The top three full-season teams in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ farm system are loaded from top to bottom, making it easy to fill out a top ten list by following our Prospect Guide, with just a few minor adjustments according to how guys looked at the end of camp this spring. That depth of talent does not hold true for West Virginia, but this is also the team that is most likely to see a breakout prospect emerge, as we have seen in the recent past with players like Alen Hanson, Gregory Polanco, Tyler Glasnow, and Yeudy Garcia.
Only two players from our top 30 prospect list are on the Power this year and both were given aggressive promotions. Ke’Bryan Hayes will lead the way among position players, while Mitch Keller will lead the group of pitching prospects. Both are young for the level though, so they probably won’t put up the best stats. As long as they aren’t over-matched at the level, then they will hold their prospect status. If they do have big seasons, then that will push them up the list, and possibly on to some national rankings
This team will be loaded with 2015 draft picks, with a total of 15 of them who will start the season with the Power. That includes Hayes (39th overall pick in the draft), as well as third round pick Casey Hughston and all eight players the Pirates took from the sixth round to the 13th round. The first seven players in that last group all received six-figure bonuses. Most of the players were also part of the Morgantown team that won the NYPL title last year.
You will also have potential breakout players in toolsy outfielder Tito Polo, and first baseman Carlos Munoz, who was the Player of the Year in the Appalachian League last season. Both players are 21 years old to open up the season and have a chance to establish themselves as top prospects. There is also Danny Arribas, an athletic player, who has hit for average in the past and has the ability to play all over the field.
The rotation will consist of a lot of potential after Keller, with Dario Agrazal, JT Brubaker, Logan Sendelbach and Bret Helton taking the other four spots. The lineup will include Hayes, Polo, Munoz and Hughston, as well as seventh round pick Mitchell Tolman, 11th round pick Christian Kelley, 12th round pick Ty Moore and outfielder Ryan Nagle, who was a late-round, over-slot signing in last year’s draft.
It’s not the best team on paper to start the season — that would go to Indianapolis with all of their top talent in the system. The Power also lack the amount of prospects that both Altoona and Bradenton will see this year. That being said, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the prospect list below seem like a better group of players by the end of the season, with a few of them getting more consideration for the top half of our 2017 top 50 prospects list.
2016 WEST VIRGINIA POWER TOP 10 PROSPECTS
1. Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B – Hayes ranked tenth in our 2016 prospect guide and a couple weeks into March, we announced that the 19-year-old third baseman would be headed to full-season ball this year. In the past two years, the Pirates gave aggressive promotions to high school draft pick from the previous season, doing it with Reese McGuire and Austin Meadows in 2014, and Cole Tucker last year. Hayes continues that trend, which will make him one of the youngest players in the South Atlantic League. He should definitely be ready for the move, as he has an advanced approach at the plate and a solid glove in the field, meaning he shouldn’t be over-matched in either area.
Hayes has strong bloodlines in baseball, with his dad Charlie playing 14 years at third base in the majors, including 1996 with the Pirates. As for the younger Hayes, he probably won’t put up eye-popping numbers in 2016, considering the aggressive promotion will match him up with some advanced pitchers. He should hit for average and get on base, but the power will likely take a couple years to develop. He’s more of a line drive hitter now, who uses the whole field. The ability to get on base and his strong defense at the hot corner are the two keys that will carry him through the lower levels.
2. Mitch Keller, RHP – Keller has been impressive this spring, showing strong velocity from an easy delivery. He has already shown a slight uptick in that velocity, previously topping out at 95 MPH, but now he’s touched 96 MPH in multiple spring starts. To go along with that fastball, the 6′ 3″ righty has a curve ball that sits 75-79 MPH and can be used as a strikeout pitch. That gives him a strong two-pitch mix when his command is on. Keller does have some control issues, but his cleaner delivery should lead to better command as he gets more time on the mound.
He will need to work on his changeup all season, as it is easily his number three pitch. He doesn’t command it well right now, and there is very little separation in velocity from his fastball at times. The pitch has to get better though, so he will be using it at least 8-10 times a game (going by what they have done with similar pitchers in the past) and it will probably lead to some lesser results. Keller has huge upside and he just turned 20 years old on Monday, making him a very intriguing prospect to watch for the Power.
3. JT Brubaker, RHP – There is a big drop-off in prospect status between the top two players on this list and the rest of the group. That doesn’t mean they don’t have potential, and Brubaker could end up being a top 10-15 prospect in the system within a couple years. He’s a 6′ 4″ righty, who has three solid pitches already. He throws a low-90’s fastball down in the zone that generates a lot of grounders. He also has a slider that can be used as a strikeout pitch and a solid changeup he can go to often. Brubaker has excellent results with Morgantown last year, especially after a couple early bumps in the road. He didn’t have the strikeout totals you’d like to see, but the Pirates would rather see a pitcher get quick outs by pitching to contact and he does a great job of throwing quality strikes by keeping the ball down and mixing his pitches well. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him end up in Bradenton before the season is over.
4. Mitchell Tolman, 2B – Tolman is a very interesting player because he received some great defensive praise in college and he had a strong debut at the plate with Morgantown last year. Also, he was young for the draft class last year (get ready to hear that a couple more times), so that bodes well for his development path. Tolman was named the Rawlings Gold Glove winner at third base in college, an award that is actually very prestigious considering that, unlike an MLB player who is competing with 14 other players in his league, Tolman was the only winner in all of Division I college ball.
Due to Ke’Bryan Hayes being on the same team this year, Tolman will be seeing the majority of his time at second base, though I wouldn’t rule out some starts at his normal spot. He is a line drive hitter who gets on base and doesn’t strike out often, much like a lot of the players the Pirates drafted early over the last few years. If he can continue to combine that ability to get on base, while showing some gap power, plus throw in the strong glove at two infield spots, Tolman could develop into a future starter in the majors. His more likely future would be as a solid utility player off the bench.
5. Casey Hughston, OF – Hughston had a horrible beginning to his pro career last year, starting off with a 1-for-43 slump. That was disappointing because the Pirates used a third round pick on him and paid him an over-slot bonus of $700,000 to sign as a draft-eligible sophomore. Hughston has a lot to like, as a big framed athletic center fielder, who has some speed and terrific raw power. He also has one big problem not to like, and that’s trouble making contact. He had 13 walks and 71 strikeouts in 61 games with Morgantown after signing. During the playoffs, he had nine strikeouts in five games and was swinging (and missing) at everything.
He was one of the younger college players in the draft last year, so that gives him some leeway with his growth. Many college players don’t breakout until their junior year. The biggest issue with his swing was that he’s slow on and sometimes unable to get to the outside pitches. He crushes pitches on the inner half of the plate with pull power, but can’t get to the outer half and hit the ball the other way at the moment. Because of the tools and the big flaw, there is a huge difference between his floor and ceiling. He may be slower to develop than many of the college picks we have seen lately, but he would be worth the wait if he reaches that upside.
6. Tito Polo, OF – Polo is a toolsy outfielder, who might be in the best shape of any player in the system. He is a gym rat and a baseball rat rolled into one, playing winter ball every year for the last four off-seasons and representing his county (Colombia) at any chance he gets in international competition. He led all Pirates’ minor leaguers with 46 stolen bases last year, showing off plus speed. That speed allows him to play center field if needed and his arm plays up well at any outfield spot. Polo is returning to West Virginia because he hit .236 last year and didn’t get on base enough to take full advantage of his speed. He has hit for average in the past though, and his swing/strength leads to a lot of line drives. Polo crushes fastballs, but has his issues with off-speed pitches and will occasionally go chasing. The tools are there for him to be a legit top prospect, so this could be the year for him to put it all together.
7. Carlos Munoz, 1B – Munoz has progressed through the Pirates’ system very slowly after getting a $175,000 bonus in early 2011. This is his sixth season in the system and his first taste of full-season ball. He has the incredible ability to put the bat on the ball, rarely striking out, while also taking his share of walks. In 2015, he also started hitting the ball with more authority, rather than just putting it into play all the time. Conditioning has been his main issue since day one and it hasn’t improved much, even after a full season of winter ball this off-season.
Munoz has been known to get off to very fast starts, then wear down as the season goes along. He needs to prove this year that he can handle a full schedule before he truly becomes a top prospect. Since half-season schedules have given him trouble, that is no small task. Munoz is strictly as first baseman, better suited for DH, and there is no speed to his game. He is all bat, but when that bat is going, it is special. Because of his track record, his second half stats will be more important to watch than the start of his season.
8. Dario Agrazal, RHP – Agrazal was always an interesting pitcher to follow because when he signed, he was hitting 90-91 MPH from a low-effort delivery, which was easily repeatable. His command was also above average, but he was sitting 87-90 MPH during starts the last couple years, so he needed to be perfect to get strong results. In the Fall Instructional League this past October, we got reports that he was hitting 94 MPH. Then during the World Baseball Classic qualifiers in mid-March, he was sitting 92-93 MPH, and showing a low-80’s curve with late hard bite. He was also still filling the strike zone, not losing any command with the added velocity. So now you have a 21-year-old with above average command of two pitches that you would call average offerings (50’s on the 20-80 scout scale). Agrazal has good downward action on his pitches and keeps the ball on the ground. He’s the type of pitcher who could split the season between West Virginia and Bradenton if all goes well.
9. Seth McGarry, RHP – McGarry was drafted as a reliever, then stretched into a starter last year after signing for $150,000 in the eighth round. The Pirates like to get innings for their big arms and McGarry has hit 97 MPH in the past. He felt more comfortable as a reliever though, so his role this season will be as a long-reliever who sees 1-2 and sometimes three innings per outing. He had command issues with Morgantown last year and needs to work on his secondary pitches. That will be a little harder to do in a limited relief role, so he could spend the entire season in the Power pen. He has the upside of a late inning reliever in the majors, but he is far from that ceiling at this point.
10. Ryan Nagle, OF – The Pirates went over-slot to sign Nagle, giving him $160,000 in the 27th round last year. He became more interesting in his junior year of college when he started to show some power. That power didn’t show up with Morgantown last year after signing and the lefty hitting Nagle had major issues against southpaws. He showed a good ability to get on base in college and he didn’t strike out much. He will need to continue those trends in the pros and display some of that power that showed up during his junior year, because he is strictly a corner outfielder, who has average speed. Basically, the bat needs to carry him. On the bright side, Nagle was very young for his draft class, a full year and three days younger than first round pick Kevin Newman, and two months younger than Casey Hughston. That helps Nagle’s case because many college players breakout during their junior year and he’s the same age as many juniors in this year’s draft.
Other Notable Prospects
Christian Kelley could easily move up the prospects ranks for this team and should see the bulk of the time behind the plate. He was the primary starter last year for Morgantown and the Pirates used their 11th round pick on him in the 2015 draft. That’s the first pick on day three of the draft, when teams get to regroup and go for their main target among players who dropped out of the top ten rounds. Logan Sendelbach struggled at Bristol after the Pirates gave him $150,000 in the tenth round last year, but he earned a rotation spot two levels higher this season. Bret Helton also got $150,000 to sign out of the ninth round. He has a little bit better stuff than Sendelbach, but he too had troubles in his first year of pro ball while pitching for Morgantown.
Kevin Krause will join the team sometime early during the season after missing all of last year due to Tommy John surgery. Before getting hurt, he was the best power bat the Pirates had behind the plate in their system, so it will be interesting to see if he can pick up where he left off in 2014. Ty Moore out-hit second round pick Kevin Kramer at UCLA last year and that got him a $100,000 bonus in the 12th round of the draft. Moore showed a terrific ability to get on base with Morgantown last year until a late slump. He’s not a toolsy player, so he will need to rely on that hit tool for him to get to the majors. Danny Arribas has hit for average in the past and he’s athletic enough to play multiple positions, including some time behind the plate. If he can continue to hit, the versatility will help move him up the minor league ladder.
John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.
When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.
John … A little late reading this but I had a question on Hughston. If a hitter can turn on and pull an inside fastball, he should have the bat speed to hit anything in the strike zone. Does he have an open stance ‘geared’ for an inside strike? Or is he waiting to drive the pitch opposite field and not timing it right?
When doing this write ups and rankings, do past results tend to influence the rankings of certain types of players? For example, a guy like Brubaker, does he tend to rank a little higher now after seeing the success of similar types of players, like a Chad Kuhl or a Nick Kingham, who maybe don’t have overwhleming stuff, but fit the mold of tall, downhill, groundball types of pitchers?
We rate each prospect individually. Those traits you mention are too vague. Tall, downhill, groundball pitcher describes Chad Kuhl, Charlie Morton, Jared Hughes, John Kuchno, Nick Kingham, etc. And all are different types of players with many differences in their games that lead to different risks and upsides.
One thing we do is look at strategies the Pirates use. Take Hughston, for example. His big weakness is hitting on the outer half of the plate. The Pirates stress using the opposite field and hitting outside pitches. That doesn’t mean he’ll have success. But I like him better knowing his big weakness is an area where the Pirates place a big developmental focus.
I thought Hughston’s pick in the 3rd Round was ill-advised simply because of his struggle to hit in the SEC.
Wonder how many college kids have gone on to succeed after striking out 30% of the time in low-A? If he got exposed that bad against kids who barely had an idea where the ball was going in the first place we’re talking about *massive* improvements just to become a relevant prospect.
Thanks for response Tim, I find the process very interesting, and the writeups are outstanding. I just know, myself, there is some bias that the Pirates “know what they are doing” when it comes to certain types of players, but that is also very broad, and when looking at each player individually, I am sure it isn’t as easy to classify into “types”
Will be very interesting to watch this season, keep up the outstanding work
Where are the Seinfeld twins (Newman and Kramer)? 🙂
Tim, did you discount Mr. Tolman’s subscription?
Oh man, if I discounted the subscription for every parent/player/coach/scout/coordinator/front office member that is associated in some way with the Pirates, I’d go out of business.
I’m very much looking forward to Krause returning to action. There’s definitely a shortage of power bats (no pun intended) and he’s already shown some pop, albeit before major surgery. Unfortunately, given his age and the time off he might have to show that power very soon to have any hope of being a legit prospect on the Pirates’ radar. But I’m bullish on him.
Nice write up John, should be a fun team to follow this year.
Are you related to Mitchell? 🙂
Yes, Mitchell’s my son.
Yes, best wishes to your son. I would imagine many parents are happy to subscribe to this site.
Fantastic! Best of luck to the young man.
Saw Tolman play a bunch in Morgantown. He reminds me of a Brock Holt type player. Doesn’t do one thing great but does everything well.
Watched him a lot in early March down at Pirate City at 2B, and he looked very smooth with excellent hands and feet. He impressed, and I had to look at the Minor League ST Roster to identify him. Hits well also. Excellent pick.