A month into the minor league season, things are starting to take shape with the Pirates’ full-season affiliates. With a deep roster and very talented pitching staff, Indianapolis is dominating the International League with a 20-7 record. By contrast, Altoona is increasingly struggling despite a good rotation led by Jameson Taillon, Casey Sadler and a red-hot Stolmy Pimentel. The Curve is being undone by an extremely weak lineup. Bradenton and West Virginia have had a lot of up-and-down performances. This shouldn’t be surprising. The Pirates are young throughout the minors. Except for the Indianapolis hitters, the hitters and pitchers on every one of the four full-season affiliates are younger than their leagues’ weighted average ages. In the case of the Bradenton hitters and all the West Virginia players, they’re the youngest or close to the youngest. It’s going to take time for their performances to even out.
Jordy Mercer, SS (AAA): Mercer is now hitting 330/398/440. He’s controlling the strike zone well, with 11 walks and 17 Ks in 91 ABs. He has only two errors in 23 games at short. But, hey, he’s nowhere near as old as John McDonald, so he just needs to bide his time for another decade or so.
Andy Oliver, LHP (AAA): Oliver was coming off some severe struggles during his last couple years with the Tigers. He had ERAs of 4.71 and 4.88 in AAA in 2011 and 2012. In 2012 he walked 88 in 118 innings. With Indianapolis, Oliver hasn’t been an unequivocal success — he’s walked 19 in 32.1 IP, which is still too many — but he’s taken significant steps toward getting back on the prospect map. Opponents are hitting only .202 against him and he’s fanned well over a batter an inning, with 39. His control issues still make him a risk to call up, but he could merit time in the majors at some point this year.
Vic Black, RHP (AAA): Like Oliver, Black still has control issues. He’s walked a bit too many this year: seven in 15.1 IP (but only two in his last nine). Opponents, though, are hitting only .170 against him and he’s fanned 14.1 batters per nine innings after fanning 12.8 last year in AA. He’s especially tough in short stretches; of the five runs he’s allowed, four came in the second inning of outings. He probably won’t be a good candidate for multiple-inning relief outings, but he could turn into a late-inning reliever at the major league level soon.
Jose Osuna, 1B (High A): Osuna got off to a bad start, but he’s quickly turned it around. After the first couple weeks, he was sporting an OPS of .465, with no walks and eleven strikeouts. Since then, he has five walks and four whiffs. In his last nine games, he’s hitting .344. The power isn’t there yet, but hopefully will pick up soon.
Alen Hanson, SS (High A): Hanson also got off to a very bad start, earning a lot of negative attention, in particular, for serious error problems. After he committed ten in his first ten games, the team gave him a few days off. Since then, he’s had three errors in a dozen games. That’s hardly outstanding, but he seems to have gotten much better focused. He’s also turned things around at the plate, batting .325 in his last ten games. He’s also cut his strikeout rate from more than one every four at-bats to one every eight.
Nick Kingham, RHP (High A): Some prospect mavens, including Keith Law, picked Kingham as a candidate to break out in 2013. It may be happening. In his last three starts, Kingham has fanned 26 while walking just one in 17 innings. That includes a six-inning, 13-K performance his last time out. On the season, he’s fanned 33 and walked four in 26.2 IP. Coming into the season, the biggest question about Kingham was whether he could miss enough bats. So far, he’s providing dramatic evidence that he can.
Alex Dickerson, 1B (AA): As a first base prospect and a draftee from a major college program, Dickerson needs to hit a lot and hit quickly to qualify as a real prospect. Right now, it’s not happening. He’s showing a little power, but hitting only 200/253/365. He’s also not controlling the strike zone, with six walks and 20 strikeouts.
Carlos Paulino, C (AA): Paulino is an impressive defensive catcher who got a lot of action in major league spring training, but he has to hit something to have a chance of reaching the majors. So far, though, he’s hitting only 186/294/237. At least his walk and strikeout numbers (seven of each) are good, so he’s not completely overmatched.
Gift Ngoepe, SS (AA): Unfortunately, Ngoepe is overmatched. He’s batting 139/229/222 and has struck out in 43% of his at-bats. He didn’t really appear ready for AA after mostly struggling at the plate at Bradenton last year, and it’s turning out that he’s not. Ngoepe would be one of everybody’s favorite baseball stories if he reached the majors, but he’s going to have to turn things around dramatically for that to happen. He’s still only 23, so it could certainly happen.
Willy Garcia, OF (High A): Promoting Garcia to high A was an aggressive move for the Pirates, as his plate discipline had significant problems. Those problems are proving too much for him to overcome. So far, he’s walked just twice while striking out 30 times, just under once every three at-bats. He’s batting only 211/227/295, and is hitting only .125 in his last eight games.