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December 16, 2011

Future Shock

Pirates Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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Previous Rankings: 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008

System in 20 Words or Less: The team continues to add high-ceiling pitching talent, but they’re still lacking in depth.

Five-Star Prospects
1. Gerrit Cole, RHP
2. Jameson Taillon, RHP
3.  Luis Heredia, RHP
4.  Josh Bell, OF
Four-Star Prospects
5.  Starling Marte, OF
6.  Robbie Grossman, OF
Three-Star Prospects
7.  Stetson Allie, RHP
8.  Kyle McPherson, RHP
9.  Colton Cain, LHP
Two-Star Prospects
10. Tony Sanchez, C
11. Bryan Morris, RHP

Nine More:
12. Jeff Locke, LHP: This southpaw has good command of an average three-pitch mix. He could fit the fourth- or fifth-starter profile.
13. Clay Holmes, RHP: This right-hander has a classic power-pitcher frame and the chance to move up this list as he develops.
14. Nick Kingham, RHP: Kingham has a big body and fills up the strike zone, but reviews of his raw stuff aren't as impressive as his numbers.
15. Rudy Owens, LHP: Owens’ lack of velocity caught up to him at Triple-A. He will need to make adjustments.
16. Zack Von Rosenberg, RHP: Scouts still see promise in his frame and arm strength, but his growth has been slow.
17. Alen Hanson, 2B: This young infielder has speed and an idea at the plate.
18. Justin Wilson, LHP: His ceiling is as a fifth starter starter, but he's ready now.
19. Gorkys Hernandez, OF: His speed and outstanding glove should at least make him a bench outfielder.
20. Gustavo Nunez, SS: This Rule 5 pick has speed and defensive chops, but will he hit?

1. Gerrit Cole, RHP
DOB
: 9/8/90
Height/Weight: 6-4/220
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2011, UCLA
2011 Stats: DNP
Tools Profile: He’s everything you look for in a college power pitcher.

Year in Review: The best college pitcher frustrated evaluators at times with his performance, but his pure stuff was too good to pass up with the first overall pick in the draft.
The Good: Cole's arsenal matches up with any young pitcher. His fastball sits in the mid- to upper-90s, and it consistently reached triple digits over the last year. He throws a plus-plus slider with heavy horizontal and vertical break. He also developed a changeup in college that flashes plus, and could be a consistent plus pitch with more use. His mechanics have also improved significantly from his high school days.
The Bad: One of the biggest debates in the scouting community is why Cole is not better than he has been on a production level; one scout called it “The $10 million question.” He certainly has more control than command, but that's not a full explanation. Others point to an arm that is more trackable than most, and the hope for a more aggressive approach on the mound. Others think he just needs innings to turn into an ace.
Ephemera: While he never hit for UCLA, Cole might have some value at the plate in the National League; he hit .310 with seven home runs during his senior year at Orange Lutheran High in California.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a true ace in the big leagues, but that's hardly a guarantee.
Fantasy Impact: It could be massive, and even if he doesn't live up to his potential, he'll at least get you strikeouts.
Path to the Big Leagues: Cole will likely begin his pro career in the Florida State League. Some scouts think he could be in the big leagues by September; others think it could take some time.
ETA: Mid-2013

2. Jameson Taillon, RHP
DOB
: 11/18/1991
Height/Weight: 6-6/225
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2010, The Woodlands HS (TX)
2011 Stats: 3.98 ERA (92.2-89-22-97) at Single-A (23 G)
Tools Profile: He’s everything you look for in a high school power pitcher.

Year in Review: The second overall pick in the 2010 draft was sent to a full-season league but kept on a shockingly short leash; he threw just 92 2/3 innings in 23 starts.
The Good: Taillon has monster stuff. His fastball parks in the upper 90s, has some movement in it, and is helped by the angles produced by his long frame. Taillon gets heavy spin on a plus power curveball that should give him a second bat-missing pitch in the big leagues. He has some feel for a changeup, and has much better command and control than most pitchers of his age and size.
The Bad: Like Cole, some scouts were frustrated as to why Taillon wasn't better. When Taillon misses, he misses up, and he can become too dependent on his fastball when his secondary pitches are more than enough.
Ephemera: Taillon went more than four innings in just seven of his 23 starts for West Virginia in 2011.
Perfect World Projection: Scouts argue over who has the higher ceiling between Taillon and Cole, giving the Pirates an enviable combination of two potential aces.
Fantasy Impact: Like Cole,it’s potentially massive.
Path to the Big Leagues: The Pirates will take the reigns off Taillon as he moves up to High-A in 2012.
ETA: 2014

3. Luis Heredia, RHP
DOB
: 8/10/94
Height/Weight: 6-6/205
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 2010, Mexico
2011 Stats: 4.75 ERA (30.1-28-19-23) at Rookie (12 G)
Tools Profile: He’s the definition of projectable.

Year in Review: This high-profile international signee pitched briefly as a 16-year-old in the Gulf Coast League.
The Good: Heredia's ceiling is through the roof. He can already get into the mid-90s with his fastball, and scouts think there is room for more as he grows and tightens up his delivery. His arm action is very smooth. Heredia also has an advanced changeup for his age, and earns high marks for his work ethic and makeup.
The Bad: Heredia doesn't get consistent spin on his breaking ball, but scouts saw enough good ones to think it won't be a long-term problem. He can drop his release point, which costs him control, but again, that's something that should be correctable with maturity and repetition.
Ephemera: Because of the rigidity of the Gulf Coast League schedule and Heredia's calendar, 10 of his 12 games were against the Phillies and Tigers.
Perfect World Projection: While Heredia is still eons away, his ceiling ranks with anyone in the system; with Cole and Tallion in this system, that's saying something.
Fantasy Impact: Is there a potential ace in baseball with more risk?
Path to the Big Leagues: Heredia won't turn 18 until August, and probably won’t make his full-season debut until 2013.
ETA: 2016

4. Josh Bell, OF
DOB
: 8/14/92
Height/Weight: 6-4/195
Bats/Throws: S/R
Drafted/Signed: Second round, 2011, Dallas Jesuit HS (TX)
2011 Stats: DNP
Tools Profile: He fits the classic right-field profile.

Year in Review: Despite being arguably the best high school power hitter in the draft, Bell was considered unsignable. However, the Pirates surprised everyone by signing him to a $5 million bonus at the deadline.
The Good: Bell has all of the tools to be a star-level corner outfielder. He's a switch-hitter with well above-average power from both sides of the plate, excellent hands, and a mature ability to drive balls to every part of the park. Bell combines size and athleticism, and is a solid-average runner with a plus arm.
The Bad: Bell will need to make adjustments at the plate as a professional. He often overloads his swing, and could get exposed against professional velocity and breaking balls. He needs to improve many of the little things, like baserunning and his outfield routes.
Ephemera: With 95 career major-league home runs, former first baseman Mike Jorgensen is the all-time homer leader among 61st overall picks in the draft.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a middle-of-the-order run producer and All-Star right fielder.
Fantasy Impact: He will have enough home runs alone to make him an early pick.
Path to the Big Leagues: Despite signing too late to make his debut, Bell has the talent and polish to handle a full-season assignment in 2012.
ETA: 2015

5. Starling Marte, OF
DOB
: 10/9/88
Height/Weight: 6-1/170
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 2007, Dominican Republic
2011 Stats: .332/.370/.500 at Double-A (129 G)
Tools Profile: Marte has plenty of tools that are rapidly turning into skills.

Year in Review: This athletic outfielder stayed healthy and had his first big campaign.
The Good: Marte is among the most exciting players in the minors. He has a lightning-quick bat, and his power finally showed up last year with 58 extra-base hits. Scouts believe he'll be good for 15-20 home runs annually down the road. He's a 65 runner with the ability to steal 20-25 bases, and his speed serves him well in center field, where he also has a strong, accurate arm.
The Bad: Nearly every concern about Marte revolves around his ultra aggressiveness at the plate. Last year, Marte drew just 19 unintentional walks in 129 games. He often gets himself out with quick at-bats when he swings at bad pitches. He also needs to slow the game down on the basepaths and in the field.
Ephemera: While the Royals have Bubba and the Pirates have Marte, no player with a first or last name of Starling has ever played in the big leagues.
Perfect World Projection: He could be an above-average everyday center fielder, but there are still adjustments to make.
Fantasy Impact: He could provide a good average with double-digit power and speed. He’s a potential stud.
Path to the Big Leagues: Marte will begin the year at Triple-A Indianapolis and is lined up for at least a September callup.
ETA: Late 2012

6. Robbie Grossman, OF
DOB: 9/16/89
Height/Weight: 6-1/190
Bats/Throws: S/L
Drafted/Signed: Sixth round, 2008, Cypress Fairbanks HS (TX)
2011 Stats: .298/.418/.451 at High-A (134 G)
Tools Profile: He’s not exactly toolsy, but he has no weaknesses, either.

Year in Review: This million-dollar player is not the player the Pirates thought he was when he signed, but Grossman still had a breakout year while repeating High-A.
The Good: Grossman is technically a five-tool prospect, yet one without a plus tool. He showed a much simpler swing in 2011 and a better feel for contact. He has enough pop to earn average power grades. He's a 50-55 runner who can steal a base when given the opportunity, plays a good outfield, and has a solid arm. It's not a tool, but one of Grossman's most valuable attributes is his plate discipline; he led the minor leagues with 104 walks and rarely commits to a bad pitch.
The Bad: Grossman's ceiling is understandably debatable; he lacks a star tool and can't play up the middle, so he'll have to find more power in his game to match up with your standard right fielder. He's already lost some speed as a pro, and could lose that aspect of his game as he moves up.
Ephemera: Grossman knew how to get things started as Bradenton's leadoff man in 2011, batting a healthy .368/.456/.573 in the first inning.
Perfect World Projection: He could be an everyday corner outfielder who gets on base more than he mashes.
Fantasy Impact: If on-base skills count, he'll have value, but without it he's just so-so for a corner outfielder.
Path to the Big Leagues: Grossman will move up to Double-A in 2012. A repeat of 2011's breakout would do wonders for his prospect status.
ETA: 2013

7. Stetson Allie, RHP
DOB: 3/13/91
Height/Weight: 6-2/220
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Second round, 2010, St. Edward HS (OH)
2011 Stats: 6.58 ERA (26-20-29-28) at Low-A (15 G)
Tools Profile: He’s a big guy and throws hard.

Year in Review: Last year's surprise signing a la Josh Bell showed monster stuff and horrific control.
The Good: Allie's huge frame and fastball that can touch triple digits have drawn comparisons to Jonathan Broxton. Allie has a second plus-plus offering in an upper-80s power slider with heavy biting action, and pitches with a mean streak.
The Bad: The Pirates already moved Allie to the bullpen, and it might be his permanent home. His delivery is a complicated and ugly mess, and he has little command or control of any of his pitches. He rarely threw a changeup in high school, and has thrown it even less as a pro.
Ephemera: In his last seven outings for State College in 2011, Allie tossed 6 1/3 hitless innings, but walked 12.
Perfect World Projection: More and more are convinced that Allie is a reliever long-term, but he clearly has closer stuff.
Fantasy Impact: The potential for saves is there, but he's still a long way off.
Path to the Big Leagues: Allie will try to show the Pirates that he's ready for a full-season assignment this spring, but that will only come with more strikes.
ETA: 2016

8. Kyle McPherson, RHP
DOB
: 11/11/87
Height/Weight: 6-4/215
Bats/Throws: S/R
Drafted/Signed: 14th round, 2007, University of Mobile
2011 Stats: 2.89 ERA (72.1-62-6-60) at High-A (12 G). 3.02 ERA (89.1-75-21-82) at Double-A (16 G)
Tools Profile: He has a fantastic fastball, but the rest of his arsenal falls short. 

Year in Review: McPherson was seen as a minor-league performer heading into the year, but he found some extra velocity and proved himself at the upper levels.
The Good: McPherson's fastball can be special; it combines plus velocity with top-of-the-line command. He sits at 92-94 mph, touched 96 last year, and works both sides of the plate. He consistently gets ahead in the count, is stingy with walks, and gets deep into games without accumulating a high pitch count.
The Bad: McPherson's fastball is great, but it’s also his only plus offering. His slurvy breaking ball is below average, while his changeup merely flashes as average. He'll need to improve both offerings to work as a starter, and will need to learn sequencing.
Ephemera: McPherson faced 146 right-handed batters in the Florida State League in 2011, and walked just one of them.
Perfect World Projection: McPherson's stock has risen dramatically in the past two seasons; some scouts seei him with third-starter potential.
Fantasy Impact: A lack of walks will keep the WHIP low, but McPherson’s other numbers should be somewhat pedestrian.
Path to the Big Leagues: Depending on how many insurance policies Pittsburgh signs, McPherson will begin the year at Double- or Triple-A and could pitch his way to the big leagues by the end of the year.
ETA: Late 2012

9. Colton Cain, LHP
DOB
: 2/5/91
Height/Weight: 6-3/225
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: Eighth round, 2009, Waxahachie HS (TX)
2011 Stats: 3.64 ERA (106.1-92-31-81) at Single-A (24 G)
Tools Profile: He’s a physical left-hander with improving stuff.

Year in Review: This 2009 draft pick, who signed for $1.15 million, had a successful full-season debut.
The Good: Cain has a power body with the stuff to match. He sits at 90-94 mph with his fastball and maintains his velocity deep into games thanks to a simple, repeatable delivery that also allows him to throw strikes. He showed an improved breaking ball in 2011, and was more comfortable with his changeup.
The Bad: Like McPherson, Cain can be too fastball dependent, and he often over throws the curve and loses spin. His changeup is telegraphed with a slower setup and delivery.
Ephemera: Cain had early-round possibilities as a first baseman out of high school; some scouts preferred him as a left-handed slugger with 70 raw power.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a mid-rotation innings eater.
Fantasy Impact: He won't win you a title, but he’ll help across the board.
Path to the Big Leagues: Cain will begin the year at High-A Bradenton, and some scouts believe he has the potential to take off.
ETA: 2014

10. Tony Sanchez, C
DOB
: 5/20/88
Height/Weight: 6-0/215
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2009, Boston College
2011 Stats: .241/.340/.318 at Double-A (118 G)
Tools Profile: He had a decent bat and great glove, but everything went backward in 2011.

Year in Review: Coming back from an injury-plagued 2010, this former first-rounder flopped at Double-A.
The Good: Sanchez has an excellent approach at the plate, but his once projectable power has failed to manifest, as he's hit just 16 home runs in 225 minor-league games. He's a solid receiver with a plus arm, but defensive reports failed to match those from 2010 as well. He's always been lauded for his makeup, and pitchers like throwing to him.
The Bad: Sanchez seemed lost at the plate at times in 2011, and seemed tentative both at the plate and behind it. His swing is long and slow at times. His arm plays down due to a long release.
Ephemera: Of Sanchez's five home runs in 2011, three came in the second inning, and none after the fourth.
Perfect World Projection: He could be an everyday catcher, but his chances for stardom have slipped dramatically.
Fantasy Impact: Minimal.
Path to the Big Leagues: Sanchez will get another shot at Double-A in 2012 in what could be a make-or-break season.
ETA: 2014

11. Bryan Morris, RHP
DOB
: 3/28/87
Height/Weight: 6-3/220
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2006, Motlow State CC
2011 Stats: 3.35 ERA (78-72-33-64) at Double-A (35 G)
Tools Profile: He has a fastball that produces an intriguing combination of strikeouts and ground balls.

Year in Review: Morris struggled with an oblique injury early in the year, but began to shine after a move to relief.
The Good: Morris has a fantastic fastball that sits in the low 90s, can touch 94-95 in short stints, and features heavy, heavy sink. He throws both a slider and a curve, but the slider projects and works better out of the bullpen.
The Bad: Morris throws across his body, has a Tommy John in his past, and never developed much of a changeup, so his value will depend upon how late he can pitch into games. He generally throws strikes, but can also be guilty of nibbling.
Ephemera: Morris' line solely as a reliever in 2011 included a 2.05 ERA, a .234 opponent's average, and a ground-ball rate of more than 3-to-1.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a late-inning reliever, or maybe even a second-division closer.
Fantasy Impact: If he's not getting saves, it's not going to be good.
Path to the Big Leagues: Morris will open the year in the Triple-A Indianapolis bullpen, and should see Pittsburgh at some point in the season.
ETA: 2012

The Sleeper: While he hit just .246/.312/.335 in his full-season debut, 2010 third-round pick Mel Rojas remains a toolsy outfielder with upside.

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/86 or later)
1. Andrew McCutchen, OF
2. Gerrit Cole, RHP
3. Jameson Taillon, RHP
4.  Luis Heredia, RHP
5.  Josh Bell, OF
6. Pedro Alvarez, 3B
7.  Starling Marte, OF
8.  Robbie Grossman, OF
9. Jose Tabata, OF
10.  Stetson Allie, RHP

McCutchen fell in love with his power a little too much in 2011, but he's still a young star who has not peaked. The fact that he's in the big leagues put him at the top, although the pitchers behind him have a better chance at turning the organization around. Next season could represent Alvarez's last chance, and even this rating is too high. For some, Tabata regressed last year; others saw the real ability.

 Summary: The Pirates have been rebuilding for years, but there's still little concrete evidence to show for it at the big-league level. With few hitters in the system, the pressure for the high-ceiling pitchers to actualize is even greater.  

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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