2013 Pittsburgh Pirates Top 10 Prospects With Scouting Reports





Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2011.

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Halfway through the 2012 season, things were finally looking up for the Pirates. They went into the all-star break in first place in the National League Central and 11 games above .500, and it finally appeared that the longest streak of futility in North American professional sports history would end.

Little went right after that, however.

Pittsburgh beat the Diamondbacks on Aug. 8 to improve to 63-47 and peak at 16 games above .500. But it went just 16-36 the rest of the way to finish at 79-83, its 20th straight losing season. It was a second straight collapse for the Pirates, who have gone a combined 38-77 during the final two months of the last two seasons.

The news wasn't any better on the scouting and player-development fronts, where the organization says it must be strong to be successful. In the draft, Pittsburgh gambled on Stanford righthander Mark Appel, a candidate for the No. 1 pick who slid because of questions about his asking price.

The Pirates took Appel at No. 8 without gauging exactly what his price tag would be. They offered $3.8 million—the most they could without losing future first-round picks under the new draft rules—but never came close to signing him. Pittsburgh will get the ninth overall pick this year as compensation, but the failure to sign Appel was a big hit to the 2012 draft class.

The organization also found itself scorned for its player-development approach. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and Yahoo! Sports ran a series of articles revealing that the Pirates were using Navy SEAL training techniques for players during extended spring training and instructional league. Most disturbing were reports that two of their best prospects, righthander Jameson Taillon (knee) and outfielder Gregory Polanco (ankle), sustained minor injuries while participating in the drills.

An e-mail from assistant GM Kyle Stark to members of Pittsburgh's player-development staff also got leaked to the media, featuring statements that could generously be called unconventional. In it, Stark said he wanted to develop players who had the creativity of hippies and the brotherhood of Hell's Angels, and he concluded the e-mail with the phrase, "Hoka Hey," a battle cry used by Sitting Bull. While the spirit of the statement is that if you give a complete effort you can be satisfied no matter the outcome, the literal translation of the phrase is, "It's a good day to die."

The collapse and controversy prompted usually reclusive Pirates owner Bob Nutting to conduct his own inquiry into the state of the baseball operation after the season.

In the end, he decided the team was on the right course and kept the staff in place, though he ordered Stark's military-style training methods to stop.

The news in the minor leagues wasn't all bad, however. Blue-chip pitching prospects Gerrit Cole, Taillon and Luis Heredia took steps forward in their development, while Polanco and shortstop Alen Hanson had breakout seasons in low Class A. The Rookie-level Gulf Coast League team won its first-ever league title in its 42nd year of existence after going 36-24, and Triple-A Indianapolis captured a division title and had the International League's best record at 89-55.

1. Gerrit Cole, rhp Born: Sep 08, 1990 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-4 Wt.: 220
Drafted: UCLA, 2011 (1st round).  Signed by: Rick Allen
Gerrit ColeBackground: Cole was a big Yankees fan as a kid growing up in Southern California. In fact, a picture of the then-11-year-old Cole appeared on the front page of the Newark Star-Ledger during the 2001 World Series that showed him holding a sign before Game Six that read "Yankee Fan Today Tomorrow Forever." However, he didn't even negotiate with the Yankees when they took him with the 28th overall pick in 2008 following his senior season at Orange (Calif.) Lutheran High. He and his parents felt he would better served by going to UCLA, where he could mature both physically and socially. He did just that and helped the Bruins reached the finals of the 2010 College World Series. His decision paid off in 2011, as the Pirates made Cole the No. 1 overall selection. Cole signed at the Aug. 15 deadline for a draft-record $8 million bonus and played in the Arizona Fall League before making his official pro debut in 2012. He advanced from high Class A Bradenton to Triple-A Indianapolis and pitched in the Futures Game along the way.

Scouting Report: Cole is a power pitcher with a pair of devastating offerings. He can effortlessly throw his four-seam fastball up to 101 mph, sitting at 96-98 mph and carrying that velocity deep into games. He also throws a two-seamer with sink at 93-95. His slider is a wipeout pitch with very hard tilt and he typically throws it at 88-90 mph, topping out as high as 93. When he stays on top of the slider, it's almost unhittable for righthanders. He also has a solid upper-80s changeup that keeps improving, and he'll mix in an occasional slow curveball for show. In order to become a true ace, Cole will have to make some adjustments. He'll have to keep working on taking a little more off his changeup to get more separation in velocity from his fastball, which would slow down hitters' bats. He also needs to fine-tune his command. He throws strikes fairly consistently, but he gets hit more than he should considering the quality of his stuff because he doesn't locate his pitches with enough precision. Hitters also seem to see the ball well out of Cole's hand. Some scouts are concerned that he has a tendency to drift away from the rubber during his delivery. He's athletic and intelligent, so he should be able to make the necessary mechanical refinements.

The Future: Cole got a taste of Triple-A at the end of last season, pitching once in the regular season and once in the International League playoffs. He'll start the 2013 season back at Indianapolis but it would be no surprise to see him in Pittsburgh's rotation by the all-star break—and probably a bit of a disappointment if he isn't. The Pirates haven't developed a 20-game winner since John Smiley, whom they signed in 1983. Cole draws comparisons to Justin Verlander and certainly has the look of a No. 1 starter who could anchor their rotation for years. He should be a significant upgrade over Pittsburgh's three previous No. 1 overall picks: Jeff King (1986), Kris Benson (1996) and Bryan Bullington (2002).

Year Team W L ERA G GS SV IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
'12 Bradenton (HiA) 5 1 2.55 13 13 0 67 53 24 19 5 21 69 .209
'12 Altoona (AA) 3 6 2.90 12 12 0 59 54 28 19 2 23 60 .234
'12 Indianapolis (AAA) 1 0 4.50 1 1 0 6 6 3 3 0 1 7 .250
Minor League Totals 9 7 2.80 26 26 0 132 113 113 41 7 45 136 .222

2. Jameson Taillon, rhp Born: Nov 18, 1991 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-6 Wt.: 225
Drafted: The Woodlands (Texas) HS, 2010 (1st round).  Signed by: Trevor Haley
Jameson TaillonBackground: Taillon's ceiling is so high that the Pirates rated him ahead of Bryce Harper on their 2010 draft board and took him second overall even though GM Neal Huntington doesn't believe in drafting prep righthanders in the first round. Taillon had a 3.85 grade-point average in high school and planned to attend Rice until the Pittsburgh changed those plans with a $6.5 million bonus.

Scouting Report: With stuff, command and smarts, Taillon has the total package for a frontline starter. His four-seam fastball sits at 94-96 mph and hits 99 with boring action, and he'll mix in a two-seamer with more sink. His curveball is an excellent pitch that breaks so late and so sharply that it can be confused for a slider. He's still refining his changeup but it should become at least an average pitch. Taillon went through a crisis of confidence for a stretch early last season where he questioned his pitch selection and stopped pitching aggressively. However, he regained his killer instinct in the second half and finished strong after a late-season promotion to Double-A Altoona.

The Future: Taillon has frontline stuff and will begin 2013 back in Double-A but could see Pittsburgh before season's end.

Year Team W L ERA G GS SV IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
'11 West Virginia (LoA) 2 3 3.98 23 23 0 93 89 45 41 9 22 97 .243
'12 Bradenton (HiA) 6 8 3.82 23 23 0 125 109 57 53 10 37 98 .225
'12 Altoona (AA) 3 0 1.59 3 3 0 17 11 3 3 0 1 18 .177
Minor League Totals 11 11 3.71 49 49 0 235 209 209 97 19 60 213 .229

3. Luis Heredia, rhp Born: Aug 10, 1994 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-6 Wt.: 205
Signed: Mexico '10 Signed by: Rene Gayo/Chino Valdez
Luis HerediaBackground: Heredia represented Pittsburgh's first big international strike when he signed out of Mexico for $2.6 million in 2010. He was considered the best foreign amateur pitcher available that summer, and the Pirates had developed a relationship with him since he was 13. Extremely advanced for his age, he was the youngest in the short-season New York-Penn League last year, pitching most of the summer at 17.

Scouting Report: Heredia offers a lot of projection as a 6-foot-6 teenager, but there's also a lot to like about him in the present. He throws his fastball at 91-94 mph with good movement, with the promise of more velocity as he gets stronger. He threw a slow curveball when he first came to the United States but has added power to it. He has a good feel for changeup, though he needs to subtract some velocity from it. Heredia can throw his secondary pitches for strikes consistently and is becoming adept at keeping the ball down in the strike zone. Pittsburgh praises his work ethic.

The Future: Heredia could develop three plus pitches, giving the Pirates a third potential frontline starter. The Pirates are trying to manage his workload, so they may keep him in extended spring training for a month before sending him to low Class A West Virginia. He could reach the majors sometime around his 21st birthday in 2015.

Year Team W L ERA G GS SV IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
'11 Pirates (R) 1 2 4.75 12 11 0 30 28 16 16 3 19 23 .235
'12 State College (SS) 4 2 2.71 14 14 0 66 53 22 20 2 20 40 .210
Minor League Totals 5 4 3.38 26 25 0 96 81 81 36 5 39 63 .220

4. Gregory Polanco, of Born: Sep 14, 1991 B-T: L-L Ht.: 6-4 Wt.: 170
Signed: Dominican Republic '09 Signed by: Rene Gayo/Ellis Pena
Gregory PolancoBackground: After hitting a combined .218/.288/.322 in the previous two seasons in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, Polanco clearly was the system's breakout player in 2012. He led Pirates farmhands in steals (40) while ranking second in all three slash stats (.325/.388/.522) as well as homers (16) and RBIs (85). Signed for $175,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2009, he's starting to look like a bargain.

Scouting Report: Polanco has blossomed into a five-tool talent now that he has improved his plate discipline and ability to drive the ball. His swing can get long and he can get pull-happy, but he makes consistent hard contact and good adjustments at the plate. He projects to hit for at least solid average and power. Polanco is a quality center fielder with plenty of range and a strong arm. He also projects as a high-volume basestealer, though he needs refinement in that area.

The Future: Polanco played so well last season that it's not a stretch to think he could offer the combination of power and speed to be a 30/30 player in Pittsburgh. While he must prove he's more than a one-year wonder, the tools are there for him to be a star. He'll move up to high Class A at age 21 and is at least two full minor league seasons away from being ready for the majors.

Year Team AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
'09 Pirates (R) 221 34 59 8 6 0 24 33 50 12 4 .267 .370 .357
'10 Pirates (R) 188 21 38 5 1 3 23 9 41 19 2 .202 .245 .287
'11 Pirates (R) 169 34 40 4 4 3 34 24 33 18 0 .237 .333 .361
'11 State College (SS) 10 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 2 0 0 .100 .100 .100
'12 West Virginia (LoA) 437 84 142 26 6 16 85 44 64 40 15 .325 .388 .522
Minor League Totals 1025 173 280 43 17 22 167 110 190 89 21 .273 .347 .413

5. Alen Hanson, ss Born: Oct 22, 1992 B-T: B-R Ht.: 5-11 Wt.: 152
Signed: Dominican Republic '09 Signed by: Rene Gayo/Ellis Pena
Alen HansonBackground: Hanson's low Class A performance was just as spectacular as Gregory Polanco's last year. Hanson, who had a better track record of success in Rookie ball, had extremely similar numbers and led the South Atlantic League in runs (99), triples (13) and total bases (258).

Scouting Report: Hanson is developing into quite a hitter for a lithe shortstop. He has gap power from both sides of the plate and enough strength to pull mistakes on the inner half over the fence. He also can inside-out the ball for opposite-field hits or lay down a bunt to use his plus speed. His quickness puts pressure on opponents, though he needs to hone his baserunning and basestealing skills. The biggest question about Hanson is his defense. He has the range to play shortstop but his arm is average at best and he's inconsistent, as evidenced by his 40 errors in 103 games last year. Some scouts feel he projects as a second baseman, a position he has played in the past. He brings energy to the ballpark every day.

The Future: Hanson has a chance to be the rare impact bat at a middle-infield position. He'll stay at shortstop when he plays at high Class A Bradenton at age 20 this year but, like Polanco, he doesn't figure to be called up to Pittsburgh before the second half of the 2015 season.

Year Team AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
'10 Pirates (R) 244 48 79 10 7 2 28 22 37 20 8 .324 .383 .447
'11 Pirates (R) 198 42 52 13 7 2 35 21 34 24 6 .263 .352 .429
'11 State College (SS) 10 1 2 0 0 0 0 1 2 0 0 .200 .273 .200
'12 West Virginia (LoA) 489 99 151 33 13 16 62 55 105 35 19 .309 .381 .528
Minor League Totals 941 190 284 56 27 20 125 99 178 79 33 .302 .374 .482

6. Josh Bell, of Born: Aug 14, 1992 B-T: B-R Ht.: 6-4 Wt.: 195
Drafted: Dallas Jesuit HS, 2011 (2nd round).  Signed by: Mike Leuzinger
Josh BellBackground: The Pirates stunned the industry when they landed the thought-to-be-unsignable Bell for $5 million at the 2011 deadline. He had written all 30 teams and asked them not to select him because he was committed to attending Texas, but Pittsburgh had him ranked sixth on its draft board and popped him at No. 61 overall. His 2012 pro debut ended quickly, as he had surgery April 26 after tearing the meniscus in his left knee while running the bases. He was supposed to return for instructional league but persistent swelling in the knee scuttled that plan. Bell received platelet-rich plasma injections in his knee in an effort to spur healing.

Scouting Report: Bell has big-time power potential from both sides of the plate. With his bat speed, strike-zone discipline and mature approach, he also should hit for average as well. He had average speed before he got hurt, and there's some fear that he might lose a step after his knee injury. Bell projects as a right fielder with average range and solid arm strength.

The Future: Bell has the makings of a No. 3 or 4 hitter in a contender's lineup. Though he essentially lost a full season, he'll still be just 20 when he returns to low Class A. The Pirates are anxious to see how he bounces back from his injury, and he has the bat to move fast once he gets going.

Year Team AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
'12 West Virginia (LoA) 62 6 17 5 0 1 11 2 21 1 0 .274 .288 .403
Minor League Totals 62 6 17 5 0 1 11 2 21 1 0 .274 .288 .403

7. Kyle McPherson, rhp Born: Nov 11, 1987 B-T: B-R Ht.: 6-4 Wt.: 215
Drafted: Mobile (Ala.), 2007 (14th round).  Signed by: Darren Mazeroski
Kyle McPhersonBackground: McPherson was primarily a shortstop at Mobile (Ala.), an NAIA program, and compiled a 6.02 ERA primarily mopping up in blowouts. Pirates scout Darren Mazeroski, the son of Hall of Fame second baseman Bill, glimpsed big league mound potential in McPherson and signed him for $30,000. Pittsburgh called McPherson up last August.

Scouting Report: McPherson doesn't have overwhelming stuff, though he's not a soft-tosser either. His fastball sits at 90-92 mph and can reach 95 on occasion. He can locate his fastball wherever he wants and commands all of his pitches. His best offering might be his changeup, which he throws with deceptive arm speed. His curveball is average at times, though he must guard against flattening it out by overthrowing. McPherson isn't afraid to pitch inside and likes to use his changeup when behind in the count to disrupt hitters' time. Though he spent the first 10 weeks last season on the disabled list with shoulder tendinitis, he otherwise has been durable through six pro seasons.

The Future: McPherson's moxie gives him a chance to play up to a No. 3 starter who can eat innings. He'll get an opportunity to win a spot in Pittsburgh's rotation this spring.

Year Team W L ERA G GS SV IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
'07 Pirates (R) 4 2 2.61 12 10 0 52 47 22 15 3 10 35 .233
'07 State College (SS) 0 1 6.28 3 3 0 14 20 13 10 1 3 6 .317
'08 State College (SS) 1 3 4.37 15 7 1 56 52 29 27 10 5 41 .237
'09 West Virginia (LoA) 5 2 4.94 13 8 0 51 53 32 28 3 6 32 .257
'09 State College (SS) 4 3 2.99 13 13 0 75 70 27 25 5 11 57 .236
'10 West Virginia (LoA) 9 9 3.59 26 21 0 118 96 58 47 14 31 124 .214
'10 Bradenton (HiA) 0 0 0.00 2 0 0 4 2 0 0 0 0 7 .143
'11 Bradenton (HiA) 4 1 2.89 12 12 0 72 62 25 23 4 6 60 .224
'11 Altoona (AA) 8 5 3.02 16 16 0 89 75 34 30 7 21 82 .219
'12 Altoona (AA) 3 5 4.07 9 9 0 49 54 26 22 5 5 46 .270
'12 Indianapolis (AAA) 0 1 0.98 3 3 0 18 11 3 2 1 4 17 .167
'12 Pittsburgh (MAJ) 0 2 2.73 10 3 0 26 24 8 8 3 7 21 .233
Major League Totals 0 2 2.77 10 3 0 26 24 24 8 3 7 21 .235
Minor League Totals 38 32 3.45 124 102 1 598 542 542 229 53 102 507 .232

8. Justin Wilson, lhp Born: Aug 18, 1987 B-T: L-L Ht.: 6-2 Wt.: 195
Drafted: Fresno State, 2008 (5th round).  Signed by: Sean Campbell
Justin WilsonBackground: Wilson etched his name in College World Series lore by winning the championship game for Fresno State in 2008. He had the distinction of being part of two no-hitters last season at Indianapolis, pitching 7 1/3 innings of a combined effort against Durham on April 29 and a rain-shortened, eight-inning gem versus Charlotte on Aug. 9. He led the International League in opponent average (.189) and ranked second in strikeouts (138).

Scouting Report: Wilson throws harder than most lefthanders, working with a 92-94 mph and reaching 96. His peak velocity spiked to 99 mph when he a relief role in Triple-A late in each of the last two seasons in Triple-A, though he didn't throw that hard while coming out of the bullpen during his first big league callup last September. Wilson's curveball, slider and changeup all can be average pitches, but his command of his entire arsenal is spotty. That's why the Pirates have looked at him in relief.

The Future: Pittsburgh still hasn't decided if Wilson's long-term future is as a starter or a reliever, though the latter seems more likely. He'll get a chance to win a job in the major league bullpen during spring training. If he doesn't make the Pirates, he may continue starting at Indianapolis to give him more innings to work on his command.

Year Team W L ERA G GS SV IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
'09 Lynchburg (HiA) 6 8 4.50 26 26 0 116 118 64 58 14 55 94 .253
'10 Altoona (AA) 11 8 3.09 27 26 0 143 109 59 49 4 71 134 .203
'11 Indianapolis (AAA) 10 8 4.13 30 21 3 124 121 68 57 12 67 94 .245
'12 Indianapolis (AAA) 9 6 3.78 29 25 0 136 91 60 57 12 66 138 .183
'12 Pittsburgh (MAJ) 0 0 1.93 8 0 0 5 10 1 1 0 3 7 .417
Major League Totals 0 0 1.80 8 0 0 5 10 10 1 0 3 7 .400
Minor League Totals 36 30 3.83 112 98 3 519 439 439 221 42 259 460 .220

9. Barrett Barnes, of Born: Jul 29, 1991 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-1 Wt.: 195
Drafted: Texas Tech, 2012 (1st round supplemental).  Signed by: Mike Leuzinger
Barrett BarnesBackground: When first-rounder Mark Appel decided to return to Stanford, Barnes became the Pirates' top signee in the 2012 draft. The nephew of Anthony Young, who lost a major league-record 27 straight games with the Mets in 1992-93, Barnes went 45th overall and signed for $1 million. He earned New York-Penn League all-star recognition before a stress-related shin injury ended his pro debut a month early.  

Scouting Report: Barnes has the potential to do it all offensively. He has a quick bat, good plate discipline, plus raw power and above-average speed. He's willing to work the count more than most young hitters. He has trouble with breaking pitches and gets pull-conscious at times, which may limit his ability to hit for average. Barnes is still learning to steal bases after getting caught in six of his 16 attempts as a pro. He may be able to stick in center field if he can improve his jumps with more experience. His arm is fringy.

The Future: Barnes obviously will have more value if he can remain in center field, but he should have enough power to profile as a regular if he has to move to left field. He should reach high Class A at some point during his first full pro season and may not need much more than two years of minor league seasoning.

Year Team AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
'12 State College (SS) 125 16 36 6 0 5 24 17 21 10 6 .288 .401 .456
Minor League Totals 125 16 36 6 0 5 24 17 21 10 6 .288 .401 .456

10. Clay Holmes, rhp Born: Mar 27, 1993 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-5 Wt.: 230
Drafted: Slocomb (Ala.) HS, 2011 (9th round).  Signed by: Darren Mazeroski
Clay HolmesBackground: Holmes was the valedictorian of his high school class and the Alabama coaches association student-athlete of the year in 2011. He was part of the Pirates' draft binge that year, when they set bonus records for the first (Gerrit Cole, $8 million), second (Josh Bell, $5 million) and ninth (Holmes, $1.2 million) rounds. In his 2012 pro debut, he limited more advanced hitters to a .176 average, which would have ranked second in the New York-Penn League if he hadn't missed qualifying by two innings.

Scouting Report: Holmes uses his big frame and quick arm to throw 90-95 mph fastballs on a steep downward plane. He can pound the bottom of the strike zone when his mechanics are in sync, but he's still learning to consistently control all of his pitches. He also throws a hard three-quarters breaking ball and is working to add a changeup. Holmes is a good athlete for his size, which bodes well for his ability to repeat his delivery and throw more strikes. He's built for durability and gets high marks for his maturity and competitiveness.

The Future: Holmes' arm strength and smarts give him the upside of a No. 3 starter, though he's still a long ways from reaching that ceiling. He's ready to advance to low Class A in 2013.

Year Team W L ERA G GS SV IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
'12 State College (SS) 5 3 2.28 13 13 0 59 35 17 15 1 29 34 .164
Minor League Totals 5 3 2.29 13 13 0 59 35 35 15 1 29 34 .165