Candidates: Jacob Stallings, Elias Diaz, Francisco Diaz, Kawika Emsley-Pai, Devin Ivany
Analysis: The Pirates do not have a real prospect ready to man the catching position in A+ so the spot will likely go to a fringe prospect or organizational guy. Carlos Paulino is an option to repeat the level yet again but I suspect the Pirates will push him to AA. That leaves us essentially with the candidates I listed above. Ivany was signed to a minor league contract this offseason and could really play anywhere from A+ to AAA. Emsley-Pai and Francisco Diaz look like organizational catchers who will fill in where they are needed in the middle levels. Stallings and Elias Diaz retain just a hint of prospect status. Diaz has been with the Pirates a few years though so his lack of progress could cause the Pirates to shift him towards an organizational role. Stallings was just drafted last year and is probably the best defensive catcher in the organization. He hasn’t show any ability to hit though. Stallings defense should keep him at the prospect borderline for another season or two though.
Prediction: Jacob Stallings
Candidates: Jose Osuna, Dan Gamache, Eric Avila, Chris Lashmet, Alen Hanson, DJ Crumlich, Kirk Singer, Andy Vasquez, Benji Gonzalez
Analysis: Personally I think the starting infield at the A+ level is fairly straightforward. Osuna and Hanson are locks to handle 1B and SS respectively which only leaves 2B and 3B open. Dan Gamache is coming off a fairly strong year in A ball and I would imagine the Pirates will give him the first crack at 2B in A+. Third base is a bit more wide open but Avila finished the year strong showing a good power surge so I’m guessing he’ll start the year as the third baseman. The other options will have to earn playing time and will likely fill some bench roles in A+ to start the year.
Prediction: Jose Osuna (1B), Dan Gamache (2B), Eric Avila (3B), Alen Hanson (SS)
Candidates: Gregory Polanco, Barrett Barnes, Taylor Lewis, Junior Sosa, Mel Rojas, Willy Garcia, Carlos Mesa
Analysis: There are two locks in the above group and that is Gregory Polanco and Barrett Barnes both are probably top 10 prospects in the Pirates organization and are ready for A+ so they will play. The last spot is a bit more of a question mark. Gaffney was a prime candidate to take a spot before he returned to college football and Garcia is the best prospect of the remaining group but he didn’t show a lot in A ball last year. Of the rest Sosa and Mesa look like organizational filler, Lewis a project and Rojas as a fading prospect who may be pushed to AA for last audition.
Prediction: Barrett Barnes (LF), Gregory Polanco (CF), Mel Rojas (RF)
Analysis: The bench will of course consist of the players listed who I have not assigned starting roles to. The options are not very clear at this point. Obviously a backup catcher will be retained. I also suspect that we will see two of the infielders retained, I think Crumlich with his strong debut last season is the safest bet of the group and we will also see one outfielder. There is one final spot and I think that will go to a player who will split DHing duties with the 4th outfielder.
Prediction: Elias Diaz, DJ Crumlich, Kirk Singer, Chris Lashmet, Taylor Lewis
Candidates: Nicholas Kingham, Robby Rowland, Zach Von Rosenberg, Matt Benedict, Zachary Fuesser, Kenn Kasparek, Luis Sanz, Zack Dodson
Analysis: It is difficult to handicap the pitching staffs as we get this low into the minors. The Pirates have a lot of options and at times it can be difficult to figure just who they are high on. In this case I think 3 of the 5 starting pitchers are or should be rather clear. Kingham, Rowland and Von Rosenberg all have earned a chance to show what they can do in A+. The rest of the group is a smattering of borderline prospects of which I can’t decipher who the Pirates are still high on. Dodson is suspended to begin the season and obviously won’t start the year with anybody but is a candidate to join the A+ rotation shortly after his suspension ends. Sanz I originally pegged for the AA rotation but I’m having second thoughts on that and he could come into player here.
Prediction: Nicholas Kingham, Robby Rownalnd, Zach Von Rosenberg, Matt Benedict, Kenn Kasparek
Analysis: Like all minor league bullpens my prediction is just a shot in the dark in which I pick seven names I kind of like who I think would make sense.
Prediction: Zachary Fuesser, Porfirio Lopez, Dalton Friend, Pat Ludwig, Rinku Singh, Nathan Kilcrease, Quinton Miller
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.