Normally we do two updates to our top prospect lists throughout the year. The first one is our top 50, which comes with the release of the annual Prospect Guide. The second one is a mid-season update that comes after the draft, showing where the new players would fall in the top 20 rankings, while also considering some of the changes that took place in the first half of the season.
There have been a lot of changes to the rankings since we released the 2015 Prospect Guide. Stolmy Pimentel is gone. Andrew Lambo is expected to graduate to the majors. The Pirates acquired two left-handers in the Travis Snider trade. And then there’s all of the coverage and updates from Spring Training, which influenced some of the decisions.
As a result, I felt it was best to update the rankings for the start of the season. And rather than the usual top 20 for mid-season updates, we’re expanding it to a top 30. You’re paying for this, after all. The least we can do is give you ten more prospects.
There won’t be major changes, especially at the top of the list. For most players, not enough has happened to cause a major change. That’s not true for all players, and I will detail the big changes for those players below.
1. Tyler Glasnow, RHP (Previous Rank: 1) – He’s still the top guy in the system, and he’s already dominating against upper level hitters, although the control is still a concern.
2. Jameson Taillon, RHP (Previous Rank: 2) – He’s expected to return to Indianapolis by the middle of the season as the Pirates take it slow with his Tommy John rehab.
3. Austin Meadows, OF (Previous Rank: 3) – The Pirates gave him an aggressive push to Bradenton, and as I wrote earlier today, he’s handling that push very well.
4. Josh Bell, 1B (Previous Rank: 4) – Bell moved to first base this year. The early results at the position haven’t been smooth, but that’s to be expected, and overall his move has been encouraging. The offense is going to be the big thing to focus on, and he will have an entire year in Altoona for that focus.
5. Reese McGuire, C (Previous Rank: 5) – Just like Meadows, McGuire got an aggressive push to Bradenton, despite poor offensive numbers last year in West Virginia.
6. Nick Kingham, RHP (Previous Rank: 6) – He’s probably going to be the best prospect to make an impact in the majors for the Pirates this year, but still needs some work in Triple-A, as shown by today’s start (4 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 6 K).
7. Alen Hanson, 2B (Previous Rank: 7) – It was kind of a surprise to see him among the youngest players in the International League, just because it’s easy to forget he has been pushed at such a young level at every stage of his career. He will be at second base full-time this year, and will need to improve on his consistency with his bat before he can get a shot at the majors. Also, he’ll probably need injuries to Neil Walker, Jung-ho Kang, and Sean Rodriguez.
8. Cole Tucker, SS (Previous Rank: 8) – It looked like the Pirates severely reached for Tucker in last summer’s draft, but news quickly came out that other teams would have taken him shortly after the Pirates. Tucker looked impressive this Spring, showing off a quick line drive stroke, and smooth fielding at the shortstop position. The defense needs some ironing out, but he looks like a guy who could stick at short.
9. Elias Diaz, C (Previous Rank: 10) – Diaz looks like the catcher of the future for the Pirates, and that future could come sooner than later. He’s got some of the best defense behind the plate in the system, his offense really took off last year, and his pitchers love pitching to him.
10. Mitch Keller, RHP (Previous Rank: 9) – There wasn’t much that separated Diaz and Keller before, and there wasn’t much that separated them in value this time around, so the switch isn’t a big change. Keller is a very talented pitcher, throwing 91-94 MPH all Spring with good command and promising secondary stuff. He’ll start the year in Bristol.
11. Harold Ramirez, OF (Previous Rank: 11) – Between the injury history, and missing the start of the season with conditioning issues, Ramirez is close to dropping. We already had him slightly lower than most outlets for those reasons, so there was no reason to drop him further, especially since he’s an outstanding hitter when healthy.
12. Stephen Tarpley, LHP (Previous Rank: NR) – Part one of the Travis Snider trade. I love the upside of Tarpley, and it’s easy to see his strong second half continuing this year after knowing that he switched to a three-quarters arm slot which gave him better command. Overall, a lefty who can hit the upper 90s, and works low-to-mid 90s is a guy to watch.
13. JaCoby Jones, SS (Previous Rank: 19) – Jones is still the same hitter he was when we had him ranked 19th overall before the season. There are still concerns about his strikeouts, and still reasons to love his power potential. He jumped up the list in my book because of the defense. It looks strong for a guy who has been playing the position in pro ball for just one year. That’s even with the fact that I saw him commit three errors on Sunday. He’s athletic with a lot of range for the position, and with some continued glove work and reps at the position, he should be a passable shortstop.
14. Adrian Sampson, RHP (Previous Rank: 12) – He’s the same pitcher he was in the pre-season, with good command and a nice three pitch mix, thanks in part to an improved changeup last year. Sampson could make the majors this year, but will be behind Nick Kingham on the mid-season depth charts.
15. Trey Supak, RHP (Previous Rank: 15) – Supak works in the upper 80s to low 90s, touching 94. He doesn’t have the same command as Keller, which is why he has been separated from the fellow second round pick in all of our rankings since they were both drafted last year.
16. Gage Hinsz, RHP (Previous Rank: 16) – Hinsz has been tied with Supak just because they’re both tall, projectable right-handers who can hit the mid-90s with their fastball, while lacking strong command at this stage. They will join Keller in Bristol.
17. Barrett Barnes, OF (Previous Rank: 37) – This was a huge jump that can be explained by the huge drop Barnes saw in the last rankings. He dropped far in our rankings due to his huge injury history and lack of development time. We might have had him too far down for that. When healthy, he has a lot of potential with the bat, which he showed throughout Spring Training. This ranking might be too optimistic that his injury problems are behind him. However, this is where he belongs with a normal player’s injury risk.
18. Clay Holmes, RHP (Previous Rank: 17) – Holmes is returning from Tommy John surgery, and is on pace to join the Bradenton rotation by the start of June.
19. Cody Dickson, LHP (Previous Rank: 14) – There was a slight drop for Dickson, due to his continued control issues. He’s got the upside to be a middle of the rotation starter, but will need to continue improving the changeup and his control before that can happen.
20. Willy Garcia, OF (Previous Rank: 18) – Garcia has a lot of power potential, and perhaps some of the best in the system. He also has good defensive value in right field, with the best outfield arm in the system. The problem is that he strikes out too much, and those issues don’t seem to be resolving in the early part of the 2015 season in his return to Altoona.
21. John Holdzkom, RHP (Previous Rank: 13) – Nothing has really changed for Holdzkom. There also wasn’t a massive difference in prospect value between the last 7-8 guys on this list. He’s still going to be a top bullpen depth option for the Pirates this year, and still a guy with closer upside.
22. Jordan Luplow, 3B (Previous Rank: 28) – He saw a boost in this list, in part because of his move to third base. I liked his bat as an outfielder, but like it a lot better at third base. He seems athletic enough to play the position, and the early results looked good in Spring Training. He should be playing third most of the time in West Virginia when he’s ready to start the season (shoulder soreness).
23. Connor Joe, 1B/3B (Previous Rank: 29) – There’s a chance that Joe could soar up this list, especially if the Pirates are correct about his power potential. So far he has missed a lot of time with a back injury, and will miss the start of the 2015 season getting built back up. He’ll also be moving to third base, while also playing first. That gives him a boost in value, and he could make a big jump if the power potential turns out to be legit. So far I haven’t seen enough to say that, having only seen him in limited batting practice sessions.
24. Wyatt Mathisen, 3B (Previous Rank: 31) – I really like the way Mathisen is handling the move to third base, both from a defensive standpoint, and a health standpoint. The move is keeping him healthy, which is allowing his bat to develop. He’s got great contact skills, with the ability to hit for power to all fields. He could be a starting third baseman in the future if the bat and defense continue improving.
25. Casey Sadler, RHP (Previous Rank: 23) – He has already made a start in the majors, and will be one of the top early season depth options. When Sadler’s command of his sinker is on, he looks like a legitimate MLB starter. The command isn’t always on, which is why he’s a depth starter right now, and why his upside is a fourth starter or a strong reliever.
26. Steven Brault, LHP (Previous Rank: NR) – The second part of the Snider trade. Brault isn’t flashy, working mostly with a two-seam fastball since joining the Pirates’ organization. His four-seam fastball can sit in the low 90s, but the two-seamer is much more effective, getting a ton of ground balls thanks to his command and late cutting action. The pitch arrives at the plate at knee level, then drops at the last second. It has so much movement that he has been generating a lot of strikeouts with the pitch, either with swings and misses, or just fooling people completely and getting them looking.
27. Tito Polo (Previous Rank: 47) – Polo saw a big jump in these rankings. I liked him as a breakout candidate prior to Spring Training after seeing him all year in the GCL last year. A big reason why I like him better after Spring Training is that his swing is improved. He used to have a Jung-ho Kang style leg kick, as seen in the video below from LetsGoMarauders.
This Spring he has eliminated that, shortening his swing, and the result is that he’s hitting to all fields with quick bat speed and a smooth swing. Here is the video from Spring Training. This one should lead to some strong offense in his jump to West Virginia this year.
28. Tyler Eppler, RHP (Previous Rank: 27) – I really like Eppler’s potential, and like him as a breakout candidate this year. He missed some time in Spring Training with elbow soreness, but is now on pace to join the Bradenton rotation by the start of May. He’s one of my sleeper picks when he does arrive.
29. Luis Heredia, RHP (Previous Rank: 20) – Heredia was once a guy widely seen as one of the best pitching prospects in the system. Now? He’s a project who needs better command, an increase in his velocity, and an out pitch. That puts him on the level of your typical prep pitcher out of the draft, so he’s still a prospect. But he’s far from a lock, especially with the continued conditioning issues.
30. Taylor Gushue (Previous Rank: 30) – Gushue is an athletic catcher who has some good skills behind the plate. He also has some potential with the bat, and should be a good project for the Pirates in the lower levels. They’ve got a lot of good catching prospects in A-ball, and he definitely stands as one of the better options.