Today I wrote about the breakout candidates in the lower levels of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ system, looking at guys who could go from being toolsy options and talented prospects to guys who could be top prospects with the chance for a future role in a Major League lineup or rotation.
A few years ago, the Pirates had a few top prospects, and a ton of breakout candidates. A list like this made a ton of sense, and it still makes sense, as they’ve got a lot of breakout candidates in the lower levels. They also have players in every other tier, whether that’s top prospects in the game, top 50-100 prospects who could jump to the top in the game, guys outside of the top 100 who could jump into the national rankings, and the usual breakout guys who could make a jump in the Pirates’ system.
I had a suggestion today to look at some of these scenarios. I did something similar in a Q&A a few weeks ago, but with the regular season about to begin, it seemed like a good time to revisit things. Here is one player from each scenario, along with why I think they qualify for that particular breakout.
Going From a 50-100 Prospect to Best in the Game
The Pirates have seven players who have been consistently rated in national top 100 lists this year. The only guy who is consistently in the top 20 prospects has been Tyler Glasnow. He should maintain that status as one of the best prospects in the game. As for the other six players, if there is one guy who I think could make the jump, it’s Austin Meadows.
He’s rated by some as a top 50 prospect, but could emerge into the top 20 or even the top 10 by the end of the year. Meadows has a ton of raw power, drawing Jay Bruce comps. He has struggled with off-speed stuff in the lower levels, although improved on that some last year in his half season with West Virginia. He shortened his swing this year, which should help him see the ball deeper in the zone, allowing him to recognize breaking pitches better and drive the ball to the opposite field. This will not only help him improve against off-speed stuff, but will help him tap into his power more than he has in the past.
Jumping into the Top 100
There were only three guys who were in the top ten of the system but weren’t in the top 100. Out of that group, I think the guy who has the best chance to make the jump next year is Cole Tucker. I like his approach at the plate, and he made a similar transition as Meadows, shortening his swing. Tucker is a shortstop, and recognizes the strengths of his game — using the middle of the field and hitting line drives, rather than trying to hit homers. He’s got a lot of speed, which should help him pick up a few extra hits on the season. That will also help his range, keeping him at shortstop.
I like the approach at the plate, and like the bat speed and the line drive swing. The Pirates liked him a lot more than the national rankings last year, and after the draft we found out that other teams were higher on him as well. He’s getting an aggressive push to West Virginia this year, and I think he’ll show everyone what those teams saw and liked.
From the Pirates Top 30 into the Pirates Top 10
I’ll throw in the disclaimer that it’s going to be harder to crack the top 10 of the Pirates’ system, compared to the chances with other teams. That’s true even with Nick Kingham expected to graduate from prospect status, along with the possibility that Elias Diaz and Alen Hanson could join him. The guy I’d pick is Jordan Luplow. I liked the bat as an outfielder, but he didn’t have the numbers or the tools to make him a future top prospect at the position. His numbers profile better at third base, if he can stick at the position.
Luplow’s numbers will come with a disclaimer that he’s a college hitter who will be working in low-A. That held JaCoby Jones back last year, despite his breakout season. I think Luplow can definitely move up the rankings from his pre-season spot (28), although I think it will be difficult for everyone to crack that top ten, since very few spots will be available.
From the Pirates Top 50 into the Pirates Top 30
This pick is an easy one for me. I said today that Tito Polo would be my breakout guy if I had to pick just one. I liked what I saw from Polo last year in the GCL, but he really stepped up this Spring. The thing I like the most is that he makes solid contact to all fields, which is becoming a rare trait in today’s game, and should help him hit for average and avoid the ever-increasing shifts. Polo has some power potential, although it’s more in the form of extra bases right now. I don’t see him becoming a big home run hitter, but there’s a lot of value in a guy who can hit for average, gets on base with good plate patience, and provides value on the bases and defensively.
Jumping into the Pirates Top 50
Another player who is getting an aggressive push in West Virginia is Pablo Reyes. The second baseman is a small guy, and doesn’t have the frame to hit for a ton of power. He does have a good approach at the plate, a lot of speed, and good contact skills, with some gap power mixed in. He’ll be the primary second baseman in West Virginia this year, and could hit well enough to crack the top 50 heading into the 2016 season.
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