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Pittsburgh Pirates Top 20 Prospects for 2013

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Gerrit Cole
Gerrit Cole

Pittsburgh Pirates Top 20 Prospects for 2013

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. Full reports on all of players can be found in the 2013 Baseball Prospect Book. We are now taking pre-orders. Order early and order often!


Grade A prospects are the elite. They have a reasonable 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. Some end up as role players or bench guys. Many don't make it at all.

Also note that there is diversity within each category. I'm a tough grader; Grade C+ is actually good praise, and some C+ prospects (especially at lower levels) 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.

This is list current as of January 15, 2013.

1) Gerrit Cole, RHP, Grade A: The results don't always match the stuff. But the stuff is undeniable, he throws strikes, and ultimately I think any consistency issues are resolvable. Future number one/two starter.

2) Jameson Taillon, RHP, Grade A-: He's basically in the same place Cole was entering his junior year in college. Tremendous stuff, had some consistency issues in High-A but finished strong in Double-A. Future number one/two starter.

3) Alen Hanson, SS, Grade B+: Looks like a completely legitimate Low-A breakout to me, despite some rough edges on defense and baserunning. I have him slightly ahead of Polanco due to positional premium and birthday.

4) Gregory Polanco, OF, Grade B+: As with West Virginia teammate Hanson, this looks like a legitimate breakout, tools player who found the skills to make those tools play. More evidence that you don't have to spend a grazillion dollars to find talent in Latin America.

5) Luis Heredia, RHP, Grade B+: Borderline B. I've puzzled over the grade here and may go down to B. Held his own at age 17/18 in the New York-Penn League, which is very impressive. Physicality and arm strength stand out, but secondary pitches remain under construction, which shows up in poor strikeout ratio. However, the age factor mitigates that. The question is how much.

6) Barrett Barnes, OF, Grade B: Having seen a lot of him in college, I am a believer in his power/speed combination.

7) Josh Bell, OF, Grade B: Borderline B-: Another difficult grade. Lost almost the entire season to a knee injury, and was having serious strike zone problems before getting hurt. The puzzle here is that his plate discipline/approach/level of polish were supposed to be quite advanced for a high school player. The sample size in Low-A was very small, so is that enough to override the scouting reports?

8) Nick Kingham, RHP, Grade B-: Borderline B. Made impressive progress with his secondary pitches in A-ball. Finished the season very strong, perhaps presaging major breakout in 2013. Can be a mid-rotation starter, perhaps more.

9) Dilson Herrera, 2B, Grade B-: Colombian showed unusually good power for a rookie ball middle infielder.

10) Wyatt Mathisen, C, Grade B-: Somewhat raw, especially on defense, but has the tools to stick behind the plate and projects as a solid bat as well. Showed good plate discipline in rookie ball.

11) Clay Holmes, RHP, Grade B-: Borderline C+: Another big, hard-throwing right-hander with a live arm but low strikeout rate in short-season A due to secondary pitch isues. Can he follow in Kingham's footsteps?

12) Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Grade C+: Borderline B-. Another big right-hander, pitched well in rookie ball despite command issues. High ceiling, could shoot up the list in 2013.

13) Kyle McPherson, RHP, Grade C+: At this point it becomes a matter of taste and you can order the C+ guys in just about any way you want with good empirical and scouty support. Strike-throwing McPherson looked good in September, could be back-of-rotation starter or a long/middle reliever. I have him a little ahead of Morris and Black on this list because he is more versatile, but they have better stuff.

14) Bryan Morris, RHP, Grade C+: Gets grounders, gets strikeouts, ready for bullpen job in 2013. Might he get a shot at closing?

15) Victor Black, RHP, Grade C+: Excellent stuff, strong K/IP and H/IP ratios, but control problems are still an issue, at least if Arizona Fall League problems are any indicator. Has closer potential if the command comes around.

16) Justin Wilson, LHP, Grade C+: Power lefty that I've liked for awhile, held lefties to .129 average in Triple-A.

17) Phil Irwin, RHP, Grade C+: Doesn't have the pure stuff of the other guys, but he changes speeds, throws strikes, and has pitched very well in the upper minors. He could sneak up on us in 2013, getting to the majors ahead of more-heralded arms. Keep close track of him.

18) Jose Osuna, 1B, Grade C+: Could rank as high as 12 or 13 depending on what you're looking for. Some distance from the majors, and position premium works against him, but has considerable offensive potential.

19) Adrian Sampson, RHP, Grade C+: Solid power arm has some command issues, but secondary pitches are good and he racks up his share of strikeouts. Could rank much higher next year. Fifth round pick from Bellevue Community College this year.

20) Andy Oliver, LHP, Grade C+: Acquired from Tigers for catcher Ramon Cabrera. Throws quite hard but hasn't been able to turn the corner due to problems with breaking pitches. Maybe the Pirates can fix him.

21) Jin-De Jhang, C, Grade C+: Rookie ball catcher from Taiwan is rough with blocking skills but has the tools to stick, as well as a promising bat.

22) Alex Dickerson, 1B, Grade C+. Solid hitter put up decent numbers in High-A and I think he can improve on it. Main issue is positional, will he have the power for first base?

OTHERS: Colten Brewer, RHP; Brandon Cumpton, RHP; Matt Curry, 1B; Ivan DeJesus, INF; Zack Dodson, LHP; Elvis Escobar, OF; Tyler Gaffney, OF; Dan Gamache, 2B; Willy Garcia, OF; Max Moroff, 2B; Gift Ngoepe, SS: Stolmy Pimentel, RHP; Robbie Rowland, RHP; Casey Sadler, RHP; Tony Sanchez, C; Jon Sandfort, RHP; Adalberto Santos, OF; Hunter Strickland, RHP; Zack Von Rosenberg, RHP; Duke Welker, RHP.

A rapidly improving organization.

The emergence of Hanson and Polanco at West Virginia last year looks real to me, providing a quick boost for a system that looked a bit thin in position players entering 2012. This also helps ease the sting of Josh Bell's unfortunate season. As mentioned above, grading Bell is tough but his upside remains high enough for me to retain optimism. If he continues to struggle with contact in 2013, that may change. I like Barnes and Mathisen from the 2012 draft. Dilson Herrera and Jin-De Jhang provide more up the middle depth, and gloveman Gift Ngoepe is also intriguing.

The real depth is on the pitching side. Although the failure to sign Mark Appel is annoying, the system remains chock-full-o'pitching, with a pair of potential aces at the top in Cole and Taillon, then a bushel of guys who could develop into mid-rotation starters. Heavy recent investments in high school arms haven't panned out as quickly as hoped, but Kingham took a big step forward, with Glasnow and Holmes hoping to replicate that in 2013. Luis Heredia performed very well given his age in the New York-Penn League.

Note the mass of Grade C+ pitching prospects in the middle of the list. McPherson, Black, Wilson, and Irwin are all college products who have moved steadily up the system and are ready or almost ready to contribute, at least as role pitchers. Morris has taken well to the bullpen over the last two years and has nothing left to prove.

Overall, despite the disappointing second half from the major league club, the rebuilding process seems to be coming along well. Pitching prospects are often ephemeral (witness what happened in Kansas City over the last two years), but the foundations of a strong staff are here.

Someone asked me about Jeff Locke. If he were still eligible, I think I'd have him as a Grade B- and rank him 10th. I think he can be a nice fourth starter and he's obviously ready now.