18 Potential Breakout Pirates Prospects to Watch in 2018

For the past few years I’ve done an article at the start of the year along the lines of “18 Players Who Can Help the Pirates Win in 2018”. The focus of the article is always on potential breakout players, prospects who can make the jump to the majors, and reclamation projects who will be essential to the Pirates winning.

This year, that process seems irrelevant. The Pirates haven’t traded anyone yet, but they’re currently seen as sellers. That would prevent them from contending in 2018. Sure, I could do an “18 Players” article, but it would be more of an “All of these things need to go right” type of article.

So I decided to change it up, and write an article that makes more sense for this site. I decided to write about “18 Potential Breakout Pirates Prospects to Watch in 2018”.

The Pirates are looking to trade some of their biggest players in the majors, which will prompt a small rebuild. I think that could actually be a quick reload, especially with the young players they have in the upper levels, the young players in the majors, and any potential help they get back in trades. But they’re also going to need some of their prospects to step up from the lower levels, either providing some insurance, or extending the next window of competition.

The thing about breakout performances is that the term can mean many things. We saw breakouts last year where Eduardo Vera and Oddy Nunez went from non prospects to guys who have a shot at the majors. We’ve seen guys like Mitch Keller go from a promising prospect to a top 50 prospect. And then we’ve seen the type of breakouts where Keller takes the next step, going from a top 50 prospect to one of the best in the game.

Rather than give a standard list of 18, I decided to organize the 18 players into groups who provided similar breakout chances.

Making the Jump to Impact Players

The first group comes from our top five prospects in the system. The breakout potential here is going from a top prospect in the system to one of the top in the game.

Baz has the chance to be a top of the rotation guy, but is raw. He needs some work with his control, combined with learning to pitch off the fastball, and learning to pitch the same way from the stretch. But the potential is there, with good velocity and two solid breaking pitches. He should go to West Virginia this year, and if everything clicks, he could be on the fast track to the majors after the 2018 season.

Tucker and Hayes both have starter potential in the majors, but there could be above-average or higher potential with both. Tucker has made good strides with his defense at shortstop, and needs to continue showing the improved offense he saw in 2017 going forward. Hayes will need to add some power to his game, while maintaining his average and OBP in the upper levels, and maintaining his solid defense.

The Young International Hitters

The Pirates have another wave of young international players making their way through the low levels, including a few hitters who have shown some potential in the last year.

Lolo Sanchez leads the group, going from a promising guy who didn’t put up numbers in the DSL, to a guy who made an adjustment with his swing and showed off enough in the GCL to become a top ten prospect in the system. He could have a big breakout year this season, getting closer to his impact upside as a future strong defensive center fielder who can hit for average, get on base, provide speed, and hit for some power.

Adrian Valerio started to show some of his promise last year, looking smoother on the field, and looking more consistent with the bat. He’s behind Kevin Newman and Cole Tucker, and competing with Stephen Alemais for time in Bradenton, but you can never have too many prospects, especially if they can play shortstop.

Rodolfo Castro might have less of a chance to stick at shortstop, but showed off some offensive potential last year, and could eventually hit enough to play second or third. He should make the jump to West Virginia, and will be a guy to watch to see how his bat translates to full-season ball.

Finally, there’s Oneil Cruz, who was acquired for Tony Watson this past year. Cruz has a ton of raw power, putting him near the top of the organization in that department. There are questions about whether he could stick at third base due to his height, but he should be athletic enough to play a corner outfield spot if the infield doesn’t work out, and he’s got the upside with the bat to handle that spot. The 2018 season will show how he does in the infield, and how he does in his second run through Low-A at a young age.

The Young Pitchers

The Pirates have drafted and signed a lot of young pitchers the last few years, with the biggest success story so far being Mitch Keller. They have a few other guys who will be pitching with one of the A-ball teams next year, who all have some nice upside.

Luis Escobar is at the top of the list, and while he’s already a top ten prospect in the system, and on the 40-man roster, there is room for more upside. He needs to improve his control, and while he’s good on strikeouts, he needs to find a way to be more efficient with his strikeouts, getting them in a way where it doesn’t lead to high pitch counts and early exits.

Braeden Ogle is a young lefty with mid-90s velocity, but some control issues. He’s got a promising slider to pair with the fastball, and has shown comfort with the changeup. If he improves the control, you’re looking at a good arm with a nice three pitch mix from the left side, which is valuable.

Max Kranick missed a lot of time with injuries in 2017, but returned strong at the end of the year with good velocity and good results. He’s got velocity in the low-90s, with the chance to go higher due to his projectable frame. He also has a promising curveball and a feel for the changeup, combined with strong control. Now that he’s healthy, he should have a chance to start showing what he can do, and should get that chance in West Virginia.

Gage Hinsz is a wild card. He looked to be a step behind Mitch Keller every step of the way up until the 2017 season. He had a plus fastball that sat mid-90s, and a plus curveball that was inconsistent. Unfortunately, he dealt with a rare shoulder injury that doesn’t have a great return rate. If he does return to form, he’s a guy with a mid-90s fastball that hits upper 90s, plus improved control and a plus breaking pitch. His breakout will really be about returning healthy, and seeing if he can take the next step with his stuff.

The 2017 Draft Picks

The Pirates went heavy with prep players in the 2017 draft. I already discussed first rounder Shane Baz, but there were several others taken from the high school ranks.

Calvin Mitchell, Mason Martin, and Conner Uselton could all go to West Virginia. All three have a lot of raw power and good all-around potential with the bat. It will be a big test for all three of them seeing how well they hit in A-ball.

Steven Jennings and Cody Bolton are two more projectable pitchers with promising secondary stuff and the chance for added velocity. They should go to Bristol, and while we might not see them as breakout guys in 2018, we could see the early signs of a breakout performance in future years.

The Extras

Will Craig and Stephen Alemais don’t really fit on any of the above lists. They also don’t really fit together on the same list. But that’s not why I named this list “The Extras”.

The one thing they have in common is that they would be extras if they worked out. I have no strong feelings that Craig will fix his power without hearing about changes to his approach (attempting to hit for more power, rather than average/OBP) or changes to his swing mechanics. But if one of those things happens, and he starts to show off his power, the Pirates could have another future starting first baseman, leading to a decision to make between Josh Bell and Craig.

Alemais is another in the growing list of shortstop prospects, except he has the best defense of the group by far. The question is whether he can hit enough to be a starter in the majors. He worked hard on that last year, and started to show results at the end of the year in Bradenton. If he can carry that over to 2018, and continue in Altoona, he would not only give the Pirates an extra shortstop prospect, but a guy who would enter the conversation with Newman and Tucker.

  • Tim, is there any potential that either of the young pitchers mentioned (Ogle and/or Kranick) could make it to Bradenton in 2018 if they perform well early this season?

  • Loved the Oneil Cruz acquisition for Tony Watson. Feel this is exactly type of player Pirates should shoot for in a trade like this, big reward, big bust. Need to shoot for the Gleyber Torres of the world while they are just starting there careers. Not saying he is Torres, just making the point of potential high end reward, rather than a bunch of grade B, low ceiling prospects.

    Besides, based on his size, maybe Aaron Judge is the right comp? Haha

    • CRUZ was a Banana prospect. So the Pirates could have signed him but his bonus demand was to high, so they passed. Although the Pirates get a large bonus pool to use they seem to cap their international signings st around 3 million.

  • anyone know anything about Mason Martin?

  • Let’s hope the Latin guys become more Marte and less Hamson.

  • Where is 3B Sherten Apostel? I would like to read more about him. Love that bat.

  • “They’re currently seen as sellers. That would prevent them from contending in 2018.”

    Based on what? Gerrit Cole’s past two seasons stats? Not one young SP progressing. Not a full healthy year of Marte? Polanco?

    As you stated things would have to “break right” but how do you not know things won’t break right? Everything is hypothetical to this point. I don’t think you can ever count out anyone or team. Example Brewers.

    • If the Brewers had difficult roster decisions they would be a good example. They’d been selling for multiple years until last year Segura, Lucroy etc

    • Agree…I think that there’s more conjecture out there than actual substance.

    • If you don’t have the gumption to to give an opinion based on what you believe is the most likely outcome then you have no business running a baseball website.

      “Austin Meadows – good hit tool, potential power, injury history. Could be a star, could bust. Who knows!”

      Who is gonna pay for that kind of wishy washy garbage?

  • Where is 3B Sherten Apostel, I would like to read more about him. Love that bat.

    • I think John did an article on him just recently?

    • There is no shortage of Sherten Apostel mentions on this site. He’s mentioned in 121 articles, including three live views from the Instructional League this October. I’ll note that when he first signed, his name was spelled “Sherton”, which wasn’t corrected until the 2016 DSL rosters came out.

      • Can you email me the links to those articles. I just joined the site and have lots of interest on him and 1B M. Martin. Thanks.

        • Up in the top corner of the site, there is a magnifying glass icon, which is the search function. If you enter Apostel in there, you’ll get all of the results. May I suggest searching by “twenty Apostel” which will give you our popular article title The Twenty, which has scouting reports on the players. He was listed there six times this year. After that, the DSL Recaps are good, especially if you look at the 2016 one first, then the 2017 one to see his progress. That should give you all you need.

          The same thing is true with Martin, although I’d enter “Mason Martin” to narrow the results. Stuff with Martinez will also show up if you don’t. He was also in our top 50, so our 2018 Prospect Guide is a must read. That can be purchased here and it comes with free updates when available (later next month for the final one)

    • I don’t include players from the DSL until I see what they do in the GCL. Until then, that’s John Dreker’s department.

    • No Sherten, I’m hurtin’.

  • DSL excluded, I presume?

    • Yeah. I don’t like including those guys in this type of article until I see them.

      It’s the Exicardo Cayonez rule. Good stats. Good bonus. Good signing writeup. And then I saw him for the first time and it was like I was quoting Arrested Development: “Him?”

  • Really excited to see what Lolo, Mitchell, Martin, and Uselton do this year in full season ball. Excited to see if their raw power potential translates into real life power over a whole season.

  • I’m not sure I would include Hayes on a list of potential impact players.

    • only tool he hasn’t shown is power. Tim says that he would have to add power to become an impact guy.

      If he adds power, how would that not be an impact prospect?

      That would be a 5 tool player at 3b.

      • Sure, if Hayes were to add the tool that he is least likely to develop, then yes he’s a impact prospect. And if Will Craig were to become a base stealer and play shortstop he would be an impact prospect as well.

        • As you likely know, he was injured in 2016 and lost weight and strength prior to 2017 season.

          Since he is reportedly healthy now and able to implement a normal strength and conditioning winter program for a prospect his age, he very well make you eat these words.

        • IMO, it seems like power is the *most* frequently added tool.

          you never hear about a guy adding speed or defense or hit tool or arm strength. I feel like guys get their their “man” strength in the high minors all the time.

          and Hayes is a big boy at 6’1″ and 210 lbs. Him adding pop in his age 21 season at AA would hardly be a shock to me, at least.

          Tim *said* that he has to add power to become an impact prospect. That’s what his spot on this list is based on in the first place.

          We agree that if he doesn’t add power, then he’s just a high floor guy. But that’s not the premise of this exercise. This article isn’t about likely outcomes. The title is Potential Breakouts.

        • It’s unimaginable for Craig to become a shortstop and steal bases. Hayes is a young kid who is just growing into his body, and who had an injury that reduced his muscle mass last year. Add some muscle back, plus the natural growth that comes at his age, and it’s easy to see him adding some power in the future.

        • If my aunt had testicles, she’d be my uncle!!!

      • I think Hayes’ value comes from being a high floor prospect. Breakout guys to me are the ones that are in the lower levels and boost their likelihood of reaching their ceiling.

        • We’ve seen breakouts in the upper levels. Adam Frazier and Max Moroff both did it in recent years at various levels. Alex Presley might be the biggest case that I’ve covered.

          • Fair enough, I would define breakout differently though.

            • Had to check, thought maybe you were the author of the article, it appears Tim was, so he used his poetic license and chose his own description of breakout.

    • I would.