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.
Most of the intriguing prospects that play in the lower levels in a given year are drafted in that year’s draft but of course there are a few holdovers. I’m expecting the Pirates to send the most interesting of the possible holdover lot (Tyler Glasnow, Waytt Mathisen, Jin-De Jhang, Dilson Herrera, Max Moroff and Eric Wood) to A ball. That still leaves some interesting talent and that is what I will discuss here. However at these levels it is difficult to have actual expectations so instead I’ll just go over the interesting names to watch.
The two most interesting names that I currently have projected to play in the lower levels are Harold Ramirez and Elvis Escobar. Ramirez and Escobar were the Pirates big international signings in 2011 and made the aggressive jump to the states. Ramirez was hampered by injuries but returned later in the year and held his own. Escobar started the year in center field and while his numbers were not eye popping they were fairly impressive for it being his first professional season and playing at a that high a level. Both of them should start the year in short season ball and while things will be taken slowly with them we will hopefully see signs of growth. The next most interesting duo is the DeLaCruz brothers (not actual brothers they just share the same last name). Julio and Michael were the Pirates two big international signings from last year’s class. Neither is a guarantee to start the year in the states but early reports suggest the Pirates are at least considering it. Julio is a third baseman while Michael is an outfielder. It is difficult to say there are any expectations on them but a solid debut like Escobar had last season would be a welcomed sight. Another interesting group are the players moving up from the DSL. Daniel Arribas, Carlos Ozuna, Ulises Montilla, Maximo Rivera and Enyel Vallejo are the players that appear likely to move up. Of the group Arribas and Rivera stand out to me. The Pirates have been slowly turning Arribas into a catcher as he split time at catcher, 1st and 3rd base the last two seasons. He struggled in 2011, his first professional season but fared really well last season. Rivera was one of the Pirates big international signings in 2009 and was said to have good power potential. He didn’t show much his first two professional seasons but broke out last year aand although he didn’t show much power he had a very solid season. Three other names I’ll be keeping an eye on are Stetson Allie, Kevin Ross and Luis Urena. Allie isn’t much of a prospect as a hitter but due to name recognition he garners attention. Ross was drafted in the 8th round of last year’s draft but signed late and didn’t play much. Urena is another outfielder in the Willy Garcia mold. This may sound a little odd but he is a potential 2014 breakout candidate. What I mean by that is that he showed enough positives in 2012 that with a good performance this season he could put himself in a position to really step up next year. None of these players really have expectations at this point but the hope is a couple of them step up and take on the look of real prospects.
No one single pitcher really stands out in the lower levels but there are two trios I am going to be watching closely. One trio is a group of 2011 high school draftees who have all played very sparingly to this point and in which no one has stood out from the rest. They are Jason Creasy, Jake Burnette and Colten Brewer. I give a slight advantage to brewer as the most intriguing of the bunch but they all have to make some sort of statement this year if they are to be taken as real prospects. The other trio is a mix of last year’s drafted pitchers who for some reason or another received little playing time. They are Jonathan Sandfort, John Kuchno and Hayden Hurst. Sandfort was the Pirates 3rd round pick last season but pitched only 15 innings in rookie ball. Hurst and Kuchno pitched 0 and 5 innings respectively last year and while they weren’t high draft picks they were two players the Pirates opted to go overslot for when the Appel signing fell through. Of the three I’m currently highest on Sandfort but to be honest that is largely because I don’t know much about the other two yet. There are also a couple interesting arms coming up from the DSL this season with the two most intriguing to me being Cesilio Pimentel and Mervin Del Rosario. Both players posted good lines in the DSL last season but struck out very few hitters. Pimentel did have a large strikeout rate in 2011 though. Also in the lower levels is a semi-interesting group of relief prospects. The most interesting of the group to me is Bryton Trepagnier. Trepagnier saw his velocity increase last season and a rise in his strikeout rate. The Pirates have an interesting mix of prospects from the 2011 and 2012 drafts along with an assortment of international arms in the lower levels of the system. Some of these players are candidates to see time in A ball this year but for the most part they will be playing in rookie ball or short season ball and sharing the workload with the pitchers selected in this year’s draft. I don’t really see a breakout star in this group or even anyone I’m comfortable saying will have a solid season but there are a ton of interesting arms to keep an eye on so that increases the odds that someone here will emerge.
Borderline Starting Pitcher Prospects (Grade C-)
Brandon Cumpton: Cumpton was drafted by the Pirates in the 9th round of the 2010 draft. Cumpton has a decent arsenal including a low 90s fastball and a fairly good curve. His climb through the Pirates system has been a relatively quick one. Upon signing Cumpton went and pitched briefly at the A- in 2010 and he put up solid numbers in his 10.2 innings of work. In 2011 he had an up and down season starting off poorly in A ball before finally turning it on and pitching well enough to earn a promotion to A+. There he was pretty much a mediocre pitcher not good nor bad. It was enough to earn him a promotion to AA this past season and once again he was just mediocre. Cumpton has pitched decent at every level the Pirates have put him at but has never really done enough to stand out. He has fairly good control which keeps his walk rate low but on the other hand he doesn’t miss a lot of bats. The Pirates have tried him in the bullpen some and there his stuff seems to be better as he can get his fastball up into the mid 90s. His mediocre results as a starter points to someone who isn’t overmatched but to someone who is probably best suited for the bullpen. Nonetheless the Pirates might choose to keep him as a starter next season and he could see time in both AA and AAA. If Cumpton has a future in the majors though it is likely as a reliever.
Tyler Waldron: The Pirates drafted Waldron in the 5th round of the 2010 draft which was kind of surprising because he didn’t have that great of a college career. Waldron has some potential with a good fastball and an assortment of off speed stuff which should reasonably improve over time. However his results so far have been pretty much in line with what Cumpton has done so far except that he has actually been a little more hittable. Waldron had a solid debut in 2010 at the A- level and then like Cumpton split time in 2011 between the A and A+ levels where he was mediocre at best. The Pirates sent Waldron back to A+ to begin the 2012 season but with the exception of a slight uptick in his strikeout rate his numbers actually got worse. Even so the Pirates gave him a late promotion to AA where he managed to pitch slightly better but he started to show a little less command. Waldron hasn’t really shown anything that makes him stand out but he does have some potential and the Pirates though highly enough of him to pick him in the 5th round. His low strike out rate and the fact that he has been fairly hittable are concerning for a pitcher with his stuff. Right now Waldron remains a project and with a slim assortment of starting options for AA next season Waldron looks like a safe bet to remain a starter for now.
Kyle Kaminska: It is tough to get a read on Kaminska. The Pirates acquired him as what looked to be a throw-in in the Gaby Sanchez trade but he has pitched very well in his time with the Pirates. While with Florida Kaminska put up solid numbers in the low minors. He showed great command and even managed to miss quite a few bats. He did have quite a few outings where he was hit hard but generally he pitched well. In 2011 it appeared like he may have tapped out as the move to AA knocked his strike out total down and also came with a little less control. The Marlins tried him at the AA level again this season and he seemed to regain his control but was getting hit awfully hard. When the Pirates acquired him they sent him to A+ and returned him to starting. The Pirates promoted him near the end of the season to AA where he pitched mainly out of relief but did make one start and he continued to pitch well showing the great command he had throughout his minor league career and avoiding being too hittable. All of this is a nice story but not enough to garner Kaminska too much attention except it doesn’t end here. The Pirates sent Kaminska to the AFL and so far through six starts he has been great. After getting slightly roughed up in his first start Kaminska has pitched 24 innings ans allowed only 2 runs. The Pirates will likely continue to try Kaminska as a starter and his results so far in the AFL make him an interesting one to watch.
Matt Benedict: The Pirates drafted Benedict in the 30th round of the 2011 draft. His stuff is the typical assortment you see. A fastball right around 90 with an average curve and a pretty good change up. When drafted he appeared to be just an organizational pitcher and that is still likely where he’ll end up but he has done enough to make himself be noticed. His performance in A- in 2011 was solid but his strike out rates were low and he didn’t really stand out. However Benedict started this season at the A level and was clearly pitching head and shoulders above the rest of the rest of the staff. To be fair the pitching staff at A ball had an absolutely horrible start to this season but Benedict still stood out. His numbers weren’t overwhelmingly great but they were clearly much better than anybody else on the staff. For that reason the Pirates promoted him to A+ and tried him at starting. To put it kindly that didn’t work out as Benedict was hit hard. Despite that the Pirates kept him starting almost all season which shows they at least find him mildly intriguing. Benedict doesn’t look like much of a prospect at this point but his solid performance in A ball make him at least worth noting. The Pirates would probably move Benedict to the bullpen next season but the staff at the A level was so bad last season that they may let him have another try at starting.
Zack Dodson: Dodson was one of the many prep arms the Pirates drafted and signed in the 2009 draft and sadly he has probably been the 3rd most successful of the group. The Pirates drafted him in the 4th round and signed him for 600K. He threw in the low 90s and had a good curve ball and was a projectable high school arm, meaning the Pirates and other scouts thought he would add velocity as he filled out. Dodson pitched only briefly at the rookie level in 2009 and opened the 2010 season at the A- level where he showed very little getting hit around and showing poor control. The Pirates still sent Dodson to the A level in 2011 and he seemed to have figured some stuff out, he had added a few mph to his fastball and was showing improved command, but he broke his hand in May. He made a few rehab starts in the lower levels but didn’t pitch well. His velocity had dropped back into the upper 80s and he had turned into a ground ball pitcher. Despite his very good showing in A ball the Pirates sent Dodson back to the level to start the 2012 season probably because of the limited playing time he got. Everything fell apart for Dodson this season though. Dodson proved to be very hittable, starting leaving up a lot of home runs and the improved control he showed was gone. To top it all off Dodson’s season ended when he was suspended 50 games for failing a drug test. Dodson will miss roughly the first month of the 2012 season and will need to pitch well to regain his prospect status.
Jake Burnette: Burnette was drafted by the Pirates in the 2011 draft and is yet again another one of their projectable high school arms. The Pirates drafted him in the 7th round and gave him 550K to forego college. Burnette throws in the high 80s to low 90s but again is projectable so the Pirates hope to see that velocity increase. Regardless the Pirates have seen very little of Burnette so far as he pitched only 1 inning in 2011 at rookie ball and then made 5 starts at the A- level this season before missing the rest of the year with an elbow injury. Burnette pitched decently in his five starts this year but had a very low strike out rate. There really isn’t a whole lot to say about Burnette at this point as there is certainly talent here but he hasn’t really gotten a chance to show much of it. The Pirates will probably have him pitch in one of the short season leagues again next season where he will hopefully stay healthy and get enough innings to possibly show some of his potential.
Colten Brewer: Brewer is yet another projectable high school pitcher selection by the Pirates. Typical story here he throws in the low 90s and is projected to add velocity as he fills out. The Pirates drafted him in the 4th round in the 2011 draft and signed him for 240K. Brewer didn’t get into any games in 2011 because of a back problem but pitched this past season in rookie ball and did fairly well. Brewer showed decent command and while he didn’t strike out a lot of hitters his 6.5 K/9 was better than a lot of the Pirates low-level pitchers. Brewer did miss some time this season with an injury so he only pitched 25 innings but he showed some potential in that time and will likely move up to the A- level next season. Like Burnette there isn’t a whole lot to say about Brewer because he has seen such limited playing time thus far but he doesn have some potential and the Pirates thought highly enough of him to select him in the 4th round and go over slot so there must be some talent here.
Jon Sandfort: Sandfort is yet another of the Pirates tall projectable high school pitchers. To be fair most of the pitchers are 6’3″ or 6’4″ but Sandfort has a couple extra inches on them coming in a 6’6″. He has the typical arsenal of a low 90s fastball, a curve and a work in progress change-up. The Pirates selected him in this past draft in the 3rd round showing they find something about him very intriguing. The Pirates signed him for the full slot amount and sent him to rookie ball where he pitched decently but showed some control issues. He only pitched 15 innings so it is difficult to say exactly how bad his control issues are but that is something to keep an eye on going forward. The Pirates used him as a starter this past season although he only pitched 2-3 innings in each start. Sandfort will likely move up to the A- level next season where hopefully he will get more playing time.
Hayden Hurst: The Pirates selected Hurst in the 17th round of the 2012 draft and when it became apparent Appel wasn’t going to sign gave him 400K to break his college commitment. He has yet to actually pitch for the Pirates so there really isn’t a whole lot to say about him. He is not the Pirates typical projectable high school pitcher as he already throws in the mid 90s and is pretty filled out at 6’5″, 235 lbs. I have Hurst on this list solely on the fact the Pirates gave him 400K to sign which means they obviously must see something in him. Hurst will likely pitch at one of the two short season levels next year and will hopefully show us what it is that makes the Pirates think so highly of him.
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.
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.