The Pirates have had no shortage of breakout prospects over the last few years. This comes from their approach of drafting and signing toolsy players who are raw, but have a lot of upside. After signing so many of those players each year, a few are bound to break out. We’ve seen this take place almost every year recently, from the big breakouts like Gregory Polanco and Tyler Glasnow, to the smaller scale breakouts like JaCoby Jones or Elias Diaz.
The term “breakout” can be very subjective, as there are different levels of breakout performances. Steven Brault could be considered a breakout guy this year. He posted a 2.43 ERA between Bradenton and Altoona, while showing improvements in his jump to Double-A. Brault went from a PTBNL prior to the season, and a lefty who didn’t have a clear future in the majors, to a guy who now has a very good chance of making the majors, with the possibility of being a starter.
Montana DuRapau is another example of a breakout. Typically lower level relief pitchers who were drafted in the 32nd round as a college senior are no more than organizational depth. But DuRapau showed this year that he could be more than that, with his 90-93 MPH fastball and cutter combo giving him a shot at being a Major League reliever one day.
But generally when you think of “breakout” performances, it’s not just anyone who improved their prospect status out of nowhere. Instead, it’s guys who improved their prospect status and went on to become one of the top prospects in the system, after being off the radar heading into the season.
This is the fifth year that we’ve named a Player and Pitcher of the Year, with Josh Bell and Chad Kuhl taking those respective honors in 2015. At the start of every season I give some potential breakout candidates (here was this year’s list), and throughout the year we track the breakout progress of everyone in the system. So it only made sense to start highlighting the biggest breakout performer of the year each season with another award: The Breakout Prospect of the Year.
Yeudy Garcia is our Breakout Prospect of the Year for the 2015 season, after the amazing performance he put up in West Virginia. A year ago today, Garcia was one of many players who was expected to make the jump from the Dominican Summer League. He wasn’t completely unheard of on this site. John Dreker named him the seventh best prospect to watch out of the DSL last year, noting his 95 MPH fastball and excellent command of the pitch. At best, he was expected to go to Bristol for his first year in the United States.
Instead, the Pirates sent him to West Virginia, which was a massively aggressive push. This was Garcia’s second year in pro ball, and first in the United States, and the Pirates decided to send him to a full-season league, playing under the lights, and going up against guys who had played through college ball. After watching Garcia in Spring Training and early in the 2015 season, it was clear why he made that jump.
On the field, Garcia was sitting 93-96 MPH with his fastball, touching 97 on a consistent basis. The pitch features a lot of movement, and Garcia is able to command it well. Most importantly, the delivery is effortless, to the point where it doesn’t even look like Garcia is throwing as hard as he’s throwing. He spent the season focusing on developing his secondary stuff, showing improvements with the slider and becoming more comfortable with the changeup. The Pirates felt his fastball was advanced enough to let him focus on the other pitches, while most pitchers at that same level were focusing on fastball command first.
Off the field, Garcia proved to be very smart and very eager to learn and adjust to the culture in the United States. For most players, just making the jump to a new country would be difficult. Making the jump Garcia made would be impossible. Not only did he handle this jump well, but he was very eager to learn English, and started picking up the language as the season went on.
The Pirates named Garcia their Pitcher of the Year, no doubt looking at the challenges he went through and the off-field work he put in to adjust to those challenges. The fact that he posted some of the best numbers in the system in the process made his breakout even more impressive.
Garcia went from being a guy who was off the radar to a guy that has one of the best fastballs in the system, and will likely end up in the top 20 in our end of the year rankings. He should make the jump to Bradenton next season, and could finish the year in Altoona if he continues the success he showed this year. His upside is still up in the air, and that will largely depend on the future development of his secondary stuff, but he’s got top of the rotation stuff, with a still distant chance of reaching that upside.
Breakout Position Player
Garcia is the overall Breakout Player, and obviously the breakout Pitcher of the Year. On the position player side, Max Moroff made the biggest strides forward this year, hitting for a .293/.374/.409 line in 612 plate appearances with Altoona. Unlike Garcia, Moroff had previously been on the prospect radar.
We talked to scouts who liked his potential after seeing him in the GCL in 2012, and saw him as a future MLB player. He ranked 24th overall in the system heading into 2013, but slipped to 43rd the next year after struggling offensively in West Virginia. He slipped off the top 50 heading into this year after struggling even further in Bradenton last year.
Moroff showed a trend in his first two full-seasons. He drew a good amount of walks, and had a lot of extra base hits, but didn’t hit for average and his strikeout numbers were gradually rising. This is often a result of hitters being too selective at the plate, and our live reports of Moroff during that time confirmed this. Here was our report on him from the 2015 Prospect Guide:
Moroff has an interesting set of skills that makes him look like a promising prospect, and at the same time, leaves concerns that he’ll never succeed above A-ball. He’s very patient at the plate, to the point where he can be too selective. This leads to a lot of walks and a lot of strikeouts, as there are many at-bats where he will stand and look at every pitch until the count goes full. He has a line drive stroke to the gap, although he doesn’t hit for enough power to justify the overly selective approach.
A big change this year for Moroff was his move to being a more aggressive hitter, along with more movement pre-pitch, as Sean McCool detailed earlier in the year. In taking this approach, he lowered his strikeout rate, raised his walk rate, and showed his best power production of his career, with a .117 ISO that beat out his .112 ISO in West Virginia in 2013. The fact that this power came with an ability to hit for average, a low amount of strikeouts, and a high amount of walks was encouraging.
Moroff spent most of his time at second base this year, where he has excellent defense. He also played 13 games at shortstop and got some time at third base at the end of the season. In the future, he profiles as a super utility player in the majors. He could be a starter if he either adds more power, or manages to carry his high average and on-base percentage to the majors, combined with strong defense at second.