Catchers: Carlos Paulino, Charlie Cutler
Paulino is a defensive first catcher who is graded by scouts as one of the best defensive catchers in the minor leagues. He stuck around with the big league camp until the final round of cuts so the Pirates must see something in him. Cutler is an organizational player who is a bat first catcher.
1st Base/DH: Alex Dickerson, Matt Curry
Both Dickerson and Curry are prospects to some degrees. If it wasn’t for the logjam of 1B types in AAA (Hague, Larish and possibly Robinson) Curry would almost certainly be there after a good season in AA. Both players have received a little time in LF this Spring but neither is an option there long term. Both players are good hitters but the question is whether either has enough power to make up for their defensive limitations.
Middle Infield: Jarek Cunningham, Gift Ngoepe, Drew Maggi
Cunningham will be the starter at 2nd and Ngoepe at shortstop. Cunningham is repeating the level because he struggled last season but has good power for a 2nd baseman so he is worth keeping an eye on. Ngoepe doesn’t do much with the bat but is a slick fielding shortstop. If he can hit even a little his glove will almost certainly carry him to the majors. Maggi was given an overslot bonus just a few years ago but is now just an organizational player. He could see time just about anywhere including the outfield but his primary purpose will be backing up the middle infield.
Other Infielders: Stefan Welch, Adalberto Santos
Welch and Santos figure to split the third base duties. Neither is a 3rd baseman by trade as Welch is better suited for 1st base and Santos has played almost exclusively the outfield. Welch is coming off an excellent season in A+ in 2012 which earned him a promotion to AA. He started off hot but quickly cooled down. He did have a good showing in the WBC for Team Australia this spring though. Santos has hit at every level the Pirates put him on and probably should be up in AAA this year but the roster figures to be a little crowded. He played exclusively the outfield last season but played some 2B the year before that. Santos is likely to see time in both the OF and 2B as well as adding 3B to his duties. If he can be passable defensively eat each position it coupled with his good contact skills could make him an intriguing bench option.
Outfielders: Mel Rojas, Andrew Lambo, Justin Howard, Andy Vasquez
Rojas is the only real prospect in this group. He has a good set of tools but hasn’t really put everything together. He probably isn’t ready for AA but with Polanco moving up to A+ the Pirates have decided to give him an aggressive push and let him continue playing center field. Lambo will be spending his 5th year at the AA level. This his last year before minor league free agency so if he is going to ever live up to that prospect hype its likely now or never. Howard has good contact skills but is poor defensively and has little power. In reality he shouldn’t be in the outfield but the only position he plays even half decently his first base and there is just no room for him there. Vasquez is a utility player who has been in the Pirates organization seemingly forever. He has played a little bit of everywhere but it appears he will serve mainly as a backup outfielder this season. In addition to these guys Santos is likely to see a lot of time in the outfield and Maggi, Dickerson and even Curry could get the occasional start as well.
Starting Pitchers: Jameson Taillon, Stolmy Pimentel, Brandon Cumpton, Casey Sadler, Tyler Waldron
Taillon is of course Taillon. He is the only true top flight prospect at this level. The main question surrounding him is when will he move up to AAA. Pimentel was acquired in the Joel Hanrahan trade and has a lot of upside but has struggled in AA in the past and is on his last option so he is going to have to impress quickly. Cumpton had moderate success in the AA rotation last year but wasn’t overwhelming so the Pirate have opted to have him repeat the level. Sadler is a prospect I like a lot but he is better suited for relief than starting. He pitched well last year both as a starter and a reliever in A+ and the Pirates like to keep their pitching prospects starting for as long as possible. Waldron was supposed to be moving to the bullpen but I guess the Pirates have had a change of mind. He really didn’t pitch that well last season in A+ but he was promoted near the end of the season so the Pirates must see some potential in him.
Relief Pitchers: Tim Alderson, Nate Baker, Jason Townsend, Jeff Inman, Luis Sanz, Ethan Hollingsworth, Kenn Kasparek
Alderson has seemingly been around forever but is still relatively young at only 24 years old. He gets another go around in AA and this could be his last chance to salvage his career. he still has that great curveball and his fastball is back in the lower 90s so anything is possible. Baker was in the AA rotation for most of last year but struggled and was moved to the bullpen. He did well there and as a left hander he shouldn’t be completely dismissed as an organizational player quite yet. Townsend was a prospect I was initially excited about when the Pirates drafted him because he was throwing in the upper 90s and striking batters out. However something happened last year and that good velocity and strike out numbers were no longer there. I will be curious to see if he can regain that form this season. Inman was a fairly highly touted 12th round pick by the Pirates who only slipped that low because of health concerns. Well so far those health concerns have proved to be a big problem as before last year he pitched in only 17 games over 3 seasons. he did remain relatively healthy last year and displayed good velocity but his strike out rates were low largely do to the lack of a good secondary pitch. The other 3 relievers were added this offseason to provide depth and are only organizational players.
The players I’m the most surprised to not see here are Zach Thornton, Kelson Brown and Dan Grovatt. Thornton was acquired this offseason for Resop and was talked about as the potential closer for the AA team. He had a high strike out rate last year but he was admittedly old for the level. Kelson Brown had a good showing in AA last year and looked like a possible future utility player in the major leagues. He didn’t have much of a ceiling but I would say he had a shot at a Rob Mackowiak type career. Finally Grovatt was one of the better hitters at A+ last year which again really isn’t saying a whole lot as the offense was terrible at that level. One other player to watch but he is not a notable omission is Ryan Beckman. Fan Graphs recently called Beckman a sleeper prospect and I agree with that assessment. Ordinarily he would be on this roster but he is still recovering from Tommy John surgery.
1. Jameson Taillon
2. Alex Dickerson
3. Gift Ngoepe
4. Adalberto Santos
5. Stolmy Pimentel
6. Casey Sadler
7. Mel Rojas Jr
8. Matt Curry
9. Carlos Paulino
10. Brandon Cumpton
11. Jarek Cunningham
Last offseason I did a 15 part preview of the Pirates upcoming seasons focusing on what I expected to see out of various positions at the major league levels, the minor levels, the coaching staff and the front office. The series went over fairly well with my readers so I have decided to bring it back for a second year. I’m not sure how many parts this year’s series will include but I will do my best to cover every key player I can think of.
At the very top of my personal top Pirates prospects list the Pirates have a group I call the top 6 and a group I call the next 6. Two of the top 6 prospects and 1 of the next 6 prospects will be beginning the 2013 season either in AA, AAA or perhaps the major leagues. The two top prospects are of course Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon. The next 6 prospect is Kyle McPherson. Cole is likely to garner the most attention and will likely start the season out in AAA but with a few adjustments and a strong start to the season he could see Pittsburgh fairly early on. Big things are expected from Cole and I fully expect we will see him in Pittsburgh come June or July. Cole may be the ace the Pirates are sorely lacking but it is not realistic to expect him to be that right out of the gate. I expect his major league time to be solid but lacking the elite quality we all will hope to see. Taillion should start the year in AA with a chance for a mid season promotion to AAA. I have high hopes that 2013 will be the year he unleashes his full arsenal and starts putting up the dominant minor league numbers we all hoped we would see. McPherson is competing for a major league rotation spot this spring but barring injuries I see him starting the year in the AAA rotation. McPherson will definitely get some time in the majors this season and I would like to see him perform well enough to earn a 2014 rotation spot. I think McPherson has the upside of a solid middle of the rotation starter and I have reasonably high hopes he will take the first steps towards establishing himself as one this season.
The Pirates upper levels aren’t exactly brimming with hitting talent. The top prospects are probably Tony Sanchez, Adalberto Santos, Alex Dickerson, Gift Ngoepe and if he is promoted to AA Mel Rojas Jr. Sanchez I have already discussed this is a pivotal year for him to have a solid season in AAA and in the likely event of one of the Pirates two catchers suffering an injury this season I would expect Sanchez to be a candidate to be called up to the majors. My expectation is Sanchez will have a solid but not great year in AAA and struggle offensively during any brief major league stint. Santos, Dickerson and Ngoepe I could see all starting in AA this season. Santos has a case to move up to AAA but the crowded outfield will likely hold him back. Hopefully one or more of these three will show something this season that lets the Pirates believe they could be contributors to the 2014 team. My expectations aren’t really high for any of them as I expect Dickerson’s numbers to be solid but again not where they need to be for an all bat player, Santos to regress from his good contact ways and Ngoepe to show only minimal improvement with the bat. The remaining hitting prospects with some intrigue are Ivan De Jesus, Matt Curry, Clint Robinson and Carlos Paulino. De Jesus, Curry and Robinson should start the year in AAA and could be called upon to serve as major league depth this season. Of the 3 my expectations are the highest for De Jesus who I think could develop into a nice middle infield utility player.
Outside of the top 3 pitching prospects I discussed the Pirates have a bunch of interesting arms projected to begin the season in one of the top two levels or the major leagues. Bryan Morris, Justin Wilson, Andy Oliver, Phillip Irwin and Victor Black are all very intriguing arms with some degree of chance of making the major league squad but most likely for all except Morris and possibly Wilson they will start the season in AAA. I have previously discussed Morris and Wilson so I’ll focus on the other 3. Oliver to me looks like another Justin Wilson type project who the Pirates will try to fix his control this season. Irwin has the look of a crafty righty with a know how to pitch and a good enough arsenal of pitches where he could be an effective back of the rotation starter. Black has the makings of a late inning shut down reliever but needs some fine tuning before he gets there. My expectation is that Oliver won’t show much improvement with his control and will wind up in the bullpen and the other two will show positive signs of improvement and I wouldn’t be shocked if either or both of them spent a fair amount of time in the majors this year. In AA the pitching talent is a little less deep outside of Taillon but two guys I’ll be watching are Stolmy Pimentel and Casey Sadler. With this being Pimentel’s last option year I expect the Pirates to move him to the bullpen and Sadler shown enough the Pirates are likely to keep him starting but I think they see him as a reliever long term. I don’t have high hopes for Pimentel this season but I think Sadler will show enough promise the Pirates will add him to the roster at the end of the season. There are a bunch of other semi-interesting pitching prospects in the upper levels but the 4 that catch my eye are Duke Welker, Brandon Cumpton, Tyler Waldron and Hunter Strickland. Welker and Strickland are on the 40 man roster and will need to show something to prove they belong there. I think Strickland will surprise people but my expectation is that Welker will struggle. As for the other two I think both will be converted to relief roles this spring to see if either is worth protecting from the Rule V draft this upcoming offseason. I suspect one of these two will wind up being the Pirates yearly surprise addition to the roster.
Prospects To Watch
I already mentioned that I think De Jesus, Waldron and Cumpton are a couple under the radar names to keep an eye on but I want to dig a little deeper and mention a few players who look like organizational players at this point who interest me. Jared Goedert is having a solid spring and while I don’t expect a whole lot out of him if he hits well in AAA he could get a chance in the majors and I think he has a chance to find a niche there as a good pinch hitting option. Michael Colla has flown under the radar but he has had moderate success at essentially every level. He could potential earn a chance to pitch as a middle reliever some time this season. A few other players I plan on keeping an eye on down in AA are Justin Howard, Kelson Brown and Tim Alderson. Howard is a 1st baseman with limited power but a pretty good knack for making contact. The Pirates have tried using him in the outfield some and with no real option to man 3B in AA I wouldn’t be shocked to see him trotted out there. If he can manage to be competent defensively in the outfield and third base his good contact ability could gain him some traction as a potential bench option down the road. Brown is the type of player who is solid in all aspects of the game but wonderful in none. He plays multiple positions, makes decent contact, shows a little power and is sound defensively. However he does none of those things at a high or low level. He has been fairly successful at every level and as I said with Howard the opening at 3B provides him with a chance to get some playing time and if given a chance he could surprise some people. Alderson has been written off by nearly everyone at this point and with very good reason but he is still relatively young. The last two seasons he has shown progress in converting to a reliever and a more finesse pitcher. He isn’t ever going to become what the Pirates hoped they were acquiring when they traded Freddy Sanchez for him but maybe there is enough talent left in him to develop into a marginal relief prospect. Now for the standard disclaimer my expectation of the players I discussed at length here is that they will continue on their path as organizational guys but of that group the names I noted I believe have the best chance to surprise in 2013.
I know this is incredibly early but with news being slow this time of year I thought I would fast forward to December and take a look at the players the Pirates will have to decide to either add to the 40 man roster or expose to the Rule V draft. For the sake of simplicity I have opted to focus only on players who will be eligible for the Rule V draft for the first time in 2013. I am sure there will be others who were previously eligible who may wind up factoring into the Pirates or another team’s plans but there are too many to consider at this early point. I have divided the players into five categories and written a little bit about the players, why I think there is a chance they might be selected and how I think the Pirates will proceed with them in 2013. There are of course other first time eligible players and I make mention of that later one but to me they are notable in this discussion. Once again it is way too early to even begin thinking about this kind of stuff but hey news is slow this time of year so why not.
Locks To Be Added: Gregory Polanco
It takes a lot to look like a definite lock to be added to the 40 man roster nearly a year out from your Rule 5 eligibility so naturally there are very few players who fit this description. The Pirates have one and only one such player in Gregory Polanco. He is the Pirates number 1 or 1a hitting prospect and should start the season at A+. Usually when evaluating whether to protect prospects or not teams would like to see what the player is capable of doing at least against AA competition but in Polanco’s case that isn’t really much of a concern as he will be protected in almost any set of circumstances. I expect Polanco will get pushed to AA at some point this season but it will be based on merit not just taking a look at a guy. Polanco has a huge upside as a fast solid defensive center fielder with plus power so the Pirates would be crazy not to protect him.
Next In Line: Brandon Cumpton, Matt Curry, Gift Ngoepe, Adalberto Santos
The four players listed in this group all look like fairly safe bets to become solid major league contributors. Now that doesn’t mean star or even starter but any of these four it would appear could hold down a 25 man roster spot next season and produce at least some value and for that reason each one would be at risk of getting selected and is therefore a candidate to be added. Cumpton, Curry and Santos are all candidates to start in AAA but I would say Curry is the only lock to do so. Ngoepe appears likely to start in AA but could be held back in A+. The Pirates will take a long look at each of these players and decide whether to protect them or not at the end of the season. None of these players has the ceiling of a star but all could be quality depth for the Pirates next season. Cumpton looks like a possible 5th starter or middle reliever. Curry appears to have the upside of a Casey Kotchman type first baseman meaning one who can hit decently but not for a lot of power; most players of this type quickly fizzle out though. Ngoepe has a great glove but will need his bat to develop some in order to become a starting major league option but even if it doesn’t he might be able to find a role as a defensive middle infielder off the bench. Santos is quite simply a professional hitter but one who doesn’t have a true position. Santos has hit at every level but has shown very little power and is not really good defensively anywhere. His ability to hit though and his experience at 2B and in the OF could make him a decent bench bat though.
Possible Relievers: Casey Sadler, Zach Thornton, Jason Townsend, Tyler Waldron
Every year it seems the Pirates protect one pitcher from the Rule V draft who is a bit of a head scratcher. Some times that is a player who was previously eligible and other times it is a first time eligible player. There are too many previous eligible candidates to discuss but of the first time eligible ones the above four currently appear to me to be the most likely to be added to the 40 man roster at the end of the season. I won’t say too much about each of these players individually but they all fit the typical mold of being right handed pitchers who throw in the mid 90s and to date haven’t posted the numbers (especially strike out numbers) that one would like to see from them. Although to be fair Thornton did have a a good strike out rate last season but he was a little old for the level he did it at. All four of these pitchers are likely to start the season in AA and with the exception of Sadler they will all likely be pitching from relief. Sadler is by far the most polished of the group and it could be argued he belongs with the next in line class but unlike the four I listed I don’t think he could necessarily stick for an entire season. If any of these four make an impression with the Pirates and keep in mind that isn’t necessarily only statistics I could see them being protected.
Projects: Zack Dodson, Mel Rojas, Zach Von Rosenberg
At the time these players were drafted all of them were considered to have high ceilings but to date none of them have progressed much and 2013 will serve as a defining year for them. The ceilings these players once were to said to had are still there and outside of Polanco these 3 probably have the most talent of the bunch (with possibly one exception below). Currently I have all 3 projected to start the season at A+ but Rojas could be pushed to AA and Dodson could be held back in A ball once his suspension ends. The players who do wind up starting in A+ I imagine will be aggressively pushed once and if they show any signs of progress. Before the Pirates opt to put any of these players on the 40 man roster I imagine they will want to see them against some AA competition. At this point little should be expected of any of these players but each of them has one last chance to show just a glimmer of that upside the Pirates dreamt about when drafting them.
Other Notables: Stetson Allie, Kelson Brown, Dan Grovatt, Justin Howard, Drew Maggi
There are a lot of other players eligible but essentially I see little to no chance of them being added to the roster or selected. That is nearly a year away though so a lot can and probably will change. Of the remaining players the ones above are the names I find the most interesting. With the exception of Allie who I will get to later all of the players have posted solid minor league numbers and will be playing most likely in AA this upcoming season. A good showing in AA could put them on the radar as a possible Rule V selection but right now they all seem like long shots. The other players not listed are players who have largely not developed past A ball yet and while they may have a ton of talent they are too raw to even be considered in this discussion. The one name on my notable list that doesn’t quite fit with the others is Stetson Allie. In his current states and practically any state he’ll be in by the end of the 2013 season Allie is no threat to be selected and obviously will not be protected. Quite a fall from grace for Allie as headed into last season he had the look of one of the Pirates better prospects but now that he failed at pitching and transitioned back to hitting he appears to be not much more than an organizational player. Certainly he has talent but it appears his time to harness and develop that talent has almost ran out.
Tim Williams at Pirates Prospects has a the 2013 Minor League Spring Training Roster for the Pirates on his site. Every year I look over this list to see if there are any interesting developments like a player being shifted to or from the mound, notable absences or even notable additions from the DSL. For some reason this year nothing like that caught my eye but what did catch my eye was that Tim had the player’s ages listed beside their names. Usually this wouldn’t be a big deal but for some reason it caught my attention. Some players were a few years older or younger than I thought. The I got to thinking about how age plays in a role in how I and everyone else define prospects. I looked over the list and gave this some more thought and concluded that ordinarily a player 25 years old or older is usually considered a non-prospect. Of course there are plenty of exceptions but as a basis it seemed like a good start.
I decided to turn my attention to see just how many players on the roster were indeed 25 and over and what sort of prospect ability they had. In all I counted 27 such players ranging from my base line age of 25 all the way up to 33 years old. Some of these 27 are of course no longer prospects not just because of their age but because of time they have spent in the majors but for most of the dream of reaching the show hasn’t happened yet and at this point for many of them likely never will. Still I thought I’d give a look at them. I didn’t intend to learn in an in-depth profile on each player just gain a casual idea of where they are as a prospect and a professional ball player.
The majority 15 of the 27 players age 25 or over are pitchers. The below list contains no true prospects but there are some intriguing names. I have also included their ages and a little blurb about their background.
Nathaniel Baker, 25: Baker was a 5th round draft choice by the Pirates in 2009. He projects to start the year in AA and remains mildly intriguing mainly because he is left handed pitcher with decent velocity. Baker has split time between starting and relieving but appears best suited for relief.
David Bromberg, 25: Bromberg was signed as a minor league free agent. He has spent the last 3 seasons in the upper levels and has been mildly effective. He looks like a fringy relief pitcher who should serve as minor league depth.
Michael Colla, 26: Colla was drafted by the Pirates in the 14th round of the 2008 draft. He has spent the last two seasons in AA and has put up solid numbers. He has almost purely been a starter in the past but could move to relief in AAA this season.
Roman Colon, 33: Colon had a few seasons as a middle reliever in the majors with poor to average results. For the last three seasons he has hung around in AAA and even played in Korea and served as emergency depth for teams. That appears to be his role going forward.
Zachary Foster, 26: Foster was drafted in the 49th round of the 2008 draft. He has struggled so far in his professional career spending most of his time in A or A+ ball. At this point he is an organizational player and one not likely to make it past the middle levels.
Ethan Hollingsworth, 26: Hollingsworth was taken by the Pirates in this year’s minor league Rule V draft. He has split the last two seasons between AA and AAA and has been decent in AA and poor in AAA. The Pirates likely selected him to serve as depth for the upper levels.
Jeffrey Inman, 25: Inman is one of the more interesting names on this list. He was taken in the 12 round of the 2009 draft but was a more highly regarded pitcher who slipped due to a shoulder injury. He really hasn’t stayed healthy much in his professional career but posted a decent season in AA last year. Considering all his injuries he probably should get an additional year of being considered a borderline relief pitcher prospect.
Kenn Kasparek, 27: Kasparek was drafted by the Mariners in 2008 but found himself in an independent league to begin 2012. The Pirates signed him when they had an opening in A+ ball. He figures to continue serving as a depth reliever for the middle levels.
Elecier Navarro, 25: Navarro is one of Littlefield’s leftovers. He is a small finesse left handed pitcher whose finese stuff has served him well through the lower and middle levels but he has now probably reached his ceiling.
Aaron Poreda, 26: Poreda is one of only two pitchers on this list who has pitched in the majors. He is however a bit different from Colon. The Pirates acquired him in 2011 minor league Rule V draft but before that he was once a highly regarded prospect. He was a key part of the Jake Peavy deal between the Padres and White Sox but when Poreda arrived with the Padres he suddenly lost his control. Since the trade Poreda has spent most of his time pitching in AA or AAA and putting up some very high walk rates, his other numbers though have been relatively speaking fairly solid.
Aaron Pribanic, 26: Pribanic is the last player remaining the Pirates got from the Jack Wilson trade. His first three years with the Pirates were fairly solid but he essentially lost all of 2012 due to injury and that has greatly hurt his prospect status. He will likely begin 2013 in AA with one last chance to avoid become an organizational guy.
Luis Sanz, 25: Sanz was signed by the Pirates as a minor league free agent. He has yet to advance past A+ ball and if he does this year it will likely only be because of an extreme lack of depth for AA.
Zach Thornton, 25: Thronton was acquired for Chris Resop this past offseason and is at least a little intriguing. Thornton played last season at the A+ level which he was old for but posted a very high K rate. His ability to miss bats make him a tad bit interesting. He should start the 2013 season in the AA bullpen.
Erik Turgeon, 26: The Pirates signed Turgeon to a minor league contract last year to fill in a hole at the A+ level. He pitched well at the A+ level but had already logged significant playing time above that level. He has some ability to miss bats but at this point looks like an organizational player.
Philippe Valiquette, 26: Valiquette was signed by the Pirates as a minor league free agent this offseason. Usually he would fall into the same category as the others but he is a little special as he is a left handed pitcher who has hit triple digits with his fastball in the past. That skill alone will keep teams hoping on for at least another season or two.
In addition to the 15 pitchers I have discussed there are 12 position players who fit the description of being 25 years or older and in the minor league camp.
Charles Cutler, 26: Cutler was selected by the Pirates in the minor league Rule V draft in 2011. Last season he served as a backup catcher in AA and put up some decent numbers. Cutler put up strong numbers in the lower levels but struggled in his first trip to AA in 2010. He has repeated the level the last two seasons and done well. I would like to see what he could do at AAA but the consensus seems to be that he is an organizational catcher.
Devin Ivany, 30: Ivany was signed by the Pirates as a minor league free agent this offseason. Over the last three seasons he has spent most of his time at AA where he has been fairly average. Ivany is proof that minor league catchers tend to hang around for a while due to teams always needing them to help work with young pitchers.
Miguel Perez, 29: Perez is another organizational catcher but he did get a cup of coffee in the big leagues in 2005. His playing days appear to be over, short a string of injuries as he is slated to serve as a bullpen coach and bullpen catcher in one of the upper levels in 2013.
Kelson Brown, 25: Brown is one of the more interesting players on this list. He was drafted in the 34th round by the Pirates during the 2012 draft. Since starting his professional career the Pirates have used Brown as a utility player/ organizational player but he has hit well at each level including AA last season. There doesn’t seem to be a spot for him at AAA to begin the season so he will probably repeat AA at some point in 2012. He has the look of an organizational player but he has no glaring weakness so he can’t be completely written off.
Jeremy Farrell, 26: Farrell is the son of the Boston Red Sox manager and was drafted by the Pirates in the 8th round of the 2008 draft. He has spent the last two seasons in AA where he has been average at best. The Pirates really don’t have a clear-cut choice for 3B in AA this year though so he might get one last chance at some consistent playing time.
Jeff Larish, 30: Larish played in the majors from 2008-2010 spending some time in AAA as well and had his moments but was a below average player overall. He has hung around the last two years serving as a AAA utility player and that will be his role once again in 2013.
Alex Valdez, 28: The Pirates signed Valdez as a minor league free agent this offseason. He spent 2010 and 2011 putting up mediocre numbers in AA and AAA but in 2012 he played in the Mexican league and put up a fairly impressive line. As I stated earlier the Pirates don’t really have a stand out option for 3rd base at the AA level so Valdez could see some playing time there.
Andy Vasquez, 25: Vasquez is a leftover from the Littlefield days. He appeared to be on his way out of baseball in 2009-10 but he has rebounded by putting up two solid seasons the past two years in A and A+. He looks like a decent utility player for A+/AA and will likely compete for a spot there in 2013.
Brett Carroll, 30: Carroll has the most distinguished major league career of anyone on this list to date. That isn’t to say it was good but he has appeared in a major league game at least once every year since 2007 so he has at least been hanging around the fringes. Carroll hasn’t hit well in his major league time and outside of a 2011 stint with the Brewers AAA teams hasn’t even hit well in AAA the past four seasons. He’ll compete for time in the AAA outfield in 2013 but faces an uphill climb.
Justin Howard, 25: Howard is a player I like a fair amount. The Pirates drafted him in the 24th round of the 2010 draft. He isn’t really much of a prospect because defensively he is limited to 1B (or maybe RF) and he has very little power. He is a fairly decent hitter though as he was probably one of the best hitters the Pirates had the A+ level last season. Still he profiles as an organizational guy and will likely serve as a bench player in AA in 2013.
Carlos Mesa, 25: Mesa defected from Cuba and was signed by the Pirates in 2011. He was relatively old when he defected and in two seasons hasn’t made it past the A+ level. He really hasn’t been good either but he will likely continue to serve as a backup option for the A and A+ levels in 2013.
Adalberto Santos, 25: The exception that proves the rule that 25 year old players aren’t typically prospects. Santos was drafted by the Pirates in the 22nd round of the 2012 draft. He was red-shirted as a freshman so he spent 5 years in college and was nearly 23 when selected. Obviously not much was expected from him but Santos has raked at every level. A knee injury kept him out for a significant amount of last season but he still hit very well at the AA level. Santos is deserving of a chance to prove himself at the AAA level this season. His lack of power limits his ceiling as a major leaguer but his good contact ability could make him an intriguing 4th outfielder and bat off the bench.
So there you have it the 27 players 25 years and older currently in the Pirates minor league camp. They will undoubtedly be joined by more as players get sent down but those will be players with slightly better pedigrees and better chances of making it back or in some rare cases to the show. The players I listed, for the most part have either seen their major league days come and go or are likely to never the big leagues but yet they keep playing for what must be the love of the game. I have always been a little fascinated with the career minor league. If he reaches a high enough level he might get a decent pay check but these guys by and by aren’t bringing in huge sums of money and the dream I’m sure they all had of reaching the show is out of their grasp but yet they continue to solider on filling an important but often overlooked role in professional baseball. The above 27 players aren’t glamorous and feature one average prospect, a couple of fringy prospects, a few past their prime fringe major leaguers and a fair amount of minor league veterans. It may not seem like an inspirational group but I always take a little bit of solace in knowing that these kind of professional athletes exist.
The Pirates have sort of a gap in talent between AAA and A+ so the AA squad is a difficult one to predict as there are not really a lot of prospects. Some of the borderline players I have making the team in AAA are of course a possibility to start in AA and I will do my best to mention them but of course my projection will ultimately include players not projected on to any of my other levels. As we get lower and lower it becomes increasingly more difficult to project minor league rosters because there is an increasing number of players who still look at least some what promising. So this is essentially just a stab in the dark.
Candidates: Carlos Paulino, Charlie Cutler, Devin Ivany, Lucas May, Ali Solis
Analysis: There is really no prospect who is a guarantee to be at this level. Of the above listed catcher Carlos Paulino appears to be the best prospect of the group but is coming off a year in which he struggled in A+. Still if he were to repeat the level it would be his third season there and that doesn’t seem likely especially since he played well at the A+ level in 2011. The other options include whoever loses out in the Lucas May/Ali Solis battle to be the backup catcher in AAA and a couple of minor league veterans in Charlie Cutler and Devin Ivany. There is a case to be made for essentially any of these players to begin the year at AA but in the end only one will be here as the starter and another one as a backup, most of the rest will probably stay in extended spring training until their services are needed.
Prediction: Carlos Paulino
Candidates: Alex Dickerson, Justin Howard, Stefan Welch, Jarek Cunningham, Oscar Tejeda, Alex Valdez, Jeremey Farrell, Andy Vasquez, Gift Ngoepe, Drew Maggi, Benji Gonzalez, Kelson Brown
Analysis: There are other candidates who I did not list, specifically the players battling for spots in AAA who miss out. Notably because they are the two I have missing out are Jeff Larish and Anderson Hernandez. However I believe those two will serve as depth for AAA and take a spot should one of the non roster invitees to spring training opt out instead of taking the AAA assignment. As for the rest of the crop the only two prospects in the group are Alex Dickerson and Gift Ngoepe. Dickerson is coming off a solid year in A+ and should be the everyday starter at 1B. Ngoepe is a masterful defender who’s bat probably isn’t ready for AA but he is probably going to be forced up a level because of the players behind him. That leaves two spots open second and third base. Most of the rest of the players listed are at this point organizational players with little to no prospect value so it is difficult if not impossible to figure just how the Pirates may handle playing time. Cunningham still has at least some potential in him so figure on him taking one spot but the other is pretty wide open.
Prediction: Alex Dickerson (1B), Jarek Cunningham (2B), Alex Valdez (3B), Gift Ngoepe (SS)
Candidates: Adalberto Santos, Andrew Lambo, Mel Rojas, Evan Chambers, Dan Grovatt
Analysis: Like Larish and Hernandez above Brad Hawpe is also a candidate but I don’t see him accepting an assignment to AA so I am assuming he is not a realistic possibility. The rest of the crop gives us some rather unimpressive options. Some of the infielders who don’t wins spots would be candidates for the outfield as well like Howard, Tejeda, Vasquez and Maggi in particular. However I believe the starting three will come from this group. Santos has a strong case to be in AAA but a numbers game will likely keep him down meaning one spot should be his. The others are really open for debate. Mel Rojas should get one if the Pirates opt to promote him but he struggled in A+ in 2012 so I think they will have him repeat the level to begin the season. Of the remaining options Evan Chambers would appear to be the best option for center field. The last spot will probably be mainly split between Grovatt and Lambo but since Lambo has an ounce more of potential I’ll give him the nod.
Prediction: Andrew Lambo (LF), Evan Chambers (CF), Adalberto Santos (RF)
Analysis: The candidates are everyone discussed above. Obviously the Pirates will keep a backup catcher but in reality it could be nearly anyone on the list. Also a reserve infielder will be kept and it should obviously be someone with the ability to play shortstop and because he still does have at least some potential I am currently leaning towards Drew Maggi. Also a fourth outfielder will be kept as I have mentioned earlier Dan Grovatt and Andrew Lambo will probably share left field duties so the other one will most likely be the 4th outfielder. The last two spots will go to a DH and a utility player which once again could be just about anyone. AA is really a crap shot this year.
Prediction: Charlie Cutler (C), Justin Howard (DH), Drew Maggi (IF), Dan Grovatt (OF), Andy Vasquez (U)
Candidates: Jameson Taillon, Stolmy Pimentel, Casey Sadler, Aaron Pribanic, Tyler Waldron, Nathan Baker, Aaron Poreda, Luis Sanz, Ethan Hollingsworth, Tim Alderson, Brooks Brown
Analysis: Aside from the obvious Jameson Taillon starting the Pirates really don’t have many intriguing starting candidates so it is likely to come from the above group with the possibility of a few more non-interesting names thrown into the mix. To me the four most interesting names outside of Taillon listed are Pimentel, Sadler, Waldron and Alderson. However with only one option remaining Pimentel will probably be converted to relief, Salder appears better suited for relief, Waldron has been rumored to be moving to relief and Alderson has lost almost all of his prospect luster and doesn’t appear to be a viable starter anymore. Of those four I really only expect Sadler to start the season in the rotation. The rest of the rotation will be filled out by the minor league veterans listed and I’m sure a few more names.
Prediction: Jameson Taillon, Casey Sadler, Aaron Pribanic, Nathan Baker, Luis Sanz
Analysis: Aside from a few obvious names like Stolmy Pimentel and Hunter Strickland the AA bullpen like all minor league bullpens is just a guessing game. So I picked 7 players I kind of sort of liked and called it a bullpen.
Prediction: Stolmy Pimentel, Hunter Strickland, Zach Thornton, Tim Alderson, Ethan Hollingsworth, Jason Townsend, Tyler Waldron
C: Carlos Paulino
1B: Alex Dickerson
2B: Jarek Cunningham
3B: Alex Valdez
SS: Gift Ngoepe
LF: Andrew Lambo
CF: Evan Chambers
RF: Adalberto Santos
C: Charlie Cutler
IF: Drew Maggi
OF: Dan Grovatt
U: Andy Vasquez
DH: Justin Howard
SP: Jameson Taillon
SP: Casey Sadler
SP: Aaron Pribanic
SP: Nathan Baker
SP: Luis Sanz
RP; Ethan Hollingsworth
RP: Jason Townsend
RP: Tyler Waldron
RP: Tim Alderson
RP: Zach Thornton
RP: Hunter Strickland
RP: Stolmy Pimentel
The Pirates appear pretty set up the middle and there is little to talk about there. Sure the Pirates could seek upgrades but right now they seem content with what they have. A Martin and McKenry tandem behind the plate should provide adequate production, maybe even major league average offense and major league plus defense. Clint Barmes should continue to provide great defense and will hopefully rebound from last season and put a non-horrible OPS somewhere in the .650-.670 range. Not great but adequate. The other two up the middle players Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker are of course key cogs in the Pirates machine.
All of this leaves the corners as the part of the lineup that will determine how well the Pirates do offensively this season. The only certainty appears to be Pedro Alvarez who should once again be manning 3rd base. Even with him there are questions about whether he is ready to hit cleanup and if he can handle left handed pitching well enough to not need platooned. Outside of Alvarez the next closest thing to a certainty is Garrett Jones. There is some speculation he may get dealt before the season begins but right now I doubt that will occur. It seems to be a little unclear whether Jones will be playing 1B or RF and how much he will be allowed to face left handed pitching. Logic seems to suggest he will platoon at 1B and be largely protected from left handers but only time will tell.
With those guys out of the way we are left with a very interesting assortment of players. The Pirates have some prospects who may be ready to help at some point this season, some depth players of varying levels who may at some point get a chance to prove themselves and 5 players fighting for what will likely be 4 positions out of Spring Training.
There are only two real prospects who look like they may be ready to significantly contribute to the major league team some time this season. They are Matt Curry at 1B and Adalberto Santos in the OF. Neither is a great prospect but both have shown some ability and could possibly become solid major leaguers. Curry hasn’t shown the ability to hit for as much power as you’d like from a 1B and his defensive ability limits him to the position but even so should Jones be traded for any reason the Pirates would probably consider giving Curry a shot if he shows he can handle AAA pitching. Santos is a slightly different breed. Like Curry he doesn’t profile to hit for much power but throughout his minor league career he has shown a good ability to just plainly hit. With a good showing in AAA anything is possible but it appears Santos may be limited to a bench role and with a little bit of versatility (he has also played 2B) he could be a decent option. The remaining prospects include players such as Quincy Latimore and Andrew Lambo who are probably actually closer to minor league depth at this point but either one could enter into the corner OF, or in Lambo’s case maybe even 1B, equation with a good showing in AAA. It is not a certainty that either will start the season in AAA though. The only other possibility for a corner player would be Alex Dickerson, who will be making his AA debut, but he would need a few very hot months to even realistically enter the conversation.
The Pirates have numerous depth options who could be called upon should injury or ineffectiveness arise. Jeff Larish and Matt Hague seem to be the most uninteresting of the group. Larish is coming off a poor 2012 campaign and Hague as we saw last year is limited in what he can do. The Pirates did bring in two minor league outfielders who it wouldn’t be shocking to see get a chance at the majors some time this season in Felix Pie and Darren Ford. Ford is a pure speedster and Pie is a once top prospect who has fallen from grace. Both have some talent and either one might be called up if the Pirates sense a need. The last depth player is actually technically still a prospect in Clint Robinson. Robinson has never really gotten a chance to prove himself at the major league level but has hit exceptionally well in the minor leagues. Defensively he is limited to 1B but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing as he has shown some decent power and surprisingly even has shown good plate discipline. Should Jones be traded or forced to play extended time in the outfield expect Robinsons to get the first crack at the 1B job.
Major League Options
The Pirates have 5 major league options who figure to be fighting for 2 starting spots and two bench spots. Starling Marte, Travis Snider, Jose Tabata, Alex Presley and Gaby Sanchez will enter this spring fighting for playing time. Marte appears likely to start the season as the everyday LF but he has no track record and while he was respectable in his brief minor league stint last season it would not be crazy if the Pirates felt he could benefit from some time at AAA. Snider as things stand right now figures to be the starting RF but his spot appears to be in a little bit more jeopardy than Marte’s. Snider performed well immediately after coming over at the trade deadline but struggled after getting injured. It is not quite clear what the Pirates plan to do with him. He is out of options so he will surely make the team but he could be relegated to bench duty should the Pirates opt to start Jones in RF. Jose Tabata is coming off a disappointing season but actually finished the 2012 season rather strongly which gives some hope that he is back to being the Tabata we seen in earlier seasons. As a right handed hitter Tabata figures to probably make the team as the 4th outfielder and platoon with Jones or Snider in right field. If his performance at the end of the season was a sign that he has turned things around Tabata could quickly regain his starting job in RF as his ability to leadoff is something the Pirates are sorely missing. The last outfielder of the group is Alex Presley. Presley has an option remaining so the Pirates will likely use it and send him back to AAA to start the season but he will be given a chance to show what he can do. Presley looks like the prototypical 4th outfielder who can do a little bit of everything but doesn’t really stand out in any area. His skill set is probably better suited to a 4th outfielder role than Tabata’s but given the facts he has an option left and that of Snider and Marte it is most likely that the left handed hitting Snider will need a platoon partner he is probably below Tabata on the depth chart. The last option is Gaby Sanchez. As things stand right now Sanchez appears slotted to be Jones platoon partner at 1B. As someone who has consistently hit very well against lefties that is probably a good position for him. If Sanchez performs well he could be given a chance to start everyday at 1B which would force most likely Snider out of the lineup.
The four corner positions are likely to have a huge impact on the Pirates this season. With Pedro Alvarez and Garrett Jones the Pirates hope to have some stability and certainty at 2 of the 4 positions but the other 2 remain rather big question marks. The Pirates are undoubtedly planning to give Marte and Snider the two highest upside players of the bunch a chance to fill those question marks but should they fail the Pirates do have some other alternatives who will hopefully step up and take advantage of the opportunity. Assuming the Pirates actually do add a good starter for the middle of the rotation is is my opinion that the performance of the players I have discussed is what will decided whether this team once again finishes below 500, makes the playoffs or anything in between.
Top Prospects 26-30
30. Adalberto Santos: Santos was drafted by the Pirates in the 22nd round of the 2010 draft. Santos has limited power and his speed is decent but he isn’t exactly fast. He was drafted as a red shirt senior out of college meaning he was just a few months shy of being 23. His bio and his tools have the look of an organizational player but yet Santos isn’t one for the sole reason that he can really hit. The Pirates drafted Santos as a 2B but in his pro debut in 2010 at the A- level he played exclusively in the corner outfield. He played well there posting a .885 OPS, showing decent speed by going 17/24 in steal attempts and playing solid defense. Due to his good performance and his age the Pirates aggressively pushed him A+ in 2011. Here Santos started splitting his time between 2B and the OF and once again he played well, posting a .868 OPS. Santos showed a touch more power with 7 HR and was once again efficient on the base paths going 27/31 in steal attempts but it was his OBP and plate discipline that once again stood out. Santos started 2012 off in AA and played great for the first month before suffering a knee injury. The injury caused Santos to miss two months but he picked up right where he left when he returned. He did eventually cool down a little but he finished the season with a .858 OPS at the AA level. The Pirates seem to have ended his 2B experiment as he played exclusively in the OF. Santos’s lack of power is probably going to stop him from being a regular in the majors but the fact that he can hit so well and show great plate discipline all while running well and playing solid defense makes him an ideal candidate for a bench job. He should start the 2013 season in AAA and is one to watch.
29. Duke Welker: Welker I believe is one of the last prospect holdouts remaining from the Littlefield days. He was drafted by the Pirates in the 2nd round of the 2007 draft. At the time of his selection he was viewed as an overdraft with the ceiling of a 4/5 starter plus he came with considerable injury risks. He started off well in 2007 in his pro debut at the A- level but had to be shut down due to forearm tightness. The next two years Welker was tried as a starter at the A level and was simply put a disaster. He posted a 5.51 and 5.79 ERA respectively and was every bit as bad as those numbers suggest. Welker started 2011 back in A ball with his prospect days all but over but something happened. Welker started pitching out of the bullpen and was a vastly different pitcher. His fastball no longer was low 90s but upper 90s and in his short stints he was able to miss bats and limit contact. Unfortunately this also came with some big control problems something that hadn’t really plagued him in the past. Still this was enough to get him promoted to A+ at midseason. He continued to pitch well there and he was deadly against right handers as they batted only .107 against him. In 2011 he started back at the A+ level pitching about the same except with a touch more control and was eventually promoted to AA. Welker before last season was a surprising add to the 40 man roster showing the Pirates believe in him. He started 2012 at AA and pitched very well earning him a quick promotion to AAA where he continued to pitch well albeit with slightly worse control. If Welker can reign in his control he has the talent to be a dominant back of the bullpen reliever and that is surely what the Pirates see, hopefully he’ll begin to realize that potential this upcoming season.
28. Zach Von Rosenberg: Von Rosenberg was one of the many projectable prep pitcher the Pirates selected in the 2009 draft and in fact he was widely considered the best of the bunch. Von Rosenberg was drafted in the 6th round but was a top 50 overall talent. He was said to have good command of his whole arsenal at the time and it was believed his velocity would increase on his fastball from the 91-92 it was sitting at. In 2009 Von Rosenberg got to pitch 1 inning at the rookie level so essentially his pro debut came the following season in A-. He was decent at the level showing good control but he also didn’t miss a lot of bats. A big positive was that his off speed pitches were viewed by scouts as getting better. Von Rosenberg started the 2011 season at the A level and got rocked through his first 16 starts posting a 7.58 ERA. He showed great command and actually improved his strike out rates to a fairly good level but he showed a tendency to leave his fastball elevated and when he did it got hit hard. On a positive note he did seem like he was figuring something out near the end of the year as over his last 9 starts he had a 2.66 ERA which lowered his season ERA to 5.73. Von Rosenberg started back at the A ball level in 2012 and he showed limited progress over 2011. He wasn’t hit as hard but his walk rate rose and his strike out rate fell. He showed some flashes of pitching very well but wasn’t consistent by any means and his fastball continues to sit at 91-92 and sometimes doesn’t even reach that. The hope for increase in stuff hasn’t come but yet Von Rosenberg will still only be 22 next season and should start the year in A+, a very age appropriate level. There is still time for Von Rosenberg to turn his pro career around and become a legit prospect and we know the talent is there still this year will be a huge one for him.
27. Mel Rojas Jr: Rojas is yet another prospect with all the talent one would want a prospect to possess but yet he hasn’t produced. He was drafted by the Pirates in the 3rd round of the 2010 draft and considered a potential five tool talent with power as the tool most in question. There is no doubt Rojas can run well and has a tremendous arm. He started his pro career off at the A- level in 2010 and struggled immensely. He simply didn’t hit but he did show some solid plate discipline. In 2011 he started the year at the A level and once again he played poorly. He was slightly better at making contact but the solid plate discipline he showed was gone and he struck out roughly 20% of the time, a rate too high for a hitter like Rojas. On a positive note he did show some improvement to his plate discipline in the second half of the season and was definitely a better player but he still wasn’t playing all that well. Despite his struggles Rojas was promoted to A+ where he continued to play center field and oddly enough he had a very eerily similar season to what he had in 2011. He did managed to show the slightest increase in power but he also showed a slight decrease in his walk rate. If Rojas is not promoted next season he will likely be forced to moved away from center field because of the talent behind him. So far Rojas has made very little progress and his prospect days are quickly running out but still the talent is there to make him one to watch.
26. Eric Wood: Wood was selected in the 6th round of this past draft and was largely dismissed as a signability pick to save money for Appel. While Wood did sign for underslot it wasn’t for as low as an amount as most of the other back half of the top 10 picks. Wood received a 100K signing bonus. Wood was drafted out of a junior college making him neither a traditional high school or college prospect. At the time of the draft little was actually known about him except for the fact that he had some decent power as evident by him winning his team’s home run derby. Wood made his pro debut in the rookie level and showed off some of that good power. He posted a .838 OPS and was good all around at the plate. Defensively the Pirates had Wood play 3rd base which is his natural position and he was solid defensively there. Due to the Pirates lack of 3B prospects Wood is likely the organization’s top prospect at the position meaning he should be blocked by no one as he moves up. The Pirates gave Wood a small taste of the A- level near the end of the year which is usually an indication that they are considering sending a player straight to A ball. Wood has to prove he can carry his success in rookie ball over to higher levels before he will start to fully settle in as a prospect but there is nothing not to like so far with what he has shown.