2013 Indianapolis Indians Season Recap and Top 10 Prospects

For the second year in a row, Indianapolis was dominant in the International League, making the post-season with ease. However, the Pirates were competitive for the second year in a row, and as a result the top performers in Indianapolis were all playing for Pittsburgh by the end of the season. The Pirates probably wouldn’t have been as competitive if it wasn’t for the depth from Triple-A throughout the year. Here are the results from the individual players, as well as the top ten prospects at the level this year.

The Hitters

Tony Sanchez saw his bat come alive in Triple-A this year. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Tony Sanchez saw his bat come alive in Triple-A this year. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Last year the Pirates had Starling Marte as the top hitting prospect in Indianapolis. They didn’t have a hitting prospect of the same caliber heading into the 2013 season, although a few exciting prospects emerged throughout the season. The first was Tony Sanchez, who finally saw some production with the bat this season. Sanchez had been struggling at the plate in previous years, with a lack of power that could have been chalked up to multiple jaw injuries. This year he saw that power return, hitting for a .288/.368/.504 line, with a .216 ISO. That was fueled by a new approach of going opposite field. That same approach could be effective in Pittsburgh, with the Clemente wall serving as a target. Sanchez already had the defense to be a major league catcher. If this offense holds up, he would have what it takes to be a starting catcher. He should get a shot at the backup catcher job next year, and spending a year in the same clubhouse as Russell Martin would definitely help his future in the majors.

The other breakout prospect was Andrew Lambo. The outfielder had struggled in Double-A the past few seasons, but finally saw a breakout this season. He was moved up to Triple-A to see if the breakout was legit, and he ended up doing better at the higher level. Lambo hit for a .272/.344/.589 line with 18 homers in 224 at-bats with Indianapolis. His .317 ISO led the team. He eventually moved up to the majors where he wasn’t as effective, but still managed a .703 OPS in 30 at-bats. Lambo’s power was real, although he might not be a 30 home run guy in the majors. He still could be a 20 homer per year guy, and profiles more as a three true outcomes player. He’d be a good option in right field next year in a platoon situation if the Pirates can’t find a free agent for the position.

The offense did contribute a few key players to the Pirates this year. Jordy Mercer only played 26 games with Indianapolis before moving up to Pittsburgh. By the middle of the season he was the new starting shortstop. Josh Harrison also went back and forth between the majors and Triple-A, but eventually settled in the majors in the second half as a bench bat, and got an increased role at the end of the season as a platoon partner with Neil Walker at second base.

Jerry Sands was one of the bigger names acquired in last off-season’s Joel Hanrahan trade. The Pirates saw some struggles in right field this year, leading to an eventual trade for Marlon Byrd. Meanwhile, Sands was struggling with Indianapolis, missing a prime opportunity to make an impact in the majors. It would be hard to see him bouncing back after this, although he is still somewhat young, and could be a surprise contributor in future years. He might be a risk to be non-tendered this off-season, so any future breakout could happen with another team if it does happen.

One player who didn’t get a shot this year was Ivan De Jesus. He didn’t get much playing time in the first half, then started getting an increase in playing time after Jordy Mercer was promoted. De Jesus hit very well with Indianapolis, but there wasn’t a spot for him in the majors. He was out-hit by Harrison in Triple-A, which made Harrison more deserving of the promotion mid-season. He wouldn’t have gotten much playing time in the majors at the end of the year with Mercer, Harrison, Neil Walker, and Clint Barmes ahead of him. De Jesus is also more of a second base prospect at this point, and no longer an option at shortstop. His upside is a bench player. He might return next year, although he’s eligible for minor league free agency, and could sign with another team.

By the end of the season the Pirates promoted Gregory Polanco to the level. He should start the 2014 season with the Indians, and will be next year’s version of 2012 Starling Marte, with people waiting to see when he arrives in the majors.

The Pitchers

Gerrit Cole

Gerrit Cole made the jump to the majors after overcoming a slow start with the Indians. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Most of the Major League depth came from the Indianapolis pitching staff. The Pirates struggled with injuries this year, but stayed afloat due to all of the quality arms that came from Triple-A. Top prospect Gerrit Cole got off to a rough start with the Indians in his first month and a half, but quickly turned things around. At the start of the season he was struggling with his command, and failing to dominate opposing hitters. He picked up the pace in mid-May, and by the middle of June he was ready for the majors. By the end of the season, Cole was looking like a future ace.

The Pirates also got rotation help from Brandon Cumpton, Phil Irwin, and Kris Johnson. Cumpton and Irwin are both legit prospects, with both capable of being back of the rotation starters in the majors. Kyle McPherson could join that group, although he was injured all season, and will miss the first half of the 2014 season after an injury. Casey Sadler made it up to Indianapolis at the end of the season, and is a sleeper prospect for the back of the major league rotation.

The Indianapolis pitching staff also produced some relief pitchers. Stolmy Pimentel and Ryan Reid helped throughout the year. Of the two, Pimentel looks to be the best bet to play a role with the 2014 Pirates, as he’s out of options and projects to be part of the pitching staff in some way. Jared Hughes and Bryan Morris spent some time with Triple-A, but most of their time this year was in the majors. There were also the projects who got a look in the majors, such as Mike Zagurski, Jose Contreras, and Kyle Farnsworth. The only successful player from that group was Farnsworth.

One of the biggest disappointments this year was Andy Oliver, who saw some major control issues to the tune of an 8.1 BB/9 ratio. Oliver was eventually moved to the bullpen, but the control problems didn’t go away. He’s out of options next season, and will most likely be non-tendered due to the lack of control. I still like the arm, since his velocity and ability to generate strikeouts as a lefty is rare. But unless he fixes his control issues, he’s not going to make it past being a “4-A” player.

Perhaps the biggest impact from the relief pitchers came from Vic Black and Duke Welker. Both players made it to the majors with the Pirates for a brief period, but their bigger impact came via trades. Back in May it was reported that scouts were watching Black and Welker. The Pirates traded Black, along with Dilson Herrera, in exchange for Marlon Byrd. They traded Welker, along with Alex Presley, for Justin Morneau. Byrd had the bigger impact on the team, although it’s hard to forget Morneau’s late inning defense in the game where the Pirates clinched the playoffs.

Top 10 Prospects

The cutoff for eligibility on this list was 140 at-bats, 40 innings pitched, or 20 relief appearances. The cutoff prevented a lot of guys at the level from making the list. Jordy Mercer, Casey Sadler, Jameson Taillon, Kyle McPherson, and Phil Irwin were all excluded due to their lack of playing time at the level. Guys who are no longer in the organization, like Vic Black and Duke Welker, were also excluded. Because of these exclusions, the list was very weak after number five. Some of the players on this list no longer have prospect eligibility (Gerrit Cole). Those players are included because they had prospect eligibility coming into the year.

1. Gerrit Cole

2. Tony Sanchez

3. Andrew Lambo

4. Stolmy Pimentel

5. Brandon Cumpton

6. Ivan De Jesus

7. Kris Johnson

8. Andy Oliver

9. Matt Hague

10. Erik Cordier

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://battlingbucs.wordpress.com battlingbucs

    I hate to keep questioning you are some minor points but I have my doubts that Hague and Sands had prospect eligibility at the beginning of the year. If we use MLB rookie qualifications then I don’t think they do.

    The cut off is 130 AB and Sands had 221 AB entering (and ending) the year.

    Hague only had 70 AB but from what I see had 54 service days all of which occurred in 2012 prior to September. The cut off for rookie eligibility is 45 days. I also think De Jesus might not qualify under this rule as he has 147 service days but I’m unsure of how many of them came from a DL stint or in September.

    This is of course ticky-tacky stuff that in no way is meant to take away from what is a very good piece. Just thought I’d point out some possible errors I seen.

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

      You’re correct on Sands. I was struggling to find a 10th player for the list and forgot about his previous experience.

      I don’t do service days for prospect eligibility. Only at-bats for hitters and innings/appearances for pitchers. So Hague qualifies.

      • http://battlingbucs.wordpress.com battlingbucs

        I thought that might have been the case with service days. I believe Mercer had too many at the beginning of this past year and you ranked him somewhere in your top 50 (~20 ish I believe). I think Cordier is a better fit at 10 than Sands anyway so it works out well.

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

          It all would have been so much easier if Jameson Taillon would have pitched just three more innings to qualify for the list.

  • Andrew

    Obviously this is hindsight bias, but does anyone remember the reasoning behind the Inge and MacDonald signings? Was the front office not sold on the defensive abilities of Mercer/Harrison, or was it a hedge around the idea that the more options for middle infield spots the better?

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

      It was a depth issue. I remember that was the reasoning given in Spring Training when McDonald was added.

      • piraddict

        Tim,

        Why does Ivan Dejesus seemingly get so little attention? His offensive production looks decent for a middle infielder. Is his range so severely limited that he isn’t major league material?

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

          He’s a bench option who is better defensively at second base. There’s not a big need for those types of players, and the Pirates had a better option in Harrison.

          There’s a reason De Jesus went unclaimed by every team in baseball. He’s a good depth option, but not much more than that.

    • CalipariFan506

      Hurdle always wants veteran depth. Expect them to sign a guy or two like that for next season. Don’t even be shocked if Overbay comes back.

      • jamminjoe66

        Barmas has a better chance of coming back & winning a batting title then Overpay coming back

  • ChirpCity

    Any thoughts of having Lambo be the left platoon

    • ChirpCity

      Sorry about the accidental double post.

  • ChirpCity

    Any thoughts of having Lambo get a shot at being the lefty part of a first base platoon in Pittsburgh if they let Jones go and don’t find a full time starter (assuming they bring back Sanchez or get someone else like him to hold down the other half)? Not sure about his experience at that position, but it might be a thought.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 leefoo

      Chirp….that is my question, also. Why isn’t he being considered at 1B? Is he THAT bad a fielder?