Candidates: Jacob Stallings, Elias Diaz, Francisco Diaz, Kawika Emsley-Pai, Devin Ivany
Analysis: The Pirates do not have a real prospect ready to man the catching position in A+ so the spot will likely go to a fringe prospect or organizational guy. Carlos Paulino is an option to repeat the level yet again but I suspect the Pirates will push him to AA. That leaves us essentially with the candidates I listed above. Ivany was signed to a minor league contract this offseason and could really play anywhere from A+ to AAA. Emsley-Pai and Francisco Diaz look like organizational catchers who will fill in where they are needed in the middle levels. Stallings and Elias Diaz retain just a hint of prospect status. Diaz has been with the Pirates a few years though so his lack of progress could cause the Pirates to shift him towards an organizational role. Stallings was just drafted last year and is probably the best defensive catcher in the organization. He hasn’t show any ability to hit though. Stallings defense should keep him at the prospect borderline for another season or two though.
Prediction: Jacob Stallings
Candidates: Jose Osuna, Dan Gamache, Eric Avila, Chris Lashmet, Alen Hanson, DJ Crumlich, Kirk Singer, Andy Vasquez, Benji Gonzalez
Analysis: Personally I think the starting infield at the A+ level is fairly straightforward. Osuna and Hanson are locks to handle 1B and SS respectively which only leaves 2B and 3B open. Dan Gamache is coming off a fairly strong year in A ball and I would imagine the Pirates will give him the first crack at 2B in A+. Third base is a bit more wide open but Avila finished the year strong showing a good power surge so I’m guessing he’ll start the year as the third baseman. The other options will have to earn playing time and will likely fill some bench roles in A+ to start the year.
Prediction: Jose Osuna (1B), Dan Gamache (2B), Eric Avila (3B), Alen Hanson (SS)
Candidates: Gregory Polanco, Barrett Barnes, Taylor Lewis, Junior Sosa, Mel Rojas, Willy Garcia, Carlos Mesa
Analysis: There are two locks in the above group and that is Gregory Polanco and Barrett Barnes both are probably top 10 prospects in the Pirates organization and are ready for A+ so they will play. The last spot is a bit more of a question mark. Gaffney was a prime candidate to take a spot before he returned to college football and Garcia is the best prospect of the remaining group but he didn’t show a lot in A ball last year. Of the rest Sosa and Mesa look like organizational filler, Lewis a project and Rojas as a fading prospect who may be pushed to AA for last audition.
Prediction: Barrett Barnes (LF), Gregory Polanco (CF), Mel Rojas (RF)
Analysis: The bench will of course consist of the players listed who I have not assigned starting roles to. The options are not very clear at this point. Obviously a backup catcher will be retained. I also suspect that we will see two of the infielders retained, I think Crumlich with his strong debut last season is the safest bet of the group and we will also see one outfielder. There is one final spot and I think that will go to a player who will split DHing duties with the 4th outfielder.
Prediction: Elias Diaz, DJ Crumlich, Kirk Singer, Chris Lashmet, Taylor Lewis
Candidates: Nicholas Kingham, Robby Rowland, Zach Von Rosenberg, Matt Benedict, Zachary Fuesser, Kenn Kasparek, Luis Sanz, Zack Dodson
Analysis: It is difficult to handicap the pitching staffs as we get this low into the minors. The Pirates have a lot of options and at times it can be difficult to figure just who they are high on. In this case I think 3 of the 5 starting pitchers are or should be rather clear. Kingham, Rowland and Von Rosenberg all have earned a chance to show what they can do in A+. The rest of the group is a smattering of borderline prospects of which I can’t decipher who the Pirates are still high on. Dodson is suspended to begin the season and obviously won’t start the year with anybody but is a candidate to join the A+ rotation shortly after his suspension ends. Sanz I originally pegged for the AA rotation but I’m having second thoughts on that and he could come into player here.
Prediction: Nicholas Kingham, Robby Rownalnd, Zach Von Rosenberg, Matt Benedict, Kenn Kasparek
Analysis: Like all minor league bullpens my prediction is just a shot in the dark in which I pick seven names I kind of like who I think would make sense.
Prediction: Zachary Fuesser, Porfirio Lopez, Dalton Friend, Pat Ludwig, Rinku Singh, Nathan Kilcrease, Quinton Miller
Just Missed the Top 30
Jose Osuna: Osuna was signed by the Pirates late in 2009 out of Venezuela. He was originally signed as an OF but it was a widely held belief that he would eventually need to move to 1B and he has indeed done so. When he was signed Osuna was already touted as having good plate discipline and some good raw power. He has shown both of those tools rather well so far in his pro career. Osuna played in the VSL in 2010 and had a good showing leading the league in HR at only 17 years old. Osuna was promoted to the states in 2011 and raked down in rookie ball posting a .911 OPS in 178 AB. He continued to show very good plate discipline although his power did take a slight hit. It was also at this level that Osuna shifted to 1B. This past season the Pirates used him as the regular 1B at the A ball level and he did fairly well. Osuna posted a .778 OPS in 482 AB. He also continued to keep his strike outs low but his walk rate dipped slightly. The power Osuna was said to possess was flashed a few times as he hit 16 HR. Osuna had an amazing month of July in which he had a 1.011 OPS and belted 9 HR. Osuna will only be 20 years old next season and already appears to be a fairly advanced hitter. The power potential along with solid plate discipline is there and could make Osuna a good 1B prospect for the Pirates moving forward. Going forward he needs to get better (more comfortable) at 1B and he needs to show that he can keep hitting as he moves up the ladder.
Dan Gamache: The Pirates drafted Gamache in the 6th round of the 2011 draft. He played primarily 3B in college but the Pirates announced him as a 2B and that is where they have been using him. Gamache is a solid defender and he has the ability to hit to all fields and has shown solid plate discipline but he lacks power. Gamache made his pro debut in rookie ball last season and in a very small sample size hit very well. The Pirates promoted to A- and things didn’t quite go so well. This season the Pirates promoted him to A ball and he quietly had a good season. He was overshadowed by his middle infield partner of course but he more than held his own. Gamache posted a solid .780 OPS while adapting very well to his new position as a full time 2B. It wasn’t a dominating performance from him and as an advanced college player a better showing could have been expected but he played the season at only 21 years old so he wasn’t exactly old for the level. Due to his limited power Gamache will most likely need to show he has what it takes to stick at 2B if he is to move forward as a prospect but so far things are looking good in that regard. The Pirates will most likely want to see Gamache continue to hit and play solid defense as he moves up to A+ next season.
Jarek Cunningham: The Pirates drafted Cunningham in the 18th round of the 2008 draft, he was one of their many over slot picks. He was a fairly highly regarded prospect but missed his senior season at high school because of an ACL tear so it was expected he would go to college. He was originally drafted as a shortstop but he was never really expected to stick there and his since moved to 2B and some are convinced he could move again possibly to 3B or a corner outfield spot. Cunningham’s pro career started out great with a strong showing at the rookie level but unfortunately he injured his knee and was forced to miss all of the following season. In 2010 the Pirates sent him to A level with mixed results. Cunningham showed some good power and actually finished 3rd in the league in extra base hits but he also showed a huge strike out problem and had very inconsistent plate discipline. The Pirates sent Cunningham to the A+ level in 2011 and he started out on fire in April and May before eventually cooling off and slumping through July. In July of that year Cunningham suffered a concussion and the only appearances he made the rest of the season were a few rehab stints in rookie ball. This past season Cunningham played at AA and was disappointing. On the plus side he did manage to stay healthy most of the year and was better defensively but his bat was just nowhere to be found. Cunningham is in an interesting prospect because of the power potential he provides for a 2B but his constant injuries and disappointing showing in 2012 has really hurt his prospect stock. This upcoming season will be a big test for Cunningham.
Tyler Gaffney: The Pirates drafted Gaffney this past year in the 24th round out of Stanford. The most noteworthy thing about him was that he was also Stanford’s backup RB for the football team. Gaffney is a very solid hitter but his draft stock was hurt as he doesn’t have the power of a typical corner outfielder or the speed of the typical center fielder. Basically he is your classic tweener in the outfield. Gaffney made his pro debut at the A- level this season and hit very well. He posted a crazy .483 OBP which was fueled by an astonishing 13.2 HBP percentage. He also completed a weird trifecta registered exactly 20 strike outs, walks and hit by pitches. Gaffney has been described by most as a very good potential 4th outfielder but I believe he has a good enough bat and good enough OBP skills to force a team to consider using him as a regular despite his lack of power. Gaffney missed the end of the season with a shoulder problem, which considering the HBP, really isn’t surprising but his .924 OPS this season should easily be enough to earn him a promotion to A ball if not A+ ball next season.
Ramon Cabrera: Cabrera was signed by the Pirates in 2008 out of Venezuela. He had just converted to catching so his defensive game is raw. Cabrera made his pro debut in the VSL in 2008 and had a very solid season. The following year he started back at the VSL but received a rare in season promotion to the United States. Once in the states Cabrera had a strong year showing off his good contact and plate discipline abilities which is what carries him as a prospect. Cabrera took a step back in 2010 when upon being promoted to A ball his walk rate took a hit. He still managed to keep his strike out rate low and show decent contact but his good plate discipline wasn’t there. In 2011 Cabrera moved up to A+ and had a breakout season offensively positing an .881 OPS. Unfortunately Cabrera’s shaky defense caught up with him as he threw out only 13% of runners trying to steal. The good offensive showing in 2011 was enough to earn Cabrera a promotion to AA this past season. He started the season serving as the DH and backup catcher to Tony Sanchez and struggled in that role but once he became the regular catcher he started to hit much better and even showed improvements defensively. Cabrera’s strengths are his ability to make good contact and his plate discipline but his shaky defense behind the plate and small stocky stature (he is listed at 5’7″ 202 lbs) make some question whether he has the defensive and durability needed to hold up behind the plate for a full season. Cabrera like a lot of other prospects I have discussed so far is Rule V draft eligible this season but unlike the rest he has a decent chance of either being added to the 40 man roster or if not added being selected by another team. If he is still with the Pirates next season he could be an interesting one to watch in AAA.
Phillip Irwin: Irwin was drafted by the Pirates in the 25th round of the 2009 draft by the Pirates. His selection came with very little fanfare as he has nothing that makes him stand out. He is a right handed pitcher who tops out in the high 80s and his secondary pitchers are just really average. He was selected out of college so he wasn’t really all that projectable either. Irwin plain and simple just doesn’t have the stuff of a good pitching prospect but what he does have is the results. Irwin made his pro debut in 2009 at the A- level and was great. Irwin moved up to A ball in 2010 and once again his stuff wasn’t impressive and his ERA was only decent but his peripherals nonetheless were very good. The Pirates moved Irwin up to the A+ level last season and once again he pitched well despite not having the greatest stuff. He pitched well enough to earn an in season promotion to AA where he did get hit a little harder but once again his ERA wasn’t horrible (3.81) and his peripherals suggested he was pitching about the same if not better than he did in A+. He lowered his walk rate and raised his strike out rate (his WHIP did take a minimal step forward though). This season the Pirates started him back at AA and you all know the theme by now, he pitched well once again. The Pirates gave him a shot in AAA near the end of the season and he finally did see a significant uptick in his walk rates and WHIP but it was coupled with a significant rise in his strike out rate so it is quite possibly just a sample size issue. Irwin is Rule V eligible this season and despite not having the stuff of a top pitching prospect he has clearly shown enough where the Pirates will undoubtedly protect him.
Casey Sadler: Sadler was drafted by the Pirates in the 25th round of the 2010 draft. He throws a low 90s fastball with a cutter and a curve to compliment it. He started his pro career in the A- level and pitched well but in only 24 innings. The Pirates promoted him to A ball the following season and he pitched primarily out of the bullpen. Sadler pitched well all season but got particular better as the season went along. Sadler was near unhittable in the second half posting a 1.51 ERA and 0.70 WHIP. The Pirates promoted him to A+ for the 2012 season and once again he started off in the bullpen. He pitched well out of the bullpen but was for several reasons eventually forced to join the rotation. Sadler pitched decently as a starter but there is little doubt that relief work fits him better. Sadler posted a far better K rate out of the bullpen and it was clear the extra innings from starting wore him down as his outings began to get shorter in August. Amazingly despite starting the year in the bullpen Sadler had the most innings pitched for the Pirates at the A+ level which means they want to see him pitch which in turn means they like him as a prospect. There has always been something about Sadler I like and while it is very unlikely he’ll ever make it in the majors as a starting pitcher he does seem to clearly possess the ability to be an effective reliever. Nonetheless with limited options to start in AA next season Sadler is likely to remain in the rotation.
31.) Jin-De Jhang: It took me a while to pare my top prospect list down to just 30. The last 7 players I went over all have a good case to be part of it but the player that was most difficult for me to leave off was Jhang. Jhang was signed by the Pirates out of Taiwan in June 2011. The Pirates gave him 250K to sign and thought highly enough of him to bring him right to the states instead of starting him off in one of the instructional leagues. He has just moved to the catching position full time so he is still raw behind the plate but he has shown the tools including a good arm which make most believe he could one day be a good defensive catcher. Jhang’s strength is not his glove though, it his bat and he got to show that off in rookie ball this season. Jhang posted a very solid .780 OPS and actually received more playing time behind the plate than the Pirates 2nd round draft choice, Wyatt Mathisen. Jhang didn’t show the power potential this season but displayed a good contact rate, good plate discipline and surprisingly fairly good defense and speed. There is no doubt the Pirates consider Jhang a very good prospect and they could easily decide to jump him straight to full season ball next year. Jhang’s upside defensively and more importantly his upside offensively couple with his strong debut this season makes him a prospect to keep a very close eye on and a potential breakout candidate for next season.
Neil Walker: Walker is the only major league player I’m going to be covering here. Everyone else except Brock Holt fits in better at another position and since Holt still has prospect eligibility I’ll discuss him below. There isn’t much to say about Walker he does what he does. He gives the Pirates a solid and improving defensive performance at 2nd base while providing above average offensive numbers for the position. Walker started off cool but heated up in June and July positing two very good months before a finger injury and back injury caused him to play sporadically over the final two months. His performance was solid and he should return next season and once again be a nice consistent presence in the middle of the infield. Overall Grade: B-
Brock Holt: Holt got to make his major league debut this season and he impressed in his short time frame. He started the season in AA primarily playing shortstop before moving up to AAA late in the season where he caught fire and put up video game like numbers. Holt’s defense at shortstop and 2nd base for that matter is a little shaky but he has the ability to work a count and make good contact so he could have some future value as a utility player or even a starting 2nd baseman. It wouldn’t surprise me if Holt got a chance to make the team out of spring training but I expect him to start the season in AAA and be the backup plan to Walker should his back problems fire up again.
Dilson Herrera: Herrera had a big year this season in rookie ball and is going to be a popular pick to have a big breakout season next year. He was signed as a shortstop prospect but spent no time there instead he played 2nd and 3rd base. His defense is good but not great at either position so it is his bat which will need to carry him. He has some potential to add power and 8 home runs this season is a positive sign that it may yet develop. Considering his strong season this year I expect him to move up to full season A ball next year.
Dan Gamache: Gamache was drafted in the 2011 draft out of Auburn University. His selection at the time was widely unnoticed and even his performance this season while good was overlooked and overshadowed by his double play partner. Gamache had the type of performance you look for from a college player in his first year of pro ball and while all the attention was given to the four Latin American prospects who jumped the whole way from rookie ball to A ball he did a solid job and established himself as a prospect going forward. If he can repeat his performance next year likely in A+ he will quickly go up the prospects charts but for now he profiles as a potential utility player.
The Pirates aggressively pushed a foursome of players from rookie ball all the way up to A ball this season and those players for the most part are fairing rather well.
Alen Hanson: .406/.449/.797
Willy Garcia: .196/.217/.286
Jose Osuna: .304/.333/.411
Gregory Polanco: .296/.367/.593
Obviously Garcia’s line is pretty bad and Osuna’s is only so-so but overall its good to see this group performing well. Hanson’s numbers at this point are just plain ridiculous and since he is a shortstop it would be a huge boon for the Pirates if he can keep hitting at any where near this level. Osuna s intriguing because he is a 1B with power potential which is something the Pirates are missing. As for Garcia and Polanco they are both outfielders and I think both of them by the end of the season will add to our already good stable of outfield prospects.
The other real interesting hitter in A ball is Josh Bell. His numbers so far have been decent but not spectacular.
Josh Bell: .269/.273/.404
There are two other players that I was very interesting to keep an eye on this season and both of them are doing fairly well to start the season.
Jodaneli Carvajal: .294/.333/.471
Dan Gamache: .268/.354/.390
Those two players have been sharing the 2B job while Carvajal has been playing some third and Gamache has been the DH some. There are a few other interesting names but these are the biggest names and the ones that stand out to this point.
Since I have already covered the Pirates top depth options and prospects at each position this piece and the corresponding pitcher one will focus on the overall state of each position in the minors and will focus on one under the radar player I have yet to discuss.
A lot of people view the Pirates minor league catching depth as a weak spot but I view as something stronger than that. The Pirates have a high end prospect in Sanchez and good depth guys in Fryer, Cabrera and Paulino. The rest of the catcher position will be handled by fringe prospects like Jonathan Schwind and organizational players like Kris Watts and Charlie Cutler. The most intriguing of the other minor league catchers is Samuel Gonzalez. Last season was Gonzalez’s first in the states and the Pirates pushed him aggressively to short season ball where he performed very well. Headed into this season the biggest question surrounding Gonzalez is likely his age as he is 23 years old and has not played in A ball yet. The Pirates could opt to push him to A+ but due to the catching backlog I expect him to go to A ball. Through his pro career Gonzalez has shown both good offensive and defensive skills but since he was playing at an advanced age in the lower levels this season is a big test for him. I’m honestly not sure what to expect from him but I think his age is playing against him so I would not expect too much.
The Pirates have an array of intriguing 1B prospects but they lack any true impact prospect. The lack of that impact player makes this a truly weak position for the Pirates but hopefully somebody will make a step forward this season. Outside of the players I have previously covered the Pirates first base position will be manned by fringe prospects like Calvin Anderson and Justin Howard. There is one other player though who is very intriguing and as far as prospect status is concerned does not rank to far behind the Pirates top three at this position. That player is Jose Osuna. Osuna made his state’s debut last season and absolutely dominated rookie ball; he was so effective that despite being 19 the Pirates very well may consider sending him to full season ball to start the season. Due to the lack of other options I do think the Pirates will try to have Osuna make that jump but my expectation is that it will take him some time to adjust and he will initially struggle but will rebound and finish with a respectable season.
For the most part second base is a position lacking true prospects because most of the better options move to 2nd from a position such as shortstop. However as I previously shown the Pirates have some decent prospects at second base and considering most true prospects will ultimately come from other positions, that is all an organization is probably looking for. Outside of Cunningham, Holt and Ngoepe the Pirates have two interesting guys in Adalberto Santos and Dan Gamache. Gamache was drafted last season and will be making the transition from 3rd base to second base this season. The more intriguing of the duo I mentioned, Santos is a combination 2B/OF and will should start the season in AA. If Cunningham is moved up to AA Santos will likely mainly play OF but if he is held back as I expect Santos will receive the majority of the playing time at 2B in AA.
Third base is probably the Pirates weakest position from a prospect position. I have already covered the semi intriguing guys in Navarro, Gonzalez and Avila but the Pirates will man the remaining openings with far less interesting guys like Jeremy Farrell and Yhonathan Barrios. Barrios is still young enough where there is a chance he could put things together but that is probably a long shot. On the flip side this season is likely Farrell’s last chance and in fact he may not even be able to find a regular spot in the minors. The only truly intriguing 3B prospect left (possibly even in the whole organization) is Dilson Herrera. Herrera received the second largest international signing bonus (behind only Heredia) from the Pirates in 2010 and played in the VSL last season. He performed well and will likely move up to the GCL this season. I believe by the time the season ends Dilson Herrera will be the Pirates top 3B prospect (unless a 3B is drafted early). This isn’t to say he will be a great prospect but he will be the best of a bad lot.
The Pirates are relatively weak at shortstop. The foursome of Mercer, Maggi, Hanson and Nunez I have already covered all have something interesting about them but outside of them the Pirates lack somebody who even has a skill set worth getting excited about. A second baseman I covered like Holt or Ngoepe may see time at shortstop this season but both of them project better long term as 2B. The Pirates will likely have any remaining opportunities at shortstop filled by organizational guys like Benji Gonzalez, Kelson Brown and Kirk Singer. It is really tough to find anybody to point here there is the duo of Jorge Bishop and Jodaneli Carvajal but neither of these players has shown anything defensively that makes one think they will remain at the position. Since I have to pick someone I’m going with Carvajal because he showed good speed and hot for a respectable average last season. If Hanson is pushed to A ball it is possible Carvajal will assume the shortstop job in short season ball. I really don’t expect much from him but hopefully he surprises me.
I have already covered 9 outfield prospects for the Pirates, even though one of them Exicardo Cayones has been since traded. Of the remaining prospects it is tough to find anyone who doesn’t like they are organizational depth or minor league filler. The most promising of the group in my mind is Candon Myles but with Cayones no longer in the system I went back and used Myles as my 9th prospect. The remaining lot includes guys like Quincy Latimore and Rogelios Noris who have huge power potential but lack any other tools. There are those who like Gregory Polanco, Rodarrick Jones and Taylor Lewis but in my opinion they are a year away from being considered for the ones to watch. Harold Ramirez and Elvis Escobar are probably the two most intriguing players I haven’t mentioned but these two were just signed last season and will likely spend multiple seasons in the DSL. I usually do not follow prospects until they reach the states so instead I am going to go with Daniel Grovatt. Grovatt put up strong numbers in A ball last season but was a touch old for the level. He doesn’t profile as much and since he was drafted out of college he probably needs to quickly show that he is for real so a good showing in A+ is probably necessary for him to be considered a legit prospect. He showed some good skills last season so I am actually expecting him to have a surprisingly good season this year.