Catchers: Carlos Paulino, Charlie Cutler
Paulino is a defensive first catcher who is graded by scouts as one of the best defensive catchers in the minor leagues. He stuck around with the big league camp until the final round of cuts so the Pirates must see something in him. Cutler is an organizational player who is a bat first catcher.
1st Base/DH: Alex Dickerson, Matt Curry
Both Dickerson and Curry are prospects to some degrees. If it wasn’t for the logjam of 1B types in AAA (Hague, Larish and possibly Robinson) Curry would almost certainly be there after a good season in AA. Both players have received a little time in LF this Spring but neither is an option there long term. Both players are good hitters but the question is whether either has enough power to make up for their defensive limitations.
Middle Infield: Jarek Cunningham, Gift Ngoepe, Drew Maggi
Cunningham will be the starter at 2nd and Ngoepe at shortstop. Cunningham is repeating the level because he struggled last season but has good power for a 2nd baseman so he is worth keeping an eye on. Ngoepe doesn’t do much with the bat but is a slick fielding shortstop. If he can hit even a little his glove will almost certainly carry him to the majors. Maggi was given an overslot bonus just a few years ago but is now just an organizational player. He could see time just about anywhere including the outfield but his primary purpose will be backing up the middle infield.
Other Infielders: Stefan Welch, Adalberto Santos
Welch and Santos figure to split the third base duties. Neither is a 3rd baseman by trade as Welch is better suited for 1st base and Santos has played almost exclusively the outfield. Welch is coming off an excellent season in A+ in 2012 which earned him a promotion to AA. He started off hot but quickly cooled down. He did have a good showing in the WBC for Team Australia this spring though. Santos has hit at every level the Pirates put him on and probably should be up in AAA this year but the roster figures to be a little crowded. He played exclusively the outfield last season but played some 2B the year before that. Santos is likely to see time in both the OF and 2B as well as adding 3B to his duties. If he can be passable defensively eat each position it coupled with his good contact skills could make him an intriguing bench option.
Outfielders: Mel Rojas, Andrew Lambo, Justin Howard, Andy Vasquez
Rojas is the only real prospect in this group. He has a good set of tools but hasn’t really put everything together. He probably isn’t ready for AA but with Polanco moving up to A+ the Pirates have decided to give him an aggressive push and let him continue playing center field. Lambo will be spending his 5th year at the AA level. This his last year before minor league free agency so if he is going to ever live up to that prospect hype its likely now or never. Howard has good contact skills but is poor defensively and has little power. In reality he shouldn’t be in the outfield but the only position he plays even half decently his first base and there is just no room for him there. Vasquez is a utility player who has been in the Pirates organization seemingly forever. He has played a little bit of everywhere but it appears he will serve mainly as a backup outfielder this season. In addition to these guys Santos is likely to see a lot of time in the outfield and Maggi, Dickerson and even Curry could get the occasional start as well.
Starting Pitchers: Jameson Taillon, Stolmy Pimentel, Brandon Cumpton, Casey Sadler, Tyler Waldron
Taillon is of course Taillon. He is the only true top flight prospect at this level. The main question surrounding him is when will he move up to AAA. Pimentel was acquired in the Joel Hanrahan trade and has a lot of upside but has struggled in AA in the past and is on his last option so he is going to have to impress quickly. Cumpton had moderate success in the AA rotation last year but wasn’t overwhelming so the Pirate have opted to have him repeat the level. Sadler is a prospect I like a lot but he is better suited for relief than starting. He pitched well last year both as a starter and a reliever in A+ and the Pirates like to keep their pitching prospects starting for as long as possible. Waldron was supposed to be moving to the bullpen but I guess the Pirates have had a change of mind. He really didn’t pitch that well last season in A+ but he was promoted near the end of the season so the Pirates must see some potential in him.
Relief Pitchers: Tim Alderson, Nate Baker, Jason Townsend, Jeff Inman, Luis Sanz, Ethan Hollingsworth, Kenn Kasparek
Alderson has seemingly been around forever but is still relatively young at only 24 years old. He gets another go around in AA and this could be his last chance to salvage his career. he still has that great curveball and his fastball is back in the lower 90s so anything is possible. Baker was in the AA rotation for most of last year but struggled and was moved to the bullpen. He did well there and as a left hander he shouldn’t be completely dismissed as an organizational player quite yet. Townsend was a prospect I was initially excited about when the Pirates drafted him because he was throwing in the upper 90s and striking batters out. However something happened last year and that good velocity and strike out numbers were no longer there. I will be curious to see if he can regain that form this season. Inman was a fairly highly touted 12th round pick by the Pirates who only slipped that low because of health concerns. Well so far those health concerns have proved to be a big problem as before last year he pitched in only 17 games over 3 seasons. he did remain relatively healthy last year and displayed good velocity but his strike out rates were low largely do to the lack of a good secondary pitch. The other 3 relievers were added this offseason to provide depth and are only organizational players.
The players I’m the most surprised to not see here are Zach Thornton, Kelson Brown and Dan Grovatt. Thornton was acquired this offseason for Resop and was talked about as the potential closer for the AA team. He had a high strike out rate last year but he was admittedly old for the level. Kelson Brown had a good showing in AA last year and looked like a possible future utility player in the major leagues. He didn’t have much of a ceiling but I would say he had a shot at a Rob Mackowiak type career. Finally Grovatt was one of the better hitters at A+ last year which again really isn’t saying a whole lot as the offense was terrible at that level. One other player to watch but he is not a notable omission is Ryan Beckman. Fan Graphs recently called Beckman a sleeper prospect and I agree with that assessment. Ordinarily he would be on this roster but he is still recovering from Tommy John surgery.
1. Jameson Taillon
2. Alex Dickerson
3. Gift Ngoepe
4. Adalberto Santos
5. Stolmy Pimentel
6. Casey Sadler
7. Mel Rojas Jr
8. Matt Curry
9. Carlos Paulino
10. Brandon Cumpton
11. Jarek Cunningham
I know this is incredibly early but with news being slow this time of year I thought I would fast forward to December and take a look at the players the Pirates will have to decide to either add to the 40 man roster or expose to the Rule V draft. For the sake of simplicity I have opted to focus only on players who will be eligible for the Rule V draft for the first time in 2013. I am sure there will be others who were previously eligible who may wind up factoring into the Pirates or another team’s plans but there are too many to consider at this early point. I have divided the players into five categories and written a little bit about the players, why I think there is a chance they might be selected and how I think the Pirates will proceed with them in 2013. There are of course other first time eligible players and I make mention of that later one but to me they are notable in this discussion. Once again it is way too early to even begin thinking about this kind of stuff but hey news is slow this time of year so why not.
Locks To Be Added: Gregory Polanco
It takes a lot to look like a definite lock to be added to the 40 man roster nearly a year out from your Rule 5 eligibility so naturally there are very few players who fit this description. The Pirates have one and only one such player in Gregory Polanco. He is the Pirates number 1 or 1a hitting prospect and should start the season at A+. Usually when evaluating whether to protect prospects or not teams would like to see what the player is capable of doing at least against AA competition but in Polanco’s case that isn’t really much of a concern as he will be protected in almost any set of circumstances. I expect Polanco will get pushed to AA at some point this season but it will be based on merit not just taking a look at a guy. Polanco has a huge upside as a fast solid defensive center fielder with plus power so the Pirates would be crazy not to protect him.
Next In Line: Brandon Cumpton, Matt Curry, Gift Ngoepe, Adalberto Santos
The four players listed in this group all look like fairly safe bets to become solid major league contributors. Now that doesn’t mean star or even starter but any of these four it would appear could hold down a 25 man roster spot next season and produce at least some value and for that reason each one would be at risk of getting selected and is therefore a candidate to be added. Cumpton, Curry and Santos are all candidates to start in AAA but I would say Curry is the only lock to do so. Ngoepe appears likely to start in AA but could be held back in A+. The Pirates will take a long look at each of these players and decide whether to protect them or not at the end of the season. None of these players has the ceiling of a star but all could be quality depth for the Pirates next season. Cumpton looks like a possible 5th starter or middle reliever. Curry appears to have the upside of a Casey Kotchman type first baseman meaning one who can hit decently but not for a lot of power; most players of this type quickly fizzle out though. Ngoepe has a great glove but will need his bat to develop some in order to become a starting major league option but even if it doesn’t he might be able to find a role as a defensive middle infielder off the bench. Santos is quite simply a professional hitter but one who doesn’t have a true position. Santos has hit at every level but has shown very little power and is not really good defensively anywhere. His ability to hit though and his experience at 2B and in the OF could make him a decent bench bat though.
Possible Relievers: Casey Sadler, Zach Thornton, Jason Townsend, Tyler Waldron
Every year it seems the Pirates protect one pitcher from the Rule V draft who is a bit of a head scratcher. Some times that is a player who was previously eligible and other times it is a first time eligible player. There are too many previous eligible candidates to discuss but of the first time eligible ones the above four currently appear to me to be the most likely to be added to the 40 man roster at the end of the season. I won’t say too much about each of these players individually but they all fit the typical mold of being right handed pitchers who throw in the mid 90s and to date haven’t posted the numbers (especially strike out numbers) that one would like to see from them. Although to be fair Thornton did have a a good strike out rate last season but he was a little old for the level he did it at. All four of these pitchers are likely to start the season in AA and with the exception of Sadler they will all likely be pitching from relief. Sadler is by far the most polished of the group and it could be argued he belongs with the next in line class but unlike the four I listed I don’t think he could necessarily stick for an entire season. If any of these four make an impression with the Pirates and keep in mind that isn’t necessarily only statistics I could see them being protected.
Projects: Zack Dodson, Mel Rojas, Zach Von Rosenberg
At the time these players were drafted all of them were considered to have high ceilings but to date none of them have progressed much and 2013 will serve as a defining year for them. The ceilings these players once were to said to had are still there and outside of Polanco these 3 probably have the most talent of the bunch (with possibly one exception below). Currently I have all 3 projected to start the season at A+ but Rojas could be pushed to AA and Dodson could be held back in A ball once his suspension ends. The players who do wind up starting in A+ I imagine will be aggressively pushed once and if they show any signs of progress. Before the Pirates opt to put any of these players on the 40 man roster I imagine they will want to see them against some AA competition. At this point little should be expected of any of these players but each of them has one last chance to show just a glimmer of that upside the Pirates dreamt about when drafting them.
Other Notables: Stetson Allie, Kelson Brown, Dan Grovatt, Justin Howard, Drew Maggi
There are a lot of other players eligible but essentially I see little to no chance of them being added to the roster or selected. That is nearly a year away though so a lot can and probably will change. Of the remaining players the ones above are the names I find the most interesting. With the exception of Allie who I will get to later all of the players have posted solid minor league numbers and will be playing most likely in AA this upcoming season. A good showing in AA could put them on the radar as a possible Rule V selection but right now they all seem like long shots. The other players not listed are players who have largely not developed past A ball yet and while they may have a ton of talent they are too raw to even be considered in this discussion. The one name on my notable list that doesn’t quite fit with the others is Stetson Allie. In his current states and practically any state he’ll be in by the end of the 2013 season Allie is no threat to be selected and obviously will not be protected. Quite a fall from grace for Allie as headed into last season he had the look of one of the Pirates better prospects but now that he failed at pitching and transitioned back to hitting he appears to be not much more than an organizational player. Certainly he has talent but it appears his time to harness and develop that talent has almost ran out.
The Pirates have sort of a gap in talent between AAA and A+ so the AA squad is a difficult one to predict as there are not really a lot of prospects. Some of the borderline players I have making the team in AAA are of course a possibility to start in AA and I will do my best to mention them but of course my projection will ultimately include players not projected on to any of my other levels. As we get lower and lower it becomes increasingly more difficult to project minor league rosters because there is an increasing number of players who still look at least some what promising. So this is essentially just a stab in the dark.
Candidates: Carlos Paulino, Charlie Cutler, Devin Ivany, Lucas May, Ali Solis
Analysis: There is really no prospect who is a guarantee to be at this level. Of the above listed catcher Carlos Paulino appears to be the best prospect of the group but is coming off a year in which he struggled in A+. Still if he were to repeat the level it would be his third season there and that doesn’t seem likely especially since he played well at the A+ level in 2011. The other options include whoever loses out in the Lucas May/Ali Solis battle to be the backup catcher in AAA and a couple of minor league veterans in Charlie Cutler and Devin Ivany. There is a case to be made for essentially any of these players to begin the year at AA but in the end only one will be here as the starter and another one as a backup, most of the rest will probably stay in extended spring training until their services are needed.
Prediction: Carlos Paulino
Candidates: Alex Dickerson, Justin Howard, Stefan Welch, Jarek Cunningham, Oscar Tejeda, Alex Valdez, Jeremey Farrell, Andy Vasquez, Gift Ngoepe, Drew Maggi, Benji Gonzalez, Kelson Brown
Analysis: There are other candidates who I did not list, specifically the players battling for spots in AAA who miss out. Notably because they are the two I have missing out are Jeff Larish and Anderson Hernandez. However I believe those two will serve as depth for AAA and take a spot should one of the non roster invitees to spring training opt out instead of taking the AAA assignment. As for the rest of the crop the only two prospects in the group are Alex Dickerson and Gift Ngoepe. Dickerson is coming off a solid year in A+ and should be the everyday starter at 1B. Ngoepe is a masterful defender who’s bat probably isn’t ready for AA but he is probably going to be forced up a level because of the players behind him. That leaves two spots open second and third base. Most of the rest of the players listed are at this point organizational players with little to no prospect value so it is difficult if not impossible to figure just how the Pirates may handle playing time. Cunningham still has at least some potential in him so figure on him taking one spot but the other is pretty wide open.
Prediction: Alex Dickerson (1B), Jarek Cunningham (2B), Alex Valdez (3B), Gift Ngoepe (SS)
Candidates: Adalberto Santos, Andrew Lambo, Mel Rojas, Evan Chambers, Dan Grovatt
Analysis: Like Larish and Hernandez above Brad Hawpe is also a candidate but I don’t see him accepting an assignment to AA so I am assuming he is not a realistic possibility. The rest of the crop gives us some rather unimpressive options. Some of the infielders who don’t wins spots would be candidates for the outfield as well like Howard, Tejeda, Vasquez and Maggi in particular. However I believe the starting three will come from this group. Santos has a strong case to be in AAA but a numbers game will likely keep him down meaning one spot should be his. The others are really open for debate. Mel Rojas should get one if the Pirates opt to promote him but he struggled in A+ in 2012 so I think they will have him repeat the level to begin the season. Of the remaining options Evan Chambers would appear to be the best option for center field. The last spot will probably be mainly split between Grovatt and Lambo but since Lambo has an ounce more of potential I’ll give him the nod.
Prediction: Andrew Lambo (LF), Evan Chambers (CF), Adalberto Santos (RF)
Analysis: The candidates are everyone discussed above. Obviously the Pirates will keep a backup catcher but in reality it could be nearly anyone on the list. Also a reserve infielder will be kept and it should obviously be someone with the ability to play shortstop and because he still does have at least some potential I am currently leaning towards Drew Maggi. Also a fourth outfielder will be kept as I have mentioned earlier Dan Grovatt and Andrew Lambo will probably share left field duties so the other one will most likely be the 4th outfielder. The last two spots will go to a DH and a utility player which once again could be just about anyone. AA is really a crap shot this year.
Prediction: Charlie Cutler (C), Justin Howard (DH), Drew Maggi (IF), Dan Grovatt (OF), Andy Vasquez (U)
Candidates: Jameson Taillon, Stolmy Pimentel, Casey Sadler, Aaron Pribanic, Tyler Waldron, Nathan Baker, Aaron Poreda, Luis Sanz, Ethan Hollingsworth, Tim Alderson, Brooks Brown
Analysis: Aside from the obvious Jameson Taillon starting the Pirates really don’t have many intriguing starting candidates so it is likely to come from the above group with the possibility of a few more non-interesting names thrown into the mix. To me the four most interesting names outside of Taillon listed are Pimentel, Sadler, Waldron and Alderson. However with only one option remaining Pimentel will probably be converted to relief, Salder appears better suited for relief, Waldron has been rumored to be moving to relief and Alderson has lost almost all of his prospect luster and doesn’t appear to be a viable starter anymore. Of those four I really only expect Sadler to start the season in the rotation. The rest of the rotation will be filled out by the minor league veterans listed and I’m sure a few more names.
Prediction: Jameson Taillon, Casey Sadler, Aaron Pribanic, Nathan Baker, Luis Sanz
Analysis: Aside from a few obvious names like Stolmy Pimentel and Hunter Strickland the AA bullpen like all minor league bullpens is just a guessing game. So I picked 7 players I kind of sort of liked and called it a bullpen.
Prediction: Stolmy Pimentel, Hunter Strickland, Zach Thornton, Tim Alderson, Ethan Hollingsworth, Jason Townsend, Tyler Waldron
C: Carlos Paulino
1B: Alex Dickerson
2B: Jarek Cunningham
3B: Alex Valdez
SS: Gift Ngoepe
LF: Andrew Lambo
CF: Evan Chambers
RF: Adalberto Santos
C: Charlie Cutler
IF: Drew Maggi
OF: Dan Grovatt
U: Andy Vasquez
DH: Justin Howard
SP: Jameson Taillon
SP: Casey Sadler
SP: Aaron Pribanic
SP: Nathan Baker
SP: Luis Sanz
RP; Ethan Hollingsworth
RP: Jason Townsend
RP: Tyler Waldron
RP: Tim Alderson
RP: Zach Thornton
RP: Hunter Strickland
RP: Stolmy Pimentel
Borderline Infield Prospects (Grade C-)
Carlos Paulino: The Pirates acquired Paulino from the Marlins before the start of the 2011 season in exchange for Jim Negrych. In three years in the Marlins organization Paulino had established himself as a solid defensive catcher with a lot of questions surrounding his bat. He had a good offensive season in rookie ball in 2009 but was awful for the Marlins in A ball during the 2010 season. The Pirates still pushed Paulino up a level after acquire and sent him to A+ where he figured to back up Ramon Cabrera. However Paulino quickly earned more playing time by having a big offensive season and continuing his great defensive work. To keep his bat in the lineup the Pirates even tried Paulino some in LF near the end of the season. It appeared Paulino was in line for a promotion to AA this season but Tony Sanchez repeating the level caused a bit of a log jam and he remained at A+. Unfortunately he regressed at the plate this season and despite posting similar walk and strike out rates hit quite a bit worse. He did show some offensive improvements in the second half but it was still a step backwards from his 2011 season. Despite his poor offense Paulino’s calling card is his defense and that is strong enough that he could make it to the majors one day as a solid backup catcher.
Jacob Stallings: Paulino is a great defensive catcher but he isn’t the best in the organization. That title goes to Stallings who the Pirates drafted as a signability pick in the 7th round of this year’s draft. In his junior season Stallings set an NCAA record for base runners thrown out attempting to steal so that speaks highly of his defensive ability. The Pirates coaches at the A- praised Stallings this season and called him a second pitching coach. Even with the Pirates odd strategy of not having their pitchers hold on runners Stallings managed to throw out 36% of base stealers this season. He is a great game caller and a leader in the clubhouse. For all the positive reviews his glove work receives his bat receives negative marks. Stallings is not strong with the bat. He is not a good contact hitter and has very little power but on the plus side he has shown decent plate discipline, drawing a fair number of walks in college and at the A- level. Stallings is a great catcher to have in the organization as he should be a big help to the Pirates young crop of pitchers but due to his weak bat he isn’t really much of a prospect. Stallings great defense with even just a slight improvement in his bat may very well be enough for him to make it to the majors one day but if so it will likely be as only a backup catcher.
Eric Avilia: The Pirates signed Avilia as a 16 years old out of the Dominican Republic in 2006. He wasn’t a high-profile signing and he spent 3 seasons in the DSL before breaking out in 2009. Avilia had a very strong 2009 showing a lot more power, better plate discipline and better contact skills. He moved to the states the following season and had a strong showing in rookie ball finishing tied for the league lead in HR but on the downside his K rate did jump significantly. At this point Avilia was the Pirates top 3rd base prospect, a good title but one with very little distinction as the Pirates 3B prospects have been very weak outside of Alvarez. The Pirates sent Avilia to A ball in 2011 and well it didn’t go well. On the positive side he did manage to cut back on his strike out rate but that came at the expense of him making essentially any good contact. For the season he hit .216/.275/.289 and only hit 4 home runs. His defense at third base had also seemed to take a step backwards. The Pirates sent him back to A ball as a utility player which appeared to mark the end of his prospect days. Avilia got hurt early in the season and didn’t return to June. After posting solid numbers in June and July Avilia earned a chance to start in August and took off displaying some of that great power he has and showing much better contact. Unfortunately his strike out rate continued to rise and his walk rate dipped. Avilia’s power makes him intriguing but he is running out of time to show not only something else but some consistency.
Drew Maggi: The Pirates drafted Maggi in the 15th round of the 2010 draft and signed him for the overslot amount of 468K. At the time he was drafted Maggi was viewed as a strong OBP guy with good speed and defense but limited power. Maggi was drafted as a shortstop but was considered more of an athlete by scouts meaning they thought he could end up as a middle infielder or a center fielder. He debuted at the A- level and struggled hitting for only 156/257/203 line. The Pirates typically send advanced college players like Maggi to A+ for their first full pro season but due to his struggles in A- they sent Maggi to A ball. Maggi hit decently at the A level showing the great plate discipline but never really did anything to stand out the way the Pirates would surely hoped he would. The Pirates sent Maggi to A+ and there he continued with pretty much the same results, good plate discipline but no power. He is also had more trouble making good contact and saw a jump in his strike out rate. His defense was solid but not spectacular. Despite his struggles the Pirates decided to promote Maggi to AA during the season and there he served primarily as a utility player playing both the middle infield and the outfield. His numbers at AA were even worse. Considering the Pirates pushed him to AA despite not earning it and didn’t give him full time playing time it appears they view him as an organization player at this point still Maggi retains some upside.
Kevin Ross: The Pirates drafted Kevin Ross in the 8th round of the 2012 draft and unlike the other picks in the back half of the top 10 he didn’t appear to be a signability selection. Ross was thought to be a tough sign but he ended up signing for slightly below slot. When drafted Ross was characterized as a solid defensive shortstop with a good arm and power potential but it was believed that as he filled out his size would force him to move from SS to 3B. The Pirates announced him as a shortstop but he didn’t play there at all this seasons instead splitting his time between 2B and 3B. Ross played very sparingly so his numbers have to be taken with a grain of salt but he struggled in his limited appearances. Ross appears to have a relatively high upside as Baseball America rated him the 225th best prospect in this past draft so the Pirates will probably try to see what they got in him. Ross will likely play next season with one of the short season affiliates.
|C||Eric Fryer||C||Tony Sanchez|
|1B||Matt Hague||1B||Matt Curry|
|2B||Chase d’Arnaud||2B||Jarek Cunningham|
|3B||Josh Harrison||3B||Elevys Gonzalez|
|SS||Jordy Mercer||SS||Brock Holt|
|LF||Gorkys Hernandez||LF||Quincy Latmore|
|CF||Starling Marte||CF||Robbie Grossman|
|RF||Nick Evans||RF||Andrew Lambo|
|C||Jose Morales||C||Ramon Cabrera|
|IF||Anderson Hernandez||IF||Gregory Picart|
|OF||Brandon Boggs||OF||Adalberto Santos|
|DH||Jeff Clement||DH||Jeremy Farrell|
|C||Carlos Paulino||C||Samuel Gonzalez|
|1B||Alex Dickerson||1B||Jose Osuna|
|2B||Gift Ngoepe||2B||Dan Gamache|
|3B||Andy Vasquez||3B||Eric Avila|
|SS||Drew Maggi||SS||Alen Hanson|
|LF||Evan Chambers||LF||Rodarick Jones|
|CF||Mel Rojas Jr||CF||Wes Freeman|
|RF||Dan Grovatt||RF||Josh Bell|
|C||Elias Diaz||C||Kawika Emsley-Pai|
|IF||Kelson Brown||IF||Kirk Snger|
|OF||David Rubinstein||OF||Taylor Lewis|
|DH||Justin Howard||DH||Chris Lashmet|
Clint Barmes: The Pirates biggest (at least monetary wise) free agent signing this offseason has been Barmes. Given a 2 year, 10.5 million dollar contract there is no question the Pirates overpaid to get him to come to Pittsburgh. However a lot of Pirates fans have taken this to mean that Barmes is a bad player and not an upgrade over Cedeno, this is simply not true. On the defensive side it is a close call with Cedeno probably having the better talent but Barmes not having the mental lapses. However on the offensive side it is not even close, Barmes brings far more to the table than Cedeno. My prediction is that Pirate fans will be slightly disappointed with his performance but it will be what should be expected. His OBP will be right around .300 and his slugging percentage will be in the .370-.390 range. His defense should be excellent and greatly assist the pitching staff.
Gustavo Nunez: Taking by the Pirates in the Rule V draft Nunez will likely get the first crack at the backup middle infield job. If he makes the team he will likely play a similar role to what Ciriaco did last season, meaning he will be barely noticed and only make the occasional appearance. His bat is poor and will make a non-viable option on the bench for this reason alone he will hopefully not stick too long. Nunez does have good defense and has had success in A+ ball but it is rather obvious he isn’t major league ready. Since the Pirates have no real option at SS in AA it would be nice if they could work out a trade with the Tigers but short of that I don’t see him having much of a future with the Pirates.
Chase d’Arnaud: Coming off a disappointing major league debut last season d’Arnaud will likely start off in AAA. With Barmes, Nunez, Navarro and Harrison all likely in front of him on the infield depth chart (to start the season at least) d’Arnaud will likely not see time in the majors until later on in the season. He has the talent to assume the starting SS job by the end of the year but will have to improve on a few areas before receiving that chance. I don’t know what it is about d’Arnaud he appears to have all the tools to become a solid MLB starting SS but for some reason I just don’t see him developing into that. He will likely get another chance in the majors some time season but I once again foresee a disappointing campaign.
Jordy Mercer: On the flip side of my pessimistic view of d’Arnaud is my optimistic view of Mercer. Having led the entire Pirate minor league system in home runs last season Mercer would be quite a nice power bat to have at the usually offensively challenged shortstop position. Mercer’s defense at short is definitely good enough to allow him to stick there and with the potential of his bat he could become and above average starter at shortstop. I see a nice season in AAA from Mercer this season. I see him putting up similar numbers in AAA this year to what he did in AA last year, meaning a .268/.329/.487 line.
Drew Maggi: This is a big year in Maggi’s development. He has yet to put up a great season although he does a few solid ones. He has played mainly shortstop but he is actually more of an athlete than a shortstop and could ultimately end up as a center fielder. Maggi has good speed, gap power and is fairly sound defensively (though his game does need some work). He profiles as a Chase d’Arnaud type player and his value will be greatly impacted by this season’s performance. Being in a hitter friendly park Maggi has the potential for a great season. I expect Maggi will have a good season but not quite good enough to be viewed as a legitimate shortstop prospect.
Alen Hanson: Hanson made his US debut last season and put up strong numbers in the GCL. It was a little surprising to see him get so much playing time at SS considering Barrios and Carvajal were at the level and were more highly regarded. However his performance justified the Pirate’s decision and in fact he performed so well there is a though he could skip short season ball and go straight to A ball. I don’t see Hanson as quite polished enough for that level and since I have Ngoepe repeating the level there really isn’t an open spot for him. Hanson should start the season in extended spring training and could be sent to A ball later on but I see him going to short season ball and I actually think he will do quite well there. The low level performance won’t be enough to vault him up the rankings but it will allow him to become a little more known.
Summary: Shortstop is a weak position for the Pirates and although they have a few intriguing options down in the minors no one player stands out. Barmes will hopefully prove to be solid enough for the Pirates this season and hopefully one of d’Arnaud, Mercer, Navarro or even one of Nunez or Holt steps up and takes the future shortstop position. The Pirates really need to find a shortstop of the future and if it doesn’t come from this group of players it could be a long time before any other candidate emerges. The 2012 season is going to be an important year for the Pirates in terms of the sho