The MLB draft is coming up next week, and we’ve got a lot of draft preview coverage coming this weekend. But before that happens, I want to take a look at the guys currently in the system, specifically with a view to the next big event after the draft — the trade deadline. The Pirates will most likely be buyers this year, although last year showed that this doesn’t necessarily mean they will be buying. That said, they certainly have a strong farm system, which combined with a strong MLB team for the long-term means that they’ve got prospects they can trade. Here is a rundown of who they could afford to lose, who they should probably keep, and the group that provides the biggest strength to trade from.
Prospects of the Future
No team can ever fully rely on one prospect for one position. That’s a foolish approach that ignores the reality that prospects are far from guarantees to reach their upside. At the same time, the other reality here is that small market teams have to build around a prospect core, and always need a guy waiting in the wings to take over at a position. In short, small market teams need to rely on “prospects of the future” at certain positions, although it would be best if they had a backup plan in the event that those prospects don’t work out.
You could probably imagine scenarios for most prospects where they take over future starting roles. But for this category, I only focused on guys who seem to be the clear best at their position. These are guys I wouldn’t trade, and I explain each situation below.
Tyler Glasnow/Jameson Taillon – Pitching is expensive, especially top of the rotation starters. Pitchers aren’t guarantees either, especially when they are prospects. But a team like the Pirates needs to roll the dice and hope that things work out for the best. It already looks like they’re getting a top of the rotation guy with Gerrit Cole. If just one of Glasnow or Taillon reaches their upside, they will have the makings of one of the best 1-2 combos in baseball for several years.
Josh Bell – Pedro Alvarez is under team control through the 2016 season. If you’re in the camp that prefers Neil Walker at the position, then that doesn’t solve much, since he’s also under control through 2016. The only standout prospect in the upper levels of the minors is Bell. He’s a fantastic hitter who hasn’t seen a power breakout yet, but has the potential for over-the-fence power. He is new to the position this year, and will need to improve his defense. Bell could be an impact hitter, and the Pirates can’t afford to trade those types of players at a position where they have no long-term answer.
Elias Diaz/Reese McGuire – Francisco Cervelli has been a fantastic find this year, but even if you buy that he’s legit and won’t see injury problems going forward, there’s still the issue that he’s only under team control through the 2016 season. Plus, when you factor in the injury problems, then it becomes likely that the Pirates will need a catcher soon. That would be Elias Diaz in the short-term. In the long-term, Reese McGuire has the best defense in the system, and some untapped offensive potential. It’s hard to get a good starting catcher, and the Pirates aren’t in a position yet to deal either of these guys.
2015 MLB Depth – Guys like Casey Sadler and Adrian Sampson aren’t “untouchable”, but it might not make sense to deal them this year, when they could provide help during this season if a few injuries occur. So while I’ll get to the rest of the pitchers in a moment, I wanted to point out that it probably doesn’t make sense to deal these two, since they can currently help the MLB team in tough times.
Future Starters, But Other Options
The next group looks at guys who have a good chance of starting in the majors in the future, with some of them being above-average or star players at their position. The only problem is that the Pirates have other options for that position (maybe “problem” isn’t the right word), meaning that the player could be expendable, depending on which direction the Pirates turn.
Austin Meadows – It’s hard to pinpoint his future role with the team, as the current outfield seems set for several years, and finding a spot for Meadows requires a tough decision on the future of Andrew McCutchen. If Meadows goes a level per year, then he could be ready for the majors in 2018, which is the final year of McCutchen’s contract. Or, the Pirates could opt to trade him, gamble that McCutchen won’t see a drop off and might sign an extension, or just hope that one of the other outfield prospects emerges by then.
Harold Ramirez/Other Outfielders – On that same note, if the Pirates keep Meadows as their future outfield replacement, then it definitely makes other outfielders expendable. Harold Ramirez would probably get the biggest return of this group.
Alen Hanson/Max Moroff – The Pirates have some options at second base, even after Neil Walker is gone. They could go with Jung-ho Kang, although that would require better offensive performance from Jordy Mercer. If they go the prospect route, they’ve now got two upper level choices in Alen Hanson and Max Moroff. They could afford to deal one of them, especially if they believe in Mercer, or see the potential for a lower level guy like JaCoby Jones or Cole Tucker to take a middle infield spot sooner than later.
Everyone Else – I could go on listing every single player in the system, but the fact is that if you’re not on the first list, you’re going to end up on this list. The guys mentioned above have the best trade value of the expandable players in the system, You could break down the rest of the system into groups. There are guys like Nick Kingham and Brandon Cumpton who have very little value right now due to their Tommy John surgeries. You’ve got guys like Cole Tucker and Mitch Keller, who are long-term options that might add value in the future. Trading them now might be selling low. There are lefty pitchers like Stephen Tarpley, or third base prospects like Wyatt Mathisen — two positions where the Pirates are thin in their system. Although I don’t think the Pirates would make those types off-limits. That said, there is one group that is more expendable than the rest…
Right Handed Pitchers
The Pirates have loaded up on pitchers in the draft over the last several years, and have done a great job of developing those pitchers. It’s to the point where they have guys performing well in Altoona and Bradenton, despite the fact that those pitchers have very little chance of a significant starting role in Pittsburgh in the future.
Take Altoona’s rotation, for example. It features Angel Sanchez, Jason Creasy, and Chad Kuhl. Those are three right-handers who can hit mid-90s with their fastballs, post good numbers, and could fill a back of the rotation starter role, a strong bullpen role, or depth out of Triple-A. Then you’ve got guys like Clay Holmes, Tyler Eppler, Austin Coley, Yeudy Garcia, Alex McRae, Colten Brewer, and a few others in A-ball. That’s not counting lefties like Zack Dodson, Steven Brault, Jayson Aquino, Cody Dickson, John Sever, and Tarpley.
Bottom line, the Pirates have a ton of pitching depth, with plenty of guys who could pitch in the majors. These aren’t top of the rotation guys, but the Pirates have a few of those prospects, and a few guys who could be middle of the rotation guys. As a result, they have a ton of back of the rotation or depth starters, and limited spots for those guys.
This area won’t land them a top guy like Cole Hamels. But it might land them a good bullpen piece or a bench player at the deadline, if that’s the route they choose to take. And even if the Pirates deal a talented player away from this group, their depth would make it so that they wouldn’t miss that player in the future.