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.
Top Hitting Prospects
The top 5 hitting prospects in the Pirates system all are expected to begin to 2013 season in either A or A+ ball. Dilson Herrera should skip over short season ball and start the year in A ball and Josh Bell should join him there as he is expected to repeat the level. Herrera is a popular break out candidate for 2013 and certainly has the tools to do. He is coming off a very solid 2012 season in rookie ball in which he displayed a good all around offensive game. I’m expecting a very good season from Herrera and while I don’t think he will necessary break out I don’t expect him to do anything to hurt his status. Joining him in A ball will be Bell who missed most of last season with a knee injury. At this point it is difficult to know just what to expect from Bell but a good start is I wasn’t to see him healthy and hitting for power. I’m thinking his overall line might not sparkle being essentially his first professional season but if those two things are present it should be a decent year for Bell. At the A+ level the Pirates will have the two top hitting prospects in Alen Hanson and Gregory Polanco and also last year’s supplemental pick Barrett Barnes. Barnes had a very solid debut in A- last season and will be looking to continue it at a much more age appropriate level. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him struggle with the jump but we shall see. Hanson broke out last season and has a tremendous bat for a middle infielder but his defensive game needs a lot of work if he is to remain at shortstop. The Pirates will likely have him focus on improving defensively which I think might end up hurting his overall offensive numbers this season in particular his power. Going step for step with Hanson last season in A ball was Gregory Polanco. Polanco’s season last year was just as impressive as Hanson’s and in fact I think it was slightly better. Polanco will start the season in A+ but if he is successful I expect the Pirates to give him a mid season promotion to AA. My instinct tells me this will be another big year for Polanco so that isn what I am expecting.
Top Pitching Prospects
The Pirates middle levels aren’t just chalked full of hitting prospects as there are 4 top pitching prospects also expected to play at one of the A levels this season. The only one expected to pitch in A+ though is Nicholas Kingham. Kingham had a rough start to his 2012 campaign and finished the season with a poor ERA but he improved greatly as the year progress, finishing strong and posting solid peripherals. He probably doesn’t have the ace upside of the top pitching prospects at the A ball level but he is father along developmentally and looks like he could become a good middle of the rotation inning eater. I think Kingham will take a significant step forward this season. At the A ball level the Pirates are likely to have Luis Heredia and Clayton Holmes and may also have Tyler Glasnow pitching at the level. Heredia is the top prospect here as he put up excellent numbers in A- last season despite being younger than most of his competition. The Pirates will likely continue to proceed slowly with Heredia but I suspect we will continue to see good things from him and I expect him to start missing a few more bats this season. Along with Heredia in A- Clayton Holmes was putting up excellent numbers but unlike Heredia he comes with a couple warning signs. One his delivery is very awkward looking at two he struggled with control at times last season while not striking out many batters. I expect the jump to A level is going to be a big test for him and I think he’ll struggle. Glasnow pitched in rookie ball last year with just a taste of A- at the end of the year. He was dominate in rookie ball and did fairly well in short season ball as well. The Pirates may opt to keep him in short season but my expectation is they will hold him back in extended spring training and then give him a shot at A ball. I actually think he’ll do quite well at whichever level he pitches and I could see him shooting up some prospect lists.
Other Hitting Prospects
In addition to the top level hitters the Pirates have a good assortment of the next level of hitters ready to play in the middle levels. At the A+ level the talent is a little light but Jose Osuna is a very solid 1st base prospect and could be on the verge of a breakout. Lost in the hype surrounding Hanson and Polanco was Osuna’s very solid season in A ball. He didn’t put up the show stopping numbers but it was still a very good season. Osuna is limited defensively to 1st base so his bat is going to have to carry him but he has shown the power potential which suggests it just might. I’m not expecting a full breakout from Osuna but I think he’ll once again post a good line while going largely unnoticed in 2013. In A ball the talent is a little deeper with Wyatt Mathisen, Jin-De Jhang, Eric Wood, Max Moroff and Willy Garcia all having a chance to start there. Mathisen is the headliner of the group and is considered by some to be the Pirates 5th or 6th best hitting prospect. He is an athletic young catcher who is learning the position and has a good solid bat. Jhang split catching duties with Mathisen in rookie ball last season and had a very good season there. It is possible the Pirates choose to split the two up but I think they will both be promoted to A ball and will continue to split the catching duty. Wood and Moroff also played in rookie ball last season manning 3B and SS respectively. Wood had a surprising debut after being a relatively unknown 6th round selection and Moroff showed why the Pirates went overslot to sign him after the Appel signing fell through. Garcia played at A ball last season and wasn’t horrible but he was inconsistent which makes me believe the Pirates will start him back at the level. All the players in this group are candidates to break out and become top hitting prospects. The chances of all of them doing so are slim but I expect at least 1 or 2 of them will do so.
Other Pitching Prospects
The Pirates are lacking a little in the middle levels in the second tier of pitching prospects. Only three names Robby Rowland, Zach Von Rosenberg and Adrian Sampson really catch my eye. Rowland and Von Rosenberg are likely to begin the year in A+ ball. Rowland was acquired last offseason when the Diamondbacks traded him to the Pirates in exchange for the rights to Rule V selection Brett Lorin. Rowland was an underwhelming prospect but he put up a solid season in A ball last year to get on the map. He is one to watch although I think he is going to struggle in the jump to A+. Von Rosenberg is actually one of my under the radar breakout picks. He was drafted by the Pirates in the 6th round of the 2009 draft and he was the most high profile of the large lot of high school arms the Pirates went overslot for to sign. To date Von Rosenberg hasn’t been that impressive as he repeated A ball last year and while his numbers were decent they weren’t exactly what one would hope to see. The Pirates are likely to try him at A+ and I’m going to predict he will have a good season and reemerge on the prospect map. The other pitcher Sampson was drafted by the Pirates last season and sent to A- ball where he pitched extremely well and was one of the few pitchers at that level to actually have a high strike out rate. I’m not really sure what to expect from him in 2013 but I think he has a chance to develop into a good pitching prospect.
Prospects To Watch
I already picked a few of the middle tier prospects who I think have a strong chance of breaking out. I didn’t say which hitters I’d specifically lean towards but if pushed I’d probably go with Jin-De Jhang and max Moroff and on the pitching side I’m expecting a big step up from Von Rosenberg. Digging a little deeper though I see a few under the radar names who could emerge as quality prospects. On the pitching side two players I like are Dalton Friend and Joely Rodriguez. Friend was drafted by the Pirates last year in the 12th round and looks like just a relief pitcher but his stuff is fairly good and he had success last year in A- so I think the Pirates will push him to A+ to see if he has success there and I’m expecting him to rather well and take on the look of a good relief prospect. Rodriguez has been underwhelming so far in his pro career but showed some positive signs in A- last year. I’d be a fool to say I’m expecting a breakout but I like some of what I saw and if the Pirates push him to A ball in 2013 I think he could put up a nice season and become the Pirates second best international pitching prospect (behind Heredia); that in itself won’t be much of an accomplishment but I do think he’ll raise his stalk this year and take on the look of a fringe prospect instead of an organizational arm. On the hitting side under the radar guys are a little harder to find because the Pirates have a lot of top prospects or second tier prospects filling spots. In all honesty I really don’t see too much there but one player I like who I think could surprise if he can get the playing time is Taylor Lewis. Lewis struggled last year in A ball and might repeat the level and if he does he should have a reasonable chance of getting some time in center field but the Pirates might push him to A+ ball and they do he’ll probably serve as a 4th outfielder there. Lewis came from a small school so he probably needs a little more development time than your typical prospect but the talent is there and given a chance I think he could turn himself into a nice prospect this season.
1. Gerrit Cole
Expected 2013 Level: AAA
Bio: The Pirates selected Gerrit Cole with the 1st overall pick in the 2011 draft and gave him an 8 million dollar signing bonus. Cole is a work horse starting pitcher who has a fastball that sits in the high 90s and regularly touches 100. He also has a good arsenal of secondary pitches including a two seam fastball, a change up, a curve and a slider (the change up is his best secondary pitch). Cole’s upside is a true ace someone who takes the ball every fifth day and gives their team an excellent chance to win nearly all of their starts. Cole does have some issues though as he has a tendency to elevate his fastball which led to him getting hit harder than one would expect in college. Cole had a good professional debut in 2012 and is expected to receive a little more polishing in AAA in 2013 before ultimately joining the Pirates.
2. Jameson Taillon
Expected 2013 Level: AA
Bio: Taillon was selected by the Pirates with the second overall pick in the 2010 draft. There are quite a few similarities between him and Cole. Both pitchers have plus fastballs and a good assortment of secondary pitches to back up but both also have the knock on them of elevating their fastball too much and being hit around a little. Taillon is younger than Cole and as such is not as far as long in his development as Cole but make no mistake he has the same upside as Cole which is a number one pitcher. Taillon’s fastball is likely a hair slower than Cole’s and his best secondary pitch is his curve whereas for Cole it is his changeup. In 2011 Taillon started the year off in A ball and he pitched well although his stats were not dominating as the Pirates mainly had him working on fastball command. In 2012 he was sent to A+ and once again he pitched well but not dominating, he was however very impressive in a short stint in AA at the end of the year. Taillon will start the year in AA and will like get a mid season promotion to AAA at some point.
3. Luis Heredia
Expected 2013 Level: A
Bio: Heredia was signed by the Pirates as an international free agent in 2010 for 2.6 million dollars. He turned 18 years old near the end of the 2012 season and is extremely polished for his age. He has good command of his fastball which sat in the lower 90s when he was signed but is now in the middle 90s. His offspeed pitches are still a work in progress but scouts seem to believe they are developing nicely. Heredia started the 2011 season in rookie ball and handled himself quite well going up against competition that was mainly 2-3 years older than him. The Pirates pushed him to A- in 2012 and he had an oustanding season. He had a stellar ERA but on the downside didn’t strike many people out but given his developing offspeed stuff that is not really surprising. The Pirates are likely going to push him to A ball this season but will closely monitor his innings.
4. Kyle McPherson
Expected 2013 Level: AAA
Bio: McPherson was drafted by the Pirates in the 14th round of the 2011 draft making him one of the few leftover Littlefield prospects remaining in the Pirates system. Unlike the three pitchers above him McPherson does not have an ace potential but what he does have is some major league experience and a bit more certainty surrounding the fact that he will become a solid major league pitcher. McPherson is slated to compete for a rotation job in Spring Training but will likely head back to AAA to begin the season as he only has three career starts at that level. His upside is probably that of a #3 starter who eats innings. His arsenal is solid with a low 90s fastball that he can put a little extra on, a changeup and a curve. McPherson’s best asset though is his good control. McPherson is very likely to see the major leagues at some point this season.
5. Nicholas Kingham
Expected 2013 Level: A+
Bio: Kingham was drafted by the Pirates in the 4th round of the 2010 draft. He fit the standard mold of a tall projectable right handed pitcher that Neal Huntington and his staff appear to love drafting. To date Kingham has probably been the most successful of all those types of pitchers taken and signed by the Pirates. Kingham’s ceiling is likely not that of an ace but he could still make for a solid front of the rotation arm and slot in nicely as a #2. His arsenal includes a low 90s fastball with good movement, a solid change and a curve that is currently a work in progress. The Pirates had Kingham make his pro debut in 2010 but he didn’t pitch much so his first extended taste came in 2011 when he pitched at the A- level in 2011. He performed very well which earned him a 2012 promotion to A ball. At first glance his 2012 numbers in A ball appear poor but that is mainly due to a high ERA as his secondary numbers show he had a fairly nice season. The Pirates are going to try Kingham at A+ and he is a popular breakout pick.
6. Clayton Holmes
Expected 2013 Level: A
Bio: The Pirates selected Holmes in the 9th round of the 2012 draft and while he was overshadowed by Cole and Bell his 1.2 million dollar signing bonus was a record for any player taken in the 9th round. Holmes is another one of these tall projectable right handers that Huintington’s seems to like as his fastball sits in the low 90s and his secondary pitches show signs of being solid but need work. Due to his large signing bonus Holme’s signing was not approved until the deadline so he did not appear in any games in 2011. The Pirates had Holmes make his professional debut in 2012 at the A- level and he pitched extremely well but was overshadowed by Heredia. Holmes overall numbers were good but he did show some control problems plus he also has a bit of an unortodox delivery which could prove to be a problem going forward. Right now though Holmes good 2012 campaign has him amongst the Pirates top prospects.
7. Tyler Glasnow
Expected 2013 Level: A
Bio: Glasnow was selected in the 5th round of the 2011 draft and is you guessed it a tall projectable right handed pitcher. He, as most of the rest do, throws a low 90s fastball and has a secondary arsenal which includes a curve, change and slider which has the potential to be solid in the future. Glasnow did not pitch for the Pirates in 2011 but made his debut for them in 2012 in rookie ball. He pitched extremely well, striking out a lot of batters, which is something most Pirates pitchers did not do in the lowest levels, and he touched 96 with his fastball. The Pirates gave Glasnow a few appearances in A- near the end of the year which is usually a sign that they are considering trying him in A ball the following year. The Pirates will probably place him there at some point but like Heredia and Holmes they will be monitoring his innings closely so starting out in extended spring training is a possibility.
8. Justin Wilson
Expected 2013 Level: AAA
Bio: The Pirates selected Wilson in the 5th round of the 2008 draft and shortly after his selection he received some attention for his performance in the College World Series. Wilson has the stuff to be a good #2 pitcher in a rotation and has made it all the way to AAA but yet he has been held back because of not being able to control his stuff that well. Wilson has a fastball that sits in the mid 90s and can touch the upper 90s and he compliments it with a curve and a slider which are fairly solid pitches as well. He generates a lot of strikeouts and is tough to hit but he also tends to walk a lot of batters which tends to hurt his overall results. His control problems have plagued him all through his minor league career. The Pirates have tried him both at starting and relieving and it is not clear what they will have him do in 2013. Wilson could start the year off in the majors in the bullpen but will most likely be sent back to AAA to work on his control.
9. Bryan Morris
Expected 2013 Level: MLB
Bio: Bryan Morris is the last piece remaining from the Jason Bay deal. When the Pirates originally acquired him he was touted as a starting pitching prospect but once he got to AA that stalled and the Pirates opted to move him to the bullpen. The move to relief proved to be a good thing for Morris as he has pitched exceptionally well since being moved in 2011. Morris finished 2011 strong out of the bullpen and was promoted to AAA to begin the 2012 season. Morris pitched very well out of the bullpen in 2012 but was surprisingly not called up by the Pirates until September. Morris’s arsenal consists of a mid 90s fastball, a very good curve and an average change up. He is out of options heading into 2013 so even though he has not really been given a chance to establish himself as a major league reliever the Pirates will almost certainly start him off in the majors instead of waiving him and risk losing him.
10. Victor Black
Expected 2013 Level: AAA
Bio: The Pirates drafted Black with the 49th overall pick in 2009 which they received for their failure to sign Tanner Scheppers the year before. The Pirates drafted Black as a started but even at that time most scouts saw him as a potential late inning reliever rather than a starter. Black pitched a few innings in 2009 in A- and then opened 2010 in A ball but missed most of the season due to a shoulder injury. During the 2010 offseason the Pirates decided to switch Black to a relief pitcher and then sent him to A ball to begin the 2011 year. Black struggled but was for some reason promoted to A+ where he continued to struggle. In 2012 the Pirate surprisingly pushed Black to AA where he stayed healthy all season and had a breakout year. His fastball sat in the mid 90s occasionally going into the upper 90s and he proved to be mostly unhittable. He did walk a few too many but the stuff he displayed is characteristic of a dominating back of the bullpen reliever. Black will start the year in AAA but could be called up to the majors fairly quickly and might ultimately assume the closer role.
Top Prospects 1-5
5. Luis Heredia: The Pirates signed Heredia in 2010 to the largest deal they have ever given to an international player. His signing bonus, of which 75% went to his Mexican team, was worth 2.6 million dollars. Heredia had just turned 16 but already had a 92 mph fastball and good command of his change up two things very rarer for a player so young. In addition to his fastball and change up Heredia also throws a slider and curve but those still need quite a lot of work. The Pirates have hopes his curve ball will improve as he matures and hope that as he ages he will add more velocity. Heredia has been compared by some scouts to Felix Hernandez and is said to have the highest upside of any player in the Pirates organization. He is no doubt a special talent. The Pirates have opted for an aggressive path with Heredia sending him to rookie ball in his first professional season as a 16 year old. Heredia pitched fairly well in rookie ball but did show some control issues. His overall stat line doesn’t look great but when you put it in context of how young he is and how different the environment must be for him it becomes much more encouraging. Heading into the 2012 season the Pirates opted to continue to push Heredia this time sending the 17 year old to A- where he would face competition that was largely 4-5 years older than himself. Heredia had an outstanding season with a 2.71 ERA and 1.10 WHIP. He showed much better control and was inducing a large percentage of ground balls by keeping his fastball low in the zone. The strike outs weren’t there but as of right now that is really a minor point for him. Heredia will certainly be aggressively placed again next season where he will probably play A ball. The Pirates may choose to hold him out of action for a month or so though in order to keep his innings under control. Going forward Heredia is a must watch in the Pirates organization and his ceiling is sky-high.
4. Alen Hanson: Hanson was signed by the Pirates as an international free agent in 2009 and is largely viewed as the consolation prize for their failure to sign Miguel Sano. Hanson has a small build but surprisingly good power. He also runs very well and has shown solid range defensively at shortstop. Still his arm is a little weak so some scouts believe that long term Hanson is probably destined for 2B but the Pirates seem intent on giving him a chance at SS. Hanson played the 2010 season at the DSL level and had a great season. He showed off his great speed, his good contact ability and flashed some gap power. He didn’t play any shortstop though. The Pirates brought Hanson to the states the following season and had him play shortstop at the rookie level. Hanson got off to hot start posting an OPS over 1.300 in June but he cooled down some as the year went on. Hanson had an overall very solid season in rookie ball posting a .781 OPS. His defensive play at shortstop was decent but he certainly showed his flaws at the position. The Pirates gave him a taste of the A- level near the end of the season and like it usually does it was the precursor to a promotion to A ball in 2012. Hanson started the season on fire quickly garnering a lot of attention from fans in Pittsburgh something that is very difficult for a prospect in A ball to do. His hot streak lasted from basically April to June before he finally started cooling off in July. Even then Hanson responded with a very nice finish to give him an overall OPS of .909. He displayed good power hitting 16 home runs and continued making good contact. He also had a fairly decent walk rate but on the downside did strike out a ton. The weakest area of his game was no doubt his defense as he committed 40 errors on the season. He did improve defensively as the season went along though so that is a plus. The only other real negative with Hanson in 2012 was that his stealing efficiency took a hit as he was successful only 65% of the time. Scouts who think Hanson can stick at shortstop would probably be quick to put him very high in the overall prospect rankings but scouts who think he’ll eventually have to move will probably still have him around 60 overall. Hanson’s speed, bat and the outside possibility he sticks at shortstop makes him on of the most interesting prospects in the Pirates system. He will probably play next season at A+ where he’ll face two questions can he continue to hit and can he stick at shortstop.
3. Gregory Polanco: Polanco was another 2009 international signing by the Pirates. At the time he was signed Polanco was a great athlete who had excellent speed and the arm necessary to play center field. The Pirates also viewed him as a player who could potential add power as he filled out. Polanco actually got to play in 2009, the year he was signed and the Pirates sent him to the DSL. Polanco had a nice season at the level but it wasn’t anything spectacular. Still the Pirates had seen enough of him that they decided to bring him to the states the following season. Polanco played at the rookie level in 2010 and struggled with the only real positive being that he showed off an excellent base stealing ability by going 19/21 in steal attempts. Polanco also showed a touch of power but overall it was still a poor performance as he barely walked and his strike out totals were much higher than you’d expect from a speedy center field type. The Pirates had Polanco repeat the level in 2011 and while at first glance it appears Polanco didn’t show too much improvement he actually did. Polanco’s average only rose to .237 but he showed a much better eye at the plate, nearly tripling his walk total from the previous season and also cutting down on his number of strike outs. He also had a perfect season stealing bases and showed off his great arm by recording 8 assists. The Pirates promoted Polanco to A- near the end of the season and promoted him to A ball for the start of 2012. Polanco got off to a solid start but no where near what Hanson did but Polanco managed to keep improving as the season went along as he posted a .822 OPS in the first half and a 1.030 OPS in the second half. For the season his OPS was a tick better than Hanson’s at .910. Polanco had many positives in his season including breaking out the power by belting 16 HR and continuing to show improvements in plate discipline and also cutting down even more on his strike out rate. Also another positive and why I actually have him rated above Hanson is that Polanco leaves little doubt that he will be able to stick at his important defensive position of center field. The only real knock one can make against Polanco’s 2012 season is that his base stealing efficiency took a hit but even so it was still above 70% which is at least an acceptable rate. Polanco is the highest rated position player in the Pirate system and will play next season for the Pirates A+ affiliate and should be the everyday center fielder. Like Hanson the big question surrounding Polanco is can he continue to produce as he moves up the ladder.
2. Jameson Taillon: Taillon was drafted by the Pirates with the 2nd overall pick in the 2010 draft. Huntington’s selection of him says something about the upside he has as it is well noted Huntington prefers to take high school pitchers in numbers later on in the draft over taking one in the first round. Coming out of high school Taillon was already a very polished product throwing a fastball in the mid 90s and having such a good curve ball that one scout said it would amongst the best in baseball right now. There were some concerns about him though mainly that he tended to elevate his fastball and that his change up still had a ton of development needed. Taillon is frequently compared to Josh Beckett and certainly possess ace potential. The Pirates gave Taillon 6.25 million dollars to sign which was the largest signing bonus in the draft, even more than what Harper received. Taillon was an overslot signing so he signed late which means he wasn’t able to make his professional debut until 2011. Taillon opened the 2011 season in extended spring training to keep his innings down but then was aggressively pushed to A ball. Taillon’s numbers weren’t overwhelming but they were still solid. The Pirates had him working almost solely on fastball command which is a strategy they use a lot with younger pitchers in the low minors and in the case of Taillon who had a tendency to elevate his fastball it was probably a good idea. The Pirates sent Taillon to A+ to begin the 2012 season and he started off strong posting a 1.69 ERA in the first month. However Taillon was not good after his hot start, make no mistake he wasn’t bad either but just not good. He didn’t really allow a lot of baserunners as evident by his 1.17 WHIP but his strike out rate dropped and when he was hit he tended to be hit fairly hard. Near the end of the season the Pirates promoted Taillon to AA where he made 3 starts all in dominating fashion. The good news with Taillon is that his stuff is great and that he has fairly good command of the strike zone leading to a low walk rate. Taillon’s change up also seems to be coming along rather nicely. All in all he is developing nicely but the fact he looked rather ordinary in A+ for most of the season is a little concerning. If things break just right for Taillon it is possible he could see the major leagues by the end of the 2013 season but more likely he’ll start the year back in AA with a midseason promotion to AAA. Taillion has shown all the tools the Pirates probably wanted him to show so now all he really needs to do is put up the results.
1. Gerrit Cole: The Pirates drafted Cole first overall in the 2011 draft. The 2011 draft was a bit of an odd year as no player really stood out as being the clear number one choice. Cole was one of many players the Pirates considered with the 1st overall pick and he by far wasn’t the most major league ready or safest choice of the bunch. There were some concerns surrounding Cole coming out of college. The biggest concern by far was that he wasn’t really a great college pitcher. Cole had the highest ERA of any starting pitcher on his college staff in both 2010 and 2011 and luck didn’t seem to be a larger factor as his peripheral numbers were also amongst the worst on those staffs. Cole’s problem stems from weak control. He tends to throw strikes but on occasion has a difficult time putting the ball where he wants in the strike zone. With all those negatives being said it should be obvious there must be a ton of positives surrounding Cole and that is correct. Cole probably has the highest ceiling of any player in the 2011 draft and his upside is often compared to Justin Verlander. Cole’s arsenal includes a two seam fastball he throws in the low 90s, a four seem fastball he throws in the uppers 90s (and it touches 100) and a slider and change up that are regarded as plus pitches. I seen him in person on several occasions and the one thing he has in common with Verlander is that he throws harder late in games. There is no doubt Cole has the upside to not only be an ace but one of if not the best pitcher in baseball. The Pirates signed Cole on deadline day last year for 8 million dollars. The late signing meant he missed the 2011 season so he didn’t make his debut until this past season. Cole started his pro career in A+ and predictably had very little difficulty there. The Pirates promoted him to AA midseason and he ran into some difficulty. His numbers were still very good but he was running his pitch count up quickly so he wasn’t going deep into games. Cole settled down near the end of the season and was sent to AAA where he made one regular season start and one playoff start. His regular season start was mediocre and his playoff start was terrible. For the season Cole showed improvements in his main weaknesses and all of his pitches seemed to have taken a step forward. He still has a little work to do but he will hopefully be ready to help the Pirates at the major league level by midseason.
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.
1) Tony Sanchez
2) Wyatt Mathisen
3) Jin-De jhang
4) Ramon Cabrera
5) Jacob Stallings
1) Alex Dickerson
2) Matt Curry
3) Jose Osuna
4) Justin Howard
5) Edwin Espinal
1) Brock Holt
2) Dilson Herrera
3) Dan Gamache
4) Jarek Cunningham
5) Jodaneli Carvajal
1) Eric Wood
2) Kevin Ross
3) Eric Avila
4) Stefan Welch
5) D.J. Crumlich
1) Alen Hanson
2) Gift Ngoepe
3) Max Moroff
4) Gustavo Nunez
5) Drew Maggi
1) Gregory Polanco
2) Josh Bell
3) Barrett Barnes
4) Willy Garcia
5) Mel Rojas
6) Adalberto Santos
7) Tyler Gaffney
8) Elvis Escobar
9) Harold Ramirez
10) Quincy Latimore
11) Andrew Lambo
12) Candon Myles
13) Dan Grovatt
14) Jesus Vasquez
15) Luis Urena
Upper Level (AA and AAA) Pitchers
1) Gerrit Cole
2) Jeff Locke
3) Justin Wilson
4) Kyle McPherson
5) Bryan Morris
6) Victor Black
7) Duke Welker
8) Phillip Irwin
9) Brandon Cumpton
10) Jeff Inman
Middle Level (A and A+) Pitchers
1) Jameson Taillon
2) Nicholas Kingham
3) Robby Rowland
4) Casey Sadler
5) Zach Von Rosenberg
6) Jason Townsend
7) Zach Dodson
8) Porfirio Lopez
9) Nathan Kilcrease
10) Ryan Hafner
Lower Level (Rookie and A-) Pitcher
1) Luis Heredia
2) Clay Holmes
3) Tyler Glasnow
4) Adrian Sampson
5) Jonathan Sandfort
6) Joely Rodriguez
7) Pat Ludwig
8) Jackson Lodge
9) Dalton Friend
10) Andy Otamendi
Again, just my opinion, but …
|9)||Zach Von Rosnberg|
Erik Bedard: Signed this offseason to a 1 year 4.5 million dollar contract Bedard instantly becomes the Pirates most talented pitcher. Bedard’s “stuff” is that of a high end number #2 starter but he comes with the downside of a long injury history. From 2008 through 2012 Bedard only pitched 164 major league innings of baseball. He is coming off a 129.1 innings performance from last year though. It would be foolish to expect a full season of work from Bedard but if the Pirates can get similar numbers from last season (20-25 starts; 8+ K/9: 3.6 ERA) he would be well worth the price they paid for him and that is basically what I am expecting.
A.J. Burnett: Burnett, the newest addition to the Pirates staff. His acquisition has been much debated during the week long process it took to acquire him. Some say he has lost it others expect him to rebound. Me? I think the Pirates could have gotten him for less but I think he will prove to be worth the price they paid. I don’t see him becoming a top of the rotation starter but I can see him pitching 180-200 innings, striking out nearly a batter an inning and having an ERA in the low 4s. His ability to eat innings will greatly help out the Pirates bullpen and by all accounts I’ve heard he works well with young pitchers so the Pirates have that going for them. Above all he adds depth and that is much needed.
James McDonald: McDonald is coming off what appears to be a poor showing in 2011 but in fact he did end up pitching better than his numbers indicate. After missing mostly all of spring training due to injury McDonald struggled to begin the season in April but rebound nicely posting an ERA below 4 for the months from May-August. I see McDonald being the Pirates breakout pitcher this season. This does not mean I see McDonald becoming an ace but rather I see him pitching 180 innings while compiling an ERA of around 3.80 and a strike out rate near 8 K/9.
Charlie Morton: Last year’s surprising breakout star finished the season with worse numbers than one would have expected. His season wasn’t bad by any stretch but he did struggle going down the stretch and especially had trouble getting lefties out. Coming into this season the main concerns about Morton is sustaining his success and improving against left handers. I have little doubt that he will succeed in doing both this season but to what extent? I don’t see him regressing to his 2012 numbers and I do see him improving against left handed hitters but on the flip side I see right handed hitters faring better against him and I see him slipping mildly. There is an injury concern here to start the season but I see that becoming a non issue by May. I do not see great things from Morton but I see a solid season with an ERA around 4.00.
Jeff Karstens: Ah, Kartsens. What to say about him? He is everyone’s pick to seriously regress this season and while that probably will happen I think most people are going a little too far with it. Karstens can pitch, always could, he is the type of guy you want on your staff either as a back of the rotation starter or as a utility pitcher in the bullpen. I see no way he keeps his ERA below 3.5 again this year but I don’t see him bombing out of the rotation. I must admit Karstens is a favorite of mine and I have always been rooting for him with that being said my outlook is not just based in that but rather his performance. Karstens got lucky last season but his xFIP was still 4.00; that isn’t great but that isn’t horrible either. I see Karstens falling back to earth and settling in as the Pirates #5 meaning an ERA in the 4.20 range.
Kevin Correia: Correia started the season on a hot streak last year, leading the league in wins through the first few months. He was the face of the new found Pirate road warrior approach at the beginning of last season. Truth be told he is not as good as he started last season and we seen that in his late season collapse but he is also not as bad as his late season collapse. All offseason Pirate fans have been talking about getting him out of the rotation and with the acquisition of A.J. Burnett it appears the Pirates have done that. However Correia is still going to be counted on to start a lot of games. Injuries and underperformance are all going to come into play and force the Pirates to send someone else out to the mound. Correia has an option left but due to his experience would have to give his consent to be sent to AAA, he may give it knowing staying with the Pirates is his best chance at starting but if he doesn’t he would make a good long man / spot starter out of the bullpen. I expect another replacement level year.
Brad Lincoln: Once a highly regarded pitching prospect Lincoln has fallen from grace but he still appears as if he could be a useful player. Coming in is as a depth starter once again, Lincoln will almost assuredly find himself called upon sometime this season, possibly even early on. He comes with a little upside but at this point Lincoln looks like little more than possible a very solid #4 starter. Lincoln should start the season in AAA and while he doesn’t need any more experience there he will be there for major league depth purposes. Lincoln will get a chance to prove himself this season and I think he will do a respectable job. He won’t post great numbers but I see an ERA in the 4.5 area. He will pitch well enough to give the Pirates some confidence in him possibly making one of Karstens/Morton/McDonald expendable.
Jeff Locke: Despite the fact Locke came up late last season for a cup of coffee in the majors Locke is still a work in progress and needs more time in the minors. Locke appears to have a very limited upside at this point but conversely his floor looks like a back of the rotation starter, meaning there is value in him. To me Locke appears to be something of a Paul Maholm-lite. Once again I see nothing spectacular coming from Locke but if called upon he should do a respectable job in the majors.
Rudy Owens: Owens entered last season as the prospect that appeared closest to major league ready but after a strong first two months Owens hit a rough patch and was passed up by Jeff Locke. Owens is still a talented pitcher and could very well help the Pirates at some point this season but it is apparent he still has some work to do. He has a higher upside than Locke but he also comes with slightly more risk. I have always been a fan of how Owens pitching and I see him coming through with a strong season in AAA and getting a chance in the majors. By the end of the season I could see him passing both Locke and Lincoln on the depth chart.
Others: If the Pirates need another starter outside of the ones I discussed hopefully it will be late enough in the season that a prospect like Kyle McPherson is ready. If not the Pirates will likely be forced to turn to a pitcher like Daniel McCutchen, Jo-Jo Reyes, Daniel Cabrera or Shairon Martis. McCutchen I will discuss amongst the relievers as he is likely to start the season there either in the majors in AAA. Reyes will also probably be given a chance to win a bullpen job because of the Pirates dearth of left handed relievers but he has been a barely passable spot starter so the Pirates could turn to him if needed. Cabrera is probably well past his time of usefulness but if he shows something down in AAA he too could be in a line for a spot start. The most intriguing of all the last ditch starting options available to the Pirates is Shairon Martis. Martis will begin the season having just turned 25 and actually has a little bit of upside. He pitched respectably in AAA in 2010 and was pretty good in AA last season. Martis will probably be nothing more than a spot starter but his slight upside makes him the best bet to be promoted should the need arise.
Gerrit Cole: Cole is universally considered one of the Pirates top 2 prospects. He has yet to throw a major league pitch but due to his pedigree and the fact he is coming out of a high profile college Cole is expected to move through the system quickly and make an impact on the majors some time during the 2013 season. As for the 2012 season it appears Cole will start the season in A+ but it is my thinking that it may just be to have him skip the early season cold weather in Altoona. I would not be at all surprised and in fact I am expecting Cole to be promoted to AA around Memorial Day. Expectations are high for Cole this season I do not think he will disappoint.
Jameson Taillon: Taillon is the other prospect who is universally regarded as one of the Pirates top two prospects. He is a similar player to Cole but is a behind him in his development because he came out of high school. There were questions last year about how the Pirates handled Taillon in A ball last season but I think they did the right thing by just easing him to pro ball; this is the season where they need to loosen the reigns a little bit. Like Cole, Taillon will likely start the season in A+ but unlike Cole a quick promotion to AA is probably not in the cards. The Pirates are likely going to take it a little slow with Taillon and let him spend most if not all of the season in A+. I think Taillon is going to have a good season but I think his overall line is going to disappoint people, as I have said before the Pirates A+ team, the Bradenton Marauders play in a hitter friendly stadium so I expect his numbers to suffer slightly.
Luis Heredia: Heredia might have the highest upside of any Pirate pitching prospect but at 17 years old he is very raw and very far from the majors. His numbers last year may not look too impressive but if you stop and consider the fact he was essentially a high school sophomore pitching in a pro league they begin to look fairly good. The Pirates are going to proceed cautiously with Heredia so expect him to start the year in extended spring training and then be assigned to short season ball. Short season ball is usually where just drafted college players go so the level of competition he will see there should be a good test for him. At this stage in his development it is too early to say what will be a successful season just by statistics alone but nevertheless I am expecting a good showing from Heredia in short season ball this year.
Kyle McPherson: Of all the Pirates top pitching prospects McPherson is the closest to being major league ready. After putting up very strong numbers in A+ last year McPherson was promoted to AA and continued to pitch well. His upside is not as high as the other top pitching prospects but his close proximity to the majors makes him the safest bet to make an impact in the majors. McPherson will likely start the season in AAA and could be ready for the majors by mid season. I don’t expect him to put up dominating numbers from the start but I see him settling down as the year progresses and putting up a solid season. The Pirates have a few other options in Owens and Locke who will likely get a chance before McPherson so I don’t expect to see him in the majors until September.
Nicholas Kingham: Often overlooked Kingham was the Pirates 4th round pick in the 2010 draft. At the time he was overshadowed by fellow draft picks Taillon and Allie however that changed last season when Kingham put up dominating numbers in short season ball. After last season’s strong showing Kingham is now considered a borderline top 10 prospect in the Pittsburgh Pirates system. He will likely start this upcoming season in A ball and it will be interesting to follow him and see how he performs. Kingham has a good bit of upside and could one day develop into a top of the rotation starter but he still has a good ways to go in his development. There is no reason to assume his numbers last year were not legit so I am expecting a strong showing from Kingham this year and I could see him as a candidate for the Pirates minor league pitcher of the year.
Colton Cain: Cain is one of the many high upside project-able high school arms the Pirates took in the 2009 draft. At the time he was drafted he was considered by most to be the second best of all the arms but his performance since joining the organization has vaulted him over Zack Von Rosenberg and he is now the most highly regarded prospect of the group. Cain will likely move up to A+ this season and along with the rest of the pitchers the Pirates took in his draft class this could be a very telling year in whether Cain is a legit prospect or nothing more than organizational filler. My expectations is for Cain to post a good season; it won’t be enough for him to appear as a top prospect but enough for him to look like he could be a solid major league contributor one day.
Summary: This year’s Pittsburgh Pirates rotation is probably the best the team has had in a few years. There is no true ace amongst the Pirates options for this season but there are no obvious black holes either. I think the best way to sum it up is the Pirates starting rotation will scare no one, opposing fans or Pirate fans alike. While it seems possible this year’s rotation will be the best in a long time for the Pirates, brighter days are ahead. The Pirates minor leagues are filled with quite a few high upside pitchers and if just a few of them reach their potential the Pirates will have a dominating rotation in the years come. In summary the Pirates rotation is improving and there is little reason to think that it will not continue to improve; this is one of the Pirates biggest strengths.