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.
Top Hitting Prospects
The top 5 hitting prospects in the Pirates system all are expected to begin to 2013 season in either A or A+ ball. Dilson Herrera should skip over short season ball and start the year in A ball and Josh Bell should join him there as he is expected to repeat the level. Herrera is a popular break out candidate for 2013 and certainly has the tools to do. He is coming off a very solid 2012 season in rookie ball in which he displayed a good all around offensive game. I’m expecting a very good season from Herrera and while I don’t think he will necessary break out I don’t expect him to do anything to hurt his status. Joining him in A ball will be Bell who missed most of last season with a knee injury. At this point it is difficult to know just what to expect from Bell but a good start is I wasn’t to see him healthy and hitting for power. I’m thinking his overall line might not sparkle being essentially his first professional season but if those two things are present it should be a decent year for Bell. At the A+ level the Pirates will have the two top hitting prospects in Alen Hanson and Gregory Polanco and also last year’s supplemental pick Barrett Barnes. Barnes had a very solid debut in A- last season and will be looking to continue it at a much more age appropriate level. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him struggle with the jump but we shall see. Hanson broke out last season and has a tremendous bat for a middle infielder but his defensive game needs a lot of work if he is to remain at shortstop. The Pirates will likely have him focus on improving defensively which I think might end up hurting his overall offensive numbers this season in particular his power. Going step for step with Hanson last season in A ball was Gregory Polanco. Polanco’s season last year was just as impressive as Hanson’s and in fact I think it was slightly better. Polanco will start the season in A+ but if he is successful I expect the Pirates to give him a mid season promotion to AA. My instinct tells me this will be another big year for Polanco so that isn what I am expecting.
Top Pitching Prospects
The Pirates middle levels aren’t just chalked full of hitting prospects as there are 4 top pitching prospects also expected to play at one of the A levels this season. The only one expected to pitch in A+ though is Nicholas Kingham. Kingham had a rough start to his 2012 campaign and finished the season with a poor ERA but he improved greatly as the year progress, finishing strong and posting solid peripherals. He probably doesn’t have the ace upside of the top pitching prospects at the A ball level but he is father along developmentally and looks like he could become a good middle of the rotation inning eater. I think Kingham will take a significant step forward this season. At the A ball level the Pirates are likely to have Luis Heredia and Clayton Holmes and may also have Tyler Glasnow pitching at the level. Heredia is the top prospect here as he put up excellent numbers in A- last season despite being younger than most of his competition. The Pirates will likely continue to proceed slowly with Heredia but I suspect we will continue to see good things from him and I expect him to start missing a few more bats this season. Along with Heredia in A- Clayton Holmes was putting up excellent numbers but unlike Heredia he comes with a couple warning signs. One his delivery is very awkward looking at two he struggled with control at times last season while not striking out many batters. I expect the jump to A level is going to be a big test for him and I think he’ll struggle. Glasnow pitched in rookie ball last year with just a taste of A- at the end of the year. He was dominate in rookie ball and did fairly well in short season ball as well. The Pirates may opt to keep him in short season but my expectation is they will hold him back in extended spring training and then give him a shot at A ball. I actually think he’ll do quite well at whichever level he pitches and I could see him shooting up some prospect lists.
Other Hitting Prospects
In addition to the top level hitters the Pirates have a good assortment of the next level of hitters ready to play in the middle levels. At the A+ level the talent is a little light but Jose Osuna is a very solid 1st base prospect and could be on the verge of a breakout. Lost in the hype surrounding Hanson and Polanco was Osuna’s very solid season in A ball. He didn’t put up the show stopping numbers but it was still a very good season. Osuna is limited defensively to 1st base so his bat is going to have to carry him but he has shown the power potential which suggests it just might. I’m not expecting a full breakout from Osuna but I think he’ll once again post a good line while going largely unnoticed in 2013. In A ball the talent is a little deeper with Wyatt Mathisen, Jin-De Jhang, Eric Wood, Max Moroff and Willy Garcia all having a chance to start there. Mathisen is the headliner of the group and is considered by some to be the Pirates 5th or 6th best hitting prospect. He is an athletic young catcher who is learning the position and has a good solid bat. Jhang split catching duties with Mathisen in rookie ball last season and had a very good season there. It is possible the Pirates choose to split the two up but I think they will both be promoted to A ball and will continue to split the catching duty. Wood and Moroff also played in rookie ball last season manning 3B and SS respectively. Wood had a surprising debut after being a relatively unknown 6th round selection and Moroff showed why the Pirates went overslot to sign him after the Appel signing fell through. Garcia played at A ball last season and wasn’t horrible but he was inconsistent which makes me believe the Pirates will start him back at the level. All the players in this group are candidates to break out and become top hitting prospects. The chances of all of them doing so are slim but I expect at least 1 or 2 of them will do so.
Other Pitching Prospects
The Pirates are lacking a little in the middle levels in the second tier of pitching prospects. Only three names Robby Rowland, Zach Von Rosenberg and Adrian Sampson really catch my eye. Rowland and Von Rosenberg are likely to begin the year in A+ ball. Rowland was acquired last offseason when the Diamondbacks traded him to the Pirates in exchange for the rights to Rule V selection Brett Lorin. Rowland was an underwhelming prospect but he put up a solid season in A ball last year to get on the map. He is one to watch although I think he is going to struggle in the jump to A+. Von Rosenberg is actually one of my under the radar breakout picks. He was drafted by the Pirates in the 6th round of the 2009 draft and he was the most high profile of the large lot of high school arms the Pirates went overslot for to sign. To date Von Rosenberg hasn’t been that impressive as he repeated A ball last year and while his numbers were decent they weren’t exactly what one would hope to see. The Pirates are likely to try him at A+ and I’m going to predict he will have a good season and reemerge on the prospect map. The other pitcher Sampson was drafted by the Pirates last season and sent to A- ball where he pitched extremely well and was one of the few pitchers at that level to actually have a high strike out rate. I’m not really sure what to expect from him in 2013 but I think he has a chance to develop into a good pitching prospect.
Prospects To Watch
I already picked a few of the middle tier prospects who I think have a strong chance of breaking out. I didn’t say which hitters I’d specifically lean towards but if pushed I’d probably go with Jin-De Jhang and max Moroff and on the pitching side I’m expecting a big step up from Von Rosenberg. Digging a little deeper though I see a few under the radar names who could emerge as quality prospects. On the pitching side two players I like are Dalton Friend and Joely Rodriguez. Friend was drafted by the Pirates last year in the 12th round and looks like just a relief pitcher but his stuff is fairly good and he had success last year in A- so I think the Pirates will push him to A+ to see if he has success there and I’m expecting him to rather well and take on the look of a good relief prospect. Rodriguez has been underwhelming so far in his pro career but showed some positive signs in A- last year. I’d be a fool to say I’m expecting a breakout but I like some of what I saw and if the Pirates push him to A ball in 2013 I think he could put up a nice season and become the Pirates second best international pitching prospect (behind Heredia); that in itself won’t be much of an accomplishment but I do think he’ll raise his stalk this year and take on the look of a fringe prospect instead of an organizational arm. On the hitting side under the radar guys are a little harder to find because the Pirates have a lot of top prospects or second tier prospects filling spots. In all honesty I really don’t see too much there but one player I like who I think could surprise if he can get the playing time is Taylor Lewis. Lewis struggled last year in A ball and might repeat the level and if he does he should have a reasonable chance of getting some time in center field but the Pirates might push him to A+ ball and they do he’ll probably serve as a 4th outfielder there. Lewis came from a small school so he probably needs a little more development time than your typical prospect but the talent is there and given a chance I think he could turn himself into a nice prospect this season.
Top Prospects 6-10
10. Kyle McPherson: McPherson was taken by the Pirates in the 14th round of the 2007 making him one of the few Littlefield selections remaining on the list. McPherson’s strength is his ability to command the strike zone and his stuff is fairly good as well. He can get his fastball up into the mid 90s although it sits in the low 90s and he has a pretty good curve and change up to complement it. He is a fly ball pitcher so he can be susceptible to the home run. McPherson started his pro career in 2007 down in rookie ball and pitched how you would expect a college pitcher to pitch against high schoolers. The good performance earned him a taste at A- where he didn’t fare so well in 3 starts. McPherson returned to A- in 2008 and pitched fairly well except he left up a lot of home runs. The Pirates started McPherson out in extended Spring Training to begin the 2009 season and then eventually sent him to A ball. He pitched decently there, even cutting down on his home runs. While his performance was decent it must not have satisfied the Pirates as surprisingly once A- started playing they sent him back to that level but this time around he pitched very well. In 2010 McPherson once again started the season in A ball but this time he was a much different pitcher. His strike out rate rose significantly and his numbers drastically improved. He received a promotion to A+ near the end of the season and was outstanding in two relief appearances. The Pirates surprisingly added him to the 40 man roster in the offseason. He opened 2011 in A+ and made the Pirates decision look like a good one as he made 12 very good starts before being promoted to AA and he continued to pitch well there. McPherson was slated to begin the 2012 season in AAA but a shoulder injury caused the Pirates to hold him back and then start him back in AA. His numbers were worse than the previous season but still fairly good, surprisingly he stayed at the AA level until August. Once promoted to AAA McPherson rolled off 3 great starts which led to a promotion to the majors. McPherson pitched well in his time with the big club and is a candidate to start 2013 in the Pirates rotation. Whether he is with the Pirates to begin the season or not expect to see McPherson make quite a few starts for the Pirates next season.
9. Clay Holmes: Holmes was drafted by the Pirates in the 9th round of the 2011 draft. He was yet another tall (6’5″) projectable right handed pitcher, the type this Pirates staff just seems to love selecting. Holmes has a fastball that sits in the low 90s, a slider which shows signs of being a plus pitch and of course like most high school pitchers he is in the process of developing a change up. The one knock on him was his delivery which was said to be erratic leading a lot of scouts to believe he would be a project. Holmes appeared to be a tough sign for the Pirates but on the last day they agreed to sign him for a 9th round record of 1.2 million. Holmes signed to late to see any action in 2011 so he made his pro debut this past season at the A- level. Holmes pitched very well at this level limiting batters to a .176 average against him. He had a sparkling 2.28 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. On the down side though he failed to strike many batters out and had some control problems posting a 4.4 BB/9. The control problems were not a constant problem though as a lot of his outings were fine but he had a few where it looked like he could barely throw a strike at all. Holmes has a huge amount of upside but is still a very raw product. The fact he wasn’t missing many bats is slightly concerning but he is still young enough that not too much should be read into that. Holmes will probably open the season in A ball and what to watch for is if he can show better command in his second year as a professional pitcher, if he does Holmes could climb higher on the prospect charts.
8. Nicholas Kingham: Kingham was drafted by the Pirates in the 4th round of the 2010 draft. At this point he is essentially Clay Holmes but one year further along in development. Kingham is another tall projectable right hander who throws in the low 90s and has an assortment of high potential secondary pitches. For Kingham that includes a decent looking change up and a curve that is still a little raw. Kingham made a couple of brief relief appearances in rookie ball in 2010, he pitched well but it was only a 3 inning sample size. The Pirates promoted him to A- the following season and he pitched well posting a 2.15 ERA and 1.10 WHIP. On the downside like Holmes this year Kingham didn’t strike a lot of guys out but did manage to show good control. Kingham was able to post 6 wins which is fairly rare for a low level starting pitcher because they typically aren’t allowed to pitch the 5 innings needed to qualify. The Pirates opted to send Kingham to A ball to begin 2012 and he had sort of an odd season there. He posted a 4.39 ERA which would indicate his performance was just average but his peripherals tell a different story as he saw a bump in his strike out rate to 8.3 K/9, kept his walks under control and kept his WHIP at a low 1.19. Kingham had a slow start to the season posting a 5.22 ERA in the first half but finished strong with a 1.68 ERA over his last 9 starts. He was a popular pick in 2012 to have a breakout season and while he didn’t he did show many good signs that he was developing as a pitcher and that will probably once again make him a popular break out pick going into the 2013 season. Kingham should open at the A+ level and is certainly one who has the potential to quickly elevate his prospect status.
7. Barrett Barnes: The Pirates drafted Barnes in the 2012 draft with the supplemental pick they received for Ryan Doumit signing with the Twins. Barnes signed with the Pirates for slightly below slot but was not an overdraft as he was taken with 45th overall selection and rated the 41st best prospect overall by Baseball America. Barnes is an interesting player as scouts are split on whether he profiles best as a corner outfielder or a center fielder. The Pirates for now are using him as center fielder but that could change as quickly as next season. The case for him being a center fielder is that he is sound defensively there and has good speed, he isn’t a burner but he does run well. The case for him being a corner outfielder is that he doesn’t really have the arm to be a good center fielder and that he projects to add power. Barnes is said to have excellent bat speed and while there are some who question if he will be able to hit for a high average the consensus is that he has excellent plate discipline and would make up for short comings int he average department with a very strong walk rate. In college Barnes didn’t steal a lot of bases but was very efficient when he decided to steal. The Pirates sent Barnes to A- where he struggled initially before settling in and really having a very nice season. Barnes put up a very solid .857 OPS for the season. Barnes did suffer a leg injury late in the season that caused him to miss most of the final month but it isn’t expected to have long term impact. The Pirates typically send advanced college hitters like Barnes to A+ in their first full season of pro ball so expect him to start there. If he does it will likely be as a corner outfielder as center fielder figures to be occupied.
6. Josh Bell: Bell was drafted by the Pirates in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft. The Pirates gave him a staggering 5 million dollars to break his commitment to Texas in what can sort of be considered the final straw that led to the revamping of the draft process. Bell projects defensively as a solid corner outfielder and his speed is only considered average. Where Bell’s value lies is with his bat. He is considered to have plus all around hitting skills and plus power. He is almost without debate the Pirates best power prospect. At the time he was drafted he was considered to be a very difficult sign because of a letter he sent to teams urging them not to draft him. The Pirates were of course successful in persuading him to sign with them. Bell didn’t get to make his pro debut in 2011 but he was aggressively assigned to A ball to begin 2012. Bell started off slow but held his own for a high schooler going straight to full season ball as he hit .274 and slugged .403. He did have a big strike out problem though. After only 62 AB Bell suffered a knee injury while sliding into second. The injury required surgery and while there was hope he would be back before the end of the season his recovery didn’t go well and he missed the rest of the year. The Pirates are expecting Bell to be ready to go by the start of Spring Training but the knee injury is a real concern at this point. As far as his brief performance goes nothing can really be garnered by it as it was so small of a sample. The Pirates will undoubtedly be careful with Bell and will probably send him back to A ball when they determine the knee to be fully healed.
Gerrit Cole: Cole is the Pirates top overall prospect and he has that crown for good reason. Cole has a fastball that touches 100 mph and also has a plus slider and change up. Cole does still have some control issues to work on but he shown great improvement in that regard this past season. Cole started this season in A+ ball, moved up to AA and eventually finished the season by making a few starts in AAA. He is not a finished product right now but he has the look of a very special pitcher. Cole will likely start next season in AAA and should join the major league rotation sometime during the middle of next season.
Jameson Taillon: Taillon has a very similar upside to Gerrit Cole and has a similar arsenal including a high 90s fastbal and a plus curve. Taillon also has a change up and a slider but those are more of a work in progress at this point. Taillon had a shaky season in A+ this year looking dominant at times and then being hit hard other times. Some people believe his struggles were do to largely focus on fastball command instead of throwing his whole arsenal but whatever the cause Taillon still has the stuff to be considered a top tier pitching prospect. Late in the season Taillon was promoted to AA and made 3 dominating starts. Heading into the 2013 season Taillon will likely start out in AA and should get promoted to AAA some time during the season, there also is an outside chance Taillon could see some time in the majors as a September call up.
Luis Heredia: Heredia at only 17 years old was aggressively pushed to the New York Penn league where he frequently faced competition 4 years older than him. Heredia responded to the challenge by having a great season. The only down side to Heredia’s season was a low K rate but the Pirates focus on fastball command in the lower levels and the fact that Heredia’s hasn’t fully developed his off speed pitches yet makes that less of a concern. Heredia’s arsenal includes a mid 90s fastball and a work in progress slider, curve and change up. The Pirates are probably going to aggressively push Heredia once again and let him play full season ball next season.
Kyle McPherson: McPherson missed the beginning of the 2012 season with a shoulder injury and the Pirates then decided t bring him back slowly by having him start his season repeating the AA level. McPherson pitched decently at the level but his numbers were actually worse than the past season. Eventually McPherson got sent to AAA where he put up 3 great starts before ultimately getting called up to the majors. McPherson performed admirably in his time in the major leagues and he looks like a candidate to compete for the 5th starter job next season.
Clay Holmes: Holmes was selected in the 9th round of the 2012 draft and was yet another of the Pirates projectable high school right handers. Unlike many of the other projectable pitchers the Pirates drafted Holmes made a strong pro debut and was great in the New York Penn league. Holmes pitched basically as well as Heredia did. Like Heredia, Holmes also had an issue striking out hitters but hopefully that will improve as he moves forward. One big downside of Holmes season is that he completely lost control of his pitches at times leading to a handful of ugly outings but most of time he was dominant. Holmes is a prospect to keep an eye on and should start next season at A ball where his prospect status could take a big jump if he performs well.
Justin Wilson: Wilson started the season in AAA as a starter and had some dominating outings being the big part of two no hitters. Wilson was nearly unhittable at times this season and had a strike out rate of 9.2 K/9. On the downside Wilson continued to show the control problems that had plagued him for his whole career posting a walk rate of 4.4 BB/9. Wilson was eventually called up to the majors where he made a few relief appearances. He looked decent overall but still had some serious control problems. Wilson’s future may ultimately be as a reliever but the Pirates are probably going to keep him starting in AAA next season so he can get more work in and hopefully harness his control issues.
Nicholas Kingham: Kingham is yet another of the Pirates many projectable high school arms. He was drafted in the 4th round of the 2010 draft and had a very strong showing in A- last season. Kingham still has a lot of things to work on but he has a good fastball and an improving curve that makes him look like a good pitching prospect. This season Kingham played A ball and had an up and down year struggling in April and June but pitching fairly well the rest of the season. His ERA for the year was a little high but his peripherals suggest he pitched better than his ERA indicated. Kingham remains one of the Pirates better pitching prospects and should open next season in A+.
Tyler Glasnow: Glasnow is yet another one of the Pirates many projectable high school right handers and like the other two I mentioned he had a very strong pro debut. This season Glasnow was dominant in rookie ball posting a strike out rate of 10.5 K/9 and holding hitters to a .156 average against him. He has the normal assortment of a 93-94 mph fastball, a projectable curve and a work in progress slider and change up. For as well as he pitched this season Glasnow pitched only 38.1 innings so the Pirates will probably move cautiously with him and have him pitch in A- although he appears as if he might be ready for A ball.
Bryan Morris: Morris spent this past season in the AAA bullpen and he played well for the first 3 months of the season before struggling down the stretch. The Pirates used Morris’s last option this past season so it was kind of strange to not see him really get a chance at the majors. In order to retain him this season Morris will need to start the season on the 25 man roster but yet the Pirates only gave him 5 appearances in September. Morris had a good season this year posting good numbers, throwing a mid 90s fastball and even performing well in his brief time in the majors but he is still really an unknown right now. Morris has potential closer stuff so the Pirates probably won’t give up on him this offseason so he will probably be in the major league bullpen to begin the season.
Victor Black: Heading into this season Black had only pitched sparingly which made the Pirates decision to send him to AA seem odd but he rewarded them by posting great numbers. Black was throwing his fastball in the high 90s and he struck out 12.8 K/9. Black pitched well against both righties and lefties holding both to a batting average below .200. On the down side Black did show some control problems but his stuff was so good that he will definitely be added to the 40 man roster this offseason since he is Rule V eligible. Black will likely open the season in AAA and could very well see the majors at some point next season.
Upper Levels: Other than the prospects I have previously mentioned the Pirates had very few stand outs in the upper levels. Phillip Irwin pitched well in AA, regaining his prospects status and getting promoted to AAA. Irwin will likely be added to the 40 man roster this offseason. Welker pitched in relief in AA this season and did well eventually earning a promotion to AAA. Like Morris and Black, Welker looks like a strong closer candidate. Other than those two Brandon Cumpton had a decent season in AA and should move up to AAA where he could continue starting or pitch relief depending on need. Jason Townsend and Tyler Waldron each got promoted to AA near the end of the season and both pitched decently, Townsend looks like a decent relief prospect going forward and Waldron is still a fringe starter prospect. A spattering of other like Jeff Inman, Tim Alderson, Hunter Strickland and Jhonathan Ramos did just enough to keep their prospect window open heading into next season.
Middle Levels: Robby Rowland who was acquired for Brett Lorin this offseason had a goos howing in A ball this season. It was a nice bounce back season for Rowland as he restablished himself as a prospect. Rowland should get a chance to pitch in A+ next season where he will hopefully continue building off his success. Zach Von Rosenberg was disappointingly sent back to A ball this season and his numbers were mediocre. The good news is that he did look a little better this season and is still young enough where he could improve. Von Rosenberg will likely start next season in A+. Outside of those two and the one I previously mentioned Casey Sadler probably has the best upside and he had a good season both starting and relieving in A+ this season. He should move up to AA. Ryan Hafner and Zach Dodson took major steps backwards in their developments this season and will need to rebound quickly next year. Other players like Pofirio Lopez, Josh Poytress, Rinku Singh and Matt Benedict pitched ok this season and remain borderline prospects.
Lower Levels: The lower levels were dominated by last year’s high school draftees and this year’s draft crop. Jake Burnette, Jason Creasy and Colten Brewer, the Pirates other 2011 high school draftees, each had successful seasons to varying degrees this year. Pat Ludwig and Dalton Friend two college draftees from this past season both appeared very good in relief in the lower levels. Adrian Sampson the Pirates 5th round draft choice had a very solid debut in A- and should move up to A ball next season and is one to keep an eye on. Other draftees such as Jonathan Sandorft, Hayden Hurst and Jon Kuchno pitched very sparingly but remain interesting prospects nonetheless. A few others such as Joely Rodriguez, Jackson Lodge, Andy Otamendi and Bryton Trepagnier did just enough to get themselves noticed but will have to show more going forward.
1) Tony Sanchez
2) Wyatt Mathisen
3) Jin-De jhang
4) Ramon Cabrera
5) Jacob Stallings
1) Alex Dickerson
2) Matt Curry
3) Jose Osuna
4) Justin Howard
5) Edwin Espinal
1) Brock Holt
2) Dilson Herrera
3) Dan Gamache
4) Jarek Cunningham
5) Jodaneli Carvajal
1) Eric Wood
2) Kevin Ross
3) Eric Avila
4) Stefan Welch
5) D.J. Crumlich
1) Alen Hanson
2) Gift Ngoepe
3) Max Moroff
4) Gustavo Nunez
5) Drew Maggi
1) Gregory Polanco
2) Josh Bell
3) Barrett Barnes
4) Willy Garcia
5) Mel Rojas
6) Adalberto Santos
7) Tyler Gaffney
8) Elvis Escobar
9) Harold Ramirez
10) Quincy Latimore
11) Andrew Lambo
12) Candon Myles
13) Dan Grovatt
14) Jesus Vasquez
15) Luis Urena
Upper Level (AA and AAA) Pitchers
1) Gerrit Cole
2) Jeff Locke
3) Justin Wilson
4) Kyle McPherson
5) Bryan Morris
6) Victor Black
7) Duke Welker
8) Phillip Irwin
9) Brandon Cumpton
10) Jeff Inman
Middle Level (A and A+) Pitchers
1) Jameson Taillon
2) Nicholas Kingham
3) Robby Rowland
4) Casey Sadler
5) Zach Von Rosenberg
6) Jason Townsend
7) Zach Dodson
8) Porfirio Lopez
9) Nathan Kilcrease
10) Ryan Hafner
Lower Level (Rookie and A-) Pitcher
1) Luis Heredia
2) Clay Holmes
3) Tyler Glasnow
4) Adrian Sampson
5) Jonathan Sandfort
6) Joely Rodriguez
7) Pat Ludwig
8) Jackson Lodge
9) Dalton Friend
10) Andy Otamendi
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.