The Pirates have not been shy in recent drafts, loading up on over-slot, projectable young talent to try and rebuild a farm system that was in desparate need of prospects. They have succeeded by infusing the system with several potential top of the rotation arms as well as a couple of exciting bats like Josh Bell and Starling Marte. The system is a bit top heavy in truly viable prospects but it does have plenty of depth if you’re looking for long shots that have a tool or two that can be projected down the line.
1. Gerrit Cole (RHP)
The top pick in the 2011 draft, Cole has the chance to be a true frontline starting pitcher with superstar potential. He can pump fastballs as high as the 97-99 mph range and has touched triple digits in the past. His slider is a potential 70-grade beast with improved consistency and his change-up will show as a nice third offering. Cole will battle his control at times but has improved and generally throws strikes. If everything can finally click, Cole has a chance to be a big league ace.
2. James Taillon (RHP)
Not the number one pick that Cole was in 2011, but Taillon was the number two overall selection in 2010, and he offers a ceiling that is arguably just as high as Cole. A physical beast, Taillon can sit in the 95-97 mph range with his fastball and flashes a plus overhand curve that can buckle hitter’s knees. His change-up improved in his first pro season and should be an above-average pitch long term. He pitches with his fastball too much at times and must learn the art of pitching, including sequencing if he is to realize his top of the rotation potential.
3. Starling Marte (OF)
Marte is one of the most well rounded and toolsiest players in the Pirates system. Each of his tools will earn average or better future grades from scouts. His hitting ability is the most worrisome of the tool as he is extremely aggressive at the plate and scouts wonder if he’ll be able to hit for average against top flight pitching. He has solid-average power, plus speed, plus defense and an above-average arm to round out his package of tools, all of which could make him very good Major League center fielder.
4. Josh Bell (OF)
The Pirates went big in the second round last year, despite pre-draft rumors of monster signing bonus demands from Bell. The Pirates didn’t hesitate and ultimately signed him for $5 million at the August deadline. Bell was likely the best high school bat in the draft with the ability to hit for average and power long term. He is a good athlete and solid defender that could continue to improve. Bell isn’t the polished prep product that is going to move quickly and he could take time, but the payoff could be an All-Star caliber player.
5. Luis Heredia (RHP)
At just 17-years old and entering his second minor league season, you can dream all day with Heredia. He is already a mammoth 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds and could continue to grow as he matures, leaving scouts to wonder what he’s ultimately going to be physically. Aside from that concern, Heredia offers a lot of promise, including a fastball that can reach 96 mph already with heavy downward angle. His breaking ball and change-up both flash promise at times but neither is consistent enough to rely on yet. We’re talking 4-5 years of minor league seasoning remaining for Heredia, so sit back, watch and enjoy the wait.
6. Robbie Grossman (OF)
Grossman often earns the dreaded tweener moniker from scouts as they wonder how much he’ll hit for an outfield corner because they don’t see him fitting everyday in center field. Grossman has exceptional command of the strike zone and he recognizes pitches well, giving him a chance to maintain his above-average hit tool against big league pitchers. He also offers average to a tick below-average power that should be good for 12-18 home runs a year and plenty of doubles. His defense is fine in left field and his arm is just strong enough that it could support time in right as well.
7. Stetson Allie (RHP)
Allie is the type of prospect I tend to fawn over. He has a great body and tons of present velocity, running his fastball up to 100 mph on occasion. He also offers a 70-grade slider that can miss bats with ease. The entire package comes with an incredible amount of risk, as Allie rarely has any clue where the ball is going. His mechanics are extremely high effort and involve a lot of moving parts, leaving him with almost no control at this point. There remains a lot of Allie to iron out to turn his raw stuff into something valuable, but the potential exists for him to develop into a top flight closer.
8. Kyle McPherson (RHP)
Because of all the high ceiling arms in the system, McPherson kind of runs under the radar among fans. His ceiling tops out as a number four starter but he has a very good chance of reaching that ceiling, possibly very soon. His fastball works in the low-90s and has touched 95 at times. He commands his fastball at a plus-plus level, working up and down as well as both sides of the plate. What McPherson lacks is another reliable pitch as his curveball and change-up are fringe-average at their best. If he can makes gains with one of those pitches he could solidify his potential and reach the big leagues in 2012.
9. Colton Cain (LHP)
Cain was an over-slot signing out of the 2009 draft and while he has moved slowly through the system, that slow pace has come with promising progress. His fastball has bumped from the upper-80s in 2010 to a consistent 90-92 mph in 2011 and some scouts believe there could be another tick in there. His curveball is his best secondary pitch and it offers plus potential with downward bite. He also throws a change-up that he is still mastering and it should be a fringe-average pitch in time. While he may not have the biggest ceiling in the world, Cain should fit squarely in the middle of a big league rotation.
10. Clay Holmes (RHP)
The Pirates busted slot in the ninth round of last year’s draft, inking Holmes for a bonus of $1.2 million. He has a great pitcher’s frame, standing 6-4, 225 pounds and he uses it well at this early stage of his development. He can work his fastball consistently from 91-93 mph and scouts are virtually unanimous that he should be able to sit in the mid-90s down the line. His slider is highly inconsistent but will show flashes of being a nice offering. He has yet to develop a change-up. A successful season for Holmes would include health and minor gains with his control and slider.
11. Tony Sanchez (C)
Picked in the top ten of the 2009 draft, Sanchez was a reach but was expected to move quickly and be in the big leagues by now. His game has regressed significantly and some scouts have trouble projecting him as more than a second division regular behind the plate. He is a solid defender that earns more points for his ability to handle a pitching staff than he does his ability to control the running game. He can get on base via the walk but struggles with contact and power because he lacks bat speed. Sanchez needs a strong season in 2012 to stay on the radar.
12. Bryan Morris (RHP)
Now a reliever, Morris could be a diamond in the rough for the Pirates in 2012. In short bursts out of the bullpen he will show a mid-90s fastball with outstanding sink and the ability to induce both weak contact and swings and misses. His slider showed more snap out of the bullpen as well, giving him another plus pitch for the late innings. It is difficult to expect Morris to do much more than help in the sixth or seventh inning in 2012, but beyond that he could be a nice setup option for the club.
13. Duke Welker (RHP)
Though he’s a level behind Morris, Welker is another arm that could help the Pittsburgh bullpen in 2012 and 2013. The scouts I spoke with said he consistently showed mid-90s heat with good life. When he moved to Double-A he looked tired and wasn’t command his fastball as well, causing him to get hit around a bit when up in the zone. His breaking ball comes and goes but it has average potential and could land him in the seventh inning at some point.
14. Alen Hanson (2B)
Still just a short-season project, Hanson intrigued scouts in 2011 with his knack for hitting and solid approach at the plate. He has enough bat speed to make easy contact on good fastballs and he uses the whole field well for a young player. His speed plays well on the bases but he’s still evolving as a defender at second base. If Hanson’s approach to hitting and knack for contact carries over to the upper levels he could be a solid number two hitter and everyday second baseman.
15. Mel Rojas, Jr. (OF)
A third round pick in 2010, Rojas is the son of the former big leaguer of the same name. He owns plenty of tools including above-average speed, a plus arm, solid defensive instincts on the outfield corner and the strength to project for average power. His hitting approach remains raw despite his bloodlines and there’s a lot of weak contact and swing and miss in his game, leaving scouts to wonder if the bat will ever come around enough to be more than an extra outfielder.