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First Pitch: Which Pirates Prospects Could Be Due For a Promotion in June?

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We’re just a week away from June, which usually is the month where the most minor league transactions take place. That’s the time when prospects get promoted to new levels, and when guys at the Triple-A level usually start making their way to the big leagues. To get an idea of who could move up in the Pirates’ system next month, I looked at the depth charts and the performance of each player in the full season leagues.

The spoiler alert here is that the next month doesn’t look like it will have a lot of moves in terms of top prospects (outside of the promotions to the majors). That said, there are some moves expected, and I broke them all down below.

The Shortstops

At this point, the biggest prospect promotions around mid-season will be the first round picks of the last two years. Kevin Newman will definitely make it up to Altoona this year. His bat looks ready right now, although the defense is the thing that is keeping him back right now. I reported last month that Newman was working on his pre-pitch setup, modeling himself after videos of Jordy Mercer to get in a better starting position.

Tonight, I talked with Bradenton Manager Michael Ryan, who said that Newman has now moved on to the next step in his defensive game.

“His setup is good,” Ryan said. “We’ve moved on to a wider base now whenever he’s going to field the baseball, which is going to help him stay down. A couple of errors that he has made this year, he has come up on some balls, just because he was moving too narrow with his feet. Just widening his base, that’s what we’re on now, because the setup is really good.”

I’ve noticed a few errors this year where Newman has looked like he might be rushing the play, and ends up booting a grounder. That could be chalked up to what Ryan was saying about a narrow base.

It’s easier for Newman to work on these things in Bradenton, where his hitting is obviously comfortable, rather than moving up to Altoona and focusing not only on the defensive improvements, but also on hitting a new class of pitching. I could see him making the jump to Double-A by this time next month, and maybe sooner than that. This would give him half a season in Altoona, giving him a shot to begin the 2017 season in Indianapolis, if the defense progresses well enough. Currently, he’s not blocked at the level.

When Newman moves up, Cole Tucker will also move up to Bradenton. Tucker just returned to West Virginia, and is easing his way back into things. His throws from shortstop have looked just as good as his throws pre-injury. He struggled on offense his first week, but hit well this past week. He’ll get some additional time to get adjusted, and will get promoted when Newman goes up, opening a spot for him in Bradenton.

The Starting Pitching

We all know that a few starting pitchers will be moving up from Indianapolis to Pittsburgh at some point in the next few weeks. My guess is that Jameson Taillon and Chad Kuhl will be the first to move up, with the chance that Tyler Glasnow could make the jump later. Trevor Williams is returning to the Indianapolis rotation, and Steven Brault could be back by mid-June from his hamstring strain, so that fills two rotation spots. The only guy I see as a possibility to come up from Altoona is Frank Duncan. Technically, he’s already in Triple-A, although he’s expected to go back down to Altoona when Williams returns.

The Pirates typically keep starting pitching prospects in Altoona for a full season, and very rarely do they send guys up with less than that. I could see Tyler Eppler making the jump to Indianapolis at the end of the season, but not by mid-season. The same goes with Clay Holmes, who looks like he’s just starting to get settled in during his first full year back from Tommy John surgery. I could also see Brandon Waddell getting the call at the end of the year if the Indians make the playoffs and Altoona doesn’t.

If Jason Creasy, Cody Dickson, and David Whitehead are going to make it beyond Altoona, I think it will be as relievers. So there definitely could be some openings in the Altoona rotation for promotions.

The only potential promotion I see from the Bradenton rotation would be Austin Coley, and only if he continues pitching the way he has this month. Waddell already got promoted. Yeudy Garcia is struggling, and Stephen Tarpley has hardly had any time at the level right now, due to his oblique injury at the start of the year. Alex McRae is another candidate to move up, although he looks like another future reliever, rather than a guy who can make it as a starter.

In West Virginia, my pre-season pick for a promotion was JT Brubaker, although he’s working on his command, which has struggled lately. He’s got a high upside arm, but it’s looking like he will need more time at the level. Mitch Keller will stick at the level all year, as the Pirates like young pitchers staying with the same team for a full season, getting used to pitching over that long of a period. By the end of the year, he’s going to be very limited, wearing down, and that’s not the best time to send him to face a new challenge. The Pirates kept Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow, Nick Kingham, Clay Holmes, and any other prep pitcher under this plan of a full season in West Virginia. They did the same with Josh Bell, Max Moroff, and all of the prep hitters. You can expect the same from Keller.

That just leaves Logan Sendelbach as a promotion candidate, although I would be surprised if that happens by mid-season, as he still needs to prove himself over a longer period before a call to High-A. The one promotion that could be possible to West Virginia would be James Marvel joining their rotation. He’s a 36th round pick from Duke who received a $150,000 over-slot bonus while returning from Tommy John. He’s healthy now, but the Pirates are easing him back in the mix.

Overall, I don’t expect a lot of movement from the rotation, outside of guys jumping to the big leagues. I think Waddell was the big move, and that has been made.

The Bullpen

I think we’re more likely to see relievers on the move in the next month. We’ve already seen Edgar Santana move up to Altoona. I think another Bradenton reliever could follow him soon.

Luis Heredia has seen a lot of success this year in his move to the bullpen, while also transitioning to a sinkerball guy. He just gave up his second earned run of the year tonight, but still has an ERA under 1.00, while getting a lot of ground outs. Michael Ryan said after the game that Heredia looks like he’s ready for the next level, when I asked if he could be in line for a promotion this summer.

“If a call came and they asked if he was ready, I would absolutely recommend him,” Ryan said. “I don’t know what their plans are, and what they’re thinking. But if they would ask if he was ready for Altoona, I would say yeah. He’s proven over this many outings that this isn’t a fluke. It’s really good. And he’s very confident, too. That’s a dangerous thing.”

I could also see Bradenton getting a reliever from West Virginia, with the Pirates potentially challenging 2015 8th round pick Seth McGarry with a promotion. He’s got decent numbers this year, but he’s also a guy out of college, and you don’t want a reliever like that pitching in Low-A all season.

Blocked Prospects

I’d continue to discuss prospects at each position, but the Pirates are either set up to where every position is blocked, or they’re not seeing the production needed from certain players to warrant a promotion. As an example of this, Kevin Kramer has been hitting well this month, after looking good in April, but not seeing the results. If his hitting continues, he could be in line for a promotion. However, he’s blocked by Erich Weiss in Altoona, who is also off to a good start, with an .826 OPS. Meanwhile, Weiss is blocked by all of the infielders in Indianapolis, with Alen Hanson, Adam Frazier, and Max Moroff taking up playing time.

That’s just second base, and doesn’t even consider Pablo Reyes getting additional playing time if Kramer would be moved up, which might block Mitchell Tolman from an eventual promotion from West Virginia.

If you go through the rest of the system, you see similar situations at each spot. That’s going to make it very difficult for guys to move up at mid-season, outside of the shortstops.

**Prospect Watch: Big Night for the Top of the Altoona Lineup. Live reports from Altoona and Bradenton, with the former having a big night on offense.

**Top Performers: Glasnow, Taillon, Kuhl, Bell, Frazier, Moroff, Newman, Ramirez, Tucker. Our weekly feature, with profiles on over 20 prospects this week, based off our live reports.

**Why the Pirates Demoted Two of Their 2015 Draft Picks This Weekend. Looking at why the Pirates demoted Casey Hughston and Logan Hill.

**Morning Report: Why Don’t Younger Pitchers Throw More Changeups? John Dreker with a great article, looking at why young pitchers don’t throw more changeups, and using Tyler Glasnow as one example of a guy who waited until Triple-A to really start improving the pitch.

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Tim Williams
Tim Williams
Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of PiratesProspects.com. He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.

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