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.
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
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.
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 16-20
20. Matt Curry: Curry was drafted by the Pirates in the 37th round of the 2008 draft and then again by the Pirates in the 16th round of the 2010 draft. He is limited defensively to 1B and has very little speed meaning it is his bat, particularly power that will be needed to make him successful. Curry signed at the conclusion of the College World Series in 2010 and was sent to A-. He started off hot but trailed off near the end of the year. Curry showed some decent power by hitting 7 HR and also showed the willingness to take a walk but on the downside he struck out about a quarter of the time. The Pirates sent Curry to A ball the following season and he absolutely destroyed the level, posting a 1.148 OPS before being jumped all the way up to AA. At first Curry seemed to handle the aggressive push well as he held is own early one before heating up and posting a .847 OPS in July but Curry struggled to finish out the season. The Pirates had Curry repeat the AA level in 2012 and it came with mixed results. His overall .832 OPS looks good but it was oddly buoyed by a huge home/road split which saw CUrry post a .953 OPS at home. Keep in mind the Pirates AA affiliate is known to play in a very pitcher friendly ball park so that makes the split even a little more curious. Anyway the down side of the numbers are he only hit 11 HR which is very low for an all bat 1B prospect. The Pirates gave Curry a taste of AAA near the end of the season and that is where he will likely start 2013. Right now Curry is looking like another Matt Hague type player unless he can manage to start hitting for some more power so 2013 will be a big test for him as there is certainly an opening for him at the major league level should he start to show some power.
19. Brock Holt: Holt made a name for himself last season by being a surprise call up in September but he didn’t register enough at bats to lose his prospect status. The Pirates drafted Holt in the 9th round of the 2009 draft. He was viewed as a good all around offensive player and was officially listed as a shortstop. The majority opinion was that he didn’t have the defensive ability to stick at shortstop. He also has slightly above average speed and is a is only an average base stealer. Holt after signing was sent to A- and split time there between 2B and SS. He hit fairly well and showed good plate discipline nearly drawing as many walks as he had strike outs. Holt had a slight injury to start the 2010 season but when healthy the Pirates pushed him to A+. Holt was struggling defensively at SS but was in the midst of a great offensive season (.848 OPS) when he collided with his second baseman, suffered a concussion and missed the rest of the season. In 2011 the Pirates sent Holt to AA where he initially played 2B but started to get some time at SS as promotions started to happen. He hit well at the level, while never really standing out and continued to show good plate discipline. Holt’s 2011 season was surely good enough for him to start 2012 at AAA but the Pirates had too many players in front of him so Holt repeated AA and played primarily shortstop. Holt had a great season at AA but rather oddly remained at the level before finally getting promoted in August. After the promotion Holt got on a ridiculous hot streak posting a 1.013 OPS in AAA which led to his promotion to the majors. Holt will probably be given a chance to win a utility job out of spring training but will likely start the season back at AAA. His best asset is his good plate discipline but his poor defense at shortstop is what is holding him back. To move forward Holt is either going to need to show better defense at SS or get a chance at 2B.
18. Victor Black: The Pirates drafted Black with the supplemental pick they received in 2009 for their failure to sign Scheppers. Black is a hard thrower who sits in the mid 90s and compliments his fastball with a change and a slider. Most scouts seen him as a late inning reliever when drafted but the Pirates initially tried him as starting as is their norm. The Pirates started Black in A- in 2009 and he pitched fairly well, striking out a lot of batters and proving to be very tough to hit but on the downside he showed some control problems. The following season, 2010, proved to be essentially a lost year for Black as a shoulder injury limited him to only 2 appearances. Following the 2010 season the Pirates decided to move Black to the bullpen full time and he was slated to start the year in A ball but the Pirates decided to give him some extra time in extended spring training so Black didn’t start pitching until May. He didn’t pitch well in A ball showing even more control problems than he did before and also being hit a little harder. Despite all that the Pirates gave Black a taste of A+ near the end of the year where he continued to struggle. The shoulder injury looked like it might have been still affecting him as he was only throwing in low 90s. Going into 2012 the Pirates surprisingly continued pushing Black this time sending him to AA. Something clicked for Black this time though as he stayed healthy and his velocity was back and in fact was a little better as he even reach the upper 90s on occasion. Black was absolutely dominant with a 12.8 K/9 and at times looked unhittable. Still the control problems remained as he had a 4.4 BB/9 rate. Black was added to the 40 man roster this offseason and will likely start next year in AAA if he can show improvements in his command it is possible he could take over a back if the bullpen spot in the majors by the end of the season.
17. Alex Dickerson: The Pirates drafted Dickerson in the 3rd of the 2011 draft. Due to the previous selections of Cole and Bell, Dickerson went under the radar but he was ranked in the Baseball America’s top 50 draft prospects. He played primarily outfield in college but his defense isn’t good enough to hold him there so the Pirates have moved him to 1B. Dickerson doesn’t run well and he doesn’t play defense well but he has a good bat. The Pirates sent Dickerson to A- in 2011 and there he played 1B and hit fairly well. He didn’t show as much power as one would hope but it was a small sample size and he was adjusting to new bats so his .896 OPS is still encouraging. Like the Pirates do with most of their advanced college draftees the Pirates skipped Dickerson over A ball and straight to A+ to begin the 2012 season. He struggled initially at the level but seemed to settle in as the season went one. His numbers portray a good solid season as he posted an .804 OPS but yet it was also a mildly disappointing showing. Dickerson was an advanced college all bat prospect so his offensive numbers were expected to be good and merely being good makes the season just average. He hit 13 HR so he did show a little more power but he will need to show more going forward. He did manage to keep his strike outs fairly low but then again his walk rate was also low. Dickerson is widely regarded as one of the 5 best 1B prospects in all of baseball but that comes with the caveat that most players end up moving to 1B only after they shown they can’t handle another position. To be a true prospect and take that next step forward Dickerson is going to have start showing better overall offensive numbers but specifically better power numbers. He should start next season as the regular 1B in AA and if he hits there is nobody who should block him in the Pirates organization.
16. Bryan Morris: Morris was drafted by the Dodgers in the 1st round of the 2006 draft so he has been around the prospects list probably longer than any other player listed. He came over to the Pirates in the Jason Bay trade in 2008 and is the last remaining piece. His arsenal includes a mid 90s fastball, a plus curve and a developing change up. Before coming to Pittsburgh he played only sparingly for the Dodgers showing good stuff but poor command in 2006 and then missing all of 2007 because of Tommy John surgery. He pitched decently for the Dodgers in 2008 before coming over to the Pirates but after making three starts for the Pirates A affiliate and showing no control Morris was shut down for the season because of a shoulder problem. The start of Morris’s 2009 season was delayed because of surgery on his big toe. Once he got started he was sent to A+ and once again he showed good stuff but terrible command which led to a poor season. In 2010 the Pirates sent Morris back to A+ and finally he looked like he was getting some where. Morris showed much better control getting his walk rate down to 1.4 BB/9 and was almost unhittable with a 0.60 ERA and 0.99 WHIP. Morris was promoted to AA and he continued to pitch well before wearing down and eventually being sent to the bullpen. The Pirates sent Morris back to AA the following season and he returned to starting but he struggled before suffering an oblique injury. The Pirates attempted to ease him back into starting but he continued to struggle, finally in June the Pirates made the decision to keep him in the bullpen full time. It worked out well as Morris pitched much better out of the pen than he did as a starter. Morris started the 2012 season in AAA out of the bullpen and was outstanding for the first 3 months. It seemed rather odd the Pirates didn’t give him a chance in the majors considering they used his lat option in 2012. Nonetheless Morris remained in AAA and started to cool off over the final 2 months. He finished the AAA season with good numbers and got a September callup to the majors where he was rarely used. Since he is out of options Morris will either have to be waived or start the 2013 season on the Pirates 25 man roster. If Hanrahan is dealt this offseason he is a possible closer candidate.
Garrett Jones: Garrett Jones nearly pulled off what would have been quite a rare feat I imagine. He led the Pirates in PA from a 1B and was only 1 behind Jose Tabata for most PA from a RF. However I see Jones as more a 1B than an OF so I’m covering him here. Jones had what can only be described as a great season for him. He struggled defensively some and seemed to actually get worse as a base runner but he brought his bat with him and provided the Pirates with a nice steady option for the middle of the order. Jones isn’t the ideal cleanup guy but with how he performed this season he was more than adequate. Jones will enter next season in his 2nd year of arbitration since he was a Super 2 candidate and while I wouldn’t say he is a non-tender candidate he is certainly someone the Pirates could consider selling high on and trading to another team for a missing piece say at catcher, shortstop or pitching. However it is my expectation that Jones will be back next season manning 1st base. Overal Grade: B+
Casey McGehee: Casey McGehee played a lot of 1st base for the Pirates, almost as much as Jones actually, and he was defensively sound at the position which was somewhat surprising given his limited experience there but McGehee struggled mightily with the bat. If you look at his splits McGehee performed very well hitting wise at 3rd base and as a pinch hitter (granted small sample size applies) but was bad at first base. He never really materialized as the right-handed platoon partner for Jones the Pirates envisioned and was dealt at the trade deadline. His tenure with the Pirates while disappointing needs to be taken with the fact he was never expected to do too much other than hit lefties decently and be a respectable pinch hitter and he was asked to do more than that. Overall Grade: C-
Gaby Sanchez: Sanchez came over at the trade deadline and replaced McGehee as Jones platoon partner. He struggled his first couple of games with the Pirates but quickly reverted back to putting up the kind of numbers he did in Miami/Florida the two years previous. These numbers are not spectacular but are solid enough for the small portion of the 1st base platoon. The Pirates were having Sanchez work on some 3rd base during the season and I imagine his work will continue into the offseason and he will attempt to not only be a right-handed alternative to Jones but to Alvarez as well. He has some 3rd base experience in the minors so I don’t foresee this being an issue but only time will tell. Sanchez will be a first time arbitration eligible player next season and I expect him to be retained. Overall Grade: C+
Alex Dickerson: Dickerson the Pirates third round selection last season played in A+ this year and put up solid numbers but that weren’t quite what you would hope for from an advanced bat first college player. This takes nothing away from what he did but more was definitely hoped for. Even with his not as good as it could have been showing Dickerson is a near lock to move up to AA and if he manages to improve on his numbers even a little bit there he will move into legit prospect territory. Dickerson is probably the Pirates best hope for a legit 1st base prospect in the near future.
Matt Curry: Curry’s season in a lot of ways was very similar to Dickerson’s. He had a strong showing in AA but it wasn’t quite what was hoped for an advanced college hitter repeating a level. He was still called up to AAA at the end of the season and should no doubt start the season there and with a good showing by him could even get a shot in the majors by the beginning of next season. Curry profiles as a similar player to Dickerson but doesn’t have the power potential, he could develop into an average major league 1st baseman though and that would be a huge improvement over what the Pirates have had in recent seasons.
Jose Osuna: Osuna was one of the 4 Latin American players making the jump from rookie ball to A ball this season. Like the other 1st base prospects I listed he did ok but not as good as was hoped. He is defensively limited to 1st meaning his offensive game will have to carry him and while the power potential is there he really has only shown flashes of it. He did have solid power numbers this season but that came in streaks and his overall line was not too impressive. Even with his struggles I believe Osuna has done enough to warrant a promotion to A+ next season where he will definitely be a break out candidate.