Pittsburgh Pirates' Top 10 Prospects for 2015

Mike Rosenbaum@GoldenSombreroMLB Prospects Lead WriterJanuary 15, 2015

Pittsburgh Pirates' Top 10 Prospects for 2015

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The Pittsburgh Pirates system took a hit last year with Jameson Taillon’s Tommy John surgery, but fellow right-handers Tyler Glasnow and Nick Kingham picked up the slack in his absence, with the former posting video-game numbers in the Florida State League.

    Meanwhile, switch-hitter Josh Bell’s season was very encouraging, to say the least. Bell was a bonus baby as a second-round pick in 2011 but then struggled out of the gate with injuries the following year and was surpassed by other players in the system. Thankfully, the 22-year-old was fully healthy in 2014 and finished the season in Double-A, where he showcased the pure hitting ability that made him so highly sought-after a few years back.

    Outfielder Austin Meadows’ season was delayed by a hamstring injury, but the 19-year-old made an immediate impact following his return to action, joining fellow 2013 first-round pick Reese McGuire at Low-A West Virginia in the South Atlantic League.

    Beyond that, shortstop Cole Tucker and right-hander Mitch Keller, the Pirates’ first- and second-round picks from 2014, both received positive reviews for their performances in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, and they both will be players to follow closely next season.

    Here are the Pittsburgh Pirates’ top 10 prospects for the 2015 season.

How They're Ranked

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Position Players

    • Body type/athleticism
    • Speed
    • Hitting mechanics, bat speed
    • Injury history
    • Statistical trends
    • Age vs. level: How well a player fared at a certain level relative to his age and that of the competition
    • Tools: Number of projectable tools a player possesses in relation to his position, age and competition; present vs. future tool grades
    • Hit tool: In the evolution of the prospect landscape, the hit tool is the most importantbut also the hardest to project.
    • League and park factors
    • On-base skills: Approach; strike-zone management; pitch recognition
    • Makeup/character
    • Defensive tools and skill sets; present vs. projected position
    • Place on organization's depth chart
    • Positional scarcity; up-the-middle potential 

    Pitchers

    • Body type/athleticism/strength
    • Mechanics: Delivery; arm speed; release point
    • Age vs. highest level of experience
    • Injury history (durability)
    • Statistical trends
    • Arsenal quality and depth
    • Pitch projections: Present vs. future grades
    • Hitability: How tough is he to barrel? Does he keep the ball on the ground/in the park?
    • Control/command: Is he usually around the zone? Does he effectively command his stuff? How much development/refinement is needed?
    • Pitchability: Feel (and confidence) for using and sequencing entire arsenal.
    • Approach: Does he fearlessly attack and challenge opposing hitters?  
    • Projection: Does he project as a starter? If so, what type? Or is he likely to be relegated to the bullpen? If so, why?

    Resources

Close Calls

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    Elias Diaz, C

    Trey Supak, RHP

10. Harold Ramirez, OF

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    Position: OF

    DOB: 09/06/1994 (Age: 20)

    Height/Weight: 5’10”, 210 lbs

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Signed: 2011 (Colombia)

    Last Year’s Ranking: 9

    ETA: 2017

    2014 Stats

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmField
    5550605050

    Scouting Report

    Harold Ramirez was limited to only 49 games last season due to leg injuries, but the 20-year-old outfielder still managed to put up solid numbers when healthy, batting .309/.364/.402 in 226 plate appearances for Low-A West Virginia.

    The 5’10”, 210-pounder is an excellent athlete with loud tools, although his stocky build doesn’t leave much room for physical projection. Ramirez’s above-average speed plays on both sides of the ball, as he’s a good baserunner with enough present range to profile in center field. That might not always be true, however, as Ramirez is likely to lose a step down the line due to his thicker lower half.

    At the plate, Ramirez’s strong wrists and forearms generate above-average bat speed, and his overall feel for hitting is advanced for his age. The 20-year-old also stands out for his preternatural bat-to-ball skills and knack for using the whole field. Ramirez has good pop to the gaps and will run into some pitches here and there, but he’s unlikely to ever offer much in terms of usable, in-game power.

    Ceiling (OFP): 55 (solid-average regular)—High risk

9. Mitch Keller, RHP

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    Position: RHP

    DOB: 04/04/1996 (Age: 18)

    Height/Weight: 6’3’, 195 lbs

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: Second round, 2014 (Xavier HS, Iowa)

    Last Year’s Ranking: NA

    ETA: 2018

    2014 Stats

    Future Pitch Grades:

    FastballCurveballChangeupControl
    65605550

    Scouting Report

    The Pirates grabbed Mitch Keller in the second round of the 2014 draft and then lured him away from college with a seven-figure signing bonus. The 18-year-old right-hander then made a strong impression in his professional debut, posting a 1.98 ERA with 29 strikeouts in 27.1 innings in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.

    At 6’3”, 195 pounds, Keller is a projectable right-hander who flashes plus with his low-90s fastball and above-average curveball. His changeup is raw and will require time to develop, but it has the potential to play at least average at maturity.

    While Keller’s pure stuff stands out, the right-hander’s delivery and release point are inconsistent and detract from both his control and command. Therefore, the 18-year-old will be a project for the Pirates in the coming years, as there’s currently an enormous gap between his present ability and future potential.

    Ceiling (OFP): 60 (No. 3 starter)—Extreme

8. Cole Tucker, SS

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    Position: SS

    DOB: 07/03/1996 (Age: 18)

    Height/Weight: 6’3”, 185 lbs

    Bats/Throws: S/R

    Drafted: First round, 2014 (Mountain Pointe HS, Arizona)

    Last Year’s Ranking: NA

    ETA: 2019

    2014 Stats

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmField
    5050556055

    Scouting Report

    The Pirates surprised the baseball world when they selected Cole Tucker with the No. 24 overall pick. However, the 18-year-old shortstop played like a first-rounder this past summer in his pro debut, batting .267/.368/.356 with 10 extra-base hits and 13 stolen bases in 48 Gulf Coast League contests.

    Tucker's best offensive tool will always be his speed, which plays well on both sides of the ball. His defense is ahead of his offense right now, which is fairly common among young, up-the-middle prospects. Tucker’s athleticism and instincts stand out at shortstop, while his range, glove and arm strength should allow him to stick at the position.

    A switch-hitter with a projectable 6’3”, 185-pound frame, Tucker is a better hitter from the left side at the moment, with a quick, loose stroke and good barrel awareness; as a righty, Tucker’s swing will get long and cause him to feel for contact. He doesn’t have much power at the moment, but that’s likely to change as he adds strength to his frame and fine-tunes his swing from both sides of the plate.

    Ceiling (OFP): 60 (first-division player)—High risk

7. Alen Hanson, 2B/SS

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    Position: 2B/SS

    DOB: 10/22/1992 (Age: 22)

    Height/Weight: 5’11”, 170 lbs

    Bats/Throws: S/R

    Signed: 2009 (Dominican Republic)

    Last Year’s Ranking: 5

    ETA: 2015

    2014 Stats

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmField
    5555605055

    Scouting Report

    Gregory Polanco’s rise through Pittsburgh’s system last season overshadowed Alen Hanson’s strong performance in Double-A, where the 22-year-old switch-hitter posted a .280/.326/.442 batting line with 21 doubles, 12 triples and 11 home runs in 118 games. He also swiped 25 bags in 36 attempts.

    As a switch-hitter, Hanson has the potential for a solid-average hit tool thanks to his quick bat from both sides of the plate and an approach that enables the use of the whole field. He’s an extra-base machine with average power potential, showcasing more consistent over-the-fence pop from the left side.

    He has a handsy swing at times but still barrels the ball, though his tendency to drift with his hips can make him susceptible to good sequencing and lead to too much swing-and-miss. Hanson is a plus runner, but he’s also a raw base stealer who relies on his straight-line speed rather than instincts.

    Defensively, Hanson has spent most of his professional career at shortstop before shifting over to second base last August. He exhibits smooth actions at both positions, with a sound glove and smooth transfer, but his range and average arm strength are likely better suited for second base.

    Ceiling (OFP): 55 (solid-average regular)—Low risk

6. Nick Kingham, RHP

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    Position: RHP

    DOB: 11/08/1991 (Age: 23)

    Height/Weight: 6’5”, 220 lbs

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: Fourth round, 2010 (Sierra Vista HS, Nevada)

    Last Year’s Ranking: 7

    ETA: 2015

    2014 Stats

    Future Pitch Grades:

    FastballCurveballChangeupControl
    60555055

    Scouting Report

    Nick Kingham continued his quick rise toward the major leagues last season with a strong showing between the Double- and Triple-A levels. The 23-year-old right-hander fared better at the more advanced level, with a 3.58 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 65-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 88 innings, and he also held opposing batters to a .213 average and .598 OPS during that span.

    With an ideal pitcher’s frame at 6’5”, 220 pounds, Kingham works from a consistently high three-quarter arm slot, employing a delivery that involves minimal effort and is easy to repeat. The right-hander's fastball is presently his biggest offering, with plus velocity in the 91-94 mph range that he holds deep into starts.

    His changeup is presently a fringe-average offering, though the pitch has potential, with decent depth and late sinking action. However, the velocity of the pitch is inconsistent, as it typically works in the mid-80s but sometimes is thrown too firmly in the upper 80s. Kingham’s curveball is a future solid-average offering with plenty of room to improve, and he throws it consistently with tight spin and late downer bite.

    Kingham isn’t a strikeout artist, but he does miss enough bats to consider it a part of his game. He fanned nearly two fewer batters per nine innings last season than he did the two previous years, though that might have been a product of him being a younger pitcher at the minor’s highest levels.

    He doesn’t have the ceiling of fellow right-handers Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon, but Kingham’s deep arsenal and ability to eat innings should make him a solid No. 3 or 4 starter, possibly as early as mid-2015.

    Ceiling (OFP): 55 (No. 3 or 4 starter)—Low risk

5. Austin Meadows, OF

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    Position: OF

    DOB: 05/03/1995 (Age: 19)

    Height/Weight: 6’3”, 200 lbs

    Bats/Throws: L/L

    Drafted: First round, 2013 (Grayson HS, Georgia)

    Last Year’s Ranking: 4

    ETA: 2017

    2014 Stats

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmField
    5555604555

    Scouting Report

    Austin Meadows, the No. 9 overall pick in the 2013 draft, missed the first three months of the season with a hamstring injury, but he returned during the second half to hit .322/.388/.486 with 17 extra-base hits over 38 games in the South Atlantic League.

    Meadows stands out for his smooth, balanced left-handed swing and mature approach, both of which fuel his projection for an above-average hit tool. His bat still requires the most projection of all his tools, as Meadows will need to add strength to his athletic frame. Additionally, the toolsy outfielder might tap into more power by adding leverage to his relatively flat bat path, while an uptick in his power frequency is likely as he learns to pull more balls.

    Meadows is presently an above-average runner but could lose a step if he adds significant strength to his lower half. Provided he doesn’t outgrow the position, he has all the makings of a major league center fielder at maturity.

    Based on his impressive second half at Low-A West Virginia, it’s plausible that Meadows will open 2015 with High-A Bradenton. He’s unlikely to reach the major leagues until 2017, but he carries the upside of a .300 hitter with 15-homer power and a decent chance of remaining in center field.

    Ceiling (OFP): 60 (first-division player)—High risk

4. Reese McGuire, C

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    Position: C

    DOB: 03/02/1995 (Age: 19)

    Height/Weight: 6’0”, 181 lbs

    Bats/Throws: L/R

    Drafted: First round, 2013 (Kentwood HS, Washington)

    Last Year’s Ranking: 8

    ETA: 2017

    2014 Stats

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmField
    5550457065

    Scouting Report

    Reese McGuire flew under the radar in his full-season debut, batting .262/.307/.334 with 18 extra-base hits in 427 plate appearances for Low-A West Virginia. Meanwhile, the 19-year-old continued to shine behind the plate with a 39 percent caught-stealing rate.

    The left-handed-hitting McGuire works the ball from line to line with a compact swing and good barrel control, as he keeps his upper body and head quiet through his weight transfer and contact point. McGuire has average power potential, as he generates lots of strength from his core and lower half, but right now, most of his thump is to the gaps. Plus, he rarely sells out for power during games.

    McGuire is a plus, almost plus-plus, defender behind the plate, as he possesses an outstanding combination of athleticism, tools and baseball savvy that will allow him to remain at the position. His catch-and-throw skills and near-elite arm strength produce consistent sub-1.9-second pop times, while his feel for sequencing and calling games can’t be understated.

    Ceiling (OFP): 60 (first-division player)—High risk

3. Josh Bell, OF/1B

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    Position: OF/1B

    DOB: 08/14/1992 (Age: 22)

    Height/Weight: 6’2”, 235 lbs

    Bats/Throws: S/R

    Drafted: Second round, 2011 (Dallas Jesuit College Prep, Texas)

    Last Year’s Ranking: 6

    ETA: Late 2015

    2014 Stats

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmField
    5560455550

    Scouting Report

    Josh Bell moved up to High-A Bradenton this past season, where he continued to make offensive strides in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, batting .335/.384/.502 with 33 extra-base hits (nine home runs) in 84 games. His red-hot bat carried over to the Eastern League for the final month of the season, as he batted .287/.343/.309 over his final 24 games.

    Bell has hit nearly three times as many doubles (64) as home runs (23) as a professional, and it’s only a matter of time until some of those two-baggers start clearing fences. In his prime, Bell could be good for 20-25 bombs annually. However, given his career strikeout and walk rates of 15.8 and 8.3 percent, respectively, he is a relatively safe bet to hit for average as well.

    It’s also worth noting that Bell, a corner outfielder for his entire professional career, played first base in this year's Arizona Fall League. The Pirates will have one of baseball’s best outfields for years to come, so it’s possible the organization is beginning to explore other ways to get his bat in the lineup.  

    Ceiling (OFP): 60 (first-division player)—Medium risk

2. Jameson Taillon, RHP

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    Position: RHP

    DOB: 11/18/1991 (Age: 23)

    Height/Weight: 6’5”, 245 lbs

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: First round, 2010 (The Woodlands HS, Texas)

    Last Year’s Ranking: 2

    ETA: 2016

    2014 Stats

    Future Pitch Grades:

    FastballCurveballChangeupControl
    70655550

    Scouting Report

    Jameson Taillon had Tommy John surgery last April and missed the entire 2014 season, costing him a crucial developmental year and likely delaying his arrival in the major leagues until late 2015 at the earliest.

    Taillon, 23, is a true power pitcher with a durable, 6’5”, 245-pound frame and big-time arm strength. The right-hander’s fastball sits in the mid- to upper 90s with late movement to the arm side, and his velocity tends to play up due to the extension generated by his long arms. His curveball is a potential plus-plus pitch with tight spin and sharp, two-plane break, and he also throws an average changeup with decent fading action out of the zone.

    Taillon likely will be kept on a short leash in his first season back from Tommy John surgery, but it goes without saying that the right-hander, provided he receives a clean bill of health, could give the Pirates rotation or bullpen a boost sometime after the All-Star break.

    Ceiling (OFP): 65 (No. 2 or 3 starter)—Medium risk

1. Tyler Glasnow, RHP

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    Position: RHP

    DOB: 08/23/1993 (Age: 21)

    Height/Weight: 6’7”, 195 lbs

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: Fifth round, 2011 (Hart HS, California)

    Last Year’s Ranking: 3

    ETA: 2016

    2014 Stats

    Future Pitch Grades:

    FastballCurveballChangeupControl
    65605550

    Scouting Report

    Tyler Glasnow posted video-game numbers during his 2013 full-season debut at Low-A West Virginia, as he led the South Atlantic League in ERA (2.18), opponents' batting average (.142), strikeouts (164) and K/9 (13.26).

    Amazingly, the 21-year-old's follow-up campaign last season at High-A Bradenton wasn’t all that different; Glasnow paced the Florida State League in ERA (1.74), WHIP (1.05) and opponents’ batting average (.174) while ranking second in strikeouts (157) and strikeouts per nine innings (11.4 K/9).

    He was especially dominant during the second half of the season, with a 9-2 record, 1.65 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 109 strikeouts over 81.2 innings (14 starts). Meanwhile, he issued just 29 walks—one more than he allowed in 42.2 innings during the first half—while holding opposing hitters to a .177 average.

    A 6’7” right-hander, Glasnow uses his size to create excellent downhill plane, which in turn allows him to dominate hitters with basically two pitches: an explosive fastball in the mid- to upper 90s and a swing-and-miss curveball that flashes plus potential. Glasnow’s changeup tends to play a bit firm given his huge reach toward the plate, but his feel for the pitch should continue to improve, making it at least solid-average at maturity.

    Glasnow will occasionally struggle to keep his lanky frame and long limbs in sync during his delivery, but he has definitely become more consistent on that front over the last year and a half. An Opening Day assignment to Double-A should be a healthy challenge for the 21-year-old—a challenge that, if passed, could have him in the major leagues by the end of the season.

    Ceiling (OFP): 65 (No. 2 or 3 starter)—Medium risk

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