I’m not sure there’s a better system in the National League than the Pirates; as they have an absolutely absurd amount of quality and quantity in the outfield and the same can be said — to a lesser extent — about their right-handed pitching. They’ve done fantastically in their last few drafts and continue to do well with international free-agents, as well. If there’s a weakness here it’s that there isn’t much in terms of corner infield prospects, and there quantity of left-handed pitching prospects is somewhat lacking. Still, that’s nitpicking, and what Neal Huntington and company have done with this system deserves all of the credit that comes its way.
|1||Gregory Polanco||OF||L/L||6-4 / 204|
|Polanco burst on the scene after a monster of a 2012 season, and while the overall numbers weren’t as impressive this past season, he showed more than enough upside to be considered the best prospect in the Pirates system.
Though Polanco’s swing is considered on the long side, he has extremely quick hands that lead to plus bat speed and gets the barrel through the zone quickly, and the ball explodes off of his bat to all parts of the field. He’s still filling out a frame that would best be described as lanky (and that’s probably an understatement), but as he puts on weight with his bat speed and hand-eye coordination he should be able to hit for above-average power from the left side. He still struggles with off-speed stuff below the knees, but he’s shown improvement there and has also shown more plate discipline as he progresses.
Polanco is an excellent outfielder, with plus-plus speed and good instincts in the outfield and with enough arm strength to handle right field if that’s where Pittsburgh chooses to deploy him. With the reigning MVP likely to patrol centerfield for the next several years, I would expect Polanco to be the everyday rightfielder in Pittsburgh very soon, possibly the middle of 2014.
|2||Jameson Taillon||RHP||R/R||6-6 / 225|
|Taillon may not be the potential ace that many believed he was coming out of high-school in 2010, but there’s still an awful lot to like from a right-handed power arm with four pitches.
Taillon’s fastball generally sits 92-95 with downhill plane and sink, and occasionally the pitch will get into the high 90′s (with the occasional triple digits). At times his curveball is a plus-plus pitch as a power curve with late break and loads of spin, but at times he struggles to stay on top of the pitch and will leave it up in the zone. Taillon also throws a change that will flash above-average at times and a fringe-average slider without big break but will keep hitters off-balance. He has a simple, clean delivery and has improved his fastball command considerably, though he’ll occasionally put guys on base via walk.
His stuff is closer to a No. 3 than a No. 1, but Tallion has a chance to be a top of the rotation starter who can miss bats with two plus pitches and an improving feel for pitching.
|3||Austin Meadows||OF||L/L||6-3 / 200|
|Those who followed the website this summer knew that I was a big fan of Meadows all year, and he showed more than glimpses of his exceptional talent during his professional début this summer.
Meadows has an advanced feel for hitting, with above-average bat speed and strong hands that allow him to hit the ball with authority to all parts of the field. It’s a linear swing without much uppercut, but because he’s strong and uses the bottom half of his body well he’s capable of hitting for average and power at the next level. He rarely swings at pitches outside of the zone, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone if big walk totals are in Meadows future.
Right now, Meadows has the speed and athleticism to play centerfield, and he takes good routes to the baseball and puts himself into position to get rid of the ball quickly. His arm strength is only average, however, so if he was forced to switch from center to a corner his likely landing spot is left field. The bat should play there just fine, however, and Meadows is a future top of the order hitter with all-star upside.
|4||Tyler Glasnow||RHP||L/R||6-7 / 200|
|The Pirates have been very careful with Glasnow — holding off his professional début a year after he was drafted and limiting him to 111 innings pitched last year — but you can see why they’re so high on his right arm.
Glasnow can flat out bring it with his fastball, consistently touching the high 90′s and sitting 93-95, with projection to sit in the high 90′s as his frame builds. His curveball is extremely inconsistent and rarely thrown for a strike, but at times it’s a swing and miss pitch with big break and depth. Glasnow’s change is a work in progress, but has seen improvement and should at least be an average offering with time.
While Glasnow has big stuff, his command is only average, and at times he struggles to repeat his delivery and find a consistent arm slot, and he’s still learning how to pitch inside to professional hitters. If the command comes Glasnow has the stuff to be a top of the rotation guy, but there’s a non-zero chance he ends up in the bullpen without an uptick in his ability to throw strikes.
ETA: LATE 2015
|5||Alen Hanson||SS/2B||S/R||5-11 / 170|
|Like Polanco, Hanson didn’t quite match the insane numbers he put up in 2012, but did do enough to earn a promotion to AA and still looks a future everyday player in the middle infield. He’s a legit switch-hitter with a more fluid swing from the left side, but with more power from the right and without much glide that you see so often from young hitters who hit from both sides. There’s some swing and miss in his game, and you’d like to see him make more contact and to be able to put his plus speed to use on the bases.
Hanson has made a substantial amount of errors the last two seasons (72 to be exact) but error totals are substantially overrated, particularly at the lower levels where field conditions are often less than spectacular. He has decent hands and plenty of athleticism to his left and right, and enough arm strength to stick at the position at least in the short term. Even if he’s forced to move to the other side of the bag, Hanson’s bat should play there, as a potential leadoff hitter who can get on base and steal bases, and provide a surprising amount of pop, too.
|6||Josh Bell||OF||S/R||6-4 / 200|
|The Pirates had to give Bell well-above slot money to buy out his scholarship to Texas in 2011, and while it’s been slow going, last year he showed more than flashes of being an élite offensive player.
Bell is a reverse of Bell’s switch-hitting ability, showing far more power from the left side — but far less contact ability — and a more contact based, linear swing from the right. He’s still very pull happy — especially as a left-handed hitter — but he’s started to show more feel for hitting and with time, I think he will be plus with both the hit and power tool. He’s a a corner outfielder because of his average speed, but he has a strong throwing arm that should be able to handle right-field.There’s a long way to go, but outside of Polanco and Meadows Bell has the most offensive upside of any prospect in the system, and if he can show more contact ability as a left-handed hitter and more pop from the right side, he could put up big numbers when the Pirates can use him in 2-3 years.
|7||Nick Kingham||RHP||R/R||6-5/ 220|
|Kingham doesn’t have the same big-time stuff as some of the other arms in the Pirates’ system, but he may have the best command and feel for pitching, along with above-average stuff. He locates a 91-93 fastball to all parts of the plate, and will occasionally touch 95 with some run and sink as well. His curveball is a power breaking-ball that doesn’t offer huge break, but does offer late bite and he can throw the pitch for a strike at the knees or out of the zone to get swing and misses. There isn’t much to his change, but he knows when to use it and keeps the pitch below the knees with excellent arm speed.
In addition to quality stuff, Kingham gets rave reviews for his mental makeup and his ability to throw any of his pitches in any count. He repeats his delivery very well, and rarely puts runners on base via walk. It isn’t élite command, but it’s well above-average and his feel for pitching is near that level as well. He’s not an ace, but Kingham should be a solid mid-rotation starter who can put up big numbers if you put a quality defense behind him.
|8||Reese McGuire||C||L/R||6-1 / 180|
|I had a chance to see McGuire several times as he was only a 20 minute drive from my house, and each time I saw him I came away more impressed than the last, and he continued that improvement as a professional. McGuire doesn’t have a huge hit tool, but he’s got above-average bat speed and is willing to go the other way with pitches, and as he gets stronger he should hit for at least average power totals for a backstop.Behind the plate, however, McGuire is special. He has as strong an arm as I’ve seen from a prep backstop, routinely showing pop times in the 1.8 range with a quick release and plenty of accuracy. He isn’t perfect as a receiver, but he’s improved his mechanics and hands, and does a good job of blocking pitches in the dirt.
There are still questions about his bat, but McGuire has a great chance of being an everyday backstop who can make a difference shutting down a teams running game and working with pitchers.
|9||Barrett Barnes||OF||R/R||6-1 / 195|
|Barnes has had a very tough time staying healthy over his first two years in the Pirates system, but has looked like a future regular outfielder when he’s been on the field. He has plus bat speed and gets through the zone very quickly despite a slight amount of bat wrap, and though his swing doesn’t have much loft he has shown an ability to put the ball into gaps and let his plus speed go to work, and occasionally will put the ball over the left-field fence. He’s got enough athleticism to play any of the three outfield positions, but with the amount of quality outfield prospects Pittsburgh has, left field is his most likely landing spot as he only has an average arm that wouldn’t play well in right.He may need to find a different organization to do it, but Barnes has the ability to be an everyday center fielder with average offensive production, though his trade value may be diminished until he shows he can stay on the field more than 35-45 games a year.HIT 45-55POWER 45-50
|10||Blake Taylor||LHP||L/L||6-3 / 195|