After the Draft: Pittsburgh Pirates Top 10 Prospects

Gerrit Cole is the consensus top prospect in the system. - Photo Courtesy of UCLA Athletics

Last night the Pittsburgh Pirates made two big splashes, adding right handed pitcher Gerrit Cole and outfielder Josh Bell to the system before the draft signing deadline.  The addition of Cole was expected, although many felt that Bell was an impossible sign.  I already have talked about how the additions could possibly boost the Pirates up as one of the top farm systems in the league, based on top talents alone.  But what about the top 10 prospect list after the signings?

Pirates Prospects came up with an updated top 10 list, factoring in the new signings, and the performances throughout the 2011 season.  We’ve also included our individual rankings, which made up the overall rankings.

The Top 10

1. Gerrit Cole, RHP – Has a plus fastball, a plus slider, and a plus changeup. Profiles as an ace pitcher.

2. Jameson Taillon, RHP – Has a plus fastball and a plus curveball, while working on his changeup. Also profiles as an ace pitcher, but is a few years behind Cole in his development.

3. Luis Heredia, RHP – Just turned 17 and can already throw in the mid-90s. He’s raw, but has the potential to have four plus pitches.

4. Starling Marte, OF – One of the best defensive outfielders in the system, he also hits for a high average and has added some power this year.

5. Josh Bell, OF – Has the potential to hit for plus power from each side of the plate.  His value comes more from his offense, and he easily becomes the best power hitting prospect in the system when you consider his all around hitting ability.

6. Robbie Grossman, OF – Has put up a big breakout season in high-A, hitting for average, hitting for some power, and showing some amazing plate patience.

7. Tony Sanchez, C – He’s struggled in 2011, mostly at the plate, but his defense is still strong, making it possible that he can still be a starting catcher in the majors one day.  He’d be higher on this list with some better power production at the plate.

8. Stetson Allie, RHP – Also has top of the rotation potential, but is raw, with poor control, and a lack of a changeup. His future might be as a star closer, but don’t count him out as a potential starter.

9. Kyle McPherson, RHP – Has a 3.03 ERA in 68.1 innings in Altoona, with an 8.8 K/9 and a 2.1 BB/9. Some of the best fastball command in the system, combined with a 92-94 MPH fastball and a nice changeup and curveball.

10. Colton Cain, LHP – His numbers have struggled in the second half due to his innings increase this year, but Cain is a big left hander who can throw in the low-90s and has the upside of a Paul Maholm type 200-inning a year workhorse.

Individual Rankings

Tim Williams

1. Gerrit Cole, RHP – I’ve said many times that Cole profiles as a more polished version of Jameson Taillon, especially with his changeup.  He’s a potential ace, with a two year head start on Taillon in his development.  That’s what puts him over the top in my book.

2. Jameson Taillon, RHP – Taillon is a great pitcher.  He’s got a great fastball, and a great curveball, which is arguably one of the best in baseball.  The fact that he’s number two on the rankings reflects more on how special of a pitcher Cole is.  I see their upsides as equal, but right now Taillon is working on developing a changeup, while Cole has a plus changeup.  Keep in mind that Cole didn’t develop his plus changeup until his junior year of college, which would be the 2013 season for Taillon.

3. Luis Heredia, RHP – The Pirates have two great arms at the top of this list, but Heredia has the potential to be the best of the group.  The right hander just turned 17, and already throws in the mid-90s. I’ve seen him sitting at 94, and have heard reports that he touched 96 in Spring Training. He’s potentially got four plus pitches, although he’s raw due to his young age, which has led to some control issues in the GCL.

4. Josh Bell, OF – Bell is a rare talent, with plus power potential from both sides of the plate.  He’s not strong defensively, lacking the range to play center field, and lacking the arm strength for right field.  His bat is what puts him in this spot for me.

5. Starling Marte, OF – It was hard deciding between Marte and Bell.  Bell has the better bat, but Marte is exceptional on defense and has the speed.  Not that Marte doesn’t have a good bat, but what will make him an above average player will be the total package, which includes that speed and defense.  The low walk totals were also a concern, as a lower OBP could limit his value as a leadoff hitter.

6. Robbie Grossman, OF – Maybe I’ve read “Moneyball” ten too many times, because I’m a sucker for a high walk rate. This isn’t one of those “the player is walking a lot, striking out a lot, and hitting for a low average” situations where a player is just being passive and getting those results due to a low level.  Grossman is hitting for average, his strikeouts are down, and his walks are way up. Add in the power he’s shown this year, and I have no problem ranking him this high, although he’d have to do this at AA to crack the top five.

7. Tony Sanchez, C – Lost in his disappointing year at the plate is the fact that Sanchez isn’t over-matched, with a 17.8% strikeout rate, and a 10.5% walk rate.  His defense also hasn’t taken as big of a hit, and that’s the most important thing for a catcher.  The main concern is that his power has been down this year, along with his hitting in general. We’ve seen plenty of players rebound after initial struggles in AA, so this isn’t enough to rule him out as a top prospect.  He would easily be a top 5 prospect if he was putting up the numbers we saw from him in Bradenton last year.

8. Stetson Allie, RHP – A lot of people want to rush Allie to the bullpen, while forgetting three key things.  The biggest is that he’s very raw, due to the fact that he hasn’t been a pitcher for that long.  He’s also more than just a one pitch guy.  Aside from his fastball, which can grade as a plus pitch based on velocity, he also has a plus slider.  His lack of a changeup right now puts him in the same boat as Taillon.  As for his control issues, that’s to be expected with a guy fairly new to pitching. We’re seeing the same issues out of Heredia. Basically, Allie has the big flaws from both Taillon and Heredia, which drops him down on the list, but he’s still got a shot as a starter one day.

9. Kyle McPherson, RHP – He keeps on impressing, most importantly with his low walk rate at the AA level.  McPherson has the upside of a number three starter in the majors if all goes well.  For me, this spot really separates the pack, as it starts with a group of about 13 players that I considered for the second half of my top 10.  McPherson leads that group, but there’s not a huge talent gap between him and the guys I have ranked in the 11-20 range.

10. Nick Kingham, RHP – Not only was I impressed with what I saw out of Kingham this year in State College, but I’ve also been impressed with the numbers: a 2.51 ERA in 51 innings, with a 36:11 K/BB ratio.  He’s got the size and velocity that we hope Zack Von Rosenberg grows in to one day, and has the upside of a 200 inning a year number three starter.  Just like McPherson, there’s not a huge gap between Kingham and the next ten players on my list.

Wilbur Miller

1. Gerrit Cole, RHP – His stuff is reportedly a little better than Taillon’s and he should be a bit further along in his development. Then again, his results at UCLA this year show he’s not as far along as you’d want from a #1 overall pick.

2. Jameson Taillon, RHP – It’s ironic that both Taillon and Cole got hit surprisingly hard this year. Hmmm.

3. Starling Marte, OF – Increasingly controversial among the prospect gurus. The power is showing up, the walks aren’t. Less experienced than people seem to realize.

4. Josh Bell, OF – The Pirates have a high-upside power hitter. What is the world coming to?

5. Luis Heredia, RHP – Spotty performance in rookie ball is offset by the fact that he’s pitched all but one game so far as a 16-year-old.

It gets mighty hard after this. The Pirates should have five guys in their top ten and thirty in spots 10-20.

6. Robbie Grossman, OF – I think people are understating his power potential. He’s 21, folks. Not that I can see him hitting 30 HRs, but I can see him as a corner outfield regular.

7. Zack Von Rosenberg, RHP – Go ahead, laugh. Based on what I saw of him about six weeks ago, his stuff has gotten better and lately he’s been figuring out what to do with it. He still has the highest ceiling of the 2009 prep pitchers.

8. Colton Cain, LHP – He’s had an uneven year and may be tiring, but he’s pitched very well at times.

9. Stetson Allie, RHP – You don’t just write off a guy with his stuff, especially considering how little experience he’s had as a pitcher. The New York-Penn League was probably too challenging an assignment. For what it’s worth, Bobby Jenks started off his pro career in nearly identical fashion.

10. Tony Sanchez, C – Prospects do just have bad years, and that’s what the Pirates will have to hope is happening to Sanchez.

Kevin Creagh

1. Gerrit Cole, RHP – Cole is only one year older than Taillon, but he has more present velocity and a well-developed changeup. He will most likely start 2012 in High A with a mid-season move to AA a strong possibility.

2. Jameson Taillon, RHP – Taillon got his feet wet this year in learning about fastball command and pitching on a regular schedule. The kid gloves will be taken off next year in High A and he should pitch a healthy 150 innings with his full arsenal in play.

3. Starling Marte, OF – Marte gives you the speed, arm, and range that will allow the Pirates to consider shifting Andrew McCutchen to LF. So far in his short minor league career, Marte has never hit below .300 and in 2011 he has started to develop a hint of HR power. His only downside is that he is allergic to walks.

4. Luis Heredia, RHP – In 2012, Heredia will pitch the vast majority of the season as a 17 year old. 2011 was all about getting him acclimated to the United States and getting him into routines. The fact that he had good swing and miss numbers, albeit with poor walk rates, is secondary. Heredia will probably spend 2012 at State College, but a cameo at West Virginia late in the year would not shock me.

5. Josh Bell, OF – Bell’s placement in this position is due to having the best power potential of any Pirate prospect coupled with his pedigree. I can’t rate him above Marte because Bell has yet to swing a bat in anger for the Pirates, plus Marte will be at AAA to start 2012. Bell has a lack of range and arm that will confine him long-term to LF, so he gets dinged a touch for that as well.

6. Kyle McPherson, RHP – McPherson had a rapid rise up the list this year due to a dominant stint in High A followed by an excellent run at Double A. McPherson pairs a 92-94 mph fastball with one of the system’s best changeups. He has no qualms about establishing the inner half of the plate, either, as evidenced by his high hit-by-pitch totals. His 8.1 K/9 and 1.4 BB/9 rates this year add up to success more often than not.

7. Colton Cain, LHP – Cain had a fast start to the year followed by a spotty second half of the year. His velocity dropped in the second half, perhaps due to a tired arm from his inning load. In 2012, Cain will be part of a fantastic opening day rotation for the High A Marauders and continue his ascent.

8. Tony Sanchez, C – There is no sugarcoating the fact that Sanchez had a disappointing season all around. His power completely disappeared from his game. However, like with Chase d’Arnaud in 2010, his fundamentals of K and BB rates remained intact. Perhaps there were lingering effects of his jaw surgery that he could never recover from during this season. Sanchez gets 2012 to redeem himself for me or else his fall down the prospect list will be precipitous.

9. Jeff Locke, LHP – Locke also had a disappointing season in the fact that up until his mid-August callup (which was probably only because Rudy Owens was injured) he spent the whole year in Double A. Locke’s stuff was erratic at times this year, as his control was awful in May, but he was able to generate an 8.2 K/9 rate this year with his pitch mix.

10. Robbie Grossman, OF – Perhaps no prospect revitalized themselves more in the Pirates system this year than Grossman. Grossman repeated High A this year, but still at an appropriate age, and had the best year of his minor league career. Grossman continued to cut down his K rate, while increasing his BB rate tremendously. Grossman also shown an increase in HR power and still maintained a good stolen base rate. There are lingering questions about his ultimate defensive position, as he may not have the range to handle CF long-term, which would potentially make him a tweener.

John Dreker

1. Gerrit Cole, RHP – I had him slightly above Taillon when he was drafted but the recent struggles of Jameson puts him comfortably ahead of him now. The best description of him is he is a polished version Taillon.

2. Jameson Taillon, RHP – He has been slightly worse than I expected, but try finding a 19 year old with his size, fastball and curveball. Pirates look like they have two future #1 starters who could arrive within 2 years.

3. Luis Heredia, RHP – They might have a third #1 arriving shortly after Taillon and Cole in Heredia. It is very early in his career but the early word from extended spring and results from a 16 year old (17 now) in the GCL have been very good.

4. Starling Marte, OF – The best non-pitcher the Pirates have has had a great season, I had high hopes for him in AA and he has exceeded them. Plus speed, plus defense, plus arm, plus batting, showing signs of the 5th tool with 48 extra base hits and he’s still just 22.

5. Stetson Allie, RHP – Results aren’t there but he still has the best arm in the system and we should’ve known he would be raw by his lack of pitching experience.

6. Josh Bell, OF – Big bat Pirates desperately need but he is far away and doesn’t play a premium position or do anything else above average so all his future value is in the bat…but it’s supposed to be real good.

7. Jeff Locke, LHP – Finally moved to AAA when it looked like he should’ve gone two other times before having setbacks. I really like his stuff after seeing him in person and it wasn’t one of his best starts.

8. Tony Sanchez, C – List gets real iffy here, don’t want to move people up too far based on short-term success but a lot of the higher ranked guys from last year have really struggled. Sanchez gets this spot based on the fact he is at a premium position.

9. Robbie Grossman, OF – You would like to see more power from him at a corner outfield spot but the walks total is amazing. He has plenty of speed. He showed great improvement over last year and is still young for the level.

10. Justin Wilson, LHP – If Morris goes back to starting next year he would be in this spot but as a reliever I can’t put him that high. I think Wilson starts again at AAA next year and at his worst he is a lefty power reliever with a bulldog mentality.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • Anonymous

    John Id love to know who your 6th best guy is haha. I’m just gonna pretend its say someone international and you couldnt remeber his name Jose osuna? Joely whats his name? 

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      Heh. It was Josh Bell. John sent that to me separately, and I forgot to copy it over.

  • Anonymous

    Before the season most publications had the Pirates system ranked between 15-20th in baseball. Based on the draft, they have moved up but when you consider the numbers their top guys are putting up in the minors its still hard to put them in the top 10.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_KKKRNZSI2KNHYKV74DIIGPBORA MarcH

    I don’t understand how Robbie Grossman can fly up people’s prospect rankings after one good year, but Tony Sanchez barely moves after a disastrous year.  To me they aren’t separate. 

    We’re basing this off of one year’s progress, so if Grossman is a top 5 prospect (which I actually agree with) due to his year, how is Sanchez still a top 10 prospect?

    • Anonymous

      You don’t need to hit much to be a good catcher. Most of Tony’s value was defensive to start with. Imagine if Mckenry suddenly added 100 points of OPS, that’s around what Sanchez projects to.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_KKKRNZSI2KNHYKV74DIIGPBORA MarcH

        I see that, but if you’re going to be a starter, and at the 4th overall pick you should be, then you need to do better than he is in AA.  No power, no contact, errors, etc. are not what I would consider a top 10 prospect.

        • Anonymous

          Well, if he was ready he would be in Pittsburgh. He’s not, so he’s in Altoona. That is why they call them prospects, sometimes they struggle for a bit. Are Heredia and Allie off your list too? Heck, Taillon’s ERA is in the 4s! Prospects are about tools and projection even moreso than production. That is why Matt Hague isn’t anywhere close to these lists.

          In 2007 player x hit .258/.327/.383 (.710 OPS) in 500 AA plate appearances. Sanchez is at .655 currently. Player x = Andrew Mccutchen. And yes he was only 20 but the point remains.

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_KKKRNZSI2KNHYKV74DIIGPBORA MarcH

            Allie was a HS player and Heredia was 16 when signed, so to compare them to a college player that has been a pro for three years is not fair.

            I’m also not saying Sanchez won’t be a good mlb player, I’m simply saying the logic involved in Grossman climbing should also be applied to a player who had a bad year, Sanchez.

            • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PVAKXR37WWO6OKYOEJUCYA45M4 jonathan

              in defense of the list in general… where tools and abilities are concerned once you show them you never “forget” them which is what you would have to do to drop sanchez after a bad year ( i was never that high on him to begin with but that’s not my point ) … on the flip side you grade a player low that hasn’t shown a tool or ability but once that player shows that tool or ability he will pass all players that don’t show it, therefore will rocket up prospect lists, that’s what grossman is doing, he is showing abilities that he has never shown before and passing guys on the lists… its easier to progress up a list of this nature than to fall down it, once you can throw 99 you’re not going to be rated below a soft tosser, once you can hit for power you’re not going to be rated below a singles hitter, once you can convert raw speed into base stealing you’re not going to be rated below someone without base stealing abilities etc.

            • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PVAKXR37WWO6OKYOEJUCYA45M4 jonathan

              in defense of the list in general… where tools and abilities are concerned once you show them you never “forget” them which is what you would have to do to drop sanchez after a bad year ( i was never that high on him to begin with but that’s not my point ) … on the flip side you grade a player low that hasn’t shown a tool or ability but once that player shows that tool or ability he will pass all players that don’t show it, therefore will rocket up prospect lists, that’s what grossman is doing, he is showing abilities that he has never shown before and passing guys on the lists… its easier to progress up a list of this nature than to fall down it, once you can throw 99 you’re not going to be rated below a soft tosser, once you can hit for power you’re not going to be rated below a singles hitter, once you can convert raw speed into base stealing you’re not going to be rated below someone without base stealing abilities etc.

  • F Lang

    I thought I’d see a Matt Curry around 10th on one of those lists.