While the Altoona prospect list was loaded with depth, it only had three prospects who will be among our top 20 prospects in the system. Indianapolis not only had the same depth, but it also has a lot of talent near the top of the system, giving them the best overall list. Some of those players have already graduated from the prospect list, as you will see below. They are still considered young talent in the system, which gives the Pirates some key pieces for both the future and for the current roster.
Not only is this a very strong top ten list, three players who didn’t put in enough time to qualify are quality prospects, and the “other notables” section at the bottom has another five players who are solid depth options for the 2017 season. The Pirates will get a lot of use out of the players on this list in 2017, with some being key pieces for the foreseeable future, while other will end up as solid bench/bullpen options. When you add in the strong group of Altoona prospects who should move up a level, Indianapolis looks like it could be the most interesting team to follow next season as well.
TOP 10 INDIANAPOLIS INDIANS PROSPECTS
The cutoff for eligibility on this list was 140 at-bats, 40 innings pitched, or 20 relief appearances. This excluded Austin Meadows, Elias Diaz and Edgar Santana from qualifying. Unlike the lower-level lists, this list factors in actual results more than potential and upside. The latter is still factored in, but this is the level where we want to see players producing on the field and showing their tools in games.
1. Tyler Glasnow, RHP – Glasnow received the top spot on this list, even though the 2016 season didn’t go as well as he hoped. He came into the year as a player who looked like he just needed to work on things while waiting for the Super Two deadline to pass before he was called up in June. Unfortunately, the things he needed to work on at the end of 2015, are still things he needs to work on now. Glasnow was forced to throw his changeup more often in May, and except for a couple games, the pitch didn’t show any signs of improvement. He also had issues with his fastball command and throwing his curveball early in the count for strikes. That led to 62 walks in 110.2 innings. On the bright side, Glasnow turned 23 in August, so we are still talking about a very young pitcher. His fastball velocity sat 93-96 MPH this season, although it dipped down a few MPH at times. The curve was still extremely effective, especially with two strikes. Glasnow posted a .175 BAA and a 1.87 ERA for Indianapolis. He got a taste of the big leagues and struck out 24 batters in 23.1 innings. He’s going to need that third pitch and better command to reach his full potential, but that potential is a top of the rotation starter, and time is still on his side.
2. Jameson Taillon, RHP – Most people didn’t know what to expect with Taillon not pitching in a game for the last two seasons. We were able to see him pitch in Extended Spring Training last year and noted that he looked like an improved pitcher, but that’s a huge step away from pitching in Triple-A games. Then he had a hernia injury in June last year which ended his season early. Taillon showed no signs of someone who missed so much time. He immediately impressed with Indianapolis and didn’t stop the entire time with the team, putting together ten solid starts before getting called up to the Pirates for the rest of the season. In the majors, he finished with a 3.38 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in 104 innings. Part of his success with the Pirates came from switching his two-seam fastball from a situational pitch to his primary pitch, which he did in his second big league start. He noted that his four-seam fastball was getting squared up too often and the two-seamer was having more success. Taillon matches those fastballs with a curve that looks like a plus pitch at times, as well as a solid changeup. While the Pirates took some chances to limit his innings in 2016, he should be good to go for the entire 2017 season without any restrictions.
3. Josh Bell, 1B – Bell sat out the last game of the regular season, which maintained his prospect status and will give him a chance at the Rookie of the Year award next season. He should see plenty of playing time after putting up a .273/.368/.408 slash line with the Pirates over 45 games. The Pirates also gave him time in the outfield and want him working on his defense there over the off-season. That will give him more versatility, which will keep his bat in the lineup more often. The defense needs a lot of work, but Bell did show of improvement at first base this year. That will likely be his position in the future, as he was never strong in the outfield and showed major signs of rust out in right field. Because his defense needs work at both positions, it would probably be better to leave him at first base and have him concentrate on that spot. Regardless of where he plays, the bat is what will carry him. Bell’s biggest issue coming into this season was a lack of power and consistency from the right side of the plate. He put up a .793 OPS against left-handed pitching with Indianapolis, though the Pirates gave him very few chances against lefties in the majors (partially due to a lack of LHP in the NL). Bell should be a regular in the middle of the Pirates order for years to come, providing an excellent on base percentage and power potential.
4. Chad Kuhl, RHP – Kuhl got a slightly delayed start to his season due to some arm soreness in Spring Training. He missed the first week of the minor league season and returned with a limited pitch count for the next month. He was pitching great with Indianapolis, posting a 1.31 ERA in April and 1.21 in May. Kuhl was getting a lot of grounders and weak contact, while picking up his share of strikeouts. Relying mostly on his sinker/slider combo, Triple-A hitters were having a tough time against him. In June, he hit a rough patch due to getting his pitches up in the zone and not being able to command his pitches to the corners of the plate. The Pirates still called him up at that time, and except for two games at the end of July back in Indianapolis, he remained in the majors the rest of the way. Kuhl, who turned 24 in September, posted a 4.20 ERA in 70.2 innings over 14 starts with the Pirates. That should be enough to get him a spot in the 2017 rotation, where he can build off of the experience he picked up this season.
5. Adam Frazier, INF/OF – Frazier started the Triple-A season on fire, batting .333 through the end of June. His solid approach at the plate and ability to use the entire field got him called up to the majors for good on June 23rd. He started off great, posting a 1.018 OPS in his first 22 games. That OPS dropped to .663 over his last 44 games, which is closer to the type of player you should expect in the future. Frazier should put up a solid average consistently because he doesn’t try to do too much and he is aggressive early in the count. He doesn’t take many walks or hit for power, but his above average speed allows him to take extra bases on balls in the gap and down the lines. Frazier has yet to master the art of the stolen base. If he learns to read pitchers better, stolen bases could be a bigger part of his game. His defense is average at best at second base and he can be used at shortstop in a pinch and in the outfield. He profiles as a solid utility player due to his versatility, hitting and speed.
6. Steven Brault, LHP – While in Indianapolis, Brault put up some of the most dominating performances we saw all season. He began the season looking great, until an ankle injury in early May cost him six weeks. It wasn’t long after he returned that he got a spot start for the Pirates. Then he returned to Indianapolis and put in two stellar performances, which got him another spot start for Pittsburgh. After he returned to Triple-A again, he wasn’t quite the same pitcher. Brault saw some mound time in September with the Pirates and finished with a 4.86 ERA and 1.86 WHIP over 33.1 innings. When he was on early in the year, everything was going right. He has a low-90s fastball that was tough for batters to pick up due to deception in his delivery. His changeup and slider were both very effective to lefties and righties, getting swing-and-misses and soft contact. Early in the year, Brault was getting more swing-and-misses than any pitcher in the Indianapolis rotation, and he was doing it with all three offerings. We didn’t see that same pitcher after his second spot start with Pittsburgh, but the potential is obviously there. He could have the same role in 2017 that he had this season. His upside is a back of the rotation starter, who may end up in the bullpen.
7. Alen Hanson, 2B – Hanson had his usual streaky season in 2016, giving you lots of hope at times, lots of doubt at other times. When he is on his game, he’s a line drive machine, who uses the entire field. Once he gets on base, he’s always a stolen base threat. His defense at second base is above average, and he looked good at third base this season. Hanson also has some pop in his bat, which is what gets him in trouble. He has a tendency to try to hit homers too often. His worst slump this season came after the Pirates gave him a brief trial in the majors in May. He was playing well at the time in Indianapolis, but once he returned to Triple-A, he looked like he was trying to get back to the majors with every swing of the bat and the results were disastrous. Hanson got back on track later in the year with an .819 OPS in August, and finished the season in the majors. He has no options left, so he needs to make the majors in 2017. Hanson offers solid defense at second base, with the ability to fill in at third base and shortstop if necessary. Indianapolis played an extreme shift against right-handed batters in 2016 and Hanson often played on the left side of the infield, doing it with no issues that showed up in the past at shortstop. His speed is a huge asset and when he doesn’t try to do too much at the plate, good things happen.
8. Trevor Williams, RHP – When Williams is at his best, he’s a ground ball machine who pitches to contact for quick outs. His season got off to a slow start after a shoulder injury ten pitches into his first game, costing him six weeks. In his last 12 starts with Indianapolis, he posted a 1.38 ERA over 72 innings. His last game was his best, with ten strikeouts over 6.1 innings, giving up just one unearned run. The results came from a more aggressive mentality with his slider and changeup, throwing them for strikes instead of trying to get batters to chase when he got to two strikes. The results didn’t carry over into the majors, as Williams had a 7.82 ERA and 1.89 WHIP in seven appearances with the Pirates. He throws a sinker as his go to pitch, and has a four-seam fastball that was sitting 94-95 MPH late in the season. He can throw all four of his pitches for strikes, which gives him a chance to make it as a starter in the majors, though he could end up as a reliever, where his fastball plays up in shorter outings. Williams should open up 2017 in the Indianapolis rotation, where he will get a chance to reach that upside of back of the rotation starter.
9. Dovydas Neverauskas, RHP – Neverauskas came up through the system as a starting pitcher, who had upside due to a fastball that touched 95 MPH, but with poor control. He eventually switched to a two-seamer, which saw similar velocity and his control improve. Late in 2015, he was promoted to Bradenton and dominated out of their bullpen. Early in Spring Training this year, we saw an outing where he sat 95-96 MPH, which obviously drew some attention. The Pirates put him in Altoona and the results quickly followed. Neverauskas was quickly hitting 97 MPH, and that went up to 99 at one point. It wasn’t just the velocity, he was also throwing strikes and mixing in his slider, which is really two different pitches. He has one that sits high-80s and cuts in towards right-handed batters, while a low-90’s slider goes down and in towards lefties. He was promoted to Indianapolis in mid-June and put up decent stats, still showing the same solid three-pitch mix. Neverauskas was added to the 40-man roster this off-season and he should be an option at some point during the 2017 season. His arsenal gives him the upside of a late innings reliever.
10. Max Moroff, INF – Moroff had a breakout season in 2015 with Altoona because he was more aggressive at the plate with pitches in the strike zone. That was a knock on him coming up through the system. He was known to take too many pitches, to the point he had numerous at-bats that ended in six pitches with no swings, resulting in a walk or strikeout. When Moroff got to Indianapolis this year, he reverted back to the old style that held him back, except that he was doing it against Triple-A pitchers who were able to take advantage of him. He led the International League with 90 walks, but it came with a .230 average and 129 strikeouts. When Moroff was more aggressive at the plate, he showed the ability to drive the ball for extra bases. He has above average speed and showed solid defense at three infield positions, looking strong at third base and second base, and enough range and arm to play shortstop in a pinch. Moroff doesn’t turn 24 until May, so youth is still on his side. He got a brief taste of the majors in 2016, but will return to Indianapolis next year. If that aggressive approach returns, then Moroff becomes a strong bench option, with the upside of an average starter in the majors. He will most likely end up in a utility role, and the Pirates had him taking fly balls in the outfield late in the year for added versatility.
Other Notables: While he doesn’t have any plus pitches, Frank Duncan has plus command, which helped him put up terrific stats in 20 starts for Indianapolis. The most impressive part is that he got a late start to his season due to an oblique strain and made his first appearances out of the bullpen for Altoona. Jose Osuna made the top ten for Altoona, but the Indianapolis list was too deep and heavy with top prospects. He put up solid starts in a half season of Triple-A and could be an option for the Pirates some time during the 2017 season.
Willy Garcia repeated Triple-A and had a tough season, showing very little power while striking out too often and not taking enough walks. At 24, he has lost a step, which has taken away some value he provided in the field and on the bases. Garcia still has the best arm in the system. Jacob Stallings got two shots with the Pirates and looks to be a nice depth option again in 2017, providing the Pirates with a solid defensive option behind the plate. Gift Ngoepe is a lot like Stallings, in that his glove is good enough to get him to the majors, but the bat will limit him to a bench player. Ngoepe struck out 130 times in 332 at-bats. His defense is a plus tool at shortstop and he can add some value on the bases.