The long time king of the Pirates’ farm system and annual member of top 10 prospect lists internet-wide (until this year of course) Gerrit Cole, finally graduated to the big stage in 2013, giving everyone but a mere taste of the talent that lies within the Bucco’s system. The system itself probably falls behind the likes of the Twins and Cubs as far as star-level talent, but has the chance to deliver just as many major league regulars. So grab the wheel of the Black Pearl and let’s set sail on the seven seas in search of some future fantasy gold. Now, bring me that horizon….
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1. Gregory Polanco/OF
Polanco burst onto the scene back in 2012 when he slugged .522 and stole 40 bases at Low A West Virginia, and he only fueled his prospect fire last season as he crossed 3 different levels, finishing the year in AAA. He has plus tools across the board, and has scouts believing he could one day become a .300 hitter with 25+ HR potential. His speed is his most ready tool, and will be the category he impacts the most when he reaches the majors, but his power will come eventually and he could end up a perennial 20/30 talent who also hits for high averages. He’ll head to AAA for some refinement, but Polanco has little else to prove at the minor league level, and should be in the Pirate outfield with McCutchen and Marte in no time.
ETA: Mid 2014
2. Jameson Taillon/RHP
Always playing second fiddle to the aforementioned Cole, now it’s Taillon’s time in the sun. Taillon was drafted out of high school in the first round of the 2010 draft, and was thought to be one of the best arms available. The big Texan features a lively fastball that works in the mid to upper 90’s, and, with the help of his 6’6″ frame, really bares down on hitters and can be very difficult to lift. Additionally, he also throws a sharp-breaking breaking curveball that already flashes well above average potential. The two pitches combined should allow for some very strong strikeout numbers, but the lack of a consistent third pitch (change up) will probably keep him from reaching his ace potential. Baring an injury this season, Taillon will pitch in the major leagues. He’s sure to miss plenty of bats, but his command issues might lead to some higher ERA’s and WHIP’s. He projects as a strong #2/#3 starter who can log innings and rack up good amounts of K’s.
ETA: Mid 2014
3. Tyler Glasnow/RHP
Before last year, Glasnow was somewhat of a well though of prospect, but he wasn’t considered to be a future impact player. That all changed when he struck out 164 hitters in 111 innings at Low A West Virginia. His combination of a fastball that works low to mid 90’s and a plus curveball proved to be way to much for hitters to handle, and he probably should’ve been promoted to High A. He’ll get that promotion in 2014 and could even reach AA. There we’ll find out if the hype is for real. He has work to do on his command, but he has a projectable frame (6’7″/195) and 2 plus pitches with a developing third, so there’s every reason to believe that he’ll reach his ceiling of a #2 starter; someone who can potentially strike out close to 200/year, and has decent ERA’s and WHIP’s.
4. Alen Hanson/SS
Hanson lands at the #4 spot on this list due to the potential he brings for a middle of the diamond player. He lacks the upside of the first three names on this list, but due to his average to slightly above average skills he could bring 12-15 HR’s/year plus 20+ stolen bases. That’s a potential top 10 short stop or second baseman if it comes together. He struggled in his promotion to AA last year, so he’ll likely return there to start the year, where working on his approach and actions in the field will be his main areas of focus. Wether he ends up staying at short or moves to the keystone is irrelevant to fantasy owners.
5. Josh Bell/OF
After an injury plagued professional debut in 2012, Bell bounced back nicely in 2013 by slugging 52 extra base hits including 13 HR’s at Low A West Virginia. He’s a very good athlete with a natural stroke from both sides of the plate, and should develop plus power as he matures. He could reach AA at some point this next, and if he continues to progress could leave the Pirates with some questions about the future of their outfield (a good problem to have). He doesn’t project as a star, but still someone who can hit for solid averages and chip in 20-25 HR’s/year at his peak.
6. Austin Meadows/OF
Last year’s first of two 1st round draft picks for the team, Meadows had long been in the eyes of scouts due to his play on the national circuit, and he hit the ground running with a strong showing in complex leagues in his pro debut. Meadows combines a smooth and easy swing from the left hand side with very good athleticism and surprising speed for his size. His hit tool and power tool should play above average at the major league level, and his speed, while it will tail off as he fills out, is a plus weapon currently. He likely won’t ever be too special in any one category, but it shouldn’t surprise anyone if he’s a decent contributor across the board; hitting for solid averages (.275+), 20+ HR’s/year, and stealing 20+ bases (at least early on). With only complex games on his resume, he’s lightyears away from the majors. He’ll likely be ticketed for Low A in 2014.
7. Reese McGuire/C
McGuire profiles as a defense-first catcher, but he should still be above average offensively. He’s a stronger athlete than many give him credit for, and if he ends up delivering some decent averages and a little bit of pop, he should end up being a starter in fantasy land. His defense will be good enough to get him to the show, so let’s just hope the Pirates can develop his bat along the way. He, like Meadows, should spend 2014 at Low A.
8. Nick Kingham/RHP
Kingham falls behind Taillon and Glasnow as the third pitcher on this list, but don’t let that detract you from making him apart of your dynasty team. He lacks the upside that the first two possess, but he has a mature arsenal and very good feel for executing his pitches that he should have no trouble settling into a mid rotation role. He offers a fastball that sits low to mid 90’s and has touched 97, a nasty curveball thrown with great depth, and he has a feel for a change up. Additionally, he’s already pitched at the AA level and had some success there, so he could be in line for a call up this season and a permanent spot in that rotation by 2015. He profiles as a strong #3 fantasy starter that won’t post elite strikeout numbers, but he could top out in the 150-170 range. He should also contribute in the ERA department as well, as he’s posted a 3.09 (3.16 FIP) and 2.70 (2.85) at High A and AA respectively.
ETA: Late 2014
9. Harold Ramirez/OF
Ho hum, just another toolsy outfielder that can impact each category nicely but could post very strong stolen base numbers. He’s the type of athlete where if he starts to really figure things out could make a big jump up prospect lists in a year’s time. He’ll jump to the full season level in 2014. Definitely a guy to keep an eye on.
10. Michael De La Cruz/OF
Reports on De La Cruz are hard to come by, but one’s thing for sure, the Pirates didn’t drop six figures on him for nothing. He’ll make his stateside debut this year, and with his raw talent he could explode on the prospect scene. The Pirates will take their time with him and he’ll probably stick to the complex leagues and short season ball for now, but once scouts get a better look of him in pro ball it’s entirely possible he’s much higher on this list next year.
What makes this system so exciting (at least to me), is due to the track record the team has with churning out major league talent there’s a really good chance that most–if not all–of these names end up contributing on some level in the big leagues. And, some are very close to reaching the final stage which is what fantasy owners want most. Sure it’s nice to have that hot shot prospect who’s ripping apart the lower minors, but when you’ve got a guy who’s close to putting points up on your fantasy scoreboard and helping you win, is even better. Taillon, Polanco, Glasnow, Hanson, and Kingsman should all be regular members in either a lineup or rotation in just two years. That’s some strong player development right there.