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.
Top Hitting Prospects
The top 5 hitting prospects in the Pirates system all are expected to begin to 2013 season in either A or A+ ball. Dilson Herrera should skip over short season ball and start the year in A ball and Josh Bell should join him there as he is expected to repeat the level. Herrera is a popular break out candidate for 2013 and certainly has the tools to do. He is coming off a very solid 2012 season in rookie ball in which he displayed a good all around offensive game. I’m expecting a very good season from Herrera and while I don’t think he will necessary break out I don’t expect him to do anything to hurt his status. Joining him in A ball will be Bell who missed most of last season with a knee injury. At this point it is difficult to know just what to expect from Bell but a good start is I wasn’t to see him healthy and hitting for power. I’m thinking his overall line might not sparkle being essentially his first professional season but if those two things are present it should be a decent year for Bell. At the A+ level the Pirates will have the two top hitting prospects in Alen Hanson and Gregory Polanco and also last year’s supplemental pick Barrett Barnes. Barnes had a very solid debut in A- last season and will be looking to continue it at a much more age appropriate level. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him struggle with the jump but we shall see. Hanson broke out last season and has a tremendous bat for a middle infielder but his defensive game needs a lot of work if he is to remain at shortstop. The Pirates will likely have him focus on improving defensively which I think might end up hurting his overall offensive numbers this season in particular his power. Going step for step with Hanson last season in A ball was Gregory Polanco. Polanco’s season last year was just as impressive as Hanson’s and in fact I think it was slightly better. Polanco will start the season in A+ but if he is successful I expect the Pirates to give him a mid season promotion to AA. My instinct tells me this will be another big year for Polanco so that isn what I am expecting.
Top Pitching Prospects
The Pirates middle levels aren’t just chalked full of hitting prospects as there are 4 top pitching prospects also expected to play at one of the A levels this season. The only one expected to pitch in A+ though is Nicholas Kingham. Kingham had a rough start to his 2012 campaign and finished the season with a poor ERA but he improved greatly as the year progress, finishing strong and posting solid peripherals. He probably doesn’t have the ace upside of the top pitching prospects at the A ball level but he is father along developmentally and looks like he could become a good middle of the rotation inning eater. I think Kingham will take a significant step forward this season. At the A ball level the Pirates are likely to have Luis Heredia and Clayton Holmes and may also have Tyler Glasnow pitching at the level. Heredia is the top prospect here as he put up excellent numbers in A- last season despite being younger than most of his competition. The Pirates will likely continue to proceed slowly with Heredia but I suspect we will continue to see good things from him and I expect him to start missing a few more bats this season. Along with Heredia in A- Clayton Holmes was putting up excellent numbers but unlike Heredia he comes with a couple warning signs. One his delivery is very awkward looking at two he struggled with control at times last season while not striking out many batters. I expect the jump to A level is going to be a big test for him and I think he’ll struggle. Glasnow pitched in rookie ball last year with just a taste of A- at the end of the year. He was dominate in rookie ball and did fairly well in short season ball as well. The Pirates may opt to keep him in short season but my expectation is they will hold him back in extended spring training and then give him a shot at A ball. I actually think he’ll do quite well at whichever level he pitches and I could see him shooting up some prospect lists.
Other Hitting Prospects
In addition to the top level hitters the Pirates have a good assortment of the next level of hitters ready to play in the middle levels. At the A+ level the talent is a little light but Jose Osuna is a very solid 1st base prospect and could be on the verge of a breakout. Lost in the hype surrounding Hanson and Polanco was Osuna’s very solid season in A ball. He didn’t put up the show stopping numbers but it was still a very good season. Osuna is limited defensively to 1st base so his bat is going to have to carry him but he has shown the power potential which suggests it just might. I’m not expecting a full breakout from Osuna but I think he’ll once again post a good line while going largely unnoticed in 2013. In A ball the talent is a little deeper with Wyatt Mathisen, Jin-De Jhang, Eric Wood, Max Moroff and Willy Garcia all having a chance to start there. Mathisen is the headliner of the group and is considered by some to be the Pirates 5th or 6th best hitting prospect. He is an athletic young catcher who is learning the position and has a good solid bat. Jhang split catching duties with Mathisen in rookie ball last season and had a very good season there. It is possible the Pirates choose to split the two up but I think they will both be promoted to A ball and will continue to split the catching duty. Wood and Moroff also played in rookie ball last season manning 3B and SS respectively. Wood had a surprising debut after being a relatively unknown 6th round selection and Moroff showed why the Pirates went overslot to sign him after the Appel signing fell through. Garcia played at A ball last season and wasn’t horrible but he was inconsistent which makes me believe the Pirates will start him back at the level. All the players in this group are candidates to break out and become top hitting prospects. The chances of all of them doing so are slim but I expect at least 1 or 2 of them will do so.
Other Pitching Prospects
The Pirates are lacking a little in the middle levels in the second tier of pitching prospects. Only three names Robby Rowland, Zach Von Rosenberg and Adrian Sampson really catch my eye. Rowland and Von Rosenberg are likely to begin the year in A+ ball. Rowland was acquired last offseason when the Diamondbacks traded him to the Pirates in exchange for the rights to Rule V selection Brett Lorin. Rowland was an underwhelming prospect but he put up a solid season in A ball last year to get on the map. He is one to watch although I think he is going to struggle in the jump to A+. Von Rosenberg is actually one of my under the radar breakout picks. He was drafted by the Pirates in the 6th round of the 2009 draft and he was the most high profile of the large lot of high school arms the Pirates went overslot for to sign. To date Von Rosenberg hasn’t been that impressive as he repeated A ball last year and while his numbers were decent they weren’t exactly what one would hope to see. The Pirates are likely to try him at A+ and I’m going to predict he will have a good season and reemerge on the prospect map. The other pitcher Sampson was drafted by the Pirates last season and sent to A- ball where he pitched extremely well and was one of the few pitchers at that level to actually have a high strike out rate. I’m not really sure what to expect from him in 2013 but I think he has a chance to develop into a good pitching prospect.
Prospects To Watch
I already picked a few of the middle tier prospects who I think have a strong chance of breaking out. I didn’t say which hitters I’d specifically lean towards but if pushed I’d probably go with Jin-De Jhang and max Moroff and on the pitching side I’m expecting a big step up from Von Rosenberg. Digging a little deeper though I see a few under the radar names who could emerge as quality prospects. On the pitching side two players I like are Dalton Friend and Joely Rodriguez. Friend was drafted by the Pirates last year in the 12th round and looks like just a relief pitcher but his stuff is fairly good and he had success last year in A- so I think the Pirates will push him to A+ to see if he has success there and I’m expecting him to rather well and take on the look of a good relief prospect. Rodriguez has been underwhelming so far in his pro career but showed some positive signs in A- last year. I’d be a fool to say I’m expecting a breakout but I like some of what I saw and if the Pirates push him to A ball in 2013 I think he could put up a nice season and become the Pirates second best international pitching prospect (behind Heredia); that in itself won’t be much of an accomplishment but I do think he’ll raise his stalk this year and take on the look of a fringe prospect instead of an organizational arm. On the hitting side under the radar guys are a little harder to find because the Pirates have a lot of top prospects or second tier prospects filling spots. In all honesty I really don’t see too much there but one player I like who I think could surprise if he can get the playing time is Taylor Lewis. Lewis struggled last year in A ball and might repeat the level and if he does he should have a reasonable chance of getting some time in center field but the Pirates might push him to A+ ball and they do he’ll probably serve as a 4th outfielder there. Lewis came from a small school so he probably needs a little more development time than your typical prospect but the talent is there and given a chance I think he could turn himself into a nice prospect this season.
Candidates: Jacob Stallings, Elias Diaz, Francisco Diaz, Kawika Emsley-Pai, Devin Ivany
Analysis: The Pirates do not have a real prospect ready to man the catching position in A+ so the spot will likely go to a fringe prospect or organizational guy. Carlos Paulino is an option to repeat the level yet again but I suspect the Pirates will push him to AA. That leaves us essentially with the candidates I listed above. Ivany was signed to a minor league contract this offseason and could really play anywhere from A+ to AAA. Emsley-Pai and Francisco Diaz look like organizational catchers who will fill in where they are needed in the middle levels. Stallings and Elias Diaz retain just a hint of prospect status. Diaz has been with the Pirates a few years though so his lack of progress could cause the Pirates to shift him towards an organizational role. Stallings was just drafted last year and is probably the best defensive catcher in the organization. He hasn’t show any ability to hit though. Stallings defense should keep him at the prospect borderline for another season or two though.
Prediction: Jacob Stallings
Candidates: Jose Osuna, Dan Gamache, Eric Avila, Chris Lashmet, Alen Hanson, DJ Crumlich, Kirk Singer, Andy Vasquez, Benji Gonzalez
Analysis: Personally I think the starting infield at the A+ level is fairly straightforward. Osuna and Hanson are locks to handle 1B and SS respectively which only leaves 2B and 3B open. Dan Gamache is coming off a fairly strong year in A ball and I would imagine the Pirates will give him the first crack at 2B in A+. Third base is a bit more wide open but Avila finished the year strong showing a good power surge so I’m guessing he’ll start the year as the third baseman. The other options will have to earn playing time and will likely fill some bench roles in A+ to start the year.
Prediction: Jose Osuna (1B), Dan Gamache (2B), Eric Avila (3B), Alen Hanson (SS)
Candidates: Gregory Polanco, Barrett Barnes, Taylor Lewis, Junior Sosa, Mel Rojas, Willy Garcia, Carlos Mesa
Analysis: There are two locks in the above group and that is Gregory Polanco and Barrett Barnes both are probably top 10 prospects in the Pirates organization and are ready for A+ so they will play. The last spot is a bit more of a question mark. Gaffney was a prime candidate to take a spot before he returned to college football and Garcia is the best prospect of the remaining group but he didn’t show a lot in A ball last year. Of the rest Sosa and Mesa look like organizational filler, Lewis a project and Rojas as a fading prospect who may be pushed to AA for last audition.
Prediction: Barrett Barnes (LF), Gregory Polanco (CF), Mel Rojas (RF)
Analysis: The bench will of course consist of the players listed who I have not assigned starting roles to. The options are not very clear at this point. Obviously a backup catcher will be retained. I also suspect that we will see two of the infielders retained, I think Crumlich with his strong debut last season is the safest bet of the group and we will also see one outfielder. There is one final spot and I think that will go to a player who will split DHing duties with the 4th outfielder.
Prediction: Elias Diaz, DJ Crumlich, Kirk Singer, Chris Lashmet, Taylor Lewis
Candidates: Nicholas Kingham, Robby Rowland, Zach Von Rosenberg, Matt Benedict, Zachary Fuesser, Kenn Kasparek, Luis Sanz, Zack Dodson
Analysis: It is difficult to handicap the pitching staffs as we get this low into the minors. The Pirates have a lot of options and at times it can be difficult to figure just who they are high on. In this case I think 3 of the 5 starting pitchers are or should be rather clear. Kingham, Rowland and Von Rosenberg all have earned a chance to show what they can do in A+. The rest of the group is a smattering of borderline prospects of which I can’t decipher who the Pirates are still high on. Dodson is suspended to begin the season and obviously won’t start the year with anybody but is a candidate to join the A+ rotation shortly after his suspension ends. Sanz I originally pegged for the AA rotation but I’m having second thoughts on that and he could come into player here.
Prediction: Nicholas Kingham, Robby Rownalnd, Zach Von Rosenberg, Matt Benedict, Kenn Kasparek
Analysis: Like all minor league bullpens my prediction is just a shot in the dark in which I pick seven names I kind of like who I think would make sense.
Prediction: Zachary Fuesser, Porfirio Lopez, Dalton Friend, Pat Ludwig, Rinku Singh, Nathan Kilcrease, Quinton Miller
1. Gregory Polanco
Expected 2013 Level: A+
Bio: Polanco was signed by the Pirates as an international free agent in 2009 for the small sum of $75,000. His career started off slowly as he really did very little, aside from being a great base stealer, to stick out during his first three professional seasons. That all changed in 2012 though as Polanco displayed all of that five tool potential he was said to possess. Polanco has some real power in his bat and has so far kept his strike outs under control also he has the speed and range necessary to stick in center field for the long haul.
2. Alen Hanson
Expected 2013 Level: A+
Bio: Hanson was an international free agent signed by the Pirates in 2009 for $150,000. Some say he was a consolation prize for the Pirates failure to sign Miguel Sano. In 2011 Hanson had a solid showing in rookie ball during his first year in the Unites States so the Pirates pushed him to A ball in 2012. Hanson broke out in a big way absolutely crushing the ball for the first few months of the season. He did cool down a little but was still hitting at a high level. Hanson has an oustanding bat and has decent range at the shortstop position but some scouts question whether he has the arm to stick at the position but either way his bat will play.
3. Josh Bell
Expected 2013 Level: A
Bio: Bell was drafted by the Pirates in the second round of the 2011 draft straight out of high school. He was said to be a tough sign and proved so as the Pirates gave him a 5 million dollar signing bonus, a record for a non first round pick, to break his commitment to Texas. Bell is said to possess great power and is probably the Pirates best power hitting prospect in the system. The Pirates aggressively pushed Bell to A ball in 2012 but he suffered a knee injury early in the year which ended up costing him most of the season. Bell has the athletic ability to stick in the outfield but if his knee proves to be a problem he also has the power to move to first base.
4. Barrett Barnes
Expected 2013 Level: A+
Bio: Barnes was drafted by the Pirates in the 2012 draft with the supplemental pick they received for losing Ryan Doumit. Barnes is a center fielder but some scouts question whether he has the arm to stick there but even if he doesn’t stick he has some good power potential and good speed so a shift to left field should be no issue. Barnes also shown good plate discipline in his college career which will offset any potential problems he may have with keeping his average up. The Pirates started him off in A- in 2012 and he got off to a slow start but really heated up and finished the year with a very solid line. THe Pirates like to push advanced college players to A+ in their first full professional season so Barnes will likely go there but with Polanco also there he will probably be forced to slide over to left field.
5. Dilson Herrera
Expected 2013 Level: A
Bio: Herrera was an international free agent signed by the Pirates in 2010 for a signing bonus $220,000. The Pirates started him off in the VSL in 2011 and he played very well with the only knock being a few too many strike outs. The Pirates aggressively promoted him to the states for 2012 and he continued hitting well posting a .823 OPS in rookie ball. Herrera was originally announced as a shortstop but really doesn’t have the range or speed to play there so the Pirates have been using him as a second baseman, which is a position he should have little trouble handling going forward. He has shown flashes of power, decent speed and average plate discipline. Herrera is a popular pick to break out in 2013.
6. Tony Sanchez
Expected 2013 Level: AAA
Bio: Sanchez was drafted by the Pirates with the 4th overall pick in 2009. He was definitely an overdraft but the Pirates felt none of the other players (mainly high school pitchers) really stood out so they went with a safe first round choice and went with tough signs in later rounds. The strategy hasn’t worked but that is another story. Sanchez’s pro career actually got off to a great start in 2009 and 2012 but then he got hit in the face with a pitch and broke his jaw. He has not really produced good numbers since then. Sanchez doesn’t have a big upside but he looks like a relatively safe bet to be a productive major league catcher. He is strong defensively behind the plate and has a little bit of power in his bat. He profiles as at least a strong backup and if his bats develops he could be an average starting catcher.
7. Wyatt Mathisen
Expected 2013 Level: A
Bio: The Pirates selected Mathisen with their second round pick in the 2012 draft. He was drafted as a catcher but because of his athletic ability actually spent most of his high school career as a shortstop. Mathisen has very little experience behind the plate but he does have the tools needed to become a solid defensive catcher and he also has a good bat which makes him the Pirates best hope for a strong two-way catcher. Mathisen started the 2012 season in rookie ball splitting time between catching and DHing. He showed a good arm throwing out 36% of would be base stealers and also hit fairly well. The Pirates have a tough choice with Mathisen as to whether to push him to A ball to begin the year or hold him back to A- and give him more time to develop as a catcher.
8. Alex Dickerson
Expected 2013 Level: AA
Bio: Dickerson was the third Baseball America top 50 draft prospect drafted by the Pirates in 2011. Dickerson fell to the Pirates in the third round of that draft because teams were concerned about his back but Dickerson can no doubt hit as he won the Big 10 triple crown as a sophomore. He played outfield in college but really didn’t have the defense to stick there so the Pirates moved him to first base where they are hoping he will realize his power potential and have the bat to stick at the position. The Pirates started Dickerson off at A- in 2011 and he hit well but as an advanced college player that was to be expected. The Pirates pushed Dickerson to A+ in 2012 and once again he hit well but he really didn’t show much power which is a bit concerning for an all bat college prospect. Dickerson did nicely adapt to first base however and the power is still there he just needs to realize it.
9. Jose Osuna
Expected 2013 Level: A+
Bio: Osuna was signed as an international free agent by the Pirates in 2009 for $250,000. He was signed as an outfielder by the Pirates have been slowly transitioning him to a first baseman and that is the position he played all of last season. Osuna showed some good power in the VSL during 2010 which earned him a promotion to the states in 2011, there he continued hitting well. The strong performance in rookie ball caused the Pirates to aggressively push him to A ball in 2012 where he put up a solid hitting line while showing good improvement defensively at first base. Osuna had pretty much an average year except for one fairly long hot streak in June. He didn’t dominate the level in 2012 but he played very well for a 19 year old at the level so the Pirates will almost surely move him up.
10. Willy Garcia
Expected 2013 Level: A
Bio: Garcia was signed as an international free agent by the Pirates in 20120 for a signing bonus of $280,000. Garcia made his professional debut in the DSL in 2010 and fared pretty well which was enough to earn him a promotion to the United States. In 2011 he played rookie ball and started off slowly before finishing the year strongly. The strong finish was enough for him to earn a promotion to A ball in 2012. Garcia played the year as a 19 year old and held his own but overall really didn’t perform that well. Garcia did show off some good power by belting 18 home runs and he also possess decent speed and solid defense so the talent is still definitely there. Garcia actually finished the year worse than he started the year which is why the Pirates are likely to hold him back in A ball in 2013.
Top Prospects 1-5
5. Luis Heredia: The Pirates signed Heredia in 2010 to the largest deal they have ever given to an international player. His signing bonus, of which 75% went to his Mexican team, was worth 2.6 million dollars. Heredia had just turned 16 but already had a 92 mph fastball and good command of his change up two things very rarer for a player so young. In addition to his fastball and change up Heredia also throws a slider and curve but those still need quite a lot of work. The Pirates have hopes his curve ball will improve as he matures and hope that as he ages he will add more velocity. Heredia has been compared by some scouts to Felix Hernandez and is said to have the highest upside of any player in the Pirates organization. He is no doubt a special talent. The Pirates have opted for an aggressive path with Heredia sending him to rookie ball in his first professional season as a 16 year old. Heredia pitched fairly well in rookie ball but did show some control issues. His overall stat line doesn’t look great but when you put it in context of how young he is and how different the environment must be for him it becomes much more encouraging. Heading into the 2012 season the Pirates opted to continue to push Heredia this time sending the 17 year old to A- where he would face competition that was largely 4-5 years older than himself. Heredia had an outstanding season with a 2.71 ERA and 1.10 WHIP. He showed much better control and was inducing a large percentage of ground balls by keeping his fastball low in the zone. The strike outs weren’t there but as of right now that is really a minor point for him. Heredia will certainly be aggressively placed again next season where he will probably play A ball. The Pirates may choose to hold him out of action for a month or so though in order to keep his innings under control. Going forward Heredia is a must watch in the Pirates organization and his ceiling is sky-high.
4. Alen Hanson: Hanson was signed by the Pirates as an international free agent in 2009 and is largely viewed as the consolation prize for their failure to sign Miguel Sano. Hanson has a small build but surprisingly good power. He also runs very well and has shown solid range defensively at shortstop. Still his arm is a little weak so some scouts believe that long term Hanson is probably destined for 2B but the Pirates seem intent on giving him a chance at SS. Hanson played the 2010 season at the DSL level and had a great season. He showed off his great speed, his good contact ability and flashed some gap power. He didn’t play any shortstop though. The Pirates brought Hanson to the states the following season and had him play shortstop at the rookie level. Hanson got off to hot start posting an OPS over 1.300 in June but he cooled down some as the year went on. Hanson had an overall very solid season in rookie ball posting a .781 OPS. His defensive play at shortstop was decent but he certainly showed his flaws at the position. The Pirates gave him a taste of the A- level near the end of the season and like it usually does it was the precursor to a promotion to A ball in 2012. Hanson started the season on fire quickly garnering a lot of attention from fans in Pittsburgh something that is very difficult for a prospect in A ball to do. His hot streak lasted from basically April to June before he finally started cooling off in July. Even then Hanson responded with a very nice finish to give him an overall OPS of .909. He displayed good power hitting 16 home runs and continued making good contact. He also had a fairly decent walk rate but on the downside did strike out a ton. The weakest area of his game was no doubt his defense as he committed 40 errors on the season. He did improve defensively as the season went along though so that is a plus. The only other real negative with Hanson in 2012 was that his stealing efficiency took a hit as he was successful only 65% of the time. Scouts who think Hanson can stick at shortstop would probably be quick to put him very high in the overall prospect rankings but scouts who think he’ll eventually have to move will probably still have him around 60 overall. Hanson’s speed, bat and the outside possibility he sticks at shortstop makes him on of the most interesting prospects in the Pirates system. He will probably play next season at A+ where he’ll face two questions can he continue to hit and can he stick at shortstop.
3. Gregory Polanco: Polanco was another 2009 international signing by the Pirates. At the time he was signed Polanco was a great athlete who had excellent speed and the arm necessary to play center field. The Pirates also viewed him as a player who could potential add power as he filled out. Polanco actually got to play in 2009, the year he was signed and the Pirates sent him to the DSL. Polanco had a nice season at the level but it wasn’t anything spectacular. Still the Pirates had seen enough of him that they decided to bring him to the states the following season. Polanco played at the rookie level in 2010 and struggled with the only real positive being that he showed off an excellent base stealing ability by going 19/21 in steal attempts. Polanco also showed a touch of power but overall it was still a poor performance as he barely walked and his strike out totals were much higher than you’d expect from a speedy center field type. The Pirates had Polanco repeat the level in 2011 and while at first glance it appears Polanco didn’t show too much improvement he actually did. Polanco’s average only rose to .237 but he showed a much better eye at the plate, nearly tripling his walk total from the previous season and also cutting down on his number of strike outs. He also had a perfect season stealing bases and showed off his great arm by recording 8 assists. The Pirates promoted Polanco to A- near the end of the season and promoted him to A ball for the start of 2012. Polanco got off to a solid start but no where near what Hanson did but Polanco managed to keep improving as the season went along as he posted a .822 OPS in the first half and a 1.030 OPS in the second half. For the season his OPS was a tick better than Hanson’s at .910. Polanco had many positives in his season including breaking out the power by belting 16 HR and continuing to show improvements in plate discipline and also cutting down even more on his strike out rate. Also another positive and why I actually have him rated above Hanson is that Polanco leaves little doubt that he will be able to stick at his important defensive position of center field. The only real knock one can make against Polanco’s 2012 season is that his base stealing efficiency took a hit but even so it was still above 70% which is at least an acceptable rate. Polanco is the highest rated position player in the Pirate system and will play next season for the Pirates A+ affiliate and should be the everyday center fielder. Like Hanson the big question surrounding Polanco is can he continue to produce as he moves up the ladder.
2. Jameson Taillon: Taillon was drafted by the Pirates with the 2nd overall pick in the 2010 draft. Huntington’s selection of him says something about the upside he has as it is well noted Huntington prefers to take high school pitchers in numbers later on in the draft over taking one in the first round. Coming out of high school Taillon was already a very polished product throwing a fastball in the mid 90s and having such a good curve ball that one scout said it would amongst the best in baseball right now. There were some concerns about him though mainly that he tended to elevate his fastball and that his change up still had a ton of development needed. Taillon is frequently compared to Josh Beckett and certainly possess ace potential. The Pirates gave Taillon 6.25 million dollars to sign which was the largest signing bonus in the draft, even more than what Harper received. Taillon was an overslot signing so he signed late which means he wasn’t able to make his professional debut until 2011. Taillon opened the 2011 season in extended spring training to keep his innings down but then was aggressively pushed to A ball. Taillon’s numbers weren’t overwhelming but they were still solid. The Pirates had him working almost solely on fastball command which is a strategy they use a lot with younger pitchers in the low minors and in the case of Taillon who had a tendency to elevate his fastball it was probably a good idea. The Pirates sent Taillon to A+ to begin the 2012 season and he started off strong posting a 1.69 ERA in the first month. However Taillon was not good after his hot start, make no mistake he wasn’t bad either but just not good. He didn’t really allow a lot of baserunners as evident by his 1.17 WHIP but his strike out rate dropped and when he was hit he tended to be hit fairly hard. Near the end of the season the Pirates promoted Taillon to AA where he made 3 starts all in dominating fashion. The good news with Taillon is that his stuff is great and that he has fairly good command of the strike zone leading to a low walk rate. Taillon’s change up also seems to be coming along rather nicely. All in all he is developing nicely but the fact he looked rather ordinary in A+ for most of the season is a little concerning. If things break just right for Taillon it is possible he could see the major leagues by the end of the 2013 season but more likely he’ll start the year back in AA with a midseason promotion to AAA. Taillion has shown all the tools the Pirates probably wanted him to show so now all he really needs to do is put up the results.
1. Gerrit Cole: The Pirates drafted Cole first overall in the 2011 draft. The 2011 draft was a bit of an odd year as no player really stood out as being the clear number one choice. Cole was one of many players the Pirates considered with the 1st overall pick and he by far wasn’t the most major league ready or safest choice of the bunch. There were some concerns surrounding Cole coming out of college. The biggest concern by far was that he wasn’t really a great college pitcher. Cole had the highest ERA of any starting pitcher on his college staff in both 2010 and 2011 and luck didn’t seem to be a larger factor as his peripheral numbers were also amongst the worst on those staffs. Cole’s problem stems from weak control. He tends to throw strikes but on occasion has a difficult time putting the ball where he wants in the strike zone. With all those negatives being said it should be obvious there must be a ton of positives surrounding Cole and that is correct. Cole probably has the highest ceiling of any player in the 2011 draft and his upside is often compared to Justin Verlander. Cole’s arsenal includes a two seam fastball he throws in the low 90s, a four seem fastball he throws in the uppers 90s (and it touches 100) and a slider and change up that are regarded as plus pitches. I seen him in person on several occasions and the one thing he has in common with Verlander is that he throws harder late in games. There is no doubt Cole has the upside to not only be an ace but one of if not the best pitcher in baseball. The Pirates signed Cole on deadline day last year for 8 million dollars. The late signing meant he missed the 2011 season so he didn’t make his debut until this past season. Cole started his pro career in A+ and predictably had very little difficulty there. The Pirates promoted him to AA midseason and he ran into some difficulty. His numbers were still very good but he was running his pitch count up quickly so he wasn’t going deep into games. Cole settled down near the end of the season and was sent to AAA where he made one regular season start and one playoff start. His regular season start was mediocre and his playoff start was terrible. For the season Cole showed improvements in his main weaknesses and all of his pitches seemed to have taken a step forward. He still has a little work to do but he will hopefully be ready to help the Pirates at the major league level by midseason.
Clint Barmes: From June until the end of the season Barmes was exactly what the Pirates should have expected when signing him this offseason. He played great defense and posted an OPS around .650. However his performance in the first two months were pretty bad and that drags down hos overall performance. Barmes bat is of course not even average for a shortstop but he led the league in most defensive metrics which makes him and adequate starting option. Considering Barmes is under contract next season for a not insignificant 5.5 million dollars I fully expect him to be back as the starting shortstop next season. Overall Grade: C
Jordy Mercer: This season’s Pedro Ciriaco. Mercer spent a lot of time with the Pirates this season but played very sparingly as he very seldom received a start and was used as the 3rd string shortstop behind not only Barmes but Harrison. Mercer was often forgotten this season because of his infrequent play and because of the other young shortstop options on the Pirates roster. However none of the other young options are as complete a shortstop as Mercer is. Mercer plays both good defense and has some power making him a decent albeit not spectacular option. My hope is that Mercer will share time at shortstop with Barmes next season but my expectation is that he will either be barely used or be in AAA. Overall Grade: C+
Alen Hanson: Alen Hanson had a big breakout season this year in A ball and is now considered one of the Pirates best prospects. Hanson has a strong bat but there are questions about his defense and some scouts think that he will eventually need to move to either 2B or 3B. Even as a 2B or 3B Hanson would still b a very valuable player as his bat would play at those positions as well but of course his value would take a knock of some sort. For now the Pirates will continue to play Hanson at shortstop and hopefully he will be able to show some improvement next season which should only further increase his value. Hanson should be the regular shortstop in A+ next season.
Gift Ngoepe: Ngoepe appears to be the opposite of Hanson as his bat is very weak but his glove brings high reviews. On the stregnth of mainly his glove work along Ngoepe was named the 20th best prospect this season in the Florida State League. He is a raw player who hasn’t played a lot in organized baseball so there is still some hope his bat will develop in the coming seasons for now though he will have to carry himself with his glove work. Ngoepe’s bat isn’t ready for AA yet but due to Hanson pushing him I suspect Ngoepe will move up anyway and hopefully he will show some progress.
Max Moroff: Moroff was drafted this past season in the 16th round but signed for $200,000 over slot which shows he isn’t your typical 16th round selection. There are some questions whether Moroff can stick at shortstop but for now the Pirates are going to try him there. Moroff played shortstop this season for the Pirates rookie ball team and had a great start to his pro career, in fact the start was strong enough that it seems likely the Pirates will send him to full season ball next season and allow him to be the shortstop in A ball. Moroff’s bat seems advanced enough to handle the push and his glove work was at least adequate for now so he is definitely one to watch heading into next season.
1) Tony Sanchez
2) Wyatt Mathisen
3) Jin-De jhang
4) Ramon Cabrera
5) Jacob Stallings
1) Alex Dickerson
2) Matt Curry
3) Jose Osuna
4) Justin Howard
5) Edwin Espinal
1) Brock Holt
2) Dilson Herrera
3) Dan Gamache
4) Jarek Cunningham
5) Jodaneli Carvajal
1) Eric Wood
2) Kevin Ross
3) Eric Avila
4) Stefan Welch
5) D.J. Crumlich
1) Alen Hanson
2) Gift Ngoepe
3) Max Moroff
4) Gustavo Nunez
5) Drew Maggi
1) Gregory Polanco
2) Josh Bell
3) Barrett Barnes
4) Willy Garcia
5) Mel Rojas
6) Adalberto Santos
7) Tyler Gaffney
8) Elvis Escobar
9) Harold Ramirez
10) Quincy Latimore
11) Andrew Lambo
12) Candon Myles
13) Dan Grovatt
14) Jesus Vasquez
15) Luis Urena
Upper Level (AA and AAA) Pitchers
1) Gerrit Cole
2) Jeff Locke
3) Justin Wilson
4) Kyle McPherson
5) Bryan Morris
6) Victor Black
7) Duke Welker
8) Phillip Irwin
9) Brandon Cumpton
10) Jeff Inman
Middle Level (A and A+) Pitchers
1) Jameson Taillon
2) Nicholas Kingham
3) Robby Rowland
4) Casey Sadler
5) Zach Von Rosenberg
6) Jason Townsend
7) Zach Dodson
8) Porfirio Lopez
9) Nathan Kilcrease
10) Ryan Hafner
Lower Level (Rookie and A-) Pitcher
1) Luis Heredia
2) Clay Holmes
3) Tyler Glasnow
4) Adrian Sampson
5) Jonathan Sandfort
6) Joely Rodriguez
7) Pat Ludwig
8) Jackson Lodge
9) Dalton Friend
10) Andy Otamendi
The Pirates aggressively pushed a foursome of players from rookie ball all the way up to A ball this season and those players for the most part are fairing rather well.
Alen Hanson: .406/.449/.797
Willy Garcia: .196/.217/.286
Jose Osuna: .304/.333/.411
Gregory Polanco: .296/.367/.593
Obviously Garcia’s line is pretty bad and Osuna’s is only so-so but overall its good to see this group performing well. Hanson’s numbers at this point are just plain ridiculous and since he is a shortstop it would be a huge boon for the Pirates if he can keep hitting at any where near this level. Osuna s intriguing because he is a 1B with power potential which is something the Pirates are missing. As for Garcia and Polanco they are both outfielders and I think both of them by the end of the season will add to our already good stable of outfield prospects.
The other real interesting hitter in A ball is Josh Bell. His numbers so far have been decent but not spectacular.
Josh Bell: .269/.273/.404
There are two other players that I was very interesting to keep an eye on this season and both of them are doing fairly well to start the season.
Jodaneli Carvajal: .294/.333/.471
Dan Gamache: .268/.354/.390
Those two players have been sharing the 2B job while Carvajal has been playing some third and Gamache has been the DH some. There are a few other interesting names but these are the biggest names and the ones that stand out to this point.