Low Level Hitters – Interesting Non-Prospects
Edwin Espinal: Espinal is probably someone I should buy into more than I do. The Pirates signed him for $150,000 in 2011 out of the Dominican Republic. He spent the 2011 season in the DSL and put up good numbers and was named one of the top 20 prospects in the DSL and VSL. Espinal’s value is almost entirely tied to him developing power though as he is shaky defensively, probably limited to 1B, and is slow. This past season Espinal was promoted to the GCL and struggled. His plate discipline which had been good in the DSL was poor and his overall numbers suffered. Espinal did finish the season with a strong August though and will only be 19 next season so the potential is still there.
Jared LaKind: The Pirates drafted LaKind in the 23rd round of the 2010 draft and for $400,000 convinced him to to skip going to Arkansas. When drafted LaKind had potential both as a pitcher and 1B. He was a lefty with a low 90s fastball but his power potential is what the Pirates saw so they announced him as a 1B. LaKind has spent the last 3 seasons between rookie ball and A- and hasn’t made much if any progress. He strikes out too much and has shown little power. His prospect window is all but shut and to be honest I’m surprised the Pirates haven’t converted him back to a pitcher yet.
Stetson Allie: Oh how the mighty have fallen. Allie with his 100+ mph fastball was once one of the Pirates best prospects now he barely clings to his prospect status. Allie has a lot of power potential which is what is keeping his status as a hitting prospect alive but he has a lot of work to do if he is going to succeed. Allie had a rough first year at the plate, striking out a third of the time and batting only .213 but he did show a little bit of that raw power. For my money the Pirates were better off keeping him as a pitcher and hoping they could iron out his control problems but we shall see how this path turns out.
Candon Myles: Myles is a speedy center fielder who loves to run. The best part of his game is speed and it is something he does well. Myles doesn’t have much of a bat though his line in limited action this season was promising. He is essentially your typical speedy center field type who is going to have to make by defense, speed and OBP skills. The Pirates drafted him in 2011 so he just turned 20 a few days ago. There is definitely some talent here but we have to wait and see if Myles can turn into anything.
Ryan Hornback: The Pirates and most organizations for that matter tend to carry a few extra catchers in the system. The Pirates have a plethora of catchers in their lower levels but most are probably just organizational types. The one that appears to have the highest upside of the non-prospects is Hornback. Hornback started the 2012 season splitting time with Jacob Stallings at catcher in A- but got injured in July and didn’t play again. He did fairly well in that time batting for a 291/329/367 line. He is viewed as a solid defensive catcher. Overall he is probably just an organizational catcher but unlike most of the others in the lower levels he has a chance to progress farther into the system.
Alex Presley: In my opinion Alex Presley is the key to the Pirates having a top notch outfield this season. After surging through the minor leagues the last two seasons Presley got his first real chance last season and did not disappoint. In addition to the speed, defense and contact skills we all expected he even showed a little bit of power with a slugging percentage of .465. Presley has the speed and the defensive skills to make patrolling the Pirates rather large home left field no issue at all. The question is rather is his bat sustainable. I this point I can’t think of a reason not to expect it to be; I see him hitting for a line of roughly .280/.340/.450. That would make him a very solid left fielder. If Presley does reach my projection he (and Tabata and McCutchen) will give the Pirates a very strong outfield and top of the batting order.
Nate McLouth: McLouth will be the backup for all three outfield spots but I believe he was signed primarily as an insurance policy in case Presley’s magic ride ends. For this reason I am considering him a left fielder for this season. There is no reason to expect McLouth to return to his 2008/09 but I think a return to his old stomping grounds will allow him to improve on his past two seasons numbers. McLouth will assume the 4th outfielder job, the Pirates had him penciled in for all along and I think he will succeed in such a role. McLouth has a good speed/power mix which I think will prove to be a perfect combination for his new lesser role with the Pirates.
Robbie Grossman: Grossman made a huge splash last season with a great showing in A+ ball. He quickly rose into the Pirates top 10 prospect. Grossman will likely mostly play CF in AA this year but he profiles best as a corner outfielder hence his inclusion as a left fielder prospect. Now the questions are how will Grossman adjust from moving to a hitter friendly park to a pitcher friendly park, how will his hammate injury affect him and how we he handle the brighter spotlight that will be on him? He has the pedigree of a guy who should be a rather successful player. However with all those factors working against him I think Grossman is going to take a step back this season. I don’t see him having a horrible season in AA but it won’t be near the level of what people are expecting. I think his hammate injury and the jump in the level of competition will be the two largest factors limiting him.
Wes Freeman: It wasn’t to the extent of Grossman but Freeman had his only little breakout season last year. Like Grossman, Freeman will likely be spending most of 2012 in center field but long term he appears to be a better fit for a corner spot. Freeman had a few disappointing seasons in 2008-10 and was likely on his last chance last season when he made his big strides forward. It should be noted that his breakout came in short season ball so he still has a long way to go before he can move into the top prospect crowd. This year should be Freeman’s first full year in full season ball and while I like how much he has progressed I know he is still a project who will probably struggle initially. I think we will see encouraging signs late in the season but I think this is going to be a relatively rough season for Freeman.
Candon Myles: Myles was drafted as a high school senior in the 12th round. He received a decent signing bonus amount of 125K so the Pirates must think fairly highly of him. He received limited playing time (6 AB) in rookie ball last season and considering he is only 19 he will likely either repeat rookie ball or play in short season ball. Myles best tool is his speed and he loves to use it on the bases. He has a small stature so he doesn’t project to hit for much power and probably is best suited for center field. I am listing him as a replacement for Cayones and because he is the remaining outfield prospect I am the highest on. I am expecting a very good season from Myles but since he is so young and at such a low level his prospect status will not be affected much.
Summary: One of the Pirates organizational strengths is the outfield and left field is no exception. In the short term Alex Presley will man the position and there is no real reason to think that his play will not be at least acceptable. The Pirates also have a few interesting prospects who project best as left fielder in Grossman and Freeman. Some fans may be concerned by the lack of power the Pirates have coming from left field but to be honest in recent seasons left field has been becoming less and less of a power hitting position. With Presley (or Tabata), two good prospects and the chance a CF could slide over the Pirates should have no real problem filling the left field position for 2012 and for the short term future.