirates in the 18th round of the 2009 draft. The Pirates allowed him to pitch a lot of innings at the rookie level in 2009 and his results weren’t impressive. The Pirates moved him up to the A- level the following season and he pitched better but by no means did he put up great numbers. I should note at this point Beckman was a ground ball pitcher but evidently he changed something before the 2011 season. Beckman started the 2011 season at the A level but was quickly promoted to the A+ level. There he served as the closer and pitched substantially better than he had at any point in his pro career. He started allowing more fly balls but with that came a big bump to his K rate. The Pirates had him change his arm slot at some point so maybe that can be attributed to his quick change in pitching styles but whatever it was it made a sneaky breakout candidate for the 2012 season. Unfortunately that was not to be. Beckman started the 2012 season at the AA level but injured his elbow in his first outing and required Tommy John surgery which put him out for the rest of the season. Beckman’s sudden change in 2011 makes him interesting to watch but he will likely miss the first few months of next season with the injury as well.
Maximo Rivera: Rivera was a fairly highly touted signing in 2009, signing for 165K out of the Dominican Republic. He was believed to have a lot of power potential and his best defensive positions was said to be third base. In 2010 Rivera struggled during his first year of pro ball and then last season his struggles continued but he started to show signs of the power everyone believed he had. This season Rivera had a big breakout season posting a .902 OPS. The Pirates seem unsure of where to play him though as he played every position in the infield this season but spent most of his time in the outfield. Rivera did show some struggles against left-handed pitching this season but he bats right-handed so they may be just an oddity in his stat line. At 19 years old Rivera had his breakout season just in time. He only has one year of eligibility left in the DSL so the Pirates may choose to bring him to the states.
Ulises Montilla: Montilla was an unheralded signing of the Pirates in 2009. He started his career off with a shaky performance in the VSL in 2010 but seemed to have broken through with a great showing the following season. Surprisingly though the Pirates opted not to bring Montilla to the states and instead sent him to the DSL. Montilla had another solid year this season posting an .864 OPS. Montilla has some power and has good speed but his best skill appears to be making contact. The Pirates seem to be moving him around a lot as he played primarily OF in 2010, primarily 2B in 2011 and primarily 3B this past season. He does have another year of eligibility left for the international leagues but he is already 20 years old so if the Pirates do not bring him to the states this season they must not see him as much of a prospect going forward.
Pablo Reyes: Reyes really came out of nowhere this season. I’m assuming the Pirates must have just signed him last season as this was his first season of pro ball. The Pirates thought enough of Reyes to play him at shortstop ahead of the talented and younger Jose Salazar who played SS last season ahead of the highly touted Dilson Herrera. Reyes didn’t disappoint posting a strong .767 OPS. Reyes showed good speed, good contact and good plate discipline this season. AT 18 years old he was a little old to be making his debut but who knows he could be a late bloomer. The Pirates will almost surely have him spend at least one more season in the DSL.
Jose Salazar: Salazar was essentially last year’s version of Pablo Reyes except he didn’t have a strong year with the bat last season. Salazar came out of nowhere last season and started nearly every game at SS ahead of the more highly touted Dilson Herrera. This showed that the Pirates had some belief in his prospect status. Salazar remains young having played this past season at only 17 but he has yet to show any real signs of being able to hit well. He did play a good shortstop last season and adjusted quickly and well this season when the Pirates switched him to third base. Despite two poor offensive seasons to date Salazar remains a player to watch because of how young he is and because the Pirates apparently view him as a player with some potential.
Tito Polo: Polo is another player that has seemingly just came out of nowhere. The Pirates signed him out of Columbia last season with very little if any attention. He served as a starting outfielder this season and posted a very good .798 OPS. He also showed some good speed on the base paths and even flashed a little bit of power but on the down side he did have a high strike out rate. This was Polo’s debut season in pro baseball at 17 years old so the strike out rate is of very little concern right now. Polo seems to have a lot of potential and is a player I am surely going to keep an eye on next season. The Pirates had him play primarily center field which is an indication they think he has some potential. He will undoubtedly repeat the DSL level next season at age 18 and is a prime breakout candidate.
Danny Arribas: Arribas was a fairly notable signing in 2011 signing for 110K. He made his pro debut last season in the DSL and struggled. This season he performed much better cutting down on his strike outs while also showing some gap power. The Pirates seem to be slowly trying to make Arribas a catcher as he played a couple of games there last season and more there this season. He also played some 1B and 3B this year. Arribas doesn’t have the greatest speed but that is typical for a catcher. His good showing this season at the relatively young age of 19 gives his prospect status some hope. Arribas will likely return to the DSL for a 3rd season where he will probably see his time at catcher increased again and since next year he will be 20 years old it could be a make or break season for him.
Carlos Ozuna: The Pirates signed Ozuna last season for 115K thousand so there is undoubtedly some talent there. The Pirates used him as a starting shortstop this season in the DSL (recall they now have two DSL teams). In the international leagues the shortstop position is usually reserved for one of the more talented guys so this is another positive. At 18, this was Ozuna’s first year in pro ball and he handled himself fairly well posting a respectable .726 OPS. He is said to be a good hitter with no power and a strong-arm from the shortstop position. He had a solid pro debut season but the Pirates will no doubt want to see him more at the DSL level.
Gustavo Barrios: Barrios made his pro debut this season at age 18 and really didn’t play a whole lot but he was fairly impressive when he did. Barrios posed a solid .788 OPS in 122 PA and reportedly played a very strong defensive 2B. Barrios didn’t show really any power and he was only average at best on the base paths but he showed a good contact rate. It is difficult to get a gauge on just how the Pirates view him but nearly every season someone who did very little the season before comes up and makes a nice stride forward and Barrios looks like a candidate to do that in 2013.
Yunior Aquiles: Aquiles was one of the Pirates more high-profile signings in 2010 but he hasn’t really shown much thus far. He is said to have a lot of power potential but hasn’t shown any signs of that so far during his pro career. He also struck out a lot for a DSL player this season. Right now Aquiles doesn’t look like he will develop but like I said there always seems to be at least one player who goes from looking like he won’t develop to breaking out in a big way. Next season will be Aquiles third season in the DSL and even though he will only be 19 he is going to have to show something.
Carlos Esqueda: Esqueda is the last position player I am covering here. Before this season Esqueda had played exclusively in the VSL and he had a great season there last year posting a robust .989 OPS. Unfortunately he did not carry that success over to the DSL where he posted a decent .748 OPS. Esqueda is another prospect who is said to have a lot of power potential but unfortunately that too took a step backwards this season. Esqueda will be 21 years old next season and assuming he returns to the DSL will be in his last season of eligibility so time is running out on him.
Omar Basulto: The Pirates signed Basulto out of Mexico last season. He obviously has some talent as he saw some action in the Mexican league last season which is a rather high quality of baseball and is often equated to AA or even AAA level. Let me put that in context though, he pitched only 4 innings so nothing can be gained from his results (which for the record were quite good) but his mere presence there is telling. Basulto pitched almost this entire season at the age of 19 and was arguably the Pirates best pitcher at the DSL level. He displayed great command of his pitches and even managed to miss quite a few bats. I don’t know too much about his stuff but it is safe to say he is the projectable type who will hopefully only get better as he ages. Considering he pitched sparingly in the Mexican league in 2011 and pitched well this season it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Pirates bring him to the states next season.
Oderman Rocha: If Basulto wasn’t the Pirates best pitcher in the DSL it was Rocha. TO be honest I really don’t know why Rocha didn’t pitch in the states this season. The Pirates brought him up for the Fall Instructional league, which usually means the player is going to stay and play in the states, but they oddly assigned him to the DSL level. Rocha pitched in the VSL last season posting very good numbers but he improved upon all of them this season putting up a near dominant season. His walk rate did remain probably a touch too high but it improved. He is 19 years old and a 6’ 3” righty so he fits the Pirates model of the projectable right hander. Rocha should no doubt begin next season in the states.
Mervin Del Rosario: Rosario despite being a little old at 18 was a highly touted signing for the Pirates in 2010. He made his pro debut last season in the DSL and pitched decently but showed some control problems and had a very low strike out rate. This season he improved upon his numbers showing much better control but once again struggling to strike people out. From his groundball rate I’m assuming he must be a sinker ball pitcher of some sort so the low strike out rate comes with that caveat. Rosario is another tall 6’ 3” pitcher who fits the Pirates projectable model but to be fair he is left-handed which does differentiate him somewhat. Rosario will be 21 next season and when you couple that with how he was touted when signed the Pirates may decide to push him to the states next season.
Cesilio Pimental: Pimental made his professional baseball debut last season, seeing limited action in the DSL. He pitched great in 23.1 innings showing good control and striking out a lot of hitters. This season he saw his strike out rates come back down to a good but more typical level but his control remained fairly good. He also proved to be slightly more hittable. Overall his numbers were still good but they were a step back from his showing the previous season. Pimental is another tall, 6’ 2”, projectable left hander, which appears to be a type of Latin American prospects this current regime likes. He will only be 20 years old next season and I really can’t get a read of how the Pirates view him so I would expect to see him back in the DSL next season.
Leandro Rodriguez: The Pirates signed Rodriguez last season and he made his pro debut this season. He started this past season off little shaky but started putting things together in June and was dominant in July onward. He showed good control and also missed bats at a fairly good rate. He is another 6’ 3” righty so he fits the Pirates typical model. He turned 19 during this past season and considering this was his first year of pro ball the Pirates will almost assuredly send him back to the DSL next season.
Richard Mitchell: The Pirates really seem to view Mitchell highly. He pitched most of this past season at only 16 years old and showed some good signs namely a good fastball. The results weren’t there though as his strike out rate was average and his walk rates were way too high. Since Mitchell went straight to pro ball as a 16 year old the Pirates must see something in him so he will no doubt be around for a while. He appears to be a project at this point but one with a considerable upside. He should return to the DSL next season and will probably be given a larger share of innings.
Julio DeLaCruz: DeLaCruz was one of the Pirates big signees for this past season. He signed with the Pirates for a signing bonus of 700K. He obviously has yet to play with the Pirates but the size of his bonus suggests the Pirates view him highly. DeLaCruz is an athletic third baseman who has an advanced approach to hitting. He is a lean player at 6’ 1”, 190 lbs and scouts believe that as he fills out he will add power. Right now he is an average power hitter but possesses great contact skills. He also is reportedly a very solid defensive player. DeLaCruz seems relatively advanced so the Pirates may skip him over the DSL and send him straight to rookie ball in the states.
Michael DeLaCruz: In a strange coincidence the Pirates other major international signing this year also has the last name DeLaCruz (Michael like Julio received a 700K signing bonus). The two players are not related. Like the previous DeLaCruz, Michael his projected to add power as he fills out. Right now he is an athletic center fielder with great speed, a great arm and good defensive ability. He is left-handed batter and is considered to have five tool potential, which is a phrase I often see overused but still it speaks of his upside. This DeLaCruz doesn’t seem to have quite the advanced plate approach as the other so I would expect him to play a season in the DSL.
Yoel Gonzalez: Gonzalez is another signee from the 2012 class and why he isn’t as high-profile as the DeLaCruzes he still received a signing bonus of 350K and signed the first day he was eligible to on his 16th birthday. Gonzalez is a bit of a rarity, he is an international prospect who signed as a catcher and is actually a catcher. Usually teams sign Latin American prospects and convert them to catcher but Gonzalez actually has experience there and appears to be rather good defensively. His offense is all projection right now but he has shown the ability to hit to all fields which is a plus. From the reports I seen Gonzalez appears to be very raw so he should play next season in the DSL.
Johan Herrera: Herrera is the Pirates most recent big international signee. He signed early in November for 300K dollars. Unfortunately at this point I have seen very little about him. He is a third baseman who is called a stand out as a left-handed power hitter. His bat seems to be relatively advanced compared to his defense and he might end up having to change positions. It seems logical with a more advanced third baseman already signed ahead of him that Herrera has no chance of heading directly to the states so he should play next season in the DSL.
Upper Level Hitters – Interesting Non-Prospects
Charlie Cutler: Cutler, a catcher, was drafted by the Pirates in the minor league portion of the Rule V draft and sent him to Altoona this season. Cutler is tough to get a read on because he has hit well at every level but has been consistently old for each level. His defense is average at best. Cutler’s offensive ability makes him an interesting player to watch but considering his age he is probably not much more than an organizational player. Cutler has good plate discipline and has shown decent power so there is still hope for him.
Justin Howard: Howard was drafted by the Pirates in the 24th round of the 2010 draft. He is a good hitter but his defense limits him to a corner and he doesn’t have much power. Before this season Howard had shown a tendency to strike out a lot but he significantly improved upon this season but doing so took even more of his limited power away. If Howard could handle a more defensively challenging position he would probably be a very good prospect right now but being limited to 1B or maybe RF decreases his value significantly. His upside appears to be a Matt Hague type so it still is possible he could get a cup of coffee with the Pirates at some point in the future.
Stefan Welch: Welch was signed by the Mets as an international free agent in 2005 and the Pirates signed him last season as a minor league free agent. Welch showed moderate success in the Mets organization which made the Pirates signing of him at least some what notable as far as minor league signings go. The Pirates started Welch in A+ and he played well enough to earn a promotion to AA and he got off to a great start there making himself look like a possible prospect. However Welch struggled down the stretch and it became more clear why the Pirates were able to sign him as a minor league free agent. Welch plays both 1B and 3B and has shown at least a little bit of power. The Pirates really have very few prospect options for the infield corners in the upper levels so Welch will likely get another chance in 2013.
Elevys Gonzalez: Gonzalez was signed by the Pirates as an international free agent in 2008. He plays 2B and 3B, has average speed but is a good defender. At the plate he has shown decent plate discipline but that took a hit in the 2011 season. Gonzalez played well in the Pirates minor leagues from 2008-2010 before having his big breakout season in 2011. Gonzalez had a great season at the A+ level in 2011 and was considered the Pirates top 3B prospect headed into this season. Unfortunately Gonzalez had a very bad season at the AA level this season and his prospect status took a big hit. The Pirates sent Gonzalez back to A+ but he didn’t perform much better. His strike out rate rose and he showed no increase in power.
Andy Vasquez: Vasquez was signed by the Pirates as an international free agent in 2006. He has played everywhere on the diamond except catcher for the Pirates. His best defensive positions appear to be 3B or the corner outfield though. He didn’t hit to well with the Pirates in his four seasons in the organization but had a nice season in 2011 at the A level. He has decent power but has poor plate discipline. He is evidently a switch hitter but he is an odd switch hitter as he has changed back and forth between batting left-handed and right-handed without actually ever being a switch hitter. Coming off a strong showing in A ball in 2011 Vasquez had a modest year at the A+ level but it was far from a stand out year. At this point Vasquez is probably just a minor league utility player but he has some tools that make him at least slightly interesting.
Kelson Brown: I like Brown better than most people. The Pirates drafted him in the 34th round of the 2010 draft and immediately began using him as an organizational player but he appears to have more upside than that. He has played every position on the diamond except pitcher and catcher and was a decent pitcher in college so he could probably even do that for a few innings if needed. He is a good defender at basically each position and has shown the ability to hit fairly well. Brown has very little power, although he did show a slight increase this season, but has decent plate discipline. Essentially Brown is the type of player who does nothing really great nor terrible. He hit quite well as a utility player in AA this season so hopefully the Pirates find away with a shallow position player crop to give him more at bats this season. He has the upside of a solid major league utility player.
Ali Solis: The Pirates claimed Solis off of waivers this season but just a few days later they waved him from the roster. Solis looks like a good defensive player but he has shown very little with the bat. He had a decent showing at the AA level in 2012 but it was the 4th year he has spent time at the AA level. Solis even made his major league debut this year but only received 4 PA. Solis has no power and very poor plate discipline so the Pirates decision to claim him seems a little odd. He doesn’t really seem to have much upside and assuming he clears waivers he will likely serve as the Pirates replacement for Eric Fryer.
Upper Level Pitchers – Interesting Non-Prospects
Aaron Pribanic: Pribanic was one of three minor league pitchers the Pirates acquired in the Jack Wilson trade a few years back. The other two were both selected in the Rule V draft but Pribanic remains with the Pirates. Pribanic is a sinker ball pitcher which means he lives or dies with ground balls. Before this season he had modest success and was looking like a fringe prospect. However this season he suffered a shoulder injury early in the season and spent the rest of the year trying to come back from it. Pribanic has decent control but he relies heavily on his sinker and his secondary pitches are average at best. At this point he is a 26 year who will likely be returning for a 3rd straight season of AA ball so his prospect days look behind him but considering he missed this year due to injury he should probably be given one last chance to prove himself.
Nathan Baker: Baker was drafted by the Pirates in the 5th round of the 2009 draft. He is a left-handed pitcher who throws his fastball right around 90 mph and compliments it with a good change-up. He was a pitcher I liked coming into the 2012 season and I thought could take a step forward; as it turns out I was close as his college and Pirate minor league teammate, Phillip Irwin made the step forward. Baker on the other hand had a poor showing at AA which significantly hurt his prospect status. Baker was moved to the bullpen this season but the Pirates do not have a ton of starting options for AA so Baker may return to the rotation, either way if he has a future in the major leagues going forward it will probably be a fringe left-handed reliever.
Hunter Strickland: I doubt anyone remembers this at this point but Strickland was the pitching prospect we got in return for Adam LaRoche. Strickland doesn’t have the best arsenal with a low 90s fastball and average breaking stuff but what he does have is pin point control. In his two seasons with the Pirates Strickland had two decent seasons but never really stood out and then he missed all of 2011 due to a shoulder injury. This season he returned and had a very solid showing in A+ but struggled upon getting promoted. Strickland is still only 24 years old so it is too early to write him off completely especially considering he lost a whole year of development with the shoulder injury but going forward Strickland is going to have to start missing some more bats and getting better results if he is to be viewed as a legitimate prospect.
Jhonathan Ramos: During the Littlefield era the Pirates had a fascination with signing Latin American prospects who were short finesse left-handed pitchers. Ramos is one of the last remaining and has probably been the most successful so far. Ramos has put up respectable numbers at just about every level he has pitched but has never really stood out. He was great in the VSL and A- but since moving to full season ball he has been mediocre. His arsenal includes an upper 80s fastball, a slider and a change-up. This past season he split time between A+ and AA and put some eerily similar peripherals but he had a much a higher ERA in A+ than he did AA. Ramos is probably just an organizational pitcher at this point but as a finesse left-handed reliever with good control it is not unreasonable to think he could get a cup of coffee in the major leagues one day.
Porfirio Lopez: Lopez is the other hold out of the short left-handed Latin American pitching prospects signed by Littlefield. Like Ramos Lopez dominated when in the international leagues but has struggled since starting full season ball in the states. Unlike Ramos, Lopez appears to have the ability to miss bats but he pays for it with poor control and a high walk rate. This past season like 2011 Lopez split time between A and A+ and put up mediocre numbers. He actually showed improved control this season in A+ but it was at the expense of some strike outs so I imagine he must have been trying something different. Lopez seems to have a tad bit more on his fastball than Ramos occasionally hitting 90 but his secondary pitches are roughly the same at average to maybe slightly above. At this point Lopez looks like an organizational pitcher but the same caveat applies here as it is not unreasonable to think he could make a major league appearance some day under the right conditions.
Aaron Poreda: Poreda is an interesting story. He was drafted by the White Sox in the first round of the 2007 draft and he moved quickly through the minors pitching well at every level and he made his MLB debut in 2009. He was shaky in his 10 appearances with the White Sox but it appeared to be nothing more than a rookie trying to adjust but then he was traded to the Padres in the Jake Peavy deal and everything fell apart. He pitched only 2.1 innings with the Padres but appeared to have no control what so ever. The Padres sent him to the minors and he continued showing no control what so ever. He did manage to start missing bats again but with walk rates above 10 BB/9 that scarcely mattered. The Pirates selected him during the minor league portion of the Rule V draft last season and sent him to AA where in limited to before he got injured he did show somewhat improved control but even so the 6.2 BB/9 rate he posted is still awful. Poreda is a left-handed pitcher with great stuff, his fastball has been clocked at 100 mph. There is obviously talent here but unless Poreda can find his control again it won’t matter. The Pirates will probably give him one more chance this season.
Michael Colla: Colla was drafted by the Pirates in the 14th round of the 2008 draft. He throws a low 90s fastball, a slider and a curve. Colla has spent the last two seasons at AA and put up very similar numbers both seasons. This season the Pirates moved him to the bullpen and he pitched much better there than he did as a starter. Colla seems to have decent control as he has always posted good walk rate and even manages to miss a few bats with a K rate normally around 7 K/9. The Pirates had success moving Hughes and Watson to the bullpen after they tapped out as starters at the AA level so I see no reason why they shouldn’t try the same path with Colla. Colla should open the season in AAA and could be a candidate for the major leagues some time this season if he pitches well and a need arises in the Pirates bullpen.