Just Missed the Top 30
Jose Osuna: Osuna was signed by the Pirates late in 2009 out of Venezuela. He was originally signed as an OF but it was a widely held belief that he would eventually need to move to 1B and he has indeed done so. When he was signed Osuna was already touted as having good plate discipline and some good raw power. He has shown both of those tools rather well so far in his pro career. Osuna played in the VSL in 2010 and had a good showing leading the league in HR at only 17 years old. Osuna was promoted to the states in 2011 and raked down in rookie ball posting a .911 OPS in 178 AB. He continued to show very good plate discipline although his power did take a slight hit. It was also at this level that Osuna shifted to 1B. This past season the Pirates used him as the regular 1B at the A ball level and he did fairly well. Osuna posted a .778 OPS in 482 AB. He also continued to keep his strike outs low but his walk rate dipped slightly. The power Osuna was said to possess was flashed a few times as he hit 16 HR. Osuna had an amazing month of July in which he had a 1.011 OPS and belted 9 HR. Osuna will only be 20 years old next season and already appears to be a fairly advanced hitter. The power potential along with solid plate discipline is there and could make Osuna a good 1B prospect for the Pirates moving forward. Going forward he needs to get better (more comfortable) at 1B and he needs to show that he can keep hitting as he moves up the ladder.
Dan Gamache: The Pirates drafted Gamache in the 6th round of the 2011 draft. He played primarily 3B in college but the Pirates announced him as a 2B and that is where they have been using him. Gamache is a solid defender and he has the ability to hit to all fields and has shown solid plate discipline but he lacks power. Gamache made his pro debut in rookie ball last season and in a very small sample size hit very well. The Pirates promoted to A- and things didn’t quite go so well. This season the Pirates promoted him to A ball and he quietly had a good season. He was overshadowed by his middle infield partner of course but he more than held his own. Gamache posted a solid .780 OPS while adapting very well to his new position as a full time 2B. It wasn’t a dominating performance from him and as an advanced college player a better showing could have been expected but he played the season at only 21 years old so he wasn’t exactly old for the level. Due to his limited power Gamache will most likely need to show he has what it takes to stick at 2B if he is to move forward as a prospect but so far things are looking good in that regard. The Pirates will most likely want to see Gamache continue to hit and play solid defense as he moves up to A+ next season.
Jarek Cunningham: The Pirates drafted Cunningham in the 18th round of the 2008 draft, he was one of their many over slot picks. He was a fairly highly regarded prospect but missed his senior season at high school because of an ACL tear so it was expected he would go to college. He was originally drafted as a shortstop but he was never really expected to stick there and his since moved to 2B and some are convinced he could move again possibly to 3B or a corner outfield spot. Cunningham’s pro career started out great with a strong showing at the rookie level but unfortunately he injured his knee and was forced to miss all of the following season. In 2010 the Pirates sent him to A level with mixed results. Cunningham showed some good power and actually finished 3rd in the league in extra base hits but he also showed a huge strike out problem and had very inconsistent plate discipline. The Pirates sent Cunningham to the A+ level in 2011 and he started out on fire in April and May before eventually cooling off and slumping through July. In July of that year Cunningham suffered a concussion and the only appearances he made the rest of the season were a few rehab stints in rookie ball. This past season Cunningham played at AA and was disappointing. On the plus side he did manage to stay healthy most of the year and was better defensively but his bat was just nowhere to be found. Cunningham is in an interesting prospect because of the power potential he provides for a 2B but his constant injuries and disappointing showing in 2012 has really hurt his prospect stock. This upcoming season will be a big test for Cunningham.
Tyler Gaffney: The Pirates drafted Gaffney this past year in the 24th round out of Stanford. The most noteworthy thing about him was that he was also Stanford’s backup RB for the football team. Gaffney is a very solid hitter but his draft stock was hurt as he doesn’t have the power of a typical corner outfielder or the speed of the typical center fielder. Basically he is your classic tweener in the outfield. Gaffney made his pro debut at the A- level this season and hit very well. He posted a crazy .483 OBP which was fueled by an astonishing 13.2 HBP percentage. He also completed a weird trifecta registered exactly 20 strike outs, walks and hit by pitches. Gaffney has been described by most as a very good potential 4th outfielder but I believe he has a good enough bat and good enough OBP skills to force a team to consider using him as a regular despite his lack of power. Gaffney missed the end of the season with a shoulder problem, which considering the HBP, really isn’t surprising but his .924 OPS this season should easily be enough to earn him a promotion to A ball if not A+ ball next season.
Ramon Cabrera: Cabrera was signed by the Pirates in 2008 out of Venezuela. He had just converted to catching so his defensive game is raw. Cabrera made his pro debut in the VSL in 2008 and had a very solid season. The following year he started back at the VSL but received a rare in season promotion to the United States. Once in the states Cabrera had a strong year showing off his good contact and plate discipline abilities which is what carries him as a prospect. Cabrera took a step back in 2010 when upon being promoted to A ball his walk rate took a hit. He still managed to keep his strike out rate low and show decent contact but his good plate discipline wasn’t there. In 2011 Cabrera moved up to A+ and had a breakout season offensively positing an .881 OPS. Unfortunately Cabrera’s shaky defense caught up with him as he threw out only 13% of runners trying to steal. The good offensive showing in 2011 was enough to earn Cabrera a promotion to AA this past season. He started the season serving as the DH and backup catcher to Tony Sanchez and struggled in that role but once he became the regular catcher he started to hit much better and even showed improvements defensively. Cabrera’s strengths are his ability to make good contact and his plate discipline but his shaky defense behind the plate and small stocky stature (he is listed at 5’7″ 202 lbs) make some question whether he has the defensive and durability needed to hold up behind the plate for a full season. Cabrera like a lot of other prospects I have discussed so far is Rule V draft eligible this season but unlike the rest he has a decent chance of either being added to the 40 man roster or if not added being selected by another team. If he is still with the Pirates next season he could be an interesting one to watch in AAA.
Phillip Irwin: Irwin was drafted by the Pirates in the 25th round of the 2009 draft by the Pirates. His selection came with very little fanfare as he has nothing that makes him stand out. He is a right handed pitcher who tops out in the high 80s and his secondary pitchers are just really average. He was selected out of college so he wasn’t really all that projectable either. Irwin plain and simple just doesn’t have the stuff of a good pitching prospect but what he does have is the results. Irwin made his pro debut in 2009 at the A- level and was great. Irwin moved up to A ball in 2010 and once again his stuff wasn’t impressive and his ERA was only decent but his peripherals nonetheless were very good. The Pirates moved Irwin up to the A+ level last season and once again he pitched well despite not having the greatest stuff. He pitched well enough to earn an in season promotion to AA where he did get hit a little harder but once again his ERA wasn’t horrible (3.81) and his peripherals suggested he was pitching about the same if not better than he did in A+. He lowered his walk rate and raised his strike out rate (his WHIP did take a minimal step forward though). This season the Pirates started him back at AA and you all know the theme by now, he pitched well once again. The Pirates gave him a shot in AAA near the end of the season and he finally did see a significant uptick in his walk rates and WHIP but it was coupled with a significant rise in his strike out rate so it is quite possibly just a sample size issue. Irwin is Rule V eligible this season and despite not having the stuff of a top pitching prospect he has clearly shown enough where the Pirates will undoubtedly protect him.
Casey Sadler: Sadler was drafted by the Pirates in the 25th round of the 2010 draft. He throws a low 90s fastball with a cutter and a curve to compliment it. He started his pro career in the A- level and pitched well but in only 24 innings. The Pirates promoted him to A ball the following season and he pitched primarily out of the bullpen. Sadler pitched well all season but got particular better as the season went along. Sadler was near unhittable in the second half posting a 1.51 ERA and 0.70 WHIP. The Pirates promoted him to A+ for the 2012 season and once again he started off in the bullpen. He pitched well out of the bullpen but was for several reasons eventually forced to join the rotation. Sadler pitched decently as a starter but there is little doubt that relief work fits him better. Sadler posted a far better K rate out of the bullpen and it was clear the extra innings from starting wore him down as his outings began to get shorter in August. Amazingly despite starting the year in the bullpen Sadler had the most innings pitched for the Pirates at the A+ level which means they want to see him pitch which in turn means they like him as a prospect. There has always been something about Sadler I like and while it is very unlikely he’ll ever make it in the majors as a starting pitcher he does seem to clearly possess the ability to be an effective reliever. Nonetheless with limited options to start in AA next season Sadler is likely to remain in the rotation.
31.) Jin-De Jhang: It took me a while to pare my top prospect list down to just 30. The last 7 players I went over all have a good case to be part of it but the player that was most difficult for me to leave off was Jhang. Jhang was signed by the Pirates out of Taiwan in June 2011. The Pirates gave him 250K to sign and thought highly enough of him to bring him right to the states instead of starting him off in one of the instructional leagues. He has just moved to the catching position full time so he is still raw behind the plate but he has shown the tools including a good arm which make most believe he could one day be a good defensive catcher. Jhang’s strength is not his glove though, it his bat and he got to show that off in rookie ball this season. Jhang posted a very solid .780 OPS and actually received more playing time behind the plate than the Pirates 2nd round draft choice, Wyatt Mathisen. Jhang didn’t show the power potential this season but displayed a good contact rate, good plate discipline and surprisingly fairly good defense and speed. There is no doubt the Pirates consider Jhang a very good prospect and they could easily decide to jump him straight to full season ball next year. Jhang’s upside defensively and more importantly his upside offensively couple with his strong debut this season makes him a prospect to keep a very close eye on and a potential breakout candidate for next season.
Jose Tabata: Tabata just barely receive the most playing time for the Pirates this season in right field over Garrett Jones. Everyone knows Tabata started the year off poorly posting a wRC+ of 53 in April and 71 in May but what most may not realize is that he rebounded rather nicely posting a 109 wRC+ in June, 84 wRC+ in August and 143 wRC+ in September (for full disclosure in July his wRC+ was only 5 but that only included 5 PA so I’m ignoring it). In April, August and September Tabata didn’t receive regular playing time; he received only 168 PA combined during those 3 months so that is also something to consider. Anyway moving on from how he performed on a month by month basis Tabata received a lot of criticism this season for not trying which I don’t believe has any merit but it is worth noting. My opinion is his perceived not trying was related to his hip injury and there I fault him and management for not sitting him down to rest it. Either way it is clear to me that Tabata appeared to perform his best this season when relegated to part-time duty and that is the role I see him going forward. Like Tabata or not the one thing you can’t deny is that he has a good knack for getting on base which is something this Pirates club sorely needs. The Pirates currently are heading into next season with 4 internal options four internal options for the corner outfield and with 3 of them being 25 or younger the chance for hopefully 1 or 2 breakouts is still there. My expectation for Tabata is that he will start off next year on the Pirates bench platooning with Snider in RF and also spelling Marte in LF. When he is in the lineup because of his on base skills the Pirates will have little choice but to bat him lead off. As a final note before I give him a grade I will once again urge the Pirates to find a base stealing instructor not just for Tabata but the entire team. Overall Grade: C
Travis Snider: When looking at the Pirates roster and the performances of the player’s this past season it is easy to conclude that the corner outfield spots will be the easiest to upgrade this offseason. While that is true in theory the Pirates have 3 young players who they kind of have to give a shot at winning the starting jobs so blocking them with veteran free agent signing isn’t the way to go. Top on the list of young corner outfielders needing a chance to prove himself is Travis Snider. Snider was brought over this season at the trade deadline and before getting injured and then oddly rested and not rested nearly every other day was actually performing quite well. The Pirates handling of him after his injury is one of the oddest decisions they made this past season and I have yet to hear a good reason for it. Putting that aside though we saw some flashes from Snider this season and he has a good bit of power potential in his bat so not giving him a chance to build on that is probably something the Pirates shouldn’t do. I expect we will see Snider as the starting right fielder next season but the Pirates will have someone maybe Tabata or maybe an outside acquisition ready to step up should he falter. Overall Grade: C+
Josh Bell: Bell was a big story last year after the draft but is sort of now and after thought due to an injury he suffered that caused him to miss almost the entire season. There just isn’t a whole lot to dissect here with Bell. He got off to a bad start in A ball but seemed to be rebounding some when the injury stuck and sidelined him for the season. Bell has a ton of power potential in his bat and is still fairly young so he is definitely still a top prospect but as for this season all that can really be said is it was a lost year of development. Bell will likely remain in A ball next season and he will no longer be that young for the league (he’ll still be a little young but basically right around age appropriate) as he was a little older than most high schoolers when he was drafted in 2011.
Adalberto Santos: Santos is a very interesting case. He doesn’t have the power of a corner outfield nor much of a pedigree but he has just hit at every level he has played at. Santos suffered a knee injury in AA last season but his 340/425/433 slash line in 238 AB there is still impressive. Santos probably doesn’t have the power needed to be an everyday starter in the majors but his ability to hit could make a very intriguing bench player for the Pirates. In addition to player the outfield corners with the Pirates Santos also played a good bit of 2nd base in 2011 although curiously the Pirates didn’t play him there this season at all. Going forward Santos looks like someone who could develop into a nice bench bat for the Pirates. I expect he will open next season in AAA as the starting outfielder at one of the corner positions.
Tyler Gaffney: The Pirates drafted Gaffney in the 24th round in this past draft and the only thing really of note about him was that he was the backup running back at Standford and some people thought he wouldn’t sign for that reason. Gaffney signed relatively quickly and was sent to A- where he started off hot and continued that for nearly the whole season. His line of 297/483/441 is really quite remarkable for a 24th round draft pick. The high OBP needs taken with a grain of salt though as it was fueled by an unbelievably high HBP rate; he was hit by a pitch roughly once every 7.5 PA or to put it another way more frequently than once every other game. Gaffney played primarily RF this season but did move over to CF when Barnes got injured. His great start to his pro career could cause the Pirates to be aggressive with him and send him to A+ but I expect them to be a little more cautious and start him A ball possibly in center field.