First Pitch: 10 Pirates Prospects Who Saw Their Rankings Go Up in the Second Half

Today we completed the first draft of the 2016 Top 50 Prospects for the 2016 Prospect Guide. A few hours later, we completed the second draft. And then we started on the third. And that will continue a process for the next month and a half that will see daily tweaks to the numerical rankings, until we finally settle on a list that will inevitably lead to disagreement due to personal preferences. This is exactly why I love tiered rankings better — we rarely make mass changes to those after the initial rankings. That said, people love lists, so we go the traditional route as well.

The Prospect Guide is far from complete, and the individual player rankings are far from complete. Even the individual writer rankings aren’t complete, as we constantly revisit certain players throughout the off-season as we have more time to review their seasons and all of the notes on those players. That’s part of why I love the end of the year rankings. You don’t get caught up in the middle of big seasons, and you can take more time to evaluate each player, leading to a more sound ranking (although we don’t see massive changes, as we usually go conservative with breakout seasons in our mid-season rankings, to account for the “in-season” effect).

Since the rankings are a work in progress, I won’t have anything finalized until mid-December. And honestly, I want to keep the group rankings for the Prospect Guide, and for the annual January top prospect countdown. But I did want to discuss a few players who saw a rise in value in the second half in my own personal rankings.

We grade each player on the 2-8 scale, with three different grades: Floor, Ceiling, and Likely Upside. The Upside is the biggest factor here, but the floor and the ceiling determine risk and how high a player could go. After I completed my end of the season list, I went back to my mid-season rankings to see some of the differences. There were several players who went up and down, naturally. I felt it would be a good idea to break down some of the players who took big second half strides in my view.

The following ten players all saw at least a one point increase in both Ceiling and Likely Upside from my mid-season rankings to my end of the year list. They’re not the only ones who saw an increase, but they’re the guys I want to focus on here. Names are listed in alphabetical order, by last name, so don’t take this as a ranking.

Steven Brault – I loved what I saw from Brault in his time with Bradenton, which led me to believe he had a shot at the majors. After his success in Altoona, I think there’s a strong chance he’ll be a back of the rotation starter in the majors, with a possibility being a strong number three. I’m generally skeptical of lefties until they have success in Double-A, and Brault doesn’t have overpowering stuff, which leaves room for more hesitation. But I love his two-seam fastball, which is thrown at a downward angle, and has late cutting action that drops to the bottom of the zone at the last second. He commands the pitch well, and that makes up for a lack in velocity in my book.

Yeudy Garcia – Spring Training at Pirate City can be confusing. You’ve got four fields to follow on some days, which can make it difficult to know who you’re watching. One day this Spring, I walked over and saw Garcia listed on the mound, and settled in to watch Hector Garcia, who I heard good things about in 2014. He was bringing mid-90s velocity in the inning I saw, which was eye-opening. It was only later that I realized my mistake — I was watching Yeudy Garcia (you’d think the whole lefty/righty thing would have tipped me off, but again, Pirate City is chaotic). Since that point, Garcia opened my eyes, and apparently did the same for the Pirates. I saw him twice throughout the season, and he continued pitching well with one of the best fastballs in the system, and improving off-speed stuff.

Ke’Bryan Hayes – I didn’t exactly have Hayes low after the draft, but I was a bit conservative on his upside, as you should be with any young prep player. There were reports that he could play strong defense at third, and what I saw lived up to the reports, to the point where I’ve got him as the best defensive third baseman in the system, and no concerns about him moving off the position in the future. He also showed some great hitting skills, and while he doesn’t project to hit for a lot of power, he could make enough contact and hit for good enough gap power to add a strong bat to his defense. Overall, I’d say I got more confident in the reports of his upside and strengths after seeing him play.

Logan Hill – He was a 25th round pick out of college, so my initial reaction was that he was an organizational guy. That changed when I saw him in Morgantown. He looks like a guy who should have been taken in the top ten rounds, as he’s got a great build, he’s athletic, and he hits the ball hard, with some good power potential going forward. Hill probably saw the biggest jump from me, and while I don’t think he’ll be a top 30 prospect this year, he will definitely be a sleeper to watch from the 2015 draft.

Chad Kuhl – I’ve liked Kuhl as a potential back of the rotation option or depth starter, but his second half performance might have pushed him up a level. He was hitting 96-97 MPH consistently with his fastball in the second half, and while the slider still needs some work, that kind of fastball velocity, along with Kuhl’s sinker and ground ball approach, makes him a guy who could definitely hold down a rotation spot in the majors one day.

Jordan Luplow – He still has work to do learning his defense at third, with a big focus on his footwork and first step reactions. But the bat showed signs of life in the second half, with a .994 OPS in 215 plate appearances. You can forgive the first half struggles, even from a college hitter in Low-A, when you consider all of the defensive work he was putting in to re-learn third base. He shows great plate patience, and should be able to hit as he moves up, even to the point where he could have value as a starter in a corner outfield spot if third base doesn’t work out.

Carlos Munoz – The rankings for Munoz are kind of funny. Last year I was higher on him than anyone else ranking him after liking what I saw in the GCL. This year, I find myself the lowest on his upside. It’s not that I’m low on him at all, at least relative to his current level and performance. It’s just that I tend to be more conservative than others when it comes to grading first basemen. In this case, I’m concerned with the weight and with the possibility that Munoz could be just a DH. However, it’s hard to ignore the huge strides he took this year, with some very promising numbers that he’s carried over to winter ball. I think he’d move up on anyone’s list.

Harold Ramirez – Ramirez is a guy who really impressed me in Bradenton this year. He’s one of the best pure hitters in the system, and what I saw this year from his speed and defense gave him higher grades than what I’ve seen reported on him in the past, especially with his arm strength. Usually the person who sees the player the most will have the most influence on his ranking, and so I thought going into this process that I’d be elevating Ramirez up in the rankings. I was a bit surprised to find that we all had him ranked high, which will probably lead to him being ranked higher by us than any other outlet.

Adrian Valerio – Hayes gets a lot of attention because he was a first round pick, but Valerio is close to the same value for a lot of the same reasons. He’s got excellent defense at shortstop, with very smooth fielding and the skills to stick at the position long-term. He could possibly end up the best defensive shortstop in the system. He also has a lot of speed, and a good ability to drive the ball to the gaps. I think Hayes is a bit more polished and consistent with the bat, and as a result I’ve got him ranked higher. But the early results show that Valerio is a guy who will get a good ranking from us, and I consider him a future starter at shortstop in the majors, albeit with the risk you’d expect from a lower level player.

Brandon Waddell – I didn’t actually see Waddell pitch this year, as I left Morgantown right before he made his debut. However, I did receive reports on him, and the thing factoring into my increased ranking the most was the conversation I had with him. He comes across very smart, knowing what type of pitcher he is (finesse, good mix of pitches, command), and having an advanced view of the game. The off-field stuff is something that definitely weighs into my evaluations, and that’s especially true when you’ve got smart pitchers. Those are the guys who tend to find a way to win with what they’ve got, and make key adjustments to make it to the majors. Waddell is a lefty, and once again I’m skeptical on lefties until they reach Double-A, but I give him a bit more of a pass than most due to his good mix of stuff and his understanding of the game.

**Rick Sofield Goes For Second Interview With Padres. This indicates that he’s a top contender for the job. The poaching of front office members and coaches from the Pirates continues.

**Pirates Extend Contract With Indianapolis Through 2020 Season. The previous deal ran through 2016.

**AFL: Meadows Doubles, Big Day For Frazier in Glendale Victory. Some good results from Frazier this off-season, and it’s good to see Meadows starting to heat up.

**Winter Leagues: Jose Osuna and Edwin Espinal Homer. Osuna continues his strong performance in winter ball.

**Deolis Guerra Elects Free Agency. You figured this was coming after he was outrighted to the minors last week. He wouldn’t be a bad guy to try and bring back on a minor league deal once again.

  • Saw Waddell pitch against Aberdeen, 4 innings, 1 hit, 0 runs, 0 walks, with 3 strikeouts and looked good. It is low A but it was his first or second start after signing

  • Im a card-carrying member of the Waddell fan club, but felt the evaluation here was very fair. Probably the only Pirate prospect ive seen in person. Everything ive read about him, freaking gamer. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vD6rNIs0Q0s

  • Good stuff Tim. I’m very excited about Harold Ramirez. What do you think realistic timeline would be for him to eventually come North? Any chance 2017 or most likely 2018?

    • I don’t think there’s such thing as a “realistic timeline” when it comes to outfield prospects in the Pirates’ system. In another system, he might be able to arrive in mid-2017. But with the current outfield, the Pirates could take it slower with his development.

      That said, he will have to go on the 40-man this off-season, meaning he has to be up by 2019, and ideally he’d be up earlier than that so as not to burn all of his option years.

    • I’ve only seen Ramirez a few times but he always reminds me of Manny Ramirez at the plate. That inside out level righty swing is a dead ringer for man ram. His contact skills and plate patience are impressive.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    October 28, 2015 9:56 am

    IMHO, Ramirez will end up being the better MLB player than Meadows. He just has better overall skills, in just about every category – speed, arm, hitting, defense, etc.
    One guy who was overlooked on your list….DeRapau. He was lights out all season. Also, how can Frazier not be on this list?

    • I totally disagree. Meadows is a year younger, a level ahead, and has 4 inches on Ramirez. The stats are similar but Meadows has a much higher ceiling.

      Meadows: http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=sa737440&position=OF
      Ramirez: http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=sa660586&position=OF#standard

      • Going back to 2008 I saw one guy in Florida League post a WRC+ as good as Ramirez at age 20 with 300 or more PAs and that was Yelich in 2012. He’s 8 months older than Meadows which is meaningful but that was a DAMN good year he put together.

      • BuccosFanStuckinMD
        October 28, 2015 4:00 pm

        I think much of those opinions are skewed because Meadows was a high draft pick and not an International signing….like Ramirez was…if Ramirez is a better outfielder, has a stronger arm, and is faster, hit for higher average in 2015, how does Meadows have higher upside?

        • He put up very similar numbers in a better league at a younger age. He’s got a lot more power potential. Remember, Jose Tabata looked very similar to Ramirez at the same age. Meadows is widely considered one of the top 25 prospects in the game and Ramirez is a fringy top 100 player. If Ramirez ends up even remotely close to Meadows I’ll be very surprised.

        • Oh for f’s sake…Ramirez was one of those million dollar bonus babies you’ve been clamoring for on the international market, and now you’re arguing that makes him underrated?

        • You literally do not know any of things things as fact.

          What’s Ramirez’s 60 time? What’s he been clocked at from home to first? What does he hit on the gun from the outfield?

          I’ll be waiting for the answers.

    • Says the guy who has never even seen either play baseball and disagrees with actual professionals.

      • BuccosFanStuckinMD
        October 28, 2015 4:02 pm

        How would you know who I’ve seen play? I suppose you never share your opinions about the game, players, etc? Instead you are just silent and never share am opinion? Yeah, right…..

        • Well for one, because you have that opinion. It’s more kind of me to assume you simply haven’t seen either play than to assume you actually believe Harold Ramirez is a more skilled baseball player than Austin Meadows across the board. That would simply mean you have no idea what you’re looking at. Ignorance is better than stupidity in this case.

        • FWIW, it’s fine to think that Ramirez will be a better baseball player in the long run. Baseball is silly, and we’re fooling ourselves if we think we know for sure what will happen five, six, seven years from now.

          But to say he’s a more skilled player than Meadows, right now, is simply wrong.

    • Frazier isn’t on the list for two reasons. Tim said in the article it’s not a complete list, those are just the players he wanted to focus on. Second reason is that he was already high on Frazier from seeing him play a lot last year, had him ranked higher than anyone else who provides rankings for the site. Since he was already high on him, there wasn’t a lot of room to improve

      • This is a big thing with Frazier. He was our #40 prospect last year because of my ranking, despite poor numbers. He just lived up to my ranking this year (and probably improved his overall ranking, as the other rankings were higher on him). So with Frazier, he didn’t really go up on my list, because he was already up there.

    • I disagree. Meadows is fast, can play center field with strong range, is a great pure hitter, and has more power potential than Ramirez.

      This list isn’t a complete look. I just took ten players who improved their stock in my rankings in the second half. These weren’t the only ten players who improved. Also, some players didn’t “improve” their rankings, but still ranked pretty well.

  • Valerio sounds good, but will he hit? Florimon is a heckuva fielder, also.

    Of all of those, I am most excited about Chad Kuhl. Consistently hitting the mid 90s? Wow. Where did THAT come from?

    • If there were no questions about whether he could hit, then he’d be the top prospect in the system with his defense at shortstop.

      • In other words, right now he is on a par with Flo’man? 🙂

        • I don’t like those types of comparisons. They’re usually limited in scope to what is in the system, and don’t really break down the specifics about one player or another. In this case, you’ve got a strong defensive shortstop with questions about his bat, and that immediately brings up questions about Florimon, only because he’s in the system.

          I think Valerio could be Florimon with no improvements to his bat and consistency. But he’s a much different hitter than Florimon. He’s basically just really young right now, with an aggressive push, and his hitting inconsistencies are to be expected. So he’s a long way from ending up as another Florimon.

          • I hope that your optimism turns out to be the case for Valerio.

            Heck, with that glove, if he can hit .250/.700 OPS we’ll have a good one, right?

    • I think that Khul is a good pitch away from taking off, his slider could be it in time, but I wonder if he will struggle with lefties ala Morton. Cut fastball, or perhaps a cutter might do it.

  • Really nice primer, Tim.

    I went back and dug up the Mid-Season rankings for anyone who was wondering: http://18.206.184.11/2015/07/pittsburgh-pirates-mid-season-top-50-prospects.html

  • Very well done, Tim.
    Hayes will be a keeper IMO.
    Somewhat surprised the Kramer/Newman duo didn’t go up. But, really what did either show to distinguish from others in the system.

    • FWIW, I don’t think these increases are relative to others in the system but to themselves, or at least Tim’s grading of them.

  • It seems to me like the Pirates have a lot of high OBP, low K guys in the lower minors right now. I like Luplow a lot. He seems like a guy that if he starts to tap into some more power could really shoot up the rankings. I’m always rooting for Chad Kuhl. Dude’s from D-Ware and my cousin went to school with him so I’m always tryin to get her to send him texts.

    • Luplow and Logan Hill are very impressive. Luplow’s 51 EBH and 59 Walks in less than 400 AB’s and Hill’s 23 EBH, 28 Walks, and 13 SB’s were produced in just over 200 AB’s. Chad Kuhl is a definite threat, IMO, to be either the first or 2nd SP up from AAA in 2016. He has just blown the doors off the opposition in Hi A and AA the past 2 years, and as a GB pitcher with college experience and excellent command of his pitches, he may be able to step right in if somebody falters or is injured. Somebody saw something in this kid, because he is pitching much, much better than could normally be expected from a 9th Rounder.

      • Kuhl also pitched a great game in the AAA playoffs. I compare him to Cumpton because he’s headstrong who doesn’t buckle under pressure but Kuhl also is more talented than Cumpton. He looks like he could end up being a solid #3. Cumpton looks like a depth piece at first glance but I’m a firm believer that he’s gonna end having a solid MLB career.

    • This is a great way to go if you are trying to transition to more of a royals hitting style, but you still need upper level coaches who excel in this type of teaching, and in my opinion, we don’t have that as of yet. Again, as i’ve said before, we need MUCH better coaching and focus on base running (its time to hire some all time great base runners as roving instructors) for that approach to really do anything but end up leading the league in double plays and left runners on base

  • Excellent article and information on the 10 Prospects listed. I followed most of them during the year with the exception of Logan Hill so I went back to get some background on the kid. With the numbers he put up in JC (JUCO All-American) and then at Troy, and being 6’3″ 230, why was he still on the board in the 25th Round? The only thing I could think of is that he was a 4th year Junior, and maybe a year older at 22 than what might be expected from a college Junior, but it is obvious he can play. Because of that, do you expect they will try to be more aggressive with him?

    Love the upside of Jordan Luplow, Adrian Valerio, and a dark horse not on the list, Chase Simpson.

    • I had a chance to see the Power this year and another guy I like is Suchy. I think that he may turn out to be a pretty good player as well, as he was considered raw for a college draftee

    • I think the fact that he moved around so much in college made it harder for people to scout him and get a good read on him. He only had one year at a major university, and that came as a junior. He probably wasn’t on the radar of many scouts heading into the year, which could make it easy to get overlooked.

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