First Pitch: The Most Talented Lineup in the Pirates’ System

Yo, Altoona, I’ma let you finish, but Bradenton has the best Pirates prospects lineup of all time! Of all time!

OK, that might not be accurate at all. It’s not that the Pirates have had a lot of really talented lineups in their minor league systems over the years. They haven’t. In fact, there were a few decades where their minor league system produced almost nothing, which is how you go 20 years without a winning season. I just haven’t really done the work to compare this Bradenton team to every prospect group in the history of the franchise.

But I look around the Pirates’ system this year, and I see a ton of depth, with two loaded teams in Altoona and Bradenton. While Altoona has the better record, and the better pitching staff, I’d say that today’s addition for the Marauders easily gives them the best prospect lineup in the Pirates’ system. Maybe of all time. But definitely this year.

Harold Ramirez was added to the Bradenton roster today, which isn’t a big surprise for subscribers who saw my injury update last week saying he was close to a return. Ramirez rounds out a lineup that features nine players who have a shot to reach the majors. That kind of talent is rare at any level, and is especially rare in A-ball.

Ramirez completes an outfield trio of seven-figure bonus babies, joining the other two center field prospects on the team. Austin Meadows is the highest profile guy. He signed with the Pirates for just over $3 M as the ninth overall pick in 2013, and was rated today as Keith Law’s 13th best prospect in baseball. Ramirez is the next best prospect of the group, signing with the Pirates in 2011 for $1.05 M, which is still the second highest bonus the Pirates have given to a Latin American amateur, topped only by Luis Heredia’s $3 M bonus. Finally, there is Barrett Barnes, who received $1 M as a first round compensation pick in 2012.

All three outfielders could play center field, although Meadows will get the priority. I’d expect Meadows and Ramirez to spend the entire season at the level, although Barnes could move up mid-season if he stays healthy, as he’s older and is showing some solid offensive skills.

The other seven-figure bonus in the lineup belongs to the catcher, Reese McGuire. He was signed for just over $2.3 M as the 14th overall pick in the 2013 draft, and profiles as a future two-way catcher who rates as one of the best defensive catchers in all of minor league baseball. The fact that the Marauders have four guys who signed for $1 M or more, with three of them being first round picks, already puts them off to a strong start as a talented team.

Then there’s the infield, made up of four guys who all signed for $250,000 or more, with two of those guys signing for over half a million in the early rounds of the draft. Jose Osuna signed for $250,000 as an international amateur, and has been crushing the ball this year. He’s currently blocked from a promotion to Altoona, but is expected to join that level later this year.

Erich Weiss was given a $305,000 bonus as an 11th round pick in 2013, putting the Pirates over their bonus pool to the point where they had to pay a 5% fine. Weiss has shown off a good ability to hit for average and get on base, and could make it as a utility player in the future, capable of playing second and third base.

The bigger bonuses come on the left side of the infield, with two athletic players who saw position changes to more valuable spots. Wyatt Mathisen was signed for $746,300, which was slot for his second round pick in 2012. After trying out catcher for two years, he moved to third base, where he currently rates as the best third base prospect in the system. JaCoby Jones is another member of the 2013 draft, signing for the slot price of $612,000 in the third round. He was drafted as an outfielder, playing center field and second base in college, but the Pirates moved him to shortstop, where he looks like he can stick at the position.

The infield has some flaws at each position. You never know if a guy like Osuna can actually reach the majors, since you need to see him have success in the upper levels to get a better idea of how his power could play. Weiss doesn’t have much power, so he’s going to have to make it on his ability to continue hitting for average in the upper levels. Jones and Mathisen are both projects who have a chance to be starters, but have work to do on their games before they reach that point.

Finally, there’s Jin-De Jhang, who signed for $350,000 out of Taiwan, which was a record for the biggest bonus from an amateur out of the country. Jhang is a strong hitting catcher who splits time with McGuire behind the plate, and gets work as the DH when McGuire is starting. He’s got some power potential, and could make it as a catcher, with the defensive skills that could allow him to provide some value from the position.

There are question marks with some of these players. Some have the upside of bench players, or guys who could just make it as a depth option. Others profile as starters, or even star players. But there is no questioning the talent.

Every player in this lineup was signed for $250,000 or more, with six of the nine receiving half a million or more. The group features three first round picks, two early round picks, an over-slot middle round pick, and three big bonus international players. They’ve got two of the top five prospects, three more in the top 17, one more in the top 30, and the last three are all near-locks for the top 50.

The only downside to this is that these are all young players, and young players can be inconsistent, as John Dreker noted this morning. With some of these guys, we’re not going to see the best numbers all year round. And Bradenton might continue to struggle to contend, since prospect loaded teams don’t always equal a winning record. That’s a big difference between Altoona and Bradenton this year. But if your focus is on watching prospects, this is a great team to watch.

This kind of talent is exciting, especially when you put it in perspective with some of the teams over the past few years. The 2009 Lynchburg Hillcats saw Pedro Alvarez, Chase d’Arnaud, Eric Fryer, Matt Hague, Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer, and Alex Presley make the majors after spending significant time with the team. That’s three current starters and four bench players. One of the most talented Bradenton teams in recent years was the 2013 team, with Gregory Polanco, Alen Hanson, Elias Diaz, Willy Garcia, Osuna, and Stetson Allie. I’d say this group beats both of those teams. And those two teams produced a lot of talent. Hopefully this year’s group will see the same results.

**We had a ton of articles up on the site today, with this one being the tenth. We had two live reports in the Prospect Watch, plus features from Pittsburgh and Indianapolis. This article was free, but subscribers got all of the content below today, for just $2.99 per month or less. Tomorrow we will have articles on Stetson Allie, Deibinson Romero, and a live report from Bradenton, along with the rest of the news. I’ve also got articles coming up this week on Cole Tucker, Austin Coley, and John Dreker will have a preview of the Dominican Summer League team. There is no other site that gives this much information on the Pirates at this quality. You can get all of our coverage for just $2.99 per month, or less if you choose one of our longer plans. Click here to go to our subscription page, and subscribe today.

**Prospect Watch: Harold Ramirez Resumes Amazing Hitting Streak From 2014. My report from Bradenton tonight is included, plus John Dreker’s report from the West Virginia game.

**Mindset, Mechanics have Josh Harrison Back in Form. Nate Barnes takes a look at what got Josh Harrison back on track. He continued his nice run tonight with a big night on both sides of the ball.

**Gorkys Hernandez May Have Found a Bat to Go With His Defense. Ryan Palencer looks at how Gorkys Hernandez has added at bat to his already strong defense and speed combo. This addition could make him a good option for the Pirates as a bench player this year.

**Minor Moves: Harold Ramirez Joins the Bradenton Marauders. Also includes moves from three other levels.

**Andrew McCutchen and Ryan Braun Named NL Co-Players of the Week. It’s great to see McCutchen hitting like an MVP again.

**Keith Law Ranks Three Pirates Among His Top 25 Prospects. Pretty impressive to have three guys ranked so high. Taillon was one of the guys who moved up, due to Law receiving positive reports on his rehab and progression. If the reports are anything like I’ve seen, then it makes sense for Taillon to get a boost.

**Deibinson Romero to Sign With a Korean Team. Ryan Palencer will have more about Romero tomorrow, with thoughts on what the Pirates are losing.

**Top Performers: Sadler, Hanson, Bell, Brault, West Virginia Pitchers. Taking a look back at the best performers from last week.

**Morning Report: Bradenton is Loaded With Inconsistent Prospects. John Dreker’s article from this morning, looking more at the stats and the impact on the team, than just the prospect rankings and tools.


  • The game I would like to see is Bradenton vs Altoona with a switch in pitching to even things out.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    May 27, 2015 9:07 am

    That Bradenton lineup is impressive – pitching is the only thing that keeps that team from dominating that league. Weiss is an interesting prospect – from a good baseball program (Texas) and has decent size. The lack of power and extra base hits and power in general is a concern, but those things may come later. Mathisen is a similar type of player and hitter. I think Jones and Barnes have a ton of upside – if those two click, the Pirates are going to be very good for a long time.

    I know Gamache is not considered a prospect, but I like him as a player. He got off to a horrendous start this year, but he has been on fire of late. He just seems to do a lot of the little things well, that you need to be successful.

  • Man, it’s going to be sad when McCutchen leaves, however, this article goes to show that there will be talent waiting in the wings to replace him.

    • I still refuse to resign myself to the idea of Cutch leaving. He’s the face of the franchise and a catalyst to the baseball renaissance in Pittsburgh. I think the Bucs brass is gonna try their best to retain him and if any player is classy enough to give a hometown discount, it’s him.

      • Agree with you on Cutch and did I read it right that he moved his family to Pittsburgh???

    • Daniel/Kozy: I would have to go back a few months, but I suggested an extension for ‘Cutch that would amount to about $115 mil for 6 years. It would pay more for his better production years and then less as he reaches age 36.

      For more on the subject, just pull up the team values that Forbes puts out each year. The one for the Pirates has a picture of ‘Cutch, and tells us that the Pirates team value increased from $572 mil in 2014 to $900 mil in 2015 – a 57% increase. In the last 3 years where ‘Cutch was the MVP or at least in the Top 3 of the voting, that team worth has increased 42%, 19%, and now the 57% increase, from $336 mil to the $900 mil in 2015. There is no reason for a “hometown discount”. Pay the man his money.

  • Tim: The Pirates may have paid a lot for the aggregate of talent at Hi A, but I see a lot of holes in that lineup, as compared to the Altoona club. Bell is the heir-apparent to the 1B job for the Pirates. Erich Weiss has done a nice job at 2B at Hi A but Max Moroff at AA has easily been the better of these two. At 3B, Mathisen does not seem to be able to hit for any power whatsoever – 0 Doubles and 0 HR’s so far in 2015, and nothing in his past indicates that this will improve by much. Dan Gamache at 3B for Altoona is doing well after the injury time off last year and would be my choice.

    Simply stated, the Hi A team does not hit for much power, the running game (SB’s) leaves a lot to be desired, and the pitching is not even in the same ballpark as the group at AA. I like Meadows and McGuire, and a “possible” for JaCoby Jones. I think Ramirez will add much to Hi A, and Keon Broxton has done very well for AA.

    How nice is it to even be having this discussion? The Pirates are set for the long term.