Pittsburgh Pirates 2013 Top 15 Prospects
Bullpen Banter’s 2013 Top 15 Prospects
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Bullpen Banter Piitsburgh Pirates 2013 Top 15 Prospects
Jeff Reese: General Manager Neal Huntington inherited a very shallow system upon taking over for David Littlefield after the 2007 season; his tenure has been a rocky one filled with lackluster trades, bizarre player development regimens, mediocre major league talent evaluation, and a shroud of secrecy; but the one thing that has improved dramatically under his tutelage is the willingness to invest in the minor leagues and the overall talent level that has resulted. The Pirates currently own one of the better farm systems in baseball with two elite right handed pitching prospects at the top. The decision between Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon is a difficult one. I missed my opportunity to watch Taillon pitch live this season, but my viewing of Cole painted the same picture that I’ve seen since his UCLA days. He has an easy high 90s fastball that will bump to triple digits, a good change, and a 90 MPH slider that can be nasty; yet players see his fastball surprisingly well out of his hand and he lives in the heart of the plate with it too often. His raw stuff points to a much more dominant pitcher than he has been to date. Jameson Taillon is somewhat similar as his lack of consistency can cause him to struggle more than his stuff would suggest but has shown to be less hittable to date. His raw stuff is a tick below Cole’s with a fastball that reaches the mid 90s rather than upper, a hammer curveball rather than a slider, and a worse changeup. Both have top of the rotation upside and whomever you choose to put first can be defended; I opted for Taillon.
The real gains come from the international ranks. Starling Marte — he was actually acquired under David Littlefield — received enough major league time to graduate from this list, and continues to refine his big raw tools into usable production; Andre McCutchen’s super-stardom may keep him out of center field, but I still see him emerging as an above-average regular in a corner. To fill the void left by Marte’s graduation the Pirates were fortified by the explosion of Gregory Polanco and Alen Hanson in the SAL. Both showed surprisingly advanced bats and approaches upon being challenged with the full season assignment; a more aggressive team — the Pirates’s promotion schedule is very conservative — probably would have even given them time in high-A. Polanco is a tall, lanky athlete with room to add strength to his frame. He has the tools for center field along with the bat speed and approach at the plate to be an offensive asset at the position. Hanson is not quite as projectable as Polanco but shows an aptitude for switch hitting and the possibility of sticking at short stop. A move to second base may ultimately prove necessary, and the bat still has the chance to be special there. Luis Heredia was the big ticket IFA from the summer of 2010. He is physically mature and extremely advanced for his age, showing three solid offerings, the control, and pitchability to cruise through games at the lower levels. One thing that I don’t see however is a future ace. There is very little to project with Heredia and while toning up his softish body and cleaning up his mechanics may add a tick or two, it’s unlikely you’ll see elite stuff out of him. Heredia threw mostly in the 89-91 range for me with a work in progress curveball in the high 70s, and a swing and miss change up — the most impressive weapon in his arsenal. He worked both sides of the plate but had difficulty keeping the ball down in the zone; our mechanical expert Kevin Scobee believes that his mechanics are the culprit and, without significant corrections, will limit his command. Heredia is a very good prospect because of how advanced he is for an 18 year old; I just see more of a good #3 than someone who can front a rotation.
With the 8th pick in the 2012 draft the Pirates gambled that they could sign Mark Appel away from his senior season at Stanford. Unlike in years past with Josh Bell and Stetson Allie, they could not sway him — likely due to the new bonus allotment system. Eighth overall was where I felt Appel should have went talent wise — Al disagrees — but it still is an unfortunate scenario to miss out on a prospect of his status. Had he signed, I would have placed him fifth behind Hanson and Polanco but ahead of Heredia. Still the 2012 draft did not prove fruitless. Barrett Barnes was one of my favorite college position players in the draft thanks to his interesting blend of power and speed in center field. He is a solid hitter with a good approach at the plate who should prove capable even if he ultimately moves to a corner. A leg injury cut his year in the NYPL short and limited how many times I got to see him. Wyatt Mathisen is the other big name from that class. Another favorite of mine in the limited viewings of him as an amateur, Mathisen has athleticism, good hitting ability, and the tools to remain behind the plate (even if he is a bit unrefined after being used as a SS in high school); he was a star during his pro debut in the GCL. Adrian Sampson spent a lot of time at State College, but he was the biggest guy that I missed on that team. He’s an interesting JuCo draftee; Michael Schwartze was impressed when he saw him as an amateur. Others who didn’t make the list that could provide value include Tyler Gaffney, Jacob Stallings, and a number of preps with upside. Tyler Gaffney is particularly interesting as a grinder type with plenty of athleticism — he was a running back on the Stanford football team if you recall — and extremely refined plate discipline.
Tyler Glasnow was the most impressive from the 2011 prep pitching class, but he spent all but a week in the GCL, meaning that I could not see him; Clay Holmes however was a fixture in the State College rotation. Holmes is the owner of an odd delivery in which he has a short stride and cartwheel-esque motion. He was mostly 89-91 with more 91s than 89s and worked in a curve and change later in the game. Control was a recurring issue with Holmes throughout the year, but he was around the plate in my viewing. Speaking of players with ugly deliveries, Victor Black’s has one of the worst that I’ve seen. He has lethal stuff but little ability to command it; the dream is that he shows enough control to be a dominant late inning reliever.
The Pirates suddenly have a deep farm system with very good prospects near the top. Now the hurdle is developing them into quality major league pieces as most are still fairly low in the system. That has been a problem in the past and will be vital to finally ending the two decade old tradition of losing.
Chris Blessing: Alen Hanson and Gregory Polanco are two of the most asked about prospects that I’ve covered this season. They are also two of my favorite prospects to talk about. See, this year covering the Southern League and the South Atlantic League, there wasn’t much offensive talent to be found the first 3 months of the year. It’s easy to get excited when the only significant position prospect that I saw prior to the two Pirates prospects was Mariners prospect Nick Franklin, a prospect that I rank behind both Hanson and Polanco in my Top 50 Scouted Series, which continues with part three and four of the series next Tuesday and Thursday respectively. Anyway, back to Polanco and Hanson, these kids are pretty awesome with the potential to be superstars. Here’s a quick rundown.
Switch hitting shortstop Alen Hanson is a special talent. As a nineteen year old in a full season league, he is was able to things most nineteen year olds can’t do, succeed and dominate against more mature competition. And did it while being a consistent switch hitter, although I like him much better from the right side of the plate. His ability to work counts, take pitches, make contact, run and bunt makes Hanson a prototypical leadoff hitter. He could slug his way out of the leadoff and become a third hitter that combines those leadoff traits with the ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark. Defensively, Hanson flashed the ability to handle short long term; however, was fairly green when I scouted him. Defensively, the game seems faster than it really is for him, having the need to rush through his progressions.
Left handed hitting outfielder Gregory Polanco is a top 50 prospect for me, maybe even breaking the top 25. Being second best prospect in the West Virginia Power lineup is nothing to sneeze at. His ability to get his arms extended and drive the ball sets him apart from most prospects I’ve seen in the Sally League. I can only think of three or four guys in my seven years attending Sally games that had Polanco’s ability to drive the ball. In game action, Polanco smoked a ball 400 feet plus against Braves top 5 prospect and left handed hitter Alex Wood. Defensively, Polanco’s actions in the field screams future MLB centerfielder; however, he’ll likely grow out of that position, projecting most likely as a Right Fielder in the Major Leagues because of a plus arm. Polanco has good speed, not great, and I could project a few 20 stolen base seasons as he moves up to the upper levels of the minor leagues.
Al Skorupa: Pretty solid system the Pirates have put together. I had a lot of faith in Gerrit Cole pre-draft, and I thought his debut was actually surprisingly polished. There’s still lots of elements of his game that need improvement and polish… but if you covered up the names and showed people Cole’s and college teammate Trevor Bauer’s lines from this season, I think many would be surprised which pitcher was which. So far, so good. And there remains every reason to think Cole will emerge as a frontline starting pitcher at some point. The story with Jamie Taillon isn’t much different than with Cole. The stuff and velo are dynamic (if perhaps a tad behind Cole’s on most days), but command, control and consistency are a work in progress. I’m going to echo the sentiments on Cole and Hanson above… not sure I have much to add, but I find both guys pretty exciting. Got some very good reports on Luis Heredia, but as I’ve said before I don’t know that he has a whole lot of room for growth despite impressing age-relative-to-league. Still loving the tools on Josh Bell. Hard to drop him far with his enormous ceiling and I’m looking forward to seeing how he performs in 2013. Really like the top guys in this system and the level of interesting tools guys is greatly improved.
JR: Needless to say, we’ve seen a lot of Pirates prospects this season. Here are a few more detailed articles on them:
Jameson Taillon (JD Sussman): http://bullpenbanter.com/jameson-taillon-looking-beyond-statistics/
Gerrit Cole (Jeff Reese): http://bullpenbanter.com/gerrit-cole-breakdown-07-14-2012-at-akron-aeros/
Gregory Polanco (Chris Blessing): http://bullpenbanter.com/outfielder-gregory-polanco-the-pirates-best-prospect-in-the-sally/
Alen Hanson (Chris Blessing): http://bullpenbanter.com/scouting-report-pirates-shortstop-prospect-alen-hanson/
Luis Heredia (Jeff Reese): http://bullpenbanter.com/luis-heredia-game-report-852012-vs-aberdeen-ironbirds/
RHP Jameson Taillon (JD Sussman)
RHP Gerrit Cole (Jeff Reese)
SS Alen Hanson (Chris Blessing)
CF Gregory Polanco (Chris Blessing)
RHP Luis Heredia (Jeff Reese)
CF Barrett Barnes (Jeff Reese)
C Wyatt Mathisen (Steve Fiorindo)
RHP Clay Holmes (Jeff Reese)
RHP Victor Black (Jeff Reese)