After Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Orioles, manager Clint Hurdle talked positively about the depth that the Pittsburgh Pirates have coming into this season. That depth is filled with a lot of young players still making their way up the system, which led the Pirates to trusting their internal options, rather than signing minor league free agents this off-season to fill holes.

Going by our 2017 Prospect Guide, we could see 23 players from our top 50 prospects get time in with Indianapolis this season, with many of them scheduled to start their season in Triple-A. That doesn’t include Josh Bell, who will begin the season in Pittsburgh, and Alen Hanson and Tyler Webb, who are unlikely to make it to Indianapolis if they don’t make the Opening Day roster. That means more than half of our prospect list has a legit chance to reach Pittsburgh in 2017 or 2018. This type of young, talented depth sets the Pirates up well this year in case of injuries, and will help them for many years due to the amount of controllable players.

The current downside to so much talent at the top is that there are some areas of weakness in the system below Double-A. In this case, it’s not something to be overly concerned about right now. With so many players being on the cusp of the big leagues, you’re filling a lot of holes long-term with internal options who are cost-controlled. The Pirates will also have $15 M to spend this year between their draft class and the July 2nd class, so that could quickly strengthen the bottom of the farm system. You also have numerous players at the lower levels with breakout potential who didn’t make our top 50, plus the ability to have patience with those players if they aren’t as quick to develop.

But back to Indianapolis, which will be the team to watch this season. The rosters won’t be set for approximately another month, so this is more of a look at the players who expect to see time with the team this season for depth purposes, rather than a season preview.

We start at the top with the best prospect in the system. Austin Meadows should make his Major League debut sometime this season. A lot of that depends on what the Pirates end up doing with Andrew McCutchen. A strong start from the Pirates could end up meaning a later debut for Meadows. If the Pirates get off to a poor start and they are near .500 at the trade deadline, then you could see a McCutchen trade, with Meadows taking his spot.

There is also the health aspect to consider in the majors. If an injury pops up after early June, then Meadows will be the likely call-up. Since he is the type of player who you’d want to avoid Super Two status with, then someone else at Indianapolis would be a more likely replacement during the first two months of the season. Meadows still needs time to adjust to Triple-A pitching, so it’s unlikely he will be ready before early June anyway. That’s where the depth comes in handy.

The Pirates could go with someone like Adam Frazier full-time in the outfield for a short-term fix, then have a player like Max Moroff, Erich Weiss or Chris Bostick fill that infield utility role behind Alen Hanson. You also have players like Jose Osuna, Eric Wood and Barrett Barnes, who could see time in the outfield in Indianapolis. If any of them get off to a strong start, then they could be a short-term fix in the outfield. It’s not a group with any sure things included, but it gives you a lot of prospects who could take a step forward and temporarily fill a role while you wait for Meadows. Regardless of when the call comes, once Meadows is called up to the majors, the plan will likely be the keep him there for good.

The infield and outfield will have a lot of depth, and that doesn’t include non-prospects like Eury Perez, Jason Rogers, or Joey Terdoslavich, who all have big league time. Danny Ortiz, a minor league veteran who could at least hold his own on defense, is another short-term option. During the second half of the season, shortstop Kevin Newman could become an option in Pittsburgh. By then, it’s entirely possible that he is the third best prospect in the system, with Josh Bell and Tyler Glasnow likely graduating from the list early in the season. Between the infield and outfield, you have eight top 50 prospects for seven positions.

The Pirates also have young depth behind the plate, with Elias Diaz slated to be the everyday catcher for Indianapolis and the first guy up if anything happens to either Francisco Cervelli or Chris Stewart. Based on recent experience, the third string catcher could see decent time and Diaz is a nice option to have in Triple-A. Behind him you have Jin-De Jhang, who will likely be the everyday catcher at Altoona. You also have Jacob Stallings, who didn’t make our top 50, but his defense alone makes him a solid fourth option with Major League experience. Jhang should see some time at Indianapolis this season, just like Diaz will get time in Pittsburgh, and those moves could happen simultaneously.

On the pitching side, Indianapolis will be loaded with pitching prospects, regardless of who ends up being the fifth starter for the Pirates. Drew Hutchison isn’t a prospect, but he does qualify as a depth option if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster. Let’s assume that he’s the fifth starter to make the Indianapolis prospect depth easier to talk about. They would have a rotation of Tyler Glasnow, Trevor Williams, Nick Kingham and Steven Brault. Those are four players who will see time in Pittsburgh this year, possibly serving in a large role, depending on the health and success of the Opening Day rotation.

You also have rotation options from Altoona last year, with Tyler Eppler and Clay Holmes being the most likely to be in Indianapolis at the start of the year, and Brandon Waddell not far behind. Those three would be September options for Pittsburgh if all goes well, but it shows you how deep the rotation is for Indianapolis.

In the bullpen, you have three hard-throwers in Dovydas Neverauskas, Edgar Santana, and Pat Light, who was acquired just after our Prospect Guide was released, but would have made the back half of our top 50 if he was around a few days earlier. Then you have lefty Jared Lakind, who put up strong numbers at Altoona and could make Indianapolis to start the year.

There is also Casey Sadler and Angel Sanchez returning from Tommy John surgery at some point during the first half of the season. Sanchez was just outside our top 50, though a spot opened up with the trade of Frank Duncan, so he would slide into that last spot now. While he lost his prospect status, Brandon Cumpton’s return from two surgeries later in the season will also add to the depth.

There won’t be room for all of the pitching prospects at the beginning of the season, so Altoona should get some better players early in the year. That being said, you could see how there is the slimmest possibility for the prospects to align, and the entire 12-man pitching staff could be made up of strictly top 50 prospects in the system.

That’s the type of depth that Clint Hurdle was excited about. Even as a prospect gets promoted to Pittsburgh, there is a legit prospect in Altoona ready to take his place. We won’t see a Triple-A team made up of strictly prospects, but this season will be the closest you’ll likely see, and that’s a healthy sign for the immediate and long-term future of the franchise. It provides you with young, controllable talent and players who either end up as trade pieces, or the player who fills in when someone else is traded away.

**MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 Pirates Prospects and Farm System Rankings. A breakdown of the top 30 prospects and the farm system rankings from

**Pirates Agree to Terms with 21 Pre-Arbitration Players. This is more a formality, but no issues this year, compared to last year with Gerrit Cole.

**Injury Updates: Josh Bell, Francisco Cervelli, Brandon Cumpton, Casey Sadler, Angel Sanchez. Tim Williams has all of this week’s injury updates from Bradenton.

**Josh Harrison is Showing the Way For Other Pirates Super Utility Players. We’ll have the flip side of this article tomorrow, looking at one super utility player hoping to follow Harrison’s path.

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  1. Pirates Way > Cardinals Way

    Better major league roster and minor league farm system. No wonder they felt compelled to cheat to try to stay ahead.

      • You’re lumping 2 very different eras, regimes into those 17 years. Cards are well run. But they’ve lost some folks to the ‘Stros who like the Bucs have capitalized on building from within. Bucs operate in a lean environment where Cards do not necessarily. Point is right now, Pirate Way > Cardinals way. Now get that new cable deal BobN, and invest it back in the team wisely, and watch the team net worth skyrocket.

  2. there is very little if any hitting below double AA. The Pirates need to use their draft picks and international signings to add to this area.

  3. I realize that the odds are low but how great would it be if in two-three years, most of our top prospects reach their potential, and we are able to write a line-up card completely filled with homegrown talent.

    C – Diaz
    1B – Bell
    2B – Newman
    SS – Tucker
    3B – Hayes
    OF – Polanco
    OF – Marte
    OF – Meadows

    And if the DH comes to the N.L. by then, Craig could play there. 😉

  4. Bucs simply have Bell and Meadows as players who can be very good hitters. Newman can hit but not with power. After that Bucs may have someone emerge to look like a middle of the lineup hitter, but the depth you speak of doesn’t look like it to me. Correct, there are simply not many openings the next couple of years beyond Meadows, Bell, Newman and Diaz..Tallion can be a solid number 2 and Glasnow still has upside to be a top of the rotation pitcher as well. Keller is the arm that I see being a potential ace. So that is good news. NH needs to draft the best position players/bats this year in conjunction with a couple of highly rated arms.

    • How many teams have more than 2 middle of the order hitters as prospects? You’re setting an awfully high bar…

      • That is not the issue. the Pirates don’t and that is the issue. My posit was to the concern that the system lacks power and has for years. NH emphasis on pitching certainly is the correct course as top pitching and costs are simply beyond the capability of the franchise. But I think with 5 picks in the top 88 certainly allows an aggressive.

        • Maybe folks got hung up on your use of “middle of the order” to insinuate power, but yeah, there’s no question the Pirates are seriously short on power, and yes, moreso than other teams.

    • I definitely see guys like Gage Hinz, Luis Escobar, and Travis MacGregor (sp?) breaking out though. Don’t forget about Kingham too. Look at systems around baseball. There’s a reason most “experts” have the Bucs highly rated.

      • 8 .750 OPS guys are probably not going to win a division. Go back to my baseball card analogy earlier.

  5. If Hanson does not make the Pirates roster
    do you really feel someone will claim him?

    If it looks like he could be claimed, would
    the Pirates first look for a trade to at least
    help fill out some of our needs for some
    better depth at the lower levels.

    In another words, can we at least get
    something for him?

    • I know it’s not a popular opinion, but I always prefer to keep depth whenever possible. So, unless Hansen hits below .150 this spring and Gosselin hits above .400, I would much rather carry the prospect as the 25th man and stash the veteran in AAA instead of run the risk of having one leave the organization.

      Of course, if Kang’s not ready to start the season, there will be room on the roster for both of them…

    • I’d like to give Hanson some time to grow I think he can mature but Angel Pagan is a massive bargain who would certainly be able to contribute now.

    • Time will tell. Since he is out of options, and would have to pass through waivers (which I would think is not very likely) to go back to Indy, the Bucs can I guess try to trade him, but their leverage is limited because teams know that the Pirates cannot send him back to AAA. My hope is that we get to see what he can do in Pittsburgh in a Bucco uniform. The guy has immense physical talent. I don’t know what he has between the ears, and there have been indications of some issues with attitude and heaven only knows what else, but the Pirates have invested a great deal in him. I hope that we get the chance to see what he can do in Pittsburgh.

    • If it looks like he will not make the team, which IMO is unlikely, the only way we could get much value at all would be if 2 teams really wanted him. If there aren’t 2 teams trying to trade for him the best to hope for would be a low level wildcard.

      If he isn’t going to make the Pirates, I am sure there will be teams willing to take a shot on him, I’m just not sure what kind of return the Pirates could get.

  6. At what point do they have to start trading from this load of talent? There won’t be major league spots for them all.

  7. All of this depth…shouldn’t that bode well to make a big trade or two to fill a need (SS or 2nd comes to mind). I know we have guys about to come up in those roles but I’m not feeling like they have a great shot at all-star type of performances. I also know its a lot easier said than done so I’m not even proposing any particular trade…just saying how much depth does a team actually need?

    • Well, I would say that organizational depth is like pitching: you can never have too much of it. Certainly the more depth you have, the better equipped you are to plug holes on the MLB team directly and through trades. So, all in all, it is a great problem to have. Let’s hope that all of these prospects develop as advertised, thus creating a bigger “problem” for Neal Huntington.

    • The problem is that the “depth” the Pirates show in AAA isn’t actually all that valuable. It’s quantity more than quality.

      This kind of depth is good at helping the big club avoid the awful, but the Hansens and Osunas and Moroffs and Rogers of the world aren’t going to be anything more than a tertiary piece in an impact trade or part of deadline deal for a rental.

      There are a lot of good baseball players in AAA, but I think that ultimately belies the number that will actually ever become Major League contributors.

      • Its just like having 100,000 baseball cards that are worth $1 each versus having a honus wagner card worth $100,000. You’ll never get $100,000 for those $1 cards, but you might get $110,000 for the wagner. Quantity almost never ends up having the value you think it does.

  8. Interesting article. I vaguely recall several years ago (maybe 5-10) when the AAA team was nothing but MLB washouts and career minor leaguers. Nice problem to have…too many good prospects with few major league seats available. Bravo Buccos!

    • Absolutely!!!! This is where Neal Huntington has been steering the Pirate ship since taking over the helm in 2007. Finally, we have reason for legitimate hope and optimism. I for one am hoping that both Huntington and Hurdle are extended, and I hope that the Bucs can win a World Series while Cutch is still here. I also hope that somehow, Alan Hanson makes the team. I want to see what he can do at the MLB level, and I want to see him do it in a Pirates uniform. They have invested a great deal of time in him, and he has tremendous tools. I saw him play last year. He can fly!!

      • If Cutch rebounds hitting wise, why not resign him and trade either Marte or Polanco to improve the club? Thoughts?

        • If McCutchen rebounds he’s going to want 20mil+ per year. Marte(through 2021) and Polanco(through 2023) are signed to much more friendly deals and still hopefully have a peak that they haven’t reached – though Marte may have, but he is well worth his contract.

          May as well get a load in return for remaining time on McCutchen because it isn’t justifiable to keep him if/as Meadows continues to progress.

        • zero chance. you don’t trade your low cost players that are young to keep an aging extremely expensive player in the hopes that the players you trade may hope to one day be as good as what you just traded.

        • Not the pitching. Tommy John derailed it. Otherwise we wouldn’t have started the year with that rotation last year.

          • The pitching was still strong, it’s produced so much of our rotation over the last 5 years, locke, morton ,cole, and kuhl all came through the system, Watson, Hughes, Wilson in the bullpen, there is a lot of homegrown pitching the last 3 plus years, my only point is this minor league system has been strong for almost 5 years at least, so in reality huntington built a great minor league system in less than 5 years, that’s very impressive

  9. I’m especially encouraged by the depth and more importantly the quality of the depth for the pitching staff.
    I’ll be surprised if Brault can hold off the more talented prospects from a rotation spot.

    • Brault…more like Drew Hutchison. Cant believe theyre going to try and force that move. The guy just doesnt have much upside.

  10. Serious question, with Hurdle’s reluctance to use rookies to fill meaningful roles on the major league roster, does Huntington have to force him to use Meadows if he(Meadows) slumps when he comes up?

    • The contract for CH ends after 2017 – they have a club option on CH for 2018, and they may not want to exercise that option. There will be young prospects all over the field and at AAA. The Pirates may want to go in the direction of a younger Manager with recent history with prospects.

      Joey Cora has been a minor league and MLB Coach with the White Sox, Marlins, and now the Pirates. Very successful as the Manager at Altoona in 2016, and is a hot ticket to be a MLB Manager. Joey Cora will be the Manager of the Pirates in 2018; my fellow Hilltopper, Ray Searage will remain as Pitching Coach, and Kevin Riggs will be the Hitting Coach.

      • Someone in the comments section of another site suggested that Ray Searage needs to be promoted to manager after Hurdle leaves or else the Pirates risk losing him to another team…but I’ve never heard any indication that he is anxious to take on a larger role…so this may have just been someone not really knowing what he was talking about…

        • Agree Scott. I’ve read stories that Searage is looking towards retirement soon. No way do I think he wants to be a manager

      • The only way I see Hurdle leaving is if he retires or we stink this year and he is fired. As for Searage I believe he would likely retire before working for someone else at this point in his life.

        • Don’t bet the farm on that. Dean Treanor is no kid and he didn’t hesitate to go to another job with another org. after he was let go.

        • It all depends on what he sees as his future. He is only 61, but at that age he is too old to want the responsibility of managing. If he has his way – as he does now – he just wants to be left alone and enabled to instruct young pitchers. This is his enjoyment.

          But if he decides to retire, he himself stated that Justin Meccage is going to make a really good major league pitching coach someday. Who knows, he may be next in line behind me.

          • It’ll be interesting to see if Meccage leapfrogs Mitchell or if they’ll both push up a spot from where they are now.

            I could see Micthell remaining in the pitching czar role and Meccage taking over for Searage, like you said.

      • I think the Pirates would really have to suck and/or management would see some evidence that Hurdle was losing the club house before they would consider not picking up his option. I don’t foresee either of those in 2017. My guess is that they will give Hurdle a new contract if the team does reasonably well this year.

    • reluctance to use rookies?

      Polanco, Bell, JT, Cole, etc all played as rookies. If he is a GOOD rookie, Hurdle will play him. If not, he won’t.

      • Freese and Jaso were getting starts over Bell last season, and Freese and SRod were late inning replacements for Bell, even after the Pirates were out of it. SRod played over Hanson and Frazier. Joyce played over Frazier. Polanco lost playing time to Travis Snyder his rookie year, and again his second year after Snyder was re-acquired. Cole and JT never really struggled their rookie seasons, so there was never a question with either of them.

        Which brings me back to my actual question, if Meadows slumps/struggles, does Hurdle get forced to play him anyway?

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