Top 10 Prospects: The Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pittsburgh Pirates
2010 MLB Record: 57-105 (sixth place, NL Central)
Minor League Power Ranking: 13th (out of 30)
Click for: Last Year’s Top 10 Prospect List

The Prospects

1. Jameson Taillon, RHP
Acquired: 2010 1st round (Texas HS)
Pro Experience: None
2010 MiLB Level: None
Opening Day Age: 19
Estimated Peak WAR: 5.5

Notes: The Pirates organization had a difficult decision to make with the second overall pick in the 2010 draft: prep hurler Taillon or high school shortstop Manny Machado. The club took the talented arm and it’s hard to argue the decision. Taillon was arguably the most talented arm in the draft with a mid-to-high-90s fastball, a promising curveball and two more pitches (slider, changeup) rounding out his repertoire. Taillon occasionally throws his curveball from a slightly higher arm slot than his other pitches. He appears to have a lot of confidence on the mound but I’d like to see him follow through with his delivery a little more, and he tends to leak out in front of the rubber. It’s all relatively minor stuff that should be corrected with experience and good coaching. He didn’t play after signing, but could potentially open the season in low-A ball, benefiting from some time in extended spring training. Taillon has No. 1 starter potential if he can stay healthy. I have to say, I am really impressed with the new-look Pirates organization and this young hurler is the cream of a nice crop of prospects.

2. Tony Sanchez, C
Acquired: 2009 1st round (Boston College)
Pro Experience: 2 seasons
2010 MiLB Level: A+
Opening Day Age: 22
Estimated Peak WAR: 4.0

Notes: Sanchez has produced solid numbers in pro ball and that was continuing into 2010 when a pitched ball broke his jaw. The catcher was hitting .314/.416/.454 in 207 at-bats. His power did take a dip in ’10, going from .245 to .140. At worst, he should have gap power and could eventually hit 15-20 homers with regular playing time. He did, though, continue to show a good eye at the plate with a walk rate of 11.2 BB%. He even improved his strikeout rate a bit, as it dipped below 20 K%. Sanchez has outstanding leadership skills and is a promising defensive catcher with a strong arm. He moves around well behind the plate.

3. Stetson Allie, RHP
Acquired: 2010 2nd round (Ohio HS)
Pro Experience: None
2010 MiLB Level: None
Opening Day Age: 19
Estimated Peak WAR: 4.5

Notes: Allie spurned the University of North Carolina to turn pro with the Pirates. A big, strong pitcher, the right-hander has mid-to-high-90s fastball and a potentially plus slider. He doesn’t always know where his pitches are going, though, and he struggles with both his command and his control. Allie needs to watch his conditioning, as he’s already pretty thick through his trunk. His delivery definitely has some effort to it, and it appears as though he short-arms the ball. If he cannot improve his control, Allie could be destined for a high-leverage reliever role. He did not play after signing but, like Taillon, could open 2011 in low-A ball with a strong spring.

4. Luis Heredia, RHP
Acquired: 2010 non-drafted free agent (Mexico)
Pro Experience: None
2010 MiLB Level: None
Opening Day Age: 16
Estimated Peak WAR: 4.5

Notes: Just 16, the right-hander already stands 6’6”. Heredia hasn’t pitched in pro ball yet, and he is expected to open 2011 in extended spring training and then head to Rookie ball. His repertoire includes a low-to-mid-90s fastball, good curveball, slider, and changeup. For his age, Heredia also has good mechanics/arm action and a solid delivery. He’s still quite young but he potentially has the ceiling of a No. 1 starter.

5. Rudy Owens, LHP
Acquired: 2006 28th round (Arizona CC)
Pro Experience: 4 seasons
2010 MiLB Level: AA
Opening Day Age: 23
Estimated Peak WAR: 3.0

Notes: Owens, 23, had yet another impressive season at double-A in 2010. The left-hander posted a 2.95 FIP in 150.0 innings. He showed outstanding control with a walk rate of 1.38 BB/9 (following up a rate of 1.34 in ’09). Owens missed a fair number of bats with a strikeout rate of 7.92 K/9 and his ground-ball rates are average. His repertoire overall is pretty average – he has an inconsistent fastball with velocity that ranges from 87 to 93 mph, as well as a curveball and a changeup. He has a low-three-quarter arm slot and his fastball actually looks quicker coming out of his hand and he has some deception. He projects to be a No. 3 starter.

6. Jeff Locke, LHP
Acquired: 2006 2nd round (New Hampshire HS)
Pro Experience: 5 seasons
2010 MiLB Level: A+/AA
Opening Day Age: 23
Estimated Peak WAR: 3.0

Notes: Locke, 23, was acquired from the Atlanta Braves in ’09 via the Nate McLouth trade. The lefty started the year in high-A and posted a FIP of 2.91 in 86.1 innings. He then moved up to double-A with a FIP of 3.22 in 57.2 innings. He produces average ground-ball rates but has done a solid job of keeping the ball in the park (0.78 HR/9 in double-A). Locke’s repertoire includes an 88-93 mph fastball, curveball, and changeup. He throws a little across his body because he takes a step toward first base in his delivery, but that adds some movement to his fastball. Locke also has a pretty standard three-quarter delivery. Because he lacks a dominating pitch, he projects to be a No. 3 or 4 starter. He could return to double-A in 2011 but could see the Majors at some point in 2011.

7. Starling Marte, OF
Acquired: 2007 non-drafted free agent (Dominican Republic)
Pro Experience: 3 seasons
2010 MiLB Level: R/A+
Opening Day Age: 22
Estimated Peak WAR: 3.5

Notes: Marte, 22, has shown a lot of potential in a brief period of time. He hit .312 in ’09 and .315 in ’10, with his BABIP sitting at .400 or higher in each of those two seasons. Marte swings a mean stick but he doesn’t possess much power (.117 ISO), and his main tool right now is his speed (22 steals in 60 games). Unfortunately, his approach at the plate leaves a lot to be desired for his skill set. He has a low walk rate (4.7 BB%) and a high strikeout rate (26.6 K%). Some of his lack of power in ’10 was a result of a broken hamate bone. He uses an inside-out swing and takes a small stride. It’s hard to project much, if any, power in his current swing mechanics. Defensively, Marte projects to be a plus center-fielder and he has a strong arm. If he cannot hit enough to be a starter, he could make an excellent fourth outfielder.

8. Bryan Morris, RHP
Acquired: 2006 1st round (Tennessee CC)
Pro Experience: 5 seasons
2010 MiLB Level: A+/AA
Opening Day Age: 24
Estimated Peak WAR: 3.5

Notes: It seems like we’ve been waiting for Morris to breakout for quite a while now. The former No. 1 draft pick has been inundated with injuries and suffered through inconsistency. Luckily, his good stuff remains; his repertoire includes an 89-94 mph fastball, good curveball, slider, and nascent changeup. Because his off-speed pitch hasn’t developed as hoped, Morris may end up in the back-end of the bullpen, where he can focus on a two-pitch mix (fastball, curve). He throws with effort and does not have the greatest balance on the mound. For now, though, he still projects as a No. 2 or 3 starter, especially in the National League. After posting a 3.87 FIP in 89.0 double-A innings in 2010, Morris could be in the Majors by mid-season, depending on the club’s needs. He also showed significant improvement in his control last season.

9. Zack Von Rosenberg, RHP
Acquired: 2009 6th round (Louisiana HS)
Pro Experience: 2 seasons
2010 MiLB Level: Short Season
Opening Day Age: 20
Estimated Peak WAR: 3.0

Notes: Von Rosenberg appeared in just one game in ’09 after signing, so 2010 was basically his regular season pro debut. The young hurler held up well with a 3.52 FIP in 59.0 short-season ball innings. He showed above-average control with a walk rate of 1.98 BB/9 but his strikeout rate was a tad low at just 6.95 K/9. He also produced an average-ish ground-ball rate at 46%. Von Rosenberg’s repertoire is still developing and his heater currently sits 86-91 mph, and he also throws a curveball and a changeup. Like Jeff Locke (although in the opposite direction), Von Rosenberg throws across his body after taking a step towards third base. He does a nice job of staying tall in his delivery and keeps back over the rubber. He doesn’t have a huge ceiling, but Von Rosenberg looks like a potential No. 3 hurler.

10. Colton Cain, LHP
Acquired: 2009 8th round (Texas HS)
Pro Experience: 1 season
2010 MiLB Level: R/SS
Opening Day Age: 20
Estimated Peak WAR: 3.5

Notes: Cain, 20, has a big, strong pitcher’s body. He made his pro debut in 2010, first in rookie ball and then he was moved up to short-season ball after just 14.1 innings. At the higher level, he posted a 3.58 FIP in 34.0 innings while also flashing a strikeout rate of 8.47 K/9. He also showed reasonable control (3.71 BB/9) but he’s currently an extreme fly-ball pitcher with below-average ground-ball rates. His repertoire includes an 88-93 mph fastball, curveball and work-in-progress changeup. During his delivery, the left-hander has a habit of leading with his shoulder and then dragging his arm forward. With lots of development time, Cain could develop into a top-of-the-rotation starter or a high-leverage reliever.




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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect and rookie analysis. He also operates AstrosBall.com and can be reached via email at: marchulet@astrosball.com, or follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

36 Responses to “Top 10 Prospects: The Pittsburgh Pirates”

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  1. Tom Au says:

    Pirates prospects (and drafts) are pitching heavy. That’s not always the best way to get there. If you can draft a “Mark Teixiera,” you can trade him for any pitcher AFTER he has developed.

    The Pirates needed a Manny Machado, or at least a better shortstop than Ronny Cedeno. Looks like they may trade (a not-great) pitcher to get one. Then where does that leave their pitching.

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    • Bill says:

      A team needs to draft a lot of pitchers. They have such a high flame out rate that you need to draft a bunch just to keep pace with your hitters. Even mediocre established pitchers are expensive. Baltimore’s strategy is to draft pitchers and sign or trade for hitters. It’s worked this offseason. They turned some average pitching prospects into a respectable shortstop and third baseman.

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    • Steve says:

      Machado is several years away. It’s not like he could step in for Cedeno right away. I give him a less <40% chance of sticking at SS anyway.

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    • gonfalon says:

      “Pirates prospects (and drafts) are pitching heavy.”

      This list is certainly pitching-heavy, but on the other hand the Pirates have promoted four everyday position players over the last year and a half (McCutchen, Walker, Tabata, Alvarez). Note that the latter two joined the Pirates’ system in 2008.

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    • Brian Sabean says:

      I disagree

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  2. DBS says:

    I like this list as it corresponds roughly with my personal list (I have d’Arnaud at 10 and ZVR outside the 10).

    What are your thoughts on Cunningham? Also, do you see Justin Wilson as a reliever long-term?

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  3. AU Standard says:

    I think Tom is missing the real point. Championship teams are built on great pitching. Three top quality starters and a quality pen can carry an average team a long way. There are always cheap veteran free agent “hole fillers” for your offense. Look at what the rays just did with Manny and Damon….and yet much less talented pitchers got better deals this offseason. And the Pirates are already building a solid core of young position players with McCutchen, Alvarez, Tabata, Walker, Sanchez and they likely will add Rendon to that mix this year. I much rather would have Taillon as an elite ace starter and trade for an average to above average SS with our pitching surplus than wait on Machado to develop and still be looking for that ace.

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  4. JRoss says:

    What happened to Tim Alderson? Looks like he really fizzled out.

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  5. Adam says:

    Where is Rendon going to rank on this list?

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  6. WTF? says:

    Andrew Lambo is EASILY a top-5 guy in this system, if not top-3. I would have thought this place would have seen through the inferior pitching in the FSL in 2010 which gave Sanchez’s FB bat a chance to play, but you missed it and declared him a better prospect than than Morris, Lambo, and Allie. Nice try Marc.

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  7. john sparrow says:

    typoe on Cain, I suppose- “During his delivery, the right-hander has a habit of leading with his shoulder and then dragging his arm forward…”

    Just out of curiosity, where do you see Lambo and D’Arnaud? just outside the top 10? 15-20?

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  8. Roberto! says:

    I have no complaint about this ranking of the system or the folks in the top 10. I’d just like to point out that Rudy Owens’s “inconsistent” fastball was actually two pitches: a two-seam and a four-seam fastball. He mostly threw the two-seamer in the first half and the four-seamer in the second. His higher velocity came (naturally) when he focused on the four-seamer. And he didn’t just miss some bats when he did. In July and August he struck out 9.54 per 9 innings pitched and walked 0.88. There’s still a lot of controversy about his change. I’ve seen it called “the best in the system” and “a below average pitch.” His performance seems inconsistent with the change being sub-par, since the curve is a work in progress, but who knows.

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  9. Bobby Ayala says:

    If he were still technically a prospect, where would Brad Lincoln be on this list?

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    • gonfalon says:

      last year Lincoln was #2, but against the competition above I’d guess he’d be no higher than #5 and maybe not even in the top 10.

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      • Tom Au says:

        I don’t understand why we’ve been so high on Lincoln. Kyle Drabek from the same year is probably a better pitcher, and we should have known that because of his father, Doug.

        Not to mention the other “Lin,” San Francisco’s Tim Lincecum, who was drafted after Lincoln.

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  10. Marc Hulet says:

    I do like Lambo. He’s in the 11-15 mix for me. d’Arnaud is probably No. 11. Rendon would probably be No.1… No. 2 at the lowest. If Lincoln were eligible, I’d probably put him ahead of Allie.

    Cunningham is interesting but he had some major contact issues while coming back from a major injury… The power potential is interesting but I want to see more walks and fewer Ks.

    As for Wilson, he needs to clean up his delivery a bit if he’s going to improve his command/control enough to be a starter. I’m not a huge fan of his across-the-body motion. With that said, I know KLAW likes him and I respect Keith’s opinions so perhaps I haven’t seen him enough to truly appreciate him.

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  11. wobatus says:

    I actually still like Chase D’Arnaud despite an off season. I think he’ll snap back. I think there were some health issues.

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  12. cpebbles says:

    Seriously? Nobody wants to take a go at the “leak out in front of the rubber” line?

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  13. Pirates on the rise.

    Who would y’all compare Taillon to in terms of projecting?

    @duckfromthepomd

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    • Stairmaster Jenkins says:

      High end projection would probably be something like Josh Beckett. Both were big, fairly polished HS hard throwers with similar builds. Both were consensus Top 5 picks as well.

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  14. John says:

    Marc, What do you know about Victor Black? I know he has had some injury troubles last year, but he seems to have a lot of raw talent and seems like he could be back end of the bullpen kind of guy if things work out.

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  15. Adam says:

    Marc, are you guys planning on making it through every team’s top 10 prospects by opening day?

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  16. enemyoftheworld says:

    I’m cautiously optimistic about this farm system, too. A point of concern, perhaps, is that 3 of their 4 top prospects have yet to face competition above the high school level. Rudy Owens and Bryan Morris are the only guys anywhere close to contributing to the big leagues and it’s very possible neither of them appear in 2011. Besides them, Sanchez is the surest bet to make a long-term impact with his strong defense and improving polish at the plate, but that power outage concerns me quite a bit. There’s just too much speculation about the rest of those guys for now.

    I’m already anxious to see next year’s list because I think we’ll know a lot more by then.

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  17. matt says:

    looks like the “last year’s prospects” link is to 2009, not 2010.

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  18. Marc Hulet says:

    The “last year’s” list is the right one… I just wrote it earlier in the off-season last year.

    Black does have some promise but he needs to stay healthy and improve his command/control. Potential reliever, though.

    All the Top 10 lists will be done by opening day… I think I have 12 more with the Indians hopefully coming out on Tuesday. I’m tentatively planning to do Top 25 or 30 prospect lists for the top three organizations… followed by the Top 50 overall prospects.

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    • The Bunk says:

      Great idea Marc, but how about making that a top 25 or 30 for the top 5 organizations? Would love to see that many reports on Jays minor leaguers.

      /end homer suggestion.

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  19. Marc Hulet says:

    You’re assuming the Jays aren’t in my Top 3?

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  20. matt says:

    new top 10

    1.)cole
    2.)taillon
    3.)bell
    4.)heredia
    5.)marte
    6.)allie
    7.)grossman
    8.)sanchez
    9.)cain
    10.)mcphearson

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