2017 Organizational Review: Pittsburgh Pirates

Feature Photo:  Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Pirates

By Dave DeFreitas and Nick J. Faleris

 

Affiliates

Indianapolis Indians (Triple-A, Int’l)
Stats/Roster

Altoona Curve (Double-A, Eastern)
Stats/Roster

Bradenton Marauders (High A, Florida State)
Stats/Roster

West Virginia Power (Class A, South Atlantic)
Stats/Roster

West Virginia Black Bears (Short-Season A, NY-Penn)
Stats/Roster

GCL Pirates (Rookie, Gulf Coast)
Stats/Roster

Bristol Pirates (Rookie, Appalachian)
Stats/Roster

DSL Pirates (Dominican)
Stats/Roster

Surprise Saguaros (Arizona Fall)
Stats/Roster

 

ELEVATOR PITCH

Despite some intriguing talent in the lower levels, the Pirates boast mostly a top-heavy system with plenty of potentially impactful talent set to graduate to the major leagues in 2017, but little depth in the middle. Pittsburgh will need a strong developmental year in the lower minors to keep pace.

 

CREAM OF THE CROP


Austin Meadows, OF, Triple-A Indianapolis  |  Ceiling/Realistic Role: 60/55
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/200      B/T: L/L      Age (as of December 1st 2016): 21y 7m
Player Stats | 2080 Report | 2080 Video

The Tools: 60 hit; 60 power; 65 run; 55 glove – The plus bat speed, solid approach, and simple swing mechanics give Meadows a projected plus hit tool that will do a lot to drive the profile going forward. He has plus raw power that will translate to above-average to plus over-the-fence numbers upon maturity. He is an above-average baserunner and the plus foot speed (4.11, 4.15 second home-to-first times) will make him a consistent threat to run. He is quick to full speed and tracks the ball well, making him a fit in center field.

The Profile: Already young for the Double-A level where he started 2016, Meadows tore through Double-A pitching before moving on to Triple-A Indianapolis in July. He struggled more than expected there with his batting average and on-base production, but the solid approach and the plus bat speed remained. He has significant present strength in the solid 200 pound frame and the actions are extremely easy – so despite him not clearing fences, the .239 BABIP and the .252 ISO through his 123 Triple-A at-bats indicate that he was still squaring balls up, but likely ran into some poor luck. He did see the strikeout rate jump a bit at Triple-A (to 22.7% from 16.8% at Double-A), but the walks also ticked up to 9.9% from 8.4%, reinforcing that he was still seeing a lot of pitches and working the count.

His ultra-smooth actions make it obvious that Meadows has athleticism to burn, which only serves to increase his projection as a run-producing, middle-of-the-order bat. Most of his pop is to the pull side right now, but as a 21-year-old in the upper minors that is not surprising. He will get some hip travel at times, but he’s adept at keeping his hands back while maintaining his plus feel for the barrel. The level plane is conducive to consistent hard contact, and at maturity should be able to drive both gaps with equal ease. He’s also shown that he can hang in vs. tough lefties and still drive the ball. The main knock on him now is that he can work underneath the ball a bit at times, and while he gets good carry, the lofty nature of the fly balls gets away from the high-impact aspects of his game. His 1.09 GO:AO ratio at Double-A is more where he wants to be so that he can use his legs. The 0.79 rate he posted at Indianapolis likely had something to do with the anemic batting average, as it eliminated the plus run tool. Given his skillset and how his hands work, the Pirates could be looking at a Christian Yelich (CF, Marlins)-type talent if Meadows gets back to his line drive ways. He has the ability to handle center field, but if the pull side, majestic fly balls continue, that is a trend that could see him as more of a Jay Bruce (RF, Mets) or Curtis Granderson (OF, Mets) career projection. Expect Meadows to head back to Indianapolis in April, and with a strong start, could be in Pittsburgh by mid-summer.

 

Mitch Keller, RHP, High A Bradenton  |  Ceiling/Realistic Role: 70/60
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/195      B/T: R/R      Age (as of December 1st 2016): 20y 8m
Player Stats | 2080 Spotlight

The Tools: 65 fastball; 60 curveball; 55 changeup – Keller’s fastball works with life in the middle 90s, reaching as high as 97 mph out of an easy arm action and with good angle. His curveball, a hard-biting 11-to-5 breaker, gives him a second future plus offering, that he works both in and out of the zone. Keller’s low-80s changeup has grown into a solid-average offering with potential to mature into an above-average weapon in time, given his quality arm speed, feel and advanced command profile.

The Profile: After missing much of 2015 with a forearm strain, Keller enjoyed a breakout season in 2016. The former second-rounder logged 124 1/3 innings of work over 23 starts with Class A West Virginia, averaging 9.5 SO/9 to just 1.3 BB/9. He finished the year with a single High A start for Bradenton, posting six strong shutout innings and allowing just five hits and one walk while punching out seven.

Keller’s arsenal has front-end upside, beginning with a plus mid-90s fastball that plays up due to its ride and his ability to spot the pitch to all quadrants. His power curve has evolved from the nascent 12-to-6 bender he tossed in his high school days. It’s now a sharp and sexy 11-to-5 hammer that he can work early in the count as a drop-in strike, or that he can bury late and ahead. While not heavily relied upon as of yet, Keller’s changeup flashes above average already and could settle in as a true above-average offering with continued reps, coming with arm-side dive and deceptive arm speed.

It’s an athletic delivery, and Keller keeps an even tempo while repeating his mechanics well and showing consistent execution across his pitches, particularly considering his age and limited in-game mileage. While the forearm issues he endured in 2015 can’t be entirely shrugged away, both the size of his 2016 workload and the quality of his stuff throughout the full season’s slate go a long way towards quelling any long-term health concerns. He’ll ship out to High A in 2017 and could close out the year in Altoona, leaving him primed for a big league debut at some point in 2018. The raw stuff may be a slight notch behind that of Tyler Glasnow (RHP, Pirates), but his feel and command profile are superior, as is his likelihood of securing a long-term spot near the front end of the Pirates’ rotation.

 

Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates  |  Ceiling/Realistic Role: 70/60
Ht/Wt: 6’8”/220      B/T: L/R      Age (as of December 1st 2016): 23y 4m
Player Stats | 2080 Report | 2080 Spotlight 1 | 2080 Spotlight 2 | 2080 Video

Tools: 70 fastball; 60 changeup; 65 curveball; 50 slider – Much has been made about the borderline-elite velocity Glasnow has displayed throughout his minor league career. The fastball now sits in the mid-to-upper 90’s with good late life in the zone. It doesn’t get much tail or sink, but does get some jump that helps to counter the straight nature of the pitch. The curveball is his best secondary, with 12-to-6 break and hard, late snap. He has good feel with the pitch, as he can use it in and out of the zone and use it vs. lefties. The long, limby arm action plays up the changeup, making it a plus pitch with hard circle dive to the arm side. The slider has more shallow, cutter action and he doesn’t have great feel with it, but in the upper 80s it is enough of a wrinkle to keep hitters off balance when he gets it arm side.

The Profile: After a rocky big league debut in 2016 that was marred by a shoulder injury and significant control issues, Glasnow looks primed to make the Pirates’ rotation out of camp and begin working his way towards being that mid- to upper-rotation arm. With his double-plus velocity and two plus-or-better secondary offerings, Glasnow has large margin for error in the zone and should be able to lean on the swing and miss to counter the lack of groundballs. At 6’8”, he is able to get great angle down through the zone, however the drop and drive delivery does work to erase some of that. At times he will drift forward and then have to rush his arm through the high 3/4s slot, which negatively impacts his ability to hit his spots with the heater. With the breaking ball, however, he seems to find much more consistent rhythm and gets the arm out front on time more often. He is still developing body control, and because of his huge frame and all the exceedingly long levers, it may take some time yet before things fall into place even though he is such a good athlete.

When Glasnow is on, he works ahead with the fastball and does a good job sequencing the changeup and breaking ball. His ability to change speeds coupled with the raw stuff makes him very hard to square up, however, the poor fastball command forces him to work from behind too often, and ultimately creates high-stress innings that will jump his pitch count and limit his ability to work deep into games. The fly ball tendencies also work against him in that they leave him vulnerable to the big inning and take away valuable chances to erase runners on the basepaths. He is quick to the plate and does a decent job helping to control the running game, but ultimately it will be that command in the zone that will determine if he reaches his ceiling or not.

He has plenty of room to fill out and as he gets stronger, expect him to find better feel with his body and do a better job repeating going forward. Barring injury, Glasnow has the stuff to be among the league leaders in strikeouts once he is established. If he can limit the high-stress innings, then we will see him turn over lineups and be a horse that goes deep every five days.

 

Josh Bell, 1B/RF, Pittsburgh Pirates  |  Ceiling/Realistic Role: 60/55
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/235      B/T: S/R      Age (as of December 1st 2016): 23y 4m
Player Stats | 2080 Spotlight | 2080 Video

Tools: 65 hit; 55 power; 50 glove; 50 run – As we have already seen from his big league debut in 2016, Bell’s hit tool is what will drive the profile. He has plus bat speed from both sides the plate with excellent balance and a level plane that keeps the barrel in the zone for an extended period. He is yet to see the above-average raw pop translate in-game, however he does generate good backspin carry on his line drives, and there is enough loft in his left-handed stroke to where he will eventually find more over-the-fence production. He is an average runner (4.18, 4.25, 4.28 home-to-first times), but while he isn’t a real threat to steal, he is far from a baseclogger, and is able to go from first to third base in good shape. Defensively, he is a corner player and has more than enough athleticism to handle first base if that is where the Pirates choose to utilize him. He is average in the outfield as well, but likely limited to left field due to the fringe-average arm strength.

The Profile: With Bell’s bat-to-ball skills and his command of the strike zone, his value will likely be driven by the batting average and on-base ability. His power is still developing, but he can punish a challenge pitch and has more than enough present game pop to do damage. From the right side, his power is more to pull and he will look to shoot the ball to right field – from the left side he generates a bit more loft and can leave the yard to all fields. The ISO has climbed steadily the last couple seasons, going from .157 in 2015 at Triple-A to .173 in 2016 during his Triple-A time. He posted a .137 ISO in 124 big league at-bats last year, but also saw his strikeout rate drop from 15.3% in Triple-A to 12.8% in Pittsburgh, with the walks going from 11.8% to 14.2% over that same stretch. Showing that kind of ability to adjust to the level and maintain the selectiveness at the plate bodes well for Bell doing damage when he gets a pitch to drive. He is very situationally aware and is a guy who can dial things up in higher-leverage spots.

There is some concern about his ability to handle first base, but the word is that Bell is a worker, and that we should see the athleticism translate just fine should the Pirates give him a shot to play there every day. The feet work fine around the bag, and while he is a little deliberate on making the throw the second base, that is likely more a product of his inexperience, rather than a sign that he can’t handle the position. He is a good baserunner and will pressure the defense enough to be an asset there as well. Overall, the Pirates have a good one here and if everyone is patient, Bell is likely to reward them as a legit run-producing bat in the middle of a very good Pirates’ lineup.

 

ON THE HORIZON

 

Kevin Newman, SS, Double-A Altoona  |  Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/50
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/180      B/T: R/R      Age (as of December 1st 2016): 23y 4m
Player Stats  |  2080 Video

Quick Hit: A plus athlete who should play in the middle of the field, Newman’s plus hit tool and excellent on-base ability makes it easy to dream on him as a top-of-the-order contributor. He isn’t the plus runner that you usually like to see slot into the leadoff spot, but he is above average down the line and is quick to full speed – couple that with the excellent contact rates and he profiles well in the number two spot. Newman’s actions are compact and quick – he has above-average bat speed, but what is more impressive is the bat control and feel for the barrel. He is a solid situational hitter and his wide stance at the plate helps him keep the hands back even when fooled and get good wood on the ball. There is not much power to speak of, but there is room to add strength on his wirey frame. He isn’t likely to drive too many over the fence to the big part of the field, however, he can jump a fastball to the pull side and makes hard enough contact to be able to get it into the right-center field gap. He will get challenged as he advances, and his ability to do enough damage to keep pitchers honest will likely determine how well the hit tool and OBP play.

He has a good first step at shortstop, and his footwork keeps him consistently in good position to throw and get the most out of the above-average arm. Coming from a very high-end Arizona program Newman has a good feel for the game and knows how to compete. What he lacks in tools, he should make up for in instincts and game clock. He obviously loses some of his value if he has to move off of shortstop, but even if he is not there every day, he is more than capable handle it in a utility role. Newman looks primed to either head back to Double-A Altoona, or if he shows well in big league camp this month, he could start off in Indianapolis. At age 23, if he continues to hit like he has, there will be little incentive to keep him down on the farm because he would add immediate defensive utility to the 25-man roster. The overall profile is similar to that of Matt Duffy (SS, Rays), with Duffy having more juice, but Newman having less swing and miss.

 

Nick Kingham, RHP, Double-A Altoona  |  Ceiling/Realistic Role: 60/50
Ht/Wt: 6’6”/225      B/T: R/R      Age (as of December 1st 2016): 25y 1m
Player Stats

Quick Hit: After Tommy John surgery set him back in May of 2015, Kingham has stayed right on schedule with his rehab, and he was able to make 10 starts across three levels in the second half of last season. Kingham has smooth, compact mechanics and very good arm speed that produces a mid-90s heater and 60-grade 12-to-6 breaking ball. The arm works very well and he does a good job staying tall and creating excellent angle to the plate. The fastball sits around 92-to-93 mph, and he was up to 94 mph in September vs. Binghamton, so the velocity has already returned, as has the late two-seam tail to both sides of the dish. He was consistently around the zone pre-surgery (under 3 BB/9 in 2014 and 2015), so if that level of control comes back, Kingham could jump back into his place as a mid-rotation prospect for the Bucs. He showed very good feel with the breaking ball, locating it in the zone to both lefties and righties, and he can flash an extra gear for putaway. He’s had roughly even ground ball and fly ball rates, and while he does possess swing-and-miss ingredients, he will have to rely on a good deal of soft contact in order to consistently turnover lineups and work deep into games at the big league level.

Kingham also sports a circle changeup as his third pitch, but the feel and depth have been inconsistent since his return from surgery, so it was used sparingly over his 46 innings in 2016. The re-imagining of his third pitch will be key to him hitting his ceiling – as of now, he could likely get by with the two plus offerings and a serviceable changeup, but he will need a real weapon versus more advanced lefty bats, and how well the changeup comes along could be the separator between him pitching from the number three slot in the rotation, or staying in the back end of the Pirates’ rotation.

 

Trevor Williams, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates  |  Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/50
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/230      B/T: R/R      Age (as of December 1st 2016): 24y 8m
Player Stats

Quick Hit: After debuting with the big league club in 2016, Williams will look to put together a solid spring and break camp with the big league club with a rotation spot in-hand. Williams is a big, strong kid who gets good angle to the plate and does a good job filling up the zone. He has a small stab in back before coming through a high-3/4’s slot along with some mild crossfire that works to add some deception to the above-average fastball. The fastball will flatten out and get hittable up in the zone, but the hard sink he gets when he is locating down is where he will make his money. He has good life in the zone and does well moving corner to corner while throttling up and back effectively.

While he doesn’t walk many, the command in the zone is just fringe average, and he will miss up and out over the plate at times. He has a power curveball with some snap, and he’s got some feel to change its shape, and confidence to use it against both righties and lefties. The changeup is average, and while it does get some fade to the arm side, it stays on plane with the fastball and doesn’t get much bottom. He is a very strong kid, but the body is mature and there is not much projection left.

The stuff can be considered matchup quality, and should he need to move to the pen, he would likely find a couple extra mph on the fastball in shorter stints. But for now, if Williams can tighten up the command in the zone, he stands to get a good number of ground balls and could be a valuable innings eater at the back end of the Bucs’ rotation in 2017.

 

Clay Holmes, RHP, Double-A Altoona  |  Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/50
Ht/Wt: 6’5”/230      B/T: R/R      Age (as of December 1st 2016): 23y 9m
Player Stats

Quick Hit: Coming off of Tommy John surgery in 2014, Holmes finally began to regain his form in 2016, tossing a career-high 130 innings for the Bucs’ Double-A affiliate. Holmes’ huge frame affords him significant angle to the plate, which when coupled with his 55-grade, bowling ball fastball has allowed him to consistently dial up extreme ground ball rates throughout his pro career (2.14 GO:AO). He is primarily fastball/breaking ball with a fringe-average changeup, which he uses sparingly. The curveball is a legit plus pitch that he has feel for, getting hard, 12-to-6 break with snap that he uses to both sides of the plate. He has not missed a ton of bats to this point in his career, and only struck out 6.79-per-9 innings last season.

That said, Holmes is a guy who lives off of the power sinker and looks for soft contact. Even with a fringe-average changeup as his third pitch, if he can throw enough strikes, he stands to be a valuable innings eater as he advances, with stuff that can play in the rotation or out of the bullpen, ala Trevor Cahill (RHP, Padres). The main issue thus far for Holmes, injuries aside, has been the walks (4.08 BB/9 in 2016). The mechanics are smooth, he has very good arm speed, and he has good body control for such a big guy – considering all that, he is probably due the benefit of the doubt with 2016 being his first full season back after surgery. With significant innings logged at Double-A last year, expect Holmes to find a little better command and thus less traffic to contend with on the bases. Working to contact, the hit totals will likely always be on the higher end, however, if he can get to average control that could be enough to make him a viable number four option in the rotation. If the consistency of execution evades him, then he would likely see a bump in the stuff over shorter stints and be a valuable multi-inning arm out of the pen. Either way, expect Holmes to get a good look in camp this month and start 2017 at Triple-A Indianapolis.

 

Alen Hanson, 2B/OF, Pittsburgh Pirates  |  Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45
Ht/Wt: 5’11”/180      B/T: S/R      Age (as of December 1st 2016): 24y 3m
Player Stats

Quick Hit: With Hanson’s recent foray into the outfield at Triple-A Indianapolis last year, he has now added significant utility value to a profile that already had some nice upside. Hanson has a short, compact stroke from the left side, and the above-average bat speed translates well to some in-game, gap-oriented pop. He looks much more comfortable from the left side and that showed in his damage numbers in 2016, with his .743 LHH vs. .665 RHH OPS numbers. The right-handed stroke lacks the same quickness and has him more slapping the ball through the infield, whereas the lefty swing generates some backspin when he squares it up.

The ingredients are there for him to be a plus defender at second base with athletic feet around the bag and average arm strength. The range doesn’t match the foot speed on the bases, part of what keeps him from being an asset at shortstop, but he showed well in his time in the outfield at Indianapolis, a new aspect of his game that will likely increase the number of at-bats he sees in Pittsburgh. At 4.11 seconds from home to first from the right side of the plate, Hanson is a plus to double-plus runner with a good amount of fast-twitch muscle.

If he can continue to make hard contact and maintain the good contact rates (16.3% K rate and 6.7% BB rate at Triple-A), Hanson could position himself to be of incredible depth and versatility value to a Bucs team that is trying to compete. He’s not to the level of Jose Ramirez (Util, Indians), but there are definite similarities to the profiles, and with Jung Ho Kang (2B, Pirates) a big question mark going into March, Hanson will have a big opportunity to carve out a place for himself on the 25-man roster.

 

Elias Diaz, C, Pittsburgh Pirates  |  Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/40
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/210      B/T: R/R      Age (as of December 1st 2016): 26y 1m
Player Stats

Quick Hit: The above-average to plus defensive ability has always a draw for Diaz with his plus arm and leadership behind the dish, points that give him a floor of a backup in the big leagues. He is a very good athlete with significant lower-half strength. The swing is smooth and the hands work well with relatively little pre-pitch movement, however the bat speed is average at best and even though he will get some barrel exit, the carry on his line drives is limited. He has very strong hands behind the plate and is a good receiver, but he can sit up a little high and can get noisy with his actions while the pitcher is in his windup. The athleticism shows through in his ability to move side to side and keep the ball in front, and the energy is tremendous, but ultimately you’d like to see a little less movement while the pitch is being delivered from a guy with a defense-heavy profile. The arm is his best tool, and the 60 grade could be light. He threw out 12-of-23 would-be basestealers last year in the minors, and he’s not afraid to throw behind runners while showing above-average accuracy.

Diaz has a contact-heavy profile at the plate and has shown some feel for the strike zone the past few seasons, but the extremely limited damage numbers will make that hard for him to repeat at the next level. If Diaz can to get to even the .100-.120 ISO range, then he has a chance to be a solid everyday guy, but going into his age-26 season, the odds are not with him to suddenly find some juice versus major league arms. He’ll get his shot in spring training, and he could break camp with the big club in the backup role if things go his way. If he adjusts well to major league pitching and produces with the bat, he could hit his ceiling as a second-division regular.

 

Dovydas Neverauskas, RHP, Triple-A Indianapolis  |  Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/40
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/215      B/T: R/R      Age (as of December 1st 2016): 23y 11m
Player Stats

Quick Hit: After signing out of the Italian Academy in 2009, the athletic Neverauskas has done very well to develop his arm strength and feel on the mound. He is likely bigger than his 6’3” listing and has excellent body control for such a big-bodied guy. The smooth delivery and loose, quick arm produce plus to double-plus velocity with the ability to find an extra gear when he needs it. The fastball has some hop in the zone, but is fairly straight with only some occasional two-seam tail to the arm side. He gets good angle, which helps to keep hitters on the top half of the ball, but he can be hittable when he has to challenge in the zone. The breaking ball shows occasional 3/4’s depth and has the ingredients to get to above average, but is very inconsistent, acting like more of a big cutter at times. He does have a changeup that will sit in the upper 80s, but it lacks any sort of bottom and shows arm-side fade on plane with the heater.

Since moving to the pen Neverauskas has been tougher to square up, as he can lean on the two-pitch, hard/hard combo in shorter stints. He does a good job staying down in the zone and keeping the ball on the ground, but has the wherewithal to change eye level when appropriate. He doesn’t walk too many, and if he can find some consistency with the breaking ball he should see his strikeout numbers get back to the 10-plus K/9 he showed in Double-A last season. Neverauskas is a low-motor guy, but there is an edge to him and he doesn’t back down at all in big spots. If he can continue to pound down in the zone and develop better feel with the slider, he has a chance to be a solid contributor in a sixth- to seventh-inning role at some point in 2017.

 

Tyler Eppler, RHP, Double-A Altoona  |  Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 6’6”/220      B/T: R/R      Age (as of December 1st 2016): 23y 11m
Player Stats  | 2080 Video

Quick Hit: The big-bodied Eppler took a nice step forward in 2016 at Double-A Altoona after a brief stint there in 2015. With long arm and a high waist, Eppler has some athletic effort in the delivery and arm action, but he is an above-average athlete and he’s found improved body control in 2016 that allowed him to repeat his release point on a more regular basis and find a bit more arm speed than he showed in 2015.

Eppler has always been a strike thrower, but lacking a plus secondary offering, has struggled to miss bats. His fastball is in the low-to-mid 90s and gets good tail to the arm side and occasional comeback to the glove side. The motion is pretty clean, but his short arm in back adds some mild deception that works to play up the average life the pitch gets in the zone. The breaking ball is 11-to-5 with some firmness to it, but it lacks true snap. He has feel to use it in the zone, but it rolls at times and he will have some pretty big swings against it. The changeup shows some arm-side fade and is played up slightly by the arm speed, but it is on plane with the fastball and plays to contact. Eppler managed to generate a significant amount of soft contact by working ahead and sequencing well, but against more advanced bats he will have to work to better utilize the big angle his 6’6” frame affords him. While he doesn’t walk many, which is a plus, but the fly balls and high contact rates will continue to rise unless he is able to live down in the zone and keep the ball on the ground. If he can do that, he stands to contribute as a multi-inning guy out of the pen, while making the occasional spot start.

 

Cody Dickson, LHP, Double-A Altoona  |  Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/35
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/180      B/T: L/L      Age (as of December 1st 2016): 24y 7m
Player Stats

Quick Hit: Dickson is a big-bodied, athletic lefty who fields his position well, and whose strong lower half makes him appear a good deal bigger than his listed weight. He has some drop and drive in the crossfire delivery that works to eliminate any angle his large frame would afford him. There is some smooth effort in the actions, but the arm works well and the deception he gets plays up the solid-average stuff. While the deception helps, the pronounced crossfire makes it far more difficult for him to get the hand out front. As a result, he will often have balls sail up and arm side. The fastball is average and it does get some slight two-seam tail to both sides, but it lacks any real sink. The breaking ball has curveball qualities and he’ll show some snap at times, but his execution is inconsistent and it will get loose and roll just as often as he is able to dial up the better version. The changeup is his third pitch and will get shallow fade to the arm side, but he uses it surprisingly little.

Dickson really gets deliberate with runners on base, and while his plus pickoff move to first base is an asset, it also prevents him from getting into any kind of a rhythm, adding significant stress to his innings. He spent the entire season pitching out of trouble with his incredible 93 walks over 140 innings pitched, and did well thanks to only giving up 127 hits. However, it goes without saying that sort of walk rate is a dangerous way to live regardless of how well he holds runners. The high-stress innings makes it hard to see him consistently turning over more advanced lineups.

For those reasons, Dickson seems destine for the bullpen, where not only will his deception play up in shorter looks, but he may find a bit more velo and consistency with the secondary. Expect Dickson to head to Triple-A this April and remain in the rotation – with a good start there, he could be a candidate for a swingman role in Pittsburgh. Ultimately though, Dickson settles in as the second lefty coming out of the bullpen.

 

Stephen Brault, LHP, Pittsburgh Pirates  |  Ceiling/Realistic Role: 40/35
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/200      B/T: L/L     Age (as of December 1st 2016): 24y 8m
Player Stats

Quick Hit: The lanky, high-waisted Brault couples significant deception from his crossfire delivery with some feel of his fringe average-stuff. Brault is an athletic kid with smooth actions – he has a lot of arms and legs, but does a good job repeating his mechanics. He is wirey and has some present strength in the frame, but doesn’t stand to see too much more coming stuff-wise. The fastball is fairly straight with some two-seam tail to the arm side and he is able to dart it to the glove side corner. The arm is quick through the slot and that, along with the deception, work to really play up the fringe-average velocity of 88-to-92 mph. The average slider is his main secondary offering and it’s a pitch he will use at will to both righties and lefties. He has feel to change the shape and use it both in and out of the zone, with the better one showing tight, 3/4’s bite. When Brault is on, he is working the fastball to the corners and mixing the variations of the breaking ball.

He did not put up great splits last year, fairing far worse vs. lefties with a 4.96 ERA at Triple-A as opposed to his 3.60 mark vs. righties over that same stretch. Part of this is likely due to the fact that while he has good feel with the breaking ball and is a tough look for lefties given the crossfire, that same cross-body action makes it hard for him to consistently get the arm out front and locate the fastball to the glove side. Versus righties the pitch stays out away, but runs into the nitro zone for lefties and results in more hard contact.

Overall, Brault has value in the deception and his ability to throttle up and back to keep hitters off balance. He is no stranger to the rotation, but given the limited margin for error and lack of a true third pitch, it’s tough to see him turning over lineups consistently over 30-plus starts in the big leagues. Most likely his value will be highest in that swingman role where he could spot start and be a second lefty out of the pen.

 

Barrett Barnes, OF, Double-A Altoona  |  Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/35
Ht/Wt: 5’11”/209      B/T: R/R      Age (as of December 1st 2016): 25y 5m
Player Stats

Quick Hit: The former Compensation Round A pick by the Pirates in 2012 has started to see his power arrive at the plate the last two seasons. At 25 years old, Barnes is no doubt old for the level, but the 50 doubles, nine triples, and 18 home runs he has hit the last two seasons between High A and Double-A are nothing to thumb your nose at. Barnes is a good athlete with a very compact build and quick hands through the zone. The above-average bat speed plus the short swing allowed him to find the barrel a good amount in 2016, despite seeing his swing-and-miss rates spike to 22.9%. Prior to 2015, Barnes had not shown much ability to drive the baseball, but the .170 ISO and .392 BABIP he posted last season are examples of his concerted effort to do more damage. The increased swing and miss and drop in walk rate (10.6% in 2015 to 8.9% in 2016) is likely a result of that change in approach, but the more concerning part is the massive pull-heavy tendency he now has, and the little-to-no punch he has to the right side of the field.

Barnes is an average runner, but lacks the quickness for center field and the below-average arm strength prevents him from being much of a fit in right field. So seemingly limited to the lesser-valued corner outfielder spot, Barnes will have to repeat his power output at Triple-A this season and have the bat carry the profile in order to hit his ceiling. As athletic as he is, Barnes could be a bit of a late bloomer and still propel himself into that fourth-outfielder role.

 

PURE PROJECTION

 

Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B, Class A West Virginia  |  Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/50
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/210      B/T: R/R      Age (as of December 1st 2016): 19y 10m
Player Stats

Quick Hit: Hayes, son of 14-year veteran Charlie Hayes (3B, MLB 1988-2001, multiple teams), had his first full season campaign cut short in 2016 due to a rib injury that slowed him, and then shut him down in July. Through his 65 games and 276 plate appearances with Class A West Virginia, the 2015 first-rounder slashed .263/.319/.393 while striking out at an 18% clip. Hayes has a solid approach at the plate to go with average bat speed and growing strength in his core, which evaluators hope will eventually push his in-game power production to at least above average. He covers the quadrants well and should be an average to above-average bat at maturity, though his well-below-average speed will eat into some of his extra base chances and limit his infield hits.

Hayes is a reliable glove at third base, with a true first step and quality range to go with an above-average arm that plays very well at the hot corner. He should develop into at least an above-average defender with continued reps and he’s already capable of fielding to the margins of his zone while delivering strong and accurate throws both deep on the line and while on the run. While Hayes’ speed limits his foundational value, his glove and ability to find the ball with the bat should make him at least a solid everyday contributor, and if the power comes along he’s a borderline first-division guy. Despite having his season cut short last summer, he could make the jump to High A in 2017.

 

Cole Tucker, SS, High A Bradenton  |  Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/50
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/185      B/T: S/R      Age (as of December 1st 2016): 20y 5m
Player Stats

Quick Hit: A 2014 first-rounder out of Mountain Pointe High School in Phoenix, Tucker underwent shoulder surgery in late-2015 and returned to in-game action this past May, logging 80 games in 2016 split between Class A West Virginia and High A Bradenton. The switch-hitting shortstop slashed .242/.311/.327 in his 271 plate appearances, fairing significantly better from the left side, where he shows a cleaner swing with some natural loft. There’s more physicality to come, but it’s questionable whether he gets all the way to average power, putting some pressure on the hit tool not only teasing out to average, but maturing into a quality on-base contributor as well.

With a broad and projectable build to go with a thickening trunk, some question whether he sticks at shortstop long term, but his athleticism and body control are points in his favor, as is his off-the-charts makeup. While his arm strength has improved since high school, he struggled some with fatigue in 2016 – not surprising given he was less than a year removed from labrum surgery. He’s maintained above-average speed even as the body has continued to mature, giving hope that his range and athleticism will keep him at the six-spot for the foreseeable future.

Tucker won’t turn 21 until July, giving Pittsburgh the luxury of returning him to High A to start the 2017 season. He profiles as a steady defensive shortstop with a chance to grow into an average offensive contributor with above-average speed – good for an everyday contributor at maturity, ala current Bucs shortstop, Jordy Mercer.

 

Taylor Hearn, LHP, Class A West Virginia  |  Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/45
Ht/Wt: 6’5”/210      B/T: R/R      Age (as of December 1st 2016): 22y 3m
Player Stats

Quick Hit: Hearn came over to Pittsburgh last July in exchange for Mark Melancon (RHP, Nationals), tossing 22 2/3 innings for Class A West Virginia over eight appearances (three starts) and striking out 36 batters in that span, brining his season total to 75 over 51 2/3 innings of work (good for a whopping 13.1 SO/9). His bread and butter is a mid-90s fastball with good giddy-up that can reach the upper 90s. He mixes in a hard slider that flashes some bite and could develop into an above-average offering at maturity if he can find a more consistent release on the pitch to aid in throwing it for strikes and producing more dependable shape and action. His changeup is a below-average offering, underdeveloped thus far thanks to limited use. The arm works well enough for it to eventually get to average, but it will need to be a developmental focus moving forward.

Hearn has a big, durable build but he still may fit best in relief given his below-average control and two-pitch arsenal. He’s athletic enough to improve the consistency of his mechanics, and in turn his command and control, but his long limbs complicate his repeatability, and there is a fair amount of work to be done getting his changeup into proper order to help him turn over lineups at the upper levels. The Pirates could run him out as a starter in 2017 to see what they have, but the leash could be short given his potential to help in the pen in short order as a bat-missing lefty option. He’ll bump up to High A to start the season and projects best as a potential late-inning arm out of the pen.

 

Luis Escobar, RHP, Short-Season A West Virginia | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/45
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/155      B/T: R/R      Age (as of December 1st 2016): 20y 6m
Player Stats

Quick Hit: Escobar’s calling card is a very lively mid-90s fastball that he can drive down in the zone in spite of his average height. There’s good athleticism in the motion and solid arm speed, helping his changeup to play well off of the heater, coming with arm speed and pitch plane deception and a projecting as a future above-average offering. His curveball will flash above average with hard bite and 12-to-6 action when he stays on top, rounding out a solid starter’s repertoire.

While not overly physical, Escobar is well put together, and there is room for the physique to continue to tighten while the body adds mass. He’ll need to up his stamina and strength in order to better maintain the quality of his stuff both later into starts, and later into the season, but given his current build and projection, there is ample reason to believe he can stick in the rotation long term. After a solid showing in the New York-Penn League in 2016 – one in which he held opposing hitters to a .208 batting average while striking out almost a batter-per-inning over 67 2/3 innings of work – Escobar is ready to tackle full season ball. He’ll report to Class A West Virginia this spring, and he could be poised for a true breakout in 2017.

 

Will Craig, 3B, Short-Season A West Virginia | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/40
Ht/Wt: 6’5”/210      B/T: R/R      Age (as of December 1st 2016): 22y 3m
Player Stats | 2080 Video

Quick Hit: Craig tore up ACC competition this past spring during his junior year at Wake Forest, slashing .379/.520/.731 over 275 plate appearances, following a rough Cape Cod summer in which he batted just .242 with wood bats, striking out in over 20% of his plate appearances. After being selected by Pittsburgh with the 22nd overall selection in the 2016 MLB Draft, Craig put forth an improved performance with the wood, slashing .280/.412/.362 in 274 plate appearances, and striking out just 37 times compared to 41 walks over that span.

A big, hulking specimen, Craig displayed plus raw power in college, but his average bat speed and fringy tracking ability have limited his ability to make the same quality of hard contact with wood that he produced with metal. He’s generally comfortable and balanced in the box with a sound plan and approach, but will need to prove at the upper levels that he can keep up with the velocity and quality secondaries wielded by more advanced arms. A two-way player who closed for Wake Forest, Craig has more than enough arm for third base, but a body and lower-half quickness that’s more suitable for first base. He’ll tackle full season ball in 2017 and could move quickly through the ranks until truly at tested at Double-A. He’s a potential everyday bat if everything clicks.

 

Gage Hinsz, RHP, Class A West Virginia | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/40
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/210      B/T: R/R      Age (as of December 1st 2016): 20y 7m
Player Stats

Quick Hit: A big-bodied high schooler out of Montana, where there is no high school baseball, it has taken Hinsz a couple of seasons to find his bearings as a pro after being selected in the 11th round of the 2014 draft. He took a nice step forward in 2016, racking up 17 starts with Class A West Virginia at the age of 20, going 93 1/3 innings and showing solid consistency in his mechanics and working aggressively in the zone.

Hinsz can reach the middle 90s with his heater and shows some feel for his changeup, as well. The curveball lags some due to inconsistency, but could be a third average or better offering in time, giving him a chance to stick in the rotation long term. Hinsz still has plenty of developmental work ahead of him and will need to continue to build up arm strength and stamina over the coming years in order to stick in the rotation, but the ingredients are here for a solid back-end of the rotation arm.

 

Braeden Ogle, LHP, Rookie GCL Pirates | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/40
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/170      B/T: R/R      Age (as of December 1st 2016): 19y 4m
Player Stats

Quick Hit: Popped by the Pirates in the fourth round of the 2016 MLB Draft out of Jensen Beach High School (FL), Ogle received an above-slot deal of $800,000 – enough to buy him out of his commitment to the University of Florida. A projectable arm of note on the 2015 summer showcase circuit, Ogle enjoyed a nice bump in stuff last spring during his senior year of high school, and he now sports a fastball clocking in the low-to-mid 90s, albeit with fluctuations.

His secondary offerings are still works in progress, including a slurvy breaking ball with solid depth but inconsistent shape and bite, as well as a rudimentary changeup. Given the high-effort mechanics and still-developing repertoire, the Pirates will likely keep him on the complex to start 2017 and continue to ease him into pro ball. There’s solid upside here but a ton of proximity risk.

 

Travis MacGregor, RHP, Rookie GCL Pirates | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/35
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/180      B/T: R/R      Age (as of December 1st 2016): 19y 2m
Player Stats

Quick Hit: MacGregor, a second-round selection in the 2016 MLB Draft, elected to forgo an opportunity to play ball at Clemson, electing to sign with the Pirates for $900,000 and begin his professional career. With a broad build and projectable frame to go with a fluid, athletic delivery, MacGregor has a chance to blossom in the coming years as his body matures. The fastball velocity has already begun to tick up, with the righty now touching as high as 94 mph and working consistently in the 89-to-92 mph range.

His changeup is a solid second offering that can play to average at present with some room to grow into an above-average or better offering in time. His curveball is a soft breaker that lacks impact, though the hope is he will see improvements as his upper half adds strength, and his arm speed improves a notch. MacGregor loads well on his back side and does a good job of utilizing his size to create tough angles, making him a tough arm to lift. The developmental arc could be prolonged, but it’s a nice starting point from which the Pirates staff can work. There’s potential for a solid back-end of the rotation arm based on what we see now, and room for him to show more in the next year or two.

 

Kevin Kramer, 2B, High A Bradenton | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/190      B/T: L/R      Age (as of December 1st 2016): 23y 2m
Player Stats

Quick Hit: A second-rounder out of UCLA in 2015, Kramer has an excellent feel for the barrel as evidenced by a 2016 contact rate that hovered just below 90% over his 118 games with High A Bradenton. The former Bruins utilizes a contact-oriented swing that keeps the barrel on plane and in the hit zone for an extended period of time, but the swing lacks impact and there is limited damage potential. That opens the door for advanced arms to challenge him more regularly in the zone, and will likely eat into his on-base production some as he moves closer to Pittsburgh.

Kramer is a capable defender at second base but lacks the range for shortstop and the arm strength to play the left side. Because he is so successful at finding the ball with the barrel, there remains an outside chance he hits enough to carve out a solid everyday role at second base, but given his average speed and limited defensive profile, it’s more likely he settles in as a capable reserve option. He’ll move to Double-A Altoona in 2017 and should enter 2018 with an eye towards competing for a spot on the 25-man roster.

 

Stephen Alemais, SS, Short-Season A West Virginia | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/190      B/T: R/R      Age (as of December 1st 2016): 21y 8m
Player Stats

 Quick Hit: Alemais was selected by Pittsburgh in the third round of the 2016 MLB Draft thanks to his flashy glovework at shortstop. The Tulane product has plus range and arm strength as well as above-average athleticism, helping him to make the highlight reels on the regular. He has improved his defensive consistency and should have no trouble developing into an asset at shortstop long term. Offensively, Alemais profiles as a down-order stick thanks to his lack of impact and limited on-base profile, though he has enough feel for contact that it’s possible the bat develops enough to keep him in the “everyday” picture. Alemais projects best as a utility option who could stand out defensively across the infield and he could squeeze into an everyday role at shortstop with minimal offensive development thanks to the quality of the glove. He’ll tackle his first full season of pro ball in 2017.

 

Max Kranick, RHP, Rookie GCL Pirates | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/35
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/175     B/T: R/R      Age (as of December 1st 2016): 19y 4m
Player Stats

Quick Hit: Kranick sports a projectable build to go with a maturing physique that saw his fastball velocity climb from the mid-to-upper 80s into the low 90s over the past 18 months. He shows some feel for a breaking ball but it’s a below-average curveball at present with inconsistent shape and spin. While he doesn’t throw the pitch often, his changeup may be the better secondary in the long run, given his solid arm speed and ability to turn the pitch over.

An 11th-round selection by the Pirates in the 2016 MLB Draft, Kranick already shows an ability to pound the zone with his offerings and does a great job repeating his motion and driving the ball down in the zone on a tough plane. If he can successfully build out the secondaries he’s a potential back-end of the rotation arm – perhaps a bit more than that given his command and feel.

 

Ike Schlabach, LHP, Rookie Bristol | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/35
Ht/Wt: 6’5”/185     B/T: R/L      Age (as of December 1st 2016): 19y 11m
Player Stats  |  2080 Report  |  2080 Video

Quick Hit: Popped in the 19th round of the 2015 draft, Schlabach is a lanky, wirey lefty with some arm strength, but relatively high-maintenance mechanics. The fastball sits in the upper 80s right now and is fairly straight, but he creates good angle and shows life to the glove side when he gets extended. He lacks much secondary right now, but he showed some feel for a fringe-average breaking ball, and it could develop more bite as the coordination and body control come around. He is still growing into his big frame and should see the effort levels smooth out a bit, but all of the arms and legs add some deception and work to play up the arsenal.

He doesn’t have match-up stuff, but he gets ground balls and has potential to become an extremely uncomfortable at-bat for lefties. Very slender right now, Schlabach lacks much lower-half strength and struggles to consistently repeat the high-maintenance delivery. Playing all of 2017 at 20 years old, though, he stands to add significant strength as the body matures and he should see a requisite bump in velocity. There is a ton of proximity risk here and he may not be able to climb to the average control he’d need to stick in the rotation, but the deception would play well in shorter stints, making him a valuable bullpen arm.

 

Yeudy Garcia, RHP, High A Bradenton | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/35
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/203       B/T: R/R       Age (as of December 1st 2016): 24y 2m
Player Stats

 Quick Hit: Garcia put together a solid 2016 campaign with High A Bradenton, reaching a career high in starts (25), innings pitched (127 1/3), strikeouts (127), and SO/9 (9.0). His fastball works plus in the middle 90s and his slider, while inconsistent, will show flashes of an above-average offering. His third offering is a ‘show me’ changeup that works well enough to keep hitters from sitting on velocity but may be light as a weapon against bats at the higher levels. The body is a bit stiff and the mechanics not overly athletic, complicating the future command profile and hinting at a relief profile as the most logical long-term fit. Garcia could eventually provide some value as a middle-relief arm or swingman, but the inconsistent secondaries place a good amount of risk on the profile.

 

Adrian Valerio, SS/2B, Rookie Bristol | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/35
Ht/Wt: 5’11”/150       B/T: S/R       Age (as of December 1st 2016): 19y 9m\
Player Stats

Quick Hit: A versatile middle infielder, Valerio’s actions are exceptionally smooth and easy and punctuated by significant quick-twitch actions. The swings are comparable from both sides of the plate and he produces a level plane that keeps the barrel in the zone and gives him good barrel exit. The majority of his power is the pull side, but he projects as a gap-to-gap hitter and should be able to drive the ball to right-center field as he matures. Nothing about his game is max effort, and the ball will jump off his bat when he squares it up, so when he adds strength to the actions he should be able to do more than enough damage to keep pitchers honest. He has some feel for the strike zone, but is ultra-aggressive versus anything in the zone and will need to learn to work deeper into the count and get on base more in order to utilize his skillset. He has the hands to handle shortstop, but the arm and the range are just average and may serve him better in utility-infielder role. If he can learn to be more selective at the plate, he should see the OBP numbers rise, and he can grow into his role as a utility player with some value in the hit tool.

 

Danny Beddes, RHP, Short-Season A West Virginia | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/35
Ht/Wt: 6’6”/240       B/T: R/R       Age (as of December 1st 2016): 22y 5m
Player Stats | 2080 Video

Quick Hit: A 16th-rounder out of the 2016 MLB Draft out of Utah Valley State University, Beddes throws a heavy low-90s fastball that can kiss 94-to-95 mph on a tough downhill plane. His low-80s curveball and cutter both show promise as future average offerings, with the latter more consistent at present. Beddes has struggled with finding the strike zone in the past with his big body causing consistency issues in his mechanics. If he can manage his motion there is enough here to shape into a quality back-end of the rotation arm or swingman/spot starter.

 

Blake Cederlind, RHP, Rookie Bristol | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/35
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/190      B/T: R/R       Age (as of December 1st 2016): 20y 10m
Player Stats

Quick Hit: A 2016 fifth-rounder out of Merced College (CA), Cederlind has big-time arm strength to go with big-time issues with execution. The hard-throwing righty can reach the upper 90s with his fastball, regularly working in the 93-to-95 mph velocity band, though he struggles to hit his spots and can lapse into bouts of wildness. Cederlind can mix in a slider that flashes above average, but his execution is inconsistent and he can leave the pitch soft and over the white when he doesn’t hit his release. Pittsburgh could elect to keep him in the rotation at the start of his pro career to help him rack up innings and increase the development of his fastball/slider combo with more reps, but his best long-term fit is likely in a relief role somewhere in the middle innings.

 

PREF LIST

 

1. Austin Meadows, OF, AAA 6. Nick Kingham, RHP, MLB 11. Alen Hanson, 2B/OF, MLB
2. Mitch Keller, RHP, High A 7. Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B, A 12. Taylor Hearn, LHP, A
3. Tyler Glasnow, RHP, MLB 8. Cole Tucker, SS, High A 13. Elias Diaz, C, MLB
4. Josh Bell, 1B/OF, MLB 9. Trevor Williams, RHP, MLB 14. Luis Escobar, RHP, SS-A
5. Kevin Newman, SS, AA 10. Clay Holmes, RHP, AA 15. Will Craig, 3B, SS-A

 

TRADE AUDIT

With Austin Meadows, Mitch Keller, Tyler Glasnow, Jamison Taillon and Josh Bell at the top of the system, the Pirates have the bullets to put together a top-tier package for impact talent should they elect to do so. Given the competitive nature of the National League Central, however, as well as the Pirates’ need to make the most out of limited financial muscle, the more prudent move would seem to be to stay the course and continue to restructure the core of the 25-man roster around this collection of young talent.

With Meadows waiting in the wings and Starling Marte a capable defender in center field, Andrew McCutchen (RF) remains an intriguing trade chip off of the big club’s roster, though his rough 2016 has depressed his value some, putting Pittsburgh in a position to either sell low or roll the dice on 2016 with an eye towards trading him either next offseason, or at the trade deadline this summer if they are out of contention. The Pirates’ 2016 Draft Class has some interesting talent that could be flipped over the next 18 months to help shore up the 25-man roster, particularly if arms like Travis MacGregor, Braeden Ogle, and Max Kranick develop.

Cole Tucker and Ke’Bryan Hayes could each make sense as potential trade chips depending on what the Pirates envision long term on the left side of the infield, and Kevin Newman could be a wild card as a performance bat who could bring back a solid MLB-ready piece (though it seems more likely the Pirates have him penciled in as an internal contributor they’d like to build around). All in all, there are some interesting pieces the Pirates could move, but given the top-shelf guys are unlikely to be shipped out Pittsburgh will likely be relying upon the performance and development of their prospects in the lower minors if they hope to flip prospects over the next year or so.

 

FIVE-YEAR OUTLOOK

Looking at the Bucs’ 25-man roster, it is apparent that they have most of what they need to compete again in the short term, minus some rotation upgrades on the back end. That said, their window for competing with their current roster is rapidly closing, as several of the marquee names they have will soon command contracts that far exceed projected financial capabilities. Having already seen Mark Melancon (RHP, Giants) depart via free agency and soon-to-be free agent Neil Walker (2B, Mets) get traded, ace Gerrit Cole (RHP) and captain McCutchen could soon follow suit. Cole will soon be prohibitively expensive via arbitration, while McCutchen could be gone after 2018, assuming the Pirates pick up his $14.5 million option at the end of this season.

Bearing that in mind however, they do have a hoard of young talent that look ready to make an impact in 2017, and who are controllable through another potential playoff run. The catch here is that these are all young and unproven players who will have to show more than just potential for the Pirates to compete in what is a stiffening N.L. Central division. Beyond our Cream of the Crop players, the system thins out quickly, lacking much impact positional talent while featuring a glut of medium- to high-upside arms that all come with significant injury or proximity risk.

Should the Pirates see one or two of those young arms round into shape and stay healthy, guys like Nick Kingham (RHP) and Clay Holmes (RHP) could add invaluable depth and impact to a rotation that has only Cole and Ivan Nova (RHP) presently written in stone. With that kind of depth, the Bucs could afford to hold on to Cole, and with Starling Marte (CF), Gregory Polanco (LF), Josh Harrison (2B) and Nova all locked up for the next few seasons as well, there may not be a need for any drastic changes.

However, should their studs not deliver, and the team falters like they did in 2016, general manager Neal Huntingdon will have some difficult but exciting decisions to make, having several chips in-hand to formulate his vision of the Bucs’ future in short order. As it stands now, the team will know what it has in Glasnow, Tallion, and Polanco in a matter of months. If they don’t like what they see, they will have one of the better trade chips in the game in Cole, who could bring back a Chris Sale (LHP, Red Sox)-type of haul if he’s moved before the 2018 season. Cole of course has to stay healthy and be more like he was in 2015, but that is a real nice safety net for Neil Huntington and company to have going forward (not to mention Cole is repped by Scott Boras, who rarely signs an extension before free agency (and always seems able to find a couple hundred million in Washington anyway).

All that said, expect the Pirates to be towards the top of baseball in terms of outfield production, and with a surprise or two in the bullpen could be back at their old ways of grinding out close wins. They have value in the minor leagues that they can flip for rotation depth if they are competing, or for – depending on what happens with Jung Ho Kang’s (3B) DUI trial next month – infield help. So all in, Pirates fans shouldn’t be too concerned with their lackluster 2016 campaign – they have the firepower to be in the mix in 2017, and should they decide to do so, could restock the pipeline with impact pieces in a single offseason with one or two deftly-timed trades.

 

MAILBAG SUBMISSION

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