Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 Top Prospects: #12 – Adrian Sampson

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To recap the countdown so far:

20. Luis Heredia, RHP
19. JaCoby Jones, SS
18. Willy Garcia, OF
17. Clay Holmes, RHP
16. Gage Hinsz, RHP
15. Trey Supak, RHP
14. Cody Dickson, LHP
13. John Holdzkom, RHP

We continue the countdown with the number 12 prospect, Adrian Sampson.

12. Adrian Sampson, RHP

Sampson had a breakout season in Altoona in 2014. (Photo credit: David Hague)
Sampson had a breakout season in Altoona in 2014. (Photo credit: David Hague)

Sampson’s career with the Pirates has been a bit of a roller coaster, with the 2014 season seeing him on the upswing. He looked like a sleeper pitching prospect after his debut in 2012, displaying a good fastball and the potential for a strong three-pitch mix. He struggled in Bradenton in 2013, which took off some of the shine of his prospect status. Despite the struggles, he moved to Altoona in 2014 and surprisingly dominated at the level, eventually reaching Indianapolis by the end of the season.

A big reason for Sampson’s issues in 2013 was due to the changeup. He was focused on throwing the pitch much more often than usual, so that he could get familiar with the pitch. It’s the same approach the Pirates took with Jameson Taillon in 2012 and Tyler Glasnow in 2014 at the same level. This led to poor results in Bradenton, but a stronger changeup to pair with his fastball and curveball. The stronger changeup allowed him to have success in the higher levels.

Sampson throws a fastball that can sit 91-94 MPH with outstanding command and a lot of downward movement. His breaking pitch is a curveball that grades as an out pitch, and led to a decent amount of strikeouts in 2014. Along with the work on the changeup, he needed to learn how to trust his other two pitches to be effective, and trust his ability to pitch, rather than throw.

The Pirates should send Sampson back to Indianapolis in 2015. He didn’t have the best numbers at the level in his debut, although his advanced metrics were much better than his ERA. He went to the Arizona Fall League over the off-season, where he pitched out of the bullpen and put up strong numbers, while refining his secondary pitches.

Sampson could arrive in Pittsburgh during the 2015 season, and could be an early season option if the team needs starting depth. His upside is a middle of the rotation starter who could handle 200 innings per year. He threw 179 innings total in 2014 between Altoona, Indianapolis, and the AFL, so he should be ready for a full season of work in 2015.

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  • I like this guy, mainly because it allows me to say YO! ADRIAN! Without feeling dated.

  • Feels a bit aggressive to me. How many big league #3’s have so little swing and miss to their game?

    His “success” in AA was largely BABIP driven. Without seeing him at least carry that trait to AAA, mid rotation arm seems highly unlikely.

    • Hey we agree! I would say #5 SP, middle relief is a realistic target. I am also concerned by Kingham’s falling K rate last year. I guess the hope here is that his groundball ways would be augmented by the Pirates positioning and you get a guy who outperforms his FIP.

      • I hear you, but there is something to be said for control versus “swing and miss” stuff. How would you have rated Tom Glavine in AAA? His 22 year MLB stats were: W/L% + .600, ERA: 3.54, K/9: 5.3, BB / 9: 3.1, WHIP 1.31. Other than his W/L % these aren’t gaudy stats. Glavine didn’t overpower anyone but he sure could hit and expand the corner of the plate. “Swing and miss” stuff is certainly sexier than control (which is supposed to be Sampson’s forte) but it’s not necessarily more successful.

        • Totally different era in MLB. Glavine’s K rate was closer to the norm back then, than Sampson’s is now. Control is great and some guys can pull it off (Fister, Buehrle), but in today’s game K’s are king. You’re never going to project a guy who had OK success in AA to be the next Buehrle, its too high of an expectation. I guess it comes down to preference in valuation. Some, like me, prefer realistic ceiling/role, others would rather see best case scenario in a rankings list. Some sites prefer higher overall values, Baseball America will have 15 guys with 50 grades which is silly when you think about it. No system has 15 MLB regulars on tap. So, longwinded, can Sampson maybe be a #3, sure, but I would say that is an unlikely outcome, whereas a Brandon Cumpton outcome is much more likely.

          • Well, it was a different era: the steroids, Barry Bonds home run era. Yet Glavine’s HR / 9 was 0.73 . Again, there is something to be said for keeping the ball on the ground.

            Regarding “but in today’s game K’s are king.” That may be true some places but it isn’t the Pirates stated philosophy which is pitch to contact and keep the pitch count down.

            A comparison of Cumpton and Sampson’s full year AA stats:

            Cumpton: ERA: 3.84, WHIP: 1.28, K/9: 5.2, BB/9: 2.7
            Sampson: ERA: 2.55, WHIP: 1.05, K/9: 6.0, BB/9: 1.8

            So it seems that Sampson in AA at age 22 was a step beyond Cumpton in AA at age 23, but who knows, you may be right about the downside, but I hope not.

            None-the-less, I enjoy a strikeout pitcher as much as the next guy.

          • just wanted to qualify my post a bit today, a Cumpton outcome is not a bad thing. I didn;t mean to imply that. Cumpton’s fip in 100 MLB innings is 3.04 with a WAR of 1.6 in essentially half a year starting, he could still be a valuable MLB asset.

        • Absolutely, and this is my exact argument for why I wouldn’t have Sampson ranked so high.

        • you can have “swing and miss” stuff without throwing 97+ MPH. Glavine AND Maddux are both excellent examples. Also, clearly the Pirates value pitchers who pitch to contact and thus keep pitch counts down, hence all the attn to shifts and advanced fielding schemes. just my opinion but it often seems to me that it’s the guys like sampson who are less touted and heralded by the ESPN’s of the world that have solid big league careers versus some of the “can’t miss prospects” who, though they can throw the ball through the catcher, can’t make it. I think reality says, control is king. the guys who throw hard that are successful are successful mainly because they can throw hard WITH control

    • I definitely can see the argument. The strikeouts are an issue but he still has the excellent 3:1 K:BB ratio…and I think he has some upside left with his control. He has shown the ability to really command his stuff at times. I don’t think he will have Vance Worley type control but he pitches how the Pirates want their kids to pitch. He has come so far in only 350 IP above the JUCO level. Kingham, Taillon, and Sampson were all born less than 6 weeks apart from each other. That is gonna be an awesome in team competition amongst those three guys.

      • Very much agree with that.

        The next two seasons will be big for how we should actually be judging the Pittsburgh Pirates drafting and development of pitchers. For all the platitudes, fact remains that just two pitchers drafted and/or primarily developed during the Huntington era have been worth even 1 win above replacement, and one of them was selected 1.1.

        If Kingham, Tailon, Glasnow, Sampson, etc debut and excel then the system will be justified. But we’re heading into Year 8. Time to see some results.

        • This is a fair point, for all the arms we have drafted/developed, only Cole, Locke, and Cumpton have produced as SP thus far. I guess Watson should likely count too. The only qualifier would be that WAR seems to undervalue the Pirates pitching approach when combined with aggressive positioning. Regardless, the Bucs have done much better remodeling other team’s pitchers than internally developing.

  • When he is your #12 prospect the future is bright. I thought he would be higher but he has had only the one dominant year. I think he has the potential to pass Kingham on the depth chart this year. He has a great pitchers body…he looks like he works out with Daniel McCutchen. His lack of dominance may keep him from being a 1 or 2 but I hope he can be a nice #3.

  • Pitching, pitching and more pitching…..works for me.

  • Didn’t he have Tommy John in college? It would seem he threw a lot of innings last year. I am curious why the Pirated baby some pitching prospects but not others. Just curious.

    • he actually had it in high school, he was committed to Oregon, had TJ. He went to JUCO for 2 years then transferred to Washington

      • He actually committed to Oregon, then decided to go to JUCO in Washington after TJS. He sat the first year rehabbing, then pitched well in 2011, got drafted by the Marlins in 2011, but decided not to sign. He then went 11-0 in 2012 and the Pirates drafted him in the 5th. This is all according to BA 2014 prospect guide. They also say he recommitted to Oregon somewhere after he declined to sign with the Marlins but they are vague about those details.

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