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Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 Top 10 Fantasy Prospects

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The prospect staff at Fake Teams continues their fantasy prospect rankings and system reviews with an in-depth look at the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Just like last year, the prospect staff here at Fake Teams will be taking an in-depth look at each major league organization, including our top 10 fantasy prospects, an overview of the organization's minor league system as a whole and potential opportunities for playing time in 2015. Our goal is to provide you with more information as you prepare for minor league drafts for dynasty and keeper leagues, as well as look at players that could potentially be worth watching during the spring, as they could be in line to potentially help your fantasy team. We will be reviewing two teams per week until we are through all 30 teams, and you can see the schedule of when your favorite team will be reviewed below. if we have already reviewed the team, a link to the post, along with the team's top prospect is noted.

System Schedule

AL East

AL Central

AL West

NL East

NL Central

NL West

Baltimore
(3/11)

Chicago
(2/11)

Houston
(1/14)

Atlanta
(12/10)

Chicago
(Bryant)

Arizona
(Bradley)

Boston
(3/14)

Cleveland
(2/14)

Los Angeles
(1/17)

Miami
(12/13)

Cincinnati
(Stephenson)

Colorado
(Gray)

New York
(3/18)

Detroit
(2/18)

Oakland
(1/21)

New York
(12/17)

Milwaukee
(Taylor)

Los Angeles
(Pederson)

Tampa Bay
(3/21)

Kansas City
(2/21)

Seattle
(1/24)

Philadelphia
(12/20)

Pittsburgh
(Today)

San Diego
(Renfroe)

Toronto
(3/25)

Minnesota
(2/25)

Texas
(1/28)

Washington
(12/24)

St. Louis
(11/26)

San Francisco
(Crick)

Organizational Overview
by Brian Creagh

For a second consecutive season, the Pittsburgh Pirates reached the MLB postseason process and at the same time established themselves as a legitimate NL contender in the coming seasons. An 8-0 Wild Card round loss to the champion San Francisco Giants, certainly left a lot to be desired, but I chalk it up to bad luck and running into the buzzsaw that was Madison Bumgarner's 2014 postseason run.

Neil Huntington and his team bring back a solid core of experienced weapons who are hungry for a deeper playoff run in 2015. Andrew McCutchen's presence in the middle of the Pittsburgh lineup will make them a contender right off the bat. Add in the emerging Josh Harrison, consistent Neil Walker, dynamic Starling Marte, and slugging Pedro Alvarez and the Pirates offense looks like it will again be a Top 10 run-scoring unit. Each of those players mentioned are between 26 and 29 years old and in the prime of their careers. The offense should also benefit from a full season of top prospect Gregory Polanco who cooled off to end the year, but flashed star potential that would be lethal next to Andrew McCutchen.

The rotation on the other hand could use a facelift. Huntington has already made the first move by signing veteran righty, A.J. Burnett to a 1 year contract. Future ace, Gerrit Cole, should get a full season and I believe will cement himself as a Cy Young candidate. Jeff Locke and Vance Worley are viable options at the back of the rotation, but an upgrade would be welcomed by the Pittsburgh faithful. Top prospects Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow are probably another year away due to injury (Taillon) and experience (Glasnow), so expect another free agent splash or off-season trade to solidify the rotation.

The biggest departures for the Pirates are Russell Martin, Francisco Liriano, and Edinson Volquez. Martin and Liriano both declined qualifying offers, so the Pirates stand to gain some compensatory picks. I'm not confident that any of the three will return for 2015. The recent acquisition of Francisco Cervelli signals a parting of ways with Martin, and I believe the Pirates will be smart enough not to overpay for Liriano and Volquez coming off of solid years. Look for the Pirates to acquire a mid-tier free agent arm or two.

2014 Graduates

The following players have surpassed their rookie maximums of 130 AB, 50 IP, or 45 days of service time.

Gregory Polanco (AB), Andrew Lambo (AB), Tony Sanchez (AB), Brandon Cumpton (IP), Stolmy Pimentel (ST)

Major League Opportunities in 2015
by Brian Creagh

The Pirates are in a good spot as far as how their needs align with their minor league talent. Opportunities very much exist at the MLB level and the winning atmosphere in Pittsburgh should help prospects continue to develop once at the highest stage. The biggest holes on offense exist in RF, SS, and C. If Jordy Mercer struggles at shortstop, Alen Hanson is more than capable of filling that role. Long-term he's probably a 2B, but he's athletic enough at 22 to hold it down. He could be an interesting mid-season pickup if his numbers gets called.

RF has Gregory Polanco's name written all over it. His reign of RF in PNC began as well as one could hope, but after some late-season struggles the shine wore off. Huntington admitted to promoting Polanco too soon after the Neil Walker injury, and in short order I expect Polanco, Marte, and McCutchen to form the most potent fantasy outfield in the MLB.

Catcher appears to be settled with the acquisition of Francisco Cervelli and the remaining possibility of bringing back Russell Martin, but don't sleep on prospect Tony Sanchez. He's had two brief stints at the MLB level and could emerge as the starter if the competition comes down to him, Cervelli, and Chris Stewart.

The rotation has plenty of openings, but no heir apparents in the minors. Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow are the most hyped options, but Taillon is coming back from Tommy John surgery and Glasnow just finished a full season in Hi-A so their ETA looks more like 2016. The most interesting option for 2015 is Nick Kingham who spent half of the year in AAA and more than held his own. He doesn't project to strikeout a ton of hitters, but he can get big league batters out on a consistent basis. As mentioned above, I expect Pittsburgh to add another SP via free agency instead of relying on a prospect to fill a back-end rotation slot.

Top 10 Fantasy Prospects
by David Spracale

Our top 10 fantasy prospect rankings are based upon standard 5x5 fantasy baseball leagues, with a balancing of ceiling and present value. While we are having discussions regarding these lists as a collective group, the top 10 fantasy prospect rankings are finalized by the writer listed above. Players are no longer considered prospects once they exceed either 130 at bats, 50 innings pitched, or 45 days of service time in the Majors

1. Tyler Glasnow (RHP)

2014 FANTASY STATISTICS
W SV ERA WHIP K
12 0 1.74 1.05 157
2014 SECONDARY STATISTICS
IP HR/9 GO/AO BB% K%
124.1 0.20 0.67 11.56% 31.85%
OTHER INFORMATION
AGE Bats Throws 2014 Levels
20 L R A+
Roster Status: Protect After 2015 Season
ETA to Majors: Late 2016

I might be jumping the gun a bit with this ranking compared to the rest of the rankings you will read going into 2015, but Glasnow is ready to be discussed among the truly elite pitching prospects in the game today. Glasnow was drafted in the 5th round of the 2011 draft and he has posted astronomical strikeout numbers because the 6'7", 200 pound righty has absolutely nasty stuff. I finally was able to see him live and in person at the Arizona Fall League this past October so I will mesh the two games I got to see with some video scouting to breakdown what I saw.

First of all, I must tell you that the two outings I was able to catch in the AFL were probably Glasnow's two best outings during his time in the desert. I only saw glimpses of the command issues that have been Glasnow's one mark against him during his minor league career, but let's talk about the stuff because it was undoubtedly electric. Glasnow sat in the mid 90s and and touched 98 once or twice, so the fastball is a plus-plus offering right now. I had heard some mixed reports about the curveball but every scouting report I had read and video I had seen suggested it had the chance to be at least above average. What I saw was hard downward bite that got hit twice over 6 total innings. The curve has the chance to be a plus offering at the big league level. Finally, the changeup, which is widely considered to be his third best pitch, might one day be an average offering as well. I would tend to agree, because there is little movement on the pitch. There isn't a noticeable arm-side fade or a drop in plane. However, the changeup is the one pitch the Pirates will continue to develop because it's something the organization focuses on with young arms. Overall, the stuff was outstanding and it only solidified my belief that Glasnow has the shot to be a true #1 if he reaches his ceiling, but that command...it's something that could derail that progress.

When looking at the numbers it's easy to see Glasnow struggles with the walk. In 293.1 career minor league innings, Glasnow has walked 147 batters for a BB/9 of 4.51, and an overall walk rate of 12.7%. To put that number in context, exactly one pitcher that logged over 100 innings in the Major Leagues walked that many batters and that was Ubaldo Jimenez. I could not pick out anything mechanically that would suggest command problems, except that Glasnow falls off hard to the glove side, and when that happens pitchers can sort of drag their arms behind them, making their release point difficult to replicate. I would need to look at some more video in slow motion to see if that's truly the case, but either way Glasnow's command is a huge red flag right now.

Overall, I am a huge believer in Tyler Glasnow. His combination of body size, velocity and three average-to-plus pitches are a rare combination, and what I saw in Arizona did nothing to sway that. The command may push him into the pen down the road but Glasnow will get every chance to start. There are maybe 2 or 3 other prospects in the country with his kind of raw stuff, and we cannot forget he's only going to enter his age 21 season while starting in Double-A.

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2. Jameson Taillon (RHP)

Photo Credit: Derick Hingle - USA Today Sports
DNP - Injured
Roster Status: Added to 40-Man Roster
ETA to Majors: 2015

2014 was a completely lost year for Jameson Taillon due to Tommy John surgery, but I have always been a believer in the hard throwing right hander, so I couldn't drop him too far in my rankings. Everything I've read about his rehab has been positive, though I am not sure if I've ever read a bad rehab assessment. But whatever, I am sticking with my guns. Taillon was the 2nd overall pick in the 2010 draft and had been on the fast track before the derailment this year.

Mechanically, Taillon is incredibly smooth. The delivery is low effort and it's repeatable which should help him maintain, at worst, average command and avoid more injuries down the line. Before the elbow injury, Taillon was sitting comfortably in the mid-90s with his fastball while touching 97. Taillon's curveball has the depth and break to be plus-plus offering and a true wipeout breaking ball. Taillon's changeup should continue to be developed and could be an average offering.

Average command, two plus-plus pitches and an average changeup is exactly why Taillon was a top-15 prospect in baseball before the injury. While it will take time to get back from the Tommy John procedure, I expect Taillon will have a shot at the Pirates' rotation very early on in 2015 if he doesn't break camp with the big club.

3. Austin Meadows (OF)

2014 FANTASY STATISTICS
AVG R HR RBI SB
0.317 21 3 16 2
2014 SECONDARY STATISTICS
PA OBP% SLG% BB% K%
191 0.394 0.488 9.95% 17.28%
OTHER INFORMATION
AGE Bats Throws 2014 Levels
19 L L A-Rk
Roster Status: Protect After 2017 Season
ETA to Majors: 2017

Austin Meadows was the last of the top ten picks by the Pirates during their 20 year rebuild. He's a 19 year old left-handed hitting outfielder from Georgia that has only played 90 games in the minors. There are some questions about his bat and whether enough he will ever hit enough to be an everyday big league outfielder. Because he's had such a short stint in the minors thus far we only have a sample size of 400 plate appearances. I have never seen Meadows live so my report is going to be quick, based on videos and reading what others have said about him.

Just watching the scouting videos on YouTube, you can see some stiffness in Meadows' swing and that usually inhibits power. If the Pirates can get rid of that stiffness and loosen up his hands, Meadows has the body and raw ability to hit 15-20 homers at the Major League level. Looking at the numbers, you can see that Meadows has put up solid walk-rates throughout his two seasons. His eye will continue to be challenged as he moves up the ranks within the organization, but so far the results are at least promising.

All in all, Meadows is still very young and a definite work in progress. I'm not sure if I am a believer that he will ever hit enough to be a starter in Pittsburgh, but he is still 4 years away from having a shot to debut. He has plenty of time and the athletic potential to continue his development, but for now he's just someone you'll want to keep an eye on going forward.

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4. Josh Bell (OF/1B)

Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas - USA Today Sports
2014 FANTASY STATISTICS
AVG R HR RBI SB
0.325 58 9 60 9
2014 SECONDARY STATISTICS
PA OBP% SLG% BB% K%
465 0.375 0.459 7.10% 11.83%
OTHER INFORMATION
AGE Bats Throws 2014 Levels
21 S R A+-AA
Roster Status: Added to 40-Man Roster
ETA to Majors: Late 2015

Josh Bell is the single most intriguing prospect in the Pirates system to me because he's had his ups and downs since signing a record bonus deal for a second round pick back in 2011. Bell is listed at 6'4" and 195, but standing next to him at the AFL, I can say the weight is a conservative estimate. He's a big kid, and hopefully the Pirates will start to see a little more of the long ball out of him in the next few years. Defensively, Bell was always a bit limited, but the Pirates want his bat in Pittsburgh as soon as possible, and with them well set in the outfield, they are experimenting with him at first base. The position has been an absolute black hole for the team for as long as I can remember, and Bell's ability to switch hit could finally put an end to the platoons of suck the Pirates' have ran out there on an annual basis.

Mechanically at the plate, Bell is another hitter in the Pirates' system that seems just a little stiff to me and that could be the key to unlocking the power in his body. I was only able to catch Bell in one live game but I did take in two BP sessions. The raw power is definitely there, but something needs to be done to get it to translate into the game. Bell's plate discipline and ability to make contact were very impressive in the 5 plate appearances I saw, and his minor league numbers bear that out as he's walked in 8.5% of his minor league plate appearances while keeping the strikeouts to a rate of 15.4%.

I wish I could have spent more time watching Bell, as it was clear the raw skills are there, and though I am not as high on him as I once was, I still think he can be a productive big league hitter. I really like the gap power and hopefully some of those doubles turn into homers by the time he hits Pittsburgh, which could be sooner rather than later if Pedro Alvarez continues to be awful.

5. Nick Kingham (RHP)

2014 FANTASY STATISTICS
W SV ERA WHIP K
6 0 3.34 1.21 119
2014 SECONDARY STATISTICS
IP HR/9 GO/AO BB% K%
159 0.50 1.03 7.78% 17.81%
OTHER INFORMATION
AGE Bats Throws 2014 Levels
22 R R AAA-AA
Roster Status: Added to 40-Man Roster
ETA to Majors: 2015

Nick Kingham is not the sexiest of prospects because he doesn't have the crazy raw stuff like Glasnow or Taillon, but he is an absolutely solid prospect with a ceiling of a mid-rotation starter. He's another huge prospect, standing at 6-5 and weighing in at 220 pounds, so he should be able to withstand the Major League workload. Out of the arms in this top ranking, I have more faith in Kingham hitting his ceiling than any other pitcher in the Pirates' system. Kingham already walks about half the batters that Glasnow does, and the rest of his repertoire is getting more and more polished as he progresses.

Mechanically, Kingham stands a bit too tall for my liking, but the overall delivery is smooth and consistent which is the most important thing. Velocity is not Kingham's strength as he sits in the low 90s, but can ramp it up to 94 if he needs to depending on the situation. Overall the fastball is an above average pitch with some nice life to the arm side and Kingham controls it to both sides of the plate with relative ease. I am not sure, but I think I also detected a cutter on a few occasions and it had a nice bit of late movement, but that could just be my eyes playing tricks. The curveball (I think it's more slurvy but we'll go with the consensus) Kingham works with is another above-average offering with some sharp and late break, and it will eventually be a nice strikeout pitch though not an overpowering one. Finally, my favorite pitch in Kingham's repertoire is the changeup. It comes in at 7-10 MPH slower than his fastball, which is a really nice differential. The changeup also has movement on two planes, down and to the arm side, and Kingham will throw it to both right handed and left handed hitters. I think Kingham has the chance to develop that changeup into one of the best out there and I look forward to seeing the swing and miss numbers on it once he's in Pittsburgh.

I like Kingham probably more than most prospect folks out there, but I had to move him down the rankings from the other arms only because of the potential. Kingham finished the season at Triple-A and everything points to him being a part of the Pirates' rotation at some point in 2015.

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6. Alen Hanson (SS/2B)

Photo Credit: Elsa - Getty Images
2014 FANTASY STATISTICS
AVG R HR RBI SB
0.280 64 11 58 25
2014 SECONDARY STATISTICS
PA OBP% SLG% BB% K%
527 0.326 0.442 5.88% 16.70%
OTHER INFORMATION
AGE Bats Throws 2014 Levels
21 S R AA
Roster Status: On 40-Man Roster (2 Options Remaining)
ETA to Majors: Late 2015

Alen Hanson was an international free agent signing in 2009 and started making his way onto prospect lists in 2013. Hanson is another switch hitter who has the ability to play all three spots in the infield that aren't first base, though his arm may force him to second base for the majority of his time in the Major Leagues. He is a legit 20/20 threat in his prime, but the lack of any truly plus-plus skill is why you have found him in the second half of top-100 rankings for the last two seasons. I like Hanson a bit more than that, especially after we got a glimpse of some of that power potential this past year in Double-A.

Early in his career, Hanson struggled in Class-A in 2011 after finding early success in rookie ball the previous year. Then in 2012 Hanson went back to Class-A and tore the league apart to the tune of .309/.381/.528 with 16 homers and 35 steals (though he did get thrown out 19 times) and all this added up to a wRC+ of 147 and some attention from prospect writers everywhere. Hanson has been solid at every stop while also being young for his league by almost 2 years. This past season at Double-A Altoona Hanson slashed .280/.326/.442 and hit 21 doubles, 12 triples and 11 homers while stealing 25 more bases. Hanson's athleticism and speed and power is really why scouts like him, but to me it's the versatility intrigues me.

Hanson has already spent some time in the outfield and at third base in the minor leagues as well as his customary middle infield positions. With his speed and power, if he can continue to develop as a utility player, I can envision Hanson turning into a Ben Zobrist type of "super sub" type player and that would make Hanson extremely valuable both in reality and in fantasy baseball, you know kind of like that Josh Harrison guy this past year. We could see a Hanson call-up in 2015 especially if the Pirates think he can handle multiple positions and I, for one, am looking forward to seeing him in the Show.

7. JaCoby Jones (SS)

2014 FANTASY STATISTICS
AVG R HR RBI SB
0.288 72 23 70 17
2014 SECONDARY STATISTICS
PA OBP% SLG% BB% K%
501 0.347 0.503 6.59% 26.35%
OTHER INFORMATION
AGE Bats Throws 2014 Levels
22 R R A
Roster Status: Protect After 2016 Season
ETA to Majors: 2018

JaCoby Jones was taken out of LSU in the third round of the 2013 draft, spent a little time in short-season Class-A ball and then found some much hyped success in his first full season of professional baseball in 2014. Jones slashed .288/.347/.503 in the Sally League this past season with 23 homers and a wRC+ of 134. On the surface these numbers look really nice, but there are some red flags and causes for questions if not concern, because there has to be a reason Jones wasn't promoted within the season.

Jones was drafted out of college and was playing in a league where he was a little bit older than the median age of the rest of the league and despite his numbers he wasn't promoted because he struck out too much in a league where he isn't over matched by older players. In 2014, Jones struck out in 26.3% of his plate appearances and there are some questions about where he will play as he moves through pro ball. Also, at 22 years old his power and athleticism may be at their peak already. Needless to say, 2015 is going to be a huge year for Jones and his career path and what level the Pirates start him at next year could be a clue as to how the view him as well. In all, Jones has the tools, but once he faces stiffer competition, we will be able to make a better judgement on his future.

8. Reese McGuire (C)

2014 FANTASY STATISTICS
AVG R HR RBI SB
0.262 46 3 45 7
2014 SECONDARY STATISTICS
PA OBP% SLG% BB% K%
428 0.307 0.334 5.61% 10.28%
OTHER INFORMATION
AGE Bats Throws 2014 Levels
19 L R A
Roster Status: Protect After 2017 Season
ETA to Majors: 2017

Reese McGuire was another prep pick in the 2013 first round for the Pirates. McGuire is superior defensively behind the dish and this is the tool that will get him to Pittsburgh because there are some questions about his bat. There is little power upside in McGuire's bat, with maybe a 10-12 homer season as his ceiling, but that was never going to be part of his game. McGuire's best offensive tool is his ability to make contact and limit strikeouts.

If McGuire can continue to make contact he should get stronger, resulting in harder contact and a higher BABIP and higher batting averages. A solid average, 10-12 homers and a top defensive catcher? McGuire sure seems like the perfect catcher for the Pirates and if all develops to plan we'll see him in Pittsburgh at some point in 2016.

9. Harold Ramirez (OF)

2014 FANTASY STATISTICS
AVG R HR RBI SB
0.309 30 1 24 12
2014 SECONDARY STATISTICS
PA OBP% SLG% BB% K%
226 0.364 0.402 4.87% 15.49%
OTHER INFORMATION
AGE Bats Throws 2014 Levels
19 R R A
Roster Status: Protect After 2015 Season
ETA to Majors: 2018

Harold Ramirez was signed out of Colombia for just over $1 million in 2011 and the reason he is appearing in this top ten ranking is because of the tremendous upside despite being a bit of an unknown and still possessing a raw skill set. Ramirez has above average bat speed and quick hands, and this pairs with a strong (though shorter at 5-11) frame and this is what has scouts thinking Ramirez could be something special. If the raw power can translate into games then Ramirez will shoot up the prospect rankings in the next few years. Single-A Advanced should be where Ramirez starts his 2015 and I will be keeping a close eye on his progress this season leading up to the big jump to Double-A.

10. Cole Tucker (SS)

2014 FANTASY STATISTICS
AVG R HR RBI SB
0.267 39 2 13 13
2014 SECONDARY STATISTICS
PA OBP% SLG% BB% K%
217 0.368 0.356 11.98% 17.51%
OTHER INFORMATION
AGE Bats Throws 2014 Levels
17 S R Rk
Roster Status: Protect After 2018 Season
ETA to Majors: 2019

Cole Tucker is the latest first round pick in the Pirates system and another switch hitting middle infielder and he started his professional career at only 17 years old in rookie ball. There isn't much of a sample size to analyze the statistics but he did manage to slash .267/.368/.356 in his first 48 professional games. Tucker currently stands at 6'3" and weighs in at 183 pounds, but being so young, he should add a bit of muscle. As a result, scouts think he has a chance to get close to average power, potentially about 12-15 homers at his peak.

Tucker should be able to stick at shortstop as he projects to be a solid but not spectacular defender with an above-average throwing arm. Age combined with entering his first full year in the Pirates' system makes Tucker another wait-and-see prospect, but the tools are there for him to become an average big league shortstop.


Other Interesting Prospects
by David Spracale

Luis Heredia (RHP) - Heredia will be included in some other top ten lists for the Pirates organization but I am not sold on him. He has been young for his league at every stop and topped out at 96 MPH, but still hasn't been able to pair it with a secondary pitch and as a result the strikeout numbers haven't been there. Heredia will need to show some development soon or he will start to fall down some prospect lists and might end up in the bullpen, but there is still upside of a #2 or 3 starter in the future.

Barrett Barnes OF - Barnes only played in 17 games this past season due to injury. He is already 23 and will need to deliver on some of the potential that lead the Pirates to take in the first round of the 2012 draft out of Texas Tech. Barnes flashed some power in his short season debut, but the lost season in 2014 means he is going to have to start showing it again to get back on the prospect radar.

About the Authors

Jason Hunt is a contributing writer for Fake Teams, specializing in the minor leagues and prospects
Follow him on Twitter 

Brian Creagh is a contributing writer for Fake Teams, specializing in fantasy baseball and the minor leagues.
Follow him on Twitter 

David Spracale is a contributing writer for Fake Teams, specializing in fantasy baseball and the minor leagues.
Follow him on Twitter