Baseball America has been rolling out their annual Best Tools lists for every level, and has a few members of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization recognized. The MLB version saw Andrew McCutchen named as the second best hitter, the best strike zone judgment, the third best base runner, and the most exciting player. Edinson Volquez was also named with the third best fastball, behind Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel, which was surprising.
Moving down to the minors, a few Pirates prospects saw recognition in the upper levels (the A-ball lists haven’t been announced yet). Gregory Polanco was named the Best Batting Prospect and the Most Exciting Player this year in the International League. On the Double-A list, Elias Diaz was named the Best Defensive Catcher, and Willy Garcia was named as having the Best Outfield Arm.
None of these are a surprise. Polanco had a huge year in the International League, and propelled himself to being one of the top prospects in all of baseball. Diaz and Garcia received the same awards last year in the Florida State League, so it’s clear that they’re still highly regarded for those specific skills.
The good thing about both players is that they’ve improved this year beyond just having those two tools.
Diaz has always been a strong defensive catcher, but has been hitting well in Altoona, with a .326/.372/.446 line in 307 at-bats. Right now I would say he is the top option to be the Pirates’ future backup catcher in the majors, passing up Tony Sanchez. I won’t say that this hitting is legit, based on such a small sample size, but if this hitting continues he might be a sleeper as a starting candidate.
Garcia is also having a big year in Altoona, mostly from a power standpoint. He has a .275/.305/.504 line in 363 at-bats, with 25 doubles and 16 homers. His .229 ISO continues a trend of carrying his raw power to the field. He’s gone from a .163 ISO in 2012, to a .180 in 2013, to the current number, all while moving up a level in the minors each year. The concern with Garcia is that he doesn’t walk (3.9% walk rate) and strikes out too much (31.3% strikeout rate). He’s got enough tools that he could be a useful player without the walks, but he’s going to have a hard time making it to the majors with those strikeouts. If he can cut down on the strikeouts, Garcia could be a sleeper starting right fielder.