Today we started our 2014 season recap series by looking at the 2014 Indianapolis Indians. As the Triple-A team, Indianapolis obviously provides the depth for the Pirates throughout the year. This year the depth wasn’t that strong on the position player side, although the additions of Vance Worley, Jeff Locke, and Brandon Cumpton helped the rotation at times throughout the year.
With the Indianapolis recap coming today, it seemed like a good time to look ahead to next year, and see what kind of depth we can expect in 2015. This is an early look, which will probably see a lot of changes by the end of the off-season. That said, the bigger prospects probably won’t see their status changed by minor league free agents or off-season transactions.
I’m not going to go heavy into relief pitching depth, since a lot of that usually comes from starting pitching depth or minor league free agents that are signed over the off-season. The main focus here will be starting pitching depth.
The depth at the beginning of the year currently projects to be the depth that the Pirates have this season. That includes Brandon Cumpton, Jeff Locke, and Casey Sadler. The current projected rotation in the majors would include Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, and Vance Worley. Depending on what they do in the off-season, one of Locke or Cumpton could start in the majors. My guess is that Sadler would transition more to a relief role, although he could still start in the minors if there is room.
That might not be a guarantee. Jameson Taillon will be coming back healthy at the start of the 2015 season, and will go to Indianapolis. Nick Kingham and Adrian Sampson both finished the 2014 season in Triple-A, and both are projected to go back to the level in 2015. All three pitchers could provide the Pirates with rotation depth by the middle of the season, although with different upsides on all three guys. As for Sadler, if Cumpton and Locke start off in Triple-A, he would probably get pushed to a bullpen role.
This is another situation that is up in the air, and largely depends on whether the Pirates keep Russell Martin, or how they replace Martin if he signs elsewhere. I don’t think Tony Sanchez is a good option to start, but he wouldn’t be bad as a backup or as a third catcher out of Indianapolis. The backup option would be best, since he’s to the point now where he needs to be in the majors in some role. If that happens, then Elias Diaz would be the top depth option out of Triple-A. Diaz has more upside behind the plate than Sanchez, but will need some time adjusting to pitching at the Triple-A level. However, his defense is good enough that he could fill in as an injury replacement early in the season.
The Pirates didn’t have good infield depth this season. That will mostly be the case next season, with one key exception. Alen Hanson was moved to second base this year in Altoona, and will be making the jump to Indianapolis next year. The move was made after Hanson struggled with his defense at the shortstop position, although it was also made with the focus of speeding his bat up to the majors so that he could contribute in 2015. For that reason, you could expect him to arrive at some point, probably as an injury replacement. If he hits well, he could be the eventual replacement for Neil Walker at second base.
There isn’t much at third base as far as depth in the minors. Gift Ngoepe has strong defense up the middle, but no bat. Dan Gamache has been good defensively at third, and not as good defensively at second. He showed off some gap power in Altoona this year, and will move up to Indianapolis after going to the AFL this off-season. I’m not sure how much the Pirates would trust either player next year, or whether they’d be considered depth options. Outside of Hanson, the infield depth looks about the same.
With Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco in the majors, there isn’t much need for strong outfield depth in the upper levels of the minors. Polanco hasn’t gotten off to the best start in his young career, although it’s way too early to rule out good production in the future. The Pirates might be stuck with Jose Tabata, although his contract could allow him to be sent back to Indianapolis again. Worst case is that another team claims him off waivers and assumes the entire amount owed to him in the future.
It will be interesting to see if the Pirates bring back Travis Snider as an expensive bench player/depth option, although he’d have nothing to do with Indianapolis. Snider would have an impact on two guys who could return to Indianapolis — Andrew Lambo and Jaff Decker. Lambo looks to be higher on the depth charts right now, simply due to the fact that he’s in the majors and Decker is doing nothing but sitting on the 40-man roster. If Decker remains in the organization next year, he could be depth once again, although he’d be about the sixth or seventh best option.
Mel Rojas and Keon Broxton would both be interesting options, although the upside with each player is a fourth outfielder, so they’re not going to provide much more than bench help.
The strongest depth, from a prospect standpoint, will come from the pitching, and specifically starting pitching. That’s a good thing for the Pirates, since that looks to be their biggest area of need in the majors. Most of the depth won’t be ready on Opening Day, meaning they will need to look to add 1-2 starting pitchers over the off-season, whether that’s bringing back Edinson Volquez and/or Francisco Liriano, or looking for the next reclamation project. The big boosts to expect by mid-season would be Taillon, Kingham, Hanson, and Sampson.
Links and Notes
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.