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The 25 most valuable Pirates

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SOUTH HILLS  – Back by popular demand is the Pirates’ 25 most valuable player list, which is essentially a trade value ranking.

This is not a list tied only to 2014 value, rather, it’s all-encompassing value ranking. The list takes into account present skills, future projection, age, contract (cost) and years of club control.

It contains a wide range of players from current Pirates’ regulars to prospects yet to play in Low-A ball, from ages 31 (Russell Martin) to 17 (Cole Tucker). It’s a balance between current production and future hopes.

 

TIER 1: THE UNTOUCHABLES  

Rank. Name. Position. (Previous rank from July 2013 rankings)

1. Andrew McCutchen, OF (1)

You could make an argument that Gregory Polanco has a chance to produce more surplus value over the next six years. You could argue for Gerrit Cole here as young, pre-arb aces are like blue diamonds, but I’m sticking with the NL MVP who is under club control over the next four seasons at below-market value. That’s hard to beat.

Polanco could produce more surplus value (actual compensation minus actual production in value by dollars) but McCutchen has a proven track record. He’s on track for a third straight 900+ OPS season and he’s actually getting better offensively, cutting strikeouts while adding walks. The batspeed and bat control is special. He’s improved his throwing arm. He can still run. And then there’s that steal of a contract. He produced a combined 15 WAR in 2012-13 and he’s on pace for a similar season. He’s one of the five most valuable assets in the game right now. If McCutchen averages six WAR over thru 2018 he could produce close to 100 million in surplus value. That’s insane.

2Gerrit Cole, RHP (2)

Cole must wonder what he has to do to move up on this list. Since the last ranking, all he did was go 4-1 in Sept. last season with a 10 k/9 and 2 bb/9, emerging as the Pirates’ top pitcher. He also won Game 2 of the NLDS as a rookie. Cole could be the next Justin Verlander. He’s under control through 2019. But there’s no such thing as a safe young pitcher and he could just as easily lose significant time to injury as he could blossom into a healthy No. 1 for 5+ year. Still, there’s too much talent and club control to ignore. If the Pirates want to advance into and win games in the postseason they need assets like Cole.

3. Gregory Polanco, OF (5)

I think we are the witnessing the first chapter of a special player, don’t you? Polanco has been compared to everyone from Dave Parker to Darryl Strawberry to Jim Thome (with speed). And after  week of in-person viewing, it should sound not so crazy. Even if Polanco just settles in as an above average player he’s going to be incredibly value and I’d be surprised if he’s not much more. You could argue he has five plus tools across the board, which is incredibly rare, combined with an advanced approach at the plate. However you want to juggle the top three names, it’s an impressive tier and as good as any in the National League.

 

TIER 2: ALMOST FAMOUS

4. Jameson Taillon, RHP (4)

Yes, in a redraft of 2010 draft the Pirates would surely take Manny Machado over Taillon. But even despite the Tommy John surgery, Taillon is still an extremely valuable asset. Before he was hurt this spring, some scouts were quoted as saying they preferred Taillon to Cole. Crazy talk? Probably. Still, Taillon is pretty awesome. Taillon doesn’t throw quite as hard as Cole but he has a superior breaking ball. Assuming he comes back from  TJ, he could profile as another top of the rotation arm under club control into next decade.

 

5. Starling Marte, OF (3)

I almost ranked Polanco ahead of Marte last year. I should have. I lack guts. Still, even if Marte never hits consistently his baserunning and defense should give the club a profit on the six-year arby-buyout deal. Marte is a rare athlete but his hit tool has been shaky enough to raise question marks about whether he’ll ever fulfill his offensive potential.

 

TIER 3: THE NEXT RUSSELL MARTIN? … A MID-ROTATION STARTER … AND AN ALL-STAR 2B?

6. Reese McGuire (12)

I was very aggressive with the ranking last year and my prospect crush has only grown this year. McGuire is the rare catcher in Single-A who gives scouts little doubt he can stick at catcher and excel there. He already has an above average arm and feel for game-calling. We’ll have to see about pitch framing but I’m betting he’s savvy enough to excel there, too. Oh, there’s also the smooth left-handed swing and control of the strike zone. I’m getting weak in the knees. We’ve seen what Russell Martin has meant to this team. McGuire can also be a two-way impact catcher with All-Star upside.

7. Charlie Morton, (NR)

Morton was just returning from TJ when this list came out last year and no player has improved his stock more. After leading MLB starters with a 63 percent groundball rate last year, Morton was rewarded with a 3y/21 million contract by the club, which will represent a bargain if he continues to pitch just as he has. If a third pitch develops, if he develops some more mechanical consistency, there might be more here but it’s still a very valuable package as an affordable rotation piece thru 2017. Perhaps not a huge upside, but you know Morton will delivery quality starts.

8. Neil Walker, 2B (15)

It’s too bad Walker landed on the DL because he was having an All-Star campaign and has improved his game in about every area offensively. He’s averaged 2.6 WAR over the last three seasons and he is might be ready for a jump to the 4-WAR level this season. We can nitpick the defense but he’s developed into a first-division player at an up-the-middle position. The Pirates might have missed their chance to lock him up and he’s not more valuable because he’s getting more expensive and closer to free agency. He’s a free agent after the 2016 season but could be worth 9 Wins Above Replacment before he reaches the open market.

 

TIER 4: THIS IS WHY THEY CALL IT A NO. 1 FARM SYSTEM

9. Tyler Glasnow (8)

I was aggressive with this ranking last year and despite some  control issue this year there’s too much dominance in his arm to ignore. He’s the poster boy for the Pirates’ philosophy of targeting projectable high school pitchers. This is a high -ceiling, low-floor bet. Glasnow might never materialize, he could get hurt, or simply become a late-inning reliever.  Still, he  has a chance to be one of the bigger draft steals of the Neal Huntington Era as a fifth-round pick in 2011. The 6-7 righty has top-of-the rotation upside.

10. Nick Kingham SP (Honorable mention)

While Glasnow has the higher ceiling, Kingham has the higher floor. His first start in Triple-A didn’t hurt his value. The command is as impressive as his size and feel for the changeup. Will the velocity get back to where it was a year ago? At the very least he projects as a future starting rotation piece.

11. Austin Meadows, OF (9)

A hamstring injury has prevented him from playing this season which is a bummer. His GCL debut last year was awesome and you can argue he has the most upside remaining of any player in the Pirates’ minor league system.

12. Alen Hanson 2B/SS (19)

There’s a lot to like about his game. He can run, hit, and hit with some surprising power. Scouts wonder whether he can stick at short. His future home is likely second base, and he could eventually be Walker’s replacement. But if he could stick at short, his value would spike.

 

TIER 5: THAT PERPLEXING CLIENT OF SCOTT BORAS

13. Pedro Alvarez, 3B (6)

I was touting Alvarez as Chris Davis 2.0 this spring and the funny thing is is that he has increased his walks, cut his Ks significantly and made better used the whole field. But the power has declined. Is that just a random lull or is that a product of his new approach? The other concern is the throwing. It’s become a chronic. He’s perhaps the most frustrating asset owned by the Pirates but he did lead the NL in homers last year and I think a breakout remains possible. He’s a free agent after the 2016 season and not likely to be part of the Pirates’ long-term plans given his agent.

 

TIER 5: LEFTIES

14. Tony Watson, LHP (NR)

He’s one of the best relievers in the game. Watson has been dominant and could be a future ninth-inning guy but he has less years of control reaming than you might think. He’s a free agent after the 2016 season.

15. Justin Wilson, LHP (14)

He’s a under control through 2018. He’s touched 100 mph and sits mid 90s. He’s a name teams will call about.

16. Jeff Locke, LHP (13)

Funny thing is this year is Locke is under performing his FIP. He might just be a No. 4/5 starter type, but he’s left-handed, in pre-arb years and has show the ability to miss more bats in 2014. The Nate McLouth trade netted a great return (Locke and Morton).

 

TIER 6: SHORTSTOP OF THE FUTURE, SHORTSTOP OF THE PRESENT

17. Cole Tucker, SS (N/A)

Tucker is the only 2014 draft pick on the list. Yes, he might have been something of a reach but he’s still one of the few players from the class projected to stick and shortstop and there is projection in the bat. His makeup is reportedly excellent and he’s really young (17), which is a big deal if you look at the success rates of 17- and 18-year-old draft picks. I’m intrigued.

18. Jordy Mercer, SS (20)

Yes, the bat has been too quiet for too long this season but there’s no way his LD rate can remain this low, and his contact skills remain in tact. He also might hit for some more power. More encouraging is that his defense and baserunning have improved and he is the club’s only clear option at short in the short term. He’s under club control through 2018.

 

TIER 7: THE 2013 FREE-AGENT SUPER BARGAINS

19. Russell Martin, C (14)

If you were creating a one-year value list, 2014 only, Martin is in the top tier. He means that much to this club, to this pitching staff, which is why with 3+ months of control left he’s still in the top 25 and teams would call if he was made available at the deadline.

20. Francisco Liriano, SP (16)

Liriano is ranked with 3+ months of control left because if he can return to 2013 form he could impact the second half of the season. Because of his affordable contract he would draw significant interest at the deadline if on the trading block.

 

TIER 8: PIECES AND PARTS AND UPSIDE

21. Josh Harrison 2B/3B/LF/RF/SS  (NR)

No player has elevated his stock more in 2014 and no Pirates has more positional versatility.  I think the batspeed is real. It’s been a fun rid.

22. Josh Bell, OF (HM)

There’s a reason Clint Hurdle had Bell travel with the Pirates to play  under the lights in Ft. Myers this spring as he had done with Polano years before, Hurdle was intrigued. Bell has put on an impressive slash line in the Florida State League. He could develop into an important trade chip.

23. Ike Davis, 1B (N/A)

The quest to fill the first base void ended with Davis who does bring real OBP skills to the table. But the bat is inconsistent, the power has disappeared, and he’ll have to iron out those issues over his last two years of control to make the trade worth while.

24. Tony Sanchez C (25)

I don’t know if he’ll ever be able to throw effectively, I have my doubts. His game-calling and pitching-framing are apparently adequate. He’s erased some questions about the bat. He could be the Pirates’ Opening Day catcher in 2015 though that would be a problem for the Pirates. Perhaps Sanchez could blossom into a C/3B/1B super utility player.

25t. Vanimal  SP (N/A)

Prisoner of the moment? Maybe. But Vance Worley has a 53-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 51 combined Triple-A and major league innings. He was once an effective mid-rotation pitcher for the Phillies. He’s only 26 and under club control through 2017. Could be a great bargain pitckup.

25t. JaCoby Jones, SS/OF (NR)

A lottery ticket. Plus athlete who has a raw game but who has turned some scouts’ heads this spring and is still playing shortstop.

– TS

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