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Saturday, December 3, 2022

First Pitch: 7 Pirates Prospects Below AAA Who Could Make a Long-Term Impact

The main article in this year’s Prospect Guide was a focus on the prospects who could be arriving in the Majors in 2016. We called that group “The Next Wave”, signifying a new group of prospects who could join the previous group — a group that includes Gerrit Cole, Gregory Polanco, and Starling Marte from recent years.

So far, The Next Wave is working out about as well as you’d hope. Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon are showing positive signs with their development, and could provide the Pirates with a boost at their biggest area of need this summer. Along with Taillon and Glasnow, Chad Kuhl is putting up impressive results.

Josh Bell has been hitting, and hitting for power, while looking improved this year at first base. He’s not needed at the moment, due to John Jaso’s success in the big leagues, but could provide a strong DH option, or a bat off the bench later in the season as he eases his way into Pittsburgh.

There have been some disappointments, but nothing that should impact the Pirates in the short-term or long-term. Elias Diaz had elbow surgery, but could still be on track to take over as the starter in 2017, and could arrive for the final months of the 2016 season if needed. Alen Hanson has struggled lately, but there’s no immediate need for him in the Majors. Trevor Williams and Steven Brault have both dealt with minor injuries, although Williams is working his way back and could return soon.

As I’ve written before, the Pirates are set up well in the short-term and long-term at each position. Every spot either has current starters under team control through the 2018 season, top 10 prospects in the system ready to arrive before then, or sometimes both. The Next Wave helps in this regard, filling in the final pieces, and also adding some depth. But what about the lower level guys, or the not-as-catchy “The Next, Next Wave”? The Pirates will need them to step up in order to keep the team competitive in the long-term, in the event that a few of the current stars leave.

Here are some of the top prospects in the system below Triple-A (with most of them below Double-A) who are good enough to be slated in the long-term plans.

Reese McGuire, C – He’s not hitting consistently, although his hitting tools look sound. It usually takes strong defensive catchers some time for their bats to catch up with their defense, as so much time is spent on the defense and the work with pitchers. In this case, the tools are there, and McGuire is too young to worry about. For perspective, if he would have gone to college, he would be draft eligible as a junior this year, and would likely be going to Bradenton next year, making it to Altoona by the second half. He’s a full year and a half ahead of schedule at his current level, giving him plenty of time to work on that offensive consistency. Elias Diaz projects to be the starter until McGuire is ready. At that point, the Pirates might have the best defensive combo in baseball behind the plate.

Kevin Newman, SS – I’d expect Newman to arrive in Altoona by the second half of this season, and if he does well, he could make it to Indianapolis for the start of the 2017 season. Right now his hitting is advanced for his current level, but the defense needs some work. He might benefit in the long-run working with Jordy Mercer, just as Mercer did with Clint Barmes. However, he will need to show improvements to get to that point. I could see him arriving as early as 2017, learning from Mercer, and taking over the starting role at some point in 2018.

Cole Tucker, SS – The Pirates went a few years without any internal shortstop options. Then they developed Jordy Mercer, who has been a quality starter in the majors, highlighted by his defense. It’s possible that a few years down the line, they could have two very talented shortstop prospects competing to take over for Mercer. Newman is currently ahead of Cole Tucker, but Tucker is very talented, with a lot of the same skills that Newman has. If they both work out, then you might have your entire middle infield from this combo, with Alen Hanson either being replaced, or moving into Josh Harrison’s Super Utility role (and Hanson has received a lot of outfield time lately, getting him prepared for that role). So while one of these guys could replace Mercer, the other guy could ultimately replace Harrison by shifting Hanson to the bench.

Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B – The Pirates can take their time with Hayes, since there is no immediate need for a third baseman in Pittsburgh. Jung-ho Kang is under team control through the 2019 season, meaning Hayes could spend a year at each level, and take over as the starter in 2020. He might be ready earlier than that, which would give the Pirates some strong depth in the final years that Kang is on the team. Hayes projects as a strong defender at third who will be able to hit for average with some gap power, and maybe some home run power by that point.

Austin Meadows, OF – Meadows could fit with The Next Wave in any other organization. But the Pirates have the best outfield in baseball, which means the Pirates can take their time developing him. He should spend the entire 2016 season in Altoona, and all of 2017 in Indianapolis. Andrew McCutchen is under team control through the 2018 season, and Meadows could arrive during that year, taking over as the starter in 2019 if, or when, McCutchen leaves. There would be some outrage over that switch, but Meadows projects as an impact player, and could maintain the strong outfield trio. You could also add Harold Ramirez to this mix, but Meadows ranks ahead of him for the future starting job.

Mitch Keller, RHP – We’re seeing a big year so far from Keller in West Virginia, drawing comparisons to Tyler Glasnow’s 2012 season. Keller will remain in West Virginia all year, which is what the Pirates do with young pitchers, regardless of performance. The biggest part of his development this year is getting used to a five-day schedule for a full season. He has already set a career high in innings this year, and we’re only in mid-May. Of course, that doesn’t count the extended Spring Training innings from last year, or his high school innings in 2014, but he won’t have far to go to get to that point. He’ll be more restricted in the second half, but should finish the year with a good amount of innings. From there, he could build on that amount in Bradenton and Altoona in 2017, and possibly Altoona and Indianapolis in 2018. It’s more likely that he takes an extra year, and arrives at mid-season 2019. That would be Gerrit Cole’s final year before free agency. Keller is shaping up to be a top of the rotation guy, and would be the replacement for Cole, keeping three top of the rotation guys in the mix, with Glasnow and Taillon.

Brandon Waddell, LHP – There are other pitchers I could mention for the long-term who have the potential to start for the Pirates — Stephen Tarpley, JT Brubaker, Luis Escobar, Gage Hinsz, Yeudy Garcia — but I’ll focus on Waddell for two reasons. One, it’s really hard to project a five man rotation three or four years down the line. Three or four years ago, no one in this article was even in the system. So I’m going to focus on Waddell for the other reason, that he looks a bit closer than the rest of the group. He looked advanced for High-A, leading to a quick promotion to Altoona, and he’s off to a great start there. I wouldn’t rule out him making it to Indianapolis at the end of the season for a playoff start, just like we saw with Chad Kuhl last year (although Kuhl started in Altoona at the beginning of the year). That would put him on pace for Indianapolis in 2017, and a potential jump to the big leagues in the second half. He projects as a strong number four starter, with the chance to reach a number three upside if his command and mixing of his pitches plays up in the upper levels. So he’s got competition from Kuhl, Brault, and Williams, but could compete for a rotation spot, or add strong depth out of Triple-A. I’d also put Tyler Eppler and Clay Holmes in this same category.

The best part about the long-term depth is that all of the prospects are slated to arrive about a year or more before the guys they are replacing become free agents. We don’t know yet whether the Pirates would keep guys like McCutchen, Cole, Kang, and others through free agency, or if they would trade them early. I wouldn’t look at Neil Walker as an example of what they will do, since Walker isn’t in the same class as the other guys. They are in a great position, allowing them to either make a trade and restock the system, or have a talented MLB guy on the roster who the prospect can learn from.

The Pirates have a lot of talent coming up in 2016, which should help boost their team this year, and in the next few years to come. But the guys lower in the system could make sure that the team remains competitive for the next decade, rather than the next few years.

Projected Lineup and Rotation, 2020 and Beyond

C – Reese McGuire

1B – Josh Bell (Under control through 2022 if he arrives this year)

2B – Cole Tucker (Don’t read anything into this, or Newman’s placement, as I’m putting Newman at shortstop because he’s projected to arrive first)

SS – Kevin Newman

3B – Ke’Bryan Hayes

LF – Austin Meadows

CF – Starling Marte (Under control through 2021)

RF – Gregory Polanco (Under control through 2023)

DH – Andrew McCutchen (This is just me joking around, and trying to start a war between anti-DH and extend-Cutch comments)

 

SP – Tyler Glasnow (Would be under control through 2022 if he arrives this year and sticks)

SP – Jameson Taillon (Same as Glasnow and Bell)

SP – Mitch Keller

SP – Chad Kuhl

SP – Steven Brault/Brandon Waddell/Stephen Tarpley (Add the other pitchers here, and you can have them competing with Kuhl, but I think he’s above the rest of the group)

**Why We Probably Haven’t Seen the Best From Josh Bell at the Plate Yet. Ryan Palencer breaks down Josh Bell’s offensive performance this year, some of the continued refinement he’s making with his swing, and how the best might still be yet to come with his offense.

**Giles: Is Starling Marte Underrated? Ed Giles writes about how Starling Marte isn’t as good as his numbers this year, but has quietly been one of the best players in baseball in the three years prior to this one.

**Prospect Watch: Stephen Tarpley Debuts, Waddell Cruises Through Seven Innings. Another great outing from Waddell in only his second Altoona start. Also, it’s good to see Tarpley back on the mound, adding to that trio of promising left-handed starting prospects.

**Minor Moves: Frank Duncan Promoted to Indy; Edgar Santana to Altoona, Brault to DL. Santana is the relief pitching version of Waddell, in that he looked way too advanced for Bradenton. In fact, on Monday I wrote just that, saying that he would be in Altoona by the middle of the year.

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Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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MackDaddy9

Anyone see Mitch Keller pitch? Really like seeing another young pitcher with top of the rotation potential.

RobForsyth

Very nice article Tim, but I still see an awful lot of quiet bats below Altoona.

peanutbutterguts

If McGuire was in this draft, where would he rank?

NMR

Might be a first rounder due to the quality of this draft class, but the competition he’s faced up until this year hasn’t been better than what he’d see in a strong D1 conference, and performing similarly as he has in pro ball would be a stretch for a first rounder.

Taylor Ward out of Fresno State was the only college catcher drafted in R1 last year, and was considered primarily a defense-first guy. He still posted an OPS well over .800 in his SO and JR seasons.

From ’14, Max Pentecost led the Cape in OPS the summer before his draft, which is something nobody would reasonably see McGuire doing at this point, so he’s not a great comp. And the other college catcher drafted in R1 was Kyle Schwarber; I’ll assume you can figure that one out.

There’s simply far, far less upside in McGuire’s bat than a lot of folks dreamed on at the time when he was actually drafted.

leefoo

We very easily could start 2017 with this rotation:

Cole
Liriano
Taillon
Glasnow
????????????

??????? – could be any number of young pitchers.

I’m sweating just thinking about it.

NMR

Smart money might be to take advantage of literally no SP available in free agency this winter by dangling Liriano in the last year of his contract, presuming he pitches better than he has so far.

nate h

… I doubt it happens, but how awesome would it be if they could swing a trade for someone! Actually… I’ll be honest. I rather have someone like a Neise then sign some hack like Andrew Cashner.

leefoo

I am with you on all of the players mentioned, but for McGuire. It takes awhile for a C’s batting to catch up with his defense? Since when? Let’s look at a few former Pirate C’s minor league OPS’s.

Kendall – .774 (.813 OPS as a 19-20 year old)
LaValliere – .765 (over .800 OPS in 3 of his first 4 years)
Slaught – .755 (.840 in his second year)
Paulino – .766 (.770 in his age 19 year)

McGuire – .646 (He had a .760 OPS in Rookie ball, which is looking like an aberration).

Hey….I hope I am wrong about Reese. But he is looking more and more like a Chris Stewart type backup to me.

However, I love those other 6 you mentioned!

NMR

“Simply put, McGuire regressed offensively, and it put a relatively significant dent in his status as an elite catching prospect….While the offensive profile may suggest a backup backstop, McGuire has a good chance to play every day because he’s one of the best defensive prospects in the game.”

^And that’s from BP, who has been the high ranking on McGuire since his draft.

wtm1613

And this is from Fangraphs in Mach:

“I was pleasantly surprised with the Reese McGuire that showed up in the Arizona Fall League; he finally showed some potential to use his plus bat speed to drive the ball with some authority instead of just making contact. It wasn’t just the numbers where he showed improvement either; his swing looked like it was meant to be doing some damage. He still has work to do on both his offense and defense, but the changes this fall were encouraging enough to project him closer to his offensive ceiling than I would have admitted at this time last year.”

I know Tim commented on this article and said McGuire’s swing this spring didn’t look the same as it did in the AFL, but it reinforces that there’s still offensive upside for Reese as he matures. Who knows how he will actually turn out, but it seems rash for Foo to label a barely 21 year old catcher as back-up.

NMR

There’s certainly upside remaining, but this is now four years of not hitting even a little bit. That simply cannot be ignored. At this stage, massive improvement is needed simply to reach an average bat for the position.

Foo may be aggressively low, but hanging on to hopes of high upside with the bat, at this stage, is equally high.

jsdspud

You know a system is crazy deep when guys like Ramirez and Clay Holmes can’t make it on this list.

Michael Sanders

It seems like Ke’Bryan Hayes is playing in a league below his ability. Any chances they promote him to a level where he might learn a bit more and have pitching that is more challenging?

nate h

Its only a month in. He needs to react to a full season. Whose to he doesn’t mentally or physically fatigue in July. I rather have him do so at a level like Low A then have him promote and wear down. He might then develop the yips! He’s still very young.

Michael Sanders

I put Hayes in a different place only because of his exposure to the game in a different way due to his father. What would the harm be to put him up against some more challenging pitching? If you give your all out effort, what would be the difference between 140-144 games in AA or AAA ball. Regarding the eventual build up to a 162 game season, the manager could limit the player to 120 games, get his development work in.

Scott K

No “No List?”

burghb

He didn’t make the list.

Bruce Humbert

Immediate loss in cred…

Scott K

It’s called sarcasm, Bruce.

Bruce Humbert

I was being facetious – as much as I like Osuna he has a bit longer path than those on the list – sometimes we all need to lighten up a bit and have some fun…

Scott K

You’re right! My apologies, Bruce.

st1300b

Id like to think even with some of that talent we could retain a few of the highest performing veterans.
So who might that be? Start with Gerrit Cole. No argument about who reps him and potential cost (see strasburg). If he is performing at or above his capability Id love to slot him unto that starting rotation for another 6 years.
Kang. He’d be thirties but after establishing himself as a key RBI performer over the team, ala Adrian Beltre, we ink him to continue producing steaks.
I want to say Cutch, mainly because i can see him as an older vet smiling and living the game like Stargell did, having already put a championship ring on. Why I cant is because there are so many prospects either in the outfield or heading there like Frazier, Hanson, Suchy, Polo, Hill, Garcia, etc in addition to Meadows and Ramirez.
Hope things work out this well for many years to come.

nate h

Gerrit needs to start performing like a number 1 starter before I will say we should extend him. He has been up and down, granted the ups are a lot more prevalent, but 100 million for him over say 5 years? That doesn’t look like the best investment in the world. Who knows, maybe he will break out into that number one starter soon, but right now I don’t think he warrants that kind of cash.

Out of every player, Cutch would be the one to keep around. Not even looking at his stats and just his overall attitude, he is a symbol of the Pirates. He plays the game how we like him to play it. He does everything on the field and off of it. I would love for him to retire a Pirate, but we just don’t know if that will happen. Will I hate the Pirates if they don’t extend him? No. I believe how they are running the team is how I would too. Always have someone behind that player ready to step in and produce. It will keep our team relevant for a long time. See Dback, Angels, etc for how not to run a team.

Mark H

I am really torn over Cutch. In the distance past, resigning him would seem to be the only option, but not so much today.

I really believe Cutch is a lot like Stargell in the sense that he seems to elevate the play of all those around him. Stargell had a unique leadership ability that is hard to quantify, but you know it when you see it. How much is that worth? I don’t know but I don’t think we would have had our last championship without it.

Luke S

While loving Cutch and all he has done for us, I kinda hope the evaluation of a player’s worth for a longterm deal into his mid and late 30s isnt centered on non statistical or financial reasons.

Love how he plays the game, love his attitude, love that he helped make baseball fun again in PGH. But i hope thats about the 5th most important thing they consider in giving him a hundred million or so.

Bill Harvey

The article doesn’t even touch on players that will be drafted and enter the system. Understandably because it can’t, but I say that for perspective. There may not be the high impact talent, but there is a lot of talent overall.

Bill W

Tim in your article you say Meadows will spend all of 2016 in Bradenton and all 2017 in Indianapolis. What happened to Altoona?

Sean McCool

Fixed. Thanks!

Scott K

He meant Altoona, not Bradenton.

BallHeadWonder

Great article for perspective!!!

DrStrangeglove

Don’t forget Kingham competing for a position in the rotation.

Zachary F

What’s Kingham’s status and where do you project him fitting in?

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