Williams: Five Pirates Prospects Who Could Eventually Move to the Top of the System

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.

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Brian Z

Luplow!!!!! The next Great Bambino!!! OR might he not make the top 10 b/c he gets called up before he reached the top 10 list while he starts his MLB debut going 3 for 5 with 2 HR’s and a double and then ESPN says, Judge who?


The best part of this article is the Mason Martin disclaimer


can’t conflate 12 k in 30 abs

Scott K


Definitely not appropriate for a minor league baseball site. Please sink your vocabulary down to AA level for us low ceiling, roster filler types.


At first I was pissed because I had to look it up. But now I can use it comfortably in a sentence so that’s good.

Scott K

Happy Lolo is on the list. Certainly has a Tier 1 name to go with his game.


Happy to see three outfielders making the list!


One of my favorite parts of the deadline is not just the trades that happen but also the hypothetical trades. I put together a mock deadline through a game, Out Of The Park Baseball 18, and while its not great its decent (the trade engine). Im not going to claim to be good at this but i think that its a good way to start a conversation on the topic. Im going to post this on the next few articles to hopefully get more people to see it so sorry if it annoys anyone.


Trade 1 – Pirates get Jed Lowrie – Athletics get Elvis Escobar and Gage Hinsz


Trade 2 – Pirates get Pat Neshek – Phillies get Max Moroff and Larry Alcime


Trade 3 – Pirates get Ben Revere – Angels get Max Kranick and Garrett Brown


Trade 4 – Pirates get Derek Holland – White Sox get J.T. Brubaker and Michael De La Cruz


Trade 5 – Pirates get Joe Smith – Blue Jays get Dario Agrazal, Kevin Kramer, and Clark Eagan


Rotation – Gerrit Cole – Jameson Taillon – Ivan Nova – Chad Kuhl – Derek Holland


Bullpen – Felipe Rivero – Juan Nicasio – Pat Neshek – Tony Watson – Joe Smith – Daniel Hudson – Trevor Williams


Lineup – C Francisco Cervelli – 1B Josh Bell – 2B Jed Lowrie – 3B Josh Harrison – SS Jordy Mercer – LF Starling Marte – CF Andrew McCutchen – RF Gregory Polanco


Bench – Chris Stewart – John Jaso – David Freese – Adam Frazier – Jose Osuna / Ben Revere


*Note – Teams retained varrying amounts of salary in order to make finacials work for Pirates


The trades for Smith and Neshek help shore up a shaky bullpen and hopefully give some nice set up options to add to Nicasio. Holland can be this years Happ/Nova but a little more of a wild card. Lowrie can stabilize third by letting Harrison to move over and give Freese som emore time off. Revere kinda causes a problem in the bench but can fill in for Polanco while hes on the DL and gives a true outfielder to replace Marte in the playoffs.


I thought about selling off pieces but it doesnt really make sense. Making a run at the playoff would mean Nicasio, Cutch, JHay and Cole would have to stick around. Watsons value to a run would be more than what would be aquired for two months of him and Freese, who i think is the best candidate to be sold, seems like too much of a leader as well as a good vet bat of the bench.


This is just a starting point please understand that and provide imput as to what you think could happen.


Ben Revere can’t hit his way out of a paper bag this year…No thanks

joe s

Glad you cleared out all the suspects I mean prospects.


I’d rather the Bucs just send Glasnow, Meadows, Brault, and Mitchell to the Orioles for 1.5 seasons of Manny Machado.

NorCal Buc

I appreciate the effort, ‘PK’,and look forward to your future posts


except for lowrie ,no thanks.

Ron Zorn

Interesting, I was fine with all these, accept Lowrie. No problem with the player, but not ready to give up Hinsz for a fill in


Most of these potential trades involve low level “suspects” for marginal washed up MLB players. CAN’T we aim higher for a real 4th outfielder or backup infielder. Jaso and Freeze are all washed up. We have two back-up rookies, Moroff and Frazier trying to learn second base. Osuna has no range in outfielder. Polanco goes down and we are forced to play garbage as replacements.


Smith and Neshek are having decent seasons as is Lowrie. Lowrie is more than a bench player and it’s more likely NH gets a guy like Revere who won’t cost much and doesn’t get payed beyond this year than a more established player. Osuna having no range and Polanco going down is exactly why we need a guy like Revere to come and play some innings with good defense and speed.


I could live with all those trades and acquisitions


I’m a believer in Kramer and think his upside is > Newman. Time will tell. Similar to me of the Mercer vs dArnaud a few years back.

Phil W

Agree with Mitchell. He looks the part in a small sample size so far. And if you believe the scouting reports leading up to the draft, he would have been a 1st rounder if not for a 40 at bat slump to start his high school season.

Bill Harvey

I know we have seen a lot of highlights from Madrid, far too many for the actual results he is putting up, but I really think, that he will be a top 10 guy one day. Once the Pirates development staff gets to work with him, I think his batted ball ability is going to skyrocket. Just from the highlights I have seen, he may have the quickest wrists in the organization, bar none. But he is more of a stretch pick.

Mitchell is kind of surprising, not because he is picked to one day be a top 10 guy, but more because he isn’t already.


I am a huge Mitchell fan and as much as I disliked the Craig pick, I applauded the Mitchell pick. I really thought that he’d go in round one. I have a feeling that he will not be unlike another 2nd rounder that could’ve been a first rounder….Josh Bell.

William R. Maloni Sr

“not be unlike,” Foo?

Does that double negative mean he will be good or bad?


I was a math major in college….two minuses make a plus, if I remember correctly.

Bill W

Poor guy he was given a reverse kiss of death by FOO.


Not really…I never liked Hanson for one (of many, lol). By your criteria, Alen should’ve become a star.

Scott K

He still might. Especially now that he’s got a fresh start.

IC Bob

Some of you guys are going to sink all the way to the bottom on the Alen Hanson ship

Scott K

I’m certainly not on the USS Alen Hanson ship. But I do believe he has a chance to reach his potential now that he’s with an organization that will give him a fair shot.


He is not doing well with Chicago now, either.

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