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Minor League Depth — Pitching, Part 3 (Lower Levels)


It’s not easy to project how the Pirates will manage their low level pitching staffs. A lot of factors beyond on-field performance come into play when the team is deciding which pitchers to promote, or how to divvy up the finite number of innings that are available. The team looks at health issues and the need to build up stamina, mechanical issues, fastball command, and other factors that probably show up as much in camp and in instructional league as in regular season games. A lot of young pitchers, especially the non-college pitchers, aren’t ready for pro ball when they first join the system and may need considerable time before they can pitch in full season ball, or even move out of rookie ball. In some cases they never get to that stage. There’s a large winnowing out process that takes place at the short season levels.

In addition, distinctions between starter and reliever don’t mean a lot. For instance, a pitcher who projects as a starter may pitch in relief initially, the recently traded Brooks Pounders being an example. The starter/reliever distinction doesn’t really become meaningful until high A. There is often a clear distinction between the more promising pitchers, who’ll get their innings one way or another, and the others, who generally have to take the opportunities that are left.

What follows is a discussion of the pitching depth in the lower half of the system. I won’t try to distinguish between starters and relievers, but will instead try to indicate the pitchers who figure to get priority for innings.

LHPs are indicated by an asterisk (*).

West Virginia (Low A)

Nick Kingham, Ryan Hafner, Trent Stevenson, Jordan Cooper, Josh Poytress*, Michael Jefferson*, Matt Benedict, Emmanuel de Leon, Orlando Castro*, Vincent Payne, Rinku Singh*, Justin Ennis*, Kevin Kleis, Cliff Archibald, Jesus Brito

A lot of the innings for the Power in 2012 should go to a mixture of high school and college draftees. The three notable prep pitchers are Kingham, Hafner and Stevenson. The first two had good seasons at State College in 2011, their first full pro season. Stevenson was drafted a year earlier, in 2009, and struggled in 2011, leading to a demotion from West Virginia back to State College. He should get a chance at low A again in 2012.  These three could be joined by Zack Von Rosenberg if the Pirates don’t promote him to Bradenton.

The prominent college draftees are Cooper, Poytress, Jefferson and Benedict. Cooper is probably the only one of the group with a significant ceiling, but he was erratic both in college and with the Spikes in 2011. The other three all pitched reasonably well for State College in 2011, with Jefferson pitching half the time in relief and Poytress most of the time. Their roles going forward will probably depend on how well they pitch.

There are three other interesting pitchers who are likely to be with the Power. De Leon has a good arm and will probably pitch strictly in relief. He could serve as the team’s closer. Singh, as is well known, hails from India. He also will pitch in relief; he pitched respectably in a short stint with the Power last year. Castro dominated for a month as a starter in the GCL in 2011, then pitched in relief for State College with lesser results.

The rest of the innings for West Virginia will go to some combination of junior college draftees and others who are probably organizational pitchers. Payne, Kleis and Archibald were all drafted out of junior colleges and have struggled to varying degrees in short season ball, and in Payne’s case also at West Virginia briefly. All three will be looking to make enough strides to stick in low A. Ennis is an organizational left-handed reliever who could fill in at any level from Bradenton on down. Brito is a converted position player. Where he ends up will depend on how quickly he adapts to the mound.

State College (Short-Season)

Stetson Allie, Luis Heredia, Clay Holmes, Colten Brewer, Tyler Glasnow, Jason Creasy, Jake Burnette, Cesar Lopez, Bryce Weidman, Bryton Trepagnier, Joely Rodriguez*, Logan Pevny, Dovydas Neverauskas, Fraylin Campos, Joan Montero, Wilson Lee, Isaac Sanchez, Miguel Mendez, Robbie Kilcrease*

Apart from Bradenton, State College will probably have the most interesting group of pitchers in the system in 2012. The two most prominent, of course, may be Allie and Heredia. It’s possible the Pirates could move Allie up to West Virginia, but that seems unlikely unless he makes huge strides with his control before the season starts. People seem to forget that he has very little pitching experience, probably a good deal less than Heredia, who’s much younger. Heredia won’t even turn 18 until the end of the 2012 season, but he had a good debut for a 16-year-old in the GCL in 2011. He could return there, but the best guess is that he’ll go to State College.

Beyond the “big two,” the 2012 State College staff will probably be very similar to the Spikes’ 2010 edition, which featured a large group of prep pitchers whom the Pirates drafted in 2009. Assuming the Pirates continue to follow their practice of moving prep pitchers up to the New York-Penn League for their first full seasons (even when they didn’t pitch at all the year they signed), the Spikes’ 2012 staff should have 2011 prep draftees Holmes, Brewer, Glasnow, Creasy, and Burnette. Of this group, Holmes is the most advanced, while the others are projectable right-handers similar to Kingham and Hafner, who pitched for State College in 2011. Assuming everybody is healthy and the Pirates conclude they’re all ready for the level, they’ll probably all pitch in two- to four-inning stints, both starting and relieving.

Of the numerous other pitchers who could see time with the Spikes, arguably the most interesting are Lopez, Rodriguez, and Neverauskas. Lopez signed out of Cuba for a fairly large bonus, but didn’t show quite the stuff in 2011 that he was reputed to have. He finished the season with one outing at State College and should return there. Rodriguez is a very raw lefty with a fastball that reaches the mid-90s. He opened 2011 with the Spikes, but unfortunately got hurt early in the season. Neverauskas was signed out of Lithuania. He threw in the upper-80s at the time he was signed, but by spring 2011 was reaching 94. He’ll still be only 19 throughout the 2012 season and is still filling out, so it’ll be interesting to see whether he makes further strides in 2012.

The other possible pitchers for State College are mostly guys who’ve been struggling to move beyond short season ball. Montero and Campos have good arms, but are having trouble translating their stuff into performance and are advancing slowly. Sanchez also has a good arm and is younger, but has missed some time. Lee, an Australian, is a finesse lefty. Pevny was drafted in 2010 as a prep pitcher. He was less advanced than Kingham and Hafner, but he still has some projectability and pitched reasonably well in the GCL in 2011. Weidman and Trepagnier were also drafted in 2010, Weidman out of junior college and Trepagnier out of high school. They’ve both mostly struggled so far, but also have some projectability left.

Kilcrease and Mendez figure to be organizational pitchers. Mendez is a converted catcher and served as the closer in the GCL in 2011. Kilcrease was an undrafted college pitcher who signed in 2011.

Gulf Coast League Pirates (Rookie)

Jhonathan Herrand, Brayan Almonte, Jimy Hernandez, David Jagoditsh, Jackson Lodge*, Alex Lukashevich, Roberto Espinosa, Aneudy Merejo, Andy Otamendi*, Clario Perez, Luis Campos

The Pirates’ rookie league staff could have a different look starting in 2012. In recent years it’s been made up of Latin American pitchers and junior college draftees, because the prep pitchers the Pirates have drafted almost always sign too late to pitch more than an inning or two. With the signing deadline moving up to mid-July, though, the Pirates’ prep draftees—assuming they continue drafting prep pitchers heavily, which may not happen—will be able to get in a lot more playing time the year they’re drafted.

With respect to pitchers currently in the system, the rookie league staff will be made up of pitchers moving up from the Latin American summer leagues and others who haven’t advanced to higher levels yet. Of the current players likely to be in the GCL in 2012, the most interesting is Herrand. He has one of the best arms in the system—his fastball has reached 100 mph—but his command is a work in progress and he missed most of 2011 due to injury.

Among the other pitchers who’ll probably see action in the GCL are Lukashevich, the first native of Belarus to sign with a MLB team, and Lodge, an Australian. Lukashevich missed 2011 with an injury. Lodge held his own in the GCL in 2011 and will only be 18 throughout the 2012 season. Jagoditsh, a 2011 junior college draftee, and Almonte, a Dominican, at least have good size at 6’7”. Jagoditsh has had trouble staying healthy and Almonte has struggled to find the strike zone. Rodriguez, another Dominican, struggled in the GCL in 2011.

The Pirates brought five pitchers from the Latin summer leagues to fall instructionals, which means they’ll probably be in the GCL in 2012. None looks like a strong prospect so far, although it’s very hard to judge with pitchers at this stage. Perez and Merejo both pitched well in the Dominican Summer League in 2011, but Perez was in his third year in the league and Merejo was in his second and is already 21. Espinosa was highly regarded when signed out of Mexico, but hasn’t dominated in three years in the Venezuelan Summer League. Otamendi pitched reasonably well there in 2011, while Campos struggled.

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Wilbur Miller
Wilbur Miller
Having followed the Pirates fanatically since 1965, Wilbur Miller is one of the fast-dwindling number of fans who’ve actually seen good Pirate teams. He’s even seen Hall-of-Fame Pirates who didn’t get traded mid-career, if you can imagine such a thing. His first in-person game was a 5-4, 11-inning win at Forbes Field over Milwaukee (no, not that one). He’s been writing about the Pirates at various locations online for over 20 years. It has its frustrations, but it’s certainly more cathartic than writing legal stuff. Wilbur is retired and now lives in Bradenton with his wife and three temperamental cats.

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