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Pittsburgh Pirates

Original Published Date: October 14, 2014

The Pittsburgh Pirates continue to develop major league talent having graduated two of the better young major leagues in Gerrit Cole and Gregory Polanco over the past two years. Jameson Taillon should have been the third, but he became a statistic in the growing Tommy John Surgery epidemic. If he returns fully healthy, Taillon still has a top-of-the-rotation profile but he’s been passed by 21-year-old Tyler Glasnow. Glasnow’s stuff rates as some of the best in the minor leagues and once he learns to consistently control it, he could be an absolute monster.

Not only do the Pirates have two of top pitching prospects in the game, they also have several advanced positional talent led by Josh Bell and Austin Meadows. Both have all-star ceilings and if they can stay healthy, will move quickly.   Of course the system also has Alen Hanson, Harold Ramiez, and 2013 first round pick Reese McGuire and 2014 first round draft pick, Cole Tucker. All could eventually be impact players in the major leagues.

1. Tyler Glasnow (RHP)

2015 Age: 21 Ceiling: #1 starter
Ht: 6-7 Weight: 195 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2014 A+ 124.1 74 23 3 4.13 11.36 1.66 1.05

I’ve been staring at my screen for 20 minutes not knowing where to start with Tyler Glasnow. I’ve had a chance to scout him several times across both levels of A-Ball and have a good sense for the player and the areas of development he still needs. Quite frankly, the list is long on both sides of the equation but the end result could be very, very special.

When you first see Glasnow, it’s hard not to notice the body. It’s the definition of long and lanky. Not only are his limbs long, but so is his torso. In fact, it’s very common to see his jersey come un-tucked and flap in the wind as he completes his delivery. His jersey issues could be solved by finding a belt that actually works, but also contributing is the “all out” effort he puts into the delivery. He gets outstanding momentum on his stride and this combined with his long levers provide incredible torque and drive to the plate. The violence leads to significant balance issues and ultimately control issues. However, the delivery allows his plus stuff to play up even more and is one of the reasons batters don’t make great contact; when they are able to make contact.

As messy as the delivery is, it’s much improved from 2013. Glasnow is more in control with better balance and this should only improve as he learns to manage his 6-foot-7 frame. If and when these lines cross, Glasnow has the upside to be a dominating pitcher. The Pirates clearly want this to be in the starting rotation, but it could also be in relief.

The arsenal is special and begins with an explosive fastball that sits 94-96 MPH and can touch higher. The curveball is a true swing and miss pitch with tight spinning action that drops off the table. I’ve seen numerous hitters flail at the pitch. The change-up also has nice deception and with time, could be another above-average pitch. While he does pitch with downward plane, he’s not an extreme ground ball pitcher as his fastball is a true four-seamer that he elevates up in the zone. For Glasnow, it works, because the plane make it difficult to square, therefore most of the flyballs become weak outs.

Fantasy Impact: Glasnow has the raw stuff to be an ace but the control will be a problem unless he learns to control his body better. If he does, it could be special. Regardless, it’s going to take time and a level-a-year progression could be in the cards. This will put his arrival in Pittsburgh at 2017. I also used the word “relief” in the capsule and believe that’s a possible outcome for Glasnow. 6-foot-8 Dellin Betances of the New Yankees had a similar profile to Glasnow and was exposed once he moved to the upper-minors. He moved to the bullpen and has become a monster. As a fantasy owner, it’s a win-win situation.

2. Jameson Taillon (RHP)

2015 Age: 23 Ceiling: #2 starter
Ht: 6-6 Weight: 245 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2015-16
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2014 DNP

In writing about Jameson Taillon last year, we discussed the torque in his delivery and the associated Inverted-W and wondered if this would lead to elbow problems. Whether it was less than optimal mechanics or something else, Taillon became a statistic on April 10th, 2014 when he underwent season-ending Tommy John Surgery. From news reports, it appears he is making very good progress and will begin pitching competitively in the spring of 2015.

When healthy, Taillon arsenal is impressive and mature.  He throws two fastballs – a four-seamer that sits 94-95 MPH and touches higher and a two-seamer that has excellent horizontal movement and when combined with the plane he gets on his pitches, induces a lot of ground balls. He also throws a plus curveball that is a true swing and miss pitch that grades out as a plus offering.  His change-up is behind his other pitches but is showing promise of at least being an average offering.

Fantasy Impact: I traded Jameson Taillon in one of my Dynasty Leagues in November of 2013 and let out a sigh of relief when he underwent TJS. Unfortunately the principal player I traded for, Kris Medlen, also missed the season due to TJS. Such is life in a Dynasty League.   If Taillon comes back healthy, he still has the ceiling of a number two starter. However, you’ll need to exhibit extreme patience as there will be setbacks and ugly stat lines as he recovers. If it all lines up, he could be pitching meaningful games in Pittsburgh by August 2015.

3. Josh Bell (OF/1B)

2015 Age: 22 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht:6-3 Weight: 215 Bats: Both Throws: Right ETA: 2016
Year Class AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP CT% BB% BABIP
2014 AA+,AA 425 58 9 60 9 .325 .375 87.1 7.5 .353

The Pittsburgh Pirates rolled the dice when they selected Josh Bell with their first pick in the second round of the 2011 first year player draft. Bell had first round talent but fell because he and his parents were adamant that he would attend The University of Texas. Five million dollars later, Josh Bell was a Pirate.

It’s been a slow-and-grow process for Bell. Since he signed late in 2011, he didn’t begin his professional career until the spring of 2012 where he hurt his knee 15 games into the season and was done for the year. He started back in West Virginia in 2013 and posted a promising .806 OPS while slugging 13 home runs. As with other elite prospects, the gloves have come off in 2014 and Bell has really responded. In 84 games in the pitcher-friendly confines of the Florida State League, he slugged .502 with an .886 OPS. He hit equally well from both sides of the plate showing the ability to make hard consistent contact (87% contact rate). The sledding got more difficult upon his promotion to Double-A where Bell slashed .287/.343/.309 in 94 at-bats.

Bell is an offensive-first player with great bat speed to complement his powerfully built body. While the power is still developing and is mostly displayed in batting practice, there is 25 plus home run potential. The swing from both sides of the plate is short and direct to the ball but has more loft from the left side. Defensively, he has no chance to crack an outfield consisting of Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, and Gregory Polanco. Ultimately, I believe he’ll move to first base and the Pirate would be well served to make that happen sooner rather than later.

Fantasy Impact: Bell will likely start 2015 back at Altoona in the Eastern League with a promotion to Triple-A later in the year. It could be the Gregory Polanco watch all-over again, particularly if the Pirates start the season with Ike Davis at first. While Bell will not contribute in the steals department, his upside is 25 plus home runs with a .280-.300 batting average and 100 RBI. That will play just fine.

4. Austin Meadows (OF)

2015 Age: 20 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht:6-3 Weight: 200 Bats: Left Throws: Left ETA: 2017
Year Class AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP CT% BB% BABIP
2014 R,A- 164 21 3 16 2 .317 .394 79.9 10.1 .377

Austin Meadows started off the year on the DL after suffering a hamstring injury in Spring Training which wound up costing him two-thirds of the season. Once he was ready for game action, the Pirates sent him to full-season Low-A in West Virginia where he slashed .322/.388/.486 in 38 games. While the surface stats looked good, it was fueled by a .383 BABIP and an approached that produce an 8.5% walk rate.

From a scouting viewpoint, very little has changed. At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, Meadows is athletic with excellent bat speed and the potential for plus future power.  He still doesn’t use his lower half very well and consequently is losing kinetic energy and therefore power.  However, it does allow him to keep his swing short and compact.

While Meadows has above average speed, he has not attempted many stolen bases in his professional career. I have yet to receive a plausible explanation for this except that he might just be poor at reading pitchers. The speed should allow him to steal low double-digit stolen bases but it would be good to get validation at some point.

The Pirates like their prospects to spend a full year in Low-A before taking the gloves off and letting them progress based on their ability to handle the level. I’m assuming that Meadows will start the 2015 season back in West Virginia but could see a promotion to High-A by mid-season. Josh Bell did the same thing last year and is now in Double-A and pushing his way towards Pittsburgh.

Fantasy Impact: Meadows has the raw ability to be a solid fantasy contributor, but not a fantasy stud. While the power projection could translate into 20 plus home runs, it’s doubtful he will achieve that with his current swing mechanics. Plus, while he’s an above-average runner, it’s not yet translating into stolen bases. In a Dynasty League, I don’t see Meadows as a buy-low player but instead as a wait and hold. In other words, if I own him, I’m not selling low, nor am I’m trying to acquire him.

5. Alen Hanson (SS/2B)

2015 Age: 22 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht:5-11 Weight: 170 Bats: Both Throws: Right ETA: 2015
Year Class AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP CT% BB% BABIP
2014 AA 482 64 11 58 25 .280 .326 81.7 5.9 .321

The shine on Alen Hanson has faded over the past two years. He’s been benched multiple times for lack of hustle, his 2012 running-mate, Gregory Polanco, flew past him in the rankings and has already made it to Pittsburgh, and in August, the Pirates moved him to second base. Yet, I’m still a believer.

He has a nice combination of bat speed, athleticism, and an innate ability to barrel the ball that eventually will make him an impact offensive player at the highest level. The swing is compact and direct to the ball but Hanson does not use his lower body to the fullest and therefore, his over-the-fence power is currently limited. Plus, at 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds, he doesn’t have the body of a slugger. The speed continues to be plus with the potential to steal 25-30 stolen bases.

While there has always been talk within the industry that Hanson would eventually be moved to second, I thought he had the ability to stay at short. He’s quick and athletic enough for the position and I’ve seen him make numerous acrobatic plays but he seems to struggle with the simple plays – balls hit directly to him. That points to a lack of concentration and could be part of the reason for his multiple “benchings” during the year. Granted, he’s still very young, but at some point you do have to get concerned.

While the Pirates would have liked Hanson to have ridden the coat-tails of Polanco and already be contributing in the major leagues, he’s just moving slower; one would argue at a more normal pace than Polanco. The stat line was actually very good. He slashed .280/.325/.441 in 483 at-bats with 25 stolen bases. He is an aggressive hitter and does need to work on his approach in order to continue to hit in the leadoff position.

Fantasy Impact: Hanson is a buy-low candidate for me. His star has fallen but he still has the upside for 25 stolen bases and 10 to 15 home runs while batting .270 to .280. Part of his value will be based on where he bats in the lineup. In order to continue to bat leadoff, he’ll have to improve his plate discipline. If he doesn’t, he’ll get moved to seventh or eighth and lose a lot of his value.

6. Nick Kingham (RHP)

2015 Age: 23 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 6-5 Weight: 220 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2015
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2014 AA,AAA 159.0 141 59 9 2.94 6.74 3.34 1.21

I’m not sure there is much left for Nick Kingham to prove in the minor leagues. In 143.1 inning across Double-A and Triple-A, he posted a 2.89 ERA striking out 144 and walking 44. Those are not eye-popping numbers but are instead a profile of a number 3/4 pitcher.

Kingham has a very nice three pitch mix with a four-seamer that sits 92-93 MPH that can scrape 94/95, a really nice change-up that shows fad and deception, and an above-average curve that I think can be a real knock-out pitch down the road.

There’s also a lot to like with Kingham’s mechanics.  At 6-foot-5, he stands tall with good posture and gets excellent downward plane on his fastball.  He works down in the zone but will elevate his fastball to get batters to chase.  He also gets very nice extension as he produces excellent momentum to the plate and that helps his plus fastball play-up.  The balance is ok as he does fall-off to the first base side, but it’s not drastic. He does have a tendency to pitch up in the zone, particularly with his fastball, and while home runs have not been a problem, the profile does support that.

Fantasy Impact: The Pirates decided to ride the Locke train and Kingham did not get a chance to show his stuff in Pittsburgh in 2014. That will change in 2015 as he has a chance to break camp with the team. The Pirates could play the Super-2 game with him, however since he doesn’t have the same upside of Polanco and Cole, I think they will promote him when he’s ready. You can expect league average ratios with six to seven strikeouts per nine.

7. Reese McGuire (C)

2015 Age: 20 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht:6-0 Weight: 180 Bats: Left Throws: Right ETA: 2017
Year Class AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP CT% BB% BABIP
2014 A- 389 46 3 45 7 .262 .307 88.7 5.6 .284

The Pirates have been trying for years to draft a catcher who will be their anchor behind the dish. In 2013, they finally did and his name is Reese McGuire.

McGuire is quickly earning the reputation as one of the best defensive backstops in the game. He handles the position well with easy lateral movement and a gun for an arm. He also shows significant leadership ability when calling games; constantly talking to his pitcher and keeping the infield on it’s toes. It’s impressive to see.

While his offensive game lags behind, he showed a mature approach with the ability to make good contact in 389 at-bats in West Virginia. The swing is currently a level, line drive stroke, therefore the three home runs in hit in Low-A were not a surprise. As he adds strength and size, the power will increase with a ceiling of double-digit home runs.

Fantasy Impact: It’s hard to find offensive oriented catchers so most fantasy owners try to acquire catchers who will not harm them AND have upside. That’s Reese McGuire. The hit-tool projects to a .260 to .280 batting average with the power being the real unknown. He could hit five to eight but as he adds bulk and leverage, that total could easily double. The glove will carry him and for Dynasty owners who have to speculate five years down the road, he’s a safe bet to contribute at some point. There’s value in that alone.

8. Harold Ramirez (OF)

2015 Age: 20 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht: 5-11 Weight: 175 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2017
Year Class AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP CT% BB% BABIP
2014 A- 204 30 1 24 12 .309 .364 82.8 4.9 .365

Harold Ramirez was our 2014 emerging prospect and despite spending more time in the trainers room than on the field, he made us proud of that ranking.

Ramirez doesn’t have a true carrying tool but instead has average to above-average tools across the board. He’s a very good defender with the ability to play up the middle or at either corner. He also has above-average speed, but his speed plays up on the basepaths as he’s able to read pitchers very well. In 2014, he stole 12 of 15 bases and has the ceiling for 25 plus at the highest level.

He’s an aggressive hitter who makes very good contact fueled by a quick and direct swing. Despite being 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds, he could eventually hit 12-18 home runs as he fills-out and matures. While he’ll need to tone down the aggressiveness, the hit-tool should also play and projects to a .270-.280 statistical baseline.

Fantasy Impact: Ramirez is the type of player that will win you a fantasy titles. He won’t be a star but when you look up at the end of the year, he’ll have hit 14 home runs, stole 21 bases and scored 90 runs. He’s a buy-low candidate given the injuries he sustained in 2014.

9. JaCoby Jones (SS)

2015 Age: 23 Ceiling: Solid-Reg
Ht: 6-3 Weight: 200 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2017
Year Class AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP CT% BB% BABIP
2014 A- 445 72 32 70 17 .288 .347 70.3 6.6 .352

All things equal, the Pirates love to keep their players in Low-A for an entire season. On September 1st, 22-year-old and 2013 third round draft pick JaCoby Jones knew the plan well. Jones played well, posting a .288/.347/.503 slash line in 445 at-bats showing both power and speed. He is an aggressive hitter that can expand the strike zone at times and will have to improve over time. While his offensive game was statistically impressive, given his age and college pedigree, he was too advanced for the league. Therefore, 2015 will be a better bell weather as the Pirates will take off the gloves and let his talent find the level that will challenge him. Until then, Pirates fans and fantasy owners need to tap the breaks a bit on Jones.

Fantasy Impact: Based on his 2014 output, Jones has the potential to be a significant fantasy contributor with power and speed, albeit some downside pressure on his on-base percentage. However, as noted above, he was old for the league so I’m not willing to put a 20/20 label on him until I see him in a more age appropriate league. That said, there could be something here and if you have room on your minor league roster, you should be adding the 22-year-old shortstop.

10. Cole Tucker (SS)

2015 Age: 18 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht:6-3 Weight: 185 Bats: Both Throws: Right ETA: 2018-19
Year Class AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP CT% BB% BABIP
2014 R 180 39 2 13 13 .267 .368 78.9 12.0 .329

As with their 2013 selection of Reese McGuire, the Pirates are hoping they found their shortstop of the future in 2014 first round selection Cole Tucker. Tucker is an athletic, lanky teenager, who can really pick it. By most accounts, he has the foundation to stay at shortstop long-term and be that defensive option that Pirates covet. He held his own offensively in the GCL despite being one of the youngest players in the league. He posted a 38/26 strikeout-to-walk ratio while stealing 13 bases. Given his age and current strength, it’s hard to project him to having more than 30-40 grade power. However, kids fill out and add strength and at 6-foot-3, he has the size to add bulk, so you never know.

Fantasy Impact: We could look back at this time next year and look really foolish for only ranking Tucker tenth.  There could be a lot of fantasy goodness including contribution in batting average, on-base percentage, and stolen bases.  A .280 batting average with 20 stolen bases and a handful of home runs feels like a reasonable baseline.

2015 Emerging Prospect

Michael de la Cruz (OF)

Michael de la Cruz is really going to have to break out next year to make this prediction look reasonable. In 91 at-bats in his first taste of the GCL, he posted an ugly .165/.287/.198 slash line. However, he turned 18-years-old in July and only arrived in the US just a few months before playing in front of fans, well, small crowds of fans. All the tools are there though – bat speed, above-average running speed, and projectabiliy at 6-foot-1 and 165 pounds.

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