Let’s reminisce to a brisk Spring afternoon in 2008. The Pirates handed the ball to Ian Snell as their opening day pitcher. Ryan Doumit would be receiving behind the plate. Jack Flash and Freddy Sanchez were up the middle, while Adam LaRoche and an unknown Jose Bautista were manning the corners. All-Star, Jason Bay, was in the outfield along with Xavier Nady and Nate McClouth. One could see this isn’t a quality Major League Baseball team, and they would prove it with a 67-95 record. What was even more frightening was peeking at what the Pirates had coming up in their minors.
Sure, in 2008, there were a few studs in our system. Andrew McCutchen topped the list while Neil Walker was also rated very highly. While we all recognize those names today, let me round out the remaining top 10 that was in our system. Steven Pearce, Daniel Moskos, Brad Lincoln, Brian Bixler, Shelby Ford, Duke Welker, Brian Friday, and Andrew Walker created the Pirates top 10 prospect list that made all of us want to cry.
Fast forward to today and see how far this team has come. We’ve witnessed 3 straight years of making the playoffs and coming off a season where the Pirates boasted the 2nd best record in all of baseball. Things are fun and looking good for our club in the present, however our farm system also looks completely different from 2008. MLB just released their top 100 prospect list for 2016 and the Pirates farm ranks in the top 10, having 5 players ranked in the top 100. What makes this so special is knowing that it’s possible this small market team has the tools to sustain success for a large window of time. Let’s go ahead and take a look at the top players in this system.
1. Tyler Glasnow (#10) – Drafted as a tall and lanky pitcher in the 5th round of 2011, Glasnow has soured through the minors to achieve the top prospect crown. Standing at 6’8″ and 225 pounds, his presence alone should put fear into a hitter. Throw in an upper 90’s fastball, a plus curveball, and an improving change up, and you can’t help but get excited for this dude’s call up. He has Ace type stuff, but his control issues is what puts a ceiling on his potential at this moment. Over the past 3 years he’s struck out 457 batters in just 345 innings. Not that they’re the same pitcher, but to understand a comparison – Naoh Syndergaard struck out 400 batter in 354.1 innings his final 3 season of MiLB. Glasnow has some rare swing and miss stuff that could very soon be featured in the Pirates rotation much like how Gerrit Cole did in 2013. Because of Glasnow, I feel is the reason the Pirates didn’t pay for top notch SP especially the way the market had played out.
2. Austin Meadows (#20) – The Pirates felt compelled to draft, um, his name is….oh, Mark Appel in the 2012 draft. Because he didn’t sign, Pittsburgh was able to nab Meadows in the 2013 draft. Meadows, also taken out of high school, has many things about his game to like. A true 5 tool player in the making and he’s only 21 years old. In just under 1,000 plate appearances of pro ball, he’s sporting a .312/.380/.460 line while providing a great glove in the outfield. If you were to tell me this some line from a Pirate, I’d probably say it was McCutchen’s. All the talks this week out of Pirates camp have been swirling around Cutch saying he wants to be a Pirate for life. As great as that sounds, the ability of that happening are still quite slim. Many “Yinzers” will balk at management for not getting it done, but the talent of Austin Meadows is why a guy like me will miss Cutch, but know we will be ok. I think there is a lot of quality comparisons between the two. Both have very good approaches while hitting with solid pop. Like Cutch, Meadows comes with plus speed, a very good glove, and a subpar arm. When McCutchen leaves, as I suspect will eventually happen, I’m confident a 24 year old Meadows for roughy $30 million cheaper will be able to slide right in so those Cutch dollars can be reallocated elsewhere. Big things are to come from this dude.
3. Josh Bell (#49) – The Pirates surprised much of MLB when they were able to sign then 2B, Josh Bell, from playing ball at Texas where he had earlier announced he was honoring his commitment to play college ball. Bell is a patient switch hitter who should hit for a very good average and tap into his power potential shortly. He’s made a transition from OF to 1B due to the hole in the Pirates system. His bat should be able to play there, but his defense is still a work in progress. For the time, he should be able to continue to develop in Indianapolis as the Pirates signed John Jaso to platoon with Michael Morse. As long as that goes well, Bell probably won’t see a call up until the rosters expand in September. However, if one of those 2 were to falter through June, I could easily see Bell getting a shot on the opposite side of the platoon and also even maybe seeing a few innings in RF. I will say though, of the 5 top prospects, Bell is probably the one that worries me the most about living up to his potential. Still, the odds seem fairly low.
4. Jameson Taillon (#54) – Everyone should recognize this name by now. He was the Tyler Glasnow in 2014. Taillon and Cole came through the minors with a blaze giving Pirates fans great hope for a top tier pitching staff. Cole got the call and has lived up to his hype, meanwhile Taillon has had multiple injuries to derail his path to the majors. It started with the announced of Tommy John right before the start of the 2014 season and then a hernia injury that set him back upon his return to baseball. With almost 2 years of development wasted, Taillon looks to get back on track this year and hopefully make an impact on the ball club late in 2015 as well. Taillon sports a mid 90’s fastball along with a big overhand curve and a plus change up. His stuff was always there, and being almost 2 years removed from Tommy John should ensure his arm strength is at full power. With the hopes of getting some more meaningful innings under his belt, he should get right on track to be as close to the player he has always been projected to be.
5. Reese McGuire (#98) – The Pirates have some really good depth at Catcher. Already having Cervelli and Stewart in the Bigs with Elias Diaz lurking, McGuire appears to be the next true heir to the catcher thrown. Drafted in the 1st round along with Meadows, McGuire was an advanced defensive catcher with a bat that should be able to develop. A few years later, and that still holds true. Many feel his defense could play in the Show today. In just over 1,000 plate appearances in the minors, he’s managed a .270 batting average while only sporting a .328 slugging %. It’s true, he’s hit just 3 home runs during his entire pro career. McGuire isn’t going to blow the cover off of the ball, but most catchers do develop much later with their offense. As long as McGuire can prove he can hit for just average catcher numbers, he should certainly find a home every day in PNC Park.
Those are the top 5 that made MLB’s list. There is still a wealth of talent remaining in their farm. Harold Ramirez is an outfielder who presents very little swing and misses, though doesn’t have a ton of power. He could shortly become an above average 4th outfielder, or an extremely valuable trade chip that could net the Pirates a very good talent in return. Kevin Newman is a SS drafted last year with the Pirates who, like Ramirez, brings a very quality bat and solid defense. If everything pans out, Newman could be an everyday player who hits around .300. Cole Tucker is the opposite of Newman where he presents an outstanding glove at SS but below average offensive skills even for that position. Alen Hanson is a speedy infielder who has an above average glove, but the offense hasn’t been consistent. Ke’Bryan Hayes is a young 3B prospect who could easily develop into an average everyday player at the hot corner. His father, Charlie Hayes, played 14 years in the majors and many critics feel as if Ke’Bryan will pan out as an even better player.
Stephen Tarpley, Nick Kingham, Casey Sadler, Willy Garcia, Elias Diaz, Casey Hughston, Yeudy Garcia, Max Moroff, Mitch Keller, Clay Holmes, Barrett Barnes and Luis Escobar are some names to also pay attention too. It’s easy to see that the Buccos are in a very good place with their organization. They have a team that’s in contention every year while sporting tons of quality depth in their minors. The day we see Andrew McCutchen leave, along with the possibility of others, should not truly put this team back. The talent they have approaching can definitely keep all of our post season dreams alive for many years to come. I can only salivate at the thought of seeing a Cole, Liriano, Glasnow, Taillon, and Locke rotation next season while seeing Bell at first and having most of our remaining lineup in tact.