What Changed For the Pirates’ Biggest Breakout Prospects in 2015?

Every year we focus a lot on breakout candidates in the Pirates’ system. There has certainly been no shortage of those stories, from the massive breakouts like Gregory Polanco and Tyler Glasnow, to the lower scale breakouts like Elias Diaz and JaCoby Jones. The term “breakout” is relative, so you can expand the meaning to cover pretty much any successful season you wanted.

Prior to the 2015 season, I wrote an article previewing the potential breakout candidates in the Pirates’ system. Some of the guys did break out in their own way, such as Steven Brault, Jordan Luplow, and Chad Kuhl. Some of them didn’t, and even took a step back, which is a common trend with prospects.

There were a few prospects who had big breakout seasons in 2015, and I wanted to go back to the 2015 Prospect Guide to see what the report was on each player, and what changed during their breakout season. There are four players highlighted here, with two guys who are bigger breakouts, and two guys who opened some eyes to their skills a bit more this year. We’ll start with the biggest breakout of the 2015 season.

Yeudy Garcia

Garcia went from being unranked in our top 50 prior to the 2015 season to being the number 12 prospect heading into the 2016 season. In fact, he received zero consideration for the top 50, simply because he had yet to make the jump to the United States before the 2015 season. The Pirates promoted him from the DSL this year, and gave him an aggressive push to West Virginia. He handled the jump well, showing off a mid-90s fastball and dominating the level. Here was the report from last year’s book, which did highlight the big reason for his success.

Garcia was old for the level, so his results have a disclaimer on them that he was going up against much younger competition. However, he does have outstanding stuff, with a fastball that tops out at 95 MPH. Garcia has filled out in the last year, possibly leading to the velocity increase. He made the jump to the U.S. for instructs, and should stick around in 2015, possibly getting an aggressive push to Bristol or Morgantown due to his age and arm.

There wasn’t much, although that’s to be expected from a guy who signed at an older age and spent one year on the international side of the system. John Dreker took a look at Garcia while he was in the DSL, noting that he could be an actual prospect. But no one could have seen this breakout coming before the 2015 season. It was such an extreme increase in value that even scouts and front office members in the Pirates’ system were surprised at how good he was pitching.

This is one of those cases where you have a guy with a great skill (in this case, one of the best fastballs in the system), and everything just clicks for him. The Pirates have featured a lot of guys in their farm system with mid-90s fastballs, even on the DSL side. That doesn’t always lead to success. Credit to Garcia for developing himself into more than just a guy with good velocity, since it’s a very rare development for a guy in his situation.

Max Moroff

Moroff was the biggest breakout on the offensive side. We had him in the top 50 in 2014, but he dropped out in 2015 after a down year in Bradenton. Since he entered the system, Moroff has shown the skills to be a prospect, and has drawn the attention of scouts. That was true heading into the 2015 season, even though he dropped in value. It was also true early in 2015, when he was just starting to break out, and scouts we talked with were taking notice. Here is a look at his report last year.

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. He’s got speed, and can handle both middle infield spots, with second base being his better position.

Scouts love Moroff, and he’s gotten praise every year for his skills and improvements in his game. However, it appears that the thing he needs to improve on the most is being a bit more aggressive at the plate. The over-selective approach can lead to problems in the upper levels, with more strikeouts and fewer walks. Moroff already saw that in his jump to High-A, and it will only get worse when he moves to Double-A. He’s got the upside of a utility player.

Moroff is a more common breakout case. He’s a guy with the tools and a clear weakness, and he fixed that weakness this year. His biggest issue was being too selective in the past, and he fixed that in 2015, leading to more balls in play, fewer strikeouts, and the same high walk rate. This all fueled his breakout at the plate, and led to him being our number 17 prospect this year.

Adam Frazier

Frazier seems like a similar story to Moroff. He had the tools, but needed some adjustments before improving his prospect status. We actually had Frazier rated in the top 50 last year, and were high on him despite poor numbers. That’s because of the tools he showed. Here was the write up:

The numbers for Frazier during the 2014 season didn’t look great, although the tools and the skills he displayed on the field were enough to make him a prospect to watch. The Pirates showed how much they thought of him by keeping him at shortstop all season, including at the end of the year, which resulted in blocking JaCoby Jones from a promotion.

Frazier has a lot of speed, great plate patience, and can make solid contact with the ball, with a line drive stroke to all fields. He hasn’t hit for much power the last two years, and doesn’t project to hit for much power going forward. However, the plate patience, potential to hit for average, and his defense up the middle should make up for the lack of power.

The Pirates gave him time at shortstop, and he displayed a lot of range at the position, although he doesn’t look like someone who can excel defensively. Instead, he looks like someone who can handle the position off the bench, but is better suited defensively for second base. The Pirates should continue giving him time at shortstop until a better option forces him off the position.

Frazier’s upside is a utility player in the majors, and while his 2014 season didn’t look great, he doesn’t have a ton of work to get to that level. He needs to show improvements on defense, especially at shortstop. He also needs to take his skills at the plate and have them translate over to the stat sheet. That happened in 2013. He looked good in person at times during the 2014 season, but lacked consistency throughout the year.

Despite the below-average numbers in Bradenton, Frazier could jump to Altoona in 2015. He’s going to need to show that he can hit there before moving any higher. His ability to play the middle infield spots, potential for good contact, strong plate patience, and his speed combines to give him the potential to be a future utility player in the majors. He’s athletic enough that the Pirates could give him a shot at playing in the outfield going forward, in order to further increase his value off the bench.

Frazier didn’t see a huge jump in our rankings, mostly because there wasn’t a lot that changed. He showed the skills at the plate in Bradenton, and that translated to the stat sheet in 2015. He didn’t improve defensively at shortstop, and the Pirates used his athleticism to make him a super utility player, even moving him to the outfield as we suggested prior to the season. Frazier seemed like a big breakout to those who were only looking at the difference in numbers, but this was a pretty common story where the tools show up first, and the numbers arrive later.

Chad Kuhl

Kuhl is a bit like the pitching version of Frazier. The tools were there in the past, but didn’t fully show up in the stat line. Here was his report from last season, where he was the number 24 prospect in the system.

Kuhl impressed enough in the 2013 Jamestown rotation that the Pirates decided to bump him over West Virginia and send him to Bradenton in 2014. He continued to impress at the level, putting up strong results all year, and showing a lot of improvements with his stuff as the season went on.

The Pirates have no shortage of sinkerball pitchers in their system, and Kuhl got a lot of his success for this reason. He throws his sinker in the 90-93 MPH range with a lot of movement, generating a ton of ground balls. He was at 51% in 2013, and jumped up to 58% in 2014.

While the sinker is a strong offering, Kuhl also has a four-seam fastball which can hit 96 MPH. A big focus in 2014 was learning when to use the pitch, and on locating the pitch in his spot. The four- seamer could potentially help his sinker, and it could help him against lefties if he learns how to throw the pitch to the extension side. The big focus here is avoiding rushing through his delivery.

Kuhl put a big focus on his changeup in 2014, and made a lot of improvements. He worked so much off the sinker, and has a good slider, which means he didn’t use the changeup much in college. Continued improvements with the changeup, along with the extension fastball, could help Kuhl become the rare sinkerballer who doesn’t struggle against lefties.

The Pirates typically send pitchers to the Double-A level for a full season, so expect Kuhl to go to Altoona in 2015 and pitch in the rotation all year. He could move up to Indianapolis at the end of the season, but should get around 150 innings in Altoona.

Kuhl’s upside is a back of the rotation starter or a strong reliever. The Pirates tend to prefer sinkerball pitchers, giving him a strong chance in this organization. He might have trouble cracking the rotation as anything more than depth out of Triple-A, but could be a starting option for another team, which possibly makes him a future trade chip. He should be projected as an option for the Pirates at some point during the 2016 season, possibly serving as rotation or bullpen depth throughout the year. If he continues improving his changeup, learns when to throw the four-seam fastball, and does a good job of maintaining his composure on the mound, he could have a good shot at the starting route.

Kuhl’s numbers in Bradenton were good, but not great. He really jumped on the map at the end of the year in Altoona with his strong second half run, and the fact that he was more consistently hitting the upper 90s with his fastball, including his sinker. I don’t want to say that nothing changed with him, because the velocity increase did help, and the off-speed stuff improved. He ended up being our number 16 prospect in the system. But that’s not a huge jump in value, mostly because the scouting report prior to 2015 pretty much predicted how the 2015 season would go. This is another case of a guy breaking out mostly because the stats caught up to the tools.

It’s early in the breakout prediction process, but next week I’ll take a look at some of the early picks for breakout candidates during the 2016 season.

  • Tim and John, remember, I am still new to this, but I have a question.
    I am really pulling for some of these guys after last season especially
    Max Moroff. Here is my question. is it possible that he just peaks
    at AA or AAA and never reaches the majors or is this breakout
    an indicator that he will get to MLB?

    • It’s possible that any prospect peaks at AA or AAA. I think Moroff has the tools to reach the majors, and have success in the majors. But no prospect is guaranteed.

      • Tim, do you see that as being with the Pirates
        or as a trade piece? Does that depend on the
        kind of season that Harrison/Hanson has this year?

  • piraterican21
    January 25, 2016 9:22 am

    I apologize for not purchasing the book, but if my Sherlock Holmes power of deductions are correct, if Frazier is not at #10 then he is not a top 20 prospect!!!! That’s said if anyone has a chance to be the next super ut is Frazier.
    Moroff? I think the slight prejudice I have is how frail he looks, that and the fact that the reports of his fielding are not great leads me to think that his future is not as bright as some makes it out to be. Imo the best case scenario is him bulking up and moving to 3b.
    Kuhl, will take Huges place and perhaps more, funny that the previous report mentioned him having a good breaking pitch. Garcia will be our top pitching prospect by years end.

    • Gosh, I feel so stupid in not seeing Garcia’s upside (as I stated in my post below), but don’t worry, I am that stupid so nothing to see here mate :)….

      • I think I’m suppose to laugh!!!! if that was the intent, then I did. If it wasn’t, this all these comments are just opinion of mostly fans with limited information. Opinion base on what we read, sometimes see, etc. Gosh even #1 overall prospects fail from time to time. Lastly a personal disclosure, English is my 3rd language, so im sure my grammar could be confusing at times, plus typing on an ipad is not ideal. All that said, love reading the comments and adding my 2 cents from time to time!

  • Nice article Tim, probably just me but I see Garcia as potential BP guy, Kuhl, who knows as he did have some compelling progression and of course a nice playoff game, interesting rise to me and I can see folks optimism on him…. Max, I don’t know what he is, if he ends up being Holt then wow, if he ends up plugging in every so often like Lou Merloni then great, apologies if I’m missing his upside but I won’t count on him…. Frazier, I really can’t comment as that would be irresponsible as don’t know him enough, we all should back off about commenting without knowing…. perhaps I should have done that before posting on the other 3 🙂

    • Can you elaborate a little more about Garcia being a potential BP guy?

      • Its a fair question Kozy21, and perhaps I’m exposing myself in my lack of knowledge about each prospect…. So here comes my answer, and maybe not that compelling, but at age 23 in WV with a very lively fastball and I didn’t see a reference to significant 2nd or 3rd or 4th pitchers ( but I didn’t read it that closely as in between meetings in Singapore 🙂 ) that I viewed him as a flyer, and I actually still do mate…. I’ve been wrong before, ask the guys who know I still wanted Stephen Drew instead of JROD 🙂

  • Personally, I have high hopes for all 4 candidates, but especially the two pitchers, ESPECIALLY Garcia.

  • Kuhl and Garcia give the Bucs two more Rotation possibilities. Kuhl may help in 2016 and Garcia will join Tarpley, Brault, and Kingham in the next wave of SP’s. Great job by the Pirates scouting and developmental groups.

  • Tarpley may count as a breakout player. Brault too.

    • Much better than we could have ever expected when that trade was made. I hoped that one of them could replace our loss of Blake Taylor (Ike Davis trade), and they both went well beyond that.

    • Yep. I didn’t include them because we didn’t have a good pre-season report to go with. Plus we’ve focused on them so many times in regards to the value of the Travis Snider deal. I don’t think Baltimore would trade one of those guys for Snider this year.

  • Good article Tim. Hey I always wondered, are you on the Hogwarts Express in your picture?