In some respects the Pirates system is the envy of many organizations in baseball. With pitchers like Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon at the top and longer term pieces like Luis Heredia and Tyler Glasnow coming behind, the Pirates have a host of young pitchers with potetnial; and that doesn’t even account for the club missing out on top pick Mark Appel last summer. The Pirates have depth of quality pitching prospects on the mound but the need some young position players like Alen Hanson, Gregory Polanco and Josh Bell to emerge to help supplement the big league roster.
1. Gerrit Cole – RHP (Last Year’s Rank: 1)
Cole is nothing short of a freak. He is one of the few pitching prospects in baseball where I am willing to start tossing around the idea that he could be a number one starter. He has three pitches that will earn present or future grades in the plus-plus range from multiple scouts, and he pounds the strike zone with all three pitches. That’s an imposing package that could make him one of the game’s best pitchers. He moved quickly in 2012, reaching Double-A, and he is expected to make his big-league debut in 2013.
2. Jameson Taillon – RHP (2)
Taillon isn’t on quite the fast track that Cole is on, but he also has a chance to reach the big leagues in 2013. With a fantastic pitcher’s frame that generates tremendous leverage to the plate, he unleashes a plus-plus fastball and curveball that can make hitters looks stupid. He has improved his feel for his change-up and as the reigns continue to come off in 2013, he could explode as a second potential front end starter for the Pirates.
3. Gregory Polanco – OF (NR)
Polanco is one of the best athletes in the system, exhibiting a level of explosiveness that can be difficult to find. He has a great frame with room for additional strength and enough feel for the game to believe his tools could actually translate to the field at the highest level. Polanco is a quality defender in center field with plus speed and a good arm, making him an easy fit in the middle of the diamond. His hitting ability is starting to come into focus and he looks like a potential .280 hitter once things settle out. Scouts question how much power he will show in the end, with projections ranging from 10-15 home runs to 15-20 home runs depending on the source.
4. Luis Heredia – RHP (5)
Heredia is the epitome of a project. An extremely raw prospect when he was signed out of Mexico, he is still filling in his massive 6-foot-6 frame and adding the strength necessary to sustain his velocity later into starts. He jumped forward with his heater in 2012, showing more consistent low-90s velocity and peaking as high as 96 mph in the starts I saw last summer. He has some feel for spinning a curveball and it should be an average pitch that compliments his potential plus change-up well. Heredia has a long way to go but could become a workhorse number three starter with peak seasons a little better than that projection.
5. Josh Bell – OF (4)
Bell was an expensive second round pick in 2011 as the Pirates bought him out of his commitment to Texas with a multi-million signing bonus. One of the best offensive players in the 2011 draft, Bells played in only 15 games in 2012 after a knee injury sidelined him. When he’s healthy, he shows easy plus raw power and the feel for hitting to utilize that power in the future. He looks like more of a left fielder long term, forcing his bat to fully materialize. If that happens, he could sit in the middle of the Pittsburgh order, but first, he needs at-bats and health.
6. Alen Hanson – SS (14)
I’m still struggling to wrap my head around Hanson’s profile. He is a legitimate hitter that should hit .280-.290 once he completes his development. That average isn’t likely to be backed by a significant OBP or much pop, as he’s an aggressive swinger that projects for more gap power than anything. Defensively, Hanson has solid range at shortstop thanks to plus speed but he struggles instinctually and most of the scouts I spoke to project him to slide over to second base where his average arm will play better. It’s hard to argue with Hanson’s hitting potential but the rest of the profile gets a little less clear.
7. Tyler Glasnow – RHP (NR)
Another young, raw right-hander, Glasnow could team with Luis Heredia to move through the minor leagues behind Cole and Taillon. Another large guy, standing 6-foot-7, Glasnow needs to add strength to his frame and that may allow his fastball to improve from the 88-92 range to the 90-94 range in the next couple of years. His curveball shows promise and could be a plus pitch in times but his change-up and command lag behind developmentally. Glasnow’s ceiling is a long way off but he has the ingredients to become a number three or four starter.
8. Dilson Herrera – 2B/SS (NR)
If I hadn’t seen Herrera myself during instructs, he likely wouldn’t have rated this highly. I would have been a little more cautious and he would have probably sat in the 10-15 range. After seeing him, Herrera could be a breakout candidate in 2013, similar to what Alen Hanson and Gregory Polanco did in 2012. Herrera is an excellent hitter with plus potential for average as well as plus raw power. Herrera is even less likely than Hanson to play shortstop up the ladder but his bat will play at second base and he could be a very real prospect by this time next year.
9. Wyatt Mathisen – C (NR)
Mathisen was one of the most intriguing catching prospects in last year’s draft and the Pirates are excited about his future. With an easy plus arm, Mathisen has taken quickly to catching and shows the sub-1.90 pop times necessary to truly control the oppositions running game. Mathisen needs to develop his receiving and game calling but he is a smart kid with a strong work ethic, allowing scouts to believe that will come. While there are questions about how much Mathisen will hit, he should hit enough to parlay his strength and bat speed into average home-run power.
10. Nick Kingham – RHP (NR)
Kingham lacks the ceiling of some of the other pitchers ranked higher on this list but he has a much higher floor as well. With a durable build and clean delivery, he projects to eat tons of innings and keep his team in the ball game every five days. His fastball works in the above-average to plus range deep into starts and he shows a good change-up that plays well off his fastball. He needs to improve his curveball to reach a mid-rotation ceiling, but even with a fringe-average breaker, he should still be a quality fourth or fifth starter.
11. Barrett Barnes – OF (NR)
Since the Pirates didn’t sign Mark Appel last year, Barnes represents their top pick in the 2012 draft. Playing 38 games in the NYPL, Barnes showed intriguing raw power but the competition also exposed some weaknesses in his game. He struggled to handle center field and looks more like a left fielder long term, thanks in part to a below-average arm. His approach at the late held up during the transition from college and he worked deep counts but showed a propensity to swing and miss a lot, leaving scouts to lose faith in his hitting projection. In left field, his plus raw needs to play at a maximum level for him to have everyday utility.
12. Clay Holmes – RHP (10)
There’s a trend developing here as Holmes is yet another massive right-handed pitcher. At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds he, like Nick Kingham projects as a quality innings eater that sits in the third or fourth spot in a big league rotation. His fastball bumps the 94-95 range on occasion and sits in the 92-93 range with good leverage. He has a strong curveball that should be a plus pitch for him down the line. The road to the show may be a little longer for Holmes as he transitions from thrower to pitcher, but he has big-league potential.
13. Justin Wilson – LHP (NR)
Wilson is on the verge of the big leagues and he has a very good chance to contribute right out of the game in 2013. Developed as a starter, Wilson could still fit at the back of the rotation long term, but he also profiles as an impressive setup reliever thanks to a fastball that showed 96-97 mph velocity and a sharper curveball out of the bullpen over the last two years. Wilson could be an extremely valuable big league pitcher regardless of the role he is assigned and he should have a lengthy career.
14. Adrian Sampson – RHP (NR)
A fifth round pick last summer, Sampson debuted with an impressive 42.2 inning campaign in the NYPL last summer, posting a 2.95 ERA and better than a strikeout per inning. During the NYPL season Sampson showed average velocity with peaks around 93-94 mph and a curveball that has above-average potential. His change-up also shows some promise in the average range, giving him a quality three-pitch mix and the possibility of becoming a solid number four or five starter.
15. Jin-De Jhang – C (NR)
Signed out of Taiwan, the Pirates pulled Jhang stateside in 2012 and he hit .305/.382/.398 in 43 GCL games. He is a compact guy with a classic, thicker catcher’s build. He is a raw catcher but has above-average arm strength and seems to be adapting to the position quickly. His bat has some potential as well as he shows decent pop and a good approach, giving him a chance to be an intriguing catching prospect down the line.