2014 Top 10 Prospects: Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates have one of the strongest systems in baseball. The club boasts both depth and impact talent. What’s also impressive is that fact that the club has impressive prospects both on the mound and in the field. The Pirates have also done a nice job of acquiring talent through both the amateur draft and the international free agent market.


#1 Gregory Polanco | 65/AAA (OF)

21 536 134 30 12 52 73 38 .285 .356 .434 .361

The Year in Review: Polanco entered 2013 with no experience above Low-A ball. Despite that fact, he finished the year in Triple-A. He showed gap power, controlled the strike zone and also nabbed 38 bases in 49 tries. The young outfielder appeared in 44 Dominican Winter League games and produced a .922 OPS.

The Scouting Report: A fast-mover, Polanco is still learning so it’s impressive that he reached Triple-A on the strength of his raw talent. The outfielder has a chance to be an above-average fielder with right field being his most likely destination where he’ll be able to showcase his plus arm. At the plate, he flashes the ability to hit for both average and power but he’s still learning to identify and handle breaking balls. He also has a bit of a long swing at times and needs to focus on taking a shorter route to the ball because he doesn’t need to swing out of his shoes to hit the ball with authority — thanks to his above-average bat speed.

The Year Ahead: It seemed inconceivable a year ago but Polanco may very well make his MLB debut in 2014 at the age of 22. Most likely, though, he’ll spend the majority of the season in Triple-A.

The Career Outlook: Polanco has all the tools necessary to develop into an impact outfielder at the big league level. The development of (or lack thereof) his power tool will help determine if he’ll be more of table-setter or run producer.


#2 Jameson Taillon | 65/AAA (P)

21 27 26 149.1 144 9 8.80 3.19 3.68 3.27

The Year in Review: Taillon opened 2013 back where he ended the ’12 campaign: Double-A. The right-hander produced a solid season at that level with a good ground-ball rate and 106 strikeouts in 110.1 innings. He received a late-season promotion to Triple-A where he was more of a fly-ball pitcher but struck out another 37 batters in 37.0 innings. Taillon made one start in the Arizona Fall League but left due to a minor groin injury.

The Scouting Report: Like Gerrit Cole, Taillon’s numbers haven’t been as eye-popping as one might expected given the pure stuff. However, Pittsburgh’s philosophy of focusing on fastball command, throwing strikes and pitching to contact deviates from the skills that would lead to high strikeout rates. The right-hander has swing-and-miss stuff with a mid-90s fastball that can hit the upper 90s, as well as a curveball that has plus potential. His third pitch is a changeup that he’s still learning to trust. The Texas native has good control for his age.

The Year Ahead: Taillon should be ready to join Cole in the Majors by mid-season and the two hurlers could create a formidable two-headed monster at the top of the Pirates’ rotation for years to come.

The Career Outlook: After a couple more months of Triple-A seasoning, Taillon could be ready to start his big league career en route to a future as a No. 2 or 3 starter.


#3 Tyler Glasnow | 60/A- (P)

19 24 24 111.1 54 9 13.26 4.93 2.18 3.19

The Year in Review: Glasnow joined Gregory Polanco as one of the biggest movers — in terms of prospect value — in the Pirates system in 2013. The young hurler walked 61 batters in 111.1 innings but allowed just 54 hits and struck out 164 batters. He held left-handed hitters to a .137 batting average.

The Scouting Report: This power righty is a less-developed version of Jameson Taillon. He doesn’t have the same control and he doesn’t leverage his height quite as well (to create plane and induce ground-ball outs) but he has a mid-90s fastball that can hit the upper 90s and a potentially-plus curveball. His changeup might actually end up being a little bit better than his teammate’s offering.

The Year Ahead: Glasnow, 20, will move up to High-A ball to open the 2014 season but he may not be there for long. The tall, lanky California native could receive a handful of starts at Double-A in the second half.

The Career Outlook: The right-hander still has a few rungs to climb to reach The Show but he has the talent to develop into a No. 2 starter once he polishes his command/control.


#4 Austin Meadows | 60/SS (OF)

18 211 56 11 7 29 46 3 .316 .424 .554 .458

The Year in Review: The Georgia native was selected ninth overall in the 2013 amateur draft. Just 18, he hit a combined .319 with a .977 OPS in 48 games. He flashed good power with seven home runs but also struck out 46 times. Although he spent most of the year in Rookie ball, he hit .529 in five games in the New York Penn League against competition mostly two to three years older than him.

The Scouting Report: Meadows has the potential to develop into a very good hitter. He shows a willingness to use the whole field and he improved his pitch recognition during his brief pro debut. He’s a little too aggressive at times, which is natural for a young hitter. Meadows doesn’t flash a ton of home run pop right now but he makes hard contact and should hit a ton of doubles while learning to clear the fences more consistently. Defensively, he’s a strong fielder and can currently play a solid centre but his modest range and so-so arm could eventually land him in left field.

The Year Ahead: Meadows will no doubt open the year in Low-A ball and could spend the full season at that level.

The Career Outlook: The young outfielder has a chance to be a special player — especially if the power develops and/or he sticks in center field.


#5 Alen Hanson | 55/AA (SS)

20 645 158 28 9 45 113 36 .271 .324 .413 .336

The Year in Review: Hanson followed up his breakout 2012 season with a modest performance split between High-A and Double-A. In total, he hit .274 with a .755 OPS. He stole 30 bases but was caught 16 times. After the season, he attended the Arizona Fall League and produced on OPS of just .623 in 21 games.

The Scouting Report: Predominantly a shortstop over the past three seasons, Hanson’s inconsistencies and youthful mistakes in the field — along with modest arm strength — will likely force him over to second base — although he could still easy backup any position on the left side of the field. At the plate, he shows surprising pop for his size and whips the bat through the zone with good bat speed. He probably won’t ever hit more than 12-15 home runs but he could provide a lot of extra base hits that stay in the park. Hanson has above-average speed and could nab 20+ bases in a full season.

The Year Ahead: Hanson will return to Double-A where he’ll look to erase memories of his struggles in the latter part of the year. If all goes well, he could see the Majors in September with an eye on a regular gig at some point in 2015.

The Career Outlook: Hanson doesn’t have the same star quality talent that some of the names higher up on the list possess but he should be an average to slightly-above-average big league regular at second base.


#6 Nick Kingham | 55/AA (P)

21 27 25 143.1 125 7 9.04 2.76 2.89 3.00

The Year in Review: Kingham, 22, compiled more than 120.0 innings for the second straight season. While doing that, he also found a way to keep the ball in the yard more consistently and trimmed his home runs allowed from 15 in 2012 to just seven last year. The right-hander struck out 144 batters and walked just 44.

The Scouting Report: The right-hander hurler isn’t in the same class of flame throwers as Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow but he still works in the low to mid 90s with his fastball. He backs it up with a solid curveball and improving changeup. He stands 6-5 but he’s still learning to create plane and work down in the zone consistently. Still, he does a nice job of limiting the home-run ball. Kingham has good control and could possess both above-average control and command as he matures.

The Year Ahead: A strong spring performance might be enough to push Kingham to Triple-A at the beginning of April but more likely than not he’ll return to Double-A for perhaps half a season before moving up. He has to be added to the 40-man roster in November anyway so he might receive a taste of the big leagues in September.

The Career Outlook: Kingham could make a solid mid-rotation starter capable of chewing up innings thanks to his strong, durable frame.


#7 Reese McGuire | 55/R (C/DH)

18 215 62 11 0 16 19 6 .323 .380 .380 .364

The Year in Review: McGuire’s glove was highly-coveted as a draft-eligible prospect in 2013 — and it helped make him a first round draft pick — but he had unexpected success with the bat during his pro debut. Playing in Rookie ball, the young backstop hit .330 and struck out just 18 times in 46 games. He earned a late-season promotion to the New York Penn League where he appeared in five games.

The Scouting Report: As mentioned above, McGuire’s defense is his meal ticket. He calls a strong game, is a natural leader and receives the ball well. He also has a strong arm and isn’t afraid to get dirty and block pitches. At the plate, he showed a better-than-expected approach with above-average contact. He still has room to improve his swing to generate more pop, although he may never be a home run hitter. McGuire needs more experience against good left-handed pitching.

The Year Ahead: McGuire’s early success should allow him open the 2014 season in full-season ball — unless he completely falls apart this spring. Expect him to spent most, if not all, of the year in Low-A ball.

The Career Outlook: McGuire plays defense well enough to make the Majors on that alone so any offense, really, is icing on the cake. If the catcher keeps hitting, the Pirates could have something really special.


#8 Josh Bell | 55/A (DH/OF)

20 519 128 37 13 52 90 1 .279 .353 .453 .369

The Year in Review: Signed for a whopping $5 million bonus back in 2011 as a prep outfielder out of Texas, Bell returned to Low-A ball in 2013 after missing almost all of ’12 due to injury. He produced a solid season with an .806 OPS. He did a nice job of getting on base and showed developing power with 12 home runs and 37 doubles.

The Scouting Report: The 21-year-old outfielder is a big kid and has the raw power to eventually hit 20+ home runs in a full season. Right now, though, he showcases more gap power in game situations. He has a strong eye at the plate and shows a willingness to work the count. He’s a switch-hitter who’s a little bit stronger from the left side of the plate. In the field, Bell shows a strong arm but just average range; he should profile OK in right field.

The Year Ahead: Bell will move up to High-A ball but likely will only need half a season of at-bats before moving up to Double-A.

The Career Outlook: The outfield prospect lost some momentum in 2012 due to the injury but he could make up for lost time with a strong season in 2014. He the raw talent to develop into an above-average corner outfielder.


#9 Harold Ramirez | 55/SS (OF)

18 310 78 11 5 23 52 23 .285 .354 .409 .361

The Year in Review: Ramirez opened his 2013 season at the age of 18 and produced solid numbers. He stole 23 bases (but was caught 11 times) and hit .285. He didn’t hit with much power and he tired in the second half of the year.

The Scouting Report: The young outfielder has played a lot of centre field and projects to be at least average at the position. He has very good range but his arm is just fringe-average for the position. If he eventually moves from centre, it will be to left. At the plate, he shows a solid understanding of hitting for his age and should hit for a good average as he moves up the ladder. He doesn’t project to develop into a true power hitter but he flashes solid pop. His speed is above average, which helps him in the field and could also allow him to nab 20+ bases in the Majors if he develops into a future regular.

The Year Ahead: Ramirez may be the next breakout star for the Pirates. Just 19, he’ll open the 2014 season in Low-A ball and will look to continue polishing all aspects of his game.

The Career Outlook: The Colombia native still has a long way to go in his development but he shows flashes of developing into an above-average regular and a strong defender.


#10 Luis Heredia | 55/A (P)

18 14 13 65.0 52 5 7.62 5.12 3.05 4.49

The Year in Review: The 2013 season was more or less a lost year of development for Heredia, who repeated extended spring training for a third straight year after showing up in the spring out of shape. He was assigned to Low-A ball in June where he produced inconsistent results. He struggled with his control against left-handed hitters but he held them to a .207 average (compared to righties at .243).

The Scouting Report: Heredia, still just 19, wasn’t as dynamic in 2013 as he’d been in the past. He lost some zip on his fastball as well as the crispness to his secondary offerings. With that said, the Mexico native still works in the 88-92 mph range with his heater. His changeup has plus potential and his curveball should be average or better. He also throws a slider. His stuff could improve to previous levels with a renewed focus on his conditioning.

The Year Ahead: The 2014 season will be key to Heredia’s future. He needs to learn from his mistakes in 2013, come to spring looking strong (and thinner) and focus on taking his game to the next level over the course of a full season.

The Career Outlook: If Heredia dedicates himself to keeping in shape, he could develop into solid, innings-eating No. 3 or 4 starter.

The Next Five:

11. JaCoby Jones, SS/OF: A college infielder, Jones spent most of his (abbreviated) pro debut learning to play centre field. He’s an athletic, toolsy prospect who never really tapped into his full potential as an amateur. He showed some flash in his debut but appeared in just 15 games. The 21-year-old Louisiana State alum should open the 2014 season in Low-A ball and is a sleeper to keep an eye on.

12. Barrett Barnes, OF: The Pirates organization is loaded with intriguing outfield prospects. A supplemental first round draft pick out of Texas Tech in 2012, Barnes appeared in just 46 games due to a litany of injuries, mostly involving his legs. He still has intriguing tools but has to find a way to stay on the field in 2014 to further his development.

13. Wyatt Mathisen, C: A 2012 first round pick, Mathisen’s bat (considered his carrying tool) was slow out of the gate in 2013 at Low-A ball and it earned him a trip back to short-season ball. The Texas native is an intriguing prospect as an offensive-minded catcher but he needs to continue to develop behind the plate if he’s going to catch in the big leagues.

14. Clay Holmes, RHP: The 6-5, 230 pound Holmes made 25 starts in 2013 at the Low-A ball level but he may be miscast as a starter. He has a heavy (ground-ball-inducing) fastball, moderate control and modest secondary stuff. The right-handed pitcher could be more valuable as a seventh- or eighth-inning reliever. The Alabama native will move up to High-A ball in 2014 where he’ll look to speed up his development.

15. Jaff Decker, 1B: Acquired from San Diego in late 2013, a change in scenery may due wonders for the prospect as he enters his seventh pro season. Decker, 24, doesn’t have a huge ceiling but he should have value as a solid left-handed bat off the bench or platoon first baseman. He produces high on-base percentages due to a strong eye at the plate but, at times, he’s too passive for his own good.

Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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Big G's
10 years ago

Good morning Marc – I’m guessing Lambo has passed the eligibility requirements. Where would you have ranked him, and what do see for him this year, given 400 AB’s? Thanks