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Pittsburgh Pirates Top 20 Prospects for 2015

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The Pirates farm system is in very good condition, featuring a broad and diverse array of talent.

Tyler Glasnow
Tyler Glasnow
photo by Tom Hagerty

Pittsburgh Pirates Top 20 Prospects for 2015

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 2015 Baseball Prospect Book. We are now taking pre-orders for the book, so order early and order often!

All of these grades are preliminary and subject to change.


Grade A prospects are the elite. In theory, they have a good chance of becoming stars or superstars. Theoretically, most Grade A prospects develop into stars or at least 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.

Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for the full analysis 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) Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Grade A/Borderline A-: Age 21,1.74 ERA with 157/57 K/BB in 124 innings in High-A, just 74 hits. Ridiculously good K/IP and H/IP marks stand out and reflect quality of upper-90s fastball and curve. Change-up improving, overall command still needs tightening but the stuff is outstanding. Number one starter upside if the command is there.

2) Austin Meadows, OF, Grade B+:
Age 19, hit .322/.388/.486 in 146 at-bats in Low-A, fighting injuries the first part of the season. Strong on-base skills, should hit for average with at least moderate power, needs more defensive polish but has the tools for center. Just needs a healthy year.

3) Josh Bell, OF-1B, Grade B+/Borderline B:
Age 22, hit .335/.384/.502 in 331 at-bats in High-A then .287/.343/.309 in 94 at-bats in Double-A. Power didn’t carry to Altoona but I think it will come around and he should be a productive hitter. Great throwing arm but foot speed is already declining and moving to first base will increase pressure on the bat.

4) Jameson Taillon, RHP, Grade B:
Age 23, missed 2014 with Tommy John surgery. Grade A- and potential number two starter if he comes back with his stuff and command intact. We won’t know until he takes the field in real game conditions this spring. I always err on the side of caution with injured pitchers and do not feel that TJ recovery should be automatically assumed.

5) Alen Hanson, INF, Grade B:
Age 22, hit .280/.326/.442 with 21 doubles, 12 triples, 11 homers, 25 steals in 482 at-bats in Double-A. Productive season on the field, showing good power for a middle infielder to go with speed although disciplinary benching trigged concerns about makeup. Not terrible at shortstop but second base looks like a better fit for his arm.

6) Reese McGuire, C, Grade B/Borderline B-:
Age 19, exceptional defensive catcher but hit just .262/.307/.334 in 389 at-bats in Low-A. Makes contact but lack of power combined with a fairly aggressive approach complicates hitting projections. Glove will get him to the majors, bat will determine how often he starts.

7) Nick Kingham, RHP, Grade B-:
Age 23, posted 3.04 ERA with 54/25 K/BB in 71 innings in Double-A then 3.58 ERA with 65/27 K/BB in 88 innings in Triple-A. Steady, solid, throws strikes with low-90s fastball, reasonable curve and change. Nothing spectacular but nothing bad, either. Classic fourth starter inning-eater, maybe a third if everything maxes out.

8) Harold Ramirez, OF, Grade B-:
Age 20, hit .309/.365/.402 with 12 steals in 204 at-bats in Low-A, season limited by hamstring trouble. Fast when healthy, hits for average and hits doubles, but not much home run power to this point.

9) Cole Tucker, SS, Grade B-:
Age 18, 2014 first round pick, hit .267/.368/.356 in 180 at-bats in rookie ball, 13 steals. Good strike zone judgment, runs well, very good glove at shortstop with range, arm, and reliability to stay there. No power yet but at 6-3, 185 he may grow into more pop. Solid debut.

10) JaCoby Jones, SS, Grade B-/Borderline C+:
Age 22, hit .288/.347/.503 with 23 homers, 17 steals, 33 walks, 132 strikeouts in 445 at-bats in Low-A. Jones has All-Star tools and showed a fine power/speed combo last year along with surprisingly steady defense after moving around between various positions in college. However, his hyper-aggressive hitting approach and contact issues enhance the risk profile and make it hard to project his productivity at the highest levels. Should continue to rip up A-ball if he goes to High-A, but Double-A transition will be critical.

11) Jung-Ho Kang, INF, Grade C+:
Age 27, free agent signing from Korea where he was a very dangerous hitter. Korea is friendly for hitting though and it remains to be seen how this will translate. Scouting reports say his pop is real but there are mixed opinions about OBP/batting average. Glove may fit best at second or third rather than shortstop. Grading is a wild guess really. We will know more when we see him in spring training.

12) Mitch Keller, RHP, Grade C+
: Age 18, second round draft choice from high school in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, posted 1.98 ERA with 29/13 K/BB in 27 innings in rookie ball. Draft stock leapt when fastball hit 95 MPH, still working on secondaries but fits into Pirates pitching development schema perfectly. Cold weather fresh arm.

13) Elias Diaz, C, Grade C+:
Age 24, hit .312/.366/.421 in 359 at-bats between Double-A and Triple-A. Has never hit like this before; it could be a fluke, but his defensive ability is extremely well-regarded and he’ll reach the majors on that basis alone. If the offensive improvement is real, he could be a starter.

14) Connor Joe, C, Grade C+:
Age 22, supplemental first round pick from University of San Diego, didn’t make pro debut due to injury. Highly-promising bat hit .367/.441/.606 in his junior year. Questions revolve around defense with mixed opinions about his future behind the plate. May wind up in an outfield spot.

15) Wyatt Mathisen, 3B, Grade C+:
Age 21, hit .280/.344/.360 with three homers, 33 walks, 54 strikeouts in 375 at-bats in Low-A. Makes contact but power development has been disappointing. Former catcher still transitioning at third base, unclear if he’ll stick there and as a corner bat he needs to show more pop in any event.

16) Andrew Lambo, OF-1B, Grade C+:
Age 26, hit .312/.386/.536 in 263 at-bats in Triple-A, .256/.256/.359 in 39 at-bats in the majors. Nothing left to prove in the minors and is getting old for a prospect, but there is no obvious place for him to play here.

17) Barrett Barnes, OF, Grade C+:
Age 23, hit .240/.406/.440 in 17 games split between three levels due to injury. Still has intriguing power/speed combination but has lost most of the last two years to physical problems.

18) Willy Garcia, OF, Grade C+:
Age 22, hit .271/.311/.478 with 18 homers, 24 walks, 145 strikeouts in 439 at-bats in Double-A. High-ceiling power bat, also shows cannon arm with 35 outfield assists in the last two years. Poor strike zone judgment and contact issues likely to limit OBP/average against advanced pitching.

19) Luis Heredia, RHP, Grade C+:
Age 20, posted 4.15 ERA with 43/33 K/BB in 89 innings in Low-A. He was in poor physical condition in 2013 but was in much better shape in 2014, dropping fat and adding muscle. The result: two months missed with a sore shoulder, reduced velocity, and deterioration in all stats. Maybe he should gain the weight back. Still young but falling behind other prospects.

20) Adrian Sampson, RHP, Grade C+/Borderline C:
Age 23, posted 2.96 ERA with 109/37 K/BB in 167 innings in Double-A/Triple-A. Fifth starter or long relief type, throws strikes with three okay pitches. The Pirates always seem to have several guys like this around.

OTHERS: Stetson Allie, 1B; Keon Broxton, OF; Jason Creasy, RHP; Jaff Decker, OF; Cody Dickson, LHP; Taylor Gushue, C; Gage Hinsz, RHP; John Holdzkom, RHP (scrapheap independent league signee with upper-90s velocity but extremely erratic track record, could win bullpen spot); Clay Holmes, RHP; Chad Kuhl, RHP; Kevin Krause, C; Jordan Luplow, OF; Jose Osuna, 1B; Tito Polo, OF; Mel Rojas Jr, OF; Casey Sadler, RHP; Chase Simpson, 3B; Trey Supak, RHP.

Although they don’t have the same level of firepower as the Cubs, the Pirates have a strong farm system with a variety of talents on tap for the coming years.

The future pitching corps is centered around right-hander Tyler Glasnow, a fifth round pick in 2011 who has developed into one of the very best arms in all of the minor leagues. He has the ability to anchor a rotation although he needs some time to iron out his command. Tommy John recoverer Jameson Taillon also has top-shelf potential though of course we need to see how he comes back from the injury. Nick Kingham could beat him to the majors; he doesn’t have the same kind of stuff but could still fill a rotation spot. 2014 draftees Mitch Keller, Tray Supak, and Gage Hinsz offer high-ceiling, low-mileage arms. There are several Grade C+/C contributor types beyond the top group who could be back-end starters or relief options.

Hitting depth starts with Austin Meadows and Josh Bell, both certainly capable of becoming regulars if not stars. The Pirates have a logjam of catching depth, starting with glove experts Reese McGuire and Elias Diaz but also featuring Connor Joe, Kevin Krause, and Taylor Gushue from the 2014 draft. Something will have to give there. Middle infield depth is provided by Alen Hanson, JaCoby Jones, recent Korean signee Jung-Ho Kang, and 2014 first rounder Cole Tucker. Kang is the wild card there.

Overall, it is a strong and diverse farm system.