The minor league season hasn’t even been one month, but as the calendar flips to May, a natural tendency is to evaluate how things have gone so far. Mike Bradley, Steve DiMiceli, and I thought it would be a good time to each look at three positive and negative trendlines so far down on the Pirates’ farm.
1. Max Moroff, 2B, Altoona — Moroff was drafted in the 16th round back in 2012 out of high school in Florida. He was older for his draft class, but has steadily progressed up the minor league ladder and is an age-22 year old in AA this season, which is right on track for what is considered a prospect at that level. He lacked the range to stay at SS, so the Pirates moved him to 2B last year, where he has continued to play this year at Altoona.
Prior to this season, Moroff had a pretty sketchy hit tool, but he always had good walk rates (albeit with high K rates around 22%). This year, Moroff has kept the great walk rate (14.1%), cut down on the K rate (14.1%) and is tearing the cover off the ball with a triple slash of .297 AVG/.400 OBP/.453 SLG. If the Pirates can somehow parlay Moroff into the middle infield picture, even as a utility player, that would be a huge win.
2. Jin-de Jhang, C, Bradenton — Full disclosure: Prior to the start of this season, I have been a Jhang doubter. In 2014, due to the quasi-logjam at catcher in the system, mostly due to the presence of newly-drafted Reese McGuire, Jhang was forced to play at Bradenton as a 21-year old that skipped Low A. Predictably, this did not end well, as Jhang put up a triple slash of .219 AVG/.263 OBP/.301 SLG.
This year, Jhang is repeating the level at age-22 and splitting time with McGuire at catcher and also DH’ing. He has gone full supernova in the month of April with a scorching line of .431 AVG/.474 OBP/.490 SLG in 51 at-bats. Hot month? Benefit of repeating the level? Maturing as a hitter? Whatever it is, Jhang has put himself back on the map of catching depth prospects for the Pirates, even if there is very little extra-base power in the bat.
3. Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Altoona — Really going out on a limb here, Kevin. I know…coming into the season he was either the #1 or #2 prospect in the whole system. But for me, I wanted to see him prove it at the meat grinder level of AA before I totally bought in. So far, he’s faring quite well in 16 IP with 6 BB, 17 K, and a 1.08 ERA.
These numbers aren’t quite his video-game-on-rookie-level numbers from 2014, but it would be unrealistic to expect that level of dominance to continue as he progresses. The blazing upper 90’s fastball is his calling card, but a plus curveball and developing changeup are what will decide how successful Glasnow is in the Majors. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him promoted in August to AAA and then put himself in line for a rotation look in Pittsburgh in July 2016.
1. Luis Heredia — Heredia has yet to be assigned to a team this year due to poor conditioning coming into the year. Again. His stuff has backed up, as he now sits low 90’s on his fastball. Word on the street is that he’s not very coachable. Add it up all and he’s slip sliding off of my prospect radar and just about every other prospect evaluator’s radar, even as a 20-year old.
2. Barrett Barnes/Harold Ramirez/Connor Joe — The ability to stay healthy is the unofficial 6th tool for a player. These three players are all showing in their careers that they have the inability to do so. Ramirez and Joe have yet to play this season, while Barnes got into a whole five games before going down.
3. Reese McGuire, C, Bradenton — Drafted as the catcher of the future in 2013, McGuire has demonstrated above-average defensive skills, but his bat is lagging far behind. His walk rates are sub-par and he has almost no power in his bat, making him Pittsburgh’s version of the Padres’ Austin Hedges.
1. Cole Tucker, SS, West Virginia — He’s got an empty batting average, but he’s 18 and holding his own in full season baseball. There is something to be said for that.
2. Zack Dodson, LHP, Altoona — His ceiling is probably pretty low, but it’s nice see him finally beginning to figure things out.
3. Max Moroff, 2B, Altoona — With Dilson Herrera gone and thriving in the Mets system, the Pirates didn’t have many interesting middle infield solutions in the upper minors till now. In a small sample size, his reduced K rate and all around BB:K make me think his hot start could be sustainable. This is why you draft guys at elite positions (Moroff was drafted as a SS) — you can move them off position later. The high BABIP gives me concerns.
1. Wyatt Mathisen, 3B, Bradenton — Everyone’s waiting for him to be Neil Walker and his slight up tick in hitting last season suggested he might be figuring it out. His slow start is disappointing.
2. Jose Tabata, OF, Indianapolis/exiled — The Pirates former LF’er of the future is mired so deep in the organization’s doghouse that he only has 48 PA’s for Indy, good for 9th on the Indians. It’s strange for me to feel sorry for someone saddled with millions of dollars, but I do. He could help a few major league teams, but his long term deal has him bound to Pittsburgh.
3. Alen Hansen, 2B, Indianapolis — I’ve often had concerns about how well Alen Hansen would do in the upper minors and, unfortunately, they appear to be legit. He’s still very young for AAA, but after not really killing it in Altoona, I’ll have to start questioning his upside if he can’t turn it around.
1. Josh Bell, Max Moroff and Jin-De Jhang — All three have been hitting the lights out. Everyone knows Bell, but possibly not Moroff and Jhang. Moroff is a SS who is currently playing 2B in Altoona, due to Gift Ngeope playing SS (and could be doing this to focus on his bat). Jhang is in Bradenton catching some, playing some, and playing some DH.
2. Steve Lombardozzi and Deibinson Romero, Indianapolis — Both are looking like good infield depth options. Most people know Lombardozzi by now, as he was part of the much dissected Doug Fister trade, but Romero isn’t a household name. In the winter Steamer projected him to have the highest minor league WAR of all the minor league free agents. Romero has backed it up so far slashing .320/.463 /.640 with 4 HRs.
3. Subjectively it looks as if the Pirates’ high minors are dwarfing most teams in prospects. There are some terrible AA and AAA teams Indy and Altoona have been playing so far.
1. Stetson Allie, OF, Altoona — Allie isn’t taking the next step on offense so far this season. We all know about his power and beautiful BP swing but the average isn’t getting any better. He’s only hitting .231 and has 23 K’s to only 5 BB’s. His ship is starting to sail away without him.
2. The Altoona pitchers have done well on the scoreboard and have given up the least amount of hits in the Eastern League, but they also are last in the Eastern in K’s by 19 over the second to last team.
3. Nick Kingham, RHP, Indianapolis — Kingham is supposedly major league ready and waiting in the wings in AAA, but his starts haven’t been dominating. He has a great defense behind him, but his ERA is 4.85 through five starts. Until he can dominate AAA hitters he’ll marinate in the International League.