Pirates Prospects » Prospect Notebook http://www.piratesprospects.com Your best source for news on the Pittsburgh Pirates and their minor league system. Mon, 28 Jul 2014 07:24:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 Winter Leagues Notebook: Pirates Have Talented Outfielders in Winter Ball http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/11/winter-leagues-notebook-pirates-have-talented-outfielders-in-winter-ball.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/11/winter-leagues-notebook-pirates-have-talented-outfielders-in-winter-ball.html#comments Tue, 26 Nov 2013 14:00:01 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=69865 The Pittsburgh Pirates have 26 players that have played Winter ball so far this season, along with some players that were in the organization during the 2013 season, who are currently minor league free agents. The best players in this group are the outfielders and there are even more on the way. Gregory Polanco has been tearing up the Dominican League, while the Colombian League has two of the younger talented players in the system  hitting well, Harold Ramirez and Tito Polo. There is also Mel Rojas Jr. in the Dominican, Andrew Lambo and Elvis Escobar playing in the Venezuelan League and Jerry Sands is playing in Puerto Rico.

Gregory Polanco

Gregory Polanco ranks second in the DWL in OPS

This Winter season is one to watch due to the amount of right fielders at the upper levels of the Pirates’ system and it will get more crowded soon. Gregory Polanco is a center fielder by trade and a very good one, but his position with the Pirates will be right field. There is very little chance he starts the season in the majors due to service time issues and possibly super two status. If Polanco plays just two weeks in AAA to start the season, the Pirates get an extra year out of him before free agency.

Soon, Starling Marte will be joining Polanco in the same outfield, giving Pirates fans the chance to see a glimpse of the near future. Last year, Marte hit .304 with an .865 OPS in 29 games in the Dominican. This season through 28 games, Polanco has a .320 average and a .950 OPS. He has been showing excellent plate patience during his DWL time, picking up 21 walks. The big difference between Marte and Polanco is the plate patience factor, which gives Polanco even more potential than Marte in the future. It’s no guarantee he will reach it, but it’s interesting to see where Polanco is this year compared to Marte last year. It will also be interesting for fans of the Escogido team to see both players in the same outfield.

With the service time issue in mind concerning Polanco, that leaves Andrew Lambo and Jose Tabata as the top two options to win the starting right field job, with a chance of a platoon between the two players. That could all change with a free agent signing of course, but for now, they are the best options. Lambo has started off slow in the Venezuelan League, going 2-for-20 with 11 strikeouts during his first week. Jose Tabata will be joining the league sometime in the near future, which means Pirates fans will be able to follow a battle for the right field job two months before the start of Spring Training.

Jerry Sands has been showing some power in Puerto Rico early with three homers and on Sunday, he had three outfield assists. He is playing Winter ball to try to make up for what amounted to as a lost season this year. After a slow start, he missed time due to injury and didn’t hit once he came back. It also didn’t help Sands on Monday that the Pirates acquired Jaff Decker, who is an outfielder that is younger and more highly regarded. Sands’ chance of winning a roster spot in 2013 doesn’t look good right now, but if he can get back to where he was at this point last year, he could be a possible bench option. Playing Winter ball and then coming into Spring Training performing well, is the best way to get back to that point.

For the future of the organization, Mel Rojas Jr. has seen action in a few games. He has a lot of raw tools, but hasn’t reached his potential yet. Rojas is getting good experience playing in the Dominican League, which is on par with the pitching he will see at AAA. It’s possible he returns to Altoona to start next year, which wouldn’t be a bad idea considering he has been pushed a level each year without dominating any level.

Elvis Escobar is playing in an advanced league for his age

Elvis Escobar is playing in an advanced league for his age

One of the most interesting placements this Winter is Elvis Escobar getting time in the Venezuelan League. He played with Jamestown this season as an 18-year-old and showed potential. The VWL is a big jump for him, so the experience of seeing and competing at a high level is potentially good for his development. Escobar has played just three times off the bench so far, but he was just added to the roster within the last two weeks. Any playing time at all at his age in the VWL is impressive.

The Colombian League is a step below in competition from the other leagues, but for Harold Ramirez it is probably a little better than what he will see with West Virginia next year. Ramirez was named the top prospect in the NYPL this season and he is playing well in the Colombian League. Batting right ahead of Ramirez on that same team is Tito Polo, who was an All-Star in the Dominican Summer League this year. Polo isn’t playing as much as Ramirez, but he is doing just as well. He has a .348 average and four extra base hits in eight games. Ramirez is hitting .341 in 11 games and leads the league in stolen bases.

When Marte and Tabata start playing, it will give Pirates fans a total of nine different outfielders to keep an eye on during Winter ball. It is a very talented group that includes two top ten prospects, three major league outfielders in their 20′s and a group of young outfielders with tons of potential. The outfield situation for the future is strong for the Pirates and the Winter leagues give fans a chance to follow some of the top outfielders in the system during the off-season.

Winter League Recap

Monday was a slow day in Winter ball. Just one game on the schedule in the Dominican League and none in Venezuela, Colombia, Australia and Mexico. Puerto Rico had two games on the schedule like normal.

In Puerto Rico, Ivan De Jesus Jr. went 2-for-3 with two walks, two runs scored and an RBI. He is hitting .333 in 66 at-bats with 15 walks.

In the Dominican, Oscar Tejeda went 1-for-4 with a double and run scored. Like De Jesus, Tejeda is a minor league free agent at this time.

In Nicaragua, Adolfo Flores has pitched ten times, including twice in the last week. He has given up a total of three runs on nine hits and two walks in 8.2 innings

One player that was overlooked yesterday was Carlos Ruiz, the Pirates pitcher. He has spent four years in the Summer Leagues for the Pirates, playing in Venezuela in 2010-11 and the Dominican the last two years. As a fourth year player, Ruiz needs to be promoted to a stateside team next year or be released. He has had strong results in relief and as a closer, but lacks strong stuff, relying more on the deception that comes from a submarine delivery. Ruiz made his debut in Venezuela on Sunday for Caribes de Anzoategui. He faced three batters, giving up a single and getting two fly ball outs.

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Prospect Notebook: What Remaining Minor League Promotions Can We Expect? http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/08/prospect-notebook-what-remaining-minor-league-promotions-can-we-expect.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/08/prospect-notebook-what-remaining-minor-league-promotions-can-we-expect.html#comments Sat, 17 Aug 2013 18:01:13 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=63745 Normally there are certain time periods for a mass wave of minor league promotions. There’s the pre-season, where players start at new levels. The next wave comes around the middle of June, which is the half way point for the five month minor league season. There can be individual promotions here and there surrounding that period, but you don’t see those chain reaction moves where everyone is shifting up a level until mid-season. After that, the only other mass-wave period for promotions is at the end of the year with the minor league playoffs.

The Pirates currently have four teams in line for the playoffs with two weeks left in the minor league season. That doesn’t include the DSL Pirates2 team, since you don’t see many promotions from the DSL to the GCL in-season, due to travel issues. It also doesn’t include the obvious team that is in a playoff race, the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The teams that are currently in line for the playoffs are the Indianapolis Indians (AAA), West Virginia Power (A), Jamestown Jammers (A-), and the GCL Pirates (RK). In previous years, all of those teams would get a boost at the end of the year with some new promotions for their playoff run. The promotions might be limited this year due to the three lower level teams all in line to make the post season. Below I’ll detail some of the possible moves we could see.

Altoona to Indianapolis

Last year the Indians were raided for September call-ups when the calendar flipped over and rosters expanded in the majors. I expect the same to happen this year. We will have a preview of the possible September call-ups as the time gets closer. For now, let’s just assume that Indianapolis will lose a lot of players and will need help from Altoona, since the Indians once again will be making the post-season.

I could see a few major leaguers helping Indianapolis in the post-season. If Wandy Rodriguez, Jason Grilli, or Travis Snider need rehab work, they could handle that in the Triple-A playoffs. That might give Indianapolis an unfair advantage, but it would be no different than when I saw Andy Pettitte pitching against Altoona in the 2010 Eastern League playoffs.

Outside of the major leaguers, I think we’ll see the following upper level organizational guys get the call to Triple-A for sure:

David Bromberg, RHP

Ethan Hollingsworth, RHP (Depending on the status of his injury)

Zack Thornton, RHP

Ali Solis, C

Oscar Tejeda, IF (Like Hollingsworth, it depends on his injury)

All of those guys have gone up to Indianapolis when needed at some point this season. There are other players who could be possibilities, but let’s now focus on the top prospects.

Nick Kingham could be a promotion candidate to Triple-A at the end of the year.

Nick Kingham could be a promotion candidate to Triple-A at the end of the year.

Nick Kingham, RHP – He is following the same path Gerrit Cole took last year. Dominate the first two months in high-A. Dominate in Double-A until the end of August. Then get promoted in time for the Triple-A playoffs. I don’t know if the Pirates will do that last part with Kingham, but I could definitely see it happening.

Casey Sadler, RHP – He has pitched well this year, with a 3.46 ERA in 117 innings, and a 1.71 GO/AO ratio from his sinkerball. Sadler threw 130.1 innings last year, so he’s definitely got something left. He could also be a candidate to start the 2014 season in Triple-A if there is a rotation spot, so getting him up for the post-season wouldn’t be a bad move.

Alex Dickerson, RF – Dickerson has been on fire since the start of June. He has spent the entire year in Altoona, and I could see him being called up to Indianapolis, much like Matt Curry was called up last year at the end of the season for the playoffs.

Justin Howard, 1B – Another guy who has been on fire this year, and who has been with Altoona all year. Howard has a surprising .335/.431/.461 line in 230 at-bats.

Adalberto Santos, UTIL – He is in his second year with Altoona, after missing a lot of time due to injuries last season. He’s got a .282/.384/.401 line this year, showing a good ability to hit for average and get on base.

Gregory Polanco, OF – He’s not exactly dominating Double-A, and doesn’t look ready for a promotion yet. Polanco has a .282/.374/.420 line in 188 at-bats with Altoona. He currently has an eight game hitting streak, and a .343/.395/.571 line in 35 at-bats over his last ten games. If he keeps this up the final two weeks of the year, he could be an option to move up to Indianapolis for their playoffs.

GCL to Jamestown to West Virginia

It would be difficult for the Pirates to make promotions for the lower level teams. If they promote guys to West Virginia, they would have to take them from Jamestown. If they promote guys to Jamestown, they would have to take them from the GCL.

None of these teams are locked into the playoffs like Indianapolis. West Virginia has a half game lead in the SAL North. They still could make the playoffs if they lose that half game lead to Hagerstown. The SAL playoffs are made up of the first half winner and the second half winner. Hagerstown won in the first half, and is half a game back in the second half. If they win, the second half winner would go to the team with the best overall record. West Virginia currently has a 2.5 game lead on Hickory this season. So even if they lose the division lead to Hagerstown, they’re still in line to make the playoffs.

Jamestown currently has a one game lead in their NYPL division over State College. State College has a half game lead in the Wild Card standings. So Jamestown is in a tight playoff race with a one game lead over the Spikes, and two teams within two games of the Wild Card.

The GCL Pirates are one game back in the GCL Northwest. They’re also 24-26, and the only reason they’re competing is because they are in a bad division.

If West Virginia doesn’t make the playoffs, it wouldn’t have any implications on the other playoff races. If Jamestown or the GCL Pirates miss the playoffs, it could impact the other teams if those teams do make the post-season. Here are some of the top prospects who could move up in that scenario.

Jamestown

It’s hard to predict this one, because the Pirates haven’t had a playoff team in West Virginia with the current management group. When the Pirates promoted guys from the GCL to Jamestown in the past, it was always guys who would probably start at that level the following year, or possibly be promoted to a higher level. So I’ll mostly be focusing on college prospects here. I think anyone from the roster could be a possibility, but keeping it limited to top prospects, here are some names who could be on the move when the playoffs start.

If Jamestown doesn't make the playoffs, Harold Ramirez could help West Virginia. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

If Jamestown doesn’t make the playoffs, Harold Ramirez could help West Virginia. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Buddy Borden, RHP

Shane Carle, RHP

Cody Dickson, LHP

Chad Kuhl, RHP

Dovydas Neverauskas, RHP

Isaac Sanchez, RHP

Danny Collins, 1B

Erich Weiss, 3B

Harold Ramirez, OF

I think it’s mostly going to be pitchers, with the possibility of a few top position players. I only mention Collins, Ramirez, and Weiss because I’m thinking of the specific needs for the West Virginia roster.

GCL Pirates

Once again, pretty much everyone could be on the move here. And if the GCL team doesn’t make the playoffs, I think we’ll see some promotions to Jamestown for the final few days of the season, even if Jamestown doesn’t make the playoffs. If the GCL team doesn’t make the playoffs, but the other two teams do, I could see the GCL guys going to either level.

Reese McGuire would definitely be on the move if the GCL Pirates don't make the playoffs.

Reese McGuire would definitely be on the move if the GCL Pirates don’t make the playoffs.

Melvin Del Rosario, LHP

Oderman Rocha, RHP

Jon Sandfort, RHP

Wei-Chung Wang, LHP

Reese McGuire, C

Ulises Montilla, 2B

Beau Wallace, 3B

Austin Meadows, CF

I’m not sure how they would handle the first year prep players like Neil Kozikowski. I don’t see those guys moving up, even if they will likely start off with Jamestown next year. I do think McGuire and Meadows will move up to Jamestown if the GCL Pirates are out of it. Most of the pitchers who have a shot of moving up are the guys who have spent the entire season in the system. The Pirates have moved a lot of international players up in previous years, possibly to give them their first exposure of playing under the lights and playing in an actual stadium with actual people watching them.

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Prospect Notebook: Clay Holmes Showing Steady Progression This Year http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/08/prospect-notebook-clay-holmes-showing-steady-progression-this-year.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/08/prospect-notebook-clay-holmes-showing-steady-progression-this-year.html#comments Wed, 14 Aug 2013 13:00:04 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=63411 The West Virginia Power played a total of 12 games in Lakewood this year, so I got to see a little more of the team than usual. Early in the season, it was the power display by Stetson Allie and the pitching of Tyler Glasnow that impressed me the most. As the season went on, I noticed improvements each start from Clay Holmes and better hitting from Josh Bell, particularly in this last series for both of them. Yesterday I looked at the hitters at the level. Below I’ll give my thoughts on the pitchers that I saw, spending more time on the top prospects.

Clay Holmes Gets Better Each Time 

Clayton Holmes threw six shutout innings on Saturday

Clayton Holmes threw six shutout innings on Saturday

The only pitcher I saw make a start in each series was Clay Holmes. I actually never saw John Kuchno pitch, missing his spot in the rotation all three times. The other starters were Jason Creasy, Luis Heredia and Tyler Glasnow twice each, Kyle Haynes, Orlando Castro and Joely Rodriguez once. The reports on the last two can be found in the first recap, since nothing changed.

Since I saw Holmes three times and things changed a lot with him, I’ll start there. Holmes pitched a one-hit shutout over five innings in his first start, but he looked much better in the later games. In that first game, he didn’t hold his velocity all game and looked like he was aiming his pitches whenever the control was off. He was lacking confidence in his breaking balls.

In the second start, Holmes was throwing more strikes and while that led to more damage in the box score, it was a good sign over the first start when he walked five batters. He was much more effective with his breaking pitches in game two as well and wasn’t aiming the pitches, so there was a noticeable difference there.

Game three for Holmes was a very nice outing, the best control he has shown all season. In six innings, he gave up no runs and put up zero walks, the first game that he didn’t issue a free pass all season. He has good velocity, sitting 91-93 MPH all game, with a sharp curve that is 78-80 MPH and a decent mid-80′s change. The most important part was the fact he held that strong velocity all game, which is tough to do this late in a player’s first full season. He also kept the ball on the ground, getting ten groundball outs.

At times, Holmes was also able to crank it up to 94-95 MPH when he needed it during his first start. He’s a big kid, with excellent stuff, who obviously took some time to get used to full-season ball. Things have seemed to turn around for him now and some earlier issues seem to be resolved, so you hope he can carry that into Bradenton next year when he will be 21-years-old.

Glasnow and Heredia Lead Impressive Group of Starters

The two other big pitchers both impressed in their own way. Tyler Glasnow has two plus pitches and a change-up that needs work. He hit 97 MPH numerous times in his first start and was overpowering when he sat 95-96 MPH. What really helped him is his ability to control his big breaking curveball, which was in the high 70′s, creating a huge difference between his two pitches. His season has been great for his age and experience, shooting him towards the top of the Pirates prospects chart. Once he gets a little more control, which shouldn’t be a red flag with a 6’8″ teenager, and once he works more on his change-up to make it at least an average offering, the sky is the limit with him. He could definitely be someone who makes the same jump that Nick Kingham did this year, pitching a half season at Bradenton and then going to Altoona.

Luis Heredia is even younger than Glasnow, turning 19 this past Saturday. He isn’t as advanced, but still has huge upside. In Heredia’s first start, I liked some things I saw, such as how he handled giving up some soft hits, how quickly he worked and how he kept the ball down in the zone. His second start had the same improvement I saw with Holmes in his last game, his velocity was strong throughout the game. Heredia also mixes all three of his pitches well, something you don’t always see from younger pitchers, who go more fastball heavy early on and lack command of one of more of their off-speed pitches.

Another good sign from Heredia was that he looks to be in better shape, over both Spring Training when I saw him and a month ago in Lakewood. There was one thing I thought was bad about him and it seems to be in the process of being fixed. He finishes his pitches with his head down, something I thought was odd looking, but that is something he was working on during his bullpen on Saturday. The few times he did it in the bullpen, it was quickly pointed out by pitching coach Jeff Johnson. If you watch the video at the end here, you will notice his head go down after some pitches, while others it isn’t as extreme.

Jason Creasy and Kyle Haynes had similar starts and both were in the bullpen earlier in the season, so I’ll mention them together. Both pitchers did well throwing mainly fastballs with excellent control of the strike zone. Creasy actually did that in both starts I saw, but he had a rough time during his bullpen outing when he mixed his pitches more. Both have strong arms, hitting 94 MPH out of the pen during their relief appearances I saw and Haynes has been higher in the past. Creasy threw harder in the games, though he relied more on a two-seam fastball, which was in the high-80′s, while Haynes was 91-92 MPH his entire 6.2 inning performance. I liked the way both of them pitched, attacking the zone and getting quick outs. They both have good strong arms, just not sure how well it will play out at higher levels without mixing more breaking balls into their game.

Hard-Throwing Bullpen Arms

Last year, Ryan Hafner was a starter and didn’t fare so well when I saw him. His control was poor both times and the results were disappointing. This season, he has been moved to a multi-inning role in the bullpen and quietly put together a strong season. In 33 appearances, he has pitched 73 innings, posting a 2.96 ERA, 90 strikeouts, a 1.83 GO/AO ratio and a .204 BAA. He has also been tough on righties, holding them to a .142 average. The control has been the key for Hafner, who is the rare case of a pitcher not throwing harder with the move to the pen. He thew hard as a starter though, sitting 92-93, touching 94 MPH. Hafner registered those same numbers each time I saw him, but the thing is, he was making those pitchers with much better control and looked confident on the mound. He has made huge strides this season and looks like he could be a candidate to move back to starting in the future. The thing to remember with him, he is still 21-years-old, so he really isn’t behind where he should be at this point.

Two other pitchers I saw out of the pen looked good: Cesar Lopez and Jhondaniel Medina. With Lopez, it was just one inning, but he hit 93 MPH numerous times and there looked to be some good movement on his pitches. The initial reports when he signed for $600,000 were that he touched 94 MPH with his sinker, but reports over the last couple years had him throwing high 80′s and the results weren’t good. If he has regained that velocity and can be effective in a relief role, then there could be a chance that the Pirates eventually get something out of their large investment.

With Medina, I saw him pitch at least once each series and he hits 93-94 MPH consistently. He gets swing-and-misses often and just like Hafner, he has quietly had a strong season. He had five strikeouts in two innings over two appearances the last series. Medina is also still very young (turned 20 in February) and earlier in the year, looked decent during a short stint at Bradenton. He isn’t the typical 6’4″ or bigger pitcher that the Pirates seem to dream on recently. He is only 5’11″, but it is hard to argue with his numbers out of the bullpen. He has 50 strikeouts in 35 innings, has given up just one homer, gets ground balls and he is hard to hit with a .148 BAA.

I liked what I saw out of all three of these bullpen arms. Usually that isn’t the case in a low-A bullpen, you might get one or two guys that look interesting. When you consider that Haynes and Creasy were in that same pen to start the season, as well as Pat Ludwig, who moved up to a starting role in Bradenton, it is a pretty impressive group of arms for this level.

The thing I will take away from seeing West Virginia so many times this season is how good the pitching was in every game. I’ve seen the Pirates low-A teams come through Lakewood since 2002 and there are always some disappointing starts mixed in, but there wasn’t one start in the 12 games that was considered poor, nothing really close actually. Now Lakewood isn’t the best team this year, but that shouldn’t take away from the fact the Power pitchers kept their team in every single game. It’s a talented group, especially with the three high end guys at the top of the rotation.

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Prospect Notebook: Can Josh Bell Be a Future Power Hitter in the Majors? http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/08/prospect-notebook-can-josh-bell-be-a-future-power-hitter-in-the-majors.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/08/prospect-notebook-can-josh-bell-be-a-future-power-hitter-in-the-majors.html#comments Tue, 13 Aug 2013 13:00:24 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=63393 The West Virginia Power played a total of 12 games in Lakewood this year, so I got to see a little more of the team than usual. Early in the season, it was the power display by Stetson Allie and the pitching of Tyler Glasnow that impressed me the most. As the season went on, I noticed improvements each start from Clay Holmes and better hitting from Josh Bell, particularly in this last series for both of them. Below I’ll give my thoughts on the hitters that I saw, spending more time on the top prospects. Tomorrow I will take a look at the West Virginia pitching staff.

Josh Bell Looks Better As Season Progresses 

Josh Bell has 35 doubles and ten homers this year

Josh Bell has 35 doubles and ten homers this year

Starting with the hitters, the obvious point to begin is Josh Bell, the top hitting prospect at the level this year and a top ten prospect in the system. Early on, with the help of a scout who pointed it out, I noticed just how much movement was in the swing for Bell from the left side. I didn’t get to see him bat righty until the last series and those results weren’t good as you will see below. From the left side, Bell had a swing that involved him holding his back elbow up high for too long into the pitcher’s delivery. He also had a leg kick and stride towards the pitcher, so not only was his swing long and loopy at times, he has had head movement and a dip. That led to some poor swings in the first two series.

This last series, he had more of a toe tap as the pitch came in, no head movement and he looked much more comfortable and selective at the plate. It was definitely a good sign to see and his power numbers recently have been better, though they have been almost all doubles. In batting practice, he showed a nice line drive stroke and he used the middle of the field. Bell also hit a homer in the last series, a line drive shot to right-center field.

So from the left side of the plate, things seem to be getting better for Bell. The right side was a different story and the opinion of his swing was pretty universal among those I talked to: it wasn’t pretty. I heard it described as brutal, awkward and someone said he looks like a pitcher hitting. The four at-bats from the right side all had awkward looking swings, which makes it hard to believe he is hitting .318 from that side, though it should be noted he has only one homer in 85 at-bats.

The one thing Bell has going for him, is that he is in great shape and everyone seems to think he will eventually hit for more power. To be honest, ten homers and 35 doubles isn’t bad for someone who missed most of last season, and this is really his first full season in pro ball. I think people just expected more from him in the homers category and they should eventually come. That will need to be his calling card, because his defense and running are average at best and I (and others) called them both slightly below average. If he can hit .280 with power from a corner spot, possibly first base in the future, he will still be a valuable player. Something has to be done with his swing from the right side and Bell needs to stay healthy to get to that level of player.

Herrera and Others Show Some Good Signs

While the opinions were mostly down on Bell, everyone really seems to like Dilson Herrera. He had some strong at-bats during the 12 games and showed some gap power for a smaller player. I don’t expect him ever to be a twenty home run player in the majors, but from the looks of things, he is definitely a future major leaguer. Herrera plays the game right, makes things happen at the plate, in the field and on the bases.

Watching him, it is easy to forget that he is just 19-years-old. His defense is above average, with strong range and he turns double plays quick. He was signed as a shortstop and played third base in the past, so his arm plays well at second. Herrera has slightly above average speed and he is aggressive, but also smart on the bases. People might not be so high on him due to the lower average and high K rate. It should be remembered that not only is he young, he was basically skipped over Jamestown, playing just seven games at the level late last year. What Alen Hanson did with that jump last year was special and may have put unfair expectations on Herrera making the similar move.

Josh Bell and Herrera are the top two prospects on offense at this level for the Power. There were others there all season that look like interesting players, possible future major leaguers to some extent, though they might not be regulars. Max Moroff had an aggressive push to low-A this season following a strong showing in the GCL after being drafted last year. He is hitting .239 and has had some trouble in the field at shortstop. I liked some things about him, specifically the plate patience he showed in the lead-off spot. He also drove the ball well in the gaps. He looks better than the numbers indicate and again, with an aggressive move this season, it is tough to put too many expectations on him. His defense looks like it could be solid with more seasoning. One scout, who has seen him each time they came to Lakewood, told me that Moroff looks like he has improved significantly enough that he changed his report on him to a possible future major league player. I agree with that assessment, but don’t expect him to move more than one level per season, so he will take time.

Moroff wasn’t the only one who got a better scouting report as the season went on and the second one was a bigger jump according to the scout. Early in the year, Walker Gourley wasn’t highly thought of by anyone and the one scout I talked to during the first series wasn’t impressed. I was split on him, he looked like a good player, but he is also 22-years-old and in his fifth season of pro ball. Gourley drives the ball well, makes solid contact and he is a smart base runner, with plus speed. There are obvious flaws besides the age/experience and that is his low walk rate and lack of real power. He is someone you want to see succeed at the next level before you get too high on him. He plays the corner spots, but doesn’t have the power bat so he will have to make it on his versatility.

Eric Wood had his moments, looking bad sometimes, good others, both in the field and at the plate. I think his overall numbers really tell you what you should expect from him, unlike some other players where they don’t tell the whole story. He is also 20-years-old, so there is always room for improvements, though other than a strong arm, I don’t see any tools that stand out. I liked the way Raul Fortunato played and he seems to have some potential at the plate, whether he reaches it or not is another story. He is a toolsy player that may eventually put it all together if they are patient with him.

Luis Urena showed up for this last series and the one thing you can say about him is that he looks like a baseball player. He’s got some pop in his bat and some potential tools. Until he recognizes an off-speed pitch though, he is going to have a hard time moving up the system. Chris Diaz played two games in the final series and looked good at the plate and in the field. He was injured during the first two times the Power played in Lakewood. While it’s hard to get a good opinion in two games, Diaz looked confident in the field, didn’t rush anything and he was patient at the plate.

Finally, two other players that I only saw once. Up top, you can see the thoughts on Stetson Allie in the recap from the first series. He has tremendous power, as good as anyone you can name. He makes solid contact that should get him some extra base hits based solely on how hard he hit the ball and I saw that happen a couple times on some ground balls he smoked through the infield. The downside is that I got a recent report on him from down in Bradenton, from a scout who just saw him and he said the advanced breaking balls in High-A were really fooling Allie. The fact he made it to High-A this year is a feat in itself, so skipping to an advanced level and struggling shouldn’t be seen as a sign that he won’t succeed.

Barrett Barnes only played the middle series, missing time with hamstring injuries in the other two meetings. I really liked the way he played on defense, his base running and he had strong at-bats. He is an aggressive player with plenty of tools. Right now the Pirates are holding him back, getting him ready so he is 100% during the Instructional League. Barnes was with the team and working out pre-games, but likely won’t play again during the regular season.

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Prospect Notebook: Consistency is the Key For Alen Hanson http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/08/prospect-notebook-consistency-is-the-key-for-alen-hanson.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/08/prospect-notebook-consistency-is-the-key-for-alen-hanson.html#comments Sun, 11 Aug 2013 17:30:01 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=63230 Alen Hanson

The key to Alen Hanson’s defense will be consistency.

Alen Hanson got off to a rough start in Bradenton this year. The shortstop was coming off a breakout year in 2012, which put him on almost every top 100 prospect list, and on a lot of top 50 lists. The Pirates had a long-term hole at shortstop to start the year, and Hanson looked like the best chance to fill that with an impact player. Yet his first ten games in Bradenton weren’t pretty.

Coming in to the year the main questions surrounding Hanson were on his defense and whether he could stick at shortstop. Those questions didn’t let up, as he recorded ten errors in his first ten games. There were also several plays that should have been errors, where Hanson got the home town scoring benefit. The defensive problems carried over to the offensive side of the game, where Hanson was hitting for a .191/.224/.255 line. There were questions about the defense, but the offense didn’t have as many questions, which made the struggles on both sides of the ball so alarming.

The Pirates gave Hanson a few days off to clear his head following a game where he had three errors and went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. The time off also coincided with the arrival of infield coordinator Gary Green to Bradenton. Green was making his normal stop in Bradenton for a week, and spent most of that week working with Hanson on his fielding mechanics.

The issue with Hanson was never that he lacked the skills to play shortstop. The issue came on routine grounders, where he wouldn’t properly funnel the ball, would drop his arm on the throw, and/or wouldn’t be as aggressive on routine plays. All of those issues led to the poor throws. While all of this was going on, Hanson was making the difficult plays, showing off his range deep in the hole, and showing the arm strength needed at short with some long throws.

The time off worked for Hanson. It definitely turned the bat around, as he was hitting for a .294/.355/.472 line in 320 at-bats since being benched. The defense also improved, with 15 errors in his next 82 games. He did go on a stretch in June where he had five errors in four games, but followed that up with just three errors in his final 29 games in Bradenton.

“He’s continued to work on the defense and the consistency of defense,” Neal Huntington said last Sunday following Hanson’s promotion to Double-A. “That’s gonna be his key going forward. He can swing the bat. He can run. He can do a lot of things on a baseball field, but defensive consistency at shortstop is going to be…his main goal or main indicator as to when he’s ready to make that next step. We felt that Alen had gotten to a point in time where he was ready to go to the next level, where the game’s a little bit faster.”

So far Hanson is off to a rough start at the plate in Altoona, although the jump from high-A to Double-A is the most difficult to make. He does have at least one hit in 9 of his 12 games in Altoona, but most of those games have just been one hit games, leading to a .208/.255/.313 line. The bat isn’t the question mark with Hanson. His hitting abilities are strong enough that he will eventually have success in the upper levels once he adjusts to that level of pitching.

The questions surrounding Hanson are on his defense, and they’re not on the skills. Hanson is very fast, and has a lot of range. He does a great job ranging to his right and making plays deep in the hole. He also does a good job charging slow grounders. His arm isn’t a plus arm, but he does have the strength to make the throw from shortstop. The problem has been consistency, and most of the issues surrounding his consistency have been more mental mistakes on routine plays, whether that’s a lack of aggression, or just relaxing the mechanics, leading to poor throws.

It’s important to remember that Hanson is only 20 years old. He’s still very young. In fact, if he would have started in the Eastern League this year, he would have been the second youngest player in the league. He was the sixth youngest player at the start of the year in the Florida State League. Hanson isn’t as safe of a prospect as someone like Jameson Taillon or Gregory Polanco, but there’s a reason he’s widely considered a top 50 prospect. He’s got great hitting abilities, and as far as the debate over his defense, I believe he can stick at shortstop over the long haul. He’s never going to be a guy who ranks near the top of the league defensively, but he won’t be a liability at the position and will provide value with his bat.

Hot Starts For the 2013 First Round Picks

Austin Meadows leads the GCL Pirates in homers, extra base hits, and total bases.

Austin Meadows leads the GCL Pirates in homers, extra base hits, and total bases.

Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire have both gotten off to strong starts in their pro careers in the Gulf Coast League. Meadows is hitting for a .315/.392/.550 line in 111 at-bats, and is showing off his power with three homers, nine doubles, and four triples. McGuire is hitting for a .328/.382/.403 line in 119 at-bats. He hasn’t shown the same power as Meadows, but his ability to make strong contact and drive the ball to all fields has been excellent. Neal Huntington talked about both picks this past week.

“McGuire and Meadows have certainly gotten off to great starts,” Huntington said. “Austin, after a rough first week or so, recently has come out of the gate swinging the bat. All the reports on [McGuire's] defense are everything that we expected. Mature. Quality throw, quality receive, quality block, quality game call. Very, very positive.”

As someone who has seen both players, I agree with both reports. Meadows came out of the gate slow, swinging at a lot of bad pitches in his first few games. He didn’t look like the strong offensive talent that was described at the time of the draft. That quickly changed, and he immediately started showing his potential. Meadows currently has 16 extra bases hits, three homers, and 61 total bases, which lead the GCL Pirates. His total bases rank in the top ten in the GCL this year, despite having 12-15 fewer games than most of the players in the league.

McGuire was hyped for his defense, and the opinions have been split on his bat. So far he has excelled defensively, throwing out 46% of base runners. His throws down to second are usually strong and accurate. His receiving abilities behind the plate are also as advertised. As for the question marks with the bat, he has been answering a lot of those questions early on.

“The reports have been that he has shown a very mature approach,” Huntington said on McGuire’s hitting. “He has used the middle of the field with authority, has been able to drive his pitch when he gets it, hasn’t tried to do too much, which for a young hitter, trying to go out and impress and justify the first-round pick, typically that happens. He hasn’t done it. It’s been a lot of fun to see.”

That has been what I’ve seen out of him. He has a good swing and makes solid contact. He drives the ball, even in plays where he’s hitting into outs. There are two ways of looking at hitting success in the GCL. One way is that it’s the lowest level of the minors. Another way is that it’s an extreme pitcher’s league due to the playing conditions and the deep parks. So there are some good things to take away from strong hitting from these guys at this level, and at the same time you have to consider that a strong line in rookie ball doesn’t translate to a strong line in the upper levels, or even A-ball.

What does translate is the approach and the tools. Meadows and McGuire both have a good approach at the plate, and both have strong hit tools, with the ability to make solid contact and drive the ball. Because they’re both advanced, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them both spend the 2014 season in West Virginia.

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Prospect Notebook: First Looks At Barnes and Heredia Highlight Weekend Power Series http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/07/prospect-notebook-first-looks-at-barnes-and-heredia-highlight-weekend-power-series.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/07/prospect-notebook-first-looks-at-barnes-and-heredia-highlight-weekend-power-series.html#comments Mon, 01 Jul 2013 20:35:21 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=59084 This is the second time I’ve had a chance to see West Virginia play a four game series in Lakewood this year. The first time, the highlights of the series were the home runs hit by Stetson Allie and the pitching of Tyler Glasnow. This last four game series was a bit different — no Allie in the lineup, but Luis Heredia pitched his second game of the season. The recap for the first series can be read here and for everyone except Heredia and Barrett Barnes, I was able to make a comparison to their previous Lakewood series. For some players, I have now seen them play eight times and there will be another four game series in Lakewood later this year.

The Two Big Pitchers

When I call Tyler Glasnow and Luis Heredia “the two big pitchers”, I’m talking about both their size and prospect status. The last time I saw Glasnow, he gave up a two-run home run in the second inning, then retired the next 11 batters in a row, six on strikeouts. This time around, he start was cut short due to rain, getting in just four innings. His velocity was down just a tick. I didn’t see as many 96 MPH pitches and there were no 97′s like last time.

What I liked about this start was the fact he got quick outs on soft contact. He had just three strikeouts, but still looked dominating. Someone like Glasnow always has the ability to put batters away with either his fastball, or a mid-70′s curve that he can throw for strikes. He still has that wildness factor, which isn’t extremely bad, but when you couple it with his high strikeout totals, you have a pitcher that throws a lot of pitches in short outings. When he gets quick outs by pitching to contact, he will be able to work later into games and always have that ability to put batters away when he needs to.

As I mentioned in the first series, his change-up is a work in progress and it wasn’t really effective in either game. There wasn’t a big difference in velocity either, as his change was coming in at 90 MPH and he was working in the 94-96 MPH range with his fastball. They want him working on the pitch though, so he will continue to throw the pitch with mixed results until it gets better. It’s not always about immediate results, it’s about making someone a better pitcher.

Heredia mixed his pitches well during his second start (Photo Credit: Nick Scala)

Heredia mixed his pitches well during his second start (Photo Credit: Nick Scala)

With Luis Heredia, this was just his second start of the season and he too had some weather issues, although that isn’t what limited him to four innings. He ran up a high pitch count in the second inning, coming within two pitches of being pulled that inning. Instead, he was able to get the final out and stick around for two more frames. The beginning of the game was delayed more than two hours, so it is tough to be critical of a young pitcher who had to sit around an extra 150 minutes before making his start.

Heredia was throwing low 90′s early on, topping out at 93 MPH numerous times. After the long second inning, his velocity dipped and he was in the 88-91 MPH range. Heredia showed good command, worked very quickly, which you like to see. Even with runners on, he got the ball back and was ready to throw the next pitch. A lot of young pitchers will take longer once they start to get in trouble.

He gave up six hits on the night, but as I mentioned in the game story, four of those hits were very weakly hit. Heredia used his change-up all game and had some good results with it. About halfway through his outing, he mixed in some sliders and was using all three pitches in the last two innings. Those last two innings saw him give up four hits, but two could have easily been scored errors (I would have) and a third didn’t leave the infield.

Holmes and Creasy Perform Well

Last time I saw Jason Creasy, he was coming out of the bullpen, throwing a little bit harder and he gave up a couple runs. This time around, as a starter, he had the best start of the weekend for the Power, which is impressive considering who the other three starters were during this series.

Creasy worked efficiently and quickly, using just 55 pitches in five innings. He threw shutout ball, allowing one hit, one walk and he struck out six batters, including striking out the side in the fifth inning, which he knew would be his last inning going into it. He was throwing mostly fastballs and pounding the strike zone.

When you look at a combination of the two games I saw, you can pull good things from each. He didn’t need the higher velocity he displayed in his relief outing to get outs as a starter, but it is there and he still had command with the increased speed. I wasn’t overly impressed the first time I saw him because his command wasn’t sharp on his breaking pitches. As I mentioned, he was mostly relying on his two-seam fastball during this start, so there still could be issues with his other pitches, but the few he threw were better this time.

Clay Holmes threw five shutout innings in his first start I saw, allowing one hit while walking five and striking out five batters. On Sunday, he gave up two runs on two hits and two walks, with three strikeouts. I liked the second outing better, yet still saw some impressive things during his first start too.

The big difference between the two starts in Lakewood was his command. Last time he was missing all over the place, having his command disappear batters at a time. This time, he was missing mostly down in the zone. Just like Glasnow, Holmes was throwing a tick harder last time, but working 91-93, touching 94 MPH is still strong and if it means better command, then you go with what works.

Last time out, I mentioned that Holmes lost some fastball velocity when he started throwing more breaking balls. That didn’t happen this time out and his curveball was much more impressive this outing. He has a decent difference in speed, throwing the curve in the 78-81 MPH range, not as big as Glasnow, but it still worked well.

Barnes Impresses On Offense 

Barrett Barnes was the best looking hitter for the Power this weekend

Barrett Barnes was the best looking hitter for the Power this weekend

Last time West Virginia came to Lakewood, Barrett Barnes wasn’t there, but Stetson Allie was and he stole the show. This time out, Barnes was the most impressive offensive player. Going 5-for-19, with one double and five strikeouts doesn’t sound impressive, but then again it wasn’t a great series for any batter and Barnes looked better than the boxscores.

You can see the tools on offense that got him drafted with the 45th pick last year. It was amazing, that in four days of watching him play defense, there weren’t any real tough plays or throws he had to make, so there’s not much information I could give out on that end of things.

On offense, he makes a lot of solid contact and he is aggressive on the basepaths, both out of the box and once he is on base. Part of me was thinking how great that is to see, while the other side thought that all out play could be the reason he’s been hurt so many times. He’s a line drive type hitter with a quick bat. His 9/33 BB/K ratio is poor for a lead-off hitter, but I think he is better than that. He wasn’t chasing pitches, but he’s aggressive in the strike zone and putting the ball in play. I expect that if he stays healthy, you will see a much better player the second half.

Bell Still Has Problems

Now I’m not a hitting coach and I wasn’t the person that first noticed it — it was pointed out to me by a long-time NL scout prior to the first game last series and it was something I watched in every AB for Josh Bell during both series. He has a lot of movement in his swing and it doesn’t help him. I’ve only seen him bat lefty because the BlueClaws don’t have any lefties on their pitching staff, so that is something to remember with a switch-hitter. With Bell, it’s interesting to note that against lefties, he’s hitting .322, with an .855 OPS and striking out once every six AB’s. Against righties, he’s batting .276, with a .791 OPS and a strikeout every 4.2 AB.

Bell keeps his back elbow high well into the pitcher’s delivery, basically it is horizontal to his shoulder. He also has a leg kick and strides forward during his swing. So not only does his swing take too long to happen, he has a lot of moving parts and he is changing his eye level during his swing. I think that goes to show you what a talented hitter he really is, because he doesn’t have a swing that should produce the stats he has put up. He has great bat speed and obvious raw power, but with that stance/swing, I don’t see him having success against hard-throwing pitchers or guys that work him inside.

His plate patience is another area that needs work, though he looked better this series. He chases a lot of pitches down and in, which he has no chance at with that swing, not that you want him swinging at them anyway. He showed decent range in the outfield, but I heard from the same scout his times down the line were slower than before and we wondered if that had anything to do with his minor knee injury that kept him out for a few games around the All-Star break. Finally, and I don’t want it to sound like I’m killing Bell here, just reporting what I see, I wasn’t impressed with his arm. The few throws I saw, were not strong and on a play at the plate, it was not accurate at all.

Comparing The Other Hitters

Dilson Herrera, Max Moroff and Eric Wood all basically had the same type of series. Nothing too impressive, looked good at times, looked bad others. It was really a hard series to get a read on. One time you would say, nice AB going the other way on that ball, then one of them would go down chasing a bad pitch. The other thing was, none of the three infielders really had a chance for tough plays, so just like with Barnes, there isn’t much to go on. Moroff turned one nice 6-3 double play, but also booted a ball up the middle, which was credited (generously) as a hit. Herrera had an easy series (didn’t play Sunday) and Wood showed a decent arm from third base.

Last time I said Dilson Herrera was a solid all-around player and he really did more that series to show his skills, defensively, at the plate and on the bases. He went 3-for-12, with four strikeouts this series and a couple of the hits were bloops. His numbers have dropped recently, but we are still talking about a teenager in full-season ball, so overall he is having a fine season.

Max Moroff has some odd AB’s, but for the most part, I like him. He goes up there hacking sometimes and other times, I’ve seen him watch six pitches with his bat on his shoulder, drawing a walk or striking out. Doesn’t seem to be much middle ground with him in that respect. He makes solid contact a lot, uses the gaps and goes the other way. I thought he looked like a better hitter than stats indicated last time and they are finally getting to where they should be now with his strong June that saw him hit .304, with a .936 OPS.

Eric Wood likes to go the other way a lot, hitting many pitches to right field. He has been the opposite of Moroff, starting off fast, but now his stats have really dropped. He seems like he could be a solid player, but nothing really stands out on offense or defense.

Walker Gourley is really a surprise this year. I guess when a player is around for so long and is just now getting to low-A ball, you tend to wait longer on calling him a prospect, waiting for him to drop back to the norm that we have come to know. He definitely looks like he could be a player to watch though. He drives the ball, makes good contact, has surprising speed and is a very smart baserunner. His defensively versatility helps and he has been consistent all season long. For what it’s worth, the same scout who pointed out Bell’s stance, wasn’t too high on Gourley.

Finally, the real sleeper of the group played just twice this series, Raul Fortunato. He hit the only Power home run of the series, a laser to left field that looked exactly like one he hit last series. Fortunato goes up there swinging and he never gets cheated. He’s got good speed and is all-out hustle on the basepaths. I wasn’t huge on his defense last series and he seems to catch the ball awkward (or unsure), but he has played center field in the past, so it’s possible his speed makes up for mistakes. At age twenty-two, he may be finally breaking out, especially after missing almost all of last season with an injury. I wouldn’t rate him too high just yet, but he is one to keep an eye on.

Video

The following video was provided courtesy of Josh Norris, and features Luis Heredia, Dilson Herrera, Josh Bell, and Barrett Barnes.

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Prospect Notebook: Huntington Explains the Polanco, Pimentel, and Kingham Promotions http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/06/prospect-notebook-huntington-explains-the-polanco-pimentel-and-kingham-promotions.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/06/prospect-notebook-huntington-explains-the-polanco-pimentel-and-kingham-promotions.html#comments Mon, 17 Jun 2013 02:01:48 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=57547 In the last week the Pittsburgh Pirates have promoted Gregory Polanco, Nick Kingham, and Stolmy Pimentel. Today at PNC Park, Neal Huntington explained to reporters what led to those decisions from each individual player.

Gregory Polanco was hitting for an .836 OPS in Bradenton before his promotion.

Gregory Polanco was hitting for an .836 OPS in Bradenton before his promotion.

Gregory Polanco

Polanco was one of the biggest breakout hitters in all of minor league baseball last year. He followed that up with a .312/.364/.472 line in 218 at-bats in the Florida State League this year, which is one of the most pitcher friendly leagues in all of minor league baseball. Polanco was improving as the season went on, with an .800 OPS in April and an .897 OPS in May.

“Simplest answer I can give is we felt like he was ready for the next challenge,” Huntington said on the promotion. “The pitchers’ command is gonna be a little better. The consistency of their stuff is gonna be a little bit better. It’s gonna challenge him a little bit more as a hitter. Much like any young hitter, as long as he commands the strike zone, he is gonna have a lot of success.”

Another hitter in Bradenton who is putting up great numbers in Bradenton is Alen Hanson. The shortstop was benched for a few games in mid-April after getting off to a slow start on both sides of the game. After that time off, Hanson has been hitting for a .304/.377/.466 line in 191 at-bats. He’s also cut down on the errors, with eight in 50 games, after recording ten in his first ten games. Huntington said the difference was that Polanco applied his tools and skills more consistently, more quickly.

“Alen got off to a little bit of a rough start,” Huntington said. “His strong side is the left side. He faced a lot of left-handed pitching early. Alen had some struggles, and it took him a little bit to overcome those struggles. He has subsequently overcome them and we’re pleased with where he’s moving to. But we just felt like Gregory is ready for this next challenge the other day. Alen is working toward that.”

Stolmy Pimentel

Pimentel got off to an amazing start this year with Altoona. In his first six starts he had an 0.73 ERA in 37 innings, with  a 32:16 K/BB ratio. In his next five starts he did a complete 180, with a 7.94 ERA in 28.1 innings, with a 17:12 K/BB ratio. Pimentel has done much better in his last two starts, with three earned runs in 13 innings, along with a 12:7 K/BB ratio.

“He made a little bit of an adjustment,” Huntington said. “He had a tremendous April. He had a very tough stretch in May and allowed our guys to help him make an adjustment, just a small one. We felt like he’s done that, felt like he’s been able to sustain that to a certain degree. And again, much like Polanco, felt he was ready to take that next challenge in his development.”

Nick Kingham

Kingham was promoted from Bradenton to Altoona at the same time as Polanco. In 70 innings with the Marauders he had a 3.09 ERA and a 75:14 K/BB ratio. Kingham looked very polished, and didn’t look like there was a weakness to his game. Huntington and the Pirates saw the same thing.

“Nick was doing pretty much everything you’d want him to do: fastball, moving his fastball around the zone, throwing his breaking ball for strikes, good changeup for strikes,” Huntington said. “And again, much like Polanco, felt like he was ready to experience the next challenge. There’s really no flaw in his game, it’s just a continued refinement of how he uses his stuff and how he attacks hitters and building his overall pitch package.”

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Prospect Notebook: Tyler Glasnow, a Playoff Race, Allie and Close Game Woes http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/06/prospect-notebook-tyler-glasnow-a-playoff-race-allie-and-close-game-woes.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/06/prospect-notebook-tyler-glasnow-a-playoff-race-allie-and-close-game-woes.html#comments Mon, 10 Jun 2013 15:05:47 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=56807 Tyler Glasnow struck out eight and touched 97 miles per hour in West Virginia's loss to Hagerstown on Sunday.

Tyler Glasnow struck out eight and touched 97 miles per hour in West Virginia’s loss to Hagerstown on Sunday.

West Virginia got another good start out of Tyler Glasnow with the 19-year old right-hander striking out eight while allow just three hits with three walks and no runs allowed in four and two-thirds innings of work on Sunday.

The West Virginia bullpen, however, would let in four runs in the sixth inning as the Power lost to visiting Hagerstown 4-1. Glasnow has only factored in one decision (a loss) in his last five starts and has not won a game since May 12, but as we all (should) know by now wins and losses are not good ways to judge the worth of a pitcher.

Despite his impressive day (even if he did allow more than two hits for the first time since late April) and impressive season to this point, Glasnow was quick to criticize his performance.

“Command definitely got away from me,” he said.  “Fourth and fifth I just seemed to lose it a little bit. Later in the inning, especially in the fifth inning, I found it with that last guy. My pitch count was just too high and I had to get out of the game.”

My lack of trust in the stadium radar gun at Appalachian Power Park is well documented, so when Glasnow was blowing the doors off several Suns with his fastball I asked a more reliable source at the stadium Glasnow was throwing — 97 miles per hour (a few times) with more consistency in the 92-94 mph range.

Sunday was the sixth time in his last seven starts that Glasnow has tallied at least eight strikeouts, which is made even more impressive when you consider that he has not pitched more than five innings in any of those starts.

“I’m not really going out there trying to just strike people out. I really want to work on getting people out in fewer pitches so I can go longer in the game,” Glasnow said. “Just trying to get walks down. I’m not putting all my emphasis on that but (I’m trying to) get ahead of batters and just really trying to command the zone and get my pitches in there. My change has been getting a lot better. That’s been a goal of mine so I’ve been throwing that a lot more for strikes.”

**

Sunday’s loss dropped West Virginia to two games off the pace in the SAL Northern Division with seven games remaining in the league’s first half.  It was the Power’s fifth loss in seven games this month, but despite that the team finds itself squarely in the middle of the race to claim a spot in the SAL playoffs, battling with Hagerstown and Hickory for the first half crown.

The Power have won two SAL division titles since 2005, but both came before 2009 when the team was affiliated with Milwaukee. The franchise has only won one SAL championship in its 26-year history (as the Charleston Wheelers in 1990 with a guy named Trevor Hoffman playing shortstop).

**

The ebb and flow of Stetson Allie continues to be a thing.

Allie has just seven hits in his last 10 games (35 at-bats), but of those three have been home runs and for the season his power numbers have been feast or famine. He has more home runs (16) than doubles (14), including zero during that same 10-game span. When he has been on — and that has been quite often — Allie has been one of the most exciting hitters to watch in perhaps all of the minors. He has had the occasional dip in production for a week or so at a time, which makes this most recent drop in production not something to be too worried about.

**

You’ve heard (and maybe even experienced) of little brothers trying to emulate big brothers. In this case, West Virginia is the little brother and the Pirates are big brother.

In the last week the Power have taken part in three 1-0 games, though unlike its Major League big bro, West Virginia has not fared so well. The Power lost back-to-back 1-0 games against Delmarva before riding a seven inning, two-hit performance from SAL All-Star Orlando Castro on Saturday to a 1-0 win against Hagerstown.

So far this season West Virginia has played 17 one-run games and won just seven of those.

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Prospect Notebook: Allie And Glasnow Top West Virginia Series Recap http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/06/prospect-notebook-allie-and-glasnow-top-west-virginia-series-recap.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/06/prospect-notebook-allie-and-glasnow-top-west-virginia-series-recap.html#comments Mon, 03 Jun 2013 14:43:30 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=55665 I had a chance to see the West Virginia Power play four games in Lakewood this weekend, posting game recaps each night highlighting the better prospects on the team. With four days of watching them all play, it’s time to give my impressions of the series and the players. With Jake Burnette going to the bullpen, I actually got to see all five starters pitch. I also had the great opportunity to sit down and talk about the team four different times with a longtime NL scout, who was there for all four games. His thoughts that stuck out to me will be included in the report. Just a note that I will be seeing West Virginia play eight more times this year, so I’ll have a much more complete idea by the end of the season.

Stetson Allie showed amazing power in the Lakewood series

Stetson Allie showed amazing power in the Lakewood series

Allie Puts On A Show

The big thing everyone wanted to know going into the series was, what about Stetson Allie? The pitcher-turned-slugger is tearing up the South Atlantic League, but was it legit and could he keep it up? His strikeout totals are high, so I paid close attention to how the other team was pitching him. It seemed like their game plan changed after each home run he hit. They went from challenging him early, to throwing breaking balls in fastball counts. Allie never really looked bad on any swings, which was something you definitely couldn’t say about Josh Bell, the other power bat in the middle of the lineup. Allie hit the ball solid numerous times, some went foul, some were on the ground and three left the ballpark in impressive fashion.

I have seen a lot of games at Lakewood over the years, well over 100 at this point. It is not a hitter’s ballpark by any means. I have seen a few impressive homers that stood out, one being a long high drive down the left field line from Jarek Cunningham. The three homers that Allie hit this series will stand out for a long time. The first one on Thursday, I described as majestic, a sky-high bomb to center field that had to go at least 450 feet and had plenty of hang time. The one the next day didn’t go as far, but may have been more impressive. He got a fastball on the inside of the plate, pulled his hands in and hit the ball about 420 feet to straight away center field. He should not have been able to hit that pitch as far as he did. It Sunday’s game, he hit a line drive in the first inning that went over the left-center wall and went another 80 feet at least, hitting an ad board in the outfield. If there is someone with more power hitting in the minors, I’d be shocked.

According to the scout I talked to, he was highly impressed with how quickly Allie got his hands ready to swing and how quick his bat was once he did swing. His opinion was that he would be able to handle Double-A pitching right now. Allie played first base twice and was the designated hitter the other two days. He didn’t even have a pro at-bat this time last year, so what I’m about to say shouldn’t be a shock. His defense needs a lot of work. Last year for West Virginia, I saw some great infield drills before each game. I didn’t see any this time. They took infield, but it wasn’t nearly as well run as last year under Rick Sofield. Allie is going to have to put in the time at first base, so if the bat can carry him in the upper levels, he has a place to play on an NL team. Of course, if you hit like he is in West Virginia, when you get to the majors, you will have no trouble getting into the lineup. I couldn’t see them rushing him to the point that he won’t get in plenty of time at first base before they even consider calling him up.

The Rest Of The Power Crew

I expected to be impressed by Josh Bell during this series, and while he did hit some balls well, it was still a disappointing series. Again going to the NL scout who pointed it out to me on day one, so I saw it the whole series, Bell was the opposite of Allie. The young right fielder keeps his back elbow high until late in the pitcher’s delivery. He also didn’t have much patience at the plate and wasn’t seeing many good pitches to hit. That led to him taking plenty of poor swings at balls in the dirt and out of the zone. With a late start to his swing and extra time thrown in to get that back elbow down, Bell had a ton of swing and misses in the series. With the great bat speed and raw power he has, I think he is doing himself a disservice with that swing. When he does square the ball up, he hits it hard. He is athletic, runs decent and played a good outfield, showing off a strong arm a couple of times.

Dilson Herrera really impressed me until the last swing he took. He plays the game right and looks good in the field, with excellent range. He looked good at the plate, drove the ball a couple of times and showed off decent speed. He is definitely a solid all-around player already and it is good to point out that he is just 19-years-old doing all this. His last swing I alluded to, was ugly and awkward. On a pitch inside, he took a full swing and the ball ended up hitting him in the right shoulder. The pitch was a fastball and that would be his back shoulder that it hit. Not sure I’ve ever seen that before, hope I don’t again. He was obviously hurt and sat out Sunday’s game because of it.

Max Moroff had an odd series. The 20-year-old shortstop barely swung the bat in game one, then swung at everything in game two. He was out of the lineup for game three, coming in late to replace Herrera. So in game four, he went back to not swinging the bat, except one big swing. Moroff lined a lead-off homer, then walked three straight times. He made some good contact when he did swing, had nice speed on the bases and from the limited looks I got, he seemed good enough to stick at shortstop. He fielded the ball cleanly and turned a couple nice double plays, plus showed good range on one ball hit in the hole.

Raul Fortunato isn’t really known as a prospect, but he is a toolsy player, who had a breakout season during his third year in the Dominican Summer League. The 22-year-old had just four games of experience in the States prior to this season, so this level is a slightly advanced placement for him and he has handled his own. I can see what there is to like about him, he is a free-swinger, but also makes good contact and he is always busting it down the line with above average speed. That speed helped him get on base three times in this series, when it looked like it would be an easy out. That hustle will get him noticed. Despite his speed and the fact he plays center field occasionally, I didn’t see much range or confidence out in the field. He looked awkward fielding pop ups and didn’t get good jumps off the bat. He does have a strong throwing arm, though the throws I saw were a little off target. He also homered during the series, a shot very similar to ball Moroff hit.

Tyler Glasnow struck out eight on Sunday

Tyler Glasnow struck out eight on Sunday

Glasnow Stands Out Above The Rest

Tyler Glasnow is imposing on the mound. He is 6’8″, throws mid-90′s and has a bit of wildness. That led to some uncomfortable at bats from Lakewood hitters . He kept his unreal streak alive, seven straight games allowing two hits or less. Glasnow was sitting 96 MPH in the first inning, hitting 97 once. He hit that top number two more times and threw plenty more in the 95-96 range. He has a nice curveball that comes in high 70′s with a big break. Possibly the best sign from his day, came after the two-run homer he allowed in the second inning. He retired the next 11 batters in order, six on strikeouts.

His problem seems to be his change-up, not much control with it and judging from the bullpen I saw before one game, not much confidence in the pitch either. It’s tough to critique a 19-year-old too much, but it just seems like he has to trust his stuff more and not think about it too much. They won’t hit his curve or fastball when he is on, so once he gets used to throwing the change-up more often and in key spots, he could be dangerous. For the amount of hits he gives up, he allows too many homers and runs. The walks also hurt him, but if he can cut them down even just a little, you’re talking about him reaching the future ace ceiling some already think he has.

Other Starters Looked Good Too

It wasn’t just Glasnow that looked good in Lakewood, Joely Rodriguez, Orlando Castro and Clay Holmes also had their moments. Rodriguez got the start in game one and did pretty well until giving up two late runs. He has a lot of movement on his pitches and was hitting 90-92, topping out at 93 MPH according to a scouts gun. He threw strikes all night and used all of his pitches well. The only problem I personally had with him, is that his off-speed pitches and fastballs don’t have a huge difference. For most of the night, throwing a fastball, change-up and slider, there was a 7 MPH difference between his top and bottom speeds, with just a handful of pitches out of that range.

Castro is a lot like Rodriguez, both lefties, who throw strikes with all of their pitches. He topped out at 90 MPH on the night and looked extremely tough on left-handed batters. Although he doesn’t have great size or velocity, you have a 21-year-old lefty that really knows how to pitch and throw strikes with any pitch. Castro has just five walks all season, keeps the ball on the ground, though he didn’t do a good job of that on Friday. He also gets a high amount of strikeouts, picking up the pace since he reached full-season ball, so that is a good sign.

Holmes throws almost as hard as Glasnow, although that velocity didn’t last long into his start. Once he started mixing in breaking balls more, his control was off and the speed on the pitches dipped 2-3 MPH. He hit 95 on the night, but worked best in the 91-93 range he had through three innings. When he came out for the fourth, he was throwing all of his pitches and that threw off his fastball command, which led to some high pitch counts. Both scouts I talked to after the start said he started guiding the ball more, rather than throwing, which led to the lower velocity.

While he walked five batters, Holmes was even better than Glasnow in the hit department, allowing just one and no runs. Holmes has a ball tap during his delivery that looks to be timing mechanism to keep him under control. He takes the ball out of the glove early, starts his windup, puts the ball back in, then throws. As we have seen in the past and I saw on Saturday, the stuff is good enough that with some control improvements, you have a special pitcher. When he is bad though, he can be very bad. It’s important to remember with him, he just turned twenty right before the season started, so he has plenty of time to improve.

Burnette To The Pen

Jake Burnette came out of the bullpen on Sunday after making four straight starts. He has been hit hard this season, so the move to the pen isn’t surprising. With the way Burnette has pitched recently, it’s highly likely he will remain in the bullpen, with John Kuchno taking his place at least temporarily in the rotation. Last week, Burnette recorded just one out before being knocked out of the game. Kuchno followed with 5.2 innings and while he too got hit hard, he did record nine strikeouts without issuing a walk.

It was hard to get much good out of the appearance by Burnette. He gave up five runs in 1.2 innings, with some hard hit balls. He was throwing mostly 88-90, hitting 92 MPH, with a good mix of breaking balls in there. It’s obvious at this point, he has a lot of stuff to work on before he gets back on the right track. Batters who had no shot against Glasnow, were squaring him up pretty well.

Jason Creasy looked good out of the pen, throwing four different pitches, though his four seam fastball was by far the most impressive. He hit 94 MPH a few times with the pitch and sat 91-93. Ryan Hafner also came out of the pen and wasn’t throwing nearly as hard as last year when he was starting. Hafner hit 94 MPH last year, but his average speed was down a couple MPH out of the bullpen. He did look better, pitching more effective with the slower speed. Kyle Haynes hit 94 MPH and looked good in his brief outing.

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Prospect Notebook: Where Will Heredia Go? Sandfort Seeing Changeup Improvements http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/05/prospect-notebook-where-will-heredia-go-sandfort-seeing-changeup-improvements.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2013/05/prospect-notebook-where-will-heredia-go-sandfort-seeing-changeup-improvements.html#comments Wed, 29 May 2013 17:09:26 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=54929 Luis Heredia could possibly make a few starts with Jamestown before going to West Virginia.

Luis Heredia could possibly make a few starts with Jamestown before going to West Virginia.

Luis Heredia made a start at Pirate City yesterday in an intrasquad game in extended Spring Training. He went three innings, giving up a run on two hits, with a walk and four strikeouts.

Heredia had an easy first inning. He worked a full count and got the leadoff hitter to pop out to short. He followed that up with a first pitch ground out to short. The 1-2-3 inning was completed with a strikeout looking on his fastball. He needed 14 pitches to get through the frame.

In the second inning Heredia gave up a leadoff walk to Ali Solis, walking the upper level catcher on four pitches. After that he struck out the side. The first strikeout was against Kevin Ross, who missed a two strike bunt attempt. The next two were more legit, with Heredia working again with his fastball and changeup.

Heredia had some problems in the third. He gave up a leadoff triple to the left field gap, followed by a double down the third base line to score a run. He settled down and got two straight ground outs to third, keeping the runner stranded at second. He closed out the frame with a ground out to second.

On the day Heredia threw 48 pitches over three innings. He mostly worked on his fastball and changeup, throwing the fastball in the 89-91 MPH range. Heredia noted that his focus was on throwing strikes and getting quick outs, and that the slider would come later. He was throwing the pitch in his bullpen sessions and had some good break, but was struggling a bit with the command of the pitch. Heredia learned the slider last year, so it’s still a relatively new pitch. However, he’s had some command issues with his fastball in the past, which would take priority. His command of his fastball and changeup looked much better in this start compared to previous outings. He wasn’t up in the zone as much, and was throwing a lot of strikes.

It’s not a guarantee that Heredia will go immediately to West Virginia. He hasn’t thrown more than three innings in a start yet, and has only been throwing for the past month. The Pirates are approaching him one start at a time to see where he’s at with his stuff, and physically. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, he was held back in part due to being out of shape during Spring Training. He’s in better shape now, but that has also limited his workload. It wouldn’t be horrible if he starts off in Jamestown then goes to West Virginia after a few starts. He’s still only 18 years old, and turns 19 in August. That would be very similar to the approach Quinton Miller took in 2009 at the same age.

Jon Sandfort Seeing Improvements With the Changeup

Starting opposite Heredia was Jon Sandfort, third round pick in the 2012 draft. Sandfort had some issues in the first and third innings, otherwise known as the innings where he went up against Barrett Barnes and Harold Ramirez. Ramirez hit a three run homer off Sandfort in the first, after Barnes led off with a single. That led to his inning eventually getting rolled due to a high pitch count.

The right-hander was much better in the second inning, finishing it off by striking out Luis Urena looking on an inside fastball on a full count. He ran into some trouble again in the third, giving up doubles to Barnes and Ramirez.

Sandfort showed good downward movement on his fastball, and had a nice curveball. He throws it with more of an overhand delivery and gets a big 12-to-6 break, with the pitch finishing down in the zone. The fastball has only been 87-90 in the times I’ve seen him this year, down from 92-94 and touching as high as 96 in high school. Sandfort noted that he could get back to that by throwing everyday and building up arm strength.

The focus so far this year has been working on the changeup and commanding his four seam fastball. He’s made some good strides with the changeup during extended Spring Training, with the pitch coming out of his hand like his fastball and dropping off at the end.

“The last month and a half I’ve been throwing the changeup really well,” Sandfort said, also noting that it wasn’t good on this day. “I could throw it whenever I want, in any count, and be spot on with it.”

The other focus is commanding his four seam fastball. Sandfort previously threw a two-seam fastball as well, but the Pirates have a pretty standard approach of having younger pitchers focusing on commanding the four-seamer, then giving the two-seamer back a few years later. That’s the approach they’re taking with Sandfort.

He has been starting all year, and should go on to be a starter in Jamestown. His fastball command and the development of his changeup will continue to be important focuses in Jamestown, and it will be interesting to see if his velocity bounces back as the season goes on.

“This year’s going to be a good year no matter where I’m at,” Sandfort said. “Just get a feel for a whole year, playing eight months straight and throwing the ball. It’s going to be good no matter where I end up going.”

Other Notes

**I’ve been impressed with Harold Ramirez this year. In this game he hit a three run homer off Jon Sandfort, then doubled down the third base line in his next at-bat. He makes strong contact, has a quick swing, and good speed on the bases. That speed allows him to play center field, which is where he was playing in this game.

**Edwin Espinal is a big third baseman who was signed two years ago and made his debut in the GCL last year. I should say he used to be a big third baseman because he’s slimmed down a lot since joining the system. He was playing first base, with Jimmy Rider at third. Espinal has a strong arm and a lot of raw power, so it will be interesting to see if he gets a shot at third again. He still profiles as a guy who will eventually end up at first, but also a guy who could stick at third for a few years if he manages his weight.

**Ulises Montilla crushed a homer late in the game off Oderman Rocha. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Montilla go to Jamestown, even though he’s making the jump to the US this year.

**Elvis Escobar entered the game in the second half and hit a hard double to the gap off Rocha. He and Ramirez will likely be the top two prospects to watch in Jamestown.

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