First Pitch: Where Would Stephen Tarpley Have Ranked in the Pirates 2015 Top 50?

The first year I released the Prospect Guide, I decided to publish the book in late January. The thing about writing a book on prospects is that the transactions involving those prospects are a never-ending process. Whether it’s my book, Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, or any other team book, there’s always a risk that a player will be traded away after the publishing deadline, or a new player will be added to the system. There’s really no deadline that avoids this.

The thing about that first year is that I finished the book in late-December, and then just sat around for a month waiting for transactions that didn’t happen. So I moved the deadline up to right after the Winter Meetings, which has been a good cut-off for prospect transactions. That said, there have been transactions after the deadline, including some that could have impacted the top 50 prospects. When those transactions take place, I always ask our writers where they would have ranked the player in the top 50, so that we don’t leave anyone out.

Today I conducted that process to find out where left-handed pitcher Stephen Tarpley, acquired in the Travis Snider deal, would have ranked.

When I first read about Tarpley, my immediate thought was to compare him to Cody Dickson. Tarpley is a year younger, and played one level lower than Dickson last year. The comparison lies in the fact that they’re both left-handers with fastballs that can hit the mid-90s, and upsides of number three starters one day. That’s an over-simplification of the two players, since they seem very different beyond those similarities.

As an example of the differences, Tarpley had more strikeouts and fewer walks than Dickson. I’d say that’s due to the difference in the levels, but I don’t think there’s a massive difference in talent between full-season low-A ball and short-season A-ball. The knock on Dickson is that he lacks control and a changeup. He worked on both things in West Virginia this year, and improved the control in the second half. Meanwhile, the main focus for Tarpley has been improving his secondary stuff, especially his curveball, and throwing with velocity in the early part of the game, since he has a strange habit of not reaching his normal velocity the first few innings.

Dickson has been a sleeper of ours over the last two years for two main reasons. One is the stuff from a lefty. Tarpley also gets credit for that. The other reason for Dickson is the fact that the Pirates have shown a good track record of developing pitchers in the lower levels, especially with adding a changeup and reducing control issues. Those adjustments don’t apply in Tarpley’s case, although the velocity issues seem like they could be a delivery adjustment issue, and the Pirates have also had success here on a lot of levels.

So in my view, Tarpley gets credit for having great stuff as a lefty, and being in a system that has strong coaches and a good chance of developing him to his full potential. Thus, my immediate reaction was to put him right there with Dickson, who ranked 14th overall in this year’s top 50.

I asked Wilbur Miller and John Dreker where they would rank Tarpley (aside from myself, Wilbur and John are the only people who rank every prospect in the system for the book, rather than just prospects for specific teams), and they had him in the 11-13 range. That’s another way of saying that one person had him 11th and one person had him 13th. If you bought the Prospect Guide (and if you haven’t, well, I don’t want to tell you how to live your life, but you definitely should buy it, since it’s the most in-depth look at the Pirates’ farm system that you can find), then you’d know that I prefer tiered rankings over a straight numerical list. The 11-13 range puts Tarpley at the end of tier 3 or the beginning of tier 4.

Based on the combined rankings, Tarpley would likely end up around the 12 or 13 spot. As for the tiered rankings, we had Dickson at the start of tier 4, and those tiers are largely made up of players with comparable talent. If this was the decision process for the book (and that process is totally different, since we don’t submit numerical rankings, but instead submit most likely upsides for each player, which then leads to total rankings), I’d probably end up bumping Tarpley down right behind John Holdzkom, making him the 14th ranked prospect, and pushing Dickson and everyone behind him down a spot. That puts Dickson and Tarpley together, with the slight edge to Tarpley, although both would be in the same talent tier, so there wouldn’t be a big difference.

What this means overall is that the Pirates have two left-handed starting pitching prospects in A-ball who have the upside of middle of the rotation starters. That increases the odds that the Pirates will end up with a solid lefty starter in their rotation one day, since Dickson was basically the only top left-handed starting prospect in the system before this trade.

**Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 Top Prospects: #8 – Mitch Keller. The top ten countdown resumes tomorrow, and we’re starting to get into the group that will draw consideration for top 100 overall lists. The entire top 50 in the Pirates’ system is exclusive to the 2015 Prospect Guide, along with 200+ reports on every prospect in the system.

**The PTBNL in the Travis Snider Trade Won’t Be Determined Until Spring Training. This increases the odds that it isn’t a 2014 draft pick, although I explain in the article how it doesn’t rule things out.

**Keith Law Ranks Pirates As Seventh Best Farm System. The thing I found interesting was Law’s comment about how the Pirates will start the season with a star at every level. I’m assuming he means the full-season leagues. By my count, you’ve got Taillon in Indianapolis, Glasnow and Bell in Altoona, and I’m sure Meadows and McGuire will factor in somehow, although I don’t think we can say at this point whether they will go to Bradenton or return to West Virginia for another season.

**Pirates Sign Wilkin Castillo to a Minor League Deal. My quick thoughts on the upper level catching depth is that Tony Sanchez would be the top early-season replacement, followed by Elias Diaz after some time with Indianapolis. From there, I think Sebastian Valle would get priority, and wouldn’t be surprised to see him getting starts and playing time in Altoona early in the year. That means Castillo would at least be the sixth option the Pirates turn to, if they find themselves in a 2011 scenario again. Here is Wilkin Castillo’s player page.

**Kevin Ross Suspended 50 Games For Drug of Abuse

  • In my top ten Tarpley would have ranked somewhere between 8 and 10.

  • That seems generous. He doesn’t seem to be projectable like many of the young Pirate pitching prospects. At 6’1″ and smaller frame he seem more like a pitcher they question being to hold up under the stress of pitching a MLB workload. I haven’t heard if he throws a 2 or 4 seem fastball, if he has to change from the 4 seem to the 2, his velocity will come down.

    • “Projectable” has value when you’re talking about a tall, skinny guy who throws 88-91 MPH and might one day increase that to the 91-94 range, touching 97. Tarpley already touches 97, and works in the low 90s, hitting 94 frequently. He doesn’t need the “projectable” tag, since he’s already there.

      • Thanks Tim

      • Tim: So, in the estimation of the “brain trust” of P2, the Pirates made an excellent deal to get Tarpley for Snider, and there is still a PTBNL that we will find out about in ST. Love the effort and contribution of Snider in the last 2 or 3 months of 2014, but he has much more value to B’more simply due to having the ability to contribute as a DH and a third or 4th OF – good chance he gets 400+ AB’s.

  • A little off the subject…but why does it appear that the Pirates don’t every get involved in the Cuban free agent sweepstakes? I am referring to guys like Cespedes, Puig, Abreau, and the numerous ones since then? I don’t recall ever seeing the Pirates linked with or in the hunt for any of them. Did I miss one or two that we did pursue?

    • I think it’s because it would be paying a ton of money for an unknown. However, it seems that these players are proving to be as good or better than expected. So with the track record what it is, I think at some point the Bucs may get involved on a player they like at some point.

    • They are getting too much money for the gamble, a couple of them have worked out very well, but most of them are not worth the kind of money it would take to get them.

  • Lee Foo Young
    January 29, 2015 8:33 am

    Works for me. But now that means that Heredia drops out of the Top 20. What a fall from grace?

    • That’s exactly why I don’t like numerical rankings. Nothing has changed about Heredia. Adding Tarpley to the rankings doesn’t make Heredia worse. The number 20 is arbitrary, as is the number 10, 30, or any other number. Heredia is in the same talent tier, no matter if he’s 20, 21, or drops down to 22 if a new person jumps past him (we also said Kang would be ahead of him, if ranked). But a numerical ranking gives the perception that Heredia is dropping in value because his number went down. The tiered system shows that Heredia and Tarpley are in the same talent tier, despite them being 7 spots apart.

    • The “problem” is that the Pirates have high end talent in the top 10 and lots of depth. Heredia still could turn into a workhorse starter BUT he won’t turn into an ace. If he’s at AA next year and looks like Adrian Sampson 2.0 he’ll be back in the top 20.

    • It seems like we’ve heard his name for a long time. I start to loose my patience waiting for him, but in reality the Pirates got him when he was 4-5 years younger than many of the players they draft. He’s still only 19 so even at WV he is probably younger than the competition. I wonder if they will move him to Bradenton this year.

  • Nice analysis.

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