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December 10, 2012

Prospects Will Break Your Heart

Pittsburgh Pirates Top 10 Prospects

by Jason Parks

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State of the Farm:  “Little darling, I feel that ice is slowly melting. Little darling, it seems like years since it's been clear. Here comes the sun. Here comes the sun, and I say it's all right.”

Prospect rankings primer

The Top Ten

  1. RHP Gerrit Cole
  2. RHP Jameson Taillon
  3. CF Gregory Polanco
  4. RHP Luis Heredia
  5. IF/LF Alen Hanson
  6. OF Josh Bell
  7. C Wyatt Mathisen
  8. RHP Tyler Glasnow
  9. RHP Nick Kingham
  10. OF Barrett Barnes

1. Gerrit Cole
Position: RHP
DOB: 09/08/1990
Height/Weight: 6’4’’ 220 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2011 draft, University of California (Los Angeles, CA)
2012 Stats: 2.55 ERA (67 IP, 53 H, 69 K, 21 BB) at High-A Bradenton; 2.90 ERA (59 IP, 54 H, 60  K, 23 BB) at Double-A Altoona; 4.50 ERA (6 IP, 6 H, 7 K, 1 BB) at Triple-A Indianapolis
The Tools: 8 FB; 7 SL; 6+ CH

What Happened in 2012: Making his professional debut, Cole climbed three levels, finishing the season in Triple-A and putting himself in a position to reach the majors early in the 2013 season.

Strengths: Elite arm strength; classic power profile; clean/athletic delivery; good mechanics; fastball has elite velocity; works mid-upper 90s; touches triple-digits; explosive offering; slider is easy 7; shows big velocity (upper-80s) and sharp, late tilt; changeup flashes 7 and works easy plus; good deception from fastball; late action to the arm-side; top-of-the-rotation stuff/major-league body; competitor.

Weaknesses: Command can get loose; grades in the fringe-average range at present; loses fastball movement up in the zone; tendency to cast changeup with slower arm speed; has yet to dominate despite three well above-average offerings.

Overall Future Potential: High 7; no. 1 starter at the major-league level

Explanation of Risk: Moderate risk; sound mechanical profile and major-league ready; still needs refinement to reach extreme ceiling.

Fantasy Future: Could develop into premier starter; 20-game winner; perennial Cy Young award candidate.

The Year Ahead: Cole is ready for the ultimate test, and his arsenal is more than robust enough for success right out of the gate. His command needs to be refined, as does his changeup and arsenal utility (sequence), but not many arms in baseball can brag on three well above-average offerings and a prototypical body used to deliver that arsenal. Adjustment is the name of the game in the big leagues, as high-level hitters can hit high-level pitching, so Cole will need to learn to pitch with touch as well as torch. The total package could be elite, the rare no. 1 starter that every team in baseball covets, yet only a few are lucky enough to control.

Major league ETA: 2013
 

2. Jameson Taillon
Position: RHP
DOB: 11/18/1991
Height/Weight: 6’6’’ 225 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2010 draft, The Woodlands High School (The Woodlands, TX)
2012 Stats: 3.82 ERA (125.0 IP, 109 H, 98 K, 37 BB) at High-A Bradenton; 1.59 ERA (17.0 IP, 11 H, 18 K, 1 BB)  at Double-A Altoona.
The Tools: 7 FB; 7 potential CB; 5+ potential CH

What Happened in 2012: Progressing slowly and steadily on his path to the big leagues, Taillon logged 142 innings in 2012, spending the bulk of the season in the Florida State League, where development took priority over dominance.

Strengths: Big, strong frame; long arms/leverage; fastball works in plus-plus velocity range; shows good movement to the arm-side; impact pitch; curveball is major-league-quality out-pitch; thrown with velocity and two-plane break; thrown for chase and for strikes; pitches with purpose; attacks in the zone

Weaknesses: Changeup is behind rest of arsenal; can get too firm; lacks feel/gets deliberate in delivery; lacks plus projection; throws strikes, but overall command is fringe at present; arm action shows some length; needs to finish with more consistency/work lower in the zone to take advantage of height/plane.

Overall Future Potential: 7; high-end no. 2 starter

Explanation of Risk: Moderate risk; good mechanical profile; no injury red flags; already reached Double-A level.

Fantasy Future: Classic power pitcher profile, with two plus-plus offerings and a body built for a heavy workload. His floor is an innings-eater, with a ceiling of a high-end no. 2 starter of a championship-level team.

The Year Ahead: Taillon has only three Double-A starts under his belt, but he was flat-out nasty in those starts, and he looks to continue that success in 2013. The changeup can play, but has a lot of room to improve, and the delivery has some rough edges to iron out, but Taillon’s plus-plus fastball/curveball combo should push him to the majors by the end of the season. He might not have Cole’s ultimate upside, but there are some industry sources that still prefer Taillon to Cole.

Major league ETA: 2013
 

3. Gregory Polanco

Position: CF
DOB: 09/14/1991
Height/Weight: 6’4’’ 170 lbs.
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Acquired: International free agent, 2009, Dominican Republic
2012 Stats: .325/.388/.522 at Low-A West Virginia (116 games)
The Tools: 6 run; 5+ arm; 5 glove; 5+ hit (potential)

What Happened in 2012: Polanco went from a raw complex league player to a legit full-season league prospect in short order, hitting for average and power in the Sally League while showing the necessary defensive skills to stay up the middle.

Strengths: Plus athlete; physical projection; hit tool shows above-average potential; very good bat speed; rhythm hitter; shows impressive bat control; mature approach; makes loud contact, shows good present pop, and can use the entire field; solid defensive profile in center field; plus run/range; arm plays as solid-average; projects to stay at position at maturity; good bloodlines and makeup.

Weaknesses: Swing can take slow path into the zone; can load hands beyond back foot; needs to stay short and quick to the ball; some concerns about coverage of inner-half/susceptibility to velocity; power potential is subject of debate; shows swing characteristics for power, but sources put future utility grade in the below-average range (4); conscious power approach could open holes against better pitching; still raw with reads/routes in center.

Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division player

Explanation of Risk: High risk; wide gap between present/future; limited experience against quality competition.

Fantasy Future: Projects to stay up the middle, with enough bat to hit for average and show good secondary skills for the position; has the speed to steal some bases and the raw pop for extra-base hits. Could be high-end player for position.

The Year Ahead: Pop-up prospects are always under the microscope, which can encourage observers to scout for weaknesses rather than scouting for strengths. Polanco is legit, but the swing will eventually be tested by better pitching, and the length he showed in Low-A can lead to exploitation as he moves up the ladder. His overall game needs refinement, but he has the raw tools to develop into a first-division talent at a premium spot on the diamond, which not only makes him the top position prospect in the system but a player likely to remain on prospect lists going forward.

Major league ETA: 2015
 

4. Luis Heredia
Position: RHP
DOB: 08/10/1994
Height/Weight: 6’6’’ 205 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: International free agent, 2010, Mexico
2012 Stats: 2.71 ERA (66.1 IP, 53 H, 40 K, 20 BB) at short-season State College
The Tools: 7 FB; 6+ potential changeup; 5+ potential CB

What Happened in 2012: The big international signing made 14 starts for short-season State College, showing off his impressive fastball and rapidly improving changeup.

Strengths: Premium arm strength; extremely tall; long limbs; big frame; fastball can already work in the plus velocity range and touch the mid-90s; can manipulate ball/create movement; shows some strike-throwing ability; shows ability to work east/west/north/south; delivery works; plus pitchability; knows how to get outs, force poor contact; changeup flashes plus; works solid-average; promising pitch.

Weaknesses: Questions about body; big kid with the potential for bad weight; curveball is underdeveloped at present; loses hand speed and tight rotation; tendency to aim; often overthrows secondary arsenal; overall command needs refinement.

Overall Future Potential: High 6; no. 2 starter

Explanation of Risk: Extreme risk; only 18 years old; body has roadblock potential; curveball needs big jump.

Fantasy Future: Big fastball and big pitchability; has potential to pitch near top of a rotation; might not always look pretty, but will get outs.

The Year Ahead: Heredia is set to make his full-season debut, where he will continue to work to establish his fastball while bringing more secondary offerings into the sequence. At this stage of the game, Heredia’s arsenal development is paramount to his production, and when pitchers are trying to refine immature offerings, their stats can take a hit. If the curve can do more than just spin, and the changeup can continue to grow into a monster pitch, Heredia has the potential to move up to the top of this list by next season. The world knows about the size and about the quality of the fastball. Now it’s time for him to show everybody what else is in the bag.

Major league ETA: 2016
 

5. Alen Hanson
Position: IF/LF
DOB: 10/22/1992
Height/Weight: 5’11’’ 152 lbs.
Bats/Throws: B/R
Drafted/Acquired: International free agent, 2009, Dominican Republic
2012 Stats: .309/.381/.528 at Low-A West Virginia (124 games)
The Tools: 6 run; 6 hit; 5 glove

What Happened in 2012: Under the radar coming into the season, Hanson erupted for 62 extra-base hits in his full-season debut, emerging as a legit top 101 prospect in baseball.

Strengths: Plus potential hit tool; shows above-average bat speed and ability to make hard contact; balanced from both sides of the plate; plus run; solid actions at shortstop; soft hands; good backhand pickup; shows range.

Weaknesses: Lacks clear projection at shortstop; arm is only average; feel for position called into question; lacks defensive effort; multiple sources suggested he was a better fit for second base or left field; swing has some miss; will expand and roll over off-speed; can sting a ball, but doesn’t project to be big power threat.

Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division player

Explanation of Risk: High risk; defensive profile puts more pressure on bat if he can’t stay on left side of the diamond.

Fantasy Future: Could be above-average force at second base, with ability to hit for average, steal bases, and show surprising pop for his size. Might not develop into big over-the-fence threat, but could still hit 10-15 home runs and 25-plus doubles at maturity with 15-plus stolen bases. That’s a monster player.

The Year Ahead: As with Polanco, observers will rush to the fields to see if Hanson’s 2012 breakout was really a breakthrough. Based on the industry response received while researching this article, it seems as if Hanson is destined for the keystone because of his less-than-ideal arm strength and less-than-ideal defensive focus (at present), but until the move is made, he will continue to get reps at shortstop and the argument over the projection will give talent evaluators something to debate. The bat has the juice to carry him regardless of his defensive role, but what could be an all-star at shortstop won’t look quite as fantastic if he moves to the right side of the diamond.

Major league ETA: 2015
 

6. Josh Bell
Position: OF
DOB: 08/14/1992
Height/Weight: 6’4’’ 195 lbs.
Bats/Throws: B/R
Drafted/Acquired: 2nd round, 2011 draft, Dallas Jesuit College Prep (Dallas, TX)
2012 Stats: .274/.288/.403 at Low-A West Virginia (15 games)
The Tools: 6+ raw; 5+ potential hit

What Happened in 2012: A knee injury limited his professional debut to only 15 games, providing very little scouting information and keeping the $5M man a mystery to most in the industry. 

Strengths: Big raw power; able to create plus bat speed from both sides of the plate; swing is loose and easy; physical and athletic with excellent projection; hit tool could develop to above-average.

Weaknesses: Struggles with pitch recognition/secondary adjustment; limited reports, but struggled against curveballs (badly fooled); doesn’t profile up-the-middle on defense; lacks plus run; lacks plus arm; tools aren’t crazy and lacks big feel; wide gap between present/future.

Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division player

Explanation of Risk: Extreme risk; knee injury cut short fist season; limited professional experience; already 20 years old; questions about feel.

Fantasy Future: Has prototypical corner profile, with raw power to hit 25-plus bombs at highest level; middle-of-the-order offensive potential.

The Year Ahead: Bell’s career got off to a bumpy start, but he looks to make a fresh start in 2013, most likely returning to the Sally league to re-ignite his development. With projectable offensive tools that came at a lofty price, Bell will be expected to produce and live up to the hype, which will only add pressure to an already pressure-filled process. Despite the small sample size, questions about pitch recognition and offensive utility exist, and if an extended look doesn’t soothe these concerns, Bell’s stock will plummet and prognosticators will be quick to forget the promise of the boom in favor of the reality of the bust. 

Major league ETA: 2016
 

7. Wyatt Mathisen
Position: C
DOB: 12/30/1993
Height/Weight: 6’1’’ 205 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 2nd round, 2012 draft, Calallen High School (Corpus Christi, TX)
2012 Stats: .295/.388/.374 in the GCL (45 games)
The Tools: Plus arm; plus power potential in the bat

What Happened in 2012: Complex league numbers offer very little useful information, but the 18-year-old Texan showed legit offensive promise with the bat, making hard contact and showing a good overall approach in the box.

Strengths: Impressive raw power in the bat; creates quality bat speed; quick hands; feel for contact; has a plan at the plate; plus arm strength; good footwork behind the plate; gets into good throwing position quickly; impressive pop times (1.85-1.95); tools to stay behind the plate; plus makeup.

Weaknesses: Still new to catching; raw; limited professional sample against quality stuff; hit tool lacks big projection; some questions about swing mechanics/timing hitch; well below-average speed.

Overall Future Potential: High 5; solid-average regular

Explanation of Risk: Extreme risk; new to catching; will play 2013 season at age 19.

Fantasy Future: Could develop into well-rounded backstop, with 15-plus-homer pop and above-average catch and throw skills.

The Year Ahead: Mathisen is still a very raw product, but the tool package gives him a major-league ceiling. The receiving skills are unrefined, but the arm is plus and the footwork is ahead of the age/experience curve; the bat has some power projection, and the overall approach to the game receives praise. It might be a slow process with bumps along the way, but the skill-set is very promising.

Major league ETA: 2016
 

8.Tyler Glasnow
Position: RHP
DOB: 08/23/1993
Height/Weight: 6’7’’ 195 lbs.
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Acquired: 5th round, 2011 draft, Hart High School (Santa Clarita, CA)
2012 Stats: 2.10 ERA (34.1 IP, 19 H, 40 K, 16 BB) at GCL; 0.00 ERA (4 IP, 4 H, 4 K, 1 BB) at short-season State College
The Tools: 6 FB; 6 potential CB

What Happened in 2012: Glasnow made his professional debut, looking strong in the Gulf Coast League and missing barrels on the back of a steep fastball.

Strengths: Very tall; big projection; fastball routinely worked at 89-93 mph and showed a spike to the plus range (92-94) during the short season; creates excellent angle and plane to the plate; pitch shows potential for additional velocity spike; very fast arm; good feel for his delivery; can repeat and throw strikes; curveball flashes above-average potential; shows big vertical break and some depth.

Weaknesses: Changeup is below-average and yet to receive developmental spotlight; command is fringe (present); delivery works, but needs to stay over ball and finish; tendency to slip under curve and lose bite; body still in the process of maturing; needs to add strength.

Overall Future Potential: 5; mid-rotation starter

Explanation of Risk: High risk; short-season arm with big space between present/future.

Fantasy Future: At maturity, should have body/delivery to log innings and fastball/curve to miss bats; workhorse profile.

The Year Ahead: Glasnow received a lot of love from sources familiar with his projectable arm, with plus potential grades thrown on the fastball and the curve. With improved strength and stamina, Glasnow should be able to hold plus velocity deep into games and use his sharp curve to miss bats. It’s important to continue building arm strength through four-seam repetition, especially at this stage of the game, so it might take another season or two before the secondary offerings take big steps forward.

Major league ETA: 2016
 

9.Nick Kingham
Position: RHP
DOB: 11/08/1991
Height/Weight: 6’5’’ 220 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 4th round, 2010 draft, Sierra Vista High School (Las Vegas, NV)
2012 Stats: 4.39 ERA (127.0 IP, 115 H, 117 K, 36 BB) at Low-A West Virginia
The Tools: 6 FB; 5+ potential CH

What Happened in 2012: The Las Vegas native made his full-season debut, making 27 starts and logging 127 innings and helping to reinforce his projection as an innings-eating workhorse.

Strengths: Big, strong frame; simple delivery that he repeats; good plane to the plate; fastball works in the low-90s with some sink; pitch has additional projection and should be comfortable plus pitch; changeup shows good action and comes out with fastball arm speed; pitch has above-average projection; good command profile; throws strikes and shows some feel within the zone.

Weaknesses: Curveball is behind the pack; will offer tight rotation and heavy vertical break, but then go soft and lose bite; currently below-average offering; fastball lacks punch to work up in the zone; was hittable when elevated.

Overall Future Potential: 5; mid-rotation starter

Explanation of Risk: Moderate risk; curveball is underdeveloped, but shows good feel for changeup; frame could add strength; arsenal could improve; already logged substantial innings in full-season ball.

Fantasy Future: Fits the mold of a mid-rotation innings-eater, with plus fastball and above-average change-up; workload body

The Year Ahead: If Kingham can take a step forward with the curveball, he could really shine in High-A and climb up this list. He has a big, strong body already and some projection left in the tank, so the raw stuff could tick up. He throws strikes, has a good overall feel for pitching, and looks like a future major-league starter. The ceiling isn’t crazy, but the floor will keep him in the prospect mix even if the stuff stays the same.

Major league ETA: 2015

10.Barrett Barnes
Position: OF
DOB: 7/21/1991
Height/Weight: 6’1’’ 195 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2012, Texas Tech University (Lubbock, TX)
2012 Stats: .288/.401/.456 at short-season State College (38 games)
The Tools: 6 run; 6 power potential

What Happened in 2012: the 45th overall pick in the 2012 draft, Barnes jumped to the New York-Penn League after signing, showing an advanced approach to go along with some loud tools.

Strengths: Plus athlete; 6 run; good range and recovery speed in center; plus bat speed; hips show good rotation and hands good explosion; legit power in the bat; 5/6 projection; has a plan at the plate; makes pitchers work.

Weaknesses: Mixed opinion on defensive profile; arm is fringe 5; glove isn’t above-average; lacks plus profile up-the-middle; hit tool receives below-average futures; questions about contact ability; raw power is plus, but projects to play lower; tweener profile in corner.

Overall Future Potential: 5; major-league regular/second division

Explanation of Risk: High risk; hit tool questions and tough profile if moved to a corner.

Fantasy Future: If he can stay in center field, the profile improves, with good secondary skills at the plate and speed on the bases. In a corner, the profile is fringy, with good pop but unlikely to hit 25-plus bombs and unlikely to hit for average.

The Year Ahead: Barnes will move to full-season ball, where his mature approach should put him in friendly conditions that he will need to exploit. The hit tool has question marks, as he can sting low-quality offerings but struggles to barrel velocity, especially on the inner-half. It all comes down to his defensive projection. If he can stick in center field, he can offer value despite some offensive shortcomings (hit tool/power utility). If he slides to a corner, the bat will struggle to play to the position and he will most likely slide down the prospect queue.

Major league ETA: 2016
 

Prospects on the Rise:

1. 2B Dilson Herrera: You can make a case that Herrera already belongs in the Top 10, after an impressive stateside debut in the Gulf Coast League. The 18-year-old Colombian has a very impressive hit tool and more power potential than people realize (plus), and despite his right-side-of-the-infield profile, some scouts are high enough on the offensive potential to suggest he has a first-division future if everything clicks.

2. RHP Adrian Sampson: Under-the-radar community college arm with prototypical size and strength, Sampson can work the fastball in the 91-94 range and has the makings of two solid-average secondary offerings. After nine starts in the New York-Penn League, Sampson is ready for his first taste of full-season ball, and if the progress continues, expect a journey up the prospect rankings.

3. RHP Clay Holmes: Drafted in the ninth round in 2011 and given an insanely over-slot $1.2M signing bonus, Holmes is slowly inching towards prospect ignition. Standing 6’5’’ and weighing 230 lbs., Holmes looks like a workhorse in the making, with a steep low-90s fastball and a curve that flashes above-average potential. If he can step forward with the secondary stuff and tighten the command, he could be in the Top 10 next season.

Factors on the Farm (Prospects likely to contribute in MLB in 2013)

1.RHP Victor Black: A supplemental first-round pick in 2009, Black has the arsenal to pitch in the late innings in the majors, but his loose command could limit his effectiveness. He was able to miss barrels in the Eastern league, and if he can harness the fastball/slider combo without losing the intensity, he could be a big contributor to the big-league pen in 2013.

2.RHP Kyle McPherson: The profile isn’t sexy, but it’s a safe bet to contribute at the highest level, most likely as a back-end starter. With size, strength, and pitchability, McPherson has the body to log innings and the arsenal to miss a few bats and limit big damage.

3.RHP Bryan Morris: With an impressive plus fastball that he works at 93-95 mph, a late-slicing cutter, and a slider, Morris has the arsenal to not only induce weak contact, but to miss bats in the majors. After a brief taste of the bigs in 2012, Morris will return to Pittsburgh in 2013 with a chance to emerge as a frontline setup option.

Top 10 Talents 25 and Under (born 4/1/87 or later)

1.  Gerrit Cole
2.  Jameson Taillon
3.  Starling Marte
4.  Gregory Polanco
5.  Luis Heredia
6.  Alen Hanson
7.  Jose Tabata
8.  Josh Bell
9.  Wyatt Mathisen
10. Kyle McPherson

The Pirates lost Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez to the 25-and-over crowd, Robbie Grossman to the Houston Astros, and Stetson Allie to third base. But those voids from the 2011 Top 25 and Under list have been filled and then some off the strength of “big step” years from the likes of Hanson and Polanco and continued progress from Cole, Taillon and Heredia.  At the major-league level, Starling Marte displays the tools to be an above-average defensive center fielder with emerging power.  He has yet to conquer his bat-to-ball issues, but the Bucs should be able to tolerate the strikeouts if he can move his walk rate closer to 10 percent than five percent while continuing to grow the power production. Jose Tabata remains a solid bat in an outfield corner, but without corner power. Next season could determine whether the former top prospect will take that next step toward becoming a true top-of-the-order hitter or simply settle in as an average corner defender with a fringe-corner offensive profile. 

On the bump, the most exciting young arms remain in the minors, but Kyle McPherson should provide some value as an innings-eater at the back of the rotation (provided his shoulder injury this winter doesn’t prove serious).  Conversely, he could fit in as a solid eighth-inning arm out of the pen once some of the higher-ceiling arms arrive. Down the spectrum, Travis Snider remains a lotto ticket most likely fitting-in as a fifth outfielder and bat off the bench. Jordy Mercer may be only an up-and-down guy, but his ability to field and throw across the infield gives him a shot at a utility role if enough falls into place for him offensively. —Nick Faleris

A Parting Thought: No system in baseball can boast the one-two punch of Cole and Taillon, and with talented position prospects sitting on the next tier, the Pirates have one of the most impact-heavy systems in the game.

Last year’s Pirates rankings

Special thanks to Nick Faleris, Mark Anderson, Chris Mellen, and Hudson Belinsky for their input and influence on this list.

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

Related Content:  Scouting,  Minor Leagues,  Pirates,  Top 10

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