First Pitch: The Pirates’ Growing Depth at Shortstop and Third Base

The Pirates said they were drafting the “Best Player Available” in day one of the draft, but as I noted in my recap, this approach also landed them some players at positions that you could consider organizational needs. I don’t think they did this intentionally, and believe the “Best Player Available” line, especially since they’ve gone against drafting for need so many times in the past.

With the addition of two shortstops and a third baseman, I wanted to take stock of the two positions, looking at what the Pirates have throughout the system, whether they have any future starters, and how the new guys will fit in the system.

Third Base

We’ll start here, because this one will be the easy one. The Pirates don’t have a lot of third base prospects, and the guys they do have are very new to the position, and very raw.

In Indianapolis, they have a few options, but none that would be anything more than a depth player in the majors, serving as a utility option if an injury occurred. It’s a similar story in Altoona. Eric Wood has some interesting raw power, but that hasn’t translated over to the game. Dan Gamache is having a good year at the plate, with a .305/.357/.476 line in 116 plate appearances. However, neither Wood nor Gamache have the defense to be a starter at third base. Edward Salcedo is another guy with raw power who hasn’t seen his power translate to the field, and struggles defensively at third.

The best prospect in the system is Wyatt Mathisen in Bradenton, and this is only his second year at the position. He shows some good range, especially to his left, and has good arm strength. Offensively he’s got some good hitting skills and a great ability to get on base, but lacks power. That seems to be a growing trend for hitters in the system, although the Pirates seem to be focused on hitting ability first, and expecting the power to develop later. That’s still a possibility for Mathisen.

Moving down a level, Jordan Luplow was moved to third base this season. He played it in high school, but was moved off the position to right field in college after hurting his shoulder. The Pirates believed he could make the transition back to third, and have been using him as their primary guy this year. He’s another guy who has good potential with the bat, and good plate patience, but might not be a big power hitter. It’s also questionable whether he can stick at third. Connor Joe, taken in the first round last year, might be an option for third in the future, although the Pirates are keeping him at first base for now and giving the priority to Luplow. Chase Simpson is the other option, although he profiles best at first base and is down on the Pirates’ depth chart.

In the short-season leagues, the Pirates have a few options for the position, but none that really project as starters. Julio De La Cruz is the highest profile guy, after receiving $700,000 as an international free agent in 2012. However, his defense is horrible, with slow reaction times, and his large frame projects for a future at first base. Sam Kennelly and Trae Arbet both received big bonuses — Kennelly as an international free agent out of Australia, and Arbet as a fifth round pick in 2013. Both were originally shortstops, but have been getting time at third base. That might continue going forward, since it’s going to be harder for each to get time at short with the additions of Newman and Kramer.

Ke’Bryan Hayes will go to the GCL this year when he eventually signs, and there’s not much blocking him from getting regular time at third. The Pirates are bringing up Jhoan Herrera from the DSL, and Herrera has some good raw power from the left side, but lacks the defensive skills to stick at third. That’s not the case with Hayes.

Going forward, Hayes will have a clear path to stick at third in the system. Mathisen and Luplow will move up next year, leaving West Virginia as a possibility. The Pirates made the same jump with Cole Tucker this year, and sent Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire to the full-season level last year. All three showed maturity for their ages, and the ability to handle the position well. The early reports on Hayes put him in that same category.

Overall, there’s not much talent at third base in the system, so Hayes is a big addition who will get every opportunity to stick at the position.

Shortstop

The shortstop position has gotten a bit more complex, as the Pirates have added a few interesting options in the early rounds of the draft the last few years. This includes Newman and Kramer this year, Cole Tucker from the 2014 draft, and JaCoby Jones from the 2013 draft.

Indianapolis doesn’t have much at shortstop, with Gustavo Nunez and Pedro Florimon looking like strong defensive backups, but serving as depth options on this team with Jordy Mercer and Jung-ho Kang in the majors. Alen Hanson previously played shortstop, but he’s a second baseman now, and I doubt he moves back to the position outside of an emergency.

Altoona has Gift Ngoepe, who is the best defensive shortstop in the system, but has no bat. They also have Adam Frazier, who has decent skills at the position, but seems to be going the super utility route, playing shortstop, third base, left field, and right field in his time in Altoona this season. So for the top two levels, at best the Pirates have several strong defenders with no bats, and a super utility player who doesn’t project as a starter at the position.

Things start to get interesting in Bradenton, as the results from the last few drafts start to show up. JaCoby Jones is only in his second year at the shortstop position, although he did play there in high school. He shows above-average power, which is very valuable at the position, and is athletic enough with enough range to stick at the position. He needs some work on his hands and his footwork, as he will often get to balls that most shortstops wouldn’t reach, but won’t be smooth enough to complete the play. He also has an all-out style that leads to him being wild at times, which leads to some errors — either because he made an ill-advised throw or because he didn’t properly set up to field the ball. Improvements in these areas could come with time, and his power at the position is enough to give him plenty of opportunities.

Cole Tucker is the main guy in West Virginia, and while his numbers are struggling — with a .266/.289/.325 line in 186 plate appearances — he’s showing some positive signs for his age. Specifically, he doesn’t look overmatched at the plate, with a low strikeout rate, and is showing a mature approach by not letting his offensive struggles impact the defense.

Then there’s Newman and Kramer, who should get time in the short-season leagues. They could either rotate in Morgantown — with Newman probably getting the priority and Kramer playing a few other positions — or Kramer could go to Bristol to get everyday time. There won’t be much competition for them on either squad, pending the day two picks. Kennelly and Arbet, mentioned above in the third base group, could compete for time, but might have an easier path at third. Luis Perez and Carlos Ozuna have been getting time at short in extended Spring Training, but neither project as long-term shortstops. One of the best defenders in the system is Adrian Valerio, although he projects to start in the GCL this year, so he won’t challenge the new picks for time.

I’d expect Jones to move up to Altoona next year, if not by the end of this year. While Tucker is showing a mature approach, he’s young enough that you could hold him back in West Virginia for another year, and advance Newman ahead of him to Bradenton. Kramer’s status is up in the air. The Pirates clearly see him as a shortstop, but he’ll have trouble finding time at the position with Newman and Tucker getting the priority. As I noted earlier tonight, that didn’t stop the Pirates in the past from developing Jordy Mercer and Chase d’Arnaud as shortstops. Regardless of where he goes, I’d expect Kramer to get time at short, while rotating at either second or third to get his bat in the lineup.

Building Depth

The Pirates don’t yet have a standout guy as the third baseman or shortstop of the future. There is no Josh Bell in these groups, with a specific target date, and everyone else taking a back seat. Instead, they have a growing list of options, with several having a chance to end up as starters in the majors at their position. That’s a good thing, because the more options they get, the more likely they will be to develop a future starter at one of these spots.

For now, there is no urgency. Josh Harrison is under team control through the 2020 season. Jung-ho Kang is under team control through 2019. Jordy Mercer is under team control through 2018. The Pirates have several years until they will need a starter at either position, giving plenty of time for some of these guys to step up as future starters.

**I definitely took a break at 2:00 in the morning to create the following, after typing “Newman and Kramer” for the 50th time tonight. I present an early look at the cover of the 2016 Prospect Guide.

SeinfeldGuide

I kind of wish they would have taken Kyle Funkhouser with the second pick, just to complete the Larry David trifecta, but I’ll settle for the fact that Funkhouser went to the Dodgers, which was fitting.

Here are the quick stories on each pick, along with links to their player pages…

**Pirates Draft Kevin Newman With the 19th Overall Pick | Player Page

**Pirates Draft Ke’Bryan Hayes With the 32nd Overall Pick | Player Page

**Pirates Draft Shortstop Kevin Kramer in the Second Round | Player Page

**The Draft Pick Signing Tracker was updated with the day one picks, and will be updated throughout the day tomorrow.

Some analysis after interviews with Neal Huntington, Joe DelliCarri, and Kevin Newman…

**Pirates Fill Some Needs While Drafting the Best Player Available. The day one recap, looking at what the Pirates liked with each pick.

**Kevin Newman Ready to Sign, Where Does He Fit in the Pirates’ Shortstop Mix? Newman said that he’s ready to sign, and that the Pirates showed some of the highest interest in him.

Oh yeah, there was regular news today too…

**Prospect Watch: Another Strong Outing For Richard, Broxton Collects Four Hits. Clayton Richard with his third straight dominant outing. He told Ryan Palencer recently that he’s getting more comfortable with his mechanics. Jeff Locke can’t afford very many more bad outings with Richard and Adrian Sampson performing so well in Triple-A.

**Jameson Taillon Throws 4 Innings in Extended Spring Training. He’s getting closer to Indianapolis, although he will likely have some stops along the way after leaving extended Spring Training.

**Five Marauders Named to FSL All-Star Team. Austin Meadows headlines the group.

  • When you look for power and expect the hitting ability to come later, you wind up with Pedro Alvarez on the high side, and Stetson Allie on the low side.

    I know, that’s snide. Alvarez for a high side is a decent result, and Allie was drafted as a pitcher and was moved to salvage the pick. But still.

    My feeling is that the stats guys have discovered an inefficiency that they can exploit, something that will show up in results 5 years from now, something that will give the team a substantial head start on a new exploit.

    • Darkstone42
      June 9, 2015 10:39 am

      It makes sense, too. Power means nothing if a guy can’t center the baseball. The better their hands and hand-eye, the better chance they have to tap into any power potential they might have.

      Bell and Meadows are the two guys who have touted raw power in our system right now (well, the two most notable anyway), but they’re pure hitters first. That gives them a chance to tap into that power potential and raises their floors even if they don’t. And I think the Pirates like that certainty *and* the upside of that sort of player.

  • Right but Keith Law had Newman number 2…so I’d say at least with regard to him, experts are split

  • It looks like low balling and drafting kids who will sign early and probably for less than slot. They passed up a lot of pitching which I take as their total satisfaction with the HS arms drafted in 2014 and still in extended ST awaiting the beginning of the seasons in Bristol and West Virginia.

    Also, IMO, no attempt to even take a chance on getting somebody who may project to hit for power. I would rather they just keep drafting young HS pitching because we seem to know how to identify & develop pitching. Then, after a year or two, trade them off for position players with some power that was developed elsewhere. Pitching is the universal trade currency. Take a Mike Nikorak or Ashe Russell and trade them after next year’s draft – just stockpiling resources that are always in demand.

    • For the record, Baseball America had these 3 guys rated at #29, #57, and #133 (already a 4th year Junior). Hayes as a HS kid may be able to build power. I liked Trey Cabbage, LH hitting 3B who BA rates at #112.

      LHSP/RP Philip Pfeifer pitched an ugly but very efficient game for Vanderbilt and was the winning pitcher yesterday going 6.2 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 4K/3W. He knows how to pitch, and would be a nice pick today – he was rated in the 190’s by BA, but the effort yesterday to pitch Vandy back to the CWS should raise that. He pitched against Tyler Jay.

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