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Monday Mop-Up Duty: Pirates’ top 10 prospects and Under 25 talents

SOUTH HILLS – Sorry I’m a little tardy with this today, folks. But better late than never, right? Before we get to the early holiday gifts that are the Pirates’ top 10 prospect  list  and 25U talent rankings from Baseball America, which were published online today, I thought I’d share this piece on Rene Gayo I wrote for Baseball America.

 

Teams are always looking for edges in the market place and Gayo has given the Pirates a competitive advantage in Latin America.

 

While teams like the Cubs and Rangers have recently spent millions on signing bonuses for teenage Latin America prospects, Gayo has been one of the best at finding value in the Latin America market. Consider this: he signed Gregory Polanco – Baseball America’s No. 1 Pirates prospect – Starling Marte, and Alen Hanson for a combined $300,000.

For $300,000, less than the major league minimum, Gayo signed three of the Pirates’ top eight Under 25 talents, according to Baseball America. That’s incredible value.

 

polanco

Polanco is the second most valuable u25 asset in the system

 

BASEBALL AMERICA’S TOP TEN UNDER 25 TALENTS IN PIRATES’ SYSTEM

1. Gerrit Cole, 23

2. Gregory Polanco, 22

3. Starling Marte, 25

4. Jameson Taillon, 22

5. Tyler Glasnow, 20

6. Austin Meadows, 18

7. Nick Kingham, 22

8. Alen Hanson, 21

9. Josh Bell, 21

10. Reese McGuire, 19

 

 

How does Gayo do it? In part it’s an eye for projection. In part it’s because he has developed a prototype over his 20 years of experience : he wants athletes who are competitive and can barrel up pitches.

 

But Gayo told me he’s also simply willing to outwork teams and added that only seven or eight major league clubs have competent Latin American operations.

 

“He’ll go in the hood if he has to,” Nationals international scouting director Johnny DiPuglia said. “A lot of guys won’t do that. They won’t stay at hotels with no cable, no TV, dirty running water. I’ve done it. I try to avoid it now. I’ve done it plenty of times. I got tired of getting bacteria in my stomach.”

 

Gayo has made a key impact on the Pirates’  rich farm system and because of his value signings the Pirates might not be as affected as much by the international spending cap. For instance, the Rangers singed Ronald Guzman and Nomar Mazara for $9.5 combined two years ago. Gayo has never spent more than $3 million in a year on prospects.

 

STARTING NINE THOUGHTS … 

 

9.  I agree with much of Baseball America’s top 10 prospect list:

1. Polanco

2. Taillon

3. Glasnow

4. Meadows

5. Kingham

6. Hanson

7. Bell

8. McGuire

9. Ramirez

10. Heredia

 

8. I  like Polanco as the No. 1 prospect. Polanco is a potential five-tool talent who is the best outfielder defender and is best pure hitter in the system. He also has above-average speed, an above-average arm and the potential for above-average power.

 

I also agree that Polanco is the second most valuable U25 talent in the system. Yes, ahead of Marte. What’s the separator? Polanco has a much better control of the strike zone. He could be a potential lead-off hitter for the Pirates.

 

7. The Taillon-Glasnow debate is a lot closer than anyone could have imagined back in the spring.

 

It’s not so much a knock against Taillon as it’s a testament to the amazing season by Glasnow as the 6-foot-7 projectable righty posted unreal H/9 and K/9 rates. He has a mid 90s fastball and the potential for three plus pitches. The question is will the command come.

 

At the end of May, I sat with scouts watching Cole’s final Triple-A start. One NL scout said  he liked Taillon better than Cole so there’s still plenty to be excited about regarding Taillon. His offspeed development is ahead of Cole’s at the same age and keep in mind Taillon did not have very good defenses behind him this year.

 

The Pirates went pitching heavy in the 2009-10 draft.

 

6. Meadows and McGuire, the Pirates’ two first-round picks in June, each had encouraging beginnings to their pro careers. I might bump up McGuire a notch or two as he projects as an above-average to elite defender and he showed a smooth lefty swing and excellent command of the strike zone.

 

5. Don’t forget that Meadows was once projected as a top 3 pick in the June draft. But after a down spring as a prep senior, he could be a draft steal.

 

 

4. I think the player with the most helium potential is Josh Bell. There are not many switch-hitters with his power and athleticism. While the Pirates are light on close-to-the-majors impact infielders, they are loaded with outfield talent.

 

And there is so little power in the game right now, a player like Bell could become incredibly valuable

 

3. One prospect who saw his stock drop was Luis Heredia. He didn’t show up in great shape last year, according to reports, and saw his performance drop. Still, the $2.6 million intl signee is loaded with size and projection but he’s got to miss more bats.

 

2. Because there’s such a premium on power, my favorite prospect not ranked in the top 10 is Stetson Allie. While he struggled in his promotion to High-A, I thought his transition from pitcher to hitter went extremely well and he has impressive power. Maybe he’ll never have bat-to-ball contact ability but it seemed his walk rate was decent given his inexperience against high-level pitching.

 

1. While we can debate moving prospects up or down a few spots, at the end of the day there few systems with the depth of impact talent that the Pirates posses. It’s a combination of value finds in the Latin American market and from over-slow signings and a strong first round in the 2014 draft.

 

Yes there’s going to be attrition, but this list should allow the Pirate to have a lengthy competitive window.

 

HE SAID IT 

 

STAT OF THE WEEK: $29 million

Carlos Ruiz signed a three-year, $29 million deal on Monday. And it’s not a bad value signing for the Phillies. Free agency prices are soaring, there’s so much cash in the game.

 

NON-BASEBALL RECOMMENDATION OF THE WEEK

I’ve been looking for a good value pizza joint and I think I might have found it in Slice on Broadway. If you have any other suggestions in the South Hills I’d love to hear them.

 

- TS

56 Comments

  1. Molly’s Pizza is decent on Potomac and they have a $6.99 large cheese takeout special Monday and Tuesday — perfect for a small-market pizza eater. Question about Polanco. Do you see him leading off, have some in the organization said that? I know Barry Bonds was a leadoff hitter early. His speed and improving discipline could help him there, though I’ve never thought of him atop the lineup. Thx, JT

    • I live in Indy and got to watch Polo play the last two games. Offensively, everything about him reminded me of Alfonso Soriano (except from the other side). His body type, his stance and his swing. So much so, that when you compare pictures of the swing motion, its amazing.
      I’m not sure the 22 year old is ready to contribute in ’14 though. His lack of AAA experience will be a factor. Look at it this way. McCutchen spent 200 plus games in Indy before becoming a full time Pirate. Marte spent over 100 games in Indy after a full season at AA and a season of fall ball. And I think Marte came up then because the Pirates defensively didn’t have anyone else that could defend the 5000 acres PNC provides in left field.

      • There is also another factor in bringing Polanco up to the Pirates mid season. This wont be like the times when Cutch, Marte, and even Cole came up. Those days fans expectations were a little lower. Now that the Pirates have been in a playoff series, if the Pirates are in a pennant race, the fans will not tolerate a slow start from a 23 year old right fielder. Hope he cant read english.

      • Whatever similarities exist between their appearance, swings etc … Soriano never came close to displaying the kind of plate discipline and command of the strike zone that Polanco has thus far.

        Polanco is on track to becoming a much more complete hitter than Soriano ever was. I’m really looking forward to seeing him in PNC sooner rather than later.

        As justifiably upbeat as everyone is about the Pirates depth in starting pitching, they’ve got quite a nice set of outfielders coming up through the system.

        • Great comment on the outfield depth. Also several legit catching options, as well.

        • NPF…totally agree. Polanco’s plate discipline is what excites me.

          I wonder if he might even go North with us in April?

          • Too risky mentally for an April trip north to PNC. There are contract ramifications as well. Hopefully Tabata and ……….Jones?/Lambo make him unnecessary. I’ll watch him develop here in Indy for a while ;)

          • The current FO has been pretty good about pushing prospects up the ladder as soon as they’re ready, but Polanco moving from AA to the majors at 22… that would be unprecedented even for these guys.

        • We all know Polanco is a really good athlete and toolsy prospect but it’s the plate discipline that makes him a really exciting prospect. A 36-36, strikeout-to-walk ratio at Double-A is really impressive, especially since he improved his eye in making the jump from High-A

          • Perhaps I don’t put as much stock into AA stats as others do. McCutchen when in AA had a 2-1 K to BB ratio. Tabor Lee (Who?) put up the same numbers as Polanco with a 39-39. Where the heck is he?

            I have been told that in order for a pitcher to jump to AAA he must have better command of his breaking pitches or throw FB’s consistently 90+. With that you have to figure there are going to be a fair share of balls. Lets see if he is able to maintain that 1-1 for the next 100 games.

          • @Steelkings

            The way I understand these things, it’s not necessarilly the stats themselves that are impressive, its the way the stats back up the scouting reports that matters.

            Just about every guy that sees Polanco seems to believe he’s an outstanding athlete with a sound swing and quick batspeed. THAT is what makes him attractive. Add to that his ability to hit for average and show flashes of power and you have a good prospect. Add to that his excellent control of the strike zone, as evidenced by his walk and strikeout numbers, and you have a great prospect. Add to that the fact that he’s done this over multiple levels at a young age, including the jump to AA which scouts seem to think is most difficult, and you have one of the top prospects in baseball.

            It is his ability to adjust over levels that leads scouts to believe he will be successfull.

        • Amen, North Side. Soriano as a hitter has about as much plate discipline as Starling Marte. He has not really improved in that regard. Polanco drew as many walks as he had strikeouts at AA last year. As a result, he has a chance to hit .300 with a .400 OBP at some point in the not too distant future.

          • @ NMR
            I’m not down on Polanco at all. In fact me saying he reminded me of Soriano was meant to be a complement. My only concern is that he is 22 years old. We cannot be in a hurry to push him to the bigs. August is soon enough. Give him a chance to be successful every step along the way.

    • Thanks for the recommendation, Jim

  2. Try Fiore’s. You won’t be disappointed

  3. Excited to watch Glasnow and Kingham grow this year.

    • I have been a HUGE Kingham fan. I like him as one of our Top pitchers. Barring injury, he should be a rotation horse!

    • The Pirates’ depth of right-handed pitching is pretty remarkable. I’m really curious to see what Glasnow does in making the jump. He could pass Taillon, which is crazy

    • Glasnow’s already 6’7″. If he grows any more, he could be taller than Randy Johnson. Oh, you mean grow as in development, Steve! Just kidding. I agree with you. I believe Kingham is a real sleeper. His control appears to be excellent, and he’s still young. A lot of organizations would be counting him as their top pitching prospect!

      Glasnow is so intriguing. I mean, who gets half their outs as strikeouts at his age at any level? Throw in the fact that he also gave up less than 1/2 a hit per inning, and it works out to 3 whiffs for every hit allowed. The possibilities are endless for this kid.

  4. First off, excellent job on the Rene Gayo article, Travis.

    Now to the prospects…man, where to start. Often the best way to judge a system is to answer past critical questions. Impact talent? Check. Depth? Check. High-round draft picks? Check. Low-round draft picks? Check. International prospects? Check. Pitching? Check. Hitting? Check. Premium positions? Check. High-level propects? Check. Low level prospects? Check.

    These are all questions I’ve asked in the last 10 years. Honestly, can somebody come up with any criticism at all?

    • NMR…and just last year some columnist (what WAS his name?) was calling for NH’s head.

      Hoka Hey!

      • For what its worth, I would’ve been fine moving on from Huntington last Fall. It was time to put a Major League team together, and I didn’t believe he was the man for the job.

        Can’t tell you how much I love being wrong.

        • And some of us could see the gems below the ‘dirt’.

          Don’t get me wrong…I am wrong a lot, too. But I ‘devoured’ Pirate prospect reports and I could see NH was building a ‘monster’.

          Of course, I thought AJ and Frankie were bad signings and Cole was over-rated….lol

          (btw, I see what is going on with the posts…I get emails and it says ‘to reply, click this link’. I just assumed I was replying to the post in the email, but apparently it just takes me to the bottom-most post)

          • I wish I could say I was there with you at this time last year, leefoo. I was so disillusioned, frustrated and angry at yet another late season collapse in Pittsburgh in ’12 that I allowed it to cloud my judgment about where this organization was with development for a few monts. But, then I took a deeper dive last winter via Pirates Prospects, as you say, and I was quickly on board with how well things were going. I believe this system is now as strong as any in MLB. Time wil tell, but I believe something very special is going on.

    • It’s an elite system. I think the only hole is a lack of impact infielders. Alen Hanson is one, but can he stick at short?

      • I’m a bit more concerned about the lack of good prospects at the infield corners. First base is a big problem for the team right now and I don’t any help there now or in the near future and Pedro isn’t goign to be around forever …

        Who’s most likely of the OFs to get moved to first, Lambo?

        • Alex Dickerson could be in line for a cup of coffee this September, although I’m not sure if you consider him an outfielder or 1B.

          But yeah, Lambo looks like he’ll be the first outfielder to get a shot in some way.

      • Ah yes, thats fair. The one position even the mighty Cardinals can’t develop.

        I’m not so much worried Hanson won’t stick at short as I am worried his bat won’t carry his defensive liabilies. Reports seem to say he has the tools but not the consistancy. That ain’t gonna change by moving to 2nd base.

        If the Pirates were ever going to draft for need, I could see targetting a polished college shortstop with their first pick this year.

      • Giving up Herrera stung a little for me on the infielder side, Travis. I guess it may not matter if Hanson ends up a 2b, but I hate giving up prospects. I was ok for it this year to increase the playoff chances, but I really hate developing talent for other teams. The Pirates cannot give up a few key prospects each year and hope to sustain this thing, IMO.

  5. Travis…if you’re ever in the Harrisburg area, I know of at least THREE fantastic Pizza Joints, esp Pizza Grille. I have come to LOVE Salmon on my Pizza!

  6. Travis…good writeup. If you’re talking power, why are you ignoring the guy ‘voted’ having the MOST power, one Andrew Lambooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo?

    Also found it interesting that even Wyatt “.575 OPS” Mathisen beat out Jose Tabata for Top 15 under 25. Maybe he thought Jose was actually 31 or just forgot he is still only 25?

    • Lee, they might have forgotten about Tabata. He probably deserves a spot between 10-15.

      Lambo has power and might get a chance to be a platoon partner in 2014, but because of his advanced age, 25, for Triple-A in 2013, his prospect status takes a hit.

    • I think the general feeling around baseball is that while nobody’s been able to prove it, Jose Tabata is likely closer to age 31 than 25. He can produce any document he wants and I won’t believe his official age as everything from his physical appearance, his development path to his personal history speaks to him being much older than he claims.

  7. Btw, all these prospects that Gayo has brought in almost makes up for him losing us Sano (IF you can believe that part of the story).

    I’m not sure we’ll EVER know the truth.

    • This disappoints me. Have you ever read or seen a single word written against Gayo OTHER than in that dramatization, Pelotero?

      The man gets his name drug through the mud, and all because of a movie that has never been substantiated.

  8. And some of us could see the gems below the ‘dirt’.

    Don’t get me wrong…I am wrong a lot, too. But I ‘devoured’ Pirate prospect reports and I could see NH was building ‘monster’.

    Of course, I thought AJ and Frankie were bad signings and Cole was over-rated….lol

  9. NMR….agree !

  10. It’s Taber a puzzling middle infield prospect who stood out under the last regime as one of the few Pirate prospects who was willing to draw walks … unfortunately that was all he could do at the plate. A shame really, had he merely been able to put up a measly .260 average he could have been a solid leadoff candidate.

  11. One last comment on top 10 prospects, Travis – Bell is a huge breakout candidate for me this year. I felt like once he got completely healthy last year, he started tearing it up on a regular basis. I believe over the next 2 years a whole lot of those doubles are going to become HRs. He may get too big to play OF at some point. But, it is not as if we have a ton of big-time 1b prospects on the way.

    • Come on, Jim, plenty more to talk about! Great topic…

      I’m going to differ on breakout prospect. I worry that Bell’s swing is stil too raw for advanced pitching. My breakout position player prospect is Barrett Barnes. More athletic and polished than Bell, and only one year older.

  12. Travis — hoping that McGuire works out.

    I AM CONCERNED ABOUT CATCHING.

    Thinking that Russell Martin bolts for BIG $$ after 2014….not sure what Tony Sanchez is bringing. What else do we have in between???

    • I wish they could talk to Russell right now about adding a 3rd year. I don’t know what it would take, but $10 million would be worth it to me. I believe the pipeline of catchers is starting to fill up, JoeyBats. There are some intriguing prospects between Sanchez & McGuire – Wyatt Matthieson and Jin de Jhang (I know I’m probably butchering the spelling!) come to mind quickly.

    • Martin may not be hear after next year but I think the glow of the 2013 season is clouding some of the judgement of some Pirate fans as to actual value of the individual players who contributed to it.

      I doubt there are “big buck” out there for a light hitting, defensive minded catcher over the age of thirty who’s in the midst of consecutive years of decline at the plate.

  13. I think this list is impressive given the names that DON’T appear. Not a stretch what-so-ever to imagine Andrew Lambo, Tony Sanchez, Alex Dickerson, Stolmy Pimentel, Kyle McPherson, Phil Irwin, Brandon Cumpton contributing in the next year or two.

    They may not be stars, but they’re league minimum players who would likely be just as good as aging veteran free agents in their resptive roles. Thats money that can be used elsewhere.

    • That really is the key NMR. Getting too the point where we have internal league minimum players to either come off the bench or contribute at a level good enough to pass for everyday players that don’t hurt you. Almost every good team has 2 or 3 everyday players that are average players that are not going to be the key to winning but also won’t be a black holes in the lineup offensively or defensively. Paying those guys league minimum instead of 5.5 million for Barmes type players allows you to allocate money elsewhere.

      Plus the number of young power arms they have allows for them to build a bullpen for very cheap without really spending much above minimum on anybody. They really have positioned themselves well. Never thought that would be said 15 months ago.

      I would like to see DK revisit his thoughts from as early as 8 months ago that the “collapse” was a organizational depth issue. He wasn’t the only person on that side of the fence (probably in the majority) but I said then that it was because those who contributed all year just didn’t continue doing that. Players who came up that year such as Marte, McPhearson, Locke and maybe a few others did not perform badly and the players that came by trade didn’t perform badly. Cutch, Pedro, Walker, Jones and others disappeared. More importantly the pitching just fell apart except for Wandy.

  14. Wooooooo Nelly! Okay, okay, everybody’s pleased with the 2013 results, everyone has positive vibes about everyone associated with that team but let’s not start doing foolish things based on our euphoria.

    Russel Martin did some good stuff last year but let’s not lose sight of the fact that not only was he pretty much a no show on the offensive side of the game, which is the biggest obstacle for this team going forward, in addition to the fact he saw his third consecutive year of decline at the plate, he’s on the wrong side of thirty and as right handed hitter not likely to get any better …

    So while his signing turned out to be more helpful than most people thought it would be, 10 million a year for a defensive back stop is not something the Pirates should be considering. Indeed the 8.5 million they’re already paying him next year is more than his actual value to the team at this point.

    • If you look at wRC+ over at Fangraphs Martin was about as close as it gets to an average offensive catcher. His wRC+ was 101. For those unfamiliar with the scale, 100 is exactly average.

      As has been reported and much discussed he had a fantastic defensive year. Fangraphs rates him as the top defensive catcher in baseball during the 2013 season. Defensive metrics are imperfect and quantifying catcher defense perhaps especially so. That said it’s there’s a wealth of available information to suggest he was one of the best defensive catchers in the league up there with Molina and Salvador Perez. There’s also the value that he adds with his pitching framing.

      Ultimately I think it’s a question of just how valuable are all of those contributions. I think there’s an argument to be made that he was worth every dollar of that 8.5 million last season.

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