I know this is incredibly early but with news being slow this time of year I thought I would fast forward to December and take a look at the players the Pirates will have to decide to either add to the 40 man roster or expose to the Rule V draft. For the sake of simplicity I have opted to focus only on players who will be eligible for the Rule V draft for the first time in 2013. I am sure there will be others who were previously eligible who may wind up factoring into the Pirates or another team’s plans but there are too many to consider at this early point. I have divided the players into five categories and written a little bit about the players, why I think there is a chance they might be selected and how I think the Pirates will proceed with them in 2013. There are of course other first time eligible players and I make mention of that later one but to me they are notable in this discussion. Once again it is way too early to even begin thinking about this kind of stuff but hey news is slow this time of year so why not.
Locks To Be Added: Gregory Polanco
It takes a lot to look like a definite lock to be added to the 40 man roster nearly a year out from your Rule 5 eligibility so naturally there are very few players who fit this description. The Pirates have one and only one such player in Gregory Polanco. He is the Pirates number 1 or 1a hitting prospect and should start the season at A+. Usually when evaluating whether to protect prospects or not teams would like to see what the player is capable of doing at least against AA competition but in Polanco’s case that isn’t really much of a concern as he will be protected in almost any set of circumstances. I expect Polanco will get pushed to AA at some point this season but it will be based on merit not just taking a look at a guy. Polanco has a huge upside as a fast solid defensive center fielder with plus power so the Pirates would be crazy not to protect him.
Next In Line: Brandon Cumpton, Matt Curry, Gift Ngoepe, Adalberto Santos
The four players listed in this group all look like fairly safe bets to become solid major league contributors. Now that doesn’t mean star or even starter but any of these four it would appear could hold down a 25 man roster spot next season and produce at least some value and for that reason each one would be at risk of getting selected and is therefore a candidate to be added. Cumpton, Curry and Santos are all candidates to start in AAA but I would say Curry is the only lock to do so. Ngoepe appears likely to start in AA but could be held back in A+. The Pirates will take a long look at each of these players and decide whether to protect them or not at the end of the season. None of these players has the ceiling of a star but all could be quality depth for the Pirates next season. Cumpton looks like a possible 5th starter or middle reliever. Curry appears to have the upside of a Casey Kotchman type first baseman meaning one who can hit decently but not for a lot of power; most players of this type quickly fizzle out though. Ngoepe has a great glove but will need his bat to develop some in order to become a starting major league option but even if it doesn’t he might be able to find a role as a defensive middle infielder off the bench. Santos is quite simply a professional hitter but one who doesn’t have a true position. Santos has hit at every level but has shown very little power and is not really good defensively anywhere. His ability to hit though and his experience at 2B and in the OF could make him a decent bench bat though.
Possible Relievers: Casey Sadler, Zach Thornton, Jason Townsend, Tyler Waldron
Every year it seems the Pirates protect one pitcher from the Rule V draft who is a bit of a head scratcher. Some times that is a player who was previously eligible and other times it is a first time eligible player. There are too many previous eligible candidates to discuss but of the first time eligible ones the above four currently appear to me to be the most likely to be added to the 40 man roster at the end of the season. I won’t say too much about each of these players individually but they all fit the typical mold of being right handed pitchers who throw in the mid 90s and to date haven’t posted the numbers (especially strike out numbers) that one would like to see from them. Although to be fair Thornton did have a a good strike out rate last season but he was a little old for the level he did it at. All four of these pitchers are likely to start the season in AA and with the exception of Sadler they will all likely be pitching from relief. Sadler is by far the most polished of the group and it could be argued he belongs with the next in line class but unlike the four I listed I don’t think he could necessarily stick for an entire season. If any of these four make an impression with the Pirates and keep in mind that isn’t necessarily only statistics I could see them being protected.
Projects: Zack Dodson, Mel Rojas, Zach Von Rosenberg
At the time these players were drafted all of them were considered to have high ceilings but to date none of them have progressed much and 2013 will serve as a defining year for them. The ceilings these players once were to said to had are still there and outside of Polanco these 3 probably have the most talent of the bunch (with possibly one exception below). Currently I have all 3 projected to start the season at A+ but Rojas could be pushed to AA and Dodson could be held back in A ball once his suspension ends. The players who do wind up starting in A+ I imagine will be aggressively pushed once and if they show any signs of progress. Before the Pirates opt to put any of these players on the 40 man roster I imagine they will want to see them against some AA competition. At this point little should be expected of any of these players but each of them has one last chance to show just a glimmer of that upside the Pirates dreamt about when drafting them.
Other Notables: Stetson Allie, Kelson Brown, Dan Grovatt, Justin Howard, Drew Maggi
There are a lot of other players eligible but essentially I see little to no chance of them being added to the roster or selected. That is nearly a year away though so a lot can and probably will change. Of the remaining players the ones above are the names I find the most interesting. With the exception of Allie who I will get to later all of the players have posted solid minor league numbers and will be playing most likely in AA this upcoming season. A good showing in AA could put them on the radar as a possible Rule V selection but right now they all seem like long shots. The other players not listed are players who have largely not developed past A ball yet and while they may have a ton of talent they are too raw to even be considered in this discussion. The one name on my notable list that doesn’t quite fit with the others is Stetson Allie. In his current states and practically any state he’ll be in by the end of the 2013 season Allie is no threat to be selected and obviously will not be protected. Quite a fall from grace for Allie as headed into last season he had the look of one of the Pirates better prospects but now that he failed at pitching and transitioned back to hitting he appears to be not much more than an organizational player. Certainly he has talent but it appears his time to harness and develop that talent has almost ran out.
Much like I did with the hitters I decided that since I have already covered the Pirates top depth options and top prospects I would give a generally overview of the position and highlight a few off the radar players. Since pitching is really only one position I decided to break down the players into three groups: upper levels (AA and AAA), middle levels (A and A+) and lower levels (SS and Rk). For the time being I have ignored international pitching prospects but for those of you who want information there the top three pitching prospects likely to play in the DSL this season are Martires Cadet, Yunior Montero and Oderman Rocha. This is the last player preview piece of my 2012 expectation series; I hope everyone has enjoyed it. I will now being moving on the coaches and front office. Thank you to my readers.
UPPER LEVELS (AA and AAA)
Aaron Pribanic: Pribanic was acquired in the Jack Wilson trade and is the last of the three pitchers acquired remaining in the Pirates system. He is a sinker ball pitcher and does not project to be much more than a 5th starter of bullpen arm but he is probably the most advanced of the all the upper level pitchers I have yet to cover. Pribanic should be in line to move up to the AAA rotation but it is going to be a little crowded there so chances are he either works out the bullpen in AAA or remains in AA. Either way I am not expecting too much from him; he is your typical depth prospect and will likely remain that way. Depending on the health of the people above him he may or may not get a shot at the majors this season.
Aaron Poreda: Poreda was one of four players taken by the Pirates in the Rule V draft; he along with two others were taken in the minor league draft. Of the four players Poreda is the one who is the most intriguing to me. He profiles as nothing more than a reliever but since he is a lefty with good stuff he has the makings to become a decent back of the bullpen option. He will probably start the year in the AAA bullpen and while I don’t expect him to excel there he has the makeup of a player who could surprise some people.
Phillip Irwin: Irwin’s situation is very similar to Pribanic’s. Both players are finesse pitchers that pitched respectably albeit not greatly in AA last season and could be in line to move up to AAA but due to the lack of space will probably either end up in the AAA bullpen or the AA rotation. I think Irwin will remain in the AA rotation and while he is nothing to get too excited about he has good eough control that he could one day develop into a decent major league option.
Nate Baker: Of the four upper level pitchers I am discussing here I think Baker has the highest upside. Baker has always been a little old for the level he was playing in (at 24 and in AA this season that will remain the case) but he has consistently pitched well putting up very solid numbers. He is a left handed pitcher and has decent velocity in the low 90s; he isn’t a high end prospect but could end up a decent middle of the rotation option. This season in AA will be a big test for Baker and I think he will handle it well and put up another very solid season.
Summary: The Pirates top two minor league levels are filled with depth veterans and good but not great prospects. There is no one is AA or AAA that project to be top of the rotation options but the trio of McPherson, Owens and Locke should provide the Pirates with good rotation depth. The Pirates also have a lot of decent veterans who will probably start the season in AAA and serve as roster depth such as Juan Cruz, Shairon Martis, Logan Kensing and Jo-Jo Reyes. The good mix of young pitchers and veterans should provide the Pirates with a good stabilizing force this season should multiple injuries arise.
MIDDLE LEVELS (A and A+)
Zack Von Rosenberg: Von Rosenberg was the highest thought of prep arm the Pirates took in the 2009 draft. Throughout his career he has performed respectably but not up to his expectations. He did finish strong last season though which should lead to some optimism for this season. Chances are he will move to A+ this season and despite the fact he is probably the Pirates 7th or 8th best starting pitcher prospect he is going to likely be only the 4th highest regarded on the A+ staff. The Pirates A+ affiliate plays in a very hitter friendly park and Von Rosenberg’s underwhelming performance so far point to him not living up to what he was at first billed but his strong finish last season and young age means it is still possible for him to have a breakout. I think that breakout season comes this year.
Zack Dodson: Dodson is likely going to round out what will have to be one of the most interesting minor league rotations in baseball. Like Von Rosenberg, Dodson was one of many prep arms taken by the Pirates in the 2009 draft; he didn’t come with the pedigree of Von Rosenberg but Dodson’s performance to date has pretty much matched Von Rosenberg’s. He is not much of a strikeout pitcher but rather a ground ball pitcher. I like his arm and I think one day he could make a viable back of the rotation candidate but as for this season I see him struggling in A+.
Victor Black: Black was yet another pitcher taken by the Pirates in the 2009 draft but unlike the previous two I discussed he was taken out of college. Baseball America had him rated the 50th best prospect in the draft but he has not lived up to that billing. As of right now it appears his days as being developed as a starter are over but he still has the potential to become a very effective reliever. Black will likely be promoted to A+ this season and pitch out of the bullpen; the Pirates probably want him to get innings so expect it to be a long inning role instead of a back of the bullpen role. He has the stuff to make a good reliever so I think early on he will be successful although I could see him fading as the season goes on.
Trent Stevenson: Yet one more prep arm taken in the 2009 draft, Stevenson was taken not because he was viewed as a polished pitcher but rather because of his high upside. Stevenson hasn’t put up good results thus far but that was to be expected as he was really a project that was going to take a few years to develop. He really struggled in A ball last season, actually getting demoted to short season ball where he continued to struggle. At this point Stevenson is a long shot to make it to the majors but his high potential still makes him worth watching. Stevenson will likely be in A ball this season and due to his high upside will be on the more intriguing arms there. This is a huge year for Stevenson as if he finally puts it together he can start being viewed as a legit prospect but on the other hand another setback will all but eliminate the head start he got by coming straight out of high school. Personally I see him struggling again this season.
Summary: The keys to the organization rest with the pitching in the middle levels. Earlier I previewed the Pirates top 6 starting pitcher prospects and 4 of them will likely start the year pitching in either A or A+ ball. This is the Pirates most talent rich part of the organization and to a rather large degree the future success or failure of the major league rests heavily on the shoulders of these pitching prospects. The group is headlined by Cole and Taillon but the supporting cast of Von Rosenber, Cain, Kingham, etc can also be quite valuable. For the many prep arms drafted by the Pirates in 2009 this is a huge year for them and we will likely start to see some separation between the prospects and the non-prospects.
LOWER LEVELS (SS and Rookie)
Clay Holmes: The Pirates drafted Holmes in 9th round of last year’s draft and apparently thought very highly of him as they gave him a 1.2 million dollar signing bonus. Holmes is ahead of most high school pitchers because of his advanced fastball which he already throws in the low 90s. The rest of Holmes’ pitches are underwhelming making him a bit of a project but he definitely has the highest upside of any of the handful of prep arms taken by the Pirates in the last draft. He will likely start the year pitching in short season ball when a player is at this point in his career it is nearly impossible to predict how he will pitch so I will just add that he will probably struggle some but it will hopefully show some positive signs.
Others: I was going to break down the rest of the intriguing pitchers in the lower levels individually but in reality they are in one of two boats either they are prep arms getting their first real taste of pro ball or they are international prospects coming to the states for the first time. The Pirates really don’t have any intriguing international guys moving up but Andy Otamendi and Clario Perez appear to be the best of the bunch. Last year was Otamendi’s first season of pitching in the DSL but he performed very well and has likely already earned a promotion to the states. Perez on the other hand spent 3 seasons in the DSL but finally pitched well enough last season that he appears ready for a shot at rookie ball. The intriguing prep arms the Pirates selected last draft, in addition to Holmes, are Colten Brewer, Tyler Glasnow, Jake Burnette and Jason Creasy. Glasnow and Burnette appear to be the best prospects of the bunch but in reality all 4 of them will be starting from the same spot. All 4 players have decent velocity but lack some control; it is possible all of them will start in short season ball but I expect the Pirates to break them up and start one or two in rookie ball.
Summary: The lower levels for the Pirates have two elite pitching prospects in Stetson Allie and Luis Heredia but outside of those two prospects the Pirates also have a good compliment of prep arms like the ones I have discussed above. The international ranks have developed a few options for this season but no one who really stands out. Last season the Pirates had Nick Kingham break out from the lower levels and it is very possible they will have another pitcher do the same this season. Who will it be? That is really anyone’s guess but my money is on Holmes or Glasnow. The state of the Pirates lower levels is not really uncommon as pitchers who are throwing in the lower levels tend to be more projects than legit prospects but hopefully the good mix they have coupled with Allie and Heredia will take a step forward this season and set the Pirates up with another wave following Taillon and Cole.