The 2017 minor league season begins on Thursday, with all of the rosters finalized now after the last cuts from big league camp. Every year throughout Spring Training I get a feel for the playing time that is expected for each player at each level. I then discuss the rosters each year with Pirates’ Director of Minor League Operations Larry Broadway, who points out which positions I may have missed, or clears up the incredible mess that is the Indianapolis lineup filled with countless utility players.
With minor league Opening Day just two days away, here are the lineups and rotations for each Pirates’ minor league club, along with analysis on the playing time and roster makeup for each club. We will have individual club previews coming in the next two days, with the top ten prospects at each level.
C – Elias Diaz
1B – Jose Osuna
2B – Max Moroff
SS – Gift Ngoepe
3B – Eric Wood
LF – Danny Ortiz
CF – Austin Meadows
RF – Chris Bostick
DH – Jason Rogers
Rotation – Steven Brault, Tyler Eppler, Clay Holmes, Drew Hutchison, Josh Lindblom
Other Notable Players – Erich Weiss (2B), Jacob Stallings (C), Cody Dickson (LHRP), Angel Sanchez (RHRP), Edgar Santana (RHRP), Dovydas Neverauskas (RHRP), Pat Light (RHRP)
Analysis – Indianapolis won’t really have a true lineup. The players listed above are in the positions where they will play most of the time, but even that leaves out guys like Erich Weiss.
Jose Osuna will be the primary first baseman and Jason Rogers will be the primary DH, although both can move around, with Osuna playing the outfield and Rogers playing first. Eric Wood is also an option at first base, but will get most of his work at third.
Max Moroff and Gift Ngoepe will get the bulk of the work at shortstop. Erich Weiss will play second base, and can play third base as well. Chris Bostick can play all over the infield, but will see “a considerable amount of time in the outfield” according to Broadway.
On the pitching side, the Pirates moved Cody Dickson to the bullpen, which is a good move, since I feel his upside is better as a reliever, especially in this loaded system. Josh Lindblom will be in the rotation to provide early season veteran depth and to get innings. I don’t see Lindblom getting any starts in Pittsburgh, but he could be used as relief pitching depth, basically being the new Wilfredo Boscan.
The Pirates have some impressive pitching depth here. Brault and Hutchison could be back of the rotation starters in the majors, although Hutchison needs to work through his current issues and get back on track. Nick Kingham could be back in late April or the start of May after he gets built up. Clay Holmes and Tyler Eppler might be late season options, like Trevor Williams was in 2016.
Then there’s the bullpen depth. Santana and Neverauskas are the highlights here, but Light, Sanchez, and Dickson could all make the majors this year. Sanchez will throw multiple innings out of the bullpen, but Broadway said they aren’t looking to get him back in the rotation at this point.
Overall, expect a lot of depth from the Triple-A club on both sides of the ball, with absolute chaos for the daily lineups.
C – Zane Chavez
1B – Connor Joe
2B – Kevin Kramer
SS – Kevin Newman
3B – Wyatt Mathisen
LF – Jordan Luplow
CF – Elvis Escobar
RF – Michael Suchy
DH – Edwin Espinal
Rotation – Tanner Anderson, JT Brubaker, Yeudy Garcia, Alex McRae, Brandon Waddell
Other Notable Players – Austin Coley (RHRP), Jared Lakind (LHRP), Miguel Rosario (RHRP), Chase Simpson (1B/3B)
Analysis – The biggest prospect here is Kevin Newman. He’s starting off in Altoona, but could move up in the second half, and that would start a chain reaction that would lead to Cole Tucker moving to Altoona and Stephen Alemais moving to Bradenton (last week when I confirmed with Alemais that he was going to West Virginia, Newman was walking by, and Alemais said “I just have to wait for this guy to move up before I can get to Bradenton).
Newman is the guy who stands out right now, but there are some breakout candidates on the Altoona roster. My favorite pick is Kevin Kramer, but I could also see big numbers from Connor Joe and Jordan Luplow. Wyatt Mathisen came into came in outstanding shape, and could be a guy to watch as well. Joe will play first base, and Mathisen will be at third, but they could switch off at times, with Edwin Espinal also getting in the mix at both positions.
The pitching staff has a lot of guys who project as back of the rotation starters or relievers in the majors. Yeudy Garcia is the top prospect in the group, but will need to show more of his 2015 success, and less of the 2016 issues with lowered velocity and poor command. He was still showing those issues during Spring Training this year.
The pitching depth has forced some starters to the bullpen, specifically Austin Coley. By mid-season, Altoona could see Mitch Keller, Gage Hinsz, and/or Taylor Hearn. That will lead to a situation where guys will either move to the bullpen, move up to Indianapolis, or become trade pieces.
The one notable absence here is Jin-De Jhang, who is expected to return from an oblique injury in early May, and will take over the regular catching duties at that time.
C – Christian Kelley
1B – Will Craig
2B – Mitchell Tolman
SS – Cole Tucker
3B – Ke’Bryan Hayes
LF – Logan Hill
CF – Casey Hughston
RF – Kevin Krause
DH – Jordan George
Rotation – Dario Agrazal, Taylor Hearn, Gage Hinsz, Mitch Keller, Pedro Vasquez
Other Notable Players – Danny Arribas (UTIL), Jake Brentz (LHRP), Seth McGarry (RHRP), Bret Helton (RHRP), Logan Sendelbach (RHRP)
Analysis – The Bradenton team is loaded. The rotation is the highlight, with Keller, Hinsz, and Hearn giving them the best pitching prospect in the system, and two more top ten prospects. I’d expect Keller to only be there half a season, and the other two could move up by the end of the year if their respective command improves.
Pedro Vasquez and Dario Agrazal will round out the rotation, pushing former starters Bret Helton and Logan Sendelbach to the bullpen (likely to be starters in the second half). The bullpen has some hard throwers, led by lefty Jake Brentz, who can hit 100 MPH, but has some control problems. Seth McGarry has also shown good velocity in the past, but that has dropped since moving to pro ball.
The infield in Bradenton will be loaded with prospects as well. Will Craig, Cole Tucker, and Ke’Bryan Hayes give three first round picks, while Mitchell Tolman has emerged as an interesting second base prospect with some power potential.
The outfield has some power potential, with Casey Hughston showing some of the best raw power in the lower levels, along with good speed and defense tools. His downside is a huge hole in his swing that leads to a ton of strikeouts, making it hard to envision him making it much higher than Bradenton. Kevin Krause and Logan Hill display some power potential.
This group has six of the top ten prospects in the system, along with several other top 50 prospects, and will be a fun group to follow.
C – Arden Pabst
1B – Albert Baur
2B – Kevin Mahala
SS – Stephen Alemais
3B – Hunter Owen
LF – Victor Fernandez
CF – Sandy Santos
RF – Clark Eagan
DH – Trae Arbet
Rotation – Matt Anderson, Luis Escobar, James Marvel, Oddy Nunez, Cam Vieaux
Analysis – There is a talent gap in West Virginia. That’s not to say they don’t have any talent, as they have a few top 20 and top 30 prospects. It’s really unfair to compare them to Bradenton, but they also don’t match the strength of Altoona or Indianapolis. A few years ago this would have been considered a good team, but the standards have changed now.
The highlight of the group is Luis Escobar, a hard throwing right-hander who has some control problems, but also has top of the rotation stuff. If he can work through the command problems — which are partly due to a lot of moving parts in his delivery, and partly due to him trying to overthrow on the mound — then he’ll give the Pirates an embarrassment of riches in terms of high upside arms in the lower levels.
The rest of the rotation will have some piggybacking going on. James Marvel and Cam Vieaux should be regular starters. Oddy Nunez will technically be the fifth starter, and looks much improved this year. You might notice in the Prospect Guide that he’s listed as a non-prospect and a low velocity guy. His velocity improved to reaching 93 MPH consistently, and he’s now an interesting guy to follow. He will piggyback with Blake Cederlind and Eduardo Vera.
Cederlind was a fifth round pick last year, but is taking the Yeudy Garcia path this year, according to Broadway. The Pirates had Garcia start in the West Virginia bullpen in 2015, and got him to the rotation by the end of May. The slower build up was due to the lack of innings. Nunez and Vera have the same lack of innings, and could have the same build up. I could see Marvel or Vieaux moving up to Bradenton at some point, opening rotation spots for the second half.
There are some interesting prospects on the offensive side, led by Alemais for the start of the year. Trae Arbet and Kevin Mahala will get a lot of time in the middle infield until Adrian Valerio returns from his broken hand. At that point, I wouldn’t be surprised if Alemais moves up, since there won’t be much playing time to go around in West Virginia.
Hunter Owen is a guy to watch this year, as he was crushing the ball throughout Spring Training. Sandy Santos and Victor Fernandez are two wild cards with a lot of tools. That “wild card” term is fitting for a lot of guys on this roster. Most of them have one tool that stands out, and you hope that one of them emerges to at least be a top 50 prospect in the future. But outside of Escobar, and Alemais for a short time, don’t expect the big breakout candidates we’ve seen in West Virginia in previous years.