The Pirates have seen a lot of players making the jump from Indianapolis over the last few seasons. That trend should continue this year, with at least 15 players on the Opening Day 25-man roster looking possible for a callup at some point this year. That doesn’t include Mitch Keller, who should be with Indianapolis by mid-season if all goes well.
The list does include a few potential starters in Pittsburgh, such as Austin Meadows, Kevin Newman, and Kevin Kramer. They’ve also got some interesting rotation depth options in Clay Holmes and Nick Kingham.
To prepare for the 2018 Indianapolis Indians season, here are our top ten prospects at the level, and what you should expect from each player. The rankings come from our 2018 Prospect Guide, which you can get for just $19.99 in eBook form. We also have a very limited amount of paperback books remaining, and once they’re gone, they’re gone.
Now, here are the rankings:
1. Austin Meadows, OF – Meadows will return to Indianapolis this year, hoping that he can stay healthy this time around and develop his game at the top level. He’s still got impact upside, and showed some of the potential with his bat during minor league Spring Training, with one of the nicest and most effortless swings in the system. The Pirates are set in the outfield with Corey Dickerson under control for the next two years, but Meadows has the talent to force himself into the Major League picture if he can stay on the field and develops as expected. He should make his debut at some point in the second half if all goes well.
2. Kevin Newman, SS – Newman’s path to the majors as a starter involves hitting for a high average and getting on base. He didn’t do a great job of that last year, with just a 5.9% walk rate in Altoona, and a 3.9% walk rate in Indianapolis. He did hit for a decent average in Triple-A, but his OBP at each level was around .310-.315. Those numbers, combined with poor power, led to his stock declining a bit. He’s still got the chance to make the majors as a starting shortstop, as he’s one of the best pure hitters in the system, and can handle the position defensively. He will either need to add some power to his game, or increase the walk total considerably, with the latter option being more likely. At this point it appears Newman has been passed up by Cole Tucker on the organizational depth chart, which will lead to him playing some second base this year. Still, he could arrive before Tucker, and could get a crack at replacing Jordy Mercer first, possibly at some time in 2018 if Mercer gets injured or traded.
3. Jordan Luplow, OF – The Pirates opted to send Luplow back to Indianapolis to get regular playing time and more at-bats in Triple-A, rather than bringing him to Pittsburgh to play off the bench. Luplow would be a top option to be recalled to the majors early in the year if a starter goes down with an injury, although he would probably split time with Adam Frazier in that scenario. He should work his way back to the majors this year, but his chances of being a starter long-term in Pittsburgh depend on either showing more upside than Austin Meadows, or serving as a Plan B to one of the current starting options.
4. Clay Holmes, RHP – It’s hard to say whether Holmes’ recall on Sunday as the 26th man in the double header signifies his spot on the depth charts. He could have been recalled simply because he was available to pitch, as minor league players are still working on a five day schedule leading into the season. I do know that Holmes last pitched on March 27th, so April 1st would have been his normal amount of rest. What I do think this signifies is that the Pirates are comfortable calling him up early in the year if they have a need. He’s got the upside and stuff to be more than a back of the rotation starter, possibly a number three option, and he could provide the Pirates with a good depth option this year.
5. Nick Kingham, RHP – Kingham returned from Tommy John a few years ago, but has had a rocky path back to being an MLB rotation option. He’s not quite off that rocky path, but he is showing some positive signs. His velocity is back, after taking a dip last year in the first half. The main focus now will be on his fastball command. He had some of the best control and command in the system prior to the season he got injured. That hasn’t been the case in his return, and will be the key thing to watch this year. He’s an early-season depth option in Pittsburgh as either a multi-inning guy out of the bullpen, or a starting option.
6. Kevin Kramer, 2B – Kramer is the one guy on this list who I would consider moving up from our pre-season rankings, and he’s also a guy who I could see being near the top of the list by mid-season. He’s got a lot of potential with his bat, with good raw power from a middle infielder, along with solid defense at second, and the ability to play shortstop as a backup. The Pirates will have him playing some shortstop this year in Indianapolis. If the bat breaks out, he could emerge as a future replacement as the starting second baseman to replace Josh Harrison. Kramer could find his way to Pittsburgh this year in the second half as an injury replacement.
7. Max Moroff, 2B – Moroff had a strong finish to his time in the majors last year, putting up solid numbers in September. The Pirates sent him down to Indianapolis, opting to go to 13 pitchers and 12 position players. I could see them bringing him back up early in the season when they switch back to 12 pitchers. Moroff has a chance to start at second in the majors if he can hit like he did at the end of the year last year. He will ultimately fall behind Kevin Kramer on the depth charts in Pittsburgh if both work out as expected, which means his chances of starting with the Pirates are limited. Still, he would make for a good utility infielder off the bench, with the ability to play second, short, and third.
8. Kyle Crick, RHP – The Pirates added Crick in the Andrew McCutchen trade, but sent him down to work on commanding his fastball. He should arrive back in Pittsburgh at some point this year, with the former top prospect having good enough stuff to eventually be a late inning reliever. At the least, he could be a good middle relief option. That upside will largely depend on how well he can improve his fastball command. Without that command, his slider becomes ineffective, and he becomes a one-pitch guy that is too hittable.
9. Chris Bostick, UTIL – Bostick will be mostly playing outfield with Indianapolis, due to the amount of infield options the Pirates have. He can play all over the field, and got a call to the majors last year as a depth option. The versatility gives him a lot of chances to reach the majors, and he could get a call if he shows the same offense he had in 2017. The versatility is needed in this case because Bostick is behind players at every position he plays, needing an injury somewhere or at least one player to struggle in order to step up as the top depth option at any one position.
10. Tyler Eppler, RHP – Eppler has good velocity on his fastball, and a cutter that can be a nasty pitch. However, the cutter has flattened out at times over the past year, making it just a slower fastball that is easy to hit. He’s ultimately going to end up a reliever who relies on that fastball/cutter combo, and will need more consistency with his out pitch in order to be effective in that role. The Pirates have him starting with Indianapolis, so he should get plenty of work on his stuff. He could be a bullpen option in Pittsburgh by the end of the year, but will need to make his stuff less hittable, starting with the cutter.
Just Missed (In No Particular Order): Jacob Stallings will split time with Ryan Lavarnway behind the plate, but will get more playing time, and will be the number three catcher if he’s needed in Pittsburgh as an injury replacement. Alex McRae has a chance to make it to Pittsburgh this year late in the season, but most likely that would only be as a relief ground ball specialist. Austin Coley will get a chance to show what he can do in the upper levels, with his future likely behind a middle reliever or depth option out of Triple-A. Casey Sadler was a hard-throwing reliever last year, and could be an MLB bullpen depth option, along with an Indianapolis rotation depth option early in the year if he keeps that up. Tanner Anderson has some deception to his game, and could also be an MLB bullpen depth option this year, while also filling in for the rotation in Indianapolis at times. Erich Weiss and Eric Wood will split time at first base early in the season. Weiss has been a good hitter, but needs to show some power. Wood has shown power, but needs to do that while hitting for average and getting on base.
Not Prospect Eligible, But Notable: Jose Osuna did enough to make the Pirates’ roster out of Spring Training with the bat. However, he was too far down on the depth chart at all three positions he plays. The Pirates will have him playing a lot of third base early in the season in Indianapolis, then eventually moving to first base and right field. He appears to be depth if one of David Freese, Josh Bell, or Colin Moran goes down. Long-term, he could be a bench replacement for Freese. Kevin Siegrist was signed as a minor league free agent with an inside track of making the team. However, his velocity remained down, continuing a trend from the last few years. The Pirates sent him to Triple-A, hoping he can turn it around and work his way back to the majors.