This week we released our 2017 mid-season top 50 prospects, looking at the latest version of the best prospects in the Pirates’ system. I followed that up by looking at ten players who could move up in the rankings, possibly by the end of the year.
Today’s article will be a bit of a different look at players who move up. I’m not looking at guys who could make smaller moves this year, but instead looking at guys who could eventually be at the top of the system. The criteria here was looking at guys who fell outside of the top 10, and who could eventually end up inside the top ten. I only went with five players, and obviously there could be more players who qualify under those conditions. However, I also considered the tiered system in this article.
Our Tier 3 in the latest rankings included prospects rated from 7th-16th. I didn’t include any prospects in that tier unless I saw them eventually moving up to a higher tier. There were only two players that I highlighted here, and there could end up being more (or just two different players who eventually emerge). I’m just going with the guys who I feel have the best chance of making the jump, based on what I’ve seen so far.
After the Tier 3 players, I looked at guys who had the best chance of moving up, trying to factor in upside and risk. This was a bit more difficult to narrow down, and I only picked three players. I could have gone with more, but I didn’t want to cheapen the list. I mostly went with guys who I felt could move up at least two tiers from where they are right now.
I’m also going to add a disclaimer that Mason Martin was considered for this article, and the five players I picked came about 3-4 home runs ago for Martin. I’m planning an article on Martin early this week, and will dig into him a bit more in that article. I’m encouraged by what he is doing so far, but the challenge with in-season articles like this is that I don’t want to base too much on a hot week. Obviously if this becomes more than a hot week for Martin, he would be in an article like this in the future. For that to happen, he’d need to show the tools and skills to perform like this on a consistent basis, and that’s important, because I’m mostly looking at the tools and skills for this article, especially with lower level guys.
Here are the five players who I think could eventually move to the top of the system.
Calvin Mitchell – I wrote in a comment after the top 50 was released that I was the highest on Mitchell, and was talked down to his current ranking of #11. What I’ve seen from him so far has been impressive. He’s athletic, with a short, compact swing that provides easy power. He’s got the look of a guy who could take off in the next few years, and who you could dream on in the future. When you combine his on-field talent with what appears to be a smart and mature kid off the field, you get a guy who looks like he could emerge as better than a second round pick, possibly one day becoming the top prospect in the system. If I’m breaking up this group of five players into tiers, Mitchell would be in my Tier 1.
Kevin Kramer – If you’ve read my articles about Kramer over the last two seasons, then it will be no surprise that he’s listed here. Kramer might have ended up in our top 10 prospects if he didn’t get injured during the first two months of the season. What he showed prior to that was encouraging, especially since we’ve seen the tools and ability to be a strong hitter prior to his time in Altoona, and finally saw it translate to games. Right now I’d say the big thing holding him back would be the risk factor, and that risk would be mitigated by seeing him having more success once he returns. I could see him ending up with a similar value as Kevin Newman — not the highest ceiling, and maybe only an average starter, but also a high floor that eventually makes him a strong bet to be at least a good bench option. If you’re looking for upside, he probably has the lowest amount in this group. But if you’re looking for someone who will almost certainly be a Major Leaguer, I think he’s your guy.
Steven Jennings – We haven’t seen much of Jennings so far, but what we have seen has been encouraging. He’s a strike thrower with good control of his fastball, and the ability to move the pitch around the zone. The fastball has led to a lot of ground balls so far, and a lot of weak contact. It tops out right now at 92 MPH, although reports from the draft say he’s gotten the pitch into the mid-90s. He’s got some promising breaking stuff, and the feel for a changeup. He’s currently ranked 20th, and in Tier 4 of our top 50 rankings, but could easily move up. I could see him challenging for the top 10 as soon as next year if his stuff continues taking a step forward, and that’s not hard to imagine when you consider that we’re talking about an 18-year-old kid who already shows some promising stuff.
Conner Uselton – It was difficult to evaluate Uselton, since I only got to see him in one game (which saw him pick up three hits), and any further evaluation would be based on his size, and the conversations I’ve had with him. Outside of the one game I’ve seen, Uselton does have a good frame, with strong forearms that project for him to eventually hit for power. He’s older than the other prep players drafted in 2017, and the hamstring tear sets him back a bit. However, he could still end up in West Virginia at the start of next year, or perhaps with a bit of a delay out of Spring Training. At that point, we should get a better view of his skills, and he would have a chance to move up the list, possibly ending up as a top ten prospect by the end of 2018.
Lolo Sanchez – If I’m breaking this article into tiers, Mitchell would be Tier 1 as a guy who could be at the top of the system, Kramer would be Tier 2 as a guy who could be safely in the middle of the top 10, and the final three players would be Tier 3 as guys who could eventually be top 10 prospects. Sanchez might have a bit more upside than the other two on this list though, as he has the look of a potential game changer. He’s shown the ability to hit for average and get on base at a strong rate, with advanced plate patience that has led to a 9:12 BB/K ratio. He’s also showing a bit of power with a .118 ISO, which is good since he’s mostly a speed guy at this point. His speed also leads to a lot of range in the outfield, and he has the look of a guy who could stick in center field. The combo of speed and the ability to hit for average and get on base makes him a prospect. If he can continue this in the upper levels, he’ll move into the top 10, and could move higher than that if he adds some power to his game.
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.