Baseball America’s Top Ten Prospects for the Pittsburgh Pirates

Baseball America released their list of the top ten prospects for the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday morning. Their top ten list is free for non-subscribers, but the scouting reports are for subscribers only. The link also includes best tools, a system overview and the potential 2021 lineup.

As for the top ten list, no surprise that Mitch Keller has the top spot. With his success in Double-A and the Arizona Fall League, he has established himself at an upper level. Add in the fact that Austin Meadows, who some had in the top spot at mid-season, had multiple injuries this year and struggled at times when he was playing. The pair have likely flipped spots this year for everyone who had Meadows ahead of Keller.

The upside to that is literally the upside, as in Meadows hasn’t seen a change to his potential ceiling because the tools are all still there. If he can stay finally stay healthy, then BA believes he will be the same player who they ranked first in the system before. The injuries just add a risk factor that helped drop him below Keller. If you’re being realistic, a healthy 2017 for Meadows means he wouldn’t even be eligible for this list because he would have got 130+ at-bats for the Pirates.

In the third spot, BA has Shane Baz, which is where most people had him in the post-draft rankings for the Pirates. He was followed by (in order) Ke’Bryan Hayes, Kevin Newman, Cole Tucker, Luis Escobar, Nick Kingham, Taylor Hearn and Lolo Sanchez. I think you will see a similar order in the top six for most people, as Hayes seems to be just outside the top 100 prospects whenever we hear his name. Newman also still seems to get some benefit of the doubt due to his college track record and possibly his incredible stretch at Bradenton in 2016, but he didn’t hit well at either stop this year. Our mid-season ranking had Cole Tucker ahead of Newman and Tucker improved after those rankings, though his injury history could add risk for some people.

I will point out two things in their write-up of Hearn that would likely affect their rankings. They mention that Hearn hasn’t found a slider that he is comfortable with yet. Readers here know that isn’t true as Tim Williams pointed out last week while talking to Hearn, his AFL pitching coach and Justin Meccage, who is the minor league pitching coordinator for the Pirates. They also called his changeup “potentially average”, which is far from true as many of you know. The scouting reports on Hearn last year said that it was his third pitch and he rarely if ever threw it. The actual fact was that it was his best pitch and he stopped throwing it to work on his fastball command and his slider. His changeup is an above average offering.

I don’t see Escobar or Kingham ranking ahead of Hearn at this point. His upside is higher than Kingham, who is three years older than him. He’s closer to the majors than Escobar, who also has control issues to work on. Being a 6’5″ lefty who has hit 100 MPH also helps.

  • Luplow has the best outfield arm?

    O’Neill Cruz has the best infield arm? Is this true or does he get bonus points for being able to hand the ball off to the first baseman from SS?

    Stop hating on Craig, when he is the Pirates closer/DH, you are all going to declare him untradable.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    November 15, 2017 10:23 pm

    So, the Pirates #1 pick from 2 years ago is not even in a top 10 of their prospects? Not good….

  • where’s mason martin?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

  • Hmm, the Pirates 2016 first round pick can’t even crack the top 10.
    It was a bizarre, Littlefieldian pick at the time and it looks worse now.

    • “Littlefieldian”, should make Webster”s dictionary.

    • I’d think it’s also fair to describe the Will Craig pick as Huntingtonian

    • you can only have 10 prospects in a top 10.

      i dont think saying that Lolo Sanchez is better than Craig is necessarily thhaaaat damning of Craig.

      he has a minor league OBP of like .380. he needs to add power but i feel like entirely too many people have written him off.

      that said, Tony Sanchez was really good in A ball too, so who the hell knows.

      • Well, he is 1B only. His value must come from his bat. Mediocre hitting stats for a 1B only prospect are a lot more ominous than they would be for those that play other positions.

    • He hit for no power in a league that is notorious for weak power output. I believe there was also an article on this site that also outlined the developmental aspect of the Pirates’ approach in Bradenton that naturally limits power output from the hitters. I think that hitters are taught to focus on waiting on fast balls and only pulling the off-speed stuff. I believe that they are trying to develop hitters that are better at hitting the curve. For some reference, Kevin Kramer’s Bradenton SLG% was .378 and then .479 in Altoona. Luplow’s was .421 in Bradenton, and then .527 last year over three levels. Craig’s was .371, if that indeed was the approach they were instructed to take in Bradenton, allowing these guys to sit on fastballs from time to time will boost the slg percentage.

  • Anyone notice Dustin Dopirak wrote up the list this year? I think that’s the first time since at least 2011 that Perrotto didn’t get the gig.

  • “They also called his (Hearn) changeup “potentially average”, which is far from true as many of you know.”

    Thing is, we *do not* know this.

    We know the narrative that *Taylor Hearn* thinks his changeup is good. We know the narrative that Pirate coaches like it. But we don’t actually know *anything* about the pitch itself.

    What velocity band does it work? What sort of action does it take? Swing-and-miss or groundball offering? We know none of this.

    What we do know is that BA, BP, FanGraphs, MLB Pipeline and Keith Law all say the pitch is below average at present with potential for improvement.

    Let’s raise the bar a bit from taking a prospect’s word for it.

    • Don’t worry, we’ll find out next season. No way he’ll be able to succeed without a 3rd pitch in AA.

  • I’m not that optimistic about Kingham being more than a middle reliever at this point. However, Lolo! I knew he was starting to get attention but didn’t expect to see him in a top 10.

    • BA had Sanchez ranked ahead of Baz in the GCL top 20. Doesn’t fit their top 10 rankings here, but they did notice him.

      • Different people doing the rankings?

        • Yes, there have been many instances where the top ten doesn’t line up to the league top 20 in the past because different people are doing the rankings.

  • I’ve felt since early last summer that the Pirates system would probably be near 15th at best when Baseball America publishes their 2018 Prospect Handbook but that is looking much too aggressive at this point. I could easily see this system somewhere between 17th and 20th. That is an ugly list and clearly representative of a FO that is is below the line at acquiring/developing young talent.

    • And over the last two years they graduated Taillon, Kuhl, Williams, Bell, Frazier, Luplow & Diaz. That’s probably going to be a quarter of their roster in 2018. I’m not sure how many other ML teams boast that much of a success rate. We’re likely to see Glasnow and Meadows contribute (positively) in 2018 and maybe also see Kramer, Newman, Kingham and Brault make the jump.

      The last two years were clear disappointments, but that had nothing to do with problems in the farm system and 100% to do with guys at the ML level not performing, either because of injury, suspension or decline.

      • LOL you are talking up guys like Diaz who was more than 1 WAR below replacement per Baseball Prospectus as evidence of some major success. The only guy in that group so far that has made an argument for being an above average regular player is Taillon. That is hardly indicative of a strong development system.

        I think you need to go back about 2 years and remember what Tim and others suggested as a reasonable expectation of performance from the young talent in this system and compare it to what he have actually received.

        • And Bell was less than a 1 win player last year on Fangraphs. Do you think that is the strongest tool to measure this success? Lots of players that make the 25 man roster don’t contribute WAR.

          • wut

            • I’m saying that pointing out Diaz’s 2017 WAR is meaningless.

              • Then what exactly is the point of using him as an example of a successful farm system?

                • He’s a graduate of the farm system and looks at worst like a solid backup C. What sort of WAR number would you expect a glove first backup catcher to have.

                  • Something better than -.3 fWAR which doesn’t even account for his horrendous framing. Recently framing hasn’t correlated well year to year but that doesn’t mean we should simply assume Diaz is an average framer next year.

                    • I’m pretty sure Glasnow and Kuhl jacked up our catcher framing metrics a lot last year. When you setup for a pitch on the lower outside corner and they throw it on the upper inside corner, the catcher isn’t going to get many calls regardless of how good they are at framing.

                    • I’d say Diaz not only graded objectively bad as a framer but very much looked the part regardless of who he was catching. Perhaps that changes in 2018 but it is far from a guarantee.

                    • He hasnt had enough innings for that stat to be worth the time you spent typing that statement

        • Did you read what he wrote, John? He said graduated 7 players in last 2 years, which will make up a quarter of the roster in 2018. You’re the only one who spoke about performance. And of course, it was negative, which should come as no surprise to anyone who reads the comment section of this site.

          • They graduated a quarter of their system to a MLB team that probably won’t project to be 500 per ZIPs- largely in part because most of the young “talent” is league average at best with some of it bumping along replacement level. What happened to the theme that this next wave of talent was likely to keep us in contention for years to come?

            • Many guys will continue to improve after reaching MLB. Not many are like Mike Trout, with short times to superstardom. Look at Cutch”s career, first three years were okay, next three were All Star quality.

            • You think you know what the future holds for these players, but since they’re human beings, and as such, unpredictable, excuse me if I don’t trust your crystal ball as much as you do.

              The problem with being a cynic is you don’t get to celebrate when you’re right. Try being a fan first. This is sports we’re talking about not real life.

      • Taillon and Bell are the only two you list that would actually improve our ranking. Not really a glowing endorsement, even though in our top 10 I would rank them 2 and 3, and I would also say they were the only sure bets to be top 100 prospects.

    • The bottom of the top 10 may not look that exciting. But I also don’t think there’s a big drop-off from #7 to somewhere in the 20’s or even 30’s. We have some quality at the top, and then a large pool of interesting (if not super exciting) prospects in the 7-30ish range.

      So I feel pretty good about our system with one exception–it seems heavily weighted towards players we’ve drafted implying that we’re not doing as well as we need to with international free agents.

  • i dont know if i want to be happy that Kingham is still seen favorably, or disappointed that they didnt put a sexier name there.

    gotta like seeing Lolo get some love.

    also, i’ve missed that fact about Hearn’s changeup in the past (that it’s actually really good, and that he just doesnt throw it because it doesnt need the work). If you factor in the new slider and the fact that his changeup is actually good, i dont see how he wouldnt be in someone’s top 5-6 (Keller, Meadows, Tucker, Hayes, Baz/Hearn, and then Newman would probably be my ranking)

    • Kingham did pitch much better after we did our mid-season rankings and the problem was mental. Brian Peloza wrote an article about how Kingham had a sit-down with Jacob Stallings, Stan Kyles and Andy Barkett and they basically told him to get his head in the game and pitch like he is capable of pitching. In that sense, it was great to see the success he had, but there were still games where his fastball command wasn’t perfect and he got hit hard.

      Kingham is 26 years old now with no big league experience and he doesn’t have the fastball he had pre-injury. I don’t see him ranking eighth in the system personally, but he still has plenty of big league potential, just not the upside he once had.

      • Kingham should rate either 45/50 HIGH and prospects like him are littered through out the minor leagues.

        The real story here is that BA thinks 2018 Kingham is the 8th best prospect in our system… quite telling.

        • without a subscription, we can’t tell if BA just likes Kingham or if BA hates everyone else.

          • Baseball America had Kingham rated 50 High going into last year. For comparison, a really good system like the Braves had 24 prospects rated 50 High or better last year. A middle of the road system like the Mets had 16 prospects rated 50 High or better.

            Kingham is 26 years old, coming off an OK(certainly not great year) in Triple A and has lost a few miles per hour off his fastball. I don’t see BA thinking he is much improved from his 50 High ranking going into last year. So to answer your question… no, I don’t think this ranking is reflective of BA hating everyone. I do think it is evidence that the Pirates system has very little high end talent anymore.

      • Is it possible that Kingham is experiencing something similar to Brubaker, where he is not letting it rip because he is overly focused on fixing his control issues?

    • Kingham’s injury was at a pretty terrible time and cost him most of 2015 and 2016. He did have a great run in the middle of 2017, but then slowed down at the end of the year. I think he could step in if Kuhl or Williams were to get hurt or pitch poorly this year.

      • The Pirates could have had him back in games much earlier in 2016, but they really took the most cautious path possible. He was pitching in Extended Spring Training games long before the GCL season opened up and then they left him down there for six starts. So he pitched a lot more than you see on paper.

  • Definitely agree that Tucker is a better prospect than Newman. I suppose the injury concerns lower his floor, but his ceiling as a switch hitting, base stealing SS

    is underrated throughout the prospect hype machinations.

    I wouldn’t look for rhyme or reason on the Kingham, Escobar and Hearn order, they’re likely based on limited scouting reports and stat sheets.

    • yep. 21 yr old SS’s who have already who hit relatively well at the AA level and play good D tend to be really highly regarded and valuable.

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