Big Upside Prep Pitchers Highlight the 2016 GCL Pirates Top 10

The GCL Pirates featured a lot of pitching talent this year. The Pirates spent most of their 2016 draft funds on over-slot prep pitchers, taking Travis MacGregor, Braeden Ogle, and Max Kranick in the top 11 rounds, and Austin Shields late in the draft. Those guys were joined by a group of international pitchers who received some of the highest bonuses from the Pirates during the 2014 signing period, with six figure pitchers like Brian Sousa and Domingo Robles joining the mix. The offense didn’t have as much talent, but did feature some high upside international guys like Yondry Contreras and Edison Lantigua. Here is our end of the year rundown of the best prospects at the level.

Top 10 GCL Pirates Prospects

The cutoff for eligibility on this list was 70 at-bats, 20 innings pitched, or 10 relief appearances. The biggest name who missed the list was Austin Shields, who received an over-slot bonus in the 33rd round of the draft. Jeremias Portorreal joined the team late in the season, and also didn’t quality. Most of the list is based on upside, rather than the results this year. These players are so far away that even their upside is hard to peg.

1. Braeden Ogle, LHP – Ogle has separated himself from the rest of the 2016 prep pitching pack, consistently working in the 94-96 MPH range with his fastball in the early innings, and maintaining good low-90s velocity in the later innings. He also showed a lot of improvements with his new slider, getting a lot of swings and misses by the end of the year with the pitch that he only added last off-season. He had a 2.60 ERA and a 20:11 K/BB ratio in 27.2 innings, dealing with some control problems, but showing good enough stuff that he could get away with it. He looked similar to Mitch Keller in the GCL, in terms of the early stuff, the control problems that didn’t fully show up in the stats due to the advanced stuff, and just the way his fastball was so lively compared to what you normally see from a prep pitcher. Keller had to make a few changes to get to where he is now, and Ogle will have to do the same. But there is a lot of potential here, with Ogle showing a very special arm from the left side, featuring a lively fastball, a hard slider that he’s already showing improvements with, and a lot of comfort throwing the changeup.

2. Max Kranick, RHP – While Ogle has separated himself from the rest of the prep pitchers, Kranick isn’t far behind. If Ogle is Tier 1, then Kranick is Tier 2, and has the look of a guy who could eventually be the best of the group. He’s 6′ 3″, 175 pounds, and has some room in his frame to add some muscle and increase his velocity. He’s been in the 89-93 MPH range with his fastball this year, touching as high as 95-96 in high school this year. I had him as high as 94 this year when I saw him. What makes the fastball special is that he throws it on a downward plane, can move it around the zone, and command it well due to an easy delivery. While Ogle needs to add better command to make his fastball better for the upper levels, Kranick just needs the boost in velocity to make his solid fastball a great one. He added a curveball this year, and after working on a consistent release point throughout the year, he started showing improvements with the pitch in August and September. He’s very comfortable with the changeup, and if the curve keeps improving, and if he gets more consistently in the mid-90s, he’ll have a nice mix of pitches to work with.

3. Travis MacGregor, RHP – MacGregor has a tall, projectable frame that you can dream on, and has already seen a velocity increase as a result of adding weight to that frame. He got up to 92-93 MPH at the end of his high school season, but was mostly sitting 87-90, touching 92 in pro ball. That could be due to the amount of innings he pitched this year. He needs to improve his 12-to-6 curveball, showing poor command of the pitch at times, which makes sense as he was mostly a fastball/changeup guy and didn’t add the curve until high school. His mechanics also need some work to make him more effective. He has a lot of moving parts to his delivery, with a high leg kick that he brings close to his chest, getting very compact in his windup. He then has a long extension to the plate, which needs to be more consistent. He also shows a tendency for his arm to drag behind as he rushes out of the windup. He’ll need to work on command and improving the curveball going forward, but there is a lot to like about MacGregor, especially with his projectable frame.

4. Yondry Contreras, OF – Contreras is one of the fastest players on the team, and also makes some of the hardest contact. During instructs, he was hitting the ball just as hard as Will Craig, Casey Hughston, and Jin-De Jhang, who all have some promising power potential. The downside here is that he doesn’t make contact consistently enough, with a free swinging approach that has led to a 30.9% strikeout rate in his two year career. He might always be a high strikeout guy, but if he can improve to a respectable level, he would be a very good outfield prospect, almost looking like a lite version of Starling Marte. That’s no easy task, but there’s a lot of potential here if Contreras can improve that one aspect of his game.

5. Edison Lantigua, OF – Lantigua has shown some promise with his skills on the field, but that hasn’t translated to the stats in his two years in the GCL. He had a .556 OPS last year, which might have been due to a hand injury early in the season. He got off to a great start in the first month of the 2016 season, then had another hand injury, and dealt with a few other minor issues. He ended up with a .723 OPS, while showing good gap power with five doubles and seven triples. He also has some of the best speed on the team, and some good K/BB ratios. He’s going to need to avoid the injuries in the future, just to show what he can do when he’s fully healthy.

6. Miguel Hernandez, RHP – Hernandez has some of the best velocity of the international players on the team, sitting 91-93 MPH and touching 94-95 with his fastball, while pairing that with an 85-88 MPH slider with some nice, tight break. He’s had some control problems at times, with 23 walks in 34.2 innings this year, leading to a 4.67 ERA. When the control is off, he really struggles, although occasionally his stuff is good enough to pitch through the issues. When the control is on, he’s absolutely dominant. He’s got a big frame at 6′ 5″, 175 pounds, with plenty of room to grow and continue adding velocity. He’ll need better control to become a legit pitching prospect.

7. Brian Sousa, RHP – Sousa has shown some promise with his fastball, sitting 90-93 MPH at times with some good downward plane on the pitch. He’s dealt with some control problems, with nine walks in 16.1 innings in his debut in the DSL last year, and 20 walks in 35 innings in the GCL this year. He gets a lot of ground balls due to his fastball, and also has a good amount of strikeouts, due to an advanced feel for pitching. He’s got a projectable frame and more room for additional velocity, although that won’t help if the control isn’t fixed.

8. Domingo Robles, LHP – Robles has gotten a lot of innings in his first two years in pro ball, after signing for a $175,000 bonus on July 2, 2014. At the time he was signed, he had an 87 MPH fastball, and was 87-88 MPH in his starts in the DSL last year. He saw a bump up to 88-90 MPH this year, and has touched as high as 92. He also has good control, with an 18:4 K/BB ratio in 36 innings this year, and good downward movement that leads to a lot of ground balls. The Pirates have given a lot of innings to soft tossing lefties with good control, and Robles looks to be the next in line. None of the previous guys have done much beyond A-ball, and Robles will need more velocity to increase his chances of having upper level success one day.

9. Mikell Granberry, C – Granberry has shown some offensive potential, with a .700 OPS and a .142 ISO in the very pitcher friendly GCL. He’s naturally a catcher, although he lost some playing time this year behind the plate, and moved to first base to get extra at-bats. He missed time at the end of the year with a wrist injury, ending his season in mid-August, right in the middle of a month when he had a 1.052 OPS. There’s more potential with Granberry’s offense, but his ability to stick behind the plate will determine whether he can be a prospect. He looks like a prospect as a catcher, but doesn’t project to have the bat to be an actual first base prospect.

10. Victor Ngoepe, SS – Ngoepe had some low offensive numbers in his pro debut, with a .573 OPS in 151 at-bats. He did show some impressive defensive skills at shortstop, with a strong arm and a lot of range, drawing the obvious comparisons to his brother. He’s got a more projectable frame, so there’s a chance the offense could improve as he adds some weight. He should continue getting playing time because of his defense at shortstop, moving to one of the short-season teams next year, with Bristol being the most likely one.

Other Notable Players: Raul Hernandez is a strong defensive catcher who doesn’t have much of a bat, with a .658 OPS in the GCL this year. This was his second year in pro ball, and he got a push up to West Virginia at the end of the year, filling in for Christian Kelley, who was promoted to Bradenton. He could end up in West Virginia next year, getting a good amount of time due to his defense. Ronny Agustin had some good numbers as a lefty long reliever, with a 3.77 ERA and a 39:9 K/BB ratio in 28.2 innings. He’s older, after turning 22 in September, but has an 89-92 MPH fastball and good break on his curveball.

  • What they all have going for them is time. They are all young and will grow and possibly stop striking out at an alarming rate. Check back with me in three years and maybe then I will get excited.

  • I think the floor of the big three ’16 HS arms is remarkably high, with all three showing early arm strength, relatively clean deliveries, and the ability to control the zone if not command it. However, none of them seem to have the natural ability to spin a good breaking ball, and there are plenty of scout types who think that’s something that can only be taught so much. Looking at the true high upside Pirate arms in the Huntington Era – Taillon, Cole, Glasnow, and Keller – all of them could unquestionably spin a good, if inconsistent, breaking ball coming out of high school.

    With the velocity and control shown by the ’16 HS arms, a decent breaking ball would’ve dominated rookie ball. Keller struck out 25% oh batters, Glasnow 28%, Taillon 25%, at their respective lowest levels. As is, none of these kids topped a 20% K-rate. Improvements can unquestionably be made, but I’d reserve the “high upside” tag until they can show an out pitch. Still great depth to add to the system, looking forward to seeing them advance and develop.

    Great coverage, guys.

    • I think part of that is because these guys didn’t really throw a breaking pitch until high school, and then two of them (Ogle, Kranick) added new breaking pitches this year.

      I saw big differences in the quality of the breaking stuff for those two from the start of the season to the end of the season, and even in instructs. I think the strikeout rate is misleading, as they were improving those pitches. If you take where the pitches were at the end of the year, and give them that quality breaking pitch from the start, you would have seen the higher strikeout rates.

  • Just a request…..could you please stop using player comps for young guys, it tends to give an impression that in most cases is unrealistic.

    • We tend to go out of our way to avoid player comps. But sometimes they’re just the best way to explain a player’s tools, especially when it’s someone who is being evaluated almost exclusively on tools, and who no one else has seen.

      • Couldn’t agree more with this, we avoid player comps like the plague. People are always asking for comps to Major League players for potential upside and we never go down that path.

  • At this stage its encouraging just to see the prep pitchers make it through their first year of pro ball healthy and having something to build on as well as identifying things to work on this offseason. I havent seen any of them pitch but ogle touching mid 90’s as a lefty out of high school sounds great and the reports on kranicks approach to pitching seem taillon-esque.

    Contreras is certainly intriguing but striking out 30% of the time is almost a death wish for MLB aspirations.

  • Tim … Do any of these young pitchers utilize the “drop and whip” approach to add velo like Taillon did back in his high school days – that may have led to his TJ surgery?

    • There are a few who have it. Ogle and Kranick are pretty clean. MacGregor has it a bit, and his arm drags behind some. I think part of that is just how he goes from a tall frame and a tall delivery to driving toward the plate.

      I don’t think we can say that the drop and drive led to Taillon’s TJ surgery, since we still really have no clue what is leading to the TJ epidemic in the game.

      • I do not believe that any particular throwing motion would be more susceptible to TJ surgery. I do believe that altering a pitchers throwing style/mechanics from something they have been doing their entire life would have much more of an affect. I am sure there are cases for any possible scenario, so my guess is just that, a guess.

        • It depends on how you alter it. For example, they are changing up Taylor Hearn’s delivery a bit, in order to incorporate his legs more. This allows him to draw power from his lower half, rather than putting too much effort on the arm action. And that’s a good thing, because you want as little stress on the arm as possible.

  • I wonder if Kranick will add a cutter or two seem. If he has good control, a different fastball may be he next thing to add with a change and in progress curve. He’s going to be a fun one to follow.

  • Kind of quiet for an article about the players who were the focus of the 2016 draft, with reports that no one else has on some of the best arms in the lower levels.

    I guess I needed to have something appealing in the article to get a discussion going. Let me do that now.

    Liriano.

    • I’m like the selective Trout: Not biting. Srsly, these guys are so far away, and their actual experience in pro ball is so minimal, it’s hard to get excited at this point. I trust you and John to tell me when to get excited. But you teased us with the mention of Austin Shields above. The reason he didn’t make this list is? (I forget).

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