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.

Indianapolis

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.

Altoona

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.

Bradenton

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.

West Virginia

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.

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45 COMMENTS

  1. I see Jackson Williams, Joey Terdoslavich, Casey Sadler & Brandon Cumpton on the Organizational Depth Chart but they are not on any rosters. Are they on DL, Extended Spring Training or what happened to them?

    • Williams, Terdoslavich, and Eury Perez are with Indianapolis, on standby until they are needed as an injury replacement, or a replacement for someone who got promoted.

      Cumpton and Sadler are in extended ST.

  2. All I do is look at the minor league box scores every day and it’s hard to miss that there’s a dearth of good hitting position players in the lower levels. I know Casey Hughston is an intriguing guy, but if there’s still a huge hole in his swing it’s hard to get excited about him.

    • I did not see a big hole in his swing in ST, and I was expecting the Pirates to move him up to AA and our outstanding hitting coach at that level, Kevin Riggs. However, De Renne at Hi A is a very good hitting coach.

      Hughston has 3 of the 5 tools on Defense, and the raw power to be a lot better. Under the right guy, I expect Hughston to have a breakout season in 2017

  3. Tim: Would you want to comment further on the “incredible mess that is the Indianapolis lineup filled with countless utility players” statement? Why did we add two more in Chris Bostick, 24 and Phil Gosselin, 28?

    Are these “countless utility players” at AAA part of the reason why Kevin Newman will start the year at AA? He and Andrew Benintendi had about the same number of AB’s (B233/N237), about the same batting average (B.295/N.288), and about the same OBP (B.357/N.361) in the AA Eastern League in 2016.

    Bennie had the much better slugging number, but Newman will never be a slugger, and we know that. Newman also fielded at an almost unbelievable .992 in 60 games at SS, so why is he not at least our starting SS at AAA?

    • It’s not a bad thing. It’s just difficult to figure out.

      Newman is starting in Altoona because he hasn’t spent much time there and hasn’t looked like he’s ready to move up yet. He will be up in Indianapolis at some point.

  4. My take on the alleged prospect shortage at Charleston (the Power) is a concern. For the first few years, Huntington and staff drafted high (Cole, Taillon, etc.). But in more recent times, with the much improved Pirates, they’re drafting low. So the reality is, and has been all along, can Huntington and company survive in the draft without all the higher quality draft picks?

    To date it appears they are not doing a good job of it, thus you get a mediocre team in West Virginia. And losing that Bennett guy (pitching) to Florida didn’t help either.

    We need lots of Dominican stars coming along if we can’t do better in the States on the draft. And apparently the Dominican/South American stars are not coming along as well last two years?

    • That wouldn’t make an impact though. Their first round picks from the last few years wouldn’t be in West Virginia. In fact, they are all a level or two above West Virginia.

  5. It’s just plain unfortunate that we do not see the name Luis Heredia anywhere in this article.

  6. Couple questions.

    Is Krause still going to receive any time catching or are those days behind him?

    Where is Pablo Reyes going to be this year?

    And is Brent Gibbs going to be with West Virginia or a short season team?

    • Krause will be playing outfield, and won’t be doing as much catching. Reyes will be playing off the Altoona bench. Gibbs will be in Extended Spring Training, and is expected for Morgantown.

  7. org. needs catching and lhp starting pitching early in this years draft. best player at the 12th pick ,but any time after that go lhp starter or catcher.

  8. Hmmm. Just sent my plan for my Charleston trip for end of May.
    Hopefully there will be something to see besides a great ballpark.

    Bigger question is do I go to Altoona in early June or wait until late July?

    Indy trip is tentatively mid July. Probably could go anytime and see
    a major league team at minor league prices. Wow!

  9. Do you think the WV Power weakness is the result of last year’s draft not providing depth, or that the top tier players from the draft landed in Bradenton?

    • They drafted four high ceiling high school pitchers and they are all in Extended Spring Training. Plus as you mentioned, it doesn’t help WV that Will Craig jumped right over WV, so there are five solid draft picks who aren’t going to be with WV this season. Adrian Valerio getting hurt also doesn’t help their Opening Day roster

    • I think it’s a result of aggressively promoting hitting prospects and having a bit of a gap due to not having international hitters emerging, plus not having pitching prospects lined up for that year (due to a lot of hitters in 2015 and prep pitchers in 2016).

      • Decision to not incur the 300K penalty on International talent probably not too bright. The default response will be Marte, Polanco etc but that was light years ago in prospect terms.

          • Was referencing not being able to sign player for more than 300k if you exceed bonus pool by 10-15 percent as well as 100 percent overage fee. I think they should have taken that penalty on and competed for some higher pedigree talent one of these past years. I assume you disagree

            • I disagreed with going over and it seems like a good choice now. The int’l side is too much of a crap shoot trying to bank on 16-year-old players with huge failure rates. Not only did the Pirates not waste money on the tax, they now have a much larger bonus pool. There are multiple teams who have $4.75M+ for their bonus pool the next two years and can’t spend more than $300K on any player, plus other teams who have the same penalty for one more year. They paid the tax and limited themselves at the same time. The Pirates this year can’t be outbid on any July 2nd signing since it’s a hard cap.

              If you wanted them to go over in the past for a few players, it probably would have cost them more players this upcoming year, not to mention the wasted money on 100% tax.

              • I understand your rationale John, but reality is reality – the Pirates philosophy is not working – since Polanco and Marte, who are the bargain basement Latin American signings turned into great prospects or MLB players? The entire Pirates system is very lacking in position player prospects, and especially from Cuba, Latin America, etc. Meanwhile, teams like the Cubs, Red Sox, DBacks, Marlins, and many others have translated a number of high profile signings into good returns. At some point the current Pirates ownership has to decide if it in the business to do what is necessary to operate a MLB franchise or not. The current approach is not sustainable and you can see it in the lower levels of the Pirates system….

                • To be fair, the players they did give significant bonuses to have not fared any better, and it could be argued that they have been worse. Just look at everyones favorite whip[ping boy, Luis Heredia, he didn’t even get a mention as another interresting prospect. Michael de la Cruz, Julio de la Cruz, the failure rate of Latin players is astronomical, regardless of what bonus they are payed.

                  To that end, yes, they probably should have ponied up more money for some of these players. Miguel Sano to name one.

                • The current approach is to spend basically their entire allotment. Considering the new CBA that’s the best they are going to be able to do. If that approach isn’t sustainable what do you suggest they do?

              • We will see.. easy to point to failures. I wish we had some of high end international talent in our system the Nats do. Doesn’t even mean necessarily going over cap but spending big bucks for one guy like Juan Soto in 2015. Went over in 2016 and have some high ceiling guys like Luis Garcia.

                Yeah you’re right you can’t “bust” on high pedigree bets if you don’t play the game. You can’t win either. And it’s not like the spread the money around approach is bearing a lot of fruit lately.

                What has the spread the wealth around got us lately? Since 2013 I count 2 guys in Baseball America’s top 30. Yeudy Garcia and Escobar(ranked 15th and 28th). Edgar Santana wasn’t on their list.

                • We have Santana at #18, so I count three players. Going by the “since 2013” method isn’t the best way to do it for a system with so much top-end talent. A 16 year old signed in 2013, is either 19-20, far from being a finished product. There are plenty of players with tools from 2013 until now, so it’s best to give them time to see how it plays out.

    • Its because of the Pirates ongoing disdain for pursuing any of the top shelf Cuban and Latin American free agents….coupled with seldom drafting HS position players….

  10. I remember 4-5 years ago or more, WV with Hanson, Hererra, Osuna, W Garcia, Polanco, and Espinal….this current team looks very weak in comparison. You can see the talent level has dropped – due to promotions, trades, and poor performance – in the lower levels (below AA), the lack of position player prospects is eye opening.

      • True….its the strongest of the two A teams for sure….but I don’t think its a strong position player group. I think Hayes is a legitimate top prospect and will continue to progess. I am not equally sold on Tucker or Craig….2017 will say a lot about both. Next to Hayes, I like Hughston the best on that team as far as position players because of his athleticism and upside.. he just needs to show more discipline at the plate. He and Santos could both breakout in 2017….

        • You can’t use present day knowledge of outcomes of the 2012 A players to compare with 2017 prospects. Of course the 2012 team sounds better than the 2017 team, in 2017.

          Plus, the group you are comparing them to only has one legitimate ML player in it- Polanco. Hanson and Osuna are still TBD in the majors, Garcia will probably never be more than a bench guy, and Herrera had a cup of coffee. I’d bet that this group has at least one everyday MLB player as well. And even if it’s not as a good of group as 2012 WV, it’s still a pretty solid group of prospects.

        • Craig is a Beast!!! Has improved every year since his freshman year in college!! Adjusted well to the wooden bats last season and I expect a huge breakout this season!! Put it in the books!!

  11. Bradenton is exciting but West Virginia… woof! Team should have spent more on international talent the last few years but that’s water under bridge now.

    • OOOOh “The Toastman” is not going to be real happy.
      He likes it better when WV has a real talented squad-
      especially those strong pitchers who provide him
      opportunities to toss toast. Looks at least there are
      a few pitchers though who will give him some opportunities.
      =
      No matter what, Charleston has some real dedicated fans.

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