When I’m writing up the Prospect Guide each year, I’m usually taking notes on which players could play at which level during the upcoming season. In most cases, the only way to accurately do this is to figure out where everyone could be playing, and that is no easy task.

At the end of Spring Training, I always have a good idea of where everyone will start the season. That’s mostly due to the fact that I’ve seen the rosters all Spring, and I’ve seen who is playing on what team. Even with that information, I still need to confirm that certain players are going to be on a specific team before I can run a preview. So you can only imagine how difficult the process becomes when projecting a roster before Spring Training even begins.

I wanted to throw together projected rosters for each of the full-season minor league teams, but in reality that is impossible. The Pirates have at least 150 players who are competing for 100 spots between Indianapolis, Altoona, Bradenton, and West Virginia. A lot of those players will be released during Spring Training, but until then, it’s impossible to know every person that will make a squad. So instead of putting together rosters, I decided to go with what we know at this point by showing who stands a good chance of making a specific team, and who is battling for a spot on that team.

Below is an early look at the Indianapolis Indians as we head into Spring Training. A lot of the Indianapolis roster decisions will be shaped by what happens in major league camp. That said, there aren’t too many surprises projected from big league camp. Here are the projections, along with the position battles to watch this Spring.

Position Players

C – Elias Diaz

1B – Stetson Allie

2B – Alen Hanson

SS – Justin Sellers

3B – Deibinson Romero

LF – Jaff Decker

CF – Mel Rojas

RF – Keon Broxton

DH – Tony Sanchez

Bench – Jose Tabata, Steve Lombardozzi, Gift Ngoepe, Wilkin Castillo

Battling For a Spot – Gorkys Hernandez, Gustavo Nunez, Brent Morel

Analysis – Out of all the levels that will be projected this week, this Triple-A lineup was the easiest one. The difficult part comes with the bench. As far as the lineup goes, I think there will be some flexibility. Tony Sanchez should get time at first base and behind the plate. Jose Tabata should get time in the outfield. I could see Steve Lombardozzi getting a lot of time around the field as a utility player.

As for the position battles, these were really difficult calls. Gustavo Nunez and Gift Ngoepe are basically the same player when you consider what they bring to the table — strong defense up the middle and no bat. I went with Ngoepe, but that’s hardly set in stone. Gorkys Hernandez could very well make the team, but there is no one from the Decker/Rojas/Broxton/Tabata group that I could see him replacing. I definitely think Wilkin Castillo makes the team, since having a third catcher allows some flexibility with Sanchez. That leaves Morel out, and the Pirates seem to like him.

Everyone in the lineup seems safe, but the bench spots could be up in the air. Complicating the matter is Pedro Florimon. He’s out of options, and I could see him getting cut from the major league team. If he were to clear waivers, he’d be my pick as the starting shortstop, and Sellers would be a guarantee for the bench. That would put Ngoepe/Nunez in question, with Ngoepe likely going down to Altoona (more on that tomorrow), and Nunez going to extended Spring Training or getting released/traded.

Pitchers

SP – Nick Kingham

SP – Adrian Sampson

SP – Brandon Cumpton

SP – Clayton Richard

SP – Casey Sadler

Analysis – Jameson Taillon will eventually get one of these rotation spots, but on Opening Day he will likely be in extended Spring Training, where the Pirates can have much more control over his rehab process. Their focus seems to be starting him off slow so that he has innings in September. I put Sadler in the rotation for now, although that spot could go to several guys projected for the bullpen. All of the guys in the rotation have roster spots locked down.

RP – Bobby LaFromboise

RP – Chris Volstad

RP – Rob Scahill

RP – Collin Balester

RP – Jeremy Bleich

RP – Deolis Guerra

RP – Brad Lincoln

Battling For a Spot – Blake Wood, Josh Wall, Wilfredo Boscan, Charlie Leesman, Adam Miller

Analysis – Very few of these guys have roster spots locked down. The guys I think are safe include Bobby LaFromboise and Rob Scahill. Collin Balester also seems like more of a lock, since the Pirates waited on his rehab all year last year, then re-signed him as a minor league free agent. I doubt they’d wait a whole year just to cut him. As for the rest of them, that’s going to be a battle. Some of these guys will go to extended Spring Training, waiting for an injury in the top levels to open up a spot. Some will be traded or released if another opportunity opens up elsewhere.

This is an area where the major league situation could really complicate matters. There is currently a battle for the final bullpen spots between Jared Hughes, Stolmy Pimentel, John Holdzkom, and Arquimedes Caminero. I project that at least four of the seven bullpen spots in the majors are spoken for, leaving three open spots. That would be two open spots if Charlie Morton is healthy on Opening Day, sending one of Jeff Locke or Vance Worley to the bullpen. At least one of the Hughes, Pimentel, Holdzkom, Caminero group will have to go to Triple-A, and eventually, two of them will have to go.

Hughes and Holdzkom both have options, but also had the best results last year. Pimentel and Caminero are both out of options, but both have amazing stuff. Holdzkom also has amazing stuff, so I’d give him the inside track. The Pirates will then have to decide between Hughes, a safe pick, or Pimentel/Caminero, who are high risk and potentially higher reward than Hughes.

As for Triple-A, any of these guys would be locks for the bullpen, which means there would be 1-2 fewer roster spots. That means only two of the Volstad, Bleich, Lincoln, Guerra, Wood, Wall, Boscan, Leesman, Miller group will have roster spots.

The biggest battle in the majors looks to be for the bullpen. Likewise, the biggest battle for Triple-A roster spots appears to be in the bullpen as well.

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53 COMMENTS

  1. Why would they push Allie to AAA? His numbers weren’t good in AA except for reasonable power. The High K rate concerns me. Why wouldn’t they hold himback for another year. It would seem beneficial to his development;

  2. Just imagine were Gorkys to learn to make consistent contact. He could be a prime leadoff candidate for some club.

  3. Ngoepe struggled at the plate in Altoona. It might make sense for the Pirates to send him back to start for the Curve (I don’t think there are any top 2B or SS prospects there). Nunez seems more like a back up for Indy. Unless I’m mistaken I don’t think the Pirates have given up on Ngoepe to the point that he would be just a backup. Plus, with Lombardozzi in Indy, he will likely see most of the Utility playing time, limiting Ngoepe’s playing time in Indy (a role that Nunez could handle).

    • Ngoepe still doesn’t have a lot of ABs for his age because of some injuries and not a lot of ABs before he was 19…so I think this is the make or break year for him. I think if he can’t show he can at least get his k’s per AB down somewhere near 1/4.5AB while maintaining his walk rate defense will not be enough. Still he only has around 1800 AB at 25. 21-22 year olds have that many AB already so their is still time, especially considering where he came from. Whether he is at AA part of the year or AAA all year he needs a light bulb to go on at the plate.

  4. This looks like a really good AAA team. The position players are all either AAAA or legit prospects and the rotation even without Taillon is almost as good as some ML rotations. The next few years are gonna be real interesting with more and more prospects reaching the upper levels. I’m real curious to see who Tim predicts will breakout this year. I feel like if Meadows is healthy all season he’s gonna explode

  5. Looks like pitching will be the Indians strength….especially if Taillon joins them at some point in 2015. Most of the projected position players look about right, although I cannot imagine Decker starting ahead of Tabata. I would flip flop those two. And, I would give Gorkys a chance to unseat Decker as the 4th outfielder.

  6. I think Tabata should start over Decker, since he is more likely to get called up to the big league club, despite the team seemingly losing confidence in him

    • Yeah, it’s a bit silly to fuss about who is “starting” on minor league clubs. Situations are usually too fluid. But there’s also no way Broxton or Decker get called up before Tabata. He’ll be getting at least as many at-bats as those two.

      • Well don’t they say a team of nothing but replacement level players will win 45-50 games per year? So that team was essentially replacement level. The AAA team could accomplish that I feel, they have more balance, and would get reinforcements from AA at midseason

      • Funny that of all the pitchers on that 2010 team, only Charlie Morton (7.57 ERA, 1.73 WHIP) is still with the Pirates (not counting Brad Lincoln who was traded and then reacquired).

        What a long strange trip it’s been.

  7. Thanks for this, Tim – I’m geeking out on the position battles at AAA (which is probably something I should see someone about). Some thoughts…

    – Based on this list, it looks like you have Willy Garcia repeating Altoona. I figured he might get a look at Indy, given his status on the 40-man and solid performance at Altoona. I assume this is all because of the plate discipline, but certainly Garcia’s ceiling is higher than Decker’s or Broxton’s.

    – I think if Florimon makes it through waivers, then Morel is toast. As a 3B-only guy in a franchise that has ridiculous ML depth AND Romero and Sellers more than capable of playing the corner, there’s not much reason to keep him around.

    – I would think Ngoepe would repeat at Altoona, if only for the sake of playing time – presuming the Pirates still think he has some fringe prospect status.

    – Awful lot of recently failed SP in the Indy bullpen (Volstad, Balester, Lincoln, Bleich). I’d probably rather have Josh Wall than Bleich, but that’s nitpicking.

        • Ha Ha! Hadn’t thought of that. He has speed and can hit, and might be better suited further in the back field where he isn’t asked to take on 330 Lb linemen so often. But I don’t have a feel for how well he can cover. He might be good covering these new 250 lb TE who can run. A bigger Carnell Lake?

          Back to Willy though, with Polanco, Marte and Cutch there isn’t an immediate opening for him in the PIT outfield. But his RH power is attractive and he has a rocket for an arm. I have no idea if he can field a grounder or charge a bunt. But if he can, 3B could be a good longer term fit for him in Pittsburgh (provided he continues to improve his plate discipline significantly).

          • Ohio St fan here. Not so sure you could put Shazier anywhere and keep him healthy. I hope it’s not true but he has always been one of those guys.

        • It could in the way it does for Tabata which would mean Liz ends up being so bad that no team would want to take a flier out on him for a million bucks and Liz would rather pitch in the minors and get paid a million rather than elect free agency.

      • Thanks, Lee. His BABIP drives me crazy. There are only about 7 other players in the history of the game with a career BABIP as high as his over 1,000 PAs.

        • Now that’s an interesting stat. I’m sure it causes all kinds of screams of regression to the mean from SABR cats.

          • I’ve been screaming “Regression!” for two years. But the article makes a good case against it regarding Marte. Based on his speed, high line drive rate, and low pop-up rate, the author concludes that he could be a player who maintains a .350 BABIP.

            • I am hoping that Marte’s walk rate and strikeouts continue to decrease for another year or two like they have and his power increases a little more. That would offset him being a .260-.270 hitter.

        • Instead of portending the doom of regression why isn’t this a harbinger of future greatness? Is the glass half empty or half full?

          • Because the glass wouldn’t have to be half full, it would have to be 99.9% full in order to believe Marte’s BABiP never regresses.

            • When he loses speed it will absolutely regress, but for now, there is nothing that crazy about his babip. He has all the components of a hitter who should have a very high babip. He has elite speed, rarely hits the ball in the air, hits a lot of line drives and grounders. Later in his career, when he loses speed, it will certainly regress, but right now he has the perfect profile to continue to post babip numbers that are in the top 5 percent of mlb.

              • Very high BABiP, sure. Higher than all but 0.001% of the players to have *ever* played Major League Baseball?

                I don’t think you, nor anyone else, can project that of any skill with any sort of accuracy.

                • The problem with using “all the players to ever play” is that their career babip numbers include their entire careers, including their decline years when they were slower and worse at baseball. If you isolated the data and only showed the players babip during their young years, when they were faster, marte probably doesn’t look like as much of an outlier. I think he can produce historic babip numbers for the next couple of seasons, and then when he loses a few steps he will regress A LOT.

                  • At that point, are you sure we’re not simply choosing arbitrary endpoints to justify your conclusion? How do you isolate “decline” from normal changes in batted ball distribution and good ole fashion luck?

                    FWIW, I looked at players over the last three decades with at least 2000 PA and a BABiP over .350 and found seven cases. Out of those players, each player had *at least* one year-to-year BABiP fluctuation of *at least* 25 points within what could be considered their prime.

                    Is it possible for Marte to continue posting BABiP’s above .360? Sure. Is it anywhere close to likely, even within the context of the best players in baseball history? No.

                    This is more a reflection of the game than Marte himself. Hitting baseballs is the single hardest skill in all of sports. Turning those baseballs into hits at a rate higher than anyone in history simply isn’t something you should ever *expect*.

                    • Age is not an arbitrary endpoint. Guys in their early to mid twenties are as fast as they will ever be, and speed is a major component in babip. Once you approach thirty, your speed is going to decline, and your babip will follow. It would be more telling to look for what guys had a .350 in their first 2000 plate appearances, rather than looking at guys with more than 2000, as this sample you used still includes the guys full careers. Using the first 2000 plate appearances will remove their decline years from the sample. I don’t for one second think marte will finish his career with a .360 babip. But that’s different than saying he does it next year.

                    • Age is absolutely an arbitrary endpoint! No two players age the same, regardless of what you believe to be true, and using your logic of a player’s first 2000 AB would inherently include Marte’s first 182, in which he posted a .333 BABiP.

                    • It’s not arbitrary when it is entirely relevant. Just because it is an endpoint does not make it arbitrary. Speed is a skill that leads to a better ability to turn batted balls into hits. Young players are faster, therefore it is fair to look at how other guys performed when they were young when looking at babip for a young, fast player. What is arbitrary about that?

                    • Age, as a category, is certainly relevant. The specific cut-off you choose is what is arbitrary. 30 years old is a *general* start to the decline phase, but still inherently arbitrary when looking at a sample this big.

                      FWIW, I ran the same search, but capped it at players age-30 seasons. They were 12 players who BABiP’d at least .350, which makes logical sense with what we’re discussing about, but every one of them *still* had at least one season of greater than 25 point variance. This is the nature of BABiP, especially when looking at the extremes.

                    • When I said age thirty it was more of just trying to set up some sort of paramater, so that is certainly arbitrary.

                    • I still expect Marte to be in the .350 range, which is obviously still extremely high. It’s just not practical to expect *that* consistent of BABiP for anyone, let alone the guy literally at the very top of the spectrum.

                    • The guys on MLB network would say he is “Hitterish” and that’s why he has been able to do what he has done. Hitterish (John Hart says it all the time.) – now that’s an arbitrary parameter…

            • Not really. I don’t want to read too much into your short comment, but you seem to be making the mistake of comparing Marte’s career BABIP with the MLB average BABIP instead of comparing Marte’s yearly (say 2014) BABIP to Marte’s average BABIP which would be the better use of the statistics. Marte’s average BABIP is higher than the MLB average because a larger than normal percentage of his hits are of the infield variety and are a result of his speed (plus his line drive stroke results in fewer pop flies). Marte’s BABIP may decline this year if he changes his emphasis and is successful in the transition (like trying to hit more doubles or homers which would be welcome from a #5 hitter) but then his increase in SLG will more than compensate for the drop in BABIP.

              • And every sabermetric analyst in baseball would disagree with you and your better use of “statistics”. I appreciate the thoughtful reply, but I think I’ll side with them.

                • No problem. We’ll just agree to disagree. I don’t mind taking a position opposite every sabremetrician in baseball if what you propose is the consensus view. There are other mathematical inconsistencies in sabremetrics, the composition of OPS being dimensionally inconsistent (denominators of OBP and SLG are different so mathematically they shouldn’t be added) being one that immediately comes to mind.

                  The whole concept that one player’s BABIP should be compared to a league average BABIP in order to predict regression doesn’t hold water in my view. There may be a statistically “league average” player if you added all the statistics of every player and divided by the total number of players, but no such a human being exists. Each player has a unique skill set, with an arc to his career which starts as a rookie, improves to his peak, and then declines to his severance or retirement. It is of course sound to expect statistical deviations of his performance around his arc in time. And so a player might exceed what is expected of him for one year and then be expected to regress to his mean. Or under perform the next year, with an expectation of regression upwards the year to follow, all modified by the expected changes in the trend of the average that corresponds to the arc of his career. But comparing one player to the average of all the others and expecting to gain any insight is short sighted in my view.

                  • Very much agree with that, fwiw. I just don’t at all believe that’s what is happening with Marte.

                    League average BABiP is something around .300, and the projections look for Marte to be around .350. They’re predicting “regression” not by comparing him to league average, but by calculating the possibilities of him continuing to push the upper limits of what is known to be possible.

                    If the projections predicted less than 70 HR for Barry Bonds after 2001 it wasn’t because they compared him to league average, it was because they compared his immediate past performance to *anything* ever done before.

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