The Pirates have seen their outfield depth decreasing in the upper levels in recent years. Part of that has been due to graduations of long-term options like Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte, leading to a strategy where they had outfield prospects who were expendable in trades, or moved outfielders to other positions, like they did with Josh Bell moving to first base.
They’ve still managed to have some outfield prospects in the upper levels, with Austin Meadows looking like a long-term option who could come up in the next year, and Jordan Luplow stepping up as a guy who could be an option this year.
But the Pirates need to start developing some outfielders in the lower levels, getting guys ready to take over down the line when the current long-term options are ready to leave. Fortunately, they’re starting to do that this year, both in the draft and with the emergence of a few international prospects.
The result here is that they’re going to have to make some decisions next year on which prospects to give the biggest pushes, since there are currently too many options for the lowest full season team in West Virginia next year. Here is a breakdown of the current situation:
Candidates For an Aggressive Promotion From the GCL
The Pirates haven’t been shy about aggressively promoting their young hitting prospects out of the prep ranks. They typically start prep hitters in the GCL the year they are drafted, and then move those hitters to full-season ball in West Virginia. This happened with Cole Tucker and Ke’Bryan Hayes in recent years — two first round picks.
They have Calvin Mitchell and Conner Uselton out of the draft this year, although both are second round picks. Mitchell hasn’t shown the best numbers, but has good skills on the field, and could be a strong candidate for that push next year. Uselton only played two games, and has been out for the year after a tear in his hamstring. I’m not sure how that would impact his 2018 placement.
I could also see Mason Martin making the jump to West Virginia, but I see him factoring in at first base, rather than the outfield.
Lolo Sanchez has been one of the best performers in the GCL, showing an ability to be a playmaker with his speed and defense, while also showing some flashes of power. He would seem like a strong candidate for West Virginia as well. Jeremias Portorreal has also shown some potential, but hasn’t had the most consistent numbers. If one player gets held back at Morgantown, it could be him.
With all of these players, the decision on where they start the following season is usually based more on how they look coming into the year, rather than how they looked the previous year and the numbers they put up. But all four of these players are strong candidates for that aggressive promotion from the GCL to West Virginia.
Short-Season Candidates For Full-Season
Edison Lantigua was the highlight for me last week in Bristol from the offensive side, and looks like he should be a candidate to move up a level in 2017. Guys like Yondry Contreras could easily be on a slower path, going to Bristol for another year or Morgantown for a tougher challenge. But Lantigua looks like another candidate who could start in West Virginia next year, joining the four guys in the GCL.
Morgantown is only one step below West Virginia, so it would make sense that guys would move from that level to at least West Virginia. But with all of the options from the lower levels, the Pirates might have to make a decision to aggressively promote some of their guys from Morgantown to Bradenton, just to find space for everyone.
Bligh Madris has seen the best results this year in Morgantown, although just like with the lower level guys, the 2018 placement will be more about how he looks going into next season. Jared Oliva and Chris Sharpe haven’t put up the best numbers in Morgantown, but both are fairly high draft picks, and have the tools to get them in the conversation to at least go to West Virginia.
Building Outfield Depth
The Pirates have traded some of their upper level outfielders in recent years, with guys like Harold Ramirez and Tito Polo being traded in the last year. They’ve got a group of promising outfielders coming up from short-season ball next year, and the hope would be that this group eventually produces a few top talents that can be prospects in the upper levels, and maybe one or two who can go on to be starters in the big leagues.
This group will also likely produce some trade depth, as the Pirates will already have a difficult time finding playing time for all of these guys, potentially leaving a few guys in Morgantown if everyone stays in the system.
But if the Pirates keep everyone, it will be something to watch next year to see where all of these outfielders in the lower levels are placed.
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.