For the last entry from Pirates instructs, I’ll run through a number of players that caught my eye for different reasons, lightning-round style.
I saw Mel Rojas Jr. and Gift Ngoepe a good bit during the FSL regular season, and both will flash big league potential at times but had some struggles at the plate. Ngoepe is a great story as a South African-born, 5’10, 180 pound switch-hitting shortstop that will likely get at least a cup of coffee in the big leagues. He’s a switch hitter with plus speed and an above average arm with good hands and fluid actions that will be enough to allow him to stick at shortstop long term. He also uses his speed effectively in his offensive game, often bunting, stealing bases and finding ways to contribute.
Ngoepe’s weakness is his well-below average raw power and some rawness in his offensive game. He gets thrown out a little more than he should on the bases and needs to pick better spots to run but also needs to tighten up his strike zone. For as much as Ngoepe understands his limitations at the plate and tries to play within them, he can get pull-conscious and try to do something with anything close to the plate rather than being more selective. If Ngoepe can shrink his zone and continue to develop his game, there’s a potential big league future as a utility infielder. He’s a little tough to project given his unusual path, but from what I’ve seen I graded Ngoepe as an up/down player that will make the big leagues.
Rojas has some similar qualities to Ngoepe as a guy with big league tools and a good defensive profile who needs to tighten up his approach at the plate to reach his potential. That said, Rojas has much better size and tools; as a 6’3, 215 pound athlete Rojas is a solid-average runner with a solid-average arm and is a switch-hitter with above-average bat speed and average raw power from both sides. You can see why, with a toolset like that, the Pirates took him in the 3rd round out of an Illinois junior college in 2010.
Rojas has had trouble making contact (.240/.307/.331 lifetime line in 2 ½ seasons) which has also hampered his in-game power. Going back to the three inputs for the hit tool, Rojas has more than enough tools and a sound swing, shows bat control to different parts of the zone but simply doesn’t have the plate discipline to allow those skills shine through. Rojas would go through hot stretches in the FSL this season when he would do a better job picking pitches to hit and the pitchers helped him out by not throwing off-speed pitches in the dirt, but he couldn’t sustain it for very long.
With a dad as a big league closer and Mel Jr. entering his age 23 season, time is almost up to start showing improvement to still be considered a prospect. He takes some bad routes in center field but occasionally flashed an ability to stick in center, though his raw speed figures to move him to right field eventually. Realistically, Rojas could still make some adjustments at the plate and become a solid fourth outfielder than can play all three outfield positions, but I think his career will stall in the upper minors.
On the more hopeful end of things, the Bucs recent second round pick, Texas prep catcher Wyatt Mathisen has almost no pro track record to speak of but impressive tools. The 6’1, 205 backstop hasn’t played a lot of catcher but has a near ideal catcher body with the thickness and strength to sustain full seasons behind the plate while also being lean and quick enough to move well. He’s an average runner currently that will likely lose as step but that athleticism combined with a plus arm and quick release are obvious reasons why scouts wanted to move Mathisen behind the plate. He’s got some work to do as a receiver, but still has plenty of time to learn and scouts I’ve talked to love his makeup.
Mathisen didn’t get into many games in instructs and only got 154 PA in the GCL after signing. His swing is sound, though his hands get very deep and he will bar out his lead arm at times. This creates some length to his swing while also enhancing his average power. Since he’s new to the position and may not even make it to full-season ball this season, Mathisen is pure projection, but all the elements are here for at least an average hitter and defender.
Luis Urena was the standout performer of instructs, hitting at least one extra base hit in every game I saw, including four homers. He’s a big, long athlete at 6’4, 205 pounds that profiles best in left field due to his below average speed and fringy arm strength. His size will create some length to his swing at times but he does a good job trying to stay short and direct to the ball in games and has no trouble turning on good velocity in on his hands. Above average right-handed power is his calling card and despite a limited stateside track record (257 PA in GCL over two seasons) he clearly learned to transfer it into games in instructs and could be a breakout player in 2013.
Stetson Allie became infamous for completely losing his control early in his pro career after the Pirates gave him $2.25 million in the 2010 draft as a power pitcher. He’s been converted into a hitter and given his history as a real hitting prospect in high school, it wasn’t that surprising that Allie showed a solid swing in a few instructs games. His thick 6’2. 230-pound frame screams power, though his feet aren’t quick enough to play third base anymore, so he’s a first base/right field fit. There’s some swing and miss and expected lack of feel at times, but Allie his a few extra base hits for me, including a triple to the right-center field wall where he showed some bat control, ability to go the other way and a little bit of foot speed as well. I wouldn’t get my hopes up that he’ll become the star he was expected to be on the mound, but the tools are there to advance up the farm system a few steps.
Recent 18th rounder that signed for $125,000 out of Ohio St., righty reliever John Kuchno showed impressive stuff for his pedigree, sitting 92-93 mph. He complemented his heater with a hard curve at 78-79 that showed solid-average potential and 11-to-5 tilt when he stayed on top of it. Kuchno’s fastball was a four-seamer that lacked movement, but he gets good plane on his pitches from his 6’5, 210 pound frame and also hides his arm well behind his body. He’s relatively new to pitching so there’s more potential than with the average 21 year old.
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.