2014 Indianapolis Indians Season Preview

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

Altoona Curve

Bradenton Marauders

West Virginia Power

First Pitch: Picking Two Pirates Breakout Candidates From Each Level

Here is a look at the 2014 Indianapolis Indians, who will feature top prospect Gregory Polanco on their Opening Day roster.

Lineup

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.

Bench

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.

Starting Rotation

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.

Bullpen

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.

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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  • Honusty

    Tim, About how long until Kingham gets promoted to AAA?

  • lonleylibertarian

    So six of the 9 regular hitters are washed up retreads…

    Is this the way smart Front Offices develop talent?

    Santos may not be good defensively – but he MIGHT have a future if you play him regularly – and bench one of the sad six…

    Great pitching staff with depth – just wish they could get over this dumpster diving for .220 hitters.

    • emjayinTN

      ll: It is AAA and that is the crossroads of young talent moving up, and “experienced” talent trying to extend their number of paydays. As I said about Alen Hanson, they better have someone at AAA who can get inside Lambo’s head and help him move forward in his development. If you have ever played the game at the HS or higher levels, this is the toughest thing to do – get your confidence back, and resume believing in yourself at the plate. A lot of the old timers all said the same thing in different ways and that is “If you do not believe you can hit, you will not hit”. Coming off of a 4 for 42 he probably doubted himself in spades, started hitting “at em” balls, started pressing, started doubting, and you try like you never did before to try to make better contact, but it still continues. He has to commit to the grind – BP, soft toss, hitting off the T, and a true friend who will continue throwing you BP and be willing to give encouragement and support.

      • lonleylibertarian

        It would be interesting to get some feel for how other top farm systems use their different levels – maybe the Pirates are just doing what everyone does at AAA…

        Just thought devoting 2/3 of the available starting hitter spots to guys who we really don’t need to learn much more about was inefficient use of a valuable resource.

        But then again having these guys “ready to go” if an injury happens might be more valuable than developing young players to get them ready for the Majors

    • freddylang

      Have you ever been to a AAA game? This is the nature of the minors and AAA…especially now with teams trying to get a player for 6.5+ seasons…the studs play a full season at AA and if they excel they usually head to AAA for a few months the next season and then onto the MLB. It is not purposeful to have no stars there…when it falls right some teams do end up with a bunch of elite talent there but there is only so much elite talent to go around and you need to fill a lot of the AAA roster with decent journeymen that are mature and mostly polished and can help in the majors when they are needed. AAA is for finished products for the most part and not guys you are still teaching how to play the game.

  • freddylang

    When he is ready…which only the front office and coaches and instructors can decide. Anywhere from 5-6 starts to all season depending on his progress and whether he accomplishes the goals they set for him. Normally, it’s about mid-season/after the draft and you see guys start to move but with Kingham’s AA experience he could move quick because of dominance, injury at AAA or MLB, or just because he accomplished what they had for him on their list to improve on. Sorry Tim. Feel free to just generic answer that for ANY player. I’m sure you already have one! By the way my friend ran into Kingham’s father and brother on a plane to NOLA. My buddy lives in Baton Rouge and I guess Kingham’s little brother was visiting LSU…Shame the Bucs can’t buy as many kids out of commits like they did with Nick.

    • freddylang

      …and speaking of callups…Greg Polanco cannot get to the Burgh soon enough! Only 3 games in but the offense is ugly. We are seeing what happens to the lineup when Cutch struggles. 7 runs in 34innings. I am wishing Garrett Jones was still in a Bucs uniform right now. …and Hurdle bunting Gaby Sanchez…I don’t know. Hindsight is 20/20 but he has 0 SACS since 2011. Run a pitcher or Jay-Hey out there to do that.

      • lonleylibertarian

        I always thought teams should have a couple of pitchers really work on bunting – designated bunter if you will. Cole seems to be a good enough athlete to do this – there are probably others. Sanchez can’t hit right handers so I guess the bunt was the right choice – to bad he can’t bunt.

        If I were asked – and nobody has asked of course I would get T Sanchez a first basemen’s glove and consider keeping him when Stewart is ready – by then the Ishikawa experiment should be over

        • emjayinTN

          The Ish “experiment” as you reference it has been a moderate success so far in that he has 2 hits and 2 walks in the first 3 games, so why be negative? Throw in Gaby’s one hit and 1B has been a solid position for us in the first 3 games. As I said before, Davis was an under-producing AAAA guy at Texas and Moss had failed with multiple teams, and then the light went on and they became solid power hitters for B’more and Oakland. Can the Pirates get that lucky? I hope so.

          Let’s Go Bucs!!

      • emjayinTN

        fl: Truth is the Pirates pitching helped the Pirates avoid a sweep because the Cubs came ready to play. Liriano and Morton were both excellent, and Wandy pitched well enough to win for a team that could score a few runs before extra innings come into play. The guys at the front and back are actually doing what we expected, but 3 for 35 for ‘Cutch, Alvarez, and Martin is hard to overcome. ‘Cutch already has been walked 4 times and Marte 2 walks and a HBP in 3 games. Work got in the way of the game yesterday, but watching the replays on MLB was ugly enough. We better wake up fast because the Cards are playing well.

  • dr dng

    Tim,
    Good run down on the teams. I will try to once gain make my grand slam of seeing at least one game at each level. One thing you neglected was to make any type of prediction. Indy looks REALLY strong to me. Do they once again have the best regular season record in AAA? How about this. Could you predict simply if the A+, A-, AA or AAA are above or below .500 for the year?
    -

  • smurph

    Kind of similar to what others have said, but you will never have 25 ML prospects on your AAA team. The way the Pirates are doing it is actually excellent. They have 2-3 SPs who could immediately come up and start a couple of games. They have at least 2 RPs they could call up. They have one player who will be a starter with the big club. It makes sense for the majority of your position players to be borderline veterans, who, if called up would simply be bench players (not starters). Same thing at AA. You want to have 3-4 kids who could (COULD) eventually be ML starters. A couple more who are longshots to make the Pirates, and the rest organizational depth. Every player in the minors is not a prospect. Siimple fact. Is it not good enough that the Pirates have the top-rated minor league prospects?