After finishing the 2015 season recaps for all of the infield positions, I took an early look at the Opening Day infield projections for all of the full-season minor league teams. Now that the outfield recaps are completed, I wanted to do the same type of early preview. The outfield is a lot easier to project, as you don’t have many position-specific assignments. You do have the factor of who will play center field, and who will play which corner, but that’s less of a problem than finding a guy who can play third base, or a guy who can hit enough to warrant being a first base prospect.
Here is a breakdown of each level and the projected outfield, starting with the most talented group first.
I’m starting with Altoona first, because the outfield here could impact the outfield in Indianapolis. Austin Meadows and Barrett Barnes made the jump to Double-A in 2015, and Harold Ramirez should make the same jump at the start of the 2016 season. That gives Altoona a great outfield of prospects, and not much time for anyone else.
The guys who could factor in the mix are Stetson Allie, Mel Rojas, and Jose Osuna. Of the three, Osuna looks the most deserving of a promotion to Indianapolis. His playing time in Altoona would be limited all around, as he won’t find much time in the outfield, and would be splitting first base/DH duties with Edwin Espinal. Basically, it’s the same situation as the start of the 2015 season in Bradenton, only this time Osuna might not get much time in right field at the start of the year, like the did in 2015 when Harold Ramirez was out with a skin infection.
Up in Indianapolis, Osuna wouldn’t get much time at first base, with Josh Bell holding down the position, but would have more of a chance in the outfield. As for Allie and Rojas, they both seem to be upper level organizational guys right now, although Rojas could get one final shot in Triple-A with the Pirates if he continues his strong performance this winter.
This group will largely depend on who gets the fourth outfield spot in Pittsburgh, and how many minor league free agents the Pirates sign. Right now, the candidates for the starting jobs are Keon Broxton, Jaff Decker, and Willy Garcia. I think Broxton and Decker are the lead candidates for a bench role, and Decker would need to clear waivers to make it to Indianapolis, as he’s out of options.
Garcia probably won’t be ready at the start of the 2016 season, and will be a lock to get playing time in Triple-A in the outfield. You might see one of Broxton or Decker taking another spot. The Pirates have also gone with outfield projects in Triple-A the last few years. In 2015 it was Gorkys Hernandez. It was Chris Dickerson in 2014, and Felix Pie in 2013. Expecting them to go without a lot of minor league free agents in the outfield is reasonable. Expecting them to go without any minor league free agents in the outfield is unlikely. You can probably expect one guy, just for depth purposes.
My guess is that the outfield will be made up of Garcia, either Broxton or Decker, and a minor league free agent. There would still be room here for Rojas to factor in the mix. Osuna could also factor in, especially if the Pirates lose Decker and have Broxton in the majors to start the year. He will likely see Indianapolis in the second half as a first baseman, after Josh Bell gets promoted to Pittsburgh.
Bradenton won’t see as strong of an outfield in 2016 as they did in 2015, but they should have some interesting guys. I’d expect the entire West Virginia group to move up. That includes Tito Polo, Michael Suchy, Elvis Escobar, and Jerrick Suiter. Those guys should take up most of the playing time, with the possibility of Justin Maffei or Jeff Roy sticking around in a bench role. There’s not much mystery involved here, and I don’t think the Pirates will aggressively promote any of their 2015 outfield draft picks at the start of the season to disrupt things.
Just like in Bradenton, I think we’re going to see a station-to-station thing here. Casey Hughston, Ty Moore, Logan Hill, and Ryan Nagle should move up from Morgantown and take most of the time in the outfield. It’s possible that some of these guys could move up to Bradenton mid-season, as they’re all college guys, but that would probably require a system-wide chain reaction.
The Chain Reaction
Again, this all starts with Altoona. The guys in Indianapolis are good, but only Garcia would warrant keeping the guys in Altoona down. The Pirates don’t exactly need outfield help in Pittsburgh any time soon, so they don’t have a big need to push Meadows, Barnes, or Ramirez to Triple-A in 2016.
Barnes would have the best case for a promotion. He spent the most time of the group in Altoona in 2015, and is older than the other two. He could also end up on the 40-man roster this off-season if the Pirates protect him, and they’d want to get him to the majors as quickly as possible.
It would be the same situation with Ramirez, who could also end up on the 40-man roster this off-season, although he has a better chance to start in the future, and is also younger. Therefore, it would make more sense to keep him in Altoona all season.
If anyone moves up from Altoona to Indianapolis, that would open the door for a promotion from Bradenton, which would lead to a promotion from West Virginia. Injuries could also factor in the mix, and trades could play another role, whether they happen in the off-season or during the year.
The Outfield Depth
The Pirates have no need for outfield help in the majors any time soon. They’ve got Andrew McCutchen under team control through the 2018 season, Gregory Polanco through 2020, and Starling Marte through 2021. The next wave will be led by the Altoona trio, with Austin Meadows and Harold Ramirez serving as the top candidates to replace one of the current three. That will likely be McCutchen, unless the Pirates extend him in the next three years. That move would seem surprising at the moment, considering the current makeup of the position in the majors and the depth in the minors.
Beyond Meadows and Ramirez, the Pirates have some guys who could start, but none that look like potential impact players. Barnes and Garcia are the closest to the majors of that group, but the guys projected to open the season in Bradenton and West Virginia could also factor in the mix.
The fact that the Pirates have no immediate need for outfielders, and plenty of talent at the position in the system, could also lead to this position being used as trade depth this off-season. Just like they did at the deadline, this would allow the Pirates to deal from a position of strength, while seeing no negative impact in the short-term or long-term.