Prospect Trends: Some Turnarounds and Some Struggling Altoona Hitters

Nick Kingham fanned 26 in his last 17 innings.
Nick Kingham fanned 26 in his last 17 innings.

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.

The Good

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.

The Bad

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.

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I wonder if Mercer has matured enough that the Pirates would bring him up to start every day and make a trade for one of their defensive SS or cut one loose? I just have not heard any reports on any current Mercer weaknesses. We know he does not have the same range as Barmes or McDonald, but you would think that they don’t need both of the exact same player, it would seem that a mix of Mercer and one of them would be a better recipe. Huntington was asked about Mercer, but he just danced around the question.

Stephen Brooks

It only makes sense to bring Mercer up if you’re going to commit to playing him every day (which I would). I would give Barmes the rest of May for the bat to come around, and if it doesn’t, call up Mercer to be the full-time SS and relegate Barmes as a defensive replacement and once-a-week starter at SS/2B. McDonald is completely superfluous, especially with Inge playing a capable 2B – AND hitting. The Pirates have to be thinking of 2014 and beyond, and keeping Mercer at Indy for a full year behind two goats who won’t be around for the next Pirate playoff team is pointless, especially when they’re delivering replacement-level or below performance anyway.


I like Hurdle, but he likes veterans over rookies. Problem is, how can you ever see if a young kid has what it takes, if you don’t give him a chance?

Lee Young

Even if Gift stays overmatched, I’d still like to see him as a Sept callup this year or next and let him play a coupla innings in a blowout.

It’d just be a nice touch.

FWIW department:
As for Dickerson, I have not been high on him at all. I suspect Allie, if he keeps this up, will blow right by him and possibly Curry, who I also am not high on. Osuna gives us hope, but not much more.
Not high on Garcia either.



Lee,in my own humble opinion,Ngoepe is one of several Curve players who have very little chance of ever hitting MLB pitching.I have been watching AA ball here for a long time,and this is one of the weakest hitting teams I can remember. Another steller example today : 18 strikeouts ! Santos had two of the three hits by the way.

David Lewis

If Gift flames out and it becomes apparent he’ll never make the majors, a September cup of coffee would be a nice touch – but the problem is that you’ve got to take someone off the 40-man to do so, and (good problem) there’s enough depth in the organization that the Pirates don’t really have room to go handing out 40-man slots.

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