Pittsburgh Pirates

Original Published Date: Sept. 20, 2012

The Pittsburgh Pirates had an excellent development year with their system as the loaded West Virginia Low-A team saw several young players make huge strides including Dominican’s Alen Hanson and Gregory Polanco.  Both will move to High-A next year and could see their development timeframe accelerate.  However, the jewel on the Pirates minor league system is in their elite starting pitching.  Gerrit Cole and Jasmeson Taillon have a chance to be very special pitchers with top of the rotation stuff.  17 year-old Luis Heredia continues to impress and will start 2013 in Low-A and could be another top of the rotation talent.

With all the good things that happened, there were some disappointments.  First was Josh Bell, who missed most of the year with a knee injury.  While I’m still bullish on the talent, it’s never good when a young kid looses a year of development.  Secondly, was the risky move of drafting Mark Appel in the first round of the 2012 draft and then failing to sign him.   Was it worth the gamble?  Time will tell, but with another year finishing sub-500 in the majors, a bizarre controversy involving Navy Seal training and players getting injured, and the Appel gamble that didn’t pay off, it could be the end of the line for Neal Huntington.  If so, he leaves Pittsburgh in excellent shape for the future.

1. Gerrit Cole (RHP)

2013 Age: 22 BP: California
Ht: 6-3 Weight: 220 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2013
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2012 A-AAA 132.0 113 41 7 3.07 9.27 2.80 1.20

There are two axioms about being the first player taken in a MLB first year player draft.  1) You will be very rich, and 2) the expectations will be very high.  When you throw nearly 100 MPH and have three plus pitches, the expectation can get so high that fans and even the baseball industry expects an almost immediate domination in the majors.  While Gerrit Cole’s first season has been excellent, some would say, dominating, many people believe it’s fallen short.

Gerrit Cole’s scouting report reads – stud.  A four-seamer that sits in the mid-90 and can touch higher, a low-90’s two-seamer that induces a lot of balls beat into the ground, an 88-90 power slider that is a true swing and miss pitch and a change-up that some believe is his best pitch.  Cole’s command is also above average as he walked a very acceptable 3.07 per nine.  He’s also big with a clean and repeatable delivery.

Then why do some claim that he has not met expectations?  First, while Cole’s stuff is great, he’s not Stephen Strassburg and let’s face it, Cole was compared to Strassburg during the draft and well, that’s just not fair.  At this juncture in Cole’s development, the command is good, but not great.  Also needing improvement is his pitchability.  In college, Cole did not call his own game and in professional ball, the catcher-pitcher relationship is a dance and it’s taking Cole a while to learn to be a partner in the process.  Both deficiencies are completely normal and why there is a development process instead of players going directly from college or high-school to the majors.

Cole has all the makings of being a front-line starter and being a dominate pitcher – an ace.  The stuff is elite, the command is coming and he’s learning to pitch.  I fully expect to see Cole make his major league debut in 2013 and while the results may be mixed upon his arrival, he’s going to be very good for a long-time.

Fantasy Impact: Cole will rank in the Top 10 of my 2013 prospect list and if I’m drafting in a dynasty league, I’ll be taking him as a top 50 pitcher, assuming both major and minor league pitchers

2. Jameson Taillon (RHP)

2013 Age: 21 BP: Florida
Ht: 6-6 Weight:225 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2013-14
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2012 A+-AA 142.0 120 56 10 2.40 7.35 3.54 1.11

Jameson Taillon was drafted second in the 2010 draft out of The Woodlands High School in Texas.  He’s a big boy, standing 6-6 and weighing 225 lbs.  As with Cole, Taillon is a hard thrower with his four-seamer sitting in the mid-90’s touching nearly 100 mph when he wants to add a little extra.  Taillon also has a knee-buckling 12-6 curve that he throws in the low 80’s.  As with a lot of high-schoolers, the change-up was not very good when he entered professional ball, but it has improved to be at least an average offering.

Pittsburgh took a lot of criticism in 2011, when they limited Taillon to a maximum of five innings pitched with 80% of his pitches being fastballs.  Fans wanted to see him unleashed, particularly to throw his curve, but Pittsburgh wanted him to work on his mechanics and develop consistency in his delivery.  That has paid off as Taillon walk 2.40 batters per nine in 2012.  However, while his strikeout rate was decent at 7.35 per nine, with his stuff, you would have expected better.  I see this as a minor issue at this point in his development as the stuff is elite, the size is there, and from all indications, the make-up is excellent.

Fantasy Impact: As with Cole, Taillon has a chance to be a true ace with 180+ annual strikeout numbers with excellent ratios.  I will rate him just slightly behind Cole, but I must stress – slightly.  Taillon has a chance to be very special.

3. Alen Hanson (SS)

2013 Age: 20 BP: D.R.
Ht:5-11  Weight: 185 Bats: Both Throws: Right ETA:2015
2012 LowA 489 99 16 62 35 .309 .381 78.5 11.2 .365

In 2010, Alen Hanson showed a lot of promise as a 17 year-old in the DSL, batting .324 with a 37K/20BB strikeout-to-walk ratio and stealing 20 of 28 bases.  Scouts loved the speed but also saw power projection in the bat.  In 2011, Hanson continued to develop with nearly identical statistics with a dip in batting average a result of a more normalized BABIP.  The biggest concern was whether he would be able to stick at shortstop or would the keystone be his eventual position.  However, as 2012 rolled in, Hanson was barely considered a prospect as Baseball America had him listed as the #27 prospect in the Pittsburgh organization.  However, 2012 saw a huge step forward for Alen Hanson to move from “potential” to real prospect.

When you first see Hanson, you’re struck with how much he’s filled out since being drafted as a 16 year-old.  While others are concerned with his ability to stick at shortstop, I saw a graceful defender with nice lateral movement and an adequate arm to make the throw from deep in the hole.  I grade his glove and arm as average to slightly above average (50-55).

Hanson speed is obvious as I clocked him at 4.18 on a dig down the line to first and would rate his speed as a 65; not a burner but enough speed and base stealing ability to steal 30+ bases at the major league level.  His approach at the plate was solid, although there was some anxiousness early in the count, but once he had a two-strike count, his stroke shorten.  What I was really struck with was the solid contact Hanson made.  His hands are quick and while he could improve on how long the bat stays in the zone, it’s easy to now to see what scouts saw in his power potential.  I see a current 50 grade power with a chance to grow into a 60 grade power once he fully matures.

Hanson will start the 2013 season at Bradenton in the Florida State League and given the large ballparks, a dip in power could be a result.

Fantasy Impact: I believe Alen Hanson has a chance to be a major fantasy contributor, who will bat leadoff at a premium position.  There is always risk as he is still in the low minors, but I would be targeting Hanson in the early rounds once prospects go off the board in a dynasty draft.

4. Gregory Polanco (OF)

2013 Age: 21 BP: D.R.
Ht: 6-4  Weight:170 Bats: Left Throws:Left
2012 LowA 437 84 16 85 40 .325 .388 85.4 10.1 .351

One of the best things about watching minor league baseball is being surprised by somebody in which you had never heard.  That’s what happened when I saw Gregory Polanco.  He flat out looks like a baseball player and man does he have tools.  While he’s listed at 170, he’s got to weigh 200-210 lbs.

Polanco has a really nice lefty swing who can flat out play.  I can’t remember the last time I saw someone with a stride as long as he has when he is galloping in the outfield.  It’s almost freakish, but wow, can he cover ground.  His arm is also plus which led to him leading the Sally league in outfield assist in 2012.  He’s playing center field now, but at 6-4, he eventually projects to a corner outfielder.

In 2012, he had an 85% contact rate with great plate discipline and an approach that will definitely play at the major league level.  I saw him grind out numerous plate appearances and then take a walk.  Granted, it was Low-A pitching, but the plate appearances were impressive.  With his size and natural loft in his bat, I see plus power developing with the opportunity to hit 25+ home runs at the major league level.  Finally his speed is plus, but as he fills out, I don’t see him continuing to steal 40 bases.  However, as with many young players, the speed with continue for several years before tailing off.

Fantasy Impact: You could be looking at a real fantasy star in Polanco with the ability to contribute across all categories.  As with Hanson, he’s young but with tons of upside.  While the outfield is currently clogged in Pittsburgh, you could see Polanco hitting the AA by the end of next year with an eye to a big league debut in 2014.

5. Josh Bell (OF)

2013 Age: 20 BP: Texas
Ht:6-4  Weight: 195 Bats: Both Throws: Right ETA:2015-16
2012 LowA 62 6 1 11 1 .274 .288 66.1 3.2 .400

Josh Bell’s parents wrote an open letter to major league teams indicating that he would not sign if drafted, so essentially, don’t bother.  The Pirates rolled the dice and drafted Bell with the first pick in the second round of the 2011 draft and five million dollars later, Bell was a Pirate.

Unfortunately, Josh Bell missed most of the 2012 season with a meniscus tear in his knee which he suffered in late April.  There’s not a whole lot we can take from a tiny sample size of 62 at-bats but the early results confirmed the raw scouting report out of high school.

Bell is a switch hitter that has very strong wrist that enable him to let the ball travel an extra split second into the zone before reacting.   He’s strong with a great deal of torque and leverage in his swing.  However, while that type of swing will generate power, there could be a lot of swing and miss in the bat.  While he has the speed and arm to play a corner outfield position, do not be surprised as Bell matures, that he becomes the Pirates first baseman of the future, particularly if Marte and Polanco realize their potential.

Fantasy Impact: Bell could provide 25-30 home run power, if not more as a middle of the order bat. Initially, he could steal single digit bases per year, but it’s doubtful that he will truly be a stolen base threat.  Finally, the big concern will be how much swing and miss his bat will generate and therefore the pressure he will provide on that category.

6. Luis Heredia (RHP)

2013 Age: 18 BP:Mexico
Ht: 6-6 Weight: 205 Bats: Right Throws:Right ETA: 2015-16
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2012 SS 66.1 53 20 2 2.71 5.43 2.71 1.10

It’s pretty easy to get excited about a 17 year-old in the New York Penn League who stands 6-6 and can throw 97 MPH.  That’s exactly what the Pittsburgh Pirates have in young Luis Heredia.

Heredia has a very live and loose arm that generates a fastball that sits 93-94 and can hit higher.  His curve ball is a beautiful 12-6, but it’s just not very consistent at the moment.  The inconsistent comes from an arm slot that is moving all over the place.  The change-up is also very inconsistent.

The strikeout per nine is only 5.43, but I would expect that to increase as the he matures as a pitcher and gains consistency with his arm slot.  With consistency will come better secondary pitches and as he fills out, potentially more arm speed.  While a long way away, Heredia definitely has front of the rotation potential.  Will he discover it?

Fantasy Impact: Heredia is a long way off, so he should only be drafted in the deepest of dynasty leagues.  However, he will be pitching in Low-A West Virginia in 2013 and if he starts putting things together, it may be time to jump on him.

7. Barrett Barnes (OF)

Selected in the supplemental first round of the 2012 draft, Texas Tech alumni Barrett Barnes provides an interesting power/speed combination for the Pirates.  In his three years with the Raiders, he had a slash line of .319/.433/.582 with 33 home runs and 50 stolen bases.  His best tool is bat speed, however he can get out on his front foot a little too much and therefore be exposed to pitches down and away. However, middle-in should be directly in his wheel house and with his bat-speed, he could inflict a lot of damage.   Depending on how his hit-tool progresses, Barnes projects to be a second division starter.

8. Clayton Holmes (RHP)

I will admit looking at Clay Holmes 59.1 innings in the New York Penn League and seeing a K/9 of 5.16 and a BB/9 of 4.40, you might simply shrug and move on.  However, there’s more to Holmes than a stat line.  He’s a big kid at 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds and throws a live low to mid 90’s fastball that has great movement.  His secondary pitches are also pretty good and just need time to develop.  His pitching mechanics also need work as they are far from smooth but he has a very high three-quarters delivery and given his height, he’s going to be flat-out tough to hit.  There’s a lot to work on with Holmes, but there’s also a lot to work with.  I’m investing as I think there is something there.

9. Nick Kingham (RHP)

At 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, 2010 fourth round draft pick Nick Kingham has the ideal pitching body.  He also has pretty good pitching mechanics with really nice balance on his landing that is providing excellent control (2.55 BB/9).  The arsenal though is just ok for me.  His fastball sits in the low 90’s and with his size and high three-quarters delivery, he gets a lot of downward plane on his fastball resulting in a lot of ground balls.  His secondary pitches however are not there yet.  Both his curve and changeup lacked a lot of movement and were hittable. That said, there’s still a lot to like with Kingham as he moves to High-A to start the 2013 season.

10. Dilson Herrera (2B)

The Pirates have been very successful in Latin America over the past few years and Dilson Herrera is yet another example of a toolsy high ceiling yet high risk prospect.   While not blessed with great size at 5-foot-10 and 150 pounds, he showed surprising pop in the GCL by hitting seven home runs and slugging .482 in 199 at-bats.  He did get a taste in September in the NY Penn League and held his own.  While he’s not in the same category as Alen Hanson, if Herrera shows the growth in 2013 that he did in 2012, he’ll start moving quickly up prospect list.

8 comments on “Pittsburgh Pirates

  1. How about Mathison? The young toolsy C with a massive way to go? Any write-up?

    • Not close to making the list but there is potential there. I saw him play in the fall and the guy has a gun for an arm. Seems to have an idea for the strike zone. A long way to go as you said

      • Thanks! Monday is right around the corner…last week, Ray Flowers posted the results of a dynasty draft, but all players HAD to be kept for 5 seasons. Rosario went 10th to a HQ writer! I’m pretty amped to see where certain players begin to go.

  2. Not a ML player anymore, but what is your take on S. Marte for this year and the future?

  3. Barrett Barnes and Dilson Herrera might be able to fill out your top ten…

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