First Pitch: Some Tough Questions to Answer in the Upcoming Prospect Rankings

A question I get a lot these days is “why isn’t Stetson Allie in your top 20?” The answer is that we don’t update the top 20 until after the MLB draft. The rankings that we display on the Prospect Watch each night are the pre-season rankings.

There have been a few changes. Stolmy Pimentel was added when Justin Wilson made the majors at the start of the year. Pimentel wasn’t in the system when we compiled our original top 50 in the Prospect Guide.

Jordy Mercer has also been moved up one spot to number 20 now that it looks like Bryan Morris is in the majors to stay. I’m holding off on removing Mercer until we see what happens when John McDonald or Chase d’Arnaud return. Of course, Mercer is only 27 at-bats away from losing prospect status. Either way, Gift Ngoepe would be next. That’s not an exciting player to follow for his offensive stat line. Ngoepe was there primarily for his defense and speed, and will probably drop during the mid-season rankings.

The question about Allie is something I’ve given a lot of thought to. We update the rankings a few times per year. There’s the rankings for the book, the rankings after the draft, and an update after the trade deadline. Since the post-draft rankings are coming up, there have been a lot of questions I’ve been asking to prepare for the new list. The obvious question is “where do the new picks rank?” The Stetson Allie question is definitely included. Here are some of the others.

Gerrit Cole or Jameson Taillon?

Probably the biggest debate for anyone will be the debate between Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon for the top spot. Cole is having trouble this year, while Taillon has been performing well. I try to avoid placing too much of a focus on in-season results, since it’s easy to place too much emphasis on the most recent starts, rather than the tools, the potential upside, and other important factors. One important factor is that Cole is in Triple-A, and Taillon is in Double-A. So it would seem unfair  to compare their results this year.

That said, I’ve had Taillon closer to Cole than a lot of people. So the gap before this season wasn’t that big for me, meaning it’s not like Taillon has to improve considerably to take the top spot.

Is Gregory Polanco the top prospect in the system?

Is Gregory Polanco the top prospect in the system?

But What About Gregory Polanco?

I try to start from scratch when I’m setting up my own rankings. So I don’t start with Cole and Taillon at the top. I usually try to divide everyone up into tiers, then go through the “splitting hairs” process to give actual numbers. At this point I would say that Polanco is definitely in that top tier with Cole and Taillon. I talked to a scout a few weeks ago who mentioned that every time he sees Polanco he improves something about his game. That’s pretty much been the case. There’s not a lot to dislike. He hits for average, power, hits to all fields, doesn’t strike out a lot, and draws a lot of walks. He’s got speed on the bases and a lot of range in center field. The things he’s got to work on are more about experience, and less about his skills.

To give an idea of Polanco’s potential, Ben Badler was asked who had more upside between Polanco or Starling Marte. He answered Polanco.

We’ve gotten a glimpse of what Marte is capable of this year. If Polanco has that kind of upside, and I can’t really argue against it, then it’s hard to not consider him for the top spot in the system.

Travis Sawchik of the Trib seems to have immediately become a Polanco fan, getting a Dave Parker comparison from one scout, and another scout saying Polanco has more power potential than Oscar Taveras. Two more strong cases for Polanco.

Does Alen Hanson Drop?

I wrote about Alen Hanson today, noting that his defense and his hitting have both done a 180 after his early season struggles. Hanson has been playing good defense, and has been hitting better since being benched for a few games in mid-April to clear his head. I’m not sure that he’d drop, since I don’t think that two bad weeks should play a huge impact in his long-term value. The talent and potential has been there. You can see the skills that would allow him to stick at shortstop. If he did drop, I couldn’t see him dropping out of the top five.

Where to Place Josh Bell?

Josh Bell dropped in the rankings from 2012 to 2013, mostly because other people passed him. Those other people were Polanco and Hanson. Nothing really changed for his upside. He just missed a year. Now he’s back, and he’s hitting for a .283/.360/.470 line with six homers in 166 at-bats. Those aren’t monster numbers, but they’re pretty solid. He’s also shown improvements in May with a 16:13 BB/K ratio and an .878 OPS in 65 at-bats. The BB/K ratio is a strong indicator for upper level success.

How Far Up Does Tyler Glasnow Go?

I’ve been high on Glasnow, which is a big reason why he ended up eighth in our rankings this year, even though I was the only one who had him in the top ten. Occasionally I’ll ignore everyone’s rankings and place a guy where I like him. In my defense, it’s my career that’s mostly at stake, but I do try to limit that to certain players (Glasnow and Nick Kingham being recent examples). I wrote at the start of the year that Glasnow could have the upside of Cole and Taillon. The problem is that he has a lower floor, so you can’t stick him in that top tier. He’s putting up monster numbers right now, with a plus fastball and a plus curveball. I would probably rank him ahead of Luis Heredia, since he’s further along, and only a year older. So Glasnow might end up in my top five. I thought the #8 ranking at the start of the year might have been too aggressive, but now it looks like it might have been to low.

How Far Up Can Nick Kingham Go?

Nick Kingham is also having a great season this year in Bradenton. The problem is that he doesn’t have the top of the rotation upside that Cole, Taillon, or Glasnow have. The Pirates also have a pretty stacked farm system at the top. That’s generally the case when you’re debating between guys like Glasnow, Heredia, Bell, and Hanson for the 4-7 spots. I could see Kingham easily moving past Kyle McPherson and Barrett Barnes, since both have dealt with multiple injuries and will see their value drop for that reason. From there it comes down to weighing floors and ceilings. The advantage Kingham has is a higher floor than guys like Glasnow or Heredia. Those two might have a chance to be better, but they also have a bigger bust potential due to the control issues that come with their young mechanics. Of course if the top two draft picks end up being ranked high, Kingham could be back at #10. That would be a huge testament to the farm system, since Kingham’s stock has clearly gone up.

Where to Rank Stolmy Pimentel?

Stolmy Pimentel had a strong start to the year, putting up ace-like numbers. He has struggled in his last three starts, giving up 17 earned runs in 17.1 innings. The end result is that his overall numbers are a better reflection of his upside. He’s got a 3.35 ERA in 53.2 innings, with a 42:23 K/BB ratio. He struggles with consistency, so he’s probably got the upside of a number three starter, or a strong number four. He also has a higher floor than most pitchers, since he’s got an upper 90s fastball and a slider that looks like it could be a plus pitch. Considering the previously mentioned depth, he might have trouble cracking the top 10, but I definitely see him in my top 15.

Is Stetson Allie a Top 20 Prospect?

Back to that question. It seems like it would be automatic for Allie to be a top 20 prospect when you look at the numbers. Two things are at play here for me. The first is that Allie is doing this in West Virginia. Two years ago Matt Curry was demolishing the level, and hasn’t been able to replicate that ever since in Altoona. You want to look at Allie and dream about the future first baseman who can hit 40 homers and a .300 average. But it’s a long way from low-A ball to the majors. So far Allie has been inconsistent, with a few stretches where he hasn’t hit anything. Those are quickly followed by stretches where he hits everything, including some pitches really far.

The second thing is that I’m usually low on first basemen until they reach the upper levels. The value of first basemen is almost exclusively on the bat. I mentioned how it’s a long jump from low-A to the majors. It’s a long jump from low-A to Double-A. If Allie was putting up these numbers in Double-A, he’d be an easy top ten prospect. But until that happens, I’ll be skeptical. Usually we have first basemen ranked lower than everyone else. It might be the same with Allie. I will say that one advantage he has is that he’s got more raw power than guys like Matt Curry and Alex Dickerson.

Other Thoughts

**With three arm injuries in a year, Kyle McPherson will probably drop. I really like his upside, but you never know how players will return from injuries, and whether that upside will be the same.

**Barrett Barnes has had a few minor injuries since going pro. I’m not going to say he’s injury prone yet, but with so much competition it would be hard for him to maintain his ranking.

**I’ve been high on Joely Rodriguez as a sleeper for the past few years. At this point I could see him in my top 30. That’s not a huge jump, since he was in the overall top 40 this year. It’s hard to not like a young lefty who throws 91-94, has an above average slider and changeup, movement on all of his pitches, and who has seemingly fixed his control problems.

**Eric Wood is another pre-season sleeper who could see a jump. We had Wood ranked 39th at the start of the year, and he could crack the top 30.

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.

**Check out the new episode of the Pirates Prospects Podcast: P3 Episode 4: Are the Pirates For Real? Plus a Jameson Taillon Interview.

**Top Performers: Do the Pirates Have Anything With Felix Pie?

**Top Performers: Nick Kingham Continues His Impressive Season With Bradenton.

**After a Rough Start, Alen Hanson Has Done a Complete 180.

**Minor Moves: Alex Dickerson Placed on the Altoona DL With a Concussion.

**John Sickels Releases His Latest Mock Draft.

**Prospect Watch: Pimentel Gets Hit Again, Bell and Allie Lead West Virginia Offense.

**Minor League Schedule: Morton Makes Rehab Start In Altoona.

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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  • https://profiles.google.com/107500598404660809214 Kerry Writtenhouse

    These are all really nice problems to have. I’ve never seen Polanco play, but if he’s as good as advertised, he should not be moved under any circumstance.

  • dave1231959

    Is there any update on Barnes’ injury?

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

      Nothing outside of the last update posted to the site.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

    Tim…dumb question, but what do you mean when you say “The problem is that he (Glasnow) has a lower floor”,

    ==============

    Secondly, I want Allie at least in the top 20, so that I can follow him. He has to be one of the more exciting players to come around. I esp liked hearing that he has a short stroke, which (hopefully) means that with experience, he may be able to cut down on his K’s?

    Floored Foo

    • jaygray007

      You asked Tim, but i’ll take a stab at this.

      The ceiling of prospects sort of defines the ultimate upside if everything clicks for them, and the floor of prospects is the ultimate minimum of what said player should be able to achieve even if everything doesn’t click.

      Floors typically ‘rise’ as the player gets closer to the majors because every step of the way, they prove that they are a little bit better and safer.

      That said, Glasnow still has a ton to proove, like that he can hit the plate and get guys in the upper minors out. therefore, he is less safe and could ultimately be an mlb star, or flame out in AA.

      • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

        thx! good explanation!

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

      What jaygray said. Floor pretty much represents risk.

  • http://atung.net/ Steve Zielinski

    The top five:
    Bell
    Cole
    Glasnow
    Hanson
    Heredia
    Polanco
    Taillon
    Plus, teams drafting before the Pirates at #9 may on high ceiling, higher risk prep players for college players. The Pirates may confront something like their 2012 ‘problem': Having an unexpected BPA available when they make their first pick.

    • http://atung.net/ Steve Zielinski

      Opps, I forgot to add that their first pick may also warrant a top five slot.

    • https://profiles.google.com/101510909979106143098 David Lewis

      Having seven players in our top five can only be a good thing.

      • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

        lol..c’mon Steve…learn how to count. :)

  • IC Bob

    Thanks for the read Tim. Pretty impressive the insight you just gave us. Its nice when we can talk about guys having good years cracking the top 30 instead of the top ten.

  • https://profiles.google.com/101510909979106143098 David Lewis

    “every time he sees Polanco he improves something about his game.”

    In my mind, this is even more encouraging to see than tools.

  • https://profiles.google.com/116724154958936941519 Brett

    Good Article Tim. Agree with most of your analysis. Taillon & Cole are 1a & 1b for me. Easily interchangable. You were certainly ahead of the curve with Glasnow and Herrera and I appreciate you keeping a rationale approach to ranking Tony Sanchez. People leaving him outside of the top 20 are overreacting to the lofty expectations of the #4 overall pick in the 2009 draft. I think he’s played himself back into the top 10 this year, which isn’t a huge jump as you had him as #13 to begin the season.

    My top 10 would be:

    1) Taillon
    2) Cole
    3) Polanco
    4) Bell
    5) Hanson
    6) Heredia
    7) Glasnow
    8) T. Sanchez
    9) N. Kingham
    10) D. Herrera

    I probably gave more preference to upside and those who are producing this year. No one else is deserving of a top 10 IMO since Mathisen & Holmes have started slowly and Barnes & McPherson have been injured.

  • elgaupo

    I think everyone out there knows prospects are overvalued. I still swallow hard about trading some for players.

    I think we need to look at the now famous Miguel Cabrera trade and figure out how to do that. Andrew Miller was Gerrit Cole. Cameron Maybin was Polanco. Cabrera will be a HOF and Miller and Maybin are fringe MLers.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

      and, hopefully, we are, or will soon be, near to be ABLE to making that kind of deal without wrecking our footure!

      ..

    • Happydude1

      24 year old all-stars don’t get traded very often, unless it’s by the Marlins. So, Stanton is your guy.

  • maguro

    Do we need to rethink this idea of Kingham having limited upside? His numbers so far this year are really quite extraordinary. Hard for me to believe there’s not at least a chance of him being better than a mid-rotation innings-eater type.

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

      I don’t think saying he’s a potential number three innings eater is that limited. I just don’t see him as a top of the rotation pitcher. His numbers this year are great, but also coming in high-A. In the past he’s been ranked more on potential than on numbers. Now the numbers are coming in, backing up the thought that he could be a future major leaguer. That doesn’t raise his ceiling. It does more to raise his floor.

  • leadoff

    I like Taillon at the the top with Polanco next, Cole 3rd and scramble the rest anyway you like.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ian.rothermund Ian Rothermund

      Leadoff, I know there have been some things we haven’t agreed on in the past, but your statement there is not one of them. Ultimately I see Taillon having the potential to become more of a complete pitcher, rather than more of a pure thrower in Cole’s case. In the end Cole may end up being an extraordinary thrower, but during the time the two of them are in Pittsburgh simultaneously, I can see the conversation happening frequently where people wonder why Cole doesn’t produce more consistently.

  • http://www.facebook.com/chrishale525 Chris Hale

    These people our prospects fall in love with Cole and his UCLA status and his triple digit fastball. The truth is ,Taillon is the number one prospect in this system. He has better command of more pitches than Cole with a lot less experience coming out of high school where as Cole pitched in college. Taillon has 4 pitches he will be able to throw for strikes not to mention a 97 mph four seamer. Being a guy that has seen these guys play multiple times I would go this way
    1. Taillon
    2. Polanco
    3. Cole
    4. Glasnow
    5. Hansen
    6. Bell
    7. Heredia
    8. Kingham

  • https://profiles.google.com/106508220943703406151 Kevin Anstrom

    I would rate 3 WV infielders ahead of Bell – 1B, 2B, and SS.

    I don’t think there is much of a gap between Hanson and Moroff.