Baseball America released their midseason top 30 prospect list for the Pirates and every other team yesterday. It feels weird typing that sentence, since I was the one who did the Pirates rankings and the article, which you can find here. The list had a bit of input from the editors over at BA, but nothing too significant. Therefore, I’d say I’m in good position to explain some of the rankings.
First of all, these rankings just came from myself. We’ll have our midseason rankings in the next few weeks, which will be the combined rankings of John Dreker, Wilbur Miller, and myself. That will obviously lead to a different list. For now, let’s go over this one.
The number one prospect in the system is Ke’Bryan Hayes. As you know, I prefer tiered rankings, rather than specific numbers. Hayes and Keller would be in the same tier for me at the top. I went back and forth on who would be the top guy, and eventually settled on Hayes.
I see Hayes as a potential impact third baseman. He’s got some of the best defense in the minors at third base, and those defensive skills should provide a lot of value in the majors. He’s also done well hitting for average, getting on base, and he’s added some power this year. The power increase has come as he’s gotten older and filled out, and as he’s gotten further removed from a cracked rib in 2016, which led to a lot of weight and muscle loss at the time.
I still see Mitch Keller as a top of the rotation guy. I’ve noted on here that I think the approach he’s taking with the Pirates — throwing too many fastballs and not enough breaking stuff — probably isn’t going to lead to that. One encouraging sign is that his pitch usage has changed in the minors, transitioning to less than 50% fastballs in his last start, and a good number of curveballs and sliders. He’s been seeing good results with this approach, and the hope would be that he can carry this over to the majors.
So how do you determine between a future top of the rotation guy and a future impact third baseman when neither are guaranteed? I tend to pick the position player over the pitcher in these cases. In this case, I see the defense from Hayes as pretty safe to transition to the majors. I see his ability to hit for average and control the strike zone as something that will translate over. The key thing will be whether his power translates over and continues to improve.
In Keller’s case, I have concerns over the Pirates’ pitch usage, but I try to leave individual team strategies and situations out of the rankings when evaluating player talent. It’s harder to ignore in this case, because his development depends on this usage. He’s got the potential for a plus fastball, plus curveball, and his new slider has looked good. My concern over pitch usage isn’t completely on the percentages, but focuses on the tunneling aspect.
Keller has been throwing his fastball less and his breaking pitches more often. That’s a good start, and I’d like to see more of that going forward. But he also needs to show an ability to pair up his pitches, such as high fastballs to set up a curveball that starts high and drops late. His new slider looks promising, but is something that you’d want to see more of to determine how good it is, and how well he will use it.
Putting Hayes over Keller is in part due to Keller not looking as safe as he did before the season. But a bigger credit goes to Hayes for his transition to Triple-A, and his power increase, especially over the last month. There’s not really a huge difference between the two players, and it could be exciting down the stretch if they both make it to the majors.
I’ll go into detail with some other specific rankings later. For now, some rapid fire stuff:
**I noticed a big drop off in talent after Travis Swaggerty at number seven. There were about 7-8 players who could fit in those final three top ten spots. Kevin Kramer was the easiest to fit in there, although I’ve always been pretty high on him. I think you could get really aggressive with ranking Sammy Siani’s upside, but I went a bit conservative with him.
This is why I prefer tiered rankings, because having Luis Escobar at number ten suggests that there’s a gap between him and number 11, Will Craig. I think you could order picks 8-15 in any way, and you could make a good argument for your specific preference.
**The Pirates have a lot of interesting and promising guys in the lower levels. Braxton Ashcraft, Michael Burrows, Osvaldo Bido, and Jack Herman were in my top 20. Ji-Hwan Bae, Tahnaj Thomas, Matt Gorski, Santiago Florez, and Mason Martin were in the top 30. The top of their system will get weaker when Hayes and Keller graduate, and they’ll need some breakouts from these guys to retool the system.
**I’d also include Cody Bolton, Oneil Cruz, Quinn Priester, Sammy Siani, Calvin Mitchell, Max Kranick, and Travis MacGregor as guys to watch in the lower levels. That just seems obvious since they’re in the top 15, and obvious to me since they’re my the top 3-4 tiers. I think this is the group you look at if you want to find eventual replacements at the top of the system.
**Bonus rankings: James Marvel got bumped down late, and would be my number 31 prospect. Jared Oliva would be number 32. Either one could go as high as number 26 in my rankings.
**I’ve been avoiding John and Wilbur’s rankings until this list was finalized. We’re now going to be getting into our combined rankings, and I’m looking forward to seeing where they both stand on all of these players.