Catchers: Carlos Paulino, Charlie Cutler
Paulino is a defensive first catcher who is graded by scouts as one of the best defensive catchers in the minor leagues. He stuck around with the big league camp until the final round of cuts so the Pirates must see something in him. Cutler is an organizational player who is a bat first catcher.
1st Base/DH: Alex Dickerson, Matt Curry
Both Dickerson and Curry are prospects to some degrees. If it wasn’t for the logjam of 1B types in AAA (Hague, Larish and possibly Robinson) Curry would almost certainly be there after a good season in AA. Both players have received a little time in LF this Spring but neither is an option there long term. Both players are good hitters but the question is whether either has enough power to make up for their defensive limitations.
Middle Infield: Jarek Cunningham, Gift Ngoepe, Drew Maggi
Cunningham will be the starter at 2nd and Ngoepe at shortstop. Cunningham is repeating the level because he struggled last season but has good power for a 2nd baseman so he is worth keeping an eye on. Ngoepe doesn’t do much with the bat but is a slick fielding shortstop. If he can hit even a little his glove will almost certainly carry him to the majors. Maggi was given an overslot bonus just a few years ago but is now just an organizational player. He could see time just about anywhere including the outfield but his primary purpose will be backing up the middle infield.
Other Infielders: Stefan Welch, Adalberto Santos
Welch and Santos figure to split the third base duties. Neither is a 3rd baseman by trade as Welch is better suited for 1st base and Santos has played almost exclusively the outfield. Welch is coming off an excellent season in A+ in 2012 which earned him a promotion to AA. He started off hot but quickly cooled down. He did have a good showing in the WBC for Team Australia this spring though. Santos has hit at every level the Pirates put him on and probably should be up in AAA this year but the roster figures to be a little crowded. He played exclusively the outfield last season but played some 2B the year before that. Santos is likely to see time in both the OF and 2B as well as adding 3B to his duties. If he can be passable defensively eat each position it coupled with his good contact skills could make him an intriguing bench option.
Outfielders: Mel Rojas, Andrew Lambo, Justin Howard, Andy Vasquez
Rojas is the only real prospect in this group. He has a good set of tools but hasn’t really put everything together. He probably isn’t ready for AA but with Polanco moving up to A+ the Pirates have decided to give him an aggressive push and let him continue playing center field. Lambo will be spending his 5th year at the AA level. This his last year before minor league free agency so if he is going to ever live up to that prospect hype its likely now or never. Howard has good contact skills but is poor defensively and has little power. In reality he shouldn’t be in the outfield but the only position he plays even half decently his first base and there is just no room for him there. Vasquez is a utility player who has been in the Pirates organization seemingly forever. He has played a little bit of everywhere but it appears he will serve mainly as a backup outfielder this season. In addition to these guys Santos is likely to see a lot of time in the outfield and Maggi, Dickerson and even Curry could get the occasional start as well.
Starting Pitchers: Jameson Taillon, Stolmy Pimentel, Brandon Cumpton, Casey Sadler, Tyler Waldron
Taillon is of course Taillon. He is the only true top flight prospect at this level. The main question surrounding him is when will he move up to AAA. Pimentel was acquired in the Joel Hanrahan trade and has a lot of upside but has struggled in AA in the past and is on his last option so he is going to have to impress quickly. Cumpton had moderate success in the AA rotation last year but wasn’t overwhelming so the Pirate have opted to have him repeat the level. Sadler is a prospect I like a lot but he is better suited for relief than starting. He pitched well last year both as a starter and a reliever in A+ and the Pirates like to keep their pitching prospects starting for as long as possible. Waldron was supposed to be moving to the bullpen but I guess the Pirates have had a change of mind. He really didn’t pitch that well last season in A+ but he was promoted near the end of the season so the Pirates must see some potential in him.
Relief Pitchers: Tim Alderson, Nate Baker, Jason Townsend, Jeff Inman, Luis Sanz, Ethan Hollingsworth, Kenn Kasparek
Alderson has seemingly been around forever but is still relatively young at only 24 years old. He gets another go around in AA and this could be his last chance to salvage his career. he still has that great curveball and his fastball is back in the lower 90s so anything is possible. Baker was in the AA rotation for most of last year but struggled and was moved to the bullpen. He did well there and as a left hander he shouldn’t be completely dismissed as an organizational player quite yet. Townsend was a prospect I was initially excited about when the Pirates drafted him because he was throwing in the upper 90s and striking batters out. However something happened last year and that good velocity and strike out numbers were no longer there. I will be curious to see if he can regain that form this season. Inman was a fairly highly touted 12th round pick by the Pirates who only slipped that low because of health concerns. Well so far those health concerns have proved to be a big problem as before last year he pitched in only 17 games over 3 seasons. he did remain relatively healthy last year and displayed good velocity but his strike out rates were low largely do to the lack of a good secondary pitch. The other 3 relievers were added this offseason to provide depth and are only organizational players.
The players I’m the most surprised to not see here are Zach Thornton, Kelson Brown and Dan Grovatt. Thornton was acquired this offseason for Resop and was talked about as the potential closer for the AA team. He had a high strike out rate last year but he was admittedly old for the level. Kelson Brown had a good showing in AA last year and looked like a possible future utility player in the major leagues. He didn’t have much of a ceiling but I would say he had a shot at a Rob Mackowiak type career. Finally Grovatt was one of the better hitters at A+ last year which again really isn’t saying a whole lot as the offense was terrible at that level. One other player to watch but he is not a notable omission is Ryan Beckman. Fan Graphs recently called Beckman a sleeper prospect and I agree with that assessment. Ordinarily he would be on this roster but he is still recovering from Tommy John surgery.
1. Jameson Taillon
2. Alex Dickerson
3. Gift Ngoepe
4. Adalberto Santos
5. Stolmy Pimentel
6. Casey Sadler
7. Mel Rojas Jr
8. Matt Curry
9. Carlos Paulino
10. Brandon Cumpton
11. Jarek Cunningham
Last offseason I did a 15 part preview of the Pirates upcoming seasons focusing on what I expected to see out of various positions at the major league levels, the minor levels, the coaching staff and the front office. The series went over fairly well with my readers so I have decided to bring it back for a second year. I’m not sure how many parts this year’s series will include but I will do my best to cover every key player I can think of.
At the very top of my personal top Pirates prospects list the Pirates have a group I call the top 6 and a group I call the next 6. Two of the top 6 prospects and 1 of the next 6 prospects will be beginning the 2013 season either in AA, AAA or perhaps the major leagues. The two top prospects are of course Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon. The next 6 prospect is Kyle McPherson. Cole is likely to garner the most attention and will likely start the season out in AAA but with a few adjustments and a strong start to the season he could see Pittsburgh fairly early on. Big things are expected from Cole and I fully expect we will see him in Pittsburgh come June or July. Cole may be the ace the Pirates are sorely lacking but it is not realistic to expect him to be that right out of the gate. I expect his major league time to be solid but lacking the elite quality we all will hope to see. Taillion should start the year in AA with a chance for a mid season promotion to AAA. I have high hopes that 2013 will be the year he unleashes his full arsenal and starts putting up the dominant minor league numbers we all hoped we would see. McPherson is competing for a major league rotation spot this spring but barring injuries I see him starting the year in the AAA rotation. McPherson will definitely get some time in the majors this season and I would like to see him perform well enough to earn a 2014 rotation spot. I think McPherson has the upside of a solid middle of the rotation starter and I have reasonably high hopes he will take the first steps towards establishing himself as one this season.
The Pirates upper levels aren’t exactly brimming with hitting talent. The top prospects are probably Tony Sanchez, Adalberto Santos, Alex Dickerson, Gift Ngoepe and if he is promoted to AA Mel Rojas Jr. Sanchez I have already discussed this is a pivotal year for him to have a solid season in AAA and in the likely event of one of the Pirates two catchers suffering an injury this season I would expect Sanchez to be a candidate to be called up to the majors. My expectation is Sanchez will have a solid but not great year in AAA and struggle offensively during any brief major league stint. Santos, Dickerson and Ngoepe I could see all starting in AA this season. Santos has a case to move up to AAA but the crowded outfield will likely hold him back. Hopefully one or more of these three will show something this season that lets the Pirates believe they could be contributors to the 2014 team. My expectations aren’t really high for any of them as I expect Dickerson’s numbers to be solid but again not where they need to be for an all bat player, Santos to regress from his good contact ways and Ngoepe to show only minimal improvement with the bat. The remaining hitting prospects with some intrigue are Ivan De Jesus, Matt Curry, Clint Robinson and Carlos Paulino. De Jesus, Curry and Robinson should start the year in AAA and could be called upon to serve as major league depth this season. Of the 3 my expectations are the highest for De Jesus who I think could develop into a nice middle infield utility player.
Outside of the top 3 pitching prospects I discussed the Pirates have a bunch of interesting arms projected to begin the season in one of the top two levels or the major leagues. Bryan Morris, Justin Wilson, Andy Oliver, Phillip Irwin and Victor Black are all very intriguing arms with some degree of chance of making the major league squad but most likely for all except Morris and possibly Wilson they will start the season in AAA. I have previously discussed Morris and Wilson so I’ll focus on the other 3. Oliver to me looks like another Justin Wilson type project who the Pirates will try to fix his control this season. Irwin has the look of a crafty righty with a know how to pitch and a good enough arsenal of pitches where he could be an effective back of the rotation starter. Black has the makings of a late inning shut down reliever but needs some fine tuning before he gets there. My expectation is that Oliver won’t show much improvement with his control and will wind up in the bullpen and the other two will show positive signs of improvement and I wouldn’t be shocked if either or both of them spent a fair amount of time in the majors this year. In AA the pitching talent is a little less deep outside of Taillon but two guys I’ll be watching are Stolmy Pimentel and Casey Sadler. With this being Pimentel’s last option year I expect the Pirates to move him to the bullpen and Sadler shown enough the Pirates are likely to keep him starting but I think they see him as a reliever long term. I don’t have high hopes for Pimentel this season but I think Sadler will show enough promise the Pirates will add him to the roster at the end of the season. There are a bunch of other semi-interesting pitching prospects in the upper levels but the 4 that catch my eye are Duke Welker, Brandon Cumpton, Tyler Waldron and Hunter Strickland. Welker and Strickland are on the 40 man roster and will need to show something to prove they belong there. I think Strickland will surprise people but my expectation is that Welker will struggle. As for the other two I think both will be converted to relief roles this spring to see if either is worth protecting from the Rule V draft this upcoming offseason. I suspect one of these two will wind up being the Pirates yearly surprise addition to the roster.
Prospects To Watch
I already mentioned that I think De Jesus, Waldron and Cumpton are a couple under the radar names to keep an eye on but I want to dig a little deeper and mention a few players who look like organizational players at this point who interest me. Jared Goedert is having a solid spring and while I don’t expect a whole lot out of him if he hits well in AAA he could get a chance in the majors and I think he has a chance to find a niche there as a good pinch hitting option. Michael Colla has flown under the radar but he has had moderate success at essentially every level. He could potential earn a chance to pitch as a middle reliever some time this season. A few other players I plan on keeping an eye on down in AA are Justin Howard, Kelson Brown and Tim Alderson. Howard is a 1st baseman with limited power but a pretty good knack for making contact. The Pirates have tried using him in the outfield some and with no real option to man 3B in AA I wouldn’t be shocked to see him trotted out there. If he can manage to be competent defensively in the outfield and third base his good contact ability could gain him some traction as a potential bench option down the road. Brown is the type of player who is solid in all aspects of the game but wonderful in none. He plays multiple positions, makes decent contact, shows a little power and is sound defensively. However he does none of those things at a high or low level. He has been fairly successful at every level and as I said with Howard the opening at 3B provides him with a chance to get some playing time and if given a chance he could surprise some people. Alderson has been written off by nearly everyone at this point and with very good reason but he is still relatively young. The last two seasons he has shown progress in converting to a reliever and a more finesse pitcher. He isn’t ever going to become what the Pirates hoped they were acquiring when they traded Freddy Sanchez for him but maybe there is enough talent left in him to develop into a marginal relief prospect. Now for the standard disclaimer my expectation of the players I discussed at length here is that they will continue on their path as organizational guys but of that group the names I noted I believe have the best chance to surprise in 2013.
I know this is incredibly early but with news being slow this time of year I thought I would fast forward to December and take a look at the players the Pirates will have to decide to either add to the 40 man roster or expose to the Rule V draft. For the sake of simplicity I have opted to focus only on players who will be eligible for the Rule V draft for the first time in 2013. I am sure there will be others who were previously eligible who may wind up factoring into the Pirates or another team’s plans but there are too many to consider at this early point. I have divided the players into five categories and written a little bit about the players, why I think there is a chance they might be selected and how I think the Pirates will proceed with them in 2013. There are of course other first time eligible players and I make mention of that later one but to me they are notable in this discussion. Once again it is way too early to even begin thinking about this kind of stuff but hey news is slow this time of year so why not.
Locks To Be Added: Gregory Polanco
It takes a lot to look like a definite lock to be added to the 40 man roster nearly a year out from your Rule 5 eligibility so naturally there are very few players who fit this description. The Pirates have one and only one such player in Gregory Polanco. He is the Pirates number 1 or 1a hitting prospect and should start the season at A+. Usually when evaluating whether to protect prospects or not teams would like to see what the player is capable of doing at least against AA competition but in Polanco’s case that isn’t really much of a concern as he will be protected in almost any set of circumstances. I expect Polanco will get pushed to AA at some point this season but it will be based on merit not just taking a look at a guy. Polanco has a huge upside as a fast solid defensive center fielder with plus power so the Pirates would be crazy not to protect him.
Next In Line: Brandon Cumpton, Matt Curry, Gift Ngoepe, Adalberto Santos
The four players listed in this group all look like fairly safe bets to become solid major league contributors. Now that doesn’t mean star or even starter but any of these four it would appear could hold down a 25 man roster spot next season and produce at least some value and for that reason each one would be at risk of getting selected and is therefore a candidate to be added. Cumpton, Curry and Santos are all candidates to start in AAA but I would say Curry is the only lock to do so. Ngoepe appears likely to start in AA but could be held back in A+. The Pirates will take a long look at each of these players and decide whether to protect them or not at the end of the season. None of these players has the ceiling of a star but all could be quality depth for the Pirates next season. Cumpton looks like a possible 5th starter or middle reliever. Curry appears to have the upside of a Casey Kotchman type first baseman meaning one who can hit decently but not for a lot of power; most players of this type quickly fizzle out though. Ngoepe has a great glove but will need his bat to develop some in order to become a starting major league option but even if it doesn’t he might be able to find a role as a defensive middle infielder off the bench. Santos is quite simply a professional hitter but one who doesn’t have a true position. Santos has hit at every level but has shown very little power and is not really good defensively anywhere. His ability to hit though and his experience at 2B and in the OF could make him a decent bench bat though.
Possible Relievers: Casey Sadler, Zach Thornton, Jason Townsend, Tyler Waldron
Every year it seems the Pirates protect one pitcher from the Rule V draft who is a bit of a head scratcher. Some times that is a player who was previously eligible and other times it is a first time eligible player. There are too many previous eligible candidates to discuss but of the first time eligible ones the above four currently appear to me to be the most likely to be added to the 40 man roster at the end of the season. I won’t say too much about each of these players individually but they all fit the typical mold of being right handed pitchers who throw in the mid 90s and to date haven’t posted the numbers (especially strike out numbers) that one would like to see from them. Although to be fair Thornton did have a a good strike out rate last season but he was a little old for the level he did it at. All four of these pitchers are likely to start the season in AA and with the exception of Sadler they will all likely be pitching from relief. Sadler is by far the most polished of the group and it could be argued he belongs with the next in line class but unlike the four I listed I don’t think he could necessarily stick for an entire season. If any of these four make an impression with the Pirates and keep in mind that isn’t necessarily only statistics I could see them being protected.
Projects: Zack Dodson, Mel Rojas, Zach Von Rosenberg
At the time these players were drafted all of them were considered to have high ceilings but to date none of them have progressed much and 2013 will serve as a defining year for them. The ceilings these players once were to said to had are still there and outside of Polanco these 3 probably have the most talent of the bunch (with possibly one exception below). Currently I have all 3 projected to start the season at A+ but Rojas could be pushed to AA and Dodson could be held back in A ball once his suspension ends. The players who do wind up starting in A+ I imagine will be aggressively pushed once and if they show any signs of progress. Before the Pirates opt to put any of these players on the 40 man roster I imagine they will want to see them against some AA competition. At this point little should be expected of any of these players but each of them has one last chance to show just a glimmer of that upside the Pirates dreamt about when drafting them.
Other Notables: Stetson Allie, Kelson Brown, Dan Grovatt, Justin Howard, Drew Maggi
There are a lot of other players eligible but essentially I see little to no chance of them being added to the roster or selected. That is nearly a year away though so a lot can and probably will change. Of the remaining players the ones above are the names I find the most interesting. With the exception of Allie who I will get to later all of the players have posted solid minor league numbers and will be playing most likely in AA this upcoming season. A good showing in AA could put them on the radar as a possible Rule V selection but right now they all seem like long shots. The other players not listed are players who have largely not developed past A ball yet and while they may have a ton of talent they are too raw to even be considered in this discussion. The one name on my notable list that doesn’t quite fit with the others is Stetson Allie. In his current states and practically any state he’ll be in by the end of the 2013 season Allie is no threat to be selected and obviously will not be protected. Quite a fall from grace for Allie as headed into last season he had the look of one of the Pirates better prospects but now that he failed at pitching and transitioned back to hitting he appears to be not much more than an organizational player. Certainly he has talent but it appears his time to harness and develop that talent has almost ran out.
Predicting minor league rosters can be a tricky exercise because there are often a lot more options than there are actual spots. The Pirates have roughly 35 players per level who it would make sense to assign to that particular team but obviously you can have 25 at a time. Now at some point during the season it is possible, even likely, that all the players will appear but when talking about original assignments that is not the case. With that disclaimer aside I am going to give my best approximation of what the Pirates minor league rosters will look like this upcoming season. For the record when filling out minor league rosters I go with the standard 8 starters, 5 starting pitchers and 7 relievers. The bench is made of a DH, backup catcher, reserve infielder, reserve outfielder and a utility player.
Candidates: Tony Sanchez, Ali Solis, Lucas May
Analysis: The starting catcher is an easy one to peg here. Barring an injury on the major league level Tony Sanchez will start the year in AAA and serve as the regular starting catcher. There is little to no debate about this. Now who will be his backup is a bit more uncertain but it appears likely that it will either be Lucas May or Ali Solis. May has more experience in AAA and even in the majors and Solis is the better defensive catcher. Both will likely spend some time in AAA this year and are probably the 4th and 5th options to see time in the majors should a slew of injuries occur.
Prediction: Tony Sanchez
Candidates: Matt Curry, Clint Robinson, Matt Hague, Jeff Larish, Anderson Hernandez, Ivan De Jesus, Brandon Inge, Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer, Chase d’Arnaud, Jared Goedert, Alex Valdez, Jeremy Farrell
Analysis: That is a lot of bodies for 4 starting infield positions. Chances are two of the above players will be on the major league bench, currently I have Harrison and Mercer projected to be there so they can probably be safely dismissed. As far as prospects go the only ones listed above are Curry, Robinson, De Jesus and Mercer and those 4 are more fringe prospects than anything. The Pirates could opt to go a lot of different ways here and at this point it is difficult to figure out just what the plan is.
Predcition: Matt Curry (1B), Ivan De Jesus (2B), Brandon Inge (3B), Chase d’Arnaud (SS)
Candidates: Alex Presley, Jerry Sands, Felix Pie, Darren Ford, Brad Hawpe, Adalberto Santos, Brett Carroll, Andrew Lambo
Analysis: Some of the infielders could come into play here as well as players like Larish and Goedert have some experience in the outfield corners, however I think the Pirates have enough depth where that is likely not to be an issue at least with the starting roster. Alex Presley and Jerry Sands are candidates to start the year in the majors so if they don’t they will almost certainly get starting jobs in AAA. The only prospects in the above list are Santos and Lambo and both of them could use some more time at AA although I would prefer to see Santos pushed to AAA. The Pirates glut of right fielders makes this a crowded group and the Pirates will have to sort through it before the season begins.
Prediction: Felix Pie (LF), Alex Presley (CF), Jerry Sands (RF)
Analysis: All of the above candidates who I did not project on to the roster are candidates to be part of the AAA bench. Five players in all will make it with one serving as a semi-regular starter at DH. There are still a bunch of names left so it is difficult to say just how this will go but chances are there will be a backup catcher, backup infielder and backup outfielder with the other two spots either going to utility guys or to someone ton handle the DH spot. There are a lot of ways this could go as well.
Prediction: Clint Robinson (DH), Lucas May (C), Jared Goedert (IF), Darren Ford (OF), Matt Hague (U)
Candidates: Jeff Locke, Kyle McPherson, Jonathan Sanchez, Gerrit Cole, Jeanmar Gomez, Vin Mazzaro, Michael Colla, Brandon Cumpton, Phillip Irwin, Andy Oliver, Justin Wilson, Brooks Brown, Stolmy Pimentel
Analysis: Once again we have a lot of bodies for a very limited number of spots. Some of these pitchers are candidates to make the majors and some are candidates to start in either the AAA bullpen or AA. Currently I have Locke and Sanchez making the major league squad so I will remove them from the discussion. Chances are any of the Locke, McPherson, Sanchez trio that doesn’t make the majors will be a SP in AAA and chances are so will Cole. With my current prediction that leaves three spots open to the rest of the group that includes some interesting prospects in Irwin, Wilson, Oliver and Pimentel and some fringe starter types in Mazzaro and Gomez.
Prediction: Gerrit Cole, Kyle McPherson, Justin Wilson, Andy Oliver, Phillip Irwin
Candidates: The above group, Victor Black, Duke Welker, David Bromberg, Erik Cordier, Kyle Waldrop, Mike Zagurski, Roman Colon, Jeff Inman, Kris Johnson, Ryan Reid
Analysis: I’ll be honest with you there is no way in the world I can try to accurately judge what a minor league bullpen is going to look like so I’m not going to pretend I know anything here. What I’m going to make is just a guess and really nothing more.
Prediction: Victor Black, Duke Welker, Brandon Cumpton, Kyle Waldrop, Vin Mazzaro, Mike Zagurski, Kris Johnson
C: Tony Sanchez, Lucas May
IF: Matt Curry, Clint Robinson, Matt Hague, Ivan De Jesus, Chase d’Arnaud, Brandon Inge, Jared Goedert
OF: Felix Pie, Alex Presley, Jerry Sands, Darren Ford
SP: Gerrit Cole, Kyle McPherson, Justin Wilson, Andy Oliver, Phillip Irwin
RP: Victor Black, Duke Welker, Brandon Cumpton, Kyle Waldrop, Vin Mazzaro, Mike Zagurski, Kris Johnson
With Jeff Karstens now back on the Pirates payroll there are 6 pitchers with a reasonable chance of starting the year in the major league rotation. They are A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald, Jeff Karstens, Jeff Locke and Kyle McPherson. In addition to those six there are quite a few other players who could factor in at some point this season. There are a handful of pitchers who look like they could be non-horrible spot starting options in Chris Leroux, Jeanmar Gomez, Vin Mazzaro and Zach Stewart but none of them would ideally be counted on. There is also the two reinforcements, Charlie Morton and Gerrit Cole, who will hopefully both be ready to help contribute by mid season. Then there is even Justin Wilson and Andy Oliver who have the stuff to be good starters if they can figure out their control. Finally the Pirates also have a stable of AAA pitchers who look like they should be ready to step up and make a handful of starts later in the year in Phillip Irwin, Brandon Cumpton and even Michael Colla. That is undoubtedly a lot of arms but I still believe the Pirates need to bring in another starter and I’ll explain why.
Let’s first take a look at the depth. A lot of the pitchers making up the Pirates depth, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, Phillip Irwin, Brandon Cumpton and Michael Colla are going to probably need a couple of months before they would be ideally counted on to help the rotation. Two more Justin Wilson and Andy Oliver will need time to prove that they have improved their control before being ready to move up. What this means is that a lot of this depth will not be ready to help out should a problem arise in say April or May. Now with six starters ready to start the year that ordinarily wouldn’t be a huge deal but the Pirates have risk factors with all six of their starters.
Burnett – AJ will be 36 years old this upcoming season and had two poor seasons prior to his good year last season. A pitcher nearing his late 30s is always at risk of breaking down especially one with as much use on it as Burnett.
Rodriguez – At 34 years old Rodriguez isn’t as old as Burnett but there is a cause for concern as his strike out rate has been steadily dropping the last few seasons. The bottom really fell out in 2012 as he dropped from 7.8 K/9 to 6.1 K/9. He is going to need to show he can transition into being successful as a finesse pitcher.
McDonald – The biggest question mark of them all. Which McDonald is the real McDonald? Is he the Cy Young candidate we saw the first half of last year, the AA arm we saw in the second half or somewhere in between. A complete collapse can not be ruled out.
Karstens – The reason the Pirates didn’t offer Karstens arbitration was his injury history. Karstens has been a very consistent starter for the Pirates but the question is how long can he stay healthy? The Pirates really shouldn’t be counting on Karstens for more than about 120 innings max.
Locke – I feel pretty good about Locke but the issue with him is that he has no track record of big league success and has struggled when given his few chances. Locke has been a very successful AAA pitcher and while that probably should transition over to him being at least a solid 4/5 in the majors you never know until he actually does it.
McPherson – McPherson has had shoulder soreness twice in the past year and last time it cause him to miss a decent chunk of the season. Add in the fact that he has only made 3 starts at the AAA level and you have a pitcher who the Pirates should probably proceed cautiously with.
With all those question marks and the real possibility that a starter outside of those 6 might be needed the way the Pirates are currently constructed they would need to give the chances to one of the spot starter options in Gomez, Stewart, Leroux or Mazzaro. If those 4 are forced to make a combined 2-3 starts this year, ok stuff happens the team should be fine but if one of them is needed to move into the rotation in April or May it could very well likely signal bad things for the Pirates. For the Pirates and all teams really one of the most important keys is depth in the rotation and while that is coming for the Pirates it isn’t there yet. Ideally come midseason the Pirates will have a surplus to trade for needs in other areas or will be able to convert some starters into bullpen arms but you can’t go on expecting the ideal the Pirates need to prepare for the very real possibility that they may need an extra arm to help the rotation get through April and May. As long as health holds out Burnett, Rodriguez and McDonald should all start the season in the majors. McPherson would ideally start the year in AAA to get a few more starts and a little more polish. This leaves two rotation spots for Karstens and Locke. I would really like to see those two battle it out for the 5th spot with Locke going to AAA if he loses and Karstens being the swing man if he loses. The las rotation spot needs to go to someone on the outside. Perhaps the Liriano deal can be reworked and he can fill the last spot (his upside would really fit nicely with what the Pirates need) or perhaps another free agent such as Marcum or Saunders can be had or maybe a trade for someone like Capuano or Porcello but the bottom line is another arm needs to be added so the Pirates can have some reasonable security that they will be able to make him through April and May with their in house rotation options.
Borderline Starting Pitcher Prospects (Grade C-)
Brandon Cumpton: Cumpton was drafted by the Pirates in the 9th round of the 2010 draft. Cumpton has a decent arsenal including a low 90s fastball and a fairly good curve. His climb through the Pirates system has been a relatively quick one. Upon signing Cumpton went and pitched briefly at the A- in 2010 and he put up solid numbers in his 10.2 innings of work. In 2011 he had an up and down season starting off poorly in A ball before finally turning it on and pitching well enough to earn a promotion to A+. There he was pretty much a mediocre pitcher not good nor bad. It was enough to earn him a promotion to AA this past season and once again he was just mediocre. Cumpton has pitched decent at every level the Pirates have put him at but has never really done enough to stand out. He has fairly good control which keeps his walk rate low but on the other hand he doesn’t miss a lot of bats. The Pirates have tried him in the bullpen some and there his stuff seems to be better as he can get his fastball up into the mid 90s. His mediocre results as a starter points to someone who isn’t overmatched but to someone who is probably best suited for the bullpen. Nonetheless the Pirates might choose to keep him as a starter next season and he could see time in both AA and AAA. If Cumpton has a future in the majors though it is likely as a reliever.
Tyler Waldron: The Pirates drafted Waldron in the 5th round of the 2010 draft which was kind of surprising because he didn’t have that great of a college career. Waldron has some potential with a good fastball and an assortment of off speed stuff which should reasonably improve over time. However his results so far have been pretty much in line with what Cumpton has done so far except that he has actually been a little more hittable. Waldron had a solid debut in 2010 at the A- level and then like Cumpton split time in 2011 between the A and A+ levels where he was mediocre at best. The Pirates sent Waldron back to A+ to begin the 2012 season but with the exception of a slight uptick in his strikeout rate his numbers actually got worse. Even so the Pirates gave him a late promotion to AA where he managed to pitch slightly better but he started to show a little less command. Waldron hasn’t really shown anything that makes him stand out but he does have some potential and the Pirates though highly enough of him to pick him in the 5th round. His low strike out rate and the fact that he has been fairly hittable are concerning for a pitcher with his stuff. Right now Waldron remains a project and with a slim assortment of starting options for AA next season Waldron looks like a safe bet to remain a starter for now.
Kyle Kaminska: It is tough to get a read on Kaminska. The Pirates acquired him as what looked to be a throw-in in the Gaby Sanchez trade but he has pitched very well in his time with the Pirates. While with Florida Kaminska put up solid numbers in the low minors. He showed great command and even managed to miss quite a few bats. He did have quite a few outings where he was hit hard but generally he pitched well. In 2011 it appeared like he may have tapped out as the move to AA knocked his strike out total down and also came with a little less control. The Marlins tried him at the AA level again this season and he seemed to regain his control but was getting hit awfully hard. When the Pirates acquired him they sent him to A+ and returned him to starting. The Pirates promoted him near the end of the season to AA where he pitched mainly out of relief but did make one start and he continued to pitch well showing the great command he had throughout his minor league career and avoiding being too hittable. All of this is a nice story but not enough to garner Kaminska too much attention except it doesn’t end here. The Pirates sent Kaminska to the AFL and so far through six starts he has been great. After getting slightly roughed up in his first start Kaminska has pitched 24 innings ans allowed only 2 runs. The Pirates will likely continue to try Kaminska as a starter and his results so far in the AFL make him an interesting one to watch.
Matt Benedict: The Pirates drafted Benedict in the 30th round of the 2011 draft. His stuff is the typical assortment you see. A fastball right around 90 with an average curve and a pretty good change up. When drafted he appeared to be just an organizational pitcher and that is still likely where he’ll end up but he has done enough to make himself be noticed. His performance in A- in 2011 was solid but his strike out rates were low and he didn’t really stand out. However Benedict started this season at the A level and was clearly pitching head and shoulders above the rest of the rest of the staff. To be fair the pitching staff at A ball had an absolutely horrible start to this season but Benedict still stood out. His numbers weren’t overwhelmingly great but they were clearly much better than anybody else on the staff. For that reason the Pirates promoted him to A+ and tried him at starting. To put it kindly that didn’t work out as Benedict was hit hard. Despite that the Pirates kept him starting almost all season which shows they at least find him mildly intriguing. Benedict doesn’t look like much of a prospect at this point but his solid performance in A ball make him at least worth noting. The Pirates would probably move Benedict to the bullpen next season but the staff at the A level was so bad last season that they may let him have another try at starting.
Zack Dodson: Dodson was one of the many prep arms the Pirates drafted and signed in the 2009 draft and sadly he has probably been the 3rd most successful of the group. The Pirates drafted him in the 4th round and signed him for 600K. He threw in the low 90s and had a good curve ball and was a projectable high school arm, meaning the Pirates and other scouts thought he would add velocity as he filled out. Dodson pitched only briefly at the rookie level in 2009 and opened the 2010 season at the A- level where he showed very little getting hit around and showing poor control. The Pirates still sent Dodson to the A level in 2011 and he seemed to have figured some stuff out, he had added a few mph to his fastball and was showing improved command, but he broke his hand in May. He made a few rehab starts in the lower levels but didn’t pitch well. His velocity had dropped back into the upper 80s and he had turned into a ground ball pitcher. Despite his very good showing in A ball the Pirates sent Dodson back to the level to start the 2012 season probably because of the limited playing time he got. Everything fell apart for Dodson this season though. Dodson proved to be very hittable, starting leaving up a lot of home runs and the improved control he showed was gone. To top it all off Dodson’s season ended when he was suspended 50 games for failing a drug test. Dodson will miss roughly the first month of the 2012 season and will need to pitch well to regain his prospect status.
Jake Burnette: Burnette was drafted by the Pirates in the 2011 draft and is yet again another one of their projectable high school arms. The Pirates drafted him in the 7th round and gave him 550K to forego college. Burnette throws in the high 80s to low 90s but again is projectable so the Pirates hope to see that velocity increase. Regardless the Pirates have seen very little of Burnette so far as he pitched only 1 inning in 2011 at rookie ball and then made 5 starts at the A- level this season before missing the rest of the year with an elbow injury. Burnette pitched decently in his five starts this year but had a very low strike out rate. There really isn’t a whole lot to say about Burnette at this point as there is certainly talent here but he hasn’t really gotten a chance to show much of it. The Pirates will probably have him pitch in one of the short season leagues again next season where he will hopefully stay healthy and get enough innings to possibly show some of his potential.
Colten Brewer: Brewer is yet another projectable high school pitcher selection by the Pirates. Typical story here he throws in the low 90s and is projected to add velocity as he fills out. The Pirates drafted him in the 4th round in the 2011 draft and signed him for 240K. Brewer didn’t get into any games in 2011 because of a back problem but pitched this past season in rookie ball and did fairly well. Brewer showed decent command and while he didn’t strike out a lot of hitters his 6.5 K/9 was better than a lot of the Pirates low-level pitchers. Brewer did miss some time this season with an injury so he only pitched 25 innings but he showed some potential in that time and will likely move up to the A- level next season. Like Burnette there isn’t a whole lot to say about Brewer because he has seen such limited playing time thus far but he doesn have some potential and the Pirates thought highly enough of him to select him in the 4th round and go over slot so there must be some talent here.
Jon Sandfort: Sandfort is yet another of the Pirates tall projectable high school pitchers. To be fair most of the pitchers are 6’3″ or 6’4″ but Sandfort has a couple extra inches on them coming in a 6’6″. He has the typical arsenal of a low 90s fastball, a curve and a work in progress change-up. The Pirates selected him in this past draft in the 3rd round showing they find something about him very intriguing. The Pirates signed him for the full slot amount and sent him to rookie ball where he pitched decently but showed some control issues. He only pitched 15 innings so it is difficult to say exactly how bad his control issues are but that is something to keep an eye on going forward. The Pirates used him as a starter this past season although he only pitched 2-3 innings in each start. Sandfort will likely move up to the A- level next season where hopefully he will get more playing time.
Hayden Hurst: The Pirates selected Hurst in the 17th round of the 2012 draft and when it became apparent Appel wasn’t going to sign gave him 400K to break his college commitment. He has yet to actually pitch for the Pirates so there really isn’t a whole lot to say about him. He is not the Pirates typical projectable high school pitcher as he already throws in the mid 90s and is pretty filled out at 6’5″, 235 lbs. I have Hurst on this list solely on the fact the Pirates gave him 400K to sign which means they obviously must see something in him. Hurst will likely pitch at one of the two short season levels next year and will hopefully show us what it is that makes the Pirates think so highly of him.