At the start of the 2016 season, I wrote about “The Next Wave” — the group of prospects who would join the Pirates in 2016, helping to lead to their playoff push this year, while making them contenders for years to come. That group has already started to make their impact.
Jameson Taillon and Adam Frazier look like they’re in the majors for good. Tyler Glasnow and Josh Bell could be joining them soon. Chad Kuhl, Steven Brault, Alen Hanson, and others have made their big league debuts this year. And more could be on the way.
When you see a wave of prospects arrive in the majors — especially top-tier prospects like Glasnow, Bell, and Taillon — you’re bound to see the talent in the farm system decline. That’s not a bad thing, as the talent just went to your MLB team, leaving less need for the farm system for the next six years.
That said, the Pirates still have a strong system, even if all of their prospects graduate this year. In our mid-season top 50 prospects, we included everyone except Taillon and Frazier, since they’re both in the majors (although we mentioned where they would go). But even if you take out Glasnow and Bell, plus a few of the other prospects from Indianapolis, you’ve still got a strong system. There’s still impact talent that rates among the best in the minors (Austin Meadows). You still have potential top of the rotation guys (Mitch Keller), future starters who could be above-average (Kevin Newman, to name just one), and plenty of depth for trades.
A big reason for this is because the farm system has had a lot of success stories this year, with a lot of good developments from the lower level prospects. They haven’t had as many setbacks, and a lot of those setbacks haven’t been long-term concerns, with a few of the prospects turning their seasons around lately.
When putting together our list this year, and writing up this 5,000 word summary (which includes links to articles that would make this whole process a book if we combined them all), I couldn’t help but notice two things — the Pirates have a very exciting future with the prospects that are coming up right now, and they still have a strong farm system that should keep that exciting future going strong for years to come.
Before we get to the rankings, I want to thank our writers for all of their work, not just on these rankings, but with everything. Brian Peloza (Indianapolis), Sean McCool (Altoona), and Abigail Miskowiec (West Virginia) have provided some great featured articles of their local teams this year, with many featured below. They also supplied their rankings for the players they have covered. John Dreker and Wilbur Miller both follow the farm system more than anyone I know, and both have covered games live this year. Aside from myself, John and Wilbur were the only writers who submitted rankings on every player. They also spent a lot of time this week debating the rankings, getting us to the list we have now.
This site wouldn’t have the prospect coverage it has without John, Wilbur, Brian, Sean, and Abigail, and this list wouldn’t be nearly as good without them. That’s what makes this the best site to follow the Pirates’ farm system, and what makes this the best ranking of the Pirates prospects. Your subscriptions also make all of this possible, as they allow me to pay these guys, making sure we get plenty of quality reports throughout the system. For those who haven’t subscribed, it’s only $2.99 per month, or $29.99 per year, and you not only get our outstanding coverage of the system, but you help support these great writers — not to mention our photographer, David Hague, and our MLB writers, Alan Saunders and Ed Giles.
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And now, here are the top 50 prospects, broken down by tiers and listed in numerical order. Click the links below each player for the latest features and scouting reports.
1. Tyler Glasnow, RHP
Analysis: The Book on Tyler Glasnow
2. Austin Meadows, CF
3. Josh Bell, 1B
Analysis: The Book on Josh Bell
Tier Analysis: In previous rankings, we had Tyler Glasnow in his own tier. Not much has changed with his ranking, and he still has more upside than anyone in the minor league system, Jameson Taillon included. We grouped him with Austin Meadows and Josh Bell here, mostly due to the progress both hitters have made. A year ago, this was the summary of both hitters:
I think both have a chance to hit for power in the future. Bell shows a ton of raw power from the left side, and I have no concerns that he won’t tap into that in the future. He does struggle from the right side, which is something I’ve detailed for the last year, but the left-handed power production should give him a shot of at least 20 homers per year, and a lot of doubles. Meanwhile, Meadows is currently held back in part by the Florida State League atmosphere. He’s got a quick swing and a short stroke, with a lot of gap power. He worked this year on adding muscle, and if he adds a bit more, I think some of his doubles and triples will start turning into home runs, and some of his hard hit singles will start going for doubles, or triples with his speed.
They have both since added power to their game. Josh Bell did it via a leg kick that he added last year, and continued to adjust until it got results. He’s even seeing those results from both sides, and it was clear before the season that he was in line for a boost in power. Meadows has also seen a boost in his power numbers, and has carried his hitting over to Indianapolis, before his recent injury. A year ago, if you talked about Meadows as a future replacement for Andrew McCutchen after 2018, you’d spark outrage. Now, the idea that he will take over for McCutchen is widely accepted, and some might want it to happen sooner, rather than later, due to McCutchen’s struggles.
Glasnow could be up for good in the final two months, and Bell could also get his shot at starting at first base if John Jaso continues his offensive struggles. That would put Meadows in line to be the top prospect in the system next year. That would kind of come via default, with Glasnow graduating, but I think you could have a really interesting debate right now as to which player will have a better career. They’re both potential impact guys, and Josh Bell can be added to that group.
This first tier should get you excited for the future of the Pirates. Three guys who are all at the top level of the minors, with two of them on the verge of jumping to the majors full-time. Three guys who can be impact players in the majors, joining a team that already has several young impact players. Jameson Taillon would have also been in this tier, although I couldn’t tell you where specifically he’d rank, since we didn’t include him in the rankings. But those four players are going to make the Pirates a very exciting team to watch in the years to come.
4. Kevin Newman, SS
5. Mitch Keller, RHP
Tier Analysis: These two guys didn’t belong in the first tier, since they don’t yet provide the impact talent of that group. They also don’t belong in the tier below, since they both stand out from that group.
Kevin Newman doesn’t have the highest upside, but has one of the highest floors in the system, making him one of the safest prospects to bank on. He’s shown tremendous hitting skills so far this year, with a .922 OPS in Bradenton, and an .805 OPS in Altoona since his early promotion. He doesn’t hit for much power, but shows an incredible ability to hit the ball where the fielders aren’t, while showing great plate patience (29:22 BB/K ratio in 312 PA this year), and a lot of speed. Defense has been the biggest thing he has been working on this year, but he does look like he has the skills to stick at shortstop, potentially matching Jordy Mercer’s defense, with much better and more consistent offensive value. Newman could be the starting shortstop in Pittsburgh as early as this time next year, but more likely at some point in 2018, with the chance to be an above-average player.
Mitch Keller is having a breakout season this year, emerging as a potential top of the rotation arm, with a fastball that is touching 97 MPH and a plus curveball. He will likely remain in West Virginia the remainder of the season as his workload starts to decrease due to a career high in innings. That would put him on pace to go to Bradenton next year, and if he pitches well enough, Altoona in the second half. An ultra aggressive schedule would have him in the majors during the 2018 season, but a more likely timeline has him arriving mid-season 2019, joining Glasnow, Taillon, and Gerrit Cole in what will likely be Cole’s final year with the team before free agency. That would provide a bit of a changing of the guard, with Keller joining Glasnow and Taillon to continue giving the Pirates three top of the rotation arms in their rotation for at least three more years.
6. Reese McGuire, C
Analysis: Reese McGuire By the Numbers
7. Nick Kingham, RHP
8. Cole Tucker, SS
9. Chad Kuhl, RHP
Analysis: The Book on Chad Kuhl
10. Will Craig, 3B
11. Steven Brault, LHP
Analysis: The Book on Steven Brault
12. Harold Ramirez, RF
13. Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B
14. Elias Diaz, C
Analysis: Elias Diaz Rehab Update
15. Clay Holmes, RHP
16. Yeudy Garcia, RHP
17. Gage Hinsz, RHP
Tier Analysis: The thing I like about tiers is that the rankings are pretty interchangeable. The tiers represent the talent levels, and the rankings represent personal preference. One person might have Player A ranked 6th overall, and one person might have him 17th overall, and they’d be about the same talent level.
This is a big tier, and I don’t want to say that the number 6 guy is the same as the number 17 guy. I wouldn’t rank Reese McGuire outside of the top ten, and I wouldn’t rank Gage Hinsz inside the top ten (although I’d be temped, for reasons I’ll mention later). But this tier became big because there wasn’t a noticeable gap between the individual players in the rankings. There was a bigger gap between 6 and 17 than I’d like to see in a tier, but there’s not much of a gap between 6 and 9, or 9 and 11, or 11 and 15, or 15 and 17. There just wasn’t a place to draw a good line and divide up this group.
The biggest debate from this group involved where to rank Reese McGuire. The lowest suggestion was tenth overall, and he ended up sixth. I was a big reason he was pushed up to sixth, so I’ll explain why he’s the top guy in this tier. The big thing that people point to would be his offense. He has a .677 OPS in 241 at-bats in Altoona this year. He also has some of the best catching defense in minor league baseball, and that defense will at least get him a backup catching job one day, and possibly even a starting job. The offensive numbers aren’t good right now, but McGuire is 21. If he would have gone to college, he’d be playing in Morgantown right now, Bradenton next year, and wouldn’t reach Altoona until mid-2017 at the earliest, or possibly 2018. So he’s ahead of schedule. Meanwhile, he makes solid contact, and has great plate patience, with a 28:22 BB/K ratio. His issue is being too selective at times, which he’s working on improving this year. He might need a second full season in Altoona to work on the offense, but at his age, he can afford an extra year or two at the level.
With his Tommy John surgery, Nick Kingham has become a forgotten prospect. It’s easy to get lost in the mix of pitching in the upper levels of this system, especially when you’re not pitching. Kingham is now making his way back, but might not make it to Indianapolis this year. He will next year, and will likely need a refresher at the level like Jameson Taillon saw this year. Prior to his surgery, he had a 93-95 MPH fastball that touched 97-98, and an above-average curveball and changeup. If he returns to that, he could be the best of the Chad Kuhl/Steven Brault/Trevor Williams group behind the top of the rotation starters.
Cole Tucker is a similar story to Reese McGuire. Most people his age are playing in West Virginia or lower. He’s playing in Bradenton, and isn’t putting up the best numbers. But he was putting up good numbers in West Virginia before his promotion, and had strong results in his final two months at the level last year. If he didn’t get an aggressive promotion, we might be looking at him a lot differently right now. He’s very raw, but has the potential to be a starting shortstop in the majors, with a similar ceiling to Newman, but a lower floor due to the age. For perspective, Newman made the jump to Altoona this year at age 22. Tucker doesn’t turn 22 until the second half of the 2018 season.
My biggest regret in the pre-season rankings was that we didn’t push Chad Kuhl higher. We had him 16th overall, but received a lot of positive second half reports that warranted a higher ranking. He carried his improved velocity over to the 2016 season, improved his slider this year, and saw better feel for the changeup at times. I’ve talked to a number of scouts who see him as a number four starter in the majors, with a few saying he could possibly go higher. Kuhl is another high floor guy. At the least, the Pirates have a solid reliever. However, it’s looking like he’ll end up in the rotation as an innings eater, rounding out a very talented and young Pirates group.
Will Craig rounded out our top 10, which might be controversial due to his struggles early in the season with Morgantown. Kevin Newman’s success this year partially impacts Craig’s ranking. Newman had similar numbers to Craig last year in Morgantown, raising early concerns with his poor first impression. I talked to a scout last year in the NYPL who didn’t even consider the numbers or performances at that level, and only looked at the tools. That proved wise for Newman, and should be wise for Craig. He’s got the ability for good contact, great plate patience, and some power potential, with his only question surrounding how much power he can hit for in pro ball. I’ve watched Craig’s swing, and wouldn’t be surprised if the Pirates make an adjustment this off-season. He has a bit of a bat wrap and a longer swing than you’d like to see, due to his high hand placement. I could see them dropping his hands — an approach they’ve taken with Austin Meadows, Reese McGuire, Cole Tucker, and others — in order to speed his bat through the zone, allowing him to wait longer on breaking pitches and off-speed stuff. We’ll see if that takes place, with any changes probably being finalized next Spring.
There are a few pitchers outside of the top 10 in this tier. Steven Brault is ranked more on his floor than his upside. He’s a future number four starter, and might be there now. He still needs to improve his breaking pitch. He’s getting a lot of strikeouts in Triple-A, but the slider he has won’t generate the same success in the majors without improvements. Clay Holmes is in his first full year back from Tommy John surgery this year, and has seen his command improve as the season goes on, with more consistent velocity. He had the upside of a solid number three starter and an innings eater before the injury, and that seems to be the case after his recovery. Yeudy Garcia has a higher upside than Holmes or Brault, but is a much riskier guy, due to his command issues this year. He’s showing some positive signs lately, and an improved changeup. He could propel himself up this list with improved command down the stretch.
Finally, for the pitchers, Gage Hinsz is a guy who I’m tempted to give an aggressive and crazy ranking to, just to establish him as a standout prospect. I received a lot of great reports from scouts who saw him in extended Spring Training this year, and liked what I saw in the two times I saw him as well. His fastball is now consistently hitting 95 MPH, and his curveball has turned into a plus pitch. His command has also greatly improved, leading to a much lower walk rate at 4.3% this year, compared to 13.1%. I think Mitch Keller has the edge on him, due to more consistency with his pitches. However, I could see Keller and Hinsz one day at the top of the system rankings, with both guys having top of the rotation potential.
On the position player side, Harold Ramirez dropped from 6th to 12th in our rankings, although it wasn’t entirely due to him. He was passed by several players, including Kevin Newman, Mitch Keller, and first round pick Will Craig. He’s hitting well enough in Altoona, with his numbers improving after a poor April. He might not be a power guy, but will hit for average, get on base, and provide some speed, along with good defense from right field. One concern with him is that his speed could go away as he gets older and fills out, cutting into his long-term value. We have him as a likely average starter, with the chance to be above-average, taking all of that into consideration.
Ke’Bryan Hayes has a similar offensive profile to Ramirez, with the ability to hit for average and get on base. He lacks power, but might be able to add that in the future. He has excellent defense at third base, and could have more value than Ramirez, but gets docked now due to more risk at his young age. That said, you could make a very good argument to rate him up there with Tucker in the top ten. His current back injury didn’t impact his rating, as that isn’t a long-term concern for now.
Elias Diaz is the final position player in this tier. We had him close to McGuire at the start of the season, but his elbow issues dropped him. He’s healthy now, and hopefully stays that way. He still has a shot at being a starter in the majors, and definitely could be a strong defensive backup. His risk factor went up with the elbow injury, but could go back down as more time passes with him staying healthy.
18. Trevor Williams, RHP
19. Alen Hanson, 2B
20. Tito Polo, OF
Analysis: Tito Polo Adjusting to His New Level
21. Stephen Tarpley, LHP
22. Brandon Waddell, LHP
23. Tyler Eppler, RHP
24. Max Moroff, 2B
Tier Analysis: This group is when you see a drop from guys projected as 5.0 likely upsides (average position player, #3-5 starter, closer candidate), to guys who are projected for impact bench roles, strong middle relievers, spot starters, and the chance to advance to that 5.0 grade.
Trevor Williams was the easy choice to lead this group. He’s paired with Kuhl and Brault in articles, due to their placement in the system. However, he doesn’t have the same quality of breaking pitch that Kuhl has, and doesn’t have the ability to throw with his left hand like Brault. He could be a back of the rotation starter in the majors, but it seems like his role with the Pirates would be a strong depth option or a reliever.
Adam Frazier isn’t on this list, due to being in the majors. However, we ranked him, as he might not get enough plate appearances to lose prospect status. We had him at the top of the tier, ahead of Williams and also ahead of Alen Hanson. The argument for Frazier over Hanson right now is a debate between upside and floor. We’re seeing what Frazier is capable of right now, but this is likely his upside. He could exceed the super utility role and become the next Josh Harrison — looking like an average starter at a position. But if he only remains a good super utility player, that would be fine.
Meanwhile, Hanson has better tools, and more power. He tends to get in his own head, trying to push to get the call-up to the majors. I have concerns that this might never go away. But I also want to keep perspective here. If Hanson was at the same levels at the same ages as Frazier, he would have been in Bradenton last year, Altoona this year, and making his debut in Indianapolis next year. He’d probably see better numbers with that approach, and would be more favorably compared to Frazier right now. I think Hanson could be a super utility player, with a better shot than Frazier to be an average starter, but obviously more risk.
Max Moroff comes in lower than those two, due to concerns that he might be a bit too selective at times, along with less speed. But we made it a point to include him in this tier, since there isn’t a huge difference in talent or upside there.
Tito Polo is having a breakout season this year, putting up good numbers in West Virginia, and showing good tools in Bradenton. He’s got the chance to be an above-average starter in the majors one day, although he’s still raw. Stephen Tarpley has shown good development of his secondary stuff, with a much improved slider. He still has some fastball command issues, which lowers his ranking. Polo and Tarpley belong in tier 3 if you’re only going by their ceilings, and I think you could make a strong argument to include them in the back end of that tier. But they’re also both raw, leading to the drop to tier 4.
Brandon Waddell and Tyler Eppler give the Pirates two more back of the rotation candidates in the upper levels. Waddell relies more on location and command, but does have the ability to hit 93 MPH consistently with his fastball. Eppler has more velocity, sitting 92-96 with a good changeup, but lacks a good breaking pitch, and might never develop a good one. At the least, he’ll be a good MLB reliever, and the same goes for Waddell. As starters, they will have a hard time cracking the Pirates’ rotation.
25. Adrian Valerio, SS
26. Braeden Ogle, LHP
27. Kevin Kramer, 2B
Analysis: Kevin Kramer season preview
28. Travis MacGregor, RHP
29. Max Kranick, RHP
30. Frank Duncan, RHP
31. Dovydas Neverauskas, RHP
32. Connor Joe, 3B
Tier Analysis: This tier includes a lot of high upside talent, along with a few safe guys in the upper levels. The highlight of the group would be the 2016 prep pitchers. Braeden Ogle gets the slight boost over Travis MacGregor and Max Kranick, due to being left-handed with some good velocity and stuff at his age. MacGregor gets the bump from me over Kranick due to his taller, more projectable frame. But all three players are high upside lottery tickets, with the hope that one breaks out as a top prospect one day.
We rated Adrian Valerio ahead of the prep pitchers, despite the fact that he is also very raw. One thing working in his favor is his defense at shortstop. It’s some of the best in the system, and should get him to the majors one day as a defensive backup, at the least. He makes solid contact with the ball, with a line drive stroke, and also has a lot of speed. That could allow him to provide some offensive value one day as well, which would put him much higher on this list.
Kevin Kramer and Connor Joe were upper round picks the last two years, and both have shown promise in Bradenton this year, which hasn’t fully reflected in the stat lines. Kramer only has a .725 OPS, but has shown some good power potential for a middle infielder, along with a good ability to make contact and get on base. Joe is in the same situation, although with a lot more raw power, and some good plate patience. He has seen improvements as the season has gone on. Both players passed the eye test, looking better than their numbers on the field.
Frank Duncan and Dovydas Neverauskas are two surprise guys on this list. Going in to this process, I didn’t think they’d be around the 30 spot, but I can say I’d argue with it. Both have high floors, with the chance to help in the big leagues this year. Duncan has done well as a starter in Triple-A, but his likely role is a middle or long reliever in the majors, or a spot starter out of Triple-A. Neverauskas has seen a velocity increase this year, along with much better results out of the bullpen. His velocity has hit 99 MPH, making him an appealing reliever for Pittsburgh late in the season.
33. Erich Weiss, 2B
34. Stephen Alemais, SS
Analysis: Pirates Draft Shortstop Stephen Alemais
35. JT Brubaker, RHP
Analysis: JT Brubaker adjusting to his new level
36. Edgar Santana, RHP
Analysis: Edgar Santana promoted to Altoona
37. Luis Escobar, RHP
38. Austin Shields, RHP
Analysis: Pirates Sign Austin Shields
39. Jacob Taylor, RHP
40. Michael De La Cruz, CF
41. Edison Lantigua, OF
Tier Analysis: This tier is similar to tier 5, although obviously with a step down in every level. The high upside guys are a little riskier, the high floor guys have less upside, and so on.
Erich Weiss could be a bench player in the majors, although his lack of positions (2B/3B) might limit his upside, compared to someone like Kevin Kramer (2B/3B, plus shortstop in a pinch and the possibility for the outfield). Stephen Alemais is a guy who could reach the majors on his defense at shortstop alone, making him similar to Adrian Valerio in that way. But Valerio has more offensive upside, leading to the higher ranking.
Luis Escobar has great fastball velocity, hitting 95 MPH while also flashing a curveball with plus potential. His command is what holds him back from joining the 2016 prep pitchers, or even going as high as Gage Hinsz in the top 20. Jacob Taylor is another high upside pitcher in the lower levels, although he’s returning from Tommy John, and we won’t get a feel for his true stuff until next year. Austin Shields joins this group, getting similar rankings to his fellow 2016 prep pitchers, but more risk due to slightly worse command issues.
There are also higher upside position players. Edison Lantigua had a hand injury last year, impacting his numbers in his jump to the GCL. He’s healthy this year, and putting up impressive results, while also passing the eye test in the process as a very toolsy outfielder with good contact skills. Michael De La Cruz is another toolsy outfielder. He hasn’t broken out as expected, but is still very young and has some decent numbers in Bristol this year, with a great OBP.
Edgar Santana has the potential for a plus fastball and a plus slider, and could be up there with Neverauskas if it wasn’t for his command issues. JT Brubaker could make it as a back of the rotation starter, but needs to show better command, and maybe some upper level success going forward, before propelling up to guys like Eppler or Waddell.
42. Eric Wood, 3B
43. Jose Osuna, 1B
Analysis: Jose Osuna promoted to Indianapolis
44. Mitchell Tolman, 2B
45. Jordan Luplow, OF
Analysis: Jordan Luplow turning his season around
46. Blake Cederlind, RHP
Analysis: Pirates draft Blake Cederlind
47. Barrett Barnes, OF
Analysis: Barrett Barnes season preview
48. Edwin Espinal, 1B
49. Ike Schlabach, LHP
50. James Marvel, RHP
Analysis: James Marvel season preview
Just Missed (In Alphabetical Order): Dario Agrazal, Wilfredo Boscan, Austin Coley, Cody Dickson, Montana DuRapau, Willy Garcia, Luis Heredia, Casey Hughston, Jin-De Jhang, Jared Lakind, Wyatt Mathisen, Casey Sadler, Angel Sanchez, Brian Sousa, Cam Vieaux
Tier Analysis: At this point in the rankings, we start picking out guys we want to highlight. I included the guys who just missed, giving you a few bonus prospects. Everyone in this tier has a likely upside of 3 or more, although no one is over 3.5. That means they’re all projected with a good chance to see the majors, even if it’s just a cup of coffee. Some of these guys could improve beyond this level, but for most of them, it will require success in higher levels. For more details on these guys, check out the individual articles.