Each weekday during the minor league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top 15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top 100, which is that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top 100 list.
Last season, the Pirates finished second in the National League Central. Their playoff run was to be the beginning of something special in Pittsburgh, but they’ve stumbled early. Currently, they’re fourth in the National League’s toughest division, six games behind the surging Brewers. While it’s too early to be concerned, the Pirates acquired Ike Davis from the Mets to platoon with Gaby Sanchez. After years of illness, injuries, and ineffectiveness, Davis was in need of a change of scenery, so the Mets shipped him to Pittsburgh for a relief pitcher (Zack Thorton) and a Player To Be Named Later (PTBNL).
What follows is an examination both of Thornton and two potential candidates for that PTBNL.
Zack Thornton, RHP, New York Mets (Profile)
Level: Triple-A Age: 25 Top 15: N/A Top 100: N/A
Line: 7.1 IP, 9.82 K/9, 1.23 BB/9, 0.0 HR/9, 1.55 FIP
Attacking hitters from a low arm slot, Thornton has been a statistical darling.
Thornton has spent his professional career as a relief pitcher, first as an Oakland Athletic then as a Pittsburgh Pirate. In 2013, he pitched 75.1 innings and posted dominate numbers: 10.8 K/9, 1.4 BB/9, 0.5 HR/9, 51.8% GB%. Yet, the 25-year-old was not selected in Rule 5 draft.
Thornton — while he’s been effective — has a ROOGY profile at the highest level due to his low, three-quarter arm slow. His fastball sits in the high 80s and touches the low 90s. His primary secondary offering is a slider and he mixes in a changeup as well. The Mets’ bullpen has been poor to begin the year, relying on several erratic youngsters along with veterans like Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jose Valverde and Kyle Farnsworth. Expect Thornton to get his shot.
Potential players to be named later:
Blake Taylor, LHP, Pittsburgh Pirates (Profile)
Level: N/A Age: 18 Top 15: N/A Top 100: N/A
Line 2013: 21 IP, 5.57 K/9, 3.86 BB/9, 0.0 HR/9, 3.65 FIP
Do the Mets add another projectable left-handed starter to its pitching heavy system?
During the past off season, Taylor was unranked in Marc Hulet’s Pittsburgh Pirates top 10 because their system was so deep. Taylor was drafted in the second round last June, 51st overall and made a brief debut in the Gulf Coast League (GCL). He stands 6-foot-3 and, as you can see in the video below, was well developed as a high school senior a year-and-a-half ago. The California native features a sinking low-90s fastball that could add velocity as he matures. His curve ball is considered his best offering. Released from his high, three-quarter delivery, his curve has a 1/7 shape but lacks consistent tight rotation. Taylor, like most pitchers his age, needs repetitions to develop. Whether he is a Met or a Pirate, he should begin the year in the New York-Penn League.
Video by Steve Fiorindo.
Level: Single-A Age: 22 Top 15: 11th Top 100: N/A
Line: 58 PA, 5.2% BB, 22.4% K, .288/.328/.423 (.350 BABIP, 118 wRC+)
In 2012, Jones was considered one of the best players in the Cape Cod League and terrific athlete. In recent years, the Pirates have had moderate success developing raw talents, like Jones.
Raw may not be the best adjective to describe Jones. Drafted out of Louisiana State University as a junior, Jones primarily played second base. After three college seasons and a tour of the Cape, Jones has had plenty of experience. Yet, his performance has not caught up to his impact tools.
Heading into the draft, many teams thought Jones’ best position was center field where he projects as a plus defender. The Pirates disagreed. In his abbreviated debut with the Jamestown Jammers, Jones played center field and shortstop; in 2014, he has been a shortstop. His performance has been rough in the early going. He committed five errors in 11 games. At the plate, Jones is a gap-to-gap hitter with plus speed. As he develops, he should reach double-digit home runs, but his game is speed.
The Mets have not successfully developed position players in recent years, but player development is a bit of a numbers game. Adding an athlete like Jones is a significant piece for an organization starved for impact position players.