Monday, September 9, 2013
Best Case Scenario: Pitching Prospects
Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon - I'll actually spend the briefest on the two big-time pitching prospects for the Pirates. Cole and Taillon represent the second overall and first overall pick in back-to-back years in the draft. Neither had incredible years, but both progressed, stayed healthy, and pitched solidly. Cole will start out next year in the major league rotation and Taillon should follow shortly after.
Tyler Glasnow - Glasnow came into the season as the chic pick, gaining national recognition in a loaded Pirates system by pitching well to finish the 2012 season. More importantly, the Pirates strategy of taking projectable high school pitchers finally paid off, as Glasnow added several miles per hour to his fastball along with developing a good curveball. Glasnow's rise continued this season at a meteoric pace. He absolutely dominated Low-A hitters when you look at his hits given up and his strikeout rate. Glasnow does have control issues, but he progressed in that area in the second half and now - thanks to a premium fastball with nasty movement and a very good curveball - is one of the best pitching prospects in all of baseball
Nick Kingham - Kingham's story is very similar to Glasnow's. He didn't have the massive uptick in velocity that Glasnow did, and his progression has been more steady than meteoric, but he also pitched very well to end the 2012 season and that end to the season plus this 2013 season for Kingham has given the Pirates another fantastic reward for their strategy to take high upside lottery ticket pitchers out of the high school ranks. Kingham tore through High-A and held his own in Double-A despite the fact he won't turn 22 years old until November. From a scouting perspective, Kingham's stuff has incrementally improved since being drafted and he now possesses a three-pitch mix indicative of a guy a tick better than a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher.
Luis Heredia - Heredia has been passed in terms of Glasnow and Kingham, despite being a huge deal when he signed out of Mexico as the best pitching prospect in that year's 16 year-old international class. He's yet to absolutely dominate, but he again impresses from a scouting perspective. In addition, Heredia once again held his own facing competition years ahead of him in experience and age. The ace upside is beginning to come into question, but Heredia is still a very solid pitching prospect.
Jason Creasy - Creasy might be Nick Kingham-lite. Basically he's a notch down from Kingham, who's found success a bit earlier. His stuff hasn't developed to the point of Kingham, but he has a solid fastball and slider. He's a had a very good year in Low-A while turning 21 in May. Creasy has struck out nearly a batter an inning while walking very few. Creasy still has a while to go, but he's provided the Pirates even more of a return on their projectable pitching strategy.
Clay Holmes - This will be the first season synopsis where I use detailed stats, but they are necessary for illustrating why there should be excitement about Holmes going into next year. Holmes was the most highly touted pitching prospect signed by the Pirates in 2011 not named Cole. At this point, he's clearly been passed by Glasnow and arguably by Creasey, but it's actually a huge positive for Holmes that I used the word "arguably." Holmes allowed barely any hits in 2012 in short season ball, but his walk rate and strikeout rate was terrible. Holmes put up similarly awful ratios to start 2013, but the reason for hope is a similar end to his Low-A season as Nick Kingham, who had 9 fantastic starts to end his Low-A campaign in 2012.
For comparison, in Holmes last 10 starts*, Holmes pitched 46.2 innings, recording 42 strikeouts to 20 walks. In a vacuum, those numbers are merely decent. However, prior to that stretch, Holmes had pitched 72.1 innings, recording only 48 strikeouts to 49 walks. The improvement is stark, a huge plus for a young guy like Holmes who possesses an impressive fastball with heavy life and a nasty slider.
*One appearance was 5 innings after a rehab inning, so it wasn't technically a start
Jon Sandfort - After drafting several prep pitching prospects with top ten round talent starting back in 2009 under Neal Huntington, the new CBA limited the amount of money the Pirates could throw at projectable arms. As a result, the Pirates only were able to draft and sign one high profile prep pitching prospect in 2012. Jon Sandfort is similar to Tyler Glasnow. He came out of high school with a solid fastball and a thin, projectable frame. In his first professional season, Sandfort has pitched well, although they aren't the rave reviews that there were about Glasnow. He's struck out plenty of batters and his control has been more than acceptable at a young age. Sandfort didn't even turn 19 until August and still has tons of upside with solid performance already under his belt.
Cody Dickson - As mentioned above, the new CBA has changed how the Pirates have drafted in recent years. That's obvious in the 2013 draft, where the Pirates drafted college pitchers in the top 10 rounds in more abundance than ever before under Neal Huntington. Cody Dickson was the most highly touted of the college pitchers the Pirates drafted in 2013 and he's impressed in short season, striking out over a batter an inning with solid control. Dickson has excellent stuff and is a college pitcher, so this type of performance is expected, but Dickson has had control issues, so his control this year keeps his prospects high for 2014.
Buddy Bordon - Bordon was also highly touted and held out before signing late, an uncertainty. As a result, Bordon didn't pitch all that much in short season this year. However, the right-hander with a good fastball, but questionable secondaries. So far, so good. In a small sample size, Bordon struckout well over a batter an inning with very good control. He'll be one to watch heading into 2014.
Ryan Hafner - Hafner was part of the 2011 draft class that brought in Jameson Taillon and Nick Kingham, both higher up on this list. Hafner hasn't had nearly the success Taillon or Kingham have thus far in this career. In fact, Hafner had huge control issues in 2012. However, a move to the bullpen has resurrected Hafner's career. Pitching exclusively in relief in 2013, Hafner had some control issues, but nothing comparable to 2012, and his strike out rate was fantastic. Relief pitchers have minimal value, but Hafner has become a decent prospect after being left for dead after 2012.
Blake Taylor - Taylor is mainly on this list just due to his draft status. A second round pick in 2013, Taylor has significant upside as a prep lefty with good stuff and projection. Taylor only pitched 21 innings this year and his numbers were not awe-inspiring. That said, he's still healthy and he held his own. That's pretty much the exact report on Jon Sandfort, who proceeds Taylor by a year in his development. In fact, Taylor actually pitched better than Sandfort when comparing both prospects first partial season professionally. In turn, Sandfort pitched very well this year and looks to move to Low-A for his second full professional season, following in the exact footsteps of Kingham, Glasnow, and Creasy. Taylor, like Sandfort and Glasnow, is very young. He didn't turn 18 until this August.
Neil Kozikowski - It's possible to call Kozikowski a reach as he wasn't even rated in the top 500 prospects by Baseball America. The Pirates took him in the 8th round, 239rd overall. However, the same thing could be said about Tyler Glasnow. Throw in the fact that Kozikowski is from Connecticut - cold weather players are unknowns compared to warm weather players who get scouted more due to being able to play more - and he could end up being a gem. Skinny as a rail, Kozikowski didn't strike many batters out in his professional debut, but he also displayed phenomenal control, walking only 3 batters in 24 innings. If he could maintain that control and see his stuff improve, Kozikowski could develop into a solid prospect.
Shane Carle - Carle was another one of the college pitching prospects the Pirates drafted this past June. Taken in the 10th round, Carle has flashed impressive velocity in the past, although it wasn't there this spring. His secondaries need work as well, but Carle does have a projectable frame and his sinker produces groundballs. In this professional debut, Carle also showed a propensity to strike batters out, punching out 43 in 50.1 innings. Conversely, he only walked 6 batters, resulting in an impressive strikeout-to-walk ratio. It must be noted Carle turned 22 during the season, so this type of performance is expected to an extent, although overall it is nice to see.
Chad Kuhl - Using this list's order, Kuhl was the final college pitcher drafted by the Pirates in the top 10 rounds. Kuhl has fringe stuff, but comes with a groundball reputation. His strikeouts were limited in his professional debut, but 6 walks in 55.1 innings was nice to see. Kuhl is also fairly young for a college draftee as he will turn 21 right around when this article will be posted. Going forward, Kuhl most likely will be limited in his upside, but Phil Irwin or Brandon Cumpton are not out of the question, which is always valuable.
Joely Rodriguez - Every pitcher above on this list save for Luis Heredia is a North American obtained through the Rule 4 draft. Furthermore, Luis Heredia received a significant bonus to sign with the Pirates. The point is, for all the success the Pirates have had in Latin America with small to medium bonuses - Marte, Polanco, Hanson, Herrera, and even Garcia and Osuna - the same success has been absent as far as Latin American pitching prospects. All that said, Joely Rodriguez is doing his best to break that mold. The lefty with solid stuff had a solid season across Low-A and High-A ball. He will turn 22 in November and his season was only solid, so it's best to temper excitement, but at least he's a guy worth mentioning from the Latin American pitching pipeline, a rarity lately.
Orlando Castro - Castro joined Rodriguez in starting in Low-A and moving to High-A for second part of the season. Unfortunately, Castro doesn't have nearly Rodriguez's upside. He's a control pitcher with fringy stuff who is also short in stature. On the plus side, Castro is left-handed. As just noted, Castro has excellent control. Prior to trying his hand at High-A, Castro had 184 innings stateside and had only walked 39 batters. Prior to this year, he had mainly worked out of the bullpen, but earned a spot in the West Virginia Power rotation. He pitched very well and got promoted to High-A, where he was marginal. He will start next season at age 22 and combine that with his scouting report, and it's obvious the odds are against him. Still, the success he's had thus far is better than no success at all.
Wei-Chung Wang - Continuing the trend of international lefties, Wei-Chung Wang has a fairly interesting story. He signed for a fairly sizeable bonus in the summer of 2011 out of Taiwan along with catcher Jin-De Jhang. However, Wang's physical revealed he needed Tommy John Surgery, so he had to sign at a reduced price. That also meant he sat out the 2012 season, so he made his professional debut in 2013 in rookie ball. Wang was very old for the level, turning 21 in April. Still, his lack of experience meant dominance wasn't guaranteed. Wang did dominate however, striking out plenty of batters while walking virtually none. He also showed improved velocity by seasons end and a very good curveball, making him an interesting prospect to watch despite the age.