Pittsburgh Pirates Mid-Season Top 20 Prospects, Minus Gregory Polanco

We usually release our mid-season prospect rankings right after the MLB draft. This not only shows the updated rankings with half of the minor league season in the books, but it also shows where the new draft picks fit in. For the second year in a row, the Pittsburgh Pirates have graduated their top prospect the week following the draft. This adds the ability to see what the system looks like with a new top prospect. Before we begin with the new top 20, here are some notes.

**I prefer tiered rankings to a top 20. We included the top 20 below, but the feature here is the tiered rankings, since it shows the groups of talent levels.

**The rankings are made up of the average of the top 50 prospects from myself, John Dreker, and Wilbur Miller. We average our lists together, come up with a master list, then debate players up or down.

**Players who exhausted prospect eligibility this year, and who weren’t included: Tony Sanchez. We also didn’t include Stolmy Pimentel in the rankings, since he will return to the majors when healthy, and is projected to lose eligibility. We did include Casey Sadler, since I think he’ll go back down when Pimentel returns. Don’t ask me where the missing guys would rank, since I have no clue. I didn’t get the rankings on these guys from anyone else, so I have no idea where they’d end up on the master list.

**Tier 5 include guys beyond the top 20 who were in the same talent group as guys in the top 20. If anyone drops off the top 20 list, these guys will move up as replacements.

**To learn about players beyond the top 20, buy the 2014 Prospect Guide, which is on sale for 24% off with the code “2014DRAFT”.

Tier 1

Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows, Jameson Taillon

There was a consensus on the top three prospects. All three rankings had Jameson Taillon first, despite the Tommy John surgery. The reason for this is that Taillon’s upside doesn’t change due to the surgery. He just gets delayed an extra year. The recovery time for Tommy John is usually one year, which means Taillon could be pitching in the majors by this time next year.

Tyler Glasnow finished second in all of the rankings. He’s not dominating this year in the way he did last year. However, he’s working almost exclusively off his fastball, mixing in about 10-12 changeups per start. The result is that he’s not using his curveball as often, which makes his success lately even more impressive.

Austin Meadows hasn’t played yet due to a hamstring injury. He’ll be returning in a few weeks to rehab in the GCL, before spending the final two months in West Virginia. This is another case where the injury didn’t change his upside. There’s also not really a big need to rush Meadows, as the current outfield of Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco gives him plenty of time to develop.

All three prospects in the top tier are great prospects, likely ending up in a lot of overall top 50 rankings at the end of the season. That said, none of them have really stepped up to put a strong claim on the top spot. While we had Taillon as the consensus top guy, it’s not that big of a gap between him and Meadows. If Glasnow continues to show he can dominate pitching off the fastball, or Meadows shows he can hit well in low-A, then there might be someone challenging Taillon for the top spot going into next year.

Tier 2

Josh Bell, Alen Hanson, Nick Kingham, Reese McGuire

This group was about as close together as you could get a group. When we did the numerical rankings, everyone had a different choice at number four. Reese McGuire got an edge in our rankings, but this is so close that you could re-arrange the order in any way, and you wouldn’t be wrong.

McGuire hasn’t shown much power this year, including during his 19-game hitting streak. He got a jump because of some of the things that don’t show up in the stat line, and because some of the things that show up beyond his basic stats. He’s got outstanding plate patience, showing a mature approach at the plate. While he’s not hitting for power, he has always made solid contact when I’ve seen him, driving the ball to the middle of the field. That’s an approach that will lead to power down the line. Scouts I’ve talked to love him, both offensively and defensively. There’s a lot to love on the defensive side, and he could end up ranking the best defensive catcher in the minors by the end of the season. The questions he comes with are on the offensive side, and from what I’ve seen, he’s got the skills to put up numbers in the future.

Nick Kingham has struggled at times with his control this year, which isn’t normal for him. He’s done a better job lately of limiting the walks, and is starting to get back to posting top numbers at the Double-A level. His upside hasn’t changed with the slow start. He still profiles as a middle of the rotation guy who can eat 200 innings per year. He could possibly be a number two starter, especially if he keeps showing the stuff he had in his last start.

Nothing has really changed with our evaluation of Alen Hanson. He started slow this year, struggling the first two weeks of the season. Since then, he’s been hovering around an .800 OPS offensively. The issue with him has been defense, and it’s not a question of tools or abilities. He’s got the skills to stick at shortstop, but makes a lot of errors on routine plays. This can be chalked up to being young, and making some mental mistakes on the field. However, the closer he gets to the majors, the less acceptable this will be. Hanson profiles as an offense-first shortstop, and has the defense to stick at the position and not be a liability. He just needs to improve his consistency at the position.

Josh Bell has been a fantastic hitter in Bradenton this year. He doesn’t show a lot of home run power right now, but makes hard contact, and drives the ball to the gaps, using the opposite field from the left side. A big issue with him is that he has struggled against left-handers, batting from the right side. His swing from the right side looks awkward at times, looking off-balanced and almost like he’s learning how to swing from that side of the plate. He does show some positive signs, but is very inconsistent from the right side of the plate.

Tier 3

Luis Heredia, Harold Ramirez, Cole Tucker

This group is another one that was very close together. It’s another case where you could put them in any order, and you’d be right. However, there was a clear gap between this group and the previous group.

Harold Ramirez isn’t your typical outfielder. He doesn’t project to hit for a ton of power, doesn’t have elite defense in center field, and while he has some speed, it isn’t enough to be a game changer. While he doesn’t do any one thing to an exceptional level, he does a little of everything, making him a solid all-around player. His combination of hitting for average, good plate patience, speed, and the ability to play center makes him a well rounded prospect who could have a future in the majors as a starter.

Cole Tucker saw a surge in his value as the draft got closer, due to improvements in his offense, and a strong performance in a major tournament. Peter Gammons says that Tucker would have gone to Oakland next if the Pirates didn’t take him at 24. He’s got a good arm and hands, and has a good chance of staying at shortstop. He doesn’t have much power, but has a lot of speed and hits well from the left side. The Pirates were higher on his offense than most teams, and if he proves them right, he could move up this list in a hurry.

Luis Heredia dropped a bit in our rankings, in part due to his injury that prevented him from pitching for two months. It’s not that Heredia’s upside changed. However, he has dealt with some bad control problems, and until those are fixed, he’s going to continue seeing people passing him. He probably wouldn’t drop lower than 11th anytime soon.

Tier 4

Clay Holmes, JaCoby Jones, Mitch Keller, Andrew Lambo, Joely Rodriguez, Casey Sadler, Adrian Sampson, Blake Taylor

Mitch Keller was close to the top draft pick from the 2014 draft, and he just missed the previous tier. Keller has a lot of upside as a starter, with the ability to hit 95 with good movement out of high school, along with the potential for some good secondary stuff. He has the potential for an above-average curve, and while he doesn’t have much of a changeup yet, that’s a pitch that the Pirates have had success teaching in the lower levels. He’s a nice project, and has a lot of upside, possibly the most of the Pirates’ 2014 draft class.

Clay Holmes is in the same situation as Jameson Taillon. He had Tommy John surgery, which will delay him a year, but won’t change his upside. He’s young enough that the missed year also won’t hurt him. Holmes has a big frame and the upside to possibly be a middle of the rotation innings eater. A more conservative approach has him as a strong number four starter. That will all be determined by the improvements he shows with his control going forward.

Adrian Sampson has made big strides in Altoona this year, putting up fantastic numbers at the age of 22. A big reason for his improvements has been is changeup. He spent most of the 2013 season in Bradenton working on the pitch. That led to poor results in Bradenton, but also led to him getting more comfortable with the offering. Now that he has that to pair with his 91-94 MPH fastball and solid curveball, he has the three pitch mix you’d want from a starter. His upside is a solid number four starter, with a chance to jump higher than that with further improvements.

JaCoby Jones is getting attention for a nice year in West Virginia, although he’s probably getting more than he deserves. Right now he has a few big things going for him, mainly that he’s playing shortstop and hitting for power. Despite these two things, his defense at shortstop is largely unproven, and the results so far have been mixed. The power is great, but it comes with a lower average and a high strikeout rate, which isn’t a good combo for a college player in low-A. If he didn’t have these question marks, he’d be one of the top prospects in the system. For now, he’s showing some positive signs, but still has a lot to work on.

Blake Taylor hasn’t played yet this year, so the reports are similar to where he was at prior to the season. He throws 89-92 MPH from the left side, with good movement. He’s touched mid-90s before, although he lacks command of the fastball and has some control problems. He lacks a changeup, and his curve is developing, but has the chance to be a plus offering. Taylor is a high upside project. He didn’t really move up or down on this list, staying around the same place he was during the pre-season. He could move up with a strong performance this year.

Casey Sadler is currently in the majors, but doesn’t project to stay there long enough to lose prospect eligibility. He ranks at the top due to his high floor, and the ability to be a back of the rotation starter in the majors. The early results haven’t been good, although Sadler has been on a strange schedule, working out of the bullpen as an emergency guy, with a lot of time between appearances.

Andrew Lambo is currently on the DL after having thumb surgery. He didn’t win the first base job out of Spring Training, and the Pirates went another direction for the long-term with Ike Davis. He’s done nothing to show that his 2013 offensive numbers were a fluke, putting up strong results with Indianapolis. His value is more of a trade chip, since the Pirates have no need for him at first base or in the outfield. Unfortunately, he doesn’t project to be back until right before the trade deadline, which might not provide enough time to re-establish value after the injury.

Joely Rodriguez dropped a bit in our list, mostly due to the lack of strikeouts at the Double-A level. At his best, he sits 91-94 MPH, touching 96, and has an average or better slider and changeup. Without the strikeouts, he profiles as a back of the rotation starter. There’s a chance he could go the Justin Wilson route and be a dominant lefty out of the bullpen. It’s also early for Rodriguez in Double-A, and there’s a chance the strikeouts could come with more playing time.

Tier 5

Stetson Allie, Barrett Barnes, Buddy Borden, Michael De La Cruz, Elias Diaz, Cody Dickson, Gage Hinsz, Jin-De Jhang, Connor Joe, Wyatt Mathisen, Mel Rojas, Billy Roth, Trey Supak, Erich Weiss

Michael De La Cruz and Trey Supak round out the top 20. De La Cruz looks like he could be the next big thing coming out of Latin America. He has a similar profile to Harold Ramirez, doing a lot of things well, without doing one thing great. He’s also very young, turning 18 in July. He should go to the GCL this year, and has a chance to follow up on the .292/.436/.367 line he put up in the DSL last year. When he matures and adds some muscle to his athletic frame, he could also add some power, and soar up this prospect list in the process.

Supak has a big upside, sitting in the low 90s, and touching 94 with his fastball. He doesn’t hold that velocity deep into games at this point, although that could change as he adds strength to his 6′ 5″ frame, and gets used to throwing every day. He projects to have an average curve and an average changeup, with the chance to be a solid starter in the majors one day.

We feature the top 20 prospects in our nightly Prospect Watch, although we remove guys who are out for the season, or currently in the majors. That would remove Taillon, Holmes, and Sadler from this list for the moment, and would bump up Buddy Borden, Stetson Allie, and Gage Hinsz, in that order.

Borden has put up some great numbers with West Virginia, with a 3.36 ERA in 56.1 innings, along with a 46:25 K/BB ratio. His control is a problem at times, and he has the occasional disaster start. The arm is what gets him here, with a fastball that can reach 96.

Allie has shown a ton of power, and has the most raw power of any prospect in the system. The problem is that he has a low average and a poor strikeout rate in Altoona, hitting for a .224/.339/.444 line with a 27.9% strikeout rate. He profiles as being a poor-man’s Pedro Alvarez at first base, although Alvarez could hit for average and limited the strikeouts somewhat when he was in the minors. Allie will have to do the same to be this type of player in the majors.

Gage Hinsz was one of the most interesting day three draft picks for the Pirates this year. He’s a 6′ 4″ right hander who was hitting 90-93 at the end of the 2014 season, and has some room to add more velocity. He needs work with his secondary pitches, but gets on this list due to the fastball, and the potential to be a starter in the majors.

Top 20 Prospects

1. Jameson Taillon, RHP

2. Tyler Glasnow, RHP

3. Austin Meadows, CF

4. Reese McGuire, C

5. Nick Kingham, RHP

6. Alen Hanson, SS

7. Josh Bell, RF

8. Harold Ramirez, CF

9. Cole Tucker, SS

10. Luis Heredia, RHP

11. Mitch Keller, RHP

12. Clay Holmes, RHP

13. Adrian Sampson, RHP

14. JaCoby Jones, SS

15. Blake Taylor, LHP

16. Casey Sadler, RHP

17. Andrew Lambo, OF

18. Joely Rodriguez, LHP

19. Michael De La Cruz, OF

20. Trey Supak, RHP

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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  • PirateBall123

    Nice breakdown. Has there been ANYTHING on the rumor mill regarding the PTBNL in the Ike deal? You’d think if it were a) a draft pick and b) a “fairly significant” piece then the Mets would be itching to get that guy in their system.

    I’m just hoping it’s not Meadows and they’re waiting for him to come off the DL. I can’t imagine, but there was a lot of public pressure.

    • Lee Young

      Tim…do you have a link to when the players signed last year? I could only find the 2014 draft tracker.

      • http://batman-news.com Chris M
        • Lee Young

          Thanks…if it is Buddy Borden we may have to wait until after July 8?

          • John Dreker

            If a player doesn’t leave on the date they signed, assume it’s not them. My best guess is it’s Kozikowski, so that would be announced next Saturday

    • http://www.facebook.com/chrishale525 Chris Hale

      There is no way in heck the PTBNL is Austin Meadows . Or Reese for that matter They are top 100 prospects in MLB for crying out loud. Ike Davis is not going to get you that return It’s common sense.

    • http://batman-news.com Chris M

      there has been some chatter that the PTBNL could be Neil Kozikowski. MetsBlog just posted about this two days ago. Previously, a writer from the NY Daily News said “Amateur scouts speculate that the player to be named in the Ike Davis trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates may be right-hander Neil Kozikowski, whom the Mets heavily scouted before the draft”

  • Scott Kliesen

    I’m surprised Lambo has fallen so far. He was raking before getting injured. I suppose it’s somewhat due to Pirates trading for Davis. From a purely statistical standpoint he deserves to be ranked higher.

    • moose7195

      I don’t know about that. From a purely statistical standpoint, he’s had one really good year, a few average ones, and a whole bunch of time on the DL.

      • Scott Kliesen

        He was ranked in Top 10 before start of season and his OPS this year is north of .900. This is why I’m surprised he fell so far.

        • moose7195

          He’s played 26 games this year with barely 100 PA. So I can’t count anything he’s done this season, its way too early. And according to my Prospect Guide, Lambo was ranked 14th at the start of the year, not top 10. So a drop to 17 isn’t outrageous considering that he has been hurt, had a terrible September, and is now in his third AAA stint at age 25

          • Scott Kliesen

            He was Top 10 before the most recent re-ranking. But I definitely see your point.

            • John Dreker

              He got top ten from Taillon and Holmes being removed due to injury and Pimentel and Sanchez being removed because they were in the Majors and lost their prospect status. He will be 15 on the chart when it’s updated tonight because Taillon and Holmes still won’t be on it. Not a huge drop, but the injury definitely knocked him down

  • Curtis

    The assumption now is that Barrett Barnes is not a major league capable prospect?

    • Lee Young

      Does he ever get on the field for more than one or two games at a time? :)

    • John Dreker

      Too many injuries and he isn’t getting any playing time. He has played 88 games in three seasons and is still in low-A whenever he comes back. He’s going to have to show he can stay healthy for a full season before he moves back to being a legit prospect

  • Lee Young

    When I see what is happening with Mike Pelfrey’s (not to mention Phil Irvins’s) TJ surgery, I ain’t taking NOTHING for granted with Taillon. I read somewhere that around 15% come back worse.

    I am also surprised Heredia made the Top 10, but I don’t see anyone in 11-20 to rank higher.

    • mysonisnamedafterRoberto

      Dr. Andrews, the specialist in this field , said that success rate is around 70%. That is not only the surgery rate but also the recovery rate.

    • mysonisnamedafterRoberto

      Dr. Andrews, the specialist in this field , said that success rate is around 70%. That is not only the surgery rate but also the recovery rate.

    • Ian Rothermund

      Mike Pelfrey sucked before that though, and I don’t think “Irvin” actually had TJ. It’s important to consider what the pitcher was before. Crap in = crap out.

  • http://www.facebook.com/chrishale525 Chris Hale

    From the sounds of it ,Cole Tucker may be a lot better prospect than we originally thought. I thought it was a joke when NH said he thought Tucker would be gone at 36, but it sounds like other teams would have scooped him up. Hopefully the Pirate scout hit big on this one. A solid 250 hitting sound defensive SS is all i ask. Jordy doesn’t have the instincts to play short. He gets bad reads off the bat and has no range Every time the ball is hit to him I cringe. He’s not horrible but he’s below average which I could deal with If he hit 275 and 15 hrs eery year but that wont happen

  • Nuke Laloosh

    Why is Heredia still ranked so high? He is looking more and more as an overrated prospect. Keep waiting to see him live up to his promise, but it really hasn’t happened.

    • John Dreker

      The potential. He was hitting 94 MPH in his last start and he’s still 19, there is still a ton of upside to him.

  • moose7195

    Love the article Tim, thank you for re-ranking the farm so quickly. It did get me thinking though. If Taillon’s development is only being put on hold, why is there such a serious threat for him to lose his spot at the top to Meadows or Glasnow? Taillon has a higher floor than Glasnow, and I think he has more value and more of a track record than Meadows. So how can you threaten his top spot, and not threaten his potential? Second one is Cole Tucker, who I would almost certainly not have in the top 10. Too big of a reach, and too big of a risk in my opinion. I’m not even 100 percent sure he’ll stick at SS, which is what gives him all of his value. As a 6’4″ 17 year old, I think he could be a threat to grow out of the position if he bulks up like NH wants him to.

  • st1300b

    Surprised that Conor Joe isn’t on the list. I read an article that had him as one of the top college bats. I see him at least better than Allie.

    • Scott

      Agreed. I probably would have slotted him at 18 behind Lambo.

  • Dom DiDominic

    Really like what Josh Bell is doing this year. Feel like he is in the right slot now, but someone that can jump to the next level. Hoping he continues the tear that he is on and can jump to Altoona in August.

    • McCutchenistheTruth

      1 walk in 82 AB with 11 strikeouts. That would be the main concern I would think.

  • mysonisnamedafterRoberto

    When you step back and look at it. It really puts the depth of the minors league system in perspective when you look at the top 10 prospect in 2007 at Baseball America.
    1. Andrew Mccutchen
    2. Neil Walker
    3. Brad Lincoln
    4. Yoslan Herrera
    5. Josh Sharpless
    6. Steven Pearce
    7. Brian Bixler
    8. Brad Corley
    9. Todd Redmond
    10. Mike Felix

    the top 3 were the top picks in 04-06. Once you get past those three that list’s potential isn’t as good as the group that missed the Top 20 in Tier 5.

    • leadoff

      You have to remember before 2007 the draft had a management cap put on it for Littlefield, he could not necessarily take the players he wanted to. When Nutting took over the team in 2007 that changed, Huntington could buy anyone he could get until MLB stepped in and stopped them. I think what you are looking at is the difference between what money can buy and what happens if you don’t want to spend money on draft picks.

      • http://www.piratesprospects.com/ Tim Williams

        That’s not true at all. He could have spent in the draft. He chose to spend elsewhere. The biggest example was 2007, when he took Moskos, then traded for Matt Morris a month later. Clearly he had access to funds. He just opted to use those at the MLB level, rather than building through the draft.

        • piratemike

          That’s what happens when there isn’t a clear plan in place and the GM is on a win now or I’ll lose my job.
          What Nutting has done is not ground breaking but just common sense, It is just a shame that he gets ripped apart by a radical group that doesn’t appreciate the sanity that he has brought to baseball in Pittsburgh. Whether the Pirates ever win another World Series or not at least they have provided fans with a competitive team that at least have people talking about their chances rather than trying not to finish in last place. I think that is an accomplishment considering that other teams can outspend them by 75 – 100 +million.

          • mysonisnamedafterRoberto

            One of Littlefield’s first decisions was to fire Mickey White who head of personnel at that time. Mickey did decent in the draft. He was only in position for 2 years. He found Snell and Duke in the 20ths rounds. Now they aren’t going to blow your socks off,but finding starting pitching in those rounds is impressive. Littlefield’s lack of baseball understanding and the overall organizational misunderstanding of their position in the market place, is what doomed this organization since 2001.

  • http://www.piratesprospects.com/ Tim Williams

    Bell has done a great job the last few weeks in that regard. A few weeks ago his OPS vs lefties was down around .600. Hopefully that’s a sign that things are changing.

  • B Thomas

    Rojas Jr. I thought would be higher for his tools and having a breakout season.

    • lonleylibertarian

      Me too…

      I wonder what the plan for Rojas is – he surely won’t survive the Rule 5 draft if he is not on the 40 man…

      Why not move him to 1st base for 4-6 weeks to see if he can handle it – and if his bat stays hot…

      The disaster that is Ike Davis is batting .200 for the last month – and is in the lineup again tonight – batting 4th – real rally killer – but I see very little criticicism of him – Marte has a rough patch and we had folks wanting to send him to Indy…