|Original Published Date: Oct. 7, 2013|
It was only a matter of time before the Pirates returned to contender status and 2013 was the season that they finally got the monkey off their back.
The Pirates have done a lot of things right by drafting smart and being aggressive in the international market. It did help that the lean years yielded high draft picks, but it was also important that the Pirates executed properly and developed the talent that is now bearing fruit in the major leagues. The best news is there is still talent in the pipeline with many of those players close to being ready to contribute at the highest level.
Jameson Taillon and Gregory Polanco should contribute next year in Pittsburgh and both have all-star upside. Alen Hanson is one of my personal “Fav” prospects and I see him as an elite bat that can stay at shortstop and could see a taste of the big leagues in 2014. Nick Kingham is in Double-A and could also be contributing in Pittsburgh behind Cole and Taillon as early as 2015.
A little further away is Tyler Glasnow, the 6-foot-7 right-handed pitcher, who was one of the minor leagues breakout players in 2013. Finally, there is 2013 first round draft pick, Austin Meadows, who has plus future power potential and could add another significant bat down the road.
The future is bright in Pittsburgh and with the talent on the farm, the Pirates have a chance to be a contender for a long-time to come.
|2014 Age: 22||Ceiling: #2 starter|
|Ht: 6-6 Weight: 235||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2014|
Is it possible for one of the best pitching prospects to be flying under-the-radar? Everyone is talking about Taijuan Walker, Archie Bradley, even Tyler Glasnow, but you just don’t hear a lot of noise about 6-foot-6 right-hander Jameson Taillon. Part of the problem could be that he was wedged between Bryce Harper and Manny Machado as the number two overall selection in the 2010 draft. The fact that Harper and Machado are already contributing in the major leagues should not have any bearing on this top-of-the-rotation arm.
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 (2.23 G/F in 110.1 innings in Double-A). 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.
At only 21-years-old, Taillon’s pitching mechanics are very mature with excellent extension that is allowing his plus arsenal to be even nastier. While his balance and posture are also very good, you’ll notice that he does fall-off to the first base side. This is because of the tremendous torque and extension he gets in his delivery. Is this bad? Well, there is so much torque in his delivery that he does have a noticeable Inverted-W that many believe is an indicator of future elbow problems. I’m not predicting that Taillon will have arm problems as in the end, nobody knows why some pitchers with seemingly flawless mechanics (Dylan Bundy) blow out their elbow and why pitchers with violent and flawed deliveries (Chris Sale) seem to be ok.
Fantasy Impact: While I have yet to do my 2014 Top 100 list, I fully expect Taillon to be a Top five pitcher, probably Top three in my rankings. The combination of his arsenal, command, and mechanics give him a ceiling of a number one. I also expect him to be called up in June of 2014 and provide better than league average performance for the remainder of the season.
|2014 Age: 22||Ceiling:Role 6-7
|Ht:6-4 Weight: 170||Bats: Left Throws: Left
Gregory Polanco has all the tools to be an all-star caliber major leaguer and should get a chance in 2014 to show the casual fan what prospect watchers have known for the past two year.
When you first see Gregory Polanco up close, it’s hard to ignore how physically imposing he could become. While his baseball-reference card puts him at 6-foot-4, I think he could be an inch or two taller with a high-waist making his long legs look even longer. He uses those long legs to take some of the longest strides I’ve ever seen on a ball field. When you watch him run, it doesn’t look like his running very fast but I had him at 4.08 down to first on an infield hit. That’s a solid 60 on the scouting 20-80 scale and why he’s stolen 36 bases between High-A and Double-A in 2013.
Polanco has great bat speed but does have some length to his swing. While you would think this would translate into a lot of swing and miss, he was able to manage an 84% contact rate due to his excellent hand-eye-coordination and ability to react quickly to off-speed pitches. His approach also took a big step forward in 2013 and resulted in an impressive 11% walk rate. In fact, in Double-A, he had 36 walks and 36 strikeouts in 68 games.
While his in-game power is still developing, Polanco’s bat speed and size should allow him to have plus power once he fully matures. In fact, the raw power can easily be seen in batting practice as he had one of the more impressive batting practices during the Futures Game at Citi Field. It wasn’t just pull power either as he showed power to all fields.
If it all comes together for Polanco, he could be a monster performer. A true five-tool player capable of 20+/20+ while batting .280 and playing excellent defense in either center or right field. At the ripe age of 22-years-old, expect Gregory Polanco to wear the Black and Gold of the Pirates sometime after June of 2014.
Fantasy Impact: Gregory Polanco could have a similar fantasy impact as fellow Pirate Andrew McCutchen. That’s not going to happen in 2014 and probably not 2015, but that is the upside. His ceiling: a monster player capable of 20+ home runs and 30-40 stolen bases early in his career, hitting in the middle of the order.
|2014 Age: 21||Ceiling:Role 6
|Ht: 5-11 Weight: 152||Bats: Right Throws: Right
Alen Hanson was one of the big breakout prospects in 2012 as he showed power, speed, and an advanced hit-tool while playing as a teenager in the full-season SALLY League. Promoted along with fellow Dominican Gregory Polanco to the Florida State League to start 2013, Hanson struggled both defensively and offensively. The struggle became so bad that after 11 games, he was benched. Sporting a .191 batting average with 10 errors, Hanson spent time with Bradenton coaches and organizational roving coaches who were brought in specifically to work on his defensive footwork. Hanson quickly settled down, particularly on defense and ending his FSL time with a slash line .281/.339/.444 and 23 errors. He committed 10 errors in the first 11 games and 13 over the remaining 81.
The early struggle of Hanson is a stark reminder that the development process is rarely linear. Players are expected to struggle as they move through the system, make adjustments, and improve. It’s when they stop improving that you get concerned.
I’m a huge fan of Hanson and believe the bat will play at the highest level. He has bat speed to go along with a nice compact swing that should allow him to have above-average future power. The approach also works as Hanson can layoff breaking pitches out of the zone and look for pitches that he can drive. There is also plus speed that should translate to 30 plus stolen bases. Even if he doesn’t stay at shortstop, the bat plays.
Shortstop or second base? For me, he’s a shortstop. He has great range and a nice arm and I’ve seen him make some difficult plays look easy. He actually struggles on the basic plays as he doesn’t get his feet set and most of the errors wind up being on his throw. As he matures and learns to not let-up, I believe these issues will resolve and he’ll be an adequate defensive shortstop. When combined with his offensive upside, he’s a first division player for me with all-star potential.
Fantasy Impact: Hanson has a chance to be an impact fantasy player with double-digit home runs, 30 plus stolen bases, and an above average batting average. I think of Jean Segura when I watch Hanson play and believe that’s a reasonable comparison (maybe a little more power and a little less speed).
|2014 Age: 20||Ceiling: #2 starter|
|Ht: 6-7 Weight: 195||Bats: Left Throws: Right||ETA: 2015-16|
Tall and thin at 6-foot-7 and 195 pounds, Tyler Glasnow was one of the true breakout prospects in 2013. Drafted in the fifth round of the 2011 draft, Glasnow showed promise with a 92-93 MPH fastball that could touch higher with tremendous plane. The secondary pitches were inconsistent but flashed enough to give scouts hope that there was something there. Well, they were right.
Glasnow started off the year by adding a couple of miles on his fastball with the ability to sit comfortably in the mid-90’s and touching the upper 90’s. The curveball had better definition and was sitting 78-79 MPH with tight spin and break. The changeup even took a step forward as he was able to throw it with the same arm-speed as his fastball with some fade. The problem was his control was not consistent and he had trouble commanding his pitches.
As the year ended, the arsenal was looking tighter. Both his curveball and change-up were more polished, but most importantly, his control had taken a step forward. While his overall walk rate was 4.93 per nine, over the past two months, that walk rate had dropped to 3.98. The command is still inconsistent but as he continues to mature and grow into his long frame, I expect the command to improve.
Fantasy Impact: Glasnow is still raw but this time next year, he could easily be a Top 10 pitcher in the minors. The arsenal should allow him to continue to strikeout a batter an inning and with his downward plane, I think he’ll be hard to take deep. While still a 2-3 years away from contributing in the major leagues, I would be aggressively adding him in a Dynasty League if he is still somehow out on the waiver wire.
|2014 Age: 18
|Ht: 6-3 Weight: 200||Bats: Left Throws: Left
Pittsburgh rolled the dice in 2012 and drafted Mark Appel with the eighth pick in the draft. However, Appel’s asking price was outside the scope of what the Pirates were willing to spend, so they got a chance to do a “do-over” in 2013 and selected Austin Meadows with the ninth pick. While some will view this as a consolation prize, I believe history could prove that Meadows has a ceiling every bit as high as Appel.
At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, Meadows is athletic with excellent bat speed with the projection for plus future power. The approach at the plate is also mature for an 18-year-old high-school player as he walked 29 time in 177 at-bats in his first taste of professional baseball. He doesn’t use his lower half very much in his swing and consequently is loosing a lot of kinetic energy and therefore power. However, it does allow him to keep his swing short and compact. In the end, I believe the Pirates will modify his swing in order to expand his power but at the price of contact.
Meadows also has above average speed as I clocked him at 4.18-4.22 down to first base. While his three stolen bases and two caught stealing are not impressive, I do think he has the profile for double digit stolen bases once the Pirates get a chance to work with him on the base paths. While he’s playing center field, I think eventually he’ll move to left field or even possibly first.
Fantasy Impact: Meadows profile projects to a first-division starter. While I do worry about his ability to make contact and thus be a plus hitter, I do think his approach should help neutralize some of his contact issues. The power should definitely play with the potential for 25+ home runs at the highest level.
|2014 Age: 22||Ceiling: #3 starter|
|Ht: 6-5 Weight: 220||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2014|
Former high-school teammate of Bryce Harper, Nick Kingham was drafted in the fourth round of the 2010 draft and is starting to get some helium as an elite pitching prospect.
He had an outstanding year across High-A and Double-A in 2013, putting up a combined 2.89 ERA in 143.1 innings with an impressive 9.04 K/9 and an equally impressive 2.76 BB/9. The best news is the stuff matched the performance.
Kingham has a really nice three pitch mix with a four-seamer that sits 92-93 MPH and can touch higher, a really nice change-up that showed some nice fad in a game I saw him in July, 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 as well. 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 makes his plus fastball play up even better. The balance is ok as he does fall-off to the first base side, but it’s not drastic.
Fantasy Impact: Kingham will be in the discussion to be included on the Top 100 list and could be a solid number three starter or more in the big leagues. While it’s hard to chase wins in fantasy baseball, a good pitcher on a likely great team will increase your odds and that’s what we should have in Nick Kingham.
|2014 Age: 21
|Ht: 6-3 Weight: 213||Bats: Both Throws:Right
The Pirates emptied the piggy bank when they signed Josh Bell to a $5 million signing bonus in 2011. Things started off well in 2012 until a meniscus tear in his knee in late April sidelined him for the remainder of the year.
Repeating Low-A in 2013, Bell had a solid year with a .279/.353/.453 slash line. While many fans wanted to see Bell promoted to High-A in mid-season, that is not the cadence the Pirates generally follow. They typically keep their prospects, regardless of how high they were drafted or how much money they have invested in Low-A for an entire season. Once they hit High-A, the gloves come off and they are promoted based on their ability to handle the level. Gregory Polanco is a great example of this strategy.
Bell has bat speed and the projection for future power. His swing is compact and direct to the ball with a mature approach. He profiles as a middle of the order bat with the ability to drive balls to all fields. Speed is not part of the profile and instead he profiles to be classic right-field power outfielder.
Fantasy Impact: Bell could provide 25-30 home run power, if not more as a middle of the order bat. Initially, he could steal double digit stolen bases, but as he files out, the number of stolen bases will drop. 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.
|2014 Age: 19
|Ht: 6-0 Weight: 181||Bats: Left Throws: Right
The Pirates thought they found their catcher-of-the-future in 2009 when they drafted Tony Sanchez with the number four overall pick. While Sanchez made his major league debut in 2013, his hit-tool and defensive development give him a profile of a backup as oppose to a starting catcher on a contending team. So in 2013, the Pirates took another high-school catcher in the first round in hopes that Reese McGuire could be their catcher-of-the-future.
McGuire defensive game is currently ahead of his offensive game with many comparing him to Austin Hedges ability with a stronger arm. As with Hedges, the question will be around how much he’ll hit. The bat speed is just ok and with his size, I’m not sure how much power he’ll ultimately have.
His approach and ability to make contact in a limited sample size has been good with a 19K/16BB ratio in 192 at-bats. However, he also did not hit with much power as his OBP and SLG were the same at .380. Granted it was in the GCL, but 11 extra base hits in nearly 200 at-bats is not great.
Fantasy Impact: While I think there will be OBP and some batting average, McGuire could serve as a second catcher in a deep league.
9. Luis Heredia (RHP)
Heredia has a very live and lose arm that generates a fastball that sits 93-94 MPH and can touch higher. His curve ball is a beautiful 12-6 hammer, but it’s just not very consistent at the moment. The inconsistency comes from an arm slot that is moving all over the place. The change-up is also very inconsistent. Then again, he’s still only 18-years-old with a lot of time left to develop. While he’s got the size of a starter, his arsenal and mechanics might eventually force him to a late inning bullpen arm.
10. Barrett Barnes (OF)
Taken in the supplemental first round of the 2012 draft, Barrett Barnes brings power and speed to the equation and looked pretty good in his first full-season assignment in 2013, but strained his hamstring in late July and did not return. While the bat speed is good, the swing is really leveraged and therefore you can expect some swing and miss in his game. I believe Barnes upside is a second division outfielder and I would not be surprised if he’s moved next year in a trade to improve the big league club.
2014 Emerging Prospect:
Harold Ramirez (OF)
Signed out of Columbia in 2011, Harold Ramirez started to show why the Pirates signed him to a $1 million signing bonus. Short and compact at 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds, Ramirez hit five home runs and stole 23 bases in the New York Penn League in 2013 while making excellent contact (82%). He also has a nice approach at the plate and should start 2014 in the full-season Midwest League and could turn into a nice top-of-the-order bat.