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Pittsburgh Pirates Top 20 prospects for 2018

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There’s considerable depth in this farm system

Minor League Baseball: Arizona Fall League-All Star Game
Mitch Keller
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Pirates Top 20 Prospects for 2018

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) Mitch Keller, RHP, Grade A-: Age 21, second round pick in 2014 from high school in Cedar Rapids, Iowa; posted 3.03 ERA in 116 innings between High-A, Double-A, and brief short-season rehab stint for minor back injury, with combined 116/32 K/BB and just 84 hits allowed; fastball in mid-90s, mixing in very impressive curveball; change-up has improved some but remains a distinct “show me” third pitch; throws strikes, looks to be durable, mature mound presence, a personal favorite. ETA 2019.

2) Austin Meadows, OF, Grade B+/B: Age 22, first round pick in 2013 from high school in Georgia; hit .261/.323/.384 with five homers, 11 steals, 28 walks, 55 strikeouts in 318 at-bats between Triple-A and short-season injury rehab, missing much of the season with hamstring and oblique injuries; long track record of physical issues; he looks like an excellent player visually, with above-average power and speed produced smoothly to the eye, but production has been erratic, partly due to the injuries but also due to inconsistent swing and hitting approach; honestly on some days he looks like a star, on others a fourth outfielder; ETA late 2018.

3) Colin Moran, 3B-1B-OF, Grade B: Age 25, first round pick by Miami Marlins in 2013 from North Carolina, then traded to Astros, now with Pirates following Gerrit Cole deal; stock has gone up and down but back up again following .301/.369/.532 run through Triple-A, went 4-for-11 in the majors; missed two months after being hit in the face with a foul ball; at this point I don’t think he is the star the Marlins thought they were drafting but he’s getting to his power more often now and has added defensive versatility to his resume, giving him a chance to still have a long career as a decent regular or excellent role player. ETA 2018.

4) Cole Tucker, SS, Grade B-/B: Age 21, first round pick in 2014 from high school in Phoenix, Arizona; hit .275/.358/.408 with 19 doubles, 11 triples, 47 steals, 55 walks, 101 strikeouts in 444 at-bats between High-A and Double-A; switch-hitter with plus speed on the bases and some gap power along with reasonable on-base skills; range works at shortstop, arm marginal but it is too soon to move him to second base given the offensive potential; candidate for a significant breakout in ’18; ETA late 2019.

5) Shane Baz, RHP, Grade B-/B: Age 18, first round pick in 2017 from high school in Texas, posted 3.80 ERA with 19/14 K/BB in 24 innings in rookie ball; small sample, of course, but scouting reports are ahead of the stats at this point; fastball into mid-90s, with full complement of secondaries including slider, curve, cutter, and change-up; could end up with three plus pitches and two other solid ones; control needs work but that’s not unusual given his age; high ceiling, watch the K/BB ratio when he gets to full season ball for a read on how fast he may advance; ETA 2021.

6) Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B, Grade B-/B: Age 21, first round pick in 2015 from high school in Tomball, Texas; son of former major leaguer Charlie Hayes; hit .278/.345/.363 with two homers, 27 steals, 41 walks, 76 strikeouts in 421 at-bats in High-A; draws praise for outstanding defense at third base, 60-grade speed, 60-grade arm, major league instincts and makeup; controls zone well but lacks power and opinions differ on how much he’ll be able to develop; maximizing on-base skills would help make up for any relative lack of home runs; I probably like him more than I should but lots of people feel the same way it seems; ETA 2020.

7) Luis Escobar, RHP, Grade B-/B: Age 21, signed out of Colombia in 2013; posted 3.83 ERA, 168/60 K/BB in 132 innings in Low-A, 97 hits; K/IP and H/IP ratios were excellent, but needs to lower walks; fastball consistently 94-95 with highs at 97-98; both curveball and change-up have chance to be at least average with more repetitions; I really like the curveball which looks plus to me; breakout candidate if the command improves even a little bit more; ETA 2021.

8) Bryan Reynolds, OF, Grade B-: Age 23, second round pick by the San Francisco Giants in 2016 from Vanderbilt, over to Pittsburgh this month in the Andrew McCutchen deal; hit .312/.364/.462 with 10 homers, 37 walks, 106 strikeouts in 491 at-bats in High-A; solid tools across the board, switch-hitter with more power in the bat than 10 homers implies; arm is below-average but he runs and reacts well enough for center field; some tweener risk if the power doesn’t develop as expected and he could sharpen up the strike zone a bit more as well. ETA late 2019.

9) Jason Martin, OF, Grade B-: Age 22, eighth round pick by the Astros in 2013; on to Pirates in Cole deal; hit combined .278/.332/.487 with 35 doubles, 18 homers, 16 steals, 39 walks, 124 strikeouts in 474 at-bats between High-A and Double-A; multi-skilled athlete with plus running speed and surprising power in 5-11 frame; can play all three outfield positions although arm fits best in left; could be ideal fourth outfielder although if more power comes he could move beyond that. ETA 2019.

10) Lolo Sanchez, OF, Grade B-: Age 18, signed out of Dominican Republic in 2015 for $450,000; hit .284/.359/.417 with 21 walks, 19 strikeouts, 14 steals in 204 at-bats in rookie ball; we need data from higher levels but initial reports from the Gulf Coast League were quite positive, noting plus speed, gap pop, strong defense, and excellent strike zone judgment; generated considerable post-season buzz in Pirates circles and I think it is justified; ETA 2022.

11) Taylor Hearn, LHP, Grade C+/B-: Age 23, fifth round pick by Washington Nationals in 2015 from Oklahoma Baptist University, traded to Pirates in 2016; posted 4.12 ERA in 87 innings in High-A with 106/37 K/BB, 65 hits; eye-turning if you see him in person, athletic lefty with 90-98 MPH fastball, flashes plus slider and average change-up; looks impossible to hit on the right day but is inconsistent due to mechanical/command problems and frequent injuries; I really like his upside but the risks are high as well; ETA 2020.

ANALYST NOTE: spots 12 through 20 are interchangeable, more or less. If you want guys closer to the majors, move the older ones up accordingly. If you are more interested in long-term upside, move up the younger guys.

12) Kevin Newman, SS, Grade C+: Age 24, first round pick in 2015 from University of Arizona; hit .267/.311/.363 with four homers, 11 steals, 29 walks, 62 strikeouts in 509 at-bats between Double-A and Triple-A; very reliable defender at shortstop, although arm and natural range are just average his instincts are excellent and he made just nine errors in 119 games; contact hitter with occasional gap power but unlikely to hit many homers; strikes me as the type of hitter who has an “unexpected” offensive surge in his late 20s; ETA 2018.

13) Kevin Kramer, 2B, Grade C+: Age 24, second round pick in 2015 out of UCLA; hit .297/.380/.500 in 202 at-bats in Double-A, though season was limited by a broken hand; makes for an interesting middle infield combination with Newman; Kramer has a lot more pop in his bat than Newman does but is rather strikeout prone and is limited to second base defensively, though he’s developed into a reliable defender there; ETA 2018.

14) Nick Kingham, RHP, Grade C+: Age 26, fourth round pick in 2010 from high school in Las Vegas, Nevada; posted 4.13 ERA in 113 innings in Triple-A with 93/29 K/BB, 119 hits; missed most of 2015 and 2016 with Tommy John but has his stuff back and throws strikes; low-90s fastball with sink, mixes in solid-average change-up and inconsistent curveball; development has been slowed by the injury and he’s getting old for a prospect but he has some Triple-A success and he throws strikes, giving him a shot as a fourth/fifth starter. ETA 2018.

15) Oneil Cruz, INF, Grade C+: Age 19, signed by Dodgers out of Dominican Republic in 2015 for $950,000; traded to Pirates in Tony Watson trade; hit .237/.297/.350 with 10 homers, 36 walks, 132 strikeouts in 397 at-bats in Low-A; several oddities in this profile; was jumped directly from Dominican Summer League in 2016 to full-season ball in 2017 and his lack of experience showed, however he wasn’t totally overmatched and is young enough to develop considerably; listed at 6-6 officially although some sources say he’s 6-8; either way it will require a lot of work to iron out a consistent swing; excellent arm, though defense also needs a lot of work; he’s essentially a risky and raw set of tools at this point but quite intriguing; ETA 2022.

16) Calvin Mitchell, OF, Grade C+: Age 18, second round pick in 2017 from high school in California, hit .245/.351/.352 in rookie ball with 24 walks, 35 strikeouts in 159 at-bats; very good strike zone judgment and above-average raw power from the left side, though he hasn’t learned to tap it just yet; lack of speed and arm strength limit him to left field and put pressure on the bat but he has a chance to hit enough that it won’t matter; ETA 2022.

MLB: Spring Training-Pittsburgh Pirates at Toronto Blue Jays
Chris Bostick
Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

17) Christopher Bostick, INF-OF, Grade C+: Age 24, 44th round pick by the Oakland Athletics back in 2011; has been traded three times and has moved on and off prospect lists but is back on following very good 2017 season, hitting .294/.362/.418 with 45 walks, 97 strikeouts in 486 at-bats in Triple-A, then .296/.406/.370 in 27 major league at-bats; has decent feel for the strike zone and can put a charge in the ball despite 5-10 build; will contribute the occasional stolen base as well; has experience at every position except first base and catcher; not terrific anywhere but playable, could be fine super-utility man; ETA 2018.

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Pittsburgh Pirates
Jordan Luplow
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

18) Jordan Luplow, OF, Grade C+: Age 24, third round pick in 2014 from Fresno State University, hit .302/.382/.527 with 23 homers, 45 walks, 81 strikeout in 414 at-bats between Double-A and Triple-A; hit .205/.276/.385 with three homers, six walks, 22 strikeouts in 78 major league at-bats; power is real but looks to have contact issues in the majors, although the upside as a hitter is enough to earn more chances; tools fit best in left field; he may be underestimated here; ETA 2018.

19) Sherten Apostel, 3B; Grade C+: Age 18, signed out of Curacao in 2015; hit .258/.422/.495 with nine homers, 56 walks, 49 strikeouts in 198 at-bats in Dominican Summer League; I normally don’t pay much attention to DSL guys but his combination of power and walks stands out and the early scouting reports are positive, pointing to plus power potential and a good approach; defense needs a lot of work and we need to see him against better pitching; ETA 2022??

20) Mason Martin, 1B, Grade C+: Age 18, 17th round pick in 2017 from high school in Kennewick, Washington; hit .307/.457/.630 in rookie ball with 11 homers, 32 walks, 41 strikeouts in 127 at-bats; signed for overslot $350,000 bonus to keep him away from college at Gonzaga; advocates like his power and plate discipline combination, while skeptics point to poor defense and a non-projectable 6-1, 205 pound body; the first name that popped in my head was Greg Bird of the Yankees, although Martin is very different physically, Bird being 6-4, 220; despite the physical difference, it is possible that Martin could sneak up on us the way that Bird did; keep an eye out; ETA 2022

OTHER GRADE C+: Stephen Alemais, SS; Nick Burdi, RHP; Will Craig, 1B; Clay Holmes, RHP; Steven Jennings, RHP; Dovydas Neverauskas, RHP; Braeden Ogle, LHP; Pablo Reyes, INF-OF; Edgar Santana, RHP; Conner Uselton, OF; Adrian Valerio, SS; Pedro Vasquez, RHP; Eduardo Vera, RHP

OTHERS OF NOTE: Dario Agrazal, RHP; Ronny Agustin, LHP; Jake Brentz, LHP; J.T. Brubaker, RHP; Rodolfo Castro, INF; Jason Delay, C; Montana DuRapau, RHP; Tyler Eppler, RHP; Yeudy Garcia, RHP; Angel German, RHP; Tristan Gray, 2B; Scooter Hightower, RHP; Logan Hill, OF; Gage Hinsz, RHP; Jin-De Jhang, C; Tyler Jones, RHP; Christian Kelley, C; Max Kranick, RHP; Edison Lantigua, OF; Jack Leathersich, LHP; Travis MacGregor, RHP; Damien Magnifico, RHP; Brett McKinney, RHP; Alex McRae, RHP; Jordan Milbrath, RHP; Jared Oliva, OF; Adam Oller, RHP; Domingo Robles, LHP; Richard Rodriguez, RHP; Casey Sadler, RHP; Ike Schlabach, RHP; Tate Scioneaux, RHP; Deon Stafford, C; John Stilson, RHP; Mitchell Tolman, 2B; Nik Turley, LHP; Brandon Waddell, LHP; Blake Weiman, LHP; Erich Weiss, INF; Eric Wood, 3B

I originally listed Kyle Crick as a C+ but he is over the rookie limit.

The Pirates have quite a bit of depth and while some additional impact players would be nice, there’s a lot of raw material here. I think this is an under-rated system that deserves more attention than it has received lately.

I will be around to answer questions in the comments section.