Pirates Q&A: Farm Depth, Cole Tucker, Gage Hinsz, Best Names, Development Solutions

We’re starting off the Q&As this week with some prospect related questions, and with John Dreker providing the assist on some of the questions.

JamosLN50 – How would you rate the Bucs farm depth relative to former periods in NH’s tenure?

Tim: I didn’t really follow their farm system much before starting this site. My following was limited to knowing who the top prospect was in Lynchburg (near where I was living at the time), and knowing that the Pirates never really had top prospects and always seemed to avoid the tough signings and the high upside guys in the draft.

Most of what I know I learned after the fact from people who were in the system at the time. That, plus looking at farm system rankings, says that the difference was night and day. The Pirates had one of the worst farm systems in the majors before Huntington took over, with a lot of questionable scouting and drafting decisions, and a development system that wasn’t anywhere close to being on the same page.

The biggest flaw in the system right now seems to be transitioning guys to the majors and helping them get as close as possible to their upside. But the Pirates have had much better talent in their system under Huntington, much better depth, and the system is on the same page between levels, which leads to better development.

The simple answer is that the system is worlds better under Huntington than in the past. There is room for improvement, but when you look at what is going right under Huntington, versus what went wrong under previous GMs, you can really see the massive difference between the system now and the system before.

ironmike56 – I think the team has a strange depth issue with multiple legitimate prospects in the pipeline at shortstop, second base, and the outfield. But the catching depth chart does not excite at all. 
Why did the organization let this happen at a key position and can it be addressed by dealing prospect depth for catching prospects?

John: The Pirates don’t have any prospects right now who project to be starting catchers in the majors, but that’s not for a lack of trying. They have been drafting catchers in the upper rounds recently and none have broken out to the point that they are starter options yet. They have also signed numerous catchers over recent years on the international side for six-figure bonuses, with none of them reaching expectations.

I think they are set behind the plate for now with Elias Diaz as the 2020 starter, with backups Jacob Stallings and maybe Christian Kelley by then. They have future backups in Arden Pabst and Jason Delay in Altoona and Deon Stafford could possibly make it too. They drafted Grant Koch this past year in the fifth round, and while I wasn’t impressed with his work behind the plate, he wasn’t an overdraft. They have a lot of guys with upside of a MLB backup, they just need one of them to take the next step in their development.

JamosLN50 – Where does Macias start the year? Do you hear anything encouraging about his development?

John: Fabricio Macias was one of the top prospects in Mexico when he signed with the Pirates last year. His start was delayed due to MLB’s investigation into signings out of Mexico, so instead of beginning the season on Opening Day in West Virginia, he was in Extended Spring Training. When he was finally able to play, he put up solid stats between Low-A and Morgantown.

He didn’t play winter ball this off-season, though he was the hero for Team Mexico during the U23 tournament in October. He homered one game, reached base four times the next game, then hit a championship-winning, two-run single in the finals. Since then he has been in the local (meaning Mexico) news often this winter because of his work in the community and baseball camps for children. Not sure that says much about his development, but he’s a great kid, mature for his age and a country hero for a time due to his walk-off hit (It was a big deal down there). If I had to guess, I’d say he starts at Greensboro, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they had him at Bradenton to begin the season instead.

SmokinJoe – Challenge: Provide top prospect at each position and estimation of there ultimate contribution and when to Pirates….just position players….

Tim: We have this Prospect Guide…

Paul Kraybill – Work with me…among players outside of your current top 50 but with experience beyond DSL, but not beyond A levels, what 2 – 4 prospects really intrigue you as possible breakouts? ie. I like to box score watch!

John: I’ll give you four names for possible breakouts outside to top 50. The group would include outfielder Fabricio Macias, who is covered above, so I won’t go into detail about him. One virtual unknown is Nick Mears, who was signed in August as a non-drafted free agent. He is a 6’4″ right-hander, with a mid-90s fastball and an excellent changeup, as well as a solid curveball. I got one brief chance to see him pitch and he was getting a ton of swinging strikes over his two innings of work. He’s missed some time over the recent years due to injury and really broke out during the summer after the draft, so he flew under the radar. If he’s healthy, he could be a great find by the Pirates scouts.

I also like Samuel Reyes, the younger brother of Pablo. I watched him pitch a few times as a starter and he was impressive, but as a reliever, he looked even better. He throws strikes with three solid offerings and can get it up to 96 as a reliever.

We posted a player feature for Michael Gretler recently and I think he could be a top 50 prospect by the mid-season update. Very athletic player, does everything well and can play anywhere on the field. Pirates have had him at three mini-camps designed to help prospects this off-season, which is a good sign because they limit the amount of people at those camps.

Darkstone42 – In the Pirates Prospects writers’ estimation, what is the best name at each level?

Tim: Montana DuRapau, Arden Pabst, Travis Swaggerty, Lolo Sanchez

John: Montana DuRapau, Scooter Hightower, Bligh Madris, Sergio Cubilete

Bill Harvey – Give me a reason to believe that Cole Tucker is going to be a true starting SS at the major league level. Go into this question knowing that I am going to disagree, but try to convince me anyway.

Tim: Well first, I’ll point out that it’s a bad approach to evaluate prospects with a fixed stance that you don’t anticipate changing. I have my opinions on every player, but the day I look for new information or viewpoints with the mindset that it won’t impact my opinion is the day that I’ve decided I’m not actually interested in learning anything new. Prospects change, and they change quickly and in big ways. It’s best to keep an open mind about any prospect, have opinions, but also look for other opinions and view things less specific, and more as a wide realm of possibilities.

Tucker is tall, athletic, plays smooth defense at the position, has some power potential that hasn’t been tapped into consistently in the game, good control of the strike zone, and good contact ability that will play up when the power kicks in more often. Plus he’s young enough that he definitely shouldn’t be written off.

If he had gone to college, he’d be starting the year in Altoona this year, and wouldn’t be viewed as an option until 2021. But he’s got the high school disadvantage, where he entered the system young and was aggressively pushed. So people are counting on him to be in the majors this year, and if he doesn’t reach it, he’ll be viewed in a disappointing light.

By comparison, an aggressive push for Travis Swaggerty would have him in Bradenton/Altoona this year, and Indianapolis/Pittsburgh in 2020. A more conservative push has him in Pittsburgh in 2021. On that same timeline, Tucker would be reaching the majors this year on an aggressive push, and next year on a more conservative push, based on when he would have come out of college.

The tools are there. I think the results might have been better if Tucker was playing a level lower all along. But the results in the minors don’t matter. The only thing that matters is the tools and skills, and whether you can eventually translate those over to the game in time for the majors.

rickmontgomery – There has been a fair amount of opinion that the Pirates have a development problem at the MLB level. What change(s) could be made that would fix that problem so that more prospects come closer to reaching their upside?

Tim: I don’t have the answer for this. If I did, I’d be in an MLB front office right now. As for things that I believe could help, one of them could be the new hitting coach, and adapting to current MLB trends. The Pirates added the new hitting coach, and adapted to the new trends on both sides of the ball last year. So they’ve taken steps in the right direction. We’ll see how that works out this year, especially with guys like Josh Bell and Gregory Polanco, who have much more upside than what we’ve seen so far.

Joe Nastasi – This is all about Gage Hinsz;
Where does he start the year?
Does he have a chance to move multiple levels by years end due to lost time?
What’s his chances of cracking top 10 by the end of the year?

John: Hinsz could handle Altoona now, though the bigger question is going to be how the Pirates handle his innings in 2019. He threw 25 innings in Puerto Rico, plus had a few simulated games in the Dominican prior to that action, and he was also throwing back in September. That’s a decent amount of off-season work, but not a big base to work with this year.

If I had to guess, I would say he will be brought along slower than normal so he can pitch throughout the year, but not go from about 35 innings (all in the winter) to 120+ innings this year. If he starts in Bradenton, it will just be to get him back into action and not because they think that’s where he belongs. He was picking apart lineups in Puerto Rico that had 4-6 players with MLB experience every start, so High-A wouldn’t be a problem.

Since I think he will be somewhat limited, then I don’t think he will end up in the top ten prospects that quick. If he did though, it would be quite the story.

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