Pirates Prospects » Season Previews http://www.piratesprospects.com Your best source for news on the Pittsburgh Pirates and their minor league system. Sat, 26 Jul 2014 05:54:48 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 2014 GCL Pirates Season Preview http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/06/2014-gcl-pirates-season-preview.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/06/2014-gcl-pirates-season-preview.html#comments Sat, 21 Jun 2014 17:40:42 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=82038 This GCL team has the most upside of any of the three short-season teams in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ system. The top prospects at the level include first round pick Cole Tucker, and second round picks Mitch Keller and Trey Supak. They also have Michael de la Cruz, who is the top international prospect making the jump from the US this year. That combination gives the GCL team four of the top 20 prospects in the overall system, which ties Altoona for the second most, and ranks just behind West Virginia.

Behind those four is a group of talented players with breakout potential. The GCL team features prospects with some promise at every position, including first base, third base, and especially shortstop. There are also some interesting starting pitchers behind the two 2014 draft picks, and some toolsy outfielders other than de la Cruz.

The interesting thing about this team is that it looks like a DSL team more than a GCL team. There are only five US players on this team, out of 35 players. There are two players from Australia, one from Taiwan, and one from Puerto Rico. The rest of the players on the roster are either making the jump from the DSL this year, or are in their second season in the GCL after previously making the jump from the DSL.

The strength of this teams looks to be offense, which isn’t a surprise considering the makeup of the team. The Pirates have done a better job getting pitching from the draft, and hitting from the international scene. Since this team is heavily built from international prospects, it’s not a surprise that there are so many promising hitters, and not a lot of promising pitchers outside of the three US guys.

Here is a breakdown of every player at the level, along with the top ten prospects at the start of the year.

Pitchers

Starting Candidates

Dario Agrazal, RHP – He’s in the Opening Day rotation, although that could change once Mitch Keller and Trey Supak are ready. Agrazal had good numbers in the DSL last year, and reaches 91 with his fastball. He’s 6′ 3″, 187 pounds, so he has more projection than most guys out of the DSL. Regardless of whether he stays in the rotation or moves to relief, I think he’ll get plenty of innings.

Jose Batista, LHP – The Pirates seem to love international left-handers, although Batista has a bit of an advantage over most of the other guys. He’s not a soft tosser, throwing in the low 90s and pairing his fastball with a slider. He also has the chance to add velocity going forward due to a projectable frame. He’s another guy who will be at risk when Keller and Supak are ready, although he should still get plenty of innings. He and Agrazal seem like the two most likely to remain in the rotation.

Nick Hutchings, RHP – He was signed out of Australia in late 2012, and is now making the jump to the US. He throws in the mid-to-upper 80s, also throwing a slider and a changeup. The Pirates have signed plenty of players out of Australia, although none have made it as prospects. They obviously like Hutchings enough to make him a starter, although he’s another guy at risk of his spot later in the season.

Mitch Keller, RHP – The Pirates signed him for $1 M as a second round pick, and we already rate him as the 11th best prospect in the system. He has a projectable frame and reaches 95 with his fastball, usually sitting 90-92. He has good movement on the pitch, and has a curveball with average to above-average potential. The Pirates usually wait a few weeks to ease pitchers into pro ball, especially if they have had a layoff for several weeks due to the draft. I expect Keller to be pitching in the rotation in early July. Last year Neil Kozikowski got 24 innings and Blake Taylor got 21 innings. I’d expect Keller in the 20-25 inning range this season.

Neil Kozikowski

Neil Kozikowski

Neil Kozikowski, RHP – The Pirates signed him to a $425,000 bonus, which was over-slot for the 8th round. He’s a projectable right-hander who can hit 90-92 MPH with his fastball. When I watched him last year, he looked inconsistent with his command, often flattening out his fastball and leaving the ball up in the zone. It wasn’t anything alarming, as he obviously had good numbers and limited walks, but it did show up in a few starts. His return to the GCL was a bit surprising, especially with the new team in Bristol. He only threw 24 innings last year, but might see an increase to the 50 inning range this year. He’ll need a big season to make the jump to West Virginia in 2015.

Gerardo Navarro, LHP – Navarro made the start in yesterday’s home opener. He’s a lefty who throws 85-89, and pairs that with a nice curveball that sits low-70s and has good break. His changeup needs work, as it looks like a different fastball, with not much difference in velocity from his actual fastball. He’s another guy who is at risk of losing his spot when Keller and Supak arrive. He seems to have less upside than the rest of the group.

Trey Supak, RHP – Supak is very similar to Keller. He’s a highly projectable pitcher who received $1 M from the Pirates in the second round, with Supak being drafted in the Competitive Balance portion. He’s 6′ 5″, 210 pounds and sits in the low 90s with his fastball, touching 94. His curve and change have the potential to be average, so he’ll need to work on adding to his secondary stuff, and maybe finding a better out pitch.

Bullpen Arms

Remy De Aza, RHP – As a second year player last year in the DSL, De Aza got hurt in his first start, then came back too soon from the injury and didn’t pitch well. He has a big frame and a good arm, but lacks control, with 42 walks in his first 31.1 innings as a pro. The reports from the Dominican were good on him when healthy, so he could be more than a filler.

Christopher De Leon, RHP – He spent four years in the DSL, which used to mean the end for most careers, but with the extra affiliate this year in the States, it gives De Leon another chance. At one time, he had potential and he’s a good bullpen arm to have around, but as a player that turns 22 in a month his role going forward will likely be a long man out of the pen in the lower levels.

Jen-Li Liao

Jen-Lei Liao

Jen-Lei Liao, RHP – He is a monster on the mound at 6’6″, 255 pounds. Liao is a 20-year-old righty the Pirates signed out of Taiwan this off-season, who can hit 92 MPH. He is raw as a pitcher, but his frame and fastball suggest that he can be more than just a filler down the line. Right now he’s a project that will probably see limited time.

Jonathan Minier, RHP – He pitched twice for Jamestown this year and got hit around before being sent down to the GCL. Minier is already 24 years old and saw limited time in the DSL as a rookie last year, so there likely isn’t much potential there.

Yunior Montero, RHP – Montero is the most interesting player here. He can hit 94 MPH and he’s a talented pitcher, but identity issues have cost him a large chunk of time. The Pirates have actually signed him three times after MLB voided the first two contracts. After the third time he signed, he still had a long delay and couldn’t get to the States until recently. He has been around and pitching on the side, but his career stats show just one(dominant) game back in 2011. Montero could be a sleep prospect in this group. He was highly regarded when signed and required a six figure bonus.

Jesus Paredes, LHP – He looks like a lefty filler out of the bullpen. Already 21 years old, Paredes had some control issues and doesn’t get many ground balls, so he doesn’t profile well for the future, especially since he was being used as a reliever for three seasons in the DSL/VSL.

Horelbin Ramos, LHP – He didn’t begin pitching until last year at age nineteen and he was just a bullpen arm, though he did usually see multiple innings when he pitched. Ramos had success in that role and he is a southpaw that is tough on lefty batters, so he has that going for him.

Carlos Ruiz, RHP – He is nicknamed “El Submarino” and has dominated in both the VSL and DSL for four years before coming to the States. He keeps the ball on the ground better than any pitcher in the Pirates system and allowed just one homer in four seasons. Ruiz pitched in the Venezuelan Winter League this past off-season and should do well in the GCL, but he doesn’t profile as much more than a lower-level bullpen arm due to his velocity and size.

Jandy Vasquez, RHP – He was a starter for the DSL Pirates last year, and while he didn’t put up the best numbers, the reports were that he had a good fastball and just lacked strong command, which got him into trouble last year. With some adjustments, he could be more than a bullpen arm down the line. Vasquez is a 6’4″, right-hander, just shy of his 20th birthday.

Eduardo Vera, RHP – He’s a 6’3″ righty that is also just shy of his 20th birthday. Vera pitched great as a starter in the DSL last year, but lacks the frame to pitch starter innings down the line. If he can translate that starting success into success in the bullpen, he could be more than just a low level filler

Julio Vivas, RHP – He pitched well as a starter last year, picking up strikeouts, keeping runs off the board and getting a lot of ground balls. It’s a bit surprising that he is in the bullpen, because of both the success he had last year and he had a big frame suitable for the starting role. The 20-year-old righty showed the progress you like to see over three seasons, working his way up from a long man in the pen to a successful starter. He pitched well in the opener yesterday, with no walks and six strikeouts in three innings. He should get extended relief opportunities.

Catchers

Reggie Cerda, C – He spent the last two years in the DSL, throwing out 26% of base stealers in each season. He didn’t do much at the plate in either year. He’s an athletic catcher who will be 19 all season. He’ll get some playing time, splitting with Gonzalez, but doesn’t profile as one of the top prospects on this team, and will most likely end up a lower level organizational guy.

Yoel Gonzalez

Yoel Gonzalez

Yoel Gonzalez, C – The Pirates signed Gonzalez for $350,000 in 2012. He’s got good defensive potential, but questions surrounding his bat. Those questions showed up last year, when he only had a .188 average and a .523 OPS in the DSL. He’s still very young, and will be 17 for most of this season. He should get a lot of playing time behind the plate, and spend time as a DH when he’s not catching, due to the investment the team made in him.

Carlos Marquez, C – Marquez was brought up this year because he had spent the maximum four years in the DSL. He should serve as the third catcher, getting very little playing time, and working more as a bullpen catcher.

Infielders

Bealyn Chourio, SS – Chourio had Tommy John surgery in 2012, and missed the entire season.  He’s naturally a shortstop, and will get some time at the position in the GCL, although his playing time could be scarce with Cole Tucker, Nelson Jorge, and Sam Kennelly at the level. It’s more likely that he gets time at second base. Chourio shows good potential in batting practice, but hasn’t carried the results over to the game. He’s a toolsy middle infielder who is very athletic, and could be an interesting guy to watch if he carries his approach over to the game.

Julio De La Cruz

Julio De La Cruz

Julio de la Cruz, 3B – Julio is no relation to Michael, although they signed at the same time and for the same bonus. He’s a third baseman with a big frame and a lot of power potential. He’s very raw on both sides of the game, committing 12 errors in 32 games last year, and only hitting for a .639 OPS. He showed some power and plate patience last year, and has the potential for average or better power in the future. He’ll be one of the most interesting guys to watch this year, as the Pirates don’t have a lot of third base prospects.

Nelson Jorge, SS – Jorge is listed as a pitcher on the online roster, but he was drafted as a shortstop and is listed as a shortstop in the roster I received yesterday. He’ll probably be an infielder, although it will be tough finding playing time. Cole Tucker is expected to get the bulk of the time at shortstop. Jorge will have to compete with Sam Kennelly and Bealyn Chourio for time. He could get some time at second base, which seems like the most likely avenue for playing time for the non-Tucker shortstops. Jorge does have a strong arm, throwing 90 MPH from short and 93 from the outfield, so the idea that he could be a pitcher isn’t far-fetched. However, that’s usually a last resort for a position player, rather than an immediate plan.

Sam Kennelly, SS – Kennelly is getting the bulk of the early playing time at shortstop, starting in the first two games. He received $225,000 when he signed out of Australia in 2012. This is his first year in the US. He played in the Australian Baseball League last year, playing all four positions in the infield. He’s best at shortstop, but will yield most of the playing time to Tucker. I’d expect Kennelly to get the second most playing time at the position this year. He comes from a good baseball family, with three brothers in pro ball.

Carlos Munoz, 1B – Munoz is a big first baseman who hit for some power last year in the DSL — his third season at the level. He also draws a lot of walks, and doesn’t strike out a lot, leading to an OBP of .456 last year, and .443 the year before. Because of his size, he is limited to first base. His power and plate patience is very interesting, especially since the Pirates don’t have a lot of first base prospects in the system.

Edgardo Munoz, 3B – Munoz is an older player who will probably serve as a utility player off the bench. He can play middle infield, as well as all three outfield positions and third base. He’s a small player, and profiles as lower level depth.

Jose Salazar, 3B – He hasn’t done much at the plate in his three years in international ball. He should serve as a utility player and lower level depth, with the ability to play first and third base.

Cole Tucker, SS – Tucker was taken in the first round in the 2014 draft, and should get the bulk of the playing time at shortstop. He won’t play every day, but should get in about 45 of the ~60 games the GCL team will play this year, spending some time as a DH. To give a good comparison, last year Austin Meadows played 36 games in center field, leaving 24 games for other players. Trae Arbet played 38 games at shortstop. That’s the playing time expectation for Tucker. He will be making his debut early next week. Tucker has a good arm and hands, with a good chance to stick at shortstop. The Pirates were high on his offense, citing some improvements during his senior season in high school. That was the big difference between the Pirates and other rankings that had Tucker lower than where he was drafted. For that reason, his offense will be a focus this year.

Outfielders

Alexis Bastardo, OF – Bastardo will have trouble getting playing time at the corner spots behind Tito Polo and Eric Thomas. However, he should get some work as a primary guy off the bench. He showed some improvements last year with an OPS that got better as the season went on, finishing with a 1.012 OPS in August. He draws a lot of walks, but also strikes out a lot. He’s a corner outfield option only.

Luis Benitez, OF – He’s a speedy guy who should get a lot of playing time this year off the bench. He stole 33 bases last year in the DSL, but didn’t do much else at the plate. He doesn’t have any power, and strikes out too much, which doesn’t project well. His main value comes from his speed.

Michael De La Cruz (left) and Tito Polo (right).

Michael De La Cruz (left) and Tito Polo (right).

Michael de la Cruz, CF – He’s one of the top prospects at the level, and a week younger than first round pick Cole Tucker, who was young for his draft class. MDLC is very athletic, and a very toolsy outfielder. He shows great defense in center field, with a lot of speed and range, and a decent arm. He drives balls to the gaps, and projects to add power in the future when he adds strength to his frame. He’s got good plate patience, and the speed to be a threat on the bases when he gets on. He’s got the chance to be the next big breakout international prospect, possibly ending up in the top 10 in the system by the end of the year.

Tito Polo, RF – Polo has one of the best names in the system, and is also a decent prospect. He has a good arm, and will be playing a lot of right field this year. His other skills include speed, some power, and an ability to get on base. He does have a tendency to be a free swinger at times, and in the home opener he swung at two pitches well outside of the strike zone. He should get the bulk of the playing time in the outfield, next to MDLC and Thomas.

Henrry Rosario, OF – Rosario is a very small organizational guy who can play all three outfield spots. He didn’t get much playing time last year, and doesn’t project to get much time this year.

Eric Thomas, OF – He was a 21st round pick in 2014, and has a ton of speed. He’s gotten an 80 grade for his speed by some scouts, and has the arm strength needed to pitch. The speed and arm are the only thing he’s got, as his offense and defense are raw. He makes mistakes on the field, and strikes out too much at the plate, while adding no power. The speed makes him an interesting project, capable of being a good center field prospect if he can develop other areas of his game.

 

Top 10 Prospects

1. Cole Tucker, SS

2. Mitch Keller, RHP

3. Michael de la Cruz, CF

4. Trey Supak, RHP

5. Neil Kozikowski, RHP

6. Julio de la Cruz, 3B

7. Yoel Gonzalez, C

8. Sam Kennelly, SS

9. Tito Polo, RF

10. Nelson Jorge, SS

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2014 Bristol Pirates Season Preview http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/06/2014-bristol-pirates-season-preview.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/06/2014-bristol-pirates-season-preview.html#comments Thu, 19 Jun 2014 18:20:44 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=81905 Over the off-season, the Pittsburgh Pirates added a new short-season team, joining the Appalachian League with the franchise in Bristol. The Appalachian League uses the MLB team names, and thus, the Bristol Pirates were born.

The Pirates will only have one DSL team this year, rather than two in previous years. Because of this, they have essentially moved their second international team to the US. This can be shown by the large number of international players who will be playing in Bristol this year. Most of these guys are organizational fillers, which means their only role will be to fill out the rosters of the lower level teams in the minors.

Bristol is a slight step above the GCL, due to the atmosphere of playing in front of fans, and under the lights. The age at the new level is also slightly higher than the age in the GCL, with more college talent. It is a step below the NYPL, with a slightly younger age in the Appy League. It’s interesting to see how the Pirates are using this team in year one.

A guy like Billy Roth probably would have gone back to the GCL this year, or might have gotten a really aggressive push to Jamestown. The presence of Bristol allows the Pirates to go half way with his push, giving the promising right-hander a challenge, but not putting him up against college hitters in his first full season of pro ball. There are a few advanced international guys like Hector Garcia and Jhoan Herrera who will be getting more of a challenge in Bristol than they would have received in the GCL.

For some of these guys, Bristol could be the final stop in short-season ball, with a possible jump to West Virginia in 2015. That jump would be easier to make than the jump from the GCL to West Virginia. Mostly the level is about getting playing time. Without this level, the Pirates probably wouldn’t have had rotation spots for guys like Omar Basulto or Hector Garcia. They might not have had starting spots for Danny Arribas or Ulises Montilla. These guys might not become legit prospects, but they’re on the fringe right now, and this playing time will give them a chance to prove themselves.

The Pirates don’t have any of their top prospects in Bristol, and only one or two currently challenge for the top 30. They do have a few breakout candidates at the level who could end up in the top 30 or the top 20 by the end of the season with a strong performance. It’s hard to predict playing time at this level, so below is information for each player, including their projected roles for 2014.

 

Pitchers

Starting Candidates

Omar Basulto, LHP – Basulto is making the jump to the US this year, and skipping right over the GCL. He throws in the mid-80s and touches 89. He relies on his changeup to get outs, and limits his walks, which led to good results last year. The Pirates have had a lot of soft tossing international lefties coming through the system, and none have really done much beyond A-ball. Basulto will need to add some velocity to have a shot at success in the upper levels. For now, he should have good results with his strong control.

Hector Garcia, LHP – Another lefty making the jump from the DSL. Garcia only pitched one season in the DSL, and mostly pitched in relief. He had good strikeout numbers, and decent results, but struggled with his control. The Pirates must like what they see in him, since they skipped him over the GCL and moved him to the rotation. He has gotten his fastball up to 92, and mixes in a curveball and changeup.

Adrian Grullon, RHP – Grullon is a nice sleeper prospect, at 6′ 7″, 197 pounds, with a fastball that ranges 89-93 MPH. He has a nice curveball, leading to a strikeout per inning in the GCL last year. Grullon was inconsistent, and missed time with an injury. He should get plenty of time as a starter this year, and could be a very interesting guy to watch if he can add some velocity with his projectable frame.

Billy Roth is the top prospect in Bristol this year.

Billy Roth is the top prospect in Bristol this year.

Billy Roth, RHP – Roth was an over-slot signing during the 2013 draft. He put up some nice numbers in a limited amount of playing time in the GCL last year, and showed a lot of promise with his stuff. He can hit 92 MPH with his fastball, and has room to add muscle and velocity in the future. He throws a good curveball, and a changeup that needs improvement. He’s probably the top pitching prospect at the level, and with a strong showing this year, he could make the jump to West Virginia next season.

Jon Sandfort, RHP – Sandfort was taken in the 2012 draft out of high school, but hasn’t gotten the aggressive push that the Pirates have given other prep pitchers. He returned to the GCL last year, and had mixed results. His stuff was good, sitting 89-92 MPH early in starts, but dropping a bit in later innings. He’s shown good command at times, but that has been inconsistent. His best pitch is his 12-to-6 curveball, but he also showed improvements with his changeup. An NL scout I talked with last year said that he could be a starter in the majors working in the 89-92 range, just due to the quality of his secondary stuff. He’s going to be another guy to watch this year.

 

Bullpen Arms

Jess Amedee, RHP – He’s a 27th round pick who has command of four pitches, including a big breaking ball. He moved around a lot between smaller schools, and didn’t get a chance to develop with any individual program.

Palmer Betts, RHP – 36th round pick taken out of JuCo who has hit 93 MPH or higher in college. He’s dealt with control issues. He throws a slider, and could have a nice two pitch combo as a reliever if his control improves.

Michael Clemens, RHP – 17th round pick who throws around 90 MPH and worked as a starter last year at McNeese State. He could be more effective in pro ball as a reliever.

Mervin Del Rosario, LHP – He got a few starts and some extended inning work in the GCL last year, and could get the same this year. He reportedly touched 93 MPH prior to signing, but was mostly 86-89 MPH when I saw him last year.

Miguel Ferreras, RHP – He’s a 6′ 5″, 221 pound right-hander who is making the jump to the US after three years in the DSL. He’s already 22, turning 23 by the end of the year, and has control issues, so he looks more like a lower level filler.

Alexander Gutierrez, LHP – He pitched for three years on the international side, and is now making the jump to the US at the age of 21. He was a reliever in the DSL, and didn’t have great numbers, with horrible control. Unless there have been drastic changes to his game, he looks like a lower level filler.

Christian Henriquez, LHP – He spent three years in the DSL, but made big strides with his game in 2013. That could have been due to the experience and the age, as he was 21 last year. He looks like another organizational guy.

Junior Lopez, RHP – He signed with the Pirates last July, and didn’t play in the DSL. He will be making his debut with Bristol, but turns 23 in a week, and will probably be lower level depth.

Jorge Mendoza, RHP – Another guy who looks like an organizational pitcher. Mendoza spent three years on the international side, and turned 22 a few weeks ago.

Luis Paula, RHP – He’s one of the more promising later round picks from the draft. Paula can get his fastball up to 95 MPH, although he usually sits at 88-91. He’s got a good slider, leading to a strikeout per inning this year at UNC. He needs work on his control, and could have a future as a relief prospect if he can fix that and get his velocity sitting at the higher end of his scale.

Cesilio Pimentel, LHP – Pimentel got some time in the GCL rotation last year, and could be a starter or long-relief candidate with Bristol. He sits 88-91 MPH and has a good slider.

Angel Sanchez, LHP – A very tall lefty at 6′ 7″, 190 pounds. Sanchez doesn’t throw hard, despite the size, and usually sits in the mid-to-upper 80s. He has dealt with control problems before, but made big improvements in that area last year in the GCL. He could get a bigger role out of the bullpen this year in Bristol.

John Sever, LHP – 20th round pick who can get his fastball in the low 90s, but needs to develop a useful secondary pitch and work on his command.

Dan Urbina, RHP – He missed time last year with shoulder problems. He’s spent three years on the international side before making the jump to the US this year. Urbina throws 90-91 with a promising changeup, and is only 20 years old, so he stands out a bit in this group.

 

Catchers

Danny Arribas, C – Arribas projects to get the bulk of the playing time behind the plate. He could also play first base on off-days if the Pirates want another catcher getting playing time. Arribas could play anywhere on the field due to his athleticism, but his bat is limited to a line drive stroke with little home run power, making it most valuable at catcher. He threw out 29% of runners last year. He falls behind Reese McGuire and the recently drafted Taylor Gushue on the catching depth charts, but should find time to develop at the position in Bristol. I could see Arribas splitting time here if 2014 9th round pick Kevin Krause gets sent to Bristol.

Andrew Dennis, C – Dennis was a late round pick in the 2013 draft who didn’t get much playing time. He didn’t show much potential in that limited time, and now he has moved down a level. He should serve as the primary backup to Arribas.

Tomas Morales, C – Morales also didn’t get much playing time last year, after moving up mid-season from the DSL. He did bat .303 in 33 at-bats in the GCL, but looks to be an organizational guy for the lower levels.

Infielders

Trae Arbet, SS – Arbet was given a big above-slot deal last year, signing for $425,000 as a fifth round pick. He didn’t hit well, and looked raw on the field defensively, although you could see the tools that could allow him to stick at shortstop. He has a lot of speed, and plenty of arm strength and range to work out at shortstop. He was working on his swing during Spring Training, and will get a chance to see if the revamped swing will lead to stronger results at the plate this year. He’s very raw, but has a high ceiling, and ranks as one of the top prospects on this team.

Jhoan Herrera, 3B – He’s getting an aggressive push to the US, skipping over the GCL after one season in the DSL, despite poor numbers during that season. Herrera is a promising prospect due to his raw left-handed power at third base. He was described as bat-first when he signed, but made strides with his defense last year, and struggled at the plate. The walk and strikeout numbers were good, showing that he wasn’t overmatched. He could be a sleeper to watch. The Pirates obviously like him, giving him a $300,000 bonus in 2012, and then giving him this aggressive push.

Ulises Montilla, 2B – Montilla was originally with Jamestown, but moved down after two games at the level. He hit well in the GCL last year, and looked like an offensive sleeper prospect at second base. He should get plenty of playing time with Bristol, although this isn’t a very aggressive promotion. If he hits well at this level like he did in the GCL, then it won’t really tell us much about his potential. It’s possible the Pirates just don’t see him as a prospect, despite the promise he showed at the plate last year.

Carlos Ozuna, SS – Ozuna shows some promise on the field at the shortstop position, but lacks a good bat. He’ll be stuck behind Arbet, spending most of his time as a middle infielder off the bench.

Pablo Reyes, 2B – Reyes is making the jump to the US, but will likely be a bench player, playing behind Arbet and Montilla in the middle infield spots. He’s a good pure hitter with speed, but lacks defensive skills.

Maximo Rivera, 1B – Rivera is another guy who started in Jamestown, then was demoted after a few games. He put up great numbers in the DSL in 2012, but didn’t have the same success last year in the GCL. He could get the bulk of the playing time at first base, unless Arribas is moved off the position by someone like 2014 9th round pick Kevin Krause.

Nathan Sopena, 2B – He was signed as a non-drafted free agent last year, and should spend the 2014 season as a utility player for Bristol.

Nathan Tomaszewski, 3B – The Pirates signed him out of independent ball, and he should serve as depth in the infield, as well as in the outfield.

Outfielders

Nick Buckner, OF – Buckner was an over-slot guy in the middle rounds last year. He’s got the arm for right field, and shows some raw power potential, although he’s very raw at the plate and strikes out too often. He’s going to get consideration as a prospect due to his power potential, but as long as the strikeouts are around, he’s going to have struggles at the plate.

Eduardo Figueroa, OF – He’s making the jump from the DSL after just one season. He hit for average last year, getting on base at a good rate, and also played some center field. The latter could be important, as there aren’t many center field candidates on this team. It’s possible he could be getting time in center field this year, as Buckner looks like a right fielder, and Vallejo looks like a left fielder.

Enyel Vallejo, LF – Vallejo was originally with Jamestown, before moving down to Bristol after the signing of several college outfielders. He started getting playing time in the second half of the GCL season last year. He showed a great hit tool, with some power potential, but didn’t draw many walks. He should be a starter for Bristol.

 

Top Prospects

1. Billy Roth, RHP

2. Jon Sandfort, RHP

3. Trae Arbet, SS

4. Ulises Montilla, 2B

5. Jhoan Herrera, 3B

6. Adrian Grullon, RHP

7. Danny Arribas, C

8. Nick Buckner, RF

9. Enyel Vallejo, LF

10. Hector Garcia, LHP

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2014 Jamestown Jammers Season Preview http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/06/2014-jamestown-jammers-season-preview.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/06/2014-jamestown-jammers-season-preview.html#comments Fri, 13 Jun 2014 20:00:13 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=81548 The Jamestown Jammers begin their season tonight, featuring a lot of the top college players who were taken by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2014 draft. The Jammers currently have ten of the first 21 players drafted by the Pirates this year, including top ten picks like Tyler Eppler, Michael Suchy, Alex McRae, and Austin Coley.

Eventually, this team will add more top picks, like Connor Joe and Jordan Luplow. It’s a team that doesn’t have any of the top 20 prospects in the system, but might have some guys who end up in the top 30 by the end of the year, and definitely will have some guys who rated in the Pirates’ top 50 prospects.

Here are the lineups, rotation, bullpen, and bench for the Jammers. A lot of this is up in the air, since new players are still being added to the system. For that reason, I focused mostly on the top prospects at the level, rather than putting a big focus on the specifics of where everyone will play.

Lineup

C – Taylor Gushue

1B – Kevin Ross

2B – Ulises Montilla

SS – Michael Fransoso

3B – Tyler Filliben

LF – Enyel Vallejo

CF – Carl Anderson

RF – Michael Suchy

DH – Erik Lunde

I’m going to start by saying that I have no clue what is going to be happening with the current infield. The roster has been up in the air with all of the draft picks being added, and is still up in the air with future draft picks coming. The lineups that I saw during extended Spring Training included players who are no longer in the system, like Beau Wallace. So rather than focusing on the positions (which will probably be wrong), I’ll focus on the key hitters to watch.

The one thing that is certain is Taylor Gushue will be the primary catcher. He was taken in the fourth round of the 2014 draft, and was a year younger than almost every other college player in the draft. He’s got the potential to be a solid all-around catcher, with average raw power. He’ll be one of the top prospects to watch at this level, with a chance to crack the overall top 50 prospects by the end of the year.

Ulises Montilla showed good hitting skills last year in the GCL, and played primarily second base in extended Spring Training — also his position in the GCL. He’s got some speed, some gap power, and the ability to hit for average. He’s a guy to watch this year to see if his bat carries over to a higher level that is filled with college talent.

Tyler Filliben was taken in the 12th round this year, drafted as a shortstop. He profiles best at third base, so he could end up playing there in Jamestown. He’s got some power potential, but doesn’t have speed and doesn’t have a good hit tool. He’ll be another top hitter to watch at the level, capable of cracking the top 50.

The outfield is a little easier to predict. Carl Anderson was drafted as a center fielder, and has some nice tools, highlighted by a good ability to get on base, and a good history with stolen bases. He displayed some power in his junior year, and could be a sleeper if that power is legit.

Michael Suchy is a strong right fielder who gets power from his strength, but doesn’t have good bat speed and swings and misses too much. He’s a raw player, with questions about how effective his bat can be with that combination of skills.

Enyel Vallejo started getting playing time in the second half of the GCL season last year. He showed a great hit tool, with some power potential, but didn’t draw many walks. He did propel himself to being a starter, and should start the year in the Jamestown lineup.

The un-signed picks who could make an impact on the outfield are Connor Joe and Jordan Luplow. The Pirates could fit all five outfielders in the lineup by having Joe play first base, and having one of the other four outfielders serve as a DH.

Bench

Francisco Aponte, Andrew Dennis, Deybi Garcia, Maximo Rivera

Bench players in the lower levels don’t usually profile as prospects. The bench will get even more crowded when new picks sign. My guess is that Kevin Ross, Michael Fransoso, and Erik Lunde will also join this group after the first week or two, at which point guys like Chase Simpson, Connor Joe, and Jordan Luplow will have probably signed.

Starting Rotation

Austin Coley, Tyler Eppler, Alex McRae, Marek Minarik, Miguel Rosario

The 2014 draft will produce most of the starting rotation for the Jammers. Minor league rotation orders aren’t indicative of talent levels. It’s more about who happens to be in line to pitch when the season starts. The current announced rotation is Miguel Rosario, Marek Minarik, Tyler Eppler, and Alex McRae. While no fifth starter has been named, it wouldn’t be a surprise if that ends up being Austin Coley, who was taken in the eighth round this year.

Tyler Eppler is the most interesting arm from this group. His fastball has gotten mixed reviews, with some saying it sits 89-91, reaching 92-93. Others have it reaching 95. If it’s the latter, then he’s a very strong arm in the sixth round. Eppler could reach that velocity anyway if he adds strength to his 6′ 6″, 210 pound frame. He throws a slider, curve, and changeup, but will need to improve his secondary stuff and try to find a strikeout pitch.

Coley throws a 92-93 MPH fastball, a changeup that he uses as his out pitch, and a curve that needs improvement. He had good numbers in his time with Belmont University, although he struggled his junior year after having mono coming into the season. By the end of the year his velocity was back to a normal range, although his control slipped from his first two years.

McRae was taken in the tenth round, and has a fastball sitting 89-93 MPH. He could add some velocity if he adds strength to his 6′ 3″, 185 pound build. His slider is his best secondary pitch, and is close to an out pitch. Just like the previous two draft picks, McRae has a good fastball, but will need to improve the secondary stuff in order to have a good pro career.

I saw Rosario throw a lot in the GCL last year. He gets a lot of ground balls, throwing his fastball 89-92 MPH, touching 93, and getting good movement with the pitch. He pairs that with a mid-80s changeup and an upper 70s slider. He dealt with some fastball command problems last year, leading to a lot of home runs. He also switched between the rotation and bullpen in a piggyback type of role, and could do the same this year.

Minarik was a surprise to see in the rotation. He is 6′ 7″, 195 pounds, and signed as a minor league free agent over the off-season, after being released by the Phillies. He turns 21 years old later this month, so he’s still a good age for this league. Just like the other guys in the rotation, he has a good fastball, throwing 91-94 MPH in Spring Training this year. He also works in a mid-70s curveball for a good change of pace. With his tall, projectable frame, there’s a chance he could add velocity going forward, although his fastball control is going to be the biggest focus.

Bullpen

Colten Brewer, Eric Dorsch, Montana DuRapau, Julio Eusebio, Andres Mendoza, Jonathan Minier, Jerry Mulderig, Nick Neumann, Andy Otamendi, Sam Street, Jose Regalado, Oderman Rocha, Luis Urena

Guys who are relievers at lower levels don’t project to be prospects that can reach the majors. The exception would be guys who get long-relief opportunities, or piggyback roles. Colten Brewer is the most interesting guy from this list. He was a fourth round pick in 2011 — a draft that has featured a lot of good pitching prospects — but injuries have prevented him from moving beyond short-season ball. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in a piggyback role, getting 3-4 innings in relief, and the occasional starts.

Dorsch (15th round), Street (16th), Neumann (28th), and DuRapau (32nd) are all 2014 draft picks. All four were college seniors, so they project as organizational fillers. Dorsch has hit 95 MPH, but has been inconsistent with his velocity. Street only throws mid-80s, but throws from a very low arm slot, and gets a ton of movement and sink with his fastball. He might be the best prospect from the group.

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2014 Indianapolis Indians Season Preview http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/04/2014-indianapolis-indians-season-preview.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/04/2014-indianapolis-indians-season-preview.html#comments Thu, 03 Apr 2014 11:04:13 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=75381 The 2014 minor league season begins today. To prepare for the start of the season, we have previews of all four of the full season affiliates of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Here are the previews for each team:

Indianapolis Indians - READING

Altoona Curve

Bradenton Marauders

West Virginia Power

First Pitch: Picking Two Pirates Breakout Candidates From Each Level

Here is a look at the 2014 Indianapolis Indians, who will feature top prospect Gregory Polanco on their Opening Day roster.

Lineup

C – Carlos Paulino

1B – Andrew Lambo

2B – Michael Martinez

SS – Robert Andino

3B – Brent Morel

LF – Jaff Decker

CF – Chris Dickerson

RF – Gregory Polanco

DH – Chris McGuiness

The top prospect at the level is Gregory Polanco. He is expected to arrive in Pittsburgh by mid-season, after getting some additional at-bats in Triple-A and getting re-acclimated to right field. Polanco is an impact talent with plus speed and plus defense in the outfield. He also has great plate patience, can hit for average, and has some power potential still left in his tall frame. He’s a guy who projects to be a star in the majors, and he won’t be with Indianapolis for long.

The second biggest bat on the team belongs to Andrew Lambo. Coming into the season, Lambo looked like a lock to win the first base platoon job, splitting time with Gaby Sanchez. He struggled during Spring Training, and the Pirates sent him down to Indianapolis to get back on track. He could be an option for the first base job later this year if he returns to Triple-A and starts hitting again like he did in 2013.

Jaff Decker and Chris McGuiness were acquired over the off-season as a result of a trade that sent Alex Dickerson to San Diego. Decker was acquired in that deal with Miles Mikolas, and Mikolas was later flipped to Texas for McGuiness. Both players have similar profiles. They have shown a good ability to get on base, along with some decent power. Both could be an option for the bench this year. Decker could start in right field if Travis Snider and Jose Tabata struggle. McGuiness could start at first base if Travis Ishikawa and Lambo struggle.

The rest of the Indianapolis starters profile as depth options for the Pirates’ bench. Carlos Paulino is a strong defensive catcher with the best arm in the system. Michael Martinez and Robert Andino are the top middle infield depth options. Martinez had a good Spring Training, and the Pirates have liked Andino for several years before acquiring him last year. Brent Morel is one of the only true third basemen the Pirates have behind Pedro Alvarez. The Pirates are also planning to get him time at first base, and have him working at second base in practice. He could get some time at second base in games if he gets comfortable with the position. Chris Dickerson is a bench option for the outfield, capable of playing all three outfield roles.

Bench

Nevin Ashley, Chase d’Arnaud, Matt Hague, Adalberto Santos

Ashley could share the catching duties with Paulino until Tony Sanchez returns to Indianapolis. At that point, Sanchez will take over as the starter, with Paulino likely serving as the backup. D’Arnaud is another middle infield depth option for the Pirates, although they’ve also been getting him work in the outfield to add some versatility. Matt Hague could get some time as the designated hitter, and might also get some time at third base. Adalberto Santos can play second base, third base, and the corner outfield positions. He’s a good hitter with poor defense who profiles as a utility player if he reaches the majors.

Starting Rotation

Jacob Brigham, Brandon Cumpton, Phil Irwin, Casey Sadler, Adam Wilk*

Cumpton and Irwin could serve as early season depth. Pirates fans saw both in Pittsburgh last year. Cumpton pounds the strike zone with his four seam fastball — a pitch that has so much movement that it gets classified as a sinker. He relies heavily on the pitch, getting a ton of ground ball outs. Irwin works best when he can command his fastball and get ahead in the count, setting up his plus 12-to-6 curveball. Both starters have the potential to be back of the rotation starters one day in the majors.

Jeff Locke will join this rotation when he gets stretched out, and will join those two as early season depth options. Jake Brigham and Adam Wilk are currently holding down rotation spots until Locke and Jameson Taillon return. The return of Taillon is currently up in the air as the team debates the next step after his second opinion on the elbow. As for Locke, he had a great first half of the 2013 season, and a horrible second half. The truth is that his talent level probably falls somewhere in the middle, with the upside of a strong number four starter in the majors.

Sadler was added to the 40-man roster over the off-season, and will be making the jump to Indianapolis full time this year, after making an appearance at the level at the end of last season. He’s another sinkerball pitcher who has back of the rotation potential in the majors. He falls behind Cumpton, Locke, and Irwin on the depth charts, but could see action in the majors by the end of the 2014 season.

Vance Worley could also join the Indianapolis rotation after he gets stretched out in extended Spring Training. Worley could take Taillon’s spot in the rotation until he returns.

Bullpen

Jared Hughes, Jay Jackson, Josh Kinney, Andy Oliver*, Daniel Schlereth*, Zack Thornton, Duke Welker

The first players the Pirates will turn to would be the guys on the 40-man roster — Duke Welker and Jared Hughes. Welker is a hard thrower who consistently hits 97-98 MPH, and pairs that fastball with an upper 80s sharp slider. He has dealt with control problems in his career, but has improved on those issues the last few years. This is his final option year, which means he will need to show what he can do in the majors at some point this season. Hughes has a nice sinker, but lacks consistency with the pitch at times, which is why he hasn’t made the jump to the majors as a full time reliever. He should be the top option to go back and forth between Pittsburgh and Indianapolis this year, for when the Pirates need an extra reliever in Pittsburgh.

Jackson, Kinney, and Schlereth were all signed as minor league free agents over the off-season, along with Wilk and Brigham. It would appear that Wilk and Brigham are ahead of the other three right now, since they’re starting off in the rotation. Schlereth has been working on a new arm slot, aimed at getting more movement on his fastball and generating more ground ball outs. Jackson and Kinney are lower on the depth chart, but could make the majors if there were a lot of injuries to the bullpen.

Thornton had a big year in the minors last year, and is another ground ball heavy pitcher. He could be a sleeper option to arrive in the majors and help out the bullpen this year. Andy Oliver was outrighted off the 40-man roster at the end of Spring Training. The former top prospect has one more year to try and fix the control problems that have derailed his top prospect status. He’s eligible for minor league free agency following the 2014 season.

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2014 Altoona Curve Season Preview http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/04/2014-altoona-curve-season-preview.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/04/2014-altoona-curve-season-preview.html#comments Thu, 03 Apr 2014 11:03:12 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=75374 The 2014 minor league season begins today. To prepare for the start of the season, we have previews of all four of the full season affiliates of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Here are the previews for each team:

Indianapolis Indians

Altoona Curve – READING

Bradenton Marauders

West Virginia Power

First Pitch: Picking Two Pirates Breakout Candidates From Each Level

Here is a look at the 2014 Altoona Curve, who will feature top prospects Alen Hanson and Nick Kingham on their Opening Day roster.

Lineup

C – Elias Diaz

1B – Justin Howard

2B – Gift Ngoepe

SS – Alen Hanson

3B – Jarek Cunningham

LF – Keon Broxton

CF – Mel Rojas Jr.

RF – Willy Garcia

DH – Drew Maggi

The Altoona lineup is full of a lot of players who need to perform right away, at risk of becoming an organizational player or making their way out of baseball. The Pirates tend to push these types of prospects, forcing them to either move up and have success in Altoona, or move out of the system.

Alen Hanson is the one prospect who stands out, and isn’t a “move up or move out” type of guy. He’s one of the top prospects in the system, and the top shortstop prospect the Pirates have. There have been questions about Hanson’s defense, but people who see him live feel he has the skills to stick at shortstop. Hanson is an offense first shortstop, although his hitting wasn’t strong last year in his initial appearance with the Curve. He’s got the potential to be a leadoff hitter due to his speed and gap power. He could spend the entire year in Altoona, with the chance to move up to Indianapolis in time for the playoffs.

Outside of Hanson, there are a lot of question marks. Willy Garcia had a strong Spring, and has shown some impressive power at times in Bradenton and West Virginia the last two years. He has plate patience issues due to his inability to hit breaking stuff. He’s still young enough that he could break out and put it all together. It was only two years ago that he was seen as having the same or more upside as Hanson and Gregory Polanco.

Mel Rojas is another outfielder who has a lot of potential, but hasn’t put it all together yet. He has shown flashes throughout his career of strong performances, but usually lacks consistency, and follows up a few big games with a week of hitless games. His season in Altoona last year was one of his best performances, but he still needs work, which is why he’s back at the level. He’s a good defender with speed and raw power, and is another sleeper to watch.

The Pirates added Keon Broxton at the end of Spring Training. He was the number 15 prospect in Arizona’s farm system last year, according to Baseball America. They listed him as having plus speed and Major League defense with a plus arm. His bat hasn’t come along, and could eventually hold him back from the majors. With Garcia, Rojas, and Broxton, the Pirates have a very athletic outfield, and three guys who have yet to live up to their potential.

Justin Howard will start the season at first base, but will soon be replaced at the position by Stetson Allie. Allie had an oblique injury during Spring Training, and has been rehabbing in extended Spring Training. He is expected to make it to Altoona by the end of the week. He has the best raw power in the system, and the ball just explodes off his bat. His swing is much better this year, compared to last year in Bradenton when he struggled at the plate. Allie was crushing the ball early in camp, and was hitting well when he returned from his injury. He looks like the biggest breakout candidate in the system this year.

Altoona won’t have a set lineup at second and third base. Third base was played by a lot of different players during Spring Training, including Jarek Cunningham, Kelson Brown, and Dan Gamache. Those three could also play second base, splitting time with Gift Ngoepe. Gamache is currently out with a foot fracture, so Cunningham should get some extra time at third. Andy Vasquez can also play third.

Elias Diaz is a very athletic catcher with a strong arm and good raw hitting skills. He’s like the outfielders in that he’s more potential than results, and is running out of time. He does have the potential to be a good backup if he puts everything together.

Bench

Kelson Brown, Ralph Henriquez, Junior Sosa, Andy Vasquez

The bench players with Indianapolis have a shot at making the majors. The bench players in Altoona and below are mostly organizational guys. Brown should get time at second and third base. Sosa is a speedy outfielder who can play all three positions. Vasquez can play all over the field.

Starting Rotation

Zack Dodson*, Nick Kingham, Joely Rodriguez*, Tyler Sample, Adrian Sampson

Kingham is the top prospect here, but might not be in Altoona for long. He spent the second half of the 2013 season in Altoona, with great results. The Pirates have sent a lot of pitchers back to Altoona after having success in less than a full season. Some of those pitchers ended up making the majors by the end of the same season. Jeff Locke did it in 2012, and Brandon Cumpton did it in 2013. Kingham might be with Indianapolis before June, and could be in the majors by the end of the year. He’s got the upside of a number three starter in the majors, and could be in the major league rotation in 2015.

Joely Rodriguez had a nice breakout season in 2013. He’s always had good stuff, with a fastball that could work in the 91-94 MPH range, and a nice slider and changeup. He showed improvements with the changeup in 2013, but most importantly he started consistently throwing 91-94 MPH, and commanding his fastball in that range. Rodriguez was added to the 40-man roster over the off-season, and could end up being a Justin Wilson-type pitcher, with the ability to either be a dominant lefty out of the bullpen, or a starting option.

Adrian Sampson is a sleeper prospect to watch. He can get his fastball up to 94 MPH, and pairs that with a nice curveball. He wasn’t helped by a poor infield defense last year in Bradenton, but also struggled with the consistency of his stuff at times. The stuff is good enough to allow Sampson to eventually pitch in a major league rotation. This is the second year in a row that the Pirates have given him an aggressive push.

Zack Dodson is the only prep pitcher from the 2009 draft class who is still a starter. He’s another guy who is following the “move up or move out” approach, getting promoted to the next level, despite a lack of success at his previous level. There was a time when Dodson looked like he could have a future as a number three starter in the majors. That might be out now, but he still has a chance to make it as a reliever.

Tyler Sample will take the fifth spot in the rotation, but could be replaced early in the season by Pat Ludwig. The Pirates have Ludwig piggybacking with Ryan Hafner in High-A. That situation could change in a few weeks when Tyler Glasnow returns to Bradenton. Ludwig spent a lot of time this camp working as a starter against Double-A opponents.

Bullpen

Ryan Beckman, Matt Benedict, Emmanuel de Leon, Kenn Kasparek, Joan Montero, A.J. Morris, Jhonathan Ramos*

Just like the bench players, the bullpen options don’t provide a lot of future major leaguers. The Pirates do have a few hard throwers in this group. Emmanuel de Leon and Joan Montero can both work in the mid-90s, but each pitcher has struggled with control at times. Ryan Beckman was ticketed to be the Altoona closer two years ago, but went down early with an elbow injury that needed Tommy John surgery. He’s a sinkerball pitcher who throws from a sidearm motion, getting a lot of movement with the pitch.

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2014 Bradenton Marauders Season Preview http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/04/2014-bradenton-marauders-season-preview.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/04/2014-bradenton-marauders-season-preview.html#comments Thu, 03 Apr 2014 11:02:24 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=75373 The 2014 minor league season begins today. To prepare for the start of the season, we have previews of all four of the full season affiliates of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Here are the previews for each team:

Indianapolis Indians

Altoona Curve

Bradenton Marauders – READING

West Virginia Power

First Pitch: Picking Two Pirates Breakout Candidates From Each Level

Here is a look at the 2014 Bradenton Marauders, who will feature top prospect Josh Bell on their Opening Day roster, with Tyler Glasnow on the way.

Lineup

C – Jin-De Jhang

1B – Jose Osuna

2B – Max Moroff

SS – Adam Frazier

3B – Walker Gourley

LF – Raul Fortunato

CF – Jeff Roy

RF – Josh Bell

DH – Jordan Steranka

The highlight of the offense will be Josh Bell. The outfielder quietly had a good year at the plate with West Virginia, although it was overshadowed by the monster season from Stetson Allie. It also fell short of Bell’s full potential when he was drafted, which was the ability to eventually hit for a plus average with plus power. Bell could still reach those levels offensively. He’ll start in Bradenton, and with success he could move up to Altoona by the end of the season.

Jin-De Jhang is the next best prospect at the level. He’s a strong hitting catcher with a good arm and increased agility behind the plate due to some weight loss over the last few years. Jhang has the chance to be a two-way catcher, although a lot of his value will come from his ability to hit for average and his power potential.

Jose Osuna played in Bradenton last year, but really struggled at the plate and will return to the level in 2014. That’s unlike guys in previous years who have struggled and moved on to Altoona, such as Willy Garcia, Mel Rojas, and Stetson Allie. Osuna looked lost at the plate last year, showing very few signs of success. He does have some good power potential, but needs to quickly turn things around in his second run through Bradenton.

Out of the rest of the lineup, Adam Frazier has the best chance of being more than a bench guy. I haven’t seen much of him in game action, but I’ve heard good reports on his hitting skills. He can play both middle infield positions, and will be playing shortstop with the Marauders. His ability to play shortstop, hit for average, and his speed could get him to the majors one day.

Max Moroff is a raw infield prospect who gets favorable ratings from scouts, but has fallen behind Frazier on the depth charts. He will mostly play second base this year, but should still get some time at short. Walker Gourley is very athletic, capable of playing anywhere on the field. He’ll get most of his time at third base to start the year. Eric Wood is currently injured, but is expected to take over the third base position when he returns. Wood is like Moroff in that he’s very raw, but gets favorable ratings from scouts. Raul Fortunato is a very toolsy outfielder who has displayed a good hitting ability in his career. Jeff Roy has a ton of speed, but that’s pretty much his one tool, and it might not be enough to get him to the majors.

Bench

D.J. Crumlich, Ashley Ponce, Jonathan Schwind, Jacob Stallings

The guy who could make the biggest long-term impact here is Jacob Stallings. He doesn’t have the typical catcher’s body, as he’s very tall and skinny. He does have good defensive skills, and a great ability to handle a pitching staff. Stallings almost reminds you of Chris Stewart, since he’s a no bat, all defense catcher.

Starting Rotation

Jason Creasy, Ryan Hafner/Pat Ludwig, John Kuchno, Chad Kuhl, Orlando Castro*

Tyler Glasnow will eventually join this rotation, and will be the top option when he is fully stretched out. Glasnow is the second best pitching prospect in the system, and could finish the year in Altoona, depending on his success in Bradenton. Clay Holmes was originally slated to pitch in Bradenton this year, but that was before he had Tommy John surgery.

The Marauders will see a few starting pitchers who have worked in relief in the past. Jason Creasy started the 2013 season in the West Virginia bullpen, pitching long relief. He moved to the rotation in the second half, and had a lot of success. Creasy is a two-seam fastball pitcher, and has the stuff to make it as a starter in the majors with the way ground ball pitchers have success with the Pirates.

Ryan Hafner and Pat Ludwig were also relievers in West Virginia at the start of last season. They’ll be piggybacking in Bradenton. Hafner had one of the best strikeout rates in the organization, after switching to a two-seam fastball and learning a slider before the 2013 season. He has been working on his changeup, and will move back to the rotation this year, after struggling as a starter in 2012. Ludwig moved to the rotation at the end of the 2013 season in Bradenton. He could make the jump to Altoona early in the year, possibly as soon as Glasnow returns.

Chad Kuhl had a lot of success in Jamestown last year, and will be an interesting guy to follow this year. He was a ninth round pick in the 2013 draft, and is a sinkerball pitcher who can sit around 94 MPH with the pitch. He could be one of the best pitchers in the rotation this year, and might have a shot at ending up with Altoona by the end of the season.

Orlando Castro moved to the rotation last year in West Virginia and had a ton of success. He didn’t have the same results in Bradenton, and eventually moved to the bullpen. He’ll start back in the rotation, although I don’t like his upside, since he seems like a lefty who has success in A-ball due mostly to advanced off-speed stuff.

Bullpen

Thomas Harlan*, Jhondaniel Medina, Robby Rowland, Josh Smith*, Bryton Trepagnier, Tyler Waldron

The top reliever from this group is Medina, who is a hard thrower that has a chance to make the majors one day as a middle reliever or Triple-A depth. The Pirates acquired Medina for Yamaico Navarro prior to the 2013 season. He put up great numbers in West Virginia last year, showing some nice velocity in the process.

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2014 West Virginia Power Season Preview http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/04/2014-west-virginia-power-season-preview.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/04/2014-west-virginia-power-season-preview.html#comments Thu, 03 Apr 2014 11:01:25 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=75390 The 2014 minor league season begins today. To prepare for the start of the season, we have previews of all four of the full season affiliates of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Here are the previews for each team:

Indianapolis Indians

Altoona Curve

Bradenton Marauders

West Virginia Power – READING

First Pitch: Picking Two Pirates Breakout Candidates From Each Level

Here is a look at the 2014 West Virginia Power, who will feature top prospects Reese McGuire, Harold Ramirez, and Luis Heredia on their Opening Day roster, with Clay Holmes on the way.

Lineup

C – Reese McGuire

1B – Edwin Espinal

2B – Erich Weiss

SS – JaCoby Jones

3B – Wyatt Mathisen

LF – Danny Collins/Candon Myles

CF – Barrett Barnes

RF – Harold Ramirez

DH – Michael Fransoso/Danny Collins

The West Virginia lineup is loaded with a lot of high upside players, which gives them a great chance at a breakout candidate once again. 2013 first round picks Reese McGuire and Austin Meadows will both be at the level. Meadows isn’t on the Opening Day roster, as he is recovering from a hamstring injury. He hopes to join the team by the end of April, although he hasn’t been playing in games yet. Meadows has plus power potential, and could eventually be an impact hitter at a corner outfield spot in the majors. McGuire is one of the best defensive catchers in the minors, with outstanding maturity and discipline behind the plate. Both of these guys are already rated as top 100 prospects, so they don’t necessarily fall in the typical “breakout” category.

Wyatt Mathisen was drafted as a catcher in the second round of the 2012 draft, but moved to third base this year to get playing time with McGuire at the same level. The move to third might end up helping Mathisen. He played more shortstop in high school, due to his athleticism. Learning third base might be more natural for him than learning catcher, which could allow him to focus on his hitting more.

The move for Mathisen meant that Erich Weiss moved over to second base. The Pirates drafted Weiss in the 11th round of the 2013 draft, and gave him a $305,000 bonus, which ended up resulting in a tax after they went over their bonus pool. They liked Weiss for his bat, which should play better at second base.

JaCoby Jones is another 2013 draft pick who has a lot of upside due to his speed and athleticism. There were concerns about his swing around the draft, but he’s shown a good hitting ability since entering pro ball, leaving no reason to change his approach at the moment. He will be moving to shortstop this year, and is one of the biggest breakout candidates on the team. If his bat continues to do well, and he can handle the shortstop position, he will shoot up the prospect ranks.

The most exciting thing about the West Virginia team is the outfield, especially when Meadows returns. Alongside Meadows will be Barrett Barnes and Harold Ramirez. Barnes was a first round compensation pick in 2012. He has a lot of tools, and can play center field. The only problem is that he’s been hurt pretty often since entering pro ball. As a result, he has missed a lot of development time. That has him back in West Virginia, rather than where he probably should be, in Bradenton. He might make Bradenton by the end of the year if he can finally stay healthy and hit in A-ball.

Ramirez had a small breakout last year, being named the top prospect in the NYPL by Baseball America. He has strong defense, a great arm, and plus contact skills with a quick bat. He doesn’t hit for a lot of power, which doesn’t make him your typical corner outfielder. However, his speed, defense, ability to hit for average, and gap power more than makes up for the lack of home runs. If Ramirez repeats his 2013 season in West Virginia, then he could see another breakout, this time ending up on a lot of top 100 lists.

Danny Collins will play left field at the start of the season, while also getting time at first base and DH. Collins was a 2013 draft pick, and has some pop in his bat. He’s got more value if he can stick in left field, although his only chance of playing there all year is if Barnes moves to Bradenton when Meadows returns.

A deep sleeper on this team is Edwin Espinal. When Espinal first came to the US, he had the nickname “Tank” due to his huge size. He has slimmed down since his rookie season, and has moved to first base from third base. Espinal has a lot of raw power, and some good potential with his bat. Raw is the key word when describing him. The numbers don’t say that he’s a top prospect, but I get a lot of unsolicited praise about his game and his potential, especially when asking people about the promising Latin American prospects in the lower levels. He’s a guy to watch, especially if that power finally clicks.

Bench

Chris Diaz, Francisco Diaz, Michael Fransoso, Candon Myles

Fransoso will get time as the designated hitter early in the season. Candon Myles will get some time in left field. These assignments depend on where Danny Collins will be playing, with Collins getting a lot of time in left field. Once Austin Meadows returns, Collins will primarily be the designated hitter, with Barnes moving over to left field. That will make it hard for Fransoso and Myles to both get regular starts. None of the bench players in West Virginia profile as guys who could make the majors.

Starting Rotation

Buddy Borden, Shane Carle, Cody Dickson*, Luis Heredia, Dovydas Neverauskas

The West Virginia rotation has a lot of talent, led by returning pitcher Luis Heredia. The Pirates are sending Heredia to West Virginia on Opening Day this year, with the goal of him pitching a full season. He might move up to Bradenton after a month or two, and there would certainly be room for him in that rotation. Heredia has been throwing in the low-90s in Spring Training, and has hit 95 MPH. He’s in much better shape this year than he was last year. He needs to work on his control, along with getting command of his new slurve. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s in Bradenton by the start of the second half.

Buddy Borden and Cody Dickson are two promising pitchers from the 2013 draft. Borden was a seventh round pick who throws 89-93 MPH, touching the mid-90s at times. He also throws a low 80s curve, and an upper 70s changeup. Both pitches could be average offerings in the majors one day. Borden has a clean delivery, and can be dominant while attacking hitters and challenging them to hit his stuff. He’s a nice sleeper to be a starter in the majors one day, and possibly more than just a back of the rotation guy.

Dickson is a lefty who can throw 91-94 MPH, and pairs that with a great curveball. He needs to work on his fastball command and develop a changeup. If those two things fall in place, he could end up as a number three starter in the majors. If that doesn’t happen, his fastball/curveball combo will make him a power lefty reliever.

Dovydas Neverauskas has been a guy who has been on my radar ever since he came into the system. I saw him hitting 95 MPH at the age of 18, and he started hitting that more consistently the following year when the Pirates made him a starter in the GCL. Last year he was a starter in Jamestown, and was a strong pitcher for the most part, with a few horrible outings. He pairs his fastball with a curveball, but the pitch didn’t generate a lot of strikeouts. He’s going to need to develop an out pitch. For now, his tall, projectable frame, easy delivery and arm action, and already-mid-90s velocity has him on the radar as a starting pitching prospect to watch.

Finally, Shane Carle was taken in the tenth round of the 2013 draft, and is another sinkerball pitcher with good velocity. Carle had a lot of success in the Jamestown rotation last year, working primarily with his 92-94 MPH sinker. The pitch was a swing and miss pitch at times, and generated a 56% ground ball ratio. He didn’t get the aggressive push to Bradenton that Chad Kuhl received, although he could end up in Bradenton by the end of the season. That type of promotion is also possible for Borden and Dickson, since both were college pitchers, like Carle. Neverauskas is the only guy who could spend the entire season with West Virginia.

Bullpen

Yhonathan Barrios, Henry Hirsch, Will Kendall*, Jerry Mulderig, Clario Perez, Isaac Sanchez, Justin Topa

Last year the West Virginia bullpen started off with Jason Creasy, Ryan Hafner, Pat Ludwig, and Kyle Haynes. The first three are now in the Bradenton rotation. Haynes was traded over the off-season for Chris Stewart. This year the West Virginia bullpen shows some upside, possibly more than most low-A bullpens show.

Yhonathan Barrios is a hard thrower who can consistently hit 98-99 MPH. Barrios was signed as a shortstop out of Colombia, and was given one of the biggest international bonuses in Pirates’ history at the time. He was converted to a pitcher last year, which is what he was before being signed by the Pirates. His velocity is the feature, but he also has some nice break on his slider, making him a sleeper reliever to watch.

Isaac Sanchez has the best chance of making the eventual jump to the rotation. This is especially true once one of the members of the starting rotation leaves for Bradenton. Sanchez has good stuff, and was a member of the Jamestown rotation last year, showing promising stuff and getting good reviews from coaches in the organization.

Henry Hirsch and Justin Topa are two hard throwers who can hit mid-90s with their fastballs. I could see Topa getting extended work, and possibly a few starts by the end of the year.

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The Pirates Have a Bench That Can’t Hit Right-Handers http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/03/the-pirates-have-a-bench-that-cant-hit-right-handers.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/03/the-pirates-have-a-bench-that-cant-hit-right-handers.html#comments Sun, 30 Mar 2014 20:02:05 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=75202 The 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates season begins on Monday when the Pirates take on the Cubs. To prepare for the start of the year, I’ll be previewing all of the position groups on the Opening Day roster. Here are the previews we have so far.

The Pirates Rotation Has Some Red Flags, But Still Projects to Carry the Team

The Pirates Won’t Have to Wait For Gregory Polanco to Have a Top Outfield

Pirates Will Once Again Have Strong Infield Defense and Offensive Questions

The Pirates are Returning a Bullpen That Was One of the Best in Baseball

The Pirates Have a Bench That Can’t Hit Right-Handers – READING

The Pirates have had a weak bench the last few years. They haven’t had the luxury of a good bench bat like the St. Louis Cardinals had last year with Matt Adams. There are a few big reasons for this. For one, they prefer defense with their backup catcher and shortstop spots. They’ve also carried a platoon at first base the last few years, along with split playing time in right field last year. That means there’s only one spot on the bench that could be focused on offense, and the Pirates haven’t had an offensive based player to fill that role.

This doesn’t look to change at the start of the 2014 season. It’s not that a team needs a big hitter off the bench. The Pirates didn’t have one last year, and they won 94 games and made the playoffs. But it’s nice to have a bat you can turn to in the late innings, rather than a group of players with no one standing out from the pack. Here is a look at the makeup of the bench, along with some thoughts on where the Pirates could find their go-to bench bat.

Tony Sanchez/Chris Stewart

Sanchez will start the year as the backup catcher with Stewart on the disabled list. By the end of April, Stewart should be back, with Sanchez going to Triple-A. Stewart has a lot of value defensively, but lacks any value from his bat. Meanwhile, Sanchez has some value offensively, although that is limited since teams don’t normally use their backup catcher in a pinch-hitting role.

Expect the Pirates to once again focus on defense from their backup catcher spot. Sanchez will get some time in the majors, and his offense will help in the games where he is starting over Martin, but that will hardly help the bench during games.

Ga

Gaby Sanchez can crush left-handers, but struggles against right-handers. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Gaby Sanchez/Travis Ishikawa

Normally the first base platoon has the chance to provide help late in games against specific handed pitchers. That’s still the case with Gaby Sanchez. He’s a great option against left-handers later in a game, assuming he didn’t start that game. The problem with this first base platoon is that neither player has a good track record of hitting right-handers, and you typically need a pinch hitter against a right-handed pitcher more than a left-handed pitcher.

If the Pirates could find a way to get an everyday first baseman, or someone who could hit right-handers for this platoon, then they could upgrade their bench. An everyday guy would allow them to use the second spot from this platoon on someone who could just be a bench bat, with no other roles to fill on the roster.

Jose Tabata or Travis Snider would be the best bet for the Pirates to have a good bat off the bench. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Jose Tabata or Travis Snider would be the best bet for the Pirates to have a good bat off the bench. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Travis Snider/Jose Tabata

This combo might be the best bet of producing a good bench hitter, although that’s saying something considering neither of these outfielders are guarantees. Snider looks to get the majority of the playing time in right field, which means Tabata will be the bat off the bench in most games. Tabata hit well at the end of the 2013 season, with an .848 OPS in August and September. If he can hit like that again this year, he would make a strong bat off the bench. That’s assuming Snider ends up hitting.

The Pirates need one of these two guys to hit for the starting lineup until Gregory Polanco arrives. Once Polanco is ready, they can move the most productive player to the bench, and hope that this will result in a strong bat for pinch-hitting opportunities.

Clint Barmes

Barmes was signed to be the backup middle infielder, although he has been getting playing time all around the infield and could play in more of a utility role. His best value is at shortstop due to his defense. As far as the bat goes, Barmes won’t provide the Pirates with value off the bench. This is one of those cases where the Pirates are choosing defense over offense. That’s a choice you have to make with middle infielders off the bench. If you had a middle infielder who could do both, he’d probably be a starter.

Josh Harrison

Harrison will take up the final spot on the bench. This is the spot where the Pirates could use a nice bat. However, they don’t have any internal options that stand out. Harrison had some success last year against left-handers. His primary value comes from the fact that he can play a lot of positions, including backing up third base, or shortstop in a pinch. He could see some time in the lineup against left-handers at second base, and he could be another option against lefties. However, this is another spot where the Pirates will lack a bat that can hit right-handers.

The Depth

If a starter goes down, then the replacement will probably come from the bench. That means the depth in Triple-A would be next in line for a bench role, unless it was a position like first base, where the only replacement options are in Triple-A. That’s also the one position where the Pirates might be able to solve their bench issues. Andrew Lambo would be a great bat off the bench if he starts hitting. The problem is that the Pirates would need him in the lineup if that happens, since his upside is greater than the upside of Ishikawa. However, if Lambo does get back on track in Triple-A, that could at least help the Pirates’ bench in games where Gaby Sanchez starts.

The backup infielders aren’t much better than Josh Harrison as far as the hitting goes. They include Michael Martinez, Robert Andino, Chase d’Arnaud, and Brent Morel. If there is an injury to the infield, one of these guys would step up as depth for the bench. However, this group won’t provide that bat the Pirates need.

Jaff Decker and Chris Dickerson are options in the outfield, but they’re not going to get a chance unless there’s an injury early in the season, or unless Tabata and Snider both struggle this year.

The best hope the Pirates have for a good bat off the bench would come from Snider/Tabata. They would either need both players to hit well early in the season, or just one of them to hit well off the bench after Polanco arrives.

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The Pirates are Returning a Bullpen That Was One of the Best in Baseball http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/03/the-pirates-are-returning-a-bullpen-that-was-one-of-the-best-in-baseball.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/03/the-pirates-are-returning-a-bullpen-that-was-one-of-the-best-in-baseball.html#comments Sun, 30 Mar 2014 17:35:32 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=75183 The 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates season begins on Monday when the Pirates take on the Cubs. To prepare for the start of the year, I’ll be previewing all of the position groups on the Opening Day roster. Here are the previews we have so far.

The Pirates Rotation Has Some Red Flags, But Still Projects to Carry the Team

The Pirates Won’t Have to Wait For Gregory Polanco to Have a Top Outfield

Pirates Will Once Again Have Strong Infield Defense and Offensive Questions

The Pirates are Returning a Bullpen That Was One of the Best in Baseball – READING

The Pirates Have a Bench That Can’t Hit Right-Handers

Last year the Pirates had one of the best bullpens in the majors. The bullpen combined for a phenomenal 2.89 ERA, which ranked third in all of baseball, and second in the National League. Their 3.35 FIP ranked fifth overall, indicating that it wasn’t just luck that led the Pirates to their success. Many of the members from the 2013 bullpen will be returning in 2014. In fact, the only major change was to swap out Vin Mazzaro for Stolmy Pimentel, which could end up being a nice upgrade if Pimentel realizes his upside in the majors. Here is a look at what to expect from each reliever this year.

Jason Grilli was dominant when healthy last year.

Jason Grilli was dominant when healthy last year.

Jason Grilli

Grilli was lights out last year, posting a 2.70 ERA and a 1.97 FIP. The only downside was that he missed time with an elbow injury, putting him out of action for a little over a month. He was a little shaky when he first came back, but settled down and finished the year with five scoreless outings in a row.

There are two concerns with Grilli heading into the 2014 season. The first concern is that he won’t be able to repeat his 2013 success. Both his FIP and xFIP were lower than his ERA. Part of that is due to his struggles in early September. However, if he continues striking out well more than a batter an inning, there’s no reason to think that he can’t put up an ERA below 3.00, and probably more likely something closer to an ERA around 2.00.

I’m not as concerned with the chance for regression. The bigger concern would be his age and his health. He missed a month last year, and at age 37, expecting full health seems optimistic. The Pirates played it safe with him during Spring Training, limiting his workload and getting him a lot of work at Pirate City, where pitch counts can be controlled. What they need to avoid is a scenario like the 2013 season, where Grilli had 27 appearances in the first two months of the season. It’s not a bad thing to see your closer that often, since that means you’re winning a lot of games. However, winning by more than two or three runs can help to avoid using your closer for every single win.

Steamer: 65 IP, 2.82 FIP

Oliver: 56 IP, 2.91 FIP

ZiPS: 50.1 IP, 2.61 FIP

Mark Melancon ranked as one of the best relievers in baseball last year.

Mark Melancon ranked as one of the best relievers in baseball last year.

Mark Melancon

Despite putting up one of the best seasons of any reliever in baseball last year, Melancon comes with concerns. Like Grilli, there’s the concern of regression. In Melancon’s case, regression seems more likely. He had a 1.39 ERA last year, which was below his 1.64 FIP and 2.05 xFIP. You probably don’t need to see the advanced metrics to know that a guy who posted a 1.39 ERA probably won’t continue with those numbers. However, the advanced numbers from Melancon suggest that he can still post a dominant season.

The other concern comes with his struggles in the closer role at the end of the season. I don’t hold the belief that a pitcher can be dominant in the 8th inning, but needs something special to dominate in the 9th inning. I think it’s more likely that Melancon’s late-season struggles came as a result of his workload and a small sample size. He basically had one bad week at the end of the season, and prior to that he converted 16 of 17 save opportunities.

Considering Grilli’s age and health concerns, there’s a possibility that Melancon could get some more save chances this year. I’d expect him to continue to dominate, although maybe not to the extreme that we saw last year. With Grilli set to be a free agent after the 2014 season, Melancon could use any opportunities this year to show that he can replace Grilli as the closer in future years.

Steamer: 65 IP, 2.74 FIP

Oliver: 70 IP, 2.98 FIP

ZiPS: 68.2 IP, 2.64 FIP

Tony Watson was one of the top five relievers in the game in the second half of the 2013 season. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Tony Watson was one of the top five relievers in the game in the second half of the 2013 season. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Tony Watson

Watson got off to a bad start during the 2013 season. He had a 4.44 ERA in 26.1 innings through the first two months of the season. That might have been due to the fact that he was dealing with an injury last Spring, which altered the way he prepared for his season. The good news is that Watson was healthy this Spring, getting a lot of multi-inning appearances at Pirate City to build arm strength and possibly prepare for multi-inning roles this year.

The interesting thing about Watson’s season was how he recovered from that bad start. He was one of the best relievers in baseball in the second half of the season. His 0.69 ERA ranked 5th out of 152 qualified relievers in the second half. His 1.89 FIP suggests that he will regress a bit, but still could be dominant.

The biggest change for Watson last year came with improvement to his control. He went from a 4.39 BB/9 in his rookie season to a 3.88 BB/9 in 2012. Last year he saw serious improvements, putting up a 1.51 BB/9. This could be due to a switch in his approach. In 2011 he was throwing a four-seam fastball. He switched to a sinker in 2012, and got more comfortable with the pitch last year.

I doubt Watson will carry his second half results over and continue pitching like one of the best relievers in baseball. However, I could see him exceeding his projections below, especially if he continues showing improvements with his sinker and eliminating the walks.

Steamer: 55 IP, 3.60 FIP

Oliver: 64 IP, 3.69 FIP

ZiPS: 63.1 IP, 3.46 FIP

Justin Wilson needs to maintain his lowered walk rates going forward.

Justin Wilson needs to maintain his lowered walk rates going forward.

Justin Wilson

Like everyone else in the bullpen last year, Wilson had a dominant season, posting a 2.08 ERA. However, if you’re looking for someone who could regress, Wilson is a prime candidate. He’s not at risk of dropping to the point where he’s a bad reliever. He just shouldn’t be expected to put up another ERA like he did last year.

Wilson’s control is an issue, with a 3.4 BB/9 last year. He benefitted from a .229 BABIP and an 84.9% strand rate. That combo means that his walk rate was hidden by a lack of hits, and the impact of the walks were reduced by a high strand rate. I wouldn’t be surprised if the BABIP stays low. It probably won’t be in the .229 range, but Wilson has always had a low BABIP throughout his career in the upper levels. FIP expects him to drop to league average, and I think he could exceed that.

The strand rate will probably go down, which means those walks will catch up to him. He did show improvements last year with his control, posting the best BB/9 of his pro career, including the minors. Whether that can continue will be something to watch. I think Wilson will end up with an ERA in the mid-3 range this year, similar to his 3.41 FIP last year. That’s still a good reliever, but that’s not the dominant looking ERA we saw last year.

Steamer: 55 IP, 3.49 FIP

Oliver: 104 IP, 4.33 FIP

ZiPS: 72 IP, 3.99 FIP

Jeanmar Gomez pitched well in a lot of roles for the Pirates last year. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Jeanmar Gomez pitched well in a lot of roles for the Pirates last year. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Jeanmar Gomez

Gomez filled a ton of roles last year. He was a starter, a long-reliever, a one inning middle reliever, and a late-inning guy at times. In the process, he had a 3.35 ERA and a 3.85 FIP. His results in the bullpen were closer to the FIP, with a 3.77 ERA. Gomez plays perfectly into the Pirates’ system of strong infield defense and defensive shifts. He’s got a great sinkerball, which led to a 55.4% ground ball rate last year.

The Pirates could use Gomez in a similar role this year, although Stolmy Pimentel’s presence means that Gomez might not make a lot of starts in the rotation. He’s not a dominant reliever who gets strikeouts, but his sinker-heavy approach makes him a great option for the middle innings, long-relief, or any other role he might be needed for. The projections are lower on him, although that could be due to his struggles before coming to the Pirates. Two of the projections also have him getting over 100 innings, which is something I don’t see happening.

Steamer: 59 IP, 3.76 FIP

Oliver: 142 IP, 4.12 FIP

ZiPS: 128.1 IP, 4.14 FIP

Bryan Morris looked like a different pitcher this Spring. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Bryan Morris looked like a different pitcher this Spring. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Bryan Morris

Morris had good numbers last year, posting a 3.46 ERA in 65 innings. However, his 4.34 xFIP suggests he would be in line for regression if he continues pitching the way he did during the 2013 season. Fortunately, he looks like a different pitcher this year.

Morris has added a two-seam fastball, which looked effective in camp. He has been hitting 97 MPH, and his stuff looks nasty. Last year Morris threw his cutter 49.6% of the time. I’d expect him to lean more on his fastballs this year, using the cutter as an out pitch, instead of his primary pitch. That could help him improve the control numbers (3.9 BB/9), and possibly add some more strikeouts compared to last year (5.1 K/9).

It’s hard to say how Morris will perform with his new stuff. Most of the projections have him finishing near his advanced metrics last year. If the new approach does well, he could repeat his 2013 ERA, and actually have the advanced metrics to support that success as legit.

Steamer: 30 IP, 3.74 FIP

Oliver: 76 IP, 4.24 FIP

ZiPS: 74.2 IP, 4.36 FIP

Stolmy Pimentel will get a shot at the Majors this year, with a chance to be a starter next year.

Stolmy Pimentel will get a shot at the Majors this year, with a chance to be a starter next year.

Stolmy Pimentel

At the start of Spring Training I wrote about Stolmy Pimentel, and why he looked like a favorite for the Opening Day roster. He ended up making the team, after getting a starter’s workload during camp. Pimentel’s major league track record is limited to the 9.1 innings he pitched last year. He’s on the team because of his stuff and his upside. Read the article above for a breakdown of his stuff.

The 2014 season will largely be about getting Pimentel adjusted to the majors. The Pirates have three starting pitchers in their rotation who are eligible for free agency after the season. They’ll replace one of those spots with Jameson Taillon. Pimentel could be another candidate to start next year if he does well in the majors this year. I’d expect him to get a Jeanmar Gomez-type role, working some long-relief early in the season, getting a few spot starts, and picking up higher leverage appearances if he starts to show success in other roles.

Steamer: 35 IP, 3.90 FIP

Oliver: 150 IP, 5.11 FIP

ZiPS: 142.1 IP, 4.31 FIP

The Depth

As good as the bullpen was last year, the Pirates were lucky. They didn’t see many injuries to the core group. If you take out September call-up innings, the Pirates had about 60 innings from their depth throughout the season. Four of their seven primary relievers threw 70+ innings in the bullpen. The other three went 65 innings (Morris), 50 innings (Grilli), and 45.1 innings (Gomez). Grilli was the only reliever who had an injury that caused him to miss a lot of time. Gomez was limited in the bullpen because he was helping out in the rotation.

In short, this rarely happens. And don’t expect it to happen again this year. The Pirates will most likely need to turn to their depth, and fortunately, they have a lot of depth to turn to.

The 40-man roster has Jared Hughes, Duke Welker, and anyone who will also serve as depth for the rotation. The Pirates usually try to preserve their rotation depth, so Hughes and Welker seem like the first guys the team could turn to if an injury occurs. Hughes has a nice sinker, but the pitch lacks consistency at times, which is why he hasn’t landed a full-time major league job yet. Welker saw a brief appearance in the majors last year, and ranked as one of the hardest throwers in the league during that small sample. His minor league reports back that velocity up. He’s got the fastball/slider combo to be a late inning guy, and the 2014 season could be his chance to show what he can do in the majors.

The non-roster invitees include a lot of depth options, both left and right-handed. The lefties include Daniel Schlereth, Adam Wilk, and Yao-Hsun Yang. I’d expect Schlereth to get the first shot at a job if one of Watson or Wilson go down. However, regular season results with Indianapolis could change that.

On the right-handed side, the Pirates have a lot of interesting options. Zack Thornton was acquired for Chris Resop a year ago, and had an excellent season in the minors last year. He doesn’t have the best stuff, but pounds the strike zone and gets a lot of ground balls, which is an approach the Pirates seem to like. Jake Brigham, Cody Eppley, Josh Kinney, and Jay Jackson were all minor league free agents, and could be options depending on their success with Indianapolis. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jackson and Brigham get extended roles with Indianapolis early in the season, especially with Jeff Locke getting stretched out and Jameson Taillon missing a month. They could also be two of the main options that the Pirates turn to if they need bullpen depth.

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Pirates Will Once Again Have Strong Infield Defense and Offensive Questions http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/03/pirates-will-once-again-have-strong-infield-defense-and-offensive-questions.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/03/pirates-will-once-again-have-strong-infield-defense-and-offensive-questions.html#comments Sat, 29 Mar 2014 16:04:36 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=75122 The 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates season begins on Monday when the Pirates take on the Cubs. To prepare for the start of the year, I’ll be previewing all of the position groups on the Opening Day roster. Here are the previews we have so far.

The Pirates Rotation Has Some Red Flags, But Still Projects to Carry the Team

The Pirates Won’t Have to Wait For Gregory Polanco to Have a Top Outfield

Pirates Will Once Again Have Strong Infield Defense and Offensive Questions – READING

The Pirates are Returning a Bullpen That Was One of the Best in Baseball

The Pirates Have a Bench That Can’t Hit Right-Handers

The Pirates won last year in large part to their pitching staff, and their defense played a big part in that. The defense behind the plate from Russell Martin was huge, and the defensive shifts in the infield also had a huge assist. Martin will return this year, and the current infield looks to be good defensively. Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez have both been showing improvements at their position, while Jordy Mercer has been working on improving his defense so he won’t negate his offensive value. The current first base alignment gets a lot of their value from defense, with question marks about the ability to hit right-handed pitching. Here is a look at the starters at each position around the infield, including the catcher position.

Russell Martin was one of the best defensive catchers in the game last year. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Russell Martin was one of the best defensive catchers in the game last year. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Catcher – Russell Martin

A lot of the value that Russell Martin brings to the table used to be hard to quantify. However, Baseball Prospectus did a great job of putting a number on his pitch framing and blocking skills. For that reason, we know that he was worth 2.3 wins above replacement for his pitch framing skills, and 1.3 wins above replacement for his blocking skills last year. Both skills ranked among the best in baseball, which combined with Martin’s 40% caught stealing rate, made him one of the best defensive catchers in the game.

Offensively, Martin didn’t have a lot of value. Actually he had no value, putting up replacement level numbers. His average and OBP improved from the 2012 season, but his power dropped. I wouldn’t expect that to change in 2014, since the last time he has provided more than replacement level value with his batting and base running was in 2008.

Even with replacement level offense, Martin was worth 4.1 wins above replacement last year, and that was without the advanced catching metrics on framing and blocking (although FanGraphs does attempt to quantify blocking, with their numbers being lower than the BP studies). What we’ve learned in the last year is that catcher defense is extremely important, and probably still undervalued. That’s not an aspect of Martin’s game that will be going away any time soon, so you can expect another good year from him defensively. Anything he does at the plate is just a bonus.

I’d expect Martin to outperform the projections, since they probably don’t account for his defense as much as FanGraphs. And if you believe in the BP advanced catching studies, Martin could seriously exceed the value in the projections below.

Steamer: 2.6 WAR

Oliver: 3.4 WAR

ZiPS: 3.1 WAR

Gaby Sanchez crushes left-handers, but shouldn't be getting at-bats against right-handers.

Gaby Sanchez crushes left-handers, but shouldn’t be getting at-bats against right-handers.

First Base – Gaby Sanchez/Travis Ishikawa

We knew coming into the season that Gaby Sanchez would get time this year against left-handed pitching. Sanchez dominates left-handers, and had a .987 OPS against lefties last year. That ranked him 16th out of 248 major league players who had 100+ plate appearances against left-handers. The problem is that Sanchez can’t hit right-handers. In his career, his best marks have been a .742 OPS against right-handers, which is slightly better than what Garrett Jones did last season.

The Pirates needed a first baseman to hit right-handers. There wasn’t much available on the free agent market after James Loney signed with the Rays. The trade market didn’t have a lot to offer, with a lot of players like Ike Davis who have upside, but are borderline reclamation projects. The Pirates had Andrew Lambo and traded for Chris McGuiness, although neither player had experience in the majors. They let Garrett Jones and Justin Morneau walk, although neither player was good last year against right-handers.

Travis Ishikawa has good defense at first base, but his career numbers are no better than Garrett Jones in 2013.

Travis Ishikawa has good defense at first base, but his career numbers are no better than Garrett Jones in 2013.

Across the board, the Pirates didn’t have a good option against right-handers. But out of all of those weaker options, it looks like they took the weakest one. Travis Ishikawa will get the starting first base job against right-handers. What’s worse is that Clint Hurdle has said it won’t be a traditional platoon, which means Gaby Sanchez will get some time against right-handers as well. Ishikawa has a career .737 OPS against right-handers, while Sanchez has a career .700 OPS against right-handers. Neither of those guys should be the top option, even if the rest of the field is weak.

The one value these guys bring is defense. Sanchez had a down year last year, but has been good defensively in his career. Ishikawa has a career 13.3 UZR/150 in his career at first base, which beats the career 3.3 mark from Sanchez. But I don’t think this will off-set the negative value that their offense will bring against right-handers.

The one consolation here is that if Ishikawa hits to his career numbers, he will be the 2013 version of Garrett Jones, with much better defense. That’s an upgrade for the Pirates, although “Garrett Jones 2013″ shouldn’t be the bar that the Pirates set for first base. If the Pirates are going with Ishikawa and Sanchez, then Ishikawa should get all of the time against right-handers, since he has better defense and slightly better numbers against right-handers. That said, I think they should be exploring a trade, or bringing up Lambo once he starts hitting again in Triple-A.

Steamer: 0.9 WAR (Sanchez) / 0.0 WAR (Ishikawa)

Oliver: 0.6 WAR (Sanchez) / 0.2 WAR (Ishikawa)

ZiPS: 1.0 WAR (Sanchez) / -0.1 WAR (Ishikawa)

Can Neil Walker hit for power once again in 2014? (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Can Neil Walker hit for power once again in 2014? (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Second Base – Neil Walker

I’ve got mixed opinions on Neil Walker. There are some things to like about his game and where he is heading. At the same time, even thought he has over 2200 plate appearances in the majors, there are still question marks about his game. I wrote about Walker in detail back in January, and I’ll sum up some of the positives and the concerns here.

One positive is that his walk rate has been trending up each year in the majors. He went from a 7.2 BB% to 8.2%, 8.9%, and 9.1% respectively in his four years as a pro. That would have led to a higher on-base percentage in 2013, although a low .274 BABIP resulted in a .251 average, leading to his OBP being three points lower than the 2012 totals. I’d expect Walker’s average to bounce back this year, sitting in the .275-.280 range, which combined with the walks, would lead to a nice on-base percentage.

The power saw an increase last year, going from a .146 ISO to a .167 ISO. However, it’s hard to say whether this is legit for Walker. In 2010 and 2013 he had exactly a .167 ISO each season. In 2011 and 2012 he had a .134 and .146 ISO. You’ve got two seasons that say one thing, and two seasons that say another. It’s hard to determine which level of power is legit for Walker.

As I mentioned in the above article, if Walker’s power from last year is legit, and his average bounces back, he could put up Dustin Pedroia-level offensive numbers this year.

Defensively, Walker has shown improvements in his time with the Pirates. He had a -16.4 UZR/150 in his rookie year, which improved to a -4.4 in 2011. That improved to a -1.4 in 2012 and a -0.8 in 2013. If he can continue that upward trend, then that will be just another thing to give him value.

The last three years, Walker has been worth about 2.6-2.7 wins above replacement. That’s where two of the projections systems have him, although it’s possible he could exceed this if his average bounces back, power stays at the 2013 levels, and the defense and walks continue their upward trends. I’d expect the average to bounce back, and the defense and walks to at least stay at their 2013 levels. That just raises the question of where his power will end up.

Steamer: 2.4 WAR

Oliver: 3.1 WAR

ZiPS: 2.6 WAR

The Pirates will be giving Jordy Mercer a bigger role this year. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

The Pirates will be giving Jordy Mercer a bigger role this year. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Shortstop – Jordy Mercer

Jordy Mercer took over the primary shortstop duties from Clint Barmes last year, with Barmes still getting a decent amount of playing time. This year the Pirates brought Barmes back for their bench, but they’re set on giving Mercer a bigger role as the regular starter, rather than splitting time and just taking the majority share like last year.

Mercer isn’t as strong as Barmes defensively. He does bring more to the plate offensively. Last year he hit for a .285/.336/.435 line in 365 plate appearances, with eight home runs. That tied him with Stephen Drew for the eighth best offensive value in baseball among shortstops with 350+ plate appearances (29 shortstops total). Drew had almost 140 additional plate appearances over Mercer.

The offense is good, and as Mercer improves and gets used to the majors, he could jump up to be one of the better offensive shortstops in the league, falling in the next tier outside of the elite guys like Troy Tulowitzki and Hanley Ramirez. The defense needs to improve, so it doesn’t end up negating the offensive value. According to Travis Sawchik, Mercer is learning tips from Barmes on angles to help him improve defensively.

Shortstop is the most important defensive position in the infield, and the Pirates rely heavily on their infield defense with all of their shifts and ground ball heavy pitchers. Mercer getting defensive tips is a good thing, and if he can implement them, that will be great. His negative defensive value hurts the Pirates more than it would hurt other teams, since they see more ground balls than other teams, and more opportunities for Mercer.

Like with most young players, the projection systems probably don’t have enough to be accurate with Mercer. He put up a 1.4 WAR last year in half a season, and the projections have him at that level for 2014 in a full season. It’s possible that he could end up a three win player, which would make the Oliver projections below seem a little less crazy in comparison to the other two projections.

Steamer: 1.1 WAR

Oliver: 3.9 WAR

ZiPS: 1.5 WAR

Pedro Alvarez needs to continue improving his defense and walks, otherwise he's a one trick pony. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Pedro Alvarez needs to continue improving his defense and walks, otherwise he’s a one trick pony. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Third Base – Pedro Alvarez

Everyone loves the home run. Traditionally, a home run allows you to get a quick judgment on a player just by looking at that one stat. However, home runs don’t always mean that a player is a good hitter.

Last year, Pedro Alvarez led the National League with 36 home runs. That gives him 66 home runs in the last two seasons. So the power is definitely there, which is a good thing for a guy who is projected to bat in the middle of the order. The problem is that power is the only part of Alvarez’s game.

Alvarez saw his batting average drop from .244 in 2012 to .233 last year. He could be due for a bit of a bounce back, since his .276 BABIP was below his career line of .299. However, if you’re expecting him to hit .250 or better, you’re going to be disappointed. Alvarez has a 30% strikeout rate in almost 1850 plate appearances in the majors. Guys who strike out about once every three trips to the plate don’t usually hit for a high average.

There’s nothing wrong with a three true outcomes guy (home run, strikeout, walk), except that Alvarez isn’t that guy yet. His walk rate declined to a 7.8%, dropping from the 9.2-9.7% range the previous two years. The league average last year was 7.9%. Typically, “three true outcome” guys have a walk rate that is above average, thus justifying the strikeouts and the low average that comes with those strikeouts. Take Carlos Pena, as an example. He had a career .233 average, with a 26.9% strikeout rate. However, his career 13.9% walk rate gave him a career .348 OBP. Alvarez is closer to a .300 OBP.

Where Alvarez makes up for this is with his improving defense. He looked much improved on the field last year at third base, and the stats agreed. His -0.4 UZR/150 was the best of his career, and a big improvement over the -9.1 UZR/150 in 2012. That defense ranked 10th out of 20 qualified third basemen last year. If Alvarez continues these improvements, then it would help make up for the lack of hits and walks.

At the moment, Alvarez is an average defender at third base who has some of the best power in the league, and nothing else. Improving the defense would help add value to his game. Getting his walk rate up to the 2011-12 totals will also help his value. Alvarez is a one trick pony when it comes to his offense. Fortunately, that one trick does provide a lot of value. It just doesn’t provide as much value as you’d think, and if he doesn’t improve the defense or the walks this year, it’s possible he could have less value than Walker and Mercer.

Steamer: 2.5 WAR

Oliver: 3.3 WAR

ZiPS: 2.8 WAR

The Depth

I’ll cover a lot of the depth options when I talk about the bench tomorrow. In most cases, the Pirates will just move a bench player to the lineup, and promote a minor league player to the bench. There are also players who could fill in at depth options for multiple positions. So to keep this organized, I’ll break down the depth by position.

Catcher - Tony Sanchez will start the year as Russell Martin’s backup, and will return to Triple-A when Chris Stewart recovers from his injury. If Martin gets hurt, I’d expect Sanchez to take over the starting duties.

First Base - There are two spots here. The depth behind Gaby Sanchez requires someone who can crush left-handed pitching. Matt Hague has done a good job of that in his minor league career. The depth behind Travis Ishikawa is where you’ll find more options. Andrew Lambo is the top internal option, although the Pirates want him working on his hitting and getting back on track in the minors. I don’t know if I’m convinced they won’t make a trade or bring in outside help. It’s also possible that Lambo could come up sooner, rather than later. Behind Lambo is Chris McGuiness, who would have been my choice to open the season in Pittsburgh if the organization didn’t want to go with Lambo.

Second Base - Josh Harrison would be the top depth option here. Clint Barmes could also play the position. Either player could get time against left-handers, since Walker struggles in that regard. In the minors, the Pirates have Robert Andino, Michael Martinez, and Chase d’Arnaud as depth options for second base. The Pirates have also been getting Brent Morel time at second base in practice, and he could see game action there if the experiment goes well.

Shortstop - If Mercer goes down, Barmes would probably take over as the starting shortstop. Behind Barmes would be Andino and d’Arnaud in the minors, and maybe Josh Harrison in a pinch.

Third Base - The Pirates don’t have much depth here, which explains their addition of Brent Morel this Spring. He would be the top option to take over if Alvarez goes down. Josh Harrison is also a candidate, and would provide good defense, but a lack of offense. Either way, if Alvarez goes down, it would be a big blow to the team, since no one else can match his power.

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