Pittsburgh Pirates: Top 10 Prospects

1. Tyler Glasnow

There isn’t much more to add to Glasnow’s profile that his statistics won’t tell you. He strikes guys out – a lot of guys for that matter. Of the South Atlantic League pitchers that threw 100 or more innings in 2013, he led the circuit with a 13.26 K/9 mark. At the same 100 IP point, he came in 2nd in the FSL in 2014 at 11.36 K/9. However, with the good there always seems to be some bad. At any stop with significant innings, Glasnow has yet to walk less than 4.13/9, his worst performance coming in 2013 at 4.93 BB/9.

The 6’7” right-hander does come with a tantalizing tools package. His fastball sits fairly comfortably in the mid 90’s, with reports surfacing of triple digit marks on multiple occasions this year. He can back up his fastball with a curveball that should grade out as solidly above Major League average when it fully develops. His changeup is behind his other pitches, but can be an average offering with a little more work. Glasnow will likely open the ’15 season at Double A Altoona. Altoona’s home field is known to be a pitcher’s park, especially when it comes to homeruns, so his stint there should likely be taken with a grain of salt. The Pirates are notorious for moving their pitching prospects slowly, but with the right breaks, Glasnow might see some MLB action in September, but more than likely his debut might have to wait a little.

ETA: 2016

2. Jameson Taillon

The former number two overall pick lost the 2014 season to Tommy John surgery, but at his best, he’s one of the best pitching prospects in the game. Taillon’s career has been oddly similar to that of fellow top of the draft Pirate Gerrit Cole, in that his output hasn’t really matched the stuff. That being said, Taillon has been quite consistent. He’s hovered around 9 K/9 for most of his career, topping out at 9.42 in 2011. He has also kept his walks down, sticking right between 2.50 and 3.00 per 9 innings at every stop. An interesting note, other than his 2012 A+ innings, Taillon’s ERA has always been higher than his FIP. Coupled with the rather low BABIP marks, low HR rates, and reasonable LOB% that Taillon has posted, we might be able to infer that Taillon has gotten some unlucky breaks when it comes to runs scored.

Taillon has a big frame, standing at 6’6’’ and weighing in at 225 lbs. He generally works in the low to mid 90’s with the fastball, running it up into the high 90’s from time to time. He also possesses an above average curveball that can get into the mid 80’s, and he is working with a changeup as well. The recovery from Tommy John will dictate how fast he sees the majors, but he should be ready to contribute at some point this season.

ETA: 2015

3. Josh Bell

Bell has been a bit of a conundrum for a while. We all know the story of the pre-draft letter asking not to be drafted because of his college commitment, only to sign with the Pirates after a second round selection. Viewed as a potential power threat coming in, Bell debuted fairly quietly in that department. However, he has made the appropriate strides since his opening campaign to tap into his potential. In 2013, Bell swatted 13 homeruns, accompanied with 37 doubles and a .174 ISO. He carried that over to 2014, hitting nine home runs (all in A+), 22 doubles, and posting a .502 SLG percentage. His 153 wRC+ in the Florida State League was without question a big contributor to his rise through the rankings.

Some see Bell as one of the top outfield prospects in the game. But based on both need and an over-abundance of Pirate outfielders, Bell is attempting a transition to first base. For lack of a better term, the reports on the transition have been “below average” so far, and that may be putting it mildly. He is widely viewed as a “smart” player, so in theory, the rough start to the move should be something that can be overcome. The defensive move, along with the continued steady progress of his bat will be the keys to his debut, as the Pirates have little standing in his way as far as his path to the big leagues. He should open the season at Double A, as he only got a small taste of the Eastern League in the 2nd half of ’14. As noted with Glasnow, Bell’s numbers at the level should be taken into context, as Altoona is notorious for cutting power numbers.

ETA: 2016

4. Reese McGuire

This may seem slightly aggressive for the 2013 first rounder, but the skill set seems to warrant the aggression. McGuire has always been regarded as a superb defensive catcher, and nothing has changed. Some evaluators that have seen him play have said nothing short of immaculate things about his defensive skills, going as far as calling him “Hedges like”. Based on what we know of Hedges, that comment can be placed in the “impressive” category.

McGuire’s bat will dictate his ascent through the system. His 2014 season was slightly down as far as the league he played in goes with an 80 wRC+, but that may be in part due to a miniscule .284 BABIP. Evaluators that have hope for the bat have seen a decent hitter, possibly sitting in the .250-.275 batting average range, with some pop, potentially putting out 15 home runs in a good year, but likely settling in around 5-10 on average. If that can happen, along with the fantastic defensive skills, we might be talking about one of the top two catching prospects in the game. He spent all of 2014 in A ball, so he will likely debut at A+ in 2015. The traditional slow development process for catching prospects will likely keep McGuire down for the next few years, but the Pirates don’t have anything like him ahead or behind him in the system, so the lineup spot will be his for the taking in the majors when he is ready.

ETA: 2018

5. Austin Meadows

Reports are all over the map on Meadows. Some see him as a good 4th outfielder, while others see him as a top of the lineup, on-base machine. I tend to lean towards the latter, with Meadows showing the ability to be a patient, selective hitter. He has shown flashes of being a true five-tool guy, displaying some power (.225 ISO in 2013) and contact skills (.322 AVG in 2014) with the bat, while his speed and defensive skills have mostly shown up in scouting reports. As noted, he also brings patience at the plate, getting on base at a .399 clip in rookie ball in 2013, and a .388 spot at A ball in 2014.

Most critics cite some lack of effort, as well as that very patience. With age, the effort and dedication will hopefully work itself out. The patience may be another issue, as some that have seen him play feel that he can lay of some clear strikes, which has led to high strikeout rates. As he continues to gain an understanding of the strike zone, Meadows will likely start attacking those strikes and improve his K rate. If that can happen, and if he can stay healthy (Meadows does have an injury history), he can tap into his all-around potential, and Meadows should make an already crowded outfield situation in Pittsburgh even more of an issue, but that is rarely a bad problem to have.

ETA 2017

6. Nick Kingham

Kingham can be very frustrating. On an ideal day, he is sitting in the mid 90’s, touching up to 97 MPH, with a hard-breaking, low 80’s curve, and a mid 80’s changeup. On a bad day, and sometimes even an average day, Kingham is working in the low 90’s with his fastball, with somewhat spotty command on the breaking stuff. He sometimes has a tendency to let his stuff slip as he works deeper into games, with the fastball flattening out a bit, and his stuff elevating in the zone. The belief is that he will normalize somewhere in the middle, generally working in the low to mid 90’s with a Major League average curveball, and an OK changeup.

Those good days are what get him this ranking. He likely profiles as a good back end type, with a number three starter being the best case scenario. The big thing for Kingham statistically is that he has managed to keep his HR rate at near exceptional levels, only going over the one-per-nine mark once, which was a very manageable 1.06 in 2012. He got a good taste of Triple A in the second half of last year, and will likely open the year there in 2015. He should be ready for a healthy Major League trial sometime this year.

ETA: 2015

7. Alen Hanson

Hanson broke out in a big way in 2012, going deep 16 times, swiping 35 bases, and hitting at a .309 clip. His only below league average periods offensively by wRC+ came after promotions to A- (45 wRC+) and Double A (86 wRC+), which can be expected when adjusting to new levels. His biggest tool on the offensive side is clearly his speed, stealing 20, 24, 35, 30, and 25 bases year to year. When he is on, he shows signs of being an offensive catalyst that can move around fairly easily on the base paths. However, he does come with some offensive red flags. Hanson has never really walked much, topping out at 9.9% in his big breakout year. Despite reasonable strikeout rates, after numerous times seeing him in 2014, I can tell you that he routinely has at bats that he looks completely clueless at the plate.

The big thing for Hanson is going to be his defense. His physical ability grants him the rare web gem moment, but for the most part, the defense just isn’t there. The Pirates made the decision to move him to second base towards the end of the 2014, which should help negate the defensive shortcomings. He finished the year in Double A Altoona, and likely should debut in Triple A this year. However, with Neil Walker manning the position at the big league level, Hanson may have to wait a little longer to get the call, which may be a blessing in disguise as he irons out his defensive issues.

ETA: 2016

8. Cole Tucker

Tucker was a head scratcher when his name was called 24th overall in the 2014 draft. Most analysts seemed to rank him in the 80-100 range as far as available players. But the Pirates consistently proclaimed they got their guy, on top of a report coming out that some teams may have been targeting Tucker shortly after the Pirates selection. In Tucker, the Pirates may have found a diamond in the rough.

Tucker debuted with somewhat of a bang. He showed a little bit of speed with 13 stolen bases, and some nice on base ability, good for a .368 OBP. He also flashed a little bit with the bat, hitting a very solid .357 spot in the wOBA department. Many have raved about his work ethic and desire, and he stands at a thin 6’4’’ 185 lbs, providing lots of room to grow, and maybe even a move to the hot corner could be in order. It is going to take a few years, but the Pirates may have found a quality piece for the left side of their future infield.

ETA: 2019

9. Mitch Keller

With Tucker being a head scratcher, some believed that the Pirates were targeting a higher profile pick in proceeding rounds. Keller was likely that guy. Pittsburgh had to surrender a $1 million bonus to sway the right-hander from his UNC commitment. And it may be lucky for them that he took it.

Keller has a nice, workable frame of 6’3’’ and 200 lbs. Pre-draft, he was clocked up to 95 with his fastball, with a curveball coming in around the mid 70’s, and a low to mid 80’s changeup. Some evaluators see “good signs” and “positive steps” coming from Keller, so his development will be something to keep an eye on. The Pirates may be looking at an embarrassment of riches with young pitchers, so Keller should be given plenty of time to fulfill his promise.

ETA: 2019

10. Harold Ramirez

The somewhat underpublicized Ramirez rounds out our list. Despite likely being unknown to those outside of Pirates and prospect-heavy circles, Ramirez has enjoyed three solid years in the Pirates system. He has actually shown five-tool potential, reaching solid marks across the board, specifically in his 2013 season. High water marks for each tool Ramirez possesses have shown with a .124 ISO for some power, 23 stolen bases showing a little speed, a .309 batting average displaying his contact skills, and positive reports on his defensive ability. The only noticeable hole in his offensive game is low walk rate, only getting over the 5.0 BB% once (7.4% in 2013).

The flashes we’ve seen of Ramirez’s skill have unfortunately been superseded by his inability to stay on the field. He has only managed 71 games and 310 PA as a high point thus far. Ramirez will need to find a way to stay healthy to continue his development to what could be a promising future. Unfortunately for him, the list of outfielders ahead of him in the system is rather lengthy, so the possibility of a trade may be in his future, however with the skills he has shown, he should represent some good value wherever he may break in.

ETA: 2018

With a solid young core already at the major league level, the Pirates could be in pretty good shape for years to come. Along with those on the list, there is a group that could contribute at the Major League level in the very near future. The system is full of high-end, hard throwing pitchers, toolsy outfielders, and one of the better catching prospects the minors has to offer.

Honorable Mention: Willy Garcia, Trey Supak, Elias Diaz, Jung-ho Kang (if agreement is reached), Gage Hinsz

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