Yesterday, Kevin penned a piece on the how the Pirates’ minor league system is having a down year and that it likely will have an impact on what the Pittsburgh Pirates can do at the trade deadline. He’s dead on. With the heavy graduation of top prospects who the Pirates should not trade and the mediocre performances of some of their other more highly regarded picks and breakout candidates, the system isn’t exactly as eye catching as it used to be. Of course, there have been some solid performances if you dig a little deeper.
While most of the star potential is certainly backloaded in the system with the 2016 and 2017 high school picks, a lot of times raw stats aren’t the only things to consider. The age of a player relative to the rest of the level is very telling. A 24 year old mashing anywhere in the state of West Virginia should be considered suspect, but a 20 year old struggling in the FSL should be taken with a grain of salt. You also need to consider that the Pirates are attempting to develop solid major leaguers, not outstanding AA players. We as fans aren’t privy to information like whether player X got jacked in the last four starts because he’s throwing his underdeveloped change 35% of the time or player Y is struggling at the plate because he’s trying to fix a hole in his swing. That’s why I like to look for improvement within season and from year to year.
For the first time in a long time, the Indianapolis Indians roster is full of considerably more AAAA roster filler than even marginal prospects. There are some notable highlights. While Max Moroff has struggled in the majors, he made light work of AAA pitching, posting a new career high for homers in fewer than 200 PAs this season. He needs more time in Pittsburgh, but he was third in the International League in OPS at the time of his call up, ahead of some considerably more heralded same aged prospects. Jordan Luplow might be the story of the system. He started hot in Altoona and the hot hitting has continued in albeit fewer than 100 plate appearances in Indy. He’s always hit well in stretches, usually at the end of seasons in his minor league career leading to a level of intrigue, but he’s breaking out over the bulk of a season for the first time. If there is a player with improving trade value, it’s Luplow. On the pitching side, Steven Brault has been excellent for the Tribe and Drew Hutchison has been the most promising minor league piece of last summer’s Francisco Liriano trade.
There isn’t much to write home about in Altoona this season. They have a number of slightly overaged starting pitchers that haven’t alternated between effectiveness and getting bombed. They also have a number of bats who have, at times, impressed and struggled others. While he’s been out for over a month, Kevin Kramer put a down payment on a break out season prior to injury. He’s the right age for the level and doubled his ISO. Problem is, he also nearly doubled his K rate as well. Still, he had a spike in power and plays half his games in a home park not kind to lefties. Recent arrival Cole Tucker was a first round pick. He performed quite well in A+ for a 20 year old after recovering from a slow start. No one will confuse him for a power hitter, but the pop is improving and should play at short, a position he’s showing no signs of needing to move off of. When I consider his age and the fact that he lost half a season to a significant shoulder injury, I think he compares pretty favorably to some of the shortstops at the back of BA’s top 100.
Again, this roster has quite a few players that are too old for their level, but the ones that are have some big names. Will Craig didn’t get off to a terrible start to the season, but he didn’t hit the way you’d like a first round pick chained to first base at the age appropriate level to hit either. He’s picked it up considerably since the start of June. Mitch Keller should probably move to AA shortly. Ke’Bryan Hayes has been not so good, but again he’s two years too young for the level, though his dearth of power is alarming. It’s worth noting that’s he putting on a strong finish here in July. Taylor Hearn had an up and down season prior to his season ending injury, but I think he’s more likely to settle into a starting position job now than I did at the beginning of the season. Pedro Vasquez, half of the Arquimedes Caminero return, has the look of an innings eater. He doesn’t throw particularly hard or strike many guys out, but he limits his mistakes posting a BB/9 under two so far this year. Dario Agrazal earned a promotion with similar numbers to Vasquez.
While no level in the system looked particularly exciting heading into the season, I often skipped the Power’s April box scores on my nightly minor league check ins. It’s been slightly better than I thought it would. My interest with the team started and ended with flame thrower Luis Escobar early and while the strikeouts spiked for him, the control hasn’t gotten much better. On the year, he has 7 starts of 5 + innings with fewer than two earned runs, but three starts where he yielded a combined 19 runs in 12 innings. I know very little about Oddy Nunez other than he’s a huge, overaged Domican signing holding his own in full season after just two professional seasons. Adrian Valerio is the only interesting hitter due to his power spike without an accompanying increase in strikeouts. He’s been all over the map though and slumping of late. Still he could be solid if he finds some consistency.
I try to form as little opinion on a prospect as possible before they reach full season ball, but a few short season guys stand out. 2017 college bats Bligh Madris and Tristan Gray have gotten off to nice starts showing power and plate discipline. Hunter Stratton has been filthy thus far in Bristol. Meanwhile, 2017 high school signee, Mason Martin has crushed and made me feel old in a way too small sample size to draw any conclusions, but stayed tuned. He was born the same week I graduated high school.
Again, the Pirates’ system might be a little light on star power, but I do think there are some players who could contribute to a major league club or who have shown enough to think they could break out later. I’m not considering any potential late bloomers who could still turn into something. At the moment, they’re still better off than a lot of clubs and with a strong crop on paper in 2017, the system is still probably average. That’s not bad considering who they’ve graduated in the last year and some struggles by top players this season.