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Pittsburgh Pirates Top 20 prospects for 2017

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Tyler Glasnow
Tyler Glasnow
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Pirates Top 20 Prospects for 2017

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. All of these grades are subject to change as the winter progresses. The final grades will be finished sometime in February when all 30 teams are complete.

QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS

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. 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/A-: Age 23, fifth round pick in 2011 from high school in California; 1.93 ERA with 144/68 K/BB in 117 innings in Double-A/Triple-A, just 69 hits; 4.24 ERA in 23 MLB innings with 24/13 K/BB; electric stuff with fastball up to 97, plus curveball, and steadily improving change-up; command still needs work but stuff is first class; lots of comment in the prospect press and among Pirates circles about his trouble holding runners; that issue combined with control wobbliness and some prospect fatigue hurts his stock with some observers; this is understandable but we should be wary of over-correcting; I still see him as the top prospect in the system and one of the best in baseball with number one starter potential, though it may take some time to get there. ETA 2017.

2) Austin Meadows, OF, Grade B+/A-: Age 21, first round pick in 2013; hit .266/.333/.536 with 12 homers, 17 steals, 33 walks, 67 strikeouts in 308 at-bats between Double-A and Triple-A; continues to struggle with nagging injuries particularly his legs; when healthy, demonstrates power, speed, a solid hitting approach, excellent defensive instincts, and major league makeup; could be similar to Andy Van Slyke with a bit more power and a bit less speed. ETA 2017.

3) Mitch Keller, RHP, Grade B+/A-
: Age 20, second round pick in 2014 from high school in Iowa; 2.35 ERA with 138/19 K/BB in 130 innings between Low-A and High-A, 101 hits; ideal build at 6-3, 195; fastball up to 93-97 MPH, curveball has become a plus pitch, change-up solid-average, command and control of all pitches took a huge step forward; some sources now regard him as a better prospect than Glasnow due to better control and they might be right; has history of forearm problems so sturdiness remains unproven; number two starter upside. ETA 2019.

4) Josh Bell, 1B-OF, Grade B+: Age 24, second round pick in 2011 from high school in Texas; hit .295/.382/.468 with 14 homers, 57 walks, 74 strikeouts in 421 at-bats in Triple-A, then .273/.368/.406 in 128 major league at-bats with 21 walks, 19 strikeouts; just under rookie limits at 128 at-bats; switch-hitter with excellent batting eye; 60-grade raw power has never played that high due to his swing but he drives the ball over the fences more often than he used to; expect high OBP/solid batting average with occasional power surges; mediocre defender at first base or outfield corner but the bat is the draw here; ETA 2017.

5) Kevin Newman, SS, Grade B: Age 23, first round pick in 2015 from University of Arizona; hit .320/.389/.426 with five homers, 43 walks, 36 strikeouts in 397 at-bats between High-A and Double-A; polished line drive hitter with impressive plate discipline; should continue to post high batting averages and OBPs; not a power hitter but not punchless either; extremely reliable in terms of avoiding errors, though arm/range don’t profile particularly well on a tools basis; would be excellent at second base. ETA 2018.

6) Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B, Grade B/B-:
Age 19, first round pick in 2015 from high school in Texas, son of former MLBer Charlie Hayes; hit .266/.323/.396 in 252 at-bats in Low-A; playing time limited by back injury; arm, range, and instincts all work well at third base making him an above-average defender at hot corner; reasonably polished hitter, main question remains long-term power production; he grows on you the more you see him play. ETA 2020.

7) Taylor Hearn, LHP, Grade B-:
Age 22, drafted by Nationals in fifth round in 2015 from Oklahoma Baptist; acquired in July Mark Melancon trade; 2.44 ERA with 75/23 K/BB in 52 innings between rookie ball and Low-A; somewhat old for these levels but he was considered raw for his age when drafted and has made good progress in pro ball; explosive fastball with movement at 94-98 MPH, with reports of 99 at times; took step forward with hard slider as well as command; very athletic, loose arm; change-up and command need work; not rated this highly on other lists but my intuition likes this one a lot and there’s no question about his physical ability; high risk, high reward. ETA late 2019.

8) Nick Kingham, RHP, Grade B-/C+:
Age 25, fourth round pick in 2010; had Tommy John surgery in 2015 but came back healthy in second half of ’15, posting 2.93 ERA in 46 innings between rookie ball, High-A, Double-A with 36/6 K/BB; already had Triple-A success on his resume before he got hurt so he could move quickly in ’17; 6-6 build with low-90s fastball, solid-average curve and change-up, good control and pitching instincts, fourth starter type. ETA late 2017.

9) Steven Brault, LHP, Grade B-/C+:
Age 24, 11th round pick by Orioles in 2013 from Regis University in Colorado; acquired in 2015 trade; posted 3.91 ERA in 71 innings in Triple-A with 81/35 K/BB; 4.86 ERA in 33 major league innings with 29/17 K/BB; stereotypical finesse lefty with 88-90 fastball, very good change-up, average slider; fourth starter projection if he can avoid nibbling too much in the majors. ETA 2017.

10) Cole Tucker, SS, Grade B-/C+:
Age 20, first round pick in 2014 from high school in Arizona; hit .242/.311/.327 in 330 at-bats between Low-A and High-A; draws praise for defensive ability, speed, makeup, and overall athleticism; some scouts see power potential in the bat as well but it hasn’t shown up in games yet; hitting ability may have been compromised by lingering effects from serious 2014 shoulder injury and some observers expect a breakout as that recedes in the distance; given his age I would not rule that out and this grade includes a lot of projection. ETA 2020.

11) Will Craig, 3B, Grade B-/C+:
Age 22, first round pick in 2016 from Wake Forest; hit .280/.412/.362 with 41 walks, 37 strikeouts in 218 at-bats in New York-Penn League; exceptional strike zone judgment; raw power grades at 55 or 60 but hasn’t gotten to that with wooden bats yet; feel for hitting and terrific eye give him a good chance to adjust; strong throwing arm but otherwise not a lot of athleticism, defense at third base is very rough and he doesn’t run well enough for the outfield; may be a DH eventually. ETA 2019.

12) Yeudy Garcia, RHP, Grade C+/B-:
Age 24, signed out of Dominican Republic in 2013 at age 20; posted 2.76 ERA with 127/54 K/BB in 127 innings in High-A; somewhat old for the level but his career started later than typical so he gets some slack on the age curve; impressed Florida State League with fastball up to 96-98 MPH and very good slider, command not bad either but not perfect; change-up needs more work but has potential; possible number three starter or a dominant bullpen force if change-up remains an issue. ETA 2019.

13) Travis Macgregor, RHP, Grade C+/B-
: Age 19, second round pick in 2016 from high school in Florida; posted 3.13 ERA with 19/10 K/BB in 32 innings in rookie ball; classic Pirates high school pitching investment with projectable 6-3, 185 build; fastball 90-93 at present but could get faster, already has a good change-up; breaking ball needs more work; a development project who will need time but could end up as a fine rotation presence. ETA 2021.

14) Alen Hanson, INF-OF, Grade C+
: Age 24, hit .266/.318/.389 with eight homers, 36 steals, 32 walks, 78 strikeouts in 432 at-bats in Triple-A; second very similar season at this level; 60-grade speed and aggressive about using it; switch-hitter who can flash power; uneven feel for strike zone; being groomed as super-utility type with abilities at second, third, shortstop, and outfield; tools still draw praise, skills are present often enough to keep him in the picture but never quite reaching consistency; may need change of scenery. ETA 2017.

15) Max Moroff, INF, Grade C+:
Age 23, hit .230/.367/.349 with eight homers, 90 walks, 129 strikeouts in 421 at-bats in Triple-A; switch-hitter with average tools, not as fast or as athletic as Hanson but extremely polished, especially on defense, glove at second is excellent and he can handle third and short without hurting you; very patient hitter with occasional pop but not likely to draw headlines with the bat; ETA 2017.

16) Elias Diaz, C, Grade C+: Age 26, Venezuelan catcher missed much of season with elbow injury; hit .266/.289/.298 in 94 Triple-A at-bats with three walks, 17 strikeouts; line drive hitter with aggressive approach and not much power; draws constant praise for superior defensive ability and leadership skills; prototype glove-oriented reserve, more valuable for a real team than in fantasy so keep that in mind; other sources love his glove enough to rank him much higher than this on prospect lists. ETA 2017.

17) Luis Escobar, RHP, Grade C+:
Age 20, signed out of Colombia in 2013; posted 2.93 ERA with 61/28 K/BB in 67 innings in New York-Penn League, 50 hits; fastball at 91-94 could get faster, curveball and change-up remain in progress but both could be at least average with maturity; number three starter upside but could advance rapidly if moved to bullpen at some point. ETA 2020.

18) Trevor Williams, RHP, Grade C+:
Age 24, second round pick from Arizona State by Marlins in 2013, traded to Pirates in October 2015; posted 2.42 ERA in 115 innings in Triple-A with 78/30 K/BB, 1.39 GO/AO; hit hard in majors with 19 hits, 13 runs in 13 innings but will get more chances; sinker velocity in low-90s with peaks at 96, mixes in slider and change-up; not a strikeout guy but gets grounders, has a chance to be four/five starter or bullpener. ETA 2017.

19) Frank Duncan, RHP, Grade C+:
Age 24, 13th round pick in 2014 from University of Kansas; posted 2.34 ERA with 116/36 K/BB in 139 innings between Double-A and Triple-A, 1.73 GO/AO; like Williams he doesn’t burn radar guns, featuring a low-90s fastball, but he can mix in an effective curveball and change-up, throws strikes, and picks up a lot of grounders. Sleeper prospect who could surprise along Chris Heston or Matt Shoemaker lines. ETA 2017.

20) Barrett Barnes, OF, Grade C+:
Age 25, compensation round pick in 2012 from Texas Tech; missed large parts of 2013, 2015, and 2015 with injuries; finally got healthy in 2016, played 124 games, in Double-A, and hit .306/.377/.477 in 405 at-bats; constant injuries cost him some of his running speed and a great deal of development time but once healthy he showed the hitting ability that got him drafted in the first place; so-so arm limits him to left field, increasing pressure on the bat; I liked him a lot before the injuries struck. ETA 2018.

OTHER GRADE C+
(could slot between 14 and 20): Gage Hinsz, RHP; Clay Holmes, RHP; Kevin Kramer, 2B; Jared Lakind, LHP; Dovydas Neverauskas, RHP; Braeden Ogle, LHP; Jose Osuna, 1B-OF; Miguel Rosario, RHP; Edgar Santana, RHP

GRADE C: Dario Agrazal, RHP; Stephen Alemais, SS; Danny Beddes, RHP; Chris Bostick, INF; Montana DuRapau, RHP; Tyler Eppler, RHP; Willy Garcia, OF; Connor Joe, 3B; Max Kranick, RHP Jordan Luplow, OF; Sandy Santos, OF; Tate Scioneaux, RHP; Mitchell Tolman, 2B; Pedro Vasquez, RHP; Cam Vieaux, LHP; Brandon Waddell, LHP; Tyler Webb, LHP; Eric Wood, 3B


Glasnow/Meadows/Keller/Bell makes a fine quartet at the top. I will be around in the comments to answer questions.

I am particularly very interested in the Glasnow issue. I’ve seen some people drop him into the B+ category and down as far as number three or four in the system. This strikes me as an over-reaction, but I’m willing to listen to counter-arguments as the winter progresses.