We usually release our mid-season prospect rankings right after the MLB draft. This not only shows the updated rankings with half of the minor league season in the books, but it also shows where the new draft picks fit in. For the second year in a row, the Pittsburgh Pirates have graduated their top prospect the week following the draft. This adds the ability to see what the system looks like with a new top prospect. Before we begin with the new top 20, here are some notes.
**I prefer tiered rankings to a top 20. We included the top 20 below, but the feature here is the tiered rankings, since it shows the groups of talent levels.
**The rankings are made up of the average of the top 50 prospects from myself, John Dreker, and Wilbur Miller. We average our lists together, come up with a master list, then debate players up or down.
**Players who exhausted prospect eligibility this year, and who weren’t included: Tony Sanchez. We also didn’t include Stolmy Pimentel in the rankings, since he will return to the majors when healthy, and is projected to lose eligibility. We did include Casey Sadler, since I think he’ll go back down when Pimentel returns. Don’t ask me where the missing guys would rank, since I have no clue. I didn’t get the rankings on these guys from anyone else, so I have no idea where they’d end up on the master list.
**Tier 5 include guys beyond the top 20 who were in the same talent group as guys in the top 20. If anyone drops off the top 20 list, these guys will move up as replacements.
**To learn about players beyond the top 20, buy the 2014 Prospect Guide, which is on sale for 24% off with the code “2014DRAFT”.
Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows, Jameson Taillon
There was a consensus on the top three prospects. All three rankings had Jameson Taillon first, despite the Tommy John surgery. The reason for this is that Taillon’s upside doesn’t change due to the surgery. He just gets delayed an extra year. The recovery time for Tommy John is usually one year, which means Taillon could be pitching in the majors by this time next year.
Tyler Glasnow finished second in all of the rankings. He’s not dominating this year in the way he did last year. However, he’s working almost exclusively off his fastball, mixing in about 10-12 changeups per start. The result is that he’s not using his curveball as often, which makes his success lately even more impressive.
Austin Meadows hasn’t played yet due to a hamstring injury. He’ll be returning in a few weeks to rehab in the GCL, before spending the final two months in West Virginia. This is another case where the injury didn’t change his upside. There’s also not really a big need to rush Meadows, as the current outfield of Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco gives him plenty of time to develop.
All three prospects in the top tier are great prospects, likely ending up in a lot of overall top 50 rankings at the end of the season. That said, none of them have really stepped up to put a strong claim on the top spot. While we had Taillon as the consensus top guy, it’s not that big of a gap between him and Meadows. If Glasnow continues to show he can dominate pitching off the fastball, or Meadows shows he can hit well in low-A, then there might be someone challenging Taillon for the top spot going into next year.
Josh Bell, Alen Hanson, Nick Kingham, Reese McGuire
This group was about as close together as you could get a group. When we did the numerical rankings, everyone had a different choice at number four. Reese McGuire got an edge in our rankings, but this is so close that you could re-arrange the order in any way, and you wouldn’t be wrong.
McGuire hasn’t shown much power this year, including during his 19-game hitting streak. He got a jump because of some of the things that don’t show up in the stat line, and because some of the things that show up beyond his basic stats. He’s got outstanding plate patience, showing a mature approach at the plate. While he’s not hitting for power, he has always made solid contact when I’ve seen him, driving the ball to the middle of the field. That’s an approach that will lead to power down the line. Scouts I’ve talked to love him, both offensively and defensively. There’s a lot to love on the defensive side, and he could end up ranking the best defensive catcher in the minors by the end of the season. The questions he comes with are on the offensive side, and from what I’ve seen, he’s got the skills to put up numbers in the future.
Nick Kingham has struggled at times with his control this year, which isn’t normal for him. He’s done a better job lately of limiting the walks, and is starting to get back to posting top numbers at the Double-A level. His upside hasn’t changed with the slow start. He still profiles as a middle of the rotation guy who can eat 200 innings per year. He could possibly be a number two starter, especially if he keeps showing the stuff he had in his last start.
Nothing has really changed with our evaluation of Alen Hanson. He started slow this year, struggling the first two weeks of the season. Since then, he’s been hovering around an .800 OPS offensively. The issue with him has been defense, and it’s not a question of tools or abilities. He’s got the skills to stick at shortstop, but makes a lot of errors on routine plays. This can be chalked up to being young, and making some mental mistakes on the field. However, the closer he gets to the majors, the less acceptable this will be. Hanson profiles as an offense-first shortstop, and has the defense to stick at the position and not be a liability. He just needs to improve his consistency at the position.
Josh Bell has been a fantastic hitter in Bradenton this year. He doesn’t show a lot of home run power right now, but makes hard contact, and drives the ball to the gaps, using the opposite field from the left side. A big issue with him is that he has struggled against left-handers, batting from the right side. His swing from the right side looks awkward at times, looking off-balanced and almost like he’s learning how to swing from that side of the plate. He does show some positive signs, but is very inconsistent from the right side of the plate.
Luis Heredia, Harold Ramirez, Cole Tucker
This group is another one that was very close together. It’s another case where you could put them in any order, and you’d be right. However, there was a clear gap between this group and the previous group.
Harold Ramirez isn’t your typical outfielder. He doesn’t project to hit for a ton of power, doesn’t have elite defense in center field, and while he has some speed, it isn’t enough to be a game changer. While he doesn’t do any one thing to an exceptional level, he does a little of everything, making him a solid all-around player. His combination of hitting for average, good plate patience, speed, and the ability to play center makes him a well rounded prospect who could have a future in the majors as a starter.
Cole Tucker saw a surge in his value as the draft got closer, due to improvements in his offense, and a strong performance in a major tournament. Peter Gammons says that Tucker would have gone to Oakland next if the Pirates didn’t take him at 24. He’s got a good arm and hands, and has a good chance of staying at shortstop. He doesn’t have much power, but has a lot of speed and hits well from the left side. The Pirates were higher on his offense than most teams, and if he proves them right, he could move up this list in a hurry.
Luis Heredia dropped a bit in our rankings, in part due to his injury that prevented him from pitching for two months. It’s not that Heredia’s upside changed. However, he has dealt with some bad control problems, and until those are fixed, he’s going to continue seeing people passing him. He probably wouldn’t drop lower than 11th anytime soon.
Clay Holmes, JaCoby Jones, Mitch Keller, Andrew Lambo, Joely Rodriguez, Casey Sadler, Adrian Sampson, Blake Taylor
Mitch Keller was close to the top draft pick from the 2014 draft, and he just missed the previous tier. Keller has a lot of upside as a starter, with the ability to hit 95 with good movement out of high school, along with the potential for some good secondary stuff. He has the potential for an above-average curve, and while he doesn’t have much of a changeup yet, that’s a pitch that the Pirates have had success teaching in the lower levels. He’s a nice project, and has a lot of upside, possibly the most of the Pirates’ 2014 draft class.
Clay Holmes is in the same situation as Jameson Taillon. He had Tommy John surgery, which will delay him a year, but won’t change his upside. He’s young enough that the missed year also won’t hurt him. Holmes has a big frame and the upside to possibly be a middle of the rotation innings eater. A more conservative approach has him as a strong number four starter. That will all be determined by the improvements he shows with his control going forward.
Adrian Sampson has made big strides in Altoona this year, putting up fantastic numbers at the age of 22. A big reason for his improvements has been is changeup. He spent most of the 2013 season in Bradenton working on the pitch. That led to poor results in Bradenton, but also led to him getting more comfortable with the offering. Now that he has that to pair with his 91-94 MPH fastball and solid curveball, he has the three pitch mix you’d want from a starter. His upside is a solid number four starter, with a chance to jump higher than that with further improvements.
JaCoby Jones is getting attention for a nice year in West Virginia, although he’s probably getting more than he deserves. Right now he has a few big things going for him, mainly that he’s playing shortstop and hitting for power. Despite these two things, his defense at shortstop is largely unproven, and the results so far have been mixed. The power is great, but it comes with a lower average and a high strikeout rate, which isn’t a good combo for a college player in low-A. If he didn’t have these question marks, he’d be one of the top prospects in the system. For now, he’s showing some positive signs, but still has a lot to work on.
Blake Taylor hasn’t played yet this year, so the reports are similar to where he was at prior to the season. He throws 89-92 MPH from the left side, with good movement. He’s touched mid-90s before, although he lacks command of the fastball and has some control problems. He lacks a changeup, and his curve is developing, but has the chance to be a plus offering. Taylor is a high upside project. He didn’t really move up or down on this list, staying around the same place he was during the pre-season. He could move up with a strong performance this year.
Casey Sadler is currently in the majors, but doesn’t project to stay there long enough to lose prospect eligibility. He ranks at the top due to his high floor, and the ability to be a back of the rotation starter in the majors. The early results haven’t been good, although Sadler has been on a strange schedule, working out of the bullpen as an emergency guy, with a lot of time between appearances.
Andrew Lambo is currently on the DL after having thumb surgery. He didn’t win the first base job out of Spring Training, and the Pirates went another direction for the long-term with Ike Davis. He’s done nothing to show that his 2013 offensive numbers were a fluke, putting up strong results with Indianapolis. His value is more of a trade chip, since the Pirates have no need for him at first base or in the outfield. Unfortunately, he doesn’t project to be back until right before the trade deadline, which might not provide enough time to re-establish value after the injury.
Joely Rodriguez dropped a bit in our list, mostly due to the lack of strikeouts at the Double-A level. At his best, he sits 91-94 MPH, touching 96, and has an average or better slider and changeup. Without the strikeouts, he profiles as a back of the rotation starter. There’s a chance he could go the Justin Wilson route and be a dominant lefty out of the bullpen. It’s also early for Rodriguez in Double-A, and there’s a chance the strikeouts could come with more playing time.
Stetson Allie, Barrett Barnes, Buddy Borden, Michael De La Cruz, Elias Diaz, Cody Dickson, Gage Hinsz, Jin-De Jhang, Connor Joe, Wyatt Mathisen, Mel Rojas, Billy Roth, Trey Supak, Erich Weiss
Michael De La Cruz and Trey Supak round out the top 20. De La Cruz looks like he could be the next big thing coming out of Latin America. He has a similar profile to Harold Ramirez, doing a lot of things well, without doing one thing great. He’s also very young, turning 18 in July. He should go to the GCL this year, and has a chance to follow up on the .292/.436/.367 line he put up in the DSL last year. When he matures and adds some muscle to his athletic frame, he could also add some power, and soar up this prospect list in the process.
Supak has a big upside, sitting in the low 90s, and touching 94 with his fastball. He doesn’t hold that velocity deep into games at this point, although that could change as he adds strength to his 6′ 5″ frame, and gets used to throwing every day. He projects to have an average curve and an average changeup, with the chance to be a solid starter in the majors one day.
We feature the top 20 prospects in our nightly Prospect Watch, although we remove guys who are out for the season, or currently in the majors. That would remove Taillon, Holmes, and Sadler from this list for the moment, and would bump up Buddy Borden, Stetson Allie, and Gage Hinsz, in that order.
Borden has put up some great numbers with West Virginia, with a 3.36 ERA in 56.1 innings, along with a 46:25 K/BB ratio. His control is a problem at times, and he has the occasional disaster start. The arm is what gets him here, with a fastball that can reach 96.
Allie has shown a ton of power, and has the most raw power of any prospect in the system. The problem is that he has a low average and a poor strikeout rate in Altoona, hitting for a .224/.339/.444 line with a 27.9% strikeout rate. He profiles as being a poor-man’s Pedro Alvarez at first base, although Alvarez could hit for average and limited the strikeouts somewhat when he was in the minors. Allie will have to do the same to be this type of player in the majors.
Gage Hinsz was one of the most interesting day three draft picks for the Pirates this year. He’s a 6′ 4″ right hander who was hitting 90-93 at the end of the 2014 season, and has some room to add more velocity. He needs work with his secondary pitches, but gets on this list due to the fastball, and the potential to be a starter in the majors.
Top 20 Prospects
1. Jameson Taillon, RHP
2. Tyler Glasnow, RHP
3. Austin Meadows, CF
4. Reese McGuire, C
5. Nick Kingham, RHP
6. Alen Hanson, SS
7. Josh Bell, RF
8. Harold Ramirez, CF
9. Cole Tucker, SS
10. Luis Heredia, RHP
11. Mitch Keller, RHP
12. Clay Holmes, RHP
13. Adrian Sampson, RHP
14. JaCoby Jones, SS
15. Blake Taylor, LHP
16. Casey Sadler, RHP
17. Andrew Lambo, OF
18. Joely Rodriguez, LHP
19. Michael De La Cruz, OF
20. Trey Supak, RHP