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Pittsburgh Pirates Top 20 Prospects for 2012

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PHOENIX, AZ - JULY 10:  World Future's All-Star Starling Marte #15 of the Pittsburgh Pirates at bat during the 2011 XM All-Star Futures Game at Chase Field on July 10, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
PHOENIX, AZ - JULY 10: World Future's All-Star Starling Marte #15 of the Pittsburgh Pirates at bat during the 2011 XM All-Star Futures Game at Chase Field on July 10, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
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Pittsburgh Pirates Top 20 Prospects for 2012

The list and grades are a blending of present performance and long-term potential. Comments are welcome, but in the end all analysis and responsibility is mine of course. Full reports on all of players can be found in the 2012 Baseball Prospect Book. We are now taking pre-orders. Order early and order often!


Grade A prospects are the elite. They have a good chance of becoming stars or superstars. Almost all Grade A prospects develop into major league regulars, if injuries or other problems don't intervene. Note that is a major "if" in some cases.

Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.

Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Many end up as role players or bench guys. Some don't make it at all.

A major point to remember is that grades for pitchers do NOT correspond directly to grades for hitters. Many Grade A pitching prospects fail to develop, often due to injuries. Some Grade C pitching prospects turn out much better than expected.

Also note that there is diversity within each category. I'm a tough grader; Grade C+ is actually good praise coming from me, and some C+ prospects turn out very well indeed.

Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for my full opinion about a player, the letter grade only tells you so much. A Grade C prospect in rookie ball could end up being very impressive, while a Grade C prospect in Triple-A is likely just a future role player.

1) Gerrit Cole, RHP, Grade A: Cole can be enigmatic and sometimes gets hit harder than he should given the quality of his stuff, but he's still a Grade A prospect. At his best he throws strikes with three excellent pitches, and I think he'll get more consistent. Looked great in Arizona Fall League, except for the disaster in the Rising Stars game.

2) Jameson Taillon, RHP, Grade A-: They are being very careful with his workload. As he incorporates his secondary pitches more often and builds his stamina, I expect greater dominance. Still struck out more than a hitter per inning even with restrictions on secondary pitch use.

3) Josh Bell, OF, Grade B+: Switch-hitter, should develop 30+-homer power and a high OBP. Pure hitting skills solid too. We'll have to see about his defense and I want some pro data, but I'm very optimistic about him.

4) Starling Marte, OF, Grade B: Borderline B+. Hit well in Double-A, starting to develop more power, despite poor strike zone judgment. Superior defense. Still raw, needs a year of Triple-A, a wide range of possible outcomes, could become an All-Star, a mediocre regular, or a fourth outfielder.

5) Robbie Grossman, OF, Grade B: If he had fulfilled his commitment to the University of Texas, 2011 would have been his draft year. I know he was repeating High-A, but a player jumping from the college ranks to High-A, hitting .294/.418/.451, then ripping up the Arizona Fall League would be getting an awful lot of praise, not skepticism. I also think that Grossman's tools are better than commonly reported. I expect he'll provide gap power with some speed and a high OBP, and that's valuable.

6) Luis Heredia, RHP, Grade B-: Grading this guy is very difficult. His upside is enormous and he was in rookie ball as the equivalent of a high school junior, but there are so many things that can still go wrong. You can make a case for a Grade A if you look only at projection and potential, but the uncertainty factor is so high, and the history of similar prospects so clouded, that I can't do that with my hybrid upside/sabermetric approach to grading. Keep in mind the explanation of what the grades mean listed above. With proper development he can be a B+ a year from now and into the A-range a year after that. He could also blow out his arm or otherwise fail to develop. Remember Michael Ynoa or, going way back, Jose Pett.

7) Kyle McPherson, RHP, Grade B-: Throws strikes with solid stuff, proved himself in Double-A. Not an ace, but projects as a number three or four starter. We should see him sometime in 2012. Nice development for an unheralded 14-round pick from a non-major college program.

8) Nick Kingham, RHP, Grade B-: Strikeout rate was low in the New York-Penn League, but other numbers were solid, scouting reports are strong, and he's quite projectable. If the secondary pitches develop properly, could become a number two starter.

9) Stetson Allie, RHP, Grade C+: Borderline B-. Grade A velocity, Grade B- secondary stuff, Grade D- pitching skills. Still young with enormous upside, would rank much higher on pure potential but there is more to it than that.

10) Tony Sanchez, C, Grade C+: Not developing as well as hoped and his stock is slipping. Still has potential to develop into an excellent defender with a solid bat, but needs to take a step forward in 2012.

11) Jeff Locke, LHP, Grade C+: Classic southpaw with fair stuff, can succeed as fourth starter if his command is sharp enough.

12) Alex Dickerson, 1B, Grade C+: I like the bat, but as a first baseman the grading curve and expectations are tougher. Grade will go higher if he keeps hitting outside the NY-P.

13) Bryan Morris, RHP, Grade C+: Took well to relief role in Double-A with his power sinker, can be effective middle reliever with some chance to close eventually.

14) Zack Von Rosenberg, RHP, Grade C+: Hammered by homers in the first half, but gave up just two in his last nine starts. Strong K/BB ratio, still has the potential to develop into a mid-rotation starter. 2012 would be his draft year if he had gone to LSU, so it is way too soon to give up on him.

15) Zach Dodson, LHP, Grade C+: Pitching time limited by a broken hand but he was effective when on the mound. I like his delivery. Breakthrough candidate.

16) Rudy Owens, LHP, Grade C+: Stock down following difficult season in Triple-A, but still a prospect. Not as good as he looked in 2010, but not as bad as he looked last year. Could rebound and still has a shot at being a fourth starter.

17) Justin Wilson, LHP, Grade C+: Very live southpaw arm, command was spotty in Triple-A but has good stuff, could be impressive in bullpen or sneak into fourth starter role if control sharpens up.

18) Clay Holmes, RHP, Grade C+: Ninth round pick got first round money, number two starter upside but we need to see how secondary stuff and command respond to pro instruction.

19) Jose Osuna, OF-1B, Grade C+: Hit very well in rookie ball, good power, approach is more refined than typical for his age. Defense is limited. Stock could be much higher next year once we get higher-level data.

20) Jordy Mercer, SS, Grade C: Hit 19 homers and 30 doubles in Double-A/Triple-A. Defense at shortstop is solid and he can also play third and second with skill. Age (25) and shaky plate discipline hold back his grade, but with some adjustments he could be a surprise major league contributor this year. Keep an eye on him.

OTHERS: Nate Baker, LHP; Colten Brewer, RHP; Jake Burnette, RHP; Ramon Cabrera, C; Colton Cain, LHP; Jarek Cunningham, 2B; Matt Curry, 1B; Tyler Glasnow, RHP; Eleyvs Gonzalez, 3B; Matt Hague, 1B; Alen Hanson, INF; Gorkys Hernandez, OF, Phil Irwin, RHP; Yamaico Navarro, INF; Davydas Neverauskas, RHP; Gustavo Nunez, INF; Mel Rojas, OF; Adalberto Santos, OF; Duke Welker, RHP.

The Pirates have a clear and consistent strategy in recent drafts: dump lots of money into pitching, with an emphasis on overslot deals in the middle rounds for projectable high school arms. So far it hasn't paid many dividends, but it wasn't expected to do so quickly: it is a long-term strategy.

Recent first-round picks Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon could both develop into number one starters, as could Mexican prodigy Luis Heredia. Cole is the most advanced of the group (as you would expect from a college pitcher). Personally I like Trevor Bauer a little better, but I can understand why the Pirates went with Cole and he's certainly a Grade A guy. Taillon did just fine in Low-A, but Heredia could develop into just about anything, including nothing.

Stetson Allie was hugely disappointing last year, but it was just his "freshman" season. Other overslot high school guys like Kingham, ZVR, Dodson, and Cain have provided mixed results. All could thrive, all could still fail. The 2011 draft brought in another group headlined by Clay Holmes, but again, it is just too early to know how they will pan out.

With all the emphasis on the young guys, Kyle McPherson gets lost in the shuffle but he'll be ready to help soon. Morris, Locke, Owens, and Wilson will all get trials within the next year and one or two of them will turn into something good. I also want to point out two of the Grade C guys as sleepers, control artist Phil Irwin and sinkerballer Duke Welker. They don't get much attention but both have a chance to contribute something interesting, especially Irwin, who lacks plus stuff but never walks anybody.

Hitting is much thinner. Josh Bell should be excellent, but he's at least three years away. Starling Marte and Robbie Grossman give additional hope for the outfield. If you could combine Grossman's approach with Marte's tools, you would have a superstar, but last I checked such genetic experimentation is illegal. Jordy Mercer has several sleeper attributes.

This list might disappoint Pirates fans, but there is a lot of upside here on the pitching side. Keep in mind that grades are all shorthand. They have invested a lot in pitchers who haven't had time to do much yet or have been moved forward slowly.