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Pittsburgh Pirates Top 20 Prospects for 2014

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This guy was 170 pounds two years ago.
This guy was 170 pounds two years ago.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Pirates Top 20 Prospects for 2014

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 2014 Baseball Prospect Book. The book has been delayed by my head injury, but it will come out eventually. Thank you for your patience and we still need pre-orders!

All of these grades are preliminary and subject to change.


Grade A prospects are the elite. They have a reasonable chance of becoming stars or superstars. In theory, most Grade A prospects develop into major league regulars, if injuries or unanticipated 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.

1) Gregory Polanco, OF, Grade A-: Five Tool/Seven Skill player with glowing scouting reports, dominated High-A but was merely good in Double-A, granted at age 21 that’s just fine. Spring reports continue to sparkle. Best case for Polanco I’ve read is right here by our very own KentuckyPirate. I buy into it about 90% but feel like holding back on a pure A until I get the top prospect list worked up and see how I want to slot him.

2) Jameson Taillon, RHP, Grade B+: Results don’t always completely live up to the perceived talent with Taillon, who could be "just" a mid-rotation arm instead of a genuine top-of-the-rotation ace. You realize of course that becoming a number three starter would be a big success story given the attrition rate among pitching prospects. I had him as a B+/A- borderline but I want to see how the sore elbow issue resolves and if he can get his walk rate down a little more.

3) Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Grade B+:
Ridiculously good K/IP and H/IP marks in Low-A stand out as big positive and confirm reports of outstanding movement/velocity combination. Walk rate was too high to get an A-grade at this time, but he’s come a long way from being a high school kid throwing 86 MPH to throwing 95 and higher in three years. Further mechanical refinements with 6-7 body will push him into truly elite prospect range and he’s not far off right now.

4) Austin Meadows, OF, Grade B+:
Excellent pro debut from ’13 first rounder, easing concerns about his power with seven homers in rookie ball, combined with good strike zone judgment and defensive ability. If you want to dream, think Jim Edmonds as a maximal outcome.

5) Nick Kingham, RHP, Grade B. Borderline B+.
Stuff not quite at Glasnow level but command is much better, thrived in High-A and Double-A by throwing strikes with low-90s fastball, good curve and changeup. This may wind up as a B+ but I have a couple of other things I need to check first. One week older than Taillon and not far off from him as a prospect if you’re objective about it.

6) Josh Bell, OF, Grade B:
Borderline B+. Hit "just" 12 homers in Low-A, but 37 doubles and strong relative rate of production (wRC+132) are reasons for optimism. I think more home run power will come. Upside: Chili Davis after he lost his speed, a switch-hitting slugger with good plate discipline.

7) Alen Hanson, SS, Grade B:
Borderline B+. Had some plate discipline issues after moving up to Double-A and questions persist about his defense and use of his speed on the bases, but even at second base his combination of youth and offensive ability should give him a good shot at being a productive regular.

8) Luis Heredia, RHP, Grade B:
Overweight and out of shape in ’13, he still performed decently in Low-A at age 19-20 (3.05 ERA in 65 innings) although scouting reports were mixed, command wasn’t as good as expected, and velocity was down. Reportedly throwing much better this spring and in better shape but let’s see how it plays when the games count. Still a very fine prospect who could be a number two starter if he doesn’t sabotage himself.

9) Reese McGuire, C, Grade B:
Superior defensive catcher and hit very well in rookie ball (.330/.388/.392). Controls strike zone well, power is questionable. Glove will get him to the majors, bat will determine if he’s a star, a decent regular, or a defense-oriented platoon/backup type. I tend towards optimism.

10) Harold Ramirez, OF, Grade B-: Borderline B.
Signed out of Colombia for $1,050,000 in 2011, hit .285/.353/.409 with 23 steals in New York-Penn League which is very good for the context. Could develop into potent power/speed combination if hitting skills carry forward to full-season ball.

11) Barrett Barnes, OF, Grade B-:
Injury-plagued ’13 season resulted in .268/.338/.399 line with 10 steals in 46 games in Low-A, but the tools that made him a supplemental first round pick from Texas Tech are still here. Still projects as a potential regular if health (and strike zone judgment) stand up.

12) Tony Sanchez, C, Grade C+: Borderline B-.
Defense is looking very good and he hit quite well in Triple-A last year (.288/.368/.504). It isn’t his fault he was drafted too early and he can still have a significant career as a guy who hits .260 or so with some OBP and SLG and the glove.

13) Jin-De Jhang, C, Grade C+: Borderline B-:
Catching log jam is a good thing to have and the Pirates have that, trying to find playing time for both McGuire and Jhang. Performed solidly in NY-P on both sides of the ball, I think he could be a breakout guy if he handles projected jump to High-A.

14) JaCoby Jones, OF-INF, Grade C+:
Excellent tools but never lived up to expectations at Louisiana State, which is why he was a third rounder instead of a first. Too early to tell if that will change in pro ball. He could develop into a 20/20 player. . .or he could flail away with a poor approach and not hit at higher levels.

15) Andrew Lambo, OF-1B, Grade C+:
I think the power burst is mostly real, but questions remain about what his batting average and OBP will look like against high-quality pitching. Should be a useful role player.

16) Stolmy Pimentel, RHP, Grade C+:
Change of scenery worked wonders for this guy, Pirates getting more out of him than the Red Sox could, improved secondary pitches and command. I think he’s more likely a reliever than a starter but could have a long career in the pen.

17) Brandon Cumpton, RHP, Grade C+:
Sleeper prospect groundballed his way to solid high-minors season and good pitching in 31 big league innings last year. Doesn’t have upside of Taillon or Glasnow, but ability to throw strikes and keep the ball down should prove useful in some role.

18) Cody Dickson, LHP, Grade C+:
Fourth round pick in 2013 from Sam Houston State had command issues in college but performed well in NY-P (2.37 ERA, 59/24 K/BB in 57 innings, 42 hits). Live arm, seems like the type of pitcher that the Pirates are good at refining. Breakthrough possibility.

19) Blake Taylor, LHP, Grade C+:
Second round pick in 2013 from California high school is another live-armed youngster who could develop into a mid-rotation presence, fitting the model of moldable prep talent that worked well with Glasnow and Kingham.

20) Wyatt Mathisen, 3B-C, Grade C+: I liked him coming out of the 2012 draft so I will hold with a C+, but his season was ruined by injuries. Reportedly moving to third base which might help him blossom offensively.

OTHER GRADE C+: Jason Creasy; RHP; Michael De La Cruz, OF

OTHERS: Stetson Allie, 1B; Buddy Borden, RHP; Jaff Decker, OF; Adam Frazier, SS; Willy Garcia, OF; Ryan Hafner, RHP; Tom Harlan, LHP; Clay Holmes, RHP; Phil Irwin, RHP; Kyle McPherson, RHP; Max Moroff, SS; Andy Oliver, LHP; Joely Rodriguez, LHP; Casey Sadler, RHP; Duke Welker, RHP.

Safe to say that things are definitely looking up in Pittsburgh. The big league team won 94 games and they did it while continuing to build depth on the farm.

The Pirates have put a lot of effort into developing young pitching. Gerrit Cole paid quick dividends last year and there’s more coming up behind him. We’ll have to see how Taillon’s elbow issue pans out, but Nick Kingham isn’t far behind and Tyler Glasnow could theoretically be the best of them all. In addition to the high-ceiling arms there are some strike-throwing efficiency types like Cumpton and Phil Irwin, plus lively bullpen arms who could slot into roles soon. Keep an eye on breakthrough candidates such as Dickson, Taylor, Jason Creasy, and Buddy Borden. There are many other Grade C arms who could contribute as well but who I don’t have space to mention in the book. The general idea is that pitching is not in short supply in this system.

On the position side there is also depth, beginning with Gregory Polanco but extending down into the lower levels. Getting both Reese McGuire and Austin Meadows in the 2013 draft looks like a real coup. Josh Bell’s development has been slower than expected due to the 2012 knee injury but he still has a chance to be excellent. The Latin American scouting operation has brought in highly-regarded big bonus talents like Ramirez and Heredia, but they’ve also done a great job scouting out lower-budget guys who turn into fine prospects, with Polanco (who signed for $150,000, not a tiny bonus but not a huge one either) being the best example.

Overall, this is one of the deeper systems in the game. It could look even better a year from now if some of the borderline grades tip in the positive direction. For a complete detailed look at the Pirates farm system, Pirates Prospects is a great choice. SB Nation's Bucs Dugout is also indispensable.