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Last Year’s Pirates List

The State of the System: This is an incredible top five prospects. Impact talent, arms, bats…oh no don’t look down, why did you look down?

The Top Ten

  1. OF Austin Meadows
  2. RHP Tyler Glasnow
  3. 1B/OF Josh Bell
  4. RHP Mitch Keller
  5. SS Kevin Newman
  6. 3B Will Craig
  7. SS Cole Tucker
  8. 3B Ke’Bryan Hayes
  9. LHP Steven Brault
  10. LHP Braeden Ogle

The Big Question: Is there such a thing as a mid-rotation starter? (part two of ???)

I have no. 3 starters on the brain again. This seems to happen around this time every year now. I’ve dispensed with another 101 writeups for the Annual over the faint din of junk food TV— this year it was The Voice and The Voice UK for some inexorable reason, perhaps Ricky Wilson’s sartorial sense and piercing blue eyes were a factor.  Most of those write-ups, soundtracked by a 40-grade interpretation of a Hozier ballad, were about mid-rotation starters. Because once you get about 20 prospects in—especially in a year where the overall prospect class is shallower than usual—you are dealing with assembly-line-made widgets, a plus fastball affixed here, a potentially plus breaking ball there, command and change expensive optional extras, and absolutely no manufacturer’s warranty to speak of.

I’ve tried Mad Libs, medieval poetic forms, and odes to Dashiell Hammett to break up the monotony of 60 FB, 60 SL, 40 CH, 45 command writeups. Occasionally you will at least get a guy with good hair in the mix. But the drier write-up is the topic this time.

There’s really only one prospect on the list below that broadly fits that definition, Mitch Keller. Glasnow is a cut above, although he has similar issues to our oft-repeated no. 3 profile, the fastball is a little sexier, the curveball a little more advanced. The gap between 60 and 70 is significant, even if for both Keller and Glasnow, we are still squinting and projecting a little bit to get it there.

There’s another question I am dancing around a bit, as I’ve generally tried to avoid process stories in this space. But it’s more broadly applicable as a question of certitude when making these lists.

How certain are we (am I) that Tyler Glasnow is a better prospect than Mitch Keller?

There is the issue of proximity of course. Keller spent almost the entire season in the South Atlantic League. Glasnow has already earned some major league per diems. Even if we think Keller’s stuff can eventually match Glasnow’s—and there were some late-season reports that point in that direction—we still have a bird in the hand here. Keller is much riskier, and based on our role grades, not offering more reward.   

Okay, well…how confident are we (am I) about a dude’s command jumping?

That’s the thing with the mid-rotation starter.  We usually first point to the lack of a third pitch as the blotch on the resume, but major-league hitters feast on plus fastballs located poorly. And with Glasnow, command isn’t even the first hurdle here, we need to backtrack to control. Plus fastballs sure tend to get located poorly when you’ve walked a couple guys already in the inning.

Mitch Keller’s control is quite good. His command isn’t bad either, although the aforementioned 60 fastball and curve will paper over command issues in the Sally League. But he can spot his fastball to either side, and it sinks and runs despite his height and stride gap relative to Glasnow. His delivery is simpler and more repeatable—in part due to the stride and height gap, but it’s also simpler, full stop. With Glasnow when it comes together though, gosh, can you imagine it?

Well, how confident are we (am I) that it will come together?

At the outset of this year’s lists, I wrote about why we always chase upside. Because yes, if it comes together, you can imagine it. And boy, it’s pretty good. So Glasnow ranks ahead of Keller. This is hardly apostasy. It is about as cold a take as you will get on these lists. But…it’s within, well Jarrett and I have taken to calling it the “fudge factor.” It can make a hash of our most carefully-considered prospect rankings, especially when dealing with pitchers. “There is no such thing as a mid-rotation starter” implies we don’t know what a mid-rotation starter looks like, which means how the heck are we ranking the twenty of them we are calling “mid-rotation starters” on a national list.

Well, we are, because that’s our job. I and others will implore you not to take ordinal rankings too literally. The 19th best prospect turning out worse than the 26th prospect is hardly a scandal. But that fudge factor? It’s bigger than you think.   

So how certain are we (am I) that Tyler Glasnow is a better prospect than Mitch Keller?

He’s higher on the list, man. He’s higher on the list.

***

1. Austin Meadows, OF
DOB: 05/03/1995
Height/Weight: 6’3” 200 lbs
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted ninth overall in the 2013 MLB Draft, Grayson HS (Loganville, GA); signed for $3.0296 million
Previous Ranking(s): #2 (Org.), #22 (Overall)
2016 Stats: .200/.294/.333, 0 HR, 0 SB in 5 games at Low-A West Virginia, .311/.365/.611, 6 HR, 9 SB in 45 games at Double-A Altoona, .214/.297/.460 6 HR, 8 SB in 37 games at Triple-A Indianapolis

The Good: Meadows has one of the best hit tools in the minors. He’s direct to the ball with plus bat speed. He has extra-base hit power to all fields—even more up-the-middle and pull side— and his above-average raw started playing more in games in 2016. Potential .300 hitter in the majors. He’s a plus runner who has the athleticism to play a competent center field. Could be a real defensive asset in a corner.

The Bad: The power has only really shown up for one season and may play more as 40 doubles than 20 home runs in the majors due to a swing geared more for line drives. A fringy arm limits him to left field if he isn’t a center fielder, and his instincts on the grass haven’t advanced to the point where his plus speed makes him a lock to stick up the middle. There’s going to be durability questions until he plays a full season.

The Irrelevant: You probably know that both Meadows and Clint Frazier grew up in Loganville, Georgia, but did you also know that actor Kyle Chandler, best known for his role as Gary Hobson on Early Edition, is also a Loganville native?

The Role:

OFP 70— All-star-level outfielder in the Christian Yelich mold
Likely 60—Above-average everyday left fielder

The Risks: Meadows is just waiting for the Pirates to open up an outfield spot for him at this point. His advanced hit tool should make the transition to facing major-league pitching less bumpy than it is for most. He’s been slightly injury prone throughout his minor league career. Needs to show he can hold up for a full 162-game season.

Major league ETA: Late 2017

Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Meadows is on the short list of best fantasy prospects in the game. He’s a potential five-category fantasy contributor, he’s knocking on the doorstep and he shouldn’t be a player who needs a few years to figure stuff out before he’s usable. The big red flag here is health, but while some of Meadows’ boo-boos point to a potential injury-plagued career (the hamstring injuries), some are just dumb bad luck (getting struck in the face by a baseball). Still, I’m reasonably optimistic Meadows can hit .300 with 15 homers and 20 steals on a regular basis, and there’s a chance I’m underselling the power. That’s OF1/2 territory.

 

2. Tyler Glasnow, RHP
DOB: 08/23/1993
Height/Weight: 6’8” 225 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted in the fifth round of the 2011 MLB Draft, Hart HS (Santa Clarita, CA); signed for $600,000
Previous Ranking(s): #1 (Org.), #11 (Overall)
2016 Stats: 4.24 ERA, 5.07 DRA, 23.1 IP, 22 H, 13 BB,  24 K in 7 games at major league level, 3.00 ERA, 3.99 DRA, 6 IP, 4 H, 6 BB, 11 K in 2 games at Double-A Altoona, 1.87 ERA, 2.80 DRA, 110.2 IP, 65 H, 62 BB, 133 K in 20 games at Triple-A Indianapolis 

The Good: Glasnow has two plus pitches in his repertoire already. A mid-90s fastball that can touch higher and is difficult to elevate due to its extreme downhill plane and arm-side run. The curveball sits around 80 and at its best comes out of the hand like the heater before dropping off the table with 12-6 break. Both pitches can flash plus-plus at times, and he’s had outings where the fastball has sat higher and the curve has been unhittable. The stuff is difficult to square even for major-league hitters.

The Bad: Glasnow is 6-foot-8 and mostly legs at that. That is a lot of lower half to get over, and his delivery can often get out of sync. He can struggle to throw strikes with the fastball and his velocity can dip into the low-90s when he is fighting his mechanics. The curve can flatten out to more 11-5 or get spiked. The change is firm and still lags a ways behind the other two offerings.

His general inefficiency tends to shorten his outings.

The Irrelevant: The only taller pitchers to appear in a game for the Pirates are John Holdzkom and Johnny Gee, both of whom were listed at 6-foot-9.

The Role:

OFP 70—No. 2 starter
Likely 60—No. 3 starter that flashes better at times

The Risks: Minor league hitters have never been able to hit Glasnow, and he flashed top-of-the-rotation stuff against major league bats as well. You do wonder if he will ever throw enough strikes or have enough overall efficiency in-game to reach that OFP though.

Major league ETA: Debuted in 2016

Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Glasnow is going to be frustrating at times—especially early in his career—but the potential payoff is worth the cost of your antacid. The WHIPs will be high, but by god the strikeouts will be, too. An easy top-15 dynasty prospect, Glasnow is in the right organization to make the most of his talents. Yes, there are warts, but the upside is worth the risk. 

 

3. Josh Bell, 1B/OF
DOB: 08/14/1992
Height/Weight: 6’2” 235 lbs.
Bats/Throws: S/R
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 61st overall in the 2011 MLB Draft, Dallas Jesuit HS (Dallas, TX); signed for $5 million
Previous Ranking(s): #5 (Org.), #49 (Overall)
2016 Stats: .273/.368/.406, 3 HR, 0 SB in 45 games at major league level, .295/.382/.468, 14 HR, 3 SB in 114 games at Triple-A Indianapolis

The Good: If you are going to rate this highly as a corner outfield or first base prospect—and a far from spectacular defender either spot at that—you better hit a lot. Bell should. The swing is a little unorthodox, and it’s mostly upper body, but he’s shown impressive hand-eye and barrel control. He marries this with a good knowledge of the zone and the ability to make hard contract in all four quadrants. He’s strong enough to lift balls over the fence too, even though he doesn’t use his legs as much as you’d expect from a traditional power hitter. It’s not impossible there are some 20-home-run seasons at maturity, though I expect him to settle in around 15 in a typical year.

The Bad: Bell doesn’t offer much with the glove in the outfield or even at first base. He swings from the, uh, hips, I guess, and you can get him to poke at soft stuff away when his two halves aren’t in time. As strong as he is, the swing isn’t going to provide the traditional corner power you expect, so the hit tool and approach will have to carry the profile. So far, so good on that front at least. 

The Irrelevant: Bell was part of the Pirates record 17 million dollar draft class in 2011. We’re guessing that record won’t be broken for a while.

The Role:

OFP 60—First-division regular at first base
Likely 55—Above-average first baseman

The Risks: Bell’s bat has proved its mettle in the upper minors, and he held his own during his first pass against major league arms. The profile is a tough one of course, but this is a first base prospect even Ben has to feel good about (or at least not comp to CJ Cron).

Major league ETA: Debuted in 2016

Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: I think Bell is underrated in fantasy circles. We spend a lot of time focused on what he can’t do, but I believe in the hit tool, and I think he’ll hit for at least acceptable power. Ok, maybe he’s only Brandon Belt 2.0, but Brandon Belt is an eminently usable fantasy prospect.

4. Mitch Keller, RHP
DOB: 04/04/1996
Height/Weight: 6’3” 195 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 64th overall in the 2014 MLB Draft, Xavier HS (Cedar Rapids, IA); signed for $1 million
Previous Ranking(s): #10 (Org.)
2016 Stats: 2.46 ERA, 1.55 DRA, 124.1 IP, 96 H, 18 BB, 131 K in 23 games at Low-A West Virginia, 0.00 ERA, 3.14 DRA, 6 IP, 5 H, 1 BB, 7 K in 1 game at High-A Bradenton

The Good: Keller was one of the best arms in the South Atlantic League this year, and the stuff backs up the numbers. His fastball can get up into the mid-90s and was touching higher late in the season. The pitch features both sink and tail and he commands it well to both sides of the plate. His curveball improved throughout the season and was flashing plus-plus by the end of the year. His delivery is about as clean as you will find nowadays, and his body is built for logging innings in a rotation—he’s got “da butt” as Experience Unlimited would say.

The Bad: The change is firm at present. It lacks velo separation although it will show some tail at times. He’s only shown his best stuff in flashes, to reach his projection it will have to show up more consistently.

The Irrelevant: In addition to an array of minor league sports options and Orchestra Iowa, Cedar Rapids is also home to the National Czech and Slovak Museum.

The Role:

OFP 60—No.3 starter
Likely 55—No. 3/4 starter

The Risks:  Keller has made exactly one start in the Florida State League, but the combination of stuff and command make him lower risk than you’d expect from that professional resume. The change-up will need to get to passable, but I’m pretty confident in his major league rotation future. But he is a pitcher, so you know.

Major league ETA: Late 2018

Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Oh weird, a talented Pirates pitching prospect with a big fastball. Keller may lack the upside of a Glasnow, Jameson Taillon, or Gerrit Cole, but he’s plenty talented in his own right. Keller is definitely a top-100 prospect, and I think his stock will rise considerably over the next few months. Buy now.  

 

5. Kevin Newman, SS
DOB: 08/04/1993
Height/Weight: 6’1” 185 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 19th overall in the 2015 MLB Draft, University of Arizona (AZ); signed for $2.175 million
Previous Ranking(s): #4 (Org.)
2016 Stats: .366/.428/.494, 3 HR, 4 SB in 41 games at High-A Bradenton, .288/.361/.378, 2 HR, 6 SB in 61 games at Double-A Altoona

The Good: One of the best pure hitters in the minors, Newman has all the things you like in a hitter. Plus bat speed, a line-drive swing, barrel control, an approach to all-fields and pitch recognition. Combine all that and you’ve got a guy who could be a plus or better hitter at the major-league level. Newman makes adjustments and very rarely swings and misses. While only an average straight-line runner, he is a better runner underway and can take opportunities for extra bases on the basepaths. He works counts well resulting in extra on-base opportunities.

The Bad: While a great hitter, the power is well below-average. He has a quality first step and can get rid of the ball quick, but his footwork isn’t pristine, as he lacks explosiveness and flash. His arm, while accurate, tends to lack carry and isn’t a threat.

The Irrelevant: Other winners of the Cape Cod League Batting title include Stephen Piscotty, Todd Cunningham, Chris Coghlan, and Conor Gillaspie.

The Role:

55 OFP—Above-average regular, Think Freddy Sanchez
Likely 50—League-average starter, Think Ryan Theriot

The Risks: While a sound hitter, the major leagues are different and any underperformance of his hit tool lowers his overall value. He is more of a second baseman than shortstop, which puts more pressure on his bat to hold everyday value. If the hit tool doesn’t play to our expectation the downside risk is significant.

Major league ETA: 2018 —Steve Givarz

Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Freddy Sanchez is a good comp, but if we’re going for something more current, I think Newman could be something like 2015 Matt Duffy (the good one), but shortstop-eligible. That’d make him a top-20 option at the position, which means he’d be a good MI in 12- to 14-team leagues. The ceiling isn’t sexy, but the floor is high. 

6. Will Craig, “3B”
DOB: 11/16/1994
Height/Weight: 6’3” 212 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 22nd Overall in 2016 MLB Draft, Wake Forest University (Winston-Salem, NC); signed for $2.253 million
Previous Ranking(s): N/A
2016 Stats: .280/.412/.362, 2 HR, 2 SB in 63 games at Low-A West Virginia

The Good: One of the best power-hitting prospects in last year’s class, Craig is a patient hitter with a leveraged stroke from the right side that is geared to do damage to the baseball. Strong forearms and wrists work well into the zone, and he has enough bat speed and plane to turn around elevated velocity. There’s less swing-and-miss than your typical power prospect, and he strikes out less than you’d expect from a guy who works deep counts. There’s potential for an above-average hit tool along with plus power if he develops as the organization has placed a significant bet that he will. His arm is plus from the left side, with velocity that carries line to line.

The Bad: He is very, very slow, with a thick middle and heavy legs that just don’t move with any kind of urgency regardless of situation. The range at third is well-below average, and he’s extremely unlikely to stay at the position long-term. The strike zone discipline can bleed into passivity, and he has struggled to translate his power into wood-bat games. He can lose his lower half, and with it his ability to generate bat speed and drive the ball with consistent authority.

The Irrelevant: In addition to his former teammate and current Tiger Daniel Norris, Craig shares high school alumni status with Hall of Fame college football coach Steve Spurrier and Col. LeRoy Reeves, who designed the Tennessee state flag in 1905.

The Role:

OFP 50—League-average first baseman
Likely 45—Second-division corner

The Risks: Significant, especially given his pedigree as a first-round college bat. The club sent him to short-season ball after he signed, where the approach played but the power didn’t. His defensive shortcomings put a significant amount of pressure on his bat, and his game power in particular.

Major league ETA: 2019 —Wilson Karaman

Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: The first section of Craig’s “The Bad” section also applies to me, which is never a good sign. The power tool shows some promise, but Craig is definitely a first baseman and might not hit enough to matter for us. He’s a top-150 name because the minors are shallow right now, but don’t let his first-round status fool you into thinking he’s a blue chipper.

 

7. Cole Tucker, SS
DOB: 07/03/1996
Height/Weight: 6’3” 185 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 24th overall in the 2014 MLB Draft, Mountain Pointe HS (Phoenix, AZ); signed for $1.8 million
Previous Ranking(s): #8 (Org.)
2016 Stats: .262/.308/.443, 1 HR, 1 SB in 15 games at Low-A West Virginia, .238/.312/.301, 1 HR, 5 SB in 65 games at High-A Bradenton

The Good: Tucker features a balanced profile with a chance to stick at shortstop. He’s an above-average runner whose speed is an asset on the bases and on the dirt. He shows good hands on the infield and is smooth around the bag despite his long and lanky build. At the plate he has feel for the barrel and strong wrists. The power plays as gap right now, but he could grow into more over-the-fence power as he fills out.

The Bad: Tucker is in that nebulous “could stick at short” category, as opposed to the “slam-dunk shortstop” or “can’t stick at shortstop” categories. He’s always going to get dinged for his height, although he is nimble generally and gets down low pretty well. He has enough arm for the position even after labrum surgery, but it’s not an asset there. He’s an aggressive hitter and still needs to grow into game power.

The Irrelevant: Mountain Point HS grads have been drafted eleven times. The best major leaguer so far is C.J. Cron (you can never get away from him, folks).

The Role:

OFP 50—Average everyday shortstop
Likely 45—Fifth infielder/second division starter

The Risks: Tucker might end up sliding over to third, which would help the defensive profile a bit, but not so much the prospect profile. There is still a lot of projection here to get to an everyday role.

Major league ETA: 2019

Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Meh. Tucker could end up as an ok MI thanks to his speed, but the hit and power tools aren’t promising enough for us to fall in love at present. Honestly, I can’t shake the feeling that he’ll just be Jordy Mercer again but like, 15 percent better. 

 

8. Ke’Bryan Hayes
DOB: 01/28/1997
Height/Weight: 6’1” 210 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 32nd overall in the 2015 MLB Draft, Concordia Lutheran HS (Tomball, TX); signed for $1.855 million
Previous Ranking(s): #9 (Org.)
2016 Stats: .400/.500/.600, 0 HR, 0 SB in 2 games at Gulf Coast League, .263/.319/.393, 6 HR, 6 SB in 65 games at Low-A West Virginia

The Good: Hayes is a solid third baseman. Moves well laterally despite his size, has good hands, actions, footwork and a plus arm. Potentially an above-average hitter. He’ll show good plate coverage and marries it with above-average bat speed. Shows above-average power power at 5 o’clock, although it plays more fringy after dusk.

The Bad: The raw power hasn’t really come into games much yet, as he prefers to make line-drive, gap-to-gap contact. He’s still finding consistency with his swing at the plate. He’s athletic enough for his size, but a below-average runner and not going to get faster. May never develop enough power to be an everyday corner player.

The Irrelevant: His father, Charlie Hayes, was a third baseman of some note.

The Role:

OFP 50—Everyday third baseman
Likely 45—Second-division starter/corner infield bench bat

The Risks: Hayes missed time this year with back and rib issues, which is suboptimal, though we are far from calling it a recurring issue. On the field, you’d like to see him start to turn more of his raw power into game power to carry the corner profile. He’s only got an A-ball resume so far.

Major League ETA: 2020

Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: We’re sort of in wait-and-see mode with Hayes until he shows more power. If you start hearing reports about his raw improving or if you see him start to hit for power in games, invest. If not, he falls well short of top-100 prospect status, and would probably fall closer to the 150-175 range. 

9. Steven Brault, RHP
DOB: 4/29/1992
Height/Weight: 6’0” 200 lbs.
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 339th Overall in 2013 MLB Draft, Regis University (Denver, CO); acquired for Travis Snider
Previous Ranking(s): N/A
2016 Stats: 4.86 ERA, 6.21 DRA, 33.1 IP, 45 H, 17 BB, 29 K in 8 games at major league level, 0.00 ERA, 2.55 DRA, 4 IP, 1 H, 0 BB, 5 K in 1 game at Low-A West Virginia, 3.91 ERA, 2.57 DRA, 71.1 IP, 66 H, 35 BB, 81 K in 16 games at Triple-A Indianapolis

The Good: How do you feel about sinker/slider backend lefties? Brault is a classic example of that ilk. He features a low-90s fastball he can throw to either side, the two-seam version shows good arm-side run and some sink. It’s an effective pitch when he can keep it down in the zone and spot it away to righties. His best sliders are solid-average with hard, late depth, but he can also play with the shape some and will backdoor it. He’s confident in the changeup and will throw it even when he’s behind in counts. He maybe shouldn’t so much? (we’ll get there). There’s some deception in his delivery as well.

The Bad: When the fastball isn’t down, it’s very hittable, and his command profile is more average or a tick above. The slider isn’t a consistent bat-misser. The changeup features deceptive arm action, but not much velocity separation and inconsistent fade. He can tend to nibble with his merely average stuff which can get him into trouble and also limit his efficiency.

The Irrelevant: Anything I could include here has likely already been covered in his Reddit AMA.

The Role:

OFP 50—Average starter
Likely 40—No. 5 starter/swingman/up and down arm

The Risks: Well, how do you feel about sinker/slider backend lefties?

Major league ETA: Debuted in 2016

Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: How do fantasy owners feel about sinker/slider backend lefties? They shouldn’t feel great, even if the contextual factors are good, as they are with Brault. He might be worth something in very deep leagues as long as he’s in the rotation, but Brault doesn’t have the upside or staying power to matter for us. I’m sorry.

 

10. Braeden Ogle, LHP
DOB: 7/30/1997
Height/Weight: 6’2” 170 lbs.
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 135th Overall in 2016 MLB Draft, Jensen Beach HS (Jensen Beach, FL); signed for $800,000
Previous Ranking(s): N/A
2016 Stats: 2.60 ERA, 27.2 IP, 18 H, 11 BB, 20 K in 8 games at Gulf Coast League

The Good: How do you feel about projectable lefties a loooooong way away from the majors. Ogle fits the bill. He can get his fastball up to 95, but can’t really keep it there (and his velocity could be all over the place as an amateur). He shows two different breaking balls and has some feel for spin. The change is…um…projectable.

The Bad: It’s a project. The stuff was up and down in the spring, though pro reports were better. Every single pitch mentioned above needs a grade jump or two. This could go in a million different directions in the next 24 months. Some of them are really good though.

The Irrelevant: Ogle is the second Braeden in organized baseball. The first, Braeden Bock played for the upstart Federal League in…just kidding, it’s another millennial—Braeden Schlehuber, a catcher in the Braves system.

The Role:

OFP 50—No. 4 starter
Likely 40—No. 5 starter/middle reliever 

The Risks: It’s a projectable lefty in the Gulf Coast League! And he’s a pitcher!

Major league ETA: 2021

Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Not yet. And unless the ceiling improves, maybe not ever.
 

 

Others of note:

#11

Taylor Hearn, LHP
The other lefty in the Melancon deal, Hearn could very quickly transfer that designation to Felipe Rivero. He’s a tall southpaw that has touched the triple digits and sits in the mid-90s as a starter. He pairs the potential plus-plus heater with a slider that flashes plus at present. The change and the command…well, we can direct you to the essay above. Hearn is still a little raw at present—and is yet to get out of A-ball—so the Pirates still have plenty of time to mold him into a—le sigh—mid-rotation starter, but he could be a weapons-grade southpaw in the bullpen if that fastball hits triple digits more in short bursts. It isn’t always that simple, but it’s also not a bad fallback position to have. 

The factor on the farm

Dovydas Neverauskas, RHP
We often talk about how a fringy starting pitching prospect’s stuff might “play up in the pen.” We don’t always know exactly what that will look like, but are betting on a couple more ticks on the fastball, a sharper slider, and an excising of the other, below-average pitches. What we don’t usually expect is what happened to Nerverasukas. Calling the Lithuanian righty a “fringy starting pitching prospect” would be the nicest thing anyone wrote about him in 2015 before his move to the pen. But in the season-and-a-half since his conversion to relief, Neverauskas has gone from “starter that doesn’t get out of A-ball” to “2017 major league bullpen option.” The fastball jumped from the low 90s to the high 90s, and he pairs it with a hard cutter/slider thing. There likely isn’t real late-inning potential here, but major league potential is impressive enough given where we were 18 months ago.

The factor on the farm (for another team)

Jose Osuna, OF/1B
Jose Osuna is in the wrong organization. He’s probably not a great fit in a corner outfield spot, but he isn’t unseating Austin Meadows or Gregory Polanco on the grass at PNC Park anyway. As it is the Pirates are looking to trade a franchise icon just to make room for Meadows anyway. Osuna also happens to play the same positions as Josh Bell, who is already in the majors and much higher on this list. Now redundancy isn’t the worst thing in the world, and you can always use an extra bat like Osuna’s. He doesn’t have ideal pop for the three positions he can play, but he’s strong enough to mash a dinger or 15. And he’s not your traditional AAA-corner type at the plate, he’s got some feel for hitting. You still have to squint hard to get the profile over a 45, but there are teams that could use that. Unfortunately, the Pirates do not appear to be one of them at present.

Catcher development paths are weird, part 785

Elias Diaz, C
Diaz debuted in the Pirates organization in 2009. Zach Duke and Paul Maholm made the most starts for the big club that year. Jack Wilson was their shortstop. I was writing and directing a short musical film about a young father who convinces his son he’s a squid (the father, not the son). What I am trying to convey is that catcher development paths are long. Diaz can hit a little bit and is a solid enough backstop, but doesn’t really do any one thing well enough to carve out a starter’s role. He’s had brief brushes with the majors in 2015 and 2016 and now should be fully ready for his long-ordained role in the fraternal order of backup catchers. My film adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s short story, “All God’s Children Can Dance” however, still remains in pre-production limbo.

Life begins at 20

Yeudy Garcia, RHP
When you sign all the “best” prospects from a country at 16, it’s inevitable a few will fall through the cracks. After all, sometimes pitchers add velocity in their late teens. Sometimes a lot of velocity. Garcia signed with the Pirates at 20, so he’s always going to be old for his level, but 2016 was more of the same in the Florida State League. It’s a big fastball paired with a developing breaker. The background is always going to make one think “late-inning relief arm,” and that might well be his eventual major league home, but there’s no longer need to make up for lost time, so giving Garcia a shot as a starter in Double-A in 2017 seems like a reasonable plan. 

 

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/91 or later)

  1. Gregory Polanco
  2. Austin Meadows
  3. Jameson Taillon
  4. Tyler Glasnow
  5. Josh Bell
  6. Mitch Keller
  7. Kevin Newman
  8. Chad Kuhl
  9. Will Craig
  10. Felipe Rivero

The rich get even richer in the 25-and-under list, and this year’s version graduated Gerrit Cole at that. Topping the 2017 edition is former top prospect-turned-2016 breakout star Gregory Polanco. Like his corner outfield mate Starling Marte, Polanco is bordering on outrageously good defensively and probably capable of handling center. Offensively, Polanco is more of a lower-average slugger at present, but don’t forget: we rated him as highly as a 60-potential hit as a prospect. The power certainly came around, and he’s still growing as a player. If the hit tool comes around, he could yet be a superstar.

Jameson Taillon came back from over two years lost to Tommy John surgery and assorted other injuries to establish himself as a potential top-of-the-rotation starter. A lot of boxes are checked off here to just call him a top-of-the-rotation guy already: dominant fastball/curve combo, development of the change into a viable third pitch, command improvements, long-held expectations that he would get to this level, good performance in both the minors and the majors. Yet we hedge, and accordingly place Taillon third instead of first, in light of the injuries. Though third on this list is a slot still ahead of one of the three best RHP prospects in the game.

Sinkerballer Chad Kuhl popped in the majors fully-formed as a fourth starter in 2016. He doesn’t have much upside past that, and it’s always a bit of a balancing act on where to rank the present contributors against upside players. We’ve ranked him just ahead of Will Craig, and just behind Craig slots another player in this boat, Felipe Rivero. Rivero, the primary piece received in the Mark Melancon trade, is a present decent middle-leverage reliever with excellent stuff who has a chance to be a good high-leverage reliever if the command sorts out. One imagines the Pirates will probably get him some saves at some point to be flipped out for the next iteration in the chain. —Jarrett Seidler