First Pitch: Pirates Seeing Some Increased Power in the Minors This Year

The Pirates had five homers on the night in Seattle, showing some power at the major league level. It wasn’t just in the majors though. Andrew Lambo hit his 19th home run of the year tonight, with 14 coming in Altoona and the last five coming in Indianapolis. That’s notable since it already beats last year’s high of 18 homers, set by Willy Garcia. It also matches the 2011 high of 19, set by Jordy Mercer.

The Pirates haven’t seen a lot of power in their system the last few years. In fact, that statement might go beyond the last few years. The last time someone had more than 25 homers in a season in the minors was in 2009 when Pedro Alvarez hit 27. Jamie Romak also hit 25 in 2008. Ahh, the days when Jamie Romak was the best power hitter in the system. Memories.

The last time the Pirates had a minor leaguer with 30+ homers was in 2007 when Steve Pearce hit 31 between three levels. Jonel Pacheco hit 27 that year as a 24 year old in A-ball.

If we assume 450 at-bats in a minor league season (which runs one month shorter than a major league season), then Lambo would be on pace for 31 homers this year. But it’s not just Lambo. Stetson Allie trails him with 17 homers, and would be on pace for 29 in a 450 at-bat season. All of Allie’s homers came in the South Atlantic League, and he’s now playing in the pitcher friendly Florida State League, so that could impact the totals. Jarek Cunningham has 14 homers, and is on pace for 26 homers from the second base position in Altoona. Willy Garcia has ten homers, and is on pace to finish one shy of his 2012 total of 18. Tony Sanchez is currently in the majors, but should return to Triple-A where he is on pace for 17 homers this year, with nine on the season already.

The power is nice to see, although it doesn’t necessarily say much about the future of each player. For example, while Andrew Lambo has a .284 average and a .920 OPS between two levels this year, the numbers are mostly because he’s crushing right-handers. The numbers against lefties aren’t horrible, with a .708 OPS, but there’s a clear platoon split here, as he had a 1.006 OPS against right-handers prior to tonight. The power is great to see, and might be putting Lambo back on the prospect map since he’s only 24. If Travis Snider continues struggling, or if Jose Tabata continues being injured all the time, Lambo could emerge as an option in right-field. The Pirates would still probably have to pursue a platoon. If Snider or Tabata work out, or if the Pirates pursue an everyday right fielder, Lambo would be expendable in a trade.

Cunningham and Garcia are similar stories. They both have a lot of raw power, but they also don’t hit for average and have plate patience issues. Fortunately in each case the Pirates can take their time. There’s no reason to try and rush the development of Cunningham, since Neil Walker is under team control for a few more years. Like Walker, Cunningham struggles against left-handers, although he does have six of his homers this year against lefties (and that’s about all he has against them). Garcia is prone to hot streaks, and is currently in one right now, with a .333 average, a 1.051 OPS, and six homers in the month of June. He’s only 20, and the Pirates could have a long-term outfield of Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco. Therefore, they can take their time with Garcia and hope he improves his strike zone issues.

Sanchez hitting for power is a good sign. He’s got the defense to be a starter in the majors, but his bat has been a question mark up until this season. The power in Triple-A isn’t new. He hit eight homers in 206 at-bats last year in Triple-A. This year he has seen a slight increase in power, but has also added to his average. That’s increasing the chance that he could be an everyday starting catcher. Even without the batting average, Sanchez could be an average starting catcher with power and defense.

Stetson Allie is currently on pace for 29 homers this year.

Stetson Allie is currently on pace for 29 homers this year.

Allie has the best power in the system, but he’s also unproven at the higher levels. He just made the jump to high-A, and as I pointed out last month, his dominating numbers in low-A don’t really give any indication of what type of player he could become in the future. Still, the power is impressive at this point, especially since he’s in his first full year of making the jump to being a hitter.

Power isn’t everything, and a lack of power at a young age in the minors doesn’t mean you won’t eventually hit for power in the majors. Andrew McCutchen never hit for more than 17 homers in a season in the minors. Starling Marte’s high was 12 (although he had 17 combined when you count the majors last year). If you look at the prospects this year, Gregory Polanco has seven homers, but has as much future power potential as anyone in the system.

When a guy is hitting for power, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a top prospect. Allie, Sanchez, and Lambo would stand out as prospects. Garcia and Cunningham have potential, but the odds that they’ll reach their potential is much lower. Those two are the newest Quincy Latimore type prospects. They’ve got amazing power, but nothing else in the hitting side of their game is developing, which will probably hold them in Double-A. You hope that they break out and add some average or the ability to get on base. That tends to be more difficult than a guy like Polanco adding some power to his ability to hit and get on base.

At any rate, all five of these guys are bonus prospects. None of them finished in our mid-season top 10, although Sanchez and Allie were top 15 prospects. None of these players are guys who the Pirates are depending on. The Pirates are depending on guys like Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, Gregory Polanco, and Alen Hanson. You might add Sanchez to that list, since he’s the only upper level catcher. But if you get something out of Allie, Lambo, Cunningham, and Garcia, that only adds to a strong system. As we’ve seen from the performances of guys Jordy Mercer and Brandon Cumpton this year, the production from guys in the lower tiers of the prospect rankings can be just as important as the production of top ranked prospects.

Links and Notes

**Check out the latest episode of the Pirates Prospects Podcast: P3 Episode 10: More Stanton Talk and Should Polanco Be Called Up This Year?

**2013 Pittsburgh Pirates Draft Pick Signing Tracker.

Prospects

**Prospect Watch: Andrew Lambo Hits His 19th Homer of the Year.

**DSL Prospect Watch: Pirates Down Cardinals In Extra Innings.

**Minor League Schedule: Kingham Goes In Altoona, Cumpton Returns To Indianapolis.

**Danny Collins and Barrett Barnes Win Player of the Week Awards.

**Minor Moves: Mel Rojas and Chad Kuhl to the DL.

**Taillon, Polanco, and Glasnow Make Baseball Prospectus Top 50.

Pirates

**Pirates Beat Mariners 9-4 on Power of Marte, Inge.

**James McDonald to Remain on the DL.

**Why a Four-Man Pirates Rotation Could Work.

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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  • http://www.facebook.com/nate.rose2 Nate Rose

    I must disagree with the idea that Tony Sanchez is a bonus prospect that the Pirates aren’t counting on. Russell Martin has this year and next before he’s a free agent. If they don’t re-sign him, Sanchez is the only player in the system with a realistic shot of stepping in as a full-time catcher. We’ve seen how difficult it is to find a good free agent catcher, and it’s a long way down in the system from Sanchez to Reese McGuire, who likely won’t be ready for the Majors in 2015.

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

      “You might add Sanchez to that list, since he’s the only upper level catcher.”

      • http://www.facebook.com/jeremy.j.stein.3 Jeremy J Stein

        Print is dead. Even that new fangled Internet print!

    • buster09

      Nate ; don’t let any one tell you any different,Carlos Paulino ‘s defense will play in MLB right now. He has a better arm and pop time than most catchers in the Majors. It is his hitting that will keep him from being a starter unless of course he improves.

      • BuccosFanStuckinMD

        I saw Paulino play in Bowie this past Saturday night – defensively he was very impressive. Quick, agile, and athletic – with a very strong arm. He picked a guy off second base with a laser like throw. Although I mostly went to the game to see Polanco and Taillon, I was pleasantly surprised with what I saw of Paulino and Santos.

  • https://profiles.google.com/105668650510920614054 Brian Bernard

    Congratulations to Lambo who is doing it the hard way, but still doing it. 19 dingers is significantly more than Snider is providing and if Travis doesn’t bring that average back up around the .300 mark – no power will mean no job.
    I’d say that Andrew has been bringing the lunchbox to work more than Snider this year.
    One question Tim, how does Lambo’s defensive abilities / other skill sets compare to Snider’s?

  • timdwyer8

    You mention Mercer at the end, what was his highest ranking as a prospect?

  • TNBucs

    I’d rate Cunningham at least as high as Lambo given that he’s a year younger and is more versatile as a defender. They have roughly the same K rates (K/PA, K/BB) in AA this year and Cunningham is putting up better numbers this year than Lambo did last year despite having less experience. Neither are great prospects though both would have been top 10 not too long ago.

  • http://battlingbucs.wordpress.com battlingbucs

    There is one amazing thing about your article Tim that I’m not sure even you realize. You wrote an entire article on power hitting prospects in the Pirates system and not even once did you mention the player who is probably the top such prospect in the system. We gave the guy 5 million dollars not that long ago and its not like he is struggling this season but yet his name doesn’t even appear.

    Its quite an amazing feat to be able to write something like this and make no mention of Josh Bell.

  • leadoff

    I keep saying the same thing over and over, it is all about maturation, maturation on the minor league level and maturation on the major league level, most can’t figure out when or if it will occur at all. A player like Batista, 28-29 before it happened, Moss 28-29 before it happened, we are ready to discard a 20 year old kid these days if he has not reached a certain level of production and at 25 and still in the minors, pretty much a non prospect.
    The power numbers are no surprise and I would not doubt these players could repeat those numbers in the majors given the chance a guy like Alvarez had, but there are very few that get the kind of chances Alvarez had, which I agree with, Alvarez has so much potential, if he wants to sign long term, the Pirates better jump on it, overpaying today will be underpaying in 5 years.