I was asked the other day for some of the prospects who could come up and help the Pittsburgh Pirates in the majors this year. The Pirates are in an interesting situation, since they don’t really have any holes at the Major League level. Sure, some players are under-performing, like Gregory Polanco in right field, or some of the bullpen arms. But they’ve got options in the majors to replace those guys, and it’s not like the Pirates are going to be moving on from a guy like Polanco quickly.
The Pirates also don’t have many top prospects waiting in the wings like previous years when they’ve graduated guys like Gerrit Cole, Starling Marte, and Polanco. Of their top ten guys, Jameson Taillon is returning from Tommy John, Nick Kingham is currently waiting for his second opinion on his elbow, and Alen Hanson has a lot of people in front of him, blocking him from regular playing time.
The combination means that we might not see the big prospect impact this summer that we have seen the last few years. However, there are still options at every position.
The rotation in Pittsburgh certainly doesn’t look like it needs much help. That said, injuries always come up, especially with pitchers. The Pirates will eventually need a starter or two. Vance Worley seems like the top depth option if they need a starter sooner than later. If Worley isn’t available, Casey Sadler would be the top choice early in the season.
The best prospect who could make an impact right now is Adrian Sampson. He could be up by mid-season if the Pirates need him, and has the long-term upside of a number three starter. Jameson Taillon would fit on this list, but he isn’t projected to be up until later in the season. Taillon has looked much better during his rehab work than how he looked in his earlier minor league career. He’s showing no effort in throwing the ball down in the zone, and looks like he might not need a ton of time in Triple-A before he’s ready for the majors.
If John Holdzkom returns and gets his control back in order, he would easily be the top prospect who could help out the Major League team in the bullpen. Casey Sadler could also help if he is no longer needed as rotation depth. There are other depth options in Triple-A, with Blake Wood looking like a top option for bullpen depth, but no other guys who profile as prospects.
When Francisco Cervelli had a scare last week, it was Tony Sanchez who was called up on the taxi squad as a potential replacement. That answers the question about who is the short-term option, although Sanchez doesn’t really fit for this article, because he doesn’t have prospect status. The big prospect at the Triple-A level at catcher is Elias Diaz, although he’s going to need more time working on his offense with Indianapolis before coming up to Pittsburgh. He could be an option in the second half, and the Pirates will stick to Sanchez as the top backup until then.
There aren’t really any options at first base in Indianapolis. Hunter Morris is having a horrible year, and Brent Morel isn’t really a prospect, and isn’t a guy you’d want starting at first. Andrew Lambo would likely be the top depth option if Pedro Alvarez goes down with an injury, or the Pirates could move Sean Rodriguez over to first, although he wouldn’t provide the bat needed for the position. In short, it’s a good thing Alvarez is playing so well this year.
Alen Hanson is the top depth prospect at second base, and might be the top position player prospect who has a chance to help the Pirates in the majors this year. However, a lot will need to happen for him to get significant time. First, Neil Walker would need to go down with an injury. That would put either Jung-ho Kang at second, or Kang at third and Josh Harrison at second. Either way, the Pirates would shuffle things around to have Jordy Mercer in the lineup, replacing Walker. Next, Sean Rodriguez would be a top depth option. If those plans don’t work out, then Hanson would be the guy. He basically needs injuries to Walker, Kang or Harrison, and Rodriguez to get significant playing time.
Jung-ho Kang is getting more time at the shortstop position, at the expense of Jordy Mercer. If Kang goes down, or needs to move to another position, the Pirates would have to go to their Triple-A depth. Pedro Florimon isn’t prospect eligible, but would be one of the top options. Gustavo Nunez is another strong defender who could contend for the position, and is currently getting the playing time priority over Florimon in Indianapolis.
With Deibinson Romero recently leaving for Korea, the Pirates lost their best depth option at third base out of Triple-A. However, it could take a lot for them to need a depth option at third base from Indianapolis. If Josh Harrison goes down with an injury, Jung-ho Kang looks like the top backup, with Jordy Mercer taking over at shortstop again. If that doesn’t work out, the Pirates would most likely turn to Sean Rodriguez. Then it would be time for the Triple-A options, although there are no real prospects, since Pedro Florimon and Brent Morel project as the best depth options with Romero gone.
The Pirates don’t have many top outfield prospects as depth, although they also don’t have a big need for outfield help. Jose Tabata came up when they needed a guy, and Gorkys Hernandez is looking like a good option at some point this season, although neither is a prospect. Mel Rojas looks like the top prospect who could get some time in the majors, along with Jaff Decker, who technically still has prospect eligibility. Decker would be most likely, since he currently is on the 40-man roster, giving him an advantage over Rojas.
**Tomorrow I’ll be over at extended Spring Training in the morning, followed by the Marauders game at night. We’ll have articles on Gregory Polanco, Pablo Reyes, plus any updates that come throughout the day from the live coverage, or any other news.