Jul 292012

Pittsburgh Pirates logoFor the second straight season, the Pirates have been one of the biggest surprises in baseball.  This time around though, their success has been sustained a little longer.  Despite a roster that appears thin on talent, Pittsburgh is currently positioned in one of the two wild card spots, and they’re not out of the division race yet either.  It’s been nearly 20 years since they finished with a winning record, and they only need to play .415 baseball the rest of the way to break that streak.

Last season, they mostly remained stagnant at the deadline.  Acquiring Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick to bolster the offense said, “we’ll see what we can do this year, but we’re still focused on the future here.”  This year, they were a little more aggressive.  Just a few days ago, they traded a trio of prospects for Wandy Rodriguez, a #3 starter that they’ll probably have for two more years.  Their rotation is in the league’s top 10 in ERA, but it’s always nice to add someone with a solid track record like Rodriguez.

If Pittsburgh is going to keep making additions, it’ll be to their starting lineup.  They’ve recovered a bit after a dreadful start thanks to MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen, but they could still use a boost.  Their lineup has shown above average power, but their feel for contact and on-base skills are generally lacking.  They’ve been rumored to be interested in Hunter Pence, a solid corner outfielder that they would have through 2013.  Their corner outfield production has been poor, so who could they trade for some help?

The ages for these players are what they’ll be next season.  Forget about Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon unfortunately, they will be off the table.

Very Good Tier

SS Alen Hanson, 20: Hanson was just Pittsburgh’s 27th best prospect coming into the year, but now he could be top 50 in the league.  Prior to this year, he was known for his athleticism and defense, but all of a sudden he’s an outstanding hitter as well.  He’s a switch hitter that produces from both sides of the plate, and for a 5’11, 150 pound teenager, he has some nice power.  The only question mark is his arm, but it should be good enough to stay at shortstop.  Prior to this season, the Pirates appeared thin on position player prospects, but a handful of players have changed that.

CF Starling Marte, 24: Although he was just promoted to the majors, Marte would probably still be on the table in trades.  It probably wouldn’t hurt him to get a little more time in the minors, but he’s just about ready.  His tools are very impressive, especially when it comes to his defense in the outfield.  He has speed on the bases too.  The ball jumps off his bat as he makes plenty of good contact, and he could develop 20 home run power down the road.  His only issue is an aggressive plate approach that he’s tried to work on.

CF Gregory Polanco, 21: Polanco’s ascent up prospect rankings might be even greater than Hanson’s because he wasn’t in the team’s top 30 at all coming into the season.  He’s a potential five tool player in center field, the exact kind of player the Phillies love to add to the organization.  He’s a tall, lanky athlete that’s going to develop some nice power down the road to go along with his quick, high contact swing.  He needs to improve his route running in center field, but he has the instincts and speed to stay out there long term.

Lottery Ticker Tier:

LF Josh Bell, 20: Bell was a surprise sign in last year’s draft after just about everyone expected him to attend Texas for three years.  A knee injury has limited to just two weeks this year, but that shouldn’t affect his potential at all.  His speed, defense and arm are forgettable, and he’s going to have to hit.  The switch hitter has plenty of bat though, and that shouldn’t be a problem.  He’s expected to be able to hit for a good average, hit 25 or more home runs a season and post high on base percentages.  If all goes well, he could bat in the middle of an ML lineup.

RHP Luis Heredia, 18: At 6’6 and 205 pounds, Heredia already looks the part of a frontline starter, and he has the stuff to match. His fastball could eventually sit in the mid 90’s, and his curveball and changeup are both potential plus pitches.  Unlike most tall pitchers, repeating his mechanics isn’t a big issue for him, but it’s certainly possible that he’s not done growing yet.  He’s still a long way away from the majors, but there aren’t many pitchers with a higher ceiling than Heredia.

RHP Clay Holmes, 20: Holmes is another player the Pirates spent big on before the new CBA forced them to change their habits, and they’re probably glad they got him in the fold.  He has the frame of a durable workhorse and has already added a lot of strength since becoming a professional.  He sinks a fastball in the low 90’s and complements it with the potential for a really good curveball.  He’s lauded for his makeup and work ethic, so he should be able to develop a changeup and make the most of his stuff.

Average Tier

LHP Jeff Locke, 25: Locke has a bit of time in the majors already, but he’s spent all of 2012 in AAA.  His stuff isn’t overwhelming, but his command and pitchability are impressive.  He locates his fastball to both sides of the plate, isn’t afraid to pitch backwards and use his offspeed pitches in hitters’ counts.  He could step into the back-end of a rotation soon if not now.

RHP Kyle McPherson, 25: A shoulder injury kept McPherson out of action for the first two months, and he’s been decent since his return.  His stuff is probably a tick above Locke’s with a better fastball, and as a result his ceiling is a bit higher too.  His changeup is his next best pitch, and his curveball is enough to get by.  He’ll find himself in the majors soon.

RHP Bryan Morris, 26: Of the six players involved in 2008’s big Manny Ramirez trade, Morris is the only player still in the organization he was sent to.  He’s a reliever now, but his mid 90’s fastball and plus slider play up in a relief role anyway.  He was called up to make his ML debut last week, but he was sent down the next day without appearing in a game.

C Tony Sanchez, 25: Three years after the Pirates foolishly took him 4th overall, Sanchez has seen his career play out the way everyone except Pittsburgh expected.  He has some patience, but his power never developed despite his best efforts to always hit for power.  He should be effective behind the plate, but even that area of his game was less effective in 2011.  He’s probably more of a backup now than future starter.

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Scott Grauer writes for PSC and Bus Leagues Baseball – check him out! Scott also regularly updates the PSC 2012 Minor League Thread with player stats, game results, and more…