For the second year in a row, Indianapolis was dominant in the International League, making the post-season with ease. However, the Pirates were competitive for the second year in a row, and as a result the top performers in Indianapolis were all playing for Pittsburgh by the end of the season. The Pirates probably wouldn’t have been as competitive if it wasn’t for the depth from Triple-A throughout the year. Here are the results from the individual players, as well as the top ten prospects at the level this year.
Last year the Pirates had Starling Marte as the top hitting prospect in Indianapolis. They didn’t have a hitting prospect of the same caliber heading into the 2013 season, although a few exciting prospects emerged throughout the season. The first was Tony Sanchez, who finally saw some production with the bat this season. Sanchez had been struggling at the plate in previous years, with a lack of power that could have been chalked up to multiple jaw injuries. This year he saw that power return, hitting for a .288/.368/.504 line, with a .216 ISO. That was fueled by a new approach of going opposite field. That same approach could be effective in Pittsburgh, with the Clemente wall serving as a target. Sanchez already had the defense to be a major league catcher. If this offense holds up, he would have what it takes to be a starting catcher. He should get a shot at the backup catcher job next year, and spending a year in the same clubhouse as Russell Martin would definitely help his future in the majors.
The other breakout prospect was Andrew Lambo. The outfielder had struggled in Double-A the past few seasons, but finally saw a breakout this season. He was moved up to Triple-A to see if the breakout was legit, and he ended up doing better at the higher level. Lambo hit for a .272/.344/.589 line with 18 homers in 224 at-bats with Indianapolis. His .317 ISO led the team. He eventually moved up to the majors where he wasn’t as effective, but still managed a .703 OPS in 30 at-bats. Lambo’s power was real, although he might not be a 30 home run guy in the majors. He still could be a 20 homer per year guy, and profiles more as a three true outcomes player. He’d be a good option in right field next year in a platoon situation if the Pirates can’t find a free agent for the position.
The offense did contribute a few key players to the Pirates this year. Jordy Mercer only played 26 games with Indianapolis before moving up to Pittsburgh. By the middle of the season he was the new starting shortstop. Josh Harrison also went back and forth between the majors and Triple-A, but eventually settled in the majors in the second half as a bench bat, and got an increased role at the end of the season as a platoon partner with Neil Walker at second base.
Jerry Sands was one of the bigger names acquired in last off-season’s Joel Hanrahan trade. The Pirates saw some struggles in right field this year, leading to an eventual trade for Marlon Byrd. Meanwhile, Sands was struggling with Indianapolis, missing a prime opportunity to make an impact in the majors. It would be hard to see him bouncing back after this, although he is still somewhat young, and could be a surprise contributor in future years. He might be a risk to be non-tendered this off-season, so any future breakout could happen with another team if it does happen.
One player who didn’t get a shot this year was Ivan De Jesus. He didn’t get much playing time in the first half, then started getting an increase in playing time after Jordy Mercer was promoted. De Jesus hit very well with Indianapolis, but there wasn’t a spot for him in the majors. He was out-hit by Harrison in Triple-A, which made Harrison more deserving of the promotion mid-season. He wouldn’t have gotten much playing time in the majors at the end of the year with Mercer, Harrison, Neil Walker, and Clint Barmes ahead of him. De Jesus is also more of a second base prospect at this point, and no longer an option at shortstop. His upside is a bench player. He might return next year, although he’s eligible for minor league free agency, and could sign with another team.
By the end of the season the Pirates promoted Gregory Polanco to the level. He should start the 2014 season with the Indians, and will be next year’s version of 2012 Starling Marte, with people waiting to see when he arrives in the majors.
Most of the Major League depth came from the Indianapolis pitching staff. The Pirates struggled with injuries this year, but stayed afloat due to all of the quality arms that came from Triple-A. Top prospect Gerrit Cole got off to a rough start with the Indians in his first month and a half, but quickly turned things around. At the start of the season he was struggling with his command, and failing to dominate opposing hitters. He picked up the pace in mid-May, and by the middle of June he was ready for the majors. By the end of the season, Cole was looking like a future ace.
The Pirates also got rotation help from Brandon Cumpton, Phil Irwin, and Kris Johnson. Cumpton and Irwin are both legit prospects, with both capable of being back of the rotation starters in the majors. Kyle McPherson could join that group, although he was injured all season, and will miss the first half of the 2014 season after an injury. Casey Sadler made it up to Indianapolis at the end of the season, and is a sleeper prospect for the back of the major league rotation.
The Indianapolis pitching staff also produced some relief pitchers. Stolmy Pimentel and Ryan Reid helped throughout the year. Of the two, Pimentel looks to be the best bet to play a role with the 2014 Pirates, as he’s out of options and projects to be part of the pitching staff in some way. Jared Hughes and Bryan Morris spent some time with Triple-A, but most of their time this year was in the majors. There were also the projects who got a look in the majors, such as Mike Zagurski, Jose Contreras, and Kyle Farnsworth. The only successful player from that group was Farnsworth.
One of the biggest disappointments this year was Andy Oliver, who saw some major control issues to the tune of an 8.1 BB/9 ratio. Oliver was eventually moved to the bullpen, but the control problems didn’t go away. He’s out of options next season, and will most likely be non-tendered due to the lack of control. I still like the arm, since his velocity and ability to generate strikeouts as a lefty is rare. But unless he fixes his control issues, he’s not going to make it past being a “4-A” player.
Perhaps the biggest impact from the relief pitchers came from Vic Black and Duke Welker. Both players made it to the majors with the Pirates for a brief period, but their bigger impact came via trades. Back in May it was reported that scouts were watching Black and Welker. The Pirates traded Black, along with Dilson Herrera, in exchange for Marlon Byrd. They traded Welker, along with Alex Presley, for Justin Morneau. Byrd had the bigger impact on the team, although it’s hard to forget Morneau’s late inning defense in the game where the Pirates clinched the playoffs.
Top 10 Prospects
The cutoff for eligibility on this list was 140 at-bats, 40 innings pitched, or 20 relief appearances. The cutoff prevented a lot of guys at the level from making the list. Jordy Mercer, Casey Sadler, Jameson Taillon, Kyle McPherson, and Phil Irwin were all excluded due to their lack of playing time at the level. Guys who are no longer in the organization, like Vic Black and Duke Welker, were also excluded. Because of these exclusions, the list was very weak after number five. Some of the players on this list no longer have prospect eligibility (Gerrit Cole). Those players are included because they had prospect eligibility coming into the year.
1. Gerrit Cole
2. Tony Sanchez
3. Andrew Lambo
4. Stolmy Pimentel
5. Brandon Cumpton
6. Ivan De Jesus
7. Kris Johnson
8. Andy Oliver
9. Matt Hague
10. Erik Cordier
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.