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2017 Pittsburgh Pirates Midseason Top 10 Prospects



As a lower revenue team, even in good seasons the Pirates don’t have much separating them from a nosedive in the standings.

Pirates Midseason Top 10
1. Mitch Keller, RHP
2. Austin Meadows, OF
3. Kevin Newman, SS
4. Shane Baz, RHP
5. Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B
6. Steven Brault, LHP
7. Elias Diaz, C
8. Steven Jennings, RHP
9. Cole Tucker, SS
10. Clay Holmes, RHP
Early this year, that was obvious as the Pirates’ limited depth was stripped away. Infielder Jung Ho Kang has missed the entire season and his return remains in doubt after he was sentenced in a driving under the influence case in South Korea. So far, he’s been unable to get a work visa to return to the U.S. With Kang sidelined, 34-year-old David Freese was pressed into everyday duty at third base, where’s he’s hitting .244/.374/.362.

Outfielder Starling Marte was lost for 80 games after testing positive for a performance enhancing drug. With Marte out, Andrew McCutchen moved back to center field while the Pirates have been left without an everyday left fielder.

And righthander Jameson Taillon was lost for nearly half of the first half of the season as he battled testicular cancer. Thankfully Taillon recovered and is back in the rotation, but in his absence, Tyler Glasnow struggled to his fill role.

The result is a team that is sits on the periphery of the wild card race, although a recent hot streak has given Pirates fans some hope. But even without its July surge, the Pirates were not an obvious teardown candidate.

No significant Pirates regular hits free agency after this season. Even McCutchen, long rumored to be a trade candidate, has a team option for 2018 on his deal. McCutchen has had a bounce back year, posting a .900 OPS. Righthander Gerrit Cole, the other big-name Pirate rumored in trade talks, doesn’t hit free agency until the 2019 season.

So much like last year, the Pirates hit the trade deadline with the option to sell off valuable pieces, but they aren’t in dire shape. The emergence of Taillon and the development of relief ace Felipe Rivero, an astute trade deadline pickup last year, has given the team a pair of low-cost building blocks.

But Pittsburgh does have plenty of decisions to make. Austin Meadows, McCutchen’s likely long-term replacement, has battled a hamstring problem for the third time in four years, clouding his status. Control problems have kept Glasnow from joining Taillon as a young arm to stabilize the rotation for years to come, although Glasnow has pitched better in a demotion to Triple-A.

The farm system is still very solid, but after two years of setbacks in the wake of 2015’s 98-win season, the window on the current club might be starting to close.


1. Mitch Keller, RHP High Class A Bradenton Age: 21

The Pirates had Keller focus on his fastball and changeup early this season. His curveball was such a weapon that if he was using it, he’d have little need to improve his changeup. It’s worked, as Keller has continued to improve with a more well-rounded arsenal. Keller isn’t missing as many bats as previous seasons because he focused on improving his weakest pitches rather than just deploying his best, but he keeps the ball on the ground, doesn’t allow many walks or hits, and is increasingly pitching deeper into his starts. He missed a month with a back strain but he returned in June without issue. Keller has excellent body control has the makings of a future front-of-the-rotation righthander.


2. Austin Meadows, OF Triple-A Indianapolis Age: 22

Meadows’ hamstring problems have cropped up for the third time in four years, stopping a long climb out of an early-season slump. Meadows is still a future Pirates regular, but this year has slowed his ETA. Even when healthy, scouts are beginning to question just how much offensive impact he will have. Left field was open in the first half this year; Meadows couldn't seize it.


3. Kevin Newman, SS Double-A Altoona Age: 23

It’s been a subpar first half for Newman with his emphasis on making contact working against him. He doesn’t strike out, but that has led to a lot of defensive swings and ground balls. Newman has shown he is better than this, and his steady defense makes him a future big leaguer.


4. Shane Baz, RHP Rookie-level GCL Pirates Age: 18

Baz is only the third high school pitcher the Pirates have drafted in the first round since 2000. The last two (Jameson Taillon and Sean Burnett) worked out well. With a mid-90s fastball and a pair of breaking balls, Baz has the building blocks of a front-of-rotation starter.


5. Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B High Class A Bradenton Age: 20

While many players' bodies get worse as they mature, Hayes’ body just gets better. He’s much trimmer and fitter now than in high school. He is a baseball rat and it shows. Hayes has proven a capable third baseman and a heady hitter, although his power has yet to show in games.


6. Steven Brault, LHP Triple-A Indianapolis Age: 25

After a mediocre April, Brault has gone 7-1, 1.53 since May 1 thanks to a much more aggressive approach. A high-80s pitcher when the Pirates acquired him, Brault will now touch 97 at his best, so he’s now more aggressive with firmer stuff.


7. Elias Diaz, C Pittsburgh Age: 26 The life of a backup catcher means that Diaz still qualifies for this list despite spending parts of three months in the majors. He’s a capable defender who just has to add a little polish to have a big league career.


8. Steven Jennings, RHP Rookie-level GCL Pirates Age: 18

An athletic righthander who also was a quarterback in high school, Jennings has been barely slowed by a torn ACL he suffered during football season. The best is yet to come for Jennings, but his 91-95 mph fastball and pair of breaking balls are pretty good already.


9. Cole Tucker, SS High Class A Bradenton Age: 20

Tucker's biggest problem so far as a pro has been staying healthy—he's injured both thumbs in his career and has had a right labrum tear. This year in a return to Bradenton, he's largely managed to stay on the field, which has allowed his tools to play. He's shown improved body control and a stronger arm as he is now two years removed from labrum surgery. The most surprising stat is Tucker's 36 stolen bases. He's a solid average runner, but is swiping bases with guile and aggressiveness.


10. Clay Holmes, RHP Triple-A Indianapolis Age: 24

Holmes is another beneficiary of the Pirates’ track record of helping their pitchers develop improved velocity. The 2011 ninth-round pick was a low-90s sinkerballer before Tommy John surgery. He can still sink it, but he can now also reach the high 90s with his fastball, which has led to the best strikeout rate of his career.


RISING

• INF Max Moroff has gotten to the big leagues. He’s hasn’t hit in Pittsburgh yet, but he showed surprising power at Triple-A Indianapolis and he fits the utility infielder/outfielder mold of Adam Frazier.

• Before he broke his hand 2B Kevin Kramer was showing improved power and a solid approach at the plate with Double-A Altoona.


FALLING

• The Pirates designated 2B Alen Hanson for assignment. The White Sox claimed him and have gotten use out of his speed at the big league level.

• RHP Yeudy Garcia’s stuff has diminished significantly in the past two years due to a shoulder injury. What once was a fastball that touched 99 mph more often sits 88-92 mph now.


HURTING

• The Pirates middle infielders have had plenty of bad luck this year. SS Stephen Alemais hurt his thumb sliding into a base, Kramer broke his hand in June when he was hit by a pitch and Tucker missed time in June with a right thumb injury.

• 1B/OF Connor Joe has been sidelined since late July with a broken finger.

• RHP Nick Kingham missed a month early in the season with a sprained ankle.


GRADUATING

• RHP Tyler Glasnow is back in Triple-A trying to refine his control, but he exhausted his prospect eligibility before his demotion.

• 1B Josh Bell has hit for power and while his batting average is below average, he gets on base and has shown steady offensive improvement. He still has work to do defensively at first.

• RHP Trevor Williams has found a role as a back-of-the-rotation starter in Pittsburgh.

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• OF Jose Osuna provided a low-OBP/high-power outfield option as a fill-in while Starling Marte was suspended.

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