AAA: Tony Sanchez
Backing up Tony Sanchez this season in AAA will likely be some combination of Lucas May, Ali Solis and Brian Jeroloman. All of three catchers are past their prospect days but should an opening arise in the majors it is possible one of them could get the call. As for Sanchez his prospect stock has took a hit down to the point where he is no longer widely consider the Pirates top catching prospect (Battling Bucs still gives him the slightest of edges though) but he still does have some upside and could be a useful major league catcher as early as later this season. Sanchez’s defense was said to be good when he was drafted and that remains the case; his game calling is also improving which means he looks to be a very capable receiver at this point in his career. The question is as it always was his bat. Sanchez recovered some last season from a terrible 2011 but his offensive numbers were still a disappointment. In order to move forward this year and show he still might be able to develop into at least an averae MLB starting catcher his offensive game particularly his power will need to make great strides.
AA: Carlos Paulino
Paulino will serve as the regular catcher in AA and be backed up primarily by Charlie Cutler. Kawika Emsley-Pai and others may play at the level as well but barring an injury it is likely to be sparingly. At this point in his career Paulino is essentially an extreme version of Sanchez. His defensive game overall is a little better than Sanchez’s but his bat is worse. Paulino’s defense alone has what it takes to make him a backup catcher in the majors but if he is ever going to have a shot at being a starting catcher he is going to have to show he can hit some. Paulino has hit fairly well in the past posting good numbers in 2011 but he struggled last season when he was forced to repeat A+. Now as the unquestioned starter in AA this is Paulino’s time to shine.
A+: Jacob Stallings, Elias Diaz
Stallings and Diaz are expected to split catching time in A+. Like Sanchez and Paulino these two catchers are noted more for their defense than their offense. Stallings was drafted last year by the Pirates in the early rounds mainly as an attempt to save cap space for making a run at Appel. He comes from the NCAA holding the single season record for throwing out runners attempting to steal. The Pirates are aggressively pushing him over regular A ball and straight to advance. This is a typical move for advanced college hitters but Stallings is not one of those. His offense will likely struggle but it is going to have to be his defense that carries him anyway. As for Diaz the Pirates seem to really like him but up to this point he really hasn’t shown much progress as a hitter. Like all the other catchers discussed so far he is going have to show some improvements with the bat to see his prospect stock rise.
A: Wyatt Mathisen
At this point I’m not really sure who will back up Mathisen but the Pirates are not short of options as the lower levels are filled with a ton of catchers (non prospects of course). Mathisen is a horse of a different color in this catching crop. He is widely considered to be the Pirates top catching prospect (Battling Bucs has him 2nd just slighly behind Sanchez) with his biggest weakness being his defense. Mathisen is really just becoming accustomed to the catcher position having played the majority of his high school career at the shortstop position. His bat is advanced for a high school player and his defensive game has shown flashes of potential but with this being a relatively new position to him there is still a lot to work on. The main challenge for Mathisen in 2013 will be just adjusting to being a full tiem catcher.
Lower Levels: Jin-De Jhang, Daniel Arribas
There was some talk the Pirates might consider moving Jhang to A ball with Mathisen and having them continue to split time between catcher and DH but that doesn’t appear to have happened. Jhang will start the season likely in short season ball. Like Mathisen, Jhang is relatively new to catching and has a lot of work to do to get the mechanics of the position down. His bat is strong for a catcher though and makes him an interesting prospect to watch. Arribas has played catcher, 1st base and 3rd base in the DSL but appears to be focusing entirely on catching right now. Arribas shown some hitting talent in the DSL last season and was moved up to the states this year. He will likely share catching duties in rookie ball this season as he adjusts to his more permanent position home.
Top 5 Catching Prospects
1. Tony Sanchez
2. Wyatt Mathisen
3. Jin-De Jhang
4. Carlos Paulino
5. Jacob Stallings
Last offseason I did a 15 part preview of the Pirates upcoming seasons focusing on what I expected to see out of various positions at the major league levels, the minor levels, the coaching staff and the front office. The series went over fairly well with my readers so I have decided to bring it back for a second year. I’m not sure how many parts this year’s series will include but I will do my best to cover every key player I can think of.
Top Hitting Prospects
The top 5 hitting prospects in the Pirates system all are expected to begin to 2013 season in either A or A+ ball. Dilson Herrera should skip over short season ball and start the year in A ball and Josh Bell should join him there as he is expected to repeat the level. Herrera is a popular break out candidate for 2013 and certainly has the tools to do. He is coming off a very solid 2012 season in rookie ball in which he displayed a good all around offensive game. I’m expecting a very good season from Herrera and while I don’t think he will necessary break out I don’t expect him to do anything to hurt his status. Joining him in A ball will be Bell who missed most of last season with a knee injury. At this point it is difficult to know just what to expect from Bell but a good start is I wasn’t to see him healthy and hitting for power. I’m thinking his overall line might not sparkle being essentially his first professional season but if those two things are present it should be a decent year for Bell. At the A+ level the Pirates will have the two top hitting prospects in Alen Hanson and Gregory Polanco and also last year’s supplemental pick Barrett Barnes. Barnes had a very solid debut in A- last season and will be looking to continue it at a much more age appropriate level. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him struggle with the jump but we shall see. Hanson broke out last season and has a tremendous bat for a middle infielder but his defensive game needs a lot of work if he is to remain at shortstop. The Pirates will likely have him focus on improving defensively which I think might end up hurting his overall offensive numbers this season in particular his power. Going step for step with Hanson last season in A ball was Gregory Polanco. Polanco’s season last year was just as impressive as Hanson’s and in fact I think it was slightly better. Polanco will start the season in A+ but if he is successful I expect the Pirates to give him a mid season promotion to AA. My instinct tells me this will be another big year for Polanco so that isn what I am expecting.
Top Pitching Prospects
The Pirates middle levels aren’t just chalked full of hitting prospects as there are 4 top pitching prospects also expected to play at one of the A levels this season. The only one expected to pitch in A+ though is Nicholas Kingham. Kingham had a rough start to his 2012 campaign and finished the season with a poor ERA but he improved greatly as the year progress, finishing strong and posting solid peripherals. He probably doesn’t have the ace upside of the top pitching prospects at the A ball level but he is father along developmentally and looks like he could become a good middle of the rotation inning eater. I think Kingham will take a significant step forward this season. At the A ball level the Pirates are likely to have Luis Heredia and Clayton Holmes and may also have Tyler Glasnow pitching at the level. Heredia is the top prospect here as he put up excellent numbers in A- last season despite being younger than most of his competition. The Pirates will likely continue to proceed slowly with Heredia but I suspect we will continue to see good things from him and I expect him to start missing a few more bats this season. Along with Heredia in A- Clayton Holmes was putting up excellent numbers but unlike Heredia he comes with a couple warning signs. One his delivery is very awkward looking at two he struggled with control at times last season while not striking out many batters. I expect the jump to A level is going to be a big test for him and I think he’ll struggle. Glasnow pitched in rookie ball last year with just a taste of A- at the end of the year. He was dominate in rookie ball and did fairly well in short season ball as well. The Pirates may opt to keep him in short season but my expectation is they will hold him back in extended spring training and then give him a shot at A ball. I actually think he’ll do quite well at whichever level he pitches and I could see him shooting up some prospect lists.
Other Hitting Prospects
In addition to the top level hitters the Pirates have a good assortment of the next level of hitters ready to play in the middle levels. At the A+ level the talent is a little light but Jose Osuna is a very solid 1st base prospect and could be on the verge of a breakout. Lost in the hype surrounding Hanson and Polanco was Osuna’s very solid season in A ball. He didn’t put up the show stopping numbers but it was still a very good season. Osuna is limited defensively to 1st base so his bat is going to have to carry him but he has shown the power potential which suggests it just might. I’m not expecting a full breakout from Osuna but I think he’ll once again post a good line while going largely unnoticed in 2013. In A ball the talent is a little deeper with Wyatt Mathisen, Jin-De Jhang, Eric Wood, Max Moroff and Willy Garcia all having a chance to start there. Mathisen is the headliner of the group and is considered by some to be the Pirates 5th or 6th best hitting prospect. He is an athletic young catcher who is learning the position and has a good solid bat. Jhang split catching duties with Mathisen in rookie ball last season and had a very good season there. It is possible the Pirates choose to split the two up but I think they will both be promoted to A ball and will continue to split the catching duty. Wood and Moroff also played in rookie ball last season manning 3B and SS respectively. Wood had a surprising debut after being a relatively unknown 6th round selection and Moroff showed why the Pirates went overslot to sign him after the Appel signing fell through. Garcia played at A ball last season and wasn’t horrible but he was inconsistent which makes me believe the Pirates will start him back at the level. All the players in this group are candidates to break out and become top hitting prospects. The chances of all of them doing so are slim but I expect at least 1 or 2 of them will do so.
Other Pitching Prospects
The Pirates are lacking a little in the middle levels in the second tier of pitching prospects. Only three names Robby Rowland, Zach Von Rosenberg and Adrian Sampson really catch my eye. Rowland and Von Rosenberg are likely to begin the year in A+ ball. Rowland was acquired last offseason when the Diamondbacks traded him to the Pirates in exchange for the rights to Rule V selection Brett Lorin. Rowland was an underwhelming prospect but he put up a solid season in A ball last year to get on the map. He is one to watch although I think he is going to struggle in the jump to A+. Von Rosenberg is actually one of my under the radar breakout picks. He was drafted by the Pirates in the 6th round of the 2009 draft and he was the most high profile of the large lot of high school arms the Pirates went overslot for to sign. To date Von Rosenberg hasn’t been that impressive as he repeated A ball last year and while his numbers were decent they weren’t exactly what one would hope to see. The Pirates are likely to try him at A+ and I’m going to predict he will have a good season and reemerge on the prospect map. The other pitcher Sampson was drafted by the Pirates last season and sent to A- ball where he pitched extremely well and was one of the few pitchers at that level to actually have a high strike out rate. I’m not really sure what to expect from him in 2013 but I think he has a chance to develop into a good pitching prospect.
Prospects To Watch
I already picked a few of the middle tier prospects who I think have a strong chance of breaking out. I didn’t say which hitters I’d specifically lean towards but if pushed I’d probably go with Jin-De Jhang and max Moroff and on the pitching side I’m expecting a big step up from Von Rosenberg. Digging a little deeper though I see a few under the radar names who could emerge as quality prospects. On the pitching side two players I like are Dalton Friend and Joely Rodriguez. Friend was drafted by the Pirates last year in the 12th round and looks like just a relief pitcher but his stuff is fairly good and he had success last year in A- so I think the Pirates will push him to A+ to see if he has success there and I’m expecting him to rather well and take on the look of a good relief prospect. Rodriguez has been underwhelming so far in his pro career but showed some positive signs in A- last year. I’d be a fool to say I’m expecting a breakout but I like some of what I saw and if the Pirates push him to A ball in 2013 I think he could put up a nice season and become the Pirates second best international pitching prospect (behind Heredia); that in itself won’t be much of an accomplishment but I do think he’ll raise his stalk this year and take on the look of a fringe prospect instead of an organizational arm. On the hitting side under the radar guys are a little harder to find because the Pirates have a lot of top prospects or second tier prospects filling spots. In all honesty I really don’t see too much there but one player I like who I think could surprise if he can get the playing time is Taylor Lewis. Lewis struggled last year in A ball and might repeat the level and if he does he should have a reasonable chance of getting some time in center field but the Pirates might push him to A+ ball and they do he’ll probably serve as a 4th outfielder there. Lewis came from a small school so he probably needs a little more development time than your typical prospect but the talent is there and given a chance I think he could turn himself into a nice prospect this season.
1. Gregory Polanco
Expected 2013 Level: A+
Bio: Polanco was signed by the Pirates as an international free agent in 2009 for the small sum of $75,000. His career started off slowly as he really did very little, aside from being a great base stealer, to stick out during his first three professional seasons. That all changed in 2012 though as Polanco displayed all of that five tool potential he was said to possess. Polanco has some real power in his bat and has so far kept his strike outs under control also he has the speed and range necessary to stick in center field for the long haul.
2. Alen Hanson
Expected 2013 Level: A+
Bio: Hanson was an international free agent signed by the Pirates in 2009 for $150,000. Some say he was a consolation prize for the Pirates failure to sign Miguel Sano. In 2011 Hanson had a solid showing in rookie ball during his first year in the Unites States so the Pirates pushed him to A ball in 2012. Hanson broke out in a big way absolutely crushing the ball for the first few months of the season. He did cool down a little but was still hitting at a high level. Hanson has an oustanding bat and has decent range at the shortstop position but some scouts question whether he has the arm to stick at the position but either way his bat will play.
3. Josh Bell
Expected 2013 Level: A
Bio: Bell was drafted by the Pirates in the second round of the 2011 draft straight out of high school. He was said to be a tough sign and proved so as the Pirates gave him a 5 million dollar signing bonus, a record for a non first round pick, to break his commitment to Texas. Bell is said to possess great power and is probably the Pirates best power hitting prospect in the system. The Pirates aggressively pushed Bell to A ball in 2012 but he suffered a knee injury early in the year which ended up costing him most of the season. Bell has the athletic ability to stick in the outfield but if his knee proves to be a problem he also has the power to move to first base.
4. Barrett Barnes
Expected 2013 Level: A+
Bio: Barnes was drafted by the Pirates in the 2012 draft with the supplemental pick they received for losing Ryan Doumit. Barnes is a center fielder but some scouts question whether he has the arm to stick there but even if he doesn’t stick he has some good power potential and good speed so a shift to left field should be no issue. Barnes also shown good plate discipline in his college career which will offset any potential problems he may have with keeping his average up. The Pirates started him off in A- in 2012 and he got off to a slow start but really heated up and finished the year with a very solid line. THe Pirates like to push advanced college players to A+ in their first full professional season so Barnes will likely go there but with Polanco also there he will probably be forced to slide over to left field.
5. Dilson Herrera
Expected 2013 Level: A
Bio: Herrera was an international free agent signed by the Pirates in 2010 for a signing bonus $220,000. The Pirates started him off in the VSL in 2011 and he played very well with the only knock being a few too many strike outs. The Pirates aggressively promoted him to the states for 2012 and he continued hitting well posting a .823 OPS in rookie ball. Herrera was originally announced as a shortstop but really doesn’t have the range or speed to play there so the Pirates have been using him as a second baseman, which is a position he should have little trouble handling going forward. He has shown flashes of power, decent speed and average plate discipline. Herrera is a popular pick to break out in 2013.
6. Tony Sanchez
Expected 2013 Level: AAA
Bio: Sanchez was drafted by the Pirates with the 4th overall pick in 2009. He was definitely an overdraft but the Pirates felt none of the other players (mainly high school pitchers) really stood out so they went with a safe first round choice and went with tough signs in later rounds. The strategy hasn’t worked but that is another story. Sanchez’s pro career actually got off to a great start in 2009 and 2012 but then he got hit in the face with a pitch and broke his jaw. He has not really produced good numbers since then. Sanchez doesn’t have a big upside but he looks like a relatively safe bet to be a productive major league catcher. He is strong defensively behind the plate and has a little bit of power in his bat. He profiles as at least a strong backup and if his bats develops he could be an average starting catcher.
7. Wyatt Mathisen
Expected 2013 Level: A
Bio: The Pirates selected Mathisen with their second round pick in the 2012 draft. He was drafted as a catcher but because of his athletic ability actually spent most of his high school career as a shortstop. Mathisen has very little experience behind the plate but he does have the tools needed to become a solid defensive catcher and he also has a good bat which makes him the Pirates best hope for a strong two-way catcher. Mathisen started the 2012 season in rookie ball splitting time between catching and DHing. He showed a good arm throwing out 36% of would be base stealers and also hit fairly well. The Pirates have a tough choice with Mathisen as to whether to push him to A ball to begin the year or hold him back to A- and give him more time to develop as a catcher.
8. Alex Dickerson
Expected 2013 Level: AA
Bio: Dickerson was the third Baseball America top 50 draft prospect drafted by the Pirates in 2011. Dickerson fell to the Pirates in the third round of that draft because teams were concerned about his back but Dickerson can no doubt hit as he won the Big 10 triple crown as a sophomore. He played outfield in college but really didn’t have the defense to stick there so the Pirates moved him to first base where they are hoping he will realize his power potential and have the bat to stick at the position. The Pirates started Dickerson off at A- in 2011 and he hit well but as an advanced college player that was to be expected. The Pirates pushed Dickerson to A+ in 2012 and once again he hit well but he really didn’t show much power which is a bit concerning for an all bat college prospect. Dickerson did nicely adapt to first base however and the power is still there he just needs to realize it.
9. Jose Osuna
Expected 2013 Level: A+
Bio: Osuna was signed as an international free agent by the Pirates in 2009 for $250,000. He was signed as an outfielder by the Pirates have been slowly transitioning him to a first baseman and that is the position he played all of last season. Osuna showed some good power in the VSL during 2010 which earned him a promotion to the states in 2011, there he continued hitting well. The strong performance in rookie ball caused the Pirates to aggressively push him to A ball in 2012 where he put up a solid hitting line while showing good improvement defensively at first base. Osuna had pretty much an average year except for one fairly long hot streak in June. He didn’t dominate the level in 2012 but he played very well for a 19 year old at the level so the Pirates will almost surely move him up.
10. Willy Garcia
Expected 2013 Level: A
Bio: Garcia was signed as an international free agent by the Pirates in 20120 for a signing bonus of $280,000. Garcia made his professional debut in the DSL in 2010 and fared pretty well which was enough to earn him a promotion to the United States. In 2011 he played rookie ball and started off slowly before finishing the year strongly. The strong finish was enough for him to earn a promotion to A ball in 2012. Garcia played the year as a 19 year old and held his own but overall really didn’t perform that well. Garcia did show off some good power by belting 18 home runs and he also possess decent speed and solid defense so the talent is still definitely there. Garcia actually finished the year worse than he started the year which is why the Pirates are likely to hold him back in A ball in 2013.
Top Prospects 11-15
15. Justin Wilson: The Pirates drafted Wilson in the 5th round of the 2008 draft. Shortly after being drafted he gained some attention for his performance in the College World Series. He didn’t appear in a game in 2008 but made his debut in 2009. The Pirates aggressively pushed him to A+ and at first he appeared overmatched but he improved as the year went along and finished the year strong. He showed some control issues but on the positive side he missed some bats. The Pirates promoted him to AA in 2010 and he became one of the Altoona 4 that led the Pirates AA affiliate to an Eastern League championship. His numbers were very strong as he struck out a lot of batters and was difficult to hit but once again he struggled with control. The Pirates opted to start Wilson in AAA to begin the 2011 season and he started off well but once hitters started laying off more and more pitches he began to struggle and was eventually sent to the bullpen. While in the bullpen he garnered some attention in Pittsburgh by hitting 99 mph on the radar gun on several occasions. Wilson returned to AAA in 2012 and had a similar but more successful season. He once again struck out a lot of hitters but he continued to show command issues. He would put together a few good starts but then have one where his lack of command got the best of him. The Pirates promoted him to the majors late in the year and his control problems continued. Wilson has great stuff and is difficult to hit but his control issues are holding him back. The Pirates are probably going to give him one more chance as a starter in AAA to begin the season but if not successful he could make a good late inning reliever.
14. Wyatt Mathisen: The Pirates drafted Mathisen in the second round of this past draft. Scouts and the Pirates agreed that he profiled best as a catcher but in high school he got little time behind the plate and played mainly shortstop and pitcher. He is an athletic player with good speed for a catcher and projects to hit for both power and average. His defense behind the plate is still a little raw but that is probably from the lack of experience there. He signed with the Pirates for exactly slot amount and was sent to rookie ball. There he split time with Jhang at catcher and DH. Mathisen hit well and played solid defense throwing out 36% of base runners. Baseball America had him rated the 47th best overall prospect in this past draft, the second best catching prospect in the draft and they also rated him the 5th best prospect at the GCL level this past season. Mathisen has all the tools needed to be a strong two way catching prospect but also has a lot of development in front of him. The Pirates will have to decide whether to push him to full season ball next season or be more cautious and only promote him to A-.
13. Tony Sanchez: Sanchez was the 4th overall pick in the 2009 draft and has been the subject of some fair and unfair criticism. He was definitely an overdraft when the Pirates selected him but truth be told there was not really any particular player that stood above the rest so the strategy of going with a polished college catcher and going for overslot picks later was a solid one but it has been unsuccessful. As for Sanchez he signed quickly in 2009 and was sent to A- to get his feet wet but was shortly promoted to A ball. There Sanchez hit well as should be expected for an advanced college player at that level and he played good defense behind the plate. The Pirates promoted Sanchez to A+ near the end of the season but he only got 10 AB so he started back at that level in 2010. Sanchez was battling a shoulder injury at the beginning of the season but still hit rather well, his defense, specifically throwing out runners, did suffer though. He appeared to be in line for a promotion but in June he got hit in the face with a pitch which broke his jaw. Sanchez started the 2011 season in AA and with the exception for good plate discipline his showing was awful. It is very possible some of his numbers were hurt because the broken jaw caused him to lose a fair amount of weight but still the numbers were a disappointment. The Pirates sent Sanchez back to AA in 2012 and he hit much better, continued showing good plate discipline and played solid defense but he showed very little power. The Pirates promoted him to AAA midseason and he struggled some but he did show some power. Sanchez was added to the roster this offseason and will likely start the season in AAA but should see the majors at some point.
12. Tyler Glasnow: The Pirates drafted Glasnow in the 5th round of the 2011 draft. Glasnow grew rapidly in high school, growing 8 inches as a freshman. As he filled out his frame he added velocity eventually settling into the low 90s with the possibility of addining more. He compliments his fastball with a slider, curve and a change up. The curve is considered the best of his secondary pitches. The Pirates signed Glasnow for 600K which was well overslot but he signd late so he did not appear in any games in 2011. The Pirates surprisingly started Glasnow out at the rookie ball level instead of A- where most of the previous year high school pitchers started. He had a very strong season posting a 10.5 K/9 and holding opponents to a .156 batting average. On the down side he did show some control issues positing a 4.2 BB/9. From reports it appears Glasnow has added some velocity as he was sitting at 93 and touching 96 with his fastball. The Pirates gave him a late season promotion to A- which probably means they are considering starting him at the A level but they have been very careful with him so they may choose to send him back to A-. Regardless Glasnow will probably start the season in extended spring training and be assigned a level later on in order to keep his innings under control.
11. Dilson Herrera: Herrera was the Pirates second biggest international signing in the 2010 signing period behind Heredia. He signed for 220K and was listed as a shortstop but the Pirates have yet to give him any time there so he likely can’t play shortstop even passably. Herrera debuted in the VSL in 2011 and had a great season showing good power, good contact and good plate discipline but he did have a slightly higher than hoped for strike out rate. The Pirates thought highly enough of Herrera to bring him to the states for 2012. He played the year at rookie ball showing good power at 7 HR and even showing decent speed on the base paths. The Pirates promoted Herrera to A- near the end of the season which is a sign they are considering starting him at the A level. Herrera is already a popular pick to be an Alen Hanson type breakout candidate next season. He is actually often compared to Hanson but he doesn’t have his speed or even his defensive ability at shortstop but on the plus side he does have a bigger frame which should mean more power. Herrera should start the 2013 season at the A level as the everyday second baseman.
Rod Barajas – Barajas came to the Pirates as a free agent this past offseason and at the time was widely considered one of the better options available. To put it bluntly his 2012 season with the Pittsburgh Pirates was just plain awful. Outside of a strong month of May Barajas struggled to hit and was horrible at throwing runners out all year long. I will give him credit for working with the pitching staff well and appearing to be a good game caller overall. When he was signed I thought it was a good move and I still think it was the Pirates needed someone to fill the catcher role and Barajas was amongst the best available. The problem I have was the continuation of giving him 60% of the starts when it became apparent he had lost it he should have gotten the smaller portion of the share meaning about 40%. Barajas has a 3,5 million dollar option for next season and while I see no way the Pirates pick it up I am dismissing the possibility of him resigning at a lower amount for next season. Overall Grade: D
Michael McKenry – Pittsburgh’s favorite catcher. The one a large percentage of the Pirates fan base, at one point this season, would have lead you to believe was amongst the best in the game. Sadly McKenry isn’t that good and all the talk about him needing to start 4 out of every 5 games was overblown (I believe only Yadier Molina, AJ Ellis, Miguel Montero and Matt Weiters approached that ratio). Still McKenry was without a doubt the Pirates best catcher this past season and has shown himself perfectly capable of being the smaller part in a catcher time share (he may be even able to handle the larger share but I’m not fully convinced of that yet). His offense outburst was surprising and probably unsustainable for following seasons but still a very positive sign. It was kind of funny this season to hear people saying he should be the “starter” this season because of his offense when the same people said last year he should be the “starter” because of his defense. Like Barajas, McKenry struggled mightily at throwing out runners. I expect McKenry will be back next season possibly even as the “starting” catcher. Overall Grade: B
Eric Fryer – Fryer did not play one single game at catcher for the Pirates which considering he is by far better than Barajas and McKenry at throwing out runners is a bit of a shame. Fryer simply doesn’t have the skill set to stick around the majors for a long period of time, he appears to be a very good depth option in the minors because he is a solid defensive catcher and can also play multiple positions but that is pretty much all. My expectations are that he will be removed early on from the 40 man roster. Overall Grade: C
Tony Sanchez – Sanchez did not have the greatest year in AA and AAA but did have a better showing than last season. He was steady but not spectacular in AA which earned him a promotion to AAA where he flashed a bit of power but overall struggled. Sanchez has a great arm and is an all around solid defensive catcher. His bat leaves some question marks and without a little bit of power he will probably struggle to hit well enough to remain a starting MLB catcher. Sanchez is eligible for the Rule V draft this season and I fully expect him to be added to the roster. There is an outside chance Sanchez starts the year with the Pirates in a time share with McKenry behind the plate but I fully expect him to get more seasoning at AAA. Sanchez will probably get a chance to claim the starting catcher job at some point next season though.
Wyatt Mathisen – Mathisen was the Pirates 2nd round draft pick this past season. He signed relatively quickly and started to play in the GCL. In high school Mathisen was the most athletic player on the team so he usually played shortstop but he did have some experience catcher and most scouts believed that is where his future was the brightest. Mathisen split time in the GCL between catcher and DH this season and put some very strong numbers. He has the look of a strong two way catching option and is one to watch for the next few seasons. There is a chance Mathisen could start next season in full season ball but I expect with catching being a relatively new full time thing for him we will see him in A- next year.
Jin-De Jhang – Jhang was the catcher splitting time with Mathisen this season and he too is relatively new to the catcher position. Jhang coincidently put up numbers very similar to Mathisen this season and profiles as a similar less athletic catcher. This was Jhang’s first season out of Taiwan and he handled himself well. Chances are either Jhang or Mathisen will make the jump to full season A ball next year and for some reason I get the sense that it will be Jhang but we will just have to wait and see.
Other Prospects – Charles Cutler (AAA*), Ramon Cabrera (AA*), Carlos Paulino (AA*), Jacob Stallings (A+*)
The * denotes my projected level for the player next season
1) Tony Sanchez
2) Wyatt Mathisen
3) Jin-De jhang
4) Ramon Cabrera
5) Jacob Stallings
1) Alex Dickerson
2) Matt Curry
3) Jose Osuna
4) Justin Howard
5) Edwin Espinal
1) Brock Holt
2) Dilson Herrera
3) Dan Gamache
4) Jarek Cunningham
5) Jodaneli Carvajal
1) Eric Wood
2) Kevin Ross
3) Eric Avila
4) Stefan Welch
5) D.J. Crumlich
1) Alen Hanson
2) Gift Ngoepe
3) Max Moroff
4) Gustavo Nunez
5) Drew Maggi
1) Gregory Polanco
2) Josh Bell
3) Barrett Barnes
4) Willy Garcia
5) Mel Rojas
6) Adalberto Santos
7) Tyler Gaffney
8) Elvis Escobar
9) Harold Ramirez
10) Quincy Latimore
11) Andrew Lambo
12) Candon Myles
13) Dan Grovatt
14) Jesus Vasquez
15) Luis Urena
Upper Level (AA and AAA) Pitchers
1) Gerrit Cole
2) Jeff Locke
3) Justin Wilson
4) Kyle McPherson
5) Bryan Morris
6) Victor Black
7) Duke Welker
8) Phillip Irwin
9) Brandon Cumpton
10) Jeff Inman
Middle Level (A and A+) Pitchers
1) Jameson Taillon
2) Nicholas Kingham
3) Robby Rowland
4) Casey Sadler
5) Zach Von Rosenberg
6) Jason Townsend
7) Zach Dodson
8) Porfirio Lopez
9) Nathan Kilcrease
10) Ryan Hafner
Lower Level (Rookie and A-) Pitcher
1) Luis Heredia
2) Clay Holmes
3) Tyler Glasnow
4) Adrian Sampson
5) Jonathan Sandfort
6) Joely Rodriguez
7) Pat Ludwig
8) Jackson Lodge
9) Dalton Friend
10) Andy Otamendi
Since the catching position is struggling in the major leagues for the Pirates I thought now would be a good time to look at what is down in the minors in terms of catching prospects.
At the rookie league level there are two interesting prospects sharing most of the catching duty. They are Wyatt Mathisen and Jin-De Jhang.
Mathisen: Wyatt Mathisen was selected out of high school in the second round of this past draft. While in high school Mathisen rarely played catcher instead moving all around the field and spending most of his time as a shortstop. His skill set best projects as a catcher though and that is how the Pirates and most other teams viewed him. Mathisen has the potential to be a strong two-way catcher who can play both good defense and hit for power and average. He also possesses average speed which would be a plus in a catcher. So far during his pro debut he is off to a good start with a .789 OPS in 152 PA. Mathisen figures to start 2013 in A- but could be pushed to A ball.
Jhang: Jin-De Jhang was signed out of Taiwan in 2011 and at the time was considered one of the best prospects in that area. That was reflected in the $250,000 bonus he received from the Pirates. Like Mathisen Jhang hasn’t spent much time at catcher so he has some skill sets to work on. So far this season in his pro debut Jhang has posted good numbers with an OPS of .798 in 133 PA. He has also received more playing time at catcher than Mathisen showing the Pirates really view him as a legit prospect. Like Mathisen, Jhang should start at A- next season but to separate the two, him or Mathisen could be pushed to A ball.
At this level the majority of the playing time behind the plate has went to one player with a bunch of other receiving a handful of starts as well. Jacob Stallings has received the majority of the playing time and his main backup appears to be Ryan Hornback.
Stallings: Jacob Stallings is another 2012 draftee as he was selected in the 7th round this season out of the University of North Carolina. He was a college senior and signed for way under slot at $10,000. Unlike the catchers I have mentioned previously Stallings is a very polished catcher and has a good bit of experience behind the plate. Stallings strengths are his ability to handle a pitching staff, play solid defense and yes throw out runners. He set an NCAA record in 2011 with 32 caught stealings. At the plate Stallings has good plate discipline but is overall a weak hitter. He has already received praise from his coaching staff being called another pitching coach out on the field. So far this season Stallings has put up a respectable .717 OPS in 223 PA. Due to his weak bat Stallings projects only as a backup catcher. With a lot of young pitchers having a guy like Stallings is valuable to the Pirates and he should start next season in A ball or A+ depending on how the Pirates choose to push Mathisen and Jhang.
Hornback: Ryan Hornback was a 27th round pick in 2011 out of San Jacinto College. He was viewed as a solid defender and was an average hitter at college. In his first year of pro ball he played in the rookie league and didn’t do a whole lot. This season Hornback has caught only 13 games and has received only 86 PA. He has done respectably in those at bats posing a .696 OPS. It appears the Pirates view him as an organizational player now so expect him to either stay in A- or possibly move up to A ball in a backup capacity. Essentially he will go where the team needs him.
In West Virginia the catching job has been shared by two players with the last name Diaz. Elias Diaz and Francisco Diaz have caught nearly all the games played at this level.
E Diaz: Elias Diaz was signed by the Pirates as an international free agent in 2008. He wasn’t viewed as much of a prospect at the time but the fit the Pirates mold of an athletic catcher with a guy arm and potential in his bat. Diaz put up good numbers in his first year of pro ball in the VSL with a .781 OPS and was promoted to the US in 2010. Since coming to the United States Diaz has struggled. In 2010 he put up an OPS of .590 in Rookie ball. The next season he was surprisingly moved to A ball and put up a .607 OPS. He has repeated the level this season and has put up a .543 OPS in 329 PA. At only 21 years old there is still time for him but he will need to move quickly. With no real options for A+ next season the Pirates could choose to push Diaz but most likely he’ll return to A ball for a 3rd season.
F Diaz: The Pirates selected this Diaz in this year’s minor league Rule V draft and he appeared to be nothing more than some middle level catching depth. Diaz was part of the Phillies organization from 2007-2011. He came to the states in 2009 and was immediately used as an organizational player playing everywhere from Rookie ball to A+ ball. He never put up good numbers with the Phillies. Surprisingly though Diaz is only 22 years old which is a touch old for A ball but not overly so. He has put up great numbers this season with an .822 OPS in 140 PA. Diaz did struggle in a short stint in A+ though with a .377 OPS in 39 PA. At this point there is nothing to get excited about here but his strong numbers in A ball this season at least give him some hope of continuing to move up the ladder. If he is still around next season I suspect he will be A+ ball.
With the exception of Francisco Diaz’s short stint the catching duty at this level has been handled by Carlos Paulino and Kawika Emsley-Pai.
Paulino: Carlos Paulino was acquired by the Pirates at the start of the 2011 season for a player most Pirate fans probably either never heard about or have forgotten about, Jim Negrych. The only reason Pirate fans may have even heard about Negrych was that he was a Pitt guy. Anyway as for Paulino at the time he was acquired Paulino didn’t appear to be much of a prospect just a good solid defensive catcher for the middle levels but last season Paulino at 21 years olds broke out in A+ posting a .790 OPS in 301 PA. That production would under normal circumstances earn you a promotion but the Pirates were full at catcher at AA with Sanchez repeating the level and Cabrera having actually outperformed Paulino at A+. So Paulino repeated A+ this season with hopes of farther cementing his prospect status but that hasn’t happened as he has posted a .676 OPS in 308 PA. Paulino remains one to keep an eye on because of his good defense and the fact he does have a breakout offensive season on his resume but right now he is on the back burner. I suspect he’ll start next season in AA.
Emsely-Pai: Kawika Emsely-Pai was drafted by the Diamondbacks in the 10th round of the 2010 draft in June and was kind of strangely released by them in December 2010. He did have a poor showing in A- but it was only 103 PA and was his first pro season. The Pirates signed Emsely-Pai to a minor league contract in January 2011. The Pirates place Emsley-Pai in A ball and he had a good season posting a .725 OPS in 250 PA. The performance was good enough to earn him a promotion to A+ this season where he backs up Paulino. Unfortunately in limited playing time (150 PA) Emsely-Pai hasn’t produced great numbers posting an OPS of just .608. I suspect he will be back at A+ next season possibly even as the starting catcher next season.
Tony Sanchez started the year as the starting catcher for the Altoona Curve but since he was promoted I’m covering him in AAA. Outside of Sanchez the two players who have manned the catching position in AA this season are Ramon Cabrera and Charlie Cutler.
Cabrera: Ramon Cabrera was signed by the Pirates as an international free agent in July 2008. He had just transitioned to catcher at the time so he was relatively raw at the position at the time of the signing. He spent all of 2008 and part of 2009 in the VSL putting up strong numbers with an OPS in 2008 of .771 and in 2009 of .868. He then came state side where he continued hitting well in rookie ball and was promoted to A ball in 2010. Cabrera struggled in A ball to the tune of a .654 OPS but was nonetheless pushed to A+ in 2011 where he broke out with a .881 OPS in 396 PA. Ordinarily that would have earned him a chance to be the starting catcher in AA but Sanchez was blocking him. Cabrera did catch some games while Sanchez was in AA and has caught most since he has left and has been ok offensively posting a .692 OPS in 396 PA. The knock against Cabrera has always been his defense and his durability behind the plate. He is relatively small for a catcher at 5′ 7″ 202 lbs and has had trouble throwing out base runners already. So what needs to carry him is his bat and his ability to hit line drives and consistently make contact. Cabrera will likely repeat AA next season.
Cutler: Charlie Cutler was another player taken in the minor league Rule V draft but he did appear to have a little bit of upside. Cutler was drafted by the Cardinals in 2008 and put up good numbers at every level in their organization. To be fair he was old for each level but that is still a pretty solid performance. Last season at 24 years old in AA Cutler put up an .874 OPS in 232 PA. He struggled the year before in AA posting only .581 OPS in 140 PA. At 24 years old he was probably a touch older than you would like for players in AA but that isn’t egregiously old for the level. This year with the Pirates Cutler remained in AA acting as a 3rd catcher and has once again had a solid season posting a .824 OPS in 159 PA. Of course at 25 years old he is now definitely too old for the level. Cutler’s reputation defensively is not good but his bat can’t be ignored. He has a career .800 OPS in the minors and .782 OPS in AA. The Pirates should push him to AAA next year to see what they got here as he is worth keeping an eye on.
Three catchers have shared nearly all the playing time for the Indianapolis Indians. Tony Sanchez has received the most games behind the plate but prior to his promotion Jose Morales and Eric Fryer were handling the work load.
Morales: Jose Morales was signed by the Pirates this offseason to a minor league deal to compete with Micheal McKenry for the team’s backup catching position and to at least serve as the 3rd catcher. Unfortunately he got injured early in Spring Training and never really got a chance to compete. Morales is your typical AAAA player. He spends a lot of time in the minors in AAA and when the need arises can come up and adequately fill a role with the major league roster. Morales started off the year decently but has struggled as of late. Since he hasn’t been added by now I don’t envision him joining the big league club unless it is for an emergency. Chances are he won’t be back next season.
Fryer: Eric Fryer is an interesting case. Fryer has never been highly regarded as a prospect and has nearly always been blocked by a better catching prospect but yet he just kept performing well enough in a limited sample to keep moving up. The Pirates acquired Eric Fryer and Casey Erickson from the Yankees for Eric Hinske. When he first came to the Pirates Fryer actually showed enough to warrant a look as a starting catcher for the first time in his career posting a .730 OPS in 187 PA in A+ but the Pirates had just drafted Sanchez and once he was promoted Fryer went back to being a backup. Fryer continued to hit well though posting an .865 OPS the following year in A+ and then a .976 OPS in AA the following season. Fryer received a quick promotion to AAA in 2011 where it appeared he was going to get a chance to start some games but injuries forced him to Pittsburgh. Fryer sparingly played in Pittsburgh and when he was sent back down to AAA struggled hitting for only a .647 OPS. This season Fryer has been worse posting a .513 OPS. Fryer is a candidate to be removed from the 40 man roster this offseason and since he has already been removed once can opt for free agency if he clears waivers which he almost assuredly will. I expect him to stay though and be back at AAA next season but not really as a catcher instead he will be using his versatility and playing some 1B, 3B and OF.
Sanchez: Tony Sanchez is the Pirates best catching prospect and realistically speaking short of trying to project out Mathisen or Jhang is the Pirates only hope of having a strong two-way starting catcher in the majors relatively soon. Sanchez was drafted by the Pirates 4th overall in 2009 and was definitely a reach at that position but with no real clear-cut options the Pirates opted to go for high upside later round selections. Sanchez started off his pro career strong posting an OPS of .976 in 188 PA at A ball. The next season he also put up good numbers in A+ ball with a .870 OPS in 250 PA. It was beginning to appear the Pirates made the right choice in drafting him but then in June he fractured his jaw ending his season. In 2011 Sanchez started in AA and was not good leaving a lot of people to question his top prospect status. This season Sanchez once again opened in AA and while he wasn’t great he fared much better and earned a promotion to AAA. Sanchez started slow in AAA but had a great July and appears to be back on track for a 2013 arrival. Sanchez’s strength is his defense. He is a good game caller and great at blocking pitches. His ability to throw out runners gets mixed reviews from average to very good but the average reviews mostly stem from the troubles he had in A+ ball when he was playing with a hurt shoulder. The question surrounding Sanchez has always been whether his bat would be good enough to be a starting catcher. Sanchez is not going to be a player who supports a very high average but can be good and he has the ability to provide plus power from the catching position. In short if you want the Pirates catching problem fixed internally this is your hope. Sanchez will likely start 2013 in AAA and if things go according to plan be called up to the majors near the middle of next season.