Neal Huntington’s plan for the Pittsburgh Pirates has finally paid off.  Most if not all of the top Pirates prospects were drafted or international free agent signing.  2011 1st overall pick Gerrit Cole just graduated from prospect status this past season and will be slotted in the middle of the team’s starting rotation.  2010 2nd overall pick Jameson Taillon is undergoing Tommy John surgery this season and will probably spend the majority of 2015 in AAA and getting a chance at the 2016 rotation if all goes well.  The Pirates outfield will be held down by Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte who have team options through 2018 and 2021 respectively, plus Polanco looks to join him in the outfield either this season or 2015.  The second wave of prospects, Hanson and Kingham, should start to fight for time in 2016.  Then, the Pirates have another group in Bell, Meadows, Glasnow, and Heredia waiting in the wings after that.  After 20 years of not sniffing the playoffs, it seems as if the Pirates have the talent to be perennial contenders.

Cumulative Pirates Top-10 Prospects

Source Pirates Prospects Baseball America Baseball Prospectus Fangraphs John Sickels Keith Law ($) MLB.com
1 Gregory Polanco Gregory Polanco Jameson Taillon Gregory Polanco Gregory Polanco Gregory Polanco Jameson Taillon
2 Jameson Taillon Jameson Taillon Gregory Polanco Jameson Taillon Jameson Taillon Tyler Glasnow Gregory Polanco
3 Tyler Glasnow Tyler Glasnow Tyler Glasnow Tyler Glasnow Tyler Glasnow Jameson Taillon Alen Hanson
4 Austin Meadows Austin Meadows Reese McGuire Austin Meadows Austin Meadows Austin Meadows Austin Meadows
5 Alen Hanson Nick Kingham Josh Bell Alen Hanson Nick Kingham Nick Kingham Luis Heredia
6 Nick Kingham Alen Hanson Nick Kingham Nick Kingham Josh Bell Alen Hanson Tyler Glasnow
7 Reese McGuire Josh Bell Austin Meadows Reese McGuire Alen Hanson Josh Bell Josh Bell
8 Josh Bell Reese McGuire Alen Hanson Josh Bell Luis Heredia Reese McGuire Reese McGuire
9 Luis Heredia Harold Ramirez Luis Heredia Harold Ramirez Reese McGuire Harold Ramirez Nick Kingham
10 Harold Ramirez Luis Heredia Harold Ramirez Luis Heredia Harold Ramirez Luis Heredia Barrett Barnes

2013 System Breakdown

Four of the six team affiliates made their respective playoffs.  The Pirates AA and AAA clubs each possessed two prospects each.  The A and A Short Season affiliates held most of the Pirates top prospect talents.

Pittsburgh Pirates (94-68) Won Wildcard Game (11-8 vs Reds)

 

AAA – Indianapolis Indians (80-64) Won West Division (9-13 vs Bats)

OF Gregory Polanco, RHP Jameson Taillon

 

AA – Altoona Curve (63-79)

SS Alen Hanson, RHP Nick Kingham

 

A+ – Bradenton Marauders (57-77)

 

A – West Virginia Power (82-58) Made playoffs

CF Barrett Barnes, RF Josh Bell, RHP Tyler Glasnow, RHP Luis Heredia

 

A Short – Jamestown Jammers (43-32) Made playoffs

C Reese McGuire, CF Austin Meadows, OF Harold Ramirez

 

R – GCL Pirates (33-27) Won Northwest Division

 

Q&A with Tim Williams of Pirates Prospects

Once again, a big thanks goes to Tim Williams and the Pirates Prospects site.  Go check out his site and give him a follow on Twitter: @timwilliamsP2

RML:  Many see the Pirates as having one of the deeper farm systems.  What are the strengths and weaknesses of the system?

 PP: The pitching is the biggest strength of the system. The Pirates have drafted a lot of pitching over the last five or six years, and that approach is now paying off. The most notable guys are the ones who rank on the top 100 lists, and who have middle or top of the rotation upside. Those guys include Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow, and Nick Kingham. However, the Pirates are also seeing a lot of middle round picks step up as potential back of the rotation starters. Brandon Cumpton (9th round, 2010) was a huge boost to the rotation last year when starters went down with injuries, and could do the same again this year. Casey Sadler (25th round, 2010) was added to the 40-man roster over the off-season, and is starting the year in Triple-A. He’s a sinkerball pitcher who gets a lot of ground ball outs, which is something the Pirates love. Phil Irwin (21st round, 2009) has one of the best curveballs in the system, and when his fastball is on, he’s got the stuff to be a major league starter. The top of the rotation guys will give the Pirates a flashy rotation, but the depth guys will keep the Pirates rotation competitive in the event of injuries, just like it did in 2013.

RML:  Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon were #1 and #2 overall picks respectively in their drafts and have received plenty of attention for their talents.  Right behind them are Tyler Glasnow, Nick Kingham, and Luis Heredia.  What are some tools that stand out for these guys?

 PP: Glasnow is a huge pitcher, at 6’ 8”, 220 pounds. He’s got a fastball that sits in the mid-90s, and can touch 99 MPH. He also has a big breaking curveball which can be a plus pitch in the future. His height, plus his velocity makes his fastball very difficult to hit, since he throws it at a steep downward angle. Kingham has been slowly adding velocity since he came into the system, going from 88-92 MPH in his first year, to sitting 93-95 MPH and touching 98 last year. He also has a good changeup and a good curveball, and some of the best fastball command in the system. Heredia is more of a project at this point. He’s working on his fastball command to cut down the walks. The velocity has hit mid-90s at times. He’s making the switch this year to a power breaking ball, which will complement his fastball a little better, and make him more of a power pitcher all around.

 RML:  The best position player in the Pirates system is Gregory Polanco.  At some point this season, he should see the outfield in Pittsburgh.  What can we expect to see from him there?

 PP: Polanco is a potential impact player, and doesn’t have a lot of weaknesses. He’s got advanced plate patience for a young hitter, allowing him to hit for average and get on base at a good rate. He’s got extremely long legs, and a ton of speed, which makes him a big threat on the bases, and allows him to cover a lot of range in the outfield. Sometimes it seems like he only needs to take three steps to get from one base to the next, or to chase down a fly ball from gap to gap. He also has a plus arm, which will play well in right field. Polanco is the definition of a five tool talent, and could be a dangerous hitter if he continues filling out his tall, skinny frame and adding power.

 RML:  In 2012, Alen Hanson had a breakout year.  Last season, he split time in A+ and AA and held his own as one of the youngest AA players.  What can you tell us about him and will he be a shortstop at the MLB level?

 PP: There is a debate whether Hanson can stick at shortstop. A lot of people look at the errors he had last year, and don’t think he can stick. He also has an average arm, which helps build the case against him. Watching him a lot last year, he definitely showed off the tools to be a Major League shortstop. The strange thing is that he would make an amazing play, then follow it up with an error on a routine grounder. This indicates a lack of concentration and maturity, which is understandable since he was 20 years old last year. He’s got the skills on the field to stick at shortstop, but needs to improve his consistency to have any kind of defensive value at the position.

 RML:  On the topic of break out players, is there a player or two that doesn’t get much attention in the Pirates system and is primed for breaking out this season?

 PP: I don’t know if Stetson Allie is a guy who doesn’t get much attention, but he’s my breakout pick this year. He’s got the best raw power in the system, with the only person similar being Pedro Alvarez. However, Allie also has some serious plate patience issues, leading to a high strikeout rate. He fixed his swing this year, and in Spring Training was hitting with less effort, and allowing the ball to travel deeper in the zone, which is a good ability to have when trying to recognize breaking pitches. I think he’ll still struggle with his strikeouts, and will hit for a low average, but his power could be enough to make him a three true outcomes guy in the majors, similar to Alvarez.

RML:  In last year’s draft, the Pirates took both Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire in the 1st round.  If they progress like other Pirates 1st rounders, what does the future look like for those two?

 PP: A lot of scouts I talked to last year in the GCL loved the power from Meadows, with a lot of Jay Bruce comparisons in that regard. I think his bat could progress quickly, although he’s in an interesting situation because the Pirates don’t need him in the majors quickly. They’ve got Andrew McCutchen under team control through the 2018 season, and Starling Marte under control through the 2021 season. Gregory Polanco will join that group, leaving no room for Meadows. That means the Pirates can take their time developing him. As for McGuire, he’s got advanced defensive skills, especially for a prep catcher. There’s no question that he will be a major leaguer on his defensive skills alone. The big question is whether he can hit enough to be a starter. If he can, then there is no one in the system blocking him from being the catcher of the future, as no one else in the system has his overall upside at the position.

 RML:  With the Pirates success last season, they will be selecting towards the end of the round.  Most likely they will select best player available, but what has been the organization’s overall draft strategy in the past and are there system needs that will be addressed at some point in this draft?

 PP: They tend to take the best player available, regardless of system needs. Last year they went with a lot of high risk, high reward guys, gambling on upside and athleticism. I’d expect them to take the same approach this year, while ignoring any system needs that may exist.

 RML:  Let me finish this asking about my favorite Pirates prospect, Josh Bell.  He was supposed to be unsignable in the 2011 Draft and slid into the 2nd round.  The Pirates gave him a record non-1st round bonus of $5 million and pried him away from Texas.  He was hurt most of 2012 but put together a solid 2013 season.  What are your current thoughts on him as a prospect and does his power live up to the hype?

 PP: His raw power in batting practice definitely lives up to the hype. You can see a potential 20-30 HR per year guy in that setting. He hasn’t carried that over to the game yet. There are also questions about his swing. Some scouts were down on the swing last year, and he looked a bit awkward at times to me this Spring, looking off-balanced when trying to hit to the opposite field. Just like with Meadows, the Pirates don’t need Bell anytime soon, so they can take their time developing him. He’s got the raw tools to be an impact hitter in the majors, but hasn’t been able to carry that over to the games.

 RML: Thanks for your time and good luck this season.

 PP: Thanks!