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 – READING
Here is a look at the 2015 Indianapolis Indians, who will feature top prospects Nick Kingham, Alen Hanson, and Elias Diaz on their Opening Day roster.
C – Elias Diaz
1B – Hunter Morris
2B – Alen Hanson
SS – Gustavo Nunez
3B – Brent Morel
LF – Mel Rojas Jr.
CF – Gorkys Hernandez
RF – Jose Tabata
DH – Deibinson Romero
Most of the depth for the Pirates’ lineup is already in Pittsburgh, playing off the bench to start the year. However, if that depth doesn’t work out, the Pirates can turn to a few options in Indianapolis.
Elias Diaz has the best chance of going up and making an impact this year. He’s the catcher of the future in Pittsburgh, and could take over by mid-season if Francisco Cervelli struggles or gets injured. Diaz broke out at the plate last year, and has always had strong defensive skills behind the plate. If he can repeat the offensive performance, then he’ll secure his spot as the catcher of the future, and might force the Pirates’ hand to call him up at some point this year.
Alen Hanson is the other top hitting prospect at the level. He might not have as big of a chance to crack the majors this year, since he’ll be behind Jung-ho Kang and Sean Rodriguez on the depth chart for second base. However, the Pirates moved him to second base last year with the goal that he could make that jump sooner than later, with the position change helping him to focus primarily on his offense.
The shortstop position is one that could change, depending on whether Pedro Florimon clears waivers. Right now, Gustavo Nunez profiles for the role, and Nunez has been a strong defensive shortstop in the past. However, Florimon is easily the best defender the Pirates could have, and would be the starter and a top depth option if he’s able to clear waivers. If Florimon doesn’t make it through waivers, then Justin Sellers could take this role when he comes off the MLB disabled list.
Third base will be a split between Brent Morel and Deibinson Romero. Both players could get time at first base, along with at-bats as the designated hitter. Romero was named the top minor league free agent by FanGraphs, based on the Steamer projections. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pirates give a bit more time to Morel, as he was getting priority at third before the Pirates added a true first baseman.
Speaking of first base, Hunter Morris was acquired in a trade at the end of Spring Training when it became apparent that the Pirates didn’t have any first base options in Triple-A. Andrew Lambo would have been the only option, but he made the major league roster. Morel and Romero got time at the position in Spring Training, but neither player has played first base in the past. Morris is entering his age 26 season, and hasn’t exactly lit up the Triple-A level in the past, while playing in the hitter friendly PCL. It’s hard to see him as a prospect who could make the jump to the majors. He looks more like an upper level organizational guy who will hold down first base in Triple-A until Josh Bell is ready at the end of this year or at the start of the 2016 season.
The outfield is an area where the Pirates should expect to use some depth from the Triple-A level, if needed. The outfield options in the majors include Lambo, Corey Hart, and Sean Rodriguez, but if an injury occurs, they will need another true outfielder on the bench. Jose Tabata is a candidate, due to his $4 M salary this year. He’s working on a new swing at the plate, aimed at solid contact rather than ground balls, and it will be interesting to see how that develops with more game action.
Gorkys Hernandez has also been working on a new swing, and the Pirates were encouraged by his progress this Spring. He already has plus-plus defense, and if he can hit at all, he would be a valuable addition to the MLB bench.
Mel Rojas has the best upside of the group, with a chance to be a starting outfielder in the majors one day. I’d expect him to get some time in center field. He’s got good enough defense to play all three outfield spots, and has some good hitting skills, with plenty of raw power. Consistency has been a problem in the past, although he has gotten better at that the last few years, leading to a bit of a breakout at the plate.
Wilkin Castillo, Kelson Brown, Steve Lombardozzi, Andy Vasquez
I’d expect the bench to drastically change in the opening months. Pedro Florimon could clear waivers. Justin Sellers and Jaff Decker will return from the disabled list, with Decker expected to get a lot of time in the starting lineup. Tony Sanchez could even return to the level when Chris Stewart returns to the majors. These moves will either bump four of the above starters to the bench, or bump some of the above starters off the roster.
Nick Kingham, Casey Sadler, Adrian Sampson, Wilfredo Boscan, Charlie Leesman*
The rotation looks to be the biggest strength in terms of MLB depth, and it will only get better as the season goes on. Nick Kingham is the top prospect at the level, and will be the top depth option when he’s ready by the middle of the year. Kingham will need to focus on having better command of his pitches, which was an issue for him at times in 2014. He is also working on incorporating a two-seam fastball into his mix a little more often, which is a common approach that the Pirates take for pitchers who are close to the MLB level.
Adrian Sampson is another mid-season option, although his odds of making a big impact this year are smaller, since he will be behind Kingham on the depth charts. Sampson had a big breakout season last year in Altoona, due to the results of an improved changeup and better fastball command. This year he will be working more on incorporating his curveball in the mix, which should lead to more strikeouts and better overall numbers.
Casey Sadler is one of the early season depth options, and should be the first call-up if the Pirates need a starter before Charlie Morton returns from the disabled list. Sadler is a sinkerball pitcher who generates a ton of ground balls. I’m not sure how he will fare with the Indianapolis defense at the start of the season, but his results should be much better in Pittsburgh, where the infield defense looks much stronger.
Wilfredo Boscan and Charlie Leesman will start the year in the rotation, although their time could be short-term. Clayton Richard will eventually join the team when he’s done working on his mechanics in extended Spring Training. Richard will be another early season depth option for the MLB rotation. Stolmy Pimentel could join the rotation if he clears waivers. Jameson Taillon will join the rotation by the middle of the season, after he’s done rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.
Deolis Guerra, John Holdzkom, Bobby LaFromboise*, Adam Miller, A.J. Morris, Chris Volstad, Blake Wood
The Triple-A bullpen is one of the few places in the minors where relief pitchers are actually guys who could make an impact in the majors. The Pirates have some good depth at the start of the year, already sending Rob Scahill to the majors to replace the vacancy left after Morton’s DL placement. John Holdzkom will also be a top option, and Blake Wood looked excellent in Spring Training, getting an extended look from the Pirates. Bobby LaFromboise is a lefty depth option, although it will be interesting to see whether the Pirates go with him or Leesman if they need an extra lefty reliever. Collin Balester should also be in the mix here throughout the season.