Pittsburgh Pirates

Original Published Date: October 17, 2016

piratesI don’t understand the Pirates.

Sure, they are a small market team with a long history of losing ( prior to 2013), but they had a window, or still have a window and they don’t seem to be willing to make the deal to get further than a play-in game.  Now, Andrew McCutchen has one year left on his contract and their young pitchers have been inconsistent.  Gerrit Cole is hurting, Jameson Taillon has been good but is still not all the way back from his TJ Surgery and Tyler Glasnow is still learning the ropes.  Will they ever spend some of the young talent to bring in a proven top-of-the-rotation arm?  It’s what they need…it’s what they’ve needed for the past three years.

Their minor league system continues to be very good.  Tyler Glasnow and Josh Bell lead the pack and both have a chance to be impact players.  Austin Meadows is also just about ready and could be the replacement for McCutchen if the Pirates decide to cut ties in the off season.  One of the biggest risers in all of the minor leagues was Mitch Keller and while he’s only pitched in Low-A, could jump two levels next year.

But back to the question…”Will the Pirates move some of their young assets for a proven top-of-the-rotation starter or will they hope that all their young arms will develop the way they look on paper?”  Pirate fans would love it but candidly, history says they won’t do it.

Tyler Glasnow (RHP)

Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2016, Fantasy Ceiling: Fantasy Ace

The Pirates finally promoted Tyler Glasnow to the big leagues and in his first outing, he did exactly what we thought he would do; throw a lot of pitches, strike out a lot of batters, and not give up many hits.  The final stat line: 5.1 IP, 87 pitches, 5K/2BB, 3 hits, and 4 ER.  The earned runs were scored after he was removed from the game.  Unfortunately, Glasnow complained of shoulder pain and was immediately put on the disabled list, finally returning in September to pitch.

Before his promotion, Glasnow was struggling with his control; something he seemed to have solved prior to being promoted to Triple-A.  However, he posted nearly a 5.0  BB/9 ratio and just struggled to consistently find the plate.  It didn’t really matter as he only gave up six hits per nine, striking out nearly 11 per nine.

Scouting Report: The scouting report for Glasnow is now well known.  He has some of the best stuff in the minor leagues, unhittable at times, but struggles to find the plate consistently.  However, when you’re 6-foot-8, control is a journey.  It’s just going to take time for him to get all of his levers to work in synchronicity.  How much time?  Nobody really knows but when you have the quality of arm he does and the athleticism to repeat his delivery, you just do not give up.  It’s about patience.

Fantasy Impact:  It’s going to take time, but the upside for Tyler Glasnow is still a fantasy ace.  I think it will come, but there will be owners who will want to give up on him over the next couple of years.  Take advantage of them and buy-low.  You can thank me later.

Josh Bell (1B)

Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2016, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 10 1B

When I wrote my mid-season update, I was clearly frustrated with the Pirates seemingly ambivalence to Josh Bell.  I wrote, with a dangling participle and all, the following:

I’m not sure what the Pirates are waiting for.  He’s batting .327 with 13 home runs in 82 games.  I guess they don’t want to lose their leadoff hitter, Jon Jaso and his four home runs.

To make matters worse, Bell was called up a few days after I published the list, went 2 for 2 with a grand slam and was sent back down.  Granted it was a small sample size, but seriously, what does this guy have to do to get a break?

Finally, sanity set in and Bell was called up, hopefully for good on August 20th.

Scouting Report:  I’m a huge fan of Josh Bell.  He controls the strike zone extremely well with an impressive 1.3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 114 games in the minor league.   Plus, he posted a .382 on-base percentage in Triple-A.  He’s a strong kid with good bat speed where you can easily project 20 plus home runs.  Granted, his high watermark in home runs was this year with 14, I believe the power will develop.  A future offensive player who slashes .280/.370/.500 with 20 to 25 home runs could be a realistic annual stat line for him, with upside on the power.

Fantasy Impact:  With the power developing, Bell is a Top 25 prospect for me.  He’ll get downplayed by other publications because he’s a first base only prospect, but he can hit and that will allow him to stay in the big leagues.

Austin Meadows (OF)

Highest Level: Triple-A, ETA: 2017-18, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 OF

Austin Meadows season began on the disabled list when he got hit in the eye playing catch that required surgery.  Once he returned, he played very well in Double-A, posting a .976 OPS in 45 games.  He also controlled the strike zone well, striking out 32 times while walking 16 times in 190 plate appearances.  Unfortunately, after getting promoted to Triple-A, Meadows hit the disabled list again, this time with a hamstring injury.

For those who were calling for him to be promoted to the big leagues, that was probably never going to happen anyway.  The problem of course is that the Pirates have arguably the best young outfield in the game and Meadows is blocked.  However, injuries occur all the time and that could open up playing time, and with Andrew McCutchen only under control through 2018, that might happen sooner than you think.

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 chooses to make hard contact instead of adding loft to his swing.  That said, his .611 slugging percentage in Double-A was encouraging and shows the kind of pop he does have; it just might be more doubles-power than over-the-fence power.

Meadows also has good speed and started to show that in 2015 and that extended to 2016.  It’s not game changing speed by any stretch, but he should be good for 20 stolen bases per season.

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.

Mitch Keller (RHP)

Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Number two Fantasy SP

Mitch Keller was one of the big minor league breakout players this year, finally putting up a stat line that complemented his draft status as a second round pick (64th overall) in the 2014 MLB Draft.  His first two years were marred with forearm soreness, which you never like to hear, but in 23 starts in the SALLY League, he posted a 2.46 ERA with an impressive 7.2 strikeout-to-walk ratio.  He walked 18…that’s a one followed by an 8.

As the Pirates typically do, they have been very conservative with Keller’s development; partially because of his injuries concerns but also they value the command of a pitchers arsenal.  Keller has responded very well and should begin the season in High-A next year with a chance to see Double-A by the end of the season.  The Pirates did have him start a September game this season in Bradenton and he pretty much did what he did in Low-A.  6.0 innings, no runs, 5 hits, 7 strikeouts and one walk.

Scouting Report:  Keller arsenal starts with a fastball that sits 91 to 94 MPH with a heavy sink.  He’s still growing into his body, so there’s a chance that his velocity could take a tick up a mile or two as he matures.  Also his 1.25 ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio is not totally representative of his heavy fastball.  I think over time, that ratio will improve.  His best secondary pitch is his curve ball.  It has nice deception and best of all, he can throw it for strikes.  He doesn’t throw his change-up very often but it has a chance to be at least an average offering.

It’s rare that a young pitcher, particularly one who’s had as little game exposure as Keller, has plus control.  However, he gave up only 19 walks in 130.1 innings and that is indeed impressive.  His ability to repeat his delivery is at the core of his success.

Fantasy Impact:  Keller checks a lot of boxes.  He’s has size and projectability, his stuff is good and getting better, and he has very clean mechanics that are leading to a lot of strikes thrown.  While he’s still at least two years away from seeing Pittsburgh, he has the profile to be a number three or even number two starter.  I own him in all my Dynasty Leagues and suggest you follow suit.  His past forearm scares are an issue, but until he visits Dr. Andrews, I’m all-in.

Kevin Newman (SS)

Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2017-18, Fantasy Ceiling: Middle Infielder

Kevin Newman has the profile of a perennial .300 hitter.  In 162 games, he has a 90% contact rate with more walks than strikeouts (64/62).  And just for the record, he’s also batting .295 as a professional, a dink and dunk from a .300 hitter.

Drafted in the first round of the 2015 MLB Draft, Newman is making quick work of the minors.  He’s already made it to Double-A and should only require a half season in Triple-A before making his major league debut sometime next season.  In many ways, his game is similar to that of incumbent Jordy Mercer except a grade better all-around.  He’s a better hitter with more speed with a similar defensive profile.  Throw-in that the Pirates will have seven years of team control and Mercer could see his moving papers very soon.

Scouting Report: Newman has plus bat speed with a short compact stroke and while he’s never hit for much power, he’s strong enough to pop a handful of home runs every year.  He makes excellent contact with a very good approach at the plate.  To round out the offensive profile, he has above-average speed 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.   While there was some concern at the draft table, most of that has disappeared as Newman has been able to quiet his critics in his first two years of professional ball.

Fantasy Impact:  Given his advanced hit tool, the Pirates are moving Newman quickly through the system.  It goes to show you that the organization CAN in fact develop a plan that meets the need of each of their players.  While I don’t see Newman being a Top 10 fantasy shortstop, he’ll be just outside of it.  His ability to hit will allow the Pirates to bat him leadoff and he’ll be a real asset in Roto Leagues where runs are a category.

Alen Hanson (2B)

Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2016 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 2B

Long time readers of Prospect361 know my love for Alen Hanson.  He’s made my Top 100 list for three years running and I have him sitting on my minor league roster in each of my Dynasty Leagues.  The payoff so far?  A handful of at-bats in the major leagues.

Players fall out of favor all the time with teams and that appears to be the situation with Hanson.  While he only batted .266 in Triple-A last season, he made great contact (16% K-rate) and walked 7% of the time.  He showed good speed on the bases, stealing 36 bases while being thrown out 15 times.  Part of the problem is the depth in the Pirates system.  There just isn’t any room for him at the big league level and therefore, he has to wait his turn.  I’m actually surprised that he’s still a Pirate as I thought he would be included in a trade at the deadline.

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 makes very good contact (84%) 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.  If he is eventually traded, he could be moved to the outfield with center field being a natural position.

Fantasy Impact:  Hanson 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.  I’m still very bullish and believe he just needs a shot.

Ke’Bryan Hayes (3B)

Highest Level: Low-A, ETA: 2019, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20 3B

As a 19-year-old, Ke’Bryan Hayes had a very nice first full season debut in 2016.  In 65 games in the Sally League, he slashed .263/.319/.393 with six home runs and six stolen bases.  While the stat line might appear to be a little less than stellar, he handles the bat very well and controls the strike zone, despite his 6% walk rate.  What he lacks and it showed this year, is power.

The Pirates will likely start him in the Florida State League next season and let him move as quickly as his talent will allow.  Given his age, he could be a level-a-year type of player with a chance to see the major leagues in 2019.

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 Charlie Hayes who played 14 years in the majors.  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, projects to have a future plus hit-tool.  While he’s a big kid at 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, he hasn’t shown a lot 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 300 or more minor league players.  The upside is a .280 hitter with 12 to 15 home runs.

Will Craig (3B)

Highest Level: Short Season, ETA: 2019, Fantasy Ceiling: Unsure

Will Craig had a standout career at Wake Forest leading him to be selected in the first round of the 2016 MLB Draft.   Playing three years for the Demon Deacons, Craig posted a 1.084 OPS with 37 home runs.  He took things to a new level as a junior, slashing .379/.520/.731 with 16 home runs in 55 games.

The Pirates started him off in the New York Penn League where he showed his ability to control the strike zone with a better than a 1-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.  However, he showed little power and a middling .314 BABIP that led to a disappointing surface .268 batting average.

Scouting Report:  Craig’s carrying tool is his ability to control the strike zone and make hard, consistent contact.  He doesn’t sell out for power, keeping his swing level and hitting the ball to all fields.  While he’s strong enough to hit 20 home runs annually, unless he changes his approach, I think that will be an extreme upper limit.  Craig is also a 30-grade runner, so stolen bases will not be part of his game.

Defensively, he has the arm strength to play third but his lack of athleticism might eventually move him across the diamond.

Fantasy Impact: Craig makes our list partially because of the recent trades the Pirates made but also because he can hit.  If he develops power, he could be a nice producer at first base with a slash line of .280/.370/.430 with 20 home runs.  I think he will, or better put, he’ll have to because the alternative is not acceptable.  Said another way, it’s rare you see nonathletic first baseman who hits 10 home runs annually become a consistent contributor in the major leagues.

Yeudy Garcia (RHP)

Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2017-18, Fantasy Ceiling: Elite Closer

It’s rare that you see players with a 2-handle on his age getting signed out of Latin America, but that’s what happened to 20-year-old Yeudy Garcia in 2013.  The Pirates signed him as an arm-strength guy with hopes that they could teach him secondary pitches and make him a pitcher.

He started out in the bullpen in 2015 but after getting stretched out, was moved to the starting rotation.  He continued to excel in 2016 before a toe-sprain ended his season in late-August.  In 23 starts, he struck out 120 in 118.1 innings while walking nearly four per nine.  He also kept the ball in the ballpark giving up only six home runs.

Scouting Report:  Garcia carrying tool is a big-time, double-plus fastball that can touch the upper nineties.  It’s a heavy fastball and few are able to square him up.  However, he’s not yet a ground ball pitcher but the stuff is lined up to be just that.

His secondary pitches took a step-up this year but are far from a polished product.  His hard slider is his best secondary pitch, exhibiting a hard, sharp break while sitting 87 to 88 MPH.  His change-up is still a work-in-progress and that will determine whether he will be a bullpen arm or a starter.

Fantasy Impact: Dynasty League owners need to take note of Garcia as few pitchers have the double-plus fastball in his quiver.  The Pirates will continue to develop him as a starter but he could punt and move him to the bullpen where he could excel and quickly.

Nick Kingham (RHP)

Highest Level: Triple-A, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP

Nick Kingham was about 60 days away from making his major league debut when he blew out his elbow in 2015 and missed the rest of the season recovering from TJ Surgery.  The Pirate brought him back slowly this past season, starting his season off in July in the GCL and finishing in Double-A.  Overall the performance was very good, pitching to a 2.93 ERA with 36 strikeouts, six walks in 46 innings.  However, most importantly, he stayed healthy.  Assuming he stays healthy and has a normal off season, he could see Pittsburgh sometime in the second half of 2017.

Scouting Report:  Before his injury, Kingham had a very nice three pitch mix with a four-seamer that sat 92 to 93 MPH that could scrape 94/95, a really nice change-up that shows fade and deception, and a bat-missing above-average curve ball.  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 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:  Many Dynasty Owners have forgotten about Kingham but he’s still a solid prospect. Short-term it’s about health, but long term, he could a solid number three starter on your fantasy team.

2017 Emerging Prospect

Gage Hinsz (RHP)

Drafted in the 11th round of the 2014 MLB Draft, Gage Hinsz took a step up this year in his first taste of full season ball.  Pitching in the Sally League, Hinsz posted a 3.66 ERA while striking out 6.5 per nine while walking less than three.  His stuff continues to improve as he fills out his 6-foot-4 frame.  While he’s not in the same class as Glasnow and Keller, but the upside is a mid-rotation starter and more if his stuff continues to develop.

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