Williams: The Pirates Have Plenty of Outfield Depth Building in the Low Levels

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.

  • Is there a reason why the Pirates should not play Bell in right a bit down the stretch, especially when they rest a starter? Certainly he’s had more starts there than Jaso (or in other words, he can’t be worse than Jaso). Osuna is more than capable to play 1B. They might need Bell to play more outfield next year if they trade Cutch and Meadows isn’t really ready to be an everyday player in the bigs.

    • I thought the same thing, Mike. Osuna’s bat intrigues me and he already has proven to be adequate at first base defensively.

      • Starling hasn’t done doodoo since his reinstatement. Still hitting .240 with no power – maybe one or two doubles in nearly a month. To top it off, he loafs running out grounders. He’s my biggest disappointment this season. A lot of wasted talent.

    • Only one reason: NH doesn’t want him to. Said so on his radio show on Sunday.

    • They have Serpico that can play outfield better than anyone on the roster not named Marte. Absolutely no need to put Bell in the outfield when he has turned himself into an adequate defensive first baseman. I would go so far as to say Frazier should not be out there either, and probably shouldn’t see the field in general.

      • About Serpico- ridiculous statement.

        • Being contradictory simply to be contradictory is ridiculous.

          • A month of Sean Rodriguez in centerfield would give you a massive amount of appreciation for what Cutch can still do.

            • If the Pirates are missing Cutch and Polanco, does it even matter? However, in that situation, Marte would be in center, not S-Rod.

          • I agree, but I’m not.

          • How about this- there is absolutely not a single thread of evidence to suggest your statement is true. Is that better?

            • Who, on the Pirates roster would you say is a better OF defender? Polanco has a career DRS of 10, but in 3 of his 4 seasons he has been -2,0,-2, his second year he was at +12. S-Rod has a career DRS as an outfielder of +1, but has only had 1 season where he was below 0. I guess one could argue that Frazier is equal to Rodriguez, but Osuna and Jaso are definitely worse. I’m not sure who else you would even consider at this point.

              • SRod doesn’t have enough innings in his career for his DRS to be relevant, which anyone that has any knowledge of advanced fielding metrics would gladly proactively tell you. Frazier….is not an outfielder. Jaso…..is not an outfielder. Polanco’s defensive problems are really created by his leg and arm problems not his talent. His second year, arguably only the first 2/3 and his rookie campaign are really the only times he’s been healthy since he’s been in the ML’s. Bill, our problem here is that you are using the term “outfielder” too loosely. As I keep saying, no matter how much Hurdle disagrees, you don’t just give someone a different glove and point to a spot on the field and magically that person becomes a “first baseman, or an outfielder” etc…. Now, I’ll gladly admit that SRod isn’t a bad utility fielder and is competent out there. Anything beyond that, and we are really stretching reality. Luplow is an outfielder….Meadows is an outfielder, etc…… What really pisses me off is that Keon Broxton is now a pretty good outfielder, Garcia is in the major leagues as a bench option now in the American league, and here we are….with ZERO outfield depth. We quite literally have 2 outfielders on our roster right now. Its frustrating.

    • Over Jordan Luplow, an *actual* outfielder with far-superior minor league performance than Jose Osuna?

      I don’t get it.

      • Osuna has had some major league success…..I guess that’s where he’s coming from.

      • I wasn’t suggesting Osuna to play the outfield.

        • Understood, but the result of getting Osuna’s bat into the lineup at 1B would be forcing a non-outfielder (Bell) into an outfield role when an actual outfielder (Luplow) may very well have as good of a bat or better than Osuna.

          Seems like the simpler play is just to let Luplow cut his teeth.

          • Bell has almost 200 starts in RF so why can’t he play there now on occasion? Maybe Luplow’s bat will eventually be better but I just don’t see Luplow and his 30+ games above AA ball as a credible answer here. Osuna plays 1B well and is a competent bat.

  • Meadows is the only high profile OF being brought up this year or next. Assuming Cutch is gone one way or another, a trade for another impact talent may be needed. Betting on Marte and Polanco is looking more and more suspect of one or both fulfilling their upside.

    • i’m not sure why people keep lumping marte in with polanco when talking about the future. marte has averaged 4.1 WAR each full season of his career. he’s an established major league player.

      polanco is still a question mark

      • I’m ready to sell on Marte as soon as this offseason.

        Want to see something depressing? Here’s Marte’s rolling 50AB EV
        You can then type in the OF of your choice (or several) to compare. I suggest trying Granderson to start.

        Don’t say I didn’t warn you that it would be depressing.

        Remember also that Marte is typically in top 12 in MLB in IF hits. Speed declines. He’ll be 29 next year. Everyone is concerned about selling low now… I believe he’ll go even lower by end of next season.

        • Marte’s speed is not declining. Marte’s hitting troubles is due mostly to really starting a whole season over again while everyone else is in full swing….

      • Polanco’s big problems are the same as Meadows- injuries. When Polanco is healthy, he’s good. When he’s not, he stinks.

        • Polanco’s career OPS+ of 95 begs to differ. After 1,902 PAs, I think Gregory is what he is….a below average player.

          3.3 oWAR and MINUS 1.2 dWAR per BRef. That is about 0.5 WAR per season. If an average player is 1.0 WAR, Mr Polanco is not even average.

          Only in one year, 2016, when he was at OPS+ of 107 was he above the average OPS+ level of 100. And even then, with his -0.5 dWAR, he only gave us 0.9 WAR.

          • There’s like two pieces of information in this entire post that are actually accurate.

            Polanco has averaged 1.3 bWAR per 600 PA, in 2016 he was worth 1.6 bWAR, and you conveniently didn’t include 2015 when he was worth 2.6 bWAR.

            Baseball Reference explicitly says not to add oWAR + dWAR.

          • leefoo- it actually DOESN’T beg to differ because about 1/4 of his career PA’s have come when he’s been rather obviously dinged up with a bad arm and a bad leg, if not more.

  • If only this gang were fulfilling their potential and were at Altoona or Indy. We need some OF help and NH is not willing to go out and get any.

    • #22— Why no respect? Tell me he does not have three more productive years!

      • Three more years…what are you talking about?

        • Just a guess, but I think he is saying the Pirates should sign Cutch for 3 more years beyond next year. Implying that he has at least 3 more seasons where he can be above average. The 3 years gives the guys in the article time to sprint through the system and make it to the majors.

      • Productive is in the eyes of the beholder and is more based on value than anything else. Can Cutch hit 20 more homers the next 3 seasons and have an ops over .800? Probably……. is that worth 15 million a year? Probably not.

  • A bit of wishful thinking there. I like LoLo ‘s potential but the others have a long way to go.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    August 14, 2017 3:03 pm

    Regarding OF prospects, Meadows and Joe have been major disappointments – and Joe is now out of the organization. On the flip side, Luplow has been a big pleasant surprise, although I’ve had high hopes for him for 3-4 years. I just hope the Pirates find a place for him in Pittsburgh or trade him away – and not let him wither on the vince in Indy like Hanson, Diaz, etc.

    I do like some of the young OFers in GCL – Pirates finally started to emphasis high upside HS position players in the draft – Sanchez looks legit as well. But, its a LONG way from Low A and Rookie ball to AA, AAA, and MLB. In between Indy and the GCL, there isn’t much there as far as position players – especially OFers. The Pirates could have made some moves to try to fill these gaps in their system, by trading Freese, Nova, Hudson, Jaso, and Cervelli – but they foolishly decided to not buy or sell.

    • I particularly agree with your second paragraph. Why they have hung on to a couple of those players is beyond me.

    • Hard to call Meadows a disappointment considering where he is at what age…..other than maybe his injury issues which certainly is disappointing.

  • Looks like we have some young potential in the GCL but really none of them have shown us anything that would suggest our lower levels are stocked. Mitchell looks good in shorts but his numbers are less than pedestrian and Usleton never got a chance due to injury. Sanchez looks good and I think he brings something to the table. martin appears to be 1B. All in all not sure this group would be considered any thing more than average.

    • This is not what an average GCL outfield looks like as far as potential upside, not even close.

      • John-do you mean this is much better than normal or not so? I am assuming the former, but obviously was not certain, which is why I am asking. Care to elaborate….

        • I didn’t elaborate because we are talking about two second round picks, an over-slot draft pick who leads the league in homers and the two best prospects from the DSL team last year, all in the same outfield. That’s as good as we have ever seen at that level and as far as prospects, you never see that many in the same outfield.

          If someone honestly thinks that is average, their standards are off the charts high. We’ve gone through years without that kind of upside on the entire GCL Pirates team, and I’m sure there are more than a few teams in the GCL right now, who don’t have that upside on their entire club. It’s nowhere near average to have your best group of outfield talent together at the level. If it was, the Pirates would have the best farm system every year.

          The current GCL outfield, counting Uselton because he was mentioned in this article, is what well above average looks like for this level. Average is one of them, one lesser prospect and a couple fillers.

      • I am just not seeing a bunch of these guys going to Charleston and certainly not seeing anyone making Bradenton better in the OF then they are right now. Other than Meadows when have the Pirates really pushed these types of guys straight to full season with average results in the GCL?

      • Up until his last sentence, he is spot on. There is some potential in every one of the players mentioned in the article, but not one player that I am overly excited about.

  • Sign #22!

  • Thanks, Tim. This addressed a question of mine in the comments from last week.

    I know you stated it will likely depend on how everyone looks going into next year, but with that caveat in mind, what is your best guess on how the assignments will shake out?

    • It’s really tough to say. I think Lolo should be in WV, and don’t think it’s a bad idea to challenge Mitchell and Uselton. But then do you want to challenge all three of Madris/Oliva/Sharpe by pushing them to Bradenton, or having them on the bench in WV? And what do you do with Lantigua?

      • Madris put up video game numbers in a podunk league but his numbers this year suggest he may reflect his college production. What are your thoughts on him?

        • He will likely be the best position player drafted by the Pirates this year. But that is just my opinion.