The GCL Pirates beat the GCL Pirates 5-2 on Wednesday to beat the GCL Red Sox two games to none as they won the Gulf Coast League championship. Winning a championship is always nice, even at Rookie ball, but more importantly, several of the GCL Pirates’ players have a chance to be impact players for the Pirates’ major league squad someday.
In the championship clincher, catcher Wyatt Mathisen went 2 for 5 and right-hander Tyler Glasnow went 4 shutout innings, allowing just 1 hit and 2 walks while striking out 7. That was quite appropriate because Mathisen and Glasnow were two of the GCL Pirates’ biggest contributors all season along with being two of the top prospects on the team.
Wyatt Mathisen, 18, is a 6’1″, 205 catcher who was the Pirates’ second round pick in the 2012 MLB Draft. In his pro debut with the GCL Pirates, Mathisen played well, managing a .295/.388/.374 line with 8 doubles, 1 homer, 15 RBI, 10 stolen bases (but 8 CS), and 19 strikeouts versus 16 walks in 45 games and 167 plate appearances. Defensively, he made just 1 error in 24 games at catcher and threw out 36% of attempted basestealers, but he allowed 10 passed balls. Mathisen is an interesting catching prospect both offensively and defensively. In the batter’s box, he shows good bat speed and makes a lot of contact when he swings, and he has a chance to be a player who hits for a good average while keeping the strikeouts down. The problem for him is that he’s a player who shows very good raw power at times but he makes so much contact that it hasn’t come out too often in games. Mathisen may be better off hitting for a somewhat lower average in exchange for picking his spots to lengthen his swing a little bit and bring out his power. The good news is that Mathisen’s lack of power has nothing to do with a lack of plate discipline. His plate discipline is very good, and to combine that with his ability to make contact on his swings makes him a very interesting prospect, especially at just 18 years old.
The problem for Mathisen right now is his defense. Mathisen is a natural catcher, but he played a variety of other positions on his Calallen High School team because of team need and is still raw defensively. Mathisen has an excellent arm, good enough to quite a bit of starting in high school, and that serves him very well behind the plate as he has a strong and accurate arm. He also moves well behind the plate. But while the ability is clearly there, Mathisen needs a ton of work at the catcher position. His receiving ability is a work in progress, and don’t even think about blocking balls in the dirt yet for Mathisen. But with continued work, Mathisen has a chance to be a good defensive catcher someday. Overall, Mathisen is an interesting prospect thanks to his present ability as a hitter, his power potential, and his defensive abilities, and although he could need quite a bit of development time, he has the ability to be a very good all-around catcher someday.
Tyler Glasnow, who turned 19 on August 23rd, was the Pirates’ 5th round pick in 2011 and is a very projectable 6’7″, 195 right-handed pitcher. Glasnow made his pro debut with the GCL Rays in 2012 and pitched very well, going just 0-3 but with a 2.10 ERA, a 10.5 K/9, a 4.2 BB/9, and a 0.8 HR/9 in 10 starts, a relief appearance, and 34.1 IP. Glasnow is far from where he’s going to be physically, but the good news about his projection is how it has forced him to develop his arsenal a little more. Glasnow throws four pitches, a fastball, a curveball, a slider, and a changeup. His fastball ranges from 88-93 MPH and he struggles to control and command it at this point. His fastball features late bite and will be a nice swing-and-miss pitch as it gains more velocity when Glasnow fills out, although the late kick does make it more difficult for Glasnow to figure out where it’s going. Glasnow struggles to locate his secondary pitches right now, but the best one of the bunch is his curveball, which features sharp break along with good depth. Glasnow has a ton of development still to do, but he’s a pitcher with a high ceiling, maybe number one or two starter upside if everything goes right, and the Pirates will let him take his time as he does his best to get there. We saw in the clincher how Glasnow has the ability to dominate opposing batters, and the Pirates hope to see a whole lot more of that moving forward.
Another contributor for the GCL Pirates in the clincher was outfielder Harold Ramirez, who went 1 for 3 with an RBI in the game. The Pirates really like Ramirez and think that he has the ability to be one of their top prospects. Ramirez, just 17 years old, received a $1,050,000 bonus signing out of Columbia in 2011, the second-highest bonus that the Pirates have ever given to a Latin American prospect behind only Luis Heredia. Ramirez didn’t exactly tear up the GCL, but the Pirates had to like what they saw from him considering how young he was, just 17 years old compared to the league average of over 20. Ramirez held his own, posting a .259/.310/.333 line with 5 doubles, 1 triple, 1 homer, 12 RBI, 9 of 14 stolen bases, and 20 strikeouts versus 6 walks in 39 games and 146 plate appearances. Ramirez is plenty fast enough to handle centerfield, but instead he played exclusively the corner outfield spots, playing errorless ball in 23 games in left field and 15 games in right. The stats don’t tell the story on Ramirez as he’s beaming with upside. Just 5’11″, 170 but possibly still growing, Ramirez could have 4 plus tools. Ramirez shows outstanding bat speed with flashes of very good raw power. His plate discipline isn’t up to par right now, but he makes a ton of contact and once his pitch recognition improves, there will be lasers coming off his bat. Ramirez’s best tool may be his speed. Ramirez doesn’t do it gracefully with his stocky frame, but his speed is clearly plus and despite a complete lack of baserunning instincts, Ramirez still managed to swipe 9 bases in 2012. His speed is put to even better use in the outfield as Ramirez covers a ton of ground. His one bad tool is his arm, which comes in as solidly below average even for a centerfielder. But Ramirez’s overall abilities give him a chance to be a special player someday. That day is quite a while away if ever, but Ramirez is extremely talented and the Pirates are excited to see how he develops.
We’ve been taling about the clincher all this time, but to get to the clincher the Pirates had to win the series’ opening game first, and their starting pitcher in that game was Jon Sandfort, who went 3 one-hit innings, striking out 1 and posting a 5-1 groundout to flyout ratio. On the year, Sandfort struggled, going 0-1 with a 4.80 ERA, just a 4.2 K/9, a 6.0 BB/9, and a 0.6 HR/9 in 8 starts and just 15 IP. But the Pirates really like what Sandfort has the ability to do moving forward. Sandfort, who turned 18 on August 27th, was the Pirates’ 3rd round pick in 2012. The right-hander is 6’6″, 205 with projectability remaining and an intriguing arsenal. Sandfort usually throws in the 88-91 MPH range with his fastball and has hit as high as 94 MPH at times with great sink and good movement away from right-handed batters. The sink helped him force a 56.1% groundball rate in 2012 according to Minor League Central, although the overall movement has made it hard for Sandfort to command it. Sandfort’s other pitches are a changeup and a curveball. One good thing about Sandfort’s lack of present velocity is that it made him work hard on his changeup, and the result is that it’s a very good pitch for a prep product, featuring great arm action and nice sink, although he struggles to control it. His other pitch is a curveball that is a mostly a show-me at this point, although it has shown intermittent flashes of good break. Considering he throws a sinker, Sandfort could scrap his curveball entirely in favor of a slider. Sandfort looks to have number two starter upside if he can get better control and command of his pitches and develop an effective breaking ball.
One other player on the GCL Pirates was once a top prospect before things went horribly wrong. That player is Stetson Allie, now a corner infielder after being drafted and signed to a $2,250,000 bonus as a pitcher after being drafted in the second round of the 2010 MLB Draft. As a pitcher, Allie featured a fastball that touched triple-digits along with a dynamic slider, but he couldn’t figure out where either of those two pitches were going at all. In 2 outings in 2012, Allie retired just 2 batters while allowing 4 earned runs on just 1 hit, walking 8 and hitting another one. That prompted the Pirates to send Allie back to extended spring training, where they decided to convert him into a third baseman. Allie had been a two-way prospect prior to the draft, although he had attracted much more attention as a pitcher. How did the experiment go? Well, Allie posted a .213/.314/.340 line in 42 games and 173 plate appearances with 6 doubles, 2 triples, 3 homers, 19 RBI, 2 stolen bases, and 50 strikeouts versus 21 walks. Allie finished the season strong, going 17 for his last 66 (.257). That was despite not lifting up a bat in two years. Defensively, Allie made 8 errors in 9 games at third base and will need quite a bit of work sharpening up his skills at the position, although he did make just 2 errors in 19 games at first base. The scouting report on Allie as a hitter is that he features a ton of power but his swing gets long and he has to work on making contact. Allie hit the ball pretty hard when he connected but has to put the ball into play more often as he struck out in 29.0% of his plate appearances. The good news was that despite the rust he still walked at a good rate and that bodes well for him moving forward. Allie is essentially starting over as a prospect and at 21 years old, he’s not old but the Pirates would like to see more progress. Allie’s debut as a hitter was by no means perfect but the Pirates hope that it’s something for Allie to build on in coming seasons.
Congrats to the GCL Pirates on winning the Gulf Coast League championship and good luck to their players moving forward as they continue moving up the minor league ranks. They’re all just starting their journey through the minors, but the team featured plenty of talent and the Pirates hope to see dividends in the big leagues within a few years.
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