The offseason is the time to re-organize thoughts on prospects and see how they performed in the minors for the 2013 season. This Top 10 list ranking the Pirates’ prospects was determined solely by yours truly.
2014 season ages, using July 1st as the cutoff point, are included in parentheses for each player. Each prospect, by definition, has a chance of failure due to injury or ineffectiveness. The Projection section is the realistic ceiling for the player if he makes it to the major leagues.
I also would not be surprised to see the Pirates package some prospects, whether in this Top 10 or outside of it, into a package for a major-league ready player. The thresholds on whether someone is a prospect or not are typically 130 at-bats, 50 innings, or 30 relief appearances in the majors.
10. Reese McGuire, C (19)
The second of two 1st round picks for the Pirates in 2013, McGuire had an excellent debut in the minors. He spent the vast majority of his time in the Rookie Gulf Coast League, with a 4 game cameo for the short-season Jamestown Jammers in the New York-Penn League, and hit .323 AVG/.380 OBP/.380 SLG (760 OPS).
McGuire had nearly as many walks (16) as strikeouts (19), which is very encouraging for any young hitter. His defensive work received high marks, although the scouting videos I watched pre-draft seemed to me like he is very busy behind the plate and prone to passed balls.
The Pirates have an odd logjam in the lower minors of high-end prospects at catcher. Wyatt Mathisen had an injury-plagued year at Low A and Jin-de Jhang played primarily at short-season. In a normal situation, I would say McGuire would be shoe-in for Low A in 2014, but it wouldn’t surprise if they kept him at extended spring training until they see if Mathisen is ready to move up to High A.
PROJECTION – Primary starter at catcher. ETA – Mid 2017
9. Tony Sanchez, C (26)
At the opposite end of the development spectrum is Tony Sanchez. As the 2009 1st round pick out of college, it still took Sanchez four years to debut. Part of his path was derailed by injuries, but his bat was also lagging behind. However, in 2013 the bat caught up to his defensive reputation as Sanchez hit .282 AVG/.358 OBP/.487 SLG (845 OPS).
Sanchez’s affable nature and ability to work hard will make him a natural team leader when called upon. I still feel that he’ll be a defense-first catcher, but I see many similarities between Sanchez and Russell Martin. Sanchez is probably a player that will hit either 7th or 8th and get 10-12 HR with batting averages around .250 to .260.
PROJECTION – Backup in 2014, Starter in 2015. ETA – Already here
8. Luis Heredia, RHP (19)
2013 was a little bit of a lost year for Heredia (2010 International signee). Reports were that he came into Spring Training out of shape and as a result did not debut with Low A West Virginia in late April/early May, as expected.
By the time he debuted in late June, he was still held to inning limits and only pitched 65 innings over 13 starts this year. In those 65 innings, he put up a 3.05 ERA, struck out 55, but walked 37.
He still has the low to mid-90’s fastball, but his changeup and curveball still need refinement. Hopefully he can come out of the gate strong and get assigned to High A Bradenton for 2014.
PROJECTION – #3 starter, chance for a #2 if offspeed progresses. ETA – Mid 2016
7. Josh Bell, OF (21)
Bell’s story is one of constantly trying to live up to hype and expectations. His parents famously wrote every team in the 2011 Draft and said that Bell was going to college, so don’t bother drafting him. The Pirates did anyway and convinced him at the last minute to sign for $5M and forgo college.
My personal opinion is that the Pirates viewed Bell as their chance to get a “Giancarlo Stanton” power hitting outfielder and didn’t want to pass it up. His 2012 season was over almost before it started, as Bell tore his meniscus in May and missed the remainder of the year. The 2013 season was encouraging to see him come back healthy and productive, but it was not a very loud season (.279 AVG/.353 OBP/.453 SLG, 806 OPS, 13 HR), causing some people to already overlook him. He’ll move up to High A this year.
Bell is not a 5-tool OF. He has power and should be a good switch hitter, but he won’t offer much defensively or on the basepaths. With the glut of dynamic OF’s at the major league level and in the minors, it’s easy for me to project a position switch down the line for Bell.
PROJECTION – Starting 1B. ETA – Late 2015, early 2016
6. Alen Hanson, SS (21)
Hanson and teammate Gregory Polanco exploded on the prospect scene in 2012, but while Polanco continued his ascent in 2013, Hanson had a little bit more of a muted season. For the year, split between High A and AA, Hanson hit .274 AVG/.329 OBP/.427 SLG (756 OPS) with 8 HR and 30 SB.
Hanson has never been a particularly efficient base stealer, as he was caught 16 times this year. The big question with Hanson is whether he has the aptitude to stay at SS, where his offensive potential would be a huge bonus. I saw him in Altoona and came away feeling he had a good shot to stay at SS, but the jury is still largely out, mostly due to his footwork.
Hanson will return to AA to start the year and may see AAA for a cameo at the end of 2014.
PROJECTION – Starting SS/Starting 2B. ETA – Mid 2015
5. Austin Meadows, OF (19)
Like McGuire, Meadows was a 1st round pick by the Pirates in 2013, as he was the compensation pick for the Pirates inability to sign Mark Appel. Meadows was very highly rated and considered by many to be the premier HS bat.
Meadows has 5-tool potential in the OF, although many project him to end up more in the Jay Bruce power-hitting corner OF mold, which would be fine too. Meadows had a very strong debut in the Rookie Gulf Coast League and cameo with Jamestown at the end of the year, hitting .316 AVG/.424 OBP/.554 SLG (997 OPS, 7 HR).
Meadows joins the Pirates enviable collection of OF talent, both in the majors and the minors. He won’t be rushed, but he’ll probably move along quickly as his talent may eclipse the lower level pitching.
PROJECTION – Starting corner OF. ETA – Mid 2017
4. Nick Kingham, RHP (22)
Kingham is perhaps the most overlooked top prospect in the system. He’s not flashy and gets lost in the shadow of the now-graduated Cole, the soon-to-graduate Taillon, the meteoric rise of Tyler Glasnow, and the international flair of Luis Heredia.
Kingham turned in another exceptional season in 2013 split between High A and AA. Over 143 IP, he put up a 2.89 ERA, struck out 144, and walked only 44, while giving up just 7 HR all year. Kingham features a 92-95 mph FB, an excellent 12-6 curveball, and a solid changeup. Kingham is the kind of pitcher that will be a solid, yet overlooked, presence in the rotation.
His starting assignment is up in the air right now, as he only spent half of a season at AA, but he’ll most assuredly see AAA at some point in 2014 if he doesn’t start there.
PROJECTION – Low end #2, high end #3 SP. ETA – Late 2014, early 2015
3. Tyler Glasnow, RHP (20)
Based on pure upside, Glasnow probably has just as much if not more than #1 prospect Taillon (spoiler alert), but Glasnow is further away on the development chain than Taillon, thus leading him to this spot on the list.
First things first, Glasnow is a giant. Even among the Pirates’ starting pitching prospects (where the minimum seems to be 6’-4”), he towers over them at 6’-8”. And he still might be growing. Glasnow throws a 94-98 mph fastball that just overwhelmed Low A batters this year, paired with a good curveball. His changeup, like most young pitchers, is still being refined.
Glasnow’s 2013 season produced eye-popping numbers. In 111 IP, Glasnow had a 2.18 ERA, struck out 164, and allowed only 54 hits all year. To put that in perspective, if Glasnow’s stats were averaged out to a 9 inning complete game, he would strike out 13 and give up 4 hits per game. The downside is that he walked 61, but that’s a function more of just getting his gangly body to repeat his mechanics.
PROJECTION – Low end #1, high end #2 SP. ETA – Mid 2016
2. Gregory Polanco, OF (22)
Polanco burst onto the scene in 2012 with a 910 OPS, 16 HR/40 SB season. He continued his progression this year over two levels, with a 9 game audition in AAA as well, by hitting .285 AVG/.356 OBP/.434 SLG (791 OPS, 12 HR, 38 SB).
I like to describe Polanco as a hybrid of Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen. He has McCutchen’s hit tool and strike zone judgement (52 BB/73 K) and Marte’s pure blazing speed and solid defensive profile. His upside for HR is probably in the 16-20 range as he continues to fill out his 6’-4” frame.
It will be interesting to see what the Pirates do in the offseason with regards to their RF situation. If they re-sign Byrd or some other free agent for 1 year, they may keep Polanco in AAA all year. If they go with Tabata/Lambo/Snider, they think Polanco will be ready to debut mid-2014.
PROJECTION – Starting OF, can play CF if needed. ETA – Mid 2014
1. Jameson Taillon, RHP (22)
Talk about following a tough act. Fellow high-end pitching prospect Gerrit Cole debuted in 2013 and was instant impact. I’ve always felt that Cole was the better prospect, but now Taillon is going to face inevitable comparison to what Cole did
The short story is that Cole always had the more developed arsenal of pitches, with two fastballs, a slider, changeup, and curveball. Taillon has a power 4-seam fastball that sits 94-97, a hard sinking 2-seam fastball at 92-95, and a killer curve that will be one of the best in the majors when he arrives. His changeup is workable, but not plus, and that may hold him back a little. In 2013, Taillon pitched 147 IP, issued 52 walks, and struck out 143.
I’ve been comparing Taillon to another FB-CB pitcher in Pittsburgh lately, one A.J. Burnett. One of the many reasons I would like Burnett back for one more year is for him to tutor Taillon and Cole at the major league level. Taillon only needs a tune up and to avoid the Super 2 deadline.
PROJECTION – High end #2, low end #1 if change develops. ETA – Mid 2014.
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