In previous years we would do an updated top 20 or 30 list immediately after the MLB draft, incorporating the new draft picks and the results of the current season. A few things changed those plans this year. First of all, the new draft system is set up in a way that most of the picks are signed within the first two weeks after the draft. So I wanted to wait until we knew everyone that was signed before starting the rankings. There were also delays due to an upgraded server, upgraded membership software, preparations for the soon-to-come stats database, and my trip to the Dominican Academy, followed by all of the analysis from the trip, and our reporting on all of the international signings (I believe we are currently the only outlet reporting more than three signings).
There was another big factor involved here. In the past I would limit things to a top 20 or a top 30, in part to protect the Prospect Guide. That was a big source of revenue when we were a free site, and I didn’t want to take away from that by releasing a massive ranking two months into the season. We will still have the Prospect Guide going forward, but you’re already paying for the site now, and as a result, I wanted to give the best version of the mid-season update that I could. (If you’re not paying for the site, and you want to read past the Tyler Glasnow report below, along with getting our daily live coverage from the minor league system, then you should subscribe, since it’s only $2.99 or less per month.)
As a result of the new format, we expanded the mid-season report to a top 50, and approached it the same way we do with the Prospect Guide. Every writer was given a rankings list, where they entered 2-8 grades for a player’s likely overall upside, while also assessing risk factors with their floor and ceiling. The numbers were all averaged together to make a master list, divided up into tiers, and then fine tuned into numerical rankings (If you have been following/buying the Guide for any amount of years, then you’d know that I prefer tiered rankings over numerical rankings, since tiered rankings give an idea of overall talent levels, without unnecessarily splitting hairs to say one guy is better than the next. But people love numbered lists, so we give both).
We then provided write-ups for each tier, leading to an article that is almost 5,000 words. If you want to read just the rankings, go ahead. If you want analysis on every player in the top 30, plus a few key players in the 31-50 range (along with the guys who just missed), then you’ve got plenty to read through. And keep in mind, this is all made up from our live coverage, which thanks to the subscription model, has allowed us to cover every single player in the system and every single team so far this year. These reports are not just made up of the results on the field that anyone can get, but the live reports that your subscriptions buy, along with our conversations with the players, coaches, and scouts from other organizations. And since no one follows the organization as close as us, you’re getting the most comprehensive coverage of the system that you can find, with a lot of information that you won’t find elsewhere.
And now, on to the rankings.
1. Tyler Glasnow
Sean McCool: Tyler Glasnow has not disappointed with the high expectations this season, though an ankle injury has limited his amount of work so far.
The 6’8” flame thrower has been subject to much of the publicity surrounding the Pirates minor league system for quite some time now, and expectations were as high as ever as he reached Double-A for the first time at the beginning of the season. He did not let down. In his first four starts, Glasnow threw 22.2 innings, allowing on two earned runs for an ERA of 0.79. In those first four starts, he had a K/BB ratio of 24:6, and opposing batters were hitting .158 against him.
Then came the portion of the season overtaken by Glasnow’s ankle. On May 6th, Glasnow was batting and singled in the bottom of the third inning. During the next at-bat, Glasnow slid awkwardly into second base. He finished the inning and eventually scored, but he was pulled as he went back out to warm up due to a sprained ankle. He tried to come back from the ankle injury on May 17th; however, he was lit up for five earned runs in 3.2 innings with a fastball velocity that was 3-5 MPH slower than usual. After that start, the ankle injury landed him on the DL for over a month, as he was in a walking boot for the majority of that time.
Glasnow made his return to Altoona on June 29th. He hit a few bumps in the road in first two starts since returning from the injury, but he has been on fire in his last two outings. In his last two starts, Glasnow has thrown 13 innings, only allowing four hits total, no earned runs, 16 strikeouts, and no walks. Opposing players are batting .093 against him in those starts.
The best development from Glasnow is his K/BB ratio, which is 60:13 in Altoona. Since his return from the DL, his K/BB ratio is 31:3. Everyone knows that Glasnow can bring the heat, but the issue was always if he could locate it. The answer to that this year has obviously been “yes”. He is locating his fastball where he wants. His curveball is as dangerous as ever, dropping hard into the dirt as a strikeout pitch that hitters can’t back off from.
Not including the outing on May 17th, where Glasnow was definitely not 100% on that ankle, he has pitched 47.1 innings with an ERA of 1.33. His strikeout numbers are at his career norms, and his walks are almost cut in half. When he pitches, he is dominant.
The last step to his development in Double-A would be using his curveball earlier and while behind in counts. His changeup still needs a lot of work, as Neal Huntington and Pitching Coach Justin Meccage have both expressed. They would like his changeup to fall into the upper-80s, and it is currently still sitting in the low-90s on a regular basis.
2. Jameson Taillon
3. Austin Meadows
4. Josh Bell
5. Alen Hanson
6. Reese McGuire
7. Nick Kingham
Tim Williams: Tyler Glasnow stands above the rest in the system, but anyone on this list could easily be the top prospect in other organizations. You could almost divide this group into two mini-tiers, based on the debates we had on the rankings.
The biggest debate was where to put Jameson Taillon, followed by a debate between the placement of Austin Meadows and Josh Bell. In Taillon’s case, there were concerns about his recent injury history, with the Tommy John surgery followed by the recent hernia surgery. It was between him and Meadows for the second spot, with Taillon edging out Meadows with his grades, but getting doubts because of his risk factor. Ultimately I put him at number two for one big reason: he has looked fantastic since returning from Tommy John.
I’ve written a lot over the years about Taillon’s mechanics, and how the Pirates have been trying to get him pitching down in the zone with a downward plane. Prior to the surgery, I saw a guy who needed a lot of time in Triple-A to work on those issues, followed by some more work in the majors. But Taillon returned with his best mechanics yet. His delivery is smooth and effortless, and the ball easily finds the bottom of the zone with some nice downward movement that is a complete 180 from where he was just a few years ago. This is the version of Taillon that you hoped to see when he was drafted, and this fastball paired with his nasty curveball and improving changeup will give him a shot at being a top of the rotation guy, likely settling in as a number two starter in the majors. I don’t think the injuries take away from that upside for the long-term, and don’t think he’ll need as much time in Triple-A as he might have before the injuries and the improved mechanics.
The debate between Meadows and Bell was interesting. The argument for Meadows over Bell was that Meadows has more defensive value, and is more likely to add power in the future. I’d agree with the first part, which is why Meadows got the slight edge over Bell. However, I think both have a chance to hit for power in the future. Bell shows a ton of raw power from the left side, and I have no concerns that he won’t tap into that in the future. He does struggle from the right side, which is something I’ve detailed for the last year, but the left-handed power production should give him a shot of at least 20 homers per year, and a lot of doubles. Meanwhile, Meadows is currently held back in part by the Florida State League atmosphere. He’s got a quick swing and a short stroke, with a lot of gap power. He worked this year on adding muscle, and if he adds a bit more, I think some of his doubles and triples will start turning into home runs, and some of his hard hit singles will start going for doubles, or triples with his speed. He might profile as a left fielder in the long-run due to his arm, but should be able to cover a lot of ground, which has value in PNC Park.
Alen Hanson and Reese McGuire round out the tier on the offensive side. I noted that there was a bit of a divide in this group, mostly because these two didn’t get any arguments for placement in the top three. From a grade perspective, they were both in the mix. Hanson has been hitting well, and reports from Ryan Palencer out of Indianapolis have his defense much improved at second base, with a lot more consistency than he showed at shortstop. He’s playing well enough that he could be a starting option if/when the Pirates move on from Neil Walker.
McGuire has lived up to his reputation as the best defensive catcher in the system, and one of the best in the minors. He’s shown strong framing and receiving skills, plus great agility behind the plate. His caught stealing numbers have been down from the last two years, but the arm strength is there. At one point this year I saw him throw out an extremely fast runner with a perfect strike down to second without leaving his knees. McGuire’s transfer is also quick and seamless, speeding up his throws. The biggest question about him has been his offense. He doesn’t look over-matched at the plate, and he makes solid contact while using the middle of the field. A lot of his hits have been hard line drives, but only went for singles. As he gets older and stronger, those should start turning into doubles, especially since he uses the gaps a lot.
The final player in the tier is Nick Kingham, who was borderline to make the cut. Kingham is currently out with Tommy John surgery, but has shown the potential in the past to be a mid-rotation starter who can throw 200 innings a year. He’s got a high floor, with very little risk involved if he comes back healthy. The Pirates have done well to bring guys back successfully from Tommy John due to their ultra-conservative approach, with Taillon and Clay Holmes both looking great since their returns. So I’m not concerned about this with Kingham, and I wouldn’t be surprised if his recent command issues were due to the injury, since those have been uncharacteristic with the rest of his career.
8. Elias Diaz
9. Harold Ramirez
10. Cole Tucker
11. Kevin Newman
12. Ke’Bryan Hayes
13. Mitch Keller
14. Clay Holmes
15. Stephen Tarpley
Tim Williams: Elias Diaz looks like he’s going to be the catcher of the future when Francisco Cervelli is gone, at least until Reese McGuire is ready. He has strong defense, with a plus arm, good receiving skills, good blocking ability, and he works well with his pitching staff. One veteran pitcher who was new to the Pirates’ organization in Spring Training said that Diaz was the best catcher he had ever thrown to. Offensively he has struggled, but the skills are still there, with one AL front office executive telling me that he sees Diaz as a guy who can hit .260 in the majors with double-digit home runs. That production, plus his defense, would make a valuable starter.
Harold Ramirez dealt with conditioning issues in Spring Training, and then was delayed further with a skin infection that held him out for the start of the season. Since joining Bradenton, he has shown why he’s a top prospect. He is one of the best pure hitters in the system, making great contact and showing advanced plate patience. He’s got some speed on the bases, and displays the range needed to play center field. The reports on his arm were low heading into the season, but I’ve seen some good arm strength, and no one has tried running on him, even on borderline plays. He profiles as a center fielder who can hit for a high average and get on base, while hitting for a lot of extra base hits.
It will be interesting to see how the infield of the future shakes out with all of the first round talent the Pirates have added. They took Cole Tucker in the first round last year, then took Kevin Newman in the first this year, followed by Ke’Bryan Hayes as a compensation pick. Tucker got an aggressive push to West Virginia at a young age, and has started to show his potential lately, with strong results the last two months. He is also solid defensively, with a lot of range and smooth fielding. Newman gets good grades defensively, and is a good hitter who won’t hit for home runs, but will get a lot of extra base hits while hitting for average and getting on base. That’s the same offensive upside for Tucker, and it seems to be what the Pirates are targeting.
Hayes fits into that same offensive model as a high average guy who gets on base but doesn’t have a lot of home run power potential. He was advertised as a strong defensive third baseman, and that’s exactly what I’ve seen in the GCL. His fielding is smooth, with good glove work and a strong arm. He’s also been hitting very well, making some good gap power and hitting with a bit of loft that suggests he’ll hit a few home runs in the future. He doesn’t have much competition at third base, and with his defense, there’s no way he’s moving off the position. He will probably get the same aggressive push to West Virginia next year that Tucker received this year.
Mitch Keller hasn’t pitched yet this year due to pain in his forearm, although an encouraging sign is that he’s already throwing again and threw a bullpen on Thursday. There is no timetable for his return to games, but the fact that he’s healthy enough to do his throwing program is good enough. Keller has amazing stuff for his age, with a mid-90s fastball that comes from an effortless delivery. He’s got a good curveball, and has been getting more comfortable with a changeup after finding the right grip. He’s easily the best of the prep pitchers the Pirates have taken the last few years.
Clay Holmes is returning from Tommy John surgery, and so far the results on the field have been great. The stuff has been fantastic, with a 92-95 MPH fastball and the return of his solid curveball. Holmes had the upside of a middle of the rotation starter before his surgery, and it doesn’t look like he’s lost anything with his injury.
Stephen Tarpley is the first left-handed pitcher on this list, displaying some excellent stuff for a lefty with a fastball that sits in the low-90s and touches the mid 90s. There have been reports that he’s hit as high as 97 in the past. His command has gotten better in the last year, but the Pirates are still working on some minor tweaks to his delivery to improve in this area. He’s got the chance to be a starter in the majors, and his stuff as a lefty could make him a middle of the rotation guy.
16. Adrian Sampson
17. Max Moroff
18. Barrett Barnes
19. JaCoby Jones
20. Yeudy Garcia
21. Trey Supak
22. Gage Hinsz
Tim Williams: There are a few big breakout guys in this group, highlighted by Max Moroff and Yeudy Garcia. Moroff was in consideration for spot number 50 in our pre-season list, and was in our top 50 in previous years for his tools and potential. He’s finally putting that together this year, and will challenge Alen Hanson for the future at second base. Moroff can play shortstop in a pinch, so there’s a chance he could also make it as a utility player, although I like his bat and defense at second enough for him to be a starter.
Meanwhile, Garcia features one of the best fastballs in the system, sitting 93-96 MPH and touching 97 with good movement and an effortless delivery. He has the makings of a good changeup, but needs to develop a good breaking pitch that can be used for outs in the upper level. I talked to one scout who said that a cutter would suit him well, while agreeing that his change is currently the best secondary pitch. Garcia has been getting a lot of attention from scouts this year, being recognized as one of the best arms in West Virginia.
Going through the rest of the tier, Adrian Sampson has struggled a bit lately, but still has some nice upside, featuring a three pitch mix with a fastball that hits mid-90s and a curve that can be used as an out pitch. He has also seen a lot of improvements with his changeup over the last two years.
We had Barrett Barnes ranked just inside the top 20 at the start of the year, which was an aggressive ranking considering his injury history. He was placed there because of the potential with his bat when healthy. So far this year he has displayed a lot of power potential, with some of the best raw power in a loaded Bradenton lineup. He also has the range and routes to play center field, and good enough arm strength to stick there. Barnes is an all-out player, and while he didn’t move up in our rankings (mostly because he was ranked this high because we thought he was capable of this), he certainly justified his spot as a top prospect.
JaCoby Jones still struggles with his strikeouts, and his power numbers have dipped this year in Bradenton, although part of that could be due to league factors since he hits the ball hard to all fields with excellent pull power. He has shown a lot of improvements defensively at shortstop, and increases the chance that he could stick at shortstop for the long-term. Jones has a lot of range at short, and has seen improvements with his glove work and routes as the season has gone on. He’s a safer bet to stick at second base in the future, or be a super utility player who can play outfield. However, the Pirates will keep him at short as long as they can, and I think he’s got a chance to stick there and not be a liability, based on the improvements he’s shown this year.
Trey Supak and Gage Hinsz are both in this group not because of the results — which haven’t been strong in the early part of their season — but because of the stuff. They both hit mid-90s with their fastballs, and have the makings of good secondary stuff. They are also both young enough that they have plenty of room to develop, to the point where they could eventually sit mid-90s with their fastballs.
23. Adam Frazier
24. Willy Garcia
25. Steven Brault
26. Kevin Kramer
27. Tyler Eppler
28. Adrian Valerio
29. Connor Joe
30. Jacob Taylor
31. John Holdzkom
32. Jordan Luplow
Tim Williams: The fifth tier is where you start to see a lot of guys who have high floors, but probably profile as strong bench players, back of the rotation starters, or average position player starters. There are also a few high upside guys on this list who are very risky choices due to their far proximity from the majors.
Adam Frazier has been one of the big breakouts of this group, hitting a ton this year and playing all over the field, including shortstop and center field. He’s emerging as a future super utility guy, and the Brock Holt comparisons aren’t far off in terms of potential value. I’d say that Kevin Kramer has a good chance of being a super utility guy, with a ceiling of an average starter at second base. He’s another guy who hits for average and gets on base, but doesn’t have much power beyond gap power. His defensive value will probably be limited due to the fact that the Pirates will be giving shortstop priority to Newman and Tucker, plus Jones in the upper levels.
Garcia has some of the best raw power in the system, and easily the best outfield arm in the system. The results haven’t been strong since he moved up to Indianapolis, although that followed some success in Altoona where he successfully worked to cut down on his strikeouts. He’s still got the upside to be a solid number four outfielder in the majors.
Steven Brault was a great addition to the system this year, getting a lot of results with his sinker that arrives at the plate at knee level and has late cutting action that makes it drop off the table. Tyler Eppler has some great stuff, with a low-to-mid 90s fastball. He missed some time with elbow soreness, but has been fantastic in his last few outings Bradenton. Adrian Valerio and Jacob Taylor are two high-upside guys. Valerio is a smooth fielding shortstop with a great arm and a ton of speed. He’s got some nice gap power, and with some improvements with his consistency at the plate, he could easily jump up and be a top 15 prospect in this system. Taylor is a hard thrower who can hit as high as 97, but needs a lot of work with his command and secondary stuff. Connor Joe hasn’t been hitting well in West Virginia, but has good plate patience and shows off a lot of raw power, especially to the pull side. Jordan Luplow continues working on his routes and adjusting to the speed of play at third base. He has also seen the bat improve as the season has gone on. Finally, John Holdzkom has struggled with injuries this year, but has shown enough flashes of success to make us believe that he can still be a late inning relief option in the majors when he gets healthy.
33. Casey Hughston
34. Billy Roth
35. Casey Sadler
36. Wyatt Mathisen
37. Angel Sanchez
38. Chad Kuhl
39. Jason Creasy
40. Jose Osuna
41. Cody Dickson
42. Brandon Waddell
John Dreker: The highest upside of this group is Billy Roth, who has seen a spike in his velocity this year. He’s now hitting 93-96 MPH and holding that velocity late in outings, plus early results have looked good as far as his command issues go. The problem is that his upside hasn’t translated into good stats. If someone is going to breakout from this group, odds are that it’s going to be him.
The rest of the group includes pitchers with back of the rotation upside, though it’s more likely they end up in the bullpen. Angel Sanchez has looked good in a few of his Triple-A outings and Casey Sadler, when he’s healthy, has already shown that he is good MLB depth. Jason Creasy and Cody Dickson aren’t pitching up to their stuff this year, while Chad Kuhl has been a consistently solid starter since day one in the system, with a heavy ground ball tendency. Brandon Waddell doesn’t have an overpowering arsenal, but he has shown that he knows how to pitch and can come up big in big spots. You’ll probably get a solid fifth starter out of this group and some middle relievers, but right now, no one has separated themselves from the pack.
Jose Osuna, Casey Hughston and Wyatt Mathisen all have potential on offense. Hughston is a potential power bat as a corner outfielder, while Mathisen could still one day be a solid third baseman. He is young and has missed development time, but has shown the ability to hit for average over stretches. He has shown some improvements on the field at third, but needs to improve with his reactions to the quickness of the hot corner. Osuna is still only 22 years old, and hasn’t struggled with the jump to Double-A, so he could be a solid 1B/OF bench player someday, with an outside chance to be a regular. He made the move to outfield this year, thanks to Josh Bell’s move to first base, and has shown improvements with his routes as the season went on, while also displaying a strong arm that was wasted at first base.
43. Seth McGarry
44. Erich Weiss
45. Austin Coley
46. Michael De La Cruz
47. Edison Lantigua
48. Luis Heredia
49. Yhonathan Barrios
50. Tito Polo
Just Missed (in alphabetical order): Jayson Aquino, Keon Broxton, JT Brubaker, Jaff Decker, Montana DuRapau, Luis Escobar, Dan Gamache, Hector Garcia, Yoel Gonzalez, Deolis Guerra, Taylor Gushue, Jin-De Jhang, Kevin Krause, Andrew Lambo, Ty Moore, Gift Ngoepe, Pablo Reyes, Mel Rojas, Ike Schlabach, John Sever, Raul Siri, Jacob Stallings, Michael Suchy, Mitchell Tolman, Nathan Trevillian
John Dreker/Tim Williams: This group (including the just missed players) covers just about everything, from young players with high upside, to players that have been in the majors. Someone from this group will one day be starting in Pittsburgh and many others will see time in the majors. It includes breakout potential from the GCL like Edison Lantigua, Michael de la Cruz, Luis Escobar, Yoel Gonzalez and Raul Siri. There are also draft picks from the last two years still trying to establish themselves in the system.
Tito Polo has a ton of upside, and he has shown it at times this year, but so far it looks like the aggressive push he got skipping over two levels may have been a little too aggressive. He has changed his swing this year, removing a leg kick that he had last year in the GCL. He was hitting well in Spring Training with the new approach, spraying line drives to all fields, but that hasn’t carried over to the season.
There is also Yhonathan Barrios, who could one day be closing for the Pirates if he can ever develop a good strikeout pitch. He only took up pitching in 2013, but has already reached Triple-A and looked great at times. He can throw hard, touching 99 MPH on a regular basis, though there are also command issues and a lack of strong secondary stuff at this point. Another potential late inning reliever from this group is Seth McGarry, who is currently being developed as a starter in Morgantown, just to give him plenty of innings for his development.
Austin Coley made a slight adjustment to his arm slot last year, which has led to some good results in West Virginia, and a much more effective curveball in the pros. He should move up to Bradenton next year, although a late promotion in 2015 would definitely be warranted if a spot opens up for him in the currently crowded Marauders rotation. He has the potential to be a starter in the majors, and could jump up to the tier with Kuhl/Creasy/Sanchez and company with more success in the upper levels.
Erich Weiss consistently makes hard line drive contact, while displaying a good glove at second base. He’s a very vanilla prospect, and drops in our rankings specifically because of his lack of upper level success. If he can carry his current performance over to Altoona next year, he’s a guy who could really jump in these rankings, challenging for a spot in the top 30.
Finally, we have to mention Luis Heredia just making the list. He has so much potential that has just never shown up in results. Five years into his career, he has never had more than six strikeouts in a game and even that has only happened twice. This is due to the lack of a good breaking pitch, which he has struggled to develop the last few years. He has never looked like a dominating pitcher, only holding his own for someone his age against older competition. Heredia still has some upside if he can put it together, and it’s important to note that he hasn’t even turned 21 yet. He switched arm slots prior to 2014, and switched back this year, but that hasn’t led to good results. He’s got a lot more question marks about his conditioning, mechanics, and the potential to develop his secondary stuff in the future. That sinks his ranking, and makes him a big project at this point.