The 2016 Prospect Guide features a group we called “The Next Wave” on the cover. It’s a group of five prospects who are expected to make the jump to the majors in 2016, joining previous prospects like Gerrit Cole, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco, to give the Pirates their next big boost from the farm system.
Three of those prospects are getting a lot of hype this off-season, with their debuts being highly anticipated. Those three are Tyler Glasnow, Jameson Taillon, and Josh Bell. The anticipation for the first two is largely due to their upsides, but also due to the projected Opening Day rotation in Pittsburgh. Bell’s hype comes from the need for a long-term first baseman, although that has been slightly reduced with the addition of John Jaso.
The other two prospects on the cover are Alen Hanson and Elias Diaz. The hype surrounding those two? Not as high.
It’s not like Diaz and Hanson are without their hype. Today, Hanson was named the number six second base prospect in baseball by MLB.com. Diaz was named the number six catching prospect last week. He also received the honors as the best defensive catcher in the minors by Baseball America. But these are also prospects who have shown some flaws in the minors.
One of the crazy things about covering prospects is that every prospect in the minors has flaws. If they didn’t, they’d be in the majors. Some guys can get by with those flaws. Others can’t. The deciding factor usually comes down to the numbers. And you can see this with the top prospects mentioned above.
Tyler Glasnow had a big flaw last year with his control in Triple-A. However, his stuff is so good that he was able to hide that flaw with an excellent ERA. Meanwhile, Alen Hanson and Elias Diaz both struggled at the plate in Indianapolis. Granted, they were both slightly above average in the International League. The league combined for a .689 OPS and Indianapolis had a .696 OPS. Diaz was at .711, while Hanson put up a .701 OPS. But in terms of prospect expectations, an OPS around .700 raises concerns, even if the numbers are better than league average.
The problem with scouting the numbers is that you miss what makes these guys top prospects to begin with. We’ll get into each player a bit more this week now that the top ten prospect countdown has started. But here’s a quick refresher.
The Pirates have had success focusing on strong defense behind the plate the last few years. They’ve also had some offense, with a .770 OPS from Francisco Cervelli in 2015, an .832 OPS from Russell Martin in 2014, and a .704 OPS from Martin in 2013. But the priority has been defense. This is something that Diaz can continue.
As noted above, Diaz is a strong defender. I’d rate Reese McGuire as the better overall defender, but Diaz is outstanding. If the Pirates want to continue having a strong defensive catcher behind the plate after the 2016 season, they’ve got an easy choice in turning to Diaz to take over for Cervelli (assuming Cervelli isn’t extended).
As for the offense, Diaz has always shown strong hitting skills, with a good ability for contact, strong plate patience, and gap power. His hitting profile is very similar to Cervelli’s. He had a big breakout season in 2014 in Altoona, but the numbers dipped in Triple-A. Looking beyond the OPS, his walks stayed the same, his strikeouts dropped slightly, and his power was slightly below his previous two seasons. He did have a lower BABIP, and the 2014 season was probably on the high side, but he should end up right in the middle of that area going forward. In short, Diaz is probably going to be a defensive first catcher capable of putting up an OPS of at least .700, and going much higher than that if everything is clicking.
Then there’s Hanson. He’s been getting attention from scouts since the age of 18 when he was in the GCL. He broke out the following year in West Virginia, posting a .909 OPS. His numbers since then haven’t touched that lofty total, but have still been strong. Hanson followed his West Virginia campaign by putting up a .783 OPS in Bradenton at the age of 20. By comparison, Austin Meadows had a .764 OPS at the age of 20 this season. The FSL is an extreme pitcher’s league, so these numbers are strong.
Hanson went on to post a .768 OPS in 2014 in Altoona, and a .701 OPS last year in Indianapolis. These aren’t the best numbers, but they aren’t bad either. There are some consistency problems with Hanson, including early season struggles, although that’s the big reason he’s still in the minors. He showed strong defense at second base last year, with a ton of range and speed. He also has that speed on the bases. His hitting profile projects for enough success to be a starting second baseman. He’s had a low strikeout rate his entire career, along with a decent walk rate and good power from the middle infield spot. Again, all of this comes at a very young age each step of the way.
Once the consistency problems are gone, Hanson will be a dynamic player. He can be a game changer with his speed and his ability to do it all offensively, plus his defense will add value.
Both players will likely return to Triple-A for the start of the 2016 season, where they will get a chance to work out their issues and allow the numbers to rebound and reflect the skills a bit better. In Hanson’s case, he’ll have a shot at the Opening Day roster, and making the team as a utility infielder wouldn’t be the worst thing. It would actually be the best way to bring him in the majors, in my opinion, as this could reduce the impact of his initial struggles at a new level. Eventually, he projects as the best option to take over starting at second, and his ranking today shows that this isn’t just a hometown bias on his upside.
Glasnow, Taillon, and Bell are definitely going to provide the biggest impacts, both in 2016 and the future. But don’t sleep on Diaz and Hanson, and don’t put too much stock in their 2015 struggles, or write them off for numbers that fall below what their hitting skills are capable of producing.
**Pittsburgh Pirates 2016 Top Prospects: #10 – Ke’Bryan Hayes. The top 10 countdown begins. If you buy your copy of the Prospect Guide, you’ll get all of the reports, along with our grades, and the reports of the 21-50 prospects and every other player in the system. It’s the most information you can find on the Pirates’ system, and the cheapest price you can find for a prospect book this time of year, especially with the Top Prospect and Annual discounts.
**Site Updates: 2016 Prospect Guide, Top Prospect Rankings, Pirates Prospects App. From the weekend, the latest updates on the site, including news on the upcoming app.
**Alen Hanson Ranks Among Top Second Base Prospects. A look at Hanson’s ranking from MLB.com.
**Pirates Still Interested in Bronson Arroyo. I’d expect they’re looking at him to be depth out of Triple-A, considering his circumstance.
**Pirates Sign Gift Ngoepe’s Younger Brother. Includes a GIF where the younger Ngoepe is looking very similar to his older brother at shortstop.
**What Changed For the Pirates’ Biggest Breakout Prospects in 2015? From Sunday, a look at what changed for some of the bigger breakout prospects in 2015.