Baseball America’s EL Top 20 List Offers Some Big Surprises

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.

Diaz was voted the best defensive catcher in the Eastern League (Photo credit: David Hague)
Diaz was voted the best defensive catcher in the Eastern League (Photo credit: David Hague)

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.

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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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of course the alternate explanation is that the Pirates Prospects are just not as good as they have been “sold”. Hanson seems to have some attitude issues. Kingdom may never develop a third pitch – Sampson had a nice year – but the scouts want to see more from him before biting.


There are a lot of young guys in AA from many organization’s that have attitude issues, you just don’t know about them. Neil Walker was no ball of fire on many occasions in MiLB for example.


I totally agree John. The Pirate rankings are what really made that list look strange to me after watching them play.


,says the guy who has apparently never seen Nick Kingham’s curveball.


@piratesprospects-a87ff679a2f3e71d9181a67b7542122c:disqus – FYI – looks like Red Sox 2B Sean Coyle was dropped in favor of Kingham.


I read his scouting report on Sox prospects. He didn’t sound better than Hanson.


Where is leowalter when we need him? Leo, as “eyes on the ground” at Altoona what do you think about the rankings?


Piraddict : I actually strongly agreed with some of their comments, but overall thought the list was strange, for lack of a better adjective.

William Wallace

East Coast Bias!


So if BA can make such obvious mis-evaluations on AA players who are accessible and competing against players of relatively the same talent why should they and other “professional evaluators” be trusted for their evaluations of high school players who are relatively inaccessible and competing against uneven talent levels in advance of the draft?


I’ve been preaching the Wily Garcia gospel since watching him at BCB. He is HUGE. Bigger than Allie. He has a cannon that changes games. He also is crazy young and did will enough to advance, although starting back in AA wouldn’t surprise me.

Just like I was saying about Allie, the RHH part is so important. If he can hit LHPs and play plus defense (and the power) he has a spot on a ML roster.


Guapo, I know you also see these young guys in Altoona as I do. But, as much as I like Garcia, you have to admit that his plate discipline made Marte,when he was in AA, look darned near selective !


True. But my bar is low. If we get a guy that can play plus defense in pnc RF and OPS 800 against LHPs for $400k I’m excited.


I love the arm too Guapo, but I think he has to show a lot of improvement with routes and judgment to be a plus defender. Then there is the chase/strike out thing….


Allie is still behind in his development due to the transfer from pitcher to every day player. I am not worried about his strikeouts at this point, he still gets a lot of walks. I would like to know what he strikes out on, Steve Pearce came through the organization with outstanding power numbers, but when he got to the majors they found out he could not hit a breaking ball, still can’t from what I can see.


Elias Diaz, wow. There’s talk of Kevin Plawecki pushing Travis d’Arnaud off catcher next year in New York, and Gary Sanchez has been a Top 100 guy for a while. BA must really be buying into the AA breakout.

Leaving Hanson off the EL Top 20 seems a stretch, but it won’t surprise me if he starts sliding to the back end or off Top 100 prospect lists. Terrible defense, doesn’t walk much, and for all his straight line speed has never stolen bases at better than a 70% clip. Kid has to start putting it together at some point.

Maybe in all their time spent scouting the Red Sox (seven prospects, really?) BA forgot to catch one of Kingham’s starts? That’s all I got.


I’ve read, don’t remember where sorry, that Kevin Plawecki expects to be traded and d’Arnaud showed dramatic improvement after his demotion.

As for Kingham, isn’t his best secondary pitch his change up, and isn’t that a pitcher type that scouting something overlooks, undervalues?


Thanks for the heads up. Plawecki was a guy I expected the Pirates to look into as an option after Martin, so that’s an interesting development.

Your Kingham comment makes sense, and I know you’re just trying to come up with soooome kind of explanation, but the fastball is hard to overlook regardless of the change being second best pitch. I associate that scouting flaw with a guy like Adrian Sampson more than a hard thrower.

Kyle Crick is somewhat surprisingly absent as well. Doesn’t the Giants AA affiliate play in the EL?


Kyle Crick is a one pitch pitcher : fastball, and that is it. On any given night he is can be ppretty good….or pretty bad. I also know that he has maturity problems.


And Crick also has awful control. But the kid still struck out 28% of the batter he faced and was coming off a year in High-A arguably as successful as Tyler Glasnow this season. Thought he might have enough momentum and K’s to make the cut.

I didn’t mean to insinuate I knew enough about any of these catching prospects being mentioned to have an informed opinion. Just going off what I read from prospect guys. And up until now everything I read seemed to believe Plawecki was the better prospect and closer to the big leagues.

However, like I said to Andrew, I’m starting to buy into Diaz. The organization seems to have believed in him for a while, now the performance catching up and everyone is noticing.


I saw three starts by Crick, 2 were really bad, one good. You have to watch Diaz closely, and over several games, after watching MLB catching to see how well he performs at the physical part of his game. I can’t vouch for his handling of pitchers etc., but all of the staff say that he is excellent.


I’ve always read that guys with solid change-ups are underrated, because scouts fell it is more deception than ability and thus hard to project, but it appears Kingham has been added. I remember seeing Crick was injured but he has more innings than Kingham in AA so not sure.

Plawecki along with Gary Sanchez would have been some nice targets, but at this point a veteran stop gap might be a better option if the Pirates are truly high on Diaz.


Starting to buy into that, as well.

Also wonder just how different a realistic projection for Reese McGuire is from what Diaz did last year.


Certainly seems that way. It’ll be interesting to see how much of this carries into their Top 100.


NMR: Leaving Hanson off the list is near criminal – a 21 year old switchhitter batting leadoff in AA and posting a .280 batting average with 44 EBH (21 doubles, 12 triples, 11 HR’s) and 58 RBI’s – these are all very special numbers. And, this from a guy who started with a .233 average in April. And, I think his W/K numbers were good at 31W/88K. The only place I see a difficulty is his 25 SB’s but a high number of CS’s of 11. His defense needs work, but if he finds that part of his game, there is no way to keep him off the field at PNC.


I respect your opinion regarding which stats you personally value, but I don’t view counting stats as particularly telling for comparison purposes, especially in the minors where players rarely stay at a level for similar amounts of time.

Alen Hanson, while doing all you mentioned, still hit roughly 11% better than the average Eastern Leaguer.

Do I think he should have been on the list? Yes, absolutely. Can I see at least a marginally legitimate argument for why he was not? Yes, absolutely.

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