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|1. Austin Meadows, CF|
|Born: 05/03/95||Age: 22||Bats: L||Top CALs: Gregory Polanco, Dorssys Paulino, Aaron Cunningham, Christian Yelich, Jake Marisnick|
|Height: 6-3||Weight: 200||Throws: L|
Background: Fun Fact Part I: During his – admittedly brief – tenure in the South Atlantic League three years ago, no teenager outperformed Meadows’ overall production (minimum 150 PA). Fun Fact Part II: He spent the entire 2015 season in the Florida State League; no player under the age of 21 surpassed his Weighted Runs Created Plus total of 134. Fun Fact Part III: In another shortened campaign in 2016, Meadows walked up to the plate 190 times in the Eastern League; he led all players under the age of 22 in offensive numbers (161 wRC+). Fun Fact Part IV: Before stumbling in the International League in the second half of last season, the last time Meadows didn’t lead his age bracket in production in whichever league he was in was all the way back during his debut in the Gulf Coast in 2013; he was simply the third best player in the group, trailing Philadelphia’s J.P. Crawford and New York’s Gosuke Katoh.
Obviously, offensive production hasn’t been the issue.
So why has the supremely gifted outfielder been limited to just 259 games over his first three full seasons in baseball? Injuries.
And at this point it might be best if the Pirates wrapped their prized prospect in bubble wrap. Three years ago a hamstring limited him to just 45 games. And then last season Meadows got off to a rough start after a ball smacked him in the face during an early March game of catch – an injury that forced him to miss the majority of April as he recovered from an orbital fracture to his right eye. But if that wasn’t enough, the toolsy outfielder missed almost the entire month of July due to a wonky hamstring – again.
As for his overall work at the plate?
Well, after dominating the Sally and Florida State League the previous two years, Meadows picked up right where he left off at the start of 2016. In 190 trips to the plate with Altoona, the 6-foot-3, 200-pound center fielder slugged an impressive .311/.365/.611 with 16 doubles, eight triples, six homeruns, and nine stolen bases while topping the league average mark by a whopping 61%.
Between the promotion to Class AAA in mid-June, as well as missing roughly a month of action, he was never able to get it going with the Indianapolis Indians in Class AAA, hitting a career worst .214/.297/.460 with seven doubles, three triples, six homeruns, and eight stolen bases – though, he still managed to post a 113 wRC+.
Projection: Let’s take a walk down memory lane a bit and revisit what I wrote about the toolsy first round pick immediately following his debut four years ago:
“It might be easier to list the tools – or tool – that Meadows didn’t flash during his 48-game debut: speed. That’s it. Otherwise, the power potential looked legit, so did the plate discipline, contact skills, and hit tool. Again, it’s a rather small sample size. But Meadows looks like the real deal.”
Even as he’s been hampered by some pretty sever hamstring issues over the previous couple years, that hasn’t stopped Meadows from flashing above-average speed – effectively completely the quintet of offensive tools. He’s proven to handle lefties and righties as well. The only thing left to show: if he can stay on the field.
Whenever the Pirates move on from Andrew McCutchen, Meadows is going to make that transition pretty easy on the fan base. In terms of big league production, he should be capable of putting together a .300/.370/.500-type season – or seasons.
Ceiling: 5.5- to 6.0-win player
Risk: Low to Moderate
MLB ETA: 2017
|2. Tyler Glasnow, RHP|
|Born: 08/23/93||Age: 23||Bats: L||Top CALs: Josh Hader, Eduardo Sanchez, Gio Gonzalez, Yordano Ventura, Scott Elbert|
|Height: 6-8||Weight: 220||Throws: R|
Background: Someone should lock up the 6-foot-8, 220-pound right-hander for the sheer amount of savage punch outs he’s racked up on his five-year minor league resume. In all seriousness, though, the 2016 season – an injury-shortened campaign, thanks to a wonky right shoulder – marked the fourth consecutive year in which he’s averaged at least 11 strikeouts per nine innings over an entire year. But here’s something that’s even more impressive: he’s topped at least 100 innings in each of those seasons. Just for comparison’s sake, consider the following:
- Since 1901, there have been two big league hurlers to throw at least 100 innings in a year and average 11.0 K/9 in four consecutive season: Randy Johnson, who did it a mind-warping seven consecutive times, and Pedro Martinez.
Granted, it’s the big leagues. And there’s absolutely no comparison between facing off against the game’s top hitters and low- to mid-level minor league bats. But the fact that Glasnow accomplished this is still noteworthy.
The former 2011 fifth round pick turned in another Glasnow-like season in 2016: He threw 110.2 innings with gobs and gobs of strikeouts and some worrisome control but managed to finish the year with a 1.87 ERA and a 2.92 ERA. He also made seven appearances with Pittsburgh as well, four of them starts, throwing 23.1 innings with 24 strikeouts and 13 walks.
Projection: I think I’ve been on the Glasnow Express for as long – if not longer – than anyone else. Back in my first book in 2014 I ranked him as the club’s top prospect, ahead of such notables as Jameson Taillon, Gregory Polanco, Josh Bell, and Austin Meadows. Here’s what I wrote then:
“Dominant. That’s it. Just filthy dominance. Although Glasnow stands a towering 6-foot-7, his weight is listed at just 195 pounds, meaning there could still be another gear on his fastball once he begins to fill out. The control/command isn’t quite there yet, but there’s no reason to suspect that it won’t improve. Legit ace material.”
And I followed that up with this in the 2015 book when I ranked him at the top MiLB’er in the system:
“The control is still lagging a bit – he’s walked 12.3% of the batters he’s faced in his career – but it’s definitely trending in the right direction; two years ago his walk percentage was 14.0% and last year he cut that down to 11.6%. Big, big time swing-and-miss ability, he could theoretically see a few upticks in his arsenal as he’s lean frame fills out. Glasnow could be – and has the makings of – a special right arm.”
And once again, I ranked him as the top prospect in last year’s book, writing the following:
“And after another breathtaking performance in 2015 – one that was briefly interrupted by a sprained ankle – there’s absolutely nothing else to say that could possibly capture something that I haven’t written before. Actually there is: Glasnow’s control took the expected step forward last season as he walked a career low 7.7% of batters he faced with Altoona, and if you ignore two disastrous starts in Class AAA, he walked just 10 batters in 36 innings (2.50 BB/9).”
I’m sure you get the picture at this point. So let’s take a look at his 2016 numbers…
The control, obviously, took a big step backwards last season. But he really struggled with his control in four of his final five starts before making his debut last season: He walked 20 in 23.2 innings of work (he allowed just two earned runs during that time, which more about his dominance than anything else). His control is really those only thing standing in his way to dominating the big leagues. And I hope – sincerely – that Pittsburgh continues to stick by him a la Seattle and Randy Johnson. Glasnow’s a legitimately special talent. And I hope he can find the strike zone with enough consistency that he comes close to achieving his true potential. Ace quality.
Ceiling: 5.0- to 5.5-win player
MLB ETA: 2018/2019
|3. Josh Bell, 1B/RF|
|Born: 08/14/92||Age: 24||Bats: B||Top CALs: Rangel Ravelo, Jordan Brown, Logan Morrison, L.J. Hoes, Sam Travis|
|Height: 6-2||Weight: 240||Throws: R|
Background: Fun Fact Part I: Among all qualified Class AAA hitters under the age of 23 last year, Bell’s overall production – he posted a 143 wRC+ – trailed only Brandon Nimmo and Daniel Vogelbach. Fun Fact Part II: Among all qualified Class AAA hitters, Bell was one of only four players to post a walk rate about 11% and a strikeout rate below 16% – the others being the incredibly underrated and underutilized Austin Barnes, Todd Cunningham, and Jesse Winker. Fun Fact Part III: Of those aforementioned four players, Bell was the only one to post an Isolated Power north of .150. The former second round bonus baby, who signed his John Hancock on the dotted line for a whopping $5 million, a record for a player taken beyond the opening round, turned in another stat-stuffing year in 2016.
After getting a brief – and subsequently highly successful – stint in the International League two years ago, Bell opened the year up with a bang back with the Indianapolis Indians as he slugged .312/.411/.519 in the season’s opening month. And he showed no signs of slowing after. He posted a .807 OPS in May, a 1.085 mark the following month, and received his first call up to Pittsburgh after a couple contests in July.
His initial debut lasted all of four games – where he received just four plate appearances – before getting sent back down. The Pittsburgh would eventually call him back up in late August for the remainder of the season.
Overall, Bell slugged .295/.382/.468 with 23 doubles, four triples, and 14 homeruns during his time in Class AAA. And he only saw a modest decline in his MLB production: .273/.368/.406.
Projection: In terms of pure hitting talent, very few minor leaguers can match up with Bell’s prolific resume. One of them, by the way, happens to be in the same system. Bell’s always shown an advanced approach at the plate with a tremendous ability to rack up plenty of free passes without posting a strikeout rate above 17.3%.
His power, while it grades out as slightly better than average, never really took the expected leap forward – especially for a player with his build and copious amounts doubles. But I’m still holding out hope – and expecting – him to develop into a 25- to 30-HR threat.
He’s expected to win the Pirates’ first base job coming out of Spring Training and should be considered the top pick as NL Rookie of the Year. In terms of offensive ceiling, think something along the lines of .300/.400/.510.
He’s going to be a Brandon Belt knockoff…
Ceiling: 4.0- to 4.5-win player
Risk: Low to Moderate
MLB ETA: 2017
|4. Mitch Keller, RHP|
|Born: 04/04/96||Age: 21||Bats: R||Top CALs: Justin Nicolino, Luis Severino, Phil Bickford, Jhoulys Chacin, Zach Phillips|
|Height: 6-3||Weight: 195||Throws: R|
Background: Simply put: the former second round pick was the biggest riser – by a wide margin – in 2016. In other words, he was the biggest breakout prospect of the year. Drafted with the 64th overall pick in 2014, Keller was limited to just 47 innings during his first two years. But the 6-foot-3, 195-pound Iowa-born right-hander quickly made up for lost time last season. In 23 starts with the West Virginia Power, Keller threw 124.1 innings with an absolutely video game-esque 121-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio with a 2.46 ERA and a slightly better 2.41 FIP. Pittsburgh also bumped the flame-throwing sniper up to the Florida State League for one start at the end of the year. And he dominated: 6.0 IP, 7 K, 1 B, 0 ER.
Projection: Just to kind of put things into proper perspective, consider the following little statistical nuggets:
- He led all qualified Low Class A arms with a 2.41 FIP. The last time any pitcher, at any age, posted a FIP below 2.45 in Low Class A was in 2012 when Clayton Blackburn and Matt Wisler both accomplished the feat.
- Among all pitchers, at any level, with at least 125.0 innings last season, Keller’s strikeout-to-walk percentage, 23.3%, ranked as the second best mark. The only pitcher to top him, Jose Taveras, was 23-years-old and in Low Class A.
- The last time an arm below the age of 22 posted a 23% strikeout-to-walk ratio (minimum 125 IP) was Clayton Blackburn and Jose Fernandez, both of whom accomplished the feat in 2012.
- Continuing with the above bullet point. Here’s a list of prospects under the age of 21 to post a 23% strikeout-to-walk ratio in the minor leagues (minimum 125 IP): Keller, Fernandez, Paul Blackburn, Robbie Erlin, Tyler Skaggs, Eric Surkamp, Madison Bumgarner, Jeremy Hellickson, Jeremy McBryde, and Phil Hughes.
Keller was as dominant as any minor league pitcher in recent memory. He has front-of-the-rotation caliber potential. Here’s hoping he can avoid the injury nexus. Hopefully the big increase in his workload won’t catch up with him down the road.
Ceiling: 4.0- to 4.5-win player
MLB ETA: 2018/2019
|5. Will Craig, 3B|
|Born: 11/16/94||Age: 22||Bats: R||Top CALs: Ronnie Bourquin, Alan Ahmady, Mitchell Tolman, Carlos Asuaje, Nick Thompson|
|Height: 6-3||Weight: 212||Throws: R|
Background: Fun Fact Part I: Since the draft was instituted back in 1965 the Pirates have grabbed three third basemen in the opening round. Fun Fact Part II: The aforementioned group of third basemen have all come since 2008 – Pedro Alvarez (2008), Ke’Bryan Hayes (2015), and, of course, Will Craig (2016). Anyway, Craig, the 22nd overall pick last June, was an absolute monster during his final two seasons at Wake Forest. After hitting a solid .280/.357/.439 as a true freshman, the hulking slugger broke out in a massive way during his sophomore season; he slugged .382/.496/.702 with 20 doubles, one three-bagger, and 13 homeruns. But a poor showing in the Cape Cod League that summer – he batted a lowly .242/.366/.318 – dulled a bit of his sheen. The deadened shine came roaring back during his junior campaign, however: Craig upped the ante by mashing .379/.520/.731 with 16 doubles and 16 homeruns in just 244 plate appearances. After agreeing to terms with the Pirates, Craig spent his entire debut in the Northwest League, hitting .280/.412/.362 while topping the league average production by a whopping 42%.
Projection: Per the usual, here’s what I wrote about the big bopped heading into the draft last season:
“Craig’s resume isn’t without a pockmark, though. Last summer he looked underwhelming in the Cape Cod, hitting a depressing .242/.366/.318 with just eight total extra-base hits (seven doubles and one homerun). He also swung-and-miss a lot more than he’s shown during his collegiate career (35-to-23 strikeout-to-walk ratio). So he’ll have that hanging over his head come draft time.
Anyway, now onto the good news. No Division I player between 2011 and 2015 have met the following criteria except for Craig: 170PA, 18.0% walk rate, a sub-13.0% strikeout rate, and slug .800.
Finally, one more comparison:
An absolute stud at the plate, with a strong enough arm to play the hot corner or outfield, Craig’s bat will certainly play anywhere on the field. He profiles as a solid middle-of-the-lineup thumper with 25- to 30-homerun potential and strong OBP skills.”
I’m a bit surprised he last until the 22nd overall pick. But the offense is simply too good to pass up. Craig could be one of the biggest steals.
Ceiling: 3.0-win player
MLB ETA: 2019
|6. Kevin Newman, SS|
|Born: 08/04/93||Age: 23||Bats: R||Top CALs: Ramon Torres, Drew Stankiewicz, Mark Hallberg, Luis Nunez, Didi Gregorius|
|Height: 6-1||Weight: 180||Throws: R|
Background: It’s far from secret that teams prefer athletes in the opening rounds – meaning: shortstops over other infielders, center fielders over corner outfielders. It all comes down to minimizing risk; assuming that the player fails at the plate, there’s hope he can churn out some defensive value. With that being said, it’s not surprising the Pirates grabbed a prep shortstop in the opening round in 2014 and a pair of college shortstops in the opening two rounds in 2015. Of those three – Cole Tucker, Kevin Newman, and Kevin Kramer – it’s Newman, the former Arizona Wildcat, that offers up the best offensive upside.
Newman went from mediocre collegiate bat over his first two seasons into a hot-hitting first round pick in 2015. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound middle infielder slugged an impressive .370/.426/.489 with 19 doubles, one triple, and two homeruns with 22 stolen bases in 25 attempts.
After a sour showing in the New York-Penn League during the first half of his debut, Newman rebounded quite nicely upon his promotion to the South Atlantic League.
And despite appearing in just 38 games in short-season ball and another 23 in the Sally, the Pirates’ front office aggressively challenged the 19th overall pick and sent him straight up to High Class A at the start of 2016. He responded – very well, actually. He batted .366/.428/.494 with a 171 wRC+. With little else to prove, the club bounced him up to Class AA for the remainder of the year where he batted .288/.361/.378.
Overall, Newman finished his first full professional season with a .320/.389/.426 triple-slash line with 21 doubles, three triples, five homeruns, and 10 stolen bases.
Projection: Per the usual, here’s what I wrote about him heading into the 2015 draft:
“It’s quite simple, really. Will Neman’s hit tool, something that’s been on display at every point during his collegiate career, be enough to compensate for bupkis power? And even dropping the term “power” is a bit misleading. Through his first 142 collegiate games and another 71 Cape Cod contests, the 6-foot-1 shortstop has “slugged” one homerun. That would be fine if he was a doubles machine a la Craig Biggio, but he has just 38 two-baggers to his resume. And not to harp on it – though it’s a glaring red flag – but his career ISO at Arizona stands at .072.
Only lessening his potential professional offensive impact is his lack of patience at the plate: he’s walk just 48 times in his first 666 plate appearances, or just a little over 7%.
Newman’s a fantastic collegiate player, but unless his defense grades out at a Brendan Ryan or Brandon Crawford level there’s just not a whole lot of big league impact in his future. Newman’s the type that will dominate in the lowest levels and struggle in Class AA/Class AAA.
Solid backup, fringy everyday guy ceiling.”
Well, he didn’t exactly struggle in his first taste of Class AA, the minors’ most important challenge. But he didn’t exactly set the world ablaze either with his 108 wRC+. Granted, he barely has any professional games under his belt before making it the Eastern League. But the power still grades out below-average. Defensively, according to Clay Davenport’s metrics, Newman’s saved nine runs since entering full season action with West Virginia two years ago.
With that being said, I’m going to bump up with ceiling to that of a league average starter.
Ceiling: 2.5-win player
MLB ETA: 2017/2018
|7. Cole Tucker, SS|
|Born: 07/03/96||Age: 20||Bats: B||Top CALs: Sergio Alcantara, Malquin Canelo, Oscar Tejeda, A,ed Rosario, Juniel Querecuto|
|Height: 6-3||Weight: 185||Throws: R|
Background: Widely panned as a – big – reach when the club grabbed the switch-hitting prep shortstop with the 24th overall pick in the 2014 draft. Tucker turned in solid – and partial – showings over his first two seasons, hitting .267/.368/.356 in rookie ball during his debut and putting together a .262/.308/.443 triple-slash line in the Sally as a 19-year-old two years ago. And after missing the first month-plus of 2016 as he recovered from labrum surgery, Tucker once again looked solid in a 15-game tune-up with the West Virginia Power upon his return, hitting .262/.308/.443. The front office pushed the 6-foot-3, 185-pound middle infielder up to High Class A at the end of May where a poor stretch in August cratered his total production.
Overall, Tucker batted a combined .242/.311/.327 with 16 doubles, three triples, two homeruns, and six stolen bases in 13 total attempts.
Projection: Shoulder injuries – especially involving the labrum – are always worrisome, so it’s not surprising to see his numbers dip a bit as he (A) came back from the injury and (B) subsequently got pushed up to High Class A. But Tucker hit a respectable – all things considered – .253/.328/.329 with a 96 wRC+ over his first 41 contests in High Class A.
He’s shown surprising power for a quick-twitch hitter with a decent eye at the plate and strong contact skills. One final thought: he’s been phenomenal on the defensive side of the ball.
Ceiling: 2.0-win player
Risk: Moderate to High
MLB ETA: 2018/2019
|8. Nick Kingham, RHP|
|Born: 11/08/91||Age: 25||Bats: R||Top CALs: Josh Lindblom, Vance Worley, James Parr, Adalberto Mejia, Erasmo Ramirez|
|Height: 6-6||Weight: 225||Throws: R|
Background: After throwing six starts and 31.1 innings of work in 2015, the 6-foot-6, 225-pound right-hander succumbed to the all-too-common Tommy John surgery. The former fourth round pick out of Sierra Vista High School made a speedy recovery and made it back to action in early July – missing just over a full season. Kingham made brief tune-up starts in the Gulf Coast League, High Class A, and Class AA last season. He threw a combined 46.0 innings of work, with 36 strikeouts and just six walks to go along with a 2.93 ERA. For his career, Kingham’s sporting an impressive 497-to-160 strikeout-to-walk ratio with a 3.32 ERA.
Projection: Continually overshadowed by some of the flashy arms in the system – Tyler Glasnow, Jameson Taillon, and now Mitch Keller. Kingham has always shown an impeccable ability to limit walks and missed enough bats to throw his name into consideration as a potential #3/#4-type arm. He’s likely headed up to Class AAA – for the third time – before finally getting his call up to make his debut. Assuming there aren’t any hitches in the near future, he’s a good best to help round out the Pirates’ rotation.
Ceiling: 2.0-win player
Risk: Moderate to High
MLB ETA: 2017
|9. Taylor Hearn, LHP|
|Born: 08/30/94||Age: 22||Bats: L||Top CALs: Yoervis Medina, Yader Peralta, Ricardo Pinto, Yao-Lin Wang, Danny Gutierrez|
|Height: 6-5||Weight: 210||Throws: L|
Background: With the team squarely out of contention last season, the front office looked to move three-time All-Star reliever Mark Melancon and his expiring contract. Pittsburgh found an eager taker in the Nationals, agreeing to send back a pair of hard-throwing pitchers – one being big league ready (Felipe Rivero) and the other, Taylor Hearn, still years away. A thrice-drafted prospect who eventually came to terms with Washington as a fifth rounder in 2015, the 6-foot-5, 210-pound southpaw threw 51.2 innings between the organizations, averaging more than 13 punch outs and 4.0 walks per nine innings with a 2.44 ERA.
Projection: Hearn can run it up there with the best of them – especially southpaws. But an injury limited him to just 18 appearances last season, seven of them being starts. The Pirates, hopefully, continue to develop him as a starting pitcher because any southpaw that can fan that many batters deserves every chance in the world. He’s a bit of a long shot. But there’s an awful lot of potential here. But if there’s one organization that could groom him as a dominant arm, it’s Pittsburgh.
Ceiling: 2.0-win player
Risk: Moderate to High
MLB ETA: 2019
|10. Trevor Williams, RHP|
|Born: 04/25/92||Age: 25||Bats: R||Top CALs: Carlos Hernandez, Richard Sullivan, Myles Jaye, Robert Rohrbaugh, Mario Santiago|
|Height: 6-3||Weight: 230||Throws: R|
Background: It’s something you certainly don’t see every day. The Marlins, who pilfered the Pirates’ front office by signing Marc Delpiano and Jim Benedict, agreed to trade Williams, a former second round pick out of Arizona State, for essentially nothing. Williams, a 6-foot-3, 230-pound right-hander, had a rather in auspicious debut for with the organization’s Class AAA affiliate last season. After recording just one out in an April 10th start against the Columbus Clippers, Williams exited the game after nine pitches with a right shoulder strain – an injury that would force him to miss nearly six weeks of action. The former Sun Devil made his way back up to the International League in late May and would go on to throw 110 more innings in the minors last season, averaging 6.04 K/9 and just 2.45 BB/9 en route to tallying a 2.53 ERA and 3.34 FIP.
Pittsburgh called him up down the stretch as well. He would throw 12.2 innings in the big leagues, posting a solid 11-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
The problem for him, of course, was the four long balls he surrendered to major league hitters.
Projection: Here’s what I wrote about the hard-throwing right-hander prior to his selection in the second round of the 2013 draft:
“He pounds the zone and knows how to pitch, both of which will help him make it to the big leagues. But Williams is yet another one of those safe, low ceiling/high floor pitchers in the class. He’s very reminiscent of another former ASU hurler, Cincinnati’s Mike Leake. The ceiling, however, is very low because the production is rather blah.”
Well, four years later the analysis still seems spot on.
Williams has always had a lively low- to mid-90s fastball. But he’s never missed enough bats to suggest he can be anything more than a nice backend option. But he’s cheap, can chew through innings, and is big league-ready. Just how they love ‘em in Pittsburgh.
Ceiling: 1.5-win player
Risk: Low to Moderate
MLB ETA: Debuted in 2016
Author’s note: A special hat tip the following websites for the use of the their statistics – fangraphs, baseballreference, baseballprospectus, statcorner, and ClayDavenport.com