Prospect Notes: Meadows Recovering Quickly, Garcia and Keller Recaps

BRADENTON, Fla. – Two weeks ago today, Austin Meadows had surgery to repair a fractured orbital bone. The injury came after getting hit in the right eye with a ball that skipped up off a teammates glove during throwing drills. I talked to Meadows this morning, who is doing well after surgery.

“Everything was according to plan,” Meadows said. “They took care of me up there, and looking forward to getting back into it.”

I first saw Meadows two days after his injury. There was still a bit of swelling around his eye at the time, and bruising underneath the eye. Meadows no longer has any bruising, and said that outside of the first day, everything went fine.

“It was a quick healing process,” Meadows said. “The day after it was pretty swollen, and after that it was on track.”

Meadows has been out on the field the last three days working on conditioning, hitting, throwing, and doing outfield work. There is currently no timetable for his return to games, or for when he will start the season. He’s basically back to the beginning of Spring Training, and needs to get built up to games, and then built up to being ready for the season.

“I’ve been through this before,” Meadows said, referring to being delayed with hamstring problems before. “Just really being patient about it. Just trying to take it day by day. I just know I’ll be out there soon, and that’s all you can worry about.”

My guess is that Meadows will miss the first month of the season, and might return in early May. That’s just based on how long it takes other players to get built up during Spring Training, not to mention the Pirates won’t rush him. This is only speculation though, as Meadows and Pirates’ Director of Minor League Operations Larry Broadway both said there’s no date on when he’ll start to play.

When Meadows does return, he’ll go to Altoona, joining Barrett Barnes and Harold Ramirez in the outfield.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” Meadows said of getting to Altoona. “Good group of guys, good coaching staff. [New Altoona Manager] Joey Cora up there as well. I’ve gotten a chance to get to know him a little bit, and it’s been really good so far, even though I haven’t been down here as much. I’m really looking forward to that opportunity.”

Yeudy Garcia and Mitch Keller

Minor league Spring Training can make it very easy to see certain players, or very difficult to see other players. I’ve been over to Pirate City almost every day this month, and there are some pitchers and players I haven’t even seen, outside of bullpens and batting practice. That’s just because they’ve pitched most, or all of their games on the road. Likewise, there are some players where it seems like I see them every day, including starting pitchers. This happens every year, and it’s always fun seeing which guys you get, and which guys you miss.

Fortunately, the guys I saw a lot of were Yeudy Garcia and Mitch Keller, two of the best pitching prospects in the lower levels. I saw them today for maybe the fourth time this spring, and decided to take in one more look at each pitcher before the season starts (I’ll see Keller again when I go to West Virginia in late April, and Garcia plenty this year in Bradenton).

Garcia was 90-94 MPH, but mostly sitting in the 93-94 MPH part of that range. He gave up two runs on two hits in five innings, with two walks and three strikeouts. The innings and pitch count are obviously the most important things at this point in camp. Garcia threw 71 pitches, then finished off in the bullpen, working with a lot of changeups and sliders. The latter pitch has looked good this year, showing a lot of improvement from this time last year. It’s an above-average offering, and there’s still more room for improvement with more consistent movement and command.

Keller was in the 90-96 MPH range, sitting mostly 92-93. The 96 MPH mark is up from last year, and he’s hit that in each of his last few outings. That’s impressive for a kid that turns 20 next week, especially when it comes with such an easy delivery. He’s got a nice curveball which he can use as a strikeout pitch, in the 75-79 MPH range. It’s above average right now, with a chance to trend up in the future.

His changeup needs some work. He was 88-90 MPH today, so not much separation from the fastball. He also had poor control with the pitch, and didn’t have good, consistent movement. This is the part where I say that most pitchers out of high school who have good velocity and a good breaking pitch don’t need a changeup. Keller has worked to get a grip he’s comfortable with since joining the Pirates, and is now working to improve the pitch. That will be a big focus for him this year in West Virginia.

Other Notes

**Adrian Grullon was a guy I really liked in 2013 in the GCL. He’s a 6′ 7″ pitcher who was hitting an easy 93 MPH at a young age, although he went down with Tommy John surgery and missed the last two years. He’s back now, working as a reliever, and was 91-93 MPH with good downward movement on his pitches today. Grullon will be on a delayed schedule to start his year, due to missing two seasons. He’s got some command problems, which hurt him today a bit after getting two quick outs. But the stuff is good, and hopefully the two years off haven’t totally derailed his chances of doing something in the minors.

**Seth McGarry was drafted in the eighth round last year, and profiled as a reliever in the long-term. The Pirates had him starting, which is their typical approach for their best arms. However, he will move to the bullpen this year in West Virginia, pitching strictly in a relief role where he goes one or two innings each time out. They’re making that switch early, because McGarry is more comfortable with the reliever role. He’s also built more like a reliever, with a smaller frame than someone like John Kuchno, who started for a few seasons before moving to the bullpen. Today, McGarry went two innings, featuring a 90-93 MPH fastball with some late movement, and an upper 70’s curveball that looks like it could be a strikeout pitch. While he will start in West Virginia, there’s a chance he could move up to Bradenton, and possibly even finish the year in Altoona if his season goes well enough.

**One of the position players I focused on today was Casey Hughston. He’s an outfielder who has a big frame and a lot of speed, along with plenty of raw power. The biggest problem is that he doesn’t do well hitting balls on the outer half of the plate. He crushes inside pitches with pull power, but needs to speed up his bat and do a better job on outside pitches. Today he struck out twice, both on the outside. One was on a high fastball where he was late, and the other was a low and away curveball that he couldn’t get to. Hughston has a lot of upside if he can fix this problem, but that’s the big area of weakness for now.

**I’m really looking forward to seeing what Tito Polo can do in his next run through West Virginia. He had a few minor injuries last year, and didn’t have the best season. However, there are plenty of tools to work with here, with the biggest one being his speed. His speed can make an impact in games, and plays well in the outfield. He’s also a good hitter, capable of taking the ball consistently to the opposite field, and showing off some line drive power. We had him as a breakout guy last year, and that hasn’t gone away this time around.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    March 31, 2016 10:32 pm

    I really like Hughston – he showed a lot last year the way he bounced back from an 0-41 start….that shows he has character and a no quit attitude. He seems like a very athletic kid – he and Suchy are real sleepers as far as OF prospects. Those two, along with Luplow and Suiter are four pretty good looking hitters…

  • Tim. Give one under the radar guy that could help the bucs this yr.?

  • Was just over on Fangraphs and their KATOH projection really liked Jhang – have not heard about him this spring – his he still slotted for Altoona? Strikes me as someone they should probably let go to find a home elsewhere given how low he is on the depth chart

  • BallHeadWonder
    March 31, 2016 6:22 pm

    Hey Tim, just wanted to see if you can do a quick write up on some of the players we have lost over the past couple of years to see how they are doing this spring!! Players that I can remember are Dilson Herrera, Adrian Sampson, JaCoby Jones!! Just some players that we have traded to see if we lost anything by giving them up!!

    • Not Tim, but pretty difficult to evaluate because Herrera went to the Mets for us to pick up Marlon Byrd who helped us immensely down the stretch in 2013 to get to the Playoffs for the first time in 21 years. Adrian Sampson went to Seattle for Jay Happ last year, who was a big improvement to our Rotation down the stretch in 2015. JaCoby Jones was traded to Detroit as a part of the Soria trade and he helped us in the BP down the stretch in 2015.

      So, all of them went for guys who helped us get into the playoffs, and no prospects came back in return. And, none of them would be any higher than AAA for the Pirates, and possibly all would be down on the depth charts if still in the Pirate system.

      • Will mild disagree with Byrd helping us immensely – if you go back and look at the WARs for September in that year Byrd and the much hated Tabata were pretty close as I recall.

        And yes Happ and Soria were nice adds and thanks to them the 36 years of losing ended – oooops – I forgot – some guy name Arieta made us look “ridiculous and Walsh does not like looking ridiculous” – movie reference.

        • Byrd did help…that also happened to be the rare moment when Tabata was hot.

          From Byrd’s arrival until the end of the season, Tabata put up an .838 OPS…well about his career .713 mark.

          • Agree he helped – disagree on it being “immensely”

            • Putting up about a WAR in a month’s worth of games? That’s about as close to immensely as you can get….maybe not Manny Ramirez hot, but, still, quite an impact.

              Saying it doesn’t count because a lousy player happened to have a career year at the same time is a tad disingenuous.

          • Tabata was just hitting dinky singles though, with little extra base power or ability to drive in runs.
            Byrd on the other hand was a hot threat to every pitcher, knocking in runs, getting extra-base hits, and adding a whole nother dimension to the batting order.

            • Not a Tabata fan at all, but he was hot that month, put up a .494 SLG. From the time Byrd joined the Pirates and until the end of the season, Jose put up 4 2B, 3 3B, and 2 HR’s in 25 games (94 PAs) with a BA of .315. He may have had hotter months is his career, but that has to be one of his most solid.

        • At the time of the trade, the Pirates were still searching for a steady RF and Starling Marte had just gone on the DL. Byrd came in and added a lot of offensive spark in the middle of the order to a team that was still searching for it’s first .500 season in 21 years. Yep, immensely.

          • I think immensely is too strong a word, but Byrd made as big as an impact as a wavier deadline pick can make in 100 some at bats.

            The correct comparison isn’t Byrd v Tabata (no idea how that would be relevant) it is Byrd vs who would be filling in for a injured Marte. And that would have likely been Snider.

    • Dilson looks solid….I’d expect for him to be up this season and to be a regular in the MI next season. IMO, he was ready this year.

      Jones is starting off the season with a 50 game suspension…for recreational drugs, if memory serves.

      Sampson had a good first start for Tacoma last year, IIRC, something like 8 shutout innings with two hits…absolutely imploded after that. Spring numbers look okay…I’d imagine, if he regains form, he’ll be up this season. Can’t see him as anything higher than a #4.

      • Jones was actually able to serve part of his suspension in the AFL, since he was shutdown right away. I don’t agree with that, but that’s what I’ve read. I believe he has 37 games left to serve.

        • Did not know that.

          Thanks for the info.

          I agree…sort of weird that a suspension could be served during non-MiLB play…that opens up a whole can of worms…as in: if someone gets suspended at the end of he season, can the team just randomly assign them to the Mexican league and have them serve out half their suspension there?

          • No, in-season suspensions have to be served during the regular season. Unless the facts were mixed up for Jones, I have never heard of an off-season league being used as part of a suspension and I’m willing to bet that the AFL is the only league it applies to.

      • Herrera has that tendency to look like the heir-apparent at 2B and then the Mets bring in another veteran. Murphy has been there a few years and then they also traded for Kelly Johnson last year. This year Murphy left but they traded for Neil Walker. The Mets seem to be comfortable with a LH hitting 2B.

        • I agree. Though I think this season was more about just having made the WS …largely due to Murphy…and not wanting to go from that performance to an inexperienced player. Total guess, but if the Mets had missed the playoffs or not gone deep into them, they probably play Herrera.

  • Who gets to PNC first?
    Polo or Osuna?
    I like what I have seen of both of them

  • Great article and updates – this is your “Core” – profit from it 😉
    Thanks

  • Love me some Mitch Keller; best Pirate pitching prospect below AAA.

    • Whoa…that’s a heckuva claim.

      • I’ve never known NMR to say something flippantly.

      • Is it?

        His only real competition is Garcia and Tarpley, right? Two guys more than three years older than him.

        Keller has a better breaking ball than either of those guys with a bit of physical projection left to spare. Also see him as Glasnow-like with his control issues. Kid’s big and young and getting a feel for his body. I think you see big gains this year.

        • Okay, I’m going to pretend like I saw the word “pitching” in your original post…and try to justify my comment now…

          I wouldn’t say his competitors are Garcia and Tarpley…I’d go with Garcia and Brault. I really like Brault…then there’s Trevor Williams, who fit in that ‘below AAA’ category based on a technicality. Garcia’s fun, and he should do well in Bradenton…but I’d like to seem him at AA, before getting too excited.

          I think both of Brault and Williams have lower ceilings than Keller, but higher floors…so, I’m not quite sure how that factors into the ‘best’ equation…ie., is ‘best’ most likely to make the club as a SP or, guy with the highest ceiling? Not sure, that’s more of an individual preference.

          • FWIW, I put Brault, Kuhl, and Williams in the AAA group since they’ve all clearly earned; just being held back by veteran presents that keep on giving. (That being said, I still take Keller over each of them.)

            When I say best, I’m talking reasonable upside. Not absolute peak, but also not 50% likelihood, so to speak.

            • I can live with all those conditions.

              I’m a little higher on Brault and Williams though…if only because they’ve made it a couple of levels higher and, therefore, seem more likely to contribute.

              Again, if you’re alliteration hadn’t left me illiterate, I might not have responded at all 🙂

    • I’d argue that Eppler has an outside shot at that distinction too but would end up agreeing that Keller leads the list of non AAA pitchers. Also both Williams and Brault are off limits for the argument in my opinion as both will be in Indy when the year ends if healthy and would be in AAA to start the season in almost all other systems.

      • Very much agree. I don’t think Eppler has the secondaries to ever come close to Keller’s upside, but wouldn’t argue if you thought his floor was also much higher.

    • Scott Kliesen
      March 31, 2016 7:51 pm

      Why do you like him better than Yeudy?

      • Age, delivery, but mostly breaking ball.

        I’m of the opinion that true plus breaking balls, whether it be curve or slider, can rarely be “taught”. Something in the dexterity/strength of a guy’s wrist that’s able to generate the kind of spin needed for a true plus pitch. Keller doesn’t have the consistency yet, but holy smokes can he snap one off. Couple that with plus velocity and great plane from a high-3/4 delivery and it’s a Glasnow-lite package.

        I think there’s more effort in Garcia’s delivery, and think if he had a better than average breaking ball coupled with his velo it would’ve resulted in more swing and miss, considering he was a good bit older than most of his competition.

        I think a healthy year from Keller puts him in Top 5 prospect territory, assuming graduations from 3-4 of the current Top 10. Easily my breakout prospect from the entire org in 2016.

    • My vote would go to Tarpley and IMO that his upside is greater than Brault’s.

  • Wilbur Miller
    March 31, 2016 5:20 pm

    Polo is going back to the Power?

  • Why are you writing about prospects? I only want to hear about the pros!

    🙂

    Great news on Meadows…my hopes aren’t high for Barnes being a major contributor to the big club, but that Altoona OF has to be one of the best in AA.

  • Tim, how has Michael Suchy been doing ? He looked pretty interesting in the Guide and seeing him once didn’t damage that impression either.

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