First Pitch: The Pirates are Giving a Lot of Aggressive Promotions to Hitting Prospects

While writing up the top 30 today, two trends occurred over and over. These two trends seemed to be a change from how the Pittsburgh Pirates have operated in the past in regards to how they promote players at the minor league level.

The first trend was the aggressive promotion for hitting prospects. The Pirates sent Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire to Bradenton, despite half a season in West Virginia for Meadows, and poor offensive numbers for McGuire. In the past, they have acted differently in both situations.

Meadows missed half a season with a hamstring injury, which is similar to what happened with Josh Bell in 2012, when he missed most of the season with a knee injury. Bell returned to West Virginia the next year, and stayed the entire season.

McGuire had good defense, but struggled offensively. This has been the same story in the past, including with Elias Diaz, who was in an almost identical situation to McGuire, with the exception that Diaz was one year older in his first year at the level.

Then there were the promotions of Cole Tucker and Tito Polo from the GCL to West Virginia. These aren’t that uncommon. The Pirates did the same thing in 2012, when they promoted Gregory Polanco, Alen Hanson, Willy Garcia, and Jose Osuna from the GCL to West Virginia. The promotion of Tucker was a bit of a surprise, since he’s only 18, and won’t turn 19 until mid-season. He’s one of the youngest players at the level.

That seems to be the trend across all levels. The Pirates have young hitters at almost every level. Alen Hanson (International League), Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire (Florida State League), and Tucker (South Atlantic League) are all among the ten youngest players in their respective leagues. Gregory Polanco joins that group with his age status in the National League.

Part of this could just be chalked up to individual roster decisions. Maybe it’s less of a trend, and more about the difference between Meadows and Bell, or the difference between McGuire and Diaz. But I think the quality of the system also plays into this.

If Meadows were to stay down in West Virginia, he would have been blocking players who might have a chance of establishing themselves as prospects. If McGuire would have stayed in West Virginia, he would have blocked Taylor Gushue from getting regular playing time. And in both cases, no one significant is being blocked by their presence in Bradenton.

The second trend I noticed is actually something that started last year. In the past, the Pirates would aggressively promote their prep pitchers to their New York-Penn League affiliate during their first full season. The promotion was almost automatic. Last year they added a new affiliate in Bristol, which ranks between the GCL and NYPL in terms of talent. The Pirates started promoting prep pitchers to Bristol instead of Jamestown (this year it’s Morgantown). It’s almost a half step, compared to the full step promotion the Pirates were previously giving.

They’re doing the same thing this year, with last year’s prep pitchers — Mitch Keller, Trey Supak, and Gage Hinsz — slated for Bristol. I don’t know why they made the change to a more conservative approach with pitchers. Perhaps it’s because their biggest success story, Tyler Glasnow, went a conservative route and pitched in the GCL his first full season, rather than the normal push to the NYPL. And despite that conservative route early in the process, they were able to be aggressive late, to the point where Glasnow is currently one of the youngest players in the Eastern League.

Of course there are signs that point to both of these things being about specific players, rather than an organizational philosophy. On the hitting side, they’ve put college guys like JaCoby Jones, Jordan Luplow, and Connor Joe in West Virginia during their first seasons. And on the pitching side, they’ve aggressively promoted some college guys straight to Bradenton in their first year, with Adrian Sampson making it to Indianapolis by the end of his second year. The Pirates seem like they’d be more about promoting based on how an individual looks, and not based on a positional philosophy. That said, the trends were interesting, and could be beneficial if the position players respond well to their aggressive pushes.

**I’ll have some articles tomorrow on the Pirates, along with an article from Ryan in Indianapolis. Tomorrow is my final day covering the big league team, and on Thursday I head over to Altoona. Current scheduled starter: Tyler Glasnow.

**Pittsburgh Pirates Top 30 Prospects – Early Season Update

**Austin Meadows Already Showing Why The Pirates Gave Him An Aggressive Promotion

**Prospect Watch: Shaky Outing For Nick Kingham, Cody Dickson Bounces Back From Tough Opener

**Pirates Notes: Marte Replaced By Hart, Morton Making Progress, Melancon’s Velocity

**Morning Report: First Time Through The Order

**Draft Prospect Watch: Multiple Players Moving Up The Draft Boards Lately

  • Sounds quite a bit like what that pilbo guy said yesterday, stated more eloquently by Mr. Williams of course.

  • I think a lot of this is player-based on the hitting side, with the Bell-Meadows example being the most obvious. Josh Bell wasn’t anywhere near as polished as Austin Meadows at the same age. Not even close. Worse approach, and far worse swing.

    Meadows, McGuire, and Tucker are all more than your typical raw, uber-toolsy project you need to actually teach to play baseball. I think it’s smart to push them til they’re challenged and forced to adapt.

    • I’d agree with Bell and Meadows. The former had a two-part swing that was awkward, and he was still working on it last year. Meadows is smooth, compact, and generates a lot of power already.

      The weird thing was with McGuire/Diaz. Basically the same situation, although I think the fact that McGuire would have been blocking people played a role.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    April 15, 2015 9:27 am

    For the kids who are able to succeed with these “aggressive promotions”, its a win-win for everyone concerned. However, but for those who struggle to the point of having to be demoted or repeat the level, there is a chance that there could be a negative psychological impact on the young player. You have to know your players and their personalities – some can handle it, some may not.

  • Do you think this changes any best case trajectory to the majors for the aggressively pushed guys, or is it just a reordering of their itenarary?

    • Usually A-ball guys are very flexible on their path to the majors. It’s not until a guy reaches Double-A that you start to get an idea of the exact timeline. Even that isn’t so exact, and can be off by a year.

  • As long as it works out, I will have no problem with it.