Yesterday I started previewing some of the position battles that you can expect at each level during Spring Training. The first preview was the 2015 Indianapolis Indians. As usual, most of the Triple-A position battles are a result of a fall-out from the battles in MLB camp. Since there aren’t really any battles in MLB camp this year, and since there aren’t many surprises in those battles, it was easier to project who might be fighting for Triple-A spots.
As a result, that makes it easier to project who will be battling for Double-A spots. In previous years, you never really knew who would be in Altoona until the last week of camp, since a late cut in MLB Spring Training would push someone down from Indianapolis to Altoona at the last minute. This year there don’t seem to be many potential surprises. That’s not saying there are none. For example, I could totally see Gift Ngoepe returning to Altoona, and Gustavo Nunez making the Indianapolis roster, even though I had Ngoepe projected in yesterday’s article. And that would have a chain reaction that might cost one of the bench players below a roster spot.
Just like with yesterday’s preview, I sat down with a copy of the 2015 Prospect Guide, got a feel for who might have a shot to make it to this level, and was able to discover where there might be log jams on the roster. Just like yesterday, pitching is the excess, although a new twist here is that the team is short on outfield prospects. Below are the projections, along with some analysis for each section.
C – Sebastian Valle
1B – Josh Bell
2B – Max Moroff
SS – Adam Frazier
3B – Edward Salcedo
LF – Jose Osuna
CF – Junior Sosa
RF – Willy Garcia
DH – Eric Wood
Bench – Walker Gourley, Jacob Stallings, Dan Gamache, Drew Maggi
Battling For a Spot – Kawika Emsley-Pai, Justin Howard, Jon Schwind, Andy Vasquez, Kelson Brown
Analysis – The biggest position battle in the lineup will come at third base. The Pirates recently added Edward Salcedo in a trade with the Braves, and I’d think he would get a lot of playing time at third. However, the Pirates also have Eric Wood for third base, and Dan Gamache, who can play second and third. Salcedo has also played right field, but that position is locked down by Willy Garcia.
Altoona doesn’t really have any good outfield options, especially with Josh Bell moving to first base. That’s why I’ve got Jose Osuna moving to left field. This might be a disaster, but it would get his bat in the lineup each day. Junior Sosa isn’t really a prospect, but has a lot of range, and seems like the best bet, and possibly the only option, for center field. The Pirates could have Garcia playing center field, shifting Salcedo to right and putting Wood at third base. However, Garcia has lost some range since he first entered the system, and is better suited for right field, especially with his plus arm.
Drew Maggi and Walker Gourley are both super utility players. Andy Vasquez, Kelson Brown, and Jon Schwind could compete for their spots. Schwind had a good season last year in Bradenton. He has also been close to Josh Bell for the last two years in West Virginia and Bradenton. I could see the Pirates giving him a spot just to keep that relationship available to Bell.
Sebastian Valle looks like a Plan E for the MLB catcher position. He’d probably be a candidate for Triple-A with other teams, but I’d expect him to go to Altoona so that he can get regular playing time. He won’t be getting that in Indianapolis with Elias Diaz on the roster. Jacob Stallings has developed a good relationship with the current pitching staff, and is a good defensive catcher, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets more playing time than a backup normally gets.
SP – Tyler Glasnow
SP – Chad Kuhl
SP – Jason Creasy
SP – John Kuchno
SP – Angel Sanchez
Analysis – The top four guys look like locks for the Altoona rotation, especially with their performances in the Bradenton rotation last year. Angel Sanchez seems like the most likely candidate for the final spot. The Pirates claimed him off waivers last year, and were able to retain him over the off-season after designating him for assignment. There are some other candidates who could start, and who have started in previous years, including Zack Dodson, Tom Harlan, Orlando Castro, and A.J. Morris. Sanchez has the highest upside of that group.
RP – Matt Nevarez
RP – Zack Dodson
RP – Yhonathan Barrios
RP – Ryan Beckman
RP – Tom Harlan
RP – Orlando Castro
RP – A.J. Morris
Battling For a Spot – Jeff Inman, Pat Ludwig, Joan Montero, Chris Peacock, Tyler Sample, Nate Baker, Matt Benedict
Analysis – There will be some tough decisions when it comes to the Altoona bullpen. A few of the guys I have listed as battling for a spot could very easily make the team. For example, the Pirates signed Chris Peacock this off-season after he was hitting 97 MPH in the independent leagues. They didn’t sign him just to cut him after Spring Training. Jeff Inman has hit 100 MPH in the past, and posted good numbers last year. His career has been derailed by injuries, but the stuff is better than most of the guys listed in the current bullpen. The guys I have listed in the bullpen are players that the Pirates have given preference to in previous years with playing time.
Ultimately, all of these guys profile as middle relievers in the majors, at best. A few of them have the stuff to be better than that, depending on how their development goes. So the Pirates wouldn’t be losing a ton of talent when they cut someone from this group. That doesn’t mean the decision will be any less difficult.
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.
Hoping Glasnow goes for their home opener. Got my tickets today.
Tim, what about Gorkys Hernandez? Does he have an opt out clause in his contract if he doesn’t at least make the AAA team?
My guess at Altoona’s position players looks like this:
Catcher – Valle / Stallings
1st Base – Bell
2nd Base – Frazier / Kelson Brown
Shortstop – Ngoepe / Maggi
3rd Base – Salcedo / Wood (DH)
Left Field – Osuna
Centerfield – Hernandez / Vasquez
Right Field – Garcia
Extended ST – Gamanche and Sosa
Max Moroff seems like a guy who has been pushed. Max struggled in both low A and high A which is why I do not see him promoted to Altoona. They should hit the reset button and send him back to low A. He’s still young and last year’s college infielders were horrific. Even if Tucker starts at SS in Low A WV, then SS Tucker, 2B Moroff, SS Tam Sing, SS/2B/3B Filliben, INF/OF Vallejo should be able to handle WV utility needs.
That is why I am projecting: Ngoepe, Gamache, Frazier, Maggi as Altoona’s middle infield. Ngoepe has to work on his K/BB ratio before getting a promotion.
I completely agree. There is also Vasquez and Brown as utility guys for Altoona.
This could be an interesting team to watch in 2015…..the lineup could be dynamic, if Salcedo, Osuna, and Wood figure it out and support Bell and Garcia. It also be interesting to see if Garcia can cut down on his Ks and become a more patient hitter. If he shows that, he should be moved to Indy and replace a guy like Decker.
Baseball Prospectus called Altoona the team to watch in the Pirates sytem.
As far as impact prospects, they would be. If you want a well-rounded team from a prospect standpoint, Bradenton could be that team to watch this year.
I can’t imagine Hanson going to Indy..baserunning and fielding were a mess. He should repeat AA. Suspended several times and killed Carlos Garcia as a coach in the organization.
They moved Hanson to 2B in large part to move him up a level and get him ready for the majors in 2015.
Inman, I liked this guy the first time I saw him and still think he would be in the majors if it were not for the injuries.
-I can see the argument to keep Valle in AA for regular playing time if he were a typical prospect, but I’m not sure what you really get by having a 24 yo repeat the level for the *fourth* time. That’s an org guy in most places, and it seems like Valle at least has the skills to be a big league backup. I’m sure Indy doesn’t get by all year with only two catchers on the roaster and Valle will get his at-bats, so maybe isn’t much of a deal anyways.
-After already logging a full season of AA at-bats, I’d like to see Willy Garcia pushed to AAA at the halfway mark if his plate discipline doesn’t improve. I think it’s exceedingly rare to expect drastic changes after 600+ AB at a level, and may be best to let him try to make his natural profile work. If he *is* showing improvement, then I could see leaving him in AA for a bit longer to reinforce those habits before his next challenge.
-Adam Frazier has been a disappointment for me as a guy who was billed as one of the most polished defensive college shortstops who also showed a knack for contact and getting on base. Very little ceiling, but also a high floor. Kind of guy you like to have in the upper levels as depth. Hasn’t seemed to show much defensive chops and the bat has been predictably light.
-Tim/John: any thoughts on Stephen Tarpley getting AA time this year?
Andrew Lambo spent parts of 6 seasons in AA. Let that sink in. And now hes the likely 4th outfielder on a contending team
As for Frazier, his numbers were disappointing last year, but he looked better in person.
I don’t see Tarpley getting to Altoona this year. I could see him splitting between WV and Bradenton.
On Valle: What you’d get is keeping him fresh. If there is an injury in Triple-A, he’d be the guy who would go up. But at the start of the year, it makes more sense to have him as the starter in Altoona, rather than the backup who barely plays behind Elias Diaz in Indianapolis.
Makes sense, Tim. Thanks for the responses.
Curious why you have Willy Garcia repeating AA? They have moved him up each year despite the K/BB issues.
Also, Salcedo spent 2014 in AAA, is he really going to go backwards with us? Same thing with Valle who has been in AA/AAA since 2012. I suppose its a function of AAA having too many players right now, but that can be rectified as ST moves on.
Minor League Baseball is not an assembly line where players move up a level every year until they reach the big leagues. There are things they have to improve and show they can accomplish at a given level. Right now Garcia has very poor plate discipline and needs more time in AA to improve that, otherwise he will get eaten alive in AAA.
Salcedo struggled greatly in AAA and was just average in AA. Right now the Pirates have Romero and Morel to man 3B in AAA. The Pirates can get a look at who they got in Salcedo at the AA level where he can start every day.
Valle may be ready for AAA, but with Diaz, Sanchez and Castillo also set for AAA, when exactly is Valle going to play? Who is going to start for Altoona at catcher? What do you mean by things being “rectified as ST moves on”? Do you mean Valle opening the season as Altoona’s starting catcher?
Adding to what John said, and focusing specifically on Garcia:
The Pirates haven’t been afraid to push guys to Double-A if they struggled in High-A. But if the player is still struggling in Double-A, they will hold them back. Plenty of guys have been held back after a full season in Altoona. Off the top of my head I can recall Jordy Mercer, Andrew Lambo, Tony Sanchez, Mel Rojas, and several other players who were held back in Altoona after a full season.
Part of this is based on availability of roster spots. However, another part is based on what the Pirates have done in similar situations in the past. In Garcia’s case, I don’t see him moving up at the start of the season.
These are guess based on the current players in camp. Tim pointed out yesterday that there are at least 150 players competing for 100 roster spots with the four full-season teams. The Pirates have shown that they will have guys in the past repeat AA when most people think they could have moved up. If you saw the Indy preview yesterday, there are about 40 legit AAA players for 25 spots. That means some of them will have to be cut, some might go to Extended Spring Training to work on things, some will be injured and some will have to go back to AA.
That was kind of my guess, that this is all speculation and not based on any inside information.
As Tim said yesterday, the inside information comes during Spring Training, which officially begins tomorrow, but most minor league players aren’t required to report until March. These articles are all educated guesses based on everything we know right now. Teams wouldn’t lay out their AAA or AA rosters before anyone gets to camp, that would be speculation on their part. They have a great idea now, but we see guys change teams all the time during Spring Training, when they break them up into groups and players under or outperform their initial assignment.
The players I will be watching when the Curve swing thru Harrisburg:
C – Sebastian Valle
1B – Josh Bell
3B – Edward Salcedo
RF – Willy Garcia
SP – Tyler Glasnow
When I compare this list with some of the rosters in Altoona that the Littlefied run organization had put together, it is all the proof one needs of his incompetency.