First Pitch: Can the Pirates Get Impact Talent to the Upper Levels?

Gregory Polanco (left) and Alen Hanson (right) will try to repeat their 2012 seasons at the next level, and eventually try to make the successful jump to the upper levels.

Gregory Polanco (left) and Alen Hanson (right) will try to repeat their 2012 seasons at the next level, and eventually try to make the successful jump to the upper levels.

Today I previewed the 2013 Indianapolis Indians and Altoona Curve. Tomorrow I’ll go over the Bradenton Marauders and the West Virginia Power. In writing the previews, there’s one thing I noticed about the talent in the upper levels and the lower levels. That’s the difference in talent between the two groups.

The upper levels have some talent. Gerrit Cole is in Triple-A. Jameson Taillon is in Double-A. But that’s about the extent of the impact talent. Kyle McPherson and Stolmy Pimentel could be good starters in the majors, but aren’t quite impact guys. Tony Sanchez also still has a shot at being a starter, and Jerry Sands has always hit for power, but once again these aren’t impact guys. There’s a lot of future major leaguers in the top two levels, whether that’s starters, late inning relievers, or middle relievers/bench guys. But the impact guys are limited to Cole and Taillon.

Then you’ve got the lower levels. Bradenton has two potential impact guys in Alen Hanson and Gregory Polanco. West Virginia has Josh Bell, Dilson Herrera, Wyatt Mathisen, Tyler Glasnow, and will eventually have Luis Heredia and Barrett Barnes. Then there’s Nick Kingham, Clay Holmes, and plenty of other prospects who have a chance to be more on the McPherson/Pimentel level. To sum it up, the talent level in the lower levels is much better than the upper level talent.

This isn’t news. This is something that has been noticed all off-season as every top prospect list has come out. The Pirates consistently had 5-6 prospects in every top 100 list, and only two were in the upper levels. The majority of their top 10 prospects were guys in the lower levels. It’s not that this is a bad thing. But it does raise a question: when will the impact talent show up in the upper levels?

Last year West Virginia looked like the top team in the system heading into the season. That was mostly due to Polanco, Hanson, Bell, Jose Osuna and Willy Garcia. Polanco and Hanson had big breakout seasons, Osuna and Garcia showed some power, and all four moved up to Bradenton this year. They’re also joined by Nick Kingham and Robby Rowland, who also had good seasons in West Virginia last year.

Replacing that group is a new crew of top young prospects. Dilson Herrera, Tyler Glasnow, Clay Holmes, Wyatt Mathisen, and Barrett Barnes make up an exciting group. Bell will return, and Heredia will eventually be there. On paper, the 2013 season will see two teams with a lot of young talent.

Part of the appeal of the lower level guys is the fact that they’re based more on potential than results. That’s not so much the case with Hanson and Polanco, but guys like Glasnow, Herrera, and Barnes are more about projections. There’s also the shiny new toy syndrome with guys like Max Moroff, Eric Wood, and even some of the guys previously mentioned. That doesn’t mean the talent isn’t there. It just means that while Cole and Taillon need stuff and some results to be top talents, the lower level guys just need promise.

If more things go right than wrong in 2013, then you’ll see the Bradenton group shift up to Altoona in 2014, and the West Virginia group shift up to Bradenton. The 2014 West Virginia group could be another talented one, with guys like Elvis Escobar, Harold Ramirez, and Jin-De Jhang. But once again, more things need to go right than wrong this season for that to happen.

I’ve often referenced the Tampa Bay Rays as a team that constantly has wave after wave of talent ready to replace guys in the majors. That allows them to go through a cycle where they trade away the high priced guys before free agency, reload the system with the new prospects, and promote someone from the minors to step in and hopefully match the production of the guy who left. In order for this to happen, you need to constantly have more things going right than wrong.

The Pirates had that happen last year in the lower levels. The West Virginia group did it, and now they’re in Bradenton. The GCL/State College group did it, and now they’re in West Virginia. But the Bradenton group didn’t have the same results. Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon moved on, but the rest of the team underperformed and left questions. Guys like Alex Dickerson and Mel Rojas have been promoted to the next level, but neither has been playing to expectations. If the Pirates want to have a system that can make them competitive and keep them competitive for the long run, they’ll need guys to consistently make that jump to the upper levels. Ideally that would start this year with Hanson, Polanco, and the rest of the 2013 Bradenton roster having a good season, and the majority making that successful jump to Double-A.

Links and Notes

**The 2013 Prospect Guide and the 2013 Annual are both available on the products page of the site. If you order them together, you’ll save $5. Get them both just in time for the start of the season.

**Pirates Have the Fifth Biggest Draft Pool.

**Giants Claim Hunter Strickland.

**2013 Indianapolis Indians Season Preview.

**Which Prospects From Indianapolis Will Help the Pirates This Year?

**2013 Altoona Curve Season Preview.

**8 prospects, 8 questions: An initial look at the Altoona Curve’s top prospects.

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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  • steve19981

    How do you define impact?

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

      For starting pitchers it’s #1-2 starters, or solid #3 guys.

      For hitters it’s guys who could be above average or better at their positions.

      Basically guys who have a shot at being a top 100 prospect one day, a top prospect in an individual league, or a top prospect in a good system.

  • https://profiles.google.com/113824087346904673399 Dom DiDominic

    Does Dickerson have a shot? Super slow, but with improving defense and gap to gap power, seems like he is in the Hrbek/Olerud type.

  • https://profiles.google.com/116255365477483987850 jalcorn

    Tim, isn’t your thesis true of nearly every MLB team? When “impact” talent reaches the high minors it isn’t there very long before heading to the bigs. Is there a team in baseball with more than 2 or 3 impact talents at AA and above? the Pirates have 2, that isn’t a low number as many teams don’t even have that.

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

      The Pirates had this a few years ago. They had McCutchen in Triple-A in 2009, then Alvarez, Tabata, Walker, and Lincoln in 2010 (all of those guys were AA/AAA at some point in 2009).

      Obviously not all of those guys went on to become impact guys in the majors. And that’s why you need plenty of prospects to choose from, because not all of them will work out.

      • https://profiles.google.com/116255365477483987850 jalcorn

        At the time not all of those guys were ranked as “impact” talents (3 were top 100 guys). They were previously, but Lincoln and Walker had all fallen a long way down the charts, certainly not “impact”. Tabata was on the back end of the top 100, a pretty borderline guy for the “impact” label.

        Its a bit annoying to only look at our system in a vacuum. Impact talent is grade 60 or higher on a scouting scale. St. Louis has BA’s #1 system, they have 3 guys at AA/AAA that fit the “impact” label if you include in Wacha graded 55 (Taveras, Martinez). Seattle ranked 2nd and has 3 guys too (Zunino, Walker, Hultzen). Texas ranked 3rd and has 2 like us (Profar, Olt). Tampa was ranked 4th and has 2 (Myers and Archer). Miami was ranked 5th and 3 (Yelich, Marisinick, Osuna), they should have 4 with Fernandez if he were in AA instead on MLB.

        I just don’t think anyone can expect to ever have more than a few “impact” talents in the high minors. When guys like that get that far without developing obvious flaws they move up quickly. Two is actually quite good and more than a few teams have 0 (Col, Mil, Oak, Phi, SD, SF, Tor) many more have 1.

        • https://profiles.google.com/116255365477483987850 jalcorn

          I think your argument is about “depth” talent, not “impact” talent. 2nd division starters, bench bats, backend SP, relievers.

  • leadoff

    The Pirates are different than some systems. It would appear that the Pirates prefer to develop their players vs the players developing themselves. Other organizations would let a player use every tool they have and bring them up on their numbers and not care about their age or level they are playing at.
    Taillon is an example, he was not allowed to use his entire arsenal when the Pirates got him, they changed his mechanics a slight bit and they will make him touch all the bases in the system before he gets to Pittsburgh. In some organizations he might have used all his stuff from the beginning and made it to the majors long before AAA and long before he would be 23-24 years old.
    The Orioles got Machado the same time as the Pirates got Taillon. Machado still has work to do, he can’t hit a curve ball, but he can do a lot of things very good and has a high ceiling, but the Birds did not fully develop him before bringing him up. If they wanted to the Birds could trade Machado for some very good talent vs the Pirates having Taillon with very little value at this point.

    • joe g.

      Not sure if that is a valid comparison, looking at a pitcher’s development versus a position player. Given the history of arm injuries prior to NH becoming GM, a patient approach with focus on proper mechanics and commanding pitches seems appropriate. If they can improve a pitcher’s efficiency, he will be more effective and there will be a reduction in the potential for injury. You still may be correct in your thought process, but it might be better to do a comparison of position players with similar backgrounds.

      • leadoff

        I used Matchado

    • https://profiles.google.com/116255365477483987850 jalcorn

      Taillon does NOT have “very little value”.

      Would you rather have Taillon fully developed for 7 years (his peak 22-29 year old years) in Pittsburgh or have him get hit around for 2 years, then be good for 5 years before free agency at age 27. It pays to be patient if you are a small revenue club. You don’t see the Rays rushing players.

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

      I liken the Taillon vs Machado situation to the McCutchen vs Bruce arguments a few years ago. Bruce arrived a year before McCutchen, and there were some complaining about him having more value because he arrived first. In the long run they both had value, and it didn’t matter that Bruce arrived a year earlier.

      Really that value is meaningless at this point. It’s not like either team is going to trade Machado or Taillon. They’re both counting on the long-term value. It just so happens that Machado started earlier than Taillon. That doesn’t mean Taillon’s long-term value is lower, and that’s all that matters.

      • NastyNate82

        Agreed. Its not a race to see which one gets to the majors first. Just like those who complained with the Bauer/Cole situation last year. It doesn’t matter who gets their first, it matters what they do when they get there.

  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.dimmick.33 Steve Dimmick

    I just dont get why there is no love for Alex Dickerson as it seems to be. The guy hit pretty well in A+ last year showing he can drive in runs and hit for some decent power. All he did was hit .295, 13hr, 31 doubles and drove in 90 runs in basically his first pro season since he really only had 150 abs in State College trying to get acclimated to the pro scene…he might not be flashy, but if he can add a few more HR’s and walk a little bit more, i think he will be a great Pirate if he can keep up his current pace, he’s nearly 23 and in AA, it could be worse.

    • http://www.facebook.com/steve.dimmick.33 Steve Dimmick

      Project him @ 25 in a Buccos uni and i will take what he currently brings as a good bat off the bench if not starter depending what happens with Jones/Sanchez….

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

      “he might not be flashy, but if he can add a few more HR’s and walk a little bit more”

      That is why he’s ranked low for us. His value is on his offense, and he’s past the point of being ranked on potential. If/when he adds a few more homers and walks more, his ranking will go up.

  • elgaupo

    Tim, how many MLers has the Rays produced in the past 5 drafts (2008-2012)? Zero.

    As far as their waves I’m counting 3 players in the last 3 years (Jennings, Moore and Hellickson). That’s not really “waves”. They’ve been plugging plenty of holes with crappy veteran FA’s for the last couple years.

    Maybe the lesson from the Rays is to be uber patient with HS school players like Jennings and Hellickson ( both had 6 years in the minors before debut), which would answer the question you posed in the title…

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

      They haven’t produced a major leaguer from those drafts, although they’ve added players through trades and what was in the system before those drafts.

      As for the high school lesson, that’s definitely good advice. I’m not saying the Pirates can’t progress players to the upper levels. But right now they’ve got a lot of high school/young international talent about to make that jump. It will be an important thing to watch for the future of the system.