Prospect Notebook: Battles in the Top 20 Prospect Rankings

On Friday we released the 2012 Mid-Season Top 20 Prospects list. The list not only looked at the placements of the new draft picks, but also looked at the updated rankings after the first half of the minor league season.

The rankings are gathered by taking the average of five different top 20 lists. The two outliers are removed, and the remaining three rankings are averaged out. From there, I make the final adjustments to the list. I don’t adjust every player. If I did, I would be better off just releasing my own rankings and leaving everyone else out of it.¬†Most of the situations I adjust are situations where I’m splitting hairs between two prospects who are rated close together, or deciding if a certain player should make the end of the list.

Here are three of the biggest decisions that were made for the top 20 list, and what went in to those decisions and the ultimate rankings that you see.



The Pirates have two potential number one starters in Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon. They also have a potential number one in Mark Appel. Appel is widely rated below the other two, but there has been some debate on who is better — Cole or Taillon.

Throughout the year I’ve been debating this issue. Both pitchers have the same upside, although it’s easy to look at Taillon — now two years removed from high school — and imagine an extra gear that would allow him to top Cole one day. And it’s easy to just call Cole and potential number one starter without much thought to how good he actually is. But when you think about it, there’s no way he’s not the number one prospect in the system.

Cole throws in the upper 90s, touching triple digits. He throws a sharp slider that can touch 91 MPH, which is the speed of a lot of major league fastballs. He throws a changeup that also works in the upper 80s, with a ton of movement. He has another fastball — a two-seamer — which sits in the low 90s. And he tops it off with a slurvey curveball in the mid-80s. All of his pitches have a ton of movement, to the point where teammates who were charting him in Spring Training had to ask him at the end of the inning what pitch he threw to strike out the final batter of the inning.

Taillon is an amazing pitching prospect. He’s got a plus fastball, a plus curveball, and an improving changeup. But Cole is also an amazing pitching prospect with an unbelievable arsenal. He’s got three plus pitches and two more pitches that can be above-average. Most pitchers would settle for one of each, and a third pitch that is average at best. The fact that Cole has that arsenal, and can throw them all for strikes, gives him the edge over everyone else in the system, including the other potential number one starters the Pirates have.



Josh Bell came in to the year with a ton of hype. He received a $5 M signing bonus in the second round, which was a key factor in changing the draft spending rules. He’s a switch hitting outfielder who profiles to eventually have plus hitting and plus power from each side of the plate.

Alen Hanson came in to the year with minimal hype. Hardcore prospect evaluators, and people who had the chance to see him in the Gulf Coast League liked the athleticism and the tools. But Hanson was nowhere near Bell’s level.

Hanson has had a huge year this year, which propelled him in to the top five in our rankings. That was one spot ahead of Bell, and that order was a last minute change. The change came about after I considered several factors.

1. Both players are 19 years old. Actually, Hanson is two months younger than Bell.

2. In his debut in the SAL, Bell has struggled at the plate, mostly against a heavy diet of changeups. Meanwhile, Hanson is destroying the ball.

3. Hanson has hit for a .325/.382/.572 line this year in 243 at-bats. Bell had a .274/.288/.403 line in 62 at-bats before going down with an injury.

4. Bell struck out 33.9% of the time and walked 3% of the time. Hanson has struck out 23.5% of the time and has walked 8.5% of the time.

5. The big knock against Hanson is that he might not stick at short, and might not provide defensive value. Bell also isn’t projected to provide defensive value, with his value coming from the bat.

With all of that considered, you’ve got two players who are the same age, who both will provide most of their value from their bats. Hanson is putting up better numbers than Bell. He’s putting up better plate patience numbers. And it’s not like Hanson doesn’t have the tools to back up this performance. Bell’s power might give him the potential for more offense in the future than Hanson, but if you consider their offense relative to their positions, their values are about the same. Considering Hanson is playing significantly better right now, that earned him the higher ranking over Bell.



There were some questions about having a relief pitcher ranked in the top 20. If you consider the overall value that relief pitchers provide, then it wouldn’t make sense to rank a guy, whose upside is a relief pitcher, in the top 20. But I think you also need to consider how likely it is that the pitcher reaches his potential.

Morris has been dominating this year. He’s got a 2.65 ERA in 37.1 innings, with a 37:8 K/BB ratio. He throws a mid-90s fastball and a sharp cutter that he’s using as a strikeout pitch. Not only is he getting those strikeouts, but he’s also holding opponents to a .214 BAA, and getting a very impressive 2.65 GO/AO ratio.

Morris isn’t just a guy with the upside of a major league relief pitcher. He’s a major league ready reliever who has late inning stuff, and could be a closer candidate. If the Pirates didn’t have such a strong bullpen this year, he’d be in the majors right now. There are guys who I feel have the same upside. Duke Welker and Victor Black are two names in the upper levels who have that late inning/closer potential. But the difference between them and Morris is that Morris could be called up today, and is ready to have success upon his call up.

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Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.

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James Vargo

Hamate injuries and lack of power production are fact, not fiction….sheesh.


The problem this year is similar to last year’s problem. The Pirates appear to be a contender for the Division title. That’s a problem because 1) why care about that?, 2) the team won’t challenge for a World Series title (they’re 5 games over .500 but their BP 3rd Order Adjusted Win Percentage has them next to last in the Division), 3) the ML team has many needs it must satisfy before it becomes a true contender and 4) it’s a sellers market. These points suggest that the Pirates will eventually collapse, as they did last year, but could make a number of trades that might help the organization for many years.To that end, the Pirates bullpen ought to be treated as a trade resource. Morris, Moskos, Welker, Black, Wilson, etc. — these pitchers could soon become quality ML relievers. This fact makes the current ML bullpen expendable.

For instance: McDonald and any reliever excepting Hanrahan for Cole Hamels and Domonic Brown. The meat of the trade is McDonald for Brown. But that would be an overpayment for Brown and would annoy the yinzers. Adding the soon to be departing Hamels to the trade would give Philadelphia salary relief. Adding a relief pitcher would give them bullpen relief. The Pirates could move Brown to firstbase, thus limiting his opportunities to run into outfield walls. The Phillies might not want to include Hamels because they belief they could use him to better themselves by trading him for position players. But, for them, my proposed trade would replace Hamel’s production with McDonald’s while providing them with a player under team control for a few years. The Pirates, on the other hand, would lose a valuable pitcher in McDonald and, possibly, Hughes or Watson or Grilli or Cruz. Plus Brown would need to produce as soon as next year for this trade to be a winner. Brown, of course, began to flounder after he made it to the Majors.

This trade would not happen if the Pirates are looking to contend for the Division title this year. Hamels for McDonald is a wash or a plus for the Pirates. But this trade would upset the bullpen, which has been an asset to far. But it’s a worthy trade to make for a team looking to contend for more than a division title a few years down the road.

Lee Young

No way the Bucs trade JMac……….no way. And D Brown ain’t a slam dunk either. You do know that he is hitting all of .269 with only 4 HRs. How is that gonna help us?


It wont help us this year. I did not claim it would help this year.

Steve Dimmick

you are aware that Hamels is a FA after this year and the Pirates will not even consider signing him? Why give up McDonald w/ years of control for Hamels, makes no sense at all.


I was aware that Hamels will soon be a FA and the Pirates will not consider signing him to a long-term contract. I was aware of those facts when I wrote my post. The point of the trade for the Pirate was to acquire Brown, not Hamels. Acquiring Hamels just replaces McDonald’s production for the current year. Of course, the Pirates could also trade Hamels if the Pirates-Phillies trade occurs before the trade deadline.

Lee Young

Why do we want Brown? Sure, he has potential but not if it means giving up JMac. I live near Philly and for all the injuries they’ve had, they haven’t felt compelled to bring up D Brown.


We want Brown because he can/could hit, can be moved to firstbase, do not have anyone like him in the high minor leagues, etc.

It has been reported that the Phillies haven’t given up on Brown. They want him to work on his game in AAA.

Lee Young

i guess there’s no point arguing this. While I wouldn’t mind if D Brown was in our org, we ain’t gonna trade DMac to get him.


Unless Huntington makes it plainly clear that the Pirates won’t trade McDonald, one has to wonder who the Pirates would want and could expect to get for McDonald. Brown? Profar? Who?

Lee Young

Personally, if Hanson ends up as a 2ndbaseman, it doesn’t diminish his ‘prospectness’ in my eyes. To have his pop at 2b (which is what I thought we’d get from Walker) is pretty darn good imho.

Real hard to judge Bell at this point….that knee injury set him back a year. He is extremely raw since he only played about a month. I’d put Hanson ahead of him.

However, I STILL wanna see what happens to Hanson at AA before I get all ‘slobberknockey’ over him. Just look at Grossman….



Grossman has a hand injury.

Lee Young

sooooo……….is that the reason for his poor season so far? I’ve read about it being speculated that is the reason, but nothing concrete. Do you have some insider info?



Well, hitters do use their hands to hit. Hamate injuries do undermine a hitter’s ability to drive the ball. So……

Lee Young

sooooooooooo……..again, I know what a hamate can do to a hitter, but is that the REAL reason for Grossman’s bad year so far? Or is all this just speculation on your part?


Every explanation is speculative in nature. This does not apply to God, however. God truly sees what is; humans speculate about what is.

Grossman’s hamate injury generates explanatory force with respect to his hitting problems this season. That’s my claim.

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