Catchers: Carlos Paulino, Charlie Cutler
Paulino is a defensive first catcher who is graded by scouts as one of the best defensive catchers in the minor leagues. He stuck around with the big league camp until the final round of cuts so the Pirates must see something in him. Cutler is an organizational player who is a bat first catcher.
1st Base/DH: Alex Dickerson, Matt Curry
Both Dickerson and Curry are prospects to some degrees. If it wasn’t for the logjam of 1B types in AAA (Hague, Larish and possibly Robinson) Curry would almost certainly be there after a good season in AA. Both players have received a little time in LF this Spring but neither is an option there long term. Both players are good hitters but the question is whether either has enough power to make up for their defensive limitations.
Middle Infield: Jarek Cunningham, Gift Ngoepe, Drew Maggi
Cunningham will be the starter at 2nd and Ngoepe at shortstop. Cunningham is repeating the level because he struggled last season but has good power for a 2nd baseman so he is worth keeping an eye on. Ngoepe doesn’t do much with the bat but is a slick fielding shortstop. If he can hit even a little his glove will almost certainly carry him to the majors. Maggi was given an overslot bonus just a few years ago but is now just an organizational player. He could see time just about anywhere including the outfield but his primary purpose will be backing up the middle infield.
Other Infielders: Stefan Welch, Adalberto Santos
Welch and Santos figure to split the third base duties. Neither is a 3rd baseman by trade as Welch is better suited for 1st base and Santos has played almost exclusively the outfield. Welch is coming off an excellent season in A+ in 2012 which earned him a promotion to AA. He started off hot but quickly cooled down. He did have a good showing in the WBC for Team Australia this spring though. Santos has hit at every level the Pirates put him on and probably should be up in AAA this year but the roster figures to be a little crowded. He played exclusively the outfield last season but played some 2B the year before that. Santos is likely to see time in both the OF and 2B as well as adding 3B to his duties. If he can be passable defensively eat each position it coupled with his good contact skills could make him an intriguing bench option.
Outfielders: Mel Rojas, Andrew Lambo, Justin Howard, Andy Vasquez
Rojas is the only real prospect in this group. He has a good set of tools but hasn’t really put everything together. He probably isn’t ready for AA but with Polanco moving up to A+ the Pirates have decided to give him an aggressive push and let him continue playing center field. Lambo will be spending his 5th year at the AA level. This his last year before minor league free agency so if he is going to ever live up to that prospect hype its likely now or never. Howard has good contact skills but is poor defensively and has little power. In reality he shouldn’t be in the outfield but the only position he plays even half decently his first base and there is just no room for him there. Vasquez is a utility player who has been in the Pirates organization seemingly forever. He has played a little bit of everywhere but it appears he will serve mainly as a backup outfielder this season. In addition to these guys Santos is likely to see a lot of time in the outfield and Maggi, Dickerson and even Curry could get the occasional start as well.
Starting Pitchers: Jameson Taillon, Stolmy Pimentel, Brandon Cumpton, Casey Sadler, Tyler Waldron
Taillon is of course Taillon. He is the only true top flight prospect at this level. The main question surrounding him is when will he move up to AAA. Pimentel was acquired in the Joel Hanrahan trade and has a lot of upside but has struggled in AA in the past and is on his last option so he is going to have to impress quickly. Cumpton had moderate success in the AA rotation last year but wasn’t overwhelming so the Pirate have opted to have him repeat the level. Sadler is a prospect I like a lot but he is better suited for relief than starting. He pitched well last year both as a starter and a reliever in A+ and the Pirates like to keep their pitching prospects starting for as long as possible. Waldron was supposed to be moving to the bullpen but I guess the Pirates have had a change of mind. He really didn’t pitch that well last season in A+ but he was promoted near the end of the season so the Pirates must see some potential in him.
Relief Pitchers: Tim Alderson, Nate Baker, Jason Townsend, Jeff Inman, Luis Sanz, Ethan Hollingsworth, Kenn Kasparek
Alderson has seemingly been around forever but is still relatively young at only 24 years old. He gets another go around in AA and this could be his last chance to salvage his career. he still has that great curveball and his fastball is back in the lower 90s so anything is possible. Baker was in the AA rotation for most of last year but struggled and was moved to the bullpen. He did well there and as a left hander he shouldn’t be completely dismissed as an organizational player quite yet. Townsend was a prospect I was initially excited about when the Pirates drafted him because he was throwing in the upper 90s and striking batters out. However something happened last year and that good velocity and strike out numbers were no longer there. I will be curious to see if he can regain that form this season. Inman was a fairly highly touted 12th round pick by the Pirates who only slipped that low because of health concerns. Well so far those health concerns have proved to be a big problem as before last year he pitched in only 17 games over 3 seasons. he did remain relatively healthy last year and displayed good velocity but his strike out rates were low largely do to the lack of a good secondary pitch. The other 3 relievers were added this offseason to provide depth and are only organizational players.
The players I’m the most surprised to not see here are Zach Thornton, Kelson Brown and Dan Grovatt. Thornton was acquired this offseason for Resop and was talked about as the potential closer for the AA team. He had a high strike out rate last year but he was admittedly old for the level. Kelson Brown had a good showing in AA last year and looked like a possible future utility player in the major leagues. He didn’t have much of a ceiling but I would say he had a shot at a Rob Mackowiak type career. Finally Grovatt was one of the better hitters at A+ last year which again really isn’t saying a whole lot as the offense was terrible at that level. One other player to watch but he is not a notable omission is Ryan Beckman. Fan Graphs recently called Beckman a sleeper prospect and I agree with that assessment. Ordinarily he would be on this roster but he is still recovering from Tommy John surgery.
1. Jameson Taillon
2. Alex Dickerson
3. Gift Ngoepe
4. Adalberto Santos
5. Stolmy Pimentel
6. Casey Sadler
7. Mel Rojas Jr
8. Matt Curry
9. Carlos Paulino
10. Brandon Cumpton
11. Jarek Cunningham
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.