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.
Mid Level Hitters – Interesting Non-Prospects
Samuel Gonzalez: The Pirates signed Gonzalez as a catcher out of the Dominican Republic at the late age of 20 in 2009. He started late but moved up fairly quickly spending only two years in the DSL and then by passing rookie ball and playing the 2011 season at the A- level. Gonzalez had a very good season at the A- level and looked like he might be developing into a real prospect but he injured his shoulder late in the season and it continued bothering him into Spring Training. The shoulder injury prevented him from catching and forced him to 1B, a position his bat is not enough for. Not only that Gonzalez had a very poor showing this season which may be related to his shoulder injury. Gonzalez still has some work defensively behind the plate but has the tools to become a solid catching prospect. Hopefully he will be healthy enough to catch next season but with the talent the Pirates have recently added he might have trouble finding frequent playing time behind the plate.
Jodaneli Carvajal: Carvajal is one of many middle infielders the Pirates signed internationally in 2008 who are now in the states in the low-mid minors but all of them are struggling. To me it appears Carvajal is the last one left with any prospect possibilities. Carvajal is a good defensive player with plus speed but he is not a good hitter. He moved up to the states after just two years in the DSL and had a strong showing in rookie ball in 2011. This season Carvajal split time between the A- and A levels and was decent at the plate but really didn’t show too much progress with his bat. Carvajal will probably struggle to get consistent playing time next season but needs to take advantage of any opportunity he gets to keep his prospect window open.
Raul Fortunato: Fortunato was signed by the Pirates as an outfielder out of the Dominican Republic in 2009. His first two seasons in the DSL he had two very poor seasons and was looking like at best an organizational guy. However in 2011 he had a break out season which was topped by what I believe was a 30 something game hitting streak which got him some press with the Pittsburgh media. He moved up to the states this season and started at the A- level but unfortunately he got hurt early in the season and didn’t play again. Fortunato is a great base stealer and seems to be slowly developing good plate discipline but he has shown the tendency to strike out a good bit. He had a good chance to really establish himself this past season but unfortunately his injury prevented that. This upcoming season Fortunato will need a good season just to keep his prospect status alive.
Elias Diaz: Diaz was signed by the Pirates as a catcher out of Venezuela in 2008. He had a good pro debut in 2009 in the VSL and was promoted the following season to the states. Diaz has done very little since coming to the states though. He has been very poor with the bat and while showing improvements defensively still needs some work with that part of his game. The Pirates like most organizations have a bunch of catchers in the low to mid levels of the minor leagues but most of them profile as just organizational depth. At 22 it is a little early to say that is what Diaz is but right now unless he shows significant improvements with his bat that is likely where his career is headed.
DJ Crumlich: The Pirates drafted Crumlich, along with a couple other college middle infielders, in this past draft class. None of them really profile as much more than organizational players but Crumlich was the one who actually had the best debut. He played this past season at the A- level where he easily had the best season of any of the Pirates infielders at that level. Crumlich doesn’t profile to hit for much power and his speed and defense are probably about average so if he is going to go anywhere it will have to be with good contact skills and good plate discipline. He did show some decent plate discipline this past season and during his college years so there may be some hope there. Crumlich will probably play at either the A or A+ level next season, wherever he is needed, and will need to take advantage of his opportunities.
Taylor Lewis: Lewis was drafted by the Pirates in the 10th round of the 2011 draft. He is an outfielder and was rated the 5th best prospect in upper New England. He has good defense, speed and some power potential. Unfortunately he hasn’t shown much in his first two pro seasons. This past season wasn’t a bad showing for him but his numbers were only decent and he struck out way too much. Lewis went to a small college so the step up in play for him was probably bigger than for most players so he shouldn’t be given up on quite yet. At this point Lewis is a project but he seems to have a decent upside and there is still time for him to have that breakout season since he will play next season at 23 which isn’t that old for the middle levels.
Mid Level Pitchers – Interesting Non-Prospects
Ryan Hafner: Coming into the 2012 season Ryan Hafner was viewed as a potential breakout candidate for the Pirates. Unfortunately that didn’t even come close to happening. Hafner was terrible in A ball posting an amazing walk rate of 10.1 BB/9. He starter the season as a starter was demoted to the bullpen and then ultimately demoted to A-. In A- he managed to lower his walk rate to 4.7 BB/9 but that is still bad. Hafner doesn’t have the greatest stuff but up until this season his control was good and he does have some talent but it goes without saying if he repeats this past season’s results this upcoming year his professional baseball career may very well be over.
Jason Creasy: Creasy was one of several projectable high school arms taken in the 2011 draft. He pitched this season in A- and while his overall numbers weren’t good there were some positives such as his fastball adding a couple mph going from the high 80s to low 90s and the slider he added looked like a decent pitch. Overall though his control was shaky and he didn’t strike many batters out. Like all of the Pirates projectable high school pitcher selections there is some potential there but he needs to start realizing some of that potential soon.
Jordan Cooper: The Pirates drafted Cooper twice once in 2009 and then again in 2011. He is an interesting pitcher to figure. He has shown some good stuff throwing his fastball in the mid 90s and having control of his breaking stuff but at other times his fastball tops out around 90 and his control disappears. He starter this season in A ball where he struggled but when he was sent to A- he was dominant. If the Pirates can get him to pitch consistently he could be a good relief prospect but with his ups and downs he is just a project right now.
Kyle Haynes: The Pirates drafted Haynes in the 20th round of the 2012 draft. He served as the closer at the A- level and had mixed results. He struck out a lot of hitters which of course is a positive but allowed a surprisingly high number of base runners. His walk rate was a tad high but not horrible so the high number of base runners suggests that hitters when they weren’t striking out were managing to see the ball well and put up hits. Still Haynes has good stuff with a low 90s fastball and a very good change-up so he has some potential as a relief prospect if he can continue missing bats and start allowing fewer base runners.
Quinton Miller: Miller was a 20th round selection of the Pirates in 2008 and was one of the first of the projectable high school pitchers. He was a good talent coming out of high school, he already touched the mid 90s with his fastball usually sitting around 90 with it. His slider was well-developed and his change was a decent pitch. Unfortunately Miller doesn’t seem to have progressed much from the pitcher he was in high school because he just finished his 4th poor year as a pro. He did manage to strike out a few more hitters this season but it was at the expense of his walk rate blossoming. It is undeniable that Miller has good stuff but the lack of results to date makes it impossible to view him as a legit prospect. The Pirates will probably give him one more shot in 2013 though.
Josh Poytress: The Pirates have a plethora of fringe lefty reliever prospects in the A-AA levels and Poytress appears to be one of the best of that group, which isn’t really saying a lot. The Pirates drafted him out of Fresno State in the 18th round of the 2011 draft and to date he has put up decent numbers as a pro but hasn’t really done anything to stand out. Poytress had a very odd stat line this past season at the A+ level posting a 2.59 ERA but having a 1.49 WHIP and 5.6 BB/9. The peripherals say he didn’t pitch well but the ERA indicates he worked out of most of his messes. At this point Poytress is probably an organizational player but as a left-handed reliever there is always some hope.
Rinku Singh: Singh is probably the most known player I have covered so far but that is more for his background than his pitching ability. We all know the story about him winning a contest in India and then ultimately signing with the Pirates. Singh has had fairly good success so far and one doesn’t even have to add considering his background to make that statement true. Singh pitched well at the A level this past season and was arguably the team’s best pitcher. Singh struck out a quite a few hitters with a 8.1 K/9 and showed good control with a 2.2 BB/9. He isn’t an overpowering pitcher throwing just in the mid 80s but he has good off speed stuff. He is of course a long shot to ever make an impact in the majors but if Singh manages to have a solid showing in 2013 at the A+ level he could force his way on to the prospect map.
Low Level Hitters – Interesting Non-Prospects
Edwin Espinal: Espinal is probably someone I should buy into more than I do. The Pirates signed him for $150,000 in 2011 out of the Dominican Republic. He spent the 2011 season in the DSL and put up good numbers and was named one of the top 20 prospects in the DSL and VSL. Espinal’s value is almost entirely tied to him developing power though as he is shaky defensively, probably limited to 1B, and is slow. This past season Espinal was promoted to the GCL and struggled. His plate discipline which had been good in the DSL was poor and his overall numbers suffered. Espinal did finish the season with a strong August though and will only be 19 next season so the potential is still there.
Jared LaKind: The Pirates drafted LaKind in the 23rd round of the 2010 draft and for $400,000 convinced him to to skip going to Arkansas. When drafted LaKind had potential both as a pitcher and 1B. He was a lefty with a low 90s fastball but his power potential is what the Pirates saw so they announced him as a 1B. LaKind has spent the last 3 seasons between rookie ball and A- and hasn’t made much if any progress. He strikes out too much and has shown little power. His prospect window is all but shut and to be honest I’m surprised the Pirates haven’t converted him back to a pitcher yet.
Stetson Allie: Oh how the mighty have fallen. Allie with his 100+ mph fastball was once one of the Pirates best prospects now he barely clings to his prospect status. Allie has a lot of power potential which is what is keeping his status as a hitting prospect alive but he has a lot of work to do if he is going to succeed. Allie had a rough first year at the plate, striking out a third of the time and batting only .213 but he did show a little bit of that raw power. For my money the Pirates were better off keeping him as a pitcher and hoping they could iron out his control problems but we shall see how this path turns out.
Candon Myles: Myles is a speedy center fielder who loves to run. The best part of his game is speed and it is something he does well. Myles doesn’t have much of a bat though his line in limited action this season was promising. He is essentially your typical speedy center field type who is going to have to make by defense, speed and OBP skills. The Pirates drafted him in 2011 so he just turned 20 a few days ago. There is definitely some talent here but we have to wait and see if Myles can turn into anything.
Ryan Hornback: The Pirates and most organizations for that matter tend to carry a few extra catchers in the system. The Pirates have a plethora of catchers in their lower levels but most are probably just organizational types. The one that appears to have the highest upside of the non-prospects is Hornback. Hornback started the 2012 season splitting time with Jacob Stallings at catcher in A- but got injured in July and didn’t play again. He did fairly well in that time batting for a 291/329/367 line. He is viewed as a solid defensive catcher. Overall he is probably just an organizational catcher but unlike most of the others in the lower levels he has a chance to progress farther into the system.
Low Level Pitchers – Interesting Non-Prospects
Yhonathan Herrand: Herrand is an interesting prospect. He has a great arm, reportedly even hitting 100 mph with his fastball. However he is erratic sometimes only throwing in the low 90s or even upper 80s and he has very little control of his pitches. His live arm is the only thing keeping his prospect status alive but with two years already spent at rookie ball his window is nearly closed.
Wei-Chung Wang: The Pirates signed Wang out of Taiwan for $350,000 in 2011 but a failed medical test (he had a torn ligament and required Tommy John surgery) caused the two sides to rework a deal at a much lower signing bonus. Wang has yet to pitch and I know virtually nothing about him but the fact the Pirates were giving him that kind of signing bonus means there has to be some potential there.
Jackson Lodge: Lodge is a left-handed international prospect who was signed out of Australia in late 2010. His pro debut was solid in 2011 and he showed significant improvement this past season improving everything but his K rate. He currently doesn’t have any great pitches and his velocity tops out in the mid 80s but Lodge just turned 19 early in October so there is still some potential with him.
Bryton Trepagnier: Trepagnier was drafted in the 41st round of the 2010 and had a modest debut in 2010 but struggled in 2011. Going into this season he looked like an organizational player but he showed vast improvement this season adding a few mph to his fastball (getting it to 92-93) and throwing a good slider. His strikeout rate improved and he showed better control. Trepagnier turned 21 late in the season so he is kind of old for the lower levels so he is going to have to have a good 2013 to stay a prospect but he looks to have some potential as a relief arm.
Andy Otamendi: Otamendi appears to be your typical finesse lefty but the Pirates brought him to the states after just one season in the VSL so they must see some potential in him. Otamendi had a solid year out of the bullpen in rookie ball this season and will only be 20 years old next season so he still has some potential.
Dovydas Neverauskas: The Pirates signed Neverauskas out of Lithuania in 2010. He has spent the last 3 seasons in rookie ball and hasn’t improved much so his prospect status is borderline at best right now. He did show some improvements in his command this season but it wasn’t a huge improvement. He has the benefit of being a hard thrower 95-96 and he is still young as he will only be 20 next season. The Pirates promoted to A- late this past season so they must see something in him.
Axel Diaz: I’m not really sure what to think of Diaz. The Pirates signed him out of the Dominican Republic in 2011 for an unreported signing bonus (which means it was small if it existed at all) and he pitched 1 inning in the DSL in 2011 but despite this the Pirates still brought him to the states and actually put him in the rotation. He is a little older than you would expect as next season he will be 21 but the way the Pirates are handling him suggests they think he is a prospect and he actually pitched respectably this season considering his lack of experience.
Since we are in a bit of a slow time for Pirates related baseball news I thought this would be a good time to go over the Pirates prospects. I’m planning quite an extensive list culminating in the release of my top 30 players. It is my current plan to go with an 18 part series.
The breakdown of the 18 part series will be as followed:
6 posts on the most interesting of the non-prospects (3 for hitters and 3 for pitchers)
1 post on the DSL prospects
4 posts on the fringe prospects (2 for hitters and 2 for pitchers)
1 post on the prospects who just missed my top 30
6 posts on my top 30 (5 at a time)
I hope you all enjoy this series and I’m figuring it will probably take me most of the rest of the month to complete.