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
Upper Level Hitters – Interesting Non-Prospects
Charlie Cutler: Cutler, a catcher, was drafted by the Pirates in the minor league portion of the Rule V draft and sent him to Altoona this season. Cutler is tough to get a read on because he has hit well at every level but has been consistently old for each level. His defense is average at best. Cutler’s offensive ability makes him an interesting player to watch but considering his age he is probably not much more than an organizational player. Cutler has good plate discipline and has shown decent power so there is still hope for him.
Justin Howard: Howard was drafted by the Pirates in the 24th round of the 2010 draft. He is a good hitter but his defense limits him to a corner and he doesn’t have much power. Before this season Howard had shown a tendency to strike out a lot but he significantly improved upon this season but doing so took even more of his limited power away. If Howard could handle a more defensively challenging position he would probably be a very good prospect right now but being limited to 1B or maybe RF decreases his value significantly. His upside appears to be a Matt Hague type so it still is possible he could get a cup of coffee with the Pirates at some point in the future.
Stefan Welch: Welch was signed by the Mets as an international free agent in 2005 and the Pirates signed him last season as a minor league free agent. Welch showed moderate success in the Mets organization which made the Pirates signing of him at least some what notable as far as minor league signings go. The Pirates started Welch in A+ and he played well enough to earn a promotion to AA and he got off to a great start there making himself look like a possible prospect. However Welch struggled down the stretch and it became more clear why the Pirates were able to sign him as a minor league free agent. Welch plays both 1B and 3B and has shown at least a little bit of power. The Pirates really have very few prospect options for the infield corners in the upper levels so Welch will likely get another chance in 2013.
Elevys Gonzalez: Gonzalez was signed by the Pirates as an international free agent in 2008. He plays 2B and 3B, has average speed but is a good defender. At the plate he has shown decent plate discipline but that took a hit in the 2011 season. Gonzalez played well in the Pirates minor leagues from 2008-2010 before having his big breakout season in 2011. Gonzalez had a great season at the A+ level in 2011 and was considered the Pirates top 3B prospect headed into this season. Unfortunately Gonzalez had a very bad season at the AA level this season and his prospect status took a big hit. The Pirates sent Gonzalez back to A+ but he didn’t perform much better. His strike out rate rose and he showed no increase in power.
Andy Vasquez: Vasquez was signed by the Pirates as an international free agent in 2006. He has played everywhere on the diamond except catcher for the Pirates. His best defensive positions appear to be 3B or the corner outfield though. He didn’t hit to well with the Pirates in his four seasons in the organization but had a nice season in 2011 at the A level. He has decent power but has poor plate discipline. He is evidently a switch hitter but he is an odd switch hitter as he has changed back and forth between batting left-handed and right-handed without actually ever being a switch hitter. Coming off a strong showing in A ball in 2011 Vasquez had a modest year at the A+ level but it was far from a stand out year. At this point Vasquez is probably just a minor league utility player but he has some tools that make him at least slightly interesting.
Kelson Brown: I like Brown better than most people. The Pirates drafted him in the 34th round of the 2010 draft and immediately began using him as an organizational player but he appears to have more upside than that. He has played every position on the diamond except pitcher and catcher and was a decent pitcher in college so he could probably even do that for a few innings if needed. He is a good defender at basically each position and has shown the ability to hit fairly well. Brown has very little power, although he did show a slight increase this season, but has decent plate discipline. Essentially Brown is the type of player who does nothing really great nor terrible. He hit quite well as a utility player in AA this season so hopefully the Pirates find away with a shallow position player crop to give him more at bats this season. He has the upside of a solid major league utility player.
Ali Solis: The Pirates claimed Solis off of waivers this season but just a few days later they waved him from the roster. Solis looks like a good defensive player but he has shown very little with the bat. He had a decent showing at the AA level in 2012 but it was the 4th year he has spent time at the AA level. Solis even made his major league debut this year but only received 4 PA. Solis has no power and very poor plate discipline so the Pirates decision to claim him seems a little odd. He doesn’t really seem to have much upside and assuming he clears waivers he will likely serve as the Pirates replacement for Eric Fryer.
What Do The Pirates Have to Give Up?
In this installment I will look at the Pirates prospects eligible for the Rule V draft. The Pirates will not be able to protect everyone and while this year’s crop isn’t as strong as some these are players the Pirates should look to trade in order to avoid a roster crunch in the offseason.
Locks To Be Added: Victor Black, Tony Sanchez, Robbie Grossman
Borderline to be Added: Tim Alderson, Stefan Welch, Ramon Cabrera, Jarek Cunningham, Brock Holt, Jeffrey Inman, Phillip Irwin
Interesting But Won’t Be Added: Andrew Lambo, Quincy Latimore, Aaron Poreda, Aaron Pribanic, Hunter Strickland, Nathan Baker, Yhonathan Barrios, Ryan Beckman, Jorge Bishop, Jodaneli Carvajal, Evan Chambers, Zachary Fuesser, Elevys Gonzalez, Samuel Gonzalez, Quinton Miller, Gift Ngoepe, Carlos Paulino, Rinku Singh
First lets get a little background on all the listed players
Victor Black: Black is pitching well in AA and looks like a good back of the bullpen prospect. He is in a similar mold to Duke Welker and will be definitely added to the roster.
Tony Sanchez: Sanchez was not so long ago the 4th overall pick in the draft and while he has lost some luster he still looks like he should be a serviceable major league starting catcher as early as midway through next season.
Robbie Grossman: Grossman is having a down season but he put up strong numbers last season and was considered a borderline top 100 prospect coming in to the year. He shows great plat discipline and will definitely be added.
Tim Alderson: Alderson has posted a good season and is now back on the prospect map. He isn’t what he once was but the potential is still in there some where and now since he has rebounded it is possible a team could take a shot on him.
Stefan Welch: The Pirates picked up Welch as a minor league free agent and at the time it appeared to be a minor move but fast forward and now the Pirates have a 23 year old prospect tearing up AA and playing a good 3B. Times have changed. Edit: As was pointed out by guapo in the comments my brief blurb seems to paint Welch as a prospect. My intention was to say that if he keeps his current level up or something close to it the Pirates will have a decision on their hands. If he falls back to earth he obviously wouldn’t be protected nor selected.
Ramon Cabrera: Coming into the season Cabrera was considered the Pirates second best catching option. He is having a bit of a down season in AA but could still draw interest from someone. I doubt the Pirates will add him with Sanchez having to be added so maybe he can attract some attention.
Jarek Cunningham: I was tempted to put Cunningham in the lock category but I realized I’m not sure how the Pirates view him. Cunningham has good power potential from 2B or 3B but has missed a few years due to injury. I would think he’d be drafted in the Rule V draft so I would think eh could be a trade piece this season.
Brock Holt: With Chase d’Arnaud and JordyMercer already on the 40 man roster the Pirates have their fair share of players like Holt. Holt is having his second solid season in AA but the Pirates are not moving him up. They could choose to add him to the roster but it would probably have to be at the expense of d’Arnaud. Holt would not have a ton of value but as a player who looks to have the floor of a utility infielder and the ceiling of an average 2B/SS in the majors he could attract some attention in trades.
Jeffrey Inman: If Inman were in another system he’d seem like the typical Pirate Rule V selection. Inman has a ton of potential but is injury prone and has missed a lot of time. Inman is now in AA and although he is struggling he has the upside that some team could take a flier on him and try to hide him in the bullpen.
Phillip Irwin: Irwin is a starter in AA and looks like he could be a decent back of the rotation arm some day. The Pirates probably won’t add him to the roster but he is advanced enough where he could probably be kept in someone’s bullpen all next season. His trade value would probably be minimal though.
Zach Dodson: Thank you to Kevin who pointed out in the comments that Dodson is not eligble until 2013. My reference material said 2012 and even though that seemed off to me I went with it.
Interesting Players Who Won’t be Added: I’m not going to bother breaking down this group but basically it breaks down into two groups. One group (Lambo, Latimore, Pribanic, Poreda, Strickland, Baker, Beckman, Chambers, E Gonzalez) are players in the upper levels who could probably hold down a spot on a 25 man roster but who’s numbers would be easily replaceable. Essentially they are all 24th and 25th type guys. The other group (Barrios, Bishop, Carvajal, S Gonzalez, Ngoepe, Singh) are players in the low levels who have a lot of talent but are too raw and too far away to have any chance at sticking on a roster all year. I left out three players, Fuesser, Miller and Paulino because they are slightly different. Paulino is an interesting defensive first catcher who has shown offensive ability but is only in the middle levels. Fuesser is a middle level lefty reliever who has some upside. Miller is a starting pitcher with a ton of talent but who has yet to produce any results. Some of the too young groups may be attractive as secondary lottery tickets in a deal.
The Pirates best most attractive pieces are obviously the 3 players who are a lock to be added, Grossman, Sanchez and Black. Any of those 3 could be attractive to other teams and be a key piece in acquiring a good rental or a secondary piece in acquiring a longer term piece.
The next most attractive group are Welch, Cabrera and Cunningham. Any of those 4 players could be a piece that could land the Pirates a good rental or even be a minor part of another trade.
Alderson, Holt, Inman and Irwin are all guys who could probably net a low cost rental but not much more. Their value are similar to the other 4 but are probably slightly less because of their limited upside.
The final group as far as trade value consists of potential throw ins and lottery tickets.