Pittsburgh Pirates Top 10 Prospects for 2012

(Nov 18/2011)

Pittsburgh Pirates Top 10 Prospects for 2012

1. RHP Jameson Taillon

The Pirates were reportedly so high on Taillon last year that they were prepared to draft him first overall, ahead of OF Bryce Harper, if they'd had the first overall selection instead of the second. Taillon didn't dominate during his first professional season, but he definitely showed his potential and put up ratios that are indicative of the kind of success he should experience going forward. First of all, Taillon makes hitters earn their way on base, as he doesn't issue many free passses. He throws a heavy fastball that lives in the mid 90's, and has above average control of his four pitch arsenal. His mid 80's curveball might be his best pitch, and is definitely his out pitch as it has a sharp downward bite. He throws a slider as well, and is making progress with his changeup, a pitch he didn't need much in high school.

He posted a 2-3 record with a 3.98 ERA over his first 23 professional starts, allowing just 89 base hits in 92.2 innings pitched for the Class-A West Virginia Power. He struck out 97 batters and walked just 22, good for an impressive 4.41 K/BB ratio. in 2012, Taillon will move up to the Class-A+ Florida State League where he will look to stretch out and log even more innings pitching for the Bradenton Marauders, possibly pitching alongside 2011 first overall pick, RHP Gerrit Cole.

2. RHP Gerrit Cole

Cole has the distinction of being one of few players who were twice selected as first-round draft picks. He was taken late in the first round by the Yankees out of high school in 2008, but did not sign and chose to attend UCLA instead. After three very successful seasons, Cole was again draft eligible. This time, the Pirates swooped in and selected him first overall in 2011, just two spots ahead of UCLA teammate RHP Trevor Bauer.

Signed just before the deadline, Cole gives the Pirates another legitimate pitching prospect in the team's search for it's first ace since the days of Doug Drabek. He throws real hard, with his fastball reaching 100 MPH. He was lighting up the radar gun when I saw him pitch during the 2011 Arizona Fall League, and the pitch had scouts buzzing. He also throws a power slider and a changeup, which he rarely uses until hitters prove they catch touch his fastball.

Definitely a polished pitcher, there's been a lot of discussion as to where Cole might begin the 2012 season. Enthusiasts want him to get a shot at the rotation during Spring Training, but the Pirates have zero reason to rush Cole. That means his likely destination to open the year, will be either Class-A+ Bradenton or Double-A Altoona. The book on Cole during his last year at UCLA was that the results were matching up to the scouting reports. If he can start getting the results his scouting reports indicate, Cole could move very quickly through the system.

3. OF Starling Marte

Marte was probably the best hitter in the system prior to the season anyways, but he had an absolute breakout campaign in 2011. He spent the entire year playing for Double-A Altoona, where he posted a .332/.370/.500 line with 12 HR and 24 stolen bases. He also had 38 doubles, 8 triples and combined to rack up 268 total bases, while scoring 91 runs in 129 games. Those are very impressive stats no matter who you are and where you're playing.

He's bound to spend most of the 2012 season playing for the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians of the International League, where he'll continue to refine his game. His biggest challenge will be to improve his plate discipline, as he walked just 22 times against 100 strikeouts last season. If he's able to learn to become more patient at the plate, he'll be able to lay off a pitchers' pitch and get pitches that he can then drive. Marte has all the tools, he just needs a bit more polish before he can be considered completely Major League ready.

4. OF Josh Bell

Bell was one of the biggest surprises in the 2011 draft. He originally sent out a letter to teams indicating his intent to honour his commitment to the University of Texas and not to select him. Regardless, it was a shock to see Bell remain on the board through the first day of the draft, without any team taking a chance on his first-round talent. A bigger surprise came on Day 2 of the draft, when the Pirates made Bell the first pick of the second round, and just the Pirates second pick, after #1 overall selection, RHP Gerrit Cole. Perhaps the biggest surprise, however, was the Pirates ability to actually sign Bell away from his college commitment for a reported $5 million bonus. It was a steal for the Pirates, and one of the bigger surprises from the draft. Not because Bell actually gave in, and took the money a team was willing to throw at him, but because the money came from a team like the Pirates and not the Red Sox or Yankees.

Now that he's signed, it will be interesting to see where Bell heads out to make his pro debut. Will it be extended spring training and short-season or rookie ball, or will he head out to the Class-A South Atlantic League, like 2010 first-round pick Jameson Taillon did last year. Either way, Bell becomes the highest upside hitting prospect in the system, and gives OF Starling Marte a run for his money as the system's best hitter.

5. RHP Luis Heredia

Heredia, a Mexican right-hander, was one of the biggest prizes on the international free agent market a little over a year ago. He was signed with the Pirates at the age of 16 and pitched in the Gulf Coast League in 2011. He pitched in 12 games (11 starts) and posted a 4.75 ERA and .257 opponents batting average. His FIP (fielding independent pitching) was about half a run higher, at 5.24, indicating he may have been a bit luck, but Heredia managed to strand 74.8% of runners who got on base against him.

Significantly younger than the majority of his competition, it's no surprise that Heredia was hittable and struggled with his command a bit. He'll need to work to improve his 23:19 K:BB ratio moving forward, but there's plenty of time for the 6'6" 205 lb 17-year-old to develop, and the Pirates won't rush him.

He possesses a low 90s fastball that he can cut and run in against right-handers, a potential plus curveball and the feel for a developing changeup and slider. He's got good arm action and the ball explodes towards home plate. We'll probably see Heredia pitch for the rookie-level State College Spikes in 2012, although it's possible he could earn a crack at full season Class-A West Virginia if he performs well early in the year.

6. OF Robbie Grossman

Grossman repeated the Class-A+ Florida State League in 2011, and wow did his bat ever come alive. He batted .294/.418/.451 with 13 HR and 24 stolen bases, but the impressive stats were his 104 walks and 127 runs scored in just 134 games. His .869 OPS represented an improvement of nearly 200 points from the previous year, and he'll still be just 22 years old next season when he should spend the whole year in Double-A. He spent the majority of his time playing rightfield in 2011, but also roamed centrefield for 15 games. He profiles as a corner outfielder in the big leagues though, with enough plate discipline to get on base at a good clip. A switch-hitter, Grossman could be a serviceable table setter in the big leagues, possibly a number two hitter.

7. 1B Alex Dickerson

Dickerson was the club's third-round pick in 2011. A polished college hitter from Indiana University, Dickerson made his pro debut in the New York-Penn league with short-season Class-A State College, where he displayed his tools over 40+ games. He batted .313/.393/.493 with 20 extra base hits, including 3 HR, showing his ability with the bat. He should spend most of the 2012 season playing with the Class-A West Virginia Power, where he will try and translate that success over to a full season.

8. RHP Stetson Allie

Allie's case is actually a bit similar to that of OF Josh Bell. He was one of the best pure arms in the 2010 draft, but slipped to the second round because of signability concerns and his bonus demands. Drafted and inked with an overslot bonus by the Pirates, Allie had a very tough first pro season. It's important to remember, however, that Allie didn't begin pitching until late in high school, so it's understandable that he's still so raw.

The team needs to work first and foremost on his fastball command, so Allie will need to work hard on his mechanics to repeat his delivery, which should give him a solid foundation to build on. He's shown the potential for a plus slider, but really if he isn't able to harness his fastball, his slider won't be nearly as effective. Look for Allie to get a do over in the low levels of the minor leagues in 2012, and we should get a much better indication during the season whether his high 90's fastball will be used as a starter, or out of the bullpen.

9. LHP Jeff Locke

Locke also had a very successful 2011 season. He spent most of the year pitching for Double-A Altoona, and was named to the Eastern League All-Star team where he had an opportunity to pitch infront of his hometown fans in New Hampshire. After making 22 Double-A starts, Locke was pushed up to Triple-A Indianapolis where his success carried over into five starts for the Indians. On the season, Locke combined to throw 153.1 innings, and he struck out 139 batters while walking just 55. That success earned him his first big league promotion, as Locke made four starts as a September callup.

Since he doesn't throw all that hard, it's not surprising that Locke was hit hard in the Majors, but the problem was with his control as he walked twice as many batters as he struck out (10:5), while allowing 21 base hits. That produced an ugly 1.86 WHIP in just 16.2 big league innings. Locke will need to do a better job pitching to contact and will need to continue to keep the ball on the ground if he wants to be successful at the big league level.

He has thrown consistent strikes in the minor leagues, utilizing his three pitches to keep hitters off balance. With a 90 MPH fastball, an average slider and changeup, Locke profiles as a back of the rotation starter, and possibly a left-handed bullpen arm down the line.

10. RHP Kyle McPherson

McPherson is another young pitcher in the system that has great control. Drafted in the 14th round out of Mobile University, McPherson had another strong season in 2011. He made 28 starts split between Class-A+ Bradenton and Double-A Altoona, posting a 2.96 ERA in 161 innnigs pitched. He struck out 142 batters while walking just 27, and was subsequently named the Pirates Minor League Pitcher of the Year.

He has above-average command of his three pitch arsenal, with a low 90's fastball, a curveball and a changeup that's generally about 7-10 MPH slower than his fastball and comes out of the same arm slot. His curveball has a late sharp break when he has a feel for it, but it's the changeup that's most deceptive for hitters, allowing him to rack up strikeouts. With already 16 Double-A starts under his belt, there's a chance McPherson could reach Pittsburgh in 2012. We'll have a better idea of the chances of that happening, when we find out if he's assigned back to Altoona or up to Triple-A Indianapolis to begin the 2012 season.

More Notable Pittsburgh Pirates Prospects (no order): C Tony Sanchez, RHP Bryan Morris, LHP Rudy Owens, RHP Zack von Rosenburg, OF Andrew Lambo, OF Gorkys Hernandez, LHP Colton Cain, OF Alex Presley, OF Quincy Latimore, SS Pedro Ciriaco, RHP Aaron Pribanic

What's your take on this Top 10 prospect list? What do you think of the rankings? Is there a player that missed the cut that you feel should have been on the list? Tell us in the comment section below.