The biggest impact from the Pirates’ farm system this year will easily come from the pitching side. Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon are expected to fill the biggest short- and long-term needs, with guys like Steven Brault, Chad Kuhl, and Trevor Williams right behind them. But the pitching staff isn’t the only group expected to get a boost from the farm system this year. The infield could very well receive a boost, with several interesting prospects expected to start the year in Triple-A.

The Pirates have a crowded infield lined up for the start of the Triple-A season. There’s a chance that Alen Hanson could start the year in the majors if Jung-ho Kang isn’t ready, although Hanson seems likely to start the year as the starting second baseman in Indianapolis. Max Moroff, who has also played second base the last few years, will be moving up from Altoona after a big season in 2015. Two other infielders who either have moved up or who will move up are Adam Frazier and Dan Gamache. With Josh Bell playing first base, and Gift Ngoepe also on the Indianapolis roster and the 40-man roster, it’s easy to see that there are more infielders than starting spots.

The Pirates seem to be countering this by using positional flexibility with each player. Hanson has been playing second and shortstop. Last year he made the switch to second base from shortstop, and saw much more consistency at the new position than the old one.

“I feel comfortable there,” Hanson said of the transition.

He also got some work at third base at the end of the year, and there was talk that he could get some looks in the outfield. However, the outfield talk has been put to the side for now, and he’s been sticking to middle infield with not much work at third in the early part of 2016.

The defense looks good enough for Hanson to make the jump to the majors, although his offense needs some work. He needs to show more consistency, and not let outside factors impact his game (the main thing right now is that he needs to stop worrying about doing something special and doing too much to make the jump to the majors). Hanson has also struggled a bit more from the right side of the plate, and told me that he spent a lot of time last year focusing more on the right side than the left side.

It seems that Hanson could get the priority at second base, which means that Max Moroff would need to find other spots. That’s exactly what he’s been doing so far heading into the 2016 season. Moroff has been playing second, shortstop, and third base, and spent the entire off-season working at all three positions. Moroff said that the reason for the flexibility is due to the amount of options the Pirates have in Triple-A.

“I guess you can’t control how many players there are,” Moroff said. “Everyone is playing everywhere right now.”

Moroff got on the radar with a big season at the plate in Altoona last year. He always showed the raw hitting skills coming up through the minors, but never put it all together on the field. That changed when he added some rhythm to his swing early in the season, making the change after the first two weeks of the year.

“I was making solid contact whether I got out or got a hit,” Moroff said about when he noticed the change. “That’s what I try to do when I’m up there, make solid contact. That’s what I was doing, so I stuck with it and carried it throughout the season.”

Moroff said he doesn’t anticipate any changes to his approach at the plate this year, since last year’s changes worked so well.

Third base would seem to be the priority for Moroff, with Hanson getting most of his time at second. Moroff could move to second when Hanson gets time at shortstop. But those two would make it difficult for Dan Gamache to find regular playing time in the infield. Gamache has played mostly second and third base in the past, while also adding first base last year. He had a big season in Altoona, posting an .835 OPS, although he had a .607 OPS in his time in Triple-A. With Moroff and Hanson ahead of him on the depth charts, and Josh Bell at first, Gamache will need to move around constantly in order to find regular playing time.

“I think I could pretty much move around anywhere,” Gamache said. He mentioned that he got some tips on this from Josh Harrison last year when Harrison was rehabbing in Triple-A. “I talked to J-Hay last year about [moving around] when he was rehabbing in Indianapolis. He helped me a lot with that.”

Gamache is stronger offensively than he is defensively. Hanson and Moroff have shots at being starters in the majors, while Gamache has an upside of an offensive-minded utility infielder.

The final infielder in this mix is Adam Frazier, who is another utility option like Gamache. The advantage Frazier has is that he added experience in the outfield last year, meaning he could break out of the current infield mix and get playing time all over the field.

“I don’t know what led to it, just kind of being a utility guy,” Frazier said of the move last year. “I had never played outfield before. They threw me out there, it wasn’t too bad of an experience. I didn’t mind it at all. When you can play different positions, it adds value to the team and for yourself.”

The change came after Frazier missed the first month with a broken finger. The Altoona roster was very similar to the upcoming Indianapolis group. Max Moroff was starting his breakout at second base. Dan Gamache was doing well at third base. Gift Ngoepe was holding down the shortstop position. And that led to a need to get creative with Frazier, who hadn’t yet broken out at the plate himself, and send him to the outfield.

Frazier did break out at the plate, although his offensive numbers in 2015 were fueled by a high BABIP. He should be a good average and OBP guy going forward, although his lack of power will make it difficult for him to be a starter in the majors. He also doesn’t have the hands or glove work to be a starting shortstop, which is the position where his bat would play the best as a starter. That makes his positional flexibility so important, as that would be his path to the majors.

The Pirates don’t have the elite-level talent in the infield that they’re currently seeing with their future rotation members. But they’ve got a lot of talent in this group. Two of the guys who will start in Indianapolis have a shot at being starters in the majors, with that second base position being the biggest long-term opening in Pittsburgh. The other two have a shot to be utility players, with Frazier having the chance to be a super utility guy who can play all over the field. All four of these guys have a shot at being up in 2016. The biggest challenge until that happens would be finding playing time for all of them in Indianapolis before the promotions start taking place.

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  1. Not including pitcher movements, I’m throwing out this prediction – the first position player to be promoted up from AAA will be… Willy Garcia. 2nd choice is Elias Diaz.

  2. Each still has a chance to break out this year Nick, although Allie will have to break out as an arm, not a bat if he really wants a shot.
    As for the big team, I see things a little different than others. I was absolutely impressed and excited about the future of the team at SS in the form of Kang. Mercer to me is in competition with JHay for the 2b spot, while Jason Rodgers has likely his ONE shot at taking the 3b position based primarily on his bat. The loser of the 2b competition is the primary utility fill in, with SRod the 2nd utility player.
    If Kang isn’t ready then Mercer gets the SS spot, and one of several others have a shot at the backup – likely Ngope or Florimon.
    Indy will have Hanson as the first available to be elevated based on his performance – his talent is clearly an impact player with multiple tools, Glove, bat, arm (from 2nd), power… it’s his future if he delivers.

  3. What is to be expected of Allie, Mathisen, or Connor Joe this year? Are any even the slightest of prospects?

    • Aliie is out. He was a reach ever since he forgot how to get the ball over the plate…this is one I think it’s time to stick a fork in. FUN FACT: BBR lists Brett Eibner as also having been drafted as a right-handed pitcher…he was selected two picks after Allie. Last season he put up 19/81 with a .303 BA and .878 OPS at AAA. Allie tallied: 17/59 and .205/.665 at AA.

      Joe? He’s still fringe-y…but I don’t think his ceiling is any higher than a utility guy.

      Wyatt? If he ever starts in the majors, it’s a 93.4% chance in a day game after a night.

  4. Still think Desmond’s price has dropped so much that it would be foolish to not look into. Watched him a lot here in the DC area and his power is probably underrated, while hitting lefties really well. Would love to see he and Kang in the same lineup, and virtually see them as similar players. Team lost 40+ HR’s this offseason and did next to nothing to replace it.

    • They don’t trust the glove. After dumping NW and Pedro, the team theme is D.

      Maybe Jody will hit a few more. Just hope he doesn’t take till June to start hitting.

    • Agree with AD on his defense, but he definitely has a much better bat than Mercer. Desmond will cost our first pick (#24), and he made $11 mil last year, so I guess he is looking for a 2 or 3 year contract at about $13 mil/yr?

      I think the Pirates are looking at the $2 mil Mercer continuing with the very strong defense and having a much better year than he had offensively in 2015. Going into 2016 knowing that we will see new guys at 1B and 2B, I think the Pirates will stick with Mercer to be the leader in the IF. If he does not perform with the bat, they may just be looking at Kang at SS, with JHAY at 3B, and Hanson at 2B?

  5. Frazier did hit well his first year on the stat sheet on BA, so 2015 was not a break out year. He led the NCAA in hits in 2013 and short season looked just like Altoona.. He seems to profile very well for 2nd base and played well there this Fall with Team USA against the top 12 ranked teams in world. This second base race may be a good one, wouldn’t count out the best hitter of the bunch and the most experienced playing before huge crowds in the SEC.

    • i am a Frazier fan boy – have never understood why he gets no respect by the BMTIBB…

      How he has been handled reminds me a lot of how J-Hay was disrespected before he bailed out Hurdle and Huntington in 2014. Few remember that prior to that year J-Hay had a productive minor league career – but could not break into the MLB roster – too bad his last name was not Hurdle…

      • Frazier definitely got some notice. He got a spring training invite and he got sent to the AFL. Not only that, the Pirates let him leave the AFL after two weeks to play for Team USA in the Premier12 tournament in Taiwan. Not sure how much more respect you could ask for, but that’s pretty well up there.

        • The truth doesn’t fit Bruce’s opportunity to bash NH and company. The fact that we have Frazier, Moroff, and Hanson knocking on the door bodes well in the near term. Hopefully, a long term second baseman comes from this group.

      • The hated Harrison so much prior to 2014 they only gave him 500 at bats in the 3 seasons prior. Couldnt break into the majors except for all those times he was on the team and got playing time.

        Those assholes. Such disrespect.

    • Figueroa should be in Indy too, along with Juan Diaz. Neither is considered a prospect though. Diaz is 27 and last played in the majors in 2012(briefly), while Figueroa is 28 years old

        • Well you can’t go into Spring Training assuming everyone will stay healthy. They have seven infielders for three spots, plus Figueroa and Frazier can play outfield and someone will DH. Technically they have an eighth infielder in Kelson Brown, though he profiles as a bench player/26th man. If all seven infielders are healthy and set for Indianapolis on Opening Day, then they will decide what to do with the spots. Maybe someone gets traded or sent to Altoona to start the year, but they will likely worry about that when it comes up.

          • well based on their lack of starting pitching and outfield depth they certainly am making that assumption at this point…..

            • For starting pitching, they have already said Nicasio and Luebke will be stretched out, which goes along with Lobstein and Boscan, so they will have nine guys stretched to be starters, besides the five prospects mentioned.

              I also have a feeling they like Danny Ortiz much more than he should. He was their main minor league free agent target and the day he became available, they were very aggressive signing him. They also gave Goebert a 40-man spot early in the off-season, so he is another option they obviously like a lot.

              I don’t think they are done either this off-season. Wouldn’t be surprised to see another pitcher and a legit bench option added before Opening Day, possibly right before when teams make final cuts.

                • Luebke seems unlikely due to his missed time, but Nicasio has made 156 starts as a pro(plus more in winter ball) and has thrown as many as 177 innings in a season, so I don’t think he’d have trouble starting if they need him. That’s besides the fact that they said they will be stretching him out to start. If they sign someone else, maybe they change those plans, but they haven’t yet.

                  • Well, I see your point John. I look at it at this way- Nicasio never in 3 years as a starting pitcher managed a ERA under 5- which is why he’s in the bullpen. 3 years- no improvement- and now it’s been 3 years since he’s started which means he’s probably going to be worse. No thanks…..there is no upside here besides an emergency start and pray he can give you 5 innings and give up 3 runs, that isn’t depth to me.

                    • I guess I should have noticed the difference in what you’re saying, sorry. I was telling you that there was depth, but you were looking for good depth. They don’t even have a good fifth starter, so I wasn’t trying to say they had good depth, just that they had a plan. I still think they add someone better than whoever you consider their sixth best starter, and possibly better than Vogelsong

                    • I think we are in complete agreement on that John. Under optimal circumstances, our depth SHOULD be our current 4th and 5th starters, which would be quite similar to our rotation last year

                  • One thing I’ll give Luebke- he’s pitched well at every level and every year that he’s been healthy. If his stuff isn’t gone, he could be a very very good pitcher for us in some capacity. That being said- 2 tj’s followed by another flexor strain last year has me feeling unlikely he’ll ever get to the point where we could even get him on the mound for 3 innings at once.

  6. Is there any chance that Hanson comes up with the big club at second because JHay is keeping third warm for Kang and Hanson hits well enough to relegate JHay back to utility man? Or is that expecting too much from him or selling Harrison short?

    The only reason I’m suggesting this is I’d rather the PAs that would be going to Sean Rodriguez go to JHay instead. Sean is first backup at almost every position on the field and it would be nice to see that person be Josh.

    • j: Hard to plan for Kang to be game ready by opening day, and if he is not ready, and if Alen Hanson has a reasonably good ST, you could see Hanson going North with the Pirates. He fits the needs of the club as a leadoff switchhitter with excellent range & glove on D at 2B.

      The only other option for him would be the “Kris Bryant” approach where Hanson is held at AAA for the first 10+ games (I think Bryant was held out 11 games) to get beyond the Super Two threshhold. Then again, with all the MI talent behind Hanson, the Pirates may not care about Super Two in his case.

        • Plus Hanson is on the 40-man, so he gets MLB service time for any optional assignment of <20 days. He'd need to spend at least 20 days in the minors in 2016 to not get a full year of service.

  7. Let’s stop babying Taillon and let the young man pitch already. The Burg needs some starters and I think he is further along than Glasnow at this point of their respective careers. Although Glasnow has much better stuff, Taillon has more command of his pitchers and it takes command to win consistently. Once Glasnow becomes more consistent then look out. Then the Burg may have a staff that can match up with any in baseball. I also think they will have to make room for Kuhl eventually.

    • Gonna have disagree on that. By all means get him the innings but I believe there is a difference between being in physical shape and the grind of a baseball season. He’ll need monitored after being down most of the last 24 months.

      • He wasn’t down last season at all until he needed the hernia surgery. It has been discussed here a thousand times.

        • What’s the max innings him and Glasnow have thrown in their careers? No, never mind Leo. A little Searage Magic and they’ll both be throwing 180+ innings between Indy and Pittsburgh.

          • I’ve seen numerous people make that mistake with Glasnow’s innings because all they see is the 109.1 in his stat column. He made two playoff starts and four starts in the Fall Instructional League, plus he threw bullpens before returning from his ankle injury, so he ended up over 140 innings. Since they say young pitchers should add 35-40 per year, he would be able to go 180+ in 2016.

            In 2014, he threw 124.1 ip during the regular season. That was followed by a playoff start, a short time in instructional ball and then 19.1 innings(plus the Fall Stars game) in the AFL. He has thrown over 140 innings each of the last two years. He has pitched into October each of the last two seasons.

            Taillon is obviously a different story, which is why they have said that they will start him slow. He made seven starts in Extended Spring Training(22 total innings). Before that, he threw live BP for a month, and had to work up to that by getting to 48 pitches on March 13th, so he was already throwing regularly before that. At the end of the season, he pitched in the Fall Instructs.

            So while you see zero innings on the stat sheet, from early March until June 18th, he was throwing regularly and facing batters for most of that time. Then throw in a month of instructs and those zero innings turn into 4 1/2 months of pitching last year.

            • No, you’ve corrected me on this once already. But I still say with young arms you have to be cautious as you increase their load. Regardless of what NMR says, I buy into Verduccis Year After Effect.
              Since its obvious the Pirates are never going to go out and buy top flight pitching every year, they gotta be careful with potential young aces. Just my opinion…doesn’t help a lot of the other arms drafted with Taillon and Glasnow broke too.

              • That is being cautious, that’s why they have the 35-40 IP increase in place for pitchers 25 and under. I never said not to be cautious, I was pointing out that everyone undersells their innings pitched. The Pirates go by what the pitchers actually did, not what is on the back of their baseball card, so when you hear people saying Glasnow only threw 109 innings this year and he’s never gone more than 124, I’m telling you in full detail that they are wrong. It has been said wrong by a lot of people.

                The amount of work pitchers can do is a lot more complicated than just innings. They look at tough innings, pitch counts, and total innings. Glasnow had a lot of tough innings in AAA. It definitely wasn’t smooth sailing.

                • It’ll get interesting in September with those two.

                  It’s also possible this new bullpen approach could save them some innings, er pitches.

                • Well stated on Glasnow, John.

                  Glasnow is 22, signed out of Hart high school at 18.
                  Randy Johnson signed out of college took time to age 25 to fit his pitching style into his large body. Glasnow 6-8 225 still lifting weights, on nutrition, making the long tosses could increase his pitch count by his 23rd birthday Aug 23 2016.

                  Hopefully his command of his pitches will also improve.

                  • Exactly. If he becomes more efficient in AAA this year, then he will easily be able to handle 180+ innings. If he labors through innings like last year, then they will shoot for the low end at 170 innings, though his inning total will stay down due to being removed earlier from games. Basically, his inning total won’t be an issue. If he starts piling up innings, they could always skip a start in the middle(Pirates also limit them for a couple starts instead of skipping to get the same effect)

          • Who is talking about Glasnow ? I never mentioned his name. By the way bright guy, Taillon put up 142 innings in 2012, 149 in 2013. Anything else you need updated on ?

    • He will pitch….in the minors….to get ready to see ML arms later in the year.

      “Hey man, 2 years off and now here’s ML hitters for the first time” aint exactly a wise move.

    • I don’t think they will hold him back as much as many think Joe. He needs some starts in AAA against competition and to help get used to game speed. However, that is not a contradiction of John’s comment. They will not push him in AAA to the point he can’t contribute late in the season. The two are not mutually exclusive.

  8. I wish Gift could hit just a little bit, just watch him for 3 games and he does look the part in the field. He could be the guy if kang can’t go. Since there will be no super 2 worries with Gift.

  9. What will the rotation look like for AAA to start the year? It seems like we have way too many starters in AAA. Just off the top of my head with TG, JT, Khul, Brault, and Williams there won’t be any room for depth options like Lobstien and Boscan.

    • My guess would be that either Brault or Williams starts the season at Altoona until a spot opens up. Taillon will probably be taken slow to start the year, so he is still able to pitch at the end of the year. That will leave someone to pick up starter innings in relief, probably Boscan. I think Lobstein starts in the rotation. It could change though, as I still see them adding depth(at least one starter with some MLB experience, but no big name). They also mentioned that Cory Luebke could be stretched out.

  10. “The biggest challenge until that happens would be finding playing time for all of them in Indianapolis before the promotions start taking place.”

    Seems like in the early going, a lot of fans and media will have an eye on Pittsburgh and an eye on Indianapolis.

  11. Sounds like a couple will get held back in Altoona. Hanson probably holds the key if he’s in the Burgh or not.

    • I think the theme of the aaa infield this year is who gets to the next progression of development and who gets hot early. So many guys, the hot hand may get the first call.

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