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
Tim Williams at Pirates Prospects has a the 2013 Minor League Spring Training Roster for the Pirates on his site. Every year I look over this list to see if there are any interesting developments like a player being shifted to or from the mound, notable absences or even notable additions from the DSL. For some reason this year nothing like that caught my eye but what did catch my eye was that Tim had the player’s ages listed beside their names. Usually this wouldn’t be a big deal but for some reason it caught my attention. Some players were a few years older or younger than I thought. The I got to thinking about how age plays in a role in how I and everyone else define prospects. I looked over the list and gave this some more thought and concluded that ordinarily a player 25 years old or older is usually considered a non-prospect. Of course there are plenty of exceptions but as a basis it seemed like a good start.
I decided to turn my attention to see just how many players on the roster were indeed 25 and over and what sort of prospect ability they had. In all I counted 27 such players ranging from my base line age of 25 all the way up to 33 years old. Some of these 27 are of course no longer prospects not just because of their age but because of time they have spent in the majors but for most of the dream of reaching the show hasn’t happened yet and at this point for many of them likely never will. Still I thought I’d give a look at them. I didn’t intend to learn in an in-depth profile on each player just gain a casual idea of where they are as a prospect and a professional ball player.
The majority 15 of the 27 players age 25 or over are pitchers. The below list contains no true prospects but there are some intriguing names. I have also included their ages and a little blurb about their background.
Nathaniel Baker, 25: Baker was a 5th round draft choice by the Pirates in 2009. He projects to start the year in AA and remains mildly intriguing mainly because he is left handed pitcher with decent velocity. Baker has split time between starting and relieving but appears best suited for relief.
David Bromberg, 25: Bromberg was signed as a minor league free agent. He has spent the last 3 seasons in the upper levels and has been mildly effective. He looks like a fringy relief pitcher who should serve as minor league depth.
Michael Colla, 26: Colla was drafted by the Pirates in the 14th round of the 2008 draft. He has spent the last two seasons in AA and has put up solid numbers. He has almost purely been a starter in the past but could move to relief in AAA this season.
Roman Colon, 33: Colon had a few seasons as a middle reliever in the majors with poor to average results. For the last three seasons he has hung around in AAA and even played in Korea and served as emergency depth for teams. That appears to be his role going forward.
Zachary Foster, 26: Foster was drafted in the 49th round of the 2008 draft. He has struggled so far in his professional career spending most of his time in A or A+ ball. At this point he is an organizational player and one not likely to make it past the middle levels.
Ethan Hollingsworth, 26: Hollingsworth was taken by the Pirates in this year’s minor league Rule V draft. He has split the last two seasons between AA and AAA and has been decent in AA and poor in AAA. The Pirates likely selected him to serve as depth for the upper levels.
Jeffrey Inman, 25: Inman is one of the more interesting names on this list. He was taken in the 12 round of the 2009 draft but was a more highly regarded pitcher who slipped due to a shoulder injury. He really hasn’t stayed healthy much in his professional career but posted a decent season in AA last year. Considering all his injuries he probably should get an additional year of being considered a borderline relief pitcher prospect.
Kenn Kasparek, 27: Kasparek was drafted by the Mariners in 2008 but found himself in an independent league to begin 2012. The Pirates signed him when they had an opening in A+ ball. He figures to continue serving as a depth reliever for the middle levels.
Elecier Navarro, 25: Navarro is one of Littlefield’s leftovers. He is a small finesse left handed pitcher whose finese stuff has served him well through the lower and middle levels but he has now probably reached his ceiling.
Aaron Poreda, 26: Poreda is one of only two pitchers on this list who has pitched in the majors. He is however a bit different from Colon. The Pirates acquired him in 2011 minor league Rule V draft but before that he was once a highly regarded prospect. He was a key part of the Jake Peavy deal between the Padres and White Sox but when Poreda arrived with the Padres he suddenly lost his control. Since the trade Poreda has spent most of his time pitching in AA or AAA and putting up some very high walk rates, his other numbers though have been relatively speaking fairly solid.
Aaron Pribanic, 26: Pribanic is the last player remaining the Pirates got from the Jack Wilson trade. His first three years with the Pirates were fairly solid but he essentially lost all of 2012 due to injury and that has greatly hurt his prospect status. He will likely begin 2013 in AA with one last chance to avoid become an organizational guy.
Luis Sanz, 25: Sanz was signed by the Pirates as a minor league free agent. He has yet to advance past A+ ball and if he does this year it will likely only be because of an extreme lack of depth for AA.
Zach Thornton, 25: Thronton was acquired for Chris Resop this past offseason and is at least a little intriguing. Thornton played last season at the A+ level which he was old for but posted a very high K rate. His ability to miss bats make him a tad bit interesting. He should start the 2013 season in the AA bullpen.
Erik Turgeon, 26: The Pirates signed Turgeon to a minor league contract last year to fill in a hole at the A+ level. He pitched well at the A+ level but had already logged significant playing time above that level. He has some ability to miss bats but at this point looks like an organizational player.
Philippe Valiquette, 26: Valiquette was signed by the Pirates as a minor league free agent this offseason. Usually he would fall into the same category as the others but he is a little special as he is a left handed pitcher who has hit triple digits with his fastball in the past. That skill alone will keep teams hoping on for at least another season or two.
In addition to the 15 pitchers I have discussed there are 12 position players who fit the description of being 25 years or older and in the minor league camp.
Charles Cutler, 26: Cutler was selected by the Pirates in the minor league Rule V draft in 2011. Last season he served as a backup catcher in AA and put up some decent numbers. Cutler put up strong numbers in the lower levels but struggled in his first trip to AA in 2010. He has repeated the level the last two seasons and done well. I would like to see what he could do at AAA but the consensus seems to be that he is an organizational catcher.
Devin Ivany, 30: Ivany was signed by the Pirates as a minor league free agent this offseason. Over the last three seasons he has spent most of his time at AA where he has been fairly average. Ivany is proof that minor league catchers tend to hang around for a while due to teams always needing them to help work with young pitchers.
Miguel Perez, 29: Perez is another organizational catcher but he did get a cup of coffee in the big leagues in 2005. His playing days appear to be over, short a string of injuries as he is slated to serve as a bullpen coach and bullpen catcher in one of the upper levels in 2013.
Kelson Brown, 25: Brown is one of the more interesting players on this list. He was drafted in the 34th round by the Pirates during the 2012 draft. Since starting his professional career the Pirates have used Brown as a utility player/ organizational player but he has hit well at each level including AA last season. There doesn’t seem to be a spot for him at AAA to begin the season so he will probably repeat AA at some point in 2012. He has the look of an organizational player but he has no glaring weakness so he can’t be completely written off.
Jeremy Farrell, 26: Farrell is the son of the Boston Red Sox manager and was drafted by the Pirates in the 8th round of the 2008 draft. He has spent the last two seasons in AA where he has been average at best. The Pirates really don’t have a clear-cut choice for 3B in AA this year though so he might get one last chance at some consistent playing time.
Jeff Larish, 30: Larish played in the majors from 2008-2010 spending some time in AAA as well and had his moments but was a below average player overall. He has hung around the last two years serving as a AAA utility player and that will be his role once again in 2013.
Alex Valdez, 28: The Pirates signed Valdez as a minor league free agent this offseason. He spent 2010 and 2011 putting up mediocre numbers in AA and AAA but in 2012 he played in the Mexican league and put up a fairly impressive line. As I stated earlier the Pirates don’t really have a stand out option for 3rd base at the AA level so Valdez could see some playing time there.
Andy Vasquez, 25: Vasquez is a leftover from the Littlefield days. He appeared to be on his way out of baseball in 2009-10 but he has rebounded by putting up two solid seasons the past two years in A and A+. He looks like a decent utility player for A+/AA and will likely compete for a spot there in 2013.
Brett Carroll, 30: Carroll has the most distinguished major league career of anyone on this list to date. That isn’t to say it was good but he has appeared in a major league game at least once every year since 2007 so he has at least been hanging around the fringes. Carroll hasn’t hit well in his major league time and outside of a 2011 stint with the Brewers AAA teams hasn’t even hit well in AAA the past four seasons. He’ll compete for time in the AAA outfield in 2013 but faces an uphill climb.
Justin Howard, 25: Howard is a player I like a fair amount. The Pirates drafted him in the 24th round of the 2010 draft. He isn’t really much of a prospect because defensively he is limited to 1B (or maybe RF) and he has very little power. He is a fairly decent hitter though as he was probably one of the best hitters the Pirates had the A+ level last season. Still he profiles as an organizational guy and will likely serve as a bench player in AA in 2013.
Carlos Mesa, 25: Mesa defected from Cuba and was signed by the Pirates in 2011. He was relatively old when he defected and in two seasons hasn’t made it past the A+ level. He really hasn’t been good either but he will likely continue to serve as a backup option for the A and A+ levels in 2013.
Adalberto Santos, 25: The exception that proves the rule that 25 year old players aren’t typically prospects. Santos was drafted by the Pirates in the 22nd round of the 2012 draft. He was red-shirted as a freshman so he spent 5 years in college and was nearly 23 when selected. Obviously not much was expected from him but Santos has raked at every level. A knee injury kept him out for a significant amount of last season but he still hit very well at the AA level. Santos is deserving of a chance to prove himself at the AAA level this season. His lack of power limits his ceiling as a major leaguer but his good contact ability could make him an intriguing 4th outfielder and bat off the bench.
So there you have it the 27 players 25 years and older currently in the Pirates minor league camp. They will undoubtedly be joined by more as players get sent down but those will be players with slightly better pedigrees and better chances of making it back or in some rare cases to the show. The players I listed, for the most part have either seen their major league days come and go or are likely to never the big leagues but yet they keep playing for what must be the love of the game. I have always been a little fascinated with the career minor league. If he reaches a high enough level he might get a decent pay check but these guys by and by aren’t bringing in huge sums of money and the dream I’m sure they all had of reaching the show is out of their grasp but yet they continue to solider on filling an important but often overlooked role in professional baseball. The above 27 players aren’t glamorous and feature one average prospect, a couple of fringy prospects, a few past their prime fringe major leaguers and a fair amount of minor league veterans. It may not seem like an inspirational group but I always take a little bit of solace in knowing that these kind of professional athletes exist.
The Pirates have sort of a gap in talent between AAA and A+ so the AA squad is a difficult one to predict as there are not really a lot of prospects. Some of the borderline players I have making the team in AAA are of course a possibility to start in AA and I will do my best to mention them but of course my projection will ultimately include players not projected on to any of my other levels. As we get lower and lower it becomes increasingly more difficult to project minor league rosters because there is an increasing number of players who still look at least some what promising. So this is essentially just a stab in the dark.
Candidates: Carlos Paulino, Charlie Cutler, Devin Ivany, Lucas May, Ali Solis
Analysis: There is really no prospect who is a guarantee to be at this level. Of the above listed catcher Carlos Paulino appears to be the best prospect of the group but is coming off a year in which he struggled in A+. Still if he were to repeat the level it would be his third season there and that doesn’t seem likely especially since he played well at the A+ level in 2011. The other options include whoever loses out in the Lucas May/Ali Solis battle to be the backup catcher in AAA and a couple of minor league veterans in Charlie Cutler and Devin Ivany. There is a case to be made for essentially any of these players to begin the year at AA but in the end only one will be here as the starter and another one as a backup, most of the rest will probably stay in extended spring training until their services are needed.
Prediction: Carlos Paulino
Candidates: Alex Dickerson, Justin Howard, Stefan Welch, Jarek Cunningham, Oscar Tejeda, Alex Valdez, Jeremey Farrell, Andy Vasquez, Gift Ngoepe, Drew Maggi, Benji Gonzalez, Kelson Brown
Analysis: There are other candidates who I did not list, specifically the players battling for spots in AAA who miss out. Notably because they are the two I have missing out are Jeff Larish and Anderson Hernandez. However I believe those two will serve as depth for AAA and take a spot should one of the non roster invitees to spring training opt out instead of taking the AAA assignment. As for the rest of the crop the only two prospects in the group are Alex Dickerson and Gift Ngoepe. Dickerson is coming off a solid year in A+ and should be the everyday starter at 1B. Ngoepe is a masterful defender who’s bat probably isn’t ready for AA but he is probably going to be forced up a level because of the players behind him. That leaves two spots open second and third base. Most of the rest of the players listed are at this point organizational players with little to no prospect value so it is difficult if not impossible to figure just how the Pirates may handle playing time. Cunningham still has at least some potential in him so figure on him taking one spot but the other is pretty wide open.
Prediction: Alex Dickerson (1B), Jarek Cunningham (2B), Alex Valdez (3B), Gift Ngoepe (SS)
Candidates: Adalberto Santos, Andrew Lambo, Mel Rojas, Evan Chambers, Dan Grovatt
Analysis: Like Larish and Hernandez above Brad Hawpe is also a candidate but I don’t see him accepting an assignment to AA so I am assuming he is not a realistic possibility. The rest of the crop gives us some rather unimpressive options. Some of the infielders who don’t wins spots would be candidates for the outfield as well like Howard, Tejeda, Vasquez and Maggi in particular. However I believe the starting three will come from this group. Santos has a strong case to be in AAA but a numbers game will likely keep him down meaning one spot should be his. The others are really open for debate. Mel Rojas should get one if the Pirates opt to promote him but he struggled in A+ in 2012 so I think they will have him repeat the level to begin the season. Of the remaining options Evan Chambers would appear to be the best option for center field. The last spot will probably be mainly split between Grovatt and Lambo but since Lambo has an ounce more of potential I’ll give him the nod.
Prediction: Andrew Lambo (LF), Evan Chambers (CF), Adalberto Santos (RF)
Analysis: The candidates are everyone discussed above. Obviously the Pirates will keep a backup catcher but in reality it could be nearly anyone on the list. Also a reserve infielder will be kept and it should obviously be someone with the ability to play shortstop and because he still does have at least some potential I am currently leaning towards Drew Maggi. Also a fourth outfielder will be kept as I have mentioned earlier Dan Grovatt and Andrew Lambo will probably share left field duties so the other one will most likely be the 4th outfielder. The last two spots will go to a DH and a utility player which once again could be just about anyone. AA is really a crap shot this year.
Prediction: Charlie Cutler (C), Justin Howard (DH), Drew Maggi (IF), Dan Grovatt (OF), Andy Vasquez (U)
Candidates: Jameson Taillon, Stolmy Pimentel, Casey Sadler, Aaron Pribanic, Tyler Waldron, Nathan Baker, Aaron Poreda, Luis Sanz, Ethan Hollingsworth, Tim Alderson, Brooks Brown
Analysis: Aside from the obvious Jameson Taillon starting the Pirates really don’t have many intriguing starting candidates so it is likely to come from the above group with the possibility of a few more non-interesting names thrown into the mix. To me the four most interesting names outside of Taillon listed are Pimentel, Sadler, Waldron and Alderson. However with only one option remaining Pimentel will probably be converted to relief, Salder appears better suited for relief, Waldron has been rumored to be moving to relief and Alderson has lost almost all of his prospect luster and doesn’t appear to be a viable starter anymore. Of those four I really only expect Sadler to start the season in the rotation. The rest of the rotation will be filled out by the minor league veterans listed and I’m sure a few more names.
Prediction: Jameson Taillon, Casey Sadler, Aaron Pribanic, Nathan Baker, Luis Sanz
Analysis: Aside from a few obvious names like Stolmy Pimentel and Hunter Strickland the AA bullpen like all minor league bullpens is just a guessing game. So I picked 7 players I kind of sort of liked and called it a bullpen.
Prediction: Stolmy Pimentel, Hunter Strickland, Zach Thornton, Tim Alderson, Ethan Hollingsworth, Jason Townsend, Tyler Waldron
C: Carlos Paulino
1B: Alex Dickerson
2B: Jarek Cunningham
3B: Alex Valdez
SS: Gift Ngoepe
LF: Andrew Lambo
CF: Evan Chambers
RF: Adalberto Santos
C: Charlie Cutler
IF: Drew Maggi
OF: Dan Grovatt
U: Andy Vasquez
DH: Justin Howard
SP: Jameson Taillon
SP: Casey Sadler
SP: Aaron Pribanic
SP: Nathan Baker
SP: Luis Sanz
RP; Ethan Hollingsworth
RP: Jason Townsend
RP: Tyler Waldron
RP: Tim Alderson
RP: Zach Thornton
RP: Hunter Strickland
RP: Stolmy Pimentel
Upper Level Hitters – Interesting Non-Prospects
Charlie Cutler: Cutler, a catcher, was drafted by the Pirates in the minor league portion of the Rule V draft and sent him to Altoona this season. Cutler is tough to get a read on because he has hit well at every level but has been consistently old for each level. His defense is average at best. Cutler’s offensive ability makes him an interesting player to watch but considering his age he is probably not much more than an organizational player. Cutler has good plate discipline and has shown decent power so there is still hope for him.
Justin Howard: Howard was drafted by the Pirates in the 24th round of the 2010 draft. He is a good hitter but his defense limits him to a corner and he doesn’t have much power. Before this season Howard had shown a tendency to strike out a lot but he significantly improved upon this season but doing so took even more of his limited power away. If Howard could handle a more defensively challenging position he would probably be a very good prospect right now but being limited to 1B or maybe RF decreases his value significantly. His upside appears to be a Matt Hague type so it still is possible he could get a cup of coffee with the Pirates at some point in the future.
Stefan Welch: Welch was signed by the Mets as an international free agent in 2005 and the Pirates signed him last season as a minor league free agent. Welch showed moderate success in the Mets organization which made the Pirates signing of him at least some what notable as far as minor league signings go. The Pirates started Welch in A+ and he played well enough to earn a promotion to AA and he got off to a great start there making himself look like a possible prospect. However Welch struggled down the stretch and it became more clear why the Pirates were able to sign him as a minor league free agent. Welch plays both 1B and 3B and has shown at least a little bit of power. The Pirates really have very few prospect options for the infield corners in the upper levels so Welch will likely get another chance in 2013.
Elevys Gonzalez: Gonzalez was signed by the Pirates as an international free agent in 2008. He plays 2B and 3B, has average speed but is a good defender. At the plate he has shown decent plate discipline but that took a hit in the 2011 season. Gonzalez played well in the Pirates minor leagues from 2008-2010 before having his big breakout season in 2011. Gonzalez had a great season at the A+ level in 2011 and was considered the Pirates top 3B prospect headed into this season. Unfortunately Gonzalez had a very bad season at the AA level this season and his prospect status took a big hit. The Pirates sent Gonzalez back to A+ but he didn’t perform much better. His strike out rate rose and he showed no increase in power.
Andy Vasquez: Vasquez was signed by the Pirates as an international free agent in 2006. He has played everywhere on the diamond except catcher for the Pirates. His best defensive positions appear to be 3B or the corner outfield though. He didn’t hit to well with the Pirates in his four seasons in the organization but had a nice season in 2011 at the A level. He has decent power but has poor plate discipline. He is evidently a switch hitter but he is an odd switch hitter as he has changed back and forth between batting left-handed and right-handed without actually ever being a switch hitter. Coming off a strong showing in A ball in 2011 Vasquez had a modest year at the A+ level but it was far from a stand out year. At this point Vasquez is probably just a minor league utility player but he has some tools that make him at least slightly interesting.
Kelson Brown: I like Brown better than most people. The Pirates drafted him in the 34th round of the 2010 draft and immediately began using him as an organizational player but he appears to have more upside than that. He has played every position on the diamond except pitcher and catcher and was a decent pitcher in college so he could probably even do that for a few innings if needed. He is a good defender at basically each position and has shown the ability to hit fairly well. Brown has very little power, although he did show a slight increase this season, but has decent plate discipline. Essentially Brown is the type of player who does nothing really great nor terrible. He hit quite well as a utility player in AA this season so hopefully the Pirates find away with a shallow position player crop to give him more at bats this season. He has the upside of a solid major league utility player.
Ali Solis: The Pirates claimed Solis off of waivers this season but just a few days later they waved him from the roster. Solis looks like a good defensive player but he has shown very little with the bat. He had a decent showing at the AA level in 2012 but it was the 4th year he has spent time at the AA level. Solis even made his major league debut this year but only received 4 PA. Solis has no power and very poor plate discipline so the Pirates decision to claim him seems a little odd. He doesn’t really seem to have much upside and assuming he clears waivers he will likely serve as the Pirates replacement for Eric Fryer.
Since the catching position is struggling in the major leagues for the Pirates I thought now would be a good time to look at what is down in the minors in terms of catching prospects.
At the rookie league level there are two interesting prospects sharing most of the catching duty. They are Wyatt Mathisen and Jin-De Jhang.
Mathisen: Wyatt Mathisen was selected out of high school in the second round of this past draft. While in high school Mathisen rarely played catcher instead moving all around the field and spending most of his time as a shortstop. His skill set best projects as a catcher though and that is how the Pirates and most other teams viewed him. Mathisen has the potential to be a strong two-way catcher who can play both good defense and hit for power and average. He also possesses average speed which would be a plus in a catcher. So far during his pro debut he is off to a good start with a .789 OPS in 152 PA. Mathisen figures to start 2013 in A- but could be pushed to A ball.
Jhang: Jin-De Jhang was signed out of Taiwan in 2011 and at the time was considered one of the best prospects in that area. That was reflected in the $250,000 bonus he received from the Pirates. Like Mathisen Jhang hasn’t spent much time at catcher so he has some skill sets to work on. So far this season in his pro debut Jhang has posted good numbers with an OPS of .798 in 133 PA. He has also received more playing time at catcher than Mathisen showing the Pirates really view him as a legit prospect. Like Mathisen, Jhang should start at A- next season but to separate the two, him or Mathisen could be pushed to A ball.
At this level the majority of the playing time behind the plate has went to one player with a bunch of other receiving a handful of starts as well. Jacob Stallings has received the majority of the playing time and his main backup appears to be Ryan Hornback.
Stallings: Jacob Stallings is another 2012 draftee as he was selected in the 7th round this season out of the University of North Carolina. He was a college senior and signed for way under slot at $10,000. Unlike the catchers I have mentioned previously Stallings is a very polished catcher and has a good bit of experience behind the plate. Stallings strengths are his ability to handle a pitching staff, play solid defense and yes throw out runners. He set an NCAA record in 2011 with 32 caught stealings. At the plate Stallings has good plate discipline but is overall a weak hitter. He has already received praise from his coaching staff being called another pitching coach out on the field. So far this season Stallings has put up a respectable .717 OPS in 223 PA. Due to his weak bat Stallings projects only as a backup catcher. With a lot of young pitchers having a guy like Stallings is valuable to the Pirates and he should start next season in A ball or A+ depending on how the Pirates choose to push Mathisen and Jhang.
Hornback: Ryan Hornback was a 27th round pick in 2011 out of San Jacinto College. He was viewed as a solid defender and was an average hitter at college. In his first year of pro ball he played in the rookie league and didn’t do a whole lot. This season Hornback has caught only 13 games and has received only 86 PA. He has done respectably in those at bats posing a .696 OPS. It appears the Pirates view him as an organizational player now so expect him to either stay in A- or possibly move up to A ball in a backup capacity. Essentially he will go where the team needs him.
In West Virginia the catching job has been shared by two players with the last name Diaz. Elias Diaz and Francisco Diaz have caught nearly all the games played at this level.
E Diaz: Elias Diaz was signed by the Pirates as an international free agent in 2008. He wasn’t viewed as much of a prospect at the time but the fit the Pirates mold of an athletic catcher with a guy arm and potential in his bat. Diaz put up good numbers in his first year of pro ball in the VSL with a .781 OPS and was promoted to the US in 2010. Since coming to the United States Diaz has struggled. In 2010 he put up an OPS of .590 in Rookie ball. The next season he was surprisingly moved to A ball and put up a .607 OPS. He has repeated the level this season and has put up a .543 OPS in 329 PA. At only 21 years old there is still time for him but he will need to move quickly. With no real options for A+ next season the Pirates could choose to push Diaz but most likely he’ll return to A ball for a 3rd season.
F Diaz: The Pirates selected this Diaz in this year’s minor league Rule V draft and he appeared to be nothing more than some middle level catching depth. Diaz was part of the Phillies organization from 2007-2011. He came to the states in 2009 and was immediately used as an organizational player playing everywhere from Rookie ball to A+ ball. He never put up good numbers with the Phillies. Surprisingly though Diaz is only 22 years old which is a touch old for A ball but not overly so. He has put up great numbers this season with an .822 OPS in 140 PA. Diaz did struggle in a short stint in A+ though with a .377 OPS in 39 PA. At this point there is nothing to get excited about here but his strong numbers in A ball this season at least give him some hope of continuing to move up the ladder. If he is still around next season I suspect he will be A+ ball.
With the exception of Francisco Diaz’s short stint the catching duty at this level has been handled by Carlos Paulino and Kawika Emsley-Pai.
Paulino: Carlos Paulino was acquired by the Pirates at the start of the 2011 season for a player most Pirate fans probably either never heard about or have forgotten about, Jim Negrych. The only reason Pirate fans may have even heard about Negrych was that he was a Pitt guy. Anyway as for Paulino at the time he was acquired Paulino didn’t appear to be much of a prospect just a good solid defensive catcher for the middle levels but last season Paulino at 21 years olds broke out in A+ posting a .790 OPS in 301 PA. That production would under normal circumstances earn you a promotion but the Pirates were full at catcher at AA with Sanchez repeating the level and Cabrera having actually outperformed Paulino at A+. So Paulino repeated A+ this season with hopes of farther cementing his prospect status but that hasn’t happened as he has posted a .676 OPS in 308 PA. Paulino remains one to keep an eye on because of his good defense and the fact he does have a breakout offensive season on his resume but right now he is on the back burner. I suspect he’ll start next season in AA.
Emsely-Pai: Kawika Emsely-Pai was drafted by the Diamondbacks in the 10th round of the 2010 draft in June and was kind of strangely released by them in December 2010. He did have a poor showing in A- but it was only 103 PA and was his first pro season. The Pirates signed Emsely-Pai to a minor league contract in January 2011. The Pirates place Emsley-Pai in A ball and he had a good season posting a .725 OPS in 250 PA. The performance was good enough to earn him a promotion to A+ this season where he backs up Paulino. Unfortunately in limited playing time (150 PA) Emsely-Pai hasn’t produced great numbers posting an OPS of just .608. I suspect he will be back at A+ next season possibly even as the starting catcher next season.
Tony Sanchez started the year as the starting catcher for the Altoona Curve but since he was promoted I’m covering him in AAA. Outside of Sanchez the two players who have manned the catching position in AA this season are Ramon Cabrera and Charlie Cutler.
Cabrera: Ramon Cabrera was signed by the Pirates as an international free agent in July 2008. He had just transitioned to catcher at the time so he was relatively raw at the position at the time of the signing. He spent all of 2008 and part of 2009 in the VSL putting up strong numbers with an OPS in 2008 of .771 and in 2009 of .868. He then came state side where he continued hitting well in rookie ball and was promoted to A ball in 2010. Cabrera struggled in A ball to the tune of a .654 OPS but was nonetheless pushed to A+ in 2011 where he broke out with a .881 OPS in 396 PA. Ordinarily that would have earned him a chance to be the starting catcher in AA but Sanchez was blocking him. Cabrera did catch some games while Sanchez was in AA and has caught most since he has left and has been ok offensively posting a .692 OPS in 396 PA. The knock against Cabrera has always been his defense and his durability behind the plate. He is relatively small for a catcher at 5′ 7″ 202 lbs and has had trouble throwing out base runners already. So what needs to carry him is his bat and his ability to hit line drives and consistently make contact. Cabrera will likely repeat AA next season.
Cutler: Charlie Cutler was another player taken in the minor league Rule V draft but he did appear to have a little bit of upside. Cutler was drafted by the Cardinals in 2008 and put up good numbers at every level in their organization. To be fair he was old for each level but that is still a pretty solid performance. Last season at 24 years old in AA Cutler put up an .874 OPS in 232 PA. He struggled the year before in AA posting only .581 OPS in 140 PA. At 24 years old he was probably a touch older than you would like for players in AA but that isn’t egregiously old for the level. This year with the Pirates Cutler remained in AA acting as a 3rd catcher and has once again had a solid season posting a .824 OPS in 159 PA. Of course at 25 years old he is now definitely too old for the level. Cutler’s reputation defensively is not good but his bat can’t be ignored. He has a career .800 OPS in the minors and .782 OPS in AA. The Pirates should push him to AAA next year to see what they got here as he is worth keeping an eye on.
Three catchers have shared nearly all the playing time for the Indianapolis Indians. Tony Sanchez has received the most games behind the plate but prior to his promotion Jose Morales and Eric Fryer were handling the work load.
Morales: Jose Morales was signed by the Pirates this offseason to a minor league deal to compete with Micheal McKenry for the team’s backup catching position and to at least serve as the 3rd catcher. Unfortunately he got injured early in Spring Training and never really got a chance to compete. Morales is your typical AAAA player. He spends a lot of time in the minors in AAA and when the need arises can come up and adequately fill a role with the major league roster. Morales started off the year decently but has struggled as of late. Since he hasn’t been added by now I don’t envision him joining the big league club unless it is for an emergency. Chances are he won’t be back next season.
Fryer: Eric Fryer is an interesting case. Fryer has never been highly regarded as a prospect and has nearly always been blocked by a better catching prospect but yet he just kept performing well enough in a limited sample to keep moving up. The Pirates acquired Eric Fryer and Casey Erickson from the Yankees for Eric Hinske. When he first came to the Pirates Fryer actually showed enough to warrant a look as a starting catcher for the first time in his career posting a .730 OPS in 187 PA in A+ but the Pirates had just drafted Sanchez and once he was promoted Fryer went back to being a backup. Fryer continued to hit well though posting an .865 OPS the following year in A+ and then a .976 OPS in AA the following season. Fryer received a quick promotion to AAA in 2011 where it appeared he was going to get a chance to start some games but injuries forced him to Pittsburgh. Fryer sparingly played in Pittsburgh and when he was sent back down to AAA struggled hitting for only a .647 OPS. This season Fryer has been worse posting a .513 OPS. Fryer is a candidate to be removed from the 40 man roster this offseason and since he has already been removed once can opt for free agency if he clears waivers which he almost assuredly will. I expect him to stay though and be back at AAA next season but not really as a catcher instead he will be using his versatility and playing some 1B, 3B and OF.
Sanchez: Tony Sanchez is the Pirates best catching prospect and realistically speaking short of trying to project out Mathisen or Jhang is the Pirates only hope of having a strong two-way starting catcher in the majors relatively soon. Sanchez was drafted by the Pirates 4th overall in 2009 and was definitely a reach at that position but with no real clear-cut options the Pirates opted to go for high upside later round selections. Sanchez started off his pro career strong posting an OPS of .976 in 188 PA at A ball. The next season he also put up good numbers in A+ ball with a .870 OPS in 250 PA. It was beginning to appear the Pirates made the right choice in drafting him but then in June he fractured his jaw ending his season. In 2011 Sanchez started in AA and was not good leaving a lot of people to question his top prospect status. This season Sanchez once again opened in AA and while he wasn’t great he fared much better and earned a promotion to AAA. Sanchez started slow in AAA but had a great July and appears to be back on track for a 2013 arrival. Sanchez’s strength is his defense. He is a good game caller and great at blocking pitches. His ability to throw out runners gets mixed reviews from average to very good but the average reviews mostly stem from the troubles he had in A+ ball when he was playing with a hurt shoulder. The question surrounding Sanchez has always been whether his bat would be good enough to be a starting catcher. Sanchez is not going to be a player who supports a very high average but can be good and he has the ability to provide plus power from the catching position. In short if you want the Pirates catching problem fixed internally this is your hope. Sanchez will likely start 2013 in AAA and if things go according to plan be called up to the majors near the middle of next season.