Much like I did with the hitters I decided that since I have already covered the Pirates top depth options and top prospects I would give a generally overview of the position and highlight a few off the radar players. Since pitching is really only one position I decided to break down the players into three groups: upper levels (AA and AAA), middle levels (A and A+) and lower levels (SS and Rk). For the time being I have ignored international pitching prospects but for those of you who want information there the top three pitching prospects likely to play in the DSL this season are Martires Cadet, Yunior Montero and Oderman Rocha. This is the last player preview piece of my 2012 expectation series; I hope everyone has enjoyed it. I will now being moving on the coaches and front office. Thank you to my readers.
UPPER LEVELS (AA and AAA)
Aaron Pribanic: Pribanic was acquired in the Jack Wilson trade and is the last of the three pitchers acquired remaining in the Pirates system. He is a sinker ball pitcher and does not project to be much more than a 5th starter of bullpen arm but he is probably the most advanced of the all the upper level pitchers I have yet to cover. Pribanic should be in line to move up to the AAA rotation but it is going to be a little crowded there so chances are he either works out the bullpen in AAA or remains in AA. Either way I am not expecting too much from him; he is your typical depth prospect and will likely remain that way. Depending on the health of the people above him he may or may not get a shot at the majors this season.
Aaron Poreda: Poreda was one of four players taken by the Pirates in the Rule V draft; he along with two others were taken in the minor league draft. Of the four players Poreda is the one who is the most intriguing to me. He profiles as nothing more than a reliever but since he is a lefty with good stuff he has the makings to become a decent back of the bullpen option. He will probably start the year in the AAA bullpen and while I don’t expect him to excel there he has the makeup of a player who could surprise some people.
Phillip Irwin: Irwin’s situation is very similar to Pribanic’s. Both players are finesse pitchers that pitched respectably albeit not greatly in AA last season and could be in line to move up to AAA but due to the lack of space will probably either end up in the AAA bullpen or the AA rotation. I think Irwin will remain in the AA rotation and while he is nothing to get too excited about he has good eough control that he could one day develop into a decent major league option.
Nate Baker: Of the four upper level pitchers I am discussing here I think Baker has the highest upside. Baker has always been a little old for the level he was playing in (at 24 and in AA this season that will remain the case) but he has consistently pitched well putting up very solid numbers. He is a left handed pitcher and has decent velocity in the low 90s; he isn’t a high end prospect but could end up a decent middle of the rotation option. This season in AA will be a big test for Baker and I think he will handle it well and put up another very solid season.
Summary: The Pirates top two minor league levels are filled with depth veterans and good but not great prospects. There is no one is AA or AAA that project to be top of the rotation options but the trio of McPherson, Owens and Locke should provide the Pirates with good rotation depth. The Pirates also have a lot of decent veterans who will probably start the season in AAA and serve as roster depth such as Juan Cruz, Shairon Martis, Logan Kensing and Jo-Jo Reyes. The good mix of young pitchers and veterans should provide the Pirates with a good stabilizing force this season should multiple injuries arise.
MIDDLE LEVELS (A and A+)
Zack Von Rosenberg: Von Rosenberg was the highest thought of prep arm the Pirates took in the 2009 draft. Throughout his career he has performed respectably but not up to his expectations. He did finish strong last season though which should lead to some optimism for this season. Chances are he will move to A+ this season and despite the fact he is probably the Pirates 7th or 8th best starting pitcher prospect he is going to likely be only the 4th highest regarded on the A+ staff. The Pirates A+ affiliate plays in a very hitter friendly park and Von Rosenberg’s underwhelming performance so far point to him not living up to what he was at first billed but his strong finish last season and young age means it is still possible for him to have a breakout. I think that breakout season comes this year.
Zack Dodson: Dodson is likely going to round out what will have to be one of the most interesting minor league rotations in baseball. Like Von Rosenberg, Dodson was one of many prep arms taken by the Pirates in the 2009 draft; he didn’t come with the pedigree of Von Rosenberg but Dodson’s performance to date has pretty much matched Von Rosenberg’s. He is not much of a strikeout pitcher but rather a ground ball pitcher. I like his arm and I think one day he could make a viable back of the rotation candidate but as for this season I see him struggling in A+.
Victor Black: Black was yet another pitcher taken by the Pirates in the 2009 draft but unlike the previous two I discussed he was taken out of college. Baseball America had him rated the 50th best prospect in the draft but he has not lived up to that billing. As of right now it appears his days as being developed as a starter are over but he still has the potential to become a very effective reliever. Black will likely be promoted to A+ this season and pitch out of the bullpen; the Pirates probably want him to get innings so expect it to be a long inning role instead of a back of the bullpen role. He has the stuff to make a good reliever so I think early on he will be successful although I could see him fading as the season goes on.
Trent Stevenson: Yet one more prep arm taken in the 2009 draft, Stevenson was taken not because he was viewed as a polished pitcher but rather because of his high upside. Stevenson hasn’t put up good results thus far but that was to be expected as he was really a project that was going to take a few years to develop. He really struggled in A ball last season, actually getting demoted to short season ball where he continued to struggle. At this point Stevenson is a long shot to make it to the majors but his high potential still makes him worth watching. Stevenson will likely be in A ball this season and due to his high upside will be on the more intriguing arms there. This is a huge year for Stevenson as if he finally puts it together he can start being viewed as a legit prospect but on the other hand another setback will all but eliminate the head start he got by coming straight out of high school. Personally I see him struggling again this season.
Summary: The keys to the organization rest with the pitching in the middle levels. Earlier I previewed the Pirates top 6 starting pitcher prospects and 4 of them will likely start the year pitching in either A or A+ ball. This is the Pirates most talent rich part of the organization and to a rather large degree the future success or failure of the major league rests heavily on the shoulders of these pitching prospects. The group is headlined by Cole and Taillon but the supporting cast of Von Rosenber, Cain, Kingham, etc can also be quite valuable. For the many prep arms drafted by the Pirates in 2009 this is a huge year for them and we will likely start to see some separation between the prospects and the non-prospects.
LOWER LEVELS (SS and Rookie)
Clay Holmes: The Pirates drafted Holmes in 9th round of last year’s draft and apparently thought very highly of him as they gave him a 1.2 million dollar signing bonus. Holmes is ahead of most high school pitchers because of his advanced fastball which he already throws in the low 90s. The rest of Holmes’ pitches are underwhelming making him a bit of a project but he definitely has the highest upside of any of the handful of prep arms taken by the Pirates in the last draft. He will likely start the year pitching in short season ball when a player is at this point in his career it is nearly impossible to predict how he will pitch so I will just add that he will probably struggle some but it will hopefully show some positive signs.
Others: I was going to break down the rest of the intriguing pitchers in the lower levels individually but in reality they are in one of two boats either they are prep arms getting their first real taste of pro ball or they are international prospects coming to the states for the first time. The Pirates really don’t have any intriguing international guys moving up but Andy Otamendi and Clario Perez appear to be the best of the bunch. Last year was Otamendi’s first season of pitching in the DSL but he performed very well and has likely already earned a promotion to the states. Perez on the other hand spent 3 seasons in the DSL but finally pitched well enough last season that he appears ready for a shot at rookie ball. The intriguing prep arms the Pirates selected last draft, in addition to Holmes, are Colten Brewer, Tyler Glasnow, Jake Burnette and Jason Creasy. Glasnow and Burnette appear to be the best prospects of the bunch but in reality all 4 of them will be starting from the same spot. All 4 players have decent velocity but lack some control; it is possible all of them will start in short season ball but I expect the Pirates to break them up and start one or two in rookie ball.
Summary: The lower levels for the Pirates have two elite pitching prospects in Stetson Allie and Luis Heredia but outside of those two prospects the Pirates also have a good compliment of prep arms like the ones I have discussed above. The international ranks have developed a few options for this season but no one who really stands out. Last season the Pirates had Nick Kingham break out from the lower levels and it is very possible they will have another pitcher do the same this season. Who will it be? That is really anyone’s guess but my money is on Holmes or Glasnow. The state of the Pirates lower levels is not really uncommon as pitchers who are throwing in the lower levels tend to be more projects than legit prospects but hopefully the good mix they have coupled with Allie and Heredia will take a step forward this season and set the Pirates up with another wave following Taillon and Cole.