15. Pedro Alvarez (28) – ML – 1B/3B – 2 years control, 2nd time through arbitration
?Pedro strikes out too much ?.. ?Pedro is slow at 3B ?Pedro can ?t throw the ball ? etc. etc. The one thing that Pedro can do is hit HR ?s. In 2014 the average runs scored per team was 4.08, the lowest in decades (causing me to wonder if the HR coefficient in WAR should be raised). If Pedro can hit 30 HRs/600 ABs in this run starved era he has a lot of value regardless of what position he plays. Pedro was a bit unlucky with the HR in 2014. Pedro has two years and won ?t make too much due to his K totals so count him as the #15 most valuable Pirate.
14. Elias Diaz (24) – AAA – C – 6 years of control, pre-arbitration
Diaz is the last but highest ranked of the four catchers on this list. The reason he is the top is that he is almost on a Reese McGuire-level on defense, but might have more upside with the bat AND is knocking on the door of the majors. Diaz had a quietly good (but abbreviated) season in 2013, but had a breakout season in 2014. He always showed the great defense and athleticism with the potential to hit but he never put it all together until this past year. He capped a great regular season with a nice showing in the Arizona Fall League with one scout saying that he had ?game changing ? skills behind the plate. The AFL showing just adds to his value. He ?ll be cheap for a while and is a backup at a minimum.
13. Charlie Morton (31) – ML – SP – 2 years on current contract plus team option
Charlie Morton is an enigma. On a given night, he might be the best pitcher in baseball. His pitches are so amazing sometimes that he has the Twitter nickname of #electricstuff. At other times, he appears to be waging a personal war with himself on the mound and is his own worst enemy. He ?s battled injuries the past two years, but he looks to come back early in 2015. He is signed to two more years at $8M each and a $9.5M option for the following year. If Morton becomes the 3-4 WAR player that many think he can, then these years will have tremendous value for the Pirates.
12. Vance Worley (27) – ML – SP – 4 years control, 1st time through arbitration
Vance Worley might go down as one of Neal Huntington ?s best finds. After a successful minor league career and a great start with the Phillies, he was dealt to the Twins where injuries and poor performances led him to being given away to the Pirates for peanuts. In a half season he gained 1.4 WAR and gave the Pirates a jump start in their playoff push. His deception is what makes him impressive and his 4 years of control makes him a nice trade asset. He is a Super Two (four times through arbitration instead of three), but if he can be a 2-3 WAR pitcher the Pirates will gladly pay him. With the rise of prospects like Kingham, Taillon, and Sampson, plus the pitchers already under long-term control (Cole, Morton, Liriano, Locke), Worley could demonstrate his real-world trade value soon.
11. Neil Walker (29) – ML – 2B – 2 years of control, 3rd time through arbitration
In 2014 Walker was 24th in the league in isolated slugging percentage (ISO). Of the 23 players ahead of him only two had a lower K% than his 15.4%. Walker ?s position has kept him from being the slugger that his lean 6’3″ frame and pedigree want to be. If he ?d slide over to 1B or 3B and be allowed to bulk up some more, 30+ homers are possible. The problem is that his value is very high playing the much more demanding 2B. Walker is obviously an extension candidate and obviously wants to stay in Pittsburgh. Some don’t agree, but Edwin Encarnacion is a nice comp to what his future could be and his power shouldn’t be discounted. With his bat continuing to get better it makes Walker a nice trade asset if the Pirates ever want to go that route. If he had more years of control and/or wasn’t getting more expensive as a Super Two (either an $8M or $9M salary this year), he’d rank higher on this list.
Follow Mike on Twitter @ballsandgutters