Baseball America released their top 20 list for the Eastern League today and
two three Pittsburgh Pirates players were on the list. Two surprises are on the list and they are the top Pirates, a pair you would not suspect. You can see the list here and the scouting reports are linked below.
The two players on the list were catcher Elias Diaz in the tenth spot and outfielder Willy Garcia in the 17th spot. I wouldn’t call Diaz a surprise because he had a strong season with the bat and his defense is outstanding, but if we told you only two players made the list, most people would have guessed that Nick Kingham or Alen Hanson or Adrian Sampson were on the list. Our own personal top ten list from Altoona had those players in the top three spots with Diaz rated fourth, though Sampson and Diaz could easily be called 3a and 3b.
Garcia was rated sixth on our list because to put it simply, it’s extremely difficult to find a success story among minor league players that strike out as often as he does while also having such a low walk rate. He put up strong numbers with a .271 average and .478 slugging percentage, but his 24/145 BB/SO ratio in 439 at-bats is extremely hard to overlook, especially with the history behind numbers like that, which was detailed here. While his defense is strong and his arm is elite, Garcia can be erratic at times, leading to high error totals. We got reports that he didn’t always make the best decisions and didn’t always give 100%, which led to a few games on the bench. His arm/defense/power give him three plus tools, but his plate patience is among the worst in baseball. It’s easier to say a player like that won’t succeed than predict he will because past history is littered with players that had plenty of tools and turned out to be “busts” because the plate patience wasn’t there.
Alen Hanson didn’t make the list and that is surprising because he offers a rare combination of power and speed from a middle infielder. He could soon be the lead-off hitter for the Pirates, depending on how he handles his first taste at AAA next year. He has played 153 games at AA now and he’s playing winter ball again this year, so he probably won’t require a full season at AAA if he’s hitting well.
I’m guessing Hanson’s ranking was hurt by his move to second base and his disciplinary problems during the season, which were well publicized due to his prospect status. He was the only player in the system that had double figures in doubles, triples, homers and stolen bases this year and the last to accomplish that was Hanson(and Starling Marte) back in 2012. Most people forget, because he has been on the prospect map for awhile, that Hanson doesn’t turn 22 until later this month. That means he was younger than many of the draft picks this year, yet he put up a very solid season in AA.
I’m sure there will be questions in the EL chat about why Nick Kingham didn’t make the list. He pitched enough before his promotion to Indianapolis to qualify(Josh Bell didn’t have enough plate appearances to qualify for the top 20). Kingham then put up solid numbers at AAA, though he didn’t finish strong, which skewed the numbers a bit. That could be explained by his career high in innings pitched. You’re still talking about a 22-year-old with a fastball that can hit 97 MPH, who has excellent control and two off-speed pitches that would rate at least average. Prior to this season, we rated his change-up as the best in the system. (update: Kingham was a very late addition to the list in the 20th spot, making the list after the scouting reports were released)
Adrian Sampson had a breakout season much like Elias Diaz had. Both also got promoted to AAA at the end of the year. Sampson pitched this season as a 22-year-old just like Kingham, though the latter was promoted to AAA much earlier in the year. Sampson made four starts for Indianapolis with limited success. Before that though, he posted a 2.55 ERA in 148 innings, finishing with the second best ERA in the Eastern League. His 1.05 WHIP was the third lowest in the league and one of the pitchers he trailed was 26 years old.
Sampson seemed like a possible pick in the 16-20 range for the EL top 20 list, so it’s not a huge surprise he was left off, but the exclusion of Nick Kingham and Alen Hanson is pretty hard to believe, especially considering that Willy Garcia made the list. Diaz isn’t really a surprise and it’s nice to see him get the recognition. I also figured he could make the list in the same range I gave for Sampson, which I assumed would give the Pirates somewhere between two and four representatives on the list. As mentioned above, we had Garcia sixth on our list. He was also trailing Stetson Allie, who offers tremendous power and unlike Garcia, he has plate patience, leading all Pirates minor league players in walks each of the last two years. Both players strike out too much, but the huge difference in walks is the separator.
UPDATE: Here is the link with the scouting reports.
UPDATE II: Apparently Baseball America did some re-evaluating since the list has been released because Nick Kingham is now listed in the 20th spot. Don’t have the original list, so I’m not sure who he pushed off, but the most surprising omission has been added to the bottom of the list.
UPDATE III: John Manuel wrote with the mix-up and as mentioned in the comments, Seam Coyle was the player who wasn’t supposed to be on the list.
— John Manuel (@johnmanuelNC) October 14, 2014
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.