The 2015 minor league season begins today. To prepare for the start of the season, we have previews of all four of the full season affiliates of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Here are the previews for each team:

Indianapolis Indians

Altoona Curve – READING

Bradenton Marauders

West Virginia Power

Who Are the Breakout Players in the Pirates’ System For the 2015 Season?

Here is a look at the 2015 Altoona Curve, who will feature top prospects Tyler Glasnow and Josh Bell on their Opening Day roster.

Lineup

C – Sebastian Valle

1B – Josh Bell

2B – Max Moroff

SS – Gift Ngoepe

3B – Eric Wood

LF – Willy Garcia

CF – Keon Broxton

RF – Stetson Allie

DH – Edward Salcedo

The Pirates will have a lot of interesting prospects at the Double-A level. The most interesting of the group is Josh Bell. He’s making the move to first base this year, and could be in line to take over the first base position in the majors by the middle of the 2016 season. Bell was putting up strong offensive numbers in Bradenton last year, showing off some of his raw power in the process. The power fell off at the end of the year when he jumped to Altoona, and didn’t return in the Arizona Fall League. I don’t think that was due to the higher level, since Bell’s power is real, and isn’t a product of A-ball pitching. I think the better explanation was that he tired at the end of the year. He added muscle over the off-season, which should help with that. He also should have an easier work load at first base than he had in the outfield. This should allow him to hit for power this year, and carry that power through the end of the season.

Despite starting off in Double-A, Sebastian Valle is a MLB depth option behind the plate. He’s in Altoona because he would have never seen time behind the plate with Indianapolis, with Elias Diaz and eventually Tony Sanchez at the level. Valle should split time with Jacob Stallings, who has done outstanding work with the current pitching staff.

Max Moroff will play mostly second base, but will also get some time at shortstop this year. Moroff is very selective at the plate, almost to a fault at times. He drives the ball well, and works deep in the count waiting for that pitch to drive. This leads to high walk rates, but not the best strikeout rates, and inconsistent power numbers. He’s got a good bat, but will need to be a bit more aggressive in the upper levels for the hitting to translate to the stat lines.

Gift Ngoepe is expected to begin the year as the starting shortstop. He’s got some of the best defense at the position in the system, but lacks offense. The defense is good enough that he could eventually reach the majors for a brief call-up, but for now he will benefit the ground ball pitchers in the Altoona rotation.

Third base will feature several players, with Eric Wood expected to get most of the playing time. Wood showed some decent power and good contact ability in A-ball last year, and could be a sleeper to watch at the position going forward. He should share time with Edward Salcedo, who was acquired from the Braves over the off-season. Salcedo should get some time in the outfield, along with serving as the designated hitter. He’s got some power potential, but has seen his bat stall in the upper levels the last two years. Dan Gamache should also get time at third, while also entering the mix at second base. Gamache has strong defense, but doesn’t have the bat you’d want for a starter at third.

The outfield has some of the most interesting prospects at the level. Willy Garcia has a ton of raw power, and one of the best outfield arms in the system. He profiles best as a right fielder, but could get some time at the other two outfield spots this year. He’s going to need to cut down on his strikeouts, and possibly add to his walk rate in order to move up to Triple-A. He’s got the upside to eventually make the majors as a starter if he can improve in those areas.

Stetson Allie will make the move to the outfield this year, playing some right field. This will give him more of an opportunity to show off his plus arm. He was slated to return to Double-A, where he can hopefully cut down on his strikeouts. The presence of Josh Bell made it necessary for him to change positions. The key for him will be cutting down on the strikeouts, which could allow him to make the jump to Indianapolis this year.

Keon Broxton had a big breakout season in Altoona last year, although he was bumped back to the level after a few MLB cuts. Broxton didn’t have the most consistent season, and will need to work on that this year. He could move up to Indianapolis by the middle of the year if a spot opens up.

Bench

Jacob Stallings, Dan Gamache, Jonathan Schwind, Junior Sosa

The Altoona bench should get plenty of playing time this year. Stallings will enter the mix behind the plate after establishing a strong relationship with most of the pitchers on this team. Gamache will enter the mix at second and third base. Schwind will play a super utility role, getting time in the outfield and serving as the third catcher. Sosa is a speedy, strong defensive outfielder who should get some time at all three positions.

Starting Rotation

Tyler Glasnow, Jason Creasy, Chad Kuhl, Angel Sanchez, Zack Dodson*

The highlight of the rotation is Tyler Glasnow, who is the top prospect in the system. Glasnow will likely spend the entire season in Altoona, continuing to work on developing his changeup, which was a big focus last year. He’s also going to need to continue improving his command, which will come from finding a way to repeat his delivery on a more consistent basis. The Pirates usually give all of their pitching prospects at least 150 innings at the Double-A level, and Glasnow isn’t expected to arrive in the majors until the middle of the 2016 season. Outside of a possible end-of-the-season promotion to Indianapolis, I’d expect him to remain in Altoona all year.

Jason Creasy and Chad Kuhl are two ground ball pitchers who can hit the mid-90s with their four seam fastballs. Kuhl will primarily work with his two-seamer, mixing the four seam fastball in as a situational pitch. Creasy has transitioned to more of a four seam guy, with the sinker being a situational pitch. He has some of the best control in the system. Both pitchers will need to develop a stronger breaking pitch in the upper levels.

Angel Sanchez was claimed by the Pirates at the end of the 2014 season, and remained in the organization after being outrighted to the minors over the off-season. He’s a hard thrower who can hit the mid-90s, and has decent breaking stuff. The Pirates obviously like him enough to stick with him this much, and he’ll get to show what he can do this year in the Altoona rotation.

Zack Dodson is the final prep pitcher remaining from the 2009 draft class. The Pirates are still giving him a chance as a starter, and this could be the final one. He has shown some good abilities in the past, with a fastball that can get in the low-90s, and an above average curveball that works as an out pitch. Dodson will have until at least the middle of the season, at which point some arms could be arriving from the Bradenton rotation.

Bullpen

Matt Benedict, Tom Harlan*, Tyler Sample, Yhonathan Barrios, John Kuchno, Jhondaniel Medina, Josh Smith*

Most relievers below the Triple-A level don’t make it to the majors, although there are a few exceptions in Double-A. Yhonathan Barrios is a former infielder who now throws in the mid-to-upper 90s as a reliever, with decent off-speed stuff. Jhondaniel Medina is another hard throwing right-hander. Both pitchers need to improve their control numbers in order to reach the majors. John Kuchno is an extreme ground ball pitcher who could get time in long-relief, and should see his fastball play up in shorter outings, with the chance to hit mid-90s out of the bullpen. The Pirates liked Tom Harlan enough to make him a starter last year and send him to the AFL over the off-season. He should get plenty of time as a long-reliever, and might factor into the rotation mix this year.

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