When I started researching the club, I underestimated just how good the Pirates system is right now. It has impressive high-ceiling talent at the top of the list and depth. I had five or six other players outside the Top 15 that I really wanted to write about, but ultimately they fell just short of the list.
Cole was the first overall selection during the 2011 draft and he reached triple-A in his first season in pro ball, securing himself as one of the best pitching prospects in the game. The right-hander’s greatest strength is his heater, which can tickle triple digits and sits in the 93-96 mph range. His second best pitch is a dominating slider. He also has a curveball and a changeup.
Cole is not quite ready to break into the big league rotation. He needs to develop a reliable third pitch, while also improving his command with mechanical tweaks. His control is currently ahead of the command. When asked what Cole’s next step in his development would be, a contact stated, “The next level for Gerrit will be continuing his maturation process as a professional pitcher, specifically how he uses his weapons to effectively and efficiently attack major-league caliber hitters.”
He should return to triple-A to open 2013 and could see the majors in the second half of the season, especially if Pittsburgh is in the playoff hunt and needs a spark. Cole, 22, has the ceiling of a No. 1 or 2 starter.
I’m constantly amazed at what little hype Taillon receives in general. The right-hander has mid-to-high-90s velocity and above-average control. He also has an above-average curveball and a developing changeup. At 6’6” 225 lbs, the Texas native has the potential to provide a ton of innings. I spoke to a contact who stated that Taillon is very dedicated and disciplined to his routines and the pitching process. “He takes pride in the art of pitching and understanding what he’s trying to do each time he grabs a baseball,” he said. “The next step in his process is the continued understanding of how to use his weapons to attack major-league caliber hitters.”
Once he starters to trust his overpowering stuff and improves his command, Taillon’s strikeout rate should skyrocket. He finished the 2012 season in double-A and should return to the level to begin 2013. It wouldn’t be shocking to see him secure a big league rotation spot at some point in 2014, joining Gerrit Cole as an awe-inspiring 1-2 combo at the top of the Pirates’ starting staff for years to come.
I chose Hanson as the Pirates’ potential breakout prospect for 2012 and he surprised even me with his outstanding performance during his first full-season assignment in low-A. The infielder hit for average and showed unexpected power while also stealing 35 bases. He was caught trying to nab bases 19 times which underscores his need for polish. Hanson took some walks but he also struck out a lot and needs to tone down his approach at times while also sharpening his pitch recognition.
In the field, Hanson struggled at shortstop — which is typical for a young player. His range, though, is modest despite his plus speed and his arm is average. He looks more like a future second baseman, although a contact I spoke with was encouraged by the improvements he’s made.
“His improvement and dedication to defense, from where he was in the beginning of the season to where he finished, was very encouraging and a testament to how hard he worked throughout the year,” the talent evaluator said. The Dominican Republic native will move up to high-A ball and could see double-A by the end of the year if he continues to improve. He has the ceiling of an all-star middle infielder
Like Alen Hanson, Polanco was a breakout star in the Pirates system in 2012. A talent evaluator I spoke with said it’s quite obvious why the Dominican Republic native made such a big leap in his development. “I think the biggest thing was physical maturation for Gregory. He’s always been a long and lanky kid, almost gangly,” he explained. “Now, looking at him, he’s turning into a very physical young man. His body control has improved. He knows himself better… He’s maturing.”
The 21-year-old outfielder has average or better power potential from the left side of the batter’s box. He has an overly-aggressive approach at the plate that could be toned down but he makes good contact and puts the ball in the play, often with good pop. Like many young hitters, Polanco tries to pull the ball too much and will have a better chance of producing a solid batting average as he moves up through the minors if he uses more of the field.
Along with his potential at the plate, Polanco has very good speed and should be capable of stealing more than 20 bases in a minor league season. In the field, he has the potential to be an above-average center-fielder with a strong arm. Polanco, like Hanson, will open 2013 in high-A ball and should spend much of the season at that level. He’s still a couple of years away from the majors but he could be a key part of the Pirates’ next wave of talent.
Heredia is far from a finished product but his success to date is all the more impressive when you consider the fact that he’s just 18 years old with two pro seasons under his belt. He already stands 6’6” and tips the scale at more than 200 lbs. He throws in the low 90s with his fastball and can hit the mid-90s. He also has a curveball and a changeup,A contact I spoke with said Heredia has a chance for three plus pitches. “His changeup is the more advanced of the two[secondary pitches], which is by design,” the contact stated.
His frame suggests that he should be capable of providing 200+ innings in his prime. Heredia is very slow and deliberate to the plate at times and will have to work to avoid becoming too big. The Mexican native still has some improvements to make with both his control and his command, although again, he’s very young. He’s spent the past two seasons in short-season ball and should be ready for full-season opponents, although the organization could choose to hold him back in extended spring training for a little while to help limit his innings.
The addition of 2012 second round draft pick Mathisen, a fringe first round talent, helps make up for the club’s inability to sign the eighth overall selection of the draft, Mark Appel, who returned to Stanford University for his senior year. The young catcher, on other hand, turned down an opportunity to play for the University of Texas and signed for slot.
After playing a few positions as a prep star (catcher, shortstop, pitcher), Mathisen has settled back behind the plate but is behind in his defensive development. He’s athletic with a very strong arm so he has the tools necessary to succeed behind the plate, as well as the drive to get better.
He’s more advanced behind the plate and has a chance to hit for a decent average and above-average power, once he learns to drive the ball with more consistency. The Texas native struck out just 19 times in 45 games. A contact I spoke with his been impressed with the prospect to date. “He can impact the baseball and can do it on a consistent basis… He has a feel for the barrel,” he said. Mathisen’s bat might be ready low-A ball, but his defense could probably use some time in extended spring training.
Bell entered pro ball armed with a ton of hype and a multi-million dollar signing bonus as an intriguing Texas prep outfielder with all-star potential. His debut did not go as hoped when he blew out his knee and appeared in just 15 games.The switch-hitter has above-average power from both sides of the plate but needs to improve his pitch recognition. In the field, he showed solid range pre-injury and a strong arm.
Bell is expected to be healthy when the season starts and he should return to low-A ball to begin the 2013 season but he could see high-A in the second half of the year. The lost development time could slow his ascent through the minors but it’s not expected to have a long-term effect. I’m told the injury has healed but the organization will be cautious with him and continually monitor his workload to ease him back into the daily grind.
A contact I spoke with said Bell’s make-up could cause him to press and make up for lost time. “His primary focus needs to be on his process and getting better every day,” he explained. “He is going to want to make up a season’s worth of at-bats in the first week of spring training… [He needs] to not worry about the 500 at-bats that he lost in the rear-view mirror and trying to catch-up, because that’s out of his control.”
McPherson, isn’t flashy but he has a big, strong frame and could develop into a durable No. 3 or 4 starter at the big league level. The Alabama native has made the most of his opportunities as a former 14th round draft pick who has already spend six seasons in the minor leagues. He made his MLB debut in 2012 and split time between the Pirates’ bullpen and starting rotation.
McPherson, 25, has solid stuff with an 87-92 mph fastball and a plus changeup. His breaking ball needs work and consistency if he’s going to reach his potential. The right-hander has good control and has been durable for much of his career, although he suffered from a shoulder injury early in 2012. If he can’t wrestle his way into the big league rotation, McPherson could slide into the bullpen.
The California native is all about projection, standing 6’7” 200 lbs. Glasnow, 19, came out of extended spring training on fire in 2012 and dominated rookie ball. He allowed just 19 hits and struck out 40 batters in 34.1 innings. Like most tall, young pitchers, he struggles with repeating his delivery and his command suffers.
Glasnow’s repertoire includes a fastball that ranges in the 87-91 mph range right now. His second-best offering is a curveball and he rounds out his four-pitch repertoire with a slider and changeup. A strong spring could push him up to low-A ball but I’d expect him to open the year in extended spring before heading to the New York Penn league in June.
Barnes was nabbed out of Texas Tech with the 45th selection of the 2012 draft and possesses above-average power potential. He also has the speed and instincts to steal 15-20 bases, making him a threat to become a 20-20 hitter with the ability to play center field. Barnes has solid range in the outfield but his fringe-average arm could eventually shift him to left field.
Barnes, 21, had a solid debut in short-season ball when he showed good power while also hitting .288 with 17 walks in 38 games. The Texas native will likely open 2013 in low-A but he has a shot at high-A if he has a strong spring performance. His game needs some overall polish but Barnes could burst onto the prospect landscape in the coming year.
A young, strong-bodied pitcher, Holmes impressed the Pirates enough to earn a $1.2 million contract when he was selected in the ninth round of an Alabama high school. His fastball can hit 94-95 mph and he gets a good downward plane on the pitch thanks to his 6’5” 230 lbs frame. His slider shows potential and his changeup could be at least average.
Holmes will likely open 2013 in low-A ball where he’ll look to sharpen both his command and control. Improved command and better secondary stuff will help his strikeout rates jump up but he could be successful as a pitch-to-contact guy if that doesn’t happen. He’s a long way from reaching his potential but Holmes is one of the most promising young pitchers in the low minors.
If you’re looking for a player who could have a breakout season in 2013 similar to those of Gregory Polanco and Alen Hanson from 2012, look no further than Herrera. The middle infielder generates surprising pop for his size, and that included 25 extra base hits in 60 short-season contests last season. The 19-year-old Colombian needs to tighten up his approach at the plate, including pitch recognition, if he’s going to hit for average as he moves up the ladder.
In the field, Herrera has a below average arm but has good actions and average-or-better range thanks to solid foot speed. He’s played third base, shortstop and second base in his young career but profiles best at the keystone. He should move up to full-season ball in 2013.
Kingham is another big, strong pitcher in the Pirates’ system. He can dial his fastball up to the 93-95 mph range and also has a promising changeup. His breaking ball is currently average but flashes above-average potential. The right-hander battles his command and consistency and has noticeable hot and cold stretches. At 6’5”, he generates a good downward plane on his pitches.
After solid full-season debut at the low-A ball level in 2012, Kingham will move up to high-A ball and should spend the entire season at that level thanks to some pitching depth a head of him. He has the ceiling of a mid-rotation starter if he continues to develop along his career path.
Wilson is a hard-throwing southpaw who came up through the minors as a starter. His fastball sits in the 88-93 mph range out of the starting rotation but he can reach the upper 90s as a reliever. He has a four-pitch repertoire that also includes a curveball, slider, and changeup but none of the offerings are currently more than average even though he’s entering his fifth pro season. His control is just average at this point and he needs better command.
After two seasons in triple-A, Wilson has little left to prove in the minors and has a solid shot at breaking camp with the big league club as a reliever. If he can polish one of his secondary offerings into a plus pitch, the Fresno State alum could become a high-leverage reliever. Otherwise, he could develop into a solid No. 4 or 5 starter or long reliever.
A 19-year-old catcher out of Taiwan, Jhang hit more than .300 during his pro debut at the rookie ball level. He possesses a ton of value as a left-handed hitting backstop with good bat control, a solid eye and above-average defensive potential. He allowed too many passed balls during his debut and didn’t throw out as many base runners as one might expect but improved foot work could help both categories.
Jhang has the potential to be an above-average big league catcher if he continues to hit. He has good balance at the plate but has yet to learn to drive the ball. He’ll be in a battle with Wyatt Mathisen for the mantle of catcher-of-the-future and Jhang will likely open 2013 in extended spring training with an eye on the New York Penn League in June.