With the offseason in full swing, that means it will be time for teams to assess their needs for next season. We're at the same point for fantasy owners in dynasty leagues, and we're here to help you with the information you need as you prepare for your minor league drafts.
In previous years, we have done rather intensive top 10 prospect lists, including an organizational rundown, opportunities in the coming season, as well as the top fantasy prospects. However, we have found that a number of these topics are covered as we continue through the offseason, and specifically through profiles done as a part of our preseason redraft rankings. As a result, this year's top 10 lists will be primarily that: a list of the prospects with brief writeups rather than the 4000-8000 word opuses that have occurred in the past. We feel that this year's format will both suit the goal better (of providing fantasy relevant information and rankings) as well as allow us to move through them much more quickly so that they can be completed by the Christmas holiday.
The schedule itself is fairly basic: We cover a division, going in alphabetical order of city/location name. This means the next team after this post will be the Cardinals and then move to the NL West.
With fantasy prospect rankings, the key to knowing the usefulness of a specific player is how large and deep of a league you would need to be in for them to end up as a fantasy starter. We will be ranking 10 prospects in each system, but that doesn't mean that every one of them is useful if you play in a 12-team mixed dynasty league. With that said, we're aiming to provide useful information whether you play in a 10-team mixed, a 15-team AL-only, or a 24-team mixed.
Prospect rankings also come with the same caveat I provide every year. They represent a snapshot of how we view the players at the time of publication. There will inherently be more information published throughout the offseason, and so it is very possible that by the end of the offseason, how we view a player may be very different from where we had them originally. We're going to get some of these right, we're going to get some of these wrong, and in general my reminder is to find information you trust, and use it to your advantage. If that comes from us, that's great and we're happy you're here. If it doesn't, we'll continue to work and hope that you'll keep checking in to see how we're doing.
Something new I wanted to introduce this year is a tier system to help delineate where prospects are likely to fall on the overall top prospect list. We have not completed our top prospects lists yet, and will not likely do so until we are close to finishing all the prospect rankings. The tiers are here though to provide some clarity when comparing between different teams. It's by no means a perfect system, but the goal is to give you a general idea of which players we think are in a similar range in terms of value and ranking. Since the tiers are also expected to be relatively consistent across teams, there may be tiers which do not have prospects for certain teams.
Tier 1 -- The Elite Prospects
These prospects are expected to be in the top 25-50 prospects overall and have the potential to be among the top options at their position regardless of format or league size.
#1 - Tyler Glasnow (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 22
A 5th-round pick in the 2011 draft, Tyler Glasnow, once viewed as raw and projectable, has rewarded the Pirates for their $600,000 investment and exceeded their most sanguine expectations by developing into one of the minor-leagues' most dominant starting pitchers. In 2013 at Low-A West Virginia, and in 2014 at High-A Bradenton, the young righthander threw a combined 235.2 innings, compiled an impressive 1.95 ERA, struck out a jaw-dropping 321 batters, and won League Pitcher of the Year honors in both seasons. At 6'8"-225, Glasnow brings an overpowering fastball that reaches the high-90s on a regular basis. With the major-league club coming off a 98-win season, expecting to contend for a championship in 2016, but facing serious questions about its starting rotation following the departures of A.J. Burnett and J.A. Happ, Pirates fans will be clamoring for Glasnow's promotion. GM Neal Huntington, however, has hinted that the Bucs' top prospect needs more time in AAA. Indeed, Glasnow sports a troubling 4.18 BB/9 rate for his career. In 2015, he appeared to have conquered his control issues by yielding only 19 walks in 63 innings at AA Altoona (2.71 BB/9), but the problem resurfaced at AAA Indianapolis, where he walked 22 in only 41 innings (4.83 BB/9). Fantasy owners should expect to see Glasnow in Pittsburgh at some point in 2016, though lingering control issues would delay his arrival.
Tier 2 -- The Top 100 Candidates
These prospects are expected to be in the discussion for the top 100 prospects overall and are expected to be starting options in all formats.
#2 - Josh Bell (1B)
Age on Opening Day: 23
The second of two top prospects from a 2011 draft that also produced current ace Gerrit Cole, Josh Bell likewise appears to be on the cusp of a promotion to the major-league club, more so now that Pittsburgh has non-tendered incumbent 1B Pedro Alvarez. The Pirates made headlines when they selected Bell, a switch-hitting centerfielder, with the first pick of the second round and then signed him away from what was perceived to be an ironclad commitment to the University of Texas. His path blocked by Pittsburgh's dynamic trio of outfielders, Bell made the transition to the infield in 2015 and became a full-time first-baseman, where his advanced hit tool and plate discipline should make him an above-average regular. Following an impressive debut at AAA Indianapolis, all that remains is for Bell's 55/60 raw power to begin showing up in games. It is also worth noting that Bell had knee problems in high school and then suffered a major knee injury early in his first professional season, but since then he has enjoyed two-plus healthy seasons, and the switch to first base should help limit the stress on his legs. Meanwhile, fantasy owners should know that if Bell stays healthy, plays adequate defense, and taps into his raw power without sacrificing other offensive strengths, he could become a perennial all-star in the middle of Pittsburgh's batting order.
#3 - Austin Meadows (OF)
Age on Opening Day: 20
One of Pittsburgh's two 1st-round picks in 2013, Austin Meadows profiles as a prototypical centerfielder in an organization rich with them. He has excellent speed and a line-drive swing that should generate more power over time. Meanwhile, the Pirates have challenged him with aggressive assignments. Still only 20 years old, Meadows in 2015 compiled a solid .307/.357/.407 line with 7 HR and 20 SB in 121 games at High-A Bradenton before reaching Double-A Altoona near season's end and hitting a game-tying, ninth-inning, two-run homer that led to a playoff victory for the Curve. Pittsburgh also sent Meadows to the Arizona Fall League, where he faced older competition and learned more about how to handle the long grind of a baseball season. A potential five-tool player, Meadows offers a long-term offensive profile that fantasy owners should find intriguing. His path to the majors, however, is blocked in Pittsburgh, so it might require a trade to hasten his arrival.
#4 - Jameson Taillon (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 24
In 2013, as a 21-year-old pitching at AAA Indianapolis, Jameson Taillon made six starts, compiled a 3.89 ERA, and struck out 37 batters in 37 innings. He has not pitched since then due to multiple injuries, including TJ surgery, and he recently turned 24, so this Tier-2 ranking amounts to an educated guess based on pedigree--Pittsburgh selected him 2nd overall in the 2010 draft--past performance, and of course an assumption that he regains his health and resembles his pre-injury self. At full speed, Taillon boasts a strong 6'5" frame and perhaps the best three-pitch arsenal in the system. If all goes as planned, he will join Gerrit Cole and Tyler Glasnow atop one of the most dynamic young rotations this side of New York. Taillon's next start, however, almost certainly will not come in Pittsburgh, so fantasy owners will have a chance to monitor the young righthander in the minors as he works his way back from injury.
Tier 3 -- The Next Group of Starters
These prospects likely would slot into the 100-200 range on an overall ranking list and would be starters in mid-depth formats such as 12- and 14-team leagues.
#5 - Harold Ramirez (OF)
Age on Opening Day: 21
Perhaps the most unheralded of Pittsburgh's young outfielders, Harold Ramirez has shown he can hit. In 2015, he slashed .337/.399/.458 in 80 games at High-A Bradenton. He also runs well and plays excellent defense. With those three above-average-to-plus tools, Ramirez profiles as a centerfielder capable of hitting at or near the top of a major-league batting order. Fantasy players, however, should not expect much home-run power. At 5'10"-210, the stocky Ramirez lacks physical projection. Even without the home runs, Ramirez's .304 average and 66 stolen bases in 239 career games give him plenty of offensive value. He recently was added to the Pirates' 40-man roster and has maintained his positive momentum in the Colombian Winter League. Thus far Pittsburgh has taken a one-level-per-year approach to Ramirez's development, so he likely will open 2016 at AA Altoona.
#6 - Alen Hanson (2B)
Age on Opening Day: 23
Few players in recent memory have burst onto the prospect scene the way Alen Hanson did during his breakout 2012 season at Low-A West Virginia, where, as a 19-year-old, he slashed .309/.381/.528 with 16 HR and 35 SB in 124 games. Over the next three seasons, however, those numbers declined across the board. Hanson's statistical regression, coupled with a brief benching for insubordination in 2014, dulled his once-bright luster as a prospect. Fantasy owners, however, should not overlook the many positives. Still only 23, Hanson offers double-digit home-run potential from the middle-infield. At AAA Indianapolis in 2015, he matched his career-high with 35 steals and earned International League Player of the Month honors for May. Amid rumors that the Pirates are shopping 2B Neil Walker, whose contract expires after 2016, Hanson's name becomes even more interesting. If he hopes to hit near the top of the Pittsburgh batting order, Hanson will have to improve upon the .313 OBP he posted in 2015. Otherwise, he has a strong offensive profile, and very soon he could get the opportunity to display it in the major leagues.
#7 - Reese McGuire (C)
Age on Opening Day: 21
For all the positive vibes they generated in 2011-12, the Pirates were inept--sometimes comically so--against opposing basestealers. So Pittsburgh signed free-agent catcher Russell Martin and then, in the 2013 draft, selected high-schooler Reese McGuire with the second of their two 1st-round picks. Widely regarded as the most advanced prep catcher in his draft class, McGuire has impressed scouts with his defensive skills and overall athleticism. Fantasy players should have no doubts about McGuire's ability to stick behind the plate, but will he provide offensive value at that premium position? Early returns are not overwhelming, but they are encouraging. Despite a .254 average with no homers in 98 games at High-A Bradenton, McGuire did show advanced plate discipline (26:39 BB:K ratio) and even stole 14 bases. With youth and projectability on his side, he still could develop adequate power and become a solid run-producer. While the Pirates have no reason to rush him, they did challenge him with an assignment to the Arizona Fall League, where he slashed .294/.379/.412 in 14 games as one of the league's youngest players. Despite his age, McGuire's not far away from contributing to the big-league squad. Meanwhile, in 2016 he likely will join teammates Austin Meadows and Harold Ramirez on a prospect-laden Altoona club.
#8 - Kevin Newman (SS)
Age on Opening Day: 22
After selecting prep shortstop Cole Tucker in the first round of the 2014 draft, the Pirates continued to stock their middle infield when they made Kevin Newman their top pick in 2015. In his brief professional debut, Newman struggled with the Morgantown-based West Virginia Black Bears of the New York-Penn League (.226/.281/.340), but the trip downstate to Charleston and the West Virginia Power of the South Atlantic League produced better results (.306/.376/.367). A standout at the University of Arizona, Newman earned praise for his excellent makeup and above-average hit tool, the latter of which he displayed by twice winning the Cape Cod League batting title. Despite average speed, he also has shown signs that he could become a capable basestealer. That, coupled with his high batting average, completes his offensive profile, for there is no reason to expect anything more than an occasional home run. Still, if he finds his way to the top of a strong major-league lineup, he could produce solid-if-unspectacular numbers and become a useful middle infielder in fantasy leagues.
#9 - Ke'Bryan Hayes (3B)
Age on Opening Day: 19
While their minor-league system as a whole remains strong, the Pirates' prospect pipeline in recent years has been weakest at the corner infield positions. So in 2015, with their second pick in the 1st round, they selected high-school 3B Ke'Bryan Hayes, son of former big-leaguer Charlie Hayes. Ke'Bryan got off to a scorching start with the Gulf Coast League Pirates, slashing .382/.476/.441 in his first 31 games while showing advanced plate discipline (18:14 BB:K). At 6'1"-210, Hayes lacks physical projection and does not profile as a power hitter, though he does have a reputation as a hard worker and should develop usable power as he gains strength. In the meantime, his above-average-to-plus hit-tool, which already shows up in games, will keep him on the fantasy radar. A challenging assignment to Low-A West Virginia likely awaits him in 2016.
Tier 4 -- Single-League and Deep-Format Plays
These prospects likely would slot into the 200-300 range on a ranking list and would have the most value in mixed leagues with 16+ teams and single-league formats with 12+ teams.
#10- Cole Tucker (SS)
Age on Opening Day: 19
Pittsburgh surprised many draft analysts by selecting prep shortstop Cole Tucker, Baseball America's 84th-ranked prospect, with the 24th overall pick in the 2014 draft. Much like Kevin Newman and Ke'Bryan Hayes, Tucker appealed to the Pirates first because of his work ethic and overall makeup. Unlike Newman and Hayes, who already look like advanced hitters, Tucker lacks a premier offensive tool. His above-average speed has produced an impressive 38 steals in 121 career games, but his 6'3"-185 lb. frame suggests that as he adds strength and perhaps develops some modest power, he could wind up an average basestealer at the major-league level, not an elite one. He's also likely to miss most or all of the 2016 season following surgery for a torn labrum. The injury notwithstanding, there is something about Tucker that makes the whole player seem much greater than the sum of his individual tools. In 2015, when other teenage position players were struggling with their first taste of Low-A ball, Tucker more than held his own against advanced competition in the South Atlantic League, slashing .293/.322/.377 and swiping 25 bases in 73 games prior to surgery. No one doubts that he will put in the hard work necessary to make a full recovery. Meanwhile, fantasy owners should not lose sight of an interesting player at a premium position.