The MLB is now at the halfway point of the season, which means it’s a great time to look back on the performance of the top ten prospects in the Pirates’ farm system.
Last year’s first overall pick Gerrit Cole was excelling in the Florida State League, where he had a 2.69 ERA through 67 innings spread over 13 starts, which earned him a promotion to the Pirates’ AA affiliate, the Altoona Curve. Among the reasons he was sent to Altoona was his high strikeout rate, striking out 9.27 batters per nine innings pitched, and his 2.82 BB/9, which is below league average. In Altoona, Cole has played very well. Although his ERA is 4.63, it is not a good indicator of his performance through three starts. He has a 10.3 K/9, as well as a 0.77 BB/9, although that is likely unsustainable, and a 1.49 FIP. Cole has been unlucky, as batters have a .410 BABIP against him. While his peripherals look good, Cole has only pitched 11.2 innings, so take his performance with a grain of salt. Cole has shown his toughness by taking a line drive to the face and finishing the inning before being taken out of the game due to swelling.
The number two prospect for the Pirates, Jameson Taillon, has shown flashes of brilliance in high-A ball so far, despite having a lackluster performance. Taillon hasn’t been able to strike out the sheer number of batters he did last season in West Virginia, striking out approximately two fewer batters per nine innings. He has an ERA of 4.05, but his FIP number of 3.38 shows that his defense hasn’t helped him out and his ERA should fall. He’s stranded 66.6% of baserunners he’s allowed this season, so look for his ERA to fall when he strands more runners. A positive for Taillon is that he hasn’t allowed as many home runs as he did in low-A last season, dropping from 0.87 homers per nine innings to 0.62 HR/9. The second half performance for Taillon should be better than his first, so hopefully the Pirates will promote him to AA by 2013.
Outfielder Josh Bell hasn’t shown the power surge he was expected to have when the Pirates drafted him with the first pick in the second round in the 2011 Draft. Bell has been up to the plate 66 times for the West Virginia Power this year, and he has hit one home run. How about that for the “best power hitter” in the Pirates system? He hasn’t exactly been hitting well otherwise, hitting .274/.288/.403 despite an incredibly high .381 BABIP. The 6’4” outfielder has also struggled with his vision at the plate, walking in just three percent of his plate appearances while striking out in 31.8% of his at bats. While 2012 looks like a disappointment so far, Bell has only played 15 games, so like Cole in AA, his statistics are flawed due to a small sample size.
Ranked number four in the Pirates’ farm, Starling Marte may be called up to the Major Leagues by next week, Dejan Kovacevic reports. Marte is only one year removed from an insane season at AA Altoona, hitting .332 with an on-base average of .370 and slugging .500. While Marte hasn’t put up the same numbers in Indianapolis for the Pirates’ AAA affiliate, he has still performed very well, hitting for an OBA of .349 while slugging .487. Marte walked in just 3.8% of his plate appearances in 2011, but he has rebounded in AAA by having a 6.4% BB%. With his increased walk rate, however, comes an increased strikeout rate. Last season was likely an anomaly in terms of strikeouts for Marte, as he had a strikeout rate of 17.5%, down from 23.3% in high-A ball. His strikeout rate increased by over three percent, from 17.5% to 20.8%; this is encouraging still, because Marte was able to lower his MiLB average K%. Marte has contributed 10.9 runs to the Indianapolis Indians with his offensive skill. He has been tried out at right field with the Indians recently, probably preparing him for a call-up to the Majors.
Luis Heredia is 17 years old and is playing against people five years older than him in the New York-Penn League. Not only that, but he is playing well against people five years older than him in the New York-Penn League. Ignore the small sample size of 19 innings pitched over four starts and just absorb these numbers. Heredia has allowed two earned runs this season, giving him an ERA of 0.95. He has struck out 6.63 batters per nine innings he has pitched while walking only 1.42. All of this with a relatively average .293 BABIP. Assuming he can keep up with his 2.20 FIP for the rest of the Spikes season and continue to develop, Heredia is well worth the $2.6 million the Pirates signed him for out of Mexico in 2010.
Kyle McPherson, the number six prospect for the Pirates, was looking for a repeat season in his first full season of AA. In his 2011 campaign, McPherson had a 3.02 ERA and an 8.26 K/9 through 16 starts after being promoted from high-A Bradenton. Much like Jameson Taillon, McPherson has a high ERA despite good peripherals. He hasn’t struck out as many people as he has done throughout his professional career thus far, but his 6.35 K/9 is still respectable, especially when combined with his 1.59 BB/9. As is the case with Luis Heredia and Josh Bell, McPherson hasn’t started nearly enough games to get a good look at him, throwing just 22.2 innings, but if he can keep it up, he’ll be a good fifth starter in the future.
Tony Sanchez was picked fourth overall in the 2009 MLB Draft and has been an off-and-on player since signing with the Bucs in August of that year. Double-A in 2011 was a disappointment for Sanchez, as he hit just .241/.340/.318 with defense that wasn’t what the Pirates expected out of him in 2009. However, with a little more time and another broken jaw, Sanchez rebounded and earned himself a promotion to AAA after having an OBA of .370 and slugging .390. In 25 games with Indy, Sanchez hasn’t been up to much good, having an OBP of just .293. An encouraging sign, however, is his .385 slugging average, so it’s not like he’s slapping singles down the first base line. If he can progress, the Pirates might cll up Sanchez some time next season or even in September of ’12.
The top switch hitter in the Bucs minor league system is Robbie Grossman. Grossman, who dominated with the Bradenton Marauders last year by hitting .293/.418/.450, earned himself a promotion to the AA Altoona Curve, where he’s hitting for a .369 OBA, as well as a .408 slugging average. Baseball America writes that Grossman has the best plate discipline in the system, and it shows with his 14.6% walk rate while striking out in 18.7% of his at-bats. An increase in power is always welcome, and Grossman has done that by hitting seven home runs through 82 games this season, compared to 14 in Bradenton through 134 games last season. Grossman hasn’t showed the good baserunning skills he showcased last season, where he stole 24 bases in 34 attempts; this season, he has stolen nine bases, but has been thrown out nine times. All in all, Robbie Grossman will probably have to spend the rest of this season in AA before being called up to Indianapolis.
Stetson Allie was converted to a batter mid-season after struggling in his two thirds of an inning, walking eight batters and allowing four earned runs, not to mention his three wild pitches. Allie started his transformation with the GCL Pirates in Bradenton, where he hit for a .316 OBA while slugging .359 through 18 games. He also walked at a similar rate to Robbie Grossman, walking in 14.5% of his plate appearances, but he struck out in 30.3% of his at-bats. The two runs he hit with the Pirates is two more home runs than Tony Sanchez hit in Altoona. Allie is a longshot now, but there are some glimmers of hope for him finding success in the Bigs.
If there is one player who should take Kevin Correia’s spot in the rotation, it’s 24-year old Jeff Locke. Locke was briefly with the Pirates in 2011, struggling mightily with a 6.48 ERA in four starts. In 17 starts for the Indianapolis Indians this season, Locke is 7-5 with a 2.95 ERA. He’s striking out 7.78 batters per nine innings and walking 2.24. Perhaps Locke is getting lucky, as he’s stranded 79% of baserunners he’s allowed, which contributes to a 3.40 FIP
While Alen Hanson wasn’t listed on the Baseball America top ten list coming into the season, he’s turning some heads in West Virginia. In 85 games, the 19-year old shortstop is hitting .329/.391/.587 along with 15 home runs. He has a nine percent walk rate but he’s struck out in 19% of his plate appearances. His .422 wOBA and 77 wRC (based on wOBA) are good for a 154 wRC+ (which is basically an OPS+ version of wRC). He’s been very lucky, having a .382 BABIP, so look for his numbers to regress back to what mere mortals can put up.