2017 Pittsburgh Pirates Top 10 Prospects

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1. Austin Meadows, of
2. Mitch Keller, rhp
3. Tyler Glasnow, rhp
4. Josh Bell, 1b/of
5. Kevin Newman, ss
6. Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3b
7. Steven Brault, lhp
8. Cole Tucker, ss
9. Will Craig, 3b
10. Elias Diaz, c

The Pirates had a turn-back-the-clock season in 2016. That didn’t produce a lot of warm and fuzzy feelings in Pittsburgh.

After three consecutive postseason appearances, the Pirates finished 78-83 and in third place in the National League Central. They ended up a whopping 25 games back of the division-winning Cubs.

The year was reminiscent of many of the 20 consecutive losing seasons—the record for a major North American sports franchise—that the Pirates suffered from 1993 to 2012.

A dozen players made their major league debuts with the 2016 Pirates, including eight who were drafted and signed by the organization. Four starting pitchers who ranked among the preseason Top 30 Prospects made their big league debuts: righthanders Jameson Taillon (18 starts), Chad Kuhl (14) and Tyler Glasnow (four) and lefthander Steven Brault (seven).

Ever-optimistic manager Clint Hurdle tried to look on the bright side.

“It wasn’t the way we planned it, but a lot of guys got their feet wet, and they are going to be better for it,” Hurdle said. “This is going to aid in their development in the long haul.”

Many of those players showed well enough that the Pirates believe they can be key contributors. In addition to the starting pitchers, first baseman Josh Bell and utilityman Adam Frazier also made impressions.

Taillon’s performance was particularly encouraging. The second overall pick in the 2010 draft missed the previous two seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery and a sports hernia. Taillon helped offset a somewhat disappointing first taste of the major leagues by Glasnow, who was rated as the organization’s No. 1 prospect heading into 2015 and 2016. He went 0-2, 4.24 in seven games.

The Pirates face a steep path to return to the contention the NL Central because of the resources available to the division-rival Cubs and Cardinals. Both teams have far more money to spend than the smaller-market Pirates, whose reality was brought home when they gave the Blue Jays two prospects to take on Francisco Liriano’s contract in a deal that brought only Drew Hutchison in return.

Critics contend the Pirates’ window of contention shut in 2016, which was especially frustrating because the club won 98 games in 2015 but lost to the Cubs in the NL Wild Card Game. However, the Pirates believe they have a core in place who can help them return to contention without a long rebuilding process.

Along with the promising 2016 debuts, right fielder Gregory Polanco, a five-tool talent, is under contract through 2023, and Gold Glove-winning left fielder Starling Marte is signed through 2021. Outfielder Austin Meadows, the organization’s No. 1 prospect, will likely make his big league debut in 2017 and shortstop prospect Kevin Newman should be ready for Pittsburgh by 2018.

But for a fan base that last experienced a World Series championship in 1979, it appears the wait for another title is going to take at least a little while longer.

1. Austin Meadows, of | bba_video_icon_red

Born: May 3, 1995. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 200. Drafted: HS—Loganville, Ga., 2013 (1st round). Signed by: Jerry Jordan.

Batting: 60
Power: 60
Speed: 60
Defense: 60
Arm: 55
Based on 20-80 scouting scale—where 50 represents major league average—and future projection rather than present tools.

Background: The Pirates selected Meadows with the first of two first-round picks in the 2013 draft, picking him ninth overall with the compensation pick the club received for failing to sign first-rounder Mark Appel in 2012. Meadows signed for $3,029,600 to forgo a Clemson commitment. He comes from an athletic background as the son of two Division I athletes. His father played baseball and football at Morehead State, while his mother was a softball player at Georgia Southern and Georgia State. Meadows also played football in high school as a running back, linebacker and punter. He ranked among the top prospects in Double-A Eastern and Triple-A International leagues in 2016, a season in which he batted .266/.333/.536 with 12 home runs and 17 stolen bases in 87 games.

Scouting Report: Meadows has harnessed his athleticism to become a pure hitter with a short, smooth stroke who sprays line drives to all fields. He remains in the process of unlocking his raw power as he continues to get comfortable turning on pitches and learning when it is wise to sell out for power. Meadows also shows a good eye at the plate, rarely chasing pitches out of the strike zone, and is willing to take a walk. Defensively, he is a fluid outfielder with outstanding instincts that allow him to get good jumps in center field and run down fly balls from gap to gap. His arm is slightly above-average, which will allow him to play right field if needed—or left field at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park, where the gap in left-center field stretches to 410 feet. Meadows also runs well and has the raw speed to become a top-flight baserunner, though he still needs to improve his leads and jumps on balls off the bat while running the bases. Meadows wins high marks for his makeup as a hard worker with a great attitude and leadership capabilities. One potential drawback is durability. He missed most of the 2014 season and a month in 2016 at Triple-A Indianapolis because of hamstring injuries. The 2016 injury caused him to miss the Futures Game in San Diego.

The Future: Meadows will begin 2017 back at Indianapolis, but it is not out of the question that he will make his major league debut before the all-star break. He was unable to get a full year of development in 2016 and injuries, which also included a fractured orbital bone sustained in spring training in a freak accident while playing catch, set him back slightly. Meadows projects to be a star-caliber player and probably will follow in the footsteps of such outfielders as Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco, who have been developed by the Pirates over the last decade.

Altoona (AA) .311 .365 .611 167 33 52 16 8 6 23 16 32 9
Indianapolis (AAA) .214 .297 .460 126 16 27 7 3 6 24 15 34 8

2. Mitch Keller, rhp

Born: April 4, 1996. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 195. Drafted: HS—Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 2014 (2nd round). Signed by: Matt Bimeal.

Background: Keller climbed up many teams’ draft boards when he added nearly 10 mph to his fastball between his junior and senior seasons of high school. The Pirates snatched him in the second round of the 2014 draft and signed him for an above-slot $1 million to forgo a North Carolina commitment. His older brother Jon is a pitcher in the Orioles system.

Scouting Report: Keller’s fastball reaches 97 mph, sits at 93-95 and has the type of late life that causes plenty of swings and misses. He also has an above-average curveball with 11-to-5 shape that improved as the 2016 season progressed. He learned to take a little off his breaking ball in order to gain better control. Keller’s changeup is also becoming an effective pitch. It drops just as it reaches the strike zone, generating many ground balls. Durability is a concern after Keller missed most of 2015 with forearm problems, but he stayed healthy throughout the 2016 season at low Class A West Virginia and finished strong with high Class A Bradenton, winning a pair of playoff starts to help it win the Florida State League title. He earns high marks for his maturity. For example, he immediately offered to help victims when flooding struck southern West Virginia.

The Future: Keller will begin the 2017 season back with Bradenton and will likely end it at Double-A Altoona. He has the stuff, size and makeup to become a front-of-the-rotation stalwart and could reach the majors by late 2018 or early 2019.

West Virginia (LoA) 8 5 2.46 23 23 0 0 124 96 4 18 131 .211
Bradenton (HiA) 1 0 0.00 1 1 0 0 6 5 0 1 7 .227

3. Tyler Glasnow, rhp | bba_video_icon_red

Born: Aug. 23, 1993. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-8. Wt.: 220. Drafted: HS—Newhall, Calif., 2011 (5th round). Signed by: Rick Allen.

Background: Glasnow threw just 83-89 mph in high school with an uncoordinated 6-foot-7 frame, but the Pirates saw potential and drafted him in the fifth round of the 2011 draft. He has added strength to his body and became one of the most dominant pitching prospects in the game as he ascended. His trek culminated in his major league debut in 2016.

Scouting Report: Glasnow’s added strength gave him outstanding raw stuff, topped by a 99 mph fastball and a wipeout curveball. He also throws his changeup at 90 mph, and the pitch is showing signs of being a third plus weapon. He has allowed a career .172 opponent average in 500 minor league innings. Walks, however, have been a major problem for the now 6-foot-8 Glasnow, who like many other tall pitchers has problems repeating his mechanics. He also struggles holding runners because of his slow times to the plate and lack of an effective pickoff move. That weakness was exposed at the major league level. While some have questioned his athleticism, Glasnow answered by posting a video on social media of him dunking a basketball after pulling it between his legs.

The Future: Glasnow will get a chance to win a rotation spot in spring training but will likely return to Triple-A Indianapolis. He has the ceiling of a No. 1 starter, but many evaluators outside the organization believe his futures lies as a dominant reliever due to his poor control.

Altoona (AA) 0 0 3.00 2 2 0 0 6 4 1 6 11 .190
Indianapolis (AAA) 8 3 1.93 22 22 0 0 117 69 5 62 133 .175
Pittsburgh (MLB) 0 2 4.24 7 4 0 0 23 22 2 13 24 .250

4. Josh Bell, 1b/of | bba_video_icon_red

Born: Aug. 14 1992. B-T: S-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 240. Drafted: HS—Dallas, 2011 (2nd round). Signed by: Mike Leuzinger.

Background: Bell gained fame after signing for $5 million, a record for a second-round pick, after originally telling teams not to draft him because he wanted to attend Texas. He broke through to the majors in 2016 after a steady climb. The switch-hitter transitioned from right field to first base in 2015, allowing him to focus on hitting and letting his bat flourish.

Scouting Report: Bell has an advanced understanding of the strike zone, which allows him to work counts and get his pitch to hit. When he does, he makes hard contact to all fields, especially from the left side. He has the size and strength to be an above-average hitter with above-average power and is improving his approach and swing to be successful at the top level. Defensively, Bell has worked hard to improve his play at first base, but his range is limited and his hands are stiff. He is more comfortable in right field, where his strong arm mitigates a lack of range. He is not much of a threat on the bases.

The Future: Bell is in line to be the Opening Day first baseman for the Pirates but could eventually wind up back in right field, though Pittsburgh projects to have no vacancies there for years. He has a chance to be a middle-of-the-order regular, especially if he can increase his power output.

Indianapolis (AAA) .295 .382 .468 421 57 124 23 4 14 60 57 74 3
Pittsburgh (MLB) .273 .368 .406 128 18 35 8 0 3 19 21 19 0

5. Kevin Newman, ss | bba_video_icon_red

Born: Aug. 4, 1993. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 180. Drafted: Arizona, 2015 (1st round). Signed by: Derrick Van Dusen.

Background: Newman went from going undrafted following his senior year of high school in Poway, Calif., to being the 19th overall pick after three seasons at Arizona. He became the first player to win back-to-back batting titles in the Cape Cod League and followed by hitting .370 during his junior year before being drafted. He shook off a broken orbital bone in May to finish his first pro season in Double-A.

Scouting Report: Newman has an advanced feel for hitting and all the earmarks of a prototype No. 2 hitter, with an ability to work counts, take walks and make consistent contact. He could add more power to his game, but it’s unlikely Newman would ever hit more than 12-15 home runs a season. Regardless, he is a plus hitter who won’t need substantial power to supply offensive value. He also has above-average speed and good instincts on the bases, which he could eventually turn into stolen bases. Newman’s range and arm grade as merely average to slightly above-average at shortstop, but he is able to make plays in the hole and rarely misses the routine ones.

The Future: Newman likely will split the 2017 season between Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis, putting him in line to make his major league debut in 2018. He is the heir apparent to shortstop Jordy Mercer, who becomes a free agent after the 2018 season.

Bradenton (HiA) .366 .428 .494 164 24 60 10 1 3 24 17 12 4
Altoona (AA) .288 .361 .378 233 41 67 11 2 2 28 26 24 6

6. Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3b | bba_video_icon_red

Born: Jan. 28, 1997. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 210. Drafted: HS—Tomball, Texas, 2015 (1st round). Signed by: Tyler Stohr.

Background: Hayes’ father Charlie played third base in the major leagues for 14 seasons from 1988-2001. That included a stint with the 1996 Pirates before they traded him to the Yankees, who he helped win a World Series that fall. The Pirates chose Hayes 32nd overall in 2015, three slots higher than his father was selected by the Giants in 1983.

Scouting Report: Hayes has the potential to be an above-average hitter for both average and power, but scouts have to project a bit to get to that point. He uses an all-fields approach to spray drives from foul line to foul line and at times reads pitches well for a young hitter. He did not do that consistently enough to dominate at low Class A West Virginia in 2016, his first taste of full-season ball. Hayes began to show his power potential before a back injury caused him to miss the entire second half. His next step in that direction is learning how to drive breaking balls and changeups. Hayes has a strong arm and some teams wanted to draft him as a pitcher. He also has good instincts and hands at third base but is a below-average runner.

The Future: Hayes will return to West Virginia to start 2017 to make up for time lost time. A strong showing will cue him up for a quick promotion to high Class A Bradenton.

West Virginia (LoA) .263 .319 .393 247 27 65 12 1 6 37 16 51 6

7. Steven Brault, lhp

Born: April 29, 1992. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 200. Drafted: Regis (Colo.), 2013 (11th round). Signed by: Jim Gillette (Orioles).

Background: The Pirates acquired Brault and fellow lefthander Stephen Tarpley in a trade with the Orioles for journeyman outfielder Travis Snider in 2015. While Snider spent 2016 in the minors, Brault made his major league debut with the Pirates. It was the culmination of a stunning ascent for Brault, who three years earlier was majoring in music performance as an aspiring singer and just playing baseball on the side at the Division II level.

Scouting Report: Brault does not have a wipeout pitch. He succeeds by mixing three offerings and throwing them all for strikes with a deceptive, athletic delivery that features a low three-quarters arm slot. His fastball sits 87-90 mph and touches 92 with good sinking action. Some scouts give both his secondary pitches above-average grades. After throwing two breaking pitches earlier in his career, Brault now throws only a slider, and the pitch continues to improve along with an at-times plus changeup, which is becoming a better pitch against righthanders. An above-average athlete, Brault got hit in his first shot at the majors but attributed much of that to nerves. He also was uncharacteristically wild in 2016.

The Future: Brault has a shot to win a rotation spot in 2017 out of spring training. While his stuff is ordinary, he has the smarts to eventually become a reliable back-end starter.

Indianapolis (AAA) 2 7 3.91 16 15 0 0 71 66 6 35 81 .243
Pittsburgh (MLB) 0 3 4.86 8 7 0 0 33 45 5 17 29 .313

8. Cole Tucker, ss | bba_video_icon_red

Born: July 3, 1996. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 185. Drafted: HS—Phoenix, 2014 (1st round). Signed by: Mike Steele.

Background: The Pirates surprised many by selecting Tucker with the 24th overall pick in the 2014 draft, with the industry consensus that he was a second- to third-round talent. He signed for $1.8 million to pass up an Arizona commitment. Tucker’s father John played in the Cardinals system and is a member of the Florida high school baseball hall of fame.

Scouting Report: Tucker’s raw, projectable tools and off-the-charts makeup are what attracted the Pirates. They believe he has the potential to hit for above-average power because of his large frame, all while retaining the athleticism necessary to play shortstop. Tucker’s potentially average hitting ability has yet to truly manifest itself in pro ball, but he has shown enough flashes for the Pirates to keep faith, especially because he puts together solid at-bats from both sides of the plate. Tucker had shoulder surgery late in the 2014 season but continues to regain arm strength while showing solid range and hands. He is an above-average runner who is still learning to translate his speed into success on the basepaths.

The Future: Tucker will begin 2017 back at high Class A Bradenton after struggling as one of the younger players in the Florida State League in 2016. He still is a project, but his tools, athleticism and youth remain intriguing.

West Virginia (LoA) .262 .308 .443 61 9 16 4 2 1 2 4 9 1
Bradenton (HiA) .238 .312 .301 269 36 64 12 1 1 25 29 62 5

9. Will Craig, 3b | bba_video_icon_red

Born: Nov. 16, 1994. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 212. Drafted: Wake Forest, 2016 (1st round). Signed by: Jerry Jordan.

Background: The Royals drafted Craig in the 37th round out of a Tennessee high school, but he went to Wake Forest and became one of the most prolific hitters in program history. He capped a historic college run by hitting .379/.520/.731 with 16 home runs as a junior and ranked third in the nation in slugging. He also served as the team’s closer. The Pirates selected Craig with the 22nd overall pick in 2016 and signed him for $2,253,700.

Scouting Report: Craig is a thickly-built masher who many scouts compare with Billy Butler, who had a fine career, primarily as DH for the Royals. Like Butler, Craig is a below-average defender at third base and a slow runner. Craig does have a good blend of power and patience that give him a chance to be a successful hitter, though he has had trouble making the transition to wood bats. He struggled in the Cape Cod League in 2015 and hit just .280 with two home runs at short-season West Virginia in his pro debut. While throwing 94 mph fastballs out of the Wake Forest bullpen is testament to Craig’s plus arm strength, a lack of range will likely result in him eventually landing at first base.

The Future: The Pirates don’t have many power hitters in their system, and Craig will likely jump to high Class A Bradenton to begin 2017. Unless he makes significant improvements at third base, he fills no apparent role in the Pirates’ long-term plans.

West Virginia (SS) .280 .412 .362 218 28 61 12 0 2 23 41 37 2

10. Elias Diaz, c

Born: Nov. 17, 1990. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 210. Signed: Venezuela, 2008. Signed by: Rene Gayo/Rodolfo Petit.

Background: Diaz won the Captain’s Catcher Award in 2015, which is awarded annually by Baseball America to the top defensive catcher in the minor leagues. He also made his major league debut that September but was felled by a right elbow injury in 2016 spring training that required surgery. Diaz returned to action in July but batted just 128 times.

Scouting Report: Diaz is a glove-first catcher who wins high marks for his mobility behind the plate, strong arm and ability to work with pitchers. The total package makes him an elite defender. It remains to be seen if Diaz’s elbow surgery will have any long-term effects on his plus arm, but the Pirates’ medical staff is confident he should regain most of his strength by the beginning of spring training. Offensively he is a fringe-average hitter with below-average power at best, but Diaz has worked hard to become someone who can work counts, post a decent average and keep pitchers honest by popping an occasional ball into the gap.

The Future: Diaz will return to Triple-A Indianapolis for a fourth season in 2017 because the Pirates are set at catcher with veterans Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart. Diaz could move into a backup role in 2018, then could be ready to replace Cervelli once his contract expires after the 2019 season.

Bradenton (HiA) .391 .464 .522 23 6 9 0 0 1 5 4 2 0
Altoona (AA) .286 .375 .286 7 0 2 0 0 0 1 1 1 0
Indianapolis (AAA) .266 .289 .298 94 4 25  3 0 0 10 3 17 1
Pittsburgh (MLB .000 .000 .000 4 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 1 0

Last Year’s Pirates Top 10 Prospects

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