The outfield ranks at the lower levels of the Pirates’ system are loaded with very toolsy players who have a ways to go in their development. In most cases, getting better control of the strike zone is the primary mission. The odds are that most of these players won’t develop, but if one or two do, they could have significant ceilings. Unless and until that happens, the Pirates will probably go through a sorting process in which the players who show the most progress get increasing playing time.
Parentheses indicate a reasonable chance that the player won’t open 2012 at the indicated level.
West Virginia (Low A)
Josh Bell, Wes Freeman, (Rodarrick Jones), (Taylor Lewis), (Willie Garcia), (Gregory Polanco), (Carlos Mesa)
The only two sure things here are Bell and Freeman. The former is the Pirates’ best power-hitting prospect by a huge margin and, despite not having played yet as a pro, is considered advanced enough that he’s a safe bet to open with the Power. Freeman struggled for over two years in an effort to put his considerable athletic gifts to use, then suddenly started figuring things out mid-way through the State College season in 2011. He still has significant strike zone issues, but at least he’s gotten untracked.
Jones, Lewis, Garcia and Polanco are all toolsy players who’ll probably have to compete for the third outfield spot, as well as DH time. Jones and Lewis were 2011 college draftees, but Jones never played much in college due to academic issues and Lewis played at a northern school where he probably didn’t see top competition. Jones did well in a brief debut after signing and appears to have some power. Lewis is more of a prototype centerfielder, but he struggled as the Spikes’ regular at that position, apart from showing a willingness to take walks. Garcia and Polanco both made good progress in the GCL and could earn promotions to full season ball. Garcia started hitting for power, while Polanco has excellent speed and good defensive potential. Mesa is a Cuban defector who hit well at State College in 2011, but who is a little old for the low minors and may profile more as an organizational player.
Of all of the possibilities, Lewis is the one who projects the best in center. Freeman, Polanco and Garcia have all played there, though, and will likely do so some of the time in 2012. If Lewis is not a starter for the Power, Freeman will probably be the regular in center.
State College (Short-Season)
(Rodarrick Jones), (Taylor Lewis), (Willie Garcia), (Gregory Polanco), (Carlos Mesa), Candon Myles, Junior Sosa, Gavi Nivar, Alex Fuselier, Exicardo Cayonez, (Luis Urena)
The State College outfield in 2012 will depend heavily on which players make the West Virginia roster. Garcia and Polanco are still young and would get plenty of playing time if they’re with the Spikes. Jones and Lewis, being older, are probably more likely to get pushed to low A. Myles is a very speedy, 2011 high school draftee, and is probably the best bet to be the Spikes’ regular centerfielder. Cayonez received one of the highest bonuses the Pirates have paid to a Latin American amateur, but he was overwhelmed at State College in 2011 before recovering back in the GCL after a demotion. He’ll probably return to the Spikes and try it again in 2012.
The crowded outfield situation may not leave a lot of playing time for organizational and long-shot type players, especially considering that the Pirates will almost certainly draft one or two college outfielders. Fuselier is a centerfielder drafted out of college who figures to be an organizational player. Sosa and Nivar also have the ability to play center and Sosa has been a prolific base stealer, but neither has shown a good ceiling with the bat. They could be candidates to be released. Urena is an athletic player with power potential, but he’s extremely raw. He made solid progress in the GCL in 2011, but the Pirates are being very cautious with him and he’s more likely to return there than to move up.
Gulf Coast League Pirates (Rookie)
Raul Fortunato, Jesus Vasquez, (Luis Urena)
The GCL outfield will be made up of 2012 draftees, players promoted from the Latin American summer leagues, and probably Urena. Fortunato and Vasquez will almost certainly move up from the Dominican Summer League, where they both enjoyed big seasons in 2011. Both were in their third year in the DSL and so will be a little old for the GCL. The Pirates often will move an older player—we’re talking 20 or so here—straight to State College, skipping the GCL, but with so many outfielders available, it’s hard to see how there will be room for them at State College. Fortunato was the regular centerfielder in the DSL and also stole 34 bases, so he figures to play there in 2012. Urena and Vasquez, though, both have the athleticism to play there some as well, and both offer power potential.