Keith Law posted his list of the top 20 prospects for the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday morning. We already knew his top five prospects due to his earlier rankings, but he added 15 names to that list with details for each player. He also threw in a few extra names to watch. I’ll leave out some of the details because it is a subscription article, but there are a few players I wanted to focus on.

After Mitch Keller, Ke’Bryan Hayes, Shane Baz, Austin Meadows and Kevin Newman, who all comprised the top five prospects, Law has (in order) Colin Moran, Bryan Reynolds, Cole Tucker, Steven Jennings and Conner Uselton rounding out the top ten.

The next ten in order contain one surprise omission because everyone seems high on him. From 11-20, Law has Kevin Kramer, Oneil Cruz, Nick Kingham, Taylor Hearn, Luis Escobar, Nick Burdi, Will Craig, Braeden Ogle, Sherten Apostel and Calvin Mitchell.

Apostel wasn’t eligible for our top 50 list, but he was second on our top ten prospects from the DSL behind Jean Eusebio. We don’t rank players until they play in the U.S. and we can get a look at them. Apostel ranks lower than Eusebio due to being a below average defender at third base, who has had strikeout issues and his speed is below average. Eusebio is 1 1/2 years younger and has been described as a five-tool player with an advanced approach at the plate. He doesn’t have the power of Apostel, but he should hit for some power as he gets older.

As for the surprise snub from Law, it’s Lolo Sanchez, who put up a terrific all-around season in the GCL this year, especially from a scouting standpoint. He’s been top ten for a few sources, including our own 2018 Prospect Guide (shameless plug: limited edition paperback version is for sale now until it goes to print next month, so don’t miss out). Sanchez didn’t even make Law’s extra section, so that’s quite a difference from everyone else.

Some quick notes starting with Luis Escobar, who I thought might make Law’s top 100 at the back, or possibly his just missed list. Law has been very high on him and Escobar just led all Pirates in strikeouts, as well as leading the South Atlantic League in strikeouts at 20 years old. Despite moving up a level since last year and showing some improvements, Law dropped him down in his rankings.

We have been asked a few times about our ranking on Steven Jennings, which is lower than everyone else. I can’t speak for the others on this site, but they are the ones who saw him live multiple times each, while I got scouting reports from them and many others who saw him pitch often. I agree with what Law says in his recap about the potential he has, but it’s not there currently and a lot of young pitchers fit that same exact mold. Jennings has great upside, but he’s just starting to scratch that surface and I wanted to see more from him before he ranked higher. The scouting reports were just average for him, which kept us down on our ranking.

We actually did have him five spots higher in our rankings, but off-season acquisitions pushed him down. That’s one of those things where strength of the system affects rankings. Pirates aren’t top-heavy, but they have depth. Jennings is still the same exact pitcher who was five spots higher at the beginning of last month, the farm system just got deeper.

The other wait-and-see ranking we had was Conner Uselton, who isn’t far ahead of Jennings in our book. That was more about a significant injury and lost time. Hamstrings can become lingering injuries. Uselton was also 19 already on draft day. That high school senior year is when a lot of players break out, but it means more if the guy is still 17 when he does it, as opposed to being drafted at 19 and then missing months of development time.

Both Uselton and Jennings have a chance to move up the prospect list this upcoming year. More so Uselton if he gets the push to West Virginia because Jennings is likely headed for fastball command academy in Bristol. They have a lot of room to go up, but we want to see results first before we push them that high.

 

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90 COMMENTS

  1. Why do folks seem to not be as high on Kranick? While he had a minor shoulder tightness last season he has performed well over the past two season. Is his stock dropping?

  2. Here is the part about Cole Tucker that concerns me:

    Cole Tucker’s arm strength seems to be fully recovered from shoulder surgery, so the question now is around his bat, as his breaking ball recognition isn’t good, and he needs to get more consistency from his swing mechanics.

    • Worth noting here that Law personally scouted Altoona for a series in late August and had this take on Tucker:

      “After a solid start in high-A, Tucker was promoted to Altoona in late July and has struggled at the plate, which was evident on Tuesday night as he looked completely baffled by offspeed stuff in his five plate appearances against Hartford. He did crush a triple to the center field wall, but his swings and misses on breaking balls were bad, and it looks like he’ll have a long adjustment period at the level. He did throw well at shortstop, however, with nothing to indicate he’d had an injury or that he might not stay at the position.”

      At the time, Tucker was sitting with an OPS below .600 over his first 30 AA games and Law saw what he saw, so in some respects it’s hard to argue with him. Tucker did finish scorching hot over his last 12 games, though, so hopefully that’s a sign of adjustment that was missed due to the timing of Law’s look.

  3. Guys like Keith Law are the reason I subscribe to Pirates Prospects. I tend to rely more on the scouting reports of the guys who actually follow these kids on a day-to-day basis throughout the season. Keep up the great work, guys!

      • I like Law and respect his work, but at the end of the day I think the guys here know our prospects better. Either way, prospect evaluation and rankings are still an inexact science.

        • I would agree and disagree. The guys at PP almost certainly know the Pirates prospects better than any other outlet, when comparing them to other minor league systems, I would tend to agree more with Law than anyone else. Be it the system as a whole, or rating the Pirates minor leaguers against the individuals in other systems, it is hard to get much better than him.

          • Very much agreed; I don’t see the work that P2 does and the work that guys like Keith Law do as being duplicative at all.

            One provides the very best coverage of Pirate prospect development, and one provides a *comparative* view of those prospects relative to the rest of baseball.

            • I like to use them in conjunction with each other. Law provides a league-wide baseline. PP fine tunes the Pirates within that baseline.

    • Keith Law is a Pirates fan, I think he pays more attention to the Pirates than he does any other club. I also think that is why we have had an inflated idea of our farm system for the past 5 or so years. I would not have ranked Luplow very high either. I think he was able to have an ok but not great debut in the majors mostly due to the fact that the pitchers really had no idea who he was. If he was a mainstay in the Pirates line-up I think his numbers drop like a rock as soon as pitchers acclimate and realize he is not very disciplined (not to major league caliber anyway and he does not have the raw talent / bat speed to make up for that deficiency). He is just a little too slow in both the field and with the stick. At best he is a depth option in my humble opinion.

      • All Luplow has done is hit everywhere. He seems to be one of those guys that scouts look at and don’t like, but keeps putting up numbers.

        Even in MLB, he started O-fer in July and August but once he started playing regularly he put up decent numbers for a rookie, .239/.307/.448 in Sep/Oct.

        I hope he gets a chance to play regularly.

    • He is. Luplow had 41 days of service time. To lose Rookie of the Year eligibility, you need 45 non-September days. He only had 78 at-bats, so he’s not close to ineligible in either category.

  4. If Newman ends up better than Moran, we’re either loving the left side of the IF for years to come, or in a world of hurt.

  5. Does anyone know what Law’s take on Jason Martin is?

    as far as i’ve been able to gather, Martin and Reynolds have similar tool packages.

    is the only real difference that Martin might have platoon splits, whereas Reynolds has a better shot at everyday duty due to switch hitting?

    Just seem to be really similar tool sets for one to be in a top 10 and the other to not pop a top 20

    • Martin is 5’11”, 190. Reynolds is 6’3” 205.
      Reynolds build suggests capacity to add significant power. He is a switch hitter and his pedigree (2nd round after a stellar career and Vanderbilt) is always going to give him the benefit of the doubt over guys like Martin.

        • He is ranked high in the Pirates mediocre farm system. I still do not take much comfort in the return of either the Cole or Cutch trades. Specifically the Cole trade. Both trades could have been conducted halfway through the season for quadruple the return. However, the only logical explanation for the impatience to take full advantage of your assists and maximize the personnel return is that the team is too cheap. It really makes no sense under any other circumstance. What also does not make much sense is that they litterally passed up a better deal from the Yankees for a crappier “more inclusive” deal. It’s just straight up larceny in both instances although, it can’t be called larceny if the Pirates are / were all too willing to have their money stolen.

  6. 1. I find it interesting to see multiple sites (if I recall correctly, it wasn’t just Law) rating Uselton above Mitchell. And this time, Uselton’s at #10 and Mitchell’s at… #20. How can a guy who played 2 games rank *that* much higher? I know Uselton hit well in those 2 games but it’s still 2 games! Or was Mitchell really bad or didn’t show his tools? (his stats look okay to me though for a first year – Law says ‘uncertain power’)

    2. Hey, he says Hearn’s changeup is above-average. Not that Law’s opinions are 100% correct, but just wanted to mention this part because BA and BP (iirc again) were low on Hearn’s changeup despite P2 keep mentioning it’s not.

    • I noticed the Hearn comment as well; that’s the first outlet to grade the pitch above average. Hopefully progress.

    • If someone had Uselton as a much better prospect prior to the draft, then he could still be ranked higher. It might be that playing gave his sources more looks at Mitchell and they were down on him in the pros.

    • Uselton has speed, could hit for power, and a 70 arm in the outfield.
      Mitchell is slow, didn’t hit well last year, after showing no advancement as a HS senior, and doesn’t have much of an arm.
      If Uselton had not gotten injured and played well, he would be higher, if he had hit as poorly as Mitchell, he still had 2 other better tools to fall back on. A lot of the hype around Mitchell had to do with how he played as a Junior in HS, in his Senior year, he went from a first round prospect to being a second round pick.

      • I really dislike the Pirates approach of taking sooooo many prep players. We are talking about teenage kids like they are men. There is so much that happens to someone’s body and mind between the ages of 17 and 25 that it is impossible to predict what you have. It’s a gamble every time and the Pirates are the biggest gambling addicts in the MLB. I assume the Pirates go for these players before they can potentially blossom in college and receive higher bonuses in later draft years. I also assume, since it is the Pirates, that the main motivating factor is financially related. I am sure however, Pirates management would disagree and say, “The sooner we get them in here the sooner we can get to work molding them into the type of player’s we like”. It’s not really working out so well.

  7. How come there is so little love for Martin? Is it because he is limited to 1B or is there some flaw in his swing that we are not totally aware of?

      • Scouts think his body is maxed out and he’s limited to first base defensively, so there isn’t a lot of room for projection.

        • I just don’t get this. We are talking about an 18 year old winning the MVP and breaking records in the GCL. Sure, he is advanced from a conditioning perspective but clearly if any of our upper round picks did this they would be going crazy about how right they were with their pre draft rankings and would be shooting up the rankings boards. at 6′ and 201 lbs he certainly has room to grow… and isn’t limited to 1B.

          • I think we have to take it with a grain of salt. I loved seeing what Mason Martin was doing, and hope it continues. We also have to understand that he’s a 17th round pick with 1 tool at this point, power. He sure showcased that one tool, but it was also in rookie ball. Other picks, like Uselton and Mitchell are considered to have more tools at this point. It’s going to be about how he develops from this point, cause a lot of players have dominated rookie ball, and then fizzled out.

            • I hear ya. Just hate the frenzy around the system rankings process. So subjective. That 1 tool that he showed… did Frazier match his numbers at any point in his development cycle? Mason seems to have a very good eye and plate patience… look at his overall numbers and he didn’t strike out much, walked a fair amount, hit for average… all of the numbers looked great and not just the power. To not get a mention when lots of others who did much less get press… it just strikes me as evaluators not wanting to admit failure early and keep pressing players they were high on at least initially. Law with Newman shows the secondary.

              • Well, he actually struck out quite a bit, 25% of his PA’s. Just that he also walked a lot, 19% of PA’s. I think I remember a partial comparison on PP to Moroff in that he may be TOO selective at this point, leading to high totals in both categories. So, hopefully he can get a little more aggressive, and drop both of those numbers. The walk rate would be hard to maintain, so hopefully as it drops, so does his K rate.

                You may be right in partial with your assessment that they don’t want to admit missing on a prospect too early, but it’s also WAY too early to judge some of these kids on their body of work. We’ve basically only made it through chapter 1 of a 10 chapter book at this point. Some adjust quickly, others may take a little while. That being said, it may be similar in that they don’t want to jump on a kid’s debut, like Mason’s, as much as they don’t want to get down on a kid that didn’t exactly impress initially. I’d be willing to venture that next season Mason could rocket up, at least Pittsburgh’s personal list, if he could show the ability to maintain his hitting approach.

                • This is kind of where i am on this as well. He had plenty of comparables on that team that he simply out performed but he gets “he’s not projectable” vs other well liked prospects get glowing reports. Just hope he continues developing.

                • Good call out on the walks and Ks. I like that he can be selective with pitches and still find opportunities to drive the ball, but would like to see a lower K %. Bottom line is that it’s going to take more than the 166 plate appearances he got last year to get enough of a sample size to change his pre-draft perception.

              • Scouting is hard!

                There’s nothing these guys like more than breakout prospects, so you’re barking up the wrong tree with the reluctance to “admit failure” part.

              • Seems I recall Adam Dunn making a long MLB career out of being able to hit HR’s and walk and not much of anything else of value.

                • Except anyone who has actually been paying attention to baseball in recent years will notice that those players are starting to be phased out of the game, much like goons in the NHL. Pedro Alvarez, not much of a walker, couldn’t even get a big league contract last season. Chris Carter was the NL HR leader in 2016, and signed a 1 yr $3.5m contract the year after.

                  • That’s good point. I’d counter it by saying baseball is cyclical. What’s out of favor today, may be viewed as a competitive edge in 3 years.

                    • Chris Davis made out like a bandit. He probably benefited from having his best 2 seasons as a pro in 2 of the 3 years, prior going into free agency. 2013 & 2015, he hit for avg (286 & 262), solid OBP (370 & 361), with a stellar OPS (1.004 & 923). Davis was overall a solid hitter in those years. His K rate has since increased.

                  • Guys like Pedro who are not serviceable in the field are limited only to the AL so that instantly eliminates half the league as an option. Second, Pedro’s K rate was abnormally high even for power hitters. He was just not a good player. As for Carter, he could at least play first base but, again, his K rate was astronomical. Your classic, great power hitters such as, everyone who played between the years of 1987 and 2005 not only hit for tremendous power but were so good that they were intentionally walked a lot of the time. Granted, Barry Bonds is probably the greatest power hitters of all time (give me a break, everyone was on steroids back then, he was clearly the best) but I recall him being intentionally walked with the bases loaded with two outs in a tie game. If you pitched to those guys it was a near certainty that they would make you pay. Even today with guys like Stanton, Chris Davis and that other monster who plays for the Yankees. They have very high strike out rates too but they also have tremendous slugging numbers and are also serviceable fielders. Those guys are not going anywhere. Guys like Pedro and Carter are not of that ilk and the 20 to 35 homers they may hit are not worth their salary as their liabilities outweigh their one dimensional games.

                • If Martin projected to do those things as well as Adam Dunn then that ability would be reflected in his prospect status.

              • I do not think there is any consipiracy regarding ones ability to judge talent and taking personal offence when a less regarded player performs well. As others have mentioned, it has been one year so there is still not enough data to suggest that a less regarded player coming into the draft like Martin is or will be better than a more highly regarded talent like Uselton. Also the rankings / evaluation process is based on upside and the probability of future development (and the projected limits of that development) in specific areas significant in today’s game. I am with you, I think with what Martin showed last year that he should be receiving more hype than he is. I also think he will be a good player in the future. However, the process is the process and rankings system is the best system that has been constructed to date for projecting future impact on the game a player may have. I am assuming you are talking about Adam Frazier. He didn’t necessarily “break-out” until his AA year when he hit I believe .342 and would have won the batting title if he was eligible (did not play enough games). When his success at the plate carried over into AAA the Pirates brough him up and he quickly became many peoples favorite player (offensively speaking). It is hard to ignore why a player like Frazier was never highly ranked even when he was raking in AAA. He is a shorter player who does not hit for much power and who’s defense is extremely suspect. If Martin continues his success through the Minors he has the size and the most exciting tool of all, power, so unlike Frazier I believe he would become quickly a highly ranked prospect. As of right now, there is just not enough information to definitively justify a higher ranking.

          • It is not the weight he is carrying on a 6′ frame, it is the location of that weight. 201lb is relatively large for a 6′ tall guy, and if he already carries his weight as muscle, adding to that would likely only help in slowing him down. When you are talking about someone that is already relatively slow, you can see why people would say that his body is maxed out. It is not saying that he might not develop into a quality major leaguer, but more to say that there isn’t a lot of room to develop his one advanced tool without sacrificing his other tools that are already average to below.

        • I will give you a little inside information, Mason has been training hard this off-season. When he came home after the summer, he was 212lbs. Right now he is sitting at 6’2 220.4 (underwear only). So much for maxed out frame, he has much more room to grow.

            • If he is only 18 years old it is not uncommon for growth to continue through your mid twenties. Granted it’s not going to be the 6 to 10 inches someone may grow in an adolescent summer but, another 1 to 2 inches over the next 7 or 8 years is a common thing.

    • he’s said in the past on Newman something to the effect of… “shortstops who can field and hit tend to be highly rated. that’s why he’s in my top 100.”

      not sure why this doesnt apply to Tucker as well.

      maybe he goes into detail in the article. i’m not a subscriber.

      Then again, he’s always been the high man on Newman and Reynolds. maybe he really just likes them as opposed to being low on Tucker.

      But if that was the case, theyd probably be ranked higher than 16th or whatever.

      • “…his breaking ball recognition isn’t good, and he needs to get more consistency from his swing mechanics. ”

        Law scouted Altoona for a weekend series last summer a couple weeks after Tucker was called up and clearly overmatched; I’m guessing that left an impression, albeit one that’s potentially not indicative of progress he made towards the end of the season.

        As for your “shortstops who can field and hit” comment, consider that even Longenhagen has a current 30 on Tucker’s hit tool.

          • *I’m* still a Cole Tucker believer, but I suppose I can acknowledge at the same time that he hasn’t produced as much as his peers statistically, and the tool package has yet to make any jumps as his frame has filled out.

            Longenhagen called him a “Goldilocks” prospect a while back and that still seems fitting; there’s a “juuuust right” potential development path where he fills out his frame with enough muscle to boost his raw power paired with a swing adjustment that allows him to tap into it while still maintaining enough quickness to play at short. That’s a really really good prospect! But until those things, or even a combination of some of those things, materializes there’s just another year gone in development where they haven’t.

            • This would normally be where I say “I will take 2 of those 3 things” but to hell with that. It’s time they hit big on a prospect and develop them to the fullest potential.

              • Bingo. He’s the only kid between MLB and Lolo that has legitimate 4-WAR upside; I’ve said for the better part of a year that’s he’s the most important prospect they have. They *need* to hit on upside.

                • Hayes probably does, too, if he adds power. Honestly, Hayes with all he has *and* power probably starts pushing 5.

                  • The extent to which can be reasonably expected is where I disagree.

                    I mean, sure, if Hayes ends up a +.200 ISO guy in the Bigs I’m quite sure he’s at least a 4 WAR guy; I just don’t see the body nor the swing capable of such without like a 98th percentile occurrence. Tucker, much more easily.

                    • With the surprising speed, defense, and lack of power Hayes has showed so far he looks a lot more like a Josh Harrison than a prototype 3B. Still a ways to go and with his defense I would take a 30 double, 15 HR guy. By the way, Happy 21st Ke’Bryan. Birthday was Sunday.

                    • Bro, stop it.

                      I was *literally* going to say the difference between 3 WAR KeBryan Hayes and 5 WAR KeBryan Hayes is the difference between 2017 Josh Harrison but with walks and 2014 Josh Harrison.

                      Remember that there was a 40 point increase in league-average ISO between those years.

                    • Is it just me or does it look like If Byron Leftwhich decided to play baseball he would have the exact same swing as Hayes does? He has to start his back swing while the pitcher is warming up.

                • They have “The Pittsburgh Pirates” personified at short in Mercer currently. Not good enough to come close to winning a championship let alone a playoff series…but just good enough to be around the middle of the NL shortstop pack so if a fan does complain people / fans have some sort of argument in his favor. The Pirates seem to prefer Newman for some reason who is essentially Jordy Mercer with a better ability to hit singles. Tucker’s major shoulder surgery / injury issues (stop me if you have heard this before) is the black cloud that will loom over his head until he has a completely healthy season. He has a lot more pop in his bat than Newman, with a lot more sure to come, he has better range than Newman, his arm (even after major surgery) is the same if not better than Newmans and, I saved the best for last, he has tremendous speed making him a threat to turn a single into a double Marte style. I think he had close to if not over 30 steals last year. That is huge. While Newman may find himself on base more often, given the Pirates approach to offense and their apparent love for stranding un-Godly amounts of runners on base, without the speed or power to get himself into scoring position, Newman will certainly find himself stranded on first or second base on a very consistent basis limiting his offensive relevancy. Put me in the Tucker Category all day with Kramer playing second. Trade Newman for a high upside younger player, that sounds like a Pirate move right…right?

        • Anyone know how good of a bunter Tucker is? Seems like with his speed and length and batting from the left side 75% of the time he could add a lot of cheap hits. A bunt single every 2 weeks can add 20 points to your average.

      • Because Tucker has hit for a relatively decent average at a very low level of competition. Newman has hit for a very good average against major college programs. Neither one has much prospect of ever hitting for enough power to scare opposing pitchers. Due to that, pitchers will continually challenge them, therefore neither one projects to have a significant walk total. Therefore their offensive value is going to come from their ability to hit, to this point, Newman has shown the better ability to hit consistently against better pitching.
        Not that I believe either one will be anything more than replacement level at the major league level, but given the choice between the two, I would take Newman.

        • I feel like a good eye and patience while having something to do with huge walk totals doesn’t have much to do with the ability to lay off bad pitches, maybe foul some balls off, and walk 50-60 times a season. Fear of the hitter or not, if you are patient and master the strike zone you will get decent walk totals. Just not 90-100 or more. A SS that hits .260, can walk 50-60 times, and play average to above defense is pretty valuable in today’s game. Might not be ideal, but it is a useful player. Mercer has proved that. Although I’d rather have 6-7 years of Jay Bell than Jordy Mercer.

          • The description you give is valuable 10-15 years ago at the SS position, today, it is the makings of a guy that needs to be a backup.

        • I think the difference between the two will be speed. Advantage Tucker, big time. Newman could have a bettter average and get on base twice as much as Tucker but Tucker would still be the more productive player given his ability to turn singles into doubles via the steal or by stretching a marginal single/double into a double or double/triple into a triple. Newman would end up on first base with limited options and knowing how the Pirates are garbage with runners on base there would be little point in having Newman on the base path making his high average useless. I think if Tucker stays healthy, he could be a very good short stop in the majors. In fact, if the Pirates aren’t stupid (which is saying if the sky isn’t blue), they will notice Tucker’s superiority within this next season and either start pushing Newman over to second or trading him for a young player with good upside. I hope the latter happens as Kevin Kramer is a better player in my opinion than Kevin Newman

          • After following Newman and Tucker over the last couple seasons, I would say neither if them should be playing over Stephen Alemais. IMHO if he plays this season and shows as much improvement offensively as he showed last season, neither Tucker nor Newman could carry his jockstrap on a baseball field.

    • 2018 is a key year for Tucker. He didn’t hit much in 2016 with a .639 OPS but hit much better in 2017 with a .766 OPS, plus a step forward with stolen bases. We can hope the trajectory is real because of health and the fact that he has been very young at each level.

    • I think the Pirates’ aggressive movement of Tucker has impacted his prospect ranking. He appears to be moving with only about a half season at each level.
      That doesn’t allow him to tee off on a league that he has adjusted to – although he did pretty well in A+ last year.

      • Perhaps. He also finished strong at Altoona after some initial struggles. Definitely some reason for excitement going into 2018.

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