Morning Report: Looking Over the Indianapolis Prospect List

On Tuesday afternoon, we posted the Indianapolis season recap and top ten prospect list. It was the second top ten list we have put out so far, with another scheduled for later this morning. The Indianapolis top ten list is usually a lot different than all of the other teams. While the other lists almost always have players we feel bad about leaving off the list, the Indianapolis list usually have players near the bottom that are just there to fill out the list. The reason is simple. A lot of prospects never reach that projected upside and get sorted out before they reach AAA.

(Photo Credit: David Hague)
Rojas did well during his half season at AAA (Photo Credit: David Hague)

The AAA level also has most of the minor league veterans and free agent signings that have big league time in already. That led to this year’s prospect list having Chris McGuiness and Andy Oliver in the last two spots. Oliver was doing good for a stretch, but you’re still talking about someone who has played in AAA each of the last five seasons and twice led the league in walks. McGuiness was dropped from the 40-man roster recently and cleared waivers.

Without context, our 2013 top ten list looks like we made some bad decisions, but it was an even worse group than this year. It started off nice with Gerrit Cole at the top, followed by Tony Sanchez, Andrew Lambo, Stolmy Pimentel and Brandon Cumpton. That’s not a bad top five considering all five are with the team now. The next five were Ivan De Jesus, Kris Johnson, Andy Oliver, Matt Hague and Erik Cordier. Four of those players are gone and one is Andy Oliver. Cordier looks like a solid #10 pick because he is now with the Giants, throwing 101 MPH in their bullpen.

The 2014 top prospects should provide the Pirates with help for years and many of them have already lost their prospect eligibility. Tim took a look at the depth Indianapolis could provide for the Pirates last night, so this is a look at the players from the top ten list and how they project short-term and down the line. Gregory Polanco was the obvious choice for the #1 spot and while his rookie season has been disappointing due to the build up, he just turned 23 years old and still has the potential to be a great player for years to come. His winter league stats earned him the MVP award and his AAA stats were even better, so there is no reason to believe at his age that he isn’t just starting to scratch the surface of his potential.

The top eight includes two similar upside players in Brandon Cumpton and Casey Sadler, though it seems like the Pirates don’t see Sadler as a potential starter right now. Even with strong starting numbers, they were unwilling to give Sadler a spot start when it seemed like he was a great option. He also isn’t seeing time since being recalled on September 2nd, so that doesn’t give you a lot of short-term confidence in his future either. Sadler will likely be a starter at AAA next year on a team that also includes Nick Kingham and Jameson Taillon. Neither of them will be early season options for the Pirates, so it’s possible Sadler could get a better chance in the majors next year if the need for an extra starter should arise. I think both Cumpton and Sadler are future middle relievers that would provide spot starts and long man outings, but I don’t see either as regulars in the Pirates’ rotation.

Speaking of Kingham, his overall stats in 14 starts for Indianapolis, gives you confidence that he will be a key member of the Pirates rotation someday. Unfortunately for the 2015 club, he had some outings that make you think he still needs to work on some things and we probably won’t see him in Pittsburgh until mid-season. He had a 4.99 ERA in his last ten starts, yet still held batters to a .236 BAA and a decent walk rate during that time, so he is close. After 2015, I’d expect Kingham to be a regular in the Pirates rotation for years to come.

Tony Sanchez and Andrew Lambo are with the Pirates now and they could play big roles with the team next year. Obviously the short-term future of Sanchez rides on whether the Pirates put up the money to resign Russell Martin. Sanchez also played some first base at Indianapolis, so that adds some versatility, assuming he keeps practicing the position. Either way with Martin, there should be a role for Sanchez with the Pirates next year. Lambo put up his second strong season at AAA, so he really has nothing left to prove at the level. With almost two weeks left, he has the same amount of plate appearance he got last year for the Pirates. The 2015 option for both these players go anywhere from starter, to bench player to back at AAA. Long-term, they should see regular playing time in the majors at some point of their career and be at least average players.

The final players from this year’s top ten are Mel Rojas Jr and Jaff Decker. Neither player profiles as a future starter in the majors, though both could see time with the Pirates next year. The two players are the same age, but got to where they were this year at different rates. Decker has seen time in the majors each of the last two years. Rojas just worked his way up to AAA this year. Decker hit for more power early in his career and has seen his numbers go down each year, while Rojas had his best power season this year and with his size, he may be tapping into his power potential. Decker may have topped out at this point, while Rojas was considered raw and seems to be getting better. His profile is a fourth outfielder, which would be the top end for Decker at this point.

The overall list isn’t great because you look at some of these players and already see them as bench players in the majors, though the lists from all the other affiliates will be lucky to have five guys that make the majors. The 2015 club will get at least one everyday player from this list, three pitchers that could see starts and 3-4 players that should see time during the season with a possibility to play a big role. Kingham and Polanco look like important long time pieces for the Pirates, while Sanchez and Lambo have that potential to be an important piece, but not the upside of Kingham or Polanco.

Pirates Game Graph

Source: FanGraphs

Playoff Push

Pittsburgh: The Pirates are 2.5 games behind St. Louis for the NL Central lead. They are 5.5 games ahead of  Atlanta and 1.5 ahead of Milwaukee for the second Wild Card spot. The Pirates are 2.5 games behind San Francisco for the first Wild Card spot.

Today’s Schedule

Today’s Starter and Notes:  The Pirates beat the Red Sox by a 4-0 score on Tuesday. Francisco Liriano will get the start in game two of the series, coming off back-to-back shutout performances. In his last two starts combined, Liriano has pitched 14 innings, allowing seven hits, four walks and he has 21 strikeouts. He has been much better on the road this year, posting a 2.36 ERA vs 4.58 at home. You can read the DSL season recap here complete with scouting reports for each player and the top ten players to watch list can be found here. We will post other season recaps soon.

MLB: Pittsburgh (80-70)  vs Red Sox (66-85) 7:05 PM
Probable starterFrancisco Liriano (3.53 ERA, 161:67 K/BB, 145.1 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (73-71)

AA: Altoona (61-81)

High-A: Bradenton (78-61)

Low-A: West Virginia (54-81)

Short-Season A: Jamestown (35-40)

RK: Bristol (22-46)

GCL: Pirates (20-40)

DSL: Pirates (34-36)


With the minor league season over, it’s time to take a look back at some recent video from the GCL, which we will continue to do over the next few days until we get video from the Fall Instructional League. All videos are courtesy of the GCL Pirates fan page. Below is a video of infielder Jose Salazar, who didn’t last long in the GCL. Early in the season, he was promoted to Bristol, where he hit .291/.345/.327 in 30 games. He’s a versatile fielder, who can play all four infield positions. He has limited upside due to no stand out tools on offense.

Recent Transactions

9/16: Pirates activate Charlie Morton from disabled list.

9/8: Pirates release Ernesto Frieri.

9/7: Michael Martinez and Chris McGuiness clear waivers and were outrighted to Indianapolis.

9/2: Pirates recall Gregory Polanco, Jeff Locke, John Holdzkom, Casey Sadler and Bobby LaFromboise.

9/2: Chase d’Arnaud added to 40-man roster and promoted to Pittsburgh. Michael Martinez designated for assignment.

9/1: Pirates recall Gerrit Cole and Tony Sanchez. Stolmy Pimentel activated from the disabled list

9/1: Pirates designate Chris McGuiness for assignment. John Holdzkom added to 40-man roster.

This Date in Pirates History

Eight former Pittsburgh Pirates players have been born on this date, including a member of the 1903 team that went to the first modern day World Series and a member of the 1960 WS champs. The former players are:

Sean Burnett, pitcher for the Pirates in 2004 and then again in 2008-09. He was part of the Joel Hanrahan deal with the Nationals. Burnett underwent is his second Tommy John surgery this season. He was a 1st round pick of the Pirates in 2000.

Jim Umbricht, pitcher from 1959 until 1961. Pitched 19 games over three seasons before the Pirates lost him to the Houston Colt .45’s in the expansion draft. He career and life were cut tragically short by lymphoma, as he passed away just before the 1964 season.

Bob Dillinger, third baseman for the 1950-51 Pirates. Led the AL in stolen bases each year from 1947-49 and in hits during the 1948 season.

John “Sheriff” Blake, pitched six games for 1920 club. Ended up winning double-digit games each year from 1925-30 with Cubs.

Whitey Glazner, pitcher from 1920 until 1923. Led the NL in winning % in 1921, going 14-5. Went 27-18 for Pirates and 14-30 in two years with Phillies.

Frank “Wildfire” Schulte, outfielder for 1916-17 Pirates. Played 15 years in the majors, mostly with the Cubs. Won the 1911 MVP award. Twice led NL in homers, once in RBI and triples. You can find a recap here of the four-player trade that brought him to the Pirates.

Otto Krueger, outfielder/infielder for the 1903-04 Pirates. He didn’t play during the WS in 1903, but he was a regular at times during the season, hitting .246 over 80 games, getting multiple starts at four different positions. In 1904, he had at least ten appearances at four different positions

Dick Padden, second baseman for the 1896-98 Pirates. His bio can be read here.

John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.

When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.

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Lee Young

I was 12 years old when Umbricht died. I can still hear Bob Prince’s sad voice when he announced it.

Lee Young

I think both Cumpton and Sadler are future middle relievers that would provide spot starts and long man outings, but I don’t see either as regulars in the Pirates’ rotation.

I completely agree.

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