The Pirates have gone with a different approach with hitting prospects the last two drafts, aiming for a lot of guys who can hit well and to all fields, with some gap power, good plate patience, speed, all while having the ability to play a premium defensive position. The one common downside is the lack of power, although the Pirates are fine sacrificing home run power for the total package.
The Marauders will see a lot of the top picks from the last few drafts starting the year with the team. Last year’s first and second round picks — Kevin Newman and Kevin Kramer — will make up the middle infield. Connor Joe and Jordan Luplow, who were first and third round picks in 2014, respectively, will also play big roles on the team. Cole Tucker, taken in the first round of 2014, will also find his way to the team at some point this season.
The common trend with the hitters is that there isn’t the highest upside, but the floor is high, which means you could still see a few of these guys starting in the majors one day, even if they’re not prospects who you can dream on.
That’s not really the case with the pitchers. You can dream on some of the arms in the rotation, especially Yeudy Garcia and Stephen Tarpley. Garcia is fresh off becoming the Pirates’ Breakout Prospect of the Year in 2015, and has the stuff to potentially be a top of the rotation guy, sitting in the mid-90s easily with his fastball. Tarpley is a lefty who can hit 97, and sits 90-94. He might not have the best upside of all the starting pitching prospects ahead of him, but he’s a lefty power pitcher, and that could clear a future path for him to the Pittsburgh rotation.
This isn’t a flashy team, but it’s a team that could quietly end up producing several starting position players, along with a few starting pitchers, with the chance for one or two guys who could be more than middle or back of the rotation options.
2016 BRADENTON MARAUDERS TOP 10 PROSPECTS
1. Kevin Newman, SS – Newman isn’t a high upside first round pick, but he is a high floor guy. He could be a starter in the majors at shortstop one day, with the speed, range, arm strength and glove work to handle the position and provide some defensive value. Offensively, he doesn’t hit for any power, but is fine with that approach, instead focusing on a high average, high OBP, and gap power. He also has a lot of speed, leading to some stolen bases, and some extra bases on line drives.
Newman’s style fits his skills. He’s a hard-working player, going all out to get the maximum value out of his skills. Last year I saw him hit a line drive down the left field line, which was caught on a play where the left fielder ranged far to make the play. Newman didn’t even notice, tucking his head and running hard out of the box, going for two the entire time. He slid into second just as the other team was running off the field after the catch, at which point he noticed the ball was caught. People who have seen him play a lot more often say that this all-out play is the norm. He’s got a chance to move quickly through the system, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him in Altoona by the end of the year, with a chance to be the starting shortstop of the future in Pittsburgh by the end of the 2018 season, if not earlier.
2. Yeudy Garcia, RHP – Garcia was the big breakout performer last year, and might have been the best breakout story in recent years for the Pirates. He started his career late after first going to college in the Dominican. He played his first season at the age of 21 in the DSL, then got an aggressive push to West Virginia at age 22, which is uncommon for a guy new to the US. Garcia handled the move well, not only on the field where he dominated opposing hitters, but off the field, where he quickly improved his English and adjusted easily to the new country.
What makes Garcia so good on the field is his electric stuff, with a fastball that sits 93-96 MPH, touching 97. The pitch is thrown with ease, and has some late cutting movement. He was a bit slower during Spring Training this year, but gradually saw his velocity increase as he got deeper into camp. His slider really improved last year, and now looks like an above-average offering, with the chance to continue progressing to a plus pitch in the future. He’s got the fastball/slider combination where he could eventually be a top of the rotation guy, and the feel for a changeup that will allow him to remain a starter. This will be a big year for Garcia, as he looks to improve on his breakout year, with the chance to reach Altoona by the end of the season.
3. Stephen Tarpley, LHP – Tarpley will begin the 2016 season on the disabled list, which is the second year in a row that he will miss the start of the season. This time around is due to an oblique injury, which he suffered before one of his starts in Spring Training. When he returns, he’ll be one of the best starting pitching prospects to follow in the lower levels.
He’s a lefty who can hit 97 MPH with his fastball, usually sitting in the 90-94 MPH range. He’s got a great changeup, and it is rare for a starter to be so comfortable with that pitch as his secondary offering. Tarpley has improved his command in the last year and a half, which has led to a bit of a breakout in his prospect status. He could make an even bigger jump with strong results in Bradenton, and that could come with continued fastball command, and more improvements with his slider, turning the offering into an out pitch.
4. Brandon Waddell, LHP – Unlike Tarpley, Waddell doesn’t have a fastball that hits upper 90s. He can hit 92-93 MPH, but his game is mostly around changing speeds and location, rather than power. Waddell throws five different pitches, with a sinker and a four seam fastball, and the usage on any given night dependent on the opposing lineup. He also throws a curve, slider, and changeup, and has a good feel for all of his pitches.
None of Waddell’s offerings are much better than average, although he uses deception, location, and mixes his pitches up well enough to keep hitters off-balance. He could end up being along the same lines as Steven Brault last year, who also didn’t have great stuff, but got results thanks to his movement and ability to pitch. The Pirates gave Waddell an aggressive push by sending him to Bradenton, and that’s a push they only give to their most advanced college starters. He could end up in Altoona by the end of the year, and even though he doesn’t have the stuff of the first two starters on this list, he will be a starter to watch all year.
5. Kevin Kramer, 2B – There isn’t a lot that’s flashy about Kramer. He doesn’t hit for home run power, isn’t the fastest guy on the field, and isn’t a great defender at shortstop. However, he does a lot of things well, and while the home run power isn’t there, he hits the ball hard with line drive power. That’s what I saw all spring, with Kramer just spraying the ball all over the outfield, and picking up double after double.
First round pick Kevin Newman will be at shortstop, and Connor Joe will be at third, which will limit Kramer specifically to second base. He might get the occasional start at another position, but for now it looks like the Pirates are letting everyone settle in at one spot. It’s easy to dream about the Newman/Kramer middle infield in Pittsburgh one day, if only for the Seinfeld jokes. Kramer is stronger defensively at second base, and has the hitting tools to be a starter at the position one day. His likely upside is a utility guy, but if he can show the hitting consistency he showed this spring, then starting is a real possibility.
6. Connor Joe, 3B – Joe missed the 2014 short-season with a back injury, and was limited in 2015 after missing so much time away from the game. The tools looked good, with a quick swing and a lot of power potential. He was limited to first base, but moved like a third baseman, with quick reactions and the ability to lay out for the ball. The overall numbers weren’t strong, although that could all be chalked up to the back injury. Joe didn’t look overmatched, whether that was in-person reports, or the K/BB numbers.
The Pirates are moving Joe to third base full-time this year, where he will be getting the bulk of the playing time, and pushing Jordan Luplow to the outfield. This isn’t a bad call, as Luplow struggled with first step quickness, and Joe doesn’t have the same issue. Both could be third basemen in the future, but Joe looks like he’s ahead of Luplow from a skills perspective. The most interesting thing here will be the bat. Joe was hitting the ball well all spring, with those offensive tools translating into games. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a big breakout season, with the first round pick of Joe finally being justified for the Pirates, now that the back injury is…(sunglasses)…behind him.
7. Jordan Luplow, OF/3B – Luplow had a great second half at the plate, posting a .994 OPS in his final two months of the season in West Virginia. It’s always questionable when this happens with a college guy in Low-A during the second half. Was it because everything finally clicked, or because they were advanced and should be hitting that well? In this case, it’s a little bit of the latter, but most of the former, with Luplow’s transition back to third base driving focus away from his hitting.
This year, the Pirates are moving him back to the outfield. He’ll get some playing time at third on occasion, with Joe moving to first, but most of the time will be in left field. He had off-season shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum on his non-throwing shoulder, but that won’t hold him out for the start of the season, and hasn’t held him back at the plate entering the year. Now that he’s at a more comfortable position, you could see better offensive results from Luplow earlier in the year. However, there’s really no future for him in Pittsburgh as an outfielder, so to be a long-term option for them, he needs to eventually move back to third and develop at the spot.
8. Logan Hill, OF/DH – Hill was a 25th round pick last year, although he’s got the build, the hitting tools, and the power potential to at least be a top ten round pick. It may have helped the Pirates that he moved around between a few schools, making it difficult for scouts to follow him throughout his college career. He impressed in Morgantown last year, and the Pirates responded by skipping him over West Virginia.
The outfield is crowded, but Hill should get some time at the corners, while also getting at-bats in the DH spot. There’s always the question of whether a college player hitting in short-season ball is legit, and Hill needs to show he can repeat his success in a higher level. He is a sleeper to follow though, as his size and approach at the plate backs up his numbers from 2015.
9. Austin Coley, RHP – Coley saw a big change in his approach last year in West Virginia, dropping down from an overhand delivery to a three-quarters arm slot. This was to avoid shoulder problems, but also led to much better control numbers and an improved curveball. His changeup was always a strong pitch in the past, and Coley worked to get the pitch back with his new arm slot after making the switch.
Coley’s fastball is 91-93 MPH with sinking action, and is capable of being thrown inside to both sides of the plate. He pairs it with a slurve. The Pirates held him back in West Virginia last year, even though he looked like a guy who could have moved up to Bradenton and had success. He might not have a path to the Pirates’ rotation in his future, as he’s the type of guy who gets lost in this system, but Coley is a legit prospect, capable of being a reliever in the majors for a team like the Pirates, or possibly an average starter in a weaker rotation.
10. Pablo Reyes, INF – Reyes will move around a lot this year in the infield, trying to find playing time after the middle infield spots became crowded from the 2015 draft. Playing time wasn’t a problem for him last year, as he was the primary second baseman in West Virginia. He’s a former shortstop who shows a lot of range at second, although his play is a little wild at times. It’s the same story at the plate, where he has a lot of raw power for a middle infielder, but can get too power happy, which takes away from the rest of his game.
Reyes might have more offensive upside than the other middle infielders at this level, although he’s not a smooth defender, and his overall style of play is inconsistent, leading to a much lower floor than guys like Newman and Kramer. He should get some time splitting between the three infield positions, along with hitting as the DH, but finds himself low on the depth charts with so many other middle infield options surrounding him in the lower levels.
Other Notable Prospects
Cole Tucker will eventually arrive at this level in 2016, although that might not be at the start of the season. He is currently rehabbing from labrum surgery last year, and with Newman at the level, it’s possible that Tucker could start off in West Virginia, and make his way to Bradenton when Newman moves up to Altoona. If he was on this list, he’d probably be first overall, especially with positive reports this spring about his health.
Elvis Escobar was once similar in tools to Harold Ramirez, although Escobar hasn’t developed the same way since they both signed. He hits for contact and has good range and a good arm, making him a potential center field option. At this point he looks like a future bench player at best. Taylor Gushue gets lost behind Elias Diaz and Reese McGuire, and hasn’t put up the best numbers. He’s got good hitting tools and a good arm, and is still raw. The Pirates are giving him plenty of opportunities, and he should get the bulk of the catching work. Michael Suchy looks like a linebacker, and has some impressive speed for his size. He does a good job of hitting to the opposite field, but the Pirates want him tapping into his power a bit more often by pulling the ball. Jerrick Suiter will be playing first base this year, after splitting between that position and the outfield in 2015. He doesn’t hit for power, but has a great average and OBP. That said, he’s limited to a corner role, which makes power kind of important. Luis Heredia isn’t much of a prospect anymore, and is moving to relief, where he’s seen a velocity uptick, but still struggles with control issues.