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.
At the very top of my personal top Pirates prospects list the Pirates have a group I call the top 6 and a group I call the next 6. Two of the top 6 prospects and 1 of the next 6 prospects will be beginning the 2013 season either in AA, AAA or perhaps the major leagues. The two top prospects are of course Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon. The next 6 prospect is Kyle McPherson. Cole is likely to garner the most attention and will likely start the season out in AAA but with a few adjustments and a strong start to the season he could see Pittsburgh fairly early on. Big things are expected from Cole and I fully expect we will see him in Pittsburgh come June or July. Cole may be the ace the Pirates are sorely lacking but it is not realistic to expect him to be that right out of the gate. I expect his major league time to be solid but lacking the elite quality we all will hope to see. Taillion should start the year in AA with a chance for a mid season promotion to AAA. I have high hopes that 2013 will be the year he unleashes his full arsenal and starts putting up the dominant minor league numbers we all hoped we would see. McPherson is competing for a major league rotation spot this spring but barring injuries I see him starting the year in the AAA rotation. McPherson will definitely get some time in the majors this season and I would like to see him perform well enough to earn a 2014 rotation spot. I think McPherson has the upside of a solid middle of the rotation starter and I have reasonably high hopes he will take the first steps towards establishing himself as one this season.
The Pirates upper levels aren’t exactly brimming with hitting talent. The top prospects are probably Tony Sanchez, Adalberto Santos, Alex Dickerson, Gift Ngoepe and if he is promoted to AA Mel Rojas Jr. Sanchez I have already discussed this is a pivotal year for him to have a solid season in AAA and in the likely event of one of the Pirates two catchers suffering an injury this season I would expect Sanchez to be a candidate to be called up to the majors. My expectation is Sanchez will have a solid but not great year in AAA and struggle offensively during any brief major league stint. Santos, Dickerson and Ngoepe I could see all starting in AA this season. Santos has a case to move up to AAA but the crowded outfield will likely hold him back. Hopefully one or more of these three will show something this season that lets the Pirates believe they could be contributors to the 2014 team. My expectations aren’t really high for any of them as I expect Dickerson’s numbers to be solid but again not where they need to be for an all bat player, Santos to regress from his good contact ways and Ngoepe to show only minimal improvement with the bat. The remaining hitting prospects with some intrigue are Ivan De Jesus, Matt Curry, Clint Robinson and Carlos Paulino. De Jesus, Curry and Robinson should start the year in AAA and could be called upon to serve as major league depth this season. Of the 3 my expectations are the highest for De Jesus who I think could develop into a nice middle infield utility player.
Outside of the top 3 pitching prospects I discussed the Pirates have a bunch of interesting arms projected to begin the season in one of the top two levels or the major leagues. Bryan Morris, Justin Wilson, Andy Oliver, Phillip Irwin and Victor Black are all very intriguing arms with some degree of chance of making the major league squad but most likely for all except Morris and possibly Wilson they will start the season in AAA. I have previously discussed Morris and Wilson so I’ll focus on the other 3. Oliver to me looks like another Justin Wilson type project who the Pirates will try to fix his control this season. Irwin has the look of a crafty righty with a know how to pitch and a good enough arsenal of pitches where he could be an effective back of the rotation starter. Black has the makings of a late inning shut down reliever but needs some fine tuning before he gets there. My expectation is that Oliver won’t show much improvement with his control and will wind up in the bullpen and the other two will show positive signs of improvement and I wouldn’t be shocked if either or both of them spent a fair amount of time in the majors this year. In AA the pitching talent is a little less deep outside of Taillon but two guys I’ll be watching are Stolmy Pimentel and Casey Sadler. With this being Pimentel’s last option year I expect the Pirates to move him to the bullpen and Sadler shown enough the Pirates are likely to keep him starting but I think they see him as a reliever long term. I don’t have high hopes for Pimentel this season but I think Sadler will show enough promise the Pirates will add him to the roster at the end of the season. There are a bunch of other semi-interesting pitching prospects in the upper levels but the 4 that catch my eye are Duke Welker, Brandon Cumpton, Tyler Waldron and Hunter Strickland. Welker and Strickland are on the 40 man roster and will need to show something to prove they belong there. I think Strickland will surprise people but my expectation is that Welker will struggle. As for the other two I think both will be converted to relief roles this spring to see if either is worth protecting from the Rule V draft this upcoming offseason. I suspect one of these two will wind up being the Pirates yearly surprise addition to the roster.
Prospects To Watch
I already mentioned that I think De Jesus, Waldron and Cumpton are a couple under the radar names to keep an eye on but I want to dig a little deeper and mention a few players who look like organizational players at this point who interest me. Jared Goedert is having a solid spring and while I don’t expect a whole lot out of him if he hits well in AAA he could get a chance in the majors and I think he has a chance to find a niche there as a good pinch hitting option. Michael Colla has flown under the radar but he has had moderate success at essentially every level. He could potential earn a chance to pitch as a middle reliever some time this season. A few other players I plan on keeping an eye on down in AA are Justin Howard, Kelson Brown and Tim Alderson. Howard is a 1st baseman with limited power but a pretty good knack for making contact. The Pirates have tried using him in the outfield some and with no real option to man 3B in AA I wouldn’t be shocked to see him trotted out there. If he can manage to be competent defensively in the outfield and third base his good contact ability could gain him some traction as a potential bench option down the road. Brown is the type of player who is solid in all aspects of the game but wonderful in none. He plays multiple positions, makes decent contact, shows a little power and is sound defensively. However he does none of those things at a high or low level. He has been fairly successful at every level and as I said with Howard the opening at 3B provides him with a chance to get some playing time and if given a chance he could surprise some people. Alderson has been written off by nearly everyone at this point and with very good reason but he is still relatively young. The last two seasons he has shown progress in converting to a reliever and a more finesse pitcher. He isn’t ever going to become what the Pirates hoped they were acquiring when they traded Freddy Sanchez for him but maybe there is enough talent left in him to develop into a marginal relief prospect. Now for the standard disclaimer my expectation of the players I discussed at length here is that they will continue on their path as organizational guys but of that group the names I noted I believe have the best chance to surprise in 2013.
Predicting minor league rosters can be a tricky exercise because there are often a lot more options than there are actual spots. The Pirates have roughly 35 players per level who it would make sense to assign to that particular team but obviously you can have 25 at a time. Now at some point during the season it is possible, even likely, that all the players will appear but when talking about original assignments that is not the case. With that disclaimer aside I am going to give my best approximation of what the Pirates minor league rosters will look like this upcoming season. For the record when filling out minor league rosters I go with the standard 8 starters, 5 starting pitchers and 7 relievers. The bench is made of a DH, backup catcher, reserve infielder, reserve outfielder and a utility player.
Candidates: Tony Sanchez, Ali Solis, Lucas May
Analysis: The starting catcher is an easy one to peg here. Barring an injury on the major league level Tony Sanchez will start the year in AAA and serve as the regular starting catcher. There is little to no debate about this. Now who will be his backup is a bit more uncertain but it appears likely that it will either be Lucas May or Ali Solis. May has more experience in AAA and even in the majors and Solis is the better defensive catcher. Both will likely spend some time in AAA this year and are probably the 4th and 5th options to see time in the majors should a slew of injuries occur.
Prediction: Tony Sanchez
Candidates: Matt Curry, Clint Robinson, Matt Hague, Jeff Larish, Anderson Hernandez, Ivan De Jesus, Brandon Inge, Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer, Chase d’Arnaud, Jared Goedert, Alex Valdez, Jeremy Farrell
Analysis: That is a lot of bodies for 4 starting infield positions. Chances are two of the above players will be on the major league bench, currently I have Harrison and Mercer projected to be there so they can probably be safely dismissed. As far as prospects go the only ones listed above are Curry, Robinson, De Jesus and Mercer and those 4 are more fringe prospects than anything. The Pirates could opt to go a lot of different ways here and at this point it is difficult to figure out just what the plan is.
Predcition: Matt Curry (1B), Ivan De Jesus (2B), Brandon Inge (3B), Chase d’Arnaud (SS)
Candidates: Alex Presley, Jerry Sands, Felix Pie, Darren Ford, Brad Hawpe, Adalberto Santos, Brett Carroll, Andrew Lambo
Analysis: Some of the infielders could come into play here as well as players like Larish and Goedert have some experience in the outfield corners, however I think the Pirates have enough depth where that is likely not to be an issue at least with the starting roster. Alex Presley and Jerry Sands are candidates to start the year in the majors so if they don’t they will almost certainly get starting jobs in AAA. The only prospects in the above list are Santos and Lambo and both of them could use some more time at AA although I would prefer to see Santos pushed to AAA. The Pirates glut of right fielders makes this a crowded group and the Pirates will have to sort through it before the season begins.
Prediction: Felix Pie (LF), Alex Presley (CF), Jerry Sands (RF)
Analysis: All of the above candidates who I did not project on to the roster are candidates to be part of the AAA bench. Five players in all will make it with one serving as a semi-regular starter at DH. There are still a bunch of names left so it is difficult to say just how this will go but chances are there will be a backup catcher, backup infielder and backup outfielder with the other two spots either going to utility guys or to someone ton handle the DH spot. There are a lot of ways this could go as well.
Prediction: Clint Robinson (DH), Lucas May (C), Jared Goedert (IF), Darren Ford (OF), Matt Hague (U)
Candidates: Jeff Locke, Kyle McPherson, Jonathan Sanchez, Gerrit Cole, Jeanmar Gomez, Vin Mazzaro, Michael Colla, Brandon Cumpton, Phillip Irwin, Andy Oliver, Justin Wilson, Brooks Brown, Stolmy Pimentel
Analysis: Once again we have a lot of bodies for a very limited number of spots. Some of these pitchers are candidates to make the majors and some are candidates to start in either the AAA bullpen or AA. Currently I have Locke and Sanchez making the major league squad so I will remove them from the discussion. Chances are any of the Locke, McPherson, Sanchez trio that doesn’t make the majors will be a SP in AAA and chances are so will Cole. With my current prediction that leaves three spots open to the rest of the group that includes some interesting prospects in Irwin, Wilson, Oliver and Pimentel and some fringe starter types in Mazzaro and Gomez.
Prediction: Gerrit Cole, Kyle McPherson, Justin Wilson, Andy Oliver, Phillip Irwin
Candidates: The above group, Victor Black, Duke Welker, David Bromberg, Erik Cordier, Kyle Waldrop, Mike Zagurski, Roman Colon, Jeff Inman, Kris Johnson, Ryan Reid
Analysis: I’ll be honest with you there is no way in the world I can try to accurately judge what a minor league bullpen is going to look like so I’m not going to pretend I know anything here. What I’m going to make is just a guess and really nothing more.
Prediction: Victor Black, Duke Welker, Brandon Cumpton, Kyle Waldrop, Vin Mazzaro, Mike Zagurski, Kris Johnson
C: Tony Sanchez, Lucas May
IF: Matt Curry, Clint Robinson, Matt Hague, Ivan De Jesus, Chase d’Arnaud, Brandon Inge, Jared Goedert
OF: Felix Pie, Alex Presley, Jerry Sands, Darren Ford
SP: Gerrit Cole, Kyle McPherson, Justin Wilson, Andy Oliver, Phillip Irwin
RP: Victor Black, Duke Welker, Brandon Cumpton, Kyle Waldrop, Vin Mazzaro, Mike Zagurski, Kris Johnson
Five years have come and gone since Neal Huntington has taken over as the Pirates GM. I am of the opinion that when switching GMs it takes 5 full seasons before one can really say that the farm system is essentially all the doing of the current GM. So according to my theory this is the first year we can say the system is essentially all Huntington’s. However even with that being said there are eight remaining players in the Pirates farm system from the days of Dave Littlefield. Of the 8, two are solid prospects, another one is intriguing and the other 5 look like organizational filler at this point. However let me introduce you to the Dave Littlefield 8.
Emmanuel De Leon
Of the 8 players, De Leon is the toughest to get a read on. He was an international free agent signed by the Pirates late in 2007 so he never actually played in the Pirates system until the Huntington regime took over. De Leon is an interesting case because prior to last season he had only thrown 89.1 innings in 4 professional seasons and had not yet reached full season ball. De Leon spent two seasons in the DSL, barely playing in 2008 and then showing good stuff and poor command in 2009. The Pirates brought him to the states and assigned him to rookie ball in 2010 but he barely pitched only getting 7 innings the entire season. In 2011 the Pirates tried him at A- and his control was better but his strike outs took a hit. This past season the Pirates tried him at A ball and like most pitchers there this season he pitched poorly. He was eventually demoted to A- where he got better results and was later promoted back to A ball and eventually pushed up to A+ for a few appearances. The good news is his strike outs returned but the bad news is that his control suffered. De Leon is a relief pitcher at this point albeit one with a very good arm. He still has some potential but the lack of progress he has made in regards to his control makes him a project more than a legit prospect. The Pirates will probably have him pitch in A or A+ in 2013.
Vasquez is one of only two position player prospects left from the Littlefield days. He was signed by the Pirates as an international free agent back in 2006. He was a very late signing for an international player as the Pirates signed him as a 20 year old. He made his minor league debut in 2007 getting into a handful of DSL games and showing some good plate discipline. The following year the Pirates pushed him to A- and he played decently but the plate discipline he showed in a small sample the previous year was gone. The Pirates had him split time between 2B and SS. He repeated A- the following season and was just plain bad. Because of his poor showing in 2009 the Pirates started him back at A- for a 3rd straight year in 2010. He hit better albeit in a small sample size and later was promoted to A ball on account of some injuries. He played sparingly only getting 91 AB between the two levels. In 2011 Vasquez started the year as a utility player in A ball, playing essentially every position but he managed to hit well enough that he eventually became a starter playing primarily LF but also getting time at 2B and 3B. However he continued to show no plate discipline. THe Pirates tried Vasquez in A+ in 2012 as a utility player. Once again he hit fairly well with the exception of his high strikeout and low walk totals. He got a brief promotion to AA at the end of the season. In a matter of two season Vasquez has went from looking like he would be out of baseball soon to being a very competent mid level utility player. Due to the poor results posted by most of the players at the A+ level in 2012 it is not inconceivable that Vasquez could start the year in AA perhaps even receiving regular playing time.
Navarro is one of 3 pitchers remaining that fit a mold that Littlefield seemed to like. He is a small left handed (5′ 9″) finese pitcher with better offspeed stuff than you typically see from lower level prospects. These types are a fairly safe bet to make it to the lower to mid levels and have a reasonable amount of success there however that is pretty much also their ceiling. Navarro was signed as an international free agent in 2006. Navarro pitched in the DSL in 2007 and 2008 showing good command and striking out a high number of batters. In 2009 the Pirates brought him to the states and assigned him to rookie ball where he continued to pitch fairly well but he didn’t strike out near as many batters. In 2010 the Pirates sent him to A- to begin his season but after 3 successful appearances he was promoted to A ball where he continued to pitch fairly well. His strike out rates bounced back some in 2010 and his control remained good. In 2011 the Pirates tried him at A+and he got hit around pretty hard. He did manage to post a decent strike out rate though and his command was still solid. THe Pirates demoted him back to A ball and he pitched well both as a reliever and a starter. Last season the Pirates tried him back at A+ and his numbers were better although his strike out rate again took a hit but it was still decent. The Pirates had him both starting and relieving but he was far more effective as a reliever. Navarro’s arsenal consists of a high 80s fastball and some good breaking stuff. He is 25 years old and is likely ticketed for AA. At this point he looks like an organizational pitcher but like with all crafty left handed relief pitchers who manage to make it to AA there is a slight chance he could see a cup of coffee in the majors as a LOOGY one day.
Ramos is very similar to Navarro in that he is another small left handed pitcher (5′ 8″) with an upper 80s fastball, good breaking stuff and good results in the lower minors. Ramos was an international free agent signed in 2006 by the Pirates. Ramos started his professional career in 2007 in the VSL and spent three seasons there. His first season he showed some control issues but he improved on them greatly in the remaining seasons. He posted strong strike out rates all 3 seasons and had good overall stat lines. The Pirates aggressively promoted Ramos all the way to A ball in 2010 which was his first season playing in the states. He got hit very hard and was demoted to A-. He pitched very well there and was eventually promoted back to A ball. At both levels he displayed great control and had a decent strike out rate. In 2011 the Pirates promoted him to A+ where he originally pitched in the bullpen before joining the rotation. He struggled initially in A+ but had decent numbers although his BB/9 went up slightly and his K/9 fell off dramatically. Ramos got hurt in August and when healthy was sent to A ball where he played in one game. In 2012 the Pirates had Ramos serve as a swing pitcher for A+ and AA. he moved between the levels a few times during the course of the season. He had similar ratios at each level although his ERA was much better in AA. Like in 2011 Ramos’s control wasn’t quite as good and his strike outs were far below what he had been putting up. Ramos is an organizational pitcher and will likely once again split time between A+ and AA in 2013. Like Navarro the chance of him eventually getting a call up to the majors is slim but as a left hander that has reached AA it is feasible.
Lopez is the last member of the trio of short left handed finesse pitchers left over. He is 5′ 10″ tall and like the other two has an arsenal of a high 80s fastball which he offsets with a solid assortment of breaking stuff. Of the 3 he does seem to have the best velocity occasionally touching the low 90s. The Pirates signed him as an international free agent in 2007 and he spend three seasons in the DSL. In 2008 he pitched sparingly but struggled in his limited action. In 2009 he put up a great season showing great control and striking out a lot of batters. Despite his strong numbers the Pirates sent him back to the DSL for a third season in 2010 where he put up good numbers but they weren’t as good as the previous season and his walk rate rose and strike out rate dropped. The Pirates promoted him to the states in 2011 and sent him to A+ where he predictably struggled mightily getting hit hard but posting a good strike out rate. He was demoted to A ball where he split time between the bullpen and rotation and fared much better posting a lower walk rate and even a tad higher strike out rate. In 2012 the Pirates started Lopez back in A+ but shuffled him between A and A+ a fair amount. He pitched well in A+ posing a good ERA and low walk rate but struggled to strike people out. Conversely he pitched poorly in A ball posting a high walk rate and high ERA but striking batters out at a good clip. The Pirates are likely to use Lopez in a similar role in 2013 as he has the look of an organizational pitcher. If needed he could see some time at AA this season but like the previous two small left handed pitchers his ceiling looks to be a AA level organizational bullpen arm. If things break just right for him or the other two a cup of coffee as a LOOGY in the big leagues is possible but seems highly unlikely.
Avila is one of the three Littlefield holdovers remaining I still consider a prospect. He was signed by the Pirates as an international free agent in 2006. Avila played three season in the DSL converting from 2B to 3B in his third season. In 2007 he got into a handful of games but played only sparingly collecting only 42 AB. In 2008 he played much more frequently and put up decent numbers but not really anything to stand out except for a low strike out rate. In 2009 he had his breakout season, hitting 9 HR and only striking out 3 more times than he walked. He finished as one of the best hitters in the DSL and was promoted to the states the following season. In 2010 the Pirates assigned him to rookie ball and he displayed power finishing tied for the lead league in home runs. On the downside his great strike out rate nearly doubled making it much more average. In 2011 the Pirates promoted him to A ball and he struggled. He didn’t strike out a ton but had trouble hitting the ball with much authority. The Pirates returned him to A ball in 2012 but this time as a utility player instead of a starter. He got hurt early in the season and basically didn’t play until June. During June and July he hit fairly well and was given a starting job in August. Avila finished the year strong hitting 8 home runs over the last 26 games and giving his prospect status a faint pulse. His strike out and walk rates were concerning as he posted 5 times the number of strike outs as walks. Avila is also a weak defender at third base meaning if he is going to have any value going forward it will have to be with his bat. With no real third base prospect blocking him Avila should get a chance to fully revive his prospect status at the A+ in 2013.
Up to this point all the remaining Littlefield players have been international free agent signing but Welker was acquired by the Pirates in 2nd round of the 2007 draft. When drafted he had a low 90s fastball and an average slider. He was a bit of an injury risk and an overdraft for a 2nd round selection as scouts said with a 3rd pitch his ceiling was a #4 starter. Welker got into a few games at the A- level in 2007 and pitched well but his season was cut short due to injuries. The Pirates promoted him to A ball the following season and he was hit hard. He got worse as the season went on and his velocity was down from where it was when he was drafted. He also struggled with control and didn’t strike out many batters. In 2009 Welker repeated A level and wasn’t really any better. He wasn’t hit quite as hard as batters only hit .253 against him compared to .307 the previous season but his ERA and BB/9 both rose over the prior year. On the plus side his velocity was back in the low 90s. In 2010 the Pirates opted to try Welker a third time at A ball but this time purely as a reliever. The move appeared to work as Welker started throwing 96-98 mph out of the bullpen. His walks skyrocketed to 9.7 BB/9 but his strike out rate jumped to 10.1 K/9 and opponents hit a measly .198 against him. He was promoted to A+ midseason and pitched largely the same there. Welker opened the following season, 2011 in A+. He pitched very well there showing better control getting his walk rate down to 4.3 BB/9 but his strike out rate also fell. He was promoted to AA near the end of the season and pitched fairly well there posting a 8.1 K/9 and 0.9 BB/9 in a small sample. The Pirates somewhat surprisingly added Welker to the roster prior to the 2012 season and started him off at AA. He pitched well at AA showing good control and inducing a lot of ground balls but his strike out was just average. The Pirates promoted him to AAA where he initially struggled but by the end fo the season was pitching fairly well. Welker needs a little more polish but as a ground ball pitcher who can post average strike out rates there is a good chance we could see him in the majors some time in 2013 but he will likely start back in AAA.
Another 2007 draft pick McPherson was selected in the 14th round. McPherson’s arsenal includes a low 90s fastball that he can get into the mid 90s, a curve and a change. His best asset is not his pitches themselves but the great control he has of them. McPherson started his professional career in rookie ball in 2007 and pitched fairly well albeit with a low strike out rate. He was promoted to A- near the end of the year and hit fairly hard in three starts. McPherson displayed his great command keeping his walk rate below 2 BB/9 at each level. The Pirates kept McPherson at the A- level for 2008 and he pitched well continuing his great command with a miniscule 0.8 BB/9 but had some home run problems as he allowed 10 of them in just 55.2 innings. The Pirates promoted him to A ball in 2009 where he split time between starting and relieving and he was mediocre posting an average ERA with giood WHIP and BB/9 rates but a low strike out rate. He was sent back down to A- where he worked exclusively as a starter and he pitched better but still with a low strike out rate. In 2010 McPherson once again started out in A ball but this time was much better posting good numbers, including a still very strong walk rate but also improving his strike out rate dramatically. He was originally used as a started but moved to relief later in the season to limit his innings. He made a few appearances at the A+ level at the end of the season and pitched very well. The Pirates surprisingly added him the 40 man roster in the offseason and then sent him to A+ in 2011. He continued his strong pitching there posting great numbers including a solid strike out rate. He was promoted to AA midseason and pitched largely the same at that level. McPherson was supposed to start the 2012 season in AAA but a shoulder injury caused him to miss some time and he eventually started back in AA. His numbers there weren’t quite as good as the year before but he still had strong strike out and walk rates. The Pirates promoted him to AAA later in the season where he made 3 excellent starts before eventually getting promoted to the major leagues. McPherson pitched well in his few outings at the major league level. Going into the 2013 season McPherson is a candidate to start the year in the MLB rotation but will most likely be sent back to AAA for a little more seasoning although he will very likely appear in the majors at some point in 2013.
Top Prospects 26-30
30. Adalberto Santos: Santos was drafted by the Pirates in the 22nd round of the 2010 draft. Santos has limited power and his speed is decent but he isn’t exactly fast. He was drafted as a red shirt senior out of college meaning he was just a few months shy of being 23. His bio and his tools have the look of an organizational player but yet Santos isn’t one for the sole reason that he can really hit. The Pirates drafted Santos as a 2B but in his pro debut in 2010 at the A- level he played exclusively in the corner outfield. He played well there posting a .885 OPS, showing decent speed by going 17/24 in steal attempts and playing solid defense. Due to his good performance and his age the Pirates aggressively pushed him A+ in 2011. Here Santos started splitting his time between 2B and the OF and once again he played well, posting a .868 OPS. Santos showed a touch more power with 7 HR and was once again efficient on the base paths going 27/31 in steal attempts but it was his OBP and plate discipline that once again stood out. Santos started 2012 off in AA and played great for the first month before suffering a knee injury. The injury caused Santos to miss two months but he picked up right where he left when he returned. He did eventually cool down a little but he finished the season with a .858 OPS at the AA level. The Pirates seem to have ended his 2B experiment as he played exclusively in the OF. Santos’s lack of power is probably going to stop him from being a regular in the majors but the fact that he can hit so well and show great plate discipline all while running well and playing solid defense makes him an ideal candidate for a bench job. He should start the 2013 season in AAA and is one to watch.
29. Duke Welker: Welker I believe is one of the last prospect holdouts remaining from the Littlefield days. He was drafted by the Pirates in the 2nd round of the 2007 draft. At the time of his selection he was viewed as an overdraft with the ceiling of a 4/5 starter plus he came with considerable injury risks. He started off well in 2007 in his pro debut at the A- level but had to be shut down due to forearm tightness. The next two years Welker was tried as a starter at the A level and was simply put a disaster. He posted a 5.51 and 5.79 ERA respectively and was every bit as bad as those numbers suggest. Welker started 2011 back in A ball with his prospect days all but over but something happened. Welker started pitching out of the bullpen and was a vastly different pitcher. His fastball no longer was low 90s but upper 90s and in his short stints he was able to miss bats and limit contact. Unfortunately this also came with some big control problems something that hadn’t really plagued him in the past. Still this was enough to get him promoted to A+ at midseason. He continued to pitch well there and he was deadly against right handers as they batted only .107 against him. In 2011 he started back at the A+ level pitching about the same except with a touch more control and was eventually promoted to AA. Welker before last season was a surprising add to the 40 man roster showing the Pirates believe in him. He started 2012 at AA and pitched very well earning him a quick promotion to AAA where he continued to pitch well albeit with slightly worse control. If Welker can reign in his control he has the talent to be a dominant back of the bullpen reliever and that is surely what the Pirates see, hopefully he’ll begin to realize that potential this upcoming season.
28. Zach Von Rosenberg: Von Rosenberg was one of the many projectable prep pitcher the Pirates selected in the 2009 draft and in fact he was widely considered the best of the bunch. Von Rosenberg was drafted in the 6th round but was a top 50 overall talent. He was said to have good command of his whole arsenal at the time and it was believed his velocity would increase on his fastball from the 91-92 it was sitting at. In 2009 Von Rosenberg got to pitch 1 inning at the rookie level so essentially his pro debut came the following season in A-. He was decent at the level showing good control but he also didn’t miss a lot of bats. A big positive was that his off speed pitches were viewed by scouts as getting better. Von Rosenberg started the 2011 season at the A level and got rocked through his first 16 starts posting a 7.58 ERA. He showed great command and actually improved his strike out rates to a fairly good level but he showed a tendency to leave his fastball elevated and when he did it got hit hard. On a positive note he did seem like he was figuring something out near the end of the year as over his last 9 starts he had a 2.66 ERA which lowered his season ERA to 5.73. Von Rosenberg started back at the A ball level in 2012 and he showed limited progress over 2011. He wasn’t hit as hard but his walk rate rose and his strike out rate fell. He showed some flashes of pitching very well but wasn’t consistent by any means and his fastball continues to sit at 91-92 and sometimes doesn’t even reach that. The hope for increase in stuff hasn’t come but yet Von Rosenberg will still only be 22 next season and should start the year in A+, a very age appropriate level. There is still time for Von Rosenberg to turn his pro career around and become a legit prospect and we know the talent is there still this year will be a huge one for him.
27. Mel Rojas Jr: Rojas is yet another prospect with all the talent one would want a prospect to possess but yet he hasn’t produced. He was drafted by the Pirates in the 3rd round of the 2010 draft and considered a potential five tool talent with power as the tool most in question. There is no doubt Rojas can run well and has a tremendous arm. He started his pro career off at the A- level in 2010 and struggled immensely. He simply didn’t hit but he did show some solid plate discipline. In 2011 he started the year at the A level and once again he played poorly. He was slightly better at making contact but the solid plate discipline he showed was gone and he struck out roughly 20% of the time, a rate too high for a hitter like Rojas. On a positive note he did show some improvement to his plate discipline in the second half of the season and was definitely a better player but he still wasn’t playing all that well. Despite his struggles Rojas was promoted to A+ where he continued to play center field and oddly enough he had a very eerily similar season to what he had in 2011. He did managed to show the slightest increase in power but he also showed a slight decrease in his walk rate. If Rojas is not promoted next season he will likely be forced to moved away from center field because of the talent behind him. So far Rojas has made very little progress and his prospect days are quickly running out but still the talent is there to make him one to watch.
26. Eric Wood: Wood was selected in the 6th round of this past draft and was largely dismissed as a signability pick to save money for Appel. While Wood did sign for underslot it wasn’t for as low as an amount as most of the other back half of the top 10 picks. Wood received a 100K signing bonus. Wood was drafted out of a junior college making him neither a traditional high school or college prospect. At the time of the draft little was actually known about him except for the fact that he had some decent power as evident by him winning his team’s home run derby. Wood made his pro debut in the rookie level and showed off some of that good power. He posted a .838 OPS and was good all around at the plate. Defensively the Pirates had Wood play 3rd base which is his natural position and he was solid defensively there. Due to the Pirates lack of 3B prospects Wood is likely the organization’s top prospect at the position meaning he should be blocked by no one as he moves up. The Pirates gave Wood a small taste of the A- level near the end of the year which is usually an indication that they are considering sending a player straight to A ball. Wood has to prove he can carry his success in rookie ball over to higher levels before he will start to fully settle in as a prospect but there is nothing not to like so far with what he has shown.
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.
|SP||Brad Lincoln||SP||Nate Baker|
|SP||Jeff Locke||SP||Phillip Irwin|
|SP||Shairon Martis||SP||Aaron Pribanic|
|SP||Rudy Owens||SP||Brandon Cumpton|
|SP||Kyle McPherson||SP||Michael Colla|
|RP||Evan Meek||RP||Duke Welker|
|RP||Bryan Morris||RP||Bran Tallet|
|RP||Justin Wilson||RP||Ryan Beckman|
|RP||Doug Slaten||RP||Jose Diaz|
|RP||Ryota Igarshi||RP||Elicier Cardenas|
|RP||Jared Hughes||RP||Jeff Inman|
|RP||Daniel Moskos||RP||Victor Black|
|SP||Gerrit Cole||SP||Nick Kingham|
|SP||Jameson Taillon||SP||Trent Stevenson|
|SP||Zack Von Rosenberg||SP||Ryan Hafner|
|SP||Colton Cain||SP||Jordan Cooper|
|SP||Zach Dodson||SP||Josh Poytress|
|RP||Zac Fuesser||RP||Michael Jefferson|
|RP||Jhnonath Ramos||RP||Emmanuel de Leon|
|RP||Tyler Cox||RP||Orlando Castro|
|RP||Jason Townsend||RP||Vincent Payne|
|RP||Porfirio Lopez||RP||Kevin Decker|
|RP||Jason Erickson||RP||Rinku Singh|
|RP||Casey Sadler||RP||Cliff Archibald|
Joel Hanrahan: After a terrific season last year as the Pirates closer Hanrahan will once again be the team’s closer. There is no reason not to expect another great season from him. As the anchor of the bullpen Hanrahan should be in line to finish out most of the Pirates’ wins. I would not rule out a midseason trade though because the price of relievers is very high right now and if the Pirates find themselves out of it by the deadline shopping Hanrahan to a contender in need of a late inning reliever would make a lot of sense because they could potential acquire a long term solution for 1B or SS.
Chris Resop: Some thought Resop would be non-tendered but I am happy the Pirates decided to bring him back. Resop’s ability to post high strike out totals makes him good at coming into jams and getting out of them with little damage; I’ve always consider this the fireman role of the bullpen. For most of the season Resop did quite well in this role but he faded as the year went on nonetheless I expect him to return to this role and do fairly well in it.
Jason Grilli: Signed in the middle of last season from the Phillies Grilli came in and did very well. The Pirates choose to bring him back this season and he will be the team’s second highest paid reliever. Grilli has shown the flexibility to pitch late in games, pitch multiple innings and to do some mop up work if necessary. I see Grilli taking on the role of the utility pitcher; this means he will pitch in any and all situations. Grilli is really a non-descript relief pitcher but he seems to mesh well with this team so his respectable performance should be enough to warrant him a spot on the roster for most of the season.
RIGHT HANDED OPTIONS
Evan Meek: Meek will likely get the first crack at the set up role but due to his injuries and inconsistent play last year coupled with the facts the Pirates have a lot of bullpen options and Meek has an option left he is not a lock to make the team. I think last year was a fluke year for Meek and I expect him to make the team and regain his form this season. A healthy effective Meek would make the idea of trading Hanrahan a little easier to swallow or should the Pirates find themselves in a competitive position it would give them a terrific shut down duo for the 8th and 9th innings.
Chris Leroux: There has been some talk about stretching Leroux out to become a starter but I don’t see it happening. Chances are Leroux would have to be sent down to the minors for a while to work as a starter and with no options remaining he would need to be waived for that to be possible. With all that being said Leroux is not a lock to make the team. The Pirates have a lot of good options available and with being out of options he provides less flexibility that most of the people he is competiting with. He is a definite borderline player; I wouldn’t be surprised to see him start the year in the bullpen or be waived, it could go either way. My prediction is that Leroux will make the bullpen and pitch well but not really do enough to distinguish himself and he will be removed from the roster at some point during the season.
Daniel McCutchen: As of right this minute McCutchen is probably the favorite for the long relief job. Should the Pirates bring in another starter as is rumored the job will likely go to a current projected starter like Kevin Correia. This could leave McCutchen on the outside looking in but with an option remaining he should definitely remain on the Pirates 40 man roster and be called upon some time this season. He might even be called upon to make the occasional spot start this season depending on the health and performance of the Pirates top starting options. There is nothing that wows you about McCutchen but his ability to give multiple innings out of the bullpen makes him a nice option to have around.
Jared Hughes: Hughes came up late last season and pitched pretty well but he is probably a long shot to make the major league roster at this point. He seems to be another pitcher in the same mold as Grilli, Resop and Leroux he can strike people out and his control while a little shaky is good enough to make him a solid relief option. The Pirates will probably call upon him at some point this season and I see no reason why he won’t be a serviceable middle reliever.
Juan Cruz: I believe Cruz is the Pirates answer for replacing Jose Veras. Before signing Cruz the Pirates had Evan Meek and a bunch of other intriguing arms to fill the set up role but what they didn’t have was someone with experience doing it who they could call upon should no one step up and take the role. Cruz gives the Pirates that; he will be the fall back option for the Pirates 7th and 8th inning roles. Cruz is on a minor league contract so he doesn’t have to make the team and very well might not but it is good the Pirates brought him in just in case he is needed. I would really like to see Cruz make the team but unless Meek starts out in AAA I just do not see a spot for him. Probably at some point this season Cruz will get his chance with the Pirates and if so I expect him to put up similar numbers to what Veras did last season.
LEFT HANDED OPTIONS
Tony Watson: Watson is probably the Pirates best option for a left hander out of the bullpen meaning he will likely make the team out of spring training. On the other hand Watson is not a complete product and could definitely use more time in the minors. When pressed into duty last season Watson performed admirably and with no other clear cut options he deserves a chance to prove himself. I am not expecting a great season from Watson but he seems like a serviceable lefty; if one of the below guys or someone else can step up it would be great for the Pirates to get him back to AAA. As it is I see Watson having a serviceable year as the top lefty in the pen and pitching a lot of situational matchups.
Daniel Moskos: Moskos may be the Pirates second best left handed option for the bullpen but he could use AAA work even more than Watson could. With their abundance of right handers I doubt the Pirates will choose to carry two lefties but if they do Moskos has the inside track to be the second lefty. Whether Moskos makes the team or not he is going to be asked to play a role in the majors at some point and I see it going quite well. I have always liked Moskos as a potential late inning left handed reliever and while that will never make him worth the 4th overall pick it should make him a useful player. I predict Moskos will begin to take some late inning situational time away from Watson by the end of the year.
Jo-Jo Reyes: The Pirates signed a slew of depth left handed relievers and I am not going to spend much time of any of them but the one I find most intriguing is Reyes. He has started in the past and has basically only been a passable spot starter but he has shown a good knack for getting lefties out meaning a bullpen role could be good for him. I think he has a chance to make the roster out of spring training but I don’t see it. I am not expecting much from Reyes but I believe he can be a decent reliever if he is needed.
Doug Slaten: Slaten is the definition of a lefty specialist; he is horrible against righties but does well enough against lefties that he still manages to keep a job. Hurdle likes two lefties in the bullpen so Slaten has a chance to make the major league roster but I don’t see it happening. If needed he would be fine if used in a LOOGY role but anything more than that could be scary for Pirate fans.
Brian Tallet: Even with the Pirates lack of left handed options Tallet stands little chance to make the team. I imagine he is here as sort of a last resort back up plan. Chances are Tallet will not play in the majors this season but by some chance he does we shouldn’t expect much. I imagine the Pirates will try to find him a spot in AAA but even that could be tough to do.
Stetson Allie: I have not given up on Allie as a potential starter but it looks as of now that the bullpen is the safer bet and that he will probably be working in that role this season. He has only been pitching for two seasons so of course he is raw I’m not sure why anyone expected anything more from him. Allie has a huge upside but is probably as far away from the majors as the younger Luis Heredia. I think Allie will show progress this season but it will likely be back in short season ball so it won’t exactly send his prospect status soaring. The potential is still very much there though.
Justin Wilson: Wilson could return to starting this season but due to his control issues I see his best fit as the bullpen. When you combined that with the fact the Pirates are light on left handed relievers Wilson could see time in the majors as early as the beginning of this season if he is needed. There were reports of Wilson hitting 99 mph out of the bullpen last season; that would be fantastic from a left handed reliever but I think more realistically we will see him consistently at 95-96 which will still be good. I expect Wilson to get some time in the pen later this season and as long as his control isn’t plain terrible I think it will go rather well.
Bryan Morris: A lot of people have given up on Morris but I haven’t. I see him as the heir apparent to Joel Hanrahan. Would that be a good return for the Jason Bay trade? Well of course not but it would still be great if he could turn into a good closer and I think Morris has the makeup to do just that. Should the Pirates opt to trade Hanrahan (and I think that depends on their contender status this season) I see Morris assuming the closer’s role by the end of the season.
Jeff Inman: Inman has a big upside and is probably easily one of the Pirates most talented pitching prospects. The problem the man can’t stay healthy. He has been in the system 3 years and has thrown just 40 innings. Inman was once considered a starting prospect but at this point I don’t see any way possible he remains a starter. He could have a future as a reliever pitching limited innings but even that would require him to stay healthier. Considering his low inning workload I would be surprised to see the Pirates start him above A+ but he could find himself in AA at some point. If he manages to stay healthy I can see him putting up very good numbers but that is a very big if at this point.
Duke Welker: The Pirates protected Welker from the Rule V draft this offseason, considering they had quite a few options they could have protected it shows they must think rather highly of Welker. He does have good stuff for a reliever and appears to have the making of a late inning reliever but for some reason I just don’t have a strong feeling about him. I see Welker struggling as a reliever in the majors but I don’t really know why, it is really just a hunch. Anyway Welker should start the season in AA but if he does well he is a candidate for an early promotion to AAA. He could even have an impact in the majors this season but I don’t see that happening.
Zac Fuesser: Fuesser is my second left handed pitching prospect on this list. He appears destined for a relief spot even though he did start 11 games last year and pitched over 100 innings. With so many other pitching prospects around him Fuesser has mainly been used in a piggy back role meaning he pitches but only after a more highly thought of prospect gets his work in. He will be in A+ this season and with a stacked starting rotation he will probably get little consideration there but could be called upon often as a long reliever. Fuesser’s true development as a reliever probably won’t start to next season when the prospects start to separate themselves from the filler but the fact he is left handed gives him a respectable chance at making an impact in the majors at some point.
Summary: For 2012 the bullpen appears to be fairly strong. My only real concern about it is that it will be overworked but hopefully the Burnett acquisition will alleviate that some. The Pirates have a good mix of right handers but are really lacking left handed options at the moment. The relievers are by no means a lock to be effective but I think considering the number of options the Pirates have available it is pretty safe to assume they will be able to find a mix that provides them with good stability this season and that is really all you can ask from a bullpen. For next season the Pirates have an intriguing mix of young pitchers who are coming up in relief roles that should allow the Pirates to cut loose some of their more expensive middle relief options. As far as long term goes it is always difficult to know exactly what pitchers will end up relievers but it appears as if the Pirates should have some options and chief among might be a fireball closer in Stetson Allie (although we should hold out hope he ends up starting).