Top prospect Gerrit Cole enters the 2013 season ranked as baseball's No. 6 prospect.
With two potential front-line starters in Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon, and a total of five players ranked in Prospect Pipeline's top 100, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ farm system ranks among the best in the game headed into the 2013 season.
While both hard-throwing right-handers had exceptional 2012 campaigns and are now within striking distance of the major leagues, it was actually a few of their lower-level international signees that made the most noise last season.
Center fielder Gregory Polanco and middle infielder Alen Hanson, who were both signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2009, each turned in a monster season at Low-A West Virginia, while 18-year-old right-hander Luis Heredia flashed his big-time potential with an impressive showing in the Short-Season New York-Penn League.
Beyond that, the only major disappoint was their $5 million second-round draft pick from 2011, outfielder Josh Bell, who suffered a season-ending knee injury after only 15 games. In terms of their 2012 draft picks, catcher Wyatt Mathisen and outfielder Barrett Barnes each showcased an advanced approach and promising bat at their respective levels.
Here’s a look at the Pittsburgh Pirates’ top 10 prospects headed into the 2013 season.
DOB: 7/29/1991 (Age: 21)
Height/Weight: 6’1”, 195 pounds
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2012 (Texas Tech)
Scouting Notes: Excellent athlete with considerable room for growth; rare for a college position player; batted .288/.401/.456 with 11 extra-base hits and 10 stolen bases in professional debut for Short-Season State College; showcased advanced plate discipline with 21/17 K/BB in 38 games; plus bat speed with explosive swing; strong lower half; plenty of raw power; hit tool may play up due to plate discipline; above-average speed makes him a threat on the basepaths.
Will be developed as a center fielder, but may end up at a corner spot; more value if he can stick in center field; enhances value of bat; above-average at the position with some range; glove is average, as is his arm; bat will carry projection.
Spring Training Forecast: Barnes’ first spring with the Pirates will be spent in minor league camp as he prepares for a full-season assignment.
2013 Outlook: Depending on how he looks this spring, the organization could potentially bump him directly to High-A. However, it’s a safer bet that he’ll open the year with their Low-A affiliate.
DOB: 11/11/1987 (Age: 25)
Height/Weight: 6’4”, 215
Drafted/Signed: 14th round, 2007 (Mobile)
Scouting Notes: The 6’4” right-hander is an older prospect at 25. McPherson has moved slowly but surely through the Pirates’ system over the last six years; reached the major leagues for the first time last season after opening the year at Double-A; registered a 2.73 ERA with 21/7 K/BB in 26.1 innings with the Pirates after debut in late August; missed nearly half the season with shoulder inflammation.
He throws his fastball on a decent downhill plane but doesn’t generate many ground balls; decent, serviceable three-pitch mix that features a solid-average curveball and changeup; command-oriented; potential innings eater who minimizes baserunners; valuable back-end starter.
Spring Training Forecast: After a strong showing in the major leagues in late 2012, McPherson will compete for the final spot in the Pirates’ Opening Day starting rotation.
2013 Outlook: The early favorite to break camp as the team’s fifth starter, McPherson will have every opportunity to reaffirm his place in the major leagues this spring.
DOB: 8/23/1993 (Age: 19)
Height/Weight: 6’7”, 195
Drafted/Signed: Fifth round, 2011 (Hart HS, Calif.)
Scouting Notes: 6’7”, 195-pound right-hander made his professional debut last season across two levels, showing swing-and-miss stuff and average command; 2.10 ERA with 40/16 K/BB in 34.1 innings in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League, followed by four scoreless frames for short-season State College; considering his size, Glasnow repeats his delivery well; feel for arsenal.
Throws fastball on a steep downhill plane; above-average velocity, but should sit comfortably in the mid-90s when he matures; curveball can be a hammer, but is inconsistent at the moment; doesn’t always stay on top and execute pitch; excellent shape when it’s on; changeup isn't great but that’s understandable; will become an integral part of his development this season; plenty of time to gain experience.
Spring Training Forecast: Glasnow’s workload will be monitored closely this spring in minor league camp, as the organization will emphasize the development of his secondary pitches over immediate experience on the mound.
2013 Outlook: The right-hander will likely see more time in the complex leagues before an eventual promotion to Low-A around midseason.
DOB: 12/30/1993 (Age: 19)
Height/Weight: 6’1”, 205
Drafted/Signed: Second round, 2012 (Calallen HS, Texas)
Scouting Notes: A potential steal in the second round, Mathisen batted .295/.388/.374 with nine extra-base hits, 10 stolen bases and 19/16 K/BB in his professional debut in the Gulf Coast League; right-handed hitter with a potential plus hit tool; knack for barreling the ball; approach is well beyond his years; above-average bat speed; feel for the bat head relative to strike zone; throws hands right to/through ball; power will gradually emerge and has the potential to be above-average; both makeup and ability to make adjustments at a young age are very impressive.
Very raw behind the plate and lack of experience is apparent; natural athleticism and tools make him likely to remain at the position; plus arm strength with a crisp release; threw out runners at a 36-percent clip last season; defense lags behind bat, naturally, but both give him the potential to be an excellent catching prospect.
Spring Training Forecast: Mathisen will head to minor league spring training with the goal of improving his defense before the start of the minor league season.
2013 Outlook: His glove will continue to be a work in progress, but Mathisen’s mature bat could result in an assignment to Low-A after opening the year in extended spring training.
DOB: 8/14/1992 (Age: 20)
Height/Weight: 6’4”, 195
Drafted/Signed: Second round, 2011 (Dallas Jesuit College Prep, Texas)
Scouting Notes: Snagged for $5 million as a second-rounder in 2011, Bell appeared in only 15 games in his professional debut due to a season-ending knee injury; involves big-time projection at 6’4”, 195 pounds; now 20 years old and behind developmental curve; switch-hitting outfielder has plus raw power from both sides of the plate; loose wrists, strong forearms; above-average pure bat speed; potential for above-average hit tool; sample size is limited, but needs to see more secondary offerings to get comfortable; big gap between present and future potential.
Speed wasn’t great before knee injury and he’s not a clean fit in center field; will likely end up at a corner position; somewhat of a wild card headed into 2013 given age and lack of experience; offensive tools are there but he’s very raw overall.
Spring Training Forecast: Bell will participate in minor league camp with the goal of re-establishing his prospect stock.
2013 Outlook: After a brief exposure to Low-A prior to his knee injury last season, Bell will presumably return to the level with a chance for a midseason promotion to High-A.
DOB: 8/10/1994 (Age: 18)
Height/Weight: 6’6”, 205
Drafted/Signed: Aug., 2010 (Mexico)
Scouting Notes: A large, physical right-hander at 6’6”, 205 pounds, Heredia is yet another power pitcher in the Pirates’ loaded system; pitched entire 2012 season as a 17-year-old in the New York-Penn League; registered a 2.71 ERA with 40/20 K/BB in 66.1 innings; will have to work hard to stay in shape, as his massive frame involves minimal projection.
He’s still only a teenager, but his fastball already reaches the mid-90s and he’s adept to manipulating it for additional movement; utilizes his height by throwing the pitch on a steep downhill plane that usually results in weak contact; curveball is still raw and lacks overall consistency, though he’ll have plenty of time to refine it over the upcoming seasons; changeup is advanced for his age and features late fade; overall pitchability could make him a No. 2 or 3 starter in a few years.
Spring Training Forecast: The youngster will head to minor league camp where he’ll continue to develop his arsenal and physically prepare for the upcoming season.
2013 Outlook: Given his age and the lack of mileage on his arm, Heredia will likely open the year in extended spring training before embarking on a full-season assignment to Low-A in June.
DOB: 10/22/1992 (Age: 20)
Height/Weight: 5’11”, 152
Drafted/Signed: July 2009 (Dominican Republic)
Scouting Notes: Hanson enjoyed an unexpected breakout season in 2012 at Low-A West Virginia, as he batted .309/.381/.528 with 62 extra-base hits (16 home runs), 35 stolen bases and 105/55 K/BB.
Switch-hitter has the potential for a plus hit tool; quick bat from both sides; drives the ball from line to line; extra-base machine; hits the ball on the nose with consistency; average power potential; vulnerable to quality off-speed; struggles to keep weight back; handsy swing at times, but still barrels the ball.
Plus runner; defensive actions and range to remain at shortstop; sound glove; smooth transfer; arm strength is only average; more projectable as a second baseman; bat will always serve as calling card and should get him to the major leagues at one of the middle-infield positions.
Spring Training Forecast: Despite the breakout performance at Low-A in 2012, Hanson will spend the spring fine-tuning his defense and approach in minor league camp.
2013 Outlook: Slated to open the season at High-A, Hanson could begin to move quickly this year if he’s able to build upon his overwhelming success last season.
DOB: 9/14/1991 (Age: 21)
Height/Weight: 6’4”, 170
Drafted/Signed: April, 2009 (Dominican Republic)
Scouting Notes: Polanco had a breakout 2012 season at Low-A West Virginia, as he batted .325/.388/.522 with 48 extra-base hits (16 home runs), 40 stolen bases and 64/44 K/BB in 116 games as a 20-year-old; raw but athletic prospect; projectable 6’4”, 170-pound frame; plenty of room to add strength; outstanding tools and secondary skills; the left-handed hitter has the potential for an above-average hit tool in the major leagues; showcases excellent bat speed and bat-to-ball ability; already comfortable driving the ball to all fields; swings to drive the ball, which helps explain his improved power utility; effortlessly generates backspin carry; bat can get long when he overloads; may get beat by velocity at higher levels.
Plus athleticism, speed and range could make him a force in center field; long strides; rangy; gets good jumps; routes are still improving; may lose a step or two as he fills out.
Spring Training Forecast: Polanco will participate in his first major league camp this spring, though it’s doubtful that he’ll see significant playing time.
2013 Outlook: Expect his performance and production in 2013 at High-A to be heavily scrutinized, as scouts will now be following his development closely.
DOB: 11/18/1991 (Age: 21)
Height/Weight: 6’6”, 225
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2010 (The Woodlands HS, Texas)
Scouting Notes: Taillon, the second overall selection in the 2010 draft, registered a 3.82 ERA with 98/37 K/BB in 125 innings at High-A Bradenton. He was dominant in three starts at Double-A Altoona to finish the season (17 IP, 1.59 ERA, 18/1 K/BB).
6’6” power pitcher with a huge ceiling; long limbs give him exceptional reach; tall, lanky frame; loose arm; can be tight on backside; hides ball well; difficult arm angle; more of a thrower; repeatable mechanics; still establishing a feel for delivery; needs to utilize height and work downhill; should improve as he learns to finish with consistency.
Electric fastball sits in the mid-to-high-90s with late movement to the arm side; velocity plays up due to extension; jumps out of his hand and on opposing hitters; curveball is a second plus pitch with sharp, two-plane break; development of changeup will be crucial toward overall progress; needs to iron out some minor issues with his mechanics and refine his overall command.
Spring Training Forecast: Taillon will have a chance to showcase his big-time arm strength and improving secondary offerings this spring in major league camp.
2013 Outlook: After dazzling at Double-A to finish the 2012 season, Taillon will likely head back to the level with a chance of reaching the major leagues later in the year.
DOB: 9/8/1990 (Age: 22)
Height/Weight: 6’4”, 220
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2011 (UCLA)
Overview: In his professional debut last season, Cole, the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2011, registered a 2.55 ERA with 69/21 K/BB in 67 games at High-A Bradenton. The right-hander received a midseason promotion to Double-A Altoona, where he posted a 2.90 ERA with 60/23 K/BB. He then fanned seven in his lone Triple-A start to conclude 2012 season.
Large, durable, 6’4”, 220-pound frame; physically strong; epitome of a power pitcher; athletic for size; repeated his mechanics and delivery during his professional debut; extends toward plate; effortless; loose arm action; bouts of inconsistency and wildness; will still land open on occasion.
Power arsenal is highlighted by a plus-plus fastball that sits in the high-90s; routinely touches triple digits; fairly straight; relies on velocity; needs to establish early in games; complements heater with a plus slider; thrown in the high-80s; features a devastating, wipeout break; completes elite arsenal with an above-average changeup; excellent speed differential; filthy when around the zone.
Spring Training Forecast: Cole will work with the Pirates’ big league starters this spring as he prepares for an inevitable debut in the majors later this season.
2013 Outlook: After reaching Triple-A at the end of the 2012 season, Cole is basically ready for the major leagues. However, the organization will continue to exercise a hint of caution with their prized right-hander and presumably send him back to Triple-A to begin the year.