With Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs each posting their top 100 rankings on Monday (101 for Baseball Prospectus), they followed those articles up with their list of the best prospects outside of the top 100. Four Pittsburgh Pirates received mentions in those articles, while another was named a sleeper rookie for the 2018 season by ESPN Insider. All of that adds up to a Prospect Notes article.

Starting with the list by Fangraphs, it needs a little explanation first. They rank players by Future Value (FV) using the 20-80 scouting scale. A 50 ranking would be an average Major League player. Mitch Keller was their 23rd best prospect and received a 60 FV. Cole Tucker was the fifth of five Pirates in their top 100 and he received a 50 FV. The list by Fangraphs today represents guys with a 45 FV, who could possibly see that number raised in the future, but they aren’t there yet. It’s a rather large list of players, which includes three Pirates.

Oneil Cruz headlines the lower-levels corner infield list and gets some nice praise. Using their best scouting lingo (sorry if not everyone understands the technical terms), Fangraphs says that “Cruz projects to grow into an absurd amount of power”.

Lolo Sanchez continued to get some love this off-season with a mention among 15 outfielders outside of their top 100. They note that he’s one of eight players on that list who projects to stick in center field. Earlier today, BA had Sanchez among their top center fielders, and they also named him a potential breakout player for 2018.

Kevin Kramer was in the group of players titled “Performers Staring Us in the Face”. They didn’t expand on why Kramer made the list, other than the group explanation of it’s guys who have performed well, but don’t quite rank as 50 FV players.

2018 Rookie Sleeper

ESPN Insider posted an article yesterday for subscribers, which gives a sleeper rookie for all 30 big league clubs. For the Pirates, they selected Jordan Milbrath, who the Pirates took in the Rule 5 draft. They expect him to make the big league club and be a righty specialist. It will be interesting to see if the Pirates do keep him because that would mean that some players with big league time didn’t make the team on Opening Day. There are 17 pitchers on the 40-man roster besides Milbrath who are all either certain to make the roster, or seem like they have a strong case to make it.

Obviously the Pirates aren’t carrying 17 pitchers (18 including Milbrath), so 5-6 of those players will need to head to Indianapolis. That will leave some tough cuts during Spring Training, so I think Milbrath is really going to need to earn the job and won’t get any leeway due to being a Rule 5 pick. Tim Williams talked to him during Winter Mini-Camp about his new arm angle, which saw him increase his velocity, getting him up to 99 MPH at times.

Just Missed List

Cole Tucker started off the prospect ranking season very quietly, with no mentions by Baseball America, MLB Pipeline, Keith Law and Baseball Prospectus in their top 100 lists. Things turned around yesterday when he was ranked 74th by Fangraphs, then ZiPS rated him as the 50th best prospect. It didn’t end there, as he was ranked among the top 20 shortstop prospects for Baseball America in a very strong group of prospects at the position.

Tucker got more notice today from Baseball Prospectus, who named him among the 13 players who just missed their top 101 prospects list. They have a nice write-up for subscribers where they praise his defense, base running and instincts, as well as his hitting, noting that he started to tap into some power. As we have noted many times, they want to see him remain healthy before getting too high on him, but he’s showing the potential to be a strong Major League starter.

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  1. Pirates just seem to have so many players with potential on the cusp of breaking out. Hayes, Reynolds, Baz, Tucker, Cruz, Hearn, Sanchez, all the other young prep pitchers and prep OFers like Mitchell and Uselton. Just seems like they will have a couple guys out of this group bust out this year. Very interesting to watch this year. This has to be the most interested ive been in seeing the young kids progress in years. This is a big year for a system that I think will take major steps forward, add in the 10th overall pick in draft, should only get better.

  2. So for a club whose minor league system has been considered middling by some national organizations and even worse by some PP readers, they seem to be a bit under-rated at least according to Fangraphs. I count only four teams with more players in the their top 100 and only 5 teams with more in their top 100 plus the guys they love list. When you add the depth the Pirates have at the lower levels, maybe the system is not as bad as some think.

    • I don’t know of anyone who categorized the Pirates system as “bad” – most rank in middle of the road, namely due to lack of star power at the top…..

    • There’s plenty of talent and tools scattered about the system, and that’s reflected in the Fangraphs evaluation. The problem is those tools aren’t turning into production with the regularity you’d like to see. And they’re hurt, of course, by Meadows and Newman taking steps back last year.

      A bounceback season from each Meadows and Newman, a couple key guys taking big steps forward (Tucker and Hayes adding power), and a few guys in the lower levels breaking out and establishing themselves (Baz, Lolo, Reynolds, Mitchell, Uselton, Martin, Cruz, and so on), and the system suddenly looks much better.

      I do, however, think there are legitimate questions to ask about their development strategies, especially for hitters. A little change in philosophy there could go a long way to really maximizing the talent they have.

      • That’s one area I’ve been curious about, with regards to development. I know people often like to debate the level of success or failure with NH’s draft history, but how much of that is weighted by the development staff? One extreme, NH could be drafting a handful of Mike Trout’s that the staff’s development process isn’t allowing them to achieve their full potential. Or the other, that NH has been drafting poorly, but the staff has managed to develop a handful of players into serviceable major leaguers. Obviously, realistically, it’s somewhere in the middle. The Pirates have gotten some post draft praise for picks like Tucker and Newman, even when initially people were skeptical about the picks. But, it does seem that they’re still waiting for a true impact player to show themselves past just potential. A Taillon or Polanco to truly showcase 4-5+ WAR talent in the bigs.

        Now, one area I’ve began to start questioning, is the strength and conditioning coaches. TJ surgery, I’m not too sure if there’s much they can do about that, as every team has issues. But, Polanco spent an entire offseason bulking up, then spent half the next season on the DL or struggling after returning from the DL. Meadows spent the last offseason trying to tackle hamstring issues, then proceeded to have issues the entire following season. Barnes can’t shake his injury history. It seems as either they just have some really dumb luck, or their process isn’t working.

        • The ultimate chicken and egg, right?!

          While I do think the development staff – and particularly ML coaches – don’t do a great job of maximizing a player’s strengths, I lay more overall blame on talent acquisition.

          To my eye, they’ve done a good job matriculating good baseball players to the upper levels of the minors but those guys just do not stack up talent-wise with their ML peers. Few guys have come through that I can look back on in hindsight and confidently say they didn’t get the most out of.

          • It really is, and has multiple ways of looking at it with really no discernible answer. Cause, again, I’d almost argue they’ve had strong talent that is progressing and developing well, but then gets held back or paused by injuries. Losing valuable developmental time, sometimes derailing a prospects career.

    • Yeah, Mark. After reading all the prospect roundups it seems as though some of us Pirates fans are underselling our minor league system. Could be our angst with the Major League team is affecting our opinion of the farm.

    • It’s crazy deep and has tremendous potential. Exactly what you’d expect for a smart org who just graduated 8-10 prospects in last two years.

  3. I would strongly consider trying to work out a trade for Milbrath. He’s a unique commodity, and I think it’s worth seeing what he can do. But the freedom to send him to AAA seems almost necessary. (Unless, that is, he’s out of options, though I can’t imagine that’s the case.)

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