Last year’s Indianapolis top ten prospect list was both top-heavy with top prospects in the system and it had depth. This year’s list is very similar and we should see some major contributions from this group in Pittsburgh in 2018, as well as some players outside the top ten who should at least see time with the Pirates next year. The difference between last year’s group and this year’s is the amount of players who have Major League experience already. Nine of the top ten players in 2016 saw time in Pittsburgh in 2017, and for four of them, it was significant time. As you will see below, this year’s top ten has four players who haven’t made their MLB debut yet, including two of the top three prospects. So you probably won’t see the impact help right away from them, but that will make Indianapolis interesting to follow early next year. Here are the reports on the top prospects at the level.
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 Jose Osuna from qualifying, as well as some other players mentioned briefly in the notable section below, although none of them would have been considered for the top ten. 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. Austin Meadows, OF – The 2017 season didn’t go as planned for Meadows. Before the season started, the questions were concerning where he would fit in once the Super Two deadline passed in early June. Then once Starling Marte was suspended for half of the season, it became more of a matter of just waiting for the deadline to pass to get him to the majors. The problem was that Meadows didn’t cooperate with those plans. He started off the first week looking bad after a solid Spring Training performance. His bat looked slow in Indianapolis and he was striking out a lot. That didn’t last long, but it stood out because of the time of season. He started hitting the ball better, even if the results didn’t show up in the box scores right away. By mid-June, his stats looked much better and it appeared like we could see him in Pittsburgh soon. Then came the first injury, at least the first one from this season. Meadows has dealt with injuries in the past and they were a concern. This year, that concern became a problem.
Meadows missed five weeks with a hamstring strain, which is an injury he has had in the past. Even after he returned, it was cautious, spending a week in the GCL and then another week in Morgantown. His return to Indianapolis lasted just three games before a minor oblique strain put him out for a few days. He played another five games, but the strain returned and he was shutdown for the season. The Pirates originally wanted him to play some winter ball to make up at-bats, and he even signed with the same team that Jung-Ho Kang is playing for, but it appears that those plans have been scrapped. Meadows now has the injury-prone tag, but the 22-year-old still has the skills to be a star in the majors. Even when he was slumping after that bad first week, he was still hitting the ball well at times and using the entire field. He has shown power in his bat and a strong approach at the plate. Meadows was still making a difference during his slump, using his speed on the bases and playing strong defense, while seeing time at all three spots. His lone missing tool is a strong arm, though he makes up for it somewhat with accuracy and a quick release. The 2018 season could look a lot like what we expected from the 2017 season. If Meadows is healthy and avoids the slow start, we will sit around wondering what the Pirates plan to do in early June.
2. Tyler Glasnow, RHP – Glasnow actually lost his prospect status before he appeared in a minor league game this season, but he spent more time in Indianapolis than he did in Pittsburgh. Part of the reason for keeping him down so long was to get an extra year of service time out of him, as he is still short of a full year in the majors, giving the Pirates six more seasons of control. The results in Pittsburgh were very poor, with control issues, high pitch counts and an unusually high home run rate. Just in general, the stuff wasn’t there that made him such a big-time prospect. He went to Indianapolis in June and made an immediate change, losing his wind-up. Last year, we noted that Glasnow didn’t look ready for the majors. What he was doing to get out Triple-A hitters, wouldn’t translate to the majors. His time in Indianapolis this season was completely different once he got settled in. His control was greatly improved and the velocity was the best we have ever seen from him. He also looked confident on the mound, which is something we rarely saw in the past as soon as one thing went wrong.
The 2017 version of Glasnow in Indianapolis was significantly better than the 2016 version. The problem now is that even though he was a much better pitcher, the results were not there at all in his September time with the Pirates. He issued 15 walks in just 7.2 innings, being limited to those 7.2 innings due to his control. So we are now left to wonder if he can translate the minor league success to the majors. He will be 24 years old for most of the 2018 season, so youth is on his side. With the way he looked in Indianapolis this season, we now know the stuff is there to get big league hitters out. We just have to wait to see if the confidence in his abilities will ever be there for him to reach his potential.
3. Kevin Newman, SS – Newman ranked second on the Altoona list behind Cole Tucker, who right now looks like the better future shortstop. Newman didn’t put up good stats with Altoona in his second season with the team, then moved up to Indianapolis and basically matched those Altoona stats. The only real difference between his time in Double-A and Triple-A was his base running. While he still wasn’t running enough, he went 7-for-8 in steals during his 40 games in Indianapolis. That needs to be part of his game for him to reach his ceiling in the majors. Newman played solid defense all season. There’s nothing flashy to his game, but he handles all the plays you expect from your shortstop. He’s going to need to improve at the plate before we see him in Pittsburgh. His .283 average in Indianapolis came with just seven walks and no homers, which led to a .688 OPS. Newman is already 24 years old, so there isn’t much room for growth in the power area, but he could do a better job of drawing walks, especially if the plan is to have him hit at the top of the order. Best case scenario now appears to be a mid-season promotion, but it won’t be that quick if he doesn’t do a better job of getting on base and using his speed once he gets on.
4. Jordan Luplow, OF – Luplow held the same spot on our Altoona list after putting up strong stats there, followed by a promotion to Indianapolis in late June. He wasn’t in Triple-A long before he got his first chance at the majors. It was an extremely quick promotion for the Pirates and one that didn’t last long. Luplow returned to Indianapolis until late August and continued to put up big offensive stats. He finished the season with a .325/.401/.513 slash line in 44 games with Indianapolis. That OPS was slightly up from his time in Altoona. Luplow didn’t do as well in Pittsburgh, putting up a .660 OPS and striking out more than normal. His 26 homers total this season almost equaled his total from his first three years of pro ball. Luplow always showed some power and a strong approach at the plate, with the ability to make consistent contact, but he never put it all together like he did this season. It will be interesting to see if he has the fourth outfield job going into 2018, or he will return to the minors for more time. Luplow has just one season above High-A ball, so the experience factor isn’t on his side, and he didn’t exactly tear up the majors. He also needs to work on his outfield defense. However, he was getting priority playing time in September, and getting starts, which has been a good indicator in the past of a guy who will get a shot in the majors the following season (SEE: Adam Frazier in 2016).
5. Steven Brault, LHP – Brault dominated at Triple-A, but ended up staying there for most of the season because the Pirates didn’t need an extra starter at any point early in the year. With Trevor Williams making the Opening Day roster, it gave the Pirates someone to go to when they needed a starter to fill in for Jameson Taillon and then later to replace Tyler Glasnow. Meanwhile, Brault plugged away in the minors, where he was named as our Pitcher of the Month for both May and June and also our Pitcher of the Year. He ended up throwing 120.1 innings for Indianapolis, posting a 1.94 ERA that led all of Triple-A. He also had 109 strikeouts, a .199 BAA, a 1.07 WHIP and a 1.29 GO/AO ratio. Brault eventually got four starts and seven relief appearances for the Pirates, showing mediocre results, though they were better than his 2016 stats for the Pirates. Despite the terrific showing in Indianapolis, he was being used as a reliever at first, so that wasn’t the ideal situation for him. He has the stuff to be a starter, though sometimes he tries to get batters to chase rather than go after them. That issue even came up this year at times when he was at his best, but he limited it compared to what we saw in prior years. We could see Brault again serve as a depth option in 2018, or he could move to the bullpen. He displayed more fastball velocity this season, which could play up in relief, especially if he does a better job of staying in attack mode mentality.
6. Clay Holmes, RHP – Holmes really impressed the Pirates this Spring Training on the Major League side. In particular, they raved over his slider/cutter combo, which sat 96 MPH with a ton of movement. In his first start of the season, he hit 99 MPH, and at times, he flashed four pitches that would rate average or better. Add in the 6’5″, 230 frame, and there is a lot to like from him. Holmes put up decent stats this season, compiling a 3.36 ERA in 112.2 innings, with 99 strikeouts, a .238 BAA and an incredible 2.80 GO/AO ratio. When he is on his game, batters are beating the ball into the ground, with a lot of soft contact and broken bats to show for it. He allowed just four home runs all season. The problem is that he still had his bouts of control problems, leading to high pitch counts and shorter outings. Holmes has the stuff to be a top of the rotation starter, but his control will keep him from ever reaching that point. The question still remains as to what his potential could be. He still has two option years left, so there is no reason to rush to a decision. With improved control, he could end up as a mid-rotation starter. If he improves just slightly, then back-end seems more likely, though there is always the chance that he ends up as a power reliever, who can get grounders and strikeouts. His stuff is too good to move him to that relief role anytime soon though, so expect him to be in the 2018 Indianapolis rotation.
7. Elias Diaz, C – Diaz finally got an extended look in the majors after making it to Pittsburgh in 2015. His 2016 season was a lost year due to injuries, but he was healthy for the entire 2017 season and the absence of Francisco Cervelli led to his chance to play regularly in the majors. Diaz didn’t have the best results in Pittsburgh with a .579 OPS in 200 plate appearances, which leaves questions as to whether he could be a starter in the majors. At worst case, he is a solid backup due to his defense and ability to control the running game. He threw out 30% of runners in the majors and 46% in Indianapolis. Diaz has shown a solid bat in the minors over the years, driving the ball well, while limiting his strikeouts. He wasn’t hitting much better in Indianapolis this season than what we saw in Pittsburgh. The Pirates decisions behind the plate will decide what role he has in 2018. Diaz is out of options, so he needs to stick in the majors. They have Cervelli signed for two more years and Chris Stewart has a team option on his 2018 contract. Diaz should be able to hit better than what we saw in 2017, he has shown that ability over a long stretch in the past, but it might not be enough to give him the starting job.
8. Nick Kingham, RHP – Kingham will have an interesting off-season because we don’t know yet whether he will have a fourth option year, or whether he has to stick on the 2018 roster on Opening Day. Through extensive research, all I found was confusion on the rules of a fourth option. Kingham didn’t get a call to the majors in September, with the Pirates saying he could use rest from a long season, his first full season back from Tommy John surgery. That’s true in the sense that he didn’t pitch in games on paper all year in 2015, although he was going through normal work from Spring Training until the end of the Altoona playoffs. Most of his work came at Pirate City that year. Kingham suffered an ankle injury during Spring Training this season, so that limited him to 118.1 innings, plus seven shutout innings in the playoffs. He was very inconsistent this season and went through a very poor stretch, before turning things around in late July. Kingham lacked confidence in his pitches and after a meeting between him, coaches, and Jacob Stallings, it changed his thinking. His next six starts saw him allow six earned runs over 45.1 innings. He didn’t end well though, allowing 12 runs over his final 8.2 innings. When he was on, he was commanding a 91-94 MPH fastball, which is down from the peak velocity we saw prior to his injury when he would hit 97 MPH. His curve looked strong at times and his changeup was a plus pitch all season. Kingham still has a workhorse frame, with the secondary pitches and command to be a mid-rotation starter, but the fastball he once had isn’t there anymore and can be very hittable at times, which will likely limit his upside to back of the rotation.
9. Max Moroff, INF – Moroff came out swinging this season after a tough first year in Indianapolis in 2016. He homered in his first three games, then really put things together in late April and May, which earned him a trip to Pittsburgh. It was a brief stop in the majors, but he hit his way back by the end of the month. Just days after he was called up, he had the highest OPS in the International League, as the league leader dropped behind him. Moroff was hitting for power without swinging for the fences. He went from someone who constantly worked the count, to a hitter who still drew his share of walks, while being more aggressive with pitches in his zone early in the count. The power was coming from swinging at good pitches, rather than bulking up or swinging harder. Moroff spent more time in Pittsburgh than Indianapolis this season, although his playing time was very sporadic. Even with four full months in the majors and a couple of at-bats from 2016, he still fell short of losing his prospect status due to that lack of playing time. We really didn’t get a good sense of what he could do in the majors because he wasn’t given a real chance. Due to his defensive value, FanGraphs had him as an 0.5 WAR player this season. Part of that was from not committing an error with the Pirates, while playing three infield spots. There should still be more in the bat though and Moroff attempted just one steal despite slightly above average speed, so we should see him as a better bench option in the future if given the playing time to establish himself.
10. Edgar Santana, RHP – Santana had an up and down season. Coming off of a dominating performance in the 2016 Arizona Fall League, the April/May version of Santana looked like someone who was Major League ready. Late in May and in early June, he had a few tough outings, which occurred right before his big league debut. The Pirates called him up during a time he was going through issues with his fastball command and his slider not showing the bite that made it such an effective pitch. He basically came to the majors with no pitches working for him and saw some struggles. That period of losing his stuff continued for nearly a month after he was sent down to the minors. He finally got back on track in late July and after being called up to Pittsburgh in September, Santana made nine scoreless appearances. The pitcher we saw during the middle of the year could have just been a young pitcher pressing to get to the majors, stay there, then try to get back there. He was still showing mid-to-upper 90s velocity on the fastball and the plus slider eventually returned, so the chance of him being a future back-end reliever is still there. He has the potential to begin the season in the Pittsburgh bullpen.
Other Notable Players: The top ten is very strong top to bottom for Indianapolis, which leaves some top 50 prospects just outside of that list. Dovydas Neverauskas would have easily made the top ten in many seasons. He had a 2.86 ERA and nearly a strikeout per inning, while showing a high-90s fastball and a solid breaking pitch. He also put up solid stats in the majors for a rookie who bounced between levels all season. Angel Sanchez returned from Tommy John surgery and was throwing harder than before. That helped lead to a strong strikeout rate. He had some consistency issues, but still got the call to the majors in August. He had his issues there, allowing runs in eight of his ten relief appearances. Christopher Bostick had a strong all-around season, which got him two calls to Pittsburgh. He played multiple positions well, did a nice job of getting on base and flashed some power and speed, making him a versatile bench option in the majors. Tyler Eppler flashed signs of being a future MLB starter, then couldn’t back those outings up with repeat performances. He has the stuff to pitch in the big leagues, but needs to do a better job of mixing up his pitches. He throws a lot of strikes and makes it easy for batters to sit first pitch fastball, even if he is sitting 92-95 MPH with the pitch.
Eric Wood showed slightly more power than last year, matching his home run and triple totals, while adding five doubles in nearly the exact same amount of plate appearances. The downside was that his average and walks total both dropped, and his defense wasn’t as strong at third base, possibly due to him moving all around, with time at first base and outfield. Jacob Stallings improved his hitting and continued to provide strong defense behind the plate, which got him some MLB time. Gift Ngoepe saw time in Pittsburgh this year. His defense remained among the best in the system at any position, but strikeouts continued to be a major problem. Casey Sadler, Barrett Barnes and Edwin Espinal didn’t put in enough time to be considered for the list and there is no certainty that any of them will be back next year. Sadler and Espinal are free agents, while Barnes missed most of the season with injuries again and didn’t play well when he was healthy.