First Pitch: Looking at the Prospect Depth for the Pirates This Summer

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.

Starting Rotation

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.

First Base

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.

Second Base

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.

Third Base

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.

**Prospect Watch: Heredia Labors Through Another Outing, Ramirez Extends Hit Streak

**Stetson Allie Has Home Run Power, Needs to Cut the Strikeouts

**New Draft Rankings and Two Prep Players Intend to Honor College Commitment

**Morning Report: All Those Starters at West Virginia


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This comment is only tangential to the article topic. But I think the Bucs would be more productive if they reorganize their lineup to give greater attention to current OBP, which would result in:
SS Kang
C Cervelli
CF Cutch
LF Marte
1B Alvarez
2B Walker
RF Polanco
3B Harrison
This would be readjusted if Polanco and/or Harrison’s OBP start/continue to rise as you want their speed higher in the lineup. But right now base runners ahead of power should predominate.

Scott K

I can foresee Taillon being a late season call up to Pirates if there’s a need due to injury/performance.


I shudder at the thought of Brent Morel on any lineup card for the Bucs. The guy was horrible last year.

Bill W

Although the article was about potential prospects helping in case of an injury you didn’t mention Cory Hart. Is he such a non-contributor not to be plugged into RF or 1B?

Scott K

That’s a crying shame. Hart is clearly an example of a guy hanging on too long. Rodriquez would be a much better option if Alvarez goes down.


Not sure if clubs are even allowed to work out a player before signing, but Hart’s legs are shot. Wasted signing, from the start.

For a guy with such huge health concerns, I’d hope they at least ran him through a physical.

Derek F

.216 1 7 0 .555
I would say he’s been about worthless except for his first week or two.


Tim: The trades/FA Signs made by the Pirates over the off-season (Sean Rodriguez, Jung Ho Kang, and Rob Scahill have paid big dividends so far in 2015. The only place I can see a need for anybody could be as the 4th OF, and I hope that the Pirates give Jaff Decker the opportunity. IMO, he earned it in ST, but unfortunately was injured right as the Bucs broke camp. Next would be Gorkys, and then Tabata.

If something happens with Pedro Alvarez, Rodriguez has proven to have the glove and bat to play that position full time. My back-up to him would be Hart, and then Neil Walker. Since Neil was a Catcher, and then a 3B before becoming an excellent 2B, I think he could handle the transition to 1B as easily as anyone in baseball. Next on my list would be Josh Bell. I hope Bell can be held at AAA until the September call-ups, but he has a bat that any team would covet.

John Dreker

I don’t think we will see Bell in September. His timeline seems to be Majors next June and there is no rush to get him to AAA since he is still in the early process of learning first base.

Michael Sanders

Should the Pirates consider the Josh Harrison method of coming to the Pirates and start playing him everywhere? That would get him some playing time.


Thanks tim

David N

If I understand the analysis correctly, everyone on the major league roster is playing well, or well enough, to keep their jobs for the foreseeable future. And, there is enough flexibility on the major league roster to make moving people around there the first option in case of injury. No one in Indianapolis is playing well enough to force their way onto the major league roster in the foreseeable future mostly due to injuries to our two top starting pitching prospects. So, barring the unforeseeable trade or injury, the prospects look to remain where they are until rosters expand.

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