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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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Comments

  1. NMR says:

    As with MLB Draft, this list is about twice as long as it needs to be.

  2. NMR says:

    Manny Machado has 1099 career PA.

    Through May of 2013 – 457 PA – he hit .300/.332/.484

    Since then – 642 PA – he’s hit .250/.287/.372

    I’m going to go ahead and let Jameson throw his first Major League pitch before claiming Manny Machado is a definitively better asset, given what the latter has done over the past year.

  3. rc says:

    Travis,
    I really like your writing and yours is the only sportswriter’s blog I read regularly. I’m glad you’re in Pittsburgh. That said, please get a proofreader on these blog posts.

  4. dcpinpgh says:

    Travis was probably scared that Manny would throw a bat at him if he didn’t say that

  5. Nate83 says:

    +++ I’m not sold on Machado’s bat. He has obvious value on defense and at worse he becomes a slightly better then league average hitter but we are talking about the number 2 overall pick in the draft. Taillon upside could still be tremendous and a pitcher always more valuable then a hitter in my opinion.

  6. Nate83 says:

    First of all I love the list and appreciate all the hard work. Now here is everything wrong with it :)

    Obviously when you make list like this it is impossible for everyone to agree 100%. I don’t think you should be to hard on yourself for not having the guts to put Polanco ahead of Marte at this time last year. Marte was off to a really nice start and Polanco had yet to have his awesome winter ball season or insane numbers in AAA. It’s impossible to project that at the time.

    I’m thrilled you move Reese and Morton up that much. Although I question if Morton could be that high when talking about value to other team wanting to trade for him. I wouldn’t know what to do with Pedro value wise so placing him smack dab in the middle is probably a good move. Next week he could be 7th or of the list all together. When I look at what the Angels got for Trumbo it’s hard to believe Pedro isn’t a little more valuable but this year he has slipped.

    Your Tier 5 is the one that I’m not sure on. I can’t see Watson and Wilson being near each other on this list. I have trouble moving any reliever up too much on the list so I’m inclined to say Wilson is ranked too high in my opinion. I also don’t feel like Locke has much value at this point. Yes he is a left handed starter but he has so many red flags that need to be disproven at this point for me to think any other team would give up much for him.

    My list would probably have Josh Bell and JaCoby Jones a little higher. I’m also glad you included Worley. It’s very early but he still has years (3.5) of control left and if he can become a number 4 starter he becomes very valuable. The most important players on this list to live up to their rankings in my opinion are Taillon, Kingham and Glasnow because homegrown pitching is just so important for small market teams. Also Reese because I personally value catchers more then most people.

    I guess I agreed more then I didn’t. Excellent job. Very good talking points.

  7. cmat0829 says:

    if Manny were with the Pirates, half of us would have him demoted to Indy… some would package him in a deal to get Huston Street… and we definitely would watch his facial expressions and hat-wearing very very closely. Like many young players, Marte included, he is having his ups and downs…good stats NMR, thanks for always providing that very helpful perspective… league has adjusted to Manny, we will see if he can adjust back. If not, I’ll roll the dice with Jameson.

  8. king of rock says:

    I appreciate your opinion Travis. (…and, I know it’s a blog, but the grammatical errors etc. kill me! Please take the two minutes to go back after you type these things and check it a little for us. Not looking for perfection, just a lil’ more of the professional writer thang) Not to criticize, I do enjoy what you bring.

  9. tomf says:

    few crtics are now mentioning Alarez facial expressions and the manner he wears his hat

    and the concerns are legit – Alvarez is currently a minus fielder and a minus batter

    he does appear to run the bases well – rare for this team

  10. Nate83 says:

    He has somehow managed a positive WAR of .6 while being bad at everything including wearing his hat and smiling. He needs to be better but lets not forget we haven’t given him any contracts above the minimum or what an arbitrator has decided. Everyone has put these unrealistic expectations on him as if he signed a Robinson Cano contract and has somehow let us down. I don’t know the exact numbers but he probably is outplaying historic value for overall number 2 overall draft picks.

    He is not a minus hitter he is minus power compared to what we want/need him to be. I’m not making excuses for the guy. I’m just not ready to say he will never amount to anything based on two months of below average play. He will determine his value over the next 2.5 years and then Pirates will have a decision to make. If he plays well he will probably price himself out of being a Pirate and could be traded before that time.

  11. NMR says:

    “First of all I love the list and appreciate all the hard work. Now here is everything wrong with it”

    Haha, loved this, Nate. Pretty much exactly my first thought. Lists like this just seem more interesting to discuss in disagreement, even though by no means does that indicate disapproval.

  12. NMR says:

    “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.”

    I love the optimism, but another one of your favorite shortstops says this isn’t necessarilly true:
    http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/milwaukee-brewers-jean-segura-struggling-to-produce/

  13. NMR says:

    As for the prospects:

    Josh Bell just keeps hitting, and now featuring legit power in games.

    Reese McGuire…it’s all I can take to keep biting my tongue on starting to question the bat. Absolutely love that he’s walking almost as much as he’s striking out, and he’s not striking out much at all. But man, there is almost an absolute lack of power. I’m dumb for scouting a stat line, but over two seasons now, you’d think if he was actually spraying line drives that SOME of them would end up in the gaps for two bases.

    Jacoby Jones was drafted with a bad swing that needed retooled and it doesn’t look like anything has changed. A bit old for true prospect status in the SAL and striking out at a 27% clip. That ain’t gonna cut it.

    Tony Sanchez…ugh…damning statement for the organization that he’s even on the list.

  14. Travis Sawchik says:

    Alvarez was really difficult to rank and likewise for the lefty arms, could make a lot of different arguments there and not be wrong. … I was tempted to just load up on prospects but then again you have to field a major league team. This was not mean to be analyzed completely in a vacuum.

    I apologize for the typos. Some days my editing is better than others (no editors for the blogs, obviously). Tried to clean some of them up.

  15. Travis Sawchik says:

    Perhaps. But the 25-man tradition began last year

  16. Travis Sawchik says:

    This list can’t wait for Taillon’s first pitch, unfortunately, and Machado has produced 8 WAR before turning 22

  17. Travis Sawchik says:

    Nice post, Nate

    Trumbo could be a good comp for Alvarez’s value … I could be light there. If we were doing this list in early April, Alvarez is in the top 8.

    You’re absolutely right the Pirates’ fortunes swing on those young arms.

  18. NMR says:

    +38 runs above average fielding
    -6 runs above average hitting
    +1 run above average running

    We’ll see how sustainable +31 fielding seasons are for third basemen.

  19. Travis Sawchik says:

    The WAR is skewed by perhaps some inflated defensive numbers but he’d be a shortstop in Pittsburgh, and I still believe in the bat. We’ll see. I’m certainly not anti-Taillon. I just love my middle-of-the-field performers who have offensive potential

  20. chethejet1 says:

    Unless there is a club out there that would overwhelm the Pirates for Alvarez, he is under the teams control until the end of 2016. With a window of an opportunity to do some damage depending on the pitching, Alvarez can be a valuable piece on the chess board.

  21. Nick R says:

    Great Read as usual, Travis. I’ve got a couple things to mention here on the prospect side of things, since that’s what I really pay attention too.
    I don’t think you got put JaCoby Jones on here without having Harold Ramirez on here. I know he’s injury prone, but I still like the upside. It might just be that I’m not that high on Jones, but oh well.
    Also, I think Mitch Keller, should be on here, as high as you have Tucker. During the draft, I almost liked Keller as much as Tucker. Cole’s grown on me a bit since, but I still don’t think there’s that big of a gap.
    As a little sidenote, I think that Adrian Sampson is someone who’s gonna be pretty high on this list next year. He’s having a great season. 2.00 ERA in 76.2 innings, with a 61:18 K/BB ratio. That’s pretty darn good. I think he’s legit. For some reason I really like this guy.
    **I apologize for any grammatical mistakes, I typed this up in a hurry on my phone :D thanks for reading

  22. Andrew says:

    In isolation I’m going to take a position player over a pitcher every time.

    If the Pirates drafted Machado he would have actually gotten AAA at bats, ergo he would have been a better hitter.

  23. Ray says:

    loved the list. My biggest disappointment in it is that I would hate to see Josh Bell be a trade chip. I would like to see him promoted to AA and go to either first or third base where we are really thin in talent. Hoping to see him be a very big part of the Pirates future.

  24. NMR says:

    He’s going to have a long, successful career. And I certainly won’t argue with your personal preferences. Just thought stating the Pirates themselves would surely agree with you was a bit strong.

    But as I said, these differences are what make lists like this interesting. I appreciate the debate, Travis.

  25. NMR says:

    He, as in Machado.

  26. NMR says:

    Conspicuously absent from the list: Luis Heredia.

  27. Steelkings says:

    That’s a streak, not a tradition

  28. Michael Schwarz says:

    Great list, but I’m surprised at Alvarez’s low ranking. I would think “proven clutch playoff performer” would count for something if we’re trying to gauge trade value.

  29. Nate83 says:

    No need to apologize. It’s a blog and I’m not grading you so it really doesn’t make a differance to me. I’m sure you guys have more on your plate then ever before with the need of instant news and multi-media. I’m certainly not going to get hung up on something you put on a free service web site and probably worked extra hours to complete.

  30. Nate83 says:

    I noticed that as well but really can’t take issue with it. 2 years removed from showing us anything that resembles a high end prospect. Although T. Sanchez is pretty well defined in my opinion so based on just the slim possibility that Heredia developes into something special maybe he belongs on the list instead of Sanchez.

  31. NMR says:

    Oh I most certainly agree with Travis in leaving him off.

    The last thing Heredia has done to justify top prospect status was sign a multi-million dollar contract.

  32. Steelkings says:

    I dont see Edison Volquez on the list…..

  33. Andrew says:

    It takes time to re-establish value.

  34. The Gunner says:

    or Grilli, Steel

  35. Nate83 says:

    Trade value is a heavy consideration on who is on this list. Edison hasn’t re-established himself enough to have much value and his contract is only until the end of this year. That is the only reason Martin is so low on the list. He easily is more valuable then his ranking on this list.

  36. Nate83 says:

    How quick people forget about that. I’ve heard so many posting this year that he has never and will never hit in pressure situations. Guy showed up for most the imprortant games in 21 years for this franchise. I wonder if he had 16 HR’s with the same batting average if the same negative comments would going on. I think his average is actually higher then it was at this time last year and his OBP is considerable higher.

  37. Nate83 says:

    Well DK did write that glowing column about the kid. You know the one about how athletic he was and him taking shortstop practice before games and looking like he could do anything in the world. Less then 24 months later he became fat and lazy. DK also picked Tabata as a break out player in 2011. I’m sure there are other examples. Is there a DK jinx just like the Madden cover.

    Watch out Dri Archer your career may be really short. Save that money.

  38. NMR says:

    Steel’s just getting all his snarky comments in before Volquez rings off another run of quality starts. We didn’t hear much from him after Edinson’s five previous outing, did we?

  39. Nate83 says:

    Where’s that guy who predicted 67 wins this year and was telling us he told us so back around May 1st? They would have to go 32-58 the rest of the way to reach that win total.

  40. RobertoForever says:

    Travis, love all the info here.

    And fwiw, I would rather have more infor like this, WITH the typos and grammatical errors, versus the alternative – less of this but perfect English.

    And I am a former newspaper editor! I can bear the minor, minor distractions.

    Thanks again. Love the info and the great convos, esp nate, Andrew, cmat and countless others

  41. NMR says:

    Oh I’m just trying to jag him around a bit. He’s been too quiet lately!

  42. Nate83 says:

    I wasn’t referring to Steel with that comment. I think it was another person who only stops in when things are going bad that made that prediction. Steel always says it how it is and backs it up with why he feels that way which I always respect.

    I’m not even coming close to comparing him to somebody who just comes in here rants about everything bad about the Pirates. Makes inaccurate comments about every player on the team and disappears.

  43. NOT BLINDED BY LAST YEAR says:

    if you’re talking about me nate here is my prediction from march and most of it came true (walker is hitting better and the pirates hit 8 games under in may)

    NOT BLINDED BY LAST YEAR
    March 27, 2014 at 8:05 pm
    The pirates will finish in 4th place behind the cardinals, reds and brewers. cole will have the most successful season of the pitchers and finish 15-12. liriano pitches like he did 2 yrs ago. morton pitches ok and finishes 14-15, wandy gets hurt again, volquez continues to pitch like he has in spring training and the past four yrs. thallion ends up getting arm surgery before the end of the year. the bullpen gets overworked and slips considerably from last yr.
    cutch has a good yr, pedro continues to be streaky and his k’s increase from last yr. walker still cant hit from both sides and continues his slide, mercer plays horrible and shows he’s not an everyday player. marte has a sophomore slump and tabata/snider and sanchez play like they have for the last few yrs… inconsistent.
    the pirates have made NO MOVES to improve this team from the end of last yr and their play will show that. they will be 10 games under .500 by the end of may.

    so if i’m only on here to be negative, maybe i’m on here being realistic

  44. NOT BLINDED BY LAST YEAR says:

    also with the pirates track record 32-58 isn’t out of the question with a suspect bullpen. the pirates record the past 3 yrs in july, august and sept:

    2013
    july 14-12 aug 14-14 sept 15-12 = 43-38

    2012
    july 17-9 aug 11-17 sept 7-21 = 35-47

    july 2011
    july 13-13 aug 8-22 sept 10-16 = 31-51

  45. Travis Sawchik says:

    Thanks, Roberto.

    I always enjoy your comments. For which newspaper were you an editor?

 
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