Today I was working on the GCL Preview, and noticed how many shortstops the Pirates have at the level. The main guy to watch this year will be 2014 first round pick Cole Tucker, although there are some other promising guys at the same level. Sam Kennelly received $225,000 out of Australia, and started the first two games while Tucker gets ready for his season to begin. Nelson Jorge was taken in the draft this year, and has the skills to stick at the position defensively. Bealyn Chourio is very athletic, and would be a good option if the other guys weren’t on the same team.
After looking at the GCL, I started looking at every other level. The Pirates have been loading up on shortstop prospects in the last two years. As a result, they’ve got a dozen options in the system, with the hope that at least one of those guys can emerge as a potential starter in the majors. Here is a look at candidates from each level, with their skills and what they need to work on to reach the majors.
One guy who isn’t in the US yet is Adrian Valerio. He was signed by the Pirates for $400,000 last year, and is playing in the DSL this year. Every report I get on him, no matter who it is from, raves about his defense. That’s not defensive potential, but his current defensive skills. I’ve had some reports saying he’s currently the best defensive shortstop in the system. He’s extremely far away from the majors, and is going to need to add some offense to be a starting candidate.
The GCL team has as many shortstop prospects as infield positions. The top prospect is Cole Tucker, who was taken in the first round of the 2014 draft. Tucker will get the biggest opportunity to make it as a shortstop, although he’s only 17 years old, so he’s got a long way to go before he reaches the majors.
The other three prospects are Sam Kennelly, Nelson Jorge, and Bealyn Chourio. Kennelly is athletic and has a good frame. He could stick at the position for the long-term. Jorge has a strong chance to stick at shortstop over the long-term, with good defense, although his bat will be a question mark. Chourio has the most offensive upside of the group, and is very athletic, but looks to be either the number three or four guy on the depth chart in the GCL. To make it as a shortstop, he’s going to have to hit well enough to separate himself from this group.
The Pirates gave Trae Arbet a $425,000 bonus last year. He’s a shortstop who is raw on both sides of the game, although his defense is ahead of his offense. Arbet’s competition in Bristol isn’t strong. Carlos Ozuna is good defensively, but doesn’t do much with the bat. Pablo Reyes is speedy and good with the bat, but isn’t strong defensively. This group is very raw, and unless Arbet develops well over the next few years, it seems unlikely to generate a starting shortstop.
The Pirates took Tyler Filliben in the 12th round of the 2014 draft. He profiles more as a third baseman in the future, but will stick at shortstop in Jamestown. Filliben has the potential for a good bat, with some nice power from the shortstop position, although he’s got a small chance of sticking there.
The big name here has been JaCoby Jones, who was drafted as a center fielder last year, but is making the jump to shortstop full-time this year. He’s very athletic and has a lot of tools. His offense has been the highlight this year, with some nice power for a potential middle infielder. It’s too early to say that Jones has a future as a starting shortstop, but he does have the tools to eventually make it happen.
Adam Frazier is the main shortstop for Bradenton, taken as the top college shortstop in the 2013 draft. Frazier has a lot of speed, but hasn’t done well at the plate with Bradenton this year, and his defensive skills aren’t great. He’s stuck between Alen Hanson and JaCoby Jones, which means he should be pushed up a level or pushed to another position when Jones is ready for a promotion.
Alen Hanson is the top shortstop prospect in the system. He’s an offense-first shortstop who has the defensive tools to remain at the position. Hanson has been hitting well in Altoona this year, although his defense has been inconsistent, which was his issue last year in Bradenton. Hanson could be on pace to arrive in Pittsburgh by the middle of the 2015 season. He’s the best option for the position in the short-term, but could lose the job to someone with better defense in the long-term if he doesn’t add consistency.
Altoona also has Gift Ngoepe, who is a defense-first shortstop. Ngoepe has some of the best defense at the position in the system, and might be the best defensive shortstop in the US portion of the system. His problem is a lack of offense. He started off strong this year, but has put up a sub-.700 OPS since the end of April. He should make the majors as a backup one day due to his speed and defense.
The Indians don’t really have a shortstop option, outside of bench guys like Michael Martinez, Robert Andino, and Chase d’Arnaud.
In the next few years, the only starting candidate would be Alen Hanson. He could take over at shortstop a year from now, especially if Jordy Mercer is struggling. Mercer has done better lately, with a .703 OPS since the start of May, and an .829 OPS since the start of June.
In the long-term, the Pirates have added a lot of options who have the chance to stick at shortstop. All of these options have something specific to work on, which is natural in the minor leagues. Cole Tucker has the defensive skills to stick at the position, but the Pirates need to be right about his offensive improvements in order for him to be a future starter. Even if that happens, he’s not going to be up until 2018 at the earliest, and that’s a very aggressive promotion timeline.
JaCoby Jones has the offensive upside, but needs to polish his defensive skills as he learns the position. Trae Arbet is very raw, and needs a lot of polish to his game. The GCL guys behind Tucker all have their issues, and will need to break away from Tucker in order to have a shot at being a starter. Valerio is exciting due to the defensive skills, but is going to need offense, and is another guy who is years away.
This approach with shortstops is the same approach the Pirates have taken with outfielders and pitchers. Stockpile a ton of talented players with a lot of upside and hope that this approach yields a starter. The approach definitely worked in the outfield, as Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco broke out. It’s starting to work with the pitching staff. Gerrit Cole is in the majors, Jameson Taillon would be in the majors now if it wasn’t for Tommy John surgery, and Nick Kingham and Tyler Glasnow will have a shot to join those two in the next year or two.
The hope for the Pirates would be that this same approach eventually yields a starting shortstop or two. Every team in the majors is looking for a good shortstop. There are no guarantees that the Pirates come away with one from the guys mentioned above. Their chances definitely get better with more potential options. All it takes is one surprise breakout candidate out of the ten players who aren’t Hanson or Tucker. That doesn’t seem impossible, and the odds are even better when you include those two top prospects in the mix.
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