2013 Pittsburgh Pirates Top Prospects


System Overview: Organizationally speaking, there’s been a dramatic shift in thought process regarding prospects in the last few seasons. After watching the team spend first round picks on low-ceiling collegiate prospects — i.e. money saving — like Daniel Moskos and Tony Sanchez, the team has aggressively pursued top talent through the draft, acquiring Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon and Josh Bell in 2010 and 2011. And it’s hard to fault the club for picking Stanford right-hander Mark Appel, arguably the top talent in last year’s draft, knowing his price would be exceptionally high and risk not signing him, which happened.

Outside of Cole, Taillon and Bell, the team features several young positional prospects in Alen Hanson, a potential elite shortstop bat, Gregory Polanco, Barrett Barnes and Jose Osuna. They also have surprising mound depth too, with youngster Luis Heredia, who could eventually surpass Taillon in the coming years, Nicholas Kingham, Bryan Morris, Tyler Glasnow, Victor Black and Justin Wilson all adding varying degrees of promise.

This is not the floundering Pirates system of years past. It’s packed with top tier talent. It’s deep. And it’s likely to lead to the organization’s revival.



#1. Gerrit Cole, Age: 22, Position: RHP

Often critiqued for his dominant arsenal and lacking results in college, Cole, the number one overall pick in the 2011, put together a very, very productive season in 2012, his first full in professional baseball. The 6-foot-4 right-hander began the year in High-A, making 13 starts (67 innings) while averaging 9.27 K/9 and just 2.82 BB/9. Pittsburgh then promoted the former Bruin to Double-A for another 12 starts where his strikeout rate held firm (9.15 K/9), but he saw a noticeable dip in control (3.51 BB/9). He also made one strong start in Indianapolis (6 IP, 7 K, and 1 BB) to cap off his year.

Projection: Cole has everything you look for in a potential frontline starting pitcher: the arsenal to miss a lot of bats, solid control and command, and the ability to generate a ton of groundballs (47.5% in 2012). The only question that remains is whether he can hone in on the strike zone a bit more to become a true ace; if not he’ll have to settle in as a very good number two.

Ceiling: 5.0-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Above-Average to Inevitable


#2. Jameson Taillon, Age: 21, Position: RHP

Drafted number two overall — behind Bryce Harper — in the 2010 draft, Taillon more than held his own in High-A, where the average Florida State League hitter was two years older. In 23 starts with the Bradenton Marauders, the 6-foot-6 righty struck out 98 (7.1 K/9), walked 37, and generated an average amount of groundballs (43.3%). He finished the year by making three starts with Pittsburgh’s Double-A affiliate, Altoona Curve.

Projection: There’s certainly a lot to like about Taillon up till this point. He’s big, projectable, and has shown a far more advanced feel for pitching than most pitchers at this point in their careers. However, that doesn’t mean that he’s without a red flag or two. After averaging more than a punch out per inning in A-ball, Taillon saw a noticeable decline last year, nearly shaving 2.5 strikeouts off his previous total. His strikeout total, 7.1 K/9, was actually below the Florida State League average. He also saw his innings pitched jump by 50 too. For now, unless his K-rate rebounds in Double-A in 2013, he profiles more as a solid #2/3 pitcher, not the elite ace everyone was projecting a year ago.

Ceiling: 4.5-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Moderate to Above-Average

#2. Alen Hanson, Age: 20, Position: SS

After back-to-back successful seasons in the Dominican and Gulf Coast Leagues, Hanson continued to put up impressive numbers in 2012, hitting .309/.381/.528 with 33 doubles, 13 triples, 16 homeruns and 35 stolen bases. His total offensive production, according to Weighted Runs Created Plus, was 46% better than the league average, the fifth highest mark in the South Atlantic League, despite being just 19-years-old.

Projection: At first glance, a lot Hanson’s offensive output can be attributed to West Virginia Power’s home ballpark, which tends to inflate production. However, while the young switch hitter did benefit from his home field (.338/.412/.549), his production away was remarkably impressive too. In 61 road games, he hit .281/.348/.517 with an Isolated Power, or ISO, that was actually higher (.236 vs. .211). Several of his tools — plate discipline, power and speed — are all above-average, though his defense at short may force him off the position eventually. He could be a legitimate 25/25-threat in the big leagues.

Ceiling: 4.5-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Moderate to Above-Average


#4. Gregory Polanco, Age: 21, Position: CF

After a handful of underwhelming seasons Polanco had a breakout year with the Power, hitting .323/.386/.519 with 26 doubles, six triples, 16 homeruns and 40 stolen bases. His total offensive production was a touch higher than teammate Alen Hanson’s, at 48% better than the league average, though Polanco’s a year older.

Projection: Like Hanson, Polanco was also the beneficiary of West Virginia’s home ballpark, but the left-swinging center fielder managed to show above-average power (.184 ISO) and production (.307/.376/.491) on the road. Combined with a strong eye at the plate and above-average speed, he could develop into a solid #2 or a good #6 hitter. It will be interesting to see how he handles High-A in 2013.

Ceiling: 4.0-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Moderate


#5. Luis Heredia, Age: 18, Position: RHP

As with life, context in player evaluation is absolutely everything. On the surface, Heredia’s production in low-A hardly warrants mentioning. In 14 starts (66.1 innings) last year, he averaged just 5.43 K/9 and 2.71 BB/9 to go along with a below-average 4.40 SIERA. At 17-years-old, however, not only was Heredia the youngest prospect in the NYPL, but he nearly four years younger than the average player.

Projection: Technically, if Heredia was born stateside he’d just be coming off of his junior year in high school. Instead, he showed tremendous poise and feel for the professional game by averaging just under three walks per nine innings, and generated an elite amount of groundballs as well, at 51.2%. Oh, he’s already 6-foot-6 and 205 pounds. He could be special.

Ceiling: Too soon to tell

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: N/A


#6. Josh Bell, Age: 20, Position: OF

Much ballyhooed prospect Josh Bell, who would have been a virtual lock in the first round two seasons ago if not for his asking price, lost the majority of his season due to a meniscus injury in his left knee.

Projection: Not much data to go on — unless you count 66 PA — but Bell was one of the premier high school talents two years ago. Hopefully, he can stay healthy for 2013.

Ceiling: Too soon to tell

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: N/A


#7. Nicholas Kingham, Age: 21, Position: RHP

Masked by a rather vanilla 4.39 ERA, Kingham’s 2012 was largely a success. In 27 starts (127 IP), the former fourth rounder averaged 8.3 K/9 and just 2.6 BB/9, as well posting a much more attractive 3.65 SIERA.

Projection: While he doesn’t have anything close to the ceiling of Cole or Taillon, there’s still a lot to like about Kingham. He was young for his level of competition, showed some strong peripherals and generated a decent amount of groundballs last season (43.3%). He could develop into a solid number four, maybe a fringe three, down the road.

Ceiling: 2.5-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Low to Moderate


#8. Barrett Barnes, Age: 21, Position: CF

A supplemental first rounder in last season’s draft, Barnes hit .288/.401/.456 during his debut with the State College Spikes (Low-A). Overall, he displayed a solid eye at the plate (11.1% BB-rate), decent speed and strong contact skills. However, his power precipitously declined from his collegiate showing, where he posted an impressive .272 ISO.

Projection: With a fairly limited data sample — even considering his time in college — Barnes looks to have the potential of a five-tool light-type of player, showing a well-rounded offensive game without having one true standout skill. Think Mark Kotsay.

Ceiling: Too soon to tell

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: N/A


#9. Bryan Morris, Age: 26, Position: RHP

A former first round pick of the Dodgers — 26th overall — in the 2006 draft, Morris was part of that ill-advised three-team deal involving Jason Bay and Manny Ramirez. Soon-to-be 26, the former starting pitcher turned in an impressive season in Triple-A, both his first at the level and as a fulltime reliever. In 46 appearances (81 innings), he struck out 79, walked 17, and posted a strong groundball rate (56.1%).

Projection: During his five-inning stint with the Pirates, Morris’ fastball averaged just a tick under 94 mph. Combine that with his new found elite control — though it probably becomes above-average in the majors — and he has a chance to develop into a solid seventh, maybe eighth, inning guy.

Ceiling: 0.5- to 1.0-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Above-Average to Inevitable


#10. Jose Osuna, Age: 20, Position: 1B

Osuna combined with Henson and Polanco to give the West Virginia Power a trio of high-upside MLB prospects. Despite being just 19-years-old last season, the young first baseman hit .280/.324/.454 with 36 doubles and 16 homeruns. His total offensive production was 11% better than the league average.

Projection: Again, West Virginia’s ballpark tends to inflate numbers. But Osuna, unlike Henson and Polanco, actually performed far better on the road last season, hitting .289/.337/.508 away from Appalachian Park. He could develop 25+ homerun power, but his eye at the plate last season — 5.9% — could ultimately determine if it’s as a Quad-A player or as a big leaguer.

Ceiling: 2.5-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Low


#11. Tyler Glasnow, Age: 19, Position: RHP

A fifth round pick in the 2011 draft, Glasnow, a 6-foot-7 right-hander, didn’t make his professional debut until last season, throwing 38.1 innings with a promising K-rate (10.3 K/9) to go along with 17 walks (4.0 BB/9).

Projection: The data is exceptionally small, but nonetheless promising. As a 6-foot-7 teenager, it’s expected that Glasnow would post a higher walk rate this early in his career, mainly due to the fact that he likely will have issues repeating his delivery.

Ceiling: Too soon to tell

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: N/A


#12. Wyatt Mathisen, Age: 19, Position: C

The team’s most recent second rounder, Mathisen, a catcher out of Calallen High School in Corpus Christi, Texas, played 45 games for the Gulf Coast Pirates, hitting .295/.388/.374. His total offensive production was 33% better than the league average.

Projection: Again, it’s a limited sample size for Mathisen, but he showed a strong eye, solid-average power, and nailed 36% of would-be base stealers.

Ceiling: Too soon to tell

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: N/A


#13. Justin Wilson, Age: 25, Position: LHP

Wilson, a former fifth round pick out of California State University Fresno in 2008 draft, had his most successful professional season to date in 2012. The 6-foot-2 left-hander made 29 appearances (25 starts) for Indianapolis, his second stint with the team, and struck out 138 (9.2 K/9) but walked a whopping 66 (4.4 BB/9).

Projection: Wilson has always shown an affinity for missing bats throughout his career, averaging 8.0 K/9 in more than 500 innings. The issue, however, is that his control has failed to improve in four seasons and remains well below-average. He’s at the point in his career where any long term value that he possesses will be found in the backend of Pittsburgh’s bullpen, not rotation.

Ceiling: 0.5- to 1.0-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Above-Average


#14. Victor Black, Age: 25. Position: RHP

Black, the 49th overall pick in the 2009 draft, dominated the Eastern League last year, striking out 85 hitters (12.8 K.9) in just 60 innings. He, of course, walked 29 (4.4 BB/9).

Projection: Black’s battled some injury issues throughout his career, only throwing 61+ innings during his first three seasons. So in that sense, 2012 was very successful. He has a chance to develop into a dominant bullpen arm for the Pirates, but his command could cap his value as a middle reliever.

Ceiling: 0.5- to 1.0-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Low to Moderate


#15. Clay Holmes, Age: 20, Position: RHP

A mid-round pick in the 2011 draft, Holmes skipped the rookie levels last season, debuting in the New York-Penn League. In 59.1 innings, he struck out 34 (5.2 K/9), walked 29 (4.4 BB/9) and posted a high 4.88 SIERA.

Projection: Again, similar to Heredia to some degree, Holmes’ production last year needs to put in the proper context. He was exceptionally young for the level, by nearly two years, and showed some promising underlying skills, namely the ability to generate a lot of groundballs (52.7%). Holmes is not nearly the prospect Heredia is, but he could be one to watch in the coming years.

Ceiling: Too soon to tell

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: N/A


#16. Dilson Herrera, Age: 19, Position: 2B

After hitting .308/.413/.472 in the Venezuelan Summer League in 2011, Herrera’s power saw a noticeable uptick last year in the Dominican Summer League, posting a .201 ISO. Overall, he hit .281/.341/.482 with 11 doubles, four triples, seven homeruns and 11 stolen bases in 53 games. His overall production was 44% better than the league average.

Projection: So far, Herrera’s shown a solid eye at the plate, promising power, and a touch of speed. But all of that’s been against the lowest levels of the minors. He did make his low-A debut late in the season, so we’ll have a better idea following the 2013 season.

Ceiling: Too soon to tell

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: N/A



Photo of Gerrit Cole Courtesy of Jordan Megenhardt/MLB.com



After serving as a video scout/analyst for Baseball Info Solutions, Joe Werner began writing at his original site, ReleasePoints.com. He’s since transitioned into his current niche, prospect analysis, at ProspectDigest.com. He has been fortunate — and incredibly blessed — to have some of his work published and mentioned by several major media outlets, including: ESPN, Cleveland.com and the Baseball Research Journal. He can be reached at: JosephMWerner@yahoo.com.