Early Look at the Pirates 2016 Minor League Rosters – Infield Edition

Last week I finished my 2015 season recaps for all of the infield positions in the Pirates’ system. Those recaps included a look to the future at what the Pirates had in the minors, focusing on the top options for the future at each position. With the infield recaps now complete, I wanted to take an early look at the depth throughout the minor league system for 2016, looking at who could be playing where, and which teams could see roster crunches and position battles. In previous years, these roster crunches have led to aggressive promotions, position changes, or trades, which makes this a very relevant topic heading into the off-season.

Here is a breakdown of each position, with the catcher spot being included in the infield mix.

Catcher

2015 Catcher Recap: Pirates Found a Steal in Francisco Cervelli

Indianapolis – I’d expect Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart to start the 2016 season in Pittsburgh, which will put Elias Diaz in Triple-A as the top depth option once again. In 2015, the Pirates rotated Diaz with Tony Sanchez. However, I’d be surprised if Sanchez is still around, as he’s out of options next year, and seems likely to be traded or claimed off waivers before the start of the season. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jacob Stallings moves up to Indianapolis, serving as the backup to Diaz, and getting a bit more time than a backup usually receives. Indianapolis will probably also have a third catcher who will be a minor league free agent, similar to Wilkin Castillo this past season.

Altoona – This one is tricky to call at this point. Reese McGuire didn’t do much offensively to earn a promotion to Altoona, but his defense looks ready. The big question is whether the Pirates will aggressively promote the offense due to the defense, or give him some more time to develop the bat. They held Diaz back in full season A-ball for a second season, although that was low-A. I do think that Jin-De Jhang will move up to Altoona, and if McGuire doesn’t move up with him, then he’ll split the catching duties with a minor league free agent, similar to how Stallings started the 2015 season with Sebastian Valle.

Bradenton – If McGuire is back at the level, then he’ll get most of the catching duties. Taylor Gushue could move up, although he didn’t have a great season in West Virginia. That said, there are several options to move up to West Virginia, which means they could give Gushue a push. He would split time with McGuire in that role, although he’s one of the better catching prospects in the lower levels, and the Pirates could afford to give him more playing time, which further complicates the McGuire decision.

West Virginia – There are three top candidates to catch in West Virginia from the lower levels. Christian Kelley and John Bormann were both drafted out of college in 2015, and both played significant roles with their short-season teams. The Pirates seem higher on Kelley, since he started in Morgantown. Bormann is strong defensively, and could be a backup at either A-ball level. The Pirates also moved Erik Lunde behind the plate in 2015, after taking him as a second baseman in the 2014 draft. He got the most starts in Bristol, and put up great offensive numbers. Lunde should factor in the mix at the two A-ball levels.

Positional Analysis – There’s some depth here, with two of the best defensive catchers in the minors in the same system. The big question mark is whether Reese McGuire will move up. There’s a void in Altoona that he could fill, and his promotion would clear up playing time in the lower levels. It would allow Gushue to get more time, and it would allow one of Kelley or Bormann to move up to Bradenton to split time with Gushue, leaving more time in West Virginia for Lunde. McGuire didn’t have a great 2015 season, but his time in the AFL against upper level guys, and his performance in Spring Training leading up to the season could influence whether he goes to Altoona in 2016.

First Base

2015 First Base Recap: Defense Was a Problem For Pedro Alvarez and Josh Bell

Indianapolis – There’s no surprise here. Josh Bell will be holding down the first base position in Indianapolis, and could be in the majors by mid-season if his defense shows improvements.

Altoona – I’d expect Jose Osuna to get most of the time at first base at the start of the year. However, if the Pirates opt to move up Edwin Espinal from Bradenton, then they could find a repeat of the 2015 Bradenton season, where Osuna moves to a corner outfield spot, with Espinal being limited to first base, and very rare playing time at third.

Bradenton – The West Virginia squad should move up, and that means Connor Joe getting time at first base, splitting with Chase Simpson, with the odd man out serving as the DH that day. The job could be Simpson’s alone if the Pirates opt to move Joe to a different position. However, third base would be held by Jordan Luplow, and the catching plans seem to have been scrapped after his back injury in 2014.

West Virginia – The Pirates drafted Albert Baur in the late rounds out of college, and he got most of the playing time in Morgantown. However, I’d be surprised if Carlos Munoz doesn’t get the starting role in West Virginia next year, with Baur serving in a backup/DH role.

Positional Analysis – The Pirates have their first baseman of the future in Bell, and they’ve got some other interesting prospects. There’s not a ton of depth here, and not many tough decisions. You’ve mostly got some minor position battles (Espinal vs Osuna, Joe vs Simpson, Munoz vs Baur), but most of those can be solved with athletic players getting time at other spots (Osuna in the outfield, Joe or Simpson at third base or DH). Munoz vs Baur seems like the only battle where the loser would be limited mostly to DH duties.

Second Base

2015 Second Base Recap: Neil Walker’s Days in Pittsburgh Seem Numbered

Indianapolis – The second base position could be crowded in Indianapolis. Alen Hanson projects to return to the position, as I doubt the Pirates would be calling on him on Opening Day, since they didn’t call him up in September. Max Moroff and Adam Frazier both look deserving of a promotion to Indianapolis, which could further crowd the infield. Frazier can play all over the field, so that shouldn’t impact the situation as much. Moroff is a former shortstop, and played some third base in 2015. Hanson fits the same description. I don’t think either are options at short, but the Pirates could move one of them to third in order to divide up playing time. Another factor here is Dan Gamache, who would probably be used in a utility role, rather than being a guy who gets regular playing time at one spot.

Altoona – Erich Weiss got most of the playing time at second in Bradenton, and moved up to Altoona at the end of the season. He projects to get most of the playing time in Altoona next year, with no real challenger for time, unless someone gets held back from moving up to Indianapolis.

Bradenton – This is another tricky position battle. Pablo Reyes didn’t have great numbers in 2015, but he showed some good tools, with the range of a shortstop (no surprise, as he’s a former shortstop) and some power potential. However, Kevin Kramer is more polished and a better prospect, and could get a promotion to Bradenton, where he would take the bulk of the playing time at second base.

West Virginia – There’s no single prospect in the lower levels who stands out for second base in West Virginia. Trae Arbet had a great season offensively in Bristol, but had poor defense at the position. Raul Siri is an interesting prospect from the GCL, but I’m not sure he’s the type of prospect you give an aggressive push to. The second base role could end up going to Mitchell Tolman. He played mostly third base in Morgantown, but also spent time at second. Third base in Bradenton should be held by Jordan Luplow, and second base looks crowded. That could keep Tolman in West Virginia at the start of the year, where Ke’Bryan Hayes could be playing third base. If Tolman is in West Virginia, he would seem the best bet for time at second, with Arbet potentially entering the mix.

Positional Analysis – There are a few position battles, with the toughest one being in Indianapolis. Hanson and Moroff could give the Pirates a second baseman of the future (or second basemen of the future if they’re platooned), but neither would be ready on Opening Day. That means the Pirates will have to find time for each of them in Triple-A until one gets the call to the majors. There are some position battles in A-ball, although the guys getting squeezed out from playing time aren’t close to the caliber of prospect as Hanson or Moroff. Reyes is the most interesting, and a toolsy player. You’d want to give him playing time to see what develops, but you also don’t want to take away time from a better prospect in Kramer.

Shortstop

2015 Shortstop Recap: Kang, Mercer, and the Battle Between Offense and Defense

Indianapolis – If Pedro Florimon (out of options) or Gift Ngoepe (minor league free agent) return to the organization in the minors, then they’d be the top options for the shortstop role in Triple-A. Out of the second base mix, Adam Frazier seems most likely to get time at shortstop, although he doesn’t have the defense to be a future starter at the position.

Altoona – Bradenton’s shortstop was JaCoby Jones, and he was traded at the deadline, which leaves a hole at the position for the start of the year. They could go with a minor league free agent, or they could promote Chris Diaz, who doesn’t have a great bat, but showed impressive defensive skills in Bradenton at the end of the season after Jones was moved up and traded.

Bradenton – I’d expect 2015 first round pick Kevin Newman to get the promotion to Bradenton, where he will start at shortstop. Kevin Kramer could factor in the mix here, especially in the second half if Newman moves up to Altoona. That would open second base for Reyes.

West Virginia – I wouldn’t be surprised if Adrian Valerio gets an aggressive promotion to West Virginia, and the bulk of the shortstop duties at the start of the year. If it doesn’t work out, he could move down to Morgantown at the end of June. But Valerio has exceptional defensive skills, plus speed, and the ability to make solid contact and drive the ball to the gaps. That’s the type of player who usually receives an aggressive push from the GCL to full-season A-ball. Cole Tucker could return to this level when he returns from shoulder surgery in the second half.

Positional Analysis – As I wrote last week, the Pirates are starting to build up some shortstop depth in the lower levels, which allowed them to trade Jones. Their depth in the upper levels is pretty much limited to defense-only options, or in Frazier’s case, an offense-only option that looks like a super utility player. There aren’t many position battles here, although that could change when Tucker returns.

Third Base

2015 Third Base Recap: A Former Position of Weakness Turning Into a Strength

Indianapolis – There isn’t a strong option for third base in Indianapolis, which is why I think Moroff and Hanson could fill this position, depending on who isn’t playing second base that day. Dan Gamache could also get some time here, as could Adam Frazier. Of the two utility guys, I’d expect Gamache to get a priority here.

Altoona – He didn’t have the best offensive numbers, but Wyatt Mathisen could be a candidate to move up to Altoona, as holding him back would block a lot of guys in the lower levels. It’s a situation that’s similar to McGuire at catcher, except Mathisen had better offensive results than McGuire. Eric Wood could also factor in the mix here, as it didn’t look like he did enough to get a promotion to Indianapolis, and the Pirates still seem to love his power potential.

Bradenton – I’d expect Jordan Luplow to get the bulk of the playing time here, with Connor Joe and Chase Simpson getting some occasional time. That trio is why I think Mathisen will move up to Altoona, although if Luplow has a strong performance in the first half, and Mathisen struggles in Altoona, the Pirates could switch them at mid-season.

West Virginia – This is another area where I think the Pirates could go with an aggressive promotion, sending Ke’Bryan Hayes to the level in the same way that they sent Cole Tucker to full-season ball in his first year. Mitchell Tolman might get some time at this position as well. This would block Julio De La Cruz and keep him in Morgantown, although that’s not a big deal, as he doesn’t project to stick at third base defensively in the long-term.

Positional Analysis – Yesterday I wrote about how third base is turning into a position of strength for the Pirates. They’ve got Jung-ho Kang and Josh Harrison under team control for several more seasons, and a lot of interesting prospects in the minors. I think Hayes has the best shot of being the third baseman of the future, but that’s not ruling out anyone else, with Luplow looking like the next best option if he can improve his defense at the position. The biggest crunch here is in Bradenton, where Joe and Simpson would have a lot more value if they were able to get regular work at third base.

Overall Infield

Indianapolis – If you look at the overall infield, you only have one position that is really locked down, and that’s Bell at first base. I’d expect Moroff and Hanson to split between second and third, Frazier to get time at shortstop, with some time at second, third, and the outfield, and Gamache to get time at first, second, and third. The DH spot could also be used to give more playing time here.

Altoona – The infield here will mostly be a repeat of Bradenton’s infield in 2015. You’ll have Espinal and Osuna battling for first, with Osuna possibly going to the outfield. Weiss and Mathisen will get regular time at second and third, respectively. The main change would be Chris Diaz at shortstop, and that will last until mid-season, when Kevin Newman could be ready for a promotion.

Bradenton – Just like Altoona, the Bradenton infield could be a repeat of a lower level. Luplow will take the third base duties, which will keep Joe and Simpson at first base. Newman and Kramer will both probably get aggressive pushes to the advanced A-ball level, and will get the bulk of the time in the middle infield. That does leave a lack of playing time for Pablo Reyes, and it prevents Mitchell Tolman from moving up, which might be just as deserved as promotions for Newman and Kramer.

West Virginia – This is going to be a young and high upside team, which is an annual trend for West Virginia. First base could see Carlos Munoz get his first test at trying to hold up physically in full-season ball. Mitchell Tolman would probably get most of the time at second base, due to a lack of other positions to play. Then I’d expect two aggressive promotions on the left side of the infield, with Hayes and Valerio moving up from the GCL and taking third and shortstop, respectively. Trae Arbet could also move around the infield as a utility guy to get some at-bats. Cole Tucker would factor into the mix in the second half after returning from his injury, assuming he’s not going to be moving up to Bradenton.

Analysis

  • Stallings is not a Triple A catcher. If they promote him that will be a joke. AAA is supposed to be elite. Ready to promote to the majors. Even though Morrof and Frazier played good at Altoona they are not ready for that jump. I think the Pirates do move them it will be for trade bait. Chris Diaz was horrible at Bradenton and will not get promoted.

    • Stallings will be an adequate back up C @ Indi.
      Frazier needs to be @ Indi playing
      4/5 x week as 2B, LF, 3B, SS, DH, PH, PR.
      I think the Bucs believe that will be his best chance to get to MLB.
      If he can sustain what he did offensively last year, as he moves up, he could be a starting 2B in MLB.
      Moroff has a ceiling of starting 2B in MLB @ deserves to be @ Indi– if there is room. They may need him to be the starting SS @ Toona. He is not as versatile as Frazier.
      C. Diaz is an organizational soldier.

      • I’ve read a few times that Frazier should get more time at 2B. I don’t know if anyone else has noticed, but he did not play 2B once the entire year, even when Moroff played SS, 3B, or had the day off.
        Though I agree he could work out at 2B, he has yet to play there this past season, and I don’t think he ever played 2B in Bradenton either.

  • I was thinking Joe may go back to the OF next year. I don’t see a lot of candidates for the Bradenton OF next year so it kind of makes sense to put him in a corner outfield spot.

  • Where’s the thread around here for the new Star Wars trailer? Seems much more pressing at this point…

  • Tim, I’ve been wondering how the roster & playing time in Indianapolis might shake out. They could start a lineup of just about all prospects – Broxton, Garcia, Bell, Hanson, Moroff, Frazier, Diaz (Gamache) – most of whom wouldn’t be early season depth for the majors. Any thoughts on what kind of major-league depth they need to add, and how they balance playing time between the depth guys & the young guys?

    • That will probably be determined during the off-season. They’ve got a lot of moving parts with their roster, and a lot of moves that will determine who actually ends up in Triple-A.

  • Of course all of this goes out the window if the Bucs make a big move to add to the roster. I am hopeful that they will! I remain hopeful that they could be in the mix for the Korean 1st Baseman – if they land him then Bell goes back to the OF. I get nervous with all of the folks anointing Bell as the “first baseman of the future” – think some of them were also convinced that the Pirates were set for years at 1st when the trade was made for Ike Davis.

    Regardless – I suspect that the three high $$$ arbitration guys will be aggressively shopped – one of them – Melancon – could bring back a MLB bat that would upgrade one of the infield positions.

  • Connor Joe = Waste of draft pick. It raised eyebrows on draft day, and nothing since then has changed my opinion.

    • Attended a Power game last year. Saw Joe’s parents. Interesting fact, they and my Filipina wife were the only Asians in the entire ball park. No kidding! 🙂

    • Joe has a truly horrible twitter handle: @callmeweaponx) @callmeweaponwhy?…maybe. Still, he hasn’t done anything a great 2016 at Bradenton and AZFL can’t erase. He needs to have a 2016 like Barrett Barnes had in 2015.

      • Armchair GM’s like Foo who get a hard on from prospect rankings will never give Joe his due, but elite plate discipline from a kid who missed a year and a half of baseball activity is a hell of a start to a professional career. Really comes down to whether or not he regains strength after the back injury.

        • It really is insanely unfair when people assume the kid was gonna show up after that back injury and be 100% ready to go without on the field signs of needing time. Being healthy and being 100% productive often arent the same.

          I was rather surprised he looked as good as he did all things considered. The “who is that” factor from draft day seems to hurt his reputation among some fans.

          • I’ve been waiting for actual scouting reports from his time in West Virginia. A BB/K ratio around 1.5 in A ball is typically a sign that the kid is having no problems adjusting, and is probably ready for a challenge. The complete lack of power and poor BABIP showed obvious contact issues, however.

            If the strength comes back, he’s a guy that could jump through levels really quickly.

  • Cole Tucker could return to this level when he returns from shoulder surgery in the second half.

    I am fully expecting him to return as a 2nd baseman, unfortunately. Jmo.

    • DrStrangeglove
      October 20, 2015 2:31 am

      Is Tucker expected to return in the second half? I thought he would miss the entire year.

  • Does Kevin Krause play catcher when he comes back. He had some good pop in his bat.

    • It’s hard to say. He played outfield and catcher, but there was already a crunch behind the plate before his injury, and I’m not sure how Tommy John impacts the future of a catcher behind the plate with his throwing.

      • Krause’s best chance to reach MLB seems to be as a Utility guy.
        Ceiling — RH platoon option @ 1B, Bench bat, emergency RF &
        #3 Catcher. A valuable guy to have on a MLB Roster if it works out for him.

  • Thats an interesting situation with Mcguire. I can see the plus and minus, both ways. Probably best to start him out at Bradenton and come up to Altoona later on.

    I find the Pirates whole situation at catcher precarious. I liked what Cervelli did with the bat, but he’s defense left a lot to be desired. Still not sure he’s proven anything with his health. And he’s on the last year of control. What kind of deal would he want? Could Diaz and Stewart hold it down until Mcguire is ready? Some tough decisions there that I dont think are simple. Almost makes me wish Cervelli had two years of control instead of one.

    • Preliminary arb figures for Cervelli are at $2.5MM. I expect given his injury history and age that maybe he might be interested in a 2 yr contract at about $6-$7 MM with an option for a 3rd yr. High, low or just right?

      • Seems low to me, assuming the offer is made before opening day and he doesn’t break his ankle stepping out of the shower in the meantime. A 2+ win catcher with top-notch framing and a good hit tool is a rare bird, even with the injury history. Montero got 5/$60M. Ruiz got 3/$26M, but he was 35 when he signed that deal, and Cervelli will hit free agency as a 31 year-old. The injury history might limit the years committed, but the average annual value will be somewhere in the Ruiz/Montero range. Maybe 2/$12M does it with more dollars committed up front and a vesting option for another $10-$12M on the back end, but then you’re pretty much relegating Diaz to backup status.

        On the other hand, if Cervelli is even 80% of what he showed this year, that’s a premium asset.

        • If I were him with his injury history I’d be open to 2 years with a vesting option. But if he were to bet on himself, and play out the walk year, I’d be interested what he’d get. Its why I mentioned McGuire. Why give Cervelli a deal if Mcguires ready sooner? I don’t know. Like I said I wish Cervelli had another year.

          • Elias Diaz will start in Pittsburgh before McGuire. If folks are concerned Diaz’s bat won’t play then they sure as heck better not be holding their breath about McGuire’s.

            • Once they hit the majors I see Diaz and McGuire as a 50/50 platoon hitting 6th or 7th in the lineup. If they have some speed, maybe hitting 8th so the pitcher can bunt them over.

    • Framing skills rated as one of the best in baseball. Blocking skills were solid. Seemed to handle the pitching staff without any issues. Id say his CS was clearly not great, but overall i think its heavy handed to say his entire defense leaves a lot to be desired. He’s not Martin at throwing out runners, but its really tough to place exactly where he is at since the staff did him no favors at holding runners.

      His arm was already considered more average than tops coming in, and the staff obviously was at fault for a portion of his issues. Seems like a cracking down of SPs times to the plate gets Cervelli back to average at CS to go along with above average at nearly everything else.

      • Lot of conclusions based of 1 full year of baseball.

        • So the alternative is that we doubt him based on a ton of injury plagued years of baseball? His most recent year was one of his most healthy, and thus is one of the best illustrations we have on him of what his defense is. Sure, its not a huge sample size but its the biggest and most complete look he’s given.

          And it shows elite framing, quality game calling, and above average blocking. With poor throwing runners out, and Pirates fans mostly know that A) part of that is on him and B) part of it was Morton and AJ and Cole really ignoring their times to home.

          Even trying to be as fair and middling as i can be, the above “his defense leaves a lot to be desired” seems highly pessimistic. His only below average skill was throwing runners out, and its possible he was average with a pitching staff that hurt him to the tune of below average numbers. Even if its all on him, he’s got a lot of good defensive skills and one not great skill.

  • Wow, where do I start. How about a few more of my dumb questions.

    1) Do we need to trade from some of our strength for a real
    good upper level (AA or up) 1st baseman. We have an awful lot
    riding on Bell. What if he gets a serious injury or just does
    not pan out defensively? Lambo?

    General Question?
    Do we in general trade minor league players to fill areas of
    weakness or do we find minor league free agents?

    Looks like a lot of question in our infields. We had some
    real good minor league teams in 2015. These don’t
    look as strong although our minor league strength is
    often in pitching.
    Remember, I just don’t know much about these things.
    Remember, I just don’t know much about these things.

    • 1. There would be no place to play the first baseman, unless you’re talking about a Double-A guy. Anyone better than the guys in Bradenton/Altoona would require a top prospect going the other way. That would be pretty useless with Bell in the system. I’d say it’s better to wait and see if you need a guy (if Bell doesn’t work out) rather than trading for another top 1B prospect just in case.

      2. I’m not sure what your general question is asking. Are you asking about holes on the MLB roster, or holes in the minor league roster? The MLB roster can be filled with minor league trades, which is what they did last year to add Antonio Bastardo (Joely Rodriguez trade), Sean Rodriguez (Buddy Borden) and others.

      Minor league holes can be filled with free agents, or some of the players I didn’t list who profile more as bench options. Usually you don’t trade for options, unless it’s a trade where you’re only sending cash and getting a guy looking for a better opportunity.

      3. It’s hard finding a tie between good prospects and good records. That’s especially true when you dig down to specific positions. My focus here was trying to look at the full-season system depth in total. Your goal there is to find one top prospect at least at each position, and a few other interesting guys who could develop. That might not leave great individual teams, but the goal should be great system depth.

      • In question #2, I was asking about holes (or weaknesses) in the
        minor league rosters. Ex: too many players at one position at
        one level and not enough at another position. Are many
        trades made to balance out minor league teams rosters?
        In question #3, I know I see things different than others.
        The site focuses on development of prospects. I like to
        see successful minor league teams. We have some
        really nice minor league teams, in some nice towns, with
        nice facilities etc. Its great!. For each of their teams, and
        communities, I like to see the teams successful.
        It brings towns together, increases interest in baseball
        (and we need that too), and is good for the economy
        too. Nothing like having fun watching a game and
        seeing lots of other folks doing the same.
        Thank you so much for your time and effort.

  • Sebastian Valle ?? Gone ??

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