In previous years, I got to see 1-2 weeks of the GCL players. Most of that time came during the Fall Instructional Leagues, and I didn’t get a further look until Spring Training. This year I saw almost everyone at the level at least once, with only 1-2 exceptions. When combined with the earlier draft signing deadlines, this allowed me to see all of the new draft picks much earlier than I normally would have. On that same note, it allowed those draft picks to get playing time in the year they were drafted. The combined result was that I got to see Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire live up to the hype, but I also saw some promise out of middle and late round picks like Billy Roth and Neil Kozikowski. Below is a recap of the hitters and pitchers at the level, followed by the top ten prospects this year.
The earlier draft signing deadline meant that the Pirates got to see a lot of playing time from their first round picks. Both Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire went to the GCL, then were sent to Jamestown by the end of the season. They both got off to strong starts in their young pro careers, showing why they were taken as early first rounders.
Austin Meadows had a great season with the bat in one of the most pitcher friendly leagues in the minors. He hit for a .918 OPS with five homers, and was named the top prospect in the GCL after the season. He’s got a ton of power potential with a smooth and easy swing. There were some Jay Bruce comparisons around the draft when it came to the power from the left side, and I heard some of those same comparisons by scouts at the games. He’s got the range and the arm strength to play center field, although long-term he profiles as a corner outfielder due to his size. That won’t be an issue, as the Pirates already have plenty of center field options in their system.
Reese McGuire came in with the reputation of strong defense and a questionable bat. The defense was there, with McGuire throwing out 44 percent of basestealers in the GCL. All of the throws I saw were extremely accurate, thrown to the second base side of the bag, and in low, perfect position for the tag. McGuire also has great footwork which allows him to get the throw off quickly. He also showed good skills blocking, receiving, and handling the pitching staff. He did hit, with a .780 OPS. He started off by hitting for power, but by the end of the season he was only hitting for average and getting on base. His offense in the GCL doesn’t answer any questions about his ability to hit, but the defensive skills definitely lived up to expectations.
Two other prep players joined Meadows and McGuire on the GCL team. Trae Arbet was a fifth round shortstop who was signed to an over-slot deal. He looked over-matched at the plate, and raw on the field. You could see some potential there, with some good defensive tools, although his overall game was raw. He’s definitely a guy who will return to short-season ball next year, possibly to the new Bristol team. Nick Buckner was signed to an over-slot deal as a 14th round pick. He showed off a cannon for an arm and some power potential, but like Arbet, he looked over-matched at the plate, and his overall game was raw.
The Pirates had a lot of young international players making the jump to the GCL this year. The most impressive guy was Ulises Montilla, who put up some of the best offensive numbers on the team, with some power from the middle infield spots. Montilla was a little on the old side for this league, but not too old. He’s mostly a second baseman, and should be a candidate to move to West Virginia next year due to his age and his advanced bat.
Danny Arribas was another interested international hitter. Arribas is a catcher, but played a lot of first base due to the presence of Reese McGuire. He’s very athletic and showed good hitting skills, although not a lot of power. Arribas has more value behind the plate, but due to the options in West Virginia next year (McGuire, Wyatt Mathisen, Jin-De Jhang), he will probably be held back in Jamestown, working behind that trio for a few seasons.
The rest of the offense showed a few tools each, but not many players stood out. Candon Myles had speed, which he used for a high average and on-base percentage, but he lacked power. Carlos Ozuna showed some promise defensively at shortstop, but struggled with the bat. The most promising of the remaining group was Enyel Vallejo, who got most of his playing time in the second half. Vallejo was old for the level, but showed good hitting skills with some power in only his second pro season.
I saw Neil Kozikowski a few times this year, which was probably more than most scouts have ever seen him. When the Pirates drafted him, he was a complete unknown, with very little information surrounding him. That made it a surprise when the Pirates gave him an over-slot deal in the eighth round. When I saw him he was throwing in the 88-91 MPH range, and was using his changeup frequently, which is rare for high school players. Most don’t have a changeup, and lack trust in the pitch early in their career. Kozikowski has good movement on his fastball at times, but at other times he can leave it up in the zone, getting hit hard in those instances.
Billy Roth got the most attention, being praised as the best late round pick by Baseball America. When I saw Roth he was sitting 90-91 MPH and touching 92. By comparison, guys like Tyler Glasnow and Nick Kingham were in that range out of high school, and both are throwing mid-90s now. Roth also featured a nice changeup which was 83-84 MPH and had a lot of break, looking like a slider. His curveball sits in the upper 70s and shows good break. That is his best breaking pitch, although the changeup looked promising when I saw it.
Jon Sandfort was taken as a prep pitcher last year, and returned to the GCL this year. He was inconsistent, looking great at times, and getting hammered at other times. He was 89-92 MPH at times this year, and has touched 94 in the past. He also showed good movement with his fastball, with one NL scout saying that he didn’t need to throw 94 to be effective. His curveball is his best pitch, with 12-to-6 break in the upper 70s. That same NL scout praised the quality of his changeup, which Sandfort is comfortable throwing in any count. He didn’t have the best overall numbers this year, but Sandfort’s stuff is very promising going forward.
The Pirates had a lot of international pitchers making the jump to the US this year. One of those pitchers was Wei-Chung Wang. The Pirates signed him out of Taiwan in 2011, and he missed the entire 2012 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. That put him at an older age for the GCL, but he showed promise. Wang was hitting 93-94 MPH in his final start of the year, which is strong for a lefty. Normally I’m skeptical of a left-hander in the lower levels, especially if they have advanced off-speed stuff. The off-speed stuff usually dominates the lower levels, but doesn’t translate over to the upper levels without a good fastball. Wang has good off-speed stuff, with a nice curveball. Unlike a lot of lower level lefties, his fastball projects for success beyond short-season ball. He could be a candidate for the West Virginia rotation in 2014.
Adrian Grullon didn’t have the best numbers, but did show some promise. He had a 90-92 MPH fastball and a nice low-80s curveball. He’s 6′ 7″ and has a projectable frame, so he could continue to add velocity. The fastball/curve combo was enough to lead to a 10.2 K/9 ratio, although that came in limited innings as Grullon missed some time with a minor injury.
Cesilio Pimentel, Miguel Rosario, and Melvin Del Rosario all had extended innings and time in the rotation. Pimentel is a soft-tossing lefty, throwing 87-90 MPH. Miguel Rosario is a harder thrower, hitting 90-93 MPH. Del Rosario was mostly 85-89 MPH this year, but the lefty has touched as high as 93 in the past. All three are interesting arms, although they all profile as Wild Cards.
One big wild card is Yhonathan Barrios. He was signed for $250,000 as a shortstop in 2008. At the time that was one of the top bonuses in team history for an international player. Barrios failed to live up to his upside as a hitter, and was converted to a pitcher this year. I was surprised when I saw him throwing 95-96 MPH in the GCL, with good movement on his upper 70s slider, and an impressive low-80s changeup. Barrios was hitting 99 MPH during instructs, so there might be something to him as a reliever. He was a pitcher before he moved to shortstop. It will be interesting to see how the Pirates handle him next year, as he has more upside than a lot of the other position players converted to pitchers in previous years. Kirk Singer made the same transition, and I’ve heard good reports on his velocity, although I didn’t get a chance to see him this year.
Top 10 Prospects
The cutoff for eligibility on this list was 70 at-bats, 20 innings pitched, or 10 relief appearances. There weren’t many players who missed the cutoff. Most of the list is based on upside, rather than the results this year. These players are so far away that even their upside is hard to peg. I could see this list changing by the time the 2014 Prospect Guide is finished.
1. Austin Meadows
2. Reese McGuire
3. Wei-Chung Wang
4. Jon Sandfort
5. Blake Taylor
6. Billy Roth
7. Ulises Montilla
8. Neil Kozikowski
9. Danny Arribas
10. Trae Arbet