The minor league season opens today around baseball. The Pittsburgh Pirates have a lot of breakout potential at Low-A Greensboro this year. They have some top end prospects and second tier prospects at Bradenton. This is a down year for Altoona, but Indianapolis is loaded with prospects this season. The top three prospects in the system will all be at Indianapolis to begin the year. They have seven of the top 11 prospects in the system. They also have four other prospects among the top 50 in the system. Obviously, no other affiliate can compete with the top-end talent this year.
We start with the top prospect in the system. Mitch Keller will be one of the top players to watch this season, with a chance to jump into the Major League rotation once June rolls around. His had a rough spring, and didn’t put up the best results last summer with Indianapolis, so that will be something to watch. JT Brubaker could beat Keller to the majors if there is a need early in the season or if Keller starts slow. Brubaker pitched well at Indianapolis last year, earning Pitcher of the Year honors.
Rookie Davis and Alex McRae are also in the rotation, while the other nine pitchers are all listed as bullpen arms. I don’t know if that means that they are planning on testing out an opener, or that they just haven’t named a fifth starter yet. That fifth starter could also be Steven Brault, who will likely be sent down once Jordan Lyles is activated from the injured list today.
The bullpen has some very intriguing arms, starting with Clay Holmes, who is schedule to work in relief this year, making multiple inning appearances. Lefty Brandon Waddell is also listed in the bullpen, though he has mostly been a starter in the past. Jesus Liranzo brings his triple digit heat back to Indianapolis, hoping a minor adjustment to his delivery he made this winter will lead to better control and results. He was already touching 100 MPH and then added a tick to that in the Dominican, so there is a chance for him to be in the majors soon.
Liranzo could have company in the triple digit club with Geoff Hartlieb getting a promotion to Indianapolis. He was sitting 98-99 MPH in the Arizona Fall League last fall, and he has hit 100 MPH in the past.
Veterans Michael Feliz, Tyler Lyons and Brandon Maurer are all slated for relief work at Indy, providing some experienced depth early in the season. Montana DuRapau and Sean Keselica round out the current bullpen. Both could run into roster space issues with Brault likely joining the team soon, as well as Dovydas Neverauskas returning to action from a mid-Spring Training oblique injury, and Jake Barrett finding out his DFA situation.
On offense, we start on the left side of a loaded infield. Third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes is the second ranked prospect in the system, while shortstop Cole Tucker ranks third. Hayes has made up some ground on Mitch Keller for that top prospect spot in the system with the combo of his improved hitting and plus defense. Tucker showed some power this spring, which got excellent reviews from scouts. If he can maintain that, to go along with his speed and defense, he will jump into the top 100 prospects in baseball. Both could see Pittsburgh this summer.
The right side of the infield isn’t bad either. Kevin Kramer will mostly be at second base, though he is slated to get some outfield work. Will Craig will be at first base. Kramer hit well at Indianapolis last year, so a continuation of those stats will get him another shot in the majors, while the outfield play will open up the places he can be plugged in. Craig showed power numbers at Altoona, so you want to see if he can keep up those numbers, while possibly getting on base more like he did in 2017. Erich Weiss, Jake Elmore and Eric Wood will also see infield time this year.
The outfield has prospects Jason Martin and Bryan Reynolds, with veterans Trayvon Robinson and Patrick Kivlehan also getting time. Martin struggled in his first trip through Triple-A last year, but he was just 22 years old, so he has time to develop. Reynolds missed a good portion of last year with a broken hamate, but he hit well once he returned. He had trouble in the Arizona Fall League on offense and defense, so it will be interesting to see how he handles Triple-A.
The catching will be done by Steven Baron and Christian Kelley. Both are strong defensively and should split time evenly behind the plate. Baron has a little MLB experience, while Kelley hasn’t played above Double-A yet. That makes Baron the third string catcher for the Pirates at this point, with Elias Diaz still getting ready for the season. Kelley will likely pass him on the depth chart as the season goes along.