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 Relief Pitcher Prospects (Grade C-)
Jeff Inman: Going into the 2009 season, Jeff Inam was considered a potential first round talent by some scouts. However he suffered a shoulder injury which dropped his status and allowed the Pirates to pick him in the 12th round. They signed Iman for $425,000 which of course was overslot. Inman managed to pitch 4 innings below the close of 2009 and looked to be healthy getting his fastball up to the mid 90s (it was down in the low 80s before he was shut down in college). Unfortunately an elbow problem prevented him from playing at all in 2010. In 2011 he was sent to A+ and got some work as a starter, he was doing very well but then once again in May he was sidelined with an elbow injury and missed most of the rest of the season. This season Inman didn’t start out playing at any level but was assigned to A+ during the season and pitched very well in 9.2 innings out of the bullpen before being promoted to AA. At AA he continued to pitch very well and managed to remain healthy for the entire season. The only downside of all of this is that Inman’s strike out rates are not great and for a pitcher with his stuff they should be better. Inman obviously has some talent and could make a decent relief pitcher in the majors but the bi question mark about him is his health.
Tim Alderson: Alderson is the prospect that just keeps hanging on. The Pirates acquired him from the Giants in the 2009 trade of Freddy Sanchez. At the time he was considered a very good pitching prospect but his stock was beginning to slip a little bit. He performed decently for the Pirates in AA the remained of the season but before the 2010 season the Pirates and Alderson decided to try to change him back to his old delivery. The experiment was a disaster and Alderson put up some awful numbers. At the start of the 2011 season the Pirates decided to send Alderson back to AA once more but this time pitch him out of the bullpen. At first it seemed to work well Alderson was pitching better and had regained his low 90s velocity but as the year went on his results and velocity both slipped. This past season the Pirates assigned Alderson back to AA to pitch a 4th straight season at the level. Once again he began the year in the bullpen and once again he started off pitching well. He pitched so well in fact that the Pirates gave him a few starts and even promoted him to AAA for a short while. Oddly enough despite this being his 4th year of AA, Alderson upon being promoted to AAA was the youngest player on the Pirates AAA roster. After being sent back to AA Alderson missed some time with an injury and when he returned he once again struggled to finish out the year. He did show improvement this season and at 24 years old will still amazingly not be old for the AA level next season but time is certainly working against him at this point.
Jason Townsend: Townsend is one of those prospects that there is just something about him that makes me like him more than most other people. He was drafted by the Pirates in the 31st round of the 2010 draft and was just your typical late round selection so the Pirates didn’t go overslot to sign him. He played the 2010 season at the A- and showed great stuff with a 97 mph fastball but he displayed poor control. The Pirates promoted him to A ball the following season and he pitched much better. He still wasn’t as dominating as a guy with his stuff should be and his velocity dipped some but he still pitched well. This past season the Pirates sent him to the A+ bullpen and Townsend had another solid season. Unfortunately though his velocity stayed in the low 90s and his strike out rate fell even more, making his performance good but not dominating. He was promoted to AA and got into a few games but with largely the same results, meaning he pitched well but didn’t particularly stand out. As a power reliever Townsend needs to post a dominating stat line to be taken serious as a relief prospect. Even though Townsend really hasn’t had that big breakout season yet to establish himself as a good relief prospect there is still something about him I like but in order to be taken serious Townsend will need to start showing more hopefully as soon as this upcoming season.
Dalton Friend: The Pirates drafted Friend in the 12th round of the 2012 draft. He seems to be a rather interesting prospect as he is left hander with good velocity. His fastball is said to sit at 95 mph although it wasn’t there this past season but he missed nearly all of 2011 with a shoulder injury so that very well may be the cause of his drop in velocity. After signing with the Pirates Friend pitched for the Pirates class A- affiliate. His first appearance was awful but he seemed to settle down after that and pitched very well the remainder of the season. His future going forward is likely as a fastball/curveball lefty relief pitcher and he has the stuff to be a very good one. The Pirates had Friend start the season off throwing short relief appearances but appeared to be stretching him out near the end of the season so it is possible they want him to be a starter next season. If that is the case that is a good sign for Friend as that would mean the Pirates probably view him as at least a good prospect. He will likely go to a full season level next season and with a good showing he could establish himself as a real prospect.
John Kuchno: I’m really not sure what to think about Kuchno. The Pirates drafted him in the 17th round of this past draft and there was little to no attention paid to him until the Pirates signed him late into the signing period for slightly over slot. The Pirates evidently view him as at least some sort of prospect and there is some reason there as he has a good fastball and a good curve. His numbers in college were decent but not really outstanding so that leaves me to believe he is more a project the Pirates see some potential in. His late signing meant he didn’t get to pitch for the Pirates too much but he did get 5 innings at the A- level and he showed good stuff getting a lot of strike outs but he also was a little wild issuing a fair number of walks. Like most pitches this low in the minors Kuchno could probably start or pitch out of the bullpen next season but his stuff appears to be better suited for a relief role so my guess is the Pirates will take that route with him. The Pirates evidently see something in him so Kuchno is one to watch headed into next season.
Pat Ludwig: The Pirates drafted Ludwig in the 10th round of the 2012 as a signability pick to save money presumably for Appel. He received a signing bonus of only 5,000 considerably less than the 125,000 slotted for his spot. Still Ludwig showed good stuff in college posting a high K rate and is evidently a fairly smart fellow considering the Pirates drafted him out of Yale. Even with all that had Ludwig performed poorly after signing with the Pirates he would probably just be an afterthought right now but he went to the A- level and pitched outstandingly well. He showed great command and managed to post a good strike out rate while limiting hitters to a .196 average against him. The Pirates gave Ludwig a small taste of A ball near the end of the season and he continued to pitch well, even upping his strikeout rate. Ludwig’s results this season makes him an interesting one to watch, if he continues pitching like he did this season he should be viewed as a legit relief prospect regardless of the reason the Pirates drafted him. He seems relatively advanced for a college pitcher so the Pirates could try him at the A+ level next season.
Ryan Beckman: I almost didn’t include Beckman here but then I thought that since I included Inman here I had to include him. Beckman was drafted by the Pirates in the 18th round of the 2009 draft. The Pirates allowed him to pitch a lot of innings at the rookie level in 2009 and his results weren’t impressive. The Pirates moved him up to the A- level the following season and he pitched better but by no means did he put up great numbers. I should note at this point Beckman was a ground ball pitcher but evidently he changed something before the 2011 season. Beckman started the 2011 season at the A level but was quickly promoted to the A+ level. There he served as the closer and pitched substantially better than he had at any point in his pro career. He started allowing more fly balls but with that came a big bump to his K rate. The Pirates had him change his arm slot at some point so maybe that can be attributed to his quick change in pitching styles but whatever it was it made a sneaky breakout candidate for the 2012 season. Unfortunately that was not to be. Beckman started the 2012 season at the AA level but injured his elbow in his first outing and required Tommy John surgery which put him out for the rest of the season. Beckman’s sudden change in 2011 makes him interesting to watch but he will likely miss the first few months of next season with the injury as well.
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.