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Minor League Keeper Thoughts: Pittsburgh Pirates

Jason Hunt takes a look at some of the top fantasy prospects in the Pittsburgh organization.


Craig and I continue our look at some of the more relevant prospects in each of the 30 MLB organizations. We won't be looking at each prospect in every organization, but rather providing brief profiles of players that are either expected to make an impact as soon as next season, or are worth watching in dynasty and keeper formats. In general, they will be sorted in the order of when they are anticipated to be in the Majors, even though it is no guarantee that they will get there.

Our goal is to speak more to each prospect's fantasy value, so while we do look at a player's defense, it is really only in the context of where they will end up when they get to the Majors, and how that may affect their long term outlook. We will be going roughly in alphabetical order, and planning to have the series completed by the end of the year.

Previous Reviews

NL West: Arizona, Colorado, Los Angeles
NL Central: Chicago, Cincinnati, Milwaukee
NL East: Atlanta, Miami, New York, Philadelphia
AL East: Baltimore, Boston, New York Yankees
AL Central: Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City, Minnesota
AL West: Houston, Los Angeles, Oakland

System Overview

The Pirates' system coming into the year was extremely pitching heavy coming into the season, but with the emergence of top prospects like Alen Hanson and Gregory Polanco, it has become a bit more balanced. The top prospects in the system still remain pitchers, with Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon likely to debut at some point in 2013, and high upside, high risk Luis Heredia behind a couple more years. Obviously, this system would have looked even that much more ridiculous had top draft pick Mark Appel signed as well, but overall there is still a ton to like if you are a Pirates fan, and also a lot for fantasy owners to like as well.

Graduates in 2012

Starling Marte, Tony Watson, Jared Hughes

AAA or Higher in 2012

These are players who reached the Pirates' International League affiliate in Indianapolis in 2012. They will likely see time in the Majors in 2013, and could be a significant contributor there.

Gerrit Cole (BBRef Statistics)

Cole was the #1 overall pick in the 2011 draft, and is one of the few pitching prospects in the minors with true #1 starter potential. He rocketed through the Pirates' minor league affiliates this season, starting in High-A and finishing up with the AAA team in Indianapolis. Across all three levels, he struck out 136 and walked 45 in 132 innings pitched.

Cole's pitch repertoire is the stuff that dreams are made of: plus fastball (touching 100 during the Futures Game), plus slider (which BA noted could be plus-plus at times), a solid changeup and even a decent curveball. He projects as a top of the fantasy rotation starting pitcher, who should provide elite ratios to go with elite level strikeouts. The question really at this point is how close to his ceiling he can get, and at what point during the 2013 season he will arrive in Pittsburgh. Fairly easily a top 10 prospect in all of the minors, Cole will very likely be a top 5 pitching prospect as well.

AA in 2012

These are players who reached the Pirates' Eastern League affiliate in Altoona in 2012. They could see time in the Majors in 2013, but are more likely to arrive during the 2014 season.

Jameson Taillon (Profile from July, BBRef Statistics)

I wrote about Taillon back in July, shortly after the Futures Game. He finished up his season with AA Altoona for 3 starts, and on the year finished with 116 strikeouts and 38 walks in 142 innings pitched. It's hard to remember sometimes that Taillon will still be just 21 years old when he starts the 2013 season back at AA, as it seems like we have been discussing him for a number of years now.

2013 will be a very interesting season for Taillon, and hopefully he will take another step forward in terms of strikeouts specifically. His profile points toward a pitcher who has the potential to be a true #1 starter like Cole, but with a slightly lower probability of that occurring. Taillon features a plus fastball along with both a decent changeup and curveball, which it sounds like could still improve to even better offerings. Look for Taillon to spend the majority of the 2013 season at AA, and really cement his status as one of the top pitching prospects in the game.

Low-A in 2012

These players reached the Pirates' South Atlantic League affiliate in Charleston in 2012. They are likely to be at least 3 seasons from contributing in the Major Leagues.

Alen Hanson (Profile from December, BBRef Statistics)

Craig wrote about top shortstop prospect Alen Hanson last week, and I highly recommend it for more information about Hanson.

Gregory Polanco (BBRef Statistics)

Polanco emerged practically out of nowhere this season after not even making Baseball America's top 30 prospects in their handbook last season. All he did this year was crush 16 home runs, steal 40 bases, and post a .325/.388/.522 slash line in his first full season assignment. Polanco also played center field primarily, and reports point toward hiim being able to stay there in the long term.

Unfortunately, by the end of the season, the biggest stories surrounding Polanco involved him re-injuring his ankle as a part of the Pirates' "Navy Seals training". Obviously, not the type of injury you really want to hear about from a player with the speed potential of Polanco, so hopefully he will have healed up by the start of next season. Long term, the reports on Polanco point to a player who has the potential to develop above average power, and pair it with a fair amount of speed and a decent batting average. In other words, an extremely valuable fantasy outfielder, especially in leagues where you play the specific positions (LF/CF/RF).

Short Season in 2012

These players reached one of the Pirates' short season affiliates in either the Gulf Coast or New York-Penn Leagues. They are more than 3 full seasons from contributing in the Majors.

Luis Heredia (BBRef Statistics)

Heredia is almost pure projection at this point, but does have some excellent performance to back the reports up as well. Heredia was the youngest pitcher in the New York-Penn League this year, and still posted 40 strikeouts against 20 walks in 66 innings against much older competition. Heredia has been mentioned at times as having #1 starter potential, but it comes with the extreme high risk of a player who is a long way away from the Majors. The fact that he did pitch well in the NYPL definitely raises his floor a bit, and I would have to believe he will get a full season assignment for 2013.

Others of Note

Tony Sanchez (C)

The #4 overall pick back in the 2009 draft, Sanchez just has not turned into the catcher of the future that the Pirates thought he would then. He reached AAA last year, but struggled on offense there (.233/.316/.408), and will likely spend the 2013 season there again. That said, his defense will carry him to the Majors regardless, but he will be a ton more valuable to fantasy owners if he can settle in with a decent batting average and a bit of power.

Josh Bell (OF)

Probably one of the most unexpected players to sign from the 2011 draft class, Bell was considered a first round talent with almost no chance of signing. He did end up signing, but 2012 was a lost season after he injured his knee after just 15 games in Low-A, and did not return. He will likely return to Low-A for the 2013 season, and it will be interesting to see how his development progresses from here.

Barrett Barnes (OF)

The top draft pick of the Pirates to sign, Barnes profiles as a potential power/speed combo guy who already has shown good strike zone recognition (17 BB/21 K in 2012). He missed time at the end of the season due to a stress fracture, and I could see Barnes sent to Low-A if the Pirates want him to keep getting reps in center field long term. There are concerns about his ability to hit for average, and we should learn more with a larger sample in 2013.

Statistics from Baseball Reference and Minor League Central