Pittsburgh Pirates Top 15 Prospects: May 2012
We are now about a month into the major league and minor league seasons, and I think it is about time that I post my current top 15 prospects in the Pirates’ system. I plan on making a new one every month during the season, just to see which top prospects are rising through the rankings due to performance and/or adjustments, and to see which players are dropping for any reason. It’s only a month into the season, so upside is more important than performance for some of the younger prospects. My rankings for each player in my September rankings are in parenthesis.
1.) Jameson Taillon (2)–RHP–20
Taillon was the instant #1 prospect in the system when he was taken 2nd overall in the 2010 draft, but fell to #2 in many rankings after Gerrit Cole was drafted in 2011. After a stellar start to the season, Taillon has reclaimed the #1 spot in my eyes. He has a 1.76 ERA and 0.82 WHIP to this point, along with strong secondary numbers, including a 5.6 Hits/9, 9.7 K/9, 1.8 BB/9, and zero home runs allowed to this point. Taillon has gained this top spot because he has outperformed Cole at the same level at a younger age, and his changeup, the pitch that helped keep him behind Cole, seems to be coming along nicely. That pitch is added to an already plus fastball and plus curve.
2.) Gerrit Cole (1)–RHP–21
Cole has done nothing wrong to lose his top spot in the rankings. Taillon has just been performing very well. Cole has struggled at points in this season, but has a 3.54 ERA and 10.9 K/9, while not allowing many hits. Cole was the #1 overall pick in the 2011 draft, and may already have three plus pitches. He should be up in AA sometime in the next month. General Manager Neal Huntington said that both Cole and Taillon are on the “right track” for AA promotions.
3.) Starling Marte (3)–CF–23
Marte had a great spring training and this caused many fans to call for him to start the year in the majors. Management made the right call by putting him in AAA, as he was not ready for the majors. His average in AAA as of now is .268, but he has a respectable .780 OPS. His walk rate is up a little, which has been a problem in the past, but so is his strikeout rate, now at 23.2%. The speedy, rocket-armed outfielder has spent most of his time in center field this year, but unfortunately was hit in the hand by a pitch on May 6th, but Huntington said he is day-to-day.
4.) Josh Bell (5)–RF–19
Bell started the year in Low-A, but after only 62 at-bats, got injured while running the bases. He underwent surgery, and has begun his rehab. In those at bats, Bell had a .274 average with one homer and a .691 OPS. He still has the best power in the system, coming from both sides of the plate, so this knee injury definitely hurts the organization.
5.) Luis Heredia (4)–RHP–17
Heredia has yet to pitch this year in real games, and will begin his season with the short season State College Spikes when they begin their season in June. Heredia has the highest upside of anyone on this list, but to reach this potential he will have to learn to better control his pitches, and continue to show good velocity. At 17 years old, there is definitely time for him, and no need to rush him.
6.) Stetson Allie (6)–RHP–21
There is a huge drop off from #5 to #6 on this list. There is no player that is a clear choice for this spot, and with many players struggling in the system, I went with the remaining player that has the most upside. I’m not going to speak about Allie and his current 108 BB/9 right now, but he was said to have improved control (can’t really get much worse) in spring training. He has two plus pitches with his fastball and slider, and if he ever learns to control them, he could be a very good pitcher. He was demoted to extended spring training to work on his control.
7.) Kyle McPherson (9)–RHP–24
McPherson has yet to pitch this year due to shoulder inflammation. He was able to move up two spots in the rankings because the guys ahead of him have not performed and are showing little signs of improvement. McPherson has great control and three solid pitches, and will start his season in AAA whenever he can return. He is currently on a throwing program, but shoulder injuries are never a good sign for a pitcher, with an example being Evan Meek.
8.) Rudy Owens (18)–LHP–24
Owens made the biggest jump in the rankings of anyone on this list. So far in his second year of AAA, he has posted a 2.12 ERA and 0.79 WHIP, to go along with much improved walk numbers (which was never really a problem). He has now set himself up to be the first person out of the AAA rotation to be called up if the Pirates ever need another starter due to injury or trade.
9.) Jeff Locke (12)–LHP–24
Along with Owens, Locke is having a very good year in AAA, and is giving himself the opportunity to be called up to the majors if needed. He has a 2.34 ERA so far, which gives him a 2.27 ERA in 63 career AAA innings. Locke has good control and good overall pitches, which gives him decent upside in the majors, probably more so than Owens.
10.) Tony Sanchez (7)–C–23
Sanchez has yet to figure out how to really hit AA pitching, which is the toughest jump for a hitter. However, coming out of college as a first rounder, Sanchez should be hitting by this point. Not only is his hitting not improving by much, his fielding is not really improving either. I’ve read that his throwing accuracy has gotten worse, but his caught stealing percentage is about the same as last year. Time seems to be running out for the 2009 fourth overall pick to establish himself as a top prospect.
11.) Nick Kingham (11)–RHP–20
Kingham has struggled so far in Low-A, but the potential is still there. He put up a great statistical year in 2011, and showed good velocity in spring, consistently throwing in the low to mid 90′s. His curve and change can be solid pitches, but he has mainly focused on his fastball to this point. His control has escaped him this year, which is the probable cause to his early struggles. He is young enough that his upside is still the most important thing for him.
12.) Colton Cain (10)–LHP–21
Cain had a solid year in Low-A in 2011, but has had mixed results in High-A this year. His ERA is at 4.88 after six starts, mainly because a couple bad starts. Cain has decent control of his fastball, which sits around 90 MPH, and compliments that pitch with a curve and change, with both pitches having the potential to be above average.
13.) Matt Curry (15)–1B–23
Curry has the most upside of the first baseman in the upper levels, and is off to a nice start offensively in AA this year. He currently has a .317 average, to go along with an .843 OPS, two homers, and 17 RBI. If Curry continues to hit the way he is, we could see him up in AAA this year at some point, pushing Matt Hague to third base. Again, Curry has more upside than Hague, and is currently the best bet of being the Pirates’ first baseman of the future.
14.) Alen Hanson (NA)–SS–19
Hanson has gotten a lot of coverage this season because of his hot start, flirting with an average above .400 for a long time. His average currently sits at .385 before his game on May 7th, and he has an OPS of 1.059 to go along with that. This may be a stretch to rank him this high on the list, but a 19 that is hitting like than and who has a chance to be a good defensive shortstop in the future as well definitely deserves some praise. He also has great speed, stealing 11 bases to this point.
15.) Robbie Grossman (8)–CF–22
I was a little hesitant to put Grossman at #8 last time because all his success came in his second year in High-A. So far in his jump to AA, which is the hardest jump for a hitter, he has struggled a good deal at the plate, with a .225 average and .660 OPS. Grossman suffered a broken hamate bone in the fall, while he was tearing up the Arizona Fall League. The AFL is a league where many of the top prospects in baseball play after the season is over, so it was nice to see Grossman perform the way he did there. He is still young, so he has time to adjust to pitchers in AA. In 2011, he was the first minor leaguer since Nick Swisher in 2004 to score 100 runs and walk 100 times.
If you have any questions or comments on these rankings, please send them to me on twitter @mikemaw45, or comment below.