Tomorrow is the start of the 2015 minor league season. The Pirates have four full-season teams and then three additional short-season teams that start up in June. There are prospects that you have probably heard a great deal about — names such as Jameson Taillon and Nick Kingham, both of whom may debut in Pittsburgh this year. There’s the 6′-8″ gigantor manchild, Tyler Glasnow, with the blazing fastball, killer curve, and oozing upside. Hitters such as 1B prospect Josh Bell and OF Austin Meadows have been discussed more frequently, too.
But every year, there are some players that seemingly come out of nowhere and put themselves on the radar for prospect watchers and MLB teams alike. Not every player that pops up during a season is destined to be a star, but if a guy who was drafted as a project is developed into a useful contributor, that’s a big win. To that end, here are five players that I think have shown signs of being interesting to track in 2015:
JOHN SEVER, LHP (21)
Sever was a 20th round pick in the 2014 draft, which automatically makes him a player that not much is expected of, out of Bethune-Cookman. Sever is a rare commodity in the Pirate system — a left-handed pitcher — and possesses the long, lean “projectable” frame (6′-5″, 190) that the Pirates like to develop.
In 40 innings, Sever allowed just 30 hits, walked 17, and struck out an eye-popping 63. His arsenal consists of a 90-92 mph fastball, developing changeup, and a below-average slider. As with all minor leaguers, especially ones drafted in the 20th round, he needs to refine his secondary pitches. Sever will start at Low A West Virginia, but it wouldn’t be completely surprising if the Pirates jump him to High A Bradenton midseason if his performance replicates his 2014 debut.
KEVIN KRAUSE, C (22)
Like Sever, Krause was drafted in 2014. He was drafted in the 9th round out of the non-hotbed school of SUNY Stony Brook. The next person that I hear of that attended SUNY Stony Brook will be the second. Both Krause and the more ballyhooed draft pick, Taylor Gushue, were drafted as catchers and both assigned to short-season Jamestown. Krause caught 20 games, while Gushue was behind the plate for 36.
What made many take notice of Krause, though, was his loud season with the bat. He batted .276 AVG/.363 OBP/.560 SLG (923 OPS) with 7 HR in 39 games played. Both players should be moving up to Low A West Virginia in 2015. Clearly, Gushue has the higher profile and will receive the bulk of time catching, so Krause will also be playing some corner outfield.
Krause is currently out with an elbow injury, so he won’t be debuting right away.
CHAD KUHL, RHP (22)
In recent years, the Pirates have taken one college-drafted pitcher and then skipped him over Low A into High A for his first full-season assignment. They did it in 2009 with Justin Wilson and in 2013 with Adrian Sampson. Last season, the Pirates placed 2013 9th round pick Chad Kuhl in High A Bradenton and he performed quite well. Kuhl pitched 153 innings, allowed 141 hits, walked only 42, and struck out 100.
Kuhl is a command-and-control style of pitcher that relies on a heavy 91-93 mph sinker and a workable changeup against lefties. He doesn’t have a true out pitch, instead relying on a pitch-to-contact philosophy. Kuhl will be at Double A Altoona this season and has the upside of a #4 starter, similar in mold to Adrian Sampson. That may not sound glamorous, but it definitely has potential future value to the Pirates.
JHONDANIEL MEDINA, RHP (22)
Medina was not originally Pirates’ property, as he was originally signed by the Orioles back in 2009. He came to the Pirates in a trade in 2013 for the immortal Yamaico Navarro and has been used purely as a reliever. In 2014, Medina pitched 50 innings, allowed just 30 hits, and struck out 47 on his way to a crazy 0.72 ERA at High A. Medina did walk 29, which is an issue, but he didn’t give up a homer last year, either.
Medina throws a 93 mph fastball and complements it with a fringy slider. One downside (coming from a true size-ist) is that he is only listed at 5′-11″, which doesn’t portend a lot of future success. Medina will also be promoted to Double A, which will be a true barometer on his long-term future, as it does with most prospects.
JULIO VIVAS, RHP (21)
This one is the darkest of dark horses. Vivas pitched as a 20-year old in 2014 in the Rookie Gulf Coast League, plus a cameo in short-season Bristol. His peripherals over the season were fantastic — 26 innings, 21 hits allowed, just 2 walks, and 29 strikeouts. Unlike Medina, Vivas does possess good size at 6′-2″.
Vivas throws primarily a low 90’s fastball and average curve. The Pirates are showing their faith in Vivas by pushing the age-21 pitcher to High A Bradenton to start the season.