First Pitch: The Pirates Are Stockpiling Shortstop Prospects

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.

DSL

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.

GCL

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.

Bristol

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.

Jamestown

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.

West Virginia

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.

Bradenton

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.

Altoona

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.

Indianapolis

The Indians don’t really have a shortstop option, outside of bench guys like Michael Martinez, Robert Andino, and Chase d’Arnaud.

The Prospects

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.

Links and Notes

**Prospect Watch: Live Report on Luis Heredia

**Minor League Schedule: Billy Roth Makes Season Debut For Bristol on Sunday

**2014 GCL Pirates Season Preview

**Prospect Highlights: Double From Alen Hanson, Stetson Allie’s Homer

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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  • Monsoon Harvard

    There is a pretty good hitting defense-first shortstop in the Atlanta Braves system who is blocked by Andrelton Simmons, and is being played at second base. Jose Peraza I’m talking about.

    I wonder if the Braves would think about moving him if the Pirates dangled a guy like Pedro Alvarez or minor league prospects.

    I doubt it but I just wanted to throw that out there.

    • emjayinTN

      MH: Peraza is blocked as a Shortstop, but also posted 29 errors at SS last year in Lo A. He is a speed player with very little power and that may have been the reason the Braves are grooming him more as a 2B – at least that is what he was listed as in Hi A. He did well and recently earned a promotion to AA as a 2B. The Braves are one of those teams who will move him fast at 2B and as a leadoff hitter – 64 SB’s last year. I do not think the Braves have much at 2B right now, so he will definitely be fast-tracked. The Braves have made an effort to sign all of their young talent to long term contracts, and I think this kid is going to be the next youngster to pay dividends to them possibly as early as 2015.

      Hanson brings batting average and power in a switchhitter package, and just needs to get the defensive aspect of the game under control – he suffers from being only 21, and I think he could benefit greatly from a promotion to AAA where he would be surrounded by a mature group of players.

  • ElGaupo77

    Hanson B
    Tucker B-
    Jones C
    Ngeope C-
    Arbet
    Valerio
    Sam Kenelly
    Nelson George
    Bealyn Churio

    That’s my quick attempt to translate to Sickels grades.

  • R Edwards

    Wasn’t Max Moroff drafted as a shortstop as well? I know he’s playing mostly second at Bradenton, but is that because Frazier is there or because Moroff doesn’t have the skills to stay at shortstop?

    The Pirates do have a lot of young shortstop prospects, but none of them (excluding Tucker who hasn’t played yet) seem like real strong prospects for the position, including Hanson. Hanson is very fast and his bat has a lot of potential, but he seems more like a second baseman to me.

    It is a shame about Chase d’Arnaud – as I really liked him when he was in AA at Altoona. Very fast, athletic, and had a pretty decent bat. He just has not been able to stay healthy.

  • mysonisnamedafterRoberto

    They have also stockpiled their catching prospects over the last two years, too. Tony was the only one a few years ago and now there are 3 to 4. Not nearly to the level of shortstops but still an area were having professional prospects are value.

  • freddylang

    Any word on when tucker makes his debut?

  • CTBucco

    The big difference I see with some of the other positions where players have excelled in the minors is that Tucker is the only high draft pick used on the position. The other guys are mostly guys with flaws (weak bat, weak D) but with potential to develop. Even Tucker has a questionable bat. Though you could argue that he wasn’t really highly rated coming in. I believe they should focus on highly athletic guys with a good hit tool coming in whereas most of the guys we have bring good D potential with weak bats. Hanson is in the former group and is the best prospect of the bunch.

  • unfurious

    Am I wrong in concluding that the Pirates are essentially drafting CFs, SSs, and catchers to develop into all position players? Aside from Alvarez, have they drafted a serious prospect that didn’t have a chance to stick at one of those positions. It would make sense. That’s where the athletes are and they need speed and defense to be a priority if they want to compete. It’s easier to move a quality guy to a corner than the other way around. It also makes their prospects valuable trade pieces.

  • rtexmex

    Cory Giger from the altoona paper was on the fan 93.7 in pittsburgh last week. He felt very strongly that Hanson is not a shortstop and will never play an inning of shortstop in MLB. I was surprised by his report. What say you’s?

  • Spa City

    Every team stockpiles shortstop prospects. Shortstops who can hit but can’t stick at short wind up playing every other position. Billy Hamilton, Travis Fryman, Brandon Phillips, Miguel Sano, Jim Thome, Mike Schmidt, Jackie Robinson, Chipper Jones, Miguel Cabrera, Manny Machado and Xander Bogaerts were all originally shortstops.

    Hanson, Frazier, Jones, Filliben and Arbet will all move to different positions eventually. Suddenly the Bucs will be thin at shortstop again.

    Gift Ngoepe is the closest prospect to the majors who seems able to handle the position defensively. Valerio and Tucker might stick at short, too. But none of us has any idea whether any of them will be able to hit.

    It seems clear to me the Pirates should realize they have a lot of pitching depth and no depth at shortstop. My advice is to try to entice Seattle to trade shortstop Chris Taylor to the Bucs for Francisco Liriano. Seattle is in the playoff race, and they need to win in order to justify the $500 Billion they gave Cano. They would do it. But Pirate fans would need to stay calm and put up with the perception that they are mailing it in for 2014.