It’s received wisdom these days that AAA teams serve more as taxi squads for their parent teams than as prospect development vehicles. Most teams in the International and Pacific Coast Leagues are made up primarily of players who are beyond the prospect stage, but who could be useful in the majors under the right circumstances, usually injuries. Indianapolis is no different this year. Although minor league W/L records aren’t good measures for a farm system generally, the Indians’ current 29-13 record does give some indication that there’s help available if the Pirates need it.
Felix Pie, OF (AAA): From the time the Pirates signed him, Pie figured most likely to be called upon if the Pirates needed an outfielder who could play center. (I don’t even want to mention what circumstances could create a need for a center fielder.) In April, Pie didn’t look like an option under any circumstances. For the month, he hit 172/232/203. In May, though, he’s hitting 370/463/674.
Ivan De Jesus, Jr., IF (AAA): De Jesus had a very good spring, but was doomed once the Pirates acquired John McDonald for no apparent reason. Then De Jesus got only sporadic playing time in April while Brandon Inge was on rehab. When he’s gotten to play, though, De Jesus has hit 326/381/467 with solid plate discipline. He probably doesn’t have the range any more (due to a broken leg several years ago) to play short on more than an occasional basis, but he’s a reasonable option should the Pirates need a utility infielder.
Tony Sanchez, C (AAA): Going into this season, Sanchez had been written off by many fans as nothing more than a possible backup at the major league level. He’s come alive with the bat in a big way, though, hitting 400/471/700 in May — at one point hitting doubles in five straight games — and 307/413/523 overall. His strikeout and walk numbers are solid and almost exactly half of his hits (13 of 27) have gone for extra bases.
Dilson Herrera, 2B (Low A): Herrera came into the season as a popular choice for a Hanson/Polanco style breakout. If he follows either player’s path, it’ll be Gregory Polanco. Herrera didn’t get off to a hot start like Alen Hanson did a year ago, but he had a solid April. He’s picked it up in May, hitting 349/370/545 through eleven games to raise his overall OPS to .812. Herrera still has a tendency to swing and miss, as he’s striking out in about a quarter of his ABs, but hopefully he’ll continue making steady progress, as Polanco did last year.
Josh Bell, OF (Low A): Bell raised concerns by struggling early in the season. He wasn’t catching up to a lot of pitches and, although he showed good power, his strikeout (27) and walk (5) numbers were ugly. He’s reversed that in May, with 12 walks and 11 strikeouts, while hitting .333. Overall, he’s hitting 295/363/497 and starting to look like the guy the Pirates gave a $5M bonus.
Orlando Castro, LHP (Low A): West Virginia went into this season with quite a few prospects who carried some hype, but Castro wasn’t one of them. He’s a small (5’11”) lefty who sometimes sits at 90-91, but more often in the upper-80s. He’s been very good, sometimes dominant, in most of his starts so far, with the most notable numbers being 40 whiffs and only four walks in 44.2 IP, and a WHIP below 1.00. He probably won’t be on any prospect lists any time soon, but he’s worth watching.
Tyler Glasnow, RHP (Low A): Glasnow was one of the more heavily hyped prospects at West Virginia, and he’s more than lived up to it. The numbers so far: 1.80 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, .129 opponents’ average (not a typo), and 42 whiffs in 30 innings. The only concern so far is 19 walks, but as a very tall (6′ 8″) pitcher who’s still only 19, it’s not surprising that Glasnow might have inconsistent mechanics. He’s got dominating stuff and a very high ceiling.
Clay Holmes, RHP (Low A): Not all of West Virginia’s high ceiling prospects have come through so far, which is exactly what you’d expect from a group of young players. Holmes has struggled severely with his command, giving some credence to observers who had strong doubts about his mechanics. His BB:K ratio is an abysmal 25:17. Things have gotten worse, too, as he’s allowed 23 hits and 15 walks in his last 17 innings, while fanning only four.
Wyatt Mathisen, C (Low A): The Pirates drafted Mathisen, who was primarily a shortstop in high school, with the intention of having him catch. They moved him up to full season ball directly from rookie ball and he’s struggled with the transition, both defensively and offensively. He’s hitting only 176/248/196, but his walk (8) and strikeout (17) numbers aren’t those of a player who’s in over his head. Catchers tend to develop slowly, so Mathisen, considering his inexperience, should get a lot of slack.