A Minor Review of 2017: Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates have done a nice job developing pitchers over the past few years and there are more on the way.

The Graduate: Trevor Williams, RHP: When Tyler Glasnow crashed and burned, Williams stepped up his game and was arguably the third most valuable arm on the staff. The rookie hurler isn’t flashy but he throws strikes, induces a good number of ground balls and threw 150 innings. Traded from the Marlins organization in 2015, his 2.2 WAR surpassed all Miami hurlers in 2017 so it’s probably one trade that The Fish would like back. Williams throws his fastball — which averaged just 92 mph in 2017 — more than 70% of the time but his above-average command of it makes it play up. He sprinkles in a slider and a changeup. Williams has a very basic approach and he’ll need to see his secondary offerings improve (and utilize them more) if he’s going to continue to dominate big league hitters.

The Stud: Mitch Keller, RHP: Easily the Pirates’ best pitching prospect, Keller has above-average control, a mid-90s fastball and the makings of developing into an innings-eater. In his prime, he should offer three better-than-average offerings, which will play up even more with his ability to consistently throw strikes. Keller, 21, also induces an above-average number of ground ball outs and allowed just seven home runs in 116 innings in 2017. The right-handed hurler just needs more experience and injuries have cost him valuable innings. After throwing 34.2 innings at the double-A level last year, he’ll return to that level but should see triple-A in the second half. He has the makings of a No. 2 or 3 starter.

The Draft Pick: Shane Baz, RHP: Baz, 18, has a big arm and a huge ceiling — which is why he went 12th overall in the 2017 draft. But he could also need a little bit of extra seasoning than the average top teen hurler given that he utilizes a five-pitch mix. As a result, he has less time to focus on his individual offerings and his command. At some point, he may be well served by trimming a pitch or two — especially considering his heater can be overpowering on its own. The hard-throwing Texan also has a strong frame and should provide lots of innings in his prime. He has a chance to open 2018 in full-season ball.

The Riser: Taylor Hearn, LHP: This southpaw has a nasty heater that can hit the upper 90s but he’s miscast as a starter. His changeup is just a cursory offering and the slider merely flashes average at times. It makes some sense to keep him as a starter for now so he has more innings to work on sharpening his command and control but he might move much quicker in a relief role. He struck out 106 batters in 87.1 innings but also walked 37 hitters. He’s my under-the-radar guy to come out of no where in 2018 to reach the Majors and strikeout a bunch of guys — even though he has yet to reach double-A.

The Tumbler: Kevin Newman, SS: There are both positives and negatives with Newman. Selected 19th overall in 2015, he reached triple-A in his second full season and played 40 games tat that level with a .283 batting average. Unfortunately, other than hitting for average, his offensive game has very little to it. His OPS was just .675 in 2017 because he doesn’t hit for power and he doesn’t walk. He has some speed but he doesn’t really steal bases. Newman, 24, has average defensive skills up the middle and could probably handle any infield position but his lack of pop means he’s not going to spend much time at the corners. His looks bound for a part-time bench role as a big leaguer, which is not what you’re looking for from the 19th overall selection of a draft.

The Sleeper: Luis Escobar, RHP: Signed back in 2013, Escobar just reached full-season ball in 2017 for the first time. He saw his innings total take a huge jump from 67.2 in 2016 to 131.2 in ’17 and has a sturdy frame capable of providing lots of innings. However, his personality may be much better suited to relief work where he could focus more heavily on his mid-90s heater and improving curveball. He struck out 168 batters and held hitters to a .200 batting average. Look for him to move up to high-A ball in 2018 and he should taste double-A in the second half.



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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.