The Pittsburgh Pirates built on their 2013 season with an 88-win 2014 campaign. Unfortunately, their playoff run was short lived as they were beaten 8-0 in the Wild Card play-in game by the eventual World Series winning Giants. That game showed a lot in regards to what the Pirates need to improve on if they want to see any playoff success. They chose to match Edinson Volquez against ace Madison Bumgarner, surprising no one when they were beaten.
Despite having a strong nucleus of young hitters, led by Andrew McCutchen, the roster doesn’t currently have the top flight pitching needed to win in the playoffs. Their rotation was solid from 1-5, but they were without a clear number 1 or 2 pitcher. The team hopes that Gerrit Cole can develop into that kind of pitcher in 2015, but he will need to build on his 2014 season while staying healthy. Volquez left for the Royals in free agency, so the Bucs signed A.J. Burnett to replace him.
The Pirates have one of the best farm systems in the majors, with several of their top prospects looking to make an impact in 2015. With McCutchen, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco already in Pittsburgh, the team looks like they are already set in the outfield. Baseball America’s Top 10 Prospect list contains three outfielders who may end up becoming trade bait to fill other needs. The team’s power pitching arms make them a top 5 farm system.Mar 27, 2014; Bradenton, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle (13) looks on before the start of the spring training exhibition game against the New York Yankees at McKechnie Field. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
10. Harold Ramirez: The 20-year old Colombian center fielder was signed in 2011, and has progressed in every season since. He was limited to only 49 games in 2014 due to injuries, so his first full season will likely be in 2015 with Class-A West Virginia. If he hits well enough he could see himself in Advanced-A Bradenton by mid-season. Although lacking in the hype of some other outfielders in the system, Ramirez’s contact approach and strong defense could stick in the big leagues. The stocky outfielder is more of a doubles hitter at this point, but he has the strength to develop more home run power as he progresses through the system. The Pirates have no reason to rush him, so don’t expect to see him in the big leagues until 2017.
9. Mitch Keller: Drafted in the 2nd round of last year’s draft out of high school, the 6’3″ Keller throws in the low to mid-90’s and already has a plus off-speed pitch in his curveball. The right-handed pitcher had a very strong debut as a pro in 2014, sporting an ERA of 1.98 and striking out 29 in 27 innings for the GCL Pirates. He’ll get the opportunity to pitch longer than the 3-4 innings he was pitching per game last season when he enters his first full season in 2015. If he can develop his changeup as a third option, he will be higher on this list next season.Feb 21, 2014; Bradenton, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Alen Hanson (63) poses for a photo at Pirate City. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
8. Cole Tucker: The slick fielding shortstop has the chance to stay at the premium position despite his 6’3″ frame. Unlike most taller shortstop prospects, Tucker’s more known for his fielding than his hitting at this point. His glove is advanced for his age, displaying solid range and a strong arm, to go along with good foot speed. The 18 year old switch-hitter was drafted in the 1st round by the Pirates in last years draft, and enjoyed a solid rookie season in the Gulf Coast League. The power isn’t there just yet, but he does have a keen eye at the plate, walking 26 times in 48 games. With a projectable frame and a good work ethic, Tucker could develop more power to his game in the upcoming years.
7. Alen Hanson: Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2009, he has shown impressive power for a middle infielder his size. He has had some very productive seasons as he’s climbed levels over the last few years. With Jimmy Rollins-like pop, his line drive approach could see him produce double digit home runs in the big leagues. The switch hitter will likely have to move from shortstop to second base, due to his lack of arm strength. He has the ability to steal 30 bags a season, although he has been caught stealing quite a bit over the last few years. Being able to choose better times to steal as he matures will help his stolen base numbers in the future. The 22-year old should be able to hit for a decent enough average in the big leagues to be a full-time starter eventually. A mid-season call up in 2015 could be in the cards for Henson.
6: Nick Kingham: The 23-year old power right-hander had a very successful 2014 where he split between Double-A and Triple-A. He had the lowest WHIP (1.10) out of any starter that pitched for Indianapolis last season, showing that he should be able to compete for a rotation spot sooner than later. Drafted in the 4th round of the 2010 draft, the 6’5 225 pounder has a mid-90’s heater that he mixes with a plus changeup and an average curveball. His strikeout numbers in the minor leagues have never been spectacular, due to his lack of a put-away off-speed pitch. His changeup is a very effective pitch for generating ground balls, but his curveball will need to develop into more of a swing and miss pitch. With his size and pitching repertoire, he is most likely to develop into a middle of the rotation type of starter.
5. Reese McGuire: The 19-year old catcher gets bumped up from No. 7 to No. 5 on this list due to a solid first full season in Single-A West Virginia in 2014. He was drafted 14th overall by the Pirates in the first round of the 2013 draft. Despite not hitting for overwhelming good numbers, the 6’0″ 180 pounder receives high grades for his advanced catching ability. He threw out nearly 40 percent of base stealers last season, which was good for 3rd in low Class A-ball. His solid receiving behind the plate and ability to call a game helped him become the 7th best catching prospect by Baseball America last year. His defense will get him to the big leagues, but his bat will need to improve if he wants to be a regular starter. His power and walk numbers were very low last season, although he also didn’t strike out a whole lot either. He still projects to hit for a decent average, and should be ready to compete for playing time behind the dish in Pittsburgh by 2017.Oct. 14, 2014; Mesa, AZ, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Josh Bell plays for the Scottsdale Scorpions during an Arizona Fall League game against the Mesa Solar Sox at Salt River Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
4. Josh Bell: The 6’2″ 235 pound outfielder was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft. The Pirates were able to sign him for above slot value when nobody thought he was going to be signable. His advanced bat really came alive in his first full season in A-ball in 2013, where his 37 doubles ranked third in the South Atlantic League. His 2014 season was spent split between Single-A Bradenton and Double-A Altoona, where he hit for a higher average and had less strikeouts than the year before. Despite being a big, burly outfielder, Bell hasn’t quite been able to develop home run power yet, instead having more gap-to-gap power. He is fully expected to hit more home runs as he matures as a hitter. The 22-year old has the look of a prototypical right fielder, with a solid throwing arm and solid bat. A full season at Altoona will set him up to potentially make an impact for the Pirates in 2016.
3. Austin Meadows: As one of the top high school hitters in the 2013 draft, the Georgia-born outfielder could have went in the top five. When he fell to the Pirates at 9, they jumped all over him. After slaughtering Rookie ball in 2013, the lefthanded slugger suffered a hamstring injury in Spring training 2014. He made his debut in June and went on to slash for .322/.388/.488 in 38 games in Single-A ball.
The 19-year old covers a lot of ground with his stellar foot speed, which may allow him to stay in centerfield despite his 6’3″ frame. He seems comparable to Drew Stubbs, but with more hitting ability. Like Stubbs, he’s a taller centerfielder with speed who can probably hit 20 home runs a season if he can stay healthy. Meadows should be able to hit for a consistently higher average and walk more than the Rockies outfielder, which could make him a star.
It won’t be until 2017 when he’ll be knocking on the door in Pittsburgh, which coincides with when Andrew McCutchen is scheduled to become a free agent. This could create an interesting situation where the Pirates have to choose between the two. The fact that McCutchen is the face of the franchise will probably lead to Meadows becoming a big trade chip over the next couple years.February 28, 2013; Bradenton, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Jameson Taillon (76) throws a pitch in the first inning against the Boston Red Sox at McKechnie Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
2. Jameson Taillon: After being selected with the No. 2 pick out of high school in the 2010 draft, Taillon quickly rose up the minor league levels. As a duel citizen 0f America and Canada, he pitched for Canada in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. He ended 2013 with six starts for Triple-A Indianapolis, leaving hope that he could be a part of the Pirates rotation in 2014. Unfortunately, he had to undergo Tommy John surgery last April, which sidelined him for the entire season.
Providing he can bounce back, you may see the 23-year old in Pittsburgh by midseason. At 6’5″ and 245 pounds, he is a classic power righthander. He combines his mid-90’s heat with a solid curveball and decent changeup, which has given him a solid strikeout rate wherever he has pitched. Keeping the ball down will be important moving forward, as he tends to give up the big hit when he leaves his fastball up.
The Pirates may use him out of the bullpen down the stretch next season, or he could be called up to replace somebody already in the rotation. One thing is for sure: if he can stay healthy he should be able to join Pittsburgh’s rotation for good in 2016.
1. Tyler Glasnow: The Pirates top prospect is one of the most intriguing pitchers in the minor leagues. At a lean 6’7″, he’s a power right hander with room to grow. He was drafted in the 5th round of the 2011 draft out of high school, signing for far above slot value. The 21-year old has excellent control of his mid-high 90’s fastball, with a decent curveball and average changeup as his secondary offerings. His size, quality stuff, and delivery lead to insane strikeout numbers.
He has dominated Rookie ball, Single-A, and A-Advanced since entering the Pirates system. In 2013, he had 164 strikeouts in 111 innings, breaking the Single-A West Virginia strikeout record by 30 K’s. The righty was arguably even better in 2014, where his 1.75 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 157 strikeout all paced the league.
The sky’s the limit for this towering flamethrower. He is expected to start 2015 with Double-A Altoona, and depending on how well he does, could even be promoted to Triple-A by the end of the season. The Pirates will likely look to add the righty to their rotation in 2016. Upon joining Cole, Taillon, Francisco Liriano and Jeff Locke, the Pirates could have one of the best rotations in the league. If Glasnow can develop his curveball and changeup into plus pitches, we could be looking at an elite ace.