The Pittsburgh Pirates made a change in the lower levels, adding a team in Bristol that fit between the GCL Pirates and Jamestown Jammers. As a result of this change, Jamestown saw a weaker overall team, along with a much older team than normal. Below is a recap of the hitters and pitchers at the level, followed by the top ten prospects this year.
The top prospect at the level was Jordan Luplow, who was taken in the third round of the 2014 draft. The fact that Luplow was the top prospect at the level reflects on the talent on this team. Luplow will probably challenge for a final spot in the top 30 of the system, and will definitely be in the top 50. He’s an outfielder who hits for solid contact and could hit for some power in the pros. He showed good numbers at the plate this year, and will be an outfield prospect to watch going forward. On any other team in the system, he’d be a solid prospect in the top five. The fact that he was number one in Jamestown just showed that the team was lacking the top prospects in the system.
Taylor Gushue was the only other prospect in Jamestown who might challenge for a top 30 spot. The catcher was drafted in the fourth round of the 2014 draft, and put up some decent numbers in Jamestown, mostly from the power standpoint. Gushue was drafted out of college, but was a year younger than every other college player in the draft. The Pirates were banking on the fact that he hasn’t fully developed. Under a normal timeline, next year would have been his junior year in college, which is a year where a lot of college players see a breakout season. Instead, he will likely be playing in West Virginia or possibly Bradenton.
Outside of those two, the only guys who appear to be strong bets to land in the top 50 were Kevin Krause and Elvis Escobar. Krause was a catcher taken in the ninth round this year, although with Gushue on the team, he ended up playing some outfield. His power was very impressive, although it does come with the disclaimer that he came out of the college ranks and was playing in a college league. He should be expected to put up those numbers in Jamestown. He’ll likely move up to West Virginia next year, which will be a bigger test. However, Gushue is expected to get the majority of the catching duties again, and Krause — who is more of a project behind the plate — will likely find time at other positions.
Escobar has been a top prospect in the system since the Pirates gave him $570,000 in 2011. He had a lot of the same skills that made Harold Ramirez a top prospect, with good contact skills, gap power, and the ability to play center field, while also displaying a lot of speed. Escobar hasn’t put things together on the field yet. He’s still young, and was the youngest person on this team. He could get a push to West Virginia next year, where he would once again be one of the youngest players at the level. Right now he’s highly regarded for his tools, but eventually he will need to start showing results in the lower levels.
There were two other notable players in Jamestown, although it’s hard to tell what their upside is as prospects. Michael Suchy was a fifth round pick by the Pirates, drafted as a right fielder. He’s got the build of a linebacker, but has surprising speed and athleticism, to the point where he spent some time in center field this season. He’s raw at the plate, but the athleticism is appealing. Chase Simpson was taken in the 14th round as a third baseman. He had impressive power this season, and strong overall numbers. However, he was 22 years old this year, which puts an asterisk on his numbers at this level. He’s a candidate to move up to Bradenton next year, and that should give a better idea of his prospect potential.
This led to an older pitching staff, loaded with college pitchers. The result is that there weren’t many strong prospects on this team. The guy who led the way was Tyler Eppler, who was taken in the sixth round. Eppler was the third best prospect on the team, and the only pitcher who will have a shot at the top 30 next season. He’s also the only pitcher who is guaranteed to be a top 50 prospect in the system at the end of the year. He’s a tall right-hander who can hit 95 MPH with his fastball. He put up impressive results this year, and could be a candidate to move up to Bradenton, skipping over West Virginia. That’s a similar approach to what we saw with Adrian Sampson and Chad Kuhl after they showed promise in the NYPL out of the draft.
Beyond Eppler, a lot of the pitching prospects on this team were very similar. Eighth round pick Austin Coley and tenth round pick Alex McRae were both groundball pitchers. Coley dealt with a shoulder strain, which limited his playing time, and might have led to poor results when he returned in August. McRae started out well, but fell apart in the final month of the season. Both should be candidates for the West Virginia rotation.
Frank Duncan (13th round) and Montana DuRapau (32nd) were both college seniors who put up impressive numbers. Those numbers come with the disclaimer that both players were old for the level, with more experience than most players. Duncan was a starter from the get-go, and fits the Pirates’ mold at 6′ 4″ with a 90-93 MPH fastball. DuRapau worked his way into a starting role, and continued pitching well after joining the rotation. He doesn’t have the best stuff, with a fastball that only reaches 88, but his control and mix of four pitches makes him an interesting guy. It’s hard to say if either player will end up in the rotation next year in West Virginia or Bradenton. If they aren’t, they should each pitch in long relief roles.
Top 10 Prospects
The cutoff for eligibility on this list was 70 at-bats, 20 innings pitched, or 10 relief appearances. There weren’t many players who missed the cutoff. There were a few obvious choices for the top of the list, although there wasn’t really a strong prospect leading the bunch. Instead, this group can be described as three guys who will make the top 50, two more guys who might contend for the back-end of the top 50, and a lot of other pitchers who might have a shot at being a prospect one day, but aren’t there yet.
1. Jordan Luplow
2. Taylor Gushue
3. Tyler Eppler
4. Kevin Krause
5. Elvis Escobar
6. Michael Suchy
7. Alex McRae
8. Austin Coley
9. Frank Duncan
10. Chase Simpson