Evaluating the Prospects: Pittsburgh Pirates

Evaluating the Prospects: Rangers, Rockies, D’Backs, Twins, Astros, Cubs, Reds, Phillies, Rays, Mets, Padres, Marlins, Nationals, Red Sox, White Sox, Orioles, Yankees, Braves, Athletics, Angels, Dodgers, Blue Jays, Tigers, Cardinals, Brewers, Indians, Mariners & Pirates

Top 200 Prospects Content Index

Scouting Explained: Introduction, Hitting Pt 1 Pt 2 Pt 3 Pt 4 Pt 5 Pt 6

Amateur Coverage: 2015 Draft Rankings2015 July 2 Top Prospects

With 31 players listed, the Pirates system is one of the deeper ones in the game, though a number of the guys listed below already have or will get big league looks next year. That’s obviously better than having the depth be at the low levels since the point of a system is to produce big league players, it just means the list may be less deep a year or two from now.

The Pirates do a nice job in Latin America, with the current regime led by Rene Gayo signing Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco, Dilson Herrera, Alen Hanson and Harold Ramirez, of the 45 FV or better types.  The Pirates spent big in the draft in the years leading up to the bonus pools, but have a lower bar to clear on draft expectations with the big league team’s recent success and the bonus pool system limiting the outlay for domestic prospects.

The last five 1st rounders Pittsburgh has signed (Cole Tucker, Austin MeadowsReese McGuire, Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon) all have returned positively so far and the big league team’s success is proving to block some MLB-ready prospects, so the organization is in a healthy place after decades in the wilderness.

Here’s the primer for the series and a disclaimer about how we don’t really know anything. See the links above for the ongoing series about how I evaluate, including the series on the ever-complicated hit tool.

Most of what you need to know for this list is in the above links, but I should add that the risk ratings are relative to their position, so average (3) risk for a pitcher is riskier than average risk (3) for a hitter, due to injury/attrition being more common. I’d also take a 60 Future Value hitter over a 60 FV pitcher for the same reasons. Also, risk encompasses a dozen different things and I mention the important components of it for each player in the report. The upside line for hitters is the realistic best-case scenario (a notch better than the projected tools, or a 75% projection while the projected tools are a 50% projection) and the Future Value encompasses this upside along with the risk rating for one overall rating number.

Below, I’ve included a quick ranking of the notable MLB players 27 and under that aren’t eligible for the Pirates prospect list and Dave Cameron shares some general thoughts on the organization. Scroll further down to see Carson Cistulli’s fringe prospect favorite. Up next is the Royals.

27 & Under Big League Assets
1. Gerrit Cole, RHP, Age 24, FV: 70 (Video)
2. Starling Marte, CF, Age 26, FV: 65
3. Gregory Polanco, CF, Age 23, FV: 65
4. Josh Harrison, 3B, Age 27, FV: 60
5. Jung-Ho Kang, SS, Age 27, FV: 50+
7. Vance Worley, RHP, Age 27, FV: 50
8. Jeff Locke, LHP, Age 27, FV: 45
9. Tony Sanchez, C, Age 26, FV: 45
10. Brandon Cumpton, RHP, Age 26, FV: 45

Organizational Overview by Dave Cameron

The Pirates have the foundation in place for a sustained run in the NL Central; in-their-prime stars under team control for multiple years. It’s the kind of nucleus that every low(er) revenue team dreams of, and the front office has mostly done a good enough job of surrounding the core with solid role players. Unfortunately, they happen to reside in the same division as the Cubs and Cardinals, so even building a very good core might not be enough. The team faces stiff competition going forward, and they’d be wise to not squander their 2015 opportunity before Chicago makes winning the division significantly more challenging in the next few years.

50+ FV Prospects

1. Tyler Glasnow, RHP
Current Level/Age: High-A/21.6, 6’8/225, L/R
Drafted: 152nd overall (5th round) in 2011 out of California HS by PIT for $600,000 bonus
Fastball: 65/70, Curveball: 55/60, Changeup: 45/50, Command: 40/50

Scouting Report: Glasnow was drafted in the 5th round out of high school in 2011 as a low-profile pure projection bet with fringy to average stuff and a limited track record. He blew up in 2013, dominating Low-A with a fastball that hit 97 mph. He continued his progress at High-A in 2014, sitting 93-96 mph and hitting 98 mph, with a plus curveball and improving changeup.

Glasnow’s long limbs create some command/delivery challenges that he’s already made a lot of progress with, but his walks were more a function of deep counts due to swing-and-miss stuff than trouble throwing strikes. As you can see in the above video, I saw him pitch a number of times in 2014 and never wrote once in my notes that I was worried about him throwing strikes, wondering how his walks rates even made it appear that this was the case.

His velo was down a tick in the AFL, with his command and off-speed pitches now quite the same, but that appeared to just be fatigue from a long season for a skinny kid still adding bulk to his frame.  It’s worth noting that Glasnow, especially for a guy that has such a long frame, has an uncanny ability to command his curveball, something I’ve only seen from Jose Fernandez among prospects at this level, and Fernandez’s curveball went from a 65 to an 80 pitch in the next couple years.

Summation: Glasnow will head to Double-A for 2015 and likely won’t get a big league look until 2016, but there’s #2 starter upside, with less risk each the day.

FV/Role/Risk: 60, #3 starter, Medium (3 on 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2015: AA, 2016: AAA/MLB

2. Austin Meadows, CF
Current Level/Age: Low-A/19.9, 6’3/200, L/L
Drafted: 9th overall (1st round) in 2013 out of Georgia HS by PIT for $3.0 million bonus
Hit: 20/60, Raw Power: 55/55, Game Power: 20/50+, Run: 60/50+, Field: 50/50+, Throw: 45/45

Scouting Report: Meadows was compared to his friend and fellow 2013 draft Atlanta-area prep hitter Clint Frazier often; scouts were still split over which one they preferred at draft time. After a full season, Meadows has the edge, but it’s still very early. Meadows missed a lot of the season with a hamstring injury, but showed the sweet lefty swing and above average tools that got him drafted 9th overall.

Meadows is a big, football-strong type athlete at 6-foot-3/200 and appears to have already lost a step from high school, usually running in the 55 range, with most assuming he’ll settle closer to an average runner, though he’ll also turn in a 65 run time to first base every now and then. Since his arm is below average, this would shift him to left field and put more pressure on his bat, which is advanced, but he’s still learning to integrate his raw power into his game swing.

Jay Bruce is a comparison that’s come up often for Meadows and power-hitting corner outfield may be where this ends up in a few years. He’s never been a guy to show scouts all of his raw power in BP, so if he knows he’s headed to a corner, he may grow into plus raw power, which could make him a prototypical #3 hitter.

Summation: Meadows will head to the pitcher friendly High-A Florida State League for 2015 and a healthy full-season could vault him into the top 10 prospects in the game.

Upside: .290/.350/.470, 20 homers
FV/Risk: 55, Medium (3 on a 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2015: High-A, 2016: AA, 2017: AAA/MLB

3. Jameson Taillon, RHP
Current Level/Age: AAA/22.4, 6’5/245, R/R
Drafted: 2nd overall (1st round) in 2010 out of Texas HS by PIT for $6.5 million bonus
Fastball: 60/70, Curveball: 55/65, Changeup: 40/50, Command: 40/50

Scouting Report: Taillon was one of the more hyped high school pitchers in recent memory, with both the Pirates and Orioles reportedly ranking him first on their draft boards, ahead of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Taillon flashed the same power stuff in pro ball as he did in high school, with an explosive mid-90’s fastball and a curveball that was a 70 at times, though his changeup and command lagged behind. There wasn’t really a question if Taillon could stick as a starter, he just had trouble with some finer points of pitching and consistency.

Then, his elbow popped and he underwent Tommy John surgery last year, knocking out his entire 2014 season. He’ll return in the middle of the season at the upper levels of the minors and should be a big league option in 2016, assuming everything comes back as expected. Before surgery, Taillon sat 94-97 and hit 98 mph with life and late into games in almost all of his outings. His curveball varied from a consistent plus pitch that flashed 65 or 70 grades pretty regularly in 2012, then regressed in 2013 to be more of a 55 pitch, possibly indicating some arm trouble was lingering. Taillon throws his changeup very hard, sometimes up to 90 mph and will likely never be more than average.

Summation: If the stuff comes back and he can make some progress with his feel for pitching, Taillon should be a steady mid-rotation starter, possibly as soon as 2016. Don’t expect much in 2015, as he’ll have about half a season to try to make sure everything feels right before really letting loose. The Pirates are targeting late May to early June for him to be back on the mound in regular games.

FV/Role/Risk: 55, #3/4 starter, High (4 on 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2015: AAA/MLB

4. Josh Bell, 1B
Current Level/Age: AA/22.6, 6’2/235, B/R
Drafted: 61st overall (2nd round) in 2011 out of Texas HS by PIT for $5 million bonus
Hit: 30/55, Raw Power: 55/55, Game Power: 30/55, Run: 40/40, Field: 40/45+, Throw: 55/55

Scouting Report: Bell was considered unsignable out of a Texas high school in 2011, but the Pirates took him in the 2nd round and signed him for $5 million in the last draft before bonus pools were installed, seeing a dynamic quick-twitch right fielder. He still probably fits best as a right fielder, but the Pirates have three center field-caliber defenders entrenched in their lineup (Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco), a huge outfield that necessitates this kind of player in the outfield, and a hole to fill long-term at first base.

So, since defense was never a big part of his game, Pittsburgh is shifting Bell to first and he’s still new over there, so it’s a little rough at the moment, but he should be fine. He may not be the middle-of-the-order terror the Pirates were expecting, but the bat should be enough to profile everyday at any position.  Bell has advanced feel to hit and is best from the left side, getting to his above average raw power in games already. He missed most of 2012 with knee surgery on the meniscus in his left knee, but appears to be fully recovered.

Summation: Bell will head to Double-A to start the year and, if he hits like he did last year, could find himself in the big leagues down the stretch. More likely, he’ll get his extended big league look in 2016 and could get a quick promotion to Triple-A this year in anticipation of that fit.

Upside: .275/.335/.475, 20-23 homers
FV/Risk: 50, Low (2 on a 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2015: AA/AAA, 2016: AAA/MLB

5. Nick Kingham, RHP
Current Level/Age: AAA/23.4, 6’5/220, R/R
Drafted: 117th overall (4th round) in 2010 out of Nevada HS by PIT for $485,000 bonus
Fastball: 55/60, Curveball: 50/50, Changeup: 55/55, Command: 45/50

Scouting Report: Kingham isn’t a sexy prospect, but he’s near big league ready and projects as a steady, league-average #4 starter. What I’m supposed to say now is that this kind of player is worth over $10 million a year on the open market, so this is the key, cost-controlled contributor that smaller market teams like Pittsburgh need. I guess I did say it, I’m just trying to let you know Kingham isn’t the super exciting prospect, if you only read these lists to see the flashy toolsy types.

The 6’5/220 righty sits 91-94 and hits 95 mph, relies on an above average changeup and mixes in a hard, average curveball. He’s doesn’t put up big strikeout numbers and doesn’t have a traditional swing and miss secondary pitch, but fits the lower-upside, big league ready type starting pitcher with a long track record that has been the headliner in big deals the last couple winters. So, there’s significant trade value here if the Pirates’ starting pitching depth holds up and an offensive need proves to be pressing in a pennant race. Nick’s little brother, RHP Nolan Kingham, has recently been up to 95 mph and is a top couple round prospect for this year’s draft, out of another Nevada high school.

Summation: Kingham will start the year in Triple-A and wait for a rotation spot to open, so he’s very likely to make his big league debit at some point this year.

FV/Role/Risk: 50, #4 starter, Low (2 on 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2015: AAA/MLB


45 FV Prospects

6. Reese McGuire, C Video: McGuire was the 14th overall pick in 2013 out of a Washington high school after showing advanced contact and catch-and-throw skills for over a year. The lefty-hitting McGuire missed time early in 2014 with a groin contusion, but performed decently at the plate in his full-season debut, with a low strikeout rate but little game power. McGuire has 45 raw power that plays down in games, meaning he’s got 8-12 homer upside, but he’s still filling out and that number could climb.

His calling card is an advanced lefty swing with lots of contact, tremendous feel to catch for his age and a plus arm that should give him an above average defensive package. The Pirates have been hammering young catchers about focusing on defense over offense and McGuire has bought in, so the game power shouldn’t be showing up for a few years. Catchers can develop at unexpected rates, but if McGuire can put up average/on-base numbers and continue the defensive improvements, he’ll easily be a 50 or better FV next year.

7. Cole Tucker, SS Video: Tucker was a surprise 1st rounder last summer out of an Arizona high school. I evaluated him in the 2nd-3rd round range, where many teams had him, but the Pirates didn’t think he’d make it to their 39th overall pick, which it now appears was good intel, so they popped him 24th overall. Tucker is a 6’4/180 switch-hitting shortstop that many scouts, myself included, think is simply too long-limbed to stick long-term at shortstop, despite good actions and the above average arm that would allow a smaller/quicker player to do just that.

Tucker is young for his prep class and won’t turn 19 until July, so there could be more bulk coming, but the Pirates think he’ll stay on the thin and at shortstop longer than expected, like Corey Seager. Tucker’s length limits him at the plate, so he has a contact, gap-to-gap approach so he can make contact, but he has an advanced approach and should grow into more game power with age. His power is below average now but should end up close to average at maturity. Scouts rave about his makeup and when you add together the projection, age and current skills and tools, it’s easy to see why Tucker slid up draft boards late, since he checks the boxes for teams to buy into a player’s high-end projection.

Note: prospects 4 through 7, or even as low as 10, are pretty tightly packed, so by midseason these guys could be in a shuffled order.

8. Alen Hanson, 2B Video: Hanson has been on the prospect radar for awhile, signing in the 2009 July 2nd period out of the Dominican for $90,000, then attracting trade interest as quickly as 2011, when he was an 18-year-old in the GCL. Hanson is 5’11/170, an above average to plus runner and has the feet and hands to play shortstop regularly, but his arm comes up a little short for the position and he relaxes better and hits more when he plays second base.

He’s good enough to contribute at both middle infield spots, but his everyday fit is at second base, provided there’s enough bat. Hanson only has 40 raw power but has learned to tap into it in games and has a solid gap-to-gap approach that fits his skills. He’s blocked by Neil Walker (who will be in his last arb year in 2016) and will spend the year in Triple-A, where he has a few things to work on, hopefully will move past being benched for lack of hustle, which have happened both of the last two seasons.

9. Mitch Keller, RHP Video: The 6’3/195 Iowa prep product got $1 million in the 2nd round and began to check a lot of boxes off for scouts after his velocity spiked in the spring. He sits 90-93 and hit 95 mph regularly last year with a curveball that’s above average and an average changeup that he’s still gaining feel for. Keller has projection, athleticism, a good delivery and arm action, good plane and good feel for command and repeating his delivery. Those are the secondary abilities that scouts look for to bet on the projection of a prep arm and Keller also has the benefit of limited miles on his arm from being a cold weather kid with a recent velo bump that wasn’t abused on the showcase circuit.

10. Harold Ramirez, CF Video: The 5’10/205 Colombian signed for $1.05 million in 2011 and has done nothing but hit since then, but there are some concerns about his upside. The righty hitter has a loose swing with above average bat speed, 12-15 homer raw power and plus speed, but a stocky frame that makes some think he’ll lose a step a move to an outfield corner. Since his arm is below average, that would be left field, the same general issue that Austin Meadows is facing, but Ramirez has a couple ticks less raw power than Meadows. He’ll head to High-A at age 20 this year and is easier to get on board with than the swing-and-miss types ranked below him, but 45 power in left field would put a lot of pressure on the profile.

11. Elias Diaz, C Video: Diaz signed for $20,000 in November of 2008 out of Venezuela and had an offensive breakout in 2013 at High-A that shot him up the Pirates’ prospect list. He was always pretty advanced defensively and still is, with an above average arm and at least average defensive skills. Diaz flashes average raw power to his pull side, but has a line drive approach in games, so his game power will likely be a full notch lower than that. He doesn’t strike out much and stays within himself at the plate, giving him a realistic upside of something like .255 with 10 homers and solid average defense, which could be a low-end starter. Diaz is 24 and will head to the upper levels of the minors for 2015, but likely isn’t a big league option until 2016.

12. Stephen Tarpley, LHP Video: Tarpley was a wildcard in the 2013 draft, with questions surrounding his consistency, maturity and makeup dating back to his transfer from USC after his freshman year that led him to Scottsdale JC, the Fighting Artichokes (!). He lasted until the 3rd round but, started to find consistency in the 2nd half of 2014 before Baltimore traded him this winter to Pittsburgh in the Travis Snider deal. At his best, Tarpley sits 92-95 and hits 97 mph late in games, with a low-80’s curveball that flashes plus, a solid average changeup and an average slider. The command shows flashes of average, but all five elements can be average at best on Tarpley’s bad days. There are signs that Tarpley is turning it around mentally and off-the-field with his full-season debut coming in 2015 as the next test.

13. Jacoby Jones, SS Video: The 6’3/200 LSU product was a big name out of high school and in college, but scouts just didn’t see enough pitch recognition and a plan at the plate to believe Jones could hit his upside. He played second base at LSU, but I thought third base suited his bigger frame better and center field could be the best option to take all the pressure off of him defensively. After taking him in the 3rd round in 2013, the Pirates decided to move him to shortstop for 2014 and they think he can stick there.

Jones is big and has plus speed and an above average to plus arm, so the tools and athleticism are there, but I’d guess he still ends up fitting best at third base in the end. For a kid with a raw approach at the plate, Jones puts on a polished show in BP, with above average raw power to all fields and an easy swing. Jones performed well in Low-A last year, but struck out more than you’d like to see while one of the older prospects in the league; some guys can make that work at higher levels, but very few. He turns 23 in May and hasn’t played above Low-A, so the Pirates will move him quickly to Double-A if he gets off to a quick start in High-A.

14. John Holdzkom, RHP Video: The 6’7/225 righty was drafted out of high school, then signed in the 4th round the next year with the Mets out of a Utah JC. He got released after reaching only Low-A and played in the independent leagues for parts of three seasons before the Pirates scooped him up last spring and he completed a wild ride by getting called up to the show and dominating out of the bullpen in a pennant race. Holdzkom sits 94-97 and hit 98 mph, rarely using his off-speed pitches, an inconsistent but good above average cutter and a solid average palmball with splitter action combo, along with an even-more-rarely-used slider.

He still has options and will open the season in Triple-A while the Pirates sort out all of the out-of-options relievers still in camp and Holdzkom works on mixing in other pitches, or learns that he’s so good that he doesn’t have to. Holdzkom has good taste in comedians/podcasts and doesn’t mind being honest, so it’s only a matter of time before he’s a guest on Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast or the late night show hosted by a big Pirates fan that looks a lot like him. (Thanks to Seth Meyers for throwing me a retweet, directing people to this list).

40 FV Prospects

15. Trey Supak, RHP Video: The 6’5/210 Texas prep product got $1 million last summer as a 2nd round pick and is the projectable flip-side to Keller. Supak has a loose, swimmer-type body with good extension and a clean arm and delivery, but less now command and stuff than Keller. Supak sits 89-92 and hits 94 mph, with most expecting that number to creep up a few ticks in the coming years. His curveball is above average but he can have trouble locating it, while he’s learning to used his changeup more and it’s average.

16. Willy Garcia, RF Video: Garcia is a tooled-up, prototypical right field prospect with a loose swing, above average to plus raw power and a plus arm. He signed for $210,000 in 2010 out of the Dominican and has performed well enough to be young for each level he’s been at so far in his career, including a 114 wRC+ in Double-A last year as a 21-year-old all season. The big question is if Garcia’s well below average plate discipline will allow this performance trend to continue at higher levels when pitcher’s make less mistakes and can hit their spots more reliably. Garcia’s K rate has been 32% and 31% in full seasons at High-A and Double-A the last two years, with .350+ BABIPs the only way he can put up any numbers. So the question is if Garcia is the rare animal that can do that at the big league level (the Pirates have one of them), or if he learns to produce this year at Triple-A with a lower K rate.

17. Wyatt Mathisen, 3B Video: Mathisen played shortstop and pitcher in high school, but the Pirates took him 69th overall in 2012 from a Texas high school to convert him to a catcher. Mathisen has the athleticism, hands, feet, arm and frame for the position, but he had a torn labrum in 2013 and the catching was taking away from his hitting performance, so he’s now been moved to third base. His tools profile there as well, but there’s still a chance he goes back behind the plate in the future. Mathisen is a fringy runner with an above average arm and good hands, along with fringy raw power and good bat speed and feel to hit. He’s still integrating his power into games, but the hope is the position move will kickstart his bat even more in 2015.

18. Connor Joe, RF Video: Joe was a college catcher/right fielder at San Diego that had a big year at the plate and went 39th overall last summer. He’s rough enough behind the plate that Pittsburgh has no plans to try him back there, but his solid average arm will fit in right field and Joe is more athletic than the average catcher, with enough quickness to play in the outfield. The Pirates plan to experiment with him at third base in 2015, where he has some history playing in the past. Joe didn’t play last summer after signing due to a back issue, but has solid average raw power and an above average bat that should play almost anywhere on the field if he develops as expected.

19. Jordan Luplow, CF Video: Luplow was one of my favorite prospects in the 2014 draft, the Pirates third round pick is an outfield tweener with a smooth swing and a long track record of hitting tough pitching. The 6’1/195 Luplow is an above average runner with an average arm and good instincts that might be able to play center field everyday, but can help at all three outfield positions if needed. His raw power is a 45 (12-15 homers annually in MLB), but the bat is at least a 50, so even if he is a corner outfielder, the combination of offense and defense may make him a starter if the bat plays, along the lines of Norichika Aoki or Coco Crisp. He’ll be 21 this season and will start in Low-A, but may get a promotion if he hits like I think he can.

20. Andrew Lambo, RF Video: The former elite Dodgers prospect found some of that potential with big offensive showings in Double-A and Triple-A in 2013 and 2014. He’s battling for the last bench spot on the big league team right now, but appears to have some trade value and has two options left. The 6’3/225 Lambo has plus raw power from the left side and some feel for the strike zone and the bat head. His power-oriented swing can get a little long at times, but he’s quick enough to play corner outfield along with first base and his solid average arm means he can fit in either corner. There’s been injuries, makeup and maturity issues for Lambo to overcome the past few years, but he appears to be past most of that now and may be a low-cost platoon option for a small market team, if not Pittsburgh.

21. Barrett Barnes, LF Video: Barnes was a sandwich round pick out of Texas Tech in 2012 but hasn’t played much since signing, with oblique and leg issues holding him under 100 PA in 2014. Barnes is a 55 runner with a 45 arm that fits in left field, but his average raw power and advanced righty bat are enough to profile there if they play as expected. It’s hard to say if they will due to the lack of reps in pro ball and Barnes will turn 24 in the middle of the season, so it’s time for him to start performing and moving up the chain to see if he can deliver on his everyday player promise.

22. Steven Brault, LHP Video: Brault was an 11th rounder in 2013 out of Regis University in Denver, with some scouts turning in the plus runner with a plus arm as a hitter, but the Orioles opted to make him a pitcher.  Pittsburgh acquired him from Baltimore this winter along with another upside lefty Stephen Tarpley in exchange for Travis Snider. Brault is new to full-time pitching and the velocity will vary at times, sometimes 86-90 and other times 90-91, hitting 93 mph. The better arm speed lets his slider and curveball play to solid average at their best and ups the deception for his above average to plus changeup. There’s also some deception to his delivery; the elements are here for a back-end starter if he can find more consistent arm speed, which you can forgive due to his two-way history.

23. Stolmy Pimentel, RHP Video: Pimentel was acquired from the Red Sox in 2012 with Mark Melancon in the deal that send Joel Hanrahan and Brock Holt to the Red Sox. Pimentel was a projection righty starter with subpar numbers and some arm speed at that point and he’s since made strides after a move to the bullpen at the upper levels. He sits 93-96 and hits 98 mph with a 55 splitter and a solid average slider, with enough command to allow those pitches to play.  Pimentel had a sprained ankle and shoulder soreness in the last year after converting to the bullpen, but is fully healthy now. Like Caminero, Pimentel is a big league bullpen candidate that’s out of options, so it’ll be tough to keep them both.

24. Arquimedes Caminero, RHP Video: Caminero already has some big league time and is already 27, but is still searching for consistency in location. He throws from a lower slot with some deception from coiling his body, sitting in the mid-90’s and regularly hitting 100 or 101 mph. Caminero’s off-speed pitches are a slider and splitter that are inconsistent as his arm slot varies, with the slider the better pitch and it flashes 55 at times. He’s out of options, had a good March and could spend much of 2015 in the big league bullpen.

25. Casey Sadler, RHP Video: Sadler was a low-profile pick out of an Oklahoma junior college in 2010 and hasn’t put up huge numbers at any stop in the minors, but is the ground ball, pitch-to-contact type starter that can run into a solid big league career without ever being a real prospect. He sits 89-92 and hits 93 mph with his sinker, primarily uses a solid average slider and also mixes in a fringy changeup that’s a little above average at times, though he doesn’t fully believe in the pitch. He got a big league look last year and will likely break camp in Triple-A, waiting for a spot to open. Sadler’s upside is as a 5th starter, with a middle/long relief backup plan.

26. Cody Dickson, LHP Video: The 6’3/180 Dickson was a 4th rounder in 2013 out of Sam Houston State that’s been solid as a pro, but needs to make progress with his command to stick as a starter. Dickson sits 91-94 and hits 95 mph with a curveball that’s above average on good days and a changeup that’s progressed to flash average at times. His command is the issue now and has been for years; he turns 23 in April and hasn’t been above Low-A, so he’s likely a reliever, with a chance to fit late in games.

27. Tito Polo, CF Video: Polo signed in 2012 as a 17-year-old from Colombia and has hit well for his three pro seasons, with 2015 marking his American debut. Polo is 5’11/180 and is a 55 or 60 runner with a shot to stick in center field and a fringy arm. He doesn’t have much power, but his bat is advanced for his age; he has a good approach and makes consistent hard contact.

28. Clay Holmes, RHP Video: Holmes was a little-known pop-up arm that emerged just before the 2011 draft, but Pittsburgh saw upside and gave $1.2 million to the rural Alabama prep product in the 9th round of the last draft before bonus pools were implemented. Holmes is a physical 6’5/220 but has a stiff, upright delivery that affect his command, though it helps give him lots of plane. He missed 2014 with Tommy John surgery, likely getting back on the mound by mid-2015. At his best, Holmes sat 90-93 mph with projection, a curveball that was a 55 at times, but changed and command that needed some work.

29. Gage Hinsz, RHP Video: The 6’4/210 Montana product got $580,000 out of high school last summer as a 11th round pick and surprised the Pirates with how well he hung with the higher profile prep arms in their system. Hinsz sits 90-93 and hits 94 mph, holding that velo later into games, flashing an average changeup and a curveball that’s fringy at times but needs work. He has a good frame with projection and a clean arm action and delivery with some feel to pitch and not a lot of innings given his background, so there should be more coming.

30. Yhonathan Barrios, RHP Video: The 5’11/180 Dominican reliever converted to the mound late in 2013 and played at both A-Ball levels in 2014. His delivery is low effort for a reliever, he sits 94-98 and hits 100 mph with above average life and also mixes in a solid average changeup and a fringy slider. His command that isn’t that bad, given the conversion and arm speed, and he’s still learning to pitch, so there’s more upside here.

31. Luis Heredia, RHP Video: The 6’6/220 Mexican got $2.6 million in 2010 as a 16-year-old but his velocity and weight has yo-yoed, with some scouts concerned about his maturity. He was 88-92 mph during the season and 87-90 mph in instructs, with a 55 changeup and fringy to average curveball when his velo is up, but a near non-prospect when it’s down. He’s still just 20 years old and the talent is in there, but he needs to start performing soon after a four year roller-coaster.

Cistulli’s Guy

Deibinson Romero, 3B

Romero was distinguished this offseason for featuring the top WAR projection among all those players who’d been granted minor-league free agency, rendering him the one most likely to repeat Yangervis Solarte’s accomplishment from 2014. Solarte didn’t transform into an elite talent, obviously, but he did parlay his assorted skills into a regular major-league job after spending years in the Minnesota and then Texas systems. The 28-year-old Romero’s done at least one of those things: signed by the Twins out of the Dominican as a 19-year-old, he proceeded to then spend nine years within that organization. He’ll begin his 10th season as a professional with the Pirates. Romero possesses nothing resembling a carrying tool, but has exhibited sufficient competence for Pittsburgh to avoid the awful in case of injury to Josh Harrison.

Others of Note

There’s eight more hitters in the upper levels of the system to keep an eye on: CF Keon Broxton (former toolshed projection guy in the Arizona system was a revelation at 24 in Double-A for Pittsburgh; he’s 6’3/195 and can play all three outfield spots as a possible 4th outfielder that the Pirates were concerned they might lose him last winter in the Rule 5), CF Mel Rojas (Video 6’3/215 son of former big league reliever by the same name, Mel Jr. went in the 3rd round in 2010, has above average bat and foot speed with some pop and defensive instincts, but plate discipline issues), 1B Hunter Morris (acquired today from Milwaukee for a PTBNL, Morris has over 900 PA in Triple-A of slightly-below league average performance at ages 24 and 25; being hit with a pitch in the wrist last year scrapped a planned big league call-up with Milwaukee; he shows flashes of a 50 bat and 60 raw power, but never at the same time and he was outrighted off the 40-man this winter before the Brewers cut bait today), 3B Eric Wood (2012 6th rounder has battled injuries, but has solid tools across the board and all fields approach that should play well at higher levels), SS Gift Ngoepe (Video South African shortstop is above average runner and thrower that can play shortstop, but it limited to a possible utility role since the bat is a little light), 1B Jose Osuna (Video 6’2/215 Venezuelan is first base only and has solid average raw power, but just okay hitting ability, so he’ll need to hit at each level to prove he can be a platoon guy), 2B Max Moroff (Video got $300,000 out of high school in 2012 and the switch-hitter has average tools, feel for the game and a little pop, but he has trouble getting to it in games) and C Jin-De Jhang (lefty hitting Taiwanese backstop has above average arm and improving defensive skills along with some feel to hit, even though he didn’t do that much in 2014).

There’s five more hitters in the lower levels of the system to keep an eye on: C Taylor Gushue (Video 2014 4th rounder from Florida is a switch-hitting catcher with solid average raw power and arm strength that has a chance to stick behind the plate and some feel to hit), 1B Stetson Allie (Video powerful 6’2/240 righty got $2.25 million in 2010 as a power arm that hit 100 mph in high school, but his command did him in; he’s now a hitter with plus plus raw power, but questions about contact), CF Michael De La Cruz (Video Dominican signed for $700,000 in 2012 and is easy plus runner with surprising pop from the left side, some feel to hit and an above average arm, but he’s still raw as the GCL numbers indicate), 2B Erich Weiss (got $305,000 out of Texas in 2013 and moved from third base to second base in pro ball, where it looks like he can stay despite a 6’3/180 frame; he has a good offensive approach, fringy speed and an average arm) and CF Elvis Escobar (Video 5’10/180 Venezuelan got $570,000 in 2011 and has above average speed and arm, but is still developing offensively).

There’s five more pitchers in the system to keep an eye on: RHP Adrian Sampson (he has long/middle relief upside with an above average fastball and curveball, fringy changeup and command, heading back to Triple-A in 2015), RHP Chad Kuhl (works 91-95 mph with sink as a starter, along with a fringy slider and changeup that flash average at times with command that’s fringy as well, so he could be a starter with a little more progress), RHP Jhondaniel Medina (Video 5’11 Venezuelan reliever sits 92-94 and hits 96 mph with an above average splitter and solid average curveball, but he’s working on command), RHP Jason Creasy (sits 90-92 and hits 94 mph as a starter with a solid average slider, but no third pitch and fringy command, so his fit is in middle relief, where the stuff should play up) and LHP Orlando Castro (5’11 Honduran pitchability lefty works 88-91 mph with solid average curveball and changeup, giving him a shot to be a 5th starter).

Kiley McDaniel has worked as an executive and scout, most recently for the Atlanta Braves, also for the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates. He's written for ESPN, Fox Sports and Baseball Prospectus. Follow him on twitter.

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Steve D.
9 years ago


Pirates Hurdles
9 years ago
Reply to  Steve D.

Yeah its an impressive collection of solid to above average types of which some will break out, some will tank. Its nice to still have some impact guys at the top too even after graduating so many.