Last week I did a recap of the 2015 breakout performers in the Pittsburgh Pirates system, looking at the skills which led to their big 2015 seasons. Breakout performers are difficult to predict, as you never know which toolsy player will put it all together. Despite this, we try to mention a few names as potential breakout guys each year, using the information we know.
Normally, the breakout picks are done towards the end of Spring Training. I usually get a feel for breakout performers throughout the minor league Spring Training process. That’s when Gregory Polanco went from a very interesting toolsy prospect to my breakout pick a few years ago. It’s when Steven Brault first started impressing me last year. Of course, it’s not always correct, since Andrew Lambo had a huge Spring a few years ago, which did lead to a breakout in the minors, but nothing else for the Pirates.
With that said, I still plan to highlight some breakout performers at the end of Spring Training, based on what I see in camp. But today I wanted to take an early look at the potential breakout candidates in 2016, based on what we know from the 2016 Prospect Guide.
Today’s look will be a bit different, and will focus on several variations of the term “breakout”. We typically focus on players who go from raw tools to legit prospect status in our breakout picks. This usually includes guys who make the jump into our top 50, or even make the jump further into national rankings. Today we’re going to include some of those guys, while also focusing on prospects who could jump in the national rankings or into the national rankings.
Guy Who Could Jump to the Top of the National Rankings
Austin Meadows isn’t a name you’d associate with the term “breakout candidate”. He’s been a top 100 prospect since he was drafted, and was named to the top 25 in both top 100 rankings that came out this week. So there’s not much room for him to move up in any rankings.
The one place he could move to is the top 10 overall rankings, putting him as one of the best prospects in the game. I could see that happening this year. Meadows is already getting a lot of attention for his current skills, which is something I noticed in the Arizona Fall League and has carried over into the 2016 prospect rankings. He’s got an extremely quick bat, with a short swing path that allows him to attack balls deep in the zone. He hasn’t added much power to his game yet, but that is something which is expected to come as he gets older and continues to fill out his body (which he’s already been working on in the last year with the strength program that the Pirates use).
Meadows made the jump to Altoona at the end of the 2016 season, and put up some impressive numbers in a very small sample size. The Pirates have no need to rush him with their current outfield, which means they could leave him in Altoona all year at the age of 21, giving him a chance to put up the type of numbers that would further open eyes around the game, and make him the top prospect in the system and one of the top prospects in the game.
Guy Who Could Jump Into the National Rankings
One thing about breakout prospects is that the “breakout” term is really dependent on your knowledge of the subject. If you subscribe to this site, then you already know about most of the guys in the top 50, and even some of the guys outside of that group. But for people outside of Pittsburgh, or even casual Pirates fans, the guys who don’t get national attention are off the radar. This category looks at guys you probably know, but who aren’t quite known yet on the national level.
I’d go with Harold Ramirez here as the breakout guy, but he’s already on the 40-man roster and he made it to the back of the Baseball Prospectus top 101. I think he could make every top 100 list next year, but it seems cheap to list him here.
Yeudy Garcia, on the other hand, seems like an easy choice, but not quite as cheap. Garcia was the big breakout prospect in the system this year, but he’s not quite on the level where he’s considered one of the top prospects in the game. That makes sense. For a guy at his age, only having success in Low-A won’t get top prospect status. But the same type of success in the higher levels, with the stuff he has, would definitely put him in the top 100.
Garcia has what I think is one of the best fastballs in the system, and I’m including Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon in this discussion. He’s got easy velocity, sitting in the mid-90s, and he’s still filling out and improving that velocity. He’s got an effortless delivery, and good downward movement on the pitch, making it a plus offering. The drawback here is that he doesn’t have a plus out pitch like Glasnow and Taillon have. But he’s also relatively new to pitching, despite the age, and his slider saw some improvements last year.
Further improvements with the slider in 2016 could propel him to one of the top 100 prospects in baseball. I think his fastball is good enough to put up strong numbers in Bradenton and Altoona, and maybe even get him some national attention. But if the slider continues to improve, we’re looking at a guy who could be a top 50 prospect in baseball by this time next year.
Guy Who Could Jump Into Our Top 30
I mentioned above that people on this site probably know most of the top 50 guys. You probably know all of the top 30 guys. So this next section looks at a guy you might not know at the moment, but who you probably will know by this time next year.
Luis Escobar is a right-handed pitcher who came in 48th in our top 50 this year. We use the final spots of the top 50 to highlight some potential breakout players. Escobar, Tito Polo, Pablo Reyes, and Carlos Munoz were some of the guys we highlighted this year. There’s really not much of a difference in value between someone like Escobar and someone who just missed the list like Jacob Stallings. The key difference is that someone like Stallings has an upside that is pretty set. Stallings was rated a 3.5 upside, making him a future backup catcher. He doesn’t project to move beyond that. Escobar was given an upside of 3.5, but could easily improve on that as he gets older.
What makes Escobar special is that he’s a 19-year-old pitcher who sits 91-93 MPH, hitting 95 and showing a curveball that flashes plus potential. What holds Escobar back is that he lacks control at times, leading to a lot of walks. The walk rate didn’t look bad in the GCL, but the actual control did look bad at times, and he got away with it due to his stuff at the lowest level. He won’t be so lucky in the upper levels.
The Pirates gave Escobar an aggressive push at the end of the year, sending him to Morgantown for two starts. I think it would be difficult for him to go to West Virginia next year, since that rotation looks crowded. However, they could send him to Morgantown, which would be a nice push. If the control improves — and it did show some improvements from 2014 to 2015 — then he could jump up to the Mitch Keller/Gage Hinsz level, being a top 30 prospect and a high upside arm who could continue to climb in the system.
Guy Who Could Jump Into Our Top 50
This is a section that is completely unpredictable, and one that is a bit unfair at this point. I mentioned that we use the end of the top 50 to highlight some guys who could be breakout performers. There are still some guys outside of the top 50 who could fit that bill, but the reality is that no system, even one as good as the Pirates have, is going to have a ton of breakout guys outside the top 50 prospects.
I could go with some of the 2015 draft picks here. Ike Schlabach and Nathan Trevillian are young prep pitchers with high upsides. James Marvel is a college pitcher coming off Tommy John who would have gone much higher than the 36th round if he was healthy. Seth McGarry is a hard throwing relief prospect who will probably pitch in the rotation for a bit for developmental purposes. And Jacob Taylor would be in the top 50 right now if he didn’t go down with Tommy John surgery in 2015 after two innings, which will likely put him out for all of the 2016 season.
Any of those guys would be easy picks, but there’s one player I want to highlight here, because he really surprised me in 2015. That player is 14th round right-handed pitcher Chris Plitt. He was drafted out of the JuCo ranks at age 20, and he’s not a hard thrower by any means. He sits 86-88 MPH with his fastball, and drops to the mid-80s in the later innings. What stood out to me is that he’s a tall, skinny pitcher with loose arm action and an effortless delivery, throwing the ball on a downward plane and pounding the low part of the strike zone. That’s the recipe for any projectable pitching prospect, with the only difference here being that Plitt is a few years older than most of the guys the Pirates bring in. He also has great control, and a good feel for a slider. If he fills out and adds velocity, he could be a guy who has success even with a low-90s fastball.
It would have been easy for me to pick one of the guys above with better fastballs, but I went with a riskier option in Plitt, just because if that frame fills out and the velocity comes, then it will pair nicely with his currently ability to pitch. In other words, I’ve seen what he can do with a fastball that tops out at 88. I’d love to see what he can do with a fastball that creeps into the low 90s.
Giving Another Chance For a Non-Prospect
We rate a lot of guys in the system a 2.0 with Extreme risk. That’s code for “non-prospect” or “organizational player”. These guys fill out the rosters of the lower levels, and a few become fillers in the upper levels. They’ve got almost no chance to make the majors or break out as actual prospects. Occasionally, someone does break out, and those breakouts are always my favorite stories. But predicting any of these guys breaking out is like predicting where lightning will strike. So this section is more about giving one more look to a guy before writing him off. And the decision was easy for me.
Adrian Grullon was a high upside prospect two years ago. I loved what I saw from the 6′ 7″ pitcher in the GCL. He featured a 90-93 MPH fastball and a low-80s slurve that was an out pitch. That combo looked like he could at least be a future reliever in the majors, and his tall, projectable frame gave him the shot to be more than that. Unfortunately, he went down with Tommy John surgery in 2014, and missed all of the 2015 season.
Without the injury, Grullon might have pitched in Morgantown this year, putting him on pace for West Virginia in 2016. He would have been a bit on the old side at the age of 23, but the stuff is what would have kept him on the prospect radar. He’s off the radar now, simply because the probability of him becoming a prospect is low. He’s 23 and hasn’t pitched above rookie ball. They could give him an aggressive promotion to Morgantown, or an even more aggressive push to West Virginia, but the reality is that those levels will be crowded, and it will be difficult for him to grab a rotation spot.
Still, I’m including him here because that stuff is real, the Pirates have done a good job improving mechanics while bringing guys back from Tommy John. Perhaps the improvements here could help tap into the tall frame and lead to more velocity. Grullon should go to a short-season league this year, and even if he has a big season, he will need to move quickly after that to regain his prospect status. It’s a long shot, but again, the stuff is what keeps hope alive.