First Pitch: Can the Pirates Get Impact Talent 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.