Williams: Thoughts on Prospect Rankings, Ryan Lavarnway, Kevin Kramer, International Signings

Yesterday was a busy news day. That’s typically the case for Monday, but yesterday felt like an overload. There wasn’t anything major, like a trade or a Major League transaction to report. Just a lot of small bits of information and transactions, plus a few prospect rankings.

None of the news items are really worth a column from me on their own. However, I have a few thoughts to share on each news item, and figured I’d post a notes type column with those thoughts. So here we go:

**First of all, the prospect rankings came out yesterday and today, with Keith Law ranking four players in his top 100, and Baseball America ranking two players in their list. Law had Mitch Keller, Ke’Bryan Hayes, Shane Baz, and Austin Meadows as his top four prospects, in that order. Keller was the only one who made the top 50. Baseball America had Keller and Meadows on their list, with both making the top 50.

I thought it was interesting to see Hayes in the top 100 for Law. It’s a move that is deserved if you’re bullish on him due to the defense at third base, plus the ability to hit for average, get on base, and provide value on the bases. Law seems to be all of those things.

On that same note, I’m surprised that no one has Cole Tucker in their top 100 yet, for similar reasons. I could see him moving up to the top 100 in some mid-season lists, assuming good results in Altoona in the first half.

I’m not surprised by any of the other decisions, including Austin Meadows dropping on each list, and Kevin Newman being left off the list. It’s hard to say that Meadows is one of the absolute best prospects in the game right now with his injury history, and Newman could be an average starter in the majors, but that might not be enough to make him a top 100 guy.

Overall, the Pirates did well in Law’s list, and not as well on the BA list. That’s not a big surprise in either direction. The Pirates have a rebuilding farm system, with a lot of guys in the lower levels who could make this list one day, along with a few guys in Altoona who could make the list by mid-season. If you’re more conservative, you’ll only have Keller and Meadows on the list. But you can be a bit more bullish on guys like Hayes, Baz, and Tucker to put them on your list as well. The Pirates will hope that some of the guys behind Keller and Meadows become obvious choices by mid-season.

**The Pirates officially announced their non-roster invitees for Spring Training. There weren’t many surprises, as we had already reported on most of them. The biggest thing that stuck out was the addition of catcher Ryan Lavarnway. The Pirates are thin on catching depth in the upper levels, with Jacob Stallings currently as the number three option, and the next option being Jin-De Jhang, who might not even be ready for the big leagues if he’s needed this year. It makes sense to bring in a guy like Lavarnway, as the injury history for Francisco Cervelli means there’s a good chance Elias Diaz will be the starter at some point this year, and will need a backup in the form of Stallings or Lavarnway.

Lavarnway hasn’t been much of an offensive threat, but has gotten good reviews for his defense, which is the typical profile for a Pirates catcher. I could see him playing in Indianapolis along with Stallings and Jhang, with Christian Kelley and Jackson Williams in Altoona.

**John Dreker had international news, reporting on a catcher the Pirates signed out of the Dominican, along with an outfielder they are scouting in Mexico. I don’t really have anything to add to this, except that John is the best when it comes to covering the Pirates on the international side.

**MLB Pipeline named Kevin Kramer their tenth best second base prospect. If you’ve been following my writing about Kramer, you’d know I’m high on him. I had him as a breakout pick in each of the last two years, and think he could be a starter in the majors, possibly arriving by the middle of 2018. It’s nice to see another outlet is also high on him.

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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Congratulations are in order for Tim, who tweeted that yesterday was PP’s nine year anniversary. To many more!

John Allen Habel III

Is there a ranking of players that are no longer prospects but haven’t achieved super two status or something similar. Because I hope we would have more players on it


For translation of power from minors to majors

Zachary N

Thanks for posting this. I hadn’t caught this and it was a very interesting read.

William R. Maloni Sr

When does Law not rate highly the Bucs minors and some individual players Law has been the most consistent overrater of all of the writers who do this analysis.

John Dreker

His opinions of Meadows and Keller in his current ranking are the lowest I’ve read from anyone, and you can’t put Newman in there just because he is with the Pirates. Law had Newman as the second best prospect in his draft class before the Pirates took him. He was also late on Bell too, not ranking him with everyone else until he was a Major Leaguer already.

joe s

I have to admit when I am wrong. Pirate management is spending its international slot money, not in the way I would like, but nonetheless they are spending it and I said they would not do so in order to increase the teams bottom line. I am wrong and admit it. I am happy they are spending and bringing in talent. maybe one of them will be the next great pirate player.


Posted this in a previous entry, but will post again here…

John/Tim – there was talk a few months ago (after Gajtka’s draft analysis I think) of a thorough P2 draft analysis. Any update on when that will roll out? All the info I’ve seen suggests that NH has not done a good job/been below average at getting MLB production from the draft. It’ll be interesting to see if the work from P2 reaches a different conclusion.


i think it took a while for them to figure things out. It also didnt help that analysis that Taillon took so long to arrive.

They focused on college players in 2008, and then high school players in 2010. that was always going to result in a gap.

Look at the team and the prospects knocking on the door now. Seems like a lot of drafting/development wins are still on the way from 2010 and later drafts.


The disconcerting part of the “figure things out” narrative to me is 2012, 2015, and 2016.

Not every draft can be a standout, but I don’t see appreciable evidence that those drafts were much better than 2008.


Lol I did forget how bad 2012 was.


Ironically, failing to sign Appel is the only thing preventing this draft from being seen as by far his worst.

John W

Who is on the way from 2010- Nick Kingham? After losing velocity on his fastball and turning in a very uneven year in Triple A and now 26 years old. Who is left from 2012- Barret Barnes, Wood, Stallings, Moroff?


yeah him turning into a good mlb player would turn that draft from “bad” to “okay” in my opinion.

I’m not going to look at every single year, but the draft will have produced their 1b, 2b (moroff), SS, LFs (Meadows,Luplow, Frazier), Taillon, Kuhl, Glasnow, kingham, Tucker, Newman.

i agree that it looked bad a few years ago when pretty much the only MLB players on the team that were drafted by this administration were like… Cole and Mercer and without much in AAA that were drafted by these guys. But we’re reaching a point where the team is gonna be *mostly* draft guys soon.

I think the day before Taillon arrived is kinda the day that their draft results looked their worse. that’s when it bottomed out. but the day taillon arrived is when course reversed.

John W

I mean to me the issue is the guys who have come aren’t producing a whole lot- YET. 2013 looks fine as Kuhl and Frazier look like almost average players- probably not quite for Frazier. But those are good finds for were they drafted them and we obviously have Meadows in the wings. But the production of recently graduated guys is nothing to write home about in my opinion. Bell wasn’t even a 1 FWAR player last year. Glasnow… I mean production needs to increase a lot and soon.

John W

I think any credible analysis will clearly determine nhs drafting has not been good enough.


its clearly not terrible, but clearly also not good enough.


I can save them the trouble.
NH has done a good job of getting 2-3 draftees to the major leagues from most drafts(yes 2009, I’m looking at you). However, none of his selections have turned into anything more than average to slightly above average production. When you spend 5 years drafting in the top half of the draft, you absolutely have to get better results from those drafts.
My personal grade, looking at this 10 years into the reign of NH, is that he has done a poor job of drafting and development. In his own words, as a small market team, you have to operate through your farm system. If you farm system is producing the average everyday players and not the All Star players needed to compete, then a small market team can’t expect to win. It is the exact opposite of what small market teams need to win, they need stars to come through the farm system, and supplement them through free agency/trades.

Daniel D

I think Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, and Josh Bell are/were AllStar caliber players.


Maybe they will be, but at this point in time, they are not. Regardless, getting 3 slightly above average players out of 10 drafts is a recipe for failure. Even if you consider that only 6 of those drafts can truly be counted at this point, it is still bad. Small market teams absolutely need to be better.

Daniel D

I agree. Overall its bad. To be fair, I wanted to point out three high picks that were successful.

Thomas H

Only Cole made an All-Star game. Neither Taillon nor Bell has had a 3 WAR season yet.

Daniel D

Caliber: degree of capacity or competence; ability
Taillon,and Bell have the ability/capacity to make the AllStar team in the future.


Prospect rankings are overlooking age. Jason Martin reaction good example. “I can’t believe he didn’t get picked in Rule5?” Well he’s 21 in AA. Idiots

Tucker, baz, Hayes …even meadows young for year group


Who on earth is Jason Martin, and why would anyone expect him to get picked in the rule 5 draft? Is 21 at AA bad? I prefer the term ignorant.
Tucker sucks, Baz has no track record at all, Hayes has a shot to be better than average, Meadows has proven to be overmatched at AAA for 2 years.


Lol oh my


That is quality work by me, and I don’t get paid for that.

Brian Z

Baz has played 1/2 season of pro ball, he can’t have a track record yet.


“On that same note, I’m surprised that no one has Cole Tucker in their top 100 yet, for similar reasons.”

If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say the first two lines of Baseball Prospectus’ writeups for each guy may explain it.

Hayes: “Hayes offers a plus hit tool and a plus glove at third base.”
Tucker: “There’s not really a standout tool here.”

This seems to be a relatively common take on both prospects, too. At that point, it sort of comes down to a philosophical question: is the better prospect one with two plus tools at 3B or no plus tools at SS?

It’s an interesting question from a value perspective.

Seems like most are waiting for either player’s power to jump before really boosting them.

Brian Bernard

Look at the stolen bases which are coming back as a key asset in the bigs. Vince Coleman and Ricky were two of my favorites along with Omar Moreno!


I’ll take Vince, Ricky, and Omar on my club any day!


Tucker does have plus speed, which is a tool…..


And he’s a switch hitter that plays a premium defensive position. Prospect rankings are nothing more than click bait. It’s a bunch of amateur scouts sitting around a conference room ranking players. There are the consensus top prospects, those are the guys that combine high draft/big international bonuses with success in the minor leagues. And then all the other guys with floors and upside that no one can gauge.

I would go revisit the lists these people made going in to 2016, compare where Glasnow and Taillon were, and tell me these people have a real clue what’s going to happen when these guys make the majors.


Is Tucker’s run still not considered a standout tool? He stole 47 bases last year. I think that’s a decent indication he’s translating good speed into good base running, at least a little bit. And his hit tool has to be approaching plus by now. If he has a good season in AA this year–and he has a history of improving considerably on his numbers in his second season at a level after a promotion the previous year, albeit an obviously short one–the hit tool should start to stand out.

Without power, he doesn’t get into elite prospect territory, but at the very least, his run tool should be considered close to a standout.


Look at Tucker’s stolen bases from a percentage perspective instead of aggregate.

In today’s high-scoring run environment, the value of a base vs the value of an out is depressed. The break even point for stolen bases is somewhere around 75% success rate.

Last year, against A and AA batteries, Cole Tucker logged a 75.8% success rate.

Add better competition plus two years of growth needed to draw real power production out of that frame and I have a very hard time imagining him as anything more than a smart, opportunistic base runner; something in the range of +3 runs.


From what I read, the run tool is one of – if not the most – measurable tool grades. It’s hard to trick the stop watch, and most have Tucker posting no more than above average times. The gaudy SB numbers in high-A have to be gauged against defensive strategies that sometimes – in the Pirate’s case among others – literally ignore runners.

I’m sympathetic to the logic that in today’s game, where only four players stole 30 or more, one has to *really* fly in order for speed to be a standout tool. And the stopwatch doesn’t lie. I still count Tucker’s speed as clearly a positive.


i guess philosophically, give me the 3b, who is one tweak from elite prospect-dom? i guess?

Granted, Tucker has already had some success at AA, so that’s its own philosophical debate.

my hot hot hot prospect predictions are that Tucker becomes a top 50 guy this year and Hayes becomes a top 25.


Tucker’s AA “success” may be more a matter of scale than philosophy. I certainly don’t think anyone would consider almost exactly league-average performance from a 21 yo in AA a *bad* thing, but I don’t get the impression this is the type of “success” that stands out relative to top prospects with average-ish tools across baseball. Just my personal take.

While not precisely applicable Austin Meadows, for example, catapulted to a Top 25 prospect after posting a 161 wRC+ in AA and 113 wRC+ in AAA. Cole Tucker repeated high-A with a 133 wRC+ and followed that with 101 wRC+ in AA. Still good! But maybe not so good that it beat out the scouting reports these guys were getting.


I am still of the belief that Tucker is going to suck and probably top out as a AAAA player. Maybe a bit better, think Billy Hamilton with less speed.

Chris C

I am the opposite right now: bullish on Tucker and not so much on Hayes. Hayes did have an injury issue prior to the season that sapped some power, but his lack of power overall concerns me. This will be an interesting year for both players.


He had a broken rib that prevented him from lifting weights during most or all of the offseason. Hayes may well never hit for power, but he will still be far more valuable in my opinion than Tucker.


The Pirates are rebuilding the farm system. Rebuilding from what? They’ve put a couple of pitchers in the majors plus Bell and that’s about it when it comes to notable prospects. Frasier, Moroff never had a significant impact on the relative rating of their system. I would suggest that the low number of Pirates prospects in these lists reflects some “graduations” but also some failures in prior years of drafting/developing/acquiring. Why is there a hole in the middle of their prospect group?

William R. Maloni Sr

But, but Keith Law said……??


From the #1 system in baseball in 2014?

I don’t think the *outcome* of those prospects negates Tim’s use of language here. They had a top system that eventually graduated or busted out while having a relatively low drafting position and almost no LA success for upwards of a decade.

Yeah, that’s gonna take some rebuilding.

La Pirate

Tim, do you still expect the Pirates to move Harrison? I know you think they should . On the other hand is it reasonable to keep him until at least the trade deadline? If Harrison is kept he will be leader of the team


In a vacuum this is possible. Now Harrison is more like Yelich, pissed off. It’s less probable he can lead the team. Look vets like Freese and new leader in Taillon is more likely.


Very rare that pitchers are team leaders unless it’s someone like Tom Seaver or Bob Gibson were ages ago. In addition JT appears to be quite unassuming.
My guess is Cervelli (if he stays) will be the defacto leader.
I’d bet within 2 years Bell becomes the leader. It will be his team for years to come.


You are right.. Pitchers like AJ are rare breed


Cervelli couldn’t lead an Italian to pasta.


With Moroff already having made his debut and Newman, Kramer and Tucker all a year, two years tops from being called up it definitely makes sense to clear second base and try to see who will claim the job long term. That being said I wouldn’t have a problem if Harrison opens the season with the Pirates and splits time at second and third depending on matchups, injuries, etc then gets traded at the deadline.

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