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S2S 2012 Team Prospect Lists: Pittsburgh Pirates

With the S2S 2012 Top 100 Prospects List now in the books, it’s time to take a closer look at the future of each team. And that means team prospect lists!

Most minor league sites will do top-10s, top-15s, top-20s, or some other ranking. Last year, to be a bit different, the FanSided team prospect lists (which were done at Call to the Pen, since S2S didn’t exist), instead listed a team’s top prospect at each position (C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, 3 OFs, 5 SPs, and 2 RPs). This year, we’re keeping that format, but also adding a “Best of the Rest” section that lists the top ten players beyond the positional rankings. That’s 25 players per system, if you’re counting.

Pittsburgh Pirates

It’s been 19 seasons since the Pirates finished above .500 but a renewed dedication and investment in amateur talent may get the team back to it’s winning ways of the 1990-1992 seasons before too long. In the last four drafts the organization has spent $9.8, $8.9, $11.9 and $17.0 million respectively. Much of that $47.6 million has been invested in the pitching side of the equation and while there have been a number of misses already, the team now has three potential aces in its system while many organizations are struggling to find a single guy that has the ceiling of a #2 starter.

Beyond the trio of top-shelf arms, the system boasts a bevy of mid-rotation options and a quartet of outfield prospects that might be without peer. Things thin out quickly after that however and aside from a few interesting options at 1B, depth is really lacking in the infield.

Position Player Upside: B
Position Player Depth: B-
Pitching Upside: A
Pitching Depth: A
System Grade: B+

Catcher – Tony Sanchez (23):  Hit 0.241/.340/.318, 14 2B, 5 HR, 5 SB, 47 BB and 76 SO in 469 PA (118 G) with Altoona (AA). Considered an overdraft when the Pirates used the the 4th overall pick on Sanchez in the 2009 draft, he surprised everyone by hitting over 0.300 while also posting a 0.949 and 0.870 OPS in his first two professional seasons. Much of the bloom came off rose with respect to his offensive game this past season but more concerning is the fact that his defense came up short as well. Despite a plus-arm Sanchez threw out just 30 of 139 basestealers (22%) in 2011 and that was actually an improvement over the 9 of 61 (15%) in 2010. Opposing teams are not hesitating to run on Sanchez and so far he’s not been up to the task. On top of that he also committed 18 errors last year. For a guy that had a questionable bat and above-average defensive profile at the time he was drafted, 2011 served as a correction to the scouting reports that were getting a little over the top. Sanchez still gets positive marks for his willingness to coax a walk, his work ethic, and his ability to work with a pitching staff but there’s no question that his 2011 performance throws a wet blanket over things. He still has a chance to develop into a steady, but not spectacular everyday catcher but he just as easily could wind up as a career backup. I’m generally one to give a guy a mulligan for having an off season but in this case the struggles he had last year mirror the concerns that experts had about him heading into the draft and it has to give us pause. I personally thought long and hard about placing Ramon Cabrera, and not Sanchez, in this spot.

First base – Jose Osuna (19):  Hit 0.331/.400/.511, 14 2B, 4 HR, 3 SB, 18 BB and 21 SO in 203 PA (48 G) with the GCL Pirates (Rk) and also went 2-8 in a brief stint with the State College Spikes (A-). Most sources will list Dickerson (see below in the Best of the Rest section) as Pittsburgh’s top prospect at 1B but I find Osuna, who also plays OF, to be far more intriguing. Not only is he 2 years younger, he already shows better present power and a better approach at the plate. His defensive skills are limited, but the bat speed, plus power and plate discipline suggest that this young man has a very promising future. I think he winds up at 1B full time and lands solidly in the top-10 of all Pirates’ prospect lists next offseason.

Second base – Jarek Cunningham (22):  Hit 0.258/.320/.516, 23 2B, 6 3B, 15 HR, 5 SB, 17 BB and 82 SO in 348 PA (80 G) with Bradenton (A+) and also went 2-5 in 2 games for the GCL Pirates. Cunningham, an 18th round pick in the 2008 draft lost a season (2009) due to a knee injury, bounced back to play in 121 games in 2010 and was staying healthy in 2011 until he was hit in the head by a pitch in mid-July. The resulting concussion cost him the rest of the season aside from appearing in two GCL games at the end of August. When healthy, Cunningham has significant power potential and based on the evidence from the last 2 seasons (60 2B, 13 3B and 27 HR in 203 games), some of that potential has already converted to production. Unfortunately his approach at the plate needs a great deal of work. He struck out 214 times, to go with just 47 walks, in that same 203 game stretch that resulted in those 100 XBH. It’d be one thing if his SO-to-BB rate showed some semblance of improvement but instead he went from a 4.4 SO/BB in 2010 to a 4.8 SO/BB in 2011. Cunningham’s defense – which wasn’t a strong suit to begin with – also took a step back in 2011 as evidenced by the 22 errors in 79 FSL games at 2B. He can slug the ball when he makes contact but he has to improve the other aspects of his game to survive the upper levels of the minors. Of course he has to stay on the field to address his weaknesses.

Third base – Elevys Gonzalez (22):  Hit 0.322/.374/.467, 36 2B, 6 3B, 6 HR, 7 SB, 39 BB and 93 SO in 503 PA (126 G) with Bradenton. The slash stats look nice and he wasn’t an “old man” compared to his competition in the FSL but he’s still viewed more as an organizational guy than a real prospect. It’s hard to imagine he will be able to sustain the 0.389 BABIP from 2011 as he moves forward but he is a switch-hitter with a line drive stroke so the regression may not be as sharp as we’d expect. Outside of his BA and his ability to hit LHP there’s not much to get excited about here and his presence on this list speaks to the lack of options the Pirates currently have at 3B.

Shortstop – Alen Hanson (19):  Hit 0.263/.352/.429, 13 2B, 7 3B, 2 HR, 24 SB, 21 BB and 34 SO in 234 PA (52 G) with the GCL Pirates and 2-10 in a 3 game stint with State College. If you check out a number of Pirates prospect lists, you’ll usually see Hanson’s name pop up just outside of the Top-10. When you do he’s almost always listed as a 2B but he played more at SS (39 games to 16) in 2011 and has the range and just enough arm to stay at short as he advances. His speed is his best tool, but he also has a good knowledge of the strike zone and already has established a reputation for working counts. Hanson’s bat lacks power but he does show a natural ability to make contact which coupled with his approach and plate discipline should allow him to hit for a solid average.

Outfielder #1 – Josh Bell (19):  The Pirates may have pulled the coup and surprise of the 2011 Draft when they signed the “unsignable” Bell (61st overall) for $5 million at the deadline. Despite the fact he has yet to make his professional debut, he’s a consensus Top-100 prospect and even cracked the Top-50 (#48) on Baseball Instinct’s list. A natural switch hitter, Bell has enormous power potential from both sides of the plate and profiles to be a high OBP player as well. He’s good athlete with average speed and an average arm and should also develop into an asset in the field as well. We’ll have to see how he adapts to life in the minors, but he has a very real chance to develop into a true franchise cornerstone.

Outfielder #2 – Starling Marte (23):  Hit 0.332/.370/.500, 38 2B, 8 3B, 12 HR, 24 SB, 22 BB and 100 SO in 572 PA (129 G) with Altoona.   The plate discipline obviously needs some work and I want to state that up front as I don’t want anyone to think I’m trying to minimize that part of his game. Outside of that weakness however, I am a huge fan of Marte. He has more than enough range and arm to play CF in the majors, has plus speed and has shown the ability to hit at every level so far. Starling also gets on-base at a good rate – especially given his current subpar 3.7% walk rate – and some scouts believe that there’s some untapped HR power in his bat that will develop in time. At worst I see a solid major league CF here but am not going to sell him short of possibly becoming a perennial All-Star.

Outfielder #3 – Robbie Grossman (22):  Hit 0.294/.418/.451, 34 2B, 13 HR, 24 SB, 104 BB and 111 SO in 616 PA (134 G) with Bradenton. Grossman carried his strong season into the Arizona Fall League where he put up a 0.375/.472/.625 slash line with 7 HR, 6 SB, 20 BB and 18 SO in 26 G. It’s hard not to get excited about a guy who puts up a 0.418 OBP with 104 walks in 134 games. As optimistic as I am about Bell and Marte however, I want to see Grossman put up those numbers in Double-A before I buy in completely. It’s not that I doubt him but he was repeating the level in 2011 after playing 125 games in the FSL the year before and I find that a bit curious. That thought aside, I’m not one of those who will question his ability to be a major league regular manning either left or right field. He may not have the ideal HR power for an OF corner, but he does everything else well and I think he’ll hit for better power than most give him credit for.

Starting Pitcher #1 – RHP Jameson Taillon (20):  3.98 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 22 BB and 97 SO in 92.2 IP (23 GS) with West Virginia (A). There were a lot of pitchers that I was enamored with in the 2010 draft class, but none of them could hold a candle to Taillon.  Armed with a 95-99 mph fastball, plus curve, plus slider and developing changeup he has the stuff to be a legitimate ace and the frame (6’6″ 230 lbs) to be a workhorse. His debut season as a professional was nothing short of a rousing success given that the team had him throw his fastball almost exclusively.

Starting Pitcher #2 – RHP Gerrit Cole (21):  The first player taken in the 2011 draft Cole signed late and did not pitch in the regular season but did make 5 starts in the AFL. In 15.0 IP with the Mesa Solar Sox he allowed 10 hits and 5 earned runs to go along with a very strong 16-4 SO-to-BB rate. I think Taillon will be the better of the two when both are finished with their careers but that’s not a knock on Cole who also has ace potential like his younger counterpart. He broke triple digits on the radar guns at the AFL Rising Stars game and sits comfortably in the 94-98 range with his fastball. Adding to his pitch mix are a slider and changeup which can both be plus-plus pitches at times. His delivery does have a tendency to get out of whack but when he’s on, he can be a devastating pitcher. Like Taillon he has a the frame (6’4″ 220 lbs) of a workhorse. What he was able to do in the offensively charged AFL environment after last pitching for UCLA in the spring was certainly eye-opening. Now we have to see if he can find more consistency and do it over the grind of a full minor league season.

Starting Pitcher #3 – RHP Luis Heredia (17):  4.75 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 19 BB and 23 SO in 30.1 IP (12 G/11 GS) with the GCL Pirates. You look at the stat line on its own and you certainly don’t come away impressed, but baseball is all about context. When it comes to Heredia, who was signed out of Mexico for $2.6 million, context completely reframes the picture. He was sixteen making his professional debut stateside in the GCL against players typically 2-6 years older. Luis is already capable of touching 95-96 with his fastball and sits comfortably in the low 90s. His secondary pitches – curveball and changeup – are both works in progress but flash plus. Given his age and place in his development path he obviously has a long way to go but he could give the Pirates a third staff ace if he develops.

Starting Pitcher #4 – RHP Nicholas Kingham (20):  2.15 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 15 BB and 47 SO in 70.1 IP (15 GS) with State College. Kingham doesn’t have ace potential but the team’s 2010 4th round pick does have a good chance to be a rotation asset. Armed with a low 90s fastball and two potentially above average offerings in his curveball and changeup he has the stuff and the frame (6’6″, 220 lbs) to hold down a spot as a #3 starter and may be able to bump that up to a #2. His SO rate in his first pro season was a little underwhelming but his 1.9 BB/9 and other rate stats were strong.

Starting Pitcher #5 – RHP Kyle McPherson (24):  2.96 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 27 BB and 142 SO in 161.0 IP (28 GS) split between Bradenton and Altoona. Like Kingham, the 6’4″ 215 lb McPherson has mid-rotation upside which would put him much higher in the rankings of other organizations but he barely squeaked into the #5 spot here while fighting off a couple of lefties. He throws a low 90s fastball that he can command and run up as high as 95 mph. McPherson augments that pitch with a swing-and-miss changeup and curveball that has it’s moments. Having already passed the test of Double-A hitters, McPherson should open 2012 with Indianapolis and will likely make his major league debut at some point during the year.

Relief Pitcher #1 – RHP Stetson Allie (20):  6.58 ERA, 1.89 WHIP, 29 BB and 28 SO in 26.0 IP (15 G/7 GS) with State College. After landing Taillon 2nd overall in the 2010 draft Pittsburgh added another potentially elite arm with their 2nd round pick. However, Allie’s debut season as a professional did not go as well as hoped. While Jameson was holding his own in A-ball, Stetson was struggling to find the strike zone in the New York-Penn League. The stuff – including a mid-90s fastball and outstanding slider – is undeniable but he struggles to control both pitches and lacks a viable third pitch. While the walk rate actually got worse when he moved to the bullpen I believe it was a result of overthrowing. Relief is the role that Allie appears best suited for and as an added bonus it’s one that he reportedly prefers. His control will dictate how successful he can be but assuming it comes around, he could be a lights-out, power closer.

Relief Pitcher #2 - RHP Bryan Morris (24):  3.35 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 33 BB and 64 SO in 78.0 IP (35 G/6 GS) with Altoona. Unable to come up with a workable changeup to support his 92-95 mph fastball and plus slider, the Pirates moved Morris to the bullpen full time in mid-June. It was a move that paid immediate dividends. In 52.2 relief innings he had a 2.05 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 17 BB and 47 SO. He should join McPherson in Triple-A to start the season and is a good bet to make his major league debut. He has a future as a quality setup man if he can continue to adapt to life as a reliever.

Best of the Rest

I’m really happy with the way this group of players fell 1-7. After that there was a hodgepodge of pitchers in the mix for the last three spots and none of them really stood out to me. To resolve the logjam, I opted for three 2011 draftees that received well-above slot bonuses but have just 1 professional innning pitched between them.

  • #1)  LHP Jeff Locke (24):  3.70 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 55 BB and 139 SO in 153.1 IP (28 G/27 GS) with Altoona and Indianapolis (AAA). The team’s 2nd round pick from the 2006 draft, Locke reached Triple-A for a 5 start stint last season and opened some eyes. He’ll return to Indianapolis in 2012 but should carve out a career at the back of a major league rotation.
  • #2)  C Ramon Cabrera (22):  Hit 0.343/.410/.471, 25 2B, 38 BB and 29 SO in 379 PA (92 G) with Bradenton. His defense is subpar and his arm is just average but he can hit and has outstanding plate discipline. If he shows he can handle Altoona he could surpass the underachieving Sanchez.
  • #3)  LHP Colton Cain (21):  3.64 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 31 BB and 81 SO in 106.1 IP (24 G/19 GS) with West Virginia. He features a low 90s fastball, curveball and changeup but augments that with his aggressiveness on the mound. He’s a few steps behind Locke but has a slightly higher ceiling.
  • #4)  1B Alex Dickerson (21):  Hit 0.313/.393/.493, 16 2B, 16 BB and 28 SO with State College. The Pirates 3rd round pick in the 2011 draft, Dickerson has a solid approach at the plate and above-average (some call it plus) power potential. I like him as a prospect but he has a history of back problems and I saw first hand what those problems can do to a supremely talented hitter (Mike Sweeney) so I’m not as optimistic about his future as I probably should be.
  • #5)  LHP Zack Dodson (21):  3.10 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 22 BB and 66 SO in 93.0 IP (20 GS) with the GCL Pirates, State College and West Virginia. In A-ball, Dodson walked just 15 in 66.2 IP and overall cut his BB/9 in half from the previous season. He features a low-90s fastball, a developing curve and a changeup that needs refinement. None of his pitches are of the swing-and-miss variety making him a back of the rotation option if he develops a 3rd pitch.
  • #6)  OF Adalberto Santos (23):  Hit 0.314/.392/.476, 22 2B, 7 3B, 7 HR, 27 SB, 42 BB and 55 SO in 407 PA (105 G) with Bradenton. With Bell, Marte and Grossman ahead of him, it’s easy to lose sight of Santos but he’s coming off an exceptional season in the FSL. The Pirates 22nd round pick in the 2010 draft, he’s swiped 44 bases in 55 attempts and hit better than 0.310 over his first 2 pro seasons. Santos makes contact, draws walks and doesn’t strike out and those traits alone make him worth keeping an eye on.
  • #7)  1B Matt Curry (23):  Hit 0.282/.376/.475, 31 2B, 15 HR, 7 SB, 68 BB and 119 SO in 546 PA (133 G) between West Virginia and Altoona. I’m not sure just what to make of Curry at this point. He torched SAL pitching (0.361/.477/.671) in 46 games and was then promoted to Altoona (skipping the FSL in the process). In Double-A his numbers took a nosedive but he handled the aggressive promotion admirably. He strikes me as a very similar player to Osuna – just 4 years older.
  • #8)  RHP Jake Burnette (19):  The Pirates 7th round pick in the 2011 draft, Burnette pitched just one inning for the GCL Pirates after signing. He was a two-sport star in high school playing basketball in addition to baseball and will take some time to develop as he focuses his efforts on the diamond. Burnette signed for $550,000.
  • #9)  RHP Tyler Glasnow (18):  Selected in the 5th round of the 2011 draft, Glasnow will make his professional debut in 2012. At 6’7″ and 195 lbs, he has some room to fill out and is very projectable. He has a four pitch mix including a high 80s fastball, curveball, slider and changeup but none of the offerings really stand out at this point. He was a shrewd high-risk/high-reward selection that signed for $600,000.
  • #10)  RHP Clay Holmes (18):  Making it 3 for 3, Holmes was the team’s 9th round pick in June and like the two above him signed an above slot deal. In Clay’s case the bonus was a jaw dropping – and 9th round record – $1.2 million. The top prospect out of Alabama, Holmes was a standout in the classroom as well as on the field and already throws in the low-90s with an intriguing slider.


The complete list of S2S 2012 Team Prospect Rankings can be found here.

For more on the Pirates, check out Rum Bunter.

You can follow us on Twitter @Seedlings2Stars and yours truly @thebaseballfish. You can also keep up to date with all things S2S by liking our Facebook page.

Tags: Adalberto Santos Alen Hanson Alex Dickerson Bryan Morris Clay Holmes Colton Cain Elevys Gonzalez Gerrit Cole Jake Burnette Jameson Taillon Jarek Cunningham Jeff Locke Jose Osuna Josh Bell Luis Heredia Matt Curry Nicholas Kingham Pittsburgh Pirates Ramon Cabrera Robbie Grossman Starling Marte Stetson Allie Tony Sanchez Tyler Glasnow Zack Dodson

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