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
Mid Level Hitters – Interesting Non-Prospects
Samuel Gonzalez: The Pirates signed Gonzalez as a catcher out of the Dominican Republic at the late age of 20 in 2009. He started late but moved up fairly quickly spending only two years in the DSL and then by passing rookie ball and playing the 2011 season at the A- level. Gonzalez had a very good season at the A- level and looked like he might be developing into a real prospect but he injured his shoulder late in the season and it continued bothering him into Spring Training. The shoulder injury prevented him from catching and forced him to 1B, a position his bat is not enough for. Not only that Gonzalez had a very poor showing this season which may be related to his shoulder injury. Gonzalez still has some work defensively behind the plate but has the tools to become a solid catching prospect. Hopefully he will be healthy enough to catch next season but with the talent the Pirates have recently added he might have trouble finding frequent playing time behind the plate.
Jodaneli Carvajal: Carvajal is one of many middle infielders the Pirates signed internationally in 2008 who are now in the states in the low-mid minors but all of them are struggling. To me it appears Carvajal is the last one left with any prospect possibilities. Carvajal is a good defensive player with plus speed but he is not a good hitter. He moved up to the states after just two years in the DSL and had a strong showing in rookie ball in 2011. This season Carvajal split time between the A- and A levels and was decent at the plate but really didn’t show too much progress with his bat. Carvajal will probably struggle to get consistent playing time next season but needs to take advantage of any opportunity he gets to keep his prospect window open.
Raul Fortunato: Fortunato was signed by the Pirates as an outfielder out of the Dominican Republic in 2009. His first two seasons in the DSL he had two very poor seasons and was looking like at best an organizational guy. However in 2011 he had a break out season which was topped by what I believe was a 30 something game hitting streak which got him some press with the Pittsburgh media. He moved up to the states this season and started at the A- level but unfortunately he got hurt early in the season and didn’t play again. Fortunato is a great base stealer and seems to be slowly developing good plate discipline but he has shown the tendency to strike out a good bit. He had a good chance to really establish himself this past season but unfortunately his injury prevented that. This upcoming season Fortunato will need a good season just to keep his prospect status alive.
Elias Diaz: Diaz was signed by the Pirates as a catcher out of Venezuela in 2008. He had a good pro debut in 2009 in the VSL and was promoted the following season to the states. Diaz has done very little since coming to the states though. He has been very poor with the bat and while showing improvements defensively still needs some work with that part of his game. The Pirates like most organizations have a bunch of catchers in the low to mid levels of the minor leagues but most of them profile as just organizational depth. At 22 it is a little early to say that is what Diaz is but right now unless he shows significant improvements with his bat that is likely where his career is headed.
DJ Crumlich: The Pirates drafted Crumlich, along with a couple other college middle infielders, in this past draft class. None of them really profile as much more than organizational players but Crumlich was the one who actually had the best debut. He played this past season at the A- level where he easily had the best season of any of the Pirates infielders at that level. Crumlich doesn’t profile to hit for much power and his speed and defense are probably about average so if he is going to go anywhere it will have to be with good contact skills and good plate discipline. He did show some decent plate discipline this past season and during his college years so there may be some hope there. Crumlich will probably play at either the A or A+ level next season, wherever he is needed, and will need to take advantage of his opportunities.
Taylor Lewis: Lewis was drafted by the Pirates in the 10th round of the 2011 draft. He is an outfielder and was rated the 5th best prospect in upper New England. He has good defense, speed and some power potential. Unfortunately he hasn’t shown much in his first two pro seasons. This past season wasn’t a bad showing for him but his numbers were only decent and he struck out way too much. Lewis went to a small college so the step up in play for him was probably bigger than for most players so he shouldn’t be given up on quite yet. At this point Lewis is a project but he seems to have a decent upside and there is still time for him to have that breakout season since he will play next season at 23 which isn’t that old for the middle levels.