Highlights From the Latest Pirates Top 30 Prospect Rankings

I was on 970 ESPN with David Todd yesterday for my weekly interview. We started off with a brief discussion about the Pirates and what they needed to do last night (hit better, which is not what they did). We then discussed the site changing over to a subscription site and how everything was going. This is the first week the site has been live, and we’ve had coverage of every team so far. We’re finalizing things to the point where we will have a writer in all four full-season minor league cities, plus a writer in Pittsburgh.

David is a subscriber, and you can join him for just $2.99 per month, or $2.50 per month under the Annual plan. Or, you can participate in our DraftKings promotion, and get a one year subscription for free if you make a $5 minimum deposit with a new DraftKings account. All of the options are available on our subscription page.

The rest of the interview focused on our recently released Top 30 Prospects update (for subscribers only). Here are the highlights of the discussion.

**I mentioned why I liked Stephen Tarpley so much. He’s a lefty with velocity who gained better command of his pitches when he dropped to a three-quarters arm slot with the Orioles last year. As I reported yesterday, Tarpley is getting built back up after having shoulder soreness, but is still a little ways away from returning.

**The other half of the Travis Snider trade, Steven Brault, has impressed me. He’s not as flashy as Tarpley, but I love the sinker. It arrives at the plate at knee level, then drops off the table with late cutting action at the last second. This has led to not only a good ground ball rate, but a lot of strikes — both swinging and looking — on just the sinker.

**JaCoby Jones went up in our latest rankings, going from 19 to 13. A big reason for that is because of his ability at shortstop. I like what I’ve seen from Jones so far this Spring and the early part of the season. He shows a lot of range at the position, along with the arm strength needed to make the throw. His glove work and positioning will need improvements, but I think that’s something which will come with more experience. His defense can be summarized by an error I saw in Sunday’s game. There was a hard grounder up the middle over the second base bag. Jones ranged far to field the ball right behind the bag. However, he wasn’t set up well to receive it, and booted it when it took a bad bounce. The result was that he was in position to make the play, but couldn’t actually make the play. I think eventually he’ll get better at making the plays.

**David asked about Alen Hanson vs Jones. I mis-understood the question in the interview, and thought he was asking who had the best chance of being a shortstop in the majors (Jones). The question was actually who has the best chance to reach the majors. I’d say Hanson. I like the defensive abilities of Jones better, and I think he has a better shot of improving his defense at short, while I’d rule Hanson out at this point. Offensively, I think Hanson comes with much less risk, due to the high strikeout totals from Jones at the lower levels. That doesn’t project well for his bat in the upper levels. This is why Hanson is a top ten prospect for us, and Jones is still outside of the top ten. Hanson doesn’t have nearly as much risk with the bat, should handle second base well, and has a lot of speed. That gives him the higher upside, and makes him more likely to reach the majors.

**Barrett Barnes saw a big jump, going from 37 to 17. We probably had Barnes ranked too low in the book, focusing more on the injury history, and less on the bat. This Spring was a reminder of how good the bat can be if he actually has development time going forward. That said, our new ranking might be on the flip side of the old ranking, focusing so much on the bat and the power potential, and ignoring the injuries. His current ranking is where he would rank right now with a normal injury risk.

**We had John Holdzkom ranked 21st overall. Not much has changed with his upside. He’s still a guy who we see as having the potential to be a future closer, and a guy who probably should be in the majors right now over Rob Scahill.

**Finally, we shifted topics to the aggressive promotions the Pirates have been giving hitters in the lower levels this year. The key guys are Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire, who both moved up to Bradenton. I think the promotions are largely due to the individual players, as the early-season results for Meadows and McGuire would indicate. That said, the Pirates have a much stronger system now, which probably plays a part in the aggressive promotions. If Meadows is held back, he’s probably blocking one of the outfielders in West Virginia like Elvis Escobar, Michael Suchy, or Tito Polo (who wouldn’t be playing center field with Meadows on the team). McGuire would be blocking 2014 4th round pick Taylor Gushue. You didn’t have those situations a few years ago.

**You can listen to the podcast below.

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