Today is the first day of full squad workouts at Minor League camp. Previously the Pirates had minor league players in camp, but mostly lower level guys, and only partial practices. The Minor League Spring Training schedule begins today with a camp day. On Friday, the Pirates start playing games against other teams. So far the only thing that has been taking place has been batting practice, fielding and base running drills, and a few bullpens. It’s hard to get a feel for the talent of certain players in those limited circumstances. It’s also hard to find out who is going to play where.
By the end of camp, I should know where every player is going to end up to start the season. I’ll also have a few picks for breakout candidates. For now, here are several big questions that I’ll be looking to answer in the next month.
1. Who is the big breakout candidate?
There’s never a set time for this prediction to happen. It really depends on when I notice that a player is performing well. Last year my breakout guys were Tyler Glasnow and Stolmy Pimentel. I noticed Glasnow right away, while Pimentel took until the end of camp.
One guy I’ve been impressed with so far is Stetson Allie. He’s got a smooth swing and the ball just explodes off his bat with no effort at all. Allie definitely has the most raw power in the system. But I’ve only seen him taking batting practice, which means I’ve only seen him crushing fastballs. I’ll get a better idea of his talents during the games.
2. The Low-A Catcher Jam
2013 first round pick Reese McGuire will almost certainly go to West Virginia for his first full season in pro ball out of high school. But the Pirates have two other talented catching prospects who will need playing time. Wyatt Mathisen started the 2013 season in West Virginia, but only lasted a month before being shut down with a labrum injury. Jin-De Jhang spent the 2013 season in Jamestown.
It’s possible that two catchers could split time in West Virginia, but not three. The Pirates will have all three remaining at the position, which means that someone from the group will either need to make an aggressive jump to Bradenton, or someone from the group will need to stay back in Jamestown. I wouldn’t be surprised if they go with the aggressive jump for one of Mathisen or Jhang. It’s hard to say which one will get that push.
3. What Will the Rotation Be in Bradenton?
The Pirates have a ton of talented pitching prospects, and that seems to be piling up in Bradenton. There currently looks to be a mixture of talented young players making the jump from West Virginia, combined with talented guys who might stay back in Bradenton, along with a few relievers who could be tried as starters, and 2013 college draft picks who could make the jump to Bradenton. Here are the options from each list.
2013 WV Starters: Tyler Glasnow, Clay Holmes, Jason Creasy, Luis Heredia, John Kuchno
2013 Bradenton Starters: Adrian Sampson, Robby Rowland
2013 WV Relief Pitchers: Ryan Hafner
2013 Draft Picks: Buddy Borden, Cody Dickson
That’s ten starting pitching candidates for five rotation spots. The Pirates could have enough to piggyback, although it’s definitely possible that some of these guys could stay back in West Virginia, some could jump to Altoona, and some could move to the bullpen. A lot of this will depend on how they look over the next month. For now, here is my way too early prediction:
Bradenton Rotation: Glasnow, Holmes, Heredia, Creasy, Dickson
Multi-Inning Relievers: Rowland, Hafner, Kuchno
Altoona Promotion: Sampson
West Virginia Rotation: Borden
Some of those predictions I feel good about. Some of them I’m just guessing based on what makes the most sense. I’ll get a better idea as the Spring Training schedule goes on.
4. The Top Down Effect
Last year Andrew Lambo was crushing Triple-A pitching all Spring, then got moved down to Double-A after the Pirates demoted a few players at the end of Spring Training. We know that Gregory Polanco and Jameson Taillon will get cut and will eventually join minor league camp. The same goes for guys like Casey Sadler, Joely Rodriguez, and others who are top prospects but don’t project to make the majors this year. That will once again shake up the top two levels of the system. And it could mean that the Pirates hold someone back in Double-A due to a lack of space, despite having the talent for Triple-A.
5. First Look at the New Guys
Spring Training is the first time I get to see a lot of players in the system. Some of those guys are 2013 draft picks who went to Jamestown. Some are players making the jump from the Dominican for the first time. The guy I’m most looking forward to seeing is Michael De La Cruz. I haven’t personally seen him, but everyone I talk to who has seen him in person says he’s as good as his numbers and scouting reports indicate. There’s a ton of projection involved with these guys, but the upsides can be huge. It was only a few years ago that I was wondering who the tall, skinny center fielder walking around was, and thinking he had the frame to add some power and be a prospect one day. Then I found out that guys name: Gregory Polanco.
Links and Notes
**If you haven’t ordered your copy of the 2014 Prospect Guide, you had better act fast. We’re currently on the last case of books. I say that’s the last case because I don’t think I’ll be ordering more this year. Each year I order the books in bulk through the publisher, which allows me to save several dollars per book, and I pass that savings on to you to keep the price of the book low. You’ll still be able to buy the book from the publisher after I sell my supply, but the bulk discount price won’t be included, which means you’ll be paying $25, plus $3.99 for shipping. Right now you can buy the book for $25 shipped on the products page of the site.