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