The Top Ten
- RHP Tyler Glasnow
- RHP Jameson Taillon
- OF/1B Josh Bell
- C Reese McGuire
- RHP Nick Kingham
- RHP Mitch Keller
- OF Austin Meadows
- INF Alen Hanson
- SS Cole Tucker
- OF Harold Ramirez
1. Tyler Glasnow
Height/Weight: 6’7” 195 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: 5th round, 2011 draft, Hart HS, (Santa Clarita, CA)
Previous Ranking: #3 (Org), #42 (Top 101)
2014 Stats: 1.74 ERA (124.1 IP, 74 H, 157 K, 57 BB) at High-A Bradenton
The Tools: 6+ FB; 6 potential CB; 5+ potential CH
What Happened in 2014: Glasnow proved to be well ahead of the curve in the Florida State League, fanning an impressive 157 batters in 124 1/3 innings and only allowing 74 hits.
Strengths: Outstanding size; creates good angle on hitters; throws downhill; fast arm; heater easily operates 93-95 with late life; capable of reaching for more; aggressive with fastball; snaps curveball with loose wrist; creates excellent snap; deep break and teeth at 77-79; bat-missing potential; flashes feel for changeup; improving action; power-arm potential.
Weaknesses: Lot of body to control due to size; loses feel for delivery; consistency of release point suffers; will overthrow fastball when reaching back; can hold onto curve too long; change lags behind other offerings; too firm at times; lacks finish out of the strike zone; overall command needs a grade jump; gets away with mistakes in the zone; still learning finer points of craft.
Overall Future Potential: High 6; no. 2/3 starter
Realistic Role: High 5; no. 3/4 starter
Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; yet to pitch in upper levels; pitchability progression.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The WHIP will likely always be an issue, outside of any extreme BABIP-depressing seasons, but it’s a small price to pay for the strikeout potential. He’s exciting from a statistical standpoint, but for fantasy owners, he’s still a big risk—and even the payoff may look a little like Lance Lynn. I’d still take the next guy on this list as the top fantasy arm in this system.
The Year Ahead: There is no doubt Glasnow is ready for an assignment in Double-A as he gets set to take the next step in his developmental journey this season. The raw stuff here shines on the mound. The right-hander’s fastball-curveball combination gives him a distinct leg up on the competition. It’s typically a barrage of mid-90s fastballs and hammer curves aimed at churning quickly through opposing lineups. The vision is of Glasnow pushing to the front of a big-league rotation at peak, with the ability to have a solid string of successful seasons. The future is without a doubt bright, but there are some underlying concerns that the big righty needs to address to reach his potential. The feel for the craft—notably command—and utility of the changeup presently lag behind. Currently, the other weapons help mask these weaknesses, but once in the majors, their development will be big factors in making the ceiling a reality. It’ll be interesting to see how Glasnow transitions into the Eastern League, and whether he is pushed right off the bat to be finer with the heater, along with incorporating his change more in sequences. If he can show similar success to previous campaigns, he’ll ride the wave to a 2015 debut.
Major league ETA: Late 2015
2. Jameson Taillon
Height/Weight: 6’5” 245 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2010 draft, The Woodlands HS (The Woodlands, TX)
Previous Ranking: #1 (Org), #19 (Top 101)
2014 Stats: DNP – Injury
The Tools: 7 FB; 6+ potential CB; 5+ potential CH
What Happened in 2014: Tommy John surgery struck the right-hander in the spring, and a season of development was washed away in favor of the rehab process.
Strengths: Big frame; physical player; excellent arm strength; body to withstand the rigors of the season; mid-90s (to more) fastball with outstanding arm-side life; runs on right-handed hitters’ hands; can be very heavy; power curve in the low 80s range; two-plane break; bat-missing ability; comes right after hitters.
Weaknesses: Command already needed work prior to injury; can be late with arm; fastball operates in dangerous spots; elevated often; has trouble consistently throwing curve for strikes; change lags behind other offerings; more like a fastball he takes something off of; lacks quality action; arsenal recovery from injury.
Overall Future Potential: 7; no. 2 starter
Realistic Role: 6; no. 3 starter
Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; Tommy John on the resume; regaining feel for stuff/command.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Forget about Taillon at your own peril. It’s been out of sight, out of mind for the 23-year-old, but his combination of strikeout stuff and frame for a ton of innings makes him plenty valuable to fantasy owners. It will likely be 2017 before he’s really let loose, but 200 strikeouts is possible down the road, and he could help this season.
The Year Ahead: Taillon’s path this season starts with proving he’s healthy and ready for game action, which should come this spring. It remains to be seen how the right-hander’s arsenal will look in the early stages making it back to the mound after surgery, but this was top-shelf stuff prior to the injury. Assuming Taillon shows signs of regaining his feel and progresses into the middle stages relatively quickly, the attention turns to how the command profile is shaping up. The 23-year-old had lost some of his shine at the national level due to command inconsistencies, but these were questions the prospect had upon entering the pro ranks. The injury definitely clouds things more for Taillon, but it’s not time to say a ceiling as a number two starter is out of the equation. This is a big arm with an extremely lively fastball and curveball that can straighten up high-quality hitters. Toss in the potential to squeeze more out of the change and the focus an injury rehab brings overall, and this arm can comfortably settle into a role as a strong mid-rotational starter, with the chance for some seasons higher.
Major league ETA: Late 2015
3. Josh Bell
Height/Weight: 6’2” 235 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: 2nd round, 2011 draft, Dallas Jesuit College Prep (Dallas, TX)
Previous Ranking: #5 (Org), #77 (Top 101)
2014 Stats: .287/.343/.309 at Double-A Altoona (24 games), .335/.384/.502 at High-A Bradenton (84 games)
The Tools: 5+ potential hit; 6 potential power; 5+ arm; 5 potential glove;
What Happened in 2014: Bell played at two levels in 2014, including a taste of Double-A, and hit .325 overall with 35 extra-base hits.
Strengths: Strong player; athletic; physical specimen; feel for hitting; displays ability to get barrel on the ball from both sides of the plate; good lift in left-handed stroke; simpler swing right-handed; squares up with backspin; plus bat speed; raw power to tap into; strength to hit home runs to both fields; arm for right field; shows acceleration and closing speed in the field when getting good reads.
Weaknesses: A bit long with swing left-handed; still learning how to balance lift; can be susceptible to breaking balls; likes to get head of bat out front; power is there, but needs some development lead time; chance hit tool plays down to maximize power potential; will take bad routes in outfield; reads aren’t the best; makes it look difficult when it shouldn’t be; upper body thickness can hinder arm.
Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division regular
Realistic Role: 5; average major leaguer
Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; only 23 games in Double-A; knee injury in 2012.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: With two pitchers ahead of Bell, there’s a good argument to be made that he’s the top fantasy prospect in this system. And as a potential .275 hitter with 25 homers, it’s no real surprise as to why. With a full outfield in Pittsburgh, the ability to play first base will make him move more quickly to the majors—as that was a weakness of the team last season.
The Year Ahead: Bell continued to take steps forward in 2014, firmly cementing himself within this system and in all of baseball in the process. He’s a physically imposing player, built like a bruising fullback, who will surprise with his athleticism when watching him in the field. There’s more than enough here for the 22-year-old to stick in the outfield, but his curious routes at times and slow reads do bring in some doubts. If Bell dedicates himself more to this side of the game, it’s not hard to see him bringing adequate defense to the table in right field. His commitment has paid off other areas as the outfielder has made some strong strides in the box, particularly with his patience and working through sequences to find pitches he can drive. Double-A will be a test for Bell to stay back on the ball more frequently as the switch-hitter can get too far out in front from the left side, trying to load up to hit the ball in the air. An adjustment in mindset against good breaking balls will be key in preventing the bat from getting stuck in neutral this season. This is a prospect who can post .270s averages with 20-plus home runs in the majors at peak. There’s lead time to reaching that projection, and we may start finding out if it’s possible to get there with a late-season call-up a definite possibility.
Major league ETA: Late 2015
4. Reese McGuire
Height/Weight: 6’0” 181 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2013 draft, Kentwood HS (Covington, WA)
Previous Ranking: #4 (Org), #59 (Top 101)
2014 Stats: .262/.307/.334 at Low-A West Virginia (98 games)
The Tools: 5+ potential hit; 5 potential power; 7 potential arm; 6+ potential glove
What Happened in 2014: The overall line was unassuming in A-Ball, but the 19-year-old more than held his own on both sides of the ball, including nailing 39% of would-be basestealers.
Strengths: Athletic; light on his feet; good present overall strength; potential to add more; plus-to-better raw arm strength; crisp arm action; fires feet quickly coming out of crouch; arm projects to control the running game; moves well laterally; knows how to use body to get big; firm glove hand; easy stroke; displays separation with hands; plus bat speed; ability to create solid contact consistently; excellent makeup; shows early makings of taking control of the game.
Weaknesses: More of a line-drive stroke; a bit on the flat side; power may play below average in favor of contact; aggressive early in the count; will chase breakers out of zone; concerns on hit tool playing light; questions on what swing will look like against good velocity; overall receiving skills in early refinement stages; will get overzealous with arm; footwork can get sloppy.
Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division player
Realistic Role: 5; average regular
Risk Factor/Injury History: High risk; Low-A experience; dual-threat development.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The one thing that overrates prospects from a fantasy perspective more than anything else is extreme catcher defense—and McGuire is the latest example. That’s not to say he doesn’t have offensive potential, but in one-catcher mixed leagues, the payoff isn’t likely to be worth using a roster spot for this long (unless it’s a deep league).
The Year Ahead: McGuire has the type of potential with the glove to ride it all the way to the big leagues. The combination of arm strength, athleticism, and polished receiving skills point to a defender who can easily settle in as an above-average backstop down the line. A tireless worker, the 19-year-old exhibits both the drive and desire when executing his defensive craft, making it easy to see a player capable of maximizing all of his talent. With the stick, there’s bat speed, a feel for the barrel, promise with the approach, and strength to tap into. Extrapolating far forward, the potential for a .275-.280 hitter with 12-15 annual home runs does come into focus, especially when factoring the makeup into the equation. It’s going to take time, though, and the conservative view does see something less than those projections. It’s likely that 2015 will be something similar in terms of a line for McGuire in High-A as a huge offensive breakout isn’t expected, but more subtle progress towards putting things together. He’s likely the type that suddenly sneaks up with the stick a couple of seasons from now, with the foundation being put in place during these early seasons.
Major league ETA: Late 2017
5. Nick Kingham
Height/Weight: 6’5” 220 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: 4th round, 2010 draft, Sierra Vista HS (Las Vegas, NV)
Previous Ranking: #6 (Org), #80 (Top 101)
2014 Stats: 3.58 ERA (88 IP, 70 H, 65 K, 27 BB) at Triple-A Indianapolis, 3.04 ERA (71 IP, 71 H, 54 K, 25 BB) at Double-A Altoona
The Tools: 6 FB; 6 potential CB; 5 potential CH
What Happened in 2014: The big right-hander pushed towards the cusp of The Show in 2014, firing 159 innings, and proving he can handle upper-minors’ lineups in the process.
Strengths: Fluid delivery; repeats well; excellent size; utilizes body and strength; downhill thrower; stays above fastball; plays 91-94, with ability to reach for more in spots; flashes arm-side life; strong downward break to curveball; buries off the table; creates hard snap; turns over change with loose wrist; improving look to pitch; potential for continued command progress due to ease of delivery.
Weaknesses: Loose with fastball in the zone; can be forced into smaller spots which puts pressure on control; struggles at times to throw curve and change for strikes; good hitters will lay off; lacks legit out-pitch presently; will hold onto curve too long and bounce with frequency; change can float; finds barrels with offering.
Overall Future Potential: High 5; no. 3/4 starter
Realistic Role: 5; no. 4 starter
Risk Factor/Injury History: Low risk; 14 Triple-A starts under belt; secondary stuff consistency.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There’s not much excitement here for shallow leaguers, but Kingham is close and should be able to provide good ratios and the backbone for wins and quality starts. The big missing piece is the strikeouts, and without consistent secondaries, we’re looking at a 140-strikeout-per-year pitcher at best.
The Year Ahead: Kingham projects as a potential workhorse who can pitch somewhere from the middle to back of a rotation, depending on the depth. Despite his size, the right-hander presently displays solid control of his body and clean mechanics that enable him to repeat his arm slot consistently. The bread and butter is the lively fastball that, when on, the 23-year-old slices down through the strike zone and spots to both sides of the plate. Kingham can also lean heavily on the curve and change, though the spottier command with the two limits the amount of chases right now. If the righty can push his pitchability with the secondary stuff and force hitters to commit earlier, especially with the hard-breaking curveball, the profile can play up close to the peak potential or even outkick it as a firm mid-rotation starter. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the secondary arsenal take a step forward, but whether it can get to the level necessary on a consistent basis over the long run remains to be seen. Kingham more likely settles in as an innings eater towards the back of a rotation, with a good chance at some point in 2015 to begin cutting his teeth against big-league hitters.
Major league ETA: 2015
6. Mitch Keller
Height/Weight: 6’3” 195 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: 2nd round, 2014 draft, Xavier HS (Cedar Rapids, IA)
Previous Ranking: NA
2014 Stats: 1.98 ERA (27.1 IP, 19 H, 29 K, 13 BB) at complex level GCL
The Tools: 6+ potential FB; 6 potential CB; 5+ potential CH
What Happened in 2014: The second-round pick signed for a seven-figure bonus, then went out and struck out slightly more than a batter an inning in the Gulf Coast League.
Strengths: Good frame; room to carry more mass and add strength; loose arm; easy, low energy-expending delivery; good balance; fastball already works 90-93 with arm-side life; potential to add more velocity; shows feel for curveball; spins with a loose wrist; depth and teeth in mid-70s; potential bat-missing pitch; learning how to turnover change; flashes better-than-average potential; low-mileage arm; high growth potential.
Weaknesses: Can be erratic with release; not a great present finisher of delivery; needs to learn how to use size to advantage; below-average present fastball command; curve needs more tightening to add power; will roll with some frequency; in early stages of honing changeup; offering tends to float; must learn how to throw secondary stuff for strikes; can use more strength to avoid wearing down.
Overall Future Potential: 6; no. 3 starter
Realistic Role: 5; no. 4 starter
Risk Factor/Injury History: High risk; complex-league resume; command progression.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There are places on dynasty teams for short-season arms, but the risk and ETA associated with them will keep Keller down dynasty draft lists this year, despite strong potential. Look for him to come off the board after the first 25 players have been taken—likely by a Baseball Prospectus subscriber.
The Year Ahead: Keller drew solid reviews both pre and post draft as an arm with a chance to really take off once fully within the confines of the professional environment. The Iowa native’s fastball velocity has ticked up over the course of the last year, mainly driven by increased strength and some natural filling out into his 6-foot-3 frame. It’s not hard to envision the right-hander being able to squeeze out a little more velocity as he continues to physically mature while getting plenty of repetitions in a more structured throwing program. Keller pairs his low-90s fastball with a potential knee-bending curveball and developing changeup. The curve shows the highest potential of the two, and with tightening can round into a legit bat-missing offering. The current long pole is the command of the entire arsenal, especially the fastball. Keller has some work in front of him getting more consistent with finishing his delivery, which isn’t uncommon for an arm his age, but can lead to inconsistencies early in the career. This may seem like an aggressive placement for a relatively inexperienced player in a deeper system, but it speaks to the belief in the righty’s overall package and feeling that the stuff will show well out of the gate in 2015, with the arsenal taking the initial steps towards developing into a mid-rotational starter.
Major league ETA: 2018
7. Austin Meadows
Height/Weight: 6’3” 200 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2013 draft, Grayson HS (Loganville, GA)
Previous Ranking: #7 (Org), #89 (Top 101)
2014 Stats: .322/.388/.486 at Low-A West Virginia (38 games)
The Tools: 5+ potential hit; 5+ potential power; 6 run; 5+ potential glove
What Happened in 2014: The outfielder missed a good chunk of time with a hamstring injury, but when he made it back to the field, Meadows posted a .874 OPS in 38 games at Low-A.
Strengths: Good size and strength; athletic; frame that can continue to add strength pulling hands inside of ball; plus raw power; plenty of strength to tap into for home-run ability down the line; gets out of box well; shows good acceleration; above-average wheels; improving with reads off the bat.
Weaknesses: Questions on ultimate power potential; may come at expense of hit tool; increased leverage in swing over natural bat speed; concerns on added mass decreasing speed; not overly natural in center; could slide to a corner; doesn’t have the arm for right; pressure on bat to develop to full potential.
Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division regular
Realistic Role: 5; major-league regular
Risk Factor/Injury History: High risk; limited full-season resume; questions on profile.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The outfielder has the tools you want to see in a fantasy performer, but lacks impact in any of them. Of course, individual impact isn’t a requirement for fantasy impact, but it requires a lot more coalescence. If he settles in as a 15/15 guy, which is certainly realistic, shallow leaguers may be left wanting more.
The Year Ahead: Meadows certainly looks the part in the field, with an already developed body that has more room, a picture-perfect stroke, and an easy-plus run. What would have been an initial look at really gauging the young outfielder’s chops in the professional ranks fell flat in 2014 due to a hamstring injury. What’s interesting is that when on the field so far as a pro, though briefly, the 19-year-old has performed well. The lack of looks makes it tough to discern as to whether this is a more presently advanced hitter that’s better than the relatively inexperienced competition or if there’s been progress with some of the initial offensive concerns. Those concerns do hang loudly over Meadows at the moment. The body has a good chance to add more bulk, but it’s likely to come at the expense of his speed and he already isn’t the most natural in center. The arm is short of right-field caliber, so the potential destination is left field, which puts a lot of pressure on the bat. Some sources don’t see the type of offensive thump to support that profile. The only real certainty surrounding Meadows in 2015 is that a lot of people will be zoned in on getting good looks at him to start putting the development trends together.
Major league ETA: Late 2017
8. Alen Hanson
Height/Weight: 5’11” 170 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: International Free Agent, 2009, Dominican Republic
Previous Ranking: #8 (Org), Just Missed The Cut (Top 101)
2014 Stats: .280/.326/.442 at Double-A Altoona (118 games)
The Tools: 5+ potential hit; 5+ potential power; 5+ potential glove; 6 run
What Happened in 2014: Hanson put together a solid campaign in the Eastern League, hitting .280 and ripping 44 extra-base hits, but struggled maintaining consistency defensively at shortstop.
Strengths: Athletic player; fluid actions; quick, strong hands; generates good bat speed; smooth swing from both sides of the plate; feel for controlling the barrel; some thunder in the stick; makes hard contact; can drive the ball with loft; speed to make an impact on the bases; quick first step in the field; ability to play better than average at second.
Weaknesses: Needlessly rushes plays at short; makes unforced mistakes; lacks consistency at the position; not likely to stick in the long run; approach will get aggressive; likes to get head out in front of ball early; leaves him prone to secondary stuff; can yank with bat; still learning situations to muscle up; power may play more gap than over the fence; reads off pitchers need some work.
Overall Future Potential: High 5; above-average regular
Realistic Role: Low 5; second-division starter
Risk Factor/Injury History: Low risk; 153 Double-A games; profile questions.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: While there’s a big difference between a shortstop and a second baseman in real life, in fantasy leagues, it’s minimal at best. Prospect fatigue may be setting in with Hanson, but we’d all take .270 with 15 homers and 20 steals from a middle infielder any day—after all, even the 2014 version of Daniel Murphy was a top-10 second baseman.
The Year Ahead: Most evaluators saw Hanson sliding over to second base at some point prior to reaching, or very early on in, the major leagues, so it didn’t come as a surprise to see the prospect get work there during the last month of this past season. Whether it’s sold as increasing the infielder’s versatility or what-have-you, this long-term view sees Hanson at second. There’s still defensive work for the 22-year-old to round into a better-than-average defender, but the position just seems to fit better and will likely alleviate some of the overall defensive stress that plagues him. There is pressure on the bat to play to full potential and produce consistently season in and season out. It’s more of a solid-average offensive profile, which is a hit to the overall value due to not sticking up the middle, but there’s good contact ability and some pop here. A key factor to Hanson reaching his potential offensive grades rests with further development of the approach. He’ll continue to be tested in Triple-A this season to stay back longer and not get caught out in front of breaking stuff, which drives weak contact and swings and misses. If all goes well, look for the infielder to make his debut towards the end of the summer.
Major league ETA: 2015
9. Cole Tucker
9. Cole Tucker
Height/Weight: 6’3” 185 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2014 draft, Mountain Pointe HS (Phoenix, AZ)
Previous Ranking: NA
2014 Stats: .267/.368/.356 at complex level GCL (48 games)
The Tools: 5 potential hit; 5+ potential power; 6 arm; 5+ potential glove; 6 run
What Happened in 2014: The Pirates selected Tucker with the 24th overall pick, and then after signing, the shortstop more than held his own in the Gulf Coast League as an 18-year-old.
Strengths: Frame to continue adding size and strength; light on feet; fluid actions; reads ball off the bat well; soft hands; quick stroke from left side; loose hands; flashes ability to barrel up offerings with backspin; body to grow into power with physical maturity; high baseball IQ; shows instincts for the game.
Weaknesses: Swing gets loose right-handed; on the long side; needs more strength to enhance bat speed; stroke is more contact orientated at present; will need to learn how to tease more lift and post-contact extension out to hit with power; foot speed likely to decrease with physical maturation; runs risk of losing range with added mass; in the early stages of developing a professional approach.
Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division player
Realistic Role: High 4; second-division player/utility player
Risk Factor/Injury History: High risk; limited professional experience; big gap between present and future.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The list of potential exciting fantasy contributors in this system continues, as Tucker could end up a power/speed combo at a very weak position—which holds true even if he shifts to the hot corner. For all the talk of him being an overdraft for the Pirates, he could be nicely undervalued in dynasty drafts this offseason.
The Year Ahead: Tucker is one of those players where the vision of the future leads to gazing fairly far off into the horizon and heavily projecting out the tools at present. But as they start to become more polished skills, the potential finished product really comes into focus. The body also has strong potential to evolve over the course of the next few years as the 18-year-old’s frame and wiry muscle type lend strong clues that there can be plenty of strength gains on the way. The progression is likely going to be on the slower side, though, as Tucker is a bit raw, and a lot of it is tied into strength and experience gains. There are some concerns that the prospect’s natural physical development is going to lead to him being pushed off the shortstop position, but the arm plays up on the left side of the infield and the defensive tools are there. It’s currently “wait and see” as to exactly how it all unfolds given Tucker is just entering the stage of larger physical gains. It’ll be interesting where he goes to short-season or full-season ball in 2015 given he was on the young side for the draft class, but there’s a good chance the first developmental steps forward will happen at whichever level he begins.
Major league ETA: 2019
10. Harold Ramirez
Height/Weight: 5’10” 210 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: International Free Agent, 2011, Colombia
Previous Ranking: #10 (Org)
2014 Stats: .309/.364/.402 at Low-A West Virginia (49 games)
The Tools: 5+ potential hit; 5 potential power; 5 potential glove; 5 arm; 6+ run
What Happened in 2014: Ramirez dealt with leg injuries that hampered his overall season, but the outfielder was able to hit .309 and post a .766 OPS when on the field.
Strengths: Good present strength; strong lower half; excellent athlete; strong wrists and forearms; life in hands; ability to control the barrel; squares up offerings with good backspin; raw power to tap into down the line; accelerates well out of the box; speed is an asset; covers good ground into both gaps in center; shows closing speed; arm plays in position.
Weaknesses: Approach is on the crude side; needs work bringing a plan to the plate; gets aggressive early with fastballs regardless of location; prone to breaking balls across line of sight; will commit hands early; bat can drag; on the rough side in center; can be slow with reads and take flat-angled routes; arm doesn’t play in right; further added mass can cut into speed.
Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division player
Realistic Role: High 4; bench outfielder/second-division starter
Risk Factor/Injury History: High risk; limited full-season experience; gap between now and future.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There’s a long way to go here, but Ramirez could be a fantasy performer in the mold of Starling Marte—a player who is speed-based, but can contribute across the board regardless. Even if the power never materializes, rotisserie owners aren’t likely to get too up in arms.
The Year Ahead: Ramirez is presently a work in progress and crude as a player, but the overall tools are here and if things click, the outcome can be a solid payout. The combination of a projectable hit tool, playable potential power, and speed make the 20-year-old an attractive prospect if you believe he can stick up the middle. The latter aspect is where the initial concerns creep in as there are mixed opinions as to whether Ramirez is going to be able to stick in center over the long haul. Despite the athleticism and plus speed, he’s not the most natural and fluid at the position, often getting slower reads and seemingly lacking high-caliber instincts. The arm is only average, so it’s likely left field if he can’t refine the defense enough, which makes the offensive tools developing to their potential grades all the more important. Ramirez possesses the type of hitting talent that will probably allow him to get by until the upper minors, but his pitch selection and overall approach will need to start showing progress to ease concerns of his weaknesses being exposed upon reaching Double-A. This is a long-lead development player, with a sizable gap between the present and future, but one who can take some steps forward with consistent repetitions in 2015.
Major league ETA: Late 2017
Prospects on the Rise:
1. RHP Trey Supak: The 6-foot-5 right-hander shows starter upside, which led to the Pirates selecting him in the Competitive Balance portion after the second round of this past year’s draft. Supak possesses a loose arm and the type of frame that can pack on a good amount more strength as he physically matures. The 18-year-old already dials his fastball into the low-90s and can occasionally touch higher. The view is that with added strength, this player’s entire arsenal can take a step forward, including a curveball and changeup that can play average to better. There’s a longer developmental curve here, but if some of the gains start to show out of the gate, Supak has a chance to be firmly in this system’s top-10 discussion next season.
2. RHP Gage Hinsz: Another projectable arm, the Pirates signed the 11th rounder out of Montana to an over-slot deal this past year and will likely slowly begin his developmental journey. Hinsz is on the raw side, but his easy delivery, ability to work his fastball up into the low 90s, and early feel for the secondary stuff stands out. It’s likely going to be longer lead with the 18-year-old, considering that he isn’t exactly coming from a baseball hotbed and there are plenty of rough edges to polish. It may be a bit early with Hinsz, but the feeling is this a player with a good chance to make some strong gains once he gets going in the pro structure, and a rise in status will quickly follow suit.
3. OF Tito Polo: A true five-tool talent, the 20-year-old outfielder spent his first season stateside in the Gulf Coast League, drawing some high marks on the overall skill set. Polo already shows good present strength—with a frame that can still pack on a little more to further enhance his overall game—and a feel for barreling up the ball with backspin. A potential assignment in full-season ball will likely be a good test for the Colombian’s approach. Early clues pointed to the ability to stay back on the ball and let it travel deeper, but it remains to be seen as to whether the step up in competition will have a neutralizing effect. Polo has a chance to start really generating buzz this season if the tools continue to show progress and a projection as a regular comes into focus.
Factors on the Farm (Prospects likely to contribute at the ML level in 2015)
1. C Elias Diaz: The defensive skills carry this profile, though Diaz does flash the ability to control the head of the bat and get the barrel on the ball. The 24-year-old Venezuelan is polished behind the dish, with solid footwork, a firm glove, and a plus-to-better arm highlighting the package. Diaz has also made strong strides with his game management and leadership skills since reaching the upper minors, which puts his defense at near major-league ready. Feedback on the bat was mixed as to whether there will be enough consistent hard contact against high-caliber arms to hit enough in extended stretches. It’s a likely solid backup profile in The Show, with the chance to play a little higher if he can squeeze more out with the bat.
2. OF Willy Garcia: The 22-year-old outfielder’s strike zone management skills can still use some refinement, and there’s a chance that his over aggressiveness will expose the hit tool a level up and beyond, but Garcia flashes in-game power and the ability to impact the baseball. If the right-handed hitter can learn to work himself into more favorable hitting conditions while showing more trust to use the whole field, there’s potential here to ride it to a look at the big-league level should the situation present itself. Given Pittsburgh’s already crowded outfield picture, Garcia may be more of a long shot in 2015, but a good showing in Triple-A can force the issue and give the organization that many more options during the summer.
3. RHP Casey Sadler: The former 25th round pick has steadily climbed the ranks of the system since signing, culminating in a call to The Show this past September. The right-hander’s main weapons are a low-90s sinking fastball and hard-biting slider that he leans on to miss bats. The 24-year-old displays confidence in utilizing his entire arsenal at any point in the count, which also includes about an average changeup. Sadler could serve as starting depth at Triple-A in 2015 should the organization be inclined to keep him stretched out as protection to the rotation. The power nature of his fastball-slider combination also leaves the door open for the righty to be utilized in a bullpen role as early as the start of the season should Pittsburgh be inclined to expedite his arrival.
Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/89 or later)
- Gerrit Cole
- Gregory Polanco
- Tyler Glasnow
- Jameson Taillon
- Josh Bell
- Reese McGuire
- Nick Kingham
- Mitch Keller
- Austin Meadows
- Alen Hanson
The Pirates made back-to-back playoff appearances the past two seasons, which could be classified as a sign of the apocalypse. One would think a team that has been dwelling in the cellar for such a long time would have built a strong foundation of young talent, but that is not entirely the case. The Pirates do have a fantastic core of talent in Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, Josh Harrison, and a few others. However, none of these players qualify for this list. In fact, only two players on this list are currently in the majors; but those two players are overflowing with talent.
Gerrit Cole battled injuries this season but is still on his way to becoming one of the better pitchers in the game. At age 24, the Pirates can expect quite a few more years out of their power righty. The former first-overall selection is the prize arm of this organization and should help to potentially keep them in contention down the road. Gregory Polanco finally received the call to the show this past season after destroying the upper minors. Polanco has the tools capable of developing into a first-division talent, but he did struggle some during his initial test in the majors. Slight adjustments will be necessary with his approach and ability at recognizing major-league pitch sequencing, but Polanco has the ability to be an all-star-caliber player.
The rest of this group is interesting, as they currently dwell in the minors. Tyler Glasnow, Jameson Taillon, and Nick Kingham are the three pitchers fronting this list, all inching their way closer to the majors. Glasnow is an enamoring prospect, with front-line capabilities and elite velocity. Taillon missed the entire season due to Tommy John surgery, so it does remain to be seen how he returns. Kingham may be the closest to seeing major-league action as he finished 2014 strongly in Triple-A. On the offensive side, there are a few players that have foreseeable projection left in their development. Josh Bell cemented his prospect status this season with a strong showing in the Florida State and Eastern Leagues. Reese McGuire displayed plus defensive capabilities and showed promise with the bat during his time in the Sally League, and Austin Meadows had a productive season after missing time due to injury. Alen Hanson has shifted away from shortstop to second base, which was always more feasible for his defensive abilities. And, back on the mound, Mitch Keller is a prospect that we could look at in the following years as the next big talent within the Pirates' system.
Overall, the Pirates do not have as strong of a group relative to years' past, largely due to many of their core pieces graduating past the cutoff age. However, the pieces in the minors are high-caliber arms and bats with projection. If they are not playing in the majors, then it is surely a positive development to have projectable talent leading the foundation of your organization. –Tucker Blair
A Parting Thought: This is a very deep system, loaded with budding near-term, potential-impact pitching and position-player talent at the heart, and lower-level prospects poised to take further steps forward.
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While there isn't much star power on this prospect list, it is deep with major league talent. Considering the Pirates have McCutchen and Cole (and Polanco and Marte) under team control for several more seasons, there is plenty of star power already in place to build around.
Obviously not all are going to reach their ceiling, but damn dude, if that's not star power to you, what is?
Those are the two numbers we are talking about.
Further, it's tough to get that no. 1 tab the further you are from the bigs due to risk/probability. Combine those factors and you get a situation where very few profiles actually warrant no. 1 hyping.
There's a school of thought that says no.1 labels can't even be earned until an arm has shown an ability to do it at the major league level. When you think about the difference between turning over a Triple-A lineup and turning over an MLB lineup, then doing it over 30+ starts, it not such a crazy thought...
It doesn't make sense to have both "Overall Future Potential" and "Realistic Role" if you're just going to push all of it to the middle of the bell curve that we all tacitly know exists. I went back and looked through them. Pretty much everyone at or near the top (except Giolito) has an "Overall Future Potential" of 2/3 and a realistic role a half step below that, which simply doesn't make sense.
The overwhelming majority of top SP prospects will not get every last bit out of their potential at the big league level, obviously, so all you get by hedging something like this is later being able to claim an empty kind of accuracy.
I get your explanation as to why so few deserve #1 hyping, but it doesn't address my point. Having a higher rating for total potential versus a more realistic expectation, given all of the variables that come up in the rest of the discussion (current stengths, weaknesses, age, size, distance from majors etc), would not necessarily constitute hype in any reasonable sense of the term. It would depend on the distance between those two ratings, I suppose, but putting everyone at 2/3 and 3/4 is simply a hedge that tells us less about the specific player and more about young baseball players in general. Makes no sense to do that when the point of a piece is to evaluate a specific player within that context.
I'll change it then. Say Glasnow has a Lincecum type beginning, a couple of CYAs and a handful of dominant seasons during that early stretch, followed by a fade as he nears 30, perhaps due to injury as opposed to lack of size, which may or may not be Lincecum's problem. Would you say that an outcome like that for Glasnow would be difficult to imagine? If no, would it count as Glasnow having had or not had ace potential? If yes, and if the claim is being made that he simply does not have the potential, absolutely does not possess it, I understand, but I'm very surprised that that level of precision in prognostication exists. If it does, my hat is off to you.
MLB has at least several ace pitchers. Where did they come from? How many of them were or would have been listed as having #1 potential by BP's panel of experts? Remember, before you reiterate that true aces are rare, that you also have a rating for "Realistic Role".
My point might be somewhat priggish, and if so guilty as charged, but it's also a very simple. Listing every single 6'6" 95-mph-throwing first round draft pick as having 2/3 potential and a likely 3/4 role does not help us understand the pitcher any better. It tells us something we already know (and that you and Nick are reiterating, in so many words) about young pitchers in general, and about how difficult it is to become an ace.
It might not make a ton more sense to list EVERY 6'6" fireballing first-round draft pick as having ace potential, but I'm pretty sure that, given your format, it would be better.
Giolito is perhaps an illustrative example. Both guys are big and throw hard, but Giolito has better stuff and has shown significantly better command of his stuff. Command is hard to quantify and I get that it's somewhat subjective ... but that's why we get out there and watch these dudes so much.
When calculating OFP, that "potential" is limited by the realities of the risk profile. Risk profiles for young arms weigh down OFP as a rule, which is the juxtaposition I was addressing. The young arms tend to have the most room for developmental strides, allowing for that big growth in their skill set, but they also have significantly more questions tied to them (on average) than an arm throwing at Double-A or Triple-A. The physically projectable complex level arm throwing in the low-90s has a lot more room to add velo (generally) than the Double-A arm throwing the same velo but maxed-out physically. But the complex league arm hasn't demonstrated any ability to navigate a full season, log regular starts every fifth day, or utilize a broad arsenal against advanced bats.
I would argue that ignoring those risks and focusing on the potential upside is borderline useless. What good is assigning an OFP if you don't actual think there's a chance the player gets there? The point is to give an upside opinion (this is an outcome that I could see coming to be) and a more practical opinion (considering the areas of improvement will likely not all be addressed, and taking into account other variables based on history, similar past players, etc., this is a reasonable expectation to have).
It isn't about hedging, it's about presenting a complete picture of a player. The reality is that prospects are not major league ready impact assets (with a very few examples every once in a while). There is *something* that has to happen between present skill set and future major league reality. That likelihood of that *something* happening is what helps us figure out what the major league reality could be. The better the raw materials you are working with, the more impressive the potential major league profile. But that profile needs to be tied to reality based on a player's overall profile and the volume of data we have in general when it comes to evaluating prospects on the whole.
OFP will never be a certainty, but it should at least be a number you are willing to stand behind with some confidence. The fact is that most pitchers don't possess a profile, risks and all (general and specific), that easily lend themselves to a high level of confidence.
I guess I'll also note that we are only through the NL East and part of the NL Central, and you might find that things aren't as bunched as you might think. But there are supposed be more fives than sixes, more sixes than sevens, etc. We aren't actively shaping that breakdown as we work through the systems, but it's a reality I fully expect to see reflected in the numbers when all is said and done.
At no point did I even remotely suggests that anyone should ignore any risks. I'm not sure where you're getting that. You have TWO ratings, one for OFP and one for RR. I'm kind of surprised that this aspect keeps getting ignored.
"OFP will never be a certainty, but it should at least be a number you are willing to stand behind with some confidence."
Of course it won't be a certainty. One would think that this is why you also have a rating for Realistic Role. I mean, right? Can you say, with confidence, that neither Syndergaard nor Glasnow has the potential to be an ace? Really?
"We aren't actively shaping that breakdown as we work through the systems, but it's a reality I fully expect to see reflected in the numbers when all is said and done."
So do I, on average, but the point is that the talent is bound to be distributed differently than expected. Do you want to know why? Because there are a bunch more guys with ace potential than you are acknowledging, and we aren't sure which pitchers will make the most of that. This is my point. The more variation you have between OFP and RR ratings, the more your evaluations are saying about specific arms. Otherwise you're simply repeating "becoming an ace is hard to do".
If I tell you that a player's OFP is a 7, but the realistic outcome is way down at a 5, how is that useful? Ideally I would never have that broad a spread -- and if I did, again, it would because of a huge number of unknowns. I mean, couldnt we just say every prospect above a certain point will be somewhere between all-star and average and call it a day? Further, if you have a player who profiles as a potential perennial all-star, but is realistically just an average major leaguer, what is that player worth? What does that player even look like outside of a projection-based teenager?
Perhaps more importantly, what is the narrative that explains those different outcomes (one based on potential and one based on likelihood)? There is a LOT that separates a future no. 1/2 from a likely no. 4/5. Think about the impact of working off of reports that generally had that type of spread. How do you value that player when trading him, or trading for him? When looking at your 25-man one, two, three years into the future, how is that report helping you to understand what your needs might be, and what holes this player might reasonably fill?
I guess I'm just not seeing the issue you are highlighting. It takes a lot to make a number one starter and history tells us they simply don't come along very often. It doesn't strike me as odd that you might have only one or two arms in all of the minors that present a developmental road you can logically follow to a number one starter outcome. And I'm not sure how having a large pile of "potential" number ones, many or most of which end-up back-end or bullpen arms, is doing any better job of telling the story of those particular profiles. I don't see the utility in that type of approach aside from raising expectations past reasonable levels.
Well, clearly you don't understand the role you're supposed to play in the fan boy adulation cycle, Nick! lol
The hypothetical "perfect" scouting report would have one number -- this is what the player will be, and you should value this player based on this number. Because we deal with a significant number of variables in the prospecting world, that is an unreasonable expectation, so our framework allows for identifying a player's potential and a likely outcome for the player. The more those numbers diverge, the further we move from the "ideal" of one perfect number that completely encapsulates the player and perfectly predicts his future. Sometimes circumstance forces that variance wider than you'd generally like, but whenever possible you try to narrow that range of potential outcomes to the point that you are comfortable assigning some form of value to the profile that can used comparatively.
The further you move up the scale the more important and potentially impactful that player becomes. The more frequently you assign high grades that are not realized, the less weight those grades can reasonably carry in the future when you are comparing players. It's a terrible thing to make a 7 (or wow an 8) less meaningful than it should be. Those numbers should jump off the page and scream "come acquire me" or "whatever you do don't trade me unless you're getting a whole lot back in return." If you are realistically conservative in your evaluations you can be confident you are alerting your audience (be it readers or your boss in the front office) that this is a player they without question need to pay attention to. The more liberal you are with your grades, the greater risk you run that your audience will not know what you *really* mean when you hand out that seven.
"strong value play in the second round, who can contribute in all four categories"
which all four? is the fourth saves or wins?
Somewhere between Greg Reynolds and Kershaw, with the most likely scenario being a semi-bad, depending on season, version of Kyle Lohse, but also maybe LaTroy Hawkins, and in his best years, is pretty good, maybe, but also, realistically, isn't that good, but is serviceable, basically. With the chance for a lot more.
Talent evaluators are paid to give as accurate an assessment of a player as they can. I believe that's what BP is doing, and based on discussions with front office personnel and on-the-ground pro/amateur scouts I believe our work product is consistent with the efforts being put forth within the industry itself.
Sale for Betts may not be crazy considering cost/control and the fact that you have an impressive MLB debut (spanning over 50 games and 180 PA) to work with. How about apples-to-apples if we are talking about assigning value (anchored by risk) with prospects?
After 2013 Betts had enjoyed a breakout year between Low and High A while Chris Sale finished fifth in Cy Young voting and had four years of team control left prior to extension. Are you trading your top five Cy Young vote getter, who is cheap and under control for four more years, for the High A breakout second baseman with 200 low minors games to his resume?
He had a .874 OPS and still has lots of profitability left. I still have him as a high 6. Thoughts?