The Pirates have sort of a gap in talent between AAA and A+ so the AA squad is a difficult one to predict as there are not really a lot of prospects. Some of the borderline players I have making the team in AAA are of course a possibility to start in AA and I will do my best to mention them but of course my projection will ultimately include players not projected on to any of my other levels. As we get lower and lower it becomes increasingly more difficult to project minor league rosters because there is an increasing number of players who still look at least some what promising. So this is essentially just a stab in the dark.
Candidates: Carlos Paulino, Charlie Cutler, Devin Ivany, Lucas May, Ali Solis
Analysis: There is really no prospect who is a guarantee to be at this level. Of the above listed catcher Carlos Paulino appears to be the best prospect of the group but is coming off a year in which he struggled in A+. Still if he were to repeat the level it would be his third season there and that doesn’t seem likely especially since he played well at the A+ level in 2011. The other options include whoever loses out in the Lucas May/Ali Solis battle to be the backup catcher in AAA and a couple of minor league veterans in Charlie Cutler and Devin Ivany. There is a case to be made for essentially any of these players to begin the year at AA but in the end only one will be here as the starter and another one as a backup, most of the rest will probably stay in extended spring training until their services are needed.
Prediction: Carlos Paulino
Candidates: Alex Dickerson, Justin Howard, Stefan Welch, Jarek Cunningham, Oscar Tejeda, Alex Valdez, Jeremey Farrell, Andy Vasquez, Gift Ngoepe, Drew Maggi, Benji Gonzalez, Kelson Brown
Analysis: There are other candidates who I did not list, specifically the players battling for spots in AAA who miss out. Notably because they are the two I have missing out are Jeff Larish and Anderson Hernandez. However I believe those two will serve as depth for AAA and take a spot should one of the non roster invitees to spring training opt out instead of taking the AAA assignment. As for the rest of the crop the only two prospects in the group are Alex Dickerson and Gift Ngoepe. Dickerson is coming off a solid year in A+ and should be the everyday starter at 1B. Ngoepe is a masterful defender who’s bat probably isn’t ready for AA but he is probably going to be forced up a level because of the players behind him. That leaves two spots open second and third base. Most of the rest of the players listed are at this point organizational players with little to no prospect value so it is difficult if not impossible to figure just how the Pirates may handle playing time. Cunningham still has at least some potential in him so figure on him taking one spot but the other is pretty wide open.
Prediction: Alex Dickerson (1B), Jarek Cunningham (2B), Alex Valdez (3B), Gift Ngoepe (SS)
Candidates: Adalberto Santos, Andrew Lambo, Mel Rojas, Evan Chambers, Dan Grovatt
Analysis: Like Larish and Hernandez above Brad Hawpe is also a candidate but I don’t see him accepting an assignment to AA so I am assuming he is not a realistic possibility. The rest of the crop gives us some rather unimpressive options. Some of the infielders who don’t wins spots would be candidates for the outfield as well like Howard, Tejeda, Vasquez and Maggi in particular. However I believe the starting three will come from this group. Santos has a strong case to be in AAA but a numbers game will likely keep him down meaning one spot should be his. The others are really open for debate. Mel Rojas should get one if the Pirates opt to promote him but he struggled in A+ in 2012 so I think they will have him repeat the level to begin the season. Of the remaining options Evan Chambers would appear to be the best option for center field. The last spot will probably be mainly split between Grovatt and Lambo but since Lambo has an ounce more of potential I’ll give him the nod.
Prediction: Andrew Lambo (LF), Evan Chambers (CF), Adalberto Santos (RF)
Analysis: The candidates are everyone discussed above. Obviously the Pirates will keep a backup catcher but in reality it could be nearly anyone on the list. Also a reserve infielder will be kept and it should obviously be someone with the ability to play shortstop and because he still does have at least some potential I am currently leaning towards Drew Maggi. Also a fourth outfielder will be kept as I have mentioned earlier Dan Grovatt and Andrew Lambo will probably share left field duties so the other one will most likely be the 4th outfielder. The last two spots will go to a DH and a utility player which once again could be just about anyone. AA is really a crap shot this year.
Prediction: Charlie Cutler (C), Justin Howard (DH), Drew Maggi (IF), Dan Grovatt (OF), Andy Vasquez (U)
Candidates: Jameson Taillon, Stolmy Pimentel, Casey Sadler, Aaron Pribanic, Tyler Waldron, Nathan Baker, Aaron Poreda, Luis Sanz, Ethan Hollingsworth, Tim Alderson, Brooks Brown
Analysis: Aside from the obvious Jameson Taillon starting the Pirates really don’t have many intriguing starting candidates so it is likely to come from the above group with the possibility of a few more non-interesting names thrown into the mix. To me the four most interesting names outside of Taillon listed are Pimentel, Sadler, Waldron and Alderson. However with only one option remaining Pimentel will probably be converted to relief, Salder appears better suited for relief, Waldron has been rumored to be moving to relief and Alderson has lost almost all of his prospect luster and doesn’t appear to be a viable starter anymore. Of those four I really only expect Sadler to start the season in the rotation. The rest of the rotation will be filled out by the minor league veterans listed and I’m sure a few more names.
Prediction: Jameson Taillon, Casey Sadler, Aaron Pribanic, Nathan Baker, Luis Sanz
Analysis: Aside from a few obvious names like Stolmy Pimentel and Hunter Strickland the AA bullpen like all minor league bullpens is just a guessing game. So I picked 7 players I kind of sort of liked and called it a bullpen.
Prediction: Stolmy Pimentel, Hunter Strickland, Zach Thornton, Tim Alderson, Ethan Hollingsworth, Jason Townsend, Tyler Waldron
C: Carlos Paulino
1B: Alex Dickerson
2B: Jarek Cunningham
3B: Alex Valdez
SS: Gift Ngoepe
LF: Andrew Lambo
CF: Evan Chambers
RF: Adalberto Santos
C: Charlie Cutler
IF: Drew Maggi
OF: Dan Grovatt
U: Andy Vasquez
DH: Justin Howard
SP: Jameson Taillon
SP: Casey Sadler
SP: Aaron Pribanic
SP: Nathan Baker
SP: Luis Sanz
RP; Ethan Hollingsworth
RP: Jason Townsend
RP: Tyler Waldron
RP: Tim Alderson
RP: Zach Thornton
RP: Hunter Strickland
RP: Stolmy Pimentel
Upper Level Pitchers – Interesting Non-Prospects
Aaron Pribanic: Pribanic was one of three minor league pitchers the Pirates acquired in the Jack Wilson trade a few years back. The other two were both selected in the Rule V draft but Pribanic remains with the Pirates. Pribanic is a sinker ball pitcher which means he lives or dies with ground balls. Before this season he had modest success and was looking like a fringe prospect. However this season he suffered a shoulder injury early in the season and spent the rest of the year trying to come back from it. Pribanic has decent control but he relies heavily on his sinker and his secondary pitches are average at best. At this point he is a 26 year who will likely be returning for a 3rd straight season of AA ball so his prospect days look behind him but considering he missed this year due to injury he should probably be given one last chance to prove himself.
Nathan Baker: Baker was drafted by the Pirates in the 5th round of the 2009 draft. He is a left-handed pitcher who throws his fastball right around 90 mph and compliments it with a good change-up. He was a pitcher I liked coming into the 2012 season and I thought could take a step forward; as it turns out I was close as his college and Pirate minor league teammate, Phillip Irwin made the step forward. Baker on the other hand had a poor showing at AA which significantly hurt his prospect status. Baker was moved to the bullpen this season but the Pirates do not have a ton of starting options for AA so Baker may return to the rotation, either way if he has a future in the major leagues going forward it will probably be a fringe left-handed reliever.
Hunter Strickland: I doubt anyone remembers this at this point but Strickland was the pitching prospect we got in return for Adam LaRoche. Strickland doesn’t have the best arsenal with a low 90s fastball and average breaking stuff but what he does have is pin point control. In his two seasons with the Pirates Strickland had two decent seasons but never really stood out and then he missed all of 2011 due to a shoulder injury. This season he returned and had a very solid showing in A+ but struggled upon getting promoted. Strickland is still only 24 years old so it is too early to write him off completely especially considering he lost a whole year of development with the shoulder injury but going forward Strickland is going to have to start missing some more bats and getting better results if he is to be viewed as a legitimate prospect.
Jhonathan Ramos: During the Littlefield era the Pirates had a fascination with signing Latin American prospects who were short finesse left-handed pitchers. Ramos is one of the last remaining and has probably been the most successful so far. Ramos has put up respectable numbers at just about every level he has pitched but has never really stood out. He was great in the VSL and A- but since moving to full season ball he has been mediocre. His arsenal includes an upper 80s fastball, a slider and a change-up. This past season he split time between A+ and AA and put some eerily similar peripherals but he had a much a higher ERA in A+ than he did AA. Ramos is probably just an organizational pitcher at this point but as a finesse left-handed reliever with good control it is not unreasonable to think he could get a cup of coffee in the major leagues one day.
Porfirio Lopez: Lopez is the other hold out of the short left-handed Latin American pitching prospects signed by Littlefield. Like Ramos Lopez dominated when in the international leagues but has struggled since starting full season ball in the states. Unlike Ramos, Lopez appears to have the ability to miss bats but he pays for it with poor control and a high walk rate. This past season like 2011 Lopez split time between A and A+ and put up mediocre numbers. He actually showed improved control this season in A+ but it was at the expense of some strike outs so I imagine he must have been trying something different. Lopez seems to have a tad bit more on his fastball than Ramos occasionally hitting 90 but his secondary pitches are roughly the same at average to maybe slightly above. At this point Lopez looks like an organizational pitcher but the same caveat applies here as it is not unreasonable to think he could make a major league appearance some day under the right conditions.
Aaron Poreda: Poreda is an interesting story. He was drafted by the White Sox in the first round of the 2007 draft and he moved quickly through the minors pitching well at every level and he made his MLB debut in 2009. He was shaky in his 10 appearances with the White Sox but it appeared to be nothing more than a rookie trying to adjust but then he was traded to the Padres in the Jake Peavy deal and everything fell apart. He pitched only 2.1 innings with the Padres but appeared to have no control what so ever. The Padres sent him to the minors and he continued showing no control what so ever. He did manage to start missing bats again but with walk rates above 10 BB/9 that scarcely mattered. The Pirates selected him during the minor league portion of the Rule V draft last season and sent him to AA where in limited to before he got injured he did show somewhat improved control but even so the 6.2 BB/9 rate he posted is still awful. Poreda is a left-handed pitcher with great stuff, his fastball has been clocked at 100 mph. There is obviously talent here but unless Poreda can find his control again it won’t matter. The Pirates will probably give him one more chance this season.
Michael Colla: Colla was drafted by the Pirates in the 14th round of the 2008 draft. He throws a low 90s fastball, a slider and a curve. Colla has spent the last two seasons at AA and put up very similar numbers both seasons. This season the Pirates moved him to the bullpen and he pitched much better there than he did as a starter. Colla seems to have decent control as he has always posted good walk rate and even manages to miss a few bats with a K rate normally around 7 K/9. The Pirates had success moving Hughes and Watson to the bullpen after they tapped out as starters at the AA level so I see no reason why they shouldn’t try the same path with Colla. Colla should open the season in AAA and could be a candidate for the major leagues some time this season if he pitches well and a need arises in the Pirates bullpen.