by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
To be fair the Pirates have graduated a few of their better prospects in recent years, but there is an obvious lack of high-end talent in the system. They do have one borderline elite name in Mitch Keller, though he often flies under the radar, but after that? There’s upside, but the questions could overshadow it. Let’s take a look:
1) Mitch Keller – Right-Handed Pitcher
Grade – A
ETA – 2018
Keller is among the best pitching prospects in baseball, though he doesn’t get the attention he deserves. That’s all going to change, especially with the potential that he reaches the Majors in ’18 after making six starts at Double-A and throwing 116.0 impressive innings overall. The 21-year old showed off all three skills we look for from any pitcher:
- Strikeouts – 9.00 K/9
- Control – 2.48 BB/9
- Groundballs – 51.5%
You could argue that we’d like to see more swing and miss stuff (9.6% SwStr%), and that’s fair. He’s not a flamethrower who is going to rack up a 10+ K/9, instead he knows how to pitch, throws strikes and has the stuff to produce a 7.5-8.5 K/9. There’s nothing wrong with that and it shouldn’t be discounted. Maybe the recent Pittsburgh pitching prospects (Tyler Glasnow, for instance) have overshadowed Keller, but that’s not going to last much longer. While others have struggled, Keller has the makeup to hit the ground running and make an instant impact in the Majors.
2) Ke’Bryan Hayes – Third Baseman
Grade – B
ETA – 2019
Hayes made a leap up rankings this offseason with 27 SB in 32 attempts. The is one of the biggest questions he faces, as we’ll have to wait and see if it’s an aberration or if the former first round pick can continue to steal 15+ bases as he advances past High-A. If he can, given the upside and makeup he has the potential to be a .300/15/15 third baseman.
The son of former MLBer Charlie Hayes, Ke’Bryan hasn’t shown the power yet (2 HR in ’17, 8 HR since being selected in the first round of the 2015 draft) but he should add some as he matures. What he has displayed is tremendous plate discipline, posting a 15.8% strikeout rate courtesy of a 5.4% SwStr%. At 20-years old that’s highly impressive, and he should learn to drive his pitch when he gets it. We’ve seen Josh Bell with a similar development path, though they aren’t a perfect comparison.
If we didn’t question the speed he’d be a B+ prospect today, and a strong start will boost his stock into that range.
3) Cole Tucker – Shortstop
Grade – B
ETA – 2019
This is all about projection, but as Tucker continues to progress and advance the upside is becoming more and more apparent. Splitting time between High-A and Double-A last season he hit .275 with 6 HR and 47 SB. He likely doesn’t maintain that type of stolen base total, but he also had 25 SB in 329 PA in ’15 at Single-A so it’s hard to say that he doesn’t have the wheels to swipe 20-25 bases in the Majors. A solid approach at the plate, posting walk rates of 10.8% at both levels he played in ’17 and an overall 9.3% SwStr%, will help as he should be able to consistently get on base.
There also is projection in the power department, as the 21-year old is listed at 6’3” and 185 lbs. He added 19 doubles and 11 triples last season, and as he matures and gains strength seeing him hit 10-15 HR (at a minimum) is likely. That’s a solid prospect who could routinely put up .280/10/25 seasons, with even more upside.
4) Austin Meadows – Outfielder
Grade – B
ETA – 2018
There were injuries and suspensions, so the opportunity was there for Meadows to seize the moment. However he failed miserably and finished 2017 hitting .250 with 4 HR and 11 SB. His plate discipline isn’t bad (8.1% SwStr%), but will he be able to develop his power? Is there enough speed to make an impact? The skills indicate that there’s a potential 20/20 player, but at some point we need to see those skills translate to the field. He’s never hit more than 12 HR or stolen more than 21 bases in a season, though he’s still just 22-years old (he’ll turn 23 in May of ’18). Obviously we aren’t quite yet ready to lose all hope, but it’s impossible to view him in the same light that we once did.
5) Shane Baz – Right-Handed Pitcher
Grade – B
ETA – 2021
The 18-year old was selected 12th overall in the 2017 draft, and in his brief time in professional baseball (23.2 IP) he showed impressive swing and miss stuff (21.2% SwStr%). All reports have him already possessing a four pitch mix, bringing ideal size for a pitcher (6’3”, 190 lbs. with time to mature further) and we all know the Pirates track record of developing arms. There’s just a long ways from where he is now to the Majors, and given the propensity for arm injuries there is a bit of risk. That said the stuff is impressive and impossible to ignore.
The Next Five:
6) Nick Kingham – Right-Handed Pitcher (Grade – B-)
7) Jordan Luplow – Outfielder (Grade – C+)
8) Kevin Newman – Shortstop (Grade – C+)
9) Kevin Kramer – Second Baseman (Grade – C+)
10) Will Craig – First Baseman (Grade – C+)
Keep an eye on – Taylor Hearn – Left-Handed Pitcher
He has impressive stuff, but right now profiles as a bullpen arm thanks to a two-pitch mix. If he can take a step forward with his changeup he will fly up prospect rankings.
Make sure to check out all of our 2018 Preseason Top 10 Prospect Lists: