PITTSBURGH – The Pirates are off to a great start to their season, sweeping the Cardinals to go 3-0 at the start of the year. Tomorrow is an off-day for the MLB club, but it happens to be one of the best days of the year on this site. The minor league season starts tomorrow, and we’ll be rolling out coverage all day.
John Dreker will have our Morning Report at 8 AM, with the daily schedule. Our previews for each minor league team will go up in the morning, profiling the top ten prospects at each level. Later in the day I’ll be covering the Altoona opener live with Sean McCool. John Dreker will then be recapping games in our live Prospect Watch, which keeps track of all the minor league games throughout the evening, with full stats on each game. We’ll cap it all off with the breakout prospects article tomorrow night.
If you haven’t subscribed yet, then head over to our subscription page and sign up. You’re not going to get the amount of information and analysis we provide on the minor league system going the free route. Tomorrow alone you’re getting 40 player profiles, plus information on about 20 more players in the system, and the start of our live coverage. And that’s just a start of a long season where we will be the only outlet that covers every team live on a regular basis, all the way down to the Dominican Summer League and extended Spring Training.
This site doesn’t just focus on the minors, but focuses on the overall system, and how the prospects impact the big league club and vice versa. So to kick off the minor league coverage, let’s take a look at the prospects who could arrive and help out in Pittsburgh this year, along with the top ten prospects rated by their potential impact in Pittsburgh.
If Francisco Cervelli or Chris Stewart go down with injuries, then Elias Diaz will be the top guy to step up out of Indianapolis. He’s starting the year on the disabled list with elbow soreness, so Jacob Stallings or Ed Easley would take over if an injury comes up before he’s ready to return. Diaz has some of the best defense in the minors, and works well with pitchers. He also has good hitting skills, which haven’t shown up consistently in games. He’ll take over as the starter in 2017, but it’s very likely we could see him up at some point in 2016.
There are a few options for this position in the short-term, such as Jason Rogers as depth from the right side. But the big prospect of this group is Josh Bell. He’s the first baseman of the future for the Pirates, and could arrive by mid-season. A lot of that will depend on how John Jaso performs, and right now Jaso is looking comfortable at first base, and could be a great hitter. If Jaso is doing well, the Pirates could take it slower with Bell. However, if Bell is ready, they could use this opportunity to bring him up, split time with Jaso and ease him in to the majors, have a stronger bench in the process, and set Bell up to take over the starting role full time next year.
The Pirates have several middle infield options who could arrive this year. The top guy from the group is Alen Hanson. He will need to focus on his consistency, both on the field and at the plate. He’s had a slow start in each of his last few seasons at the plate, so a strong April would go a long way toward getting him a shot at the majors. The Pirates considered him for the majors this spring with Jung-ho Kang out, but ultimately decided to sign David Freese for that role. The Pirates still see him as a starter in the future, and someone who can still help them this year.
Behind Hanson, the Pirates have Max Moroff and Adam Frazier as options at second base, with Frazier also being an option at shortstop in a pinch. If the team needs a long-term shortstop, that role would go to Gift Ngoepe, who is easily the smoothest and best defensive shortstop in the system. Moroff and Frazier would likely come up as bench/super utility options, with Hanson getting the priority if a starter job opens.
Cole Figueroa is technically prospect eligible, and is starting in the majors this year. He could end up back in Indianapolis at some point, but should help the team throughout the year.
There are a lot of middle infield options, which means a lot of them will be moving around to new positions. Max Moroff will get the most time at third base in Triple-A, and if there’s a position where he could come up and start, it would be this one. Jason Rogers isn’t prospect eligible, but he might be ahead of Moroff on the depth charts. And when Jung-ho Kang returns, the Pirates would have Freese and Kang in the majors, plus Josh Harrison able to move over if needed, so a starting job might be difficult for the prospects at this position. That’s a massive improvement over where the Pirates have been in the past.
Alen Hanson will get time at third base as well this year, but his best path to the majors would still be at second base, or as the top super utility option, since he will also be learning outfield this year.
Once again, the super utility guys factor in here. Adam Frazier has the most experience in the outfield, and the most range of the group out there, so if a super utility guy is needed, he might be that guy. Alen Hanson will be playing a game a week here, so he’s not exactly the top option if you need an outfielder. Willy Garcia is the only true outfielder, but is limited to right field, with the ability to play left or center in PNC in a pinch. However, a lot would have to go wrong for Garcia to be needed in center field for the Pirates.
The big question with Garcia is whether his bat would be ready. He has some of the best raw power in the system, but strikes out way too much. Last year he improved on the strikeouts and his average went up, but the power went down. When the power returned, so did the strikeouts and the average dipped again. He’s got the best outfield arm in the system (Marte might be the only one who is better if you include the majors), and could be a nice fourth outfielder if enough goes well with the bat this year.
This is where the bread and butter of the prospect depth lies. The Pirates have Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon set to arrive by mid-season. Their biggest weakness at the Major League level is the back of their rotation, so these two top pitching prospects will give a boost to that weakness. I could see Taillon arriving before Glasnow, just based on the stuff. Taillon’s mechanics look great, and his stuff since his return from Tommy John has been the best I’ve seen in his career. There’s not much that he needs to work on, outside of getting used to pitching against upper level talent again for the first time since 2013.
Glasnow, on the other hand, needs some work on his stuff. He needs to learn to throw his curveball for strikes early in the count, and needs better command of his changeup. At the moment, big league hitters could sit and wait for his fastball, and while it’s a great pitch, he wouldn’t see the same results in the majors as he’s seen in the minors with just that one pitch working. None of this is to say that he won’t reach his upside. He’s just not there as of the start of the 2016 season.
Below, I listed Taillon ahead of Glasnow in terms of the potential impact this year. Part of this is because I think Glasnow will still have work to do when he does arrive. Taillon has a better chance of repeating what Gerrit Cole did in 2013, putting up good numbers almost immediately. Glasnow might have some growing pains, especially if the nerves that he has early at each level kick in. Hopefully that would be gone by September.
Behind those two, the Pirates have Chad Kuhl, Steven Brault, and Trevor Williams, or as I like to call them, the NGTs (Non-Glasnow Taillons). Kuhl features a sinker that can hit 96-97 frequently, and an improving slider that could be above-average this year. Brault (lefty) and Williams (righty) both rely on their sinkers, which have a lot of late movement, while working with deception with their deliveries. All three of these pitchers could arrive this year, but they start the season with at least nine starters ahead of them on the depth charts, so it’s not going to be easy for them to arrive in Pittsburgh in a starting role.
There aren’t many top prospects who are relief only. The Pirates have Trey Haley, who hits 96 MPH with his fastball, but has dealt with control problems in the past. They’ve got other hard throwers like that who have never reached the majors due to one big thing holding them back, and that thing is usually control. I really think the NGTs have the best chance of helping the bullpen this year if help is needed in the second half.
The Top Pirates Prospects by Potential 2016 Impact
There are a lot of scenarios for each prospect to arrive in the majors. The list below looks at the most realistic best case scenario for playing time and impact that a prospect can have in 2016. The list is not a typical top prospect list. If it was, then Tyler Glasnow would be at the top.
1. Jameson Taillon
2. Tyler Glasnow
3. Alen Hanson
4. Josh Bell
5. Elias Diaz
6. Cole Figueroa
7. Gift Ngoepe
8. Max Moroff
9. Adam Frazier
10. Willy Garcia
**Juan Nicasio Has a Great Debut as the Pirates Sweep the Cardinals. Full analysis from tonight’s game, looking at Juan Nicasio’s debut, plus the excellent stuff from Cory Luebke and Arquimedes Caminero.
**Pirates and Clint Hurdle Going Against Tradition With Bullpen Usage. Really like what the Pirates are doing here, trying to get an edge with their usage of Tony Watson in the late innings.
**Rays Claim Jake Goebbert From Pirates. Goebbert would have been an early season depth guy for the outfield, and now the odds of Frazier or Garcia coming up to help are increased.
**Injury Updates: Jung-ho Kang, Jared Hughes, Elias Diaz, Austin Meadows. The latest injury updates, with progression from the three guys on the disabled list.