Pittsburgh Pirates

Original Published Date: October 13, 2015

Under General Manager Neal Huntington, the Pittsburgh Pirates have done an excellent job in acquiring young players, either through the amateur draft or in the International market and then developing those players to be assets in the major leagues.   The results can be seen from Gerrit Cole to Jung Ho Kang.   While they have yet to fully catch the St. Louis Cardinals, with the talent still left in their system and the process they have developed, it should be just a matter of time.

The Pirates system is not only deep but also has several of the best prospects in the game.  Tyler Glasnow has some of the best stuff in the minor leagues and is just about ready.  He still has work to do on commanding his arsenal, but the stuff is so nasty, he could get big league batters out today.  Alen Hanson is also ready to make his mark in the major leagues and could be the answer at second if the Pirates chose to not re-sign Neil Walker after the 2016 season.  A little further away is Austin Meadows, Josh Bell, and Harold Ramirez; all have the potential to be first division starters at the big league level.

Finally, there is Jameson Taillon.  He’s dropped in our rankings but still has top of the rotation potential. However, his recovery from Tommy John Surgery has been slowed and he just needs to start pitching again.  Assuming he’s healthy, he could help the Pirates in a meaningful way in 2016.

1. Tyler Glasnow (RHP)

2016 Age: 22 Ceiling: #1 starter
Ht: 6-8 Weight: 225 Bats: Left Throws: Right ETA: 2016
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 A,AA,AAA 109.1 77 29 3 3.54 11.20 2.39 1.10

It’s looking more and more like the Pirates got a huge deal when they selected 6-foot-8 Tyler Glasnow in the sixth round of the 2011 first year player draft.  In 81 games in the minor leagues, he’s posted a 2.07 ERA while striking out 11.76 batters per nine.  What might be the most impressive statistic though is his .171 batting average against.

Scouting Report:  Glasnow might have the nastiest stuff in the minor leagues, with the operative word being “nasty”.  While Glasnow arsenal is plus, headlined by a double-plus fastball, it’s the extension that he gets that makes it nearly impossible for batters to square him up.   However, sometimes his size and extension works against him, resulting in balance issues and then ultimately control problems.

The Pirates have worked very hard on his balance and have stressed fastball command, like they do with all of their pitchers.  The results are starting to be very encouraging.   In 2013, he walked nearly five batters per nine in Low-A, but in 104 innings across Double and Triple-A this past season, he walked 3.54 per nine.

His out-pitch continues to be his plus curve ball that is a classic 12 to 6 downer.  His change-up has improved greatly and took a significant uptick in 2015.  It’s a hard offering that sits 87 to 88 MPH and is very effective against left-handed batters.

Glasnow has the raw stuff to pitch at the front of the rotation and with the control improvements he has made; he could develop into an ace.  He’ll likely struggle to command his pitches but it might not matter as big league batters will struggle to square up his pitches as have the minor leaguers before them.

Fantasy Impact:  If Glasnow can control his stuff, he has a chance to be a very special pitcher.  It looks like that is starting to happen and that could be bad news for major league batters.  He’s one of the few pitchers in the minor league with the upside of an ace.

2. Austin Meadows (OF)

2016 Age: 21 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht: 6-3 Weight: 200 Bats: Left Throws: Left ETA: 2017-18
2015 A+,AA 533 77 7 55 21 .310 .360 84.2 7.4 .355

The Pirates have done very well drafting in the first round and 2013 was yet another banner year.  In that year, they drafted Austin Meadows with the ninth overall pick.  As has been their practice with all high school draftees, the Pirates have taken it slow and easy with Meadows.  He played a full season in Low-A (injured part of the year) in his first year, followed by nearly 600 plate appearances in High-A in 2015 before a promotion to Double-A for the last week of the season.  It has paid off as Meadows has demonstrated an excellent understanding of the strike zone (14% walk rate) as well as the ability to make solid contact (84%).  Meadows should start the 2016 season in Double-A and the Pirates will likely take the handcuffs off and let the talent dictate when he arrives in the majors.

That arrival date will be tricky as there is no room in the very talented outfield for Meadows.  Andrew McCutchen is signed through 2017 with a club option for 2018, Starling Marte is signed through 2019, and Gregory Polanco will not be a free agent until 2019.  Will the Pirates trade Meadows?  While that seems to the most logical move, that has not been their practice.  As was stated above, it’s tricky.

Scouting Report:  Meadows has a lot of average to above-average tools with his hit-tool being the best of the bunch.  He has developed a mature approach with excellent barrel control that allows him to hit to all fields.  He does have plenty of bat speed, but stays within himself at the plate and choses to make hard contact instead of adding loft to his swing.  The result to-date is a high batting average but average in-game power.

Meadows also has good speed and started to show that in Bradenton after really not doing anything on the bases in the previous two season.  Perhaps he didn’t want to overstress his hamstring last year after spending the first half the season on the disabled list.  Nevertheless, it was good to see and gives hope that he can steal 20 plus bases at the big league level.

Fantasy Impact:  Meadows gets overlooked in Dynasty Leagues as he doesn’t have that “one” standout skill.  However, the sum of the parts could make Meadows a top five round pick with the upside of a 20 HR/20 SB player with a .280/.340 batting average/on-base percentage.   The 20 stolen bases is more likely than the 20 home runs, but the raw power is in there and with a little more loft, it could easily emerge.

3. Alen Hanson (2B)

2016 Age: 23 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht: 5-11 Weight: 180 Bats: Both Throws: Right ETA: 2016-17
2015 AAA 475 66 6 43 35 .263 .313 80.8 7.0 .311

In 2012, Alen Hanson and Gregory Polanco took the Sally League by storm and quickly became household names in prospect circles.  Polanco went on to make quick work of the minor leagues in 2013 and 14 and is now the starting right fielder in Pittsburgh. With Neil Walker in his final arbitration year in 2016, assuming he stays healthy, Hanson should have the inside track for the starting job at the keystone in 2017.

Scouting Report:  Hanson is an offensive-minded second baseman with solid all-around tools.  While he’s a switch-hitter, he’s better from his natural right-side with superior barrel control and power.  He does make very good contact (81%) from both sides with very good strike zone awareness (7%).  While his swing doesn’t have a ton of loft, he does have very good bat speed and the physicality to hit 8 to 12 home runs annually.   To round out the profile, Hanson has plus speed and has stolen at least 24 bases at each level.

Defensively, the Pirates have moved him to second base after several years at shortstop.  Having seen him play shortstop multiple times, I thought he could have stuck there but in the end, the Pirates didn’t believe the arm would play there consistently.  Given his athleticism, he has a chance to be a plus defender at second base.

Fantasy Impact:  Alen Hanson has made our Top 100 list for the past three years and that will continue in 2016.  The tools are very fantasy-friendly with a ceiling of a plus batting average, 30 stolen bases annually, 8 to 12 home runs, hitting at the top of the lineup.  If he produces at that level, he’s a top five fantasy second baseman.

4. Josh Bell (1B)

2016 Age: 23 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht: 6-3 Weight: 235 Bats: Both Throws: Right ETA: 2016-17
2015 AA,AAA 489 67 7 78 9 .317 .393 86.7 11.4 .346

The 2011 draft might turn out to be a transformational event for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Gerrit Cole, who was drafted number one overall, has emerged as a star in the major leagues and Tyler Glasnow is regarded as one of the best pitching prospects in the game.  Not to be lost in the 2011 draft shuffle is Josh Bell.  The Pirates took him with the first pick in the second round and paid him a well over-slot $5 million signing bonus to lure him away from the University of Texas.

His first two-years in professional ball were hampered by a serious knee injury but he got things going last year where he posted an .886 OPS in the Florida State League with nine home runs.  In his promotion to Double-A, he continued to hit, but his plus raw power has yet to translate into in-game power as he only hit five in 95 games.  The Pirates promoted him to Triple-A in July and the same pattern repeated.  The Pirates appear to be preparing him for a mid-season promotion next year where he should take over for Pedro Alvarez, assuming the Pirates do not re-sign him.

Scouting Report:  When drafted, most observers saw plus raw power that would turn into 25 in-game home run power.  However, that hasn’t happened.  He still shows the raw power in batting practice and he showed the world that raw power when he launched a bomb on National television in the 2015 Futures Games.  What has taken a step forward is his approach and contactability.   He has great strike zone awareness and excellent barrel control and that should translate into a plus hitter at the major league level (.280 average and above).   I’m still buying the power and think it will come in time.  I will downshift from plus power to average to above-average and peg his future power at 15 to 20.

Fantasy Impact:  Josh Bell is a tricky player to evaluate for fantasy owners.   If he were an outfielder, the upside would be a number three starting outfielder but with his move to first base, unless the power truly develops, he might not be ownable.   The upside is Brandon Belt, a 20 home run, .275/.340 performer with a handful of stolen bases.  However, the floor and the risk is Joe Mauer.   The truth is likely somewhere between the two ; a solid corner infielder in a 15-team mixed league.

5. Harold Ramirez (OF)

2016 Age: 22 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht: 5-10 Weight: 210 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2017-18
2015 A+ 306 45 4 47 22 .337 .399 84.3 7.3 .385

Harold Ramirez had a breakout campaign in 2015 posting an impressive .337/.399/.458 slash line in 80 games in the Florida State League.  Ramirez didn’t play a full season because he was held back in extended spring training for reportedly arriving to Spring Training overweight.  At 5-foot-10 and 210 pounds, Ramirez is already a little stocky, so hopefully the Pirates have addressed the issue and it is behind him.

Scouting Report:  Ramirez carrying tool is his hit-tool.  He has a mature approach and can barrel the ball with authority to all fields.  The swing is currently doubles-oriented but he has enough size, strength and bat speed to project 12 to 15 home runs at the highest level.  His plus foot-speed did drop a grade, perhaps due to him being a little out of shape and the results were not good.  While he stole 22 bases, he was also caught 15 times.  As Ramirez naturally fills out, the speed will continue to regress with a ceiling of 8 to 12 stolen bases annually more likely than 20 plus.

Defensively, the Pirates have moved Ramirez to right field where he profiles as an average defender.  As with Austin Meadows, Ramirez is blocked but will likely struggle to crawl over Meadows on the depth chart.  Given his growing hit tool, he could be an intriguing trade chip in the future as the Pirates will likely always need pitching at the major league level.

Fantasy Impact:  Ramirez is still flying under-the-radar in many Dynasty Leagues but with his breakout campaign, that is quickly changing.  Now might be the last time to jump in and purchase him for a reasonable fee.  The ceiling is a .280 hitter with 12 to 15 home runs and 8 to 12 stolen bases.   It’s slightly lesser version of Austin Meadows.

6. Jameson Taillon (RHP)

2016 Age: 24 Ceiling: #2 starter
Ht: 6-5Weight: 240 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016-17
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 DNP

It’s been a tough two-years for Jameson Taillon.  In April of 2014, he had Tommy John Surgery and then when rehabbing during extended Spring Training in June, he complained of abdominal pain which required hernia surgery to repair.

It’s a shame that his 2015 season was cut short as reports coming out of extended spring training were encouraging.  The Pirates will likely play it safe with Taillon in 2016 and severely restrict his innings.  If he pitches well in April and May, there’s a good chance he could see Pittsburgh in 2016, however, don’t be surprised if the Pirates limit his innings to 140.

Scouting Report:  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:  It’s been a long road for Taillon, but it’s also been a long road for Dynasty League owners.  If you’ve owned Taillon from the beginning, you have been waiting five years for him to put up stats; and you got really close last year, but it just didn’t happen.  At this point, owners need to hold tight and hope that he sees Pittsburgh next year.  The upside is still a number two starter with plenty of strikeouts and better than league average ratios.

7. Kevin Newman (SS)

2016 Age: 22 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht: 6-1 Weight: 180 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2018
2015 SS,A 257 39 2 17 13 .257 .318 88.3 6.7 .284

Since drafting Tony Sanchez in the first round in 2009, the Pirates have been on an impressive roll in hitting on their first round draft picks.  Yeah, they didn’t sign Mark Appel, but that missed opportunity landed them Austin Meadows.  In 2015, I think they hit on another very good player in shortstop Kevin Newman.

Newman had an impressive three year college career at the University of Arizona, posting a .337/.396/.421 slash line and accumulating 46 stolen bases in 165 games.   While he didn’t play particularly well in his first professional action, he can hit and eventually the numbers will come.

Scouting Report:  Newman not only hit in college but hit very well in two years in the Cape Cod League.  Therefore, it was surprising that he struggled as much as he did after being drafted in 38 games in the New York Penn League.  However, the Pirates moved him to the Sally League and the hits started to fall and Newman was able to finish the year with a decent slash line of .257/.318/.350.

Newman has plus bat speed with a short compact stroke and while he’s never hit for much power, is strong enough to pop a handful of home runs every year.  He makes excellent contact (88%) with a very good approach at the plate.  Once he adjusts to the rigors of the professional ball, his walk-rate should be well over 10% a year.  To round out the offensive profile, he’s a plus runner with great instincts on the base paths with a chance to steal 25 or more bases per year.

Defensively, Newman has the athleticism and footwork to be an above-average defender at shortstop.   Not everyone was convinced at the draft table and that was one of the reasons he fell to the Pirates.  Clearly the Pirates are sold and so are we.

Fantasy Impact:  As an advanced college hitter, the Pirates will not take their typical slow-and-grow approach with Newman.  Given the struggles he had this year, he’ll likely start 2015 back in Low-A, but should finish the season in the Florida State League.   That should put him on target to make his major league debut in late 2017 or more likely 2018.  He’ll be a plus hitter with a ton of stolen bases with the requisite skills to be a leadoff hitter.

8. Reese McGuire (C)

2016 Age: 21 Ceiling: Solid Reg
Ht: 6-0 Weight: 180 Bats: Left Throws: Right ETA: 2017-18
2015 A+ 374 32 0 34 14 .254 .301 89.6 6.3 .280

Coming into the 2013 first year player draft, Reese McGuire had the reputation of a defensive-first catcher with advanced skills well beyond his year.  The bat was the big question and after his first two-years of professional ball, the same observations remain.  Over his first 246 games of his professional career, McGuire has slugged .328 while hitting just three home runs.  In fact, in 98 games in High-A this past year, he didn’t leave the yard once.

Scouting Report:  McGuire’s defensive chops are some of the best in the minor leagues.  He’s athletic with soft hands and excellent footwork.  The Pirates coaching staff rave about his defensive abilities, noting that pitchers love “throwing to him”.  Offensively though, his skills are currently a grade or two behind his catch and throw skills.

McGuire does make good contact with an idea of the strike zone.  He also has good bat speed and enough strength to hit 8 to 12 home runs annually.  He has below average foot speed, so I’m not sure where the 14 stolen bases came from.

If you add it up, the scouting report is a little ahead of the in-game production.  However, that happens with a lot of catching prospects as they spend so much time learning the nuances of catching that their offensive game lags behind.   I think that’s the case with McGuire and Pirates fans just need to be patient.  That said, the defensive game is so advanced that he could see Pittsburgh in 2017 and become a liability in the number eight hole.  In the end, it might not matter because the defensive skills are so advanced.

Fantasy Impact:  It’s hard not to think of Austin Hedges when reviewing Reese McGuire.  They are advanced catchers with limited current offensive upside.  However, I believe Hedges will hit with some power one day and I believe McGuire will hit with power (lesser though) at the big league level.   The upside is a .250 to .260 batting average with 8 to 12 home runs with a handful of stolen bases.

9. Cole Tucker (SS)

2016 Age: 19 Ceiling: Solid Reg
Ht: 6-3 Weight: 185 Bats: Both Throws: Right ETA: 2018-19
2015 A 300 46 2 25 25 .293 .322 83.7 4.9 .336

Cole Tucker was a surprise pick for the Pirates as the 24th overall player in the 2014 first year player draft.  However, after his first year and half of professional ball, it looks like the Pirates once again, knew what they were doing.   In 73 games in Low-A this year, he batted .293 while adding 25 stolen bases.  He did it all as the fifth youngest positional player in the Sally League.

Scouting Report:  Tucker has a lot of 50-tools but nothing stands out as truly plus.  He makes good contact with the ability to spray the ball to all fields.  He can get aggressive at the plate and therefore doesn’t walk as much as you would like.  As a switch hitter, he looks better from the left side despite the stats showing he’s actually better against lefty pitchers.  There is no current power, but at 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds, he should add strength as he fills out and he has enough bat speed to project 8 to12 home runs in the future.  He’s also a good runner, stealing 25 of 31 bases this past year.  However, he’s not a burner and his stolen bases are more based on his ability to read pitchers and get good jumps.

Fantasy Impact:  While Tucker is currently ahead of Kevin Newman on the depth chart, that will likely change over the next couple of years.  While both are similar players, Newman has the superior tools.  That said, Tucker is a legitimate prospect with an excellent chance to the see the major leagues.  The upside is a .270 hitter with 20 stolen base potential and 8 to 12 home runs.  One final note: given his length, he could be moved off short as he progresses to the upper minor leagues.  If that happens, the fantasy profile will take a big hit.

10. Ke’Bryan Hayes (3B)

2016 Age: 19 Ceiling: Solid Reg
Ht: 6-1 Weight: 210 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2019
2015 R,A 185 32 0 20 8 .308 .408 83.2 12.3 .361

You know you’re getting old when you discover that you’ve rostered in the past the father of a current top prospect.  That’s what happened to me when researching the Pirates 2015 supplemental first round pick Ke’Bryan Hayes, son of 14-year major league veteran, Charlie Hayes.   Ke’Bryan played well in his first exposure to professional ball showing his advanced hit-tool by batting .308 with a .408 on-base percentage in 56 games across the Gulf Coast League and New York Penn League.

Scouting Report: Many times, bloodlines matter and in the case of Ke’Bryan Hayes, he clearly picked up a thing or two from his dad.  He shows an advanced feel for hitting, making solid contact that he generates from good bat speed.   He also has excellent strike zone awareness and together with his contactability, project to have a future plus hit-tool.  While he’s a big kid at 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, he’s never shown a ton of in-game power and only flashes of it in batting practice.  He’s just a line drive hitter but should develop enough strength as he matures to hit 12 to 15 home runs.

While he’s a potential plus hitter, he’s also a potential plus defender at third base with excellent reactions and a plus arm.  There is some worry that he’ll add weight (bad weight) as he gets older with one source giving me a comp of Pablo Sandoval.  While some might bristle at that, Ke’Bryan will not as Sandoval should end his career making over $100 million dollars with multiple World Series rings.

Fantasy Impact:  Hayes should be on deeper Dynasty League owner’s radar.  You could consider owing him in leagues that roster 400 or more minor league players.  The upside is a .280 hitter with 12 to 15 home run.

2016 Emerging Prospect

Trey Supak (RHP)

Taken in the supplemental second round of the 2014 draft, Supak is the definition of raw projection. At 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds, he’s still growing into his body and learning how to pitch.  His fastball sits 93 to 95 MPH and he’s learning how to spin a curve ball.  He has swing and miss potential and good control, but he’s catching way too much of the plate, resulting in too many hits.  The potential is clearly there and the Pirates should start to the take the training wheels off in 2016 and start him in full season ball.

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