Last week, we released our mid-season Pirates Top 50 prospect list. The list is made up of the evaluations of every writer on the site, both the local writers who rank their individual teams in the system, along with myself, John Dreker, and Wilbur Miller, who provide evaluations on every player in the system.
We like the rankings to include a strong background, with plenty of live reports, stats, talks with the players, with the coaches, and outside evaluations taken into consideration (both scouts we talk with, and evaluations from other outlets). So when the Pirates add a player via trade, it can be difficult to get the same quality of evaluations, as obviously we haven’t talked with the player, the new coaches haven’t seen him, and we haven’t seen him play in most cases.
Taylor Hearn at least provides some advantage for us in that process. He was drafted by the Pirates in 2012, but didn’t sign. That usually puts a player on our radar, and that was shown last year when John Dreker wrote about him and other missed players before the 2015 draft (note that key final line, which will now come into play). So we’ve followed Hearn from a distance, but still don’t have the live reports, or the conversations to see what he’s working on with his game (and that always reveals a lot about a player).
I asked Wilbur and John yesterday for their rankings on Hearn, looking for his floor, ceiling, and likely upside. We combined all three rankings, then discussed where he would fit in the system.
Hearn ended up being ranked 25th overall, being placed at the end of Tier 4, right between Max Moroff and Adrian Valerio.
The rankings that we came up with had Hearn grouped in with the pitching trio of Stephen Tarpley, Brandon Waddell, and Tyler Eppler, and almost identical to the rankings of Tarpley. This could be due to the fact that Hearn and Tarpley are similar stories — both traded to the Pirates, both left-handers who can hit upper 90s, and both were acquired in Low-A ball, before they had a chance to really increase in value.
At the moment, we’ve got Hearn with a higher ceiling than any pitcher in that group, including Tarpley. But we’ve also got him with a lower floor and more risk.
The high ceiling is obvious. Hearn can throw 93-97 MPH, touching 98, with some reports having him hitting 100. Also, in the comparisons to Tarpley, Hearn has the clear height advantage. Tarpley comes in at 6′ 1″, 180 pounds, while Hearn is at 6′ 5″, 210 pounds. Tarpley usually sits 90-94, touching 97, while Hearn already has more velocity. There’s a chance that Hearn could continue to add, although sitting 93-97 for a lefty is not bad. Both pitchers have dealt with fastball command issues in their young careers.
The lower floor is due to the secondary stuff. Keeping the comparison with Tarpley, a key difference is the changeup. Tarpley is very comfortable with the pitch, which is huge for a lefty and his ability to remain a starter. He’s so comfortable that he has mostly been a fastball/changeup guy up until this year. Hearn isn’t at the same place with the pitch. Neal Huntington talked yesterday about how the Pirates see the potential for a good changeup. In terms of the slider, Hearn has seen success with the pitch, leading to a ridiculously high strikeout rate in his limited time this year, while Tarpley has seen his pitch improve to eventually being an above-average MLB pitch.
There is a lot of upside with Hearn if he can develop a good changeup. If we’re only going by the ceiling rankings (which isn’t a good approach, but good to compare upsides), then Hearn would be tied for 14th in the system with Yeudy Garcia, ranking just under the “Strong #3 Innings Eater” upside. In terms of his floor, we’ve got him between a career minor league player, and a guy who could become a “Quad-A” player, although the ranking is closer to the 20 grade. His likely upside has him between a strong middle reliever or a spot starter, and a #3-5 starter.
There’s a lot of upside with Hearn, and all of this could really go up in a short amount of time, especially if he develops the changeup. I’d imagine his initial ranking here will be volatile, and could change by the end of the year, after we get more information and more looks at him. I talked with Wilbur this morning about him, and Wilbur noted that the more he reads on Hearn, the more he thinks he’s a better prospect than where we currently have him. I agree to some extent, but I think that all largely depends on the changeup. If you think the changeup has a good chance of developing, then you could easily put Hearn higher in the system, grouping him in the 15-17 range with Clay Holmes, Yeudy Garcia, and Gage Hinsz in Tier 3, with the chance to go much higher as his stuff develops.
Overall, that last part is what I like. No matter where you have Hearn now, there seems to be a higher ceiling on him than some of the other pitchers in his tier. So whether you want to focus on the tools that give him a high upside, or focus on the lack of a changeup that keeps his floor lower, there’s no denying that he’s a very promising prospect who could really move high up the rankings if his development goes right. And that’s something that isn’t true for every prospect in the system.