Morning Report: The Altoona Prospects Should Provide Plenty of Help for Pirates

Yesterday, we took a look at the top ten prospects for Indianapolis and mentioned how the bottom of the AAA list almost always looks weak compared to other levels. I pointed out that other levels usually have guys that seem like top ten prospects, but they get squeezed out due to numbers. The higher you go in the organization, the more prospects fail, so it’s no surprise that AAA has less potential upside than AA and Altoona had at least a couple players that seemed like they should have been a top ten prospect.

The top of the Altoona prospect list is as solid as any team in the system, possibly the best. With Alen Hanson, Nick Kingham and Adrian Sampson, you have three of the better prospects in the system. Elias Diaz really put himself on the map this year and both Stetson Allie and Willy Garcia have a lot of potential. Mel Rojas Jr was seventh on this list, same spot as he got on the Indianapolis list. He was followed by Joely Rodriguez, Keon Broxton and Gift Ngoepe.

Starting with the bottom of the list and who was left off, you have three pitchers in Zack Dodson, Thomas Harlan and A.J. Morris. They fell behind Ngoepe because his strong defense at shortstop and second base, plus his speed, which gives him a strong chance to make the majors, even if he isn’t a starter. You give him some credit for his age and the fact he came from South Africa, where he wasn’t exactly facing the best competition growing up, so there is still some upside possible. With the three pitchers, they just missed out due to their age(Morris), overall results(Dodson) and stuff(Harlan), but all three have some potential.

Keon Broxton had the best season for any hitter in the Pirates system. He had the best OPS at .853, and he showed both speed and power. He was 25-for-31 in stolen base attempts, an excellent success rate. He also had 15 homers, nine triples and 22 doubles. Broxton turned 24 early in the season, so that is even an acceptable age for AA. What keeps him down is the fact he spent all of last season in AA as well, so he was repeating the level. He also had a poor strikeout rate, though unlike Willy Garcia, Broxton did draw his share of walks. It’s possible he is a late bloomer and if he can carry his Altoona success over to Indianapolis next year, then he will move further up the prospect charts.

We covered Mel Rojas Jr yesterday in the Indianapolis recap. He has the upside of a fourth outfielder and showed some progress this year over last, which could possibly mean that those potential tools we have heard about for years are finally starting to come around. The key with Rojas is that he is able to play all three outfield spots, he has some speed and he is a switch-hitter, so that gives him some versatility.

Joely Rodriguez is a tough player to figure out. Some people love him, while others don’t see it. He hasn’t had much success in his career, so that makes it harder to predict future success, despite scouting reports that say different. He’s a 22-year-old lefty in AA, so that right there gives him a boost in the prospect rankings. Rodriguez throws hard, has good movement, a strong ground ball rate and excellent control. So the question remains, why did he have a 4.84 ERA this year, with only 73 strikeouts in 134 innings? Because there is such a huge disparity between his stuff and his results, that drops him down the prospect list and also gives him a huge range of possibilities for his future. Anything from a big league starter to a minor league veteran is still possible.

Stetson Allie and Willy Garcia I like to pair together because there was a discussion on their rankings. I personally have Allie higher and we ended up ranking him higher due to his plate patience. Both Allie and Garcia strike out a lot, but history shows that if you also draw your share of walks, you have a much better chance of making it in the majors. Garcia had some nice stats if you ignore the BB/K rate, plus he offers value on defense. He also has decent speed and his overall defense has been rated high, though his error total of 13 was three more than every other outfielder Altoona used this season combined. He had 19 outfield assists, which ranked him as the best in the system.

Allie hit 21 homers this season (Photo credit: David Hague)
Allie hit 21 homers this season (Photo credit: David Hague)

Both players offer above average power, but it is more likely that Allie is able to translate that power into future power in the majors. He has led the system each of the last two years in walks while hitting 21 homers each season. Allie has been a hitter for just two full seasons now, so the fact that he put up the numbers he did at the age of 23, and showed improvements over his performance a level lower last year, leads you to believe he has upside left. Besides the strikeouts, the other thing that holds him back in the rankings is the position. You have to hit well to be a solid first baseman in the majors, otherwise you’re a real detriment to the lineup. While it now looks like he has a good chance to make the majors, there is still questions as to how good he will be once/if he gets there. A strong showing at AAA next year would help answer those questions.

With the top four players on the list, you’re looking at four players that have a chance to be around for awhile. Kingham and Hanson came into this season as top prospects in the system and neither disappointed on the stat sheet. Hanson put up power/speed numbers you don’t see often and Kingham had some outstanding starts after being promoted to Indianapolis. It’s the other two in the top ten that made the biggest jumps in the system.

Elias Diaz and Adrian Sampson looked like interesting players last year, but didn’t do much to give you confidence they would make the majors and be possible key contributors. Sampson showed good stuff at times and he was a fairly high draft pick, but his numbers at Bradenton(except control) were pretty bad. Diaz we knew had solid defense and he put up nice numbers in limited time last year, but it never looked like he would hit enough to reach the majors. During winter ball, we mentioned him quite a few times because he was putting up solid numbers against mostly older, more experienced pitchers. He was able to carry that over into the regular season and really put himself on the prospect map.

Right now, both players look like they will be part of the Pirates down the line, though their role is still to be decided. We have seen plenty of players in the past put up strong AA numbers and barely make it out of AAA. Sampson has excellent stuff and control, plus he has been able to really put up nice inning totals, which should help him make that final step and be able to stick. Diaz has the defense to fall back on, so even if he can’t hit enough to be a starter in the majors, his glove will allow him to stick around for awhile. If each player takes another jump in progress next year, you’re talking about getting a starting second baseman, two starting pitchers and your starting catcher from this 2014 Altoona squad. The rest of the team looks like it could provide plenty of depth and bench options.

Pirates Game Graph

Source: FanGraphs

Playoff Push

Pittsburgh: The Pirates are 2.5 games behind St. Louis for the NL Central lead. They are 5.5 games ahead of  Atlanta and 2.5 ahead of Milwaukee for the second Wild Card spot. The Pirates are 2.5 games behind San Francisco for the first Wild Card spot.

Today’s Schedule

Today’s Starter and Notes:  The Pirates beat the Red Sox by a 9-1 score on Wednesday. Gerrit Cole gets the start in game three of the series tonight, looking for the sweep. He will be making his 20th start of the season, topping last year’s total. Cole has gone at least six innings in each of his five starts since returning from the disabled list. In his last game, he went six innings, giving up three runs on five hits and a walk, while striking out six batters. You can read the DSL season recap here complete with scouting reports for each player and the top ten players to watch list can be found here. The Indianapolis season recap and top ten. The Altoona season recap and top ten.

MLB: Pittsburgh (81-70)  vs Red Sox (66-86) 7:05 PM
Probable starter: Gerrit Cole (3.92 ERA, 111:38 K/BB, 117 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (73-71)

AA: Altoona (61-81)

High-A: Bradenton (78-61)

Low-A: West Virginia (54-81)

Short-Season A: Jamestown (35-40)

RK: Bristol (22-46)

GCL: Pirates (20-40)

DSL: Pirates (34-36)


With the minor league season over, it’s time to take a look back at some recent video from the GCL, which we will continue to do over the next few days until we get video from the Fall Instructional League. All videos are courtesy of the GCL Pirates fan page. Below is a video of  relief pitcher Jen-Lei Liao, who is a huge 21-year-old righty signed out of Japan. At 6’6″, 255 pounds, he profiles as a pitcher that should have some velocity and the ability to hold it late, but things did not go well for Liao in his rookie season. He was throwing his fastball high 80’s and had no control, walking 16 batters in 17 innings. He should stick around despite his age(21 in the GCL is not good) and his control issues, because of his size and potential, but right now he is far from a prospect.

Recent Transactions

9/16: Pirates activate Charlie Morton from disabled list.

9/8: Pirates release Ernesto Frieri.

9/7: Michael Martinez and Chris McGuiness clear waivers and were outrighted to Indianapolis.

9/2: Pirates recall Gregory Polanco, Jeff Locke, John Holdzkom, Casey Sadler and Bobby LaFromboise.

9/2: Chase d’Arnaud added to 40-man roster and promoted to Pittsburgh. Michael Martinez designated for assignment.

9/1: Pirates recall Gerrit Cole and Tony Sanchez. Stolmy Pimentel activated from the disabled list

9/1: Pirates designate Chris McGuiness for assignment. John Holdzkom added to 40-man roster.

This Date in Pirates History

Six former Pittsburgh Pirates players have been born on this date, including a man that pitched once of the most memorable games in team history. Starting with the most recent first:

Donnie Veal, pitched for the 2009 Pirates after being selected in the 2008 Rule V draft. Veal played the last three seasons for the White Sox.

Jody Gerut. outfielder for four games during the 2005 season. Acquired for Matt Lawton at the 2005 trade deadline, Gerut got hurt almost immediately and didn’t play in the majors again until 2008.

Roger Mason, relief pitcher for the 1991-92 NL East champs. Had a 3.82 ERA and 11 saves in 89 appearances.

Ken Brett, starting pitcher for the 1974-75 Pirates. Came to the Pirates in exchange for Dave Cash in 1973 and was traded away with Dock Ellis and Willie Randolph for Doc Medich.

Harvey Haddix, pitcher for the Pirates from 1959 until 1963. He won 45 games for the Pirates, but is known for one of his losses for the team. Haddix pitched 12 perfect innings on May 26,1959, before losing the game in the 13th inning. He won two games for the Pirates in the 1960 World Series, one in relief. Haddix came to the Pirates in a seven player deal with the Reds that brought three key pieces for the 1960 champs.

Heinie Groh, third baseman for the 1927 NL champs. Came to the Pirates at the end of his 16-year career and played a minor role in the 1927 NL championship season. During his career, he batted .292 over 1676 games and led the NL in games played twice, doubles twice, at-bats, runs, walks and hits once. He also had the highest OBP twice and OPS once. Five times he led NL third baseman in fielding % and four times he finished with the second best percentage.

John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.

When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.

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When it comes to Joely Rodríguez, put me in the ” don’t see it ” column. It wasn’t his lack of success that puts me there,it is more like I never saw any of the attributes mentioned such as : throws hard, good movement, strong ground ball rate,and good control. All I saw,and it was more than a couple of looks, was a pitcher with poor command that sits in the high ‘ 80’s usually, an occasional 92 or 93 with little movement so when he did get in the zone it was line drives coming out. I would like to hope that someone can help him, but count me skeptical.

Lukas Sutton

Reasons to be skeptical for sure, but he does hit 97 at times so characterizing him as occasional 92 or 93 is misleading.


I watched him most of the season at home in different situations,and the best I saw on the PNG stadium was 91,which probably is 93 mph as that radar is about 2 mph off. For comparisons,both Zach Duke and Tom Gorzelanny were right around that regularly when they pitched here.


Why is it, that Mel Rojas is only seen as a 4th outfielder? If he has all these tools.


Thanks John, I think I’ve been watching him with my fan glasses on.


Looks like he gives up halfway through his motion. LOL… WTF? Somebody needs to pull Master/Grasshopper and get some intensity into this kid.

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