The 2014 minor league season begins today. To prepare for the start of the season, we have previews of all four of the full season affiliates of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Here are the previews for each team:
Indianapolis Indians - READING
Here is a look at the 2014 Indianapolis Indians, who will feature top prospect Gregory Polanco on their Opening Day roster.
C – Carlos Paulino
1B – Andrew Lambo
2B – Michael Martinez
SS – Robert Andino
3B – Brent Morel
LF – Jaff Decker
CF – Chris Dickerson
RF – Gregory Polanco
DH – Chris McGuiness
The top prospect at the level is Gregory Polanco. He is expected to arrive in Pittsburgh by mid-season, after getting some additional at-bats in Triple-A and getting re-acclimated to right field. Polanco is an impact talent with plus speed and plus defense in the outfield. He also has great plate patience, can hit for average, and has some power potential still left in his tall frame. He’s a guy who projects to be a star in the majors, and he won’t be with Indianapolis for long.
The second biggest bat on the team belongs to Andrew Lambo. Coming into the season, Lambo looked like a lock to win the first base platoon job, splitting time with Gaby Sanchez. He struggled during Spring Training, and the Pirates sent him down to Indianapolis to get back on track. He could be an option for the first base job later this year if he returns to Triple-A and starts hitting again like he did in 2013.
Jaff Decker and Chris McGuiness were acquired over the off-season as a result of a trade that sent Alex Dickerson to San Diego. Decker was acquired in that deal with Miles Mikolas, and Mikolas was later flipped to Texas for McGuiness. Both players have similar profiles. They have shown a good ability to get on base, along with some decent power. Both could be an option for the bench this year. Decker could start in right field if Travis Snider and Jose Tabata struggle. McGuiness could start at first base if Travis Ishikawa and Lambo struggle.
The rest of the Indianapolis starters profile as depth options for the Pirates’ bench. Carlos Paulino is a strong defensive catcher with the best arm in the system. Michael Martinez and Robert Andino are the top middle infield depth options. Martinez had a good Spring Training, and the Pirates have liked Andino for several years before acquiring him last year. Brent Morel is one of the only true third basemen the Pirates have behind Pedro Alvarez. The Pirates are also planning to get him time at first base, and have him working at second base in practice. He could get some time at second base in games if he gets comfortable with the position. Chris Dickerson is a bench option for the outfield, capable of playing all three outfield roles.
Nevin Ashley, Chase d’Arnaud, Matt Hague, Adalberto Santos
Ashley could share the catching duties with Paulino until Tony Sanchez returns to Indianapolis. At that point, Sanchez will take over as the starter, with Paulino likely serving as the backup. D’Arnaud is another middle infield depth option for the Pirates, although they’ve also been getting him work in the outfield to add some versatility. Matt Hague could get some time as the designated hitter, and might also get some time at third base. Adalberto Santos can play second base, third base, and the corner outfield positions. He’s a good hitter with poor defense who profiles as a utility player if he reaches the majors.
Jacob Brigham, Brandon Cumpton, Phil Irwin, Casey Sadler, Adam Wilk*
Cumpton and Irwin could serve as early season depth. Pirates fans saw both in Pittsburgh last year. Cumpton pounds the strike zone with his four seam fastball — a pitch that has so much movement that it gets classified as a sinker. He relies heavily on the pitch, getting a ton of ground ball outs. Irwin works best when he can command his fastball and get ahead in the count, setting up his plus 12-to-6 curveball. Both starters have the potential to be back of the rotation starters one day in the majors.
Jeff Locke will join this rotation when he gets stretched out, and will join those two as early season depth options. Jake Brigham and Adam Wilk are currently holding down rotation spots until Locke and Jameson Taillon return. The return of Taillon is currently up in the air as the team debates the next step after his second opinion on the elbow. As for Locke, he had a great first half of the 2013 season, and a horrible second half. The truth is that his talent level probably falls somewhere in the middle, with the upside of a strong number four starter in the majors.
Sadler was added to the 40-man roster over the off-season, and will be making the jump to Indianapolis full time this year, after making an appearance at the level at the end of last season. He’s another sinkerball pitcher who has back of the rotation potential in the majors. He falls behind Cumpton, Locke, and Irwin on the depth charts, but could see action in the majors by the end of the 2014 season.
Vance Worley could also join the Indianapolis rotation after he gets stretched out in extended Spring Training. Worley could take Taillon’s spot in the rotation until he returns.
Jared Hughes, Jay Jackson, Josh Kinney, Andy Oliver*, Daniel Schlereth*, Zack Thornton, Duke Welker
The first players the Pirates will turn to would be the guys on the 40-man roster — Duke Welker and Jared Hughes. Welker is a hard thrower who consistently hits 97-98 MPH, and pairs that fastball with an upper 80s sharp slider. He has dealt with control problems in his career, but has improved on those issues the last few years. This is his final option year, which means he will need to show what he can do in the majors at some point this season. Hughes has a nice sinker, but lacks consistency with the pitch at times, which is why he hasn’t made the jump to the majors as a full time reliever. He should be the top option to go back and forth between Pittsburgh and Indianapolis this year, for when the Pirates need an extra reliever in Pittsburgh.
Jackson, Kinney, and Schlereth were all signed as minor league free agents over the off-season, along with Wilk and Brigham. It would appear that Wilk and Brigham are ahead of the other three right now, since they’re starting off in the rotation. Schlereth has been working on a new arm slot, aimed at getting more movement on his fastball and generating more ground ball outs. Jackson and Kinney are lower on the depth chart, but could make the majors if there were a lot of injuries to the bullpen.
Thornton had a big year in the minors last year, and is another ground ball heavy pitcher. He could be a sleeper option to arrive in the majors and help out the bullpen this year. Andy Oliver was outrighted off the 40-man roster at the end of Spring Training. The former top prospect has one more year to try and fix the control problems that have derailed his top prospect status. He’s eligible for minor league free agency following the 2014 season.