First Pitch: Pirates Starting to Get a Lot of Talent in the High Minors

Over the weekend, Ryan Palencer stepped in to write an Indianapolis Indians themed First Pitch, looking at the depth options on that team, and the lack of playing time for all of the available options. The two specific areas he focused on were catcher and the outfield.

The catching situation is pretty well confined to the Triple-A level, and a debate over how to split up playing time between Elias Diaz and Tony Sanchez. Currently the Pirates are going with a two-on, two-off game schedule, while getting each player at-bats as a DH when they’re off.

The outfield situation is where things get interesting. The Pirates have Jose Tabata, Jaff Decker, Gorkys Hernandez, and Mel Rojas for the three spots. Normally you could have one of those options as a DH, but as noted above, Diaz and Sanchez will be taking up that time. This means one of these four outfielders will most likely be on the Indianapolis bench most nights, despite the fact that all four could be MLB depth options this year.

This is a situation that spans beyond Indianapolis, and it was something I was thinking about after Ryan’s article on Saturday. We already saw Keon Broxton held back in Altoona at the start of the season, due to the lack of space at the Triple-A level. Willy Garcia and Stetson Allie take the other two outfield spots in Altoona, although those two are likely being held back more because of the bat and the strikeouts, rather than a lack of opportunity.

Because the Altoona outfield is also full, Jose Osuna has no room to move up to Bradenton. He wouldn’t be getting time at first base, and the lack of outfield spots left him in High-A for the third year in a row, despite solid numbers at the end of last season.

The Pirates are starting to have these types of situations at every position. As an example, look at what could happen at the second base position in the next year. Max Moroff is off to a good start in Altoona, and has the upside to play in the majors, possibly as a starter if he puts it all together and breaks out this year. But Alen Hanson is a much better prospect, and is currently ahead of him, playing in Indianapolis. Hanson is held back this year by Neil Walker, Sean Rodriguez, and Jung-Ho Kang in the majors, making it unlikely that he will get a significant look.

Hanson could always make the jump to the majors next year, replacing Rodriguez in that utility infielder role. Something needs to happen, because Moroff will be pushing from Altoona. Moroff will have Erich Weiss pushing from Bradenton. Weiss is going to most likely have Pablo Reyes pushing from West Virginia. Not all of those guys are on the same level as prospects, but they’re all guys who should be challenged to see what they have, in hopes that they might put it all together and exceed expectations.

This is going to be the case for a lot of positions. It’s the sign of a good system, and should lead to a good flow of talent to the majors, or the possibility of further trades to help the majors (although I don’t subscribe to the theory that a trade is absolutely necessary, since depth isn’t a real problem that needs to be solved by moving someone). And if there are more stories like Moroff so far this year, or Diaz last year, then the Pirates are going to be in good shape in the future.

**At the end of last week I mentioned that I would be updating the theme to a cleaner look that had fewer ads. As you saw today, the new theme is live. If you notice any issues with the theme, let me know. I already received word that the first article on the main page on mobile devices was cutting off part of the headline. That issue has now been resolved.

I like how the new look turned out, especially with some of the smaller features like the images in the menu bar at the top of the page, the fact that the menu bar is always at the top of the screen, and the slideshow feature used in today’s Top Performers article, which should make some information much easier to browse through.

**Prospect Watch: Strong Outing For Brault, Bell Picks Up Four Hits

**Another Second Base Prospect is Emerging in the Upper Levels of the Pirates’ System

**Top Performers: Angel Sanchez, Cody Dickson, Deibinson Romero, Max Moroff

**Morning Report: You Might Be Surprised By the Best Hitters From Each Team

**John Holdzkom is Losing Control With Indianapolis


  • To trade or not to trade,that is the question. This is why gm’s get paid the big bucks and get gray hair. Much more fun, although much less fruitful to be an armchair qb. So have fun with this neal you earned it.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    April 28, 2015 9:27 am

    All of these good to great prospects in AAA and AA are nice, but only if you provide them opportunities to advance and move up to Pittsburgh. We can’t keep the ML roster stocked with mediocre veterans (Stewart, Hart, Morton, Worley to name a few), when we have young players with greater upside. I like Sean Rodriguez,so I did not include him in the above list.

    • I ask this the other day in the other article. Does any of our AAAA players have any trade value? (not including anyone on our top prospects list) Might a trade create some space and also get something in return.
      Of course the value of our player may depend on the desperation of the team who needs the player. Who would be a trade candidate in this case?

      • BuccosFanStuckinMD
        April 28, 2015 12:18 pm

        If some MLB teams suffer some injuries, I could see guys like Sanchez, Diaz, Lombardozzi, Rojas, etc. all potentially having trade value and interest. I wouldn’t trade Diaz unless someone offered a top 15-20 lower level prospect or two at positions of need. But, I would definitely consider trading any of the others,if we could get lower level prospects in return. Our system is starting to get top heavy

        • I would not put Diaz on my list of available players for trade and I would place a higher price on Rojas at least for another year. I’m also becoming fascinated with the success this year of the AAA 3rd baseman. Certainly is a nice situation to be in after so many years.

  • I guess the ? is what does the major league team need? tony sanchez could be moved with another prospect ,for a back end of the bull pen piece with some options left or a starting pitcher or a bench piece , or younger prospects.

  • Corporate_Joe
    April 28, 2015 9:09 am

    One comment I have on the new theme that I am not a big fan of… I am probably in the minority, but when I view the site I usually go to recent articles to see everything I missed since the last time I visited, and right click to open all the stories in a new tab to read them. This isn’t as easy as it used to be for two reasons. (1) I can’t find a place to do that as easily as before. The side bar titled “latest” only shows the past 5 or so. (2) On the home page, when you scroll over a story the headline goes away, and you can’t see which story it is. Minor details, I know. Just thought I would share. Love the site.

    • The recent articles are at the bottom of the home page. They exclude anything that is in the featured section at the top of the page. They’re ordered by newest post, left to right, and there are 12 posts per page, with page numbers at the bottom of the section.

      • Thanks, Tim. But I’m with Corporate_Joe. I try to read every article and the new layout makes it very difficult for me to tell what’s been posted since the last time I visited, especially on the mobile version. Any chance you could create a page that lists every single article posted in reverse chronological order? I don’t want to miss anything and the current layout although great for featuring stuff makes me question what’s new and what’s old.

        Love the content and happy to subscribe!

        • The “Latest” section on the right side has been expanded to show the most recent 20 articles.

          • Thanks! The sidebar definitely does the trick on the desktop site! Still really hard to make this happen on the mobile site. Any way to fix this for mobile? or, gosh, an RSS feed (anyone still use those?).

  • Yes, Tim…I appreciate the updates to the site, too. It was a cumbersome 1st “re-work”. Much easier now. As always…thanks for the great articles.

  • I agree that the Pirates have a lot of talent throughout the system, but the position I thought was in excellent shape is surprisingly very thin – Closer. Watching Mark Melancon in his last outing was painful, and he has 5 Saves out of 6 opportunities, but the numbers are way out of synch with his performance the past 2 years for the Pirates. A 5.79 ERA, more hits than innings pitched 10H/9IP), 5K/4W where he was a K per inning guy and a 141K/19W ratio over 140 IP, and he seems to be losing more velocity with each outing.

    Watson is the heir apparent, and Caminero seems to be learning how to pitch for the Pirates – from a 0.50 GO/AO for the Marlins, he is at 1.57 for the Pirates, and seems to live at 96/97 with his fastball. How good can he be as a back-up to Watson? Holdzkom is struggling at AAA, but is there anyone else?

    • “Closer” isn’t a position; it’s a role. Mariano Rivera was a starting pitcher all through the minors, failed at it in the majors in 1995, and moved into the bullpen in 1996.

      So “depth at closer” is an issue only at the top level – if your current closer goes down, who steps in? And as you point out, there’s a clear Next Man Up in Watson, and a likely Heir Presumptive in Caminero. I doubt many ML teams have a guy like Caminero ready to step in if their next two closers go down.

  • Hey Tim, great job on the site as always. Any chance you could do some live chats down the road on this site?